Advent: Staying grounded this Silly Season

December can be easily identified as the busiest time of year. We are shopping, cleaning, planning and preparing for the silly season. Even in school we are preparing, doing and correcting end of term tests. The silly season in my opinion gets sillier every year. Every year the decorations come out earlier, the shops hang up their gift signs to entice shoppers and the season is dragged out over almost two months. With all the planning, running around and preparing how much time do we actually spend thinking about why we are doing all of these things? 

Today marks the first day of Advent in the Christian Calendar. Advent is the time when Christians across the globe prepare for the coming of Jesus Christ at Christmas. Christmas becomes more and more commercialised every year and I think this week is a good opportunity for religion teachers to take time to really explain the importance of Advent to their students and show them the true meaning behind Christmas. Below I have outlined some excellent ideas for the classroom to celebrate advent and Christmas. Some idea’s I have found online, some are from other teachers and some are my own ideas. Please feel free to take anything you find useful or add your own in the comments below. 

  1. Create a classroom Advent calendar – Instead of sweets or toys inside there could be a good deed that all students must try their best to complete that day. This calender could be designed by the students and displayed in an area where all students can see and benefit not only one specific class group. 
  2. Project work on Key figures – Students could work in groups and choose a key figure related to advent and Christmas such as John the Baptist, The Blessed Mary or the prophets. Students can research and present on their chosen person. Adventwreath
  3. Create a class or school advent wreath – The Advent wreath is a circular garland of evergreen branches representing eternity. On that wreath there are five candles. During the season of Advent one candle on the wreath is lit each Sunday. Each candle represents an aspect of the spiritual preparation for the coming of Jesus Christ. There are a lot of online guides for creating a wreath with students. One can be found here from Catholic Culture.org .
  4. History of Advent – Students can discover when advent began (thought to be the fourth century) and research the origins of items such as the advent calendar or the Advent wreath. They can ask family members about their experiences as a child during advent and discuss with the class. 
  5. The web has a great selection of Advent Movies that have the theme of waiting and preparing for something special behind them. You could spend hours looking for a film or short movie for your class but luckily I came across this blog which has the hard work done. (I love number 10) The Happy Certainty – Christmas and Advent for Schools
  6. Create a Jesse Tree –  The Jesse Tree is a story that day by day durinJesse_Tree_Meredith_Gould_Newg advent is pieced together to tell the story of Jesus by hanging ornaments on a tree. This could be done a number of ways in schools. A school could have one Jesse tree that all classes take turns of designing and hanging ornaments. Classrooms could have individual Jesse Trees and one is allocated to each year group. Students could also draw or paint a Jesse Tree to display and also draw or paint on the ornaments day by day.
  7. Fund raise for a Charity – With the commercialisation of Christmas has come the need to buy presents for everyone we know. Students compare lists of what they have asked for and after Christmas will compare what they received. This is an excellent time to remind students of the people who won’t receive anything this Christmas. A school could organise a carol service with a 2 euro entry fee and all money raised is donated to a homeless shelter. Student’s could invite a speaker to the service or organise a visit to the shelter.  
  8. This last idea may be suited to younger classes but students can design or create a comic or story of advent to display or present to the school. This idea I found on the Loyola Press website and I think it is an excellent way of engaging and helping to remember the story of advent. In a previous post I talked about the app StoryBoardThat. This would work perfectly for this activity or you could do it the oldfashioned way of card and paint. Either way it is an active learning experience that students will enjoy. 

These are a number of the ideas I will be implementing in my class during this advent season. I would love to hear what other people are doing. I hope everyone reading this has a peaceful and happy advent. 

Working Together

One of the six key skills outlined by the NCCA that students need to develop is the skill of working together. This skill helps learners develop good relationships and to appreciate the value of cooperating to reach both collective and personal goals. In this blog post I want to highlight some features of Web 2.0 that can help improve on this skill in the classroom. As we all know the internet and technology offers a wide range of opportunities for teaching and learning but often these apps and initiatives are 1 on 1. The student uses the web or a computer/iPad to work alone. So what is out there that promotes group work and student collaboration in the classroom? Today I will highlight three Web 2.0 initiatives that do just that. 1. Google Docs

Google Docs is a free Web-based application in which documents and spreadsheets can be created, edited and stored online. Files can be accessed from any computer with an Internet connection and a Web browser. Google Docs for education can be downloaded for a whole school for free. Students are signed up to an email account and can access documents, slides, graphs and google drive. But how can this be used for collaboration? Google docs allows students to work on the same document or slide using the web. A student or teacher creates a doc and invites others to view or edit. This means students can create group presentations from different places and at the same promoting active participation in group work.

