Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Stressless sleepfulness

The past months have been stressful.  While I never have trouble falling asleep, I often wake early in the morning (anytime between 2 - 4 am) and find my mind is in turmoil worrying about my mother (regular readers will know that she has been living with dementia and that I've struggled to find the best way forward to give her the support she needs).  Recently I've been trying a few sleep apps and thought I'd share my experiences here in case other people are considering trying these as well.

First of all, many people will think that if you are stressed and unable to sleep, the last thing you need is more technology - I've heard this being described as being akin to having an AA meeting in a pub!  However having used the mindfulness app Buddhify for a couple of years now, I was curious to try the new app Sleepfulness by the same developers, Mindfulness Everywhere.  The app contains guided tracks designed to improve sleep - and you don't just use this app when you are in bed as there are 4 "timezones":  going to sleep, can't sleep, waking up and daytime.  The app automatically changes the recommended track depending on the time of day.  You can choose to end the meditation with music if you wish (though no matter which meditation I've tried I've always fallen asleep before the end!)

The app is free and 10 of the meditations that focus on relaxation are also free.  There are over 3 and a half hours of sleep meditations ranging from around 6 minutes to just over 20 minutes, and 4 other packs that can be purchased that deal with things like stress, anxiety and pain.  You can also buy an "Everything Forever" pack which gives you access to all the meditations and all the new ones that will be released in future. I like this idea much better than apps such as Headspace where you have to pay a monthly subscription.   The Everything Forever pack is roughly the same price as a single month's subscription to apps such as Headspace.

Another app I've downloaded recently is called Calm which has various meditations for breathing, sleeping and relaxing.  This is also a free app that allows you to make in-app purchases for monthly or yearly subscriptions.  There are also several free guided meditations.   This app is different in many ways from Sleepfulness.  For example there are beautiful natural scenes that you can look at along with ambient sounds such as rain.  There's music to help you relax as well, and stories to help you get to sleep.  There's also the Daily Calm which is a daily 10 minute mix of meditation and inspiration.

With this app you start with 7 Days of Calm. Each day there is a different focus.  You will go through guided breathing, paying attention and a body scan, followed by a session on training your mind, living in the here and now, patience and awareness.  After that you can go into other free areas such as Loving Kindness. There is also 7 Days of Sleep which you listen to in the evening to prepare your mind and body for sleep - the meditation voice is over the top of the ambient nature sounds.  At the end is the suggestion to do a body scan later in bed - you can choose the time for this from 3 minutes to 15 minutes. 

Calm also contains timed unguided meditations where you can choose an end bell or to have a bell playing at regular intervals to bring your mind back to meditating.  I have used the Calm scenes several times recently to help me fall asleep.  I assumed (wrongly) that after a certain time the ambient sounds would stop, however when I woke up in the morning they were still playing - possibly this helped me to get a deeper sleep, though I'm not sure.

What apps have you used to help you get a deep and relaxing sleep?

Innovative leadership

Over the past few weeks I've been involved in a design thinking project at school aimed at coming up with a new model for tech integration.  It was interesting to see the approach that was taken, with candidates focusing on different things - either the logistics, or the learning, or some new technology.  As a result of this process, it was interesting to read Scott McLeod's blog post today entitled 18 things that leaders of innovative schools do differently.  In this post Scott writes about the TIES conference and how at the Leadership Seminar they looked at a variety of innovative schools from around the world to see what the leaders of these schools are doing differently.  He asked - which of these are most important, which are being done well and which need more attention?  The interesting thing, something that I was really heartened to read, is that this list does not include a focus on the new technologies.  The focus is much more on things that empower students and teachers.  So to answer the question which on the list are most important, here are my thoughts:
  • Creating an atmosphere of safety and trust so that teachers can take risk with support.
  • Leaders being willing to take risks themselves.
  • Empowering student choice, building on intrinsic motivation.
  • Personalising academic pathways that take account of students' interests, skills and talents.
  • Reducing the number of things on everyone's plate by focusing on the few things that are really important - tied in to the mission and purpose of the school.
  • Time for meaningful collaboration, including protocols for making decisions.
  • Distributed leadership.
  • Not just being concerned with the "spark" of innovation, but also having the depth of knowledge to tie this to student learning.
  • Getting rid of "tall poppy" environments.
One of Scott's 18 things is in bold - he has added the emphasis showing what he feels is most important:  innovative leaders are able to help teachers translate big ideas from mission and vision statements into day-to-day instructional practice.  I like this statement a lot as well.  It makes me think of Malcolm Gladwell's 10,000 hours to become an expert (outlier), and although the notion that anyone can become an expert after a certain number of hours of practice has now been debunked, innovative leaders do need that knowledge and understanding of the day-to-day of teaching (which translates into about 10 years of teaching experience to get to the 10,000 hours).  In addition, to be that innovative leader an educator is required to be a reflective practitioner with a passion for excellence, someone with strong values, in particular integrity, and someone who demonstrates empathy.  Without these last two, in my opinion, someone may try to lead innovation, but will anyone follow?

I'm looking forward to working with Scott at ASB Un-Plugged in February.  Scott will be leading a pre-conference institute on building schools of the future.

Photo Credit: RDV Flickr via Compfight cc

Monday, December 11, 2017

Enhancing the PYP: focusing on the learner

The enhanced PYP is on its way - and to facilitate the transition the IB is sending out emails and informational documents, conducting webinars and developing a series of workshops.  Last week was the webinar on The Learner which together with the document The Learner in the Enhanced PYP was the first deep dive into the changes.  Of course I was more than delighted to see that voice, choice, ownership and agency are at the heart of the enhancements for everyone in the learning community, so that students, in partnership with teachers and others in the community, will be empowered to take charge of what, where, why and with whom they learn, and they will be supported to take meaningful action.

