Looking for Arthur? He’s teaching languages on Moodle..

Just before Easter I went to Edinburgh for a mini-break with my son and amongst our many enjoyable outings we ascended Arthur’s Seat, thought by some to be the site of Camelot, the legendary castle and court of King Arthur.

It reminded me, with my #mfltwitterati hat on (Guardian article here) of a great webquest on Moodle that I’d heard about which was designed and developed to make the teaching of English in France more exciting….

The webquest is hosted on a Moodle site called Looking for Arthur and is aimed at pupils in 5e and 6e (11-12 years old) The classess sign up and are presented with, at regular intervals, several “énigmes” which they must undertake, earning points and competing against each other as they go along. At one stage, 180 classes were working through the puzzles, learning about King Arthur and improving their English as they played. The final culminates each year in an exciting day out in the spirit of Arthurian legends (see the 2014 winners here) The webquest even won a prize for its innovative approach to language learning.

Set inside Moodle, the puzzles don’t only use Moodle but also external activities such as Content Generator games, videos and Hotpotatoes exercises, all designed to motivate the pupils whilst also teaching them English and Arthur :) Unfortunately for privacy reasons (there are hundreds of pupils on there!) we can’t look inside the Moodle site, but its creator Mélanie Auriel  English teacher with the Conseil Général du Morbihanhas kindly sent screenshots of some of the activities. So for example here is a vocabulary exercise learning about rebellions against Arthur:

And here is a video activity: watch the video, listen to the lyrics and then do the crossword:

Mélanie is a frequent presenter of free MFL teacher webinars organised by Jürgen Wagner so I do suggest you check them out and be inspired by her next one :)

The Ten Commandments of the VLE

This morning I went to my old school to talk to a group of trainee teachers about making the most of online spaces for teaching and learning. My old school is now a training school for student teachers, and is the Lead School in the local Catholic Teaching Alliance, a group of schools who provide school-led training through School Direct.

This year’s intake for Secondary trainees delightfully included several former pupils of mine, who’d been my guinea pigs in my early Moodling days. However, I’d gone back to talk in general about teaching online, e-Learning and VLEs – but without the online, the e and the V  since, as many have said before, the internet is now so embedded in our day to day experiences in and out of the classroom that it’s ALL learning, wherever we are, and whatever we’re using. We began by talking about how, as a modern teacher you’d never dream of inflicting on your students a  ”Death by Powerpoint” session – so why should you think it’s OK to do it on your learning platform? It’s not.

Image Zac Martin -pigsdontfly.com

They then got together in pairs and discussed what they understood by certain key terms and current “buzz words” they’re likely to meet.  For my part, I was interested to learn that they were aware of “open source software” (gratifyingly from their schoolday ICT lessons) and “Flipped learning” (as they’d had a session on it previously elsewhere), but they were a bit unsure about “MOOCs” and didn’t even know how to pronounce “gamification”, although the concept appealed when they found out more. They made a valiant stab at “App smashing”  and even “Social constructionism”, which I threw in as a teaser for later on.

Following a five minute dash through 20 years of internet-based education, from early LMS incarnations such as WebCT to modern “lite” versions like Edmodo, I then asked them to think about what they might include in whatever online space they might have in their future school. It might not be Moodle; it might be a different learning platform, or they might  even end up going it alone…but what did they think would be useful?

“Putting on past papers and revison materials”, “uploading the worksheets we did in class so they don’t lose them”, “showing them videos” and “linking to  useful websites for our topic” were the (fairly predictable) suggestions from the group. This lent itself beautifully to my explaining the difference in Moodle between resources and activities, the former  being the worthy materials they thought their students would appreciate, and the latter providing  the interaction which could actually develop learning. So we looked at what VLEs and their little siblings typically offer, from discussion tools, to homework tools, to quizzes, all to a greater or lesser extent of complexity. I then  asked them in their pairs to think of examples of how using those tools in their subject might extend the learning done in their shiny new classrooms.  Self-marking quizzes were considered to be a quick way of testing subject knowledge, summative assessment, not much effort needed by the teacher….hmm… so to shake things up a bit, and add some confusion-based hilarity,  we looked at how poorly designed quiz questions can give students an unfair advantage and how to design smarter quiz questions instead.  They had ten  minutes to do that famous “context-free quiz” and justify their responses.

You too can answer this question!!!

