Google Earth is our Paper – Part 3: Consolidate and Empower

Photo by debaird
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In our writing sessions today I took both classes, all 60 Year 5 children, over two sessions and we continued and completed our work begun yesterday. The children were completing the task of adding 6 audio recordings to the correct placemarks in Google Earth, please see Part 2 for details of the process.

This post is concerned with some issues that have arisen from working with Google Earth and some classroom strategies I have found effective during my work with the application.



There is no better way for children to be successful then to have time to complete their tasks – today was a chance for them to consolidate the process they had begun yesterday and to once more practice embedding code in the Google Earth placemarks. All too often we want to rush the children onto the next great thing, it was useful today to take a breather and just ensure we had done a good job of the audio we worked on for our escape story.

Although a powerful and popular application, Google Earth is not used daily and so some children struggled to find their way around the different task panes and views. Having more time allowed them to become more confident. 

As both classes were running into difficulties about what they could or could not see. Often they would think that all of their work had gone, or it has just disappeared – when in fact the placemark had just been unchecked in the Places window. Today I consolidated their basic understanding of the task windows and how to switch between them. I demonstrated the different possible views you could have within the Places window – and pre-empted some of the possible problems based on situations that may or may not have already arisen. 

An issue that is well worth knowing about prior to working in Google Earth on a class laptop set is that of multiple content. For our escape story we have 7 placemarks and a path that loads up and is visible – when another child begins their own work another set of the placemarks is loaded up. Today some laptops had 3 sets visible. Children were saying they could not right click any of the placemarks but they had not realised (as the placemarks are identical) that there were multiple placemarks on top of each other. Again I reinforced checking only those placemarks which you need to be visible in the Places pane.


One of the disadvantages of working in Google Earth is that it is intended to work on a local level – as in the placemarks and items saved in My Places remain on that machine. This causes every laptop to have a different looking Google Earth Places pane, which naturally leads to some confusion. It is worth spending some time keeping on top of what files should and should not be there. My children would be using different laptops everyday and it is unfeasible to try and work with the same one everyday which would have been a time sapper of an organisational problem. Saving work is a little tricky due to the nested nature of the placemarks and content, however this is what we had to do.

I gave myself a good slice of time at the end of each session over the last few days to walkthrough the saving process with both classes.

  1. Any opened work from a network drive will begin life in the Temporary Places folder.
  2. Find the main folder for your work, all of your placemarks should be below it in a list. Select it.
  3. Right click this main folder to bring up the sub-menu.
  4. Click “Save to My Places”.
  5. The folder moves up and out of Temporary Places.
  6. Find the main folder for your work again. Select it.
  7. Right click this main folder to bring up the sub-menu.
  8. Click “Save as…” or “Save place as…”
  9. Navigate to your network folder.
  10. Name the file appropriately so you know what it is.
  11. Save.
  12. If saving over the top of previous work allow it to replace the older file.

We wouldn’t have been as successful if it wasn’t for about 6-8 children in each class who became the experts. These children had completed the tasks set them and had a very good understanding for what we had done. They knew their way around Google Earth. I would encourage you to seek these children out and empower them to support their peers.
The class experts for the saving routine above, were simply those who had been successful – I just called upon them to go and support someone else doing it. They were willing and supportive with their peers and guided them rather than taking over an important difference which I am always pointing out. This supportive ethos has always been with us as we help the children to understand how to problem solve with their class laptop resource. We try to encourage them to ask two other class member to help before talking to an adult.

Quick round-up
  • The slightly tricky nature of local content in Google Earth and saving work can cause younger children to get a bit disorientated.
  • Take plenty of time with younger students to demo and walkthrough the save process to a network folder.
  • With panes and folders open or closed the views can be very different on different machines so it is worth having confident children to help support their peers and to try and pre-empt some issues.
  • As everyone in this set of activities is altering the same placemarks, multiple copies can arise and can confuse. Ensure the children only have one set of placemarks checked.
  • Take time to consolidate Google Earth skills and confidence – use outside of the writing time and just allow them to explore. Reinforce the basic layout and structures.
  • Encourage a general sense of independence in problem solving – ask 2 friends for help before an adult. Do not underestimate the impact low level informal peer support can have on a technology rich lesson or environment.
  • Empower those confident students to actively support their peers, call them experts and make them feel special.

Emerging from the Myst: Ambassadors in the land of the little ones

This post follows on from the first in my series of reflections about using the PC adventure game Myst in the classroom. In this post I will look back on how our Year 5 children worked with the Year 2 classes in supporting their own Myst literacy unit. I also welcome a school colleague Gemma Coleman, one of the Year 2 classteachers involved in the project, who has kindly taken some time to reflect on her own experiences of using the game – you can see Gemma’s contribution a bit further on in this post.

As I mentioned previously the inspiration for working with Myst has come from Tim Rylands, however much of the finer details of how we might use the game has come from the exploratory work documented by Learning and Teaching Scotland. In their accounts of the game they give plenty of details about the use of the game in the classroom with much needed reflection. They also present the idea of using the game with pairs of younger and older children together. The older children guiding the early years pupils in their writing and exploring the game together. It was from this exposition that I began planning an element of collaboration in our own project. Through conversation with the Key Stage 1 literacy coordinator we decided to explore the ideas further together – I would strongly suggest looking at what LTS has done and consider teaming up with a younger age class if you can.

4 week 2 week
In order for the children in my year group to feel comfortable acting as an expert our Myst unit ran for 2 full weeks before we began working with the year 2s. This is very important as it gave the children time to explore the game themselves and experience understanding the plot and layout of the different levels. Although we spent 4 weeks working with Myst we only had 3 sessions with the younger children. They conducted their own literacy unit with just a single copy of the game and the visits I have mentioned from us. Our own unit could have continued for much longer and initially was planned for a shorter period but I adapted it as it progressed.

I had this image in my head of the children in Harry Potteresque cloaks walking solemnly, probably by torchlight, with the laptops in their outstretched arms (carrying them correctly of course) to the classes of Year 2 and arriving with great mystery and intrigue. I know that sounds strange but that’s the way my mind works, seems like the mystique surrounding the game got to me! We didn’t need the cloaks nor the torchlight in the end. But we did travel with the game to the other classes and it worked out far better then we could have imagined.

I split my class into two groups and took 15 or so down to the Year 2 class whilst the remainder got setup with Angie our TA. The children were responsible for getting their set of equipment ready, for a Myst Ambassador needs: a copy of the game, laptop, headphones, mouse and a map of J’Nanin (one of the first Ages or levels the children can explore). Once I arrived in Year 2 and the Year 5s had paired off with the Year 2s, I took the remainder of the younger children back to my own class and their adventure began.

DSC00145Mantle of the expert
In order for the younger children to make the most of the sessions they needed the older pupils guiding and helping them in the correct manner. It was lovely to see how some of the children in my class reacted to working with the 7/8 year olds. The children were in a different role, perhaps out of their comfort zone a little, and they responded really well. They took on the mantle of being the one with the most knowledge and helped and guided the Year 2s in their use. I spent some time helping my classes understand what the role will entail and how best to approach it, the important sense of taking a back seat to the action and guiding their partners to discoveries of their own.

Speaking and communication
In hindsight I think I will place a greater emphasis on the language, speaking and communication that occurs between the pairs of children as opposed to the primary focus on written outcomes. In much of the work the Year 5s did in support of the Year 2s was towards a written outcome, such as helping them to record vocabulary for the different scenes. But there is such rich evidence of speaking and listening in the encounters between the pairs. I would strongly suggest keeping this in mind if you embark on something similar. I would certainly like to just listen and record some of their responses and moments of supportive guidance or curiosity that occur.That is certainly one big change for next time – it is not all about the writing!

Anyway enough from me as I would like to introduce Gemma Coleman who is currently a Year 2 classteacher at our school and one of the teachers I worked with in this unit. Gemma has kindly agreed to share her own thoughts on using the game in the classroom.

When my Year 2 colleague and I were first told about the possibility of using the games-based-learning approach in the classroom, I must admit our first thoughts were  “its nearly the end of the academic year, we have just gone through SATs, it sounds like a lot of hard work!”

However, the more Tom told us about the game – Myst – the more our ideas began to develop and our interest turned to intrigue.

