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, 29 June 2015

Term 2 Inquiry Summary

As part of our ongoing Professional Development at Pt England, this afternoon we present our inquiry progress to other staff at the school.

To me, this term was more about input than output - we received professional development around reading pedagogy and I combined this with ongoing research for my dissertation.  I've consolidated many of the things I introduced to my class in Term 1 and look forward to being more innovative in Term 3, drawing on the PD from this term.

Monday, 22 June 2015

My Learning Environment ... one term on!

As one of my beginning teacher goals, at the beginning of Term 2 I changed the look of my classroom.  As the term draws to a close its time to reflect on how it has worked and how my learners responded to the changes.

  • visibility of the whole classroom from my teaching station - this has enabled me to be much more responsive to behaviours (both positive and negative) and avoid them getting out of control
  • a range of working spaces available (rugs, chairs, couches) which allows learners to choose where they are most comfortable.  I've worked hard with my learners so they understand that its a privilege (rather than a right) for them to choose where they can work and that their behaviour has to be appropriate for their choice.   I've found learners are more engaged when they are comfortable and learners than struggle to sit at desks for prolonged periods of time are also more productive when choosing their own working space.
  • noise levels - by spreading out around the classroom I find noise levels are manageable, despite learners having individual devices which require them to listen to things (eg books, verbal instructions) - even in this cold month, where going outside is not possible, learners are able to listen to books without it being too disruptive for others
  • learning spaces - the new layout has created different distinct learning spaces which has made keeping equipment together easier and rotation transitions more fluid.  My learners know which spaces are available and what can be done in each space.  I've also noticed that tidying up is much more streamlined as a result of this.

I'm really happy with how the new environment has worked this term and actually struggle to find any negatives or anything I'm particularly wanting to change as we finish this term and head into the next - more of the same in Term 3.

Friday, 19 June 2015

It worked last year ...

..... why not try it again this year :)

Often I struggle for "new" ideas and ways to help my learners with their needs.  Last week I was browsing back through my blog, specifically around writing and I remembered that we'd used Explain Everything for learners to record their story prior to writing it.  This enabled them to take the time to locate words around the classroom, write them down, and have a way to refer back and remember what comes next in their story.   Many of the learners in my class are beginning independent writing, so I decided I'd try this again this year to see if I can achieve the same success.

Similar to what Michelle and I did last year, I've scaffolded this again in small groups of learners and found its again been a great help.  While the sentences being created are still quite short, it does help learners craft their sentence, particularly those learners who have English as a second language.  They are able to continually record until they are happy with the sentence and then play back their recording as they locate the words to write.

As I've scaffolded this with the learners, I've encouraged them to take a photo of what they are writing about first (if possible).  This helps them locate the project in Explain Everything, rather than them just saving a white screen.   

As my learners start to craft more complex sentences, or multiple sentences, I'm hoping the use of Explain Everything will help with their writing and enable them to build on a simple sentence, turning it into a multi sentence story.

Thursday, 18 June 2015

Pretty special being "featured"

As I mentioned in this blog post, learners in Room 19 are really enjoying the learning games I've created using Tiny Tap!  And yes, I admit it - I'm enjoying the new challenge of getting to grips with a new app and creating for my learners!  So it was great to get a surprise email last week telling me that one of my games had been "featured"!  At first I didn't quite realise what that meant - popped onto the website and .... my game on the front page!  That's pretty exciting!

While all my games are created based on the individual needs of learners in my classroom, I'm delighted to hear that others are downloading and using my games to help out their learners or children!  In fact, it did get me thinking - because the app is free to download (on both iOS and Android) and games are able to be played from any web browser on a computer, could I take advantage of this and encourage "home learning" with my 5 year olds?

One of the hallmarks of  Manaiakalani is ubiquity: anywhere, anytime, any pace, any people learning!  While the iPads that the learners in my class use must stay at school, many learners have access to devices outside of school hours, which opens up possibilities for them to access the Tiny Tap games away from school if desired.  With this in mind, I've created a page on my Class Google Site which I've labelled "Learning Links" (same terminology that is used at Pt England) and provided links to the games that I've created for my learners - I'll promote this via my class blog and make parents, whanau and my learners aware of it.  Even if its only used be a small percentage of my learners, it will be valuable repetition and I hope, assist in embedding needed knowledge for their learning.

Great to have Trusted Teacher status with Tiny Tap too!

