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, 19 April 2016

GAFE North Island Summit Day 2

After an amazing first day, its great to be back at Hobsonville Point Secondary for the second day of GAFE Amazingness.  This post reflects on the sessions I attended on Day 2.

Keynote - Creating Culture by Design - Monica Isabel Martinez

Throughout this session, Monica shared some great ideas about ways to increase culture in your classroom and some important messages to remember around learning for both our learners and ourselves:

Elements for building culture - some of the ideas that came from Monica and attendees:

  • modelling
  • use of technology to fit the task at hand
  • adaptation
  • using technology for a purpose 
  • innovative
  • integrated into daily life
  • problem solving
  • purposeful
  • using technology to springboard creativity
Other great ideas from the session:

  • Purposeful learning - creating a culture that is purposeful 
  • Requires action - modeling behaviours; consistency; default settings; risk taker 
  • Think Differently 
  • Learning is social - embrace the noise and open the floodgates 
  • Create a culture that embraces problem solving
  • Difference between teaching a skill and creating a culture/mindset creativity
  • True technology integration is about building life skills
  • Take daily doses of actions to achieve results

Suggested Readings:

  • The One Thing - Gary Keller
  • One Word - by Gordon, Britton & Page

Session One - Not Another Meeting! - Dorothy Burt

A very interactive session with some great ideas to make meetings more interactive and involved.

Some tips which I found really helpful:
  • Google Docs:  Back to the top - insert a bookmark (menu:  insert - insert a bookmark - link appears in your URL bar) to allow readers to easy click straight back to the top
  • Tables in your Google Docs are the best way to manage your agenda if multiple people are contributing
  • Google Save - a quick way of saving images or webpages to refer to later
  • Restrict access for others being able to on-share your documents within Google Docs - particularly useful for items involving sensitive information
  • Google Keep - a great place to keep your notes and ideas - you can share a particular note with another person or send a note to a Google Doc
  • Think carefully where your documents are stored for easy access by all that need to - a shared Google Drive folder; a portal on the school website;
  • Calender - invite people to a meeting (including a Google Hangout for those not in the room) right from your Google Calendar - reminders and alerts can be set from here and an agenda linked
  • Use of "voice typing" in a Google Doc during a meeting to capture notes - particularly now that it works with the kiwi accent 
Session Two - Visible & Engaging Learning in a Digital Learning Environment - Karen Belt & Matt Goodwin

Session Three - Google Classroom, Forms, Sheets & the SOLO Taxonomy - building a beautiful assessment workflow - Chris Harte

"If we design "rubbish learning" and throw technology at it - its only going to get worse.  Technology will amplify practice - if its well designed learning!"

Shift from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset - from I can't do that  .... to I can't do that yet!

Critique Protocols:

  • Be mindful
  • Hard on content but soft on people - aim for the best but critique the work only
  • Step back - listen more
  • Be kind (but realistic), specific (focusing on specific parts) and helpful (feed forward)

Peer Feedback:
 How do you get peers to leave meaningful feedback on others work?  This needs to be carefully worked on and scaffolded with the learners.  While this idea is probably too advanced for my learners, its a great idea that I may use in the future.   Create a Google Form to include:
  • who are you giving feedback for?
  • what is your name?
  • Select options from your rubric as multi choice questions
  • Some short answer options for kind, specific and helpful feedback
To send the feedback to learners - use an Add-On:  Autocrat (will create a document with feedback in it) or Yet Another Mail Merge (create just an email).

Build time into a lesson to "use" the peer feedback otherwise it is a waste of time.

Session Four - Inquiring Minds & the Cultural Institute - Jim Sill

Tip:  Use the Streetview app to walk around and explore some museums

As you explore the world through the Cultural Institute, what questions will you pose to learners?

Some of the things explored during the session today:
  • Letters written by Nelson Mandela & warrants of committal
  • Gallipoli - explore the shores
  • Palace of Versailles - use the map on the left to move around rooms - anything with a dot on it can be looked at in more detail
  • Auckland Art Gallery ... in most cases high resolution detail to really explore
  • Art Project - search by collections, artists or artworks - artwork searches can be refined by medium, event, place, person
  • Details button gives you more information and often videos
As you move through the art projects, click on the + sign to save to your personal gallery collection. Under My Galleries you can see the items you've saved or create a new gallery.

Once again the past two days have been a full on combination of learning, sharing, networking, reconnecting, exploring and being inspired!  Who wouldn't sign on for that - even if its in the school holidays!   And ... just because ....

