Monday, February 28, 2011

Free and Easy

Recently in our ICTL team we've been talking about blogs and other Web 2.0 tools that are making a difference to both our students and teachers - and that are absolutely free.  We have decided to devote the next few Tech Train PD sessions to blogging with the expectation that eventually all our teachers will have class blogs and that this will allow students to give and receive feedback in a way that a static website cannot.  Blogs are so easy for EVERYONE to use!

Over the past week or so I've started blogging with our Grade 1 students.  Right now they are working on writing goods comments to prompts provided by the teachers on their class blogs.  Of course our Grade 1 students can't type yet, so writing a few sentences on the computer is quite a challenge for them (especially with upper case keyboards!) but what I've seen today is that the students are quite capable of recognizing a word underlined in red as a spelling mistake and then using the control-click to correct it.  Reading and writing are important skills being developed in Grade 1, and commenting on blogs is helping them to develop these skills.

I've recognised other ways that Web 2.0 tools are making a difference too (my thinking about these comes from the recent Tech & Learning report How Web Based Tools Change Teaching and Learning):

  • Blogs:  we have class blogs in Grade 1 and Grade 3, and individual student blogs in Grade 4 and Grade 5.  Students try hard when writing their blog comments as they know their writing is public.  Because they are reading each others comments and responding to them, they are also focusing on careful reading.  
  • Wikis:  we are currently using wikis for our student council.  Wikis are ideal for collecting ideas and sharing, and for building on each other's knowledge.  Along with blogs they provide an ideal platform for peer review.  For teachers it's easy to see who is contributing most, and to track edits and changes over time.  
  • Microblogging:  we haven't used this a lot with students though last year one Grade 5 class had their own Twitter account
  • Social networking: connects people and builds communities.  We used Netvibes last year during the PYP Exhibition.
  • Tagging:  we have shown our older primary students how to use Delicious to tag their bookmarks and students now tag and label their blog posts by adding keywords to describe them.
  • Multimedia:  students are making their own videos and podcasts which they are posting on their blogs so they are learning how to be contributors as well as consumers of information.
These are the skills our students are developing using these free Web 2.0 tools:
  • Critical thinking and problem solving:  in particular synthesizing information to create new understanding.
  • Communication and collaboration skills:  students are now becoming very comfortable posting and sharing their work in order to get peer comments or to collaborating using Google Docs with their classmates.
  • Creativity:  students are having more choices in how they express themselves, which in turn builds up their confidence.
  • Information literacy:  we work hard to develop analysis in our students, to have them question what is true, false and biased.  We teach our students good search strategies and encourage them to use multiple sources when finding information.
These are the skills we are trying to develop in our teachers too - and in addition we are trying to change the way they think about and use technology.  This year I've seen that teachers are more comfortable letting go and they are confident that students are able to use these tools both in the classroom and at home with very little help.  The challenge for our teachers is to keep abreast of the changing technologies and to integrate them in meaningful and relevant ways.

For both our students and teachers Web 2.0 is proving to be the way to go.  If the tool they are trying to use doesn't quite work for what they want, we haven't made an expensive investment and we can switch to something else easily.  The fact that these tools are online means everyone has access to them all the time.  These tools are free, engaging and motivating for the students and easy to use.  The genie is out of the bottle and it is not going to go back in.

Photo Credit:  Webbed Dome by Mutasim Billah

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Transforming teaching and learning

This week I downloaded an article, How Web Based Tools Change Teaching and Learning, from Tech & Learning that states in its introduction:
Using technology is key to transforming schools into efficient and effective learning communities if the right classroom strategies and methods are used.
I was thinking about this article today as I'm off to our school's chalet in the Alps for a weekend of winter sports - the first time I went to this chalet just over a year ago was for an IT retreat there.  At the time the whole tech department were asked to produce a short 5 minute talk about something that was important to them, something that would impact on our students' learning in the future.  We had talks on various subjects such as robotics and whether or not we should stick with one platform (Mac) or move to a dual platform as some Computer Science courses in the high school were being taught on Macs that were being run as PCs.  One of the members of the IT department made a presentation called Why Cloud Computing will Fail.  I made one called If It Ain't Web 2.0 It'll Die.  As you can see we have a diversity of opinions in our department - which leads to healthy discussion.

In the past year we have definitely seen more of a learning focus and less of a technology focus and we have spoken a lot about how technology can transform the learning, rather than just enhance it.  Our students are familiar with many Web 2.0 tools and as I have always said "free is a nice price".  We've been able to introduce many new tools to our students and been able to give then real choices about how they show their understanding - and it has cost us next to nothing.  This year the only money we've spent has been on very cheap apps for the iPod Touches and iPad.  We have some money set aside for subscriptions or upgrades to some of the Web 2.0 tools we use - but so far this year we haven't needed to upgrade anything.  We've tried different methods of running PD, offering specific sessions, just-in-time drop in sessions and emailing suggestions out with short video clips so that teachers can "teach themselves" and upgrade their skills.  For a lot of our teachers the times they come with their students to the labs or the times we go to their rooms with the laptops are also a form of PD as they learn alongside their class.

I'm wondering where we go from here.  From Grade 3 upwards we have laptops - currently a ratio of about 1:4.  I'm asking myself should we be asking for more, should we be really pushing for more of a 1:2 (or eventually even a 1:1) programme for our students?  And if so, where should we be introducing this first?  In our primary school, in our middle school or in our high school?  And what should these 1:1 devices actually be?  Laptops, netbooks, iPods, iPads, tablets?

This year we introduced Google Apps for Education.  We started with Grades 4 and 5, spread down to Grade 3 and then up to the Middle School in Grades 6-8.  Our Grades 3-5 have been so successful with using technology this year that my inclination would be to push for a better ratio of computers to students in this area first.  Research has shown that students in schools with a 1:1 learning programme that is properly implemented are the most successful of all.

However I can see that some teachers and some parents are reluctant to push for even more technology.  In the Middle and High Schools I have had conversations with parents who have said they are concerned about how much our students are using their computers just to "socialize".  Because parents have expressed concern about their students using so much social media, we've decided to put on a couple of parent sessions next month.  An outside speaker has also been invited who has a fairly negative view of "screen time".  I feel we have a challenge on our hands now to show parents the positives and to let them know that our role as a school is to help students to learn to use the tools to learn, as well as to socialize.

