Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Collaborative Writing Tools

Note: Today I am running a staff meeting on Collaborative Writing Tools and have used this post to showcase how to embed some of these tools into a blog so that all students can easily access it.


Why Collaborate in Writing? Learning Together in Writing is Empowering.

How Collaborate in Writing?
  • Brainstorm
  • Plan
  • Write
  • Comment
  • etc.

What tools could we be using?



Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Chromebooks (cont.)

I feel really honoured by the views, positive feedback, +1s and shares of my last blogpost :) 
The lovely +Alyx Gillett asked some really good questions so I thought I share them and my answers with you here:

"I'd be really interested in the ways teachers in your cluster are using them in teaching and learning, as well as your thoughts on comparisons to an iPad?"

The best people to answer this question are probably the teachers themselves (e.g. +Diane Henderson and +Tracey Simeon). How they use the devices in class depends on the age of the students, the teacher and on the context. Generally speaking, the devices have pretty much replaced exercise books (y4-6/8). The schools use GAFE and Teacher Dashboard, and the students have most of their work in their Google Drive. Currently they are running parent courses in preparation for Chromebooks to be sent home.

Comparing iPads and Chromebooks, I believe different Digital Technologies have different purposes, and +Allanah King blogged about this topic just last month here.

If I look at how I personally use both of them, I can tell you I take my iPad mini with me everywhere in my handbag, and I take videos, photos, use apps (play my Smurf Village lol), I can type stuff up etc. I pull my Chromebook out when I know I have more typing to do. It is lightweight, still fits in a bigger handbag, boots up in seconds etc.

In a school environment with shared devices, iPads can be shared by up to say 4 people collaborating on a project / and app, and in my mind a Chromebook is more directed at one person at a time entering text, working on a programme etc. (not saying that you couldn't collaborate with that). In this situation, if you want individual students' work accessible to just them, a Chromebook is certainly easier as when they log in with their account and are straight in their Drive etc., and you can quite easily set Chromebooks up in a COW like system. That's where iPads are more of a personal device in my mind, because you have to go into the individual app (e.g. Drive) to change to your personal account.
So different devices for different purposes, and in my ideal classroom I personally would like to have a mixture to cater for many needs :)

"Any Chromebook essentials you'd suggest?"

In regards to accessories, these are some of the thing I regard as useful:

  • Covers: I got myself an iPearl cover (e.g. http://www.ipearl-inc.com/samsung-sc12.html) because I didn't want the plastic surface of my Samsung Chromebook to scratch. I have a couple of sleeves to put it into, one from the GAFE summit, one I made myself - this allows me to keep charger etc. all together.The cluster purchased hard cover sleeves for each Chromebook so they can go back and forth between school and home more safely. Only problem with that is that all cases are black, so they had to come up with ways to mark them so students can tell them apart (I went through the cupboard once to find my boy's - it was the bottom one out of 28 lol).
  • Headphones: Like with other 1:1 devices, I suggest every student has their own
    headphones (to keep the noise level for the classroom acceptable...). Check if your Chromebook has combined mic & headphone (same as for iPads).
  • Mouse: My 9y old son asked me to buy him a mouse for his Chromebook. I would have liked to get him a colour one so he can tell it apart from the others but it appears there are few 'cable' mice nowadays, and for students like him I don't think it's a great idea to have a wireless mouse (just another small item that can be lost) so a cheap Logitech mouse it was.
Connecting to a projector

As teachers we often display work on the projector or a screen. As my Chromebook only has HDMI output and many of the schools I work with still have their VGA projectors, I bought an HDMI to VGA adapter. Unfortunately the model I bought doesn't have external power and my Chromebook itself can't power it (however, I have can use the adapter with my Apple TV) - something worth checking out.

I also bought a Chromecast when they first came out (ordered from the US, now available in NZ e.g. check here), attach that to a screen (HDMI again, also wifi) and you can set it up to mirror from your Chromebook to the screen. Recently further development have come out, Chromecast now also casts all apps on my Nexus tablet, and there was talk some other features might come in, too (limiting who can mirror to the Chromecast - the bane of many teachers who have a different classes iPad show up on their Apple TV...)

