Sunday, May 26, 2013

Creativity requires time

I was sent this by one of our teachers today and thought it was worth sharing.  When given more time students can produce something extraordinary.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Becoming an Ideas Bandit (how to steal ideas)

At the R&D Meeting yesterday, one of our team mentioned the term Ideas Bandit.  An Ideas Bandit, she explained, is someone who takes the time to go and observe another teacher, and then "steals" one of their ideas to try out in their own class.  When I said that this was a great idea, she said that she herself had "stolen" this idea from a Twitter chat that she had been involved in some time ago - she herself was actually an Ideas Bandit!

One of the things I really like about this is that it forces you to get out of your classroom and go into someone else's.  It means you are going in with a positive attitude as you are looking for the perfect idea that you can use yourself.  We know that there is so much expertise already in our classrooms, and we know how valuable it is to observe other teachers - this simply formalizes the process.  

There is another benefit to it too.  If you know that you are going to be observed by a colleague, perhaps it might make you more thoughtful about planning your lessons.  Also, if you know you have a really great lesson coming up, you could tell colleagues about it so that they could make the time to come and observe the lesson and "steal" your ideas.  

For this to work there needs to be a culture of trust and sharing in the school community.  I was reflecting on this in the light of the new design of ASB's elementary school.  We don't have any walls because we don't have any classrooms as such.  We do have some glass partitions (so we can always see what is going on) and we do have furniture on wheels that can divide up different spaces.  In the elementary school being an Ideas Bandit is a piece of cake, as you can observe anyone at any time.  

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Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Directed -v- Self-Directed: Developing a Maker Mindset

We had our final R&D meeting of this school year today.  One of our items to discuss was the evolution of the library into a more creative space - perhaps a place for performances such as poetry readings, perhaps a place of recreation, perhaps a makerspace.  As our High School librarian pointed out - we want to move out of the pantry (storage) and into the kitchen (creating something).  A few days ago I was given the book Design, Make, Play by Margaret Honey and David E. Kanter, and when I got home I dipped into it.  I wanted to understand more about a maker mindset, and being in the elementary school I started to think about how playing, inventing, creating, exploring and so on naturally seemed to lead to curiosity, investigation, discovery and learning.

As I'm also part of ASB's newly formed Design Thinking team, I have been reading a lot around design over the past weeks.  In the first chapter of the book design is defined in the following way:  "the iterative selection and arrangement of elements to form a whole by which people create artifacts, systems, and tools intended to solve a range of problems, large and small."  Already, having been involved in teaching Design Technology some years ago, I was familiar with the design cycle which involves identifying a problem or need, planning different options, modelling and testing them.  Design always involved the students in critical thinking and problem solving of real-life problems, whether it was designing a physical object such as a kite in such a way that it would fly or a designing a process such as how to teach something to a different group of students.

Of course simply designing is not enough - one of the things students had to do in my MYP class was to actually make the kites and fly them.  In this way making is defined as "to build or adapt objects by hand, for the simple personal pleasure of figuring out how things work."  Now this was no easy feat - some people at the school where I was working were fairly dismissive of design technology as the focus was on IT and there were no facilities for making things - in fact DT was referred to as "shop".  In order to teach DT I had to take over the art room and use simple materials such as balsa wood, bamboo, cling film, plastic sheeting, paper, material, string and hot glue guns.  We had a few hand saws, some hammers and nails.  Looking back I find it ironic that from those small beginnings I have ended up on ASB's Design Thinking team and that this summer I'm off to the Henry Ford Institute to a Design Thinking workshop!

