Friday, August 31, 2012

Moving to the cloud: how wrong can you be?

Three years ago, in my first term after moving to a new school, I was told by an administrator that cloud computing would fail.  Another administrator mentioned at a parent meeting that he didn't believe in a 1:1 programme because there was no evidence that technology enhanced learning. Alarm bells started to ring.  I knew I'd made a bad move and was in the wrong place.  This vision of the future didn't match up with mine.

Two years ago, after becoming a Google Certified Teacher I wanted to introduce Google Apps for Education at the school.  I was told that cloud computing was not safe and that students should use the school network folders and mail.  A limited trial of GAFE was allowed for two grades.  The alarm bells were deafening me at this point.

One year ago, in the first month of school, I announced on social media that I was looking for a new job. My daughter had just started her last year of school and I felt I could move on at the end of the year without disrupting her education. Thankfully I was offered a great new job.  I'm now a tech coordinator at a wonderful school - everything we use is almost totally in the cloud, this year we have a BYOD programme for students and teachers and the Research and Development Team  "studies, prototypes, designs and develops new teaching and learning environments for the 21st century".

How wrong can some people, some schools be?  I'm glad I stuck with my own vision. I'm glad I found a school that has such a vision.

Here's an interesting infographic about going to the cloud from Online Colleges.  There are some pitfalls identified, but to us challenges are just things we need to think about and work through.

Going to the Cloud

Photo Credit:  Bowl of Clouds by Kevin Dooley, 2008 Attribution

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Tipping Point Technologies

Click to enlarge
Gartner, the world's leading IT research and advisory company, produces a "Hype Cycle" Report: each year.  Gartner tracks over 1900 technologies and uses the Hype Cycle graphic to highlight common patterns of technology adoption.  Often when a new technology is launched, early adopters jump on-board with sometimes inflated expectations of what the technology can actually do or how it can be used.  This can be swiftly followed by a "trough of disillusionment" before the technology improves and possibly drops in price.  Eventually as the technology becomes mainstream it rises up the "slope of enlightenment" and eventually reaches the "plateau of productivity".

A good example of this could be tablet PCs.  When I first started teaching at NIST in 2005, a 1:1 tablet programme was introduced in the high school.  Teachers and students were keen to embrace this as they saw that tablet PCs provided many opportunities that other schools hadn't yet  recognised.  Of course there were problems and it's fair to say that during the teething problems some did get disillusioned (teachers rather than students), but as we pushed through these issues we learned from our mistakes, and as we subsequently rolled out the tablets to more and more grade levels, these got ironed out.

Using the Hype Cycle model it's clear to see that there can be intense pressure to adopt a new technology at the peak of  inflated expectations.  Often technologies that are adopted at this point may not be suitable or their implementation may not have been properly thought out.  One example of this is schools adopting iPads and then asking "what can we do with them?", rather than starting with what they want students to be able to do and asking "is this the best tool?"  Adopting at the peak of over-enthusiasm can work, but there may be better uses of resources at that time.

The real challenge with new technology is deciding when to adopt.  It can be great to get in before the mainstream, but if so then it's also important to stick with it and not abandon it through the trough.  My school in Thailand was an early adopter of many new technologies:  mobile devices, cloud computing, Web 2.0 tools, social media and so on.  For me the hard thing when I left there and moved to Switzerland was to deal with moving from such a forward looking school to a place where the focus was on the limiting factors.  I was told that cloud computing would fail, that the school did not support even investigating the possibilities of a 1:1 laptop programme, that social media was regarded with suspicion and that as much as possible was locked down.  In my second year there I struggled even to have something as mainstream as Google Apps for Education accepted, even though that was clearly well over the hype phase.

What should we be looking forward to now?  The Hype Cycle Report this year talks about us being at a tipping point as many technologies are now maturing and coming together. Hung LeHong, the research vice president at Gartner says "We are at an interesting moment, a time when many of the scenarios we've been talking about for a long time are almost becoming reality." We now have internet TV, speech to speech translations, augmented reality, gesture control, natural language question and answers, speech recognition, image recognition, cashless transactions using smartphones and so on.  Companies and schools are starting BYOD by giving employees stipends to use their own devices and in the case of schools are requiring that students provide their own computers. BYOD is also evolving into BYOE (Bring Your Own Everything). A few years ago when I first heard about 3D printing and its use in the US military for producing spare parts for armaments,it  seemed like something out of Star Trek.  Now it is a reality.  You can print physical objects such as toys or household items by buying a design and then making the items on your own 3D printer- this of course is going to have enormous implications for world trade if you can now simply buy a design and make it locally. We are at the tipping point of new products and services, new markets and business opportunities.  We need to rethink our approaches to challenges.  Education will have to move with the times.  Like the dinosaurs, schools that do not adapt may simply disappear as online schools that embrace the new technologies capture an increasing share of the market for education.

