Friday, February 27, 2015

New Literacies - part 2

I received a great comment on my post on New Literacies from Tracy Watanabe.  In this she shared a video she had created.  I thought it was much too good to be buried in the comments and so have added it as a separate post here.

Thanks for sharing Tracy!

Tracy's post about what it means to be literate in the 21st century can be found here.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The value of technology

Last week I turned to Visible Learning to see what Professor John Hattie had to say about the impact homework has on achievement, this week I'm looking to see what he says about technology.
  • Hattie found that when used as a supplement to teacher's instruction, computer-assisted instruction led to a gain of up to 17 percentile points - he writes that the average student in a classroom where technology is being used will perform 12 percentile points higher than the average student in a setting that does not use technology.  Students who collaborate in small groups using technology generally produce better products than those students working individually - and they also gained more individually knowledge.
  • Looking at a 1:1 laptop programme, Hattie found that students developed greater technical proficiency and reduced their disciplinary problems in class, however effective teaching is still required to produce meaningful gains in student achievement.
  • Hattie also noted the effect of the internet on learning.  In the case of distance learning there was a gain of 4 percentile points, however when looked at from the perspective of web-based instruction this led to a 7 percentile point gain.  Studies have shown that web-based learning is most effective for understanding of facts, details, principles and generalizations, and less effective when considering procedural knowledge (strategies and processes).  Blended learning comes out slightly better than face-to-face instruction.  Hattie broke these down into the use of digital media and found a positive impact on learning when using interactive video, audio-visual and simulations.  Once again, using technology in tandem with effective instruction provided the most benefits.
  • There have also been studies of the effectiveness of mobile devices - 86% of the studies showed positive outcomes when looking at achievement, motivation and behaviour.  There have been studies that have looked specifically at how small scrolling screens affect a reader's ability to reason or remember facts - interestingly factual recall is not affected, but the ability to use factual information to make decisions shows a decrease when reading on scrolling screens.
  • Student response systems have been shown to be valuable for giving immediate feedback to students, and for providing immediate data for teachers to inform instructional adaptations. These devices have also been found to increase student engagement.  
I used to work in a school where parents were told there is no evidence that technology improves learning, however with a 15 year study of millions of students, it seems that in fact there is a connection.  What I have come to see is that this statement is one that is value-negative - basically the argument here is that the same achievements can be accomplished with or without technology and that technology has not revolutionized education as was earlier claimed.  There are of course arguments that do support this.  Data shows that most teachers simply use new technologies to accomplish the same tasks that they were already doing without it - they have not restructured their practice to facilitate higher order thinking skills.  I would support the view that technology alone is not enough - this is one reason why we don't simply collect student artifacts in our Tech Audit - we also rank them according to Bloom's Digital Taxonomy to see whether technology is promoting higher order thinking.  

Another perspective is a value-positive one, that claims that technology has the capacity to constructively transform education.  This point of view maintains that schools can improve student achievement by increasing their use of technology.  The final perspective is a value-neutral one. This viewpoint is that technology is only as beneficial as the teaching practices that it enhances - and that the power and potential of educational technology resides within educators and not within the technology itself - however when used with effective practices technology will positively impact student achievement, engagement and motivation.

All the data above comes from the chapter entitled Research and Theory from the book Enhancing the Art and Science of Teaching with Technology by Sonny Mangana and Robert Marzano.

