Thursday, January 31, 2013

Schoolhouse -v- Real World

As I read on in Thomas Armstrong's book The Best Schools, I've come to the chapter on elementary schools which is where I've spent the past 19 years (having originally been trained as a secondary teacher).  Armstrong refers to many of these classrooms as a "high stakes, low-excitement world".  He writes that children between the ages of 6-7 leave early childhood behind as their brains change, in particular in the areas of language and spatial relations, as children move into concrete operational thinking.  This is the idea age to "master maths concepts, decode words, and think inside of their heads while they read, listen to the teacher, or engage in other learning activities."  At the same time children are becoming more social - their horizons have extended beyond their immediate family and now involve friends and their families, club leaders, coaches and so on.  Because children start to actively participate in a busy social world, they become curious to understand more about the world.  Using technology at this age can provide a window into this world and can allow students to access information about the world quickly.

It seems that just as children arrive at this "spark" of curiosity, schools more moving them in the opposite direction.  Rigid curriculum narrow down this curiosity and are the death of wondering and constructing their own knowledge.  These are the things that, according to Armstrong, the "schoolhouse" overemphasizes:

  • Reading, writing and maths at the expense of other school subjects.  In the words of Howard Gardner there is too much attention on linguistic and logical-mathematical intelligences at the expense of the other six intelligences.
  • Scripted teaching programmes
  • Fact based learning and standardized tests - a emphasis on acquiring finite, testable chunks of information at the expense of real world encounters where students can use their imaginations and questioning minds.
  • Textbooks and worksheets
While I have been at international schools that have utilized standardized tests, I'm thankful that the emphasis has definitely been on real world learning and the social construction of knowledge.  The PYP programme acknowledges that "learners have beliefs about how the world works based on their experiences and prior learning.  Those beliefs, models or constructs are revisited and revised in the light of new experiences and further learning."  Since the PYP strives for international mindedness, teachers are concerned that students are making connections between home, school and the world.  I'm glad to read that, according to Armstrong, such an approach is be regarded as the best and most developmentally appropriate educational practice for elementary students.

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Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Using data wisely

One of our school-wide goals this year is that we personalize learning, using data to inform our decisions.  Earlier this school year I blogged about the DataWise process and the PD that we were given at school to help us collect data and examine our instruction with the goal of improving learning.  Because of this I found the infographic that was sent to me today to be quite interesting.  In particular I like the section in the diagram that show the process of how online learning can result in individualized content and assessments and allow teachers to intervene when timely to do so.

How Can Data Mining & Analytics Enhance Education?

Infogaphic credit:

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Play: an endangered species in Early Childhood?

The word "kindergarten" is a lovely one - a children's garden.  To me this sums up a sort of magical place where children can run around and play.  All too often, however, kindergartens today are not places of play at all, but places where students have quite structured lessons in reading, maths and other subjects and then are subjected to standardized tests to find out how much they have been able to master.  All too often our "children's gardens" have been turned into "learning factories".

In the book The Best Schools, Thomas Armstrong writes about the developmental needs of 3 - 6 year olds and describes how young children are very different from older children.  He refers to the work of Piaget who discovered that at this age young children don't use logical operations in their mental processes as they make sense of their worlds, and to the work of brain researcher Marian Diamond who discovered that a 3 year old's brain is twice as active as an adults and that this activity remains constant until about the age of 9 or 10 when it starts dropping, reaching adult levels by the age of 18.  Because of this activity, he writes, social and emotional factors in the child's environment and a hands-on approach are very important in the process of brain development.  The most important provider of these developmental requirements is play which facilitates physical and sensorimotor development, promotes social learning, and supports emotional growth and cognitive development:
Play is an open-ended experience initiated by children that involves pretense, rough-and-tumble activity, or the spontaneous use of real objects for creative activity.
Armstrong writes that the rise of technologies is linked with the demise of play and he makes the following distinctions between what is developmentally appropriate and what is not:
  • A developmentally appropriate education:  values spontaneous play, multisensory and hands-on learning, natural environments and a child-centred approach to learning.
  • A developmentally inappropriate education: emphasises formal lessons in reading, writing, maths and other academic subjects, the use of high-tech tools, the assignment of homework, the use of standardized testing, a long school day and a teacher-centred approach to learning.
In schools where I have worked recently the pendulum is definitely swinging back towards play.  These schools have visited and seriously considered the approaches taken by the Reggio Emilia schools and the Creative Curriculum.  Many international schools are now building or creating separate Early Childhood centres within their schools where there is more emphasis on play and on choice.  Over the next few weeks I'm planning on spending more time in our kindergarten area looking at some of the changes they are putting into practice.

