Sunday, April 29, 2012

What's out there on the Far Horizon?

In education it's often been easy to predict what schools are going to look like in 4 or 5 years time (traditionally not much changes), but with technology it's more tricky to know just what's coming.  Three years ago, for example, nobody could have predicted the way that iPads would be finding their way into homes and schools.  I was interested to read the K-12 Horizon Report about what trends are predicted to have an impact on education in 4-5 years time.

Augmented Reality - the layering of information over 3D space - is becoming more important as we shift from desktops to mobile devices.  One example of this is students using AR applications when visiting historic sites so that they can see how the location looked at different points in history.  The Horizon Report notes that interacting with virtual objects can bring underlying data to life and can be brought into a student's personal space at a scale and in a form easy to understand and work with.

Natural User Interfaces - a number of devices already exist where users interact with them through gestures (for example the Wii, iPhone, iPad and so on).  The Horizon Reports sees a fast growing array of alternative input devices that allow computers to reognise and interpret physical gestures and voice as a way of control so that you can interact naturally with your devices.

Semantic Applications - have great potential to be used in schools in the future.  These applications make connections and meaning between the information on the internet so that students can more effectively search and gather relevant information.  This will become increasingly important as the amount of information continues to grow.  Wolfram Alpha and Siri are examples of semantic applications.

Tools for Assessing 21st Century Learning Skills  - the Horizon Report realizes that there is little research in this area, but writes that such tools could synthesize information to produce an accurate and relevant profile about a student's performance, behavior and  skills.

Over the past year, as I made up my mind to leave my current job and look for a new school, this 4th trend has been uppermost in my mind.  How are schools assessing 21st century learning?  Do such tools exist?  As I'm moving to a new school that is at the forefront of 21st century education, I guess I'm about to find out!

Photo:  View of the harbour, the Zugersee and Mt Rigi

What do you do when you don't know? (Part 3)

As mentioned in a previous post, I attended a couple of sessions with Art Costa at the SGIS Conference last month and I was intrigued by the habits of mind that he mentioned.  These habits are the ones we want to cultivate in students so that they know how to behave intelligently when confronted with problems that they cannot immediately find the answers to.  As I've read more about these habits of mind I've been linking them up with the IB Learner Profile and the PYP Attitudes.  In this post I'm going to think about 3 very important attributes of the IB Learner Profile - we want our students to be inquirers, knowledgeable and communicators.

Questioning and Posing Problems - IB Learner Profile:  Inquirers
Being able to formulate a question is the first step towards becoming an inquirer, and being able to ask a new question requires a creative imagination.  In IB schools we aim to develop students' natural curiosity and to give them the skills so that they can conduct inquiry and research and show independence in their learning.  Encouraging students to be inquirers will promote their love of learning, which while hopefully be sustained throughout their lives.  Students who are inquirers search for data to support their thinking, search for connections between things and can consider alternative points of view.  Students who are not inquirers often just ask simple questions for which there is one answer.  They are fact finders, but not true inquirers.

Applying Past Knowledge to New Situations - IB Learner Profile: Knowledgeable
Knowlegeable students, according to the Learner Profile, explore concepts, ideas and issues that have local and global significance and so acquire an in-depth knowledge and understanding.   Costa and Kallick believe this knowledge comes from experience:
When confronted with a new and perplexing problem they will often draw forth experience from their past...They call upon their stores of knowledge and experience as sources of data so support, theories to explain, or processes to solve each new challenge.  Furthermore they are able to abstract meaning from one experience, carry it forth, and apply it in a new and novel situation.
Thinking and Communicating with Clarity and Precision - IB Learner Profile:  Communicators
One important aspect of the IB programmes is that students learn a second, or in some cases a third, language.  The Leaner Profile states that students should "understand and express ideas and information confidently and creatively in more than one language and in a variety of modes of communication."  Costa and Kallick recognize that language and thinking are inseparable and that intelligent people communicate accurately in written and oral form, supporting their statements with explanations and evidence.  They write, "Enriching the complexity and specificity of language simultaneously produces effective learning."

Photo Credit:  Question Mark by Marco Bellucci, 2005 Attribution 

Saturday, April 28, 2012

What's on the Horizon in 2 to 3 Years?

A couple of days I posted about technology that is being adopted in schools in the coming 12 months.  Actually many of these, such as cloud computing and collaborative environments is already there.  But I was interested to read further in the K12 Horizon Report to find out what's coming up after that.

A Single Digital Identity - something that can use used whenever a student needs to log into a website or use a tool.  As we are using Google Apps for Education this is relatively easy for our students - often the Web2 tools we use, such as WeVideo, have a Log-In with Google button and the students can connect straight from their accounts.  Lots of sites allow you to log in with Facebook - though of course our students don't have that set up for them at school as they are too young.  The Horizon report points out a number of advantages of having a single digital identity, apart from just being able to easily connect to resources across multiple devices and websites.   The real advantage I think will be that it can personalize the curriculum through profiling learners' interests - information that has been gatherers based on their content consumption.

Game-Based Learning - there is a lot of interest in exploring the potential of game-based learning and the Horizon Report identifies several areas where these will be used in schools, for example developing students' team building skills, teaching cross-curricular content in engaging ways and simulations that allow students to try out different creative solutions to problems.

Learning Analytics - this is the interpretation of data used to assess students' academic progress in order to tailor education to individual students' needs and abilities.  It is suggested that when used effectively this can pick up the early signs that a student is experiencing difficulties, which allows a rapid response from schools and teachers to address these problems.

Personal Learning Environments - these are tools chosen by the learners, such as collections of apps on a tablet, that support their personal learning.  I've already seen a little of this as we have tried out iPads in our Learning Support department that have got apps that meet specific students' needs, such as using Dragon Dictate for students who have problems with writing.  The Horizon Report makes it clear that a PLE is not a technology as such, but an approach to individualizing learning that uses technology.  This matches entirely what I've been reading in Disrupting Class recently.  The idea of a PLE is that different learners will use different resources.  The report cautions that this "requires a shift in policy, as well as attitudes, towards technology for teaching and learning."

Although the report identifies these as being on the "middle horizon", I'm thinking that some of these will actually be a reality in my new school next year.  I know there is a R&D team investigating game-based learning, and with a BYOD policy coming in next year I expect to see a big push to PLEs as well.

