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Mr G Online
Apr 17

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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.

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Apr 13

It’s been around for a few years now and had plenty of interest from around the world already, but Mr G Online has only just discovered Maths Maps. From first impressions, I am absolutely blown away by the idea. The brainchild of leading UK educator Tom Barrett, (now based in Australia), Maths Maps uses Google Maps as the launching pad for Maths Investigations.

Barrett’s vision was for teachers around the world to collaborate on building Maths Maps, examples of some seen in the screenshots on the left. Here is a brief description of how it works from the Maths Maps website.

Elevator Pitch

  • Using Google Maps.
  • Maths activities in different places around the world.
  • One location, one maths topic, one map.
  • Activities explained in placemarks in Google Maps.
  • Placemarks geotagged to the maths it refers to. “How wide is this swimming pool?”
  • Teachers to contribute and share ideas.
  • Maps can be used as independent tasks or group activities in class.
  • Maps can be embedded on websites, blogs or wikis.
  • Tasks to be completed by students and recorded online or offline.

The collaboration aspect worked like this: ( again from the website)

How can you contribute?

  1. Explore the maps below for the ideas already added, follow the links to open them in a new window.
  2. Send me details of which map you want to edit and your Google email address and I will add you as an editor, follow the link from the email invite.
  3. Click on EDIT in the left panel.
  4. Zoom close to the city and it’s surroundings. (Don’t forget Streetview)
  5. Find some TOPIC ideas you can see.
  6. Add a placemark (use the right colour for the age group it is best for – see purple pin)
  7. Explain the activity in the description.
  8. Change the title to show how many ideas there are.
  9. Send out a Tweet or write a blog post to highlight this resource andencourage others to contribute.

For those of you who have never edited a Google Map before, you need a Google account to do so. Here is an annotated screenshot that shows the basic layout of the Edit stage. I know I say it a lot to colleagues who don’t believe me, but it is very easy to do, like most Web 2.0 tools.

I’m not sure I could handle the world wide collaboration long term but I think this would be very manageable at a school level if you could get together a team of teachers willing to contribute. To me, it is a great way of presenting worded problems in real life contexts. On one level, with the emphasis on teaching children how to analyse questions for standardised tests, this would be a more engaging way of presenting the problems to the children. On a more creative, engaging level, it provides opportunities for linking Maths to real problems, not just questions out of a textbook or practice test sheets.

Beyond the question level, it provides opportunities to investigate all Maths concepts as you can see from the screenshots above. Adding the investigations to an always available Google map means students can access the problems anytime, anywhere and can work at their own pace. I always see tech solutions for recording work for students to complete as a benefit, not extra work. Instead of photocopying or getting children to copy down unfinished problems in a rush before leaving, the work is stored online. It means it can be shared with other classes as well.

The image here shows how Maths Maps was set up to add problems and investigations for all grade levels so collaboration can take place across levels, allowing for differentiation possibilities. Barrett just colour coded the placemarks to match a grade level.

If students have access to Google accounts, it is a great opportunity for them to create their own investigations, taking it to a higher thinking level for them. Students in higher grades could create maps for lower grades to investigate or for their fellow classmates. If nearby schools wanted to join in, they could and, of course, you could go the Maths Maps website route and find some schools outside your area to collaborate with and learn so much more about the world.

Of course, there is no reason why it has to be limited to Maths. You could do the same investigations with geography heavy novels, historical events, geography investigations, anything you can link to real locations. It’s certainly open to a lot of possibilities and, while I know it’s easy for me to say, it doesn’t have a huge learning curve and, with collaboration, shouldn’t take too much time to create. If you are going to type out some questions and print out on paper anyway, it will not take much more effort to create this far more engaging option instead.

Here’s a direct link to one of Barrett’s embedded Maths Maps, 27 Measures Activities in Madrid. You can explore this in detail and get a greater sense of the range of real world Maths you can find in real geographic locations.


View 27 Measures Activities in Madrid in a larger map

And, since I’m one teacher who always has to practise what I preach rather than just post ideas from others, here’s my first attempt at starting a Maths Map around Melbourne – unfinished and early days but might test it out with a few of my colleagues and the Grade 5/6 students.

