Thursday, 18 September 2014

Stop Motion - G5 EXPO

Stop Motion - G5 EXPO

Inspired by various TEDtalks, a group of students in Grade 5 wanted to create their own animated talk to share their thoughts with 'G5 Expo of Learning' visitors.

They planned out their talk and decided on the visuals they would need before starting the project. Some students chose to draw on whiteboards while others used LEGO to tell their story.
We discussed the importance of finding a suitable space to work in, paying attention to lighting and shadows as well as comfort and safety. Using the area outside Margaret Chhoa’s classroom allowed all the students to fit in and work without disturbing each other. We began by setting up the Justands over the work area and got all of the equipment within arms reach.
We explored how the iMotion HD app worked and decided whether to use the manual or time-lapse capture option. Another interesting option is to use the microphone to listen for a clap or a sound from the user to take a picture. This, along with the time-lapse option, takes away the opportunity for movement of the iPad or for it to lose focus on the image below.

When the stop motion movies were complete the children exported them from the iPad via email. Once back on their laptops they imported the stop motion into iMovie to add finishing touches; an introduction slide, a voiceover and an end slide. The voiceovers really gave another dimension to the movie and they required the children to think carefully about how what they were saying supported the visuals on screen.

Many visitors to the G5 Expo of Learning were impressed by these videos and the children who produced them were proud of their work. From a teacher's point of view the children used a variety of skills and developed new ones through this project.

Enjoy the finished movies.

Monday, 8 September 2014

Getting to grips with Google

The array of spaces and places where children’s work is created, published, stored and presented can be overwhelming for both parents and students. This blog post will explain the different places that children will be working in and give you some ways to support your children when working at home.

Google Chrome

Students are asked to use Google Chrome to access content from the internet. There are a few reasons for this. My favourite reason is that Chrome has the option to sign in and link bookmarks created on one computer to any other.

Installing Google Chrome on your home computer (it works on Mac and non Apple machines) will allow your child to work in the same environment as they do at school. If parents have another Chrome account set up on the home computer the students will need to log out of that and then log in with their own details for their school bookmarks to show up. More details on setting up a Chrome account are here. In the same article there is information about setting up a separate account on your home computer for your children to use as well as some useful troubleshooting tips care of Sean McHugh, Digital Literacy Coach, Dover campus.

In class the children have been shown how to create a bookmark in one of these ways:

Pushing the Command and D keys

Clicking the star at the end of the address bar

Clicking Bookmarks > Bookmark this page

Dragging the address onto the Bookmarks bar is a quick and simple alternative to the methods above.

The students have also been shown how to log in to Chrome using their school email address and password.

The UWCSEA portal

This website is one way in to UWCSEA online life for parents and students. Children are able to get to their email through here as well as see their timetable for the day and any notices aimed at them. To log in they type their username (e.g. smith1234) and Gmail password.

Parents can also log in and see information about their child and about the college.

Class sites

Students can find their class website by navigating through ‘Learning Programme Overview’ > ‘Junior School’ and choosing their grade and then their class teacher. Parents can see these sites by asking their child to log in. Most class sites have been shared in class already. Once they have found the site they should have it bookmarked for quick and easy future access. The main purpose of class sites are for teachers to push everyday information to students (upcoming events, timetable, class trip information, homework, etc) and for students to join in online class discussions in a safe and controlled environment. Learning how to post a comment that shares their thinking and then responding to the comments of others is a skill that is becoming increasingly useful.

‘Why not have a real life discussion in person, in the classroom?’ I hear you ask. We do I promise and these happen everyday. The added beauty of these online discussions is that they can take place anywhere and at any time, therefore extending the boundaries of the physical classroom. There are also many instances when those quieter children who don’t feel comfortable contributing in front of larger groups of people will share their thinking and views more readily in an online environment. It also gives some time for processing to occur. Mulling over someone's comment and allowing time before responding can make way for added ideas.

Learning Journals

Last year we moved from paper portfolios to an online Learning Journal using Google Sites as a platform. Much of the work that the children were doing in class prior to this wasn’t able to be reflected in their paper portfolio so this shift allowed students to choose from a wider array of work. We also shifted our thinking in terms of the pieces included. The term “learning journal” describes an ongoing process of documentation and reflection lead by the student and supported by the teacher. This process is supported by the UWCSEA Learning Principles.