What does agency look like?
First of all it's important to point out that agency is not a skill - it's a mindset.  The image below is taken from one of the slides in the webinar.  It shows agency in action.  It draws on the fact that students are capable learners and natural inquirers.  As Tim Scarrott pointed out on Twitter, "Student - initiated action will be considered a dynamic outcome of agency and an integral part of the learning process that can arise at any time."


What about early learners?
An important change is that the early years range has now expanded to students aged 3-6.  There will be an increased emphasis on play and schools will be able to offer a minimum of 4 units of inquiry each year for this age range.  The key emphasis at this age will be planning uninterrupted time for play, building strong relationships with students and their families creating and maintaining responsive/interactive learning spaces for play and offering many opportunities for exploration and expression.  Basically we are recognising that learning is play and play is learning.  Ply is a vehicle for learners to make sense of the world and teachers need to notice and name where the learning is in the play.  They can look for the ATL and learner profile attributes that are being developed through play.

How do assessment and action work in the enhanced PYP?
There will be a shift in focus from summative assessment to continual monitoring, documenting, self-assessment and feedback.  Action won't be something that happens at the end of a unit - it can also be something that takes place over a period of time.  Action is a manifestation of student agency.  The graphic below was shared during the webinar illustrating the various elements of action in practice.

These changes will inevitably have a knock on effect on the PYP Exhibition.  Again there is the move away from the Exhibition being an assessment with more emphasis on process rather than product.  Students will have agency about what they want to inquire into.  It will be more student-led as far as design and implementation.  Schools will also be able to choose whether on not the Exhibition sits inside or outside of the Programme of Inquiry - it does not have to be the 6th unit!


I'm super excited that there will be more releases and webinars coming up in 2018.  In January  and March the focus will be on learning and teaching, and in May on the learning community.  The digital resource will be released in August.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Connecting your classroom - part 2

This is my final post based on the book Your Connected Classroom: A Practical Guide for Teachers.   I agreed to review this book by Eduro Press on Amazon, and these blog posts are my initial thoughts before I write a review.  This post deals with Chapters 6 - 8 which are about media literacy, global connections and parent education.

The authors explain that connecting your classroom is a great way to teach media and digital literacy that is both authentic and purposeful.  Our students are often already confident in using technology for social purposes, and it is our job as teachers to help them see the benefits of using it academically.  Students need to build their skills, for example how to read a search result - especially in these days of "fake news".  Chapter 6 addresses the skills needed such as learning about how Google automatically filters our searches based on our previous history.  It also addresses the CARP test for validating the information found.  A connected classroom is also an ideal time for the teaching of digital citizenship:  how to keep personal information secure, how to build a positive digital footprint, online behaviour and how to deal with some of the undesirable behaviours such as cyberbullying, safety and the availability of explicit material.  The final sections of this chapter deal with issues of academic honesty.

Chapter 7 is all about the skills that students will need to be globally competent.  There are many examples of ways to break down classroom walls and connect with the "real-world" such as virtual field trips, Google Expeditions and exploring using Google Earth and Google Maps.  Other options include connecting with "experts" using live video chat such as Skype.  There are other tools that will allow you to connect with people not in your close time-zone, such as VoiceThread and blogging.  Of course blogging and other social media can also allow you to open up your own classroom to the world.  There are pages and pages of tips for getting started with all these projects in this chapter.

Chapter 8 is about reaching out to parents so that they understand your purpose for using technology to create a connected classroom.  Parents need to be made aware of how learning today is very different from the times when they were at school and the ways that they can support their children at home.

I'm very grateful to Kim Cofino for sending me a copy of this book and I'll be condensing my three posts about it into one review within the next few days.

Photo Credit: The Fanboy Flickr via Compfight cc

Friday, December 8, 2017

It's not about the tech, it's about the learning

Let me start by saying that the image on the left is ironic - it is deliberately contrary to what I'd expect from a teacher designing projects and engagements for students.  I'm writing this post after a pretty fraught couple of weeks at school where my mantra has been "it's about the learning, not about the tech", so it was great to read this same sentiment right at the start of Chapter 5 in Your Connected Classroom: A Practical Guide for Teachers today.  To recap, I'm reading this new book from Eduro Press in order to write a review on Amazon - and at the same time I'm blogging about it.  Anyway, my heart was singing as I read the above statement, and I'm convinced that this is the most important chapter in the book so far, as it deals with designing rich learning experiences (both with and without technology).  The authors start by telling us to "mentally toss out whatever you've done before and start from scratch.  Forget about your curriculum documents and resources and start with just the end goal: what you want students to know and be able to do and develop from there.  The idea behind this is to give you the freedom to re-imagine the unit completely differently than you may have taught it before."

The design process envisioned by Eduro centres around the APLE planner (authentic, purposeful experience leading through a logical structure for the creation of a product).  It draws upon UbD, PBL, SAMR and the MYP Design Cycle - all great models that I have used for years when designing learning engagements.  I was really curious to see how all these elements combined into one planner.  In a nutshell, the design is as follows:
  • Start with the relevant standards you want to assess
  • Think about how to make this content relevant to students - in particular how it connects to the real-world
  • Identify an essential question - one that is open and inspires curiosity and interest and one that cannot be Googled
  • Think about what authentic product students will create to demonstrate understanding - and possibly think about the audience for this product
  • Think about the use of SAMR so that technology is used purposefully.  Also consider that the finished product does not have to use tech.
  • Break the creative process into steps, so that students can dive deeply into the content and so that at each step you can formatively assess their understanding.
The important idea here is that as a teacher you are facilitating the learning, not directly teaching.  As the Eduro team point out this is more work in the planning stage, but less during the actual teaching.  The stages follow a clear path:  
  • Provocation/exploration/research - a hook to get students into the student-led investigation where they are learning the content.  As a teacher you are providing the resources for students to explore to develop understanding.
  • Planning the finished product - the balance I've always tried to stick to here is that 60% of time should be on pre-production, and 40% on production and post production (a great tip I learned some years ago from Bernajean Porter).  Generally I've found that students initially don't like this balance, but that if there is any less than 60% of time spent on planning then the finished product really lacks depth.  Students eventually do come to realise that time spent planning is really valuable.
  • Creating - it's great to allow class time for this so that you get to check in with each student to  understand how they are progressing.  When I think back to the time I spent teaching MYP design tech, all of the creating was done in class.
  • Reflecting and evaluating learning - this stage is where students get feedback and where they are involved in self-reflection.
Chapter 5 ends with several links to APLE and design resources.  This is a hugely valuable chapter, and for one I am certainly going to prototype this process with my students.