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Thursday, January 24, 2013

Critical Friends: listening for what's new

Today I attended my first Critical Friends Group.  Before coming to ASB I'd never heard of such a thing, but over a number of years groups of teachers at ASB have gone through this training and a couple of them decided to start a CFG at school this year.  Although I didn't know much about CFGs, this definitely seemed like a group that I wanted to be a part of.

The Critical Friends Groups concept was developed by the National School Reform Society in the USA.  Basically it is a professional learning community made up of 8-12 educators who meet once or twice a month for about one and a half to two hours.  The aim of these groups is to improve teaching practice through reflection, inquiry, collaborative learning and explicitly talking about our teaching practice.  Taking the time to discuss our practice in a CFG is one way we can try to turn our theories into better teaching practice and improve student learning.  An important aspect of this is mutual trust and respect and a freedom from fear.  The main tool used in CFGs is protocols.

Today's meeting started with a protocol called Connections.  The aim of this protocol is to build a bridge from where we are to where we are going.  We took 6 minutes to reflect and share whatever we wanted - to bring our thoughts and stories into the meeting and maybe to connect to what we were about to do.  With this protocol there is no compulsion to speak or to speak in any order.  It's possible just to sit quietly and think and reflect to yourself without sharing.  It does not involve responding to anything that anyone else has said, in fact we were told to speak only once.  The rest of the time we simply listened to what the others in the group were saying.  I noticed that at times it was hard just to listen and not to respond.

We then had some time to read and used another protocol:  Save the last word for me.  We read an article and then decided as individuals what was the most important passage in the reading for us.  In the group we took turns to read these statements out load to the group, but didn't say anything about them at that time.  After some time to reflect on these passages, the rest of the group had one minute each to respond and say what they thought about the chosen passage, then the first person had a further three minutes to say why he or she chose it and what it meant to them.  We repeated this protocol until everyone had shared his or her reading.

Today's reading was entitled Willing to be Disturbed, from Turning to One Another by Margaret Wheatley.  This reading was basically about our willingness to have our ideas and beliefs challenged so that we can think in new ways.  Here are some of the passages that I found most interesting from this reading:

  • We don't have to let go of what we believe, but we do need to be curious about what someone else believes.  (In our discussion some of us disagreed with this and felt that we did have to let go of some of what we believe.)
  • A rich tapestry of interpretations are much more interesting than any single one.
  • When I notice what surprises me I'm able to see my own views more clearly, including my beliefs and assumptions .... If I can see my beliefs and assumptions, I can decide whether I still value them.
  • It's not differences that divide us.  It's our judgments about each other that do.  Curiosity and good listening bring us back together.
  • We have to be willing to move into the very uncomfortable place of uncertainty.
  • Change always starts with confusion;  cherished interpretations must dissolve to make way for the new.
While I was reading and listening to what others in the group were thinking I kept coming back to the IB mission statement "others with their differences can also be right".  I think one of the most powerful things I got out of this meeting today was this:
I need to learn to value your perspective, and I want you to value mine ... I know we don't have to agree with each other in order to think well together.
 Photo Credit: Pink Sherbet Photography via Compfight cc

Friday, January 18, 2013

Why the BRIC countries are doing so well: technology use in schools

Over the Christmas holidays I went to visit my son, who has started working for Lloyds.  While there I heard one of his flatmates referring to a group of countries as the BRIC countries.  I hadn't heard this term before so was keen to look it up (since I was sure that I was living in one of them).  I was easily able to work out that BRIC was an acronym referring to Brazil, Russia, India and China - the "newly advanced economic development" countries.  When I read more about this I found that the term BRIC has been around for about 10 years and reflects the shift in global economic power away from the G7 economies of the USA, UK, Japan, France, Germany, Canada and Italy.  It is estimated that the BRIC economies will overtake the G7 economies by 2027.  The question I'm asking myself is why are these newly advanced countries so successful?  One reason could be attitudes towards technology.

