Sunday, 20 May 2012

Week 4 of Google Apps & exciting contacts with Brazil & Taiwan

Week 4 of Google Apps for Education
I can't quite believe it's only been 4 short weeks since we launched GApps for Education at school.  Phew!

Assessment week notwithstanding, this week has been PACKED with learning skills, hangout preps, fab news on new partners through our rainforest questionnaire and lots more besides!

Learning Skills
Our learning skills display
One of the things I was keen to do was to involve children in self and peer assessment as part of this project. After getting pupils' ideas on how we could do this, we used questionnaires relating to our school's existing learning skills framework.  Have to say I'm loving the simplicity, accessibility and power of Google forms, so using this format, pupils gave themselves and their rainforest action teams marks out of four for each of the key aspects of learning.  There's more info about the learning skills here - we use children's own definitions of what these mean.

Google Hangout - Chong Ming Elementary School, Taiwan
Chong Ming Elementary School, Taiwan
After a few filtering hiccoughs, we're all set for our first Google class hangout with the Chong Ming Elementary school in Taiwan.

Pupils there have completed our rainforest survey and we're having a planning session in class tomorrow to get the most from the hangout.  It'll be an early start for Year 4 - the hangout starts at 8:00am Tuesday!

Google Translate and a truly amazing offer from ActionAid Brazil
ActionAid, Brazil
From the outset of this project, I really hoped for links with pupils from a rainforest region of the world.  So this week it was JUST FANTASTIC to see our questionnaire had been completed by Celia, Coordinator for ActionAid Brazil!  Celia's heartfelt responses about the deforestation of Brazil's rainforests and the devasting impact of this on local people in the form of mudslides, flooding and climate change have really moved every single one of us in class - sharing an insight that no amount of  traditional study will lead to.

Brazil - earthobservatory.nasa
Celia also wrote asking that I pass on this message to Year 4: 'living in a country very rich on forests - and suffering from a huge deforestation process, I have only to celebrate initiatives like yours'.

Celia has offered to pass our survey on to teachers and children in the region to complete next month.  This is truly an amazing offer considering the work that this will involve.  Says Celia, 'Our children do not speak or read English and also the majority of teachers in the remote areas of Brazil cannot speak any other language but Portuguese.'

Fortunately, with Google translate, this won't be a problem - I've already received translations from several pupils, completed and sent to me this weekend!  Watch this space!

Google Search - Fab Research Sidebar!
On Tuesday I heard the great news about the new research sidebar available in Google docs.  YES!!!! I thought.  And what SUPERB timing! Children could use these for their key questions. So, all fired up, I demoed how to use the tool, pointing out useful features like the citation button but when the children logged on it wasn't there!  After some tooing and frooing I discovered that we're on scheduled releases in GApps - so I've reset that now to instant release.  I'll need to wait until tomorrow to see whether the tool is also blocked by the LA filters.

Questions & Bloom's Taxonomy (image
In the meantime, we carried on without the tool - lots of children researched the answers to their questions after school and brought in information the next day.  This process brought out some really good learning - like copyright issues & citation of sources/use of images, reliability of sources, pros and cons of using wikipedia.  Pupils have also had lots of opportunities to ask questions, think about their usefulness in the context of their team's aims and how their questions should be framed.  

Letter writing
This has taken a little longer than I expected.  Second drafts were completed on Friday and children have been sending these to me throughout the weekend.  Here's one to the Malaysian Government from our Rainforest Tribe Kidz team who, as their name implies, are trying to help tribespeople affected by deforestation.  And here's another to Coca-Cola about aluminium cans.

Our playground sculpture
The week ended with some more good news - Bev, our Head Teacher had a letter from the Express & Star commending children for their Living History Project.  This was a fantastic art and local history project led by local artist and former pupil, Luke Perry.  As part of learning about their Black Country heritage, children made chain using traditional methods. 

Last year they helped to arc weld the large metal anchor they made in the playground too!  If you're at a school in the Midlands and you want to give children an amazing learning experience that'll stay with them forever, give Luke a call!

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Rainforest survey, videos & bottletop art - fast, furious and fun!

