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10 things to do at the start of the school year

start of school

This week will be the start of our first full week back at school for the Victorian (Australian) school year of 2015. I love the excitement of a new year, with classes returning, new classes starting, students enjoying being back together again, excited conversations, catching up with everyone etc.

It is a time to get organised, set the scene for learning and connect with the students. The bulk of my teaching load is Information and Communications Technology from years 7 to 12 and this is what I will be doing this week:

  1. Reconnect with my professional learning network on twitter, skype groups, email lists etc and be increasingly active after a 5 week summer holiday break.
  2. Connect with my students – get to know them, their learning styles, their strong points, interests, extra curricular activities, technology use outside school etc. Each new class will start with a backchannel chat using TodaysMeet with a series of questions each student will resond to simultaneously. The room is booked for 12 months, so that I can go back time and again and see what they say about themselves.
  3. Connect students beyond our classroom walls. Search out some sessions with other national and global teachers, classes and experts. Take a thorough look at skype in education for those who are actively seeking connections, expert speakers and community members who are willing to share for free over videoconferencing.
  4. Actively seek out global projects for each class. Register year 9/10 and 11 for the Flat Connections Global Project (a personal favourite.)
  5. Ensure all students have an individual blogs (I use global2 blogs) which our Department of Education and Training provide us with through their campus license.
  6. Ensure that all students can access MS 365 of which we are a trial school so that work can be saved and accessed in the cloud and that group learning can take place.
  7. Students will add a snapshot of their timetable to both a post and a page on their blog. Another  post will list the subjects studied, another share three learning goals for the year.
  8. If time permits they will share another post on “Ten things you don’t know about me”
  9. Catch up on updates on twitter, google+ and a variety of educational blogs, including those targeted with upcoming events and resources for Victorian teachers eg global2, Digital learning, fuse, abc splash and a firm favourite Free technology for teachers
  10. Actively participate in the organisation of the upcoming OZeLIVE conference – a virtual conference that will run in Australia friendly times.

Australia Day – a day to celebrate

australia day on the wharf flag
Today is Australia Day, a time for us as Australians to celebrate what we enjoy and experience in our wonderful country. It is a day of celebrations, ceremonies, relaxation, barbecues, enjoyment of our great outdoors and socialization. It is a public holiday for all.

It is also of interest that it is Republic Day for India and much as I would love to connect our students with those in India, school has not yet returned for us. So special thoughts go to our friends from India also on this special day. Yesterday was Chinese New Year. The week is full of many festivities.

Does your country have a special day?

Inspiring Stories Marine Scientists

guy from Antarctica

Always on the lookout for bringing the outside world into my classrooms, a recent email from a colleague alerted me to the  Clickfest Festival held during November. It is described on the flyer as:-

… an annual video conferencing festival run in November each year. ClickFest is an exciting initiative from education organisations across Australia. It highlights the diversity and scope of video conferences available to schools across Australia. Sessions are delivered free or at reduced cost to schools, providing a great opportunity for teachers to give it a go.

Some of the virtual excursions were only available to NSW Australian schools, some cost money but there were others that were free and a slot was available to a school outside of NSW. The “Inspiring Stories Marine Scientists: chasing eddies, drawing blood, restoring underwater forests and catching the invisible!” sounded really interesting. My year 7 ICT class was booked in through DART connections. Polycom videoconferencing equipment was to be used for the connection. A successful connection was almost guaranteed as the affirmative email from Anne Doran, the Education Officer from the Australian National Maritime Museum covered

  1. setting up a time to test the connection prior to the event;
  2. clear instructions and tips for  a successful videoconference linkup
  3. a copy of the presentation (should the content sharing fail at the remote end)
  4. a backup phone number contact if major problems occur

Here are my modified instructions based on this email.

class and polycom

The videoconference was a great success. The four scientists shared their presentations using content sharing, showed photos of their work, displayed a sense of humor, were engaging to the students with topics  of high interest to my 13 year old girls and spoke for just the right length of time. They talked about previous careers – like ice skating and how they got from there into marine science, research field trips to Antarctica, moving seaweed forests to ocean floors that had lost their seaweed etc.

