Friday, December 30, 2011

Cultivators -v- hunter-gatherers

We are evolving from being cultivators of personal knowledge to being hunters and gatherers in the electronic data forest. - Carr

This is another quotation from The Shallows that I've thought a lot about over the holiday period.  From a personal point of view I disagree with this.  There are times when I am a hunter-gatherer, for example when I want to buy something.  Recently when I decided to buy a new external hard drive I searched online to see if it was better to order it and have it delivered using Amazon, or if it was cheaper to drive to a shop and just pick one up.  I also searched to see where the nearest store was that had them on special offer and then used Google maps to find out how to get to the store.  Just like the hunter-gatherer, this was something I needed that day.  The information didn’t need to be stored anywhere in my long-term memory – after buying what I wanted I was probably never going to use that information again.

Most of what I use the internet for, however, is connected with my role as a teacher.  The people I follow on Twitter are mostly educators, the links I follow via their tweets are ones that make me think deeper about teaching and learning, or they are ones that point me to online resources or apps that I can use with my students.  The blog posts I read push my thinking in new directions or offer me a different perspective.  This is definitely a case of cultivating my own personal knowledge.  Nobody at my school is encouraging me to do this, so it is purely for myself and it has taken me deeper and further as an educator than any other form of professional development in the past 3 years.

To me, what you get out of your online connections is very much determined by what you put in.  The hunter-gatherer doesn’t invest much in the local environment – he takes what he needs to eat that day and probably roams around over a large area as he does it.  The cultivator on the other hand invests a lot into a small patch of earth.  He’s concerned with the quality of what he grows there, he nurtures his crop.  With a PLN it’s the same.  You have to put something in in order to get something out.  It involves giving as much as it involves taking.  

Photo Credit:  Sour Cherries by Audrey Attribution 

Monday, December 26, 2011

Reflection, equality and choice: it's all about relationships

I’m starting to think further about how to implement my goal of doing more coaching in the second half of the school year.  Having worked with teachers for a number of years to improve their technology skills and build their confidence in using technology to transform student learning, I’m trying to identify what has already been achieved to create the right conditions for success in this area.

One of the important things that I think I’m always clear on is that while I may be the person with a greater knowledge of the technology, the classroom teachers are the ones with the deeper knowledge about their units of inquiry and their students.  When we co-plan it involves dialogue, sharing our ideas and making decisions collaboratively.  In class the students know which teacher will be most able to help them with their questions – it is a technical question about how to do something or is it a question about the content or how they can show their understanding?  While the model used so far has been one of co-planning, co-teaching and co-assessing rather than actually coaching, the relationships that we have already built up will be the foundation for moving forward in the second half of the year.

Over the past 2 years I’ve worked hard on giving choices.  Last year I encouraged teachers in a grade level team to think hard about the choices they were making about how technology could support what they wanted to do.  Each teacher in the grade level was encouraged to make his or her own choices.  For some the technology was used more for the tuning in or finding out parts of the inquiry cycle, other teachers wanted to concentrate more on using technology to help students sort out what they had investigated or perhaps to show their understanding.  Even when IT was used by all students as part of their summative assessment, I encouraged teachers to give the students a choice of what they wanted to use.  Again I think that handing over of the decision making to teachers and their students has played an important role in setting the groundwork for the choices that teachers will be making as part of a coaching process.  When teachers feel they are in control of their own learning, a coach is someone who can suggest different options and it is up to the teacher to make the most meaningful choices for their students.

Seeing  classroom teachers as equal partners in a coaching model, and allowing these teachers to make their own choices is easy as our relationship is already based on mutual trust and respect.  At our collaborative planning meetings teachers can express their opinions and also their concerns.    Often when a teacher wants to do something but has concerns about how it will actually work, trust is the most important factor in being able to move forward.  I’ve had teachers who have initially been skeptical about an outcome, but have trusted that it would work, and then been enthusiastic with the results.  Sometimes it’s just a matter of changing practice by trying something new and seeing how successful it is, but in order to make that leap there has to be trust.  Encouraging teachers to then reflect on why these changes have been so successful, empowers them to learn from this experience and to plan on using technology in other new ways in the future.  This way, the teachers have not only adopted new practices, they have also made them their own.

Photo Credit:  More than Pride:  Equality, equal rights by Timothy K Hamilton AttributionNoncommercialNo Derivative Works 

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Coaching –v- Evaluating

As one of my personal goals this year is to further explore coaching and mentoring with our teachers, my first step towards achieving this is to look at what the research says about different types of coaching.  Today I’ve been reading the October issue of Educational Leadership where Bob and Megan Tschannen-Moran write about the importance of  making a clear distinction between the coach and the evaluator.

I was interested to read this in the light of my current role at school being redefined for next year for whoever is newly recruited.  The updated job description contains an evaluation of teacher’s IT skills.  When discussing it, I felt a little uncomfortable about this change, but I couldn’t really put my finger on why.  Surely an evaluation of a teacher’s technology skills must be the first step towards supporting an improvement in performance?  However as I read today evaluation can “provoke frustration, fear and a sense of failure.  It can stimulate resentment and resistance, undermine self-efficacy and increase unwillingness to change.  In short it can make performance improvement less, rather than more, likely.”

