Sunday, June 27, 2010
The entire second term - Christmas to Easter - was spent in a school. This was known as "teaching practice". During these 10 weeks or so, I had to teach two subjects - Geography and History. I was assigned to 2 teachers who started off with me observing their lessons and then after a week or so of observation I had to teach some of the lessons with them observing me and finally after another week or so they left me alone in the class to plan and teach the lessons myself. During this term my university tutor dropped by twice to observe how I was doing, and we spent every Wednesday afternoon back at the university working on creating resources for our subjects.
The third term was spent back in the university again, and the only activity I remember from that time was having to produce an essay about some aspect of teaching. I wrote something about creating resources to use with students with special needs. Did this year prepare me to be a teacher? Definitely not!
Fresh out of university I then got a job in a very tough comprehensive school in a depressed area of England. The school had 1200 students aged 12 - 16 with just a few staying on after that to do A'levels. Probably less than 1% of the students went on to any further education after the age of 18. The school was in a mining community - the aim of most of the boys was to go down the local pit. Salaries with bonuses as a miner were higher than I was earning as a teacher. The girls had very little ambition other than to get married. I started at the school in 1983, and within a few months the miners went out on strike, a strike that was to last for a year and which would result in the total decimation of the community and the closure of the local mine (which meant unemployment for almost all the boys leaving school). I think it's fair to say that nobody at the school was very motivated to learn anything at all in the years that I was there.
Nowadays this probably wouldn't happen, but in those days I think new teachers who were just a few years older than the students they were teaching were seen as being enthusiastic, idealistic and ready to take on challenges and able to connect with the students, therefore we were given some of the toughest classes - probably the ones nobody else wanted. The school was interested in the fact that I had written an essay about resources for teaching students with special needs, and I was appointed to teach a remedial class of 14-15 year olds (with absolutely no training or experience in special needs at all!) I was to teach them for all their English, Religious Studies (neither subjects I had studied myself), Geography and History which covered 1/3rd of their time in school. My first year was pure survival. Some of the children couldn't read very well, so I remember reading novels aloud to them - their favourite was Roald Dahl's Danny Champion of the World, which was probably more suitable as a book for primary aged children. This probably wasn't the best way to teach them English, but they did enjoy being read to, and they did stay quiet and listen. Other lessons were not so orderly! However in that first year I do remember teaching the students how to read a bus and train timetable so that they could plan a trip to the coast, and later in the year we also did a little bit about the Geography of Europe as they seemed to be interested in places that they could go on on holiday. Perhaps some of that was useful for them - I hope so! As this was in the days before the national curriculum in England there was no pressure to teach them anything at all that would be assessed. In fact the school did Mode 3 CSE exams, which we wrote ourselves and moderated locally with other teachers. Looking back I'm grateful that I started teaching at a time when there were no standardised tests or league tables of schools - my students would certainly not have been able to pass them and this would probably have reflected badly on me as a teacher.
I started teaching with 5 other new teachers - we stuck together and supported each other and gave each other suggestions of what might work. The school was a rough school, but it was also a strict one, and there were always people in the senior management who we could turn to to sort out behaviour problems when they arose. Of the other 5 newly qualified teachers who started with me, only 1 is still in full-time teaching, which I feel is a terrible waste as all of us started off being pretty keen and enthusiastic and all of us were actually good at what we did. Possibly if we had been given easier classes and some mentoring more of us would have stuck to it.
After 6 years of teaching in the UK, I moved into international education. Now from that day to this I have never looked back and that move is probably the reason why after 28 years I am still a teacher and still loving what I do.
While I was teaching in Amsterdam I became part of a European-wide group of teachers who were studying pedagogy in our various countries. We met regularly and discussed such issues as how we pass on our knowledge of teaching to others. We asked: can you really teach someone how to teach? We talked about techniques that worked for us and realised that what works for one teacher doesn't necessarily work for another. One important thing we discussed, however was mentoring.
