Saturday, June 30, 2012


At the ISTE Conference I went to a session with Will Richardson about unlearning.  Right at the start of this presentation Will quoted from Clay Shirky:  "the change we are in the middle of isn't minor and it isn't optional".  I've been thinking about this a lot.  About how if schools haven't yet made changes to the way they are enabling students to learn, then they are certainly opting out.

Will talked about choice and how this fits in with the move from a scarcity of information to an abundance of it.  He asked us if we had an income of 30,000 dollars a year what would we choose to spend it on?  Most of us wouldn't have a lot of choice.  We need a place to live, we need food to eat, clothes and so on.  But how about if we had an income of 30,000,000 dollars?  We could choose what kind of home to live in, where to live, we could choose to spend, to save, to buy a big car, a small car and so on.  He said information is like this.  We have a lot of choices now and we can always connect with someone who can answer our questions.  However schools are still operating as if we have limited choices.  Outside school is a very different place from inside school.

Will quoted from Michael Wesch who writes about ubiquitous computing, ubiquitous communication, ubiquitous information, ubiquitous speed, everywhere, from anywhere and on all kinds of devices.  Will talked about the fact that there is an abundance of information, tools, opinions, teachers, data, news, resources, media and schools and because of this we can create our own curriculum and find our own teachers.  He talked about  what Alvin Toffler wrote about literacy:
The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn. 
The participants in Will's session were asked what they thought we needed to unlearn in this world of abundance.  One of the suggestions was that we need to unlearn "don't talk to strangers".  In this new world strangers will help us to find the information we need.  Another suggestion was that we need to unlearn our view of assessment as being an end, rather than a means to an end.  We need to unlearn what learning looks like, to unlearn that teaching automatically leads to learning.  We need to unlearn our concept of the school community, to unlearn the bell schedule.  Here are what Will thought were the 3 most important things for us to unlearn:

Delivery - too often we are concerned with delivering things. If we deliver something we own it but in this age of abundance students need to own their own learning and to think and create on their own.  Will talked about the difference between empowerment and engagement and how we need to move beyond the idea that an education is something that is provided for us and towards the idea that education is something that we create for ourselves.

Competition - we make too many comparisons between test scores, teachers and so on and yet in a world of abundance we need to cooperate and not compete. We want to take and share the best with everyone because there is no advantage in knowing more than the prison next to you. The world doesn't care what you know  The world cares what you do with what you know. 

Assessment -  we make it as easy as possible to assess but often it's meaningless for example a lot of assessments are not looking at problem solving. If we don't assess what we value we will end up valuing what we can assess.  School is the only place where students can't take the technology out of their pockets and use it to answer their questions -  it's not the real world. 

To unlearn you need to understand the context for change.  We have to feel. anger, grief, excitement, Teachers need to reflect by looking at their own learning and practice first and then act and innovate, connect and engage others.   Schools need to change in ways that serve kids. We have to take conversations out of schools. 

Will left us with an interesting image, that of a balance bike.  On a traditional bike children learn to ride with training wheels.  Yet all training wheels do is to allow them to pedal - to ride a bike you have to learn to balance and you can't learn this with training wheels on.  The new "balance bikes" don't have pedals, you just have to learn to balance and then after that it's easy to pedal.  Schools are a bit like that.  We need to get rid of the training wheels, we need to learn how to balance the bike.  

Photo Credit:  Nate's new balance bike, by Aaron Wagner, 2008  AttributionNoncommercial

Friday, June 29, 2012

The Wrong Acronym

On my leaving card my head of campus wrote that I had been an inspiration in developing a vision for ITC.  ITC, I thought, WTH?  I’m amazed that after 3 years in the school, she still doesn’t know what I actually teach!  This tells me everything about how I was valued and how technology was valued.  All I can say is thank goodness I’ve moved on to a better place!

Here at ISTE I’m learning from giants!  I attended sessions with Julie Lindsay and Vicki Davis, I went to the keynote with Sir Ken Robinson.  I’ve connected with people that I used to work with, people that I will be working with in future and people who I’ve known “virtually” for years.  After the darkness of the night comes the dawn.  I’m energized by the way the sun is coming back into my life again.

Photo Credit:  Morning/Frydek by CzechR, 2008 AttributionNoncommercialNo Derivative Works

Thursday, June 21, 2012


One of my leaving cards
Today has been a pretty tough day for me.  My family and I (and 4 packers) packed up our life here in Switzerland into 160 boxes and these were loaded into a 20 foot container which is now about to set sail down the Rhine to Rotterdam and in 10 days time it will be loaded onto a container ship and will set sail for Nhava Sheva, in Mumbai.  It will be sometime in early August before we see our belongings again and until that time we will each be living out of one suitcase.  Sometimes it's good to reduce right down to the essentials - it helps you to appreciate what is important.

Moving from Switzerland, the country that for many years has been top of the quality of life index ratings, to Mumbai where the population of the city is 3 times the size of the country where I'm currently living and over a million people in the city live in slums, is likely to be a challenge - I think of it in terms of night and day.  I'm buoyed up by the support I've got from my new school, by the excitement of returning to the cutting edge of education and of educational technology, by the feeling that I'm valued and that I can make a contribution.  Actually I'm more excited by the possibilities of this move than by any move I've ever made before (and I've lived in 7 countries).

