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Why we need TeachMeets

It is the first day of the holidays here in New South Wales and I like all other teachers am tired. I am in need of a break and some much needed rest and relaxation. I have blogged before about our need for holidays and how important they are for reviving both body and soul. Yet the story I am about to tell you has been playing on my mind today. I was at my usual choir rehearsal of Thursday night, as well as a practice we gathered together to chat and share a few drinks. I found myself in a conversation with a group of teachers. There happen to be many teachers in my choir, I’m not sure if that says something about choirs or teachers!

One of those in the conversation was what I shall term a ‘mature age’ first year out teacher. As she described her state of mind, it was obvious that she was not just tired, not just in need of a holiday but in need of so much more. She described how she was teaching a primary grade in a largish school on a one year contract. She described how she had been given this grade with no program to follow, no paperwork to assist her and no support to guide her. Where was her master teacher, her mentor I asked? Where was her class program? Where were the records that described what the grade had completed the previous year? Where were the sample student workbooks or computer files to guide her?

She almost had tears in her eyes as she told of other staff who were too busy to bother and perhaps too stressed to care what went on in her room. How she had not even been given a timetable. How she knew the theory but had no idea how to bring it all together in her classroom. How she was awake until late into the night worrying about planning her days and preparing her lessons. How she had no-one to turn to, no-one to help. How she was thinking of dropping out, of leaving the profession already. It was obvious to me that she was committed and cared about her students. Yet she felt alone and desperate.

I do not know if  the situation she is in is an oddity or an isolated case. I suspect not. What I do know is that she and all those like her are the reason the message about TeachMeets and Twitter have to get out into the wider community. Why if you are reading this it is your duty to come to a TeachMeet near you or better till host one yourself. And if you do please bring along a teacher for which it will be new, a teacher who has never heard of twitter,  who maybe who has no idea how to network and who may be in danger of falling through the cracks.

After all, they might one day be struggling to do the best they can, to survive and grow as a teacher and they might be teaching your children.

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The Bloggers’ Cafe

It is hard to believe that what was a germ of an idea just over a year ago is now a fully fledged website that has just celebrated its first birthday, but it is. The Bloggers’ Cafe has turned one.

When I wrote these words a year ago little did I realise that a year later The Bloggers’ Cafe would have students from 83 different countries connecting with bloggers from 38 different schools on a regular basis. While I take credit for the idea in the first place it is a very special teacher @pruthomas who has really helped the cafe become a reality.

My plan is this. I will allow my students to come into my classroom (now Pru’s classroom) one lunchtime, to eat and blog. The catch? That as part of this extra blogging time they have to complete a small challenge. These challenges will be designed to firstly be simple to complete and secondly to encourage my students to network and connect with other students from around the world.

I strongly believe that it is through reading and writing in an authentic context that people learn. I have learned so much from  the blogs I read so why shouldn’t my students do the same? Surely if they read and comment on other student’s blogs they will learn about other schools, other cultures and others lives? I am hoping that reading what someone their own age has written, they will be interested to read more and motivated to comment.

That The Bloggers’ Cafe is needed is still to my mind, a reality in the life of young student bloggers. All to often my class blog receives comments that are only a single sentence long and often poorly spelled. Reinforcing to our students the need for quality written comments that are at least three to four sentences long and with correct spelling, grammar and punctuation is a focus of blogging lessons in Year 5. Asking them to partake in reading, commenting and connecting with other students from around the world is, I believe, an authentic literacy practice with a place in any primary classroom.

Do you teach your young students to read, write and connect through blogging?

If so why not join mine at The Bloggers’ Cafe?

Give them an audience and let us teach them to comment with clarity, creativity and expression.

Thanks too for the support of Sue and the team at edublogs.  They support The Bloggers’ Cafe as a pro-blog for free.

Photo by hfb at http://www.flickr.com/photos/hfb/2052055803/ used under Creative Commons

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Motivation questions.

 How do you motivate all students to enjoy learning?

This question has been mulling in my mind for a while now. As I look around my classroom, I know that all the learners in it are different and they are all at different stages in their development. For some, primary school comes easy, they learned to read and write with ease and they are used to doing well. For others literacy and numeracy is a struggle and unfortunately some of them already find school hard. I know that personality makes a difference and I have blogged before about the animals I often find in the classroom. My classroom menagerie I called it then.

Yet what is the elusive quality that motivates some students to do as little as possible and some to work as hard as they possibly can? Because I just wish I could bottle it. Why are some interested and motivated by rewards such as stickers and house points? And others not? Why do some care deeply what I say about their work and others not?

More than that though, how can I their teacher draw out the ones who just do not seem to want to push themselves? The ones who do the essential tasks but no more? The ones who usually complete their homework but only the minimum? The ones who will answer questions when asked but never raise their hands?

