Friday, May 30, 2014

Friday Fun

It has been quite some time since I wrote any Friday Fun posts. Generally, my school has had other ways to share learning with families, thus I haven't had time to double up. At my current school, I started writing up weekly reflections for families, which highlight the main learning in the grade level, some class specific items, information about events coming up, and some snapshots. This takes a bit of effort to put together each Friday, and needs to be left fairly broad in order to cater for all Year 3 classes. When I do Friday Fun posts, I like to add more detail, and give a better sense of the task, its purpose and how we went about doing it. In doing so, I hope to make it interesting for students and their families, as well as the teaching community. I make no promises in terms of whether this will return as an ongoing feature, but I thought I would give it another go this week at least!

Reconciliation Week
This week we launched into our new Inquiry unit, "Why Say Sorry?" The central idea of this unit is that Indigenous culture changes over time. Given that Reconciliation Week is this week, it seems very good timing on someone's part - though I think there was quite a bit of luck involved this time! 

On Monday I read Idjhil by Helen Bell to my class. This story shows the connection Indigenous Australians have with the land and tells something of the impact of European settlement in terms of loss of land and the stolen generation. I chose this narrative to give students a glimpse of these concepts through the eyes of a boy of their age. 
Once we had finished reading, we used a modified version of the thinking routine "Step Inside". Students imagined they were Idjhil and wrote down the things they thought he knew and believed. They then wrote down the things they thought he cared about. A second column labelled "What makes you say that?" prompted students to give evidence from the book for their ideas. I moved around the room marking student work, and those who finished early glued their sheet in and illustrated the border with symbols and images that were important to Idjhil. 
To conclude the lesson - we played "Hot Seat" where one student took on the role of Idjhil, and others asked him questions. It took a few questions before everyone engaged in what was happening, but by the end we were getting some well thought out questions. 

On Tuesday we read Walking for Reconciliation By Beth Hall. This followed on nicely after our story of Idjhil, and helped students to gain a better understanding of what Reconciliation is about and why it is necessary. We followed this reading with another thinking routine called Making it Fair: Now, Then, Later: Finding Actions. We talked about the stolen generation and students discussed how things could have been done differently in the past to make things fair, what we can be doing now, and what could be done in the future. Students used Google Docs on the desktop computers to record their ideas. I was a bit frustrated by some of the nonsense I got when students were contributing anonymously and had to keep on top of everyone to ensure they weren't erasing each other's ideas.

On Wednesday we looked at our Google Docs list (teacher edited) as a class, and everyone chose one idea that they would like to expand on. They wrote their individual responses in their Inquiry books and wrote the steps that would need to be taken in order for the plan to be enacted. These ideas were shared with the class and we sorted our ideas into things that could be done now, and things that could be proposed for the future - both for the school and for our city.

On Thursday students worked in teams to put forward their proposals. One group focused on writing a letter (using Google Docs simultaneously) to our local government about how we would like our city to celebrate at NAIDOC week, one focused on a fundraising proposal for our school and two focused on proposals to our SRC. The ones for our school used Explain Everything on iPad as we felt that a video presentation would be more appealing to the student audience.

On Friday I gave feedback to students and helped them to edit their proposals. I still feel that some need a little reworking to create a more professional product, however I'm impressed with the quality of their efforts and technical ability.

This week students learnt how to work out their three times tables mentally by taking the double and adding one more group. Students practised their three times with a friend. We then worked on times tables using an erasable multiplication chart and songs from the Mathletics website. Some students were extended to multiply two-digit numbers by three, and also to investigate the divisibility rules for 3. We will continue with this next week.

We also returned to some fraction work that we began earlier in the term. Students practised writing fractions along a number-line. In our computer time, students completed fractions activities from Mathletics including Rainforest Maths.

We revisited Idjhil by Helen Bell, and discussed:
  • What was the author's purpose?
  • What does she want us to take away?
Students then wrote their personal response in their books using the prompts:
I think the author wrote this to...
I learnt...

It was definitely a busy week, particularly with parent/teacher interviews in the afternoons and planning for school camp. I look forward to seeing how things progress next week, particularly as we further explore our Inquiry unit of work.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Tech Tips Tuesday

Reviewing the KeyFolio Executive - Zipper Folio with Keyboard for iPad 5

My previous iPad cover had been getting a little tatty around the edges and, while an improvement on the baby-proof cover, I was ready for an upgrade yet unwilling to do the research. Fortunately for me, I was approached by Mobile Zap to write a review for one of their products. 

