Posts Tagged ‘children’

Anyone who insists technology is disempowering has probably not come across really young learners interacting with it. Today I was reminded about how intuitive, engaging and formative technologies like the iPad really are.

I want to call Nonna!

My 2 year old boy, Martino, felt like talking to Nonna (grandma in Italian). I say talking, but, although he can say quite a few words, he hasn’t learnt to say many sentences yet. What he has learnt to do, and very quickly, is to use an iPad. In fact, he’s so good at it that today he ran in the kitchen, took the iPad Mini and came back to the sofa looking pleased with himself. Then, he turned it on, swiped to access the apps, found FaceTime inside a folder and called my mum from the recent calls. When Matteo (my eldest) heard the ringing sound of FaceTime he asked Martino, if he was calling Nonna. “Sí, Sí!” answered Martino.

IMG_1666Needless to say that this unexpected call made my mum’s day, but what I’ve witnessed today, and many other times since Martino was one and a half, is something that made me think deeply about the power of technology.

Our learners are deeply engaged with technology, they grow surrounded by it and naturally embrace it as part of their learning. I believe it is essential we engage our students with technology to harness this enthusiasm our young people show for it. I heard of many primary and secondary schools that began to use iPads when they noticed their youngest learners kept touching the screen of PCs and laptops the first time they used them. iPads, smartphones and tablets are engaging and an integral part of many learners’ every day routines. They are drawn to them and naturally interact with such devices with great interest and proficiency, so using them in the classroom seems to me to be a logical way to engage children in their learning. This will make schooling more fun, but that should never be the driver for integrating technology in the classroom! iPads and other technologies open ways to redefine pedagogy and learning experiences. They empower learners and teachers, so that students become more independent and creators of knowledge, rather than simply consumers of knowledge. Let’s embrace technology for the right reasons and not thinking that the kit will solve all the teaching and learning challenges in our schools.

There are many ways to use technology creatively and innovatively to enrich our learning environments and much can be learnt from educational blogs such the CollaboratEd.org.uk Blog (@Collaborat_Ed), Neil Atkin’s Blog (@natkin), maybe this Blog you are reading and, one of my favourite, Gavin Smart’s Blog (@GavinSmart).

It’s been a while since my last post, so my fingers are itching now, especially because what I am going to write about had virtually no input from me. My four boys have been completely immersed in Minecraft for quite a few months now. In particular, they love playing together on two iPads and an iPhone, so they can cooperate, send messages to each other and they’ve even made three beds in each of the houses they built, so they can sleep together in any house they find themselves in when it gets dark (and for those who are not familiar with Minecraft you better go to sleep when it gets dark, or zombies and creepers will come to get you).

A self organised geography lesson

One day my six year old invited the other two, four and eight respectively (the two year old can use the iPad very well, but on Minecraft he tends to destroy stuff, so it’s better to leave him out of a creative session 😉 ), to join him in his Olympic Games. So, they set off to build flags for each country (well, just a few actually, but I was pleased they added Italy). They found out what colours the flags for the countries they wanted to add were and made them out of Minecraft blocks. You can see the results below.

Italy

Japan

Japan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A bit of Literacy

Then, they created various games. There was a ring for sword fighting, a hurdle race track and even target shooting. The boys also placed some signs with some basic rules for the games, as you can see below.

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And finally a bit of numeracy

Now it was time to mark out the difficulty of the target shooting game, so they added some signs to show how far from the target the archers should stand for an easy, medium and hard shooting session. This shows how you can develop “using number and measuring skills” through a video game that kids find incredibly engaging. So engaging, in fact, that they set off to create what became (in my opinion) a great learning journey completely independently. I believe this is a really nice example of a SOLE (Self Organised Learning Environment) that Sugata Mitra talks about and that the nature of the game, the intuitiveness of iPads and the ability to collaborate in real time from different devices facilitated this process many folds.

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The power of technology

I’ve always been fascinated by the way very young learners interact with new technologies, and it was observing my nephew searching the internet when he was ten that prompted me to start this Blog, but I have never seen anything as powerful as an iPad in allowing children to create their own learning journeys. I watch my two year old who can get in and out of the apps he wants, build helicopters in the Lego app and fly them, call my mum with FaceTime (it’s true! It happened several times), etc… Then, I see my four year old who since he was three could create amazing buildings and objects in Minecraft at a speed that makes me feel dizzy, or my six and eight year old boys who use iPads to search for information they are interested in, find video tutorials on YouTube that show them how to create portals in Minecraft that take them to other worlds, etc… and I see so much that I am proud of. But I also see a fantastic tool that empowers them to learn through play. If they can learn things by themselves using these amazing technologies, think about how much more could be done in the classroom with them!

