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Episode twenty transcript

The Virtual Staffroom Podcast

Episode 20 – Cloud normal - A day with a digital dynamo

 

Joachim Cohen:

Welcome to The Virtual Staff Room, a podcast made for teachers by teachers, and all with a dash of educational technology thrown in. My name is Joachim Cohen. And today, like every day, I'm joined by two rather awesome members of our Technology 4 Learning team, Linda Lazenby and Yvette Poshoglian. Welcome, team.

Linda Lazenby:

Hello.

Yvette Poshoglian:

Hello, guys.

Joachim Cohen:

How are you coping with teaching and learning online, feeling a little like a fish out of water? Well, I can tell you from what I'm hearing, reading and seeing, you're not alone. This is new. This is different. And this is challenging for everyone. Well, almost everyone. The Virtual Staff Room thought it might be time to chat with someone whose bread and butter is the virtual classroom to give you their insider tips tricks and more. In this episode, we are lucky enough to be joined by one experienced practitioner in the online space, Virginia Cluff, Head Teacher Science at Aurora College, New South Wales' virtual selective high school, someone who teaches digitally each and every day. Virginia, welcome to The Virtual Staff Room.

Virginia Cluff:

Thanks, Joe. Great to be here.

Linda Lazenby:

Hi, Virginia. It's Linda here. Can you let us know a little bit about Aurora College and all you do there?

Virginia Cluff:

Sure, Linda. Aurora College has been around since 2015. And we started as the state's first virtual selective high school, servicing rural and remote students. We've been growing to encompass a non-selective year 5 cohort in 2021, which will grow into year 6 in 2022. We are a selective opportunity class for years 5 and 6, and we are a selective high school for our 7 to 10 students. We also have year 11 and 12, and that is non-selective for our rural and remote students in which subjects may not be offered at their home schools or that they would like to join us for in a virtual setting,

Yvette Poshoglian:

Virginia, now, people may not know about Aurora, but to be a teacher at Aurora, you can be actually based anywhere in the state. Where are you dialing in from today?

Virginia Cluff:

I'm from Dunedoo Central School today. So yes, Aurora College has a very unique staffing model. And each year, we run an expression of interest in term three, so this term, in which we encourage teachers from all schools around the state, both rural and remote and metropolitan, if they would like to teach part of their load with Aurora College. So it's a really fantastic way that teachers can come into a new faculty, learn new ideas and technology, and still teach at their homeschool. And they get to work with some fabulous children from rural and remote New South Wales.

Joachim Cohen:

My gosh. Wow. How exciting, and an opportunity I think that anyone who gets the chance to do it would revel in. But it must present some real challenges, Virginia. How do you approach both parts of your day differently, the face-to-face component and then the online component with Aurora?

Virginia Cluff:

So I am lucky, Joe. I actually work for Aurora full-time, but many of our staff across the state work part-time in their home school where they teach face-to-face lessons and then part-time with us where they teach their Aurora College online lessons. And that's all to do with the timetabling that we prepare for. And that's why we have to start the application, and award teachers their positions for 2022, pretty much this term, so that schools can timetable their lessons appropriately, so they can't be in two places at once. But there's a lot of training that we give to our new teachers and a lot of skills that we provide them. Plus, these faculties within Aurora are very supportive and collaborative. And we're all there to support each other. It's actually quite a fun environment to teach in. And we're able to work with some really great kids, but some really great staff from around the state and share some ideas that we may not have thought of before in teaching and learning.

Yvette Poshoglian:

Virginia, I'm keen to hear what you have to say about routine, as a lot of families and teachers and carers are heading online with students. What is the ethos behind routine with the way you work? Do you think it can play a huge role in classrooms and working online? What type of routine do you think works for you best?