View Measuring Melbourne in a larger map

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Apr 11

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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

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Apr 07

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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”

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Apr 05

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This infographic on the Social Times appeared in my Zite feed the other day and it got me thinking about how we are preparing our students to use the Internet. While infographics are never definitive sources of valid information, the statistics provided leave us as teachers and/or parents with much to address. Since I’m firmly in the “The Internet is NOT making our children stupid, it just makes it easier for stupid people to show themselves to the world” camp, I’m going to put my thoughts out there in this post and address some of the points made in this infographic.

Let’s make it clear from the outset, the Internet “ain’t goin’ nowhere!” Regardless of continued fears and resistance from politicians, ‘shock jocks’, parents, teachers both young and old, and yes, even some students who haven’t had the exposure we assumed they all get, the Internet is and will continue to be the all pervasive information providing and social networking juggernaut we see every day in our lives.

Look no further than the first stats in this infographic. Regardless of the source or the overall accuracy, there is no doubt that a lot of our students do have an identity on the WWW from a very early age (90% by age 2??). My Facebook friends bombard me with countless unsolicited photos of their toddlers, photos that 15 years ago would have resided in a dusty photo album on the coffee table at their home.

Sit at any restaurant (or theatre, museum, train, hospital ward, church!) today and you will be surrounded by youngsters (50% by age 5?) blankly tapping away at smartphones and tablets so their parents can get some respite from them.

And the teens? Their whole life is online. Nearly all of them (95%?) always communicating (80% on social media?) from anywhere, anytime (49% online from phones?).

So that’s the reality we face. We do not live in 1950s Pleasantville anymore.  Therefore, keeping a curriculum shaped by leaders who grew up in Pleasantville, focussed on the 3 Rs but not technology is not facing the world we currently live in. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been teaching the Rs with great rigour for 25 years and continue to do so today. I just do it through technology  (AND ‘old school’ methods).

Now the big problem for me in all this is this misguided notion of ‘digital natives’ and ‘digital immigrants’. A lot of educators and parents use this as a reason for not ‘interfering’ with their children’s internet use. “They know more than me!” is the typical response….And it’s wrong. Being ‘born’ into a culture does not make you an expert in it. Just because a 2 year old has worked out the touch interface of an iPad doesn’t mean he can select appropriate tools to learn. Just because a 15 year old knows how to search YouTube for how -to guides to learn how to use a popular Web 2.0 tool doesn’t mean she can produce a quality presentation that will educate fellow classmates. Skill ≠ knowledge and understanding. Any teenager can mechanically drive an automatic car within a week of driving lessons. As parents, we still need to teach them to drive safely and responsibly.

Our kids aren’t stupid because of the Internet. They are sometime stupid on the Internet because they’re kids. They may have been born digital, but just like the rest of their life outside of the digital, they have much to learn in the digital world. And the rules we as adults understand outside the digital world still apply inside the digital world. So let’s look at what this infographic highlights and discuss how we should address it.

Blaming the Internet for Shorter Attention Span?

It is a constant cry from teachers everywhere – my class has no attention span. Fact or Fiction, complaining doesn’t address the issue. One thing that has become clear over the years is that more and more children are identifying themselves as Visual learners. There is no doubt we are living in a Visual World. When my parents were at school, TV didn’t exist, let alone the Internet and iPads. Books and newspapers were the only way to learn so children learned that way. Children were entranced by the written word and had to use their imagination to picture a character or a scene. Today, though, we live in a world where Pixar has replaced Shakespeare as the world’s great storyteller. Newspapers are replaced by TV News which is now being replaced by Online News. It’s the reality we face. It’s not going back to the old days. It’s not the internet’s fault though. Kids have become more visual so we have to present more visually. Teachers can’t expect their students to attentively listen to them talk or read to them for 20 minutes when their life experience is visual text. We do have to change our mode of teaching. We have to be more visual.

BUT (and I’ll be using that world a lot in the next few paragraphs)… there does still need to be balance. Parents need to still make reading part of their kids’ lives from birth. Parents need to hold back the iPad/DS as babysitter/entertainer while their children are developing their minds. Parents and Teachers have to command attention from these children by engaging with them, expecting their attention and a quality response. Don’t blame the internet if we let them replace us with it.

 Bad Habits from the Internet?

