Friday, 26 February 2016

Becoming a Google Certified Educator

After successfully completing a three hour exam, I am now a Google certified educator!

I had completed my Google fundamentals training throughout the school holidays, so I was a little worried about taking the exam more than a month after completing the training. Despite having to go back and do a little revision, completing the training before school started meant I was much better prepared to teach in a Manaiakalani school.

I found that still learnt a few things while taking the exam as it quite a large practical component. After completing some multi choice questions, you were given a temporary Google Apps for Education account and had to complete tasks using various Google tools. The tasks included assigning work in Google Classroom and working with student data in Google Sheets.


Despite being a little anxious I passed the exam and felt that I over thought a lot of the questions. The Fundamentals training prepared you well to pass the exam, despite being required to score above 80 percent to pass.

The Google Fundamentals training is free and I would recommend it to any educator teaching in a digital classroom. There was a small cost to become certified, but I also felt I learnt a lot taking the exam and would be interested in taking the level 2 course. For those who are particularly passionate, there is also a later option of becoming a Google Trainer or Innovator. 

Monday, 22 February 2016

Collaboration: He Tangata

At the start of our second MDTA day, Dorothy explained how Manaiakalani had started. Beginning with a collaboration between a few like-minded educators, an initiative to provide support to those learners who truly needed it was born. With hard work and determination, Manaiakalani eventually gained the backing of corporate giants like Google and Spark, and blossomed into a real force focused on providing forward-thinking education for children who might otherwise has missed out.

This story struck a cord with me. At university, my lecturers would often discuss the government's priority learners, but when it came to actually lifting achievement, there were very few real solutions offered.

I remember a lecture in my third year where a few of my peers questioned this, noting that the situation sounded almost hopeless. Being an optimist (and perhaps a little naive) I was sure that someone would be attempting to do something about the situation; that we hadn't all accepted the failure of priority learners.

I know Manaiakalani is not a magic bullet, it cannot solve all of these issues. But there are people fighting to change things for our learners. When we looked at some of the feats that our Manaiakalani learners have took part in, from delivering podcasts that reached the top 20 in the chart, to the gains that they have made in their learning it is clear that this programme is supporting its learners.

This also affirmed the strength of collaboration, as Manaiakalani became possible with various groups and individuals working together for a shared goal. This is something I will be putting into practice at an individual level, by seeking aid and collaborating with others where possible in order to strengthen my practice.

Friday, 19 February 2016

Enriching Science with Google Drawings

When I first imagined a digital 1:1 classroom, I naively imagined that technology would replace all physical materials; that there would be no need for pencil and paper.

Yes,we do use Chromebooks in the place of pen and paper. The keyboard acts as the main vessel for writing and paper and reading materials are stored in the cloud. However, we do still conduct lessons using physical materials, pen and paper.

I taught a Science lesson this week regarding the part of the plant that our fruit and vegetables come from. I first provided my learners with some paper, pencils and various fruit and vegetables.  They started by drawing a picture of a plant on their paper, before discussing which part of the plant the items could come from.  There was a lot of rich discussion around this and with a little scaffolding the children were able to correctly place the items on their drawing.

From here they began to consider other fruit and vegetables that they ate and were asked to create a google drawing to illustrate their learning. They were then able to use google to learn more about the parts of a plant and where food comes from, while I roamed ensuring that they did not pick up any misconceptions. It was fabulous to see the children interacting with scientific knowledge and  Several of the children uploaded their drawings to their blogs, writing about the Science lessons they had taken part in over the week.

Sunday, 14 February 2016

Reflecting on Student Engagement

I once read that teachers should aim to take one 'great' lesson a day, while the rest are 'routine' or follow the norm for the subject. This 'great' lesson might require extra planning, resources or an activity that is new and exciting for the learners. I believe that the idea was to ensure that children felt engaged at school and so that they had something to recount excitedly at the end of the day.

However, I have soon discovered that this method does not support reluctant learners, who are not engaged by the 'routine' lesson. I have found that some of my students have particular disdain for certain subjects and struggle to actively participate in these lessons. If I attempted to deliver a 'routine' lesson, I would lose their focus.

There is a myriad of reasons as to why these students are not engaged by "routine" lessons,  including the Tamaki Redevelopment. This development is very visible for our tamariki, who are confronted with the possibility of moving to a different school or area.  I overhear many discussions regarding this in my classroom and I understand that they are anxious to stay close to Whānau and friends.

