Sunday, 28 August 2016

Chromebooks for 6 & 7 year olds

Our school is well equipped with digital devices, all of us believe strongly that they are part of teaching our students for their future. I feel very lucky to be offered the opportunity to have 1:1 devices for all my students, funded by the school. But as I have always said, it's not about the devices, it's not about me - it's about how can these devices be utilised in the best way to transform student learning?

The introduction of these devices to my students coincided with us starting up a 40+ student, y2/3 ILE at the beginning of term 3, which added some very capable y2 students into the mix. While our students were well used to the idea of completing Must Dos and Can Dos when not in a group guided by an adult, with the emphasis on digital tools we added a number of tracking displays to our learning space so students can (and have to) show their progress on there. This does not only help us to monitor, it also helps them develop agency over their learning (and creates some healthy competition!). In relation to this, I have thought long and hard about displaying where children are at in relation to their peers; will 'low' students feel put down? My observation after 1 1/2 terms is that all students know who are the 'slower' and who are the 'faster' students, and while I am certain there is some of the "Look where he/she still is", I have found overall that our 41 students are kind and caring to each other, and they applaud each other when they have shifted.

A few things were very important for me from the outset: My students would be working in GAFE, they would have their own personalised blogs to document (some of) their learning, and there would be a big emphasis on collaboration. I had always advocated for the use of Hapara Teacher Dashboard to make sharing, monitoring etc. easier on the teacher and I am happy to report that indeed I find this an extremely helpful tool.

Many New Zealand schools now use Chromebooks, though often with older students, from year 4 upwards. At this younger age, though, what do my students need to be able to utilise this technology? I have to admit, my very first thought was the their technical skills, but I very soon realised that there are other, more important (key) competencies, that need developing first: Managing self, relating to others and participating and contributing.
  • Managing self is important not only to look after the digital device, by working on a device they are also required to manage some of their own learning (Must Dos and Can Dos), assisted by their teachers. They also need to learn to manage the temptation to go elsewhere on the www without us blocking everything.
  • Relating to others is hard enough for many 6 & 7 year olds in the 'real' world, leave alone an online space. We have used our school Minecraft server as one of the platforms to practise how to work with others in an online space. We have also found that after a short time students need little guidance to gravitate towards 'expert' students, and many of them have become very good at seeking out each other when they need help. (Just as a little side note, Friday week before last one of my girls asked me to stop talking during the start of their Minecraft session so they could get on with their learning [from each other]. Mission accomplished!]
  • Participating and contributing again is a skill some children need to work on both in the real world and in online spaces. Not every student is capable yet to do this to a high degree, so I have limited the number of occasions where they are truly collaborating in Google Drive for the time being. However, I have noted that some of my students are now creating and sharing Google Docs with each other as a natural progression from working together on one piece of paper.
How about those technical skills I mentioned? I realised very early on that not all students have a grasp on how to use a keyboard yet. Out of all the typing programmes out there, BBC Dance Mat Typing still appeals to me the most. It is quirky and fun, and it teaches the necessary skills. However, it is lacking a teacher dashboard, and I have not monitored its use by the students thoroughly, so one of these days I will get back to it and think about how I can utilise this (or another typing programme) better.
Another skill I wanted them to obtain early on was how to actually work in their Google Drive. As mentioned above we have Teacher Dashboard, so certain folders are set up for them. I took them through one lesson of how to create a new document, how to insert images etc. A number of our students have never looked back, just the other day some of our 6y olds wrote up a document all by themselves, printed it off and gave it to the relief teacher for pasting on a poster.

Example of a student using Google Docs to write a narrative inspired by the inserted image.
Some of our students target students for our ALL programme (to accelerate their writing progress), so I have introduced all students to the Read & Write for Google Chrome Extension (which I have added to each of their accounts through the GAFE Admin Console). In Google Docs we have experimented with using Voice Typing, followed by using Read & Write to listen back to what we have written.

Here are some ideas of how we are currently using our Chromebooks:
We have a class site which contains our planning, links to external sites and some of the students' tasks. Every day students have to complete a number of Must Dos, currently this consists of XtraMath (at a designated time) and Reading Eggs or Reading Eggspress and Mathletics, as well as Study Ladder (when we have enough time). All of these are linked out of our site, which I have set up (via the GAFE Admin Console) as the first tab they see when they open Chrome. We have had issues with the homepage not showing after we closed tabs, so we have also bookmarked it to their Bookmarks Bar.