We questioned how anyone ever really learns to do anything. For example we looked at simple things like learning how to drive a car, or learning how to cook. We came up with 4 statements that today still hang on the wall of my room.
I do, You watch
I do, You help
You do, I help
You do, I watch
As an IT teacher, one of the things I'm responsible for is also developing the IT skills of the teachers, as well as the students. In my previous schools I did this by giving the homeroom teachers the responsibility for leading the IT in one unit of inquiry per year, with me supporting them in this. Once they had taken on one unit, the following year they could take on another one. Sometimes all the teachers in one grade decided to lead the same unit, sometimes they decided to lead different units. Next year, in my current school, we are starting a new model of mentoring using the SAMR model.
This year it has mostly been a case of attending the collaborative planning meetings and deciding what IT will support the unit, then me leading the lessons and the homeroom teacher watching and helping the students. We've had a whole year of this and now we are definitely ready to move onto the second step of the teachers leading the lessons and me helping them. We have decided that all teachers will lead the S (substitution) activities and that they will lead the A(augmentation) with our support. We will still lead the M (modification) and R (redefinition). This means that they will most likely be leading some IT in every unit of inquiry and the IT teachers will be leading the rest. I'm thinking that this will be another way of mentoring the teachers and encouraging them all to move forward on their learning journeys.
Mentors in international schools are needed in another way too. When you first arrive in a new and strange country feelings of helplessness can be overwhelming. I remember that even simple things like opening a bank account or getting an internet connection can be exhausting if you don't know what you are doing or which are the right papers you have to have. It's very depressing to go home to an empty apartment while you are waiting for your shipment to arrive. It's really hard to wander around the supermarket looking for familiar ingredients and not being able to read what is in the tins. Last year it took me 4 months to realise that I actually needed to get a TV licence - even though we don't have a TV - because I have a radio in my car. Apparently the fine for not having this piece of paper in Switzerland is very large! This year we are starting a mentor system for our new teachers too - and hopefully they will find their transition here much easier than we did when we arrived and perhaps avoid the very low dip into culture shock that we experienced. We have discovered that it is hard to be a good "new " teacher - even if you are a very experienced teacher in your own country - if you are worried about child care, finding a doctor or how to pay your bills. We have realised that our new teachers need mentors, not just to help them with the academics, but to get them through all the social issues they face as well.
Photo Credit: Loose Ties by CharlesFred
Saturday, June 26, 2010
Google Certified Teachers are exceptional K-12 educators with a passion for using innovative tools to improve teaching and learning, as well as creative leaders and ambassadors for change. They are recognized experts and widely admired for their commitment to high expectations for students, life-long learning and collaboration.I'm totally in awe about this, and have hardly been able to sit still since I received the email this morning. On the Google for Educators website it states:
- Exceptional educators with a passion for using innovative tools to improve teaching and learning.
- Creative leaders who understand their local needs and can spread innovation as a recognized expert.
- Ambassadors for change who model high expectations, life-long learning, collaboration, equity & inclusion, and innovation.
- Develop a "Personal Action Plan."
- Lead at least three local professional development activities over the course of 12 months.
- Successfully deploy one school on to Google Apps for Education.
- Actively participate in the Google Certified Teacher Online Community.
- Share the impact of their work with other Google Certified Teachers through an end-of-year reflection.
Everyone who knows me knows I'm passionate about professional development, and when I read what GCTs are expected to do I'm excited that I will become part of a community dedicated to developing other teachers and promoting Google Apps for Education in my own school.
