Using twitter on a school trip

November 17, 2009

4OQ Visit Selly Manor

I always think one of the most powerful uses of the social media that has grown around twitter is for reporting and reflecting on live events on location.  Some time ago a friend and I experimented with some ideas for a club night based around social media and, although we eventually shelved it, it made me think about using social media for our school trip today to Selly Manor in Birmingham.

I have been using twitter and blogging with my class since September to reflect on learning, share their work with an audience, and get them to the different places on the web easily on their 1:1 netbooks. Some of this has been through twitterific on my iPhone , which has allowed me to tweet their reflections outside of the classroom, and get them all to links quickly without having to return to my own computer.

Today we used Twitterific to document our trip, both using text and its capability to take  photograph with my iPhone and upload it straight away to our twitter news feed. I also used the iPhone app tweetmic pro , which allows you to make audio recordings and immediatly upload them to your twitter feed. Whilst I had to mediate the text updates as I am the only one proficient with the iPhone keyboard, this allowed the children to more immediatly and personally make their observations and reflections.

So, whilst this is a very ‘cool’ thing to do, many people may be asking what the value of it is for the children. Personally I think there are a few things it adds to our trip, the first is a nice timeline of the day, and the activities we engaged in. Whilst this could easily be achieved using a class blog or just a camera, the ability to mix text, audio and images and have them arranged chronologically should be very useful when it comes to reflecting on the trip when we are back at school. Of course this could be achieved by other means, but it is so immediate using twitter. Once it has happened and been captured it is documented, and there is no need for someone to upload photographs, organise them into order and publish them.

This immediacy has another benefit- although we were short of time when we got back to school we could immediately open up the twitter feed and all the material we had collected was there to be reflected on straight away, even as the children were sat in their coats waiting for home time. No doubt some of them will have also logged on when they got home and shared their day with their parents well before I would have had time to update our class blog.

Another purpose of these tools was to encourage reflection on learning throughout the day. Undoubtedly this could have been done by teacher questioning, but the act of recording and publishing their reflections should be a huge factor in engaging the children and encouraging them to think more meaningfully about what they are experiencing. Let’s face it; you are going to try harder with your reflections when being broadcast to the world than if you are scribbling them on a piece of paper that will often be only seen by your teacher.

I was really hoping to use these tools today to encourage some solid reflection from the children, but given the lack of thinking time beforehand, and the fact this was my first school trip as an NQT I did not fully achieve what I had hoped. We certainly created a record of the day, which hopefully will help with later reflection. However, the amount and level of reflections were not quite what I had hoped for as my time and energy was largely taken up by making sure none of the children got on the wrong bus, fell down the stairs of the tudor house or got lost going to the toilets! Despite this I do think with a bit more experience these tools could be really useful in encouraging reflection and extending learning on a school trip, and I will certainly be using them in a more focused way next time.

Twitpics: http://img188.yfrog.com/i/gofk.jpg/

http://img256.yfrog.com/i/4slq.jpg/

http://img685.yfrog.com/i/v36.jpg/

Audio tweet: http://tmic.fm/ox6b1o54azd

Our class twitter news feed: http://twitter.com/4oq

Class blog on the trip: http://class40q.wordpress.com/2009/11/17/trip-to-selly-manor/

Advertisements

Sentence writing with pictures

October 17, 2009

In the last few weeks I have been discussing IEP targets with children in my class (Year 4). A number of them have targets relating to writing simple sentences, and had been set targets last year to have regular practice writing sentences to go with pictures they were given. This struck me as a good idea, and is something I have done before with my year 2 class on the advice of my fantastic PGCE tutor Kate Glavina.

However, I had an interesting conversation with one of the more streetwise boys when I suggested this. He took offense at the suggestion he couldn’t write ‘simple’ sentences, and when I suggested the picture writing his response was along the lines of “Not again, that’s baby’s work writing about those pictures of girls!”. I asked him what he liked, and he replied immediately ‘Cars! Hummers, Porche’s and Lambourghini’s!”. Therefore, much to his amazement, we made the deal that if I found him some cool pictures of cars, then he would write me some cool (not simple) sentences.

