The Role of the ICT Coordinator

The Role of the ICT coordinator… Whether it is e-learning leader or ICT coordinator every ‘modern’ school has one but actually what is their role and how should they best support their staff? What should school leaders be looking for when they hire an ICT coordinator? Yes of course, there is the tech support side – managing report programs, new staff computers/logins and email accounts, ensuring the system in running smoothly and effectively but none of these tasks are truly what is required of the role. They are merely scratching the surface of the job description. In fact most of these tasks should fall under the role of technical support officers (more on this topic later).

They must be innovative and have vision. What does this mean? They must want to push education into a new direction through the use of ICT and encourage their teachers into challenging the way they currently teach. A good ICT coordinator must understand the ICT is simply a vehicle for better quality teaching and that it allows us to do things which we may previously not have been able to do, to be able to communicate in new ways or show us new or different ways of thinking. It is not the be all and end all. Google is fantastic, don’t get me wrong, yes I may get excited about the latest app or the way it seems to read my mind but this is not what motivates me to use ICT in education.

The ICT coordinator must lead by example and be competent in ICT, however I would go out on a limb here and add that there are not vital. This does not mean they hide away in their room, but know that it is ok to not know the answer and they don’t need to be the only person in the school who can fix things. There can at times be a culture within schools in where an “expert” becomes they only person who can solve computer problems. ICT leaders and computer technicians do this all the time, they mystify their work through jargon and three letter acronyms and often block educational revolutionary ideas because of power control issues. The ICT leader must build a network within the school of teachers and students who are working towards an ICT vision who become peer mentors to other teachers and students. Whether this is done through a formal committee or more informally, this is an essential component of changing culture. Staff must feel that there is more that one person pushing the vision, that there are other people “on the train” and that it is possible for everyone to use ICT. This takes several trains of action.

ICT needs to be at the forefront of a schools strategic planning and professional development plans. It is not merely enough to talk about using ICT or give every student in the school an iPad. Whilst this will increase your ICT usage it will not increase the productivity or the educational quality of teaching practice. Staff need guidance, they need support to try new things, they need structured and good quality professional development (perhaps at multiple entry or interest points) to understand and be given the opportunities to share and be acknowledged for their trials. Simultaneously leaders need to demand that all teachers are expected to get on board with ICT, it is not an elective, it is not something that one chooses to do with their students, it is mandatory and yes we will support you but the reality is you are expected to do this every day in your class – no excuses. This is were it can get tough, resistance will come and heels will dig but is important that staff understand that ICT is not a optional extra to teaching.

This is where it becomes important for ICT leaders to get into classrooms and planning meetings, to find out what is happening in curriculum and to find ways to entice each teacher into ICT. The ICT leader must find each teacher’s individual “carrot,” whether it is organization, communication, easy of marking, gaming, writing, spelling, etc. there is a “carrot” out there for all of us. This requires time and it can be a battle when most ICT leaders are also teaching full time. The leader must fight for time allocation and resources. As a leader it is vital that you are pushing your curriculum area… English and Maths should not be getting all the light in a school. The leader must fight for ICT to be on the forefront of everything that is driven through the school. It must become embedded across all subject areas and this may require working with the English and Maths leaders to cross combine.

Technical assistance needs to be supportive and on board and not the biggest blocker of ideas. Some schools have techs who are extremely innovative, who understand technical requirements and educational philosophy but others do not. Schools and innovation can be hindered when all the power is in the hands of a SSP. This is why it is the role of the leader to develop a strong relationship with the SSP, to invite them into planning, professional development and strategic meetings. The tech needs to understand the pedagogy of the school just as essentially as the teachers as they have opportunity to make or break the vision.

Aurora 56z: A New Frontier for the Next Frontier of Learning

Over the term we ran a scientific Rich Learning Project, Aurora 56z with 130 grade ⅚ students. It was a massive project, which began with the scenario that climate change has ravaged the Earth and is now no longer a viable place to live. Students were explained the problem as a whole level by the class teachers who took on the dramatic role of “scientists.” It was presented to the students in a way that this was the “truth” and not simply a school project! It was from this moment that I think the students really engaged in the theatre of this project; whilst deep down they knew it was a Rich Learning Project and that the world was not actually ending, they were able to get into character as a member of the Planetary Council and took their role extremely seriously.

