Welcome to my blog! I'm Karen Belt, a teacher and leader of digital learning, working at Lynmore Primary School in Rotorua, New Zealand. I'm teaching in a Year 2 class using iPads to engage and motivate learners and improve student achievement. This blog documents my teaching journey and my learning processes with iPads in the classroom. I've proud of having been a member of the inaugural Manaiakalani Digital Teaching Academy(MDTA) program and last year a Spark Manaiakalani Innovative Teacher (MIT) and Manaiakalani Google Class OnAir teacher.

Monday, 28 July 2014

Dialogic Conversations

As part of our ongoing staff professional development we had another session today with Dr. Jannie van Hees around building a dialogic classroom.  As a way of unpacking todays valuable session and reflecting on the information Jannie provided us, I've created a word cloud with the main vocabulary from the session.  We explored word clouds in more detail at our MDTA digital immersion session last Wednesday and I've again used my favourite, Tagxedo!  

Some of the highlights from todays session for me were:

  • The importance of giving learners quality prepare and thinking time - I know I'm guilty on some occasions of expecting instant answers. 
  • Lead the thinking without dominating the thinking - through questioning and providing opportunities for sharing
  • Have a way for students to indicate their readiness - this allows them to show they are ready and minimises the chance of interrupting their thoughts as often learners won't remember what they were going to say
  • Increase pair-share opportunities which asks learners to think about what we're asking them as well as a voice to share 
  • Collaborative gathering - opportunities for students to stretch their ideas through hearing the responses of others, make meaning of what is being discussed and hear the ideas expressed in a slightly different way
  • Elaborate on responses - enables the gifting of additional language (so important in a Year 0/1 classroom) which will ensure the continual growth of the language of all learners
  • Listen to your learners - ensure you are 'hearing' what they are wanting to convey
  • A picture often tells a better story - unpack vocabulary with visual stimuli - provide multiple pictures to unpack a word
Many of the messages and information received today reinforce for me the pedagogy that was introduced throughout my university study and is reflected extremely well in the practice that Michelle demonstrates on a daily basis in our classroom.  So much of it is what I've taken on board and am also using daily - but - I also think its important to reconsider and reflect on our practice constantly.  For me, part of this reflection is to revisit professional development sessions, and think about what I'm currently doing in my teaching practice and what I could improve on as a result of this new learning.  After all, its not just the learners in my classroom who should be constantly learning!

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

QR SUCCESS and some tweaks :)

Yesterday afternoon we discussed QR codes and how they worked.  Using the Apple TV we used just one of the codes for our Commonwealth website (New Zealand) and I modelled how to scan the code to bring up the webpage.  After having a brief look at that page as a whole class on the Apple TV, all students had a go reading the QR code and exploring the page on their individual device.

Today, was an opportunity for the learners to explore the rest of the site, using their iPads to select a QR code from our topic wall.

The enthusiasm and engagement both Michelle and I observed in the learners over the 45 minute session was amazing!  Not only were they keen to use the QR Reader, but they had the opportunity to choose which code they scanned.  In giving the learners this choice, it was interesting to see the selections that were made - some learners made their choice based on the images around the code, while others randomly selected a code.  Others were influenced by what their peers had scanned with several learners coming back to the topic board to be shown which code to scan.  Importantly, the learners were equally as engaged when they were interacting with the material on the webpages as when they were scanning the codes!

As with anything tried for the first time, there were a few things that needed to be tweaked!  One of the codes didn't work - I'd blue tacked the codes to the wall so it was easy to take that code down until I could replace it tomorrow.  I also discovered that the Explain Everything projects embedded onto the bottom of the pages were not able to be downloaded (despite testing)!  After some thought I've circumvented this problem by creating QR codes that link learners directly to the projects in Google Drive - these codes will be blue so they are easily recognisable and we can have learners scan the blue codes when we are ready for them to complete these activities!

I think I was the most unpopular teacher at Pt England School this afternoon when I told the learners they had to pack up for the day - just as well we have a whole term to explore!  Based on today, QR codes are here to stay in Class 20!

Our Commonwealth Site was created using Google Sites.  We are using QR Code Reader by Scan, Inc on our iPads.  I used QR Code Generator to create out QR codes.

Friday, 18 July 2014

Game On! with Google Sites and QR codes

Term Three is about to begin!  Our school wide topic is "Game On" and in Team 1 we have a focus on the Commonwealth Games and how to be a champion.  As part of the Manaiakalani Digital Teaching Academy (MDTA) we are encouraged to create an interactive Google Site each term to assist our learners - one of the many ways that the learning is "visible" in a digital learning environment.  I've found this a real challenge as my learners are just 5 years old, and are not as able to negotiate the web in the same way that learners can in other year levels.

