The data projector debate …

Every Thursday morning we have a faculty meeting where our Head Teacher reports on the minutes from the executive meeting held the previous day. To be completely honest with you, I only ever half-listen to the minutes being read out with my attention being grabbed only by that which is made salient by my personal interest – technology.  Today I was in luck – as technology made a brief personal appearance on the minutes.

A HT from another department was concerned that too many different types of data projectors (IWBs, portable projectors, some kind of cheaper, pseudo IWB) were being bought … he suggested we have some consistency. My HT reminded us that he had budgeted for one of the cheaper, pseudo IWBs to be fitted into a colleague’s room (she already has a ceiling mounted projector – supposedly this ‘extension’ makes it interactive?) and had a little bit of money left over to buy another type of data projector. He indicated that there is something available that has a tablet with it and is meant to be quite good.

So … my contribution to the discussion? Can’t you get a tablet for around $70 that hooks up to your netbook? You could use it with the portable projector from the library. Yeah – thrilling contribution. My whole way of thinking about IWBs et al has altered dramatically since the beginning of the year. I don’t think we need to be investing so much money in them. I really don’t. (Insert Holden voice here).

I can see the benefit of them for watching movies … for student presentations at the end of projects and the occasional teacher presentation but really, do you need to ‘present’ every lesson? Do you need to have your students strapped to their chairs and facing the front like prisoners in Guantanamo Bay whilst you ‘perform’ in front of them? I just haven’t felt the need for that in 4/5 of my classes. (The fifth is the ‘HSC class’ … no avoiding content swallowing there … OK, there is, but I’m still finding my feet in that area.)

IWBs just reinforce the traditional teacher-centric model of education that so many educators now realise is ineffective for the 21st century. Money is being thrown willingly to satiate the voracious appetites of supposed ‘educational technology’ suppliers in order to tick the trendy ‘technology school’ box.

If I was in charge, I’d look at how money could be used to transform our school space from 19th century school house to 21st century learning environment. Oh well … lucky I’m not in charge anyway – you should see the state of my desktop!

A reponse to Darcy Moore’s post ‘Learning: A Digital Renaissance’

The following post was written as a reply to Darcy Moore’s post Learning: A Digital Renaissance (A Draft). Please check out his wonderful post and add your own reply to keep this valuable conversation flowing.

This is a timely post – as always. I am feeling a little like a middle manager at Kodak or Angus and Robertson who has started to think digitally, but the force of the existing power-structures and philosophies regarding education are so strong and well-established that I must ‘jump ship’ or sink with the ship into oblivion. I know that sounds melodramatic – and it probably is – but all I’ve been thinking for the last 18 months is ‘No one is listening. Change is too slow. Where should I go to?’. It is very difficult to stay and bail water from a sinking ship when so many of the other sailors – and most importantly the captain – have their back turned and don’t see the rising waters.

OK, I’ll quit with my lame analogy, but you get my point. I believe that thanks to your inspiration and guidance I have learned to ‘think digitally’ and really once you do, you can’t stop – can you? I cannot go into a class and stand up the front and teach to a test with a worksheet anymore. (My poor Year 12 students, haha!) My vision of education in the 21st century is such that students MUST be given the chance to work as teams. These social skills (as you rightly point out) are an essential part of creating a civil society. Our classrooms are no longer bound by the students and teacher within them.  We must give our students the skills to effectively reach out and encounter the people, experiences and ideas out in the world.

When the NSWDEC unblocked twitter I was skeptical. I thought it might be simply a grab at seeming progressive, to look as though they are ‘thinking digitally’ just like some of us teachers, even though the power-structures of large organisations like the DEC often seem to inhibit this type of thinking. But yesterday, I finally realised how momentous this decision to unblock social networking for teachers really will be.  Yesterday I created a twitter account (@younginquirers) for my Year 10 class – they’re going to follow writers and ask them questions about writing a quality narrative. Already we are following five wonderful writers, two of whom have tweeted the class with writing tips! So, it’s nice to see that my cynicism was unwarranted – DEC have done a great thing and I hope that this move towards ‘thinking digitally’ will extend further into our classrooms!