Left under trained, yes our so called ‘Digital Natives’ will fall victim to these bad habits. We could say that the proliferation of social media with its unlimited threads of comments, links, polls and information is breeding a generation of skim readers trained in reading 144 characters and nothing more. Keeping track of 1000 Twitter followers and  Facebook friends can often lead to missing important content amidst all the mindless guff. And doing all this while listening to music and replying to text messages can tax even the best multitasking minds.

BUT….

What are we as adults doing to teach them a better way? Knowing this is their natural way, teachers need to teach digital literacy skills so they know how to handle this information overload. Reflection through blogging or curating through social bookmarking needs to be part of the educational environment for these kids. Expectations for and lessons in detailed reading need to be commonplace. Just like we taught students how to read encyclopedias and textbooks in the pre-digital age, we have to TEACH them how to read the Internet. It’s not the Internet’s fault. It’s just a MUCH bigger version of the old reference source. It takes a different approach. And too many of us in schools haven’t recognised that yet.

Internet Blamed for Poor Research?

No denying this is an issue. Copy and paste, Google as reference in bibliographies, Wikipedia plagiarism, relying on poor quality links on Page one of 200,000 are all commonplace problems in the classroom.

BUT….

Is it the Internet’s fault? Are kids stupid because the Internet is full of rubbish or are we stupid because we haven’t taught kids how to access the most comprehensive source of information in existence? We are not doing a good job of teaching students how to research in the digital age. It’s a big job and just setting research assignments without spending a large chunk of our literacy program teaching them how to search for credible sources on line is not helping. How much do we as teachers really know about how Google works? What are we modelling to our students? Are we teaching them how to use Wikipedia responsibly or just banning its use because we don’t have time to show them its benefits. When have we shown them how to research through interviews, surveys, searching for primary sources online ( they are everywhere if we can get past Answers.com!), organising excursions/field trips, inviting/seeking out experts as guest speakers? Do we teach left/right wing bias that is found in textbooks and literature past and present or just blame the Internet for all the misrepresentations of history? We’ve got a lot of work to do as teachers to prepare our children as the Internet continues to exponentially grow in size.

Plausible Solutions?

I’m not doubting the issues raised in this infographic are not real. And yes, the Internet is a factor. But it’s not the Internet’s fault. We, parents and teachers, are responsible for how our children develop. They are growing up in a world foreign to the one we were kids in. As adults we have to be proactive in helping them not become stupid on the Internet.

I like the four points at the end.

Limit Internet Use and Encourage other interests. At home and school. Children need balance and variety in their lives. This needs to start early. Much to his dismay, my son, unlike all his mates, was “denied his natural right” to a video game console until he was 11. During these years of trauma, he learned to appreciate reading, Lego, role playing, puppetry, history and geography as well as the necessary doses of football, cricket and basketball. Like his sister, whom he is very close to, he developed an ability to concentrate for long periods of time and entertain himself without technology. They still got their dose of the internet regularly, with and without Dad, but the word boredom has never been in their vocabulary.

At school, we need to get the balance right too. Don’t over rely on the Internet. Entertainment value does not always equate to educational value. Sometimes some left over cookies from Camp can engage your students in learning fractions more than a whizbang ‘interactive game from the internet’ projected onto a whiteboard screen. Expose students to old school and digital age. The natural world can still be a wonderful experience.

Emotional Intelligence and Active Role. The Internet and the iPad should never have replaced parents as entertainment options. Kids today who have bad attention spans are the result of lack of human interaction. If we don’t talk to our kids, they won’t know how to communicate. We should be the first port of entertainment, not technology. Same at school. This current push in some circles to replace teaching with technology is ridiculous. Humans must interact with humans to grow up as humans. Nothing more to say on that.

And as for this Digital divide between the natives and the immigrants – get together, old and young. It’s a multicultural society we live in. Get on the technology with each other. Adults, learn some of those new fangled Web 2.0 tools and enjoy them with your kids instead of making excuses. Kids, let Mum and Dad in on your online experiences. Just like families used to enjoy time together before the digital age, make the effort to enjoy online time together.

Adults, we have to be part of the solution. Don’t blame the internet. It’s not making kids stupid. We’re letting it. Don’t let it happen.