The first rung on the happiness ladder is the Pleasant Life - here people have positive emotions about the past, present and future. Higher up the ladder is what is called the Good Life - this enhanced feeling of happiness comes from using your strengths and all the things you are good at to achieve satisfaction with your life. This is how some people refer to teaching (and other jobs) when they talk about it being a vocation or a calling. When we feel like this about our work we are getting satisfaction from the work itself, not for the material or financial benefits it brings. Finally, at the highest level of all is Meaning - going beyond yourself and using your strengths and abilities for something larger than you are, or in the words of the mission statement of my old school:
to inspire and empower each student to pursue individual excellence and to enrich the worldDan Pink talks about the 20-10 test. He asks, would you still be doing what you are doing now if you had $20 million in the bank, or knew you had no more than 10 years still to live? If your answer is yes, then obviously you have found the meaning in your life.
Photo Credit: Life is Good by Bob Formal
Wednesday, June 23, 2010
I'd already sent the group the link to Dropbox yesterday so that they could set up an account. They all immediately saw the uses of this for themselves and for organising, sharing and backing up their own files, music, photos and so on. At the end of the session our Kindergarten teacher, Emily, immediately invited the rest of her team to Dropbox.
Everyone said they had discovered a lot of new tools that they didn't know about before. They asked for help in using these with the students in their classes. A common issue raised was the lack of time to really play with these tools and to see how they could be used for teaching and learning. I mentioned the 15 minute rule I had read about over the past week - giving yourself just 15 minutes a day for 3 days to play with a new tool to see if it was something that could be useful. On the other hand I also read a blog post that said the lack of time is a poor excuse - after all we don't accept that excuse from students who don't do their work!
Next year, we decided, it would be good to start the Techie Breakies again with a new group of teachers - the aim would be then have 2 teachers in each grade level using these tools and suggesting them to others at their planning meetings. One of our group, Rebecca, also set herself a goal for next year:
My goal for next year is to start blogging, personally and for the new grade I'll be teaching.All in all I think our Techie Breakies were successful and I would definitely like to continue with them next school year.
- half of all Americans over 6 play computer and video games - on average 75 hours a year (which is more time than they spend watching DVDs/videos)
- more than 40% of game players are women
- the video game business is larger than the motion picture industry
- games take between 50 - 100 hours to master (roughly the length of a college semester!)
Sunday, June 20, 2010
Friday, June 18, 2010
I believe that we are losing students as critical thinkers because in our current model of education, where we are standardizing education with tests, we teach kids that there is one correct answer to every question. We limit their thinking to what we have already determined is an acceptable answer to the question. This is extremely limiting. Critical thinking means that we aren’t satisfied with the easy answer, we think about multiple solutions to the problem and even think of additional questions. We approach a problem differently, more creatively.
Tuesday, June 15, 2010
Sunday, June 13, 2010
On Thursday night I was very excited. I rushed home, unpacked the box and switched it on. I loved the size, I loved the touch screen and everything was working fine. I hooked it up to my wireless network at home and went to the App Store to download some apps for trying out with the students on Friday. My first thoughts based on the visit to the App Store were that it was not very easy to search for apps that would be good for different age groups in primary. I went to Education and found 880 apps which I then sorted into most popular, but these were not sorted into either subject or age range, though when I searched for Kindergarten I did get to 6 apps designed for this age group and when I searched for Elementary I got to 3 apps (all maths). I installed several of these apps to try out with the students.
I then went to Reference and again searched using most popular. Some of these apps would be very useful for me (for example the Swiss Phone Book) but not very useful for me to use in class with my students. I found a translator and dictionary that looked good and went ahead and installed those. I went to the Books category and installed iBooks and Kindle. Then I went ahead and got a book to try to see if I would like reading on the iPad as much as reading a "real" book.
What I have learnt from this: I need to have some suggestions of apps that are good to use with primary students. Searching around and trying out different apps is very time consuming.
On Friday evening I went to visit a Kindergarten teacher. We spent some time looking for more apps for her students and I am going to give her the iPad to use with her class on Monday. I'm interested to see how the students get on with the apps we have installed.
So, does anyone have any advice for me, any apps that work well with primary and middle schoolers? If so please leave a comment. Thanks!
