Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The difference between fact finding and inquiry

At school we are currently undergoing the PYP self study and I am chairing one of the teams looking at teaching and learning. At our last meeting we were discussing whether or not teachers were using inquiry as their main focus of teaching. My own observation has been that there is a lot of fact finding going on, but little true inquiry. Students are coming to the computer room to find things out, sometimes even trying to find out things that are impossible (Who invented the volcano? was one question a student was trying to find out recently!), that actually show they have misunderstandings that have not been addressed.

So what is the difference between fact finding and true inquiry? Well, for me fact finding is something you can do on Google rather like a scavenger hunt. Students type in a question and get an answer. It's highly likely that they won't remember this answer the following day - therefore this process adds nothing to a student's understanding and probably very little to his or her knowledge. In fact, remembering and understanding are now regarded as low order thinking skills in Blooms Digital Taxonomy. Higher order thinking skills include analysing and evaluating. It's important, therefore, that students are encouraged to ask questions for which there is no obvious "right" answer - this is true inquiry and involves investigation, comparing, hypothesizing, surveying and so on. True inquiry involves the students constructing their own knowledge. This is something that the students are likely to remember because it is something that they have come to understand through their own efforts. Fact finding, on the other hand, is more describing and explaining, recording and labelling, naming and listing - all activities that are highly forgettable.

This Flash version of Bloom's Digital Taxonomy is really useful. As well as explaining the revised taxonomy it contains examples for designing activities and links to rubrics.

More than a week later I have come back to this post as I just read a post entitled Wait ... Don't Google That! This blog post really highlights the importance of asking the right questions, rather than googling to try to find the right answers.

What is the purpose of education?

Did You Ever Wonder? is a movie made by Bill Farren, a technology integration facilitator in the Dominican Republic who writes the blog Education for Well Being. He has made this movie as a response to the Did You Know? movie by Carl Fisch which focuses mainly on whether we are preparing students for the future economic competition with India and China. Bill Farren offers an alternative view: that education should be for a better world and that our current economic system is unsustainable. I really like the questions: what is more important for children to learn about - diversity or biodiversity? Independence or interdependence? What is more, this video has made me realise that what I really miss this year is teaching IB Geography and having these discussions with my 17 and 18 year old students. Time to think about moving (back) in another direction I think. Time to ask questions of my new school such as why they are only offering History and Economics for IB, not Geography.
The principle goal of education in the schools should be creating men and women who are capable of doing new things, not simply repeating what other generations have done; men and women who are creative, inventive and discoverers, who can be critical and verify, and not accept, everything they are offered. –Piaget

Monday, December 28, 2009

Follow your heart and your intuition ....

Steve Jobs on how to live before you die:

I very much like Steve's idea of looking in the mirror in the morning and asking yourself "If this was the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?" As I came to teaching after trying many other jobs, I suppose on most days the answer has to be "Yes". It is the one job I have had where I feel I have made a difference and touched hundreds, probably thousands, of lives. I have often thought that being a teacher is the best job in the world (certainly better than being an administrator!) which is why I have always ensured that no matter what I take on, I always teach for at least 50% of my time.

As Steve Jobs says:
Follow your heart and your intuition, they somehow already know what you truly want to become.
Having survived pancreatic cancer and a liver transplant during this past year this movie, recorded 5 years ago now, is quite poignant. I wish Steve all the best for 2010.

The Recruiting Season

This is the time of year when teachers in international schools have to decide whether to stay one more year/one more contract or say "I've had enough" and try to find another position in another school in another country. Today I have been reading a short blog post and reflecting on the different between hiring and recruiting. Seth Godin claims:

Hiring is what you do when you let the world know that you're accepting applications from people looking for a job.

Recruiting is the act of finding the very best person for a job and persuading them to stop doing what they're doing and come join you.

Recruiting raises the bar because it demands you have a job worth quitting for. The recruiter doesn't solve an urgent problem for the person being recruited, in fact, they create one. That person already has a job (hence no problem). The problem being created is that until they change over to your job, they'll be unhappy. That's a huge hurdle for a job to overcome.