2. Schoology (skoo-luh-jee)

Schoology is an online management system that allows teachers to create and manage academic courses for students. It provides teachers with a method of managing lessons, engaging students, sharing content, and connecting with other educators. The site looks similar to the popular social networking site Facebook. Teachers are able to use schoology as a virtual school where they can monitor student attendance, progress, upload assignments, give feedback and begin discussions. Students are able to access class information, take tests, do assignments, upload files, participate in class discussions and stay organised with a school calendar. Like the social network Facebook students can post and comment on each others profiles. Students can share study tips, create projects together and create discussions on class content.

3. Wiggio 

Wiggio is great for small groups. It is a free resource used by over 1.5 million people. It allows group members to share and edit files, manage a group calendar, poll your group, post links, set up meetings, chat online and send group messages or emails. Wiggio groups are private groups which you must be invited too. You can be a member of a number of groups for example: History project, Social club, Football team etc. This is a good time management and communication app for students which can promote team work.

This is only three of the many apps and websites available to promote the skill of working together. If you have any you would like to recommend please leave a comment or some feedback on the above. 🙂

Encouraging Creativity

This blog will focus on another one of the NCCA key skills. This week I want to explore the skill of creativity and how we can use web 2.0 to encourage this is our classrooms. The main elements of creativity outlined by the NCCA are as follows:

1.  Imagining
2.  Exploring options and alternatives
3.  Implementing ideas and taking action
4.  Learning creatively
5.  Stimulating creativity using digital technology.

When I initially think of being creative I am drawn to the idea of coloured card, markers, glue and scissors but creativity can be expressed in a wide variety of ways. Creativity can be expressed through art, physical expression such as dance, writing, speaking and more recently with the help of technology. Some students may feel pressured when asked to present work creatively. Some could not think of anything worse than creating a poster or project but fortunately there are now apps and websites that allow students to express their creativity in ways they may be more comfortable with. I have chosen three of these web based technologies to talk about today but there are thousands waiting to be discovered. Please leave feedback on these or add your own in the comments.

  1. Popplet 

Popplet is an app designed for Ipad and Iphone. It is a tool that allows
users to display information and ideas in a new way. Teachers and students can create graphs, timelines, mind-maps and many other forms of visual organisation. Students and teachers can download the full app for 4.99. This app allows students and teachers to share their popplets with others and benefit by viewing popplets from all over the world. These popplets would be ideal for revision, presenting information or introducing a new topic. Images, videos and documents can be imported from your computer, Facebook, Twitter, Flickr and YouTube just to name a few. Finished popplets can be saved and printed. There is a free version called popplet lite. This is the same except students cannot see popplets from other people and cannot share them.

2. Explain Everything

Explain Everything is an easy-to-use design, screen casting, and interactive whiteboard tool that lets you create, animate, narrate, import, and export almost anything to and from almost anywhere. Students can create documents, slideshows, videos, presentations, images and can edit documents which they import. You can add explanations to notes, draw diagrams for explanations and create your own study aids. This app can be downloaded on smart phone, ipad or windows. It costs 3.99 but there is an option to buy for the class or school which will be a bulk price. There are tutorials online to get started but once started it is very simple and straightforward to use. When finished creating and editing documents can then be exported to anywhere at all, dropbox, google docs, computer or email. This app can be used for revision, note taking, assignments or assessments.

3. Story Board That

Storyboard That is an online storyboard creator that helps visually communicate ideas and concepts to quickly tell a story. It provides templates in which you can create your stories in a comic strip style along with hundreds of scenes, characters, and text bubbles to fill your storyboard’s frames. You can choose from a wide collection of templates, characters, props etc to create your story/comic. Students can use it to create simple cartoon stories, create outlines for longer creative writing projects or to script videos or presentations. They can also use it to practice a language, creative writing and studying almost any subject. It is easy to use with a drag and drop feature and students can import files from their own computers. A free account allows you to produce and save two stories a week but premium accounts are available for 9.95 a month. For this price a teacher can set up a class and add up to fifty students. Teachers can use storyboard to set up a classroom where they can see students creations easily. Story board is extremely simple but a fun and new way of e learning. 

 

Kid Blog

This week I have been experimenting with blogging platforms which we can use in the classroom. One of these platforms is KidBlog. KidblKidBlogog is an online blogging platform for children. It is made for teachers by teachers. It allows schools and teachers to set up and monitor individual blogs for students. The aim is to support student learning and create a sense of online identity and community.

