Some notes, part of a ragged collection on lockdown learning.

So far I’ve been following a pretty standard pattern for our class team meetings. 1 hour a day 5 or six items running from a prepared PowerPoint.

I think most of the pupils enjoy it or at least the ones that have turned up come back.

I try to give as much time to them to talk as I can, but it is difficult getting contributions when we don’t know who is going to talk. I do a fair bit of round the class and some shout out when you have an answer!

My main problem is the slides failing to show up on the pupils screens. I don’t think I’ve managed a meeting where everybody has seen the slides in a timely fashion. My screen is white/black is a common cry.

We had a meeting this morning where less than half the class turned up, so only 12 in the meeting. I gave up trying to use the slides as there were too many problems. This was with a 1.9mb powerpoint so I am not sure where the problem lies? I have generally a very basic approach to slide decks. No transitions, very few images, lean & mean.

I’d really like to know how to get the slides to work a wee bit better. I even tried turning my video off to see if that would help, but it didn’t make much difference. As I’ve no idea about the pupils connection it is difficult to even guess.

I had though earlier that flipped learning might be the way to go, and do link or embed some videos on our blog. I got the impression that they were not much watched. I am now thinking that it might be better to make my own videos and ask the class watch them just before the meet. This will of course mean more prep.
So my classes timetable for tomorrow looks like:

  • 12:45 – 1:45 Minecraft
  • 1:45 – 2:00 time to watch a couple of wee videos uploaded to Teams.
  • 2:00 – 3:00 Team meeting

In other news:

I thought hands up in Teams had reached the iPad, but it seems not.

I am beginning. To see a drop off in participation, or in the sending me ‘work’ via Teams, e-Portfolios or email. I don’t think the May holiday helped, although I had a few pupils posting and even opened Minecraft up for a while on Monday. Maybe changing things up a bit in the meetings will help.

Some notes, part of a ragged collection on lockdown learning.

Teaching via blogs, teams and meets it a bit like throwing mud at the wall and seeing what sticks. I am not getting the same bunch turning up everyday. This makes planning a series of lessons difficult. Or continuing something.

My team meetings consist of some of the following:
– A bit of chat, perhaps “round the room” sharing news although if that happens every day most folk dry up after 2 or 3
– A few maths questions, pupIls note down answers and then we review and discuss.
– “Number talks”
– Tables bingo
– Every week we take a poem: read it on the first day; discuss words the next; Poetic techniques the next and do a bit of writing the next two. 10 minutes a day.
– A general knowledge quiz
– Discussions of some of the tasks on the weekly blog post.

I try to keep it moving along, light and happy.

We tried 5 minutes drawing with soft music one day this week, it seemed to go down well. I’ve done the same with writing. On paper then pasted into the chat. Again using poetry keeping it short.

Of course this is interrupted by pupils dropping out, trying to get back in! Mics not working, audio dropping etc.

I also run a Minecraft Education Server for an hour or so everyday. I mostly step back. Stick on the text to speech and try and get some prep done. Not particularly successfully. Every so often I wander about amazed at what is being done. It is a pretty open ended task, a Virtual Banton. It seems to develop in fits and starts. It drops away then an idea picks up. Fascinating to watch. I’ve never had more than 7 pupils in at once.

Today I was completely surprised, two of the class wanted to ‘give’ me the school uniform. It seems in Minecraft there are ways to pass on these thing. Some instructions in chat followed, but they were to complicated for me. One pupil then decided to make a video. And drop it in teams. 2 minutes later job done. I’ve got my uniform on.

Text of a pupil  blog post today, “I know I’m like two weeks late with this work but here it is.”

screenshot Farrago, Loopback, Teams

Notes to self as I try and teach myself to teach remotely. 

 

Powerpoint note, how annoying is Design Ideas. To turn it off you need to turn off all MS services in the privacy tab of the prefs. And relaunch app. And it didn’t seem to work for me. Back to Keynote – Export for me.

Teams

I am putting Announcements in 2 channels, then the next day removing them from the main channel and taking away the right to reply.

Got loopback working today. Dropping the Pass-Thru might have done the trick. This means I can mix in audio, Farrago in the meet today, with my mic.

screenshot Farrago, Loopback, Teams
Click for Big!

The Hands Up option turned up in Teams meeting for most of my class today. Good news was it seems to be in iOS as well as PC & mac.

Had a few more slides with photos today. These proved to be ‘laggy’ for some of the class. The children found that opening the chat and closing it seems to force a screen refresh and of the the slide shows up.

Tried having 5 minutes silent drawing in the meeting. I had my phone camera on my paper and some music in the background (loopback). It seemed to go down well.

Replied to Athole on Twitter (Twitter)
“@johnjohnston Why do you do a daily Teams meeting? Are they all class Teams? Do you do 1:1s too? I do a daily video message , 2 whole class video meets and two 1:1s a week. As well as all the video feedback. I’m just curious and comparing.”

