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.

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Explain Everything .. same title, different work: personalisation

At many times the learners drive what my projects will look like or how I'm going to create things to make them manageable in the classroom.  This is the case with our maths projects.  I've found often that the learners use photographs to create digital learning objects to document their understanding.  This can create many projects in a week, many of which go unsaved.

This week I'm trialling using one project a week - I create and send to all learners the project title page and learners are able to add on to this with blank pages to create their DLOs.  The plan is to save it back to their Google Drive at the end of each week.

I'm also able to merge existing Explain Everything projects into each weeks work for different learners to work through.  This enables me to direct learners to "this weeks maths project file" and have them continue on from where ever they left off, addressing whatever needs the learner has  -  personalised learning!

Today I introduced the project title page to the learners - and had them each find it on their own device.  I explained to them that their work would look different to their peers - it was interesting that even though I covered this, I still had many learners come up to me and say theirs "looked different" to their friends!  That aside, we had an extremely successful session and each learner was able to save their project on their device at the end of the lesson, enabling them to pick up where they left off tomorrow!  I'm looking forward to seeing if this new way of working enables me to capture more of each learners individual progress by making it easier for my 5 year olds to save their work each day - the project is already labelled and is therefore a much easier process for them to follow.

As an aside, I find myself creating more and more "project title pages" as these make the projects in Explain Everything easier for my learners to find!

Linking Explain Everything projects directly from your site

At our Manaiakalani PLG session this afternoon some teachers expressed an interest in learning how to make Explain Everything projects downloadable from their planning site.  This would mean that instead of copying the projects using Hapara Teacher Dashboard, learners would download the projects themselves onto their device, using a link provided on the class site.

I'm facilitating a Manaiakalani Toolkit tomorrow and have already been asked to show how this could be done.  In preparation for the toolkit I have created a couple of screen recordings to both support the toolkit and provide a reference for the future.

This is how to add the link to your Explain Everything project to your Google Site.  (Note - you need to create the Explain Everything project first, and save it to your Google Drive).

This screen recording shows how the learner would access the project that you have linked.  Note - you need to use the Safari App to have this successfully link to Explain Everything (you can create a webclip so that learners can click on this link and it will go straight to your Google Site).  

Saturday, 23 May 2015

Chromecast @ Reading Time = Awesome

I was inspired by an observation I did in Helen King's classroom late last year when I observed what she did with a Chromecast!  Having put a few months thought into what I wanted to do and the needs of my learners, I've created a reading rotation and incorporated the use of photographs of my learners to assist in them identifying which activity they need to move onto.  This visual chart also assists in providing structure for my special needs learners.

We've been using the Chromecast for nearly two weeks now and its working really well.  I've gradually introduced more and more activities into the rotations and after trialling a few systems have found that a timer on my iPad set to 15 minutes is the best fit for the activities I have planned.

There are two significant points with my rotation chart:

  • Time with the teacher for guided reading is not scheduled on the rotation chart - I call each group as I'm ready for them and they stop whichever rotation they are on and come up for guided reading at that time.  I find this allows me to be more flexible with my guided reading group - if a group needs additional time I have that flexibility (without the rest of the class being bored with their rotation) and if learners are away and the session takes less time I can move on quicker to the next group.
  • Learners working on a guided reading follow-up activity complete this before moving onto the next rotation.

Our current reading rotation includes the following activities:
  • Listening to books using the Sunshine App on the iPad
  • Practising our letters using an Explain Everything project (different levels to suit individual learners)
  • Building tower creations with our lego blocks
  • Using Explain Everything to create a picture (usually relating to our inquiry topic) and adding information about your picture using the record function
  • Practicing high frequency words (at each learners individual reading level) using an Explain Everything template
  • Learning our class wide "star" words of the week - three words which we focus on as a whole class - these are decided based on the needs of our learners and practiced using an Explain Everything template
  • Using KidPix on the computers to create an image
  • Completing an unfinished guided reading follow-up activity from the previous day (Explain Everything)
  • Jigsaw puzzles
  • Reading a book in the library corner

I'm amazed at how much the learners are enjoying the rotation, and the visibility of what they will be doing during reading on a particular day.  Each new icon is carefully scaffolded over a few days so that even my newest learners are confident with with equipment (eg ipad and stylus) they need and where they need to go to find the work they are moving onto.  

