Friday, December 31, 2010

2010 - Young Ambassadors

During 2010 a group of Year 6 students from Pt England School have acted as ambassadors not only for the school but on behalf of the Manaiakalani project.  They auditioned for the role in February and developed their own presentations which they have since shared with visitors from around the country and overseas. Some of the groups have been large, some have included folk like Cabinet Ministers, and some have been interested classroom teachers.  Regardless of who the audience was (and what these kids were missing out on -  from Maths to Art to Swimming!) these ten year olds gave more than 100% to the task of sharing how they learn with others.

Housing Minister Phil Heatley chatting with the children after they have presented to him.
Many people have asked if they could have a video of the student presentations, so as the year ends I am publishing links to them.  I am not embedding them in this post. You will need to follow the links to each of their blogs - and leave them some feedback :)
Angela: What is eLearning?

Selena: Television and other screens

Toreka: Blogging
Ala: Graphic Art
Seini-Mino: Podcasting with KPE
Mubasshira: Google Apps
Erene: Video Conferencing
Aidan -Multimedia Technician 

Friday, December 3, 2010

Wireless Solution

Sometimes you see something that makes you smile and you just have to pull up, hold up the traffic on the round-about and take a photo.

This was one of those times - driving past Tamaki College and I saw the big aerial going up on the roof for the wireless connection to Pt England School.  For someone like me, who needs to see something to believe it, this was a big moment.  Yes, this wireless connection between our schools is really happening. Thanks to the team from Fusion Networks.  This is a big project they are giving their time and energy to.

So I went round the round-about again and got myself into position to take my pics - and because this is Glen Innes, the traffic just waited :)  The next visible sign of progress is seeing the network pop up on my mobile devices as I drive around the district - and No, I am not about to reveal the password! But TLN is the Tamaki Learning Network...

Monday, November 22, 2010

Netbook Handover

Tuesday November 16th came and the first two classes of Netbook students in our Manaiakalani Cluster received their Netbooks. What an awesome occasion to be part of. One of the many spin-offs is that by giving the students connectivity on a 1:1 basis they have blogged about how they felt.
So here come some links if you want to read it through the kids' eyes....

Helen T and Sam and Tuipulotu and Ocean and Shaniah and Tia
One quote from Year 7 student:
I am really excited about the future and how this may change our school lives forever
These two classes, Room 19 with Ms Tito and Room 20 Mrs Nua have not only the pleasure of being first, but also the responsibility of piloting the project. This includes keeping smiling through all the teething issues, exploring the possibilities and recording their findings. They will also be required to mentor others when they get their turn next year. The two links in this paragraph will give you a perspective from the two teachers' point of view.

These students signed a useage agreement form before taking temporary possession of their Netbooks for four weeks. This batch of Netbooks are owned by the cluster (thanks to a philanthrophic donation) and will become our insurance pool of Netbooks for 2011. They will have to start leasing their own along with everyone else in 2011.

We have a three stage pilot for the 1:1 roll out across our seven schools.
Stage One: 2010 two classes in one school to work through the teething problems
Stage Two: 2011 13 classes across six schools (including two Year 10 classes)
Stage Three: 2012 All students from Year 5-13 in our seven schools

Student Netbook Agreement:
I agree that:
I will respect the equipment by always looking after it and keeping it safe
I will respect others by always using this netbook to interact with other people in a positive and caring way
I will make the most of this opportunity to learn lots of new things and to share them with others
I will always be in the right place, at the right time, when I am online. If I am in doubt I will ask my teacher.
I will protect my password and keep it completely secret.

Student Technicians

One of the design goals for this project is that student technicians will be the first port of call for school-based trouble shooting:
"The device should allow a technican to re-image it quickly using a USB stick only."

So when the first 100 Netbooks arrived, the moment came when all the adult professionals had to step back and hand over control to a bunch of eager 10-12 year olds - who had all applied in writing for this position. eg
"Dear Mrs Burt
I am writing this letter to apply for the job as a Netbook technician. I like to help both students and teachers and I have very good people skills. I can explain very well with detail so people can understand. I would love to know how to fix technical difficulties as well as getting people started. I know I will be a reliable and a great technician.
I would love to have this job and I thrive on responsibity. Thank you for your time. I look forward to your reply.
Yours sincerely etc"

This was a big ask on many levels; EdTech as the company who procured the Netbooks and are supporting us technically, the development team who has put endless sleepless nights into developing the operating system and hacking the BIOS, Russell who has advocated from the outset that students CAN do this, and me who had volunteered to 'train' them when all my expertise is in the Mac OS, not Ubuntu!
Fortunately Joel created a training video, and with Nevyn created a list of written instructions. What could be simpler? Take a look...
OK, so that was all we had to do. We watched the video over and over until we all felt confident and then I was chosen to demo the first one - lots of pressure!
Things didn't go quite to plan initially, and Nevyn has written that all up here and here.
But they ironed out the glitches and soon the techie team were on a roll, swapping BIOS sticks for OS sticks and discovered they could do the complete job from unpacking to repacking in 14 minutes if all went well - particularly if John was ontask to put the BIOS password in for them.

In one day 8 kids imaged 100 laptops with ease. No sweat. Roll on the next round of the pilot with the next 500.
We had lots of interested visitors during the day to lend moral support, and most of them were handed a Netbook and asked if they would like to help out with the process. Because so many have put so much into it we decided to UStream the day so anyone who wanted to could watch - from classrooms and offices. At one stage we had 40 viewers online! Not bad for a geek fest.

