Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Where's the "Pencil Room?"

In the interests of full disclosure, I'll just point out now that I am an ICT specialist teacher and I teach ICT lessons in an ICT suite. The room consists of approximately 30 desktop units and each class currently, has at least one 40 or 50 min. lesson each week. I have also been a classroom teacher for more than a decade.

In a post that I was reading the writer attempted to balance the pros and cons of using an ICT suite. In the end, the writer, in my opinion, didn't really seem to take a position either way.

As the saying goes, "where is the pencil room?" I cannot understand why we continue to have segregated ICT lessons where children must travel to a separate room to use a tool which, if the school is serious about technology integration, should not exist in the first place.

Just as we do not travel to the "pencil room" to use pencils, we should not also be traveling to a separate room to use computers. I have heard the argument that it is a best case scenario for schools with limited funding or for using resource hungry software such as for audio and video editing. In my experience, this argument has only limited justification. Such an argument often overlooks or belittles the accompanying costs of running such a full-blown room, in terms of electricity, manpower and space.

If we expect children to treat technology like a tool then our ultimate goal should be integration such that the use of the technology is seamless and children as well as teachers use the technology in a matter-of-fact way without fanfare, without traveling to other parts of the school, without having to wait for a weekly lesson and without causing a discontinuation in the middle of a learning moment.

I look at it in this way, suppose a child is in the flow of a creative moment. To now expect that child to suddenly stop, travel to a new room and maintain that creative flow is expecting more than what we would reasonably expect of many adults. If we expect our children to be creative, we need to provide the tools for them to be so with ease and efficiency. No one I know in everyday life leaves where they are, to enter a special room to use a computer, and then leaves. Even classroom teachers have their computers on their desks, within easy reach, for easy access. We have smartphones, tablets, netbooks and laptops, all these forms of technology close at hand. Yet, the "computer room" lives on.

Many writers have argued that there is a need for ICT lessons to teach specific skills. I have yet to hear however, an argument which suggests the teaching of those skills could not also be done within the classroom except in very specialised and specific situations. To expect children to internalize, remember, and apply the skills taught in a single lesson each week is, I think, being unrealistic.

Think for a moment, if we were discussing learning a language instead of learning technology skills. How successful would the student be learning, let's say, Russian, if they only had a single lesson of 50 min. once a week. Furthermore, how much less successful would that student be if no one ever gave them the opportunity to use what they had learned except within that one 50 min. lesson each week. I would ask, how much will the child actually retain of the language lessons? Furthermore, how well will they actually apply their understanding?

We could argue, a similar situation arises with ICT lessons that occur once a week and are not supported or poorly supported in the classroom. In reality, a far more successful method, in my experience, is the little and often method. As long as the class teacher knows, and understands, the technology curriculum for their year group, over the course of an academic year they can, through small but often opportunities, not only cover the curriculum within their own classroom, but actually offer a multitude of extension opportunities for children who excel in that area on the spot, when needed. Some may argue that a "Technology Curriculum" cannot be covered appropriately using the "little and often" method, I would suggest that the curriculum clearly needs modernising because it clearly is not relevant to the needs of today's students.

While I can understand that, for a variety of reasons, there are some classroom teachers who are still wedded to the concept of ICT lessons taught by a specialist teacher in an ICT classroom, myself, I cannot wait for that situation to end.

What do you think the future of ICT Suites is (or should be)? Do you have experience teaching in an integrated environment?