Virginia Cluff:

So our routine for Aurora, we obviously have timetabled lessons, so the students are very well aware when we'll be online. So they're very aware that the lesson starts at 9:05 and it's going to end at 10:05, if that was the timetabled time. So they know to be online at that time and they know where we're meeting, which platform. So even we, as Aurora, had to make a slight platform change during this learning from home time, because we do have some metropolitan staff. So traditionally, all of our classes occur in Adobe Connect, which is a fabulous platform. However, it's very bandwidth hungry, and some staff working from home may not be able to open their classrooms and stay connected. So we moved to Teams, which we were already using explicitly for all of our OneNote teaching and learning and conversations, but we're now also using the Meet Now function as our classrooms during this learning from home.

Virginia Cluff:

So letting the children know that, so very clear expectations set at where all of our classes will be at the normal time, publish that time by the teacher in the online classroom. And then once we get to the online classroom, the routine is quite similar. It's a meet and great. It's saying hello. It's checking in with all of our students. Camera's on, really great to see each other's faces. Obviously, you can mark a roll to see who was there. Then some explicit teaching, so what are we doing today? And we use the learning intentions and success criteria in setting that out. So what are we learning today? Why are we learning it? And for the students, how will I know I'm successful? How will I know I've learned that? So that they actually know what they're here for. So we'll do that explicit teaching.

Virginia Cluff:

And then like in a normal classroom, some time to work on it. It could be answering some questions, some group work in some breakout rooms. It could be a discussion. It could be using the whiteboard function in Teams to do a bit of a mind map. Something to demonstrate understanding of what has just been taught. We then can, if there's people coming in late, you can kind of catch up. It's a really great idea to have somewhere on your screen or a note pod, or you've emailed the students what they're doing today so that you can not interrupt the flow of your lesson trying to catch up the kids that might've been a little bit late. You can say, check the Team's chat or check your email and see the work that I've set out and the learning intentions and success criteria. So break it down for them so they know where they're coming in in the lesson and they can review and go, "Okay, I'm up to this bit."

Virginia Cluff:

And when you finish doing the explicit teaching, you can then check on that student and say, "Okay, so you missed the very beginning. Do you have any questions?" But staying in the room with them to answer the questions while they're doing the work creates that kind of harmonious clustering feel that they might be missing from the face-to-face sort of 3D teaching and learning environment. So that's routine in a nutshell for us. I guess at the very end of the lesson, if you've got time or you've got some ability to do some sort of exit ticket or what we learned today conversation, that's a really nice success feeling for the kids that, "I went. I learned this. I'm feeling great." But that could be something that we could work towards.

Linda Lazenby:

I love how you walked us through that. Virginia, clearly, you've put a lot of thought in with your team about how to replicate, as you say, what a classroom experience would be like. It's just so interesting. When we look at primary versus secondary, you mentioned that you have some year 5 students now working at your school. What are the different ways that you approach the primary and secondary?

Virginia Cluff:

Very similar. Routine is incredibly important for our younger students, consistency and knowing what to expect for each lesson. So making it as similar and very comforting, if you like, for them so they know what's coming. So knowing the lesson, knowing the timing, so figuring out so they know what to expect next. And as I said, putting those instructions somewhere where they can access them so they have that comfort that that's really important. And they're comforting for the parents as well if they are there assisting the students, saying that, "Okay, we're doing this and then we're doing this. Okay, so we're up to this bit here." So a note pod somewhere, as I said, or an email can really help with understanding where the lesson is going.

Virginia Cluff:

At the end of the lesson, I said, "What have we learned?" Well often we talk about table talk. It's something that I, as a science teacher, I was trying to give the kids. Okay, so what did we learn today? What conversation could you start tonight at the dinner table with mum or dad or a brother or a sister or someone? Could you teach them one fact we learned today? So we often try and incorporate something like that. What's your table talk moment of today? Or what could you tell mum or dad tonight? Teach them something new for me. That's kind of where the primary kids can also get that feeling of, "Oh, I did learn something today and I feel like I had success today." So that's probably the main difference. We really try and run them quite similarly. Obviously, there's different content, but just that whole making them feel like as normal as they can in an online space is probably the secret.

Joachim Cohen:

I love that, the sound of table talk. That's a really great tip, I think, for everyone out there, so that parents too know what's happening inside the classroom and are engaged as well. And speaking of engagement, I remember you mentioned the word 3D just a moment ago, and it sparked something. Way back in 2020, you and some of your team ran an amazing session, 3D to 2D Teaching : The New Rules of Engagement. How do you do it, Virginia? How do you keep people motivated, engaged, and excited about their learning?

