Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Coaching: independence -v- dependence

My personal goal this year was to focus on coaching in order to empower our teachers to take on the ownership of technology.  Earlier this year I wrote about how urgent I felt this was, as this is my last year here, and how my aim was to give teachers the confidence and skills to go forward by themselves in empowering students to use technology.  In previous years I already tried different models of handing over the technology to teachers - I was sure that these would work because I'd used them before in previous schools and they'd been very successful.  For example in my first year I started a Techie Breakie initiative with a group of teachers, one from each grade.  My hope with this was that these teachers would end up being the first point of contact for other teachers in their grade level.  However very few of these teachers remained in the same grade the following year, which meant I had to start the process all over again.  Another issue I faced was a chronic lack of time for teachers to practice and implement the skills they were learning in these sessions - again this was a different experience than in previous schools.  So having failed quite dismally during my first 2 years to really bring about the changes that I felt were so obviously needed, this year I tried a different approach which was to try to coach towards independence.

At the start of the year I did a lot of researching into what it meant to be a coach.  Very early on it was clear to me that if the role of a coach was to evaluate teachers' skills (which apparently will the the role next year, it's already been written into the job descriptions of the new teachers replacing me) then I would find myself losing hearts and minds.  Nobody wants me to come into their classes to evaluate them!  Today I was looking at the tweets from #uwctech and I saw that this very issue was being addressed by Bill Powell who is facilitating a 3 day workshop for the school's tech mentors.  He said coaching builds leadership capacity - it shines a light on the internal resources of a person.  This can only happen in a trusting relationship based on respect, competence, integrity and a personal regard for others.

As I read further through the #uwctech tweets I saw so much that spoke to me about the power of coaching.  For example Bill talked about the fact that learning takes place when there is appropriate support and challenge (which sounds to me like he is talking about Vygotsky's zone of proximal development).  The role of a coach is therefore to offer that support and create the challenge.  We all need to move out of our comfort zone in order to grow so if the coach is simply providing support but not challenge, then the result is comfort and not growth.   However simply providing that challenge without giving the appropriate support will just lead to increased anxiety and a fear of failure.

This is the tweet that summed up for me the reason not to have coaches in an evaluative role:

Coaching focuses on responsibility, not accountability. It's internal, not external. It's reflective, not evaluative.

Later as I was continuing to catch up with the tweets another one jumped out at me as showing the power of coaching as a way of truly transforming, rather than just enhancing, the learning:

Coaching = transforming, collaborating = forming, consulting = informing, evaluating = conforming. 

As I approach the last few weeks of school I'm reflecting on how far I've managed to achieve my personal goal this year.  Have I empowered teachers to take more ownership of technology - to some extent, yes.  Some teachers are certainly more independent in their own use of technology (for example their class blogs) and their students' use of technology (for example they are happy to lead lessons in the IT lab or using the laptops).  However I'm still disappointed that we haven't managed to create a group of  peer-support teachers who are seen as tech leaders in their subjects or grade levels - those who are at the cutting edge of new technologies and pedagogies and who are using technology for transforming learning and who are willing to share this expertise with others in the same way the Tech Mentors at UWCSEA and the Tech Pilots at YIS appear to be doing.  Of course at these schools technology is seen as more of a priority than ours and the tech coaches appear to be given wonderful support by their school administrators, which makes a huge difference.  When I reflect on what I've been able to achieve then I have to admit that I'm dissatisfied with the baby steps we have made in comparison with these schools.

When I write about my progress (or lack of progress) in this blog I know some people reading it feel rather put out - they think that by reflecting honestly on my performance that I am being disloyal to the school, that I am simply a "glass half empty" person.  In some ways this is true because I'm never satisfied with mediocre achievements when I know I can do really great things, given the right circumstances.    I beat myself up constantly because I know I've done a poorer job here than in previous schools where I had more support.  As Bill Powell so rightly pointed out, I've had the challenge of trying to bring about monumental changes without the support I needed, so I have ended up both anxious and feeling a failure.  I wish I could pat myself on the back and say I was happy with doing very little as some people who think the glass is half full appear to be able to do - unfortunately I can't.  For me I cannot go along with the fake hype - this is not just a job that I do from Monday to Friday in order to enjoy the great quality of life here in the hours not at work.  For me being an excellent teacher is part of who I am.  I don't just want to be "good enough".

