Honeycomb 3: News, Thoughts, Reflections and Tools From Other Places

Thanks to James Watson for pointing me last week to the new Honeycomb Blog a space where Softease will be sharing news and views around the tool as it emerges.

I have also enjoyed tweeting and chatting with colleague John Sutton, about his views on the tool and how he has been implementing and using the space. His recent post outlining introductory work with his Year 5 and 6 groups is a really good read. I like particularly his idea of using lists to create autobiographies, something he has posted on previously in using blogs with students. Keeping these lists short and around themes seems a great way of allowing children to affirm who they are while providing oppportunities to consolidate and discuss further esafety and netiquette issues.

I was thinking how useful they might be to support student response to web based and book based research. Perhaps as John has done initially encouraging students to read together from a range of material, before using a list or series to record, highlight and share the ideas they think are important and comparing these across texts.

A recent post from Angela Maiers, on "Determining Importance" in texts by listening to the author's voice and responding, highlighted again the importance of bringing multimodality to the texts we share, but has come to the fore here through John's post and his reminder of the need to consider bias when working with students in an online world.

Helping students to understand the nature of fact and opinion, and the higher order skills required to sift infromation from disinformation. Deciding what is valuable and what is not,
what is important or trivial are key and critical skills for students using the web, but it is also important to remember, that what is important to us may not have the same value for others, and to consider why this may be.

Angela's post and the video that accompanies it shows how she likes to use the author's name when thinking about and formulating questions and responses. Simple enough you might think, but do we place as much importance on the author and their voice as we do on the way the text is written, and its content? How often do we bring personality and voice into the work we share? Do we do this at all with Non Fiction? Angela's approach here gives a personality to the writer, the text representing the author's voice in the learning space where she and the students are working, and enabling a role for the author in the conversation to be had. With my class we have worked to develop a sense that what we write reflects what we have to say. Angela's video moves this on bringing the author as a person into the space, as she encourages her students to ask and direct questions toward them through the text as an interface, seeking to find what it is they are trying to say, before asking the students if they feel the important points have been made from their perspective. Since the author is not actually there, the students are required to infer what the response might be, and to challenge whether the text provides the outcomes and information they may be looking for.

Looking at John's work using All about Explorers I was wondering what my students might make of the "spoof website," when guided through a process of responding to the texts as a starting point, for critical web literacy work. For those of us unsure or still uncomfortable with linking ICT tools directly to units of work as writing outcomes, this would be an ideal way to use critical reading as a starting point in the process perhaps through notetaking and discussion to begin, using comparison charts and lists to plan and create simple non fiction texts that could be shared online for comment and discussion. The frame provided by Angela, could be adapted to support peer review and commenting work, since it consolidates the presence of the person behind the voice/text and key to what we are looking for in supporting students in understanding the relationships between reading and writing, their purpose and function.

Online collaborative learning tools, (eg Honeycomb,, VLEs) are not single applications but rather composite toolsets. Honeycomb specifically is intended as an open and flexible environment, that can be used on its own, but which I can see working well and progressively in tandem with others, either "plugged in" or used as a standalone to meet a range of "pedagogical outcomes." Most of the ideas I have been using with my students this term for example have been adapted from previous work carried out in other places, or as in this post built around those borrowed from colleagues. Many of these ideas were initially developed while using with students, and in turn were adapted from table top tasks used with students as community builders and collaborative/cooperative activities pre web. These links to previous posts present some of these tasks, and are posts that hopefully readers may find useful.


Not Just a Matter of Neatness: Something to Ponder


Don't usually do this but wanted to give it a go today. I picked up this article from the Times Educational Supplement this weekend, via twitter and colleague @yearsixteacher. It is interesting how things come round, and as I read I was reminded of the work of Charles Cripps, who I had the priviledge of seeing talk on the subject of the link between handwriting and spelling hmm hmm years ago.

It is only recently I began thinking again about how handwriting is more than a presentational thing and how as a key skill it has increasingly taken a backseat to initiatives that focus on textual content and processing. Don't get me wrong here, writing as a contextualised process of composition, for audience and purpose and as a representation of voice is still what I want for my students, and I am not backtracking on my multimodal work. However in multimodal work representational modes are what we need to consider and their fitness for purpose. I wouldn't want to send my students on a marathon without having engaged in a regiment of fitness and technical training first, so why would I want to send my students off to write in any format without ensuring they had the experiences, skills, endurance or motivation to do so.

