Teaser One – The Google Empire

Here is my first offering to the blog-o-sphere from my uLearn09 presentation

An eWindow into my Classroom

The Google Empire

Google Logo “Just Google it!”
Gone are the days when Google was just the provider of interesting facts and decider of living room quiz nights. Google is now a vast array of Web Applications designed to pull today’s web consumers into its clever and enticing ‘Googleverse’. And believe me, this Web Nut is banging on Google’s doors screaming “Let Me In”. In fact, while I am typing these very words I am wondering, why I don’t ‘can’ this wiki, and transfer it all over to Google Sites! Maybe I will; we will see …

Now back on track!
A quick run down on a few of the major players in the Google Empire (and don’t forget, one username will take you everywhere!)

Gmail Logo

This little beauty is gold! It’s free, easy to use and one account will service your entire class, or school as the case maybe. Check out the Gmail Page for information on the funky username+studentname@gmail.com format (thanks Sue Waters!).

Google Docs Logo

The ultimate in collaborative documentation. Create documents, spreadsheets and forms then share with collaborators or embed them into your site. Students can use Google Docs to draft their writing, then share that writing with you to provide instant editing and feedback.  I thought this collaboration gem deserved a page of its own as well! (thanks Nick Rate!)

Google Calendar Logo

A wonderfully useful application that allows you to set up an editable calendar. Keep parents up-to-date with events and deadlines. Add the class birthdays, or maybe a famous date or two your kids and parents may find interesting (thanks Sue Waters!).  Link to my classblog.

Google Maps Logo

I can only describe Google Maps as super cool. Find your school’s neighbourhood, add your markers and embed it on your site! What can be better than an interactive map that uses real satellite pictures? The only draw back is that it is a little tricky to embed and edit. This however, this can be over come with a little practise. Link to my classblog.

Google News Logo

Search hundreds if not thousands of local and international news organisations. Newspapers, Radio Stations, Television and Web-Based News Sites. Google News allows you to search a relatively narrow field of sourced information.

Google Sites Logo

A simple Web Site creator. Embed other Google content like calendars, maps and Youtube or add other third party content. Google Sites is a new alternative to Wikis.

Google Reader Logo

Have you heard of RSS? Are you unfamiliar with the term “Read my Feeds? Do you have lots of sites that you like to read but you can never get around to checking them all? If this sounds like you need to check out my Google Reader Page.  I can’t get by without my Google Reader! (thanks Common Craft)

Youtube Logo

YouTube has had some bad press in the ‘Edu-verse’ lately. Many schools choose to use alternative sites like TeacherTube to avoid the perceived evils of YouTube. However, YouTube wins hands down when it comes to ease of use, quality of playback and upload speed. Why bother with an inferior product when the Rolls Royce of video playback is at your door step. Just follow a few simple rules and all will be well. Link to my classblog.

Google Apps Logo

Google Apps is a free web-based IT infrastructure. With Google Apps you are able to create and manage email, messaging and shared calendars for all of your school community. Up-load videos and documents, which only your school community can view. No advertising, and a safe place for your students to learn about creating their own online identity. Check out this video for a short explanation or this video for a more thorough Webinar.

An eWindow into my classroom

With only one week left in Term Two my classroom blog, The Wocket Spot, is in full swing.  As I mentioned in an early post the goal of this class blog is to provide parents with link into the goings on in our classroom – an eWindow 😉 The hook I decided to use, to entice parents to comment, was a  “My Mum is Smarter than Your Dad” post.  While the kids were over the moon at being able to prove they were quicker than me, it has taken 6 weeks for a parent to post comment.  While I find this disappointing, I am more puzzled about the fact that the parent are on the blog, they have told me while picking up their kids, and they are quite chuffed about beating my score but they still will not add a comment!  Why????

It is really frustrating. Students are constantly telling me how much they and their families enjoy our blog.  One student even brought in their father’s printed out certificate from the Basic Facts Challenge, yet still no comment.  I know it is being used and valued by our class families, they tell me every day, but why won’t they comment!!!!  It’s sad but I chase comments like the paparazzi chase Brittany.