Hi Athole,
Good question. I am not sure. It is the pattern I’ve fallen into. I put a weekly post of learning ideas up on our blog. The pupils respond on their e-Portfolios, occasional e-mails and in our Class Team.

I put the audio of the weekly post up.

I’ve a class of 24 p4-7, so 8 to 11 year olds.

We only have one team, we had not used Teams much before this. Just an an example of a chat app really. We used e-Portfolios a fair bit (WordPress, Glow Blogs).

I am trying to get some interaction with the class, give them some fun and encourage them to keep engaged. I’ve heard from some parents that it is motivating.

I’ve only had a maximum of 15 pupils in a meeting. I think some get bored and drop out. The environment for them all is different both physically and digitally.

During the meeting I work through a few different areas, usually look at a poem, have a quiz, do some ‘number talks’. Based on a powerpoint. It takes a lot of prep.

Our teams lacks pupil video. Which might be a good thing.

No 1-2-1s I’d not thought of that, nor heard of anyone doing them here?

I’ve not seen any local or national guidance here, so just trying things out and seeing how they go.

I’d be keen to talk about this more and obviously need to think more too.

Replied to Andrew Bailey on Twitter (Twitter)
“@johnjohnston @IanStuart66 @breadalbanebus How do you do this John? For the uninitiated.”

Markdown is a simple way to create html. I’ve found it useful it Teams. You can type it into a post editor and it is rendered as you go. Unfortunately from my pov posts in teams breaks if you paste in Markdown. But in the praise box you can paste in markdown and it renders on the published post.

For example **bold** *italics* [twitter](https://twitter.com)

is rendered:
bold italics twitter

I’ve got a wee script on my mac that will grab links to all my open tabs and make markdown from it so I can open all the pupils posts, copy all the links and paste into a praise thing.

Daring Fireball: Markdown

Notes to self as I try and teach myself to teach remotely. See More lockdown learning for some sort of background.

Experimenting with Farrago & loopback to merge different audio devices into Team meeting, not successful so far, mic seems to lose volume & extra background noise. Seems like a good idea, can bring in other audio to meeting.

An online lesson that goes a bit wrong really effects my mood. Given the circumstances this is going to happen quite often. A lot of my eggs in one hour.

North Lanarkshire have decided that all Teams should follow a naming pattern, NLC School Name Class Name. This really spoils the readability of posts when I want to mention the class.

You can turn on text to speech in Minecraft, then you can listen to the chat while working. The music is quite relaxing too.
Children are bonkers.

Notes to self as I try and teach myself to teach remotely. See More lockdown learning for some sort of background.

I remember when Apple Keynote came out I really liked it. For me the interface was simpler than PowerPoint and the files took less space. Now I am making a daily PowerPoint for our class meeting I’ve notice the file size situation is reversed. Exporting a keynote to PowerPoint is resulting in a smaller file.
I am still using Keynote as I am quicker and happier with the simpler UI.

For our meetings I am making, for me, quite long, 20 – 40 slide presentation. I get the impression that leaving out transitions and keeping them simple speeds things up. Pupils sometime get a blank screen, some of them have found that opening the chat and closing it sorts that out. I guess forces a screen refresh.

I try to keep the meeting moving along, were are doing an hour a day, covering a few different things each day. Given primary, age 8-11, I can’t expect a lecture to work. Getting the pupils to respond with voice as much as possible. Sometimes in turn, sometimes fire-at-will.

I am only getting around half my class of 24 turning up most days and imaging this would be more difficult with a class of 30.

mouse in a live trap

The last two week were a first, teaching my class online. I’ve seen a tremendous about of activity and discussion of this over twitter, blogs and in my in box. A lot of companies offering free services for a limited time. It is hard to know where to start.

Previously

Over the years I’ve participated in a few different online learning experiences 1 What has characterised these courses was a wide amount of personalisation and choice, open ended tasks and no real deadlines.

I’ve even run a couple of short online courses, Blogging Bootcamp & Blogging Bootcamp #2.

I don’t think these experiences gave me the answer as how to run a primary school class online. The courses I’ve joined in I’ve often dropped out, and popped in again in a interest driven fashion. They have taught me a lot about the tech side of being online and made me think a lot about engagement. They have shown that what works to keep me engaged: open ended tasks and individual encouragement and connections. I am not however an 8-11 year old in lockdown.

Preparation

We didn’t have much time for that. I use a lot of digital tools but I don’t use a lot of online communication in my classroom day to day. I have a loud voice. Over the past few years I’ve dipped into quite a few tools. But my go to method of digital communication in the classroom is AirDrop.
Apart for internet search, research and finding resources, the one online tool my pupils use most weeks is Blogs. We use glow blog e-Portfolios. We used other tools now and then particularly  to discuss and to learn about the technology, email and Teams. The children are frequent editors and creators of digital text, audio, images and video.

