Technology – Providing Incredible Opportunities for Students whether we want it to or not

We hear bad stories about young people using technology, especially the internet, at a monotonous regularity. YouTube is awash with ridiculous copycat videos of boys putting themselves in danger. Forums are flooded with a steady stream of insults and rumours from teenagers protected by anonymity. As teachers, we are constantly dealing with reports of cyberbullying on Facebook and Twitter we have no personal control over. If you believed the media shock jocks, every kid on the internet is either an idiot or in great peril.

But I want to tell a different story starring my daughter, her best friend and a small group of friends ( including my opportunistic son!). This is a completely different story that highlights the amazing opportunities that today’s available technology offers our students. It’s also a story about how, if given the freedom, children will take what we ‘make’ them do at school and take it to a whole new level that the limited minds of us teachers don’t even plan for. It explains why student led learning can be a success if we don’t restrict our students from going beyond our stated objectives. It shows how true engagement doesn’t need a teacher or a classroom for children to achieve great things and how technology can allow young students follow their dreams without the restrictions we had in the past.

It begins with a simple project for my daughter’s Studio Arts class. They were asked to create a short Horror film for their major term project. That was the only requirement. My daughter and her friends, from this point on known as BatFilms Productions. ( long story I won’t go into – suffice to say I am listed as ‘Lucius Fox’ in my daughter’s address book)  could have just coasted through the class this term, like apparently some students did, cobbled together a few clips on the computers at school and handed in a bland DVD in a plastic bag to get their ‘At Standard’ mark and go back to studying for their Maths and English exams. That’s all that was expected of them – a video.

Instead, this is what happened. The formed BatFilms Productions. ‘Best Friend’ (who in the 10 years she’s been coming to our house I have never heard utter more than one sentence at a time yet was the star of the movie)  set herself the task of writing the script for the 9 minute ‘epic’. ( the script does not get handed in to the teacher). My daughter started work on the Film Poster and DVD sleeve cover ( also not expected) using her favourite app on her iPad, ArtRage. She is also a budding artist, having attended an after school art class since she was 8. She paints with both natural media and digitally on the iPad, all in her spare time, completing works of art for family members on a regular basis.

Over the Term 3 holidays, while most of their class mates were hanging out at resorts, shopping centres or in front of the TV, Batfilms Productions got together on a Thursday for an all day, all night rehearsal and filming marathon – during the holidays! My kids came home just before midnight, exhausted but excited. “School work” was the highlight of their holiday – and my son wasn’t even part of the assignment. He just went to be the cameraman but is now an official member of Batfilms Productions. Of course by this stage, it had moved beyond school work. A passion had been ignited and it just continued to grow.

While Daughter, who inherited her father’s tech geek gene, got to work on the film editing and production, piecing together hundreds of clips of outakes, bloopers and useable video, Best Friend started thinking about publicity. She set up a YouTube Channel ( not part of the assignment and not connected to the school component at all) and a Twitter Account (again, not part of the school work). Best Friend’s Cousin, also a member of BatFilms, started working on the Film Trailer on iMovie ( also not part of the assignment requirement) and Daughter decided to add a professional edge to the opening credits using another iPad app Intro Designer (she upgraded to the full paid version to get the Horror Movie template ). When she found out about Bsst Friend’s YouTube/Twitter idea, she decided to use her Weebly account to create a Website to advertise Batfilms and their future plans.

Back at school, they discovered their clips weren’t opening on the school computers. Daughter calmly announced she would take them home and convert them ALL on her MacBook using Handbrake. When they viewed the converted files back at school, they noticed pixelation in full screen. They could have accepted mediocrity – at this stage some students hadn’t even filmed their scenes yet – but instead Daughter took them all home again and re did the whole conversion process at a higher resolution setting.

After all that not for extra credit effort, the film was finally completed. It was only now that I found out all they had to hand in was a video. Everything else was their own choice. They handed the movie in completed but all the teacher got was the DVD. What they kept for themselves was a film trailer, extras sections with bloopers and outtakes, a professional standard DVD sleeve and Film poster, and the potential for a real audience through their YouTube Channel, Twitter account and website, none of which would have been encouraged by the school.

What also came out of this was the genesis of a film company with plans made by a group of teenagers to create  more films together. Best Friend already has a script on its way for Movie number two, the completed movie Midnight Man is on Youtube, the Twitter account @BatFilms has started attracting followers and the website tells the story of the fledgling crew and their plans.

The movie itself is pretty good for a bunch of teenagers’ first effort. Me being me, I offered some constructive criticism, suggesting it needed some background music for mood. Daughter said they’d do that for the NEXT movie. Yep, they’re more interested in improving the next movie, the one they have DECIDED to do in their own time, no the one for school.

So what is the message of this story for me as a teacher? Well, there’s several.

