At PBAS this term Jackie and Paul have introduced Coding into their classrooms challenging their students to think creatively, problem solve and work collaboratively. The resources they have available to them are the iPad apps Hopscotch, Kodable and Daisy the Dinosaur. The school also has a set of Bee Bots which allow simple directional coding.

Paul recently shared an article with me that he had read in the latest edition of Australian Educator (Spring 2014, issue 83) called Code Commanders. One of the resources in the article lead me to a site called Code. After having a quick play with the website I found it engaging and easy to use. As a resource for teaching coding I think it would be excellent. There is a student and teacher sign up process which allows the teacher to track progress over time. The site can be used without an account but any learning cannot be saved.

Below are screen shots from the site which explain what type of courses are available.

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Tutorials range from an hour in length (the beginner tutorials above) to courses 15-25 hours in length.

The new Digital Technologies Australian Curriculum requires aspects of coding to be taught and is an area of the curriculum that for a lot of teachers will be new. The Code site would be a great starting point for any teacher keen to develop their own knowledge about coding. It is also a great resource to form the basis of a coding program to deliver to students.

Communicating with parents

Communicating with parents is an important part of teaching. When students don’t complete homework, miss due dates or are not using class time effectively we will usually approach parents to inform them and discuss solutions. Often we do this after the problem has occurred. Implementing effective regular communication processes with parents may help avoid or minimise these problems.

The benefits of communicating regularly with parents are:

  • It allows for parents, students and teachers to be on the same page. Students will struggle with the, “I have no homework” statement when parents know what has been set for homework or when the next due date is coming up. Making expectations clear to parents is a way of avoiding potential future conflict between students, parents and teachers.
  • Parents want to know what is happening in their child’s classroom and appreciate the time and effort made to keep them informed.
  • Increased communication is more likely to see the teacher receive support from the parent if an issue arises with their child.

It is up to teachers to implement communication processes that are workable for both the teacher and the parents over the long term. Processes need to be sustainable and work simply and easily once in place.

Examples of traditional methods for communicating with parents include:

  • Notes home in diaries/communication books.
  • Formal letters
  • Phone calls
  • Face to face meetings

Examples of less common methods for communicating with parents include:

  • Emails (email groups)
  • Messaging (create parent group contacts on your phone)
  • Edmodo (teacher creates a class group and invites parents using a code)
  • Twitter (create a class hashtag)
  • Facebook (create a Group and invite parents to join)
  • Blog (use Edublogs to create a class blog)

My belief is that there is a place for all of the above forms of communication and depends entirely on the situation faced by the teacher. Having said that I cannot go past the second list for ease of of use to regularly (daily/weekly) communicate with parents (and students). Most teachers have used the methods on the first list to communicate with parents but these are time consuming and not as efficient for daily or weekly communication.

The four that I think are the most effective for constant regular communication are group emails, group txt messaging, Facebook and blogs.

1. Group email – Collecting everyones email may take some time and effort but once set up is an easy way to communicate important information quickly and easily. Attach images, documents and links.

2. Group txt messaging – Like emails, collecting phone numbers may take a little time and effort (although the school should have almost all parent mobile numbers). Set up a group contact for use at any time (our phones are always with us). This is a bonus as we often think of things we should have reminded students/parents when we are away from our work spaces or a computer.

3. Facebook – Setting up a Facebook Group that is open to all students/parents in your class or maybe a separate group for parents and students is an effective way to communicate. The benefit of Facebook is that most parents use it. Post information regularly about upcoming due dates, events, images, links and documents.

Below is a post and parent reply to my Facebook Group “PBAS HPE 7-10 Course Information”. This group is open to students and parents and currently has 28 members.

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4. Blogs – Set up a blog if you want to give parents a window into your classroom. This is a little more time consuming than Facebook/emails/messaging but can have a big impact on parents perception of you and what you do with their children at school.

Click on the image below to visit my Junior PE blog.

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With any form of communication that allows you to post information about children (blogs) or could considered intrusive by parents (sending txt messages, emails or Facebook Groups) it is important to send an explanation letter allowing parents to consider the pros and cons of the proposed system. They can then give their permission (or not) to be a part of the process. I still see great value in a Facebook or email group even without 100% participation by parents. Those that opt in will reap the benefits as will the teacher.

How is your professional learning going?

