elearning

A lot is changing in education – there are radical ideas (abolishing homework) through to the more subtle (replacing chairs with bouncy balls). So why pay attention to the “flipped classroom” movement? The idea of a “flipped classroom” might sound foreign and even a little silly, but as you delve into the paradigm you will find, just as I did, that it has the most drastic effect on learning.

The idea is simple – set the learning work for homework and the traditional homework as classwork. The first reaction you will think of (and get from your students) is: They call it homework for a reason, Sir!” But the reality of it is that the traditional homework, where students reinforce their learning and most of the times complete higher order thinking activities is being done at home, without teacher help or supervision. A flipped classroom seeks to fix this. Rather than spending your time in class on lower order thinking skills (remembering, understanding, etc) and teaching content or concepts, asks your students to read an article or watch a video. Arm them with the knowledge so that when they get to class, you can get to what matters – the activities that target the higher order thinking skills. So how does this theory apply in the real life classroom?

I implemented this over a six month trial in a Year 9 Mathematics class. These kids had, for the most part, given up on learning maths. Marks were on the low and unhelpful behaviour was on the rise… Here was a typical lesson:

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When I analysed the activities that my class consisted of, I found that I spent most of my class time on teaching a concept, for example how to find the missing sides of a compound shape. This was a low order skill when classifying it according to Bloom’s Taxonomy. The higher order skills (applying, creating) were set for homework (which was either not complete or copied from the answers).

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So I decided to make the change – from the first day of Term 3, I told students what the plan was: their homework was to watch a video before each lesson. The students were confused and even a little fearful, but the effects were immediate. I was not spending any class time on low order skills – the students were instructed to sit down and start the activity on the board (or the worksheet handed out). There was a few flow on effects from this style of teaching:

  1. The “lessons” were differentiated by default – students could take their own time to watch the video and learn the concept. They could stop, start and replay it at will, and if it took them an extra 20 minutes to do it they weren’t slowing anyone else down!
  2. Behaviour issues were down – students didn’t get upset, embarrassed or confused because they understood the content before the class started and their friends were all at the same starting point walking into the room (regardless of how many times they watched the video!)
  3. Students could revise the lessons before exams (or when they felt like they had to revisit an earlier concept)

In my flipped classroom, this is what my lessons looked like now:

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And this was the new way that Bloom’s Taxonomy was being prioritised:

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It wasn’t all rosy, though:

  • I custom made the videos, which took about 1 hour per lesson – I could use them next year, but the initial investment was high. Had I known about Skwirk at the time I could have used their content instead!
  • Some students still came to class without preparation – once students realised that they weren’t ready for class and the others were contributing freely, the students picked up the slack and watched the videos they missed.

In all, the flipped classroom was a success. I unfortunately was taken off the class at the end of the year, but students actually begged me to make more videos for them!

I highly enjoyed my flipped classroom experience and I hope that you decide to take the leap.

If you would like to know more about my journey or how you can flip your classroom, feel free to contact us to get an online presentation.

Skwirk provides over 18,000 resources that can form the basis of an engaging and meaningful flipped classroom lesson. Take a trial here and see how Skwirk can help your classroom. Keep in touch – we’d love to hear your experiences with flipped lessons!

Are you confused by the NAPLAN test and its purpose, how to assist students in getting through without undue anxiety, or are you hunting for information on student preparation and resources? This time of year we get a lot of questions from teachers, parents and even students so we thought we would put together a quick guide to prepare you in the lead up to the 2016 NAPLAN.

You may have already entered the labyrinthine NAPLAN website, only to become completely disoriented and emerge much later feeling frustrated, dazed, and none the wiser. There really is so much helpful information there, but sifting through it can be very time-consuming and ultimately, somewhat overwhelming. NAPLAN, though, is here to stay for the foreseeable future, so we might as well become familiar with it, like it or not, for the sake of our students. Hopefully, this will help to clarify a few significant details for you, including whether or not NAPLAN tests can, or should, be studied for.

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What is NAPLAN?