I’m interested to read about why evaluation typically leads to little growth or development:  that evaluation is typical of bureaucratic organisations based on a hierarchy of authority and standardised work processes, whereas development, on the other hand, is typical of professional organisations that encourage inquiry and reflection.  In bureaucracies “rules replace trust, communications become constrained, people hide problems, management becomes intrusive and cooperation is withheld.”  Bureaucracies are described as unhappy “shape up or ship out” cultures.

Can coaching change this culture?  Bob and Megan Tschannen-Moran argue that if administrators ask coaches for information regarding teacher performance this compromises the function of coaches.  “Evaluation guarantees … agreed on minimum standards , coaching invites [teachers] to grow beyond those minimums”  Carrot and stick approaches may lead to teachers meeting minimum standards but it won’t encourage creativity or motivation.  However trust will encourage a safe environment that empowers teachers to take on new challenges and be responsible for their own professional growth.

Bob and Megan Tschannen-Moran write that research shows that 3 principles are important for coaching to succeed:
1.     Teacher-centred:  if the coach demonstrates, advises and teaches this undermines the learning.  Coaches need to ask questions rather than give answers – they trust that teachers can be responsible for their own learning and decide the best way to move forward.
2.     No-fault:  if the coach watches a lesson in order to evaluate and correct what is wrong, this can turn into performance assessment which saps motivation.  Listening with empathy, however, can motivate teachers to be more engaged in their own professional development.
3.     Strength-based: If the emphasis is on the problems, the responsibility for changing these is on the coach.  Starting with the positives allows teachers to build their own goals to build on their strengths.

How can this article move me forward in my coaching role?  I’m glad that my current job description doesn’t involve evaluating teacher’s skills, so I already feel that many of the negative possibilities are unlikely to occur.  Looking at the 3 principles for success I feel I need to work more on the first one as I spend too much time demonstrating and teaching.  As teachers move into incorporating IT more in their everyday lessons, I see my role should be identifying their strengths and encouraging them to build on these:
·      ask more questions,
·      listen with empathy to the answers,
·      focus on the strengths,
·      encourage teachers to be more responsible for their own professional development.
I think it’s  a challenge to make a real difference in the remaining 6 months, but I’m going to give it a go!

Photo Credit:  Pencil Sculpture by C. A. Muller AttributionNoncommercialShare Alike 

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

My 11 of '11

Tonight is my last night of blogging in 2011.  Tomorrow I'm heading to England to visit my mother who doesn't have an internet connection - so there'll be no more posts until 2012.  So for my last post I'm going to link to my 11 favorite posts of the year.

I've come a long way in my thinking this year - as an educator and as a person and I came to realize that I have to move to a school where I can grow some more.  I've been actively looking for someone who can mentor me and encourage that growth, who can make me the best teacher that I can be.  I think I've done a good job where I am.  I think the technology is seen in a completely different way than it was a couple of years ago.  I don't think anyone will ever want to go back.  I leave knowing that I've made a difference.  But I'm excited to be starting a new journey and I'm impatient to start it too.  I'm really looking forward to getting 2011 out of the way and starting on 2012!

Here's my 11 of '11.  These are not the most popular posts, but I think they are the ones that I enjoyed writing the most.

January:  An explosion of blogs
February:  The importance of the right bus driver
March:  I see, I think, I wonder .... about art
April:  Making a difference
May:  What's sauce for the goose is (not) sauce for the gander:  giving students a choice
June:  Using IT for assessment:  For learning, As learning, Of learning
July:  Tech-savvy leaders -v- Lead learners
August:  What I've learnt about IT by climbing Swiss mountains
August:  Evolution or Revolution, Reformation or Transformation?
September:  Information literacy, digital literacy and digital citizenship
October: Digital gifts

Photo Credit:  Indian Summer at the Gallery from the Art Gallery of New South Wales AttributionNoncommercialNo Derivative Works

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Dissolving the boundaries

Once information is digitized, the boundaries between media disappear - Nicholas Carr

Today I'm thinking about Chapter 4 of The Shallows, our upcoming bookclub read.  As I read this chapter I reflected on my own journey using the internet with students and how during a few short years it matched the history of modern media played out over centuries.  The first web pages I ever made with my class, back in 1995, were basically made up of just black text on a white web page as the students typed up their stories and saved them on floppy disks and our ESL teacher uploaded them to a Dutch server that hosted our work.  This wasn't so different from the way the students would have written their stories for printing out on paper.  This is what the first web pages we published looked like:

Later that year we discovered how to add photos (at first just black and white photos) and our site looked like this:

It's very basic, but at this time in 1996 our school didn't have an internet connection and we didn't have any web authorizing or design software so it was a matter of just adding simple codes to what we were doing.  As we made more pages we experimented with scanning in pictures the students had drawn, we took more photos and we found images online that we wanted to use too.

