Category Archives: virtual classrooms

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

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?

Friday

Janet Barnstable

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Instead of a garden party, some HLW Skypers members who were in Chicago for  ISTE 2018, attended  Memorial Service for Janet Barnstable and her husband Richard Sebrin.

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HLW Skypers (Hello Little World Skypers) is group formed using Skype as its chief communication tool by Katherine Zablatnik and others, eight years go. It was formed to facilitate Video conferencing Worldwide for the promotion of Education and technology. Building bridges; we are family, hand in hand we aspire to make a better world, trying to understand one another, and improve our cultural awareness. Our members come from many countries across the globe and many do not speak English as their first languge.

Janet Barnstable joined this group soon after it was formed. As a retired educator, she spent many hours keeping the conversations going, helping those who needed help, suggesting alternatives and solutions to issues raised, took an interest in each and every member,  and despite having no facebook, twitter or other popular social media account had her own well established global network.

She was the program manager for the Global Virtual Classroom. As these projects were usually spread over a 6 month period, our Australian school year finished and started afresh over this time, which prevented my classes from joining in as they changed each school year. However in 2017 Janet introduced mini projects so my class was able to participate in term 4 2017. I am so glad that I had the chance to work with her and some of the other teachers across the world. See and read what our Ocean project was with a class in Taiwan.

However, as ISTE 2018 in Chicago approached, several members of HLW Skypers from other countries talked about attending. Janet lived in Chicago with her husband Richard and she offered to host a garden party in their beautiful garden and excited chatter confirmed that we would love to be part of it. Planning started and another local Chicago resident Ellen Smith met with Janet to plan the afternoon. However, in late January Steve Sherman from Cape Town put a message into the HLW Skypers skype chat, asking whether any of us had heard from Janet lately as he had heard that she and her husband Richard Sebring may have been the as yet, unidentified victims of a house fire. Utter shock and disbelief set in amongst members of the group. It took weeks to identify and verify the bodies but it was indeed Janet and her husband. Unfortunately, both were confined to wheel chairs (Janet was a victim of polio). They were aged 78 and 76 years.

Our group setup a google document to crowd source our memories of Janet and pay testament to the wonderful work that she had done with us. She was collaborating globally even before the internet and she was “the cornerstone” and the “glue that kept the 150 or so global members of HLW Skypers together.”

Read more

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Instead of attending Janet’s garden party, a small group of friends, family and HLW Skypers members gathered at a Graveside Ceremony at Ascension Cemetery, Libertyville. This was timed to coincide with the time that people were in Chicago for ISTE and on the very day the garden party was to take place. It was with a mixture of sadness, pride in knowing Janet (virtually) and the knowledge that she had brought us altogether. It was a simple service led by the Trustee of her estate, where those who had gathered shared a little about the contact that had with Janet. It was comforting to learn more about this friend of ours, especially her past before we knew her.  David Karnoscak , Steve Sherman, Louise and Preston Cameron, Cheryl Kemper, Matthew Kuntz and myself were in attendance.

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We were all invited to a brunch at the nearby Blueberry Pancake restaurant where we were able to share in further conversations and get to know each other better and learn even more about Janet.

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A macrame neck piece made by Janet for this lady’s first communion.

We did still go to the garden party as Ellen Smith decided to host it in place of Janet. As she had already discussed the food etc with Janet, she kept to the same catering ideas – Italian sausage (which is a Chicago thing to eat), Mexican dips and platters etc. Further members were able to join us there as their flights only got in at lunchtime. Jen Maley and two of Janet’s close colleagues from GVC were there.

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HLW Skypers group at Ellen’s garden party

jen maley and janet's friends

Looking at the 3D printed self lighting torches that Jen Maley’s class had made for Africa.

A school will be built in memory of Janet. (Will add more details when I find them out).

Janet was a wonderful role model and an innovative pioneer. She will be sorely missed by all those who worked with her.

Today I met a girl…..

Today, I met a young girl who wants to be an obstetrician.

But she was no ordinary girl because she :-

  • was only 10 years old
  • lived in one of the most poverty stricken countries in the world
  • was from Nigeria and part of a large classroom of students

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She spoke articulately and when asked what career she hoped to follow, came back with the response that she wanted to be an obstetrician. I wished her all the best with her studies and ambitions. She was one of the students in HAMMED ABDULAZEEZ’ class.