We believe that students should understand the purpose of their learning, have ownership over it and have regular opportunities to actively process and reflect. The Learning Journal provides a medium for these aims. It houses a collection of student work that shows progression of learning over time. It provides students with ongoing opportunities to reflect on their learning and to notice the changes in their skills, knowledge and understanding across their academic programme. It travels with students throughout their time in Primary School and is shared with families regularly.

The essential elements of the Learning Journal include visual, oral or written samples of children engaged in learning. Examples include:
Rough drafts and final drafts
Reflections on learning
Photos, videos of learning process or products
Teacher comments
A selection from each academic area (Maths, Literacy, UoI) and specialist area
UWC profile

We want to shift away from purely product and move more towards process so you should expect to see work that is in its beginning stages, work that may be unfinished, work that is in draft form with revisions and comments as well as finished work. You should also expect to see a range of media - videos, photos as well as handwritten and typed ‘work’. An important element of the Learning Journal process is reflection. Why have I included this piece in my Learning Journal? What does this piece of work demonstrate about me as a writer? How has my thinking changed over the course of this unit of study?

As John Dewey, American philosopher, psychologist, and educational reformer, states “We do not learn from experience...we learn from reflecting on experience.” The reflective piece is important in making sense of learning and can help to shape a child’s view of their development.

The Learning Journal will be shared in the early part of the academic year and you will be able to watch it grow as your child adds to it with support and guidance from their class teacher.

Children will be working on their Learning Journals in class, but from time to time they may be asked to finish a task at home. They will need to log into Chrome and then click on their Learning Journal bookmark.

Once their Learning Journal is on screen they will need to navigate to the correct subject page and click the ‘New Post’ button to create a post about their latest work. Sometime they will need to edit a post they have already created.

Google Documents

‘Google docs’ as they are affectionately known are part of the Google suite of tools that accompanies a Google email address. (If you have a personal Gmail address you’ll have access to these tools as well). On the face of it a Google doc looks very similar to a Word or Pages document. Students can type and format text as they would in any word processing program. They can insert images and tables and track their changes. Where Google docs comes into it’s own is the sharing feature. As soon as a doc has been created students can share this with their teacher or their Writing Partner, for example, using their school email address. This sharing allows collaborators to work inside the same document. It also has the ability for a person to leave a comment about a particular word or section, very helpful when a Writing Partner is helping to edit a piece of work. There are varying levels of permissions starting at ‘View only’ all the way up to ‘Can edit’.

Also within the Google suite there is Google sites (to create websites to host a range of content), Google Sheets (to create spreadsheets), Google Slides (for presentations similar to Keynote and PowerPoint), Google Drawings (to create charts and diagrams) and Google Forms (to create surveys and collect data from people). These other tools are used in different subject areas and to varying degrees in different grade levels.

Google Drive

This is the place where students file all of the work they do. It can be accessed from any computer, anywhere, by logging into Google Mail. There is a button that gives access to Google Drive in the top right hand side of the screen.

If the children are using a Google doc then they can work on it within the Chrome browser window. If they are working on a Pages, Keynote or similar non Google document they will need to download it, work on it and then re-upload it when they are done.

Google Drive is our go-to filing system as the storage is online. If a child’s laptop has to be wiped for some reason then all of their work is safely stored and can be reconnected when their laptop is returned to them. More information about Google Drive is available here

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Classrooms as Social Networks

Interthinking, Interaction & the Internet


Possibly one of the most exciting applications of digital technology in education are the kinds of activities that encourage the unique ‘peer to peer’ interactions between students, and/or the teacher, within a shared online space, a forum, or a ‘wiki’ to use the term in it’s most fundamental sense:

a website that allows collaborative editing of its content and structure by its users.
“[A wiki] differs from a blog or most other such systems in that the content is created without any defined owner or leader, and wikis have little implicit structure, allowing structure to emerge according to the needs of the users.” 

