Sunday, 5 December 2010

A Song for Christmas 2

My previous post 'A Song for Christmas' introduced the theory behind creating a Christmas single and expounded the benefits to the pupils of sharing their work online. The chosen medium was iTunes to allow the pupils to relate to the sharing and to help them contextualise the process. The decision was made to put a normal iTunes price of 79p on the track, raising funds for play equipment. However in the nature of true sharing, and with hope of more feedback to share with the school I have included a sample of the track below:

Please comment on the song, and if you are feeling particularly generous go to iTunes and download the full track. Raising self esteem merits above raising cash so a comment will be greatly appreciated.


Monday, 22 November 2010

A song for Christmas

It started last year and the production of a Christmas CD in time for the annual school Christmas fair. Each class contributed a Traditional Christmas carol, the resultant CD was popular with the parents and certainly gave the children a great deal with regards to raising self esteem and creating something with a degree of longevity.

The question arose during October, "What are we doing for Christmas this year?" The music department, working alongside ICT had been making inroads into utilising tecchnology, this fact teamed with a music technician with amazing composing skills led to the concept of producing an all original song.

'Another Bower Grove Christmas' was born: Lyrically meant to encapsulate the pot pourri of feelings and activities that traditionally punctuate the festive period at school. Musically having a folk-pop style, with a catchy infectious tune.

The benefits for the students was huge, involved in designing the cover artwork, whole school performances to record the song, individual pupils voices added as extra tracks, promotional poster design, use of social networking platforms to promote the release. And hopefully the realisation that the internet and social networks can make great things happen.

After editing and mixing (more creative genius from the music technician) the track was uploaded to cdbaby who had agreed to waive costs on the release of the album due to its charity nature.

The finished article is a rousing and catchy Christmas style tune, available for download from cdbaby and hopefully soon on a plethora of other music download sites including iTunes. The job now rests with me to promote the promotion, to try and get a buzz going and raise the profile of the school, the expectation of the children aand hopefully a couple of pounds.

Bower Grove School: Another Bower Grove Christmas

Thursday, 30 September 2010

Dilute well before serving...

As I have stated in previous posts (Bridging the Gap, Bridging the gap 2 and Grape Expectations), I am dedicated to helping give, the professionals around me, as much help as I possibly can. All I strive to do is open their eyes to the potential of harnessing some of the myriad of tools available. Every day I peruse postings from twitter, and I follow links, I bookmark pages, I read blogs and I comment if I feel it is appropriate. From this I am able to dilute the concentrated information I recieve and then filter it accordingly before serving it to my technowary colleagues.
The strength of the web and its plethora of tools and wealth of information is also its weakness. Information overload, can and does provide a barrier to prevent a vast number of digital immigrants from accessing and therefore realising the potential of the technology at their fingertips.
I have no solution, I try hard to help, I spend time sharing, I laud the merits of web 2.0 yet my most successful converts have been the educators to whom I have carefully spoon fed a single idea at a time.
The converted amongst you (and if you are reading this then you are no doubt a digital convert if not a native) should take heed, the constant stream of ideas and concepts we sift through and store for use (or not!) will be a daunting prospect for a majority of our colleagues, not because they are technophiles or unable but because it is too rich to digest.
Our 21st century learners will embrace the opportunities we present them because that is where they are.
True 21st century practitioners will continue to provide the conduit through which these learners will flow.
The gap, if their is one, remains in giving the technowary an opportunity to guide their learners, even if somewhat tentatively, in a wise direction.
My advice therefore - Continue to learn; take every opportunity to improve your CPD; network in a way that suits you but sometimes we need to think and dilute well before serving....

