Email Consequences: Virtual Snowballing collecting ideas and framing ideas for writing.

Over the last few weeks I have been working with our older Phase two students, reintroducing our Netbooks, how to access the Network and VLE from the classroom, laying foundations for next term when I am intending to have a big push on their use in classrooms through a data handling project.

The students as I mentioned in a previous post have been blogging and leaving comments on posts while writing journal and diary type entries about recent events in school including a school journey.  They have also been using file storage spaces and learning how to upload images and files in order to add them to online work, or access them in ongoing projects both in and away from school.

This week a change of tack and a revisit to using our email accounts.  I wanted to practice primarily entry of email addresses, and use of the reply to and forward processes choosing to do this in the context of writing a collaborative story plot and as the basis for this, a variation on the game consequences to get us going.  The students worked in pairs, each pair linked with another somewhere else in the classroom.  The students knew who they were working with, but were separated physically by distance.  It took a little while to get the task off the ground so to speak, something new and slightly unfamiliar often leaves them a little wobbly, but once in the swing of things the lesson soon took off.

So what did we do?  How did this snowballing thing work?

I began simply with an opening idea..
" two characters meet somewhere, who were they and where did they meet?" The students had a time limit of 5 minutes discussion and writing time before the "opener" was forwarded to the partner pair.

"Something happened?  What took place?" With a click of the reply button, the students had 2 minutes to share the opener and a further 5 minutes discussion and writing time before sending to their partner.

"suddenly...." as above.

" how did the characters react?" repeat.

"what happened as a result?" and so on

By the end of the activity the students had in their inboxes the skeletons of two bizarre tales for each pair.
Comments from the session review included

  • " I really enjoyed it because we worked together and we could use each others ideas."
  • " I was worried I would get it wrong but some of the things people wrote were really funny and it was fun."
  • "I liked having different steps to follow"
  • "I thought we were going to send our work to everyone at the start, it would have taken ages, but working in pairs was really good because I got ideas from other people to help me."

At first some of the group were a little resistant to the pace of the activity, the time limited nature of each step in the process or game leading to comments about not being finished.  So it was interesting to hear how during their reviews the adult lead, stop/send/start process "the different steps to follow," featured so highly in the things the students liked about the session, providing security and scaffolding but also pace and movement to the activity. Within the group there are one or two boys I know who often say they don't know what to write.  So again it was interesting to hear one or two of these ask if we were going to do this again next week.

Reflecting on the task as a collect and store process. I am wondering how a slight change could help students get into a "writing frame" of mind.  Making a start is often a problem for some students, we immerse them in the genre, we box up the structure of the text together, provide writing frames, but still that barrier can remain. Even with a structure how do I get started. The huge white mass, however we partition or divide it up can still be a put off.

The class teacher came up with the idea that having seen the children work she might like to use the process to help the class get started with their writing of myths and legends next term.  Perhaps presenting the task as a writing game, following or to support the box up or planning process. Key elements of the text type could be used to organise the teacher lead "consequences idea."  Working in pairs of pairs the students could be involved in discussion and use the email game to engage the students in short burst writes leading to a skeletal story structure as an outcome, getting down the key ideas.  The students could then choose from the plots that they have to be copied and pasted to a wordprocessor, where they would be encouraged to develop and reshape the ideas they had collected together to shape their outcomes.  Nice idea and look forward to writing later about how this pans out.


Header Images, Wordle, Wikipaedia and Image Search: 2

Over the weekend I waxed a little around a project I had begun with my ICT club.  We used Wordle, Wikipaedia and Google image search as tools in the collect and store phase of a web page header or banner project.  This week the students engaged with the prepare and share phase, completing some of the banners they are hoping to see exhibited on the school website and class blogs, as devices that will add to the house style while individualizing each class page in school.

I decided to use MS paint in the end since this is a tool the students were already familiar with, and thought I'd share one or two of the outcomes here.  The students are really pleased with them, and actually for a first attempt by them at something like this I think they are very cool.  Looking at the objects it is interesting how even beginning with the same tools, playfulness and freedom to select final outcomes for display has lead to a deal of creative variation.  I hope you enjoy.

Woodpecker Class Y 4 Student

Dove Class Y4 Student

Hawks Y5 Student

Kestrels Y4 Student


My Digital Wish

I was pointed to this widget maker from the Digizen website by one of my students recently.  Its an interesting tool and one I think I'd like to use to indroduce and support discussions around what it might mean to be a global as well as a cyber citizen.  Rather than an outcome though I was wondering how it might function as a starting point for work with students.  As an embeddable device, this widget, by copying the embed code can be inserted quite easily by many students to their personal blog spaces.  This has lead me to wonder how I might use the widget maker with the support of VLE based student blogs and commenting to share and explore our thoughts and values.

