Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Happy New Year to my half million readers!

It's the final day of 2013 - what a year!  I hope you have enjoyed the review of my learning that I've posted over the past few days.  The past 4 years that I've been writing a blog I feel I have grown so much as a teacher, a writer and a person and I'm excited to think about what new things I will become involved in during the coming year.

Today I passed the half million reader mark.  Thank you to each and every one of you for encouraging me to blog.  I truly believe I am only in the place I am today, personally and professionally, because of the encouragement I've received over the past 4 years.

I know next year will bring new challenges and opportunities.  I'm looking forward to ASB Un-Plugged, to Bernajean Porter making another extended visit to ASB, to Frank Baker becoming our guest author and teaching us about media literacy.  I'm looking forward to the summer where I will be taking a workshop on cognitive coaching and where I'll be presenting a workshop at ISTE on BYOD.  I'm looking forward to becoming a school visitor for the IBO in the fall, starting with a visit to a school in Bangalore.  So much already planned!  But best of all I'm excited beyond measure to become a Director of Educational Technology at ASB next school year.  Welcome 2014 - bring it on!

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NETS and badges

This is my final post about the things I have been involved in during 2013, about what I have learned and how I have grown as an educator over the past year.  As Tech Coordinator one of my jobs is to meet regularly with every grade level and all the specialist departments to discuss technology and learning.  Sometimes these meetings are concerned with some of the "housekeeping" tasks (distributing equipment, setting up accounts etc), sometimes they are concerned with training (how to use various peripherals, different Web 2.0 tools, ePortfolios etc) and sometimes they are about technology standards for both students and teachers.  At the start of the year I talked to teachers about the ISTE standards and we looked at the NETS-T rubrics to self assess where we were as individual teachers and as a grade, and where we needed to move forward.

At my first meeting with each group I explained to teachers that the standards that we are looking at now are in fact the second version of the NETS-Ts.  The first ones that were published in 2000 dealt with technology operations and concepts, the curriculum, productivity, integration and so on.  The new NETS-Ts published in 2008 differ considerably as there is more focus on 21st century skills.  In his book Digital Community, Digital Citizen Jason Ohler notes that there are 6 words that appear in the 2008 standards that are absent in the earlier version:  creativity, innovation, digital, citizenship, culture and global.  The implication of these 6 words are huge.  As Ohler points out, "we must move beyond technology integration toward idea generation ... beyond mere curriculum integration or as a means to simply update the status quo with new tools.  Instead we need to use them to generate, explore and use new ideas that challenge and redefine the status quo." This is something that I think many schools still don't "get".  They are still talking about tech integration and tools.

Towards the latter part of the 2012-13 school year, from around March 2013 onwards,  I also started  to discuss the NETS-Ss, and how they can support students acquiring these 21st century skills.  The NETS-S and NETS-T standards align really well.  For example the one of the students' standards is creativity and innovation.  For students to be able to demonstrate these, one of the standards for teachers is that they should facilitate and inspire student learning and creativity.  We want students to understand human, cultural and societal issues related to technology and to practice legal and ethical behaviour (digital citizenship), therefore a standard that teachers need to consider is that they should also be promoting and modeling digital citizenship and responsibility.

The original NETS-Ss were created in 1998 and, in a similar way to the first NETS-Ts, the focus was on mastering technological tools.  The focus of the new NETS-Ss is on "technological proficiency that comes as a result of e-learning and m-learning" or in other words, on digital fluency.  The aim of the NETS-S is for "authentic, inventive and emergent uses of digital technology and on how they apply outside the school setting".  The emphasis has therefore changed from knowledge and mastering technological tools to a focus on the skills that students will need to be successful in work and in life.

For the first half of 2013, therefore, we discussed both the NETS-S and the NETS-T standards and reflected on how we were doing as teachers.  We made a Google Site with a page for each teacher where we set up a table with the NETS-S standards and together we looked at artifacts of work students had done throughout the year and how these met the standards.  After this tech audit was completed it was my job to pull the data from all these pages together into a report.  Using a Google Spreadsheet I was able to look at each standard and where students were given the opportunity to demonstrate mastery of the standard.  We were also able to look at each student artifact and consider where it fell on Bloom's Taxonomy.  This was a huge job, but a necessary one to get authentic data to help us move forward.  After analyzing the data we could see that some standards were done extremely well, whereas others were rather sketchy.  We could also see whether the students were mostly using lower or higher order thinking skills as they created their media products.

After analyzing the data, both for the school as a whole and also for individual teachers, it was clear to us that the best way forward would be to introduce personalized PD for our teachers for the 2013-14 school year.  Teachers themselves are able to identify their areas of strength and areas where they want to grow.  Every teacher at school is currently working towards a goal based on the NETS-T Standard 2 (developing digital age learning experiences and assessments).  My role is to coach teachers so that they can achieve their goal - which led me to ask myself the following question:  how can I help teachers find recognition for the skills they are developing when using technology in their teaching?  I've considered the NETS-C standards and reflected on how I am doing as a coach and in addition I've started to look at Open Badges as a possible way for teachers to have their learning endorsed, linked to evidence of them becoming proficient in the NETS-Ts.

