Saturday, November 28, 2009
This was our first newsletter
Newsletter 1 5Jun09
The aim was introduce staff to a range of different tools, starting with quick wins - 'If you only try one thing', moving on to slightly more involved examples 'If you liked that, why not try this' and finally onto more challenging tools and resources 'If you are the adventurous type'.
The newsletters have gone down well and have increased interest in Web 2.0 tools considerably.
Looking round for ideas to structure a series of lessons round I came across this video:-
The DISCOVER model seemed ideal for what I had in mind:-
- They soon got bogged down in details - looking at individual houses to live in rather than researching areas and general housing markets
- I had allowed them to choose their own groups and this had resulted in fairly small groups and some very low ability groups who were unable to access the project without considerable support.
- I ran the project in the summer term when students' motivation and engagement tends to wane.
This time I have decided to select the groups myself and have divided the class into four mixed ability groups of 7 or 8 students.
In line with other year groups and courses this year I have set up a Google site for year 9 and have added this scheme of work to it. Still work in progress but it's starting to take shape.
Year 9 Google Site
The unit has also been given an added focus as this year I am part of a team delivering the Personal Project element of the Diplomas which requires each student to complete an independent research project. The unit will give students the opportunity to develop the skills they will need to complete this project successfully.
I will be documenting how the unit progresses and develops over the next few weeks.
Monday, November 23, 2009
Sunday, November 22, 2009
Right from when I first started teaching, getting on for 5 years ago now ( where does the time go ), I was very keen to use a VLE to deliver my resources, set assignments and utilise functions such as discussion boards and quizzes. If I'm honest it appealed to the geek in me. This was the shiny new future and that was what I wanted to use.
My first experience of a VLE was very positive. I was on placement at City Academy, Bristol, a wonderful place and very inspiring - yes this was why I wanted to be a teacher. They were using a VLE called Angel which I found very intuitive to use. As a student teacher I was able to post resources and do all those things that I'd read about. I was also helped greatly by Chris Macintosh who showed me the possibilities and opportunities of the VLE and provided me with endless inspiration.
So I went to my second placement as a convert - VLEs were the one true religion - anything else was heresy. Only I wasn't allowed to post to the VLE as a student and most of the experienced teachers were less than enthusiastic about our platform ( which will remain nameless for professional reasons ). I was puzzled - why would anyone not want to use a VLE? Anyway I ended up staying at the school as an NQT and was fully committed to getting stuck into developing all my resources on the VLE.
Reality started to bite fairly early - class lists were not transferred from SIMs until over a month after the start of the Autumn term. I was only able to see my own classes so when a colleague was off I couldn't post resources for her class ( this became more of an issue when I became the KS3 co-ordinator - how was I supposed to post resources for all the KS3 classes? ). The interface for building resources was very clunky, it was built on blocks of text and there was no way of inserting images. A year in and suddenly you could insert images and the resources started to look a little better. I threw myself into producing resources a new course preparing year 9 students for Diplomas. The year group was split into 9 groups and 3 learning strands so there were two other teachers teaching my strand. The VLE seemed the best way to share resources and initially it worked well. I made sure I had all 9 groups on my profile so I could post work for the current 3 groups and start to prepare resources for the next 3. Then we swapped to the next groups and all the resources disappeared. The VLE could not cope with groups changing and it took quite a while to retrieve submitted work and resources.
Numerous other problems ensued but I continued to battle away. The final straw came at Easter when the system was taken down for the whole of the school holiday without warning. I was furious as I had a large amount of work to complete in time for the start of term. When the system was finally restored all my existing resources had been corrupted - all images distorted and line spacing all over the place. I couldn't even repair the resources as the rich text editor had disappeared. When I complained the company were totally indifferent and even suggested that I had training issues. They lost me then and I haven't used the VLE with my classes since.
But I still needed something to deliver resources and communicate with my students. I found Edmodo ( see previous post ) which gave me the communication tools but not the means to deliver the resources. I had looked at google sites a couple of years ago but it seemed complicated to use - and to find! This summer I had to start writing course material for BTEC Level 3 ICT and thought I'd have another look at google sites. The application has changed out of all recognition and was now exactly the tool that I had wanted the VLE to be. I could embed presentations and videos. I could link in a calendar and use all the gadgets from iGoogle. In less than 3 days I had a complete unit online and this time included gaining an understanding what the unit content entailed. Here is the end result ( unit 1 ):-
Bouyed up by this success I have transferred all my resources to google sites. The rest of the department has followed suite and we are now working together to get all department resources online. This week I even used the sites to add pages to support cover lessons.
