October 3

Covid Secure Pupil Voice

white book in white table near yellow wall

Prompted by a comment from one of my pupils recently ‘ we never see them anymore really though…’

Primary schools pride themselves on developing pupil leadership; encouraging children to get out of their comfort zone and allowing them to have a say in areas of school life. If your school is anything like mine currently then our pupil ‘bubbbles’ are actively hindering this process as the children are not allowed to mix like they would do – they can’t walk freely around school to look for ‘tidy rooms’ – the older children can no longer lead clubs for the younger children and they can’t meet with different members of staff.

Thinking about this there are several ways in which children can still collaborate around school.

Begin by considering the worth in giving the children ownership over some of the changes in school. Not only by explaining the reasoning behind strucutral changes, or timetable changes, but also in asking them if they can think of anything that may improve it. As an example our older children developed their own way of running the school tuck shop in a covid secure manner.

There will be other areas of school life however that the children will be missing – and it is these that I have been thinking about over the last few weeks – how can we keep collaboration and community at the centre of our schools?

For the School Council
  • a display area where pupils can leave notes / ideas and suggestions for each other form other classes or bubbles. The school council will have to get in the habit of checking, and responding – and removing notes which have been resolved.
  • An online book (or even just an online collaborative document) – which will allow the school council to keep the minutes of their meetings, and hare them with the rest of the school. I love Book Creator – but a google doc would work just as well.
  • Their own webspace to update with what the impact they are having.
  • Use of google forms (or similar) to guage the feeling from the children regualrly – or even just a quick check in box or ‘worry box’.
Playground Leaders

If your playground leaders are anything like ours then their favourite part is creating new games and playing these games with the younger children. Of course they may still be able to be outside with their younger classmates – but we want do discourage them from getting too close!

  • creating videos of their new games which staff can then share with the younger children and then record the children playing them. In fact, creating videos of sports games (or inventing new games) is a great wet PE lesson.
  • Managing a rota for the sharing of PE equipment to ensure that it is safe.

Cross Bubble Collaboration

Reading buddies and maths game afternoons are an area that has ground to a halt in the ‘new normal’. Of course children can still share challenges and ideas virtually – through online games or online documents to collaborate on. You can record the older children reading their favourite stories or poems to share with the younger children. Older children could lead an assembly (socially distanced…) – or could record their assembly.

I will add to this as ideas develop – and please do add your thoughts and comments below.

August 3

Taking a Primary School Online

I’m not going to pretend that I am an expert in this.

Having taken the opportunity to reflect on what has been a memorable few months I wanted to evaluate some of the learning that has taken place online within our primary school. I hope that these thoughts will go some way to developing my own practice; and maybe supporting others who are thinking of the best way to get online and support learning during another potential lockdown.

To give you an idea of what we were doing: Once it became clear that schools were shutting we did our best to give them relevant and interesting work that would challenge. Of course, we did not know how long this would last.

Develop your own knowledge

  • it was important for me before embarking on something new to arm myself with the experience and knowledge of others first. I started here – with a Future Learn course that connected me with others who were just starting out on this path.
  • We also made sure that the online systems we used – mainly in Key Stage 2 – were ones in which the children and staff were well versed. We use Google Apps and Google Classrooms in school – we turned on hangouts (more of that later) – and spoke to the children about the best way to contact us if they needed help.

Access for all?

We are a small, rural school whose children are geographically spread. Some of our families do not have decent wi-fi and some do not have enough devices for children to access learning at the same time. As we had sent home work, we decided after the Easter Break to start doing weekly learning grids and lessons, with clear links to resources, where available. These were put on the school website, or emailed out as appropiate.

We were however reluctant to do regular online classes / assemblies (at this point!)

  • We loaned out the school chromebooks where possible – and encouraged parents to contact us if they needed support.
  • We encouraged parents to contact us – giving out email adresses to individual teachers.
  • We started a weekly whole school assembly via Google Meets and then Zoom. This started with a special guest (our local vicar) – which meant that families tried really hard to get there.
  • Regular phone calls to families who might be seen as vulnerable (but who may not have been on Free School Meals.)
  • We used social media liberally. A ‘running’ – distance – challenge via our facebook account. Enocurage to share work and pictures; link sharing etc.etc. We found that many parents, and the wider community, enjoyed sharing photos and ideas this way.
  • Weekly online creative writing class and code club. These were a natural fit online as they were already taking place in school – especially code club which allowed the older children to chat and support one another in problem solving.
  • Google Hangouts was used for the pupils to contact teachers – teachers told the pupils when they were online and checked in with pupils via Google Classroom. (Key Stage 2). This proved very useful, but had to be strictly managed as many children would happily sit online chatting with their teachers for ever…

In it for the long haul…

Once we realised that only a small number of children were going to be coming back into school before September we began to increase the online presence of our teachers.