Photo Credit: Jim Bauer via Compfight cc

New Literacies

Many years ago, when I was working as a teacher in the International School of Amsterdam, my colleague Linda Swanson and I were invited by Professor Donald Leu to present during a pre-conference at the International Reading Association.  It always amazes me, when I see his name in a publication, that he reached out to us so many years ago and thought that we had something valuable to share.  Today, I was reading Leu's definition of new literacies (already over 10 years old) as the "skills, strategies and dispositions necessary to successfully use and adapt to the rapidly changing information and communication technologies and contexts that continuously emerge in our world and influence all areas of our personal lives."  In summary, these are the reasons why Leu and his colleagues believe there are new literacies and that we need to intentionally teach them:

  • Publishing content on the internet - online reading and writing - involves texting, blogs, wikis, video, shared writing spaces and social networks.  The skills involved are more varied and multidimensional than the skills required for traditional print-based reading and writing.
  • Evaluating sources on the internet is different from evaluating sources in traditional print.
  • Knowledge and skills necessary to use the internet are still mostly overlooked in assessments and curriculums.  However it is important for educators to provide formal instruction in the new literacy skills most crucial to navigating, reading, using and evaluating information on the internet.
Photo Credit: dannymol via Compfight cc

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Lifeschool adventures of a lost student

School is one thing. Education is another. The two don’t always overlap. Whether you’re in school or not, it’s always your job to get yourself an education - Austin Kleon

This quote comes from the book Steal Like An Artist, which I started reading this week. This week I also had the pleasure of having lunch with the newest member of ASB’s R&D team, Abhishek Shetty who spoke to me about his experience of education and his ideas about a Lifeschool.

Abhishek talked to me about his early life in Bahrain. He told me that up to the 10th Grade he was not a good student, however he then got the idea of studying what the “good” students did that was different from the rest and applying this to his learning in Grades 11 and 12 - and that this both led him to become successful academically and to find learning more enjoyable. So much so, that after Grade 12 Abhishek wrote a book about academic excellence to share these ideas with others. This book, published in January 2013 is entitled Academic Excellence … The Start of the Learning Revolution. Abhishek said his aim in writing the book was to show students how they can fall in love with their subjects and become great students who do well in exams.

At this point Abhishek said he still believed the most important thing about learning was getting good grades. After school he went on to university in Mumbai, spending a year doing Media Studies. He said he didn’t plan or do much research prior to starting the course and so became quickly disillusioned. As a consequence he did not do well. Abhishek came to realize that he had never really thought about what he loved doing. He decided that what he had to do was to apply his knowledge to add value to the world in order to be happy. At this point Abhishek described himself as a “lost student” and decided to take a gap year.

And what a year that was! At this point Abhishek developed the idea of Lifeschool. He felt that every experience he had could be a lesson, every person he met could be a teacher, and everything around him could be a learning tool. In 2013, he therefore decided to take matters into his own hands. He spent 6 months doing a tour of India, followed by 6 months of studying the history and evolution of learning from around the world. During this time, Abhishek tried to spend time in as many different educational institutions as he could. In order to get invited into schools and colleges he realized he needed a “product” to share - and so he developed the Empower One Billion youth movement, focused on the message that every student is special, unique and meant for greatness, and started visiting schools in Mumbai to talk to students about putting thought into what they were studying.

In his blog, Learning is Beautiful, Abhishek writes that he “wanted to fall in love with learning again and decided to attend every conference I could, meet as many new and interesting people as possible and read everything I could. It was a learning adventure like no other.” During the year he read 500 books and watched 1000+ hours of video. However he said the most important part of that year was that “I finally got a chance to spend some time with myself. I got a chance to look within and reflect on some of the deeper questions of life.” He studied Indian and Greek philosophy and considered the role of teachers as guides in helping students move from information, through knowledge, to wisdom.

Abhishek is now studying psychology and English Literature. In ASB’s R&D department he is working on the Lifeschool philosophy and is exploring future prototypes to inspire students to fall in love with learning and then use that skill to create products and services of real value to the world.

Photo Credit: The Nick Page via Compfight cc

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Bringing Science into How We Express Ourselves

Students in Grade 5 recently completed their How We Express Ourselves unit of inquiry.  The central idea for this unit was "Through play we express our feelings and ideas and come to new understandings".  The students were inquiring into communicating through play, the imaginative use of materials and the roles of toys and games in play.  At the same time they were exploring the science concepts of force and motion to design a one minute game to play with their 2nd Grade buddies.   Finally students were able to reflect on their learning.   The whole 6 week process was documented and turned into a video.  Enjoy!