Students began the project by researching climate change and trying to decipher the mistakes humans had made which had lead to this destruction. They examined issues of fossil fuels, polar ice melting, extinction, food shortage and the effect of temperature increases. After this initial research students then began exploring the solar system for a viable planet to move to. This was an critical first step in the project as it forced students to examine questions, such as “what do humans need to survive?” and “what does Earth have that is different to the other planets?” It allowed us to meet some of the more content specific VELS points we are required to address at Level 4. I also saw some really interesting examples of creative thinking during this phase, students were beginning to develop logical plans to overcome the difficulties of living on other planets, for example designing oxygen generators and harnessing light and reflecting it on to different planets.

As a team we toyed with the idea of selecting one of the current planets as the “new home,” but felt that we would not be able to truly replicate the conditions of that planet in the minecraft arena. Thus Aurora56z was born and the scientists rushed to tell the planetary council of this new discovery. The students were then given two weeks to design a mode of transport to travel to Aurora56z and collate a list of things they would need to take with them.

Students researched various spacecraft designs and then used google sketchup to create their shuttles. They were required to workout the associated mathematical calculations and provide a justification of the specific elements of their design. Students were required to post this information on the wikispace Aurora56z.

In this phase it became apparent that the students required some form of management system. One student suggested that the level be split into different districts to avoid doubling up on supplies and with the aim of giving people more of a focus. This seemed like a great idea and initially four districts were created, Agriculture, Industry, City and Culture and Recreation. Students were given the choice about which district they belonged to and were able to move districts throughout the project if they felt they had more to contribute somewhere else. Another student suggested that there needed to be a fifth district, as she didn’t feel the needs of education were been covered. She created the District of Education & Discovery and enticed other students to move into her district.

This wikispace became the central hub of the project. Our main reasons for creating the wikispace were to provide an online space for individual reflection and to facilitate communication between districts. Because students were working across classes we wanted them to have a place where they could share ideas, learn from their peers and see what others were doing. Through a series of links students were able to access support information and then create their own sub-page coming from their district page. Wikispaces was the platform that we used for this project, however there are many similar programs available that would have achieved a comparable result. If anything, I felt a message board or chat feature would have supported greater communication between students.

After students had completed their shuttle designs and packing lists, we held an official rocket launch, using a model rocket and now we were officially living on planet Aurora56z. Whilst being merely symbolic this launch supported the dramatic side of this project and our desire to create an atmosphere of realism.

This project had so many roads that could have been taken; it was impossible, and would have been negligent for us not to cover issues relating to Civics and Citizenship. Issues of politics, democracy and laws needed to be discussed and debated, and the students naturally diverted down this road. However we (the teachers) really wanted to ensure that the overarching focus was scientific based around the notion of sustainability. To ensure we were steering onto this track, once we had landed on Aurora56z each District was given a responsibility/problem to tackle. These ranged from implementing sustainable energy sources and farming practises, to water desalination, to quarantine centres and to waste collection and disposable. This was the prime focus of the each district but did not limit what the students created on Aurora56z.

Students took their district responsibilities seriously and created logical and researched solutions to their problems. It was very interesting to see what things they created and valued as important to life. The only problem was that it was hard to get some students to think of “new” solutions to their problems. Many of them wanted to replicate how we did things on Earth and didn’t question whether these practises could be done better and when they would cause more problems for the citizens of Aurora.

The conception of Aurora56z was such a fascinating process to watch unfold. The students were so excited to be building their new world and the classroom was a buzz of excitement whenever we were working on the server. The amount of communication that occurred in the classroom during this time was phenomenal. Students were busy telling each other what they were doing and debating what needed to be done next. Others were offering words of advice, others asking for help and there were many shrieks of excitement when things worked or cries of pain when things didn’t! I was impressed with the attitude of all the students towards Minecraft. Of all the games we have used in an educational context, it was by far the best received by both male and female students and for such a sustained period of time. Half of the students had not played the game before and whilst some were initially reluctant, once in the game, they were converted. I like how the game has no defined rules, no end point and gives players creative freedom to build and design to their hearts content.