So when all was completed and the Netbooks were back in their boxes looking like new, all was ready for the BIG day - tomorrow we hand them out to their new owners!

Student technicians:
Joshua, Lepa, April, Sela, Helen, Nathaniel, Paulitia, Latham

Developing the Netbook image

It is one thing to cheerfully say we will save a lot of money by not having a proprietary image on our Netbooks. It is another to come up with a free solution - that is robust and has everything specific to the needs of the Manaiakalani project in it. We are all teachers in this project, not IT geeks!

So Russell sent out a call through the online open source community asking who would be interested in helping us out and people came, offering amazing skills to the project. Over several months on most Tuesday nights a bunch of people have turned up at Pt England School at 5.30pm - fresh from their day jobs and worked into the evening on creating an image for our Netbooks.

The design goals are fleshed out in detail here, but in short we were looking for something fool-proof, open source, that would meet all our classroom and pedagogy requirements and provide a safe environment for our students to learn in.

We also set as a goal that our students would be the technicians for these devices - meaning we would put most of the technical support money into the wireless solution and not the devices.
We wanted to develop a group of trusted students as technicians aged 10 years and older who would be able to handle most of the basic issues. Warantee issues of course would go back to the manufacturer and device repairs would go through EdTech.

Nevyn and Tom did a lot of the work on the Ubuntu based image and Joel worked on the Bios - something I never knew existed till this year :) In fact I learnt a whole heap of stuff that I never knew existed through sitting in the back row at these evening sessions.

As the 'Go Live' day drew nearer the pressure came on key people in the group to have the image ready to go for the first group of students on Monday November 15th. Obviously this meant some working through the night on the weekend before.

We have found it very interesting and entertaining to read about this from a non-educator perspective on Nevyn's blog.

Next post: Handing over to the student technicians

Choosing the Netbook

Choosing the Netbook for all our schools took some time.  We needed to find something suitable for students ranging from Years 5 - 13 that would meet our list of requirements.

We sent out a request to vendors asking for samples for us to trial and were surprised by the responses.  Three in particular realised quickly that this project was not a waste of time (some seem to think private schools and new state schools are the space to devote their sales efforts) and that if successful there will be thousands of students eventually requiring an affordable device.

We started with the XO - the One Laptop per Child device.  Partly because I saw Nicholas Negroponte demonstrate the prototype at NECC in San Diego in 2008, and partly because we like the open source philosophy behind it. So we bought one during the Christmas 2008 Give One, Get One campaign.

We tested half a dozen other netbooks supplied by vendors and had a team of Year 7 students who were the lab for this process.  They used each one over a period of time in class and kept a spreadsheet (in the best possible way- on a large sheet of paper) where they scored each device against a list of desirable attributes.  These ranged from speed of the internet chip to responsiveness of the keyboard to general appeal/desirability.

In the end there were always new products 'just around the corner' and we were told by our TTP partners that we had to make the decision.  The vendors presented their supply and support packages, along with the costings and this was taken into account along with the students' recommendations.

We went with the Asus EeePC as the best out of the devices and support packages we were able to afford.  The pricing key for us was that we did not want to buy an operating system - the Netbook was to come empty so we could put a linux based image on it.  More about that in the next post....

1:1 Vision Established - Why Netbooks?

It was during the NECC conference in San Antonio in 2008 that a way forward for our students to enjoy the same 1:1 opportunity as their more affluent peers took shape in our leader's mind. And since then he has been working tirelessly to bring this about - with a magnificent team of helpers. This was reinforced at ISTE in Denver this year.

The next series of posts are my attempt to document snippets of the process we have gone through.

Since the advent of Web 2 technologies around 2005 and the with the impetus of the Manaiakalani projects beginning mid 2007, we have been exploring ways in which our students can use these emerging technologies to improve their academic achievement outcomes as well as increase their motivation and engagement. This has been well documented on this blog and through the research carried out.

As we suspected, this approach has been successful with our students and the only major drawback has been the lack of access to enabling technologies. This produces inequity with only some classes being able to work in this way and some students. In order for every student to have a 21st century learning environment every student needs to have access - to a device and to the internet. And in a community like ours, where the mean income is $17 K per annum, this is only going to happen through the schools for the majority of students.

In the same time period the government announced a focus on getting all households access to ultra fast broadband, beginning with the schools. And we were exploring the possibilities offered by cloud computing, particularly the free offering to schools through Google Apps for Education.

In the last major wave of technolgy - the pencil and paper revolution - our families (mostly Maori and Pasifika) were amongst the last off the starting block in adopting it. And their children have been playing catchup ever since. This time round - the computer technology revolution- we have the opportunity to be amongst the first, so why wouldn't we find a way to make it happen? Partlicularly because our students adapt to it so quickly and creatively.

Why Netbooks?

It all comes down to price really. As an ADE, of course I would love to see all our students with iPads or macBook Airs - but that is never going to happen is it!
So we needed a device which would enable cloud computing for our students. Robust, quick internet connection, large enough screen to be able to work on effectively, and all at a cost of $10-$15 / month for their parents to pay.

Netbooks seemed to fit the bill so that is what we explored.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Film Festival 2010

The Manaiakalani Film Festival was held for the third consecutive year on November 11th.  Students from our seven schools, ranging in age from 5 - 18 years, presented the movies they had been making at this festival event.  Some of the movies were made by small groups, some by students across year levels and some by entire classes.  We have elected to make this annual event a cluster celebration rather than a competition and we all share in the joy of seeing what each school has to present.

