Asus Activities Session 1

Today we began our first project using our Asus Eees, and opened with a basic skills session. The primary aim of the day was to make sure we could log onto the wireless network, log in to the VLE, and to familiarise ourselves with some of the processes and tools we will use during the development of our Challenge.

Our literacy session today was desktop based and involved talking as readers, using printouts from onscreen resources. In our project this week we do not want the children simply copying and pasting material from the web, but want them to engage with the texts to pick out key ideas. The first thing that struck many of them was the technical vocabulary in a text about weather and climate. The children were encouraged to use highlighting to locate unfamiliar words and phrases that we could discuss as a group. These included words such as cyclone, tropical, monsoon, earthquake and drought. Some of these not only raised discussion around their meanings, but also lead to some interesting discussions around decoding. What was useful here was being able to highlight how in reading these we had encountered problems ourselves in understanding and taking meaning away, what would have happened if we had simply copied and pasted it? This lead to discussions around the seasons, what was meant by tropical and why some regions were called the tropics. We needed a globe to see this and a timeline to help us see when winter, summer and the monsoon seasons happened. The children were intrigued by there not seeming to be a spring or autumn, but rather three seasons from the text we had explored. We will be revisiting and building on this work, as the students begin to use the ideas we explore in literacy sessions this week in their presentation challenge.
Moving on in the next session we began developing and reintroducing some of the ICT skills they will need to use in the challenge. Here we worked through the log in process for using the Wireless network, booting the machines up and using the network tool to locate the connection we had made last week and practicing again the connection process.

Once we were online, the students navigated to the VLE and logged in. The next stage of the activity was to reply to an email that I had prepared for today's session and sent to each of them prior to the task. This contained a very simple message welcoming them to the challenge and asking them to reply with a greeting that would let me know that they had managed to get online. On reciept of this email I returned the compliment by forwarding each a link to the build yourself wild website introduced through Twitter by colleague Doug Dickinson a few weeks ago.

The expectation was that each pair of students would take turns to send their email, log out so their partner could then also reply to my email. In the process praciticing the log in and out process for the VLE. When they logged back in their reply would then be waiting for them.

As well as learning about life in India this term we have been working on a science topic on habitats. The children were encouraged while designing their wild self to think about where their beast would live and to select from the features available to them, those that would help them to survive in their chosen habitat. On completing their creature the children were asked to create a desktop wallpaper at the site and to save this to their computer. Both children in the pair carried out the task, and as a finale, were shown how to and required to upload the activity to our shared space.

This process may seem quite mundane. But if we are going to use this space effectively it is an essential prerequisite that skills such as this become second nature, and if the rest of this week's activities are to be successful the key skills worked on in this session will be central to the work the children do.

During the course of the day we learned how to and consolidated a number of skills and processes that included
  • Booting up and shutting down our PC
  • Navigating a new User Interface and folder structure
  • Connecting to the wireless network
  • Opening and familiarising ourselves with a new Browser
  • Logging into and navigating our VLE
  • Opening and replying to an email
  • Downloading and saving an image from a web page to a local drive space
  • Browsing to find and then uploading an image to a shared web space
Many of these skills and processes had been engaged with before, through blogging activities and through work in Honeycomb earlier in the year. Processes such as this are easily transferable across platforms, but every environment has its own particular quirks and ways of doing things. It is easy to assume that the students will just know how to do this as a result of previous experience. The students seemed to enjoy learning and revisiting these through this particular activity, they were keen to learn how to do the next thing as they built on each activity in stages. The tasks that follow this week will further build on and consolidate these tasks in other practical contexts.


Preparing our Asus Machines

It has been a really interesting week, our Asus Eees have been on site for a while, but actually getting them into the hands of the students has proven a challenge. Taking the bull by the horns I wondered how the process might work, if I got them charged up and worked with the students to set up the devices from scratch.

We have done a lot of work across a range of software environments, but not with an operating system before. The process proved to be not so challenging as I first thought, taking the process step by step, working in pairs and using peer review as part of the activity, we have managed to get 20 machines setup from first boot, installed a wireless connection to allow students to access the guest network, and set firefox preferences so that the browser's home page is that of the school web site, the home page for our emergent learning platform.

