Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Making and the Learner Profile

Over the past couple of years I've written several posts about the Maker Movement at ASB.  I attended an ISTE pre-conference workshop in 2013 on Maker with Gary Stager and Sylvia Martinez, and both Gary and Sylvia came to ASB to help us empower students through making.    We launched Maker Faires and Maker Saturdays at ASB and currently have these every month.  We have also incorporated Maker into a number of PYP units of inquiry, for example in Grade 4.  In Kindergarten we have an entire unit of making.  In their How the World Works unit, KG students explore the central idea "The way materials behave and interact can determine how people use them."  This is a PBL unit with the driving question "What do makers need to know?"  Our key concepts are form, function and change and our lines of inquiry are the behaviour and uses of materials, the changing properties of materials and manipulation of materials for specific purposes.  Students are assessed on their understanding through the creation of a Maker Studio - they explore the materials and create an end product that shows their understanding of the types of materials used and how they functions in their new state/version.

Yesterday at our faculty meeting it was time for the teachers to have a hands-on experience of Maker - our task was to design ScribbleBots.  Scot Hoffman, our R&D Coordinator, then shared several ways teachers could take this further.  The idea is not that the Re.D Studio team come into classrooms and lead Maker activities, but that they provide professional development, consultation and guidance so that teachers are supported to empower their own students to become makers.  Scot shared several other ideas (PrimeTime and the Curiosity Project which will the be subject of an upcoming blog post).  However one of the things that I found really interesting is how our Re.D Studio has looked at making together with the IB Learner Profile, making it a perfect fit for several of our PYP units of inquiry.  Here are a few examples of what teachers can look for in maker activities that support the Learner Profile:

  • tries something new
  • approaches uncertainty with forethought and determination
  • takes intellectual risks
  • transforms failure into new insights or approaches
  • offers explanation(s) for a strategy, tool, or making outcome
  • displays motivation or investment in learning through making

  • shares experiences and insights from making
  • reflects on learning strengths and needs during making

  • strives to understand
  • persists to achieve goals
  • expresses and uses curiosity
  • inspired by new ideas or approaches
  • inspires others with their making

Are you teaching at a PYP school?  Have you started to include Maker in any of your units of inquiry?  If so please leave me a comment as I'd love to learn more.

Click here for more posts about Maker at ASB

Photo Credit: The Bakken Museum via Compfight cc

Friday, January 16, 2015

Responsive Classroom Training

In September, our homeroom and specialist teachers were trained in Responsive Classroom. At the time I wasn't able to attend this training, however more training was conducted during the 2 PD days at the start of the new term, and I was able to join in with this. I find it an interesting approach, and it seems that our teachers have experienced a lot of success with it in the 3 months they were using it before Christmas. Since I was not very familiar with RC (and I'm assuming many readers of this blog are also not familiar with it), I thought I'd write a short post about what it is.

Responsive classroom is an approach that leads to greater teacher effectiveness, higher student achievement and improved school climate. The focus is on teacher effectiveness to design lessons, use language to promote social and academic growth, encourage students to make meaningful choices, start each day in a positive way, set high expectations for students, establish routines that promote autonomy and independence, build a sense of community and teach students 21st century skills.

The training I attended today focused on the Morning Meeting - the way that every day starts in our elementary school. The goals of the Morning Meeting, which lasts around 20-30 minutes are to:
  • Create positive power of community (though belonging, significance and fun)
  • Model & practice social and emotional skills
  • Merge social, emotional and academic learning

The Morning Meeting has 4 components:
  • Greeting
    • Sets a positive tone for the day
    • provides a sense of recognition and belonging
    • helps students learn and use everyone’s name
    • lets students practice hospitality and freedom
  • Sharing
    • to help students know each other
    • to develop social and emotional competencies
    • to teach thinking, listening and speaking
    • to strengthen language development and reading success
  • Group Activity
    • to build positive community by developing a repertoire of songs, games, chants and poems
    • to foster active and engaged participation
    • to heighten the class’s sense of group identity
    • to have fun together while becoming more competent in a set of social and emotional skills that include cooperation, assertion, responsibility, empathy, self-control
    • to enhance the learning of curriculum content through engaging group experience
  • Morning Message
    • to develop and reinforce language, math and other skills in a meaningful and interactive way
    • to build community through shared written information
    • to reinforce social and emotional skills
    • to help students make the transition from Morning Meeting to the rest of the day and get them excited about what they’ll be learning.

