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!



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