Standardised testing – Who’s at fault? System, teacher or student? Pt 1 – The System.

I had been planning to weigh in on the Standardised Testing debate for a while now. Then I spotted this article titled The four biggest myths of the anti-testing backlash and decided to put my ‘two cents worth’ in.

First of all, don’t call me a fence sitter, but I can see what both sides are saying. And that’s part of the problem with the whole debate. It’s just two sides not listening to the other’s point of view. Being a quasi/mutant part teacher, part leader composite being, I get to discuss the postives and negatives of testing with many stakeholders and this is where it all sits with me.

The System Level.

At system level, no one has a coherent, unified explanation of the purpose of Standardised Testing. Is it for tracking student progress or achievement? Is it a means of evaluating the performance of schools, teachers or students? Is it a “one off snapshot of performance to get a general picture of student achievement to be used alongside school/teacher recorded data to build a profile of a student’s strengths and weaknesses” ( phew!) or is it the all important indicator of school and teacher performance that takes precedence over all other evidence of achievement before or after the test? Are we meant to use the results to guide curriculum and school planning or work with the results at a one to one level to build on Individual Learning Plans for students? Are the results intended for educational experts or meant to be published by newspapers and government websites to pigeonhole schools into rankings based on a one off event? Over the years, I hear and see all of these scenarios played out all the time and the end results too often don’t result in targeted learning improvements because we get bogged down in definitions of purpose and mixed agendas.

Testing is necessary. In a mobile, global society, there needs to be some standard we have to set for the typical 10 year old if one year their Dad’s job takes him to Thailand and the next year he ends up in Dubai. Results can be used effectively. Trends can be found at a class or school level that can be addressed quickly. Results can generate purposeful planning conversations based on actual data rather than teacher intuition or generalisations based on a small sample group. Done well, students and their parents can get timely feedback that they can use to address strengths and weaknesses quickly, not when they get their report five months later. Despite what we think, many students like competition and like to know how they are performing against their best mate or nemesis. So I am not against the concept of standardised testing. I have issues with its perceived purpose.

I’ve spent the last 3 weeks at school using a lot of standardised tests. We believe at the leadership level, we have a clear purpose for these tests. The On Demand testing we are using online with entire Grade Levels can give us a snapshot of who is below, at and above standard. From there we plan programs to address needs of groups of students. It’s instant feedback – which is a massive advantage over the ridiculous 5 month waiting period for NAPLAN ( Australia’s nation wide standardised testing program) . The minute the student finishes the test, we can bring up overall and question by question results. But the amount of data can be overwhelming at the micro-level and too general at a macro level. More importantly for me, raw numbers and right and wrong answers tell me what the student can’t do BUT it doesn’t tell me why.

That’s why a more effective form of standardised testing is the one on one interview. Too time consuming to do with every student and often too pointless to use with high achievers or the ‘normed’ student, but what you get the chance to do that makes a real difference to the student’s learning is identify how they think. A instead of C doesn’t tell me why the child couldn’t add two digit numbers; listening to that same student verbalise the misconceptions of addition does. Where standardised testing of the written, whole class nature helps me here is identifying the students who would benefit from the interview. Over the last week, I have had some eye opening interviews and discovered some major issues with some students that NAPLAN and On Demand or class worksheets clearly missed. I’ve also found out that some of the students I interviewed because of Standardised Test results, were not low achievers at all. They were using sophisticated mental computation strategies that will support them in future years and should have helped them ‘ace’ the test. Something else was going on at the test site that a written test can’t begin to pick up.

I don’t know how possible it is but it would be nice if at system level someone could investigate the possibility of an alternative to the 50 question multiple choice question test. Is our priority the Collection of Data about WHO is at risk or finding out HOW we can help the at risk student? I don’t know how practical it is at a system level, but 5 questions on key ideas that ask a child to justify their responses is going to tell me more about what is going on in the head of that student than a score of 12/50.

Testing is vitally important but it’s important to find out how to help our students learn, not simply what they do and don’t know on a given Thursday. Identifying learning issues is what I want to see as the purpose of Standardised Testing. That helps teachers. That helps students. Anything else becomes a political football in a debate between two groups of people who are only providing the media 1o second soundbites to keep the real stakeholders out of the conversation.

Having said that, it is certainly not all the system’s fault. Teachers and students have to be accountable in all of this too. What roles, rights and responsibilities do those at the coalface have in this debate? I’ll cover that in Pt 2 ( or maybe even Pt 3 – depends on how much I ramble on for!!) In the meantime, I’d like to hear what you think? What’s your take on Standardised Testing? Which side of the debate do you support? Join the conversation.

Digital Media and Learning – what’s missing in our curriculum documents

cartoon from www.weblogcartoons.com

Cartoon by Dave Walker. Find more cartoons you can freely re-use on your blog at We Blog Cartoons.

Credit goes to John Elfrank-Dana for posting an article on Schoolbook titled “Wanted:New Standards that Embrace Technology” that has inspired me to reflect a little deeper on my understanding of this topic.

It seems that many countries are in the midst of new curriculum documents being introduced. In the time between the last and the latest, personalised learning and student-directed learning have been positioned at the forefront of contemporary teaching and learning. What has also accelerated over that time is technology possibilities in schools. I use the word possibilities deliberately here because, while everyone seems comfortable with the theories and pedagogies behind personalised/student centred learning ( even if it hasn’t quite come to fruition just yet), in many schools great numbers of leaders and teachers are still behind the 8 ball on what can be achieved with technology in their classrooms. Sadly, our new curricula, still appears to be as well.

Elfrank-Dana, in the post credited above, laments that the USA’s new Common Core standards hasn’t addressed the impact of new media. Likewise, in my country Australia, our new National Curriculum, which comes into effect in 2013, is also struggling to show a deep understanding of digital technology and its role in learning. Yes, it often includes the phrase ‘with digital technologies’ and ‘media texts’ in many of its content descriptions but to me they stand as add ons to the more specific literacy or numeracy skill they are referenced with. We are yet to have a National Curriculum for Technology and are still stuck with state level documents that were written “pre-Google”(let alone have any relevance to the Web 2.0/social media of 2012 and beyond).