Monday, February 16, 2015

Homework -v- home learning

This week two of the three #pypchats on Twitter are about home learning.  While I haven't assigned any homework for the past 15 years, I've always been at schools where homework (or home learning) has been part of the culture of the school.  I do think that it is interesting to reconsider the advantages and disadvantages of home learning from time to time, especially in the light of what research has to tell us about the impact of homework on student learning.

Actually there is very little evidence that shows such a link. Professor John Hattie studied the effect of various factors on learning by analyzing metadata from over 800 million students over a 15 year period and found that homework has very little effect on achievement.  Of course there is research that shows homework does have benefits and other research that shows it has little or no impact on learning.  There is some variance depending on the age of the students, the time spent on homework, the content of the assignment and the quality of the feedback.

When I was an upper elementary homeroom teacher I assigned quite a lot of homework - an hour a day for Monday through Thursday that involved math, writing and reading.  Most of the time I collected in the work the next day or else, in the case of maths, spent time in class checking it - time that could have been better spent by both myself and my students in doing other things that would have extended their learning.  I also spent a lot of time chasing up students who hadn't done their homework, often making them stay in at recess time to complete it (as this was the school's policy at that time).  In fact, when I think back, quite a large part of my day was spent on explaining the homework, checking to see it was done, staying in with some students at recess times to make sure they "caught up" and then taking a large amount of the work home to grade in the evening and add comments that I hoped would be encouraging and helpful.  Sometimes I spent so long on the homework in class that I didn't manage to finish everything that I'd planned to do in class, and again I would ask the students to "finish it off at home".  This was typical of my first 15 years or so as a teacher.  I had very little time to reflect on what I was doing, but if I had I would probably have seen that giving less (or no) homework would have given me much more time to focus on personalizing the learning for each of my students - something I just didn't have enough hours in the day for.

For me as a young teacher homework was just something I took for granted.  It was something I did when I was at school, so I just assumed it was something I needed to give as a teacher.  I don't remember even discussing it when I did my PGCE to train to become a teacher.  At that time I never questioned what the purpose of giving homework was.

This week as I've been thinking about home learning for the #pypchat, I've been doing some reading about it and realising that there is much more to it that I'd imagined.  In her book Bringing Homework into Focus Eileen Depka writes about the 4 purposes of giving homework:
  1. It can be diagnostic - teachers can use the responses to this type of homework as a pre-assessment to find out how much background knowledge and skills students have.  A pre-assessment might show up certain students' strengths and weaknesses and may help the teacher in designing a unit of inquiry that will better meet the students' needs.  
  2. It can be used as part of the flipped learning model - students can be introduced to new information through viewing, reading or listening to various resources to build their background knowledge.  The idea behind flipped learning is that students then apply their learning to the activities that are being done in class.
  3. It can be used for formative assessments - so students can continue to work on the skills they are in the process of learning.  Again teachers can use this to make decisions about the next steps they need to make.
  4. It can be used for summative assessments - so students can work on projects that provide evidence of their understanding.
As I look back at these 4 purposes of homework, it occurs to me that none of these (except the flipped learning) need to happen at home.  All too often students see homework as something that is being done for the teacher, not necessarily something that will benefit them.  Often they don't see the connection between the homework and the learning goals because the homework simply isn't connected to real-world learning.  And as a teacher I think a lot of the homework that I gave was "busy work" because I knew the students needed an hour a day - which of course then had to be marked by me!  And if truth be told, there were days when I simply checked that the students had completed the homework - rather than checking to see what they had learned, giving feedback and then adjusting the upcoming lessons to better meet the students' needs.

Some of the positive aspects of home learning are that it can promote a positive home-school connection and also give parents an opportunity to work on something together with their child (I notice a lot of positive parent-child interactions in our Maker Saturdays, for example - could the same be true of some types of home learning?)

