Paul's Place of Musings and Insights

the reflections of a techno-meddling teacher


Real time formative assessment

One of the things that I am always tinkering away at is how to monitor student progress in class. I am but one in a sea of young learners and regrettably, I am not always able to pick up misconceptions or uncertainty from students during class. They are of course detected during checking and marking of work, but I am eager to refine this process.

Courtesy of Alice Keeler I tried using Google Slides during lessons. My students have access to laptop trolleys, and during this lesson, we were lucky enough to be in a 1:1 environment. My class were researching biomes, and I wanted to be sure that all were finding sources that were accessible to them. So many resources online are geared towards older students, and it is vital for me that I know my Year 5s are able to understand what they are finding.

I created a Google Slide doc with a single slide stating a question. I then altered the Master Slides and custom built a slide for the students to fill out. There was space for their name, as well as for an answer to the question on the cover slide – ‘What is one interesting thing you have learned during this session’.

I shared the document through Edmodo, and within two minutes all students had submitted a response and I had been able to review them. I immediately turned my attention to the students that either took a while to respond, or whose responses were a little ‘vague’.

The students then carried on with their task, seemingly renewed in their purpose by what was in their eyes a very minor distraction, and if truth be told, probably a useful little brain break for them.

This will now become a regular feature of my teaching practice.



Aussie Cadel Evans winning the tour de France |

At one of my first PD’s as a teacher I was told (along with the others in the room) that for a novice, the enthusiasm one has for new things is in direct disproportion to the time that goes by. On the other hand, experts maintain their enthusiasm and in fact it builds as time goes by. What I took away from this is that we can be gung-ho to begin with, but there is a challenge in maintaining new practices once the novelty wears off (recent blog activity included…)

I address this now because my school is on the eve of rolling out an iPad trial. Time and brain effort has gone into perusing our various PLN’s, talking with similar schools and generally figuring out what will work for us. While I have no doubt that the great team we have will not fall into the novelty trap with this project, which is taking place at a school-wide level, it makes me ponder the practices in individual classrooms, where already time-stretched teachers face the challenge of carrying on with a class blogging project, or maintaining Edmodo discussion boards, or even preparing interactive white board lessons in advance.

I guess the point of this pondering is to inspire myself and others to continue persisting with new ideas – thats how we build good habits.


Oh, and well done Cadel!



Information to Knowledge

If we can capture imagination, we will instil a desire to learn that will last for life.

If we can capture imagination, we will instil a desire to learn that will last for life.

After two weeks at my new school, teaching a new subject to 400 odd new students, its time to share what its all about.

The school advertised for a K-6 ‘Teacher of Information and Learning Skills,’ something that piqued my interest, having become a de-facto and then official ICT coordinator at my previous school. Not that I have particular expertise (a relative term in this field) in the area, but more that I was a classroom teacher who was willing to experiment with new technology in the classroom, and share my experiences with my peers.

The new position is officially ‘Information to Knowledge Teacher,’ with the acronym ‘I2K’. The catchy, mysterious name has confused some staff and students alike, who took some convincing that it was not ‘Library’ any more. The subject evolved into its current form after several planning days with my new deputy and I can now describe it as a mixture of Research Skills, ICT Skills and Thinking Skills. Basically, teaching the students how to be independent learners that can successfully negotiate guided inquiry units with their classroom teachers.

A bit like a souped up teacher librarian without the fiction books. Well, my teaching space is in the new library!

Preparing for the year presented with me a few challenges (lots, actually, but these are the main ones…)


Basically, new subject means no program to work with, so it was all from scratch. The big problem that I felt was what to teach? There is virtually nothing in the NSW Board of Studies syllabus regarding this sort of thing, and I realised that I needed to back myself and teach what I knew.

I had certainly taught a lot of IT to my students in the past, but only at a Year 5 level, leaving the big mystery… What do I teach Kindergarten in Week 1!?

K-6 Teaching

I was comfortable with Year 5. They are old enough to know how to do stuff, you just have to point them in the right direction, and support them as they go (really, there is a bit more to it, but  for the sake of my argument, that generally that sums it up.) I realised that I needed to teach explicit skills to the younger students, like their classroom teachers teach how to hold a pencil, what direction to write in etc. I will have to teach them how to turn a computer on, how to log in to the network, how to open a program etc.

The challenge of teaching K-6 as a specialist teacher has made me really come to terms with the actual skills that students need in this area. So, with the help of the AIS, I developed an IT Skills Scope and Sequence and slotted it into my program (well, Term 1 is done, anyway.) So far so good, but what about…

Teaching research?

