Documenting one class' approach to creating online courses for students by students...
Things had been going well in the research phase of our online courses with the kids really getting into taking notes and using lots of good sources of information. Today we began working on putting the content online and today was the first day I felt we were going nowhere. In an hour and a half of working on it, I began to doubt this idea of students creating their own online course. I doubted my kids but in reality, I was doubting myself.
With all that my students had done this year in terms of student voice, I thought this was the next step and when I wasn't seeing their research translate onto their sites today, I didn't think it was going to work. I thought this wasn't the right approach and my students might not even be fully understanding the content. The question of 'Do I just abandon this project?' kept playing over and over and over in my head. It was heartbreaking to think this idea might not be working the way 'I' want it to.
Before I headed off to my dodgeball CCA today, I had a brief conversation with my teammate who followed up with an email full of support and suggestions of how I could reroute if I had to. Still then, I wasn't sure to jump ship or stay on course and plough ahead.
It had been a frustrating afternoon, to say the least. But when I sat down at my computer tonight to look through a bit of the student's work, something kind of changed. I read through a few of my students' weekly emails to me. Every single email mentioned the project and how much fun they were having. They were thrilled to be building a site and working as a team. Every slide on the weekly reflection presentation to parents had a comment about how excited they were about the project or that they wanted to do more of it or how much they were learning or how much fun they were having.
Maybe it's not quite going the way I had expected. Maybe it won't really work out in the end. Maybe I can change it up a bit and figure out a slightly different approach. But does it matter if they don't learn every single fact about ecosystems in the next 4 weeks? Maybe not. Today I had students searching for images that had permission to be reused and modified instead of just any pictures. I had students helping students and trying new strategies for presenting their work. I had students wanting to find out information about things that interested them within a broader topic and paraphrasing notes. Those are skills that will last beyond the unit and end of the day.
When it comes down to it, it's not all about the content, maybe all that really matters is that my students are excited to be there and they are having fun.
Making groups isn't easy as a teacher. You try to balance the boy/girl ratio, abilities, special needs, interests, and everything else that might affect the group dynamic. You want your students to be successful when working as a team rather than spending more time about who's going to do which job.
Our class previously had discussions about the needs for diverse teams as part of our design thinking cycle during our inventions unit. Basically what it came down to is 'your best friend isn't necessarily your best teammate'. We talked a lot about how we need to have groups with different abilities, talents and most importantly different perspectives. Different perspectives were important so that each teammate could look at the challenge from a different view and give unique insight to the team, which would be in turn push the thinking more within the group more. In terms of making groups, I usually allow my students to create their own as long as it's diverse and is a group that can be productive, which usually works out as my students enjoy that freedom to choose.
This time I decided to have a slightly different approach to the team building process. I outlined 8 jobs that that thought might be useful in the group throughout the project. Each job had some expectations.
1. Leader - Overall leader of the group but not the 'boss'. Makes sure group is moving forward. Communicates challenges to the teacher.
2. Encourager - Stays positive. Encourages others to participate, share and work as a team.
3. Materials Minder - Gather materials as needed.
4. Time Keeper - Use the timer to help the group be aware of time. Provide the team 5-minute warnings, etc. when the time is coming to an end.
5. Organiser - Helps to organise team documents and items.
6. Techspert - Provides tech support and guidance to those in need.
7. Task Minder - Makes sure everyone is on task and focused.
8. Planner - Helps to lead the group in what's next for the group.
After I shared the different tasks and we discussed each one, I had students rank themselves on a scale of 1 to 5 with 1 being an area of growth and 5 being a major glow. Based on their glows and grows, it was easy to see students strengths and areas of development. This was very important to self-identify in order for making a successful team. I asked students to star the roles they had identified themselves with a 4 or 5.
We discussed that we all have areas of growth and strengths. It is important to surround ourselves with people who are stronger than us in our areas of growth and still working on things we are strong with. This will allow us to learn from each other.
The next task was for students to find a group of 4 that was diverse. The students self-identified as a 4 or 5 in a range of the areas in order to make their group. At first, I wasn't sure the students would really buy into this and just choose their friends but once we began, they were really looking at each others' lists and saying things like 'I'm sorry we are too much the same to work with each other' and 'We aren't alike so we should be in a group'. The groups worked out really well for the most part. 3 of the 4 groups are quite all around strong and diverse. The 4th group is a generally lower ability and will just receive a bit more teacher support in the end.
I wanted the team to bond a bit so I gave them some tasks - 1. Create a team name, divide the job and make a team chant or handshake. This was simply done as a way to watch the children interact with each other but primarily to build collaboration, communication and a sense of a cohesive team.