When I checked out the Mobile Zap website, the KeyFolio Executive - Zipper Folio with Keyboard for iPad Air sparked my interest immediately. With its sleek black "leather texture" it looked professional and not too bulky. The iPad stand seemed sturdy and I liked that it could be removed and used separately. As a lover of all things stationery, I liked the removable business card holder and stylus loop as well. 

I was like a kid at Christmas when it arrived, and all those in the staff room saw my excitement as I pulled it out and started playing with it! In "real life" it was even better than the pictures on the website. 

The iPad Stand
I love that there are multiple positions for the iPad slant. As I've already mentioned, I like that it can be removed and used independently of the case. It has a strong magnetic strip to make this work well. It is handy to be able to remove the iPad quickly to take photos. 

The thing I like less, is that the iPad has to be stuck to the stand. My concern with this is that if I am to upgrade, I'm not sure the "stickiness" will still work. It also means that when typing etc, the iPad is in landscape and can not easily be rotated to portrait orientation. 

The Keyboard
I've stubbornly avoided getting a keyboard for iPad, just as I stubbornly avoided getting an iPad in the first place! I thought an iPad was an unnecessary extra - like a big iPhone. However, I've come to appreciate the functionality and ease of a bigger tool. And now, I've come to value the benefits of a bluetooth keyboard. 

It has made it much easier to type emails, notes, and annotations in iDoceo. What's more, with this particular model, the keyboard is magnetised, so can easily be slipped out if I don't want to carry it on a particular day. I love the top row of the keyboard with one touch keys for home, search, volume, music control, Siri and lock. 

I struggle a little with the power button, as it is small and thin and needs to be held down a couple of seconds until the lights come on (green and blue light when you turn it on, flashing blue light when you turn it off). In my early excitement with turning it on, this key slipped under the keyboard shell and took some convincing to get back into position. I feel that it was probably my error, as it hasn't happened again, and I take greater care with it now.

The battery life is amazing, as there have been times when I have left it on, and I've come back to find it still ready to go. It supposedly has 960 hours of working time and 180 days of standby. At that rate, it may never need to be charged!

The Verdict
On the whole, this is a professional cover, padded for protection but not too bulky. All the bits are removable so you can choose what you want and where you want it. When people see you open it, they say "Oooh" and think you're someone who knows their stuff (the kids love it too). If I didn't already have it, I would be happy to put it on my birthday list, but then again, I probably would have bought it because I couldn't wait!

Getting Started
USB cable found in here
If you do buy this, here are a few tips for getting started.
  1. The USB cable (for charging the keyboard) is tucked into an unusual spot in the packaging. You will need to remove the internal piece of cardboard to see it. You should be able to see it through a peephole cut-out circle.
  2. When you stick the iPad onto the stand, ensure that the power button, volume control and camera are at the top when in use. 
  3. To set up the bluetooth keyboard, turn the keyboard on with the power button. Hold down until the green light comes on.
  4. Go to Settings on the iPad and turn bluetooth on.
  5. In the Bluetooth settings, under Devices, tap on Bluetooth Wireless Keyboard 'Not Paired'.
  6. Using the bluetooth keyboard, type in the code that you are given.
  7. Now you're right to go!

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Life After NAPLAN

Having taught Year 2 last year and Year 3 this year, I feel that my work over the past two terms has been distracted by preparing students for NAPLAN. In my heart of hearts, I know this should not be the case - that teaching shouldn't be about preparing students to take four tests over one week. But at the same time, I want my students to feel confident as they sit down to the test, and to be able to show what they know. Also, with the pressures of the My School website and the newspaper league tables, I feel that my performance as a teacher is on parade, in the form of our results.

So, what did I do to prepare?
I ensured that I explicitly taught students how to write both Narrative and Exposition in Term 4 of last year and Term 1 of this year. I taught students to use paragraphs (with an introduction/orientation and conclusion/resolution), include interesting vocabulary, and edit their work for punctuation.

In Term 1 of this year, students went onto Mathletics and sat NAPLAN practice tests. I used the results data on the site to inform me of the areas of strength and weakness in my class. I used this information to focus firstly on improving the areas of weakness.

In the weeks prior to the test, I gave students a NAPLAN practice test for Numeracy. On completion students worked in small groups to mark their answers. Where there were inconsistent results in their group, I told students which was the correct answer and those with the correct answer explained to those with the incorrect answer. With common errors, I demonstrated to the whole class how the correct answer could be found.

I also gave students a practice Spelling and Vocabulary test which we marked together as a class. At this point, the practise was more about familiarity with the style of test than using the information to support learning.

How were the tests?
Generally, my students were quite happy working through the tests. There was no grumbling about them, and they were actually excited to be setting up their desks with barriers and following a set procedure. Some students even went home and told their parents that they enjoyed taking the tests.