Photo taken from the Sky Lounge in Zug

What do you do when you don't know? (Part 2)

This is the second in a series where I'm comparing Art Costa and Bena Kallick's Habits of Mind with the IB Learner Profile and the PYP Attitudes.  This post will look at the habits of thinking flexibly,  thinking about thinking and striving for accuracy and precision.

Thinking Flexibly - IB Learner Profile:  Open-Minded, PYP Attitude:  Confident
Open-minded students are open to the perspectives, values and traditions of other individuals and communities.  They are accustomed to seeking and evaluating a range of points of view and are willing to grow from the experience.  Open-minded students are therefore flexible people who are willing to consider alternative points of view and who have the capacity to change their mind as they receive additional data.  Costa and Kallick write that flexible people are able to approach a problem from new angles or are able to take different approaches and that they are confident in their own abilities as learners - they can apply what they have learned when making decisions and choices.  Students who do not display open-mindedness and flexibility, however, have problems in considering different ways of doing things or different points of view - they believe that their way of solving a problem is the best or the only way of doing it.

Thinking about Thinking - IB Learner Profile:  Thinkers
The Learner Profile defines thinkers as those who "exercise initiative in applying thinking skills critically and creatively to recognize and approach complex problems and make reasoned, ethical decisions".  This habit of mind is metacognition, the ability to know what we know and what we don't know.  Metacognition allows students to develop a plan of action, to reflect back on it and to evaluate it.  It involves being aware of your own actions and how these affect others and the environment.  I was interested to read that metacognition develops in children around the age of 11, and that not all adults metacogitate as they don't take the time to reflect on their experiences.

Striving for Accuracy and Precision - PYP Attitude:  Enthusiasm
This habit of mind didn't really fit in with any of the attributes of the Learner Profile or the PYP Attitudes.  At first I considered integrity  (being honest and demonstrating a considered sense of fairness) though not being convinced that it was a good match, I went on to think about enthusiasm, which involves enjoying learning and willingly putting in effort.  With this habit of mind Costa and Kallick are referring to "exactness, precision, accuracy, correctness, faithfulness and fidelity".  Students who do not strive for these often don't put much effort into their work and produce work that is sloppy or incomplete - these are the students who care more about finishing the assignment than about its quality.

The next habit of mind identified by Costa and Kallick is questioning and posing problems.  To me this straight away leads me to the attribute inquirers, which is at the heart of the PYP programme of inquiry.  I'm going to devote a separate post to my thinking about that one.

Photo Credit:  Wrought Iron Gate "Tree of Knowledge" by Enrique Vega, 2005 AttributionNoncommercialShare Alike

Friday, April 27, 2012

What do students do when they don't know what to do?

Last month at the SGIS Conference I attended a couple of sessions by Art Costa on habits of mind.  These sessions were about how we can develop intellectual resources in our students so that they behave intelligently when they are confronted with questions or problems that they don't know how to answer.  In a paper when the habits of mind are described, Art Costa and Bena Kallick write:
We are interested in observing how students produce knowledge rather than how they merely reproduce knowledge.  The critical attribute of intelligent human beings is not only having information, but also knowing how to act on it.
They argue that when we employ the correct habits of mind "the results that are produced are more powerful, of higher quality and greater significance than if we fail to employ those patterns of intellectual behaviors."

I've been wondering how these 16 habits of mind work together with the IB Learner Profile and the PYP Attitudes.  The first three habits of mind that Art Costa and Bena Kallick write about are persisting, managing impulsivity and listening to others with understanding and empathy.  For these three it's very clear how they complement the Learner Profile and Attitudes.

Persisting - PYP Attitude: Commitment
Students exhibiting the PYP attitude of commitment are committed to their own learning, persevere and show self-discipline and responsibility.  Persisting as a habit of mind involves sticking with a task until it is completed without giving up too easily.  Students who show persistence come up with strategies to attack problems and if one strategy doesn't work they know they need to reject it and try another.  They are comfortable with ambiguity.  Students who have not yet developed persistence often give up when they can't immediately solve a problem.  This is because they have only a limited repertoire of problem solving strategies.

Managing Impulsivity - IB Learner Profile: Reflective
Students who are reflective give thoughtful consideration to their own learning and experience.  They are able to assess and understand their strengths and limitations in order to support their learning and personal development.  This supports the habit of mind managing impulsivity.  Costa and Kallick write that effective problem solvers think before they act, consider alternatives and consequences and know their end goal:
Reflective individuals consider alternatives and consequences ... gathering information, taking time to reflect on an answer before giving it ... and listening to alternative points of view.
Impulsive students, on the other hand, often just answer without thinking and start on a task without fully understanding the directions.

Listening to others with understanding and empathy:  PYP Attitude:  Empathy
Students who show empathy can imagine themselves in another's situation in order to understand his or her reasoning and emotions, so as to be open-minded and reflective about the perspectives of others.  Costa and Kallick write that the ability to listen to another person and understand their point of view is one of the highest forms of intelligent behavior.  Empathy goes beyond listening - it means the listener has to pay close attention to what is being said beneath the words.  They write:
We spend 55% of our lives listening yet it is one of the least taught skills in schools.  We often say we are listening, but in actuality we are rehearsing in our heads what we are going to say next ... We wish students to learn to hold in abeyance their own values, judgements, opinions and prejudices in order to listen and entertain another person's thoughts.  This is a very complex sill requiring the ability to monitor one's own thoughts while, at the same time, attending to the partner's words.
These are the first 3 habits of mind but I can already see how perfectly they fit in with the attributes we are promoting in IB world schools.  I'll be reflecting on the other habits of mind in later posts.

Photo Credit:  Brain by Dierk Schaefer,  2008 Attribution 

The Near Horizon

This morning I had a review lesson with a class of Grade 4 students where the focus was on the 6 ICT in the PYP strands.  We talked about how we'd used technology to investigate and identified some of the units of inquiry that involved a lot of research.  We talked about how we had organized our work into both the school network folders and in the cloud.  We thought back about all the times we'd collaborated using Google Docs, how we had created animations and videos and how we had communicated our understanding through blogs.  However the real reason I wanted to talk to the students this morning was to reiterate our responsible use policy and to reinforce the strand becoming good digital citizens.  Up to now, our students have used passwords that we have provided for them.  I talked about the fact that it was now time for them to learn how to make their own secure passwords and to take responsibility for all their work.