We've been working in the teams for a few days now and I haven't had any issues with any groups in terms of teamwork. Actually, I've had the opposite - many of the groups are more productive than the students when they work individually. In addition, my students are taking their roles quite seriously and I always have 4 timers in front of me within seconds of being set off to work to synchronise our timers. It will be interesting to see if these groups continue to grow in productivity as our time on the project goes on.
We’ve all felt it at some point or another - that feeling of excitement when a new project is starting, feeling inspired to try something new and that passion for teaching just can’t quite be contained.
As we begin a new semester, it’s hard not to feel such things. You come back from the holiday break re-energized and ready to go and you jump right back into things with extra gusto. Personally, jump feels like too light of a term here as I have fully submerged myself.
Currently, I am working on a full write up with two colleagues on our Battle 4 Chatz project we did the first semester where we created a game with 7 levels plus a boss level for our space and shape mathematics unit. Using the idea of gamification, we increased student engagement and productivity in a fun way for our Year 5 students. It's sometimes really rewarding to look back on what you've accomplished as a team and then be able to set new targets moving forward. We look forward to sharing our findings and resources once we finish in the coming weeks!
My students are currently driving the inquiry in the classroom with their personal projects and summative marketplace with a recipe book. In just two weeks, I can't wait to see how it all comes together.
In my next unit of inquiry just 2 weeks away, I plan on having my students lead the learning completely by creating their own online courses in groups. This will involve creating all the content in their course through research and then writing or finding creative ways of displaying their findings, creating the assessment tools and developing the layout of their online course. After they have created a course, they will switch courses with another group and beta test the online course while reflecting and providing feedback throughout the entire process. It is amazing me that when the plan is for the students to develop the unit, assessments and fully execute their plan, that it is actually making me plan more than I have for any other unit. I am nervous and eager to see how this goes and look forward to sharing our progress along the way.
I’ve got a few different things I would like to ‘apply’ to in the next month or so as well. With conferences, programmes and even considering masters in about a year’s time, there are lots of different options to consider. Sometimes it is hard to find the balance between all of these things and be patient knowing not all of them to have to happen in the next few months. Each application deserves the attention to detail and time and hopefully, something comes about from some of them. Unknowing the outcome makes the process nerve-wracking but always worth it. Even when you don’t get accepted to something, there’s usually something you can take away from the process.
This year has the potential to be great. It’s just getting started and these are just a few things that have me buzzing right now. I can’t wait to look back this time next year and be in awe of it all.
It's always hard when a student moves away but it is very much the reality of teaching in an international school setting. It's not always the case though that they leave your class a present either that changes the dynamic of the classroom and takes the class community in a whole new direction.
About a month or so ago, I had a few students ask me if we could get a class pet. I didn't say no but I didn't say yes either. I told them to come up with a plan and then we'd talk, which seems to be my go to line. I should also know by now that my particular group of students will always do that though.
It just so happened that one of my other students was leaving our school due to a parent's job relocation and needed to find a home for his pet hamster. In an instant, that proposal and research went into double speed.
First, a survey was created for the type of pet they wanted. Then, the students collaborated in making a Google Presentation for their proposal to the Head of Primary. In addition, an email was drafted to the Head of Primary to invite him to our proposal meeting and a letter was drafted to the parents to ask for volunteers to take the pet home on weekends. Each student researched a different part of the presentation.
When it came time to the proposal day, we again talked about the need to be persuasive and what that meant. We had the Head of Primary listen to our proposal with each student doing a portion of the presentation. Then came the green light to go forward with having a pet! So the only logical thing to do was to put on the Hamster Dance song and celebrate.
On Monday, we received our brand new addition to our class, our hamster Chubby. She is a very cute little hamster who my students have grown to love after only 1 week. We now have a Chubby Chart to split up the responsibilities each day and track who is on weekend duty. My students have also started a Chubby Scrapbook to document her adventures in Year 5.
Already, they have instantly become more responsible and really care about the well-being of our furry friend. They make sure she has enough food and water, clean her cage and let her run around in the ball on the floor during reading and writing time. They love Chubby and it is so sweet to see how the want to care for her and make her new life in our classroom enjoyable.
This is the first weekend Chubby has gone home with a family and even got to attend a sleepover with 4 of my students. I hope she comes back on Monday not too overwhelmed!
One of the things I never really did last year was reach out to other schools in other countries. As an international teacher with students from around the globe, it's something I feel is important. Students should have an understanding that the world is bigger than they are and that there are others who can help their learning grow outside of just your school community.