Last week I was also listening to the Shifting Our Schools podcast (Episode 30) where Jeff Utecht and David Carpenter were discussing how to recruit to be an international educator. More and more teachers these days are choosing not to go to recruitment fairs and are approaching schools directly. These teachers have done their homework, know the type of school they want to work in and where in the world they want to relocate.

In my 22 years as an international educator I have only been to one recruitment fair and to be honest it was not a pleasant experience. As David and Jeff discussed, I was a teacher with 2 dependent children and a dependent spouse and was sure to be the last one in line for any job. As it happened I did secure a good job at that recruitment fair, but that was probably because in addition to attending the job fair, I also made a DVD showing work I had done with my students, links to projects that the students had published and so on. There was not actually a job for me at the recruitment fair, but the school I ended up in was impressed by what I had done and decided to create a job for me.

When I decided to move back to Europe again I was determined not to go the job fair route again. This time I targetted only 7 schools that I was interested in and wrote directly to them giving the director a link to my website. When I received a response (which I did from all of them), I then sent a DVD with more information, including testimonials and videos. This approach was more successful than going to a job fair as I ended up with Skype interviews in November, well before any recruitment fairs took place. As I was the person in the driving seat I felt able to ask questions that perhaps put school administrators on the spot such as "Is it a problem to you that I have dependents?" This time I felt I was in control and I was discussing my achievements and my approach to teaching, rather than being at a recruitment fair where school leaders were already familiar with the fact that I had dependents and had already lined up teaching couples without children or singles who were also interested in the positions that were available at their schools. This time, too, I ended up in a position that was newly created for me, though I did have to work hard to persuade the Director that it was OK to hire someone that he had never met! Well, of course, I am an IT teacher so perhaps part of my role is to suggest how technology can make life easier and reduce costs.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Powerful Personal Learning Networks

I've had a personal learning network for about a year now. This network is made up mostly of teachers with some librarians from many countries around the world (Thailand, Hong Kong, Vietnam, China, Australia, the USA, Holland etc). The vast majority of these people are teachers I have never personally worked with, though some I have met at conferences. I built this network by following just a few people using Twitter and then following others who made interesting tweets. I think it is true to say that I have learnt more from my PLN in the past year than I have by attending conferences for most of my teaching career (though I did love the Apple Institute last year in Chiang Mai - that surely must be the best one ever!). Almost every day I get to read an interesting blog post, or watch a thought-provoking video or slideshow, or perhaps listen to a podcast. Next year at school I am definitely going to recommend to other teachers that they start to "grow" their own PLNs too.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Do schools kill creativity?

I have watched this TED talk several times and each time it makes me laugh out loud. But the message is very serious - we need creative people and schools are killing creativity. At a time when the new Bloom's taxonomy has creativity at it's highest point, we certainly need to take a lot of what Sir Ken Robinson says on board. Most children would benefit from being encouraged to have a go, make mistakes and learn from them. Every advance society has made has come about because people were creative, took chances and came up with new ideas. Listening to this makes me even more positive about the IB, where students have to have a balance between languages, science and maths, humanities and the arts. In so many other systems the "non-academic" subjects can be dropped as they are not seen as valuable or having academic rigor.

Monday, December 21, 2009

An Operating System for the Mind

I have gone back to read this post by Stephen Downes several times recently as I have found it very influential. Downes article looks into the arguments used by opponents of 21st century skills, those who maintain you must teach core knowledge first as it is necessary for the further acquisition of skills. He picks apart these arguments piece by piece.

Facts can be learnt merely through repetition, memorization and so on. Downes argues that most education today involves the teaching of facts and then testing for recall of these facts. Of course teaching facts is important as you need to know facts in order to do things. However Downes maintains that facts learned through this direct instruction are programmed directly into the mind. Students taught in this way don't question these facts, therefore there is no critical thinking or reflection.

