Sunday, 31 May 2015

The Benefits of our School-Wide Blog

Last year I pitched the idea of having our Year 5 & 6 students contribute to a school blog.  We have a few class blogs but I felt that a school blog would be a great way to share with the community the learning going on in different parts of the school.  It would also provide a student voice about school events and give all classes a chance to share their learning, even if they don't have their own blog.  The homepage of the school website would also have access to fresh content on a weekly basis, something I have done since I started managing it.

The benefits for the students themselves are learning how to:
  • decide which events are newsworthy
  • approach teachers to ask them to be in a story
  • come up with questions and interview students and teachers
  • take notes and turn those into a news article
  • take photos and choose the best ones
  • use a video camera and help edit the footage.

When we started the 'Te Totara Times' last year we used it as an opportunity to extend our GATE students.  Three students from each class were selected by their teachers, and some were more interested than others.  Over the year, there were eighteen students involved in gathering stories.

When it came to interviewing students and teachers about their learning, I met up with our reporters after lunch and went with them to the selected class to help them.  Then they met with Renee, the teacher who worked with me on the Times, over one lunchtime and wrote up their article.  The articles are short and sweet - we decided that we wanted regular articles rather than longer pieces as we didn't want to overtax our students or remove them from their classes for too long.  The articles then came back to me to be typed up and put onto the blog and then the website.  Renee and I got together at the beginning of each term to talk about what events and areas of the school the students would write stories about.

Overall I felt the school-wide blog was successful and I was pleased when I was given the go-ahead to continue with the blog this year, although I had to find a new teacher, Jemma, to help me.  A new student leader initiative in our senior classes meant a change to the way we recruited our student reporters.  Instead of having them selected by their teachers, student leaders were offered the opportunity to volunteer to be on the Te Totara Times.  We ended up with six student leaders, who we put into two groups of three.  I have to say that we have more motivated students this way, as they have chosen to be reporters rather than had that decided for them.

This year we decided to allow the students more say in what they are reporting on, so they can bring more of their ideas to the blog.  We let them know what events are coming up and then they work out what to cover and what classes to approach about their learning.  So Jemma and I have input but I feel the students have more ownership than our reporters from last year.

This week the reporters did the first video interview for the Times.  This is something I had been interested in doing but it was the students who led the way.  We can improve both in front of and behind the camera but it was a great first effort.  I have only just received my first Macbook and had to get help from Renee again working out how to use the latest version of iMovie.  Nothing like having to post something in a couple of hours to move along the learning process!

Another thing I feel we can work on as a school is to have more classes and teachers comment on the blog.  That might encourage parents to comment as well.  In some cases I think this is an education issue so I will try to help teachers feel confident to comment.

I think that a school-wide blog is a great way to get some of the benefits of blogging without requiring all teachers to do it.  I am very pleased to be involved with it and am enjoying watching it evolve.

Switching to iPad Minis

It has been almost three years since we leased 100 iPads for our school.  Confession time, back then I thought it would have made more sense financially for us to purchase the iPads.  But the thing about technology, you just can't predict where it's going to go, and our wise principal knew what he was doing.

Things have changed a lot since 2012.  We have moved from a very decentralised way of iPad management to using Configurator and Meraki and specifying which apps are on the iPads (here's my post about that).  We now have 152 devices, 42 of which are iPad minis.  When I investigated the cost of leasing iPad minis I found that leasing six of them was equivalent to leasing four iPads.  I was given permission to trial a set and the feedback I got was that the smaller size was not an issue for the students, but the big benefit was the teachers having enough devices for their groups.  Subsequently all of our new devices have been iPad minis and they have been well-received by the team leaders who have been lucky enough to get them.

When the time came to decide what to replace our old iPads with, my recommendation was to bring in iPad minis.  This was endorsed by our team leaders.  Our supplier offered us a choice of the mini Basic (the original iPad mini), the mini Retina (iPad mini 2) or the iPad mini 3.  Our policy has always been to purchase the latest models, however I had read a number of articles, including this one, that said there were no real benefits to upgrading to the mini 3.  It was decided to go with the iPad mini 2, and on Friday we confirmed our lease for 150 of them.  The cost of the lease is actually less than what we paid to lease the 100 iPads three years ago!

We now have the interesting prospect of setting up 150 iPad minis and replacing the old iPads in a very short space of time (I underestimated how long the negotiating and approval process would take).  We do have a couple of things in our favour.  Firstly, Apple's Device Enrollment Program (DEP) has just arrived in New Zealand and should make set up easier and do away with having to use Configurator (although even our I.T. guru has not actually used it before, because it is so new).  Secondly, we sold about 40 of the iPads to our staff so can leave those until after we have returned the other 60.

It is going to be a very busy time about 5-10 working days from now (the time it will take to get the minis from our supplier).  Once I recover I will post about the (hopefully smooth!) process of using DEP and Meraki to set things up.

Thursday, 21 May 2015

I'm a Dial-Up Survivor

I am back from the wilderness that is dial-up.  My lovely husband, in an effort to save money, reduced our broadband package to 80GB.  This turned out to be a very bad idea.  We reached our limit within ten days and were forced to wait out the rest of the month on dial-up speeds.  Now I realise this is very much a first world problem.  But I wish to whine!  Oh my gosh, how did we ever survive on dial-up?  I could only have one tab open on my browser and certain sites, like Blogger, either refused to open or didn't work properly when they did.  I couldn't even open the Herald app on my iPad.  Forget about those webinars I wanted to view or the little video clips on Facebook.  Even clicking links on Twitter was slow and painful.  The printer didn't work.  My online life ground to a halt. 

When I asked our I.T. guru if it was really that bad when we used to be on dial-up he reminded me that back then you only tended to have one computer.  So you weren't having to compete with the rest of your family's devices for bandwidth.  

How's this for photographic evidence of how addicted our family is to technology?  Why play a game when you can play a game AND watch Youtube at the same time?!

It's a good thing we've got our broadband data back (unlimited now) as we have three or four teenagers coming for a bring-your-own-laptop birthday sleepover on Saturday and I'm not sure dial-up speeds would have been well received! (And why do they call them 'sleepovers' when that is not an accurate term at all?!).

Having 'survived' dial-up I am now marvelling at the speed and ease of broadband.  What a wonderful thing it is!  A beauty to behold!  I have six tabs open, Blogger is working, and the rest of my family is all online.  Peace has been restored.