  1. Our students are capable of so much more than what we expect of them. They’re not really motivated by grades; they are motivated by engagement. Their reports will probably have the same At Standard score as the slackers who are still working on their films. But BatFilms don’t care. They’re working on their next movie.
  2. As teachers, we need to broaden our learning outcomes and assessment. All these students will be assessed on is the video under the umbrella of Studio Arts. But what else have they demonstrated? Collaboration, entrepreneurism, initiative, teamwork, commitment to excellence, independent learning, communication skills, visual arts, planning, time management and preparation. One of the strengths of Primary School is that your teacher takes you for all classes so she can possibly credit you for all this. Secondary school teachers with their single subject focus may only focus on their narrow subject based outcome. We need to credit our students for unintended outcomes.
  3. We need to know our students’ passions and interests and give them opportunities to grow. The Studio Arts teacher should let the Drama Teacher, the English teacher, the Art Teacher,  the History teacher, the ICT teacher all know what these students are willing to do. Given the opportunity, these kids would put together a great interpretation of Romeo and Juliet or a World War Two battle through the sheer engagement of digital media, showing more understanding than their standard written essay. What they got out of this experience will not show up in a two hour exam.
  4. ICT provides opportunities that us teachers never had when we were students at school. We are limited by our own experiences. We shouldn’t limit our students’ possibilities. Instead of dwelling on the fake death reports and insults on Twitter, explore the possibilities of connecting to promote creative pursuits and worthy causes at school. Use blogs and websites and Youtube. Which leads me to ….
  5. Trust that students can use the Web constructively and responsibly. BatFilms is not a secret project. They are loving that the geeky father is promoting them on his longwinded, highbrow educational blog. Daughter told me straight away that Best Friend had set up the Twitter account. All the parents were asked by the children for permission to set up the YouTube Channel and Twitter. I’m following @Batfilms and Daughter has already blocked a follower who was promoting inappropriate material for them. Daughter is already a Weebly veteran, having set up a website Gleje Comics, displaying her comic strips series and soon to be released animations. She registered her site on the Comic Book Archive to promote it and has followers. ( She’s aiming for a career in computer animation.) They are responsible kids whose only interest in the internet is promoting their talents. Give students the opportunity to be responsible and creative and they will become good digital citizens.

So let’s not limit our students. Let them explore every possibility and bring their own goals along. If we are not getting the best out of them the traditional way, we need to try it their way. Trust technology to open up those possibilities. They’ll do it without you anyway. BatFilms did. Wouldn’t we prefer our students to put in all that effort and be rewarded and acknowledged for it at school as well as outside? Wouldn’t it be better to tap into that energy and enthusiasm and be there to add our experience and knowledge to the mix to improve the experience? I’m reading enough about how we don’t need schools or teachers as we know them anymore. We do. Students still need us. But we need to meet them in their world and support them there. And for those who want to dwell on the students who didn’t make the same effort to argue against the engagement factor of technology, go ahead. I’ll focus on the positive story of BatFilms Productions.

P.S. Please check out the video. They’d like an audience. And Daughter’s comics too.

What are you doing to make Maths real in the classroom?

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spikedmath.com

Mathematics – you either love it or you hate it. There seems to be very little middle ground in this area of thinking. The lovers can find something fascinating in any challenge involving the world of numbers, statistics, shapes and measuring. The haters switch off as soon as you announce ” Please get out your maths books” and go into a quivering near foetal position at the mere mention of the word ‘algebra’.

So where have we gone wrong? Is it just that Maths is too hard for some people? Or have we failed to make it relevant so the doubters just switch off? If we did a better job at showing how important Maths is to real life – that it doesn’t just exist within the confines of a lifeless text book divided into 12 chapters and 120 Exercises of mind numbing practice drills –  would we, along with an injection of teachers who truly love and understand Maths, finally produce a generation of mathophiles (if thats even a word)?

What are you doing to make Maths real in the classroom ( and beyond where it should be)?

  • Are you taking advantage of the simple beauty of Lego blocks to teach arrays, number patterns, counting and  visualization?
  • Do you rely on all those exercises in the textbook or do you show how Trigonometry and functions can be used  to build ramps, staircases, find out slopes;Test and adjust the water flow of a slope on a roof or a pipe; discover The effect of a ramp’s slope on the distance of a jump; work out whether throwing a ball on a steeper angle increases the distance it travels; test the physics of Angry Birds and other similar games?
  • Are you using ratio to alter recipes to cook for more or less people or for changing the taste of a sauce?
  • Do you just learn about the properties of different shapes or do you explore how different shapes fit into a space more efficiently and how this can impact design?
  • Are you buying all of your class/school supplies or getting students to organise surveys to find out parent/their preferences, do research on costing of supplies, table or graph results, compare costs of home purchases versus school purchases, investigate savings and what money could be used for instead?
  • Do you organise school events or have you thought about students working together to organise the costing of events like graduation parties, excursions, transport options, fundraising events?
  • Does your school block or encourage free fantasy sport online competitions which develop money management skills?
  • Do you go on excursions to local shopping centres to buy resources and look for the best prices and possible discounts?
  • Do you use worksheets about statistics and percentages or do you keep statistics about school sports events as real data to monitor performances?
  • Do you use Maths text books for examples or do you collect infographics from newspapers, news programs and websites so children have relevant, recent data to analyse?
  • Do you just serve up pages of algebra exercises to complete or do you demonstrate how algebra can be used as an efficient way to solve real problems, create formulas for simplifying work practices or show the usefulness of algebraic formulas in spreadsheets?
  • Are you still making graphs about favorite colors in the junior grades or are you teaching them that graphs can represent information from questions that make a difference to their lives ( that doesn’t have to be as deep as it sounds)?
  • Are you teaching students how to manage budgets, are you showing them how interest rates impact on their spending? Do they understand credit card debt?
  • Are you involving them in every mathematical possibility in a school day from helping out in the canteen, collecting and counting fundraising money, being timekeepers, sorting out notes in the office, conducting daily surveys of relevance, cataloging books, tallying fines or costs of replacing lost books in the library, helping the PE teacher measure results in athletics carnivals or repaint the lines on sports and games fields out in the playground?
  • Are your students building resources that involve accurate measurements like puppet theaters, book boxes and doll houses for the junior grades? Do you just draw plans to scale or let the children build scale models of real objects they measured?
  • Do you let your students take control of the layout of your room so that they can apply location strategies learnt in class?
  • When considering guest speakers to come to your classroom, do you just think authors and campaigners or do you think about builders, engineers, businessmen or others that can share Maths in the real world?
  • Do you see that organising collaborative discussions with classrooms around the world provides an opportunity for teaching time concepts?