The problem with this is that there are more facts in the world than any single person could know, therefore the important thing is to be able to find facts that you do not already know. Also, over time facts change, therefore we need to be able to learn - to change our current knowledge. In doing this we need to be able to filter out irrelevant facts, concentrating only on what is important. To do this we need to be able to select and assess the facts and act on them. This is the basis of 21st century skills and as the need for these skills increases, the need for facts decreases. Downes states:
The more these skills are needed, the more the teaching of facts as facts actually impairs the teaching of these skills. The more static our teaching, the less dynamic the learner can be.
Downes argues that 21st century skills are an operating system for the mind. If we just rely on facts the sooner or later progress will become impossible as we will be unable to extend our knowledge. Skills, however, let us navigate a fact-filled landscape, acquiring and understanding the facts that are relevant and useful and allowing us to make our own decisions. Even more important, facts should be questioned - children should not have unquestioned truths implanted into their minds. He argues:
They want to use children to promote their own political agenda, rather than to enable children to have lives, beliefs and faiths of their own.

What is on its way out .... and what is on its way in!

I have been reading 21 things that became obsolete this decade by The Business Insider. These things include:
  • PDAs - the Palm Pilot has been replaced by the smartphone.
  • Dial-up internet connections.
  • Getting film developed - now everything is digital.
  • Movie rental stores, VCRs, CDs and record shops - now you can download just about anything from iTunes!
  • Maps - now we just use GPS.
  • Newspaper classifieds - thanks to eBay.
  • A landline and public pay phones - everyone has a mobile.
  • Long distance phone charges - thanks Skype!
  • Fax machines
  • Phone books, dictionaries and encyclopaedias.
  • Backing up data on CDs - now we use external hard drives or Dropbox.
  • Getting bills in the mail - everything is electronic.
  • Paper - most communication is now conducted online.

But what about the next 10 years? Well according to the TeachPaperless website the following changes will occur in education:
  • Out will go desks, language labs, books, lockers and paper.
  • In will come individualised computing via handhelds.
  • The concept of homework will be replaced by 24/7 learning.
  • Digital portfolios will replace standardised tests as a way of getting into university.
  • There will be more emphasis on differentiation and personalised learning.
  • The traditional role of the IT department will change - it will become the place where real change is instigated in schools.
  • Professional development will change as PLNs become more powerful.
  • Parent-teacher conferences will be unnecessary as parents will always be able to access what their students are doing online.
Exciting times ahead!

Photo Credit: Towards the Back by Kim Cofino (superkimbo in BKK). This photo is of the Elementary School Learning Hub in the International School of Bangkok, Thailand.

How do you make a teacher great?

I always enjoy the TED talks and the last part of this one really caught my eye, as Bill Gates was talking about education. In this talk, Bill Gates mentions that traditionally the top 20% of students have always got a good education, leading to the revolution in technology and biotechnology that has kept the US ahead. However he is concerned that the balance of education is getting weaker while the economy is increasingly only giving opportunities to those with advanced education. Bill Gates highlights the inequity: low income students are more likely to end up in jail than getting a university degree.

He goes on to pose the question: How do you make a teacher great? He looks at the top quartile of teachers and notes that once someone is at the top for 3 years they tend to stay there. Interestingly he has found that having a masters degree has no effect at all on performance!

He finishes by saying that education is the most important thing to get right for the country to have a strong future.

I have come back to this blog post again, having now read an article entitled What Makes A Great Teacher from The Atlantic. This article identifies certain traits common in the most successful Teach for America teachers which include:
  • setting "big goals" for the students
  • constantly re-evaluating what they are doing
  • ensuring buy-in from students and their families
  • focusing on student learning
  • using backwards by design planning (as advocated by, for example, Project Zero and UbD)
  • working extremely hard

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Heart of Innovation

This morning I've been looking at The Heart of Innovation website and reflecting on different ways to foster a culture of innovation at school. Earlier this month there was an article that came up with 50 suggestions as to how companies could ensure their culture was conducive to innovation. Now schools are not really companies (though in the case of private, international schools I suppose there are compelling reasons for thinking of them as businesses, but most of these have nothing to do with education), however some of these ideas are certainly very relevant to international schools.