Virginia Cluff:

Yeah. So stepping from 3D to 2D was quite a challenge because you really want to ensure engagement. And as a science teacher and head of science, I'm asked consistently, "How can you possibly teach science in a 2D or online situation?" So there's lots of ways we encourage the students to remain engaged. Yes, we run science practicals face-to-face in their homeschool, but we only get one per fortnight. So we do lots of... you can do demonstrations. And this is where you could prerecord something. You could use Teams, share your screen. You could use a webcam to record a little experiment. And perhaps you play that with the class when you're having your face-to-face lesson time, and they analyse and see if they can guess the result or analyse some data. Something like that.

Virginia Cluff:

With our older students, we use things like PhET simulations, which is an online platform filled with lots of information. YouTube has amazing experiments and things you can share with your students. You can use song. Believe it or not, there are many terrible songs written about science. And some of those are so memorable the students can't get them out of their head. And that sometimes helps to anchor a concept. So teaching with song is very powerful. Using lots of different ways to engage them. So perhaps it's a stimulus piece of material. And you'll find online learning, if you can, could be quite conversational. And I know some people are looking at really big cohorts. So finding ways to work in small groups, perhaps using, as I said, breakout rooms or smaller group work to break down a question or a concept to keep them engaged. So break it apart, get every group to work on a part and then bring it all back together and see if you can teach someone else. So one group could teach the rest of the class.

Virginia Cluff:

There's lots of Web 2.0 tools, and that's where the digital learning selector, which the department put out. So using some of those tools to increase engagement from Paint 3D, or the new PowerPoint 365 where you can use the Designer. There's lots of tools you can use that might be different, that will introduce a different set of skills that can increase engagement because they're learning something new but using a tool they possibly haven't used before. So constantly looking for ways to increase engagement in the classroom is what we do all the time.

Virginia Cluff:

At Aurora, we actually are running even right now, I run a session, sorry, every day at 1:00 for our staff, called Tech Talk. And I found it a really cool way to engage with a lot of staff. We run a half an hour session in Teams. It's open to everyone. It's in an open channel. And people can bring a problem they've encountered today. I can't get this to work or that to work. Or they can come with a new tool they've found. Did you know PowerPoint does this? Has anyone seen 3D paint in augmented reality mode? So we just kind of bring it together. We record it and we just pop it in our staff room. Then if anyone wants to watch 30 minutes of what we chatted about Tech Talk, it's kind of a nice way to connect. We often eat our lunch while we're doing it.

Yvette Poshoglian:

Virginia, I feel like you're leading a master class here for all of us. And that just sounds like a fantastic idea, to grab your staff, keep the teamwork happening and troubleshoot at the same time. We've talked a lot about the teacher to student dynamic, but just touching again on working with your colleagues, what's a great approach to the teaching and learning from maybe a stage or faculty level, working with your colleagues? You've got that session that you've set up, but maybe on a subject by subject basis, how is that working? Any great ideas there?

Virginia Cluff:

Yeah, the only big tip I can give everybody is find one person to work with, to collaborate with. If you can find 10, that's great, but just one will reduce your workload by 50%. Share the construction of the learning, share the lesson preparation of what you're doing. We've created a team with just our teachers. So I have a year 7, 10 or year 8 or whatever they are. And this is our teaching and learning space. We share ideas, concepts, but we've also divided up the week in... sorry, we're talking about the term. We divide it into fortnights because that suits our learning style and about how our topics are divided up. And every single person in the faculty knows which week they're on. And they are responsible for creating the series of lessons, learning experiences and practical experiences for that fortnight.

