Week 11 Discuss any aspect of the educational appropriateness/relevance of iPads in Irish Primary Schools

There is no doubt that technology in primary schools is beginning to permeate Irish education. The introduction of iPads in primary classrooms is imminent. They can gravely enhance a child’s learning in my opinion, once used effectively in the classroom. Teachers experience with iPads is vital to their success in the classroom. Similarly, teachers must always remember that the iPad is merely a tool in assisting their teaching, the iPad is not the teacher

The iPad is an excellent tool to aid a teacher in the classroom. There are apps available by the bucketloads aimed specifically not only at curricular areas but also addressing realistic issues in a classroom context. These may include classroom management apps (classdojo), apps to aid children with special needs or learning difficulties such as Dylexia (Word Wizard).

However, I found they excelled in their ability to aid the English curriculum in our primary schools.

Firstly, an app I will definitely use in my future teaching endeavours is  ‘Reading Raven’. Reading Raven  takes children on a fun journey  from learning foundational pre-reading and reading skills to reading short sentences. Primarily, this app is aimed at the infant classes but it could help a child having difficulty reading or writing.  It aids ‘reading, writing, listening and hand-eye co-ordination’  through fun, inter-active games suited to the interests of young children. The children navigate through lessons using a raven with glasses and a stylish red scarf. They engage in activities such as  ‘letter tracing, recording their own voice reading words, guiding word bubbles to a circus lion’s mouth, and more; there are 11 types of games in all. Kids encounter various animals and other fun objects, from flying penguins to fly-catching frogs, as they tap to respond’. This would intrinsically motivate a pupil as they may not even realise they are learning. A fantastic feature of this app is linking play with education through numerous multi-sensory activities. It can be used to ‘Organise, clarify, interpret, and extend experience through oral language activity and writing’. The app is effectively designed to adhere to diverse abilities in a classroom context.

It is divided into five levels with each level becoming progressively more difficult. A guide which you receive with the app informs parents and teachers alike of the learning opportunities at each level. Each level is further divided into 5 lessons. Any exercise within a lesson can be repeated or skipped by swiping forward or backward on the reading raven character. The opportunity to repeat an activity aids those having difficulty, therefore developing proficient readers. Each lesson revises prior content learned while introducing new material, thereby consolidating and assessing prior material covered. Children can see their progression and achievement through each level which would build their confidence and desire to remain engaged in their learning. At each level children P.12 develop a range of reading skills that would include phonemic awareness, blending to read, word identification strategies and growing sight vocabulary.  The app introduces children to each letter of the alphabet and their accompanied letter sound. A system of grouping letters together similar to jolly phonics is undertaken in the app.  Through a game-like format children progress from letter recognition and phonics, to tracing letters, writing words and simple sentences. They can also record new letter sounds, words or sentences they learn.

Reading Raven provides step-by-step reading adventures that delight and motivate young children as they build a solid foundation for reading. Each activity respects children’s natural desire to explore and learn at their own pace’.

Teacher or parent can customise the Reading Raven app to include only activities they deem suitable for the ability of an individual child by adjusting settings. It is also advised that parents become involved with a child as they use the app as there are no progress reports available for parents (or teachers). This is one major fault I would have with using this app in a primary classroom.

After listening to my peers presentations, the use of the iPad in schools and the educational benefits acquired from their use is an exhaustive list.

This elective will be extremely beneficial in my future prospects as a teacher!

Sources:

Books:

Warschauer, M. – Learning in the Cloud

Internet:

http://www.commonsensemedia.org/mobile-app-reviews/reading-raven

www.ncca.ie

.http://teacherswithapps.com/reading-raven/

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Week 7 Learning to teach or teaching to learn – computer programming in initial teacher education?

Discuss the benefits (or lack thereof) of computer programming initiaves such as Scratch in the Classroom to develop the personal and professional attributes of students in initial teacher education? Areas for discussion may include –

  • Planning & preparation (lesson notes, objectives, resource materials, creativity & originality)

A confusing principle tries to explain how to plan lessons effectively in the most complicated fashion I have ever heard!! It is not hard to plan a lesson once you have a lesson template/scheme.

