Thursday, February 28, 2013

"Great coders are today's rock stars!"

Reflecting on the NETS-Cs (part 2)

Yesterday I started to reflect on my role as a tech coordinator in the first 6 months at my new school.  While at times the role seems so huge as I am responsible for an entire campus of the school, the NETS-C standards have helped me think about my position in a different way.  Yesterday I reflected on 2 of the NETS-Cs (Digital Citizenship, and Content Knowledge and Professional Growth), today I'm going to reflect on the 3rd standard.

Digital Age Learning Environments:  Technology coaches create and support effective digital age learning environments to maximize the learning of all students

  • Modeling effective classroom management and collaborative learning strategies to maximize teacher and student use of digital tools and resources and access to technology rich learning environments:  In every school when I've moved, I've spent the first year or so modeling.  What to me now comes as second nature as far as classroom management techniques for 1:1 laptop environments is concerned, is something that new teachers often struggle with.  I'm happy to spend the first few months modeling and then gradually hand over to the teachers when they feel more confident.
  • Maintain and manage a variety of digital tools and resources:  In my past 4 schools I've seen myself as an important finder and provider of resources.  I attend the PYP unit planning meetings as well as having tech meetings with each grade level.  We talk about what students want to know and do, and I've attempted to find easy ways for them to access online resources or apps.  In the past I've also budgeted for various peripherals that students can use to investigate or to express their understanding including digital microscopes, cameras, video cameras, iTouches, and so on.
  • Coach teachers and model use of online and blended learning, digital content and collaborative learning networks as well as expand opportunities and choices for online professional development for teachers and administrators.  This year I've participated in a number of online learning courses, and I've also been an online workshop leader for Making the PYP Happen.  I'm active on Twitter and I write a weekly blog for our teachers where I share professional resources.  In a weekly newsletter I share new tools and opportunities to network with other educators around the world.  Recently we surveyed our teachers and assistants about their personal professional development.  59% of assistants answered that they read online journals and blogs for their own professional development and 56% have engaged in PD for tech integration by either taking face-to-face or online workshops and courses.  33% also replied that they have provided professional development to colleagues.  Among the teachers these numbers are even higher:  97% read online journals, blogs and websites for PD, 81% have deliberately chosen a tool to learn on their own to better integrate technology into their professional practices and 59% have taken a face-to-face or online workshop on technology integration.  As ASB has its own Online Academy teachers and assistants are easily able to access the growing number of online courses that are offered by the school.
  • Select, evaluate and facilitate the use of adaptive and assistive technologies to support student learning:  This is an area I feel I need to improve on.  I need to work closer with our student support services and EAL teachers to find technologies to support all our learners.
  • Troubleshoot basic software, hardware and connectivity problems:  yes I do this, we have a team of tech support personnel who do this, and we are training the students to do this for themselves too.
  • Collaborate with teachers and administrators to select and evaluate digital tools and resources that enhance teaching and learning:  One of the joys of working at ASB is that if teachers want to try something out and evaluate it there is a lot of support for this.  Teachers have been empowered by BYOD programmes, and we have support specific apps that they want to use on their mobile devices.
  • Use digital communication and collaborative tools to communicate locally and globally with students, parents, peers and the larger community.  Once again I would say we are doing well at ASB in this regard.  We use Edublogs, NetVibes and WikiSpaces to communicate and we collaborate with other students and teachers using Skype and Edmodo.  We've even had some department meetings using Google Hangouts.
ASB is a true digital age learning environment, and reflecting on this standard I think my area to work on is to collaborate closer with our teachers to personalize the learning for all our students.

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Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Reflecting on the NETS-Cs

This school year I've done a lot of talking with teachers about the NETS-Ts and NETS-Ss.  We have devoted some of our tech meetings to looking at the NETS-T rubrics as we ask ourselves are we designing digital age learning experiences for our students, are we helping them develop the skills they will need for their futures such as real world problem-solving and the ability to collaborate with people around the globe?  Over the next few weeks I'll be meeting with individual teachers to collect artifacts that can show how our students are developing their skills too.  Now, I think, it's time for me to reflect on my role, so over the next few posts I'll be consider the NETS-Cs.

