Wednesday 4 November 2015

Getting back to nature

I am a biologist and a science teacher, and have a fascination, a passion even, for all living things. Biology is the study of living things and the processes that make them work and allow them to survive and thrive in their habitats. It is also a study of those habitats, ecosystems, biomes, communities and so on. I see every living thing as having a place and a purpose (although  the jury could still be out on mosquitoes...)

Latterly, I have noticed what Richard Louv calls the "Nature Deficit Disorder" (from The Last Child in the Woods, 2008) really creeping in with students (and adults too). Coincidentally a friend shared this post as I was writing this! We seem to spend a lot of time looking at the screens in front of us to find out about the world around us while ignoring the fact that we could actually get out there and experience it. I'm as guilty as the next person when it comes to keeping up with technology; wild horses couldn't drag my Nexus 5 from me. However, I like to observe the flora and fauna around me in a way that seems to pass some people by (and incidentally, I like to take pics using the aforementioned N5).

I have always loved having beasties etc in my classroom, and this has included cockroaches, rats, frogs, fish and a vast assortment of others (especially in the UK; I taught Animal Handling so had all sorts of creatures around) and they actually do stimulate questions from the students.

My frogs often sit and do nothing, but when there is fresh food (flies), they actively hunt and manage to climb glass to catch the flies. Most frogs in Australia and NZ do not have the traditional long tongue that most people associate with frogs, rather they get close to the flies and lunge instead. This has proved to be a good discussion point with students. I like it when they watch, and then share their observations with their friends. Not part of the curriculum, of course, but isn't science about making observations and generating theories?

I feel like it is time to re-connect with the natural world, and get the science curriculum adjusted so that we get to spend more time outdoors, rather than in a classroom or searching stuff up on the internet, especially for Junior Science and Biology. Sadly, this is just my opinion and counts for very little in the grand scheme of things. I don't have the answers, just lots of questions.

In the meantime, I'm heading outside to look at some bugs and plants (maybe some native birds too, if I'm lucky!) I'm going to try and think of ways to get my kids outside as often as possible in the next year or so, and I think it might be time to get some more beasties for my classroom too...

This is a pic of 3 Royal Spoonbills at Parua Bay, just one of the many cool birds I love to see around (You wouldn't believe the number of times I have been asked what a spoonbill even is!)

Thursday 18 June 2015

Bookmark blues

I have a love / hate relationship with bookmarking. I love to bookmark pages to look at later, but I hate most bookmarking services that I have tried.

I'll start from the beginning. Google bookmarks (old style). Great, easy to use on one device and with one account. I made the mistake of putting some of the bookmarks in the Other Bookmarks folder. Then I found that when you use multiple devices and they sync, the bookmarks and folders get duplicated beyond funny.

I thought I would use the same bookmarks for my school domain as well, so I can get to the stuff I have bookmarked. To share it, I used (and still use Xmarks). This is the closest thing to a good way to manage all of the thousands of bookmarks I have.
The downside though, is that I need to remember to sync constantly across devices and accounts to make sure I get all of them where I need them (I may be using this wrong, need to check this out).

Diigo - I thought this might be the answer, but it started to get clunky with so many bookmarks. Also, I don't really like it, just my personal opinion.

Then there is the new Google Bookmarks / Stars. Oh dear. I thought this would be great, I even made sure I had all of the settings in Flags to get this as soon as possible. Since then, I have reset all the flags I can find, and still can't get my domain back to the old way. I really hate the new bookmarks.

I need something that is going to make my bookmarking life easier, that works across ALL my devices - Windows, Chrome OS and Android. Do you have any suggestions??

Tuesday 14 April 2015

My first go at animation, using Google Slides (with thanks to +Allanah King)

I just wanted to use this as a platform to show this off, a proper write up of the method will come later (having too much fun just playing for now at the #gafesummit (NZ North Island!).

As an update to this post, (much later than it should have been...) this was created by choosing a background image, in this case, 90 Mile Beach at Ahipara. Then I found an image of a seagull, making sure to do a Google search for the .gif filetype. This is then added to the slide, and he whole thing is copied.
With the new slide, move the gif image a tiny bit in the direction you want the animation to move. Keep repeating the process until you have the animation you want.
Simple but effective, and something a student could do really well.

Wednesday 18 February 2015

Can you Diig it?

Not sure what has happened to me, this is the second blog post in a very short space of time, it must be the excitement I am feeling this year!

OK, back to the musically titled blog posts (with apologies to the Mock Turtles...)

Some of this excitement has come from finally taking the advice of +Fiona Grant and using Diigo more. I can hear people out there saying "I've been using that for ages, why the excitement? Silly man..." and yes, I might be late to the party, but I have taken the time to sit down and use this a bit.

An issue I have had for a while has been Google's bookmark system and synchronisation. In a word, painful. How many times did I sync bookmarks only to find all of my bookmarks (about 2000+!) duplicated, sometimes several times over. Sorting this mess out was time-consuming and more than a little exasperating (it happened quite a few times too). The problem occurred from creating folders for the bookmarks. The solution I found was to only create bookmarks and folders in the bookmarks bar directly. However, how to sync between home and work accounts?

I started by using Xmarks, which is great, but takes some time to synch and occasionally hiccups and restores a version of the bookmarks that had already been changed (probably more operator error than anything else!)
Then I found Diigo. I can store all of my bookmarked sites in my library, which is tagged and fully searchable, accessible on all devices and the service I have chosen (at the moment) is free. I say at the moment as I can see the benefit of paying for additional services.

My only problem now though, over 2500 sites already bookmarked via Xmarks and Google, which means I have to open them all and put them into Diigo... 

Tuesday 10 February 2015

Google Classroom = Awesome!

First post of the new year, and my new role as R & D bod, looking into cool digital solutions for the school. We have started the year with a massive push on Google Classroom, encouraging all Junior school teachers to get the students to log into their class, even if that is as far as they take things. And just to add icing to the cake, the mobile apps have been released and are brilliant too. Happy days.My own thoughts are that my website is starting to look like it could be obsolete if this carries on - there is no stopping Classroom, it is taking over the educational world one classroom at a time. My tutor class Facebook page has had its' death knell sounded already, and we have not even got through week 3 yet. I am also playing with Remind (formerly Remind 101), more of this in another post (two in a week, is this even possible??)
What has really also blown me away, I set homework as an assignment, giving the students a week to complete the task. I have received 4 pieces of work, marked and returned them already on the same day. I chose to use the grade of 1 on the posts which purely allows me to monitor which students have completed their work, and who might need chasing, but the overall interaction with students is great.
It appears that there is a lot of interest in Classroom in the school ( as well as globally ), and for the best hints and tips, as well as a cool infographic, you should check out Alice Keeler's site and blog, she really knows her stuff. There are at least 45 tips for using Google Classroom! (I must give a public big thanks to +Alice Keeler for her part in helping me get my head around some data analysis stuff too!)
So, this will be a continuing topic as I play with Classroom more and more. I'd tinkered a bit before, but boy am I having fun with it now!