I have been constantly thinking of ways that I could use a Google Site with my learners!  This term, using Google Sites,  I've created an information portal, which learners can access on their iPads using QR codes. We will start by unpacking the site as a whole class, but the aim is for learners to be able to use it independently later in the term.

I have selected several countries to initially focus on - including New Zealand - but can add additional pages to the site as we explore the Commonwealth Countries using the inquiry approach to learning.  Likewise, we will begin by looking at four of the sporting areas (Aquatics, Athletics, Cycling and Gymnastics) but as we follow the progress of the Commonwealth Games it is easy to add additional content to our Google Site.

Each country/sporting area has its own page, and the QR code for each page is displayed on the "Game On" topic wall in our classroom.  There are navigation buttons at the bottom of each page which links the site together as well as a "home" button.  In order to make it as easy as possible for learners to navigate the site I've tried to keep the layout as similar as possible.


As my learners are beginning readers, there is only a small amount of text on each page, with visuals and video clips providing learners the ability to see and hear the information.   I have created several Explain Everything projects as follow up activities which learners can download from the page and complete.  Only two of these have been released to date as I want to trial these and see the results before making others available.  I'm ready for the term ..... Game On!

What Makes A Champion? - Class 20 Topic Google Site


Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Explain Everything .... a quick how to guide :)

We had a short session on how to use the app Explain Everything at school today for other junior school teachers.  As a result of this session I offered to make a short screen recording, as a reminder of the things we covered in the session that could be used as a reference, particularly over the holidays!

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

The year is half over ....

I've been a teacher for six months!  WOW!  Sometimes I still find it hard to believe I'm living my dream!  I was walking through school the other day when one of my colleagues said "have you really only been here six months ... it seems like forever!"  What an amazing compliment that is!

As I sit down and reflect on my first six months teaching and in particular the last term .. I think about the progress the learners in my class have made and also think about all the learning I've done so far this year. There IS a difference between the "theory" of learning while at University (and even to a degree on placement) and the "doing" of being in your own classroom.  Some things can be taught, others you need to find out through experience!

I remember vividly the first day Michelle was not in the class at all (due to a Manaiakalani meeting off site) and feeling really nervous.  I compare that with how I'm feeling now (just a few months later) when she's off site due to illness or meetings and how much confidence I now have - what a difference a few months make!

Sharing a classroom continues to be an amazing experience - Michelle is supportive of me trying new things even if she has had limited success with them herself in the past and I can't thank her enough for that!  Having an "expert" to ask advice of and learn from is SO beneficial and I feel I'm growing as a teacher so much faster as a result.

We recently had parent interviews and this was an amazing experience.  We were able to share samples of the work learners have been doing in the classroom as well as introduce the Parent Portal (a feature of Hapara Teacher Dashboard)!

I can't say I feel "in control" of my University study - I am definitely struggling to find a balance with working in the classroom as well as finding time for readings and assignments, but I am definitely learning, which has to be a good thing.  The Manaiakalani Digital Teacher Academy (MDTA) sessions continue to be amazing!  Sharing experiences and learning with this great cohort of teachers is so worthwhile, as are the digital immersion sessions we complete together - I totally LOVE iMovie, on which our learning has been focused for the last few weeks (and am actually enjoying putting together our Team 1 movie for Day 1 assembly next term!)

As I head into the holidays I have a few things on my "to do list", including something exciting to try with the class next term (watch this space!) but it is also a time to reflect on what has worked well, and not so well in my first six months of teaching.  In random order .....

  1. Don't be scared to try things ... and have them fail ... you can learn from things even if they don't work the first time! 
  2. Scaffold new activities really well - if possible create visuals to support the scaffolding.
  3. Set routines and be consistent - ensure new students understand the routines!  
  4. Reinforce the positive - an oldie but a goody - it REALLY works!
  5. Relationships are key - know your students and their whanau.
  6. Explain Everything IS amazing ... and limited only by your imagination!
I am enjoying the break and a chance to recharge my batteries, but I also can't wait to get back to, what for me is, the best job in the world!

Monday, 7 July 2014

Top of the Class ....

The University of Auckland have launched a website aimed at showcasing the work of teachers throughout New Zealand.  They were keen to have a contributor from the Manaiakalani Digital Teacher Academy (MDTA) and I volunteered to be involved.  My first "blog post" on the Top of the Class website went live today!