There are a number of really useful and FREE Pre-school and early years Android Apps that really come to life on an ASUS Transformer for various reasons and most importantly because of its size! In fact, the very first advantage of an eee pad Transformer is to have dimensions that are similar to a book, which kids are used to handle, as opposed to a phone (that most parents are reluctant to let a child use, as they “could break it”). My boys can easily hold the ASUS Transformer with both hands, or simply rest it on their laps as they sit on the sofa! But as well as ease of use, my kids appreciate the larger screen, which really helps them to engage with the eee pad Transformer at a completely different level. In fact, anyone would tend to give a child a piece of A4 paper to write/draw on rather that a small notepad! And this is the same for the ASUS Transformer. The size of the usable screen gives them more freedom to express their creativity and they learn more effectively. The responsiveness of the touchscreen make things very easy too and being able to use their fingers to write, draw, or simply drag and drop takes away many of the hurdles that a pre-school child usually experiences as they try to do creative tasks like drawing. In fact, what is easier (if you haven’t mastered the use of your hands very well yet) drawing a circle with a pen, or with your fingers? Which one are children more likely to feel as they draw? And what about the shape of a letter, or a number? Using our eee pad Transformer my pre-school children can do tasks like tracing patterns and letters much more easily that when they try to do it using a pen.

Some Pre-School Apps

So, here are some great apps for Pre-school!

The Intellijoy Series

Intellijoy has created a great series of fantastic apps that really engage young children in key skills like reading, writing and counting.

One of my favourite is Kids Learn to Read which has Tommy the turtle who helps you spell phonetically simple words, like man. You can tap on individual letters to hear the sounds, and also on the walking stick and Tommy starts moving along the bridge that is made by the letter blocks. As he walks past a letter lights up and its sound is spoken out by a female voice (the only problem is that the pronounciation is very American). As the child becomes more confident, he can send Tommy along the bridge with trainers and because he now walks faster, the word will be spelled out faster too! And eventually Tommy can cross the bridge on a skateboard and the word is read at normal speed. This is a lovely progression that teaches young learners how to spell and break down simple words into small bits (in this case single letters) in order to gain confidence in their reading skills!

Kids Shape Puzzle is another favourite of my boys as they love putting jigsaw puzzles together. In particular, my youngest (2) always wants to play with this great app. The different colours of the pieces makes it very interesting for him to drag and drop the pieces in the correct place on the silouette of the image and when the completed image appears he gets so excited and shouts “I did it! I did it!”

 

Then, there is Kids ABC Letters, which is a great game to learn how to recognize letters. In fact, there is again a jigsaw task where kids need to piece the parts of a letter (both capital and small) together and a lovely fishing game, where the learner helps a cat to catch fish labelled with the letters of the alphabet. The game tells you which letter the cat needs to catch and you need to press on the cat when the fish with the corresponding letter is passing by. At that point the cat lifts up the fishing rod and the hook grabs the fish, so you score points. If you choose the wrong letter, the fish goes free! All these simple tasks are very engaging because they give an immediate sense of reward and encourage the learners to want to learn more! And the great thing is that as they are playing they are learning an aweful lot 🙂

There is also Kids Numbers and Math which lets you complete some fun tasks to improve your Numeracy skills. You can start from very simple tasks, like counting up, or down, and number recognition, to more complex tasks like finding the greatest number from a pair, etc… Again, this is a very engaging App that enables very young learners to become excited about Maths and learning numbers!

Sriram Satyavolu

Here are a couple of very simple, yet very effective, Apps by Sriram Satyavolu! The first is LearnABC which is a simple alphabet which allows you to pick a letter and draw its shape over it with your finger. And here is when using an eee pad Transformer makes a big difference compared to an ordinary smart phone, because size matters after all! In fact, my boys can draw over the letters very well because they are showing nice and big on the ASUS Transformer, and as they draw the start recognising the patterns ready for when they will be in school and do it on paper.

The second app is WordBuilder which gives you the image of an object and the first letter. Then, from the alphabet you need to choose the letters that make up the word and drag them in the correct place. It is a really good way to learn how to spell. When you place a letter in the wrong space it gets crossed and you have a chance to try again until you get the correct order.