I'm not going to do these in order.  I think I'd actually like to start with the last two:

Digital Citizenship:  Technology coaches model and promote digital citizenship

  • There are three standards here, the first of which involves modeling and promoting strategies  for achieving equitable access to digital tools and resources.  While in the past I worked at a school that struggled to provide equitable access (hundreds of students sharing 20 lab based computers or a cart of laptops), now I'm in a situation where from Grade 1 upwards each student has his or her own laptop, and where below this students have access to shared laptops and iPads.  Accessing the tools is a non-issue for us and over the months that I've been here I've been working hard to build up a bank of web-based resources for teacher and students to use. 
  • The second of these standards involves modeling and facilitating safe, healthy, legal and ethical uses of digital information.  I would say I'm really good at this.  I've worked so hard this year on having all students, teachers and parents understand what is responsible use of technology and with the amount of tech actually being used I've had surprisingly few incidents where I've had to speak to students about inappropriate use.  At a recent parent meeting I was delighted to hear from parents that at home students are also insisting on being ethical and legal.  They understand copyright, citing of sources and the idea of creative commons.  They also understand the importance of sharing their creations and as we come to publish the work that we've done in Independent Studies and Media classes we wil be adding a CC licence to these publications too.
  • The final standard here involves modeling and promoting diversity, cultural understanding and global awareness using digital-age communication and collaboration tools to interact locally and globally.  Kindergarten students have been involved in collaborative projects such as sharing VoiceThreads with students in other countries as we have asked what characteristics make cities unique.  Our Grade 3s are involved in project-based learning with a number of partner schools collecting data on water usage in the attempt to answer the question "Will Mumbai run out of water?".  Students are using Edmodo and Google Docs.  Teachers have also created a Facebook group to share their ideas.  Another project that we got involved in recently was with a school in the UK that was doing a Geography unit on India.  We were able to skype with these students to talk about the culture of India and to answer their questions.  As a professional I think I model digital-age communication and collaboration well.  I'm active on Twitter and join in with various #chats, I write a number of blogs and contribute to parent newsletters, I have run parent sessions about blogging and I mentor teachers around the world using skype.  This year I've also participated in MOOCs, become an online workshop facilitator and started to design online courses.  Generally I feel I'm happy with the progress I'm making with the NETS-C Digital Citizenship standards.
Content Knowledge and Professional Growth:  Technology coaches demonstrate professional knowledge, skills, and dispositions in content, pedagogical, and technological areas as well as adult learning and leadership and are continuously deepening their knowledge and expertise.
  • There are 3 standards in this too, the first of which is to engage in continual learning to deepen content and pedagogical knowledge in technology integration.  As mentioned before I read continually, am involved in webinars and have taken several online courses myself this year (photography, Google advanced searching, multimedia and digital storytelling, and personalized learning).  Next week I'm also going to Japan for the Flat Classroom Leadership Workshop.  Right before Christmas our school hosted Google's first India Summit where I was a presenter.  I've also attended 3 TEDx events in the past year, ASB UnPlugged, workshops on brain research and ISTE.  I would say that on this standard I'm doing pretty well.
  • Engaging in continuous learning to deepen professional knowledge, skills and dispositions in organizational change and leadership, project management and adult learning is something I think I could work on.  I did a Learn2Facilitate course run by the IBO in order to become an online workshop leader where I did have to consider the unique characteristics of adult learners.  Recently I've been involved in designing an online course for the ASB Online Academy too.  I was offered the opportunity to take a Master's Degree in Educational Leadership, but decided after a lot of thought not to do it, simply because of a lack of time.  I would say that being part of the R&D core team has given me a lot of insight into organizational change and project management.
  • Regularly evaluate and reflect on professional practice - this I think I do on a daily basis through my blog.  I find I'm very tough on myself - I set high standards and goals and want to reach them.  Last summer I contributed to a book that is shortly being published by the IBO.  This led me to reflect on how I had developed communities of practice as part of my professional growth.  Presenting at conferences is also a great way of reflecting on myself as a learner.
These two standards were relatively easy to reflect upon (hence I did them first).  Being new to my school the other standards are perhaps more difficult to reflect upon, as it takes time to effect changes and really make an impact.  Nevertheless I'm determined to look carefully at them and think about the progress I have made and the progress I still need to make.  

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Observing, Networking and Experimenting

A couple of days ago I posted about two of the skills that are important for innovating.  This post is about the other three:  observing, networking and experimenting.  As in the last post, my main reflection is on how these are applicable in schools that want to change the way they have done things to improve student learning.

In the first part of The Innovator's DNA there are many examples given of how most innovators are intense observers.  In this case they observe what works and also become very sensitive to what doesn't work.  In my experience it's hard to be in a place where you notice that something is not working, and yet where critical thinking or asking questions are discouraged.  Having left such a situation, it's easy to look back and see how those who "rocked the boat" or questioned the educational or technological status quo (even in staff meetings where we were told to discuss something) were targeted as individuals and a key way of dealing with them was to give them books to read about how to get on better with people!  This brings me onto my second point:  networking.

