Being the best that we can be!

Being a human being… And a human doing!

It’s been a while since I’ve written here. I guess things have been busy and I’ve enjoyed being busy. However, the past few days have highlighted, perhaps reiterated more so, the influence we have as teachers on our kids. More so, the influence we all have on one another.

Be a Rockstar!

Trust is a big thing in any classroom, or environment, where ‘stuff needs to get done’! And believe, that the kids in your care will believe you and trust you, regardless of what you say. Why? Because of the high regard they hold you in.

We have a great buddies program at school, that I’ve mentioned before, where our Year 5 kids spend time with their Year 1 buddies, sharing stories, mini projects etc. Following on from our visit downstairs to their classroom, the kids come back buzzing. More so than most other activities and events that go on throughout the year. Why? Because of that fuzzy feeling they get when their buddy smiles at them, clinched to them, wishing for them not to go because of how much they adore them. “Your a Rockstar!” I tell them. To their buddy, they are the coolest person in the school bar none. The trust is well and truly there. In an international school where children come from all backgrounds and upbringings, it really is something special to behold.

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What spurred these thoughts on recently are a result of our Morality lessons which focus on 4 core values (pillars), one of which focuses on ‘The Community’. What I liked about these lessons, have been the emphasis on respect, empathy, tolerance and compassion. We also read about influential people like Dr. Martin Luther King JR and Rosa Parks who all faced adversity throughout their lives. Stories that we all know too well.

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The activity was simple. Using coloured stickers the children were given a colour, which was unknown to them, placed on their forehead. Some blue, some green, some yellow and one child red and one child purple. When the children were asked, they got into groups that were similar to them and no one else. They were also allowed to do as they pleased for the proceeding 3-4 minutes. Anyone not in a group (Red and Purple) had to isolate themselves from the groups and stand at the side at opposite ends of the room. Now, the children isolated had no idea what colour they were but soon figured they were different and didn’t have anyone to hang out with. The facial expressions and body language here are always remarkable. For the most part, the groups of children chatted and played about, not really taking into consideration anyone else. Towards the end of the allocated time two children, at different times, came to me and asked if they could join the two excluded kids. To which I shrugged my shoulders and so they took the initiative and did so.

The reaction of the two excluded kids was just incredible. The girl that approached the excluded girl, gave a hug and dragged her (who didn’t put up any resistance) into her group. The boy that approached the excluded boy, just chatted and shortly after, some of the other kids came over to include themselves in the discussion. It became one of those lessons where you didn’t have to do anything, explain anything, or hit home any message, as the kids just got it. They could relate to it instantly and afterwards applied it to their own day to day school life. It was one of those moments where you as a teacher sit back and just watch the pennies drop around you.

Post lesson, it’s one of those that you share with your peers as the feel good factor is something you want others around you to be a part of, but it’s something you really just need to see for yourself. I’m sure you probably have, or have done something similar. It just highlighted for me, as a teacher and as a role model for these kids, the impact I have on their lives. My treatment and expectations of them is consistent and communicated clearly. Why? Because it’s so important. It’s perhaps sometimes under emphasised when educating our children, and ourselves for that matter, the importance on developing relationships with one another and respecting each other. Holding each other in high regard, regardless of ‘what sticker is on their head’. I think society can mess with our minds a little bit on these values, because when I look at our Year 1 buddies when we come to visit, they think about nothing else but the current situation they are in, with their rockstar. Their rockstar can be from wherever in the world, believe in anything they wish to, and could have eaten all sorts for lunch, but they don’t care. For the time that they are with them, nothing else matters. For them, it’s about living in the now, with people they want to be with. People they trust. People they value.

Living as we should,

Treating others as we should,

Enjoying life as we should.

Ultimately, being the best version of ourselves we can be, for ourselves.

And seeing the incredible impact that has on others.

Be the best that you can be, and you’ll bring out the best in others too.

Be a Rockstar.

Our World in VR… Virtually

Exploring the world from your classroom

It’s not just a fad… Virtual Reality (VR) is soon to become part and parcel of how we deliver and create content in the classroom and beyond. It doesn’t have to break the bank either! There are incredible devices on the market at the moment that really are taking things to the next level, HTC Vive for example. However, basic VR headsets that can cater for smartphones are on the market for as little as £5 (GBP) and can be used to a great effect in your child’s learning experience.

Here are a few things we are doing at JESS Arabian Ranches that can be implemented into your classroom sooner and easier than you think.

