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.

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Term three review .... three quarters complete!

With the school year three quarters over, I'm again taking the opportunity to reflect on my amazing year to date and my personal growth as a teacher!

My Provisional Teacher goals for this term were around behaviour management and taking a lead on our Integrated Learning topic - both were a challenge but also an opportunity to test things and further my learning.

My highlights of the Term:

  • An amazing school wide Commonwealth Games day to finish the term
  • Whole team trip to Lloyd Elsmore Park for our own Commonwealth Games events
  • Creating healthy snacks in class
  • Visiting the Life Education bus early in the term
  • Using the QR codes to explore the Commonwealth Integrated Learning site
  • Using Explain Everything to scaffold story writing by recording the story orally prior to writing
  • Amazing reading improvements which were highlighted through reading graph and running records
  • Trip to Samsung to explore the amazing technology they have on offer (and play with some tablets!) 
  • Implementation of the "monster madness" behaviour management within the class
  • More solo teaching time - although working with Michelle is amazing!
  • Pt England School staff and the MDTA team - they continually amaze me with their professionalism, collaborative nature and willingness to go the extra mile for our learners - I'm so proud to be part of these amazing teams of teaching professionals.
  • Creating a movie for the Manaiakalani Film Festival - but I can't say more - watch this space later in November!
My challenges of the Term:
  • Balancing family, work and study commitments continues to be a challenge, however with my last assignment for the year due just after these holidays, I'm looking forward to a temporary break from study.  That said, I'm excited about my proposed research topic for next year!
  • Effectiveness of the Integrated Learning topic site when related to the time it took to create - again an area for learning and once created the site exists forever, but I need to carefully plan and consider how much to include in future sites.  The engagement effect of the QR codes however continues to amaze - and I was constantly asked when taking down our display if we'd be using QR codes again next term!
  • Sickness - unfortunately working around five year olds, it can be a challenge to stay "healthy" and I definitely experienced this during the term.  While I managed to escape with just two days off during the term, I was definitely not at 100% for many more - here's hoping my immunity kicks in soon!
So, looking forward ....

As I enter into what could be my last term of "team teaching" with Michelle, I want to continue to explore and improve my own teaching practice and pedagogy.  Our school wide topic has an art focus - something which I admit is not a strength - so it will be a small step outside my comfort zone as I look at ways to inspire creativity in my learners.  With my study commitments complete for the year I expect to have a more controlled work/life balance and am looking forward to putting a little extra time into Explain Everything projects to extend the learners.

We have an extremely busy term ahead, with the Film Festival, a team trip, athletics day and prizegivings at the end of the year.  In combination with these great events is the end of year testing and I'm contributing to Toolkits and a Hangout session to highlight the piloting journey I've contributed to this year.  I constantly get told that Term Four is the busiest in the whole year, and I just can't wait to get it started!

Monday, 29 September 2014

Writing using the iPads

One curriculum area which we haven’t to date used the iPads extensively with is writing.  Our main rationale for this was the need for learners to learn how to write using the traditional pen and paper.

We did implement a few innovations using the iPad during the first two terms, including having a lined page on an Explain Everything template for learners’ to practice writing their name as well as a trace the letters of the alphabet project (to assist with correct letter formation).  However, for the most part we have focused on writing using books and pencils.

That has all changed in the last few weeks as Michelle identified a need for our learners’ to remember their stories in order to write them.  They have some amazing ideas, many of which have come about through the rich gifting of oral language we are doing in the classroom (drawing on school wide professional development we are receiving from Dr Jannie van Hees).  We have trialed using Explain Everything to record their stories orally and then have the learners use the playback function to assist in their writing.  This innovation has shown immediate results with some great stories being created and written by our learners.

This approach has highlighted that learners are able to locate high frequency words and sounds within a word, and record these into sentences but they struggle to retain sentences (or multiple sentences) in their head and sequence it for writing.  Through this recorded scaffolding they are experiencing success in their writing which in turn is engaging them in writing.

In combination with this, we are now allowing learners to type their stories directly onto the iPad on some occasions.  This has resulted in greater detail in the stories and learners are even more engaged in writing and keen to write all the time.  This was highlighted last week when many selected writing during a twenty-minute period of ‘free choice’ in the classroom. 

While it is early days, the results already from learners recording their stories orally first and then using this recording to write has been so effective that we plan on continuing it into next term.