Presenting at GAFE 2016: Visible Learning

My second presentation, once again with colleague Matt Goodwin, is entitled Visible & Engaging in a Digital Learning Environment.  This presentation details how we prepare for learning in our classroom and how learners access their learning.  We also discuss and showcase Manaiakalani Google Class OnAir.

Monday, 18 April 2016

GAFE North Island Summit Day 1

Once again I had the privilege of attending the GAFE Summit.  This blog post is a reflection of the sessions I attended on the first day and the ideas and inspirations that I took away from it.

Opening Keynote:  Falling in Love with the Future - Molly Schroeder

An inspiring keynote to start the conference and which had me thinking about what the world looks like now for learners and how it could change in the future.

Some of the most applicable messages I took away from this session are:

  • Whatever we think is the best technology is the worst our students will ever have 
  • Create a community of problem solvers in your classroom
  • Learning is messy!!!!!!!
  • Encourage moonshot thinking and expect failure! What does moonshot thinking look like?  It includes big ideas and living in a BETA world 
  • Create a sandbox in your classroom - play with technology & have learners experience laughing, hi fives and warm fuzzies 
  • Unleash the potential of my students to surprise me; ask different questions
  • Learning is a design challenge - be open to trying different things
I also really enjoyed the person emoji that Molly used throughout her presentation and explored Bitmoji during the break.

Session One:  Presenting HTML & Google Sites

Session Two:  Improve Writing with Google - Kimberly Hall

The session explored the use of of Google Docs for writing and featured advice to use the Contents and Reference section with learners.  For more reluctant writers, voice typing can be used to help them create.   Some other great extensions and addons which were show cased include:

Draftback (chrome app) - watch the writing process unfold as a movie for any Google Doc that you are an editor of

Read/Write extension for Google Docs - this includes a prediction tool which gives suggestions for the next word when you are writing.  Additionally, the picture dictionary can assist learners to make sure they have included the correct word by providing a visual representation of any highlighted word.

SAS Writing Reviser (addon) - analyses a piece of writing including such things as how many times a particular word appears in your writing.

Session Three:  The Best Hidden Features of Chrome - Kimberly Hall

A great session with hints and tips to maximise your Google Chrome.  The ideas I found most useful are listed below (some I was already using).

Omnibox Magic - its more than just a place to type an URL
define - dictionary definition for any word
convert measurement, speed, area, length
set timer for - timer and stopwatch function - can go full screen also
yt <tab or space> - search youtube directly (you need to set this up in your Chrome settings first)

Jump between open tabs quickly - Command plus a number to jump between the open tabs where the first tab open is number 1 (up to 9 tabs only)

Restore/Reopen the last tab that you closed - Command + Shift + t

Simple Ext Manager - easily manage your Chrome extensions 

Tab Scissors and Tab Glue - split your screen into two to copy data from one window to another and then clue it back together again

Add to Google Drive - enables you to right click on images and save directly to your drive

Session Four:  The Creative Agency - Simon Ashby

This session explored digital tools that can be used in the classroom to allow learners to share their learning.  Although not all will be efficient on an iPad, and some are more applicable as a teacher tool for the age group I currently teach, the Chrome Apps I explored throughout the session are:

Google Drawings - simple interface, easy to share, free - could be used to add speech bubbles, infographics, annotating own work

Canva - graphic design which is very easy to drive

Fotor - photo editing with the ability to create photo collages

SketchToy - draw and then watch your drawing re-draw itself

Floorplanner - design rooms, houses from your browser 

GardenPuzzle - design gardens from your browser

Newspaper Generator - turns your text into a newspaper article

Demo Slam Highlights

The last session of the day was a Demo Slam in the auditorium.  The following were my favourite tips from the session:

  • Bitmoji ... I admit to having already created one during breaks between sessions!
  • Corgi Orgy - not sure that I can really explain this one .. you might just need to click on the link
  • GAFE Tip Posters - created by Monica Isabel Martinez
  • Omnibox searching - similar to the ideas posted during Session Three above
  • Eye dropper and Paletton - match a colour from a website and make a colour palette with complimentary colours

A great first day - bring on Day 2 for my GAFE Amazingness!


Presenting at GAFE North Island Summit

Once again I have the privilege of attending and presenting at the GAFE Summit, alongside my colleague Matt Goodwin.  Our first presentation Using HTML on Google Sites was one of the first workshops on the first day.