However farewells are hard - the teachers I've worked with have been some of my closest friends ever - the support they have given me has been second to none.  My current school is a tough place to work and yet when things are tough it can bring out the best in people.  Many are hanging on and hoping for better times.  Over the past few months many have also expressed their concern that they will not get the same level of support in the future, or the same vision of how technology can transform learning.  At times I feel like a rat deserting a sinking ship.

Today as I was packing I was feeling quite depressed.  I wrote a post on Facebook about how I felt seeing my entire life being packed in to boxes.  This is the reply I got:

Your whole life doesn't fit into boxes, it never could. Your life is all over this great world in the hearts and minds of your precious family and all the kids you've taught and all the people you've worked with. Bits and pieces fit into the boxes but your life...never.
This is also the person who reminded me earlier this week when I compared my current school to my new school as night and day:

I take it I am here in the 'night'? Night can be beautiful too right? All those sparkling stars....
So in the next few days I will say goodbye to these sparkling stars, the people who have stood by me over the past 3 dark years, who have built me up instead of putting me down, who have shown me that they share the vision, that they want something better from schooling than we are now being offered.  I am proud to call these people my friends, and I will miss them.

I am not good at goodbyes and I know I have 2 more days of them.  But I'm confident that these are not really goodbyes.  I will be a little bit ahead of everyone in place and time, but I am never going to be further away than a Skype call or an email.  Technology has transformed not just the learning, but also the leaving.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Learning by Numbers: Online Financial Tools

A guest post by Joseph Baker

Technologies that enhance the overall educational experience can make all the difference. We know about language-learning software and interactive history texts, but these types of tools can also be useful in other areas. One such field of education that is often overlooked is accounting and finance. With the amount of software and apps out there for children (and teenagers) to use, teachers have a variety of options to reinforce student interest. Below are some of the best options to get your little ones on their way to a master’s in finance.
Ø  For the very young: Planet Orange. In this free online game, recommended for first grade and up, astronauts are given a certain amount of money to spend on gear. You also have to play to "pay" for some of the games. But never fear, if you run out of cash you can find work around the galaxy to replenish your funds. This is a great first introduction to money management, with lessons specifically about budgeting, saving, spending and even investing.
Ø  For allowance savers: Computer budgeting tools are no longer just for accountants. This easy online tool (or app if you choose) allows you to track income and spending (automatically if purchases are made with a debit card) and work toward a goal. Graphs illustrate spending patterns, for example, telling your teenager that she spent half of her monthly budget on frozen yogurt. You can also set up weekly reminders that let you know if you're meeting your goals and on the right track to get the car, LEGO set, or spring break trip you've been planning. Younger kids may need help using it, but middle-schoolers and up will find it empowering.
Ø  For short attention spans: Penguin Cold Cash. This online game hides money lessons behind adorable animations and silly, skill-based games like Penguin Sliding and Iceberg Surfing. One unique feature is that the money resembles actual American currency, which helps kids work on identifying coins and bills. Players have to count their money and make change to enjoy the arcade games, but the money changing is secondary to the game play, making even the more distractible kids enjoy the learning sections.
Ø  For future gurus: iTrade. Why not let your fifteen-year old manage his or her own portfolio? For kids and teens with a real interest in investments and the stock market, this free game from iTunes looks exactly like a mobile stock management app. Users can choose stocks based on their history and knowledge about the company, and then track them through graphs and updates over the course of the month. If you earn the most money, you may end up at the leader board by the end of the month. If you make poor investment choices and lose big, you gain the next-best thing to real world experience with none of the heartache.
Ø  For the planner: CalcMooLator Pro. Funny name, serious software. This free app allows you to answer all kind of financial questions: renting verses buying, how much that minimum wage job will earn you by the end of the summer, and how much a new car will actually cost once the loan is full term. It’s a great way to give kids some perspective about costs, and to allow them to have a little control over their own money management.
Ø  For the teen shopping queen: ShopSavvy. If you notice a string of ill-considered purchases, put this free app on your high-schooler’s smart phone. It allows them to scan a product’s bar code (adding to the cool tech factor), then automatically see prices both online and nearby for that same item. It should prevent overspending and impulse purchases by putting more information up front. It also encourages thinking twice about your buying habits and tracking deals, a money-saving skill that has lifelong implications. Choose a reasonable price for your child’s next “must have” item, and they’ll actually receive a notification when the item reaches that price point.
Technology has made all sorts of new tools available. As kids, when we had questions about the stock market we had to pore over the newspaper. Our only experience in budgeting was shaking the piggy bank when we saw something we wanted. The youth of today have the unique opportunity to learn money management skills early. Whether they're fascinated by finance or bored by balances, these skills are every bit as critical as writing and chemistry. By using games, children and teens get a leg up on the real world while having a good time, which in business is referred to as a win-win.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Dream big, work hard, be worthy of your advantages

My daughter graduated last week and I liked the fact that in his speech her high school principal stressed that success was not measured simply in academic achievement, but also in being an all-round, balanced student.  Recognition was given to playing on the sports teams, to students who had gained the international award and those who had been involved in service to others.  I sat in the theatre for over 2 hours listening to speeches and waiting to feel - something.  Inspired, proud, sad perhaps now that Rachel is leaving school and setting off for university.  I've sat through over 20 such graduations before including my son's - and this could well be my last one.  I wanted this to be special.  But actually it wasn't.  I felt incredibly sad when I heard some of the limited ambitions of the graduates and their future dreams ("I want to sit on a beach drinking cocktails",  "I want a job where I don't have to work hard but where I can earn lots of money." etc).  After 15 years of education I would have hoped for better from them.  There were a few that were inspiring (one student wanted to set up a rugby club in a developing country, one said he wanted to have a happy family, one aims to be a doctor, another a marine biologist and so on).  But in general I was uninspired.  So much was about what they could get, not what they could give.  I searched hard in the speech the students made to find any reference at all, no matter how small, to how they were exhibiting the attributes of the learner profile, of international mindedness - after all this is the aim of the IB programmes - but much of what I heard was trite and ironic and incredibly shallow.

