Thursday, 9 February 2017

I Found a New Digital Tool & it is AWESOME!

So a few weeks ago I wrote a blog post about some digital tools that I'd newly discovered and was keen to use in my classroom.  One of those mentioned was Mentimeter.  It sounded great and I was so excited to use it.  I signed up and began creating my first interactive presentation.  I created two activities, and then it told me I needed to pay a subscription in order to add more.  Needless to say I was super gutted... and seriously considering paying. Instead, I did a quick Google search for similar digital tools.  I couldn't really find anything.

I randomly stumbled upon a digital tool when reading Jennifer Gonzalez's blog post about digital tools to use this year.  And I am so glad I did because I discovered Nearpod! It was Jennifer's number one pick, and I can see why!

Why Nearpod is so Great

As far as I can tell, Nearpod is basically free.  You can pay a subscription if you want even more features (collaborate, fill in the blanks and memory test), but the free version lets you create 'live lessons', using quizzes, open-ended questions, and polls.  Also, unlike Mentimeter, you can add in heaps of activities on one presentation.

It's really easy to use.  You create a new presentation and choose between creating a slide with content, web content of an activity.

The 'live version' of Nearpod is the free one, and it is the best option.  This is one that the teacher uses during a teaching session.  The difference between the live and student paced lesson is that the teacher controls the live version.

My Nearpod presentation

I created a Nearpod presentation to introduce my learners to explanation texts. The purpose was to discover whether my learners could identify an explanation text, and if they could explain why/why not a text was an explanation.

In my presentation was:

  • A slide with a screenshot of a text type 
  • A quiz, asking "Is this an explanation?"
  • An open ended question, asking "Why is this/is this NOT an explanation?"
So for every text type, there were three slides.  I had about 6 different text types (each with the screenshot, quiz and open-ended question).

Because I wanted my learners to collaborate, they were put in groups of 3 or 4. This meant that they could share their ideas before deciding on their answers.

How it went

I was surprised with how enthusiastic my learners were during this lesson! I knew it would help them to be engaged, but they were also super excited by the task.   Even my most reluctant learners were super engaged and wanted to see whether they got the quiz questions correct. They liked that they could see what each other got, and there were no 

Teacher's screen for quiz
Students' screen for the quiz

Teacher's screen for open-ended question

Students' screen for open-ended question

I realised that if the teacher's display was always on, then the students would see who got the right answers.  This could be a problem, as some students could wait to see what the other groups said and then choose the correct answer.  To avoid this, when it was the quiz time, I changed my tab to a student's screen.

Final thoughts

I think Nearpod might be my new favourite digital tool.  The level of engagement and enthusiasm it brought to my lesson was unlike any other tool I have used.  It was a great way to see what my learners already knew about explanations and to begin to form some ideas about the structure, content and features of explanation writing.  The students were motivated to take part, which was a massive win, as I have some reluctant learners.  I could also tell that they felt proud and very pleased with themselves, when they saw that they got a correct answer.

I will definitely be using this tool again. Students could even create their own presentations to show what they have learnt.

Sunday, 5 February 2017

Creating a Collaborative Classroom: Team Building

This week I have focussed on creating a safe, inclusive and happy classroom environment.  One of my favourite tasks so far would have to be the one we completed on Friday.

Can You Draw It?

I'm not sure of this games exact name, but it is a variation of this team building exercise, found on Pinterest. This is what you need:
  • Groups of four - five is ok too, if one student is the instructor.
  • A felt tip pen with two strings tied to it, creating four pieces of string.
  • A2 or A3 paper for each group
  • A print out of a simple drawing
All you need: A felt-tip pen with two strings tied, a simple drawing and some A2 newsprint paper


  1.  Each group member holds a piece of string.  They each have a piece of A2 paper and a print out of a simple drawing.
  2. The group has to work together to replicate the simple drawing.
  3. Students must be holding onto the string, they cannot touch the pen.
The group with the best drawing wins!

This activity was lots of fun and pretty hilarious.  There was laughter and a bit of frustration, as teams worked together to draw the image.

Although this activity was meant to be fun, there were some more serious lessons which underpinned the students success.  The students had to work together. Everyone had to help out and take part.  If one group member decided not to try, then the pen would not stay upright and the team would struggle.

Moral of the lesson

Everyone must work together, if one person doesn't then it won't work.  This is the case for collaborative work.  It is crucial that everybody pitches in and helps out. In order to succeed, everyone needs to play a role and contribute to the group.

Once students had calmed down from the excitement, we had a discussion about what the point of this task was.  I was happy that they could relay that it was about the importance teamwork and everyone doing their bit.

Next week...

Next week I am planning to continue setting team building challenges for my classroom.  This is helping my learners to feel safe and confident in my classroom.  It is also building a collaborative environment - which is what my learners asked for. I am looking forward to watching my learners progress from shy to confident classmates.

