24 articles Tag COETAIL

The Importance Of Taking Safe Risks

A few weekends ago (how time flies!) I attended a COETAIL and EARCOS weekend workshop entitled ‘Authentic Assessment and Digital Media in the Classroom‘. Our COETAIL instructor Kim Cofino and a guest from New Zealand, Andrew Churches presented the workshop to a full house of educators from all over Asia. I personally got a lot out of the workshop, most notably how important it is to be explicit with your students. I learned the importance of rubrics and developing them with your students. I also learned how important peer and self evaluation is and plan to implement all of these strategies in my class. I actually just developed a rubric with my Grade 6 class for a task they just started. It was surprising how quickly they picked it up and now it is very clear to the students how they can produce excellent (not perfect, Andrew taught us very few instances of anything are perfect)work, it couldn’t much clearer to the students.

While at the workshop, I got switched onto many other tools that will help me. One study that was mentioned about the benefits of project based learning particularly caught my attention and I can’t wait to read more about it. Another tool was a set of four posters that Andrew showed us on the 4 lenses of instructional design. I was particularly drawn to the ‘community centered’ poster because I always encourage my students to question and take safe risks. In fact, after just finishing my reports, I had actually written it in quite a few of them that the student must try to take safe risks. I when using technology and considering it’s ever changing landscape, you can’t be afraid to try things for yourself and see how they turn out. Press that button, click that link, go through the menus and see if you can work it out for yourself, you wont break it! So as a reminder to myself and my students, I hung this poster up in my classroom and remind them at every chance I get to take safe risks, to explore and to work things out for themselves as much as possible. Thank you Andrew and Kim for such a great workshop!

– – –

Image from the National Academies Press free ebook How Students Learn (2005), Licensed under Creative Commons by davidz and AlaskaTeacher.

A Practical Guide To Sharing On The Internet

So much hype, mystique and fear surrounds sharing on the internet. As a result, it can be hard to know what is OK to post and what isn’t. Some teachers and students can be scared to share their work online. Others over share. It can be hard to strike a balance, know where to draw the line and be confident in your decisions when publishing.

A few teachers at my school (Garry Baker, Hiromi Hosoi, Joy Seed and myself) realized these problems were very prominent in our school. Administration had mentioned it, teachers had mentioned it and we felt it was important for students to see it. So we decided to develop a poster to help our community and other communities be confident when publishing by developing publishing guidelines.

 


  

These guidelines are designed to be used in all types of publishing situations, online and offline. They are good for students, but they hear these messages all the time. I think this poster will be the most powerful for teachers and give them some confidence when publishing their own or other peoples work online.

Please feel free to use this poster, it was designed to be used in any school. I made it A3 size so that it can be printed large without pixelating. All I ask is that you credit the teachers that created it when you use it.

Finding My Audience

Recently at a PD session one of my colleagues asked me how he should promote his website. He had just developed his own website and wanted to know how he could spread the word that he had a meaningful place for educators to come. He wanted people all around the world to see it.

This was a hard question to answer as I feel I’m still searching for the answer to this question myself. My online persona has really developed over the last 12 months but I still feel I have a long way to go. I went from writing a blog that no one looked at, let alone commented on and after a few months, I nearly gave up. I really had reservation about writing and sharing when nobody was actually reading my work. I monitored my traffic using Google Analytics, a very comprehensive and amazingly free tool that helps track everything about the traffic that is coming to your site. You can find out where in the world your traffic is coming from, what platform they are using (Mac is winning for me on 52% of my total traffic), what browser people are accessing my site from (Safari coming in victorious with a 40% share), what percentage of traffic is new traffic, how long the average page view is, what is the most accessed page and the list goes on.

 

My first few weeks of writing on my blog, my traffic peaked at 13 visitors in one day.

 

I find now that slowly, my results are increasing. But why? I post more, which really helps I think. But I also think it’s my other online accounts that I link to and from that also help. Having a Twitter, Flickr, Vimeo, Slideshare, Google+ and Diigo accounts with the same username have all helped drive more traffic to my site in some form or another. I’ve develop an online persona, ‘Mister Norris’ and I think it’s started to help bump up the traffic that comes into my site. Plus now I’m getting comments, retweets and track backs to posts I have created. For me, these are all how I measure the success of my site.