Then on Twitter I found another commencement address, this one from Wellesley College where the students were told they were not "special", that the world didn't owe them a living - that a good life is an achievement and not something that just falls into your lap.  That the purpose of education is not for material advantage but for "the exhilaration of learning".  That you should do the things you do because you love them and know that they are important, not because you hope for material advance or status.  That you should not focus on what good things will come to you, but on what good you can do for others.  This speech was about character and about the need for action.  It was about not waiting for inspiration and passion to find you, but accepting the challenge and going out and finding it for yourself.

Having listened to a number of speeches over the past couple of years when we have been told we are "one of the best" international schools, it was refreshing to hear that this phrase defies logic.  There can only be one best - and this accolade is vague and unverifiable.  You are either the best or you are not.  It's not something that I am really interested in, either as a parent or as a teacher.  Our daughter  recognizes that she has benefitted tremendously from her international education - even though for her it has been hard to move around.  In particular her 4 years in Thailand have shaped the person that she is today.  I'm hoping that the time she will spend in India before going to university will be another such character-building experience for her.

I saw the above graphic on Facebook this week too - posted by one of my friends.  Another good reminder of what the true purpose of education is:  critical thinking, challenge, compassion, morality and wisdom.  You can't measure "the best" in these, you can't give out awards for them, but as a mother I'm hoping that she has developed these in full measure.  I have done my best to model for her that trying to be someone else is a waste of the person you are: you have to be true to your core values and not compromise yourself to fit in with the people around you, if others don't accept you that's ok, you are not trying to please everyone.  I want her to know that giving up doesn't mean you're weak - sometimes it means you are strong enough and smart enough to let go.  (Thanks to Marc and Angel for their inspirational thoughts and writing that led me to accept the truth of that one).

We're moving on, we're letting go.  The countdown is on.  Just one more week.  We're dreaming big, we're working hard, we hope we're worthy of all that life has bestowed on us.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Strong Leadership

This morning, after a discussion with a colleague about how good principals should be modeling the behaviours they want to promote among their teachers, I was prompted to go back and re-read the T.H.E. Journey article entitled 7 habits of highly effective tech-leading principals.   These attributes are those that principals have identified as being those that an effective technology leader should demonstrate.  I felt that they all actually apply to any sort of educational leadership - both to school heads, department heads, tech directors and even to classroom teachers who want to demonstrate good 21st century skills.  Here are the 7 habits with a few comments on what I've experienced.

  1. Encourage an atmosphere that inspires innovation:  teachers and students will be prepared to take risks and try new things if they know that they won't be sidelined if these aren't always successful.  A good leader knows that people learn from mistakes, that no matter how many mistakes you make or how slowly you seem to be making progress, you are still ahead of those who are not even trying.  It's important for all leaders to make sure that their classrooms and schools are ones where  people feel safe to experiment in order to learn new things.
  2. Foster collaboration:  the PYP is all about collaborative planning and this involves respecting everyone's input, suggestions and points of view.  I remember a couple of years ago I was told that it wasn't my place to question the central idea of a unit of inquiry since I was just "the IT teacher" - actually the person who said that was wrong.  It was my place, as part of the planning team, to unpack the central idea and the lines of inquiry to ensure that the students had something authentic to inquire into.  For me, collaboration goes a lot further than just working together in our school teams.  As teachers I think we should be collaborating with other teachers globally and our students should be too.  I love it when I see school leaders walking the talk, using social media to learn with and from others.
  3. Be open to new ideas:  the PYP also promotes devolved or distributed leadership - which is important in international schools where principals and teachers are constantly moving.  Pedagogical leadership involves being reflective and valuing feedback.  It also involves recognizing that some teachers may have a great deal experience in a variety of international schools and that they bring with them great ideas that have already been tried and tested in other places.  Strong leaders value such expertise and ideas and do not feel threatened by them.
  4. Be a connected learner:  this is the key to keeping abreast of new technologies and how they impact on student learning.  Principals need to be connected and learning so that teachers and students have confidence in what the person can do, not just what they say.  
  5. Provide adequate resources:  these could be actual devices, websites or tools that allow collaboration.  Hardware and software can be expensive, but there are also many Web 2.0 tools that are free and there is an amazing amount of information in many different forms such as podcasts, videos and so on that students can access for free.  External professional development can also be expensive - perhaps it's cheaper to bring in a consultant for the whole school, perhaps there are people on staff with expertise that can be shared.  This year we've also explored using Skype to have our students connect with authors and other experts.
  6. Take risks:  today in our team leaders meeting we were talking about how challenges can be turned into opportunities given the right support.  The expression "if you don't risk anything, you risk everything" is true.  One of the attributes of the IB learner profile is risk-taker.  All leaders should be modeling this if they want students to develop this quality, as students are more influenced by what they see you do than by what they hear you say.  It's Ok to fail - this can be a powerful lesson to yourself and to others who see you cope with temporary setbacks.  You don't drown by falling into water, you drown by staying in it.
  7. Focus on your vision and your goals:  for me these goals involve empowering teachers and students to use the technology available to them to transform their learning.
Photo Credit:  Pebble Balancing by Bemep, 2007   AttributionNoncommercial 