Well now I really am looking forward to this Wednesday night's AEM #pypchat .  I'm interested to learn from teachers in schools that have decided to give up homework.  I want to know what impact this decision has had on student learning.

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Sunday, February 15, 2015

There's no copyright on ideas

Last week I picked up a copy of The Restless School by Roy Blatchford when I was in the Re.D Studio.  This book basically asks what is the recipe for a successful school.  The answer is that they are "restless" to get better.  Blatchford writes that they are "secure in their systems, values and successes, yet simultaneously seek to change and improve.  These schools look inwards to secure wise development; they look outwards to seize innovation which they can hew to their own ends and, importantly, make a difference to the children and students they serve."

Blatchford's recipe for success has 5 steps (I reproduced these in the graphic above):
  1. Confront comfortable orthodoxies and challenge why and what you are doing
  2. Gather data from students, parents, teachers, governors and other sin the community to identify strengths and weaknesses
  3. Initiate small scale innovation to solve problems thoughtfully and at the right pace
  4. As the small innovations win the hearts and minds of others, whole scale innovation will take root
  5. The school is now on a higher operational level and can start again to question the routines (but this time from a better place)
At ASB we often talk about innovation being in our DNA - this recipe has shown how innovation has come to be part of our lifeblood.  Other factors that Blatchford writes about that resonate with ASB are the rich opportunities for teachers to conduct meaningful action research.  Recently in R&D we read the book Accelerate by John P Kotter who writes about the need to create a sense of urgency in order to bring about change.  Kotter writes about role modeling urgency - influencing 10 other people, who in turn will each influence another 10, leading to exponential growth of a change mindset. He explains that this role modeling can be very simple - talking to people in the hallways, for example, or raising issues in meetings, telling people about what you are doing and why what you are doing is important, and in this way gradually influencing those around you to start to think in new ways too.  Blatchford agrees with the necessity of urgency.  He writes that in thriving schools "school leaders place great store by how well they create "a sense of urgency at the right time".  He also points out that these leaders believe that a change that is worth introducing, one that improves students' experiences, should be brought in without delay - and not postponed to a convenient point in the school's calendar such as the following year or semester.  He calls this "accelerating change when change is required".

Another factor that Blatchford writes about in successful schools is that timely communication of the highest quality is modelled by senior leaders.  He explains that this communication is always anticipating the community's interests and concerns - and so dispels rumour, gossip and anxiety.  This again made me think of ASB.  Our Superintendent, Craig Johnson, sends out a weekly Vichar message to parents (the word "vichar" is a Hindi word that means thought and consideration).  Recently when local Indian newspapers wrote about jihadist threats against Western schools, he immediately communicated to parents and teachers both by email and by holding meetings to discuss concerns.  

At ASB the voices of students are also listened to and form an integral part of the development of the school.  Blatchford writes "an excellent school is one in which everyone feels they are making a contribution ... all students and staff believe and know they have a 'next step' to make within an institution and that the institution supports, values and celebrates those next steps."

Finally, and this is where we get to the title of this post, Blatchford writes that the successful school is "thoughtfully outward-facing", allowing teachers to work on external agendas.  Again this calls to mind the work being done by ASB's teachers for organizations such as the IBO, visits that teacher make to IB World Schools to authorize and evaluate them, partnerships built with other schools in various collaboratives, presentations and workshops that ASB's teachers and administrators share at global conferences and the summits and conferences that ASB itself hosts for  both local and international schools.  Our teachers are not only sharing their expertise but are also bringing back good ideas and strong practices from external sources that can be incorporated into their own classrooms.

Research and Development in Schools?

I've written in the past about how, starting in 2011, ASB has "superstructed".  This was not a term I'd heard before I came to ASB, but it is based on the ideas of Jane McGonigal for reorganizing systems and structures by building on the foundations that already exist. At ASB, the first thing to be superstructed was the teaming structure, where two new teams were established: Teaching and Learning (T&L) and Research and Development (R&D). The teams are open to those who are interested and many teachers volunteer to be on them. 

