Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Inner Net

I came across The Inner Net on the ECIS IT Committee blog and found it very powerful - so I wanted to share it!

Venus, Mars, Mercury and Earth

Yesterday evening I read the Afterword to the book 21st Century Skills.  The chapter, entitled "Leadership, Change and Beyond the 21st Century Skills Agenda" by Andy Hargreaves is about the different education movements since the 1960s which are given the names of different planets based on their characteristics.  I was at school during the "Venus" phase, and although I didn't start teaching in the UK until the early 1980s I would say I was still very influenced by it.  When I hear young teachers today say things like "it's not my job to write curriculum" it really amazes me because that was exactly what I was taught to do when I did my PGCE and trained to be a teacher and what I spent the first 6 years of my teaching career in the UK doing - writing the curriculum and developing the resources.  At this time there was no national curriculum in the UK and we had a lot of autonomy in what we actually taught.  When I moved overseas there was no international curriculum either except for the IB diploma for 16-18 year olds.  Lower down in the school it was up to us to decide what and how to teach.  I was lucky in that my predecessors at this international school hadn't bought into the huge plastic tubs of resources that were coming out of the USA and seemed to contain everything a teacher could ever want - teacher guides, student textbooks, videos, posters, photocopyable worksheets and end of chapter tests - and I was still encouraged to design my own curriculum.  In fact to be perfectly honest you didn't even really need to be a teacher to use those tubs of resources, you just had to follow the lessons outlined in the handbook.  I was quite amazed the first time I ever saw these - I had no idea that such things existed.

Anyway I digress.  Here are the characteristics of the different stages of education:

Venus - innovative but inconsistent:  This stage was typical of the 1960s and 1970s and was experimental, innovative, progressive and child-centred.  As mentioned above, teachers had a great deal of autonomy, were generally regarded as professionals and trusted to do a good job.  There was a lot of freedom for teachers to develop a curriculum that met the varying needs of their students.  A lot of learning was "on the job", with teachers trying things out and deciding as individuals what worked and what didn't.  This led to huge variations in the quality of education.  There was very little professional development and the success of schools was often down to the caring and charisma of those leading them but it was this that had encouraged me to go into teaching and it was in this atmosphere that I felt I could make a difference.

Mars - standardized:  When I left the UK in the latter half of the 1980s the signs were that there was going to be a national curriculum.  This stage was typified by a more competitive approach to education, with a national curriculum, outcomes and benchmarks, standardized tests and league tables of schools.  Apparently this was to give parents more information and choice about the schools they sent their children to (though depending on where they lived the choice could be very limited and some parents who could afford it actually moved into the catchment areas of the "better" schools).  This stage was one of greater consistency with a fixed curriculum for all students in primary and much of secondary defined by Key Stages.  Each year we were presented with statistics that showed that students were achieving better and better scores on the tests, which led to accusations that the tests were getting easier.  I know of some teachers who have told me that the national curriculum made them better teachers, and I know of others who stopped teaching altogether at this time as they complained that they spent their days filling in forms and that they didn't like being told what to teach and how to teach it regardless of the students in their class.  They complained that the league tables led to a feeling of mistrust in the teaching profession and that they were sacrificing the quality and breadth of their previous programme in order to "teach to the test" using the methods set out by the government.  I would say that at this time teaching was not an attractive option for graduates and many of my friends who were still teaching in the UK said these moves led to them being regarded as less professional than before.  With Ofsted inspections and the threat of special measures, everyone became a lot more accountable and leadership simply turned into line management.  Andy Hargreaves refers to this when he writes:  "teachers saw their leaders as managers who had forgotten how to lead ... and seemed to have more attachment to ... advancing their own careers than serving their own schools."

Mercury - world class standards:  Thankfully I missed all that as I'd already left the UK and was involved in developing the programmes that would become the forerunners to both the IB MYP and the IB PYP an an international school in Europe.  These programmes were more concerned with concepts and understanding.  There was more emphasis on creativity, inquiry and teamwork.  As teachers in international schools in various European countries, we at times met together to develop the philosophy behind these programmes and at other times we "met" electronically.   Later we were involved in professionally developing the teachers in those schools who adopted the programmes.  Today it's fashionable to talk about 21st century skills, yet the founders of these IB programmes were discussing these skills 10 years before the start of the 21st century.  We were talking about problem solving, risk taking and continuous professional learning.  During these years we connected with each other through the new forms of communication that were being developed such as email and built our own professional networks.  The curriculums we developed were transdisciplinary (PYP) and interdisciplinary (MYP) and I believe being a part of this development really encouraged us as professionals.

Andy Hargreaves writes about some of the shortcomings of the Mercury approach.  Outside of the IBO programmes taught in international schools, various countries and districts seemed to be adopting this approach to education too, for example Finland, Singapore and Alberta in Canada.  Hargreaves writes that these new skills didn't really take account of the need to fight for environmental sustainability, social equality, the eradication of poverty and so on (I would actually argue that values laden curricula such as the PYP, MYP or DP do actually address these issues).  Hargreaves questions whether the Mercury approach, based on speed, communication and commerce, can really address the needs of the 21st century particularly in the areas of quality of life, social justice and sustainability.  He proposes a new phase of education which he terms the Fourth Way of Earth.

