Planning for the future when the future is uncertain …

In the wake of a slightly terrifying weekend and with nothing but further anxiety on the horizon, I entered a DER Planning for the Future meeting with my HT of T&L this morning.

The events of the weekend (hung parliament) has caused much concern for many, many good people around New South Wales. These people are teachers and educators who have been working tirelessly to champion the government’s Digital Education Revolution. These are the people that have faced the flak of countless teachers, executives and support staff who recoiled from the notion that technology has a place within the 21st century classroom. Because of these people the culture of Australian schools is starting to change.

Of course change in education is a slow process (lasting and meaningful change, that is) and requires constant monitoring and reinforcement. This explains the need for the latest DER meeting.

My assessment of DER at my school is that there has been a meaningful shift towards online communication with students and sharing of resources via edmodo. This has been a big personal achievement for me, having introduced this as our VLE in August last year. Almost every teacher in the school uses it for classes from 7-12. The amount of paper being used is slowly diminishing as a result and teachers are more connected to the needs and capabilities of their students. The actual use of the netbooks within the school – and by ‘use’ I mean meaningful use of software and apps other than google and MS Office – is stagnating.

Despite having set up OneNote folders for students to use and modelling how to use it to teachers, fewer than 5 teachers are using it consistently in their classes. Despite modelling the use of web 2.0 apps, very few teachers are including these in their day-to-day lesson plans. Despite modelling the ‘Tight-Loose-Tight’ program and lesson structure, only a handful are attempting to use it to enhance student engagement and students outcomes.

From discussions with students it has become clear that they are being discouraged from using the netbooks in class. This is not (for the most part) being made explicit – it is implied in the lessons they experience. Teacher-talk and worksheets have returned to the classroom. Teacher-centred lessons are now being ‘enhanced’ by the magic that is the really cool electronic board at the front of the classroom – the IWB. It’s no longer chalk and talk – it’s project and talk.

As such, I find myself in the position of once again taking on the job of ‘slow and steady’ and refocusing from a 1-1 dream to a IWB and data projector reality. Discussions today centred on the future of DER (understandably) and the need to prepare teachers for Stage 6 and 1-1. My HT of T&L has suggested that I focus ‘safe’ and ‘simple’ ways in which ICT easily be incorporated into the pre-existing Stage 6 programs each faculty has. This is, of course, a sensible approach.

I left the meeting feeling flushed with ideas and arguments for just WHY the inclusion of ICT into the 21st Century classroom is not a box-ticking exercise, nor simply an election promise gone awry. My task is to create a list of ways in which teachers can incorporate ICT into their programs to enhance learning outcomes and student engagement. I believe that these netbooks can significantly both as well as ensuring students are achieving personal best, being organised, completing all assessments on time and having lessons, activities and assessments differentiated to suit individual learning styles and competencies.

I just have to create the list. So, how are YOU going to be integrating technology (netbooks, IWBs, hand-held devices, connected classrooms, internet, web 2.0 apps) to enhance engagement and learning outcomes for your Year 11 and 12 students?

Preparation for Praccie

Well, thanks to the comments made on my last post, I’ve now got a long list of suggestions for how to be a good teacher and a good master teacher. So what should I do (as this mystical master teacher) in preparation for meeting the pre-service teacher who I will be supervising?

Obvious things spring to mind, such as growing a wise-looking beard/moustache, ironing some flowing robes (possibly borrowing a graduation gown and mortar board – I rented mine for my graduation) or working on my serious stare …. but of course those things are mere external symbols of an inner mastery that I know I have not attained.

Hmmm … next obvious preparation: plan lessons for classes to be taught on the day prac student is to observe my master teacher skills in practice. Plan? It’s a little scary to be honest. Consider the outcomes I hope for students to achieve each lesson and then plan accordingly? Oh dear. My ‘door handle planning’ isn’t going to help me now.

1. Planning lessons. (This will be done on something OTHER than scrap paper!)

2.  Organise extra ‘teacherly’ activities I have in the works. (Including DER leadership stuff; Rock Band co-ordinator stuff – RockFest must get underway; PBL with Year 8 English classes and the organising and getting films made for the DAVAs – our Digital and Visual Arts competition.)

3. Decide which classes I’m willing to give up for praccie to teach. (Year 12 is out, even Year 11 is out … that leaves 7, 8 and  10 English classes)

4. Answer Darcy Moore’s 10 Questions for your Child’s Teacher. (This should probably by number one … if you’re taking notes – do this step first!)

5. Smile and be honest. Tell her how it is, straight up. Give her some boundaries – let her know what my expectations are for a ‘good’ teacher.