Thursday, 13 December 2012

My TechKids - A Work in Progress

TechKids(c) is an initiative, which I developed in 2004 to provide a platform for girls and boys with an interest in technology and possessing collaboration skills to expand their knowledge of the real world applications of technology to improve life as well as validating their, often independently developed skills, in support of the taught curriculum. This also helps them to become lifelong learners and effectively assess 21st century learning tools.
The group is open to all children in Year 4 upwards (ages 8 to 12). Members must be nominated by class teachers (or the Head Teacher), or they are interviewed by the TechKids facilitator (Mr.Lowe) and at least one senior member of the current TechKids. In most cases, that means at least one boy and one girl from the Year 6 TechKids take an active role in the interview process. Where candidates are interviewed, the candidate should bring in, show and fully explain at least three examples of how they have used technology constructively to enhance or further their learning as well as how they have helped another member of the school community with a technology-related issue. All of the examples must be created by the candidate without a third party helping.
Successful candidates attend weekly meetings usually during the school day. The programme is not an Extra Curricular Activity (ECA) or After School Club (ASC). The programme runs alongside daily class schedules and members are withdrawn on a variety of schedules to maximise their learning opportunities and minimise disruption in curriculum areas. Members are taught through a rigorous programme which includes, but is not limited to: computer programming, mentoring, learning to use a variety of technology tools, collaboration skills and basic troubleshooting skills. Currently, TechKids have a range of skills and interests outside of TechKids from public speaking to swimming to singing. All Techkids are expected to work towards 5 achievement badges representing the five main areas of the programme: mentoring, programming, robotics, presenting and mastering(aka Problem Solving). In order to be considered for the following year’s programme, a candidate must earn a minimum of 4 of the 5 achievement badges and be recommended by at least one teacher and three students they have helped in the past. They will then be invited for an interview. All TechKids keep and are expected to maintain a record book(log) of all mentoring and other technology support they provide. The logs are the collected at regular intervals and discussed with the TechKid.

Throughout the year, when they are ready, a TechKid will be moved into phased support roles for students and teachers, assisting and guiding them in improving and supporting their use of new technology as well as encouraging and modelling improved methods of using “comfort zone” technologies with a view to encourage and model technology integration in regular daily engagements.

All TechKids must act within the following 10 expectations, which are directly connected to the IB Primary Years Programme(PYP) Learner Profile:.

A TechKid is:
  1. An Inquirer
  2. A Thinker
  3. A Communicator
  4. Reflective
  5. Balanced
  6. Open Minded
  7. Caring
  8. Principled
  9. Knowledgeable
  10. A Risk Taker

The TechKids programme is a free programme. No school running the programme may charge for it. Facilitators are volunteers who already possess a high level of expertise in technology integration at a primary school level. In some cases, a school may charge an administration fee, but this fee is unrelated to TechKids and neither TechKids facilitators nor anyone else related to the programme may charge or accept fees to run the programme. In some rare cases, it may be necessary for a TechKids programme to accept sponsor support to help pay for some aspects of the programme which cannot be internally funded by the school directly. In such cases, sponsorships may be accepted for small amounts on a case by case and item by item basis.
The TechKids are a member organisation of the Digital Leader Network.

