The Magnetism of Magnets

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Photo Credit: Sean Kenney
Don’t worry – No storytelling, dialogue, poetry, digital mime or other bizarre writing styles in this post! No. Today I bring you an exciting new unit plan (well at least I think it is exciting) that I have altered and tweaked. ‘Altered’ and ‘tweaked’ are two highly apt terms when it comes to writing about this particular plan. This is perhaps due to the fact that this unit was already changed in a major way, by my excellent Year Three colleagues and I, last year!

What I have done, with the plan, is to try and make it more collaborative; with a heavier focus on digital connectivity and Zen presentation.
 

Questions to be answered:

Why do you think this unit is a good possibility for your Course 5 project?

Primarily because this unit offers great opportunities for the students to connect and collaborate with each other in a way that uses many of the learning theories encountered in the COETAIL course.

What are some of your concerns about redesigning this unit?

My biggest concern is with the final part of the unit where the students have to present their results and conclusions to the audience. If I am honest, I’m still not sure that the Zen Presentation style is the best method for the students to present their results to an audience. Also, I am still unsure about the exact nature of the audience the students will present to i.e. Do I want a live audience focus or would a digital audience focus be better for this unit?

What shifts in pedagogy will this new unit require from you?

The biggest shift in pedagogy will be the home learning element. I will have to be very clear about this aspect of the collaborative learning process. I’m still not sure exactly how this part will work i.e. Should I make the home collaboration and connectivity a compulsory part of their learning or should I leave it up to the students to decide how much they want to engage with this aspect of the learning?

What skills and/or attitudes will this new unit require from your students?

The students will need to actively work in a team/group; they will have to demonstrate their ability to connect and work with each other (to a greater or lesser degree) outside the classroom. Also, those students who are taking the research option are going to have to learn an entirely new method for investigating scientific questions.

To summarise:

Although we aren’t actually due to teach this unit until the second half of the spring term, I am really looking forward to seeing what the children’s attitudes will be like when it comes to mixing up independent work, collaborative work, connected learning and Zen presentation – A marvellously magnetic mixture of learning methods…

Footsteps in a new land…

Photo credit: Greenmangaming

Before the coming

Across fierce seas, that battered and broke our small boats, we came. It took us many months of travel to arrive here – many did not make it! Now we have set foot in our new land. We are tired from the long journey but we look forward to putting down roots and settling in this new world. We will establish a mighty nation in this place. We will carve our names upon the walls of history…But first we need to decide where we will settle?

After the coming

We know that we need water for drinking and crops! Perhaps we should build our city near a river or lake? After all the river and lake would also provide us with fish and a means to travel from one part of this new land to another!

But what about crocodiles and flooding?

Ah but flooding is a good thing – it replenishes the crops and leaves behind a thick black mud that will allow the crops to grow strong and healthy.

What about our houses?

We will build them from wood.

That means we need to be near a forest or woodland area.

But how do we get the wood to make our new houses?

Why don’t we cut down the trees? We could build tools like axes or swords to cut down the trees?

We would need durable materials to make theses tools. The tools would have to be sharp and strong!

What about wooden axes and swords? We could use sharpened wood to cut the trees down.

No wood isn’t durable enough. They would break! We need rocks, stone and metal to cut down the trees!

Where do we get these materials from?

Mountains – we need Mountains. They will have these materials! We need to build mines in the mountains so that we can get the rocks from the earth. But remember that the rocks should be igneous or metamorphic rocks because they are more durable.

We could also build roads with the stone we mine. This means we could get to places quicker and faster.

If we move to new areas, we could also build new towns and cities so our population could increase.

leaders must be chosen

Who will decide where we should live? It should be those people who know the best place for us to settle!

And how will we know who they are?

Those people will use there problem solving skills to work out the best place for us to live.

And how will they do that?

Simple, they will use their understanding of the rocks (Rock Cycle unit in Science) and they will use their knowledge of Rivers and crops (History unit on Ancient Egypt) to help us understand the best place for us to live. They will also know what materials we should use to build our tools from (Science unit on materials).

These great people will also demonstrate that they understand what great leadership should be (Religious Education lesson on Guru Nanak and great leaders).

Very well. Let each group present their claim for knowing the best location for settlement. After each group has given us their reasons, we will decide as a whole people, who will be our leaders and where we will settle…

What was that all about?

