Has Education arrived in the 21st Century yet?

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This interesting table, comparing 20th and 21st Century learning, was conceived by William Rankin, a well credentialed doctor of Education from ACU, Texas. This graphic, which I found on Educational Technology and Mobile Learning, was originally published on iThinkEd in 2007, where you can read Rankin’s full thoughts that led to his creation of this table.

What’s fascinating for me is the fact this was written 7 years ago. It doesn’t date the message. It challenges us as educators to reflect on how far we have actually progressed. I started hearing the talk about 21st Century Learning back in the 90s and here we are in 2013 and, looking at this chart from Rankin, we have to ask ourselves; for all the talk and planning, have we really moved out of the 20th Century and embraced what this nebulous concept of 21st Century is really about? We marvel at the innovators we love watching on TEDTalk videos. We build our great contemporary learning spaces. We create our visionary policies and curriculum documents. And yet, if we take the comparisons Rankin presents here at face value and accept his point of view, we probably have to admit we are still struggling with the ‘Education Revolution’.

Of course, revolutions aren’t meant to be easy. In terms of the Education variety of revolution, it takes:

  • Money  (a lot of it to even get close to the technology needed in many of the visions – we need to resource more than just the richest of Western World schools)
  • Training (for every tech savvy educator, there is a hundred needing support)
  • Change of Mindset (years of doing it a particular way does not go away overnight)
  • Time ( evolution is easier to plan for than revolution)
  • Effort ( can we sustain being the ‘super teachers’ the leaders of the Revolution expect?)

So let’s look at the 6 comparisons Rankin makes here and ask the hard questions ( I don’t have the answers yet!)

CLASSROOM PRESENTATIONS AND MATERIALS

  • Are we as teachers still in the 20th Century and pre-conceiving and preparing all the content the students need?
  • Do we still spend most of our time sourcing all the resources and learning materials needed for the learning experiences in our schools or are we handing that responsibility over to the students so we have time to think about how we can teach them?
  • Do we see learning as a dynamic experience that needs the students to be actively involved in or are we still doing all the preparing and thus not allowing for individual interests?
  • Is any of this our fault or is it caused by the demands of Education departments prescribing a set curriculum we have to cover and then get assessed on by standardised tests that students and teachers have no control over? Can we promote 21st Century LEarning  in this environment?

TEACHER/STUDENT ROLES IN CLASSROOMS

  • What does it look like at your school? Despite open, collaborative spaces are teachers still front and centre at the whiteboard ( interactive of not) in control of the conversation and the learning time while students passively listen and respond?
  • Have teachers old and new had sufficient training in how to get their students to become participants and agents while they guide and mentor them?
  • Are our students prepared to take on that challenge or do they still have it engrained in them through current societal/familial expectations that it is still up to the teacher to do all the work as the status quo has been for so long? Are we expecting too much of young minds to know what they want to learn?

HOW WE DEAL WITH INFORMATION

  • Do we still place emphasis on displaying, organising, summarising and explaining because it is a more visible form of learning, easier to assess and present to parents and administrators, and more closely linked to standardised tests that ‘verify success’?
  • Do we know when our students are actually ready and capable of finding, assessing, synthesising and utilising information? Do we know how to assess how well they are achieving these skills? Are we sufficiently trained in teaching students how to use these skills?
  • Do students and parents (teachers?) value these higher level skills as much as the easier to identify/rank/reward 20th century skills?

ACCESS TO COURSE CONTENT

  • Are we still putting most of our classroom learning on temporary/inaccessible materials like sheets of paper and wipeable boards because its easier to do? Why do we throw out/store/hide so much of the recorded learning in a grade when 21st Century theory stresses the importance of students having access to content at any time?
  • Will entire education systems ( not just clusters of well resourced schools) ever reach a time when everyone really has enough access to technology that allows for the ‘on demand’ access to content 21st C Learning expects?
  • How many teachers are sufficiently aware of the technology available that can provide this access and how can we train them so they see it is easy to do and beneficial?

ACCESSIBILITY OF STUDENTS AND TEACHERS

  • Is it socially acceptable yet in the eyes of society and current laws for students and teachers to have regular online contact with each other, given the the way social media is portrayed?
  • Is it realistic or even fair to expect teachers to be available 24/7 for students to seek their assistance? Are we not allowed to have private time like every other occupation?
  • How well versed in digital citizenship are both teachers and students in order to use social media responsibly and effectively?
  • Are Education departments even close to ready for this to become a norm in our way of teaching?

CURRICULUM DISCIPLINARY BOUNDARIES

  • Why are we still set in our ways in boxing learning into Literacy blocks, Numeracy hours, Computer classes, Art electives and Inquiry time?
  • How long will it take to make learning truly integrated like life in general is?
  • If we believe in collaborative learning, can we ever get the Maths teacher, the English teacher, the History Teacher and the Science teacher all together in the same collaborative learning space working on the same project with all of their disciplines intertwined into the same task with them contributing their special knowledge skills as a cohesive unit? Do we even know if that is possible?
  • Is it possible in a climate that is perceived as controlled  by isolated pockets of narrow testing regimes that don’t assess collaborative interdisciplinary learning?

