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.

Sunday, 30 November 2014

Google Educator ...

As part of our final MDTA PLG we had the opportunity to start working towards our Google Educator exams.  I managed to pass two during this session and have completed the final three needed this weekend!

Completing the required study before sitting these exams reinforced much of the knowledge I already had but also introduced features I hadn't previously explored before in the Google product range.  Here are some of my "new" favourites:

  • Gmail Task list - I really like how you can link a task to an email you have received - rather than clogging up my inbox with unfinished tasks, I'm adding the task to my task list which automatically associates it with the email  - I like dealing with my emails immediately and having a relatively clear inbox - the task list is allowing me to achieve that even more than before
  • Creating custom calendars and embedding them into a Google Site - my class site links to a weekly calendar which I created this year using a Google Sheet and update weekly - now I realise I'm double handling.  Next year I will create a new calendar for my class and simply embed this into my Class Site - this will ensure its constantly updated and also shows parents and whanau upcoming events.
  • Google Chrome Themes - I had known these existed but haven't explored them.  Much like my computer desktop, I like an occasional change and by picking a new Google theme it gives my browser a fresh "new" look - maybe a new theme for 2015!
At Pt England School we use Google!  I use the Google range of products both at school and privately and its through the continued use that I have got better and better - I'm constantly exploring the apps and extensions available to see what could help me in my professional (and personal) online world!  Its now official however, I'm a Google Educator!

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Our last MDTA PLG session

Its with a touch of sadness that I blog about our very last official Manaiakalani Digital Teaching Academy (MDTA) PLG session.  We've met every Wednesday since our first session back on the 20th of January when we walked around the area covered by the Manaiakalani Schools and up Mt Wellington.

During the sessions, Dorothy has covered such a huge range of digital tools including:

Google Sites
Google Docs & Sheets
Garage Band
Word Art
Screen Recordings
Hapara Teacher Dashboard
Google Analytics

While we will continue meeting informally next year to share our experiences as we move into our own classrooms, it won't be quite the same as our intensive sessions each week.  Its been a privilege to share this journey with my nine fellow MDTAs and I look forward to following their teaching journey into 2015.  

A special mention and thanks to Dorothy Burt for planning our sessions and sharing her knowledge in such an engaging and creative way every week, which in turn showcased the principles and philosophy of Manaiakalani: Learn - Create - Share!

I have created a Showcase of my MDTA year here

My First Year in Review

As part of our final weeks of our MDTA PLG we were asked to create a video as a summary of our year.  I found it difficult to condense what I wanted to share into just five minutes and when I look back over my year am amazed at what I've packed into such a relatively short time.

I feel I have grown as a teacher and am definitely looking forward to the challenge of my own class next year.  I will definitely enjoy my last few weeks with Class 20 of 2014, and look forward to being able to watch these lovely young learners grow as they move into 2015 and beyond.

Monday, 17 November 2014

Finding a way ... thinking outside the square!

Learners in Class 20 have been really enthusiastic about using ScratchJr since we had Class 12 visit and show us how it works (and they've created some AMAZING animations!)

Today we created animations from our school-wide athletics day using ScratchJr, as a way of showing which events we enjoyed the most!

We shared many of the examples to the Apple TV and peers really enjoyed seeing what others had created!  One of my learners really wanted to share his great animations with his Dad - can you please put it on the blog Mrs Belt?  Great that they use our class blog and understand they can use this to show their whanau what we've been doing in class!   But .... there is currently no function for sharing to either our blog or as a video file to the learners Google Accounts (although the ScratchJr website says this feature is "coming" - we can't wait!)  How to explain that one to a five year old that was so proud of what he'd created and really wanted to share?

I wondered if I could find a way?  Thinking outside the square tonight,  I was delighted to make this post on our class blog!  I used a screen casting program to airplay the screen of the learners iPad to my MacBook and then used Quicktime to take a screen recording of the animation - yes, its not ideal and a little more time consuming than just pushing an embed button, but its enabled me to capture this learners animation and share it on our blog as well as share an example of the animations that are being created by my learners!

NB:  There is no sound on this animation

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Once Upon a Time .... my Film Festival movie journey

Once Upon a Time .... As part of our MDTA learning journey we had to contribute a movie to the Manaiakalani Film Festival! We had many sessions throughout the year on using iMovie and I definitely can tell that I've been on a major learning journey! Prior to beginning this year, I'd never made a movie before, and today I see my movie on the big screen - not once, but three times (including the evening session!!)