Planning and preparation for any lesson is vital to ensure the lesson runs smoothly. If a teacher is unprepared, or unsure of the content in a lesson, children will become aware of this and so are inclined to ‘switch-off’. In order to create the optimum learning environment for learning the teacher should have clear objectives they wish to achieve and be fully prepared for said lesson. A teacher should plan to mix teacher-talk and pupil-initiated tasks. Active participation is key in every lesson so teacher talk should be kept to the bare essentials. For this reason, computer programming initiatives are extremely beneficial to develop the personal and professional attributes of students as through each lesson the children are active. They are not passively reciting information. Similar to any academic subject on the curriculum a teacher should plan and construct materials to accompany the lesson, e.g. form a game using the new blocks introduced in this lesson. When using computer programming, the topics chosen should be exciting for the children, relating to their lives and from my experience even the simplest topic was thoroughly enjoyed by all students. A teacher should make themselves aware of each child’s prior experience with a computer programme, e.g. whether they have used Scratch before or this being their first time using it. Henceforth, a teacher will be enabled to plan activities to suit the range of abilities in the class, e.g. they may use open-ended activities to accommodate this wide range of ability in their class, thereby challenging each and every pupil.

  • Classroom management (communication, scanning, praise, positive cueing, opportunities for group work/pair work, maximising pupil engagement)

From my experience teaching Scratch, I found classroom management more difficult when using computer programming than when teaching an academic subject. This is because you cannot see the activity of each child when they are using laptops, whereas it is easy to spot a child who isn’t completing a writing task, for example. Even though it was more difficult to scan the classroom when using computer programming I didn’t encounter any disruptive behaviour in the classroom. If there is clear communication between the teacher and pupils of expected behaviour, and more importantly the pupils can see why there are rules within the classroom, then the pupils are more inclined to adhere to said rules. Furthermore, in general, the children are intrinsically motivated when using computer programmes so when a task is set they are eager to figure out how to complete it. If a pair are having difficulty, they can communicate with their peers in order to solve this problem or I would assist them. I would never inform they exactly how to solve the problem but I would give them clues in order to scaffold them so they will arrive at the solution.

Pair work is far better than group work or individual work in my opinion, in order to maximise learning when using computer programming.  The pair can work collaboratively to complete the required task, both having the opportunity to use the software and develop their problem-solving and communication skills. All children were engaged and active throughout my 4 teaching lessons using Scratch. They didn’t want the lessons to end! If teachers use computer programmes to develop all curricular areas I think each child’s learning would increase to no end! I have yet to experience using Scratch with a child with a condition but research shows that computer programmes enhance their engagement and so are extremely beneficial in this case.

  • Teaching and learning strategies (lesson structure, pacing, subject knowledge, questioning, consolidation of learning, pupil-centred learning)

Lessons are structured in sequence – they begin simple, exploring the basic functions of a computer programme and lead to using the computer programme in all its complexity. As with any lesson, the pacing of it will depend on the pupils being taught. On teaching placement, we were able to move at what I consider a moderately quick pace as the children absorbed the lesson content rather fast.
Each week the children built on their subject knowledge of Scratch as they were all integrated. Thereby, consolidating material they had learned previously and further developing it.

Similar to any academic subject the teacher should ask higher and lower order questions based on the child’s ability, e.g. which block section would you use to move your sprite? or how do you turn your sprite right? explain.
Teacher talk is be minimised to allow the children to experiment with the computer programme, develop their skills in using the programme thereby becoming active agents in their own learning. Scratch is a user friendly programme which enables this to occur

  • Assessment & evaluation (appropriateness of lesson objectives, reflection, lesson consolidation)

Lesson objectives from one lesson should coincide with the objectives of  the prior lesson/s. At the beginning of the lesson, a teacher should revise prior knowledge of the topic with the children, eliciting from them the required blocks to complete an action for example. This consolidation should also be completed at the end of the lesson also, to assess if the objectives of the lesson have been met. A teacher can use this assessment to reflect on the reason behind a lesson’s success or downfall.