The next thing we were able to add were sound files.  This wasn't until a couple of years later when students were doing a project called Pole to Pole, based on the Michael Palin TV series, where each group of students chose a different line of longitude and travelled along it from the North Pole to the South Pole, investigating the countries on the way.  We found freeplay midi files that we could add on based on the music of the countries the students were "visiting".

The next thing my students started doing was making their own movies, using iMovie.  Again we were able to add these by putting them on the school web server and just making simple links to these.  It wasn't possible to embed movies at that time.

When I moved to Thailand and wanted to phone back to Europe I started to investigate Skype.  I didn't yet see the possibilities of using it with students, but I was grateful that it allowed me to keep in touch with my family.  I remember being told I couldn't install Skype on my computer at work as it would "bring the whole network down".  I tried it and it didn't so my next step was to get a web cam and balance it on top of the computer so that the people I was talking to could see me too.  As well as my computer I had an iPod for listening to music, a television, a music centre that contained a radio, a mobile phone and a camera.  I had no idea what was around the corner and that all these technologies were soon to combine in a smartphone.

These days I read that the average American spends at least eight and a half hours a day looking at a screen of some sort - a television or a computer or a phone.  Clearly the time we have left to read print publications is now much less than previously - yet in general the trend is that we are all reading more than we did 20 years ago, before the internet - it's just that we're reading most of it online.

In the past the media we used was very specialized - text and images were found in books and magazines, but not sound or moving images.  TV and cinema dealt in visual media, but not really in text.  Radio and  telephones transmitted sounds.  We used a pocket calculator for our maths and looked up information in encyclopedias.  However with the digitization of information, and with access to all this information on a smartphone, the boundaries between the different media have dissolved as many different kinds of information can be accessed and combined on a single device.

In Chapter 4 of The Shallows Nicholas Carr writes, "when old technologies are supplanted by new ones, the old technologies often continue to be used for a long time, sometimes indefinitely ... but the old technologies lose their economic and cultural force.  It's the new technologies that govern production and consumption, that guide people's behavior and shape their perceptions."

The journey from the printing press to being able to access multi-media on a device small enough to fit into your pocket took many hundreds of years.  My 11 and 12 year old students from 1995 are now in their late 20s.  In just 15 years they have travelled through the whole history of media - from handwriting their work for just me to read, as people did before the days of printing, through typing up their work and publishing it for a larger audience, through audio and video to a point where they are now able to create mashups of many different types of media and to share what they have created with the whole world.

It makes me wonder - what is coming next?

Photo Credit:  BlackBerry Storm Smartphone by Cheon Fong Liew AttributionShare Alike 

Monday, December 19, 2011

Can benchmarks limit learning?

The above question came up in a discussion that we were having in a team leaders workshop on assessment recently.  We were talking about assessment for learning and we were discussing whether or not some summative assessments give the message that we're "done" with learning once we've reached the benchmark.  We talked about the importance of giving students feedback through formative assessment so that they are able to answer 3 questions:

  • Where am I going?
  • Where am I now?
  • How can I close the gap?
What we discussed most was this last question - and whether or not it might be better to simply ask:  how can I go further?

In my last year of teaching at NIST I had a student who had been given an unconditional offer to an Australian university.  She basically just had to pass the IB diploma, but was not given a number of points that she had to achieve.  For a while I think she found this rather demotivating - what was the point of working for hours every day, when a simple pass would get her into the university of her choice with less effort?  Eventually she came to realize that the only person she was cheating by this attitude was herself - in the end she wanted to get the best score that she could so that it reflected the effort she had put into her studies over many years.  A student with a different attitude might simply have stopped pushing himself or herself with such an offer, however, and been happier with a lower score.

I'm particularly interested in this question at the moment as our daughter is applying to universities in the UK.  She has received one offer already - it's for a score that she will easily achieve.  I'm curious to know what the other 3 universities will offer, and I'm curious to know which of the 4 she will finally decide to accept as her firm choice.

Photo Credit:  It seemed like a good idea at the time by Woodleywoderworks Attribution 

Bridge -v- Barrier

Last week I was asked a question about how an IT coordinator could be either a bridge or a barrier to effective technology use by teachers.  I'd never heard of it in these terms before so I did a bit of investigating and came across this article by Doug Woods.

As I've been looking at a variety of job descriptions for tech positions recently, I came across one suggestion that the words "can walk on water" should also be added to these descriptions - as it is such a hard job.   One of the requirements of such a position is to keep abreast of changes in technology and how they impact on learning.  This involves not just been an expert in technology, but also having a knowledge of all the other subject areas that need to be supported as well and all the different ages/stages of the students.  I'm in the unusual position of having taught all grades from Pre-School to Grade 12, all 3 IB programmes and a variety of different subjects (geography, English, health, homeroom in primary, IT) and yet I would still find it daunting to search out and test software or apps that could be useful for high school maths or science teachers, for example.  Many all-school tech coordinators have probably only taught in one division of a PS-12 school, and probably only taught one or two subjects.