So it is left up to individual schools to push the boundaries of digital learning until our curriculum writers catch up with the pace of change. If we are going to be true arbiters of change in schools, we need to be aware of the skills that aren’t listed in our curriculum but are vital for developing learners who can cope with the fast changing world they are growing up in. That’s why I was grateful to find in the article above the white paper on Digital Media and Learning by Henry Jenkins et al from MIT, titled “Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century” (downloadable as a PDF if you want to read the whole 72 pages!)

This part of its summary really caught my attention:

A central goal of this report is to shift the focus of the conversation about the digital divide from questions of technological access to those of opportunities to participate and to develop the cultural competencies and social skills needed for full involvement. Schools as institutions have been slow to react to the emergence of this new participatory culture; the greatest opportunity for change is currently found in afterschool programs and informal learning communities. Schools and afterschool programs must devote more attention to fostering what we call the new media literacies: a set of cultural competencies and social skills that young people need in the new media landscape. Participatory culture shifts the focus of literacy from one of individual expression to community involvement. The new literacies almost all involve social skills developed through collaboration and networking.These skills build on the foundation of traditional literacy, research skills, technical skills, and critical analysis skills taught in the classroom.

The new skills include:
Play — the capacity to experiment with one’s surroundings as a form of problem-solving
Performance — the ability to adopt alternative identities for the purpose of improvisation and discovery
Simulation — the ability to interpret and construct dynamic models of real-world processes
Appropriation — the ability to meaningfully sample and remix media content
Multitasking — the ability to scan one’s environment and shift focus as needed to salient details.
Distributed Cognition — the ability to interact meaningfully with tools that expand mental capacities
Collective Intelligence — the ability to pool knowledge and compare notes with others toward a common goal
Judgment — the ability to evaluate the reliability and credibility of different information sources
Transmedia Navigation — the ability to follow the flow of stories and information across multiple modalities
Networking — the ability to search for, synthesize, and disseminate information
Negotiation — the ability to travel across diverse communities, discerning and respecting multiple perspectives, and grasping and following alternative norms.

Fostering such social skills and cultural competencies requires a more systemic approach to media education in the United States. Everyone involved in preparing young people to go out into the world has contributions to make in helping students acquire the skills they need to become full participants in our society. Schools, afterschool programs, and parents have distinctive roles to play as they do what they can in their own spaces to encourage and nurture these skills.

While the skills listed above rarely reference digital media specifically, it is clear that all of these skills are both developed and needed in using digital media for learning. While it is true that many of these skills have been and can be developed with traditional media and teaching practices, it is clear to me that they haven’t been in may cases and need to be addressed for all of us to succeed in what the Jenkins refers to as today’s Participatory Culture, one that is awash with digital technologies.

So how do we address each of these skills with digital learning as the focus? I’m going to give that a try.

Play — the fact a 2 year old can master the basics on a iPad quicker than her mother suggests that students already have the Play skill down pat. It also suggests that our students can learn a lot through play, which can be undermined by the “chalk and talk, drill and test” pedagogies still prevalent in many (certainly not all) classroom environments. We need to let children learn through playing more, something that is hard to do with just words on paper or a whiteboard or from a teacher’s mouth. Digital media offers the opportunities to explore preferred media sources. It also allows students to work at their own pace and level by choosing their entry and exit points to a learning task delivered through digital media, rather than sitting through 10 minutes of teacher lecture about content they already know. It also teaches them to think about possible solutions and strategies rather than always calling on the teacher instantly. On the creation side, being able to use digital tools allows the student to explore the possibilities of the software, restart quickly if the original idea didn’t work, try out the vast array of tools available and do it all independently IF we give them the opportunity to play with it (instead of giving then a narrow focused teacher tutorial based on our ideas).

Performance — As teachers, we ask students to connect with opposing points of view , people in history and characters in stories. Traditional drama and role play has an impact here but digital media offers the students opportunities to role play independently. Setting up Facebook type profiles of historical figures or novel characters allows them to use their communication model of choice to explore relationships and share each other’s interpretations. Twitter can be used in a similar way to have dynamic, realtime comversations as adopted characters. Adopting avatars to communicate provides introverted students the ability to communicate their ideas behind closed doors yet still get to perform. Using a web tool like Xtranormal lets them create and view re-enactments or conversations in an attention grabbing format that exceeds listening to a shared reading in a traditional model.

Simulation — Once the domain of the highly trained tech geek only, now children can use a myriad of web, tablet and computer based software to make sense of their world. From simple programming tools like Scratch, 3D modelling with Google Sketchup to Animation packages like iStopmotion and data crunching software to create real time graphs of statistics, students are no longer restricted to interpreting visual representations of information but also showing their understanding of it through creating simulations in a form they respond to – visual.

Appropriation — There is so much content on the Internet today that Google alone cannot sort it out for you. A big part of participatory culture now is curation tools. People all over the web are taking responsibility for collecting relevant websites under topics of their choosing and sharing them with the world. Tools like Scoopit, Pearltrees, Pinterest and Diigo can be searched as alternatives to search engines as the curating has been done for you. It’s not a easy skill though as many just grab any site they find and don’t sort through what is worth keeping. This has to be taught. This is a great way for collecting media content for class research as well and an alternative to boring, wordy bibliographies.

Stories can be told by pulling content from your social media feeds through tools like Storify. Emerging web tools like Meograph lets you publish compelling stories by combining video, audio, images, maps and text, creating multimodal texts that appeal to this generation and replicate the multimodal style of non text references we work with today.

Multitasking — the ability to scan one’s environment and shift focus as needed to salient details. An important skill in today’s busy environment, students need to develop skills in handling multiple tasks. Digital learning used well allows us to keep track of all of our work, giving us the ability to move in and out of different work spaces online or stored on our personal hardware choice. Organised digital media makes it easy to locate multiple sources, if we’ve worked on our appropriation skills.

Distributed Cognition — for me, this is the result of mastering all of the other skills in the list.

Collective Intelligence — Social bookmarking tools like Diigo, collaborative tools like Googledocs, sites like Edmodo and blogs where students and teachers can interact with each other purposefully will develop the idea that we work and learn best when sharing with each other, the antithesis of standardized competitive testing and comparison.

