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.