Once Upon a Time .... There were challenges!! I wanted to use the costumes as my learners really enjoy "dressing up" - show me a five year old that doesn't! I decided to use the Green Screen and create a fairy tale land - a tall order indeed! Finding backdrops that suited my needs was hard, and I have learnt from this experience that pre-deciding on the backgrounds in advance makes it much easier! You can film to the background rather than try and fit a background to your filming!

Once Upon a Time .... Sound was an issue! Again, I made many discoveries that I will use in future films to ensure I have high quality audio to work with - I had to try and rerecord my audio and match it up to my actors which took a significant amount of time! 

Once Upon a Time .... We have a movie! I can't wait to see the reactions from the learners when they view it (for the very first time - no previews were given to them!) on the big screen later today. The filming experience, from scripting, to costumes, to editing was an amazing learning journey and I'm actually excited to do it all over again next year. Its an experience which I believe my learners will benefit from being a part of (even though it is more teacher directed at my level) and they will be able to look back on in later years with pride.

Once Upon a Time ....

Monday, 10 November 2014

Reflecting on Writing

Today was our last session with Dr Jannie van Hees for the year, as part of our school wide professional development on increasing dialogic conversations and improving writing.  As we reflected on the learning to date this year as a whole staff, Jannie asked us to pay close attention to the choices that a learner needs to make in text construction, these being:

TOPIC  - what are we writing about?
PURPOSE - why are we writing about this?
AUDIENCE - who is the intended audience of our writing?

I think this is an important take-away message and while many of my learners are at the beginning stage of learning to write, it is never too early to ensure they are aware of these three important factors as they make a difference in what we are crafting!  

As with all our Jannie sessions, they are informative and thought provoking and make me think about my practice and how I can improve or change things to better scaffold and assist my learners.  Some of the most important ideas that I took away from today are:

  • Think and planning before writing and during writing matters!  Explicit attention to this is important - this might look different in my class than say a Year 5/6 class, but that doesn't deter from its importance!
  • Can my learners identify the topic, purpose and audience?  Have we made it clear so they know what they are writing about, why they are writing about it and who will read it?  
  • If time is limited, discuss rather than actually "do" the writing. Professional writers plan all the time - they think about, plan and imagine, sometimes for hours, days or weeks before they do the actual writing. Modelling and doing this as a whole class helps to set up my learners for working independently and scaffolds them into their own planning.
  • What does co-editing do? How might this look? There is an assumption with co-editing that there is an informed mediator (someone with more knowledge to scaffold and assist the learner). Co-editing is extremely important as without it, how can we lift the level of the learner. In a busy classroom it can be easy to overlook the importance of this activity.
  • Is it written like talk? In a junior classroom, often the learner will write in the same way they talk as this is the start of their writing journey. However, we have the opportunity to model writing to the whole class and need to think about this aspect when we do.

As Jannie completed her session, she reminded us that writing is a complex act!  In order to maximise writing lessons for my learners, I need to constantly reflect on my teaching pedagogy and practice, with the assistance of professional development and discussions with others!

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Learning from older peers

Today we had Year 3/4 learners come to our classroom to share what they'd been learning and teach our students how to use the ScratchJr app.  It was great to see the absolute engagement of both my learners and their older 'teachers' for 90 minutes this morning.

The Year 3/4 learners were very adept at using the app and were confident and articulate in sharing their knowledge with my 5 year olds.  I buddied two of my learners with one 'expert' and circulated the groups to listen to the conversations and observe the modelling which was occurring.  The older students were able to scaffold the activity and support their younger peers to ensure they all completed an amazing animation!  It was great to hear and see the older learners demonstrating and then watching and guiding as the younger learners tried things out with patience and a supportive attitude!

We concluded the lesson using our Apple TV where learners were able to showcase what they had created as a result of today's learning.  The older learners were also keen to share which gave us some great ideas for using the app in the future.

For me, this session reinforced the importance of removing the traditional teacher/learner barriers and thinking outside the square about how to convey knowledge.  Sure, I could have taught my learners how to use this app quite successfully, but the success of the peer teaching goes deeper than that.  The Year 3/4 students had to scaffold their approach to suit my younger learners, which they did with amazing success.  They were able to reinforce their own learning through teaching others and see others create as a result of this teaching.  Ultimately, the Learn-Create-Share framework which is the backbone of our school philosophy was highlighted today, not through blogging or something visual, but through sharing their knowledge with others in the school, which in turn enables them to Create to demonstrate their own Learning - and so the cycle continues!