Friday, 24 February 2017

Tools to build the Reading Brain using Microsoft Word #1: Finding and using the clues to create a mindmap (by Peter de Lisle)

This is another guest post from Peter De Lisle from Hilton College in Kwazulu-Natal. Peter is one of our Microsoft 2016/2017 MIEExperts from South Africa. Every so often Peter shares a great blog post on the SchoolNet blog.with his last one being 'Don’t just collect data – ask it a question (Using Excel Forms and Pivot Tables to conduct a meaningful survey)' and prior to that OneNote with the 16 habits of mind'.

This post and the following blog post describes a series of lessons which are intended to use ICT tools, in particular Microsoft Word, to:
1. Help students understand the complexity they face in reading;
2. Develop some reading skills in moving from linear text to understanding its structure;
3. Develop some writing skills in moving from a structure of ideas to its linear representation.

David Christian and the Big History movement point to the importance of language, and in particular reading and writing, as a way for our species to do what no other species has managed: to be able to transmit what has been learned in one generation to the next, as opposed to relying on instinct.

Doug Lemov points out that “Reading is the skill. Teaching students to unlock the full meaning of the texts they read is the single most powerful outcome a teacher can foster. lf your students can read well, they can essentially do anything.”

Maryanne Wolf is in agreement: “Reading is one of the single most remarkable inventions in history.”

However, she starts her book on the reading brain with these words: “We were never born to read.” She goes on to delve into the neuroscience of why it is so difficult to read, and why so many people battle to master this fundamental skill.

Fixed Mindset problems
In contrast, there is a general perception that reading is easy, and that it is something everyone should “just pick up”. This can easily feed into a Fixed Mindset (“I really ought to be able to do this, so I better fake it”) instead of a Growth Mindset (“This is difficult, so I must devote myself to mastering it”) (see the writings of Carol Dweck).

The Fixed Mindset problem is further exacerbated by the focus on the teaching of literature in English classes. Most English teachers studied literature in their degrees, and so fall back on this, rather than developing expertise in teaching reading and writing. Literature is easy because it is a “story”, and does not follow the rules of most other writing. Of course, serious writers layer their work with deeper meanings and complex themes, and university people study these and make it even more complex. But everyday people read everyday stories and find them relatively easy.

Linear and non-linear sequences of events
The basic structure of a narrative (a linear sequence of events) fits well with the way we write (a linear sequence of words). That is why reading stories is fairly easy.

In contrast, one of the key problems in reading for information is that it is a structure of inter-related ideas, not a linear sequence. It is only represented in this limited way. So the trick when reading is to decode the linear, and understand the structure. The trick when writing is the opposite: to encode the structure in a linear format. If you are old enough, here is a metaphor: it is like trying to find a song on a cassette tape versus on a CD. The tape is linear, and has no structure, but the song is there somewhere; you just can’t find it. The CD is well structured, and so, by referring to the CD cover, you can easily skip to your favourite track. When you read, you are converting the text from “tape” to “CD”.

Lesson 1: Finding and using the clues to create a mindmap
This section consists of ideas for the teacher:

Phase 1
1. Introduce the idea that reading is difficult for everyone; that it is something that gets better with practice. Link to Growth Mindset if possible. 

2. Display and invite students to view the document “Origins of Language”. Tell them they have 2 minutes to study it for a test. After a short time (less than 2 minutes) let them off the hook, and debrief why it was so difficult. You could prompt by asking “: What is missing that makes it difficult?” Answer: a title/heading; paragraph breaks.

3. Ask students to skim the first couple of lines, and then ask them to provide a title; (Where does language come from?); also ask how many paragraphs there should be. “There are 3 theories…” So 3 paragraphs, plus introduction and conclusion = 5.
4. Follow up by asking what we would expect to find in those paragraphs. Each paragraph describes a different theory.

5. PAUSE/REFLECT - what we have learned so far: (1) paragraphs are important for finding meaning; (2) it is important to “guess ahead” – predict what is coming up using whatever clues you can (NB this is not a mystery novel where the outcome is kept secret!).