The idea behind Open Badges is that it is a new way to capture and display skills and competencies - they can become a part of your online identity as you link them onto your ePortfolio or social networking profiles.  They are a way of connecting both your formal and informal learning and they may offer a way to design your own learning at your own pace, based on your own interests. Badges differ from the previously issued "certificates of attendance" as they provide a way of tracking the organization that issued the badge, the criteria needed for the badge to be issued, and the evidence that you have met the criteria - possibly a hyperlink to a video, lesson plan or testimonial of achievement.

For me one important aspect of badges is that they are redefining the concept of a learning environment so that it is no longer a single institution or online space, but many environments that span time and space.  I also like the way that badges can represent many different skills and competencies that have been achieved along the way.  My questions now are all ones about endorsement.  For example, if I start to earn a badge at one educational institution, will this work be recognized by another one if I move to a different school?  If I move, can I still continue to work towards completing my badges at the first school, even while I'm employed somewhere else (will the evidence I create at the new school be recognized by the old one?)  It's early days, but I think that because international teachers are so mobile it is very necessary for international schools to start having these conversations.  I think we are at an exciting time - and that we now need to start to define how we want badges to work and which organizations we might like to endorse them.

I hope you have enjoyed my 4 part post about the things I've been thinking and wondering about during 2013.  If you would like to read my blog posts about the NETS standards and open badges in full, please click on the links below.

Badges as currency for teacher PD
Computer Science -v- NETS
Reflecting on the NETS-Cs part 1
Reflecting on the NETS-Cs part 2
Reflecting on the NETS-Cs part 3
Reflecting on the NETS-Cs part 4

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Personalized learning - can BYOD give students more voice and choice?

This is the third post in my series looking at what I've learned in 2013.  In this post I'm going to write about personalized learning and whether BYOD or BYOM can help to give students more voice and choice.  Earlier this year I started an online course called The 5Ws of Personalized Learning, and one of my first assignments was to look whether 1:1 learning was personalized learning.  I found that the evidence from various places indicates that students in 1:1 environments show an improvement in their learning, as measured in test scores and % of students who graduate though it is questionable whether or not these improvements are due to the technology, or the improved teaching practices that accompanied the adoption of 1:1 learning.  Research also shows that a 1:1 programme can certainly lead to more personalized learning, but it does not necessarily do so.  Many 1:1 programmes are focused on the technology, rather than the learner.  Personalized learning starts with the learner and his or her interests, but in 1:1 classrooms it's still possible for all students to be doing the same thing at the same time.  In these cases I would argue that a 1:1 programme is not personalized learning.

On the other hand, 1:1 learning can allow for students to participate in the design of the learning and give more voice and choice.  In personalized learning the learner selects the appropriate technology and resources to support the learning.  This would tend to suggest that 1:1 BYOD programmes which allow students a choice of device may be more successful at personalizing learning than a one-size-fits-all roll out of a particular device (laptop, tablet or whatever).  It's HOW the technology is being used, rather than WHAT technology is being used that leads to personalized learning.  Giving voice and choice into what device students can use, how they investigate and how they eventually show their learning and understanding, can lead to 1:1 programmes personalizing learning - and this involves moving from a traditional teacher-centred approach with direct instruction towards a situation where the learning is student-driven with teachers as partners in the learning.  Along this continuum are the following stages:
  1. Teacher-centred, but giving the learners voice and choice:  In this stage it is the teacher who designs the environment for groups and individuals, and the teacher who designs the learning engagements, taking account of the students' choices.  The students work with the teacher to create their own goals and help design their learning plans and how they will express their understanding.
  2. Learner-centred, with students and teachers co-designing the learning: In this stage teachers and students co-create personal learning plans, devise rubrics to measure understanding and keep ePortfolios of their learning.
  3. Learner-driven, with the teacher as a mentor/facilitator:  these learning environments are inquiry driven, learning is about the students' questions and much of the investigation is online, therefore teachers must ensure that students have the necessary digital literacy skills to find the information that they are seeking.  Students select the appropriate resources for their learning and are therefore more engaged and motivated.  They know their strengths and weaknesses so are able to work at their own pace and reflect on their learning.  Learning is more likely to be "anytime, anywhere" and not confined to specific locations or times.  Students design their own projects, decide how they will show their understanding and how this will be assessed.
I've been thinking about this in the light of working in the PYP programme, and about how inquiry plays a role in the different stages that schools can go through as they move from teacher-centred to learner-driven education.
From a PYP perspective Stage One corresponds quite closely with what we call teacher-directed inquiry, as teachers come up with the questions that address the lines of inquiry for each unit.  Students do have voice and choice in that they are encouraged to ask questions and share their thoughts and wonderings.  However the focus of the unit is not really on the students' questions if they don't match up with the pre-determined learning outcomes.  During the course of the unit, some of these questions will naturally be discussed and answered, but they will not be the focus of the inquiry.

The second stage in moving towards personalized learning is learner-centred.  Looking at this through the lens of the PYP, this stage would be one of teacher guided inquiry, where the students' questions are seen as more important and are combined with the teacher questions to decide the direction of the inquiry.  Students would work in groups based on their curiosities about the unit, and would come up with two or three broad questions that the group as a whole could investigate.  Students themselves would discuss how to go about answering the questions.  In teacher guided inquiry, students would have input into how their understanding of the central idea of the unit would be assessed;  they would also create their own rubrics so that they could assess what it is important for them to know, understand and do.  The summative assessment of the central idea could be the same for all students, but the way they demonstrate their understanding may be very different for each group or for individual students.  