Other things we talked about today were the importance of quiet time, interactive learning structures, energizers and a Closing Circle at the end of the day. The idea behind the Closing Circle is
    • to end the day on a calm and positive note
    • to practice the habit of reflection
    • to foster students’ awareness of school and themselves and classmates
    • to build and reinforce a sense of community

I found the Responsive Classroom training to be very interesting and look forward to seeing more of it in practice during the second half of the school year.

Photo Credit: nguarracino via Compfight cc

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Learning a new language: The French Files

Around a year and a half ago I wrote a post about how my son has been learning Spanish using the free app Duolingo.  Recently one of my colleagues Andrea, also a member of ASB's R&D Core Team, designed an iPad app to help students learn and improve their French.  I wanted to share this because I think that so many "educational" apps are designed by people who are not actually teachers, whereas Andrea has taken ideas from her many years of teaching French and Spanish and her knowledge of students to design something that would be fun for them to play - and to learn French through this play.  Her app is called A.C.D:  The French Files.

This game is about the Art Crimes Division (A.C.D.) who are on an adventure to uncover who has stolen a famous painting from a gallery in Paris.  It's a special agent adventure game where students have to learn new vocabulary and build simple phrases for using with suspects.  The idea behind the app is that students use French in everyday situations.

The Game
For many years a dangerous group of people who call themselves H.A.R.M. have been attacking famous works of art from around the world.  The Art Crime Division has been created to bring these criminals to justice.  The best agents from around the world are trained to stop these evil characters. H.A.R.M. is preparing to strike again and the A.C.D. needs a new agent to take care of this threat. While playing this game, students become language learning agents who need to explore various scenes filled with conversations to be understood, objects to be found and a person to be caught.

Here is a video about the game

And here is another educator, Sharon Brown, Director of Educational Technology for the Secondary School at ASB talking about her experiences with this game:

Personally I find it wonderful that a language teacher has decided to design an educational game to help her students learn French.  I hope other teachers find this useful and inspiring.

Andrea has many new ideas that she would like to add into the game in future.  She is now looking for ratings on the game so that she can look for funding.  She hopes that this will allow her to take the game forward by adding additional levels and to make the game in several different languages.

Visit Andrea's website to find out more about A.C.D.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Should you consider teaching abroad?

It’s my last day of holiday and I’m heading back to Mumbai tomorrow. I’ve been blessed to spend time with my family for Christmas and New Year, and as always this is a time of mixed feelings. I worry about my elderly mother and my brother who is not in the best of health, and I know that I could do with seeing both my son and daughter more than just 2-3 times a year. At times like this I question my overseas life - so far away from those I love. And at times like this I need reminding about what this life has given me that I never would have got had I stayed at home.

  I’ve lived in 7 countries - some for a long time (over 15 years) and some for a short time (just 1 year). I know that I’m not the same person that I was when I left the UK on the night boat for Denmark back in the early 1980s. Living abroad has changed me, has opened my eyes to different perspectives. It has given me the confidence to know that I can move on, I can make a new life, I can deal with change and the difficulties that come from being in unfamiliar situations. I’ve always said that having done it once - having gone to Denmark by myself without knowing more than 1 person in the entire country (and then doing the same later in the USA and India) - I could go anywhere. Moving overseas has given me the knowledge that I can cope by myself - in fact I can do more than simply cope: I can make a new and good life for myself in unfamiliar surroundings.

This is one of the things highlighted in this article in the Huffington Post about living abroad, that you learn about you. When I was teaching in the UK it was safe and comfortable. I guess I could have gone on like that forever, because as the saying goes “you don’t know what you don’t know”. I accepted things because I didn’t know any different. Now that I have seen things in another light I know it would be hard to go home again permanently. Despite the fact that I know I would love being closer to family, I think I would find the whole experience too narrow, too parochial. I’m used to wider horizons.

I have friends in the same situation. We talk about where we will eventually end up. None of us really has a clue. The world is a big place and I’m not sure I could settle in just one corner of it now. The genie is out of the bottle and it’s not going to go back in again any time soon without a struggle. I really do feel that I could live ANYWHERE.

Around this time of year teachers are attending job fairs and thinking about leaving their “safe” home country and trying something new. My advice would be to do it - grab whatever opportunity may come your way. It might not be easy, but ultimately you will reap the benefits. Home will always be there - but you might find out that home isn't the place you once thought it was, it might not be the place where you really want to be.