Experiences in the classrrom have often shown how children who do not have a comfortable and fluent handwriting style find prolonged periods of writing uncomfortable. Just like PE if we we do something we are not used to or perform and act incorrectly it hurts. Writer's cramp the precursor of repetitive strain is a possible outcome of incorrect keyboard posture and students who lack familiarity with a keyboard will also find the generation of content slow and tedious.

I recall an interesting activity at Mr Cripps' workshop where he demonstrated how being distracted part way through a word, often leads to difficulty in reconciling the look of what we have written with the word we are trying to spell. I am sure I am not the only person in the world who has found themselves saying a word doesn't look right after we have written it! It seems to occur with more regularity these days as I spend so much time in fromt of the computer too.

In this article the statement "handwriting is a language act and not just a motor act" chimes bells with me. Indeed this term I have revived a practice of starting our class day by combining handwriting practice using Look, Say, Cover Write Check with joining rhyming patterns, eg and.. hand, sand, band, bandage, sandwich for example. I have been drawing on Catchwords and A Hand for Spelling to help with this, intending that as the children improve their letter formation, they should be able to bring increased stamina and pace to writing tasks, and inturn the ability to record what they want to say more acurately and with out losing track of their thoughts.

I have also been thinking about how this process could be used and integrated with literacy sessions to support and contextualise keyboard practice, not as familiarising students with the location of keys alone but as part of a process for developing motor memory and helping to visualise spelling patterns. Some commercial and academic software already includes wordbanks based on learning common spellings as we practice keyboard input, but these could be structured to supplement and support work such as the handwriting and spelling activities outlined above by including rhyming and pattern at there base. Familiarity and consoldiation are dependent on repetitve acts.

Asking children to type up their work on a wordprocessor after the drafting phase has been done by hand still goes on. Just as children drawing letters neatly when asked to publish work for the wall. Could it be we have missed the reason behind this, and that in both contexts the reasons are similar time, pace and stamina, the requirement to run before we can walk, and that we can inherently do what is expected, or wanting to replace one set of skills so desparately with another, that we have forgotten what it was like to learn them ourselves. In the case of ICT based composition there is a danger in assuming that everyone has the tools to enable writing, redrafting and publishing when they desire. Not every child currently has one to one PC access. Some might argue that handwriting is dead, and long live the PC, the PC has certainly been the death nell of my handwriting as the children have commented, but is this because they do not join their writing and so cannot engage with mine because they do not need to engage with their own? Do we want children to draw letters or form them, if we put all of our eggs in over dependence on the computer heaven forbid all children could draw them as comic sans? What happens when the computer is not there, or even more demoralising what happens when the handwriting recognition software does not recognise our input? Would love your comments and thoughts? Ponderous!


Honeycomb 2: Students innovating on a teacher tool

Before I began working with the students last week I had a play with some of the tools that Honeycomb had to offer for myself, including the "wikki" and page share tools.

Using page share I set up a page about Grace Darling the Victorian Heroine we would be using as the focus for our Newspapers and Reconts unit. While planning this I had created some screen captures from a flash based tool found on the Shorething Website, to support IWB based "talking for writing" tasks and to assist in sequencing events, and added these to the shared image bank.

Using the share space ("wiki"), (image above) one of my students J, has has created a tool similar to that we had used on our Smartboard to engage and involve us actively in recreating the story for ourselves, dragging these screenshots onto the page and adding a label asking can you sort these pictures? This is something I have to admit I had not thought of, but what a great idea, an online interactive storyboard... This is a tool I feel sure we can work more on later. Thanks for the inspiration J:-)


Honeycomb 1: Peer Review or The Joy Of Commenting

Popping into Honeycomb this evening was an absolute joy... Its official and from the mouths of babes, I can design cool pages. Greeting me when I logged on was a comment from C, who is as chatty in text as she is face to face.

Visiting her space to reply I was greeted with her home page now with the addition of a poem she had written in school today, and a browse around leading to a blog she had added that included an additional poem innovating on one developed in previously in class about Morning.

In addition to her own work, C had also been busily visiting her friends leaving encouraging comments and stickers too. What I was particularly impressed with was her use of the "assessment Sandwich," A slice of well done, followed by a filling of astute and insightful things to help her friends make their work better and sealed inside a further slice of encouragement. These will be really great tools to help others see how we can work and learn together in this space. Thanks C you are an inspiration.


Preparing to Work Online With Honeycomb

This term I have been working with my students to revise and review how we use some of the communications tools we have previously engaged with while waiting for the return of all their e safety agreements to begin work with a new, and very cool tool Honeycomb.

I first saw and played with this environment during the pilot stages following preview release at BETT in January 08, and was excited by the potential it seemed to afford for online collaborative and home school learning activity. This week most esafety agreements returned I was finally able to get most of my class logged in for the first time.