Another way I have found that helps develop more followers on Twitter and more traffic to my site (I think Twitter friends and site traffic go hand in hand) is actual face to face meetings with people. If you have that real world, physical relationship then an online one feels more natural and more likely to comment on what you are saying online. Meeting people at PD sessions, presenting PD sessions, our amazing COETAIL meetings, etc. have all helped me build real world relationships which have stemmed to online relationships, which I find are much more meaningful relationships and authentic audiences.

So this is what I can recommend but I’m curious, how do you reach your audience and drive an authentic, organic audience to your site? Leave a comment below with your experiences. I’m sure I’ve got a lot to learn!

Paperless – How I Teach From The Cloud

This school year, I made a conscious decision to go paperless. Last year I carried around my computer to every class, a planner and a pen. I constantly lost the pen or the planner. I used a LOT of paper. On top of that, if I wanted to check when I completed a lesson, I’d have to flick through my planner, find the task then find when I started and fished. I dreamed of the time when I could do a search of my planner. If I was sick, I didn’t know what I would have been teaching that day for a sub because all of my plans were at work, inside that folder. I was an ICT teacher that was carrying a paper planner around, not really the best example to my students or the other staff. Surely this could be done digitally?

 

Google Calendar

I knew there had to be a better way. So I stared to work out ways to digitally manage my work. Our school fully implemented Google Apps this school year, so I went full steam ahead with Google Calendar. I inputted every class I teach, every meeting I attend, every assembly I’m at and anytime I have a work related event on. I sync this with my iPhone and with iCal on my personal computer. Hey presto, I’m now super organized, wherever I am, whatever device I’m using. I know what I’m teaching when, I know if I have cancelled classes and I can even set reminders for specific classes with a few quick clicks. For example, a reminder to me that a classes homework was due before the class. Or a reminder to mark homework before a class starts. Or a reminder to a student to complete a task they haven’t finished. I can do all of that while sitting in my office. Or if I get an idea before I go to bed at night on my personal computer. Or even while on a train on my iPhone.

The other way I utilized Google Calendar this year was with my parent teacher conferences (PTC). I created appointment slots on my calendar. Then I posted links at the school office and links in the school newsletter letting parents know they can book a conference with me online, from the comfort of their own home. Previously for middle and high school PTC’s I’ve had to carry a paper schedule around with me and students would have to find me, then ask me if they can book a time on my schedule. In the kindergarten and junior school, the specialists post a schedule on their classroom door and parents come and make a booking. The hard part about this scenario is that I teach in both the kindergarten, junior school, middle school and high school. So I would have to be carrying my schedule in the middle and high school which would not allow parents in the kindergarten and junior school to make bookings. Having it online streamlines the whole process and gives a lot more flexibility to the parents and students. They can see at anytime if I am free or not and how best to schedule their appointments.

 

Evernote

I then needed a way to plan my lessons. I teach each students from K4 through to Grade 7 once a week, along with four periods of middle school options classes and two periods of yearbook classes. This is a LOT of classes to get through in one week and quite difficult to work out a way to plan it, that works for me. Coming from a classroom teachers position, it was a totally different way of planning with many short lessons per week needed to be planned rather than longer chunks of time or set reading/math groups.

Last year I did all of my planning in my planner. I made a page (which turned into pages) where I would list all of the lessons I planned to teacher to a specific grade, with a box next to it to write in the start and finish date of each project. I used this more for long term planning purposes. Then I had a calendar section in my planner where I had a weekly overview per double page. At the bottom of the double page I would write down the lesson I planned to teach that week to each grade.

This system worked but it was time consuming. I found I was doing a lot of double writing. Whenever I made a mistake I would have to cross things out and write over the top of them the lesson I planned to teach in the limited space I had left. If I wanted to add a more detailed description of a lesson I’d have to scribble it in a margin. And rearranging lessons was a nightmare!

