Toolbox: e5 iPad Apps

Next year the Year 7s at our school will be bringing their iPads to school. This is part of the plan to answer the Big Question presented to our teachers at the end of 2011 —

How does Vermont Secondary College better prepare its student and teachers to meet the challenges of the 21st Century?

The Year 7 iPad Program is also meant to significantly reduce the number of text books purchased by families as well as offer additional organisational options and creative tools to staff and students.

As a teacher librarian it is my role to evaluate and recommend resources of any sort to support high quality teaching and learning.  So I began to read blogs about apps for education, I listened to individual recommendations, I  uploaded and trialled hundreds of apps over the year but only passed on a handful to specific teachers. I began to question the quality of educational apps available (most seemed like gimicks, games or had limited use). Were we expecting too much too soon? I decided I needed to use a different approach.

I’ve followed Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano of  Langwitches Blog fame for several years and found her charts:

to be exremely clear and easy to use. It got me thinking …

The Victorian DEECD (Dept of Education and Early Childhood Development) recently introduced its e5 Instructional Model into schools and VSC has been trialling it for the past 12 months. My question became: How could I support teachers to implement the e5 Instructional Model via the iPad Program? Was it possible to create a chart that would be  easy to use and  could provide apps suitable for each of the facets of e5? I decided to take the DEECD up on their invitation to:

…  engage with the e5 Instructional Model as a framework for defining what high quality instruction looks like in the Victorian government education system.

And here is what I’ve come up with —

 As I worked through the model applying it to the apps I trialled, I had several things in mind:

  • to look for apps that were not specific to Key Learning Areas (not always possible)
  • to choose apps that could support teachers, students or both (not just students)
  • cost should be minimal
  • check the terms and conditions (especially with regard to age restrictions and ownership of uploaded work)

I found that:

  • many apps suited more than one of the facets of the e5 Model
  • there were many suitable high quality apps not listed in the educational section of  the iTunes Store
  • the apps I trialled and found suitable for the Engage facet of e5 tended to be subject specific so I sampled from different learning areas and included them

To make this chart more accessible I’ve turned it into a pdf file, you can click here to download. Any comments or constructive feedback would be greatly appreciated. I’ll blog again when I get some feedback from the teachers at the high school.

FYI: on Growing Personal Learning Environments

Photo courtesy Balanced Crafts on Flickr

The latest issue of FYI recently arrived in the post.  Yay! FYI is the quarterly journal of SLAV (School Library Association of Victoria). This is the issue that focussed on Learning Communities and featured the article I wrote last year about Personal Learning Environments for students. We concentrated on Year 9’s last year as part of their Pathways and Careers program but the groups delegated to me were so large (75-90 students) it was difficult to assist everyone properly and caused some lag issues with the site and our internet system at school.

I’ll be focussing this year on helping the Learning Enhancement students set up their PLEs. I think teaching one class at a time will mean that I can give much better support. PLE’s are really a two-part job: 1) Get the site set up; 2) develop the learning environment. Nothing new there – its alway learn the tool then use the tool.

Here’s the article below for those who can’t access the journal —

Growing Personal Learning Environments

At the end of 2010, I reached a cherished goal; the completion of my Masters degree in Teacher Librarianship. In 2011, I changed schools and what a change it was! After 10 years, I moved from a very small, independent primary school to a 1200+ government secondary college – all part of a plan to stretch my professional wings.

Sound scary?

It could have been but it wasn’t really. That’s because I didn’t do it alone; I had my ‘net’ with me. Or should I say my Personal Learning Network. The resources (human and literature-based) I’d been cultivating to support my learning helped me to swiftly engage with my new school community. As I found myself drawing on my PLN to help me in my new role, it set me to wondering about the students’ networks. How well do they use theirs? Are they even aware they have one? What can I do to help them make better use of their learning community and grow their learning networks? One day (via a blog I subscribe to) I came across a video of a Year 7 student in America demonstrating how her PLE works. After researching to learn more, I knew I’d found an avenue.

What is a PLE?

We all have favourite tools, websites, and people we trust to help us learn. We may access videos and podcasts as we carry out research; write blogs or reply to posts as we get involved in pursuing our passions. But bookmarking everything can become unruly and jumping from Facebook to forums to keep up with topics and groups can result in ‘info-whelm’. A Personal Learning Environment or PLE is a way for students to grow, curate and organize their learning. PLEs are online environments; they are individualised, learner-created and learner-directed. The platforms most widely used to create PLEs are social dashboard sites such as iGoogle, Netvibes and Symbaloo.

How are we using PLEs?

After reading more about PLEs, I evaluated a few dashboard sites. I chose Netvibes based on user-friendliness, visual appeal, physical layout, flexibility of features, and the fact that it has an active help forum. When I approached our Head of Library about introducing PLEs to students, I’d already set up a sample PLE to demonstrate (http://www.netvibes.com/bottomdrawer/). She saw the value in it and took the idea to the school administration. The idea was approved and time provided in the schedule to introduce PLEs to the students and teachers. We originally envisaged working with students at the end of Year 10 so they would have a PLE for their VCE studies, but the school’s Pathways & Transitions team became interested in the project. We now introduce PLEs to the Year 9’s at the end of Term 4 and help them incorporate their Pathways Planning into the PLE as well as their regular learning areas and subjects. We built a Wikispaces site (http://vsc-ple.wikispaces.com/) to introduce learners to the concept and purpose of a PLE and to guide them through the set-up process on Netvibes. We were given a session with each of the Year 9 groups so students had time to work through the wiki, ask questions and receive guidance from the TLs. Teachers contributed website suggestions for different subjects to get the PLEs started and we demonstrated RSS feeds and Twitter #topic searches during the session. We encouraged teachers to set up Netvibe sites too so students could follow them (as well as each other) in order to connect, collaborate and share resources. We are looking forward to evaluating the success of the PLEs at the end of the year with a short user survey.