Among my friends who are also educators there seems to be a renewed interest in the value of play.  If the emphasis at school is on "work" and if play is where the discovery, innovation, creativity and learning actually takes place out of school, then it seems that the best way to develop a maker mindset is to introduce more play into schools.  In a chapter entitled The Maker Mindset Dale Dougherty writes:
The biggest challenge and the biggest opportunity for the Maker Mindset is to transform education ... We can create a workshop or makerspace, and we can acquire tools and materials, but we will not have succeeded at creating innovative thinkers and doers unless we are able to foster a maker mindset.
A maker mindset involves having a can-do attitude and a growth mindset - a belief that your capabilities can be developed, improved and expanded.  It's not just a matter of what you know, it's a matter of taking risks and perhaps failing and learning from those failures.  It's a matter of being open to exploring new possibilities and developing your full potential.  There is a huge difference between giving a child a Lego kit complete with instructions as to how to make a castle with the expectation that the child will follow the instructions and build a castle, and giving a child a bag of wooden blocks and letting them explore and build whatever they want to.  In classrooms it's the difference between being teacher directed and being self-directed and deciding what you want to inquire into and what you want to do with what you find out.  Teachers who want to encourage a maker mindset in their students, therefore, need to let go and encourage the students to play, design and make.

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Sunday, May 19, 2013

The connection: BYOM and personalized learning

This week I've spent a lot of time thinking about and preparing for ASB's presentation at ISTE on our BYOD laptop programme.  At the same time I've also been involved with one of our R&D teams investigating the value of students bringing in and using their secondary (mobile) devices, which we are now calling BYOM.  Recently we also asked teachers to volunteer to be part of a prototype as we investigate mobile apps and mobile devices and have had an overwhelming response from our faculty.

Interestingly enough, I have recently heard from teachers in a previous school who asked for any information or research we had access to that showed that technology/1:1/BYOD could improve learning.  This caused me to go back through some previous research that I'd already submitted to the school when I worked there several years ago.  This week our High School Tech Coordinator also shared the Project Tomorrow Speak Up report on Learning in the 21st Century that provides plenty of evidence about how mobile devices and social media lead to more personalized learning.  This weekend, therefore, I've been synthesizing all of our experiences and all the research and thinking about how the BYO programme is leading us closer to our goal of personalizing learning for all our students.

In the 3 BYOM 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 next 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.  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.

It always amazes me that in situations where the majority of students have devices that they are able to use completely independently of the school's network through their own data plans, that schools still believe it is even possible or desirable to block students from using their own devices.  Many students already have a clear idea of how these devices can and are transforming their learning by making it more personalized, and there is a huge body of evidence that shows trends in the link between the use of technology and student achievement, teacher productivity and parental engagement.  Speak Up 2012 notes:
As teachers and administrators have become mobile device users, or mobilists, their appreciation for how these devices can support and enhance learning is exponentially increased.
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.

In summary, two key points of the 2012 Speak Up report are :

  • 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
It is therefore important for our tech coordinators/coaches to support this change in teacher practice, so that it is more in line with our goal of personalized learning. (This actually brings me onto another conversation I've been having with one of our Educational Technology Specialists as to how we can further implement the NETS-Cs - but that will be the subject of a forthcoming blog post).

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).  Conversations with friends at other schools, however, have shown me that many administrators are still reluctant to allow students to use their own devices at school as they are concerned about distraction, network security, theft and student internet safety - most of which could be dealt with through a more dynamic responsible use policy and better classroom pedagogy on the part of their teachers .  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)
Our experience is also that parents are also largely on-board with using mobile technologies at school.  Quite possibly at ASB this is because of the fabulous job we do with parent education.  We have weekly Parent Tech Connection sessions on both campuses, require parents to take various online courses through ASB's Online Academy, and send weekly tech updates to parents.  We also give parents various books when they join the ASB Community, such as the Phillips and Fogg book Facebook for Parents.  Our parents are very supportive because they exhibit a strong desire to help their children achieve and be successful and because they understand how mobile devices can improve personalized learning.  They are also supportive because they see their children moving ahead and want to take advantage of the parent education we offer to keep up with what their children are doing.  Offering parent education has been a huge step for us in being able to move forward at the rapid rate that we have done at ASB.