After an initial “ideas” meeting with Tom, myself and Cathy (our other Year 2 teacher) we decided that the game would be a great way of stirring the children’s imaginations in Literacy – particularly as this year group is very boy heavy, and we are always looking for ways to grab their interest and encourage them to focus on the task in hand.

Cathy and I took the opportunity to observe Tom teaching his own Year 5 class, using the Myst game through literacy, and it really helped to see the game “in action”.  The children were brainstorming adjectives to describe a scene in the game and it seemed to really fire their imaginations. The breadth of language they used was fantastic and it was obvious to see that every child was on task and focussed on what they had been asked to do – in fact the Year 5’s were so engrossed in the game, they hardly even noticed we were there!

In Year 2 we had already planned on teaching a narrative unit, and an instructions unit in our last term of Literacy. We decided that we would try and use Myst to incorporate both of these units and discussed some initial ideas – however, as this was a completely new approach to literacy, our plans were quite organic, evolving throughout the unit as new inspirations and ideas were generated along the way.

We decided that we would roll out the unit over a 2-week period, allowing for longer if needed. With our ideas flowing, we were ready to bring Myst to Year 2!

We decided to use “Awe and Wonder” as an introduction to Myst and simply provided the children with a wooden chest containing various artefacts. We were careful not to give the children too many details initially as we wanted them to really use their imaginations and generate their own ideas as to what we could possibly be doing/looking at. The children explored the artefacts, which included a pink crystal, a small padlocked box, a map of a place called J’nanin, a letter, a book and a globe stand. These were passed around for the children to feel and look at and they were given a few minutes to discuss with their peers what these items could be for.   We did initially intend to introduce the game at the end of this lesson, but the children generated so many ideas that we decided to list some of these on the Interactive Whiteboard and leave it there, ready to lead into the next day’s lesson.

Over the next few lessons the game was introduced – we showed the children the video clip at the beginning of the game – which they were completely mesmerised by – and this was used as a basis for some descriptive writing. We wrote adjectives to describe the setting of the game and discussed/wrote about the characters we had met so far, and what part they might play in this adventure story – we even used some drama, acting out scenes from the game.

As Tom mentioned in his own blog entry, his class of Year 5’s came to Year 2 as ambassadors for the game and each Year 5 paired up with a Year 2 child. They worked together brilliantly, with the Year 5’s showing the Year 2’s how to navigate through the game, giving advice, support and using excellent language – while promoting independence by the Year 2.

Later in the module, the Year 5 children worked with the Year 2’s again to help them solve a “barrel puzzle”. This part of the game was used in line with our work on “Instructions”. The Year 2 children had a written outcome of writing instructions on how to solve the barrel puzzle, using clear direct instructional language. Again, this collaboration between Years 5 and 2 worked brilliantly, with some excellent instructions being produced.

Our grand finale for the Myst module was to inspire the children to write a suitable and fitting “ending” to the Myst story. After nearly 2 weeks of exploring and playing the game the children had really gotten into the story and had a really good knowledge of the settings and characters involved.

As it was nearly the end of the Summer Term we tried to make the written activity as interesting as possible – as i’m sure any teacher will know, children’s interest in academic activities can start to wane at this time of year! – therefore, instead of simply providing a written story in their extended writing books, we provided the children with “zig-zag” booklets, which they wrote in a comic-book style, with colour illustrations and speech bubbles. The children loved these, and took great pride in writing and drawing exciting endings to their Myst adventures.

Since using the Myst game as a module for literacy, my Year 2 colleague and I have been asked many times whether we would recommend games-based-learning, and whether we would do it again.  Our answer to this would be a definite YES!  It has undoubtedly been a learning curve, and there are probably a couple of things that we would do slightly differently – as there always is with a new resource or approach to learning – but in general this form of exploration of a mythical world proved to be an excellent way of really firing children’s imaginations, and in my opinion, the interactive nature of this approach stirred their interests to a much greater degree than a simple text book might have done. The quality of some of the children’s written literacy work might not have been any higher than the work they usually produce, however, some of them did produce some great writing and all of the children’s imaginations appeared to be much more stretched, resulting in them generating some fantastic ideas, and their enthusiasm at such a late time in the year really was electrifying.

All in all, a very successful module – and we look forward to using Myst (or similar games-based-learning) in the near future!

It is great to hear Gemma’s perspective on the use of the game with her children and her further reflections. I am sure you will join me in thanking her for taking the time to share it all with us.

In my next “Emerging from the Myst” post I will be getting into the details of how we used the game in the lessons, how this effected planning and the balancing act it all became.

What my class thought of our Google Docs project

Class comments about GDocs projectAs our summer term Google Docs project drew to a close I asked the children in my class to reflect on what we had done. I asked them to record the one thing they found the biggest challenge about working together with Google Docs and the aspect they enjoyed the most.

No I didn’t set up a Google form with a spreadsheet to pool our thoughts – I just asked them to write them on some paper speech bubbles. Some of their responses formed part of our Geography display.

Below I have transcribed them as they are, which provides a revealing picture about the project.

Biggest Challenge when working together in Google Docs:

  • When everyone gets a laptop and everyone delets stuff.
  • The hardest thing for me is when were in groups and we are all sharing the same document.
  • Delite stuff what we need.
  • My biggest challenge is problems happening on google docs like things what I cants solve for myself.
  • Putting up with arguing with other people.
  • The thing I find hardest is when two or more people are on the same document and are writing in the same space.
  • When we are all not talking and people move stuff and people shout.
  • I find it difficult when the whole group work on the same document.
  • It is hard to work with other people.
  • The biggest challenge is to stop arguing.
  • The thing I find hard would be the working together.
  • When thay move things around.
  • When you are trying concentrate on your work.
  • I think it has bin a tough challenge getting use to working together because you have to talk then work and then talk etc.
  • Probably if somone eles deleats your work.
  • It is a challing when other pepole are writing where you are,

Most enjoyable part:

  • The most thing I enjoy is that we work as a group.
  • What I injoy the most about Google Docs is being able to see what other people are doing.
  • I’ve enjoyed it because I like doing research about india becasue there is a lot of things about india.
  • I like working this way because we can chat on the computer.
  • The best thing is that one person has a laptop.
  • I like the fact that we can chat on google docs.
  • I have enjoyed working in this way because it gives us a chance to use the laptops more and get to work in partners more.
  • I’ve enjoyed it about google dogs like researching and doing a presentation.
  • I enjoy working as a group.
  • That we get to talk and wright on the same doc.
  • I like the chat.
  • We get more ideas down.
  • I enjoy working on google docs and wth other people.

It is very important that these comments help to define what we do with Google Docs in the new academic year.

The children have clearly told me here that the biggest challenge is working as a group. Before we began using Google Docs the class struggled to participate collaboratively in group activities, I knew this. Working on a document at the same time as someone else is new classroom behaviour and in my opinion needs to be modelled. Just as we would model the correct way to use a hacksaw or modelling how to write in a particular style – we can facilitate the group dynamics by modelling collaborative authoring in Google Docs. But the tool is not a magic answer to communication and working in a group as you can see from the children’s comments. When you undertake a Google Docs project, if you are working on a shared doc between a group, communication and talk must be the most important focus – not the tool.

The chat has been a popular part of the work we have done, although it is only in the presentation tool that you can instant message. This did prove a very powerful learning activity and I would recommend a reflective backchannel that collates feedback to be part of future presentation projects. Comments about seeing what other people are doing and getting more ideas down are interesting as children perhaps become more accountable for their contributions in a group – reminding me of the way Voicethread allows you to see the efforts of others.

There have been many positives from this project and I have been really pleased how Google Docs has performed so reliably under classroom conditions (30 laptops 1 wireless access point) and I would strongly recommend the two following elements to focus on if you are undertaking a similar project with your classes.

  1. Model good practices – much of what the children will experience with synchronous document editing is totally new. They may have never done anything like it before and it is a new way to work in the classroom. We found that the children had a better understanding both functionally and socially/collaboratively when we modelled good practice, and gave a commentary about what we were doing as we worked together in Google Docs.
  2. Communication is key – beyond learning about the functionality of Google Docs (which they picked up very quickly) the children need to understand why communicating as a group is so essential. Spend time talking with the children about what to expect and how best to approach different situations. Troubleshoot groups going off track and work as a class to help solve and suggest solutions. I asked my children are you making your work C.L.E.A.RCommunication with your team, Listening to what is going on around you, Eye contact when we are talking, Ask about problems or issues and Review what is going on in the team. (Once again number 1 can apply a great deal here)

I wish you success with your own classroom Google Docs projects and hope that some of these insights help you to better use the tools to impact children’s learning. Please drop me a line to say what you are up to.

