Thing 12: Create an Online Resource

My holidays ended up being more about relaxing than working, but I had a chance to play around with Google Sites and have a go at creating an online resource about Greek mythology. It was interesting to use a different format to what I’m used to – I found it very tricky to use Google Sites on my iPad but it was a bit more straightforward on my laptop.


I liked the look of the different gadgets and apps which you can integrate into the Google Site, and it was quite straightforward to set up once I got the hang of it (and used my laptop). It was also easy to navigate on both my laptop and my iPad once it was created, so I think Google Sites could be a very useful resource in a BYOD context. I used the different Google Apps quite a lot in my first year of teaching, where I was working in a BYOD school. They were an ideal fall-back when the students had all different types of technology – the closest thing I could find to a one-size-fits-all solution!

My resource turned out very similar to a series of lessons I’d done with my Y11 class earlier this year, a coincidence I didn’t intend! Here is a screenshot of the activity on iTunes U for reference. You can also access my public course on Roman Religion to get a better idea of how it all fits together.


After having a brief play with Google Sites, I think it’s safe to say I’m an Apple girl at heart – I love the clarity of iTunes U and the way that I can present activities in a simple and logical way, combining different resources. It has worked really well with iPads and in my current school, I wouldn’t shift to Google Sites. However it was very useful to learn more about another resource which would really suit a BYOD context.

Going Live

This term I decided to take the plunge into the redefinition end of the SAMR pool and, rather than just getting my students to create something for their classmates to learn from, we made our own iTunes U course which we’ve released to the world. 


I wanted to do something a bit different with our Pompeian domestic art and architecture topic, and get the students to take greater ownership of their learning. So I introduced them to the basic concepts behind Roman housing, mosaics and frescoes, before going through an example of each. I then set them loose and gave them a list of suggested examples. Each student picked one, researched its key features and used their new knowledge to create an educational resource. While the resources are aimed at other Year 12, NCEA Level Two students, I’m hoping we can gather a few learners from around the globe!

The prospect of sharing their resource with the entire globe would, I hope, encourage the students to produce their best possible work. Some of the resources were of a really high standard, although there was not as much proofreading and fine tuning as I would have liked! I’ve offered them some extrinsic motivation in the form of a pizza bet (something I would take very seriously). Last year at a course run by Apple, I created my own public iTunes U course on Roman Religion, aimed at NCEA Scholarship students. I managed to get 3,430-odd students and a feature on the homepage of iTunes U in the United States! We’ve agreed that, should my students beat this, the Classics Department will buy them pizza next term. So far they’re on seven but I suspect with their social media reach, they should be able to promote it further.

I quite enjoyed this task and would be keen to repeat it in future. The students really got into the creative side of things – most used iBooks Author to create their own multi-touch book, but there were a few using Book Creator on their iPads and one made a movie using iMovie – and we had a fun sharing session at the end of the project. However the mark scheme we created didn’t assess them on the presentation/professionalism of their resource, which was one thing I wanted emphasised. This may have been a factor behind the sloppy spelling of some! Hopefully seeing the followers we can get will help motivate students with this sort of activity in future – I know I didn’t expect the numbers I acquired…

Find websites for learning


Original image by Bibi Saint-Pol, via Wikimedia Commons

For Thing 9, I have decided to look for resources on Greek mythology to use with aY10/Y11 class. This could form an introductory module for my NCEA L1 Classical Studies course.

Here are the resources I found:

  • Greek Mythology for Kids – a website I found through a basic Google search. I chose this website because it is colourful and engaging, and the myths are told at an appropriate level for 14-15 year old students.
  • Greek mythology activities – a resource I found on tes.com. I often use this website to look for teaching resources, and find it particularly useful for French language activities. I chose this resource because it had lots of good activities and ideas which would work well with younger high school students, and provided a easy entry into the topic. 
  • Vase paintings on Wikimedia Commons – results from a search I did on the Wikimedia Commons. I like using Wikimedia Commons to find images of ancient art. The works are usually very well labelled and easy to search, so I would give this link to students to look at and find scenes from Greek mythology as depicted in vase paintings. This is a good way for them to get used to finding and using primary source evidence. 
  • Mythology Video Course – an iTunes U course I found via the iTunes Store. This is a course which requires students to create a video based on Greek mythology, combining the content of Classics with the skills of video-making. I think this would be an interesting project for students to complete!

