Hi everyone, I'm Craig McDonald and I live in Papamoa.
I have a blog called Webb-ed Feet for my own reflections on teaching and technology.
I'm @craigmcd on Twitter.


17 March 2012
Last year I presented at ULearn in the research stream about issues to do with kids online, and about how important it is to have NZ-based research on this issue, for the benefit of teachers, parents and those in the research/policy community. While I was there I recorded this EDtalk.

7 March 2012
This year I am out of the classroom as I received a Study Award from TeachNZ, so I am working on my MEd thesis instead! In terms of e-learning classrooms I won't have a lot to offer this year, but Jacqui felt it could be good for me to keep my page here as a place to share my thoughts on this research journey.

The topic I am exploring is how New Zealand children are using the internet - how they approach risks of various kinds, what skills they have in facing these risks, and how this might relate to the Key Competencies we try to impart in our classroom programmes. I intend to analyse the findings to identify the conditions for increased confidence and skill levels online in order to minimise the risk of harm and maximise the opportunities that the internet offers.

My research will seek to answer the question, “How are 9-12 year old children in New Zealand using the internet, what factors lead to increased self-confidence and competency in dealing with online challenges, and what are the implications of this for schools?”

When I was reading around this issue I was struck by how little research there was based on the New Zealand experience. There are some studies looking at teenage internet use, but as for children I had to go back as far as 2002 to find a decent size study. As we all know, the online world was quite a different place back then. In 2002, Facebook, MySpace, Bebo, Twitter, youtube and even Gmail did not exist. And that’s without discussing the changes to web access via mobile devices such as the iPod Touch and games consoles since that time. Clearly the landscape has changed.

Take Facebook for example. Consumer Reports ‘State of the Net’ survey last year found that, quote, “Of the 20 million minors who actively used Facebook in the past year, 7.5 million of them were younger than 13”, and that most of these accounts were unsupervised by parents. In fact, in the USA the number of parents who would allow their 10-12 year olds to have a Facebook account has doubled in the space of a year, according to Liberty Mutual's Responsibility Project. The same survey showed that most parents also expect teachers and schools to do more to deal with the fall out.

Clearly, whether we like it or not, this is something we as educators are going to have to invest time in, and we need to do this from a position of knowledge of our own context here in New Zealand. Research around online privacy and risk is of vital importance. The disproportionate media attention given to unusual but high profile examples of online danger can have too much influence on policy formation. New Zealand-based research will help to separate actual online practice from media-hype based on sensationalist (albeit serious) examples. It will, therefore, provide a robust and reliable benchmark that other researchers and policymakers might use to inform policy in regards to appropriate responses, both in schools and more broadly in society.

So anyway, I will keep you posted on how it's going, anything I am learning that might be relevant to the children in your class, and please feel free to add your thoughts too! I'd love to hear how you apply the Key Competencies in an online context to develop good digital citizens.


Week 1, Term Two

These last holidays, I've probably spent more time planning and preparing than I have for a long time, and as a result, I'm really excited about being back in the classroom. It's not that I haven't spent time planning in past holidays - rather that in 2011 I have had more time available to think about my classroom practice and where to take it, because I have taken a break from studying. I blogged about this recently, relating our classroom practice to crop rotation in agriculture - the need to let the soil rest sometimes.

On the furniture front, I have been making good progress with getting rid of as much superfluous furniture as possible, with the goal of being able to be flexible with the classroom space and set up 'spaces' for different purposes. I have four coffee tables already, with three more on the way, and quite a few cushions. That's 11 desks and chairs out the door already! I have three more tables on their way.

I can't quite get away from needing a 'front' of the room, for student presenting, and for data projector displays, etc. Still thinking about this.

I spent quite a lot of time trying to get various other systems set up as well, taking inspiration and ideas from Jacqui's resources and things I saw on Bus Tour. I have created a page on the wiki with handwriting slides for each letter of the alphabet, and the students are doing this now as part of a Language Skills rotation, rather than everyday after silent reading.
I have used Jacqui's keyboarding cards for the Typing, Study Ladder for the Grammar, and some Spelling activity cards I already had. My only frustration with this so far has been my dodgy wireless all week, which has restricted access to some of the resources.

My writing unit for the term hasn't fully kicked off, but I am using the management system suggested by Jacqui, so I can see what stage they are up to. I am thinking about creating a folder in Dropbox called 'Peer Editing' where they can drop their work before it comes to me, and someone at the same stage, or who has finished and published early, can go to that folder and edit someone else's work and give feedback.

Reading is another area that has had a bit of an overhaul. I have created this taskboard, and students rotate through seeing me, task, Superclubs Plus and Study Ladder. This term we are focusing on non-fiction, to tie in with our science unit on bugs.
I found the Flash Gordon picture at the local market - couldn't resist! Again, I can see my SCP and Study Ladder options being thwarted by wireless access at times, so I'll need a back up plan. I'm also wondering whether to have rotating through four options in a single day, or three. Four might be pushing it... I have created tracking sheets for them, which they collected through Dropbox.