But there's another side to the glass half empty person that I am too.  I know the glass is half empty because I've already drunk the other half.  What I'm saying is that I know what it's like to work in a good place and to be a good teacher.  When I say the glass is half empty it's because I'm reflecting from a position of knowledge and experience.  The glass is half empty because the other half is inside me.  It's there because of all the wonderful opportunities that I've had in the past.  It's there because people valued and appreciated and mentored me.  It's there because these great educators created a sense of empowerment in me - so that when I no longer worked with them I was no longer dependent on them.  My goal this year was to create people who felt the same way.  Who, when I left, were empowered to use technology as effective tools for their own professional learning, who were making choices to use technology to improve student learning, who were making connections with other teachers in professional learning networks to share their ideas and to get new ideas to take their students' learning forward.  Have I succeeded in that goal - it's too soon to tell.

My new school has a thriving Tech Integration Group - today I was sent a link to an eBook they have just produced showing innovative ways they have used technology in their classrooms.  They have already made their action plans for next year and I'm excited to be in a position where I'll be helping them to implement these plans.  I can see the Early Childhood team have been looking into differentiated instruction using iPads to help students make autonomous choices about their learning.  Next year they want to use them to explore more higher-level thinking such as creativity.  I can see Grade 1 are looking into digital storytelling and Grade 2 are sharing their learning journeys using ePortfolios with the teachers handing over the responsibility for these to the students as they grow in confidence using the tools. These students already feel ownership of their blogs and are able to choose what to add to them.  I'm excited that next year they are moving to use these more reflectively and to have the students write quality comments on each others' blogs.  Grade 3s are using ePortfolios to assess their own learning too.   They are thinking of using WeVideo which I feel will be an amazing tool.  Language teachers are coming up with ideas for tools that will help them achieve their goals - hopefully I can share some that have worked well with students here.  Grade 4 teachers are working on learning blogs for sharing their thinking about their learning.  Grade 5 have also drawn up goals.  I can see they are working on digital citizenship and publishing for authentic audiences.  I feel in a wonderful, privileged position to be able to share in these achievements this year and to have the time to think about how best I can help them move forward next year.  Already though I can feel they are empowered and independent.  I can feel the focus on professional learning.  I can feel the support.  I feel that we can do amazing things.  And I can hardly wait for this new challenge to start!

Photo Credit:  Cielo e catene by Blunight 72, 2006 AttributionNoncommercial 

Recognition for this blog

I heard this morning that my blog has been recognized as one of the most fascinating teacher technology blogs of the year by the Accelerated Degrees Program in the USA, which promotes online degrees and distance learning.  The award has come based on my blog posts about the SAMR model and how I have encouraged teachers to use this model in practical ways with their students to transform learning.  The criteria for this award is that the blog has to inspire your audience and also encourage discussion through comment posting.

As people who know me personally will understand, writing a blog and continuing to post about my thoughts and wonderings about education and in particular how technology can improve learning has not always been easy.  I'm delighted therefore that my blog continues to inspire thousands of other teachers worldwide.  The feedback I get from my readers and from the other wonderful educators that I have connected with as a result of my writing is priceless.  Thank you all.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

The pedagogy of self-esteem

I followed a link on Facebook today, from a teacher in South America which took me to the Education News article The Unteachables.  It's a controversial opinion - that the pendulum may have swung too far.  We have left behind the 19th century pedagogy of rote learning of facts and harsh discipline, and moved towards a more progressive approach to education that emphasizes inquiry, student interest and motivation.  According to Janice Flamengo the result has been the "unteachable student" who has been bombarded with messages (not just from school I imagine) about how excellent he or she is, how gifted and creative, how full of potential.  The argument is that these students lack both skills and character.

