21st Century Learning

The First Connection... Immanuel and China


Embarking on a new project is always a scary thought, jumping in at the deep end is another story all together! A few months ago in the July school holidays we attended the EdTechSA State conference at our school, Immanuel College South Australia. Jolanta and I presented at this conference (as blogged about in 'EdTechSA State Conference - Debug Digital technologies' on July 24th 2015) and were also there to hopefully gather up some more ideas to take back into our classrooms.

The first Keynote speaker for the 2 day conference was Julie Lindsay, founder of Flat Connections. She spoke to the eager crowd about the growing necessity for global education in our schools, and for providing the opportunities for our students to connect and collaborate with people from all over the world. Although everything that was spoken about made perfect sense, we couldn't help but leave feeling completely out of our depth!

We couldn't help but become quite intrigued by the idea of global collaboration after Julies Keynote, and with Julie now working more closely with Immanuel College, we had eagerly (and perhaps a little blindly) signed up to be part of the Flat Connections pilot project "Connect with China", an attempt at bringing students from all over the world closer to their peers in China, a country renound for being somewhat 'locked' behind the Great Firewall of China. The program aims to bring students together to work on a community project, based purely online and completed through a series of synchronous meetings and asynchronous communication using apps such as Edmodo, WeChat and Skype.

Nitin Dani - Director of Green Initiatives

Nitin Dani - Director of Green Initiatives

Fast forward to Friday morning of Week 2 Term 4 and this was the day we jumped into the deep end and made our first global connection! After spending the first two weeks of term getting our students to create 'digital handshakes' to introduce themselves to the students from the rest of the world they would be connecting with and joining them up to the Connect with China Edmodo group, it was time to see if we could make this synchronous connecting idea actually work. We had been given the invitation of a Skype meeting with Nitin Dani, founder of "Green Initiatives" a Not for Profit Organisation whose mission is to:

To minimize or reverse the environmental degradation in China brought about by economic growth, and ensure that economic development and a better standard of living do not come at the cost of the environment.

We were aiming to meet at 9:30am Adelaide time and the hope was that one of our partner schools in Victoria would also join in this meeting. There was lots of backwards of forwards communication between myself, Anne from Victoria and Nitin in China via WeChat as we attempted to share Skype names and determine exactly what time and who would be making the initial contact. Eventually we managed to connect, this was one of the highlights of the morning. WeI had 40 students sitting in a theatre eagerly awaiting this moment. They had had to wait a little longer than expected, and not surprisingly they were getting a little restless. But the moment Nitin's voice came booming through the speakers the reaction of the kids was priceless! Unfortunately on this occasion we couldn't get the video link to work, so Anne decided to be a silent participant just listening in, and Nitin and the Immanuel classes just felt our way through the process a little blindly.

In preparation for our inaugural Skype session with our students, we had undertaken a short session on "netiquette" and the appropriate way to interact. We asked the kids to do some basic research on Nitin's company Green Initiatives, so they had an overview of what his company was, from there each of the students wrote some questions to ask him during the session.

As a teacher every now and then you have one of those moments where your students just blow your mind, the "wow" moment. I think we had a few of those during this session. Some of the questions the students asked where really thought provoking and created some interesting discussion with Nitin. The one that resonates the most was "What can we do in Australia to help you in China look after the environment?", collaborate, build community and continue to make connections to help each other share ideas and resources was Nitin's general answer... what a great answer given that we were having this Skype meeting to start doing exactly that!!

For a first experience we certainly weren't put off this idea of global collaboration, in fact quite the opposite happened, it made us even more excited! We had on a few minor gliches, the video not working was certainly a major one. I think it took away from the experience somewhat as the students couldn't really interact with Nitin, it was more of a group phone call. From reading their reflections that is something they would have liked. We also ran into some bandwidth issues at the end with the audio breaking up in the last 5 minutes of the call, however we were grateful this occured later in the call rather than earlier. 