The tendency when this kind of conversation starts, is for people to leap to the assumption that we're going to have to use 'Facebook? FACEBOOK? Are you serious?' or perhaps Twitter. Yes, those could work too, but there are many platforms that are more ... appropriate for a classroom that you can use for this, any blog format, and wiki, but for us as a GAPPS school, Google Sites provide a 'wiki' environment that works magnificently. It is one of those applications of tech that goes deep with educators—if you want to see a teacher embrace and RUN with a tech tool, this is the one; it takes (literally) a few minutes to post a provocation (maybe longer to actually think of a good provocation) then sit back and watch the students take it and transform it.

All you need is a good question... 

As Erickson describes in her chapter on "Different Types of Questions to Support Conceptual Thinking",  the right blend of questions help students construct their own understandings. She recommends designing three types of conceptual question (factual, conceptual and provocative) to guide students thinking,

"students seek resolutions to queries or issues, search patterns and relationships, and bridge specific examples to conceptualise ideas, questions provide the necessary support or nudge. As a result, learning is more memorable and better retained because rather than being told what is important, students construct understandings themselves."
(Erickson et al, 2014, p. 56)

Now the teacher sits back and absorbs the feedback, watching the conversations unfolding, expanding and developing, but their role, is still critical. You see the kind of interactions afforded in a wiki space are very similar, and yet very different to those in a typical face to face classroom discussion. And just like their face to face variety, they have their potentials and pitfalls, which need to be monitored as feedback so they can use the evidence to feed forward, at class, group, or individual student level.

A recent study shows that students who regularly participated in these kinds of activities improved their maths and reading scores by the equivalent of two extra months of teaching, even though the activities were not designed to improve literacy or numeracy. More than 3,000 students in 48 schools across England participated in weekly discussions about concepts such as truth, justice, friendship, and knowledge, with time carved out for silent reflection, question making, question airing, and building on one another’s thoughts and ideas.

This post focuses on the actual pedagogical practice of using this medium for learning. I have written another post that focuses on the big picture, focusing on the WHY—why this medium is not only unique but actually essential, critical, pivotal, and in my experience, one of the most genuinely transformative applications of ICT that I have ever encountered.

What is interthinking?

Karen Littleton and Neil Mercer wrote the book that describes the kind of internet based interaction—interthinking.

“Mainly by using spoken language, people are able to think creatively and productively together. We call this process 'interthinking' to emphasise that people do not use talk only to interact, they interthink.” (my emphasis)

In Interthinking Littleton and Mercer describe three types of talk:

Disputational talk, cumulative talk, and exploratory talk. 

The first is one to avoid, the second is safe ... but ineffective, the last is what we want, that’s where the transformative activity, the interthinking, happens.

Here are some great examples of Interthinking I've grabbed from some of our class sites, trust me there is a lot more where these came from. Now they didn’t get this good on their own, skilled teachers guided and developed these discussions. Online discussions generally tend to start out as very pleasant but bland ‘cumulative’ talk (more on that in a minute), then, once they become more comfortable with the medium, it can unfortunately easily denigrate into ‘disputational’ argumentative talk. The role of the teacher is to ‘mentor’ these students to interact or ‘talk’ in ways that find a powerful balance between these extremes, talk that is ‘exploratory’.

Google Site discussions*

Now, looking at the conversations here, you could mistakenly assume that all of it happened in the sole confines of an individual screen, students hunting and pecking away in isolation, but that is only half the story—all of these conversations are grounded in good old fashioned classroom ‘face to face’ which iteratively shifts online, and then back to face to face over time. Now that timeframe could be as short as a back and forth in one lesson, to an ongoing back and forth, iterative feedback loop over an entire unit, whatever the teacher feels is needed.

I strongly recommend that you read the book yourself, but in the interest of action, I’ve summarised the points that relate to the context of internet interactivity below. The following is quoted directly from the book, anything inside [square brackets] is mine.

*You can any wiki space that supports a reply option for this, eg Google Classroom, Edmodo etc. 

Interthinking elements

Interthinking has been necessary for the development and dissemination of all human knowledge and understanding. However, as we will all know from personal experience, collective thinking is not always productive or successful. Two heads are not always better than one, and we need to understand how and why that is the case. (p 2)

Three kinds of talk in groups (as first reported in Dawes, Fisher and Mercer 1992). They can be summarised as follows.

Disputational talk in which

 • There is a lot of disagreement and everyone just makes their own decisions;
 • There are few attempts to pool resources or to offer constructive criticism;
 • They are often a lot of interactions of the open 'yes it is! – No it's not!' kind;
 • The atmosphere is competitive rather than cooperative.