As I reflected on this lesson later, I thought about the recently released K-12 Horizon Report 2012.  I started to think that in just one year these 4th Graders would be Middle Schoolers and then I started to think about the sort of technology they would be using - they have done so much this year and come so far that it's exciting to think what they will be taking on next.  I went back and re-read the report looking specifically at the trends that will be adopted in one year or less.

Cloud Computing - When I first arrived here in 2009 I was enthusiastic about using all the Web 2.0 tools I'd been using with students when I worked in Thailand.  I tried some of these out with these students - who were then in Grade 2 - and found them difficult to use because of network problems.  I was keen to have students store their work in the cloud and to use Web 2.0 tools to collaborate with others.  At that time I was a lone voice in the school advocating this.  Now just a couple of years later the Horizon report states "few schools do not make use of the cloud, whether as a matter of policy or not."  Attitudes have definitely changed - and our students are able to connect to their work anywhere and from any device they have.  Google Apps, introduced the following year, allowed learning to extend well beyond the school day.  In fact one of our administrators told me this week that he'd been able to communicate and collaborate with his PYP Exhibition group while he'd been out of the country last week.  They were using Google Docs on their phones and he was using Skype.

Collaborative Environments - The Horizon Report goes on to discuss online spaces where students can collaborate in groups.  Our Grade 4s did try to collaborate 2 years ago - in fact this was a very successful project where they skyped with other schools and then built VoiceThreads based on photos and information they collected which were shared with the collaborating schools.  Now that these students are in Grade 4 they are blogging and connecting with other students again - sometimes at school and sometimes at home.  Quad blogging has enabled our students to gather a variety of perspectives and has motivated them to improve their writing skills.  To the best of my knowledge none of our elementary students has yet been engaged in online learning - in fact I've only really got into this myself recently - but I think it's only a matter of time before this will become a reality for them.  Maybe even by the time they are in Middle School.

Mobiles and Apps - Students are bringing in their own mobile devices - mostly mobile phones - which they can access the internet with using 3G (so not using the school network at all).  Earlier this week I had a discussion about how we could be using more of the tools that the students have.  BYOD is the way of the future, as students will simply use the devices they already have and are comfortable using, and of course this leads to huge savings in the budget for desktop and laptop computers.   This year I've also found I'm more likely to be talking with our teachers about apps they can use on mobile devices than I am about new software (I don't think we'll buy any new software next year though helpfully we'll buy more licenses of the ones we already have as we will purchase more carts of laptops.)  The Apple app store has more than 1 billion downloads a month of cheap and useful tools.  The Horizon Report notes, "The power of apps coupled with the portability of mobile devices, is causing many schools to take another look at their policies regarding mobile devices.  Many see mobiles as a key aspect of Bring Your Own Device environments."

Tablet Computing - I'd been part of a Tablet PC programme in my last school in Thailand for 4 years before moving to Switzerland, but even I could not have imagined the impact that iPads would have on education.  The Horizon Report describes these as "not just a new category of mobile devices, but a new technology in its own right, one that blends features of laptops, smartphones, and earlier tablet computers with always-connected internet and thousands of apps ... they are independent and distinct from other mobile devices ... ideal tools for sharing content, videos and presentations ... easy for anyone to use ... and highly portable.  Although I don't believe our Grade 4s will be using iPads next year, I know students in some grades certainly will be, and I see more and more good international schools discussing going 1:1 with iPads for students in Middle and Primary sections of their schools.  iPads are economical, flexible and much cheaper than laptops, they are portable and have access to thousands of free or almost-free apps.  I've looked at how iPads have been used in PE and in Music with our students and it's very impressive.

From a PYP perspective I think iPads could be a great tool simply because teachers are probably at a similar level to students in their use of them - therefore they can learn alongside students and discover together what they can do.  The #pypchat today asked What does inquiry look like?  Giving students and teachers iPads and encouraging them to explore what they can do with them seems like a great inquiry to me.

Photo taken at the Haven Bar/Restaurant in Zug

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Average -v- Extraordinary

When I'm asked what I'll miss most about moving on from Switzerland my first thoughts are that I'm going to miss the amazing scenery.  Every day as I drive to and from school I think what an absolutely gorgeous country this is.  Especially in the spring, when all the blossom is out, it's breathtaking at times.  More than once I've stopped the car just to get out and take a photo.  When I'm asked what I'm most looking forward to, however, my first thoughts are that I'm looking forward to being extraordinary.  One of the things that impressed me about my new school was being told "We take good teachers and make them even better."  I remember that at the start of this school year I wrote a post on Facebook and asked "Is it better to be in a beautiful country or to be in a great school?"  I had some interesting replies but I think what it came down to was that the way you feel about your job is huge.  If you are not happy with what you are doing for 8 hours a day, then you can't really enjoy living in a beautiful country anyway.  For me I knew I was not happy because compared to my performance at previous schools I felt I was doing a very mediocre job now.  Although if you asked any teacher at school they would say I was doing a great job, my feeling was that I could do so much more and it was killing my spirit to be average.  Definitely time to move on, I thought, and this time I was only prepared to move to a school that had an excellent reputation - not just as a very high tech school but one that had a vision for using technology to redefine education, one that was focused on 21st century skills, one that valued and supported its staff and whose core beliefs seemed to align with my own.  This week a friend sent me an article about core beliefs and over the past few days I've mulled over how these are important in making any place a wonderful place to work.  I've summarized some of the main points below where I feel they apply to schools:

Machine -v- Community:  average schools see themselves as businesses, as machines with teachers as the cogs.  These schools have rigid structures and rules.  Extraordinary schools value their teachers' hopes and dreams and inspire them to dedicate themselves to the success of the whole community.  Stepping outside the box is not only allowed, it's encouraged.

Control -v- Service:  average schools want teachers to do exactly what they are told - they see questioning  the status quo and individual initiative as insubordination. Extraordinary schools set a general direction but allow teams to make their own decisions and support them with the resources they need to get the job done.

Pain -v- Growth:  average schools see change as threatening, excellent schools value new ideas.

Automation -v- Empowerment:  average schools have a one-size-fits-all approach to technology, extraordinary schools see technology as a way to enhance creativity and help students and teachers to connect.

Community, service, growth, empowerment -  yes I'm looking forward to all these things.  I'm looking forward to being a better me!