Judgment — Probably the most important one on the list. When I was a child, I had two newspapers, a couple of channels we watched the news on and Encyclopedia Britannica. We didn’t have to make many decisions about whether the information was accurate or not. Fast forward to today and our students are confronted with 59 million results for a Google Search, limitless cable news channels of varying bias, opinion based blogs, millions of YouTube videos and a combination of gossip and factual news coming from Twitter and Facebook feeds. If there is one thing we do with our students in time at school it is to teach them how to sort fact from fiction. Explain that just because the site appears first on Google doesn’t mean it’s the best. Tell them the difference between .org, .com, .gov and .edu. Show them the importance of checking the references on Wikipedia. This should be the number one skill in any curriculum for today’s schools.

Transmedia Navigation — I think I covered this in appropriation but suffice to say that most of the media today is awash with varied media types. Students need to learn how to disseminate.

Networking — The important skill needed to work with collective intelligence. In a global world, networking is vital and we can’t lock kids away in their classrooms and hope they learn how later on. This leads on to the final skill…………

Negotiation — up there with Judgement in importance, this is reflected in the message of the cartoon at the start of this post. We can’t network if we can’t cooperate with others and treat them with respect. We can’t network if we don’t know how to accept but still argue with different viewpoints. And we can’t expect cyber bullying to stop if we don’t educate our children how to responsibly use social media. As parents we need to be in control and as teachers we need to embrace digital learning at school so we can give them opportunities to use digital media for useful purposes instead of just writing garbage on Facebook or Twitter about a kid or celebrity they don’t like. This has to be part of our curriculum, not blocked by decade old laws like COPPA and SIPA.

So when you open up your new curriculum in the new year, follow what’s in there. It covers important skills we all need. But don’t be slaves to it. There’s a lot more we need to do to create the learners we want for the challenges of 21st century life.

Teachers need to be learning role models

One thing I miss most due to my new part leader/part mentor/part member of teaching team role this year is a full time relationship with students. I get to play cameo roles teaching mini units to focus groups, taking extension groups in Maths and helping children use ICT effectively in their learning. What I don’t get to be, though, is something I believe in deeply – being a role model in learning.

With the shift in emphasis to independent, student centred and driven learning, I think sometimes we drop the ball as teachers in showing students how to be learners through example. I believe teachers have to jump out of the comfort zone of providing guidance, developing rubrics for students to follow, working on samples of work created by other authors and other pre-prepared lesson plans and ideas and get involved in real learning as an example for their students to follow. While I’m not a full time class teacher anymore, these are some examples of how I was a learning role model over the previous years that I think are important for teachers to do.

READING

I read to my class a lot. When I did, I showed joy in sharing the stories I read. I was, and still am when I can be, a performer. Asking children to read with expression but then reading to them without passion does not encourage them to make the effort. Use character voices. Accentuate emotion. Model getting involved in the story. Vary the pace to match the mood. Show them how to respond to written text. I have worked with teachers who always passed responsibility to reading class novels to the students, saying it was important for children to practise reading to an audience. Agreed. But the students won’t know how to if you don’t model how to. If performing is not your thing, modelling the struggle to “sell the story” becomes a teaching moment in itself.

Respond to texts in the same way you expect students to. We often bemoan the lack of detail and quality in our students’ text responses. Sometimes the blame has to be placed on us. We rely on textbook annotated models that break down a response into a series of soulless sentences that follow a structure. For me, I always thought it was far more beneficial for me to write my own reviews, character descriptions, book reports and answered the questions they were expected to answer too. I wrote them at an adult level to show students what could be achieved if they pushed themselves. They didn’t reach my adult level but they wrote some great responses because the bar was raised and the example was set. Teachers need to write, not just tell students to write by following a pattern.

WRITING

Clearly I have embraced blogging and I write for an adult audience for a specific educational purpose. Alongside this blog, though, I have another less visited blog that I set up to be a model for the writing we expect our students to write. I haven’t maintained it as much as I want because I haven’t been involved in students’ writing as much as I had hoped. As a full time class teacher, though, I see genuine writing as a vital component. I don’t see all teachers being as passionate about being writers as they should be. How can you assess a student’s ability to write a narrative or a poem or an exposition, if you can’t show you can do it yourself? I have a problem with children being expected to meet the requirements of rubrics created by teachers that follow ideas from writing textbooks but the teachers don’t write themselves.

Not only should we be writing during class time to model writing behaviours ( and sometimes we may struggle to meet the standards, modelling how difficult writing can be and what we might need to do to achieve some success ) but we should be writing independent of class time to show that writing is a genuine, meaningful activity. Teachers can’t expect students to set up Writers’ Notebooks and Writers Gifts or blogs if they don’t have their own and maintain their own. I love writing. My students have read my stories, plays, poems, songs, reviews, reports, explanations, persuasive and argumentative texts and used them as models for their writing, rarely meeting my standards but pushing themselves ( not all of them, obviously) to achieve a high standard. They’ve also critiqued them and I have accepted some of their advice ( and knocked back plenty, too), modelling the whole conferencing and editing process. Again, some teachers may not find writing as easy or enjoyable as me, but students can learn just as much about the struggles of writing – my blogs are littered with half finished or initial ideas as an example that not all writing ideas work ( I keep them to show not finishing is part of a writer’s life).

MATHEMATICS

We rightly push the importance of problem solving. Modern maths teaching methods revolve around multiple strategies. If we are genuine about this, again we need to be role models for  contemporary maths thinking. Again, ( I know I sound like I’m blowing my own trumpet) I find Maths easy at the primary/elementary/middle school levels I work in but I am very careful to model the varied strategies I want my students to use. As a student in the 70s and 80s I went through the era of pure procedural calculation. I could do it easily then and can easily do it now. By being a role model, though, I have actually improved my Mathematical thinking and understanding by using various strategies and maintaining their consistent use.

I don’t have a problem with procedural algorithms; sometimes they are the most efficient method. What I have a problem with is teachers working so hard in a 4 week unit on mental computation and multiplication strategies in Semester One then undoing all their good work by falling back into their comfort zone of algorithms and times table tests in Semester Two. We have to maintain the rage, easy or not, and keep being role models for mental strategies. I repeat, I have improved my mental computation over the years through sustained use of multiple strategies. Students will too, if we keep up the pressure. If we aren’t good role models, they will follow what they think is the “best maths” and use algorithms when they don’t need to.

