Friday, December 31, 2010

ICT in the PYP - Be Responsible Digital Citizens

Children learn how to make good decisions by making decisions, not by following directions - Alfie Kohn 
There has been a lot of discussion in the past couple of years about filtering, blocking websites, whether social network sites should be used at school and so on.  Recently I have had some interesting discussions with colleagues too about which websites are suitable ones for students to use for various units of inquiry - for example with our Grade 5 students who are currently studying the Who We Are unit about different life stages.  This has traditionally been a time where students have discussed the changes they are going through or about to go through during puberty.  We want the students to have access to good, relevant information, not to have to do Google Searches for their investigations, but at the same time we know that some parents may object to some of the links that appear even on government approved websites such as Girls Health which is aimed at 10 to 16 year olds.  Around the time I was involved in these discussions, I saw this post on Facebook from a friend of mine who is working in Tanzania.  Sam said:
Crossing the street can be dangerous too and we don't keep them just to the one side of the street as that is not practical. Instead we teach them how to cross the street. We talk about how to do it safely. We practice doing it together. We set up rules that they have to cross the street with an adult... etc etc. Until one day, they can do that by themselves.
I think that is what we are doing by providing our students with links on the student website for them to use in their inquiries.  We are trying to practice searching for good information together, and we hope that one day they will make good choices about what is and is not appropriate for them to be doing online.  This fits in with another strand identified at the ICT in the PYP Meeting in Hong Kong in September:  being responsible digital citizens.  We defined this in the following way:
Being a responsible digital citizen involves making ethical and informed choices while acting with integrity and honesty when using ICT. In a globally connected digital world, learners are empowered to be responsible for their actions, to value others’ rights and to practice safe and legal behaviours.
Photo Credit:  Crossing by Andrei Shevelov

ICT in the PYP - Create

In September I went to Hong Kong to be part of a group of educators from around the world developing a document about ICT in the PYP (IB Primary Years Programme).  We came up with 6 strands that are relevant to all learners in an increasingly digital and connected world.  One of these strands is Create which we defined in the following way:
Creating is a process through which learners are provided with an opportunity to be innovative. Learners construct meaning, apply critical thinking and original ideas to real world situations, and share knowledge through self-expression, problem posing and solving, and reflection.
One of the joys of being on school holidays is that I have the time to catch up on reading blogs, watching movies and so on.  I also have more time to try things out and to evaluate and reflect on what I've been doing during the past term at school.  Recently I've been thinking about being creative - this has probably been a result of our daughter also spending a lot of time this holiday on her IB Art workbook where she is trying out new techniques and ideas, many of which have been influenced by her time in Thailand and her move to Switzerland.  Recently she's been using the iPad to create some artwork too.

Probably one of the most influential writers/speakers about creativity in education at the moment is Sir Ken Robinson.  Today I finally had the time to watch all 7 of his video responses to questions he's been asked on Twitter.   He talks about how creativity is a practical process you go through and that you can learn about and develop your skills in order to get better over time.  He talks about how creativity also involves you thinking of or developing something for the first time and how this process is a rigourous one and he also talks about how creativity is valued and how you can judge whether what you are doing is relevant and worthwhile.  This got me thinking about the Dutch artist van Gogh, how little he was appreciated during his lifetime, and yet how influential he has been on 20th century art.  Today he is recognised as one of history's greatest painters, yet in his life he suffered from anxiety and must have been frustrated and depressed at how little his paintings were appreciated as he only sold one painting in his lifetime.  Creativity, it seems, sometimes cannot be judged by the standards of the day.

Sir Ken also talks about how schools can kill creativity - rote learning and memorization for example, the absorbing of information uncritically, the conformity of thinking and only ever dealing with the understanding of received wisdom all stop creative thinking.  In fact critical thinking is absolutely necessary for creative thinking.

I've also been reflecting on how technology can encourage creativity in schools.  I started looking at our curriculum documents and redrafting them to show the new strands we identified for ICT in the PYP.  It's already clear to me that Create is going to be large part of what we are doing in technology in all grades this year.