Photo Credit: Photo Extremist Flickr via Compfight cc

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Connecting your classroom

It's a cyclone day today!  It has been pouring with rain for hours in Mumbai which is really unusual as generally there is not a drop of rain between October and June - but today the rain is a result of Cyclone Ochki and the Education Department in Mumbai has declared it's a holiday for schools in the city today.  Classes at my school have been cancelled, and I've had the unexpected bonus of a free day to catch up with friends over email, and to read and blog.

Last month I noticed a post on Facebook by Kim Cofino.  Kim mentioned that Eduro Learning has now set up a new enterprise, Eduro Press, for publishing books.  The first book is called Your Connected Classroom: A Practical Guide for Teachers and it's available on Amazon.  Kim offered to give a review copy to her connections who were willing to review the book on Amazon - and I was happy to do this.  I haven't yet finished reading the book, but decided that I'd also blog about it - and this post is based on the first 4 chapters of the book that I read this morning.

The book starts with a discussion about what a connected classroom is.  Technology can be used to connect students beyond the physical limitations of space and time in the traditional classroom.  Students can connect to each other as part of a virtual classroom where resources, materials and discussions can be shared, as well as connecting to other students and classes around the world.  When students are connected, it's the ideal "teachable moment" to introduce important issues such as digital citizenship, academic honesty and so on in an authentic context.  This is important both in a "closed" virtual classroom as well as when students are publishing publicly for others.  It's likely this would also provide a good opportunity for discussion about topics such as international mindedness, culture and community building, which might not otherwise be addressed.

One emphasis that I really like in these chapters is the purposeful use of technology - not being fixed on the tool but instead thinking about how to transform the learning experiences for students.  The book explains very clearly several models of technology integration such as SAMR, developed by Dr Ruben Puentedura (who incidentally is coming to ASB Un-Plugged this year), and TPACK.  SAMR is basically giving you a framework in which to view learning tasks, and it also gives you the language to have conversations about the "so what" of technology-rich learning.  I've written about the model a number of times on this blog - and these remain the most popular of all my posts (click here to see an example SAMR being used to transform learning).  TPACK works well with SAMR to use technology with a focus on learning (another popular blog post), as TPACK looks at the 3 critical domains of knowledge (technological, pedagogical and content) and strives for a balance in all 3 when designing learning engagements.  The book gives several examples of how teachers can use SAMR and TPACK together to help teachers evaluate the use of technology.

Kim recently spoke at Learning2 about her struggle as a student with maths.  My struggle was with languages.  At school I tried to learn both French and German unsuccessfully.  However when given a purpose for learning, such as actually moving to a new country as was the case when I started to learn Dutch, the learning became much easier.  There is a lovely quote at the end of Chapter 2 that I really related to:
To learn another language, one must take risks and acknowledge that his/her lens isn't the only lens to view the world.  This opens the door for empathy and tolerance.
I thought a lot about this because I'm currently designing some new Category 1 workshops for the PYP and the first modules are about international mindedness.  It's really clear from this quote how language is important in strengthening relationships and the building of international mindedness, which is at the heart of all 4 IB programmes.

Chapters 3 and 4 are about becoming a connected teacher and managing a connected classroom.  Of course if you are not connected to others as a teacher it will be really challenging to find ways to connect your students!  These chapters outline how to go about building a personal learning network (PLN) and explain the difference between a community and a network - for example when you join Facebook you join a community, but within that you network to connect to people you know or who share similar interests.  A quick look at my Facebook groups shows that I have some professional groups such as the PYP Workshop Leaders Network and the International School Teachers group, and I have other groups based on personal friendships I've made in the various schools where I have taught.  In addition I have groups based on interests such as mindfulness and one group just based around things like events, restaurants and shopping in Mumbai which is a great place to get local recommendations.  These chapters also deal with some of the tools for creating and growing PLNs such as Twitter, and a step by step approach to creating and managing your connected classroom including a number of shared resources that can be accessed using QR codes.

I'm now about halfway through the book and keen to read on and blog about the rest - and to write that Amazon review of course.  Upcoming chapters deal with designing technology-rich learning experiences, media literacy, global connections, parent education and how to continue learning.  The book sells on Amazon for $7.79 which is extremely good value and affordable for all teachers.  Look out for another blog post about the second half of this book in the coming days.

Photo Credit: Thomas Hawk Flickr via Compfight cc

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Less is more

For the past 3 weeks I have been with my mother in England.  Readers of my blog will know that my mother suffers from dementia and needs a lot of support.  She doesn't have wifi at home, and even the telephone connection is quite sporadic as she lives out in the country.  Apart from looking after her,  I've done very little "work",  though I've had lots of time to think and read.  As I'm interested in moving forward into more of an innovation position, I've been reading George's Couros's book The Innovator's Mindset, and reflecting on this and how it relates to my life and the schools where I have worked.  Every day, sometimes twice a day, I have taken a break to walk around the grounds where my mother lives.  I've been enjoying the autumn sun, wind and colours.  The photos and questions in this post are all from my daily "thinking walks", and the quotes are all from George's book.

How can we focus on and support deep learning?