Due to the fact  other things got in the way, we didn’t get round to making this happen for a week or so. Throughout that time he was asking me when he was going to do his ‘car work’, and soon some other children were asking me as well…

Last week I put together the pictures. I am a big fan of Compfight.com, a search engine that lets you search for high quality images which are creative commons licensed. It was obvious from our conversation that these pictures needed to be exciting and engaging, so I used compfight to find a set of pictures which I hoped would genuinely engage him and the rest of my reluctant writers. I feel strongly that you need to have high production values for things you make for the classroom, so I used Apple’s Pages to put together a sheet that would complement these exciting pictures.

Last week we began, and the results have been fantastic! There was great excitement when I revealed the full colour pictures I had printed for them, and a genuine scramble for children to get the ones that grabbed their interest (some had chosen to go for wildlife rather than cars as their subject). The best part is that in two short sessions several of the pupils who were making no attempt to organize their ideas into sentences have started to do so. We still have a lot of work to do, but they are really starting to try to improve their writing as they want to do their best at this activity. Our last session ended with them all imploring me to let them take them home, something which really surprised me coming from these children. “My Mum will work on it with me because she loves cars too and she will remind me to do my car work.”

Just a simple idea, but one I thought was worth sharing. It just shows how taking some time to listen to children’s interests can reap rewards in terms of their engagement and effort. Hopefully, as this is something they have engaged with well, they will be willing to return to it to try to edit and improve their sentences.


1:1- Using twitter to get a young class to the right resources

October 11, 2009

One of the fundamental issues in a 1:1 primary classroom is getting the children to the websites they are meant to be using as quickly and painlessly as possible. In a conventional classroom you can just hand out copies of worksheets and resources to different groups, but when working with web based tools this is much harder to organise. My class of 8 year olds find copying exact URLs very difficult, due to their still developing typing and reading skills.There is no way there are going to copy ‘http://www.bbc.co.uk/schools/ks1bitesize/numeracy/numbers/index.shtml’ just to get to a quick maths game, and a google search could land them anywhere on the net.

Therefore I had to find a way to get them all on the same page (or differentiated pages) quickly before we could get anything done.

Edmodo
In the summer I thought Edmodo would be the answer to this. This service provides a private, walled, twitter like service which you can restrict to your classroom. I had visions of using this to send out links to the class, but in practice it didn’t work for the stage we are at. My class are still learning about logins and remembering passwords, and the process of having to log into something before they could find where they needed to go (and possibly log in to that service as well) took some considerable time. Edmodo also lets them communicate with the class by sending out short messages, and they soon discovered this and my own messages to links I wanted them to visit were drowned in a timeline of noisy classroom discussion!

Twitter
Therefore, I decided to have a re-think, and use something more static and more easily accessible. Basically I decided to set up a twitter account (@4oqlinks), so that I could tweet out links and they would immediately be accessible to the pupils. Now, when I want pupils to go to a certain site I just tweet out a link to it, it updates our twitter feed instantly, and pupils can be on that site in moments by visiting  www.twitter.com/4oqlinks, without needing a login. This is really powerful, as if one student finds a better source of information for what you are working on, you can just tweet it out and the whole class can access it straight away, allowing you to take the lesson in any direction very quickly and easily. This is actually faster and more straightforward than handing out resources on paper!

If you are in a 1:1 environment I would hugely recommend setting up a system like this. It gives you a really quick way to get pupils where you want them to be, and is only as difficult as registering for twitter and making a big sign with the address of your account to put on the wall for the pupils to visit. You can keep the twitter page open on your computer and send out links to your whole class in an instant: much quicker than having them try to copy them from the board!

Now to complicate it: Implementing this in a class home page
However, I was not happy about pupils accessing the twitter page directly because it just wasn’t slick enough! I also wanted to have multiple feeds on the same site, so pupils could see our class news, blog, and links for lessons all on the same page. Therefore, I decided to create a class home page with the feed from twitter as part of it.