One of the suggestions is to increase the visual stimuli of the physical space by replacing grey and white walls with colour. In the case of the WH Computer room, I really feel that we have done this already. There are new brightly coloured bulletin boards both inside and outside the classroom in the corridor - mostly a vibrant shade of red, pink or blue. Student work is displayed, making the place look a whole lot more child-friendly than it did 4 or 5 months ago, where the main colours were white walls and floor, grey desks and chairs and silver iMacs. We now have a bright red chair at the front and a bright red rug for the students to sit on. I'm still working on getting more colour into the room and extending the IT displays all down the main corridor too.

Here are some other suggestions that I would like to work on myself in the coming year:
  • Always question authority, especially the authority of your own longstanding beliefs. (Some people would say I do this already too!)
  • Make new mistakes.
  • Ask questions about everything. After asking questions, ask different questions. After asking different questions, ask them in a different way.
  • Find new ways to capture learnings ... and new ways to share these learnings with everyone.
  • Try to get as much buy-in and support from senior leadership, while realising that true change NEVER starts at the top. How often does the revolution start with the king?
Here are some suggestions I think the administration of the school should be working on in the coming year:
  • As far as the future is concerned don't speculate on what might happen, but imagine what you can make happen.
  • Notice innovation efforts. Nurture them wherever they crop up. Reward them.
  • Communicate, communicate, communicate, communicate, communicate and then communicate again. Deliver each important message at least 6 times.
  • Understand that the best innovations are initiated by individuals acting on their own at the periphery of your organisation/school.
  • Stimulate interaction between segments of the company that traditionally don't connect or collaborate with each other. With a school on 3 campusus this one is difficult, especially as teachers in the primary, middle and secondary probably don't see a lot of natural collaborations in what they are doing. However diversity can spark innovation.
  • Avoid analysis paralysis. Chaotic action is preferable to orderly inaction.
  • A great source of new ideas are people new to the company/school. Get new hires together and tap their brainpower and imagination.
  • Reward collective, not only individual successes, but also maintain clear individual accountabilities and keep innovation heroes visible.
  • Remove whatever organisational obstacles are in the way of people communicating bold, new ideas to top management.
  • Drive authority downwards. Make decisions quickly at the lowest level possible.
My school is striving to be one of the top international schools in the world. Encouraging innovation has got to be the key to changing the culture of the school and enabling this to happen.

The important role Web 2.0 will play in education

Educational Networking: The Important Role Web 2.0 Will Play in Education

Today, on the first weekend of the Christmas holidays, I finally got to read this from Steve Hargadon, Social Learning Consultant at Elluminate. Steve argues that up to now computers have not dramatically changed education, as teachers still see computers as an add-on, rather than seeing them as integral to the full education process, transforming the process of teaching and learning.

Web 2.0, however, has brought a new relationship to information, and new software tools have emerged that are bringing dramatic changes to education. For myself, the biggest change in recent months has been building my own personal learning network (PLN) of educators around the world who are pushing forward the boundaries of technology in education by actually having their students create information using blogs, wikis and a host of other Web 2.0 tools. I think it's probably true to say that I have had more professional development as a result of being part of a PLN in the past few months, than I have had as a result of going to conferences and workshops over the past few years. For me, Twitter has become a very powerful professional development tool, one that I use and learn from on a daily basis. I'm using it not just as a social networking tool, but as an education network.

Steve Hargadon argues:
This new web is going to dramatically alter the 21st century landscape in education, shaping how students approach learning, how educators approach teaching, and, increasingly, how educators are interacting with and learning from, each other.
Web 2.0 has been called the Information Revolution. Instead of the emphasis being on the 3Rs, teachers are now talking about the 3Cs - contributing, collaborating and creating - through blogs and wikis. Last year at my old school, NIST, in addition to being an elementary IT teacher I also taught IB Geography to high school seniors. We had no textbooks, but used a host of online resources, some of which were available on our school portal, and in addition we were part of a wiki set up by a geography teacher in Manila. My students were collaborating with and learning from students from another school in Bangkok as well as those in the Philippines. The wiki became the textbook, and it was entirely created by the students themselves!