I know I work hard to create trust and build relationships. I know I work hard to create a stimulating and differentiated program where choice and creativity are offered. Yet as I look around my classroom I know I am not reaching them all. Yes there are many who are learning and working as hard as they can, whether gifted, struggling or in-between. But there are also those elusive few, who just do just what is required no more, no less.

You see I was one of those few. I passed through school not caring about the learning. I realised very early on that if I did not want to work, then no-one could really make me. As a result I failed many high school exams and only really became a leaner as I reached adulthood. I know that I am more of a learner now than ever but I sometimes wish I had not given up so easily in school.

How do I ensure all my students become the lifelong learners they will need to be for the future?

I have so many questions? Do you have the answers?

 

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IWBnet some of my reflections

The first thing I did upon arriving at The 5th National Leading a Digital School Conference last week, was to collect my free i-pad. Well free for three days anyway. I then used the i-pad for the next three days to take notes and photographs from the sessions I attended. Back home it is as simple as opening my dropbox folder and viewing the PDFs I created. Fabulous and of course now I want one! One or more for my classroom that is!

Once again the conference confirmed for me that although I love and depend of Twitter there is nothing quite like face to face conversations with like minded educators to really inspire me. It was great to meet, talk with and learn from others.

I was challenged to think what does learning look like?
I was challenged to think do my students create, navigate and network in safe effective and ethical ways?
I was challenged to consider that it is not about locating information anymore. It is about what our students create with that information

I was encouraged to use Evernote to capture and create records of my student learning in class.
I was encouraged to learn more about the semantic web as, in the not too distant future students will be able to put a question into a search engine and they will get the full answer.
I was encouraged to keep on learning. Teachers must be learners,we must live in the same space students are living in, we must invest time into working it out and modeling it to the students.

I definitely want to read further and learn more about web 3.0 with Judy O Connell’s excellent presentation The next big thing is web 3.0 catch it if you can.
I definitely want to learn more about search engines such as duckduckgo .
I definitely want to learn more about QR codes and how to incorporate them into my teaching.

I left the conference with my brain full yes. But more than that I left secure in the knowledge that I had done my bit in assisting other educators with my presentations. And also secure in the knowledge that I am on the right track. That together Pru and I are doing our best to educate our students for the 21st century with a program  rich in pedagogically sound activities.

After all not only do we have no idea what the future will look like but we are educating tomorrow leaders, the ones who will put out the lights when we all retire.

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IWBdig11 presentation two

The following slide share is taken from the second presentation I gave at The 5th National Leading a digital school Conference last week in Melbourne. During my presentation I tried to persuade my audience that to return with their heads full from this conference was not enough. That as educators in a rapidly changing world it is our responsibility to help other teachers learn too.

After all with the move from chalk to white boards to IWBs. From computers to i-pads, not to mention the advent of The National Curriculum next year how can we possibly all keep up, unless we share and learn together? I promoted techie brekkies, or lunch and learn, or cake and collaborate, or pizza and PD (what is it with food and teachers?). Just so long as other teachers from their schools are encouraged to view themselves as learners too. I showed them my techie brekkie website and talked through the logistics of running such a site. I also mentioned how TeachMeets seem to be taking off and I showed them the TeachMeet Sydney wiki and the TeachMeet Melbourne wiki and implored them to promote, assist or even run a TeachMeet themselves.

Enjoy and learn from my slides.

Friday afternoon fun adjust

IWBnet presentation

This post has been designed to supplement my presentation for The 5th National Leading a Digital School Conference. To be held on Thursday September 1 2011.

Preparing Students for their future not your past through the integration of web 2.0 tools with an emphasis on blogging and edmodo.


During my presentation we will be logging on and checking out edmodo as well as looking at some of the excellent blogs that are being created in Australia these days. 

Edmodo home page can be found here. Please log into or join edmodo, we will be using this code  37eebk so you can enter a group I have set up for us to use today. Please take a moment to answer my questions and introduce yourselves to your fellow participants.

Once you return to your school and wish to find out more, the edmodo help section can be found here with their excellent range of help video tutorials and PDF guides.

An Edmodo Guide from Patrick Cauley at itbabble.com can be found here. Patrick has given me full permission to share his excellent guide with you. If you find it helpful, please respond with thanks to Patrick’s blog.

We will now look at blogging. There are many different blogging platforms. In my class I use edublogs. Edublogs are an Australian company with excellent support and advice. Another company that some schools like to use is kidsblog. WordPress a popular blogging platform has joined with microsoft to produce this helpful guide at the site Office in Education

Since we only have a short time frame to discuss many of the concerns teachers have about blogging. I have included some excellent posts which delve into the merits of student blogging. I know that in my classroom the bloggers are motivated and interested in writing for an authentic audience. For more information please read 20 reasons why students should blog by Anne Murcha. Or why blog with students by Adrian Bruce.  There is also an interesting wiki with loads of information called Support Blogging. These three sites should be able to answer most of your questions and allay many of your fears about blogging with students. Edublogs an Australian blogging platform has just reached 1 million blogs. Read more about it here. Australian librarian Jenny Luca too has written a really convincing post six reasons why kids should know about blogging.