In addition we have been using Google Drive for some of our writing as well as for Reading Responses. While I love Voice Typing in Google Docs, I have found that younger students can be intimidated by a big blank piece of paper, and should they get beyond the page, they easily lose track of where they are at. I have found Google Slides much more user friendly for children this age, as each slide shows on the left and they can easily navigate back and forth. We have used this for basic narratives (slide 1 title, slide 2 introduction, slide 3 problem, slide 4 ending), for a collaborative poem inspired by a poem in a Junior Journal etc. For connecting reading and writing (reading response), I have set up a file called "Independent Reading Activities" in Google Slides where my top reading groups get to complete one task every week in relation to one of the texts in their readers. I speak to them about it briefly in class, put it up on the white board and show it in the reading plan on our site, so to there are multiple places to get their instructions from. As with many tasks, I encourage collaboration, because I believe they learn best with and from each other. Another big plus for Google Slides is that they easily embed into Blogger, more easily than Google Docs.

Hapara Teacher Dashboard is a fabulous in helping me keep track of what and how they are doing. At a glance I can see who has or hasn't started their task. 
I visit each of their files to give them feedback and feed forward through comments - or as my children say "Mrs. Kern, you messaged me, and I messaged you back".

And teachers make typos, too...
Teacher Dashboard also allows me to see at a glance what site students are currently working on. Over the last ten days I have used the Highlights part of the Teacher Dashboard on two occasions to close a tab to a site I didn't want the students to visit. As the children are using just their device, it is also very easy to check out the browser history to see what sites a particular student has visited (this simple way is still the fastest for me at the moment).

Getting their 'own' Chromebook has become something students aspire to. At this point in time we have assigned a device to each of 'my' year 3 students as well as those year 2 students working at the beginning of CL2 in writing. With their name on the lid of the device, students have been very careful with 'their' device, and we have had no breakage whatsoever in 1 1/2 terms. 

What isn't working so well...
  • Posting to our blogs - we don't do it often enough! I am not sure if if they are a bit young, if it is my first time working with this year level, or a combination of both - or something else entirely! My intention was to have something published to their blog at least every fortnight, but another week has just passed where we did not manage to do so. While our school expectation is that we show good quality work on our individual blogs, we also advise our audience that we are still learning:
I think my biggest problem is that I still see it as an 'extra' and don't integrate it well enough into the programme itself, and as an 'extra' it doesn't happen often enough.
  • Headphones!  Headphones don't get treated with the same respect as their 'own' Chromebooks, so we have purchased more, have put up shoe organisers to house them, and I had all intentions of naming each set of headphones to encourage a similar care as the students have shown with their devices. However, the naming part is yet to happen... We had some issue when ordering our headphones, returned one lot, finally received another, when I realised that they had two individual plugs (microphone and headphone) rather than one integrated plug. I kept these in the end (as I really needed them), and we can make them work just fine, but ideally, in the future, I will make sure to get sets with integrated plugs.

Does it make a difference?
The devices themselves make no difference, it's how we use them that hopefully transforms learning. I am convinced that my students have further develop their ability to manage self, relate to others [in the online world] and to participate and contribute  - and some of this is rubbing off into the 'real world' (as some students have earned a lot of respect from others online, their offline relationships have changed, too). Most of them are now well able to navigate through our site, to access their Google Drive and work on files within their folders. Many students are able to create new documents and share them.
Aspects of their writing are benefitting, too. Spelling is overall improved when using a device (yes, we have spell-check enabled, but I believe that this helps you with spelling, you need to be able to choose from a selection of suggested words - or realise that none of them are what you are looking for as your spelling attempt was too far out). They have become faster at typing. Most importantly, though, when they are using their devices, they are showing more pride in their writing as from the outset letter formation and 'rubbing out' is no issue, neither is rearranging their writing to make more sense, or adding detail.

In 2017, the year 3s will move into our previously established Y4&5 ILE where they will continue to work on 1:1 devices, they will publish to their blogs more regularly etc. I am hopeful that our work this year has set them up in a way that they will find it easy to fit into the environment and cope with the work at the next year level up. With another 1 1/2 terms to go, this is merely a snapshot of where we are at currently, and I plan to update on our progress later on this year.