The list can go on forever. I would love to hear from you about what you are doing in your classrooms to make Maths real, relevant and exciting. One idea would be sufficient or more if you want. I’ll add your ideas to my list ( and give you credit of course). Maths is too important to be feared. We have to show our students its worth. Join the conversation.

The iPad – What it should and shouldn’t be for Education

This blog originally started as a reflection journal as I begun a pilot program for using iPads at my school. My early posts ( check January and February posts ) were discussions of the pros and cons of iPads. As the year has gone by and I have more time to research, read other iPad articles and experiment more with apps and with the students using them more frequently, I’ve had time to reflect on what iPads are offering schools. I’m not going to debate what model of iPad program to commit to – 1:1 or shared. I’m simply going to concentrate on what I think schools should consider before committing to iPads at all.

What you should use iPads for in schools

Multimedia content creation
I am so sick of the tech press misrepresenting the iPad purely as a content consumption device and complaining that it is not for content creation. I think they confuse content creation with publishing their articles with a traditional keyboard. On the contrary, the main reason schools should invest in iPads IS Content Creation. I’m not talking about Word or PowerPoint documents. That’s 20th century publishing that was meant for office workers and businessmen in the first place, not school kids.

What the iPad offers to children is the ability to capture, develop and publish their learning in the creative, engaging, multimedia way they experience the world. Traditional keyboard/writing based computing held back younger students and limited older ones. Now they can take pictures, record their voices (VoiceThread,GarageBand), create videos and slideshows(iMovie, SonicPics), annotate diagrams (Skitch), explain and record their learning in screencasts (Explain Everything, Doceri, Showme), use animated puppets to tell stories (Sock Puppets, Toontastic), create comic strips or whole comic books ( Comic Life, Strip Designer) combine text,freehand drawing and pictures in mind maps (Popplet, iMindmap) and publish interactive, multimedia books that others can read on their iPads (BookCreator,Creative Book Builder). All from the one device without having to connect any other tech up with wires and search for the files. The iPad is the ultimate one stop shop for student content creation that goes well beyond what they were capable of achieving easily just a couple of years ago. The beauty of all these apps is that they are multipurpose apps. They can be used in all curriculum areas and their uses are only limited by your or your student imagination. A Word Document could only do so much. Multimedia apps can allow for so much more scope for learning.

Portable, anywhere, interactive collaborative learning
The beauty of the iPad is its portability and use anywhere capability. Desktops anchor you to a desk and isolate you from a group. Laptops are still too cumbersome to carry around and the built in cameras and microphones are too restrictive. The iPad frees you up to use it anywhere any time. On a field trip/excursion? Take the iPad along with you and do all your work live and instantly. Take pictures and record a commentary for an instant report. Record footage of your physical activity in PE classes and play back for instant feedback on your performance, in slow motion with iMotion HD. Create a documentary on the spot with the video camera and iMovie. With wifi available, report live from an event with FaceTime or Skype. The physical makeup of the iPad makes for a more social sharing environment that isn’t as easy or effective in a lab of desktops or the one way screens of laptops. The tactile nature of the touchscreen brings students together and the multimedia capabilities can be shared by a group.

Social, interactive Reading the “digital literacy way”
One of the best activities on an iPad is reading, but not in the traditional sense. If you just want to read, get a book from the library – it’s cheaper. Reading on a iPad is a much richer experience and can enhance the educational experience in schools. Reading in iBooks allows you to highlight passages and record annotated notes which are then stored and organized in a dedicated bookmarked section and look up definitions without flicking through a dictionary. Using PDF annotation apps you can do limitless note taking without running out of space on the page.

While you can do the same on a traditional computing device, the use of social bookmarking tools and curation website bookmarklets make collaborative reading a far easier proposition, simply because of the book like experience sitting with an iPad gives you. Having students sitting in a group using Diigo’s shared annotation tools allows for both real conversation and tech based note sharing that can be referred to later. It also allows for collaboration with students outside the group which widens the community of learners you can work with. Individually, finding sites to share with others and then posting them on Scoop-it, Diigo, Edmodo, sharing via Twitter or other social media sites via bookmarklets, share buttons or through apps like Zite and Flipboard just seems more natural on a touchscreen tablet rather than on a mouse driven computer.