After a nervy start I was impressed with how quickly the students managed to achieve our goals. For an adult in the know, it can take around 10-15 minutes per machine, possibly a little less once in the flow, and with sets of machines powered up. It took a little longer around half an hour, because of the stop start process involved, supporting the process with a projected monitor on the IWB, and ensuring we were all keeping together and to task, but the students were really pleased with themselves and quite rightly so. When they were finally able to access the web and open some familiar tools.

Step 1
Normal first boot process for a PC involved setting up the keyboard, choosing a language, and a time zone. Followed by setting a password for the machine, and un hatching a radio button to allow bypass of this when the machine is turned on.

Step 2
Setting up a wireless connection using the wizard, this was largely a skip through process but because our wireless connection is hidden, required input of an SSID, and giving our network a friendly name.

Step 3
Logging onto the school's guest Proxy, before being able to access the web and setting the browser's home page preferences.

Of all the machines set up, only 2 would not accesss the web when we had finished, and both of these were down to cursor slip when the students were selecting network types in the set up wizard. The touchpads seems really sensitive on these versions of the machine. In terms of managing the process of set up correcting two slipups, beats the time scale to set up 20 machines from scratch. I have another 10 on charge this evening, to complete 2 class sets tomorrow during assembly. Planning to go through the process again next week knowing the pitfalls with 2 year 5 classes, hopefully having some of my Y4s as technical support will help.

As for the Y4s who will be using their class sets next week for the first time, we have a webquest in store. The VLE currently hosts a collection of short texts and image galleries about India. We have added some useful web sites, and uploaded a powerpoint template with key areas to investigate. In literacy we will be looking at notetaking, and using three simple slide styles to present our research.

1) Simplifying a short web based text for a slide aimed at a younger audience.
2) Selecting key points to prepare bullet lists
3) Picking out key ideas from a text and presenting these as images from a web search.

Building around these ideas the students will be encouraged to choose from each to develop their own digital slideshows as part of a Passport to India Challenge. The value of the tools being placed on the VLE is that some children may choose to carry on their work at home, giving the opportunity to introduce the file box tools on their home pages as a way of moving work between home and school. This morning J arrived with his flash drive and a copy of the completed Vishnu tale he had been working on, he certainly may benefit from introduction to this device as a means of sharing his work with both myself and friends. Working in the smaller group setting, where the tool is embedded in the overall activity, and with access to the tools by all throughout the challenge process it will be interesting to see how the students use and adapt the space throughout the week, and engage with each other within the environment.

Next week will certainly be one for the Digital Camera, and with material uploaded for sharing hopefully a starting point for a spot of review and reflective writing over Easter.


I Stand Corrected

Experiences of using spaces such as, have lead me to appreciate the dialogue that can emerge through working with students in online spaces. We are currently using the Netmedia Primary VLE in school, as part of an LA Pilot, and a couple of my students, building on their class blogging experiences, have begun maintaning their own blogs, using the space to write about things that interest them and building on the experiences from school away from class in the form of simple learning logs. Visiting the spaces is a treat, listening to the student voice, and gaining insight to how they interpreted things, or how they choose to develop and extend things for themselves. Last week we began phase two of our unit on stories from different cultures, and I noticed that one of the students had begun to write his own version of one of the stories we had previously engaged with. Added to this was a comment, asking what the text was about?

Reading the text which began so well, I could see where the commentor was coming from, as the plot began to slip towards the end. Commenting on a blog is a really challenging thing even for adults, so I decided to leave both a comment. First of all asking the commentor a year 6 if he could explain more clearly what he meant, and what the year 4 author might do to make his meaning clearer. To remind the author of the plot of the story I wrote a quick draft of my own, publishing it to my VLE Blog Space, and inviting both students to see what they thought of it by email. How could I improve the text? Would they like to have a go at developing the story for themselves, or perhaps use some of the ideas to clarify the plot.

