Author Archives: murcha

2021Virtual Year 12 Graduation Dinners

Current restrictions in Victoria do not allow us to have parents in our schools. Year 12 students completed their external (and final) exams yesterday. It is customary to hold the graduation dinner on the day of the last exams. Usuato have 30 people to gather outside. As the class is very small, it was hoped that an evening outdoor picnic could allow this event to be face to face with the small class of students, their parents and teachers.

As the day approached, the weather forecast was not good – cold with rain. One week prior, the event was changed to an online one using MS Teams. This would allow more family members to attend as 10 people can now gather in private homes. All staff could also login and now attend. Our assistant prinicpal organised invitations to go home, gift packs and certificates. I went up to school with the assistant principal and School Council president. I gave technical help and support (see more below).

At 6:30pm, students, families and teachers logged in to the celebration together with the pet dogs etc!! Some students

Welcome to Country, Introductions

Slide show presentation of students as babies through to today. There were many photos of the many wonderful things that students had been invovled in during their time at Hawkesdale P12 College.

A 30 minute break was given so that students and families could enjoy the special dinner or meal that they had prepared to celebrate.

School Captain Speeches – some of the best I have heard thanking the staff and school for their time with us.

Staff and students shared what they had for dinner. Our Filipino family had the most interesting – started with cucumber salad, then Sam ate 6 pork chops and they were going to finish with a mango dessert.

Opening the gift bags – yoyos, coffee mug with school emblem, pen, key chain with individual names, placemat featuring student photos, certificate etc.

Presentation of coffee mugs to the families who are now leaving our school. Using their webcameras, students presented them to their parents.

Student Awards – usually would be given during the formal final assembly at night time. This is unlikely to go ahead in 2021 due to restrictions.

School Council President Speech

School Principal’s Speech

Final Thanks and Farewells

My Takeaways

The event was completely COVID safe – families were gathered in their own homes, as were staff. We did not have to worry about who was double vaxed and who wasnt. (As unvaccinated people could not attend). There is something special in being able to share with staff, students and families when they are in their own homes and within their own comfortable spaces. There was a lot of interaction – a lot more than if we were in a more formal setting. There were smiles and laughter for much of the time. Some families had decorated their homes in celebration. Pet dogs and cats were inside and also part of the celebration.

Our assistant principal did a great job organising the event and being the compere! He kept it flowing, encouraged lighter conversations at times (eg sharing what they had to eat for their dinner), made everyone feel at ease and the use of web camera. Students and speakers were always spotlighted so that they could be readily seen on participants’ screens. Everyone enjoyed the event.

Tips

Students were savvy about setting up their laptops at home so that their families could also see. They logged on using a team especially set up for the Graduation event.

Any awards, gift bags, certificates were sent to the student homes prior to the event.

Make sure everyone is aware of the agenda prior to the meeting eg a 30 minute pause was given in order to eat their dinner. Dessert occurred at the end of the event.

Always have a second person with full presenter rights. They can be the technical assistant – muting microphones when needed, monitoring the chat, spotlighting attendees when they were speaking, sharing screens and presentations etc.

Ensure that the sound system is selected when the slideshow is presented.

Be prepared to ad lib when their are awkward or silent moments.

Make everyone feel at ease.

Encourage students to introduce family members who were present by using the webcamera.

Have some music on standby when there is waiting time.

Record this important occasion for archiving

Victoria is now one again!

Victoria has hit the 80% vaccination status for all citizens aged 16 and over. As of last Friday at 6pm, people who live in the metropolitan area of Melbourne have the same priveleges and eased restrictions that regional Victorians have. All students in both metro and regional areas are back at school. There are no restrictions on movement for Melbourne folks (within Victoria). They are now free to travel to regional Victoria. We are learning to live with COVID-19. People who are not double vaccinated cannot enter many businesses and organisations. School is returning to a COVID-19 normal atmosphere. However, the last day for our year 12 students was the first day back for all other students, so it is just so hard to believe that our school year will finish in 6 weeks time. So much of this second semester was spent in remote learning!

Years 3-12 students now need to wear masks inside and initially outside. This has caused angst amongst some, including parents, but as I teach grade 3/4 most students seem to be coping with this and are far more compliant. Younger students are encouraged but not mandated to wear masks. However, since Friday the mandate is for inside the classroom only! Many of the older students are reluctant to wear masks in the appropriate manner. Often the masks do not cover the nose or mouth! They find them uncomfortable and difficult to breathe in. (as do many of us!)