Other

Check out my other posts on Writing, Maths and Literacy ( in the Categories section on the right) for my other uses for iPads – I don’t want to repeat myself too much. Suffice to say, the iPad has the potential to change the way we learn and teach if we take the time to research and investigate what others are doing. I have curated a wealth of resources for you to use on my Scoopit page linked at the top of my blog page as well as in my Diigo Bookmarks under the iPad tag also accessible above.

The iPad, however, is not perfect by any means and does have limitations to consider. There are some things it can’t do at all and many things that are best done on other devices. Read on for what they shouldn’t be used for in schools.

What you shouldn’t use iPads for in schools

This list is more about poor decision making about getting iPads rather than the iPad’s lack of ability to manage the task. It’s also more applicable to a school setting ( i use my iPad for a lot of things completely un-school related, which shouldn’t be a factor for getting them for school) and why you are choosing iPads over other computing options. If it can’t do the task as effectively as a “computer”, if it isn’t going to be an improvement and make a profound change to how you use tech in education, if it isn’t going to be any different to what you are already doing with desktop or laptop computers, then consider whether the iPad is really what you want.

Traditional word processing
Don’t get me wrong. I use my iPad for about 90% of the word processing I do. Most of this blog has been published using my iPad. Having said that, if you’re going to jump on the bandwagon and buy iPads and then complain about not having Microsoft Office on it, or that Pages messes up the formatting of the Word Document you just imported or you don’t like the touchscreen keyboard for typing, you haven’t thought about why you want iPads. If all your students do with tech at school is publish stories and reports in Word, then you will find your iPads being underutilized.

Replacing books just for reading or lightening the load in your students’ backpacks.
Personally, I read a lot on my iPad. But, as I outlined in the “What you should use iPads for in Schools” section of this post, I don’t just read with my iPad. Once again, it is a wasted opportunity for changing the way you foster learning in your school if your main reason for buying iPads is to replace books/textbooks with ebooks and PDF scans of textbooks. This does not enhance learning. This does not change the way you teach. Just reading books on an iPad makes no difference to education. It may be advertised to consumers as a great e-reader, and as a way of carrying around a truckload of books to read on a vacation it’s great, but if schools are going to invest vast amounts of money on iPads only to fill them up with ebook versions of novels or PDF copies of chapters from their Maths text books so our children can prop them up on a table while they complete Exercise 7A of the Quadratic Equations Chapter in their exercise books, we’ve missed the point.

If you have invested a lot of time, effort and money in Web 2.0 tools or educational management systems.
While there is much press about the demise of Flash support for mobile devices ( Android included ) and the rise of HTML5 sites, the vast majority of educational sites on the Internet are Flash or Java based. While many are free, educational versions of these sites usually cost a fair investment to use with large numbers of children. iPads don’t support these tools well. Yes, there are workaround solution in the form of dedicated iPad browsers like Puffin and Photon that use server based connections to provide useable Flash experience on iPads, but they are serviceable at best and inadequate or unusable at worst. While I have no experience of it, Moodle is widely used in schools as well and does not play well with iPads. Interactive whiteboard software like Promethean’s Activinspire doesn’t have an iPad version so you can’t create or edit flip charts on iPads with their software. So if your school has invested heavily in Web 2.0 tool licenses, Moodle like systems or have spent the last 5 years training you to make interactive whiteboard flip charts, consider the wisdom of moving to an iPad only set up.

Are you a Google Apps for Education school?
This is open for debate as I have visited schools that are 1:1 iPad schools who use Google Apps. From my experience, the user experience is not good enough. Maybe for word processing it’s functional but the Google spreadsheet experience is woefully inadequate on the iPad. If you have made a big investment in Google Apps, I’d stick with netbooks/laptops.

Website design/blog management
Web site building tools on the web like Weebly or Wix are useable and most of the publishing work of blogs can be done on an iPad. However,if you have an ICT course that is heavily involved in website building or you need to edit graphic elements or widget components of blogs, iPads don’t handle the task completely and you’ll need to stick with traditional computing.

Dedicated specialist software compatibility
Without listing them, there is obviously a huge range of software for specific purposes that aren’t supported and are unlikely to ever be supported on the iPad. While it may seem bleeding obvious, schools need to take this into account before dedicating their entire budget to a 1:1 iPad program.

Final thoughts
I started the year thinking the iPad was the one stop solution. I’ve come to believe now that a multi device option is preferable. 1:1 iPads would be great in an ideal world but the financial reality for school with substantial investments in other tech already doesn’t make it practical for a complete change. My school already has a lot of laptops and desktops in use. They are used for many valid purposes such as those listed above. It’s not reasonable to think we would replace all our resources with just iPads when there are good things already being done with them. So we are going down the horses for courses route. More iPads are likely to be purchased next year and used for all he great multimedia purposes outlined. Web tools, research, Flash and Java Ed sites, word processing, blogging, compatibility issues will continue to be addressed with our computers. I’m starting to think it’s the best of both worlds.