Currently I am checking out the K12 Online Conference. This event started on November 30 and runs through to January 9th. It is open to educators around the world who are interested in innovative ways Web 2.0 tools and technologies can be used to improve learning. It's completely free and open to everyone. In the past 2 weeks, over 50 presentations have been posted online and I have been able to participate in this conference from my own living room at a time convenient to me. For me this is a good example of true lifelong learning and, even more importantly than this, this learning can be shared with my colleagues to help them on their learning journeys too. Now I'm not just a passive member of the audience, by sharing my learning I'm part of the change, building a new world of education.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Learning to Change, Changing to Learn

It's the death of education but it's the dawn of learning - what a powerful statement!
These are the questions we need to be asking ourselves as teachers if we are teaching 21st century literacy. Are we teaching our students to:
  • find information?
  • validate it?
  • synthesise it?
  • leverage it?
  • communicate it?
  • collaborate with it?
  • problem solve with it?

21st Century Skills: How do we get there?

I have just sent this to the administration at my school. This is what I would like to do!

This movie mentions the Are They Really Ready To Work? report on employers' perspectives on the basic knowledge and the applied skills of new entrants to the 21st century US workforce. The report highlights the argument that the US is having difficulties competing in a global economy when those entering the workforce from school or university lack the skills essential for job success. Among the most important of these skills are:
  • Professionalism/work ethic
  • Oral and written communications
  • Teamwork/collaboration
  • Critical thinking/problem solving
The three most important skills are rated by employers as professionalism/work ethic, teamwork/collaboration and oral communication. With increasing globalisation, knowledge of foreign languages will increase in importance in the next 5 years, more than any other basic skill. Making appropriate choices concerning health and wellness is the number 1 emerging content area for future generations according to 3/4 of the employers who responded to the survey. Finally creativity/innovation is projected to increase in importance - though currently more than 50% of new workforce entrants are regarded as deficient in this area. This area is defined as the ability to demonstrate originality, inventiveness in work, communicate new ideas to others and integrate knowledge across disciplines. Innovation is considered the single most important element in maintaining competitiveness.

Improvements are needed in many areas. High school graduates are deficient in the basic knowledge and skills of writing in English, mathematics and reading comprehension. Written communication and critical thinking/problem solving are also deficient along with professionalism/work ethic. The important skills of information technology application, diversity and teamwork/collaboration are only rated as adequate for high school graduates. While college graduates are better prepared than the high school graduates, they still rank as deficient in writing in English and written communication as well as being deficient in leadership.

Across the US alarm bells are sounding in the business community about educating tomorrow's workforce, leading to a projected impact on the US's ability to maintain its competitive lead in the world economy. The business community is speaking with one voice, calling for higher standards of workforce excellence consistent with the demands of the 21st century.

What about the graduates coming out of our international schools? As a teacher who has taught all 3 IB programmes (PYP, MYP and DP) my feeling is that certainly these programmes seem more able to produce students with the necessary 21st century skills than some of the national curricula I have seen in various countries. The IB prides itself on its broad and balanced programme of study that develops critical thinking, reflection and research skills. It encourages independent learning, an international outlook and intercultural understanding. During the programme students are expected to analyse, evaluate, construct arguments and present information. They are encouraged to solve problems creatively. It is certainly a very rigorous academic programme that goes some way towards encouraging in the students the skills they will need for life beyond the classroom.

Do schools need leaders or builders?