Saturday, 4 February 2017

Creating a Collaborative Classroom: Day One & Two

It is always hard starting the new year with a new teacher and new classmates.  So this week I have focussed on creating a collaborative and inclusive classroom environment.  Whilst it started off a little slowly (with technical road bumps and very shy students), I am starting to see and hear collaboration happening in my classroom - and only on day two!

Key Competencies - TRUMP

My first day was focussed on learning more about the Key Competencies.  The NZ Curriculum says it is important, and our learners are even graded on the KC's in their report.  Despite this, students generally do not know what they are and what they mean.  Today we focussed on unpacking each of the Key Competencies: Thinking, Relating to Others, Using Language, Symbols and Text, Managing Self and Participating and Contributing.

Finding out their PK

To start with, I wanted to get the students Prior Knowledge, so they participated in a quick bus stop rotation.  This was when they shared what they thought each word meant.  This was supposed to be done on Google Docs, but we had no internet at the time.  It was great to see that my learners already knew quite a lot!

Students PK from the Bus Stop rotation

Unpacking as a Class

After this, we unpacked each one as a class. We drew on their ideas from the bus stop activity, and think-pair-shared our ideas of what each KC meant.  After this, we discussed how we could show each KC.  I helped them think about this by asking them "If the Principal walked into our classroom, what would he see if you were ___".  Asking what people would see helped my learners to understand what each KC means and 'looks like'.  To start with my learners were hesitant to share, but after lots of encouragement and positivity, there was a lot more talking happening amongst the table groups.

Time to get Creative!
Student's photographs of them showing the Key Competencies

After sharing our ideas and recording them on the board (there was no internet, so no LinoIt! 😞 ), my learners were given the challenge of taking photographs of them showing each of the 5 KC's.  They seemed to enjoy this part.  The boys and girls worked together to take photographs.  They were sharing their ideas and starting to relax with each other. 

I created a wall display which used their definitions and ideas, as well as their photographs. This will serve as a visual reminder of the ways my learners are expected to behave. Because it is their ideas and their photographs on the wall, there is more accountability for them to stick to rules and show the KCs.
Our wall display with the students own definitions, ideas and photographs

Class Contract

The next day we created our class contract.  I started the lesson off by revisiting the KC's and asking why it is important to know and use them.  For the class contract, I decided to use AnswerGarden. The question on the first AnswerGarden was "What helps you learn?".  AnswerGarden was a great tool to use because the ideas that were repeated would grow bigger.  This was a great way to see at a glance what was important to my classroom.  Learners also collaborated on an AnswerGarden asking "What DOESN'T help you learn?".  Both questions were incredibly insightful and gave us lots of things to draw on for our discussion. 

AnswerGarden for "What helps you learn?" click here access the AnswerGarden

AnswerGarden for "What DOESN'T help you learn?" click here access the AnswerGarden

AnswerGarden was a great tool to use to get students to share their ideas.  It was an easy way to see what was important to my learners.  I also think that it helped the students to share their ideas because their names were not attached to the ideas they posted.  It was also reassuring for them to notice that many others had said the same thing (when their ideas grew bigger, or from noticing someone had said something similar).  I would definitely use this tool again with my classroom.

Class Discussion

Following the AnswerGarden, the class choose the most important words/phrases relating to what helps them learn or not learn.  Using Think Pair Share, we discussed the importance of each of the ideas as a class.  I choose to keep relating their rules back to the idea of us wanting to create a safe, inclusive and happy environment.  Next, I got the students to form small groups and write 6 rules for the classroom.  

Lastly, we shared our rules, mixed them together and adapted them to create a set of rules that we were all happy with. It was great to see my students gaining more confidence, with some of my shyest students sharing their rules.

Wall Display of Class Contract

I created the class contract on Canva. In hindsight, I could have gotten the learners to help choose the template, colours and fonts (this would have given them more ownership of their contract).  

Instead of getting the students signatures or hand prints, I chose to use puzzle pieces.  Before getting the students to make their puzzle piece, we discussed the importance of the contract and adding their puzzle piece.

Where to next...

Overall I am pretty pleased with how the first two days have gone.  I will need to keep going over/referring to our class contract and our KC wall to reinforce our class expectations.  Despite their shyness, the majority of students (17/19) said they preferred working with others in groups.  So I need to continue to encourage learners to work together and share their ideas. One thing I noticed was the reluctance to work with the opposite gender.  This is something I need to keep in mind.  I will continue to encourage my learners to collaborate and celebrate when they do so.  They have already showed me that they can do so much more when they work together. I was also really happy with the way they have grasped using digital tools like AnswerGarden. I need to continue to find new and engaging tools that will allow my learners to feel confident to share their ideas with one another.