Using Me Books in the Classroom

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Being asked to try apps and ideas in school is always fun, but it’s rare that it works so well in the classroom… Me Books, by developer Made in Me has fitted in beautifully!

First of all, as I have discussed on this site, a big focus this year has been on reading, and particularly Guided Reading – see here for more information. The focus for us has been on the response to texts, children creating content and demonstrating their understanding. The iPad is a brilliant tool for that, allowing the children to choose a number of ways to respond to a tasks in creative and collaborative ways.

However accessing quality texts (whole books) and reading for pleasure is not so easy. Teachers can be put off by the sheer choice (and rubbish) on the iBook store, and pupils are not impressed by badly written or dull looking books. Conversely some of the interactive book apps, which I’ve written about here can be too exciting for independent work during sessions – too distracting!

Enter MeBooks – and what looks like a standard shelf app becomes a very useful tool for exploring and creating. As a declaration of interest here, I should mention that I have been given several free accounts to use from Me Books, and have shared these with the teachers I work with.

The app lets you download a book to individual iPads with seperate accounts. For the purpose of this project we were allowed multiple downloads to each account, and I know the developers are currently looking at straightforward ‘paper based’ ways school can order books for their accounts, so you can order 20 copies of the same book for your iPads for example.

The beauty of the app though is within the narration – and the sound ‘buttons’ – take a look at this screenshot.

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Those red splodges are in fact sound bubbles, which means that when these areas are tapped an appropiate sound is played. Also allowing the children to have a go at creating their own sound effects. These ‘custom’ versions can then be saved, alongside the original book. The original narration is usually beautifully acted (often by a recogniseable actor!) and really brings the books to life. The illustrations are normally faithful to the book – and yes that is a Ladybird Classic you see on the header image!

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The ability to record your own words and to choose where to place sound effects has a few surprising effects in the classroom. As you would expect there is a lot of fun to be had – give the children a purpose and it becomes about voice and audience. Ask them to record a version for the younger years and you have them working in groups to entertain, listening back to the clarity and checking their expression!

Then take this screenshot – here there are a number of characters. What are they thinking? Well exactly, the pupils can quite literally give the characters a voice. They have plenty of fun putting themselves into the characters shoes. Thinking about what is happening in the story, demonstrating understanding, asking questions and characterisation.

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Me Books has fitted in very well with our guided reading session at our schools, but it has also been a hit at other times. The Digital Leaders for examples, have really enjoyed recording their own versions of stories and sharing them with the younger children. They even created a mini guide to the app – take a look at their work here. I have started a project with some parents, looking at how they could offer some narrative in a native language, again giving the children a voice.

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Follow @me_books on Twitter for more information!

Creating Games

This half term we are giving a trial run to some of the game creation apps that are beginning to hit the market. We designed a 4/5 week plan, looking for opportunities for the children to collaborate, experiment and develop their confidence when coding.

I chose a few programs that the teachers and pupils were already familiar with. There are also some great ideas in the Digital Leader Network site.

Thanks to an excellent Code Club, some of the pupils were already familiar with the programme Scratch (and indeed more and more teachers are becoming familiar with this). However in order to ensure that something could be created from all pupils we are also using 2Simple’s 2DIY and a really great app called SketchNation. Other programmes, such as Hopscotch and Game Salad are available, and we’re currently trying them out! My advice – have a play with these programmes first, but importantly learn with the children! Many have great tutorials, and examples you can play with.

The aims of this unit?

An engaging unit which will pull in work from many other subjects to create a genuine project based learning.

The literacy work is easily tied in, character creation, story telling, language of evaluation and opinion are all developed. In fact an excellent unit was planned for comic book creation anyway, so choosing a segment of the story and developing characters is all tied in!

Sketch Nation has a great in app designer for simple characters, or sprites!

Sketch Nation has a great in app designer for simple characters, or sprites!

Art and design also planned in easily, you could mimic an art style if you wished, or develop and play with whatever the chldren are interested in. Creating characters on the computer can be explored, and to facilitate this using squared paper to create would help.