Photo Credit:  New yarn-yum by F. Tronchin, 2005 AttributionNoncommercialNo Derivative Works 

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Education 2.0

A fantastic movie from Alisa Acosta - I just had to share it!

I have noticed this movie doesn't appear to play well in all browsers - if you can't view it click on this link to see it on YouTube.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

University or not?

With one child just about to leave university and another about to start this year, I've spent many months considering the value of a university education, as well as the cost of it.  I'm not even really just thinking about the monetary cost, I'm also thinking of the cost taken before a student even sets foot into a university, the personal cost, the pressure, the hours and hours of study, study, study at a time when surely there should be more in a teenager's life.

A counsellor at my old school in Thailand posted an article this week from Psychology Today called "High School Years:  College Prep or Life Prep?"  The author, Lisa Rivero, writes:
The young people I know and teach ... feel pressured to fulfill their potential ... they have little time for reflection, for imagination and personal discovery, for leisure reading or sleeping or even long family vacations - unless they are used to visit potential schools ... Adolescence is about so much more than preparation for college.  It's about preparation for the rest of life, including moral, personality and social-emotional development.
As someone who spent last summer visiting universities in Scotland with our daughter, and now with just one more week to go before her final exams start, I'm thinking of the emotional cost of the last year.  I'm conscious of the fact that a lot of this study has been done alone in her room and has taken her away from the time spent with family.  I'm asking, is it really worth it?

Our son, who is just about to leave university has had a fantastic time there - as far as his social life is concerned.  He joined clubs, played for the university basketball team, went on expeditions, did an exchange to Hong Kong, made fabulous friends and so on.  He is less than enthusiastic about the actual course and the lecturers who are delivering it, some of whom seem to see teaching students almost as a distraction in their normal academic life, others who seem to feel their job is to simple regurgitate sections of books they have written as the main part of the lectures they give.  It's hard to know before you go to university what the course will really be like, how much support you will get, whether the experience will ultimately lead to a job you love or even to personal happiness.

Seth Godin, in the last sections of Stop Stealing Dreams, is scathing about (American) colleges.  He writes:
A famous college might not deliver an education that's transformative to the student, but if that's not what you're looking for, you might as well purchase a valuable brand name that the alumnus can use for the rest of his life.
The bottom line, according to Seth, is that if that's all college gives you, then the years spent there are "radically overpriced" and with free information available to all these days why are we paying so much for the privilege of being at college in person when some of the best universities in the world are putting their courses online and free for anyone who is willing to spend the time and effort to follow them.

The whole point of Stop Stealing Dreams, of course, is that it is our dreams that are stealing the dreams of our children.  The traditional family dream for their children was for success at school and then maybe at university (this was not seen as such an important dream in my day - not that many people went), a good job, a nice house and a happy family.  In his manifesto Seth is encouraging us to let our children dream their own dreams, to "encourage them to contribute and to push them to do work that matters, to open doors for them that lead to places that are difficult for us to imagine."  His argument is that we "need to get out of the way, shine a light and empower a new generation to teach itself."

As I'm considering what we have taught our children, the last section of Stop Stealing Dreams is particularly poignant.  I reproduce it in full here because I think it raises questions that are so important, and because in fact I don't think that universities do a very good job at teaching any of these things.
When we teach a child to make good decisions, we benefit from a lifetime of good decisions.
When we teach a child to love to learn, the amount of learning will be limitless.
When we teach a child to deal with a changing world, she will never become obsolete.
When we are brave enough to teach a child to question authority, even ours, we insulate ourselves from those who would use their authority to work against each of us.
And when we give students the desire to make things, even choices, we create a world filled with makers.
I'm a teacher, but I'm asking this question as a parent:  have I done these things?  Have I given my children the opportunity to learn how to make decisions, even though I may not like the decisions they have made?  Have I taught them to love learning, or have I simply focused on where the learning will take them?  Have I encouraged them to embrace change or have I tried to protect them from change?  Have I let them ask questions?  Have I given them enough choices?  Have I let them dream their own dreams?

Photo Credit:  Graduation Joy by Robert Crum, 2007 AttributionNoncommercial

The nerve centre for information

In my first 2 years in my current school I didn't have a desk or a special place to work.  I spent most of my first year sitting at a windowsill and my second year sitting on the corner of a student desk in one of the labs.  Sometime late in the second year our lovely librarian offered me the chance to share her desk - she sits on one side of it and I sit on the other.  It's really done a lot to bring us together as a single department and the conversations we've had as a result of this daily interaction have moved our ideas of information literacy forward.

Seth Godin's most retweeted blog post is the one entitled "The Future of the Library".  In this post he refers to the library as being the local nerve center for information - something that is vital for the information economy of today.  He writes about the library as:
A place where people come together and do co-working and to coordinate and invent projects worth working on together, aided by a librarian ... who can bring to bear domain knowledge and people knowledge to access information.
What a great description of the role of the library and librarian!

Photo Credit:  This photos of Mitchell Library, Sydney was taken by Christopher Chan, 2008  AttributionNoncommercialNo Derivative Works

Effective Digital Learning

About 6 months ago I read a post from Andrew Churches on his Educational Origami blog about what is necessary for effective digital learning.  This post has stayed with me over the months and I've mulled over it and questioned how I can use this in my current role as Team Leader.  These are the 4 pre-requisites that Andrew says are necessary for digital learning to flourish:

  • Curriculum - relevant and contextual
  • Assessment - challenging and transparent
  • Emphasis on higher order thinking skills
  • Students owning their own learning - giving students choices and voices
As I've thought about these pre-requisites over the past 6 months I've tried to keep these 4 in mind.  When I'm in planning meeting with the different grades I'm thinking about the curriculum and the assessment.  As far as the IT is concerned I'm trying to focus on developing good skills for investigation and in particular having students evaluating the information they find, and introducing students to different tools they can use for creation, in order to show their understanding.  However effective digital learning goes further than this.  All of the above 4 values will promote learning even without technology - how can digital learning transform this learning?

