Thursday, 30 October 2008

Christmas Lists... what's on yours?

With Halloween done and dusted the approach to Christmas begins in earnest. As much as you might try to fend it off, a school is the last place for a Scrooge to be as November progresses.

As is the custom, it's time to start composing your letters to Santa Claus and given that sometimes he just can't get hold of the most popular items, it's good to get your requests in early. Given that some of the tecchy things on my list are likely to be in short supply in December I thought I'd look at what's likely to be in demand now.

Top of everybody's list is bound to be the newly announced Nintendo DSi, released in Japan this weekend and seemingly already available to pre-order here in HK. The new DS is slightly smaller and boasts a built in camera and web browser. This is excellent news for those of us who firmly believe that consoles like the DSi have an important role to play in learning.

Finding publicity material on the DSi is not so easy given that it's only available in Japan at the moment, but here's a clip;

The past year has seen an effort by Sony to make inroads into Nintendo's dominance of the 'family' or 'educational' game market. Their new Playstation Eye peripheral has added a new dimension to what their games can offer and the Eye Pet looks like being a great success;

The idea that players can become truely interactive with a game is a big step forward and will make games much more engaging to a wider audience.

Talking of making games more interesting to a wider audience, how about a DS game where you can pretend to be a teacher? What a great idea! One of the games in Ubisoft's Imagine series is Imagine Teacher, a game where you play as a new teacher making your way in a new job.

You have to plan your weekly timetable, mark you books and make sure your class progresses well as you attempt to create "the school of your dreams"!

Alarmingly though, the publicity warns that you need "be careful of those who want to stand in the way of your success"..... what could they mean by that!!?

For those that need a more ambitious entry on their list, how about a train? This one requires you to wind it up with a handcrank and costs around $40,000. You do need quite a large space to fit it in though. It would go nicely in our Reception Covered Area...

From previous posts I've made it's clear that I believe mobile technologies in education will become increasingly important in the next few years. Therefore, I'm grateful to HK Ed-Tech Consultant Paul McMahon for pointing me in the direction of the 3M Mobile Projector. At around $3000 this is a very affordable piece of kit and although it lacks the phone functions that will be with us in the next year or so, I could see lots of applications within school.

So, that's just a few initial ideas for my list, now I have to convince Santa that I really have been well behaved and deserve all of the above!

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Sham Shui Po

A trip to Sham Shui Po is a good opportunity to browse the computer mall and market stalls and pick up a few goodies.

On the crowded MTR on the way there I was near to a group of three children (prob Y7/8) all of different races who between them had around five devices and spent the whole trip completely engaged with each other and their technology, listening to their music via shared headphones, viewing images on their cameras and constantly making phone calls, sending photos to each other.

A few things struck me as we travelled northwards. Firstly, how at home they were with their technology. They were competent users who used their devices as part of their everyday lives, socially and recreationally. Secondly, how can we transfer this enagement and this seamless use of technology into the classroom? Yes, we're making progress, but we must keep trying to extend what we do. The everyday use of technology musn't stop at the school gates, it needs to be completely embedded into the curriculum. Our students have an entitlement to that.

I like the manifesto/vision statement of a local school I read recently which stated that students should use ICT for 25% of the time they are in school. That sounds reasonable at primary level, depending on the sort of ICT they were doing, of course.

In recent weeks we've begun some exciting projects at Kellett using ICT, and not just in the ICT suite itself. Our new Flip Ultra video cameras (pictured left) have seen a lot of use in both KS1 and 2 whilst Year 7 and 8 continue to progress with Google Docs. On the horizon are some extremely exciting projects using our new facial animation software, Crazy Talk, and looking at games as a stumulus for writing at P6.

I'm really looking forward to continuing to embed technology within the curriculum and a few more goodies from Sham Shui Po will help a little! Our Flip Ultra sits proudly atop a new "Gorilla-Pod" "type"(!) tripod purchased on my recent visit. A few spare sets of headphones and smaller animation tripods were also bought on the day trip...

Thursday, 16 October 2008

Crazy Talk

Students working in Computer Club have been experimenting with the facial animation software Crazy Talk. They have added images of themselves into the software and created animation points on their faces so that the tool can animate in a realistic fashion.