In the build up to this session we have spent time working on the web, practicing the skills we need to find, collect and store materials for use while working in Honeycomb. This has been done by working in local applications to consolidate skills that would be useful when agreements were returned.

To begin we spent some time exploring and working together on the Simpson's Movie website. Here the students designed and saved "avatars" that they could use as online representations of themselves. We also resized and cropped these to make smaller "icons" that we could use alongside our work on the class blog or perhaps to represent our work later in wiki pages developed within the Honeycomb environment. This has been part of an ongoing process of introducing the importance of keeping our online identity safe. We have considered and discussed how, if we can use images like this to represent ourselves can we be absolutely sure of who we are talking to online. Introducing the concept of how "stranger danger" in the online world might be dealt with as we do in the "real world," through seeking advice and help from an adult we trust, has been a key teaching and learning point for these activities. It was interesting to see how many students tried to create avatars, that were charicatures of themselves but a really great device to further consolidate the main e saftey teaching point of this process was when some student avatars outrageously moved away from the physical person they really were.

In addition to this, we also began modelling the process of collecting visual material to support topics and themes we were working on in class. This included beginning to make with the students local network image banks or share folders from photographs the students had captured on visits or downloaded from the web. We initially used these in local applications through the file insert process. This was intended to prepare the children for the collect and store process needed in learning how to upload images to publish to their Honeycomb pages. To practice and familiarise them with the browse to find, and browse to upload process, we used local applications with which they were familiar such as 2 create and 2create a story, developing multimedia texts around for example our visit to the SS Great Britain. In order to develop these the students were required to download images from cameras and the web first and then to use the browse and insert process to include their images in their documents.

What I am already loving about Honeycomb is that despite its ease of use, it does not wash down the process of getting material onto the web. In order to get an image into a page it must first of all be imported or uploaded to the webspace. As with most current online spaces images cannot simply be copied and pasted, as with local tools, and this is something I feel is really important for students to understand. To get an image from a web page to Honeycomb it must first be downloaded and then uploaded. This provides a very physical opportunity to introduce students to a key esafety aspect, that of intellectual property rights. It is all too easy when using local tools to simply copy and then paste images from the web. I hope the process of using Honeycomb will provide an opportunity to discuss and help students understand the importance of saying thank you, acknowledging the person/people or place that has provided any materials we use. This is still to come, in the course of our work but is key reason I hope the environment's developers, softease, do not seek a route that would make image inclusion possible simply by copy and paste. The principle of "collect, store, prepare and share," on which the above is based, is also key to the elearning projects to be developed using Asus Ees as generic tools and web books over the coming year.

This weeks session was intended to be simply introducing how to log in, log out and to set up our first page. Our preparatory work carried out using local applications and previous work on blogging has proven incredibly useful in enabling the students to work with the tool. Here is one example created by a student who currently has no internet access at home. This was her first attempt at using an online authoring environment beyond the class blog where importing images had been largely supported.

During this first paired 45 minute session J managed to log in, create a new page, customise the background, upload and insert her avatar, give her home page a title, spending some time playing with font style, size and format as well as browsing the available image bank to include a few images a short piece of body text asking her friends what they think about her avatar? The students have begun to make suggestions about how they would like to use the tool beyond school to support home learning tasks, something I hoped would begin to emerge later as they worked with the environment but that is extremely encouraging in terms of supporting development of future home/school e learning projects.

I began today visiting pages and leaving comments on student pages only to discover that I been pipped to the post, discovering on my page a nugget that had been left already. Thanks J:o) I'm quite fond of my avatar too!

There are one or two things that I personally still need to sort out and explore. allowed access to review work published by students in one page, and when blogging we can use RSS feeds to pull together material for review to one space, to monitor engagement or to remove/flag for follow up. A message today from a colleague reminded me that this was something to be further investigated and a potential management issue within Honeycomb. Maybe we have missed a tool that will enable this to happen, but nonetheless is something to explore further if I intend to use the tool with students beyond the school day. Currently I have set the environment so that children can only publish and comment within their year group, which hopefully will make this manageable, but also begun to extend previous online experiences by asking that students leave a comment on my pages when they have published, so I and other children can see, share and check out what they have been working on.

