Play dates and Mobile Devices

Over the school holidays I’ve experienced the dilemma, first-hand, of young children playing with Internet connected mobile devices.
I have had the privilege in the past, of writing about challenges with this sort of thing from a safe distance. It really hit home, how frustrating, how scary and how emotional it can get as a parent.


What happened you ask? My 10 year old daughter had a friend come over for a play date. They are great friends and have been for a number of years. They were playing silly, acting out something or other and laughing as girls do at that age. But on this occasion her friend, who owns an iPod Touch, decided to video record the play. Both girls never thought much of it. Later in the afternoon, when it was time to say goodbye, her friend might have said aloud that she had captured their ‘episode’ on her device. Slight alarm bells were ringing in my head but I didn’t give it much thought.
We later asked my daughter about the recording, just out of interest. She laughingly told us about the ‘funny stuff’ they were doing and how her friend had videoed the fun. I agreed that it was funny and innocent stuff but I put it to her that her friend might decide to ‘post’ their play on the Internet for a very wide audience. Her friend may not do this with ill-intention, but it was a real possibility. My daughter was mortified. Who would see this funny but private play? Teachers at school? Other students at school that would see her in a different light? Strangers? She began crying while imagining the possibilities.
We consoled her immediately, saying that we could ring her mother and request that the movie be deleted. We did exactly that and she felt a lot better. While tucking her into bed, we spent a bit of time talking about the lesson learnt. It wasn’t a scolding, it was taking the opportunity to let her know how good it was that she was able to learn the dangers about using technology. It really was a powerful lesson.
What can you do as parents? Friends will own this sort of technology before we deem it necessary for our own children to have them. We might have a rule where if friends come over to play, and they’ve brought with them smart phones or Internet connected devices, they only play with them in the lounge room or dining room (somewhere where we are). At the very least, no devices in bedrooms. We have this rule in place already, but now we have to be wary of friends coming over with their devices.
Mobile devices need to be considered by parents – and not just your own!

Calculating and Reasoning

I have been reading a really inspirational book, called ‘The Art of Changing the Brain’ by James E Zull. The part that struck me today was the fact that when we do mathematical calculations, we use the front cortex of our brain and when we do estimation or comparing, we use the upper back cortex. Why is this important?

To set the scene of my epiphany this afternoon, I must add that we have recently had some wonderful professional learning with Michael Ymer, a maths curriculum expert. One of his main thrusts, is that teachers need to frame maths problems in a ‘story’. This of course helps with students engagement. If they can relate with the story, they have more ‘buy in’ with the problem and are more likely to persist with a solution. I made a connection with Ymer’s mantras and stuff that I learned about the brain today.

A popular complaint from teachers, especially in the maths sphere, is that students often rush problems and do not often check that their answers are plausible. If students are immersed in real life problems or even better, problems that students can relate to, they will be more likely to check that the answer is in the ball park.

Enter my new brain learning today. When students are mindlessly completing sheets of algorithm work, they are engaging one area of the brain, the front cortex. However, if students are using the same skills to solve problems that are in an engaging activity that they believe is worthwhile, they are then forced to use extra areas of the brain, where comparisons and estimation is required i.e. the upper back cortex… to check that their answer is in the ball park!

Moral of the story – the more often teachers can engage different areas of the brain, the more effective the learning is and likely that neuron networks are firing to produce lasting changes in the brain!

Indiana is using his upper back cortex

Being able to explain something with ‘Explain Everything’

We have such inspired tools at our fingertips now. I’ve been really enthused about an app by the name of, ‘Explain Everything’ this year. Our year 5 ‘one-to-the-world’ students with iPads have this app in their arsenal, as one of the core “can’t-do-without” apps. And if you start using it, you’ll see why. There are many apps that do this sort of thing, but we have been introduced to Explain Everything and like it’s functionality.