One of my favourite things that was built on the server was by some students in the Education & Discovery District. Their district’s role was to educate the people of Aurora on better life practises and also to further discover the planet Aurora and it’s surroundings. These students created a hidden underground city and when describing why they had built this, they explained that they were hoping that when the citizens of Aurora discovered this city, it would make them question whether or not they were the original inhabitants of Aurora and promote further investigation into this idea.

My colleague Kynan Robinson created the Minecraft server and was vital in not only overseeing the logistics of running and maintaining a server, supporting all five class teachers to understand the project and the desired outcomes but also in working with a group of ten students who were highly knowledgeable in the game. He facilitated lunchtime discussions with these students who became an “expert advisory group” for the teachers and students. This group was fantastic in helping us understand the intricacies of the game, the best management strategies of running such a complex system and were able to alert us to any problems that happened on the server. They were also all given the responsibility of being “Ops”. An “Op” has greater control on the server, and can do things such as issue warnings, block and ban others and can teleport people around the server. The Ops were constantly being called on by their peers to assist them whilst playing the game and they had to teach all the Noobs how to do many things. This experience was a fantastic opportunity for these students to develop their social skills, particularly leadership and communication skills and was essential for ensuring student directed learning.

Griefing can be an issue when playing in the online multiplayer world. Unfortunately there were some examples of it occurring on our server, though probably less than I may have initially expected. For the affected students it was a frustrating experience; some had put hours and hours of work into creating something and then within seconds it has been changed or destroyed. Initially there was a lot of accidental “griefing” happening, however this was more due to novice player mistakes than any malicious aforethought. I do think there were times when a lack of communication was the major problem; for example people thought they were collaborating with someone else and the other person didn’t know that was what was happening. On the upside this provided some valuable teaching moments and students were encouraged to go into another classroom and talk out their issues face to face with the other person.

Problems also occurred when people chose a place for their building and didn’t quite anticipate how big it was and then someone built next door to them and they felt that their “space” had been violated. The battle for “space” was a continual issue on Aurora 56z (despite the minecraft world being infinite). People tried building fences around their land or labelling their space with their district sign (most commonly a letter representing their district) however this was not always successful. I guess these issues will always occur when operating in a complex system and does mimic the real world which allowed for interesting parallels to be drawn and many interesting philosophical debates to be had.

The project concluded with Aurora56z being presenting to a panel of experts. The purpose of this panel was to allow students an authentic audience to justify their decision making and evaluate the success of the planet and the potential for it’s long-term survival. Approximately twenty-five students were charged with the task of collating all the work of their districts and then presenting it at the forum. This was an additional challenge for these students and allowed them to be further extended in the project. They had to interview members of their district and understand all of the different projects people had been working on. They created a screen-cast showcasing their districts response to their problems and had to ensure they spoke on behalf of their whole district. When the panel posed questions any of the students were able to answer or provide additional information.

It has been a epic project and I’m sure I haven’t quite covered everything in this first draft, however the one thing I do know is that Aurora56z sure looks like a very interesting place to live.

IPod Touches In The Primary School

At our school we have been using ipod touches for about 18 months now and have them all across the school from the Prep classes to the Grade Sixes. I do really believe that they are a very useful tool to have in a primary classroom. In a perfect world I would probably replace them with Ipads but alas budget restrictions! However I do think that the ipod is a great size for little hands to use when filming. I do also really like the model that some schools have adopted in which students manage their own devices from home and are given a required list of apps to bring to school. I’m sure sooner or later all students will be able to use their own devices in classrooms.
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I worked with the touches in a grade 2 class and now this year in my 5/6 class. How I use the devices has changed dramatically over the two years. Last year with the early years classroom it was mostly apps-based and used as a listening post. I have quickly learnt that handheld devices have so many other uses than just apps. We need to look at creative ways to use Ipod touches rather than just rote learning apps.
• Podcasts
• Filming
• Voice Recording and reflections
• Photos
• Researching on the internet
• Dictionary/Calculator
• Critique games/writing reviews

