Monday, September 04, 2006

The Last Post

It is now September 2006 and it has been six months since I last posted an entry – I think this tells me it is time to say farewell and make this our last posting. I know that in the last six months I was ambitious for our blog – looking for more interaction from both the children and other members of staff. I was not in the tablet class very much last session, but Arlene always kept me up to date with developments within her class. Perhaps there was just too much blogging going on which made the whole feedback process less manageable. A lesson may be to keep things simple – one class blog which changes focus throughout the year?
Back to the tablets. We are now two years on from when we were first given the tablets and boy, have things changed in our school regarding ICT! Has this been just a case of keeping up with the times or have the tablets changed the way we think about ICT in learning and teaching? I think that the tablets have given us an insight into the future – a change in the way our children learn. They have also given us the confidence to use the tablets in new and innovative ways, thus changing the way we teach. I still think the staff are a little overwhelmed by the tablets and worry that something is going to go wrong with them. The secret is to be brave and fearless and use them – they are only tools after all, and if something goes wrong, it gets fixed. To be fair, very little has gone wrong with the tablets –we’ve had a couple of damaged pens, and one screen which is on its way out, but that’s not bad considering the amount of use they have had over the past two years.
There is no doubt that the tablets motivate the children. Even though the children have become used to having them at their fingertips, they have never become complacent about using or looking after them. Its funny, but I have a new class working with the tablets this year, and it is interesting watching the children build up ownership of them and being responsible for them – worthy qualities to develop. Meanwhile, in the next classroom the original tablet children are constantly through asking if they ‘could borrow their tablet’ – wee souls!
Indulge me with one last tablet story – Last term I decided we needed to get the children using the class digital cameras more, so I planned a series of activities using the cameras, the tablets and free photo editing software called ‘Picasa2’ (from Google). Each class from P3 – P7 became confident in taking photos, downloading them onto the tablets and editing them using Picasa2. This series of activities ended with a photo competition, using objects in the school grounds as the subject. The children’s photos were fantastic – each one was different. Every child succeeded in printing off an edited photo – skills they can carry on in the classroom and at home independently. The Royal Bank sponsored the competition and the winner was given a digital camera. I uploaded the photos onto www.photoboxgallery.com/portellenps - why not have a wee look at what our wonderful children have been up to? This topic was such a success – it covered ICT, citizenship, enterprise, school grounds – you’ve got to have a go!
I think the tablet project allowed us to dip our toe into a new and exciting learning environment. We liked this new environment and decided we wanted more. This has led to staff being excited about what ICT can do for them in the classroom. We are excited about what this new session is going to bring. But it has taken a lot of work to get to this point. We have invested a lot of time in training, creating a framework in order to bring ICT to the classroom and making it meaningful. We have also invested a lot of money in equipping our classrooms with a good set of ICT learning and teaching tools. It has not happened overnight but I think the tablets have contributed to all of this. Changes have to be small and sustainable. We are now at a point where I team teach ICT with each member of staff. Slowly they are taking the reins and making ICT work for them.
This summer I signed up to be an SSDN / GLOW mentor. We have to write a blog about how we use ICT in our daily work. If you would like to hear how Port Ellen is getting on in the brave new world of ICT, pop in every now and again, it would be good to hear from you- http://kathleenjohnston.edublogs.org/
Lastly, I’m sorry if my attempts at humour have diluted the worth of the tablet project – at the beginning of the project I felt it was so important for readers to hear from a real person – someone who has to juggle life as well as teaching. Thank you for taking the time to find out about our progress within the project, and I hope you have found this diary useful. The PC Tablet Project has been an amazing learning experience for us and our children.
All the Best
Kathleen

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Special Guests to the Tablet Blog


Ladies and Gentlemen, we are about to add a new dimension to our tablet blog. We decided that you have probably had enough of me wittering on about how wonderful these tablet thingies are - you probably want to hear it from the ones that know - that's right, the weans! Therefore Arlene and I are going to get the Tablet Children (as we so affectionately call them) to post some entries onto this blog. We want them to tell you all about their use of the tablets and for them to be totally truthful. No bribery will be involved unless they get personal. We are also going to ATTEMPT to post on some pics of their work.
I had a wee peek at another blog which looks a lot of fun for the children to interact with - www.talkingteds.blogspot.com (I think that's right). Over the next couple of weeks I am going to encourage the children to leave some comments and maybe get some ideas for their own blogs, as it is a very bright and attractive blog.
Talking of other blogs, we've got another one on the go - it is called www.portellenbookreview.blogspot.com This blog is going to be run by the children in our school and the adult Port Ellen Book Group. The book group have been working hard in preparation for Port Ellen Book Festival, which will be on June 17th and 18th. We have a mixture of children's and adult's authors coming to speak at the festival. We thought the blog would be a good forum for people to share reviews of the authors' books and leave comments. I have just been at a meeting of the book group tonight and the ladies are keen to leave reviews. If you are a keen reader, keep an eye on it. It's still fairly new, so be patient and we will put more info on as and when we get time - ahem.
I digress - I'm a bit of a blether when I get started! Speak to you soon. KJ