There are students and teachers blogging all around the world. Since we are in Australia I think it only fair that we showcase what is happening in an increasing number of Australian schools.

Class Blogs-

Below you will find a small selection of primary class blogs from around Australia. Each one of these class blogs will have a blogroll, with links to further class blogs from around Australia and the world.

Learning together – Prep in Melbourne

Kindergarten red Miss Elliot’s Kindergarten class

Year1rc year 1 in Sydney

2km and 2kj at Leopold Primary School year 2 in Victoria

The superblog of awesomeness Year 3 in Sydney

Sammy the Seagull Year 4 in Victoria

Room9 year 5 in Adelaide

year5rc my class blog in Sydney

Triple A blog year 6 in Sydney

Room 13 year 6 and 7 sharing their learning in South Australia

Teacher Blogs

I love to read other teacher’s blogs, I especially look out for ones written by other primary teachers. I pick up many ideas and tips through reading other teacher’s blogs.

Kathleen Morris from Victoria – Integrating technology in the primary school.

Check out this excellent post by Kathleen Morris with links to many infant blog sites together with instructions on how to make blogging work with young students.

Edna Sackson from Victoria What ed said 

Chris Betcher from Sydney Betchablog

Jenny Luca a Librarian from Victoria Lucacept – Intercepting the web

Steph from Newcastle 2sparkley bits and pieces place

Nina Davis a kindergarten teacher Nina’s Arena

Susan Stephenson The Book Chook

I have included my prezi, in case you are interested in sharing it further.

 

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A must listen to podcast

It is not often that I use this space to rave about any one thing in particular. I do however love listening to podcasts and I have written about and recommended them before. Read this post for more details. Yesterday as I always do, I walked my dog and listened to one of my favourites from the Darrel and Tony who are the edtechcrew.

This week they have a fantastic interview with Daniel Pink. If you have never read Daniel Pink’s book ‘A whole new mind’ or his latest ‘Drive’ can I please recommend that you do. Using solid research backed examples Daniel debunks many of our inbuilt ideas about student motivation and our use of carrot and stick rewards in the classroom. So convincing are his ideas that I have found my use of stickers, certificates and rewards has changed. More and more I talk to my class about their need to take responsibility for their own learning and to create their own success in life. More and more I emphasis to them and to their parents that the most successful students will be those not who somehow have the largest amount of inbuilt braincells but those who put in the greatest amount of personal effort. That in the long run it is intrinsic not extrinsic motivation that will make them a success, not just in school but in life.

Whether my year 5 and only ten or eleven year old students really understand my message, remains to be seen but they certainly are understanding how I praise and reward hard work over numbers and letters. How my comments on their work relate to effort rather than achievement. And especially how I am always happy to help any of them, to complete their tasks and to give advice and guidance so that they can create their very best work.

I will not use this space to tell you more about the edtechcrew’s podcast as you simply must listen to it for yourself.

 Getting motivated with Daniel Pink

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All Change

I read an interesting post from Kathleen Morris this afternoon, looking back on her life as a teacher since 2004. She reflected on how much her teaching has changed especially with the changes in technology during that time.

In turn as I walked my dog this evening I too have been reflecting, since I started teaching year 5 at much the same time. I became one of two year 5 teachers in 2006 taking over from another experienced and competent teacher. I arrived into a year group with a strong academic program, rich in sound lessons and activities. Yet as I reflected on the years since then, so much has changed in more ways than I could have thought possible back then.

In 2006 year 5 had a maths text book and a maths mental book for homework. Every student followed through the book from page 1 to 100. A page or so a day, all students completing the same pages whether they understood or not.
In 2011 year 5 has four differentiated maths groups, we have no text books and our lessons are a mix of hands on lessons, worksheets to reinforce, together with SMARTboard pages, mathletics, studyladder and many other websites. Students are regularly  pre and post tested and as a result they move up and down groups depending on the topic we are currently learning about.

In 2006 during novel study every student read the same book, one per term and then completed worksheets to show their understanding of it.
In 2011 year 5 offers a choice of novels to read, three in term two and six in term three. Students then complete their own choice of differentiated activities chosen from a matrix and written to cater for all learning styles. When they hand a task in they must self reflect on their learning. If a task is not considered good enough it will be sent back to allow them to make improvements to it. As a result they learn to seek help and guidance along the way.

In 2006 during HSIE all students followed the same program, learning from the same books and completing the same worksheets. They completed the same assessment tasks too.
In 2011 our HSIE units are driven by inquiry questions. All students have a matrix of activites and they can choose to research in their own way and show their understanding in many ways.