Friday, 16 July 2010

Romeo & Juliet

A new job (head of ICT at a special school for children aged 6 - 16) and a multitude of things to do managed to slow down the use of animation in my classes. I did achieve some pivot with the year 4's and 5's but the creation of a stop frame was thwarted by hardware issues. With the server allowing the software to be fully operational I started looking for a focus. Year 9 were covering Romeo and Juliet in English and it seemed like an ideal project for a collaborative animation. Having already extolled the virtues of Zu3D in a previous post 'Cube Life' it was time to use the software. As in previous animations the planning stage allowed us to break the play into manageable lumps for the students to work on.
  • Storyboards - The storyboarding process was completed using a Publisher template, their choice of backdrops in each frame and screen beans to indicate character requirements and add speech bubbles. All the students used a range of IT skills to manipulate and scale the characters in their storyboards at the same time reinforcing their English skills in the analysis of the scenes and how they could translate to an animation.
  • Characters - We decided to use lego characters for the animation, Whilst the range of movement is limiting, it allowed continuity of characters within the various scenes being shot. The main characters were give an 'R' and a 'J' to distinguish them.
  • Backdrops - Students chose their backdrops, downloaded them and printed onto A4 card. Care was taken to try and maintain scale in background selection.
  • Animation - The animation process was made easy by the functionality and simplicity of the Zu3D software. This is not an advert for the software so will not repeat my opinions from my previous post. Zu3D works, and works well. The interface is user friendly and has all the features you would expect in animation software.
  • Editing - The inital problem I met was when we came to tie the whole project together. The students had animated in pairs and we had 10 seperate animations, my version of the software did not allow me to export then import the seperate pieces. I contacted David Henley at Zulogic with my problem, he immediately sent me a link for the latest Beta version of the software that solved this problem. Adding titles, sound effects and music were completed as a class group with discussion and collaboration about the suitability of the choices made. Finally dialogue was added to the project.
The finished animation can be viewed on the Zu3D websit gallery - Romeo & Juliet , take a minute to check it out, leave a comment for the students if you can. I know they would appreciate it.

On reflection the animation itself could be smoother, there could be more dialogue and I wonder if lego characters allowed the scope of movement and looks for the story. This being said, the project gave a number of positives:
  • The collaboration between the children was amazing, considering the range of needs within the class. They worked in pairs to animate, discussed and assisted their peers throughout and worked with animation yet acceptance during whole class discussion.
  • The pride the class have in the finished product has definitely raised their self esteem.
  • There knowledge and grasp of Romeo & Juliet is definitely secure.
  • A range of IT skills were utilised throughout the creation of the animation.
I am sure that William Shakespeare would be impressed in this adaptation of his famous work!!!

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Grape Expectations

Despite my extensive staff training (Bridging the Gap & Bridging the Gap 2) and the fact that I have had a weekly open workshop in the ICT suite to allow staff to answer questions or improve skills with support. It has still been my aim to improve communications throughout the school. The number of handwritten and photocopied notes that I pick out from my pigeonhole is heinious at best and could be responsible for a large proportion of global deforestation. Having provided all staff (120) with e mail accounts and training in how to use them, surely this would bear fruit and some of the intra-school communication would utilise this medium. Alas no. Despite the accessibility of the medium, paper has remained the chosen communication delivery system.
Conversations with management revealed their support for my crusade, however there remained the inevitable catch 22, they were loathe to send out anything important by e mail for fear it was missed by staff, staff did not feel the need to regularly check their e mails because all important information was imparted by more archaic methods.
So was born a weekly prize draw, a case of wine was donated by the deputy head teacher, the concept was I send out an e mail, all respondents are entered into a weekly draw, the winner getting a bottle of wine.

Simple, fun and hopefully encouraging the utilisation of the e mail system.
Week 3 is nearly over, the draw will take place tomorrow using The Hat in morning assembly, there will be a sense of trepidation and excitement from staff and children alike. (The students have become my adversaries in nagging their own staff about participating). Results on responses are as follows:
  • Week 1 - 18 replies
  • Week 2 - 28 replies
  • Week 3 - 34 replies so far (still a couple of hours to go!!)
Its still not even 50%, and I am still struggling to win some people over but nevertheless, it has become a talking point and if people are talking about technology, even something as mundane as e mails then perhaps it will move forward.
When I get to 50% (and I will) then plans are to introduce the complex tasks of: copying in another recipient, opening an attachement and even adding an attachment. More gap bridging is planned, and with the opportunity of some free alcohol appearing to be motivational in

Sunday, 7 February 2010

Bridging the Gap 2

With one week left of my Basic ICT course I have had time to reflect on what, if anything it has achieved. As I highlighted in my previous post (Bridging the Gap) I had several outcomes intended for the course:

  • Greater confidence in use of ICT across the school.

