Forging Global Connections – Mystery Skype to Singapore

On Friday 23rd May Yr3 students engaged in an eLearning first for St Andrew’s College – a Mystery Skype!

Mrs Jane Egden agreed at short notice from me to help out a request I’d seen on Twitter from Mr Craig Kemp, a Senior Teacher and ICT Specialist at Avondale Grammar in Singapore for a Yr2 or Yr3 class to engage in a Mystery Skype session. The object of a Mystery Skype is

An educational game, invented by teachers, played by two classrooms on Skype. The aim of the game is to guess the location of the other classroom by asking each other questions.

In preparation for the Mystery Skype, Mrs Egden had discussed what sort of questions would be good to ask to find out where the other class was – this is what the students came up with:

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With the session scheduled to kick off at 1:30pm, the fantastic ICT support team at St Andrew’s set up a HD webcam in the classroom linked to the projector, and arranged chairs for the students to sit in front of so they would be visible on the webcam to the class in Singapore. Meanwhile, Mr Kemp and I had exchanged tweets showing both classes eagerly anticipating the start of the Mystery Skype:

Armed with atlases, globes and a little help from Google, the students were underway with their questions, both classes trying to “win” by correctly guessing the country of the other. Mr David Jensen from our wonderful Film and Media department filmed the action:

In the end, Avondale’s questions of “What continent are you in” and “What is the most popular sport” allowed them to correctly narrow down to New Zealand, whilst probing questions like “Are you south of China” helped our students locate Singapore.

Throughout the 30minute session, there was high engagement and excitement by all students, and as they popped outside for a quick play at the conclusion, a number requested “can we do this again soon?” A successful initial Mystery Skype for all, confirmed by Mr Kemp’s tweet shortly afterwards:

I have written previously about the benefits of harnessing Skype to pull experts into our classrooms, and I am delighted at the prospect that through this initial Mystery Skype, these two classrooms may be able to reconnect and share other learning experiences with each other. Ultimately, it is these types of learning experiences that excite me so much about the possibilities of technology in education. It is easy to expand the horizons of our students through connecting them with others all around the world, whilst keeping the learning engaging, relevant and fun.

I am looking forward to introducing other teachers at St Andrew’s to the rewarding experience of Mystery Skype sessions.

Here is a link to a different Mystery Skype from Skype’s own webpage:

Teaching the Teachers: The Role of Twitter in Professional Development

Image (Given this blog post is all about Twitter, you can choose to follow me by clicking: )

Over the last twelve months I have been forced to eat humble pie. For so long I’ve rejected “social media” as a frivolous waste of time and something I was not going to engage with in any meaningful way, let alone for work related purposes. Whilst I still feel that way around many of the most popular social media platforms out there, I have come to recognise the valuable role that Twitter can play in professional development for teachers.

I attended ULearn 2012 and admit that I was well off the pace in terms of utilising Twitter to engage in discussion amongst the attendees about the various speakers, but it proved a turning point for me to investigate further how this tool could allow me to create my own Professional Learning Network (PLN). Also at ULearn 2012 were Matt Nicoll and Tam Yuill Proctor (an early adopter with Twitter – see ULearn 2010 video), both teachers from St Andrew’s and both more conversant in Twitter than I, who showed me the various ins and outs of using hashtags and aliases. I made two blunders initially:

  • Trying to read every tweet that showed up on my timeline!
    • I quickly realised that with Twitter there is no point in seeing what has passed you by whilst you’re not watching – the flow of tweets is too rapid for that.
  • Not following people unless I thought they were absolutely awesome and were only going to tweet about stuff I was always interested in.
    • I’ve since realised that to pick up new followers yourself, you need to be following others and you can always “mute” the most prolific tweeters you follow if they tend to stray off topics of interest or relevance to you.

twitterSince I committed to exploring the use of Twitter further in my professional development, I’ve connected with top educators around the world who routinely post links to excellent articles, resources and reflections on their teaching practices and new and innovative things being tried in their classrooms.

For the uninitiated, it is tough to describe the immediacy with which Twitter delivers fresh new content – at times it really does feel like you’re on the ‘cutting edge’ of developments in teaching and learning, with educators all over the world tweeting thoughts and images of what is happening in their classrooms. Consequently, there is a need to filter some of the content and ideas before wholeheartedly embracing them.