Cumulative talk, in which

 • Everyone simply accepts and agrees with what other people say;
 • Children use talk to share knowledge, but they do so in an uncritical way;
 • Children repeat and elaborate each others ideas, but they don't evaluate them carefully.

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

Exploratory talk, in which

 • Everyone engages critically but constructively with each other's ideas;
 • Everyone offers the relevant information they have;
 • Everyone's ideas are treated as worthy of consideration;
 • Partners ask each other questions and answer them, ask for reasons and give them;
 • Members of the group try to reach agreement at each stage before progressing;
 • To an observer of the group, reasoning is 'visible' in the talk.

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge


Digital technology and interthinking

Much as been written about the ways that electronic, digital technology can 'transform' or 'revolutionise' interpersonal communications. This is not mere hyperbole. People can now communicate quite easily with other individuals far away, send each other various kinds of multimodal information and organise group events and collective creations without being ever in the same room as other participants.
However, there is a danger that the wealth of communicative facilities offered by digital technology distracts us from concerns about the quality of communication. A clear line on the telephone has never ensured that two speakers would have a conversation in which they understood each other well, and the added visual dimension offered by Skype will not do so either. Computers in their various forms, and their software, are cultural tools that we employ well or badly. They can certainly make interthinking possible between people who would otherwise have been separated, and they can provide practical and very useful support for groups of people who are working and learning together.
[For some reason these researchers seem to focus exclusively on the IWB as if it is the most ubiquitous form of technology, and the most relevant? I would argue that the context that is considered here would be far more effective if each student had their own screen [situated]and were still able to talk together in the same physical space [located] while interacting in the same virtual space in real time (ie, synchronous not asynchronous), such as perhaps annotating a shared image within Google Drive?]


Improvable objects and interthinking [Mutability]

As we saw earlier, the IWB [and surely any situated shared screen environment] is very useful for generating and recording synoptic, written conclusions; it is easy for the whole group to see and comment on what each member writes, and for the final text to be very quickly modified in light of feedback and evaluation of the emerging ideas (see Littleton, Twiner and Gillen 2010). One of our former doctoral students, Alison Twiner, has called the kind of text the children are creating on the IWB a 'digital improvable object' (Twiner 2011; Twiner, Littleton, Coffin and Whitelock in press). Teachers often encourage children to record what has been said in their group discussions. It was the classroom researcher Gordon Wells (1999) who first suggested that if they are treated as 'improvable objects' rather than finished pieces of work, such records can, if used appropriately, provide a cumulative basis of common knowledge upon which future discussions and other activities can draw and progressively build. Of course, such records do not have to be digital—they can also be created on paper—but computer–based technology offers a way of doing so easily, so that modifications can be made, several versions kept and copies distributed. Such digital records can also include other things such as diagrams and drawings that capture ideas created in discussions. They can offer a kind of half-way stage between the ephemerality [temporality] of talk and the permanence of written texts, and represents one way that technology can help people think collectively.

P78 [paraphrased]
Once saved, these collective creations are then available as a tangible results for discussion by groups of students. For example, a teacher easily project it onto a whiteboard screen for students to refer to, both as a powerful 'aide memoir' for initial reactions and ideas, and as a subsequent focus for collective thinking.

Other kinds of electronic text can also support the collective revision, development and evaluation of ideas. [...]  ...comment boxes enable groups of students to capture, during the data collection phase of their enquiries, important contextual information that would assist them in the interpretation of the data during analysis. Observations of the software in use revealed that as the students moved toward the reporting of the investigation, they also reworked, refined and continually edited and saved the text within the boxes [A process which would have become increasingly and inevitably extremely messy and convoluted if it had been carried out on paper]. In doing so the text became an ongoing work in progress, capturing emerging ideas and (inter)thinking, over time, in respect of the interpretation of data and the key findings. Their initial comments recorded in the boxes provided a base from which to develop and build shared knowledge and understanding. This process of reworking the comments in the boxes also helped students make connections across different phases of the enquiry and so help them maintain the 'thread' of their joint activity (see Littleton and Kerawaller 2010 for more information).