Sunday, 21 August 2016

Minecraft and Literacy - midpoint review

You would be hard pushed to find any parent or teacher who have not heard of Minecraft. An open-world sandbox game, it was first released in November 2011 and has since developed into the second best-selling video game (behind Tetris). According to Wikipedia, as of June this year over 106 million copies have been sold, across a variety of platforms. About 20 or so of these have been purchased by me...

Minecraft has fascinated me since my then about 11y old abandoned his expensive Lego Technic sets for this blocky, nausea-inducing computer game. Over the last few years I have spoken about and presented on the value of Minecraft for education on many occasions both in New Zealand and Australia. With my return to the classroom this year, I was keen to put all this talk into action, and my supportive principal encouraged me to give it a go.

Before getting started with Minecraft, it was very important to consider the age and maturity of students. My students are 6-8 years old and are working at CL1 or early CL2. At their age, they are still learning about Managing self, Relating to others and Participating and Contributing (NZC Key Competencies). They are not used to being members of 'online communities' yet. However, about half of our 40 students are working on their personal Chromebook within Google Drive and post to their individual blog. Minecraft proved a great forum to teach them about above Key Competencies, their application within the online world and digital citizenship.

How did we set it up?

With Chromebooks as well as some iPads in the classroom we had to weigh up options what platform we would use. In the end I chose the regular Minecraft PC Edition with Premium Accounts, installed on old desktops in a spare classroom, with one server running a size-limited world. Due to hardware issue we only managed to instal it on 11 devices of which five have given me grief last week (guess how I will spend my lunchtime tomorrow?). We had considered iPads and (old) Android tablets but felt it was important that all players would interact in one world. The new Minecraft Education version was not quite released yet when we wanted to get going (start of term 2), and even now I am not sure that is the avenue I want to take as the Premium addition allows me to customise to my heart's content.

The original installation was done by my now 16y old son, including Read Me files for when things go wrong ("Make sure you actually read them, Mum"). To quote the wonderful +Annemarie Hyde "your technician needs to be 13 or have the mind of a 13y old". We purchased Minecraft Premium Accounts through Mojang, each linked to a school email account I had set up (note: We ran into trouble when we tried setting up too many of these Minecraft accounts in one go, maybe some sort of spam filter?). As Minecraft gets updated more regularly now, we set our Minecraft versions to a particular version under profile (profiles and server need to be on the same version). Our server properties have disabled 'cheats', the 'nether', 'hostile mobs' etc.

So what do we do with it?

While there is quite an obvious link between Minecraft and Maths, I am focussing on the links between Minecraft and Literacy, partly influenced by the work +Kassey Downard did with her class at Mokoia Intermediate School. However, there is a large overlap between many different disciplines.
At first we needed to learn how to actually work together in this world. The students negotiated a Minecraft Treaty, based on our school Kaitiaki values:

Some students found it easier, some harder, but about 3 months into the process, the children are working very well together. Very early on I started introducing the point that we don't just play Minecraft for the sake of it, but that it is linked to Literacy, especially writing. Over time we have come up with some of these ideas:
  • Putting up signs in Minecraft
  • Using the 'chat' to communicate
  • Writing our names using a block alphabet
  • Looking up items in the inventory
  • Writing narratives in books in Minecraft, signing them and keeping them in a chest for others to read
  • Explaining how to do things in Minecraft, orally and in writing
Some of the interesting things I have noted:
  • Several of the students who find reading and / or writing challenging are our  best Minecrafters.
  • When they talk about Minecraft their vocabulary is extensive.
  • Good Minecrafters have become the go-to experts, they teach other students and often have become more confident outside Minecraft sessions, too.
  • Initially less confident Minecrafters are becoming more confident and are teaching others.
  • I have become quite redundant during these sessions, in fact on Friday a girl asked me to not talk so they could learn from each other :)
  • Minecraft is definitely a carrot for students to be on task in other areas!
  • At times I tend to overplan things; last week we were building our version of the Olympic Games in a new super-flat world, and where I had first thought I needed to 'direct traffic' etc., my children just got on with it and created swimming pools, Rugby 7 fields, race tracks, even an ice skating rink (they had planned it all and were so keen to build it that I didn't have the heart to point out the difference between summer and winter games).

