Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Don't Panic

With a huge number of teachers strugglling with illness the possibility of leaving the safety of the ICT room and working in a classroom all day reared it's head today. We were warned last night that this might be necessary due to the likely absence of several at a staff meeting after school yesterday.

Having attended a meeting regarding a forthcoming conference in Hong Kong until 9.30 last night (more on this later), preparation for a full day in the classroom was always going to be a bit rushed. However, armed with ideas from the likes of Tom Barrett and Derek Robertson I decided to try a little experiment and teach the day's lessons with the help of a Nintendo Wii.

Our Literacy lesson would have been spent looking at Endless Ocean and using the underwater environment to stimulate writing, whilst Wii Sports Golf is a great way of tackling aspects of mental maths.

Soon after arriving in school it was clear that a number of our ill members of staff had dragged themselves out of their sickbeds to man the classrooms - why do teachers do that?! - so I wasn't required.

Undeterred though, I set about trying to get the Wii to work on one of our Promethean whiteboards. The video was no problem but the sound proved to be tricky and a few different combinations of speakers and adapters were required before things were sorted. Ms Li had a quick spin with Endless Ocean and proved herself to be an excellent diver. First glimpses of Endless Ocean indicate that it could indeed be used as a stimulus for writing and as soon as I can convince one of the class teachers or year groups to dive headlong into an ocean based cross curricular project I'll be all set!

Our P4 class were the first to use the Wii as we used the golf game as a way of practising addition and subtraction. Golfers hit the ball whilst their classmates worked out how far they had hit by subtracting the distance left from the total distance of the hole. The maths worked fine, but as anybody who is familiar with golf knows, it's not really that simple as the ball rarely (for me) goes in a straight line. P5 students did a similar activity, but as they have been using spreadsheets in recent lessons, they had to calculate the distance hit by entering a formula into the cells.

Students in both classes worked enthusiastically and enjoyed the novelty of the Wii as a context for their work. The activities we worked on were fairly simple and were only really an experiment to see whether the device could be set up to run in a classroom. Now we know that it's possible and some simple tasks have been started, we now need to look at how we can create a more comprehensive module of work like the one Derek Robertson talks about in the link above.

Scratch Seminar

Monday evening saw a number of interested teachers gather at Kellett to share experience and expertise of the programming software, Scratch. Teachers were enthusiastic in sharing what they had done and future collaboration was discussed.

We were lucky enough to have Jane Harris from CIS attend the meeting and it was fascinating to hear her views. Jane has worked extensively in Scratch and presented at MIT's Scratch Conference last summer. She has been working in Maths lessons with groups using the software to investigate aspects of Shape & Space, e.g. tesselation, rotation and transformation. Student understanding of these ideas appear to have improved significantly as a result of her work. This is a clear example of how the 'traditional' curriculum can be taught using aspects of technology and I look forward to trying out some of her ideas here at Kellett.

I have been mightily impressed with the work our Year 6 and 7 students have created this term in Scratch and I'm hoping to extend this further down the school. For students who want to use the computer during the holidays, Scratch is an ideal medium for experimenting and creating. Amzingly, it's completely free and can be downloaded from here.

Those wishing to investigate Scratch further might like to look at the Delicious page we've set up for Scratch. You could always let us know of alternative Scratch resources by adding them in the comments below.

Monday, 15 December 2008

ICT is for Life, Not Just Christmas!

It's amazing how many hits this blog gets from search engines with text like "ICT Christmas activities" at this time of year. Our post about Christmas web sites from last year often appear in the results and directs traffic towards us, which is great.

However, it does suggest that there are people who see ICT as a convenient stocking filler at this time of the year! Whilst there are some fun Christmas sites out there, there's some that are a bit dull!

I quite like the Snowflakes websites that can be found on the web. Last year we highlighted the Look and Feel site as being great fun, but the definite favourite this year is the online drawing site Myoats, which has a stunning snowflake creator.

In a rare display of ICT Christmas spirit(!), P3 students used the creator to make their own images which were then made into an Animoto slideshow:

Friday, 12 December 2008

Google Lively - the protest spreads

I'm a big fan of Google, I think they do some great things that impact hugely upon teaching and learning. We've used loads of their tools at Kellett... Earth, Sketchup, Maps, Docs, Picasa, and sometimes students even use it for searching!

However, their recent decision to shut down Google Lively at the end of December has caused dismay amongst many in education who see the opportunity to extend classrooms into virtual environments as an important strand of 21st Century Learning. Whilst it's true that major virtual grids exist elsewhere, such as Second Life, the ability to create your own rooms and customise them for your own students offers huge potential.