[Interesting to note that the researchers themselves could not consider how this activity could be practised in any other any other software environment, and seem to be fixated on only extremely sophisticated futuristic models], "as a tool for enabling into thinking by a group of, 'tabletop' interactive computers that are sensitive to touch may prove to be more useful.… Another researcher, Stahl (2011), has suggested that tabletops could serve as a 'multimedia tribal fire for the classroom, workplace, or social gathering', though they are currently so costly that it is unlikely that they will soon become as common in classrooms as the IWB]


Collaborative learning at a distance 

[Interesting to note here again that the researchers have a very narrow/fixed view of how the technologies can be used, for example the situated nature of these technologies means that they don't have to be used at a distance the same tool could be used very effectively within the same physical location, just because you can use them to span thousands of miles, doesn't mean that you have to]

There have been many studies of the use of electronic communications in distance education, but few have been studies of how spoken or written communication between students in distant locations might enable their learning or problem-solving.

One of the ways that communicating through text [why just text? What about image? Video] online is rather different from talking face-to-face is that it can either take place in real time, so that speakers respond immediately to each other, or people may take some time to respond. An online 'conversation' can be spread out over a period of days, weeks or even months. Ingram and Hathorn, two researchers into the uses of online communication in education, describe the differences between these two modes of computer-mediated communication (CMC) as follows:

"CMC can be divided into synchronous and asynchronous modes. In synchronous communications all disciplines are online at the same time, while asynchronous communications occurs without time constraints. Synchronous discussion involves the use of programs, such as chat rooms, instant messengers or audio and video programs, in which all participants exchange messages in real-time. Messages appear on the screen almost immediately after they are typed, and many threads can occur simultaneously. Those who have experienced these rapid exchanges of information, ideas, and opinions know that even extraordinary typing skill and quick response times do not guarantee that one can keep up with the constantly changing discussion. Hence, synchronous discussion may be best suited for brainstorming and quickly sharing ideas. In asynchronous discussions students can participate at any time and from any location, without regard to what other discussants are doing. Asynchronous CMC allows participants to contribute to the discussion more equally because none of the customary limitations imposed by an instructor or class schedule apply. Full and free expression of ideas is possible. Although these communications are text-based, they have little in common with traditional printed information. Experienced users use a style that is characterised by a abbreviated writing and emoticons (eg smileys). asynchronous discussions, which can occur over email or threaded web discussion, allow more time for considered opinions… And are more effective for deeper discussion of ideas." (Ingram and Hathorn 2004: 220)

[limitations, or why it is good to combine on-screen interactions with face-to-face interactions in real time in the same space, face-to-face]

Distance educators need to make the best use of the affordances of Digital technology to compensate for the loss of some of the most attractive and useful features of more traditional ways of teaching and learning [face-to-face].
And the open University, Rebecca Ferguson (Ferguson 2009; Ferguson, Whitelock and Littleton 2010). She was interested in how students working online managed the task of building knowledge and understanding together, as they pursued assignment in groups. [...] Ferguson also usefully identified some important ways that asynchronous online interactions among a group are different from those among people working face-to-face, in terms of the resources group members have to support their interthinking. For example, they often have digital improvable objects of the kind that we mentioned earlier. As she comments:

They do not need to employ devices that will help them to remember what they have said or done, because they have access to the complete text of their past dialogue in a transcript automatically generated by the software. What they need to replace is the range of tones, expressions and gestures are available to support sense making in a face-to-face setting. They must find a synchronous methods of agreeing on what they have achieved together, and on how they can shape past dialogue to build shared knowledge. At the same time, they need to avoid disagreements and find a way of moving dialogue forward safely when only a subset of the group is online and able to participate. (Ferguson up. cit.: 168)

The temporally extended, and even disjointed nature of online talk creates different kinds of obstacles to interthinking from face-to-face settings. Requests for explanations and checks of understanding are more labourious to make, as are the responses they require; and so any disagreements that arise are harder, to resolve.