Google Expeditions

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Google just know how to do things well. Their well established App Google Expeditions allows teachers and children to go on a self directed journey to so many places in the world and beyond. The array of expeditions available means that there is definitely a suitable tour that will cater for your needs. Whilst the experience is best using headsets, an iPad, iPhone or tablet will suffice. Here are a few clips of how we used Google Expeditions to explore the tropical rainforest.

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Youtube 360 videos

Children using Youtube 360

Youtube (Also owned by Google) has an ever increasing number of incredible 360 videos that can be accessed with pretty much any device. Not exactly virtual reality, but an engaging experience that allows children to connect with a topic or story. We use this a lot because it is just so easy and effective. Again, as part of our Rainforest topic, we used a 360 video of a tour through the rainforest that allowed children to immerse themselves in an environment that we were asking them to write about as part of their descriptive, writing challenge. The results were fantastic! A huge contributing factor to the success of the children’s’ writing was the fact they had a new connection to their topic. There was context.

See for yourself just how powerful these videos are and what our kids had to say. Credit to Steve Bambury for piecing this video together using footage from Conservation International (CI)

HTC Vive

An incredible piece of kit. Amazingly, it is early days for this machine and it really is only getting warmed up. We have been fortunate enough to have Steve and Ciaran Kelly (IT teacher at JESS) to run some sessions for us on our topics on The Rainforest as well as The Titanic. These sessions are something really special as children are fully immersed in an experience where they have the ability to engage with the content. Our most effective use of the Vive to date has been for our Titanic topic were we have used the kit to engage children with their experience to help them write a diary entry as a passenger on board The Titanic. Again, what this experience does for the children, is give them context.

Following on from a short story about Eva Hart and her families eventual embarkment on board the unsinkable ship, the children then witness what life was like before and after the great ship sank. As well as this, they can explore the wreck and interact with items that they find. A truly memorable experience, and again one, that impacted our children’s writing immensely. Take a look at another video that Steve has put together for us using content from Immersive Education on the HTC Vive. 

We also had some fun with the Amazon Odyssey from Vive studios. Whilst this is also a powerful, immersive experience, it’s one that I think is suited to the younger years. A great game where children explore a rainforest to get them engaged in their topic. Here’s a sneak peak. Once again, credit to Steve for piecing this together for us.

All sounds a bit much?

It really isn’t. I’ve had many people question me about the hassles involved in running a set of headsets for a class experience and I cannot reiterate how accessible most of this content is. For schools that run a BYOD (Bring your own device) or 1:1 device program, so much of this can be started tomorrow! Furthermore, at JESS, we are looking at creating our own content to share with the wider world. From live lesson streaming to 360 recordings of events in school, the world of VR is only going to expand and develop to such an extent that it will become part of our every day teaching.

Embrace the future, it’s virtually upon us!

There’s a time and a place

Using technology in the classroom – The Why?

We had a visit after school today from our Headteacher who was checking out our learning environments. Talks went in tangents somewhat, all good stuff, of course 🙂 and we briefly spoke about the use of iPads in class. It got me thinking again about something we sometimes can lose sight of. Why do we use iPads in the classroom?

There are many contrasting views on this topic but for me, it’s really a no brainer. Technology in the classroom, when used effectively, transforms learning. ‘When used effectively’ being what’s important here. I have seen first hand, staff being handed a brand new, shiny device and not being given a single bit of training on how to use it.

‘But it’s just an iPad, everyone knows how to use an iPad!’ 

This statement is true to some degree. However, like my 4X4 car, which on the road is easy, but if I don’t learn how to use the specific controls for the differential lock for example or the descending speed control, then I’m going to get stuck in plenty of dunes out here. Which, admittedly I have… But it’s the same with the iPad is it not? A bit like our brains. We only use a fraction of its true potential! That’s why training in integrating technology into lessons is so important, which is led by good pedagogy.

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Image: Edsurge.com

We use the SAMR model during our training sessions. There are many different versions of this but I like this one in particular as it is both child and adult friendly. Pretty straight forward. Am I using the device to replace something else; a book for example? Or, am I doing things with the iPad that could not have been done without it? That’s where the goodies are, the magic stuff.

Fundamentally, transformational learning does not, and should not, take place in every lesson through the use of a device. Everything has its time and place and the use of the iPad is no exception. Being led by good pedagogy and planning is key. Good lessons that have been planned thoroughly can have devices integrated into them to make learning move on to that next level.