Now I’d be kidding myself if I could achieve all that I ask here. But if you accept the vision of 21st Century Learning presented by Rankin here, is this not what is being asked of us. I consider myself to be a decent 21st Century teacher. I love sitting back in the lounge room at night with laptop or iPad in hand giving feedback to students on Edmodo. I do my utmost to get content online so students can access it at all times so they have some support when they need it and can reflect on learning achieved in class during the day. I ask the big questions that encourage them to go beyond recording information. I am surrounded by technology and have a love of using it. But it’s not fair to expect that of everyone and its unrealistic to expect everyone to have access to the same resources. School systems aren’t sufficiently resourced in the expensive equipment ( neither are all homes), large numbers of teachers both new and experienced aren’t sufficiently trained. We are well into the second decade of the 21st century. We still have a lot of catching up to do.

How do you see the current state of education in terms of the 21st Century Learning/Education revolution debate? Are schools achieving the goal as a whole or are we still just seeing pockets of change from individuals or small groups? Is it too much to expect 21st Century Education to have arrived just because we are in the 21st Century? How close are we to the dream? Join the conversation.

Creativity – the challenge of defining, developing and assessing it

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Thanks to Education Week‘s blog for drawing my attention to this work on Creativity.

Creativity is defined as one of the four 4Cs of  Learning and Innovation in 21st Century learning. This OECD Creativity working paper is an interesting start in working out how we can define, develop and assess this wide ranging ‘skill’ we call Creativity. On display in the image above is a protype assessment tool developed from much research as outlined in the working paper.

It aims to break down Creativity into 5 main dispositions and then divides these dispositions into 3 sub-habits ( following is an excerpt from the working paper that briefly outlines these :

The Five Creative Dispositions Model

The five dispositions on which we decided to focus were arrived at after careful weighing up of the pros and cons of existing lists of creative dispositions in the light of our criteria. Our model explored the following five core dispositions of the creative mind:

1. Inquisitive. Clearly creative individuals are good at uncovering and pursing interesting and worthwhile questions in their creative domain.

−  Wondering and questioning – beyond simply being curious about things, the questioning individual poses concrete questions about things. This enables him, and others, to think things through and develop new ideas.

−  Exploring and investigating – questioning things alone does not lead to creativity. The creative individual acts out his curiosity through exploration, and the investigating individual follows up on her questions by actively going out, seeking, and finding out more.

−  Challenging assumptions – a degree of appropriate scepticism is an important trait of the creative individual. This means not taking things at face value without critical examination.

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2. Persistent. In line with Thomas Edison’s remark above, this section has been repeatedly emphasized.
−  Sticking with difficulty – persistence in the form of tenacity is an important habit of mind enabling an individual to get beyond familiar ideas and come up with new ones.
−  Daring to be different – creativity demands a certain level of self-confidence as a pre- requisite for sensible risk-taking as well as toleration of uncertainty.
−  Tolerating uncertainty – being able to tolerate uncertainty is important if an individual is going to move ‘off of the starting blocks’ on a project or task where actions or even goals are not fully set out.
3. Imaginative. At the heart of a wide range of analyses of the creative personality is the ability to come up with imaginative solutions and possibilities.
−  Playing with possibilities – developing an idea involves manipulating it, trying it out, improving it.
−  Making connections – this process of synthesising brings together a new amalgam of disparate things.
−  Using intuition – the use of intuition allows individuals to make new connections and arise at thoughts and ideas that would not necessarily materialise given analytical thinking alone.
4. Collaborative. Many current approaches to creativity, such as that of John-Steiner (2006), stress the social and collaborative nature of the creative process.
−  Sharing the product – this is about the creative output itself impacting beyond its creator.
−  Giving and receiving feedback – this is the propensity to want to contribute to the ideas of others, and to hear how one’s own ideas might be improved.
−  Cooperating appropriately – the creative individual co-operates appropriately with others. This means working collaboratively as needed, not necessarily all the time.
5. Disciplined. As a counterbalance to the ‘dreamy’, imaginative side of creativity, there is a need for knowledge and craft in shaping the creative product and in developing expertise.
−  Developing techniques – skills may be established or novel but the creative individual will practise in order to improve. This is about devoting time to a creative endeavour.
−  Reflecting critically – once ideas have been generated, evaluation is important. We could call this ‘converging’. It requires decision-making skills.
−  Crafting and improving – this relates to a sense of taking pride in one’s work. The individual pays attention to detail, corrects errors, and makes sure the finished article works perfectly, as it should.
On first glance, I didn’t get the tool but then I found this part of the paper, which explains the purpose of the segments. Read the paper for more detail.

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Here is a Scribd version of the paper in full for you to view in its entirety. I’m not commenting on it here until I have read it fully but am interested in your opinions about defining, teaching and assessing Creativity, either your own ideas or a response to this  effort from the OECD.

OECD Creativity Working Paper

Getting into the right mindset for better learning

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Thanks to Educational Technology and Mobile Learning for drawing my attention to this infographic. I hadn’t heard of this learning theory and finding this drew me into performing a couple of quick searches to get a bit of background information on the Fixed v Growth Mindset research. Originating from Stanford University psychologist/researcher Carol Dweck , its premise (from my initial reflection) is that as learners, we can either improve our intelligence through hard work or that we are born with a skill set and intelligence level that we are stuck with.

What makes this powerful to consider as teachers ( and parents) is that we need to reflect on how much impact we can have on the learning and lives of our children. If we resign ourselves, which I have done often in my 25 years as a teacher so I’m not ‘absolving myself from sin’, that there is not much we can do for some students because they are “just like the rest of their family”, we are not doing our job. If we look at underachievers and their test scores and accept that they will forever be underachievers – or if we allow them to accept their position in life without making the effort – we have failed in our duties.