Image of the Hype Cycle from Gartner Newsroom

Monday, August 27, 2012

Independent Studies

Independent Studies is a new initiative that has started this year in Grades 3-5. As I have worked on setting this programme up with our Elementary Librarian, we have drawn heavily on the IBO document that was published last year The Role of ICT in the PYP as well as ASB's Information Fluency continuum.  We feel it is important that students are able to pursue their dreams and develop their own passions about a subject that is of interest to them, so that in future they will have the necessary skills and confidence to engage in their own personal learning, and so we meet with groups of students once every 8 day cycle to help them pursue an investigation into a subject that they are passionate about. The skills that we are focused on are those that students will need to become lifelong learners.  These include investigation, organization, collaboration, communication and creation.  We support students in using higher order thinking skills to formulate their questions, use good search strategies, validate the information they find, synthesize information from print and digital resources and apply this knowledge to create their own product that shows their understanding. They will be able to make a presentation about this in order to share their learning with others. It's early days at the moment - we have only met with each group once so far. I'll be blogging about how this programme develops and highlighting some of the studies our students are engaged in over the coming weeks.

Poster created by Hannah T Morz

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Going to the Moon

Today I heard the news that the first man to walk on the moon, Neil Armstrong, has died.  I've thought about the Apollo 11 mission quite a bit over the past few weeks, since the metaphor of going to the moon was one that was used by our Superintendent when he described the journey that ASB set off on last year to rethink education and what we are doing to turn those thoughts into reality.  This year we have 2 amazing new campuses and it seems we have "lift off", but there is still a long way to go between the launch and actually walking on the moon.  I'm new, and so obviously I wasn't involved in all the preparation for the lift off, but it's clear to see all the preparations that went on pre-launch that have set us on our way.

The school started by looking at the mission.  It was important to affirm that this was the right one and that we all still cared about making the mission come true.  At this time 2 more core values were added:

  • Practice, perseverance and reflection are integral to a culture of excellence.  These are not just glib words like other mission statements I've read.  When this school talks about a culture of excellence they know what they are talking about and how to get there.  All coaches know that practice is important and that when you face setbacks you need to persevere.  Reflection ties the whole thing together.  A culture that does not value reflection, that does not value thinking critically about what you are doing in order to get better, is one that will never achieve excellence.
  • We are the trustees of our environment.  I love this one because it goes beyond immediate achievement, because the focus is on the future.
I've already written about the 4 things that were identified as being really important in the roles of teachers:  learning, talent, advancement and resources.  If our metaphor is that "we are going to the moon", and going to the moon is something that has never been done before, then obviously it's important to think about how to do things differently.  One of the first things that was considered was curriculum.  I've been at schools that have considered curriculum before and this process has taken 4 or 5 years to review.  Teachers get frustrated in this process.  ASB decided that this traditional model was not going to work because people want to try something new and implement it - so what has been done is to capture this initiative and put it into a new curriculum review model so that everything is moving and everyone is revising their curriculum every year.  As Heidi Hayes Jacobs described in her book Curriculum 21, it's important to constantly consider what to keep, what to cut and what to create.  A good example of this is the way at ASB there has been a complete change in everyone's mindset for using technology in the best way.  Technology is completely embedded - I've heard it described as the DNA of learning here.

In the first few weeks of school I've been part of collaborative planning for the first unit of inquiry in each team.  We do consider what was done before, we look at the standards, we develop assessments that align with the standards and we look at instructional approaches.  We revisit these every year with every unit of inquiry, but this year we are committed to going further - we are looking at personalizing the learning.  The purpose and focus of our curriculum development is to come up with personalized learning for every child.

Just as in the Apollo missions, our R&D team is very strong here at ASB - it's the heart of every decision we make to move forward with teaching and learning.  We need to think differently - we need to consider people, teams, structures, roles and responsibilities, time, facilities, operations and processes, governance, policies and resources.  And all of these need to be considered in the light of the school's mission and core values.