I've worked with some people who were good at networking, but who still didn't seem very creative, innovative or open-minded people.  Then today I read about the difference between discovery- and delivery-driven executives.  Most managers are actually delivery-driven - they network to sell themselves or their company/school or to build relationships with people who have the things they need, or those who can help them move further up the career ladder.  This is completely different from innovators who network to tap into new ideas by deliberately working with and valuing people who have diverse ideas and perspectives.  This is called "idea networking".  Great examples of places where you can idea network include TED conferences as the convergence of technology, entertainment and design often creates an "ideas accelerator".  Of course some of the best innovators don't rely on networking outside of their company - they form a personal networking group within their organization where they can test out new ideas.  This, I think, is how we operate in our R&D core team.

Thinking about our R&D work now brings me onto the next skill of innovators - that of experimenting.   Testing out ideas through pilots and prototypes are where you really learn - often because the results are unexpected.  I love the way that we prototype many different things as a team.  We have tried gamification, proposed a new school calendar with intercessions that will start this summer, prototyped a second BYOD in 3 different areas of the school, piloted some project-based learning and currently we are looking into an internship programme.  It's great to be involved in these projects, we learn so much and modify along the way.

The final thing I want to write about today is what I read about living and working in different cultures. Having a diversity of experience allows you to think in more divergent ways.  As an adult I've live in 7 different countries in North America, Europe and Asia and it's interesting to read that "the more countries someone lives in, the more likely he or she is to leverage that experience" to innovate.  Equally interesting is the fact that the more industries or companies someone has worked in, the more likely he or she is to be an innovator.  Moving around is good for you!  It helps you to develop experiences with a variety of people, and you learn new skills and different ways to solve problems.

The final section of part 1 of The Innovator's DNA is really interesting so I'm quoting it in full:
Although questioning, observing and networking are excellent for providing data about the past and present, experimenting is the best technique for generating data for what might work in the future. 
This is the first time I've ever been in a school that has an R&D team, and I have to say I'm so glad that I'm part of it.

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Monday, February 25, 2013

Connecting the Unconnected: Associating and Questioning

When I was still teaching in Thailand I attended the Apple Leadership Summit in Hong Kong where I met Tom Kelley.  Tom gave me a copy of his book, The Ten Faces of Innovation.  Tom's point was that organizations need lots of different sorts of people to be a success.  As I read through this book after the conference, I asked myself which role I played, and the conclusion that I came to was that I was mostly a cross-pollinator.  Tom described this role as someone who draws associations and connections between seemingly unrelated ideas or concepts to break new ground.

Back in The Innovator's DNA, I'm reading about where innovative ideas flourish:  at the intersection of diverse experiences where "a combination of novel ideas coalesce into something quite surprising."  It's the place where you have the freedom to look in different directions.  As Edward de Bono wrote: "You cannot look in a new direction by looking harder in the same direction."

At this intersection, it's important to ask questions.  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.
Why do people find it so hard to ask question?  Mostly, it seems, it's because they don't want to look stupid and because they fear being regarded as uncooperative and disagreeable, so find it easier to stay quiet.  My own experience has shown me that there are some places where it is safe to ask questions and others where it is not.  The schools where it is safe are the innovative schools, the ones that want to move in new directions.  And I've also learned that these are the schools where I want to work.

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The courage to innovate

Our R&D team is reading about creativity and innovation - we've all been given The Innovator's DNA by Jeff Dyer, Hal Gregersen and Clayton M. Christensen.  The first part of this book is about disruptive innovation and deals with how to become more creative:  creativity has been identified by IBM as the number one leadership competency of the future. The book itself is aimed at businesses, so as I'm reading through the introduction I'm asking myself how this applies to education.  One of the first quotes to really leap out at me was this:  innovative companies are almost always led by innovative leaders .... if you want innovation you need creativity skills within the top management team of your company."  The books goes further to define these 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.