Working -v- Learning

I've been thinking quite a bit about work these past few days.  What we do as teachers is called work because it's our job, yet what the students do in class is also often called work and at home it is homework.  Sir Ken Robinson talks about this as being tied up with the origins of schooling, how the purpose of education was to produce workers and how the subjects seen as most relevant to work were those that appeared to be higher on the hierarchy of subjects (maths, science, technology and languages being at the top of the hierarchy, while dance and drama were at the bottom).  As I was thinking about this and reading further, I came across a very old article by Alfie Kohn called Students don't work - they learn.  In this article he says:
To get a sense of whether students view themselves as workers or as learners, we need only ask them (during class) what they are doing. "I'm doing my work" is one possible response; "I'm trying to figure out why the character in this story told her friend to go away" is something else altogether. Better yet, we might ask students why they are doing something, and then attend to the difference between "Because Ms. Taylor told us to" or "It's going to be on the test," on the one hand, and "Because I just don't get why this character would say that!" on the other.
Alfie Kohn goes on to discuss the value of making mistakes as part of the learning process:
Another way to judge the orientation of a classroom is to watch for the teacher's reaction to mistakes. Someone who manages students' work is likely to strive for zero defects: perfect papers and assignments that receive the maximum number of points. Someone who facilitates students' learning welcomes mistakes--first, because they are invaluable clues as to how the student is thinking, and second, because to do so creates a climate of safety that ultimately promotes more successful learning.
Assessment can also play a part in learning.  Today, learner outcomes seem to be the latest bandwagons that many schools and countries have jumped on, with standardised testing to show whether or not these outcomes have been reached.  Earlier this month the New York Times published an article about how 15 year old students in Shanghai were doing better than students in 65 other countries in reading, maths and science on the PISA tests (Program for International Student Assessment).  Some educators have pointed out that this is irrelevant - the focus shouldn't be on the highest scores, but on the fact that only small percentage of US students were able to answer some of the questions correctly - that this is where the attention has to be in order to help those students to improve.  Others seem more skeptical.  Some years ago Linda McNeil of Rice University observed:
Measurable outcomes may be the least significant results of learning.
However as Alfie Kohn points out, measurable outcomes are the most significant results of work. So once again I'm brought back to my original question, what is the job of schools - to promote work or to promote learning, and if it is to promote learning, then what is the best way of assessing this learning?

Photo Credit:  14 More Days by Chris Martino

The Future of Education? O is for Obsolete

I was sent this video this morning by another member of the Google Certified Teachers group.  It is a mash-up containing some interesting extracts about what will be needed in the future and how our current educational system is not preparing our students for this future.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Happiness and Success

Today I've been thinking about 2 quotes that I feel sum up the direction I've been moving in my blog this past year.  My aim when I started this blog was merely to reflect on my thoughts and wonderings as an IT teacher.  It's been a great way of documenting my thoughts and what has been influencing these thoughts, a way of recording new things I've been trying out and reflecting on how successful they are and what needs to change to make them more successful.  Today I came across this quotation from Ozge Karaoglu that for me summed up the benefits of blogging:
To blog is a way to realize what you think, what you achieve and what you want to do in the future because it is reading, thinking, reflecting, writing, connecting, learning and more than that.
For me I feel that blogging has been enormously successful in helping me to be a better thinker, to reflect in a deeper way and to connect with others who have pushed my thinking forward or in different directions.  I read another quote recently (unfortunately I can't remember where I read this). Herman Cain says:
Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success.  If you love what you are doing, you will be successful.
Sir Ken Robinson put it in a nice way in one of his video responses to questions on Twitter.  He said that if you love something you are good at, you never have to "work" again.  So when people ask me how I find the time to blog so much, I guess the reason is that it doesn't feel like work, it's something I do almost as a hobby, in my free time, that gives me satisfaction.  My husband thinks I feel the same about teaching - that it's something I do because I enjoy it and because of that I do a good job and no matter how many hours I put into it, it doesn't seem like 'hard' work.  (I tend to disagree with this, usually around report writing time).

Photo Credit:  Free Pocketful of Rainbows by D. Sharon Pruitt 

Saturday, December 25, 2010

The IB Learner Profile - Reflective and Communicator

This year is the first full year I've been writing about my experiences as an IT teacher working at an international school in Switzerland in my Tech Transformation blog.  During the past year I've written over 250 posts on this blog alone, as well as contributing to other educational blogs and in addition I've written almost 100 posts on another blog about living in Switzerland.  For someone who never really used to write much at all (I remember writing a weekly letter to my parents when I was a student at university and was often stumped for things to say), I seem to have spent most of the year being reflective and being a communicator.

Today I had a look back at which posts were the most popular this year.  Some of them surprised me.  The most read posts were the following:

The IB Learner Profile - Caring:  This post was a controversial one, not because of anything I had written but because one of the comments on this post was from an organisation called The Truth About IB which claimed that the IB was a UN indoctrination programme.  Thankfully many of the readers responded to this comment - thanks for your support.
The SAMR Model:  I wrote this post after attending a presentation by Stephanie Hamilton at the Apple Leadership Summit in Prague.  Stephanie talked about the goal of IT being to transform learning, rather than to enhance it.  I'd never heard of this model before and it made an enormous impression on me.  I remember thinking at the time that Stephanie had summed up everything I'd ever believed about how technology should be used - in fact all the reasons why I'd decided call my blog Tech Transformation in the first place.  Over the next few months this model became part of the discussions we had at school about how we should move forward, and this year at collaborative planning meetings I frequently refer to it when we plan how the IT will support the programme of inquiry.  As the SAMR model has been so influential on my teaching during the first half of this school year, I'm really pleased to see that others have been interested to read about and explore this model too.
Assessment OF Learning -v- Assessment FOR Learning: I've been conscious of this distinction for many years and feel passionately about formative assessment as a way of planning for learning.  The first PYP workshop I ever attended over 15 years ago was on assessment and it was a real eye-opener for me.   My thoughts on assessment were further developed when I attended Project Zero, back when I was working in Amsterdam.  This year I have found it exciting as an IT teacher to be part of both formative and summative assessment for various units of inquiry.  And as one of my favourite bloggers, Edna Sackson, wrote on one of her blogs posts last year, formative assessment allows you to go on to "feed the elephant" as opposed to merely "weighing the elephant".
PLN -v- PLC:  I have struggled a lot with this one this school year.  Being part of a professional learning network has been the most exciting form of professional development I've experienced during almost 30 years of teaching.  However this year I have tried hard to build up more of a learning community with the colleagues I work with day-to-day.  This has been a lot more difficult that I expected and something that I feel I need to work much harder on during the second part of this school year.
Which Inquiry Cycle?  Inquiry is the basis of the IB Primary Years Programme and this year at school we finalised what our inquiry cycle should look like.  More recently I feel we have been able to build on this, infusing the IT into the inquiry cycle, as we adopted the following IT strands:

  • the IT strands Investigate, Collaborate and Communicate fit into the tuning in, finding out and drawing conclusions of the inquiry cycle
  • the IT strand Organise fits into the sorting out of the inqury cycle
  • the IT strands Create and Collaborate fit in with going further and taking action
  • the IT strand Being Responsible fits in with taking action in the inquiry cycle
As a result of thinking about the inquiry cycle and seeing how IT supports the various parts of the cycle I have started rewriting the IT curriculum and in addition the inquiry cycle has become a school-wide strand which we are looking at in drawing up learner outcomes for all students in the school.

A year ago I sometimes wondered what on earth I would want to write about in my blog, and even more whether anyone would ever read it - I would never have predicted that hundreds of people would read it every day.  However, despite whether or not anyone ever reads what I write, I can appreciate how much more reflective and how much better I communicate as a result of writing a blog.

My thanks go out to Kelly Tenkely who started the Blogging Alliance which has given me invaluable support over this past year.

Photo Credit:  Gotcha by Sarah Spaulding

Friday, December 24, 2010

Essential Agreements - part 2

Yesterday I was thinking about being a workshop leader and drawing up essential agreements for how to conduct a workshop.  Today I'm thinking about what leaders expect from the participants.  Just before I left for our Christmas break I was talking about this with another educator who will be running a workshop right at the end of the Christmas holidays.  She told me that the teachers have been told they need to come back from their holidays 2 days early for this workshop and she was nervous that they wouldn't be very motivated to participate having been forced to attend and lose part of their break.  Here are some essential agreements it would be good to have participants take on board (though obviously it would be better to have them actually draw up these agreements themselves so that they have ownership of them).  All are based on the IB Learner Profile.

We will take responsibility for being active communicators, both receptively and expressively.

We will be responsible for completing pre-reading and will actively share the knowledge that we bring and acquire both during and after the workshop.

Open minded
We will be willing to try new ideas and practices without judgement.

We will respect the essential agreements and show respect towards different points of view/cultures.

Risk- Taker
We will flexibly particpate in all aspects of the workshop.

As caring participants we will show empathy, sensitivity and respect for our peers. 

We will be willing to try new ideas and practices without judgement. 

We will connects school experience to theory and undertandings being developed. Through critical thinking and problem solving skills, we will organize information and understanding in order to apply strategies and understandings in the classroom.

We will keep a balance between actively sharing, actively listening and volunterring (adapting a variety of roles) whilst taking part in a range of learning experiences. 

As inquirers we come to the workshop ready to question the programme as well as our own practice and we are engaged in probing into the 'so what?' of learning. 

We will make mearning by connecting and applying prior knowledge to new understandings by identifying tensions and adressing them.

Photo Credit:  Chairs by Pieter Musterd

Essential Agreements - part 1

Over the past couple of weeks I've been invited to lead PYP workshops in a couple of different countries.  While it hasn't yet been possible to find a time that works for myself and my school, I have started reflecting on what kind of workshop leader I would eventually like to be.  At our training last month we talked about drawing up essential agreements for us as leaders.  This is what we came up with as being essential for leading a successful workshop, based on the IB Learner Profile:

We will communicate clearly and effectively, making use of the different modes of communication and accounting for a diverse range of participant needs.

We will be well prepared in advance with the knowledge to meet the objectives and context of the workshop and the knowledge of how to access further information if needed.

As risk-takers we will run our workshops through wikis, try new things and be flexible with results. 

We will show empathy, sensitivity and respect for risk-taking peers. 

We will listen to and respect others' ideas. We will recognise the diversity of thought as a resource rather than a challenge. 

We will share and model essential agrements with participants. We will show respect towards different points of view / cultures through the use of respectful language. Word choice is important! 

As workshop leaders, we will model and encourage higher level thinking through questioning, utilizing visible thinking strategies, sharing problem solving stratefies, making connections to practice and theory and analyzing comments and connections. 

Workshop leaders strive to create an environment that models the inquiry cycle through provocations, promoting wondering and questioning and making internal tensions transparent. 

As balanced workshop leaders we will address a variety of learning styles, collaborative vs individual learning time and personalities.

We will use knowledge and feedback to monitor and adjust our workshops to meet the needs of learners. 

Photo by Streuwerk

Friday, December 17, 2010

Transforming learning - from what to how

In Grade 1 we are looking at how people get connected and as part of this unit we have been looking at different ways we communicate and how this has changed over time.  I send a lot of emails every day - I suppose that's one of the main ways I communicate with people around the world.   Our teenage daughter doesn't send emails very often ("That's so last century, Mum") she uses SMS or Facebook chat.  She almost never makes a phone call, she uses Skype.  Our Grade 1 students have been introduced to email and Skype recently too - they emailed students in Australia, Ghana, Tanzania, the USA and Italy and they have Skyped with students in Ghana and South Africa.