They have then added speech to their models and synchronised the sound and the movement together. One student has even added his speech in French.

Crazy Talk is an extremely sophisticated, but simple to use piece of software that could be used across the curriculum, especially in Literacy, Humanities and MFL. Hopefully we will have the chance to use it in wider applications during the forthcoming year.

Now that they have mastered the basic techniques, Computer Club will be revisiting Crazy Talk throughout the year.

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Peer Review in Google Docs

Year 7 have started using Google Docs to evaluate presentations made to the class. Each student gives their presentation and is then reviewed by their peers using a shared Google document. The use of Google Docs means that the whole class can contribute to a single document thereby giving valuable feedback.

You might expect (and I did), this type of activity to be dogged by technical issues, but it was actually fairly smooth with all students being able to log on wirelessly to the network from areas where there is usually little multiple access (the gym and the auditorium).

Student log-in to Google Docs was efficient in the most part and they were able to access the individual review file of each presenter without problems. As Google sets a limit of 10 users working simultaneously on each file there was a little wasted time for those that weren't quick enough to get in first! We need to work on this a bit and adapted so that students could comment on one of two presentations at the same time.

On the whole the quality of student comment was good, but because of the short amount of time they were permitted to write, there was not enough depth to their comments. We need to allow for more reflection and stress the difference between peer review in the classroom and the adding of comments to a Youtube video. Each has merit, but to support a classmate in IMPROVING and REFINING their work, the two are different.

Comments included;

  • That was really great!
  • it was the best presentation so far!
  • I loved it!!!

Which fall into the supportive category and may make the student feel good, but they don't identify what it is that is actually good. As far a peer review goes, the above are limited. More helpful comments included;

  • it was quite short and wasn't formal enough
  • great pictures and good formal language
  • very clear and well presented
  • You used good expression and talked about the pictures referring to the text
  • You actually looked at us, not many people can do that
  • you need to face us more than the screen
  • i liked the pics, the font was good
  • Next time just try to not hide the words behind the photographs
So, where next with this project?

There are more presentations to be seen with one more lesson before half-term and another straight after. Students need to look again at the comments they have made and also address the issue of precisely where they comment. The default position is the top of the screen, which soon becomes cluttered. The use of Insert, Comment allows for colour coding of postings so that everybody can see who has written what. The revision history is another way in which the updates of the document can be followed.

Although we've only scratched the surface of Google Docs so far, it's clear to see that it has huge potential within the classroom, allowing for simultaneous student collaboration.

KS3 students have also started to use Google Docs in English

Monday, 13 October 2008


P4 are looking at LOGO at the moment. The study of LOGO is an excellent introduction to the world of programming and leads to a variety of more complex work later on, such as using Scratch and Flowol.

With influential voices such as Marc Prensky advocating programming as an essential part of learning, LOGO is a great start. For those that want to follow up their work on LOGO, a free version called MSW LOGO can be downloaded from this page.

Left to their own devices.

Last year the General Secretary of the teaching union the NASUWT in the UK made a comment that must have haunted him ever since when he said; "Teachers would be grateful if pupils just brought a pen" when discussing students bringing gadgets in to schools.

His words were generally met with derision and rightly so. Our students are familiar with a huge array of technology and it's part of our role to help them to use it in a positive way. The mobile phone is a device often banned in schools, but with the vast majority (95%+) of secondary students owning them they could be a rich resource within the classroom. The new breed of phone has a number of functions which can allow for personalisation and innovation and apparently contains more computing power than the first Apollo space launch - don't ask me to reference that, it's just something I heard!

A research paper just released by the University of Nottingham in the UK looks at how secondary schools can use mobile phones to help learning.

Amongst other things, the report outlines 15 ways that students can use their mobiles;
  • Timing experiments with stopwatch
  • Photographing apparatus and results of experiments for reports
  • Photographing development of design models for eportfolios
  • Photographing texts/whiteboards for future review
  • Bluetoothing project material between group members
  • Receiving SMS & email reminders from teachers
  • Synchronising calendar/timetable and setting reminders
  • Connecting remotely to school learning platform
  • Recording a teacher reading a poem for revision
  • Accessing revision sites on the Internet
  • Creating short narrative movies
  • Downloading and listening to foreign language podcasts
  • Logging into the school email system
  • Using GPS to identify locations
  • Transferring files between school and home

Some great ideas there and many worth following up on. Being a complete dinosaur I'd never even realised you could use your mobile as a stopwatch... a really useful tool in the classroom.