This week my Y4 and 5 groups have been using their blog spaces to write about and share their experiences from a school journey. As part of the session plenary students were asked to visit each other's blog spaces and to read what had been said.  They were then asked to leave a simple comment on each of the posts they read
1. about something they liked about the post, perhaps how the text was presented, how they had enjoyed a particular part of the journey mentioned too, or focussing in on the literacy aspect of the presentation and perhaps the way the author had used particular words or phrases and why they liked them.
2. to suggest one thing that they might do if they were the author to improve what they had read.

I was interested to see how unprompted some students had begun to take part in short conversations as they worked.  Replying to comments left.  This notion of commenting as a conversation has left me wondering about the possibility and potential for using short outcome based tasks such as this as a way to promote online discussion, and  using commenting around the text free post itself as the vehicle to drive the central learning outcome for blogging activities.

Previously I have used discussion widgets to promote this type of activity, collecting student views around particular issues allowing chained and direct comments to be made that are visible to all. I am wondering about how allowing space for students to select from a limited menu of options such as that provided by the digizen widget maker, embedding the completed object to a blog post before initially providing students with particular spaces to visit and comment might be an interesting way to develop learning conversations through commenting.

Following the process the students have begun, perhaps they could find something as digizens they share with the author.  Being limited to choose a particular number of items from the provided list need not mean they they do not share ideas presented in other digizens displayed.  To break the ice and start the conversation they could ask questions about one or some of the choices that the blog author has made seeking responses and to identify what choices made by the author mean to them.

As a starting pont for work combining citizenship, literacy and ICT this could be an interesting stimulus for a longer term piece of Persuasive or Discursive Writing, the notion of an ideal world or a starting point to ground and discuss the many changes that are going on around us right now and how we see them.  I am sure there would be much disagreement about some of the more personalised possibilities, but this would provide opportunities for students not only to express their "wldest ideas" but perhaps more importantly to be asked to explain, explore and express their reasoning behind them opening up space to debate and see more than one side to the argument, while identifying some of the shades of grey.  As a collect and store process the blog comments also could form a useful resource as the presentation of a wide collection of modelled thoughts and opinions to be drawn upon in later writing, reading and speaking and listening activities.  Something to further pondered.

Feedback and review: A chance encounter between WALT, WILF and Google?

Recently with my phase 3 groups I have begun thinking about the self and peer review process as an area for development in my classroom practice.  I know this will be a key process if  students are to take ownership of their learning in ICT. I am also accutely aware of the need to monitor and review this, to collate evidence of oucome and to scaffold and support students as we develop this aspect of classroom work. One of our ongoing plenary activities among classroom discussion has involved using a prepared evaluation grid, that requires students with reference to session WALTs and WILFS  to comment on and set next steps based on learning during the session.  In reviewing these however I have frequently found students commenting on things that were not the "focus" of the session, but that were incidental to and emerged or developed out of the tasks as we worked.  These comments often refered to practical key skills, as opposed to the process skills that often surround session tasks.  Unpicking my WALTS and WILFS alongside these reviews I began to see the need to explicitly identify and review these skills, some of which were assumed and incidental  within the WALT for each session.  This is where my use of Google Forms has begun to take shape.

I have begun to explore and use Group Google Spreadsheets relating to units of work we are involved in and which collate response to I can statements around the activities we are developing.  From these I have also generated multiple choice forms, using radio buttons and a red, amber, green system against which students can begin to evaluate their own  performance.  At the top of the form is a text box where the student enters their name, and at the bottom a further 2 text fields allowing the student to free enter comments on what they feel they have enjoyed or learned that has not been included in the "quiz" and a space to enter a target.  To ensure completion before submission each field has also been marked as a "required field."  Once set up a hyperlink to the Google Form is then added to relevant pages in Class Learning Paths on the VLE.  Students are encouraged to complete the form and then submit it. Submision results, including free text  responses, are automatically added to relevant cells in the Google spreadsheet associated with it. In addition a time and date stamp are provided to show when the form was completed.