So I planned to do this all on my computer. This would make the doubling of information much more tolerable with copy and paste. I would also be able to search, expand a description, add notes to lessons, delete and archive easily and many other advantages of having work in a digital format. I just wasn’t sure how I would do it. Then I found the solution, Evernote. I had been using Evernote to stay organized for about a year. I had lists of Christmas present ideas for my family, I had list of songs I liked, I had to do lists, shopping lists, etc. I had taken away all of the sticky notes I used to use (physical and software versions) and merged them all together in one neat package, Evernote.

Evernote is very simple software that organizes your notes. A simple word processing tool that also collates and saves your notes for you. A good thing about Evernote is that all of your notes are together in one place. The best thing about Evernote is that you can download and run this software on any device you choose. So just like Google Calendars, I use Evernote at work on my Macbook, at home on my personal Macbook Pro and on the run on my iPhone.

I utilized the stack feature so that I have two main stacks in Evernote, private notebooks and work related notebooks. In the work stack I have two notebooks, one for school related notes (to do lists, things to share in future meetings, substitute plans, etc.) and another that I have named lessons. In the lessons notebook, I have one note per week of the school year. Inside that I have a list of all of the classes I teach in age order. Underneath each class I write my lesson in. This is constantly updated, usually straight after a class so I know what to teach the follow week. So when I show up to a class, I can open up my computer or get out my iPhone, go to the lessons notebook, click the week we are in and I have my lesson plan outlined. I’ve been doing this for fifteen weeks now and I find this an excellent way to stay organized. I have a searchable list of all of the lessons that I have taught. I can copy and paste if a class is cancelled or if it carries on for longer than expected. I can adapt my lesson plan straight away to add what was actually taught in the lesson as opposed to what I planned to teach. I can plan weeks in advance without worrying about having to cross something out. It is the ultimate organization tool.

An interesting side note, I was telling a friend from Tokyo International School about Evernote and how I use it to teach. He started to use and it loved it, so showed his administration how he was using it. They liked it so much that they bought premium accounts for all of their staff!

 

Google Docs

If I am ever at work and I need a word processor, I reach straight for Google Docs. If someone sends me a Word file or PDF as an attachment and I need to save it, then I upload it straight to Google Docs. If I need to make a marking sheet or a form/survey, I go straight to Google Docs. I think Google Docs is amazing, the real time collaboration and having everything in the cloud really sells it for me. Now if I need to access a file or a schedule or a form, all I have to do is find a browser, any browser, and I can access it. I can be at home in Australia on my parents computer, I can be overseas in an internet cafe, I can be on my phone in the faculty room.

People grumble about Google Docs, they say it’s not fully featured. They say the formatting is a nightmare and they criticize their tables. But for me personally, I haven’t found a thing that I have needed to do that Google Docs can’t do. And if I there was something I couldn’t do, I would do it in Pages or Word, save it as a PDF and upload it to Google Docs anyway! Plus the other thing I like is

Working with Google Docs also alleviated my need to backup my computer* because if it crashed, Google would have all of my documents in the cloud. It saves me having double and triple versions of working files. It lets me easily and efficiently share and collaborate documents with students and colleagues. It let’s me review revision history. I couldn’t be more impressed or recommend it enough.

 

Firefox Sync

I am the master of customization. I need my machine customized to my needs on all of the computer I use. Nothing frustrates me more than constant pop ups, re-entering passwords over and over, my special gestures not working, foreign keyboards, etc. One part of my computing that I customize a lot is my browser. At work I predominately use Firefox, so I have it synced with my Firefox account on my home computer. Firefox describes sync asa service that lets you synchronize your bookmarks, history, passwords and open tabs with another copy of Firefox – like one on another computer or on a mobile phone”. By syncing my browser at home with my browser at work, I have access to all of my shortcuts in my bookmark toolbar, I have my full history so I can search it if I need it, all of my passwords auto fill and I can access the tabs I am using across devices.

 

Others

Of course, I use other services too such as Gmail, Diigo, WordPress, etc. but the main ways I reduce paper and teach from the cloud are through Google Calendar, Evernote, Google Docs and Firefox Sync. I use them everyday because they help me to avoid wasting paper, keeping all of my work organized and make my teaching easily accessible from anywhere I am, at any time. And the best part about it is that all of these services are free! So give them a try yourself and let me know how it goes.

