Small successes

It is just over half way through our final term at school and I thought that I would conduct a short reflection activity with some Year 5/6 children I work with.   We are trialling some new teaching styles with this group this term and I wanted to check out how they were feeling about it.

As we know there are many ways of having children reflect – this time I chose to use an on-line chat feature on a wonderful program called GCompris. The children logged in to the school network, opened GCompris, selected the chat feature and joined the channel I created for the activity.    We guided them with sentence starters – I feel …., I have enjoyed ….., I find it hard ……., I have shared ……., I wish …….., My future learning will …….

Screen shot 2010-11-12 at 6.25.10 PMOff they went – they told me “This is like MSN!”

As we were in a lab, the children were sharing – one computer to two children.    The program allowed the children to instantly read the other responses and it was obvious they were feeding off each others comments.   We challenged them to think deeper by adding the ‘because ….’     As you can expect, the depth of replies varied from superficial to quite profound.

The teachers gained some important feedback from this 15 minute activity.   The best part for me was the next night when I checked out their blogs, and one student had written about the experience.

Screen shot 2010-11-12 at 12.53.46 PM

I’ll admit, I chose the chat feature as a bit of a gimmick – an instant medium with which they are very familiar – a tool to get them writing.   I’ll also admit that until the student mentioned the opportunity it gave him, I had not really thought about the benefit from that perspective.  The quieter children had equal say to the louder ones, something that is sometimes difficult to achieve in a classroom discussion.       I am very happy with that !!      Once again it was not the technology that mattered – it was the communication that it allowed.

FYI – GCompris – Educational software – free to a certain point and more features available by payment of  donation to the creator.   I have used it extensively with early primary students for simple mouse control and keyboarding activities.  It also has simple to complex thinking games and numeracy activities.  But as of this week, the chat feature that allows chat within a network (LAN) is my favourite !

Open Source Software in Primary School

I have been a keen user of a few simple Open Source software for schools for quite some time.  My rationale was that if we use Open Source at school, then it would be available at home as well.  Access would not be an issue.  Also, if we don’t need to worry about licences and associated costs, it saves heaps of administration worries.

The Open source movement is huge and I just saw a tweet from @kattekrab today about the  Software Freedom Day ” an event held all over the world to celebrate and raise awareness of free software and open source software. Software Freedom Day Melbourne is on Saturday 18 September 2010″

It made me think about my favourite simple programs for primary students :

Screen shot 2010-07-10 at 12.16.55 PMTuxPaint Computer Art software.   Many drawing tools and great library of stamps that the children really enjoy.  The ‘magic’ tool has great activities for symmetry.   Unfortunately, this does not have good features for networked computers (saving etc) , but we make do as it is great in so many other ways.

*Also available fro Tux4Kids are TuxTyping and TuxMaths

From GCompris website
From GCompris website

GCompris Educational and fun games for 2 – 10 year olds – Fun chat feature for within a network – good way to introduce children to chat protocols in safe environment.

Simple keyboard and mouse skills development activities for Preps.

Great logic games and simple numeracy activities.  In this case, I chose to donate a small amount to the author to open up more activities – well worth it.

Pivot – Stick figure animator An open ended presentation tool.  Save the files to .gif (animations)  for portability.   Styx is another program of this type.

Storytelling Alice –  “Storytelling Alice is a programming environment designed to motivate a broad spectrum of middle school students (particularly girls) to learn to program computers through creating short 3D animated movies”.   There are tutorials built in that help with the basics.

Scratch - Instruction cards available from website
Scratch - Instruction cards available from website

Scratch “Scratch is a programming language that makes it easy to create your own interactive stories, animations, games, music, and art — and share your creations on the web.”   Once again this is open ended so the sky is the limit with this one and there are many resources available throughout the web.  I even received a whole set of lessons on DVD !  Just search for Scratch and you will find Wikis etc with samples, ideas and helpful hints.

I am aware of many others – word processing, presentation and spreadsheets that replace MS Office etc.

Anyone with others to add to my list ?