The infographic below compares technology use in schools in China and the USA.  It is based on a study by Dell and shows that Chinese students are more likely to have technology integrated into school subjects, and that students in China spend more hours per day using computers at school than students in the USA.  Of course what is being done in those hours is important, and there is no indication in the infographic as to how China is developing 21st century skills in its students.  In fact more students in China state that their needs are not being met, and of course we know that access to many sites is blocked in China which will certainly impact on what students are able to do online.  However in an increasingly technological world, this infographic seems to suggest that Chinese students could be better prepared for their futures.

China vs. The U.S.: Meeting Students’ Technology Needs

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Two questions

Since I moved to India and to ASB 6 months ago, I've frequently been asked 2 questions:  what's it like to live in India and what's it like to work at ASB.  Perhaps this video answers these questions better than I ever could.

How the brain learns and remembers: patterns, predictions and pleasure

This is my final posting following ASB Un-Plugged Impact 2013.  In this post I want to write about the workshops I did with Dr. Judy Willis.  Dr Willis talked about her research as a neurologist and a teacher and explained what she believes transforms inputs into learning:
R = Reach attention 
A = Attitude and behavior (Amygdala)
D =  Developing memory (Dopamine)

Dr Willis started with the following statement: the brain seeks 2 things, patterns and pleasure - and she kept returning to this to show how inputs into the brain are converted into memories and learning.

Reach Attention
The first thing that has to happen is that the brain has to pay attention to something.  In our brains there is an "attention filter", the Amygdala, that lets certain things in.  Everything comes into the brain via our senses, so all learning begins with sensory information (sight, smell etc.)  However we don't pay attention to all the sensory information that is coming in as there is too much information around us - our Amygdala selects what gets through as far as the Prefontal Cortex, the place where long-term memories are made and where we can reflect on something before we act on it.  Senses come in through the RAS (reticular activating system) - an involuntary filter that determines what information is admitted.  The RAS inputs millions of bits of sensory data every second but only 2000 bits can get through the filter every second, so a lot doesn't get into our brains or memory.  

Remember the brain is programmed for pattern and pleasure and at it's most basic level for survival.  The RAS is a primitive low brain structure and is similar in all mammals to help them survive in an environment.  Mammals are programmed to look for something different, something that has changed in their environment that could be a threat to them ( they are looking for a change in the expected pattern of their surroundings).  Something perceived as a  threat gets priority over any other change and the brain asks, can it hurt me?   The brain doesn't respond to any other change until it has processed a change or perceived threat.

What strategies can teachers use to affect what gets into our brains:
One of the most important things that teachers can do, taking this into account, is to change the pattern in order to get students' attention.  Novelty leads to curiosity.  It can take the form of sounds, color, movement (of teacher to another part of the room - which resets data coming in and lets students know the situation has changed), placement of objects, your appearance.  Basically what Dr Willis was saying was that students will pay attention to something that is different from the pattern that they expect to find in the classroom.

Novelty (different patterns) are not enough however.  There is also a difference between inputting information and getting students' attention for that, and sustaining their attention.

Sustaining the attention
Dr Willis demonstrated one of the best ways of sustaining attention - asking students to make a prediction.  After making the prediction they want to know if the answer is correct and so prediction sustains attention.  The brain seeks the pleasure that is the reward of making accurate predictions (because making correct predictions boosts dopamine in the brain which is the source of intrinsic satisfaction).   Waiting for the answer to predictions sustains attention and increases motivation and perseverance.  Students want to make predictions because even the possibility of a correct prediction releases dopamine.  If you allow students to modify/revise the prediction then it also sustains attention as their brain seeks clues to see if they have made a correct predictions and it looks out for more information that will make their prediction correct - they are therefore paying more attention.  
Other things that boost are movement, music, being read to, humor, choices, interacting with peers, optimism.

What happens when students get predictions wrong?
Video games are based on choices and predictions of what to do and what will happen when you do it.  You can be wrong for 80% of the time in video games and still be motivated to continue playing, as you get immediate feedback and you learn from it.  Even though you are mostly wrong, your attention is still engaged - continuous failure leads eventually to success.  It's not a problem to make mistakes if the feedback is immediate - the reasons for this are connected with how dopamine works to affect memory.

