Tag Archives: classroom

Creative Catastrophe – reflections on a digital unit for Year 8

Over the past few weeks a colleague and I have been working on a collaborative project with our Year 8 English classes that involved teaching persuasive language through a topic on copyright, plagiarism and Creative Commons.

We perceived a need among our students to develop their understanding of what it actually means to create their own original piece of work, and what the limitations are on their use of other people’s ideas and works for their own purposes. The idea for the unit lent itself brilliantly to teaching about digital citizenship and what their rights and responsibilities are as both consumers and creators of content in both the digital and the physical world.

After hearing Selena Woodward speak at the South Australian English Teachers Association conference in May of this year, we were excited and inspired to begin the project. And so were our students when we explained it to them – it’s main selling point for  them being that they got to create a video at the end.

I have made videos with classes before. I should have known how exhausting it would be. I was so excited about the concept that I forgot.

We started by posing the following question to the students in the form of a video stimulus: “What can we do to draw upon other people’s work but avoid plagiarism?” We then went through a process of building persuasive language skills and understanding of copyright laws and Creative Commons. Students used this learning to work in groups and create a persuasive video response to the original problem that had been posed to them.

Some of the challenges of this somewhat-inquiry based project included the anxiety of relinquishing some control to the students in terms of where they went with their suggested solutions to the problem and how their product developed. Yet this was also an opportunity in that the onus was on them to work together effectively and solve problems, hence helping to build the resilience I am aiming for with my class. There was also the challenge of getting students out of their comfort zones. Many of them have used Windows Movie Maker before, but they were reluctant to try new programs such as Powtoon or other animation based software. And then there was the degree of trust in the students required to do the right thing as they moved around the school to film.

There were many opportunities though, which outweighed the challenges. It was great to see students who wouldn’t normally work together so enthusiastic about their shared ideas and work. Unlike the last time I had students create videos, this task was far more structured in terms of a step-by-step process and the language structures students were required to use. The accessibility of students’ smartphones and tablets also made  the facilitation of the filming and editing much easier as they simply had to plug in and go, rather than sharing the school’s limited video cameras among many groups.

Click here to see the students’ reflections on the project and some of the final products. To be honest, they were a little more amateurish than I had envisioned. But when I think about it, they are Year 8s, and the concepts they are talking about are actually quite complex. So I’m very proud. We may need to work on some editing skills though…

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Creative Catastrophe – reflections on a digital unit for Year 8 by Melissa Phillips is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at 8 Faulkner’s Class Blog.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at https://melissasphillips.wordpress.com/about/.

My Edtech Journey So Far…

Today I took a moment in between creating online modules for my classes, and I realised that my teaching is different now from what it was this time last year. I’m not talking about slightly different – I mean completely different. And this is largely due to technology.

So I started to think about the metaphorical journey I have travelled so far with educational technology. It really began when our school introduced laptops for Year 9s up at the beginning of last year. I was really excited about having this technology but wasn’t really sure about where to begin with implementing it effectively in the classroom. This produced a huge challenge with a class of Year 9s who wanted to use their laptops (mainly for playing the numerous games they had quickly uploaded on to them) and a teacher who had a vision for what she wanted in the classroom, but wasn’t sure how to go about achieving it.

Then in October of 2012, I was fortunate enough to attend a full day workshop with George Couros,  The Division Principal of Innovative Teaching and Learning for the Parkland School Division in Alberta, Canada. Here I was introduced to the use of Google Chrome, Twitter and Blogging for education. Inspired by George’s workshop, I set up my Twitter account and started to build my Professional Learning Network (PLN), connecting with other teachers and institutions at local, interstate and international levels. This has allowed me to participate in engaging professional discussion, pose questions, and draw on others for ideas about how to improve my practise. (As an aside- I highly recommend following @gcouros, @TeacherTechnol and @EduTweetOz – among many, many others – if you are looking at setting up your own PLN on Twitter) I also set up this blog to reflect on my personal learning, both in and out of the classroom.

Yet, once I’d learnt to navigate the world of Twitter and blogging, I needed more. In my opinion, it is not enough to connect with others if there is no tangible change in my classroom. So I spent some time over the summer holidays exploring the use of the online learning management system Edmodo and planning a class blog for my Year 8 pastoral care group. This is their space where they can reflect on their learning and share it with their parents, and other students and teachers. It took some time to digitalise my resources, create new, more meaningful resources and get the students and their parents accustomed to Edmodo, but once the inevitable teething problems were resolved, it went from strength to strength.

My next aim was for my students to use the digital technologies available to them to connect at a deeper level with their learning and to create their own online content, rather than simply being consumers of online content. The current generation is often described as ‘digital natives’, but I’m not sure that that description is entirely accurate. Our students have grown up with technology as a way life – but more often than not it is used to consume, rather than reimagine, reinvent and create. I believe it is the higher order thinking behind synthesis and creativity that defines the digital native.

Our school is now 1:1 laptop across the entire College, so this year my Year 8s have technology at their fingertips – and many of them only knew how to word process, create a Powerpoint presentation and search the internet. So we started small, using online tools such as Padlet to share ideas and brainstorms. A colleague and I then built on this by running simultaneous Year 8 Religion lessons where the students had to work in groups and then share their learning with their peers in both classes via a Padlet wall.