Since Friday, masks only need to be worn outside for all Victorians, if in crowded places or where social distancing is not possible. If vaccination status is known, then numbers of patrons at restaurants and cafes have also increased. If status unknown, then only 10 are allowed inside a restaurant and 20 outside. The rules keep changing and it is difficult to keep up with them all.

International flights are opening up again but state borders are still closed to NSW and Victoria. However, we can travel freely to NSW and vice versa.

Restrictions lifting even further in Victoria

All students have finally returned to school on Friday of last week. They came back in staggered stages – years 12 and 11 who were studying VCE subjects for 2 weeks before the end of last term together with prep to year 2 students. There was a 2 week holiday break and the same students returned for the first week or term 4. On week 3, year 7 students returned full time, with years 3, 4 and 9 coming back on Tuesday and Wednesday; and years 5 and 6 and year 10 on Thursday and Friday.

This was rather difficult to manage, as I teach all year levels from year 3 through to year 12. It meant a mix of face to face, remote and hybrid learning as my year 9/10 class is a composite class, so half were at home and the other half actually at school. We were continued to teach from home where possible and come in to school when our classes were face to face. MS Teams continued to be used. When I had a hybrid class, I would connect my laptop to the large monitor in the classroom, call a Teams meeting with all students logging in to the Team.

Problems occured when I played music for them to enter the class as although I shared the sound through Teams, it came out of the monitor speakers for my class. This meant the remote students could not hear the music. Students in the actual classroom had to be muted or feedback occurred.

Numbers became erratic in the last few weeks as disengagement became increasingly obvious especially amongst the years 9 and 10 students. Year 5 and 6 could choose to come to ICT classes, as they occurred in the afternoon, but as they had spent the morning on computers, we were very aware of not forcing them to attend the afternoon and reduce screen time. Numbers were low most times, with most opting not to attend.

Year 3 and 4 commenced using MS Teams during the last couple of lockdowns and this seemed to work well with the younger age group. It is certainly better to have some live interaction with the teacher for a part of each school day, rather than parents trying to cope with living/working at or from home and trying to help their children with their school work for the whole morning.

A day to celebrate on many sides!

Hay bales block the school driveway. Note tractor in background (used to bring haybales to school)

Today was a special day on many counts.

  1. After nearly3 months of remote learning and some hybrid learning, students all returned to school at the one time, after being staggered back to school. Year 11 and 12 students returned 1 week before our spring holidays (6 weeks ago) on a full time basis, as did prep to year 2 students. Over the last 2 weeks, years 3 and 4, 8 and 9 returned on a Tuesday and Wednesday, whilst years 5 and 6 returned on a Thursday and Friday. In that same 2 weeks, year 7s returned full time. Confused? This was difficult and confusing for me and most other staff, and required great concentration as to who was at school and when. Classes still continued remotely and on a hybrid basis when students werent at school. This was in regional Victoria. Melbourne schools start back today for the same students.
  2. It was the last official day for year 12 students, who are about to sit their final VCE exams. This group has spent 2 years of VCE dealing with remote learning and the pandemic. This is always a day for celebration and very fitting that all students and staff were actually at school.
  3. Melbourne finally came out of its long, hard lockdown after nearly 3 months (77 days). It is said that Melbourne has endured the most lockdown days in the world.
  4. Regional Victoria had some restrictions lifted – including being allowed to have 10 visitors in our homes

Only in a country school, would large hay bales block the driveway to the school on the last day for year 12s, with the tractor that brought them parked at the front gates. A painted cow was placed on the top of tables in the canteen. Balloons adorned the corridors, with streamers being popped at students as they alighted from the buses.

Face to face school assemblies and staff meetings are not permitted at the moment, so our Final Assembly with year 12 students was held using MS Teams. They shared a presentation featuring photos of themselves as young students through to current photos. Our school principal’s speech thanked the students for their contributions to the school. The school captains presented their speeches.

An amazing cake was baked and decorated by one of the year 12 students (with the help of her Mum). Texta pens with edible ink, allowed staff to add their greetings, congratulations and messages to the students. Sicky notes made of icing were placed around the base of the cake. An “applefor the teacher” topped the cake.