Less is More

  • More so than ever before, educational organizations need to focus more on depth than breadth.  Quality should always override quantity.  But that isn't what happens in schools where teachers feel inundated by new initiatives and a myriad of organizational objectives.
  • As leaders we must recognize, as we're adding what's important and removing what's unnecessary from our staff members' "plates" that every single person's plate size is different.
  • How would your staff members and students respond if someone asked, "What are the 3 big things your school is exploring?"  Would they all say the same 3 things, or would you have double-digit objectives being shared?
  • As a school, when we limit our initiatives, we give ourselves time to discover what deep learning can really look and feel like.  Focusing on a few key things promotes innovation in teaching and learning.
How far away is our "horizon"?  What will we need to learn for the next 4 years and for the next 40?

The tyranny of choice
  • When people have no choice, life is almost unbearable ... but as the number of choices keeps growing negative aspects of having a multitude of options begin to escalate until we become overloaded.  At this point choice no longer liberates but debilitates.  It might even be said to tyrannize.
  • Although offering too many choices can lead to feelings of being overwhelmed, it is imperative that leaders are careful not to constrain those we serve by only allowing them to explore designated tools or resources.  If you do not model constant exploration, teaching practices can become stagnant.  Trial and error, even if they are messy, is where powerful learning happens.
How can we get out of our educational silos and connect with others?

Creativity and innovation
  • Creativity is where we start to think differently and innovation is where creativity comes to life.
  • A focus on doing less allows us the time to go beyond surface level learning and to really explore so we can build a knowledge that enables us to move forward and innovate.  Time to explore is paramount in being successful at creating something new.
  • True innovation in education will only happen when a new structure is created: one that nurtures critical thinkers, supports risk-takers and encourages ongoing transformation, and that places a high value on creative and insightful learning.
  • We can think more creatively if we open our minds to the many connected environments that make creativity possible.  As educational leaders we must promote and capitalize on open, connected learning.  If we want to accelerate our own growth we must actively participate in the sharing of ideas.
What is the best way to create and support an "innovation ripple"?

Friday, November 10, 2017

Knowing enough to know what you don't know

I came across this TedEd video on Facebook today, which deals with inaccurate self-perception and the "invisible holes in our competence".  It was such an interesting video that I really wanted to share it.  The key to knowing how good you really are:
  • ask for feedback from others
  • keep learning

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Tough questions for tech departments

Back in September I wrote a post entitled Is the role of tech director dead?  It's interesting that today I've been reading on in George Couros's book The Innovator's Mindset, and I've come across a section that refers to the role of a school district technology director as obsolete because it inhibits learning.  George asks 4 questions that can frame the work of IT departments:

  1. What's best for kids?  Should we block social media sites or should we educate students to navigate these as we give them the skills to understand how to stay safe online, digital citizenship and the impact of their digital footprint?
  2. How does this improve learning?  Is the software that the school subscribes to designed for learning, or is it simply a business application that comes with a site licence?
  3. What is the balance of risk -v- reward?  Many tech departments want to work in a low or zero risk environment, hence various websites are blocked.  Can the message that we trust students bring its own reward?  Teachers need to be able to articulate the rewards of technology.
  4. Is this serving the few or the majority?  When we decide on a policy, is this for the many who use technology wisely, or for the few who may misuse the technology?
Photo Credit: Scott Beale Flickr via Compfight cc

Teaching -v- learning

I've often used the expression "teachers need to be the biggest learners" but only today did I consider how this relates to curriculum.  When I read the following quote from Seymour Papert it really made me think:
We don't allow the kids to have the experience of learning with the teacher because that's incompatible with the concept of the curriculum where what is being taught is what's already known.
The important word here for me is the word "with".  Many teachers don't see themselves as learners, they are delivering a body of knowledge, a set of standards, therefore their students are simply receiving the knowledge that is already there.  Once we reframe teachers as learners, alongside the students, it not only gives more agency to the students, it also gives more agency to the teachers, and it encourages the sort of shifts in thinking that can promote innovation.

Photo Credit: Kathy Cassidy Flickr via Compfight cc

Moving from engaged to empowered: learning first, technology second

As regular readers will know,  I've been reading and blogging about innovation for a couple of months now, spurred on by reading The Innovator's Mindset by George Couros.  This week I've been focusing on the transformative power of technology.  Like George, I often get irritated when I hear the words "technology is just a tool" and like George I believe that the power of technology should go way beyond engagement and enhancement - however for this to happen teachers need to be providing the opportunities for students to create, not just consume.  As George writes,
Throwing a bunch of high-tech devices into a classroom, with no shift in mindset on teaching and learning, is cosmetic.  There's no depth, no real change.
 In order for technology to be transformational (and basically this was the entire reason I started a blog called Tech Transformation back in 2009), it needs to provide opportunities that didn't exist before.  I have written a lot about the SAMR model and how technology can be used to redefine learning.  Back in 2011, when considering the "top" 2 levels of the SAMR model I wrote:
Modification involves giving a different kind of assignment - for example using multimedia - adding sound, video etc. The question to be asked is does the media enhance the message?
Redefinition - doing something that was inconceivable without technology, giving students a stage for example posting on the web so that the audience is the world and there is a feedback loop.
These 2 levels lead to TRANSFORMATION.
I think that the other thing that is important to consider here is that technology provides different opportunities for each individual.  George writes,
Technology should personalize, not standardize.
 What this means in terms of SAMR is that students should have agency in the way that they express their understanding.  Some students are very happy to speak up in class, but for those who are not, technology can provide a different medium for them as they can use videos, blogs or podcasts to express themselves.  Other students who don't feel comfortable creating things such as models with their hands, can create online and make animations, 3D models and so on.  Basically what I'm saying here is put the learning first, and then decide what technology can be used to make this happen, or as George writes, "If educators can't answer "Why?" then they will never get to the "How?" and "What?".

