Category Archives: Opinion

Reflections on Year 6 Camp 2017

Into the Wild.

Emotions run high when ten and eleven year old children go on camp.  Especially when there are 130 Year 6 children going together. There is excitement and apprehension, and everything in between. On camp there are tears and laughter. Some children seem barely consolable one minute- tearful and homesick – and excited and involved the next.

Swing bridge on camp
Swing bridge on camp

The year 6 camp involved 4 days away, with 3 nights in a hotel near Kanchanaburi. Activities included hiking, and a swim below a waterfall. There were adventure activities such as a flying fox and a swing bridge. There was also a group challenge activity. Children could also choose biking, cooking, archery and rock climbing from a range of options.

Raft building on camp
Raft building on camp

Camp gives opportunities to all kids. It gives them opportunities to bond with their peers and make new friends. It also gives them opportunities to challenge themselves. For some this may be overcoming the fear of being away from family in a new and unfamiliar place. For others it may be trying new activities.  A swing bridge is a cause of great excitement for many, for others it’s a source of fear and trepidation. For one child success is running across as fast as possible, for another it is finally getting across after twice falling in.

Waterfall fun
Waterfall fun

As a teacher who supports children who sometimes struggle the change is palpable. The tears of night two – when tiredness after two long days gets the better of many – gives way to the excitement of an action filled day three. The children who were sobbing and needed someone to talk through their fears last night, barely notice adults today. They are having too much fun, and they are making new friends.

These small steps towards independence make the (teacher’s) 18 hour days worthwhile. Once children  have achieved something, they don’t look back, and hopefully the next challenge that they face will feel less daunting.

 

Are international schools suitable for all children?

Within an international school community people are always on the move. Globally mobile families with children may stay in one place for a number of years or may need to move after a couple of years. People working for international businesses and the self employed may find that they have to move as market conditions dictate.  And these moves can be sudden. Diplomats, military and NGO employees may have a fixed term posting. Teachers in international schools typically work on renewable contracts of one or two years and have to decide early in the school year if they want to renew them. As families move they need to find a new school for their children. These highly mobile people are sometimes called ‘global nomads’ and their children are sometimes called ‘third culture kids’ or TCKs.

There are many advantages for children as they move from one international school to another, or in and out of a national education system. They get to experience different cultures and may be exposed to an international perspective that may be lacking at ‘home’. They are likely to have friends from many countries, and get to visit amazing places. For many children it is also an opportunity to add another language to their mother tongue, with some children becoming proficient in two or more languages. These children often become resilient and independent as they adapt to new circumstances and make new friends.

But not all children are the same and some may find this flexible lifestyle does not suit them.  Some children may find the transition to a new school difficult. Others may find an unfamiliar curriculum and new language demands too much to handle. Some children will have learning challenges, for example dyslexia, and others may have social or emotional differences. The greater the barriers to learning, the greater the challenge. Many international schools may not have the level of support that is available in the national systems of higher income countries. There may also be a stigma attached to learning differences in some countries that is not usual at ‘home’.

It is true that more and more international schools are able to meet a greater range of individual children’s needs and very many children will gain a lot from an international education. Parents need to be aware of their child’s needs and make sure that the school that they choose is able to support all of these needs. This support must continue to be available as the child moves through her schooling.

In a small number of instances an international education may not be the best fit for a child. They may be happier and more successful with the support networks that are available at ‘home’. These networks may include family and friends, as well as educational support. If this is the case parents should not be afraid to put the interests of their child first. Their choice may be between going to a city with a suitable school, or staying at home.

What do you think?

Should children learn to touch type?

Should children learn to touch type?

This question has been around for a long time, certainly since the typewriters in the business studies rooms were replaced with word processors!

Students are now surrounded by digital technology and use a range of devices for their work. It is common for children to use tablets, such as iPads from a young age, and many secondary and high school students are using laptops. These are trends that will continue.

Is it important to be able to touch type?  I mean being able to accurately use a keyboard, while looking at the screen or elsewhere, and using all fingers on the correct keys. There are commonly heard arguments for and against learning to touch type

Arguments against learning to touch type

  • it takes a lot of time, time that is better spent on other learning
  • technology such as predictive text and touchscreen devices mean children will not need to type in the future
  • speech recognition and dictation software is replacing typing
  • one or two finger typing is just as fast on hand held devices

Arguments for learning to touch type

  • using a keyboard is the most effective way of inputting text, if you can type efficiently
  • laptops and computers, with keyboards, are going to be around for a while
  • it is a lifeskill, like riding a bike, once you learn you will not forget
  • good habits are best learned at an early age, as bad ones are hard to shift
  • once you can touch type accurately, your speed should increase

In conclusion, why I think that touch typing needs to be taught in school

Students in high school and above are going to be expected to use computers to produce longer and longer texts, for this reason efficient and correct touch typing is essential. Schools need to put aside time to teach this invaluable lifeskill, we cannot rely on parents and self motivated children to learn only at home. Maybe a compromise is to have ‘typing club’ at times during the school day. If we have 12 and 13 year old children typing with two fingers we are doing them a disservice.