Reflecting on this in the light of schools where I have worked I have to agree.  There is a huge difference working for a school that promotes rather than suppresses questioning.  My observation is that schools such as ASB, ISA and NIST that encouraged questioning were the schools that moved forward in many different ways:  at ISA we moved forward with the curriculum, our teachers and administrators were some of the designers and developers of the PYP; at NIST we moved forward with technology, introducing a 1:1 tablet programme; at ASB we have moved forward by superstructing: our T&L (teaching and learning) team is moving forward with our goals of personalizing learning and developing 21st century skills while our R&D team is investigating project-based learning, gamification, an alternative school calendar, internships, BYOD2 and library 3.0.  This team is encouraged to ask questions to understand why we are doing things the way we are today, and think about how they can be disrupted so that we embrace new possibilities and changes of direction.  We are discussing new ideas, considering different points of view, and prototyping.  We want to change the status quo, and to do that we have to have the courage to innovate, which involves taking risks to make change happen.  How different from schools where there is comfort in the routine and where rocking the boat is discouraged!  Reading through the first part of this book I came to a better understanding of why this was the case:  the reason why some organizations fail at disruptive innovation is because "the top management team is dominated by individuals who have been selected for delivery skills, not discovery skills ... most don't know how to think different."  However, it is also apparent that you can learn to think differently and as I read on in the book I'll be blogging about how to do this and become more creative and innovative.

Image Credit:  EdWilder on

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The language of images

A couple of days I was talking to our librarian who made a very interesting statement.  "We don't have a library anymore," she said.  "The whole school is a library now."  Of course what she said is true.  On moving to a new campus this school year the resources of the library were dispersed.  We now have an iCommons on each floor of the building - these areas are full of comfy chairs, beanbags, cushions, "cave" spaces and of course books - and in each of these iCommons areas is an IT Kiosk where students and teachers can get technical assistance.  Inquiry goes on everywhere in the building and the emphasis of the librarian this year has been on electronic resources and teaching the students about the different online books and databases that the school subscribes to.  The iCommons website has been redesigned to include a literacy hub, a research hub and a media hub.

Recently I've started getting involved in media literacy with our Grade 1 and 2 students.  We've started looking at what it means for our students to be literate, and we have decided that it goes far beyond simply reading and writing.  With so many different media out there today, it's important for students to be able to "read" the language of photographs, films, advertisers and sounds.

My daughter is at university studying art history.  She is learning about how to look at a painting and to analyze and deconstruct it from the point of view of an artist.  Although she is really good at art, her course doesn't involve creating any herself.  We decided, however, that as well as students being able to  "read" images, they also need to create and manipulate them.  Most people nowadays have access to a camera wherever they are (as they are on most mobile devices) and with a tap on the screen these can be uploaded to photo-sharing websites.  We decided that being able to create their own photographic images was an important skill, so with our Grade 2 students we have started by teaching them photography.

A few weeks ago we asked students why people take photos, and whether photos can be art.  We showed them how to use a camera and talked with them about techniques such as getting in really close to the subject, thinking about the angle, noticing where the camera was focused, considering the light and so on.  We also gave a very brief introduction to the "rule of thirds".  Having given students some basic instruction on how to use a camera and how to compose photos, we then let them walk around the school with a partner taking photos.  After this we showed them how to attach the cameras to their laptops so that they could download the images.

Even at this stage it was clear that taking the time to look at photographs and think about some simple rules before taking photos had a remarkable impact on the quality of the photographs that the students were able to take.  Our next step would be to edit these photos.

We chose a very simple, free, online editing tool PicMonkey.  This actually has a lot of possibilities, but for our purposes we wanted students to be able to crop their photos, enhance the colour and possibly change how sharp the image was, and to be able to frame it.  Students worked on a choice of 2 or 3 of their photos to make them really special.  They then added them onto a Google Slideshow and gave them a title.  We're going to turn this presentation into an eBook using FlipSnack.

The results have been amazing to us.  The composition and editing have been really creative.  Take a look at the photo at the top of this post which was shot and edited by a one of our students today.  He has thought carefully about the angle, composition, colour and light and made a choice to take the photo through netting to give an impression of the tall building next to the school, and he has then gone on to think about adding a double frame and picking up the colour of the building and adding it to the frame.  Even at the age of 7, he is someone who is already becoming confident in "speaking" the language of images.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Fight, Flight or Freeze?