Two samples of independent, unscaffolded writing from my learners:

An example of a recorded sentence which a learner has used to write their story:

This post appears as my fortnightly contribution to the University of Auckland's Top of the Class blog, of which I'm a regular contributor.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

An exciting lesson .... a healthy snack!

As we near the end of our Integrated Learning unit, we are looking at healthy snacks and what the benefits are of eating healthy foods.  We completed an amazing brainstorm with the learners identifying many great ideas about why we should put healthy food in our bodies.

Last Monday, we had the opportunity to make a healthy snack.  Michelle was on release for this lesson, so I had the opportunity to plan and manage the lesson and am really pleased to report it was highly successful.  I made sure I was really clear in my instructions and demonstrated steps so the learners were able to enjoy the lesson within a framework which ensured success.

In order to reflect on this lesson and draw on aspects in future lessons, this blog post reflects on the lesson and unpacks what I would do differently next time.

  • Having two Year 8 learners to assist - Class 20 related really well to them and it enabled me to put a small group of learners with each of them
  • Unpacking the ingredients and discussing the vocabulary - when we revisited the activity the next day at writing, many of learners were able to identify the ingredients and equipment and use that same language
  • Allowing a whole hour - I was unsure if we would be able to use the entire hour, but by taking things slowly we were able to do a good job and discuss the whole process
  • Clear and precise instructions - all but two of the learners were able to make the kebabs completely independently (and they enjoyed the task more I feel because of the participation)
  • Well scaffolded steps and discussing these before we started so there were clear expectations - the learners also knew they would be able to eat their finished product, but not until the very end
  • Being able to eat the end results - definitely appreciated by all the learners
  • Following the activity up the next day with writing and KidPix - this really helped cement the learning and some amazing stories were created from the experience

  • Need to be aware of balancing the instructions and scaffolding with allowing learners to explore, but within boundaries - we discussed all steps but some of the learning may have been more beneficial by learners trying certain things eg trying a whole strawberry or apricot on the kebab stick and seeing the result
  • Set instructions - having a procedure printed to refer to (like a recipe) may have been beneficial for working through the steps
  • Small group versus whole class - this activity we completed as a whole class, with each child making their own kebab when the ingredients were all prepared - could try as small groups which would give each learner a greater hands on experience (perhaps with additional senior students as support)?

NB:  Images in this blog post created using Pic Collage iPad app

Monday, 22 September 2014

Amazing writers

Michelle and I constantly attempt to innovate and think about new (or better) ways we can use Explain Everything to assist our learners.

One of the things that is holding back some of our learners in writing, is they fail to remember their whole story, so get part way through writing and forget what great idea they had and therefore what goes next.  Last Wednesday while I was at University, Michelle trialled them recording their story using their voice and then using this to play back again and again as they wrote.  It seems to have been a success although early days yet!

Accompanying this, we have allowed learners the opportunity to type their story.  Some still prefer to use their book, but some have taken to the typing and can actually create a much longer story using the keyboard than they would using a traditional pen and paper.  In fact, on Friday, we had a spare twenty minutes to our day, and when given a choice, some learners chose to write on their iPads as their 'free choice' activity!  With some amazing results.  These stories were not scaffolded at all - they were able to write about whatever they wished.  I had a few requests for "how do you spell this" but the ideas, the structure and the location of many of the words were done independently by the learners.  I was amazed with what they created!  

We will continue to offer the keyboard option on some occasions, particularly when we get results like this:

Monday, 15 September 2014

My MDTA journey so far ...

The following is a post I recently submitted to appear on the University of Auckland's Top of the Class blog!

As I approach the end of Term 3, I decided to use this post to reflect on my journey as a beginning teacher in the Manaiakalani Digital Teacher Academy (MDTA), a very unique opportunity and one for which I continually thankful for.

The Manaiakalani Digital Teacher Academy (MDTA) allows 10 Beginning Teachers (BT) the opportunity to teach alongside an experienced teacher, while being immersed in schools using digital technology in the classroom.   This is a unique opportunity for BTs to experience and learn through “doing”, with the support of our mentors.  It will ensure that we are strong practitioners in teaching in a digital environment to maximise achievement opportunities with our students.

Alongside this team teaching, I meet with the other MDTA BTs in a weekly PLG receiving professional development assisting us in building digital pedagogies and becoming confident and competent with digital technologies.   All the BTs and mentors are also completing postgraduate study (Honours or Masters) focusing on teaching and learning with digital technology, particularly in lower decile schools.