Photo Credit: Niklas Bildhauer via Compfight cc

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Looking back and looking forward

At the start of a new year it’s always good to look forward as well as to reflect on how far we have already come. Over the past few blog posts my focus on looking back has been to think about the new trends in technology that I’ve been working on over the past year. Now I want to go back a bit further: to when I first started using technology in teaching, and I think if I was to sum up the changes I’ve seen in the way technology has been used over the past 20 years it would be that it has enabled empowerment - for both students and teachers.

Many years ago, before I became a tech teacher, I was a Grade 6 teacher and I had a group of students in my class who were very keen to publish their work for a wider audience than just me. This was quite a challenge at the time (in 1995) because the school didn’t have an internet connection. Despite this, with the help of one of our ESL teachers, we found a way to upload student work onto a class website that was hosted on a server in the Netherlands so that we were able to view it offline at school. Around the world others with an internet connection were able to view our class website, however, and it didn’t take us long to get feedback. Writing for a world-wide audience was hugely empowering for the students and I noticed it led to more motivation and that they put more effort into work that they knew was going to be published and viewed by others around the world.

When I became a tech teacher five years later, I was determined to continue to empower and motivate students - and to empower and motivate teachers too. In the case of students we explored many tools that would encourage creativity and innovation, including having all the students do some programming (using MicroWorlds) every year from Kindergarten onwards. These early programming lessons ranged from simply drawing a winter scene and programming snowflakes to move across it, through to more complicated games with buttons and programable colours and shapes. Every year I was always pleased to find that some students, not always the ones you might expect, really took to programming. They realized immediately that they were in control of what was happening on the screen and they could make things do what they wanted. If they got an unexpected result, they knew they could go back into the programme and tweek it until it behaved the way they wanted.

With teachers I wanted them to be empowered to use technology with the students themselves, rather than seeing it as a once a week “drop off” session where they would bring students to the lab and then leave them there. I attended planning meetings so that I could more closely integrate what we were doing into their lessons. I encouraged teachers to give up the once a week lessons and to bring their students whenever they wanted. Finally I encouraged teachers to start to lead the technology lessons themselves. After a few years of this, there were some teachers who got to the point where they didn’t need me at all - which I regarded as being a great success. I would meet with them to suggest different ways of moving forward with technology - it was up them them if they wanted to take up those suggestions and perhaps to book me to come and model something new.

Things changed hugely for me at the next school where I worked. It was the time when Web 2.0 tools started to be introduced and students were much more in control of what they could create through collaboration with others. I ditched most of the “old” tools such as Microsoft Office and Adobe Photoshop in favour of new, easy to learn, online tools that students could access anywhere and at anytime. During that time it wasn’t unusual to show a new tool to students one day, and to find that they had independently gone home and created something with that tool themselves or perhaps with a classmate. which they were eager to share the following day. More than anything else, I think, Web 2.0 really empowered my students to be creative and collaborative.

Time marched on and we saw the rise of social media. At the school where I was working at the time we saw an explosion of blogging, and at the same time a huge increase in the progress students were making in reading, writing and communication skills as they blogged with students from around the world.  

My job has changed again. My school doesn’t have technology teachers (we are all technology teachers) but this year we have technology coaches who further encourage, motivate and empower students and teachers to use technology for learning. We have seen the rise of PBL and Curiosity Projects, of students deciding what they need to know to tackle real world problems - and of them having the skills to go out and find out what they don’t know. We have seen Maker and gamification being brought more into the units the students are studying. We have seen teachers intentionally planning to use technology to promote higher order thinking skills such as analysis, evaluation and creativity.  

The use of technology to transform learning has changed so much in the 20 years that I’ve been using it, but at the end of the day it is clear that the changes I’ve seen have resulted in greater motivation and in students being more in control of their own learning, and seeing this has definitely inspired me to continue to find new ways of using technology to enhance and transform education.

Photo taken at Dhaksin Chitra in Chennai

Thursday, January 1, 2015

What will the world of 2028 look like?

First of all I would like to wish a very Happy New Year to my readers (694,555 of you as of today). Secondly, all regular readers will know that one of the things I've been blogging about over the past year is the future - what it will look like and how it will impact education.  Here is one perspective from St Paul's School.