Monday, 23 February was the second and final day of the forum. Once again the Educator’s Track I was privileged to have been asked to participate in a panel discussion called Connecting Educators, Students, Classrooms with educators Sahar Chaer from Lebanon and Manu Mital from India and this was certainly a highlight for me. I was afforded the opportunity to present my Travelling Rhinos Project to the audience, as an example of how such a project can connected classrooms around the world in a meaningful way. What an honour, what an experience!
What did I learn from the forum?
- That passion is the key to great teaching – passion for the students, passion for the content and the delivery of content and a passion for education as a whole.
- Teachers around the world face many of the same challenges, we are united by our profession and dedicated to changing lives. We may speak different languages, but we speak one common educational language.
- I am fortunate to work for a privileged school where we have and use different forms of technology in our classrooms, and we do our best to stay abreast of current trends in education, but South Africa as a whole, is way behind on the technology playing field. As a country we have a long way to go.
- Collaboration across borders, oceans and continents is important in order to foster understanding and tolerance for the many different peoples and cultures of our world. If our children learnt this from a young age, our world could be such a different place!
- That the countries in the world whose education systems are working and are producing top results, treat their teachers with the respect they deserve. However, the selection process to become a teacher is much more stringent, and so it should be. In these countries education is continuously discussed at the highest levels, strategies are developed and plans put in place to educate their children so that they can be the best that they can be, not merely to finish school.
- Cloud technology is the way if the future if it isn’t already. This does, however, exclude a large portion of the world’s children in countries where internet connectivity is poor and bandwidth costs are exorbitant. Our own internet in South Africa is of the slowest and more expensive in the world, and children in rural areas are, in the main, excluded from tapping into this resource that most of us living in a first world situation cannot do without.
- I would have loved to have seen more teacher projects and work on display. I love to learn from other educators who share their ideas and expertise.
- Microsoft has really upped its game and its new offerings are exciting and really innovative. OneNote (on steroids), Office Mix, Sway, the new Surface Pro 3 tablet and Windows 10 are all worth a good look and deeper investigation. Exciting times for educators!
Professional development and staff training in a school is always a sore point. Teachers, as we all know, are very busy people. When they are not busy in the classroom they are often coaching on the sports fields, involved in parent meetings or sitting in other school-related meetings, amongst other things. Their time is often not their own and to make time for any training or Professional Development is extremely difficult. There are only so many hours in a day, and to expect teachers to come in to school in the evenings when it is their family time, is a big ask.
I am very fortunate to work in a forward-thinking environment, where the importance of ongoing Professional Development and training is recognised. It is currently a point of discussion in our school and I sit on a small committee which will look at the various forms of Professional Development and how they can be implemented effectively at our school. It is also recognised that some people do not enjoy working in a large group where they feel intimidated and get left behind. Everyone works and learns at a different pace, some are early adopters and forge ahead while others need to be shown more than once to gain confidence. In my role as head of Digital Learning, I am faced with working with a wide spectrum of abilities and varying degrees of tech knowledge.
We work follow a 1:1 iPad programme in the classroom, but our IT Centre is a Windows lab running Office 2013. Our children are exposed to a multifaceted approach to ICT which is what they will experience in the real world. To prepare them for this they also have integrated IT lessons in the IT Centre for an hour a week, over and above their use of iPads in the classroom. Our teachers run their own IT lessons and they use Windows computers in their classrooms, so their Microsoft Skills need to be kept up to speed too. That is my job – to ensure that they receive the necessary training for effective teaching with the iPads and in the IT Centre. Training is perhaps not the correct word – ‘exposure’ to new and existing tools covers it more effectively.
A new addition to our PD programme is weekly Face Time sessions which run from 7:30am to 9:00am on Friday mornings. I meet with the teachers in one grade (and a one or two of the teachers involved in other learning areas such as Design Technology, Art, Drama etc.) and we look at different aspects of technology which they use in their teaching. Although Face Time was only implemented late last year, and I have only had one session this year, it is has turned out to be the best 90 minutes I have ever spent with these teachers!
I try to break the session into the following sections:
- iPad-related apps/tools/ideas
- IT Centre-related tools/ideas (including Microsoft tools)
- Other – this can include discussions around the use of tech, questions from the teachers, sharing experiences etc.
On Friday I worked with our Grade 6 teachers and the Design Technology teacher and our principal, Arthur Preston also joined us for the session (Aside: I am so grateful for his support in this area. Upper management support is really vital for the successful implementation of technology in a school environment). I did not stick exactly to my proposed agenda above, but we covered the following (It looks like a lot, but working with a small group allows me to be more hands-on and the pace is faster than it would be in a bigger group setting):
- Kahoot (https://getkahoot.com/) – A super game-based learning tool which can be used so effectively in different ways in the classroom – and it works on the iPads!
- Padlet (https://padlet.com) – A super-easy online collaboration tool which has multiple uses in a classroom setting – and it also works on the iPads!
- QR Codes (http://www.qrstuff.com/) – We looked at how to create QR Codes, how to scan them (Qrafter app or Quick Scan) and different ways to use them in the classroom.
- Microsoft Office Sway – (https://sway.com) – An exciting new Microsoft presentation tool which is internet based. There is an iPhone app which works on the iPad too.
- Blogging in 2015 (Our students all blog using Kidblog and the teachers run Grade blogs) – We firmly believe that blogging with a purpose and for a wider audience is key to improving our children’s writing skills, and blogging also fits well into our Digital Citizenship programme.
The teachers loved all the tools mentioned above and they were particularly impressed with Sway. They are very keen to try it out. They particularly liked that it:
- Is FREE! (Teachers love anything that is free to use in the classroom).
- It is online and can therefore be accessed anywhere.
- It is simple, with not too many fancy features (‘keep it simple’ is my mantra).
- It has enough features to make it interesting and different.
- It is user-friendly and quick to learn.
- It is a lovely alternative to PowerPoint.
- It is easy to share Sways and the viewers don’t need to sign into any accounts.
- It works on the iPad, even though there is only an iPhone app– an important feature in our school.
- It is another tool to add to their Teacher Toolboxes!
I was so keen to share how Sway works, that I introduced it to my daughter who is in Grade 11. She immediately used it for a Design project that was due the next day. When she told her teacher that she had used a new and different presentation tool, the teacher was concerned that she did not have the software on her computer or that it would not be compatible with her computer. I believe she was pleasantly surprised with what she saw.
Take a look for yourself: http://tinyurl.com/KayleighSway
Here is the Sway I created while I was teaching myself how to use it: http://tinyurl.com/TravellingRhinos
Next Friday I will be working with our Grade 5 teachers and the following Friday it will be the turn of our Grade 4 teachers. I will share Sway with each of these groups and I feel confident that they will also be as keen to use it as the Grade 6 teachers were. In a three week rotation I get to spend quality time with all the teachers on our staff. They will also be given the chance to share some of their successes with the rest of us at each of these sessions. These small group PD sessions constitute only a fraction of what we hope to develop into a varied and dynamic PD programme over the next year. Professional development is key to staying abreast with all aspects of education – not only technology.