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Digital Skills for 21st Century Teachers

A few days ago I was sent the final part of my goals sheet to fill in - have I achieved the goals that I set out for myself at the start of the year?  My main goal was to coach teachers to empower them to be more independent users of technology - but how could I measure this?  Today I came across a great post that listed 33 digital skills every 21st century teacher should have.  I thought that this list could help me.  Maybe I could pick out the most important 10 and see whether I thought I'd helped teachers to develop these skills this year.  So these are what I came up with for my top 10 list for teachers - some of these are skills that they need for working with their students, some are for developing themselves professionally:

  1. Conduct an efficient search to curate web-based content for classroom learning
  2. Use social bookmarking to share resources with colleagues and students
  3. Use blogs and wikis to create online platforms for students
  4. Create screen-capture videos and tutorials
  5. Be knowledgeable about online security
  6. Understand issues related to copyright and fair use of online materials and be able to detect plagiarized work in students' assignments
  7. Use collaborative tools for text construction and editing
  8. Use mobile devices like tablets
  9. Use social networking sites to connect with colleagues and grow professionally
  10. Compile a digital ePortfolio to highlight their own development
How have I done?  Have I supported teachers and encouraged them to develop all these skills?  Well I think that our ICTL team has worked really hard on search strategies with the students and teachers so I think their skills have definitely developed this year.  We haven't done much with social bookmarking however (most of the online resources we use are those I've found and shared on the student website).  The vast majority of our teachers have classroom blogs - some are using them better than others.  We do have screen capture software on the teachers' laptops and some have certainly used it.  We constantly stress online security, respecting copyright and so on (and also encourage our teachers to share their own work with creative commons licenses) and we recently led a staff meeting dedicated to these issues.  Teachers have used Google Apps extensively with our older students and some departments (most notably music and PE) have started to use iPads.  I feel we could do so much more with social networking, though some teachers have started to use social media as a professional development tool.  Two teachers have approached me for help with their ePortfolios.   My reflection is that teachers have started to develop most of these skills, though progress has been limited because my time and support were also limited.  I respect the steps they have taken to move forward and I hope they continue to be encouraged to develop these skills next year.

Photo Credit:  Respect and Believe by Denise Carbonell, 2009 Attribution

Monday, June 11, 2012

Quad Blogging - lessons learned

A couple of weeks ago we had our final Skype call this year with our quad blogging action research team to pull together the lessons learned from having 4 classes of students from schools around the world interact with each other using blogging.  As teachers we were inquiring into the impact of using blogging as a tool to improve writing.  The gut feeling from us all seems to be that quad blogging has led to a dramatic improvement in some students' writing - students have stepped up and put a lot more effort into their writing as a result of producing authentic blog posts for a specific audience.

Does quad blogging take more time?
For teachers who have been following along with our journey, who are perhaps thinking of getting involved in quad blogging themselves, one of the most common questions we've been asked has been about finding the time to fit the blogging in.  The reality for us was that time was no problem at all.  This was not something added onto the curriculum, it was not an "extra" that meant time was being lost from "covering" something else.  The reading of the buddy blogs was done both in class during the reading lessons and sometimes as homework - time was allocated for students to read through the blogs of their buddies and to think about how to write quality comments in response.  Students could go on to read blog posts from other students in the buddy classes if they had more time.

Quad blogging was also something that fitted in with what was already being done in the writing lessons:  in our 4th Grade the current writing unit was about the writing process so it involved students learning about how to plan and draft - the only difference was that this was not on a piece of paper but online.  The writing lessons in class were used by students to add comment and to make new posts.

How did we assess the quality of writing?
In order to know if students were improving their writing we had to first know their starting point.  In the week before the quad started, students were asked to self-assess a comment they had already written on a blog post and the class teacher was asked to assess a post students had made on his or her own blog/ePortfolio.    We used two rubrics for these assessments - one for writing and one for commenting - and the same rubrics for all 4 classes involved in the quad.  These rubrics were also used at the end of the process by the students and by myself to see how accurately the students were able to self-assess their progress.  One of the things we discussed today was that the rubrics we used with our students contained language that was more suitable to middle school students and to native English speakers.  Our 4th graders all needed to have the rubrics explained to them and to see examples of what good quality writing looks like.  Our ESL students needed to have a new rubric made for them that focused on just one thing in each section of the rubric.  We discussed whether we should make a new rubric to use with our students in future.  However we felt that the rubrics were very useful for students who wanted to self-extend.  They were posted on the class blog for all to refer to when writing posts and comments.

