Sunday, 24 June 2012

Bengal Tigers - Seal of Approval Awarded!

This week, despite hurricanes, we had another hangout with Taiwan...our second Bottle Top Art Day and...the Bengal Tigers awarded their seal for the first time ever!  More about that later!

Taiwan Hangout
My class - ready to hangout!
This time, my class, the Bengal Tigers, were presenting to Taiwan.  Children worked SO hard creating scripts and then learning their lines - they LOVE the real context our hangouts provide.  They included many aspects of our Earth Caretakers Project. 

Children's presentations went really well but our second hangout of the week had to be postponed because Taiwan continued to be affected by severe hurricanes.  We were very glad and relieved to hear that everyone is safe in Chong Ming and we've rearranged for next week.  (Video to follow!)

Securing the bottle tops to perspex!
Bottle top art (day 2)
We also had our second bottle top art day.  We're likely to need a bit longer before this is completed because the scale is quite big and the process of sticking and then screwing down the bottle tops is taking longer than originally anticipated.  But, as you can see from our pictures, it's really coming along now!

There's been lots of interest and lots of staff and children have helped by bringing in extra browns and golds because we found we were running short of these colours.  Thank you everyone!  Next time, hopefully we'll be able to complete it and put it up in the playground in its permanent home.

Our orangutan is coming along well!
Breaking news....Bengal Tigers' Seal Awarded!
The Bengal Tigers are extremely pleased to report that AT LAST we've heard from a company that actually answered the questions we asked about recycling and the use of sustainable packaging!  And what's more, children were impressed with the answers too!  This feels groundbreaking!

Over the last 12 months pupils have written MANY letters but companies smoothly (or perhaps not so smoothly) have side stepped all our rainforest action teams' questions.

Well done John Lewis!
So....DRUM ROLL....the first company to be awarded the Bengal Tigers' official seal of approval is......JOHN LEWIS!   Well done John Lewis!

On a sadder note, the children were very concerned to read reports that wood fibres from prime rainforest land in Indonesia have been found in the packaging used by KFC.  I know children are keen to write to KFC about this matter!  They've also been listening out for news from the Earth Summit in Rio - mostly though, the feeling is one of disappointment.

Next week we are having the last hangout of the term with Taiwan.  Children will be sharing their Earth Caretakers presentation with more pupils at Chong Ming Elementary.

Our summer camp
We will also be having our summer camp.  In small teams, children will be using Google Forms to collect data about everyone's requests for food, drink and activities.  They will then be analysing the data and making presentations to the class about options chosen.  There's nothing like real life Maths is there!

Pedmore's chickens
I've mentioned before that children are growing lots of their own fruit and vegetables for our camp and we're also hoping to use eggs from Pedmore school's very own chickens!

Minimising the air or freight miles of anything the children need to buy will be a priority too! 

Hopefully the sun will put its hat on for us on Friday....

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Orangutans & our bottle top art (day 1)

work in progress
Bottle top art and orangutans
Our keenly anticipated bottle top art day at last arrived on Wednesday!  We all had a fabulous day - even the sun came out!

Before half term children had created some lovely rainforest inspired designs and we settled on a picture showing an orangutan with her baby and in the canopy layer a toucan and macaw.

macaw artwork
The orangutan was inspired by our focus on Borneo which, with Sumatra, provides the last two natural habitats on earth for the orangutan.  100 years ago there were 315,000 orangutans - now it is estimated that there are less than 7000 and this beautiful animal may be extinct in the wild by 2015.

The children feel that we may not be able to do much to help, but we should try to do whatever we can.  'Be the change you want to see in the world' - Gandhi
sorting, counting and sizing bottle tops

The children transferred their designs onto card and then from card onto the perspex.  Meanwhile, other groups were busily using Google search to research rainforest tree species so that they could come up with leaf designs for the background.  A further group were counting and colour and size sorting the bottle tops the whole school community has been collecting since September.  There were over 1500!

rainforest leaves
Later, children began the process of sticking these onto the perspex.  Next time they'll be drilling them on so that they'll be really secure!

