Author Archives: murcha

Lockdown 4.0 Remote Learning is Back!

After 3 months of face to face teaching and relative freedom, with masks only needing to be worn in crowded spaces, on public transport and when it is impossible to distance socially, we have community transmission of COVID-19 in Victoria once more. A 7 day circuit breaker lockdown was announced on Thursday of last week. Teachers were given a student free day on Friday to prepare for remote learning, and online classes commenced yesterday. Vulnerable students and children of essential workers can attend school. Unfortunately, our numbers of cases are rising, COVID has found its way into aged care homes, and the number of exposure sites is extremely high. Personally, I feel our lockdown will be longer.

Therfore, we are all back to watching the daily Premier’s briefing, media updates and waiting to see what happens next.

Yesterday, was hard. It was hard to get back into online teaching, MS Teams and its fantastic Live Meetings had changed a little but today, the second day is a little easier. Our primary students from foundation to year 4 only have school in the morning. The rest continue with their normal timetable as much as possible but teachers are cautioned not to overload students with work, nor expect them to be on face to face time for the whole day. My VCE classes continue as usual but I try to play music as they enter the virtual room to give time to relax and settle in.

What my ICT (computer classes) looked like yesterday.

On entry, played the song “I don’t like Mondays” by the Boomtown Rats. Students discussed whether they agreed with this statement.

  1. We looked at the news for today including COVID-19 numbers, special days acknowledged for May 20th. Macaroon Day was of high interest and I was intrigued to note that most students had not heard of them, nor tried them. In Australia, it is also Reconciliation Week and our last day of autumn.
  2. Students shared how they were feeling in the chat by using an emoji (inserting a gif from MS Teams)
  3. Students found a picture of the last food that they ate and shared it in the chat.
  4. I had emailed each student with a few questions about eg what they did on the weekend and a challenge. They had to write their first and last name all as one word and then put each letter in alphabetical order. They had to reply back to me using email.
  5. Next class I will collate all the jumbled names in a table in MS Word. Students will then unjumble the names.

This all seem to work well, students were interactive. Some chose to keep their webcams on, others remained icognito. The majority of students from each class were in attendance.

Wheel of Names – a simple, favourite tool in 2020

One of my most used online tools over both remote learning and face to face learning this year was the Wheel of Names This might seem strange but the students really engaged with it and I shall explain further on.

It is free, but advertisements do appear but we just ignored them. It starts with a blank wheel. As I had previously saved my class lists for each level, I copied and pasted the list into the “Enter names here”.

If any students were absent for that class, they were deleted. The wheel was clicked, spun around and a winning name would appear together with cheers and party balloons. The named student then had to answer the question or provide spoken input on a topic. Even the shyest of students would interact and it made sure that students were actively partcipating in remote learning and had not muted their webcamera and microphone and not being distracted with other activities or disappeared.

I liked this particular tool as it was so easy to use, simple to add the names of students, would remove the name of the student when they had been selected, remember the names of students who had not interacted from one class to another. It had bells and whistles ie cheers, balloons, the students really had fun using it and it helped me ensure that all were active in the remote learning class. Its big disadvantage was the appearance of advertisements. It has a translate option. An alternative option is the Random Name Picker – which is a bit slower to use and not as visually engaging.

What tools have used most in remote learning?

Christmas celebrations in Argentina

Maria Jose Giavedoni is an amazing educator from Santa Fe, Argentina – always willing to mentor and teach and eager to share her culture and customs. Fom Dec 9th on, she provided the opportunity to connect with her to learn of the Christmas celebrations and customs in Argentina.

As formal classes have finished in our school, we run an alternative program in the last 1.5 weeks of school. Finding suitable times is hard for us as our time zone does not always work. As I had a class at 9am my time on Monday Dec 7th I asked whether we could connect then. It would be Sunday night at 7am for Maria. However, she explained that she only puts up the decorations on Dec 8th, the traditional date for doing so in Argentina. Disappointed, I thought that we would not be able to do it until I saw that I had a class for Coding at 9am on Friday morning. Maria said it suited her.

