29 Oct

Tech will save us… Right?

person using black and silver laptop computer
How the small school can be supported by Ed Tech

Earlier this month government announced that the expectations for remote education are to be statutory. These expectations cover a multitude of scenarios and can be found in their guidance for full opening.

The National Association of Small Schools are offering advice in their newsletter for schools who are exploring their home-school provision, and I wrote this to support that.

Extract from government guidance.
So, where do you start?
  • Do an audit of what subscription services you pay for.
    • this might prove surprising – especially if teachers have had a bit of freedom in the past to sign up for specific services. Have a good look at what you are getting for your money.
  • Make use of the curriculum-linked services available.
    • Not to everyone’s taste I know, but check your long term curriculum plan – are some things covered within Oak Academy? Or BBC services? Can teachers make loose links now within planning which, if needed, can be tightened and shared with parents?
  • Provide training for parents in your expectations, and what services they can use from home.
    • For example, if you use Google Classroom do some online workshops with parents. They don’t need to take long, or be particularly technical, but they will provide parents with a bit of familiarity.
  • Don’ t overload yourself! There is no point in purchasing every subscription just in case, develop the technical know how with what you have.

Finding the Right Service

It can be tricky to find services and support – every school has a different context. Start by thinking what you need the tech to do – for example something that can be used both at school and home – a way for parents and teachers to communicate, something to share files or something to allow real-time online lessons. Services such as Google G Suite, Microsoft 360, cover everything, including video chat and online apps. Some, such as Showbie and Tapestry allow for interaction between home and school and sharing files.

Asking schools in similar situations to yourself can be helpful as well – especially if you have local expertise and people who are willing to help train staff.

It should be said that I am a big fan of Google G Suite for Education – for a small school it really does provide everything you need.

Communication is Key

And luckily tech can help here – whether it is messaging families, or staying in touch during a lockdown. Social media can be a great way to get in touch with parents – just try not to use your own personal account. Creating groups for each class can mean the teacher can share updates in one go – and choosing a service carefully will also mean that you can share it with parents in advance. Linking to key updates on Facebook, creating a dedicated space on the school website and text messages reminding parents of where resources can be found are some ways that communication can help.

Put your provision on paper…

You need to be clear about what you can offer – no point in saying there will be daily maths and literacy lessons if your teachers have no access to the internet at home. Aim for weekly contact, and then some sessions, such as reading, which give a bit of connection with the teacher,

Ensure that parents and governors are all aware and make staff expectations reasonable. Small schools, with mixed age classes, particular need to ensure they are realistic – teaching online can be tricky and in some cases providing workbooks for classes may make life much easier.

Increase engagement

Finally, consider that families may find it tricky to keep engagement going – even if they do have the devices and the internet connection needed.

  • Have a set contact time each day – whether for answering / replying to emails of for video chats. A routine will be beneficial for staff and pupils and will help parents to manage expectations.
  • Share information in different formats – e.g. weekly overviews can be sent via Google Classroom and put on the website in PDF format.
  • Continue with school routines – e.g. whole school assemblies that follow the same format. Virtual meetings for groups like the School Council.
  • Create teacher videos, or record the online lessons – this will mean they can be watched at any time.
  • Train your pupils – for example our older children are using Google Classroom habitually now so that if they need to use it at home it’s familiar. Some classes watch a bit of Oak Academy, or use apps available at home, so that they will understand their use if they are at home.

Do you have any top tips or questions? Please let us know in the comments!



12 Jan

Getting your child started online.

Children will be online. There really is no way to avoid it. And, as they get online they will need an account or a profile for games, apps and even just for browsing on some sites. Then, as they get older, social media. To support this it’s a good idea to model the use of the internet and to support your child whilst they get used to managing their own accounts and their own online presence. But where to start?

Usernames

We talk about usernames in school. We discuss how you don’t want to give any personal information away in your name. You need a username that is not offensive and is simple.

Many people choose their first name and some numbers, or a nickname and children need to be warned of the danger of this. First names can be problematic. Not only can they identify you easily if names are spelt in an unusual way but they also give a sense of familiarity which may mean some children find it difficult to remember they are talking to strangers. A child may say they want to use their real name so they can find their friends. Some platforms offer the chance to let contacts know your real name separately – make sure you talk to your child about this before they do it. We always suggest that children only add as ‘friends’ those contacts that they know in real life.

Email addresses

To start with use a family email address so you can keep track of account registrations and any other agreements that go with it.

Schools may use email addresses for children for internal mail to get them used to the process of usernames / passwords etc. – and so as a family sharing email addresses is a good way to introduce your child to this. It also allows you to model use and to introduce the child to email etiquette. Staying in touch with far-flung relatives maybe or just emailing thank-you notes at birthdays. Most social media sites have a minmum age for sign up and so use this as a rule of thumb for email addressses too.