We present the films during the day to the 2000+ students from the schools, who bus in to the venue in shifts throughout the day.  Then at night we hold a parent and community showcase.  For the first two years we held it in the auditorium at Tamaki College, but this year we went huge and hired Hoyts Xtreme Screen at Sylvia Park Mall.  We were grateful to our friends at the Tamaki Transformation Programme giving us encouragement and support to take the event to the next step.  And we couldn't have done it at all without financial support from the TTP, Fusion Networks, Hapara, Rachel Hill and a local family.

There are so many 'gems' from the day that could be quoted here, but one thing that struck me was how many of our children as they entered the cinema made it clear it was the first time they had ever been to the movies here.  It was heart warming to see how much it meant to the kids (and their whanau at night) to see their masterpieces on a real cinema screen.

The evening showcase began with entertainment in the foyer by a band from Tamaki College, and was MCed by Anthony Samuels (who many remember from his "What Now" days) then 22 movies were rolled out - each presented briefly by the students who created them.

All the movies screened can be watched online now.  The link to them all is here.
I learnt a lot about creating movies for this screen during the event and have started writing notes for next time here.

This movie segement is part of the introduction (yes, it is meant to start from a black screen) and explains how this event fits into the Manaiakalani Project.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Young Mums engaging with School

One of the things I really enjoy about my job is meeting the parents at the different schools in the Home School Partnership meetings in the evenings. I am always impressed by the dedication of the teachers and principals who turn out in force - often not just as professionals, but as caterers for the evening too.

Glenbrae School recently held one of these events to give the parents a chance to learn more about the Manaiakalanai project and to learn how to access their own kids' blogs and leave feedback.

Another first for me was a group of young (FaceBook) Mums asking me if they could have access to the class blogs so THEY could post photos and stories from home about their kids. I had a quick think about that, and after a bit of a korero we all agreed that on a class blog it probably wasn't appropriate. BUT they were most welcome to email photos to the class teacher and type up stories their own child told them and the teacher would post them on the class blog.

I am looking forward to seeing where this goes, as it adds a whole new dimension to the idea of Home School partnership!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

A new twist to Parent Engagement

One of the strengths of the Manaiakalani cluster is the collegiality and diversity within our schools, and it is always a priviledge to be invited along to participate in their Home School Partnership nights. Having learnt from some of the other schools, St Pius X used a group of Year 7 and 8 students as the 'coaches' for the parents tonight.  Sure the teachers were present in the room, but the students were the trainers.  And they worked with other adults, not their own parents. See the video below for more.

Another positive aspect of our diversity is the perspective a Catholic school brings to our cluster.  This prayer that Paul Coakley, principal of St Pius X, opened the evening with is masterly, whatever your faith....

Lord, as we attend this meeting tonight,

Give us the patience to accept the true believers and carefully listen to the thoughtful critics. Help us understand and welcome technology as a tool, not as a Saviour sent from on high or a devil destined to destroy us. Let us not worry nor let fear stand in our way as we thoughtfully integrate information technology with the basic skills necessary for our students as they become educated citizens in a world filled with information. 

Encourage us as we embrace the humbling feeling of techno-ignorance. Help us use this process to better meet the challenge and stress that many of our students feel as they continue their studies at our school. Keep us open to new learning from anyone, especially open our spirits to the possibility that the students may need to be our guide, at times, as we step into this new world.

In all we do with technology, let us ask the burning question: "How does this practice improve student learning?" Moreover, let us use technology to answer even more questions about our students’ learning journeys. And let these answers make us sure that our technology use makes a difference. In short, grant us the ability to move beyond the intoxicating interest in the novel and the new, to a deeper concern for the learner and the learning.

We ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord,

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Student Internet Use in the Holidays

After the July school holidays seemed like a good time to check up on how much access our kids have to the internet out side of school.  I wanted to get a feel for the different age groups across our seven schools and so I tried to come up with a few questions that would help them to be quite clear in their own minds about what they did online.  We have filed the report that Colleen Gleeson kindly wrote up, after analyzing the data, under 'Research', but it definitely fell into the 'snap poll' category rather than scientific research!
However, the idea was to capture a snapshot of our students and I am pleased we got that.

In the week following the July holidays, teachers were asked to survey their classes, using a show of hands for responses.

Student Internet Use in the Holidays
This is what they were asked for:
"I would like to get an idea of how many of our students had access to the internet over the holidays. The Tamaki Wireless Net is going ahead, and in time the whole community will have wireless. So it will be interesting to look back and see how many kids had access to the internet BEFORE this was established.
Please ask your class these questions and complete the form."

The questions were: (with teacher clarification in brackets)

  1. Did you go on the internet in the holidays?
  2. Did you go on the internet by yourself ie. You held the mouse, or did you watch other people using the internet? (Tease out who actually chose what to click themselves and who were bystanders.)
  3. What did you look at most on the internet? (Group the responses and give numbers eg YouTube = 13)
  4. How many children visited school or cluster blogs? (To read, comment or post - you could verify this by asking what they saw )
  5. Where did you use the internet? (Try to find out how they get access to it. Group the answers and give numbers eg Home = 12, Internet cafe = 11, etc)
  6. What device did you use to access the internet? (eg. Computer? laptop? Phone? PS3?)

We had six of the schools respond, so the results covered Years 1-8.  Although Mike has rightly reminded us that Decile rating is not a good description of schools, in this case it is helpful as an economic reminder.  All the students in the survey are Decile 1a, and that gives a clear indication of the lack of resources available to them out of school.  Our wider community has two excellent libraries in Glen Innes and Panmure (the Mt Wellington library) and both have a number of computers available for kids to use.