These students have never complained about their pandemic experiences although remote learning and isolation has had a big impact on their emotional well being. We wish them all the best both for their final exams and for their future.

Some VCE students dressed up for the day!

Programming Day – Sept 13th

So many teaching ideas come from looking at the site days of the year celebrated around the world. Sept 13th has many things to acknowledge including Roald Dahl Day – a number one author for children’s books. However, for my ICT subjects it is interesting to see that it is also Programming Day. As we are in remote learning, we will do the following activities to acknowledge them.

  1. Listen to Code Anthem a song on Code or Java Script Rap as students entered the MS Teams live meeting
  2. Walk through the days of the year for September 13th
  3. Watch Roald Dahl and the trailer on the Witches by Roald Dahl on Flipgrid
  4. Looked at the days commemorated on the weekend which included 20 years since 9/11
  5. Sign up for code.org
  6. Complete the dance party challenge. https://code.org/dance after watching the introductory video
  7. “Keep on dancing” at   https://studio.code.org/s/dance-extras-2019/lessons/1/levels/1 or Flappy Game at https://studio.code.org/flappy/1 or any other of the options at the bottom of https://code.org/hourofcode/overview

Reflections on the success of this lesson:-

I tried this with year 7 and 9 and 10. The 9/10 students enjoyed the rap songs and were quite interactive in their knowledge of 9/11. This was a topic of high interest to them. They were interactive in the chat talking about the Roald Dahl books that they had read and the movies that they had seen. Year 7s really enjoyed coding the Dance Party. I enabled them as presenters and some showed the dance moves that they had created to the rest of the class by sharing their screens. Here is an example of one of the student’s dance party coding.

Year 9/10 – one of the students at home, had trouble with level 9 of the dance party. I asked him to return to the live meeting where one of the boys (who is new to our school and just come out from New Zealand) was actually learning at school. I was home. To my amazement, Harby (who was at home) shared his screen with me (I was home) and Matthew (who was at school) and Matthew pointed out the errors in his programming, stepped him through with Harby successfully completing the whole course. Such wonderful collaboration on a remote scale.

A fun lesson

Morale and engagement has been low amongst both staff and students, since the announcement two days ago that we would be remaining in lockdown for possibly up to 2 more months. If this happens Melbourne, will be the longest locked down venue in the world! The Delta COVID-19 virus has increased our daily numbers. Remote learning will continue on!

For my year 7 and 8 ICT class I decided to just do some fun things. My grandchildren had shown me “Guess the Movie in Emojis” on youtube. After talking about special days around the world, students used the chat of MS Teams, Live Meeting, to share the last movie they watched. I then played this video from youtube:-

I paused a little longer before the answer was given on youtuve, to give me a chance to see what they had guessed in the chat. One student asked if they could use their microphone. Before I could say ‘no’, I started to hear excited chatter amongst the students, all using microphones trying to work out which movie they were. Even my quietest of students were providing a voice I felt like I was back in the face to face classroom! I am sure the students did too – they could hear each other, work together efficiently etc.

It was a great activity and I will remember that microphones on (simultaneously) can connect us all in powerful ways when online.

Students then created three of their own “”Guess the Movie in Emojis” and shared in Posts in the ICT Team.

Lockdown 7.0

Staff and students returned to school for Term 3. COVID-19 seemed under control in Victoria at this stage. However, cases were appearing in NSW. I was fortunate enough to go to Melbourne with Year 11 students and our assistant principal. In order to comply with COVID safety, our accommodation had to provide a separate space for us as we could not share any common facilities with other school and community groups. The Hotel Claremont was able to guarantee this. There was another school group but we were in separate wings and had separate breakfast times, with the dining area being thoroughly cleaned out between each group sitting.

We had a great time in Melbourne. It appeared as safe as it possibly could be. Here is some of what it looked like:

Tap on, tap off (myki cards), hand sanitize, check in with qr codes at all entry points, assure the Covid marshal that we complied, hand sanitize again, maintain social distancing, stay in our bubble at our accommodation, navigate trains, trams and buses etc. These activities became part of the daily routine for our Year 11 Melbourne Experience students – a rather different one to the annual Melbourne Work Experience. 