  • Personal qualities & professionalism (motivation, diligence, rapport with pupils, pupil-teacher interactions)

In order to engage pupils a teacher needs to be enthusiastic about a subject and computer programming is no different. If a teacher is motivated and excels a positive attitude toward a computer programme, then the children will become motivated and eager to learn. A teacher requires an in-depth knowledge of the computer programme in order to teach it and encourage children to explore it. If a teacher only knows the required code for the lesson at hand they may hold children back that are exploring various techniques and codes. As classroom management may be more difficult when using laptops in a classroom, a respectful rapport between teacher and pupils is essential in order for a lesson to run smoothly. This would also link with a teacher’s knowledge of each pupil individually, their interests and ‘pet hates’. As children complete set tasks, it is vital a teacher acknowledges that there are numerous methods of completing a challenge, i.e. using different codes to complete the same task. Each child will put their own individual ‘stamp’ on their projects and it is important a teacher offers feedback, praises and affirms their efforts.

To conclude, the time of chalk and blackboards has long gone. We have entered into a new era with technology at the heart of it. Children develop immensely from using computer programming at present, socially, emotionally and intellectually. Furthermore, the use of computer programming in schools allows child and teacher alike to develop the necessary IT skills in the changing technological society of 2013!

 

Select any three of the learning principles from the curriculum and discuss in detail how the use of Scratch has served/failed to support your chosen principles?

The curriculum ‘aims to enhance the enjoyment of learning and the motivation to learn. It enables children to function effectively in a changing society and to cope successfully with the demands of modern life’. Scratch without a doubt supports the national school curriculum 1999 in numerous aspects, especially through the following three principles:

  • the child’s sense of wonder and natural curiosity is a primary motivating factor in learning

There is no motivation necessary when teaching scratch, if the teacher was asleep up the top of the classroom the children wouldn’t even notice as they are so engrossed in their Scratch programme creating magnificent individual works. The majority of children at present are well accustomed to using a computer and have played a variety of games on the computer, x-box, DS, the list is endless! Therefore, once we downloaded ‘Sonic’ from the Scratch website the children were enthralled. A few children were given the opportunity to play the game; excitement doesn’t even begin to cover the atmosphere in the room. They were ‘buzzing’ to learn how to create their own game, not even one child was lacking in motivation.

  •   learning should involve guided activity and discovery methods

The children are encouraged to experiment with the various blocks in Scratch to figure out how to complete our set challenge, e.g. ‘How would you set it so that when you click the green flag the sprite will display in the top left hand side of the screen?’. Once the children have been given sufficient amount of time, the children are brought back to a whole-group ratio. We elicit from the children the code for the required challenge. Those who have figured it out call it out and we display placing each block into the code on the interactive whiteboard. There is no pressure on the children who struggle to figure out the code, however by the end of the lesson each child is enabled to complete said challenge. Therefore we are enabling them to ‘learn how to learn’ (Curriculum (1999) p. 7). Indirectly the children are becoming independent learners, self-motivated to further develop their skills.

  • the range of individual difference should be taken into account in the learning process

Each child is unique with individual strengths and personality traits. Scratch could not accommodate individual difference any better. Firstly, the child can create an item of interest to them using scratch, not every child’s scratch project must be identical as long as the dominant code of the lesson is followed. For example, we were teaching children how to change costumes and forming a code to make a person dance across the screen. The majority of boys chose a break-dancer, while the girls chose a ballerina and of course the few who chose the dancer to change into a costume of a cat mid-dance!! Each child can put their individual touch on each Scratch project they create.

The range of children’s abilities is also catered for using Scratch. We set open-ended challenges for the children. This enabled the more able children using Scratch to create more complex projects while those less able to use the program can create a project using the set code correctly, e.g. choose a sprite and background, move your sprite up, down, left and right to create an animation.

I haven’t seen it first-hand but Scratch is apparently extremely effective for children with conditions. They are engaged and focused, their true potential shining through. It is a very useful tool in their learning as a result.

Bibliography: http://www.curriculumonline.ie

The educational potential of computer programming using applications such as Scratch is regularly celebrated as affording learners opportunities for a ‘‘mental workout’’ of cognitive and collaborative skills.

