Monday, January 16, 2017

Diversity makes us smarter

This summer I became Irish.  I did this as a response to the Brexit vote in the UK because I wanted to "stay European".  I was really disappointed that all the scare-mongering that went on prior to the election focused on erroneous perceptions, such as migrants taking people's jobs, and the idea that everyone coming to live in the UK should "blend in" in some way, by espousing the notion of becoming British.  Many people were duped in believing that migration is something we should be anxious about because it can lead to conflict. Now at this point I have to mention that I grew up in East London amid quite a bit of diversity.  My school friends were Indian, Irish, Italian and Polish. Some came from even further afield such as Nigeria, Hong Kong and Bermuda and I have to say I loved all the diversity.

Today I was reading a Scientific American article from around 2 years ago.  It was actually shared by a Dutch friend of mine that I met while working in Thailand.  The article was entitled How Diversity Makes Us Smarter and was basically about how being around people who are different from us makes us more creative, more diligent and harder-working.  Basically the article pulled on research from a variety of countries to show that:
  • people with diverse expertise do better than a homogeneous group at solving complex problems - being exposed to diversity changes the way you think.
  • interacting with people from different backgrounds leads to new information, opinions and perspectives, and forces people to prepare better, anticipate alternative viewpoints and to expect that reaching consensus will take effort.
  • diversity enhances creativity as it encourages the search for novel information and perspectives leading to better decision making and problem solving, and higher-quality scientific research.  
  • innovative companies perform better when women are part of the top leadership and when there is greater racial diversity - interestingly this is because when we hear dissent from someone who is different from us it provokes more thought than when it comes from someone who looks like us.
  • when members of a group notice they are different from one another, they change their expectations and anticipate that they will need to work harder both cognitively and socially. This hard work leads to better outcomes.
The bottom line is this:  we need diversity—in teams, organizations and society as a whole—if we are to change, grow and innovate.

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Using technology to personalize learning - part 4: different tech integration models

Last weekend I received an email from Jon Bergmann, a flipped learning pioneer, that contained a link through to videos he has made about the technological decisions that have to be made by a school when considering moving to a flipped learning model.  There are 18 videos in this series, and together they take about an hour to watch.  They contain information about various topics, such as the costs, infrastructure, interactivity, support, training and issues around student privacy and safety.   This course is free to join and can be found at this link.

Along with looking at these videos this weekend, I've also been reading more in my free eBook from ISTE about personalized learning.  As I'm in a 1:1 school, I was particularly interested in the chapter about how a 1:1 model can change the way teachers teach and so move instruction into more of a personalized learning direction as teachers have more ways of reaching and assessing different types of leaners.  The chapter basically deals with different instructional models, which as well as flipped learning also include blended, online and mobile learning.

Flipped Learning - is a pedagogical approach that moves direction instruction from the group space (the classroom) to the individual learning space (the home).  Students use their computers both at school and at home, though a lot of the instructional material posted by teachers such as videos, text files and so on is for students to access at home at their own pace, and class time is spent on guided practice, experiments and projects.  Often in class the Socratic method is used, so that teachers will pose questions and students will work collaboratively to solve problems.

Blended Learning - a combination of both online and face-to-face instruction that gives students some control over the time, place and pace of learning.  In this model multi-media technology can be used both inside and outside the classroom to give more interactive experiences.  With this model creating high quality resources is vital so that "students work at their own pace and experience success on an individual level, using a range of digital tools and resources to improve their ability to think, communicate and collaborate."  Blended learning allows the creation of more personalized learning experiences which in turn leads to much better results that traditional methods.  "By elegantly blending assessment with daily classroom instruction, technology-based learning platforms can serve as the cornerstone of revolutionary educational change.  They have the potential to personalize the learning process, support teachers in enacting best teaching strategies, and help students meet ambitious and rigorous standards."

Online Learning - this can be online classes, tutorials and wikis, and students can often take these courses to supplement the options being offered in schools.  For example I know of many IB schools who encourage students to take courses online that are not offered in school, in particular students who want to study a language for which there is not a local teacher.  In online learning, games, simulations and chat rooms are valued for the role they play in learning.

Mobile Learning - increasingly tablets and smartphones are being used in learning activities both in and out of school, often alongside laptops.  Studies have shown the dramatic impact of mobile devices on students who struggle with learning - at my school a mobile device is now a requirement for our academic support teachers.