On Monday morning I arrived in school not so much to a greeting, as a discussion around the typos I had made. I wasn't aware of these in my haste to get together the story frame, though no doubt my readers are. It was interesting though to see just how much detail my story had been engaged with as a starting point. I have been aware for some time that my students also visit my blog here occasionally, to share the things they have been doing in school, the potential power of these spaces as "models" for writing seem too good to miss, the sense of audience, purpose and need to be clear if our meaning is to be made. This is certainly something I hope to exploit more widely having recieved this today. I have been out today on a Primary Strategy day, I thought that Monday's dialogue was over but checking my email and the VLE inbox this evening I came across this "Your Corrected Story." Not only has all of my spelling and grammar been checked - thanks J!- but we also now have another starting point for discussion in part of our Literacy session tomorrow. Our plan was to review and evaluate the work the students have been doing today, building on this to edit and improve, but since J has spent so much time reviewing mine already, I am wondering about having him share his process as a starting point before sending the children off to engage with their own stories in pairs. Building on this to help students think about their texts framed by our marking ladders and agreed success criteria, seems quite a powerful in.

A lesson or idea I would like to share or take away from this is how a VLE even for the youngest of students need not be a web based flash drive or delivery platform. A way of transferring, accessing, storing or sharing work that teachers make for children and colleagues to use at school. If I am honest this is one of my biggest fears and concerns about how these spaces are often portrayed within the literature we recieve or in the conversations we have with colleagues. There is a danger also of seeing these environments as places where traditional homework types and tasks can be uploaded in a digital format in the assumption that this somehow makes them more appealing. I would like to see our space increasingly seen as a shared space where we all have ownership, and a sense of belonging. VLEs like classrooms and schools need to be considered social learning spaces extensions and mediators for informal as well as formal learning experiences.

Our Asus web books are just about set up, and ready to be used. What further opportunities will wireless access on a one to one and paired access have on their development and use of this space?


BECTA Filming, Podium and Oral Storytelling.

This week we were visited by a film crew commissioned by BECTA to document our use of Softease's BETT award winning software tool and podcasting platform Podium. The wider publication of which this is part will include other schools and tools who won awards at this year's BETT show.

I have made much previously of my commitment to using Podium as a platform for developing and supporting literacy across the curriculum, because of the effect I feel it has had as a tool on the confidence of my students as writers and readers for purpose and meaning. This has also taken me on a reflective journey exploring the pedagogical value the tool has added as a
  • writing tool
  • scaffold for writing
  • and supporting frame for performance and evaluation of outcomes.
In the multimodal world that we live in I feel the distinction between what we traditionally call reading and writing is becoming increasingly blurred, as I begin to unpick the relationships between modes of representation used and their potential for supporting and developing other more traditionally text types. Providing a challenge to what these processes look like in everyday practice and use, and increasingly providing a context where text development as a process can be seen as design as well as composition. I decided for the session to be filmed this week that I would draw on and try to pull together some of my thoughts, building on and using the ongoing activities of my students using visual storytelling devices to develop the tasks they would engage with.

On Monday we had just begun phase two of a unit of work around stories from other cultures, which is being iteratively designed as part of our wider theme about life in India It is intended to help our students learn about Hinduism as a major world religion contextualised in its country of origin. This week we were beginning to apply experiences from phase one, where we had spent sessions engaged with talking as readers around a number of Hindu stories, including the Ramayana, and for the day of filming I decided to set up a carousel of experiences using mixed tools to engage the children in a variety of visual and oral storytelling activities.

Activity 1 oral Storytelling with Podium

Prior to this session the students had created story maps and begun thinking through structured talk about how, when they write they could link the passage of their stories together. They had added their opening phrase to the story, eg Long ago and far far away... and begun thinking how their story might end. We had also talked about how in the oral tradition of stories, these frequently change over time, so the original tale may be very different to the one that was told when first written down to become a standard. This had been reflected in the different versions of the Rama and Sita story we had heard.

We have begun to use more widely work from recent CPD sessions to encourage oral storytelling as part of our talk for writing process. "Overlearning" of narratives, seems to help us develop a coherent plot for a story, enabling us to engage with the details of what characters might be doing within scenes that surround the events, and knowing the plot so well we have less incidences of "we don't know what to write." The problem within the wider scheme of things is that oral rehearsal of stories is usually transient and lost. “Evidence of outcome” existing only in the pictures we have drawn, and the long gone spaces between us and our friends. I have been worried for sometime about how I can evidence this to satisfy the observer, and so for this session set up Podium as part of a thought experiment to help.

Within the activity, the children worked in pairs first of all to set up podium to create a paired "podcast." Using the chapter tool, the children were encouraged to split the story they were about to tell into a number of sections coinciding with the stages in their story maps. In terms of writing this probably best equates to the planning of paragraphs or “boxing up” the plot. The story maps contained only limited text, the linking notes the students had made, around specific vocabulary choices they would like to include, and was to be told entirely without written text support.

