Look it up (the forgotten pleasure of encyclopedias)

When I was in primary school, we would work on a project each term. The project topics varied – natural disasters, animals, medieval history, flags of the world, weather patterns, the Olympics and so on. Regardless of the topic, the projects all followed the same format: weeks of furious research in the library, followed by the painstaking process of ruling lines on your poster, creating a spectacular heading using The Lettering Book, inexpert use of tracing paper to press maps and pictures onto your masterpiece and finally, the addition of your text.

My memories of these projects are a mix of satisfaction and frustration – the right layout or a misspelt heading or once, a spectacularly bad portrait of Captain Cook, seemed to separate the great projects from the ordinary. But what of the actual content? Continue reading

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Coding in the classroom

When I was at school, speculation about “what we’d be when we grew up” was confined to a large but relatively unchanging list of careers (on my list was a psychologist, a librarian and an air stewardess, none of which I did but all jobs that still exist). In comparison, today’s students have a working life ahead of them that most likely includes jobs that haven’t been conceived as yet; a ‘physical workplace’  that is defined by technology; and multiple changes of career (these speculations make for interesting reading).

If you’re wondering just how different things might be in the future, and what that means in the classroom today, take a close look at the instructions on the whiteboard in the photo below – ‘Create three sprites (one drawn)’ and ‘Code your sprites with motion’ – what?!

Year 5 and 6 students are undertaking coding classes and share some of their experiences so far –

Continue reading

You found us how?

searchingLast week, I mentioned that I find blog statistics decidedly boring. Except the search terms. Because although you might assume that most people reading this blog have arrived here via the school newsletter, you’d be wrong. Actually, some readers are searching the world wide web for particular things and their search lands them in our little corner of the interwebs. And really, it’s a very, very little corner which is why the search terms they use are revealing, odd and sometimes funny. Continue reading

It’s the Kewriosity Show!

There’s been one particular school activity this year that my kids have been busting to tell me about (all four of them, every week) – Kewriosity.

Kewriosity gave kids in each year level an opportunity to learn about all sorts of new things from how to knit and build a robot to busting myths and making animated films. Weeks of Kewriosity activity culminated in the Kewriosity Showcase and Alex St. Claire was there to see all the wonderful projects that have been keeping our kids so busy.

While an event ending in tears doesn’t usually tell a joyful tale, the story of the Kewriosity Showcase does indeed have a happy ending.

It was the ill-fated French Queen Marie Antoinette who prompted tears when Isabelle (Prep) discovered her tiny doll frame ensconced on a guillotine to represent her demise during the French Revolution. Why anyone would kill a beautiful golden-haired queen whose only crime was marrying whom she was told and possibly possessing a penchant for cake?

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But this depth of feeling has led to lots of heartfelt discussion and that is what makes great learning experiences.

In fact, we had lots of at-home discussions around the Kewriosity showcase. Continue reading

I’ve got a new name for Voluntary Contributions and I’m sure it will catch on

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Right about now, you’ll be a receiving a reminder letter about Voluntary Contributions. It’s well timed (because June 30*, people).

I’d quite like to rebrand ‘Voluntary Contributions’. Yes, they are ‘voluntary’. Yes, they ‘contribute’ to the school’s budget. But what the name doesn’t reveal is this: that State Government funding does not provide all the funds needed to run a school. That the things that make a school a comfortable and fun place to be (such as new library books, cooling in the junior school building and the whiz-bang Apple TVs) rely on Voluntary Contributions.

So I’m thinking of an alternative name for Voluntary Contributions, something along the lines of ‘A Really Important Contribution That’s Put Toward Really Good Stuff for Your Kids and Although it’s Voluntary, it Would Be Really Good if You Paid it Promptly, Please’. I think it has a nice ring to it but accept it may require some editing… Continue reading

How to spend $1372.27 in an hour…when you’re only eight: A cautionary tale

Recently I received a text from my partner, Sarah, that went something like this: I think Scout might have spent $400 on the iPad!

And about a minute later another text saying: No, actually, $600!

And then another that just said: OMG!…$700…$800…

I texted back that I thought there must be some mistake. It wasn’t possible to spend that much money in such a short time; we must have been hacked. Check with the bank.

At first the bank said the transactions were certainly unusual and yes it looked like we had been hacked. We cancelled our credit cards immediately, but even after that, payments still came through.