Ubiquous Learning

Yesterday our whole staff received Manaiakalani Professional Development from Dorothy Burt focused on ubiquous learning ... learning which is able to happen anytime, anyplace, anywhere.  Digital technologies provide this affordance and during the session we were asked to consider how?  How are we using the technologies to provide ubiquous learning?  What ideas do others have that we could use to help our own learners?

As with any professional development, the value to me is in both attending and then reflecting afterwards to see what benefits there may be for my learners.  Some of the ideas that came out of the session may not be usable right now, but could definitely have impact in the future.  This list documents some of the great ideas and tools which were discussed today (some of which I'm already using):

Google Keep - my new favourite friend.  The opportunity to take notes, leave audio, weblinks or images all in one place.  Added benefits include the ability to search through your notes and add reminders.

Poplet or Padlet for brainstorms during writing time

Recording specific lessons or make a modelling movie, so learners are able to rewind them and watch them again when needed.  Additionally, You Tube clips often step learners through the learning in a simple well laid out way.

Evernote as a modelling book for learners which can be embedded on the class site so learners can go back and review.

Use of sound bites to record instructions for learners, particularly those lower readers.

"If it is worth teaching, it is worth capturing. If it is worth learning, it is worth capturing."

Monday, 11 April 2016

2016 Inquiry: Progress to date

As part of our ongoing inquiry into our practice, today we presented to our inquiry groups the analysis we have completed and the steps we have taken.  Much of Term 1 is about analysing and adjusting to the needs of learners but already I've implemented some steps to help my target group of writers.  These are outlined in my presentation.

As the term comes to a close I look forward to researching and developing new ideas to use in my classroom in Term 2.

Sunday, 10 April 2016

Leaving comments on my kids blogs ... so they can listen :)

I encourage blog posting in my class and learners are getting very independent at completing their activities and then posting to their blogs.  They also love to see that someone has been viewing their blogs and get even more excited if a comment is left.  We talk about the comments that have been left in class frequently.

During a week I try to comment on learners blogs in the evening and often will give them things to focus on in their next blog post.  This is great for those learners in my class in the higher reading groups that can easily read my comments.  However, I'm finding my lower readers struggle to read my comments and they are therefore not effective.

This week I'm trialling leaving the comment as written text as well as recording the comment in an audio clip.  I will carefully scaffold with the learners so they know they are able to listen to the comment by clicking on "Listen to Audio".

I'm using a voice recording app on my iPad and then uploading the clip to a folder on my Google Drive and pasting this link into the comment.  It takes me about a minute longer than just leaving a comment, but I think this is worthwhile as feedback is valuable to the learners.

It is important to note that I'm still discussing blog posts and activities in small groups and individually with learners during class time, but its not possible to see every learner, every day.  This gives me an opportunity to give them feedback which I know they will be able to listen to (if they can't read the comment).  Time will tell if this is beneficial and provides additional guidance, scaffolding and motivation for my learners.

Sunday, 3 April 2016

Targeting learners for accelerating writing

As part of my Spark-MIT and Pt England inquiry this year I'm looking to accelerate a group of writers who are significantly below National Standards.  The first part to any acceleration is to identify the learners and assess where they currently are at.

Our school wide testing users e-asTTle and further information on e-asTTle and a range of exemplars can be found here.  Writing is assessed in seven areas (combining surface and deeper features) and then the results form an overall score.  These seven areas are:

Sentence Structure

The raw data for my six identified target learners has been summarised into this table*.

This graph highlights the similarities in the learners and the need to focus on Ideas, Structure, Organisation and Punctuation for all.

As always, formal testing is only one avenue of assessment.  Combined with this formal testing I have reviewed the work samples of these learners over the last 8 weeks as well as observed them as they write and discussed their thoughts on writing with them.   Observations and thoughts include:

  • Ideas are present but putting these into more than just a phrase is a struggle
  • Sentences often start the same way: "I like ....
  • Tenses are often mixed up
  • Full stops are used at the end of each line
  • After deciding on a sentence (often with teacher support) learners forget the sentence in the time it takes to locate the necessary words
  • Learners letter formation makes identification of capital and lower case letters impossible
  • Writing has always been hard and its not "fun"
  • Learners don't like the topics they have to write about
  • Learners feel there is no point in writing because its just in our book and no one sees it
Over the coming terms, I look forward to sharing some of the things I'm implementing to accelerate these target learners (and all learners in my classroom).

*In order to preserve the identify of this group of learners, when I refer to my target group I have used pseudonyms and will continue to use these for continuity throughout the year.