Photo Credit: flickingerbrad Flickr via Compfight cc

Friday, November 3, 2017

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Assessments, testing and grading

Over the years I've read a lot about grades, including various books and articles by Alfie Kohn who sees all grades (even the high ones) as being ultimately demotivating for students.  I have lots of ideas about grading myself, so I was curious to read the chapter Assessment for a Growth Mindset, in Jo Boaler's book Mathematical Mindsets.  Obviously Jo is focused on testing and grading in maths, but what she writes can be applied across all subjects:  grading leads students to identify and define themselves in terms to letters and numbers.  She writes,
In the United States, students are over-tested to a degree that is nothing short of remarkable particularly in mathematics.  For many years students have been judged by narrow, procedural mathematics questions presented with multiple-choice answers.  The knowledge needed for success on such tests is so far from the adaptable, critical, and analytical thinking needed by students in the modern world that leading employers such as Google have declared they are no longer interested in students' test performance, as it in no way predicts success in the workplace.
 She argues that maths is over-tested because it's so easy to test - and because of this teachers are also limited to teaching narrow procedural mathematics and to giving lots of practice tests in class in order to prepare students for later success - and this generally starts with a beginning of year test.  What sort of message is this sending to our students?  And what sort of feedback to do they get?  Mostly they will get a percentage or a grade, which Jo argues is damaging to learning (because half of the students find out that they are not as good as the others).  She writes, "study after study shows that grading reduces the achievement of students".

The result of all this - that students who are graded become less motivated - can be reversed when students are given diagnostic comments instead of grades.  Jo advocates less assessments, but that the occasional assessments that are given should be accompanied with growth comments, because what we want is for students to be excited and interested about learning and when this happens they will be motivated and their achievements will increase.  She writes,
[Grades] do motivate some students - those who would probably achieve at high levels anyway - but they de-motivate the rest.  Unfortunately, the extrinsic motivation that the high-achieving students develop is not helpful in the long term ... students who develop intrinsic motivation achieve at higher levels and stay in subjects rather than drop out.
So how can we assess students that encourages a growth mindset and shows them a positive pathway towards success?  I'll be blogging about this tomorrow.

Photo Credit: edokhan Flickr via Compfight cc

Making the connections: innovation, coaching and strengths

Four years ago, at the start of the introduction of tech coaching at ASB, I completed an online StrengthFinder survey by Gallup.  This identified five strengths:

  • Learner - constantly wanting to learn and improve myself, being excited by the process of learning rather than the outcome, and giving intense effort to projects.
  • Input - a craving to collect and archive all kinds of information, welcoming the opportunities to think out loud about ideas and to keep abreast of anything new.
  • Achiever - I have a great deal of stamina and work hard.  I like to complete work on schedule, enjoy launching new initiatives and pursue goals until they are reached.
  • Intellection - I read avidly and like to ponder what I have read.  I acquire knowledge more easily when I can talk with others about ideas.
  • Connectedness - being able to welcome a wide array of people into my life.
The reason I took this survey was because my school recognised that people who focus on their strengths are more engaged, more productive and happier; and people who are given the opportunities to focus on their strengths every day are six times as likely to be engaged in their jobs and to be more productive both individually and in teams.  Introducing coaching - a change of culture - would only be successful if I could build on my strengths.  In my new role I was definitely a learner, I learned and continue to learn about coaching, and it has been great to work with the coaches, discussing ideas about how best to integrate technology into the curriculum.

The opposite is also true.  Today as I was reading on in The Innovator's Mindset, George Couros shares a table about disengagement in the workplace.  Here are the figures:
If your manager ignores you ..... your chances of being actively disengaged are 40%
If your manager focuses on your weaknesses ..... your chances of being disengaged are 22%
If your manager focuses on your strengths ..... your chances of being disengaged are 1%
Interesting isn't it - that in fact being ignored (which can happen when leaders decide to stay out of your way and give you autonomy) can have a more negative impact than having a leader who focuses on your weaknesses.  I thought hard about this and about times when I have been motivated at work (and also about times when I haven't been) and I had to agree that this really is true for me.  It also explains why I was so productive in my first years at ASB - it was because I was mentored by someone who focused on giving me tasks that would build my strengths.

George writes, "Great leaders practice balancing trust and autonomy while providing strong mentorship.  Leading does not necessarily mean telling people what to do or how to do it.  Rather it often requires pushing others' thinking and abilities by asking questions and challenging perceptions without micro-managing."  Although George doesn't mention this term, what he is referring to is the cognitive coach's skill in asking mediative questions - because coaches know that you cannot bring about change without first tapping into deep thinking - it's only a change in thinking that will bring about a change in behaviour.

George also writes about innovation not being a command but something that you are willing to do with your team.  He writes, "It starts by changing ourselves.  To help move others forward, we must first look in the mirror at our actions and, sometimes, inaction."  Four years ago, being able to identify my strengths and being able to leverage those, was certainly very influential in the success of our technology integration coaching.

STEAM Maker Saturday - October

Here's our latest STEAM Maker Saturday video.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Complex instruction that helps ALL students

When I was a 5th and 6th Grade homeroom teacher, I always taught maths in homeroom groups, though I'm aware that in many schools maths is a subject that is often streamed or set, with high-ability students being taught in separate classes.  I was interested to read what Jo Boaler writes about teaching heterogeneous groups, as her research seems to back up the observations I made from my own experience.   She describes a pedagogical approach called "complex instruction", devised by Liz Cohen and Rachel Lotan, to make group work equal.  This has implications for other subjects as well - so it can be used with any grade level or subject.

