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, 28 June 2016

Another way to add Sound Bites to Explain Everything projects

One of the things I really love about sharing my ideas via this blog is others sharing back and suggesting ideas and different ways of doing things.  One such suggestion came from Innes Kennard who suggested I give QuickVoice a try for adding sound bites.  While I do like Garage Band, after trying QuickVoice, I found it much quicker to add the sound bites than using Garage Band.  The simplicity of QuickVoice allows me to record my soundbites and insert them into Explain Everything quickly.

This short screencast shows how I use QuickVoice, including a trick for recording if you have a longer instruction and you'd like to include exactly what you have written on your Explain Everything project word for word.

Sunday, 26 June 2016

Animating our Writing

As part of my ongoing inquiry into accelerating learning with writing, this week I've tried something a little different with my learners.  As I planned my writing lessons for the week I had two main aims:

  • How could I spark the interest of my learners - particularly the boys - who are capable of producing some great sentences but who often complain at the mere mention of writing
  • How could we create writing blog posts that my learners are so enthusiastic about that they want to rush home and share with their whanau (thereby hopefully inspiring additional comments)
Throughout the term, our team wide focus has been on art and in particular buildings.  I have had learners create some great writing about the Sky Tower, Sydney Opera House and the Eiffel Tower, but I sensed from my learners that interest in writing about famous buildings was starting to wane.

So this week I introduced writing about a castle - but not just any castle.  The castles that we wrote about were created in the imaginations of my learners.  Not so different to other writing we have done earlier this year, where I gifted a topic and we brainstormed ideas.  This time however, the castles were different because we used them to create animations which my whole class enthusiastically embraced.

I gifted the class a selection of backgrounds that they could access via our class site.  Our animations were created using Explain Everything with the first slide (or two) used to draw the different objects for their animation - the one criteria was they had to include a castle (keeping to our 'buildings' theme).  Many learners opted to copy my idea of a spider which was animated, although we did have some that branched out with people, butterflies and birds.  

Learners then used their second slide to insert and set the background they had selected.  They copied in the different elements (castle, spider, etc) and then duplicated that slide several times.  Over the next 10 - 12 slides, they moved their character slightly more on each slide, creating an animation effect, before exporting the project as a video.  This video was then inserted into iMovie where we sped it up slightly and added some background music.  Lastly, learners uploaded their movie to their Google Drive and I inserted them into their blogs (I needed to use the embed code from their Google Drives to publish them on their blogs).  To make this process faster, learners had already created their blog posts, with their writing and saved it as a draft.

Once upon a time there was a little blue castle. It lived in an ice forest with trees around it and there was a spider crawling around the castle. The spider was very scary and all the people got scared of the spider so they ran away from the spider. the spider was left alone inside the forest and he went in the castle so he can have a break.           - Precious

While the lesson (over a number of days) was by no means perfect, I aim to repeat it next week using a "wooden shack" as the featured building as I was particularly pleased with the enthusiasm demonstrated by even reluctant writers.  Much of the focus last week was on teaching the animation process I wanted the learners to follow (and how to use iMovie) - but now that many learners in the class are secure with this, I will be able to focus on small groups of writers while others create their animations independently.  I'm excited to see what creative writing is produced and what characters and ideas they decide to showcase through both their animations and writing.

Blog posts for all learners in my class with their animations posted are available here.

Thursday, 16 June 2016

Using Garage Band to record a soundbite for my Explain Everything projects

I find inserting audio instructions into my Explain Everything projects really helpful as a way to scaffold my learners that may not be able to read (or remember) my instructions.   I use Garage Band to create the soundbite rather than record the instructions directly onto the slide so that my instructions don't detract from the recording the learner will do on the slide when they push the red record button.  The soundbite is also shown visually on the screen so the learner knows to click on it and hear what I say if they struggle to read the instructions.