The third stage of personalized learning is learner-driven with the teacher as a facilitator and mentor.  Looking at this from the PYP perspective, this stage would be characterized by independent inquiry.  In this case the central idea would be the same for all students, but individual students could come up with additional central ideas for their own inquiry.   In Stage Three students are also working collaboratively to decide how to organize and carry out their investigations, how they will show their understandings and how they will be assessed.  They mange their time and decide what resources they will need.   I was interested to see that at this stage the teacher is responsible for building his or her technology skills to support the learner and to assist them as they work in an online environment.  This points to personalized PD for the teachers and the importance of the role of the tech coordinators in providing this.

At the beginning of the year at ASB we ran 3 mobile devices prototypes, which have definitely led to more personalized learning fo our students.  In the prototypes we have run this year in Elementary, Middle and High Schools we have seen students using their mobile devices for research, to take photos and videos, to set reminders in their calendars about upcoming events or assignments, to collaborate with each other, to take notes, to use apps to keep their work organized and many other things.  Following this prototype the R&D team recommended that all students be permitted to bring their mobile devices and access the network.  At the same time we realized that we needed further  time to study and document the success of secondary mobile devices, so recommended three further prototypes for the next school year - one with teachers (up to 10 teachers in each division) who would be provided with an allowance to purchase a mobile device of their choice, one with teaching assistants who would also be provided with an allowance to buy a device to explore how they an use it, for example to document student growth, and one prototype for "App Explorers" who would be gifted apps to devices they already own to help promote greater experimentation with new apps in the classroom.  We started these new prototypes in August and alongside all of these prototypes is a further commitment to greater personalized professional development opportunities for our faculty, including online courses, to highlight the pedagogical approaches and instructional uses of mobile devices and apps.  Our aim in giving mobile devices to our teachers and TAs to prototype is to give them the opportunities to discover for themselves how effective these devices are in improving learning.

The 2012 Speak Up report highlighted how mobile devices can personalize learning :

  • mobile devices combined with social media and wireless connectivity are enabling more personalized learning opportunities for both students and teachers
  • a challenge to expanding mobile learning is changing teacher practice as the success of mobile learning depends on a shared vision for how to personalize learning
Around the world there is more interest in, and acceptance of, mobile technology and the role it can play in learning.  Parents, teachers, administrators and students who are using mobile devices to support learning already see the advantages of being able to choose the right tool for the task.  In our Elementary prototype, the majority of students were easily able to make an informed choice about which device was best for the task they were doing, and within the class I also noticed a collaborative "pick and mix" approach as students shared devices.  I frequently observed, for example, two students working together sharing one iPad and one laptop between them.  An observation from one teacher was that this collaborative work using two devices completely eliminated copying and pasting - students read together on the iPad, discussed what they were reading, and then used the laptop to make notes either in Google Docs or Google Slides that both students would then have access to later.  

Another important aspect of using mobile devices to personalize student learning is being able to use social media to meet their learning needs.  Elementary students already use blogs, wikis and some classes use Twitter.  In Secondary some teachers are using Facebook with their students (for example see this blog post by Rory Newcomb).  Research from Speak Up shows that
Principals that are adopting, piloting or evaluating the concept of BYOD are 17% more likely to see the value of students using their own tools as a means to create a more personalized learning environment
and these principals are also more likely "to increase the capacity of their teachers for using technology more effectively within instruction":
BYOD friendly principals are 24% more likely to see the inclusion of those devices in the classroom as a catalyst for improving teachers' skills and over a third increased teacher productivity. (the emphasis is from me)
More and more we are discussing the importance of supporting teachers as they change their practice.  At ASB this support has come as a result of superstructing:  we have reorganized ourselves into the R&D team and the T&L (teaching and learning) team which makes it possible to prototype and iron out  possible problems before implementation, and because we aim to give personalized professional development to our teachers.  With the introduction of mobile devices, teacher need both the pedagogy and the time to think about how to change their practices to incorporate these devices.  Both R&D and T&L are vital as it is not possible "to simply overlay technology onto pre-existing pedagogy and practice".  Technology provides both a challenge and an opportunity for us to rethink what we are doing and how we are doing it.

If you would like to know more about our BYOD, BYOM and personalized learning you might be interested in reading the following blog posts in full: 

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Innovation, creativity, play and the maker movement

This is the second of my blog posts looking back at what I've been learning and thinking about over the past year.  Today I'm writing about how my thinking has developed in the areas of innovation and creativity.  Earlier in the year ASB's R&D team read The Innovator's DNA by Jeff Dyer, Hal Gregersen and Clayton M. Christensen.  The first part of this book discusses disruptive innovation and deals with how to become more creative. The books defines several creativity skills that characterize innovative people:  they engage in observing, questioning, experimenting and networking, all of which spark new ideas.  Most important of all, innovative institutions develop processes that encourage this observing, questioning, experimenting and networking by employees. 

In The Innovator's DNA there are many examples given of how most innovators are intense observers.  They observe what works and also become very sensitive to what doesn't work. 
Innovators also network to tap into new ideas by deliberately working with and valuing people who have diverse ideas and perspectives.  They go on to test out ideas through pilots and prototypes are where you really learn - often because the results are unexpected.  