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We had connected as part of the worldwide 2 day skypeathon. It was late at night for me and early afternoon for them. I shared a little about our “Farm in Australia” sharing my screen and showing pictures of the farm. Students from the class shared information about their country and culture and asked me questions about the culture of Australia, who was our president (we have a Prime Minister) and any major festivals that we celebrate. Their knowledge of the world was quite sound (and that surprised me as I am not sure how much my students would know in comparison.)

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Safer Internet Use Day

Today is Safer Internet Day #sid2015 – a globally recognised day organised by Insafe. In First Aid, one of the first lessons to learn is DR ABC. The D being of prime importance as it stands for DANGER. When using the internet, it is important that students also learn of the dangers, so they can protect themselves as much as possible. As our Australian school year starts, this is a timely lesson and should be enforced whenever technology is used.

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Australian Cybersmart organised webinars to be held throughout Australia for classes of students in years 4, 5 and 6 today. In Victoria, Digtial Learning partnered with ACMA to provide a webinar at 10:30am with more than 130 classes and more than 20,000 students logged in – a wonderful number to reach, all learning and sharing together under the guidance of an expert speaker. Popular Greg Gebhart ran a presentation on “Being a Good Bystander” using case studies, discussion, graphics, real world examples and time for feedback and reflection. Teachers were given the opportunity to test entry into blackboard collaborate, the virtual classroom software to be used the day before with help support provided by telephone on the day.

Students were also given the opportunity to participate as individuals in a chat or backchannel using Todaysmeet. Due to the large number of students online in the backchannel, the chat was fast and furious with some wonderful sharing by most students and lots of ideas on how to support their fellow peers. This is an amazing example of technology allowing students anywhere and everywhere to connect and learn. There were small rural schools, huge city schools, private and government schools all in the one classroom, connecting together and most importantly sharing their learning and experiences.

For Victorian teachers, further resources are available on FUSE for follow up activities and a game called “The Postie” was highly recommended.

What did you do for Safer Internet Day?

 

 

 

A new school year begins and global classrooms connect!

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As Australian schools enter the final weeks of term 3 with still another full term to go, our European and USA counterparts (and others) are starting or about to start their school years. Reinhard Marx is an innovative connected colleague from Germany and someone I really enjoy working with asked whether I could teach a grade 4/5 class about the area I live in. It was one of their first classes for the year.

Tools used and resources accessed:

  1. Skype was used to connect me with his class and to provide a backchannel for reminders and prompts when we were both ready.
  2. A powerpoint presentation was created to show a little of my school and the farm that I live on.
  3. It was uploaded to google presentation, should my bandwidth not allow me to share from my screen.
  4. An Australian flag
  5. A real pet lamb (as we are in the middle of the busy lambing period on the farm)
  6. A fresh bunch of flowers (as this is my hobby to garden and work with flowers)

My grandson and me on the farm bike

My grandson and me on the farm bike

We started with a mystery skype. The students did not take long to work out where I was from. When they worked out my country, I shared my flag to the web camera. Students then volunteered to ask me a number of questions eg “Was it winter where I lived?”. The last 15-20 mins, I shared my screen through skype and talked through the photos of school and our farm. The bandwith was great for a start and images and audio crystal clear. However, after the fourth slide, the size of the images failed to load quickly in Germany, so I shared the link to the google presentation and we walked through the images remotely. To complet the lesson, I brought in one of our pet, bottle fed lambs – always a sure winner!

I like working with Reinhard because he:

  •  actively seeks global connections and lessons. He is a science and maths teacher
  • gave students the choice of mystery skype and a lesson with me or they could continue with their maths. (There was a mix but most of the time, they were intently watching me and the presentation)
  •  introduced the class of 26 clearly to me swivelling the camera so I could understand the teaching space I was in
  • always repeats what the students say, so that I can both hear and understand the comment or question asked
  • always stopped me for a question that a student might have – so their curiousity was satisfied immediatley and not forgotten about
  • ensured the students came up to the camera and could be clearly seen by me
  • interpreted my talk so that all student members could understand what I was sharing

Challenges:

  • bandwidth and sharing images over skype
  • working with an interpreter, remembering to keep my sentences short and concise, pausing to be interpreted and then carrying on
  • the accents and understanding the comment or question – especially understanding the name of the students

 

How To Bring in Virtual Participants Effectively

This tweet sparked a conversation on twitter with many teachers offering advice. Before answering the question, further questions were asked:-

  1. was the staff member housebound and able
  2. what software would be best to use and which is easiest
  3. sound could be tricky so need a microphone. Question on what sort of microphone and how to set up
  4. what physical space was being used and how many f2f participants
  5. what does the program look like – presentations, workshops, group work etc?