I feel that trying to "turn back the clock" is only going to be counter-productive.  Students need to be able to use various technologies to prepare them for the world of work.  The Pew report states that by 2020 most people will access software applications online and share and access information through the use of remote server networks rather than depending on tools and information houses on their computers.  It's clear from this report that cloud computing will become more dominant than the desktop over the next few years.

It's therefore our job to prepare students for this shift.  The cloud is used for social networking, webmail, blogging and microblogging and sharing of media such as video and pictures.  There is also a big shift to using the cloud to store documents and for social bookmarking.  In fact as teachers we don't really have a choice - businesses are increasingly online and they want their employees to be there too.  The universities our students are going to once they leave school are also providing access to their course materials online and they are expecting the students to be able to access and use these.  And already we are reading that within 10 years your online presence will replace your resume and that employers will come and find you.

I think the biggest shift for our students today is the anytime/anyplace approach, learning is 24/7 and on demand, and teachers are starting to use more reverse instruction where students are learning at home and doing (to show their understanding of their learning) at school.  Web 2.0 has changed the focus to communication, collaboration and creation.  We are in the middle of the tech transformation.  It's an exciting time to be in education.

Photo Credit:  iPhone sunset in the Andes by Gonzalo Baeza Hern√°ndez

Thursday, February 24, 2011

The importance of the right bus driver

After yesterday's post I was thinking some more about recruitment fairs.  I'm probably not the best person to write much about them as I've only ever attended one and have got all my other jobs by just applying directly to schools (or even having the school come to me).  However many of my friends have gone the job fair route and I was interested to see if this experience gave them a true idea of what it is like to be at a school or to live in a country.

Most teachers attend recruitment fairs in the winter or early spring.  This means that teachers often have to wait another six months before they move to their new country/school and it's usual for the first contract to be a two year contract.  At the job fairs you are basically signing up to a place where your first opportunity to leave may be two and a half years away.  If you make a mistake at the job fair - that has far reaching consequences!

Of course it's possible to resign - in some cases there are financial penalties for this and it may also be hard to get another job if you break your contract.  Despite this I know of several close friends (and several administrators) who have actually found that the new school they moved to, for various reasons, was one they just could not stay at, they broke contract and I have to say every single one of them moved onto something better.  Perhaps the threat of bad references are just that - a threat.  Perhaps the new schools they are going to don't place much credibility on a bad reference from a dodgy school - hopefully these schools place more emphasis on the references that teacher has from 10 or 20 years in good schools, rather than the one bad reference based on one bad year in a not very good school.  Resignation is usually a last option, however.  Moving on is expensive, despite attractive relocation packages, and the disruption to families is often too much to contemplate.  Many teachers who find themselves in a bad situation simply wait it out to the end of their contract and leave at the first possible opportunity.

This is one interesting theme that has emerged from the teachers who have spoken to me:  the person doing the hiring is often someone who is very removed from the new teacher once he or she actually arrives in the new school.  Often headmasters and directors, who may indeed make great presentations at recruitment fairs and who may be full of charisma there, are not part of a new teacher's day to day experiences once he or she is actually working at a school.  In the case of schools spread out over a number of different campuses the new teacher may not even see the person who has actually done the hiring for weeks or even months at a time.  I have even been hired by administrators who themselves have left the school by the time I arrived there.

Going back to the bus analogy, the administrator who hires you may not be the person driving the bus at all, or at least maybe not the bus you are on.  That person may be more like the manager of the bus company.  You arrive at the bus station and get onto a bus, driven by a completely different person.  Perhaps that person drives too fast, or too slow.  Perhaps that person weaves around all over the road.  Perhaps you even have the impression that the driver doesn't have much experience of sitting in that seat, that before they have driven a different type of bus or perhaps the experience that driver has is from a country where they drive on the left, but you are now in a place where they drive on the right. Perhaps you are wondering if the person driving the bus knows what to do if the bus breaks down.

Sometimes the view out of the bus isn't a great one either.  You may be heading in the right direction with the right bus driver, but perhaps you are travelling along a road full of potholes.  Perhaps the journey itself isn't that exciting, perhaps it is even dangerous.  Do you stay on the bus and wait for it to get to the last stop, or do you get off and try a different route?  Is the destination worth it, or do you want a more pleasant journey?

Of course there are some people who will never get off the bus.  It's safer and more comfortable on the bus than it is outside and who knows how long it will take for another bus to come along (oftentimes these are not really the people you want to keep on the bus!).  Others will jump off at the first bus stop - in the case of teachers at the end of their first two year contract.  Most of us don't do that, however.  We sit put for a bit and look for a good place to get off - one that has connections to many other routes, ones where the buses that are there look a bit more comfortable, or perhaps where the drivers look at bit more reliable.

What I've seen happening more and more with friends recently is that they are on a bus and using their mobile phones to talk to people on other buses.  What's it like on your bus, they ask, is the driver any good?  How much do the tickets cost?  Is your bus likely to be coming my way anytime soon?

So Jim Collins' analogy of good to great can be thought of from two different perspectives.  It's not just a matter of getting the right people onto the bus - it's a matter of KEEPING those people on the bus - and sometimes that can be more challenging than getting them on in the first place.  While heads of schools are busy trying to get the right people into the right seats, the teachers themselves are asking who's driving this bus?

Photo Credit:  There Are Always Free Seats by Brian Talbot

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Doom Loop, The Flywheel and getting onto The Right Bus

Yesterday at the start of our in-service we were given an overview of where we have come over the past few years and where we are heading.  Our school as it is today - Pre-School to Grade 12 - did not exist 3 years ago - there were separate private schools run on a for-profit basis, some running IB programmes, some not.  As a teacher who had worked in European international schools for 17 years, who had presented at top educational conferences and visited leading international schools around the world while developing the PYP and MYP programmes, I had never even heard of any of these separate schools 3 years ago.  But a lot can happen in 3 years as we were told yesterday: the school developed a shared mission statement for all campuses, came up with a new structure, brought the curriculum together so that there is now a continuum with all 3 IB programmes, changed a lot of the administration, built 2 new campuses, built a new theatre and sports facilities and set up a new IT infrastructure.  The next few years will see the building of new gyms, another new campus, a new Early Childhood centre and a new cafeteria.

