Prototype Complete!

Since the last time I posted about our course prototype, our group has slightly shifted. As I’ve mentioned, I am working with Angela and Sam. We were attempting to use Google Classroom at first, as our LMS.  As I’ve stated before, we were having troubles finding an LMS that we thought would work well for a younger group of students. We thought Google Classroom would be a good solution, since we would be able to teach our students how to use the LMS at school.

However, as we attempted to set up our Google Classroom, we found that it was not organizing the way that we wanted it to.  Maybe this is admitting defeat, but we had a specific way to organize our modules in mind, and when Google Classroom didn’t work the way we wanted, we may or may not have abandoned ship.

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We designed our course as a blended prototype. We anticipated teaching some of the aspects of our course traditionally at school, albeit with added technology. However, each of our artifacts are presented as flipped lessons, with a lesson at home and an in class assignment.  We wanted to be able to organize our course so that all of the content for one module flowed easily and was easy to find. Also, we wanted it to be as organized as we would make for a real classroom of grade threes and their parents.

(I know that you can teach students how to do something, even if it’s not well organized but… it is one less step when everything is clear and easy to find.)

This is a lot of preamble and justification to say that we decided to switch to a blog in order to organize our prototype.

We decided to use WordPress, since it was the platform we were all used to for writing our blog posts for class. We added our rationale, and the course profile to the blog, as well as our modules, neatly organized by category. I am really happy with how it turned out.

With our modules, we each used different technologies to complete the modules, including asking students to use our “class SeeSaw” to complete their work. Since we didn’t actually post lessons on SeeSaw, we didn’t provide a link to our SeeSaw. For communication, we set up a parent page, as well as an FAQ.

Overall, I am happy with how it turned out, even if we went away from a more traditional LMS.  I think one of the hardest parts of this assignment was trying to create something with no examples, so we had no way of knowing if we were on the right track or not. According to the marking system that we’ve been given (both by the syllabus and our work in class the other week) I believe that we are on the right track. However, believing and knowing are two different things so I am anxious to see other examples!

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Open Education

Most of my experiences with online open education have been as a student, both in my undergrad and while taking my masters.  Most of these online interactions were done in closed forum situations.  I did also have a project or two in high school where we needed to comment in a forum, but the forum was closed to everyone but members of our class.

My first real experience with connecting with other people online in an educational setting was with Alec and Katia’s classes. This is my third class with them and I can definitely see a difference between attempts that were made in the past by other instructors and what we do in this class.

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The openness of our communication in this class lets you establish a presence online, as well as develop a community of like-minded people.  Also, it allows your ideas and thoughts to be communicated to people who don’t necessarily have the same ideas and thoughts, allowing for growth and discussion. An online presence is important and can help in a variety of ways, especially in the future. Like Keilyn said, connectedness and an online presence can have professional benefits, especially in classroom settings.

The fact that I am writing and publishing this post into the “great wide world” means that my thoughts and ideas are available for many others to read. And while they are available, there is no guarantee that they will be read by more than a few people in our class.

This leads us to authenticity. Could it be argued that, since I am writing with a large audience in mind (if not in reality), my posts and communications are more authentic than in a closed forum? Or, am I writing with that intended audience in mind and therefore being more neutral and crowd pleasing? Is there a way to decide whether this is true or not?

We know that our writing changes based on who we are intending our audience to be.  A message I send my mom might look very different than one I send my sister. For other people, the messages to family might look very similar, but a professional inquiry from a work email looks very different.  It’s something that we teach to students in elementary schools and reinforce often, all the way along their education journey. With a quick Google search, you can find multiple websites and “how-to’s” teaching writing for difference audiences.

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With that established, let’s go back to the question: does knowing your audience and how to write for them make your writing more authentic or less authentic? This is a question that, I’m sure I am supposed to answer (based on this week’s blog prompt) but honestly, it’s something that I need to sit and think about.  The fact that I have a professional blog and a different blog for my classroom means that I have a different audience and a different voice for each blog. Does that mean both of these blogs are authentic communication? Even though they are so different? Does the fact that I allow open comments on this blog but prefer parents to email any questions to me privately also add/lessen any authenticity in communication?

As I mentioned, I use a classroom blog to inform parents of what is happening in our kindergarten classroom. I also use SeeSaw to communicate with parents, as Angela said, it’s a great tool, although I do feel like I can use it better in my classroom. I am the one who curates what goes onto SeeSaw, posting pictures and videos of my students in the process of learning, playing and discovering. Parents are connected and can see what is posted and interact through likes and comments.  I do occasionally share bits and pieces of my classroom on Twitter.

Other than that, as a teacher, I have not opened my courses to the world.  And, if I’m being honest, the blog and SeeSaw are still quite closed, since only parents (and maybe some grandparents) use the platforms. Although I am aware of other early years educators opening their classroom up to the wider world (Kathy Cassidy is an example that quickly comes to mind) I don’t know how much I want to have the five-year-olds in my classroom shown to the wider world of the internet.  (I first wrote “my five-year-olds” in that last sentence, which probably more clearly illustrates how I feel.)