  1. I've been reading a post in the Harvard Business Review entitled The Builders' Manifesto. In the past I've questioned why some international school are just so good when others, seemingly very similar, miss out on being really excellent. My conclusion was always that it was to do with the administration, and so I often thought about what schools needed in their administrators: good managers or good leaders? I have worked with both good managers and good leaders, but it's true to say I've almost never come across an administrator that was both a good manager AND a good leader. However I've never really thought of it in terms of builders before. Umair Haque argues that instead of leadership, organisations need constructivism and he goes on to give several examples of what he sees as the difference in the approaches:
  • The boss drives group members; the leader coaches them. The Builder learns from them.
  • The boss depends upon authority; the leader on good will. The Builder depends on good.
  • The boss inspires fear; the leader inspires enthusiasm. The Builder is inspired — by changing the world.
  • The boss says "I"; the leader says "we". The Builder says "all" — people, communities, and society.
  • The boss assigns the task, the leader sets the pace. The Builder sees the outcome.
  • The boss says, "Get there on time;" the leader gets there ahead of time. The Builder makes sure "getting there" matters.
  • The boss fixes the blame for the breakdown; the leader fixes the breakdown. The Builder prevents the breakdown.
  • The boss knows how; the leader shows how. The Builder shows why.
  • The boss makes work a drudgery; the leader makes work a game. The Builder organizes love, not work.
  • The boss says, "Go;" the leader says, "Let's go." The Builder says: "come."
Having read this article, I also started thinking about a book I read 6 months ago by Tom Kelley. Tom was one of the speakers at the Apple Leadership Summit in Hong Kong in April, and he gave away copies of his book The Ten Faces of Innovation to all those at the summit. Tom's point is that organisations needs lots of different sorts of people to be successes. Although he said at the summit that if he was to write the book again he would probably only focus on 7 different roles, the actual roles listed in the book are: anthropologist, experimenter, cross-pollinator, hurdler, collaborator, director, experience architect, set designer, storyteller and caregiver. While reading the book I found myself questioning my role in schools and decided I was probably a cross-pollinator.

The Cross-Pollinator draws associations and connections between seemingly unrelated ideas or concepts to break new ground. Armed with a wide set of interests, an avid curiosity, and an aptitude for learning and teaching, the Cross-Pollinator brings in big ideas from the outside world to enliven their organization. People in this role can often be identified by their open mindedness, diligent note-taking, tendency to think in metaphors, and ability to reap inspiration from constraints.

At a time when we are searching for a new Head of Secondary at my current school I have to ask myself what does the school really need? Perhaps what it really needs is a builder.

Photo Credits: Builder by Jespis, Monarch Butterfly by Creativity+ Timothy K Hamilton

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Tech Transformation Starts Here

The final week of our term, four months into our school year, and at today's staff meeting the technology transformation has finally got the seal of approval: when we return from Christmas holidays the IT department will start on a flexible schedule. Welcome to the 21st century!

I've been at my new school since the summer. I moved here from NIST, one of the top IT schools in Thailand and knew it would be a real challenge to implement changes and move the IT forward. My first few months have been spent building relationships and modeling new ways of approaching teaching and learning. My aim was not just IT integration into the units of inquiry, but that IT would be totally embedded into the entire PYP curriculum, transforming teaching and learning. For many months I have been hungry for change, knowing that it would be difficult to move forward with the traditional model of classes having one 40 minute period of IT each week.

I first introduced a flexible IT schedule when I was working at the International School of Amsterdam about 7 years ago. The purpose of this was to increase students' understanding and adapt to their needs using both a flexible schedule and more collaboration with my colleagues who were classroom teachers. I had become concerned that time was the driving force of the IT programme as lessons were based on a rigid schedule, planned as one lesson per week for the duration of a unit of inquiry. This meant that at times students had to do an activity before they were really ready for it and some projects seemed to last indefinitely. As well as that it seemed that IT was viewed as an independent subject by both the students and the teachers, rather than a tool to support learning. Sometimes forced connection were being made between the IT skills and the content covered in class. A main concern of mine was that students didn't necessarily transfer skills from one area to another and that students didn't see the connection between IT and their learning. I also noticed that some classroom teachers would feel at a loss or overwhelmed during the IT lessons, especially if there was pressure on these teacher to be "ready" content-wise for the IT class. On other occasions I noticed that these teachers did not know that IT could make the students' task easier and therefore they did not think of bringing the students to the lab or booking out the laptops for them to do it.