At 9:10am using Skype, we rang Maria and were immediatley transported into an environment full of wonderful Christmas decorations and treasures. She showed us a Powerpoint presentation outlining the special dates of Christmas, their food and other celebrations. The slides were colourful, engaging animations on the slides, and English text. This helped students get used to her strong Spanish accent and ensured that they understood it right from the begiining.

Then we were taken on a walkthrough her living room. There were so many different decorations in all sorts of places. It was fascinating. Many were similar to what we have in Australia and some were different. Due to safety concerns there are no lights or decorations outside, unlike Australia who often put out many lights and large decorations outside. Their trees are artificial as there are so few real trees growing in Santa Fe and Argentina. Many of our Australian homes still have a real Christmas tree. As Maria has spent time in remote learning for much of the year, she has hand made more decorations. As our school has a large Christmas tree in the front office, three girls walked the laptop up to it and showed Maria. They also took her to the prep-3 classrooms to show some of their decorations.

It was uncanny that at the same time another class had the opportunity to make Christmas decorations. So, it was combined with my Coding class for the first 45 mins. After Maria’s presentation, the students made decorations. Photos were sent to Maria to show what they had done.

Students give Maria a tour of our school and some decorations

What an amazing class! There is still something almost unbelievable and amazing about being able to visit each other globally in the spaces where we live and learn from each other.

Student decorations

Presenting at ISTE COVID-19 Style

Each year, I have looked forward to attending ISTE, the largest Technology teachers conference in the world. It is always held in USA so quite a bit of budgeting and planning needs to take place to ensure this can happen. However, the face to face conference in Anaheim, Los Angeles was postponed from late June to early December due to COVID-19. As time progressed it was clear that a face to face conference was not possible, so a virtual conference was planned. Presenters who had their presentations accepted were asked to confirm that they were still able to be part of it.

This must have been a huge task for the organisers, co-ordination details, working out what it would all look like, software to be used, liaising with all the stakeholders and ensuring a viable program could run smoothly. There were still 12000 people attending. There was an exhibitors section, playgrounds and the presentations.

The two presentations that I was involved in were:

The Magic of Mystery Skype (a poster session) – with Todd Flory and Amy Rosenstein

The Best Tools for Global Collaboration (initially an interactive lecture but changed to a 5-8 minute Ignite session) – with members of the ISTE Global Collaboration Leaders PLN

Emails and updates to my page on the ISTE Conference site kept us informed. This time of year is so busy, with our school end of year reports, exams, assessements etc all due. In the 2 weeks prior to the conference, practice rehearsals were scheduled. As our Best Tools for Global Collaboration was on the Main Stage Theatre, more complicated access was required. Global Learning was the theme for our Ignite session. There were three other presentations as part of this, including one from Leigh Zeitz who was our Global Collab past President.

For our short presentation, we wanted to involve as many leaders as possible which meant we attended virtually from across the world. This added further complications with access to technology, time zones etc adding to the mix. Our presenters included:- Margret Atkinson (our President from) Louisiana, Dr Shahinaz Abdelrahman from Sudan, Dr Michael Harvey from Malaysia, Sean Forde from Sth Korea, Anne Mirtschin from Australia, Kaylah Holland of Haiti, Ava-Gaye Blackland of North Carolina. It was decided that we could each create two or three slides (or more) to speak to with each of us having one minute to talk to the slide.

Shahinaz is an amazing educator whose electricity and interent access is never reliable. In the event that she could not access the internet, she put together a short movie to share her tools. Ava-Gaye did the same. We added our slides to a shared google presentation, using an ISTE20 channel in Slack to interact and communicate. As I had put the proposal in to ISTE, Margret and I worked together to try and sort out some of the details Google Meet was used for this. It was the week of Thanksgiving in the USA and I was amazed to see Margret (giving up her holiday break to meet and co-ordinate things) in a beautiful looking room overlooking a gorgeous swimming pool. She was at her friend’s place who, as Margret described it, was ‘real fancy’. There is something amazing in using technology to connect countries and feel like you are part of their space.