My biggest frustration with the current ‘state of play’ within the education system is the perception of teachers as being ‘in control’. I imagine that you can still buy books pretty similar to the one you mention in your post. They’d target the pre-service teacher. I bet there are lectures and courses devoted to ‘teaching and control’ at unis in Australia right now. I bet students have to read articles on the best ‘behaviour strategies’ to ensure you maintain control in your classroom. Well I have a prac student right now and she just taught her first lesson and it was wonderful! A Yr 11 Standard English class (13 boys, 4 girls) studying a play and she had them for the very first time last period on a Thursday – and she took them to the computer lab! This would be a nightmare to many experienced teachers let alone a young woman who has very limited teaching experience. The lesson was a wonderful success and there was no ‘behaviour’ issues. Was she standing there threatening the kids with a stick/letters or calls to parents/clean-up slips/detention? Did she yell and scream? Is she an intimidating individual? No! She just planned a damn-good lesson that was student-centred, encouraged team work, rewarded positive behaviours and completed work as well as speaking openly about positive learning behaviors in different learning spaces.  The very next day (whilst I was ‘teaching’ the same class) I checked twitter and discovered that she had tweeted me (she joined twitter and started a blog the first week we met – thinking digitally!) to remind me how many points each ‘team’ earned the previous lesson. I read her tweet aloud to my students who then helped me tweet her back with their comments – we now have a hashtag for my class’ communication with their prac teacher! The point I want to make is that my focus when ‘prepping’ my prac teacher for her first lesson was not about ‘how to manage behaviour’ it was ‘how to engage learners’. She didn’t ask me who the naughty kids were and how she should punish misbehaviour during a lesson because I didn’t bring those things up. The success of her first lesson proves that she didn’t need to know about ‘control’ – she needed to know about how these particular young people learn and why the content and skills being taught are relevant and can be made appealing to them.

So why am I telling you about my prac student? Because seeing her enthusiasm for education, her creativity, her willingness to take responsible risks, her flexible-thinking and her passion for our subject (English) I know that she will make a wonderful teacher who will make an impressive contribution to the lives of many, many young people. And hearing her say ‘my whole uni cohort is jealous of all the cool things I’m doing on my prac’ makes me sad. I mean, what are other master teachers offering their students? Are these young pre-service teachers not being given the opportunity to ‘think digitally’ because practicing teachers aren’t thinking digitally? It’s an opportunity lost. And then I get all self-critical and emo – am I being irresponsible by helping my prac student learn to teach ‘hands-free’? What will happen when she gets her first teaching placement and the HT hands her a bunch of worksheets, a textbook and a novel? Will she agitate for change? Or will her lowly position in the school hierarchy mean that it will take her (like it took me) six years to get the courage to make a stand, and by that time potentially have lost the flame of passion and creativity?

Sorry for the excessive reply, Darcy, but your post really hit a nerve for me. It’s really not just about the technology anymore … it started off that way for me with DER. Thanks again for inspiring me to think more deeply about what I do as an educator. It’s SUCH a hard job – imagine deciding that you’d stand on the front line and advocate for change! You’re amazing! I’ll add this reply as a post on my blog too and hopefully encourage more to share in your conversation.

Reflection on collaborative work prompted by cleaning the toilet bowl …

Yup, I do my best thinking whilst I’m doing a mundane job – not that I want to in any way detract from people who take pride in their work as toilet cleaners, it does indeed take talent to master the perfect shine – and tonight is no exception. Hubby and I are doing a clean of the house before we head off to New Zealand with the boys for a couple of weeks. I’m assuming this is a pretty normal practice, cleaning the house you’re not going to live in for two weeks, or are we just batty? Either way, cleaning the toilet whilst Lee did the vacuuming prompted a reflection on team work.

Do you regularly incorporate team-work or collaborative learning into your teaching program? How often would students be expected to work cooperatively with one or more of their peers in your class? Do you actively encourage students to work with peers who are not considered ‘friends’ or with people who have a vastly different skill set?

The truth is that group work is often resisted by students when it is first introduced for a number of reasons. The main one would be the fear that their own success may be adversely impacted upon by members of their group. Students often don’t trust themselves to be able to stay on task when working with friends. They worry that not everyone will contribute equally to the project or task. Underlying these concerns is the awareness that success in school is a number. Success is measured by that number or percentage doled out by the teacher. Success is not marked by personal growth. It’s a shame that this is the case and that our students understand perfectly well how the ‘system’ of achievement in school works.