Doug writes about how tech coordinators can be a bridge:

  • embedding new hardware/software or ways of using technology into classroom practice
  • liaising with class teachers who want to change the way they are teaching
  • promoting a change in policy, philosophy or approach to the use of technology
He also points out that the success of a bridge involves regulating the traffic that crosses it - therefore one role of a tech coordinator as a bridge could be to check that there's not too many new things being introduced that could totally overwhelm teachers.

Doug goes on to write about how tech coordinators can be a barrier:
  • blocking the adoption of new technologies because of policies or budget
  • insisting on using the current technology rather than moving on to something new - for example running training in outdated software or old methods of working
  • being uncomfortable with new ideas - perhaps hanging back or holding back teachers who want to try out new things.
When I reflect on this a little more I can see how some tech coordinators can be a bridge - they are the ones that are focused on the LEARNING.  Conversely, others can be a barrier - they are the ones who are focused on the TECHNOLOGY.  Thankfully the job descriptions of many tech coordinators are changing.  Many schools are redefining education and the focus is on using technology to transform the learning.

Photo Credit:  Tower Bridge Wide by Marc Barker AttributionNoncommercialNo Derivative Works 

Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Turning Point

Yesterday I read another chapter in Nicholas Carr's book The Shallows.  Here is a paragraph that seemed to jump off the screen at me:
Technological advances often mark turning points in history.  New tools for hunting and farming brought changes in patterns of population growth, settlement and labor.  New modes of transport led to expansion and realignments of trade and commerce.  New weaponry altered the balance of power between states.
I'm asking myself are we at a similar turning point because of the new technologies that we have come to use in recent years?

Photo Credit:  Colours in motion by Bruno AttributionNoncommercialShare Alike

Finding Tomorrow's School

Last week I was on Skype with an old colleague who was telling me about the school she moved to last summer.  What so impressed me about everything she was saying was the "can do" attitude that pervades the school.  An environment that encourages educators to try out new things is one that inspires innovation and creativity.  She talked about the way that having access to technology allows a more personalized learning experience for each student.  She talked to me about the innovative practices that are occurring there and how the school is questioning and rethinking teaching and learning which involves questioning and rethinking the spaces that are used for teaching and learning.  What an exciting time this is to be in education in a school that is focused on tomorrow!

Photo Credit Anek Rang, Ek Sang by Sanj@y Attribution


Sometimes the alternative to black/white isn't grey - it's orange (tweet from Alfie Kohn)

I'm in 2 reading groups - in one we meet once a month and discuss a novel we have read, we take it in turns to host the meetings and it's always a great night out.  The other is a professional book group with members from different local schools.  This group meets once every 2 months to discuss a professional book we have all read.  We meet in a wine bar and again it's a great night out.  But somehow, for the next meeting of our reading group, we seem to have a bit of overlap.  The book we are reading is not a novel at all, but a book called The Shallows by Nicholas Carr about how the internet is changing the way we think, read and remember.

For the professional book group I always read the book on an iPad.  I download into Kindle Cloud Reader where I can annotate and read on any device (iPhone, Macbook or iPad) though I've only really read these on the iPad as I find the phone too small and I cannot highlight or annotate on the laptop.  For the other reading group I always order "real" books from Amazon, but for the next group, because it's a non-fiction book, I have put it on the Cloud Reader too.  As you can see in this respect with my reading I'm a bit of a black and white person and non-fiction for me is usually read electronically!

In the prologue to The Shallows, Nicholas Carr writes about the controversy that has occurred whenever a new medium has appeared.  Even as long ago as the printing press, its supporters liked the "democratization" that came with giving access to more people, while others regarded it as the "dumbing down" of culture.  Carr refers to this as an Eden -v- Wasteland attitude and I've heard the same arguments today regarding screens -v- books.

I wrote recently about how search empowers students to be in control of their own learning.  Today Google has gathered up and sorted information and ideas from around the internet so that it's relatively easy to search for the answers to questions that students have come up with during their inquiries.  However in Chapter 1 of The Shallows, Carr argues that skimming through the vast amount of information online has led to changes in our brains and in the ways we want to absorb information.  He writes:
Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words.  Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a jet ski.
Whether we think this is good or bad, I think it's no longer in doubt that the internet has allowed us to find things out quickly and Web 2.0 has allowed us to share our ideas with a greater audience.  Many would say the internet has made us more creative and informed.  I know that several times a day now I visit the BBC website and quickly scan for news stories from around the world that I'm interested in.  This past summer while I was at my mother's in England without an internet connection, I didn't use the BBC website at all but instead watched the half-hour news programme on television in the evening.  Not having a television at home ourselves, I found it an easy, passive way to get informed about what was happening in the world, but I also became very irritated that there were no links I could click on for more information about the stories I was seeing and hearing, and no way of skipping past the ones (mostly sports and celebrities stories) that had no interest for me at all.  Watching a news programme on the TV was very linear and took away my choice and I didn't like it.  I also didn't like the fact that I was getting one person's (or organization's) view of what was important - I missed the diverse viewpoints I get on the web.

