Monteney Monsters

School is out now at Monteney Primary School, the children and teachers are on holiday, and the school is empty- empty that is except for the odd monster lurking around the  corridors of the school ‘s virtual spaces…

If you visit there now, you will be able to see what Peter Winter, and the year twos have been up to for the last few months.  Peter has set up a Moodle which hosts a range of resources that he has been using with the children.  They have been learning how to program using ‘scratch‘ .

Peter has created sets of on-line instructions that children can follow at their own pace, and create sprites that can move and talk in their very own settings.  The children got so good at managing sequences and timing in their programming that they were able to create conversations between two sprites on their videos. You can see them for yourself on this link to the website.The children went on to develop their own 3D monsters using a program called ‘spore’, and once the children had designed their monsters, they used ‘fotobabble‘ to talk about their monsters.

They then made music scores using ‘Avary’ for the monsters to dance to! The children have also written some amazing acrostic poems, which were read out by avatars from ‘voki’.

This is about the stuff that the Moneney children have already done. However at Peter’s request we have ordered a green screen, which has finally arrived at DeFT headquarters.  We don’t quite know what Peter has in mind, but I expect that in September we will be blogging about more wonderful things that will be emerging from Monteney.

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Panel of Experts

There is a group of experts at Hallam who are playing a vital role to help transform some of our case studies into useful OERs. Julia Myers’ group of PGCE students from Sheffield Hallam University came to meet Anna and I to talk about their perceptions of what digital literacy means to them as beginner teachers and what sort of resources would be useful to them in their own practice.   The intention is that these students will review our case studies and offer suggestions for ways in which they will support future practice.  Through their own practice they are considering the opportunities and potential, limitations and challenges that digital technologies offer.  They plan to look at the relevance of specific case studies in terms of the impact of digital technology and the nature of digital literacies; and seek related opportunities appropriate to alternative age and ability groups.

We want to make our resources user friendly, so we will be acting on the help and support of this highly motivated and inspiring future user group.

At our first meeting, we were amazed at the level of competence exhibited. Some students talked enthusiastically about the excellent projects they had started in their placement schools, apparently undaunted by the fact that they were uncertain that their ideas would be supported after they had left.  They were impatient to try out these ideas in their own schools when they had graduated, with their own classes.  One student talked of how he encouraged his pupils to send emails to a partner school in Thailand, opening up the possibility of quadblogging (that is being trialled at Sharrow and Mundella schools) He had learned from experience that his pupils are much more likely to produce fine writing if doing so for a specific audience.  Other students talked about using flip cameras with students to develop their language skills, others spoke of how they used Edmodo as a facebook for under fourteen year olds.  Their creative contributions gave us a lot to think about.

We were particularly interested to find out from the students where they looked for ideas to enhance their teaching, as this would give us an idea about how to arrange our own resources. The facilities they use most are teach meets, twitter, webchats and the TES magazine, which they found was well set out, and easy to flick through.

They told us in no uncertain terms what they would look for in a case study…

  • They wanted it to be clearly and concisely written- and colourful!
  • They would like a descriptive title, and underneath three or four bullet points about the content.  They did not want to plough through lots of irrelevant pros to find out whether it was useful to them.
  • They would like the findings at the beginning, and hints on how methods/resources can be adapted for different ages and abilities, and they had lots of suggestions as to how this could be done.

With these instructions in mind, the DeFT team are starting to write up the case studies.

We hope that they will meet with approval!

Hallam Digital Agony Aunts

Towards the end of term some of Sarah Butler’s PGCE students from Hallam University presented the work that they had been doing for their final project. Anna and I were invited to attend the presentation by the group that had worked on digital literacies.  Their projects explored how digital technologies were used in their placement schools, and students’ and teachers’ attitudes towards these technologies. It was a really encouraging session. Students reported that aspects of digital literacies are addressed in these placement schools, and have been promoted by the students themselves.  In the words of one student: “digital literacy allows teachers to utilise a vast range of creative pedagogical strategies to ensure that their classroom is motivating and inclusive environment.”

These students gave insightful and balanced accounts of their experiences. They all delivered the message- yes technology can be interactive, fun.  It can promote creativity, excite interest, enthuse students- but it has to be relevant. It doesn’t matter what new singing and dancing stuff you bring in to your lessons: if it is used unimaginatively and repetitively, it can work to turn off the very pupils you are trying to engage.

As this blog has recorded, (souls glitches or just plain evil intent) all this new technology is sometimes not as straightforward as ‘they’ lead us to believe. The ‘final act’ of the presentation was, for me, the piece de resistance.

The students set themselves up as a panel of Agony Aunts. Two female and one male aunt bravely invited questions from their audience.

Just tell us your digital problems, and we will help you solve them!

As you can imagine, this was an extremely entertaining and engaging way to encourage discussion and share solutions.  We have all been there!  Amidst groans of recognition and sympathy, the audience started to share their own ‘worst nightmare’ scenarios when using digital technology in school. One student described how she had based her entire lesson on a DVD that the children needed to watch, but the computer kept crashing after two minutes…another mentioned that the sound track on the DVD she was hoping to present did not work… another stated that after having spent all night on a brilliant powerpoint based lesson, there was no computer in the classroom when he got there.  Another wanted tips on how to present inclusive lessons to the visually impaired and deaf students in his class. Students aired their frustration on the limited access of internet provision in some placements, and lack of software.

The panel remained calm, and offered some excellent advice, taking each question as it came.  The solutions were brilliant.  These included- pretending that the glitch is deliberate- that you have stopped the film for the pupils to complete the story line, or that you have carefully deleted the sound track on the film so that pupils can invent their own.  They stressed the importance of liaising closely with the support available within the school, and letting the right people know what you are planning to do so that they can offer help when needed. The discussion demonstrated clearly how these students recognise that digital technologies are a double edged sword: on one hand it is essential for teachers to keep up with the latest technology.  As one student said: “I previously thought that I was digitally literate but I have discovered that there are so many technologies out there to use that you can soon become outdated”.

However on the other hand, in the shadow of unreliable technology, teachers these days sometimes need to think on their feet and draw on all their personal resources in order to deliver lessons.  These students certainly demonstrated that they were fully aware of the issues involved, and embraced the new technologies with the cautious respect they command.  The students were anxious to share the expertise that they had gained on the course, and although many of them had not heard of the OER movement, they were keen to contribute to the DeFT project.

By the way, we found out later that during our session with the students, our DeFT digital recorder did not work, leaving us to rely on our video cameras. On inspection (by a member or our learned e-learning support team) the memory card decided not to function at that particular time.  It is fine now.

Any suggestions Aunties?