01 September 2016

Kidblog v Moodle blog

Years of experience teaching blogging in elementary school has demonstrated to me that the benefits of an online platform with an authentic audience and rich peer review opportunities is an indispensable element in contemporary writing education.

I have always been partial to Kidblog, but upon beginning teaching at KIST last fall, I was invited to utilize the blogging features included in Moodle, the school's platform of choice.

As my students and I used the Moodle Blog, I kept a Kidblog v Moodle blog comparison table embedded below to note features of each platform to compare and contrast them.



Design

Although it is not necessarily essential for learning writing and blogging, the design of a digital tool greatly affects the levels of engagement and enthusiasm with which students use it.

Kidblog has a far more aesthetically pleasing layout, allows students to customize the design of their blogs, and includes features that resemble social media like highlighting unread posts and notifications for comments.

Class connections

Teachers can connect classes in Kidblog to expand the available audience for students' posts. I have witnessed students develop personal networks of peers internationally with similar interests and writing styles.

Kidblog makes peers' blogs easy to locate and interact with.

The only available audience in Moodle is the school community and posts are difficult, if not impossible to find.

Privacy

The most critical difference, and the one that establishes Kidblog as a superior learning tool, is the brilliantly designed privacy and moderation features.

Students can choose the audience of each post as only their teacher, students in their class, community members (students in connected classes and parents), or public. This is a tremendous value as it empowers students to publish and grow their audience at their own comfortable pace.





Moodle blog privacy is not adjustable.

In Kidblog, teachers can control privacy globally, restricting audience levels available to students and which comments are published. This ensures that the citizenship lessons inherent in blogging occur at the discretion of the teacher.

Another awesome privacy feature is for teachers to post private comments which only the post author can read and reply to.

Conclusion

If simply having a digital publishing experience is enough, then the Moodle blog function would suffice.

If blogging is to be a writing and publishing tool to learn to engage with an authentic audience and global blogging community, Kidblog is the only choice and is well worth the reasonable additional investment.


Further reading

05 April 2016

Impact on learning: Language and engagement

One admirable feature of professional development at KIST is the annual Impact on Learning study. Teachers design a data driven experiment based on a pedagogical approach or strategy and then analyze the data to reflect on the efficacy of that aspect of their teaching.

To start, I formulated a question and answer dialogue:

On which group of students do I want to have the greatest impact?

All of them. Inclusive practices and thoughtfully designed learning experiences which emphasize student choice and voice should provide opportunities for all students to excel.

Which group of students are most difficult to reach with inclusive practices and learning experiences that emphasize student choice and voice?

Students who are reluctant to share their ideas in class or participate actively in learning engagements are the most difficult to reach. 

Why don't those students participate?

The reasons they don't participate are as diverse as the people themselves. However, if they don't participate now, they likely didn't before either. If not, then their opportunities for practice have been limited, possibly severely.

Often, students (and people in general) with little experience speaking in a group feel shamed by their lack of fluency. Lack of confidence leads them to withdraw more, causing them to practice even less.

I have been tempted in the past to 'call out' reluctant students, but Alfie Kohn's article, 'Your Hand’s Not Raised? Too Bad: I’m Calling on You Anyway, provides needed perspective into this issue. When done improperly or insensitively, calling on these students might do more harm than good.

Being fairly introverted myself, I sympathize with many people's preference to remain in the shadows of a crowd, but nine year old introverts, preferences aside, need to practice public speaking in a safe environment.
Articles like Chapter 1. Why Talk Is Important in Classrooms from Content-Area Conversations by Douglas Fisher, Nancy Frey and Carol Rothenberg, and Talking to Learn by Elizabeth City reinforce the position that Listening and Speaking form the foundation of Reading and Writing.

What I needed was a strategy to encourage the students to grow as courageous Communicators by sharing their ideas with the whole class.

15 March 2016

'Level up' transdisciplinary skills

In the IB Primary years program, 'Transdisciplinary skills' play a critical role in planning, teaching, and assessing student learning. However, they are not often explicitly taught and when they are, it is usually in an isolated manner. For example, one might teach a mini lesson about 'gather data' as part of a unit of inquiry.

To reinforce the transdisciplinary nature of the skills and provide more opportunities for students to reflect and discuss them together, I designed a slightly gamified system.

Each skill is posted on the wall with an eight by one square grid underneath.

07 March 2016

'I forgot my pencil.'

A child in my class forgot their pencil. I was informed of this only because of the nature of the solution to the problem: Fashion a makeshift fountain pen out of a disposable chopstick, tissue paper, and marker ink.