Perhaps this is true in the author's home country.  I'm not at all sure this is true in the schools where I have worked.  When I taught in the UK in the 1980s I would say many of my students suffered from a lack of self-esteem and were facing a life of working down the local coal mine or in a factory.  When I moved to teaching in international schools I noticed immediately that the students had a more positive self-esteem and that much of this came from home (and sometimes from previous schools).  Of course there were also some students who had been brought up with an expat lifestyle where everything had come relatively easily and they expected that their school work and high grades would come with very little effort on their part.  Some did view their teachers in the same light as their other paid employees - there to satisfy their whims - but in general I would say such students were not typical.

I think that the IB emphasis on the learner profile and the PYP attitudes could be reasons why students in international schools are not seen as "unteachables".  The aim is that students learn in stimulating and provocative learning environments and that they are empowered to value their learning and to take responsibility for it.  Teachers in these schools know that students are competent, and they listen to them.  Students are encouraged to be curious, to explore and to ask questions and the aim is that students become independent, autonomous learners.  In such situations, the impact on their self-esteem and on their character can only be a positive one.

Photo Credit:  Pendulo de Foucault by Javi Masa, 2011 Attribution

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Walking with Apps

This weekend was a long weekend - 4 days - because of the religious holidays in Switzerland.  On one of the last weekends that I'll be here I wanted to go out into the mountains and hike.  I'm determined that my memories of Switzerland will be positive ones and so I wanted to build up a few more memories.  In the past if I was planning a hike I'd have searched the internet for places to walk and to stay, looked up train and bus timetables and taken a map.  This time all I took was my iPhone.

The first app I used was the SBB mobile app.  This is a whole travel planner in one app.  You put in your starting point and where you want to go, the date you want to go and the time of departure and the app generates several different possible journeys.  This app works on all public transport, so it shows buses that connect with trains.  In usual Swiss efficiency, you never have to wait for these connections.  When you have decided where you want to go and which form of public transport you want, you can then buy your ticket - directly onto your iPhone.  This generates a QR code on your screen that can be scanned by the ticket inspectors on the trains.  I have no idea if other countries have similar apps for their public transport - but if not they should.  It makes planning your journey incredibly easy.

The other app that I used on my hike was the Gottardo Guide.  This app contains a map with red dots showing the highlights of the hike.  As you hike your location is shown up as a blue dot, and when you are in the vicinity of the points of interest the app generates a train whistle that alerts you to the information about where you are.  There are photos and also suggestions for side trips that you can take slightly off the route.  There's even a quiz you can do as you hike.  The only drawback is that this app is all in German.  No problem for me as I was hiking with a German friend, but it would be useful if it came in other languages too.  This app has been nominated as the best app of the year.

Both these apps are free and certainly make planning days out very easy.  The photo taken at Silenen was also taken on my iPhone using the app Pro HDR.  It shows the oldest inhabited house in the canton of Uri and the Bristenstock in the background.  Pro HDR is not a free app - it cost me Chf 2, I think.  With the latest version, which got updated for free as I'd bought the earlier one, there are lovely filters and frames and the option to zoom.  I've blogged about this app before because I love it.  It takes pictures very close to what the eye actually sees.  My point and shoot camera tends to wash out the skies and mountains, or else has everything in the foreground in the shadow.  Pro HDR actually takes 2 photos, one of the light areas and one of the dark areas and then merges the 2 together.  The app has automatic as well as manual mode.  Mostly I use automatic.  

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

One Laptop Per Child Program Shows Promise

A guest post by Tony Harris

The One Laptop Per Child Program (OLPCP) is a highly ambitious endeavor that has aimed to provide children in developing countries with a "rugged, low-cost, low-power, connected laptop." An example of one such laptop developed through the OLPCP is the XO-1, also known as the "$100 laptop." This inexpensive laptop has been distributed to children to give them the opportunity to access a wealth of knowledge and to express themselves. The XO-1 is manufactured by Quanta Computer, a Taiwanese based computer company. The OLPCP has worked with other companies to create and distribute newer models of inexpensive laptops for children.

Studies have revealed a mixed bag of results in terms of the effectiveness of the OLPCP throughout various regions of the world. The Inter-American Development Bank (IADB) conducted a study of more than 300 rural schools in Peru, a developing nation that received almost 1 million laptops through the OLPCP. The study revealed that the three-year-old program did narrow the technological gap between the rich and poor, and helped boost elementary school students' learning abilities.