Working with my husband to clean the house tonight made me realise that working together to achieve a common goal forced us to unconsciously plan (he had to vacuum the spare room whilst I cleaned the ensuite, then he’d vacuum our bedroom and I’d move to the main bathroom), negotiate (vacuuming is less gross than toilets, but you have to do more rooms) and to chunk a large project (a clean house) into smaller, manageable tasks divided between the group members.

I hope my analogy hasn’t put you off your dinner – but I hope is HAS helped you to see how group work/collaborative learning enables our students to develop so many more real-world skills than independent work ever can.

So – how often do you include group work in your teaching program and is it there just for the sake of it, or do you include it in a meaningful way that ensures students are being assessed on their growth as young thinking citizens, and not just a finished product?

These guys worked together to create a human pyramid - awesome ;)

PBL – reality check

I know you’re probably thinking ‘oh no, not PBL from her again’ – and in fact I’m stoked you’ve made it so far as to read this – but thinking about my big plans for next term forces me to also reflect on the plans I had for last term.

If you check out my post that lists all of my PBL projects ‘A Year of Experiential Learning’ you’ll see that I had big plans for last term. Now time for the reality check – and something every teacher must do before embarking on another project.

Year 9 did protest poetry – they were my big success and I’ve outlined in a previous post how I struggled to get to the ‘success’ point. The students managed to write some wonderful poetry and presented these to their families at a Performance Poetry Evening at school. You can read their poems here.

Year 10 worked on poetry as well, trying to answer the question ‘Can Cyborgs Write Poetry’. Once again, the students wrote some wonderful poems. I’ll post them on their blog soon here, so check it out in a day or two.  However despite my attempts to organise a presentation (I contacted our local newspaper to try to track down a poet to be in the audience and I also contacted an expert in artificial intelligence) we just didn’t manage to get to the point where the poems were celebrated  with an audience. There are a number of reasons for this, but the big two that I know will be hurdles for other teachers were the reality of formal ‘summative assessment’ (for my class this was an essay on three poems by John Foulcher) and a very crowded school calendar – injections, photos, excursions, test weeks, sporting matches. The dream was for them to transform their poems into digi-narratives. Only two were completed before we had to ‘move on’ to essay-writing. My second project for the term was designing the School Certificate – see the outline on their blog here – but whilst we got through a couple of the investigations and one  product, we swiftly hit the end of term and the reality of their half-yearly examination which is week two of next term. Another incomplete project.

Year 11 were my final project kids. They spent the first seven weeks doing pretty much traditional style lessons – responding to texts relating to a central concept and then writing an essay. Then the fun began (once their formal assessment task – an essay – was over) when I set them a project to create a visual text to help primary aged students learn about conflict (the concept they’d been studying all term). This would be shared with the local primary school (right next door to our school) early next term. They started to make some really great texts – digi-narratives, board games, comics – but now the reality of their half-yearly examination dawns. We need to move on to their next text because this is what they will be assessed on in their exam. It’ll be work at home to finish the project – but of course then there will be the inevitable complaints regarding the difficulty of group-work outside of school hours.

Well, going through this list of projects I realise that the biggest barrier I am facing is time and planning on my part. I need to have a better knowledge of what’s coming up in the school calendar and in what ways this can impact on the viability of the projects being set. I also have to accept that PBL is hard to fit within an assessment schedule that is summative and prescriptive. I need to ensure that each project fits within an appropriate timeline and that each project ensures students will succeed in the formal assessment schedule already in place.

Concluding word: last term was awesome fun – manic at times – and I know my students got a lot out of our projects. In my heart I know PBL is making a difference for me and my students. However, assessments are SUCH powerful determiners of how we teach. My next challenge is to take on the traditional view of  assessment as solely ‘summative’ – this will prohibit ‘teaching to the test’ approaches to T&L. I’ve already had a bit of success with transforming assessment – with a Year 12 Advanced English assessment!

What are some challenges you’ve encountered when trying out a new approach to teaching and learning?