Virginia Cluff:

And then we do it for the whole year. Obviously, we can swap around as things happen, but we map that out. And that just means that when I get to week four, say, I can look out there and have a look at the resources that have been curated or the way some other people have put together some learning, and pick and choose the bits I like that suit my learning style, so that we are not all developing a lesson on cells, because cells are still cells. They haven't changed for a very long time. Why are we all building a lesson on cells? Why doesn't one person build some resources on cells and some interactives or a great website to visit or some images you want to discuss, and let us pick and choose from them and pull together our own lesson in our OneNote, which we then distribute to our own students? So it's not prescriptive. It's not how we have to teach. The materials pulled together address the outcomes in the scope and sequence. And you know and have confidence that these materials over here are directly in relation to the program you're teaching.

Virginia Cluff:

So I cannot recommend highly enough, if you can only find one person to collaborate with, start a team, open a OneNote, divide up. I don't mind if it's weeks, buckets, topics, whatever you would like, lesson, but at least you're only doing half of them because you can share what you've created together.

Linda Lazenby:

I love really focusing on that collaboration, Virginia. So important. With teachers with the teaching face-to-face, but also at this time of remote learning for so many of our teachers, what is your top tip for teachers that are exploring remote learning for the first time?

Virginia Cluff:

I guess my top tip is really, truly find someone you can collaborate and work with. It's not to try too many tools at once, Linda. Just get confident and start with Teams. If you're just opening the Teams meeting and you're sitting and talking to your students and explicitly teaching, that's great. Then move to sharing your screen. Perhaps you've got a short PowerPoint, or you can even just share the screen and show the OneNote page you've typed up some notes on. So start small and work big. You don't have to be the flashiest, most advanced tech user in the world. Just start small, but that connection with your kids in a teaching space is so important. Turn the camera on, talk to them, teach them. You can just teach the normal concept you're going to teach. I'm sure you've got a lesson plan.

Virginia Cluff:

And then give them the questions that you wanted them to do. So you can email them the questions. Yes, you could create a OneNote page. You could type them in the chat if you really had to, but staying online and helping them work through those questions is so important for them to feel that you're there to help support them, because you're the normal teacher. They really want to see you in an online experience.

Joachim Cohen:

It's so interesting to hear you say, Virginia. I know in some other conversations that we're having this week, that real importance of presence really came up. And I think you're ramming that home for all our listeners again. And we've got one final question for you, Virginia. And that's, can you remember way back to your first week of teaching online? What would 2021 Virginia say to yourself back then?

Virginia Cluff:

Don't try too many tools at once. I'm a bit of a tech nerd and really like experimenting. And I think that can be quite overwhelming when you start teaching online. But it is back to, something I wrote before is be a feedback master. So even though teaching the explicit content is super important, learning to give really good feedback and in a variety of way is so important to what the students do. So one, they know you're checking on them and they're going to complete the work, but two, don't give them just great work, give them some constructive feedback on how to improve an answer or how to better an answer or use more scientific language or deepen their knowledge around this particular point. That would be something I would definitely want to say.

Virginia Cluff:

My very first lesson was a very long time ago, and it was a year 7, and I believe it was back in 2011. And I was very nervous about imparting my groove, but a bank of resources from a collaborative faculty was my savior. So being able to pick and choose those and being able to construct a lesson that I felt confident in really helped. And as I said, it's a gradual build of skills in online learning. Don't feel like you need to be able to use all the buttons in Teams in the very first lesson. So the most important thing to do is if you are an enthusiastic teacher, that enthusiasm will come across in an online environment. You can still be the teacher you were in the 3D space. Continue that enthusiasm and continue to have those conversations with your students. They will appreciate it.

Joachim Cohen:

Thank you so much, Virginia. You are inspiring so many, I can tell, with your tips, your passion. Your enthusiasm has shown through. As Yvette said, what a masterclass. But we do have one little further question that we didn't tell you about. And it's called rocket ship robots. So you might have seen or listened to a podcast over in the UK called Desert Island Discs. And they challenge their presenters to come up with the discs, the CDs, the tracks they take with them to a desert island. But we're technology podcasts, so of course, we're going into outer space. And what piece of technology would you take with you, Virginia Cluff?

Virginia Cluff:

It's very hard. I would probably just take my laptop. I would take my laptop. I really would. My technology, I can do everything I need to do from that. I don't need anything else. But yeah, just my laptop. And that's probably what I would take with me. I know that's really boring. I could take my 3D printer, but no, I'd definitely take my laptop.