Growth has its benefits and its problems.  The school has tried to go for "managed growth", trying to improve the quality of education, not just an increase in student numbers.  The school has a strategic plan to be a world leader in international education, and wants to recruit fantastic teachers and build outstanding facilities to make it happen.

Getting the right people onto the bus and into the right seats on the bus is a concept from Jim Collins' Good to Great.  After this in-service day I went back to Jim's website to read through again some of his pointers in moving forward successfully.  Although generally I agree with most of what Jim says about investing in the right people being more important than the direction the organisation is moving, I know some people feel uncomfortable with that.  When the emphasis is on going out and recruiting new teachers who are seen as more valuable than the ones who are already there, some of the long-timers feel that they are being told they are not valued and should think about getting off the bus.  This is what Jim says about it:

Most people assume that great bus drivers immediately start the journey by announcing to the people on the bus where they're going—by setting a new direction or by articulating a fresh corporate vision.
In fact, leaders of companies that go from good to great start not with “where” but with “who.” They start by getting the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats. And they stick with that discipline—first the people, then the direction—no matter how dire the circumstances.
First, if you begin with “who,” you can more easily adapt to a fast-changing world. If people get on your bus because of where they think it’s going, you'll be in trouble when you get 10 miles down the road and discover that you need to change direction because the world has changed. But if people board the bus principally because of all the other great people on the bus, you’ll be much faster and smarter in responding to changing conditions. Second, if you have the right people on your bus, you don’t need to worry about motivating them. The right people are self-motivated: Nothing beats being part of a team that is expected to produce great results. And third, if you have the wrong people on the bus, nothing else matters. You may be headed in the right direction, but you still won’t achieve greatness. Great vision with mediocre people still produces mediocre results. 
I'm interested in what Jim says about people getting onto the bus because of the other great people on it.  I think it's true.  Certainly I know people who have followed a good leader who has moved to a different school.  On the international circuit there are some schools that seem to exchange staff back and forth fairly regularly - and some schools where many well respected teachers seem to have spent some time during their careers - almost like a rite of passage or a training ground for better things.  There are other schools (and countries too) where a lot of good people seem to be moving - in the past few years, as I wrote on Twitter fairly recently, every man and his dog (or cat) seem to have been moving to Singapore.  Japan is another country that is attracting great educators.  There are some schools that seem to "pull" teachers from other smaller or less well established schools in the same country.  That was certainly true of my last 2 schools with many teachers in other international schools in the city/country applying for jobs there.  And conversely there are schools who lose staff to better local schools - with nobody moving in the opposite direction. 

Would I move to a school because of the people there?  Absolutely!  There are some people I would love to work with, people I would learn so much from, who would motivate me to be the best I could be.  I love to learn and move forward and I need to feel valued.  However I would also be concerned about the direction the bus is moving too.  I've moved from a PC school to a Mac school - I wouldn't want to head back to a PC school again.  I've only ever considered working in schools that did all 3 IB programmes, I wouldn't move to a school that was heading in a different direction.  I want to work in a school where IT is totally integrated into the curriculum, not a school where it is seen as a separate subject.  I want a school that is committed to professional development, I'm not happy when I'm standing still.  I want a school that works to build a solid programme, not one that jumps onto too many bandwagons.  My time is valuable - I don't like wasting it.  I'm happy to spend a lot of time building up a programme, but not to just do a bit of this and a bit of that:  a new spelling programme, a new handwriting programme, a new maths programme, a new stardardised test, a new report card and so on.  Jim Collins refers to this as the Doom Loop (as opposed to the Flywheel where people are concentrating on moving forward in one direction).  This is how he describes the difference:
Companies that fall into the Doom Loop genuinely want to effect change—but they lack the quiet discipline that produces the Flywheel Effect. Instead, they launch change programs with huge fanfare, hoping to “enlist the troops.” They start down one path, only to change direction. After years of lurching back and forth, these companies discover that they’ve failed to build any sustained momentum. Instead of turning the flywheel, they've fallen into a Doom Loop: Disappointing results lead to reaction without understanding, which leads to a new direction—a new leader, a new program—which leads to no momentum, which leads to disappointing results. It’s a steady, downward spiral. Those who have experienced a Doom Loop know how it drains the spirit right out of a company.
In contrast, why does the Flywheel Effect work? Because more than anything else, real people in real companies want to be part of a winning team. They want to contribute to producing real results. They want to feel the excitement and the satisfaction of being part of something that just flat-out works. When people begin to feel the magic of momentum—when they begin to see tangible results and can feel the flywheel start to build speed—that’s when they line up, throw their shoulders to the wheel, and push.
Some years ago I was lucky enough to be working at a school that experienced this magical momentum - where we seemed to be moving the bus at speed down a super-highway - it's an intoxicating feeling.  After that I think I will never again be satisfied to be driving down a winding back road, to be taking many side roads or ending up in a cul-de-sac.  For an organisation, as Jim Collins says, it's important to get the right people onto the bus and into the right seats.  For a teacher I think we have to be careful we are getting onto the right bus (which is hard to do at a job fair when we have very little real knowledge of what it is like to work at a particular school or live in a particular country) - and if we find we are not on the right bus we need to get off quickly and wait for the next one before the bus heads too far in the wrong direction.

Photo Credit:  C2 by Nico Hogg

Monday, February 21, 2011

What you know -v- what you can do

Content driven #education doesn't work. Nobody cares about what you know. They care about what you can do with it.
I read this on Twitter at the weekend and think it sums up the direction many educators are moving.  Today we were talking about learner outcomes during our in-service - these outcomes are what students should know, understand and be able to do.  Our aim during this in-service has been to build a stronger connection between the 3 IB programmes taught at our school (PYP, MYP and DP) as well as the APs which some students still choose to take.