Other relevant posts:

Mr Barrett I have got glue on my laptop…

Although I may have led you to think that everything in the image is stuck to the laptop, I have to disappoint you! However I really like this image of my classroom because of just that sort of possibility. I want a learning environment for my class that blends the best tools for what we are doing – a blended tools approach. Whether that be a laptop and access to an online application, a headphone mic set or a gluestick. This is a natural picture of my classroom, it is not what you would see everyday, but the children think of the technology as just another tool. Long may the risk of glue on the laptops continue!

What does this image say to you? What sort of challenges do we face as educators in creating an environment that blends the best technology tools for learning and what is considered more traditional?

18th July – I have decided to change the image to a Voicethread, after I posted the image I realised it would be a much more effective way for people to comment on the image – please take a look and add you comments in which ever form you wish.

Creating an environment of personalised technology choice

The last few days have been pretty important for us at Priestsic Primary School. For the first time we have been able to offer our year 5 kids the opportunity to use their own laptop to work on. It is not a permanent 1:1 solution as yet, but it is an option we have. There are now 16 laptops in the cabinet in my room and this is the same for the other year 5 class across the corridor and for the two year 6 classes. Since we have begun this project both the year 6 teachers and ourselves have taken the opportunity to pool our year group laptop resources to increase the number of machines being used in a session. The children sat down to their geography projects, logged into their Google accounts and did not really notice. For me it was the first time we could organise it in this way.

In this blog post I want to begin to communicate some of my first thoughts about what a 21st Century classroom could look like for a UK primary teacher and my thoughts on creeping ever closer to a full compliment of laptops for every child in my class.

A while ago I decided that it is futile to try and apply some of the structures and practices that US and international schools have in light of their 1:1 personal computing setup. I spent time bookmarking online information about the topic. Most of it is fine in theory but fairly difficult to apply in my primary school. Much of what I read is to do with an older age range and far different environments than our own. The sites included “blueprints to 1:1 computing” and complete “guides” suggesting, just from the rhetoric of the titles, that one size (may) fit all. Although we may learn lessons from what other teachers, schools and districts have been doing it seems we will have to discover our own UK primary version of what a 1:1 classroom looks like.

Many years ago Dave, my headteacher, and I sat and talked after hosting our first NCSL SLICT training day about the vision we had for ICT. Although we were in the midst of embedding IWB use in teaching and learning, we talked about a personalised technology choice. We have long discussed the idea of creating an environment where technology is on tap if the children want it. Dave always says choosing technology has to be as easy as turning that tap on. We have had this same thought, this same concept as the keystone to our vision ever since. Now that we are beginning to see it slowly materialise a personalised technology choice remains at the heart of what we do. A simple example that has occurred this year would be when we set children a task to plot a journey from the UK to India (with a series of stopovers in different cities) The children chose to complete the task in different ways. Some chose to use technology, Google spreadsheets to calculate the mileages etc Google Earth to investigate the locations along their journey and to measure their path. Whereas some chose to use a paper atlas and a calculator – their was a choice and the outcomes reflected that choice.

But having a choice and knowing which choice is the most appropriate, technology or otherwise, is something different.

Our children do no take the laptops home with them, but they feel that the equipment belongs to them and the class. They have taken on huge responsibility to look after and work with the laptops available – their approach to it has been amazing. You have to step back and put the onus on the children after all it is their learning space, you may have to manage and plan for the use of the laptops but the children need to own it. They must feel comfortable, responsible and at ease with it in their learning environment. Our children are 9 or 10 years old and they have full responsibility for setting up laptops and replacing them in the cabinet. We have modelled behaviours and they clearly understand how to ensure the laptops are safe. But owning the laptops has to go beyond “they are part of our classes resources.” The children have to begin to take steps to have ownership over the choices that they make and this is where the previous points crosses over.

The biggest challenge for us this year has been to look at our existing, changing curriculum and understand where the use of technology can best support learning outcomes. I have been fortunate (perhaps due to my own determination to understand what edtech learning tools are available) to be able to harness some powerful tools to support learning this year. But there is a awareness issue. How many teachers really know about Voicethread or Google Docs – I get masses of fliers through the post at school from software publishers, they seem to spend an inordinate amount of money on it. However we never receive mail about free tools. I have realised that with a greater permanent access to technology in the classroom that structured speaking and listening can be easily accomplished. For example a Voicethread as a science assessment on a new unit (we did last Thursday) or a Photostory outcome on a tour of the town (persuasive unit earlier in the year.

I always ask myself, “Is this the most appropriate resource to be using for this learning outcome?” There is so much changing about our curriculum at the moment (in our school) new literacy strategies and skills based work that a 1:1 curriculum may look very different in other schools. We need to know what other tools are available though, tried and tested, that is essential to a better choice after all.

Age range
The level of maturity my children have shown has been crucial to the smooth running of 1:1 operations in my class. They understand the practicalities of working with the laptops and take full responsibility for their use. During any given task they understand that if they have a problem that initially they may be able to solve it themselves and what to do if they cannot. I am not running around troubleshooting. When one of their peers has a technical or procedural problem in an application they help each other out. I have watched the children work so well as a team this year, pulling together, helping their classmates and offering support and advice even when none is requested. Would this be the same with 8, 7, 6 year olds? Most probably not. In my opinion, (and feel free if you have a permanent 1:1 laptop resource in the early years to shoot this down) the adults would spend much much more time then I have done managing the resource and troubleshooting. This view has been supported by early years teachers at work. That is not to say that their is not a laptop solution for younger children – perhaps something mobile, shared between classes.

There has to be a balance between how much technology use there is in the classroom and just getting out into the world. We spent a whole science session up at the school allotment measuring the broad bean plants the children had germinated, weeding and looking after the other vegetable beds. Before half term we spent a couple of sunny hours playing kwik cricket on the field. The children enjoy using technology but they also enjoy variety and a balance of different activities. Just because the governing body of the school has invested tens of thousands of pounds into the resoure does not mean it has to be “on” all of the time. Sometimes the tap has to turned off. I made every effort to help build an appropriate, judicious IWB use ethos in 2003 when we installed them across the school, helping teachers to appreciate they need to be aware of when it is time to switch it off. The same applies for a laptop resource and in many ways the children’s choice. When we get 30 laptops in our classes we need to remember what was successful without them and approach it as just another tool at our disposal.

I reflect on most of these topics throughout the course of the week just as part of what we are doing day to day. Even though I have been thinking and theorising what a 1:1 class might look like in my school (and in my head) for a long time, much of what you have read are raw thoughts which need further discussion. I hope to continue to reflect on what 1:1 means to us, but whether I can begin to pin down some key elements of what a 21st century (UK) primary classroom is like we shall have to wait and see.

Google Apps in School – Week 3

I cannot believe that we have already had three weeks of work with Google Apps in our year group. This week has been extremely eventful, and I have loved and hated technology in equal measure (well there is always a bit more love) – with major network issues it has brought into focus issues of reliability that every school and teacher need to engage with when investing their time and effort in Google Apps.

Monday – 12/5/08

  • Took some time with the children to explore the various different views and issues surrounding finding and managing Docs home page.
  • I emphasised the importance of the search function at the top of the page and how Google have been known to be quite good at searching 🙂
  • I demonstrated a few different searches and how quickly you could find content – as you type in the search field it immediately gives feedback on that term, even looking in the people who you have shared the docs with. You can then click the results that popup to go straight to that doc. Very powerful and much quicker than navigating through folders or views.
  • As a class we worked together to edit the 1st draft verse we wrote last week. I used the strikethrough tool and colour formatting as we worked on ADDING words OMITTING words and CHANGING words in the poem.
  • The alterations the children suggested were excellent and as we finished up I thought that we could use the REVISIONS tool to compare our new version with the original. When two versions are selected and compared changes and deletions are clearly highlighted. If different users were to make the changes than these users are colour coded too with their edits.
  • In a less sophisticated way than Track Changes this could be used on a longer piece of work when reviewing 1st and 2nd drafts.
  • The children had time together to complete their 1st drafts of the poem and organise their poetry journals (Google Presentations).
  • There were a few pairs that had work missing, their poetry journal presentations were missing slides. I pointed them towards the revisions tool and told them to find a version that was complete and to REVERT TO THIS VERSION.
  • Although a minor incident this is an example of one of the huge benefits of Google Docs. It auto saves so many times (I keep seeing the “Saving…” message popup at the top on this doc) that unless you were to delete the actual file, a child could retrace every step in the life of the piece of writing, even over a number of days or weeks – not possible in more traditional office applications.