But what do you think? Have I under or oversold the iPad? Are there compelling reasons for iPads in education I’ve left out ? Are there other reasons for not committing to them? Share your thoughts. This is far from an exhaustive post. Join the conversation.

Maths Extension – engagement with nrich and Edmodo

Earlier in the year I wrote a post titled “Maths Extension/Enrichment with Edmodo“, outlining my plans for an enrichment/extension program for high achievers in Maths at school. It took longer than anticipated to get started but from the start of Term 3 (July), I met with 5 Grade 6 students, 8 Grade 5 students and a couple of very bright Grade 4 boys on a weekly basis for an hour. ( Another teacher does the same with Grade 3 and 4 students ).While we can argue that research suggests mixed ability groupings are more beneficial ( for the rest of the week, these children work in that environment), I am in no doubt that the program has been a resounding success and a great sense of engagement and enjoyment has been felt by all involved, including the Maths teacher!

Whether it is enrichment, extension or a mix of both, which was a point of contention with some readers back in the original post, I am not sure. Regardless, some great mathematical thinking is taking place every week between an enthusiastic, engaged group of students.

The weekly lesson itself takes no time to plan. I simply upload a problem to the MEP (Math Extension Program) Edmodo group at the start of the week so the students can check in for some preparation time before we meet. Don’t get me wrong, I know exactly what I want out of the lesson when I select the problem and I send a post lesson report to the classroom teachers outlining what we did. The beauty of what we do, though, is that we don’t know what will result from the lesson until it is over. There is no chalk and talk, no pre-task explanation of what to do, no expectations that we have to solve it at the end of the hour. What you will see is a group of mathematicians sitting around together, sharing strategies, discoveries, questions verbally, through demonstrations on the whiteboard or via iPads or by posting on Edmodo.

What has improved throughout the term has been their problem solving skills, collaborative discussions, use of technology aids to organise and simplify the process ( Numbers on the iPad  has been a real winner, using formulas to test and monitor conjectures, as has Explain Everything to record ideas and share via the whiteboard) and most importantly, their ability to articulate their thinking and learning, both their successes and failures ( something they haven’t experienced much beforehand).

A great example of the whole process is our last learning experience, which lasted over two weeks. Most of our problems have come from the well established Maths Enrichment website, nrich. ( another worthwhile site is New Zealand Maths ). The beauty of nrich is the incentive to have your solutions published on their website, giving bragging rights to those who succeed, either partially or fully ( more on that later) Our last problem before the holiday was Summing Consecutive Numbers. The problem is presented via an introductory video that explained the nature of the  task. Each student had their own iPad ( its only a small group – we could have used the laptops) so watched it independently. After a two minute debrief to make sure everyone understood the task, we went straight into solving the problem. Beforehand, though, we made a pact that we would publish our solution on nrich, which always had to be posted by the 21st of each month, which just happened to be the last day of Term 3 ( we had previously missed deadlines or solved old problems, so this was our first chance.)

What was great about this particular problem was that the task itself was simple to start with – just adding numbers – but discovering and proving patterns and formulas was a real challenge that need real arguing and collaboration. During the first hour, the students were so focused on discovering patterns. Every idea they had, no matter how small, was posted on Edmodo. This proved to be an important step as the following week we were able to refer back to all of our discoveries. LEt me interject here and state that I was an active part of this as well. Before the lesson started, I was none the wiser about the solutions so I became an authentic learner with my group, making conjectures and testing theories side by side with them. (I talked about the importance of being a learning role model in a previous post). Some children used Numbers spreadsheets to arrrange the numbers into common sets as we investigated, others jsut used pen and paper while others used Explain Everything to brainstorm every idea they had. At the end of the sessions, we had over 60 posts on Edmodo and had made some amazing progress and they continued on over the weekend and into the following week determined to meet our deadline.

The following week, we met with all of our discoveries articulated on Edmodo and we were ready to write our Proof of the Summing of Consecutive Numbers. The final result was exceptional and is published below for your viewing pleasure.
Consecutive Numbers Proof
I showed their classroom teachers and my fellow MEP teacher and they were blown away by the depth of articulation and understanding in the submission. I merely guided them through the process of writing the proof but it is all their work (some sentence structures needed some modelling). To a person, they all requested a copy to put in their blogs and digital portfolios and now wait excitedly for the news it is posted on nrich’s website next month. Regardless, I am going to showcase their effort at the School Assembly, much to their satisfaction of being recognised for being mathematicians.

Being such a successful and rewarding experience, I then started thinking – should this just be the domain of the MEP group? Why can’t the other students in their grade follow the same process? It’s not as if they don’t do problem solving based tasks. This task in particular could have been entered into by ALL the students at different levels and the MEP students could have worked with the others to extend their thinking. The more I work with my group, the more I realise this model of collaborative problem solving should be done more at school. Sure, some of the less able students would not have arrived at the sophistication of thinking these high achievers attained but they could have contriubted to the adding and would have discovered some of the lower level patterns.

I think we have to stop thinking that not all students can enter into these tasks. Nrich is full of problems for all ability levels. Its my new goal to attack at school. I still think these MEP students deserve their time together to work with like minds. But I also think everyone deserves the experience they are getting. It’s what a differentiated curriculum is all about.