I’ve found online resources to be invaluable in my teaching. I like to provide a range of media to appeal to different students’ interests and learning styles, and while I’m quite comfortable at making my own text resources, I’m not so talented with things like podcasts and videos! It’s also often easier to provide more authentic primary source material that has been sourced from other people, given that there is not much from the classical world that I can easily access in New Zealand.

Digital Tools for Writing


I wanted to diverge slightly off the suggested resources for Thing 8 of 23 Teaching Things and share what I use for digital writing in my iPad classrooms. Although we all have access to Google Docs, I really like taking advantage of the digital mark book offered by iTunes U, combined with PDF Expert for its superior annotation functions!

A really successful task I did with my Y11 Classics class recently involved the students choosing a Greek sculpture of their choice, then creating a submission to the curator of the Auckland Museum. We imagined that the Museum had the funds to put on a show of Greek sculpture and was inviting suggestions from the public; they had to use their knowledge of Greek sculpture to identify and recommend a particular work. The students wrote their submission using the app of their choice (usually Pages) and we did a peer review lesson where they worked in groups of 2-3 to read and critique each other’s submissions, before handing in their final version. I don’t normally do this but, somehow, they were very self-conscious of their peers reading their spelling and grammatical errors! (They don’t have the same feeling towards me, unfortunately…)

Here you can see the dialogue between me and the student as they hand in work
This is the student’s written work, which I have annotated in PDF Expert then imported back into iTunes U
This is my mark scheme, adapted for an NCEA L1 Context

I export the assignment into PDF Expert (it can be directly annotated within the iTunes U app, but I find this really glitchy!) and I mark the work as I would on paper. I then import it back into iTunes U and fill out a mark scheme using a document I’ve imported from Pages into PDF Expert, which links to the level/standard we are studying. Despite how complex I’ve made it sound, the process is pretty efficient and has been working well so far this year!

Advantages of iTunes U for Digital Writing

  • All my marking is easily located on my iPad, so I can do it at school or home. No more carrying around (and losing) bits of paper!
  • Students can use a range of different apps to do their writing; they just need to export it as a PDF for me to annotate.
  • It’s pretty quick and easy to mark on my iPad (with a bit of teething time) and I find I write longer comments because I can type faster than I can write.
  • Both the students and I keep my feedback – invaluable for parent-teacher interviews and report writing!

Disadvantages

  • The process does involve several steps and can be confusing until you get used to it.
  • Students have to have, and bring to class, their iPad – iTunes U doesn’t work on all platforms.
  • The dialogue is just between me and the student concerned, so it is tricky for students to collaborate on work – I get them to upload a copy each, and I give them both the feedback separately.

I would love to encourage students to take greater pride in, and ownership of, the work they produce. I am keen to get students to do some blogging next year, so that they can investigate topics in more depth, create resources of improved quality and share them with the world. I think this would also help my teaching to reach a more transformative level!

Write in the Cloud


Since acquiring my iPad, I’ve done a fair bit of experimenting with writing in the Cloud so that I can access my work across multiple devices. I use iCloud with my Apple devices but haven’t really tried sharing documents with others (except between my work and personal Apple IDs.

I do use Google Docs quite a bit, ever since starting teaching in a BYOD school where it was one platform which could be accessed by all different types of devices. My usual way to use Google Docs at my current school is to make collaborative notes in class, allocating students separate questions or parts of a topic so that we can get a thorough set of notes more quickly and efficiently than getting everyone to make their own!

My preferred Google Docs activity is a Speed Debate, which I was introduced to at an NZACT Conference. Here is an example which I’ve done with my Y13 Classics class. 


Selected students (usually the fastest typists!) are each allocated a page on a shared Google Doc, with a question. The rest of the students are split into groups and rotate around the different questions. Each facilitator reads their question to the group, who discuss their ideas for the facilitator to type down. Each group has a chance with each particular question, which is usually a controversial or meaty question. At the end of the activity (five minutes per question is plenty!) I get the facilitators to summarise the two sides of the argument, then give their own opinion. I find it’s a really good way to scaffold students into having good discussions, without putting too much pressure on the shyer members of the class. 