Please keep the questions coming, I will go looking for the answers when I don't know them :)

Sunday, 20 July 2014

The popularity of Chromebooks in NZ schools and how to get started if you want to join the party!

I didn't know all that much about Chromebooks until about half way through last year. The Manaiakalani Cluster in Auckland have been using them for some time, and as I am working with the Kaikohekohe Cluster, who are following a similar pathway in regards to bringing 1:1 devices to the classrooms, I have bought my own device, learnt to use it, and worked with these teachers on how to integrate them effectively into learning and teaching. As a consequence of that I have become more aware of other New Zealand schools introducing them and have been able to point others to relevant information. Here is a little summary for those that are investigating Chromebooks for their school.

So why are Chromebooks becoming increasingly popular with New Zealand schools?
Here in New Zealand, many schools are working hard to provide 21C learning and teaching in their classrooms, and effective use of digital technology (DTs) is a vital component. Currently there is no government funding for devices to my knowledge, so schools many schools are resorting to fund raising, grant applications etc. to purchase technologies. Another pathway schools are pursuing is parent funded devices either via voluntary or compulsory BYOD, something that can put pressure on many families especially in low-decile communities.
Teachers are getting more confident with integrating technology into their classrooms, however, not all are technoholics and happy to tutu with all types of devices in their classrooms, especially with younger students where teachers have to act as techies at times. For that reason some schools have chosen to stick with or to prescribe a certain device. E.g. at one of the schools I taught at we had Windows desktop computers and netbooks, and certainly it was easy to transfer your technical knowledge from the one device to the other as a teacher.
For the schools I work with, iPads and Chromebooks seem to be the two tools schools gravitate to:
iPads are mobile, intuitive, tactile, have great functionality and offer a fantastic range of educational apps.
Chromebooks are light weight, easy to set up and operate under GAFE, require no backing up and automatically complete software updates, they boot up in seconds (compare that to my work HP ProBook4540s booting up in 3min...) - and they are relatively low cost (e.g. see a comparison of different companies on Priceme, or Cyclone Computers or Norrcom; disclaimer: I have no affiliation with either companies, but I know that some schools purchase through them).
With overlays like Hapara Teacher Dashboard or Google Classroom (which I yet have to explore more), teachers can easily monitor students' work within GAFE (which has become the platform of choice for many of the schools I am working with). This is independent of the type of device used.
To make devices affordable to purchase for families, some schools are starting to form or join existing trusts which allow parents to finance devices at affordable rates ($3.50-$4 per week for 3 years incl. insurance). At least one of our political parties is promising a scheme to help parents finance devices for students, too, so we should all watch developments with interest.

Is the increasing popularity a good thing?
1:1 devices, used effectively, are part of 21C learning and teaching. I certainly think that the increasing popularity of Chromebooks is a good thing for students Y4+, they are relatively affordable, require little maintenance / updating, light weight, capable of most tasks of a traditional laptop. What makes it superior to those in my opinion is the capability they have through GAFE - cloud storage, straight into a students' account, saving automatically (no more "Miss, I am sure I have saved it"...), with collaboration and sharing being the standout features for me.

What do you need to consider if you want to roll out Chromebooks in your school?
Firstly, look at your school vision for (e-)learning. What do you want to achieve? As part of the NZC Vision, we are aiming to develop confident, connected, actively involved, and lifelong learners. Future-oriented Learning and Teaching identifies six key themes: Personalising Learning, Rethinking Learners' and Teachers' roles (ako), New views of Equity and Diversity, Culture of Continuous Learning for Teachers and Leaders, Use of Knowledge to develop Learning Capacity, and New Partnerships and Relationships
Then examine your school's pedagogy: What does learning look like at your school? What will it look like in the future? What do you and your teachers need to make this happen? An increased number or even 1:1 devices might be one of these. You might want to purchase Chromebooks if you have the funding, or you you might want to ask parents to do so, with or without the help of a trust.