Our VLE has just been relaunched and I'm sure it is much better than when I was struggling with it a year or so ago. However I now find that I am ideologically opposed to the concept of VLEs in general. The idea of a 'gated community' has never appealed, whether it be rich people or old people and the idea of having an enclosed space within which students interact online does not make sense to me. When they leave school they lose access to the VLE and all the associated tools. Surely it is better to give them experience of tools that they will be able to continue using outside the school gates - social bookmarking, collaborative tools such as Etherpad, Edmodo, Bubbl-us etc, google sites to create their own websites and hopefully, if I can get it unblocked, Blogger or some other blogging tool to enable them communicate with a wider audience. The only remaining advantage I see for a VLE is the reporting to parents - but this is not something that we are using anyway at the moment.
If it was just that a VLE is a neutral entity that you can either choose to use or not I would not feel so strongly about the subject. The problem is that it is not neutral - it takes up enormous resources in terms of money and time that could be better used elsewhere. It also colours people's perception of e-learning so that they equate e-learning with this cumbersome, clunky application that does not meet their needs. I am doing a lot of staff training at the moment and am having to 'rehabilitate' the term e-learning after 6 years of the school struggling with a failing VLE. Such a waste of potential and enthusiasm.
Steve Wheeler has written a couple of excellent posts about VLEs:-
Not much more I can add to them
Thursday, November 19, 2009
I trialled Edmodo first with our IT lab - a small group of students who test out web 2.0 applications after school. Feedback was positive - for a start it was not blocked by our filters and the students liked using the application. Now I needed a context in which to introduce it.
The opportunity came with a project for year 9 which focused on Social Media and how it is changing such things as how companies interact with their customers, how news is reported and how governments control information. I had a series of case studies and questions for the students to think about. Edmodo seemed a good way of getting all the class to contribute to the discussion.
I started by setting up some questions and polls and soon realised that I would have to post them in reverse order as most students would start at the top of the page not the bottom. I am a firm believer in allowing students to use back channels providing they are also working on the task set so set the ground rules that students could post one comment to the whole group but should use direct messaging after that to communicate with individuals. However I soon realised that students do not have the option of direct messaging. All communication was to the whole group. I soon had trouble tracking the posts I had asked students to respond to as they all posted comments to each other and there was not an option to filter on my posts. The images they were choosing as avatars was also causing concern. It was proving difficult to control the physical class in front of me at the same time as the virtual class online. I also discovered that while I could post comments to individual students the students could only post to the whole group.
However when I struggled through the smog of chatter I was getting some good work. I used this story as a case study lost phone ( as detailed in Clay Shirky's book - Here comes everybody ). Here are some of the responses:-
The poll function also proved useful
A quick refinement - post your questions as alerts - you can filter on them and find the responses easily. More fundamental refinement - I set an end of unit assessment as a google form - one of the questions I set was what ground rules should there be for using Edmodo in class. Fairly honest and sensible rules proposed:-
Only use it for the work set not as a messenger.
- Set some ground rules but don't make them too prescriptive
- Don't expect all students to behave like angels - doesn't happen - or alternatively I'm a crap teacher and can't control my class
- Be pleasantly surprised by what students are prepared to reveal when they are typing online rather than putting their hand up in class - we have had students who have jumped from level 4 to level 6 - partly subject matter but also being freed by the medium.
Saturday, November 7, 2009
A natural development of this was looking at how Delicious could be used in school. Firstly we set up a school Delicious account that several of us could post links to. This helped to collate ideas for the e-Learning newsletters we had started to publish and it was hoped that it would encourage more staff to create Delicious accounts and access the pooled resources.
I did some early trials of using Delicious with students during pre-Diploma lessons two years ago. Through this I got a better understanding of the issues involved. The students couldn't add the buttons to the toolbar and I was stumped at first as to how to bookmark without them. Once we had got round that the mechanics seemed OK but the students had little idea about what they could use the tool for. I needed a better context within which to introduce it.
Last year I started to put together a scheme of work around the concept of Digital Literacy - how to equip students with the skills they needed to find and process data ( more of which in future posts ). One element of this was keeping track of the sources they found during their group project. So now we had a context but the results were still a little patchy.