The Google Spreadsheet attached to each form has also been conditionally formatted, so that as data arrives from the students the spreadsheet shows me at a glance through colour coding what the student responses have been.  Green colours a cell green, Amber colours a cell amber and so on.  At a glance I can also pick out patterns or areas to develop and revisit,  eg red either still needs to be taught explicitly or is poorly understood, and Amber needs to be revisited to secure, hopefully green can be assumed and consolidated.  Students text responses are sent to the relevant cell in the spreadsheet to for review later. The Spreadsheet file can then either be downloaded and saved in an appropriate file format for editing locally, or can be printed directly from Google for inclusion in the class evience file.

This obviously cannot stand alone, however as a possible ARR tool and part of my evolving APP and AfL process this curently seems potentially powerful to me
  • Allowing students at the start of a unit to see where we are going and what we need to learn next term and before the unit begins
  • Carried out as a survey before a unit of work commencesperhaps it may be useful in establishing a common starting point for skills based work with the students in particular groups, and supporting differentiation/extension and progression
  • Carried out at the mid point working in pairs or with learning buddies alongside works in progress and revisiting at the end of a unit may also allow plotting of progression, support review of ongoing learning targets by the students, and the possibility of using these tools to support teacher student learning conversations. 
 I would be really interested to hear any suggestions or thoughts from colleagues, in both Key Stage 2 and 3 around my reflections and thoughts here.  Thanks in anticpation.


Header Images, Wordle, Wikipaedia and Image Search

Having spent most of this week culling the content of the current Primary Phase website, I began pondering a simple way in which students could be involved in supporting the development of the site theme.  Primary Phase classes are named after birds, and within the learning communities section of our website I want first of all to create a gallery section  for each class that will enable outcomes and processes behind longer projects, ICT tasks and digital works to be displayed, as well as providing spaces that students and colleagues can update themselves.  The intention of the latter is that colleagues and students take greater responsibility and ownership of the content we publish, reducing the expectation that one person maintain the entire space, which has been the historical context.  To this end the galleries for the time being at least will remain as standard web pages, locally developed and then updated by FTP, while each class will be provided with a blog space.  I hope to create an aggregated feed for these allowing updates to be fed to the site's home page.  However the subject of today's post is not this but a simple project I began this week to create class header images.

I began the process with my ICT club on Thursday, as we worked through the collect and store phase of the project.

Step 1 of the project was to collect and store from a Google Image search a number of graphics representing class birds.

Step 2 was to open an instance of Wordle in their web browser and to open a second tab where they accessed Google.  Students were encouraged to choose a class bird from the school list and then to search for information about their chosen bird.

Step 3 and the next phase of the creative process was a copy and paste task, transferring text from the web pages that contained relevant factual information about their bird to the create "text box" in their Wordle tab.

Step 4 involved the create button, and time spent manipulating the resulting word clouds until they liked the outcome they had developed and discussing the appearance.  Why were the words presented in different sizes?  What were the key and most common words?  What did they tell us about our bird?  Within the creation process students could change font and layout, with the only real limitation that the word clouds as a group should have a consistent colour scheme.  ( I have to admit to not being overly successful or persuasive in this matter, so we will have to wait and see how this pans out in the longer term, but such is the creative process and who knows!)

Step 5 Students placed their finished Wordle central to the browser window and rather than saving it, we used the print screen key to copy the browser window and then pasted this to Photofiltre, where we cropped our images and saved them for use later.

Our next step will be the prepare and share phase, involving provision of a blank header frame, and the use of either Photofiltre or Microsoft Paint to combine elements, the class bird we have collected with its Wordle.  Yes I know... Microsoft Paint again... but it is quite interesting what can be achieved with this tool.  Using more than one instance, images can be copied from one and pasted to another containing the template or frame and then resized within their selection boxes and moved around the canvas before deselecting and releasing them to the background.  The above sample in fact was created in just this way. Using Photofiltre the images can be opened and then resized or scaled before copying and pasting for placement in a prepared template of a standard size, for placement in the completed web pages.

To finish the project students will be encouraged to export their finished header images as .jpg files and to upload them to a shared space on the VLE.  From here they can be added to the website's image folder and also added to class pages on the VLE.  Once on the web server and included in class gallery pages they will also have a URL enabling them to be included as header images in class blogs.  Though I am still in two minds about which tool I will finally use with the group to compose the final images, I hope that the students will begin to identify with the website through their creative ownership of static page elements such as the headers, and with the inclusion of these objects and ongoing online activity through blogging in the VLE take a proactive role in developing class ownership of the blog spaces to be provided and also including their designs.