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Apr 01

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Around this time last year, I wrote a post about the lack of engaging Maths apps on the iPad that went beyond “skill and drill” number activities. Since then, developers have introduced a greater range of apps across all areas of the Maths curriculum that can be used to enhance the Maths teaching and learning in your classroom. Here’s a selection of 20 apps that cover Number and Algebra, Measurement and Geometry, and Statistics and Probability ( these are the Content strands (CS) Australia’s Mathematics curriculum has been categorized under ). They also cover the proficiency strands (PS) of Understanding, Fluency, Problem Solving and Reasoning. I’m sure other countries’ curricula are similar in many regards and you will be able to make the connections.

Undecided (free at time of writing)

A handy tool for probability experiments, Undecided comes with customisable dice ( up to six) with number of rolls, last roll and sum of rolls data, Heads/tails coin toss with cumulative tallies, a 1-10 spinner ( wish it was customisable) , Rock/Scissors/Paper and Short Straw simulations and a random number generator with customisable maximum number beyond thousands (although it’s time consuming to go beyond 1000).

CS  -Statistics and Probability  PS – Reasoning

Decide Now! ($0.99)

Does what Undecided doesn’t with spinner. You can create/edit unlimited numbers of spinners with any types of categories and combinations of categories. Minimum number of sections is 10. If you add less than that, it intelligently uses ratio to created the segments. Great for probability experiments, especially for increasing and decreasing chance of random events to occur.

CS  -Statistics and Probability  PS – Reasoning

DragonBox+ ($6.49 – expensive for multiple copies)

Despite the cost, which would be prohibitive for some schools with limited budgets, this is a clever app for building conceptual understanding of the principles for balancing algebraic equations. Presented in a game format, it builds up from simple to complex as you play through 5 levels and 300 individual puzzles. The object is to be left with a single object on one side by applying inverse operations to object on both sides. The final level introduces the alphanumerical symbols associated with algebra.

CS – Number and Algebra       PS – Understanding, Problem Solving, Reasoning

Dartfish EasyTag (free)

This app allows you to create data collection tools using panels as recording buttons for categories and and subcategories you create. Each time you touch a panel, it begins tallying results. It collects category totals and tracks the elapsed time by whole seconds, minutes and hours. Not only useful for data collection and statistics, but can be used as a simple timer as well. Results can be exported by email as a csv file which can be opened in Excel (not  iPad spreadsheet programs), although it records labels rather than numbers so editing the spreadsheet is necessary for tallying results.

CS – Measurement and Geometry, Number and Algebra  PS – Fluency, Reasoning

Pattern Blocks ($0.99)

A simple app that can be used for many purposes. The drag and drop geometric shapes can overlay translucently to create fraction models, supported by the grids. Tessellations can be created effortlessly and rotations can also be done. At junior levels, shape patterns can easily be created and continued. Relationships between different shapes can also be explored.

CS – Measurement and Geometry, Number and Algebra   PS – Problem Solving, Reasoning and Understanding

Room Planner (free)

Created with House planning in mind but can be applied for many measurement tasks. This app allows you to create and edit individual rooms or entire house plans. Each element ( room, architectural element or furniture) can have its dimensions adjusts though simple touch and drag, elements can be freely rotated and final plans can be viewed from all angles and views in 2D and 3D. Area and Perimeter investigations can be implemented and concepts of space can be explored through placing objects within the rooms. Text can be added and in 3D mode, creativity is encouraged though applying colours and textures for realism. Scale can be explored by creating models of actual rooms.

CS – Measurement and Geometry  PS – Problem Solving, Understanding and Reasoning

5 Dice Order of Operations (free)

A simple but engaging equation building game that builds understanding of order of operations rules. A target number is randomly selected and 5 dice are provided to use as the values to generate equations to reach the target. IT provides a whiteboard for experimenting with possibilities before dragging the numerals and operation symbols into place. There are options for using some or all operations and brackets to allow for different ability levels.

CS – Number and Algebra PS – Fluency, Problem Solving, Understanding and Reasoning

Foldify ($2.99)

Its whimsical nature and cost makes it appear superficial use of technology but it allows for an engaging exploration of 3D objects and nets. Can also be used to create patterns on dice faces that can encourage logical reasoning in building patterns.

CS – Measurement and Geometry PS – Reasoning and Problem Solving

Geoboard  (free)

Simply put, it is a Tech based Geoboard that allows for wide ranging angle and shape explorations as well as quick creations of arrays to build understanding of multiplication and division. Can also support fraction and decimal exploration with careful manipulation. Shapes can be rendered transparent or translucent for easier viewing and comparison.