The advantages of Kidblog include the following: it is easy to set up, it has simple navigation, students do not need an email account,  it is advertisement free, you can connect to Google Drive which means it is easier to upload documents, videos and power-points, and the teacher has complete control. Students write and upload blogs, the teacher then reads and approves the blogs and publishes them on the site. A blog can act as a digital portfolio of students work throughout their time at school. One thing I liked about Kidblog is that there are no limits on the amount of content that can be uploaded so students can keep the same blog from 1st through to 6th year. Parents can also be involved with the blog. They are given access by the teacher so they can read and follow their child’s blog online. This is a valuable tool for parents who cannot always make parent evening or drop into the school at any time. 

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Blogging in class encourages peer assessment and group involvement. Students can read and promote each others work and a sense of community can develop. There are many different ways teachers can bring blogging into their classrooms. These include creative writing tasks – while this usually occurs in the English classroom the religion or history teacher could also make use of this method, set up a student book club – students read and publish their thoughts and opinions, pen pals – students can connect with other classrooms around the globe and write to each other – this could be extremely beneficial in religion class or CSPE, can be a digital portfolio- an ideal way to demonstrate learning growth through pictures, video, writing, and more and it could also be used as a notes and study aid. Students can write about topics they like or topics they find difficult other students can then comment and offer feedback and advice on what works for them when studying. 

Setting up on Kidblog is very simple and straightforward. A teacher can go to Kidblog.org and set up a administrator account. They create their class by selecting Click to Create a Class, they then enter username, password, and class name details. Keep in mind the class name you entered is also the blog name, for example, Ms Dunne’s Classroom blog. Select the grey Create Class button, Click the Add New Users button to add users individually or in bulk. The teacher can also access a join code so students can add themselves to the blog. The teacher can add multiple classes and keep them separate which is useful for teachers who want to bring it into multiple classes or subjects.

At the moment you can get a free 30 day trial of Kidblog and after that it is $29 per teacher per year. They also offer deals for whole schools or multiple teachers joining together, quotes available.
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One of the disadvantages to using blogging in the classroom in the time constraints. Teachers need to schedule certain time to set up these blogs and students need to commit at home or in their free time. Teachers also have to commit some personal time to approve and correct the blog posts. While this may sound like a pain the layout of kidblog makes this job easier than one would think. It is straightforward and easy to navigate. If a teacher could commit two-three hours a week to do approvals and corrections they would reap the benefits in class and in student production. As with all teaching methodologies it is important to rotate and not rely solely on the blog, this will also help with time management.

I cannot wait to start blogging with students and I will post about reactions and students opinions in a few weeks time. 🙂

 

 

How do you Study?

As the Christmas season creeps up most schools are preparing for the dreaded Christmas exams. This week students have been asking the question – How do we study for exams? This is not an easy question to answer because it is a different answer for everyone. I have been advising students to experiment with different methods and see what works best for them.

There are loads of different methods people use to study. Some of which include:

  • Reading and Rereading – memorising information by reading
  • Read, underline and take notes – summarising
  • Rewrite the information into your own words
  • Rewrite in your own words and rewrite this again in a shorter version
  • Draw pictures/graphs that relate to the information
  • Associate key words or terms with images/songs/quotes etc.
  • Flashcards with key words
  • Write out questions on the content and ask friend/family to quiz you
  • Spider Diagrams/ Brainstorms/ bubble graph

To be able to study efficiently you need to be in the right environment. I would suggest the following:

  • Ensure the room is not too warm and not too cold
  • Don’t use a place that you use to relax or watch TV, your mind will find it easier to switch off
  • Not where you sleep because when you go to bed it will be hard to switch off, if you have a desk in your bedroom this is fine
    • Try work at a desk – will not work for everyone
  • Music works for some people
  • Dead silence works for others
  • Chewing gum, sucky sweets and lollies can help focus
  • Take breaks every 45 minutes or sooner if you find yourself loosing concentration
  • Keep hydrated – lots of water
  • Don’t stay up all night – sleep is very important

The most important thing to remember is that everyone is different and it often takes time to figure out what works for you. Do not give up As my favourite quote says:

NCCA Junior Cert Key Skills

The NCCA outlines six key skills that all subjects should develop in the Junior Certificate programme. These include managing myself, staying well, communicating, being creative, working with others and managing information and thinking. All of these skills incorporate the use ofdigital media in the classroom. Using technology in the classroom is a trend that is rapidly increasing in education. For this blog post I want to examine the last key skill and look at ways that we can develop this skill by using different technologies and digital applications in class. ncca