Students enjoyed it as they could interact, ask questions, see the work they did, listen to the experts in that field and as we live 30 mins from the sea or ocean it is an environment they are familiar with.

alex

 

Final Exams

 

examsrAfter 13 years of school, 36 weeks of schooling in 2014, much preparation, revision, completed outcomes etc, students sat their 2 hour VCE Business Management exam today. Although they are a mixed cohort of students – some studied so hard, others just took it all very casually, but they did all get an “S” and complete the subject to satisfactory standards, prior to sitting the exam.

Students sit this exam in a small local church hall where they are assured of a quiet atmosphere in completing the exams.

The exam counts towards their ATAR score for university entrance, should they wish to attend university. This is always a time of stress, nerves and anxiety but I wish them all the best for their exams and their future paths.

Now my students have two to go (subjects I taught this year), Accounting and Informations and Technology.

 

 

When tragedy bonds global classrooms!

Snapshot of "My favourite things" padlet

Snapshot of “My favourite things” padlet

A txt msg, via whatsapp messenger, on my phone from Veronica Woo, of Ipoh, Malaysia, a friend and teaching colleague of mine, alerted me to the fact that the first 20 bodies from the MH17 disaster were to end their long journey home to Malaysia on August 22nd. (Australia’s first victims arrived home the week before!) A minute’s silence  for those who mourn, will be followed throughout Malaysia on Aug 22nd. A tribute or multi-faith ceremony will be broadcast live on the national TV and radio stations of Malaysia.

As I had my year 7 ICT class in the morning, Veronica asked whether we could  open a google hangout so that she could share with other teachers what an open classroom looks like when two countries are connected and team teach. However, this is how the lesson ended up looking like:-

  1. Veronica issued an invitation to the ghangout, called, “Knowing Me, Knowing You”
  2. set up a photo essay wall at padlet called My favourite things for us to share photos. However as the settings were not public, girls had to register for padlet. Even then, they could not login to Veronica’s wall.
  3. We could not locate the link to the ghangout and therefore share our classroom with video, so we had to fill in our lesson “on the fly”.  I set up another wall where we could get started and they learn how to upload images and add text. See the wall I created and the girls’ favourite things. They were encouraged to use photos that they had taken.
  4. Next a sympathy wall was created for the girls to share their sympathies for all relatives and community members who had been lost in the MH17 disaster.
  5. Gchat was maintained with Veronica during this time, and we noticed her txt inform us that the minute’s silence was starting NOW!
  6. The girls immediately wanted to join in this silence and so we shared that silence simultaneously with our Malaysian colleagues. Words cannot describe how meaningful that was, the empathy and feelings that were experienced during that time. Our two countries have sufferered, shared common experiences, bonded in those losses and now at the classroom level across the oceans have entered into a minute’s silence.

As a follow up, Veronica has sent through links to media articles and presentations.

The engagement of Flat Connections Project

Teaching in a small prep to year 12 school sometimes comes with its challenges. Subject choice can be restricted for students. Class sizes and budget often means that the only way subjects can run at senior levels is for the two year levels of  VCE be combined in one subject area. As such I teach a total class size of 16  year 11 and 12 students in one class but following two different currciular. (or should that be curriculums).

The girls love to network

The girls love to network

Students who would not normally be pursuing a full VCE, will often attempt subjects for which they may not be suited. This year, I have a number of challenging, disengaged students at both levels. They are easily distracted by other online activities and reluctant to do any theory work. The year 11 portion are participating in the Flat Connections Global Project Usually students enjoy joining the ning adding their profiles, customizing their pages etc

However for one of my students even this was too much. He wrote in his profile “I live in a house” and that was it — “I live in a house” I nearly saw red, then quietly explained how nearly everyone around the world lived in a house. Other global students were more interested in what the house was like, what it looked like where they live, what they do after school.