As our video shows, our bottle top art is a work in progress.  We're hoping to complete it next week and put it up in a leafy, tree filled section of the playground.  Meanwhile children have begun to develop their ideas for a world themed playground.  Watch this space!

  Replies to our rainforest letters

So far children have had two replies to their rainforest letters.  The Animal Savers Team heard from Marks & Spencers in reply to their letter about packaging and the Rainforest Orangutan Team received a reply from Coca Cola about their use of plastic bottles.

Although the Animal Savers are pleased to read of M&S's 'Plan B' both they & the Orangutan team were more than a little disappointed to find that, on close reading of their replies, there were NO responses to their questions.

The M&S reply referred the group to their website for answers so they will be having a look there.  But I think it's fair to say that, teams are already drafting new letters to these companies!

Hangouts with Taiwan
We were delighted to receive another invitation to not just one, but two hangouts with pupils in Taiwan next week.  Towards the end of this week children have been busily scripting their presentations in preparation for our hangouts.  They are going to talk about our Earth Caretakers project.  We'll let you know how these go.

Year 4 Summer Camp
Summer camp planning
In less than a fortnight, the Year 4 Bengal Tigers will be having a summer camp on our school field.  Children plan it in detail and this includes budgeting for food and other things we'll need, menu planning and deciding which games will be played and other activities.  

This year, because children are so focused on 'being the change' they've decided to try to cut out air miles for food bought and better still, they've been working with their families to  GROW THEIR OWN fruit and vegetables.  Fantastic!     

Friday, 8 June 2012

Hanging out with Taiwan & dabbling with Ngram Viewer - Wow!

Weeks 5 & 6 of Google Apps proved to be every bit as pacey as the first four.   And that notwithstanding class assembly rehearsals & performance shoe-horned into the few remaining timeslots.  Just as well this is our half term week - I think we've all needed a bit of time for rest, reflection & relaxation!

Hangouts to the East & to the West! the East with Chong Ming Elementary in Taiwan...
Marine artwork
I arrived at school to prepare for our first ever hangout - it was early and nearly deserted and therefore unusually quiet.  After making the obligatory cup of tea (a MUST for me!), I was dismayed to find a fuse had blown and all the lights and electrical sockets in my classroom were out.  Fortunately, after a quick fix, I was soon up and running again and racing the clock to pull out the wires from my class computer and plug them into my laptop, sort out sound and projector and try to angle the tiny camera so that there was a view of my pupils as they streamed in an hour before our usual start time.  Although it all felt a little bit haphazard and unfamiliar, but hey presto,  suddenly four classes from Chong Ming Elementary School, along with eight teachers, their principal and technicians appeared on the class whiteboard.  Hurray!!!!

Marine artwork
Unfortunately, I don't think our friends in Taiwan had quite as good a view....that day must have been our first sunny day in about 9 months (it certainly felt like it!) so we were either bathed in dazzling sunshine or, with the blinds down, plunged into semi-darkness.  Nonetheless, our hangout was up and running.  We had a Q and A session - my pupils were stunned to hear that Chong Ming hours are from 7:30am to 4:00pm and, I think, most impressed to hear that the favourite TV channel is Discovery.  We were all pleased to hear that teachers and pupils would be following the Olympics this summer.  Without hesitation our partner school responded to a question about favourite sports with a resounding 'SWIMMING'!
Pupil's artwork

Next Chong Ming pupils gave a series of presentations, in flawless English I might add, about their wonderful marine life artwork made from recycled materials.   Overall, a great success I think for a first hangout.  The techology worked seemlessly and the future possibilities are very exciting.  I think it would great to start an 'Interesting Ways with Google Hangouts' if there isn't already one available in Tom Barrett's excellent interesting ways series.