In our first unit of inquiry about communication systems, I was talking to my class about how I communicate with my family and friends back home by using Skype and FaceTime even though it was hard with the time differences. So of course, my students wanted to call my family. We set up a time to FaceTime at the start of one of my days and my students fired a ton of questions at my dad, and also my sister and niece who had a guest appearance during the call. Instantly, they loved being able to connect with the other side of the world.
We started mapping our connections we made using Google Maps Engine and plopped down my home onto the map.
Next, I arranged a Mystery Skype call with another school in Thailand. Each class prepared 10 questions to ask the other class. With each question, the class would gather more information and tried to furiously figure out where the other class was from and used their laptops to help them. In the end, we both successfully guessed where the other one was and onto our map went another point.
The students wanted to do another one but I had a harder time arranging one within a time zone we could call during school hours. In conjunction with the other teacher in New Zealand, we decided to create videos for the other class to watch. We each created a video with 10 clues and similarly we had to try and guess where the other school was located. These clues were quite tricky actually and really made students use their mapping skills and research skills online to successfully locate the school. It required a lot of collaboration and discussion amongst my students as well. Once we had guessed, the other school sent us more questions they wanted to know about our class, school and Singapore in a Google Document. With the collaborative feature of Google Apps for Education, we were able to respond easily and then generate some more questions about New Zealand and so on. This was really great to get some dialogue going with students and could be done whenever it was convenient in our class, not just a one time Skype call.
Our last connection so far this year was this past week to a school in Malaysia. This time we decided to mix it up a bit and play a math game between students at each school in small groups. We set up Padlets for each group and the students played a type of 'Guess Our Number' game using place and value. This one had some small bumps with lag time when the students posted responses but still was a fun way to connect and we are hoping we can play again with the school in a similar fashion later in the year.
I love the excitement my students get when trying to figure out where the other class is. Our technology allows us to connect students that never would've been able to connect before with as much ease. It's brought up a lot of discussion about different cultures, countries and quite simply geography. We are looking forward to our next global connection in any form it comes in.
About a month ago, our Year 5 team was approached with a new idea of how to engage students. Games. We all love games - there’s a sense of competition, challenge and a goal that you ultimately want to achieve by the end of it. The idea of challenges or quests allows students to feel like they are working towards something larger and with each quest they have accomplished something.
We decided this games based approach to learning might work best with our space and shape unit that was a stand-alone mathematics unit. The concept seemed like the students would love it but still, there were lots of questions and even more logistics to iron out as we went.
The concept: Class against class against class as they took over various locations of the school. While it started as a general and vague concept we were able to narrow down much of the details. The week of the game beginning was where a lot of the decisions actually came into play. There are 7 locations to gain possession of, each with a different topic, specific tasks and challenges associated with it. In order to gain possession, the class has to accumulate the most points.
We created a website as the point of interaction for students. Our homepage has a general outline of the game and each class has a google presentation learning journal that they can create/add to as we go. We also have the game map. Each week as a new level is introduced, we add a picture of the new takeover area as well as a graph comparing the 3 different teams points for that weeks topic. The graph updates in real time as the points change and are logged by the teacher.
Our first week was to introduce students to the game, build a team mentality and develop an understanding of symmetry. We had all of the Year 5s join in one classroom for our official launch where we introduced the game concept and showed them the first video which introduced the 7 locations, game expectations and also the first topic they would be learning. For our ‘initiation’ task, students had to work as a team to come up with a name with 2 lines of symmetry, create a team cheer and develop a secret handshake. They also had to create a small flag with 2 lines of symmetry. Those that completed the tasks received points. It was an instant motivator knowing that the students in the room next door could not come out victorious. While I would have liked a bit more time to smooth out some of the rough edges of the game before launching, we went ahead and had a successful launch that had the Year 5 students on board with the idea.
The next day we introduced our students (each class individually) to the tasks for symmetry. Students needed to demonstrate they knew how to draw lines of symmetry and create symmetrical figures/drawings. Once those 2 tasks were complete, they were to show the teacher and receive a 1 (complete with errors), 2 (complete with minimal errors) or a 3 (complete). If they received a 1 or a 2, the student could go back and correct their thinking and be reassessed to upgrade their marks. As a Year group, we had to work out a few kinks to make marking consistent especially with the bonus challenges where we debated having double points or just extra points (which is what we went with). We also had to discuss whether the challenge tasks could be completed before the mandatory tasks at each level. It is something to discuss more if we were to do it again and also consider having weighted activities and points based on difficulty or length of challenges.
The students loved this sense of competition and constantly were setting goals of how many points they thought they could receive as a class by the end of the lesson. It was a big achievement when we overtook another class and broke the 200 point mark. It was really interesting doing a math lesson at the same time as another class on Friday as the students could see us neck in neck and continued to push themselves to complete tasks.