I felt strange about this because we couldn’t see him but he could see us so it was kind of awkward. Other than that I was really excited because it was the first time I had communicated with someone that was from Australia. Rainer Year 7 Student
When we were connected we could only hear each other. We thought it would have been a video call but it wasn’t so that was kind of disappointing. During the call the connection was great and we could hear each other quite clearly. When we were trying to wrap the call up, the connection between us and him was really bad so we decided to stop it there. Otherwise really the only other challenge was that we needed to speak up a bit more but as people got more confident they spoke louder so he could eventually hear what we were saying. Overall there were a few challenges that we encountered but they were easily fixed and weren’t a big problem. Amelia Year 7 Student

Overall the first connection was a great success. It provided our students with the opportunity to connect with someone a world apart fro m where they sat, someone who offered an insight into what life is like living in China, but also what people can do when they have passion and work together. I think having made the first connection all the students are much more excited to start their community projects with the students and to see how great a project such as this can be.

We already have our second Skype meeting setting up for this Friday, a meeting with a recently graduated student in China, who is Australian but has lived overseas for most of his life. Hopefully we can manage video with this call and an even greater amount of student participation. Flat Connections... really not as big and scary as I thought!!


Reflective Practices

Probably one of the things that teachers really struggle in is guiding or giving time for reflective practices at the end of lessons. We too are guilty of this!
Reflecting on a concept or topic is an essential skill students need to engage in constantly – not just at the end of term and the unit. It needs to be done virtually at the end of every lesson where a new concept has been introduced or learning activity has taken place. This gives the students an opportunity to ‘take a step back’ from all the new information hurled at them and to sort through what it is they have understood and what it is they need to ask help for. Teachers often tell parents that their students don’t ask for help and need to do so more often, but what if the student doesn’t even know what they need help with? What if they are so overwhelmed with new information that they think they get it, but in reality when it comes to applying it new circumstances they just can’t connect it all together.

Making reflection a part of the classroom routine is essential to teach and guide students to be able to stop and think about their learning and take responsibility and leadership in their knowledge construction.

All sounds good in theory. And we all know the benefits of it. So why don’t we do it?
That great big dirty word.


By the time you have introduced your lesson, review what you did last lesson, introduced the new concept/topic, given time to students to do a learning task associated with it, you’re already running into the next lesson or lunchtime trying desperately to get them to pack up after the bell. So how to fit it in?

We’ve come up with some simple methods. A reflection does not have to be a huge sit down and write essay responses to 10 questions. With appropriate questioning (get rid of ‘what I liked’ questions for now!) you can get a quick and easy reflection from students that help you to see what concepts have been grasped, and what ones you may need to re-teach to the whole class or perhaps just a small group or individual. The students then begin to get into a routine of being able to identify what new knowledge they’ve learned and what might be sticking points for them. We have made these reflective practice cards up so they may be printed in mass amounts and handed out quickly when needed, or they can be posted somewhere and answers can be made on a digital collaborative platform (like padlet or lino). If printed, we usually get the students to either pass them to us to review, or to stick them on the white board/ classroom twitter board – not to shame, but to facilitate discussions. Students can look at each other’s and maybe even help and explain concepts to those who weren’t sure about something in the lesson – an excellent form of collaboration and forming learning networks in the classroom.

321 RIQ

3 Recalls – Students write down 3 things they recall from the lesson, preferably in order. This is important to see if students have recalled the important and main points of the lesson, or whether they have missed the anything. This also helps students to organize the new information into smaller, more manageable chunks of understanding.

2 Insights – students write down 2 new things they have learned from the lesson, or 2 ‘lightbulb/ aha!’ moments. This may not just be limited specifically to content, but perhaps skills as well (for example, how to reference a website, or how to use advance search techniques). The obvious point here is that you can monitor that the students have understood the new topics correctly and that no one has ‘learned nothing new’.

1 Question – Students write 1 question they have from the lesson. It could be a clarifying question about some new content, or how to do something. This makes students really think about something they would like to learn further about. Don’t take ‘I have no questions’ as an acceptable remark – they can find a question about the concepts in the lesson, even if it wasn’t covered in the lesson – something connecting the new information to prior knowledge or opportunities for further learning.