My 7 year old daughter is starting to explore different strategies to add up big numbers (2 digit plus 2 digit). Until recently, she would have been seen this task as a little intimidating. We explored the method by which you use a number line and start with the larger of the two numbers. We broke up the second number into it’s parts (tens and ones). We jumped by tens, because its easy to count by tens and then we jumped the corresponding number of ones. She liked this method because it breaks a big task into smaller easier tasks.

Exploring strategies like this is one thing, but retaining it is another. “Tell me and I’ll forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I’ll understand” never gets old on me. I invited my daughter to the ‘Explain Everything’ app on the iPad. Well of course, as soon as I mention the iPad, she’s all ears. I put it to her that she could make an instructional video of her new strategy. Well, making a video really gets her attention! Then I put it to her that if the video is any good at explaining her number line method, that we could upload it to YouTube, so that the world could learn from it. Well, now we have a very excited little girl!!

When a student knows there is an audience, especially an authentic audience, they seem to rise to the occasion. Writing this number line strategy into a workbook that is seen by the classroom teacher, and possibly seen by mum or dad when it’s parent/teacher interview time, is not a large audience. When my daughter saw the potential of how many people could benefit from her instructional video on YouTube, instantly she has real purpose and enthusiasm. I said that some people from my school might want to watch it, to see how to add up 2x 2 digit numbers. Authentic audience.

The learning around this particular number line activity didn’t stop there. The next day, I observed my older daughter watching the same YouTube video with her younger sister, the ‘author and director’. They were watching it again and this was reinforcing the concepts that she had explained in her video.

How does the app work?

On the surface it looks like another way of putting a PowerPoint presentation together. But when you start to use the record button to narrate, and the laser pointer tool to highlight the parts of your presentation, now you have a video that really brings your audience in. You can draw, narrate and highlight all in real time, so that your presentation comes to life as it progresses. Here is another one of my favourite application types that start with a blank canvas, and is only limited by your imagination.

Quiet Time, Just Be Time

I’m going to take some time away from technology for this post. And that’s saying something! I’m big on technology, but I’m also big on ‘balance’.

I think we all know that there is something beneficial about meditation for adults and children. Few would be able to deny that an investment of a few minutes in meditation has calming and centring effects. But how can this really work in a school?

I recently attended an evening of professional learning on meditation in schools. What did I take away from this? Meditation can be simple and yet it is powerful. Meditation can take many forms and everyone has their own spin on it. You can have scripture lead meditation, imagery lead meditation and chanting meditation. There are teachers who are very good at these forms of meditation and have had great returns from trying these. But the form that I am most interested in is Silent meditation. Time to ‘just be’. Some schools call it ‘Quiet Time’. Have a look at this video of how a school has been transformed because of Quiet Time…

Nothing can take the place of silence and time to ‘just be’ – not to take anything away from scripture based meditation or meditating via ‘walkthrough imagery’. There’s a place for those. But being silent and spending time with your own thoughts has some irreplaceable benefits. And despite it’s simplicity, it can be very difficult. It can probably be more difficult for adults because we have learnt to remain busy. We tend to be critical of freeing ourselves to just stop.

Even though the process of Silent meditation is simple, it’s a hard one to learn. But we need it, and our students need it. Like I said, I’m big on technology but I also think it’s important to ‘switch off’, to re-charge ourselves. Is that an oxymoron?… Well you know what I mean! There is so much going on in our lives and so many things we are juggling at once. So many things we are monitoring. So many devices that are keeping us informed. So many ways to communicate and keep in touch. Our students have a lot going on too. If mum and dad are busy, that flows onto the children. So many activities to be involved in, in and out of the school. Not to mention TV, game consoles, mobile devices…

And where does God fit into all of this? Silent meditation can the conduit to prayerful thoughts. But it’s not forced. Allowing oneself to ‘just be’ can be the perfect channel.

And just like any other area of the curriculum, it needs to be learnt. We don’t expect it to be a perfect 10 minutes of Zen from the beginning. Meditation has to be practised and nurtured. The teachers who spoke the other night suggested to start small, say, a minute. And gradually build it as the students become more comfortable with the silence. It can take months, the schools attested but there are tangible benefits. The research has shown that it is not only beneficial during those quiet minutes of a meditation session, but has lasting effects on the rest of the day (mentioned in the above video).