During the various meetings I attended today we talked about our philosophy, why we would study certain subjects and what the long term benefits of this study should be.  We talked about 21st century skills, about the learner profile, international mindedness and the school's mission statement.  Although we broke up into whole school groups based on disciplines (and some of these groups broke up further into groups based on the programme they are teaching), our focus was also on the 21st century skills necessary to drive the programme forward.

What we are trying to come up with are statements of our beliefs in action and what practices of teaching, learning and assessing will support these beliefs in the classroom.  We are aiming to find the elements that are essential for the implementation of various curricula across the whole school.

But the above statement on Twitter still has me thinking.  Is it true that nobody cares what you know?  I'm not sure.  This afternoon we talked about the process of transforming information into knowledge - it seems an important process.  However I do agree that in an age where you can look up anything on Google, what you know is not so important as what you understand or what you can do with the knowledge.  What is important, however, is the way you go about finding the information, and how you can gather the information efficiently and effectively.  It's important to be able to evaluate resources and select the most relevant information and it's important for us to stress ethical behaviour and respect for intellectual property.

We also talked about the students demonstrating their understanding and what they can do by making and publishing products that show this, and we talked about the fact that the students own the intellectual property rights to their own creations.  We talked about the fact that students can (and should) add Creative Commons licences to their work if they are happy to share it and have others copy and distribute it, and where was the best place for us to teach this.

Here is a link to the Creative Commons website where students can choose to make a button to add onto their webpage or blog.  We didn't yet come up with a grade where we felt this should be taught, but I feel that sometime around Middle School would be a good starting point.  At this point students will have been taught about plagiarism and its ramifications and should have an awareness of intellectual property issues.

It's good to have in-service days like this where we get to meet with our colleagues who are working in the same school but on different campuses.  Once again, having these discussions and bouncing ideas around with each other shows me that the whole is much greater than the sum of its parts.  For me it's also important as I'm trying to focus more on my professional learning community this year (the people I actually work with on a daily basis) instead of the focus on my PLN that has dominated my attention since arriving at this school 18 months ago.  And again I feel it's important for me not just to concentrate on developing what I know (which is the main benefit of being part of such a dynamic PLN) but also developing what I can do with the teachers and students here and now.

Photo Credit:  Eduardo Luigi Paolozzi:  Newton by Istvan

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Invest in people, not in tools

I wasn't able to attend the 21st Century Learning Conference in Hong Kong but thanks to my PLN I have been able to still participate and learn.

I found the video about why schools should move to a 1:1 programme posted by Chris Smith (@shamblesguru) to be really interesting.  These are educators from schools in Hong Kong (HKIS, CIS and KGV) who have actually moved to a 1:1 programme.  Their advice: communicate, talk about transforming the teaching and learning, create a culture of excitement, focus on the pedagogies, professional development, planning, resources, infrastructure and technical support and leadership.  Invest in people and not the tools.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Policies and Procedures

One of our teachers, who has been in the school for a number of years, recently reflected on the changes he had seen since the year 2000:  The solid state memory of each iPod touch is 20GByte or one thousand times what each massive computer had in the year 2000 .... None of us knew then what was coming!

As we are reflecting on just how far and how fast we have moved since then, it's important to consider our IT policies, which have not been updated since 2004.  The school didn't have any mobile devices then, nor was there Web 2.0.  We've therefore been discussing the policy and how it needs to be rewritten to reflect current practice - and how some of the things in the policy are not really policies at all - instead they are procedures.  I found it useful to consider the difference between a policy and a procedure and the following paragraph that deals with an AUP to reflect the use of Web 2.0 from the Consortium for School Network Initiative has been very helpful:

Policies are principles or rules that are intended to shape decisions and actions. They provide the framework for the functioning of the organization. Procedures are the ways that organizations implement policies. Policies answer the “what” and “why” questions. Procedures answer the “how,” “who,” and “when” questions. Policies are expressed in broad terms; procedures in more specific behavioral or operational terms. Since procedures need to be more flexible to adapt to changing conditions in the organization, it is useful to differentiate policies from procedures so that procedural modifications can be made in a timely manner—often without board action. 

Now that I've got this straight in my own mind, it's time to have a fresh look at our current policy.

Photo Credit:  So this happens when I get bored in the train :)  by zzaj ♫ {Thomas}


You don’t get harmony when everyone sings the same note
This quote is from George Couros, writing on the Connected Principals blog last week.  Please   click here to read George's full post which calls for teachers to be given the opportunity to work and create an environment where students are able to pursue their passions.

Teachers too have passions.  Recently I was discussing the professional development cycle at my last school which was on a 3 year cycle.  In one year you were expected to do PD related to your subject, in the second year you were expected to do PD related to the programme you were teaching (PYP, MYP or DP) and in the final year you got "personal" professional development, to go and develop your own, education related, passion.

In my time as an international educator I've done a couple of "personal" PDs that may, at the time, not have seemed very related to the subject I was teaching.  For example I once did a course in photography.  At the time I was a high school Geography/Social Studies teacher so perhaps it didn't seem particularly relevant to my teaching.  However later I went on to use these skills as I was responsible for the school yearbook for 2 years and now I teach those same rules of composition, light, texture and so on to my students when we do digital photography.  Another time I took piano lessons.  I learned to read music and to play different lines of music with different hands - it was incredibly difficult!  At that point I really appreciated what it was like to be a student in one of my own classes struggling to master a skill that seemed beyond them.  I think I became a more understanding teacher as a result of struggling through this myself.  When I became and IT teacher and started working with students composing their own music on the computer using GarageBand, I was able to use the musical skills I'd developed by learning the piano.  This is also where I became aware of harmony and how different instruments needed to work together to create a whole.  The bass line, for example, might not be very exciting but without it the music is incomplete.

I think George's quote goes deeper, however, than us just finding and developing our passions and those of our students.  This quote reminds me that diversity of opinion is good and healthy.  It's not good to be in the echo chamber all the time - we need other people, other ideas, other "notes" in order to create something that sounds good to us all.