Problem solving is the same. Students need to see us trying to solve problems and not problems we find easy. I believe as Maths teachers, we should be modelling the struggle involved in problem solving by tackling problems we don’t know the answer to. No shame in getting others to help you too. That is good role modelling too. I like to work on problems in front of the students. I like investigating with the students. We need to show we think problem solving is relevant and useful by doing it, not just setting the problem and showing them how to solve problems we have the answers too.

INQUIRY

I love learning. A lot of my colleagues think I’m a weird freak ( in the nicest possible way!) at Trivia nights and constantly ask me questions to find out quick answers, often in front of the students. I make the mistake often of telling them the answer. They shouldn’t be asking me the question. They should be inquiring themselves. We expect our students to do the research. We should be role models here as well. The reason I know so much is not just because I grew up in the educational era when you were actually expected to remember stuff, not just “Google” it. I know stuff because I am interested in learning. I investigate. I show interest. I experiment. I do this in front of my students. I have a genuine interest in their topics and want to find out more. I ask probing questions to show how they can go further with their questions because I actually want to know what they are researching. When my classes research, I research. When my students do projects, I do projects. Why wouldn’t you if you really believe in the life long learning mantra we spruik in our policies and mission statements. Again it’s about being genuine. I don’t copy and paste so the students know I won’t accept copy and paste. I want deep understanding so the students know I won’t accept superficial answers to research questions. We have to be good role models as inquiring learners.

It might sound like a lot of hard work. Sometimes it is but I enjoy hard work if the result is learning. But sometimes the work actually make teaching easier. Less planning involved for literacy if you just model what to do. Don’t go looking for books on how to teach narratives. Just write a narrative and share your work with the class. Learning will happen on the job. Don’t spend days making up a poster outlining the research process. Just start researching with the class. Be a role model. Don’t tell them what to do. Show them how it’s done.

Can your class survive a week without Technology?

Scenario 1: The wifi and router at school is dead and needs to be replaced. Your entire grade’s work is either on the now inaccessible School server or sitting online on one of 10 Web 2.0 tools you have been using. The collaborative online discussions the students have been having on Edmodo have been cut off from the real world and our reflective blogs are now in no mans land at school. The class has bookmarked 30 top quality references to support the projects they have been researching for the last two weeks. Panic stations or alternatives are planned for?

Scenario 2: There has been a spate of “accidental” screen breakages on the shared laptops and iPads. Several stern messages have been delivered to the grade with no change in care and the screen carnage continues. The decision is made that the only choice is to ban access to all ICT to drive home that there are consequences for a lack of responsibility and accountability and that next time you’ll really be a friend by stopping the mistreating of equipment or reporting incidents to teachers. Your entire grade’s work in either on the now inaccessible server etc etc……. Hesitant to ban or necessary to have gain through pain?

Scenario 3: Being the early adopter that you are, you have spent the last 6 months trialling a truckload of Web 2.0 tools with your grade. Like 99% of the population, you don’t read the terms of use ( I certainly didn’t this time last year 😱 ). Days before all of your class are to hand in their Glogs/Prezis/SlideRockets/Xtranormal/GoAnimate/Animoto videos, you receive emails from these companies informing you that you have breached their No Under 13s policies for free accounts and all of your students work has been deleted as per the clearly stated Terms of Use and Privacy policies you didn’t read! Your entire grade’s work ………. you know the drill.

Before thinking I’ve overdramatised, I know from personal experience that these scenarios can, have and will continue to happen.

The question is – are we prepared for these scenarios to happen?

Clearly from the subject matter of this entire blog, I am an absolute advocate of technology integration into all aspects of education. I’ve been a driving force of change in ICT in all the schools I’ve worked in. In the Contemporary learning environment of the cliched “21st Century Classroom”, there is no turning back. We live in a tech driven world with a tech driven society.

But I also taught in the Luddite era of the late 80s and early 90s before the Internet existed and computers were barely accessible to most schools. The students managed to learn and learn well. Through Facebook I am now in contact with many of those former students ( they found me, I’m not a stalker😁) and they all live happy, successful lives.

When I look at the access and opportunities to tech our current students are getting in Primary (Elementary) schools and look at what they are moving to in High School ( hint: in many cases, it’s far less than we offer), I sometimes do ponder are we setting them up for disappointment in a couple of years. ( Don’t lose faith in me, I quickly come to my senses and realize we aren’t preparing them for high school; we’re preparing them for life beyond so we are doing what is right for them.) Exams are still pen and paper, tests are still pen and paper, we still have to make sure they can handle pen and paper.

So do we at times go too far with this technology push? Can our students research without Google? Can we teach them without our interactive whiteboards and flipped videos and online lesson delivery systems? Is it that bad if the students hand up hand written reports with crossed out words and bad paragraphing and have to rewrite it all over again just like we used to successfully?
Do we have to force the artistic children in our grade to make a kitschy Glogster poster when they’d rather paint, draw, cut and paste their way to their own creation? Can a kid with an infectious personality, an engaging voice and some effective hands on props and snapshots outdo the kid with the whiz bang but superficial-in-content Prezi or PowerPoint? Are we breeding a future generation who won’t cope if their boss expects them to listen to his voice and not watch his presentation? Can our students – and us – survive in a classroom without tech?

Contemporary teaching and learning – is it about the 4 Cs – Creativity, Collaboration, Communication and Critical thinking – or the 4 As – Apple, Android, Acer and ActiveInspire? Obviously, I believe in both ( maybe not the Android/Acer bit😜) but I think we do need a bit of balance in our classrooms. Sometimes it just humans. We can survive.

Creativity and Quality vs Time Constraints and Quantity

Thanks to Dangerously Irrelevant for the video and the spark for this post

What do we hope to achieve as teachers? Good grades for our students? Year over year growth based on testing, standards and outcomes? Engagement in life long learning? Develop fully their talents and creativity? All of these are important goals in education but at some point we need to decide which is the most important in this “21st Century/Contemporary Teaching/Personalised Learning Education Environment we purport to be in today.

This simple video has made me think again about my philosophy of teaching and my dream for education. Creativity is one of the great goals that drives the push for contemporary teaching and learning. Do our actions support its development?