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Learning from #Learning2

Guest Post by Jason Graham
I chose Jason to be the final guest post in this series for a couple of reasons. First, I've been a follower of his on Twitter for a while and I'm always impressed with the quality of the tweets he sends. They are always insightful in some way and have helped me to continue my learning journey especially around the PYP. Which brings me to the second reason I selected him. Jason is a respected PYP workshop leader and I cannot overstate the excitement I experience when teaching in a PYP environment. Over the years I have taught in almost every environment such as PYP, UK National Curriculum and the IPC. But my support, still truly lies with the PYP as the quintessential learning environment.
This is another great post by Jason and you can catch up with him on Twitter or at his blog.
Thanks Jason!
Awesome. That is the word that comes to mind when I reflect on Learning 2.0 Conference in Beijing last week. I’ve never been around so many educators that support each other. That cheer each other on. @B_Sheridan states it nicely in his blogpost on Learning2 ‘ I felt as if the conference had an aura more like a music festival than an educational conference. People were pumped to be there.’  That sums it up.
 I was  fortunate enough to be there for the pre conference. That    was an honour. So many great educators with ideas to change education for the better. On my team there was  Dave Caleb(@davecaleb), Jeff Dungan(@jdungan), Patrick McMahon, Justin Hardman(@jahardman), Doug Taylor(dtaylor2008) Zoe Page @pagezoe and Ben Sheridan @B_Sheridan. We created a trailer in the hopes to further EARCOS Action Research projects into an issue that we felt was at the crux of technology in education: How to reduce anxiety of ‘integrating technology. The ideas flowed one night at the ‘Gung Ho’ pizza place across from the conference hotel. The notes taken down on a napkin. Yes a napkin.  We talked about where we came from, we all started as beginners in technology and we are still learning. Everyone is at different places in their learning journey path with technology but we are all on the same path and that’s to improve teaching and learning. That’s the goal. We came up with this video trailer we hope will inspire others to take action.
One of the Learning2Leaders was Adrian Camm. He challenged my thinking of gaming in education. We didn’t just play video games, a misconception I had when I went into his session. It was also about games in general sense. We played strategic card games, games with dice and games with counters. Strategical thinking. I came away with lots of ideas for my class. If you’re interested check out his site Games in Education.  Another Learning2Leader I finally met in person was FlatClassroom Co Founder Julie Lindsay. It was great to meet face to face after so many skype sessions.
I was also honored to work on the Learning 2.0  marketing committee with @cdiller and @chamada. I learned alot from them and the others on the committee. It was a worth while experience watching everyone coordinate such a big event. The extraordinary work behind the scenes to pull this off. Western Academy of Beijing was a great place to hold this event. The school made an impression on me.
Finally, I presented on #hashtag learning communities on Twitter such as #pypchat. We got a synchronous #chat going so participants could experience what it is like being in one of these chats. It was fast and furious. I also asked Michelle Hiebert aka @mauimickey of #kinderchat to make a short trailer on the importance of a PLN and what #kinderchat meant to her. Her video clip was inspirational.
I hope to attend next year when Learning2.0 heads to United World College Southeast Asia in Singapore.
Thanks #learning2

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Guest Post: Clive Dawes On Scratching That 7 Year Itch

I had the pleasure of meeting Clive at a conference some months ago. We had been been connected through Twitter but not in person. Clive's work on gamification and learning was and remains an eye-opening set of ideas and they have, even now, almost a year later, influenced my teaching for the better.

Seven Ways to Scratch The Seven Year Itch.

Here’s the thing. After Christmas this will be the longest I’ve ever stayed in a job in my life.

My first job, fresh faced out of teacher training lasted 6 years and 1 term. My second job, not so fresh faced, lasted 6 years and 1 term. Notice a pattern developing? My third job, which in truth was a mixture of different consultancies and freelance work lasted 6 years and 2 terms.

My current role is in an Asian International School as a technology leader/ specialist/ facilitator/ integrator. Whatever the contract or job description says it’s out of date before the ink is dry (or the modern day equivalent).

I love my job. But, at the end of this term I will have been here for 6 years and 1 term. This is causing me to think and question a lot of things. If you add up all the 6 years above you will realise that I am not in the first flush of youth. In fact, given the vagaries of health, I am a lot nearer the end of my working life than the beginning. I’m not quite sure how this happened. It sort of crept up on me!

So, why do I love my job? Well, it’s changed a lot over the 6 years. I now spend a lot less time with the students. More time is spent supporting teachers and lots of time on administration and management of technologies: supervising mobile devices, implementing and promoting our virtual learning environment, and more recently, working on the technology plan for a new campus we are building. An important aspect of my role is to dilute the huge array of new technologies, sites, apps, games and the like to parcel into manageable quantities to offer to teachers to use to enhance learning.

I still come to school every day thinking and hoping I can make a difference to improve student learning.

But here’s a secret for you. It gets harder every year. And there are times when I wonder if I’m as motivated as I used to be and maybe consider moving on to start the next 6 years and 1 term cycle.

So, I’ve begun to look more closely at how I can continue to motivate and challenge myself to continue the (in my opinion!) high standards of my previous years.