· OK, now we need to put the paragraph breaks back in. Invite students to use the find (Ctrl-F) function to search for “First theory”, and put the paragraph break into the text at the beginning of that sentence. And they can surely figure out what to do next.

6. When the students have put all the paragraph breaks back in, give them 30 seconds to find what the 3 theories are.
Answers: 1 – Gift of God; 2 – natural Sounds; 3 – Evolutionary changes. Follow up – How did they find these? Answer – each paragraph has a topic sentence which is an introduction to the paragraph. What does each mean? Invite the students to make some guesses without reading the paragraphs.
7. PAUSE/REFLECT - what we have learned so far: (1) a paragraph is information related to ONE idea; (2) well written paragraphs have a topic sentence; (3) to get a quick summary of a text, skim the topic sentences of each paragraph; (4) it is a good idea to do this before reading a passage so as to get a “map” to guide detailed reading.

8. Students can now close this document.

9. SWITCH APPLICATION – as students to open the mindmapping tool which you use – Inspiration/Webspiration if you have it or Mindmeister.

10. Create a tree diagram as follows and minimise (students replace the ????) 

Phase 2
The next phase is to find the information which will be used to fill in the detail on the mindmap; ie finding the supporting information for each of the 3 theories.

1. Open the document entitled “Origins of Language – Clues”; note the text has been doctored to indicate the clues which can help to understand the structure. Explain to the students that when we read, we are looking for two kinds of information – KEY WORDS (orange) which indicate the ideas and information we need to grasp; STRUCTURE words (blue) which indicate the way we need to read those key words – ie how they relate to each other and the overall text. Basically, all the details within a paragraph tell us more about the main idea of that paragraph – explanations, examples, extra details. The black words are less important and should only be used to clarify the others if necessary.

2. PAUSE/REFLECT – not all words are of equal value or function. Good readers do not read every word, and do not read the words they do read in the same way.

3. Let’s look at the first paragraph – this theory says that language is a gift from God. What does this mean? Guess & discuss. What does the paragraph say:

4. Take it step by step, trying to use only the blue and orange words.

5. “For example” – (blue) a structure clue; this tells us that what is comping up is “just” an example.

6. The example – “Adam” (orange) named the animals somehow that became their “built-in” name. Maybe students can come up with other examples? Eg Where does the word “Mama” come from? Why do people all over the world use that word for mother?

7. Discuss – if you have a theory, and you want to prove it, what do you do? Answer – test it. OK, how would you test the theory that language is somehow built in to humans? Discuss. Answer – somehow deprive a child of human language contact. Think of an example from literature/movies. (answer – Mowgli in the Jungle Book).

8.“Experiments” (blue – it provides structure of what is to come) – testing the theory.

9. There were two experiments – who conducted the first one? What did he find?

10. Who conducted the second one? What was their finding?

11. The last sentence is a conclusion, introduced by “so” (blue). What is the conclusion?

12. Display this update to the mindmap, and ask the students to fill in the ???? and blank bubbles on their mindmap.

Phase 3
1. PAUSE/REFLECT: Reading is complicated; one could probably get a general grasp of the ideas in this paragraph, but by reading it properly, one understands exactly what is going on. When poor readers read, they tend to grasp at any details they can in the linear sequence; so in this paragraph, they might remember the name of King James IV of Scotland, but not understand why he is important (or not). If they went into a test feeling they had studied hard, but only remembering random bits of unrelated information, they might emerge from the test saying, “I studied so hard, and somehow I just didn’t know what was going on”. This is particularly the case if the study “method” is just to keep on reading and re-reading the text. There are 170 words (in a linear sequence) in this paragraph alone (show students how to highlight and see the number of words displayed in the status bar); but there are only 8 items in the mindmap. Which is easier to remember? Obviously the mindmap, especially if you read it from top to bottom – the higher up items make sense of and suggest the lower ones. Eg if you remember the keyword “experiments”, it helps you find your way to the two experiments and their results, and the conclusion. There is a logical progression to the ideas which is embedded in the structure.