Earth - inspiring and inclusive:   This way has much more focus on the relationship between educational leadership and school improvement as teachers design the curricula together.  The teaching and learning is "deep and mindful" and so is the learning of teachers who are encouraged to slow down, stop and reflect.  In this stage "responsibility precedes accountability".  Confidence in education grows again because parents are seen as being part of the learning community.  Teachers work "in thoughtful, evidence-informed communities that value both hard data and soft judgement, applied to deep and compelling questions of professional practice and innovation".  Leadership is distributed in order to develop successors - it is "sustainable as well as successful".  Innovation is encouraged, respect for teachers grows and this leads to achievement for all students.  The emphasis is on creativity, flexibility, lifelong learning, teamwork and diversity.

Having taught in both the Venus and the Mercury systems, and thankfully having missed out the Mars approach entirely, I'm now ready for moving onto the Earth approach to education.  I'm impatient to move to my next school where the focus is on the 21st century.  As Andy Hargreaves writes:
21st century skills require 21st century schools.  Mindful teaching and learning;  increased innovation and curriculum flexibility; learning that is personally customized and also connected to students' wider life projects;  evidence-informed rather than data-driven improvement; shared improvement targets ... energizing networks that connect schools to each other and systemic leadership ... these are just some of the strategies that will give us the best 21st century schools.
Photo Credit:  Slow and Gentle by Bosbob50  AttributionNoncommercialShare Alike 

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Testing is dead - RIP

Our school-wide goal this year is assessment and as I'm thinking about this goal in the light of 21st century skills it's clear that there is very little place for standardized testing where one student is compared with another.  When I was at school testing was something to be feared.  The first real test I took was the 11+ and it was to decide who would go to the grammar school and who would go to the secondary or technical schools.  There were a set number of grammar school places, so regardless of the general ability of the students taking the 11+, the same number each year ended up going to them.  I believe the same was true of the O'levels I took at 16 and the A'levels I took at 18, though I do believe that by the time I was at university this was changed so that it was possible for many students to be granted a First Class Honours degree one year, for example, but only a few to be granted it the following year depending on the students.  All the previous exams before this seemed to be a way of sorting out "the best of the bunch" who could go on further - and this "best" was entirely decided by the number of places available.

In the 21st century it seems traditional testing can no longer assess the new skills we want our students to develop.  We know that some students do better with extra time, some students do better when they collaborate with others, and most do better when they know the assessment task beforehand - things that were considered "cheating" in my day but nowadays we realize give students fairer opportunities to show what they know, understand and can do.  But today, I think, we need to be assessing more than this.  If the skills we are trying to develop in our students are those of collaboration, creativity and inquiry, we need different ways of assessing.  Just as important as finding out what students know, understand and can do is finding out what students have done to go further in their explorations and the new questions they are asking as a result, what new knowledge they have created and what actions they have taken as a result of using the knowledge or skills they have developed.  If our assessments don't take account of the skills that we say we value for the 21st century, aren't we just giving students and their parents the message that these skills are not really very important?

Creativity by its very nature cannot really be tested.  It often involves collaboration and this is difficult to assess too. Collaboration involves listening to and taking account of multiple perspectives and it involves sharing our ideas with others.  In the PYP we talk about action being one of the five essential elements - it's the way students apply their learning and the action that students take as a result of their learning may well happen out of school.  Again it's very difficult to assess this, we may never actually see it or perhaps it might only be apparent after the event.  So as we continue to work on our assessment goals this year at school I'm asking myself the question:  what new ways of assessing are we exploring in the light of the skills these students will need for their futures?

Photo Credit:  Taking a test by Renato Ganoza Attribution 

Give and Take

Because we are about to launch into our action research about blogging soon, I've been thinking some more about sharing.  As Silvia Tolisano writes on her blog, we are investigating the benefits of blogging on three different levels, for the teacher, for the student and for the curriculum.  The idea behind this action research is that we are all giving of our knowledge and experience, our time, our lessons, our comments and reflections but we are all going to take something out of it as well that hopefully will make us better educators and learners.  We  are setting ourselves high expectations and we are hoping that when the expectations in our community of bloggers is high, that our students will live up to these expectations.  To get the full learning benefits of this process we will need to give as much as we take.

Today I went and tool at look at the National Council of Teachers of English website where there is a definition of 21st century literacies.  There it states that "literacy has always been a collection of cultural and communicative practices shared among members of  particular groups.  As society and technology changes, so does literacy.  Because technology has increased the intensity and complexity of literate environments, the 21st century demands that a literate person possess a wide range of abilities and competencies." I think that 5 of the 6 literacies outlined  by NCTE are particularly relevant to our Quad Blogging action research with primary students:

  • develop proficiency with the tools of technology
  • build relationships with others to pose and solve problems collaboratively and cross-culturally
  • design and share information for global communities to meet a variety of purposes
  • create, critique, analyze and evaluate multi-media texts
  • attend to the ethical responsibilities required by these complex environments
With just 4 more weeks to go before we start, I'm exciting and counting the days!

Individual and social

One of the trends that I've seen in learning over the past few years is that it is becoming more individualized.  On Friday, for example, I was helping a class of Grade 2 students to tune in to their new How the World Works unit of inquiry.  Some of the students were looking at the BBC Weatherwise website, some were looking at a world map showing different temperatures around the world (I was interested to notice that even at this stage some students were able to see a pattern in this and others not), some were looking at a weather forecast of our local area for the weekend and seeing if they could use the symbols to predict what the weather would be (we are meeting again first thing tomorrow to see if they were right), some were looking at a graph that had bars representing rainfall and lines representing temperature and seeing if they could read the graph and some were using a paint programme on the computer to find clipart and made a graphic organizer about how weather affects us.  All these different things are giving the homeroom teacher and myself information about what individual students already know, and how we can deepen their understanding.  We know that some children may need more help with their data handling skills, others may need to have more support in other areas.