Yesterday our Superintendent sent out a message to all parents.  This weekly briefing is called Vichar, which I looked up in a Hindi dictionary.  It has many meanings:  thought, idea, opinion, voice, consideration.   He wrote about how the building of the new campuses has been similar to a pregnancy and how on 13th August,  our first day of school, the baby was born.  As a parent myself, I know that the birth is the first step, sometimes compared to what comes later it can even be seen as an easy step.  After this comes the nurturing, the guidance, the times when you lie awake at night wondering, worrying.  Most new parents think in terms of having a baby - but in fact that period of time is over and done with quickly - then you have a child, and a teenager and then finally an adult.  That is what you really have.  You might choose to have a baby but what you get is an adult.  Both my children are adults now.  My daughter flies the nest next month to go to university.  It's a strange time for me, full of mixed feelings.  

So the baby has been born, the school is open, childhood approaches and possibly some rocky times with a lot of lessons to be learned.  But one thing is certain, I have no doubts about it at all.  This child is going to the moon.  

Photo Credit:  Once in a Blue Moon by Kuzeytac, 2008  AttributionNoncommercialNo Derivative Works

Friday, August 24, 2012

Facebook for Parents

Last week on Wednesday I led a tech orientation session for new parents of Kindergarten students.  At this session parents were introduced to some of the communication tools that ASB uses.  Parents were shown how to access the SIS (student information system) and informed about the importance of keeping their family contact details up to date.  They were shown the online cafeteria system where they can order their children's school meals, and asked to enroll in a free digital toolkit online course so that they would become proficient in many of the tools that we'd like them to use.  As this year we have started a BYOD programme for students, we also encourage parents to bring and register their own devices so that they can connect to the school's network and use them at school.  We want them to be able to add our calendar feeds, for example and to access many of the services provided on the school's dashboard, such as the Board documents.

Another thing that parents are given is a book called Facebook for Parents by Linda Fogg Phillips and Dr. BJ Fogg of Stanford University.  We want our parents to keep up-to-date with the changing lives that their children are living - we don't want there to be a disconnect between the generations.  Actually the school has its own social network - the Community Network ning, where parents can join groups for their children's class and access discussion groups around a variety of topics of interest to people who are relocating to Mumbai - where to find household help such as nannies and drivers, for example, or medical matters.

Our teachers use a variety of Web 2.0 tools to communicate with parents.  My experience in setting up websites, blogs and so on as a way of connecting with parents has always been positive.  In general I've found that parents love looking at photos of what their children are doing, and often these photos serve as a prompt for meaningful conversations at home about what is going on during the school day.  Parents have commented to me that it's also a great way for them to get to know the other children in the class, and that it's a valuable tool for connecting their extended families, for example grandparents who are living in their home country, with what the students are doing.

Last week one of our Kindergarten teachers showed me a Facebook group that she has set up for parents in her class.  She was very proud of the fact that every parent in the class has joined this group and that every parent is happy for her to post photos and videos of what the students are doing each day.  In an upcoming blog post I'm going to write more about the steps she has gone through to set up this group.

Facebook for parents is yet another way that my school stands out from the crowd.  Every day that I am here, every day that I see the amazing things that our teachers and students are doing with technology, I feel validated in my decision to come here.  Truly, I am blessed.

Photo Credit:  A Conversation by Khalid Albaih, 2011 Attribution

Thursday, August 23, 2012

One laptop per child

My new school is a 1:1 laptop school from Grade 3 upwards, with BYOD from Grade 4.  As well as this the elementary school has just moved to an amazing new purpose-built campus that has been designed as a 21st century learning space..   I've spent the past couple of weeks immersed in many of the start-up issues associated with these transitions and have been impressed by the "can do" attitude - if we have a problem with something we work on it until we find a solution.  In fact problems are challenges and opportunities for us that push us forward in our learning.

As we have pretty much one laptop per student for most of the school, I got to think about another programme, launched 7 years ago, to produce and distribute inexpensive laptops to students in developing countries.  The aim was to empower some of the poorest children in the world through education.  It was hoped that this programme would develop a passion for learning, and the opportunity to pursue that passion. The programme recognises that the world is changing rapidly and that students need to be prepared for this:
The root cause of the rapid change, digital technology, also provides a solution. When every child has a connected laptop, they have in their hands the key to full development and participation. Limits are erased as they can learn to work with others around the world, to access high-quality, modern materials, to engage their passions and develop their expertise.
To date, about two and a half million of these laptops have been distributed worldwide.  The infographic below highlights some of the accomplishments.  