Last week I wrote about a team of teachers at our school who had gone through this experience as they changed the central idea of their upcoming unit of inquiry.  Some of the early planning meetings were not very harmonious at all - there were some tough conversations.  However at the final planning meeting it seemed the team had moved onto a new level of understanding - everyone's opinions had been discussed and considered and there was true collaboration as different people in the team were bringing different strengths and ideas in order to create a new unit of inquiry that was much better than the one done in previous years.  It's fine for everyone to be singing different notes, but I think it's also important to put all those notes together.  In true harmony, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

Photo Credit:  Pollen Sticks by Fabio Gismondi

Monday, February 14, 2011

Start Running

Every morning on the plains of Africa, a gazelle awakens, knowing that it must outrun the fastest lion, or be killed. At the same time, a lion awakens, knowing it must run faster than the slowest gazelle, or it will starve.
So it doesn’t much matter whether you’re a lion or a gazelle; when the sun comes up, start running.
~ African Proverb

The above quote is taken from the foreword to The Technology Factor, the Project RED report about technology, student achievement and cost effectiveness.  The foreword is written by Angus King, former governor of Maine and sponsor of the Maine Learning Technology Initiative who says the report is a blueprint for fundamentally altering how we do education.  He writes:

The computer is the necessary starting place, but alone is not sufficient to generate the transformational change we so desperately need. What we have learned is that it is all about the teachers and the leadership in the school; with great professional development and a new pedagogy, amazing things happen, but just handing out the laptops is not going to do it.
This is the roadmap the Project RED team has devised:

Planning:  it's important to have a well designed plan based on a shared vision and buy-in from all stakeholders.
Leadership: is important for developing the shared vision, a strategic action plan and focused goals.  Leadership is also necessary for building ongoing professional learning that will lead to school transformation.
Infrastructure:  as well as the infrastructure and maintenance plans, policies need to be in place for support, charging and storing needs must be addressed and teachers and students need skills in troubleshooting.
Professional learning:  all school personnel and parents need professional development and a coaching/mentoring model needs to be in place.
Communication:  information sharing is vital
Policies:  should include an acceptable use policy.  The report states it's important to stay flexible and open to alternatives.
Support: can be provided by a network of partners and experts, for example it's important to build a team of lead teaches and super-coaches.
Expectation management:  it takes 3-5 years to integrate technology and instruction - student achievement will increase when curriculum and instruction are integrated with 21st century tools.
External evaluation:  ongoing independent evaluation should be included.

I've often said that with technology if you are not moving forwards then you are moving backwards.  It's important to keep up to speed and to be moving in the right direction.  The roadmap provided by Project RED is certainly pointing in the direction schools should go to embed technology into the curriculum in order to transform the learning and raise student achievement.

Photo Credit:  Fast, Faster, Cheetah by Martin Heigan

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Best Practice for Tech Success

This afternoon I've been looking at the current issue of Education Week which is reviewing the Project RED (Revolutionizing EDucation) report on best practices for implementing technology in order to improve student achievement.  As we all know, having computers does not necessarily lead to improved achievement, the way they are used is what is important.  The report identifies 9 factors that link technology with educational success (ranked in order of importance):

1. Intervention classes: Technology is integrated into every intervention class.  
2. Change management leadership by principal: Leaders provide time for teacher professional learning and collaboration at least monthly.
3. Online collaboration: Students use technology daily for online collaboration (games/simulations and social media.) 
4. Core subjects: Technology is integrated into core curriculum weekly or more frequently. 
5. Online formative assessments: Assessments are done at least weekly. 
6. Student/computer ratio: Lower ratios improve outcomes. 
7. Virtual field trips: With at least monthly use, virtual trips are more powerful. 
8. Search engines: Students use daily. 
9. Principal training: Principals are trained in teacher buy-in, best practices, and technology-transformed learning.

Last year I was at a meeting where parents asked about how a 1:1 programme could impact on student learning - at the time we did not have the "hard facts" to share with the parents.  This report, based on 1,000 schools throughout the USA, shows that 1:1 schools that implement all the 9 factors outperform all other schools. However what the report also shows is that very few schools implement technology properly despite massive investments in hardware and infrastructure.

Another key finding of the report is that properly implemented technology saves money - for example in paperwork and copying costs as students switch to working online.

The report highlights impact of a good principal.  All schools benefit from properly implemented technology, with more benefits in the 1:1 schools, and when principals receive specialized training the benefits increase even more.  The report also shows that technology enables a student-centric approach with students working at their own pace and teachers able to spend more time with individual students and small groups.

Online collaboration improves student engagement and learning.  The report states:

Web 2.0 social media substantially enhance collaboration productivity, erasing the barriers of time, distance, and money.
Collaboration can now extend beyond the immediate circle of friends to include mentors, tutors, and experts worldwide.
Real-time collaboration increases student engagement, one of the critical factors for student success.
One result of increased engagement and buy-in is a reduction in disciplinary actions.
Online discussion boards and tutoring programs can extend the school day and connectivity among learners and teachers.

Photo Credit:  Marinos Ices Mixture by Stephen Zacharias 

Authentic Assessment

I love getting the weekly e-newsletter from Edutopia, and this week I'm excited to see it's devoted to assessment.  Here is a brief summary and reflection of this week's articles.

Authentic assessment is defined in the following way:

  • It engages students and is based in content or media in which the students have a genuine interest.
  • It asks students to synthesize information and use critical-thinking skills.
  • It is a learning experience in and of itself.
  • It measures not just what students remember but what they think.
  • It helps students understand where they are academically and helps teachers know how best to teach them.
Authentic assessment has to be planned for - starting with the end in mind:
  • Identify the goals, skills and knowledge you want students to acquire.
  • Determine what the learning will look and sound like.
  • Devise the summative assessments that will demonstrate student learning.
  • Devise the formative assessments to help you know how to teach them.
  • Create lesson plans/projects to promote the learning.
Edutopia focuses on the School of the Future in New York and explains that the school culture is vital in facilitating the planning process.  It includes weekly grade level team meetings, 2-5 common planning times per week and one half day per week where all teachers can plan and meet. 

One of the most interesting articles about authentic assessment was this one:  What You Can Do In 5 Minutes, 5 Days, 5 Months, 5 Years .....  There is so much information here I'm not even going to attempt to summarise it.  However it is clear that in 5 minutes you can determine what students are thinking, in 5 days you can determine what students know, in 5 weeks you can assess if students are making progress, in 5 months you can reflect on and refine the curriculum and in 5 years you can completely realign the vertical curricula.