We are tracking student data in Google Sheets and from there pulling the data to create graphs that we embed onto our site. The challenge with this is constantly updating it in real time when students complete a task. The first 2 days of tasks I was finding I was spending more time marking/updating the spreadsheet than working with individual students who needed help. It was great that I was able to have a lot of constructive feedback through conferencing with students as they came to get their work assessed. I was able to show them where they went wrong and question their thinking so they could go back and fix their mistakes. However, students who were quite low I felt I didn’t have the same amount of time I would normal work with them for. This is something I am going to work on managing better as we enter into week 2.
In my class, my students write weekly emails to me and they also created their own class weekly reflection journal in Google presentation. From what the students are writing in these 2 spots they love it. It is clear they are motivated to learn and they are excited about playing a massive ongoing game in mathematics. I even have students taking home their books to work on the challenges and tasks at night and on their long weekend. I even received a parent email telling me how excited her son was to do extra math work at home so he could gain more points for his class - not bad for a kid who I was told struggled with math at the start.
The students are really coming together as a team and supporting each other in order to propel the whole class forward in the game.
As we begin Week 2, I am interested to see how the interest and engagement level keeps up. I have not assigned any math homework to my kids other than to complete any of their tasks (not challenges). I would love to see how much students do at home. As we introduce the topic of transformations, I would also be interested in seeing how many students go back to our symmetry level to try to upgrade and stay ahead of the other classes. I wonder how this would be different if we weren’t in the lead. Would students focus more on symmetry to regain a lead? Will they now not worry too much about symmetry because they are in the lead or will they want to further their lead? One class is close to us and could potentially take over the pool house if they continue to gain more points. Once all students complete the mandatory tasks, will they feel the need to continue to do the challenges? At what point will they feel ‘safe’ in the lead of one school location? I’m interested to see how the possession of locations on campus fluctuate between classes as the game progresses and how the students decide to try to regain an area or perhaps focus their attention on only specific locations. The other thing the students must remember is that the game can change at any time and new obstacles and challenges can come into the game. How can we the teachers create new ideas into the game that the students didn’t foresee that further pushes them to explore all parts of the game?
This game is definitely something that we have been adapting and changing since the start and I know we will continue to. The concept of developing this game as we go has been a challenge for me as I feels more comfortable for me to see the whole picture before beginning something. However, now that a lot of the bigger items (assessment, website, task general layouts) have been ticked of things to figure out, I am sure a lot of smaller questions/concerns can be worked out more easily. There are constantly questions I have that pop up about how students are going to track their progress, what will intrinsically motivate them further, how can we get the best quality work out of our students instead of just having them rush to get a point or two and many more. I am excited to see where it goes and how it continues to take shape as we develop it week by week.
At the end of last year, I was asked to work with another colleague from the East Campus and an early years teacher on a new website design for classroom teachers by our education technology department. Little did I know at the time how this would have the impact that it did.
Off we went in a Google Document writing about what was working, what went well and what could be changed. The ability to collaborate across the city without having to meet in person constantly really allowed us to maximize our time and focus on the task at hand. It was very easy to see trends across and within campus but also places where what we wanted as teachers were different.
While my opinion of what I wanted to see in a website was able to shared, I felt that my site impacted a lot more people than just me. It was important that I asked others who would be using the site for their thoughts as well. I created a Google Form and sent it to both the parents and students from my class to get their feedback. Ultimately, everyone said it was most important for it to be simple, user-friendly and updated regularly. There were things like a calendar tab that parents didn't use but yet knowing the dates of events was still important. My students felt the class resource section was the best part of their site so they could refer to it often. This information became very valuable in tweaking the sites as we progressed.
Our team of three decided to sit down and draw up what we felt would be the best design and easiest for parents, students and teachers. We decided to keep the tabs to a minimum and focus on teachers regularly doing a few things really well than many things on a site in a mediocre manner.
We met with the education technology team who would bring it to life. Of course there were a few things that weren't possible but for the most part, the design became what we wanted. The layout started to take form. We focused on having pages for home, important information, media, classroom resources and homework. My favourite part is and has always been the classroom resource section as it provides students with the support they need both in and out of the classroom in a fun and enjoyable way.
It's hard to find a one fit model to meet the needs of all teachers, students and parents. However, providing a framework of expectations allows teachers to know what to focus on and then those teachers who want to adapt to fit their needs can do so. Just like we can't teach every child the same, we can't expect every teacher to use the same template in the same way. But it is a starting point which allows for consistency and helps those that are not sure where to begin.