Of course, along with designing good questions, you need to have informative and detailed feedback. (In fact you need feedback everywhere, on everything – check out this slide from Martin Dougiamas’ recent keynote speech  ”Give feedback on the feedback” )

slide – Martin Dougiamas (click to see keynote as pdf)

Moodle’s quiz lets you give detailed feedback and more; to misquote insurance companies, “other quizzes are available” – but probably with fewer features. Which led us on to how our teachers of tomorrow planned to use their online space. If the height of their aspiration was  putting on their lesson presentations and worksheets, while that was valuable in itself, it wasn’t going to move the students forward online. If they didn’t want to move them forward online, then fine. But if they hoped to use the power of the internet to draw in  their students, engage them and get them continuing their learning once they leave the classroom, they needed to focus on stuff that gets them (as I call it) “typing and swiping”.  Cue the so-called “Martin’s Five Laws” of Social constructionism and a chance  to explain that the Moodle, at the very least, was purposefully designed to get learners building their learning together.  In their face to face environment, learners are involved in group work, pair work, collaborating on a project, presenting to the class, reflecting on their progress, giving and receiving constructive feedback. So why not also online?

Dutifully at the end of the session, I reminded them they’re training in Catholic schools in a Catholic Teaching Alliance and are hopefully a tiny bit holy… so for their deliberation and well-being we finished by considering the Ten Commandments of the VLE and why it’s in their interests to keep them:


Moodlefairy gets a slice of Raspberry Pi at #RJamboree

So I went to my first Raspberry Jamboree today, a big event showcasing uses of the Raspberry Pi in education, a larger scale version  I suppose of the regular Raspberry Jams held around -well- basically everywhere. I attended as part of the three day marathon  at my former high school Our Lady’s in Preston which also included teacher training, an evening social and a family “hack jam”

I went for several reasons – first, because it was just down the road from me at my old school, so I reckoned even if I didnt know anyone or anything about the Raspberry Pi, at least I’d be in the place which was my second home for 28 years.  Secondly, I went because I’ve known Alan O’Donohoe @teknoteacher since 1985 when he was a pupil in my first ever French exam class, and I remember very well a few years ago sitting with him in the staffroom as he explained with enthusiasm about this tiny computer that was really cheap and had the potential to revolutionise teaching in schools. And  finally, I went because, having watched from afar for the last few years the progress and development of the Raspberry Pi movement, I thought it was about time I saw it for myself and found out whether I was the Pi type or not…

So here are my personal impressions…

Doors open at 10 said the info. I ambled in at about five past to find the restaurant at my school already buzzing with lots of  children and adults, with even more turning up by the time of the official start at 10.30 – the “official start” being Alan standing on a chair and doing a “5,4,3,2,1″ as we do in class. The restaurant (which incidentally is state of the art hi-tech, none of your typical school dining hall) was decked out with Pi-attached monitors for the Pi-less amongst us (like myself)  and a  number of separate areas were in evidence: a talk space where various people spoke about their experiences with Pi, a learning space where tutorial sessions took place, a hack space where I guess people tried stuff out, a Minecraft space with a server and a keen gang of players and a food space with cakes, coffee and  coveted bacon butties. While I noticed that men and boys seemed to make up most of the attendees, I did also  notice a pleasing presence of  girls and their mums keen to learn – in fact; I appreciated the number of parents, male and female who accompanied their children, male and female, with the desire to find out more about this growing movement. And of course  the Leader of the Raspberry Pi Foundation Education mission, Carrie Anne Philbin is a great role model.

After a brief intro by Alan, we moved into the first sessions. I had decided to stay for a couple of hours and in fact I couldn’t have got a more appropriate flavour of Raspberry Pi in the time I was there: Alan ran a beginners class, so I joined that, sitting alongside mums, dads and primary school children  all keen to get Pi-ed up.

I  confess to being a little fazed at first as one of our tasks was to  play a short game either in Minecraft ( a game I simply do not “get”) or Scratch ( a program I have only briefly looked at) and when I chose the Scratch marble game, I realised I didn’t even know what to click to start the game  -  but that in itself was a learning experience; it’s very valuable to be a total newbie and not very skilled at that!  (To be frank, one of the reasons I have so far stayed away from the likes of Pi and the new wave of computing teaching is that I have no interest in developing or hacking games, but I am well aware that’s a big draw for many youngsters.) On the other hand, I adored the “Sabotage” game where we had to deliberately “break” something in our set-up and then get someone else to try and work out what we had done. This totally appealed to my  love of troubleshooting problems, one of the reasons I enjoy helping out on the Moodle forums. It’s all about diagnostics, working through possible causes and eliminating stuff until you solve it. Magic.