Maths can also be used – a really interesting lesson is exploring how scoring works within games, both on their designs and finished games. For example, what does a ‘multiplier’ do? How can they tweak the scoring system in an already finished game within Scratch? Does it affect your enjoyment of the game?

A rough outline of the weekly overview is as follows: ( tap on the image for a larger view)

Overview of the Weeks

Week 1 – which involved looking at what a ‘game’ is was very interesting! The children tried various games then collated a table of key descriptions, thoughts and ideas as well as a rating system. They did this groups and we developed some interesting ideas!

What makes a good game? Ideas to get discussion started!

What makes a good game? Ideas to get discussion started!

I would love to hear any thoughts! And I’ll keep you informed as to how it’s going!

One

This post is some short guidance for those teacher who have been given iPads to use in the classroom.

I created a rough guide to the apps that I find useful, and how I use them, as well as a Haiku which I have tried to embed below… If it’s not working the link should take you there.

http://www.haikudeck.com/p/QDpZ54eond

The key apps I use are here:

One iPad in the classroom?

It’s key to remember that the iPad is a tool and before you even think about apps you have a video camera, a microphone and access to the internet, word processing in one handy tool.

Connect to your whiteboard and you can share work and display photos, then begin to use apps and it soon becomes a key classroom tool.

I have split this into 6 key areas :
Share – which includes the vga adapter and using Airserver. Other apps, such as Reflector also work well for this. Apple TV is a slightly more expensive option.

Sharing is also about the using the iPad to share your pupils’ work – and it can be done very quickly by taking a photo and sharing it to the whiteboard. I create private You Tube accounts for schools so that video can be briefly stored there rather than on the school server.

This leads me on the next category Record – apps such as Notability and 2 Simple Early Years allow the teacher or the Teaching Assistant to take photographs and to annotate them. Many teachers use the camera very effectively and then a file organising app such as Dropbox or Evernote to keep, collate and possibly even print evidence.

Personalise learning is where the iPad can really come into it’s own though, and by this I mean adapting learning so as to appeal, enthuse and engage your pupils. Besides the content that is available from the web, there are some apps that really support giving your pupils a personal perspective on learning. You will be able to record their achievements, ask them to record their achievements, a TA can record your lessons or their explanations and it can then be shared with the rest of the class.

Share work and model editing using Explain Everything.

Share work and model editing using Explain Everything.

Organise is the next key areas – integrating email, calendar and a note taking system such as Evernote has been a brilliant time saver. Dropbox is also a huge help, and if the school has a Dropbox account can means the pupils can access resources that you have prepared at home.

Connect
Updating class blogs, and sharing good practice has never been easier! Most blogs have an app that updates both words and pictures easily. I have introduced Skype into the classroom using my iPad and Airserver – and the school now has a twitter account which can be used by teachers.

Finally I would say explore! – I began by using my iPad for sharing presentations – now when teaching I often let the pupils use it to record their evaluations of the lesson. Or a Teaching Assistant to support a group (Explain Everything works amazingly for Maths.) I some lessons I choose a ‘chief researcher’ who has the challenge of both creating and answering questions around our lessons.

 

One last thing to think about as well is how the settings on the iPad can be used in the classroom – You can make the iPad ‘Speak’ text on the screen, or make the visuals high contrast. You are able to make the text larger, or to change the language that it speaks in. ‘Guided Access’ is a useful feature for allowing the user access to one app only.  Other accessibility features can be seen here.

Thanks for reading this – it is a whistle-stop tour, but I hope you have found it useful!

Skype – Reflecting on the Adventure!

We have now had four successful skype sessions in our school, and a couple of not so successful sessions. I thought it would be useful to share  our experiences and to reflect on the usefulness of the session in the classroom. 

The Background
I initially wanted to use Skype for a topic one class was doing about their local area – I thought the chance to discuss their local environment with peers from around the world would be very powerful. I was also looking for something with a bit of a ‘wow’ factor to get our children engaged in their learning. As many of the children I work with speak English as an additional language or are very new to the country I thought they would enjoy the chance to chat with their peers from around the world.