With blood pressure and panic rising Sarah contacted iTunes who confirmed that the transactions were made from a device registered in our name. OMG! didn’t come close.money

What we later discovered is that Scout had made 19 separate payments for ‘in app purchases’, totalling $1372.27; including 11 individual payments of $109.99 each. We didn’t know about ‘in app purchases’ then, but we certainly do now.

I’m sure many of you reading this are ahead of the game and have your ‘in app purchases’ button switched off and would never give your child your password anyway, but for the rest of you, let me tell you how it happened.

I was away and Sarah had a house full, friends over for dinner and kids everywhere. Scout yelled downstairs to ask if she could download an app: It’s free, she said, it’s called My Summer Break, and it’s about fashion and going to the beach and it’s rated 4+. Can I? summer break

Sure, said Sarah, and told Scout the password. Scout then downloaded the free – seemingly innocuous and apparently suitable for four year olds – game and started to play. In the game Scout was able to buy ‘Beach Bucks’ starting at $1.99 (Real Bucks) for 200 Beach Bucks and going up to $109.99 for 20,000 Beach Bucks.

We think that for the first ten or fifteen minutes she was able to do this without re-entering the password, and after that she had to provide the password again which, of course, she did. Do I think Scout knew that she was doing something she shouldn’t? Yes, probably.

Do I think she had any idea she was buying real money – and how much? No. I’m quite sure she didn’t. She plays lots of games that have things you can ‘buy’ bags of gold, treasure, special keys and I don’t believe that at eight she can clearly distinguish between real money and game money. When Sarah asked her, she said: I just thought it was in the iPad.Kids-and-Money

Later, I checked out the game – rated 4+:

It’s time for dressing up in the hottest swim wear fashions and flirting by the pool!

Work in a tan salon and earn money so you can shop for the best summer fashions. There are tons of outfits for you to try and buy. As your closet fills with fashions your popularity rises and you are on your way to becoming the next Queen of the Beach Parties.

Flirt with cute boys by the pool and get invited on dates!

Needless to say, we no longer have My Summer Break on our iPad. We have changed our Settings to disable ‘in app purchases’ and no longer have our credit card details linked. We have become a big fan of iTunes cards!

At the end of last term the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) visited Kew Primary to talk to the Grade 5 and 6s about in app purchases. Their visit was part of a worldwide consumer protection initiative called the Sweep which aims to raise awareness of this highly misleading practice that is largely aimed at our kids.top-logo

Delia Rickard, the Deputy Chair of the ACCC who ran the session, asked the kids if they were aware of games that had in app purchases. Dozens of hands went up and the kids reeled off a very long list.

So if you haven’t already, you need to disable the in app purchases on your iPad or smartphone. If you go to this link on the ACCC website it will explain how to do that: http://www.accc.gov.au/consumers/specific-products-services/in-app-purchases

It’s very straightforward and only takes a minute.

So did we end up $1372.27 worse off that evening? Actually, no. After a lot of late night frantic internet research and a long, detailed letter sent to iTunes, Sarah managed to get the money back. It seems that if you can argue that your child made these purchases without your knowledge (even if they had the password) you can get your money refunded, but only once. You don’t get a second chance.

Clearly, we are not the first people to have experienced this and iTunes and Apple are very aware that it’s a huge problem.  The situation is being closely monitored by the ACCC who are considering what can be done to protect consumers against the dangers of in app purchasing.

In the meantime, check those settings…

Jacqui Tomlins

iPads@Kew (Part 2) The Students

If we teach today as we taught yesterday, we rob our children of tomorrow:  John Dewey, American psychologist and education reformer.

Last week I spoke to Andrew Wood and Chrystal Sumpton about the iPads@Kew program. This week I met with a group of students to get their perspective on the program: Chelsea and Ahmaey (Grade 3), Ethan, Daichi and Caitlin (Grade 4), Irfan, Alison and Danna (Grade 5) all took half an hour out of lessons to give me the inside story on the iPads.P1050879

I started by asking each member of the group to give me an example of how they had used their iPads at school and this led on to a discussion about their favourite apps, both for school and home.

