Reflections of an eLearning Classroom
Blog post from April09
A few days ago I read this post by Shaun a beginning teacher about his observation of a ‘digital’ classroom being run by Jacqui Sharp.
It made me stop and think.
Which isn’t a bad thing.
In fact it’s a good thing because if we always do what we’ve always done then we’re not thinking about our teaching/learning and we’re not growing as teacher/learners.
I don’t have a full on digital classroom – I have a data projector on a trolley that goes with my mimio (IWB); I have an old (very) desktop that does slow internet and slow word; an xtenda box running 3 desktops – but I can only depend on 2 working at any one time as one always craps out when we’re using them; I have a digital camera which the students use whenever they want; I also have an old iPod that I’ve put audiobooks onto (we’re going to “listen” to HP#1 next term) that I run through my speakers (mine from home). But I still feel rich in digital terms compared to what I’ve had in the past.
I’ve spent the last term getting used to having the mimio and using it (and the data projector) as much as possible (and learning tips and tricks whenever Delmer an ex-mimio rep has relieved at school).
Term 2 I want to explore some possibilities. So these are my ideas so far:
- Desks are grouped in 5 table groups of 6
- Students will have a “home” group where they sit for admin purposes (Roll/SSR/End of Day etc) as well as for topic – they are mixed Y3&4/boy&girl
- Each table group will have a specific purpose during maths & reading/language time that will be the same each day (teacher, equipment, knowledge, investigation, basic facts practice for maths; teacher, reading activities & Word of the day, handwriting, writing (draft/editing/publishing), reading (buddy, library etc) for reading/language)
- Students will be in 5 groups and will rotate around the table groups over 4 days (I think 2 rotations per session especially while we’re trialling this)
- Students will also have a chart/poster of “other” activities they can go on with if they finished the assigned activity
This is really an adapted backbone idea but the activities are going to be varied – for instance:
- Publishing of work will have choices in format – on paper/blog/word/photo
- Some activities will be available via mimio and/or classroom computers
- The students also don’t have their “own” desk to return to – they have a home group (this is made easier by the fact that they have tote trays elsewhere with their stuff in them); the big difference is that while the activities may be similar to what they’ve been doing already they are not returning to “their” desks to work in isolation and some of the activities will now be a group activity rather than an individual activity
I’m not sure how the management will go – but I will present this as a learning journey to the class – for both me and them – and one thing I want us to do is to write daily learning journals (which is a totally new concept to me – and I’m not sure exactly where I got the idea from) – initially modelling it for them but with the expectation that twice a day they will write a learning reflection.
I hope I’m not biting off more than I can chew.
Blog post from June09
After reading some blog posts and wiki information about ‘inspired’ classrooms I decided that I wanted to try moving my computers away from the wall and into the middle of the classroom and base each group around one computer – instead of rotating students/groups around the classroom they could rotate their activity and have a specific computer they would use.
Great idea but big problem – only 4 computers. I still moved the computers and decided to try bringing 2 laptops to school and have 2 groups using them.
That kind of worked except 4-5 people round one laptop isn’t idea as the screen size is too small.
Then I went on the scrounge. A neighbouring teacher had a computer that was unused. Another computer had been left anonymously in the teachers PD room. Problem solved. Except for the problem of cables and where exactly to put the computers.
In the end I sacrificed 2 student desks (one unused) for the computers and got them set up. I discovered one of the computers was running Win98 but amazingly the digistore objects and other activities are working ok (so far!).
Cabling was the next hurdle. I have a small box that allows one input and 4 outputs – 3 of the computers are actually one computer with an extenda/expanda (I can never remember the name) system on it so they only take one output; the other 3 went to the 3 other computers; however I often need to use the ethernet cable to connect online – especially if I want to skype – so I brought in two very long ethernet cables from home (3-storey house!) and have one duct-taped down and the other loose that I can use (unplug another connection to plug mine in) for my teacher laptop. I also spent several hours working out which other cable was the longest for another of the computers.
I also decided to have 6 groups with computers instead of 5. I have 4 students who go out to a part-time class from 9:30 – 12:30 which leaves me with 25 students – 5×5; but if I reduce the size of the groups (5×4 and 1×5) then access to the computers within the groups will be easier.
Blog post from July09
Last week we sat down as a class and reflected on the changes that have happened in our classroom. I put a question up on the mimio:
Why have we changed our classroom?
- It’s easier for groups to work on the computers;
- We have more computer geeks;
- Groups don’t have to walk back and forth to the computers;
- It’s easier to do our group work;
- Everyone can work at once (instead of having to share a chair);
- There’s more room to walk around;
- We use the computers more often.
Then I asked:
What do we do differently with our new groups?
- We do things in small groups instead of individually or as a whole class;
- We do maths games;
- For our SODA (Start Of Day Activity) it’s both easier – we get more ideas – and harder – we have to co-operate;
- We can see what we’re going to do with our daily schedule on the computer;
- We take turns (learning to co-operate);
- We have a Room 10 classwork blog site.
The next question:
How has your learning changed?
- We are more sensible and focussed;
- We do more work on the computer;
- We do more group work which is helpful;
- Our work is more complicated but it (using the computers/blogs) helps us to learn;
- We are learning to CO-OPERATE and FOCUS.
Finally I asked them if they would recommend this way of teaching/learning to other teachers/students. I got both yes and no.
- There’s more work available;
- It’s fun & easier;
- Everyone can use the computer;
- You learn to work better together;
- The maths activities are more exciting.
- Sometimes we fight over who is going to use the keyboard and mouse;
- Some people fiddle with the keyboard & mouse and they could break;
- It’s hard to co-operate sometimes;
- Don’t want people pinching our ideas.
That last comment about pinching ideas was very interesting. The students are all very proud that we’re the only class in the school (large 600+ student school) who are working like this. I think they like being unique. However I talked about how all the ideas I’ve had for the class came from other people, and that part of working how we do is global sharing. So then they thought that maybe we could teach some others about how we do our “stuff”.
One of the things that’s become so evident to me is that these students think differently to other students I’ve taught. These students are independent thinkers; capable thinkers; ‘outside-the-square’ thinkers – not that it’s all due to me of course but I do think that given the incentive to try things differently has benefited their learning.
(Strangely enough ‘think different‘ is an apple slogan from 1997: “Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.” What a buzz to think that I might be teaching some of this generation’s world changers!)
The real philosophy behind any of my teaching and learning is the 'spirit' of ako - the realization that teaching and learning are so inter-twined you can't separate them. eLearning is no different. The emphasis has to be on the learning. The moment we take our eyes of this is the moment we start to fail as teachers. I truly believe this. It's important for me as the 'learning mentor' for my students to constantly reflect on my practice. Have I got so caught up in the 'things' we use that I have lost sight of the learning? Am I more worried about the fact that I'm NOT doing this or that awesome thing than about Jonny who is struggling to read or write?
It's important to be very sure of the reasons behind changing things in your classroom. Are you doing it because it's cool? Or are you doing it because you've done the research and you understand that the moves you're making are essential for the teaching/learning that's going on in your classroom?
I don't think the eLearning journey will ever end - there will always be a new understanding, a new revelation that comes from the students we teach. It needs to be living and dynamic. If we end up doing what we've always done then we're no different to those teachers who are still teaching they way they were taught.