CS -Measurement and Geometry, Number and Algebra   PS – Problem Solving, Understanding and Reasoning

Geometry Pad (free; $6.49 full features)

This app allows for exploration of shape, angles, co-ordinates, area, perimeter, circle properties,algebraic expressions on graphs and linear graphs ( functions in the paid version ). Free version is still quite functional but paid version has some compelling upgrade features for higher level mathematics.

CS – Measurement and Geometry, Number and Algebra    PS – Understanding, Reasoning

MyScript Calculator (free)

A screenshot doesn’t do this app justice. In a nutshell, this app converts your handwritten scrawlings into equations and calculates the answers. Recognises indices/roots, trigonometric functions, percentages and fractions as well as basic operations. YOu can edit equations on the spot by crossing out and replacing numbers and symbols and equations automatically update as you increase and decrease values on either side. Blank spaces are replaced with calculated values. A great app for exploring equations as well as a very functional calculator. Does have limits, which you will find as you explore but its free so explore at will.

CS – Number and Algebra    PS - Fluency, Problem Solving, Understanding and Reasoning

Friends of Ten  ($0.99)

A handy app for exploring subitising and the visual conceptualisation of 1-10, important number skills to develop in younger students. This app has six activities using Tens Frames to develop build to ten, how many and more than/less than.

CS – Number and Algebra   PS – Fluency and Understanding

Tens Frame Snap Lite (free)

This game based app consolidates the skills developed in Friends of Ten above using a 2 player Snap game.

CS – Number and Algebra   PS – Fluency and Understanding

Routes ($1.99) (My Maps – linked to Google Maps account – free but harder to use)

Using Google Maps as its base, this app allows students to build routes along maps by dropping waypoints along the way. It generates distances and estimated times along the route and between points and you can compare bicycle, car and walking routes to the same locations. It also creates instructions which can be tested by actually going out and following the routes created. The distances and times can also be tested by actually going along the route as well. Routes can be shared via email, Twitter/Facebook and printed.

CS – Measurement and Geometry, Number and Algebra     PS – Problem Solving, Reasoning and Understanding

Virtual Manipulatives! (free)

An app that provides manipulatives to explore the relationships between fractions, decimals and percentages. Limited to values from 1/2 to 1/12s ( no 1/7s or 1/9s)

CS – Number and Algebra    PS – Fluency and Understanding

Counting Board (free)

A simple but effective counting aid. Either show or hide numbers. Create visual number patterns. Use to develop count on/count to/ count backward strategies for counting, addition and subtraction. Has an option to say numbers as they are tapped.

CS – Number and Algebra    PS – Fluency and Understanding

Fraction Division ($0.99)

A very specific skill set for an app but great to see a conceptually difficult operation ( division of fractions) explained in a concrete way. I know teachers who don’t understand how to divide fractions or explore the rote learnt reciprocal concept. This app definitely helps

CS -Number and Algebra   PS - Fluency, Problem Solving, Understanding and Reasoning

Numbler Free (Free! – paid app $0.99)

A fun way to explore equations and practise calculations. Basically, this is a number based version of Scrabble. YOu are given a selection of tiles with numerals, operation symbols and an equality sign. The object is to make equations with the tiles you have and/or the tiles already on the board.  Easy to play, challenging to finish. Encourages experimentation by trying to score the highest possible score. Free version only allows for one player versus computer. Paid version allows two player game.

CS – Number and Algebra PS - Fluency, Problem Solving, Understanding and Reasoning

Logic Puzzles HD ($2.99)

I love Logic Puzzles. This app provides are large selection of puzzles to complete. While not easy to categorise under COntent strands, the logical reasoning developed throough these puzzles is essential for higher order thinking. I have successfully taught 7 year olds how to solve ( and create ) these types of puzzles which has encouraged thinking, problem solving, creativity and logic.

PS – Problem Solving and Reasoning

PollDaddy (free)

Others prefer SurveyMonkey but PollDaddy has its own iPad app that gives you a simple way to COLLECT data based on surveys created online. All you have to do is link the app to an account, download the survey and it creates an easy to use, question by question survey on the iPad. You can review the results and upload the surveys once done.