Small reflection:  At my last school, in my last year there, we did a complete vertical realignment of the PYP units of inquiry.  Before this we had devoted staff meetings to discussing inquiry, questioning and writing good central ideas.  The realignment involved all teachers and some students.  I worked on 2 of the transdisciplinary themes (Where We Are in Place and Time, and How We Organise Ourselves), though most teachers only actually were part of a team looking at one of these.  I have to say it was an exhilarating (and sometimes stressful) process, especially the staff meeting where we laid all the units down on the floor and looked at them both vertically and horizontally and made some adjustments as necessary.  Unfortunately leaving at the end of that year I didn't see how this worked the following year when all the new units were actually taught.  However I would love to be part of a similar process again and would like to actually stay and see it working.

Photo Credit:  Free Child Coloring with Baby Blue Color Crayon by Pink Sherbet Photography


This morning I was reading the latest newsletter from purpos/ed.  Two weeks after its launch this movement, to encourage debate about the purpose of education, is growing.  I am really enjoying reading all the 500 word challenges and with the current newsletter there were links to posters that could perhaps stimulate the debate.  The image to the left is one of these.

We all know whingers, those teachers who complain persistently and yet never go on to actually DO anything to bring about change in the area they are complaining about.  A couple of weeks ago I was whinging myself about something and a colleague said to me:  "If you can't change it you have to let it go.  Focus on the areas where you can make a difference, give up the rest."  I've thought about this a lot and I'm not entirely sure it's true (I don't like just giving up on something when it is obviously wrong).  However I think there is a point to what she is saying.  You can try and change things by increasing your support system.  You can try and change yourself to fit in with the system.  Or you can say enough, you can give up, you can go and find another mountain to climb.  This is the hard thing.  There are some people who whinge constantly, yet I know they will still be in the same situation 5 years from now because they don't care enough to do something to bring about change - in the system, in themselves - or to leave and start again somewhere else.

What do I whinge about?  What can I actually DO about these things?

Last year I think I whinged a lot about the fact that our technology didn't work, that students couldn't connect to the network easily to save/access their work.  Some of this was caused by the way students logged in - this has now changed.  Some of this was caused by the software we were using - this has changed too as we have moved more into the cloud.  This year I don't whinge about the technology not working because we have done something to put it right.

This year I have whinged about access to technology - for example some of our classes don't have enough access to computers or to a technology teacher or someone to support them.  What can I do about this?  I have raised the issue of time, support and access with those further up the food chain on a number of different occasions.  I have no power myself to make these changes.  This is something I have had to give up and just work with what I have.  Of course it irritates me that these students are not getting the same as others in the school, but again it is a matter of perspective.  For example I was talking to a teacher who works in Africa a few months ago who told me the only technology she had access to was tape recorders.  Compared with that we are a world away!

Another thing I have whinged about is how people with knowledge and experience are sometimes seen not as an asset but as a threat.  Combined with this I know I have whinged about how the salary system works against those with experience.  What can I do about this?  Very little in my current job I think as I cannot change the system or the people. This year I have constantly questioned whether I can change myself to live with this, to accept the status quo.  I'm still not sure of the answer but I know what I can do if I decide I can't live with it:  I can find another school where knowledge and experience are valued.

For now I'm trying to focus on what can be changed.  I'm developing the IT to enhance teaching and learning and trying to keep abreast of new developments in IT and the emerging research about best practices and their impact on student learning.  I'm working hard on planning, teaching and assessing with our teachers so that the IT is embedded in a way that transforms the learning.  I'm working hard on differentiation and choice for both students and teachers.  I'm working on professional development and giving the teachers the skills they need to be confident in leading the S and A parts of the SAMR model.  Through the use of class, unit of inquiry and grade level blogs I'm trying to empower teachers and students to use technology more for communication, both inside and outside the classroom.

But is this actually enough?  It's a question I ask myself on an almost daily basis and so far I haven't come up with the answer, just a vague feeling that I could be doing so much more to make a real impact, to get to the heart of, the purpose of, education.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

The far horizon

Well the far horizon isn't in fact very far away at all!  The Horizon Report identifies two technologies that will gain widespread usage within the next 2-3 years and two technologies that will have widespread adoption within 4-5 years.  I'm interested to see what's up and coming and how this will impact student learning.

Augmented reality:  this is the layering of place-based information over a 3D view of the normal world.  I was showing one such app to a colleague tonight as we sat by the harbour taking photos - the Swiss Peaks app shows you what mountain you are pointing your iPhone at, how high it is and how far away it is.  A tremendous market is emerging for network-aware apps that convey information about specific places or objects, for example, in museums.  Augmented books are also starting to emerge.  Last year I experimented with holding a page up to the iSight on the computers to see 3D characters popping up from the pages. Really - how cool is that for our students!

Game-based learning:  research over the past few years has shown the potential of gaming on learning - they have been shown to be effective for students of all ages and in particular the potential for fostering communication, collaboration, problem-solving and procedural thinking.  Gaming allows play to be productive, allows for experimentation and for learning from failure.  Players feel they are working towards success with a goal,  and that they can become more skillful in problem solving, decision making and innovation as they collaborate and socialise.  Schools are discovering that gaming content can be combined with course content to help students learn material in an innovative way and that games can engage learners in ways other tools and approaches cannot.

Gesture-based computing: involves motion, pressure and multi-touch being used to control devices, as opposed to using a mouse and keyboard.  Probably the most well known devices currently being used are the Wii, the iPhone and the iPad.

Learning analytics:  involves data gathering tools to study and interpret student engagement, performance and progress with the goal of using what is learned to predict future performance and to revise curricula.  The goal of learning analytics is to enable teachers and schools to tailor educational opportunities to each student's level of need and ability.

The near horizon

The Horizon Report identifies two technologies as being on the near horizon - which means mainstream adoption within the next 12 months.  These are electronic books and mobiles.