One Laptop Per Child 7 Years Later
This infographic was produced by Online Colleges

Photo Credit:  India Girls by One Laptop Per Child, 2008 Attribution

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Teaching with Tablets

Over the past few months I've heard from friends who are working at schools where iPads have been trialed as a 1:1 device with students.  A couple of these schools have decided that they would go forward with these devices, and in some cases will not provide laptops or netbooks for students this year.  My own school did a similar study last year and came to very different conclusions:  that since we already have a 1:1 laptop programme, moving to iPads would be a step backwards - that for the type of things that our students were creating to show their understanding, an iPad would limit them..  Our BYOD students have been told that iPads and netbooks don't meet the specifications, they need to bring a laptop.  Teachers this year have been able to register 2 devices and many have chosen iPads as their second device.  I find my iPad really useful as a second device too - there are some things that I only choose to do on an iPad now, for example using the Kindle Cloud Reader and photo editing.  I have written a few blog posts on my iPad, but it's definitely easier to use a keyboard for writing, so mostly I choose to post from my laptop.  I prefer using the Facebook app and reading the BBC news on my iPad, but I prefer reading my mail on my laptop.  Different horses for different courses.

The infographic below is interesting, though, so I thought I'd share it.

Teaching With Tablets

Photo Credit:  Student iPad School by Brad Flickinger, 2012  Attribution

Sunday, August 19, 2012

The darker side of social media

Last week we issued laptops to all our Grade 3s and  the students in Grade 4 who are not participating in the BYOD programme.  Tomorrow, before the students actually start to use their computers, I've made an appointment to visit each of the learning spaces to talk to the students about responsible and ethical use.  I'm going to start explaining to the students the 6 ICT in the PYP strands identified by the IBO.  One of these is that students should become responsible digital citizens, the other strands are investigation, organization, collaboration, creation and communication.  I want to be sure that students know how we expect them to use their laptops for learning.

To start with, it's important that students understand that they are responsible for their devices.  They need to take care of them and make sure that they are charged so that they are ready for use.  They also need to understand ethical use:  that we are using the internet for researching and for communicating and therefore it's important for them to consider what they view online and what they post about themselves and others.  I will talk to them about the websites that we want them to visit, and what to keep in mind when uploading or downloading.  Students also need to consider the effect of what they are doing on others.  Email can be monitored and students need to understand not to spam and to think about the effect of their words before they hit the send button.  I will be reminding students not to share their passwords or to use another student's account.  It's important for students to know how to use the internet safely and legally.

Another aspect that I want to touch on is being responsible digital citizens.  These students will all be doing independent studies this year where they will be able to use their laptops to investigate something of interest to themselves.  They will need to know how to find and use copyright free material and how to cite sources.

As I was thinking about this today my daughter told me that she had received an SMS message informing her that from now on she will only be able to send 5 text messages a day.  For a teenager used to sending sometimes hundreds of messages this is quite a restriction.  It's been caused by the fact that mass text messages have been sent out in some Indian cities as Eid approaches, warning Muslims to return to their homes in the northern states before the end of Ramadan. Doctored videos have been circulating of Muslims being attacked, and these have led to retaliations.  Messages about these supposed attacks have been posted on social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook, which has inflamed the situation further.  These posts have led to panic and unrest in a number of places.

In previous posts I've written about how open authorship has had a positive impact - for example in getting information about the Arab Spring out to the rest of the world or in supporting 9 year old Martha Payne in her campaign to highlight the quality of school meals in Scotland.  I think it's important for students to know that there is a darker side to social media too, and that when social media is used in negative ways there are consequences.  In India right now the consequences are that we are restricted in sending text messages.  For our students, if they choose not to use their computers in responsible ways, they need to know that there will be consequences too, which could involve restricting their use of computers or their connection to the internet.

Photo Credit:  Text Message by Ian Lott, 2008 AttributionNoncommercialShare Alike

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

What does the i stand for in iCommons?

Some time ago a student asked me what the i stands for in iPhone, iPad and iTunes.  That's an interesting question and one that there doesn't seem to be an official answer to.  I have heard some people suggest that the i stands for internet (yet that wasn't the case with the first iPods) and others have suggested that Steve Jobs himself said it stood for individual - which does seem to make sense if you think of the i as the user.