Andrew Churches writes about the 4 core elements of digital learning.  These are:
  • Pedagogy - changing the layout and design of the classroom, inquiry, risk taking, being principled and so on - and only after this adding in the technology that will empower student learning ( he cites the flipped classroom as one example of this, I could think of BYOD as another).  This is something that I feel is yet to be explored in my school, but I'm excited about all the opportunities I will get to work with a very different concept of learning spaces and pedagogy once I'm at my new school.
  • Feedback and reflection - need to be in place already, and once they are technology can transform these through using e-portfolios and blogging.  I've seen a remarkable increase in blogging as a way of creating e-portfolios with our Grade 4s this year and have observed and recorded what a fantastic effect this has had on motivation, learning and student writing in particular.
  • Collaboration - in an international school working with others in the class who come from different cultures and who may have completely different perspectives can be challenging.  However once this ethos of collaboration is in place, technology can take it to another level.  Students share their work with others in the class using Google Docs, and can also share with students around the world - such as the recent Quadblogging our Grade 4s have been engaged in.  Technology allows them to communicate with other students around the world, for example using Skype as a tool to investigate, which the Grade 2s have done as part of their research into climate in different parts of the world. 
  • Creativity - once we have created a culture in class that values risk-taking and thinking outside the box, technology can give students a vast array of tools that they can use in an individual way to show their understanding.
Effective digital learning is built on the bedrock of effective teaching, and it can take it so much further.

Photo Credit:  Student iPad 010 by Brad Flickinger, 2010 Attribution

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Why do some resist change?

Last month I did a middle level leadership workshop with Bambi Betts where she discussed the important role of such middle level leaders in enabling change.  Towards the end of the day she gave three basic reasons as to why some educators resist change:

  • I don't get it
  • I don't like it
  • I don't like you
Bambi talked about how all these reasons can cause difficulties for middle level leaders who want to implement changes.  She also discussed something she called the implementation dip - that when something new is introduced teachers often fear appearing incompetent as they struggle to master new skills.   In schools where teachers are not supported or given professional development or even just the time to experiment with new technologies, skills and pedagogies this is a huge obstacle to overcome.  Others resist because they believe the change is just a temporary fad - some of these teachers have seen the educational pendulum swing in many different directions and don't want to jump onboard and put a lot of effort into something that a few years down the road may disappear. 

Teachers also resist change because they worry about loss:  a loss of control and a loss of status, especially when introducing new technology where students may actually have more expertise in using these tools.  Teachers may also resist because they will lose resources (or in fact have to create new ones) and some may resist because they feel these changes could bring about a threat of job losses.  Others find it threatening that technology is leading a change from an individual profession to a collaborative one.

How can middle level leaders deal with a teacher on their team who doesn't want to change?  Bambi suggests tacking this person before meetings and asking for feedback about the potential problems associated with change - then in the meeting to start out with these objections and come up with possible solutions for them.  I agree.  I always see objections as an opportunity to move forward - how can we address these objections?  How can we turn the situation around?  For example when faced with objections to moving student work into the cloud I tried to focus on what the underlying objection to this was - safety I was told.  Therefore I had to think about how to tackle the issue of keeping students safe online and once this was discussed the resistance didn't seem so powerful.

Above all I really like being able to turn the negatives around.  Jim Collins who wrote the book Good to Great says that true leadership exists only when people follow when they have the freedom not to.  With the right support the "I don't get it" disappears.  When you show teachers how technology can make their lives easier, the "I don't like it" disappears.  When you show teachers a better way of doing something and make it easy for them to do it the "I don't like you" disappears too.  Hopefully!

Photo Credit:  The Wind of Change ... by Shadi Samawi, 2008  AttributionNoncommercial 

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Disrupting Class - the future is online and networked

The conclusion of Clayton Christensen's book Disrupting Class summarizes the main messages of the book:
  • Educational reforms have not addressed the cause of student's inability to learn
  • Confronting problems head-on is not effective - disruptive innovation goes around and underneath the system
  • All children learn differently, but the current system won't allow us to educate children in cuxtomized ways
  • Online networks have the highest potential for change since they create a new modular system of education that facilitates customization.
  • The traditional decision making process in schools is centralized and not effective - in this system change and customization are nearly impossible.
Christensen's suggestions:
  • Each school should have one person - and eventually an organization - whose sole job it is to implement online courses.  This person needs autonomy and the freedom to bring in online courses and help students access the classes they need.  
  • Invest in platforms that allow students, parents and teachers to create tutorials for each other.  We learn most deeply when we teach others.
  • Teacher training should include instruction in building tools for different types of learners and distributing them through user networks as these will be the key to making learning student-centric.
  • Struggling students can be helped through user networks to locate a tutor or find suitable content online.
The key to all these can be summed up in 2 main words:  online and networks.  I'm interested to see more international schools investigating online education.  Over 10 years ago when I was visiting a school in Peru I noticed some of the older students doing online courses.  I was told these were courses that the school did not offer, yet it provided the access, time and structure for students who wanted to do them.  My new school has an active online academy for students, parents, teachers and in fact anyone in the world who wishes to participate, and offers courses as diverse as yoga, photography and foresic science as well as many digital literacy courses.  In fact I'm participating in 3 of these courses before I actually arrive there.  I think the potential for transforming education through online networks is huge, and I'm really excited that I'll soon be involved in this trend and will be pushing my learning in new directions.AttributionNoncommercialShare Alike

Photo Credit:  Model for Online Courses by Guilia Forsythe, 2011 AttributionNoncommercialShare AlikeAttributionNoncommercialShare Alike

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Trends and Challenges on the Horizon

I always await the K-12 Horizon report each year to discover what technology trends schools need to be getting ready for in the near future.  While I'll be blogging more about this in the upcoming days, I decided to start with looking at the key trends and some of the challenges we will face in implementing them in schools.


  • Rethinking our role as educators:  information is everywhere and teachers are no longer the source of all learning.  Our roles are shifting so that our focus is more on making sense of the information and assessing its validity.  These days schools are not the only source of education.
  • BYOD/mobile technology:  the cost of technology is dropping and it is common for students to bring their own mobile device to school.  Schools are realizing that students can use their own devices both in and out of the classroom and this is freeing up the budgets that can be allocated in different ways.
  • Online and social learning is becoming more widespread:  the internet allows for learning and the exchange and creation of information.  Collaboration is becoming widespread and students are developing stronger digital skills.  Online learning also allows students to learn in a more individual way, at their own pace and style, from wherever they want.
  • 1:1 computing is spreading to a large number of countries and studies have shown the positive impact of this on achievement.  1:1 also complements project-based learning which also has a positive impact on engagement.
  • Any time, any place:  people expect to be able to access information and social networks in an efficient "just in time" manner.
  • Technology skills are vital for success:  technology skills help us to work, collaborate, communicate and succeed.   The new digital divide is a factor of education:  those students who have opportunities to learn the skills and those who don't.
  • Challenge-based learning and active learning are becoming more important:  tablets and smartphones allow students to connect the curriculum with real life and develop 21st century skills including leadership and creativity.
All the above trends I've seen coming for a few years now, but getting schools onboard with these trends is not always easy. This is because there are a number of challenges facing their adoption.