Later in this unit of inquiry I'm hoping our students will be able to be more social as they move into the finding out phase of the inquiry cycle.  That they will be able to use social networking tools to contact other students around the world who can help them with their investigations.  So what I'm seeing in this unit is that learning is both individual and social.  I'm interested in the social side of learning.  How will we find these people with whom we can learn?  How will they find us?  How will we assess the people that we are in contact with and the information that they will give us?  How will we share the understandings that we create with others who will find this useful?

Today I've dipped into Will Richardson's chapter "Navigating Social Networks as Learning Tools" in the book 21st Century Skills where I came across the statistic that 80% of high school students publish online - this includes text, photo, audio and video and is mostly on social network sites.  Recent studies I've read have shown that students are reading and writing more because it is so easy to read and write more using Web 2.0 tools.  What they are doing is not necessarily learning - they may be just updating their Facebook status for example - but learning can come about as a result of the connections that they make.  Students are not writing in a vacuum.  They are writing because they assume someone else is reading what they are  writing and responding to it.  Since we know that students already like to do this as individuals, then surely it's an easy step for us as teachers to use these social networks to encourage others to interact and collaborate with us.
Linkability is the connective tissue upon which learning networks are built (Richardson)
For myself, although I write as an individual I'm very aware that what I write is being read by thousands of people around the world each week.  I write in a very transparent way, though I have removed all references to the name of my school after the administration objected me blogging.  However the URL of my blog includes my whole name as does my email address.  I include my photo on my blog and on Twitter - at conferences people come up to me because they recognize me from these photos.  At times the things I write reflect not just on my own experience, but on that of my family and at those times I try to balance privacy with transparency.  I think people who have never met me in person see me as a human being.  Last summer when my son was going to Hong Kong for a summer school at the university, I contacted one of the members of my network to ask if he had any volunteer positions at his school that my son could do.   I had no hesitation in doing this because I also saw him as an individual, an educator, a family man, though our only contact has been through Twitter.  In the same way, when I was looking for a job I posted my professional portfolio online.  This basically condensed into one place the myriad of links to myself that would have appeared if any prospective employer had Googled my name.  I'm happy with my digital footprint being public, though of course I have no idea who all the readers of it are or how they have come to find me.  However I truly believe that for me and for my son and for the students that I teach, the results of what people find when they Google our names are our online reputations and will play a large role in our successes.  Will Richardson writes:
Future searchers ... will have an expectation of finding creative, collaborative, thoughtful and ethical results to peruse.  An empty Google search will beg the question, "What have you been doing with your life?"  
It's a two-way street.  For every school that I considered working at I also Googled the name of the school and key administrators there.  I checked out the school websites very carefully:  how much information were they actually sharing as I think sharing is important - if I'm prepared to share large parts of myself online then I expect to find things about the school and the people I will be working with online too.  There were some schools that were very "locked down" - I could only find the external face of the school, the marketing and public relations, nothing about the people, their ideas, nothing at all that they had published online.  Having made that mistake once I knew I would never again work for anyone with an empty reputation.  There were other schools that openly published their strategic plans - I could see where these schools were going to be in 5 years time and how they intended to get there.  I could envisage what my role would be in that process.  I could see the communities that these teachers and administrators are involved in, I could see if they had presented at conferences and read what they had published.  So I think that what I have seen has been a blending of the individual and the social.  As an individual I had very specific criteria of what I was searching for in a new school and I think I have very specific qualities that I can offer in return. However I feel that it has been social media that has helped me in searching for the best job in the world for me.

Photo Credit:  Join Our Team by Craig Taylor AttributionNoncommercialShare Alike 

Flying -v- going with the flow

Sometimes children say the most powerful things don't they?  When I read this I could immediately visualize a butterfly flying happily from one flower to another and then sadly reaching a flower that tried to make him go backwards, to clip his wings, to try to push him into a skin he has outgrown.  And I started wondering if as teachers we sometimes do this to our students, if we want them to stay in one stage for too long, even if they have outgrown this - perhaps because as teachers we are not ready to move on.  Isn't this what schools are doing when they have a cellphone ban?  When teachers insist on a 5 paragraph essay?  When students are not given the choice of what to investigate, what tools to use to investigate and how to show their understanding?  When they feel that they come to school and "power down"?  And then I became even sadder because I started to think of all the teachers that I've seen this happen to as well, who have ended up in a school where the administration don't want them to fly because they can't control where they are flying to, who want them to remain passive on a leaf and to conform and be the same as everyone else.  What a waste! Even a dead fish can go with the flow!  However it takes a live one with courage to swim upstream against the flow.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

10 Web 2.0 Tools for Recording Learning

At next week's staff meeting I'm running a session for all the teachers who are not involved in maths planning - these are basically the specialist teachers who are teaching subjects such as PE, music and German.  This session will look at what Web 2.0 tools these teachers can use for recording student learning.  It's quite a diverse group so I want to come up with different tools that will appeal to them all.

I first started to think about what these teachers might be doing now to record learning, and then thinking of some ways that technology could transform this.  For example with the music and language teachers I would think that being able to make an audio recording of the children speaking or the music that they compose and play would be interesting, whereas with the PE teachers they might be more interested in recording movies of the students doing something in the gym or outside.  Here are some ideas of what I think the teachers might like to do, with some of the tools that I think could help them.