What did we find out?
29 classes responded. 25% of our students had access to the internet at home.

  • Approximately 50% of the surveyed students accessed the internet over the holidays at some time. 
  • Of this 50%, half of them had access to the internet at home, mainly using computers or laptops.
  • The majority of all age levels used the internet at home.
  • The majority of students who went online accessed the internet by themselves ie they got to hold the mouse - a significant point in internet use!
  • Social networks, games and You-tube were the most popular sites for students to visit. Social networks were used by all age groups. As there are no students in this cohort at the legal age to access social network sites, this is an interesting finding.
  • An average of 38% of students visited their own school’s blogs or a cluster school’s blog.
  • 50% of the students who used the internet had access to the internet at home. One school stood out (School E) as not having the access at home. Incidently this is the school furtherest from the libraries or shopping centers with internet cafes, so they had very little access at all.
  • The older the students, the more they accessed the internet.
  • A majority of junior and middle school respondents (66% and 69%) used the internet by
    themselves. 80% of intermediate students used the internet by themselves.
  • Junior students mainly visited games, then YouTube and Blogs, Middle school students
    mainly visited games, then social networks and YouTube. 42% of Intermediate students
    visited social networks, then games and YouTube.
  • Junior students only used computers or laptops to access the internet. The majority of
    middle and intermediate students used computers and then laptops to access the internet. However they did use PS3s, iPod touch, cell phones and X-Box as well.
This wasn't scientific but it gave us some useful information leading up to the first round of netbooks arriving and some students having their own device and their own free access to wireless 24/7.  

As is always the case with surveys and research, a lot of the interesting information comes out in the discussions AFTER the process.  
  • A few teachers saying they were surprised by what their students revealed - mostly in terms of what they did online and the amount of access they were able to find. They can't be having these kinds of discussions with their students.  
  • The amount of under-age social networking accounts owned means we will have to review carefully how we managed our filters for the wireless infrastructure. We will be supplying it to them free to use out of school.
  • A teacher from School E who blogs with her class prolifically, and gets very little comments on the blog and few international 'hits' found only one student had access to the internet over the holidays.  Her question, "Why should I bother continuing when only our class reads it?" was hard to answer.
  • Conversations from the students about why they didn't use their own blogs more revealed a very obvious scenario; they only get a very limited time on the internet and when they do get a look in it's YouTube, Games and Social Networking all the way.  It will be interesting to see if the Manaiakalani project ends up reflecting overseas studies; when students have their own device 24/7 and they are not time pressured they will multitask between recreational, social and learning based activities.  Time will tell.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Blogger improves Comment Management

The recent update from Blogger to comment management will make life much easier for teachers managing class blogs and for any of us managing personal blogs. At this point in writing the Manaiakalani schools have 240 blogs posting student content and we have had very little problem with inappropriate comments on any of these blogs. But we have had a real issue over the last 6 months with spammers. And when they have hit a blog they have defaced 15 posts at once, which has been very tedious for teachers to remove.

We have very reluctantly responded by turning comment moderation on (for posts older than 14 days) and activated the capcha / word verification tool. We do not like doing this because between them these actions create real barriers to our students and whanau - and anyone following this project will know that one of our major goals is developing student voice and authentic audience. Removing barriers to interaction with our students' online learning is important to us.

So it was with real pleasure we saw this notice on Google Support:

"To make it easier for you to manage your comments, we’ve created a new Comments tab for you to access them. Here, you can manage published comments, comments that have been flagged as spam and comments awaiting moderation if you have turned on Comment Moderation..."

They have made a lot of useful changes at once:
  • Being able to see all your comments in an editable list - just as we do with posts and labels.
  • For our researcher, having a tally of how many comments have been made on a blog at a glance is useful
  • Being able to select some comments as spam and 'train' Blogger to recognise similar ones in the future as spam - just as we do with GMail. I have already had success with this in the past week.
  • Being able to remove spam comments from one checklist without having to track them down on each individual post

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Engaging Parents through Home School Partnerships

Engaging with parents in an authentic partnership to educate students is way more complex in this decade because we are using learning tools that didn't exist when most of our parents and teachers went to school. So we have less of a shared understanding of what education looks like and feels like.

I have just re-read Dr Mona Mourshed's quote from The Education Project conference I attended last year,
"Students spend 60% of their time out of school. Technology has the power to unleash the potential of the student because they have access to learning during the 60% time."
and been reminded again how important it is that we move forward WITH our parent community if we want the Manaiakalani project to be effective in our 4 major goals:
  1. To raise student achievement outcomes
  2. To make learning portable (Anywhere, Anytime, Anyplace =A3)
  3. To have engaged learners
  4. To ensure our students have employment readiness

In the early stages of this project our 4 development strands are occurring almost behind the scenes:
  • Mindware development
  • Infrastructure
  • Devices
  • Cloud solutions

But it is essential that we keep our stakeholder groups (students, teachers, parents, government officials, business partners etc) informed and included so that when the day comes to "Go Live" we are all moving in the same direction!

It has been a particular pleasure this year to participate in Home School Partnerships being held in our community of schools in the evening. I have attended and participated in the ones focussed on the Manaiakalani project and each has been a positive and successful event. We have learnt things along the way, so here goes:

The Purpose needs to be very clear, particularly within the staff and school leadership.
Trying to cram in too many key messages about a variety of events dilutes each message.
For these eveings the purpose has been; to inform the parents about the Manaiakalani project and how it is progressing in their school, and to give the parents a hands-on opportunity to interact with their own children's shared learning. And even then it has been important to take small steps, so we have been focussing on getting them interacting with the student blogs so far this year.