Recommended Free Typing Tutor

There are free typing tutors available. I have seen children succeed with the free typing tutor available on line from typing.com. Teachers can even set up classes and monitor progress. The free version does have advertisements but they are not too noticeable. A small fee will remove the ads completely.  Another reliable one is typingclub.com There are many other typing tutors available, some of which are very good, but beware of ones with too many distractions and games!

What do you think?

 

Teacher’s Tech Toolkit

What does a teacher need in their Tech Toolkit?

I recently read this article: Which should I buy a PC or a Mac? I know it is a perennial topic but it made me think – what does a teacher need in their ‘Tech Toolkit?’ For this post I am thinking about hardware rather than software, which is another story. Of course many people will have their own ideas but what should be the minimum?

What should be in a teacher’sTech Toolkit?

I think the following should be the minimum for a teacher’s tech toolkit:

  • a laptop
  • an external hard drive
  • a smartphone

Now I will explain why I think this!

Why have a portable hard drive?

External Hard Drive
External Hard Drive

Let’s start with possibly the least obvious. External, portable hard drives are cheap and can be used to keep a back up of your data. They typically use a small size hard disc (that keeps the overall package small) and do not need a power supply. They are powered when plugged in to the USB slot on your computer. They come in a number of sizes (e.g. 500gb, 1tb, 2tb, 3tb). There is not a lot of point in buying a very large capacity unless you have a lot of video to store. As a rule of thumb get one with the same capacity as your computer. If this gets full over time buy another – the price will have fallen by then!

Once you have your external hard drive remember to use it from time to time! If you are using one on a day to day basis you should have another one stored somewhere safe. I know of people who have had break ins and lost the photos stored on their computer and the back up hard disc, which has been stored nearby. Why not leave one in a safe place at work? Or at your mum’s?

Why have a smartphone?

If you already have one you will probably know why. If not consider this: smart phones have a camera, and a video or sound recorder. You can use your smart phone to record activities instantly and you can access google or Pinterest there and then. You can even make phone calls. Just make sure that it is on silent mode, and it is rude to look at it while ‘listening’ to people.

Why have a laptop?

MacBook Air
Apple MacBook Air

Any recent laptop has the capability to connect to the internet and it allows you to type documents, arrange photographs and look at or edit video. A laptop is obviously portable. How portable you want to make it depends on your needs. If you are always on the move the lighter the better – and that means more expensive.

What are the alternatives?

At the minimum a teacher should have a laptop, smartphone and external hard drive but there are some other things that may also fit your needs.

A desktop computer

If you are working in one place and use the computer for hours on end you should consider getting a desktop computer if only because it is better for you. The ergonomics of a separate keyboard and adjustable screen are better for your back, neck and eyes. You also get more bang for you buck with a desktop (compared to a laptop) and they are much  more expandable.

A tablet

A tablet can do many of the things that a smartphone does and will offer a larger screen. This could be an alternative to a smartphone – but do you really need both?

So what do I actually use?

  • For everyday use: An Apple Macbook Air (mid 2013) with 8 Gb of RAM and 256 Gb solid state hard drive running OSX (work supplied)
  • For back up: 500 Gb portable hard drive (USB)
  • Home computer: Dell Inspiron (2011) 4 Gb RAM and 500 Gb hard drive. (I can plug this into my TV using HDMI cable) running Windows 10
  • Smartphone: Sony Xperia Z3 Compact with 64 Gb SD card running Android 5
  • Tablet: iPad (2003) 16 Gb running IOS 7 (work supplied)

From this list you may conclude that I am fairly neutral in the ‘should I buy a PC or mac?’ debate. I like using both, but look where I spend my own money!

What do you think?

Is there something else that should definitely be in a Teacher’s Tech Toolkit? Please share you thoughts in the comments below or on the social media links.

Characteristics of an Effective Teacher

I came across this passage recently in an article about autism and thought it made a great summary of some of the characteristics of any effective teacher:

Our respondents suggested that effective teachers were flexible but predictable. They had high expectations but were not too harsh or critical. They set clear rules but were still child centered. They allowed for differences but didn’t ignore similarities. They provided support without creating dependency. The teachers who made a difference for the respondents in this sample seemed to balance these tensions. In many ways, what makes a teacher effective for children with Asperger Syndrome are the same behaviors and characteristics that make a teacher effective with other children. However, the presence or absence of these characteristics may hold special significance for children with Asperger Syndrome.

Sciutto, M., Richwine, S., Mentrikoski, J., & Niedzwiecki, K. (2012). A Qualitative Analysis of the School Experiences of Students with Asperger Syndrome. Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities , 27 (3), 177-188.