Following a Harvard Project Zero summer school, I started working with a small group of teachers at ISA to pilot a new way of approaching IT. We started with many questions:
How can we better integrate IT?
Who is responsible for what?
How can IT support students’ needs and learning as well as the curriculum?
How can we find a balance between the classroom needs and the IT curriculum?
How can we efficiently communicate between ourselves?
How can we get the students to see computers as a tool to support their learning and expression?
How can we implement change?
How can we support teacher’s own understanding of IT so that it positively impacts their use and teaching?

The first change we made was the introduction of a flexible schedule for those teachers (one per grade level) who volunteered to try this out. Lessons were not timetabled but scheduled based on the students' needs. This meant that classes could go for periods of time without any IT lessons, but would then have longer or more frequent lessons when they were needed. This allowed us to focus more on curricular and student needs and allowed for more individualized work. I met with the class teachers regularly, but often on a more casual basis, to discuss what was needed - this became a better use of meeting time as we were focused on immediate needs and this led to more mutual trust and appreciation between us. Now that we had a shared responsibility for the lessons there was much more co-planning, with each of us focusing on our particular area. At the same time I worked on empowering the classroom teachers so that they could lead at least one of their units of inquiry in the computer lab and could independently continue work done in the IT labs back in their classrooms using laptops, or they could have the students apply the skills learnt in the IT lessons back in class in a different context. We moved onto collaborative assessments, designing rubrics that we were both responsible for completing though with different areas within the assignment for each of us. The IT activities started to show more students' understanding.

At the end of the first year we assessed where we had come and what the impact had been on student learning. This is what we found:
  • IT was used according to need and not according to a fixed timetable.
  • Students had become able to determine when using a computer was appropriate. We constantly asked them "Is this the best tool for the task?"
  • Students' attitudes had changed: IT was seen as a tool.
  • The new way of teaching allowed students to get to higher levels of thinking.
  • There was a better balance of time. Some teachers reduced the amount of time spent in IT lessons because the activities we did directly related to the curriculum, others increased the amount of time spent in IT because they now saw the relevance of it
  • Lessons were better done when the students had the understanding they needed - sometimes this was at the end of a unit of inquiry as they worked on a summative assessment, sometimes it was at the beginning of a unit as IT was used for tuning in and finding out.
  • It allowed for an authentic and growing curriculum.
  • Students became more accepting of differentiation through IT.
  • It allowed me as the IT teacher to think from a macroscopic view instead of a microscopic one.
  • I had become responsible for the IT development of both students and teachers.
  • I had started to explore new boundaries with the aim of integrating and further enhancing understanding.
  • Assessments were more meaningful as different lenses were being used to look at the students, and as a result we were more able to appreciate each child's development.
This journey has not always been a smooth one - over the years I have seen tensions and growing pains. For example there have sometimes been problems when classes in the same grade have been doing different activities, in particular some of the teachers who were not part of this process became insecure and wondered if their students were being "neglected" as the perception was that the teachers involved in this project got more support in general. The teachers involved could also get frustrated when having to deal with the inflexible structure others were using. Some teachers initially found it difficult to let go of the weekly lesson routine, others had a problem with time management.

Seven years on, and now in my 3rd school where I am about to introduce a flexible schedule, I feel I have learnt a lot along the way and that this journey will, this time round, hopefully be easier. Now, as well as introducing the flexible schedule I am also introducing more Web 2.0 tools and 21st century literacy skills. I often think that is one of the best things about being an IT teacher - everything is constantly moving forward and I almost never have to teach the same thing twice! I am looking forward to exploring new ways of doing things and developing the students, teachers and myself all at the same time.

Photo Credit: Ghost in the Machine by ehoyer