“Going places” with Grade 1: How technology helped

At our school, the grade 1 students recently wrapped up a unit on geography with the central idea “There are many way to find out where we are in the world”. Since it was quite a content heavy unit and loads of facts to be percolated into our 6 year olds, we decided to pitch in lots of tech resources. This blog post talks about how we used technology in its various forms during the course of the six week unit.

Skype Sessions

To know the similarities and differences between the host country and another one, we tried to get in touch with educators in different parts of the world. Unfortunately, due to time differences, we weren’t able to find an appropriate session. As luck would have it, our Principal was visiting Australia at the same time and our former Principal has now moved to Dubai. So, we used these precious human resources to have two separate Skype sessions where the students questioned them about how India and Dubai or Australia were are similar and different. They collected loads of information from these two experiences and were clearly able to pick the connections between the two countries.

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Picture Courtesy: Ms.Vitika Chadda

Coding

As they were also learning directions, command programming on code.org integrated seamlessly into this unit. The students got a flavour of how to follow as well as give the right instructions in order to reach a goal. They picked up relevant vocabulary while making the angry bird reach the bad piggies!

Coding grade 1

Online Research

Internet research is vital to learn and is also one of our major tech skills. While students start independent research much later, there are a number of age appropriate websites which can be used to introduced the concept of research and record to the younger ones. We made them use PebbleGo to read about maps and globes and then compare and contrast the two. Since this tool also has an option of choosing a narrative voice-over, it could also be used for early readers who needed assistance. This also aids in building listening skills.

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Kahoot!

Who doesn’t love an energy-packed Kahoot? I certainly do, and so did our six year olds. The class was abuzz with a frenzy of excitement at every question, when they kept waiting for who’s on the top five. We showed them some visual clues to identify the name of the country. This was their first taste of an online assessment which didn’t seem like an assessment at all.

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Instructional Writing

Towards the end of the unit, students were quite proficient in giving instructions. So, they were all given a picture of a treasure map which was inserted on the Write About This app. They all wrote steps to reach the treasure from start to finish. This task not only helped in reinforcing their knowledge of maps and directions, but was also served as a push towards typing accurately. The highest point of this engagement was most of the kids coming up to us and saying, “I’ve given them all the instructions, still why are the pirates not moving towards the treasure?”. These questions delighted us as they proved that these are young students well aware of how command programming works.

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As I conclude writing this, I can’t be academically honest enough without mentioning a number of people who’ve put their heads and hearts together in planning and execution of all these wonderful engagements – our PYP Coordinator Ms.Vandana Parasher, the Grade 1 coordinator Ms.Sandeep Kaur, our Early Learners’ ICT teacher Ms Hitasha Sharma and all other teachers from Grade 1. This has been a fruit of true collaboration. 

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Learner Agency: A Planned Chaos

Educators all around the world have varying reactions and notions about learner agency. Some feel we have to do away with everything: classes, age-wise divisions, subjects, curriculum, timetables and so on, and let the students choose just about anything they want to learn. Well, although that’s the best case scenario how it should ideally be done, but we cannot negate the fact that different schools follow different curricula and we have to promote learner agency keeping within the boundaries of the institutional requirements. So, how to go about it?

I recently planned a session with teachers on technology usage in the classroom on the lines of agency, where teachers got a choice to do whatever they wished to. Along with my PYPC, we created a model tech lesson where there was a variety to choose from and each learner acted according to his/her specific needs and pace of learning.

We decided to use QR codes extensively during the session, and that’s what facilitated the flexibility. There were three different tasks designed for the teachers based on some vital skills – listening and responding; viewing and reflecting; creating and expressing. Since it was a mixed group of teachers from different grade levels as well as single subject areas, we had kept a certain openness in the choice so that everyone had some worthwhile takeaways to use in their classroom. The participants were given clear instructions as to how to go about each of the three tasks and then given a choice of doing them in whichever order. All that was required of them was to complete two out of the three tasks, if not all, keeping the time constraint into consideration.

For the listening task, they scanned the QR code to find instructions of getting onto my Edpuzzle classroom, where they had to watch and listen to a video and attempt the questions which kept popping at regular intervals.

The viewing and reflecting task was setup in the corridors, where again a number of student samples were displayed as QR codes and the teachers had to view as many as they wished. To gauge their understanding of the usage of the various tools they witnessed, they had to scan the reflection QR code to find a Flipgrid where they shared how they planned on using any one of the tools in their classrooms.

And finally, the task which most of the teachers couldn’t stop doing was creating and expressing. This task had four options – Draw & Tell, Write About This, Storybird and Storyweaver – and they had to pick any one to create a story. It was a delight to watch adults creating stories with total engagement, and even sharing their work with pride.