Does it make a difference?

We are part of the ALL PLD programme, and for a while I had made Minecraft an important part of the work I did with my ALL group. All five boys in this group are keen Minecrafters, and they have created some good explanations as well as some narratives set in Minecraft. During the first 10 weeks of the ALL programme, one boy has accelerated to CL2 and left the ALL group, 4 others have moved one sub-level. This is not just due to Minecraft, but Minecraft has definitely helped them to see that they have got something to say.
Currently I am using Minecraft with all our students in rotations with 10 students at a time, and the ALL boys are my go-to experts. However, ultimately I would like to move towards the 'YouTuber' phenomenon, where the ALL children - and possibly other children - create their own walk-throughs and tutorials.

First attempt at writing a narrative in Minecraft


Early on we had one instance where the chat feature was abused. Luckily I was able to retrieve all of the chat from the server file. This became a very useful lesson of how to be a digital citizen for the students involved, and it has not reoccured.

Hardware issues can be frustrating (enough said...).

Having the devices in a separate room has positives and negatives by not always being instantly available.

Increasing the amount of devices running Minecraft could make the timing of sessions easier.

Minecraft Lunchtime Clubs

In addition to using Minecraft in my class, we are also offering lunchtime clubs during the winter terms. Responsible y4 & 5 students are supporting juniors and seniors on two different days, and I just spend my lunchtime in the room to support them should they need it. We have set up different worlds for different occasions and purposes, and my Minecraft leaders are very pleased that they have additional privileges when they come in for a fun session once a week all by themselves.

Overall, I believe Minecraft has an important place in my classroom, and I am looking forward to how our use further develops as the year progresses.

Club Leaders' World

Sunday, 31 July 2016


My first time attending #educampAKL. Not only did I love catching up with old and new friends from near and far, I absolutely loved the sharing, collaborating and learning. Here is a collection of the tweets. Feel free to follow the links to access the resources shared at #educampAKL. Can't wait for next year! Thanks heaps to Stuart Kelly and Jacque Allen for hosting and organising, and to N4L and Cognition Education for sponsoring the event!

Sunday, 3 July 2016

Self-marking Google Forms

Previously you had to use Add-ons for Google Sheets to mark the responses you got Google Forms, such as Flobaroo. Last week I read online that now Google Forms includes this within the app, so today I had a play with this.

At the age my students are at (y3, 7-8y old and working towards / at the beginning of CL2), there is not often the need to mark responses to 'tests'. However, I was intrigued with the possibilities this could offer, so I created a CLOZE reading worksheet which my students can fill in online. Originally I had planned for them to complete it as Google Doc (I shared individual copies with them via Hapara TD), but then I would need to go back into each of their sheets to check their answers, so a Form sounded a good idea.

When you create your new Google Form, as usual you add question after question. I had set up the sentences with gaps for the students to complete, so my first attempt was to choose Short Answer, with the students hopefully choosing the correct word from a list at the top. However, this did not give me an option to add the Answer Key and with that to set up the Self Marking.

Instead I went for Multiple Choice (which I prefer for young learners over Drop Down where they can't easily see the choice of answers). I randomly chose 4 words (including the correct one) as options. I considered selecting Shuffle Option Order (find by clicking on the three vertical dots bottom right of the question), but this could be confusing for my students whom I want to encourage to collaborate.

To set up the Self Marking, you click on Answer Key at the bottom left of the question. Choose your correct answer and assign points. You can Add Answer Feedback which I have left off. I could see how this could be very useful when you want to use the form to straight away feedback to your student, or when you want to use it as a tutorial (maybe you remember this Tutorial I created as Google Form couple of years ago?).

This is a copy of what I came up with. I have linked it out of our Class Site, and I'm looking forward to using it next week (feel free to fill this is so we get some data to play with):

I have submitted a test response, this is a quick screen shot of what data you get:

You can select your Summary and Individual Responses, what questions were answered wrong frequently, and you can see the responses to each individual question. 

You can also create a Spreadsheet to have all data in one easily accessible place:

I can see that this could be an easy to use and helpful tool, but please give it a try and let me know if and how it works in your context!

Monday, 27 June 2016

Changing World

"The future is unknown but not unimaginable" is a saying I have liked for a long time. Like many other future focussed educators I am trying to prepare the young people in my charge for an unknown future. There are different theories out there about what will be required to be successful in the future.

