Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Comenius In Service Training - Smart Solutions Malta 2013

I have been involved with Comenius since 2004 both through whole school projects & in-service training. I was intrigued when I received an email back in October from a company called Smart Solutions (smartsolutionsmalta.com)about an ICT course being run in Malta over the school holidays. I have been fortunate to have been able to take part in in-service training (a week long job-shadow in Norway) before during school time but this one seemed perfect as it wouldn't incur any sub cover costs for the school. I forwarded the email onto the ICT Technician & we both decided to apply together for the 2nd week in July.
Emil from Smart Solutions was very helpful from the start & helped us to make sure our apllication forms were filled in correctly & as we were both applying from the same school we had to ensure that nothing was similar about the 2 applications. We duly submitted our forms to the British Council for Comenius funding to cover the course fees & travel & subsistence (hotel & meals). We heard back in March that had both been successful in our applications. Smart Solutions set up a Mixxt social media site for course participants to 'meet' up on before we went on the course. Through this site, we were able to swap mobile numbers & chat about where to stay etc. There were 12 people on our course in the 2nd week in July.

The course began on the Sunday evening with a gentle session over a meal at a hotel overlooking St George's Bay. This was a chance to introduce ourselves & learn a little about our colleagues who were also on the course, it was also when all the information regarding which buses to take etc. was shared by Emil, Franco & Dennis. The 12 of us were from Ireland (North & South), Scotland, Portugal, Germany, Iceland, Poland & Macedonia. There was a mix of primary, secondary & further education teachers, so the age range we taught was from 3 right up to adults.

The course ran from Monday - Friday, 9.00 to 4.00 except Monday & Thursday when we finished at 2.30 to go do some sight-seeing. it took place in an old military hospital turned school & we were very grateful that the computer lab was fully air-conditioned as it was extremely humid, around 36c everyday.

During the week, we learnt about the latest editions of the following software: Powerpoint, Prezi, Photostory, Moviemaker, Stop Motion, Photosynth, eTwinning, Podcasting, Weebly, Hot Potatoes & Comic Life. Sometimes we worked individually, other times we were in groups. The best aspect of the course for me was that you got to see how all the software can be interwoven to enhance a class/school project as well as just used individually for a one time task.

At the end of the week we had to present a final project created in groups showing how we used a variety of the software. Our group consisted of the 2 of us from a primary with 2 secondary teachers, one from Germany & one from the Republic of Ireland. We created an eTwinning project for our schools to work on over the next year called 'Our world - Our Lives'. In our rough draft of a website (created over a morning) we used Weebly, Photosynth, Photostory, Prezi & Comic Life. The 3 schools also plan to embark upon a new application for Erasmus Plus (the replacement of Comenius) in the new year.

The skills you learn can only enhance your teaching & the course is very professionally run by teachers who are therefore, realistic about what can & can't be achieved in a real school environment. 
Franco, Emil & Dennis

The work/down time balance is well managed, as were free 3 of the nights after 4.30 but our groups chose to meet up for an evening meal in a different restaurant each of these nights. On the Monday & Thursday we were taken sight-seeing with a very enthusiastic tour guide (and teacher during the school year), we managed to see The Blue Grotto, Mdina, Hagar Qim & Valletta during this time & have wonderful meals with all the course tutors & their families. 
The Blue Grotto
Paula (our ICT Technician) & I can't wait to get back in September to share all that we have learned with our colleagues & pupils & to begin our new eTwinning project.
Here is a short animation I made with 3 others, Breda & Aoife from the Republic of Ireland & Antonio from Portugal using Stop Motion:

I would thoroughly recommend this course to any teacher/assistant working in a school.

Friday, 5 July 2013

Outdoor Play Party - Guest Post 1 (Tink 2013 Robots)

Once again, as I am on summer break I have turned to another fellow educator & friend that I got to know & respect through the wonderful world wide web, Andrea McDougall, teaches the Bugs (2s/3s) class at Takoma Park Cooperative Nursery School, in Maryland, DC, USA. Andrea did a fab guest post last year for me on the cardboard adventures of Tink 2012, you can read about here, so I was delighted when she once again agreed to be the first guest post for the summer Outdoor Play Parties.

As part of our Tink 2013: Land locking Plastics camp at The Cooperative School we made robots. 

Step #1: Design:  The children were allowed to explore our collection of plastic lids, bags, containers, bottle caps and miscellaneous plastic pieces.  They were asked to think about how they wanted their robot to look as they explored.  What would the body look like? Will your robot have arms & legs and how many? Will it have a head and/or a face?  Will it still be a robot?

Step #2: Collect materials needed and build a model using tape or dry stacking to get an idea of what you want to build.
Step #3: Put it all together: How are you going to connect the pieces without using tape?  Will it stay together and be durable?  We offered a glue gun, rubber bands, brads and small plastic pieces as connectors.  This step required revisiting as everyone played with different ideas and made multiple attempts with different methods until each robot was complete.

Step #4: Adding a level of fun, exploring electronics and creating many learning opportunities.  I didn’t have enough motors for each child to make moving robots but I did have old holiday lights, batteries and electrical wire.  A few of the challenges we faced were that some of the batteries were old and didn’t work well.  When we got new batteries they quickly burned out the lights.  The kids decided to try stringing two lights together to handle the output of the batteries.  After figuring out how to string them together and maintain a circuit we had success!  The final challenge was finding a way to attach the lights and batteries for the most dramatic effect. A couple of kids started making switches out of paperclips and brads to they could conceal the battery inside the robot.  Others chose to mount the battery on the outside and manually connect and disconnect the wires when needed.

Step #5: Light them up!!
After working hard each morning to make robots out of totally recycled materials the children at the Tink 2013 get to enjoy the fab outdoor space at Takoma Park Cooperative school. It's lovely to see older children enjoying some of the activities that are familiar to anyone who follows this amazing coooperative school.
What lucky children that they get to enjoy this fab playground
Making moats & paths in the sand.
Adults versus children for a tug of war!
Enjoying the tea house

Once again there were so many great posts linked up, many with a muddy theme but my favourite was from The Boy & Me on cooking marshmallows on a campfire. I love that this mum is working her way through the '50 things to do before you are 11 &3/4' list & have loved watching the various adventures The Boy has had because of this list.

How did your kids play outdoors this week?

  • Any kind of children's outdoor play-related posts are welcome!

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