Saturday, June 12, 2010
Today I came across this YouTube movie by Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano. A year and a half when she posted this video to YouTube I was living in Bangkok and had never heard of her. I didn't write a blog and the only teachers I really connected with were those in my school, my previous school and teachers in other schools in Bangkok whom I met sporadically at Job Alikes and conferences.
A year and a half later I am in Switzerland and my students have skyped with students in Silvia's school in Florida, as well as with many other classes around the world. They have created blogs and wikis which they share with other students in their class and school. They have made VoiceThreads to share their learning with students around the world. They have made a Google Earth tour and have worked with a whole variety of Web 2.0 tools to show their learning. As Silvia says, the experience they have had is priceless.
How quickly our lives have changed! Once I used to have to wait my turn for PD, perhaps to go to a conference or to visit another school. Now every day I connect with educators worldwide who share resources and ideas. And if I have an idea and I want some feedback on this idea I get it in minutes from teachers around the world who make suggestions and share what has worked for them. The learning I have experienced as a connected teacher is priceless too.
Last year I remember discussing the choice of valedictorian with my son and a couple of his friends after the ceremony. The student who made the speech was definitely the student who was expected to gain the highest IB score - after all she had got a perfect score on her MYP just 2 years earlier. She had certainly worked hard over the 2 years of the IB diploma course. My son, however, argued that there were two other students who, in his opinion, deserved this title more. Both were also extremely hard working and exceptionally bright and were expected to do well. These students, however, were also more "balanced" - they had been involved in various sports teams, in community service, in school plays, house activities and so on - they had both added something to the school community rather than just using the school as a place for furthering their studies. Since balanced is one of the attributes of the IB learner profile, my son argued that the valedictorian should not just be measured on knowledge/grades alone. I have to say I agreed with him.
Yesterday I read a blog post called Death of an Awards Ceremony by Chris Wejr. Chris tells how his school has abolished the awards part of the end of year celebrations as his school's goals are to celebrate each student's talents and areas they excel in, rather than just to recognise the top academic or sporting students. In keeping with a lot of what I have been reading recently about motivation, Chris says that striving for excellent grades is extrinsic motivation, whereas focusing on the learning is intrinsic motivation. Awards ceremonies focus on the final grades, not the learning that has been going on and awards can act as demotivators to accepting challenges and taking risks (risk-taker being another attribute of the IB learner profile).
One of the things I have loved about working in an IB world school is what happens at the end of the PYP and MYP - the PYP Exhibition and the MYP Personal Project where every student is involved and their work is celebrated. I am always amazed to see what has sparked the interest of our students and what they have come up with as a result of their interests and ideas. Recently attending the Grade 10 personal project evening I was able to enjoy the achievements of a student who had learned to hang glide, a student who decided to train a horse, a student who made jewelry out of recycled materials and a student who had traced back her family tree. At our PYP Exhibition I learned about homelessness in Switzerland, the problems of smoking and how hard it is to give up, environmental issues and children's rights. Both these events allowed each and every student to shine in the areas they were interested in.
So for me, while it was good to celebrate the achievements this past week of some of our brightest students and some who had excelled at sports, I think there are better ways of recognising the achievements of all our students. I certainly agree with Chris Wejr when he asks: Why do we present awards to certain students? What does this do to help learning in schools?