Tuesday and Wednesday – 13/5/08 and 14/5/08

  • Oh dear.
  • Powercut killed the school server during the night and the APS or alternative power supply did not seem to do its job.
  • As a result of this the DHCP database has been corrupted and so the server could not administer new IP addresses to laptops and even the access points. Bad news all round.
  • Keith our technician rebuilt the database today (Wed) and tells me it is working again.
  • With no wireless network we were unable to access our online docs and so were in a fix – seeing the main concern I have with this approach materialising.
  • We were able to continue with our poetry work with some nostalgic pencil and paper writing for a few days! It has brought into sharp focus the main drawback of this method and so I have looked further into the new Google Docs development of using Offline syncing.
  • If you download Google Gears, a browser extension, you can sync your online docs with your desktop.
  • It seems that this service will be made available to Google Apps Education Edition too, which is good news. But there remains many questions: will children need to work on the same laptop to see their desktop synced work? Could the whole domain be synced to a network? How will this individual use be translated into domain use?
  • I hope that when teachers say to me, “But what happens to your access to the children’s docs when the internet connection is down?” I will be able to answer that we will just work on our desktop synced versions which will sync up when we are back online again.
  • I would hope that there are no further restrictions to doc access because of the offline nature – for example having to work on a specific machine because docs are only synced there.
  • I am hopeful for this situation but expect there may be some compromises – it will be interesting to see how docs could be used offline for a domain.
  • On reflection I still have complete faith and trust the infrastructure in place. This event is the first of its kind at school, but we did not lose the internet connection (which, for what it is worth, has been amazingly reliable over the last 5 years or so) it was the wireless network that suffered. If we were to be working on a Local Authority learning platform or other such product we would not have been able to access it either. I will be chalking it down to an unlucky event – and still have full faith in my network structure and reliability.
  • Do I have all of my eggs in one basket when using Google Docs? Not really – the writing and poetry language was the focus and that was still focused upon in the days we had no connection. Should you have a backup plan in the back of your mind? Perhaps, there is no harm in it – I usually have something up my sleeve for most things even if it is normal class work and not technology related. Using Google Docs to support your work is no different in my mind.

Thursday – 15/5/08

  • Wahey the wireless network is back on its feet – looks like it was a corrupt DHCP database which issues and controls IP addresses. So the old IPs were not being refreshed and nothing new was being issued. Suffice to say it took a 3 hour database rebuild from Keith our technician who drafted in some extra help too.
  • Anyway the whole problem has highlighted the need for some sort of backup in the event that it occurs again and, as I mention above, I hope that the Offline – Google Gears development allows us constant access and a possible solution.
  • The children were straight back into their writing and we had another great session today with children completing their first verses and editing what they have written.
  • Their senses poetry has a simple and effective structure and they have been using Docs tools to help support their work – it seems to have been a successful unit of work. One of the highlights is the poetry journals that the children have created we hope to continue to add to these as we continue our poetry work.
  • Google Docs does seem a little glitchy – over the course of the last few weeks I have noticed things that serve to remind me that it is still in BETA. Here are a few:
  • The thumbnail view in Presentations is a little odd, more often than not the text appears over sized in the thumbnail.
  • Presentations seem to take a long time to load.
  • Sometime text behaves strangely in Docs – rigidly holding onto formatting even if you change it, can be frustrating.
  • Objects and texts do go missing there has been perhaps a dozen occasions, not just today, when we have had to retrieve an older revision because of missing text.
  • As a result of this missing text phenomena I showed the children how to use the Revision aspect of Docs again, reminding them that they can revert to any version right back to the beginning of the Doc.
  • As an extension I stopped the children with 20 mins to go and showed them how easy it is to add images to a Doc.
  • We used the FlickrCC search tool and I modelled how to drag an image from one window to another and drop it into Docs. We then looked at how to alter the image and move it about.
  • We talked briefly about the Creative Commons license and what it meant (need to do more on this)
  • Discussed the importance of dealing with inappropriate content (images) and what we should do – I think it is important to keep this sort of learning high on the agenda, so the children understand what is expected of them and how to deal with issues if they arise. It seems to me that this message of appropriate and sensible action should be reinforced throughout the year, not just in a bundle of e-safety lessons.
  • For some reason IE shut down or crashed on a child and they were a little perplexed as to what had happened. (Note to self – must install FF so kids have a choice) A huge benefit of Google Docs is that it auto saves so regularly, as explained above. As a result the child was able to log straight back in again and pick up without any data loss. Working on a desktop WP like MS Word (auto saves could be configured – true) there is a higher chance of data loss due to unexplained crashes or application misbehaviour. You can encourage a healthy “save regularly ” culture in the use of desktop apps but nothing comes close to Google Docs saving your work every 70-80 seconds for you. It won’t forget.

Friday – 16/5/08

  • During today’s literacy session we worked for approximately 20 more minutes, just fine tuning our poetry journal presentations.
  • Children were still finding missing text and a few things different but were independently accessing their doc revisions and switching back to older versions that were complete. Good to see this going on as it is an important feature when editing and writing.
  • Yesterday children had dragged images into Google Docs and today they wanted the same images in their presentations. This is where we faced problems but the kids worked brilliantly to work around the issue and solve it.
  • Initially I had told them to copy and paste the images across from docs, but this did not work – it allowed you to paste but no image.
  • Secondly I suggested finding the image again in the Flickr CC search and dragging it into Google Presentations. Even though they suggest this works, it doesn’t. Or it at least hasn’t for us. The presentation would say it is working – the message at the top of the page would be saying importing image or something similar, but nothing would appear.
  • Children suggested we save the image and insert it. So they saved the image to their network folder and inserted and browsed for that saved picture. Not as simple as dragging and dropping but same result and kids happy. Children coped really well with switching from one method to another. Good to see.
  • Seems to me that Google Presentations is much more glitchy than others. Behaved quite slowly today and image issue is a little frustrating.
  • The choosing of images to illustrate their verses was a good extension activity. The quality of their choices were well justified and added another element to their writing.
  • I was delighted to see children who had successfully inserted images splitting off and supporting their peers who had not. That sense that we are learning and exploring together was strong today.
  • I demonstrated how to preview the presentation and we talked about the IM feature/backchannel that appears to the right. We talked about ways we could collate feedback about what we can see in this space.
  • I began a presentation of our class poetry journal and told the children to go to their GMail and open up their inbox. With the presentation in full screen and the IM window open I copied the URL to share the presentation and pasted it into an email. I asked the children who were signed in (remember the children are working in pairs on docs that are shared between them) to raise their hands and I added their addresses into the email. This was as easy as typing the first letter of their name and finding them in the list. I fired off the email and the children opened it and the enclosed link.
  • Note to Google – it would be useful to have an email link next to the presentation URL that auto generates an email to send to contacts.
  • I could see from the IM window who had opened it up and joined the presentation – ripples of excitement from the kids to see their names and those of others in the window, they love IM. I took control of the presentation and showed them how I could move the slides on and it will change automatically on their screens.
  • Upon moving the presentation on a slide I looked up and saw that all of the 16 wireless machines were responding in almost real time. Very impressive.
  • I said a few “hellos” the usual IM stuff and let the kids throw a few messages around. I then drew the discussion back to how we could use the IM chat. The only problem that is apparent is that the resulting chat cannot be archived, saved or copied from the window. It is a flash IM and so you cannot copy text out. Although this IM within the presentation window is really neat, if the chat cannot be saved it is less useful. The alternative would be to create a group chat in Google Talk – I would have preferred to share the URL for the presentation in IM form but we have not installed the GTalk clients yet on each machine and the children have not all started up the GTalk IM in GMail.
  • Ideally we could (1) All be part of a Google Talk group chat using Talk client from desktop (2) I would open the presentation (3) Copy and share the URL in the chat (4) Children open to follow, but close the IM frame (5) Feedback and answers to questions I pose could be added to GTalk chat (6) Chat is saved and archived, access it from GMail “Chats” link.
  • Note to Google – let us copy or save the chat from Presentations – or merge GTalk into presentations.
  • After our, on the fly experimentation with presentations and IM we listened to pairs and individuals present and read their poetry from their journals.
  • I found it useful in order to jump straight to the presentation to access the shared Docs from my account and right click the Presentation name- then choose “View Presentation” from the bottom of the list. This bypassed the edit screens.