Personally I found the Reading and Numeracy tests enjoyable, as did many of my students. My students love to read and the texts in the Reading test were interesting and varied. For me, the Numeracy test was filled with fun puzzles to solve.

I was happy with the writing task given that I feel my students are stronger with exposition writing than they are with narrative. As I wandered around the room, looking over shoulders, I felt that for the most part what I saw was a fairly accurate representation of what my students produce in a writing lesson.

I found the Spelling test frustrating, as I don't agree with this method for testing spelling. I also find that many of my students are still representing the sounds - but with the wrong grapheme. I always find spelling a frustrating thing to teach. As a child, I could just memorise the spelling of words, but as an adult, I realise that is not the case for everyone. I was hoping that THRASS would be the magic answer to that dilemma, but I'm not convinced. Maybe one day, I'll create the magic answer! Or realise there is no such thing! Or realise that it's part of our lives already in the form of spell check!

Is it all pointless?
When I look at the past two terms, I don't see it as wasted teaching, or pointless teaching. It definitely hasn't been ALL about NAPLAN. And really, there were some great teaching moments. My students really enjoy writing stories and they can confidently write an exposition to put forward a point of view.

It felt really good to be working on areas of Maths I knew my students needed rather than just blindly going through a set curriculum. I think that they learnt a lot from that process as well, as we went through the answers together and developed a much stronger understanding of the content.

Now that NAPLAN is over...
  • I can teach the other text types as they relate to the Inquiry unit that students are working on.
  • I can teach the other areas of Maths and return to a stronger focus on problem solving combining the use of manipulatives and mental strategies.
  • I feel as if a weight has been lifted off my shoulders as there is nothing more I can do about it now!
  • I feel free to be creative - to explore and to go with the flow of learning.
  • I am excited to experiment more with the iPads in the classroom.
  • I am keen to work more on applying thinking routines across curriculum areas.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Tech Tips Tuesday

Notability for Observations

Last week I wrote about using the Inkflow App for iPad to record observations of a student teacher. When I saw him on Wednesday, he said he'd really liked the format of the observations - in particular the combination of text and image, and found it helpful that the notes were in digital format which was emailed to him, and thus harder to misplace! He asked if I could do similar again for his lesson on Fairy Tales.

Instead of using Inkflow again, I decided to give Notability a try as it seems to be a more popular app, was recently free as App of the Week, and seems to have more features available. I was pleased with my experience with it, and decided to use it for my soccer team's training session in the afternoon as well.

Features I love:

  • It's very simple to add a caption to photographs as you add them to your page.
  • The zoom function with the magnifying glass is helpful when writing by hand. Alternatively, zooming and moving can also be accomplished with two finger touch.
  • It has audio recording for the page and multiple voice notes can be recorded and managed with the settings button.
  • Audio can also be sent via email - resulting in a zip file.
  • When typing you can choose up to three favourite fonts to select with one touch
  • The highlighter is handy
  • You can easily set up folders to manage the notes more efficiently
  • Notes can be automatically backed up
  • Files can be duplicated, meaning that if a template is set up for regular types of notes, students can just duplicate the template and create a note according to the same structure.
  • The search feature allows you to search typed text in all notes

My struggles:
  • I found it hard to edit the pictures after I moved away from them. I couldn't find a way to get back into them to resize etc without undoing the previous moves until the handles returned. This would be annoying if I'd continued to write etc before trying to edit the pictures. After additional research, I found that the double tap on an image with two fingers is the answer to this dilemma!!
  • New to a hand rest section, I am finding it a little bit of a struggle to adapt. When using it I kept finding that my hand kept switching me between open apps!
All in all, I am finding Notability very useful as a teacher, and would like to see how students could use it to record their thinking in class as well. 

Screenshots taken from National Football Curriculum being read in iBooks.
Student names removed for privacy.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Tech Tips Tuesday

Inkflow for Observations

At the moment I have a student teacher working with me on Wednesdays. It has been going well and he has been trying out some creative ideas which bring the learning to life for students. This week I tried using the Inkflow app on my iPad to record some snapshots of the lesson he taught and jot down my observations and suggestions. I felt that it was great to be able to record the photographic evidence along with my notes. It was also easy to go through with the student teacher and send on to him.

As I haven't used it for awhile, I found that there were a few things that I didn't remember to take full advantage of eg. Zooming in and moving around using two finger touch. I also found that as I turned the iPad landscape, I neglected to fill the whole page before moving onto a second page.

I recently got Notability and plan to try it out as I make the observations this week. It seems to have more options for recording, so I look forward to seeing how I can make use of the additional features. Hopefully it will be just as useful for sharing the page/s.