Tuesday, 10 February 2015

‘A Fresh Approach to Professional Development’ by Microsoft #MIEExpert15 Karen Stadler

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This is a guest post from Karen Stadler one of South Africa’s Microsoft MIEExperts for 2015. Karen teaches at Elkanah House Senior Primary and is well known globally especially for her Travelling Rhino project and her award-winning wiki. Karen is not unused to winning awards. Recently Karen won the prestigious ISTE award ISTE’s SIGOL Online Learning Award in 2014. In 2010 she won a trip to the BETT ICT conference in England as a result of a competition run by the Independent Education magazine, by writing an article about how ICT is implemented at her school and how it has impacted on learning. In addition to that she has received recognition as a Global Classroom Lead Teachers 2012-15 by the Global Classroom Project run from Australia.Her blog and this post can be seen at https://karenstadler.wordpress.com/

Professional development and staff training in a school is always a sore point. Teachers, as we all know, are very busy people. When they are not busy in the classroom they are often coaching on the sports fields, involved in parent meetings or sitting in other school-related meetings, amongst other things. Their time is often not their own and to make time for any training or Professional Development is extremely difficult. There are only so many hours in a day, and to expect teachers to come in to school in the evenings when it is their family time, is a big ask.
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I am very fortunate to work in a forward-thinking environment, where the importance of ongoing Professional Development and training is recognised. It is currently a point of discussion in our school and I sit on a small committee which will look at the various forms of Professional Development and how they can be implemented effectively at our school. It is also recognised that some people do not enjoy working in a large group where they feel intimidated and get left behind. Everyone works and learns at a different pace, some are early adopters and forge ahead while others need to be shown more than once to gain confidence. In my role as head of Digital Learning, I am faced with working with a wide spectrum of abilities and varying degrees of tech knowledge.

The use of technology at Elkanah House Senior Primary
We work follow a 1:1 iPad programme in the classroom, but our IT Centre is a Windows lab running Office 2013. Our children are exposed to a multifaceted approach to ICT which is what they will experience in the real world. To prepare them for this they also have integrated IT lessons in the IT Centre for an hour a week, over and above their use of iPads in the classroom. Our teachers run their own IT lessons and they use Windows computers in their classrooms, so their Microsoft Skills need to be kept up to speed too. That is my job – to ensure that they receive the necessary training for effective teaching with the iPads and in the IT Centre. Training is perhaps not the correct word – ‘exposure’ to new and existing tools covers it more effectively.

Our weekly 90 minute Face Time sessions
A new addition to our PD programme is weekly Face Time sessions which run from 7:30am to 9:00am on Friday mornings. I meet with the teachers in one grade (and a one or two of the teachers involved in other learning areas such as Design Technology, Art, Drama etc.) and we look at different aspects of technology which they use in their teaching. Although Face Time was only implemented late last year, and I have only had one session this year, it is has turned out to be the best 90 minutes I have ever spent with these teachers!
I try to break the session into the following sections:
  • iPad-related apps/tools/ideas
  • IT Centre-related tools/ideas (including Microsoft tools)
  • Other – this can include discussions around the use of tech, questions from the teachers, sharing experiences etc.
An example of a Face Time session
On Friday I worked with our Grade 6 teachers and the Design Technology teacher and our principal, Arthur Preston also joined us for the session (Aside: I am so grateful for his support in this area. Upper management support is really vital for the successful implementation of technology in a school environment). I did not stick exactly to my proposed agenda above, but we covered the following (It looks like a lot, but working with a small group allows me to be more hands-on and the pace is faster than it would be in a bigger group setting):

Kahoot (https://getkahoot.com/) – A super game-based learning tool which can be used so effectively in different ways in the classroom – and it works on the iPads!

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Padlet (https://padlet.com) – A super-easy online collaboration tool which has multiple uses in a classroom setting – and it also works on the iPads!
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QR Codes (http://www.qrstuff.com/) – We looked at how to create QR Codes, how to scan them (Qrafter app or Quick Scan) and different ways to use them in the classroom.

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Microsoft Office Sway – (https://sway.com) – An exciting new Microsoft presentation tool which is internet based. There is an iPhone app which works on the iPad too.

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Blogging in 2015 (Our students all blog using Kidblog and the teachers run Grade blogs) – We firmly believe that blogging with a purpose and for a wider audience is key to improving our children’s writing skills, and blogging also fits well into our Digital Citizenship programme.

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The teachers learn how to Sway with Microsoft Sway
clip_image002Here is a photo I took while the teachers were learning about Sway. (I was so engrossed in the session that it was the only photo I took!) The teachers loved all the tools mentioned above and they were particularly impressed with Sway. They are very keen to try it out. They particularly liked that it:
  • Is FREE! (Teachers love anything that is free to use in the classroom).
  • It is online and can therefore be accessed anywhere.
  • It is simple, with not too many fancy features (‘keep it simple’ is my mantra).
  • It has enough features to make it interesting and different.
  • It is user-friendly and quick to learn.
  • It is a lovely alternative to PowerPoint.
  • It is easy to share Sways and the viewers don’t need to sign into any accounts.
  • It works on the iPad, even though there is only an iPhone app– an important feature in our school.
  • It is another tool to add to their Teacher Toolboxes!
I was so keen to share how Sway works, that I introduced it to my daughter who is in Grade 11. She immediately used it for a Design project that was due the next day. When she told her teacher that she had used a new and different presentation tool, the teacher was concerned that she did not have the software on her computer or that it would not be compatible with her computer. I believe she was pleasantly surprised with what she saw.

Take a look for yourself: http://tinyurl.com/KayleighSway

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Here is the Sway I created while I was teaching myself how to use it: http://tinyurl.com/TravellingRhinos

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Next Friday I will be working with our Grade 5 teachers and the following Friday it will be the turn of our Grade 4 teachers. I will share Sway with each of these groups and I feel confident that they will also be as keen to use it as the Grade 6 teachers were. In a three week rotation I get to spend quality time with all the teachers on our staff. They will also be given the chance to share some of their successes with the rest of us at each of these sessions. These small group PD sessions constitute only a fraction of what we hope to develop into a varied and dynamic PD programme over the next year. Professional development is key to staying abreast with all aspects of education – not only technology.

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