  • Weekly zoom meetings for all classes were held.
  • For the younger classess this meant a book being read, or some simple online number and phonic work.
  • For the older children they were able to discuss any problems with the work set that week – and ask for help if needed.
  • EYFS and KS1 teachers recorded themselves reading a book – and these were put on the website.
  • We provided physical work books in Maths Y1- Y6 – herocially these were delivered by hand by the teachers – and proved very popular with parents and children alike. So much so that we also provided workbooks for Reading and Writing for the younger children as well.

How did we do?

Once we got into a routine and school started opening for more children our attention turned to September. And so, we needed to know how parents had found the last few months. SOme findings were clear and will directly impact our work in September:

  • Online meetings and short lessons were useful – BUT – some found them overwhelming. Flexibility seemed to be the key.
  • Keeeping children enagaged and enthusiastic is tricky.. whole school assembly went some way to alleviate this, but the main support seemed to be teachers chatting 1:1 with these children. Whether this will be something we can scale up in the event of further lockdown is worth thinking about.
  • Paper / workbooks / exercise books are worth their weight in gold. Put simple we are too worried about exercise books and children’s work ‘looking the part’ – we need to ensure that there is some way for work at home and school to be seamless next term and if that means books getting dog-eared between home and school then so be it.
  • We need to develop Parents’ confidence with the apps and the infrastructure we use for online learning – e.g. Google Apps / Drive / Book Creator and so on.

I’m not sure what we will be doing in September – at time of writing the expectations for schools are still unclear. However I will take any time we have with the pupils and parents in school to prepare for further lockdown.

December 4

Are our classrooms more digital?

A few years ago my interest in educational technology was ignited with an article in the TES arguing that technology made absolutely no difference to schools whatsosever. At the time, a teacher just starting out, I was outraged that all of the ways in which tech made school life easier was just glossed over. Look at the accountancy side? The sharing of information, the access to to resources, the collaboration- then, in my eyes, getting bogged down in individual games or apps – or resources – was not the way to do it.

This debate is still rumbling on, and I still stand by my opinion. It was interesting then to read the recent debates about minecraft, about coding and, more recently, the article in the TES arguing that classrooms are becoming more ‘digital’.

Take this site, for example, some content on here is three, even four, years old. Yet the top hit pages remain consistently about iPads, tablets and reading. Google is beginning to gain ground, but it feels like we have leapt forwards only to then stand stock still where we landed.

My question then is this, are you using technology more than you used to? Does your classroom increasingly feel digital? Are you forced to use tech that you feel adds no value to your teaching?

I’m working on an article about my school, and it’s use of tech – in the meantime I would love to hear your thoughts.

October 11

Don’t forget! The power of Skype….

It has been a while since I posted about Skype, however moving schools has meant that I have introduced Skype to another set of pupils, and indeed another set of teachers as I am always amazed that teachers haven't tried any kind of video linking with their pupils.

Firstly let me remind you of the fantastic resource that is EducateSkype or Skype in the Classroom now. A health warning here as this is becoming increasingly linked with Microsoft's infrastructure, however if you keep a school skype account separate from a home one you should be fine.

The Skype in the Classroom site will allow you to connect with pre planned lessons, video and all sorts of content. Everytime I have gone there I have found something I am looking for – it really is amazing. However skype does not have to be so 'organised'.

In a nutshell:

  • It's cheap (or free) – just equipment is needed!
  • It literally brings the world to your classroom!
  • It's easy to find contacts…
  • The children remember the experience…

Mystery Skype

The hashtag 'mysteryskype' has really taken off – you can find schools on the website mentioned above, or search on twitter. Connecting with schools from across the globe where the children try to guess where they are never gets dull. My pupils always love it. Admittedly they can sometimes guess pretty quickly, but pinning down to city rather than country, or county in the UK will keep them busy!

Digital Leaders

I am currently collecting email addresses from those keen to skype with digital leaders – please let me know in the comments if you would like to be involved. It's brilliant. The children already have something in common, and can begin with shared questions about they do and how they do it.

School Council

This is going to be my next project – school council's chatting to one another. Our school council is very new, but think it will work wonders if they chat to a more established one!