Later in the year I was lucky enough to participate in the Invent to Learn workshop with Gary Stager and Sylvia Martinez.  Gary talked about personal fabrication being the next major revolution - with 3D printers for example you have the means of production and also the process skills to be able to design and create.  Gary talked about how the Maker Revolution is giving us the skills we need for the future and likened this to "going up on the down escalator".  Students need to try things out and learn what works and what doesn't work by working through a process of think, make and improve.  In fact, the very skills that we want to develop in students to encourage creativity and innovation are those that are fostered by the maker movement.  In Gary's opinion the most important thing we can do as teachers is to step back and let students learn through their experience.  There needs to be less us and more them.

Gary visited ASB in November and kickstarted our maker movement at school.  Another visitor we had in the same month was Suzie Boss.  In her book Bringing Innovation to School Suzie observed that many students today have problems coming up with new ideas.  She says they lack the confidence to think boldly because schools in general don't reward students for having crazy ideas.  As I read this it made me think of the Design Thinking workshop I'd attended in Detroit in the summer where we were told that during ideation we should brainstorm as many options as possible and to note down all ideas no matter how crazy they might seem.  Suzie Boss writes that "if we're serious about preparing students to be innovators we have some work ahead.  Getting students ready to tackle tomorrow's challenges means helping them develop a new set of skills and fresh ways of thinking." 

This year I've also been thinking about how easy it is (or not) for teachers to be innovators, and how important it is for teachers to be able to model this for their students.  A lot of this is down to the culture of a school and whether it supports risk-taking, which seems to be at the heart of innovation.  Does the school encourage teachers to be thinkers, so that they in turn can model thinking for their students?  Is there a willingness to explore new things, to be involved in research and development?  To be critical thinkers?  To try things out and to fail and to learn from this to try other things or ways that might succeed?

Suzie has developed an "innovation profile" which applies both to individual teachers and to the administrators who either encourage or discourage innovation:

  • Action oriented - Suzie says that "taking action is a hallmark of innovators"  Stanford University's d.school says it's about "doing and making over thinking and meeting".
  • Knowing how to network - Innovators are eager to network, mostly using Web 2.0 tools. Innovative educators are thinking aloud and sharing using blogs, wikis and Twittter.  They don't just share finished or successful projects, they blog or tweet as they go along, writing about what is working and what isn't.  Innovative educators are reflective and are happy for others to build on their experiences.
  • Risk-takers - Sharing projects in public that may or may not work as expected is very risky - but innovators are not afraid of making mistakes and learning from them publicly - and sharing across a network allows input from many others into improvements that can eventually lead to success.  
  • Forward looking - the title of this blog post comes from this statement of Suzie's:  "Because innovation creates a new normal, it's often only in hindsight that we can see the wisdom of breakthrough ideas".  Innovators are not looking backwards, however, they are looking ahead.
  • Overcoming obstacles - Innovation is messy with a lot of failure along the way - this doesn't sit right with many schools that have little tolerance for mess or wrong turnings.  Recently while Bernajean Porter was at ASB I learned a new phrase from her: "Da Um Jeitinho" which means there is always a way to make something happen.  Innovators break down the barriers!
  • Moving ideas forward - innovators spread the word, they share what is working so that others can use it too.  They collaborate and invite the community in.  They celebrate their students achievements and accomplishments openly.  
Are there other things that can help foster innovation and creativity in students?  Well according to Richard Louv natural settings and the integration of informal play with formal learning and multisensory experiences are seen as essential for healthy child development. Natural spaces are seen as similar to "loose-parts" toys (for example Lego) where children can use the parts in many different ways.  The "parts" in a natural play area can include trees, bushes, flowers, long grass, water such as a pond and the creatures that live in water, sand and so on which can fire up a child's imagination and creativity - studies are emerging from many different countries that show that children engage in more creative forms of play in "green areas", in particular more fantasy and make-believe play.  Children also play together in more egalitarian ways than on playgrounds with play equipment and structures - in playgrounds a social hierarchy is established through physical competence in contrast to open grassy areas where students focus less on physical abilities and more on language skills.  In these outdoor spaces it is the more creative children emerge as the leaders.

Would you like to read about these things in more depth?  If so please feel free to read the full blog posts I've written this year about innovation, creativity, play and the maker movement.

The courage to innovate

Observing, networking and experimenting
Invent to learn:  less us, more them
Disruption -v- innovation
Modeling innovation
Creating the new normal
Playing in natural settings

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Monday, December 30, 2013

Inquiry, questioning, designing thinking and problem solving

This is the first in a series of blog posts where I'm looking back at my learning over the past year.  I've decided to start with inquiry which is at the heart of the PYP programme, and at the same time is important when considering how to solve problems using design thinking.  Here are some of the things that I've been thinking about related to the connections and  synergy between inquiry, questioning, design thinking and problem solving.