  • Current technology and practices: technology can support personalized learning through differentiation and customizing education to meet the needs of each student. New technologies can provide more learner choice, however there is a gap between the vision of personalized learning and the tools to implement it.  Schools are still fixed on one-size-fits-all methods that are ineffective in preparing students for today's world.
  • Digital media literacy is important in every discipline and profession: however formal training for supporting these thinking skills is limited.  This lack of training is being partly offset by professional development, however this is often focused on the tools, skills and standards as opposed to the thinking.
  • Budgets are being cut:  schools are dealing with growing numbers of students without an equal increase in resources and staffing.
  • The structure of schools prevents change: however learners can now access informal education, online education and home-based education which may put pressure on schools to adapt rather than conform to the status quo.
  • Schools need to embrace the blending of formal and informal learning: the movement should be away from lectures and tests.  The "flipped classroom" model has students learning at home and using class time for problem-solving - however getting buy-in from administration is necessary for this trend to grow.
  • Learning by real-life experiences is not occurring often enough:  this can affect student engagement.
  • Much learning takes place outside the classroom
  • 21st century technology doesn't fit readily into old buildings and old learning models.
  • There is an assessment gap: in particular with the use of digital media in formative assessment.  Many assessment tools don't assess 21st century skills. 
To read the NMC Horizon Project Short List click here.

Photo Credit:  Road Trip by Bernardo Borghetti, 2005 AttributionNoncommercialNo Derivative Works 

To rise in grace we have to overcome gravity.

Last night I participated in a survey from the IBO aimed at reviewing the Learner Profile.  One of the interesting open ended questions was this:  How can we best describe the attributes people need to build intercultural understanding and respect?

On my visit to ASB in February I was lucky enough to be inspired by  Devdutt Pattanaik's TEDx talk about Indian avatars that may partly address this question.   Devdutt talked about avatars:  in the West we have come to see avatars as people with a secret (online) identity, or else a hero who achieves the impossible, a saviour in the war between good and evil.  The question he posed is who decides who is good and bad?  He explained that the word evil has no synonym in Indian languages - everything is divine, even your worst enemy exists to bring out the divinity within you.  

Devdutt told some of the lost stories of several Indian avatars such as the fish avatar and the man-lion avatar where the boundaries between good and evil are not clearly defined - sometimes an act of violence is actually seen as an act of liberation in these myths - it's hard to say what is good and what is bad.  The story that had the most impact on me was when Krishna led the war against the "bad guys" and yet when the good guys went to heaven they found that all the villains were in heaven too.  The heroes were upset but God said to them, "Haven't you forgiven them yet? They are dead and still you cling on, give up your anger, move on, let go."

Devdutt explained that if we in the West believe that life is a journey with a clearly defined destination then we are looking for a hero to take us there - all too often we want a simple story that can be divided into a conflict between good and bad:  the haves and the have nots, the left wing and the right wing in politics and so on.  However there are other ideas in this world.  Other cultures don't think of life as journey with a defined destination - they believe life can be a series of moments - and that perfection may well not be achieved.  You may have to fight villains, but the bad guy may also be you.  He urged us to be patient, not to be so quick to judge.  He asked, "Are you sure you are the hero?  By transforming cultures, are we trampling on others?" He questioned if we think of culture as a single bank note with a single language on it, or if are we more open minded - as in the case of India - with 17 languages on each bank note?

To me, this giving up of our world view as the "right" one, of the good -v- the bad, is the heart of intercultural understanding and respect.

The Krishna story sent another message to me too:  the importance of forgiveness in order to move on.  I truly believe that things happen for a purpose, both good and bad things happen to you in order to help you to grow.  Over the past few years I've asked myself, what is the lesson I have to learn here?  Perhaps this is the answer.  Perhaps the reason I ended up in Switzerland was to give me the opportunity to learn how to forgive.

Photo Credit:  Matt's Balloon by Michael J. Slezak, 2006  AttributionNoncommercial 

Counting the days and making every day count

This holiday - the last holiday I will have at my present school - has been a time of coming to terms with what I have - and have not - achieved during my time here in Switzerland.  What I've come to realize is that it's all the things that I haven't done that are the hardest for me to leave - all the dreams I had, all the things that so obviously needed to be changed in order to truly prepare students for their futures in the 21st century, all the opportunities that have been missed.  I'm a hard worker and a good teacher.  Three years ago the thought of moving to a school that needed a lot of work wasn't daunting to me at all because I had already seen how technology could improve learning and I'd already been part of implementing those changes at previous international schools.    How enthusiastic I was when I first arrived in this beautiful country, how much I wanted to do - and how sad I am to reflect on the way the enthusiasm got knocked out of me.  This is why I'm counting the days.  And yet I'm not one of those teachers who having made the decision to leave or who having found another job, wants to just coast along to the end of the year.  At times I get eaten up by the multitude of things that can still be done, the small improvements that can be made, the support that teachers still so need.  My own inner voice is saying to me "keep going, don't let this experience turn you into a bad teacher or a bad person, don't give up yet, there are still 10 weeks left, you can still make every day count."

So instead of counting the days, let's instead try to reflect on some of the days that have already counted and how I have grown as a learner and become a better teacher.

The SAMR Model:  In March 2010 I went to Prague during the Easter holidays and attended the Apple World Leadership Summit.  While I was there I heard an amazing presentation by Stephanie Hamilton of Apple about the SAMR model that was developed by Dr Ruben Puentedura.  This presentation and the one that followed it by Jenny Little of Munich International School, gave me the language to describe how technology can transform learning.  Many schools, including my current one, were viewing technology as something that "enhanced" the curriculum either as a substitute or support for something that was already being done or as a way of giving a small, functional improvement.  What was needed was a move towards "transformation",  using technology to redefine the learning.  On my return to school I was so enthusiastic about the SAMR approach that I drew up an IT vision for the next 3 years incorporating plans for shifting from S to R.  This plan included a vision for teaching and learning, professional development and staffing, based on my reading of the FutureLab report, the UK National Curriculum and the ISTE NETS standards which I tried to match with the PYP transdisciplinary skills.  Although this plan has never been officially adopted, and although I still hear technology being referred to as a tool or a skill, the SAMR model has continued to influence the conversations I've had with teachers over the past 2 years, as I have tried to encourage them to move from viewing technology as an enhancement to viewing it as a transformation.  Individual teachers and some grades have certainly made this shift.