 

Google Sky Map

Perhaps this one is more suitable for older learners, but Google Sky Map is a really nice app that give you a lovely experience of the sky as it is seen at night! By simply holding your ASUS Transformer, you can move the tablet to see different parts of the sky, including stars and planets. The nice thing is that the planets are nice and big, so, although you loose the sense of proportion, you have a way to show young children where the planets are in our solar system and that they are not luminous objects like the stars. You could also use this app to get learners to tell stories about space missions, or star wars like adventures, by jumping from one planet to the next children can tell their story to their peers.

There are many more great apps for young learners and I discover new ones every day that engage my boys. Which apps have you used? Why were they effective? Please leave a comment on the post.

Topic – Reporting: What do you tell parents and when?

I had the really nice role of moderating the #addcym discussion group on Twitter tonight. If you don’t know what #addcym is, you should try to spare the hour between 8-9 on a Tuesday evening and search for the hash tag #addcym on twitter! To join the discussion keep following the hash tag and, if you want to contribute, simply send a tweet with #addcym somewhere in you 140 letters tweet. In this way, everyone else who is following the discussion can connect with what you are saying! #addcym is the Welsh discussion group for Education and we would love to see more people joining in and sharing their views and experiences with other Educators to form their PLN (Personal Learning Network). Many on #addcym have never met in person, but many others have and connect with each other through a wide range of tools, e.g. Twitter, Emails, TeachMeets, face to face meetings, collaborative projects, etc… So I am not saying that the Twitter hash tag is the only way you can connect with other Educators and create your PLN, but that Twitter is an enabler that could help you getting started and link with a wider community than your department, or school, or LEA, etc… In fact, quite a few people who took part to #addcym tonight have a PLN that stretches beyond Wales and U.K. and are part of a worldwide PLN and for many Twitter was not how these PLNs started.

On #addcym we are trying to discuss about topics that are relevant to Education in Wales, so if you are interested in some of these topics, join in. You can even vote the topic you would like to discuss with the weekly Tweet Poll, that gives you a choice of different topics to choose from.

Sorry for the digression, but I thought you would find it helpful to have a bit of an introduction to the concepts of Twitter, hash tags and #addcym, if you have not use these tools before. But this post is supposed to be about a summary of the #addcym discussion from tonight, so read below to find out what came up!

The main points from the discussion were:

– More personal comments are needed and we should get rid of statements banks, reports software, mail merging, etc… some thought those are useful as long as you spend time personalizing the reports.

– Too often reports are impersonal and full of ticks and comments on academic progress alone, with reference to levels and the curriculum, which for some parents can have little meaning. So, comments on how to help child improve skills and performance would be more helpful for parents, i.e. know how they can support their child.

– Not enough parent involvement in feedback on reports and pupils’ work is not celebrated enough. Some thought we should have more opportunities to send pupils’ work at home so parents can support and encourage their children. Some suggested that blogging and other ways of making pupils’ work available online could be a good way to engage parents. Parents’ who comment on Blog posts from their children’s class Blogs seem to have a positive effect on their child’s motivation! Other forms of sharing pupils’ work online suggested were broadcasting work live, or recorded. Getting pupils to present their work to the parents in a sort of Open Evening was another suggestion!

– Many thought that comments on reports should include social and pastoral aspects of the child’s life in school as well as academic progress and the first should be a responsibility of the classroom teacher and not only the Form Tutor, or the Head of Year (in a Secondary setting).

– A well established and confident School Council can make a real difference and voice their views very well and maturely. That could be used to gain feedback from learners on what they want reports to include. Some would like to see an “Unschoolcouncil”, where learners who are often not given the opportunity to voice their concerns are listened to. Also, feedback from parents should be taken into consideration.

– In Secondary schools often reports are disjointed and teachers from different departments haven’t got much opportunity to discuss the overall progress of a learner (both from a pastoral and academic point).

The above is a fairly poor summary of the many contributions we had tonight and my best attempt at summarizing clusters of tweets in single bullet points. But I think in conclusion we could say that it sounds like more involvement from parents and learners was felt as a need in reporting by many tonight and that less impersonal comments, but real personal knowledge of the child and their achievement would be enough to justify less reports per year, i.e. quality, not quantity is what parents would appreciate more. That applies to written reports, because maintaining a good relationship with parents is also very important! I am sure I have left something out, so if you can think of something else I should have added, please add it as a comment to the Blog post.