After much nagging, he finally wrote a little more that he lived on a farm and liked shooting! Next discussion with me – “There are students in the project from USA who may be upset that you are shooting! What do you shoot? Be specific!”  By the end of the 50 minute lesson he had a brief profile that shared how he lived on a farm and liked to go shooting to get rabbits and foxes! I was on the verge of finding another subject for this student!

Bg4uZKgCYAAn8sX

So, it was with some dread that I entered the classroom today, only to be greeted by “Guess what, Miss!” by this same student! He was woken up last night by his mobile phone alerting him to the fact that two students in the USA had commented on his handshake post! One of the students also liked shooting and his targets were turkeys, squirrels etc. He shared the names of guns he used and wanted to know what guns my student used…..  and so a now highly engaged students commented back, looked for other handshakes to comment on and the wonderful world of global learning just opened right up!!!

The next minute, one of the boys discovered the chat, found one student in USA working at home, trying to work out how to upload a video on to his ning page. Aaron, then responded in the chat exactly how to do it. Peer to peer mentoring is the best way to learn!

boys1

Using a Back Channel

A back channel is an online space where participants in formal or informal sessions have a virtual place to converse, ask questions, share, add to a discussion and simply ‘have a voice’. A question was asked of me on twitter:-

As such it can be very effective for either a speaking class or writing class. The back channel allows everyone to have a ‘voice’ and add to the conversation compared to a traditional classroom where one voice rules. Participants are given a link to a space where collaborative and interactive chat can take place. (See suggested tools below).

Speaking or Writing Classes

In a speaking class, a text based backchannel could be used for asking questions, sharing opinions, adding to the discussion, giving positive feedback, constructive criticism and  for interpretative purposes if a second language or strong accent is used. If it is a debate, it could be used to discuss the pursuasive arguments of the speaker, their impact as a speaker, the clarity of their voice and the depth of their arguments. In a writing class it could be used in a similar way plus for  brainstorming, demonstrating  confusion, seeking feedback, querying concepts etc. Some backchannels now enable video. Questions can be asked immediately and the teacher answer them at an appropriate time (eg they may be working with another teacher at the time of the question). This conversation or backchannel can be saved and used for reflective and revisionary purposes. Questions and conversations can continue beyond the event.

The back channel can be very effective in a conference presentation or workshop. Participants can add questions, share resources and add opinions. These can be saved, used for further reflection and can enable the presenter to answer questions during or after the event. At the recent ACEC 2012 conference, I set up a backchannel using Teachmeet for each session and encouraged the use of twitter. However, the screenshot below shows the confusion and misunderstanding of some workshop participants and makes me aware that skills in using a backchannel need to be initially taught – a valuable lesson for me as an instructor and an element that I would be otherwise unaware of.

Some tools I have used to backchannel  include

  • Todays Meet – does not require registration, expires after a nominated time period.
  • Chatzy – does not require registration.
  • Twitter
  • Google document
  • Coveritlive
  • The chat area of a virtual classroom eg Blackboard Collaborate, Adobe Connect etc

How to use the backchannel!

  1. Choose a tool (I shall use todaysmeet as an example)
  2. Goto todaysmeet. 
  3. Give your room a name
  4. Choose expiry date (I forgot to change this for ACEC2012 and now do not have a record of the conversations of two of my sessions.)
  5. Create room
  6. Save the link and share the link with participants
  7. Show them how to use the backchannel
  8. Encourage its use throughout the class or session

Effective Backchannelling

  1. In a conference or workshop, appoint a person to be a scribe and deliberatley add links/resources and answer questions where possible.
  2. Refer to it during the class, session, presentation and answer any questions or clarify any points
  3. Save the backchannel chat, refer back to it, reflect on it, answer further questions, act upon any advice for next class, session etc.

What backchannels have you used? Why do you use them? What tips or hints would you have? Have I answered the question well enough? How would you answer the question in twitter?