How did students choose whose posts to comment on?
In the first week, each of our students was allocated a buddy in ISB.  They did not know these students at all and so simply read the blogs and wrote their comments.  In the second week the class at ISP that was the focus of the quad was a class that students had already been in contact with before.  Students "knew" some of the students in that class and therefore wanted to choose whose blog to read.  During that week they also wrote a post on their own blogs that had been inspired by what they had read.  In the third week it was our turn to receive the comments.  I noticed that students felt quite an attachment to the students who left comments for them.  We asked our students to reply to these comments and some even chose to write an additional blog post as they were inspired by the comments they had received and wanted to give those students more information.

By the final week of the quad the students had already received many comments on their writing.  They had read and responded to these comments and had very definite ideas about whose blogs they wanted to read and respond to.  Some students naturally wanted to comment on the blogs of the students who had comments on theirs. Knowing that they were reading and commenting on students who had already read their own work was a powerful motivator for students in the final week of the quad.

How did students choose which posts to comment on?
One thing that came across very clearly was that students could only write quality comments on posts that contained quality writing.  Sometimes the students went back several weeks to find a post that their buddy had written that they felt they connected with and wanted to comment on.  Sometimes students with extra time chose other students that they did not already know and read their blogs and wrote even more comments.

How did students react to the comments on their posts?
Students reacted very positively to the comments made.  They appreciated the time and care that other students had put into this.  Some students were very pleased to receive constructive criticism as they realized this would help them to improve in future.  In some cases I found students to be more accepting of criticism from their peers than they would have been from a teacher.

Earlier this year our students had studied a unit of inquiry about belief systems and had made presentations as part of their summative assessment.  The students from MJGDS, who visited the published presentations, were able to give our students a lot more information about the Jewish religion.

Did quad blogging help the students become better writers?
Looking at the screenshots below you can see a typical example of how quad blogging has led to more quality comments.  In the pre-quad comment there is some attempt to connect with the author of the blog post and to ask her a question, however just a couple of weeks later the same student has been able to write a proper greeting and ending, has been able to make personal connections with the post,  and has been able to ask questions and encourage the student to visit her own blog to continue the dialogue.  The work is organized into paragraphs and contains a lot more writing and is more in-depth.

Did the technical skills of the students improve as well as their writing?
During the week that it was our turn to blog, our students added a lot of multimedia files to their blogs.  This is because the unit of inquiry they were studying at the time was How We Express Ourselves and the students had been involved in taking still photography, making music and performing a drama.  The students chose themselves what they wanted to add, and I showed them how to do it.  Since all students are using Posterous for their blogs, adding media is very easy both via email and via the web.

What support do class teachers need?
The teacher who was involved in the quad at our school is very tech-savvy and had already set up a thriving class blog this school year.  He'd also involved his class in a round of quad blogging earlier in the  school year.  When I discussed with him how best an IT facilitator could support homeroom teachers who were not so confident he remarked that the biggest help was on the technical side:  uploading posts, learning how to make QR codes, showing students how to add hyperlinks and how to create powerful multimedia to add to their blogs.  We felt that with teachers who were less confident with technology, the coach should encourage these teachers to learn how to do things along with the students.  As the students are learning how to add a video to their own blog, for example, the class teacher could be learning how to add a movie onto the class blog.  We discussed how the role of the class teacher was pivotal in making this project a success - everyone must be committed in order for it to work and benefit all the students.  The reason for our success was that we trusted that each of us would do our part and that the homeroom teachers that we worked with would take the time to conference with the individual students on their writing.

Our reflections on the action research
All the teachers and tech coaches involved in this process believe that quad blogging has been an enormous catalyst for improvement in student writing.  One of the reasons we are convinced that it was such a success is because of the commitment and dedication of the homeroom teachers involved.  We realized that we were chosen for this group because of our own commitment as tech coaches and that we in turn chose teachers who we knew would step-up to the challenge and be responsible for the success of the project.  Overall we felt that it was an extremely worthwhile thing to do, considering the impact on student writing in just 4 weeks.

We also realized that commenting on the blog posts is the key to success.  Students are keen and enthusiastic to put effort into their writing when they know that someone is reading it.  They are prepared to put time and effort into writing comments when they get replies to their comments.  We discussed how we could involve the wider school community in this - for example perhaps older students could also be encouraged to comment on primary student blogs, and perhaps we as coaches could run parent tech sessions so that parents and grandparents could also add quality comments to the blogs.

We also discussed that students might be keen to carry on quad blogging at different times of the year with their same buddies.  We decided that next year we will try to do 2 rounds of quad blogging, one in October and one in April, to see whether this can have even more impact on student writing.  As I'm moving to a new school I'll need to get that organized right at the start of the school year.

The students who appear in this post do so with the enthusiastic support of their parents.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Reviving Programming: Raspberry Pi

Earlier this month I was invited to attend a session at Cambridge University about Raspberry Pi.  As I didn't know much about this, I did some research and found that the mini-computer was designed as a way of stimulating the teaching of basic programming/computer science to students as a response to the concern that fewer and fewer students were applying to read Computer Science in UK universities.  Raspberry Pi is a very cheap ($25) linux box, about the size of a credit card, that can plug into a TV and keyboard.   It boots from an SD card, will run on 4 AA batteries or a power supply and at the moment doesn't even appear to have a case.  10,000 boards have been manufactured and the Raspberry Pi Foundation started shipping in March of this year.  My first thoughts are that it is very interesting - I can see a huge market for this in schools both in the UK and (because of the price) in many developing countries.  I'm excited and I want to know more!