Image of clouds via Flickr.com user theaucitron (CC BY-SA 2.0). 

Copyright Matters

I’m now up to Thing 5 of 23 Teaching Things, which involves copyright rules and Creative Commons. This was a useful lesson for me to learn, as I’ve begun creating my own resources and sharing them on my public iTunes U course. I’ve also been trying to encourage students to attribute the sources of information they use by modelling that behaviour, mainly by naming the author of works which aren’t mine and providing a link to the original source.

The intricacies of Creative Commons are something new to me which I want to learn about, especially what our school policies are. That way I can also help my students to attribute their sources correctly as well!

For Thing 5, here is a stunning picture of the Colosseum I found, taken by Sean MacEntee (CC BY 2.0). I can’t wait to return here, hopefully sometime soon!

Something New – Comics Head Lite

I recently tried out the app Comics Head Lite with my Y9 class and was really pleased with how it went. Recommended to me by my HOD via Joe Dale, it’s a free app that enables the students to create a comic strip on their iPad. We used to it create a Latin comic using the story pastor et leo, from the Cambridge Latin Course.

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Although it took a while to download on school wifi, the boys quickly got the hang of it and really enjoyed using it to retell the story. Many of them figured out how to insert and edit their own images to enhance the story even more. The free version of the app doesn’t allow you to put the frames together into a continuous story (maximum of four frames), but we saved the images and put them into a Keynote. I’ve also seen some examples online where the images have been made into iBooks using Book Creator, so I’m keen to give that a go.

I really liked how this activity went and having the boys retell the story in Latin was a good challenge, but I’m sure it would work just as well with an English translation. I’m also keen to try it with my French class (I’m thinking daily routine) and I’ll get my Y12 Classics class to retell the fall of the Roman republic too!

Progress Update

I’ve now got to the end of my flipped topics and having a class away on camp has given me the opportunity to reflect on my practice and survey the students about their thoughts. Here’s where I’m at:

What’s gone well? (according to me, anyway)

I was able to overcome a lot of the technical difficulties and having the resources already prepared did save a lot of hassle this year. Student access to the iBooks and videos was much simpler and having the information in text and video format helped a wider range of students. I was also able to come up with a wider range of activities for the students to complete in class with the information they had gathered for homework. Discussions could often be quite successful, and differentiation worked well initially to bridge the gap between my Y13 beginners and those who had already taken Classics.

In terms of results, I think the Level 3 ones definitely improved – I felt that they had a much better understanding of the topic than my class last year, especially given that so many were new to the subject. My Level 2 results were a bit more mixed, but they have been very unpredictable over the past few years.

What needs work?

I didn’t chase up students who didn’t do the work, but I know that some of them really slacked off and couldn’t engage in the lesson. I want to come up with a way to hold them accountable to doing the prep (as much as possible) that does not involve me spending half the lesson checking their notes! Kahoot quizzes did work well but I want to look into an app like Socrative so that I can check on all the students’ results.

I also want to work on finding activities to engage more of the students in the class. When given a creative and an easy option, they tended to go with an easy one and I don’t think we took advantage of all the opportunities offered by their devices.

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What did the students think?

The good

The students were overwhelmingly positive about the iBooks, which I am really pleased about given the amount of time and thought I put into them! They found the information tailored to their needs and relatively easy to digest, and liked the interactive elements.

While no one was particularly excited about the approach, the students were much more positive (or neutral) than I thought they would be. They felt they had a pretty good understanding of the topics, found them a manageable level of difficulty and interesting (to a certain extent).

They liked the variety of activities we did in class and I think I managed to appeal to their different interests.

The bad

Very few students claimed to have most or all of the notes. Some wanted to be held accountable for this and a variety of reasons were given for not doing them. No one said that I was asking too much of them for prep, although they could get confused about what was due when. One student would like it made even easier…

Some of the students found it difficult to put individual lessons together into the bigger picture. I need to think about a way to tie everything together, and link the lessons to show a chain reaction of events.

The interesting

I was pleasantly surprised by the feedback – I don’t know whether the students like to complain (but are actually reasonably happy) or whether I’m being overly critical of myself, but I think they are, to a certain extent, seeing the value in what I’m doing.