New technology can be disruptive and often that is scary.  As teachers we make our lesson plans and when they go well some teachers refer to them and the learning engagements that they have created over and over again, year after year.  And yet, as time goes on, it's getting harder and harder for teachers to do this with technology.  New hardware and software is coming out all the time - regardless of whether or not we want it to, change is often thrust upon us.  Just as we get ourselves comfortable with using a particular  tool, it changes and we have to start learning it all over again, or sometimes it disappears and we have to start searching for a new one.  With technology the only thing that we can be sure of is that change is constant, and because our students are at the cutting edge, we as teachers need to be there too.  Students love to learn new things and often they will experiment with the new creative tools that come along.  Some years ago, when I realized that some of my students were using Second Life, I felt that I had to try it out too, to understand what they were getting up to in this virtual world.  Now I feel the same way about Minecraft.  With many of my 5th Grade students interested in gaming and programming, I'm thinking about how I can introduce it in an authentic way for all students.  When I mention this to colleagues I can see that it makes some of them uncomfortable, but I'm OK with this because I've learned that to be at the cutting edge it often is uncomfortable.  I try to keep abreast of all the latest developments in technology, but even so I really have no idea of what tech innovations are going to be mainstream in our schools in a few years time.  For example just 3 years ago iPads were "new".  Now, it seems, everyone has one and there is no turning back - and if we all have the technology, then as teachers we should be encouraging students to use it, even if it means that we have to acknowledge that we are no longer the "experts".  Teachers and schools react to this in different ways.  At a recent professional development, our Superintendent Craig Johnson used the fight, flight or freeze analogy to describe how some people and institutions are reacting to new technologies.  Some are fighting against it, clinging onto "traditional" standards, refusing to acknowledge the impact that technology can and is having on learning.  Some are running away from it and hoping that it doesn't overtake them.  Others are frozen, looking at what is moving towards them but stuck in the headlights and unable to move forward.

Some schools of course embrace the change and actively look for ways of using it to improve what and how they are doing things.  Thankfully I'm working at a school that is dreaming big dreams.  As I was looking at the school's Facebook page today I came across a couple of videos that made me smile.  The people in these videos are from all areas of our school:  students, teachers, administrators, parents, security officers, bus drivers, cleaners, canteen workers, and every one of them is proud and happy to be working here.  At ASB we pursuing our dreams and in doing so we are living our mission and enhancing the lives of others.

(As I read in a blog post today:  "We don't try to motivate them, we strive to inspire them")

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Saturday, February 16, 2013

Talking about tablets

Last week I read through the NMC Horizon Report: 2013 Higher Education Edition about the most important trends over the next 5 years.  The section that I was personally most interested in was that on tablet computing, which has an adoption horizon of one year or less.  Tablets are seen as more useful to students than smartphones because of the larger screen that allows more detailed interfaces or viewing area, however the main reason they are seen as being transformative is because of the apps, making them popular and powerful tools.

One major advantage of tablets is for reading magazines and eBooks - which now outsell print versions.  Many universities are embracing BYOD and tablets seem an ideal choice as students can add their own apps and so personalize their learning environment with all the resources they need on just one device.  Because mobile apps are often integrated with social networks, tablet are also effective for collaboration - for example with shared notebooks - and for communication of things such as assignments, deadlines, schedules and so on.

Tablets are already the devices used by our Early Childhood students at school.  Several departments also have sets of tablets that students can use in their lessons.  Last year my school ran a BYOD prototype, after which is was decided not to include tablets as a BYOD option for students.  This year, however, one of our R&D teams has considered tablets as a secondary device.  BYOD2 prototypes have ben run in all areas of the school and we have observed that a second device can be useful for learning in many ways.  It could be that tablets, used as a secondary device, may well have an adoption horizon of one year of less at ASB.

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1:1 programmes and personalized learning

I've started an online course called The 5Ws of Personalized Learning, and one of my first assignments was to look at a variety of topics such as adaptive learning, blended learning, differentiated instruction, the "flipped classroom", 1:1 learning, project-based learning, IEPs and learning labs and to write a position statement about whether these are personalized learning or not.  I decided to write about 1:1 learning as I felt that as Tech Coordinator these studies were most relevant to me and my experience of using technology with students.

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.  For example evidence from Maine suggests improved writing and science scores and improvements in problem solving.  Project RED shows increased academic achievement and a decrease in drop-out rates.  Most studies show an improvement in engagement.  The question is whether or not these improvements are due to the technology, or the improved teaching practices that accompanied the adoption of 1:1 learning.  Looking at it from this perspective, research shows that the major factor in success comes from teaching practices of teachers using the technology and that if teachers are not adapting their materials and practice then the 1:1 programme doesn't have much impact.

I would argue that a 1:1 programme can certainly lead to more personalized learning, but not necessarily 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 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.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

What's on the horizon for higher education?