Pupil's artwork
My children have since used Google to complete their Art Critique forms to provide feedback on chldren's super artwork.  We are planning another hangout in the next fortnight, this time with presentations from us about our Earth Caretaker projects and from Taiwan more about their marine life environmental project.  Many pupils have requested we also exchange ideas and get to know one another through a pen pal arrangement - I think Google Apps would bring an exciting dimension to this too.   

...and to the West with Elizabeth Morrow in New Jersey...
Later that week, I joined our Year 2s for another hangout - this time with the Elizabeth Morrow school.  Once again there was a Q and A session and then our children gave some mini-presentations about life at Pedmore school.  I'm really hopeful that we'll be able to develop this link with Sarah Rolle and her pupils when the new term begins in the Autumn.

So, apart from hanging out, and madly planning for our class assembly, what else have we been up to?

Exploring Ngram viewer and 'tellling the story of the graph'

aaa Wow!  I've just got to say 'wow' about this very nifty Google tool!  I wasn't sure what my pupils would make of it or what would come out of a session based around it - but it exceeded my expectations!  I briefly demo'ed to the class and then asked children to come up with some search terms.  We searched for the words deforestation, tribes, aluminium, packaging and logging from 1800 to 2008.  Children then share ideas about the meaning or story of the graph.  They began by looking at 'tribes' in isolation and soon began to suggest links between the different lines.  What an insight into children's thinking, reasoning and understanding this provides!  Have a listen to a few of their ideas!

Designing logos

Our rainforest action teams wanted a highly visual way of responding to and critiquing the replies to our letters that we're hoping soon to receive from companies and Governments.  So they decided to create team logos as a 'seal of approval'.  Here are some of their designs!

Google search tool
At last!  Available in school on children's netbooks!  Hurray!  We celebrate in class each little step forward because sometimes they're hard won.  That said, we've had some great technical support from the lovely people at RM who are trying to help with making Google tools available to us without compromising the filters that are there for children's safety.  Thank you, Dudley RM team!

It's a feature of this style of learning that children ALWAYS have lots of questions throughout their projects.  Pupils need information to find out about the topic, to write great letters, to respond to the replies they get, in short, to become really informed.  So it's great to have search in Google Docs up and running.  In school!  What a great learning opportunity!  We've already talked in class about what it means to 'cite' sources, use of images from sites in our docs, how we can begin to get an idea of the reliability of information based on its source, the usefulness of search terms and how we can refine these to access the results we're after.  And my pupils are 8-9 year olds!  Pupils will use search with or without our input - it's the nature of the world they're growing up in.  But this tool brings the discussion and learning into the classroom so that children will learn how to use search in an informed and skilful way.

...and a word about Blogger in school
 Blogger is at last up and running too, after a fashion.  Children can create and edit posts but must wait until hometime before they can view their blog - or another pupil's come to that!  The stop-start nature of making this tool available has meant it just hasn't gotten off the ground as a means for children to 'blog the learning journey' as they go along. 

Google translate and 'gallery walk'
The children have continued sending out their letters.  Google translate has proved invaluable for letters going to destinations where English isn't the first languages - for example Malaysia.  We're all very excited about what the replies may bring.  Based on the experience with last year's Year 4, I suspect the children will need to hone their higher order reading skills when they receive some of the replies. 

Some letters aren't quite ready yet and it's for good reason that redrafting is an essential feature of project based learning.  I'm hoping to organise a 'gallery walk' with the help of some of our older pupils so that they can kindly and constructively critique children's first drafts.  Should be a great learning opportunity for all parties!

So what's next?
I've mentioned the up and coming hangouts and the gallery walk.  We've also got an annual camp event at the end of this month.  The children want to make it as sustainable as possible so they are going to be planning and adapting menus based on reducing or even eliminating the air miles of ingredients and trying to choose forest friendly sources for the things they'll need.  We've also got our big bottle top art day coming up soon too!  Watch this space!