The T&L team's role is to make end results happen now, while the R&D team is looking ahead of the curve at what is possible or what could make a difference to education in the future. The T&L team set up different task forces to look at current issues such as 21st century skills, high student achievement, assessment, differentiation and so on - these are the things that ASB has to implement now as they impact on the teaching and learning of today's students. The R&D core team set up other task forces to look at project based learning, multi-age classrooms, online/blended learning, BYOD, games based learning, green education. mobile devices internship, news forms of PD, recruitment and so on.  ASB prototyped a number of these - and since 2011 many of these have in fact been implemented. 

In addition to this ASB has its own R&D Department, known as Re.D Studio.  The Research and Development Department explores, studies, prototypes, researches, and scales new teaching and learning approaches, practices, and systems that advance relevant learning in an accelerating change environment.  Re.D Studio is a sandbox space for creating perpetual beta prototypes that have been researched and developed through an action research process.

Last week 3 members of ASB's leadership made a presentation about the important of innovation to more than a hundred heads of top international schools.  I was really interested to read that the feedback from these indicates that there may well be an R&D movement in international schools in the coming years.  The video below is one that was used at the presentation.  It highlights some of the R&D initiatives that have impacted student learning at ASB in recent years, including Maker, TRAI (Technology, Robotics and Artificial Intelligence), Intersessions and Studios.

To find out more about ASB's R&D, including links to Facebook, Twitter, the Findings blog, Re.D Studio and MakerMinds please click here.

Friday, February 13, 2015

International Migrants

I read an interesting thing today:  that the 5th most populous country in the world, if they all lived in the same place, would be the 250 million international migrants who live in a country that they were not born in.  The list would be as follows:
  1. China
  2. India
  3. USA
  4. Indonesia
  5. International migrants
I have now lived over half my life away from the country I was born in - and in that time I have lived in 7 countries on 3 continents.  For more than 25 years, the students and teachers I have worked with as well as my own children, have been international migrants too.  I'm considering what impact this has on who we are. I'm thinking about the words "home" and "family" and how what they mean to us might be different from those people who have never moved .  

Photo Credit: rubyblossom. via Compfight cc

Kindergarten students teach their parents to be makers

Our Kindergarten students recently finished their How The World Works unit of inquiry with a Maker Fair.  Throughout the unit students had been exploring the way materials behave and how people can use them.  It was decided that for the summative assessment we would set up a Maker Studio for the students to create a product that showed their understanding of types of materials and how they function.  Parents would be invited to come to the Maker Studio so that the children could showcase their work and teach their parents about becoming makers.  

This was a really engaging unit because the children wanted to work on their products for many days, making modifications to their original designs.  They sketched and thought about what they would need to turn their 2D ideas into 3D products, they listed the materials that they needed and tried different things out.  As they reflected on what they were doing, their constructions changed to incorporate the feedback they received from others.  At the Maker Fair the students had to explain the process they went through to make their creation, so promoting their communication skills.

Below is a short glimpse of our Maker Fair.  Enjoy!

Who owns the (assessment of the) learning?

Yesterday I had lunch with our newest R&D member, Abhishek (a longer blog post about this young man and what he has been doing is coming soon).  We talked about the move from information to knowledge to wisdom.  In fact students are surrounded by content information, and what they need help with is to decipher it, explore it and curate it.  The job of the teachers is to support students as they do this, and eventually help students to turn the knowledge into wisdom.

Teachers also assess students to check on their understanding.  This assessment can be formative and summative and it's important for teachers to also assess the types of assessments they are giving students, which is why in a PYP school we finish every unit with a reflection on how the summative assessment has allowed students to show their understanding of a unit's central idea and concepts. Charlotte Danielson writes that assessments should also be evaluated on whether they provide opportunities for student choice and whether they allow students to participate in designing the assessments.  She points out that students who are given choices about how they approach assignments and how their work is assessed are actually being given opportunities for engagement, strategic thinking and so also opportunities for deeper learning.