2. Invite students to work on the paragraphs containing the second and third theories. Look closely at the topic sentence and the other introductory sentences. In both cases there is a trick to understanding these paragraphs.
3. Natural sounds – “There are two versions of this theory” – (blue) this alerts us to the fact that the paragraph has two sections, the first version and the second version. So the mindmap needs to branch. Each version follows the same pattern – example(s) and problem(s). And finally there is a conclusion.

4. Evolutionary changes – this paragraph also splits into two: physiology and brain. For each there are then examples. There is a problem which applies to both. Finally there is an overall conclusion to the paragraph.

5. A Mindmeister version of this mindmap complete could look like this: 
NEXT: Lesson 2: Use Outline tools to represent text structure 

One of Word’s most powerful features for organising structuring ideas is Outlining. This tool makes it easy to work with text in such a way that it becomes a structure of ideas rather than a sequence of words. Lesson 2 in the next blog post will look at how to use this tool, and provide some practice exercises.

SchoolNet webinar recording ''The Magic of Mystery Skype' by Allan Hart

On Thursday afternoon 23 February 2017 at 3:30pm, Allan Hart, a teacher at Appelby Preparatory in Elgin presented a webinar about his use of Skype in the classroom. His aim was to encourage teachers to use the free online video tool, Skype, in their classrooms this year. One of the ways of doing this has become known as Mystery Skype. This is an interactive learning game where two classrooms use Skype and a series of questions to guess each other’s locations and find out more about each other. It is suitable for all ages, and gives kids an interactive way to build skills one question at a time.

The webinar description
In this webinar Allan talked about his experiences using Skype in the classroom. He discussed the benefits of using Skype from an education point of view. Allan also explained how educators can become Skype-ready and how to collaborate with other schools from across the globe. After explaining how a Mystery Skype works, Allan demonstrated how to find educators to link with for Mystery Skypes using the Microsoft Educator Community.

The downloadable webinar presentation
Here is the downloadable presentation from the webinar available online in SlideShare:

The webinar recording
The webinar recording can be listened to on the following link on YouTube: or it can be viewed in the embedded video below.

Thursday, 23 February 2017

Useful Google in Education posts this week #95

After looking through all the Google posts that were shared to various subscriptions recently, these are a selection that look useful for teachers (The link to previous posts can be found here

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

SchoolNet free webinar 'Using Skype in the classroom' by Allan Hart on Thurs 23 February at 3:30pm

We are pleased to announce that our next free webinar, Using Skype in the Classroom will be held on Thursday 23 February at 3:30pm. Our speaker will be Allan Hart, a teacher at Appelby Preparatory in Elgin who will be talking about his use of Skype in the classroom. We would like to encourage you to use the free online video tool, Skype, in your classroom this year. One of the ways of doing this has become known as Mystery Skype. This is an interactive learning game where two classrooms use Skype and a series of questions to guess each other’s locations and find out more about each other. It is suitable for all ages, and gives kids an interactive way to build skills one question at a time. We will be using the Adobe Connect webinar platform for the webinar. Please join us as we hear about how Allan Hart uses Skype in his classroom.

Webinar details

Webinar title: Using Skype in the Classroom
Summary: Allan Hart from Applewood Preparatory will talk about his experiences using Skype in the classroom. He will be talking about the benefits of using Skype from an education point of view. Allan will explain how educators can become Skype-ready and how to collaborate with other schools from across the globe. He will explain how a Mystery Skype works.
When: Thursday 23rd February 2017
Duration: 15-20 minutes
Presenter: Allan Hart. Grade 7 teacher Applewood Preparatory, Elgin, Western Cape
Host: Fiona Beal
To join the meeting:

If you have never attended an Adobe Connect meeting before or if you haven’t attended an Adobe Connect meeting for a while you might need to install a free add-in. To investigate this, test your connection:

Friday, 17 February 2017

MIEExpert Spotlight #22: Judi Francisco: Microsoft tools, blended learning and critical thinking

This is the 22nd post in the series "MIEExpert Spotlight" for South Africa. The tab with all the posts can be found at: Today we focus on Judi Francisco. Judi is the computer teacher at Micklefield School in Rondebosch in Cape Town. Micklefield is a little independent not-for-profit primary school for girls. Judi says, “I have many titles at school such as IT Co-ordinator, Blended Learning Head, Computer Teacher, Blended Learning Teacher…. but my favourite title is Chief Learner because in technology you never stop learning, adapting, creating and trying new exciting things!” Judi is bent on making a difference in education. “South Africa may be at the tip of Africa, but the children are also at the tip of innovation and creativity. How lucky they are! Albert Einstein said ‘Education is not the learning of facts, but the training of the mind to think.’ 

