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!