After finding this research last week, I just happened to watch “Coach Carter”, thanks to my son’s choice for our weekly family movie night. Based on a true story, either Carter or the scriptwriters were big supporters of Dweck’s theory. Yes, there is no doubt a bit of Hollywood Hyperbole is involved here, just like in ‘Stand and Deliver’, but it really resonated with me as I watched it from the teacher’s point of view.

For those unfamiliar with the film, Coach Carter takes over a basketball team from a low achieving high school and demands the players meet academic expectations to stay on the team. After the obligatory instant success as a basketball team, Carter finds his players are failing and slacking off and he locks the gym and cancels games until they reach the academic goal. Parents, some teachers and the local community ( as an Australian, I am forever amazed by the importance of school basketball to you Americans!) protest and force the reopening of the gym, to the dismay of Carter who laments the lack of priorities toward education.  In the end, the players themselves, with the support of some teachers realise that their education is more important and impose their own bans until they succeed in school.

I particularly like this clip, in which Carter (Samuel L Jackson) explains to the boys why he is so committed to their educational success.

This scene and the movie overall encapsulates all that the infographic summarises about Growth Mindset –

  • Developing a desire to learn
  • Embracing challenges
  • Persisting in the face of setbacks
  • See EFFORT as the path to Mastery
  • Learn from criticism
I reflect on the students I have taught over the years and I can see “the Fixeds” and “the Growths” and I wish I had pushed some of “the Fixed” more. From the teacher pleasers who made teaching easy but were never challenged ( and when I checked their VCE results in Year 12, didn’t do as well as I hoped). To that ‘too cool for school’ boy I often quote to colleagues in jest who, in response to me challenging him during a lesson, remarked, ” I didn’t know I had to remember this stuff!!” But also the success stories – the newly arrived Sudanese girl who worked her butt off to go from 4/50 on a start of year Maths assessment to 36/50 by year’s end. That ‘labelled underachiever’ I had a few years ago, whom I encouraged enough to join the ‘advanced maths’ kids in our class and pushed and pushed himself until he felt he belonged with them. And then there are those stereotyped Indian and Chinese students in our grades. Are they all gifted with great intelligence or have their parents just developed in them a great work ethic based on the Growth Mindset model?
So where do we sit as teachers? It’s a tough job teaching, and it’s getting harder and harder with all the bureaucratic requirements. Regardless, though, are we willing to accept the Fixed Mindset in our students? Or in ourselves?
OR are we going to embrace the Growth Mindset model and strive to get every one of our students to improve through our and their hard work?
Reflect for a moment on the five categories within the Infographic’s take on Mindsets.
CHALLENGES: Do we avoid challenging our students/ourselves for fear they/we will struggle?
OR
Do we embrace the potential benefits of the struggle and grow as a result?
OBSTACLES: Do we allow our children/ourselves to give up when learning becomes too difficult and stay in a growth- limiting ‘comfort zone’?
OR
Do we expect our childen/ourselves to persist until we overcome those obstacles and celebrate the achievement of success against all odds?
EFFORT: Do we resign ourselves to a predetermined level of achievement and accept that trying is fruitless and improvement is impossible?
OR
Do we realise that sustained effort is the  path to real learning FOR ANYONE?
CRITICISM: Do we avoid/ignore/complain about justifiable criticism because we are more worried about self-esteem than improvement?
OR
Do we actively seek out critical feedback for our students and ourselves to improve learning?
SUCCESS OF OTHERS: Do we avoid helping and working with others, seeking advice from others because we are threatened by being seen as inferior or worried we are making others look better than you (applies to students and us)?
OR
Do we actively seek out help, get inspired by others’ work, learn from their successes and improve ourselves as a result of trying to match them?
I don’t mean to sound like I’m pontificating. This is, as always, a personal reflection, like many non -iPad Mr G Online posts. I was very much a Fixed Mindset person during most of my school life. A teacher pleasing, straight A ( except PE!) student who only answered when he knew he was right. I cruised through school without being challenged or challenging myself beyond collecting unlimited trivia facts to impress my fans. As a teacher, I have embraced both mindsets for myself and my students and still do today…because the Growth Mindset is hard. So I’m in no way putting myself on a pedestal. I’m calling on myself AND you to reflect on your mindsets to improve the learning of all our students. Yes, it’s a lot harder to do than what can be achieved in 120 minutes of Hollywood Sports Movies but we have to try to inspire kids to want to be great. Great is not nerdy. Great is cool.

To finish, I’d like to quote an inspirational poem I knew nothing of until, yep, “Coach Carter” – Marianne Williamson’s “Our Deepest Fear”. Let’s not be scared to be the best we can be.

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.

It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.
We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant,
gorgeous, handsome, talented and fabulous?

Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God.

Your playing small does not serve the world.
There is nothing enlightened about shrinking
so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.
We are all meant to shine, as children do.

We were born to make manifest the glory of God within us.
It is not just in some; it is in everyone.

And, as we let our own light shine, we consciously give
other people permission to do the same.
As we are liberated from our fear,
our presence automatically liberates others.