Our NZC's vision says: 
Our vision is for young people:
  • who will be creative, energetic, and enterprising
  • who will seize the opportunities offered by new knowledge and technologies to secure a sustainable social, cultural, economic, and environmental future for our country
  • who will work to create an Aotearoa New Zealand in which Māori and Pākehā recognise each other as full Treaty partners, and in which all cultures are valued for the contributions they bring
  • who, in their school years, will continue to develop the values, knowledge, and competencies that will enable them to live full and satisfying lives
  • who will be confident, connected, actively involved, and lifelong learners.
Another view on the skills required to be successful in the future comes from the Institute for the Future:
Image Source

Both above statements emphasise the importance of being connected and culturally aware and competent. Some of the more recent international political landscape has been somewhat contrary to this, and this brought back to me how the future could be less imaginable than I expected. I am now wondering if this requires me to change my approach, to prepare my students differently? While I want my students to be valuing different cultures and I want them to be connected learners, do I also need to prepare them more consciously for situations where they encounter people that are less so inclined?

Our students will be the future society. What are we doing that helps shape this future society? And how do we ensure that these future citizens of Aotearoa will not (need to) search on Google after their vote what the decision was all about in the first place?

I have many more questions than answers - how about you? Keen to hear your thoughts.

Saturday, 25 June 2016

Passion Learning for Teachers

Having attended a number of PLD events over the last few weeks, I have been pondering my own 'passions'. While I thoroughly enjoy my current role teaching 'little people', I have found that one of my passions still endures: Supporting other educators to transform their practise. This starts with sharing information about PLD events with others, encouraging others to attend events I think they would find useful, with trying to make myself available for others who would like support from me, to submitting proposals and presenting at events. Due to a lack of time I have heavily reduced my participation in online communities, creation and sharing of resources, as well as blogging and I do miss these aspects - but there are only so many hours in the day, and my little people and my family have to come first:)

Image Source
It has been interesting to observe who participates at various events:
There are still many teachers out there who are 'new' to digital tools and the pedagogies required to transform learning for their students. This is not saying that in the past no teachers have adapted to meet the needs of their students, or that they have not had their students' best interests at heart. I am passionate about using digital tools in a way that we transform our students' learning experiences - though I am not necessarily the best example of putting this into practise myself (I have said before, I seem to be more of a 'do as I say, not as I do' person...).
I have encountered teachers I would regard as more experienced or experts in using digital tools in order to transform learning at these events; in most cases they would be presenting at such events. But what other avenues are there for them? Where do those teachers get their PLD who are already experienced / experts (gifted?) in this area? Where can I get my PLD fix?

While I know that every teacher has many areas they need to be confident in (and I have many areas I need to work on), when we compare teacher learning with student learning, we have moved away from the deficit theory of telling our students to only worry about the areas they are not good at. We want our students to follow their passions while we help them build up the areas they are less confident in. What does this look like in teacher PLD?
Image Source

I am wondering if we can learn from the classroom when we look at teacher PLD (I have previously written here about how I don't think I applied enough of what I used to tell my teachers in my work with them). Let's assume we have a technically confident future focussed teachers looking to further their passion for this, what are we offering them? Just like in the classroom, teachers have different needs, so considering UDL we might want to offer them Multiple Means of Engagement (why), Multiple Means of Representation (how) and Multiple Means of Action and Expression (what of learning). What could this look like at a f2f event I wonder? Could we design workshops and sessions around these principles rather than a one-size-fits-all present approach, and what might this look like? How can we incorporate asynchronous, digital learning with this?

I have had some of my proposals to present accepted for the NZLA Conference and for Ulearn16, and I am really keen to make these sessions applicable to as many learners with different needs as possible. I have previously attempted to incorporate UDL into my presentations, (e.g. my Supporting UDL with GAFE presentation at Ulearn14, see post here).  This could be my starting point for how to design my sessions for later this year. I am also interested to see how this might further influence what we already do in our y2&3 ILE classroom.

The question remains though: How do we ensure that teachers can push their passions further? And where can I learn more about this?