While at Cambridge I'll also be doing the TeachMeet and making a presentation about the 3 IB programmes.  It seems there is a lot of talk about the IB in the UK at the moment, though I think the DP is the only programme of the 3 that is offered in UK schools.  My main focus will obviously be the PYP as although I've taught all 3 programmes this is the one I know best.  It will be very interesting for me to see how UK teachers react to a concept based curriculum - the national curriculum seems driven by content.

So first ISTE, and then Raspberry Pi and TeachMeet at Cambridge University.  I'm looking forward to a great summer of learning.

Photo Credit:  At Last! by Barney Livingston, 2012 AttributionNoncommercialShare Alike 

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Getting ready for ISTE

I'm excited!  In just 2 weeks I'll be in San Diego and attending ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) Conference.  I have only a little idea of what to expect as an ISTE newbie so I'm reading all I can to help me prepare.  I have attended a conference in San Diego before - I was there as a presenter at the International Reading Association pre-conference in 1999.  My memories are that it was absolutely huge!  When I look at the details for ISTE I think it will be even bigger - I see that last year there were 18,000 attendees and that 10,000 of these connected to the conference wireless network each day!

So I have started to plan ahead.  One of my new colleagues has already shared her planner with me which was very helpful  - I've been able to look at the group planner and to add my own sessions onto that.  However there are so many sessions I want to get to - and many are at the same time as others that I have marked down as "must sees".  I will need to have a serious think about this before I arrive.

On the Sunday I'm attending the Global Education Summit.  This is a mini conference that is a follow up to the online Global Education Conference.  I'm keen to participate in this as a way of globally connecting students and teachers.

On the Monday I want to attend the session on using 1:1 iPads in primary and I want to attend the session on learning spaces to support 21st century learners.  However these are both at the same time so I'm leaning towards the latter as I'm keen to know more about these as I'm moving to a brand new campus that has been designed with these learning spaces in mind.  There are a lot of sessions about iPads (of course!) and in preparation I went out and bought myself a new one yesterday.  I'm sure that during the week I'll get to a number of iPad presentations.  I'm also keen to attend sessions on BYOD as this is the way my new school is moving (yaay!)

The following day I'm planning on attending the presentation on what it means to be a digital leader.  There are several sessions about this during the week, including leadership in 21st century schools.  I'm also keen to get more insights into PD and tech integration.

As the week goes on I'm planning on attending sessions on blogging, literacy and numeracy in the digital age and new media and technologies in early childhood education.  I'm grateful that my new school is supporting my attendance at ISTE, even before I official start working for them!

Other advice I've read is to hang out in the lounges and participate in the conversations in the blogger's cafe.  The lounges are designed to stimulate networking - and I'm really looking forward to trying to connect with members of my PLN that I haven't met in person there.

I will be taking notes - and blogging of course (though probably only after the conference is over and I'm on holiday with the family in the UK).  It's such a marvelous experience - and I want to enjoy every minute of it while I am there.

Photo Credit:  Into by Gisela Giardino, 2008  AttributionShare Alike

Ending the year with all 6 strands

I've really enjoyed teaching the Grade 4s this year.  Some of this is no doubt because I've taught the same students now for 3 years in a row and it has been a real joy to watch their skills and confidence grow over this time.  Their final unit of inquiry this year is is How We Organize Ourselves.  The students are inquiring into the production, exchange and consumption of goods and services and are currently working in groups on their summative assessment which is to create a product or service to sell at a trading fair next week.  The IT has supported this by having the students use iMovie to create an advert to promote their product or service.  I thought it would be good to use the final unit to revisit all 6 ICT in the PYP strands and for me to observe how the students were able to work on these independently.

Investigate:  students have been inquiring into how to create a effective 30 second movie to persuade someone to purchase a good or service.  Building on our use of WeVideo earlier this year, where students made book trailers in their literature circles, the students were all aware that they needed to consider the storyline, the images and the audio.  They had already explored how photography could be used to convey a message in the How We Express Ourselves unit, and had used still photographs with the Ken Burns effect in WeVideo for the book trailers, but now it was time to investigate motion.  We looked at different movement shots such as the pan, tilt, pedestal, arc and zoom and we investigated when these shots could be best used.  The students had a couple of lessons to practice taking these different shots and to critique each other's techniques.

Organize:  We then discussed how a movie or advertisement is really a sequence of different types of shots.  We looked at long shots, medium shots and close ups.  We discussed how in a written story the first paragraph would be the introduction and that would contain the setting and the characters  We matched this up with the long shot and noticed that after this the movies would probably be a combination of medium and close up shots.  Again there was a lot of practice going on where students tried out multiple shots and combined them in different ways.  We ended this session with the students making a storyboard for their advert.

Collaborate:  Students were working in groups of 3-4 students and they needed to sort out who was going to do which parts of the movie.  One member of the group would need to be the camera person, the others would be the actors.  In some groups the camera person role was rotated so that all students could also be actors.  A few groups of students wrote background music for their advertisements using GarageBand.  Again, some groups worked on this together and some divided up the work.  They were all familiar with GarageBand from the earlier How We Express Ourselves unit.

Communicate:  The students were told they had a maximum of 30 seconds to get their message across.  They had to combine the movie, music and text in order to promote their product or service effectively.