Anyway, it is time to get over myself and talk about the good bits!

Motivation to write and interact with an audience outside of the classroom has been at an all time high since we went live.  Comment boxes are just the right size for Year 3 and 4 (Grade 2 and 3) students. Five super juicy, interesting sentences are always better than two pages of waffle.  We have published two comments this term – one was about their favourite part of The Witches, By Roald Dahl and the second was a descriptive paragraph about a piece of art.

Time to show off a clever idea!  I was playing around with Flickr and embedding slideshows.  I had originally just intended to use the slideshow to display the students art. However, when I had embedded it realised that I had forgotten to label them, DOH.  Now wait for it … here comes the clever idea! I decided to turn it into a guessing game.  The students had to describe their art, a loopy lizard, in a juicy and interesting way so that their parents could guess which one was theirs.  Eureka!  The kids loved it, and their writing was fantastic (some of it was a bit over ripe, but who am I to fence in an artist!). Why not hot have a go yourself, some of them are quite funny in an other written kind of way “It’s eyes are like a crazy cat’s claws closing in the dark stormy night.”

Apart from the comment deprivation from the parents, comments from teachers and other classes are growing in momentum.  Early on in the life of The Wocket Spot, I decided to add a Visitor’s Book.  While perusing through other class blogs, I noticed that there was never a place where I could add a general “Hello” comment to the blog.  The Visitor’s Book was my solution to this little problem. Now our visitors have a place to say hello, and add a face to those anonymous spots on the Clustr Map.  This page is now the most popular page, with the students often checking who was the latest to visit our little blog.  It is here that I must say thank you to my Tweeps (friends) on Twitter! I have tweeted requests for other teachers to visit our site and now have several very interesting people in exotic places around the world visiting the kids.  Thank you all! They really do love it!

As well as adults we now have lots of other classes link to our Friends Blogroll.  I think that this is the most powerful part of blogging – making connections with other kids and their learning.  Here is a list of our friends in case you would like to visit them too (go on … you will make their day, especially if you live in an interesting place!)

While I am still pondering the parent conundrom, I believe that I have finally hit the nail on the head when it comes to a Class Blog that appeals to parents, students and teachers alike.  It provides parents with an eWindow into our classroom and allows the kids to continue interacting with their learning.  I will keep working on those parents (maybe I need to hire a PR guy) to add comments to our blog, however I won’t be too fussy.  Verbal comments are just as good (I can’t share them and show off that’s all) and after all I am doing it for the kids …

What’s a Wallwisher?

Thanks to a new blog post from manaiakalani I found this new little beauty wallwisher.com. I must say I am quite excited! Maybe it is the pretty colours; or the ease of use; how about the ability to add links and pictures; the open collaboration; being able to embed and definately the silly monkey picture!

I won’t go into detail, you guys can just get in there and have a play – add a note to my wall … go on I dare you!

Look really embeded!!!!!!!!!!!

My Teacher Inquiry

As a part of our EHSAS Cluster we are required to engage in a Teacher Lead Inquiry.  The justification of this inquiry comes from The New Zealand Curriculum.  In a section entitled Effective Pedagogy the document states that ‘effective pedagogy requires that teachers inquire into the impact of their teaching on their students’.  With this I completely agree!  Are we not constantly asking ourselves – ‘How did that go?, ‘Did I activate that learning effectively?’, or sometimes ‘Oh crap, what on earth did I do wrong?’.  I see this inquiry as a opportunity to formalise that, everyday personal inquiry and perhaps activate some small form of positive pedagogical shift. secret- I dream of nothing less than revolutionary ;-P

Teacher Inquiry is further advocated by the research of Professor John Hattie and the late researcher Graham Nuthall (both Kiwis!).  Now I am not going to waffle on about the research justifications, not my style though it needed to be mentioned, as you are all intelligent enough to Google it for yourself (that was a compliment …).  What I will share with you though is a wonderful statement announced the other day by Intrepid Teacher“Group Brain Activate!”.  As a 21st Century Learner and Teacher I can see no other way to conduct a Teacher Inquiry other than collaboratively.  By collaboratively I mean by using the Web2.0 to publish, discuss, review and share my process and findings.