Overall reflections on Week 3

The biggest consideration for me this week is what do you do if the kids cannot access the internet. Of course we/I/you have been successful working without Google Docs – so we continued on with our poetry in more traditional ways. I am pleased to have thought a little more about the development of Google Gears and Offline Docs for Ed Apps, that could be a very important change in the reliability of this tool. If there are days when the web is flaky – it happens – then children could continue unhindered by this. Is the “All my eggs in one Google basket” an issue that you consider to be an important one to resolve with teachers adopting these tools?

On Friday we explored the IM feature of presentations and I am keen to explore how we could harness the children’s natural understanding of this communication tool in future learning activities. Could GTalk be used to get the children responding to questions at the same time, like we did with the spreadsheets example a while ago? They were so excited by that one activity – if we can just pivot that enthusiasm in the direction of learning. It is a shame the IM in presentations isn’t linked with Google Talk in some way, so that what is added there can be saved and returned to later. I will need to download the GTalk client to the laptops and continue to explore ways that IM can be used. Although I am reflecting on the use of IM within Google Apps, with the GTalk client the IM could stand alone from G Apps and so be embedded within any learning activities taking place on the laptop.

Google Presentations seems to be behaving as the one application that is most in BETA – lots of glitches and missing work issues to try and resolve this week. It can’t even handle images as it should. It feels sluggish when working with it – I hope it improves.

Today it was clear that we are all learning together and I was so pleased to see the children being creative and trying to solve problems with real initiative. They worked well on their own or in pairs and helped each other out, sharing what they have learned or a method just discovered to reach an outcome we are all aiming for. We are learning and exploring together. It has been very apparent that there are maybe 3 or 4 children who are extremely adept at using Google Docs, they offer help to others very willingly. But all the children have progressed so far since not seeing Docs 3 weeks ago – long may our learning continue.

Google Apps in School – Week 2

This week has been a real learning experience for all as we engage with Google Docs within a literacy unit. It feels like our pedagogues, so often taken for granted, have been truly challenged by new processes, ideas and methods of work. I am pleased to welcome Rick, my teaching colleague, who has kindly contributed his thoughts in his own words (see Wednesday) he puts up with my hair brained schemes and it is great to have his perspective on it all.

Monday – Bank Holiday – 5/5/08

  • Work this week will be primarily supporting the literacy unit Sensational from the Primary Framework, as I want to take advantage of embedding Google Docs within something very structured and curriculum driven as soon as possible.
  • Thinking about ways to give each child a document so that they can work on it individually. I initially thought about emailing it as an attachment from the Sharing options. Instead of this the document could be shared as usual with the whole class, the child then opens the doc and chooses File>Save as new copy. They will then be asked is they would like to copy the collaborators too, click cancel and they have their own copy to work on. No collaborators and with Copy prefix on doc title.
  • It will be important to establish some folder structures at this early stage – we will have a Literacy folder as well as a Poetry one within it.
  • I will explain how to move docs between folders and talk them through folder creation although it is pretty easy.
  • We will also take advantage of the colour coding to keep track of subject docs. I will keep the colours the same as their literacy books in the classroom, blue. Yellow for numeracy.
  • Just edited Session 1 of Sensational unit in light of the use of Google Docs to support activities.

Tuesday – 6/5/08

  • 2 docs needed to be shared so I used the Share button from the Docs home page. Added all year group (60 odd contacts) from group made in contacts. Clicked send and it crashed a bit! Wasn’t keen to share with so many in this method. Closed window and tried again.
  • Opened each doc individually and added collaborators that way – no issues this time around. Use this method in the future.
  • Decided with teaching colleague that the children were going to work with a partner on a shared poetry journal, but they would share that presentation with their partner and me.
  • Modelled creating presentation and altering the title and adding theme – I would be using this presentation as a class poetry journal.
  • Children created their own poetry journal presentation and altered theme.
  • The children shared the doc with their partner and with me.
  • We now returned to the Docs home page and I modelled creating a folder, naming it and colour coding it. We used (as I mention above) blue as our literacy books in class are blue. We then created a nested folder called Poetry.
  • I then showed the children how to select a number of docs, including those I have already shared with them for today’s lesson, and Move To a folder using the button. The docs could also be moved by dragging them to the correct folder on the left. The Move To option is easier and less likely to result in docs being added to the wrong folder.
  • The children had no problems creating folders and the children who were not logged in will need to make the same folders in their own account.
  • It would be useful to be able to share a whole folder with another collaborator. A teacher could share a number of docs they need children to engage with in a lesson. Would be a useful option.
  • After reading the poem that we are working on I asked the children to talk with their partner about their first impressions and to try to explain an image that appeared in their heads as they heard the poem. I added some feedback to the class poetry journal and then asked the children to add their own thoughts to theirs.
  • I took a wander around each pair and talked with them about progress and what they thought of the poem, I was also able to check on any issues or problems. It appeared that the initial period when we immersed them in using Docs has given them familiarity leading to confidence.
  • 2 or 3 pairs had presentations with tiny images visible. I think this occurs when the initial window the doc is opened in is small. When it is resized the presentation image is not – hence the problem. We resolved this by refreshing the page – save and closing and then reopening would also work.
  • All of the children were working confidently with their presentation and we had no major tech problems at all. Able to focus on the literacy/poetry response. Pleased with the reliability of it so far. I reread the poem to focus them on the task. The children’s familiarity with the app is deceptive as not had formal training / teaching on it. But they inherit skills from Docs and Spreadsheets and also from Powerpoint – they bring these to the party and it gives them confidence. Common layout, generic structure, simple to use – one of the most important aspects of the tools.
  • As soon as the children had completed their first impressions on the poem I checked that the children had shared their doc with me. Some had not so I asked them to check by looking at the Collaborator list in the share options. Revised adding me and partner in.
  • Second task was to add to a single document examples of alternative titles for the poem The Magic of the Brain. We discussed the topics of the poem and explored some ideas together and I asked the children to open the doc and add to a table I had created. We talked about being aware of other users adding to the doc at the same time and to watch out for over-typing.
  • I had the doc open on the SMARTBoard and I could see who had opened the doc to edit from the pop-up “Also editing…” message. The children began adding their alternative titles and then a few pairs told me they could not alter the text. I took a quick look and they did not have the toolbars and it was clear they were just viewing the doc and not editing even though they were valid collaborators. It seems that any one document has a limit on the number of concurrent editors. I exited the doc on the IWB and then asked someone to refresh and see if they could now edit and they could.
  • I asked pairs to work with pairs (groups of 4) so they could continue to add their alternative titles. Talking to some of the children we tried to figure out how many users could work with a document at the same time. I think it is 10. This has implications on sharing work in the future, for example when every child is using a laptop and logged into their own account and then working on a shared doc. We will only be able to work with 10 at a time. Perhaps using different docs, differentiated for different groups, and so you have 3 or 4 docs shared with children and smaller groups working together on a similar activity.
  • Another option here would be to use Google Talk as a way to collate ideas – for example instead of editing the alternative titles doc ask children to join a group chat and then to encourage them to write and submit alternative titles as instant messages. These could then be copied out of Chat and into a doc for future reference. The use of the instant messenger in this way would be an important motivator.
  • Added new user for a child who had left and then returned to year group.
  • Edited user who had incorrect surname – the name could be changed but not the username, I need to investigate whether I need to delete and re-add the user, or if I can alter the actual username.