Last week I wandered the Elementary campus with one of our Directors of Technology Support.  We are making a video about our BYOD programme to show at ISTE and so we interviewed teachers about what questions or concerns they had a year ago before we transitioned into BYOD, and what they feel now.  Teachers expressed that their greatest concern was that they would be unable to support the number of different devices that students brought in.  Now they feel these fears were totally unfounded because firstly we provided an IT Kiosk for tech support on every floor of the building where students were 1:1 (Grade 1 upwards) and secondly because they learned a lot from their students.  An inadequate infrastructure and not providing enough teacher training and support were two of the key findings as to why BYOD might not be successful in other schools - ASB has both of these things nailed!

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.

Speak Up 2012 ends with this:  "students, parents, teachers and administrators are all increasingly tapping into mobile devices and social media to personalize learning, enhance collaboration and increase professional productivity".  Some administrators need to rethink education, embrace the change and stop trying to stuff the genie back into the bottle.

Do you want to know more about our BYOD programme?  Our 2 Directors of Technology Support, our Middle School Tech Coordinator and myself are presenting BYOD in 4 Easy Steps at ISTE next month.  Our session is completely sold out, but if you are at ISTE and want to know more, we are happy to connect with you there.

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Monday, May 6, 2013

Thinking: the past -v- the present

I spent today sitting around in a hot and crowded office, waiting for my visa to be processed, and while there was not much to do, there was plenty of time to read and think.  I spent my waiting time reading an article in Educational Leadership called Our Brains Extended by Marc Prensky.  This was a timely article as I've been mulling around for quite a while now the thought that learners need not all learn the same thing (which is quite a radical thought in the era of standardized testing).  I supposed I've been thinking a lot about testing recently as our students have taken the MAP tests, and earlier this year some students took the WRAP tests.  I have never worked at a school that conducted these tests before, so I have very little knowledge of them, and spent quite a lot of time simply observing what was happening as part of generating data that would help us to make more accurate decisions about teaching and learning.  At the same time I've also had conversations with teachers who have expressed concern that based on results of such tests they feel their students are not where they should be in subjects such as reading.  This, of course, is no surprise to me, having worked in international schools for 25 years - when you consider that the language of the test is quite possibly the 2nd or 3rd language for many of our students, you would expect that they might not be doing as well as those who had only learned or been educated in one language, the one that was being tested.  My own experience as a parent of such children has taught me patience - somewhere in Middle School or High School my children's first language (Dutch) stopped interfering with their ability to write English.  Their teachers and I stopped worrying about their reading and writing.

The first paragraph in Our Brains Extended starts off comparing technology skills with reading:
Educators should think of technology in the same way they've long viewed reading - as a key to thinking and knowing about the world.  In fact in the 21st century, technology is the key to thinking and knowing about the world ... reading is no longer the number one skill students need to take from school to succeed.  Technology is.
The reason for this is simply that our minds are no longer powerful enough - and technology provides us with the new and enhanced capabilities that we need.  Prensky argues that this leads to is a huge impact on curriculum design:  for example should we still be focused on writing by hand, mental arithmetic and so on?  He argues that many of the Common Core standards are only serving the needs of the 20th century.  What are the implications for teaching reading, when you can scan any text and hear it read aloud in the language of your choice?  What are the implications for teaching maths when machines can calculate quicker and more accurately than humans?  In these cases, using technology is the best way to achieve something.  Prensky writes that "producing letters, reports and essays are intellectual needs of our past; working effectively in virtual communities, communicating effectively through video and controlling complex technologies are what students need to be successful in the future."

Today, before I left school for the Foreign Registration Office, I went and helped out in the Kindergarten guided maths session.  During this time students were moving between different stations, some of which involved using manipulatives, some of which involved using online maths resources (I saw that some children had abacuses they were using at the side of the laptops) and other students were working in small groups with a teacher or a teaching assistant.  Chatting with a teacher, I found out that the Kindergarten teachers decided to do guided maths in this way, after the success of trying out the Daily 5 for literacy earlier this year.  The Daily 5 involves reading to self, listening to reading (online), word work and writing, and just like the guided maths students spend 15 or 20 minutes at each station before moving on to the next.  I was impressed to see the way that these 5 and 6 year old students were able to independent make choices about how they were using technology.