Through this one hour session, the participants got a taste of how one can easily plan a class which has a number of choices, provided you’ve thought through the process and planned well in advance. My planning and delivery for this particular session was down to a minimum where I just spent about ten minutes in the beginning explaining the tasks, the rest being self explanatory. After that, I was all over the place troubleshooting and helping them with how to go about things. So many of them already started planning for their classes using one or more of the tools they were exposed to, and realised that using technology in the classroom was no rocket science!

The sixty minutes were full of enthusiasm and a collective energy, which is exactly what our planned outcome was. As a facilitator, I realised that learner agency is nothing but a planned chaos which results in individualistic learning. And most importantly, it’s not that hard to achieve if you plan on taking smaller steps to start with.

The Power of Games: Science games in upper elementary

You may be in any part of the world, but when an elementary student is asked what they did during ICT, 8 out of 10 would excitedly blurt out, “We played games!!” That’s because they remember what they enjoy the most. I always call games my ‘cheat codes’ to learning. The students never realise that they are learning as they are simply engrossed in playing the game. Any given day, if you walk in to my class, you might see a chaos of collective enthusiasm where students are running around to see what the others have achieved, which level are they at or how to get through a particular level. It’s this combined excitement beneath which the learning takes place, along with some vital life skills of never giving up and helping each other.

Here, I will be sharing four games which we have successfully used with the upper elementary students during science based units.

Little Alchemy

This is a superb exploratory game to inquire into a unit on materials, which starts with the four basic elements – earth, fire, water and air. The aim of the game is to mix two or more items to create new ones.

Learning element: This game triggers a lot of curiosity amongst the students and they keep checking what mixes with what to make something new.

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Lights On

The aim of this game is to light up a dark space with a limited number of light sources. Towards the higher levels, you also get some reflectors to reflect the light in different directions. It’s quite a sight watching kids trying to get the permutations right.

Learning element: This game helps in understanding how light travels in an enclosed space, and also the concept of reflection of light. 

Light On

Grade 3 exploring ‘Light On’ during their unit on light and sound

Simple Machines

A good number of primary schools have simple machines as part of their curriculum in the upper elementary. The unit is always sprinkled with many hands on activities and experiments. To promote the working understanding of simple machines, we make our students play this game. It caters to four simple machines and figuring out how each one works the best.

Learning element: This game helps students in understanding how simple machines work and which are the best options to use to save energy.

Balanced Diet

This is another fun game from PBS Kids where students have to make a lunch plate balanced by adding the missing nutrient.

Learning element: This game helps in connecting foods to vital nutrients. 

Lunchomatic Reflection

Grade 3 reflected on the foods and nutrients after playing the game

 

Before wrapping up this article, I can’t finish without sharing this game which my students really love although it’s not aligned with a science unit. 

Handling Emotions: Breathe, Think, Do

Sesame Street has a number of amazing resources for children, and ‘Breathe, Think, Do‘ is one of them. The game shows a little monster in five tricky situations which children generally fall into like – leaving your Mom to go to school, not able to wear your shoes, etc. The game starts with a grumpy little monster and the first thing you have to do it tap on his tummy to make him breathe. After that, you make him think of possible ways to solve the problem.

Learning element: This game helps students in handling negative emotions calmly and positively. 

 

I would love to hear from my PLN across the globe about the games which they play with their students. We learn the best when we are in it together!

Five ways of using Book Creator in the elementary classroom

Book Creator is a very popular iPad app which we’ve been using very successfully for many years now. You can do a variety of things with the app to promote language building and it can be seamlessly integrated into any classroom learning. We’ve used it in a number of ways with grades 1 and 2 especially, so here I am sharing a few examples:-

1. Showing a process

When our Grade 2 students were working on a unit on products, they had to choose a product and show how it’s manufactured. We chose Book Creator as their presentation tool. The students enjoyed working on their processes and had a great time drawing the illustrations at each step. This particular engagement helped the students in their sentence construction skills as we focused on the process words, like “first”, “then”, “after that”, “finally”, etc. while simultaneously building their finger coordination in drawing on the touch screen. We were amazed with the quality of illustrations they managed to do just by using their fingers!

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2.Self-reflection

The IB Learner Profile is a set of ten attributes and every learner strives to achieve all of them to become a true international citizen. We asked our Grade 1 students to reflect on themselves and try to pick the most appropriate attribute for themselves and their reasons. We made them use the amazing comic strip feature of Book Creator where the students clicked their own pictures and placed a speech bubble talking about themselves. This engagement brushed up their skills of writing in first person and also  made them understand the purpose of speech bubbles.