Complex instruction is basically made of up 4 interrelated ideas:  multidimensionality, roles, student responsibility and assigning competence.  Let's think about each of these and how they contribute to higher student performance in heterogeneous groupings:

Multidimensionality
Jo first starts of describing what a one-dimensional math class looks like - one where there is only one way to be successful and where the focus is on procedures.  These are classrooms where some students rise to the top and others sink to the bottom.  And yet, Boaler points out, mathematics is a broad and multidimensional subject.  This can be encouraged by assigning open-ended and challenging real-world tasks that are difficult to solve alone, to mixed groups of students - the idea behind this is that there are many different approaches that can be used and that these differences are shared with the class so that all students benefit from seeing how problems can be solved in different ways.  Following a multidimensional approach shows students that there are many ways to be successful with maths.

Roles
Along with assigning rich tasks to groups, complex instruction involves giving the students in the groups various roles.  This shows that each person has a part to play, and every few weeks the students change groups and are assigned a different role.

Assigning Competence
This was an interesting concept for me.  It involves raising the status of students who think they may be of lower status in the groups by praising something they have said or done and bringing it to the group's or whole class's attention.

Teaching students to be responsible for each other's learning
This involves intentionally teaching students how to work in groups (listening to each other, respecting different viewpoints etc) and letting the group know that one member of the group will be asked about the work of the whole group and will be asked about the mathematical concepts the group was working on.  As the other students in the group would not be able to help the student being asked, it was the responsibility of everyone in the group to make sure that all group members understood the concept.  Jo Boaler writes that with this approach students start to see mathematics as a collaborative, shared pursuit that is all about helping each other and working together.

How does this help the high-achievers?  Boaler writes that many students identified as high achievers are simply procedurally fast, but often they have not learned to think deeply about their ideas, explain their work or to see mathematics from different perspectives. Boaler noticed that while these students initially complained about working in groups and having to explain their work, they soon started to appreciate this approach because it gave them to chance to explain their thinking, which helped to consolidate their own understanding.  In fact their learning accelerated when compared to students who were tracked, because explaining their work took their understanding to new levels.  She writes, "Many of them had come in as fast, procedural workers, and the push to work with more breadth and depth helped their achievement enormously."  Even more importantly, she writes "Neither the high nor the low achievers would be as helped if they were grouped only with similar achieving students."

Sunday, October 29, 2017

True mathematics engagement

When I became an elementary homeroom teacher I knew that I was going to be responsible for teaching maths - which given my own experience at school was quite a daunting prospect.  As mentioned before, I was brought up on SMP in the UK and this didn't really give me the background for teaching a more conventional approach to the subject.  Looking back now, however, I think my own schooling really benefitted me because it made me think hard about how I learned, what had worked for me and what hadn't, and I was able to deviate away from the Addison Wesley textbook to incorporate the ideas that I had that would bring maths alive for my students.

One example was probability.  We started this unit playing lots of games of chance - using dice, spinners, coins and so on.  I wanted the students to really get into the topic before we started to delve into the maths.  During these classes we talked about what makes a fair game, and we also talked about the concept of theoretical and experimental probability.  In pairs, students then had to design a game that could be played by students throughout the primary school.  They had to make sure that the game was fair, and also that they knew what the chances were of winning.  We set up our "Chance Encounters" game fair in the foyer of the school and classes booked to come and play the game.  The students recorded how many played the game and how many times the students won the game, and then back in class again they looked at their games and tried to work out why the experimental probability did or did not match with what the maths would have predicted.  You can see some more examples of the games students designed here.

Another time, along with reading the story of Gulliver's Travels, we looked at scale.  Students made artefacts to scale based on the various lands where Gulliver found himself, for example in Lilliput where the people were only 6 inches tall, and in Brobdingnag where the people were giants.  What would a stamp look like in Brobdingnag, for example, or a fork in Lilliput?  During this same unit we also made some scale models of the school and we went on to use geometry to look at designing buildings around the world (click here to see student examples).  We called this unit Designing Spaces and it involved visualizing, planning and building. Students used geometry to analyse buildings from around the world, to design and build their own house models, and to create plans for their designs. Rather than studying mathematics, the students became mathematicians, engaging in a form of mathematical thinking that is applied in all societies to design living spaces to meet people's needs and to make sense of the physical environment.

In both the above examples the students were engaged in various tasks that would develop a mathematical mindset - they learned about the true nature of mathematics in a practical real-world way.  And they were excited!  Jo Boaler writes, "Interestingly I found that mathematics excitement looks exactly the same for struggling 11 year olds, as it does for high flying students in top universities - it combines curiosity, connection making, challenge, and creativity and usually involves collaboration.  These for me are the 5Cs of mathematics engagement."

It has been fun today for me to look back at these student projects from 1998 (almost 20 years ago - wow!) and to reflect on how all those years ago, before we'd even heard of Jo Boaler, my students were engaged in inquiry in maths and were certainly excited to use the 5Cs of mathematical thinking in their learning.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Pursuing dreams and enhancing the lives of others

I've always loved our school's mission statement, which among other things states:
We inspire all of our students ... to pursue their dreams and enhance the lives of others.
I was thinking about those words this morning when I read the following sentence in The Innovator's Mindset:  "Dreaming is important, but until we create the conditions where innovation in education flourishes, those dreams will not become a reality."  I also reflected on one of the "what if" questions:
What if everyone in our organization, not just our students, was encouraged to pursue his or her dreams?
I asked myself, is my school one where everyone is encouraged to pursue his or her dreams and enhance the lives of others?