A written math assessment was perfectly legibly completed with this implement.

I'm sure many teachers would have simply demanded that it be cleaned up and provide the child with a pencil. It's clearly a giant mess hanging from a wobbly precipice and not a remarkably responsible way to accept one's mistake.

However, my respect for creativity, ingenuity, and other Maker values endowed me with the patience to request clean up after the quiz was finished. I think that the leeway the student was allowed not only helped them to feel empowered, but also encouraged voluntary cooperation with more orthodox classroom procedures.

01 March 2016

International artifacts

In anticipation of World Cultures Day at KIST, Grade 4 students were assigned the task of selecting a cultural artifact in their home, taking a photo with it, and completing a short reflection about its significance.


Many chose items from their home countries, although a few shared souvenirs from places they had visited.

We displayed their photos and reflections with a flag from the artifact's country of origin in the corridor to highlight the international character of our school.

26 February 2016

GAFE Summit 2016

A few weeks ago, I attended the Edtech Team Summit Featuring Google Apps for Education in Kobe, Japan. It was my second 'GafeSummit'. The first was in 2013 and was a dramatic turning point in my career as a teacher and my life as a digital citizen.

The one notable difference was that this year, I would be presenting a session on Google Apps for Transparency.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BBbXZe8jSpA/

360º


A photo posted by Bart Miller (@botofotos) on

My first eye opener was Jim Sill's session, Google Views - Lessons in 360º, in which I was introduced to Cardboard. This is a realist iteration of virtual reality that could be easily integrated into schools. Although I haven't had other VR experiences, I wonder if Cardboard offers a majority of the sensory experience.

The flow

Overall, I was most inspired by Stephen Taylor's Formatting the Flow session. As an inquiry teacher, I have always wrestled with the impulse to manage students' learning. What Stephen showed was how formatted documents can make processes visual and focus students on their learning rather than their presentation and reporting media.

BreakoutEDU

A photo posted by Bart Miller (@botofotos) on

My group was beta testing BreakoutEDU with augmented reality and was not able to open the box like some other groups.

Transparency

Finally, it was time for my presentation, Google Apps for Transparency.

As a form of modeling, I shared a Transparency notes Google Doc with all participants for public note taking and documentation.



I began with a brief introduction to the concept of transparency as it is viewed in practice in government, business, and education. Then, following a generally 'less to more' transparent framework according to the slides embedded below, I shared the tools that I use to make planning, teaching, and assessment in my classroom as transparent as possible.



Included in the demonstrations were my weekly planners. I use a template in Google Sheets that allows me to plan to five minutes of accuracy include relevant details including differentiation. These documents are published as a webpage and the link is shared on our class Moodle site.

Having the plans published via a link allows easy access from any internet connected device. A classroom computer at the front of our classroom is dedicated to our projector, but it also has all of our links saved as bookmarks in the web browser. Throughout the day, students check these links. This increases the amount of time that I can devote to learning by minimizing questions like 'what are we doing next?' or 'what's after lunch?'.

https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1v7jufrMw8HRPBCEA6CfuhsDhZKSbkts7IKBNN6cYOhc/pubhtml
Click image to view as webpage.

A teacher in the workshop asked if there was added stress from publishing all of my planning. I replied with that this level of transparency adds a component of accountability that is its own reward.

Using the publishing capability of Google Apps, I also publish slides of our daily warm ups and home learning assignments. They are embedded on our class Moodle and require no additional maintenance. They update automatically when new slides are added. If a parent or other member of our learning community uses them even once to have a conversation with their child or keep up to date on home learning, it's worth the minimal effort to set up.


Finally, I shared my data workbook. This is a system of spreadsheets that provides me with real time data from assessments and then publishes the same data to individual pages, published as websites, for students and families.


This works extremely well for parents to keep up to date on their child's learning and for sharing web addresses, usernames, and passwords.

All materials for the workshop are shared in a public Google Drive folder, Transparency | GAFE Summit Kobe 2016.

Strangely, as soon as my session ended, I felt the urge to develop a new data management system that could provide more possibilities for data visualization and analysis. I've already begun sketching ideas and look forward to designing and programming this summer.

Reflection

I've completed tons of online professional development, and nothing compares to the invigorating social and interactive experience of a face to face conference. Ironically, this can be especially true in technology where digitally isn't necessarily the best way to learn something new.

The tools which I have put to work immediately are Quizizz and SafeShare. Since introducing Quizizz, my students constantly ask when we will be taking the next quiz.