Photos + Audio:  I could imagine this would be useful for all the specialists so that they could photograph the students doing something and then record the students reflecting on what they were doing.  Tools that I will suggest to them will include VoiceThread and Fotobabble.

Graphics + Text:  I've used this with our German department before with the students making comic strips and adding speech on as text bubbles.  I think a great tool for this is Bitstrips.

Animation + Audio:  Again I think this might be very useful for our language teachers so I will suggest a text to speech tool such as GoAnimate.  I know there are a variety of accents - not sure about German though.

Presentation + Video:  Many teachers might take short videos of the students performing something.  This could be a particular movement in gymnastics, a musical piece they are playing on an instrument or some kind of skit in German.  I'm interested in how the teachers could then have the students send these to our school's iMovie account in order to embed these videos into some sort of presentation tool.  Good examples of tools that are easy for them to use might include SpicyNodes, Prezi and Glogster.

Video + Text + Audio/Music:  Perhaps the teachers might like to make a video of photos that they can add text to and even voice-over or music in the background.  Recently our Grade 2 students used Animoto to put all their art pieces together with the music they composed in GarageBand together.  Another example of a tool we're about to start using with our Grade 4 and 5 students is WeVideo as we are having them make book review movies based on their literature circle books.

So that's 9 tools.  What do you think I've missed out?  What else would you recommend me to introduce to our specialist teachers so that they can better record student learning?

If you would like to read the follow up to this post and the presentation made at our staff meeting about the various tools, please click here.

Photo Credit:  Rainbow in my living room by Daniela Hartmann AttributionNoncommercialShare Alike 

Synergistic thinking: engaging the intellect to deepen understanding

This morning I was reading a discussion on the PYP Threads Ning about whether we should give students the central idea at the start of a PYP unit of inquiry or whether we should encourage them to come up with the central idea as a result of their learning.  A link on this thread led me to the video that was filmed at the IB Africa, Europe and Middle East Regional Conference a few months ago.  Like many teachers at my school I wasn't able to attend this conference, however the power of technology is such that I'm able to "attend" this session by Lynn Erickson from the comfort of my own settee.

Lynn Erickson was talking about synergistic thinking.  Synergy comes from the Greek word that means working together.  It describes two or more things working together to produce a result that is not obtainable by each individually and in this case she is referring to facts and concepts working together.   She talks about how great teachers prompt their students to think about the conceptual ideas but that they must use facts to support these ideas.  The interaction between the factual and conceptual levels of thinking produces synergistic thinking which should be our goal as teachers for developing students' intellects.  Concepts are the way we organize the facts - they are the way we prevent information overload of "in one ear and out the other", and only at  the conceptual level do we have the transfer of knowledge.

Listening to this I'm definitely coming to the belief that we shouldn't always tell our students the central idea at the beginning of the unit.  Perhaps we need to wait until nearer the end to see if they can come up with the central idea themselves.  I'd love to try this out, though not having a class of my own it's not something that is very realistic.  But I'm loving the discussion and I'm really interested in hearing more from teachers who are actually give the students the opportunities to come up with their own concepts, generalisations and central ideas.

Photo Credit:  If it wasn't for the work of the weavers by Maureen Crosbie AttributionNoncommercialShare Alike 

Pre-K play in the street

A quick update.  We have changed the movie so that a street scene is playing on Infinite Looper and projected onto the wall of one of our Pre-K classrooms.  At our Thursday meeting one of the Pre-K teachers was talking about how this had encouraged the students to explore some of the construction tools in the classroom - in particular she said that it had previously been hard for the students to add wheels onto the constructions that they made, but that last week she noticed them doing this fairly easily in front of the wall of cars.
Here's the link to the Infinite Looper movie that we used - though since the actual footage lasts for an hour it's probably not necessary to loop it:  Street Sounds.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Reigniting Bunson: Science’s Fight for American Youth

A guest post by Joseph Baker

America’s children are in serious jeopardy. Grim dangers lurk in the shadows and behind playground corners. However, this gruesome adversary is not war, famine, or plague, but ignorance and failure to thrive -- academically speaking, that is. Discoveries made in the last century in the sciences were astounding, even life-altering, yet there are many more left to be made. Unfortunately, America’s children may not be the ones making them unless we get them excited about, and involved in, the sciences.

This problem has been highlighted over the years from President Obama’s education speeches to a recent television advertising campaign by Chevron that emphasizes the contribution the company makes to science education programs around the country.

To succeed in today's high-tech global economy, workers must be knowledgeable in science and technology and must have strong skills in critical reasoning and problem solving. Many observers are concerned that America is failing to produce scientists and mathematicians who can create future innovations.

Despite being one of the wealthiest and most powerful countries in the world, America has fallen far behind in science education. A recent report by National Academies, one of the organizations responsible for advising the United States on science and technology, found that the U.S. ranks an embarrassing number 27 out of 29 wealthy countries in the proportion of college students with either engineering or science degrees.

The problem, however, starts long before students reach college. If children aren’t excited about science, they are unlikely to pursue a physics degree, engineering degree or any other science degree. Programs aimed at getting children interested in science at an early age are vital to reaching the goal of producing future scientists.

It’s never too early to start getting children excited about science. Many well-respected science magazines and television channels have publications or online sites aimed at pre-school aged children. For example, Discovery Kids offers puzzles, games and activities for the pre-school age group that allow them to explore science and have fun doing it. The Weather Channel also offers an interactive website for pre-school and elementary aged children to explore and learn about the weather.