Teaching in a Digital Learning Environment
What I really like about teaching in a digital learning environment is the 24/7 nature of it.  I don’t have to be at school to do my planning or look at my children’s work as I can access this from anywhere as long as I have an internet connection.   All our learners have a Google account created and managed by the school.  Their work is uploaded to their Google account (each learner has their account linked on their iPad so they are not having to remember passwords).  Using the Hapara Teacher Dashboard app, I have access to all my learners’ files and parents are also able to log in via the Parent Portal on this app and look at the learning of their own children.

Team Teaching with a Mentor Teacher
Sharing the class with Michelle George (my mentor teacher), I have an opportunity to observe her on a daily basis and adjust my practice and pick up on things that she is doing really well.  I also get immediate feedback from her about my teaching which is particularly valuable if I try something different or need guidance on things I want to change.  Michelle has given me opportunities to try things out whilst providing guidance about the school systems, assessments and how to progress individual learners when appropriate.  When we discuss individual learners we bring our own unique perspectives but will often have seen the same things and agree on the way forward.  As a beginning teacher I totally appreciate that I’m receiving more guidance and feedback than other BTs and feel that I will be a better teacher because of this.

Furthering my Education – the Honours Degree
Balancing the demands of teaching with study can be difficult, although it is also extremely rewarding.  The two papers we are completing this year (Research Methods and Accelerating Learning) are able to be related to learners and my digital classroom environment.  We are encouraged to bring specific examples to our lectures to discuss, particularly with those teaching at a similar age level.  The learning from lectures and readings can be applied in the classroom and are grounded in theories for both teaching and learning.

There’s been so much learning this year so far, but by far the highlight for me is the progress that the learners in my class have made and continue to make.  When I look at the gains they have made since starting school and see their progress, combined with how highly engaged they are with the iPads, I find it extremely motivational for me as a BT.

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Game On ..... a personal review!

After using my Game On site for seven weeks now, I thought it was timely to review how its gone from both a teaching and learning perspective.  The site was time intensive to create (although much of the work could easily transfer into a new site in the future) but did it achieve the outcomes I intended?

  • The use of QR Codes for learners to navigate to the pages - extremely easy for five year olds to use, highly engaging (they were always keen to use them) and were very simple to create and display on our integrated learning wall.  I would definitely use these again, in fact the learners are already asking if we will have them again next term!
  • You Tube clips on the site for learners to view and hear the information - again, extremely successful (although a little noisy in the classroom) but many viewed the same clips more than once and were able to remember and report back on what they had viewed.  
  • The world map with links to the Commonwealth Countries we intended to investigate - this worked really well and provided a visual link for the learners as to where each country was in relation to New Zealand!  I feel I didn't unpack this map as well as I could have and this is a "need to work on" for next time.
  • Ability to add additional pages to the Google Site - so easy!!  After focusing on the Opening Ceremony during our class time I easily added a page to the site to include some of the images we'd discussed in class.  Creating an additional QR code and adding it to our display wall saw the learners being able to access the page the very next day!
  • Ease of creating a Google Site and sharing it with multiple teachers - again, so easy!  I was able to give Michelle editing rights to the site and she could add and edit our site.  Other teachers in the school also indicated they intended to use some of the site for their learning.

  • Topic specific words with corresponding pictures - these made our inquiry display in the classroom visually appealing but I feel I didn't unpack these words with the learners so they could benefit from this rich vocabulary.  Something to improve on next term!
  • You Tube clips on every page - because I had a You Tube clip on every page, it was impossible to have students exploring the site at various times as the noise was extremely distracting for other learners.  This wasn't a huge problem for this topic as we all explored the site at the same time (it was a little noisy!) but it definitely is something to remember for future sites if the intention is to explore it at varying times throughout the day.  In the more reliable summer months, there is always the option to head outside and listen to clips.