Electronic books:  these are a viable and easy alternative to printed books and according to Amazon more eBooks were sold last year than printed ones - despite this we still haven't seen such a big move towards eBooks in schools.  Electronic readers allow for audio-visuals and they support annotation and note taking, bookmarking and research activities, the ability to look up words in dictionaries and they can support social interaction by connecting readers with one another. By promoting new kinds of reading experiences eBooks are truly transformative technology, and almost everyone is able to access them with the electronic devices that they already have.  Advantages to students include the size and weight, the ability to include graphics and video and to be able to add commentary.  We're currently experimenting with iPads which combine book readers with web browsers and a variety of apps.

Mobiles:  these are now the primary means of accessing internet resources, however many schools still ban mobile devices in the classroom.  This technology is being driven by increased access and affordable and reliable networks - mobiles are computers and in fact the iPod Touches we now use with our students have more than 1000 times the memory that the desktop computers at our school had just 10 years ago.  The Horizon Report goes on to quote a study from mobile manufacturer Ericsson that suggests 80% of internet access will be from mobile devices by 2012 and that within one year internet capable mobile devices will outnumber computers.  The internet is no longer something that is piped into homes, schools and offices, it is now pervasive, ever-present and accessible from virtually anywhere.  Already iPads are used by some as alternatives to laptop computers and specialised apps are developing that replace a web browser.  Another big advantage of mobiles is that they allow simple tools to be integrated into classroom activities without the need for involvement of IT support staff.

I'm predicting that for us mobiles will become more important than eBooks over the next 12 months.  As most people know I'm not a fan of textbooks.  I taught the entire IB course without a printed book in sight by using digital resources and having the students create their own "pages" for the course using a wiki.  What I'm really waiting for is to get a set of new iPod Touches with cameras - I've been exploring numerous apps and would love to use these with our students next year.

Photo:  Sunset on the Zugersee

What's coming up on the horizon?

I look forward to reading the Horizon Report every year and just managed to read the 2011 edition yesterday.  The report looks at emerging technologies and their potential impact on teaching, learning and creative inquiry - for a school that believes in the inquiry process it's important reading.

Here are the trends and challenges identified in the report:

  • Our roles as educators are being challenged by the abundance and availability of resources on the internet - we are no longer the knowledge providers.
  • People expect to be able to work, learn and study whenever and wherever they want.
  • The workplace is becoming more collaborative - as educators we need to reflect on the way we are structuring student projects to prepare them for this world of work.
  • The technologies we use are now mostly cloud-based - which is leading to a redefinition of the concept of technical support.
  • Digital media literacy continues to rise in importance as a key skill in every subject and profession - however there is still no real agreement about what digital literacy skills should be taught, especially as digital technologies are changing faster than curriculum development.
  • Assessments are lagging behind new ways of authoring, publishing and researching - there is no real agreement on how to evaluate blogs, multimedia and web 2.0 presentations.
  • User-created content is exploding and teachers and students are finding it challenging to keep pace with the rapid increase in information. We need more effective tools for finding information and for organising it.
Photo:  Looking across the Zugersee towards Mt Pilatus

Thursday, February 10, 2011

7 Essential Capacities for the 21st Century

Reading further in the Guide to Becoming a School of the Future, there is a section that deals with 7 essential capacities for the 21st century.  Here is a short summary of these 7 capacities along with some of the points I think are most important and that we are actively trying to develop in our international school students:

1.  Analytical and Creative Thinking and Problem-solving:  this requires the following skills of our students:

  • identifying, managing and addressing complex problems
  • detecting bias and being able to identify reliable and unreliable information/sources
  • formulating meaningful questions
  • analyzing and creating ideas and knowledge
  • using knowledge and creativity to solve complex "real-world" problems
2.  Complex Communication - Oral and Written:  this requires students to:
  • understand and express themselves in 2 or more languages
  • communicate clearly to diverse audiences
3.  Leadership and Teamwork:  students need to be able to:
  • initiate new ideas
  • lead and influence
  • build trust, resolve conflicts and provide support for others
  • teach, coach and counsel others
  • collaborate with people of varied backgrounds
4.  Digital and Quantitative Literacy:  students need the skills to:
  • create digital knowledge and media
  • use multimedia to communicate
  • understand traditional and emerging topics in maths, science and technology
5.  Global Perspective:  this requires students developing:
  • open-mindedness in particular towards the values of others
  • an understanding of non-western history, politics, religion and culture
  • technology skills to connect with people and events globally
  • an understanding of global issues
  • an ability to work collaboratively with people from diverse cultures
6.  Adaptability, Initiative and Risk-Taking:  this involves students:
  • being courageous in unfamiliar situations
  • exploring and experimenting
  • viewing failure as an opportunity to learn
7.  Integrity and Ethical Decision-Making:  it's vital for our students to display:
  • integrity, honesty, fairness and respect
  • moral-courage when confronted with unjust situations
  • ethical and reasoned decision making in response to complex problems
How do we go about promoting these experiences and understandings in our students?  First of all I feel that our students are in programmes that are academically rigorous and based around inquiry or project-based learning.  Perhaps this is easier to do in international schools, but I feel we are extending our classrooms beyond the physical walls of the school by engaging the students in the world around them and by using the resources of the places that they and their teachers have come from.  Digital technologies and international mindedness are embedded into all areas of the curriculum.

How can we do better?  I think we need more emphasis on the arts, to promote creativity and self-expression.  I think the teachers and administrators could probably do a better job of being engaged with each other in a process of continuous learning and that we could all do more to actively participate, innovate and support each other.  Most important of all is transformational leadership which questions the way things have always been done, is open to discussion about the issues the community feels are important and inspires everyone in the community to embrace a shared vision and to change and move forward.

I think everyone who knows me knows that I love jazz - so this analogy will certainly ring true.  The nature of leadership has changed.  We have gone from leaders who operate like the conductors of symphony orchestras (command and control with individual musicians playing as directed) to leaders who see their role more like that of a jazz ensemble:  there is a main theme but the final piece is the result of improvisation and innovation by all the musicians.  Most importantly of all the leader is not the only star on stage, but each person has a role in the spotlight to add to the development of the theme.  A transformational leader provides the theme and the environment where the most inspired development can take place.