For me, we are still driven by time constraints in the day to day reality of school. This hampers creativity.

Instead of expecting a student to write, edit and publish (whether teacher or student is satisfied or not) a text every week so we have “enough” evidence to justify the grade on the semester report card, why can’t we allow the student time to work on one or two texts over a long period of time until we are all proud of the result? Did the D student get a D because he can’t write or because he didn’t get the opportunity or support to improve his text before moving on to task 34? ( It reminds me of 2007 when my daughter came back from our Europe holiday and had to complete the statewide Gr 5 writing test, a 40 minute exercise in putting words on paper. She was ‘slightly below standard’ on the report because she didn’t finish. I should have sent the assessors her 100 page journal she compiled while on our trip, the writing that captivated family and friend alike for its detail and reflective depth.) What is it as teachers we are assessing – product or process? The time limited end result or the growth and improvement over time? Do children have to write a persuasive text, a narrative, a report, a review, an explanation, a recount, a book response all in one term or semester just because they’re all written in your system’s curriculum document? Was Shakespeare not “at standard” because he didn’t write an expository text on the strengths and weaknesses of Queen Elizabeth?

Is it more productive to assess ONE 15 page piece of quality writing over the course of the term or semester (not just at the end when its finished-no one wants to do that), progressively monitoring and assessing the language conventions, sentence structures, use of literary devices that you have discussed and taught the student over time OR give a score to 15 “OK” pieces of writing the child gets no opportunity to improve? I’ll leave that up to you to decide.

Our students may not want to persist at editing and improving a text over a long period of time because they have grown up in a system ( and I’ve been part of it for 25 years so I’m not criticising anyone without taking the blame too) that values quantity over quality, product over process and finishing over creating. If we really want to bring about Sir Ken Robinson’s revolution, this has to change. Collecting 20 samples of writing that are not good enough has to be replaced by a paradigm shift to working on a text until it is great. Ticks, crosses and percentage points don’t teach a student how to improve their writing ( or counting, calculating,thinking, questioning,researching, drawing). Guidance, tracking, encouragement, constructive feedback, expectation and TIME does.

Can we do it? Should we do it? What do you think? Would love to hear what others have to say. Join the conversation.

The problem with underage bias in Web 2.0 tools for schools

The online world of 2012 is a very different beast to the Internet environment of the late 1990s and and early 2000s. Social networking didn’t exist beyond email and chatrooms, dancing baby animated GIFS predated cats playing pianos on YouTube and publishing on the Web involved uploading fairly static webpages using basic WYSIWYG HTML software like Pagemill. Children,educational institutions and government bodies were new to the whole Internet craze and when nasty popups linking to porn and violence began proliferating, it was a natural and necessary reaction for adults To want to protect our innocent children.

Out of this environment of fear and uncertainty rose two laws in the USA that today have a huge impact on education today – CIPA and COPPA. ( Disclaimer – as an Australian teacher, I had little knowledge of these laws until only recently. I don’t profess to be an expert and would be happy to hear from US readers who can explain them more thoroughly). Circa 2000, when these laws came into effect, they made sense. Today, though, I think it’s time for a rethink. Prevention, banning and blocking needs to be replaced by education, engagement and appropriate use encouragement.

I’m writing about this because of recent events at my school. Last year, a tech savvy group of Grade 6 students started presenting their projects using a number of web 2.0 tools they were using at home. At this stage at school we were only dipping the toe in the water with online tools and at first glance, teachers and students were very impressed and wanted to follow the lead of these trailblazing students. It was only after I checked these sites’ terms of use and privacy policies that I discovered the constraints of using some of them. We knew Facebook was off limits to under 13s ( not that the children were necessarily following that rule at home with or without parental approval) but it didn’t dawn on us that these great educationally appropriate web tools were classified under the same umbrella as the social networking giant.

Fast track to 2012 and much investigation and rewriting of school acceptable user policy later, we had employed a range of web 2.0 tools that we had permission for children to use. Then out of the blue, one particular site changed its policy Terms and our students were locked out of their work the day before an assembly to present their work! We contacted them and were informed that because they were under 13 they were not allowed to use the site. We hadn’t broken their original policy but for some reason, even though we had parent permission, they were no longer allowed access.

So this is my beef. Back in 2000, children needed to be protected. There were no education programs dealing with digital citizenship teaching the children how to behave responsibly. Filters needed to be put in place to prevent risk taking students from accessing inappropriate material. There wasn’t much else for students to do on the Net other than look at stuff and play some Flash games. Fast forward to 2012 and the Internet is now an ever changing hive of engaging educational activity. Collaboration, publishing, blogging, video conferencing, researching and so on keep the students too occupied in real tasks for them to waste their time googling unnecessary pictures. (Yes, I know some still do, but hopefully you get the point.)

Educational authorities are espousing the importance of a 21st Century education but apparently that only begins when you become a teenager. Personalised learning is supposed to be about meeting the needs of the individual student but laws limit a 12 year old to Dora the Explorer and ABC for Kids while his 13 year old friend is creating powerful, interactive, collaborative projects online that are wowing classmates and teachers alike. I understand the privacy protection. As a parent, I put a lot of effort into teaching my children as they grew up about what they could and couldn’t do online. Now they’re both teenagers whom I can trust to behave appropriately.

And that’s my point. In 2012, it should be about teaching the students AND their parents ( and in many cases, their teachers as well ) how to exist online. I believe it is far more effective getting younger children to learn ‘on the job’ so that responsible digital citizenship is second nature to them once they reach 13. Waiting until they’re 13 and throwing them in the deep end without supervised training is a poor substitute.

Education in responsible use is the way we are heading in Australia. We still have our filtering ( which is still a necessary precaution) and our government is going too far down the filtering path for ALL Internet users, so I’m not preaching about a superior government here. But programs to educate responsible Internet use while being able to take risks and learn how to deal with problems are better than prohibition. Having said that, educational leaders here still make their own choices about how far they want their schools to go online but guidelines are guidelines, not restrictive laws that prevent potentially great products from being created.

I know US Congress has its hands full at the moment with more important matters, but any time education is on the agenda, can the conversation go beyond standardized testing, teacher layoffs and education budget cuts and move on to amending COPPA and CIPA to match current practice? It just might free up teachers of younger students to do great things with greater access to great tools.