Motivation:  A couple of months after attending the Apple summit in Prague, I was lucky enough to get the opportunity to travel with one of our administrators to Munich over the Ascension Day weekend which meant that we could drive there without taking time off school.  While there I participated in the Evolving Schools for a Whole New Mind Conference with Daniel Pink.  This was inspirational for me in a number of ways (and I later went on to read further about motivation in Dan's books as well as the recently read book Punished by Rewards by Alfie Kohn) as I came to understand the forces that motivate me are autonomy - the desire to be self-directed - and challenge - the personal satisfaction of having a purpose, getting better at something and making a contribution.  As I have thought about why teachers become demotivated and demoralized as a result of being micromanaged, I've returned to these books for inspiration and when considering a new position autonomy and challenge were what I was looking for.

Techie Breakies and the Tech Train:  I'm passionate about PD and I'm passionate about sharing this PD with others.  During my time here I've tried many different models of giving IT PD to our teachers, from Techie Breakie sessions before school started, to Tech Train sessions at lunchtimes and after school.   For some reason it seemed easier to do this in my first year here - the past couple of years have seen very limited time for this sort of training as lunchtimes and after school have been taken up with duties and clubs.  To balance this trend I've spent more time with individual teachers, helping them to progress at their own pace and I've started a weekly blog where I share apps, videos, links to online PD and so on so that teachers can access these at their own pace and time.  Individual support over the past couple of years has been successful in encouraging teachers to develop their class and individual blogs and in encouraging them to reach out to other educators worldwide for both their own PD and for participating in international collaborative projects with their students.

Google Teacher Academy: What can I say except Wow!  During the summer holidays following my first year in Switzerland I attended the GTA in London.  This was the first time Google had held such an Academy outside of the USA and of the 50 participants 25 were from the UK and 25 from the rest of the world.  I can't even begin to describe what an honor it was to be selected for this or how much impact this has had on me (and also, I think, on everyone else who participated - many of us have gone on to new jobs since).  I returned to school in my second year rejuvenated and keen to get Google Apps for Education into school.  Although there was an initial hesitation from those who believed cloud computing would fail (yes, really!), we started with a pilot with Grades 4 and 5 and a new Learning Platform, and it just mushroomed from there.  Who on earth would ever want to go back to Word and other network based applications on the school computers when they realized the power of Google Apps for collaboration and access anytime, anywhere?  I think most students and teachers were hooked from the very first lesson when it was introduced.

ICT in the PYP:  During my second year I was lucky enough to be invited by the IBO to attend a meeting in Hong Kong where the role of ICT in the PYP was being discussed.  What an amazing 3 days of work we had!  On my return to school I sat down with the curriculum documents I'd drawn up the previous year and rewrote every single one of them based on the new ICT strands.  Again this gave me a language to use with teachers, along with the SAMR model, when discussing how technology can support students during their inquiries.  I've been enthusiastic about these strands and have loved sharing the learning journey I've been on with other teachers at the ECIS IT Conference in Frankfurt and the ECIS Regional Conference in Lisbon.

Workshop Leader Training and Making the PYP Happen workshop:  For a number of years I've been interested in becoming a PYP workshop leader, but the timing has never been right as you have to commit to staying 2 years in your region after training.  When I first thought of becoming a workshop leader I was working in Amsterdam, but knew I was moving to Thailand within the next couple of years, therefore I didn't apply.  In Thailand when I wanted to become a workshop leader we'd already made the decision as a family to move back to Europe when our son graduated.  Finally I got to do this training in my second year here and it was great - I wish I'd been given the time to run more workshops since completing this training as I will leave the region again having only done one regional workshop.  But what a great workshop it was!  I was lucky enough to do this workshop with our school's PYP coordinator who is an experienced workshop leader and which meant that the planning for the workshop was easy for us to arrange.  I loved doing the workshop itself - it was such an affirming experience.

So now I come back to the quote from Steve Jobs.  Despite all the positive achievements I feel I've made, I'm counting the days because the positives have been bright lights in what has otherwise been a fairly soul-destroying experience that at one time brought me to the edge of giving up teaching altogether.  Thankfully there is a happy ending and I am following my heart to a more dynamic place.  But before that there is still so much to do - so I'm making every day count.

Teams for Change

In the final chapter of Disrupting Class, Clayton Christensen discusses the most effective teams and structures for innovation.  He argues that while most schools are built around functional and lightweight teams, such as teams of teachers who teach the same subject or grade, or perhaps teams of team-leaders, these are merely functional teams which do not really need to coordinate their activities across departments, divisions or campuses.  Some teams that plan activities that are school wide (for example writing in all subject areas) are also lightweight teams.

The problem with the first two teams is that they are unable to tackle what Christensen refers to as "architectural change".  Examples of this sort of change include new roles for computers, project-based learning, changing the schedule and so on.  He maintains that new initiatives often fail because school administrators do not allow the setting up of heavyweight teams that completely redesign the school to take account of these new trends in education.  Often the existing lightweight and functional teams in schools don't really fit with children's different needs, however in general elementary schools are more likely to accommodate these because of the more flexible nature within the classrooms, than secondary schools where everything is more rigid.

Christensen's real argument is that in order to customize learning for each child, new autonomous teams will need to form in order to institute the student-centric technologies that are so vital for this customization.  He also warns that these autonomous teams need to be flexible enough to recognize that while project -based learning, for example, might be ideal for a student in one domain, that it might not be suitable for the same student in a different one.  The idea of autonomy is interesting because it extends beyond the school. Christensen writes:
A student-centric curriculum achieved through the implementation of computers can transcend the school boundary.  As schools implement this disruption, the way schools are organized and the roles and training of teachers may very well have to be rethought as well.
Above all, Christensen argues, school principles can "organize schools within schools to create space where heavyweight teams can have the power and authority to rethink the architecture of the curriculum" and cautions "we are not engaged in an effort to find a single best architecture that fits all students."