However, in terms of building a focused, personalised Professional Learning Network that is completely free, it is hard to look past. Craig Kemp, a senior teacher and ICT specialist at Avondale Grammar International School in Singapore, wrote an excellent blog post comparing Twitter with alternative forms of paid professional development and he writes:

Thanks to Twitter I am now more up to date with Education than ever before …  as a professional development tool [it] has helped me connect with like-minded learning professionals around the world and every day I learn a lot from them through the things that they “tweet” and through the links that they share. Staying in daily contact with these people, whose opinions that I value, is powerful to me as an educator.

He has also blogged about using Twitter in the classroom with his students.

Closer to home, Matt Nicoll (Chemistry teacher at St Andrew’s College) has partnered with Philippa Nicoll (who has herself blogged about the merits of Twitter) at Samuel Marsden Collegiate School to create an inter-school Professional Learning Network connected by the Twitter hashtag edSMAC. Together, they’re showing 6-8 staff at each school how to use Twitter, introducing them to other Twitter users at the school and then showing them how to “follow” the tweets shared using the hashtag edSMAC.

In my capacity as Director of ICT at St Andrew’s, I was thrilled to see staff using technology in effective ways to further their own teaching and learning, whilst simultaneously growing their confidence and competence with Web 2.0 tools such as Twitter. Below I’ve embedded the recent tweets from the #edSMAC PLN discussion:

#edSMAC is just one of the many hashtags that exist with an educational focus – one of the most popular is #edChatNZ which allows New Zealand educators to share resources and ideas. Every second Thursday night at 8:30pm teachers meet virtually to discuss a number of educational questions. The “conversation” is often fast with a huge amount of ideas being shared Continue reading

Increasing Student Engagement & Enthusiasm for Writing with MS OneNote

I had the privilege of meeting with Dr Jeni Curtis today to discuss her use of Microsoft OneNote in her Yr9 English class, and discuss how this was one of the key tools she was using to achieve her aim of a paperless environment in her classroom. I was aware that a number of staff at St Andrew’s College were exploring the different ways that OneNote could be used in their teaching and, after seeing some unsolicited parent feedback to Dr Curtis, I knew I needed to write a blog about it.

OneNote is sometimes described as ‘the hidden jewel’ in the Microsoft Office Suite and for those unfamiliar with the programme, it can best be described as an electronic version of the traditional ring-binder, replete with the coloured tabs/dividers down the side. Since all students at St Andrew’s College have access to a free copy of MS Office (along with the web-apps via Office365), the decision to use OneNote by Dr Curtis made perfect sense.

The Setup:

All students initially required some assistance with setting up their OneNote notebooks for English and then sharing this with Dr Curtis. Critically, they were able to set the sharing permissions so that she could both read and edit their notebooks. Once completed, it meant that as the teacher, Dr Curtis could look at the student’s equivalent of traditional “exercise books” at anytime, allowing direct feedback and comments.

Additionally, Dr Curtis shared a “read only” OneNote notebook with the students where they could see useful materials for the courses, explanations of various terms as well as expectations for them around homework and other activities.

The First Task – An Introductory Letter & A Video Response:

The first task for the Yr9 English students in their steps towards a paperless classroom was to write an introduction letter to Dr Curtis using their shared OneNote notebook. What they didn’t expect was that they would receive a personalised video response from Dr Curtis that they could all watch directly within OneNote itself.

Video Response to Introductory Letter

Video Response to Introductory Letter

This certainly left an impression on the students of the class, and was actually achieved relatively easily through the neat feature of OneNote that allows for the recording of audio and video notes directly within a notebook. This innovative idea for marking homework and giving feedback was appreciated not only by the students, but also by the parents, with one taking the time out to email Dr Curtis the following congratulations:

I must congratulate you with using One Note for marking the children’s writing. Callum showed me the video clip commenting on one of his assignments. It was really impressive and useful. It is such a great use of technology and had helped Wayne and I appreciate the use of technology in classroom environment. We were a bit unsure with 1:1 computer concept to begin with.

I hope Callum is working hard in your class. I had seen his shifts of interests from not liking writing to enjoying writing in the last 2 assignments, which is wonderful.

Continue reading