A favourite success story of mine is of a girl a few years ago that had autistic tendencies and really struggled to write. She did however, have an imagination like no other. Writing was laborious and largely a waste of time, but by using the iPad, she was able to use the dictaphone tool to produce content. She would go walking around the school and take the people that she met on the corridors on the adventure with her. They became her characters for this particular story. Her use of vocabulary and the cohesive devices she used were just brilliant. With a bit of help editing her content when she had finished, resulted in a great piece of work. Editing was easy as she had the hard part done, getting her ideas onto paper. Furthermore, she wanted to take it further and publish her book using Bookcreator. This for me, is using the iPad for one of its most basic functions to make the curriculum accessible for a particular child. Quite transformational I think too.

Going forward, I need to be more mindful as to how I get the children to use their devices. What I do know is, that with a small bit of planning and collaboration, the effective use of devices in the classroom results in transformational learning that would not have been possible without it. And it really is quite special when you see the journey take place. Don’t forget about the ‘Why?’

Interested in finding out more? Feel free to get in touch. 

 

Life, as we never knew it…

Educating children on device management

I’m pretty excited. A busy couple of weeks coming up at work where we are doing things in the classroom that we’ve never done before. What we’ve never been able to do before. Our MDM (Mobile Device Management) trial is starting this week and next week a buddy of mine and I are presenting at the second ever JESS Digital Summit in Dubai. What we are trialling in our class is what we are looking to present next week so it’s all happening pretty quick.

Apple Classroom is how we currently administer how children use their iPads in class. It’s something Apple have really done a good job on and it is aiding how we use devices in class more seamless than ever before. There is a danger here tho I think. The power of an MDM server and the use of Apple Classroom enables us to dictate what children do with their devices while they are on the school network, which sounds great. I can’t help but feel there is a danger that teachers may see this as a means to ‘police’ iPad usage in class and in turn, have a long term negative impact on our kids.

It’s a bit like giving a person a fish or teaching them how to fish. There is that comfort element that we can eradicate any improper usage of devices when they are on the school network so it is imperative that teachers educate children on proper device management and the dangers of improper use. There have been recent articles out there that highlight the negative impacts technology is having on children, and adults, due to addictions to devices and social media. I came across this on Twitter and think it’s great. It’s going up in my classroom. DQ image

Image: World Economic Forum

This is stuff that needs to be taught now and in a classroom with an MDM or Classroom or equivalent, there is the danger that these skills won’t get taught because children can be protected whilst on terra firma. As wonderful as technology is, we need to ensure that we are teaching our kids the importance of device management for a healthy body and mind. Oh, and we may need to act upon it ourselves too…

It’s time we all learn how to fish.

It’s hard to be a kid…

Is being a kid in the 21st century harder than we’ve ever known?

You think about what children, and I mean all ages, have to put up with today. It’s become quite rare to see children playing in an environment that doesn’t involve technology. Turn on the TV and all you will see is news about terrorism or nations spouting out about who has the biggest toys flying into space. What’s worse, is at the dinner table, an extra seat is put aside for a tablet or phone ‘just in case’ one of our photos has received a thumbs up from someone we haven’t even spoken to in the past 10 years.

Call me melodramatic, but all of these mixed messages and (anti) social experiences that kids today are receiving cannot be good for their long term development. If I take you back to the American election last year, I know of Year 5’s (Grade 4’s) that were discussing what a tragedy it would be if Mr T came into power and that WWIII would be imminent. For real? Now comparing life today for a child to my own in rural Ireland back in the 90’s may be a bit pointless but I’m sure I was more concerned about what teams we were going to have for football at lunch and whether or not one of the girls in the class fancied me or not. Turned out I was playing up front and no she didn’t!

But that really was the extent of our worries at the time. Is it a good thing that kids are more connected now than ever? That they are aware of what is happening all over the world? I think education and parenting is at a pivotal corner stone where educators and parents have to be ever so careful about how we raise our future generations. We have a duty of care more so than ever, not to protect and alienate our children from what’s happening in the world around them, but imperatively, to allow them to be what they are. Children. Something we can all too quickly forget.

There are endless studies and talks from some incredible people around the world about our Millennial generation (If you haven’t seen Simon Sinek yet, where have you been?) and the importance of teaching 21st century skills. And although we all want what’s best for our kids, are we doing everything we can day to day to allow our children to flourish and learn these skills?