So what do you think? Should Under 13s have more access to web tools? Or should we continue to protect them from a possible inappropriate animation or slideshow? Join the conversation.

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Tailor Made ICT PD for Staff

Sometimes we need support getting to ICT heaven!

In an earlier post on Teacher Technology PD, I mentioned 5 key ingredients to support the important development of Educational Technology in schools.

  1. PLTs dedicated to Technology integration into our teaching practices
  2. A constant focus on Technology throughout lesson and unit planning
  3. A restructuring of the role of ICT Leaders/teachers in schools
  4. A greater focus on Technology in Teacher Training programs
  5. A commitment to Technology Professional Development courses on an equal footing with Literacy and Numeracy Projects.
Obviously, I have no influence over the last two points, which are system wide initiatives. It is the first three that we can make a difference at individual school, and possibly, district level. In another post, I reflected on my dreams for this year in ICT at school.
  • Collaborative, ‘always on’ staff communication. In short, I dream of school system wide adoption of Edmodo, GoogleDocs, Dropbox and Diigo.
  • We have the hardware, let’s ALL use it. In short, PD has to be regular, consistent, continuous, collaborative, hands on and purposeful (linked to teaching and learning practice)
  • Student-led ICT development and  improvement. In short, establish an energising, active and supportive Student ICT Leadership team dedicated to the ongoing adoption and growth of ICT in our school
At the time, I thought they were great ideas that were unlikely to be implemented but we’ve made some real progress at the leadership level since then and I am really excited about the upcoming term at school. A commitment to ICT PD  for 2012 has been made and several initiatives are on track.

 

As part of our Contemporary Teaching and Learning Project, each Grade Level has taken on a project to trial and implement new learning and teaching techniques. A couple of teams have chosen ICT as a focus. This means a number of PLT sessions and extra planning time will be dedicated to planning for ICT at the classroom level. One team has chosen Web 2.0 tools and have already had a session with the ICT team to discuss their options.

 

What was exciting was that in that initial session, we quickly moved into a discussion about how the ICT can be used to improve learning. We discussed possible uses within the Grade Curriculum and finished the session with a clear plan for what we wanted to do. This is what I meant when I said staff meetings couldn’t meet the needs of individuals or specific teams, The level of professional educational discussion we had would never happen at a whole school meeting. Within this PLT environment, individuals were able to open address their strengths and weaknesses, set goals for themselves ( within the group were early adopters willing to try anything and self professed technophobes who had a great desire to improve and use ICT effectively but didn’t know how to start.). By the end of the session, they had a chance to explore some tools we had discussed could address the educational outcomes we had developed and are ready to go next term.

 

Encouragingly, ICT has also found a place in the PLT timetable. Teachers also communicated in the survey mentioned below a desire for sections of Curriculum Planning/PLTs to be dedicated to ICT integration with input from ICT team members who can attend for short amounts of time. This will require communication of planning focus so ICT team members can come prepared to contribute effectively.

 

Outside of the PLT/Planning, we agreed upon the need for further training in specific Web Tools, ICT usage and iPads/iPod Touches/Interactive Whiteboards. Again, we identified that there was a need for more than the occasional staff meeting or relying on teachers to train themselves. With less involvement in actual classroom teaching this year, I offered to take on a role in developing targeted PD for the teachers. I wanted it to address their needs so I sent out an online survey to identify what the teachers wanted. I also linked the survey to a page that outlined what each PD area would involve. From the survey, I was able to identify key areas the staff were interested in. The main areas were Blogging, iPad/iPod Touch, Assessment, Edmodo, Web 2. 0 tools and Special Needs and ICT. A majority of staff were willing to commit to at least fortnightly sessions and many to weekly. I’m now in the process of sorting through the survey data to plan the sessions, ensuring I cover everyone’s needs and time commitments. I have also started to develop a separate blog ( not live yet but will link later) that will provide information about each session, tutorials from the Web and a space for staff to ask questions and provide feedback. It’ going to be a lot of work but I’m excited, especially that some staff members have also offered to lead some sessions themselves.

 

On top of that, I’m also genuinely excited that Leadership is making a commitment to take on ICT more proactively. We will be including sessions in our meetings to develop awareness of the tools as well as attending the PD sessions with the staff. It was recognised that as leaders of curriculum areas, we need to have sufficient knowledge of how ICT can have an impact in our expert areas. We have made an initial commitment to forming a group on Edmodo and exploring how that can enhance our communication as a Leadership team.

 

Finally, the ICT leader and I have finally met with the Grade 6 Student ICT Leadership Team. It was an interesting beginning. They started out rather cautiously and predictably talked about having competitions for ICT products as their main goals. They seemed very unsure what their purpose was because it was the first time we had formed an ICT team and previous Student Leadership groups had been more involved in organising events than making real change. Gradually though, we managed to get them talking about their desire to learn new ICT tools and wanting to teach others. They started identifying purposes rather than tools, which was a great step to take in the space of a single meeting. Suddenly promoting the school, collaborating, creating content, blogging, website development and the like started springing from their minds. We also got a good commitment from the vast majority of the team to give up some of their lunchtimes to achieve these aims. It’s early days but I think there is great potential in this group for real change led by the students.

 

So what started as a pipe dream at the start of the year has become a reality. Hopefully we can maintain the commitment throughout the year and notice a real change by year’s end. In the meantime, I’d like to hear from others how they have taken on the responsibility of building capacity in their schools. Join the conversation.

Planning for a new year in ICT – Can growth and change happen?

"It's about the teaching, not the technology" link http://bitstrips.com/r/2004P

I love this comic. It sums up so succinctly the general state of technology in schools today. Over my 25 year teaching career, I have seen millions poured into resourcing schools with banks of computers, glittering new computer labs, trolleys of laptops, digital cameras, color laser printers, iPods and iPads, after hours presentations by technology companies, cupboards full of CD-ROMS and subscriptions /licenses for every imaginable whizz bang software solution.