I recently used the final lesson of our Ancient Egyptian unit as a PBL (problem based learning) lesson. The idea was to really get the children to reflect, use and apply their learning to decide on the best location for a new settlement in a brand new world. The students were split into groups of three and given a copy of the map at the top of the page. They were then asked, towards the end of the session, to present their choices to the whole class explaining their reasons for choosing that location (I have included the lesson plan in a previous post as lesson 6 if you are interested in using it).

Conclusions

I think it is fair to say that PBL is a wonderful tool for wrapping up a unit and really finding out exactly what the students have learned. More importantly, it is a great method for getting students to use and apply previous knowledge to a real world problem that actually needs solving. I used elements of PBL in this history lesson but I have also used it for Science, Maths and Geography lessons. For me, the most important aspect of PBL is the hook. If the children are interested and motivated there will be a 100% buy in to your suggestions and ideas.

Once again, as I have said with all of the learning theories in COETAIL course four, I think that PBL is an absolute must for student learning; particularly in a world where problems, dilemmas and difficulties seem to become more prevalent on a daily basis.

 

I say! Anyone for a game of cards?

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Photo credit: the game hunter

Gamification, Game-based learning, Using games in the classroom, Gametime, Gamelearn…So many names and ideas connected by the word ‘Game’ when it comes to education. And why is that? Simple – because it is one of the most important learning methods ever created. And another thing – unlike many other aspects of learning – it is FUN!

In my case it has, without doubt, been the most important learning platform in my life. I have constantly used gamification to better develop my knowledge and understanding of so many different subjects, ideas and concepts.

When I was younger, I was never a pupil who showed the slightest bit of interest in Maths, English, French or any other school topic to be quite honest. Even geography and history, my two favourite subjects, mostly bored the life out of me. This is quite a damning statement considering I would often go home after school, get one of the Encyclopaedia Britannica books out from their shelves in our living room, and spend a couple of hours reading about the first World War or British Colonial rule in West Africa.

But let’s be honest – I didn’t do this everyday or even every week. No! It took something really special to get the historical motivation levels up and that was…Sid Meier’s Civilization!

This game transformed my understanding of what history was all about: It taught me about different periods of history; It taught me the importance of science in history; It taught me why geography was so key to the settlement of certain areas of the world. However, most important of all, it gave me a better understanding of just how fun learning could be!

And so I am a huge fan of gamifying education where possible. I say ‘where possible’ because even I (a diehard fan of gamification) understand that it is something that doesn’t always fit the teaching and learning that needs to take place in certain lessons and units.

However, when it is applicable, I would absolutely advocate its use in lessons! Sometimes it means more work and effort on the part of the teacher; but when it does work, it really does work!

Examples of Gamification in my classroom

Beat the Teacher

This is a concept I  recently introduced. The idea is that the children are presented with a short independent writing task. The children should only be given 30-40 minutes to write and the initial introduction should be fun with an element of challenge. I used our recent Egyptian unit to create a lesson where the children had to write a letter to the Goddess Hathor; pleading with her to bring rain so the River Nile could flood. I then explained to the children that I would also be competing and that if they could write a better letter than mine they would receive five Dojo points. As soon as I said I would be competing, the interest levels soared! The writing had now become a game, a competition, and they wanted the prize and the satisfaction of beating the teacher.

One of the letters which beat the teacher!

Class Dojo

I believe that this will be familiar to many of you. If not – I absolutely recommend this to any primary/elementary classroom teacher. I have already read numerous blog posts and blog post comments either vilifying or eulogizing this online program. I am a eulogizer of Class Dojo and I truly believe that, if it is used correctly, it can have a monumental impact on the children in your class. Firstly, I would say to any educator who finds this application to be an overrated waste of time “You aren’t using it the right way!”

Class Dojo has to be used constantly and consistently in all lessons. I write the student’s points on the sides of the board or on a piece of paper rather than have the Class Dojo screen open all the time. I then add the points onto the individual child’s avatar/monster when they have gone home; this takes no more than five minutes at the end of the day. I also send point totals home and we have a class points total that we try to beat each term.

Another aspect that I have added is the physical prize. That is, if any of my students achieve a score of more than twenty five Dojo points in a week, I will give them a prize. This prize is usually a bag of mini KitKats or an indoor playtime session for ten minutes. In the fourteen week of term so far I have had four of my students win this prize. If Prizes, Bonuses, competition and a weekly wage make adults happy why wouldn’t they have exactly the same affect on a child?

Everybody wants to be rewarded!