Students these days don't read a page from left to right and from top to bottom in the way I did when I read a text book at school or at university.  Now they skip around and scan for the important information. I was recently teaching a couple of classes of Grade 4 and Grade 5 students to take good notes as part of their units of inquiry and I taught the students in those classes how to use the headings to help them skim and scan efficiently through books and web pages - later I realized that I hadn't once suggested that they read the whole thing.  Afterwards I questioned whether this was in fact a good approach to suggest to the students - am I just adding to the trend that these students are experiencing in having information doled out in quick, short, disjointed bursts?

I am definitely a "digital immigrant" as I didn't use a computer at all during my schooling.  However in Nicholas Carr's book I came across a new term that I think applies to me much better.  He writes about Analogue Youth becoming Digital Adults - this is what has happened to me.   What I've noticed is that although I still read novels and still get absorbed in a good book, I'm doing this less than before as I'm reading more non-fiction than I used to.  I'm reading blogs and news stories and eBooks.  I don't know if this is because my brain has now become rewired to more easily accept short chunks of reading, or if it's just a time in my life when I an questioning what I'm doing more as an educator and so choosing to read what other educators are writing more than I choose to read a novel.  Perhaps it's simply a matter of my children growing up and leaving home and my focus turning more on my job and so I'm reading more about trends in education and technology as I want to delve deeper into how one can transform the other.  For me I don't think it's a simple question of avoiding the extremes of black and white and coming up with a grey compromise somewhere in the middle.  When I think of my life as a digital adult it is not grey at all - it's orange!

Photo Credit:  Praying by Luz Adriana Villa  Attribution 

Friday, December 16, 2011

Proper Accessories

A guest post by Joseph Baker

The iPad has blown up the world of education. Its svelte chassis, user friendly interface, storage capabilities and ubiquitous Internet connection make it a prime choice for myriad uses. When you add new functionality to that and the ability to create third-party applications, it's no wonder that many schools, students and textbook publishers are eschewing traditional technologies and turning to Apple's tablet computer. Listed below are five of the most beneficial iPad apps available for students from grade school through university level, along with their respective benefits to students. Whether a student is writing a high school environmental science paper on global warming or reviewing notes on their way to a construction management degree, having the right tools available can make the task exponentially easier.


Originating as an event tailored around technology and design, TED quickly became an important conference for all fields. Its focus on “ideas worth spreading” makes its archive of hundreds of presentations engaging and informative. The free TED app for the iPad makes accessing the wealth of knowledge present in industry leaders – such as Bill Clinton, Jane Goodall, Gordon Brown, Larry Page and many other outstanding innovators – available to students of all ages for research, ideas and satiating simple curiosity. Users can share their favorite videos with others through the built-in email, Twitter and Facebook features; they can also save talks on their device for viewing offline.

Every student needs a reliable dictionary for researching unfamiliar words. A thesaurus is also integral to education, helping students find just the right word to express their thoughts. That's where the free Dictionary & Thesaurus app comes in. Some dictionary apps fetch the requested data from their servers, making offline use impossible and increasing response times.'s app, however, downloads the site's entire 1,000,000+ dictionary and 90,000 thesaurus entries, making a wealth of information available almost immediately. The app includes voice to text support, allowing students to look up words when they aren't sure of the spelling.


As part of Apple's iWork suite, Pages has been part of the Mac OS X platform since 2005. In January 2010, Apple announced Pages for iPad, including an updated touch interface. As a word processor and page formatting application, Pages for iPad has most of the features of the desktop version, giving users fine-grained control over their documents. Users can create charts and graphs, add pictures, embed spreadsheets and create templates. Because Pages supports saving files in Word format, students won't have to deal with interoperability issues and can focus on creating exactly the document they want. For students creating or editing documents on the go, Pages is an essential app.


Created as a dedicated note-taking app for the iPad and Mac OS X, CourseNotes is the ultimate in note organization for students. The app allows students to organize notes by class and subject, eliminating multiple notebooks and with it the chance that the student will bring the wrong set of notes to class. Words can be highlighted within notes and given specific definitions that can then be browsed via the Lexicon database. In addition to notes, to-dos can be created to remind users of upcoming tests and assignments, which will be displayed as sticky notes in the app. With the addition of the ability for students to share their notes with others via Bluetooth or Wi-Fi, CourseNotes quickly becomes a go-to app for all students.

Official Museum Apps

Though not a specific app, any official museum app is a great addition to a student's academic arsenal. These apps are usually provided for free by the organization itself, though the data students can access through them is priceless. Museum apps allow students to view pictures of exhibits, sometimes including interactive elements and 360-degree views. Additionally, they'll provide further information for each exhibit, giving students access to official museum information that can be used on papers or to illuminate previously unclear topics.