 

– – –

*I still backup my computer, I’m just not as worried about it because there is not that much on the hard drive that I need if I lost it now that majority of my work is saved in the cloud.

Copyright and Creative Commons

Last year I decided to start teaching Copyright and Creative Commons. The lessons went well as I also linked it to a unit on creating effective presentations. First the students learned about Copyright from a range of source. One of the main ones we used was Brainpop’s video on Copyright.

Then as a class we watch this video on Creative Commons, it helps lay out Copyright and Creative Commons in a simple and visual way.

 

 

After watching the video and getting a broad background of the topic, I had them research Creative Commons a little more and then create a presentation on what Creative Commons is. In their assignment, they had attribute correctly and only use images with the correct Creative Commons licenses.

 

 

What resources do you use to teach your students about Copyright and Creative Commons? Leave your ideas in the comment section below.

The Internet Boogyman – Putting Online Predators Into Perspective

Recently I read the book Protecting Your Children on the Internet: A Road Map for Parents and Teachers by Gregory S. Smith. My department head gave it to me to borrow so that those that are in my office would have a shared knowledge of a specific view of internet safety issues.

For those that are less technology savvy, the book provides an outline to most major technologies and how they work. It outlines strategies for ensuring students are safe online and it has a graphic section of examples of children that were not being safe online. Some parts of the book are interesting to read. I think the outline is great for parents and teachers to read so they can quickly get up to speed with current technologies students are using. I also think some of the procedures that Mr. Smith outline to stay safe, like setting up accounts for each one of your children on your computer, setting clear guidelines for internet use, keeping track of your child’s accounts, etc. are good points. I also like some of the statistics that he outlines in his book.

On the other hand, I find his view very conservative and scare mongering at times. I totally disagree with installing key logging software and steal spy software on home computers to keep track of what your children are doing on their computer as completely over the top and uncalled for. He also outlines many times how easy it predators as well as how dangerous it can be by making the smallest of mistakes.

Scare mongering tactics likes this insight media to focus on the negative aspects of the internet, social media and a range of other online services. I think this has a very negative effect because for those that are not educated in the area, it arouses a lot of fear and emotions. When in actual fact, it’s not like that at all. But my problem always was that, I could never find any facts or figures that were unbiased and not drenched in fear or hype. Until I read an article in The Daily Best named The Myth Of Online Predators by Lenore Skenazy. Now I finally have the fodder I needed when discussing these issues. The amazing article breaks down the stigma, emotion and fear of online stalkers and gives us some statistics and facts surrounding online predators (I love statistics!). My favourite is:

 

 “Millions of people under age 18 joined the
online world, and 107 more creeps were
arrested for soliciting them.”

 

Another fact was that internet usage amongst juveniles rose 20% in the five year period of one of the studies she mentioned, while the number of arrests of predators soliciting actual youth went up by 21%. That means there was roughly a 1% rise in arrested predators soliciting youth, when compared to the number of juveniles online.

Another mental picture bought up in the article was the idea of predators trolling through social media websites looking for children would have about as much luck as flicking through the phone book and asking children on a date. I think it’s interesting when you make a comparison like that because it puts it into context for someone that is not a digital native.

I think these notions help put some of the scare mongering tactics into perspective. Of course, I’m not saying that the internet should be open slather for children, obviously there are still many dangers associate with internet use by children and juveniles. It’s like the ocean, if you respect it, know your limits and don’t do anything silly, it can be an amazing experience.

It reminds me of a time a parent spoke to me about her daughter. She said her daughter is old enough to have a facebook account but they weren’t sure if they would allow it. Her question was, “is facebook safe?” We didn’t have time to chat, but I pondered the question personally. I came to the conclusion that facebook is like driving. Yes it’s could be dangerous if you are reckless and have no regard for yourself of others. But if you know how to drive and follow a few common sense rules, it can have a very large, positive outcomes on your life. Would you restrict your child from driving, simply because there could be a chance that they could become reckless and get hurt?