Morning Card and Board Games

Once upon a time I used to have 15-20 minute morning activities where the children did small Maths or English tasks before we started lessons. I had practised this routine for five years until last year when I finally decided that these morning tasks were a waste of time. For some teachers these morning tasks are incredibly useful and the children in their classes get a lot out of them. For me, they are a total waste of the twenty minutes we have before formal lessons begin! I prefer to let the children talk, socialize and use their maths and English skills to play games like Top Trumps, Snakes and Ladders, Spades, Pyramids and other card/board games. The use of these morning games has an implicit impact that cannot be understated. It teaches them skills like: the importance of socialising, learning to win the right way, playing with other children they don’t normally play with and learning to lose the right way.

Snakes and ladders
FUN with trumps
FUN with trumps

To conclude…

Games are FUN! Games allow us to LEARN in a FUN way. So surely it is a no brainer to say that wherever possible education should be about students being given the opportunity to LEARN in a FUN way. So why not use games and gamification to enhance the student’s learning!

 

I want to work with you!

 

Photo credit: Pixabay
Photo credit: Pixabay

Does connectivism have a real shot at being a true learning theory?

Yes! Well…mainly yes!

As the new coordinator of primary history at our school (sorry if you have read any of my previous posts where I have mentioned this numerous times) I would argue that connectivism is now an essential part of a school’s structure. Let me begin with a few moans, then I will get onto the reasons why I think that certain aspects of connectivism are essential for a modern school.

I don’t know about you but I can’t begin to count the number of school training sessions where I am supposed to have been given a new skill, learning tool or pedagogical approach and then never used it; or have never been able to use it or have never had the time to use it. Of course this isn’t true of most training or INSET sessions. No! Credit where credit is due-most are very helpful and include speakers who provide you with a sense of drive and purpose!

Then there are planning sessions. During my time in education I have experienced all of the following while I have been part of a planning session: depression, enjoyment, frustration, happiness, boredom, apathy and jubilation. Generally, I have to say that I thoroughly enjoy planning sessions with my current year group; this is largely thanks to the great team I work with.

However, I am also aware that there are other teachers at my school whom I have never planned with and have always wanted to plan with. So I decided that I would create history planning groups where I could connect and plan with other teachers I don’t normally get the chance to plan alongside.

This term, I have taken three different plans from three different year groups and invited teachers from different year groups (YR to Y6) to help me deconstruct and improve each of the plans. And…the results have been promising; in fact they been extremely promising. I would actually say that the first of these planning meetings was probably the best planning session I have ever been a part of. The key to this meeting being such a success lay in the willingness of the different participants to share and trust each other with their ideas and knowledge. In essence they/we connected and shared our ideas, knowledge and concepts. This allowed us to develop completely new approaches to each of the lessons we had been adapting.

The management and marshalling of resources to achieve desired outcomes is a significant challenge. Realizing that complete knowledge cannot exist in the mind of one person requires a different approach to creating an overview of the situation. Diverse teams of varying viewpoints are a critical structure for completely exploring ideas. Innovation is also an additional challenge. Most of the revolutionary ideas of today at one time existed as a fringe element. An organizations ability to foster, nurture, and synthesize the impacts of varying views of information is critical to knowledge economy survival. Connectivism- a learning theory for the digital age 

I am sure that many of you already have these sort of planning approaches in operation at your current schools. At the schools I have worked at, the process for planning certain subject lesson plans has always fallen to either the year group or subject leader with little or no input from outside those two areas. However, through the connections the other teachers and I formed in these planning sessions we created a foundation for a new, improved plan to be born.

These are some of the key principles of connectivism (taken from Connectivism- a learning theory for the digital age ) which I think were essential to the planning process we undertook when revamping the historical plan we were working on:

  • Learning and knowledge rests in diversity of opinions.
  • Learning is a process of connecting specialized nodes or information sources.
  • Capacity to know more is more critical than what is currently known
  • Nurturing and maintaining connections is needed to facilitate continual learning.
  • Ability to see connections between fields, ideas, and concepts is a core skill.

I have included the plan we reconstructed because I honestly think it may well be the best history plan I have had the pleasure to work on. I would also like to conclude that whether or not you truly believe connectivism has a shot at being a learning theory – I certainly do! And I will continue to believe that it needs to be considered as an essential and integral part of a modern school’s learning environment!

 

Heart attack in the playground!

Photo Credit: Snides and Associates inc

The playground – probably the most creative environment in the world!

Yesterday I sat on a bench, near my local park, watching my children climb, run and clamber over a brand new jungle gym. As I was watching, I noticed just how quickly all the children playing on the jungle gym quickly got bored with the slides, the climbing wall and the wood-chain bridges which made up the jungle gym. Well that isn’t exactly true! They didn’t exactly get bored with the equipment; they got bored with using this equipment the same way all the time!