Knowing the parent community is most important; what are their particular needs, where are they likely to be in their current understanding of the mindware and the technology behind the Manaiakalani projects, and what will induce them to come out at night!
As all our schools are decile one and are in a 3km by 2km geographical area, the parents have a lot in common. Many of them are sole caregivers, they often have larger families, many will walk to the meetings, and our recent survey showed less than 25% have the internet in their homes. They are predominantly Maori or Pasifika families.

We know that what will bring our parents out at night is their children! They are supportive of their children and their learning and love seeing what they are doing at school. So the evenings need to include the children and we get them to bring their parents along. Issues we need to have thought through are:

Child minding
  • Food - kids are always happy when they have something in their tummies!
  • How are we going to get the children to interact with their parents? If the evening is about getting the parents using computers then the children need to be firmly told to keep their hands off the mouse. If the parents are not confident they will sit back and let the kids do it for them - and we all know that watching some whizz kid tearing around the screen is no way to learn anything about using a computer. We heard this thinking confirmed by teachers from the Maine 1:1 project at ISTE recently.
Schools have used various inducements to attend including:
  • kids putting on a couple of items first
  • kids writing personal invitations on cards to their parents
  • printing out invitations on a thin strip of paper and attaching to every child as a wrist band before they leave in the afternoon - that way most get home!

The formalities for the evening which seem to make an impact are:
  • having the principal welcome the parents and give the project a huge public seal of approval
  • having a brief overview in plain English (all geek terms stripped out!) about what we are trying to achieve and why
  • teachers standing up and speaking about how it is actually working in the classroom and impacting the kids
  • explaining exactly what we would like parents to do - again in very plain English - "We want you to read your own child's work and leave them positive feedback!"
Giving the parents an opportunity to have a go themselves is very important. How this is best carried out depends on each school's facilities, but most have sent the parents off to classrooms along with the teachers and let the parents sit down at classroom computers with teachers helping them. We have found that where we had well laid out instruction sheets for the parents we have had the most success. Particularly with large visual screen shots of what to do.

There needs to be an extension group too because we have found in each school a group of parents who have access to computers and have technical skills, especially with FaceBook. Teaching them how to use RSS to feed their child's blog posts to their FB has been successful. And working parents have appreciated being able to include their email address in the blog RSS settings so they get notified (often at work!) when a new post is published.

The evenings have been greatly appreciated and will be an ongoing feature of the Manaiakalani project. Our next step will be providing workshops for parents to develop their digital literacy further. It will be great when we can have cluster workshops that parents from any of the schools can attend, at times which suits them.

The video below is from Tamaki Primary School, in Panmure. They held a movie and popcorn event at the beginning to show the parents some of the student' movies.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Netbooks - The pencil NOT the book

As we prepare for the unprecedented (in New Zealand) rollout of 1:1 computing for a community of Decile 1 students, one of our recurring discussions has been about the misunderstandings the terms 'notebook' or 'netbook' lead to.

In our planning and preparations we see the device the students use as the pencil or pen. This provides lots of flexibility in terms of what we choose or even what the students bring from home.

The "book" for the Manaiakalani schools is definitely the Cloud solution we have set up. In our case this is Google Apps for Education.

We expect our students to be writing on documents in the cloud, using spreadsheets, creating presentations and even drawing and recording sound via their "books" in the cloud. The Google Apps are supplemented by a wide variety of Web 2 tools teachers and students can select from.

When our educators get their heads around this concept, it answers the questions which arise time and again; what software will be on their devices? what happens when they break or leave them at home? how much storage space will be on their hard drives? etc?
The device is simply the pencil - if it breaks, just like a pencil, get another one (or sharpen it!) and carry on working because your "book" is in the cloud.

This simplicity in thinking and working depends of course on a very reliable supply of fast internet to every school and home. And we are working on that too.

Thanks very much Lepa from Room 18 for drawing the graphics I wanted :)

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Bloom's Taxonomy

It is not unusual to hear teachers dismiss Bloom's taxonomy as ' something we had to learn at teacher's college' and follow this up with why the flavour of the month is a better metacognitive approach to learning.  I have always found Blooms to be a practical and 'easy to understand and implement' approach, and even more so since Andrew Churches has begun sharing his work around Bloom's Digital Taxonomy.  It was interesting to hear how widely accepted and respected his work has become when we were at the ISTE conference too. Having Creating at the top of the Higher Order Thinking chain certainly reflects the work being carried out in the Manaiakalani schools.
This video link tweeted by @jcorippo is not only amusing, but is a good example of Creating in action.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

iPad for grown-ups: reading books

I have been reading lots of educators postings about the iPad sharing all kinds of cool ways to use them in school and for learning, but I have always known that when I finally get one it will be for me!  Because I am a reader and everyone I live with is a reader (Define: reader  = a person who reads fiction regularly during the school term as well as serious work-related material; a person who will stay up into the wee hours of the morning during a working week on occasion reading fiction until it is finished!). When we all go on holiday together too much of the car boot space is taken up with library books. So the advent of a versitile eBook reader will be a wonderful asset to our household.

For the past week I have had an iPad and today I sadly/gladly handed it over to the person I bought it for.  I would have bought two so I could have one for myself, but we searched six states in the USA as we travelled and we only ever managed to find the one wifi iPad sitting in a store waiting to be bought - at Best Buy in Medina, Ohio.