So what is the process? Begin by taking your students through the posture. Quiet Time does not mean we are drifting off into sleep. Our posture needs to be supported in an upright sitting position. Small children can sit cross legged on the floor in a circle. Older children can sit in their chairs, both feet flat footed on the floor, hands resting on their thighs, head straight. Eyes are closed. The teacher can bring awareness to breathing and being mindful of our posture. It can be helpful to address the fact that you are going to hear sounds from the hallway, weather or electronic noises. We are not expected to avoid hearing them – just to acknowledge them briefly and not to dwell on them. You can use a bell or ‘singing bowl’ or chimes to start and end the period of silence. The teacher does not read anything or try to put images into the student’s head. That’s the beauty of it – do nothing!

The professional learning last week was punctuated by a quote from the Dalai Lama. “If every 8 year old in the world is taught meditation, we will eliminate violence from the world within one generation.” It would be lovely to test him out on this proposal!

Teacher’s Digital Tools ‘Showcase’

iEmpower, iTeach, iLearn

Last night, in place of a staff meeting, we held a Staff Digital Tools ‘Showcase’. Not an Expo. Our team who organised this event, was very consciously avoiding the term Expo. We didn’t want to call it an Expo because and Expo can be seen as something driven by experts.

The aim of the Showcase was to give teachers a chance to share and learn the many digital tools that are available today. In fact, our catch phrase or motto was “iEmpower, iTeach, iLearn”. This wasn’t a techie event that put an emphasis on the technical aspects of the tools. It was a non-threatening share time. Teachers of all points along the ‘digital tools journey’ were invited to present something that works for them. Some teachers have had some early success with blogs. Some have dabbled in Twitter. Some had made a go of Edmodo in their classroom. No one had to be an expert to present – just the generosity to share what they know. Isn’t this what we expect of our students? To take a risk and have a go? We make the assumption that everyone has something to offer.

What did it look like?

We set up our school hall with tables and chairs for showcase ‘booths’. Teachers could present a tool, but everyone was able to be a participant learner too. We had 2 sessions for each digital tool. If you presented during session 1, you could then choose a tool to learn about in session 2 and vice-verse. We the following tools to choose from…

  • Edmodo – class collaboration
  • Blogs – sharing the learning
  • Twitter and Pinterest for Professional Learning
  • Literacy Web Resources
  • Mathletics – teacher tools to personalise the learning
  • Explain Everything App and the Flipped Classroom

We have had some terrific feedback already. Those who were tentative about it before the event, were commenting on how the feeling of the afternoon was very easy-going but enthusiastic at the same time! Some other feedback was along the lines of “when are we doing this again?”

It all points to this sort of learning as being the most authentic and effective. Professional learning that is self driven and inquiry based is always going to beat the guru standing at the pulpit delivering a message from on high.

Finding Your Learner’s Voice (Becoming Globally Connected)

Here are some great thoughts about teachers giving themselves the liberty and validity to tweet or blog their own ideas. In a very short video, you can see how a blog works and you’ll quickly see why classes have adopted this to communicate their learning…

Then, pair this thought with the new found power in a teacher’s or student’s global voice. Twitter can be included in this discussion, as well as Blogs. If you were wondering “What would little ‘ol me be able to tell the world?”, then watch this next video…

I urge teachers and classes to either look at beginning with Twitter or Blogging (or both). Now is a very good time to dip the toe in. Teachers and students are exploring this potent connectedness all over the world right now.

If you’re wanting to dip your toe into Twitter – keep in mind that there are two ways of going about this. The first one is for professional learning and connecting with other educators. Fabulous professional reading can be found in Twitter. The second is to share the learning that’s happening in your class. The two approaches have different audiences and should be set up with this in mind. If you want a class Twitter account, set it up with the appropriate name (possibly the class name @address). If you’re setting it up for professional learning, I’d set it up with your own name (or nickname) in mind. And if you’re setting up two accounts, then you can manipulate both accounts on your phone or device, no problem! I switch between the @StAgathasPS and my own twitter account (@amcd72) all the time, depending which audience I want to tweet to. And it’s not that difficult.