One thing we talk a lot about in my school is student choice.  Certainly one way to personalize learning is to let students choose what and how they learn (for example in student-led inquiry) and in how they show their understanding through more open-ended assessments.   I'm thinking right now of our upcoming PYP Exhibition, where students have a wide choice in how they present their understanding and during the PYP Exhibition process the teachers monitor the students progress through blogs and shared slideshows.

Looking at the above 4 models of technology integration it does appear that technology gives teachers much more choice in how to personalize student learning.

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Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Using technology to personalize learning - part 3: meeting the needs of all learners

I'm back in Mumbai again, and reading on in the book Personalized Learning: A Guide for Engaging Students with Technology by Peggy Grant and Dale Basye.  This section of the book, on personalizing learning for all learners, has sections on at-risk students, students with disabilities, gifted students, and English language learners.  However because this is a blog about technology, the part I was really interested in was where the authors divide tech tools into 5 educational areas:

Literacy resources
What this is:  blogs, ebooks and discussion forums
How these help personalize learning:  students can use their own preferred learning styles to engage in topics of interest, and can also access multiple texts on similar topics.  Text-to-speech tools can make these resources available to a wide range of students.

Web tools
What this is:  podcasts, wikis, media editors and aggregators
How these help personalize learning:  students can use these to demonstrate their learning in multiple ways, they can share their work with an authentic audience, increasing motivation.  Students can use these tools to show what they are learning.

Digital information resources
What this is:  encyclopedia sites, podcasts, expert websites and blogs
How these help personalize learning: Web research is the most common use of technology in today's classrooms and students are able to use these resources to interact with content and experts to explore subjects and topics

Social networking sites
What this is:  sites that allow students to network with others
How these help personalize learning: Students with special needs can build up a network of similar students and connect with educators and experts.  This can help students who feel isolated because of problems communicating, and can help them to build constructive relationships with others.

Learning management systems
What this is:  systems that help teachers organize instruction and communicate with students and parents
How these help personalize learning:  Providing a platform for accessing content and keeping records of students' progress.

It was interesting to see how these tools have been divided.  From a PYP perspective, two of these categories are helping students to investigate and inquire, one is helping students to organize,  one is helping students to communicate and collaborate and one is helping students to create.  In the next post I'll be thinking about different types of tech integration and how these can impact student achievement.

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Thursday, January 5, 2017

Using technology to personalize learning - part 2

I'm reading on in the eBook Personalized Learning: A Guide for Engaging Students with Technology by Peggy Grant and Dale Basye and am making a list about the benefits of using technology for learning:
  • Opening up the classroom and connecting with experts
  • Giving students choices about how, when and where they learn
  • Enabling students to take online courses in subjects that are not normally offered in their schools
  • The possibility for utilizing more frequent formative assessments
  • The ability to extend the learning day and school year
  • More collaboration with peers
  • Enhanced research through electronic libraries and online tutorials
  • The ability to engage with simulations, role plays and real-world models
  • The ability to bookmark and organize websites being used for research
Of course for personalized learning it's also important to have face-to-face interactions as well as online learning - in fact studies show that these interactions lead to better accountability when students are online.  Teachers need to be mindful that meeting students' needs involve an alignment between online and offline instructional strategies.

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Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Using technology to personalize learning

Because I recently renewed my ISTE membership, I was given the opportunity to download a free eBook - my choice was Personalized Learning: A Guide for Engaging Students with Technology by Peggy Grant and Dale Basye.  During my last week in the UK before returning to India I decided to read through this book and share some of my thinking here on the blog.

One of the first things addressed in Chapter 1 of this book is the characteristics of personalized learning.  Briefly it takes account of:
  • students' interests and abilities
  • learning content/standards through real-world activities
  • teachers' roles changing to become facilitators rather than dispensers of knowledge
  • students being in control of their learning by setting their own goals for building skills
  • technology that can enable student choices about what they learn, how they learn and how they show their understanding
  • technology that can assist formative assessment, address weaknesses and build on strengths
  • progress based on proficiency of skills and understanding
  • technology being integrated to support learning
One new thing I learned in this chapter was about the 2010 initiative Project RED (which stands for Revolutionizing EDucation) which looked at the ways that technology can improve student achievement.  Project RED came up with 7 major findings, which are worth mentioning here:
  1. Implementation factors that lead to success include:  technology integrated into every intervention class period, leadership providing time for teacher professional learning each month, technology being used daily for online collaboration, technology being integrated into core curriculum, online formative assessments being done weekly, daily searches for information, principals being trained in best practices.
  2. 1:1 schools that employ all the key implementation factors outperform all other schools
  3. When properly implemented technology saves money - on average a 1:1 classroom saves around $400 per student per year.
  4. Change must be modelled and championed at the principal level
  5. Technology-transformed intervention improves learning
  6. Online collaboration increases student engagement, productivity and learning
  7. The daily use of technology delivers the best return on investment
Project RED came up with 4 recommendations:
  1. Technology should be frequently integrated into the curriculum to personalize learning for all students
  2. Professional learning in the effective integration of technology for teaching, learning and assessment should be a high priority
  3. Social media, games and simulations should be used to engage students and excite them about their learning.
  4. Online assessments should be used to provide data to help tailor instruction, remediation and accelerated learning.
As Project RED is already 7 years old now, I'd be interested to know whether there has been follow-up studies done in those schools that implemented the recommendations.  Hopefully this will be addressed as I read through the rest of the book.