And for a little extra emotional impact, recited by ‘last to get but needed to the most’ Timo Cruz in “Coach Carter”

Link to article ‘Even Geniuses Work Hard”

Using “secondary/tertiary sources” (yeah Wikipedia!) to improve your research

My last post highlighted my recent use of a web tool, Meograph, in creating a history resource about Australia’s history for my 5/6 team at school. While my previous blog entry centred on my presentation of the topic, today’s post is more concerned with how I collected the information contained within my Meograph.

Wikipedia can often get a bum rap from many in the education community. Sometimes, it’s for good reason, as it can be a VERY overused information source by students AND adults alike. I wrote a post in defense of Wikipedia back in March 2012 so I won’t go into battle for it again. Today I want to reflect on its benefits as a starting reference or secondary (maybe tertiary) source to start of your research, based on how I used it to research my History resource.

When I undertook the task of creating my Australian History Meograph, I had no qualms about heading straight to Wikipedia as a starting point. I searched Australian HIstory timeline and sure enough, I found the Timeline of Australian History Page as well as, with the help of Google (the lazy student/researcher’s other ‘great friend’) various other timelines of varying quality, accuracy,reliability and depth.

Now I could have just copied and pasted dates from the Wikipedia article, added some pictures and I would have had my Meograph finished in a day, ready to be used as a quick reference for a group of 10-12 year olds to access at the start of a History unit. How much do we want kids of this age to read about anyway? That, of course would have been unprofessional and a waste of an opportunity to follow a process I hope to instil in students ( and hopefully, teachers) I work with this year and beyond. ( in no way am I suggesting I have started a revolution in researching here but particularly for students in pre-university, it’s a process that needs to be modelled and taught better than it has been in the past.)

The Wikipedia timeline became my starting point for every moment that I added to my Meograph. It was a comprehensive, wide ranging collection of events in the history of my country, many even this old “font of useless knowledge” ( one of my official nicknames!) wasn’t aware of. However, it was just a collection of facts, which students might think is enough, but it isn’t. What I want my students to come to terms with this year is that bibliography filled with Wikipedia, Answers.com and Google Search results  links is not a bibliography, nor is it evidence of any sort of research .

Instead, each event on the Wikipedia timeline became the beginning of the real research as I sought out first of all verification on the actual date ( some were wrong –  but then some were wrong on some official Australian government sites too!), a collection of sites to corroborate the facts on the event ( while I was only able to reference one link on the Meograph, I fact checked every event with several references) and whenever it was possible, actual primary sources that proved the event beyond a shadow of a doubt. Now, of course, I could have done this without Wikipedia but I believe starting with the much maligned site had several benefits that will transfer over to the students’ use.

  1. Where do I begin? The biggest problem I have found with student research in the past ( apart from them just using Wikipedia and the first page of Google search results) is the difficulty they have getting started with a Google Search. Despite years of workshops on “How to use Google Search more effectively”, the problem still comes down to what do they actually type into the search engine. I’m of the belief that starting with a Wikipedia article sharpens the focus of a student’s research. This is because a wikipedia author has already pooled many of the basic facts a student needs into the entry, meaning the student has most of what he needs to research in front of him.
  2. Key Word search – From there, the student can better put together the required key words and phrases to make his search on Google much more productive. I’ll admit that I found better results using the basic points found in the timelines I used rather than thinking of what to search for with such a broad topic.
  3. Secondary source drives me to primary source – Because I knew I was starting from a secondary/tertiary source like Wikipedia or one of the other timeline sites I found, I was more focused in finding evidence from more specific sources. Starting from the secondary meant I had the basic idea I needed to complete my timeline event; what I needed was the primary source to verify the facts. I didn’t just do this with Wikipedia articles I browsed to; I did it to every site I went to, be it an official government or university linked-history site or a left or right leaning history site like Convict Creations or Creative Spirits. Having some specific details to work with though made it easier to search for evidence. As a result. I came across some fantastic primary source sites for Australian history like Trove, a digital archive of historical newspapers from as far back as the first published newspapers in Australia; Founding Docs, a site that had scanned copies and explanations of all the bills and laws debated and passed leading to our Federation and future governments; the National Archives, which had a range of photos, videos, paintings and documents related to historical events.
  4. Effective time management for checking sources – Having the secondary source, in my case the various timelines ( I eventually left Wikipedia and and moved onto the Museum of Australian Democracy site’s more specific Federation timeline) as the reference point for all of my research, i used my time more effectively. I could go straight to a specific search for an event each time, rather than randomly searching for major historical events. This allowed me more time to check the validity of the websites I used, going to the About us sections that outlined who the authors were. I found out the Creative Spirits site was not run by Indigenous Australians at all, but a German/Australian with a big interest in their culture, who spent time sourcing info and getting approval from those whose history and culture he was depicting. Reading the introduction, I found out that Convict Creations was compiled by someone with a “fair and balanced” conservative leaning who spent time looking for alternative interpretations from the accepted left leaning history that is commonly accepted. The time I had thanks to using secondary sources as starting points allowed me to find a range of sources with different points of view that I can use with students instead of what I personally consider to be narrow views in official texts and resources from Education Departments.

 

Level 6 History Skills Descriptors

I want to be able to use this experience as a model for the students this year. In fact, I want to be able to lead them through this very process, not as a one off workshop presentation which just leaves them with a list of instructions they won’t follow effectively, but as a shared research experience. We have the technology for large groups to collaborate on research, starting from a secondary source like Wikipedia ( or alternatives) and sourcing references for various facts within the  events. The technology that allows direct hyperlinking to references is also an effective way to check on the type of sources they are using as well. This would be a better way to develop the research skills that our History curriculum in Australia expects, particularly the Historical skills.