Marc Prensky cautions us not to use technology as a "new way to do old things".  He writes that technology allows us to cut out something old to make room for the new things that our students need, and that technology can then be used to enable students to do powerful new things that they couldn't do before, such as posting their ideas online in order to get global feedback.  However this article also goes further - it calls for a new curriculum that eliminates separate classes for different subjects and instead focuses on effective thinking, action, relationships and accomplishments.  I started to think about this article, and the new curriculum described in it, along the lines of the IB Primary Years Programme (PYP).

  • Effective thinking: focuses on mathematical and logical thinking through stories and games.  Technology could be used to involve students in simulations to promote critical, scientific and mathematical thinking and problem-solving skills.  This emphasis on thinking in the elementary school would give students a knowledge of their own strengths and passions and would build on a foundation of reading and technology.  The focus would no longer be on subject matter, but on developing thinking skills.  When I reflected on this I thought that much of what Prensky describes could be found in the PYP, especially the development of inquiry and transdisciplinary skills.
  • Effective action: could also start in elementary school as students are presented with challenges and learn the project management skills to manage real-life problems.  This area of the curriculum would focus on developing students' skills to be proactive and to initiate positive actions to improve their communities, country and the world.  Again reflecting on this I find the PYP focus on action to be very much in line with these proposals.  I can think of numerous examples this year where students from ASB have quite spontaneously come up with projects to help better the lives of others in Mumbai.
  • Effective relationships: focuses on developing communication skills - another area that is highlighted in the PYP.  I'm interested in how Prensky emphasizes relationships in both the real and virtual worlds with a focus on ethics, citizenship and politics.
  • Effective accomplishment: would allow students to build up a portfolio of individual and group projects.  Again I reflected on how our students from Grade 1 upwards use Google Sites to develop their own ePortfolios, and how they are able to share these with their parents (and later with others) during the student-led conferences.
One of the joys I find in teaching the PYP is that there is no fixed body of content that has to be gone through each year and then tested.  Prensky writes that much traditional content would still be taught in his new curriculum, but that it would be done in a different way - learning would be more personalized and "just in time" as students work on what they need for their projects or to further their interests and passions.  He argues that strong skills in thinking, acting, relating and accomplishing are more useful for life after school than common standards for each subject, because in the future knowledge and work will be increasingly interdisciplinary.

My favourite analogy in this article was one that highlighted the importance of ditching the "old" skills that are no longer valuable or useful and using technology to do new things in new ways:
Anyone who maintains that we should continue to teach and use both the old ways and the new is suggesting that we maintain an expensive horse in the barn in case our car breaks down.
It's definitely time to hang up those saddles and put the horse out to grass!

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Wednesday, May 1, 2013

The Power of Spoken Word

Several weeks ago ASB hosted Sarah Kay and Phil Kaye who introduced our students to the power of spoken word poetry.  In the last week or so I've seen a spoken word YouTube movie doing the rounds of Twitter and Facebook.  This video, I Will Not Let An Exam Result Decide My Fate by Suli Breaks (Sulibreezy on YouTube), could be a great provocation for a staff meeting or a professional development session.   It's actually a response to another video by him called Why I Hate School But Love Education (which I'm also adding below).  However let me tell you something interesting: Suli Breaks is not a high school dropout - he is actually a graduate from Sheffield University who studied law, but who started doing spoken word performances in his last year of university!  Food for thought!

(For those who want to know a little more about Suli Breaks - he was brought up in Wood Green, a rough area of North London not far from where I grew up, and after graduating became an ambassador for Saving Our Streets,  an organization that focuses on reducing serious-street and gang-related violence.  Having grown up in London myself I was horrified to read the statistic that between 2001 and 2010 more people were killed in London by gun and knife violence than British service people killed in Afghanistan and Iraq.  Suli grew up surrounded by poverty, drugs and violence but believed that education was the avenue that would lead him to a brighter future.  He is passionate about making a difference through using spoken word poetry to educate, enlighten, engage and spread the message of non-violence. )