Sunday, May 20, 2007

Using iPods in the classroom

I was fortunate yesterday to attend and to present at the ICTEV conference (see session notes for some workshops here). One of the sessions I went to was this one by Richelle Hollis from Bendigo Senior Secondary College. After reminding us of what researchers have told us about Generation Y (those born in the 1980s and 90s) referring to studies by Peter Sheahan and Mark McCrindle, Richelle showed some podcasts including Douchy’s Biology Podcast.

Richelle showed us some fabulous work by Year 12 German Language students, one of whom had composed and sung his own work on what it was like to live in Australia in German!. He had then sent this mp3 file to his German host family to critique and then improved it. This really showed the power of podcasting in the classroom. Richelle also told us about a program called Breakfast bytes, which was a program for teachers in her school to learn about podcasting over a (catered) breakfast which worked so well that she ran it twice. One feature of this was that she sent out the invitations to the staff by a sound file she had recorded.

Richelle demonstrated how simple it was to record podcasts using an iPod (or any mp3player) with a Micro Memo recorder to plug in to the iPod. There were lots more ideas such as when students are on an excursion they can record their impressions of what they are seeing to later turn into a podcast summarising their learning.

One idea I got from this session that I want to try is getting my Year 7 students to make a radio show, writing the scripts in pairs on things that interest them that they have done some research on (or possibly interviews with friends or family) and recording them. I still need to think some more about how to do this.

I also want to introduce the concept to my Year 12s in the next week, as they are doing their orals outside of class time and preparing to write an essay on one of the two texts they have studied so far. I would like them to work in pairs on their chosen text and interview each other on aspects of the text, record these and put them up as podcasts which would be useful for revision at the end of the year.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Alphabet graffiti

I have just been using one of the ideas that I heard about in Lessons plans by the Yarra. We have been studying Macbeth and though it was an interrupted session due to injections we managed to enact the murder of King Duncan (as I did last year) and Alphabet Graffiti.

It was great to hear the students around the room saying, “What did you get for q? “What about ambition for A?”, having students both ask and answer the questions of each other. To produce a useful list for revision was a really collaborative effort and I loved using it. It might have helped that we were in the computer room and could perform a search of the play script online.

This activity both surfaced knowledge the students already had and created new knowledge for the students. A worthwhile activity on many counts. Thanks to Graham and his colleagues. (I just heard one say, "Use 'yearn'," and the response: “how do you spell that?”) Most of the students are now back from the injections and we will now continue to read the play.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Extendng the workshop

Tonight several of the participants in the IBO Language A workshop that I attended in China met together online in a skype conference (Language A is the best language of the students and is often the language of instruction, so in my case English). So there was Tony from Adelaide, Paul from Osaka, Japan, Sheila and her colleague Jeff from Hong Kong, and Jacqui and me from Melbourne. We spent an hour chatting about various aspects of teaching and assessing Language A, texts to help students gain intercultural awareness, approaches like Elsie Belger’s education for human rights resources, how to arrange things so that there is enough meeting time for shared planning and ideas for interdisciplinary study. It is a helpful way to extend the conference, since as I mentioned before there wasn’t much reflection time in the busy schedule of the workshop and these subsequent meetings can give us that.

A most interesting idea that I came away with from the workshop was the idea of the Learner Profile (click here to see a short video on this concept.) The attributes and descriptors of the learner profile define the type of learner the IBO hopes to develop through its programs. It is concerned with the education of the whole person, emphasizing intellectual, personal, emotional and social growth through all domains of knowledge and can be summarized in just ten words. People who are: inquirers, knowledgeable, thinkers , communicators, principled, open-minded, caring, risk-takers, balanced, and reflective. We talked about ways to work towards this, which would mean ways to change the thinking of teachers in some cases. We talked a bit about this tonight as well and I look forward to learning more about it and enacting it in my school.

Lesson Plans by the Yarra

Image: 'Melbourne City Panorama'

Last night I went to my first edubloggers meetup. I met Graham Wegner in Melbourne when he and five other teachers from his school came over from Adelaide for the Teachers at Work conference with Jay McTighe. When Graham contacted me about a possible meetup I was very excited, and so we spent some time together having a meal and discussing common experiences and, of course, the conference. Towards the end of the evening when I was reluctantly talking about going home to prepare for the next days lessons, Graham and his colleagues, Annabel, Rebecca, Maria and Nancy came out with several alternative ideas I could use, all from the conference experience they had that day, hence the title of this blog post (thanks, Graham).

One of these was The Little Book made from a folded sheet of A4 paper that reminded me of the Literature Pocketmod made by The Reflective Teacher a while back. This one makes a 6 page little book with front and back covers that may be appealing for students to make and use. It could be used for example, to plan an essay or to summarise the characters in a text – one to a page. (I used mine to record the rest of the ideas that were flowing swiftly round the table.) Another idea was to get the students to make a sociogram of the characters in the text we are studying and have them show the impact the characters have on each other (very relevant for the text my year 11s are studying right now – Macbeth).

Another idea was to have students write the names of the characters or events in the text and work in groups to decide the rank from most important to least important and then present to the class, justifying their decision. Yet another idea was ABC graffiti. Students write the letters of the alphabet and brainstorm in groups a phrase or a word for each letter of the alphabet relating to their text. When brainstorming the idea is not to think too much about the word or phrase but to try to access the notable thing about the text that comes to mind first for that letter. The students could then use the list later to help summarise and revise the text.