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Thursday, February 12, 2015

Yesterday, today and tomorrow

Yesterday I walked into the R&D office and noticed the book Linchpin on one of the shelves.  I first read this book around three and a half years ago when I was struggling to be a change maker in a situation that was happy with status quo. I'd arrived at the school several years previously like a new pencil, eager to start writing a new chapter in my life.  But the reality was that I was banging up against things that would never change - instead it was me that would get broken.

 Recommended to me by a teacher I'd met at the Google Teaching Academy who told me it had given him the courage to change his life, Linchpin also gave me the will to decide that it was time to move on.  It helped build in me the resilience to be able to say that I would not allow negative experiences to turn me into a bad person or a bad teacher or to harm my goals.  In fact I learnt a lot from this experience about myself and others, and looking back now perhaps these were lessons that needed to be learned.

But now I'm in tomorrow.  Now I'm with people who believe in me and who value me.  I'm in a place where people don't want me to be average, and where I can do good work and share it with people.  I'm surrounded by original thinkers, provocateurs and people who care, who wonder about "what ifs" and invite others to wonder with us about ideas that are not yet fully formed.  Now the pencil certainly isn't "broken" anymore:  it's been honed and sharpened again many times and I'm working harder and better and being more productive than ever before.

In the chapter Stand Next to the Talent, Austin Kleon writes "You're only going to be as good as the people you surround yourself with".  These are the people who I follow online, connect with at conferences, and they truly are the people who now surround me at ASB doing interesting work.  Kleon urges us to "Find the most talented person in the room, and if it's not you go and stand next to him and try to be helpful."   Of course he also cautions us that "If you ever find you are the most talented person in the room, you need to find another room."  There's little danger of that here at ASB, however.  I'm learning so much and moving in new directions all the time.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Stealing, Sharing and Creativity

I love going into our R&D Studio because there is always something interesting going on and also because the place is FULL of books.  I can guarantee that every time I walk in there I come out with a book that I want to read.  Last year I read the book Show Your Work by Austin Kleon, and today I as I walked through the R&D Studio I picked up another book he wrote called Steal Like An Artist.  It's a guide to creativity in the digital age which encourages you to school yourself through the work of others, and to remix and reimagine to discover your own path.  It was particularly interesting to me this week because I've started using Khan Academy to learn about art history.  My daughter is studying for her MA in history and history of art and I've often thought how wonderful it is for her to spend her days surrounded by beautiful works of art.  While I toyed with the idea of doing a degree in art history myself at some stage in the future (after retirement?), for me it seemed a more practical idea to make use of the online resources available both on the Google Art Project and KhanAcademy to educate myself now - and to choose exactly what periods of art history I most want to learn about.  I'm hoping that exploring work from various artists will have a knock-on effect on the quality of composition in the photographs I am taking here in India.  So in other words I want to learn how others did things, so that I can try them out myself and become more creative as a result of this influence.

Here is what I'm thinking about today, based on the first 40 pages or so of Steal Like An Artist:

  • Nothing comes from nowhere.  All creative work builds on what came before.  Nothing is completely original.  
  • You have a genealogy of ideas - you are a mashup of what you choose to let into your life. Artists collect the things they love - you're only going to be as good as the stuff you surround yourself with.  Your job is to collect good ideas.  The more good ideas you collect, the more you can choose from to be influenced by.
  • It's in the act of making things and doing our work that we figure out who we are.  
  • We learn by copying.  Copying is about reverse-engineering - taking things apart to see how they work.
  • If you copy from one author it's plagiarism, but if you copy from many it's research.
  • Don't just steal the style, steal the thinking behind the style.  You don't want to look like your heroes, you want to see like your heroes - to internalize their way of looking at the world.
  • At some point you have to move from imitating your heroes to emulating them.  Emulation breaks through into your own thing.  Transforming their work into something of your own is how you flatter your heroes.
More posts about this coming soon.