And then, again, perfect for my first-time needs, came a fascinating and enlightening ” Brief history of Pi” from Pete Lomas, the Raspberry Pi’s hardware designer:

By this stage I was seeing similiarities in the ambiance of  the Raspberry Jam(boree) with that of  Moodle User Groups and some of the smaller Moots: attendees are passionate about their product; they are enthusiasts and evangelists, experienced or willing to learn from each other. Indeed, as they learn, create and hack together, they’re totally putting into practice the so-called “Martin’s Five Laws” of social constructionism, upon which Moodle is based. And  I had to confess to smiling at Pete’s outlining the differences between model A, A+, B, B+ , Generation 2, Compute and so on… I could tell you equally the changes between (pick a number)  Moodle 2.0 – 2.8 , what’s coming new in 2.9 and so on… My only slight question was – again similar to Moodle events – are they preaching to the converted? How many new participants come each time and how comfortable do they feel  amongst regulars who are all friends? I  expect the answer to that is, an increasing number and they are made to feel very welcome, but I just wondered.

I left after a very pleasant couple of hours with my curiosity satisfied and many questions answered. But I still have some questions left, so here goes

Will I go to another Raspberry Pi event? Probably, especially if it’s on my doorstep. I think I’d be more interested in a session for teachers on teaching with Raspberry Pi – even though I am not likely to teach with Raspberry Pi; it’s something I could relate to.

Will I buy a Raspberry Pi? Possibly. I guess I could attach it to the TV and keyboards and mice are very cheap, but I need to find a purpose for the purchase, a reason for committing myself to it. As mentioned above I’m not interested in games but I have in the past got involved in techie stuff as a means to an end: I actually have  ancient City and Guilds qualifications (Merits!) in Electronics and Radio Transmission in order to join my then boyfiend and his mates in the joys of Amateur radio; I’d never have studied such topics for the sake of it. In a similar way, I’d need to know how getting  a Raspberry Pi could benefit me directly. I guess I could explore Linux and the Terminal – but I already have a laptop with Kubuntu and a Terminal that I venture into from time to time.   I don’t want a hidden camera or dog alarm but I’d still  like to give it a go!  Of course, it’s so cheap I could buy it, try it and if it doesn’t rock my boat, donate it – as Pete Lomas pertinently said, it’s not much different from  a few service station Lattes and cakes.

How does Moodle work on a Pi? A quick Google suggested installing Moodle is do-able – is it slow? Is it functional? What would be the point?

I was  interested in Pete Lomas’  experiences of  the shortcomings of  Computing  students at Imperial and  Cambridge. I suppose it’s early days yet, but is there evidence yet, or how long before we get measurable evidence that Raspberry Pi and associated events are having a beneficial effect on the numbers of pupils taking computing to a higher level and then becoming more skilled at university? 

And finally...would I recommend a Raspberry Jam(boree) to anyone of any age who expresses an interest? Yes, absolutely :)

Moodlefairy goes to Barcelona: #mootes14

Just a few days before Christmas, I left the shivery dark and drizzly north of England to fly to the blue skies and palm trees of mediterranean Barcelona for the Spanish Moodle Moot, #mootes14. Or at least, I tried to. Seconds before take off, the pilot changed his mind (“engine warning light”) and ferried us back to the “station” where we had to get off, wait a couple of hours, get on a replacement plane and finally take off three hours later. Not the most auspicious start, but it could only get better from then. And get better it certainly did! Barcelona is a great city, much improved thanks to the 1992 Olympics. The Moot was on Friday and Saturday and Helen Foster and I decided to stay an extra day to see the sights. Back here in parky Preston, I still can’t get over the fact that we were able to sit out on a cafe terrace , eating lunch in the sunshine on the 21st of December!

We had been invited by Jordi Vila,  of Moodle Partner CV&A Consulting, to present on our MOOC with Moodle, and it was quite timely since we are running the MOOC again from January 11th.  Please join us! Also keynoting were Moodle HQ’s Mobile Expert, Juan Leyva, whom we met for the first time in person,  Gavin Henrick, one of our favourite Moodle evangelists, and our new sight-seeing friend, Stephen Vickers whose workshop on LTI gave us both useful insights into Moodle’s External Tool.

Thanks Roger Domínguez for this photo

Moodle Moots are always great places to connect with people, and we were pleased to see face to face Moodlers we’d only ever seen on the forums and in the tracker before, such as Iñaki Arenaza,  and Pau Ferrer Ocaña  and also to catch up again with yet another Moodle HQ member, Andrew Davis, currently travelling  and blogging the world with wife Tanya and baby Zoe. This photo has four HQ members,  Mary, Helen, Andrew and Juan.. we just missed a fifth, David Monllaó who paid a flying visit on his way home for Christmas.