The students were certainly fired up by the tool and I hope we can maintain this level of motivation. This is potentially the start of an exciting experience, one that I hope will allow me to develop further the online pedagogies I began using in, I also hope that the students will begin to use the tool to extend their classroom learning experiences as it is perhaps linked to activities set for home learning within our upcoming elearning project and as we move towards the opening of our new school in the spring term. I look forward to any comments. :o)


Amazing Grace:Empathetic News Reports From Multimodal Beginnings

Last year I borrowed aspects of the adapted QCA history Unit "Why do we Remember Florence Nightingale?" to support literacy activity and non fiction work around the life of Isambard Kingdom Brunel. This term working on recounts and newspaper reports we again delved into our history theme on life in Victorian Britain, for inspiration and context for our work. This time the heroism of a young Northumbrian woman, Grace Darling lit our fire.

Being a Northumbrian by birth I remember being captivated as a child by the story of Grace Darling, the 22 year old lighthouse keeper's daughter who, with her father rowed out from Longstone Light on the remote Farne Islands to rescue the stricken passengers and crew of the SS Forfarshire. The story is a cracking yarn and as such I decided to use this as the starting point for a series of talk for writing activities, some empathetic writing tasks, before using our experiences to create headlines and a newspaper report on the events that surrounded the rescue.

The "Shorething" Website from the RNLI contains a subsite about our Heroine. Much of the work we developed in class grew through "talk for writing" stimulated and supported by the flash based literacy resource linked to above. For colleagues in Key Stage One, perhaps in the North East this space and resource might be a useful starting point to explore and consider an adaptation of the above unit of work to consider why we remember Grace Darling?

Our Unit began however with a "Newspaper Foray." In groups children were given a local newspaper, and challenged to find, cut out and collect a given newspaper features, and these were used to chart the kinds of things that appear in the text type. We cut out the paper's name, its price and publishing date and used these to make a large front page, onto which we stuck the various elements we had found, moving on to label and name them. The key feature we wanted to work on first were headlines, and so some initial discussions around what they were and how they worked began.

In pairs the students were given collections of newspaper headlines and asked to discuss and predict what the stories behind them might be. What clues had lead them to believe this? The children were asked to share the predicted stories behind one headline of their choice, and others were asked to identify the headline they thought the story came from again giving reasons why they thought this, and because we are once again revisiting punctuation, they were asked to use actions to indicate the beginning of their sentences, and to show where these ended.

Following this students were asked to use a collection of photographs captured from newspaper stories, firstly to discuss what the story behind the image might be, before choosing one and then creating a short headline for their image. The children then shared their headlines, while we as a class tried to identify the image that had stimulated it, giving our reasons as we had before.

Building on these tasks we began working with the "Shorething" Flash File, as a visual stimulus and secondary source to engage with the story. In addition I provided locational information, to provide a sense of remoteness for the Islands. Using Quikmaps, I tagged a satelite image of the UK and the North East Coast, showing Bristol, and then Bamburgh and the Farne Islands. This first of all allowed the students to see where they lived and how this related to where the story took place. Zooming in on the Farnes and the Longstone Light, added to the sense of scale and a certain wow to what they were seeing. What I didn't expect however was how this "real setting" combined with the story we had shared already, would stimulate "speculation" and "inference." As we zoomed the map in on the islands, and the rugged nature of the coast began to become apparent, a series of very animated discussions began children suggesting places around the islands as they appeared where they thought the Forfarshire might have sunk and the reasons why. This was completely unprompted but really exciting to hear, the real setting drawing the children into the scene.

As well as using the "Shorething" Flash file as a shared text, I also used screen captured images to support sequencing tasks on the IWB, and to support the talking for writing and drafting process for students. We used them as a focus for discussion and the generation of vocabulary, and then used zones of relevance tasks to consider what vocabulary would be best to use to apply in particular scenes. The images were also used to support visually the recount and story telling process through inclusion in writing frames and storyboards, to stimulate planning and vocabulary choice and discussion of interesting paragraph or sentence openers. As we were writing the children were also engaged in tasks that challenged them to make their points as short sentences that captured the flavour of what they really wanted to say. This is the opposite of what we tend to expect in story writing using VCOP, where children are encouraged to flower up and expand their sentences, the real challenge here was for the children to select carefully from a powerful verb bank to support their shortened and punchy sentences.

After writing their final reports the students were encouraged to create headlines for the story, pulling back again to our starting point, to summarise their stories. The children not only had a good time playing with the genre they learned much about Grace Darling and the event for which she is famous. I feel that their writing outcomes were really impressive too. Their turn of phrase, vocabulary choice and general style of the work, lead to some of the children being asked to share their work with the Y6 children who were about to start a similar unit, with their writing being used as the starting point to refine and extend engagement with the writing process by their older peers. A number of students also asked if they could share their work on the class blog and a couple of examples can be found by following this link, and this one too. I hope you enjoy.