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.

January 12

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.

August 5

A Digital Divide in Schools?

Is there a divide with educational technology in schools?

 

Up and down the country the experiences of technology in schools are incredibly different. If you take part in regular twitter chats, or follow sites such as this one, it is easy to imagine that all schools have decent wifi, take on board new technology or allow teachers to experiment as they see fit. We are, however, sleep walking into a situation where pupils have radically different experiences depending on the school they attend. This is not about parental choice, it's not about a school that chooses to opt out of technology, it's about schools that cannot provide these experiences.

What divide?

Some of us take for granted cloud computing such as google in school, or work email use at home and school, reliable internet that works all over the school building, even computers that don't take a long time to turn on. The experiences of teachers up and down the country however vary widely.

However these are common examples:

  • Not replacing old computers / updating operating systems (renders their use pointless)
  • Pupils not experiencing a wide range of devices (the experience at home being completely different to school)
  • Staff email experience – no working email, not expected to use email
  • Concerns about security leading to a completely different internet experience (everything blocked)
  • No training for software, hardware and new expectations of curriculum (staff confidence and experience)

What is the impact of a widening digital gap?

It is much discussed and open to a certain level of argument, but the good use of digital technology can time save at work. Disseminating information via email (secure email) and then sharing updates with parents and the school community; electronic registers can then automatically record data, assessment data which can be picked apart and recorded, planning stored and shared on a platform that anyone can access, resources shared with all teachers. Websites which the school has control of, and can truly meet the needs of the schoo community. The list goes on, but a key point is the expectation that the professional can use technology in this way if they wish to. Sharing resources via the cloud, and then being able to collaborate on these resources has changed the way we work.

 

A growing digital divide manifests itself in other ways as well.

Internet connectivity is key to schools. To be clear I'm not talking about wireless and mobile digital devices. Instead, just basic high speed broadband. This has a huge impact on school life. Before we think about pupil resources and pedagogy think about the office. School management software, instant email communication, website management etc. Schools that can run the register completely electronically and downloading key documents from government.

Internet connectivity also impacts in the classroom – think of communication such as skype, streaming services and online resources which would not be available, or would be so slow that they are unuseable. Unreliable internet which means any online lessons could not be relied upon, or pupils rarely get the chance to experience the internet in any meaningful way. We have had days where the internet is not working and can quickly realise the impact this would have in the long term. A key aspect of online safety and curriculum experience has to mean that the internet, to some extent, can be relied upon.

Opportunity!

There is an expectation that school will offer computing and digital literacy as part of the curriuculum – this expectation has worked wonders for the provision in school – but many are completely reliant on outside advice and expertise. Not that this is always a bad thing, but any work with outside experts should be sustainable and supported by a school SLT. Staff who are able to experiment and who are secure with technology themselves can be a huge push on the provision in schools, sad to say but the attitude of the headteacher or governors can shut down potential projects instantly. Some schools still have access to all social media shutdown, without any conversation as to the learning opportunities, or put no budget towards updating computer systems which means that the technology is unuseable and off-putting before we begin.

What is your experience?

I would be very interested to hear of your experiences at school and whether or not the new curriculum has had an impact on wider technological provision in school.

 

Resources:

Prensky's 2001 paper: Digital Native, Digital Immigrants

BBC report – Sep 2014 – Digital Divide opening in UK schools

 

June 2

Supporting Parents with e-Safety

Childnet

A post I’ve been meaning to do for a while – as I enjoy delivering workshops with parents for e-safety. There is lots of support for schools in delivering the e-safety curriculum – I look at this here, however, many  parents can be confused by the advice, and schools can be a great ‘first port of call’ for any concerns.  Make your advice on e-safety as clear as possible – and share this with parents. Coffee mornings, evenings, parents invited to assemblies even events led by your Pupil Digital Leaders. I have even share You Tube Clips of some of Playstation / X Box Games with parents so they can see what they look like! 

 

 

A web page with information for parents is also crucial – and share links on there as well.  I also think that it may be necessary to spend time actually looking at what devices children have at home – and what you can do to make sure they are safe. Remember appropiate training for staff, governors and parents should be at least an annual event! I can throughly recommend the Esafety Adviser Site for helpful ideas, and training.

 

Top tips for parents:

  • Talk to your child about their use of the internet! Be part of what they are doing…
  • Make sure you know what devices connect to the internet and how.
  •  Set boundaries! Be clear about how long they can be online and what they can do online.
  • Keep all equipment that connects to the internet in a family space.
  • Don’t forget though: Encourage your child to go online and explore! There is a wealth of age-appropriate sites online for your children. Encourage them to use sites which are fun, educational and that will help them to develop online skills. They can have a play at this site.
  • Don’t let them lie about their age, most social media sites (such as Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat) are not for children under 13.  There is more guidance here

 

More resources:

Get Safer Online also covers many aspects on online security such as online banking, identity theft and keeping children safe.

There is a great Digital Parenting guide from Vodafone here – this contains details of setting up mobile phones with parental controls and how to use safety modes on other apps and services.

Reminding parents of the nature of Social Networking sites – a great childine leaflet can be downloaded here.

What every parent needs to know about Video Games – the Guardian Guide

If you have a child who is due to start Secondary School find more information here.

Remember – Internet Service Providers (such as Virgin, BT, Sky and PlusNet) all have parental controls which you need to ‘switch on’ – just contact your provider, or take a look at these videos here.