I have devised a list of seven pearls of wisdom to help sustain me and ensure I remain focussed and motivated. A word of warning. I am no lifestyle coach or guru and I have never lit a scented candle in my life, so the following is likely to be highly practical and without hyperbole.

1. Switch Off. I’m not talking about a complete period of disconnection (dana boyd), or even a weekend without e-mail. I’m connected 24/7. If I ever add an “out of office” auto reply to Outlook, please shoot me. When I get home from work I usually log on after dinner and connect with both social and work circles. But for one or two evenings a week, give it a miss. Do something different. If you don’t answer that mail after 8.00pm one night so what. Everyone else uses “out of office” so don’t stress about it!

2. Remove the Twitter Spam. OK, we all know Twitter is great for sharing conversations, discoveries and the like. It also gives you the opportunity to receive a link, an app or an idea and then pass it on to your staff as your own! But as time progresses, new follows can clog your space, making it difficult to focus on what is really useful. Get rid of the spam. It’s easy to do. Anybody who tweets too much, constantly spouts about their education philosophy, or generally just makes you feel bad or inadequate, ditch them.

And if anybody you follow ever re-tweets themselves, ditch ‘em. Goodness knows what that person is like in real life. Sure, you may miss the occasional nugget, but you’re better off without the Twitter Spam. Try it. I’ve missed nobody I’ve unfollowed and it gives me a good feeling to know I don’t have to put up with their 50 or so tweets a day.

3. Identify and work with the innovators. Every school has a range of early adopters and innovators. Identify them and work with them, encouraging them to push the boundaries and adapt their pedagogies. Push them towards appropriate professional development opportunities, get them to present at conferences and share their work with their own colleagues who may not be quite so far along their technology journeys. Through them, your work becomes more sustainable and allows your influence to spread more widely.

4. Don’t bang your head against a brick wall. Accept that there are some things you cannot change. There will always be colleagues and managers obsessed with snapshot standardised test results, homework, handwriting and the like, who educate as though time has stood still for the last 15 years. Whilst converting one of these into an enlightened 21st Century educator may be one of your greatest achievements we all know it’s not likely to happen and the time you need to spend on the task can be better spent working with more open teachers who are able to positively support learning with a greater number of students.

5. Treat your school leaders carefully. Your school leaders need to support your innovation. If they don’t then your job is a lot harder, but not impossible. If they don’t support you then they must get out of your way and allow you to get on with your job. If they’re obstructive, bombard them with your successes and encourage your colleagues to do the same. And if you need to, skirt around them!

6. Parents. Engaging parents is an important part of any educator’s task. It’s even more important in a technology context as parents often need help and support tackling issues in the home. Opening a channel of conversation can be an invaluable source of information and perspective for all parties. If, as a teacher you don’t know what it’s like to have two teenage kids in the house constantly engaging with social media and online games, then talking to somebody who does can be very helpful. Talking to parents, through the use of Parent Technology Meetings also helps to raise the profile of technology within the school. Never a bad thing!

7. Find a new passion. Take something you love in a technology context and go with it. Develop some lesson resources and teach them yourself or encourage other teachers to use them. In the past for me it’s been Scratch, then photography, then games design. The next thing. Who knows?

 But that’s part of the fun of this job.

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Guest Post: Sheli Blackburn on The Digital Leader Network

@Sheli Blackburn is a tireless educator who is responsible along with @Chris Mayoh and others for running the Digital Leader Network. Like TechKids, the programme I run, Digital Leaders is a huge opportunity for children of primary school age, who have an enthusiasm about using technology, to learn, hands on, the skills of using their knowledge to support their learning, other students, teachers and their schools. It is an ideal way for children who have a tech skill, interest or ability to meet and work with other students who share their enthusiasm and to provide positive encouragement for other children with similar abilities and the recognition that those abilities are both valid and valuable - which, sadly, is too often overlooked, under appreciated and under utilised. It is the TechKids' privelage, here in Brunei, to be the only South East Asian member of the  DL Network.