Rainforest Animal Savers Team Action Plan
Progress has been fast and furious this week - needs must as we have sports day, class assembly and assessment week ahead - all of which will impact on time available for our rainforest projects.  So yes, fast, furious, always, always fun!

So this week children have discussing and mindmapping ideas for their projects.  After looking around a bit, I found iMindmap.  It's a great little app - the basic version is free though I decided it was worth the £9.99 so that we could, among other things, export the team maps.

Project Action Videos
The mindmaps provided the structure for children's team videos.  Children have had LOTS OF FUN and especially this week with their videos.  Very creative ideas from a planet saving character called Eco Boy (complete with eco costume!) battling a character called Polluto, to an Eco News Desk, jingles and animations - and that was from just one of the teams!
Our rainforest survey on Google forms

Taiwan, El Salvador & a Rainforest Survey with Google Forms!
We've also been exploring Google forms.  Over the last ten days or so, I've heard from Amy, a teacher in Taiwan, about a possible opportunity for our classes to connect.  Amy's school closes for the summer at the end of May, so with the end of the month fast approaching, we have been trying to remove the filtering  obstacles and find a time for our classes to virtually meet! I'm hopeful this will be possible and we're likely to use Google hangout.  But in the meantime, my class & I thought we'd put together a rainforest questionnaire.  Although Amy's class hasn't yet completed the survey,  through the GCT network, Jennifer from El Salvador kindly responded and we now have some survey results from a school in a country with rainforests.  My class are absolutely THRILLED and I hope that this will help children gain a real insight into the local impact of deforestation.   If you're reading this and have a class in a rainforest region, we'd love it if you'd take our survey also! 

Writing to influencers
Pupils have made a good start on their letter writing and I'll update here as these go out & the replies start to come back.  We received a postcard from Survival International this week thanking the children for their work on behalf of the Penan tribe of Borneo.  One rainforest team (the Rainforest Tribe Kidz) have chosen tribes as the focus for their project.  There's a real buzz in class about our projects - and there's an extra boost whenever we connect with others from beyond our classroom walls!

It's also helping us to put all these places on the map!  Children began a rainforest map a couple of months ago.  They've posted information they found using their rainforest cryptonyms.  From the start of Year 4, every pupil in class is known online by their rainforest cryptonym (like Leaf Cutter Ant or Poison Dart Frog)  and we use these at times when we're online eg. when we're map making or using Voicethread.  We've haven't visited in a little while but do take a look if you have a moment!  

So...what's next?
Counting bottletops
So...what's next?  It's assessment week in school so this will affect how much we can do on our projects this week.  I'm still hoping to run a session in class on Google search. I'd also like children to use forms to gather some more information relating to their action projects. 
Creating bottletop designs
We've also collected a mini-mountain of plastic bottle tops with help from the school community.   Luke Perry, an absoluely FANTASTIC artist who has worked with us on two amazing local history/art projects, will be helping us to create a piece of rainforest inspired bottle top artwork for our playground.  Children were busily creating their designs on Friday!


Monday, 7 May 2012

Plan it's mindmapping, videos & letter writing!

Last Thursday and Friday were inset days at school so I was able to spend some time with Bev, my Head Teacher talking through my Action Plan (a big thank you to Jo Badge & Mark Allen for reviewing!).  We shared lots of ideas for the project as well as thoughts about how the project might roll out and ways of using Google technology.  On my part, I shared a few nerves too!  These come with the territory of project based learning - the 'unknown' is built into this approach, it's a given.  If every aspect was nailed down at this point, there'd be zero scope for pupil choice and zero scope for a real context.  It'd way less fun too!

Fruits of the Rainforest by Year 4
Project Action Plans and Videos
So, this week teams are going to be working on their project action plans and videos.  I've created a document to share with teams highlighting what I'd like plans and videos to include.  Before you think it, I'll have to say it - the format is a bit - not child friendly at all!  So, having discovered iMindMap all of half an hour ago and being a fan already of Tony Buzan, I'm going to ask children to create a mindmap using our class iPod Touches.  I think the Buzan mindmaps look like pieces of art so, if we've time, I may ask children to draw their mindmaps too & then we can use Picasa to put the final touches.  In the meantime, if anyone can suggest another alternative let me know!