I asked the wonderfully knowledgable +Hazel Owen for some advice around it, and she wrote:
The interesting thing is - there isn't (as far as I know) that much research / papers out there that look into this specific subject. Rather the research is around:
  • personalised, tailored learning, 
  • teaching as inquiry, 
  • action research in teaching, 
  • Continuing Professional Development (CPD), 
  • (online) communities of practice, 
  • PLEs, and 
  • mentoring / coaching for teachers' / education leaders' PLD.
In the holidays I plan to start reading more on this topic. If you regard yourself as confident or an expert in a particular area, but still passionate about learning more about that same area, how do you go about this? I would love to hear from you :)

PLD Term 2 2016 - Reflections

My reflections on three 'away' PLD events this term

GEGNZ Sparkshop in Auckland 28 May 2016

(go to the Twitter Stream here)

It's been great to catch up with other GEG NZ educators. Approx. 50 participants shared, learned and collaborated on a variety of topics around the use of Google Apps in education. I really enjoyed the session with +Ellie Mackwood around using DTs with learners with SEN - a lot of this applicable to our young learners in our y2&3 ILE, too. Another fabulous session was run by +Lenva Shearing, she shared a multitude of useful Chrome Apps and Extensions. I especially appreciated the extra time she took over lunch to show us some of the ins and outs of Hapara Teacher Dashboard.

Apart from the app tricks and tips that come in useful as my students are working more within GAFE, I have been reflecting on the way PLD event experiences differ from when I attended them as a facilitator to attending them as a teacher. As a facilitator I looked for a wide range of applicable learning that I could pass on to the educators I have been working with. Often I would bookmark tools, presentations etc. for later and sit down and tutu until I was confident I could pass this on to an interested teacher. As a classroom teacher now I am looking more for ideas that are directly relevant for my context and the learners I am working with. With no time set aside in my day to 'play', I probably pick up on fewer tools than in the past (not saying this is better or worse, just noting that this is different).

I also reflected on the attendees and the content of the presentations. This was free PD and even with my rather patchy Social Media presence nowadays I saw it advertised weeks ago (and two colleagues joined me). Among the 50odd participants there were few of the GEG educators I used to meet in the past (having been overseas for a year probably added to that). Another participant mentioned she was surprised that not more Auckland teachers took up this offer of free PD. I suppose Saturday morning sports are an important commitment for many teachers and parents, reports coming up etc. all have an impact.

Educamp Tai Tokerau in Whangarei 11 June 2016

I had been to two EducampTT previously (from memory), and this one probably had fewer attendees than the ones in the past. I believe the annual event did not run in 2015, so I expect this had an impact - as well as the game All Blacks vs. Wales in Auckland the same day. And again it was a Saturday where many of the rural primary teachers have commitments. [One of my wonderings: Am I right that there are more primary than secondary teachers represented at such events, and why is that?]

In difference to the Auckland event, there were lots of familiar 'experts' present. Due to the number of attendees rather than individual workshops, a smaller number of topics were presented to everyone in the room.

I personally gained less from this than from the previous experiences, but it gave me an opportunity to revisit some of the tools I have come across previously. Especially Edpuzzle is something I want to explore more; I would like to investigate flipping my classroom, and Educreations could be one way to record 'lessons', or I could use Edpuzzle for a range of existing (or my own) videos with or without added questions for my students.

As I had not quite had enough of commuting that week lol, I also attended the Open Night at the MindLab Whangarei 13 June 2016.

First thing I realised was how long it takes to travel from Mangonui to Whangarei - at least 1h 45min. I am lucky to live in Kerikeri, 45min south of Mangonui. As I have previously written about, I am very passionate about professional learning for rural and isolated teachers, and commuting to Whangarei for a 4h sessions every week for (I think) 16 weeks would be hard work. In 2015 I had encourage the MindLab to come to Whangarei for Northland teachers to be able to take advantage of the great programme they are offering, but back in the classroom working long hours, I would struggle with the commute alone.

Karen Baker competently presented the 'intro' to the course. I was interested to see that the ITL research was quoted, something I had not come across much in New Zealand before but have worked with intensively in Australia. It sounded like I would enjoy a lot of the content, but given that I have worked across this field previously I am not sure that I would find enough 'new' learning to justify taking that much time away from my day job and my family (please note the order... sigh...)

I am incredibly thankful to my colleagues for their company on the trip to Auckland and to our principal for the financial support.