The Coaching Process - asking questions

This year in my final year at my school I decided my personal goal would be to become more of a coach to our teachers.  I've often mentioned that the library and the tech department are at the heart of any school that is focused on inquiry, but that calling ourselves the IT department or the Library may detract from what we are really doing.  The I and the C stand for information and communication.  The T and the L don't stand for tech and library, but instead stand for teaching and learning.

The rationale behind shifting my role comes from the need to provide authentic learning experiences that encourage collaboration, creativity and innovation.  Many teachers want to create technology-rich learning environments but don't really know how to use technology to effectively promote student learning.  Coaching could be one way of reaching all teachers with meaningful professional development so that they are able to use technology as an effective tool for their own learning as well as to improve student learning.  As students are reaching out with their class blogs to other classes around the world, so our teachers are also starting to form PLNs to collaborate with other educators and share ideas.

For the first few months of the year I've wanted to investigate different coaching models.  In particular I'm interested in the difference between coaching heavy and coaching light.  Another model that was shared with me recently by one of our administrators was the 5 Step COACH model:

  1. Connect - building a safe environment of trust and openness
  2. Opportunities - helping teachers to set goals
  3. Action - planning the actions and the resources needed in order to succeed
  4. Challenge - understanding the potential barriers that could prevent the goals from being achieved
  5. Hear again - recap on what has been agreed and how and when to move forward
The important thing about coaching for me this year is that I want to get our teachers to the point where they are not just working with me to plan how technology can transform student learning, but that they are more self-directed and taking action themselves to embed technology in the learning.  

One of the things I'm coming to realize is that coaching is about asking questions, not about telling people how to do things.   Teachers have to come up with their own answers and solve their own problems for coaching to be successful in improving student learning in their classes.

Photo Credit: Questions by Russ Allison Loar  AttributionNoncommercialNo Derivative Works 

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Rethinking Curriculum

Recently I was visiting some friends who are also teachers who got me thinking about the words "21st century skills".  It's interesting to question whether, at this point just 11 years into the 21st century, we really know what skills student will need to be successful in the future.  My friends asked me if 100 years ago, in 1911, teachers could have predicted the skills that their students would need to be successful at the end of the 20th century.  I thought that probably they could not have done this.  This year the oldest person in my family died at the age of 98.  She was born in 1913 and certainly wasn't given at school the skills that she developed in the last years of her life to use a computer or a smartphone.  Something else kept her going, however: curiosity, open-mindedness, adaptability and the courage to try new things.  These were the attributes she developed as a young person at school in the 1920s and these are  the same skills that nowadays we are labeling as "21st century"?

The first half of the 20th century was marked by a very fast pace of technological inventions.  People flew in the first airplanes and helicopters, they started to own their own cars.  Motion pictures, radio and television were invented.  New materials such as stainless steel, nylon, plastic and teflon became commonplace.  In the 1950s, just halfway through the century, televisions started to appear in many homes as the dominant media, which changed people's ideas of entertainment, and people started to go into space for the first time.  It's almost unbelievable to think that at the beginning of the century, when human flight was unthought of, anyone would have predicted that men would be able to walk on the moon or live in space.  In an age where many people's working lives were spent in local small businesses or factories, who could have predicted the rise of the multi-national corporation?

In the final chapter of Curriculum 21, Arthur Costa and Bena Kallick write:
Our students are in the 21st century and they are waiting for the teachers and the curriculum to catch up.
They refer to the changes that need to be made such as:
open-mindedness, flexibility, patience and courage.  Changing curriculum is about changing your mind first and then forming some new habits and routines as you abandon old ones.
21st century skills have been defined in many ways and include the following:

  • critical thinking
  • problem solving
  • collaboration
  • leadership
  • agility and adaptability
  • initiative and entrepreneurialism
  • effective oral and written communication
  • accessing and analyzing information
  • curiosity and imagination
As I looked over this list I asked myself, were not these also the skills employed by the Wright brothers as they designed and tested their first airplane, or by Albert Einstein when he published the theory of relativity, or by Thomas Edison, one of the most prolific inventors in history?

Costa and Kallick have defined 16 habits of mind necessary for success.  These are:
  • persistence and perseverance
  • managing impulsivity and thinking before acting
  • listening with understanding and empathy - being able to perceive another's point of view
  • thinking flexibly and being able to change perspectives
  • metacognition - being aware of your own thoughts and actions and how they affect others
  • striving for accuracy and precision
  • questioning and problem posing
  • applying past knowledge to novel situations - using what you have learnt
  • thinking and communicating with clarity and precision
  • gathering data through all the senses
  • creating, imagining and innovating
  • responding with wonderment and awe
  • taking responsible risks - living on the edge of your competence
  • humor - being able to laugh at yourself 
  • thinking independently and being able to learn from others and work together
  • learning from experience 
Costa and Kallick point out that these habits are never fully mastered, instead learners must continually practice, modify and refine them.