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Tiny Tap magic

I've discovered a new app which allows me to create purposeful activities for my learners and tells them they are correct!  While I love using Explain Everything in the classroom, one of the things that somewhat frustrates me, are projects where learners can practice things but I need to provide feedback as to whether they are "right" - after all there is no point in them continually practicing ordering of numbers from 1 - 10 if they are not getting it right.  In the past I often use collaboration - other learners in the class who are secure on a concept or skill, providing peer feedback to others.

The Tiny Tap app allows me to create projects which provide learners with feedback if they get something right, and prompts them to try again if they are not correct.  The receive instant feedback that they have got the answer right and can continually practice to improve their accuracy and embed the learning.  I've created several projects so far, specifically looking at the needs of my learners on things that 'repetition' will help with - counting to 10, high frequency words, ordering numbers, number identification!

When I introduced the activity to my learners last week they were immediately engaged - there is a "gaming aspect" to it - it has bells, whistles and sounds which my 5 year olds really enjoy! Importantly however, they are engaged at doing the same game/activity again and again and their accuracy improves the more they play.

So - how am I managing this in the classroom in order to make the learning personalised, whilst also being manageable with 18 learners?  I've created my own Tiny Tap account and have labelled all my games as "PES Rm 19" for easy identification!  So far I've created eight games, but intend to create many more after the successes of the last week - all the games are public and available for anyone to play or download through the app (or a browser on a computer).  As I found with creating Explain Everything projects, I get quicker at creating the games, the more I do.

My next step was to find a way for my five year olds to be playing the game that best matched their learning needs - without asking 5 year olds to perform complication searches!  Drawing on my experiences from last year once again, I've decided to implement the use of QR codes - and it works!  I've created a QR code for each game that I've made (with a picture of the game next to it so that its easy for me to identify which QR code is which).  The very first time a learner plays a game they are prompted to "get" the game after scanning the QR code (I've done this for the learners so the games at each learners' level are already downloaded to their device).   My learners now scan the QR code, press the green "play" button and the Tiny Tap app opens with the game ready to play.

I'm looking forward to seeing if this engaged, personalised repetition helps learners to remember things such as high frequency words and number identification.  It's also great to get ideas from other teachers in the Tiny Tap community which may help my learners.  As I get faster at creating projects I look forward to being even more personalised to the needs of my learners and to further supporting their learning acceleration.

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

More Reading PD

I love reading and its definitely my favourite curriculum area to teach.  It's no surprise therefore, that when we were given some choice in our inquiry topic this year that I would choose something to do with reading!

Today the junior teachers participated in our second session around the Gwenneth Phillips style of teaching reading, which forms the backbone of how we teach reading at Pt England School.  For me, hearing and seeing other teachers who have been teaching using this style for some time, demonstrate their practice was extremely purposeful.  I can also see the huge benefits of using the same prompts throughout the school so that learners become accustomed to them and progress can be built on in subsequent years.

While today's session focussed mostly on levels above where my learners are currently reading (Blue - Gold) there were plenty of take away messages embedded throughout the session and it reinforced again the importance of the micro teaching groups.

  • fluency - the importance of this was emphasised by teachers that are reading recovery trained - something I need to remember to practice during my guided reading lessons with learners at red level and above
  • focus on one prompt for a week or two - this allows the learners to really understand this prompt as well as embedding it as a habit in my teaching
  • Explain Everything is a terrific way of reinforcing the word work that occurs during a guided reading session - I'm constantly reminded how this makes the follow up activity more personalised to the needs of the individual or small group - I could see links between many of the activities I've created and the word work demonstrations today
Where to from here?
Again I can see areas where I'm not quite using the prompts correctly and need to be more precise with the language in order to ensure it lines up with the school wide reading pedagogy.  Definitely focusing on a prompt for a number of days/weeks will assist in getting the precise language correct and embedded in my pedagogy.  We have prompt cards as well as a rich powerpoint resource which will shortly be supported by teacher exemplars which will help to improve my practice.

This PD indirectly relates to my inquiry for the year and as I continue with that, I'll be building on the successes of the micro group guided reading sessions.  Already, in the month since our previous PD on the Gwenneth Phillips  methods I can see the phrases and language becoming more of my "teacher speak" and I look forward to continuing to work on this in the coming weeks and months.  Anything that makes me a better teacher of reading I will embrace wholeheartedly, as I'm passionate about reading and believe that it is so essential to learning in other areas