The teacher librarian at my previous school had implemented a school wide research sequence modeled on the Big 6 that was taught to all students, and supported by classroom teachers. Being familiar with the model (Define, Locate, Select, Organise, Present & Assess) and pleased with its use, I decided to use it for the research skills part of my teaching. The use of ICT in the use of this sequence is especially pertinent in the Locate and Present steps.

It is vital that students don’t dismiss hard copy books for the allure of the bright and shiny world wide web. (So far the argument that when it becomes the world wide wait, then it is certainly easier to go to the encyclopedia shelf than get online has been fairly effective.) Newspapers, magazines, and reference books will be a large part of my focus, especially in the earlier years, as the locating habits established with hard copy materials will transfer easily to digital resources.

Teaching ICT?

When the time comes to jump on a computer to find information, it will have to be done sensibly, effectively and most importantly, safely. The first five weeks of this year are being taken up with explicit cyber safety instruction in the Primary years, as most of the technologies being used will be web based (2.0) tools.

As for after that, there is instruction in formatting, using graphics, creating hyperlinks and the like (logging on…), while monitoring the latest technologies available. Did I mention planning was a bit frustrating? I have a strong feeling that students will learn best when they are learning what they want to learn. The downside is that I have to teach the same content to four Year 6 classes, so the challenge becomes convincing the students that they do in fact want to learn what I am teaching them!

Well, so far so good. I will leave you with an abriged quote from one of my Year 6 students:

“So we are learning how to learn… Cool!”


Sharing the digital love

Edmodo is social networking for the classroom

Edmodo is social networking for the classroom

My general approach to new technology tools has been to use my own class as guinea pigs to establish the ‘workability’ of a new tool in the classroom, at which point I will establish what practical use it might have in the classroom, and then share it with other staff. The discovery and testing happens a lot, but not so much the sharing.

Something exciting has happened, though. In my (relatively new)role as an IT coordinator, I have just realised my first successful sharing of a new technology. Let me share the anecdote:

I introduced blogging to my staff at the beginning of the term during a staff day workshop. Several class and specialist teachers were keen to get involved with this tool. While helping one of the Year 4 teachers set up the blogs, I noticed that she was looking for a ‘post and comment’ solution, where she would ask a question, and all the students would answer, which did not smoothly fit into the ‘blogging method.’

I suggested Edmodo, a made-for-classroom social networking tool which is even designed to look like Facebook. Edmodo would allow her to have students respond to her posts without all the ‘extra admin’ that setting up blogs for 23 kids would require. She introduced Edmodo to her girls and it was a resounding success, with the girls responding to her questions enthusiastically. We reflected after the fact that if she had used blogging with this activity, that it would not have been as efficient, as the more complex process of setting up the blogs would have interfered with the task itself.

With further reflection, I have realised that technology use in the classroom, while being valuable in its own right needs to be managed in terms of using the right tool for the job. A common complaint from ‘non-IT’ teachers is that when an integrator introduces something new, everyone in the school takes it on and there is no sequential development throughout the year levels. We need to move everyone away from the viewpoint that a particular tool, be it a program, a web app, a piece of hardware or whatever, should not be introduced to a whole school at once, but be staggered, so that older students ‘get something new.’ Rather, new tools should be universally rolled out and it is then up to the integrator, in conjunction with the class teachers to apply that tool in the most appropriate way to different year levels.  

I guess what I am getting at with this post is that we should make sure we ‘choose the right tool for the job’ and not just use technology for the sake of it. True, technology use has its own intrinsic value, but using the wrong technology may both a) make the task at hand harder to achieve, which will cause b) students to get frustrated or intimidated by technology, leading to disengagement. Neither of these outcomes are desirable.


Musings of an emerging IT Integrator

Laptops are not enough

Laptops are not enough

As a class teacher, I constantly see opportunities for me to use technology in the classroom in a meaningful way. The application of new tools into an educational setting is a challenge at times, but a challenge that I am happy to take on. I have just attended my first conference, where I met about a hundred other teachers who were taking on, to various levels of success, the same challenge.

What I learnt the most at this conference was not how to use social networking technology as part of a literacy program or how to make podcasts more relevant, but learning that I was not the only one who was facing what I perceive as the biggest challenge for ICT integrators – convincing others that it is worthwhile exchanging tried and tested, ‘traditional’ methods for this ‘new fandagled computer business.’

As I reflected on the conference over the weekend, it occurred to me that I had been thinking that the point of using technology in the classroom was to enhance educational objectives – ie, satisfying prescribed curricula. What I now realise is that using such technology is now the ‘norm’ and as educators, we must use it in the classroom and the transition from ‘old’ to ‘new’ is indeed the underlying challenge of integrators.

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