Today I was looking at this movie, Educating the Mobile Generation.  In this movie even laptops are seen as very '90s.  Today everything is smaller and more portable and students are using these computers as their digital paper and pencils.  I've come from a school where in Grades 9 - 12 all students had tablets.  We don't seem to be going that way here, but this year we have introduced iPod Touches into the primary school, and I think it's a good time now to reflect on how we are doing with these and whether we want to invest in more next year.  All the classes who have used these so far have been enthusiastic - the students have seemed more engaged and focused, though perhaps it is too early to say whether or not the learning has been deeper.  I'm wondering if we are now at the stage where the iPhone, or the iPod Touches or iPads are the computers?  Is the idea of a computer lab, or even carts of laptops also very "last century"?  Certainly I think, if cost is an issue, if we want all children to have a computer, then these mobile devices are more affordable.  They are small, easy for students to carry around and use and don't involve having to buy lots of expensive software, everything we have used so far has been free or very low cost apps - making our software budget almost negligible.  If the future is that everything is available everywhere, then these devices have no logistical issues, no problems with space and are only a fraction of the cost of desktops and laptops.

In the movie we hear that mobile technology will make the biggest change to our lives in the future - more so than the PC and more than the internet.  So if that is the case, we need to be investing more time into studying how best to use them to transform learning, and we need to change the focus away from what are going to do to how we are going to do it.

Photo Credit:  sms ... by couleurs gm

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Listening to the Learning Voice

I first met Professor Stephen Heppell in Singapore.  He was there for an IB library/IT conference and spoke to us about Be Very Afraid and how project based learning has been turning teaching around by empowering learners and making them passionate about learning.  The second time I had the pleasure of meeting Stephen was at the BETT show last year where he made many presentations about 21st century education.  In this movie Stephen talks about how students can learn to do things on their own, ahead of their parents and teachers.

This week I was in the staff room getting a cup of coffee, and around the coffee machine were a parent and a class teacher.  I had worked with this class earlier using Spicy Nodes.  I'd introduced it to the class fairly briefly but had spent most of the IT sessions focused on the inquiry process.  I knew the teacher had at first worried about the students not having enough practice on the skills they were going to use to present their knowledge and understanding.  The two of us were chatting about how amazingly the students had done - surpassing both of our expectations in fact.  The parent joined in too.  He is currently considering whether or not he wants to take up a second career as a teacher.  He told us how enthusiastic he was having heard our conversation about the future of learning and what a joy it was to hear how independently these 8 year olds were in following their own interests and learning things on their own.  We can all learn a lot from listening to their learning voices.

Tech Thursday

This year we have introduced Google Apps for Education to all our Grade 4s and Grade 5s.  Everything has gone well - small glitches have been resolved quickly.  We have used Gmail, Google Docs, Spreadsheets, Maps, Blogger, Earth and a couple of others.  Now it seems would be a good time to introduce Presentations too.  Some teacher still think of presentations and PowerPoints as being the same thing, yet this year our students have used many different presentation tools.  This movie shows the power of Google Presentations - I'm thinking that after sharing this with the teachers they may never want to use PowerPoint again!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Critical Thinking, Collaboration and Communication

I saw this today on Twitter (thanks @wkirkwood for sharing it) and thought it was absolutely perfect to share with our teachers as this is what they are doing now with the individual inquiries that are going on in their classrooms.  On the video it's called Project Based Learning, but here it is part of the Inquiry Cycle.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Rethinking Homework

At one time I never gave students homework after their IT lessons - it just wasn't possible.  Their work lived on a server at school and it wasn't accessible from home.  In the last couple of years there has been a shift - most of their work now lives in the cloud and they can access it from anywhere.  As a result homework and classwork have made a complete about-turn.  Whereas at one time students did their research from books, then brought their notes to the IT labs to turn into some sort of presentation, now I'm seeing the opposite happening.

In PYP schools our focus is on inquiry - students are now engaging in the inquiry process at school, where we can see how much help and support they need - and at home they are turning this research into fabulous presentations that they later can share with the class.  The tools are all Web 2.0 tools and easy to use.  I am not assessing them on the tools - only on the learning.  If they need help in using the tools outside class, that's fine, what I am concerned with in class is helping them to find and validate the information perhaps by collaborating with other students or experts around the world, and helping them decide the most effective ways that they can demonstrate their knowledge and understanding.  Sometimes in class we start off using a tool, but don't have time to really finish with it.  Students know this isn't a problem.  In their own time they can access their work and continue with it.  Actually they are keen to do this.  No student in the past few years has ever grumbled about using the computer to work at home, they don't even see it as homework, they just want continue creating - in fact often they ask if they can carry on at home.  In this way learning has become something that takes place any time and anywhere.