Learning occurs as your memory changes to make your future predictions more accurate. The brain is "addicted" to dopamine and will do whatever it takes to get more.  The brain pulls on prior knowledge it already has to make predictions, which causes a release of dopamine into the Prefrontal Cortex (using prior knowledge is connected to making a prediction).  The brain likes this increase in dopamine and wants it to happen again - so when a correct prediction is made the brain remembers it (so that in future it can use it to get more dopamine).  With an incorrect prediction the dopamine is withheld, so the brain rejects that inaccuracy and doesn't remember it as the brain doesn't want the dopamine to drop in future.  When finding out the correct answer the brain then rewires.  If the brain gets timely feedback about what is incorrect the brain networks are revised leading to accurate, long term memory.

The Hippocampus is a place where information goes after the Amygdala before the Prefrontal Cortex.  Again this is all about patterns.  Short term memory is also called working memory and it how the brain interprets information based on past patterns.  If new information comes and there is no pattern then the new information could be misinterpreted, rejected or disappear within a minute.  This is why it's always important for teachers to activate prior knowledge before teaching something new - so that the brain sees the pattern and the new information has something to add onto.  Patterning is the basis for literacy and numeracy.

Long term memory
Getting something from short-term memory into long-term memory is the role of the Prefrontal Cortex.  Neuroplasticity is the process by which each time a brain network is used, a memory is activated and gets stronger which leads to neuroplastic growth as new dendrites (connections) grow. Long term memory occurs when the connections (dendrites) between neurons are better.  Practice makes permanent - if you continue to use the new information it will make the dendrites stronger and add the information into long-term memory.  Mental manipulation occurs when you translate information from one form to another for example turning text into a diagram or teach what you know to someone else.  This reinforces understanding. The best way of developing long-term memory is to use information in new ways.  Good ways to do this are to summarize new learning in blogs, text messages or tweet.

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Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Playing Games

Today in Day 2 of ASB Un-Plugged Impact I've spent the whole day in workshops with Dr Alan Gazzaley.  This morning Dr Gazzaley discussed some really important information about how playing video games impacts on the brain's plasticity.

Here are the facts: 90% of American children and teens play video games - typically for an average of 2 hours a day.  70% of head of households also play video games.  42% of gamers are female (and this is growing).  The average age of a gamer is 37 years old (and this age is increasing)  29% of gamers are over 50 years old.  Consumers spent almost 25 billion dollars on games, hardware and accessories in 2011.  Modern Warfare 3 sold 6.5 million units in first 24 hours of release, and went on to gross $1 billion dollars world wide in the first 16 days.  

This phenomena is only going to increase.  What are the benefits?  Can we harness these as educators?

There are many types of video games:   strategy, fighting, role playing adventure, flight, racing, family, sports, arcade, children's games and so on.  Dr Gazalley concentrated on the impact of a very popular type of game dominated by adolescent males: first person shooter games which use technology the most.  He demonstrated this from a cognitive perspective showing that the players are wearing headsets and are talking to other players who may be located around the world.  They use auditory and visual information and in these games a lot of information is being presented and decision need to be made quickly.  Players need to distribute their attention widely, but it's also very necessary to hone in on things in a very focused way.  Rapid task switching leads to the production of a lot of adrenaline and dopamine.  These games are very immersive.

How do action video games players compare to non-players on lab-based cognitive tasks?
The majority of research makes comparisons between players who game for 4-6 hours per week -v- non players and differences are seen in the following areas:
  • Attention - action game played have better attention abilities and are less distracted.  This is measured using Flanker Tasks - show that non-video game players get more distractible as the games get more difficult.  Video game players have greater attentional capacity.
  •  Field of view - in useful field of view tasks non video game player get 30 - 40 % of this test correct compared with results of 70-80% for video game players.  These results indicate that gamers are better at attending to things on the periphery of field of view.
  • Speed - attentional blink tasks were used to measure this.  Results show that non-players have more problems with quick tasks as it takes their brain more time to recover between each task.  Video game players showed improved scores at all speeds and their brains recovered much faster when doing quick tasks showing more attention.  This study showed there is transfer between video game and these blink tasks which are very different.
  • Tracking multiple objects - non-video game players have more problems tracking multiple objects whereas video game players do better at following more objects as they have a better working memory and are able to hold more information in their minds.
  • Variable attention - tests of variable attention are often used with ADHD students - non-players are slower at identifying infrequent targets though they are just as accurate as gamers.
  • Task Switching - these tests involved rapid switching of colour and shapes.  Video gamers are faster at switching between both manual and vocal tasks.