Create:  The students then filmed their movie and worked in iMovie to edit it.  They cut and cropped their shots, added transitions, subtitles and titles, sound effects, music and voice-overs.  Eventually they exported the movies using Quicktime and then added them onto their blogs.

Be responsible digital citizens:  A few of the groups also wanted to use still photography, for example some wanted to use photos as backgrounds to the action.  We did this by projecting the images onto the SMARTboard and then having the students act in front of it (for example pretending to be on a surfboard in front of a photo of a wave, pretending they were in the desert and desperate for a drink in front of a picture of a sand dune and so on).  The students were careful to make sure they used only copyright free images from either Image Quest or by searching on Flickr for creative commons images.

As I reflect on this, the thing that struck me the most was how independent the students were.  This was the first time we'd used iMovie and the first time we'd tried out motion shots, but all the students were keen to try something new.  Although I did show them different camera techniques, they basically learned how to use iMovie simply by trying things out.  I saw my job being that of offering advice, rather than direct instruction - for example if a group had a movie that was longer than 30 seconds I would discuss alternatives with them as to how they could make the movie shorter.  Then I just left it up to them.

The movies are almost finished now and the trade fair will be held on Thursday next week.  The students have a few days next week to show their movies and to persuade the rest of the students at school to come and buy the things they are selling.  I'm excited to see how the trade fair will work out.  Fingers crossed for fine weather!

Photo Credit:  Silhouette Shooter by Thomas Hawk, 2006 AttributionNoncommercial

Friday, June 8, 2012


Yesterday was a public holiday and I went for a memorable hike with some of the very dear friends I have made in the time I've been living in Switzerland.  In the last few remaining days, I'm storing up these memories of mountains, lakes, clean air, blue skies, green fields and the friends who have shared the good times and supported me through the bad.

By a strange coincidence, yesterday was also the day when Anthony Salcito, the Vice-President of Worldwide Education at Microsoft, featured me as one of his 365 heroes of education.  Anthony's mission this year has been to highlight teachers, school leaders, policy-makers, business leaders, celebrities, NGO leaders and researchers who have embraced enhancing education as a core facet in their lives.  Thank you Anthony for honoring me in this way.

I started to think about the word hero.  This is a person who is idealized for courage, outstanding achievements or noble qualities.  I think this is a pretty apt description of many teachers.  The qualities that make someone a hero are internal ones and you have to be true to them.  As Seth Godin has written, you have to silence the lizard brain that wants you to be safe - being a hero involves taking risks.  You have to stop being afraid of what you are and what you want.  You have to be strong and set aside these fears.  Look into your heart - the hero is there.  Don't let anyone make you feel otherwise.

Photo Credit:  Shape of a Hoper by Gisela Giardino, 2007 AttributionShare Alike

Coming home -v- moving on

In October last year I had a conversation on Twitter with Tom Barrett which changed my life.  Tom had written about why he turned his back on teaching.  He talked about the importance taking charge of the situation and making positive change happen.  He suggested I read Linchpin, which I did.  When I'd moved to Switzerland from Thailand a couple of years before that I'd assumed that this was "coming home" - that I'd be back in Europe for good.  During the autumn of last year I struggled with this idea.  I knew all the reasons why we'd moved back were still valid - an elderly mother and son at university in the UK, a daughter who would be going to the UK herself in a year's time.  What I came to see was that my lizard brain was telling me to stay safe, to put up with a bad situation because I was "home".  Another part of my brain was telling me to stop selling myself short.  To go out again and find a school that was better.  To find administrators who would encourage me to grow.  To stop committing what one of my colleagues described as "professional suicide" by staying put.  To do something.  To move on.  Even if that meant moving out of Europe again.

There is a happy ending to this story.  I am moving on - to India.  I am inspired again.  I'm a little scared too - leaving is bittersweet (my daughter used this same word when she wrote about her feelings in the yearbook).  I have received the most overwhelming support from my friends, my colleagues, and many, many people who have never even met me.  I'm humbled by how many people believe in me and in what I can do given better circumstances.  Seth wrote the Linchpin Manifesto.  Inspired by this, I wrote my own.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Not so 21st century skills?

A few months ago I was talking with my brother about the pace of change.  He was arguing that innovation actually declined during the 20th century - that people were much more inventive at the start of the century than at the end.  I found this hard to believe as it seemed to me that the pace of change was actually increasing but then I started to investigate the facts behind this belief a little more.

Last week I was talking with a class of Grade 5 students about the scientific method.  Students were asking about cloning and they got onto talking about the possibilities of teleporting.  I told them that it might be possible to do this in their lifetime - what seems unbelievable today, is tomorrow's reality.  Back in the 1960s and 70s my brother and I were Star Trek fans.  The things that we saw on these programmes were definitely, in those days, science fiction, but these same things are now in general use.  For example we could see the characters communicating using devices that bear a remarkable similarity to flip phones, there were medical scanners, translators, things that resembled GPS devices, ear piece communicators and so on.  All these things, that to us were very futuristic, are now simply ordinary - so who's to say that in a few years teleporting won't also be a reality?