MANAGING INFORMATION AND THINKING

This key skill helps learners gradually improve their capacity to search for information from different sources. They also develop their skills in judging and discriminating between information types and sources and they develop strategies for organising information so that they can understand it and use it later. This skill also develops learners’ thinking skills so that they can become more skilled in higher order reasoning and problem-solving. (Juniorcycle, 2014)

The first thing that came to my mind when thinking of ways to incorporate this skill into the classroom was blogging. This skill is meant to enable students to engage with information and share it by use of digital media. What better way than starting a blog. There are numerous blogging platforms for schools and teachers including, word press, kid blog, 21 classes and many more. These platforms allow teachers to set their classes up on a blog where they can monitor the posts and feedback. Students can be given a task such as researching a key historical figure they use the internet and search engines to find information and then write a blog about the person to share with the class. This simple exercise improves a range of
skills students need to develop including research, critical thinking, analysis, managing information, presenting information and literacy.

Google Docs in another great resource that enables students to organise information. This is a  free Web-based application where documents and power-points can be created, edited and stored online. Files can be accessed from any computer with an Internet connection which means students can start work in school and finish at home without worrying about USB sticks or forgetting books/copies. Google docs also allows students to work together on the one document or project. Students can invite each other with an email address and they have permission to add to or edit a document/presentation. This introduces a whole knew approach to group work. The teacher if also invited can check who has done what work on the document to ensure all students are actively involved.

As a history teacher I have come across some amazing resources this year for the 1916 Commemoration that incorporate this key skill very well. they include a blog designed by the National Library. This blog looks at key personalities and perspectives during the time. Students can research the blog and find new information to engage with. To encourage students to compare sources there is a website that publishers rare photographs from the rising here . This website also has a dedicated section for schools to carry out online research.

The web is an amazing resource for any subject. Allowing students time to explore and discover not only encourages independent learning but gives students an opportunity to see opinions and ideas that before where restricted to a text book. This skill is not only something students need to learn to achieve good grades but it is something they can take out into the world. The world is becoming a technological place and if students cannot fit into this world when they leave school they will face difficulty. We have the resources to help develop this skill in schools it time we start using them.

 

The CAO

This week the sixth years have had meetings with the guidance counselor  about completing their C.A.O choices. For anyone unfamiliar with the CAO, students complete this prior to completing the leaving certificate. Students who wish to attend third level education complete a form in which they  rank ten level eight college courses in order of which they would prefer to attend. Students also have the choice to list ten six/seven level courses as a safety net in case they do not receive the points they are hoping for in the leaving certificate or if they wish to attend a College of Further Education. When the results come out in August the students who have achieved the grades and get the necessary points for their chosen course will receive an offer for a college course.

Students are told to take care when completing the CAO forms. They must insure they complete the relevant information, research the courses they are imputing to make sure they are the correct ones and to put them in the correct order. The order of the courses is one of the most important things in my mind for the following reason. For example let us say a student puts nursing first, teaching second and business third on their list. August comes and the student has done exceptionally and got the points needed for their first choice. They receive an offer for the nursing course but then decide no they really want to be a teacher. If a student is offered their first place they can reject it however they will not be offered any other place on the list. This means a student will have to wait a whole year before they can apply again.

Some of the students I have chatted to about this have told me they feel extremely pressured and unsure of what to do. This is completely understandable. Students are aged between 16-18 and they are being asked to make decisions that will have a huge effect on their adult lives. They also have the stress on pre-mocks, mocks and the actual leaving cert to deal with also. My advice to students this week has been to breath.  Take a moment to sit down and think about your options. To the students who have an idea of what they would like to do I am advising them to shop around for different college courses that offer similar things in regards to the career offered at the end. For the students who do not have a clue I have told them to look at what they are interested in and to research ways they can make these things into a career. I advise all students to look at the level 6 and 7 courses. Some of these courses offer amazing skills. Many are only one year long so if its not what you want it will not last forever and you will still be young enough to start another course the following year.

Above all I am trying to get the message across that if for some reason students to not get the course they want or if they change their minds later it is not the end of the world. Like I said above you can do a PLC for a year and reapply or you could work for a year while deciding what you want to do. Students think that if they do not start college straight away they will fall behind and never go back. That is not the case anymore. People are starting college at all ages and at different stages of life. Personally I made the mistake in the example above. I put business number one and when the offer came in I said No I want to be a history teacher. At the time I was heart broken but I got some good advice from my own teacher and I signed up for a beauty and leisure course for one year. In this year I feel I grew up a lot and I felt ready for college then when the time came. I do not regret my choice for a second.

Students need support at this time in their lives. They have so much to deal with in school alongside any personal things in their home lives. If we as teachers can help them through and show them they have options and different roads to go down I think it will make the journey easier.