I don’t think that anyone disputes that to become better teachers we must engage in professional learning. How we go about engaging in that learning will have a significant impact on how effective that learning is. Some professional learning provides little support after the learning is completed while other professional learning allows for ongoing support. Below are some examples of types of professional learning. This list is not exhaustive but does provide a variety of types of professional learning:

  • Conferences
  • Workshops
  • Professional learning communities (face to face)
  • Professional learning communities (online including Twitter, Edmodo and Facebook)
  • Professional reading (education publications)
  • Professional reading (online including blogs, Twitter, education publications)
  • Classroom observations (peer to peer)
  • Student feedback
  • Visit another school

All of these forms of professional learning can be effective (assuming they are quality opportunities in the first place). Some provide more ongoing support than others which can impact on our ability to follow through with implementing real change in our teaching. However if we have a strong desire to change and develop our teaching then we will find a way regardless of the type of professional learning we have undertaken.

If, as I said at the start of the post, professional learning is so important it should not be seen as “the extra thing we need to do” or “the 60 hours we need to keep our registration”. It should be seen as a part of our job that is central to our role as educators.

So what is it that we could be doing over the remainder of this year to improve our teaching?

1. A lot of us have attend workshops and conferences this year i.e. Anne Baker and Dylan Wiliam. Trying to implement our learning from these events is ongoing and important. Can we use the next two things to help us determine how well this is going?

2. Classroom observations. As a teaching staff we agreed to have trusted peers come in and observe our teaching to provide feedback. How is this going? Personally I have not got there yet but have decided to stop procrastinating and get organised. Below is my information to Denise who will be observing 2 lessons over the next three weeks for me. Pick a time/class, a peer and a reason for your observation and jump in. 

  • Friday 22 August (week 5) – Lesson 2 9/10 Pastoral Care. Focus of observation is: Do I engage all students and levels of ability or are there students getting left behind?
  • Friday 5 September (week 7) – Lesson 3 R/1 PE. Focus for observation is: Do I provide feedback to students in relation to skills being developed and behaviour?

3. Student feedback. As a teaching staff we have discussed the use of student feedback and from year 5/6 up have had the opportunity to learn how to use the Compass TfEL survey tool. Have we implemented this with our students? My goal is to implement surveys for Domains 2,3 and 4 at the end of terms 1, 2 and 3. I will complete Domain 4 at the end of term 3 which will provide me with a range of feedback from my Year 9/10 class about my teaching.

The above three forms of professional learning should not be overwhelming. Don’t try to do to much with each of them.

1. Dylan Wiliam formative assessment – we all came away from this excited. Have we tried to implemented too much? Have we let it drop away? Have we embedded strategies or just tried a range of things without genuine persistence? Focus on one thing and do it well was Dyaln Wiliam’s advice to us.

My focus – develop feedback processes

2. Classroom observations – select one simple aspect of your teaching. Don’t be too broad. This will assist your observer and you in making real change in your classroom.

My focus – providing feedback and catering for all students

3. Student surveys – read your students surveys and highlight one or two items that are more common across the surveys. Again don’t try to take on everything, select one thing to focus on.

My focus (from feedback so far) providing students with some choice.

Remember that change takes time and commitment. Our professional learning should be continually evolving, not quickly but gradually over time.

Professional reading from Twitter

Twitter provides a great range of articles for teachers to read allowing for reflection on their own practice. Here are three that I have recently found. Click on the blog post name to view the article.

Reading number 1

Blog: Pinnacle – Trustworthy Advice On How to Excel In Education

Blog post: Principles of effective teaching. Teachers have the largest impact on their students’ results. This blog post is supported by the work of John Hattie, the author Shaun Killian outlines 10 key principles of effective teaching.

Posted on Twitter by @EmpiriEducator

Reading number 2

Blog: Life of an Educator by Dr. Justin Tarte

Blog post: 5 things to consider when designing a rubric. “The best intended rubric can become a limiting and disastrous tool when not used properly, and unfortunately I find more often than not they aren’t used effectively and properly.” This article may challenge your thinking about rubrics.

Posted on Twitter by @KleinErin

Reading number 3

Blog: Centre for Teaching Quality

Blog post: It’s Us Not Them: How Student Failure may Reflect On You. She was crying in the bathroom because she received another failing grade on a test. Melissa’s story is so important because it is the story of many of our students.” This post has a long introduction but the core of the post raises some great points for reflection about our own teaching. A thought provoking read.

Posted on Twitter by @MarzanoResearch