As I'm at my mother's in the UK right now I've been watching a fair bit of television and I was really interested in the BBC programme The Ganges with Sue Perkins.  In Episode 1 Sue took a trip to the source of the Ganges, and in Episode 2 she was at the holy city of Varanasi.  Watching these programmes reminded me of a colleague at ASB who decided last year to become the first person ever to kayak the whole length of the Ganges - going from the Gangotri Glacier at the source of the Ganges to the Bay of Bengal at its mouth.  I know that when Brendon asked the school for the time off to do this journey he spoke about the ASB's mission and about how this was a dream that he wanted to pursue.  On his Ganges 2016 Facebook page he wrote:
Why am I doing it?
A challenge really. First and foremost because I am a Physical Education teacher and I consistently teach students about goal setting. One day I wondered whether I was practicing what I was preaching. I was always encouraging students to aim high, believe in themselves, extend themselves. To put themselves out there, reach for their true potential. The question was, was I? Hence this challenge.
Another part of our school's mission was also alluded to by Brendon as he wrote, "In India at the moment there is a major focus on cleaning up the Ganges river to enhance the lives of those living around and supported by the river. I thought it would be fantastic to travel along the river and see what changes were happening and hopefully bring attention to the changes being made."

George Couros writes: "In a place where every learner is encouraged to reach his or her dreams, these "what ifs" can become reality."  ASB is certainly such a place!

Anyone interested in knowing more about Brendon's journey can visit the Facebook page Ganges Source to Sea.

Photo is dawn on the Ganges, taken by me at Varanasi in October 2015

Creating a culture of innovation

More thoughts from The Innovator's Mindset:

George Couros writes that to create a culture of innovation you first have to focus on learning and growth, and he has a list of 8 things to look for in today's classroom that will help schools to achieve a culture of innovation:

  1. Voice - learning is social and co-constructing knowledge empowers learners
  2. Choice - students need input into how they learn and what they learn
  3. Reflection - it's important for learners to take the time to think about and understand what they are learning
  4. Opportunities for innovation - innovation shouldn't be a one-off or special event, but should become the norm
  5. Critical thinking - encouraging students to ask questions both about the information they are finding and also so that they are empowered to challenge the ideas of others to help everyone move forward
  6. Problem solvers/finders - students who find problems gain a sense of purpose in solving something authentic
  7. Self assessment - this can provide another opportunity for reflection, as students can assess themselves.  George writes, "I think we spend too much time documenting what students know and not enough time empowering them to invest in their own learning and helping them understand their strengths and areas of growth."
  8. Connecting - with experts and with an authentic audience.

Friday, October 27, 2017

No place for thinking in math class?

I can't remember how I was taught maths when I was in primary school, but I vividly remember the maths that I was taught from the age of 11 onwards.  It was called SMP maths, and was developed by a group of researchers in the 1960s who worked out of Southampton University.  I recently found out that SMP was a response to the call for a reform in mathematics teaching, following the launch of Sputnik by the USSR.  It's kind of incredible to me now that the maths I was learning in the 1970s was a response to the Cold War and Space Race!

When I was 11 I had no idea what SMP was.  At school we called it "Stupid Maths Problems" and I do remember having to do problem after problem after problem.  SMP was abandoned in the UK in the 1980s when the National Curriculum was introduced, however before this schools were free to set their own curricula and buy the resources they wanted to support that.  Therefore at school I didn't learn about algebra, trigonometry or geometry, instead I learned about things like graph theory, non-cartesian co-ordinate systems, vectors and non-decimal number systems (I remember binary - I can't remember much about any of the others).  The aim of SMP was to improve the mathematics curriculum taught in the UK, but now it has been criticised as putting a whole generation off mathematics by trying to dive into abstraction too early.  SMP did not really fit in with the exam system either.  I remember sitting my maths O'level at the age of 16 and having to take my shoelace out of my shoe and use it to make a sort of scale model of the problem I was trying to solve that involved the circumference of a circle. However, reading Jo Boaler's book Mathematical Mindsets, I realise that in many ways I was fortunate as I was not drilled in maths facts.  Jo, who was at school in the UK at a similar time to myself, writes that her school was focused on the whole child, and as such she also didn't have to memorise tables of addition, subtraction and multiplication facts.  Instead she learned number sense, which is the deep understanding of numbers and the ways they relate to each other.

As mentioned in a previous post, Jo argues that maths facts are held in the working memory section of the brain, and that under pressure (for example during timed tests) the working memory becomes blocked, causing anxiety.  This is what puts students off maths, and Jo claims, is leading the the maths crisis that is currently being faced in both the UK and the USA.  Instead of memorising facts, Jo writes that we should be offering conceptual activities that help students understand numbers.  There is brain research that shows that the left side of the brain handles facts and technical information and that the right side handles visual and spatial information - and the learning of maths is optimised when both parts of the brain work together to develop new brain pathways.  Jo writes,
The more we emphasize memorization to students, the less willing they become to think about numbers and their relations and to use and develop number sense.
Jo goes on to compare the learning of maths with the learning of English.  In order to understand novels or poetry students need to know the meaning of many words, yet we are not teaching the fast memorization and recall of hundreds of words when we teach English - instead we take words and use them in many different situations - talking, reading and writing.

Getting back to the SMP, and indeed to the Addison Wesley mathematics text books that I was presented with when I became a homeroom teacher in Grades 5 and 6, the thing I remember the most were pages and pages of practice questions and worksheets that had to be completed every day.   I was interested to read that Jo states that we do not need to practice methods over and over again - what we really need is to reinforce ideas by using them in new ways.  Jo writes about repetitive practice:
We do not need students to take a single method and practice it over and over again.  That is not mathematics; it does not give students the knowledge of ideas, concepts, and relationships that make up expert mathematics performance ... The oversimplification of mathematics and the practice of methods through isolated simplified procedures is part of the reason we have widespread failure in the United States and the United Kingdom.  It is part of the reason that students do not develop mathematical mindsets; they do not see their role as thinking and sense making; rather they see it as taking methods and repeating them.  Students are led to think there is no place for thinking in math class.
I was also interested to read the PISA results that show the lowest scoring maths students in the world are those who use memorisation, whereas the highest scoring students are those who think about the big ideas and the connections between them.  Clearly what students need is to be given interesting situations and encouragement to make sense of them.  In this way, Jo points out, "they will see mathematics different, as not a closed, fixed body of knowledge but an open landscape that they can explore, asking questions and thinking about relationships."