Exit Cards

‘Exit Cards’ are given just before the lesson ends and students need to complete one as an ‘Exit Ticket’ out of the room to recess/lunch/home. These are fairly self-explanatory, but the reason we ask students to write down what they did in the lesson in order is to make sure they actually engaged and understood each topic covered during the lesson and the progression of the topics. Again, we get students to hand these to us or pin them for discussion purposes.



I Need Help With…

These are the simplest cards I use. Students just write down something they need help with – easy! We hand these out at the beginning of a lesson (mainly maths at this point) and students can add to it during the lesson as we go through the content. The teachers can then view these on their desks at their leisure as they walk the room.

Another way these have been used is in review of a test – if you go through tests afterwards, students can jot down what they still don’t understand the concepts and the teachers can re-teach to either the whole class if there is a pattern of ‘misunderstanding’ or to small groups/ individuals. These can also be used as exit cards.

EdTechSA State Conference - Debug Digital Technologies

During the final week of the mid year break, we attended the EdTechSA - Debug Digital Technologies state conference. It was both an opportunity for us to present at our first conference, as well as an opportunity to build our networks with the South Australian education sector.

The Norms of Online Global Collaboration

The opening Keynote speaker Julie Lindsay (http://twitter.com/julielindsay) has led the way in global collaboration in the classroom.  Her keynote address, "Who said global collaboration was hard? Debugging the myth of connecting local to global" gave us much to think about as educators in a technologically advanced school. Were we really globally collaborating? Were we following the "norms of online global collaboration"? Or were we just creating global links but not truly working together. As young educators, truth be told, we felt a little out of our element by the end of Julie's address, perhaps we believed we were much further ahead with how we were connecting our students to the world around them and making practical use of the technology we have available at our fingertips.

However having said this everyone likes a challenge and it gave us the boost we needed to really embrace the concepts and challenges that were discussed throughout the remainder of the conference. Some of the most interesting discussions focused on "what do we think an engaged classroom should look like and sound like?"

What do we think an engaged classroom should look like and sound like? All of these things!

It certainly made for some interesting discussion among the group, with the general consensus being that the 21st Century classroom should no longer be one of rows of tables and silent individual working. But rather a loud, collaborative one, where students are able to move around the space and work where they feel most comfortable. Within the classroom environment a culture of learning should be established, where technology use is seemlessly integrated into lessons, with a purpose, not just as a token effort. There are a number of ways to achieve this, and the most worthwhile part of the EdTechSA conference was having the opportunity to see how others are achieving this.

We were lucky to attend a workshop on Google Apps in Education. Who knew there were SO MANY Google Apps out there. One of the most eye opening experiences for us was discovering just how much more there is to be discovered. As a Microsoft school, we have tended toward programs available online and through the Microsoft Store. Seeing how easily we could also integrate the use of Google Apps into our classrooms left us feeling empowered and excited!

Click through to view our Prezi

Click through to view our Prezi

However easily the most powerful element of the EdTechSA Conference, was the ability for us to present a workshop ourselves. Igniting Inquiry and Imagination - Harnessing the power of technology to engage and prepare Year 7 students for 21st century learning was our opportunity to share our experiences and knowledge in our digital classroom practices. We focused primarily on the way we use Microsoft OneNote to create paperless units of work and how we integrate the use of other online programs to enhance and expand our students knowledge of topics of work. This workshop provided the opportunity to share with others how they too, can easily create an online space where students can access curriculum and learning activity resources where they can collaborate with their peers and store their own work.

We introduced some of our favourite programs such as Plickers, a fabulous tool allowing real time feedback of student knowledge in a fun and easy to set up fashion. Blendspace is another favourite, an online lesson planning tool which when utilsed properly allows students to access a well organised flipped learning experience. Padlet, Popplet and Prezi round out the favourites we discussed in our workshop. You can find links to all these resources and more on our Terrific Technology Page.

Sometimes using a conference to network with other educators can be a daunting experience, however on this particular occasion it proved to be quite valuable. Many a connection was formed and they are already leading us down a path of some very exciting ventures which we hope will continue to provide some exceptional learning experiences for our students and us as their teachers.