However, the study also revealed that the 900,000 children who received free laptops did not exhibit any improvement in math and critical reading skills. Also, the acquisition of these free laptops did not seem to motivate students to study more than before. The students did, however, demonstrate a stronger vocabulary and ability to solve challenging logical sequences.

It is clear that the OLPCP has shown signs of promise in rural Peru but that more needs to be done. It is very important to note that many of the instructors simply did not receive adequate training in terms of properly using the program's laptops. In many Peruvian schools, instructors only obtained 40 hours of training prior to facing their students, which is just not enough. Instructors must be trained more thoroughly in handling OLPCP laptops. The fact that the OLPCP in Peru has helped to narrow the technological gap between the rich and poor is a very positive sign.

More importantly than anything else, the program has given poor children the chance to quickly enter into the digital age. Most well-paying jobs throughout the world will require at least some understanding of computers. Students who receive free laptops through the OLPCP are on their way to developing the skills necessary for higher education and for life in general.

Tony Harris is an online instructor and coordinator for The College City. As an online instructor, Tony is very interested in understanding how to maximize the effectiveness of technology to transform education in developing countries.

Monday, May 14, 2012

In the Zone - part 2

Having considered how students need to be "in the zone" in order for learning to occur, I've now started to think about how this can also apply to teachers.

I think that for a lot of my teaching career I've been "in the zone".  Of course as a newly qualified teacher I had a lot to learn and I relied on the support of other teachers who had more experience.  My first job involved teaching teenagers who needed learning support - a job my degree in geography and history certainly hadn't prepared me for.   Later when I moved schools I also started to teach English, which was another new subject for me.  I stayed at each of these schools in the UK for 3 years.  I think by the time I'd managed to master what I was doing I moved on.  I never got bored because I never really repeated much.  I was never frustrated because I always had great colleagues who gave me support when I took on new things.

Moving overseas to an international school probably put me back "in the zone" again.  I taught students from so many different countries - in one class in my first year there were 13 different languages being spoken by the students.  In my time there I also took on 3 new IB programmes and moved around to different areas of the school when I became too comfortable.  Each time I moved to a different grade or division of the school it was challenging but I always had someone who helped me learn and so it was also rejuvenating.  There were also wonderful initiatives that I got involved in such as the Arctic to Mediterranean Butterfly Sight project, where I learned from interacting with other teachers in different countries.  There was a feeling of community in my school as we worked together with other teachers on Project Zero and Visible Thinking.  Living in a country where I had to learn a new language also put me "in the zone".

My next international school was in Asia.  This time I was in the cultural zone, trying to adapt to a new way of life and pushing forwards into the new frontiers of technology in education.  I think I love teaching with technology because it is always changing,  because I am always "in the zone" and learning something new.

Some teachers are comfortable with teaching the same grade every year, or sticking with the same units of inquiry, but for me I love change and I love learning.  I've come to realize that a lot of the frustrations I've felt recently are because I'm no longer "in the zone" and I find it disappointing that I'm not being encouraged to learn anything new.  I'm excited about moving on to new adventures, doing things in new ways, considering new and different ideas of best practice in 21st century education.  I'm looking forward to being back "in the zone" again next school year.

Photo Credit:  Compare and Contrast by Tom,  2008 AttributionNoncommercial 

In the Zone

In my last school I had a poster up in the lab that said:

I do, you watch
I do, you help
You do, I help
You do, I watch


I've started to think about how this ties in with Lev Vygotsky's Zone of Proximal Development.  Basically this is the area where learning takes place, it's the area between what a student can do alone (what he or she has already mastered) and what the student can do with adult support.  Vygotsky believed that children first learn by watching and then imitating adults, with assistance.  Over time children are able to do these things without assistance, and then increasingly can take on more and more challenging work.  Tasks that are too simple do not promote learning.  Tasks that are too complex are frustrating and no learning occurs.  Last week at our staff meeting the question was asked how often our students are "in the zone".  In an ideal situation, I suppose, they should be in the zone all the time.  What this means for a teacher is that each student has to be presented with a task that is just out of reach of his or her present abilities - this is different for everyone and so the work has to be differentiated.  The movie below explain this very well and it is something that I think we all need to consider when we plan our lessons.  With the above statements I guess that by the time you reach the last one, students are no longer in the zone and it's time to think of something more challenging for them.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Reflection time

At the end of last month I followed a tweet and ended up at a blog post that was about 12 things you should be able to say about yourself.    I thought it would be interesting to see, as I'm coming up to the end of my 30th year of teaching, which of those could be applied to how I view myself as a teacher.