The Flipped Classroom

Teachers are hearing more and more about the concept of the ‘Flipped Classroom’. Technology has made this possible with the availability of video and made especially easy with students having 1:1 mobile devices. I came across this particularly good summary of the Flipped Classroom but there are a few YouTube videos that do an even better job at explaining the benefits of this.

With the 1:1 year 5s this year, they have been able to delve into the Flipped Classroom idea. They combine the use of iPad apps such as Explain Everything, the use of YouTube videos and the web-based workflow solution called ‘Stile’. The students themselves have reported that they enjoy the freedom of watching an instructional video and responding with some form of activity. The freedom is what makes this appealing for them. They can pause, rewind and rewatch the video as much as they like – no pressure and taking the time they need, at the pace they feel comfortable with. We know that when we have questioning sessions in the classroom, there are some students who will opt out of contributing. Some dislike the fast paced environment and are afraid of not having the answers quick enough. Even when teachers are mindful of this and give plenty of ‘think’ time in between questions, some students don’t like to let everyone know that they don’t have an answer. The Flipped Classroom is a saviour for these students. I have only focused on one benefit. There are many more benefits as you’ll see in this YouTube video by Katie Gimbar…

Flipped Classroom

Created by Knewton and Column Five Media

Pyjama Day

This is a quick video of how our Pyjama Day Parade finished up. It’s great when we can let our hair down and have some fun together. Our main goal was to raise money for the Vinnies Winter Appeal but it’s also done in a fun way that brings the school together as a group.

Starting Digital Literacy before the horse bolts

We’ve tipped our toe into the twitter sphere. I began using twitter a couple of years ago and saw how it can enable professional learning in such a targeted and self directed way. It’s been a challenge to convince others that it doesn’t have to be a medium where you’re bombarded with trivial tid-bits like  finding out what Brittany Spears had for breakfast. But we now have quite a few teachers who are using twitter regularly for professional reading. The question for many is now, “Do we introduce Twitter to our students too?”

My recent trip to Brisbane, EduTech 2013, gave me the opportunity to ‘masterclass’ with Alan November (@globalearner). One of the messages from this session was how important it is for educators to embrace Digital Literacy as one of the many ‘literacies’ that we teach. One such skill that is part of digital literacy is that of being able to communicate effectively to a wide audience. Twitter can provide the ‘voice’. But why start so early? Some teachers are giving their 5 year old students opportunities to tweet. Why can’t we wait until they are adults to figure out the social media dos and don’ts?

The answer, I believe, lies in the building up of Digital Citizens or Global Learners or Global Stewardship. We have begun a 1:1 program in Year 5 this year. BTW, I liked Alan November’s rephrase of this. He calls it a ‘1 to the world’ program. Did you notice my subtle inclusion of the twitter friendly acronym? Anyhow, it has become increasingly obvious to us that beginning a child’s journey into the use of 1:world devices needs to start earlier than the teenage years. When talking to parents of teenage students (often the older siblings of our current year 5’s) they grieve over their child being taken over by technology. Smart phones, tablets, any kind of mobile technology is ruling their lives. This group of children have skipped the Cybersafety and Digital Citizenship curriculum in primary school (because it wasn’t on the radar then) and are expected to be able to deal with the onslaught of mobile technology right when they are ‘finding themselves’ as young adults. It’s like they are the Lost Generation.

It provides very strong evidence to begin a child’s digital literacy, Global Learner Training and Stewardship at an age where they can start embedding some good behaviours. Some educators believe that Year 3s are a good age to embed the sort of behaviours that will allow them to deal with mobile technology with well-being in mind. We hope this would sufficiently equip them to be ethical users of technology when they become teenagers.