The result of all this money can sometimes be a printed sheet of paper with Word Art heading and a colourful clip art image at the bottom – the 1990s version of a handwritten story with a stencil guided title and drawing from the 1950s. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve also seen wonderfully innovative teachers use these tools to develop real 21st Century skills in schools. Creative videos, 3D models, interactive slideshows, collaborative online forums, stop motion animations – they’ve all been done and done brilliantly. But they’ve been one offs, part of a technology unit or the result of the ICT or classroom teacher’s enthusiasm for the latest tool from a PD day she attended. Too often when the dust settles, and the student’s excitement levels wane, we all slip back into the routine of typing stories and making yet another PowerPoint presentation with those annoying transitions and text effects. And yes, I’ve been guilty of it as much as anyone in the past so don’t stress.

These reflections have come about as I begin the 2012 year as a newly ordained member of the Leadership Team. At our first meeting we were asked to go away and plan for what we wanted to achieve in our specific area of expertise which we will then present to our team by the end of the term. I’ll be working with out ICT leader on our hopes and dreams for Technology in school. We share the same concerns with the pace of integration and adoption of ICT in education today . We share the same vision of how Technology can impact on Contemporary Teaching and Learning. So in preparation for the upcoming meetings, I give you my hopes and dreams for ICT in schools ( in no particular order of priority or level of reality!)

Collaborative, ‘always on’ staff communication
I dream of a time when;

  • All staff can equally share their ideas for others to read, reflect and comment on at any time, before, during, after and between meetings
  • All staff have access to a shared calendar so that we can keep up to date on what is happening in our school community and plan events without fear of timetable clashes without waiting for the next memo to be emailed/printed or school website update
  • All staff have an opportunity to share newly discovered research, websites, Web tools, information and so on through an easily accessible, always up to date, collaborative environment.

In short, I dream of school system wide adoption of Edmodo, GoogleDocs, Dropbox and Diigo.

Diigo V5: Collect and Highlight, Then Remember! from diigobuzz on Vimeo.

We have the hardware, let’s ALL use it
I dream of a time when;

  • Every classroom has students standing in front of the interactive whiteboards and teachers sitting in front of them
  • Students have control of the use and creation of content on the whiteboard, not the teachers ( and not just when they are presenting their projects)
  • We have to rip the iPads, iPods and laptops out of the hands of teachers and students when we collect them for updates/upgrades because they are always being used.
  • The AV Resource cupboard is ALWAYS empty and ALL teachers AND leadership are waiting to use what is no longer available.
  • The computer lab is NEVER vacant
  • All staff meetings involve using ICT tools ( not just for presentations to watch and listen to ) and this is seen as an opportunity for ICT PD, not just the content of the meeting.
  • Leadership and teachers are seen utilizing ICT tools in as many ways as the students are.
  • All teachers are seeking advice on how to skill up in ICT long after the initial introductory PD

In short, PD has to be regular, consistent, continuous, collaborative, hands on and purposeful (linked to teaching and learning practice)

Student-led ICT development and  improvement
I dream of a time when;

  • Students are free to explore web tools, PC/Mac software, iOS apps and ICT hardware, evaluate its usefulness and present their findings to students and staff
  • Students run workshops in using these tools for interested staff and students
  • Students become the source of information about and for our school and communities beyond through the use of blogs, podcasts and videos
  • Students have a voice in discussions about appropriate use policies at school and are held as equally responsible for how students use and abuse ICT as teachers and parents are

In short, establish an energising, active and supportive Student ICT Leadership team dedicated to the ongoing adoption and growth of ICT in our school

These are my hopes and dreams. Many are way beyond reality for 2012. But without hopes and dreams, nothing is accomplished. Hopefully, this year can start to make some real change around the world in Technology and Education Integration. If we don’t, the above cartoon, redrawn in 2061, will just be a teacher in an even shorter dress going Blah Blah in front of a holographic image being ignored by kids wearing Virtual Reality helmets!

What are your hopes and dreams? Are they getting closer to reality? If so, how did you make it happen? Join the conversation.

 

Can you share iPads – the case for Yes.

PART TWO – the case FOR Sharing
In my last post, I sort of positioned myself in the “iPads can’t be shared” camp. When the boss first asked me about the possibility of getting iPads into our school, one of my first concerns was ‘ for sharing or individual use’. As teachers trialled them last year, they passed them among some eager students and came to the belief it was fine to share them with children who wanted to use them. Everyone has different opinions on the matter. Depends on how much you believe the kids could or should use the iPad. Reality in our situation though is that we are not going 1:1 so sharing is the only option. That being the case, we have to find solutions to the problems I discussed in the previous post.

Dropbox
This is the most obvious and best solution. For those who don’t know, Dropbox is a cloud based network with dedicated mobile and desktop apps that make saving files as simple as saving to a standard file folder. If you want more info, look it up.
With the Dropbox app installed on an iPad, children and teachers are able to save their work from many ( but far from all ) apps and if there is a compatible app on a computer, open it up there as well. Dropbox integration is available in most publishing apps (Pages, Numbers and Keynote being big exceptions) and a lot of other content creation and file sharing/reading apps. You can save attachments from your mail, the internet and other apps as well.

In some apps, like Notability, my favourite note taking app, even have automatic syncing to Dropbox. In my personal use, Dropbox has been a great way of accessing saved files. It is definitely a way of saving and opening files outside of the iPad file system.

However, there still are issues using Dropbox to support shared iPads. The hassle of having to login and log out of the Dropbox app every time a different user wants to access files could make it difficult for easy use. Some students and teachers may forget to do this and save their work in someone else’s folder. The fact that not all apps have Dropbox integration results in inconsistent access. The biggest problem at our school is that Dropbox doesn’t fully function over a proxy server setup that most schools in my system use. You can download your files but you can’t save to Dropbox. I’ve heard some schools have found workarounds to this but we haven’t solved it yet.

So is Dropbox a solution to sharing apps? Sort of – yes.

Googledocs.
Another possibility for sharing is Googledocs. Many publishing apps have Googledocs integration so files can be accessed and saved in the same way as I described in the Dropbox explanation. Same problems arise as well. So again, Googledocs is a “sort of – yes” solution.

Network accessing apps
There are a number of apps that allow you to access the file structures of our computers or network servers. my favorite app, and the one I use successfully is called FileBrowser. It allows me to login to the school network and my computers at home and access any files that the iPad can open. With compatible apps, you can also copy files back into the file system. When it’s possible, it’s a good solution. However, like all of these options, not every app allows you to use Filebrowser to save back, although you can pretty much always open files already in FileBrowser in any app ( except Apple’s own apps like Pages.)

iCloud
No. Least useful option. Good for syncing between personal iOS devices but that’s it. Apple has to do better here. At least integrate Dropbox with your apps. Feel free to disagree.