I feel I'm doing well with these:

  • Follow your heart and your intuition - this is what Steve Jobs said.  Live the life you want to live, and be the person you want to be.  Act on your decisions, try again after you make a mistake, don't let others put you down.  What I've come to see is that in life things don't always go as planned but you can't let these disappointment discourage you.  When I reflect on my 30 years of teaching I would say that 27 of these have been good years.  For me  I think the 90% of good experiences in good schools has been worth the 10% of bad experiences in mediocre ones.
  • I am proud of myself - sometimes it's easy to close your eyes and ears and pretend you don't see or hear the bad things that are happening.  I'm not the sort of person to do that.  I have strong principles and I will voice them.  I will never compromise on a child's safety, either on or off line.  I will never use unlicensed software, no matter how unpopular this decision may be.  I will never close my eyes to injustice and unfair treatment.
  • I am making a difference - when you make a positive impact in someone's life, it makes a positive impact in your own.  Teaching has often been called the noblest of professions.  I agree.  We can take ordinary kids and make them extraordinary.  We can take good teachers and make them better.
  • I am making my time count - I've given up wasting my time on things and people who couldn't care less.  I want to work with great teachers, I want to do wonderful things, I want to see amazing places, I want to experience what life can offer.  I once read that time is the only thing that you can spend that makes you richer.  On the other hand, a day wasted is a day you never get back again.  Every day I try to do something that counts, we owe it to our students to give them the best future they can have.

I am not doing so well with these:

  • I am happy and grateful - I know that happiness is a choice.  I know the way I view things is a choice.  I'm working on letting go of negative experiences.
  • I have forgiven those who hurt me - I'm still working on this and probably this is the hardest of all for me.  I don't want to drag a grudge against anyone around with me - the only person that hurts is myself as it makes me sad and bitter.  What I find most difficult, however is not to forgive those who have hurt me, but those who have hurt my family.
  • I take full accountability for my life - it's easy to realize I've made a mistake but then I need to do something about it.  I need to own my choices and learn from my mistakes and stop blaming others. 
  • I have no regrets - I hope to be able to say this one day.  I'm working hard on letting these regrets go.
This post was inspired by Marc and Angel Hack Life

Photo Credit:  Natural Narcissim!! by Taro Taylor, 2005 AttributionNoncommercial

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Digital Tools for Project-Based Learning in Primary

Suzie Boss and Jane Krauss's book Reinventing Project Based Learning is a wealth of information about digital tools, the internet and Web 2.0 and how these tools can be used to meet the essential learning needs of 21st century students.  Here are some ideas taken from Chapter 3 of the book, all of which I've used with primary students and which I have tried to align with the new ICT in the PYP strands.

The need for ubiquity - ICT in the PYP strand:  Investigate, Communicate
Today's students want to be able to learn any time and anywhere.  They access information on mobile devices and want to be connected to the web wherever they are.  Tools that support this learning include using Google Docs and virtual desktops such as NetVibes.

The need for deep learning - ICT in the PYP strands:  Investigate and Organize, 
Students can be encouraged to find primary sources online.  Once they have found the material they need they need to be able to sort and organize it, analyze it and be able to communicate it in order to express their learning.  Great tools for keeping track of sources are Delicious and Diigo.

Making learning visible - ICT in the PYP strands: Create and Communicate
Students want to be able to show their learning in many different ways, for example using mind-maps, photographs, multimedia, graphs, models, animations and digital art.  Good visual tools include Google Earth, Flickr, Thinkmap and Visuwords (graphical dictionaries and thesaurus) and Mindmeister.