Wednesday – 7/5/08

  • Ensured all children had created appropriate folders. Children logged into account who had not on the previous day to ensure same folder structure.
  • Some children still need to to completely appreciate the different views that are available in Docs home. They may think they have not got a Doc but it is the view they need to change. New way of managing Docs – views. We need to ensure that we include a teaching point about the management of docs home – encourage them to use Search and options down the left to sort their view, such as “Items by Type” and various folder levels.
  • In first part of the literacy session the children opened up a Doc of the poem we were working on. It was still a shared copy, we reread the poem and the children talked with their partner briefly about the patterns that they could see.
  • I asked for some examples and for one child to then highlight on the document a pattern they could identify in the first verse. I thought I might need to remind them of the highlight tool but they were able to do this without any problems. This highlighted section was then, of course visible on everyone else’s screens (including the IWB) as we were looking at a shared doc.
  • I wanted the children to then work on their own copy and they, as planned, clicked on File > Save as New Copy – an alert box pops up asking if they would like to inherit all of the collaborators for the doc, they need to click CANCEL for a clean (no collaborators) document to work. Unfortunately I did not tell my teaching colleague, Rick, this small but very important detail. Rick has kindly contributed his thoughts in his own words below (italicised).
  • Having modelled making the folders with the children we then discussed the need to have their own version of the poem as it would not be beneficial for all the children to contribute on the same document. Although I wasn’t aware of the issues involved in creating a copy of the poem with the class we worked through it. We encountered the message box as described above and I explained to the children that we did not want to copy the collaborators and therefore the children needed to click cancel. Once the children entered their google docs, hand after hand reached for the ceiling. I was faced with children wanting to inform me of the fact that they already had a number of copies in their folder! It appeared that a number of children from Tom’s class had clicked OK and copied the collaborators. As my children attempted to make a copy of the document it became apparent that they were also copying the collaborators.
  • At this point I stopped the children to inform them of what was happening and why a number of copies were appearing. I again informed the children of the need to click cancel. Unfortunately a number of children still clicked OK and the whole vicious circle started again. As a class we deleted all copies and I decided to move on from that activity, opting to look at the task of identifying patterns within the poem together on the IWB. In my opinion the problem occurs because the children tend not to read the pop up messages through habit even though Tom has discussed this issue on a number of occasions with them.
  • After the lesson, I spoke to Tom regarding the problems we both encountered. I began by reiterating my commitment to the project to Tom. However, my personal view was that individual photocopies of the poem with highlighter pens may have been a better, more efficient way of completing the activity. I also went on to explain how well I felt the presentation worked as a tool for sharing and planning ideas for poetry writing. We talked about the issues of handing out documents and established it needs to be just as easy and accessible as traditional methods. We both felt that this problem could be easily resolved as the children become more familiar and confident.
  • Even though the technology presented problems with this particular activity, I feel that with work this can be an invaluable tool. Without experimenting and experiencing the possibilities it is impossible to assess the benefits these new tools offer the children and the teaching and learning taking place in our classroom. I feel this leap into the unknown is an exciting time for myself and the children.
  • As Rick points out the process of giving children a piece of text to work on is a very important process. In this digital approach we, as a year group need to be completely comfortable with saving a shared document as a personal copy. It is a crucial process and the children need practice and familiarisation. We are, after all talking about the first time we have done this – going from a shared doc to an individual copy. Needless to say the process needs to be as easy as saying to the class,”OK please get your self a copy of the document named ???” The process needs to be fast and problem free.
  • My class did manage to save a copy of their own, although some were still working on the shared copy. I pointed out that they needed to check that the doc title was preceded with COPY.
  • I showed them how to insert a comment, from the INSERT Menu, from the Right click menu or by using the keyboard shortcut Control+M. Children highlighted and commented on the patterns that they could find.
  • 2008-05-09_2155

  • We then ensured that the text marked doc was shared with me and their partners. I suppose this is another very important process – handing in your work.
  • After looking at the patterns in poem we moved on to creating a spider diagram plan in our poetry journal presentations. The diagram consisted of some simple shapes and it proved a good activity for the children to practice using the shape tool.
  • I modelled the use of the tool and allowed the children to work with me at creating the diagram. We then added text over the top and I told the children to not worry about the location until they had finished entering the text. Their understanding of SMART Notebook as an object based app will prove useful when using Google Presentations
  • docs1

  • This simple diagram will form the support to drafting a verse based on the structure of “The Magic of the Brain”.
  • I thought initially that the children could write their first verses in their journal presentations. But there is no spell check nor the benefits of a clear writing tool. So I will highlight the importance of using the correct tool for the correct job. Perhaps asking the children to think more closely about this choice in the future and highlight the change of choice I made as a model of this behaviour.

Thursday – 8/5/08

  • We began the session by clearing up some Docs that had been shared with children by mistake, as Rick pointed out above. I stressed the importance of the children getting to grips with managing their own space.
  • Today’s task was to continue with the planning of our poetry inspired by The Magic of the Brain and then to begin drafting verses.
  • I simply said to my class they need to get into Docs and load up their journals. They got stuck in straight away and had no problems. The only issue that is worth mentioning is how some children were still confused about the view of the docs they had. They were saying they couldn’t find something when in fact they needed to adjust the filtered view.
  • I opened our class poetry journal and went through the different parts of the poem plan we had created yesterday.
  • I opened a new Doc and we discussed the importance of using the correct tool for the task – and so explained the benefits of using Docs for writing and explained we will add our verses/poem to presentation later.
  • It felt like less Google interface teaching and accustomisation today and more engagement with the poetry, the tools began to take a back seat- I know we have to experience a period of familiarisation but I was encouraged to involve the children in a more extended independent session with their Docs tool.
  • Each pair would plan the next verse together by duplicating the spider diagram from yesterday and altering the text. I showed them how to right click the slide thumbnail on the left and Duplicate Slide.
  • Once the plan for the next verse was prepared the children split up – one drafting the verse in a new Doc and the other working on a whiteboard. They then got back together and checked through their versions making alterations and amendments.
  • A pair of children had some issues with their journal presentation and I used the revision history function to revert to a copy that was correct. Revision history is really important and as the children are editing their poem drafts I must included this as an important writing tool. If they don’t like something they have done or the changes they made they can revert to an older version. They can also compare versions to see which is best, this crumb-trail of the whole writing process is a powerful aspect of working in GDocs – not possible to see this when working with paper and pencil.
  • I have been thinking about linking pairs up to share their poetry drafts so that peers can add suggestions and edit for improvement. This could be done by either adding comments (Ctrl+M) or by making changes and then engaging the children with the revision history and getting them to compare versions to see what they like.
  • Rick explained that some of the children had opened a presentation thinking it was theirs when in fact it was the class poetry journal – the mistake came about for two reasons: due to similarly named Docs and because the children have not got to grips with filtering the view. Owned by Me would have directed them to the correct Doc in this instance.
  • Rick also pointed out that all of the actions in GDocs home seem to be driven by single clicks and not double – which the children use out of habit.

Friday – 9/5/08

  • Unfortunately I have got a bout of tonsillitis so I have not been in school today.
  • I checked in later in the day to see what the kids had managed to get done in my absence.
  • They continued to create planning (in presentations) and drafts of the different verses for their senses poem (in Docs)
  • I reviewed everyone’s poetry journal from my Docs home page and added some comments and marking where appropriate by simply adding text or by highlighting parts to look at. Very easy to have this sort of access from any computer that is online.
  • It would be ideal to have the option of inserting audio into Presentations, (likely) and Docs, (less likely) – as this could be a simple way of providing feedback.
  • It looks like the next step is to complete drafts and edits of the poems, perhaps pairing the pairs up to review.
  • I have noticed that the work they have done in their journal presentations needs a spell check, a noticeable absentee from the toolbar. I hope to see that soon.

Overall reflections on Week 2

It has been an exciting week for all of us in Year 5 as we learn how to embed Google Docs in a unit of work. No time for theorising about its implementation and possibilities anymore this was the real deal, 60 kids working with Docs as part of their literacy. The practicalities and processes have been the main focus.

  • How do children hand in their work when it is complete?
  • How do we organise our docs?
  • How do we give each child a copy of a text?
  • How do two children best work on one document?

We have, as you may have read above, managed to answer these questions and in the process uncovered possible problems you may come across. Such as how children must not inherit collaborators when saving a doc as their own. Or how the children need to understand how their view of the docs home page can be filtered in so many different ways: Name, Date, Sharing, Folders, All items, Owned by me, Opened by me, Starred, Hidden, Bin, All folders, specific folders, Saved Searches, Shared with, Documents, Presentations, Spreadsheets. That is 17 different filtered views and unless the children appreciate how to manage their docs using these they may, as we have seen this week, think they have lost some. Of course this is not to mention the ability to search for a document, which is very powerful as you would expect. And the advanced search options really mean that nothing is ever lost! I hope to engage the children more fully in this management tool next week.