The National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN)

Every May since 2008, around a million school students in years three, five, seven and nine, have gathered their collective nerve and poured into exam rooms across Australia to sit our biggest standardised test of literacy and numeracy – NAPLAN. The tests are divided into Reading, Writing, Language Conventions and Numeracy.

Put simply, this test measures what students have been learning already in school. There is no pass or fail grade, but given the subject matter is very broad many students worry about meeting the challenge when they have no idea what to expect or how to prepare for the tests. There is no actual course of study for it and according to the NAPLAN website, there is no benefit to be gained by trying to study for it by drills or too much targeted practice, because of the purpose of the test.

What NAPLAN Is For and How Results Can Be Used

In a nutshell, the test is designed to identify strengths and weaknesses in students’ abilities, so that parents and teachers can respond individually and the government can act on any apparent problem areas, by addressing them in the curriculum. The marking criteria are available on the NAPLAN website so you can see what features are under scrutiny, if you have a bent for grammar, literacy and maths.

Schools and teachers may get a clearer indication of the effectiveness of their teaching strategies and make whatever adjustments they deem necessary to lesson content and methods to improve students’ learning opportunities and outcomes. That means, scrutinising which errors were made by a particular student, then working on areas of weakness, as well as locating strengths and extending them to a higher level. Individual student’s scores are ranked nationally, so teachers, students and their carers, are free to compare their placing with those of others.

Are test results connected to in-school assessments and grading?

NAPLAN results do not impact upon your students’ school grades or class placement. Individual schools conduct their own assessments for those and NAPLAN is completely unrelated.

What’s Included:

For the Writing component, students will be given the same ‘writing stimulus’ from which to complete their task, and to date, they have always been directed to write one of two text-types, either a Narrative or a Persuasive text. These forms might sound daunting, but children use them all the time. ‘Narrative’ simply means ‘story’, and what child hasn’t used persuasive language when engaging in pester power, or listening to a politician or radio advertisement.

These two genres (Narrative and Persuasive writing) are selected because they are the most suitable for showing what skills and ability a student has and they are deemed essential for successful communication at a higher level, thus improving the students’ opportunities in life.

It’s important to give your students ample learning opportunities for both of these different text-types in order that they can be familiar with the standard format and conventions required for satisfying the task requirements.

The numeracy component assesses problem-solving ability and reasoning across three key learning areas: numbers and algebra; statistics and probability and measurement and geometry.

Preparing for NAPLAN

Students do not need to study for the test but ideally they should be prepared for it. That means, engaging in everyday practice in the areas that will be tested, (literacy and numeracy), and becoming familiar with the test format. The knowledge being tested is developed over time, so it’s simply impossible to ‘cram’ for a NAPLAN test. Completing practice tests beforehand makes it easier for students to go in with an understanding of the format and the kinds of tasks they will be asked to do. Most schools now offer students a practice test, (usually just the test from the previous year) within the fortnight prior to testing.

You could buy expensive sample practice-test packages online and books full of NAPLAN study tasks, but the highest advantage is most likely gained by focusing on everyday curriculum requirements and using the free test samples available on the NAPLAN website via the following link:

According to the education specialists who manage NAPLAN, the best way you can assist your child to prepare for the test is to support them well in gaining and increasing their literacy and numeracy skills. The links included above and those below, are for Australian websites that aim to do just that:

Another valuable resource is the online learning platform, Skwirk, which is used in homes and schools. Skwirk offers an enormous opportunity for students supporting literacy and numeracy across the board, while catering to different student’s individual learning styles. Although it does not specifically target NAPLAN, the underlying learning principles are the same as those sought in the testing and students are able to easily access engaging content across all areas of the NAPLAN testing components.

What is the worst thing that can happen if a student fares poorly in a NAPLAN test?

Some significant areas of difficulty have been pinpointed, enabling parents and educators to assist them towards clarification, understanding and move towards a fully functional use of those areas. And remember, the test scores don’t only indicate what a child can’t do, but show us what they have mastered, and provide records of their ongoing progress.

Felicity Wright has taught High School English and English Language for fourteen years, during which, she worked extensively on the range of state and national skills tests including NAPLAN. Now, Felicity works as a freelance writer.