 

Languages

Connecting with those who speak the language you are learning has obvious benefits! Skype can also offer three-way calling, which means you can get partner schools involved!

 

Career talks!

Particularly useful for schools 'off the beaten track' – chatting to those who are in specific careers is much easier via Skype – and is less hassle for those giving the talk…

 

Have you had any brilliant experiences with Skype you could share?

 

 

September 6

Classroom Collaboration – what you can try straight away!

Classroom collaboration was cited as one of the key reasons to begin using technology in the classroom in a recent (and quick) question and answer session….

There are many, many ways to get your pupils to collaborate more, and obviously using tech is only one strand of this. From role play, drama, team games and problem solving; once you get your pupils used to the different roles and the collaborative techniques of listening and working together it all becomes so much easier. How then can digital technology help?

An incredibly effective way to get collaboration is through a classroom (or school) blog. If the school is reluctant to get involved with this there are plenty of ways that you, as a class teacher, could get involved. It is very simple to start a blog through a free service such as blogger – and then use it in class to get children to collaborate on ideas such as storytelling or problem solving. Children can add their contributions in the classroom.

Give a voice…

A side effect of collaboration is that there will always be some children that are not heard, or who dot get to contribute. Programmes which allow for pupils to get involved without standing up in front of their classmates, or even saying anything, can be useful.

images
This example from educationismylife.com .

A simple idea is Padlet – and I’ve mentioned this lots on the site already – Padlet allows you to create a very quick whiteboard space which can be added to by clicking. You could set up a Padlet during a lesson with a question -and leave it on the computer for them to contribute to. For example – different ways to start a story, or solutions to maths questions. Using that Padlet’s code they can also contribute from home or through a different device in the classroom. I have already shared several examples of this – this post here looks at the use of Padlet for questioning.  However it has many uses – and even more so if you have a classroom blog which can be accessed from home-  groups can work on Padlets for different concepts, science planning and questioning for example. You can even password protect the Padlet so only children from your class can contribute.  The use is limitless – and a great way to get contributions from your pupils.

Popplet is another collaborative tool – allowing the group discussions to be contributed to, and accessed by anyone with the code for that popplet. It is also an app, and a website -so again if you have more devices in class the children can contribute as they see fit. I have used this versatile tool when story planning, allowing children to take their story off in different branches whilst we watched on the whiteboard. Again – I have written about Popplet before – and their are many examples of it’s use to be found!

Be creative…

More creative forms of collaboration were also mentioned by those advocates of technology in the classroom – a group working together to create something. iPads and tablet devices work brilliantly for this kind of thing – whether working together around one device or sharing and adding to their work. Obvious contendors for the iPad are Book Creator, Garage Band and Explain Everything. Garage Band is a particularly powerful tool – for example creating a radio advertisment with voice and music can be a powerful group task and the results using this app will sound impressive,

image

These apps are all incredibly easy to get started with and easily share the work within the tablet systems. But computers and laptops can be just as good for collaboration: Google Drive is another great way for pupils to contribute – registering your class as a user (either with a class email, or a temporary made up one) and when the pupils log in they can all share work and contribute to it. Of course, if the infrastructure is there you could register indiviuals in order to better control their work. This presentation has lots of ways to get you started!

Online apps such as Scratch also allow for collaboration – saving the class work, (or your example) on there lets the children take what you have created and then ‘tinker’ – indeed improving and debugging forms part of the KS2 computing curriculum anyway and Scratch is a perfect way of doing that.

General Tips

Just getting started with collaboraton can be tough in a primary classroom – it will only work if children are aware of the point of the collaboration and the behaviours expected!

  • Begin by giving roles – for example within a science lesson you might have a ‘recorder’ ‘analyst’ ‘equipment manager.
  • Demonstrate and be a role model for how you expect the groups to work -e.g. you might have to take part as a member of a group and then refer to the class for solutions when problems arise. An example might be a maths puzzle – one person may be the ‘accuracy checker’ – and then ask teh class what happens if you find a mistake? What should you do?
  • In the beginning have a tight hold on the technology – for example a blog where each group is to record their end result – model how you expect it to be used.
  • Then ‘loosen up’ – once the children are aware of the different tools at their disposal let them choose – for example how they present their art project is up to them – and the key is that they don’t have to make use of any digital technology at all!

 

I hope this helps – other common uses for technology came out of the twitter chat, and I’ll explore those later! Thanks for reading – feel free to comment!