In past years I've avidly awaited the K-12 NMC Horizon Report, but this year I've also been excited by the recent publication of the Higher Education edition of this report.  Being at a school that is cutting edge and forward looking means that many of the trends identified in this report will be seen in my school, even before they become mainstream in universities.  The ASB R&D Core Team is already investigating several of the trends that, according to the report, will be adopted by universities over the next 5 years.  The Horizon Report identifies three time frames for adoption:  the next 12 months, the next 2-3 years and the next 4-5 years.

The Near Horizon
The two technologies to watch in the next 12 months have been identified as MOOCs and tablet computing.
  • MOOCs (massively open online courses) are already being offered and hundreds of thousands of students are enrolled in them.  ASB has also started its own OOCs (I took out the M simply because our numbers are in the hundreds, not in the hundreds of thousands at this point) in CyberSecurity and in searching for and using information.  The first of these is already underway, the second will be starting in April and I'm excited to be one of the designers and facilitators of these courses.  The great thing about MOOCs to me is that they are offered at zero cost and yet offer the chance of lifelong learning so that the participants can acquire new knowledge and skills and perhaps become more employable.
  • Tablet computing - the use of portable devices with mobile apps, is also under consideration by ASB's R&D team.  We have prototyped the use of these as secondary devices (our primary device will remain a laptop) in all divisions of the school.
The Mid Horizon
The Horizon report identifies 2 more trends that will become widely adopted in the next 2-3 years.  Once again ASB is already ahead of the game as we are actively involved in both gamification and in learning analytics.
  • We have an R&D team studying gamification and how incorporating elements of games into teaching can impact student learning.  These elements involve challenges to move up to different levels and allow students a great deal of choice about how they learn.
  • Learning analytics is also part of our everyday programme.  We recently trained teachers in the DataWise model and in my division of the school grade levels teams meet with instructional coaches to analyze data about how their students are performing.  This allows us to personalize learning - one of our schools goals for this year.
The Far Horizon
Two trends are identified for adoption in the next 4-5 years:  3D printing and wearable technology.
  • Over the past few days I've seen that we already have a 3D printer at school, though as yet I'm waiting to see how it will be used.  The Horizon Reports predicts that these will be increasingly used in the arts, design, manufacturing and sciences to create 3D models.
  • Wearable technology - I was hoping to see an example of the Google "Project Glass" goggles at the recent Google India Summit that we hosted at school, but alas I'm still waiting to actually get my hands on a pair of these.  These are augmented reality enabled glasses that operate via voice command, presenting the wearer with a layer of information about their surroundings.
Since ASB has already transitioned into many of the above trends I'm now curious to find out what has been identified as trends for K-12 education (though I'll have to wait a few more weeks for the publication of that report).  What I'm asking myself, however, is this:  if ASB is already implementing many of the "new" trends identified for Higher Education, even those that are identified as being 4-5 years away, will the trends identified for the next 5 years for schools be those that are already mainstream here?

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Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The changing roles of teachers

When I was at school back in the 1970s, a school was regarded as a good one if it prepared students well for university or for work.  I remember along one corridor at school there were wooden boards with the names of previous students who had gone on to Oxford or Cambridge, who had got a Bachelor's degree or who had trained as SRNs (state registered nurses).  We also had a secretarial college at school where girls in the final 2 years of school could learn shorthand, typing, economics and commerce.  Back in the 1970s not many school leavers went to university, so schools did their best to prepare them for the world of work - and most of my friends who left school at 16 were successful in that world.

Today, however, with 50% of school leavers going to university in the UK, the focus of schools has changed.  And yet many argue that schools are not doing a good job - university lecturers I've spoken to in the past year have mentioned that students are not as prepared as they used to be for the academic rigors of university, and employers are constantly complaining that school leavers don't have the right skills or attitudes for work.  Where are we going wrong?

When I was 17, I couldn't wait to leave home.  There wasn't anything wrong with my home but I longed for independence.  Nowadays, friends of mine with children in their early and mid 20s are complaining that they "can't get them out of the house".  Young people today, for many reasons, don't seem as independent as they did in my day.  I wonder why?