3.Using a template

There are times when you wish to give an assessment to the students in a particular format, but have the apprehension that if it’s given as a worksheet, there are chances they would end up getting bored. It’s especially hard to make them write. So, when Grade 1 was just about completing their unit on natural cycles, we thought of giving them a pre-created template on Book Creator with each page dedicated to one season, and they had to add their understanding either by typing or drawing under each of the heads – food, clothes, places we visit and things we do.

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4.Recipe Writing

When Grade 3 was wrapping up their unit on healthy choices, they wanted to create a collaborative recipe booklet which would have a variety of yummy yet healthy food items. Yet again we decided on using Book Creator where each student will design one page which will then be printed and bound as a booklet. They played around with the colours, fonts and other formatting features of the tool to create their recipes. As split screen learning, they also used their language skills to write a process.

5.Showing a conversation

Young students always enjoy when they can make inanimate objects talk, more so if they identify those objects as something related to their units. So, we made them recap their unit on simple machines by creating a dialogue between any two of their choice. They had to search for appropriate pictures and use speech bubbles to show the conversation. The students had a great time imagining that the machines were actually talking in their comic strips.

Aahana Singh

So, these were just a few ways we can use the Book Creator app beautifully to enhance writing, thinking and tech skills of our students at the same time.

Please comment if you have ideas for using or have used Book Creator in other creative ways.

Tool of the Month: Promoting Independent Exploration

Being an elementary ICT teacher, I keep looking for opportunities when I can introduce worthwhile EdTech tools to my students which they can use to carry their classroom learning forward. We, at our school, voraciously keep searching for tools which will help the students in various ways, yet keep it fairly fun for them. But when in our classroom, one of the ICT teachers are always there to introduce the tool, show the various features it has to offer and how to use it for a task assigned to them by their home room teachers. We are there to hand hold them when using the tool. But that doesn’t necessarily instil independence in them. The tasks are dependent on time and students have deadlines to meet. So logistically, we can not let them completely be to do the exploration part themselves in all our lessons. This got me thinking as to how can I possibly make them independent users of technology. That’s when the idea of Tool of the Month struck me.

We started this concept at the beginning of 2017. Right after the students were back from their Christmas break, years 4 & 5 who had Office 365 given by the School, received a surprise mail! It read that from the new year we are starting with a monthly competition in which a tech tool will be announced every month with a task and a small set of precise instructions as to how to get started with it. This got many of them charged up. They started exploring the tool for that month and many of them started walking into our room to inquire about it or ask for some help. When others heard about it, even they started logging in to their mails. And that was pretty much a start because until then most of their email IDs and passwords were lying dormant while we were wondering if getting their own IDs was even a good idea in the first place.

The first two weeks were quite slow when we did not receive any submissions. But gradually the mails started coming in. Students had started using the tool and quite a decent number of them worked on the task for that month. This also helped them in developing the invaluable skill of reading and following instructions (How many of us adults read manuals??).

Then came the high point: the day when the first lot received their ‘Tech Whiz of the Month’ certificates during primary school assembly and their work was displayed along walkways. The rest of them were like “Wow! We are so gonna do it next month.”

The full circle of exploration, getting it done, small conversations over breaks, submitting on time and finally the celebration makes this journey quite satisfying as a tech teacher. The best part is that this journey unfolds and ends every single month now!

I won’t say that all the children are interested in trying the tool of the month or working on the task assigned, but even if a handful of them are motivated then why not? I enjoy seeing all the effort and the buzz around technology which this small initiative has created amongst the fourth and fifth graders of my school, even the third graders for that matter who can’t wait to get their own IDs next year so that they can try their hands at the tool of the month!

How do you inculcate independent exploration in technology in your school?

And yes, some ideas for our future Tool of the Month are more than welcome.

Creative EdTech with Pre-K

When it comes to integrating technology with three to four year olds, we almost always end up playing games with them. These games are based on a concept they are learning in the classroom, and that’s how we run a parallel tech programme with them. It’s quite a challenge to incorporate tasks which involve creating something with this age group as the children are not very independent and need help in working things out.

Playing games becomes monotonous at times, and we keep looking for alternatives to do something worthwhile during the technology lesson. We have been successful in carrying out a few instances in which students were engaged in a creative task using technology.

The first example if how we used the Kids Doodle app to integrate with a unit on living things. When the students were working on life cycles of different animals, they were introduced to the this app in which they can doodle with a free hand. The best feature about this app is that the drawings are recorded as an animated video. Each child individually drew a life cycle of their choice.