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I see it at home in Ireland, UK and UAE, that it’s hard to instil values in children that inspire children to become aspirational. It is hard, but do children really have too much to their disposal in our western world? I’m one of Malcolm Gladwell’s biggest fans and he portrays a startling picture in one of his books (David and Goliath) of just how hard it is to set the right environment for children to become rounded, aspirational, young people that we would love them to be. We may never have been as under prepared to accommodate their emotional needs.

The world is moving so quickly that we too ourselves are getting caught up in the world wind of events that are happening around us and many of us are as concerned as our kids if our picture doesn’t hit 100 likes before midday. Before you deny it, look at the amount of time you see your partner, friend, colleague etc on their phone in any given day. Look around them. Whilst surrounded by others, we still crave that endorphin rush from someone commenting on our picture that’s been filtered that many times, it doesn’t even look like us anymore. Somewhere in the background, our kids are often found doing the exact same thing.

So what to do about it? I’m not a parent so I can’t comment on how parents should bring up their kids. But I am a teacher who spends a hell of a lot of time with children, perhaps more so than their parents do in a given work week. Never have I heard of children that appear to be as unsettled by what appears to be anxiety or some sort of general worry than ever before. And I’ve got to wonder, where this all stems from?

What I do know, is that our world is quickly changing and it’s not going to slow down any time soon. What I do believe, is that now, more so than ever, we need to be socially streetwise. I believe we need our kids to be able to appreciate what is really important in life, the people around us that matter to us most. A sound understanding and adherence to family values. I believe that instead of having ‘FOMO’, we need to be present in the presence of others that we share in the now. The company that’s around us, that’s not through a screen. I believe in time we will become more aware of what is really happening in the world around us but only through practise. Not the one that’s on our screens, but the one that’s in front of our eyes, and with this, we will be better prepared to cater for our children to do what they do best.

Be children.

Another year beckons!

Doesn’t matter how long the summer is, it always ‘flies’ doesn’t it? Having said that, it has been brilliant. One of the best things about being a teacher? July and August!

After a great, long, summer break for schools in the UAE it’s back to business and getting ready for another year. I managed to attend a couple of course during the summer break, one of which was hosted by Michigan State University (MSU) in the National University of Galway (NUIG). As part of their Masters studies, students hosted this one day conference event for educators and it was inspiring to see what they get up to in their classrooms. Some of their ideas I have completely stolen (Copyright approved :)) and am incorporating this year with my class.

First and foremost, the beginning of year activities. It’s always something we think long and hard about and often revert back to the tried and tested activities that have been completed in the past. Here are some things I hope to do next week with my lot.

Flipgrid videos

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A funky, new app is on the market that we used for the kids to share their summer stories with us before they met us. A nice, little ice breaker where the children can upload a video of clips, voice overs etc to allow us teachers to get to know them a little better. First time using it this summer and it’s been a hit. We will be using this again throughout the year.

Describe yourself using no more than 20 emojis

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Simple, relevant and enjoyable. Be it on a device or on paper, this activity is a great one to get the kids thinking about what makes them unique and allows them to have a bit of fun while they are at it.

My Crest

Crest template

These templates are plentiful and can be adapted for devices too. A picture of the student in the middle and pictures surrounding it of things that make them who they are. Pics of family, sports they like, pets etc. Can be completed like a coat of arms too.

Lollipop names

Lollipops

Multiple uses for these. Can be used for random name picking but as an introductory session, the kids complete the design on their lollipop, place it into the pot and then pick someone else’s at random. Once they have done this, they have to interview that person to find out 3 interesting things about them to share with the rest of the class. Nice PSHE session to start the year off.

Birthday Green Screen Pics

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Cool way of displaying the kids birthdays by using Green Screen from DoInk. A handful of props, a whiteboard for them to write their birthday on with a green screen behind them and that’s it! A little gem the kids love.

2 Truths, 1 Lie

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Always a classic and never gets old. The kids come up with 3 statements about themselves that they share with the class. 2 are true and 1 is a lie. A nice way to get to know the kids and have a laugh along the way.

I know some teachers prefer to get on with lessons instead of having a couple of days to get to know the kids, but I think it’s great. It’s not often you get to allow the kids to spend a nice chunk of time enjoying themselves, having a laugh without worrying whether or not they have achieved their L.O. at the end of it. Enjoy it while you can! 🙂