March 2006-More fun with 2Create

It's been a funny old month. We have had a visit from John McPhee and Andrew Brown to tie up the evaluation of the project. Gulp! Eighteen months have just flown by! Andrew asked me how I felt about my involvement in the project and I said (now no smirking) I felt priveleged to have been part of all of this. Never has my interest or enthusiasm been any less than keen because this whole process has been so fascinating. We have been witness to a taste of how our children are going to learn in the future. Sometimes when I call into the classroom to watch the children working on the tablets I am still amazed at the relaxed and confident atmosphere. Everyone is engaged in their learning - even she who will remain nameless! Last night I dropped by the after school story writing club run by Arlene. The children are using 2Create(FAB,FAB,FAB) to make a story using text and pictures. While I was blethering to one of the children he said 'Oh, by the way MrsJohnston, I can make my pictures interactive'. This wee guy had discovered how to link sound and movement to an image, then make it interactive! After I had picked myself up off the floor my mind started whirring and I was gabbling to Arlene about class stories which we could put on the Smartboard for the pre5 unit and infants to interact with. Suffice to say this wee discovery is going to take us off on another fun filled learning journey. Buckle up and enjoy the ride! KJ

Friday, February 24, 2006

February 2006

Hello, Dear Reader! It seems a long time since I was last in touch, however, I have not been idle! We now have 4 nice new tablets 512MB as opposed to 256MB in the old ones. The newer tablets should work a bit smoother and cope with the software we install onto them without freezing too much. The only down side is that the new models have the pens slotted on the outside of the tablet. These pens look more like a normal biro, but are less robust and more easily broken than the older models, which are smooth and pop into the frame surrounding the screen.
We had a visit from the high school technicians the other day - a very welcome sight! We had a log of the problems we had come across - the boys were heartened at how few problems we had encountered. They felt that most of the problems with freezing were to do with our tablets not being able to cope with some of the graphics work we had been asking them to do. Poor wee things - overworked! All in all they were most impressed by the whole project. As they spent the day working on the tablets in the classroom, they were aware of the work the children were doing. They couldn't believe the high skill levels and motivation of the children. This was a great boost for Arlene and I. I'm always a bit intimidated by ICT technicians - I'm always worried I make a right ICT gaff, and get flustered when I talk about the spec of a machine! However, we can't have done too badly, as the boys were amazed at how well the tablets were running considering the age of the users.

The last time we talked, I mentionned Assessment is For Learning and the tablets. We think that the tablets are perfect for making use of formative assessment. Assessment can be done by the teacher through one - to one work (remember the marking via email? - we are advancing onto the use of the public pupils folder on the network now). They can assess one another's work through the data projector and the whiteboard- this is an effective tool which we use often. They can also assess their own work. One example of this is a child who printed off a poster in which she had a piece of written work - using the pen. Once she had printed it off, she looked at the poster and decided that the hand writing was not neat enough and went off to make the necessary changes. Second time round, the work was much more to her liking. The children are able to evaluate their own work and then make the necessary modifications without starting all over again. I believe there is a lot of power in the delay of finishing a piece of work and then seeing it being printed out. It is as if the children are seeing their work with fresh eyes. How many times have we said ' Go and read this over again', and it hasn't happened...
Our learning support teacher is also making use of the tablets with some of the children. She is using the highlighting facility for the children to highlight the words they think they have spelt incorrectly. She is also using speech recognition software with one wee boy. Progress is slow, but she feels there is the potential for the software to be a real help when this child goes to high school.
I have to let you into a secret. It is the mid term break. It is a Friday afternoon and I am sitting at my computer, multi tasking - my husband has come in to get a shopping list for the butchers and has muttered something about being a saddo doing work during the holidays... sounds familiar?

