ISTE11: Breaking down the preconceived ideas

As an Australian in a foreign land, I must confess that I packed quite a few preconceived ideas about America in my luggage. I didn’t even know they were travelling with me but once I got here they just sort of appeared.

Whilst I write this my husband is speaking to my mum on the phone about beer. Why am I telling you this? Well to be honest, he was freaking out about the beer situation in the US. From what we knew, all Americans drink light beer. We Aussies do not. Full strength or it’s cat’s piss, right? Lee loves craft beer made by small breweries. He really likes a good beer and was scared he’d have a choice between Bud Light or no beer. Neither choice was appealing! But as soon as we arrived in the US he’s been amazed by the amount, quality and price of the beer that’s available. There’s heaps more options here than at home in Australia.

Moral to that story? Lee had a preconceived idea about beer in the US and it was shattered pleasantly by reality. I too have had a series of preconceived ideas that have been bash, bash, bashed whilst here in the US. For simplicity I’ll list them:

1. At ISTE11 everyone will think radically about education.

A friend posted a question on my fb wall: ‘Are you no longer a lone wolf? Have you found your pack at ISTE?’
I thought the pack would be 18,000 strong. Naive, I know. Details will follow in a later post not typed w/ one finger on my iPhone. I will say, however, that I did spy my pack in person and face to face. It’s a small but growing and intensely passionate group of educators. ISTE taught me that I am not a lone wolf, but I am not part of an 18,000 strong pack.

2. I will be able to navigate ISTE11 solo.

If you ever get the chance to come to this insanely big conference, don’t try to go it alone. For one thing, it’s not in the spirit of the conference – in the words of Chris Lehman, ISTE is about community, family, your teacher brothers, sisters, mums and dads. I was so fortunate to have my fellow edmodo blogger with me, Andy McKeil. In the words of @thenerdyteacher – he’s my edubro. Together we navigated the three buildings that ISTE11 sprawled over, we ate almonds and chocolate for protein and energy, we got excited about the future and we gave each other the confidence to say hello to our edu idols. Thanks Andy!

3. Self-help gurus are out for the cash.

If you know me well, you know I can be a little cynical. Me and sarcasm have been roomies for most of my life. I’m also a working class kid eternally frustrated by artifice. When I read that the keynote speaker on Tuesday was a guy who wrote self help books I was pretty disappointed. Yeah, I know you’re all thinking I must live under a rock or something cos I don’t know who Covey is, but I really didn’t. I’d heard of his famous book (not the one on leadership and schooling) and it just never appealed to me. I don’t like to prescribe to rules. I don’t like being told how to live my life. But hearing 78 year old Covey speak with concern, guts, honesty, passion, commitment, damn edupunk balls in some parts – well, he surprised me. I thought he would wanna sell a book. But he just wanted to sell change. To be honest, maybe I just liked him cos what he said reflected my own thoughts about the state of play regarding education and change. Change how you think. It’s a mindset thing, not a skill set or a tool kit.

Well my iPhone battery life is leeching into the ether and I’m still suffering the ISTE11 hangover so I’m going to cut this post off now.

I’m going to ISTE12. I dunno how but I won’t be missing Kevin Honeycutt again.

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!

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.

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?

The Teacher-leader Conundrum

If you have read my previous post, you will know that in two days I will be presenting at the Office of School’s Conference – Engaging Learners Through Innovative Practice. I was encouraged to submit and EOI for this conference by a twitter colleague, Ben Jones. Having spent a lot of time communicating with a fellow English teacher and twitter colleague, Troy Martin, I asked Troy to co-present with me on leading the implementation of the Digital Education Revolution at our schools. I found writing the EOI difficult, but was pleased (and nervous) that it was ultimately accepted.

(NOTE: If you want to ignore my ramblings, and help out a teacher-leader in need, scroll to my last paragraph! 😉 )

My vision for the conference was simple – share our experiences, our strategies and our visions for the future. Simple, right? Well, no. I created a PowerPoint (I personally loathe watching PPs but felt it was the best mode of delivery for me, using it as mostly timed slides, like a ‘movie’ with lots of images and short prompts for us to talk to) and shared it on twitter and this blog via SlideShare. I got feedback. It was positive. I felt content. Then I started to think, really think.

And then I read a series of twitter posts by my PLN nobility, Kelli McGraw, Jan Green, Tony Searl, Darcy Moore and Jacqueline Woodley. The focus was on leading change – just how can leaders encourage teachers to change from 20th century education model, to a 21st century education model?

Reading kelli’s blog post really cemented a position I had been edging towards in the last few weeks – at what point to I ‘let go’ and allow teachers to learn independently. How much professional development should I ‘deliver’ to teachers? Is being an enthusiastic and energetic promoter of blended learning enough? What level of change/adaption can I expect from my colleagues?

Kelli and Jan lead me to Roger Pryor’s blog post on leading from behind. It is odd how things come together at pivotal moments. Roger’s quotes from Mandella had a powerful effect on me. It reminded me of a video that Troy showed me via a skype chat one night many months ago – it’s in our presentation – Leadership Lessons from the Dancing Guy. I am lucky. I was a lone nut that was nourished by her environment, given time and resources to explore the changes in education that technology is facilitating. And then, through a combination of hard work, passion and sheer luck I attracted a handful of first followers. BUT I have let them down – I have failed to nourish them in return, failed to guide them, to grow them, to support them.

I’d like some help from my PLN and my new readers – how can I become a better leader now that I have surpassed the lone nut phase. I have shown them what is possible and why. Where to now? I feel change is important, but perhaps I have neglected focusing on why it is important. I need to refocus on outcomes – what is it that teachers desire from their learners. How do they do this now and how can technology be used to enhance this? Each teacher needs to be asked ‘why change what I’m doing’? How can I encourage MY learners (the teachers) to engage with this question honestly? How can I make it fun and meaningful when teacher time is so precious?

Thanks in advance. I present this Thursday.


Office of Schools Conference

This week is going to be a big one for me. I can’t decide what’s bigger – presenting at a BIG conference, the Office of School’s Engaging Learners Through Innovative Practice Conference (say that with a mouth full of marbles!) OR meeting the heart of my twitter PLN face to face for the first time. If this seems like an odd conundrum for a young(ish) teacher to be in, then you should have a look at the slides for my presentation with Troy Martin – DER Leadership: A Genuine Learning Revolution. This should help you appreciate just how essential ‘Back-Up’ is for those wanting to lead change in education. My twitter PLN are my dynamic learning environment. I quote myself (hahah … laughing at myself) ‘twitter is essentially immersive learning – it’s fun, it feels good, but you learn tonnes of stuff’. And i don’t lie – promise, cross my heart and stick a needle in my eye!

I would love it if you could check out the slideshow Troy and I have created for the OOS conference and give us some feedback. Even better, if you could add a comment about how YOU think it is best to lead change in an educational setting we would love to share these with our workshop attendees. Oh, and whilst you’re at it, check out the awesome prezi that Darcy Moore has put together for his presentation on Blogs in Education – it’s great! You can see it here.

D.E.R. Leadership – A Genuine Learning Revolution

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.