One of the biggest hurdles to getting kids interested in science has been a logistical problem. While there may be hundreds of scientists who are eager to interact with children and inspire them to pursue a career in the sciences, they frequently don’t know how to go about doing it. Thanks to Scientific American, that problem may be solved. The well-respected magazine launched their "1,000 Scientists in 1,000 Days Program" in 2011. The program matches up scientists who are willing to offer advice on curricula, answer questions, and even make visits to the classroom, with schools who are trying to get kids excited about science.

Another program aimed at helping educators offer thought-provoking science curricula for middle school and high school aged students is Project Lead the Way. Taught as part of regular classroom instruction, PLTW provide students the chance to do amazing things like build an actual robot. Extensive instruction is provided to classroom teachers by PLTW in order to ensure the teachers are prepared to inspire students to go on to post-secondary studies in Science, Technology, Engineering or Mathematics.

Learning from -v- learning with

Over the next couple of months our students will be given opportunities to connect with other students in a virtual global classroom.  One class of our Grade 4s will be involved in Quad Blogging action research to see how student blogging can be used to teach quality writing - this class will be connecting with other students in the USA, the Czech Republic and Thailand.  I'm also keen to have our Grade 2 students connect with other students worldwide as they investigate how the weather and climate affects us.  Our students will be involved in global learning that will be based on the connections that myself and the homeroom teachers are building through our personal learning networks.  We have come to realize that knowledge is distributed widely across these networks and that instead of learning from others we are now hoping to learn with others through inquire and the co-construction of knowledge.

This is a wonderful opportunity for our teachers and students to develop a new form of literacy:  network literacy.  Learning in networks and online communities will require new pedagogies and practices. The vast majority of our students do not yet see their teachers as being connected to these networks and taking advantages of the learning possibilities that these networks provide:  currently they do not see these learning connections being modeled by teachers and therefore many students are not learning how to use online networks in safe and responsible ways.  I'm hoping that the students will come to see the power of technology for creating virtual classrooms and learning communities with other students whom they have never met offline and that these first steps will lay good foundations for them becoming responsible digital citizens and being able to create their own networks and learning communities in the future.

Photo Credit:  If I Only Could Make a Deal with God by Bethan AttributionNoncommercialNo Derivative Works 

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Act on what you learn

Action is one of the essential elements in the PYP.  In Making the PYP Happen it states:  action should be seen as a voluntary demonstration of a student's empowerment.  Basically they should act on what they learn - the empowerment doesn't happen in the learning but in the actions they take as a result of their learning.  Recently I've been thinking that action can also be a demonstration of a teacher's empowerment and since my aim is to explore the impact that coaching can have on teaching and learning in the second half of this year I'm thinking about what actions I might see our teachers involved in.  I'm hoping to see teachers:
  • trying out new things, experimenting and stepping outside of their comfort zone.  I'm always happy to see teachers questioning the whys and the hows of what they are  doing.  I know that one grade has pledged to try out team teaching at least once before our February break so I'm interested to see how this turns out.  It's exciting to see that they have decided to learn from those around them.  
  • seeing themselves as learners too.  Reading, thinking, connecting with experts around the world, maybe even taking online courses.
For me I think it's also important to act on what I'm learning.  This is what I've done as a result of what I have learnt:
  • I'm more able to identify my strengths and weaknesses and events of the past few months have definitely made me question and then reaffirm my values, ethics and principles.  Having realised that these don't match with those of my current school, my action is to move on.  You have to believe in what you are doing in order to put your heart into it and be able to make a difference.
  • I've also come to see that different people have different standards.  One person's definition of excellence is not the same as someone else's. If you are trying to attain someone else's definition of success then you will just be disappointed and dissatisfied, even if you achieve it.  You need to own your own definition of excellence and measure your achievements by your own standards.
  • I've seen how important it is to have the freedom to make choices (up to now this has been limited by my need to support my children through school), but I've discovered that I also have the freedom to choose how to interpret what happens.  This year my choice has been to welcome change and to look for new opportunities, and I've discovered that when you are open to new opportunities then they come to you.  I'm overly excited about moving on to a new school, new country, new culture and new challenges.  Just as I'm excited about our teachers exploring new ways of doing things here, I know that I need to explore too.  I need to be in a place that is constantly investigating new ways of using technology, of teaching and of learning.
  • I've thought a lot about where I want to be and who I want to be with and I've discovered that I need to be with people who dream the same dreams but even bigger than I do and who have even more passion for what they are doing than I have.  This energy is infectious!  I read recently "The people around you create who you are.  If they inspire you, you'll be inspired.  If they depress you, you'll be depressed." Therefore my search has also been for people who will inspire and empower me and for a school that is modeling excellence, for people who don't say "that's impossible" but who ask "how can we make this possible?"
Several ideas in this post have been influenced by the Live Your Legend site.

Photo Credit:  Pasqual jump sequence by Felipe Skroski  Attribution 

The I and the C

This evening I was talking to a friend who was asking me about what sort of ICT vision she should be looking for in the schools where she is considering working.  We talked about the fact that in the ICT, it's the first two letters that are important - with the vast amount of Information that is available, students need to know how to search for what they need and they also need to know how to Communicate with the rest of the world.  In Technology Rich, Information Poor, Chapter 12 of 21st Century Skills, Alan November writes:
If we wanted to prepare our students for the global economy we would immediately turn every classroom into a global communications center linking students to authentic audiences around the world.  We would be providing professional development for teachers to redesign their assignments to be more rigorous and authentic.  We would be laser-beam focused on redefining what it means to be literate.
Alan November goes on to write that possibly the most important 21st century skill is Collaboration.  An important aspect of the 3 IB programmes is international mindedness and Alan November writes "In an interconnected world our students will need to learn how to understand various points of view and how to work with people in different cultures.  In this regard we need to globalize the curriculum."