As it became clear that school closure was coming I made sure all the pupils could access their glow email and a new class team. The pupils didn’t get the chance to become fluid using these tools.

The Plan

This was not too complicated and will probably change. Every week I’ll make a blog post (week 2 example) with a weeks worth of instructions. I recorded the text as audio too. I email the pupils and get the school to email their parents. I try to have Teams open and respond quite quickly there. Keeping it very light. I share the link in teams and email. Unfortunately I told the class to leave the “got It” feature of online outlook alone as it was driving me daft in class.

Engagement

In the two weeks from my class of 24 8-11 year olds I had:

  • 16 pupils posting to their e-portfolios, 52 posts in total
  • 12 (11 the same) joining in chatting and posting files to the Team.

I have no idea if that is good or bad?

I do have a bias towards blog posts for keep a record of some learning, the children are somewhat in charge and we get a permanent 2 record. The detail in the posts was a bit less than it is in class when I can suggest, advise and nag.

We had not used the assignments feature in Teams but I did try a wee test with the children who are using Teams this week. A poll of devices being used. I had 9 responses.

  • A computer. it is a hp one. I sometimes use an apple iPad.
  • Mum’s phone (android) Our kindle tablets, Mum’s laptop
  • An IPad Generation 6
  • I’m using a laptop but set up app on my mums phone for notifications
  • I use an IPad Pro to get into teams
  • Phone, samsung galaxy S8, andriod
  • I am using my phone its a samsung galaxy s6
  • I am using an iPad
  • Ipad

I don’t really have a very good picture of where and how the pupils are working either. What sort of support they have or what connectivity or devices. Some of them will have home schedules that don’t allow them time for this. Some will have parents that are tech savvy some not. Some will have good spaces to work…

Video conferencing

We have seen a lot of discussion of this, both for school & work. Zoom’s rise and problems are well to the front.

It is likely our option is going to be Microsoft Teams. Again we had really briefly tested this in class. Last week I had another test with 8 or 9 pupils and a fellow teacher.

Teams in glow is limited in that pupils can’t turn on their video, only audio. This seems like a fair choice to make. There will be a lot of teachers dipping their toes into the online for the first time. Also audio is likely to use less bandwidth, Teams seems to have struggled a bit with the surge in use.

It was really nice to hear from pupils I’d not seen for a fortnight. There will be a lot of work to do around turn taking if there are going to work for anything other than good vibes1.

There was also a great difference in what different pupils could see. It was hard to tell if this was due to device, bandwidth or the fact teams is being a bit overwhelmed. Some pupils could see the whiteboard some could not, some could see a powerpoint other not.

Teams meet has a nice integration with the chat function. This seems to be a desktop only function. On tablets and phones you are ‘taken out’ of the video conference and back to the chat tab in Teams. Again physical space will make a difference. Will the pupils be in a quite place, or amongst other members of their family.

I think running a class via video conference successfully probably needs a lot of thought, practise and planning, if the object is a bit more than keeping in touch.

Going Forward

I expect we will be getting some guidance from Local Authority and National level as to how to proceed after the spring break. This would be what I’d want to try if given the choice.

  1. Start as low tech as possible: text not behind any login. In my case blog posts. These should be accessible on a wide range of devices. Should we be mailing out paper?
  2. Provide the text as audio too.
  3. Augment with images. Keep these as small as practical.
  4. Add video, again keep the file size down. HandBrake is my best pal for this. I wonder if YouTube would be more efficient?
  5. Look for and embed/link to existing content. I use textbooks and plenty of other pre made materials. Avoild wasting time making things that are already there
  6. Support via as many channels as possible chat in Teams, email, and anything else that comes up.
  7. Video/audio conference for extra explanations, help and support.
  8. Encourage responses from pupils on their e-Portfolios first, but accept anything else. The e-Portfolio will create a record for each pupil. It looks like assignments in teams would allow that too but I know some of my pupils don’t have access to that. I’ll keep testing and experimenting there. I suspect that Teams will be the chosen tool for my Local Authority.

I guess my plan looks a lot like the Flipped model. Without the emphasis on video and with online comms replacing the classroom side of the flip.

I imagine when we get to it, I’m kludge and fidget my way through. The main idea I have is to keep it simple and the tech as low-fi as possible.

I am also going to keep in mind that some of my pupils will have better learning in their than I can provide. I’ve already seen some of this from reports by children and email from parents.

Featured Image by Heather one of the talented Banton Biggies. She share this in our class team, the mouse was released unhurt. Used with permission.

1.

for example.

2. As permanent as anything else in this digital age, but perhaps more importantly, portable.

3. Nothing wrong with Good Vibes, they may turn out to be the most important thing we can do.