Thursday, March 06, 2008

Fiona Aubrey-Smith - Extending Learning Opportunities in an Infant School using a Learning Platform

Fiona Aubrey-Smith from Uniservity is presenting on how to extend learning opportunities in infant schools. She used to work in a two form entry infants school in an Armed Forces catchment area and now works for Uniservity. (I overheard a rumour at the Naace exhibition yesterday that Capita might be looking to take over Uniservity, I wonder if that will happen?).

Her first slide is Start Small Think Big - a picture of different stages of growing beans, with the sunshine being leadership, the rain being the kids, the soil the school holding it all together.
How is an LP relevant to 4-7 year olds in a school, where many of the learners aren't reading? The first thing was to focus on one school improvement focus, such as maths homework with simple quizzes - one member of staff and six pupils.
The digital divide isn't as much of an issue - family engagement is. Kids will always find ways to access - through friends, the library, on holiday - and cross the perceived digital divide. This is something we've seen in schools like Winslow. Fiona's school opened the ICT suite after school and gave connectivity - free access, so that pupils could only attend with parents and vice versa, but not as a computer club or homework club. A virtual holiday to Kenya was a way of starting to include children in investigations as part of a wider project. The planned use of an LP can support AFL by allowing the children to see what's ahead - so they can see what they will be learning about. The children have the best kind of vision for this - and family mentoring & participation drives it as well. If the question is "can we do this on the Learning Platform?" then the answer should be yes, since if they're keen to learn then bring it on. This is an interesting contrast to the note in yesterday's Learning Platforms session, which said "if the staff ask 'Can we do this on the learning platform?' then say 'Yes'" - I'm pretty sure I prefer today's method as it focuses on the children's needs and not just the school's.
A leaving school cook set up a TASC club (Thinking Actively in a Social Context) with more able children - she would set tasks for them and then come in to celebrate what had been done. Governors did the dull stuff - meetings, agendas, whatever - but also could take part from Navy ships as internet access is free. A curriculum project was focused on the navy - used across the school, concentrating on floating and sinking for younger years and comparing Nelson's navy and the modern navy for older children. Dads on ships would send in information and reports about what was going on, ships tracked using Google Maps and information reflected on and incorporated in to the curriculum. The buzz always comes from the children - an online book club ran by the TA. The skills and understanding from the Year 1 and 2 children was taken to junior school - mentoring in both directions as they mentored older children on using the LP while the older children provided more the "traditional" mentoring associated with transition.
Examples of projects:

  • Simple drawings of what an extraterrestrial might look like captured in a camera or visualiser. This then led on to literacy - discussing the pictures;
  • Ask Amy Johnson a Question - what do the children want to know? Questions asked inside a forum with children asking and answering questions;
  • Book club in the library with a video review made in Windows Movie Maker of boys talking about their reading and why they liked books;
  • It's a Small World - Benny the Bear visits schools around the world and finds out about things - the importance of characters for younger children;
  • Olympic History - bringing a list of resources together about the Olympics - then asking kids to categorise them: which helped you learn? which are right? which made you think
  • Primary Art - children placing work in forums using connectives - I did this because...
  • What does God look like? - came out of a famous people activity - children included X Factor, the Osbornes... and then Jesus, Moses, King David, God... a dressing gown and flip-flops, in case you were wondering.
  • Transition support - PhotoStories of what happened on induction day to share with parents, include classlists so pupils can remember who's in their class. Children getting to know each other (buddies) before they arrive at school.
How does this apply to children who aren't yet reading? Even if children are confident with reading their parents might not be.
How do Early Years ePortfolios work? Think of it as a family portfolio - their learning support team who might help them - family, teachers, etc. Entries in the portfolio are often written in the third person ("Lucy has been doing..."). Foundation Stage Profiles could be included in a portfolio. As children become older and start to own the portfolio they can start to experiment with things. Fiona makes the point we use in working with our primaries about competencies and literacy to use these tools to support first steps in social networking-esque tools - for many children the first chance they get to have anything like their own space might be inside a VLE or LP.
How do we extend learning in our role across an LA, rather than just using it as a repository? This echoes many of the thoughts which I've had for a while, which is that (it's obvious) teachers and staff are learners as well and we should expect them to use it. A couple of questions...
  • How do we encourage Early Years kids to log in? Practice and teaching how do it learning; children know how to line up 'cos they do it time after time each day in the infant classroom - same with logging in.
  • How do you prevent bad things being uploaded or written? Not possible, it's an ethos thing, knowing what's appropriate and what's not and learning that as well.
  • Do parents log on as themselves or the child? Children should work with their parents so using the same log in.
  • Should the tools (for recording video, audio, making things) be built into the platform? Everything in moderation - the skill is to learn how to do something should be transferable.
Once again, this presentation fundamentally isn't about what you use but how you use it - it's about a series of tools which enable interactions, sharing and other good things.
I got a chance to chat to Fiona over lunch after her session, and it was really encouraging to meet someone from a Learning Platform vendor who's not obsessed with selling (she only mentioned the 'product' once, and then only in response to a question asking what it was), and in fact appears to position herself as far away from that part of a business as possible. I'd like to get her to come and work with / talk to / learn from some of our primary school Moodlers, possibly in the autumn term. Do you think that'll be possible or might commercial considerations take precedence over sharing practice? I hope they don't...
Update 13-02-2008: Terry Freedman has just re-published an article by Fiona from the publication Computers in Classrooms. If you're thinking about using a VLE or Learning Platform in primary - at both infant and junior level - then you really should hurry on over and read it.

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