I think focusing on the I and the C and not the Technology leads students to become more independent and gives them the control of and responsibility for their own learning.  What this means is that the teacher's role has to change because if we redefine the role of the learner then we automatically have to redefine the role of the teacher too.  If we are talking about ICT merely enhancing the curriculum, or just supporting what teachers are already doing then we are focusing on the T and simply using technology to do what we have always done in other ways.  Alan November addresses this in the last paragraph of his chapter:
The opportunity before us is to redesign the culture of our schools to empower students to take more responsibility for managing their own learning and to work collaboratively with classmates and people around the world.  Asking the right questions about the design of an empowering culture of teaching and learning is more important than bolting technology onto our industrial model of education.  

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Can we get from here to there in 7 steps?

I've been thinking a lot about how schools prepare students for their future, and was reading about innovation through technology today in Chapter 11 of 21st Century Skills.  In this chapter, Cheryl Lemke, president and CEO of the Metiri Group, writes about the framework the group has come up with to gauge readiness of schools for 21st century learning.  Below I have summarized the areas the group considers:

Vision:  does the school have a forward-thinking common vision for 21st century learning?
Systems thinking: are all educators and staff thinking and acting systemically to embrace innovation in ways that enhance the vision?
21st century skills/learning:  has the school adopted 21st century skills for research-informed learning strategies?
21st century learning environments:  is the vision of 21st century learning coming to life?
Professional competencies:  are teachers, administrators and staff ready to facilitate, lead and assess 21st century learning among students, the community and parents?
Access and infrastructure:  is access to technology/infrastructure sufficiently robust to support 21st century learning?
Accountability:  Are learners and educators held accountable for making progress?  Are they provided with support?

I have thought and thought about the above and how it applies to where we are now.  I know that it all has to start with a vision - and a shared or common vision at that.  This is where I think we need to do much better.  I think a lot of teachers feel we don't have a vision or that if there is one they haven't been consulted or informed about it.  I think there would also be questions about access and infrastructure.

The way forward, suggested by the Metiri Group, is for leadership to encourage a culture of openness to new ideas, encourage risk taking and encourage the spread of creative ideas to "tip and ripple" to challenge and change current assumptions.

Photo Credit:  Footsteps on the Wall by Tom Rolfe AttributionShare Alike 

Pre-K play on the beach

This might sound like a strange thing to write, but today in Switzerland some of our Pre-K students played on a beach.  This wasn't a normal beach - it was inside in their classroom.  A couple of days ago I wrote about the plan of the Pre-K teachers to use technology in their classes in a completely different way.  Their idea, to support their Who We Are unit of inquiry which is about how we use our senses to explore our world, was to project a scene onto the classroom wall as a visual stimulus with sound that the children could interact with.

Today I arrived at one of the classrooms eager to see how this was working.  I'd already found the YouTube video Perfect Sunset, which I'd added into Infinite Looper and shared with the teachers.  Today one of the teachers used her laptop attached to a beamer to project this 30 minute video onto a classroom wall.  In front of the wall she had a big plastic box filled with sand, shells and stones.  This was just one area in the classroom where the children could play.  Other areas were set up with building blocks, some children were working on the classroom computer, some children were painting and others were investigating light objects inside an area of the room that had been hung with black curtains.

As I sat at the "beach" I noticed the children had taken off their shoes and socks and were really interacting with the sand and making patterns with the shells and stones.  When I asked what they were doing they told me that this was a beach.  They could hear the sound of the waves all the time, and as the sun went down, the area got darker.  At this point an interesting thing happened.  One of the girls had taken on the role of "Mummy" and one of the others was "baby".  At the point that the sky got dark the Mummy told the baby it was time to go home - they then left the area and walked over to do some painting.  However because the other children wanted to carry on playing what we did was to replay the video from the start again.  The whole movie lasts 30 minutes, but the most interesting skies and the part where you can actually see the waves lapping on the beach happen in the first 15 minutes (note to self - change the slider to shorten the movie).

One thing that I noticed is that all the students playing on the beach were girls.  Perhaps this was just a coincidence.  However I'll be interested to see what happens when the movie is changed and we project a street scene with lots of cars onto the wall.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Gradual Release of Responsibility

As a parent and as a teacher I've often thought in terms of a gradual release of responsibility.  For example as I parent I moved from driving my children to school, to having them walk to school by themselves and eventually to the moving off to university by themselves.  As a teacher we move from walking our class from one special to another and then back to the homeroom, to letting them go somewhere as a class, through to letting them go somewhere in pairs and eventually going alone.  Does this model also work with teachers?