Photo Credit: World's Best by Martin Deutsch
Sunday, June 6, 2010
The first problem that I was asked to help with happened last year. A friend of mine called me to ask for help because the students at her school had made a Facebook group about her. Actually the first students who were involved with this wrote complementary things about her, but then other students joined in and wrote things that were both not pleasant and not true. Another teacher at her school had found this group and had told her about it. She had tried speaking to her administration about it, but found that she wasn't getting the sort of help and support she expected - at times she was made to feel that some of the comments on there were actually her fault and since it happened "outside of school", the admin was not really prepared to deal with it (despite the fact that the photo posted of her had been taken from the school website). Sadly, this lack of support was one reason that she decided to resign from her job, however she was then worried that if she applied to other schools they would also be able to find and read the comments on this page. She spoke to the students and explained to them that the comments needed to be removed. This was mostly done, but she was unable to contact two of the students who had already left school and were living in different countries. She tried to report the page to Facebook, but several weeks later it hadn't been removed. She tried to report it again and just got a message saying that she had already reported it. Months later, the page has not been removed, and she has not yet applied for another job as she feels too vulnerable. Over the past few months I have seen this very professional and competent teacher reach rock bottom as a result of the bullying she has experienced from these students. I am concerned that the students felt it was OK to post such comments - which to me indicates that the education these students had received about the issue of cyberbullying and the use of social media sites had been lacking. If these students had written these comments up, for example, on the walls of the school, or the local bus station, would the response from administration have been different? And how about if the comments had been about the school, instead of about an individual teacher?
As a parent of teenagers I have always asked them to think before they post on a public forum. Universities and future employers commonly Google people's names. I have talked to my children about privacy settings and security. I have also talked to them about respect. For example I would not find it acceptable to walk into my daughter's bedroom, rummage through her desk and read her diary. I would not expect her to open and read private letters addressed to me. Because we have a mutual trust and respect, we can leave things lying around at home and not have to worry that one of us will invade the other's privacy. The problem I have found with social media, however, is that your personal information is only as private as your friends allow it to be. Our daughter has no control over what people write about her, or photos they post with her in them. At a previous school, a student took a photo at a school event of a teacher chasing another one around (it was part of a skit) and then posted it on Facebook in one of his albums with a comment about the teacher in the photo being gay. The teacher was not a "friend" of the student on Facebook and initially had no idea that the comment and photo was there for a large part of the school population to see.
Another issue that I've heard about in a couple of schools is that of parents Googling the names of teachers and finding things that these teachers have written, for example on Twitter. These comments are mostly taken out of context, however parents have got upset about them. Despite the fact that some of these posts are from people who protected their tweets, it is still possible to jump around through accounts of people who have not protected their tweets and see what those teachers have written. Again I think this is a question of respect. Would the same parents find it acceptable to go through unlocked filing cabinets in that teacher's classroom to see what they could find there? If they found the teacher's mobile phone, would they think it was OK to read the messages on it? If there is no respect of teachers' privacy then teachers will also resort to doing things in order to protect themselves - for example removing their photo or coming up with very obscure names that nobody would be likely to trace.
So now I'm back to what I should be doing and telling my own colleagues at these Techie Breakies. Should I tell them not to post their photos on Twitter? Should I tell them not to put their names on their tweets? Should I tell them to protect their accounts? Should I be telling them to hide? In that case who will ever want to become a member of their PLN? And even more important, should I also be talking with the admin about how they would respond to all this?
Friday, June 4, 2010
The IB learner profile is the IB mission statement translated into a set of learning outcomes for the 21st century. The attributes of the profile express the values inherent to the IB continuum of international education: these are values that should infuse all elements of the Primary Years Programme (PYP), Middle Years Programme (MYP) and Diploma Programme and, therefore, the culture and ethos of all IB World Schools. The learner profile provides a long-term vision of education. It is a set of ideals that can inspire, motivate and focus the work of schools and teachers, uniting them in a common purpose.
Individual teachers, faculty groups, school administrators and school governors should ask themselves “To what extent do our philosophy, our school structures and systems, our curriculum and units of work enable students, and the adults who implement the programmes, to develop into the learner described in the profile?”