What is the effect of training the brain of non-gamers?
Non-video game players get better with more practice - even if the practice is only of a simple game such as Tetras - after 10 hours of training.   Even after this short period of time non-gamers show an   extreme improvement in tests such as the useful field of view test and they also improved in both speed and attention.  After 30 hours of training with video games non-gamers also showed better ability to track multiple objects and an improved ability to keep information in their mind.  Dramatic results were shown in females in the useful field of view test.  In general results show that males do better on spatial abilities but in this case female gamers do better than males who are non-players.  This improvement was also sustained after 3 months, even when the females didn't play any more video games.  Results show that after playing games there is no difference between males and females in spatial attention.

Conclusions from the research on training the mind by playing games
Video games enhance all of the following and these effects are still demonstrated after training:
  • attentional capacity
  • distribution of attention
  • speed of attention
  • # of items in attention
  • sustained attention
  • task switching
  • mental rotation of objects
  • multi-tasking
  • change of direction
  • the speed of visual search
  • updating working memory
  • visual short-term memory
Five month after training results are still significant for spatial attention, visual sensitivity and mental rotation, leading to the conclusion that video games have an overwhelming impact on the brain's plasticity.

How do the brains of expert video gamers look different from non-players?
Video game players are more accurate and faster.  The brain doesn't look different as far as focus, but non-gamers show more attention to non-relevant or distracting information.  Video gamers suppress irrelevant information much better - which has an impact on their working memory. Video gamers can deal with greater information load.  They use less cortical areas for more demanding tasks.  They focus more on their task and their brains get better through practice (much in the same way that muscles develop at a gym).  You don't need to learn strategies with action video games, you simply play them and get better.  Strategy games, in fact,  show less of an impact on cognitive abilities than first person shooter games.  Studies have shown that video gamers are good at cognitive tests because they are master learners - they improve faster and learn new environments quicker as they have developed the ability of learning how to learn.

The conclusion from the brain research is that video gaming is doing something profound to the brains of the people who are playing:  video game players have superior cognitive abilities. Having better cognitive control abilities has the potential to transfer to many other areas of life.

Do these results transfer into real world activities?
The results don't indicate that gamers make better decisions for example, but they have better working memory and cognitive control.  However there is more to the real world than just cognitive ability.  Many of these students don't do as well in classrooms as they don't get the same immersion and immediate feedback in schools so see schools as "boring".  

Are video games that contain violence dangerous?
This is a very complicated issue with mixed views from experts on whether violent first person shooter games induce violence and are therefore dangerous.  They are very rewarding to players, so there is also the issue of addictiveness.  In 2011 the US Government in California tried to rate video games so some would have Parental Guidance/Permission on them to restrict them to certain age groups.  After a year of going through the data the conclusion was that exposure to video games did not cause minors to act aggressively when compared with other media such as TV, comic books etc.  California state did not pass this law.

What is it about action video games that makes them so effective in improving cognition?
  • fast paced and unpredictable
  • engaging - brain is more active
  • adaptable difficulty (go up in levels)
  • real-time feedback - error reports and motivating rewards
  • visual and auditory immersion
  • challenge working memory, attention, processing, speed, interference abilities etc.
It's actually incredible that video games improve cognitive abilities since they certainly weren't designed with this in mind - they were designed simply and purely to sell and make money!

The future?
Results from studies of non-gamers have shown great success in training - there are possibilities in the future that these could be used with students with ADHD.  In particular the fact that as you master the game it gets harder and as it gets harder it changes your brain keeps you in the learning zone.   Can this also be done with students with ADHD to encourage greater plasticity in their brains?  Can this be used in future with schizophrenia, Alzheimer's, post traumatic stress disorder, Parkinson's, anxiety disorders, depression, autism and traumatic brain injuries? 

Questions still remaining
What are the ethics behind cognitive enhancement?

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Monday, January 14, 2013

ADHD or not?