Over the past couple of years I have come to realise that I am not alone in my search for Educational Enlightenment.  Not only are there people out there struggling along on their own journey but these people are sharing, thinking, communicating and learning from one another.  I want to be part of that crowd!  So Group Brain Activate, lead me to the promised land … or at least give me few good tips on Oral Language?  Oh yeah, that’s what my Teacher Inquiry will be about – The improvement of Oral Language through Video Conferencing and any other Web2.0 gizmo my hopefully enthusiastic Group Brain may suggest.

I have set up a Wiki as my Individual Teacher Plan (formally a flimsy piece of paper, Save The Trees!) where I will document my thinking, planning, progress and reflection.  Pop in, have a look, make a suggestion, correct my spelling or just stay for a cup of tea, you are all welcome! (just as a quick note for all you speedy readers out there, I haven’t got anything on there yet, I am planning to set it up this weekend after the in-laws have gone, but never fear it will be done asap!)

Video Conferencing – A learning curve!

On Thursday my class and I made our first Video Conference Call to meet our ePals from Riverdale School. The previous week I had been forwarded an email from another teacher who was wanting to set up ePals (email Pen Pals) for her class.  She has the same age children  as me (Grade 3 and 4) “Why not?”.  So drafts were written, questions composed, spelling checked and little fingers began to type.  Then of course 80% of the class finished the typing on time while big teacher fingers had to take over because 20% of little fingers kept losing their work, deleting their work, or ignoring their work while they got in a bit of Kid Pix/Garageband/Poptropica while I wasn’t looking. Grrrrrrrrrrrrr.

Anyway we got there in the end and the kids were thrilled to receive their replies.  I then announced that we would be meeting our ePals on Thursday through a Video Conference call, confusion – “What’s that?”, “Are we going on a bus?”, “Will their Mums bring them?” hmmmm.  I explained as best I could, “Well, it’s like talking to someone on a big TV”, “Oh, you mean like Skype?”, “Yes”, “Is that all? Why didn’t you just say so?”, “Mmmmmm …”  We began our preparations by brainstorming for good questions to ask the other class, this of course was when it became my turn to be confused.  The students had such a difficult time coming up with good open ended questions, in fact after further probing I realised that very few of them were able to formulate good questions that would maintain a focussed discussion.  This realisation was further backed up by our VC call with the other class.  Questions were asked and answers were given but there was no attempt to elaborate or probe for more information.  If it wasn’t for the two teachers present who carried the conversation, it would of been a very brief VC Call indeed.

So many questions have sprouted from my grey matter since this experience.  “Is it their age?”, “Was it first time jitters?”, then “Is it me?”, “Am I dominating conversations?”, “Should I keep quiet during discussion?” maybe not, because now that I think about it, most of our classroom discussions are heavily reliant on me prompting, questioning, scaffolding and drawing out their thoughts and ideas.  This of course goes against my belief that I should be striving to put myself out of a job. I don’t want the kids to be reliant on me, I want them running their own focussed discussions.

What I do know is that the national trend for oral language proficiency is at a steady decline.  In our school there has been a significant increase in referrals to the speech and language specialists.  Our PAT testing at the beginning of the year has shown a significant gap in students vocabulary.  Through my own casual observations, I have noticed that many of my students would not understand the books my parents read to me, they would not understand the vocabulary; goodbye Oliver Twist and Little House on the Prairie.  Most irritating of all is when I hear fellow teachers saying statements like “You did good!”. Double Grrrrrrrr.

What to do?

Here’s my plan:  Increase my formal oral language programme, explicitly teach questioning through the use of De Bono’s Thinking Hats, and, here’s the cool bit, use the VC equipment whenever possible.  I see the Video Conferencing as an excellent tool for providing oral language opportunities.  There is a significant difference between conversing with our peers and conversing with a stranger on the other side of the world.  My kids understand this and if I can activate my students learning by allowing them to practise these skills through VC with real strangers, then hopefully I will be on my way to putting myself out of a job.