Photo of a Grade 2 student's painting, influenced by Aboriginal art.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Adding tools to the digital toolbox

Our Grade 3s set themselves a goal of learning 6 new tools this year - one new tool with each unit of inquiry.  So far they have used Animoto to make public service announcements about water, Prezi to make presentations about local NGOs and SpicyNodes to make a mindmap to organize their research. Last week I was reading a book where I came across the term "solution fluency".  This described how a student could solve a problem using a toolbox of resources that s/he had collected over the course of his or her time in school.  The idea behind solution fluency is that students "need a variety of experiences with multiple tools so that they can add them to their digital toolboxes, and they need to know what tools to choose for particular tasks".  I've started to think about the tools that the Grade 3s have added so far this year and what new tools they could add during the final 3 units of inquiry.  I want to avoid the sort of tools that are only useful at a surface level because they are fun or easy to use.  I want to make sure the focus is on the learning and not just a new tool and that the tools are engaging, but that they also promote creativity and critical thinking.

In the book Digital Learning Strategies, which is about assigning and assessing 21st century work, Michael Fisher writes about 6 questions it's important to ask when considering whether digital tools should be used for classroom tasks:
  1. What is the learning objective? (and can we offer students choice in the ways in which they demonstrate their learning?)
  2. Is the task worthy of a digital upgrade?  It's important to redesign the task rather than bolting the technology on top.  Digital work is about interaction and creation, not about access and consumption.
  3. Will the digital tool increase or decrease the cognitive rigor of the task?  He writes about the 4 levels of cognitive rigor (recall, application, strategic thinking and extended thinking) and suggests that digital tools that only help with recall are not worth using.
  4. Does the digital upgrade involve collaboration, communication, creative problem solving or creative thinking?
  5. Do all students have access to the digital tools?
  6. Are the students involved in some of the decision making?
I'm hoping that by the end of the year, 3rd Grade students will have more tools in their toolbox - which will in turn promote them making choices and decisions about which tools they want to use to share their learning.

Photo Credit: Stitch via Compfight cc

Monday, February 9, 2015

Performing in a Pageantry of Vanity

At the weekend one of my colleagues noticed that I still have an iPhone 3GS, which is maybe a bit odd since I'm a technology educator. However I have to say I don't use the phone much and in five and a half years it has basically done everything I wanted it to do.   Perhaps I'd like a better camera, but the one I have takes pretty OK photos with the Pro HDR app.  I send messages, I make phone calls, use it to navigate, use a multitude of apps, and I've read numerous books on the Kindle app on my phone while commuting or travelling.  I am concerned about the amount of eWaste found in landfills as people chuck away things that are basically still working but just "old" models, and have often been horrified by the number of people I see out with friends/family who are all sitting in their own little worlds on their own phones and not really talking to each other.

Last summer I was in a restaurant with my daughter and a family arrived and sat behind us.  For the first couple of minutes they were really loud and arguing with each other, then there was silence - and for the rest of the meal each of them was on their phone and didn't say another word.  Another phenomenon I've come to dislike is the over-used selfie.  So often you see people standing in front of beautiful sights but obscuring them in their photos by taking selfies.  At the weekend I went to a music festival and had to laugh to see the people standing with their backs to the band, taking selfies so that they and the band would appear in the same photo, which I guess would then be uploaded to Facebook or Instagram. However I have to say I do use social media a lot and often post pictures of quirky things I see in my day to day life in India (though NEVER selfies!) Today one of my lovely ex-colleagues posted the spoken word video by Prince Ea. I think it is an important message.  Over 11 million people have viewed it, but in case you are one of those who hasn't I'm posting it here. Enjoy!