The immense benefits of using computer programming in primary schools cannot be denied. Scratch has been awarded its own International Scratch Day due to the endless list of advantages it entails for both adults and children alike. It is a day where Scratch users can meet to explore other users programmes and share their experiences of using Scratch. Scratch day is recognised internationally with 186 events organised in 44 countries last year. Many people are unaware that this programme even exists; I will admit that I was one of these people before taking this module. Therefore, undoubtedly the number of countries taking part in ‘Scratch day’ shall increase tenfold in the coming years.  This year it is taking place on the 18th of May, with events constantly on the increase. If you would like to take part in this event, or even go along and learn about the programme and how to use it you will find details of venues at: http://day.scratch.mit.edu/

However, Scratch is not the only computer programme on the rise in our primary schools at present. These include Codecademy, Coder Dojo, My Kid Can Code and Kids Rugby.

I have had the privilege of seeing this first-hand in the classroom. The children could develop and consolidate their mathematical skills in an enjoyable and practical manner. Children often perceive maths as disconnected from daily life but through the computer programme ‘Scratch’ they could see the importance of it, e.g. using x, y co-ordinates on a graph to move a script. It brings maths to life for the children!

Due to the large number in the class (37 students), the children share a laptop between two/three. Surprisingly, there have been no issues with one child ‘hogging’ the laptop. Once we set them a task they work collaboratively as a team to figure out how to complete said task, e.g. how do you make the script constantly move in random directions? A happy ‘buzz’ permeates the classroom as the children share ideas and experiment with various ‘blocks’ within Scratch in order to figure out how to solve the task. The children are thriving in this problem solving context. They must think logically, ensuring not to skip any step as computers are the ‘ultimate example of cause and effect’ (http://www.geekosystem.com/estonia-kids-programming/) In other words, the computer will only do exactly what it is told. If one group is struggling with working out a code for the task, children who have figured out a code are more than happy to help them. You can see the pure sense of accomplishment in the children’s faces as they help their peers, it is regarded as a confidence boost for them. It is uplifting to see the children succeed! Of course there more than one code can complete tasks so if the children have formed an equally accurate code we feel it is important to convey this to the class as it shows the children have taken initiative, worked collaboratively and usually through a ‘trial and error’ process completed the code.

Scratch is an excellent programme for differentiation within a classroom context. We set open ended tasks like, select a sprite, using various movements (up, down, left, and right) create a unique under water animation. This allows the children with prior experience with Scratch to create a more advanced under water scene, while still enabling those beginning to use the programme to create one too. The children are challenged at the level they are at!

People argued that computer programming was too advanced for primary school children, but from my experience this is certainly not the case. The children are motivated and eager to learn and when given the opportunity it is amazing what they can achieve!!

Scratch in Irish Primary Schools – initial reactions? Discuss your initial thoughts on the potential of Scratch in Irish Primary Education. (Suggested areas for dicussion might include initial introduction to Scratch, usability, college-based workshops, initial experiences after week one of placement etc.)

When given the course outline for this ICT elective I had no idea what Scratch entailed. We were told it was a coding programme which sounds quite difficult; thankfully this is not the case. Scratch is well designed as a user friendly programme, basic understanding is all that is required. Through Scratch one can make games, animations, stories, artwork, the list of possibilities is endless!

We began with basic tasks, e.g. making a sprite move in random directions. For me the fun really started when we created an animation, very basic one with only one costume change but to see it in action is surreal! Each lecture we had with Ronan absolutely flew and it’s not a ‘subject’ you leave within lectures even at home you don’t notice the time flying by as you get caught up in the programme. I’ve only been using it for four weeks so I still have A LOT to learn about Scratch. At present I am using Scratch 1.4 and there are no limitations on the possibilities of integration within the curriculum, e.g. art, geography, history, music, science, sequencing of stories (infants).

On placement this week I was amazed at how fast the children learned how to use scratch and this, once more underscored how efficiently the programme was designed. This week the aim of the lesson was to allow the children to explore Scratch and become familiar with its interface. We set tasks such as, ‘How would you move a sprite to the left? How would you stop the sprite from disappearing off your screen?’ Many children figured this out quickly as the majority had some prior dealing with Scratch. However, I noticed that the minority of children who had never used Scratch before were slow to ask for assistance, which I will have to watch each week I am teaching. Therefore, we ensured we showed the class how each challenge was carried out after a few minutes. Several children had taken part in Coder Dojo, while others had created simply games/animations and placed them on the Scratch website, ‘www.scratch.mit.edu’. Some were eager for their creation to be shown to the class with them presenting it, while others were happy for the class to see their creation but preferred to remain anonymous. Displaying their creations was highly effective in my opinion as it conveyed what can be achieved when using scratch.