Students were kept busy with a variety of activities that took up the whole day and well into the night. These included taking a ride on the Melbourne Star, watching Space Jam, a Scavenger Hunt through the streets of Melbourne, ice skating, a swim at MSAC, a night walk down Lygon Street, a tour of La Trobe University, time to explore Northlands, laser tag, indoor rock climbing, bounce and the Comedy Club. Time to explore the Victoria Market or shops at Spencer Street was given on the morning prior to departure. Due to media updates, the increasing number of hot spots, etc, students returned home a day earlier. In hindsight this was a valuable call, as a snap lockdown was declared as we alighted the train at 5pm in Warrnambool. This was Thursday. The lockdown started at 8pm. (In the past it would be 11:59pm)

Lockdown 6.0 was to last for 10 days or so. Friday was given to schools and teachers to prepare for the lockdown. Remote learning formally commenced on the Monday after. To our complete and utter surprise, it was announced the regional Victoria could return to school on the Tuesday as the covid samples detected in sewage in Wangaratta was a false reading. Metro Victoria (Melbourne) were to remain in lockdown. This so sudden return to learning, did our heads in as we had ‘psyched’ and prepared ourselves for a minimum of one weeks remote learning or more. Four weeks were then spent back at school but numbers in Melbourne escalated despite tight restrictions and a COVID case appeared in Shepparton on Friday’s numbers. We knew that if a regional case was found it would most likely lock all regional Victoria down. Students were recommended to take their devices and books home with them at the end of the school day. As it was a Friday, a lot could happen over the weekend. However, news filtered through that the single case had grown to 10 or so that Friday afternoon. The news told us that cabinet was meeting, harsher restrictions would be in place and a media conference held on Friday morning. At 11 am, it was announced that regional Victoria was in full lockdown from 1pm on. This gave 2 hours warning! As we were in Port Fairy for a meeting, I quickly joined our son, his wife and grandchild for a take away meal at the beach, watching the ocean roll in. The day was quite warm and sunny. By 12:50pm there was little sign of anyone, anywhere. Shops and restaurants were closing etc.

This lockdown is our toughes yet. Teachers now need permits to go to school. The rules surrounding students who attend school has also tightened up with permits required for essential worker students to attend. Morale is low as our vaccination rate is still not very high. We need to reach 70 to 80% to experience fewer lockdowns but that could be December based on the numbers that we have now and the probable need for children to be vaccinated. Children are now catching COVID as are the younger age groups of our population.

Lockdown 6.0 in Victoria, Australia

Just as we had all settled back at school, having returned for 9 face to face days, and as we had all felt comfortable that a donut day (no COVID-19 cases( had been reported for the Wednesday. It did not seem so concerning that that very same Wednesday afternoon, two cases were reported. This number would go into Thursday’s numbers.

VCE students completed their first Business Management SAC for Semester 2 on Wednesday afternoon. The Olympic games gave us all something positive to follow with Australia doing well with the medals achieved. It was a much needed distraction to the daily COVID-19 updates, especially as Sydney’s numbers were high. On Thursday morning 6 new cases were reported – again everyone thinking this was a manageably number. It was with almost disbelief that I read a msg from my daughter at lunchetime, that the media was speculating a lock-down on Thursday afternoon.

I attended an online meeting with other MIE Expert educators on Wed night. Those in New South Wales and Queensland were reporting their feelings about being locked down. It was with some relief that it wasn’t us for once in Victoria. We have been locked down for nearly 6 months since the start of the pandemic and it is not easy.

Having discussed with our principal whether we were ready to go back into lockdown, it was felt that we should be as students had only really returned. However, I quickly checked with some of the students that they knew their login details for MS365 as MS Teams is our learning platform during remote learning. Two new students were given their logins. There were sufficient laptops and devices for those who needed them, especially the primary school cohort. Our principal were to each classroom after lunch to ask them to take all books home together with their device just in case. The rumours were stating that it would be 3 day lockdown. Imagine our surprise that it was announced that it would be a 7 day lockdown commencing at 8pm. In previous lockdowns, they had started at 11:59pm. How could we go from a donut day one day, and then to a lockdown the very next?

Regional Victoria wondered why it was that they were locked down when the cases were only appearing in Melbourne. It was stated that COVID samples had been detected in Wangaratta in North East Victoria. Today the media reported that that was not so! It seems strange that the whole state is in lockdown, when even New South Wales and Queensland had only locked down metropolitan centres and any specific cities that had cases.