Yesterday I attended TEDxASB where there was a talk about ADHD by Dr David Sousa.  He explained that ADHD is a condition that is often undiagnosed, misdiagnosed and over-diagnosed.  Attention is important as it is a major contributor to our ability to learn as we need to block out things that are irrelevant, orient ourselves towards useful inputs and decide whether or not to respond.  Dr Sousa remarked that ADHD is probably genetic and that is is a spectrum disorder so it is possible to learn to adapt to it when it occurs at low levels.

Although attention is important for acquiring information and skills, Dr Sousa argued that we jump too quickly to the conclusion that a misbehaving student had ADHD.  He shared the following facts regarding children diagnosed with ADHD in the USA.  In 2003 7.8% of children were diagnosed with ADHD, in 2007 just 4 years later this had jumped to 9.5% and by 2010 18% of children were diagnosed as having ADHD - this is a huge amount - over 10 million children!

If ADHD is being over-diagnosed what else could produce ADHD-type behaviour:

  • Diet - in particular caffeine which causes a short-term increase in cognitive ability.  One cup of coffee contains more than the maximum amount of caffeine recommended for adolescents.  Too much caffeine is a known cause of irritability and hyperactivity.  
  • Diet - aspartame which occurs in over 6,000 products is safe for adults in reasonable quantities but has been proven to have an effect on growing brains.  Often children consume between 10 and 30 times the maximum recommended amount daily, which also leads to hyperactivity.
  • Diet - food additives especially colourings and preservatives can also cause hyperactivity.  Children are eating much more preservatives than previously as they occur in so many packaged foods.
  • Sleep deprivation - school students are recommended to have 8-9 hours of sleep per day, yet studies in high schools show that often students are surviving on 5-6 hours.  A lack of sleep also leads to irritability and hyperactivity.
  • Stress - this produces cortisol in our blood, which if it stays in the body also causes hyperactivity.  Stress also leads to insomnia, which often leads to even more stress.
  • A reduction in family time means that many young people are not being taught the "rules of behaviour".  Typical high school students spend 15 times more minutes connected with technology than with their families.
  • School induced ADHD - caused by a lack of responsiveness to the needs of 21st century students.
  • Environmental factors such as heavy metals (lead, cadmium) and drugs can also produce hyperactivity. 
  • Physical disorders such as dyslexia can also lead to students showing signs of hyperactivity.
As a parent I can relate to all of these as my own son was diagnosed with ADHD when he was in primary school and we were offered Ritalin, which we declined.  We instead worked with the school counselor and looked very carefully at his diet.  Our son learnt to manage.  Later, when he got to Middle School, he was fortunate enough to be in a special needs programme that gave him a laptop - he has never looked back since.  When he was 17 our son was re-evaluated because we wanted to see if it was possible for him to take his exams using a computer as he'd been using one in school for the previous 6 years.  This time the diagnosis wasn't ADHD but it was discovered that he actually had a writing disability, which seemed to have been solved by giving him a computer.  We were extremely grateful that we hadn't taken the drug route, and that he'd been part of the special programme to use a laptop and then later a tablet.  He didn't have ADHD but instead had a writing issue that was interfering with his ability to document his thoughts, which then led to frustration and symptoms of hyperactivity in primary school.

While there are many children who do suffer from ADHD, my own experience would lead me to agree with Dr Sousa - that we should look at all other possibilities first, before making a diagnosis.

Image Credit:  Mr ADHD by Roger Hargreaves by Duncan Hull, 2011 Attribution

Sunday, January 13, 2013

GEEK rules - keeping families safe in an online environment

Today was TEDxASB, which was the opening to ASB Un-Plugged Impact 2013.  This year's conference is about effecting change with the brain in mind.  There were a number of interesting speakers this evening, but for this post I want to focus on the presentation by Dr. Larry Rosen who spoke about the issues of managing your virtual identity when everything you do online from sending emails, using apps that follow where you are, connecting through social media and so on leaves a record as permanent as a tattoo.

First of all he talked about identity and compared it to being an actor on a stage.  You can become a different person on the stage than you are backstage.  Sherry Turkle, author of The Second Self, also refers to having 2 different identities, whereas Carl Rogers says we have 3 selfs:  the real one, our ideal one and the self we think we ought to be.  Larry Rosen questions, should there also be a 4th self - an internet self?  He asked which self we present to the world online - an honest one or one that we adopt to make ourselves look good?