I have set up a before school current events programme called News of the World, again - based on Jacqui's idea. They take turns, with a partner, preparing a short report about something in the news. They are enjoying it so far and doing really well, so I'm pleased. The girl below is presenting news of the tornado in Auckland.
I can't remember where I got this idea, but I have started using a peg system to see students, because I can't stand them lining up waiting, because it inevitably ends in noise. So far it's working really well, and they enjoy being able to keep their place in live while carrying on with something else.
So all in all a good start to the term so far, and I can see some challenges ahead too. I am wondering about eportfolios, or at least somewhere for the students to publish to online. Our class wiki, giving them a page each? Could get cluttered quickly. Their own wiki? They are only Year 4 - I know some could certainly handle it, for sure, but it might be asking a bit much. Maybe individual blogs, or a class blog which they can tag with their name for their own posts? Lots of options, haven't figured it out yet, but do recognise the need for them to share their work.

Week 11, Term One

Well, Term One has come to an end, and it's been a long one, but one that's seen quite a big turn around in the way I'm thinking about teaching and learning. Over the last week I have been working on a number of the things on my Action Plan (see below). I've started to give our class wiki an overhaul, helped enormously by Jacqui's resources. I've put a Google Calendar in the side menu on Agenda mode, which shows the children what is happening throughout the day, as well as a live traffic feed. I put three of our most common links at the top as well (Dropbox, Superclubs Plus and Study Ladder), linked through an image, which I think will be much more effective for my Year 4 students, rather than hyperlinked text. When I was on Apple Bus Tour I saw schools doing this a lot, and I think using images to link makes it much more accessible.

I also put some links on our home page to children's search engines Kidrex and Cybersleuth, as they were tending to use Google, and having to wade through the search results. Another thing with Google search is that I had to change the settings so it didn't auto-complete, as this sometimes resulted in inappropriate suggestions. I'd be interested to know other people's thoughts on this - is auto-complete a useful tool, efficient and enabling, or is it a potential danger in its unpredictability, offering suggestions for inadvertently misspelled words. Probably both. Anyway, search skills do need to be taught, and I think at Year 4 level these can be taught using junior search engines.

I have embedded our weekly spelling list on our homework page, and this is much better option than just linking to the Google Doc, so I'm glad to have learned how to do this. Of course this is all surface level stuff, but will hopefully lead to an easier to use online space. I'm still thinking through how I will integrate literacy and numeracy practice with our online spaces, as well as some kind of e-portfolio. Should I develop a separate but linked literacy wiki like Dave has done? Or give the kids a wiki each as their e-portfolio? Could they manage this as Year 4s? None of these are urgent decisions, and I'll keep thinking about this.

I got Dropbox going the week before last, and it is generally going well, although I'm adjusting how I use it as I go. I thought it would sync much more quickly, that once a student had uploaded it would appear on my computer, but this seems to take a few hours. Is this normal? Anyway, it's great for taking home marking! I did have students submitting work to their own folder, and to check I needed to go to their folder, which was quite cumbersome. I've now created an Inbox and an Outbox, which all work gets submitted to and returned to, and then they will return it to their own folder. Seems to be working ok, Dropbox will also be where the students pick up their tasks (for reading etc). My wireless is pretty unstable, and this causes frustrations, as Dropbox is only useful so long as we have a connection (unless I install it on all the students' laptops, which I may have to do). So we've had to use flash drives when this has happened.

In terms of classroom space, I've started to move things about, thinking a lot about learning spaces. I've had three offers of coffee tables so far, a couple of couches and half a dozen cushions dropped off, so I will be able to get rid of some desks fairly shortly. That will free up space to have learning centres about the room. I've turned the book case (which was against the back wall) so it creates a little alcove, and this will be our reading centre, where I will see reading groups and have reading related resources. I 'sourced' an extra whiteboard for this space which is good. In the holidays I'd like to set up a Science centre and a writing one too. And Maths. But one thing at a time. A shared the vision of transforming our classroom into a 'Living Room' and the children are really excited about it. Our class wiki has been re-branded 'The Living Room' as well, and I like that.

I have a long list for the holidays, including getting my task boards and activities sorted out for Reading and Language skills. I love Jacqui's idea of students moving their names from Drafting, to Peer-editing and so forth for the writing cycle. I was thinking of creating a Dropbox folder called 'Peer Check' or 'Buddy Check', and having students submit to that folder first, and while they are waiting to conference with me, they can be buddy checking anyone's work that is in that folder. That seems to be a good use of time, rather than waiting in line, which I can't stand!

I think more than anything this wiki, as well as what I saw on Bus Tour, has got me thinking outside the square (my square, anyway), and I have more idea where I want to go in my teaching. I could write more, about Study Ladder and Superclubs etc, but it's my youngest daughter's 5th birthday, and their DVD is just about finished, so time to go!

Week 10, Term One

Our class has had a good term, only a week to go. Cybersafety has been a big focus for us this term, and for this we have started with Hector's World and are now moving into Superclubs PLUS, where they can develop some of the skills they have been learning about in a real context. Some question the 'walled garden' approach to internet safety, but I think for Year 4 it's ideal because they are habit forming years. We have flags at the beach, so it's no different really!

I really want to take advantage of this year off the study to put some serious time into sorting out my pedagogy and practice. Theory is one thing, getting it right on the ground is quite another.

Below is my classroom as it is today, at the start. What I need to do now is check this against the levels of integration and establish where I am and where I need to go (adaptation??). Will also check out Classroom Space page and let this inform my next steps. One thing that struck me on Apple Bus Tour was the impact of space on the learning 'vibe'. Very important!



My Action Plan