Last year I was involved in supporting students in Grades 3 - 5 in Independent Studies.  This was a time when students could follow their own interests and inquire into something they were passionate about.  At the same time, this was an innovative approach to education so I started to think about the connections between questioning and innovation.  What I learned was that innovators ask more questions and these questions are also more provocative:
  • They ask "what is?" questions, to find out what is happening in the here and now.
  • They also ask "what caused?" questions - both these types of questions are descriptive questions.
  • Next come the disruptive questions, the ones that move your thinking forward.  These are the "why?" and "why not?" questions.
  • Finally they ask the "what if?" questions, these ones lead to the heart of innovation.
During Independent Studies I worked with our iCommons Coordinator, Ms Heeru, and she introduced me to the "question formulation technique".  This started with the difference between open and closed questions. A closed question is one that can be answered with a simple phrase or one word answer.  Examples include "Where are you from?" or "Do you speak English?"  Closed questions are:
  • quick and easy to answer
  • fact based
  • keep control of the conversation with the person asking the questions
The first word of close questions is often a word like:  do, would, are, will and if.

Open questions are ones that require longer answers because:
  • they are about opinions or feelings
  • they involve the respondent thinking
  • they give control of the conversation to the person replying to the question
The first word of open questions are often words such as: what, why, how and describe.

The question formulation technique was devised by Dan Rothstein and Luz Santana as a technique to teach students to ask their own questions.  It is a process that allows them to think more deeply and refine their questions and one that encourages divergent thinking, convergent thinking and metacognition.  As I considered the process of divergent thinking (generating a wide range of ideas, thinking creatively) and convergent thinking (analyzing and synthesizing information while moving towards a solution), it reminded me of the flair and focus stages of Design Thinking, which is something I became really interested in last year as a result of being part of ASB's Design Thinking Team and going to the a DT workshop in the summer at the Henry Ford Learning Institute.

In Design Thinking the first stage is Empathy - this is where there is a flair with ideas coming from all over the place and where you consider both the explicit and implicit needs of others.  This is followed by the focus of the Define phase where some ideas are thrown out in order to come up with a unique, concise reframing of the problem, grounded in the insights developed in the previous stage.  After Design comes Ideate, which is a huge flair.  The Question Formulation Technique (QFT) uses divergent thinking as the flair where students are generating ideas about possible research topics, perhaps using "out of the box" thinking and coming up with inventive new ideas.  It is a process that can be taught to students of all ages to help them handle challenges.

Creativity involves more than simply divergent thinking - it involves synthesizing the ideas and facts.  In the PYP inquiry cycle we talk about tuning in and finding out.  After this comes sorting out which to me matches really well with convergent thinking.  During this stage of the inquiry cycle students look at all the facts they have collected during the finding out and try to make sense of them all.  It is suggested that fostering creativity involves planning for both divergent and convergent thinking and that metacognition, being able to reflect and think about your own thinking, is essential for learning.  The QFT is a process for fostering these skills.

Since the summer Design Thinking institute, I've been thinking about how DT it can be used in education as a way of solving "wicked problems".  There are many definitions of wicked problems:
  • a wicked problem is difficult to solve because of incomplete, contradictory and changing requirements
  • it's an incomprehensibly complex and messy issue that we have trouble defining as well as attempting to solve
  • it cannot be reduced to a single cause explanation - it's complex because of the interconnectedness of things
  • it's not governed by simple cause-effect relationships
  • it hides below the surface of our immediate perceptions
  • it's a divergent problem - the more it is studied the more people come to different solutions and interpretations
Design Thinking for wicked problems goes through an inquiry cycle.  As previously mentioned, some parts of this cycle can be used by students to formulate questions before they start their inquiries.  Let me elaborate a little more now on the process, which starts with empathy.  It's important to start with this because it allows you to put aside your own wants and needs that will bring you to what could be the ideal solution for you, but not necessarily for the wants and needs of another person. Walking in someone else's shoes is important so that you design a solution for them.  This stage is the intellectual identification of the feelings, thoughts and attitudes of others - it deals with you listening to both their explicit needs and trying to hear the implicit ones too.

The next step in the process is to define or reframe the problem and to make sure you are clear about who the person is who needs the solution.  You need to listen in a focused way so that you can choose your goals.  Whereas empathy allows for a lot of diverse opinions, define narrows the focus and form a clear picture from what could be a lot of chaotic data.  At this point you may end up throwing ideas out.  Defining the problem involves making a problem statement, also called a User-Needs-Insight statement.

The third step of the process involves ideating - brainstorming the many different options available and writing down all ideas no matter how crazy they might seem.  It still includes listening to the ideas of others and possibly deciding on the best combination of ideas.  It's important to bring together a lot of ideas and diverse perspectives.

Prototyping comes next - often this might involve making a model, trying out an idea or bring an idea to reality.  This allows you to see in a practical way what does and doesn't work.  It's a place where you have have failure with low risks, and will allow you to move forward.

The last 3 parts of the process have mostly been about your own ideas, but feedback brings us back to the "client" again and this feedback will allow you to know what will or won't work for him or her.  You can then change or refine the design to make it better and more personal.  At this stage it is important to allow honest feedback.

Reflection is the final stage of the process.  Looking back allows you to move forward as you will only improve if you can reflect on what didn't work - knowing this allows you to work out how to overcome any new challenges.

We have used DT in a number of different ways at school this year, including trying to re-design a local sports club to meet both the needs of the teachers at ASB and the needs of the local Indian community.  If you would like to know more about any of these things that I've been thinking through this year, click on the links below to read my blog posts in full.