So while I had the iPad I downloaded the Apple book reader, iBooks; the Barnes and Noble book reader; Amazon's Kindle reader; Borders' book reading app; and a free one called Free Books.

Then I bought a few books, took advantage of Barnes and Nobles free eBooks and downloaded lots from Project Gutenburg.  I also added a few lengthy .pdfs that I had been meaning to read. Then I tried to squeeze in as much reading time as I could. Fortunately a flight from one coast of the US to the other, a 6 hour stop-over in LAX and a 12 hour flight to NZ gave plenty of opportunity to read a few books and documents.

Here are some of my thoughts from the past week of reading....
There really wasn't a lot to pick and choose between the reading apps.  They all had nice page turning, bookmarks, the ability to go online and lookup words or information (if you have wireless - which of course I never had on a plane).  They did the double page landscape and the single page portrait.  I was a bit miffed that it was only pdfs that you could pinch and squeeze to enlarge text.  I had anticipated being able to do that with books and give aging eyes a break.

The real differences come in what they allowed you to download or to buy. Project Gutenburg is currently providing the backbone to all of the reading apps and the free book giveaways. It has 33,000 titles available to download for free and it is surprising to discover which books are already out of copyright and have now been digitised by the team of volunteers working on this project. All the classics and childhood favourites are there. I think that the Free Book app has the best interface of the ones I tried for reading these. I notice that if you go to the iTunes Store it is a free download, but the weblink is charging $1.99.

I presume the iBook reader is not yet available in NZ because iPads are not here yet. And if it is like the music and movie iTunes store, the US offerings will be different from the NZ ones. So that works fine if you have a US account.  Barnes and Noble work from IP address and will not sell to anyone outside North America.  I really don't know what that is about.  I downloaded lots while I was there, but know that there will be nothing more from now on - unless anyone cares to email me some of the next round of free books ;)  Amazon is quite bizarrre.  While I had a US IP address, they knew I was a New Zealand customer and wanted to charge me a $2 shipping fee!!! for eBooks.  So I didn't try any of theirs. And Borders seemed to be the most straight forward.  Give them your credit card and they will sell you an eBook.  I like that non-discriminatory approach.

Most of the readers offer the option to read in sepia rather than just black on white.  That is a nice option for the eyes.  And I did like the way I was able to turn the backlight brightness down on the plane to give my eyes a rest too.  The battery lasted easily for 10 hours, but we discovered today that it is a trial when you are up to a good part in a book and the battery goes flat.  Talk about frustrating.

Reading in bed with it is fine.  Reading on the plane was not quite as good.  Planes are uncomfortable at the best of times and the iPad didn't squish into the confined space in the same way a paperback does. But reading pdfs on a plane via iPad is way better than wads of printouts.  If you are a person who falls asleep over your reading and lets a book slide to the floor with a thunk, then you would need to invest in a good protective case!

Biggest frustration; not being able to quickly flip back through the pages when you have lost a piece of plot context and you want to check up on something that happened earlier.  
In conclusion, it is probably clear from this post that I am a fan of the iPad as a book reading device for grown-ups.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Global Collaboration

One of the joys and benefits of technology developments in the past decade has been the ability to connect, communicate and collaborate with people from all over the world as part of our shared learning experiences. We have benefited from having a number of schools in the USA interested in video conferencing with our students and working together on collaborative projects. However, because we have some shared history from Europe a few hundred years back, we can be lulled into thinking that we need to be doing 'projects' together rather than spending time finding out about how each other lives and sees life.

After two weeks in the USA enjoying the unfailing hospitality and kindness of people across the six states we visited, I have been reflecting again on the many cultural differences between Kiwis and North Americans. Many times I have reminded myself to not be deceived by the fact that we speak different versions of the same language. We have very different cultures, influenced as much by factors such as geography and climate as by our forebears.

I would urge both Kiwis and Americans to make the most of these digital communication opportunities to explore (and enjoy) the real cultural differences between us and not make presumptions based on what we glimpse on television ( NB: Kiwis) or how Peter Jackson and other movie directors portray us (NB: Americans). This is the first time I have visited the USA when more than 50% of the people I have talked to have complimented me on my soccer team! And even more have told me that visiting NZ is 'On my bucket list'.

I have been taking notes as I have travelled around, mainly via photos on my phone, of things that have intrigued / amused / astounded / informed because we don't experience them in New Zealand. In no particular order, here are some snippets - Vive la difference!
items with an ** are illustrated in the photos below....