I've been helping other Manaiakalani Schools recently and am often asked "how do you do that" so have made a short screen recording which I can link to as needed.

Sunday, 12 June 2016

Sharing my MDTA experiences

Earlier this term I was asked by the University of Auckland (Faculty of Education & Social Work) if I would speak about my experiences in the Manaiakalani Digital Teacher Academy at a dinner they titled "Leading Learning, Changing Lives."  I was extremely honoured to be asked, particularly because I really value the introduction to my teaching career that MDTA and can't speak highly enough of the opportunities I've had as a result.

The dinner occurred late last week, and was an extremely enjoyable evening.  As well as speaking myself I really enjoyed hearing about other initiatives and innovative projects that the Faculty of Education & Social Work is involved in.

As is always the case when speaking, there is always more to say than time permits - three minutes goes very fast and I found myself cutting pieces from my speech in order to meet the brief.   I'm choosing to share my speech on my blog as both a record of the amazing evening I was invited to be part of, but also so it has the opportunity to be read by a wider audience as I'm proud to have been one of the ten beginning teachers accepted into the MDTA program.

For the last three years I’ve been teaching at Pt England School, a decile one school in Glen Innes, Auckland with a population of mainly maori and pasifika students. Pt England School is one of 13 schools in the Manaiakalani Cluster which came about in 2007 as these schools sought to find ways to engage learners and the whole community in their learning, in a hope to better the educational outcomes for our tamariki. For those of you in the audience who may not be familiar with some of the issues in our NZ education system, we have a very long under-achieving tail. How our children perform is heavily dependent on their socio-economic status. 

Fortunately, there are success stories, and I’m here to share the success of the Manaiakalani Schools in partnership with the University of Auckland. The schools in the Manaiakalani Cluster have moved to become digital learning environments, with all learners from Year 4 up having a Chromebook which they use to drive their own learning, and share this with the world. 

In 2013 I was accepted as one of ten beginning teachers to join the inaugural Manaiakalani Digital Teacher Academy. This never before opportunity was a joint venture between Auckland University, Manaiakalani and Google allowing first year teachers to teach using digital tools – to ensure the most optimal outcomes. Digital tools in and of themselves will not help children learn; it is the way that their teachers use these tools that makes a difference. One of the most exciting things is that this is a new field, and we are still learning about the best practice. The MDTA placed me to team teach with a mentor teacher who had over 16 years teaching experience. My mentor teacher, Michelle, and I were also tasked with being one of two classes piloting the use of 1:1 iPads with our New Entrant learners. 

While we were teaching, Michelle and I also completed postgraduate study through the University of Auckland, focused on Accelerating Learning particularly for Maori and Pasifika learners. This highly innovative post-graduate model allowed Michelle and I to study together and gain advanced post-graduate teaching qualifications which were highly relevant to what was going on in our classrooms. 

More often than not, learners enter our school significantly below where higher decile learners would enter the schooling system. The innovations Michelle and I put into place, in combination with the unique learning situation of our class having two teachers enabled us to accelerate learning and produce whole class reading results where almost all our learners achieved the New Zealand standard after one year at school. This is remarkable and had not previously occurred at Pt England School in the last 30 years. 

In my second year of teaching, with my own class of New Entrants, I supported the school wide and cluster wide move in the junior classes to 1:1 iPads, assisting with professional development which Michelle and I had used in my first year. The most rewarding part is being able to use the knowledge that I gained in the MDTA school-wide, and across the communities of schools. I’m not just impacting my own class. 

I’m absolutely committed to teaching and feel privileged to have had such a supportive introduction to my teaching career. But most of all I’m thankful on behalf of the learners I teach. The philosophy of Manaiakalani and our close partnership with the Faculty of Education and Social Work, has made a difference to their lives and is enabling them to reach their full potential - that is why I love going to work each day.

More information about the MDTA can be found here.

This article which was published earlier this week gives an insight into the Manaiakalani Cluster.