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Sunday, December 29, 2013

Things I've been thinking about in 2013

Today, as we are coming up to the end of the year, I decided I'd look back at the things I've been most interested in learning about in 2013.  When I looked at my blog this morning I was really surprised to find that out of the 4 years that I've been blogging, 2013 was the year that I wrote the fewest blog posts, yet had the biggest number of readers.  In the previous 3 years I'd written about 250 posts each year, this year I've written only 160.  At the moment I can't really think why there should have been such a decrease in my writing.  Perhaps it is because out of all the years I've been blogging I've had the most demands on my time and so had less time/energy to write?  Perhaps it is because I am talking more deeply with the people I am working with and finding less need to write and connect with others outside of my school?  In any case, this past year I think I've thought fairly deeply about many factors that influence learning, and I decided I'd spend the last few days of 2013 re-thinking about these and writing down where my thoughts are now taking me.

These are some of the most important things I've been thinking and learning about this year and that I'll be writing about over the coming days:
  • Inquiry, questioning, design thinking and problem solving - although I've thought about these a lot in isolation too, I think the most powerful way of thinking about these is how they can work together.
  • The connection between innovation, creativity and play.  This also connects with what I'm learning about the maker movement.
  • Personalizing learning, giving students more voice and choice - and how BYOD or BYOM can enhance learning.
  • The NETS standards - for students, teachers and coaches - and whether badges can play a role in promoting and recognizing student achievement and teacher PD.
I'm looking forward to sharing my thoughts about all these over the next few blog posts.

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Environmental education and outdoor play

Experience outside the school has its geographical aspect, its artistic and its literary, its scientific and its historical sides.  All studies arise from aspects of the one earth and the one life lived upon it - John Dewey 

Today I've been reading over theories of education and how they support more environmental education and outdoor play.  In recent years Professor Howard Gardner of Harvard University has added naturalist intelligence to his list of multiple intelligences.  I've also been reading about education in Finland which has a much greater emphasis on play.  Finnish students don't start school until the age of seven and Finland spends less per student on education than many developed countries, yet students in Finland do better in international comparisons in literacy, math and science.  Interestingly enough I was reading that students get an outdoor play session of 15 minutes after every 45 minute lesson and there is an emphasis on environment-based education and a large amount of experience in natural settings or the surrounding community.  Of course there may be many factors involved in why students in Finland do well on international tests, but quite possibly environmental education and outdoor play may be some of them.

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Constructively bored

I've been reading Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv while I've been home in the UK for Christmas with my children, and I've been discussing a lot of what I've been reading with my son.  Yesterday we were talking about how playing in natural spaces encourages creativity, when compared to playing in playgrounds.  My son agree with this and pointed out that when he was at the International School of Amsterdam there were several wild spaces outdoors including a pond and a small woodland area.  He agreed that some of the most creative children in his classes were drawn to these wild and natural areas.

We also talked about the way that boredom can force children to be creative - a distinction that Richard Louv terms being "constructively bored" as opposed to being "negatively numbed".  He claims that left to their own devices constructively bored kids will eventually turn to something to relieve the boredom - such as reading a book, building a fort, painting or using a computer art program and so on.  He encourages parents to nurture constructive boredom in the following ways:

  • a bored child needs to spend more time with a parent or other positive adult who can do things like take them to the library or for long walks
  • turn off the TV which provides huge amounts of audio and visual stimulation - let children generate these on their own
  • find a balance between adult direction and child boredom.  Too much supervision can kill constructive boredom and the creativity that comes with it.
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Thursday, December 26, 2013

Nature-Deficit Disorder

The term "nature-deficit disorder" is not an official term, but one that has been coined by Richard Louv in his book Last Child in the Woods.    Louv looks at the correlation between the drive in the USA since the year 2000 for higher test scores and the resulting elimination or curtailment of recess times in elementary schools.  At the same time he observes that while the number of hours at school has risen the number of students who do PE at school has fallen and these trends also correspond with a huge increase in childhood obesity.  He also notes the rising number of children diagnosed with mental disorders, in particular ADD or ADHD - in particular boys - who are put on stimulant medication.  Some of this increase may simply be because ADD or ADHD is now better recognized and diagnosed, some may be because of the availability of medication, but a large part of this is surely that parents and teachers are noticing an increase in children unable to pay attention for prolonged periods of time.

When our son was in elementary school we worried that there was a huge mismatch between his ability and his performance.  We did have him tested by an educational psychologist and were told he had ADD.  We were offered medication, but decided to try a different approach.  Over the past couple of days I've been talking to him about this and he now believes that he was mid-diagnosed in elementary school.  One of his teachers at that time, agreed with our decision not to medicate him.  She was Canadian and she talked about the fact that when she was growing up the behaviours that she noticed in our son were normal.  Coming from an agricultural background, she told us that energetic boys were actually seen as beneficial to the farming community and that had he been born a generation earlier in Canada he would have spent a couple of hours each day before school working on the family farm, and after school also doing chores and generally letting off steam in nature.  When we asked our son about our decision not to medicate him as a child he has told us he is glad we made the decision we did and that it helped him to discover strategies for coping that led to his long-term success both socially and academically.

Research from the University of Illinois has found a link between a child's view of greenery - even greenery through a window - and a reduction in the symptoms of ADD.  The research focused on play in paved outdoor or indoor areas, concluding "activities in natural, green settings were far more likely to leave ADD children better able to focus, concentrate."  Louv questions if the reverse may also be true:  that the symptoms of ADD may be aggravated by a lack of exposure to nature.