Thursday, June 3, 2010
About two years ago, Howard Gardner came to Switzerland and spoke at the International School of Geneva about these five minds:
The Disciplined Mind - Howard Gardner talked about 3 types of discipline: regular and steady practice in order to improve on things, mastering different disciplines or different ways of thinking, and becoming an expert in one thing. He said that if you are not an expert you will either not be able to find work, or you will end up working for someone else who is an expert, as in the knowledge age expertise is the only thing that has value. He makes a clear distinction between subject matter (information and facts which can be passed on to people) and disciplined thinking which is the way that historians, or artists or scientists approach their work. Gardner says it is the responsibility of schools to encourage disciplinary thinking in order for students to make sense of the world.
The Synthesizing Mind - is very necessary today because we are all inundated with information and it is therefore important to be able to put all this information together in ways that make sense to you. It's also important to be able to communicate this synthesized knowledge to others.
The Creative Mind - Gardner says that being creative is coming up with new ideas that eventually get accepted. If something gets accepted right away it's probably not creative. Creative people and their works change the way people think and behave. He also says that you cannot be creative unless you have mastered one discipline. Interestingly he also goes on to say that personality is as important as cognitive powers in the area of creativity as people who are truly creative are risk-takers and not afraid to fail as they can learn from their mistakes. He spoke about how schools sometimes kill creativity by insisting that there is only one right answer.
The Respectful Mind - This is important because of the great diversity of people in the world - they think differently, look different, have different values and beliefs. For the future it's important to understand different people and their points of view.
The Ethical Mind - asks questions about how we should behave and what our responsibilities are. The ethical mind is not just about thinking, but about action - how we fulfil our responsibilities. Howard Gardner talks about the three Es - excellence, engagement and ethics and he mentions that they don't always co-exist, though the challenge is to intertwine them all. Unfortunately many young people have a problem with ethics and say that to be successful in the world today you have to compromise your values. He quotes from Martin Luther King Jr who said "Intelligence plus character - that's the goal of education" and says that of these character is actually the most important. He said we don't need more people who are better and brighter, but we do need more people who have good characters.
So I'm off to Amazon to order the book now. I hope I can get a group of people together who want to read it with me next school year.
Photo Credit: Catching the Rain by Pandiyan
Wednesday, June 2, 2010
Much of the first part of the meeting was spent discussing where we were at the beginning of this school year, where we are now and how we have moved and made progress during this school year. It was only after each of us had talked about where we had come from that we started to discuss where we were going.
As mentioned in previous blog posts, I've had several discussions this year with our librarian and with various members of the administration about merging the Library and IT departments into one. The teachers in both departments agree that our roles have changed in recent years because the whole nature of finding information, viewing it, validating it and communicating it has changed so much. We have seen that our roles currently overlap in many key areas and that it would be good to work together on the digital literacy skills our students will need for the future. There are some areas of difference - for example literature appreciation is taught in the library, e-safety is taught in IT - but in general we are moving along parallel paths and therefore would benefit from closer planning.
Back in November I had been involved in a strategic planning meeting about IT. At the time it was impossible for me to come up with a single vision for IT, instead I drew up a vision for the teaching and learning, for IT professional development without which teachers would find it hard to move forward, for staffing and the provision of technical support, for purchasing additional hardware and software and for using IT for interacting with our entire school community. As I've been thinking about drawing up a three year plan, I've returned to that original vision and have been asking what we need to do to bring that vision to reality.
For me the main themes when thinking about the future of IT in teaching and learning involve embedding the technology into the curriculum in an authentic and meaningful way, using IT to help differentiate learning and giving students a choice in how they learn and how they show their learning. In a PYP school this involves using IT to promote the transdisciplinary skills (thinking skills, communication skills, social skills, research skills and self-management skills). I did a bit of reading around the future of technology last week, looking again at the Futurelab report Digital Literacy Across the Curriculum as well as looking at the British National Curriculum for ICT and the ISTE standards for students. What I wanted to do was to see how each of these fit with the PYP transdisciplinary skills. I drew up a table so that I could see the similarities and differences:
Photo Credit: from the set Hey Teachers Leave Those Kids Alone by FotoRita