I find the Chromecast amazing to work with as I can continue to use my laptop with other tabs open (eg my reading planning) while the reading rotation remains permanently on display.  I'm also able to make changes immediately if learners need to be moved away from others or need an alternative activity as a result of our guided reading session.  

Already we have used it in other ways to watch several videos or browse other classes blogs.  I have plans to use the Chromecast to display "how to" instructions for learners to learn how to save their work which I can quickly personalise to the particular lesson.

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Detouring my Inquiry

Today we have the opportunity to share where we were at with our personal teaching inquiry and what goals and intentions we had for the term.  It was a great opportunity to refocus our objectives and plan where we are heading as well as hear the ideas of others.

I feel the need for a detour in my inquiry.  I still am really happy with the progress I made with regards to scaffolding reading follow up activities and trying to encourage higher order thinking in my learners, particularly with using the Wanted Poster.  However, I now feel I have two distinct groups in my classroom when considering my inquiry:

  • learners who had started school and completed several weeks of scaffolding and using the Wanted poster and additional Explain Everything templates
  • learners who are new to my classroom or through being absent missed many of the scaffolding and independent sessions using the templates
As I was waiting for my turn to share this afternoon I considered the "where to now" question and how I could make this work with the two distinct groups.  I still think my inquiry focus is applicable to both groups, however, I think that they will need to take two different roads of discovery - divergent roads that may meet again at some time in the future?

So how is this going to look?  I think the pathway for my new learners is obvious - I need to fully scaffold these learners using the same path that my more experienced group has already taken - the road that has already been travelled!  So with this group of travellers, we'll begin the journey of using the Wanted Poster in a highly scaffolded way and work with this for the remainder of the term.

The pathway for the more experienced travellers is still a work in progress.  However, I want to use the learning they have already done using the Wanted Poster so am intending to add this project on to their Explain Everything activities at least twice a week - they will be able to complete this poster independently based on the books they have read during the guided reading session, while still completing word work and comprehension activities.  This also adds a creative element to each follow up activity and allows me to see their progress when compared to their early independent attempts.  

Additionally, I'm currently working on a new template to scaffold with this group of travellers (in much the same way I did with the Wanted Poster) for the remainder of the term to further extend and capture their ideas.

I'm enthusiastic about this slight detour in my inquiry - I believe teaching involves constant changing to meet the needs of learners - and I'm excited to see where these two different travelling paths will end.

Monday, 18 May 2015

Using a DLO to capture learning

Sometimes lessons don't go as planned - the reality of teaching!  I had a recent writing lesson where the progress exceeded my expectations but as a result, the learning wasn't easily able to be captured.  The intention had been to create a small group story and have the learners contribute to the story, and locate the high frequency words which formed part of the story.  However, all learners were able to successfully craft their own story and wrote these on their small whiteboards.  I then had some great progress which I wanted to capture - without the learners having to copy it into their writing books - Explain Everything again was the solution.

The learners were able to not only take a photograph of their story as a record of this learning, but then read their story using the record feature so their voice was also captured.

I also was able to post their learning onto their own personal blogs as a record for the future.  While we are not using these blogs in class yet (it is my intention to do this later this year), because I have access to the blogs of all learners in my classroom, I'm able to occasionally add artefacts to their blogs to document their learning journey - I'm looking forward to reviewing the blogs of some of my learners in 8 years time when they are in Year 7 & 8 of the school, and more importantly, they will be able to go back and see how their learning journey at Pt England begun - visible learning!

Links to the learners blogs are available here and here

Thursday, 7 May 2015

Some new Explain Everything projects

I find myself continually looking to create different projects and ideas for my learners in order to keep them engaged with purposeful learning.  This term is no different and I'm trialling a number of new things to suit the needs of different learners.  Here is a small selection:


A project for some learners who are struggling with fine motor skills and the formation of letters - allow learners to form lines and work on controlling the stylus (which is shaped very similar to a pencil).