I began by looking at the excellent website – Skype in the Classroom – and created a post for a World Book Day event (which didn’t happen – I was being a optimistic about what I could achieve!) However that didn’t matter as it meant that I began to make contacts with other teachers from around the world who were interested in these sessions. I also put it to my contacts in Twitter, and got a few teachers interested that way! The first session I examined here…

Now we have children chatting about their Skype session at lunch time, Digital Leaders who blog about it and teachers building a session into their planning. It really has taken off!

Firstly the successful sessions:

They have been led with a purpose in mind, and one teacher will create the question, or a theme will be discussed. One class have now met twice, and there is no doubt that the second time the children were much calmer and knew what to expect. 

The theme of ‘getting to know you’ is much better if key questions have been shared and discussed first.  A big thank you to one teacher Ana for guiding us in this way

One of our groups shared a book over Skype – the perfect example of purpose, and a curriculum link. This has proven popular with the teachers who wish to talk again as soon as they have finished their current book. Thanks to @PEandMe for this brilliant idea.

Other children and teachers have been involved in the successful sessions, I have included our Digital Leaders as recorders of events, and asked teachers to choose if they wish to take part. Eventually the organising of sessions will be left to teachers. 

The unsuccessful sessions:

Are plagued by technical issues or bad timing – you do need to give the sessions some time, and due to the nature of the technology some leeway if things don’t work. No point planning a session for fifteen minutes with another lesson straight away.

Your internet connection, whilst important does not need to be perfect, camera and microphone are important. Try out your equipment, can you hear the children? Are the children used to seeing themselves? Valuable time can be lost with waving and giggling into the camera!!

The least successful sessions are done at the last minute with little prep – the children are going to be curious and will want to get involved  – give them time to prepare with some questions, ideas about the country or the children or the topic to discuss. 

What we’ve learnt:

Try out your connection first – and think about what equipment you use. We find it works fine with iPads, but the Airserver link to the whiteboard created a delay that confused the children. 

Prep the pupils – point out the country discuss their experiences and make the links with the curriculum like any other subject.

Speaking and listening are important! As a result of this work we are going to begin September with a big push on these skills – ‘conversation’ if you like! Skype chats have shown that our younger children can struggle to formulate questions, and often don’t answer in full sentences, this can have a big impact in EAL learners, and the children we are chatting with!

Next steps

Now we are beginning to see smooth running sessions, I am investigating projects and ideas which would bring authors, experts or interested guests into the classroom. Such as discussed by Kate Messner in this article. Skype Splash

I am definitely getting more teachers involved as well, and as our class teachers get their own mobile device, connecting with Skype will be even easier!

Referenced from links in the article :

http://www.eric.ed.gov/ERICWebPortal/search/detailmini.jsp?_nfpb=true&_&ERICExtSearch_SearchValue_0=EJ922983&ERICExtSearch_SearchType_0=no&accno=EJ922983 – Article

Awesome blog and experience from a very valued contact! http://cegarvirtualclassroom.weebly.com/15/post/2013/05/ii-3-meets-their-peers-from-turkey-and-uk.html

The School Digital Leaders Blog : http://debeauvoirdl.blogspot.co.uk/

Looking at Spelling

Teaching of spelling is something that I am always asked about. It seems to make teachers anxious and often schools don’t have a specific policy.Phonics provision lower down the school seems to be very rigorous, with activities and interactivity ‘built in’ –  but then often as they get older children are merely given lists to learn… 

Ben Haiku Display

Why is Spelling important?

  • Children get anxious about spelling; worrying about getting spelling right often causes children to stick to ‘safe’ and therefore quite dull words.
  • Spelling is a feature of the national assessment criteria; as early as level 1 the children are expected to make a phonetically plausible attempt at words with digraphs and double letters whilst at level 4 they need to demonstrate that they are able to spell correctly common grammatical function words – such as adverbs.
  • Prospective employers, teachers and assessors all place importance on correct spelling and with a change in emphasis for the SATs at Year 6 there is no reason to think this will change.