Photo by Josh Davis

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Artificial Intelligence: humans need not apply

Last week in our R&D Meeting we were talking about the future of learning in 2030.  We split up into small groups to talk about this and then report back.  Now many of the groups focused on interdisciplinary learning, projects, apprenticeships and so on, however the group I was in started to talk about what education will look like when 50% of the jobs that exist today are replaced by Artificial Intelligence.  Education will not be preparing people for work - as for many there will be no work.  And at the same time when 1 in 3 people will live to be 100 and older, work itself will be a small part of a person's total life.

This evening on Skype I was chatting about this with my son, who told me about the video Humans Need Not Apply.  If you haven't seen it already, it's well worth the 15 minutes it takes to watch.

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Falling Stars

In my preliminary research into recruitment and the talent wars, I have been thinking about the mobility of talented teachers moving from one international school to another, and an article I read today about this was by Claudio Fernández-Aráo, a global expert on talent and leadership as well as being a cattle farmer in South America.   He described how he buys young calves, fattens them on his grass and then sell them on a year later when they have put on weight.  However he noticed that the calves that came from poor dry-land farms did better at putting on weight than the ones he bought from the better farms, which at first puzzled him.  However he came to see that if he could find the calves that survived in hostile environments, the moment he got them to the good grass on his farm, they would blossom.  His argument is that this applies to human talent as well.

So I started to think about how this can fit to the recruitment of international teachers.  Schools often scramble to recruit teachers from the top-tier schools - but is this always a wise decision?  Boris Groysberg in his book Chasing Stars: The Myth of Talent and the Portability of Performance concludes that luring star performers away from competitors can be problematic - change can lead to an immediate and lasting decline in performance especially when earlier excellence depended on resources, organizational cultures, networks and colleagues.  Once these are removed, these "stars" turn out to be more like meteors, and burn out as they fall to earth.  This immediately struck a chord with me.  Several years ago I moved from a top-tier school to one that was "developing".  It was the hardest transition I ever made, even though it was to one of the most beautiful and efficient countries in the world.  Within weeks the lack of resources and inability of those in charge to appreciate the need for change caused a similar burn out, and yet I noticed that other teachers who arrived with me and who had come, not from good international schools but out of the state schools of the USA and UK, seemed to do OK - in fact they are still there today.  However for me, like the calves in Patagonia, once I moved again to more fertile land, my star started to burn brightly once more.  Groysberg writes that when a top performer moves to a weaker firm, performance is likely to decrease; if the person moves to a stronger firm, he or she will keep shining.  This has quite a lot of ramifications for recruiting - especially if you are not a top-tier school.  Perhaps it's counterproductive to try to recruit teachers from outstanding schools;  perhaps a better strategy would be to find the true stars who have managed to thrive at weaker schools?  I'm interested to hear other's thoughts on this and whether your experiences are in line with these findings.

Claudio Fernández-Aráo's book It's Not the How or the What but the Who: Succeed by Surrounding Yourself with the Best was published last year.

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Blogging and job satisfaction

Last week at our R&D Meeting we formed new task forces for 2015.  There were many options - such as gender equity education, wearable technology, social entrepreneurship, Artificial Intelligence, Unschooling, data visualization and learning analytics, STEM and gender and apprenticeships.  I chose recruitment, which I have been fascinated to learn more about since being a part of the Global Recruitment Collaborative team.  I have often thought that there are better ways to recruit teachers than going the traditional job fair route - now I'm hoping to delve deeper into the whole "war for talent".  More about this in upcoming blog posts.

Today I was looking through the Harvard Business Review to try to get more background on recruiting in general.  As I did this I came across an article about Competing on Talent Analytics, which in turn led me to the following statement:
Cognizant, a U.S.-based professional services firm with many employees in India, analyzed social media contributions, particularly blogs. It found that bloggers were more engaged and satisfied than others and performed about 10% better, on average.
I have always maintained that blogging has numerous advantages for educators, but I was interested to read this has now been quantified.  Thanks once again to the 700,000 + people who read my blog and encourage me - it's good to know that you are also contributing to my job satisfaction and performance.

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