Your local library

Your local library

While it is not news to me that books are a great resource to have in the classroom, until recently it didn’t really occur to me to go out of my way to source books that tied in with our learning themes. Once or twice I had had a poke through the classroom library and tried to showcase any books that did tie in with the current theme by placing them on the display face of the unit. But the limited number of books available in this collection meant that I was able to find only limited examples of books related to any one theme.

It wasn’t until we were contacted by a local librarian on our Twitter pagetweet, and I had a chance to exchange emails with her, that I realised the potential for expanding on a topic by sourcing a wide selection of books that tied in with that theme. Maria from Children’s Services in South Dublin County Libraries, pointed out to me that the staff at the library would be happy to help me source books in relation to a given topic.

Immediately, I began to consider the potential for this. We were about to move on to the topic of Space (also thanks to Twitter), so I decided to visit Tallaght library and see what kind of literature I could rustle up. I came home with a basket full of Space-related books; fictional stories that took place in Space or had alien characters, as well as factual books about rockets and space travel, stars and planets. I was able to supplement these with a couple of similarly themed books and children’s encyclopaedias that I had at home, and one or two from the classroom library.

I left the basket on a table in the classroom and began to direct early finishers to the basket to select a book. It wasn’t long until the children recognised that all of the books were related to what we were currently learning, and I found that this encouraged them to engage with the content, particularly of the non-fiction books. They would exclaim; ‘aw teacher, that looks like the space station Commander Hadfield is on’ or ‘that’s the bit that falls off the rocket when it takes off’.

In fact, the children were so aware of the thematic link between our reading and our learning that when Ms. Neville (Home School Liaison) came to the class with a selection of books for the children to choose from for the Bedtime Reading Club, the children noticed any space themed ones and asked could we add them to our basket! We soon had Ms. Neville and Ms. Dee dropping in to us with any space themed books they came across, to help contribute to the effort!

JuneWhen we moved off Space and onto the topic of water, I was able to restock the basket with similarly appropriate books. Our most recent theme is Summer Holidays. In the role play area, this means that we have set up a Travel Agent. My trip to the library this time entailed collecting non-fiction books about every country I had heard the children mention during our initial summer holidays brainstorm, as well as books about the nationalities of our multinational pupils. They are now laid out as brochures at the Travel Agent and the children really enjoy looking through the pictures in the books to help them select which country they will holiday in during their playtime.

I am delighted by the additional level of depth that the presence of a wide selection of books has been able to add to our thematic learning, and how it has extended the children’s awareness of what we are hoping to learn about in any given unit, and we owe it all to @MariaMernagh. While it does take a little more effort to try to get down to the library once every fortnight-ish, it is well worth the time.

Skyping Washington DC

Yesterday we made our first foray into the world of Skype. We Skyped the Ms. Linney and the Kindergarten girls in the Excel Academy in Washington D.C. and it was an enjoyable, worthwhile experience. Having said that, it was not without its challenges.

     The Logistics:

I connected with Ms. Linney  through Twitter several weeks ago and arranged a time to suit us both for Skyping. (Skype offer a facility for connecting teachers with one another but I have not used the service yet myself.) We had a test Skype call earlier in the week to ensure everything was working properly and also discussed the questions the children might ask each other.

Prepping the classroom for the Skype session meant finding a webcam (at the back of the junk press at home) and a mic (a less-than-ideal desktop mic from the school’s computer supplies) and then seating the children in a layout that would allow them all to be visible when the webcam was switched on.

We also needed to prepare the questions we wanted to ask, as well as our answers to their questions, to ensure we wouldn’t have any uncomfortable silences! Still, logistically, it was a struggle. Our desktop microphone is not very sensitive and this meant that to be heard, the children needed to stand right in front of the mic with their mouths an inch from the it. Any time a child wanted to ask or answer a question, they had to come up to the mic, speak and then return to their seats.

Ms. Linney at the Excel Academy had a wireless microphone that she was able to pass around amongst the children in her class, but the sound quality was muffled and we found most of what the children said quite difficult to decipher – meaning that the children in my class often needed me to repeat what had been said to understand.

We also lost the connection at one point in the session and the call was dropped. Luckily, we were able to reestablish the link within a minute so the momentum was not lost. But despite the challenges, the Skype session was a worthwhile learning experience.

     What We Learned:

During our conversation with the girls at Excel Academy, we learned about several differences between our two schools: we established that in America it was only 8.15, while here in Dublin it was 1.15 – almost home time. We found out that the girls wouldn’t finish school until 3.30 their time; that they have a much longer day than us. We also discussed the weather, our ages, our uniforms, the fact that their school is single-sex, and what class the children are in. In fact, when Sofia came to the microphone to ask the girls what class they were in, she decided to say ‘grade’ instead, as they had already asked us what ‘grade’ we were in, and she knew they didn’t usually use the word ‘class’.

     But Most Importantly:

The most valuable aspect of our Skype date was how it brought the reality of the outside world into our classroom. This is something I have discussed in an earlier post about Twitter – the capability of modern technology to take the content of a lesson and make it tangible, identifiable, relevant and FUN!

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Here’s a video we took of the Event – warts and all!