Expressing and sharing ideas, building communities - ICT in the PYP strand:  Collaborate and Communicate
Students want learning to be social.  They like being able to use Web 2.0 tools to express their ideas and to connect with others.  Good tools I've used with students for this include Wikispaces, Micromobs and Skype.  Some teachers have successfully used Twitter to connect their class with others.

Teaching and learning with others - ICT in the PYP strand:  Collaborate
Great examples of collaborative tools include Wikispaces, VoiceThread, Google Docs and WeVideo.  Students really like the chat and comments features of Google Docs.  For large videos that we have made in collaboration with other schools we've used Dropbox.

Research - ICT in the PYP strands:  Investigate, Organize and Be Responsible Digital Citizens
Although we don't encourage our students to simply search on Google, we do teach them information literacy and search strategies.  At the same time we teach students how important it is to bookmark and tag their findings using Delicious and to cite their sources.  With our younger students I've found setting up a Google Custom Search to be a great way for students to safely search among a number of pre-selected resources.

Project Management - ICT in the PYP strand:  Organize
It's vital to teach students how to mange their time and their work during projects.  In the PYP these skills are very much in demand during the PYP Exhibition in Grade 5.  In the past we've used Google Calendar and Netvibes to help students organize their time well.  We have set up a Learning Platform for students using Google Sites so that students can quickly access everything they need from a single home page.

Reflection - ICT in the PYP strand:  Communicate
The best projects are those that encourage a variety of opinions and perspectives and that allow students to reflect on their progress.  The best tool I've found for this is blogging - we use both Blogger and Posterous and we teach our students how to write quality comments on each other's posts.

What are your favorite digital tools for project-based learning with primary students?

Photo Credit: Rubik Apps by  C├ęsar Poyatos, 2011 AttributionNoncommercialShare Alike 

Sunday, May 6, 2012

What do you do when you don't know? (Part 5)

Over the past few weeks I've been thinking about the Habits of Mind as described by Art Costa and Bena Kallick.  These habits of mind are the dispositions that a student has towards behaving intelligently when confronted with problems.  My question has been, do the PYP Attitudes and the IB Learner Profile also promote these habits of mind?  How closely are these linked?  Over the past 4 posts I've looked at each habit of mind and have seen that certainly there is a great similarity between them and the attributes promoted by the IBO.  This is my final post about these habits of mind.

Taking Responsible Risks - IB Learner Profile: Risk Taker
Of all the attributes of the Learner Profile this one has probably been the most controversial - many have questioned whether this is perhaps a "Western" value.  However when you consider the way the IB defines risk taker it is in a way that seems to fit very well into the habits of mind:
They approach unfamiliar situations and uncertainty with courage and forethought, and have the independence of spirit to explore new roles, ideas and strategies.  They are brave and articulate in defending their beliefs.
Costa and Kallick write about risk takers as being pioneers, having an urge to go beyond their comfort zone and established limits and live on the edge of their competences.  They write about the fact that the risks are calculated ones, not just impulsive ones, that the consequences have been considered, but that these people are comfortable with uncertainty and that they accept failure as a challenge to growth.  Here is an interesting thing:  they write that it is only through repeated experiences that risk taking becomes educated.  Therefore it seems that schools are a "safe" place to give students that experience.  We want students who are motivated by the challenge of finding the answer to their questions, not students who just want to get things "right".  We want students to take intellectual risks, to think new ideas.  Since the Learner Profile also applies to teachers, we want to encourage this risk taking attitude among teachers too. If teachers are trapped by fear and mistrust, then how can they model risk taking to their students?

Finding Humor
I couldn't find an equivalent for this habit of mind, but I can appreciate that it is an important one, particularly as it seems to be linked to creativity and higher level thinking skills such as anticipation, finding novel relationships, visual imagery and making analogies.

Thinking Interdependently - PYP Attitude:  Cooperation
 In an age when cooperation and collaboration are highly valued, being able to think interdependently means that students are sensitive to the needs of others.  Being able to pool collective knowledge, being able to see things from another perspective, being able to think critically and to accept constructive criticism from others, all these are skills that are important in the 21st century.  Another PYP attitude is independence.  This refers to thinking and acting independently, with students making their own judgements based on reasoned argument.  Being able to justify ideas is also an important part of working with others.