As adults, we are expected t0 have advanced research skills. Students, on the other hand, are a long way off. We need to guide them to be better researchers. I think a good way ot start is to allow them to access secondary sources as a starting point to find the real evidence. What do you do when teaching research? I would like to know what others are doing. Join the conversation.

The future of Learning ( a great post on Teachthought.com)

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I’m sharing a great resource here today that looks a must read ( or view actually ) for schools (and education and government bodies) who are serious about being involved in the Education revolution that is being trumpeted so much. In a post titled “What 100 experts think about the Future of Learning” the staff of TeachThought.com have collated 100 links to online videos featuring lectures, panel discussions, talks and seminars from TED, RSA and the USA’s major universities, categorized under the following topics (number of video links in brackets):

General (5) – learn about making technology work in education
Sharing Education (18) – explore the idea of open, shared education
Creativity & Innovation (18) – how you can foster innovation and the creative spirit
Internet & New Media (11) – how the Internet and new media has an impact on teaching and learning
Leadership (4) – how to better foster leadership
Educational Technology (18) – explores technology made for education
Brain & Psychology (8) – study how the brain works in learning
Technology Education (10) – about the state of technology education
Teaching Methods (12) – innovative teaching methods
Institution (2) – how technology impacts the institution of education.

From reading the summaries, you’ll be able to pick and choose what is relevant for your educational
setting ( from primary/elementary through to higher learning). Yes,there are talks we have seen before ( who has not seen Ken Robinson’s TEDtalk?) but the way TeachThought has grouped them makes it easy to find something for your own reflection on education or to use at your next related staff meeting or PLT.

I’ve put it on my blog instead of my usual Scoop-it or Diigo page so I can access it quickly and remember it through a Future of Learning tag rather than trawling through pages and pages of bookmarks. Hope you find something that can inspire you and your school in your revolution.

The iPad as a research tool

I’ve spent a lot of time on this blog lately reflecting on Big Education ideas. During that time, my little buddy the iPad has felt a little neglected and unloved. So I thought I’d get back to talking about everybody’s “favourite little tablet that could”. Today, I want to explore the possibilities the iPad has as a tool for researching information. As I’ve said many times, what I describe here can be done on laptops but the purpose of this post is to show how the iPad can be used for all tasks if you have decided to use iPads as your main computer. Having said that, there are some iPad specific functions and apps that for me offer a superior experience.

One criticism of the iPad is that it has the “one app open at a time” limitation. This can make it less that ideal for research. The desktop interface of regular computers allows you to have a webpage open alongside your word processing program. However this is now possible with a couple of integrated browser apps. PaperHelper is a split screen browser app that allows you to simultaneously view web pages and take notes at the same time. The app has a note taking screen side by side with a browser ( you can select which side of screen depending on your preference ) and provides tools for transferring website addresses to the notes page with a sale click. The browser has 5 favorites buttons that you can customize to link to preferred websites that you are using during our research for quick access over multiple sessions. You can use it in both landscape and portrait, depending on your preference. While it makes the browser screen a little small compared to normal iPad usage, it still provides you a window bigger than an iPhone screen and you can of course zoom in easily. I find it quite useful when wanting to copy and paste notes from Internet articles. The app also allows you to open and save your notes in word processing apps like Pages or just save the text to Dropbox or other file saving apps.

WikiNodes is a different way of browsing and collecting information from Wikipedia. Instead of presenting Wikipedia in its standard web page format, a specific topic is expanded out into key sections via a concept map type interface. Every time you select a ‘node’ it expands out into more connected topics. Each node map gives you the specific sections within a Wikipedia article as well as related topics. It is a nice visual way if laying out the information that suits today’s visual learner and the way it generates related topics can helpc students expand their ideas. You have the option to view the article within the node or view full screen via Wikipedia.

A welcome extra feature is how WikiNodes allows the user to save, store and organize information from the Wikipedia article. You can store written or audio notes about each topic you are exploring, set tags and labels to organize notes, share your information via Twitter, Dropbox, Evernote or email and view all your notes linked to a topic via a presentation the app creates for you.

Notability, which I’ve mentioned in previous posts, is a versatile note taking app that I think has some useful features for research. If your research involves listening to lectures or presentations to gather information, Notability enables you to take written notes while simultaneously audio recording the speaker. You can also take photos directly from the app while the recording is continuing. The beauty of the note taking and recording combination is that the app automatically links the written notes to the recording so you can go directly to what was said when you wrote a specific note. I think this would be useful during practical experiments in the classroom as the students could record their thoughts while taking photos of their experiment stages. They could then work back through their written and audio notes for revision. For children who struggle taking notes, having the audio available means they can write less then review the audio for what they missed. Alternatively, the teacher or more able student could share their notes with children who are unable to take notes due to learning difficulties.

An additional feature of Notability is the ability to browse the Internet within its own browser. Users can then save a web clip of the site they were reading within their notes that take them directly back to review the information. This is more efficient than copying and pasting web links or bookmarking sites outside of your note taking file as yoou have it readily available within our note taking area and it gives a visual reminder of the website as well in the form of a miniature screenshot of the website.