Before beginning their recordings the children were encouraged to rehearse aloud each step in the story as a separate chapter (oral paragraph). In this way the children could edit each chapter after play back, considering use of author voice and how they might build on this in the next section of the tale.
  • Were they happy with their use of expression?
  • Was it interesting to listen to?
  • How could they improve this?
  • What additional story language might they need to include to help this?
  • How would they connect this part of the story to the next and so on?
The children were challenged by the process and really enjoyed it. The outcomes were lovely not only to listen to but also to see how the students reacted to what each other had "written."

Thinking about the overall process in retrospect, has provided an interesting perspective on the “rereading” process, since in this activity the reader's and teller’s voices became merged to form an audible author's voice. In the coming week we will be beginning to write our own versions of the Rama and Sita story, and as we work I am considering how to use the outcomes created by the students in Podium to help focus on the “writer's tools” that will to allow our readers to hear what we want them to. Using the oral text delivery of one student we could “box up” the story plot as a whole, one which through oral rehearsal the students are now familiar with, before using elements from the "oral" text to support guided and shared writing in the form of paired work. Part of our already established success criteria is how we want the student's characters to have a voice, but that the things that they say should be appropriate to them and their situation. Hearing what they say through the stories presented should be useful in identifying not only what we want them to say, but also in discussing whether the dialogue is apropriate to the situation and in considering the choice of speech verbs to be included, that willallow the reader to hear our intention.

Towards the end of the day I was interviewed and given the opportunity to express some of my thoughts about how the tool has been used in school and the effects I feel podium has had on the learning of my students. I hope that the outcomes of this reflect my feelings, and do some justice to the power of the tool. I know by this point in the day I and the children were exhausted. I would like to thank both BECTA and Softease (Lightbox) for the opportunity to share my thoughts and feelings.

Other activities that went on in class during the day were also linked to the ongoing unit of work and included

Activity 2. Even Potatoes have feelings an introduction to Clay Animator

Here a pair of laptops had been set up using clay animator and webcams to encourage exploration and familiarisation with the software tool to make an animated short entitled even potatoes have feelings. After a brief introduction the children were encouraged in small groups to explore how the tool worked building on prior experiences of using Stick Figure Animator. Using a potato, cocktail sticks and modelling clay,the challenge was to change the smiling features of the character into a face displaying a a change in mood. The reason behind this may seem a long way from the overall theme of the other activities, but hopefully will become clearer when combined with activity 3.

Activity 3 Making Stick Puppets

For this activity the children were provided with stick puppet characters from the Ramayana to decorate and assemble. Each puppet provided consisted of a number of pieces to be decorated, cut out and then assembled to construct the four key characters from the story. Possessing articulated limbs, these characters will later be used against backdrops created by the students in groups, to create short scenes that will be compiled to make a class movie. Using clay animator with these props I want to link their prior experiences with stick figure animator and immersion in the Rama and Sita story to begin exploring the differences and similarities between the flick book and stop motion approaches of the two packages.

The potato head activities, presented in (2) alongside immersion in the story of Rama and Sita will provide examples and talking points will also help us identify issues for later work when we consider planning our class movie,
  • establishing and framing scenes,
  • working together to develop these
  • establishing success criteria for our outcomes

Earlier Posts on Podium and Student response


Wallace and Gromit's Cracking Contraptions: Digital starters for Explaining Processes

A couple of weeks ago I posted some thoughts and starting points as we began working together on texts that explain processes how they work and how they are presented. This is something we have found students can find challenging, not describing the process but the aspect of the work that requires the use of passive voice, a commentary on action without personal involvement. The text type can very easily change from one to another depending on the use of pronoun for example

First of all Wallace or we pressed the big red button, and the arm came out.. places the author in the recount domain.
First of all you press the button places the author in the domain of instructional writing,

What we were aiming for was for the students to be able to describe a process as if they were looking in on events as the device does all the work while they commentated on the action.

Visualising and rehearsing this type of recording process is a real challenge, especially I find with youngsters who no matter how hard they try are in the middle of the experience. For this unit then we decided to use talk as the vehicle to engage with the process, and to enable the children to hear how the process sounded and from here to develop their writing skills.