Anyway, back to the tablets. Did you know we won an award? Argyll and Bute ran a council awards scheme, culminating in a grand dinner in the Corran Halls in Oban for the finalists. My HT Violet Cusworth, John McPhee and I were there and the tablet project picked up the award for 'Innovative Use of Technology'. We were dead chuffed. There is also going to be an article about us in LTScotland's magazine, Connected. Fame at last. I may retire on this high spot and buy some hens...
I've had a request to let you know about some of the other things we have been involoved in using ICT. Well, as you know, Arlene has been busy blogging away, with two blogs up and running. I plan to set up a blog for our Eco Schools Committee, with the children on the committee making the entries. This will keep the community up to date with our progress. We have also used funding to put a digital camera in all the classrooms, including the pre5 unit. This will encourage both teachers and children to make use of the cameras to plan, implement and assess their work. We have also invested in two laptops from Novatech solely designated to the two Smartboards. We have also bought trolleys to house the laptop, projector and speakers. We aim to have a piece of kit like this in every classroom over the next two years. The plan is to make each class almost self sufficient with basic ICT resources. Over the past few years, most problems have arisen when teachers go to use ICT resources and they are either not available or they don't work. This scunners everyone involved and they end up not using the resource. We are tring to overcome this. Through class work with the children and CPD training with the staff, everyone should be able to make good use of the resources in class and see them as valuable classroom tools - a bit like the tablets! I'll let you know how we get on.
Ok, getting major hassle from husband now to go to the Co-op for the weekly shop. Ah, the joys!
Until we meet again...

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Great start to the New Year

Hello there everyone. After our very busy festive season we are now back to some form of normallity and the tablets are still in full swing and as good as ever. I've recently introduced the class into the world of 'Blogg' with our tablets. Our first venture was writing a blogg about what the children are learning in their environmental studies topic which is called 'Britain since the 1930's.' Not only is this great that the children can use their tablets to post work online themselves but it also assesses their learning. This activity has highly motivated the children and has given them a real purpose for the topic.

We have also started taking weather readings from our station everyday and posting these on our Blogg. If you want to check out the weather at port-ellen primary school just visit www.weather56.blogspot.com

Next week I'm starting an after school club on writing using ICT. We intend to use the software package 2create which is on all of the tablets. This software creates slide shows which I'm hoping will be a stimulating and motivating way for the children to write and illustrate their own book. We were having a few small problems with 2create with some of the tablets freezing but we were very quickly sent the updated version so our problems will be a thing of the past.

We have lots of plans for the tablets this term and hopefully I'll be able to update you on a regular basis.

Speak to you again soon

AMK

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Collaborative Learning and Peer Support - KJ

Today I want to talk about the effect the tablets have had on collaborative learning and peer support. Our school does make good use of both these strategies. Our children enjoy working together to support each other and to share the learning experience. However, I have noticed that this is particularly evident in the original tablet children. Their teamwork skills are excellent they make use of individual skills within each group in order to succeed in the task set. I have noticed that even if they don’t get on particularly well with their tablet partner sociably, they make a good effort to wok well with them during the set task. This is not just evident in ICT but is becoming increasingly more noticeable in other curricular areas.
The children’s use of peer support is exciting. As I have expanded the tablet project to include the other stages within the school I have use of the original tablet children to show the others how to use the tablet most effectively. Last week I asked a P3/4 to design tickets for our Christmas pantomime. I the invited some of P5/6 in to work with small groups of P3/4 children to create tickets on the tablets. That was the task set – I didn’t tell them which application to use or how to do it, I just set them the task and stood back and observed. Now this P3/4 class can be somewhat ‘lively’ but every single child was engrossed in their task. Because of the extra tablet advisors in the class, there must have been about thirty kids in the room aged from 7 – 10. As I appeared to be surplus to requirements, I got the video camera out and started filming them – they were even oblivious to this!

We also had a Jordanhill tutor in school that morning who was visiting one of our students. She popped in to see the class and was amazed by the children and how every child was engaged in their activity. She asked questions about the project and then stated – ‘ I love this and I’m definitely coming back!’

Evidence of peer support of a slightly different kind is also popping up in the playground, in the corridor and at the lunch hall. Is this because the kids are getting such a buzz out of helping each other, or is it because helping one another has become part of the learning environment? Or am I imagining all of this? I don’t think so – but I do think I need to look at this more closely and use the observations of other members of staff. Its all very exciting.

Two points I wanted to make before I finish. I am not getting the chance to give the tablet project as much attention as it deserves at present – my head teacher is on long term absence and I have had to takeover. This, combined with other PT duties is leaving little time for anything else (like a life!). But rest assured dear reader, I use every opportunity I can to find out a little bit more about using the tablets in learning and teaching! One more point – if anybody from the authority is reading this, PLEASE can we have somebody to give our tablets a bit of TLC – they are running a bit slow and could do with a wee bit of attention – outwith my skills area, guys!

Next instalment – Assessment is for Learning and the PC Tablet – what are we learning today?