Joachim Cohen:

Ooh. I like that second idea too. 3D printer, you can have whatever you want after that. Very clever.

Virginia Cluff:

That's it. I was thinking that. Could I 3D print my laptop? I don't think I could.

Joachim Cohen:

Not just yet, soon. So Virginia, on behalf of all of us here at The Virtual Staff Room and all our listeners, thank you so much for your wise words, your enthusiasm, your passion, and for sharing it with us. Thank you so much.

Virginia Cluff:

No problem at all. It was great to chat to you all. And look, I hope it does give some people some confidence to try online learning with their kids. It's a really great way to stay engaged and connected to them.

Joachim Cohen:

Well, we've heard from our expert, Virginia, but our podcast would not be complete without some extra gems from the team. Linda and Yvette, what have you found to make teaching from home just a little bit easier?

Linda Lazenby:

Well, Joe, I was having a think through some of our earlier episodes of The Virtual Staff Room. We had a great interview around Safer Internet Day with Kellie Britnell from the Office of the eSafety Commission. And it probably is a really good opportunity to build in that digital citizenship into your lessons and into the work you're doing with your students. The department's digital citizenship website has some fantastic resources to build in that respectful, responsible, and safe use of digital spaces for your students. So jump into that website and see what you can find.

Yvette Poshoglian:

That sounds really great, Linda. Really timely to get back on board with the digital citizenship. I am bringing to the table Canva. Canva for Education is a new product available in your portals. This premium edition that I really recommend teachers check out. You've probably already been using it for your classroom. There is a fantastic distance education toolkit. And what it does is it contains lots of templates for teaching at home, learning at home. You don't need to reinvent the wheel, everyone. There's lots of easy to use templates that you could modify. And of course, being Canva, so bright and appealing and fun and graphics heavy. So I would recommend you check that out before you start getting too invested with creating lots and lots of things online. So check it out.

Joachim Cohen:

I love those as well, Yvette. They're so easy to modify and change. That's for sure. And we'll pop a link into where people can find more details in the show notes. You're right. But look, on channeling Virginia, her ideas about getting your students engaged when they're online. And I went out and found some resources from Porsche, of course, four wheels. And I found something called Get Creative with Porsche. And these are masterclasses. And my favorite one is all about how to design the next car. So I think our students could channel the amazing tips from the Porsche designers and develop what they think the future of mobility looks like. So get creative with Porsche. There is totally a link in the show notes.

Yvette Poshoglian:

Well, wouldn't be right if there wasn't something four wheels, Joe. So that sounds great.

Joachim Cohen:

So are you feeling inspired, motivated, loaded with top tips and new dispositions to boost your online classroom? We here at the T4L team want to thank you for all the amazing work you do each and every day and for the awesome can-do activity you've all found to make learning from home magical for your students. We here at The Virtual Staff Room truly salute you. You are all in our thoughts. And make sure you check out our other online learning special editions to support your journey.

Yvette Poshoglian:

Just a little note. Please be aware that all views expressed by the podcast presenters, that's us, are our personal opinions and not representative of the New South Wales Department of Education. Discussions aren't endorsements of third party products, services, or events. And please note that as much as we sound like it, we are not experts in legal ease, tech speak or anything in between. We're just passionate people keen to boost technology for learning in the classroom and to help build the skills in your students, and for you to solve the problems of tomorrow. Do your due diligence. Read further. And if we've got something wrong, let us know. We too are always learning and always improving.

Joachim Cohen:

This podcast has been produced by the masterful Jacob Druce with the assistance and supreme coordination of many more awesome members of the T4L team. Before we go, please make sure you send us through your comments, your word of techno wizardry wisdom, we'll get back to them, don't worry, your learning from home tips, and your thoughts for new guests and segments. And if you like the podcast, give us a rating so more and more educators find us and be inspired to get a little techie in the classroom. Stay awesome. Stay compassionate. Stay safe, everyone. And thanks for joining us.