Often research involves using specific articles that are given to us to read. If you can download or convert them to an editable PDF file then you can use a range of PDF annotation apps on the iPad to make notes directly on the file. My app of choice is GoodReader, which I have used since I’ve had my iPhone and then upgraded to the iPad version. I’ve always found it easy to use so haven’t sought alternatives. GoodReader enables the user to highlight, write text notes, underline or strikeout words and phrases and draw a range of basic shapes directly on the article text. You can save the annotated file for later use and transfer it to virtually any cloud service like Dropbox, Box and GoogleDocs as well as WebDAV servers and email accounts. Notability can be used in the same way but it’s more of a freehand annotation experience, whereas GoodReader annotates accurately. Reading and annotating is also great in iBooks as well, with the added feature of all annotations being saved in a single space for easy access and reading.

Automatic news curating apps like Zite and Flipboard are great ways to have quality articles delivered straight to your iPad without any searching. Zite in particular is very useful in finding news reports, web sites and blog posts that are tailored to your interests. Simply enter your specific topic and it is likely to be a category contained within Zite. Examples include Urban Planning, Climate Change, Tennis, learning, Australian History, Drawing, and so on. The suggested articles are refreshed throughout the day and can be shared with others through a large range of social media sites and bookmarking tools. Flipboard can be set up as a magazine style RSS feed reader, allowing the user to read and share any collection of news articles or blogs. It can be customised to create direct links to specific blogs or newspapers and have all the most current article fed to a single icon that is linked to that site.

Both of these apps offer possible solutions to the aimless Google searching that happens in classes around the world because they filter out a lot of the useless links you get in Google and other search engines. Zite can also be used to automatically search for related articles or other entries by the same website or author.

Both Instapaper and Diigo are available online from any internet enabled device but they also have dedicated IPad apps or bookmarklets. As bookmarklets, Instapaper and Diigo allow students to save websites for later study. Instapaper’s added bonus is that it saves sites for reading when no Internet connection is available which is useful when students may not have wifi access but want to continue their research.The app allows users to create folders to store related articles together to enable easy retrieval.

Diigo’s strength is its social bookmarking capabilities. Students can share bookmarks in a common group as well as annotate and highlight pages straight in the website they are reading collaboratively with others. every time the Diigo iPad bookmarklet is activated, the highlights and annotated note reappear, regardless of what iPad or any other Diigo linked Internet device you are using. This kind of shared note taking allows students to collaborate in real time on any any research task involving reading information online. Diigo has an iOS app that can be used to quickly access your tagged links, although it lacks the ability to search via tags. I prefer to use the Diigo link within the bookmarklet.

Another useful bookmarklet that can help sort and store research information links to Scoop-it, an excellent magazine style website curation tool. Once you create a free Scoop it account, you can use the bookmarklet to quickly add sites to your Scoop it page. One of the benefits of using other users’ Scoop-its is that they have done a lot of the searching for you, saving you the hassle of trawling through countless Google search pages to find something useful. Scoop it has a search feature that can lead you to curated pages on the topic you choose and you are likely to find useful references on someone’s page. Pearltrees and Pinterest are other curation sites that offer similar opportunities but I am yet to explore them as options.

Tools 4 Schools is a relatively unknown app that is a collection of graphic organizers that allow for focused note taking for specific purposes. It’s useful for students who need some scaffolding in organizing their thoughts during research. Completed organizers can be emailed to others to share notes collated on them.

20120512-203332.jpgThe App Store is of course flooded with a huge range of reference apps that relate to specific topics. The beauty of this source is the price of the apps when you compare them to reference books providing similar depth of information. Also,the interactive multimedia nature of these apps make them an easier to follow option for many of today’s learners. There are too many to list here but here is a good link to another website that mention some of the better apps.

There are other great options for research on the iPad but that’s enough from me today. If there are other options out there, I would love to hear from others. Join the conversation.

Future Proof Education – Learn

All of this change in the way the world operates means we have to change the way we learn and the purpose of learning at schools. The world we live in today is so different even to 5 years ago. The pace of change post-smart phone/tablet/web 2.0 is unrecognisable. We have to change education to prepare for this new world that will be unrecognisable in another 5 years from now.

The Prezi covers the following areas under the umbrella of Learn:

  • Formulate a learning plan
  • Synthesize the details
  • Information literacy
  • Formulate good questions
  • Reflect and evaluate
  • Meta cognition (know what you know)

This is how I finished off my last post on Future Proof Your Education, an analysis of an excellent Prezi on the topic. I finished by saying this section deserved a separate post as there was much to discuss in this section. After all, we are in the business of Learning (there’s no ‘teaching’ unless there is learning!) 

The focus of this final section of the presentation is clearly on the changing responsibilities of the active learner in the education process. The actions of the ‘dot points’ listed above are the action of the student. Yes, as teachers we are still part of this process and we have to teach/guide/facilitate the children in our care to become skilled learners with the ability to manage their learning. However, in the 21st Century learning model, which is about skilling up children for a world they have to be active in, the baton of responsibility is handed over to them. They have to learn to formulate a plan. They have to synthesise the details of all that information in front of them. Questions need to be formulated by them. They have to reflect on their what they have been involved in and evaluate how they learned and performed. So what do we need to do to ensure they become successful 21st Century Learners? Here are my thoughts.

Formulate a Learning Plan

This is not easy for children (or adults for that matter, which is why we need to start early with our students). Planning takes time. Time, however, is something we don’t always have when we have the pressure to achieve x amount of learning outcomes in x-3 amount of time. If we are going to teaching children how to plan for learning, we are going to have to be brave enough to let go of some things and make time for this important stage.