Learning Continuously - PYP Attitude:  Curiosity
This attitude is embodied in those who are life-long learners.  They are curious about the nature of learning, about the world, its peoples and cultures.  They are constantly searching for new and better ways of doing things, they are continually improving themselves.  Costa and Kallick write "intelligent people are in a continuous learning mode."  Problems and conflicts are simply seen as valuable learning opportunities.  People who are curious are also open minded - they are interested in the unknown even when it might be outside their comfort zone.  Curiosity is what makes students eager to learn.

The habits of mind as defined by Costa and Kallick give students a way of asking intelligent questions when they don't immediately know what to do.  It gives them the ability to reflect on past experiences, consider the resources they may need, to think flexibly and consider alternatives, to develop strategies and to consider other people who may be able to help them.  They write that these habits of mind transcend the subject traditionally taught in schools and that they are relevant to success all areas of life.

Photo Credit:  Why by Silvain Masson, 2009  AttributionNoncommercialNo Derivative Works

Everything will be alright in the end

Everything will be alright in the end.  If it's not alright, it's not yet the end. - John Lennon

Recently this quote has been made famous by the film The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, which I watched last week after being told by many that I should see it as I'm moving to India.

As I'm coming up to the end of my time in Switzerland I'm reflecting on this quotation and certainly hope that it is true.  I think that over the past couple of years I have been instrumental in bringing in a new vision of how technology can improve learning and this has been validated by teachers who are constantly asking me "What are we going to do without you?"  (My response - you will be doing all the things that I do - you are empowered - you don't need me anymore).  Many are sad that I'm going and at times I'm sad too that this didn't end up being a great experience for me.  I still deeply regret all the things I haven't been able to do, the time that has been wasted in looking backwards instead of forwards.  I'm still working hard on forgiving both myself and others for the wasted opportunities.  I'm looking forward to working at full capacity again in a community of reflective practitioners focused on the needs to 21st century learners.

Over the past 2 years I've also been contacted by quite literally hundreds of people who have told me that my blog has been an inspiration to them.  Last week I was approached by Worldwide Education at Microsoft who want to feature me in their Heroes for Education Worldwide.  It's an honor to read that I am considered one of the "people who have embraced enhancing education as a core facet in their lives."  I've also been approached by the IBO to write for their Journeys professional development series - this book to be Journeys to Communities of Practice and dealing with professional inquiry.   When I reflect on this journey what I see is that over the past few years my experience here has led me to reach out and build up a community of practice that spans the globe.   Sometimes it's hard to imagine that what I'm doing in a little part of Switzerland with a few hundred students can have an impact around the world, but in weeks like this I have come to see that it is true.  When times are tough you grow as a person.  I have grown a lot from this experience and know for certain, that while I am closing a chapter this is not the end of the journey, actually the journey is just about to become a whole lot more interesting.

Photo Credit:  Untitled by Alex, 2009 Attribution

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Technology Levels the Educational Playing Field


A guest post by Joseph Baker

The traditional picture of college includes 18-year olds to 20-somethings living on or near campus, registering for classes at the Office of the Registrar, buying your books at the campus bookstore and attending lectures in large classrooms. Advances in technology have made this scenario outdated. It’s comparable to waiting for the morning newspaper instead of checking the Internet for news updates, or comparison-shopping by driving around town instead of using a smartphone app to locate the lowest price. The old methods are still functional, but the new methods are increasingly common. Technology is changing education and making it more accessible.

Examples of Technology in Learning
Technology is evident in colleges and universities in on-campus and online courses. Students can read e-textbooks on smartphones instead of purchasing and carrying physical books from stores, and they can access academic journals electronically instead of going to the library. Interactive games let professors quiz students on lecture points during class time. Social media platforms, such as Twitter, let students tweet questions and lecture feedback so professors can adapt during the lecture. Web-based file-sharing apps let students collaborate on group projects without needing to meet in person.