I think it is fair to say that decisions parents make about their children are generally done with the best of intentions.  This is also true of teachers, doctors, psychologists and so on.  As parents we could have made different decisions that led to different results - we had no way at the time, or for many years later, of knowing whether what we did was for the best or not, yet I would say looking back now we are happy we made the decisions that we did and that we had a school that supported them.  In a similar way, around the world many communities are making decisions to remove free-play areas and to replace them with sports fields and manicured green spaces in suburban areas - decisions made in the best interests of the community.  When my parents moved us to the edge of London we had lots of these green spaces around us for playing, now in the same green spaces there are signs prohibiting the playing of ball game, and the woods where we once roamed freely have had wood chip paths laid out through them and ponds and streams fenced off for safety.

As a child and teenager in the UK there were little opportunity for me to engage in organized sports outside of school PE lessons.  When my own children were growing up in Holland, there were many more opportunities for playing sports in the community.  Despite this there has been a huge increase in childhood obesity in recent years, despite the dramatic increase in the availability of organized sports.   Another change I have noticed is that these days children have very full schedules.  At elementary school my schedule involved going to school and very little outside of it (no homework for example), which left a lot of time for free play.  My own children had quite a lot of homework to do when they were in elementary school, and we also scheduled other activities for them such as music lessons and sports.  They also spent more time watching television than I ever did (we didn't have a television when I was young, in fact we had to watch TV at a friend's house).  Another difference was that I was responsible at a very early age for getting myself to school whereas my children were always taken to school by me in the car.  While visiting my mother a few summers ago, I happened to be walking past the local primary school at a time when school was letting out.  A huge number of mothers were parked outside in cars waiting for their children, despite the fact that in most cases it wouldn't have taken the children more than 10 minutes to walk home.  Friends of mine in the UK told me that they always collected their children because of the "dangers" of letting them come home by themselves and that when their children went over to play with friends they often dropped them off and collected them by car too.  Studies from Yale have shown a dramatic decrease in the spatial range, where parents are happy for children to play unsupervised - and also a decrease in the opportunities for students to make their own decisions involving critical thinking, problem solving, analysis, synthesis and evaluation.  Reasons for this mostly involve parents' fears - of traffic, strangers and of accidents that can happen in nature itself if children are unsupervised.

Project another generation into the future.  The children who have never seen nature except through the rear windows of cars will then be the adults responsible for preserving nature - yet they will have had very little direct contact or first hand experience out in that nature itself.  Will this be a problem, and if so what can we do about it?  I'm interested to read on into the second half of Last Child in the Woods to see what solutions Louv may offer.

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Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Playing in natural settings

Although I was born in London, when I was 5 my parents moved right to the edge of the city.  The place we moved to was surrounded by a lot of green - in fact when I started school I had to walk across a field to get onto the school bus.  There were endless possibilities for play in the nearby fields, woods, streams and ponds.  When I was still in elementary school I used to walk a neighbour's dog after school.  Mostly I'd head off into the woods, just me and the dog, for this walk and climb a tree.  In the summers my brothers and I often used to build a tree house in the willow tree at the bottom of the garden.  Back in the 1960s we knew next to nothing about environmental problems in different parts of the world but we knew quite a bit about our own local environment.

When I had my own children I was living in Holland - again right on the edge of open green space.  Evenings and weekends would see us out as a family cycling through nature, or maybe walking in the sand dunes or on the beach.  My own children used to do all these activities with us, in contrast to my own childhood when I mostly played outside unsupervised by adults.

I now live in the middle of a huge city of 22 million people where there is not a lot of nature.  The children at my school spend only a small amount of time outdoors every day and playtime is fairly structured.  While these students are very aware of many environmental issues, such as global warming,  water conservation, pollution, threats to our local mangroves and so on, most of them have minimal contact with nature itself.  Although our students can clearly articulate ways they need to save water, or why they should reuse and recycle waste, without this contact with nature I wonder how they will learn to care for our planet in more than just an academic sense.   

In the New Year we will have our second Twitter PYP Bookclub discussion about Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv.   I'm interested in the impact of being outside on children, especially when I consider the contrast between the experience students have in Mumbai when compared with the guided play/outdoor education that took place at my last school where our youngest children spent the first hour of every day outside.  One of the arguments in the book is that nature inspires creativity in children, it encourages visualization and the full use of their senses.  Another is that exposure to nature can improve cognitive abilities and resistance to stress.  Studies in a variety of European countries have compared children who play on flat, hard playgrounds with those who spend the same time playing around rocks, trees and uneven ground - these studies have indicated those children who play in natural surroundings do better in areas of motor fitness, balance and agility.  In addition they suffer less from anxiety, anger and depression.

Natural settings and the integration of informal play with formal learning and multisensory experiences are seen as essential for healthy child development.  Natural spaces are seen as similar to "loose-parts" toys (for example Lego) where children can use the parts in many different ways.  The "parts" in a natural play area can include trees, bushes, flowers, long grass, water such as a pond and the creatures that live in water, sand and so on which can fire up a child's imagination and creativity - studies are emerging from many different countries that show that children engage in more creative forms of play in "green areas", in particular more fantasy and make-believe play.  Children also play together in more egalitarian ways than on playgrounds with play equipment and structures - in playgrounds a social hierarchy is established through physical competence in contrast to open grassy areas where students focus less on physical abilities and more on language skills.  In these outdoor spaces it is the more creative children emerge as the leaders.