I believe this will cause me to develop my practice and pedagogy more than if I could deliver routine sessions, I am finding that much more of my time has been taken up by lesson planning and preparing resources. Despite this extra effort, I do feel more confident in the classroom when I am more prepared and I love watching my students getting excited about our learning.

Friday, 12 February 2016

Using Docs to Support Reluctant Writers

Despite being at the beginning of my teaching career, I have seen my fair share of reluctant writers.  I have taught students who would flee the classroom at the start of writing lessons, or who would struggle to put any ideas to paper.

During my final practicum, I noticed how much more engaged the students were when they had the opportunity to work on a computer.  It became possible to motivate the students to edit and publish their work and much time was saved as the students did not need to copy their work onto a new sheet of paper for 'publishing'. 

Through the use of google docs, I can now check the revision history of my students work to view the changes that they have made during the editing phase of the writing process. I can make digital suggestions to my students work (which I have been doing while holding conferences with students where possible) and I can leave feedback in the form of comments. The comments function can also be used for peer feedback and students can simply copy and paste their writing on to their blogs to "publish"their work to be viewed by an international audience. This act further motivates learners as it adds purpose to the writing task.

I have also observed teachers using writing challenges to further engage their learners. At the start of the writing the teacher would set a challenge that is linked to the learning intention.  This could be something along the lines of "use two metaphors in your narrative". If a student met the writing challenge they could draw a trophy in the margin of their writing. Teachers could also set challenges at different levels, to ensure that there was adequate level of difficulty for all writers.  Students could earn a gold trophy for including 3 complex sentences for example, but a silver trophy for including two. I will also use writing challenges to support my reluctant writers, and I will use the comment function on google docs to note when students have met the challenge.

5 must-knows about using Docs
Be prepared: With google docs no time needs to be spent writing up the date or ruling lines: have a doc ready with the date, learning intention and any activities or instructions that are required. Docs can be shared in a number of ways, but I usually share work with my students through a link on the class website.
Using Docs: once the learners have access to a doc they must make a copy of it before filling it in. I also find it helpful if they add there name to the doc that they have copied. It is also wise to file docs at this point by clicking on the folder icon and selecting a corresponding folder. It is a great idea to get students to organise their drive at the start of the year to ensure that they have folders for work to be placed into (and found again!).
Learning should be visible: Make sure you have managed the permissions of the doc so that your students can access them. Your teaching and class website should be visible, but also be mindful of the permissions of confidential documents.
Don’t steal!: Use SHIFT>Z when dragging someone else's file into your drive. This ensures that you are adding an alias to your drive instead of removing the file from its original location (or stealing it from the owner!).
Ubiquity: Your learners will be able to access docs outside of school hours, which means that your inbox will begin to fill up with students sharing their work with you at various times of the day. Although this is rather exciting, it is a good idea not to put up tasks too early, otherwise you may find that your students have completed them prior to your lessons!

Monday, 8 February 2016

Two heads are better than one: My first week

Although I have always felt privileged to be part of the MDTA,  I felt particularly fortunate as the children started to fill the classroom on my first day.

I began to feel nervous and questioned what I had learnt over the last few years. Did I remember how to be a teacher?  Was there a school norm regarding the children's entrance to the classroom? I had spoken to other beginning teachers that morning, and found that they shared my anxiety. 

Yet I was not alone and I took comfort in my mentors confidence. She began the day by explaining that we would be co -teaching the class and introduced herself with a letter addressed to our learners. I followed suit and gained confidence as I read. I even received a round of applause at the end of my recital, which further put my mind at ease. The remainder of the day ran smoothly and I felt that we had a successful first week. I certainly feel far less stressed than my peers outside of the MDTA!

I also feel very fortunate to have a mentor who shares similar ideas to my own. We have both been able to agree on routines, planning and pedagogy with little conflict.  Co - teaching with Amy has really highlighted the benefit of collaboration between teachers. We are able to bounce ideas off one another and create richer lesson plans because of it.  I also realise how difficult it would be to co-teach alongside an educator with a very different teaching style to my own. Although I am sure much could be learnt, I believe that relationship between teachers and their ability to collaborate has an affect on the class climate.

Overall I am pleased with our first week and feel that I have began to develop positive relationships with my learners.  I know that there are areas that I need to improve on, such as ensuring that I follow up on misbehaviour with appropriate consequences, but I feel optimistic about the year ahead. I am looking forward to developing my practice in a safe environment. I am looking forward to being able to take risks and to try new things that I would not have the confidence or opportunity to do without a mentor or being part of this programme.