This year I have found that the devices are a quick research tool for my students. I encourage them to grab them whenever they need to look up a quick fact, image, dictionary meaning or spelling etc. It means that the computers are used for other projects and students don’t waste time while they wait for them to boot up. I am also really trying to shift some of my reading program to the Ipod touches. I am still trying to find some good online magazines/books/comics suitable for year 5/6 students. Any ideas welcome? I have a few reluctant readers in my class and they seem to be responding really well on reading on the IPod touches. It may seem a bit gimmicky but I do think that teaching students to read and understand webpages, blogs and other multi-media is extremely important. It also means that students can respond to videos and podcasts as well. I think it would be fantastic if someone created an app or an interactive newspaper for kids in which they could interactive with current news topics and stories; e.g. leave their opinions, vote on topics, connect with other kids from around the world, post surveys etc. If anyone knows of an app/site like that please let me know!

Recently another school approached our school for some advice; they have just purchased some IPod touches. They came on a tour of our school and saw how we are using them across the school. I am so grateful for the advice and assistance I got when I first purchased the IPods and have leant so much from other teachers through the web that it was nice to be able to help someone else on this journey.

My two main pieces of advice to any school purchasing handheld devices would be:
– Any app can be a great learning tool it just depends on how you use it
– Handheld devices are more than just apps – think creatively

Below is a short booklet we put together to give to the other school. It has some advice about getting started and also a list of apps/activities we use across the whole school. This list is just a basic beginning guide and is not exhaustive.
Getting Started With Ipod Touches

Check out this game…

Today one of our students introduced us to the game called Atmosphir. It is fantastic. It is a virtual world which students can move around and can then build their own world and can design challenges to set for others. People can compete to move through the world to collect objects, find the flag and beat their times. The game provides the building blocks and the students simply build their 3D world! Very easy for students to use. You can then upload your game to the Atmosphir community and others can play it. Definitely worth checking out. It is free and students just need to create their own log in on the web. Very excited about the possibilities of using this game as part of our unit.

This was a game made by one of the students in our gaming unit. It is pretty cool! Do you recognise the structure? He made it using a program called Sploder.

Teaching Narrative Writing

I have always enjoyed teaching narrative writing. It is definitely one of my favourite subject areas and one which I see all children succeed and allow their personalities to show through. I have tried many different approaches to teaching narrative writing; in both upper and lower primary and definitely feel I have developed my own personal beliefs abut what works and what doesn’t work. I know I am definitely still on a journey and don’t have all the answers. However to help sort out my own thoughts I wanted to try and articulate these ideas as best as I can.. So here goes…

I have been influenced heavily by Debbie Sukarna and Donald Graves. Both of these educators have helped me to form my own ideas about teaching the craft of writing. I have loved using the Writer’s Workshop approach with students from prep to six and have seen first hand the enjoyment all students have towards this approach. I love it when the students are begging for Writer’s Workshop and are disappointed when it is not on the daily schedule!

I whole heatedly believe that students should determine the content of their writing, I don’t think that we as teachers should dictate what students have to write about or what genre or style they should use. I think it is important that students are exposed to different styles and genres but this can be done through shared reading, explicit mini lessons and modelling from the teacher. Students can be encouraged to try different styles but ultimately the content choices should be left up to the students. In first term I trialled a genre study unit and whilst it was successful and the students did produce quality writing I didn’t feel like they were passionate about the task I had set them. Now that students are controlling the content and genre of their stories they are demanding to take their books home and work on their stories or continue them on google docs. Their writing is lot more creative and from a teachers perspective a whole lot more interesting! I am amazed at the wide variety of story ideas they have chosen to pursue. Much more interesting that reading 27 stories which are the same!! Student attitudes towards writing seem a lot more positive and you would be surprised at how infrequently a child doesn’t know what to write about. I have seen many more meltdowns and refusals when student are forced to write about a specific topic. I think we often underestimate children and their desire to have a voice in this world. I think this process really does work to stimulate creative thought and reflects an authentic writing process.