We can only leave home for five reasons, cannot travel more than 5 kms, can exercise for 2 hours with no visitors in homes. Masks are to be worn at all times except in homes. The 5kms rule is impossible for us to follow. As we live on a farm, our nearest major supermarkets are 40 km away. My husband and I have had one Astra Zenica injection and are due for the second shot on August 21st

Morale is fairly low. Vaccination rates are still low and anxiety/stress levels are mounting amongst many. Senior students looked so despondent when they left school as the end of their school year is in sight. It is hoped that this lockdown will only be for 7 days but the Delta variant is especially contagious.

Maintaining a sense of school community during Lockdown!

MS Teams has been an ideal tool both for use within the classroom but also for the whole school. This morning our Assistant Principal ran the full school assembly (years 3-12) from the school. For those students who were at school (children of essential workers, or students at risk), they were able to log in as could all the staff and the students teaching and learning from home.

A screenshot of the live school assembly

Here is what it looked like:

  • an announcement (an option in Teams) was made in the School Assembly Team, alerting all students to the Assembly, commencing at 9am. This meant that the post had an actual heading, was larger and more prominent than text posts and could be coloured!
  • general announcements were made
  • Ms Regan, our talented art teacher had been teaching year 7 how to create lego style avatars. She had been sharing her creations with staff who were delighted with her resulst. She expertly shared her screen to show staff avatars. Students could then guess which staff member they represented either by using the chat, or their microphones. This was a really interactive excercise.
  • Our Principal introduced us to two new students to the school. We were able to see them and learn what year levels they were in.
Students had to “Guess the Teacher”

The challenges:-

  • the text chat was fast and furious and very difficult to keep up with
  • ensuring every student, including the new ones were members of the Team
  • WIth our experience in previous lockdowns, technical issues were minimal and leading staff were confident in running the Assembly.

The Highlights

  • All students remote and at school could all participate
  • At one stage there were more than 91 individual logins
  • The content was engaging
  • Hearing even little things like our school bell in the background brought some comfort.
  • The internet and bandwidth seemed to hold for all – although most remote students turned off their cameras.
  • Every student could interact in the chat.
  • Seeing many of our students and staff at home, when web cameras were on.

Lockdown 5.0 -Remote Learning 5.0

Initially our fifth lockdown was to be for 7 days, but due to the nature of the Delta variant of COVID-19, it has been extended to 14 days and although community transmission is zero at this stage, new exposure sites are being announced from those who are known contacts of patients.

Much to the delight of students and on their first week back, students no longer needed to wear masks inside the classroom. However, this will all change again once we return to school. Our assistant principal reminded us “that we have done this before, and have done it well. Keep in mind the learnings of past periods of remote teaching: keeping things short and simple, making things fun and relevant, reducing usual workload expectations, the importance of checking in with students to monitor their wellbeing, the need for breaks and time away from screens etc”.

Staff at school again embraced MS Teams to connect, communicate and deliver online classes with students. For the first time, years 3 and 4 students were placed in a Team. It will be interesting to see how this goes.

As ICT is an elective at year 9/10, the focus for them is concentrate on the more formal subjects. Therefore, I tend to make the classes as interactive as possible and give them a sense of connectedness and community.

  • playing a fun song or a happy type song on youtube as students enter the room
  • discussing some of the latest news,
  • asking how they are feeling in an animated gif, emoji or text
  • checking out what themes are being celebrated around the world See Days of the Year This has been a great site to trigger further ideas for my ICT classes eg one day it was Tesselations Day which led us to look for a free online tesselation maker. Students had fun designing their own with Tesselation Maker
  • insert a picture of your last meal
  • would you rather……… and more
A sample of a student made tesselation.

Students love to bring their pets to “school” – some are indoor pets and are easily shown via the webcam to the rest of the class. Some are outside, and it is not so easy to show them but some students do it with great flair, using their webcams or phones effectively. Some, like me shared images of pets in the meeting chat – mine was of one of our pet lambs!

The one formal activity that we all completed was “My winter holidays in Wordart” Students submitted their wordart in MS Teams. For the second class of remote learning, I shared my screen in the live meeting and got students to ask questions of each other of share a little more on some things that they did. One year 7 boy had the word Lua in it. When asked he was given permission to share his screen and showed us the world that he was creating in Roblox. Students gave him a virtual applause when they saw it and there were many ‘wows!’ in the chat.

The lockdown continues this week and it is hoped that most students attend the live meetings as part of their virtual classes.