Today was the first day back at school for our returning students and I was sitting in the iCommons area of our 3rd floor when I heard the same question - what does the i stand for in iCommons?  We asked the students to have a guess at what they thought it might mean and we had some good suggestions:  inquiry, interesting, intelligent, interactive and so on.  In fact our iCommons, which are on each floor of our elementary campus, are at the heart of our collaborative learning environment and the i stands for information.  Here is what the school's website states about the iCommons areas:
ASB iCommons’ mission is to inspire and support its users towards creative and intellectual achievement while responsibly and ethically learning the value of information, its acquisition, and its usage. The iCommons replaces the traditional concept of a library. We’ve transformed the centralized library into six interactive spaces within our learning communities. We call this area, the iCommons. Each floor will have an  iCommons housing a variety of resources - ebooks, playaways, audio books, printed books, and an iMac to create digital products. This collaborative space will support and engage students in their learning journey.  Our six iCommons house a wide collection of ebooks, print books and databases to support reading, multidisciplinary social and problem solving skills. Within these titles is a wide collection of ebooks that range from picture books, fiction, nonfiction, graphic novels, other language materials and teacher resources. The iCommons subscribe to a variety of periodicals, journals, magazines, and  ebooks to support the needs of our students.
Each iCommons area contains an IT Kiosk.  This is the first port of call for students and teachers on that floor for tech support.  For myself I'm very happy that the IT and Library are together in the same learning space on every floor.

For me, the concept of the iCommons is a new one and I'm excited to see how it develops.  I can see another i coming out of this area too.  It will be a place for where i also stands for inspiration.

Meeting the New Millennium: 3 TED Talks for Tech Savvy Teachers

A guest post by Lauren Bailey

If you are involved in education in any capacity, you have most likely already observed the drastic changes technology is making to the way we learn and the way schools are run. Now, many current TED talks are focusing on this same issue and beginning to piece together a new way to look at our model of education in the modern world. With the use of technology, not only have huge changes already been made, but many more are sure to come that will further challenge and enhance the world of education as we know it. Here are some of the most interesting TED talks for teachers who love technology, and anyone interested in a different model for future education:

This talk features Salman Khan, a man who started uploading math tutorials to YouTube in 2004. By 2010, he had posted over 2,000 tutorials online in everything from basic addition to biology, physics, chemistry and advanced calculus. He has also founded the online Khan Academy, which is a non-profit dedicated to sharing world-class education with anyone across the globe. The academy is made up of self-paced software and it receives over 1 million unique students every month. In this talk, Khan discusses his decision to start the academy and the possibilities of modeling this form of education in the public school system.

Sugatu Mitra presents this talk on an education model that focuses on the real ways children learn. Eschewing the typical design of most public school systems, Mitra started an experiment by providing children across the globe with access to computers and the internet. Children from Italy to South Africa and New Delhi were able to learn huge amounts of information, totally on their own, without the guidance of a teacher or any formal text. Mitra makes an argument for an educations stem that allows children to learn by following their own motivations and by teaching and learning from one another.

This talk is given by Sir Ken Robinson, a writer, researcher and education expert focusing on education for a new stage of humanity. Robinson’s research has led him to conclude that the school system as we know it is “educating people out of their creativity.” Students are typically punished for restlessness and curiosity and are educated based on a 1700’s model of creation of a working class. Arguing here that the education system as we know it is educating children to become good workers, rather than enhancing their creativity, he discusses the different ways that changes could be made to better enable today’s students to contribute to society and do amazing things.

Lauren Bailey is a freelance blogger who loves writing about education, new technology, lifestyle and health. As an education writer, she works to research and provide sound online education advice and welcomes comments and questions via email at blauren 99

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Practical Intelligence - a family connection?

As I've been reading on in Malcolm Gladwell's book Outliers, I've come to the chapter where Gladwell discusses the importance of practical intelligence.  He defines this as "knowing what to say to whom, knowing when to say it, and knowing how to say it for maximum effect ... it's knowledge that helps you read situations correctly and get what you want ... general intelligence and practical intelligence are "orthogonal":  the presence of one doesn't imply the presence of the other."

Gladwell goes on to discuss the origins of practical intelligence.  It differs from analytical intelligence because that is partly genetic, whereas practical intelligence is a set of skills that can be learned.  Gladwell's premise is that the skills and attitudes that form practical intelligence comes from our families.  He discusses Lareau's studies of parenting philosophies which seem to be linked to wealthy and poor families.  He describes how the wealthier parents were heavily involved in scheduling activities into their children's free time, whereas this was absent from the lives of poorer children.  He noticed that wealthy and middle class parents talked more with their children and reasoned with them, rather than simply issuing commands.  These parents expected their children to talk back, to negotiate and question adults in positions of authority.  In turn, if their children were not doing well in school, the wealthier parents went to school, intervened on their behalf and challenged their teachers. Poorer parents were unlikely to do this - they were intimidated by authority and preferred to stay in the background.