Teacher Professional Development – an inquiry approach

This is a hasty post to document an idea that developed in my head as I peeled boiled eggs for my son’s breakfast. It is an idea that has got me thinking about the nature of the professional development that I offered last year as a means to get teachers up-skilled for DER. The approach was – ironically – teacher-centred. A flaw in design learned through exposure to many teacher professional development experiences over six years of being a teacher. (Aside – I did alter this design in the second half of the year, to minimal success – for another post maybe.)

Project Based Learning has taught me that students perform well under pressure – if the pressure is to produce a product that has a very definite authentic audience and the project itself is real-world relevant.

If it works for students then it will work for teachers. How do I know? Because I have seen and been the teacher who is prompted to present at a conference in two weeks time and manages to create something wonderful that makes ripples. (I didn’t mean for the wonderful to be applied to me just there – ah false modesty, Orwell has taught me well. But truly, it is a thought experiment for you to indulge.).

Teachers are under pressure from all angles – but this pressure is often of the uninspired kind: ‘Must learn the new Syllabus for my subject’, ‘Must learn to perfect teaching essays’, ‘Must mark these 150 creative pieces by Wednesday’, ‘Must complete the Risk assessment for the excursion by Friday’. You know what I mean, right?! Where’s the glory in those things? Where’s the celebration of teacher achievement, or creative teacher practice, of successes in the classroom? Basically we have to wait until the end of the year until the NAPLAN, SC and HSC results come out. Maybe if you’re lucky your kids will have been able to produce in the exam and you get what a friend of mine coined as ‘the golden orb’ – the student gets the top ‘band’ and this golden hue reflects back on you as the ‘quality’ teacher that ‘produced’ this result. But, let’s remember that often individual teachers aren’t ‘acknowledged’ by the executive for these results in fear of alienating other teachers whose students didn’t ‘achieve’. Celebration of teachers here is not guaranteed – but interestingly it is one of the only opportunities given to individual teachers to get that ‘wow, you did something amazing’ moment. So, let’s calculate this – you get to possibly experience the celebration of your profession, your craft, your science maybe three times a year. And only if your craft garners results that are deemed ‘top quality’. (Aside – I am not discounting those moments where we take kids to competitions and they do well, or the school production/band etc performs well and we’re congratulated as individuals at staff meetings – oh, and the fact that our principals, head teachers, deputies say we’re working hard and thank us – these are brilliant and mean a great deal to us all.)

SO – let’s make an authentic audience for our teachers. Let’s force them to inquire into their practice. Not because an external body said teachers have to in order to receive that shiny tick which means they are a ‘quality teacher’ who can stay in the profession. Let’s get MORE of our colleagues EXCITED about what technology can bring to their craft, art, science (teaching) in order to enhance the student and teacher experience of education.

I have a small group of teachers who have offered to be DAGs (DER Action Group) at my school. I haven’t been a good leader when it comes to this group. I haven’t encouraged them to inquire into DER. I must make this up to them.

So here’s the vision:

Each teacher will be asked to create a driving question that relates directly to his/her specific KLA and technology. For example, ‘How can bringing technology into the classroom help my students to be better writers?’ (ENGLISH) or ‘How can having access to the internet in the classroom help my students become better researchers?’ (HISTORY) or ‘How can having access to a laptop help my students to understand the role of languages in the 21st century?’ (LOTE)
The teachers will be given approximately 5 weeks to inquire into this problem, complete at least 5 blog posts on their findings (including posing questions relating to the driving question on social networking sites like edmodo, yammer, twitter, facebook), implement some of the new strategies developed in his/her classroom and then present on these findings to the whole teacher-body at a specified staff meeting. (Yes, the product is hypocritical – it is teacher-centred, but let’s face it this is getting the ball-rolling, they are modelling inquiry-learning to other teachers, who hopefully will be inspired to take up their own projects!) Once the school presentation is done, each teacher will present at a Regional conference. How do I know this? Because if someone is doing something cool, has found out answers to an essential and difficult question relevant to teaching, then other people want to hear about that. Besides, this project necessitates the establishing of a Personal Learning Network powered by social networking (insert evil laugh here) and thus these teachers will have already connected to interested teachers – an authentic audience!

So that’s my plan. Teachers do crazily creative, awesome, beautiful, amazing things – we should celebrate these by sharing them with an authentic audience.