Potential Leveling Effects of Technology in Education
Educational technology can make higher education attainable for more people.
  • It promotes higher education. The effects of technology are evident even in grade school. School Connect, for example, is an app that lets parents access their children’s records. Children whose parents are involved are more likely to do better in school.
  • It encourages education at different life stages. The college party scene may be attractive to recent high school grads who don’t have to work and are away from their parents for the first time, but online learning may be more practical if you’re a little more settled, you have a job and you’re taking care of your family.
  • It accommodates you. Some people just don’t learn that well from sitting through lectures, taking notes and staring at their scrawl to study. Note-taking apps and recorded online lectures can help you learn in different ways. Online courses accommodate your schedule because you can access course materials at anytime from anywhere.
  • Flexibility: Online courses can help you complete a degree faster because you won’t have scheduling conflicts when you’re choosing your classes each semester. In addition, web-based learning lets you study anytime, so you can study instead of wasting your time while waiting for busses or watching your children’s soccer practice.
Strategies for Success
These tips can help you succeed if you pursue your education in an online program or a program that relies heavily on technology.
  • Get involved. If you’re attending virtual instead of on-campus lectures, make every effort to be as engaged as you would in a traditional program. Colorado Technical University has developed Virtual Campus, an app that all students pursuing degrees can use to communicate with classmates and instructors, check their grades and do everything they would do on a physical campus.
  • Stay organized. Stay on top of your due dates so that you don’t get caught off guard. If you have trouble keeping track of work and school, organizational smartphone apps may be helpful.
  • Stay current. Go beyond minimum software requirements if necessary. Sometimes, new apps can increase efficiency and make your education easier.
Rapid advances in technology influence every aspect of our world, and innovations in education are part of the trend. Technology can make higher education more accessible to people of different backgrounds, interests and resources. Online programs provide flexibility and are practical degree programs for many adults.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Imagine a School

Today I want to share with you a wonderful book written by my friend Sonya terBorg.  Sonya and I used to work together in Thailand before she moved to Japan and then later to the USA.  Just like me, Sonya has recently read Seth Godin's Stop Stealing Dreams - Seth wanted his message to be shared and Sonya has done that in her own unique way.

Click here to download the PDF First Edition of Imagine a School
Click here to go to Sonya's blog

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

What do you do when you don't know? (Part 4)

I've already written 3 posts about aligning the IB Learner Profile and the PYP Attitudes with Costa and Kallick's Habits of Minds.  With some of these it's very easy to see how they fit together, with others it's not so simple. A couple of the ones today don't seem to readily fit into either the Learner Profile or the Attitudes, though obviously they do have an impact on how students behave when confronted with problems that they don't immediately know how to solve.

Gathering Data through all the Senses
Costa and Kallick write that information gets into the brain through the senses and that most linguistic, cultural and physical learning is derived from the environment by observing or taking in through the senses:  "students whose sensory pathways are open, alert and acute absorb more information from the environment" when compared with students who do not use all their senses.

Creating, Imagining and Innovating - PYP Attitude:  Creativity
The PYP Attitude of creativity is defined in the following way:  "being creative and imaginative in their thinking and  in their approach to problem solving and dilemmas."  It's easy to see why Costa and Kallick have chosen this habit of mind.  Students who are faced with a problem to which the answer is not immediately apparent need to think about the problem in different ways and consider alternative possibilities.  They write that creative people are uneasy with the status quo and so take risks and push the boundaries, and that they are intrinsically rather than extrinsically motivated.  They are open to criticism because they are constantly seeking to refine their technique.

Responding with Wonderment and Awe - PYP Attitudes of Appreciation and Enthusiasm
I think both of these attributes are contained in Costa and Kallick's description of this habit of mind.  The attitude of appreciation refers to the sense of wonder and beauty in the world and its people.  This leads them to be curious about the world.  The attitude of enthusiasm refers to how students learn:  enjoying learning and willingly putting effort into the process.  We want students who are creative thinkers and who care passionately about what they do.  This gets back to intrinsic motivation - these students seek out problems to solve and enjoy figuring things out by themselves.  These are the building blocks of being a lifelong learner.

Photo Credit:  Light, God's eldest daughter by Heather Katsoulis, 2007 AttributionShare Alike