Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Fast finger catastrophe

My colleagues often comment on how quickly I can do something on a computer. And most of the time I have to admit knowing your way around a computer is useful. Using things like keyboard shortcuts can be very handy. But I can also tell you from personal experience that it is not always a good thing. 

Sometimes quick fingers can press send, when you should rather have read that email again. 

Sometimes my quick fingers can send the wrong document on Classroom, and cause lots of embarrassment. 

So rather take a extra moment and be sure that what you are sending is really what you want to send. Because once it is out there, it is out there and not everything has an undo button. 

Thursday, 15 September 2016

Learning from each other (1) - Youtube channels

Yesterday we had the first in our series of chats with other people who are also using technology to teach. 

Dr Gareth Arnott is a lecturer in the Department of Chemistry at the University of Stellenbosch. Over the last few years, he has started to use video clips to augment his courses. He made it very clear at the beginning of our conversation that the purpose of the videos is not to replace the lectures or even be the primary form of instruction. He creates them to add value to his courses. 

Gareth started his own channel on Youtube because did not want to just give students the memos to tests, but there was no contact time to discuss the test with them. Especially in chemistry, the process of answering a question is just as important as the final answer.  A printed memo can only give students the final answer. So he started to create memo videos, using only a webcam, a tripod (borrowed from the lab) and some free editing software. He placed these videos on Youtube (at first using a private setting) and shared the links with the students. 

After 3 years he is incorporate videos in his courses in a variety of ways. 


There were a few things that I took back from this conversation:


  • You don't need a big budget to do something. Start small, use what you have and see how it works. 
  • Do not attempt to recreate things that work, but use technology to fill gaps. Gareth explained how first-year students have very little contact with the professors in the department, so he started to film the professors doing the pre-pracs (which was usually done by post-grad students) and adding a little introduction and a bit about their research to the video. Not only could students watch the pre-pracs as many times as they need. But they also got some exposure to the senior faculty and the work they are doing.  
  • Video should not replace contact time. Using a video during a lesson is not a very effective way of going about things. 
  • Making videos does take time, even if you do not attempt to be a professional editor. You also should not attempt to create universal videos that will work for everybody. There are lots of those already on the internet. The point of creating your own videos is to show your students, how you want them to do something. 
  • You are never finished. Every year he re-do some of the videos, either because there are changes in the course, the research or because he thought of a better way to do it. 
  • Youtube is very easy to use and it even includes some editing tools now. 
  • There is always a place for a little bit of fun. 


Video was never a medium that I have considered. Mostly because I hate watching myself on video. But after listening to Gareth, I am inspired to short instructional videos. Just imagine, if I create a database of examples that learners can refer to whenever they can't remember something we did in the previous year. 

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

How much is too much?

Eric Krieckhaus recently commented the following on my post about Kahoot! 
"I taught until this year at a school that uses Kahoot quite a lot. So much, in fact, that the students experienced a form of "Kahoot-exhaustion". They started answering questions as quickly as possible and at random. They weaker students, especially, would do this. It became less fun for them and more a vehicle for play. 
So...I would caution teachers to use this lesson plan sparingly. The benefits listed above of context and active involvement are predicated on Kahoots being used sparingly."

Eric raised such an important point that I thought it warrant a blog post by itself. 

Whenever I find a new tool, I get so excited about it, that the temptation to use it in every lesson is huge. But overusing it, not only lower the level of your teaching, but it also decreases the effectiveness of the tool. 

Let's leave Kahoot for a moment and look at using Google for research. Sending kids to Google to find some information is an excellent idea. They get to do independent research and not only get familiar with online searches but also realise that they do not need to depend on the teacher as the source of all information. But if used indiscriminately in every lesson, it is more likely that the teacher is too lazy to prepare a lesson and now expect Google to be the teacher. The same can be said about Youtube videos. Videos can add a lot of value to a lesson, but if all they are going to do is watch videos, why even come to school? 

Youtube, Google, Kahoot are just three examples of online tools that can add value to your lessons if they form part of a well-designed lesson plan. But the activity must be designed to guide learners through the learning process in the most efficient and effective way. Otherwise, it just distracts from the learning experience instead of enhancing it. 

Eric also touched on the idea of Kahoot-exhaustion, which is also very true. I think we get all kinds of exhaustion, worksheet-exhaustion, lecture-exhaustion, test-exhaustion. While there is something to be said for routine and predictability, if every lesson looks exactly the same, learners quickly become bored. Today even more so than 20-30 years ago. There is nothing wrong with a worksheet, but if that is all you ever do, you have a very one-sided education. The same happens when every lesson consists of a Kahoot

So how much is too much? How do you determine if you are using a tool optimum or over using it? 
I have set a few rules for myself:

  • I try not to do a Kahoot more than once in a two-week cycle. 
  • I only use Kahoot if there is a specific point that I think Kahoot will illustrate best.
  • I only use an activity when it fits into to the flow of the lesson. A few times I planned on a Kahoot, only to find the learners are so involved in their individual work that I decide not to disrupt them. 
  • I try to alternate online activities, with traditional teaching. The post about BlindKahooting explains how you can do that within one lesson. Other times they will consolidate what they learned in the Kahoot by making notes in the next lesson like we did with classifying quadrilaterals. 