An interesting fact Larry mentioned is that 100% of children have a virtual footprint by the age of 10 - mostly this is because parents post photos of their children and tag them in the photos.  He also asked which self do we want our children to present and came up with these GEEK guidelines for what young people should be asking before they post:

G - The grandma rule:  don't post anything you wouldn't want your grandma to see or read
E - the e-waiting rule:  wait at least a minute before you press post or send
E - start early - introduce the technology to them early so that you can set the rules for using it
K - the keep vigilant rule:  manage the location of the technology so it is in a public place, monitor screen time, co-view with your children and set Google Alerts for their names so you will be notified when something is posted about them.

Sensible advice I think.

If you haven't already read it, you might also be interested in the contract that Janell Burley Hofmann drew up for her 13 year old son Gregory this Christmas when he was given an iPhone.

Photo Credit:  Woman and young girl in kitchen with laptop and paperwork smiling by GSCSNJ, 2007 AttributionNoncommercial

My Professional Learning Community

My journey into inquiry and building a professional learning community started at the International School of Amsterdam in the 1980s where I became part of a cohort of teachers who were dedicated
to improving our practice through reflection. The first steps were taken as part of a community of inquirers within the school, and the experiences were to provide an invaluable foundation for what was to come as the journey continued to the New International School of Thailand in Bangkok. There, as one of many international schools in a large city, my community expanded to include teachers from other local schools who met regularly to discuss practice. Later, with new developments in social networking, when my journey took me back to Europe, I found that my professional learning community changed into a network of educators I have never met in person, yet who have supported me through the interactions we have online.  Now that I'm in India I still have this wonderful PLN of course, but I feel I'm back in a learning community at my own school again.  Here is my professional learning community:

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Computer Science -v- NETS

Over the Christmas holidays I've been following a really interesting thread about the role of computer science in schools - and also the role of technology teachers.  Some of the comments in this thread have been extremely negative regarding the NETS skills (communication, creation, digital citizenship and so on) and their impact on education, saying they are nothing to do with computing or technology, calling them simply superficial "computer appreciation" skills, and saying that if we are simply aiming to achieve the NETS then we don't need tech coordinators or computer teachers - any teacher can let the students use technology to create, collaborate and so on.  The deeper argument here seems to be that if we focus on the NETS, then how are we going to end up with students who want to learn programming/computer science?

Others who added to this thread wrote about the importance of teaching programming:  for example as an introduction to logic and as a way of handing the control back and empowering students again.  I really liked the quote "programming reinforces the idea that we create our world as opposed to consume what it offers."

In my experience in international schools programming isn't offered very much.  Although at the past 3 school's I've worked at I have tried to introduce some Logo programming every year (we used MicroWorlds for many years which I found great) and with our really young students I've used Roamers and BeeBots to help them learn how to programme simple floor or table-top robots, I've still noticed that a lot of the real programming happens as an after school robotics activity, such as a Lego Mindstorms club, that students can opt into if they are interested.  Programming is hard, and at times quite boring and frustrating, and I can see why schools have turned away from it and focused on things like video editing which are more engaging for students.  I've looked at Scratch too, but I wonder whether drag and drop is successful in developing an understanding of what is going on behind the scenes, and I've heard students say that it is "clunky".  Basically what we are seeing is, as one contributor to the discussion wrote (I am paraphrasing here) - the logical progression is to learn how to build and then become an architect, whereas what we are doing in schools is simply teaching how to lay bricks.  This thread is still very active, just now I received a link to a blog about what would happen if students didn't learn maths in elementary school (the analogy is drawn with the current situation of not teaching programming in K-12, and how this is affecting US achievements in computer science, compared with other countries )

Next week I'm going to look at a new programming tool called Tynker which has lessons for 3-5th grade and 6-8 grade students.  The idea is fairly simple:  the teacher picks a lesson and sends it to the class, students receive it as a mission to complete and when finished they submit it.  There are tutorials for the students to work through if they get stuck - and all this is online and appears to work on any device (which gets round the question of teaching programming if students only have an iPad or other tablet device).  At the end of the process students have programmed a simple app which they can share with their friends.    I'll blog again next week after a Google Hangout with the Tynker people in the US and I'll let you know what I think.  I'm also interested in trying out the Raspberry Pi that I picked up last summer at the Raspberry Jam at Cambridge University with students.  The Raspberry Pi is a credit-card sized computer that aims to inspire children to programme.  For those who are interested here is an Education Manual for the Raspberry Pi from James Abela's website.