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

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

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

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

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

Who should we consult about technology in our schools?

Thanks to edtech times for this infographic
From their website:

Nonprofit Project Tomorrow aims to make student voices heard in education. Speak Up, an initiative of Project Tomorrow, surveyed 294,399 students, 35,525 teachers, 42,267 parents, and others in fall 2010 to determine the benefits of certain types and uses of technology for teaching and learning. The results are depicted in the infographic below.

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I think we can learn a lot from the results of this very extensive survey. On reflection, I wonder why we do things so differently to the rest of our society. Politicians, businesses, the entertainment industry, sports organisations spend up big on researching the stakeholders in their product or idea or policy. Education departments and schools too often make the mistake of deciding what is best without asking the real stakeholders in our system what their opinions are, often to the detriment of what follows.

What I really appreciate about this survey is that it focuses on ALL THREE ( I’m not including the bureaucratic side ) interested parties in education – Students, Parents and Teachers. While I haven’t seen the actual survey, this infographic suggests that in-depth questioning took place and the results encourage a lot of thinking about how we should go forward in planning for technology in schools. It also raises questions about what we as educators consider important as opposed to the parents and students think. Finally, it would also be interesting to conduct this same survey two years on in 2012, when the use of technology has accelerated so much, to see if there has been significant change in perceptions.

Student Responses
I found it interesting that the factors that scored highest involved independent activity. Students find tech beneficial in organizing their times, managing their own learning and working at their own pace. With the push towards student centered learning, this shows technology can contribute to the success of this learning strategy in the eyes of those that count – the students. It’s also an eye opener that well less than half of the students surveyed find tech as motivating or the key to easy success. This is a cautionary tale for those tech advocates ( me included ) who think that iPads, 1:1 programs and web tools are the answer to all engagement and learning problems. We need to balance our thirst for tech spending with reflection on multiple intelligences and learning styles research that stresses students have different preferences. Technology is not necessarily the answer for all students.

Another observation that comes to mind is that we have work to do on some of the skills we want to ingrain in the learning behaviors of our students. Collaboration and asking questions are important but the survey suggests our students are not necessarily using tech effectively for that, despite all the great collaborative, sharing, networking tools at our disposal. It brings home the point that its not enough to introduce Edmodo, Diigo, blogging and the like to the students and expect it to just happen. We have to work hard to show them how it will improve their learning. Obviously, we also need to do the same for teachers, parents and leadership as well.

Parents responses
I was particularly interested in this section of the infographic. Parents are often the last people we consult when we make decisions. They are often the first we get concerned about though when they start to question our decisions or pedagogies. Maybe we should communicate more with them and find out what they want. Then we can address the issues they raise and educate them in what we believe from our training and experience is best for their children.

What interested me most from the survey results in the infographic was the motivation behind the parent responses to what can help them assist their children in their learning. They want access to curriculum materials so they can support their kids. How often have we heard ” I can’t help my son because you do it differently to when I was at school.”? Technology today gives us the perfect tool for sharing what we do in school with the parents. Blogs, social networking sites, video lessons ( only 22% in this survey – before the flipping classroom boom – but it would be interesting to find out what the interest would be now ), online newsletters are practical ways to communicate how we teach the students in a contemporary classroom.

It’s encouraging to see such large percentages of parents wanting regular updates and viewing of children’s work. They don’t want to wait for reports or interviews or portfolios to come home at the end of term. They want technology to provide them access. This is a huge challenge for us as schools as we are not used to parents seeing the students work before its “ready”. There needs to be a shift in thinking about what this access to students work will entail. Parent and teacher education ( and students too) will be needed so there isn’t a misunderstanding of the difference between work in progress and published work. Technology has the potential to allow for real partnerships between all the stakeholders in a child’s education. From this survey parents want to be a part of it. We just need to make sure we get the balance right in the partnership.

Another fascinating tidbit from the infographic was the response to purchasing tech for students to use at school. Without knowing the demographics of the survey, it’s enlightening to see such a large percentage of parents willing to buy mobile devices for their children to use AT SCHOOL. It raises the weighty issue of BYOD ( bring your own device ) programs in schools. To me, this suggests there needs to be serious discussion between school and parents about the prospects rather than just dismissing the idea. Of course, just because parents might think it’s a great idea, doesn’t mean it is. Many parents aren’t necessarily in control of the tech use of their children and don’t understand the pitfalls of such a program. Again, it means Parent Education in responsible digital citizenship, their responsibilities and how they can support their children will be needed but if they are prepared to make the commitment the discussion needs to be had.

Teacher/Student responses
Some telling observations can be made from the results in this part of the infographic.
First, it is apparent that digital literacy is not clear to either teacher or students in some cases, particularly in analyzing, interpreting and detecting bias in media stories. It suggests we need to have a conversation about new Literacies with our teachers and why technology has an important role to play in this.

Not surprisingly, students don’t place importance on checking their sources. This is a big part of digital literacy – the more children are using the Internet for both research and presenting their findings in a public forum, the more we have to change their behavior. They are exposed to so much info in such easily accessible and unchecked ways, we have to place importance on convincing them this is important. We think of them as ‘digital natives’ but they’re still not skilled in the nuances of its use. We have to consult teachers, parents and the students themselves in this area.