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Every year I have to send home a permission slip for media that the kids are allowed to be a part of. I always get them all back – probably because I hound parents until they return the form.  Each year I have probably 95% of parents give full permission – pictures online, pictures on SeeSaw, pictures on Twitter, allowed to be videoed for the news.  But that 5% that don’t give permission is always present. They usually have excellent reasons but that child, if present in a photo, needs a “smiley face” over their face – or not to be posted at all.  And that 5% still exists after I explain that my blog is set to private and doesn’t show up on Google searches (but then, I do have links to it in other areas…) or after I explain that SeeSaw is just a communication between myself and the parent, they might still have concerns about where the information is kept (SeeSaw’s host site is Amazon Web Servers, who store their information on servers in the US, which is why we need separate permission forms for SeeSaw).

I think it’s really true that my grade level affects how open I am in my teaching. Even with parental permission, I try my best to safeguard my students from everyone online. When I learn about a new site to try or a new platform, sometimes I question it because of the knowledge level needed for students to use it, other times for it’s privacy.

This is where other people have said, that digital citizenship is a teachable moment – and I completely agree! I teach digital citizenship to my five-year-olds – but! they are still five years old! Yesterday I taught them about staying out of puddles and today I had a completely soaking wet child who needed a full change of clothes.

They were less happy than this. As was I.

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It’s a time-consuming process and, maybe, the full “What Your Students Really Need to Know About Digital Citizenship” is not realistic for five-year-olds. The concept can definitely be introduced and started in kindergarten, but honestly, I don’t know if any of my 35 students really understand the whole concept. That’s why I agree with Jenn when she said that, as kids get older, there can be less teacher moderation or filtering.

So, here’s my question: am I limiting my students and downplaying how much they understand? Should we have a wider audience at this young age? Is this something that a five-year-old, who comes for a half day in my French Immersion kindergarten classroom needs to fully understand before opening them up to the wider world? Or am I filtering for a young age something that takes time for them to fully understand and am modeling how to go about sharing in the open safely?

Communications 101

This week our blog prompt was to talk a little bit more about our course prototype.  Since I am working with Angela and Sam, we have similar thoughts about how our course prototype is coming together. This week, specifically, Alec and Katia asked us to think about interactions within our course prototype.

I’ve now officially typed “prototype” too many times.

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So, in thinking about communication within our course, here are some of my thoughts:

Our course is designed for grade three students.  As I’ve discussed in other blog posts, I am (now? always?) a firm believer that in order for a blended model to work in an early years classroom, parents need to be on board. Therefore, our interactions in our course prototype need to also be mindful not just about student/student interaction or student/teacher interaction, but parent/teacher interaction.

As Angela pointed out, we have decided to use an LMS of Google Classroom to organize our rationale and our modules. Similar to Nicole and Amy, I think that the Google Classroom is where we are simply organizing (like a “pseudo-LMS”). However, in individual lessons, the students might use the app SeeSaw to demonstrate knowledge or share their work with their parents or with us, the teacher.

SeeSaw from my morning kindergarten class

In fact, SeeSaw is a great tool for communication. I use it in my kindergarten classroom and when I post a picture or a video, parents can see it immediately and can comment or like the photo.  Personally, I have the option to approve comments before they are attached to a photo.  I keep that setting on since it’s my professional classroom account. When using SeeSaw in the module, I would probably leave it off and allow a little bit more communication between the grade threes.

I know that I’ve heard and read a lot about students having an audience for their work and how important it is for them to have that audience. For example, Kathy Cassidy talks about how important it is for students to have a real audience for their work a lot on her blog. In particular, it helps them connect, have a voice and understand that their words can have impact elsewhere.

Knowing that authentic communication is important, I think that SeeSaw will be a good way for our prototype to collect and display pictures, videos, recordings and comments from those in the class. Having classmates and parents comment on the assignments and explorations that are posted on SeeSaw will motivate more interactions and explorations, especially at this age. A lot of the time younger students have a lot of motivation to do a project or assignment, but need the guidance or an audience to continue it. Starting is easy, maintaining is harder.

I haven’t used Google Classroom in my personal classroom teaching, so I’m still wrapping my head around how our LMS will be organized and how it will look. However, I know that communicating through Google Classroom, either by email to students and/or parents or by commenting or editing Google Docs that the students are working on is an easy form of communications.

I suppose we will just have to keep plugging away and eventually it will all fit into place. Although, I’m not sure how comfortable I am with the “unknown” this close to our prototype being due! I know it’s at the end of the month, but that date is approaching soon – take it from a lady who is less than two months away (and hopefully no earlier!) from having a baby!

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