How does this impact on the 21st century curriculum?  Costa and Kallick write that today several mind shifts are needed:
  • from knowing the right answers, to knowing how to behave when the answers are not readily apparent.  In curriculum terms this involves changing from valuing knowledge acquisition to valuing knowledge production.
  • from transmitting meaning to constructing meaning.  Humans don't just get ideas, they make ideas, often collaborating with others to share knowledge.  The curriculum needs to change emphasis from having learners acquire our meanings to having their construct shared meanings which may not necessarily be the meanings we wanted them to construct.
  • from external evaluation to self-assessment - if we are focus on the process then we cannot just measure the product.  The new purpose of evaluation is to have students learn how to become self-evaluative.
21st century teachers need to let go more.  They need to be comfortable with the uncomfortable.  As Costa and Kallick write:
Growth and change are found in disequilibrium, not balance.

Photo Credit:  Worlds Afloat by Michael Feist AttributionNoncommercialShare Alike 

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Questions -v- Answers

As today is a public holiday, I've spent several hours on skype catching up with an old friend of mine from NIST.  The amazing thing about this was that even though she is in a different continent, the hours that we spent talking cost us absolutely nothing.  We can connect across time and space in a way that has never been possible before and these connections bring us up-to-the-minute answers to the questions we are asking.

The ability to find information quickly is what is leading students to demand a change in the way we are teaching.  This was addressed by Bill Sheskey in Chapter 12 of Curriculum21, the current book we are reading in our professional reading group.  Sheskey writes:
It is the greatest time in history to be in a classroom because learning technology is changing at an exponential rate, and our students can thrive with it.
I think for me the most important word that springs to mind when I think about how technology is transforming the learning in many schools is the word empowerment.  Technology now empowers students to be able to find the answers to their own questions - which is actually the opposite of being taught.  It allows learning to be personal.   If knowledge is power, then searching for the information that you need to answer your very specific question is empowering.  Of course, this relies on students knowing how to ask the right questions, being able to communicate and collaborate with others who may have separate pieces of the answer, and being able to synthesis all this information to extract the answers they are looking for.

Intelligence is being redefined:  at one time intelligence was measured by how much knowledge we could recall.  Now that's not important as we don't need to recall much - we have instant access to almost anything we want to know.  What we need today is a knowledge of how to find the information and then we need to apply it.  Being able to ask the right questions, being able to apply the answers and problem solving are now the new ways we need to think about intelligence.  Sheskey writes:
As answers become devalued, questions become more valued.
The schools that are leading the way in the 21st century are those that are redefining knowledge in this way.  If a school is concerned with testing, all the students are doing is "learning answers".  Technology, on the other hand, empowers students to inquire - and as a result transforms the learning.

Photo Credit:  Question mark made of puzzle pieces by Horia Varian Attribution 

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Courageous Leadership: Sailing into the Unknown

Courageous leadership was the theme of last month's ECIS Conference in Lisbon.  Right from the start, with the opening remarks before the first keynote speaker, it was clear that this theme fitted perfectly with the location of the conference.  The Portuguese led the Golden Age of Discovery in the 15th and 16th centuries.  Starting with Henry the Navigator, courageous explorers sailed out into the unknown and explored first the coast of Africa and then eventually rounded the Cape of Good Hope and reached India.  Ferdinand Magellan led the first voyage around the world and the Portuguese were the first to sail to Brazil and Japan.

Why did they do this?  Why did these Portuguese explorers set off into the unknown?  Was it something to do with dreaming of a better world and a belief that they could make this happen?  Is this a belief or a dream that we, as teachers, share today.  We have no real idea of the future we are preparing our children for.  We, too, are sailing into the unknown.

At an international schools conference, it's clear that teachers have many questions about what it means to be international.  In a previous post I reflected on the fact that an international teacher is not necessarily a global educator.  That many teachers who have never left their home country are now reaching out with the help of the internet, smartphones, iPads and so on, to people in other countries with different ideas.  These teachers are also global educators.

Hans Rosling, the keynote speaker on the first day of the conference, talked about how, with the rate of population growth accompanied by an increase in health and wealth, this is already an Asian world.  The "Old West" will only make up 10% of the estimated world's population of 9 billion in 40 years time.  Our world view, still dominated by the North/South divide from the 1970s and 80s, needs to change.  Asia is the world - probably the most exciting changes are taking place there.  Are we educating our students for this new reality?

Just as the past explorers set out with their navigation devices - the cutting edge technologies of their day - so we as teachers are setting out with our new digital technologies as we sail into the unknown.  We know we need to shift to more future-focused schools - we are leading this change in the best ways we know.  Arne Bieber, Director of the International School of Prague and outgoing Chair of the ECIS Board of Trustees, talked about the main thing getting in the way of these teacher leaders:  time.  He spoke about the way that Google has given its employees 20% of their time to think big and reflect and said that schools need to give teachers the time to think and empower them to experiment and take risks.

There are schools that are redefining learning in the 21st century.  There are teachers who are doing this one classroom at a time.  I'm excited about what the future will bring with these courageous leaders.

Photo taken at Belem, Lisbon

Saturday, December 3, 2011

10 of the best: Technology as a tool, skill or goal?