 Lareau describes the difference in parenting in the following way:  middle class parents were"concerted cultivators" who fostered their children's talents, whereas poorer parents believed in "natural growth" which allowed the children to develop on their own.  Concerted cultivation has a number of advantages - more experience, teamwork, more structured settings, more interaction with adults.  Children who experience this learn entitlement:  they learn that they have the right to pursue their individual preferences, to share their opinions and to ask for attention.

Gladwell goes on to investigate how, following on from family background, certain qualities make work satisfying and meaningful and therefore encourage success.  These qualities are autonomy, complexity and the connection between effort and reward.  He writes that children who grow up in homes where the parents are engaged in such fulfilling and meaningful work come to believe that "if you work hard enough and assert yourself, and use your mind and imagination, you can shape the world to your desires."

In Outliers Gladwell argues that "success is not a random act.  It arises out of a predictable and powerful set of circumstances and opportunities."  Clearly he believes that the family you are born into is one of the biggest factors in determining this success.

Photo Credit:  Fatherhood, by Robert Scoble - by Thomas Hawk,  2007  AttributionNoncommercial

Thursday, August 9, 2012

The Golden Rules of Digital Citizenship

The book LOL ... OMG is aimed at university students and with a daughter just about to set off for university next month I'm interested to read the advice Matt Ivester gives to students.  The suggestions he gives are good.  He reminds students that the impression they give online is a result of how they choose to behave and interact with others - and it is about the values, ethics and principles that underlie these interactions.  Social media is so new that social norms are still evolving.  It's today's users who are deciding on these norms, so we all have the power to control and influence what is regarded as responsible digital citizenship.  Here are Matt's "golden rules":

  1. Treat others the way you would want to be treated
  2. Treat others the way they would want to be treated
  3. Check to see if what you are doing is legal
  4. Consider the consequences if everybody behaved the same way as you
  5. Ask yourself if you would be comfortable doing this in the real world
  6. Ask yourself if you would change your behaviour if it was associated with your name
  7. Make sure you are not posting something while you are feeling emotional
  8. Ask yourself if you would be comfortable with the whole world knowing what you are doing
  9. Ask yourself if what you are doing could be misinterpreted
  10. Consider how what you are doing reflects on you as a person and if you like what it says about you
I find rule number 6 interesting as it assumes many students are posting things anonymously.  Ever since I've been an IT teacher I've always been concerned about protecting the privacy of my students and not allowing them to be identified, but I'm wondering if this is perhaps giving them the wrong message, perhaps encouraging them to hide behind an anonymous name or avatar.  Is this concern now outdated?  In fact the internet is probably very safe.  Millions of people book holidays and buy things online using their credit cards, and in the case of sexual predators, children are far more likely to be targeted by people they know such as family members.  Nowadays when most schools offer lessons about staying safe online and how to use the internet responsibly perhaps it's time to rethink the "no real names" policies that many schools have adopted. Perhaps it's time to teach our students how to build positive digital identities, so that when someone Googles their name all the great things they have done are the first things that show up, not simply the silly photos they have been tagged in.

Photo Credit:  Think before you  by ToGa Wanderings, 2012 Attribution

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

What is necessary in a culture of excellence

Over and over again over the past couple of weeks I've been confronted with reasons why my new school is truly a school of excellence.  When I sit in meetings and find myself inspired beyond anything I thought possible I have to keep pinching myself - I'm really here, I'm not dreaming.  Last week at the teacher orientation we looked at the school's strategic objectives.  These can be summed up in 4 words and yet they lay the foundation of why the school is one of the most forward-looking schools in the world:  learning, talent, advancement, resources.

Let's think about these one at a time.  At ASB learning involves employing evolving curricular and instruction, innovative technologies and meaningful community engagements.  What this means is that the learners at ASB  are the thought leaders and change agents of tomorrow.   As teachers it is clearly seen as our job to make things change.  What a joy it is to actually have questioning the status quo as one of the objectives of the school.  What a joy to have critical thinking seen in a positive, rather than a negative, light.  The second strategic objective is talent.  Fulfilling this objective involves developing ASB as a professional learning center that attracts and develops world class faculty and staff through engaging and  inspiring growth opportunities.  This is probably the number 1 reason why I chose to come to ASB.  I wanted to grow and move forward, I wanted to develop myself.  I wanted to be the best that I could possibly be.  I was sick of drowning in mediocrity, being held back by those whose vision was more limited than mine and who felt threatened by change.  This leads me onto the third objective:  advancement.  The aim of this is to distinguish the school in the local and global communities and to effectively involve and engage our stakeholders and foster partnerships.  Yet again I love the willingness to share, the transparency.  Having worked in a school that saw other local schools as rivals and competitors this is a refreshing change for me.  ASB is a great school because it shares, not because it keeps what it does hidden!  Finally resources - the objective here is to develop and use resources to provide the highest quality facilities, technology and programs while practicing fiscal and environmental responsibility.  In my two weeks here so far I have been amazed by the new campus that is being built, by the learning spaces that are emerging, by the progressive use of technology, by the emphasis on green education.