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Sunday, January 1, 2017

Ongoing assessment and feedback - another IB webinar


About a week before the end of school, I took part in another IB webinar, this time on assessment. The graphic above was really helpful in focusing in on the topic of this webinar and the cycle we should be going through as IB teachers.  I really wish I'd had the time to blog immediately after the webinar, since quite a lot of what was discussed has now retreated from my mind, but thankfully I did manage to jot down a few thoughts on Twitter at the time.  Here are some of the questions that emerged from this webinar:

  • Tools and strategies for assessment - are we over-relying on just one or two?  One suggestion would be to map this out to see what patterns emerge.
  • Authentic summative assessment - Could students do the assessment at the beginning, before even starting the unit? And if so, how would it look like compared with summative?
  • Impact of assessment on teaching and learning - are we designing assessments that support good teaching and learning?  And alongside this, is the feedback that we give students helping to reduce the gap between where they are now and where they need to go next.
  • Is assessment a scrapbook or a snapshot?  We need to think about more holistic ways of viewing and assessing learning, for example combining observations and dialogue along with the products that students create.
There was a great graphic shared about the stages of assessment.  Again I really like the assess - record - report cycle indicated here.  


Assessment is a really huge topic.  It has come up several times as a topic for the #pypchats on Twitter and I know that whenever I lead a Making the PYP Happen workshop it's something that the participants want to know more about.

I really love this series of webinars as it gives me the opportunity to dig a little deeper into my understanding of various aspects of the IB programmes.  I also appreciate the opportunity to learn more about the other IB programmes that I don't actually teach.  I really hope that these webinars continue in 2017.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Living with dementia: the sandwich generation

It's the last day of 2016, and as always I like to look back to see which of my posts have been most popular throughout this year.  I was surprised to see that this year the posts that have got really high hits have been the ones where I have written about my mother's dementia, and how I have been exploring some iPad apps with her to see how she reacts to them.  Dementia is of course a very common issue today: in the UK alone more than half a million elderly women are living with dementia, though it's not just a disease of the elderly, with around 50,000 sufferers below the age of 65, and it's not just a "Western" disease as the largest increases in dementia are currently in China, India and Sub-Saharan Africa.  Globally around 47 million people are living with dementia.

Dementia leads to memory loss, changes in behaviour, confusion and disorientation and difficulties in communicating and my mother is experiencing all of these things.  There are no treatments that can stop or slow down dementia, though mum has tried medication to help her live with the symptoms a little better.  Basically what we are looking at is that the disease will continue to get worse over time.

This summer, as many of you know, our daughter left university having finished her Master's.  Both our children are now working, which should be a time for us to take a bit of a breather financially and to start to save for retirement.  But as part of the "sandwich" generation, the generation that is caring for both children and parents, it's clear that my time and money will now need to be diverted into the care of my mother.  I am needing to think about relocating back to Europe at least for part of the year, and I'm not yet sure how to do this.  I've considered (and applied for) jobs in European schools and I've wondered how realistic it might be to work as a consultant, or to lead IB workshops and school visits for the time I will be in Europe.  At this point, I don't have any answers and I'm running out of ideas.  However what I do know is that thousands of my readers are based at schools in Europe - and that some of you might have some ideas or know of schools that are looking for someone to work part-time, or someone to run workshops, or someone to give advice and support about technology integration, someone who can support a school as it goes through the process of becoming PYP, or someone to introduce a culture of coaching.  If you are able to give me any information or any leads that I could follow up - please reach out to me and let me know.

Life has taught me that when one door closes a window often opens.  I know what I need to do now is to hang on in there until that window opens - even though where I am right now is a pretty dark place!

Let's see what 2017 brings. Happy New Year to you all!

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