When I was home at Christmas visiting my family I took a good look around at what exactly young people were doing.  Many more are in education until the age of 18 or 21 (in my day you could leave at 15 and get a job), but many of these are not preparing themselves for job they eventually want to do.  Not everyone wants to go to university and become a doctor or a lawyer.  What opportunities are there for those who want to become a mechanic or a plumber?  I remember as a young teacher in the UK buying my own old and not very reliable car and taking it into school for the students to work on in their car mechanics lessons.  They did things like change the spark plugs, check the oil, stuff I didn't have a clue how to do.  When in my first year of teaching I skidded on some ice and bashed the car into a wall, the students hammered out the dent for me and repainted the car.  I'm not sure I'd let a 14 year old loose on my car today, yet the work these students did was good: I still have a fruit bowl and 2 lamp stands made for me by students in their woodwork lessons over 30 years ago, and one of my 16 year old students designed and made me a beautiful dress that I wore to a posh ball.  But who is training these dressmakers, carpenters and car mechanics of the future these days?  Who is giving them the opportunities to see whether or not these are skills they want to develop?

The brains of teenagers these days are not so very different from the brains of teenagers in my day.  They are developing the abilities to set long-term goals, analyze problems and think about ethical and moral issues.  Only a few years out of school or university, many young adult are marrying and having families and they are settling into career paths that many will follow for years.  Probably these are some of the most important decisions they will make in their lives, yet nothing that schools do seems to be preparing them for their future.  Instead student are still subject to what has been described as a "shopping mall" type of education - short snippets of different subjects, none of which relate to each other.

At the end of Thomas Armstrong's book The Best Schools, he refers to the changing roles of both students and teachers:
  • In early childhood students need to be players and teachers need to be facilitators
  • In elementary schools students need to be workers an teachers need to be coaches
  • In middle schools students need to be explorers and teachers need to be guides
  • In high schools students need to be apprentices and teachers need to be mentors
There are schools that are taking a different approach, and I'm very thankful that for the past 24 years I've been working in schools that are not constrained by a national or state curriculum, where the schools are freer to focus more on developing the whole child, on inquiry, on becoming independent and empowered learners.  At the moment at school we are considering an internship programme for our high school students to give them the opportunity to learn about a potential career, develop marketable skills, and establish a network of contacts that can lead to a job offer later. 

I've contacted a number of former colleagues who worked in schools where there was a work experience programme in the past - it seems these have been phased out now.  However I'm sure that somewhere out there, there are schools that are doing this.  Do you work at one of these schools?  If so I'd really like to pick your brains about how to go about creating an internship programme.  If you think you can help me, please get in touch either by leaving me a comment or by emailing me or sending me a message on Twitter.  Thanks!

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Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Piggy in the Middle

When I was a child we often played a game called Piggy in the Middle.  It could be played with any number of people who passed the ball to one another while the person in the middle tried to catch it.  I've also heard it used to describe someone who "sits on the fence" in an argument - who doesn't want to agree with either side.  As I was thinking about this today, it occurred to me that this is a good description of what a lot of students go through in Middle School:  they constantly feel like they are the Piggy.

In my 30 years of teaching I've seen Middle Schools come and go.  When I first started teaching in the UK in the 1980s, Middle Schools were for students aged 10 - 12 and High School started at age 13.  Later most local educational authorities in the UK did away with Middle Schools and went back to a primary (up to age 11) and secondary (11 - 16/18) system.  When I first started teaching in international schools, Grade 6 was the last class of the Lower School, later it became the first class of the Middle School, and then the Middle School was abolished and it became the first class of the High School.  Middle Schools, like early adolescents, often seem confused in their philosophies and unsure of where they are going.

However many educators would argue that the ages of 11 - 14 are a very special time in a young person's life, as they leave childhood behind, and this leads to the need for a very special type of school.   Puberty has a great impact on the social, emotional and intellectual development of teenagers.  Thomas Armstrong, in his book The Best Schools, argues for "the establishment of a mentor relationship between teacher and student, the creation of small communities of learners, and the implementation of a flexible, interdisciplinary curriculum that encourages active and personalized learning."  That sounds to me very similar to the aims of the IB MYP, which is the curriculum that has been adopted by 3 out of the 4 international schools where I have taught.

One of the most important tasks of young teens is to form their own identity.  During these years they struggle to find out who they are and what their value are.  Armstrong has identified some best practices  in Middle Schools to encourage this personal growth and development:
  • a safe school climate: characterized by positive interventions, anti-bullying programmes, conflict resolution and character education.
  • small learning communities
  • personal adult relationships: usually a teacher who acts as an advisor or mentor, often over a period of 2 or more years
  • engaged learning: an emphasis on the quality of the learning environment to counterbalance the dip in motivation that many experience after leaving elementary school.  Motivation can be fostered by giving Middle Schoolers an increasing role in determining their own learning experiences
  • positive role models
  • metacognitive strategies: encouraging reflection and thinking about thinking, learning study skills, setting realistic goals
  • expressive arts activities: which provide students with opportunities to express themselves in a non-judgmental atmosphere
  • a focus on health and wellness: information about sex education, substance abuse, depression with the emphasis being on how to stay healthy
  • emotionally meaningful curriculum
  • empowering students to take on roles in decision making
  • honouring and respecting student voices
  • fostering social and emotional growth: including interpersonal and intrapersonal intelligences and facilitating positive social relationships
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Sunday, February 3, 2013

Reflecting on 300,000

My blog readership has just passed 300,000 - a figure that blows my mind.  To mark this, I wanted to review the posts that have been the most popular, some of which I wrote many years ago and which continue, every single day, to receive hits.