  • Better support for our students in their use of ICT.

  • Maximised usage of the hardware and software available.

  • A shift towards a 21st Century learning experience for the children.

All of which are worthwhile and I can say with confidence will be a step closer to being realised now than they were 5 weeks ago. So with my reflective head on I looked at what I covered during the weeks, why? And the benefits to: The staff who attended; the school as a whole; me as ICT subject leader and the students we teach.

Week 1 - Computer basics - Nothing earth shattering here, a glossary of terms they may come across (linked to Teach-ICT online dictionary). Just so they know what a wiki, blog, podcast etc are. Not asking people to do them, just know they are there. This was followed with a walk around the Windows desktop, maximising , minimising and closing windows. Using the taskbar. Switching between open applications.

We then played some online games - My justification: It is what the children do, it improves mouse skills, It was a distraction from me talking and everyone was engaged with their computer....

finally a whistlestop tour of file management - How make a folder, rename a folder and move files between folders. Short task provided was a folder full of mixed files which needed to be sorted into some order.

Week 2 - KLZ & E mail - Kent Learning Zone (KLZ) is the sharepoint portal through which staff access their e mails and a range of other information. We looked at the school sharepoint site (I have spent some time making it user friendly) and then accessed the course page on which all the notes, information and links have been posted. I had added a couple of Voki's of a mouse that revised some of the points from the previous weeks input.

We then looked at the e mail accounts - reading, replying and forwarding messages. opening attachments. Adding contacts and organising contacts. I then sent an e mail to all staff, giving the opportunity for contacts to be added and sorted as appropriate to each individual.

Week 3 - The Internet - I did nothing here, largely thanks to @markw29 and his wonderfully informative Welcome to the Web - The site provides a step by step walk though the Internet including: Staying safe, Browsing, searching. It covered everything I wanted to cover - Although it is aimed at children, the tips and idea included were relevant, accessible and well presented. I introduced it, showed them where the link was and then let them play.

Week 4 - Word & Publisher - 1 hour to look at 2 pieces of software that (despite my reluctance to hand the Microsoft empire yet more control) do appear to form the mainstay of ICT tools in the classroom. These bread and butter applications are used regularly by the children in most curricular areas -

Word - I just put a piece of text onto the sharepoint site that could be downloaded. I demonstrated 5 things: Formatting the font (colour & Style); Using the spellchecker; Using synonyms; Inserting a picture and Inserting Word Art. These tools, whilst a tiny part of the software's capability enabled them all to produce a formatted piece of text and the awareness that making a piece of text presentable is a relatively simple task.

Publisher - Once again a load of things I could have done - instead went straight to the 'Publications for print' and looked at the pre-loaded layouts. I chose one and demonstrated that using a layout that worked I could adapt it and change it to suit my personal needs. I demonstrated 5 things: Editing a text box; formatting an autoshape; formatting a line; deleting elements and changing a picture. The task was then to produce a certificate for their class using these tools.

Both tasks were successful in providing an introduction to the software and gave an opportunity to play with the computer.

Week 5 - Excel & Powerpoint - As I write this I have not yet completed week 5, I am following a similar format to week 4 and expect to give a short demonstration with a practical task to clarify each of the applications. I do not like Powerpoint personally and am hoping these familiar applications will provide a springboard from which other software can be accessed be it installed or web-based.

Having completed the bulk of the course, and for the main enjoyed doing it what has it achieved in terms of value are multi-faceted:

The Staff - I have received a wealth of positive comments from those who have been turning up and giving up their own time to move outside their personal comfort zones. This was highlighted on Friday with the message shown below on a small card:

The accompanying bottle of red wine was well received and enjoyed with my steak on Friday evening, but more so was the sentiment of the card - The key word being confident. I have heard a range of positive comments about ICT from people whose approach to and grasp of ICT knowledge had in the past bordered on phobic. I feel that the confidence to turn on a machine and have a go has started to grow amongst the staff.

The School - It is too early to gauge any long term affects, but I am confident that just the fact that all the staff now have school e mail addresses - and because of training over 60% of them are accessing them regularly. We are in a position to communicate as an organization in a more efficient, cost effective and ecologically sound way.