Currently teachers, parents and home educators can subscribe to Skwirk using the discount code NAPLAN for a 20% discount off all individual subscriptions. Offer ends 12th May.

Being a parent is tough! Although the challenges change as your child grows, sometimes it feels as if every day brings a new set of problems to deal with. One issue which caused an enormous amount of frustration in our household was homework. Not only did my children frequently not want to spend time with their books when they could have been doing other things, but to be honest I found homework difficult too. Many of the things I learned at school weren’t relevant to the current Australian curriculum and I discovered it hard to deliver help in a useful way. Thankfully, Skwirk has provided my family with a fantastic solution to the trials that studying brings.

Comprehensive, easily accessible

Skwirk is an online educational resource which contains over 18,000 pieces of text, animation, games, activities and videos designed to enhance learning across the curriculum. The content is aimed at four to 14-year-olds and covers popular subject areas including numeracy, literacy, geography and science. The site is easy to navigate and can be accessed from a laptop or tablet, so the kids can use it in the car or when we’re out and about, as well as when we’re at home.

Learning and assessment

One of the key advantages of Skwirk for us parents is that it contains both learning and assessment elements. We’re all familiar with our children going off to “learn”, only to find that they’ve ended up doing something completely different! Luckily Skwirk includes the option of sending weekly, emailed progress reports to teachers, parents or tutors, so I always know exactly what study has occurred. Because my children can test their learning with online assessments, it’s easy for them to see what progress has been made and where additional assistance is needed.

Not just for homework help

Knowing that Skwirk can provide safe, relevant learning material isn’t just of benefit for homework, the site is also ideal for additional studying and tutoring. I have two children – one who shines academically and really needs content that challenges them and the other who finds learning a real chore, particularly when it comes to maths. Skwirk provides a customisable solution which suits them both. I also find it a great option to use for “top up” practice between tutoring sessions and to extend school learning.

Engaging format

Up-to-the-minute graphics, sophisticated animation and great video clips ensure Skwirk really engages my children’s attention. It’s that good, schools often use it as a reward for good behaviour! My children are always keen to use Skwirk and I’ve found that since we’ve started using it, the number of homework battles in our house has significantly decreased.

Skwirk is an innovative, exciting online resource that is designed to appeal to a wide variety of children and is already proving to be an invaluable learning aid to thousands of children across Australia and beyond. If you want to transform your child’s home learning experience, why not try Skwirk and enjoy the numerous advantages it brings? Find out more about Skwirk, click here. 

A quick search for “online educational resource” will reveal hundreds of different sites, each making impressive claims about their credibility and results. One of the biggest challenges parents face when trying to find a suitable site to assist their children with learning is deciding which one will be best. At Skwirk we understand how difficult that choice can be, which is why we’ve summarised the key reasons parents in Australia and overseas are opting to use us in order to enhance their children’s education. Read on to discover five clear advantages Skwirk brings to e-learning.

Well presented content

Nothing turns kids off a site faster than reams of text! With years of experience in the education field, our team ensures that the information you’ll find on Skwirk is conveyed in a way that children find enormously appealing. Pictures, videos, animation and advanced graphics provide an engaging, flexible learning experience that fuses fun with learning wonderfully well.

All in one place

Children may demand information on anything from multiplication to marine life, so parents need to be prepared! Skwirk contains over 16,000 resources on a wide range of topics, all in one safe, easily accessible place. This saves a considerable amount of time, as there’s no need to spend hours trawling the net and library to find suitable resources. In addition, Skwirk is designed to be user friendly, enabling children as young as four to independently navigate to topics of interest.

Relevant to the current Australian curriculum

A major problem with online research can be verifying the reliability of the information you find. The answer is to use Skwirk as a convenient, all-encompassing solution. All the Skwirk resources are regularly checked to ensure they remain accurate and up to date. Topics are closely tied to the Australian curriculum and include numeracy, literacy, science, French, geography, history and more. This makes Skwirk an ideal homework resource as well as a great study aid.

Parental feedback

A regular emailed update of children’s progress enables parents to quickly assess how much learning their child is undertaking. Skwirk contains not only factual information, but also a selection of testing and assessment resources. These allow children to see whether they’ve understood a topic, as well as providing an assessment tool for parents, home educators and tutors.