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

A Joint Venture

Hello again!We have been very busy with our tablets over the past few weeks and we have used them with different classes. However, before I write about that I would like to introduce you to Arlene McKerrell, our P5/6 class teacher. I have just introduced Arlene to the world of blogging and we are going to submit a joint entry to the blog today. To make it easy for Arlene I am going to ask her some questions to give us an idea of her first impressions of the tablet project, so welcome to my world, Arlene!

What are your first impressions of the tablet project?
The tablets are fantastic! I feel that they are a great learning and teaching resource. What a fantastic way to motivate children!
Can you give us examples of activities you have used the tablets with?
Where do I start? We have used the internet to do comparisons of farms in India and Scotland; we investigated different rainforests in Science; we used different applications to create mazeltov cards for RE; we did a shared writing activity which encouraged the children to explore talking within the writing prrocess; mental maths using the tablets (great fun!). We also use the tablets in every day situations when the children feel they need them.
What are the downsides of using the tablets?
The only downside we came across has been the application 2Create freezing, which has been resolved. There has been the occasional problem with internet provision, but that has been to do with problems within the network. Oh, and remembering to keep them charged!
Thank you for your first thoughts, Arlene - delighted to see they are so positive (she must have a great mentor!)
I promise to make a submission in the near future to let you know about some of my observations . From now on Arlene and I will finish each submission with our initials, just to give you an idea of who has written it. Speak to you soonKJ & AMcK

Monday, October 10, 2005

The Beginning of a New Session

Things are a little bit different in the organisation of the tablet project this year. I have been taken out of class to cover McCrone time within the school and to mentor a probationer. It was deided that I should deliver ICT throughout the school, amongst other curricular areas. I am also team teaching in the Infants. Listed below is my class contact time-

Monday am-P1-3 mental maths, pm-P6/7 Science and ICT
Tuesday am- P3/4 Art & Design and ICT, pm-P1-3 music and ICT
Wednesday am- P2 measure, P1 Developing Writing
Thursday all day - P5/6 maths, grammar, spelling, Art&Design, ICT

As you can see my timetable allows me plenty of scope to explore the use of the tablets at a variety of stages and within a range of curricular areas - an exciting opportunity! I have to say at this stage that there is no way that I am able to plan specific activities to suit the tablets - where’s the time?! - however if an opportunity arises where I can see that the tablets can make a worthwhile contribution to the activity, then I sieze it! As an example of this, I was working with my wee P1 group - 5 children, I know, a luxury! We were talking about a special person and looking at who their special person was. We listed some ideas and had a chat about different special people in their lives. I then told the children that they were all special because they could do so many wonderful things. We explored why each of the P1s were special and I said that they were so special that I was going to take a photograph of them and I was going to put the photograph onto a very special computer that they could use. We looked at the tablets - they had worked with them before in Nursery- and the children remembered how the tablets worked. I installed their photograph onto Windows Journal and scribed for the children why they were so special. The children then decorated their work by drawing coloured borders and pictures of their achivements. They were on task for over an hour, and at the end of it all they had a wonderful piece of writing for the teacher, and one to take home and tell their family about. The class teacher couldn’t believe how focussed the children were for the writing session. By the end of the session the children could also change the colour of the pen on the tablet, which is no mean feat, and there were some wonderful examples of peer support in achieving this!

I am sure at this stage you are wondering what has happened to the original tablet children. Well, most of the original class are still in P5/6. Four of the P6 children have moved on to P6/7, and new P5 members have moved up to P5/6. The class teacher is Arlene McKerrell and I am working with Arlene as her mentor throughout her probationer year. This allows me the ideal opportunity to support Arlene and the new class in working with the tablets and also for me to work with the children one day a week. Arlene and I put together the partners for working with the tablets. We decided to pair up an old P5 with a new P5 to allow peer support to work its magic. We have 21 children this year, so this means we have one group of three in P6. Each pair has a new photo of themselves on the desktop of their tablet. We have also had the chat about ownership and being responsible users. So far the class has responded well to the new arrangements and they are delighted to be using the tablets again to support their classwork.

I am hopeful that nice, kind Mr MacPhee (hope he reads this!) is going to invest in some extra tablets for us to use. That way the original tablets can stay in class all day everyday, and I can have a set to travel with me throughout the school. Keep your fingers crossed for me!

As a final note, I have had several messages sent to me with queries regarding the project. Thank you to all who have shown an interest. Unfortunately there has been a blip which has prevented me from replying to them. Should you wish to contact me directly with any queries, my school email address is- kathleen.johnston@portellen.argyll-bute.sch.uk
Have a great October break, and I’ll get back in touch after the holidays!