Blogging in the Primary Classroom

November 22, 2009

For some time now Robin Hood School has been working on developing the use of blogging in the classroom, and the abundance of class blogs was something which attracted me to the school in the first place. In our school every class has their own blog, which is set up by the ICT co-ordinator with an account for each teacher. The blogs are used to different degrees and purposes by different staff, and they have primarily been used for reporting events that are significant to each class, as a way of sharing what they are doing with parents, each other, and the world. This purpose has been very successful, with the blogs given prominence on the front page of the school website, and a significant number of hits.

I strongly feel that tools such as blogs should be used to extend learning, rather than just to teach children the skills of ‘blogging’, so after using our blog for a few weeks I took a step back and evaluated what it was I really wanted them to get out of using the tool. I decided on two main purposes for our blogging. The first was to provide an audience for our work, much as had been done before, but focusing on sharing the work itself rather than just reporting on it. I strongly believe in the social constructivist notion of authentic learning, that is that children should be provided with real experiences in order to allow them to bring meaning to what they are doing in school and create true understanding. On a practical level, producing a piece of work for a real audience is likely to encourage more motivation, and hopefully deeper thinking as a result of wanting to produce the best finished product.

The second thing I wanted the blogs to achieve was reflection from the children. Talking about the lack of time for reflection in the current packed curriculum is becoming something of a cliche, but it is true that meaningful reflection is not an easy thing to accomplish with primary age children. Blogging should be a tool that encourages this, as it allows the posting of an item or idea, and asynchronous reflection on it through the medium of comments.

Objectives set, I began by expanding what we were sharing in the blogs from photographs and reporting of ‘events’ to specific pieces of work which the class have produced. I also emphasized the authenticity of the work we were doing by sharing with them the hit count, and promoting the blog on my own twitter feed to encourage some comments from outside of our school community.The children were thrilled with comments on work such as their Tudor dance from people outside of the school. They have also been using it to show parents and family what they have been doing at school. We have even also had comments from children at other classes in our school, and even from cousins who attend other schools in different parts of the country.

I then used the blog with the class as a whole to reflect on the work. Rather than accessing it from what was stored on my own computer I showed them where they could find it online, and modeled the process of reading, evaluating and commenting by transcribing their oral evaluations as comments on the blog. This encouraged lots of children to start looking at the blog in their own time, something which I think was helped by the setting up of our class website, which they seem to really feel ownership of.

We shared lots of work, and used looking at the blog as a plenary or review activity in a number of lessons. Whilst the children were producing quite evaluative comments orally when discussing the posts in lesson time, their independent written comments were still lacking in any real focus. Therefore, I decided to start helping them to structure their responses by providing an ‘In the comments..’ activity with suggested focus for responses at the end of the blog posts. I introduced this this week with the post on our trip to a Tudor house, and set commenting on the blog as an activity in our History lesson on Wednesday.

This resulted in a terrific response, and saw our blog get 256 hits in a single afternoon. Each time we work on a web based activity in class it seems to inspire more pupils to continue the work after school and we have quite a number now who revisit our class work as soon as they get home. Granted, many of the comments left are not that evaluative, or even answering the questions, but I intend to spend some time reflecting on their reflections as a class, and I am excited to see how this develops as they evaluate and model reflection to each other.

Eventually I would like to expand this communal reflection to a more personalised reflection with the development of either learning journals or digital portfolios based on a blogging platform.

My first ideas was the development of learning journals, where the pupils would have their own blog (possibly private but shared with me, or our class) in which they could regularly record what they had been doing at school and what they had learned. The fact that we have 1 netbook per child in our class should make this very manageable, and could be very valuable in terms of encouraging them to evaluate their own learning and think more deeply about it.