One final observation here is the low percentage for producing digital media reports from both teachers and students. Again, a lot has changed in the last two years since this survey in the proliferation of web tools in schools. Nevertheless, less than one in three teachers and only 40% of students thinking digital publishing is important is interesting to consider. This is one area I would really like to investigate at the local level before making massive investments in technology.

Final thoughts
It seems to be accepted that we need to invest in technology on a large scale to prepare our students for the tech rich world they are going to be living in. Before making this investment though, it seems to me we need to make sure we consult with everyone involved. A lot of time, effort and most of all money can be wasted if we don’t find out what our clientele wants. That’s teachers, students and parents. Decision makers need to consider all stakeholders. When you look at the numbers of people involved in this survey, its hard to ignore the importance of the responses received. I would love schools to conduct a similar survey to find out what everyone involved thinks. It would allow for considered decisions to be made rather than hasty purchases. What do you think?

Learning and Teaching-quick fix diet or lifestyle decision?

I’m feeling strangely reflective today. This time two years ago I was recovering from the back operation that changed my life for the better. To cut a long story short, I was 125kg pre operation and 6 months later I’d lost 30 kg thanks to my new ability to exercise and a serious change of diet. So why am I writing about this in my education blog? Well, it got me thinking ( strange though it might sound ) about how education is a lot like what I went through to lose all that weight. I think education is like the weight loss industry. You can treat the experience two ways – a quick fix, short term success crash diet, or a life changing lifestyle decision.
Bear with me, if you can, as I explore this analogy further. For three months after Christmas following the operation, I became firmly focused on changing my body forever. I studied everything there was to know – being a self directed learner, I wasn’t going to any weight loss centre. Just like learning anything else, I felt it was best that I do it my way. By mid April, I had lost 25 kg. I had all but achieved my goal. For the rest of the year, I felt comfortable that I had changed my lifestyle and had consolidated my learning. And how did I do it? The way we should be doing it as learners in the classroom.

  • I set myself a long term goal to improve part of my life that wasn’t working. I didn’t make it unrealistic., though. A student in Grade 5 who has been assessed and diagnosed as 3 years behind in Mathematics is not going to be achieving a consistent, Grade 5 standard by the middle of the year so teacher, parent and child need to be realistic and set a goal for gradual but real improvement. You need to believe you can reach the goal or you won’t make the necessary effort. Sometimes, by making it achievable without too much work results in better than expected results because it wasn’t the struggle you expected. My goal was 30 kg by September – I’d reached 25 by End of April. Without stress but gradually working hard, I have taught students that have made huge improvements in a year.
  • I planned achievable steps to reach my goal. I took away the foods that were a problem, then added in the foods that would make a positive change and then organised the daily menu plan that would become a sustainable, enjoyable diet for me long term. I started walking for 3o minutes after school, built up to 30 minutes before and after, increased one of those to an hour, added in some bike riding of gradually increasing durations until I had a daily program which was manageable, flexible and consistent. Likewise, with learning, we need to plan goals that gradually build to success. If a child wants to improve their multiplication skills, we don’t rush into the ultimate short cut algorithm without going through the stages of conceptual understanding. If we rush, we will think they can multiply but then find out when concepts become more difficult, that they don’t really understand multiplication, just a procedure.
  • I monitored and tracked my progress. All the good nutrition and healthy living advice really stresses this. Once I was fully into my lifestyle change, I tracked the calories of each meal and snack to check I was maintaining my goal intake. I measured and recorded the distance, time and calorie burning result of each of my exercise sessions. I checked my weight regularly ( but not obsessively). This appeared over the top to some in my midst, but the methodical monitoring ensured my success and also enabled me to track my mistakes as well and plan for getting back on track. This is the same in education. Learners can’t just set goals and steps; they need to monitor their progress and level of achievement as well. Students need a journal to reflect on their learning and how it related to their goal. If they achieve some success, by recording what they did they can reflect back on those actions that worked. On the days they ‘failed’, they can think about what they didn’t do and plan what they need to make the progress they need. They can adjust the steps in their plan to catch up if they have fallen behind ( more revision, learn more strategies, work harder on editing, research a better way)
  • Above all, it was my responsibility and I made the decision. I had advice from my doctor and physio. I received encouragement from family and friends. But in the end, it was up to me. For years I had found being healthy difficult to achieve because of something I had let happen. Yes I had a bad back but it was caused or sustained in a big way by my weight problem. The operation fixed the back. I now had the chance to change my lifestyle tof fix the bigger issue. In the same way, it is the student’s responsibility to improve. Great teachers, dedicated parents, fantastic, well researched educational programs can all help, just like the back operation. But if the student doesn’t really want to make the effort, the goal will not be fully realised. It is the same with education in general. School leaders and departments can have the greatest plans but the teachers and students have to buy into them.

So, why am I being so reflective about my lifestyle change? Unfortunately, because I have fallen back into bad habits. I’m like the student who comes back to school after summer vacation and forgotten everything my teacher ‘taught’ me last year. I thought I learnt. I thought I had changed my lifestyle permanently. But ‘one good year does not a great education make.’ Where did I go wrong?