Here’s one of a butterfly.

In another unit, when the students were learning about ‘You and Me’ with the central idea ‘We are all same yet different’, to make them understand the concept of themselves and their features they all created their avatars using the Wee Mee Avatar app. They all had great fun choosing their facial features, hairstyle, attire, things they like to eat and do.

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In Math when the students were learning about shapes, I noticed something displayed in their classrooms one day – they all had used various shape cut-outs to create anything they could think of. So, their classrooms were full of a wide variety of objects ranging from a rocket to an elephant. This made me think of using Tiggly Draw with them, a lovely app in which you can make characters out of basic shapes. The students had great fun giving piggy noses, moustaches, bunny ears, hands and legs to the shapes. At the end of the class, we had so many funny looking stars, circles, squares and triangles.

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These were a few ways in which we kindled the spark of creativity in our Pre-K students through the use of technology. I would love to hear some of your stories too.

Guest post: The PYP Exhibition – A Narrative

My guest post for Neil Jarrett

EDTECH 4 BEGINNERS

​In PYP, just like in life, it’s the journey which counts much more than the destination.

Reaching the destination is but a small event, amidst the ups and downs of the process of how it was attained. And of all the journeys of learning, the PYP Exhibition is, by far, the most important experience.

At our school, year 5 is involved in the ‘PYPEx’ and starts the process at the end of Yr4, when they are taken through the six trans-disciplinary themes with their descriptors. They guided through with what needs to be learnt under each theme before choosing one. Every student then votes for one them choosing the one which they want to work on the exhibition. So before even reaching year 5, their programme of inquiry has the theme identified for the PYPEx.

A PYP Exhibition

Although the actual work on the exhibition starts much later during those slotted eight weeks…

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ICT Essential Agreements: Our Story

At the start of the school year, it’s mandatory for all classrooms to have certain Essential Agreements which are agreed upon by all participants. They are then put up somewhere in the class where they are always visible to the students. Now, in the technology room, we’ve always had a struggle every year collating these since we must have a voice from a number of students from various grades. But somehow, the turn of events this year steered into something completely new and satiating as a teacher. And here’s our story:

I thought of making it a collaborative task for Yr 3, 4 and 5, so Padlet came in as a very natural and obvious choice for it. All it needed was to create a common wall for everyone, where each student who had the link could have a small personal space to give their inputs. Although Padlet generates a simple web link address, which once shared with the students can open very easily. But anything which is too easy to open, that too in the very first lesson of ICT, tends to get boring for the students. To add that ‘x-factor’, I turned my Padlet link into a QR Code which can be created within minutes using any online QR code generator. I printed the code and that’s what was given to the students when they entered my class in their brand new grades. To build on their curiosity, we started off with a discussion of what they were and where else have they seen such codes. They came up with all places, ads and products on which they had seen them. And then, the million dollar question: How can we possibly know what’s behind the code? And there it was! I made them open the Padlet app on the iPads and go to the “scan QR code” feature.

There were so many whoops of excitement when the meaningless black and white pixelated image suddenly opened up into a blank wall with a question on top: “What are your ground rules for the ICT room?” Had this instruction been given directly to the students, they would have groaned with boredom as this is what each one of them do multiple times in different classrooms – formulation essential agreements. Once on the Padlet, each one of them got going and started adding their opinions as to what should and should not be done in the ICT room. They also spent some time reading what others had written – comparing and contrasting with theirs. Once done with the same exercise with all grades, there was this humongous task of sifting and sorting all the information stored on the virtual wall. That was quite a task as most 8-10 year olds think in almost the same way. At the end of this I had about twenty odd essential agreements at hand, and I had to think how to display so many of them in a way that they cross everyone’s eye. Fortunately, I have a very active and large PLC on Twitter, and almost at the same time I came across a teacher’s tweet where she had mapped her essential agreements with the IB Learner Profile attributes and attitudes. And that instantly made me go, “Wow! I want to do this!” Now so many agreements and yet so many attributes and attitudes to match with, how will I connect them to look visually appealing as well as relevant? Well, like in Hogwarts, I always seem to get help when I ask for it, so my fellow ICT teacher gave me this amazing idea to connect them through circuits, almost replicating the good old Boolean circuits. And well, here’s the finished product which won us many accolades (in the form of retweets and likes) on the professional networking scene (read Twitter).

That’s the story of our Essential Agreements. What’s your’s?