I had already bought www.4oq.co.uk so that I could set up google docs accounts for my class, so I set up a google site as the home page for that domain, and embedded a twitter gadget to display the feed on that site, which I could also use for class news and links to regularly used tools. Unfortunately I could not find a way to get any gadgets to open the links in a new page, so users always got their page opening in an unusableframe within the site:
Picture 1
After much experimentation I decided to ditch google sites and go for a website made in Apple’s iWeb. I have always liked iWeb for very quickly putting together slick looking websites, but previous versions have always fallen down when it came to wanting to extend your page beyond a basic, static site. Thankfully in iWeb ’09 Apple have included a great widget called ‘HTML snippet’. If you drop one of these into your site you can past HTML into it to achieve anything you cannot do with the program, but can with HTML or javascript.
Picture 3

I played around with a number of third party widgets, but found all of them to be slow to load, overly flashy, and still with the same problem that links would load in a frame. I therefore decided to go back to basics, and mashed together some code to access the twitter api directly and render the feed as text. Even if you are not that technical, you can use the code below to drop into the HTML snippet box in iWeb, or into the HTML of your website to render a twitter feed as a column as it is on our home page. Just copy it in, and change the text that reads ‘YOUR_TWITTER_USERNAME’ for the username of your twitter links feed. If you are doing this in iWeb the frame will go a bit mad for a few seconds, but wait for it to settle down and it will be fine.

<style rel=”stylesheet” id=”mainStyle” type=”text/css”>
html {background-color:#FFFFFF}
body {background-color:#FFFFFF; font-family:Tahoma,Arial,Helvetica,sans-serif; font-size:14px;
margin-left:1%; margin-right:1%; border:3px groove darkred; padding:15px}
h1 {text-align:right; font-size:1.5em; font-weight:bold}
h2 {text-align:left; font-size:1.1em; font-weight:bold; text-decoration:underline}
.buttons {margin-top:10px}
</style>
<div id=”twitter_update_list”>
</div>
<script type=”text/javascript” src=”http://twitter.com/javascripts/blogger.js”&gt;
</script>
<script type=”text/javascript” src=”http://twitter.com/statuses/user_timeline/YOUR_TWITTER_USERNAME.json?callback=twitterCallback2&count=10″&gt;
</script>

The only problem I have found is that you sometimes have to refresh the page a few times for the feed to render, but I have just told my class to press f5 a few times until it does. In the rare cases that it doesn’t I put a hyperlink to the twitter page right above it.

And the result:
Picture 2

Now I just have to tell my class to ‘Go to 4oq.co.uk’, and I can get them anywhere on the internet in seconds.

Hopefully this is useful to some of you in getting children to the right page as quickly as possible so the learning can begin!


School Radio: Initial efforts

October 4, 2009
Click here for the class blog post

Click here for the class blog post

The week before last, with our new studio now installed, I took the first steps towards staring our school radio station at Robin Hood. With pressure of time bearing down on me in the first weeks of my NQT year, I decided to do this as one of our ‘Learning agreement projects’, where a group spends the first hour of each day working on a negotiated project.

At the moment we are working on helping the pupils to build up their concept of what a project could be, and the planning of both how they will manage their time, what the end outcome of the project will be, and what they will learn through doing it.

Having ‘negotiated’ the title of the project (after seeing the studio my group could think of no other projects!), myself and a group of six children set about planning the project. We decided that they would produce a short radio show to put on our class blog. They split themselves into two and decided to do features on jokes, school news, a weather report, and an introduction. After discussing with me the various styles of presentation they could go for, they decided they would like to write scripts for their parts to read, so that they knew what to say and could make sure they had interesting content, and were not just ‘chatting’.

Over the next few days, whilst they were researching using their new netbooks, I gave a pair at a time an introduction to the studio equipment. We covered the mixing desk, the computer, the special keyboard, the microphones, and the headphones; talking about what each thing did, and having a play with them. We also talked about how radio presenters sound, and they highlighted the need to be confident with their delivery.

They found the concepts behind the computer playout system, Myriad, quite straightforward, easily recognizing the ‘carts’ of songs and jingles, and the audio players. They also enjoyed having a go at talking over the start of records, as Myriad provides them with a countdown to when the vocals kick in in songs. With a little direction, and some evaluation of ‘practice runs’, they found the mic technique fairly straightforward, helped by the fact we have some nice microphones with a wide area in which they pick up sound. However, they found the mixing desk quite hard to understand. I did not explain that you could pre-cue songs before you played them, but just gave them a chance to mix two songs together. Most of them could start a second song playing at a good time, but several ended up playin g two songs at once, and found it hard to get their head round the fact songs needed to be controlled in three places at once: on the computer, they keyboard, and the faders on the desk. We might take a while before they are confident self-op DJs, but I was impressed with them as presenters.