Reflecting on my own presentation, I feel that I probably learned more than my participants! It is easy to feel that the time and energy spent preparing to conduct a conference or workshop session is wasted, but I found the opposite. By deeply analyzing and presenting my approaches to technology in the classroom, I deepened my understanding. Being inspired to expand my strategies was an unexpected surprise!

If you're curious to explore the conference, follow this link to view the full schedule.

I've already been contacted by Google related colleagues about organizing an event in Tokyo, so I look forward to putting some of that inspiration into action.

18 February 2016

Teaching with Moodle MOOC

After an aborted attempt in September, I recently completed the Teaching with Moodle MOOC (Massive Open Online Course), also known as Learn Moodle MOOC.

Since Moodle is the learning management system employed at KIST, the course was directly applicable to my work. I also made the effort of inviting colleagues to join in hopes of recruiting a cohort that might be able to learn together. Two people joined an we enjoyed sharing our learning and insights into how the course content could be directly applied in our own contexts.

Naturally, the course itself was delivered via Moodle, and they even have a handy mobile app. It provides a well designed examplar with high quality demonstration videos and useful links everywhere.

The content itself was the Moodle training I never received. Organized logically from general to specific, yet also conceptually from delivery to interaction, it is an ideal way to become familiar and proficient with Moodle.

I would recommend the Teaching with Moodle MOOC to anyone curious about the platform, and particularly to my colleagues who would discover rich possibilities for connected learning in their classes.

02 February 2016

Student survey analysis

At KIST, we conduct an annual student survey to assess classroom climate. Students complete the survey electronically and anonymously by evaluating statements about me and the class as 'usually', 'sometimes', or 'no'. The resulting data is later shared with teachers. It's an informative method of receiving feedback which can be used to refine approaches teaching.

Positives

Overall, my survey results were very positive. To statements which I would consider critical, like 'My teacher cares about me.' and 'My teacher shows respect to all students.'

   
One question which I find very useful for evaluating my differentiation strategies is 'I am able to do the work given to me.'

19 January 2016

OneNote Class Notebook

Since the beginning of the school year at KIST, I have used OneNote Class Notebook, an 'add-in' for MS Office, to document and organize evidence of learning in the classroom.

The experience started with creating the layout of the shared and student sections. Having never used the tool before, I did my best to predict what design would serve our needs.

Months later, in reflection, I can see that my choices were acceptable but nowhere near ideal. Anyone else planning to use Class Notebook should be advised to consider the sections they will use carefully, especially according to class routines and assessment practices.

Although I was dismayed to receive an error message initially, the class creation tool worked perfectly and it is easy to add new students later. It creates a class notebook which includes a 'Content library', which the teacher can edit and students can view, 'Collaboration space', which everyone can edit, and individual sections for each students. All of the sections have customizable features, so a thoughtful and well designed structure goes a long way toward capability and usability.

Have smartphone, will document

A smart device is essential to making best use of OneNote. Being able to shoot photographs of students and their work directly into their notebooks is an invaluable time saver. On the SAMR scale, I would rank it a strong 'A' for augmentation.



However, if every student had a smart device, if only for the purpose of maintaining a digital portfolio, OneNote would enable significant modification of the processes of documentation and student ownership of learning. Taken further, the empowerment of having equitable access to teacher and student created learning materials could be truly transformational.

As we use it now, I am able to upload in real time via my smartphone and students access their notebooks in PC Lab or when possible in class.

I am very excited to take the lessons I've learned in the past months to design a rich digital learning environment next year using OneNote Class Notebook.

16 December 2015

Reflection on practice: Provoking inquiry into energy

One of my greatest frustrations as an inquiry teacher is the lack of opportunities to observe other inquiry teachers. The incredible amount of preparation results in having a limited amount of free time.

When I noticed the Grade Five team at KIST next door preparing centers including light bulbs, various balls, balloons, thermometers, and more, and during my preparation period, I couldn't miss the chance to observe and document.

14 December 2015

Integrating public speaking, peer assessment, and data handling

As a formative assessment task within a unit focused on advertising, my class recently completed a learning engagement which integrated persuasive writing, public speaking, peer assessment, and data gathering, organization, and analysis.

Public speaking

The first step was for students to apply what they had learned around the central idea, 'People create and manipulate messages to target and persuade specific audiences.', by presenting their own persuasive speeches.

One of the most powerful tools we explored were TED talks about children.

We followed a typical writing process which featured prominently rehearsal and peer feedback.

Peer assessment

By emphasizing peer evaluation, there were many opportunities for me to model sensitive and effective critique as well as coach individual students and groups to develop as assessors.

When the day of the presentations drew near, students contributed their ideas about features of a persuasive speech which I synthesized into our Persuasive speech peer assessment rubric



Every student in the class used the rubric to evaluate every other student's speech.