There are some schools that everyone on the international circuit has heard of.  Last December when I was considering my options I met a friend in Zurich and she encouraged me to grab the opportunity to work at ASB with both hands.  She told me that this was her number 1 school  and that she had twice applied to work there.  I met with other teachers who said the same things, with others who had actually worked here and all used the same words:  excellent, inspiring, amazing.  I have never heard one negative comment about the school.  Actually I'm blessed to be here.  I have never been more excited about working in such a vibrant community of learners.  Bring on next week and the first day of school - I can hardly wait!

Photo Credit:  Almost free ... by Federico Soffici, 2007 AttributionNoncommercialShare Alike.  

Getting in front of the change

Last week Madeleine Heide, our Assistant Superintedent, talked to us about the importance of the right mindset.  In small groups we discussed what sort of mindset was needed at ASB to bring about the goals identified in the strategic plan.  Our group identified the following:  open, courageous, a culture of being early adopters, a positive attitude towards failure, the importance of sharing our learning with others.  Other attributes included being single minded and purposeful - always keeping our eyes on the vision.

The reason ASB is changing so rapidly is because the world is changing and we just cannot ignore this.  Many schools are not changing, and Madeleine challenged us to consider why not.  She suggested such schools are "exhausted from the mundane", or perhaps they already think they are at the top.  This school is different.  With our values and strategic objectives we cannot afford to sit back and do nothing - we have to change, not just tweek things.  We have to go below the surface, we have to go beyond simply "getting by", we have to get in front of the change. Other schools may refuse to change, some may wait for the change to happen, they take a wait and see attitude and copy what the successful schools are doing.  The decision of ASB was not simply to participate in the change as it happens,but  to lead the change.

Madeleine showed the above graphic and explained there are two possible ways to change.  If we are a blue triangle then we could choose to simply become a bigger blue triangle.  This is what most schools are doing.  Or we could decide to transform ourselves into something entirely different.  This is what ASB is doing.  How blessed I feel to be a part of this transformation.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Going BYOD

My new school is going BYOD.  In the elementary school the teachers have started bringing in their devices to connect to the wireless network.  I'm interested to observe that all but 2 of our teachers so far have opted for a Macbook (Air or Pro) and that several have also brought in a second device to connect such as an iPad or iPhone.  Next week the students in Grades 4 and 5 will bring in their devices.  I'm curious to see if this will mirror the trend I'm seeing with the teachers.

I came across this infographic today (it was sent to my email) and thought it was worth sharing.

Going BYOD
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Thursday, August 2, 2012

Highly effective -v- effective

What separates effective teachers from highly effective teachers, we were asked today at the teacher orientation.  We discussed this in small groups.  We talked about knowing each student, loving what you do, seeing education not simply as a job but a way of life, a sense of commitment, empathy, and so on.  But none of these were right. You could be all of these things and still only effective.  It seems the biggest predictor of effectiveness is absenteeism (or rather the lack of it).

A study from Harvard in 2007 looked at the factors that affect student performance.  Principals were asked to give a rating for their teachers on how effective they were, and at the same time a record was kept of the number of days a teacher was absent.  The study from Harvard showed that attendance in the classroom, being there every day with the students, was a better predictor of student achievement that the principal's rating of his or her teachers.  The study also found that an absent child learns just as much as a child with a substitute teacher.  What this means is that the study showed that when a teacher is absent, it's just as effective to simply ask the students to stay at home!

What conclusions do we draw from this and what are the implications?  The study shows that the teacher in the classroom is the single most powerful way of promoting student growth.  It's shown to be 6 times more effective than any other single factor.  As a result the leadership team at school have made a commitment:  no teacher will be pulled out of his or her class this year unless there is absolutely no alternative.  In return we also need to make a commitment.  Our commitment is that we will make every one of those minutes that we are there count.

Photo Credit:  Waiting Time by Philip Edmondson, 2007 AttributionNoncommercial 

What is winning in education?