Whole Class Inquiry Project:

A project for the whole class to document our inquiry journey this term.  I've combined a combination of activities over different pages and we work on 1 - 2 pages per week.  At the end of the term their completed project will be turned into a movie to document both their inquiry learning and their improvement in skills using Explain Everything and the iPad.

Beginning Writers:

A project for learners who are beginning to learn to write but need to practice their letter formation and letter size.  The learners use the lines as a guide and practice all letters.  This project also has them practicing their own name.

As documented during earlier blog posts, I'm finding continued success with using visual prompts to remind leaners which tool to use on each project page, and I've continued with this system this term.

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

My Inquiry continues ...

... with a Magenta and Red theme!

To assist our with our inquiry this term, we are receiving Professional Development on Literacy Strategies based on the Gwenneth Phillips "First Chance" programme.  This compliments my inquiry question nicely, as my learners are unable to achieve higher order thinking with reading, unless they have the grounding and strategies which are at the grass roots of learning to read.

Currently, all my learners are working at Magenta and Red levels so it was an easy decision to base my inquiry focus on these levels for the term - not at all suggesting they will all still be at Magenta and Red by the end of the term, but you always need to start somewhere!  Many of the techniques and strategies outlined by the programme and reiterated during todays session I already implement in my specific guided reading teaching sessions.  These include:

  • Small group teaching - ideally groups of three learners
  • Orientation of the text - set the learners up to succeed by ensuring the vocabulary used in a text is introduced before the session
  • The use of magnetic letters and whiteboards to follow up each session with word work
As I participated in my session today, and on the drive home I was thinking about the things I could do to further improve my teaching and ensure my learners are understanding the prompts that are recommended and embedding their learning for the future.  Some of the immediate changes I want to implement in my classroom are:
  • the "drum" effect - for one to one pointing, ensure learners are using a drum type effect - this will ensure crisp pointing and prevent the sliding of fingers that I have noticed is creeping in with some of my learners
  • use a wall display near my teaching desk and reinforce "what I say I must see, what I see I must say" with every group every day
  • gifting mistakes by including the correct word in my question to them 
  • continuing to have high frequency words as a part of my follow up activities - provide letters to a word and have the learners sequence and orientate the letters again independently using Explain Everything on the same word they have done at the teaching table.  This will provide repetition and reinforce the learning they have done at the teaching table.

I wasn't lucky enough to attend the original professional development that many of my fellow teachers were involved in some years ago.  It is therefore great to have these sessions to draw on their understandings and knowledge and use this to benefit my learners.

My Own Class for a Term ... time to step back and reflect!

I vividly remember finishing my teaching degree at the University of Canterbury and being so over the word "reflect" that I never wanted to hear it again - let alone use it!  I find it somewhat humorous that I have become SO reflective in my practice that I do it, at times, without even realising I'm doing it.  I don't think I fully appreciated the value of reflection until I finished my degree and was out in the "real world" teaching.  Now, I find myself constantly reflecting and thinking about lessons - how they went, how I could improve on them, what my learners thought, were they engaged? Not only am I constantly reflecting, but some of my best ideas have come from reflections!

So, with that said, and four months into having my own class, a time to reflect and think about the year to date in terms of my teaching and my own personal growth as a teacher.

The Highlights

Planning - I'm feeling more and more confident with planning each week - I have my routines sorted and find myself monitoring and checking the progress of my learners.  My groupings in the classroom are fluid and I continually change my groups to fit the needs and learning stages of my learners.  As a side effect of this, I see that different friendships are developing as learners work with different peers when groupings change - I think this is a good thing and helps with the general cohesion of the class.

Classroom Environment - Deciding to change the learning space to suit a more digital environment has reaped rewards.  The learners choose different spaces to work and I find some of my more behaviourally challenging learners settle more quickly when given the independence to choose their working space.  I find it easier to monitor what learners are doing with the distinct learning spaces.  Importantly, I enjoy walking into my class each day and I feel it is more inviting for my five year old learners.