Versatile

Skwirk can be used anywhere there’s internet access and adapts well to a tablet in addition to a PC. It’s suitable for children of all abilities and intended for ages four to 14. Skwirk can be used for homework help, revision, general interest, extended learning, differentiated learning and assessment. Many children find it so interesting they’ll even use Skwirk just for entertainment!

Skwirk is a well-established company with a significant track record in providing premium online education assistance to Australian children of all ages and abilities that enhances their learning. Relevant, engaging, adaptable and fun, it’s little wonder that with so many benefits, thousands of parents have decided to make Skwirk a valuable part of their child’s learning experience.

Parents – grab a free trial today. Click here.

Computers are now an integral part of school life across the majority of Australia, but are they being used as effectively as possible? Whilst the majority of schools house a “computer lab” or similar facility, is it the case that this is fulfilling the potential that information technology has to transform the education of thousands of children? Compared to the rest of the world, how does Australia perform when it comes to integrating online learning with the education system?

International leader

Australia is well-recognised as pioneering computer use in schools, to the extent that seven out of eighty schools selected for Microsoft’s prestigious Worldwide Innovative Schools Programme were located in this country. Schools are required to have adequate IT provision on site and many children use Information Technology regularly to enhance their learning.

Barriers still exist

Unfortunately, despite the widespread IT provision that exists, there are still a number of factors that can prevent children getting the maximum benefit from IT resources. Static computers may be awkwardly located for timely, appropriate use, or Australian teachers may not have the technical expertise to use them optimally. Particularly when it come to seamlessly integrating IT into the Australian curriculum, some staff struggle due to insufficient training. These barriers are common to many countries where IT usage is widespread.

Schools are responding pro-actively

Learning from global best practice in education, Australian schools have robust strategies to overcome these issues and ensure that our education system remains one of the most technologically advanced in the world. Tablets are now used widely and many schools are opting for online educational resource sites that are easy to use and frequently offer additional training for teachers in using them for maximal benefit.

Australian schools continue to feature regularly in the higher ranks of numerous statistical collations that compare educational performance between countries. A keen appreciation of the benefits that information technology can bring to students, coupled with a willingness to overcome any challenges that restrict IT usage, results in a school system that welcomes new technology and engages fully in ensuring students enhance their learning through this medium.

Recently I was introduced to the new (and helpful!) features that Skwirk has incorporated into its users’ experiences.

In the past, I’ve been an avid user of Skwirk as a reliable and engaging source of information. Any secondary teacher would agree that trawling the internet for ‘hubs’ of relevant information for students is a time consuming task. That’s where Skwirk, for me, came in handy. It was a place where information had been aligned to the NSW syllabus subjects (for me, junior history) and I could rely on it to be accessible for students of varying levels while also being thorough enough to be a launching pad for further work with varying classes.

Now, with their new features and tools, I find that Skwirk is now even more of a time saver! While still being a hub of information, the ability to manipulate the content to better suit my classes and their needs has made the whole process of preparing a lesson even easier.

Broadly, and simply, the Skwirk tools that I find myself using to the students’ (and my own) advantage (and which help me save time in my preparation and teaching) fall under these three areas:

  1. Engagement through multimedia
  2. Catering content to students’ needs
  3. Explicitly addressing the syllabus/curriculum

Generally when one comes up with a list, it helps to go through them one-by-one, so I’ll start with …

Engagement through Multimedia

Skwirk has always stood out in my mind as being one of (if not the) first Australian-based education website that has effectively and meaningfully integrated multimedia elements into their content. I distinctly remember using animations for junior history topics in the ‘old curriculum’ to really help provide more than just a written/text-based experience for students. Visual learners could understand how causes lead to effects, how Federation came about, and how World War One affected Australia and Australians.

What was also extremely helpful was the fact that these animations and the multimedia elements were already there and designed to address the syllabus and curriculum areas that I was aiming to cover (more on that later). I didn’t need to modify or take time in a lesson to bridge the content – I was saving time both in and out of the lesson!