I feel that I have come a long way in understanding the possibilities of these tools in a very short space of time. When you are engaging 60 children with Docs everyday you see what is missing and the limitations. For example it would be useful to be able to share a whole folder rather than a single doc, so we could give out work for the whole week in one go.

As Rick has said it is an exciting time and I hope you can learn from the lessons and problems we face in our journey into using Google Apps as part and parcel of our classrooms, our teaching and the learning that is taking place.

Transforming Learning – Responding to an image

This academic year has been different for me due to the (ongoing) development of a permanent laptop resource in my classroom. We currently have 8 machines available to us and when we double up from both Year 5 classes we have a possible 16 machines that we can use. On the not too distant horizon these numbers will be doubled by the procurement of a second batch of laptops for school. With this second step towards a 1:1 model in the upper junior classrooms I am thinking more and more about the pedagogical impact of a greater technology choice.

An activity that has become one of the mainstays of our literacy work has been to respond to an image resource. In our current unit we are reading Street Child by Berlie Doherty, set in Victorian London it tells the story of a boy called Jim who, after a series of misfortunes, spends time in the workhouse as a child labourer and lives on the streets. The exemplar planning for this unit explains an opportunity to respond to an image:

Organise the children into groups of three or four and give each group an illustration showing a scene of life in the workhouse, stuck onto a large sheet of paper. See resources for images of life in the workhouse. Ask the children to talk in their groups about what they can see in the image or how it makes them feel and then ask them to make notes around the image on the paper. Share these as a class.

This is a commonly used strategy to engage the children and elicit a response from a visual resource – such an activity occurs fairly regularly in primary literacy work and I daresay other subjects and age ranges. It takes a failsafe, traditional form – of paper and pen. In this post I explore ways that this simple activity can be transformed with the use of technology. And transformative learning is what I am looking for, because replication offers no benefit to a teacher – all it produces is ostensibly a better presented piece of work and more of a headache to setup. The technology has to offer a whole new level of interaction with the image that cannot be gained from the traditional method explained above.

The learning activity has to be transformed into something that provides a greater depth of learning and interaction. There has to be a pedagogical shift.

Down to the practical stuff. This activity is something that I will be doing very regularly, so finding the easiest to use option for the kids and something that offers a new type of interaction are both key criteria. Other important questions included:

  • Why is it better than using paper and pen?
  • Do you need an account to use it?
  • How quickly can I setup 16 laptops?
  • Easy to navigate?
  • Can we share our responses?
  • Publish? Embed? What can I do with the result?

For some time now I have explored this notion of visual annotation and due to its ubiquitous nature in the primary classroom I have taken a long look at a few options. They include: using the notes tool in Flickr to annotate certain parts of the image; TwitPic – an application that combines the brevity of Twitter and image captioning/commenting and even such conferencing tools as Twiddla that offer a quick way in to sharing annotations. However none of them are like Voicethread.

As a primary teacher Voicethread is exactly the tool I need for this purpose. (Watch out switching to analogy mode) You may well be able to eat your cornflakes with a knife, although messily, but why not use the spoon that is in the draw. Voicethread is that perfect match – it functions as a media commenting tool. As they describe it on the site:

A VoiceThread is an online media album that can hold essentially any type of media (images, documents and videos) and allows people to make comments in 5 different ways – using voice (with a microphone or telephone), text, audio file, or video (with a webcam) – and share them with anyone they wish.

Now many colleagues have been using Voicethread in all manner of ways in the classroom and I know that I am not revealing some great secret. But what I would hope to reveal is a how such a tool can transform learning, and especially in the climate of a primary classroom. For it is just such an activity that peppers the new literacy framework, but how would this learning task look in a shifted school, a learning environment that offers a 1:1 choice for all that belong there? Can every activity of this sort be transformed? It only needs the right cutlery in the draw…

Needless to say I used Voicethread to transform our work on responding to an image for our Street Child work (as described above).

Do you need an account to use it?

Yes. Voicethread requires you to have an account. So there is some setup time here but well worth it – a specific benefit for a teacher is that you can setup members of your class as sort of sub-users. So one sign in, but everyone in the class has a working identity they can switch to which tags their work. Really useful and easy to setup. Voicethread has an dedicated education community now as well.

How quickly can I setup 16 laptops?

I just showed 2 children from my class how to load the site, login to our class account and fire up our Street Child resource. With me helping it took us just over five minutes to setup. The site was responsive and loaded quickly.

Easy to navigate?

With the very briefest of introduction my Year 5 class had no problems with navigating around Voicethread. One aspect to note is that when you load a Voicethread it will begin playing the various images straight away and it took a few minutes for the children to take control. My children found the overview screen – giving thumbnails of all of the screens really useful.


Can we share our responses?

This is where the true transformation of learning emerges very strongly in my opinion. The last short sentence of the Literacy strategy document is:

Share these as a class.

This is clearly meant to be some form of plenary activity or summary to the session. With Voicethread the children can see everyone else’s comments being added in real time. As soon as they have been saved they can be viewed by everyone in the class. My class were not just sharing their ideas for 5-10 minutes at the end of the session but were interacting, exploring, reflecting upon and sharing the work of their peers for the whole of the session. It is very difficult to be specific but from my observations this shared experience helped to support, encourage and inspire children to contribute further thoughts.

Publish? Embed? What can I do with the result?

A completed Voicethread can be effectively presented in situ, but it has some impressive options to embed in other online locations – the simplest is perhaps a class blog warranting further comments and reflections on the activity. You then have a great opportunity to take sharing beyond the classroom.


Why is it better than using paper and pen?

In my experience using Voicethread to annotate images online is the ideal tool. It offers such a broad range of ways to transform the learning activity – children can record a spoken comment bringing in other literacy strands, a video response takes that on that extra step. A major benefit for mobile learning is that Voicethread is a flash based site and so seems to pressurise the wireless access point less, it performed really well for us and so reliability=big tick.

Not only does the final product look that much better but the options to then seamlessly share that product, not just with our Year 5 class, but with a wider global community of educators is the clincher. And in my opinion the sharing that occurs during a whole class task is the most important transformation that goes on. Children picking up on and reading others work not just writing their own ideas down.

How would I rewrite the activity from the Primary Strategy for Literacy? How should such an activity be explained to a classroom that has taken that pedagogical leap, a school that is shifting to a 1:1 choice?

Here is their version again:

Organise the children into groups of three or four and give each group an illustration showing a scene of life in the workhouse, stuck onto a large sheet of paper. See resources for images of life in the workhouse. Ask the children to talk in their groups about what they can see in the image or how it makes them feel and then ask them to make notes around the image on the paper. Share these as a class.

Here is my version:

Organise the children into their laptop buddies (pairs) and ask each pair to take a look at the Voicethread showing scenes of life in the workhouse. Ask the children to talk in their pairs about what they can see in the image or how it makes them feel and then ask them to add a text, video or audio comment to the appropriate image – remembering to take advantage of the onscreen doodling to help clarify what they refer to. Encourage children to take a few moments to read and explore the work of their peers as it appears. Do they have similar thoughts? Are they thinking anything different to you? Embed the completed Voicethread on the class blog.

Does it sound transformed? I don’t know…

This for me is the nuts and bolts of what we do in the classroom and it is in this very act of transforming one small activity that I think I will uncover what this pedagogical shift will be like in my school. Perhaps the quilted tapestry of these smaller shifted learning activities will reveal a bigger picture. What do you think? I think Voicethread is a good example of how learning can be transformed with the correct tool, but what else is there that needs to be explored? What other daily activities in the primary classroom can be transformed? I know that not everything can be 2.0ed but what will form part of that shifted tapestry?

(Unfortunately for us the audio and video options for commenting are blocked due to our proxy settings, it is a bit of a pain as I want to be making the most of this resource – Voicethread did promise a little while back “We’ll be developing a more comprehensive networking guide.” but nothing yet. Any help for fixing this would be most useful? I have run the http tests and most of them don’t work!)

Laptop Project Review Meeting

This afternoon we had an opportunity to review the progress of our laptop project for the upper junior classes. All four classes in year 5 and 6 have 8 Toshiba laptops permanently located and at their complete disposal. After a full term (project has been running since September) of use the four members of staff (which includes me) and our head discussed the successes and frustrations so far.