As I continued to watch, I was particularly interested to see the way my own children reacted to their older peers innovative (and at times terrifying) use of the jungle gym as an ‘adult heart-attack inducing’ machine! I saw a ten year old use a metal tunnel (4 metres high) as a trapeze rope. I also saw numerous children, including my own, holding onto the railings the opposite way round; so that if they let go they would have a 3 metre fall to the playground. And as I watched, I started to think…

My children were actively solving problems without my input. I wasn’t teaching them how to hold onto the railings from the opposite direction! I wasn’t telling them how to run up the slide backwards and then jump down from the climbing wall; as far as I  know you are meant to climb up the climbing wall and slide down the slide!

Watching my children, me – in a continual state of abject terror, I started to see the parallels between their play and some elements of teaching where I may have flipped (or rotated – I am going to use this term today because I think it has more of a multi-directional feel and I am sick of hearing the term flipped) the learning in my classroom.

Example One

Two years ago I had a student who was brilliant at maths and I mean brilliant! This student was at least three years ahead of his cohort and the maths we were teaching him simply wasn’t challenging him. So after a brief discussion with a fellow teacher, who is both highly creative and extremely knowledgeable, I decided to start using a combination of Khan Academy lessons with secondary (junior high school) curriculum learning objectives. The student would work in a small room next to my class. He would watch the Khan Academy video/videos then he would complete the maths investigation or assignment he had been given.

I think it is fair to say the results were mixed. The student certainly became more focused for a while. He also enjoyed the challenge that came from learning about new topics like algebra, negative numbers or converting fractions to decimals. However, being seven years old, he simply didn’t have the maturity or vocabulary to access a lot of the video’s content. He also missed the feeling of being around other members of the class during maths lessons. Verdict: A good idea and start with a less positive outcome.

So many of the sessions focused in on how important it is to foster relationships in the classroom:  Whether it is between teacher and student or between student and student – turning learning on it’s head

Example Two

My second example of rotated learning is very much a success story and is almost exclusively based on another COETAILer’s ideas and thoughts. I am going to try and explain just how fantastic this example of rotated learning is, however I am not sure that I will truly be able to do it justice! To better understand the premise, you need to read Philip Arneill’s blog post. It was his blog post which acted as a catalyst and inspiration for my dalliance with extreme classroom rotation!

After reading Philip’s post, you will understand the incredible scope for student empowerment this type of lesson can bring. last year I decided to use his flipped classroom model to encourage my students to think, learn and teach in a different way. In the example below, we combined a student’s teaching with a ‘Scrapheap Challenge’ lesson (this was an open-ended lesson which challenged the children to build objects which could be helpful or useful in the real world)

I think it is fair to say the results were better than I could possibly have imagined. The students were incredibly focused, engaged and motivated with the all aspects of the teaching and learning. I would urge all teachers to have a go at this. It really does open your eyes up to the incredible skills our students already have which we simply don’t access! Verdict: Brilliant!

Increasingly, education’s value-add is and will be in the coaching and troubleshooting when students are applying their learning, and in challenging students to apply their thinking to hands-on learning by doing and teaming:  so let’s have them do these things in class, not sit and listen. We know that collaboration is a critical skill set which can’t be developed easily either on-line or at home alone– let’s have students learn it with us in our classrooms. Let every classroom be a collaborative problem solving laboratory or studioReverse Instruction: Dan Pink and Karl’s “Fisch Flip”

Back to the playground

My children had already been taught to use the basic playground equipment many years ago when they were much younger. They would watch as myself or my wife would demonstrate the basics of using a swing, slide or climbing frame and then they would copy our techniques as they swung, slid or climbed over the equipment. However, this time, I had nothing to do with the new heart-stopping methods they were now employing on the jungle gym. They were watching older children’s techniques and methods actually being used right in front of them; and they were learning to use and adapt them so that they increased the risk but also the enjoyment.

Isn’t this what learning should be about?

Reverse instruction! Flipped learning! Rotated learning! Upside down and back to front, topsy-turvy learning! Whatever you want to call it, whenever it is possible to do, it should be done. I know that it can’t be done all the time. However, if it is done correctly, students should be given as many opportunities to learn in a rotated classroom setting.