Ahmaey: I liked doing research about the sun. I used Google and Safari and I typed in certain things about the sun. I wanted to find out about the different layers, and about the sun’s life span. I use Pages a lot – it’s good for spelling words – and I really like Keynote – you can animate – and my favourite app for home is Clash of Clans.P1050870

Caitlin: We made our portfolios using Creative Book Builder. We wrote about the things we’d been doing in class and showed it to Andrew and then we presented it to the rest of the class. I really like Keynote, which is like PowerPoint and has different layouts for presentations.  iPads make it really easy for you to work by yourself. You don’t have to say: ‘I want to use this now. Can you move please?’ There are no arguments. My favourite app for home is Dragonvale.P1050851

Daichi:

I did a project on black holes which is a part of space where there is a lot of gravity and I searched for information using Safari. It’s much faster having your iPad to do your work and do research. I like Keynote and Garage Band.

Ethan: I did a project on volcanoes. I looked up volcanic eruptions on Wikipedia – and I also used Safari to do research. I looked at the top sites on the list that came up because they are always the most relevant. We use Dropbox in class; Andrew uploads work for us to Dropbox and it’s just there quickly and easily. I really like Creative Book Builder and at home I use My Brushes Pro which is an art game.

Alison: I did a presentation with a group using Keynote. We used Safari to do research, and then we wrote text and added pictures and presented the information. I like Creative Book Builder and Keynote. The good thing about having iPads at school is that it’s just more fun!P1050862

Irfan: I’ve been writing a narrative on Creative Book Builder. I typed in the text and then added media – pictures and video clips – to create the whole story. It’s really easy to use.  I like to read newspapers and books on my iPad. At the moment I’m reading the autobiography of Zlatan Ibrahimovic (No, I didn’t know either; European soccer player, apparently). And you can email your homework to your teacher. I like Garage Band and Keynote and my favourite game is probably FIFA 13.

Chelsea: I like using Creative Book Builder or Scribble Press for creative writing.  Once you’ve learnt how to use them, it’s really easy and it doesn’t take long. Sometimes I write an outline longhand then I use the iPad to make a book which you can publish and put on iBook. I really like iMovie and Draw free.P1050861

Danna: I really like to use my iPad for maths games; there are lots and they are really fun. I also like making iMovies and using Garage Band. There are lots of good things about the iPads: you can do research more easily, there are great apps for maths, you can do presentations in lots of ways, and I like typing more than writing. At home I play Minecraft – everyone is playing it now – boys and girls. About a year ago no-one was really playing it, but now everyone does.P1050878

When I asked whether the iPads made school more fun, there was a loud and unequivocal ‘yes!’ Ethan said that the really good thing about them was that you didn’t have to stand in line and wait for a computer any more. You could start straight away and use it as long as you needed to. It was much quicker and a lot less frustrating.  Irfan said the iPads made it easy to have lots of new research experiences and it was a lot easier to do projects.  They were much quicker than the old computers which were pretty slow. Sometimes the internet dropped out – and you couldn’t get it in Room 7 – but mostly it was pretty good.

I put it to the group that some parents were a bit worried at the start that kids would spend all their time at school playing games and doing things on their iPads they shouldn’t and I asked them (in strictest confidence, of course ) if they knew of anyone who had ever done this.

Sometime kids do go ‘off task’ I was told. There was one time during silent reading that someone tried to play Minecraft, but they had the volume up so they got caught. And sometimes kids use a feature called Multitask where you can do up to five things at once and you can move really quickly between each one – but the teachers know about it and they check.P1050854

And what about at home? Are there rules for when you can and can’t use your iPads?

Ahmaey told me he’s not allowed to use it after school in the week but can at the weekend and Chelsea said she’s not allowed to use in the mornings or she doesn’t get ready in time, (there was general consensus on this one).  Someone told me they occasionally hide in their dad’s big cupboard full of stuff and play on it in there, and someone else had been known to play under their covers at night.

After the kids had gone back to class, I sat for a while and thought about everything they’d said. I have to say I was impressed; they spoke with such ease and confidence and were very articulate. They have a very broad knowledge of the apps and programs and of the technical aspects of these devices, but they also have a sophisticated understanding of how they can use them as a learning tool. Yes, you can play games on them and that’s fun, but they are about so much more, and these kids recognise that.

It’s a very far cry from how I learnt, and it’s certainly taken me some  time to get used to the idea, but I’m really glad my kids are doing this program and I think they will be very well prepared for high school and afterwards because of ipads@Kew.

Jacqui Tomlins

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The principal goal of education is to create men and women who are capable of doing new things, not simply repeating what older generations have done:  Jean Piaget, French psychologist and education pioneer.