I really had very little input into their scripts, and they recorded their pieces on the Friday in a single take, ‘as-live’. They presented confidently, especially as they are not that used to hearing their own voices as they speak in headphones, and it was interesting how much of the language they had already such as ‘now over to my friend…’. I did not explain the editing capability of the system to them, but two of the girls immediatly asked if I could cut out the ‘umms’, so I showed them the audio editor and how I would do that. I then took the recordings away and added the music, as we had by this point run out of time.

This project was a bit of an experiment really. I was interested to see where they would take it, what areas they would be confident with, and what they would find difficult. Overall I was impressed by their ‘media saviness’, and the confidence with which they selected content and presented this material. This experience was very useful for me in getting a benchmark of how pupils might work in our school radio station, and with some reflection will influence how I begin to implement the radio station in more of a school-wide way.

You can hear the finished radio show on our class blog.


1:1: Starting Google Docs

October 4, 2009

Last week, with our wifi internet now working more reliably, I introduced my class to google docs.

I had originally wanted to set up google apps for education across our school domain, but as this is something we have to apply for, and possibly negotiate with the local authority about, I took the plunge and installed the free version across the domain I bought for our class website. This was a fairly straightforward process, and anyone who is technically capable of buying a domain and setting up a website should find it easy, and there are plenty of tutorials around.

Once this was done I logged in and set up a user name for every child in my class. I was going to do this for the whole of year 4, but the standard edition of google apps only allows for 50 users. Therefore, I am going to trial it and possibly set up another domain for the other class at a later date. Google make it easy to set up usernames, as you can make a spreadsheet of all the pupils names, desired usernames and passwords, and upload it as a csv file. Instructions and a video here.

I put a link to our google docs on our class website, so the pupils can just click through, log in and have access to their documents from anywhere.Picture 3

First Session

In this session I had planned to get the class to log in to google docs, and complete some straightforward history work to get them used to using it.I began by introducing google docs to them and explaining they would all be given their own account. Having seen me using google docs for most of my work, including shared writing with the class on the board, some of them recognised it and were excited to have the chance to use something I obviously relied on.

As it happened, getting them all in was more difficult than I had imagined. The first problem we had was that they are not used to the exact nature of usernames, and despite me impressing upon them exactly how their usernames were formed, and the need for lowercase and no spaces, lots of them didn’t grasp this at first.

The next was passwords. Using the csv file I had set all their passwords to ‘password’, and in the google control panel I had specified that they must change their password at first login. The difficulties here were that many of them took ages to decide on a password, and then had great difficulty completing both the ‘password’ and ‘confirm’ boxes so they actually matched! In hindsight I think it would have been better to have had a previous lesson in which we discussed how to think of a password, and then collected their chosen passwords in a more low tech way (paper). I could then have input these passwords in the control panel, and much time and frustration would have been saved during the lesson.

This issue was further compounded by the need to complete two ‘captcha‘ tests. Probably shortsighted of me, but I hadn’t anticipated how difficult an 8 year old reader with limited typing skills would find these!Picture 4

Eventually we got there, but with not enough time to attempt the work I had planned, so I asked them to write a short passage about anything they were interested in, and showed them how to ‘hand it in’ using the ‘sharing’ tab to share it with me. I showed them how to do this once, in a hurried way, before they went to assembly, but 21 out of the 28 present managed to share it straight away. The class are very good at following procedures on the computer!I was also able to see in realtime who had managed to hand in my work by opening our docs page on my iPhone, and quickly address any issues with those who had not.

What I found interesting was that I explained this process in terms of ‘handing in’ the work, but noticed that two of the girls had immediately decided to share their writing with each other. Looking at what they had written this was not a mistake, as they had both completed ‘My best friend’ passages about each other.Picture 5

That whole process took us most of an afternoon (partly due to the ongoing battle with wifi connectivity), but I think it was worth it to get them set up with such a powerful tool. For some reason a couple of our laptops are refusing to load the google docs page, but I am hoping a reinstall of firefox will solve that. Any ideas as to why this is happening would be much appreciated.