A Blended Learning approach at Micklefield Primary
In 2015 Judi introduced a full time BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) program for the Grade 5, 6 and 7 girls at Micklefield School. The Grade 4 girls have selected dates when they bring in their devices. At the start of 2016, together with great support from her headmistress, Jeannette Welgemoed, Judi formalised blended learning by allocating time to it on their formal school timetable for the Intermediate phase. During the IT lessons the girls learn the skills need for the blended learning lessons, or they learn completely separate tools and skills. Judi says, “It was not hard to formalise blended learning for two reasons. One is that blended learning covers the work set out in the curriculum. The second is that the teachers can see that the same amount of work is covered, but to a much deeper level of level whilst incorporating critical thinking skills.”

Thinking skills in ICT lessons
Judi focuses on teach critical thinking skills in her ICT lessons. “Once I had researched more about how and why to incorporate critical thinking more regularly using Microsoft tools, I was convinced that I was on the right track. We are teaching 21 century children, so we need to teach them 21 century skills.” Critical thinking skills are spread across 6 levels, and generally teachers tend to focus on the 1st three too often: knowledge, comprehension and application. So Judi now includes the next 3 levels: analysis, synthesis and evaluation in her lessons. Critical thinking skills fit hand in glove with Bloom’s taxonomy and blended learning.

Microsoft Tools,  Blooms taxonomy and Blended Learning
Microsoft applications lend themselves very well to the six steps of Blooms to enhance critical thinking. Microsoft Word, MS Excel, MS Paint, MS PowerPoint with Office Mix and MS Sway are Judi’s favourites. This is because they allow for text, images, videos, animation and audio. “Using these I can set a task that requires almost any of the verbs found in critical thinking and Blooms.” For example, Judi completed a MS Word and MS Excel project with the Grade 4 class where they focused on critical thinking skills. The girls learnt the concept of metacognition (it even became one of their spelling words!) The class teacher needed the children to cover quite a few curriculum tasks such as understanding visual data, countries around the world, seas and oceans, creating and understanding graphs, converting visual data to text and visa versa. When they looked at the list of critical thinking verbs up on Judi’s board, they selected compare, contrast, prioritise and form an opinion. The girls created spreadsheets in Excel. These were based on places the girls had visited. They then converted these into bar, line and pie graphs. The girls had to format these graphs using colour, axis, patterns, titles and tables in order to show an understanding of them. These graphs were then copied into MS Word. Judi says, “It was here that the critical thinking skills came into play. They had to write a summary about each graph. They had to comment on the data as they saw it and find what was interesting about the data. They used the following critical thinking verbs to help them do this: compare, contrast, prioritise and predict.” 

Motivating colleagues to use Microsoft applications in blended learning tasks
As a Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert Judi motivates her colleagues to use Microsoft applications for these blended learning tasks. “In doing these tasks I work very closely with each class teacher to develop the blended learning projects. Once we have worked out which part of the curriculum we are covering, we let our creative juices flow! This is where Microsoft tools come into play. The class teacher then gets to see how I link up the task to Microsoft tools. The teacher also get to actually learn to use the tools along with the children. By the end of the project they are more confident with using whichever Microsoft tools we covered. The teachers then happily uses the tools more regularly on their own or for other tasks in their classroom.

Judi enjoys using many of the different Microsoft tools in her iCT classroom. She says, “I love PowerPoint Office Mix! Who doesn’t like to see their face on their presentation! Using the inking tool is great for keeping the children focused on their message. The fact that there can be audio, presentation skills and text in the Office Mix really amps up the critical thinking skills. I love using Microsoft Sway. We also arrange exciting Mystery Skypes with classes around the world.”