First item has to be: everything is larger than anything New Zealand has ever experienced - you name it, it will be much bigger :)
  • Portions and malls; trucks and land; holiday houses - 4 bedrooms seemed minimum- and campers; fishing lines; airports
America has great roads - huge roads, fast roads, well maintained roads. Lots of toll roads to pay as you travel on. And they drive fast on them.
  • Everything on the the roads seems to be huge. The trucks, the cars, the SUVs, the boats being towed.
  • People tow amazing combinations - fast eg a ute towing a very large camping trailer towing a car towing a boat. All in one long line. Going fast.
  • Motor cycles don't seem to require helmets - even on the freeways going fast **
  • Radio station frequencies are advertised on the sides of freeways dedicated to giving you information about the area you are traveling through
  • Sign on the back of a passing truck: "My USA - no comfort or aid to the enemy".
  • Every state has different laws about seat belts. They change as you cross state borders eg Virginia says " Buckle up Virginia - It;'s a law we can LIVE with!"
  • In some states the speed limit is enforced by aircraft!
  • On a very fast freeway we all screeched to standstill while a state trooper shooed a family of ducks across the highway
  • We saw 3-4 dead bambis on the side of busy roads. Maybe cars are more lethal than guns nowdays
National pride - you have to experience July 4th in the USA to really get a picture of people who know how to do national pride.
  • Every house on the street flying the flag and sporting bunting. And if you go to church over the weekend you get to see it in the church context too. **
  • The food in the supermarket came flag-themed with masses of red/white/blue food for sale on July 4th **
  • Interesting the way they sing "God Save the Queen" on July 4th - kinda nice
Other stuff
  • Inside a decadent ice-cream eatery, Cold Sone Creamery, there is a sign on the counter outlining all the ailments that these icecreams will NOT cure! We thought we were just out to get an ice-cream, not to cure cancer! **
  • People kept telling us that Virginia Beach was 'very strict'. We discovered that you get fined for swearing in public, for appearing drunk while walking etc there **
  • The visual pollution: power lines and billboards cluttering the sky in remote parts with beautiful scenery
  • We were quite surprised that we could not eat outside when we were having meals in beachside cafes in North Carolina. The waitresses said it was against the law.
  • A long public pier put over the sea was gated off and payment of $10 was required to fish and $1 to walk out onto it. **
  • The air conditioning units - you need a jersey to wear inside on very hot days or you freeze
  • Pennsylvania billboard: "We treasure our country, our cows, our children" - we passed it too fast to get a photo :) However, in all the miles of farmland we never saw a single cow outside on the farms. Maybe the cows were all inside somewhere….
  • Bathrooms have long been a fascination of mine and this trip I saw an effective method of controlling graffiti; they placed a board inside a picture frame on the back of the toilet door - and it worked - all the messages were contained within it. But the dreaded gaps are still there! **
  • Cheese - well, there is nothing that resembles the cheese we eat in NZ
  • Coffee - Funny how something that you would think would be the same the world over can be so different!
  • Tipping everyone, everywhere; the price appears to have gone up and they have started publishing notices to 'foreigners' that we HAVE to tip 18% of a meal bill **
  • Visitors are no longer called 'aliens' - now we seem to be 'foreigners'
  • Cafe menu have appetisers, salads etc but the entres section turns out to be the main course?? Asked waiters about it but they didn't understand the question (or the accent!)
There is lots more, but I think that we need to take time with our students to help them connect with each other and try to put themselves in each others' shoes. I believe it is easier to have a quality learning experience with kids from countries who speak a different language because we don't make presumptions that they are the same as us - just with a different accent.

The Haul - Shopping for America

Doing our bit to support the American economy is an important feature of any trip to this part of the world and we have made sure we didn't drop the ball on this one. Today I realised that this could be another authentic education activity, thanks to reading USA Today over my morning coffee.

US teenagers (I have only come across girls so far) are posting 'haul' (shopping Show 'n Tell) videos on YouTube. And stores are starting to take them seriously. Makes my couple of photos posted on Facebook pale into insignificance! The example I have embedded below is heading towards a million views and there are heaps more of them online.

After visits to the US I usually return home buzzing with ideas about how we can leverage the latest technology trends in our schools, particularly with a focus on literacy. It wouldn't take much to integrate this idea into the English curriculum, but I can also see a great 'hook' here for Maths- we just need a sponsor.
Watch this space for the launching of the "GI Haul" video channel!

A haul video is a video displaying the fruits of a shopping trip which someone uploads to the Internet. Haul videos may be used by bloggers to connect with their readers and community, and they are also used to generate communities of their own...... Researchers who are interested in the changing ways in which the Internet is utilized and people interact with each other may cite the haul video as one example of how the Internet has changed social interaction. Historically, young women commonly showed off their hauls in person to friends, parents, and roommates. Today, they may be more inclined to post a haul video which will reach not only friends and family, but people all over the world who may be interested in the vlogger's life or opinions on fashion.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Preparing for a Netbook Rollout

As we make plans for the Manaiakalani netbook rollout to the Year 5-13 students in our cluster, one of the priorities for learning at the ISTE conference was what schools, districts and states in the USA who began similar projects several years ago have learned from the experience. We were particularly interested in state schools and anyone who had implemented a project like this with lower decile students. If you don't think this distinction is important, let me tell you that whenever we talk to people outside our cluster about the Manaiakalani Project vision, the first thing more than 50% say back is, "But what about theft and damage?" A response to that question is a post on its own!

We attended a presentation titled "How to Design a Successful 1-to-1 Program".
The brief included:
"The Maine Learning Technology Initiative (MLTI) is the largest and only statewide 1:1 initiative in the USA. Encompassing every public school 7th and 8th grade student and every educator teaching grades 7 through 12, MLTI has 70,000 laptop computers deployed across the State.... Maine has deployed over 155,000 laptops and 800 wireless networks in the last 8 years. If there are mistakes to be made, we've made them. Learn from Maine's successes and failures to help ensure a successful 1:1 program in your school."

This session provided a wealth of information and I have noted down practical ideas here which we think will be very useful to the Manaiakalani Project netbook roll out. So, in no particular order, here goes.....