Second session

The following day I decided to do a session on the history work I had previously planned. I set up a google doc with some instructions, and a number of facts I had copied from websites about Henry VIII. We are working on interpreting internet sources, and not just copying text they do not understand, so to see how they would get on with docs I just asked them to write these passages out in their own words, choosing the facts they thought were most important.

To get this out to them I shared the document so it could be viewed (but not edited) by anyone on the domain. I then tweeted out a link to it on our ‘4oqlinks’ twitter account, which is then fed to our class homepage (my normal method of distributing links). Picture 2

I then showed the class how to click on the link to go to the doc, and save their own copy of the file to work on. Again they were proficient at this, the only problem I found was the confusion between the ‘file’ menu in firefox, and the one in docs itself. Picture 6Using this method I could easily distribute differentiated work, just by tweeting different links with the name of the table group I want to access that work.

The class then completed the work, and again shared it with me. We had a few accidents where they managed to highlight and delete the examples and questions in the doc, but with a bit more experience I think they will be proficient enough for this not to happen.

The weekend

One of the great advantages of google docs, as well as the easy sharing and collaboration, is the fact the class can access their documents from anywhere. I did not expect this to happen so soon, but on Saturday morning I received notifications that three members of my class had logged in and completed some completely undirected work on what they knew about Henry VIII (our current history topic). I was really pleased with this, as it shows this tool is allowing us to achieve our aim of inspiring children to take responsibility for their own learning, and follow their own interests in their school work.

In conclusion I am very pleased with what we have achieved in just two afternoons of using google docs. I can’t wait to get the children used to using this as one of their regular tools, and especially the potential for collaboration it affords. I really think it is going to be a useful tool in achieving our school aim of a negotiated curriculum.

Just waiting for google wave to be activated on our domain….



1:1 Primary: The first few weeks

September 26, 2009

I had every intention of blogging on our 1:1 computer project every week, with specifics of what we had done each day. However, time has run away with me for these first weeks of term and I now find myself three weeks in and starting to think in a more reflective way about what we have experienced so far.

My overall feeling of the first few weeks is that it has been a positive experience, but one that has possibly had more learning curves for myself than for the pupils. We have had some great successes, a couple of mini disasters of lessons, and quite a  few niggly problems that need to be ironed out. Most of the issues could have been expected, a few of the technical ones were not predicted, but overall we have done some good work, and are starting to adjust to meaningfully use 30 netbooks as part of our classroom environment.

Successes

I decided to begin our work with the laptops on the first day of term by having a class discussion about the use of them, and how we should look after them. The children in our school have access to a lot of technology, so I took care to explain just how unusual it was for 8 year olds to be working with 1:1 laptops, and that we were really experimenting for something that people in other schools may decide to pick up. Suitably impressed with the responsibility that entailed, the children devised some guidelines for looking after the laptops. I was impressed with the thought they put into this, and they brought up issues which I had not considered, such as how to safeguard against pets damaging the laptops.

We then handed out the laptops and I allowed the children to explore what they could do with them, giving them free reign to use anything they could find on them. As our internet connections had not been set up this was predominantly the built in games, but I really think giving this time to explore and play with the ‘new toys’ was beneficial. I could have expected umpteen technical problems and user difficulties at this point, but in fact the only difficulty I had to help with was “Mr Quinlan I am stuck… I just can’t jump over this high wall to complete the level!”.

Their computer skills have on the whole impressed me, although I have found it important to spot those who are not confident and give them extra support. A couple of the class who do not use computers at home obviously felt overwhelmed and a little scared by the laptops, but with some encouragement they seem to be warming to them.

The next activity we looked at was tutpup – a competitive maths game. As many of the children had been drawn to the games on the machines I thought this would be a good way to channel this enthusiasm to more educational pursuits, and they have been really engaged by it. The game is based on basic maths drills, but it allows you to play against children from across the world, and if you set up a class league for the children to join they can compete against each other.