The SAMR model and SAMR from theory to practice - these posts, which are linked, have been read by over 15,000 people and continue to be the ones that get the most hits on a daily basis.  At my old school in Switzerland I used to refer to the model when talking about how we were using technology - were we simply doing what we did before but on the computer (enhancement) or were we using the computer to do new things in new ways (transformation)?

Everything will be alright in the end - written as I was leaving my old job and moving to my new one, this was a bit of a heart searching post.  For me I can hardly begin to describe how positive my life has become now in a school that is cutting edge and values forward-thinking.  Every day I count my blessings that I was strong enough and smart enough to cut my losses and move on.  India is not everybody's "cup of tea", but for me what I have found is that if you embrace India, India will embrace you.  I look back at photos of Switzerland, at the sheer beauty of the place, and I do it now without a lump in my throat because I know that for me the most important thing is working in a school where I love to go to work each day.   I am valued by the excellent educators and visionary administrators I work with here who are without exception focused on student learning.  Every day I am pushed forward, my thinking is challenged in a good way.  I am thriving on the change.

10 web tools for recording learning - this continues to be popular as I think many people are searching for tried and tested Web 2.0 tools to use with students.  I just looked over the list and every one of these tools I have used this year too.  There are some new ones I would add.  Time for a new post I think!

Using Technology -v- Integrating Technology - as my new school is in a different place from my old one as far as tech integration, I haven't had to talk much about the SAMR model because with a 1:1 laptop programme from Grade 1 upwards technology is just a part of what we do (we are not using it as a substitute).  However this year I've started to think more about the TPACK framework that links content, pedagogy and technology.  This may become my new favourite model, as we have transitioned into BYOD and are considering BYOD2 with a second device.

Information Literacy, Digital Literacy and Digital Citizenship - was a post I wrote while at my old school as I was considering how the library and IT departments should be moving closer together.  No need for this discussion in my new school.  We don't have a library, we have iCommons on each floor of the school and I work so closely with our librarian that I sometimes think we are thinking with one mind.

Digital Tools for Project Based Learning - although I wrote this post while I was still at my last school, there was no PBL going on there, so it's taken me until now to be able to consider this in a more practical way.  Our next unit of inquiry in Grade 3 will be to consider whether Mumbai will run out of water.  We are collaborating with schools around the world as we seek to answer this question, and to consider our responsibility as residents of this mega-city.  With this post I was trying to tie the skills necessary for PBL with the ICT strands in the PYP.   I'm delighted that when I was asked the question recently by the Grade 3s as to whether PBL and PYP could work together, I was able to confirm the perfect mesh.

21st Century Learners need 21st Century Teachers - students are changing and so teachers need to change.  In this post I considered new roles for teachers and how we have to move away from TTWWADI (that's the way we've always done it).  Are we the teachers that our students deserve?  This is a question that I continue to ask myself on a daily basis.

Effective Digital Learning - in this post I reflected on the 4 core elements of digital teaching, as identified by Andrew Churches.  I continue to use his educational origami wiki and have recently considered his post on Digital Citizenship and BYOD (blog post about this coming soon!).

Rethinking Curriculum - most people who know me will confirm that I get quite passionate about curriculum at times.  In this post I've considered the habits of mind necessary for success and the mind-shifts that need to happen.  I wrote this in my old school, where it was impossible to debate this openly (suggesting that things needed to change was regarded as disloyal).   I'm happy that I'm no longer surrounded by this kind of negativity and where the shift has already been made.

Three hundred thousand is a huge figure and the support of those who have read my blog cannot be overestimated.  I would not have had the confidence to move on without you all.  I would not have had the strength to let go and to trust that things would work out perfectly:  that I would end up in exactly the place that was right for me.  I feel I have stood on the shoulders of giants.  I am immensely grateful to every single one of you for your support, your kind words, your encouragement and above all else, your belief in me.  Thank you all.

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