  • I stopped tracking my progress
  • I lost sight of my goal
  • I started taking shortcuts and stopped making the effort
  • I stopped taking responsibility and let others affect what I was doing
  • I decided near enough was good enough
  • I chose short term success over life time success
  • I ignored my mistakes even though I recognised them
  • I stopped planning and put off what I needed to do to a later ( but never completed) date

This is bad learning but it can be fixed. I still know what worked and I am recalibrating next week when Term 3 holidays begin. I got too close to stop now and the plan is coming back.

On the larger scale of Education, there are lessons in this.

Learning is not an isolated year by year proposition. The aim is not to get all the work done in Grade 5 so we can go on holidays at the end of the year. The aim is not to ‘cover the curriculum’ and hope that next year’s teacher will start all over again from scratch. Learning has to be maintained. Learning has to be maintained. Learning has to be tracked. And as soon as cracks start to appear in EVERY student’s progress, we need to be able to identify what happened, what caused it and have a plan for doing something about it. We can’t find out in Grade 4 or 5 that a student can’t count past 100 or double numbers.

We can’t rely on a curriculum set in concrete. For the last 25 years, I have been told that our curriculum documents are guides, not prescriptions. It is the responsibility of schools and individual teachers to ensure that students’ individual needs are met. This has for a long time troubled me. There are gaps everywhere in our systems’ curricula. Mathematical concepts are being introduced in Grade 3 then not reappearing again until Grade 6. Then we wonder why our students aren’t making connections from year to year. It’s one thing to have a curriculum that adresses key essential learning for each grade level. It’s another thing to actually provide a sequential plan for getting from Point A in Grade Prep to Point B in Grade 8. This is too often lacking system wide. We rely too much on individual schools solving these problems. We are doing a great job planning our new Maths curriculum but I don’t get why the Education Department doesn’t do that in the first place so that EVERY school has access to what we will have by the end of the year.

Learning is not a superficial experience. It is not a set of disconnected assessment tasks and projects that result in a good or bad report card. It should not be guided by week by week handing in of work that is judged by a teacher and handed back to file away for parents to see three months later. It certainly shouldn’t be determined by a series of multiple choice questions on a given day that are then reflected on four months later. It needs to be meaningful, ongoing, flexible, monitored, altered, maintained, ‘owned’ and lifelong.

Just like my diet and fitness program.

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.

What are you doing to make writing real in your classroom?

Are your students writing for you or themselves? Are your students writing for you or for a real audience? Are your students writing because they have to and don’t know or because they want to and have a purpose? Have you thought about what you are doing to make writing real in your classroom?

  • Do your students write the school newsletter and fill it with interesting student generated content or is just full of a bunch of reports from teachers, parents and the principal?
  • Do they publish their writing as ebooks that are uploaded to the school website or a class/personal blog so that parents, friends, other students and any other interested reader can download it onto their iPad, Kindle, smartphone and read it, giving them a audience beyond their teacher and classmates?
  • Are your students writing advertisements on fictitious products because it’s the genre of the month in your class or have they made a connection with a local business and put forward a proposal to create some real ads for them to promote their product in the local community or on YouTube?
  • Do your students write a news report so it can be checked off as a non fiction piece of writing to contribute to the requirements for Term 3 writing OR are they part of a dedicated group of students across the school publishing a school newspaper or online news service including school and local news, sport, editorials on important issues they are concerned about, restaurant, music, book and movie reviews, comic strips or satirical cartoons, letters to the editor as well as ads for school and local events? OR Have you made contact with the local newspaper and set up a program allowing children to have their articles published on a regular basis in an actual newspaper?
  • Are you singing Silent Night and Jingle Bells for the 30th Christmas Concert in a row or have you used the talents of local songwriters to run workshops to write some student created songs to perform instead?
  • Have you contacted and made arrangements with an interested author to run workshops with budding writers and possibly collaborate on a book together instead of relying on your own limited narrative writing abilities to teach them to write something with a decent plot?
  • Have you thought of students creating textbooks for other grade levels to use for their next inquiry topic instead of just finishing the unit off with long winded presentations in front of the whole grade and then filing them under “Done”?
  • Have you given them the opportunity to collaborate on a play that they will write and perform for an audience of their choice? Have you given them the opportunity to write a letter to the local theatre company and put forward a proposal to gain their support in the production?
  • Have you considered contacting the local community radio station and booking a regular spot for your class to present a radio program, reader’s theatre performance of a play they have written, conduct an interview of a local celebrity, participate in a debate,all of which have been written by them? OR if not the radio station have you published them as podcasts online?
  • Instead of getting them to write expositions in preparation for the next state or national standardized writing test, have you given your students opportunities to send persuasive texts to the principal, local councillors, members of parliament, major newspapers, TV and radio news programs to argue for change?

(There are a lot of other great examples teachers are using. I’d love to hear them in the comments below.)

If we want to know why our students are still not correcting their spelling errors or leaving out punctuation and paragraphs, maybe we need to consider whether we give them reason to. So let’s make writing real. if you at going to put all that effort that teachers do into conferencing, feedback, exposing them to all those great tech tools for publishing, surely we should give them a reason for all that effort to be put in.

So what are you doing to make writing real in your classroom?

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.