Elizabeth Hartnell-Young's research work makes fascinating reading and a full version can be downloaded here.

Sunday, 12 October 2008

It's The End of the Word As We Know it...

and I feel fine.

Microsoft Word that is. The staff from Google HK gave a fascinating insight into how various Google products can be used within the classroom during Saturday's session at HKU. We've already started experimenting with Google docs at Kellett and that work now needs to be expanded upon in the wider curriculum, especially at KS2 and KS3.

Apart from a good look at Google Docs there was a session looking at Google Earth and Maps, as well as Google Sites. All of these can be used throughout our curriculum and they obviously have serious implications for our pedagogy.

I'm currently sat here trying to think of a good reason to use Microsoft Word in the KS2/3 classroom... it's not easy.

Welcome to the cloud...

Friday, 10 October 2008

We're Published

Towards the end of the last academic year, students in Year 7 spent time looking at how to add content to the photo positioning web site Panoramio. They looked closely at the locations they visited during their visit to Kota Kinabalu, but also added images of the school. Although it's possible to see your images translated onto maps within Panoramio... like this one, the real aim is to get your images added to Google Earth.

The good news is that one of our images recently made it! If you visit Wah Fu in Google Earth and have the Panoramio option switched on you can see our photo, and so can the whole world!

The ability to publish content is an essential part of 21st Century Learning and is a powerful motivator for students. Only ten years ago, students published their work to an extremely limited audience; their teacher, theirselves and maybe their classmates and close family with selected pieces of work.

With the development of the internet and the huge number of Web 2.0 tools now available students and their teachers can publish their work to much larger audiences, through collaborative work with classes and students from other countries, or to the internet in general.

During the past year, the small number of videos Kellett has published to the web have been viewed over 14,000 times. Compare that to the number that view a wall display in even the busiest of schools....

Thursday, 9 October 2008

Google Docs.... rocks!

Well, that's what Google says!

It's a testament to the interest that the education community in HK has in looking at collaborative ways of working that this Saturday's Google Seminar at HKU is hugely oversubscribed. So much so that there is now a second venue to cope with the overspill!

Year 7 will start their work with Google Docs tomorrow so it will be a good chance to try out before learning from Google staff.

Below is a video from Google explaining the idea behind Google Docs.

Geo Greeting

Here's an interesting way to help you learn spellings! Just type your words into Geo Greeting and see what they look like spelt by buildings from all over the world. The mouseover on the site allows you to see exactly where the building is on the globe. The greeting above includes buildings from Chicago, Tucson and Shanghai.

You can visit Geo Greeting by clicking here.

Monday, 6 October 2008

Google Docs

Year 7 have been working on the creation of a PowerPoint presentation about themselves. Whilst the use of PowerPoint may not be exactly innovative, the challenge for students is to make their work visually interesting and give them the scaffold to talk to their peers about themselves for three minutes.

As I've mentioned before we've looked at some aspects of PowerPoint that people often mis-use; intrusive backgrounds, inappropriate animations etc and we're trying to avoid those mistakes.

Whilst the use of PowerPoint might be labelled as old fashioned, it does have its uses and is still a standard software package for presentations. When our presentations are finished we will be looking at alternatives to PowerPoint and comparing applications.

We are going to try something different and innovative during our presentations though. When each Presentation is completed all students will have the opportunity to peer assess their classmates via Google Docs. Hopefully, each presenter will then have 23 pieces of feedback to help them evaluate and if necessary, refine their work.

That's the theory anyway! Setting up Google Docs has taken a little time but we seem to be getting there. Check back to see how it goes.

Rather conveniently, I will be attending a session on using Google Docs in the classroom at Hong Kong University this Saturday. Hopefully, I will return with some good ideas on how we can use this excellent resource across the school.