Valuable advice from Brette Lockyer

As one of my passions is using technology to break down all barriers. From my experience, my response would be as follows:-

Potential tools to be used:

Software options available to Victorian School Teachers:- Skype, Blackboard Collaborate (through DEECD license), MS Lync, Google Hangouts or Polycom videoconferencing equipment. The easiest tool to use would be Skype as it extremely user friendly but may be blocked in some schools. It would allow chat, video and audio options plus some more difficult features such as screen sharing etc. Recording sessions is more difficult and bandwidth may be an issue. A mobile device can be used for access from home.

Using skype

Using skype

MS Lync is available to Victorian teachers but the software would need to be installed and activated on devices. If it is a two way link, it is user friendly and has many advanced features, including chat, whiteboard and the ability to send large files. It can easily be recorded and presents itself as wmv file once finished which can be shared privately or online. All participants could log in and the chat area could be used as a valuable backchannel, giving everyone a voice. Multi participants would take more time to create email invitations.

MS Lync whiteboard

MS Lync whiteboard

Blackboard Collaborate is still one of my favourite tools for bringing in virtual participants to events. It has many advanced features, including that valuable backchannel, an interactive whiteboard, the ability to create breakout rooms for group work and can be recorded easily. One link or booking could run all day or different links created for different sessions logins. The housebound teacher would need to have trialled it first to make sure it all works from home, especially if on a Mac. There is a mobile app which does not allow participants full interactivity eg cannot write on the whiteboard, but can chat, view and talk. At least one staff member will need moderator rights in order to book a room(s).

Interactive whiteboard in Blackboard Collaborate

Interactive whiteboard in Blackboard Collaborate

Google Hangouts Offers many of the above features and is very google based. Sessions can be recorded and uploaded simultaneously to youtube. However only 10 video participants can be involved and it is very bandwidth heavy. If multi participants, takes time to learn how to set up the hangout and share out the link. It would be preferable to provide a different hangout link for each session.

Google hangouts used for PD

Google hangouts used for PD

Polycom Videoconferencing Equipment All rural secondary schools and smaller rural primary schools have access to Polycom equipment. The housebound teacher would need to log in with a mobile device and the video will not be as clear. A separate back channel would need to be created eg with todaysmeet.

Polycom used for PD to several schools

Polycom used for PD to several schools

Brette Lockyers suggestion was such valuable advice as the one of the biggest challenges is to make virtual participants feel part of the professional development.

Other considerations

Requirements:

Equipment: microphone, web camera, ideal location for the recording devices to capture sound, video etc and above all – determination to make it work! Preferably an on-site buddy and a back channel separate to the chosen tool.

The simplest and easiest to use option would be for “an (confident) on-site buddy” to use skype on their laptop or mobile device, sit up the front, directly in line with the presenter and videoconference presentations.  The housebound staff member would be taken with them to be part of their smaller group discussions. It takes pressure off the organisers and presenters to be using the formal equipment and worry about sound, microphones etc. The buddy’s device would need a built in webcam and microphone. However external ones could also be used.  Alternatively any of the above tools could be used by the buddies. The buddy would need to watch the txt chat for any messages from the virtual participant.

If there is no buddy, careful consideration would need to be given to position of webcam and microphone. The webcam will need to capture the presenter, and/or the presentation and will need to be adjusted each time unless using Lync, Blackboard Collaborate or Hangouts.

If the whole staff are to participate in the virtual link up simultaneously, then blackboard collaborate and MS Lync would be the tools of choice. Physical participants will need to turn down their speakers and listen to the actual voice rather than the virtual. They can be active in the chat or on an interactive whiteboard should the occasion present. Other external participants could be invited in to create an even richer environment.