Data handling

This provided an authentic data handling exercise as students used a Persuasive speech peer assessment data organizer to gain deeper insights into their peer feedback.


I believe that the authenticity and social elements designed into the activity led to every student being extremely motivated to learn the concept and application of average.

Reflection

A further step that I considered including but decided against would be to teach the students how to use Excel or other spreadsheet software to organize and analyze their data. However, it didn't seem appropriate at the time and I would prefer that the students experience this process in the old fashioned analog manner before introducing digital tools. 

19 October 2015

Making the arts make a difference

In lieu of a faculty meeting today, my Principal has blessed us with a learning opportunity to read and reflect on The Arts Make A Difference by Nick Rabkin and Robin Redmond.

Being significantly behind on my professional blogging, this is also an ideal opportunity to reestablish that invaluable habit.

One observation that I have made about my students is that, like the students in Nick Jaffe's music engineering classes, '“They have a shocking ability to work effectively and listen well amid the cacophony in this open room,”'. Perhaps one consideration we should have is that deep learning is messy and noisy. If we insist on neat, orderly, quiet classrooms, we will have neat, orderly, quiet learning.

I want learning to be loud.

24 September 2015

Negotiating rubrics

In our first unit of the school year in Grade 4B at KIST, the Summative Assessment Task was to prepare a proposal for an exploratory expedition.

One of my favorite informal formative assessments is to empower students to collaborate to create the success criteria for each of the rubric categories. I simply distribute blank rubrics and provide time for them to discuss and fill in the charts to continue a practice that I introduced in the post Student-created rubrics and have found to be effective in many ways.


As they deliberate, I circulate throughout the room listening for opportunities to clarify or guide discussions to higher orders of thinking. By nature, this activity practices Evaluation, but students' discussions do not always reach that goal without help.

By engaging with the language of the unit, especially the Key Concepts, the students complete a formative self assessment of their understanding, even if they are not fully aware of what they are doing.

Finally, on a version projected at the front of the room, we negotiate and build the final draft using the work students have already completed in their groups.

An added bonus is that my evaluations according to the rubric are, and more importantly are perceived to be exceptionally fair. Because they are intimately familiar with the language in the rubric, my feedback is understandable and meaningful.

10 September 2015

Designing a new classroom

Upon arriving for the first day of a new job, I sat by myself, for the first time in my new classroom, Grade 4B, in my new school, K International School Tokyo.

In anticipation of that moment, I applied attention to classroom environment as a crucial element of Learning Experience Design. Several interesting articles have been published recently on this topic, including Classroom design can boost primary pupils' progress by 16% and The Perfect Classroom, According to Science.

While following CISC 2015 - the most inspiring symposium I didn't attend, I was inspired by a classroom layout concept shared by Brian Curwick.

It closely resembled my own thinking about the importance of collaborative teams in learning. I augmented this idea with the need for a balance between private, collaborative, and presentation spaces.


Empowering pedagogy


Last April, I was pleasantly surprised by this tweet announcing a twitter chat on the topic of environment in empowering pedagogy:
The document shared in the tweet, 'The Environment' (Chapter 8 of Empowering Pedagogy For Early Childhood Education), and Making Your Environment 'The Third Teacher', another article shared within it, have both been enlightening as during my deliberations.

The graphic below from 'The Environment' is an ideal reference in this process.




Also included was a quote which resonated strongly with me:

'The path of learning and development is more like a butterfly than that of a bullet.' Jim Greenman

Learning shouldn't have a trajectory, but rather a heading.



15 July 2015

CLMOOC Unmake: Unintroducing inquiry learning


I'm delighted to see educators around the world embracing the term 'inquiry'. The word itself is so nebulous that it defies definition. One could assume it means simply 'asking a question', but it also means 'collecting and organizing information'. Broadened further in my preferred nomenclature, 'inquiry learning' perplexes even further.

Are we learning through inquiry? Are we learning about inquiry? Are we inquiring into learning? Is it just a typo?

It's an ideal topic for Making Learning Connected. As Michael Weller writes in his post, CLMOOC 2015: Make An Inquiry, Make Cycle 1 for the Make an Inquiry strand this summer, ''I think that inquiry, like the term research, can be intimidating – but I don’t think it needs to be!'.

As connected educators take to the information superhighway to explore and interpret the meaning of 'inquiry learning', our evaluations and reflections belie insecurity.

If a term exists that can be known, then we should be able to know it.

After all, we are educated.

Right?

There must be an answer to the question: What is inquiry learning?