The ICT Leader - If it means that one less person asks me 'can you just' with regards to an ICT problem then I will be satisfied. But even more I have already noticed that the support staff who accompany children into the ICT suite for a lesson are more confident in their support of the children. Being prepared to take a risk alongside the students is a big ask, yet it is happening.

The Students - We are led to believe that we are educating digital natives, and that our students are much more able and confident than adults to embrace and utilise the tools that 21st century learning provides. Generally this is true, nevertheless there are children who struggle to access or understand the worth of these tools. What value to their self-esteem is being supported by an adult who finds the concepts equally baffling? This 2-way scaffolding could be beneficial in raising standards in ICT and helping children to improve their own self-worth. I think it is good that children see the adults around them learning, it helps to foster a positive image of life-long learning. I had a conversation in the dinner hall on Friday with a year 10 student - Student - 'Am I right in saying that the staff have been having ICT lessons after school? Can I ask why?' I explained that they are trying to improve their own knowledge to facilitate the children improving and using ICT more effectively. He looked at me, thought for a while, then said 'Thats a good idea' and carried on eating. That about sums it up, the value to the children is having adults supporting them who can help them to move forward in all curricular areas. If ICT can be used positively in the classroom then our students have one more tool that can foster their own development.

In conclusion, none of it is earth shattering, none of the course was ground breaking in fact it was basic with a capital B. But it has been well received, moved people forward and I am already being approached by other more reticent staff about the possibility of repeating it next term. I have been given praise (which is always nice), I have seen benefits in the classroom and I believe we are one step closer to effectively utilising the plethora of ICT opportunities available in school and online. I would love to bridge the gap, think I may have laid the abutment, more bridging to follow!

Friday, 22 January 2010

Bridging the gap

The multi-faceted nature of a job within the education system can be fraught with many challenges. There are a multitude of different agendas being addressed by specialists, all aimed at maximising the potential of the children and offering them different and exciting experiences. I am one of those specialists, I like to think I have some degree of specialism in ICT and so therefore my agenda is largely technology based. I spend time, and thought into trying to ensure that the technological capability of my work environment is useful and accesssible for all the stakeholders in the school. My frustrations lie not with the hardware or software that I install (even though I sometimes make mistakes), or making it work (this in itself can sometimes be an enigma!) but in the ever increasing knowledge gap that exists between some adults within schools and the students they are helping.
This gap has been my target, I would not force anybody to embrace 21st Century technology, nor would I insist they utilise them in the classroom, but I truly believe that as yet further advances are made in technology, educators need to be aware of and, if appropriate, at least be capable of pointing children towards the tools available.
To this end I have been a staunch supporter, and advocate of the 'converted' (you are probably one if you are reading this) supporting those, who for whatever reason, struggle to access the technology that 21st Century society offers them. For this reason, predominantly, although there are benefits for the children and the school. I decided to offer a free 'Basic ICT Course' to the staff in my school.
I put up a list on the noticeboard, included a brief course outline, and a choice of days (I was going to do an hour a week, for 5 weeks, on a Wednesday or a Thursday). They were to give up their own time and stay late at school, to step outside their comfort zones. CPD is fine when it suits you, but personal sacrifice for CPD can be difficult to buy into. I was amazed, not only was there take up, but I was oversubscribed! Instead of Wednesday OR Thursday, I was having to do both days, 36 people ( a third of the staff), including all the SMT opted in.
I have just finished week two, the altruistic intentions of my actions are supported by a number of staff thanking me for the things they are learning, and putting into practise both at school and at home (I await patiently the arrival of my sainthood or at least a mention in the Queen's Birthday honours list). The ultimate outcomes:
  • Greater confidence in use of ICT across the school.
  • Better support for our students in their use of ICT.
  • Maximised usage of the hardware and software available.
  • A shift towards a 21st Century learning experience for the children.

It has been well received, I have enjoyed the praise that has been offered me and there is a discernable buzz around the staff room regarding ICT generally. Hopefully, despite it being a small step, I am making some inroads into bridging the gap between those who can, and those who want to, embrace the technological era.