What do you think?  Any suggestions?  Anyone want to VC with ME?

Enter the Twitterverse

Everyone is picking on me!!!!  Today I admitted to being a fan and now an active Twitterer. People keep asking me if I am following Ashton Kuttcherr and Ellen Degenerous … obviously not!!! I can’t even spell their names let alone find them!

I first encountered Twitter last May while I was on the Apple Bus Tour .  When visiting Point England School the eLearning Facilitator, Dorothy Burt, mentioned that she Twittered.  I of course, being thoroughly amped with the tour, joined straight away … now what? I didn’t know who, what or where to follow.  I couldn’t even understand half the text language being used???

Thankfully I have now had some timely advice from a few ePals and have gathered together several worthwhile people to follow (is there a name for for that? followees? peeps? friends? the stalked?)

The trouble is that now I need to find out how to keep up!  There seems to be some kind of snow-ball effect happening; in the last 12 hours I found 17 people to follow, and I am now being followed by 10 more people than yesterday.  From these Tweets, I have discovered 8 more blogs to follow and 1 more Ning network, not to mention all my eGeeky friends I IM in the evenings, my constantly growing Skype list and the Bebo I never visit.  Do I need a Facebook too?  Now if my powers of mathematical ability are correct I will be communicating with about six billion and five more people then I can cope with.


Please tell me … how do I keep up without being biologically wired to my MacBook??!!

Ponderings in the Library

Yesterday I was speaking to a parent/member of staff about the wonders of blogging.  We are both keen subscribers to several great blogs; I mostly after her recommendations and being both scholarly types, our conversation quickly led to Nick Rate’s recent post on parent engagement or lack there of as the case maybe.

Parent engagement has been sitting at the back of my mind as I busily set up my own class blog.  I know the kids all love the idea, and I am sure the parents do scroll through at their kids encouragement.  However, what I really want are the comments, am I going to get them?

(sudden thought) Do I really want comments for me or for the kids?  If the kids are at home showing their blogs to their parents, aren’t they getting instant feedback from their interactions with their parents.  Maybe parents are more engaged in the learning then we realise.  Maybe we just can’t see it?

Anyway … due to my ever present need for extrinsic as apposed to intrinsic reward I am going to try and chase down those comments like an Emo chases bad hair cuts and oblivion lol.

I thought that perhaps the parents maybe enticed, to begin with, with a little friendly competition. Hence the invention of the “My Mum is Smarter than Your Dad” page.

I will set up a page with a link to the Maths Magician Site and challenge the parents to beat my score (won’t be hard, I suck) by recording their results in the comment box.  I will pump up the kids and see if the parents hang around and leave comments in other places too.  My Parent Insider also suggested that I have a lot more information for parents about current learning and how they can help.  As she poignantly reminded me, kids when asked what they did at school almost always answer – “Nothing”.

Pixton – Martha 1.0

Just a bit of fun in Pixton 😀

Pixton is a great little site that allows you to make online comic strips quick and easily. You can upload these comics to the site and others can make comment about them (I am very excited because I got my first ‘LOL’ last night) and you can comment on other strips. Pixton was recently reviewed on TeachersFirst.com and you can check out their thoughts at this link:


In terms of use in my classroom, I can see it as a great way of creating situations and scenarios for the Dare programme we are doing next term.

Of course the old debate of clip art, to use or not to use, comes to mind. Are we stifling creativity and making it too easy by using pre-made figures and scenes? Are we encouraging kids to use other peoples creativity?

Personally, and feel free to disagree, I believe that in this case we must look at the purpose of using this platform. That is of course is feedback from an authentic audience. The power of Pixton is not the ease and speed of use, it is the social networking aspect. Students are able to express themselves in a relatively creative way and find out what Jim-Bob in the big old USA thinks about it. And I can tell you it feels pretty cool when a stranger gives you a LOL!