The second idea was more in response to a problem than a point of learning. As we are starting to do more and more work using different web 2.0 tools as part of our school drive to utilize the entire web as a VLE, pupils work is increasingly scattered across different sites. The longer this continues the more likely it is that pupils records of learning and improvement which is served so well by traditional folders and exercise books could be lost. As increasing numbers of these services allow users to embed their work in other sites and tools, a blog could be a powerful way of collating the work pupils do across different tools into one place. This would allow us to replicate the strength of exercise books in keeping a record of learning, but could also encourage reflection as children could return to older work to comment and evaluate, bringing to it their later learning.

Perhaps a hybrid of the two is what we really need, and I would be interested to see examples of how others may have used blogs in this way to help me come to a conclusion about where I am taking this next.

In many ways I think we are a long way from fully achieving what we can with the technologies we are using in terms of childrens learning beyond the world of ICT. However after a whirlwind half term getting to grips with my teaching and the abundance of ICT in our school I am starting to see where I need to go to develop what I am doing to achieve the enhancement of learning through technology I believe in.

With all of the superficial reports in the national press about children being ‘taught blogging’ and twitter instead of traditional subjects, I think it is ever more important to reflect on what we are trying to achieve with these tools. Given the pace of change in technology, the mechanics and etiquette of blogging may well be dead in a few years. However, if we can utilize these tools to provide children with transferable and valuable learning, such as the reflection and skills I have detailed here, then the effects of their use will far outlive their lifetime as a medium.

Links

Class 4OQ’s Blog – My class’ blog

Robin Hood blogs – Class blogs from our school

Porchester Junior School – Using blogs as digital portfolios

Digitalteacher.co.uk – Detailing the setup of the above.

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Moving forward

July 14, 2009

So I thought it was time for a run down of where I am at at the moment, and the issues and directions this blog is likely to take.

Around a week ago I completed my PGCE course, and I have been meaning to write some reflections on the course as a whole. However, I realised that really my head has been in my new job for some time now, so when the end of the course came it felt like more of a formality than anything else. I have met some really great and inspiring people in the past year, both students, lecturers and school staff, but I am sure we will keep in touch, and it feels like more of a beginning than an end to me.

There is much I could say about issues I have had with teacher training, one big gripe being the prioritisation of everyone ticking the same boxes rather than discovering their own areas of strength and creativity. At times I have been known to get quite irate about issues surrounding the PGCE, but now in hindsight they seem relatively unimportant. I think this shift in my thinking really came about when I truly took control of my own direction and learning as a practitioner, and this really tied in to my own search for jobs and realising just how much there was out there in the world of education that was exciting and interesting.

I made a strong personal commitment that I wanted to start my career in a school that was outstanding, both in terms of being really effective, and in doing things differently. Through this job search I discovered the potential of networking and sharing practice (often driven by Twitter). Once I realised how many inspirational people there were out there sharing their unique ideas, any moans about not being prepared for teaching in the way I thought was right largely dissapeared- the responsibility for that preparation was my own.

So it was some time ago that I mentally moved on to my job for next year, as I was lucky enough to find a school that not only fitted my criteria, but surpassed it. In September I will be starting at Robin Hood Primary School in Birmingham, where I will be teaching in Year 4.

Lots of exciting things are happening next year, and I am sure it will be even more of a learning experience than the past year has been. For starters we will be introducing to year 4 a scheme of one laptop per child. Being firmly committed to an integration of ICT across the curriculum this is a perfect project for me, although I am sure it will not be without it’s difficulties. Number 1 on my list at the moment being organising keeping the things charged… However, that kind if access should result in a very different use of ICT, and I already have lots of ideas for using collaborative and Web 2.0 technologies throughout the curriculum.

I will also be involved in the development of an Internet radio station for the school, and hopefully their unprecedented Masters course in Educational Leadership & Innovation with a focus on New Technologies (see Neil Hopkin’s blog). Whilst I am obviously very interested in New Technologies, I feel very strongly that the use of such tools should be based on research and reflection on their true educational benefits rather than merely the ‘fun factor’. With 14 members of staff lined up to do the Masters, as well as many from other schools, there should be a lot of such reflection going on!