Photo Credit:  The Joys of Homework by Cayusa

The apple doesn't fall far from the tree

It never ceases to amaze me how our children have turned out.  For most of their teenage years at least they hardly seemed to listen to us at all, yet despite that a lot seems to have been absorbed.  When I was at university I studied geography and history - today I have a son at university studying geography and a daughter planning to go to university to study history.  And in addition our son is planning on becoming a teacher, possibly teaching special needs teenagers (which is where I started teaching too, almost 30 years ago) and would like to teach in international schools, just like me!

Joal is a blogger too, and last night I was talking to him about blogging.  In the summer he set up his own blog aimed at students.  He was talking about the fact that not many students visit his site.  I decided I would write about this site here in the hope of helping him a little.  His site is aimed at older secondary and university students and looks at free technology that might be useful to them.  Perhaps some teachers reading this who teach older students might find some of the apps he recommends useful for their students.

Joal's blog is called Free Tech for Students.

Photo Credit:  Autumn harvest by Tanakawho

Yesterday, today and tomorrow

“Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning.” Albert Einstein
This quote was posted on Twitter by Vicki Davis today and was a real inspiration to me.  I hope that by being a reflective teacher I am always learning from yesterday - thinking about what worked, what didn't work and what could have gone better.  I think I definitely live for today.  Every day is an adventure for me - every day I do something new and learn something new.  I have a lot of hope for tomorrow too.  I feel that our teachers are moving in the right direction and that they will be able to create the most amazing learning experiences for our students given the right support.  I also love the last sentence - I think I question everything and I think some people find it a bit too much - but I like asking questions.  In PYP schools you are never done with inqury.  The questions just keep getting deeper.

Photo Credit:  Everyday is like Sunday by Simone Montanari

Teach Parents Tech

Last night my husband got a virus on his computer.  Who did he turn to for help?  Well he skyped our 19 year old son at university and Joal walked him through the process of fixing his computer.  Today I came across this site where students teach their parents how to do simple things on the computer.  I love it!

Visit You Tube here to see the "how to" movies from students home for Christmas.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Shifting Control

I first saw Alan November at the ECIS IT Conference many years ago.  In this movie Alan talks about how students have to become more active participants in the 21st century classroom.  He talks about the necessity of globalizing the curriculum and how students need to be having conversations with other people around the world across the internet.  He talks about how the learner becomes a contributor, which leads to a shift of control from the teacher to the students who are collaborating with each other in order to learn.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Coaching and mentoring

What is the different between being a coach, a mentor and a teacher?  Well I was employed as a teacher of course and that implies teaching students, however what I have come to realise more and more is that an important focus of my job has to be working with teachers, helping them to improve their IT skills and helping them use these new skills for teaching and to support the students' learning.  Some of my time, therefore, seems to be spent in the role of coach or mentor.

The new job description I was given last year included planning, preparing and delivering appropriate IT training and support to staff and acting as a mentor and coach to teachers with the goal of making them competent and independent users and teachers of technology.  So today I'm thinking about what is the difference between a coach and a mentor.

When I think about a coach, I first think about someone who coaches a sports team.  To me a coach is an instructor or a trainer.  The focus of the coach is your personal development and learning - basically the aim is to improve your performance.  A sports coach stands at the side, watches the players and monitors their progress.  S/he is focused on the end result, and gives advice on how you can become more effective or perhaps more efficient.  A coach develops specific skills - the agenda is to change and improve skills or behaviours.

How about a mentor?  I think of a mentor more as an advisor, someone whom you respect and trust.  My view of a mentor is someone who is further up the career ladder, someone who you admire for their professionalism, someone who you aspire to be like.  I think of a mentor as someone who trains and counsels new or younger colleagues.  Mentors are focused on the person rather than the person's performance - they support individual growth and give advice yet the person being mentored is free to decide what to do.  I have heard of mentors allowing you to struggle so you can learn and discover solutions for yourself because a mentor does not provide solutions - s/he asks questions and allows the person being mentored to find his or her own solutions.  I think mentoring is more of a partnership and probably each person gets something out of the relationship, but I think the people being mentored often choose their mentors and initiate and actively maintain the relationship.

So this morning, as I was reading over my job description again, I was asking myself how I can move forward in my role as a coach or mentor.  At the same time I have re-read Kim Cofino's post about coaching heavy and coaching light.  Coaching light appears to focus more on building relationships, providing resources and avoiding challenging conversations and coaching heavy focuses on improving the performance of all teachers.  I have also read that the role of coaches is to see that teachers are continually in a zone of some discomfort - as it is discomfort that motivates change and growth.  Steve Barkley says:
Coaches, supervisors, leaders, and teaching colleagues in professional learning communities need to become comfortable bringing discomfort to colleagues. In other words, we need to create environments, communities, and relationships where we are comfortable with discomfort.
This to me was a bit of an Aha moment, especially in the light of questions about whether it is a good idea to critique one's performance or ponder the direction one's school is moving in a blog post.  I suddenly realised that what I was experiencing was that people are uncomfortable with discomfort, but that this feeling is necessary for professional growth.  Steve says it's important to ask "heavy" or difficult questions but that you can only do so in a school environment that is built upon trust and respect - and that this trust and respect comes from a shared commitment to students - that the reason we are asking these "heavy" questions is because we care about the student learning that is going on in the school.  That student learning is too important an issue to remain "light", to be overly worried about relationships and avoiding difficult conversations.