An important question still remains, however.  What is the role of the tech coordinator or the computer teacher in schools that have adopted the NETS standards as their IT programme?  Since there are NETS-T standards as well as NETS-S standards, it could be that the role of the tech coordinator/teacher is to support and coach the teachers in the NETS-T skills so that they can help students develop the NETS-S skills.  But this discussion thread had made me think a little differently.  Should the role of the tech coordinator be to take teachers and students further than just the 21st century skills - should it also be to introduce some computational thinking into schools and to make computer programming fun?

Photo Credit:  This isn't flying.  This is falling with style by Gwen Vanhee, 2009 AttributionNoncommercialNo Derivative Works

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

The importance of the last year

I have been blogging since 2009 and today I looked back over the 800 or so blog posts I've written in those years and discovered an interesting thing: in every one of these years I've written more blog posts in January of those years than in any other month - last year, for example, I wrote 46 posts in January, so on average I was writing more than one post per day.  I started to think about why this was.  Was it a new year and so I was fired with enthusiasm to read and learn and share that understanding with others?  Or was it something darker, the knowledge that as the resignation date had passed at school that I would be staying yet another school year in a situation that wasn't fulfilling and so writing became cathartic, a way of releasing all the good things that I was thinking about and wanting to share with a global audience that seemed more appreciative of these ideas than some of the people I worked with on a daily basis?  I think there is some truth in both of these but last year I think it was a combination of the two. I knew I was leaving as I'd already signed a contract with another school, and I felt a sense of urgency as I knew there was a lot to do before I actually left.

Over the past semester in my new school I've been contacted by countless old colleagues who have asked for advice and support for continuing to use technology with their students.  They have told me how hard it is this year and refer to the years that I worked with them as the "golden age" of tech integration.  I am disappointed when I hear some of these teachers saying their skills have gone backwards over the past few months, especially when I worked so hard in the last 6 months I was at the school to support them and make them and their students completely independent users of technology.  Recently I have been asking myself why this happened, in contrast to the way that tech integration actually continued to move forwards at other schools after I'd left.  I have to say that I regard this with a profound sense of personal failure, which disturbs me, and yet I know at the same time that it's important to analyze why something failed in order to learn from it and do things differently in the future.  This is what I have come up with:  I tried to squash a 4 year plan into a 3 year plan which meant that teachers were not yet ready to go it alone.  I would go further and say that for the first 2 years of the 4 year plan we were right on track.  I spent a year modeling good tech integration, and a year continuing to work on this being helped by the teachers.  Everything went really well and on the SAMR model I would say that in year 2 we  moved from using technology as a substitute to using technology to modify and redefine the tasks students were doing.  This involved extensive planning  and a careful look at the curriculum, which was easy since I attended all the PYP planning sessions.  At the end of those 2 years I felt really proud of how much we had all moved forward.  The last stages of the plan, leading to a transformation in the way that technology was used and viewed would ideally have taken a further 2 years, yet by necessity this was crammed into just one year.  In previous schools I'd used this time to have the teachers lead their own technology integration, first with support from me, and then with  me standing back and coaching.  Even though coaching was my personal goal last year, the process of moving from a tech integration specialist to coach was, in hindsight, too condensed, so at the end of the year it seems some teachers were not really secure in their practice, and so without support could not do the things that they had been doing before, let alone have the confidence to move forward independently.  What I've come to realize is that the final year of the plan, the year that actually involved me doing the least teaching and the most coaching of teachers, is actually the most vital year of all, which is something I didn't expect.  I also think that three years is not an ideal time to move on after making changes, and yet for me I feel I've moved on in such a positive way at the right time, to the right place, to the right job and of course these things were only possible by moving this year. But I have learnt a lesson from this, and that lesson is about the importance of the last year and in spending that time getting teachers to take on the leadership of technology before I actually leave.