Part 1:

…and Part 2:

    What Learned (WWW/EBI)

  • Involving all of the children in a question helped to keep them engaged – e.g. hands up everybody who is five, hands up everybody who is six.
  • Listening to multiple responses from the other class led to some children becoming distracted/ antsy (particularly with our audio difficulties) – maybe best to keep questions and answers as short and snappy as possible to hold all children’s attention
  • While we had planned questions to ask them, towards the end of the session some of our class were putting their hands up to ask their own questions – I will try to allow time for this next time

#antearrach – A Twitter Project

Some of the #antearrach tweets

Some of the #antearrach tweets

Over the past few weeks, we have enjoyed a number of conversations about the Signs of Spring that we have begun to see in the world around us. But the #antearrach Twitter project (coordinated by seomraranga.com) has added so much to this discussion. The idea is that any class tweeting about signs of Spring that they have observed, includes the hashtag #antearrach, thus providing a grouping for tweets on the topic.

With the use of this project hashtag, we have been able to expand our exposure to the various signs of Spring, which has been particularly useful in terms of developing an appreciation for the larger impact that Spring has on a rural community. We have seen photographs of baby lambs, tractors spreading slurry, and frogspawn and tadpoles – all of which would have been limited to textbooks had we stuck to traditional lessons.

And since many of the classes we see tweeting about #antearrach are classes we have interacted with before, we feel a more authentic connection with the images we do see, and have an opportunity to ask questions and learn more.

Click here to read more about seomraranga.com’s project.

The World is Our Oyster

Commander Chris Hadfield

Commander Chris Hadfield

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International Space Station

Yesterday, Commander Chris Hadfield, a Canadian astronaut sent a tweet from an International Space Station that is orbiting above Earth.

This tweet included a photograph of Dublin city, taken from the space station, and it appeared in our timeline when @MrsBellsClass retweeted it, capturing our imaginations! The children were eager to discuss Cmdr Hadfield and learn more about him. One boy needed to clarify whether we were reading a tweet sent by an alien! Once we had established that Cmdr Hadfield is a human who has travelled to space, the children’s questions became more logistical in nature. How did he get there? How long will he stay up there? When will he come back down? Did he bring his laptop up to space?

A screengrab of Commander Hadfield's tweet, which was retweeted by another Senior Infant class we follow.

A screengrab of Commander Hadfield’s tweet, which was retweeted by another Senior Infant class we follow.

Stumbling across a tweet like this epitomises the benefits of Twitter in the classroom for me. This tweet has broadened the children’s horizons, both literally and figuratively. They are now acutely aware of something that is taking place on the world (-galactic!) stage and suddenly space travel has moved for them from the realm of fantasy; on a par with pirate play and monsters; to a tangible, immediate reality.

As regards their appreciation of the photograph itself, I am sure many of the children did not grasp what the glowing blurb in the photograph is, but one thing is for sure – we will click “Follow” on Commander Hadfield’s account, and enjoy finding on a map some of the other places he photographs and tweets about.

I am looking forward to March now, when our Science lessons will be focussed around the sun and the moon, and maybe Cmdr Hadfield’s tweets will help to inform the children’s play in the role play area, as they make believe they are astronauts!

Broadening Our Horizons

Screen shot 2013-02-10 at 18.28.34At the beginning of the year Room 2 started our own Twitter account ( @MsBloodsClass ). Initially most children hadn’t heard of Twitter but I was able to give them an idea of its functions by likening it to Facebook as many of their parents or older siblings were active on Facebook. I found a handful of other tweeting classes to follow – Senior Infant classes, as well as some Junior Infants/ First Class, and even some classes of a similar age group in other countries.

In the early days, when I mentioned checking Twitter for any news, many of the children were ambivalent, as they really had not yet begun to engage with it. In truth, I think many of the children still weren’t sure WHY we were on Twitter or what it was for. Since then, the value of Twitter to us as a learning tool has grown and continues to grow over time.

Twitter provides us with a window into classes that are different from ours – the children are intrigued by the news posted by children in classrooms in which there are only boys, or only girls; no uniforms; or two classes in one room. Their interest is piqued and their curiosity kicks in. They have a real link to the outside world and are learning to appreciate the diversity in the world.

Many of the Learning Goals set out in the Aistear themes of Identity and Belonging, Communicating, and Exploring and Thinking are addressed in our Twitter time, and this broadening of our horizons also speaks to several strands within the Geography and SPHE curricula.

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Over time, the children have begun to engage more and more with Twitter and now regularly suggest that we post a piece of news to Twitter, or check whether we’ve received a reply from another class that we’ve tweeted. Some of their parents have begun to follow our account and I feel that both they and I have benefited from this avenue of communication. Twitter provides me with an opportunity to share pictures and videos of what we’ve been doing and it also gives parents a chance to discuss current learning with their child at home. I feel that this is a particular advantage in the Infant classes when the child has often forgotten the day’s events before they get home to discuss it with their parents!

In terms of the daily logistics of fitting Twitter into the packed school day, initially I struggled. We have now settled into a routine of checking Twitter during our lunch/ snack breaks. I am happy with this system as the children recognise it as a leisure activity, rather than part of our ‘work’ – though of course the Literacy benefits of reading and replying to tweets should not be underestimated. While at the beginning of the year I typed all of our updates, I now try to give the children an opportunity to type an update – this is a real challenge for them as they struggle to find letters on the keyboard, with the added difficulty of the letters being capital, which we have only just begun to learn!

Now when I open Twitter, there comes a chorus of voices, each asking me to read out a different tweet. The children are attracted by the avatars (profile pictures) of the other classes we follow, and so usually ask to focus on the tweets of colourful profiles first! We always really enjoy tweets with pictures and have been able to peek at the Aistear learning going on in several classes this way. I would strongly recommend to any teacher to use this easy and interactive method of integrating ICT into the school day.

The children wrote their own news on a Twitter template and we posted it on a noticeboard in the corridor.

The children wrote their own news on a Twitter template and we posted it on a noticeboard in the corridor.

Killian

Killian