6. Let her visit other teachers … it’s not about ‘me’ … it’s not even really about ‘her’ … it’s about the future of education (yep, vomit – but it’s TRUE!)

Alright … that’s the list. I wonder how much of it I can actually get done in the three hours before bed tonight?

A Vision for the Future: NSR Think Tank

Last Thursday and Friday I had the privilege of attending the second annual Northern Sydney Region Think Tank. The focus this year was on the ways in which schools in our region have implemented the Digital Education Revolution, as well as looking towards the future for our region as champions of blended learning.

The program line-up was appealing, featuring a keynote by Professor Martin Westwell – a prominent academic in the field of education and technology and currently director of the Flinders Centre of Science Education in the 21st Century. I was also looking forward to Friday’s program featuring Stu Hasic and Ben Jones – both very active contributors to DER in NSW, as well as valuable members of my Twitter PLN.

It was flattering to be given the opportunity to attend the NSR Think Tank as I am not technically an ‘executive member’ of my school. I am not a principal, deputy or a head teacher – I am an English teacher who has been given the role of leading DER in our school. Being of such ‘lowly’ status scared me a little, but I needn’t have worried. Everyone was equally keen to share their experiences and learn new things, regardless of their status. The two days for me were characterised by networking with great educators, thinking about education in new ways, witnessing how other schools have implemented DER in their own idiosyncratic manner and thinking about where I am heading in the future with DER within my own school and beyond.

The journey to Macquarie University’s Graduate School of Management was arduous – bumper to bumper traffic when you’re new to driving manual is a tense time. I arrived with a cramped right calf muscle and shaking hands – but the clutch survived! I will briefly diverge from my intellectual path to get out of the way what most people look forward to at a two-day conference – food and amenities. Both were fantastic – the food was beautifully presented with plenty for everyone and the Graduate School is gorgeous. There were no issues with technology and we were all pleased (for the most part) with the speed of the internet. It really was a delight to be there for the two days.

Over the course of the two days we heard from representatives from six different schools in our region. Each speaker focused on once successful aspect of DER within their school. This was a really important inclusion for the program and contributes further to the breaking down of the ‘edu-walls’ between schools in the Northern Sydney Region. All too often schools become education islands floating in a sea of syllabi, curricula and standards.  Listening to the wonderful things happening at other schools in the Northern Sydney Region, it became clear that strengthening connections between us all would contribute significantly to the implementation and success of DER.

I was given the opportunity to speak briefly to the attendees on the Friday and chose to focus on our school’s use of edmodo as a virtual learning environment and a communication platform for teacher and classes, teachers within faculties, teachers within the school and teachers in different parts of the state. I demonstrated how to quickly and easily register as a teacher and to join a group – I set up a NSR Think Tank group that I hope will become a hub for communication and collaboration in the future. (Yes, I have high hopes for the connectivity of NSR in the future!) I also briefly spoke about the ‘DER: Lunch and Learns’ that I have run this term to help teachers with their use and integration of technology into the classroom. Other school presentations included:

  • a TSO speaking about buying tablets, webcams and headphones for classroom use
  • a TAS teacher speaking about his new Food Technology unit that required students to use Audacity to create radio ads for their food product,
  • an English HT reflecting on his collaborative projects with other high schools to create OneNote based boys education units of work
  • a Visual Art teacher speaking about her new unit on Portraits that requires students to use digital cameras and Adobe Premiere Elements to create video poems using ‘found’ words
  • a deputy principal speaking about their student mentor program in which student ‘DERmentors’ meet weekly to investigate digital technologies to be used in the classroom and share this knowledge with teachers
  • a teacher who created weekly ‘From the Helpdesk’ newsletters to keep teacher informed with the latest news on DER, ways of integrating digital technologies into the classroom and organising teacher technology mentors and mentees
  • technology leaders who organised a program to prepare Years 7 and 8 for DER by focusing on programs, applications and skills that they will need in Years 9 and 10
  • a principal explaining his focus on ensuring there is not an uneven use of technology across KLAs through a series of teacher interviews and program rewrites with DER in mind

It is easy to see how the above range of experiences and ideas can be readily adopted by other schools in the region. I for one am excited about developing our school’s DERmentors program with a colleague as well as continuing with the Davo DER eNewsletter and organising for more of our keen staff to participate in formal and informal professional development.

The best thing I got from the two days was the new connections with other teachers in the region. I have connected with a number of these educators already via edmodo and hope to seek others out to do so also. Taking inspiration from the wonderful work or Roger Prior and Phillipa Cleaves in the Hunter Central Coast Region, I am enthusiastic about the prospects of developing a region that functions as a connected and collaborative unit. Fingers crossed – watch this space.