What I have come to realise as I think about all these things is that it is quite easy to mentor - people seek you out because they want you to support/help/question them - and I am happy to do that because I get a lot out of it myself.  Coaching "light" is quite easy too as it also involves relationships and does not involve challenge.  But coaching "heavy" is hard and not for the faint-hearted because it produces discomfort in everyone - including the coach who is having to deal with that discomfort produced in others - but that it is coaching "heavy" that provides the real change in teaching and learning.

Photo Credit:  Helping Hand by Popofatticus

Moving from S to R

This year we have talked with our teachers about the SAMR model and how we can use IT to transform learning.  Now that we are almost at the end of our first term, I think it is a good time to reflect on how we are doing.  Let's take our Grade 3 as an example.  Grade 3 was the only grade I did not teach last year.  I was therefore curious to see how much transformation of learning, as opposed to enhancement of learning, we would be able to achieve this year.

The first unit of inquiry the students studied was How We Organise Ourselves.  The central idea of this unit is that decisions we make can cause or resolve conflict.  During this unit the students go on a fieldweek where they are involved in various challenges.  Last year the IT activities the students engaged in was to make a PowerPoint on their return from their trip.  This year I wanted to have the IT embedded more in what was going on in the classroom to support the learning.  During this unit the focus was on narrative writing, and as a result of this students used different Web 2.0 tools to explore different ways to tell a digital story that involved the characters making decisions.  Reflecting on this unit I feel we moved from A (augmentation - using PowerPoint) to M (modification - using Web 2.0 digital storytelling) in the SAMR model.

The second unit of inquiry was How the World Works.  The central idea for this unit is that natural and man-made processes can create changes to the Earth and its inhabitants.  Last year the students made another PowerPoint - using the skills they had already learnt in the PowerPoint they had made after their field trip more independently.  This year I suggested using different Web 2.0 tools to support the summative assessment - an oral presentation about a process or disaster.  Yesterday I was involved in assessing some of these presentations - the IT had been used as a tool so the focus was not on assessing the use of IT at all (because all students could use these tools easily).  We focused on evidence that students had used the inquiry process, on their knowledge, understanding and presentation skills.  In this way I feel we moved from A (augmentation - using PowerPoint) to M (modification using Web 2.0 presentation tools).

The next unit of inquiry is How We Express Ourselves.  The central idea is that we express our thoughts and feelings through poetry and song.  Last year the students used Word to write and display their poems.  This year we are starting with blogging to reflect on poems in class, composing music to go with their poems, publishing their artwork on VoiceThread and reading their poems, using Animoto and skyping with both a musician and a poet.  Although we are just at the planning stages of this unit right now (we will actually start blogging next week) I am already confident that for this unit we will move from S (substitution - using Word) to R (redefinition - collaborating with others, publishing to a world audience and getting feedback).

What does this mean for me as a teacher?  At the beginning of the year I anticipated taking on more of a role of a coach and less of a teacher.  I saw myself coaching the teachers more than teaching the students so that the teachers would be more independent in leading the S and the A activities in their IT lessons.  This is because I thought the teachers would choose to take only small steps forward and that they would be able to lead the IT for their classes with my support.  What has actually happened is that the teachers have not chosen to do any enhancement activities at all.  They have gone straight to the M and the R.  I have, therefore, still ended up doing a lot of the teaching, because most of the teachers were unfamiliar with the tools being introduced.  But what I have seen is that the teachers have become very familiar with these tools over the past few months - they have taught themselves and in some cases taught their classes how to use them, or they have followed alongside the students and learnt how to use them during the IT lessons.  What I have seen is a fantastic letting go of the old way things were done, and an excitement about embracing the new.  With our Grade 3s, I definitely feel we have moved very rapidly from S to R.

I would like to acknowledge the work of Dr Ruben Puentedura who has been the force behind SAMR.

Photo Credit:  The Alphabet by Mathieu Jarry

Co-Planning, Co-Teaching and Co-Assessing

Today I spent quite a large part of my morning and afternoon in a Grade 3 classwork working on co-assessing the students' summative assessment for their How the World Works unit of inquiry.  The central idea of this unit is that natural and man-made processes create changes to the Earth and its inhabitants.

I have loved teaching this unit, as I truly feel we have managed to get a fantastic partnership going between myself and the Grade 3 teachers.  Every week I attend their planning sessions and we work out what we are going to do.  The librarian and I have worked with these classes on research skills, using Britannica Online as well as Google Custom Search where we identified key words.  The teachers themselves chose which inquiry they wanted to model for their students (some chose plate tectonics, others volcanoes) and the tool that they eventually wanted the students to use for their assessment (different classes chose different tools).  For most of the classes I introduced that tool to the students, using the content selected by the teachers - though one of the classes decided to use Prezi and watched the introductory movie and taught themselves how to use it.  The teachers made sheets where the students could record the questions they wanted to inquire into, and the results of these inquiries, then they came to the IT lab and used the research skills we had already covered to search for the answers.  Then the students used the tool that they had already practiced for their summative assessment - their inquiries were very varied - from forest fires, cyclones and earthquakes through to the implications of deforestation and global warming.  I worked with students who were having trouble using the tool, the class teacher worked with students who were having trouble finding the answers to their questions.