Education is still only just dipping it's toe into the possibilities that virtual worlds afford us, but it's companies like Google with it's track record of creating innovative tools for educators that should be leading the way, not bailing out without giving leading innovaters time to experiment and share their practise.

A huge well done to Vicki Davis in leading the way on this. Her students have been using Google Lively as a means of investigating aspects of Digital Citizenship and quite rightly they are dismayed at Google's decision to pull the plug. They have recently held a protest to try to convince Google that they should change their minds and they have the full support of our Year 8 students who have begun to explore Lively.

Education takes time to discover, investigate and formulate strategies for using new tools. They can't just be adopted because they look good, they need an educational context to justify their use. Two years ago we looked into setting up a Kellett Island in Second Life but the cost was prohibitive. Lively offers us the opportunity to do it for free but we need more time to structure our approach.

Please give us the time, Google. You can sign the Google Lively Petition here.
What do our Year 8 students think?

Thursday, 11 December 2008

Scratch at Kellett

After two successful modules of work taught at Year 6 and 7 all students have produced a project built in Scratch. Year 7 students have also uploaded their work to the internet and commented on each other's creations.

Next Monday a few HK teachers will meet at Kellett to discuss the use of Scratch in the classroom. This is an exciting opportunity to share expertise and experience and take our use of the software to the next level.

If any HK teachers reading this would like to attend please feel free to do so, just let me know.

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Oliver Postgate

Sad to hear of the death of Oliver Postgate earlier this week. For those of a certain age, Postgate was required viewing in the days when there was very little children's tv, with programmes usually aired at lunchtime and early evening. There was certainly no 24 hour channels showing endless cartoons.

Whilst Bagpuss seems to be the most remembered of his creations, it wasn't a favourite of mine. It was merely a pretender to the best small children's TV programme ever made...

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Using Computer Games in Literacy

As anybody who takes a vague interest in this blog knows, I am very keen that students have opportunities to use computer games within their studies. Tim Rylands and Derek Robertson are two educators who have pioneered the use of COTS (commercial off the shelf) games within the classroom, using them as a means to making the curriculum more engaging and culturally relevant.

Robertson's work is particularly interesting as it attempts to add academic validation through a research project looking at the use of Dr Kawashima's Brain Training. His recent invitation as the keynote at VITTA shows that people are beginning to take note.

Our ICT curriculum here at Kellett has a module in each Key Stage 2/3 year looking at computer games. This also informs work on games design at the top of KS2 and into KS3. However, the real importance of looking at games is in the wider curriculum. For two years we have worked on a module using the simulation game Rollercoaster Tycoon as a basis for Literacy work at year 5, tackling aspects of persuasive language and research. The point with this type of activity is that the computer game is merely the stimulus for pupils, similar to a text, an image, or even a visit.

Last year our Year 5 students were introduced to the online game Samorost2, a problem solving activity. They loved the game and the difficulties the character faced so much that many of them carried on working on the problems at lunchtimes and at home.

Inspired by the work of Kim Pericles in Australia I sat down earlier this term with P6 teacher Katie Hitchcox and introduced her to the mysteries and intricacies of the first Samorost game. From there Miss Hitchcox planned the use of Samorost into her Literacy work; a two week module looking at story settings within a fantasy genre..... here's what happened.

Students were introduced to the game and encouraged to work in small groups to solve the problems and help the main character to save his planet. Interestingly, whilst many of the adults involved in this project had found the problem-solving aspects quite difficult (impossible, actually!!), the students worked well together and had clearly plenty of digitally native experience in this type of activity. Although the seven levels of the game were challenging, by the end of the first Literacy session most of the groups were nearing completion.

After spending time with the game, students then discussed aspects of narrative writing, taking notes on each scene before looking at creating powerful openings to their stories. To enhance their understanding of narrative, setting and character, the class then moved to the Drama Studio where they used a variety of techniques to help them understand the situation and feelings of the characters. Many of the pupils felt this was very helpful when they were working on their writing. Alongside the specific tasks within Literacy there was an ongoing writing task requiring pupils to write a story based upon the game. Most of the work was done in class using laptops.

What is Samorost?

Working As a Team

Samorost in Drama

Using Samorost to help Writing

Persuasive Language with Samorost

Writing Example 1

Writing Example 2

During the second week of Literacy, students focussed specifically on the fishing scene from the game, using figurative language to describe setting and including personification, simile and metaphor. To extend their work further, students also looked at the genre of advertising and created an advert for a future release of the game, Samorost3 assumably!
The images below are extracts from pupil work, click the arrows to move through them.

More to follow!