Here's another post in the 10 of the best series, where I reflect on past posts that have received a lot of readers.  Today I decided to repost this one after a number of conversations I've had with teachers about the role of technology.  Is it just a tool?  Should it just enhance or reinforce what teacher are already doing.  I think not!  This was first posted last May.

Today I had a conversation with someone at school today who told me that technology was "just a tool".  I know it isn't, but found it hard to sum up what my objections were to this phrase so I sent out a tweet asking how I should respond.  The first response I had was this:  "oxygen is only an element" from @librarydonna.  Of course it is - oxygen is everywhere but we can't live without it, and as I have read before technology should be like oxygen:  ubiquitous, necessary and invisible.  But I'm also asking myself why I feel so strongly that technology should not just be considered a tool.  Here is what I have come up with:

  • a tool is something that carries out a particular function, perhaps it has one or two things it can accomplish (for example a pencil, a hammer, a flute) whereas a computer, laptop, iPad, iTouch, Smartphone etc have thousands of different uses - for research, brainstorming, writing, collaborating, publishing, multimedia, viewing, problem solving, communicating, organizing and so on.
  • If we say technology is not a tool, it's how you use the tool that is important, we are then talking about skills.  If we take the analogy of a flute then the skill would be being able to read music and knowing how to play the notes.  The skills involved in using a computer could be wordprocessing, data handling, file management or accessing a database.
  • If we are not talking about technology as tools and skills, but we are referring to what we can do with the computer we are talking about goals.  If we take the analogy of a flute then the goal would be to be able to use it for a musical performance, perhaps alone, perhaps in an orchestra or band in collaboration with others, perhaps even to be able to compose music that communicates an idea or an emotion.  The goal is to create something.  When we use technology in the PYP our goals are that all students should be able to use technology to investigate, organise, collaborate, create, communicate and be responsible digital citizens.
  • The power of technology is not just using it as a tool or a skill.  When teachers focus on these things it downplays the importance of technology as a goal, as a way of doing things that were inconceivable before.  When technology is used as a tool this is what Alan November calls automating, what in the SAMR model we refer to as enhancement of the learning.  When technology is used to create new learning environments this is using technology as a goal.  It's informating and transformative.  A tool and skill is what we can use the computer for now. A goal is looking at the potential - what we can possibly do with technology in the future and how it can transform teaching and learning.
Photo Credit:  Rachel Playing by Dave King AttributionNoncommercialShare Alike 

Friday, December 2, 2011

Looking for my tribe

As I've been thinking recently about what I'm looking for in a new school, one of the things that springs to mind is that I'm looking for a good fit with the people that I will be working with.  I'm looking for people with the same vision of how technology can transform learning.  I'm looking for a "can do" attitude that encourages trying out new ideas and challenging the status quo in order to improve student learning.    I'm looking for people that I can learn from and that I respect.  I'm looking for mentors who can make me into a better educator.  I think this is something that Seth Godin would call looking for my tribe.  Seth explains that the idea of a tribe is to connect people and ideas and that the power of the internet is that it connects individuals so that ideas can turn into movements.  I'm feeling that recently the internet has connected me with those of a like mind - educators I would never have come across without this technology.  Actually this time round, the internet has been a powerful thing that has helped me to search for my tribe - it has certainly been better than going to a job fair.

It's not always easy or comfortable to challenge the status quo - sometimes it's downright dangerous.  But not challenging it can be dangerous too.  One thing my mother taught me is that hard work doesn't kill you - it's stress that does that.  Stress comes from being undervalued and from having to suppress your feelings in order to maintain the status quo.  Having to push your ideas and feelings down, having to settle for mediocre and lowering your standards is selling yourself short and  simply leads to frustration, resentment and bitterness.

Last May the oldest person in my family died - she was my Auntie Josie who was in her 98th year and who managed to live independently up until a month before she died.  One of the things I respected most about my auntie was that she was true to herself and did what she wanted, not always what people expected of her.  Being born before the First World War and being a woman, it was probably hard for her to honour her dreams, but she struck me as being a person who didn't compromise much.  She did what she thought was right - and that was probably what kept her going for so long.

I was thinking about my Auntie Josie last week as I read a blog post entitled Top Five Regrets of the Dying.  One of these is "I wish I'd had the courage to express my feelings".  I think what was written here was important:
We cannot control the reactions of others.  However, although people may initially react when you change the way you are by speaking honestly, in the end it raises the relationship to a whole new and healthier level.  Either that or it releases the unhealthy relationship from your life.  Either way you win.
When I think about the teachers that I work with, and the way they have moved forward with using technology over the past two years, it has been because of having honest conversations about what they were doing and why.  I think that initially some of these teachers didn't like me questioning the way they'd been doing things, but I think most of them have come to see that things are better now as a result of these conversations - and I can see that these conversations have been positive ones because of the trusting relationship that we have built up.

I need to go further though.   I need to go faster.  I'm excited that I've set off in search of a new tribe and I'm excited that it's the internet that is helping me to find it.