Category: Our Stories
Halswell Primary School is a co-ed state school in Christchurch, New Zealand.
Kate is an ICT Lead Teacher at Halswell School in Christchurch, a Year 0-8 primary with a roll of over 650 students. The school was completely rebuilt following the Christchurch earthquake, one of the first to meet the New Zealand Ministry of Education’s new guidelines for modern learning environments.
Kate spends two days a week improving the digital fluency of the staff and three days a week teaching in an Innovative Learning Environment that houses the Year 2, 3 and 4 students. Six teachers work in her Learning Center, divided into two three-teacher teams, meaning Kate and her two colleagues work with 86 children. The Learning Center consists of a central collaborative area, a large wet room for science and art, a shared space the size of a typical classroom and two smaller breakout rooms, providing huge scope for an array of learning activities.
The Year 2, 3 and 4 children work with a mix of iPads and Chromebooks, moving from creating simple content and documenting their learning on blogs to being fully conversant with the Google Apps suite. Kate was tasked with overseeing the rollout of Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) program to Years 3 and 4, the school having already introduced BYOD in Years 5 and above in 2014.
Kate shares her experiences on her own personal BYOD journey. She focuses on the recent introduction of an inquiry-based digital citizenship program, accompanied by the use of Linewize, a student internet management tool.
Kate’s ICT Leadership role involves modelling the use of different technologies and apps with teachers in their own classes, making the most of 1:1 computing. This encompasses robotics and coding as Halswell readies itself for the imminent roll out of New Zealand’s new computer science curriculum. She engages the children using a Design Thinking approach where children identify a problem and consider how to solve it. They have an arsenal of tools to hand in addition to the iPads and Chromebooks, including Beebots and Unplugged for the New Entrants and Scratch, Lego Mindstorm, Edison and Arduino robotics sets for the older students.
She works closely with the teachers in each Learning Center to integrate the technology into their current topic of inquiry.
Rolling out BYOD in an innovative learning environment has had definite benefits for Kate. Teachers are already working collaboratively and understand how to foster student self-direction, both key elements of a successful BYOD program. The versatility of the physical space also enables the children to work on a whole range of projects using different media, choosing shared or breakout spaces as appropriate.
However, teaching in a 1:1 Innovative Learning Environment where students decide how they learn and choose where they want to learn also has its own challenges, particularly around safety and privacy. This is where Kate has done a lot of work with staff and students in the last year.
Three years into BYOD, Halswell’s focus has shifted from how to integrate the technology to teaching online safety and privacy, not only to keep staff and students safe today, but also to prepare children for the future. Kate explains, “As children leave behind schools with heavily filtered internet access, they will be entering unchartered territory and they need to be equipped with the skills and knowledge to use the internet as responsible and respectful digital citizens.”
Kate was aware from the outset that it was her job to teach aspects of online etiquette, privacy and even basic copyright laws. However, a key part of Kate’s personal BYOD journey has been the realisation that blanket filtering, whilst keeping students safe, does not allow staff to prepare students for the real world. Kate feels that too much filtering sets the children up to fail when they leave school and misses valuable teachable moments where teacher and students can discuss what is and is not appropriate, “As educators, we need to empower children to become mindful contributors online by modelling best practice and allowing them to interact with the internet in a safe and monitored environment.”
Kate and the school’s conclusion was simple, “We found that filtering alone was not equivalent to cyber safety. We believe that students benefit most from a mixture of informed web filtering paired with a hands-on digital citizenship education program.”
Kate is currently developing the digital citizenship program. She is integrating an inquiry-based holistic approach to engage children with being safe online. Using student blogs, Kate can model to the students what communicating online looks like. They have the chance to interact online with people and content when it can still be monitored by a teacher.
Older children are given a photo of a student in uniform and asked to note all the ways that they could find to identify the person in the photo. This leads to lot of student-led discussion. As a next step, the students move to a room filled with images of different children and are invited to touch, remove and write on the images. The students begin to realise that what they post online can be copied, defaced and shared beyond what they can control, just like the pictures on the wall. Kate invites the students to find images of themselves online. Then she asks, “Would you email it to me? Your parents? Your principal? Is it necessary to post it? Would you put it on a lamp post outside the supermarket?”
Kate is very aware that the issues students face online change rapidly so an inquiry, needs-based approach gives them the skills to make their own considered judgements, no matter the technology or app.
In conjunction with the digital citizenship program, Halswell School use Linewize, a student internet management system. Linewize provides a safe online environment in which children can learn but also offers visibility over what students are doing online that can be used to raise student awareness of digital citizenship. A student’s internet usage is individually tracked, meaning that if a student tries to enter a blocked site, a real-time email is sent to Kate alerting her to the attempted visit. This allows for a conversation to take place with that student and the potential violation becomes a learning opportunity in itself. Kate’s digital citizenship program was able to take a new and exciting direction, “I started to access the weekly student summaries, and my BYOD journey became centerd around what to do with this information and where to start when inappropriate usage was demonstrated.”
Kate cites instances where children had spelt searches incorrectly and ended up unwittingly on sites that they shouldn’t have been on, “I wanted to avoid a hardnosed policy where bans would be implemented which would in turn lead to children being afraid of being caught on the wrong sites and anxious as to what would happen if they were discovered. The last thing I wanted was to decrease the students’ confidence in approaching an adult to discuss something that they may have come across on the internet.”It was important for Kate to ensure that she wasn’t punishing children by excluding them from internet usage or inflaming the curiosity that led to the initial offending or instances of cyberbullying. She found it was more effective to use Linewize to continually monitor the children instead and open a dialogue with the student and their family if issues arose, “The digital citizenship program provides the context for these conversations. The children are generally very aware of why what they have done is inappropriate.” She jokingly adds, “And those conversations don’t happen twice!”
BYOD in a 1:1 innovative learning environment also requires a rethink on traditional classroom management techniques and ensuring that students are on-task when they are not visible to the teacher. Classwize, a Linewize application, lets Kate see what each child is doing during lessons in real-time or via weekly reports.
Just as in her dealings with students accessing inappropriate content, Kate did not want to be heavy handed on classroom management issues. Instead, where large numbers of students are off task, she takes that as reason to examine her own or her team’s pedagogical approach. She describes one example, “It was apparent that when going off-task the children were accessing two particular sites. My team and I assessed the sites for their educational merit and we started to integrate aspects of them into the children’s work.” Kate and her fellow teachers found the information provided by Classwize on the student’s online behaviour invaluable, “By identifying what the children gravitate towards to, we can include it in the learning activity and often re-engage the children in their work.” Minecraft, Pokeman Go and many games-based maths sites favoured by the children are now a part of the class learning resources.
For Kate, the potential for reflection based on the Linewize reporting features is an area for investigation, “Trying out a new activity with the students and then using Linewize to see how engaged the children were is an exciting possibility. There is huge potential for analysis and trend spotting.”
But the priority for Kate remains integrating Linewize further into the inquiry-based Digital Citizenship program, “To be able to print off the Linewize reports and show them to the students makes an abstract concept concrete. They have the evidence in front of them of what kind of data collection is possible whilst they are online. It hits home and it works. We are preparing them for the future.”