Friends

Always start with the premise that children should know their online friends in real life. Encourage this and talk to children about what they use to talk to friends and how they act online.

However, as we know, meeting people out of your bubble is a big plus of the internet and so, as they get older, the need to understand not to give too much information away. In a lesson we did once we found that children were pretty savvy about their own address, real name and family but not so good with their school. Children would give details out about where school was, or how they get to school particularly if it was another child they were speaking to. There has to be a fine line with trust and looking after your information. So use this a a discussion point. Do they really need to know how you got to school this morning?

Finally use these conversations as a way to set boundaries – once children are managing their own accounts or setting up their own games they will inevitably find themselves being advertised to. Being savvy about adverts and about what you can and can’t download is a big subject, but if you are able to be open about this early on it will hopefully prevent future problems.

And don’t forget there is lots of help online with specific apps, platforms and games. You can take a look here for more information.

04 Jan

What Parents need to know about Videogames.

Many children are now settling down with new games consoles or new games following Christmas. For some parents this can be a whole new world, and a bit of a confusing one! After all video are big business – millions of pounds and thousands of employees. Here a few things to be aware of, and a few links that will guide you for further reading.

Surviving Mars

there is a massive variety of games… it is, after all, not just for kids!

The stats around who plays and what they play make for interesting reading. Average age; 35 – and 45% of US gamers are women.

Find out about the games, spend a bit of time exploring the store of the platform you are using. Lots of websites are out there for suggestions, and ask around for recommendations. Depending on the age of your children there are lots of multiplayer games and I recommend you set aside time to try and play yourself. Start with Lego, or Rayman! Good sites to check out include: this round up from CNET and co-optimus.com.

And… read the ratings! All games come with age ratings, it can be harder to see these on digital downloads so make yourself aware. For example a rating such as a PEGI 12 will mean there may be violence, usually against fantasy characters and mild swearing. A rating of PEGI 7 is not that different from a PEGI 3, but you may find some peril or mild fighting. You can find out more about the ratings here: https://videostandards.org.uk/RatingBoard/pegi-info.html#pegi-controls

you are always online, unless you specifically request not to be… parental controls need to be used.

This works also for mobile platforms such as the Switch and the PsVita and you need to ensure you are aware of these settings. Big games often require updates once bought, and for this the games console will want to be online. Create a master account, or parent account, on the console first as this will allow you to keep an eye on parental controls, report any issues and check any purchases. Don’t let your children create an account which doesn’t have their real age.

They can be more about the social side of things than the actual game.

Recent games, such as Fortnite, which is based on team battles often involve lots of talking, working together and general ‘hanging out’ – be aware of this and talk to your child about who they are talking to and how they ‘play’ together. Minecraft or Terraria also create virtual worlds which allow players to meet and to work together cooperatively. This is good social interaction, developing language and game skills and a good opportunity to take about esafety, be involved.

Limit screen time and have breaks!

There is some evidence that screen time at a young age should be limited, but there is little firm evidence for older children. Still, be vigilant as with anything, encourage breaks, such as you would have with TV and Film. Talk about what they are doing, especially if they seem to get angry at games. What do they enjoy about playing? Will they try a different kind of game instead of the same one over?

Finally enjoy them! There is a world of experience in games, and some which will definitely tax your problem solving skills as well as silly games which will encourage the whole family to have fun!


22 Aug

Digital 5 a Day!

This is a response to a post by Cliff Manning (@cliffmanning) regarding the Children’s Commissioner’s recent Digital 5 A Day campaign.

This campaign, in their own words aims to:

The Digital 5 A Day provides a simple framework that reflects the concerns of parents/ carers as well as children’s behaviours and needs. It can also act as a base for family agreements about internet and digital device use throughout both the holidays and term time.

Based on the NHS’s evidence-based ‘Five steps to better mental wellbeing’, the 5 A Day campaign gives children and parents easy to follow, practical steps to achieve a healthy and balanced digital diet.

And it makes complete sense – there is a need to give parents, and children, a different dialogue about being online that is not all about esafety and ‘nots’. There are lots of great resources out there for Parents who are worried (I wrote about them here) – but my experience, as a teacher, is that this focus can make pupils fearful about speaking out and, at the same time, Parents don’t ask for help if they need it as they feel they will be labelled. To have a campaign which focuses on the good technology can bring – and then uses that to bring families together can only be a good thing. Articles like this represent how it has been received. However, as is pointed out by by @cliffmanning:

The press headlines inevitably focused on ‘regulating screen time’ and rules — however the intention was to help young people develop a balanced, creative, empowered relationship with digital and devices.

What then, would support the young people develop this relationship?