Dissonance, a lack of harmony, is important to jazz.  It's important in schools too so that issues are brought out and discussed in an atmosphere of trust.  Just as all the players in a jazz ensemble don't always know where the music will take them, the start of an inquiry can be hard for teachers as they don't know where the unit will go or where the students' questions will lead them.  I was having lunch with one of our teachers today and having this very discussion.  After a lot of difficulties in the first few planning meetings of the new unit of inquiry, today the team meeting was vibrant and productive with everyone contributing to the new direction the unit will take.  This teacher later confided in me that she felt unsure with some of the science concepts.  I told her it didn't really matter - she and her students could find out together as they experiment and explore what works and what doesn't.  We talked about the fact that she didn't need to be able to answer all the students' questions upfront, that it was OK to just provide the environment for them to find out together and that if she merely answered their questions it may not lead to enduring understandings. Trying and failing and learning from this experience is what leads to true understanding.  Creating the right climate for this to happen is the true role of a classroom leader.

Previous Posts about jazz/music and leadership:  A wise person knows how to improvise

Photo Credit:  cos'√® il jazz by Valentina Cinelli

Students today are different - how should this impact on teaching and learning?

I've been reading the report A Guide to Becoming a School of the Future.  The first part of this report deals with how students have changed.  The good news is that the report highlights how students are learning all the time, though often using resources that are new such as blogs, podcasts, social media, gaming, virtual worlds and skype - and that these are often accessed using mobile technology.  Today's students are communicating with each other using these technologies which are virtually free yet provide worldwide access.

What the report highlights as being very different is the mindset of the students who see knowledge as open, collaborative, accessible and often from the bottom up - such knowledge is usually presented as multimedia.  In contrast many of the "older generation" (teachers, parents, employers) see knowledge as something individual, controlled, owned, transmitted from the top down through experts, and often presented as text.  Our students want to receive information quickly and from multiple sources.  Teachers often prefer a slower release of information after it has been edited by experts, and usually prefer a step by step approach in contrast with the multi-tasking approach of the students.  Teachers are also more likely to value independent work, students are more likely to value collaboration.  Teachers are more likely to take a "just-in-case" approach to teaching and learning, students are more likely to want a "just-in-time" approach.

Whose learning preferences are more likely to drive teaching and learning in today's schools?  Unfortunately the answer to this is the teachers' who see schools as places to learn as opposed to students who see the world as the place to learn.

How can we change this focus?  What should future learning environments look like?  How should we organise the time to learn?  What tools do today's students need?

Photo Credit:  Back to the Future by darkmatter

The SAMR Model

This was first posted in March 2010 following the Apple World Leadership Summit in Prague and updated in February 2011.

Several great presentations I've been to today have been about transforming learning through technology. One very interesting one was called Strive for Transformation by Stephanie Hamilton of Apple.

Stephanie talked about the Apple Classroom of Tomorrow (ACOT) study from 1985-97, which looked at moving from instruction to construction of knowledge and measured teacher's comfort with technology. Now, however, the focus shouldn't be on the technology but on what you do with the technology - and what it can do for you.

Stephanie showed a graphic of the technology use continuum, moving from substitution to redefinition:
Substitution involves doing the same thing as you would do without the technology without any modification of the assignment, for example typing out the work using a word processor rather than handwriting.
Augmentation - involves some functional improvement but is still a direct tool substitute - again the assignment is not changed, but perhaps some of the built in tools such as the thesaurus, word count, spell check etc might be used.
These first 2 levels lead to ENHANCEMENT

Modification involves giving a different kind of assignment - for example using multimedia - adding sound, video etc. The question to be asked is does the media enhance the message?
Redefinition - doing something that was inconceivable without technology, giving students a stage for example posting on the web so that the audience is the world and there is a feedback loop. Examples could include collaborative writing - writing is for the real world - eg wikis.
These 2 levels lead to TRANSFORMATION

Stephanie's point was that if you are using technology but are not striving for transformation it's a waste of time and money.

Later I attended another presentation on a similar theme: Transforming learning one conversation at a time by Jenny Little, the Director of Curriculum and Professional Learning at Munich International School. Jenny talked about the learning conversations they have been having at MIS, such as how to design curriculum, finding appropriate challenges for all students given the diversity of their student body, using Project Zero's Visible Thinking routines, language acquisition and the relationship between learning and story-telling.

Jenny's analogy was that quality learning is like a black forest gateau - what is important is the
learning environment, curriculum, instruction and assessment - each layer is important and adds to the entire cake and you cannot leave one layer out of the whole.

Jenny discussed how the SAMR model gives their teachers a common language and draws out the specifics of what they do and why. Many teachers are still using technology as substitution and augmentation - we have to try to move to the stages that represent transformation. In transformation students need to be participating in their learnings as we know that learning is socially constructed. Visualisation is important to make the abstract concrete. Students will become engaged and motivated through bringing the world into the classroom. Learning is a partnership - the teacher doesn't have all the knowledge - students are also empowered to find resources. As teachers started looking at how the technology could transform learning they knew they needed to come up with assignments that showed engagement, deeper analysis, more real life application, that students need to communicate, and that learning is interdisciplinary.

If you want teachers to move to redefinition and modification you have to give them the right tools so they can do that. One of Jenny's final thought were that a good tool that allows redefinition could be VoiceThread - she explained why it could be more powerful than, for example, iMovie as it allows collaboration and that students around the world can work together to make a single VoiceThread in a way that would be difficult to make a single iMovie.

One interesting idea that Jenny had is having reading groups for her teachers where they come together to discuss books. She recommended, among others, Daniel Pink's Whole New Mind and his latest book Drive, as well as Howard Gardner's Five Minds for the Future. This is such a great idea I am going to suggest this once I am back at school again. Perhaps it would be possible to set up a small reading group that met one lunchtime every month to discuss some of these books and to help us talk about how these can impact on our teaching.

Update:  If you would like to find out how we are getting on implementing the SAMR model please read the following posts:
The SAMR Model - From Theory to Practice
Moving from S to R
Moving from S to R part 2

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

Photo Credit: Black Forest Gateau by Xynt4x