One thing I found hard to get used to – but I managed it!! – was the timings of the meals. Breakfast -fine – and our hotel, Hotel Condado was very pleasant and centrally situated. But lunch seemed not to be considered at all before 2.30 and it was sometimes nearer 3.30 when we sat down to eat. I would eat anytime between 12.30 and 1.30 in the UK. Evening meal often didn’t arrive until almost 10 o’clock – in the UK that’s the time Mr Moodlefairy is eating supper and the time I am contemplating going to bed… but the quality of the food, the variety of the tapas  and the deliciousness of the wine more than made up for our waits.

On  Saturday morning we did a workshop highlighting the potential of the Lesson activity. It hasn’t had much TLC in recent years, although a very committed French Moodler, Jean-Michel Védrine is currently redressing the balance, for which we are very grateful. It would be lovely to see a focus on Lesson in 2015; fingers crossed and eyes looking out for keen volunteers. We also did an interview for the lovely Itziar Kerexeta and the  unforgettable Josi Sierra which you can watch on youtube here.

The Moot venue was a Music school and so it was quite appropriate that it ended with a sing-song (sort of) where one of the teachers tried to get everyone to sing Moodle Moot  in various voices,  and then when we failed to perform satisfactorily, one of his talented students showed us exactly how to do it and more… a tiny flavour here:

On  Saturday afternoon, Helen, Stephen and I visited Casa Batlló, a Gaudi masterpiece and the most amazing family home I’ve ever been in. By special request (of me) we dined slightly earlier – 8pm :) and on Sunday morning, set off  to visit la Sagrada Família. Ex colleagues at my school told me “Oh-  you should go to the Sagrada Familia” when I said I would be in Barcelona, and I thought, yes, another cathedral; I’ve seen lots of cathedrals, temples, distinctive churches on my travels… And then I saw it!! Like nothing I’d ever seen before!! Thanks so much to Jordi and his team for allowing us the privilege of coming to Barcelona and being able to have these experiences.

Happily the journey back was uneventful, because as soon as we were home, it was Christmas. Now we’re finishing off the remains of the turkey and thinking about the 11th January when our MOOC with Moodle will run again. Will you be there?

Moodlefairy goes to Portugal

In recent years, I’ve attended a fair number of Moodle conferences or Moots, but last week’ s trip to Portugal with Moodle Sites manager Helen Foster was more of a MOOC event than a Moot event. It was a conference dedicated to MOOCS in Europe, how to collaborate on them, the opportunities and issues (threats) posed by them and of course, platforms used for running them. Helen and I had been invited, courtesy of Dublin City University’s  Dr Eamon Costello to present our experiences of running a MOOC using Moodle (which we did, last year, with our Teaching with Moodle MOOC) and which we are running again in January – sign up here! It was an academic conference, Mapping the European MOOC territory and it gave Helen and me a fantastic opportunity to broaden our horizons of and understanding of MOOCs, alongside hearing about others’ experiences with Moodle as a MOOC platform.

image courtesy of Dr Eamon Costello

But not just that! We got to explore Porto – and it’s lovely! Arriving mid-afternoon the day before the conference, we took a walk around the city, Portugal’s second largest after Lisbon and were immediately drawn into Port tasting just across the road from our hotel, the atmospheric Grande Hotel de Paris . During the one and a half days we spent in Porto, we managed three sessions of Port testing – white, ruby and tawny…

We almost missed one of the most amazing sights in Porto as we walked around – a small bookshop which attracted us in with its ornate staircase and turned out to be so Harry Potteresque we googled it – and discovered it did indeed inspire JK Rowling, who used to live in Portugal. Taking photos was restricted to certain times but do, please, look at all the photographs on Trip advisor to get a feel for the experience.

We also got to taste a typical Porto delicacy – Francesinha - interesting …  and, on a separate occasion, we ate in the Stock Exchange – or rather – the former Stock Exchange, Palacio da Bolsa, now an exclusive venue for events. On our table, delegates from England, Ireland, Belgium, the Netherlands, Turkey and Russia, all shared experiences of MOOCS and aspirations for future collaboration. I learned a lot; it was fascinating attending a conference that wasn’t only Moodle-related and seeing different perspectives in online learning. Thanks again to Eamon for your support :)