CS – Statistics and Probability

As you can see, most of these apps are free so you can easily try them out to see what you can do in your classrooms with them. The paid apps won’t exactly break the budget if you download one copy to try. While many have physical, old school versions that can be used instead ( just like they were pre-iPad), I am of the opinion that the iPad version are more user friendly are allow for more possibilities and instant, repetitive use.

Let me know what you think about these apps or maybe suggest some other apps I have left out.

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Mar 31

This is a repost of a blogpost from last Easter. With a lot of new readers since it was originally published, I thought it was timely to post it again. While I know most of you don’t visit Mr G Online for religious inspiration, at this time of the year, it’s a message on my mind.

Permit me on this day to digress from intellectual discussion about Education and Technology and let me indulge in my silent passion – being a Catholic at Easter Time.

THIS APOSTLE’S CREED

I believe in God – I don’t have physical proof and can’t explain why, that’s faith. I also believe in Science but can’t find anyone that can fully explain where that big ball of gas came from that exploded as the Big Bang that started everything. I believe that if you look closely at the Creation Story and many other cultures’ Creation stories, a bunch of superstitious fantasy creators do a pretty good impersonation of Evolution Scientists in describing the order of how things were created. I believe I can ignore the absurdity of the 6 day time frame and no mention of dinosaurs ( the Israelites were not archaeologists!) and still believe in a God created world.

I believe in Love – I call it God. You can call it love. It makes no difference.

I believe Love is about sacrificing your wants for the wants of others. I call that Jesus Christ.

Yes, I believe in Jesus Christ. I believe history tells us he lived and was crucified. The Bible tells us he was resurrected. We can argue over the Bible as a history book. I don’t believe everything in it. But then you can say that about a lot of history books.

I believe in the message of Jesus Christ. That’s all that matters to me. I believe his message has been confused with the creation of an institution that tries hard to follow his ways but can fail miserably at times. I believe that paedophilic priests are abhorrent, the Crusades and the Spanish Inquisition are blights on our world’s history and quibbling over who gets married to whom is a waste of the real purpose of being Christian. But that God that I mentioned earlier didn’t create perfect people. We fail. We sin. We make mistakes. Whatever you want to call it. Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Left Wing comedians and Right Wing commentators, Atheists and Agnostics, scientists- we all get it wrong sometimes.

Despite all these problems that doubters love to trot out, I believe in the message of a young man from Nazareth. He hung out with the outcast and damaged goods of his community and did what was best for them. But he also challenged them to be better people. He challenged authority by pointing out their hypocrisies. He would be appalled by political correctness today.

I believe He accepted the wisdom of the 10 Commandments but challenged us to go further. Thou Shalt Not was replaced with Thou Shalt. Staying out of trouble and being perfect Pharisee style was replaced with positive action to improve the lives of others. Love your neighbour as yourself. Love one another as I have loved you. Son of God or not, you gotta love the sentiment. Irrational believer or Rational Atheist, you can’t knock loving people can you? Yeah, its hard. Loving Christian Crusaders or Irish Catholic Bombers from the IRA or Muslim Extremists is not easy. But if we give up on love, we give up on life.

I believe Jesus’ message is Love the Person, not the Action. When he healed people, he forgave the person but challenged them not to sin again. We lose that message sometimes when we get the goody twoshoes version of Jesus. He challenged. He criticised. He got angry. But he never stopped loving. We could with a bit of that today. From all sides of the arguments.

I believe in Church, but have issues with THE Church. Church is community and I love my community. I have to believe in a community that includes a wonderful group of teenagers and young adults that aren’t roaming the streets looking for trouble on a Public Holiday but instead are inspiring emotional and spiritual responses from the older community in their portrayal of the Stations of the Cross. A group of kids who instead of getting drunk and abusive on weekends are enjoying themselves with a bit of God Talk mixed into the games. They’re not lame, boring kids. They’re fantastic.