In 2006 all assessment tasks were the same and students received them back with an A-D grade and a small ‘well done’ style of comment.
In 2011 as far as possible, all assessment tasks are differentiated. All students have a rubric given to them before they commence a task, so they are totally clear how they can give in their very best work. Students are also encouraged to hand in work for pre-marking and discussion. They will receive their work back with no mark but an extensive comment which points out areas for improvement, however good it is.

In 2006 I had five computers at the back of the classroom. I had never read a blog, heard of twitter, used the internet in the classroom or web 2.0 tools to learn with and from.
In 2011 all my students have a netbook. We are a blogging classroom, we use many web 2.0 tools such as edmodo, glogster, spelling city and more.

In 2006 students left the classroom at 3.00pm with a homework book in their bag.
In 2011 my students blur the reality of the school day with their extensive use of blogs and edmodo to extend their learning beyond expectations. The interested ones challenge and push themselves with their thinking, writing, problem solving and sharing.

In 2006 I thought I was a teacher. My students were there to learn.
In 2011 I know I am a teacher and a learner. My students and I learn, think and grow together within a community of learners.

 

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Perseverence and Persistence

I have had this post in a half written form for some time now ever since in fact I read this quote.

The ability to focus on the boring as well as the fun is more important than intelligence for a child to do well.

Yesterday I was glancing through the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper on the staff room table, when I came across this article in the same vein. Courage can get pupils through academic blues’.

Professor Andrew Martin, from the Faculty of Education and Social Work at the University of Sydney, examined four approaches to schoolwork – confidence, courage, avoidance and helplessness – among more than 7600 students from 14 Australian high schools.

He found it paid to persevere, that courageous students, those who persisted in the classroom, despite difficulties and anxieties, could do just as well as their confident peers.

In my opinion the words perseverance and persistence are key here. As I am sure that it is a student’s ability to persist with a challenge, whether that challenge is interesting, or difficult or frightening, or boring that reaps rewards in the long term. I see students who regularly give up on a task when the going gets tough and others who keep plugging away at the same task until they crack it. I see some who are happy to accept mediocre work and others who ask for advice and deliberately seek my help in order to perfect a task.

In many ways reading this has raised more questions than it has answered.

      • How is that some students are not distracted by the minutia of classroom life?
      • How is it that some students can focus and continue to persist when others around them cannot?
      • How can I develop in all my students the inner strength to keep on with a challenge even when it is hard or difficult or boring or lengthy?
      • What can we as teachers do to assist a student to persevere and to persist?

I know that my aim is to create a classroom culture of thinking and learning. A classroom where students are encouraged to give everything a go and not to fear failure. A classroom when all opinions are valued. Yet I also know that at any given moment in the classroom I cannot be watching, assisting and guiding every student. That inevitably there will be times in every day that  some will be persisting and persevering on their own, while others may not.

Last Friday afternoon came at the end of a busy week. I placed a list of possible activities for the students to complete on the board and for an hour they chose what to complete. Read this post and view our slide show. Watch for a photo showing two students in the locker room. They had self directed themselves to a quiet spot and were catching up on some incomplete work. To my mind they were persevering and persisting. Even a Friday afternoon!

What do you do to encourage your students to persist and persevere even when the going gets tough?


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Edmodocon and RSCON3

In the space of two weeks I have presented at two virtual conferences. I wonder if this is the way more conferences will go? I know that at RSCON3 I had over 65 people in my room and for edmodocon there were more like 250. Many more than could possibly get an expensive day out of the classroom to attend a real conference. Both conferences were free for all participants and as such they really fit with my aims of sharing and learning with other teachers around the globe

There were many presentations I missed at both conferences. Mainly because they occurred while I was asleep.  This though does not matter these days as they have both been recorded and saved so that everyone can enjoy them further.

If you too missed the bulk of RSCON3 this link will take you to the recordings. You can browse and watch at your leisure. This is the link to my presentation on ‘Taking professional development to the next level with techie brekkies and teachMeets’ techie brekkies and TeachMeets.

I will certainly be checking out the edmodocon recordings as I missed everything except my own presentation. Due to the fact that I was asleep and then teaching right up until the moment it started. The line of presenters was a great one, with us Aussies holding up the rear! Both of the other Australian presenters have blogged about their experiences and you can readMoniques thoughts here. Her reflection on the breadth of learning that could be had from Edmodocon, tells me that the recording will be a great source of professional development. Jess Melkman also had many positives to report about her experience as an edmodocon presenter. Both of these great Australian teachers use edmodo in their respective high schools and in totally different ways to me. So check out their presentations too for further inspiration about using edmodo in the classroom.

In case you are interested and you missed my presentation here are my slides. The edmodo blog has more details about the recording.