What are the benefits?

A PLE is not an assignment or something teachers need to check up on or assess. A PLE is a way of putting control, choice and responsibility back into the hands of the learner, helping them to become more independent. PLEs are set up according to each student’s learning needs, styles and preferences. The social aspect of PLEs can offer a way to create and/or strengthen connections within the school community. They offer a consistent connection to resources from home, from school and via mobile access. They encourage collaboration and sharing of resources as well as reaching out to the wider community with possibilities such as Twitter and Skype. Research is also suggesting that such learning environments encourage the integration of formal and informal learning (Partnership for 21st Century Skills, 2009). This in turn promotes a positive attitude toward learning and develops lifelong skills.

Conclusion

I am excited with this new opportunity to support our learning community, but I’ve tried to imagine the pitfalls too. A student might set a PLE up then choose not to use it. However, they will have increased their awareness of new resources and possibilities available to help them learn in the future. I can also imagine students adding sites to their PLE that are not relevant to their studies: games, chat and other distractions. Filters will block most of them at school but stepping back, these are study skills topics ripe for discussion: myths of multi-tasking, effective time management strategies and goal setting. Problems can be opportunities! The giving and getting of support for everyone is the essence of learning communities. Demands on students and teachers are increasing so we all end up time-poor and overwhelmed by information possibilities. A PLE can offer students a Web 2.0 way to control and organize their learning lives just like they do their social lives. It can help build skills, connections and habits that will last a life-time. Win-win!

Reference Partnership for 21st Century Skills. (2009). 21st Century learning environments. Retrieved from http://www.p21.org/tools-and-resources/publications/600

Presenting my Prezi

Term 1, Week 9

I don’t know how many dead dull powerpoint presentations I’ve had to endure in my life but I’m sure I’m not alone. When I saw Prezi’s introduction video — it was love at first site (sorry the pun was intended).

Prezi has real razzamatazz; it allows you to create presentations that have dynamic rather than static pages. There is the ability to zoom in and out, tilt, angle, swirl and presentations can include video as well as graphics and text. I’ve known about Prezi for several months and finally had the time to sit down and learn how to use it.

The Dewey Decimal Classification system can be a bit dry to teach so I revamped our library’s introductory session with the following (please click on the hyperlink below):

Dewey: The man, the system

Prezi_screen_shot

A couple of hints I should pass on to you:

  1. DO NOT , I repeat, DON”T press the backspace button when creating your own Prezi. It causes you to jump out of the session. There is nothing to tell you this anywhere and I can only conclude that they are assuming you are on an Apple and have no backspace button to worry about.
  2. In order to make the Prezi work, you need to click on the forward arrow for each segment similar to a PowerPoint presentation, although there is an autoplay option available.

I’ll be presenting my Prezi this week to my students along with some hands-on activities (so will some of the other TLs at school). I’ll let you know what the students think. I’d be glad of any constructive feedback from colleagues as well.

Plan B: Breaking-out the video clips for Book Club

Early Week 4, Term 1

I’m not sure if they were just being nice to the ‘new girl’ but I’ve really lucked out – I get to run lunchtime Book Club at my new school!

Last week 30 or so enthusiastic readers and web addicts showed up and we talked about what the ‘veterans’ had done in Book Club last year and what they’d like to try this year.  They are really keen to go to the movies again this year to watch a favourite novel-turned-into-movie.

With that suggestion under my belt and the knowledge that the Head of  Library had a new big screen installed at the end of last year so we could promote all things library, it seems a very logical step to get into Book Trailers – both watching and creating.

There is certainly no shortage of information out there regarding the making of book trailers for teachers/schools (future post) but I wanted to start my club (well two clubs now! Junior/Senior) looking at proper professional trailers and deciding what makes the good ones work then moving on to view student creations before having a go at creating some ourselves.

Black skid marks on yellow rubber

Screeching to a halt

Most publishers now have their own trailer channels on You Tube, what a great idea! But I don’t need to explain that the sites most people use everyday; Flickr, YouTube etc. are  blocked by public school departments. I’m a solutions kind of girl so am skipping over that discussion to begin my quest to find a way for Book Club to access some of the Book Trailers I’d really like them to see.

Our school uses Moodle as its LMS (learning management system) and it automatically blocks links from YouTube. Once I have a bit more time I intend to learn how to embed video onto Moodle – I read through the material last night but it’s a bit complicated and I want Book Club to watch them this week if possible.

Plan A: I thought about loading up some good examples onto VodPod but found on experimentation that it too is blocked because it is a video site.

Plan B: A couple of weeks ago, I read a post on Richard Byrne’s blog Free Technology for Teachers about Vu Safe. As he describes it:

VuSafe offers a password protected environment in which you can post videos for your students to watch without exposing them to the comments, advertisements, and automatically generated related videos found on YouTube.

When you get to the sign-up page – take note! Only your school administrator can do this. Once a school is signed up then the teachers can populate it with the clips they want and organize them for classes.  I’ve just shot off an email request to our eLearning Coordinator.

Plan C anyone??

UPDATE: March 26th

The IT powers-that-be have listened to staff and consented to unblock the YouTube site, so while we still can’t put YouTube links on Moodle, we can directly access anything we need from YouTube, hooray!