1:1 iPads - I definitely think I've continued on from where I left off last year.  I've been strong with my routines (continually having to reinforce these with new learners arriving) and continue to be consistent to ensure that learners understand how to use their iPad within the boundaries of Room 19.  Again, I've tried things - not always successful - and seek to continually find ways to ensure the learners are engaged in what they are doing.  Once again, repetition is important, and the iPad is a great way to ensure repetition in activities to reinforce learning (eg high frequency words).

Inquiry 2015 - Investigating higher order thinking in literacy with five year olds was a challenge and I wondered at times if I'd attempted to inquire into something that was going to be "too difficult"!  By breaking down what I wanted to achieve in the first term I surprised even myself with the tasks I created and my learners responses to them - I'm excited to be continuing to explore this area into Term 2 and see what is possible!

Digital Enhancement & Research dissertation - It seems somewhat comical that something that is taking up a significant portion of my spare time could be a highlight!  I found the Summer School paper, Digital Enhancement, to be thought provoking and particularly useful and applicable to our digital learning environment.  Once again, it was great to work with my MDTA colleagues - we have some of THE best discussions and are always extremely supportive of each other.  Further to this,  I was inspired by the willingness of teachers to assist in my research project and while it is still early days, I'm excited by what I have seen to date.  Having said that, I won't be sad to complete my Honours at the end of the year and take a break from study for a while!

The Challenges

I choose to see challenges not as failures, but as opportunities for me to grow as a teacher, learn from things that may not be successful, and be a better teacher as a result.  Like every learner in my classroom, I'm constantly learning, and will continue to do so.  The things I've found particularly challenging this year have been:

Managing Behaviours - I didn't fully comprehend how time consuming this could be, or how much I would doubt myself when I seemed to take one step forward and three steps back!  That said, when I reflect on the behaviours that some of my learners presented in the first weeks of school and compare them to where they are now, its been an encouraging journey.  It is great to be able to draw on the expertise of my mentor teacher, Michelle George.  While we are no longer team teaching, she covers my release one day a week so I'm able to discuss individual learners with her and she understands where I'm coming from and can provide ideas and suggestions to try out.  As I move into Term 2 I can see the importance of continuing to reward and reinforce the behaviours that are acceptable in Room 19 as well as continually seek ideas from other, more experienced teachers that I could try with my learners.  I also think its important to continually reflect on how far my learners have come - particularly on the days that don't go so well.  Teaching can be hard work - I'm dealing with unique individuals, with unique personalities and some days its just not going to be perfect!

Managing 200+ iPads - This has been a challenge over the first few months of this year and I struggled for many hours to identify and iron out some issues we had - and quite a few times I was very close to giving up!  I've really enjoyed the learning I have done around Meraki and Apple Configurator over the past 15 months - and will happily accept the "geek" nickname I've picked up from a certain fellow teacher at Pt England - I enjoy technology challenges and I'm now glad I didn't let this one get the better of me.  I know that there will always be new learning in this area and that thought is super exciting (here's hoping its not as "time intensive" as it was last term!)

Work/Study/Family balance - The demands of completing a dissertation while teaching full time continue to impact on my work-study-family balance.  It is a topic of conversation that continually arises during my PRT meetings with Michelle.  This year I have found it slightly easier to chip away at my assignments and dissertation but there is always more to be completed.  I'm trialling a new time management system this term as a way of having one day off each weekend, while still being up to date with my planning, assessments and assignments - so far so good (but it is only week 3!)

I'm a great believer in having goals, even if they are known only to yourself - something to work towards and pat yourself on the back when they are achieved.  As is required by my PRT portfolio, every term I have goals and things that I (or my mentor) think I need to work on in an effort to improve my teaching pedagogy and practice.  Having said that, some goals I don't mind making public:

  • Complete my research dissertation
  • Continue to reflect and modify my behaviour management to suit the ever-changing needs of the learners in my class
  • Continue to innovate with the iPads in order to ensure continued engagement and projects which allow visible, repetitive learning
  • Share my knowledge with other teachers/educators (blog, Manaiakalani Toolkits, ULearn)
  • Fulfil the requirements to become a Fully Registered Teacher - just three terms to go!