21st Century Storytellers

Stories have formed the basis of all learning ever since the human race came into existence. We have all learnt through myths, legends, movies, Grandma’s bedtime stories, and so on. Stories leave a lifelong stamp on our minds, and are therefore very effective tools in improving enduring understanding. Moreover, telling a story involves a much higher order of thinking skills than listening to one. In this age, the art of storytelling remains – it’s only the packaging which has changed for a 21st century learner.

The students of today are fortunate to have an ocean of resources to choose from in the form of tech tools for telling their tale. Here are a few of my experiences with my little storytellers.

I was super excited when Kindergarten was to do a whole Unit of Inquiry under the theme “How we express ourselves” with the central idea that stories can be told in many different ways. They enjoy stories, particularly tales of fantasy lands and imaginary creatures, so we thought of exposing them to Puppet Pals HD. All the kindergarteners were divided into pairs, and together they chose the settings of the various scenes, the characters, their entry and exit and the plot. Once done with the initial planning, they used their voices to record the stories woven by them (mostly fairy tales). Here is one of their stories:

A story by Kindergarteners using Puppet Pals

In another instance, Year 1 students used stories to sum up their unit under the same theme, with the central idea that authors share their ideas, beliefs and values through their writings and illustrations. They all became authors and illustrators for their books. They used the Book Creator app for writing their stories. As they learnt in the class that illustrations are most important for making a story meaningful, they all used Doodoo Lite, a scratch painting application for drawing their illustrations. It was a whole lot of action in the ICT room as the students were immersed in drawing and erasing on the iPads and inserting their pictures on to Book Creator, or typing their stories and trying to figure out spellings.

Year 5 were also encouraged to write stories of their own. They went through a long step-by-step process of planning, writing, editing and publishing to reach their final stories. They used the Tree Tops Story Writer to make skeletal plans of their stories: the plot, setting, characters, stages, climax, etc. Once their plans were ready, they shared them on the “story writers” group on Edmodo to ask for feedback from their friends. It was a very fruitful peer assessment exercise. Keeping the plan handy, the students started off with the writing. It was a continuous back and forth of checking and editing between them and me. Finally, after a span of a few days, they were ready to publish. To publish their books, they too used the Book Creator App, in which they also added some illustrations from the Internet and most of their reflections say that “that was the best part”!

This article was also published in the official IBO blogs ‘Sharing PYP blogs’.

http://blogs.ibo.org/sharingpyp/2015/01/20/21st-century-storytellers/

 

 

Get, Set, Goal!

Can you remember the age at which you had it clear in your mind as to what you want to become and how? For some of us, it may have been our final year of school or even later. Fortunately, the present generation starts setting goals pretty young and in this particular scenario – as young as five or six years old.

While working on their final line of inquiry (my goals) under the transdisciplinary theme Who we are (central idea: Increasing awareness of our personal characteristics and abilities, and those of others, allows us to develop), the first year students were given a goal sheet in which they had to fill in their career goals including two major practices which would help them in achieving those goals. They came up with unique career options and determined ways of achieving their ambitions.

To make this learning experience more engaging and visually relatable for the students, I thought of bringing in technology into the classroom. I worked individually with each child on an app called Tellagami in which students designed their adult avatars. Once satisfied with how their future selves looked like, they searched, with support, for a suitable background to go with their career on Google images. After putting up the background, they recorded their voices in first person talking about who they want to become and how would they reach their goal. Here is a video or gami as they are called, of one of the students.

Setting Goals on Tellagami

Creating adult avatars on Tellagami

In another instance, the second-year students were learning about the types of jobs people do in their workplace under the theme How we organize ourselves (central idea: The workplace is an organization where people share responsibility towards a common goal). They too, chose a job which they wished to do when they grow up and explored the different responsibilities associated with it. Yet again, to make it more interactive and fun for the kids, in came an app called ChatterPix Kid. As the name suggests, it makes your pictures chatter. The students looked for images of the different jobs and typed in a title. Then came the fun part – they could draw a mouth on their pictures and make it talk in their own voices. I was amazed to see how clearly a six year old knew and could state the demands of the numerous occupations. Here is a sample video of one of the students.

Academically, these activities built upon the students’ prior knowledge and helped in constructing a better and wider understanding of their goals. When all of these videos were shared with the whole class, the students became aware of a variety of different options available to them when they grow up.

Through using technology as a tool, students developed research skills, practiced decision making and improved on their voice modulation. In addition, they increased their confidence while listening to their own voices. As a true tech enthusiast, I felt that the integration with technology accelerated the students’ cognitive thinking and their career goals would be cemented more firmly in their minds for a long time to come.

This article was also published in the official IBO blog called ‘Sharing PYP Blogs’

http://blogs.ibo.org/sharingpyp/2015/08/18/get-set-goal/