Email
20120123-195115.jpgMost fiddly but most reliable sharing option. Every content creation app has an email option. As long as your school allows children to email, this will work. It’s just a lot of steps to get access to a file. Having said that, five years ago, it’s what we all did.

Printing
Not quite sharing but obviously a way to hand completed work to someone so you don’t have to keep the file on the iPad. Printing difficulty is another of the criticisms of the iPad which I’m not going to argue about now. It can be done. While there are ridiculously few AirPrint compatible printers currently in schools, my advice is get one Mac on the network ( if you’re getting iPads I strongly advise having a Mac a your syncing computer; Windows and iTunes have a testy relationship at best) and spend $20 bucks on installing Printopia ( click for info). I’ve used it at our school without any problems.

My final solution – don’t care.
Seriously, if you just want to share the iPads and not worry about who’s accessing what, then there is no problem to begin with. If you decide that the iPad will  not be the main content creation device at your school and will be used for specific purposes it best suits, then it’s not an issue. At our school, where the 5/6 students have access to about 100 laptops and desktop computers, the iPads can exist happily as a specific use device.

However, if you are seriously considering iPads as replacements for shared computers and not value added devices, you will need to consider the issues I have raised. Can you share iPads? Sort of. It’s not my ideal setup but it’s something I’m going to have to come to terms with in my current situation (and get that Dropbox issue resolved!).

Again, I would like to hear from others who have successfully shared iPads in their school environment or others who have solved their sharing problems with solutions I have mentioned or ones I haven’t.

 

Web 2.0 = iPad fail?

One of the biggest moves we made in the 5/6 level last year was the integration of “Web 2.0″ tools into our teaching and learning practices. Many of the tools entered the classroom psyche through tech savvy students bringing in presentations made at home that wowed adult and child alike. Other tools were introduced by teachers after discovering them on the Net themselves or through my recommendations on our Edmodo page.

Once the students were introduced to them, the ‘digital natives’ took them on board and before we had a chance to ‘check the site policies’, we had projects presented through Glogster, Xtranormal, Prezi, YouTube as well as iMovies from the “Mac Kids”. And the quality and depth of their work was outstanding and engaging! So the last thing we want to do is take these tools away ( although once the dust settled and I had the chance to check the site policies, some of these tools were supposed to be out of bounds for our “Under 13s”. This is something we will have to deal with this year with some deft policy/user agreement and parent permission note writing!)

Which once again brings us to Part 2 of “Do we NEED iPads?” titled “Web 2.0=iPad Fail?”.

Probably the single biggest criticism of the iPad since its birth has been its inability to work with Adobe’s Flash technology. So many interactive websites use it for their animation, video and content creation tools. While a new standard known as HTML5 is slowly being embraced on many major sites like YouTube and many big news websites so iOS users don’t miss out, in the Education Website world which we live in, Flash dominates. Javascript is also an issue.

The problem is that so many sites that the children started using last year for their projects and presentations DON’T work on the iPad. Glogster? Useless. Prezi? No go ( the iPad has a Prezi viewer app but students need to create them first ). Xtranormal? Nope. On top of that, popular sites like NLMV for Math Manipulatives and Jenny Eather’s Maths Dictionary for Kids are also non-functional on an iPad because of Flash and Javascript incompatibilities. Lots of sites the students find with Google for research or online Maths and Literacy games end up having a ton of Flash based animations that bring up blank pages and expressions when visited on iOS devices.Even sites that just offer file uploading options don’t work with the iOS file system.  It might be OK for Steve Jobs RIP and my fellow Apple disciples  to tell us “Flash Sucks” and they hardly notice it missing in their world but in the educational world, it is quite pervasive.

That being the case then, is the iPad too crippled a device to invest in when so much of what is on the WWW for education is out of reach? Short answer – No. Long Answer – No with a bit of Yes and Maybe thrown in the mix.

What the iPad lacks in Web 2.0 access it easily makes up in alternatives through its Apps. To begin with, some Web 2.0 tools have now released their on iPad apps so that they can be used anyway. VoiceThread is a good example of this; Popplet and Coveritlive are others. Any unqualified to speak, anti-iPad blogger who is still pushing the “iPad is for media consumption, not creation” line is completely unaware of the huge array of apps that children can use for content creation. Apple’s own iWork apps ( Pages, Numbers, Keynote) as well as iMovie and Garageband are great, easy to use tools that produce fantastic results for students. There are now ebook creating apps like Book Creator, Demi Books Composer,and Creative Book Builder and other creative options like StoryPatch that make great books for others to explore. Creative visual story/animation/comic apps abound that give children great scope in presenting their learning. Try out some of the following:

ToonTastic  SockPuppets  iStopMotion ( yes its on the iPad)  iMotion HD  Animation Desk
PhotoPuppets  Comic Life  Strip Designer  ScrapPad

Then there are the photo editing apps like Snapseed, Iris and Pixlromatic that are so easy to use and produce great results and Screencasting apps like ShowMe and Explain Everything that can be use to demonstrate their learning in so many ways. Not to mention all the Maths and Literacy apps that easily match the stuff on the Flash Web.
Don’t get me wrong. I love the Web apps like Glogster, Prezi and Xtranormal. So do the students. I want them to use them. Eventually, many of them will convert from Flash to HTML5. Rumour has it that Glogster is close to doing so. Others will follow. We hope.
From what I hear from others on PLNs I’m part of, a lot of these sites are blocked by a lot of schools anyway. That’s a shame but helps my argument. At our school, iPads or not, they still can still use the web tools with the access to laptops and desktops they have anyway. So we can have the best of both worlds. My point is though that the iPad can offer plenty without the Flash dependent world of Online Ed sites. My argument in my last post was that the iPad had to be a different experience to warrant the cost anyway.With the app model instead of Web 2.0, they are.  So does No Web 2.0 = iPad fail? I don’t think so. But what do you think? Is no Flash a no iPad for you?
Next up: my biggest challenge. Can we share iPads?