I got really excited when I read that because what I noticed when I visited my new school in February was that it seems to have set up heavyweight R&D teams to investigate various aspects of cutting-edge 21st century education and how they can work for different groups of students.  In addition I get the impression that the parents are really on board with this as a result of the parent education through the ASB Online Academy.  All too often parents have a "conservative" idea of what a school should be based on their own successes in coming through a traditional school system.  The ASB Online Academy appears to be opening doors to these parents to show them a different vision of education and is giving them new ideas about the ways that can best meet the needs of all learners.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Tools for Change

Towards the end of Clayton Christensen's book Disrupting Class, is an explanation of why change in schools often fails to make a lasting impact on student achievement.  Christensen suggests this is because the tools that are used do not fit the circumstances schools find themselves in.  Below I have drawn up a diagram based on the tools he writes about in Chapter 8 of the book, showing that there are many different sorts of tools that administrators can use to bring about change.  However which tool they should use will depend on the degree to which teachers and administrators agree on both the cause and effect of change, and the degree to which they all want the same outcomes.

Christensen writes that it's the job of school leaders to convince teachers to work together for change. There are many tools that they can use that range from visionary speeches (carrots) to threats (sticks) but that most of these don't work most of the time.  Christensen believes that this is because school leaders are using the wrong tools to try to manage change.  He writes that there are two main mechanisms that can bring about lasting change - one is success, which leads to more consensus and ultimately a stronger culture, the other one is giving people a common language - he writes that all too often people can't agree on a solution because they can't agree on what the problem is.

Power Tools - force, coercion and threats - are often used in situations where there is no consensus, and where there could even be antagonistic disagreement.  These tools don't rely on negotiation or strategic planning, simply on imposing an external plan or perhaps a new curriculum on teachers who may not be convinced of its benefit.  Hiring and promotion are also power tools.  

Management Tools - training, measuring, coming up with new procedures - are often used when there is some agreement about what can lead to better outcomes.  The tools deal only with the processes, however, and because teachers may have different priorities or may want to achieve different things, training and other management tools may not have much impact on student learning.

Leadership Tools - these focus on results and the leaders who bring about these improved results are those who are respected.  Christensen writes:  "Charismatic leaders who command respect ... often do not address how to get things done;  instead they motivate people to just do what needs doing."  In these schools the leaders are visionary and the teachers are in agreement about what they want to achieve, though they may have divergent views of how best to achieve these results.

Culture Tools - these work best in schools where teachers have consensus on the priorities as well as the actions they need to take to achieve these priorities.  In these schools little debate is necessary - though paradoxically these schools may actually be resistant to change as the tools work to preserve the status quo rather than to bring about change.

Where are most schools in this matrix?  Most schools, with the divergent priorities of teachers, administrators, students and parents (and often politicians too), fall into the lower left section of the matrix and therefore are often places where power tools could be used.  Often the different groups strongly disagree about what needs to improve and how best to improve.  

I was interested to read what Christensen writes about democracy as he says it's only really effective in organizations where there is consensus on what is wanted and how best to get it;  he argues that democracy is not an effective tool for radical change but instead school leaders need to work on developing a common language about what problems schools are facing, what changes are needed to be made and how best to achieve these changes, as well as developing a culture of cooperation so that strategic planning can be effective.

What I'm interested in, however, is whether the use of power tools to bring about change goes against our role as educators - shouldn't we be modeling tools that encourage democratic thinking among our students?  If we are trying to develop citizenship skills in our students, should we not be modeling citizenship ourselves?  For example John Dewey wrote: 
The method of democracy is to bring conflicts out into the open where their special claims can be seen and apprised, where they can be discussed and judged.
If we don't do this, if we simply say that schools are full of individuals with divergent priorities and therefore we should use power tools to bring about changes that are needed, then how will we cope with the response when teachers, students and parents feel their voices are not being heard and therefore stop participating in the debate?

In some ways, though,  Christensen is right.  Democracy and difference can work together to bring about change, I think, if schools work together to develop a common language where these differences are discussed and debated and respected.  Power tools can be used to bring about change, but for me it's more about hearts and minds - of getting schools from a situation where there is no consensus to one where all parties agree on the priorities and methods for bringing about change.  

Friday, April 6, 2012

The PYP Attitude of Curiosity: The importance of Pre-School

Chapter 6 of Clayton Christensen’s Disrupting Class, focuses on the “education” that children receive before they even enter school and leads him to conclude:
By some estimates, 98 percent of education spending occurs after the basic intellectual capacities of children have been mostly determined.
Christensen outlines 3 important contributions of pre-school education:
  •     Creating intellectual capacity
  •      Cultivating a positive self-esteem
  •     Stimulating intellectual curiosity – which will in turn motivate learning

Recent research by Risley and Hart has shown that the first 36 months of life  are crucial in determining a person’s intellectual capacity.  Based on the number of words spoken to infants (an average of 2100 words per hour by college-educated parents compared with only 600 words per hour by those on welfare), by the age of 3 children of college parents had heard 48 million words in contrast to 13 million words heard by children whose parents were on welfare.  In addition parents who were talkative to their children during the first year of life (before the children could speak back) gave their children a definite advantage in terms of vocabulary, which later led to better performance on reading comprehension.

Risley and Hart also observed the type of language – some parents spoke in an adult way to very young children, asking them questions and prompting them to think about what is happening.  These parents modeled thinking aloud, commenting and planning and this led to curiosity in their children.  These children also showed better auditory processing skills and this led to an improved capacity for learning as their brains became better at sophisticated thinking.  When these children then entered school, they were more confident and more able to succeed when faced with difficult intellectual challenges.  Children who are not so well prepared for school are more likely to struggle and suffer from poor self-esteem and therefore switch off from demanding academic work.

Christensen quotes from an article Hart wrote for the New York Times where he stated “80 percent of the variation in public school performance results from family effects … not school effects”.  He argues that “if we persist in believing that the problems of schools can be solved by only improving schools, we will never succeed.”

Reflection:  Given the research about the importance of early learning within the family, I'm wondering what teachers can do to best help students who don’t grow up in a language-rich home environment before they come to school.  It seems a very bleak prospect to think that all teachers are doing is stopping them slipping even further behind those students who come from more educated families.  How can this cycle be broken?  How can schools really make a difference?

Photo Credit:  Jeans by Pulihora, 2006 AttributionNo Derivative Works