The digital leader network

The digital leader network collaborative blog has grown in a very short time and has proved to be a good place for teachers and digital leaders to showcase their great work in school. That is the whole purpose of the blog- to showcase, support and inspire others so that they may too employ digital leaders in their schools. Although my initial ideas about the network were very grand (linking schools across the UK and beyond) the blog is a solid start to spreading the benefits of having digital leaders.

I attended the Naace third Millenium hothouse in July this year, hoping to network and extend my ICT knowledge, skills and understanding. I was asked to provide a 'workshop' on the digital leader network and was delighted to be given the opportunity to spread the word again. The reason for this? In my view digital leaders are the best free resource in schools - a resource that could potentially have a huge impact on ICT development. I am passionate about this; passionate about creating sustainable solutions for keeping up with developments in an ever-changing area of education.

The workshop proved to be popular and became fully booked, leaving Nick Jackson (whose digital leaders recently led a teachtheteachers meet) without a place. This turned out well for me as it was a great way to get him up front and sharing his expertise. When I realised that Chris Mayoh was attending the workshop, I decided it would be silly preaching to an expert, so asked him to come and share his wisdom too. It proved to be a good idea as it not only gave a change of pace, but we were able to show how digital leaders are being employed in both primary and secondary. We each brought different experiences to the session and of course a change of pace is always good. You can view my prezi here, watch @ChrisMayoh's digital leader interviews here and @largerama's prezi and one of his films here. Of course these do not capture the discussions that went on, but they paint a picture of the work that is going on in our schools.

Before the session I had the idea to ask others to leave a pledge on the digital leader linoit. This would give some indication of the impact of the workshop. Incidentally, at the end of the session I asked how many teachers already had digital leaders in their schools. Two hands went up. The response to 'Who will employ digital leaders now?' was quite overwhelming. I am not surprised though. I think between us we showed the impact of a free resource available in all schools.   

Please add your pledges!

My pledge is to try and emulate Chris Mayoh's success in Bradford, in Norfolk. I would also like to host a digital leader 'kids meet' (this should have happened last year) and hopefully get our children to the Bett Show. This can only happen with support from others - and once again my twitter PLN come up trumps with their enthusiasm and drive to make this work. Yes there are a few 'negative disruptors' out there (see a great post by Jill Duman), but they are a very small minority and are easy to ignore. Nobody in this project has claimed to be the owner, initiator or leader. It will be a successful project because of its collaborative nature and because it is a good idea!

If you are interested in learning more about the digital leader network, come and join in #DLchat on a Thursday night at 9 during term time. You will meet inspirational tweeters who have been there right at the start of this project: @ICTevangelist @ChrisMayoh and @MrsMeeks64. You will also come across hard working tweeters who have given up a lot of time and put a lot of energy into this project - @aknill @largerama @traceyab1 @gr8ICT @ashmrkenyon @mbrayford @mikeyjohncarr amongst many others.

Acknowledgement must also be given to @ICTmagic and @eslweb who often help out with archiving, @PrimaryEdTech for his overseas input, @JenniH68 for her hard work with edmodo and @kristianstill, @MrStucke and @bobharrisonnet for their continued support and inspiration.  Thanks also to @janwebb21 for giving us the opportunity to spread the word further.

Please add your pledge!

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

ICT Policy

After a year's hiatus, I thought it would be a good idea to provide something to share with others.

Some of the time over the last year was taken up in settling in to my new post. Some of that "settling in" involved investigating and creating the school's ICT Policy which was completed about three months ago and accepted by the HT.

So, for those of you who are looking for a template or even a example of an ICT policy for their Primary school, please feel free to use, edit, share and review the policy below. Obviously, since the policy is quite specific to our school, I need to point out a few key things:
1. This was the first policy I have written which has been so extensive. As such, you will need to edit the policy for your own needs,
2. Some parts have been removed where it mentions specific individuals so you can also edit those areas for your needs.
3. The policy is licensed under the Creative Commons license.
4. On mobile browsers, you may not see the embedded document. So please follow this link.
I hope you find it useful.