There were three or four rehearsals just with our team to ensure we could time it correctly. Zoom was used for this and a time was found that suited all countries – some had a very early start to the day ie 5am or 6am and a late finish for others 10pm or 11pm at night.

The best time for most was 11pm, Melbourne Victoria time gmt+11). Then there was our major platform training session with all involved in the Ignite session, to ensure we could access and use the technolgy and gain confidence with ShoFlo the tool used to stream the presentation. This was not a very professional start, as several of us were not added in, had our microphones muted, could not hear what was going on etc but it was another learning journey. There was some angst about how this would all pan out.

The ISTE technical setup rehearsal

The Magic of Mystery Skype

The first presentation was the Magic of Mystery Skype. This was a poster session and again an unknown as to what it would look like. Todd and Amy and I met to record a short 3 minute video to be added to our conference link. Skype was used to do this. A link was provided to us via the program and our login to ISTE conference (Manage Proposals). Discord was to be a backchannel with the technical support people of ISTE. It was 10am for me, so a suitable time except that I was at school. Unfortunately, the year 6s were using Tinkercad and pulled down the bandwidth access, so my audio and video would not work. However, I could be active in the chat and look out for questions from the attendees, answering them in the text. Amy and Todd used their microphone to answer questions and share any screens. This was an interactive session with people coming and going with questions to direct the content. Numbers attending were capped at 20 and if there were more than that, 30 mins was spent with the first 20 and then another 20 could attend the second 30 minute session.

Best Tools for Global Collaboration

Best Tools for Global Collaboration was at 4am my time, 1am Malaysian time and 2am Sth Korea. I nearly pulled out, thinking I needed my sleep and one minute of fame was not worth it. The alarm was set for 3:30am. I put on a jumper over my pyjamas and added socks to keep my feet warm as it was a cool night. We were to login to Discord 30 mins before the scheduled starting time. Our first link sent us to the Main Stage waiting room. We were able to chat in there and organisers could make sure that we were present. Soon after that we were moved the Green Waiting room for speakers. There we had to use voice to state whether on a PC or Mac, using Google Chrome of Edge and whether we were using Discord on our phone (using a separate device was encouraged). I could not logon to my phone as it would not accept my password, so I used my laptop to access everything. That was noted.

A link was then shared in the Discord chat to enter the ShoFlo Main Stage streaming room. I felt that I was transported to a live TV show. Everything was so professional and the excitement mounted. We had our own MC who did a great job – seemed like a professional televesion compere. Again audio was tested and some brief instructions given and hey presto our ISTE Global PLN team were projected via video on to the main stage. Shahinaz was there with us in Disocord, but did not make it to Shoflo. Luckily she had inserted her video into her slide. Margret capably shared our google presentation and our rehearsals played us in good stead as it went so smoothly. I know my voice faltered at one stage with stage fright! but we kept to our time limit. What an amazing event and one that I shall always remember.

One of the other Ignite presenters in Shoflo, with many of our ISTE GlobalPLN Team showing in the videos to the left.

A huge congratulations to the ISTE organizers on running this successful event.

Masks at School

For two weeks now, masks no longer need to be worn outside, unless social distancing cannot be maintained. It is so nice to be able to walk outside in the fresh air without one. Summer is approaching and we love to spend time at the beach, so no masks outside is a welcome relief.

As of Monday, masks in Victoria, Australia are no longer mandatory inside or outside where social distancing can be maintained. Masks must still be carried at all times. However, when on public transport and in shopping centres, supermarkets and large stores like Bunnings masks must be worn.

At school, students over the age of 12 years must still wear masks. Unless a teacher is actually teaching, masks must be worn.

Last week, I took an ‘extra class’. It was a grade 6 class. As they were primary school students and dont wear masks, I could actually see faces once again. It was such a pleasant change and almost a culture shock. to see full facial expressions on those dear faces. We have become so used to using our eyes to show how we feel.

Graduation Event with a COVID-19 difference

Our school is a small rural prep to year 12 school in Australia. Once students reach year 12, (their final year of school), class numbers tend to be small. Once their VCE exams are finished, students together with their families and all school staff are invited to attend a graduation dinner in our local community hall. The dinner is catered for by the local hall committee. The two course meal comprises a mix of roast meats, tasty hot vegetables, salads, french bread and wonderful array of home cooked desserts including cheesecakes, pavlovas, brandy snaps and fruit salad.