Now I’m not for one moment going to suggest our students have to formulate a learning plan for EVERYTHING that happens in class. There are some givens across curriculum areas that we as teachers still need to manage for the sanity and benefit of all involved. This is about planning major projects driven by the students interests. Planning and organising major projects are quite possibly the jobs of the future so we need to give them experience in how to do it.

We need to guide them through the use of graphic organisers that help to layout their ideas and track their progress. There needs to be a place on these organisers for the student to record their successes and challenges ( and time given for them to do that) We need them to organise a timetable or schedule of work so they can plan for when, where and how they are going to achieve their goals. Tech Tools have a role to play here. Collaboration using shared calendars or GoogleDocs or Edmodo, for example allows for both teachers and fellow students to provide feedback on an individual students plan. I know I’m a “paperless society” tech geek but I keep track of students work so much more effectively online when I can check in on their work at any time, not just during that two hour project block. When I worked with a Literature Circle group on Edmodo last year, the amount of work we did together while we were at home was of great benefit.

Even outside of major projects, students need to identify learning goals for specific strengths and weaknesses and learn to write SMART goals to achieve success. Again this takes time but it will benefit them in the future if they can learn how to manage their learning.

Synthesize the Details

As I mentioned in the earlier post, we are bombarded by a limitless supply of information through the mass media. When I was a child (back when the world was in black and white 😉 ), information was in black and white too. The teacher gave us the text and we accepted it as fact. In today’s world and the near future they will be working in, students are and will be confronted by hyperlink after hyperlink of fact and opinion. It is hard for educated types like us to separate the good from the bad, let alone expecting children to do it.

All the more reason why we need to spend a lot of our time in class giving our students the opportunity to ‘synthesise’ all the details. While in the early grades, we can only expect them to follow one line of thought, for older students we should be presenting multiple points of views or sources of information in multiple formats (video, audio, text, graphic data) so they are constantly making connections and summarising ideas. Working collaboratively using tools that allow for sharing ideas, students can build from the ideas and opinions of others and support each other in making sense of the endless stream of information they face. All with our experienced support. Which leads to what I think is the most important part of the whole “Future Proof Education” presentation – Information Literacy.

Information Literacy

This is the video from the Prezi that really struck a chord with me about how different Information Literacy is from the traditional literacy we have always taught and experienced at school.

Traditional literacy is words and pictures – mostly words. The words on the page say it all. To find information, you looked in the contents page or for more specific information, the index or the glossary. If you needed help, you went to the librarian who would look it up with you. This all worked when everything we needed to know or was allowed to know was contained within the walls of a room with shelves of books in them. This is not the world today and it certainly isn’t the future of information. Unfortunately, too many teachers ( me included until recently) still stick to the literacy model they are used to.

Digital literacy is a whole new ball game and we as an education system have to be better prepared for it if our students are going to deal with information overload. We talk about how kids just plagiarise information from websites like Wikipedia because it just easier and they don’t have to think. Well, maybe they do that because they are not digitally literate. In my recent defence of Wikipedia, I talk about how we need to teach them about how to use Wikipedia so they don’t just copy.

This video tells the story of the evolution of information storage and retrieval. The new way of organising, sharing, accessing and finding information is about tagging keywords, social bookmarking (Diigo, Delicious), iPad apps (Zite) and websites (stumble upon) that send us information based on what we tell them we are interested in. We don’t find information; information finds us.

Writing information is not about copying or rewriting text and writing a bibliography or footnotes anymore. Digital Literacy is about hyperlinked writing; pulling together sources of information and building them within your writing to give readers access to your sources so they can form their own opinions. Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano in her Langwitches blog, reflects on the complexity of hyperlinked writing and how we need to teach it in our classrooms – worth a read. Web 2.0 tools like Storify let you write by pulling sources from other Social Media sites like Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Flicker and Instagram as well as the general internet. Curation tools like Scoop-it and Pearltrees allows you collect websites on related topics and write your own summaries of each entry, while allowing others to comment or use your sources. This is the new literacy we have to get comfortable with as teachers so that we can get our students to use them effectively. As I’ve often stressed in this blog, they’ll pick up the technical aspect quickly; we need to guide the usage.

Formulate Good Questions

Of course, none of the information literacy will be of any use if we don’t teach the students to formulate questions worth researching. Terms like Rich questions and ‘fat and skinny’ questions are all about learners thinking about the type of question we ask. Fact based questions or yes and no answers are easy to find on Google and were often the type of questions I did so well at when I was at school. And yes, as a Trivia champion I still love the fact I can recite 80% of the capital cities of Africa but this isn’t getting me a job in the future. Asking good questions so that we can dig deep into issues, challenge the status quo, develop our understanding of current events, challenging what is being said in the media (right wing and left)  and having the questions that will help us find the correct information is vital to learners. Using a tool like Weiderhold’s Question Matrix  will help children develop rich questions. So will letting them ask questions all day, challenging them to go further if it is not a rich question. Collaboratively working with others and getting challenged by co-workers will also allow this type of richer questioning to occur, as long as we are there to guide them. Which again is why the use of online collaborative tools is important again. Getting involved in the conversation at any time is vital for teachers. Our contribution can’t end at 3:30 in the afternoon.