The assessment took place today.  Some of the students wanted to present to their whole class, others chose to present to small groups.  I was part of the audience and being a geography specialist I was excited to be part of this and to assess the students' understanding and knowledge.  The class teacher assessed the inquiry process the students had gone through - how much support they had needed and whether they were able to generate questions and find information independently or whether or not they needed a lot of support - and two students in the class assessed each student on his or her presentation skills - did they speak at a good pace, did they look at the audience and did they speak loudly enough.  All these 3 assessments were marked on the same rubric.

I love the way that the peer assessment is actually a formative assessment that will guide the teacher in the next unit of inquiry - How We Express Ourselves - as the students will need to work on their presentation skills throughout this unit.  In this unit the students will be looking at how we express our thoughts and feelings through poetry and song.  Our planning for this upcoming unit has included setting up a blog for students to respond to poetry (this blog will be moderated each week on a rotation basis by each teacher), and we have also planned to use Garage Band to compose music (which will involve us skyping with a high school music teacher for some expert advice on how to use ostinato, riffs and poly-rhythms - I have no idea what these are but I'm curious to find out), to write and display poetry using Pages, make artwork and then read our poems about the art using VoiceThread, use Animoto to publish our poems and skype with the poet Ken Nesbitt.  No doubt we'll be doing quite a bit of co-assessing at the end of this unit too.

For some of the Grade 3 teachers this has been a very new experience - however they have jumped in with both feet and have learnt so much as a result.  I have learnt a lot from this too - and it has reinforced my belief that co-planning, co-teaching and co-assessing are the only way we can truly use technology to transform learning.

Photo Credit:  eLearning by Donald Clark

Sharing is Caring

I was skyping with another teacher in an international school in Spain this afternoon.  We were talking about IT benchmarks, curriculum, moving to a flexible schedule and collaborative planning.  Having had wonderful people mentor and encourage me in the past, I feel it's now time for me to give something back myself - I'm happy to share my experience and the learning journey I've been on with others who are embarking on their own journey to use technology to transform learning.  At the end of this skype call Carmelo said to me "sharing is caring" is something they often say at their school.  How true that is.  And how good it feels to share with people who care.

Photo Credit:  Sharing by Ryancr

The cornerstone of every school

On my way back from Hong Kong in September, I passed through Schiphol airport.  Now having lived in Holland for many years, this airport is like an old friend to me.  It's a lovely airport to spend some time and this time I was there it was even better.  Last time I was there, a couple of years ago, I noticed there was an art gallery in the airport - part of the Rijksmuseum with a permanent exhibition of works by Dutch Masters of the Golden Age, as well as temporary exhibitions that change several times a year.  This time I was there I noticed a new addition to the airport - a library with downloadable music and film - and books from Dutch writers translated into 29 different languages.  Have I ever mentioned that I love libraries?

I was sent a great article today by one of our school leaders - Rethinking the Library to improve Information Literacy.  As regular readers will know I've done a lot of reading and thinking about the role of the library over the past year and a half.  Last April I made a blog post about this subject where I wrote about how for many years I've wanted a job that combined both the library and IT and how the opportunity to start moving in that direction was offered to me over 10 years ago by the Head of Lower School at the International School of Amsterdam, when she offered me an IT position. (By the way this is a prime example of what I was writing about yesterday - a great leader who listened and then gave me the opportunity to make myself a better teacher).  Although over the past 10 years I have moved forward tremendously as an IT teacher, I have always looked back and wondered how I could have added in the library to have an even greater impact on student learning.

Last year I was blessed to be in a school where the librarian was of a similar mind.  We had a number of different meetings where we talked about gaps in the current provision, as well as overlaps and even situations where "the left hand didn't know what the right hand was doing".  For example it was possible our librarian was teaching one searching strategy to a class in the library, whereas I was teaching a completely different strategy to that same class in the IT labs.  We talked about the fact that we really were one department, even if this was not at the time recognised and even though physically we were separated in different buildings or on different floors, since both our jobs involved helping students to find information, to validate it, to synthesise it and to create something with it, to cite the sources of our information and communicate our learning to others.

This year we have made amazing progress in that both the librarian and myself attend the Grade 3 weekly planning sessions - they are an excellent example of collaborative planning where we are totally focused on supporting the programme of inquiry in that grade.  In addition, the librarian and I have set aside time for us to meet together too, where we talk about the information literacy skills that we are both developing.  Teachers have been able to sign up with either of us, depending on their and our schedules, and know that the same skills will be covered and that we are building on each other's lessons.  I've spent some time in the library classroom with the Grade 3 students too, using laptops and accessing the online subscriptions that the school has.