It is always a highlight of the school year. Photo slideshows and memorabilia are shared with presentations made to all graduating students. One year, a possum found its way into the hall and stole the show, until it was finally directed out the door.

This year, however, was quite different. Get togethers of this nature were prevented under DET COVID-19 rules. The rules were changed a week before the graduation night would have taken place to allow staff and students to do something together but families were not allowed. Schools were encouraged to live stream them in via webconferencing. Our leadersthip team thought this was unfair especially as families supported, nurtured and cared for the students to a higher degree than normal due to the pandemic.

Instead, families were encouraged to cook their favourite special dinner with their student and enjoy it with school staff and the other families involved, using MS Teams. They were asked o dress up as they normally would have. Placemats were still produced featuring photos of our students. These were delivered to individual homes along with a parcel of items (which was not to be opened until the event). We were all keen to wish our students the best even if we could not share the same physical space.

It was so terribly disappointing to receive our invitations and realise this was how the event was to be. However, it turned out to be a very special event despite the virtuality of it. I came up to school to help our Assistant Principal who was co-ordinating the event, to help ensure that MS Teams worked well. A MS Presentation of photos of each student and accompanying music was the first item on the agenda. This was prepared by two o the year 12 students. The Team’s live meeting started at 6:55pm, with the formal welcome commencing at 7pm. Students introduced their family members and the webcameras were on so we could see them. There was surprise video message from a past popular science teacher who would have loved to attend in person and then, virtually. However our Education Dept has locked our Teams into just being able to meet with people within our own Victorian Education Dept.

7:15pm The main course was served up and enjoyed at home – web cameras off, microphones muted and people could temporarily leave the meeting if they wanted to. The recording was stopped and started up 34 mins later, once the main course was completed.

7:45pm A brief reflection on 2020 VCE and VCAL, School Captain speeches, Student Awards and presentations from the Principal and School Council President with some final words from our Assistant Principal.

8:15pm Desserts at home. Live meeting finished.

Despite the fact that it was virtual, there was a lot more input from the family members. We heard parents and guardians speak, some sharing how proud they were of their students. One family member gave the student their box. Inside it was their graduation certificate, a keyring (with their name on), chocolates and other items signifying some meaning for either COVID-19 or their time at school. As each student’s name was announced, we watched a family member give their certificate to their student.

Staff members also interacted and added some humour to the occasion. A virtual photo of the graduating students was taken in Teams. Did your school have a graduation? If so, what did it look like?

The day after our virtual dinner, our government announced that graduation ceremonies could take place with teachers, students and families (within COVID guidelines), but for us, it was too late.

Making students comfortable entering the virtual classroom

To allow time for all students to enter the classroom, relax and catch their breath after their previous class, it helped to play music as the class started. This was easy to do in MS Teams, by creating a Meeting,>sharing the screen>include computer sound. (See below)

Sometimes, I used songs suggested from Facebook groups, then a song that may have been applicable to a World recognized day. It could have been some of the student favourite song suggestions and sometimes I looked for fun themes such as songs that signified the actual day of the week as in the following. Note that some are suitable for secondary students and not primary.

Monday: Monday Monday The Mamas and the Papas

Tuesday: – Ruby Tuesday The Rolling Stones

Wednesday: Wednesday Song for Children

Thursday: Thursday by Jim Croce

Friday on my Mind by the Easybeats

Did you use music for classroom entry? How did you choose the songs? What was the reaction of the students?


Microsoft Global Learning Connection Days

Nov 10th and 11th were celebrated as Microsoft Global Learning Connection Days. The title has changed from Skypeathon. Students and educators were encouraged to connect with others across the world, giving them opportunities to learn from and with each other.

A number of my ICT classes and students were involved in these days. As we are near the end of our school year, senior classes were participating in or preparing for exams, so my involvement is not as good as it normally be. Following are some of our global activities.