Teaching and Learning thoughts:
  • Teacher Preparation is essential
  • One year before students have the devices the teachers need a laptop and a data projector of their own
  • BUT don't wait until staff are fully trained to give the kids their netbook - they will never be fully trained for what is around the corner!
  • Use online communication tools with teachers to support their learning, to collaborate and co-ordinate eg Google Apps
  • Hold regular teacher meetings where these questions are asked; "What are you doing that's working?" and "What are you doing that you are having challenges with". And record the answers in an online space.
  • Get teachers out of school to state and district (cluster) meetings to share their learning and needs
  • Every staff meeting book 10 minutes to have a teacher show something that is working
  • Don’t teach software - teaching learning, using the software
    Principals need to be attending the professional development alongside the teachers
  • It won’t make a bad teacher better, but once you have taught a 1:1 class you will never want to teach in another way again
  • The pedagogy must be different. Putting a device in the hands of every student and continuing to teach in the same way we were taught is not going to work.
  • In the US they found that 60-70% of the text books they used were available online or as pdfs or podcasts
Parent and Community (Whanau) thoughts:
  • Insist that parents come in to school for training before the individual student is allowed to take a netbook home
  • Newsletters in a variety of forms are essential for communication
  • Ongoing training of parents (at school) should be done by children - but always mix it up. Don't have kids train their own parent!
  • By product of this is that PARENTS use technology more at home
  • Send the netbooks home. Research shows that sending the netbooks home results in improved test scores.
Technical Support issues:
  • Less breakage occurs in netbooks that are being used all the time than those that are stored a lot!
  • Breakage is inversely related to HOW the technology is being used
    What they are being used for makes a huge difference. If the kids see classes/learning as boring.... breakage and theft goes up
  • More breakage occurs with laptops than netbooks
  • Need a regular weekly meeting to review challenges and highlight those that need to be urgently fixed
  • Infrastructure - always double the bandwidth you think is necessary.... and double it every year. You will never have too much
  • Every classroom needs its own managed access point for wireless
  • Students MUST be used as technicians. You will never be able to employ enough adults.
  • After trial and error, student technicians fell into two layers; kids who enjoy 'fixing' and problem solving, and kids who organise and administer the requests for repairs
  • All netbook issues are logged with the kids who organise the repair scheduling - they cope with the stress being generated by kids with dysfunctional netbooks
  • The hands-on techie kids liaise with the adult technicians and work through the job schedules. This way they are not having to interface with aggrieved peers
  • Have two old desktop computers in the back of the room as fall backs for kids who left netbook at home or have it in for repairs. Don't replace with another netbook!
  • It is not worth insuring netbooks. Cheaper to replace them.
  • Use old laptops (especially those with dead batteries) as desktops in back of classroom - for when a kid has one out for repairs OR when kid has been inappropriate - give them one of those :)
  • Filtering/Firewalls solution: The best solution they have found is the one they call the GOYA solution (Get Off Your A***) “Teach your teachers to get up and walk around the room” to actively monitor what students are looking at on their screens!
We would appreciate any other useful and practical tips from folk who are further down the track than us.

NB: This post clearly does not address the huge pedagogical shifts we are having to make to prepare for a netbook roll out. There are many other posts in this blog which reflect our thinking in that area.

***Update: Russell Burt has shared his notes after attending several 1:1 sessions at ISTE on a .pdf which can be downloaded from this link

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Your Keys to the City - Denver

First impressions on arriving in Denver, Colorado are that it is a very friendly and very clean city.  After spending seven days in the city for the ISTE conference we can confirm it truly is. We only saw graffiti once as we drove out of town.  It has a fantastic climate, good shopping in the centre of town, good eateries and every place we went to had New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc on the menu :)  Denver is one of those places in the world that you leave knowing that one day it would be good to come back.
It is a city that is easy to navigate - the regular layout of the streets meant even the most geographically challenged (me) could find their way with ease.  And the public transport was great.  We tried it all; taxi, airport shuttle, bike, horse and gig, free shuttle buses and city buses.  All the drivers were helpful and waited patiently while kiwis fumbled with correct change.  This is a welcome change when you are a tourist.

One of the special delights of the city was the Your Keys to the City programme in the main street - 16th Street mall.  10 pianos were left out 24/7 for passers bye to sit down and entertain the foot traffic.  And these were no ordinary pianos.  They all were hand painted by local artists. 

"Ten uniquely painted upright pianos can be found along the 16th Street Mall in Downtown Denver for one month starting May 21st. They are part of a seasonal program called "Your Keys to the City" created by the Downtown Denver Partnership. The concept is designed to encourage those in center city to interact with their public spaces in new and spontaneous ways while contributing to the vibrancy within our urban core! "

We presumed one of the reasons the city was so clean was the large number of people employed to clean up after people and horses. It certainly wasn't the police presence because we hardly saw any.  It was surprising then that there seemed to be so many homeless people and people asking for money.  Although it was pretty constant it never felt threatening.  The major drawback was the complete lack of iPads to be bought in the city.  People owned them and were using them everywhere we turned, but they proved impossible to buy. Fortunately we had better luck in Cleveland!

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Google Block Party

The highlight of Monday June 28 at ISTE had to be the Google Block Party.  The invitation had gone out during the day to sign up for the party and they appropriated an outdoor area by the Performing Arts Centre. It had all the Google hallmarks:  primary colours, great food and drink, and light-hearted fun.  The party came complete with jugglers, magician, a kitchen sink band, party games with lots of Google prizes and loot bags to take your prizes and lollies home in.
On arrival we all queued to have our photos taken for hologram luggage labels.  The principal who accompanied me got talking to Fun Productions about the possibility of getting them made at school to give every five year old one as a fun way to commemorate their first day at school.
All in all a great way to wrap up the first official day of the ISTE conference.

One of the many Google takeouts during the day was a tip shown to me by Cindy Lane. Google have recently released templates for Building Better Balloons in your Google Earth Tours.  These will be fun to use for Google Earth Lit Trips.  The layouts of the information balloons are already done for you if you use one of these templates.