OK, I probably should go and insert some hyper-links and pretty pictures into this post. But my kids are asking for more food.

A year of experiential learning …

Previously I have written a list of edu-dreams for 2011. One of the most prominent features of this list was the desire to give my students what I’m calling ‘learning experiences’. I am entering my seventh year of teaching English and feel that I can not face another year of worksheets. I spent a week of my school holidays writing out a summary of my teaching plans for 2011, ensuring each unit I teach has an accompanying ‘real-world’ driving question. Why? Because I hope to infuse all of my students’ learning this year with the essence of Project Based Learning. Why just the essence, you ask? Well I’m not ready just yet to take the plunge fully into a year-long program of PBL, so I’m taking what I can to enhance my teaching and the learning of my students.

So what do I mean by ‘experiential learning’? For me, I simply mean learning that encourages students to interact with the world outside of school, typically in the form of engaging with a real-world question/problem (How can citizen journalism shed new light on world events?) and sharing learning discoveries with people from the real world who are invested in this issue (i.e journalists, writers, bloggers)  Well – I’m no education philosopher and thought I’d just ‘made up’ this term – haha – but it turns out it’s something real and a lot has been thought and written about it! So if you’re interested, check out this site – it looks pretty cool: Experiential Learning
& Experiential Education

Because I’m honest, I’ll tell you now that I clicked on the first search result for ‘experiential learning’ – wikipedia. It was a nice short entry with a couple of great quotes from a couple of greats:

“For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them.” Aristotle

“”tell me and I will forget, show me and I may remember, involve me and I will understand.” Confucius (supposedly)

Hopefully you haven’t left me yet for the shallows of wikipedia or the depths of the other link, because I thought I’d share with you some of the driving questions for my classes this year as well as excerpts from a wonderful article by Edutopia blogger Susie Boss that made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

DRIVING QUESTIONS:

Year 9:

Persuasion: How can people use their voices to bring about positive change?

Choices: How do our choices impact our lives and the lives of others?

Communication: How can citizen journalism shed new light on world events?

Why is Shakespeare still so popular?

What is the appeal of the horror genre?

Can we see the world through someone else’s eyes?

Year 10:

Human Nature or Nurture –Are we inherently good or bad?

Resilience – How do we survive?

Power – What makes an individual powerful?

Does the individual have the right to challenge authority?

Is it dangerous to pursue freedom?

Year 11:

What are the consequences of encountering conflict in our lives?

Should art imitate life?

Can the voices in a text shape our perception of Australia?

Susie Boss of Eduptioa touched on some of my ideas in her article. She writes:

In the K-12 classroom, a variety of practices can help to build digital and media literacy. Socratic questioning, for example, promotes critical thinking about the choices people make when consuming, creating, and sharing messages. In particular, Hobbs encourages teachers to help students assess the credibility of information. She offers three “simple but powerful” questions to encourage deeper thinking: Who’s the author? What’s the purpose of this message? How was this message constructed?

I’m particularly pleased to see this:

Hobbs suggests having students design their own games instead of being immersed in games as consumers. “By becoming authors, game programmers, and designers, students deepen their awareness of the choices involved in the structure and function of technology tools themselves.”

I also think it’s great that Hobbs has identified the reality of teaching in public schools, something I had considered in my edu-dreaming and that (thankfully) has been solved via social-networking: (see the comments on my blog post here)

Although finding funding for new programs is likely to be challenging, partnerships between schools and the entertainment industry or technology companies could offer a way to leverage available resources, Hobbs suggests.

I’m interested in this idea for a PBL and wonder where I can fit in into my already bulging teaching program:

Her suggestion to map local technology resources, for example, seems like an ideal project for engaging students in a community research project and using digital tools for authentic purposes.

And this concluding comment from Hobbs is exactly why I have found technology-enhanced Project-Based-Learning so appealing:

“When people have digital and media literacy competencies,” Hobbs concludes, “they recognize personal, corporate and political agendas and are empowered to speak out on behalf of the missing voices and omitted perspectives in our communities. By identifying and attempting to solve problems, people use their powerful voices and their rights under the law to improve the world around them.”

I have to say that this year my planning has been highly unusual for me. But maybe it’s something you’ve been doing for years?