The unit began with the children engaging with and exploring a number of explanatory texts and providing opportunities for the children to hear the differences between
  • recounts
  • instructions
  • and explanations

Texts that explain processes rarely exist in isolation, but are usually found as part of larger textual bodies. The texts we provided included longer textual pieces that had a process explained somewhere within in it. We were keen that these texts should not be just traditional paper based forms, and among the texts we provided was also a Video explanation about web search strategies from Commoncraft. This was an interesting tool, that really made us sit back and think. As with many such texts it opens with a general statement, but at times the tone and movement of the text meant it was tricky to distinguish between it and a set of instructions. Was the text explaining how a web search works, or providing tips on how to use a websearch more effectively. Actually it seemed to be doing both at different points. So what was it that differentiated the instructional part of the text from the explanation part. We used this video alongside other written texts to help us unpick the features that made one type of writing different from the other. This was then used to help us create a marking and review ladder to use when we began working on our own writing.

Talk for Writing: Rehearsing the Process Using Video

To frame and practice the process of writing an explanation we began with modelled and guided talk for writing ativities based on "The Tellyscope," an Aardman's Wallace and Gromit short. We watched the video together, and then spent time talking about the device, in its context. A wild and whacky tool for controlling the TV from the comfort of an arm chair. Next the sound was turned off and elements of the video used to focus on the process involved in operating the device, before in talking twos the students were encouraged to describe the sequence of events to each other. The process was played again and the children tried to commentate on what they could see happening, matching their commentary to onscreen action. At this point we also began to introduce the use of passive pronouns such as it, and the addition of time connectives to act as sentence openers and to extend the ways we could describe and link sections of the sentence to include causal connectives,

eg. A big red button is pressed which causes the arm of the chair to open. A ball is placed in the hand and pulling this back results in a spring being squashed down.

After rehearsing and engaging with the explanation in this way, the children were provided with flow charts containing frame captures from the film, that showed significant points in the process. The children worked in pairs following modelled writes and building on their their oral work to describe the stages in the process. Key to these tasks were choice of sentence openers and how they would join pairs of sentences that described cause and effect.

Having described the process the children were then encouraged to work together to create a short generalised opening statement for the explanation, saying what the device was for and who might find it useful, and to write their own headings for their written piece. The children also used computer based versions of the writing frames to re-present edit and improve their work against our success criteria.

Independent Have A Gos

With the guided and modelled part of the process completed and our marking ladders and rubrics developed, we watched together another Walace and Gromit short, The Snooze-a-tron, we had chosen to be our big write focus and stimulus.

This marvellous machine designed for the discerning chomper of cheese lulls its user to sleep by fluffing pillows and tucking in with ted, before the long suffering pooch becomes integrated within a sheep counting machine that will carry him off to the land of nod. As a home learning challenge the children were asked to design their own "snooze-a-tron" or "wake-a-tron," that they would use to frame an explanation text of their own.

The children responded marvellously to this, bringing in models, diagrams and sketches. Some students had begun to rename the suggested devices. I had a particular fondness for the machine known as the "Alarm Cluck," the name conjured up all sorts of ideas even before I found out how it actually worked. Again this series of sessions began with the students talking about their devices, explaining how they worked to their friends and rehearsing how and where they might use particular text features. Throughout the post are a few examples of the students engaged in this process. All that was left now was for the students to put into practice what they had been learning as a result of these activities.

During this unit of work a number of ICT tools were used to support first of all, the talk for writing process and also the student's presentation of written outcomes. These were developed from a series of Collect, Store, Prepare and Share activities.

  • The Common Craft and Wallace and Gromit videos were downloaded from You Tube to allow use of them in school.
  • The Wallace and Grommit videos were downloaded as MP4 files using the "get You Tube Video" bookmarklet mentioned in this previous post.
  • The MP4 files were opened in Quick Time Pro, enabling frame captures to be made. These images from the movie were used in the development of table top talk and writing frames, as well as in the making of IWB notebooks to help with sequencing and ordering.
  • Talk for writing frames were also made available on the school network so that students could use these to present their explanations, and facilitate further discussion and review of their texts.
  • Within the talk process children were also encouraged to use Podium as an audio recording device to help them present and hear as a reader the texts that they had been authoring.
Thanks to Aardman Animation for the inspiration, and Wallace and Gromit for their help in our learning process.