I’m torn between the #digital5aday being too prescriptive and then not prescriptive enough.  The five elements are useful to guide thinking and will, with some, promote conversation amongst families. Themes that many schools will recognise and in fact teacher’s will talk about technology in such ways.  However, as I outline at the end of this piece, I do think that there other problems with a campaign like this.

Connect

Here parents are prompted to see the value in connecting with people. Parents are reminded to ‘keep a dialogue open’ (nothing new there then!).

With the support of parents children could be prompted to check in with a family member they don’t see very often? To message a friend and make them smile? For older children – can they support an older family member online? Can they look up their favourite author? Or TV personality – write them a short note? Author’s website can be a great source of activities such as writing competitions, or book-linked ideas.

Be Active

This prompt feels like it has been included just to make sure ‘screen time’ isn’t the only focus. But, let’s face it, using the internet as directory enquiries really isn’t that inspiring – these days it is the default. Asking them to research a place or local activity without using the internet would be a bigger challenge!

But – older children can challenge themselves to do something new – and then share it. Join a local group for their chosen activity? Find  a video of an inspirational achievement in their chosen sport? Can they learn something to help them improve their favourite acitivity?

Get Creative

This one is easy – and where children excel online. The danger is in mentioning specific games (which dates your publication immediately) – and you tube tutorials which parents of younger children may not let them access. Writing fan fiction is a great idea – especially as that can link to film and TV – not just games. But also signposting some game creation tools they can use something like Scratch -which would be a great joint venture with parents. Trying the Hour of Code – or asking children to contribute to a  blog post or to a writing competition. Sharing any creations would be ideal – designs using something like TinkerCad for example.

Give to Others

This is a really lovely inclusion which again many schools will recognise. Researching and linking to chosen charities would be nice here -and in the link to activity why not challenge yourself to do something to raise money for charity and set up (with parental help) – your fundraising page complete with charting your success via a blog?

Be Mindful

Another inclusion that feels little connection to the Digital 5 a Day. Good advice, of course, to switch off. Being mindful however is also about taking your time to really ‘be somewhere’ – and to give yourself completely to the activity you are doing. Whatever that may be.

The right campaign? 

I think one of the issues with a campaign like this is that it tries to be too many things at once. I know what they are trying to achieve – but I think we need to pick our audience more carefully. Children / teenagers may find this advice patronising, and many will just be unaware of it completely. It is important to note that children and teenagers who are tech savvy enough to be aware and involved with these activites don’t need ‘digital’ 5 a day – the digital is superfluous and unnecessary. It would be better to just appeal to the ‘5 holiday habits’ or some such. Parents may welcome these kind of prompts – but I suspect that the parents who are aware of this, and reading it, will already be aware of the many uses of the digital world. The digital divide is very real for families and if you want to get to those children who are just left unsupervised with a tablet and TV for hours on end I don’t think this will do it.

A Platform

Finally with a campaign like this why not go the whole hog and develop a kind of ‘challenge’ – digital badges such as the like seen at Makewav.es. Being totally serious about it, they could develop a sharing platform? Using existing social media to put everything in once place for parents to see. Using existing networks already like faceboook for local sports groups would also help young people see what is out there.

14 Jan

Don’t believe everything…

  • 3rd post in the #WeeklyBlogChallenge17

When worlds collide…

Two things happened this week which suprised me. Number one was the earnest decleration from a pupil that President-Elect Donald Trump used to be an American Wrestler and therefore will be an excellent President (feel free to google) and then a come back from another pupil earnestly declaring that he can’t be a good President because he was so rude to the journalist (at the press conference this week).

Now, both these pupils are upper KS2 and both are pretty tech savvy. The interesting thing here, for me, is how our children are taking in their news and how they choose to filter it. I don’t want to turn this into a lecture about how we need to teach children to filter news, and recognise bias (I have written about this before) – but news, bias and indeed fake news is growing faster than ever before. I don’t remember the children ever being this interested in current affairs – it is indeed true that the world is becoming smaller. And because our children are starting from the familiar to them, they are connecting world events directly to themselves.  There natural channel is You Tube – they start from an online presence and then go from there. Trump being a WWE wrestler was a story in that child’s world – and then immediately put a new spin on what was formerly an ‘adult thing’ – From there who knows where they to to… (let’s not consider the language they may have seen…)

I’ve also had children tell me that Obama isn’t American, that everyone hated Thatcher, and well, don’t get me started on the issues that came up with the European Referendum. What is our role when children ask us about these things they have read? Often they have no shades of grey in these issues and us, in an effort to simplify, we often mislead. Looking at theses issues in detail can take too much time in school. It needs to be considered with parents, with Digital Literacy lessons and alongside other curriculum content so as to put it into context (propaganda then and now… for example).

 

A challenge, and one not unique to the age, but arguably much harder now than ever.