Float on …

It is 6.55 am and I am still sitting in my PJs trying to get my mind and body ready for the craziness that is teaching for another year. My tea is brewing, my clothes drying and my family quietly sleeping in their beds. The sun is beginning its slow daily climb above the ocean out my window. My limbs ache having only had four hours to recuperate from yesterday’s Big Day Out. At 31, I’m starting to feel the ill-effects of long days of standing in the sun, dancing to bands amidst a crowd of strangers.

I am dreading today. Well, maybe not today. Maybe Monday when the students resume. Today is just the teachers and a little time to panic quietly and alone in my classroom.

I’ve worked hard for the last two weeks of the school holidays – planning wonderfully rich education experiences for my students in all classes – except for one. Year 12 Advanced English. Why? Because I’m fearful. I fear the big 6 – and I’m not too proud to admit it. The pressure I feel to help my students achieve the ideal – the elusive Band 6 – has tensed my shoulders more than jumping around for an hour an a half whilst progressive rockers TOOL systematically dismantle my perception of reality.

I’ve been moaning with my head in my hands. Crying on the inside at my own lack of knowledge – my inability to teach well, to think critically or to teach thinking critically and independently. My failure to create/mould/shape great writers. It’s been making my heart beat too fast and it’s been upsetting my husband and my kids. This huge summative, state-wide assessment has made me depressed – and I haven’t even stepped foot in the classroom this year!

So I asked some of my ex-students if there was anything I did when I taught them that they liked – no compliment fishing either, just raw honesty I’d expect from these kids. So here’s a couple of words they said that helped me ‘about face my way of thinking’ (Fugazi lyric for those of you playing spot the music geek):

‘you made us think outside the box and come up with original and insightful ways of looking at texts, you challenged us’

‘You have such a gentle approach to your teaching and you are really switched on when you are teaching.’

‘You inspired with your own thoughts and assisted us in reading a text differently and building our skills at actually reading a text. So while you did so much for us in some parts, we were able to take it a step further.’

These comments have meant the world to me. It’s what I thought I couldn’t do – that I needed to take a course in how to do this. But I guess I did it just by liking my subject, my students … They’ve made me relax (and yes, I’m still tense and anxious a bit but hey, that’s my personality – can’t do much about that!) and I’ve decided just to get into the texts I’m teaching – get excited. Get out there!

One student gave me great advice: Get them to talk to each other.

So I’m going to … passion drives a quality lesson. From me, or from them, or from the text – or all three. So that’s my goal for 2011 – enjoy it, relax, float on … especially for my most mature kids. They need me to be there as a whole person. To be strong and model learning for life, not just a test.

PS: I am now going to be late for Day 1. Oh well …

We’re all in this together … the collaboration imperative.

** WARNING: most, if not all, of this blog post contains unplanned ramblings and may be harmful to the minds of some.**

Spending much of my day today reading through the research being conducted at a local university, I have been (I think) pleasantly surprised by the cross-over occurring at tertiary and secondary education levels. The education faculty has a number abstracts for current research projects accessible on its website, many of which parallel the thoughts and work of innovative secondary teachers. Those which stand out are the research into collaborative learning, student-centred vs, teacher-centred learning, blended-learning, formative or summative assessment-driven programs, video-conferencing, online forums and podcasting in education and inquiry-learning. Moving away from the class-room specifically and looking at professional learning, once again similar foci are evident: the fabled digital native vs. digital immigrants debate, the emergence of early adopters and the reality of the late majority and how to cater for the needs of all levels of teacher competency.

I’m sure reading the above list is for many of my readers a pleasant surprise also – after all, these are the things that we are working on in our secondary classrooms. Maybe this isn’t such a surprise for you, and I guess I’m not wanting to focus on the uncanny factor, really. I want to focus on the gap. On what is missing. On the horrible truth that there is minimal, if any connections between the academics that are researching the emergence of (what I guess I can call) 21st century teaching and learning in tertiary education settings and the same considerations occurring in our very classrooms. I know there are contractual bonds between certain universities and education departments as well as universities and secondary schools but from where I sit, these links aren’t commonplace nor impacting on the secondary schools that have not been lucky enough to forge these links.

