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.

A surprise glimpse at the South Pole

my ice sheets

 

As our son and his family live in Sth Africa, so we flew to Johannesburg with Qantas to visit them just after Christmas.

A surprise element of this flight was that our flight path took us over the edge of the South Pole. A flight attendant had alerted us to this fact prior to our take off so we were on alert after 6 hours flying and keenly sought advice when we were actually flying over. Despite the fact that lights were out and window shades shut, half the plane awoke, pulled up the shades and looked to see what we could.

icebergs

We peered closely through the airplane windows and could make out the first icebergs as we flew over. Then we started to sight the sheets of ice and gained a real insight into what the centre of Antarctica might look like.

Access to the windows on the right hand side was keenly sought by other passengers, and we took photos when and where we could. It was exciting for us all as many people pay to take sight seeing flights over the South Pole, but here we were getting that package as part of our flight to Sth Africa.

good ice sheets

 

Please note that my good friend from Russia, Tatyana Chernaya, has asked for some details of this surprise glimpse with her students who are studying the weather.

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?

When Santa stole the show!

Santa takes a rest!

Santa takes a rest!

For several months, a connection with a school in a rural area of Japan has been formally planned. Test connections took place and we got a glimpse of the classroom without students.

The empty Japanese classroom

The empty Japanese classroom

This was my first quite formal connection as previous skype linkups have been spontaneous, sometimes unplanned, rather relaxed with some discussion on what we would do and how it would look once we connect. The learning has often been customized by the students and teachers involved as the connection evolves. However, with Mariko, a University colleague from Japan, we had a very formal structure in place with specific briefs and time to be taken for each part of our 30 minute connection.

Meanwhile behind the scenes:

The week before, students decided to organise a KrisKringle with the presents being opened on the day of the organised Japanese linkup. Names were drawn out of a hat so that the girls knew who their gift recipient was to be, would spend up to $10 on the gift and decided to open them prior to the Japanese web conference. Meanwhile, staff decided during the week to have a smorgasboard morning tea on that same day.

Christmas goodies

Prior to the connection:

  1. On the actual day, I emailed Mariko to ask whether her students would like to hear about Christmas and how we celebrate it here if there was time. She responded yes and suggested we do it at the start of the lesson.
  2. Students collected ‘Christmas’ type items around the school eg the year 5/6 Christmas tree, examples of craft work, printouts of pictures and amazingly found a Santa costume.
  3. Students brought in their gifts and placed them in the Santa Bag.
  4. Printed off individual first names on A4 paper so that the Japanese students would see who was talking to them.

The actual connection

Students completed a survey prior to the connection to share what they already knew about Japan. Surprisingly for me, two or three said that they knew nothing at all. At the appointed time, the skype call came through. We were seated informally around the webcamera, Christmas gear discreetly out of sight and faced a very formal classroom setup with the Japanese students seated in rows, some with masks over their mouths and a couple of girls with a blanket over their knees.

students

The girls proceeded to introduce themselves one at a time, name tag clearly displayed. Then showed some of the pictures, craft work and the Christmas tree. As this was going on, a lot of noise was coming from the corner of the room. About to reprimand those who were making the noise, I saw that they were quickly trying to dress a student in the Santa costume. With no planning at all, Santa, then grabbed the presents that were placed in the Santa sack, ho ho’ed her way into to the webcamera and did the Kris Kringle on the spot!

Santa opens her gift

Santa opens her gift

There was much laughter and fun as the girls opened their presents in front of the web camera and showed what they closer to the camera. There were chocolates, lollies, lip gloss, cosmetics and jewellery. Curiousity gave way as we had to explain what some of the goods were and compare whether some of the confectionery and chocolates were available in Japan. At times we had to wait to be interpreted, a new skill for the girls to learn.

Talk then proceeded to the food we eat, when I suddenly remembered the leftovers from our smorgasboard morning tea. Leaving the girls to continue talking, I returned with some of the special cakes, chocolates and part of Christmas fruit cake. Britt Gow a fellow teacher shared her fruit cake with them and explained what it was.

Britt shares her Christmas cake

Britt shares her Christmas cake

It was then question time. Our girls wanted to know why the boys were wearing the face masks and why the girls had a rug on their knees. Too quickly it was time to say goodbye and despite the fact that we did not follow our original program, the lesson worked, was fun, student led and directed with one of our favourite festivals and Santa taking pride of place!

 

A masked student

A masked student

A kitty blanket

A kitty blanket

The Edublogs Awards – #eddies14

lifetime achievement

Where does the year go? With the end of our Australian school nigh it is time for the Edublogs Awards. Many people argue against awards for a variety of reasons but these awards are special as they are organic, nominated and voted for by the general public, highlight those who are doing some wonderful things both in and for, education and give us a wonderful resource bank  of trends, thinking and learning. There are no prizes attached but the fact that blogs, resources and other online tools are nominated brings to the attention of us all those that have a special place in the lives and education of many.

In the school holidays, I love to go through the many nominations and see which resources will be of relevance and interest to me. There are new blogs to peruse, apps to try and online tools to experiment with.

It was with some surprise that I noticed my name had been added to the edblogs twitter list for “life time achievement’ awards. Whoever nominated me, I wish to thank you very sincerely. It makes much of the risk taking, the high evergy intake and time taken worthwhile. It also shows the value of the PLN and its wonderful place and role in pushing learning in innovative directions.

However, I was really surprised to read a tweet by my valued friend and colleague, Julie Lindsay asking people to consider voting for this blog as it had been nominated for the Best Teacher Blog. I had no idea that it was on the list until that tweet.

Again it is such an honour to be nominated and although I will not actively persue on a public scale, if you do vote for me, I  thank you so much, not only for the vote but for being a special part of my life!

best teacher blog

If you should wish to vote for any of those nominated across the globe, please goto the Edublogs Awards site and ‘get lost’ looking at all the onderful nominations. Click on the like button and follow the prompts.

Others that are special to me include:-

 

 

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

 

Tips for successful polycom videoconference linkups

ian and participants on polycom

The following tips have been modified slightly from a wonderful list of suggestions from DART connections and although directed primarily at people who use dedicated videoconferencing equipment they can be adapted for use with other tools such as skype, zoom, qq, ghangouts etc

  • Set camera presets before joining the conference (to do this, position the camera, hold down the no. 1 on the remote until the monitor tells you no.1 preset is activated, then position the webcam and preset a no. 2 etc To revert to the no. 1 preset, simply click the no.1) Preset the whole class, small groups of students and individual students who may ask questions.
  • Close any drapes or blinds as daylight is a variable light source and can conflict with interior room lighting.
  • When setting presets, adjust the camera and fill the screen as much as possible with people rather than tables, chairs, walls, lights or the floor.
  • Microphones should be 1 metre away from video conference camera and distant from other electronic equipment.
  • Mute microphones until invited to speak by presenter. These are high quality, sensitive microphones and pick up everything and can be very distracting to all involved. If noise is greatest from your classroom, it will activate your image up on the monitor and push the presenter into a small image.
  • Display options – click on the display button until you get the preferred display setting for each element of the videoconference
  • Questions: If there are a number of schools participating, have your questions ready before the Q & A section of the presentation. Or write them down as they come to you or students or better still, open up and share an online backchannel eg todaysmeet

What suggestions do you have? What has this list missed?