Various kinds of digital tools [...] can provide some valuable support for productive discussion. They can resource what Wegerif (2007, 2010) has called a 'dialogic space' in which different ideas, perspectives and understanding can be collectively explored, and material can be modified to record the development of a discussion and capture emerging ideas. Digital communication offers opportunities for students to interthink online, and to do so without the constraints of time and location that arise in more conventional educational settings.
more than one way of talking can be productive but discussion is likely to be most productive for learning if participants agree to follow the kinds of ground rules for discussion that will generate an online version of exploratory talk. Therefore, they should be expected to encourage universal participation among group members, seek ideas and clarification of them, challenge ideas and proposals in respectful ways if they have good reason to do so and support their own ideas and proposals with reasons and explanations.


Cooperation versus collaboration

[I believe that for formative assessment to be effective, when students are asked to work in groups, it is better to pursue a cooperative approach rather than a collaborative approach. This way students are accountable for their individual contributions as opposed to all of the contributions being mixed into a melange where it becomes difficult if not impossible to ascertain the accountability or input of specific individuals]

"Cooperation is defined as the style of working, sometimes called "divide-and-conquer," in which students split an assignment into roughly equal pieces to be completed by the individuals, and then stitched together to finish the assignment.
 In contrast, we define collaboration as a more complex working together. Students discuss all parts of the assignment, adding and changing things in conjunction with one another as they come to understand more about the topic.
 At the end, the final product is truly a group product in which it is difficult or impossible to identify individual contributions. There appears to be differences between corporation and collaboration in both the complexity of the interactions and the effectiveness for instruction and education."

(Ingram and Hathorn 2004:216)


When people asking what learning ‘transformed’ by technology looks like, this is the kind of thing I think of, and the SAMMS framework helps here—this kind of activity, and its inherent,


- these kids can continue the conversation anywhere, any place (even international), face to face or any space, or time that works for them. I would argue the context of a wiki (as opposed to a shared IWB in the book) has the advantage of adding the situated affordance of technology, making interthinking much more effective, by augmenting it with a greater focus on the kinds of intrathinking and reflection that can be afforded by reworking or contributing to a group discussion in asynchronous isolation subsequent to a synchronous face to face session.


No need to debate minutiae and semantics when clarifying points of fact or fiction are only a click away, got a reference to back that up? Great, link to it. The wealth of online resources offers great potential for learners; but the context of interthinking places greater demands on all parties to evaluate and filter the information they offer.


Now for the most part, Interthinking assumes a text only mode, but adding the contact of face to face automatically makes it multimodal, but it actually it isn’t difficult to multiply the modes in a screen context, the examples above  include a video, or image prompt used by the teacher as a provocation, as well as students relating their ‘interthinking’ to multimodal content they have posted, from image to video, to mind maps and presentations.


The ease with which students can modify their content facilitates learning, but needs to be managed carefully to avoid ‘revisionism’ this is the teachers call, some like to encourage kids to go back and revise their posts in light of their changing position, others see this as potentially dishonest—Did I say that? No I didn’t [quick edit] .. see?

Social Network

This activity literally creates a ‘micro social network’ like a Facebook the size of your class, with all of it’s phenomenal benefits, minus the suspicious disingenuous marketing.


Erickson HL, Lanning LA, & French R (2017). Concept-based curriculum and instruction for the thinking classroom.

Ferguson R, Whitelock D, & Littleton K (2010). Improvable objects and attached dialogue: new literacy practices employed by learners to build knowledge together in asynchronous settings. Digital Culture and Education, 2 (1): 103-123

Ferguson R (2009). The Construction of Shared Knowledge through Asynchronous Dialogue, Unpublished PhD Thesis, The Open University. [Downloadable from:]. Accessed January 22 2013.

Ingram A & Hathorn L (2004) 'Methods for Analysing Collaboration and Online Communications', in T Roberts (ed), Online Collaborative Learning: theory and practice, London: Information Science Publishing.

Littleton K, & Mercer N (2013). Interthinking: putting talk to work. Routledge.

Littleton K, & Kerawalla L (2012). Trajectories of inquiry learning, in K Littleton, E Scanlon and M Sharples (eds), Orchestrating Inquiry Learning, Abingdon: Routledge.

Wegerif R (2007). 'Dialogic, Education and Technology: expanding the space of learning, London: Springer Verlag.

Wegerif R (2010). 'Dialogic and teaching thinking with technology: opening, deepening and expanding the interface', in C Howe and K Littleton (eds), Educational Dialogues: understanding and promoting productive interaction, London: Routledge.