The questions below are taken from the agenda for the meeting – blow them are brief notes of the responses from staff.

Can you explain / outline one lesson or activity with the laptops that was a real success?

  • Science (Y5) – using a shared Google spreadsheet to input pulse data, all children focused on task and gaining a great deal from seeing the other data simultaneously being added.
  • RE (Y5) – paired research using the Learning about Religion software.
  • Science (Y6) – laptops were used to provide a different learning approach when exploring the features of plants. Laptops setup on a table with web based activity, other tables with practical and adult led activities. Children moved around the activities throughout the afternoon.
  • Maths (Y6) – successful use of SMART Notebook to make a game during an assessment of measures.
  • Literacy (Y6) – TV Scripts – children accessed video of news reading on laptops to help support their understanding of script writing.

Great to hear about other successful lessons and the different ways that they have been used, a good positive start to the meeting.

What are the most positive aspects of having the laptops as part of your classroom?

  • Increased motivation for learning.
  • “Feels like they have always been there.”
  • Enhances and supports learning.
  • Children’s feeling of ownership.
  • Focus during learning activities, when working together or in pairs too.
  • Making learning fun.
  • Parental appreciation has been evident too.

We explored the second comment a bit further and decided that the older children have been able to quickly adapt to the responsibility of the hardware in their learning environment. They have a strong sense of ownership and are diligent when looking after them. Would this happen with younger year 3s or year 4s? Would there be too much emphasis on the management of hardware issues; which have become almost invisible in the classes involved with the project because of the initiative shown by the children.

What has changed about the way we are thinking about planning / teaching / learning?

  • Enhances learning – particularly for boys, make the most of this.
  • Planning and teaching has continued in a similar fashion.
  • TB explained that a shift in thinking may be necessary in order to get the most value from the resource.
  • Laptop resource presents new opportunities to differentiate for a task – Good IT skills with Good literacy skills type groupings.

It will be interesting to explore in more detail the differences in learning that takes place – even if planning and teaching remain similar (with a few tweaks) has the point of learning broadened and does it now encompass other opportunities?

If there have been frustrations, what has been the biggest or most common?

  • Procedures to save – issues about network paths to server.
  • Differences in versions of MS Word and compatibility with other classroom computers.
  • Battery life when using Kar2ouche.

I was a little disappointed to hear that we had battery life issues already. However I think that the processor intensive use of Kar2ouche a cached, over the network, multimedia software title asks a lot of processor and in turn eats battery life for breakfast. Not to mention this is all over a wireless network, I am just pleased Kar2ouche is working at all! I can remember thinking would it work over just such a network a long time ago. We talked about actively managing battery life and encouraging the children to take account of it too.

How has it impacted on the children’s experience of school?

  • Very positively!
  • Ask the children – online survey
  • Use of account has been extremely well received by children who have gone home and continued work on a web link used in class. Lots of examples of this in all four classes.

The use of has been a great success so far and allows us to easily share web links, but also to explore the social bookmarking inherent in this tool. With over 100 links saved by the teachers at school the resource can only grow and get better. This, as a colleague mentioned, will require us to be a little more sophisticated when tagging resources so searching for them is easier.

I am already looking forward to seeing what the children make of the laptops overall – I will need to explore some online (or other) method for doing a survey for 120+ students.

What would you like more support or training for?

  • Using Excel spreadsheets.
  • Diigo for use in literacy – a colleague had read my blog post about it in y5.
  • Tips and shortcuts that make life easier.
  • Using audio – sound recording equipment etc.

I hope to be purchasing some audio recording equipment for school soon and will be looking into the best ways to incorporate this capability in the curriculum.

What are the next steps for this project?

  • Desire for more machines from all colleagues.
  • 1 between 2 would be ideal.

We have all had a very positive experience so far with the project and I am pleased that the staff feel confident to take on board a greater number of machines in their classrooms, let’s hope the momentum continues throughout the new year. To help us develop as a staff we also discussed the possibilities of learning from other schools who have a similar resource. I explained about Graham Wegner in Australia having something parallel to us and how it would be valuable to hear from the staff involved. A visit to a another UK school would really help us get some perspective on the approach we are taking.

Please get in touch if you have a 1:1 laptop project (whatever stage it is at – we are still in the foothills so to speak) running in your school and are willing to explain your responses to some of the questions above.

Videojug | Create a Graph | Good ol’ Word

Videojug and the pursuit for folding glory!

Who is doing instructional writing? We have been covering this text type for a few weeks now and two weeks ago we used this site as part of reading and evaluating instructional text. I decided I wanted the children to compare 3 sets of instructions for the same thing and to rate the instructions I chose to look at a renowned video titled “How to fold a T-Shirt in 2 Seconds”. However I did not reveal the video until the class had tried to follow two different text instructions (no pictures). And yes I did take in a load of T-Shirts for the kids to use! Don’t worry by the end of the lesson you will have all of the neatly folded!

The two sets of written instructions were taken from the Videojug site – a written set accompanies most videos. The first set the kids used was one edited down to one paragraph, no numbers or bullets. They struggled, but the point is they are meant to. (T-shirts become messy at this point) Suddenly the children are talking about how difficult it is and saying that this feature or that feature is missing.

We then looked at the second set of instructions which are just the exact written set from the Videojug site – as you see it online. The children still struggled, even though there are far more reader friendly features. There was some mild folding success, but not much. We discussed as a class why this was and rated the instructions as before.

I then told the children to open the laptops they had on their tables and look at the video. I showed it on the SMARTBoard too. I suggested to pause the video as it played so the children could keep up. It’s good as it has a “You will need” section and clear numbered steps on the video. I would recommend getting the site preloaded if you are getting lots of machines to access it – also if you are working on a wireless network.

There were lots of serendipitous moments and suddenly children were expertly folding the T-Shirts as if they had been working in a clothing boutique for the past 10 years! We then had a Fold Off, children folding as fast and accurately as they could. I even challenged the other year 5 teacher, Rick to a contest. Entering his class with his kids backing him, I struggled and lost my 2nd pinch as he made a beautiful fold to the rapture of his children’s voices, I skulked off and called for the return tie! 🙂

Create a Graph

A classic maths tool, Create a Graph is saved by about 850 other people on and is a wonderfully useful tool for your data handling work. It can of course be used as an excellent way to demonstrate the creation of graphs with a whole class but This week we used it as part of an independent activity in a maths lesson. The children had pulse rate monitors fitted and a laptop to access the site. They needed to record their pulse after 2 mins of resting and then again after 2 minutes of walking around the room. This was repeated for 10 minutes – we tried to predict the shape of the line graph and the children managed very well with the tool. An important aspect of the tool is the ability to add a minimum and maximum value to the graph, so that you can create a more balanced graph with greater detail. We also discussed why 0-30 would not be useful on a pulse rate axis!

Once the line graphs were created we exported them as PDF files and talked about them in the plenary of the session using the SMARTBoard. You also have the option to export/download the graph in other formats: SVG (Scalable Vector Graphics) PNG (Portable Network Graphics) JPG (JPEG, Joint Photographic Experts Group) EMF (Enhanced Metafile Format) Can be imported into programs such as MS Word or MS PowerPoint, EPS (Encapsulated Postscript) Can be opened with graphics programs such as Adobe Illustrator or QuarkXPress. A good range of options to keep everyone happy!

I like the way that you can continually preview the graph as you enter data which allowed the children to spot errors as they built the graph. All in all a good apple!

Good Ol’ MS Word 

Now even though I have dabbled in blogs, wikis and online documents I still think there is great value in just some basic word processing skills. We are using the new MS Word on the class laptops and we have charged the children to write a set of instructions, a help document for the excellent Sploder game creator site. It has been great seeing the children bring to their work basic skills they have learned along the way and to develop some new ones. It has also brought us excellent opportunities to recap saving routines and simple image manipulation.

I know, and have experienced, the value of working on writing with other collaborators, with other children, other schools using new age writing tools. But in this instance I wanted to write without publishing along the way, I wanted the children to hone and master a single piece of work for a chosen audience without the outside world looking in. That’s not so bad is it? We have had some fantastic results, which you will no doubt see glimpses of here soon, and the children have been extremely motivated by the whole writing task.