The first proper lesson we used the laptops for was our introductory history lesson on the Tudors. I began by setting up a wall using wallwisher, and asking the children to come up with questions that they would like to ask about the tudors. We then got out the laptops and the children used a selection of website I had collected to find some answers to these questions. Many children strayed from my links and began to search using google, and as a result came up with some interesting facts that I had not considered discussing. Some of the children found it difficult to multitask on the computers and switch between researching information and inputting it, but on the whole it was a successful first lesson. The wall we created can be found here.

Another  success was using the laptops for a PE lesson on Tudor dance. Having had a couple of fairly standard lessons looking at dance steps, my colleague decided to give each group a laptop and have them independently analyse a youtube video of a dance and try to emulate it. I also gave this a go in our lesson, and aside from a few problems with wifi reception in the school hall it worked quite well, and fulfilled the evaluation objectives for PE far more comprehensively than simply peer evaluating a few dances at the end of the lesson would have.

The laptops have been used for independent research on a number of occasions and, despite the huge possibility for them to go of task when using them, they have so far been very motivated to complete the tasks they have been set. We have been working on encouraging their independent skills, and they have thought of some great possibilities for using the laptops in spare time once they have finished tasks in other lessons. Lots of my pupils are now starting to access the resources we are using at home, with several of them spending lots of their free time on tutpup, and some updating facts on our tudors wall once they have gone home.

Challenges

Unfortunately the first few weeks have not been without significant technical problems. From the start many of out laptops were not charging, and this was narrowed down to a buggy version of the BIOS, which then had to be upgraded on all of the machines. This was then followed by a problem with the wifi access, with many of the machines forgetting the wifi key and being kicked off the network. It has taken some time to get all of these sorted, and I am still waiting to test wifi access of my class set at the moment. This has meant that we have not really had a whole class set of laptops yet, which has hampered some of the activities I had planned to do, although hopefully it should be sorted very soon.

I would urge anyone who is looking at implementing such a project as ours to look very carefully at the machines they are planning to buy and research the possible issues through support forums before taking the plunge. I am pretty sure that the issues we are seeing are largely due to the Acer version of Linpus Linux that is installed on the machines, which I am not very impressed with. However, it does start up very fast which is something that is very useful at our current stage of experience. I think eventually we might look at installing Ubuntu on the machines, but for now we are sticking with Linpus for speed and simplicity, at least for the end users if not for those fielding the technical issues.

For me the biggest challenges have been the over enthusiasm of both myself and the pupils for these new toys! They are obviously a great novelty to the children, and this has lead to some class management issues in my class, with it being difficult to gain and maintain children’s attention during and after laptop based lessons. I have had to implement fairly hardline rules about listening when asked to when the laptops are around, and although I hate to do it I have had to have several children working on paper, and once stop the whole class from using the computers. Hopefully soon the novelty will wear of somewhat and these issues will become easier, something which is especially likely once they have been allowed to take the computers home as planned.

My over enthusiasm for the possibilities of the technology has also caused a couple of lessons to go rather wrong. With so many possibilities it is easy to forget I am working with 8 year olds who sometimes need very clear step by step instructions to be able to achieve the ideas I have in mind. One such lesson was our introduction to Edmodo, which I had planned to use to manage the digital aspects of our classroom. This turned out to be rather complicated for the stage we were at, and I decided to revert to using a more static ‘class homepage‘ to distribute links and content. I would very much like to get the children involved in something with more two way communication, but I feel we need to start simple for the moment and build up to that when both myself and they are more experienced in working in this way.

So far this homepage has had the added benefit of being open to our pupils’ parents, several of whom have shown a great interest in keeping up with what we are doing through the twitter feeds and rss to our class blog.

So, the first few weeks have not been without significant challenges, but overall I think we have taken some good steps towards starting to adapt to using 1:1 computers. I really think it is once the machines become less of a novelty and more a core part of the way pupils participate in the classroom that they will really come into their own. In the next week I hope to introduce the class to google docs, at which point we will be able to start looking at using them more in our literacy work and for collaboration.

I feel like this post has turned into a bit of a ramble, but I hope it has been of some interest. In future I might try to post a bit more regularly and specifically on how we are using the netbooks. However, being 3 weeks into my NQT year I am facing many other challenges, so blogging time is a bit squeezed at the moment!