The breakthough came this year. I began developing google sites for each of my year groups and courses to deliver the resources and lesson plans. I made each site public rather than invite only so that it would be easy for students to log onto the site. When I introduced Delicious the first site they had to bookmark was their google site. After that they could ( within reason ) bookmark any other site that they were interested in and post sites to other students. There was a bit of confusion while students tried to work out the user names of their friends. However they very quickly worked out that the only people bookmarking their google site were students in their year group at the school. By clicking on the number denoting the people who had already bookmarked the site they had a ready made list of all the user names for the year group. Also as each tutor group were introduced to Delicious at a different time all the user names for the group were together. There was real excitement in the room as the students swapped sites and videos.
This also provided me with a means of moderating the accounts. I set up a moderator account on Delicious and bookmarked all the google sites. This then gave me the same list of all the accounts so that I could do spot checks and make sure that no inappropriate sites were being shared around. I did however find that I had to bookmark each site twice. The URL for the home page changed depending on whether I had just loaded the site or returned to the home page after viewing other pages on the site.
Delicious has also proved ideal for keeping track of sources for coursework. Students have got into the habit of bookmarking sites and using the notes box to document where there have used the information or image. This has been far easier to get them to do than keep a sources table in Word.
I was very unhappy with this response. I do not want my students to be passive consumers of links that I have found. I want them to get into good habits of attributing their sources, setting up networks to share resources and organising their work using tags. A couple more exchanges ensued but the basic answer was 'tough'. There is no workaround.
So I have spent the weekend reviewing alternative social bookmarking sites. Toolbla was recommended via Twitter. This is a nice looking interface but relies on folders rather than tags and is only open to 13 year olds and older. Digg, Stumblupon, Faves and Clipmarks were all discounted due to the same age restriction. Eventually, following other recommendations from my Twitter PLN I have settled on Diigo. It has no age restrictions, it uses tags and allows users to set up networks. Importantly, as we have already started with Delicious, it allows you to import all your bookmarks from Delicious with the tags intact. Even better is actually has features that Delicious does not have. You can highlight sections of the website, add sticky notes and save the entire page in case the original ceases to be available.
Now 'all' I have to do is rewrite all my resources and help documentation to refer to Diigo instead of Delicious and migrate all the students over to the new system.
I have been thinking about starting this blog for well over a year now and always seem to find distractions or reasons for inaction. So I thought I's start this first post by reviewing why it is I want to write a blog in the first place.
Without a doubt the single greatest inspiration for writing a blog has been Tom Barrett, in particular this post http://edte.ch/blog/2008/08/23/10-google-forms-for-the-classroom/ . One of those light bulb moments. I'd come across google forms and thought that they would be good for replacing the questionnaires that students have to print out and get filled in by hand. This post made me think about the wider application of the web 2.0 tools I had started to come across. By the time I'd read the back catalogue of Tom's posts my head was buzzing. Set me off on a course that has seen me get ever more deeply involved in incorporating web 2.0 technologies into my teaching practice and sharing best practice with other teachers in my school. I am now involved in delivering e-learning training and am going through the AST application process.
Blog posts such as this one http://www.soyouwanttoteach.com/8-ways-blogging-makes-me-a-better-teacher/ made me want to start to contribute to the blogosphere rather than just lurk and take ideas without contributing but a blank page was just too big to fill.
So I made a start with Twitter. 140 characters - I can manage that surely. Had to steel myself for that first post but nothing terrible happened as a result. Again other people's blogs provided me with help and encouragement. Another post by Tom Barrett http://tbarrett.edublogs.org/2009/01/21/5-things-to-get-your-twitter-network-off-the-ground/ and this one by Kapil Bhatia, http://www.kapilbhatia.com/2009/03/07/how-to-become-twitter-teachertt-in-23-steps-or-less/ helped me to get started.
Through Twitter I came across more and more blogs and my RSS reader began to fall into disuse. Good blogs were recommended to me and I could spot when favourite blogs had been updated. Soon I really needed the advice from Dean Shareski in this blog post http://ideasandthoughts.org/2008/04/03/go-ahead-mark-this-as-readyou-miss-it/ . Information is a river not a reservoir - you don't need to consume it all. If it's a good idea it will come past again.
As it did in this post http://onceuponateacher.blogspot.com/2008/02/im-on-path-come-join-me.html which I read long after it was originally posted by Melanie Holtsman. It helped me to see that I am working my way through a process and that I can't start the revolution in one big bang. I'm currently up to step 7 I think.
So thank you to all those people whose blogs I have read and been inspired by. Procrastination over - I've dipped my toe in the water. Watch this space.