The article in Edutopia outlines the necessity of developing information literacy and utilising emerging technologies as the library evolves.  It points out that despite many schools going 1:1, with information available at all times on the students' own laptops, the library has never been more important in connecting students to vast networks of information and developing in them the skills they will need for the future.  Andrew Marcinek lists the ways we should rethink libraries:

  • The role of the library - and in particular how we use new technologies
  • The design of the library - a blend of books and technologies.  The suggestion is that it should look like a "hip coffee shop" with places to connect and comfortable places to read a book or use an iPod or iPad
  • The role of the librarian - guiding students through searching for, citing and integrating information

This is the time of year when as teachers we often have to think about what we want to do next.  Do we want to stay or leave?  And if we want to stay, do we want to stay in the same role or position or do we want to shift.  This is the conclusion I have come to:  I would like to change.  I would like to take on a much greater role in the library to develop more 21st century literacy skills.  I would like the library and labs to be physically one place.  For students to move seamlessly between one and the other.  Between finding information, using information, creating new information and publishing that information.  This is my dream.  Let's see what happens.

Photo Credit:  The library at Schiphol airport, opened in August 2010, is situated on Holland Boulevard between Piers E and F

What is the opposite of democracy?

When I was a 6th Grade teacher, my class worked on something called Geotopia.  This was a project to teach them about geography, while at the same time the students were designing their ideal country.  One of the things we talked about was government of that country - what was the best type of government.  Many students had come from countries that were democracies  - they didn't know much else  but we asked what is the opposite of democracy and we did look at alternatives, including one student who investigated anarchy.   However at the end the students almost overwhelmingly agreed democracy was best for their ideal country.

A short while ago I wrote a post called Education for Democracy.  This was a reflection on the final part of Curriculum as Inquiry by Kathy Short and Carolyn Burke who argue that education for democracy is essential for inquiry.  Since the Primary Years Programme is inquiry based, it would seem to follow that democracy would be important in PYP schools.

Today I'm reflecting on what is the opposite of democracy and also how international mindedness which is embedded in all 3 IB programmes fits in with inquiry and democracy. For example I am asking myself is it only democracy that is compatible with international mindedness?  Or to put it another way, if schools are not promoting democracy is that incompatible with developing international mindedness in their students? There are many IB schools in countries that are not democratic and I wonder how easy is it to teach international mindedness in such settings?   There are several different forms of non-democratic or totalitarian regimes, from dictatorships or autocracies (rule by an individual with unlimited power), oligarchy (rule by the few, such as military juntas), theocracy (god is the supreme ruler, religious representatives are divinely guided) and even some forms of monarchy.  In international schools in such countries with a large local population, how does international mindedness develop?

Martin Skelton, in a presentation to ISB, talked about the development of self,  the awareness of other and then to the self and other co-existing.   He talks about the development of family or tribe through to nation and then international and eventually to an awareness of independence and interdependence on a global scale.  He asks the question:  What is good international education? One of the outcomes of good international education is to produce better global citizens which involves an "openness to otherness, a willing to be challenged and other similar characteristics of personality and mind".  So I'm asking can these things also exist in autocracies, or do they just exist in democracies?

Photo Credit:  Victory for Iran #Iranelection by Harry Staab

Friday, December 10, 2010

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Digital Storytelling 4 different ways

At the end of September I started working with our Grade 3 teachers on digital storytelling.  The aim of this for me was that each class would explore a different Web 2.0 tool for telling a story, and that it would be the choice of each class teacher which tool the students would use (see earlier post).  My underlying aim in all this was that this team would come to appreciate that learning looks different between each class, and that eventually it will look different within each class too.  Before this year our Grade 3 team had worked together for a number of years and were comfortable with doing things the same way, but this year with one of the team out on maternity leave and another class with a teacher who was new to the grade, it was time to shake things up a bit and have the teachers try some new and different things.

The assignment for all classes was the same - students would write a narrative story that involved decision making.  Each teacher worked on the structure of a story, characters, settings and so on.  One class decided to use comic strips to tell their stories.  This was made using Bitstrips.  The class learnt about how to show different facial expressions and tell a story with dialogue and just the minimum amount of words.  We talked about how your brain processes images thousands of times faster than words and how important visuals are in telling a story.

Another class decided they wanted to work on characters and settings and used the lovely artwork provided on the StoryBird website.

Another class wanted to use animation.  For this we used the ZimmerTwins website and had the students make animations after first drawing up storyboards that would show action, setting and speech.  These animations were also excellent.  Unfortunately the class signed in as a regular account, rather than a VIP account, which makes it difficult for me to show an example of how these stories ended up.  The students, however, had a great time and were very engaged in their stories.  Below is an example from another class that also made an animation about decision making - in this case making healthy decisions.

Finally one class decided to use photography and had the students set up scenes.  They then used VoiceThread to tell the story orally.  This was an excellent activity as it involved a lot of different skills.  Even more impressive is the fact that most of the students are not native English speakers and some have only been in the school for a couple of months.

So what we ended up with was 4 very different ways of telling a story and the Grade 3 teachers all learned a lot in the process.

For our current unit How the World Works, students are researching different natural or man-made disasters and will make an oral presentation as their summative assessment.  With this unit I have also given the teachers a choice about what presentation tool the students will use.  Some teachers have chosen Prezi, some have chosen SpicyNodes and one is going to let her students decide which tool they want to use.

I'm really excited to see how giving both teachers and students choices in how they present their work is leading to an enormous improvement in both the quality of the work and the motivation of students who are actively engaged in their learning.

The student work linked to here has been published with the support and enthusiasm of the students' parents.