These rules differ from tool to tool. Desmos, which the maths teachers will be familiar with, is very suitable in two chapters. So during that time we will use Desmos in about every second lesson. (I still alternate online activities with traditional ones.) But then weeks will go by without us every using it. 

The point of all of this is that there is no golden bullet in education. There is no single type of activity that suits all topics and all learners. Or maybe there is, a good teacher facilitating a well-planned lesson, utilising a variety of tools to bring their point across. 

Friday, 9 September 2016

Learning from each other.

It is nice to read about new developments in eLearning or to get the professionals in to do some training or attend tech conferences. But during the last few months, our teachers have expressed the need to talk to other teachers who are on the same road as we are. So I have embarked on a project to find somebody in every subject to come in and have a chat with those particular teachers, sharing their experience.  This is an ambitious project since most schools are still taking baby steps on this road, and the teachers are not always confident enough to come and share their experience.

Some private schools are a few years ahead of us, but there are significant difference between what is possible in a private school and what we can do in public schools.

So during the next few months I am going to do a series of post on these sessions, done by a variety of people, lecturers at the university, teachers at both public and private schools and basically anybody else I can find that have some experience to share. None of these people give themselves out as experts on eLearning, they are just sharing what they are experiencing in their classrooms or lecture halls.

Dr Gareth Arnolt - Youtube

Monday, 5 September 2016

Not every idea is a bright one.

I promised myself when I started this blog that I will not just write about the success stories, but also about those ideas that was less successful. 

A few weeks I was so inspired by a fellow English teacher who introduced  her lesson on Death be not proud, by John Donne, using this video. 


I went home and started to work on a playlist that include all the poems prescribed for matrics. An hour or so later I understood why language teachers do not start all their poetry lessons with an atmospheric reading of the poem. They don't exist.  I could only find good quality video-clips on a hand full of poems, mostly classic English poems. On the more modern poems, or South African poems, I could find nothing that was worth considering. 

Never one to just give up, I compiled a list of what I could find, after all anything is better than nothing. But there is definitely a gap in the market for somebody with a beautiful voice and some editing skills to create more of these video's. 

Saturday, 3 September 2016

Always, sometimes, never.

You probably came across quadrilaterals and their characteristics for the first time in Kindergarten. However, for a maths teacher it is one of the hardest things to teach. We teach it in grade 8 and again in grade 9 and again in grade 10. Now you might ask yourself, 

"How difficult is it to understand that a square have 4 sides and 4 right angles?"

And you would be right. What learners struggle with it the relationships between the different quadrilaterals. A square have all the characteristics of a rectangle and can therefor be called a sub-group of rectangles. But not all rectangles are squares. 

I have tried to explain this is multiple ways. Some years I try a tree diagram to show the relationships. 








And other years we try Venn diagrams.


Even after a course on Feuerstein's teaching methods I just could not make learners click what is going on here. 






This year I decided not to teach quadrilaterals to my grade 10's. I have after all done it the previous 2 years. I asked them to make a summary of all the characteristics for memory (with a little help from google). This fitted with my aim of not telling them something that they just as easily find for themselves. 

The next lesson we did a Kahoot called, Always, sometimes, never, which I adapted from a public Kahoot by kimblejl. 
The first few questions completely confused them. After each question I would take a moment to explain why the answer is what it is. They quickly caught what was going on. Even though they still did not find it easy, they got better and better at decided what is a subgroup of what. 

Only after we completed the Kahoot did we set up the tree diagram. For the first time since I have been teaching this, did I feel that the kids was with me and understood what I was doing. 

I ended the lesson with giving them the following 2 sentences:

All squares are rectangles, 
but not all rectangles are squares. 

All kites are quadrilaterals,
but not all quadrilaterals are kites. 

and asked them to create another 3 pairs of statements. In none of my previous classes did I even asked them to do this, because they did not understand what I was trying to do. After completing the Kahoot, every learner in the class managed to do it. 

Do they know the characteristics of quadrilaterals of the tips of their fingers? No, not yet. 

Do they understand that some quadrilaterals are subgroups of others? Yes they do. 

The best part of this lesson was that I did not spent hours preparing it. To be honest it was a very busy few days and I made most of it up as I went on. 

Instead of looking up the characteristics myself and teaching them, they looked it up. All I had to do was give them hints as to what I was looking for. 

The Kahoot I adapted from a pre-existing one. All I had to do was change a few terms to fit the terminology we use in South Africa. 

This just shows that although it often takes a lot of prep to incorporate technology in your lesson. It doesn't have to.  

Friday, 26 August 2016

Doing poetry in the right atmosphere


Death be not proud - John Donne


In every class there are learners that love poetry and those that struggle to see the point. They have just never found the poem that move their soul. In a classroom there are limited ways in which you can create an appropriate atmosphere for a poem. But with the addition of technology a few more options are available to you as teacher. Why not try one of these video clips next time you have to introduce a poem. (An list of Afrikaans poems are to follow)

Still I rise - Maya Angelou (read by Serena Williams)

An abandoned bundle - Mbuyiseni Oswald Mtshali

Sonnet 30: When to the sessions... - William Shakespeare

London - William Blake

London (set to music 1) - William Blake

London (set to music 2) - William Blake

When I have fears - John Keats

When I have fears - John Keats

Futility(photo's) - Wilfred Owen

Futility(1) - Wilfred Owen

Futility (2) - Wilfred Owen