  • You Tube clips relating to the 20th Commonwealth Games - when I created the site I added clips from previous Commonwealth Games as a starting point, with the intention to upload additional clips as the games got under way (I created the site during the Term holidays before the CG started). However, I didn't expect such limited access to You Tube clips once the games got under way.  Even clips from the Opening Ceremony were extremely limited except for those on NZ news sites (Stuff, TVNZ) which were much harder to link to directly.  This meant while we were able to play content for the learners on the Apple TV (using the Stuff & TVNZ sites) I wasn't able to add these to my site and have learners look at them independently.
  • How many site pages did we need?  I'd created pages for six commonwealth countries and five of the commonwealth games sports.  This gave the learners a huge selection to choose from but took a significant amount of time to create.  While this variety was great for the learners, it could easily be scaled back to be more manageable from a creation perspective.
  • Height of the QR codes - oops!  While visually appealing to have the QR codes at different heights, in reality this made it hard for learners to scan them.  We had a number of work-arounds throughout the term - some learners standing on chairs, me moving them down temporarily so they could be scanned, but the big message for next term - KEEP the QR codes lower!
  • Explain Everything projects linked to QR codes - this just did not work.  It was a great idea, but when learners scanned the QR code linking to the Explain Everything project (despite intensive testing) there were always problems, such as it not linking into the Explain Everything app, taking too long to load, or just not opening at all and displaying an error.  It was worth trying, but definitely Teacher Dashboard remains the best way for sharing these projects.

As we evaluate the learning that has occurred this term about "What Makes a Champion", much of the learning has come from the information provided on the site.  While it is impossible to tell if the learners would have 'learnt it anyway', it was extremely obvious that they were very engaged and motivated in their learning when using the site.  They were able to share things they had discovered independently, with the class and revisit the information when required.  There are definite areas for me to improve on with future Integrated Learning sites, but for a first attempt I'm extremely pleased with how the site was used.  I'm confident that using QR codes with this age group makes the learning more accessible and will continue with this system into Term 4 and my teaching in 2015.  Overall, a grade of ...

Monday, 8 September 2014

Behaviour management .... monster madness!

One of my BT (beginning teacher) goals for this term is behaviour management in the classroom.  We've been trying the use of positive reinforcement using Class Dojo, or as we're calling it with the learners - monster points!

As we have now used it for two weeks, I've decided to reflect on what I've seen to date.  We decided early on we would use it for positive reinforcement - there is the ability within the app to "take away" points, although I much prefer to focus on the 'positives' than remove points for negatives.  As with any new system, we wanted to really emphasise it and have our learners really excited about it early on.  In order to achieve this, we handed out many points in the first few days, and even as week 3 starts I find I am still doing this.  As an added bonus, when awarding points using the iPad app, it makes a "ding" sound - the sound itself is motivational for the learners!

We began with all learners in the classroom with the same "monster" icon and made it a reward to change the monster to a different icon when they had earn't 10 points.  Subsequent groupings of 10 and the learner can again change their character (maths to the fore in monster points also!)  If a learner achieves 100 monster points they are able to choose a "prize" from our gift box.

There was a little time involved in inputting all students names,starting them with the same monster icon and deciding on which behaviours to focus on.  However, on a daily basis it is easy to allocate the points throughout the day - we have the app on our iPad and give points out using this throughout the day.  Our learners know that we display on our Apple TV their points at roll call each morning, and time permitting, at the end of the day.  It can take a few minutes for learners to choose and change their monster icon if they have reached 10 points (we found that changing them on the iPad wasn't too successful so I use my laptop for this) but this is not every day and is rewarding for the learners involved.

So, just over three weeks into trialling the system, is it working for us?  I have to say yes!  There are still times when we see calling out during mat times (rather than raising the hand) or learners not sitting quietly on the mat area but, I remind myself, these are five year olds and having 19 all remembering to manage themselves 100% of the time is unrealistic I think.  Having said that, there has been a major improvement and hearing someone receive a monster point is generally all the reminder that is required when several are off task.  I look forward to reflecting on this behaviour management system in a few more weeks.

Monday, 1 September 2014

Seeing the progress - so motivational!

As this is my first year of teaching, I continually look at the milestones of my learners and celebrate even the little things!  Earlier this week during writing, one of my young learners was determined to write a story that, in her words "went onto the next page"!  Not only did she succeed, but she located all the high frequency words herself and I continually observed her reading back her story to see which word came next.  She was able to identify some sounds in unknown words and record these independently.  I was totally impressed with the story that she created but what totally blew me away was looking back in her writing book this morning and seeing what she was producing back in May (just three months ago) and see the progress she has made!  I'm sure I'd see similar gains in all learners if I looked back but its remembering to do so - it is so motivational for me as a teacher, and for the learners themselves to see the progress they have made!