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?

 

 

 

Creative Space

The PGCE students at Sheffield University have just completed their final assignments.  But this was no run-of-the-mill assignment- it was a mission that no PGCE students had previously undertaken at Sheffield University.

It all started earlier this year, when these students were asked to wander around graveyards of northern Sheffield to make poetry come to life using digital video recorders.  They were then introduced to the delights of Winterhill and Rawmarsh City Learning Centres where they became familiar with the recording and editing processes of making a film.  Working in groups, they supported each other’s ideas and technical understandings, learning that good communication was very important. They soon realised that they needed to be ‘over explicit’ to help learners new to technology. As one student said,” you learn best from hands on experiences.”  Whilst some relished the prospect of using digital technologies, others were apprehensive, convinced of their own incompetence yet aware of their obligations as a teacher to keep up with the latest technologies. “Children must be equipped to face the ever changing technological era.”Image

Pretty soon, they were ready for the real task at hand: the final task that  Mick Connell and Andrey Rowsowsky were to set for them.  It was not to create a resource for teaching, nor was it to be assessed, observed or linked to any part of any school curriculum.  The students were set free from these shackles – given free range.  Yes, they had to make a film, but they were given full licence to develop their recently acquired to skills pursue their own interests and

… be creative.

The only stipulation they were given was that their films had to be about the city that had hosted them for their year of study: Sheffield.  Any aspect could be explored- people, landscapes, cultures, history. Students were invited to build on their own interests and create something that was unique to them.

Taking advantage of this brief: they did just that!Image

Anna and I were invited to see the screening of these films. With the group, we witnessed five completely different and unique takes on Sheffield.  Students watched and discussed their films, quizzing each other on the techniques they used.  It was interesting to find that although many had planned storyboards for their productions, they had put these to one side as serendipitous events such as thunderstorms, public reactions and availability of unforeseen props changed the direction of the stories.Image

After the event I thought: this is real teacher education – not teacher training.  This was an activity that would impact on so many aspects of  these students’ personal development. Encouraging well rounded, creative and digitally literate individuals can only be good news for the children who are lucky enough to have them as teachers.

Teaching, learning and sharing at Wales High School

Yesterday Wales High School turned into Open Educational Resources central, with a full day dissemination event showcasing the hard work of Michael Payton-Greene, one of project teachers, on his case study which explores issues involved in the use of blogging as a tool for sharing practice. For the past couple of months, a group of volunteers (PE, maths and languages teachers) were involved in trialing out the Teaching and Learning in Wales High School blog by putting on resources related to feedback and assessment, the use of mobile devices in the classroom and commenting on relevant posts to share with others how these resources were implemented in their own teaching.  These early users shared their experiences at the dissemination event yesterday where the blog was introduced to all staff members on a drop-in basis.

Introducing the blog to staff at the school

Anybody visiting the drama studio could have a go at scanning QR codes, using a flipcam or exploring the education potential of iPads which were loaned to the school by the project team. They could also observe the lessons with the pupils who had a go at using the Brushes app and creating an interactive essay plan with the aid of Flipcams and iPods.

Senior management are supportive of the project and keen to align it with school priorities and from September onwards the project will hopefully be rolled out across the school. Some of the teachers I talked to yesterday had visions of connecting with their colleagues nationally and even internationally – while that might have to wait a while, the DeFT project team have contributed to projects which lived happily ever after long past the end of project (see the thriving Creativity for Edupunks wiki-based resource created as part of UKOER phase 2 Cascading Social Science Open Educational Resources project) so here’s to bright OER futures at Wales!

And the winners are…pupils at Dinnington Comprehensive!

On Monday, the DeFT project team took part in a very special event – the mini-Oscars at Dinnington comprehensive where the Chris Welch and his pupils revealed the results of their hard work for the case study. They explored the use of instructional videos for enhancing digital literacy and issues related to student-produced Open Educational Resources. The pupils turned out to be very creative in their interpretation of the brief, which was to create an instructional video on a topic of their choice and shared with the world their knowledge on  tea-making, plum-tree planting, hamster-feeding, e-safety and cartwheels.

Mini-Oscars at Dinnington

There was red carpet, bow-ties and (non-alcoholic) champagne  and of course awards to recognise the efforts of the directors and the supporting crew. This is where the media technicians deserve a special mention – the case study would not have been possible without Jodi and Rob supporting the group every step of the way.  They are still putting the final touches on the videos which should soon be released onto YouTube and so others will be able to see for themselves how easy it is to cartwheel or make a decent cuppa!

Aliens in Heathfields?

Last week when the DeFT digital meadow was up and running in the Winter Gardens we attracted a lot of public interest.  One member of the public expressed her disapproval of the uses of digital technologies in schools.  “Children should be outdoors, running about, getting muddy… not stuck inside in front of one of those screens all day!”

She would have been thrilled to see Rob Hobson’s project in action!

There was not much mud involved, but there was a lot of the “outdoors” and “running about”! Rob’s aim for the project is to “give children a wider understanding of how ICT use can be taken out of its usual constraints.”  He certainly did that!

His project was launched with a “happening” in Heathlands Park.  It was rumoured that a spaceship has crash in a bit of wasteland  not far from the school.  The children in Rob’s class reported on this event, giving news releases, photographing the crash landing, and interviewing the public who had witnessed strange occurrences in the neighbourhood.  All this information required imagination, creativity and technical know-how to produce! It was so exciting that some members of the class forgot they were reluctant readers and writers. Everything they created was put onto designated webspaces by the Y6ers and QR codes were fabricated to link to these websites.

When all this careful preparation had been completed, a chosen few placed the QR clues in carefully selected places in Heathlands Park.  You can see the QR trail here .  Finally the hunt for clues could start.

Later that Friday afternoon, two classes of children were accompanied to the park where they were set lose with ipods equipped with  QR readers.  Their brief was to locate the clues, access the websites, find out what had happened, and piece together the story.  Because there was no internet connection in the park, Rob had provided mifis which provided wifi access to groups of 5 children with ipods.  The group of five could not stray far from the mifi carriers, who were dressed in bright yellow jackets, so cooperation was essential!

Children shared information, discussed clues, and fed back their thoughts to a blog that had especially been set up for the occasion.  People’s versions of what really  happened can be read here .  If you happen to be passing Heathlands Park, you can find the clues yourself,  send in your ideas to the blog, and add to the stories.

It was an exciting afternoon, and everybody enjoyed it tremendously.  In the midst of all this action the treasurer for the Heathland Community Park wandered onto the scene.  He had never heard of QR codes, and thought it would be a wonderful way of disseminating information about the park.  He watched the children working with their ipods, and realised that the general public could also interact with QR codes in this way with their own mobile devices.