Friday, 5 August 2011

iPads v. Own Devices

Much has been written lately on the topic of iPads in Primary schools as opposed to the use of own devices. In this post I intend to set out my experiences related to this conversation and the arguements which, from my perspective, inform the debate based on my school's circumstances. In the end however, I am not going to suggest which route is the "best." I'll simply outline what we did and leave your decisions to you.

Earlier this year my class was given the opportunity to carry out a pilot programme to begin instituting the use of mobile devices to allow the children to experience the benefits of a flat classroom. In other words, for them to experience learning outside the classroom which was not just a euphemism for doing work "chained" to a desk outside the school (ie bedroom, library, etc.).

Among the issues we dealt with in our preparations, was the issue of which devices we should have the children using. While cost was a factor in deciding which devices to use, it was not the most significant.

We had several options open to us. The first was to lease a class set of netbooks, which was quickly discounted due to our dissatisfaction with our current units. The second was to use own devices. The third, was to purchase and lease to parents a class set of iPad2s.

Our classroom demographics were the following: Fifteen children aged eleven. A slightly male bias in gender existed in the class. About 80% were EAL with good or very good levels of reading, writing and comprehension in English. All were experienced Constructivist Inquiry learners. The soci-economic status of the class was Upper Middle Class or greater with the vast majority of parents being graduates with professional degrees. The class were relatively versed in incorporating various forms of technology, from IWBs to various internet tools such as Google Docs and Dropbox as well as video and audio editing software, to personalise their learning. All but 2 had some form of mobile devices. Two had Apple products, the rest had Nokia smartphones, Blackberries and personal netbooks.

Our decion making revolved around several issues. So, I'll examine the issues in our circumstances for each of the two remaining options. We looked at iPad2 as a serious possibility. First, some children (20%) already owned Apple products and could help those for whom the operating environment was unfamiliar. Second, the support was such that if there was a serious problem we would have confidence the products would be supported. Third, portability and stress tolerance was important and we felt that the iPads, based on our research with other schools, could stand up to drama of a Primary school day. Fourth, screen size was important. We already had experience of netbooks whose screens were far too small in an effort to make them portable. Thus, iPads did provide a larger area to read on. Fifth, the large number of applications was seen as an added feature.

On the other hand, having the children bring in their own devices, also had its benefits. First, the devices were already in the children's pockets and school bags, thus the parental concern of "will it be used outside school?" was already answered. Second, these were devices the parents and children had already invested time in to investigate, learn and add apps which personalised the device. Third, the devices had no learning curve for basic functionality. Fourth, the concern over small screens was discussed, but since the children were not spending a significant number of hours staring at the screens this was less of a concern. Moreover, most devices had a relatively simple text enlargement method. The children were asked if they felt the screens were difficult to look at or navigate and they all said 'no, otherwise we would not have bought ----." It is important to keep in my we ran quite a pragmatic and agnostic programme. The children could bring in any device they felt comfortable using. As a result we saw some swapping one device for another from home until they had one they felt satisfied their needs.

In the end we went with own devices. Surprisingly, we had few connectivity issues after the "get networked" day, where all the kids brought in their devices, the IT rep was there and within 30 minutes all the devices were online except two. Those two shared other devices with students.

The devices proved to be very little hassle at my end because the owners were quite reliable in terms of knowing how to use them. Moreover, in all cases, there was another learner in the class who had the same device and could lend support if needed. Hence we could get right to the learning engagement at hand.

The results from the children were that it was very successful. I had no discipline problems, work got done (on time!) and the enthusiasm was strong and maintained throughout the month. Overall the project was deemed a success. 

Have you had similar pilot projects? How did they turn out? What issues did you need to deal with? Did you go for own devices or tablets? I'd be very interested in your ideas and comments - thanks!