Complementary Tools

A backchannel in todaysmeet could bring in all participants if they have their own device allowing questions, shared resources, information sharing and a space for follow up conversations.

A backchannel should also be agreed upon and tested with the housebound staff member so that they can communicate should the normal channels not work in making connection- could be any of the above tools that they are familiar with.

The buddy

Needs to be comfortable with using technology, networking and a person who can work well, actively, interactively and collaboratively with the housebound staff member.

Recording of the Event

In the event of misfortune, the event/sessions should at least be recorded so that it can be viewed again and again!

What have I missed? What would you suggest? There are many many tools out there now for web conferencing but these are my favourite ones! It is learning in progress and using technology effectively to ensure that no-one is restricted from learning!

The accent and not the language barrier!

I was a amused today to hear dynamic Sheryl NussbaumBeach https://twitter.com/snbeach relate a story from years ago of getting up at 2am in the USA to be involved in an online conference. At one stage she grabbed the microphone to share her experiences only to be asked to please repeat what she said. After the third ‘please repeat’ she asked what language they spoke. When English was the reply, she realised her accent was providing a barrier to understanding.

This reminded me of the time I hosted a Tech Talk Tuesday webinar during global education week. I noticed in the chat that someone asked me to slow down. So, politely, I asked what first language they spoke and the response was “English.” My Aussie accent was too broad and fast for them despite me thinking that I was speaking slowly and clearly. Earlier this week I spoke to year 2 students in Russia. Their teacher stated that their questions would be very simple and may be unusual. When asked “Do I have a bed?” I said yes and tried to describe it, only to be interrupted by the teacher to say that the question was “Do I have a pet?” Oh dear!

On Tech Talk Tuesday this week, Marc Grossman from the UK presented on “Coding for everyone”. He stepped Peggy George from USA through creating a simple type game in Scratch. I quietly laughed as the two completely different accents wanted reassuring of what was said eg Did you say ‘hall’? etc  When classes connect and try to communicate, we know that something is not quite right when we hear laughter at the other end when nothing really humorous was related! But, we continue to try and make ourselves understood and just laugh together.

Overcoming the accents!

  • Use a backchannel for questions and to support understanding eg skype chat with video, chat in the virtual classrooms, todays meet etc
  • Slow deliberate talking helps!
  • Laugh together and work through it all as much as possible.

It is interesting to note that skype is working on a translator during video calls. See http://mashable.com/2014/05/27/satya-nadella-microsoft-2/

A Fun Easter Hat Parade

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The Theme: An Easter Hat Parade

The Models: Grade 5 students from near Boneo, Rosebud, Victoria.These students shared their wonderful Easter Hat creations in a virtual parade.

The audience: Year 7 students from Hawkesdale P12 College, a visiting teacher who is interested in seeing how the virtual classroom works

The tool used: Blackboard Collaborate (BbC)- virtual classroom software provided by our Department of Education for use by Victorian teachers

The outcome – an engaging and fascinating linkup between students of different age groups all learning from each other using the video conference through BbC.

Other Activities: Further activities included all students drawing decorated Easter eggs on the whiteboard, sharing what they were doing over the autumn holidays (this started to show the difference in nature of our geographical locations) and then a discussion with our visiting teacher, who teaches Japanese, as to any pre-existing knowledge about Japan.

Result of 30 students sharing a whiteboard to draw Easter Eggs

Result of 30 students sharing a whiteboard to draw Easter Eggs

What Worked Well

  • taking the plunge with a teacher who is a close colleague (Sally Walsh and I are both web conference coaches) and as such we have complete faith and confidence in each other.
  • an engaging activity – the Easter Hats. All students like to see parades!
  • the nature of the activity – it was a theme on Easter, a popular celebration and displayed lots of creativity. Our school does not do the Easter Hat parades but maybe this will inspire us to do so next year.
  • the chat – students could interact with each other in the chat, ask questions and give feedback on some of the wonderful creations.

The challenges:

  • testing that audio and video works immediately. When classes are involved, it takes time to ensure everyone can logon.
  • Switching off the audio when a class is watching. The loudest noise activates the web camera and projects that classroom.
  • Learning new communication techniques including clear, deliberate, diction, appropriate use of the web camera.
  • Having a visiting teacher in our room

Have you been involved in virtual parades with other schools? How did it go? Would you recommend these types of activities to others?