As I've been preparing myself for leaving my school at the end of the year I've been considering how I haven't yet released this responsibility much for the teachers.  In my previous two schools I certainly did this.  Each year I handed over the responsibility of one of the six units of inquiry to the teachers to lead the technology, which meant that after 5 years in one school and 4 years in the second the teachers were pretty independent users of technology by the time I left. For a variety of reasons this hasn't happened at my current school.  Therefore during the final few months I'm really making an effort to release much more responsibility for the use of technology onto the teachers.  This year instead of posting student work on our student website I have supported the teachers as they have set up their blogs and posted various things the students created onto their blogs.  I have moved away from the extensive support that I gave them in the past 2 years so that I am now sitting with them or even just sitting in their rooms as they are blogging in case they need me.  I am also trying to build up the support that the grade level teams can give each other, but I feel I'm racing against the clock.  The 4-year plan that I originally had has turned into a 3-year plan, and I'm worried that by the end of the year we're not going to be where I wanted us all to be. We can't move forward any faster - there are already way too many demands on the teachers' time - but I keep asking myself:  can I do more to support them?

Photo Credit:  Reaching out by Andrew and Hobbes AttributionNo Derivative Works 


Today I've been reading the chapter in 21st Century Skills by Nancy Frey and Douglas Fisher who write that schools need to revise their technology policies.  By not allowing students to bring and use their own devices at school they felt they were doing the students a disservice as they were not developing the skills needed by global citizens to understand and responsibly use technology.  They argue that most students have mobile phones, yet at the same time most don't know how to use them as learning tools.  They also write that schools can be a place where students can learn both responsible and respectful use of technology and how to avoid dangerous and inappropriate behavior.  We need to teach the students how to use their technology in ways that are appropriate for the environment.

Photo by Drift Words AttributionNoncommercialShare Alike 

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Form Follows Function

In the early days of the PYP, before it had been bought by the IBO and when it was still the ISCP, the teachers and administrators who were involved in developing the curriculum met to come up with a consensus about the key concepts that would have universal significance, regardless of time or place.  The idea was to agree on a set of transdisciplinary concepts around which the new curriculum could be structured.  Two of these concepts are form and function.

Form asks the question:  What is is like?  When we look at the form of something we are able to observe, identify, describe and categorize it.  Function asks the question: How does it work?  When we look at function we are looking at the purpose of something.  When we look at what something is, we often think in terms of nouns.  When we think of how something works we often think in terms of verbs.

A shift between nouns and verbs has occurred in Bloom's taxonomy.  The original Bloom's taxonomy was a way of moving from lower to higher order thinking and the terms were all nouns.  Knowledge was at the bottom, evaluation was at the top. The new version of Bloom's taxonomy describes what students can do so is written in verbs.  Below I have reproduced a graphic from Mary Forehand at the University of Georgia, who herself based this graphic on Dr Richard Overbaugh's website from Old Dominion University.

As a technology teacher/facilitator/coach I've thought a lot about how this applies to technology.  My aim is always that the focus is NOT on the technology, that it fades into the background.  That we are not focused on the tool (noun), but on what the students are doing (verb).  My emphasis is on function/purpose rather than form/tool.

This is where I think many schools are still going wrong.  They insist on making statements like "students will use technology as a tool to support what is being done in the classroom."  This leads to discussion focusing on what tools need to be bought and it leads to a fixed mind-set when the school buys-in.  For example I first went to visit a Dutch school using a SMARTboard almost 13 years ago.  I could immediately see how having the teacher and students touch the board in order to demonstrate what to do on the computer would be much better for our younger students who couldn't often relate to the teachers moving a mouse on a computer that was on a trolley at the back of the room,  while they were looking at what was projected onto a screen at the front of the room and listening to the teacher giving instructions at the same time.  We decided to try out one SMARTboard and installed it in the lab being used by our youngest children.  It was a great success because I think we were focused on the function of the board and how that was better than the technology we already had (computer and beamer on a trolley).  We certainly didn't propose a roll out of boards to every classroom in the school, regardless of their needs.

But in some of the schools I've been in since, the focus has been on the tool.  On equipping all classrooms with the same tools and then training the teachers how to use them regardless of the needs of the teachers or students.  These ideas don't come from the teachers or the students, but from some misguided one-size-fits-all policy.  Indeed, in the years since I first used a SMARTboard I've seen many better options, for example connecting a computer to a projector and controlling it wirelessly with an iPad which apart from being cheaper is also much more flexible as teachers can use it for many more tasks, and in addition it has more potential to impact students.  It's a shame that some schools get locked into a 3 or 5 year purchasing programme to equip each class with X, Y or Z.  Halfway through this programme something new and better invariably comes along.  Considering the amount of money that has been invested in half-equipping a school with the "old" technology, it's a brave school that switches to the new.

What functions are our students requesting?  They are asking to be able to communicate and collaborate, to access information and in particular their own documents anytime and anywhere, and to be able to create using a variety of media.  They are less focused on the tool, than on access.  When I'm teaching students I always focus on the function - this of course is helped by the new document from the IBO "The Role of ICT in the PYP" which defines the 6 strands:  investigate, organize, communicate, collaborate, create and be responsible digital citizens.  During any one unit of inquiry I will be showing them different functions of the tools for investigating and organizing, for example, so that they can choose the best tools for themselves in the finding out and sorting out phases of the inquiry cycle.  I will be showing them other functions of other tools when they are wanting to present their understanding.  

Douglas Fisher and Nancy Frey write:  
Humans need to communicate, share, store and create.  As a species we've engaged in these functions for centuries.  There's really nothing new about them.  What is new are the forms, or tools, that students use to meet these needs ... we're excited to learn alongside students as they teach us tools and we help them understand functions.
Our Grade 4s are in the last week of their unit of inquiry about belief systems.  For the whole of next week they will be presenting using Prezi, Spicy Nodes, GoAnimate and Animoto and - I hope - any number of other tools that I have not shown them directly how to use but that they have investigated for themselves.  The function is presenting.  The form could be anything at all.