Why do we, in the status quo,  replicate in person in our classrooms what is easily available elsewhere, the content delivery/skill modeling, and then have kids apply their learning to difficult problems at home, without us there to help? – Reverse Instruction: Dan Pink and Karl’s “Fisch Flip”

 

 

Failure!

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Photo credit: Heinzmarketing
Since I first started the Coetail course, all the way back in February, I think it fair to say that I have been heavily influenced and affected by the different ideas and philosophies that I have been exposed to. As both an educator and parent, my personal outlook on teaching and learning has undoubtedly changed. I look back at the way I used to be and wonder how I could have been so blind to so many of the ideas that I have had over the last eleven months. There is no doubt in my mind that this state of change has come about thanks to three game-changers:

  1. The growth and development of my understanding when it comes to all things technological. This would also include my own understanding of how I can better plan and use technology to further develop the learning in my classroom. This has largely been achieved through my participation of this course.
  2. The second is through the growing number of discussions that I have had with colleagues at my school. These are people who also feel the same urge that I have to push/improve the integration of technology within our school’s learning environment.
  3. The Third area has been the school’s willingness to heavily upgrade the digital infrastructure of the school. This has included a large investment in the number laptops and tablets as well as a significant improvement in the WiFi and broadband connections.

As a result of these significant changes (some might say monumental changes) my personal feelings and attitude has gradually been transformed – I feel more confident in my own abilities: I feel angry and frustrated with myself and others for not realising my potential: I feel more able to enthuse and motivate the students I teach in a less restrictive way: I feel worried and nervous about the future – I am afraid that these feelings will be lost when I finish this course.

These are but a few of the many feelings I have about ‘Technology Integration’ within teaching and learning.

However…

I wanted to include these mainly positive feelings because this week was a bad week for me and the application of ‘Technology Integration’.

This week I encouraged, enabled and made technology accessible to my students so that they could more effectively achieve their learning goals. Were the results everything I hoped they would be? The answer to this question has to be a resounding ‘No’!

Where did it go wrong?

The use of blendspace to create our own word banks and setting descriptions didn’t really work; the reason being that the videos selected were confusing to the children – they found it difficult to separate the characters from the setting.

In a second lesson with a digital focus, the creation of historical news reports on the Ancient Egyptian Farming cycle using 2ink’s Green Screen iPad App meant that the children spent too much time on – learning to use the application – and not enough time on presentation and content.

Overall, this week has been a sobering lesson in the problems that can be experienced when you try to change lessons to have focus that is supported by a digital format.

If I was to further break the lessons down , I would actually say that I was substituting an independent blendspace focus (using the SAMR framework) for a more structured whole class video session. On reflection, I think that the way forward would be to change the videos for more relevant videos; and also to have the whole class watch all the videos together (with an option for those children who still needed time to review the videos being given the opportunity to use an iPad or laptop to review the videos after everyone has watched each video in turn).

With the second lesson it is more about the children getting used to a new piece of software and being given the time to experiment with this software. The App is tricky to use at first and it takes time to understand how to create effective videos using a Green Screen. I still think that it should be used but I would give the children more time to play with the Green Screen technology before using it to present their historical news reports.

Wow! What a week!

So that’s it! I have had enough…

No clearly that isn’t the case! However, it has made me realise that although technology has it’s place, it is sometimes the case that more traditional methods are just as pertinent. To me, this means that we have to be very careful when integrating technology in our lessons, units and curriculums. It is the learner that we need to be concerned with. We need to make sure they are provided with the best learning route to achieve their individual learning goals.

Ahem…

However, I have also learned this week that if you do persevere and give the children time to get used to a particular learning tool (whether that is an App, program or device) then students will embrace it, use it and adapt it to become more complete learners. When it comes to ‘Technology Integration’ the key areas for me are:

  • Time – students and educators being given the time to experiment, play and use devices, Apps, programs and connections to enhance their learning.
  • Motivation – providing a medium that stimulates and encourages the students so they actively want to learn.
  • Failure – the opportunity for students to fail when they are working with new technologies and learn from that failure.

Finally I would like to end with this quote about Technology Integration from Wikipedia as I believe it accurately and concisely captures the essentials of what we should be doing to empower learning through ‘Technology Integration’. I have underlined the last section because, for me, this is an essential but often forgotten element of ‘Technology Integration’.

“Effective integration of technology is achieved when students are able to select technology tools to help them obtain information in a timely manner, analyze and synthesize the information, and present it professionally. The technology should become an integral part of how the classroom functions — as accessible as all other classroom tools. The focus in each lesson or unit is the curriculum outcome, not the technology.”