Collaborating via Padlet

Our next step will be to involve the students in an inquiry-based project that will require them not only to engage with the digital content created by others, but to work in groups to analyse, reflect, synthesise and create their own content using the knowledge they themselves construct and the opinions they develop.

I have said it before, but my iPad has also been crucial to transforming the way I teach and my students learn. For example, the app Explain Everything has allowed me to create videos that explain and demonstrate concepts and pose questions to the students which I can then post on to the YouTube channel and playlists that I have created for them. I have recently extended this to setting up the subject specific blogs English Excel and Italian Like a Boss, as well as the creation of apps for Apple and Android devices that are linked to the blogs – http://myapp.is/EnglishExcel (on the right in the photo below) and http://myapp.is/ItalianLikeABoss (on the left of the photo). The apps are designed to give students and teachers access to a range of online learning opportunities. Users can link to the blogs, to video tutorials, and to news and podcasts, among other resources. The Italian Like A Boss app will provide a useful platform for our Year 10 and 11 students to communicate their experience with their peers, parents and teachers back at the school through the app and the blog, as well as connecting with others to enhance their learning in a meaningful way. Their learning is more mobile, accessible and relevant to their everyday lives than ever before and will hopefully continue to become even more so!

My apps

So this is my journey with educational technology so far. It is by no means complete and certainly not without its challenges. But it has transformed me into a very different teacher from the one I was at the beginning of October last year. There are certainly lots of things I have had to take into consideration, and one thing I firmly believe is that technology is the tool to facilitate and enhance  the learning and not the end point. If students are simply learning about the technology then it is not being used effectively. Of course, there will inevitably be some of this, but it shouldn’t be the central focus. The central focus should be the knowledge that students construct through the use of this tool – and not simply for research (i.e. “googling”) or basic word processing! Students should be creating things with the technology that they could not do with pen and paper.

For those who feel like the integration of technology into the classroom is an enormous mountain to climb – it may well be. But if you start small and take it one step at a time, just like we ask students to do, then eventually that one thing you have learnt becomes second nature and you can build on it. You’ll be amazed how quickly it can transform your teaching.

I’ll leave you with this clip that I first saw at George Couros’s workshop. It certainly demonstrates how I – and I am sure others – felt at the beginning of this journey.

Reflections on the Effective School Improvement Project so far

Recently, I have blogged about the Curtin University Effective School Improvement Project.  Surveys were completed by students a couple of weeks ago and I am now at the stage where I have reviewed my data and identified areas that I would like to specifically target for improvement. Generally I was very happy with the results – my students were quite positive about our classroom environment.However, the particular areas I decided to focus on for improvement are students’ understanding of what they are assessed on in my classes and collaboration and involvement.

I certainly empathise with my Year 8 students when they say it is difficult to understand precisely what their grades mean. Our assignment coversheets are really designed for teachers and are covered in Australian Curriculum jargon and teacher-speak. So I began my project by creating a short document titled “Your Grade in Plain English.” The information outlined the questions that I ask myself when I assess their English work, but it used a terminology more appropriate to twelve and thirteen year olds. We spent some time going through this together in class before they received their first assessment tasks back. Anonymous feedback collected from the students via an Edmodo poll suggested that the exercise helped them to better understand what their grade meant. Each student now has a copy to refer to whenever they are producing a piece of work in our English class. Now that they understand what the assessment criteria mean and what I am looking for evidence of in their work, they can use it as a checklist when completing tasks.

Another step I have put in place to assist me in my learning is to film or otherwise document some of my lessons. The decision to do this was instigated by a project that a colleague and I are doing on Functional Grammar, but I realised that the exercise also provides a great opportunity to reflect on my teaching for the Curtin Project. One of my very generous colleagues agreed to come into a Year 8 English lesson last week and help me to film. Tonight I finally got time to sit down and view the video. The lesson was one in a series where we look at simple, compound and complex sentences. We then look at these sentence types in the context of a children’s book. This particular lesson began with a Preparation for Reading (from the Reading to Learn pedagogy), before reading Jackie French’s 2011 book Flood. We will follow this with explicit teaching of other elements of Functional Grammar as students simultaneously draft their narrative assessment tasks.


It was quite confronting to see myself on video at first. However, as I became more comfortable with it, it was incredibly interesting. Watching myself teach gave me a very different perspective on the structure of my lessons, the activities I run with students, and what it might be like to be a student in my class. I performed a short Strengths, Weaknesses and Opportunities analysis. Such reflection assisted me in identifying what I feel I do well in my classes, areas I might address in the future, and future planning decisions based on the review of student engagement and feedback. It also allowed me to see particular things going on in the classroom that may need addressing but are much harder to notice when you are busy teaching the lesson.

Overall I was pleasantly surprised by the lesson. I had been very nervous about having the camera in the room (even though I had asked for it) and I know the students modified their behaviour knowing that the camera was rolling. However, rather than highlighting deficiencies, it was actually very reaffirming. The insights it has provided – both for my professional learning through the Curtin Project and for our Functional Grammar work – are invaluable.

I look forward to implementing further strategies to improve my focus areas and will continue to document my observations and reflections on this blog.

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