Letting Go – Putting My Real Name Out There

I had a totally different angle I was going to address this post from. I was going to outline how I’m empowering my students to develop their own positive online presence, while remaining safe by posting anonymously. I was then going to go into the details of how I created my own online persona to cultivate a positive online presences, all while maintain my privacy. But after reading a lot of articles about digital footprints and digital shadows and especially after the discussion I was a part of at a recent COETAIL meeting and reading, I finally decided to put my real name out there for everyone to find. From now on, I am not going to hide the fact that my full name is Mitchell Norris and I’m an ICT specialist teacher that works in Tokyo. And it feels good to get that off my chest!

Footprint in concrete on sidewalk. By Tobias Titz.

To promote that the Mister Norris persona was really Mitchell Norris, I went onto the about me section of my blog which can be found above, and added my full name in there. I changed the name of the image of me to my real name too. I understand that the image is only a drawing (a great one done by one of the kindergarten students) and not an actual photo, but it’s my first steps at putting my real name out there and I still have to think through the ramifications of putting a real photos of myself out there. Baby steps.

Next I went to my Twitter account and modified the description so that it included my full name in it. I have also been avoiding a LinkedIn account as it’s just another social network to manage that I feel I would not get much in return for, plus I would have to use my full name, which I was avoiding in the past. But maybe that’s my next step, is to develop a LinkedIn account with my real name. There are a few other steps I am thinking about pursuing as well, but for now, these three small changes should promote my real name and allow others to track me back to my current online persona much easier.

So why am I doing this you ask? Well I fully understood the idea of a digital footprint. And I also have a strong grasp of why I should develop a positive online presence, as you can see by simply searching ‘Mister Norris‘. If you do that search, you will see my website comes up as the first entry. Also on the first page you will find my Twitter account, Slideshare account, Vimeo account and my Google+ account along with a host of different post from this blog. Even my Diigo account comes up on the second page. But if you don’t search the exact term ‘Mister Norris’, if you put in ‘Mr Norris’ or ‘Mitchell Norris’ or ‘Mitch Norris’, there is no way to track it back to me. If I meet someone and I tell them to check my website, then it could be difficult for them to find me. If I tell a student to go to my website, despite my constant attempts to make them write in the full URL in the address bar, they usually default to a Google search. Currently if they put in ‘Mr Norris’ like they are used to seeing written everywhere, they can not find what they are looking for. If they Google my name to get some leads, they still can not find what they are looking for.

Connections. By Google.

The other problem is, if on the off chance there was something negative posted about me online, under my full name, I would not have any positive online presence to counteract it. This is a big concern as it’s not very hard for a careless person to post something misleading or derogatory without thinking about the ramification. If I have a positive presence to counteract this, hopefully it can eclipse anything negative that may surface.

So there you have it, my training wheels are off and I am going at it full steam to develop not only a digital persona, but a positive self image of myself, Mitchell Norris.

A School Website Created By Students, For Students

As the final project for course 1 of COETAIL, the teachers had to get together into groups and come out with a project. So while at The Networked Educator weekend PD, I had a brainwave. I thought it would be an amazing idea to develop a wiki, maintain and develop by students, for new students, new teachers and in fact anyone in the community to get tips on the best goods and services in Tokyo. For example, the best pizza restaurant, the best bakery, the best supermarket, the best cinemas, the best shrines and so on. We could add a brief history of certain areas of Tokyo, maps, basic Japanese language lessons and so on.

I pitched the idea to the other teachers at my school that are also doing the COETAIL course: Miss Seed (a social studies teacher), Mr. Baker (a history teacher) and Hosoi Sensei (a Japanese teacher) as each of their students could contribute a large part to the wiki. They loved the idea so we started brainstormed the possibilities. As we started talking, the idea evolved into a website maintain by all of the students in the school. And instead of having just recommendations, we decided to develop it into a school website, that is made by the students, for the students and the greater community. It would be less formal than the official website and all of the content would be created and managed by the students, the teachers would have no say (within reason) what goes onto the site because it wouldn’t be theirs, it would be the students.

We thought this would be a great way to empower the students, involve all the students and teachers of the school in the process and develop a closer community not only with the students, but with the wider community as they could see first hand what the students are doing at special events, interesting features of the school, etc.