Now with the changes to Skwirk, the new features that have been integrated into the users’ experiences allow for the teacher to develop more engaging and more meaningful lessons without taking any time away from those other important areas of our work.

Everyone’s pressed for time these days – teachers (arguably) more than most. In between exams and marking, reports and interviews, administration and paperwork, the fundamentals of lesson planning and resource development sometimes can be pushed to the back-burner. That’s certainly not to say that teachers are neglecting their classes or not putting in their best – they are.

Yet I’ve often found that engagement in a lesson is one of those things that takes the most effort. A well designed lesson with relevant and connected content, combined with the genuine learning experiences, all work towards creating those engaging lesson.

Now, on top of the already great multimedia and animations that Skwirk has had in the past, teachers can now develop class-specific pages that combines the Skwirk content and additional content of their own choosing.

This is what I love most about the changes: I can now integrate all those disparate sources of information – like YouTube videos, like images I’ve randomly saved, like audio clips and other animations – to create the engaging and interactive lesson that I need without taking more time!

I’m saving time and making genuine learning experiences for students.

I’ll describe the in’s and out’s generally here and if it sounds complicated don’t worry: It’s infinitely easier when you’re working on the dashboard when you have a subscription.

So let’s say I’ve started the year, and I’ve got a year 7 history class (which isn’t far from the truth right now!). I want them to be excited about history, to develop a passion for the content and the skills, and to really want to come to my classes because they know they will be learning for the long term. Rather than piling up the textbooks onto the cart and wheeling them in, or firing up the photocopier (all of which require time and resources that – as any teacher knows – sometimes we don’t have), I log onto Skwirk.

My school has a subscription, so I can easily get online and start to generate the first lesson. I navigate my way through the vast resources and content that Skwirk (all easily organised under the national curriculum topics and dot-points) until I find the first area year 7 is going to look at: Investigating History – What does history do for us?

The content that the students need is all there, but I know that, in the past, I found a couple of great YouTube videos that are great lesson starters and finishers (a YouTube search for ‘Why is history important?’ and looking for the video by the user Mr. Corwin will do you no wrong) and a few images that really provoke student discussion (quotes from historians that describe why they think history if important).

From the ease of my own computer, I can begin to edit that content that Skwirk has made available to me and integrate the videos and images that I want to include. It takes a few seconds to link to each of the resources, a few minutes arranging the structure of the page, and in no time I’ve got the bulk of that first lesson ready!

I can save that page (as it is) to my own dashboard so that when I walk into class I can have it all up for the kids on my data projector in class or they can access it themselves on the computer room I’ve booked for them. We/they work their way through the content there, being able to watch the videos, discuss what they think, and engage with the content in a way that textbooks and reams of photocopying just doesn’t allow.

Let’s face it: A 21st century kid almost expects there to be a video to accompany whatever it is you’re talking about! Not only can we meet their expectations of an engaging lesson with Skwirk, we can actually exceed it – and it’s quicker to do than ever before!

It might sound simple, but that’s because it really is. I’ve found I’m saving enough time with preparing for each lesson that I’m able to prepare more lessons in each of my ‘planning sessions’ (code for: Late night preparation) and get ahead faster, freeing up time in-school to complete the more time-sensitive and immediate tasks. I am able to give my students more attention.

But, what’s just as helpful: If your school keeps that subscription for the next year, all your material is ready to go day one, term one! There’s no reinventing the wheel or scrambling to find that worksheet that worked last year. It’s all there, saved online, ready to go.

I know I’ll be thanking my past self next year when I have even less initial work to do and am able to focus my efforts on refining and improving my material from last year based on my reflections of the lessons.

I can’t throw my support behind Skwirk enough with their new changes. They are an absolute time saver in terms of preparation – both in the short and long term. You won’t go wrong, no matter your technical level and experience with Skwirk in the past. Find out more below:

Get 25% off an Individual Teacher Skwirk Subscription today with the discount code ‘teaching’. Click here to get started.

Thomas Elley is in his sixth year of teaching, having attained a Bachelor of Education with First Class Honours and a Bachelor of Arts (majoring in History and English) from the University of Sydney. I currently teach junior and senior history in a government NSW school.