If you read my previous post you will know that I shed some tears on my first day at school today, and this is why.  We talked about what winning is, in terms of education.  In my group we talked about how winning needs a safe environment, it needs support and nurturing and an interesting environment where students want to learn.  It needs a place where failure is a step to winning, a place where lifelong learners are created.

We talked about the fact that there are 2 sorts of winners.  You could win if you compare yourself to others (I did better than X on my maths test/this is the best international school in the world etc).  Or you could win if you compare yourself with yourself.  The real idea of winning is overcoming obstacles so that you reach your potential.

Then we watched this video of Derek Redmond's Olympic run.

We were told:  replace the word father with teacher and explore the metaphor.

Derek's father said to him "You don't have to do this".  Derek said "I do."  We were asked how often it's the student who says "I don't have to do this." and the teacher who says "You do."  The difference is the intrinsic -v- extrinsic motivation.

A powerful message:  When you don't give up, you can't fail.

Most people who know me will know that I thought of giving up teaching last year as a result of the way I was made to feel at my previous school.  But I didn't give up, I just carried on.  I stayed true to my values.  The thing I was most concerned about was not letting this experience turn me into a bad person or a bad teacher.  And I succeeded.  When I left the thing that most people said to me was that I had inspired them.  Winning is about staying true to your personal values and never compromising them.  That is what I did.  Now I'm in a better place, I'm in a wonderful school, I'm working with truly inspirational educators.

My tears were tears of joy.  I won.  And when I look around me at all the wonderful people here, I know that our students will be winners too because they are learning here with these amazing people.

There's a more personal reason too.  Last month our daughter got her IB Diploma results.  She got 38 points. That's an amazing score, but still one point short of the score she needed to get to her first choice of university.  To me it's incredible that any university could turn down such an amazingly talented student as my daughter, and eveyone who knows her would say the same.  She is going to her second choice, who are lucky to have her.  Derek Redmond didn't get the gold medal.  However perhaps what he got was even greater than that.  I hope that someday my daughter comes to feel the same way and that she feels that she is a winner too.

First Day

It's the end of the first day of the whole staff orientation at ASB.  In my 30 years of teaching I've had a lot of first days, but none that were so inspiring, so thoughtful.  None that made me laugh so much or shed so many tears. None that made me feel so thankful for being chosen, so appreciated.  None that made me feel more than this:  that I have made the right choice.  This is such a contrast to my previous experience, where during the teacher orientation days I sat in my car in the carpark and cried because I was so upset that I'd made the wrong choice - a choice that made me doubt my own abilities and judgement.

This is what has often happened before in other schools:  new teachers are introduced with a brief bio.  Often new teachers are expected to say something about how pleased they are to be there.  We have been told we are working in "one of the best/top/leading" international schools (choose your superlative here). We have been told the IB scores and the AP scores and told we are doing "better than average".  We have had to listen to a presentation about student life, a presentation about curriculum development and goals, we have been told to put away our laptops and listen.

So what was different?
First of all it was a celebration - two new campuses ready for students in really just a matter of weeks in the case of the secondary school and several months in the case of the elementary.  It was a reminder that we are all new.  None of us have ever worked in a school like this before, even though almost all of the teachers were here last year we are all new to this.  Plus I was expected to use my computer to take notes.

Another difference - it was our voices that were being heard.  Our superintendent's presentation lasted over 3 1/2 hours, but we were active participants in it.  Our opinions were valued.  Craig was curious to listen to what we were saying.  We came up with verbs to describe our objectives for the day:  the people at my table agreed that the most important verb was to connect.  Other groups on different tables came up with different goals: interact, inspire, energize, communicate, explore, embrace, share, reflect, appreciate.  Since these were our goals, it was our responsibility to meet them.

We were a very large group - hundreds of educators.  Craig gave us a number, 5%.  He asked "What question is this the answer to?"  Some people knew the question - it is that only 5% of teachers grow significantly after PD in groups of 15 people or more.  Clearly this meeting was a challenge because of numbers - and yet looking around the room I could see everyone growing.  I think everyone was given something new to think about, everyone was inspired in some way.  It's an interesting statistic, especially considering that most classes have 15 or more students in them.  It's a challenge to us as teachers to think about how to reach the other 95% of students!

I'm going to write more posts about this first day as there is a lot to think about and I want to chunk it up into those separate thoughts before bringing them all back together again.  I want to explore some of the resources that Craig shared with us too.  I did cry on my first day here - I cried looking at a movie about what it meant to be a winner.  I cried, but they were tears of joy, not sadness.