Other ideas that the group remembered included the One Minute Write where students write in one minute all they can about a prompt, without lifting the pen from the page. They count up the number of words written and the number of three syllable words. Write down the score. Then the students could set themselves a goal to increase the number of complex words they are using, in other words to improve their vocabulary. They could discuss possible strategies to achieve the goal. . Of course as Graham pointed out, good writing in not always about the number of three syllable words used, but I think that focusing on a broader vocabulary in general would be a good thing. And finally, the memorable quote idea. Take a quote that people know: e.g. “Ask not what your country can do for you….” and rewrite it: e.g. “ask not what your class can do for you… etc”, in order to broaden perspective.

As you can see, the discussion was lively and enjoyable. I did not bring my camera and my iriver was had a flat battery, unfortunately, otherwise I could have given you all a multisensory account of our experience. Oh well, there’s always next time.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

A student writes....

Every year when I start blogging with my classes I get some students who are natural born writers and who show this in the blog entries. And every year they are different sorts of writers. Like this student, Miranda, the blog that they do in my class is often not their only outlet for writing. Miranda writes:
"But, first of all I wanted to talk about writing. I absolutely love writing, and it’s what I spend most of my time doing –I write to penpals, epals, people I know, myself; I keep several blogs, a journal, several folders full of random ramblings, poetry, songs, fanfiction, stories, characters… And after all this, I still don’t know what career I’m going to choose. I’d love to be something to do with writing, but my problem is I don’t know what, or even if I’m good enough… All I know is that I really love writing."
Don't you just love it? And there's more where that comes from. Surprisingly she finishes:
"…And I will shut up about my story and Cael. I could go on forever, and I doubt anyone is reading this. X)"
I am continually amazed at the power of the internet and the delicious diversity among students we teach.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

MYP Parent Information Evening

Last night our school hosted a Year 7 Parent Information night for parents at our school, to explain the Middle Years Program (MYP) which we are doing for the first time this year. there will end up being four of these nights (one per term) and, given my new found passion for this program, I thought I'd go along and see what happened. (It is optional for staff to be there.) It was a great night. First Peter had photocopied some of the essays one of the Year 7 classes had done (with no names) along with the task sheet and the rubric for assessment that the students were given. The parents were then asked to assess them. A great discussion followed about teacher accountability and the use of rubrics as a teaching tool. I definitely think that the parents got to see another side of teaching.

Then Daisy, one of the Maths teachers, taught a class on Fibonacci numbers and Pascal’s triangle as if they, the parents, were her Year 7 class. It was very informative, and definitely a highlight of the night. The parents I spoke to felt that they had learned something. Then Peter showed the report formats that the parents will be getting in June and the criteria that students are assessed and reported on in the MYP. Finally there was a bit of a presentation on homework and how the parents could be involved in helping students organise their time.

I think about the advice I have given students in years past about planning ahead and doing a bit at a time and so on, and I recognise that in my work I don't do that. I leave things to the last minute and feel I do creative work under the pressure of adrenaline. When I try to do it ahead, it feels less powerful and not so motivating. Of course, at the time I am doing it I hate it and wish I had done it earlier. But the students maybe find that sort of pressure too much. It was great to see the parents as creative learners and problem solvers at this meeting and discuss the work we do, and I think there was some mutual understanding built.

Reflections on travel

Having come back from my workshop in China on Monday, it is now Wednesday and I haven't written about my experiences on this blog. And I so much wanted to, as attending the workshop, meeting new people, visiting a new country has been quite amazing for me. We were only there for three days with most of a day travelling to, and from the workshop. It is a very short time to pack so much in. And there was no reflection time during the workshop. We worked in our small groups from 8.30 to 4 each day and then went to dinner and a concert on the first night, and shopping in downtown Guangzhou on the second night. When we were free, I was twittering, IMing students back at school (a really fun and new experience for me) and looking up resources mentioned during the workshop. (Not to mention keeping up with emails from family and friends). During meals I took the opportunity to interview various people on their experience of the workshops on my new iriver, but haven't had a chance to process these into a podcast yet. But at least something was captured then. I kept wanting time to sit down on my own and be reflective but it wasn't going to happen without missing out on some other amazing experience.

Since I've been back I've been dealing with my photos (here are just some of them) and emailing some of my new friends in China, Hong Kong, Thailand, Japan and Australia with photos I took of them. And getting back into teaching. When the students found I'd been to China and only missed a maximum of two (or one) lesson(s) with them, they said "But what are you doing back at school? Surely you have jet lag!" But I don't. I'm still on a high and took the opportunity to tell the students that I couldn't bear to be away from them any longer ;) . The content of the workshop is going to really affect my teaching and practice in the classroom, I know. But that is the subject of another post. And right now, I getting up early to get ready to take Lachlan to the airport (again to the airport! I've spent too much time in airports lately) so that he can finally go on his long awaited trip to Norway to work and study. He is only 18 and has never been away from home, but since he was 14 he has been working and saving money for this. He has spent a number of years learning Norwegian with a native speaker, and is finally all packed and ready to go. I must admit to feeling teary as this child goes off as well (Emily is in Ireland doing the same thing), and am now down to two children at home. There is a lot going on in my head at the moment, and I am glad to be able to reflect on it here. Till next time