However, I am not just about technology, and I am really excited about becoming a part of the focus on learner independence, and the development of a ‘negociated curriculum’ at the school. This is something my PGCE has certainly not covered, but something I believe is a really beneficial step in education, and intrinsic to the way my own learning journey has panned out so far. This is one of the many areas in which I am keen to learn from the staff at the school, and having been to visit a couple of times now they seem like a great team which I am looking forward to joining.

So, this is the direction I am going in for the next academic year, and I am sure I will be sharing my experiences and reflections on these projects and issues in this blog. For me these are exciting times..


A visualiser on the cheap

June 15, 2009

I had been aware of visualisers for a while, but it was at the BETT show last year that I first had a play with one on the Smart technologies stand, and I knew straight away that I had to have one! The ability to show children’s work immediately on a large screen, and even highlight and annotate it on the IWB without actually writing on it seemed fantastic, and an ideal tool for encouraging children to reflect on and improve their work. They are also fantastic for sharing books and small objects with the whole class.

However, there was no way as a PGCE student I could afford the £800 odd Smart were charging, so I decided to try to find a way to get the same functionality on a shoe string budget.

I turned first to the internet haven for cheap technology- eBay. Having once bought a £2000 mixing desk for £60 on there I am ever hopeful of true bargains, and although there were lots of bang up to date visualisers at silly prices, after some scouring and waiting I was lucky enough to find an old analogue model for £30!

This wasn’t the latest model by far- no USB connections here- just an analogue video output, and the plastic casing is almost as yellow as my 20 year old Amiga… However, it did the job of displaying childrens work when plugged into a data projector.

SV100352

Me being me, I was never going to be satisfied with that, so I started looking into getting an analogue video input for my computer, and again eBay came up with the goods. Somewhat skeptically, I bought an RCA video to USB dongle for £15 (search for EasyCap USB), which turned out to be perfect. It isn’t the greatest resolution in the world, but it is good enough for running through a 1024×768 data projector, and allows you to bring up any video source on your computer screen. There are a multitude of these on eBay, but if you are a Mac user be sure to get one which specifically says it is Mac compatible as not all of them are.

Once I had this hooked up all I needed to do was find some software. Smart Notebook has fantastic integration with visualisers, but it only works with their own model, so I sought out something else that would allow me to achieve the same thing. For the PC I had in school that turned out to be a program called ‘Open Video Capture‘. This is only a limited trial, but for displaying a video input full screen you don’t need to pay for the full version.

For the Mac I found a program called VideoGlide capture, which you will have to pay for to remove a watermark, but it is not too expensive, and it does a great job.

With either of these programs active displaying the video input from the visualiser ‘Smart Tools’ allow you to pick up a pen and annotate, and scribble over the live video. You can even click the camera button to capture the screen as a still to Notebook- leaving the annotations editable so you can rub out and change them.

Annotating work

 

Since I have started using it I have found all sorts of uses for the system beyond simply displaying childrens written work. I have used it for displaying a live science experiment so we could annotate it with arrows showing the force, to allow a child to demonstrate to the class with clarity how to use a ruler or a mirror to find a line of symmetry, and recently to analyse the information on juice cartons for my year twos to allow them to define success criteria for their own carton designs. The camera is also a high enough quality to zoom in on a photographic negative, invert it, and display the photograph contained in it. This filled my Year 2 class with wonder during a lesson about the history of cameras (most of them had never seem a film camera before).

 

Force Diagram

 

 

Analysing fruit juices

 

Mirrors for symmetry

VideoGlide also allows recording of video and stop motion filming from the visualiser- so who know what we will end up doing with that… If you are using it on a Mac I highly recommend setting up application assignments for your spaces so you can flip between full screen video and notebook (as described here).

All in all I have found it to be a great tool for encouraging pupil reflection, and genuinely enhancing their learning many ways. For a total cost of around £70 and a bit of tinkering I have been able to achieve most of the functionality of a new model costing many times the price. It’s always easy to lust after expensive new technology, but sometimes a bit of tinkering can get the same results for much less, so I thought I would share my experiences with this as it may be useful for others lusting after a visualiser as I was!