So we got together and develop the following unit outline:

 

 

Open publication – Free publishingMore coetail

We actually wrote up the unit very quickly as we were all thinking along the same line, from chats at COETAIL meetings as well as on the trips down and back from YIS. We are all very excited to start the ball rolling, I have actually started a lesson with one Grade 7 class where we brainstormed the name of the website and will start with the design of the heading/logo. In one of my Grade 6 classes, I plan to do a website design lesson to develop an understanding of the layout of a good website so that we can develop the structure of the website. Once we have the site up and running, we can start inviting other students in other classes and grade to develop the content. Hopefully by the end of the school year, we should have a functional and up and running website that we can share with the world.

Community Building Around Technology

Being inspired with Kim Cofino’s post on ‘engaging the parent community‘, our department decided it would be a good idea to engage our parents. On Thursday September 3rd we will be having a parent information session, loosely based on digital citizenship that we hope can cover a lot of bases including privacy, the students new digital portfolios, 21st century learners and a lot more (if we get the time!). The presentation has been weighing a lot on my thoughts as of last and as I was reading through the NETS for students essential conditions, I realized that we are meeting a lot of them with this information session.

SHARED VISION

We can help construct a shared vision between our department and the parent community. Hopefully we can both have our opinions heard and begin striving towards excellence in education for the students.

 

EMPOWERED LEADERS

By empowering the parents with knowledge, we can develop effective change.

 

ONGOING PROFESSIONAL LEARNING

By giving the students portfolios, they have time to share their ideas with their parents, teachers and other students.

 

STUDENT CENTERED LEARNING

By having the students develop their own reflections to any piece of work they choose, the emphasis is taken away from the front of the room and back to the student and their thoughts.

 

ENGAGING COMMUNITIES

This one is pretty self explanatory and probably the main goal of the presentation.

 

I’m really looking forward to spending time with the middle school parents and hearing their opinions, helping them develop their knowledge and expressing our direction. I hope that a lot of parents are able to attend and are as excited as I am!

Education Of The Future

Working in international schools, it’s amazing to have such motivated, driven and focused students. It’s easy to forget that tradition education practices are no longer the best ways to educate these students because they are getting great test scores, they are attentive in class with little to no behavioral problems and they are being accepted to very prestigious universities. But are these students really learning, or are they just doing what’s necessary for them to make it the next step in their life, be it a transition from elementary school to middle school, high school to university or university into the workforce? Basically, are students just using school as a means to an end?

 

The Factory Model Of Education

Factory Workers from The U.S. National Archives

I believe the tradition education model does not encourage or foster life long learning. I believe it does not adapt well enough to every student in a school. I believe that a lot of students figure out what they have to know, then after they are tested on this knowledge they forget it and figure out what they have to remember next. Remembering is not learning. I think the sooner we acknowledge that the better.

Steve Denningbelieves that this is attributed to the factory model of education, where everything is arranged for the scalability and efficiency of “the system”, to which the students, the teachers, the parents and the administrators have to adjust. “The system” grinds forward, at ever increasing cost and declining efficiency, dispiriting students, teachers and parents alike. It rewards test scores as opposed to learning or development of knowledge. Standardized test scores are the way that students are evaluated. For the few students that can learn the content of their course in preparation for a test, can they actually adapt that knowledge? Can they analyze the information and recruit higher order thinking skills to apply the knowledge? Like Will Richardson so eloquently puts it, “high test scores do not equal learning“.

 

Defining Education

If we shift our thinking to change what we define success in education as, then we can redefine what education is. Prakash Nair believes we should instead define education as “developing skills to navigate a fast-changing world“. So then education should be: Teaching students how to learn.

Despite it seeming like such a daunting task to undertake, the Finnish education systems seems to be shifting in the right direction. While reading an article on Smithsonian.com about why Finnish students perform so well on standardized tests, I found what Pasi Sahlberg, a former math and physics teacher who is now in Finland’s Ministry of Education and Culture said really hit the nail on the head for me.


“We prepare children to learn how to learn,
not how to take a test.”



He goes on to say that he is not bothered by the test scores and that the education of the students is what’s most important. This is what we should be aiming for. This is where successful school will shine. This is where successful students will graduate. This is the education of the future.

 

Continue reading →