To conclude the lesson, the children were exposed to the winner’s game of the Scratch National Competition of 2012 in Ireland. I found this game utterly breathtaking, as did the children. It is fantastic! The children are developing their mathematical skills in an enjoyable manner. Even though they were doing maths, no child wanted the lesson to finish. They were extremely enthusiastic with their love for Scratch shining through immediately.

Although last Thursday was challenging because the children had a far better knowledge of Scratch than we’d anticipated, I thoroughly enjoyed the session. The child’s sense of wonder was explored, along with the development of problem solving skills. In the second session of teaching, we shall bring the children further in their application of Scratch and set open ended challenges to ensure each child is catered for.

I can’t wait for next week!!

“Blogging in the Primary Classroom – Initial reactions and possible relevance”

Times are constantly changing and we need to change with it. The days of reading from books and writing exercises in copybooks is dying out. Personally, I find it very difficult to read articles on the web, my mind keeps getting side-tracked and I end up reading the same line numerous times. I need books to learn, or so I thought before beginning this module! I’ve never kept a diary and publishing my thoughts on the web was frightening to say the least but as Richardson says, ‘the best way to learn is to become a blogger’. I’ve only been using a blog the past few weeks and can already see immense benefits for its use in the primary school classroom. To put simply, a Blog is a webpage where one can publish posts which are displayed in reverse chronological order.

In the primary school the majority of children will use the web in some aspect; it is part and parcel in their lives at present. They have never known another era where technology wasn’t thriving.  Therefore, as a teacher I need to engage wholly in the benefits of blogging so that I am confident when teaching while also expressing the true advantages of it. If the teacher is enthusiastic this will in turn motivate their students, otherwise it will be a means to an end, students will only use it in school because they have to.  In my opinion, many teachers need to revise their outlook on literacy. When using a blog, children are not only acting as readers and writers but as editors and publishers too.

When I was teaching in a school at home, I saw the use of blogging in action. The principle had set up the website with each child having their own blogging page. After speaking with him about it, it was clear the amount of work that went into ensuring it was a safe environment in which the children could express themselves. Firstly, permission from each child’s parent/guardian was sought. The parent’s were invited to a meeting so that they had some knowledge of blogging before their child used it. Following this, the children were introduced to it slowly. The teachers began using it to communicate homework with their pupils. Once children were comfortable with accessing the site, teachers began leaving questions to which each child was expected to comment on. This was merely to ease them into publishing their thoughts. The children absolutely LOVED using the site and couldn’t believe I’d never heard of it (of course they loved ‘teaching the teacher too!)  So one day we recorded a science experiment and I was shown how to upload these videos, i.e. the video associated with each child went to their individual page. The child then wrote up the corresponding experiment on their blog and gave their opinions on it. I remember writing up experiments and it felt like such a tedious task to me, I couldn’t believe how motivated the students were. They were developing their writing skills while having fun, it didn’t feel like work to them!

As Richardson advises, only the student’s first name was used on their blog with some creating a ‘made-up’ name. The teacher was the only person who knew what each name stood for. For security reasons they learned they shouldn’t publish personal identifiers. The students learned quickly that some items weren’t fit for their school blog as the teacher censored them before they were published and many were caught-out. On a brighter note, the students could personalise their own blog, thereby expressing their personalities and interests. They could upload videos of their favourite songs or photos of their favourite bands etc. They have freedom to express themselves, hence heightening their writing skills and developing their imagination.

It was clear that the benefits of blogging in this instance were endless. “Welcome to blogosphere!”

Sources:

  1. NCTE Blogging in the Classroom.
  2. Richardson (2010) The Read/Write Web – Blogs, Wikis & Podcasts.
  3. Richardson (2010) Weblogs! Get Started! – Blogs, Wikis & Podcasts.