Photo Credit:  Form Follows Function by Luca Barcellona AttributionNoncommercial 

Friday, January 20, 2012

How We Express Ourselves - using technology

Today was our Grade 2 Art Exhibition.  Since November the students have been investigating the central idea Art is an expression of human feelings and ideas and is open to interpretation.  The students have visited museums and been able to look at the artwork of older students in the middle and high schools.  They have had lessons in the computer room where they have been able to explore different ways of creating online art and also had a music lesson in the lab where they used GarageBand to compose music to go with the art they created.

The first thing that all the students did on the computers was to create a graffiti version of their name.  We  discussed form or shape, color, line and texture and then let them design their own names.  Several of the options on the Graffiti Creator website have sliders so that students can adjust the amount of red, green and blue light to create different colors.  We had a mini-science lesson where we noticed that  all three colors of light used together created a white color on screen, and that black was created by an absence of these colors.  The students combined various strengths of colored light to make the colors they wanted to use in their graffiti name.  Some of the classes then imported the graffiti names into Fotobabble and had the students record a pre-assessment of the central idea of the unit - what did they understand about art and the way it is used by artists?  Many found this difficult - we will go back and record their thoughts at the end of the unit too, in order to see how much their understanding has deepened.

Right at the start of the unit students went to a gallery and looked at the paintings of Kandinsky.  In the computer lab we supported this by showing the students how they could use over 40 different styles of brushes in Brushster from the National Gallery of Art.  The students were given the opportunity to experiment and to create several different paintings in this style, exploring the different effects they could create with the different brushes.  Another popular style of art was impressionism and in some classes the students painted their own impressionist-style self-portrait using PixelFace.  At the same time in class they were painting Picasso -style self portraits.

A couple of the classes also wanted to do some art in the style of Piet Mondrian.  We talked about Mondrian's life and had a look at his paintings and how they represented his interpretation of real life - for example the painting Broadway.  We looked on the internet for photos of Broadway and talked about how Mondrian's painting incorporated the colors of the red and blue neon signs and the yellow lights of the cars.  We then showed the students some other photographs of New York and of Paris and asked them to paint their own interpretations of these using the software Pixie.  Throughout this whole unit we gave the students many opportunities to interpret and reflect on their own and each others' art.  We wanted to make sure they could respond critically, but in a tactful way and that the way they interpreted a piece of art might differ from someone else's interpretation.

During another lesson we looked at other styles of painting.  For example we looked at paintings by Van Gogh, Salvador Dali, Pablo Picasso and M.C. Escher.  We then used various backgrounds in Kerpoof to see if the students could create impressionist, surrealist and cubist paintings as well as the impossible constructions Escher.

Last week it was time to put all the art and music that had been created on the computer together.  We introduced the students to Animoto.  They chose the presentation style and uploaded their pictures and music.  Within minutes they had created wonderful videos that the homeroom teachers embedded on their class blogs.

During today's exhibition students brought their parents to the computer lab and showed their parents their work.  Many were amazed that 8 year old children could create such professional looking movies.  Many were also amazed at the way the students had created their own music in GarageBand to match their computer art.  I also used this time to talk to parents about how to write quality comments on their child's video on the class blog.

I love this unit of inquiry and every year I am completely bowled-over by the quality of the students' work and the comments they are able to make about their peers' artwork.  I feel there has been a lot of learning going on during these past 6 weeks.

Using technology to explore Who We Are

Our Pre-Kindergarten students don't come to the computer lab for lessons and they only have one desktop computer in each classroom, so finding a way of using technology with them is a challenge at times.  At our meeting yesterday the teachers asked if I could find a way of helping them create a "moving wall" of images (with sounds) on the classroom wall to bring the outside world into the classroom as the students explore the central idea of their Who We Are unit of inquiry:
We explore and connect to our environment through our senses
The aim is that children will have the sights and sounds of different places projected onto the classroom wall and that they can interact with what they see and hear as they play.   The teachers had some ideas of what they wanted to be able to do, and they wanted my help to do these.   Initially they thought the best way to create this environment would be to download movies from YouTube and loop them.

As I listened to what they wanted, it seemed there was a much simpler solution - Infinite Looper and I then set about finding some movies with sights and sounds that might interest the children and support their central idea.  I like the way that Infinite Looper has a slider so that it's possible to select the only those parts of the movies that we want to loop.  I looked for scenes from different places (for example I found street scenes of San Francisco and Dakar, Senegal) and also natural scenes such as sunsets or just a running stream.  I'm excited to see how this ideas works when the students actually start to play in front of these "moving walls".

Below are the links to the scenes we are going to explore:
San Francisco Scenes, Sights and Sounds
Relaxing City Sounds - the image stays the same, but students will be able to hear the different sounds
Street Sounds and Sights of Dakar, Senegal - we loop this after 3.35
Cars - no real need to loop this as it lasts an hour
Perfect sunset

Another of the teachers' ideas is also to use a modified version of the "I See ... I Think ... I Wonder" Visible Thinking Routine.  They are going to try to do "I Hear .... I Think .... I Wonder" with the students.  We are going to explore some websites where there are audio files which we can download into an iTunes playlist for the students to listen to.  More about this in an upcoming post.

Photo Credit:  Beko by Tanakawho AttributionNoncommercial