How to fit it all in?
There is no suggestion that spelling should always be a standalone lesson in the week. Whilst there is something to be said about the odd investigative lesson where children are given resources to make words, define new words and to play with the physical feel of words; often rules can be introduced and then reinforced as part of regular AfL or plenary sessions in other lessons.
Many rules lend themselves to being introduced alongside other learning objectives – e.g. the investigating of verb tenses alongside narrative writing or the contraction apostrophe when looking at speech and characters.
School Wide

  • I always recommend that there is an agreed upon school policy for handwriting and spelling.
  • Ensure topic words are introduced and shared in the classroom.
  • Encourage word banks to be displayed and working walls for literacy allow the children to share and then correct mistakes.

 

Multi-Sensory Approach to Spelling
For children who struggle with the spellings there are a number of multi-sensory approaches that can be taken:

  • Invest in magnetic letters/building block letters- grouping the letters together physically like this will allow children to recognise the latter patterns quickly. They can ‘build’ words and this in turn may help them to remember.
  • Encourage tracing (whether on paper or in the air) of the cursive version of the word. Apps such as Explain Everything are great for creating short videos of the word being written.

The International Dyslexia Association have produced a factsheet helping teachers understand how to help children who struggle with dyslexia type symptoms. Their advice is useful for many teachers and the whole factsheet can be found here

Spelling instruction that explores word structure,word origin, and word meaning is the most effective, even though students with dyslexia may still struggle with word recall. Emphasizing memorization by asking students to close their eyes and imagine the words, or asking them to write words multiple times until they “stick” are only useful after students are helped to understand why a word is spelled the way it is. Students who have learned the connections between speech sounds and written symbols, who perceive the recurring letter patterns in English syllables, and who know about meaningful word parts are better at remembering whole words.

Making Use of ICT

It seems only natural that many children enjoy playing games and investigating spelling patterns using a medium that they are very familiar with. As they get older, asking children to revisit words and patterns that they find tricky can be hard unless there is an extra motivational aspect. But the teacher can also put ICT to good use; making use of the whiteboard to create spelling activities that are truly interactive or including quick rehearsal of skills within the day.

  • Use the software on the interactive whiteboard to create games – e.g. compound words which can be pushed together jigsaw style.
  • Make spelling mistakes and model the use of colour when writing to emphasize spellings. Or the clever use of colour to create ‘hidden’ words which are then revealed.
  • There are lots of tips of ways to use your whiteboard over on the The Whiteboard Blog.  (A great resource Danny Nicholson ~ @dannynic)
  • Sorting out lots of words into rules, meaning, prefixes and so on can also be done on the whiteboard – a great talking partner activity.
  • Web based games Many free resources can be found with a search. Try the BBC Website – which cover many aspects from phonics through to Key Stage 2 objectives and beyond. The ever growing Woodlands-Junior in Kent has an award winning website with many resources. SpellZeBub is a free Guardian Educators resource, which plays a short movie to aid the learning of commonly misspelt words.
  • Search online for wordsearch / crossword creators – some of them allow you to create whiteboard compatible images – the one at teachers-direct.co.uk will allow you to do this. Software can be purchased commercially too; such as Clicker and 2Spell.

iPad Apps

This great app is perfect for pretty much all primary aged children.

Squeebles Spelling Test: This great app is perfect for pretty much all primary aged children.

  • Skill Builder Spelling – a small, but functional free app that allows you to create individual lists for multiple users. Useful app for spelling set lists with phonic support
  • Word Bingo – sight words; very useful for KS1 – incredibly popular with teachers and pupils alike, although it is limited in scope.
  • Squeebles Spelling Test – a great looking app that allows you to create lists of words and then link them to children’s accounts. Around 4 pupils can have an account on each iPad, so it’s better for schools that have class based or pupil-based devices. However it is very polished, and allows you to record the words as well.
  • ABC Pocket Phonics – a useful app for the first rehearsal of phonics and early words. The lite version allows you to take a look first.
  • Montessori Letter and Sounds – a really nice app for early spellers, or indeed those that still haven’t got the foundation.
  • Simplex Spelling – perfect for older children who haven’t got the understanding of the link between words and sounds. Again, the free version means that you will be able to test it out first.