To prepare for my next conversation with the Grade 5s, I started to research into the top inventions of the 20th century.  These are listed on many websites and included the following:  radio, television, antibiotics, the submarine, nuclear power, rockets, the automobile, the airplane, computers and the internet.  I started to think about when these were invented - were they in the first or second half of the 20th century?  Well the submarine was first invented in the 1880s, but only started being used around the time of the First World War.  The automobile also became a possibility for many after the invention of the mass produced Model T Ford in 1908.  The radio was invented in 1916 and the television in 1923 - even the colour television was invented in the first half of the century, in 1940.  The airplane was invented in 1903, antibiotics in 1928 and the technology behind nuclear power in the 1940s.  Looking at this list of the most important inventions in the 20th century, therefore, it seems only 2 of these were invented in the second half - the personal computer and the internet.

So what were the skills that led to all these important inventions at the start of the last century.  It seems they included creativity and innovation, critical thinking and problem solving, communication and collaboration.  Do these sound familiar?  Aren't these the very same skills that we are now dubbing 21st century skills? It seems that these skills have always been important, though then as now it's very difficult to teach them.  How do you teach creativity, or assess it, for example?

The PYP has a list of transdisciplinary skills that I think are important for any education system in any century.  These include thinking skills which are so important to creativity and innovation, social skills and communication skills that are vital for global collaboration, self-management and research skills.  These skills are important not just in the PYP programme of inquiry, but for all learning - both in the classroom and for life outside school.

Photo Credit:  The Cyber Ring by Gilderic Photography, 2012 AttributionNoncommercialNo Derivative Works

Friday, June 1, 2012

Thinking about child -v- adult learners

The first real experience I had with adult learners was with a health education programme and it was that experience that led me to decide to return to the UK to train as a teacher of children.  I have spent the past 30 years happily teaching all ages of children, from early learners aged 3 to 18 year olds who were getting ready to go to university.  During my time in Thailand I taught both the oldest and the youngest students in the school and I enjoyed the daily variety tremendously.  Over the past 3 years, however, I've thought a lot more about teaching adults.  Some of this was because of running PD opportunities for teachers in my current school, some was because I trained to be a PYP workshop leader and some was because I started doing online courses and thinking about being an adult learner myself.

There's a different word for the art and science of teaching adults, as opposed to children - androgogy. This word was first coined by the German educator Alexander Kapp almost 200 years ago, but was applied to modern education by Malcolm Knowles in 1967 who believed adults are self-directed and autonomous learners and so teachers need to be more facilitators of their learning.  Knowles believed that adults had different motivations than children for wanting to learn and therefore need a different approach:

  • they need to know the reason why they are learning something
  • they learn through experience - including making mistakes
  • they are responsible for their own decisions and so need to be involved in the planning and evaluation of their work
  • they are interested in subjects that have immediate relevance
  • they respond best to problem-based rather than content-based learning
  • they are internally rather than externally motivated
As I read through this list I thought it could equally well be applied to everyone - I think children learn best when all these factors are taken into account too.

At the PYP Workshop Leader Training in 2010 we discussed the implications of adult learning for us when running workshops.  I had the opportunity to put this training into practice last year when I led a Making the PYP Happen workshop in Paris.

Self-directed, autonomous learners: adults learn best when they collaborate as active participants in the learning process and are involved in determining how and what they will learn and the pace at which they will learn.  For me this implied that I needed to plan sessions that were interactive and where the participants had choices.  In order to meet the individual needs of the adult learner it's important to know about the participants and what they want to get out of the workshop.  Reflecting on the two recent courses I've done through the ASB Online Academy, I can see that these were definitely being taken into account.  We were invited to introduce ourselves and explain what we hoped to get out of the course before the actual lessons started, and we could work through the lessons at our own pace whenever it was convenient time for us.  

Goal  and relevancy oriented:  because adults know what they want to get out a workshop they want to be involved in work that has immediate and direct relevance and application.  As a workshop leader I know it's important to give the learner outcomes up-front and to ask the participants what their goals are so that the workshops can be tailored to meeting these needs.  

Practical and problem-based:  adults are impatient with theories unless they can apply them to their practical experiences.  They need their learning to be expressed in action.

Knowledge and experience:  adults bring their knowledge and experiences to the learning - these experiences can be personal and professional and can even be habits that interfere with new learning.  Adults need to appreciate that their attitude is their own choice and this will affect what they get out of the learning.

Reflection:  adults learn through reflecting on their own and others' experiences and often enjoy reflecting in social situations.  It's really important for workshop leaders to give a time and a place for these reflections (at our WSL course we called these "fireside chats" and had these several times a day).

Stage of development:  adults are at different stages of development - personal, chronological and professional - and these stages affect the learning.  For workshop leaders this is difficult because the participants can be at all of these different stages.  This is very different from teaching a class of students who are all roughly the same age and at the same stage of development.

Competing interests:  adults may have different motivations for taking courses.  Some of these reasons could be to meet external expectations or requirements, others may simply be there for their own interest.  Adults also have other demands on their energies and time:  money, schedules, interest, families and so on which may affect how committed they are to the learning.

Different learning styles:  many adults have already developed a dominant learning style which is why it's important to provide choices.

Environment:  adults need to learn in trusting and respectful environments - they have potentially a greater "loss of face" when failing than children.  They need to be given the freedom to experiment and also the challenge to acquire new perspectives.

In the new school year I'm going to embark upon an Ed.M through Boston University.  I'm curious to see how my experiences as an adult learner can also help me learn to be a better teacher of adults.

Photo Credit:  Then and Now by Svein Halvor Halvorsen, 2008  AttributionNoncommercialNo Derivative Works