Year 7 ICT students are collaborating on a Flipgrid with a class from Bosnia-Herzegovina. Their topic is “Where would you go?” reflecting on the fact that there are 7 continents made up of 195 countries. Students record responses to what country they would like to go to, the distance from where they currently live and something interesting that makes them want to visit this country.

Meeting a Minecraft Education developer at lunchtime

Students from across the school were given the opportunity to learn from Anthony “Sunken City” Cloudy one of the developers of Minecraft Education. He spoke from Houston, Texas and currently works on Minecraft: Education Edition, developing custom gameplay features and crafting tools that empower content creators to teach hard-to-grasp subject matter in innovative ways.

Anthony was a passionate, colourful and inspiring presenter.  30 minutes was spent using MS Teams talking to students from countries across the world, including Vietnam, India, Croatia etc He answered their numerous questions. He encouraged students to learn coding, work in teams to problem solve and not to be disappointed in failing as this can actually lead to success. Some of the failures in using code in Minecraft have actually resulted in things like eg creeping vines.

Year 9/10 students used MS Teams to connect with Jane Mackerell, the K-12 Education Lead for Microsoft Australia. Jane is based in Sydney. She spoke to them about the use of Virtual Reality in Schools, the role of technology in education and was interested in learning from the students in their use of technology.

Were you involved in this day? What did you do?

Remembrance Day 2020

“On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, we will remember them”.

Each year in Australia, we commemorate the end of World War I with a special service at the various Shrines of Remembrance. A minute’s silence is held throughout the country at 11am on this date. However, it was different this year due to COVID-19. Crowds could not gather in Victoria. However, COVID-19 did not deter us from remembering, nor did the thunderstorms and heavy rain prevent our school from holding a special assembly.

Originally, a small group of students and our Assistant Principal were to go the Special Reflections space in Hawkesdale to hold the service where we would normally all be gathered. Mr Ralph was going to use his mobile phone to hotspot a MS Teams meeting back to school so that we could all participate. However, the thunderstorm activity and heavy rains prevented this. Instead, the students who were to speak and Mr Ralph met in the front foyer of the school. Individual classrooms logged into MS Teams and listened to the speeches, poems, Last Post and Reveille. The minute silence was held and the National Anthem sung from across the school.

The school flag was lowered accordingly and a school wreath set at the flag pole. (These students did get wet from the rain!)

It was still a special event that could be participated in, in a different way.

A roadmap back to school

In regional Victoria, our COVID-19 statistics have improved greatly. As of today, October 4th, we have one new active case and a total of 3 active cases compared with Melbourne which has 12 new cases today. In order to return to school, regional Victoria had to enter Step three of the steps back to COVID normal.

Tomorrow, we commence term 4 after a 2 week Spring break. All primary school children in regional Victoria will return to school after participating in remote learning over the last 6 months. However, only VCE and VCAL (year 12 students) can return to secondary schools. On Wednesday, VCE students will complete the GAT- the General Achievement Test which should have been sat back in early June. As we are a prep to year 12 school, primary students cannot return to school until Thursday 8th June, in order to ensure that year 12 students are not prevented from sitting the GAT. VCE formal exams will commence 5 weeks into Term 4. These have been delayed due to the impact of remote learning on their studies.

All secondary students from years 7 to 12 will return for face to face classes on Monday 12th October. However, in Melbourne, VCE and VCAL students will follow the same [pattern, whilst foundation to year 2 and years 10-12 students will return to school from October 12th. Years 3 to 9 will continue with remote learning in Melbourne.

It will be interesting to see how students react upon return to school and how we, as teachers cope. Temperature checks will take place for each staff member and student and all students above the age of 12 will need to wear masks. The rules for masks have now changed. No longer are face shields, scarves and bandanas able to be worn. Masks must be at least 2 layered and must cover the mouth and nose. Face shields can be worn, but masks must be worn underneath.

We are the only state in Australia required to wear face masks and as it isnt part of culture, many people are finding this a difficult request, especially in the country areas where COVID numbers are non-existent or extremely low. Now that warmer weather is on its way, people are wondering how they will cope in our extreme heat.