Reflect and Evaluate/Metacognition

Finally, the learning process is not complete without reflecting upon  and evaluating our learning. Again this is no easy task and again takes time we don’t always have. But as I said at the start about formulating plans, we have to reflect. Why do keep wondering why our students don’t retain what we “teach” them but don’t allow them to reflect on and evaluate on their learning. Maybe we can find time to do this if we didn’t spend all that time doing revision before tests. Maybe they’d remember the stuff after the test if we let them have time to reflect on and evaluate their learning. Maybe homework should be reflection and evaluation and not revision. Maybe blogging about what we have learnt during the day is more practical than doing a worksheet for homework. Maybe 5 minutes of structured reflection time during and after lessons with children recording individually or as a class online on blogs or Edmodo so they can refer back to the reflections in their own times will give us the time to do it. Maybe collaboratively doing this reflection will enable metacognition to take place and get children to recognise what they do and don’t know.

Final Thought

21st Century Learning is not easy, especially if we continue to have pressure from 20th Century curriculum. Learning, though has to be the focus and if these points are what learning is about, we have much to do. These are my thoughts, some based in practice, some in theory. I am interested in the opinions of others and finding out how others are going in the quest for true 21st Century learning. Join in the discussion.

Wikipedia – what are we afraid of?

WikipediaVia: Open-Site.org

I’m one of the 23% who don’t ban Wikipedia.

I don’t understand the concept of banning an information resource. I get the criticism of Wikipedia. I understand the limitations of Wikipedia. For the life of me, though, I don’t understand banning its use. Why are we in the Educational World so fearful of this Wikipedia thing that 73% of teachers according to this infographic still prevent its use?

We all want our students to be good researchers. Part of this desire, I assume, has led us to develop programs in our classrooms that help to improve our students’ Web Search skills. I mention that because perhaps one of our problems with children and Wikipedia is that 99% of its articles end up on the first page of any Google Search. Are we banning Google Search? No. Well then, instead of banning Wikipedia, let’s look at whether we are educating our students in how to disseminate accurate information from the garbage. Why? – because the other 9 sites sharing the Top 10 Search page are just as likely to be as potentially unreliable as a source of information as the Wikipedia article, sometimes more so. So let’s work out how to support our students in learning good research skills through accessing the tool, instead of avoiding it.

Wikipedia references its sources of information.

Go to any article of useful length on Wikipedia and you will find linked references or quoted text sources. WIkipedia is often a summative recount of all those sources of information. It’s why students go there. It does a lot of the hard work for them. Now, if you want them to do the work, require them to seek out some of those sources and check the accuracy of that information. What is the reliability of the source site? What bias might this source have? What type of website is it? ( you can discuss the merit of .com v .org. v .edu or newspaper articles vs blogs or discussions) If we use textbooks instead of Wikipedia, isn’t this what we would be doing – comparing and cross-referencing for accuracy? Surely it is an easier learning task to check out 10 sources online than trying to flick between 10 different books and random pages within it? Technology isn’t about making it easier so that we don’t have to think. It’s about making it more effective so we do the job more quickly while still learning the same amount or possibly more. If we teach effective use of Wikipedia, this should be the result.

Wikipedia is no more or less biased than any other source of information.

One of the big bugbears with Wikipedia is that it can be contributed to by anyone. This can definitely result in biased, unsubstantiated garbage that needs to be filtered out. Any Obama/Bush/Gillard/Abbott/Lady Gaga/David Beckham/Charlie Sheen (etc, etc) hater can freely post hate speech on a wiki article. Eventually, though, it is found by Wiki editors and removed, but yes, by then it has already spread to the ill informed. But guess what?  This same overheated, one way stream of half truths can be spread by every other form of media from both sides of the political, ideological or religious spectra. We don’t ban our Left wing or Right Wing shock jocks from spouting their diatribes of exaggeration on a daily basis. So why ban Wikipedia? Again, let’s use it along with the extreme views of other media sources to educate our students about fact and opinion, checking out both sides of the debate, fact checking your information. This is of far more educational value than banning a resource that has much to offer, despite its limitations.

Wikipedia is about as accurate as any other resource. Check the stats.

Look at the above infographic. We’re quibbling over 0.94 mistakes per article when comparing Britannica to Wikipedia; 2% accuracy differential when comparing textbooks to Wikipedia. Are those numbers a reason to brand it unreliable and ban it? When any school library would be full of books about the Solar System that still list Pluto as a planet and have atlases without East Timor on the map as a nation? There is no such thing as 100% accuracy. All surveys come with that +/-2% disclaimer. In the 21st Century Curriculum, in which critical thinking is one of the key skills, we should be embracing resources that encourage challenging their reliability and allowing us to edit for accuracy.

Make the students part of the solution, not restricted from the problem

Wikipedia is open source. If we find mistakes, we can fix it. An error in a textbook stays there. A misquote in a news program remains said. If we want to engage our students in truly useful research, then get them involved in editing Wikipedia. Make them check their sources. Get them to be the information creators, not the takers(plagiarisers). That’s real learning. And it’s far more useful than banning.

Throughout history, banning has never worked. Cigarettes and Drugs are still around. Inappropriate websites find ways to be accessed. Hey, Nazis and KKK members are still out there in numbers. Banning the use of Wikipedia is not going to stop us from using it. Just look at the stats above. So let’s get serious in Education and embrace this information provider, using it as a teaching tool for critical thinking. That’s my take. What about you? Does your school ban Wikipedia? Do you agree or disagree? How do you encourage good research in your students? Join in the conversation.