I believe in a community that is full of people who serve others. We enter the homes of strangers and offer them support because they need it. We get back more than we give and it costs us nothing. I believe in a community that can inspire an atheist Chinese couple to spend a year learning with us about this Jesus guy an then be baptised at the Easter Vigil mass last night, accompanied by their friends from China who were swept away by the mood. I also believe our community inspired another adult last night to come back to Church after being away for so long.I believe in the joy our community showed last night and continues to show each week, despite the media telling us Christianity is dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit, not the often mocked image of tongues of fire and doves floating above people’s heads. I beleive in the Spirit that gave us Mother Teresa, Gandhi ( yeah, he was no Christian but the spirit was there), Martin Luther King, Jim Stynes ( look him up, non Australians), Max Kolbe, the guy that stood in front of the tanks in Tienamen Square, the freedom fighters in Africa, Bob Geldof and all the other lovers in the world. The Spirit isn’t a Catholic, Jesus wasn’t a Catholic. The Spirit is love. Jesus is Love. God is Love.

If you can’t believe in the Catholic Church or the Anglicans or the Evangelicals, at least believe in Love. As I head off this morning for my sixth Catholic celebration in seven days, guitar in hand and voice ready for another burst of cheesy hymns, I ask you to at least do that. Believe in Love. If you can do that, then today, Easter Sunday, for a brief moment, maybe you can believe in Jesus. It can’t hurt.

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Mar 30

Answering Questions

My school has done a lot of work in developing questioning skills to support teaching and learning. The idea of “fat” and “skinny”/open and closed questions has been emphasised in student research projects and discussion building. “Enabling” and “extending” prompts is our current focus in Mathematics differentiation in particular to cater for the needs of the wide spectrum of skill levels.

One aspect we haven’t covered enough as a school that I have always seen as an area for improvement is how teachers elicit responses from the students themselves during lessons. This is something I always emphasize in my role as a mentor for graduate teachers. One of the easiest traps to fall into as a teacher is assuming your lesson has been effective because there was ‘lots of discussion’ and ‘student participation’. The students “seemed to understand because all of my questions were answered.” However, through closer scrutiny, this usually translates into ” the top 10 smart kids/teacher pleasers answered all the questions while the rest added to their doodle collection or planned their lunchtime activities while staring at the oval out the window.”

Targeted questioning addresses this issue in different ways. I model to my graduate teachers the art of catching students, especially the reluctant participants, understanding something during the lesson. I then ask a question directly to those students, knowing they can answer the question. This builds their self esteem because they are prepared for the answer and encourages further participation.

In preparing lessons for Literacy using the “Reading to Learn” program/strategy, one of the key factors for success is creating differentiated questions that involve all students in the discussion and comprehension of the text being explored. For the less able readers, prompts are prepared to direct them to specific sections of the text while extension questions encourage the higher achievers to share their knowledge to support the comprehension of others. This kind of targeted questioning enables full class participation. The fact that students know that a question will be directed personally at them rather than the ‘get out’ clause of ‘hands up who wants to answer’ places expectations on them to follow the text and think about a response at all times.

And then there is this YouTube video I’ve just come across thanks to my good buddy Zite. This takes targeted questioning to another level. Created by Jim Smith, a teacher for Derbyshire, England, it explains a process for planning a structured approach to asking your students questions. Without going into too much detail ( Jim’s gone to the effort of making the video to explain it, after all!), it involves knowing your students’ capabilities and preparing questions geared for different levels of understanding on the topic you are teaching. Then it comes down to knowing which students to direct the questions at.

It’s a form of differentiation we as a school are becoming more familiar with but the process Jim goes through is, for me anyway, quite effective and should be of great benefit in any classroom. Initially, it would take quite a bit of preparation, but if we aren’t going to use questions effectively to target student needs, preparation is necessary. This looks to be a good process to follow. Here’s the video. Feel free to share your opinion.

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Mar 26
The World as 100 People

I want to share this infographic today. Its an effective representation of a lot of data on a familiar topic. Many have seen this information presented before. This website gives the statistics in a simple list. It also provides links to earlier reports and origins.

This site provides a series of posters that present the same information and extra data in a graphical way.


And there’s always a YouTube video out there covering the same topic. This one is based on older data

Data like this can generate a lot of opportunities for Maths lessons.

  • Investigation and Generation of different graphs to represent the data in different ways
  • Conversion of data into raw numbers – what is 33% of 7 billion?
  • Compare the data from different eras – what has increased/decreased? By how much? What is the % increase/decrease?
  • How many more/less between different groupings within categories?

We need to work with data more and more. It surrounds us in today’s media. Getting children to understand it should be a major part of our Maths curriculum. Infographics like this one are a good start.

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Mar 24


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