Technical Setup
I have been asked about this several times, and while I was not the one setting it up for Kaikohekohe Cluster schools, I can share my observations:

  1. Schools need to sign up for GAFE. If you have reliable tech support, you might want to ask them to do this for you, you need to consider if you want to have all staff and students signed up to GAFE on your existing, on a new or on different domains. The domain(s) need to be verified as educational etc.
  2. Create accounts for students you want to have use the Chromebooks. This happens within the GAFE Admin Console. Here a Superadmin sets up accounts for GAFE administrators, teacher and students, and I recommend strongly that you set up different suborganisations (e.g. teachers and students) to give them access to those GAFE apps you approve for them (as an example, you must not give Google+ access to students under age 13, as trying to access this will automatically suspend their account with Google). You can have a technician do this, but I strongly recommend that someone on staff is closely involved.
  3. For your Chromebooks, consider the use of the Chromebook Management Console (there is a cost, but I can't remember how much). This is a tool that allows you to set up Chromebooks exactly as you want them, incl. pushing out or deleting apps from devices, putting restrictions on such as adding additional accounts etc. This means all your students will have access to those apps you think they will need; however, there can be a time delay when you discover that an additional app might be useful.
  4. When the Kaikohekohe schools rolled out their devices in term 1, they decided to go for the 'white glove' service, which means that the devices arrived at school, ready for each individual child to log in and start working, even with the correct wifi password already entered. Well worth the cost, as the children could get stuck in then and there.
The best technical setup won't help unless your teachers know how to integrate these devices into their learning and teaching, so good support and PD around pedagogical and technical issues (how to use GAFE etc.) is absolutely vital. You don't want to end up with $500 pencils in your classrooms!

If I was back in the classroom, I would certainly want to have Chromebooks in my classroom. If you are interested in more information, feel free to contact me :)

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

PD around Digital Story Telling and UDL

There's always lots going on, sometimes it's hard to remember to blog about it! For me in my work the focus has definitely shifted from being a 'trainer in things IT' to being a connector between school leaders' and teachers' existing knowledge and relevant information out there - not always easy for us as facilitators as there is an immense amount of knowledge out there for us to be aware of... With Teaching as Inquiry being such a powerful vehicle for all educators to progress their students' learning, and with teachers driving their own learning through TaI, there is less need for facilitators to 'know it all' (I do still get this occasionally, "but you must know, you are the e-learning person"...)

However, there is still a need to look at how to use tools. I have realised that if I truly want to apply UDL principles in my work (multiple means of representation, of action & expression and of engagement), I need to be more considerate of everyone's needs when I deliver workshops. Therefore I have gone back to creating some worksheets / tutorials on Google Docs that not only get shared but also easily can be printed out and sit beside the person using an app or a programme on a device. Here is a session I have run with schools around Digital Story Telling / Movie Making recently, and here you can find tutorials I have created to support this: Movie Making with iMovie iPad appMovie Making with WeVideo (online)Movie Making with WeVideo Android appMovie Making with Windows Movie Maker.

I think it is vital that we remember, writing is just one form of sharing a narrative. Digital Storytelling is in some sense not very different from the travelling story tellers we have had even back in the ice ages. Technology now lets us tell our stories and share them easily with anyone we choose to (much easier than travelling over land by foot :D). It also perfectly fits with all three principles of UDL!

What might this look like in the classroom?
Use digital story telling parallel to, as an alternative to or instead of writing. Students still need to plan / story board their story, ensure they are sharing the narrative. 
Ensure students understand the limitations and difficulties of turning their narrative into a movie (they might not have the tools / props on hand to create what words could describe).
Time management is an issue for many students; ensure you set a realistic timeframe, provide scaffolding where necessary; this might include you being actively involved in the creation of the story depending on age and ability of your students.
Most importantly: Take time for the finished stories to be shared - within your class, across the school and beyond.

How are you using Digital Storytelling in your work?

There have been some thoughts brewing in my head about UDL - being such a Golden Circle fan the order of the three principles (what, how and why of learning) doesn't sit well with me. Watch this space...