Letter writing
 Later on this week, I'd like teams to consider letter writing.  Persuasive writing and letters are part of the Year 4 curriculum so our projects will provide the all important real purpose!  As good writing is always boosted along by some good reading, we'll be starting by looking at some of the letters last year's pupils wrote concerning palm oil from sustainable sources.  Here's one example with some of the teaching points given in red.
Rainforest Enquiry
Our rainforest stakeholders' enquiry went well last Wednesday.  An hour in & with break time fast approaching, I reluctantly wound things down but pupils were really fired up for the discussion and every single person took part!  Quite a few children came along in rainforest inspired outfits which gave the whole thing a sense of occasion.  Becky, our visitor and a Reception teacher from a local school was enthusiastic too & hopes to start philosophy for children soon.  (I recommended Sara Stanley's excellent books especially for philosophy with very young children).

I'm hoping that somewhere along the way we'll be able to link with a school in a rainforest region of the world.  The children and I would love it!  There's a possibility of a link with a school in Taiwan.  If we are lucky enough to be able to do this, I'm sure it'll deepen the understanding of everyone involved in the project!  

Spot the difference?17 April & 30th April

Spot the difference...with a difference!
Lastly, a quick mention for Earthwatch. Over the last two weeks or so, children have been looking at a plot of land in Indonesia which is under threat from illegal logging.  We've signed up to watch and flag this area of rainforest if we spot any changes.  Local authorities are alerted if any plot of land is flagged and have pledged to investigate promptly.  A great use of satellite technology and a great way of pupils being involved in a vital rainforest saving effort! 

Tuesday, 1 May 2012 two of Google Apps!

We've been exploring Google Apps in class over the last two days.  Can't quite believe it's only been two days...they've loved it!  More about that in a mo...

Over the last few days we've heard in class from Margot James, our local MP and Tanya Blackburn, Head of Outreach at Survival International, an organisation that campaigns on behalf of tribal peoples around the world whose way of life & very existence is threatened by deforestation.  Both praised pupils' efforts to help rainforest people and, in particular, Molly for her Amnesty article about the Penan mentioned in an earlier post.  The class have been really encouraged.

Can 9 year olds really make a difference? 
Over the last few months children have been inspired by the examples of some amazing youngsters.  Here are just two:  Felix Finkbeiner, was a youngster of only 9 when he hatched the idea of planting a million trees as an answer to climate change.  Now 13, Felix's charity, Plant for the Planet, is up and running in 131 countries.  Children shared footage of Felix's message to the Earth Summit in an assembly. Look out for Felix's 'stop talking start planting' gesture to the conference president - children loved that! Cole Rasenberger provides another role model of what tenacity and passion can achieve - his persuasive postcard campaign caused the mighty McDonald's to rethink their policy on the sourcing of packaging.   Result!

Jumping right in to Google Apps
Yep! They've jumped right in with spreadsheets, sites and emails over the last couple of days.  And this is just the start!  I'm introducing pupils to the tools they'll be using for their rainforest projects.  Children are already familiar with Wallwisher from earlier in the year.  They've begun to use the walls to post their ideas for projects.  Everyone formed up into teams today & were given half an hour to prepare and deliver a 2 minute presentation to the class outlining their project focus.  Quite pacy!  Next, teams will be working on their Project Action Videos.  Through these they'll be fleshing out their team's project idea, possible actions for implementation and group roles. Although children's Google Apps accounts were only activated yesterday they were already using them yesterday evening to share ideas.  Needless to say enthusiasm and energy levels are running high..!

Walking a mile in someone else's moccasins
We have visitors from a nearby school tomorrow who've asked to see philosophy & the enquiry approach in action.  To help children explore some of the issues surrounding deforestation, we're going to for a different approach tomorrow.  Children are going to take part in the enquiry as stakeholders rather than as themselves!   They'll be debating the future of the rainforests in role as scientists, environmentalists, loggers and tribespeoples. (Going by some of the chatter at the end of the day today, I should think more than a few will be really going for it by dressing up to look the part too!)

In the meantime, I'm going to have a quick look at this on YouTube for suitability.  Children have heard about how it helped change some hearts and minds over at Mattel and have asked (repeatedly) if we can share it in class.  Pester power!