Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Mixing Moodle and Connect with a side helping of eggs for Year 2

I've been involved in some work with the Headteacher at Grendon Underwood Combined for a while now, but it's been difficult to get the school's use of Moodle off the ground - the school has decided to use Moodle as their main web site, but hadn't yet used it as an important part of the pupils' learning. A couple of weeks before half-term I was asked to go in to the school to work with a class teacher to help her allocate her class of Year 2 pupils to a particular Moodle course to work on a special project...

Chick Cam setup
Chick Cam setup - laptop hard wired into school network connected to Buckinghamshire Adobe Connect server. Incubator containing eggs from 
It turned out that the project was a delivery of eggs (in an incubator) from The Happy Chick Company which would be with Year 2 for a fortnight. The original aim was to share some information about the project - and involve the pupils in any way possible. Getting pupils at Key Stage 1 to log in successfully is often a challenge, but there are plenty of examples of ways in which this can be overcome - and as with anything, practice makes perfect. Just before half term I took a Year 2 class with Miss Hair in which we introduced the Secret Project to her Year 2 class. The class was held in the school's ICT suite and so pupils could practise logging in and replying to messages on the forum.  In Moodle this was a forum set up as a Single Simple Discussion - the teacher said what she thought the surprise might be and asked the pupils to respond. There were a few Class Rules - held in a web page at the top of the Moodle course and read during the lesson - one of which was "only one smiley per message"! The class's task over half-term was to log in and respond to someone else's idea - not just saying why that person might be right or wrong, but also giving a reason why. In my experience this is really important when giving younger children their first taste of writing something online, so as to reflect the responses which would be hoped for in the classroom:
Forum set up as a Single Simple Discussion in Moodle. The teacher starts things off, and pupils reply to her and one another.
Considering the pupils were the first in their school to really use the VLE as part of a project, I was really impressed by the way they took to it. Miss Hair said that some of their parents reported that the children were a little obsessed with logging on to the VLE over half term - and for a typical Key Stage 1 class, their levels of interaction would put many secondary classes to shame. They also used Choices for a number of activities and there's a lot of potential to support their learning in future. This is by far my preferred method of introducing a class or even a school to using a VLE - it has focus, the pupils are actively involved (rather than simply clicking on links or printing off endless documents) and (by implication) the staff are active as well.
Activity report for the Year 2 "Surprise Project". On the left is the teacher's activity setting up the coruse, the pupils first accessed it on the 18th-19th February, the last day in school before half term. The eggs arrived in class on the 28th February.
While meeting before half term I suggested that with a little creativity we could use our Adobe Connect server to broadcast the eggs (and their potential hatching) beyond the classroom, since chicks aren't normally timetabled and therefore might not arrive during school hours. I'd used it in a similar way a few years ago to something I'd (worryingly) called PuppyCam (read that blog post), where a teacher in another of our primary schools had a dog about to give birth to puppies at home, and wanted pupils in the classroom to be able to see. The teacher had a webcam at home and a BucksGfL account, so I set up the room, created a logo, she pointed the camera at the litter, and we were in business:
The original Puppy Cam
You can watch a recording of PuppyCam here.
Grendon Underwood Combined didn't possess a webcam, but a quick visit to the classroom showed a flexible neck visualiser which (unlike some visualisers I've worked with before) was useable by the Flash Player, meaning that whatever it showed could be broadcast via a Connect meeting room.
Incubator in its original position
Well, the eggs in their incubator were delivered on the first Monday back after half-term, and I went in to school on the Tuesday. The incubator was out of the way of the class at the back, which presented a problem as the laptop (along with the only network point in the room) was towards the front by a window, so the incubator was carefully moved to the front, in view of a silent class of Year 2s lined up for PE all desperately hoping it wasn't dropped.
While the class went out for a PE lesson, I set up the room. Apologies for the lack of focus at the start, I had neglected to click my phone's screen to focus until a few seconds in...

Well, all seemed good. We decided not to use the visualiser's built-in light (the one which flips down from the head) as it would cause too much glare on the surface of the incubator.
Visualiser with light (below) switched off
Visualiser (document camera) showing focus ring and flip-down light (not used)
This meant that we needed to decide how to light the room, as the laptop and visualiser would be left on all night - and the issues around glare meant that we had to close the blinds as the domed surface of the incubator could reduce the camera's view to being that of just bright reflected light. You can see in the images below the effects of having no lights on, one bank of lights on (of three banks) and two. No lights meant that the camera wouldn't be able to see inside the incubator - you can see what's visible by looking at the projected image on the IWB in the first image:
Classroom with no lights
No lights on (dark image on screen)
Classroom with one row of lights on
One bank of lights on
Classroom with two rows of lights on
Two banks of lights on
Perfect. The room was set up, and I left the school as Miss Hair went into a staff meeting, leaving herself   logged in to the Connect room via her laptop and broadcasting any happenings from inside the incubator. Unfortunately, it appears the caretaker forgot his instructions to please leave the lights on, as this is what was visible later that evening...
What happens when someone turns the lights out...
What happens when someone turns the lights out and it gets dark
I had knocked together the "Chick Cam Live" image in Fireworks and uploaded it as a JPEG into a Share pod in the Connect room. At the end of yesterday's lesson, after I'd demonstrated to Year 2 how they could access the live "Chick Cam" from home, we agreed that the room would be shut down to viewers at 8pm to ensure that parents weren't besieged with requests to "watch the eggs for just five minutes in case they hatch". Children (and parents, and possibly staff) could log in as Guests so it was a trivial process to prevent access - the Connect room has a simple setting to switch Guest access on and off, but we're planning on recording through the night so that no-one misses anything important. The recordings can be edited later so that pupils don't have to watch five hours of static eggs just to see a few minutes excitement near the end.
As I write this there has been a flurry of excitement all day, as the chicks conveniently started hatching at around 8:50am - which, even though the pupils were in the classroom, we had planned to record so that they could watch it later. Miss Hair started the recording without a problem, and you can watch it here (opens in a new window or tab). It takes 20Mb on the Connect server for a 30 minute recording, which isn't bad, and the recording is separate from the live meeting room. I'll be interested to see how big tonight's "overnight" recording is. (Edit: the answer: a 6 hour 28 minute recording takes 180MB on the server. Not bad.)
Connect server recordings
Connect server recordings - 
multiple recordings, each with its own URL, created from the Connect room.
Among other reflections is the one that I need to come up with names whereby children don't search for the names of young animals or birds on Google combined with the word "cam". That or schools need to start choosing different animals to work with.
There's a set on Flickr where I'll post relevant images to support this blog post, or you can view them as a slideshow here:

I love my job. The irony of having to complete an application form to apply for it due to being at risk of redundancy seemed particularly sharp today.Mind you, so did making a seven egg frittata this evening. Ah well, you can't make an omelette (etc)...

1 comment:

  1. Nice work Ian. Sorry to hear your job is under threat. I had to chuckle at the problems that searching for "[young chicken] cam" may cause. On youtube it seems most of the world believes GIS = girls inhaling smoke.

    I've just got a course proposal approved to finally do something with Adobe Connect at Southampton, looking forward to getting stuck in but we won't be watching any animals hatching...