A quick search for Android apps here. 

Most important though is that children begin to work out for themselves what will help them – there are a few activities to get you started here:

Download (PPT, 82KB)

 

Feel free to comment if you have any great ideas for getting children to think more carefully about spelling!

Further Reading:

A Scottish Education Board look at Active Spelling – A great project aimed at involving parents. 

Spelling City (online paid for resource) 

The Spelling List from the National Strategy – remember this has been replaced (or will be!) by the New National Curriculum. Still great for ideas though…

Download (PDF, 794KB)

 

 

 

Skype – One Big Adventure

 

I wanted to find a way that I could really start to connect our pupils with the world around them. Schools in London have a wealth of geographical experience in their classrooms and I thought a great way to harness that would be Skype… 

Our skype adventure began with me browsing the Skype in the Classroom site...

This really great site linked me immediately to lots of people all over the world.. I had some pretty big dreams, you know – the explorer going up Mount Everest, the Astronauts and so on. However, I began small….

I set up the school Skype account, and then tested it on locally. The school has iPads, and I used those. I made sure not to leave the app logged in on the pupil iPads however. In fact, I got the Digital Leaders to remove the app from some of the iPads.

Then we set up a Skype date – a school in Qatar, and a teacher who contacted me initially over twitter.

(Big thanks to Mr Allen – @peandme)

We decided to set a theme – and as World Book Day was looming we went for a Book theme. Our Year 4 class was primed to talk about their book, and the teacher in Abu Dhabi, UAE prepped their children for their talk.

Once connected the debate was quickly lead by the children. Their excitement could felt in the room! We had to rehearse some questions and the children could, some of the time, stick to a script! However, with a class of 30, it was tough for them to do. It was nice to let them lead the questions though – and this was helped by having the skype display on the interactive whiteboard through AirServer.

This led then to the Digital Leaders writing up the experience for the parents and teachers to see.  See our school website here.

Year4SkypeMarch

So what worked?

  • Well the chat certainly did, and both schools were impressed…
  • The children and teacher are now sufficiently motivated to read the book they were reading and report back at the next chat.
  • The one session has been enough to make other staff ‘think big’ – and I am busy setting up other skype meetings!

Warnings: (or what I would do differently!)

  • We have had some ‘dodgy’ connections with one of our other classrooms… Have a back up plan!
  • I have been inundated with schools – don’t bite off more than you can chew! I was amazed at how many schools want to give this a go.
  • Think about the time difference – sounds silly, but it has a real impact on what is possible.
  • For the main skype session I prefer a fixed webcam and microphone rather than an iPad – the connection feels so much more solid!

 Future ideas? 

  • The motivation for writing, speak and listening are obvious… the children are able to see a purpose to what they are doing.
  • Speaking and Listening – sharing ideas and crossing a language barrier!
  • Topic based work? Specific and shared learning intentions? Sharing teachers?

Resources

Skype in the Classroom – a good place to start!

Ways to use Skype – Teach Hub

Interesting article from Time magazine – What Teachers Are Using Skype For

An Author in Every Classroom – Messner, Kate (2010) School Library Journal  – abstract – This article discusses how Skype and other video-conferencing software have become a staple for teachers, librarians, and authors who want to get kids excited about reading. The past year has brought a huge increase in the number of schools and libraries using Skype to connect classrooms and bring in experts to talk with kids. And with cuts in school funding limiting traditional author visits, meetups via Skype have grown even more popular. All of the authors interviewed in this article agree on one point: it’s important for teachers and librarians to prepare students for a Skype visit in advance. Reading at least one of the author’s books, either together or as a read-aloud, is a must, and kids who prepare questions in advance are generally more comfortable speaking on the day of the visit.