I do believe that modelling is a very powerful part of the writing process and that students learn a lot from seeing the teacher model writing but also and (maybe more powerfully) they learn more from listening to other student’s share their writing. This brings me to my next writing epiphany… I have always liked the idea of writing conferencing. I have read a lot about Donald Graves ideas about writing conferencing and was really keen to get these happening in my classroom and I have tried and tried but I never felt that were as successful as I had hoped. It would take me a long time to get through each student and I never felt like I was seeing each student enough. So this week with my grade 5/6 class I decided to try small group conferencing. While the rest of the class were working on their stories I selected four students to work with me. I deliberately chose mixed ability students. Each student read our their piece of writing and the other three students provided feedback about the piece;things they liked and the things that were a bit confusing. This was an extremely powerful process. Simply reading the piece aloud help to fix any grammatical errors and omitted words but more important the other students gave absolutely fantastic feedback… In kid friendly language… That made sense to the other student! They were extremely respectful to each other, positive and encouraging but also helpful! It was such a great experience. The conferencing took about fifteen to twenty minutes and in the hour session I was able to do a ten minute mini lesson of explicit teaching aimed at the whole class at the beginning and then two group conferencing sessions with a final reflection at the end!

Well there are some of my thoughts about writing. This is not an exhaustive list or is it any way a complete piece. I understand writing is only one piece of the puzzle and I have only began to scratch the surface here!! Love to know what you think? What are you thoughts about writing?

The Agile Methodology

We have decided to go with the agile methodology approach with our gaming unit. In this instance it seems to be the most appropriate method for this task. Kynan Robinson has written an excellent blog post about this topic.
I am really excited about trialing the agile approach and the students are also really excited. Will keep you posted with our progress!

To design or not to design?

We have just finished another session now with the students; in this session we had a “game maker” come in and present to the class. I think this was a really worthwhile session as the students enjoyed hearing about the real life world of the game making.

He also had a really interesting perspective on the process we were undertaking – I guess we had gone down the path of getting the kids familiar with the programs before we started any serious game making and allowing them to explore the programs and discover things for themselves – we are definitely trying to focus on creating that community of knowledge and sharing. He had the belief that we should do all the designing/planning before we even touched the game making programs. I can see the merit in this idea as I can see how program could stifle their imaginations and force them down a particular path. I guess it makes sense to design first rather than be limited by what is possible with the program or their own abilities to use the program. He also stressed the importance of team work and the power of collaboration in the work place.

I am interested in the idea of taking the children on the design journey and I can see some great thinking coming out of this side of the project. As Paul explained he considered 99% of the work went into the design phase and 1% went into the actual game making. I could now see us spending the next few weeks in this “design phase.” I could see the class working on a design brief for their game. By the way: Does anyone have one of these?

I think it would be cool to spend time making characters/settings and producing some high quality work either through drawing/clay/computer programs and really getting the students to write a narrative  for their game and then story board the levels and quest of the characters. And other things such as creating sound effects and designing pick ups, Enemies,  Easter eggs etc.

My only concern is whether or not the students will be able to replicate these ideas using the computer programs after the design phase. Will their skills be sufficient? And if not, does this matter? Is the fact that they have produced high level thinking in the design phase enough? Can they then go back to create simple games? Are we setting them up for a fall? Or should we simply allow the students to experiment with the programs and create games “on the go” without the forward planning? What are your thoughts?

Students Create their Own Rubric

Today we had our next session in our PBL gaming journey. We asked the students to design their own rubric based around “what makes a great/enjoyable/successful game?” I felt this was a really worthwhile activity and I was impressed at how well the students could articulate their thoughts about game evaluation.

We then want these students to use their criteria to evaluate games (online, apps, Wii) and see what things they like/dislike in the gaming world.