What fascinates me even further is the fact that this exploration of exactly how education is changing/can be changed to cater for our ‘new’ techno-centric world isn’t just happening in secondary and tertiary – but also in preschool, infants and primary education settings. And still … minimal to no collaboration. My son has just ‘graduated’ from kindergarten. During his time in KM he was immersed in an edu world imbued with functional technology. By functional technology I mean technology that served an actual function in his learning, not simply a piece of equipment put on display for open nights. He’s written and illustrated stories using PowerPoint and KidPix, learned to read through a school subscription to ReadingEggs, strengthened his numeracy competing in Mathletics and played games on his class’s IWB. He has featured in short films created by his teacher and starred as a voice in a digital narrative. My eldest son is heading into Year 4 and is already au fait with programs such as Adobe Photoshop, MovieMaker and Audacity. He too uses Mathletics to strengthen his literacy skills and uses an IWB daily. What I’m trying to say is that this stuff that us ‘tech-geek teachers’ are talking about is real.

But if it is real … if the change that we preach is genuine (and not just a montage of then and now images) then why are we all wading through it separately? Why is an academic conducting a two year research project into the impact that blended learning has on student engagement within degree programs in his/her institution and another academic is researching the impact of discussion boards, forums and chat rooms on student learning outcomes within degree programs yet there’s – seemingly – no discussion with secondary schools and even primary schools doing similar things?

Hmm … what am I trying to say here? I’m trying to express my impression that a significant disconnection is present between the various levels of education. It seems to me that our grappling with the movement of technology into education presents an exciting opportunity to reach out and connect. I wonder if this is happening and as a classroom teacher in a state school I’m just not seeing it? The pressure is on us secondary teachers and tertiary educators. Why? Because students graduating from primary school are no longer hoping for technology enhanced learning, they are expecting it. Give it a year or two and they’ll be demanding it. The reality of secondary students demanding technology enhanced learning will hit universities within two years – when the DER babies graduate. Why is it not then true that we are working with one another to ensure that our students get what they demand – which really is, as us tech-geek teachers have known for a while, what they need?

Imagine genuine connections between local pre-school, primary, secondary and universities? Where learning is a continuum of experience connecting students to a world of learning that continues beyond the walls of one school? Imagine the professional dialogue that could occur online and face-to-face if such links were forged and fostered? Imagine the shape of our education system where we truly all work together to make these inevitable education changes a reality?

This, for me, is the collaboration imperative of now that should not be ignored.

My 2011 edu-dreaming …

After a significant mental hiatus from all things ‘edu’ related, I have found myself swamped by ideas, plans, must-dos, visions, inspiration and … of course – reality! As a means to cope with my heat oppress’d brain I aim to write a list of edu-dreams. Things that in an ideal world (one that involves absolutely NO administrative hurdles that I must o’er leap and fall down upon) I would love to try-out with students. Each edu-dream will be a mere dot point as dreams themselves are often sketchy and hard to grasp – so too will be my list. I guess in 12 months time I can come back to this post and see if I managed to conquer reality with my idealism – even if just one dream is realised. OK, here goes …

1. Create an indigenous sister school in Wilcannia – students in Years 9, 10 and 11 given opportunity to connect via video conference unit, edmodo and in person.

2. Introduce google docs to my senior classes

3. Have Year 9 participate in the Red Room Company’s ‘Papercuts’ program. Facilitate and inspired creative experience like this one.

4. Design and run 1-1 enhanced PBL experiences for Years 9, 10 and 11 – ideally one per term if possible. Project-based learning connects students to the real world.

5. Make spelling and vocabulary development relevant to each unit.

6. Bring Shakespeare to life – create a Globe Theatre (or at least the stage) and have students act out scenes of play being studied.

7. Present/celebrate student creativity and critical thought in as many ways a possible. Each unit needs to end with some form of celebration of learning.

8. Include debating (formal and informal) in all units.

9. Set up parent edmodo accounts and encourage active parent involvement in classroom – find specialists and harness these talents to enhance student learning. Include parents as ‘audience’ for learning celebrations.

10. Ensure all learning goals are displayed clearly for students each lesson – preferably projected onto whiteboard.

11. Student and teacher generated individualised learning plans created at the beginning of each unit. Active and continued completion of KWL tables.