I am sooooo pleased to announce that the fantastic online TV show our Yr10 pupils produced last year, the one and only “EM Spectrum Show“, was awarded first prize at the Guardian Classroom Innovation Awards at BETT 2011!

My Yr10 students put together a really creative programme of resources that we used to broadcast live as our “EM Spectrum Show!” on the 17th December 2009. The original plan was to broadcast from the school, but unfortunately our school network filtered the stream from our classroom, so my students and I decided to record their work and broadcast the show live from my house. In many ways this turned out to be a very valuable alternative, because it meant the world to our children to be able to watch the show from their houses and know that leading Educators like, Les Foltos (Director of edLAB Puget Sound Center for Teaching), from across the globe were watching and praising the educational value of their work. Also, the students’ parents could watch the show with their children and become involved and engaged with their learning on a completely new level.
What I like most about this project is that our children chose to use free software for the majority of their work, but still produced a really engaging, creative, rich and fun programme that contained a wealth of really good Science in it! We used mainly free Microsoft software like Photo Story 3, Songsmith, Movie Maker and Community Clips, and we created our very own online TV Channel with Livestream (http://www.livestream.com/croesyphysics). Some people get the impression that to create really innovative and engaging activities for our children they need state of the art equipment and spend large sums of money, but I believe this project proves just the opposite. In fact, all our students had was a laptop between two, or three, and a headset with microphone and still got involved in true active learning!
Winning the Guardian Classroom Innovation Awards is simply amazing, because we know we were against other fantastic projects.
We would like to thank all the people who supported and believed in our project and especially ASUS for their overwhelming generosity, which will allow us to continue to engage even more regularly in projects like this one! In fact, we will now have the really difficult task to choose from their amazing range of great hardware and spend the £7500 award they so kindly offered to support these awards. By sponsoring an initiative like the Guardian Classroom Innovation Awards ASUS has shown that they put innovation and education at the heart of what they do and I am proud to be sponsored by such a company!

I saw this “Magic trick” performed as a lesson starter by one of the best Student Teachers I have ever observed, Bethan Rowland-Jones, who was at the time a Student Teacher in Swansea University. The lesson was an introduction to light aimed at an audience of yr 8 pupils and, as you can see from the video of the trick I reproduced below, she grabbed the children’s attention right from the start. The pupils were just spellbound!

This was an excellent icebreaker, especially because it generated many questions and discussions. But what is actually happening here? Well, there are a number of things that your students will notice.

First of all, while the level of water is rising the children can see the effects of light refracting from water to air, because it looks as if the coin is lifting up. However, they know this is impossible because the coin is under the glass and not in the water at all!

Then, when the water level is high enough, the coin seems to disappear. This is the effect of total internal reflection of light inside the water. At this angle the light reflected by the coin hits the walls inside the glass at an angle greater than the critical angle and it gets totally internally reflected back inside the glass. That is why we don’t see the coin anymore! What we see (at that particular angle) is the reflection of the wooden board on which the glass and coin are standing.

I cannot think of a smarter and simpler starter for this topic and I thought the lesson was outstanding!

There have been a few people who were not convinced by the TIR explanation, so I have added the video below and you can see how it works in this great simulation. The video should convince anyone, or at least any Physicist, that this cannot be explained in any other way than TIR as you get two reflections of the coin inside the tall glass. If the disappearing coin were an effect of merely refraction, we wouldn’t see any reflection inside the glass!

I recently come across a really nice, simple and quick Web 2.0 Tool called vozMe. It is a fun application that turns whatever text you write in the text box provided into an electronic voice message. I used it a lot to freak out my classes as they came in and to build some rapport by having a laugh at the beginning of the lesson. It is also quite useful to share the lesson objectives in a fun way with your pupils and it works magic when you use it to rebuke a misbehaving child (only the first two or three times though), because they actually listen to the voice, more than they would listen to you, and do what it says!

You can choose a male or female voice and also the language you want to write on. This will change the sounds the computerized voice will make for given letters and syllables. I can see how this could be used in MFL lessons to get your pupils to check their pronunciation of foreign words, etc. But I believe it could be used in English Literature as well to show the importance of intonation and emphasis of words! Try writing one of Shakespeare poems in the text box and play it back to the children to see their responses! And if you have big school Drama Productions you might just need a robotic voice in some of your plays.

vozMe is very simple and many could think quite pointless, but sometimes the simplest ideas are great and can work wonders. Have a go with your classes and let me know how useful, or not, this tool has been to you!