Recently our R&D team has been considering What If ... questions.  One of my questions was what if students had to spend one lesson of each day outside?  How would this affect their physical, social and emotional development?

I'm interested in hearing from teachers who work in schools where there is a culture of outdoor education.  Please drop me a line if you would be willing for me to contact you to find out more about the things your students do outdoors.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Caring: empathy -v- sympathy

I like to collect resources that I can use to talk with teachers and students about the attributes of the IB Learner Profile and the PYP Attitudes.  Today I came across this, posted by my friend Karen on Facebook.  I think it does a great job of showing the difference between empathy and sympathy and also for showing how empathy links with the IB Learner Profile caring.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Food, festivals and flags are just the tip of the iceberg

I'm preparing for a Making the PYP Happen workshop at my school when we return after the break, and I've been looking at articles on international mindedness.  Yesterday I came across a back issue of Educational Leadership from 2002 when I worked at the International School of Amsterdam whose mission statement included the words "education for international understanding".  I remember that while I was there we put considerable effort into this phrase and working together as a faculty to come up with a common understanding of what this was and why it was important.

The article Beyond Food, Festivals and Flags from the October 2002 edition of Educational Leadership outlines why an international curriculum is so important.  partly this is because of economic and social reasons as it is likely that young people today will have many different jobs, some of which may be in different countries or in multinationals with colleagues spread around the world.  Other reasons are because a global effort is needed to solve some of the world's problems such as environmental issues and world peace.

The article in Educational Leadership is about the definition of international mindedness by the International Primary Curriculum.  In this an international perspective includes a knowledge and understanding beyond one's own nationality, and an awareness and understanding of the interdependence among peoples and countries.  I was interested to look at an activity in this curriculum for upper elementary students which looks at media bias - news that has been represented by a second country in a way that is thought to be unfair by a first country, and I started to think about how students could use Google News to read the same story that was told by different national newspapers and analyse why perspectives vary.

In an IB school it's important that all of us (students, teachers, parents) show international mindedness.  Many schools do study food, festivals and flags of other countries, but true intercultural understanding goes way deeper than these - beyond the things that you can see to the very heart of how we think and act.  For me, the core of international mindedness is that "other people, with their differences, can also be right." [IB Mission Statement]

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Happy 4th Birthday!

My blog is 4 years old today!  I first started writing it at a previous school after persuading the powers that be of the need to give up fixed computer lessons of 40 minutes per week and to move to a flexible schedule where I could be booked to help teachers to integrate technology.  I wrote because I wanted to document this journey, get feedback from others, to learn and share that learning with those teachers who also wanted to make changes to traditional paradigms.   During the past 4 years I have been writing, I've also developed a professional learning network made up of like-minded educators from around the world, who encouraged me to push forward with my dreams of how technology can transform learning.  This PLN inspired me to continue to write about what I was doing and eventually some of them also were fundamental in helping me to leave a school where there were limited opportunities for professional growth and move to one where the opportunities are outstanding.

A year and a half after making the move I have been involved in establishing a BYOD programme in our elementary school as well as a mobile devices prototype.  As part of the R&D core team at ASB I have looked at internships and am currently looking at new models of professional development.  Last year we completed a tech audit, and this year we are driving forward with personalized PD for all our teachers and assistants.  I am so happy here at ASB - it's such a dynamic place with a "can do" attitude that is totally focussed on providing the best possible education for our students.  It's wonderful to be in a place where I feel valued and where I know I can add value.   I have also been given so many great opportunities for professional growth myself and today, 4 years to the day after starting this blog, it has just been announced at the faculty meeting that next year I will have a new title and job description at ASB:  Director of Educational Technology.  I wonder if I would have got to this position without my blog - without writing and reaching out and meeting people who encouraged me to move to a place where I could flourish.  For sure this would never have happened at my old school.   I left Switzerland with very mixed emotions but I remember thinking everything will be alright in the end.  I have the feeling that this is still not yet "the end", but for sure everything is alright!

I decided I'd celebrate the 4th birthday of my blog by sharing 4 of my top posts over the past 4 years.  These posts continue to get hundreds of hits each day.

In March 2010 I attended the Apple World Leadership Summit in Prague where I learned about the SAMR model.  I've found this a useful model to share with teachers to discuss how technology should be used to redefine learning.   There are links at the end of this post to follow up posts about practical ways we tried to implement this model.  The SAMR Model

In January 2012 I made a presentation to our staff meeting about different tools that teachers could use to record student learning.  This continues to be a very popular post, though two years on I would probably recommend different tools.   10 Web 2.0 Tools for Recording Learning

In June 2013 I returned to Switzerland for a visit, meeting up with friends there after being away for a year.  Following the comments from these ex-colleagues I decided to write a post about what my role had been as a tech integration specialist.  Many of these tasks were not part of any official job description, but together these are what led to me being able to support and encourage the use of technology by teachers.   What is the role of a Tech Integration Specialist?

In October 2012 I was looking at the TPACK framework and asking myself what was the difference between using technology and integrating technology.  One of the comments was combining both TPACK and SAMR would be a great way of using technology to transform learning - I agree!  Using Technology -v- Integrating Technology

I hope you enjoy looking back over these posts and celebrating my blog's 4th birthday.

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