12. Use google calendar to organise my edu life.

13. Set up and introduce edmodo ‘school’ domain to staff. Help Math dept see benefit of edmodo.

14. Each class must have an ‘experience’ at least once a term. An ‘experience’ is connecting with a class from another school (national or international), visiting somewhere outside of school, meeting someone amazing or having him/her speak to them. Most likely relate this to PBL.

So that’s just my dreams for now … I’ll be buffering them out next week as I actually plan my lessons for 2011. I’m really looking forward to it.

What are your edu-dreams for 2011? Can you help me achieve mine? How can I help you to achieve yours?

Helping high school students understand the value of a PLN and PLE

At the end of Year 10 in NSW there is a significant gap between the final external examination – the School Certificate – and when the students can actually leave school. Schools come up with a variety of methods to engage the students during these difficult weeks – in Australia the end of a school year is Summer. No student wants to be at school if they feel they don’t ‘need’ to be when the sky is blue and the surf is up.

At our school a program called the ‘Fab Fortnight’ has been developed in which students are treated to a variety of guest speakers talking to them about a range of topics from managing their credit rating to managing their studies in Year 11 and 12. Last year I was asked to present to the students on ‘Effective PowerPoint Use’ – something passionate to me as I have been tortured with many a terrible PowerPoint presentation! This year I was asked to repeat that session and I offered to run a second session on Web 2.0 tools in Stage 6. I was inspired to present on this by my PLN mentor Darcy Moore who had given a similar presentation to his Year 11 students. You can see his blog post here and his prezi from the session here.

I titled my presentation ‘Unleashing the Web 2.o Beast – Making the Most of Web in Years 11 & 12′. Having just created a survey on DER in Stage 6 (Years 11 & 12 – the final schooling years in Australian secondary schools) for teachers at my school  and seeing from initial responses that many teachers had not altered their teaching programs to incorporate technology nor had they planned to use the netbooks in their classes, I felt slightly anxious about presenting on Web 2.0 to Year 10. Despite this I was determined to help them appreciate the role that PLE (Personal Learning Environments) and PLN (Personal Learning Networks) can play in learning. I demonstrated PLN to them through a quick activity where they were forced to create groups based on disparate characteristics – shoe size, height, street address etc and then use this group to answer three questions drawn from Math, Science and English – they had to network in order to get the answers! I also showed them a question I had posed to teachers via edmodo – students could read their immediate replies and appreciate how asking often garners answers!

I moved on to the power of a PLE by showing them some Web 2.0 tools that can help establish their own individual learning environment. I reminded them that these were NOT necessarily tools that they would be asked to use by their teachers, but rather tools that could be used by them independently. I suggested they could show these to their teachers – who would surely be impressed by this tool and by the student’s initiative. These tools were categorised by Darcy into ten useful categories – see my prezi here.

After enduring my prezi and looking at a couple of examples of the tools being used, the students were sent off to the computer rooms to play around with the tools. They had a task – create a Top 5 Web 2.0 Tools for the HSC list and post this to edmodo with links. I wanted them to play – but they also needed a goal as keeping them on task at this time of the year us quite challenging!

Whilst presenting I noted a number of blank-looking faces … I even heard a few students chatting and saw supervising teachers ‘having a talk’ with them about their inappropriate behaviour. At the end of the session, when students were moved off to the computer rooms, I felt pretty flat. They didn’t seem terribly engaged and I felt that they weren’t interested in the tools. I know I kept saying ‘basically’ too much as well ‘this is really cool’. I felt like a complete geek. I even tweeted about my feelings of failure.

Thankfully my self-deprecation was (for once) unnecessary. Returning to my staffroom and logging into edmodo I saw the Fab Fortnight group getting a lot of new posts – the students were actually doing the task! The students HAD been listening – and they understood what I was talking about. You can see their responses to the task here.

I know not all students and their teachers want to see technology in their classes next year – I have the survey data to prove it. But what I do know is that these tools can (and will) help students to keep themselves organised, to help them collaborate, research and remember the content that will help them get through the HSC. This type of student assessment is not ideal, but it’s what we’ve got. I hope the presentation helped them to better understand the role that a PLN and PLE can play in their future success.