Preparing for 2016

After a long hot summer away from the classroom (and a decent chunk of it inside it!) I’m about ready for the year ahead. I’ve spent some time reviewing and refining my resources from 2015, and I’ve made a couple of major changes to my iBooks.

Integration of Videos

Last year’s books had the Keynotes inside them, but not the recorded video versions. I was reluctant to have my own voice inside the books then; now, a year older and wiser, I’m just going to include them! This way the students can watch the videos on their iPad/laptop screen and annotate the key questions on the same page. This should hopefully make the video-watching and note-taking process a whole lot easier, and therefore encourage a lot more of them to do their prep. I’ve also tried to make the videos as short as possible – about five minutes for Year 12, and about eight for Year 13.

Including the actual videos themselves has made the books really massive, so I’ve redone the books with Youtube widgets instead. Most students didn’t have internet access issues, but I can share the videos on a USB to particular students if this is a problem.

Integration of Text

I had a number of students last year who didn’t like listening to the videos, and said they just muted the sound and made notes from the Keynote as it played. These same students tended to write down everything rather than answering the key questions, so I hope this is something I can move them away from this year. I’ve decided to include a summary text of the video content (in some cases it’s a tidied version of the script I followed, in other cases I’ve trimmed it down a bit more) on the following page of each topic. This will allow students who prefer to read to answer the key questions that way. To be fair, I would probably have been one of those students! It will also be useful in the event of internet troubles, or if a student wants to go back to a particular part of the topic without watching through the whole video again.

 

I think the prep is now much easier for the students to do, which will hopefully do away with a lot of the excuses and teething problems. My next steps are to consider what I did in the classroom, and try to branch out with my activities to make the prep really worthwhile.

Reflections on 2015

2015 has been my first foray into flipping. My two Classics classes had quite a lot of content to go through, but the exams require the students to analyse that content rather than just recall it. In 2014 I went through the content in class, but had trouble getting the students to analyse it for homework. This year, I decided to reverse the process.

Method

I used iBooks and Facebook to deliver content to both my classes. To make my videos, I recorded Keynote presentations (I’m camera-shy so didn’t want to be in my videos!) and uploaded them to Youtube. Each video has a series of “key questions” to guide the students through their note-taking. The iBooks contain the unrecorded Keynotes, plus the key questions and suggestions for further reading. I also gave them a selection of readings from primary source material.

Prior to each lesson, I gave the students the Youtube link to the video. At the beginning of each lesson, we went over any questions the students may have had, then moved on to activities. Often this involved reading the primary source material and answering questions.

What went well…

I liked that my resources contained all the information in one place – it’s difficult to find a one-stop textbook for NCEA Classical Studies! A lot of the students liked the resources too and found them useful for revision purposes.

The flipped process saved me from “lecturing” and did free up some time in the classroom for extra activities or to review difficult content. It was also useful for students who were away from class or wanted to go at their own pace.

What didn’t…

I had a few technical difficulties and making resources from scratch meant that the students didn’t have all the videos in perfect working order right from day one. They also had their own issues, like no/slack access to internet, which prevented them from accessing the prep before class. A lot of our students are very busy, with heavy extracurricular commitments, so it was not always possible for them to prepare fully for class. Hopefully this problem will be resolved next year, when I already have the resources and can give them to the students well in advance.

I also believe that a number of students looked for excuses not to watch the videos, and I found it difficult to get a 100% success rate, even when I introduced penalties (like temporary exclusion from lessons to watch the videos) if students were not prepared for class. Some students commented that they just read the text on the videos rather than listening to them, and that it took ages to get all the notes – they are keen to write down everything I say rather than just the answers to the key questions!

I also had some problems with what to do during lessons themselves. My classes are on the smaller side, so when I tried to break the students up into groups for differentiated activities, they were often reluctant to part with their friends. This meant that we could spend a long time going over questions at the beginning of class, and so some students felt like there was no point watching the videos as we just went over them in class. I found it useful going over the primary source material with the students and I think they got more out of it with the prior knowledge from the videos, but lessons could get repetitive at times. I would like to find more interesting and varied activities to do during lessons.