Photo Credit: jimmiehomeschoolmom Flickr via Compfight cc

The importance of compression when learning maths

I've been reading Jo Boaler's book Mathematical Mindsets and have become really interested in the idea of compression.  This is not a brain process I've heard much about before, but it's described in the following way:
When you learn a new area of mathematics that you know nothing about, it takes up a large space in your brain, as you need to think hard about how it works and how the ideas relate to other ideas. But the mathematics you have learned before and know well, such as addition, takes up a small, compact space in our brain.  You can use it easily without thinking about it.  The process of compression happens because the brain is a highly complex organ with many things to control, and it can focus on only a few uncompressed ideas at one time.  Ideas that are known well are compressed and filed away.
What this means is that when necessary you can recall the maths quickly, to use as a step in another mental process.  However many students see maths as a bit of a slog because they are not engaging in compression - and the reason for this is because maths is often taught as rules and methods, and not as concepts.  The brain can only compress concepts and not rules - hence students who learn the rules have to struggle to hold onto them - they are unable to be compressed, organized and filed away for later use.

This is why it's important to help students approach mathematics conceptually at all times - and the conceptual understanding of maths is what Jo Boaler refers to as a mathematical mindset. This also explains why in Making the PYP Happen it states: "In the PYP, the mathematics component of the curriculum should be driven by concepts and skills rather than by content."

Jo Boaler is a British mathematics educator and is currently Professor of Mathematics Education at the Stanford Graduate School of Education.  Her website is Youcubed.

Photo Credit: recombiner Flickr via Compfight cc

Some more thoughts on innovation and leadership

My Grade 6 class in 1996
I'm now in Part II of The Innovator's Mindset and am thinking about innovation and leadership based on the following quote:
As leaders in education, our job is not to control those whom we serve but to unleash their talent.
As I read this it reminded me of  the reasons why I moved to my school 6 years ago.  Before moving to India I was not in a school that was much interested in innovation, and so the thing that really attracted me to ASB was its "can do" attitude.  I'd never been in a school before that had an R&D department, and I was amazed by the culture of yes.  To this end, George Couros writes:
The problem is that when you say "no" to innovation for any reason - people feel reluctant to attempt trying new things in the future.  Their thinking is, "If I am not allowed to do something that could impact learning in my classroom or other classrooms, what purpose do I have in serving the needs of the school as a whole?"  In other words they think, "My ideas don't matter."
My 5th Grade students and their families
at our first student-led conference in 1999
When teachers feel like this they really have just 2 options - not to bother to try anything new, or to go ahead and try it and then ask for forgiveness.  Many, many years ago, when I was a 5th Grade teacher, my teaching partner and I decided it would be really useful to have students at the parent-teacher conferences.  We felt that it would be good for students to be part of the discussions (after all it was their learning) and we felt that they could best demonstrate and articulate their own progress and goals they would like to set for the future.  We knew we were on shaky ground - nobody had ever had students at the parent-teacher conferences before - but we ploughed ahead anyway.  Now having 3-way or student led conferences is commonplace, but it was sad that we had to do it in the way we did, as we feared we would not get the permission to go ahead if we asked for it upfront.  George Couros writes about this in the following way:
If we've established a culture in which educators feel their only option is to ask forgiveness for trying new things, this is not an educator issue, it's a leadership issue ... squashing the ambitions of those who want to go above and beyond to try something new will ensure schools have only "pockets of innovation" at best, and, at worse, no innovation.
Looking back now, I'm aware that my colleague and I did some really wild things.  For example we went and dug up the paving stones in the school playground and then gave students the task of trying to use simple machines to bring the stones up to the 2nd floor of the school through the windows in order to try to demonstrate the technology that the ancient Egyptians used in building the pyramids.  Another time we dug up the school playground and each class buried a set of artefacts, which the other class then dug up, taking on the roles of archaeologists and trying to work out what culture we represented.  I remember this was the first time we had students video and document the whole process and then we posted this on a class website - and this was at a time when our school didn't even have an internet connection back in 1996!  And yet I'm aware that we were just one of those "pockets of innovation" that George referred to.  Personally I think we did really great things in Grade 6 - and over 20 years later I'm still friends on Facebook with some of those 6th Grade students - as well as with my teaching colleague - but I'm also aware that Grade 6 was seen as being a bit "out there" and that although we had a class website we didn't really have a way of interacting with other educators around the world.  I know that change can happen one person at a time - but it could have happened much quicker and had more impact if we had been more connected.  I have to say though that I very much appreciated that school for tolerating the "crazy" ideas of two 6th Grade teachers!

(By the way I just checked to see if that old 6th Grade website is still there - it is!  Amazing!  The photo above is this 6th Grade class in 1996 - my first class who ever published their work on the internet.  Were we innovators?  Yes, I think we were!)

Thursday, October 26, 2017

George Couros's 8 characteristics of the innovator's mindset

Here are some of my highlights based on reading George Couros's book The Innovator's Mindset, along with some of my own thoughts.  As more tech positions in schools are morphing into innovation and coaching positions, I'm interested to see how much of what George identifies is applicable to myself and my own future in education.

  • Empathetic:  empathetic teachers think about the classroom environment and learning opportunities from the point of view of the student, not the teacher.  George's question is, "Would you want to be a learner in your own classroom?"
  • Problem finders/solvers: traditional schools pose questions/problems to students but in real life there is often no step by step way of finding the answer.  George writes "Sometimes it takes several attempts and iterations to solve real-life problems, and, sometimes, there are several correct answers ... Ewan McIntosh notes that finding the problem is an essential part of learning - one that students miss out on when we pose the problems to them first ... Sometimes teachers need to lead from the front.  Other times, our students' learning experiences are improved when we move alongside them or simply get out of the way."
  • Risk takers: as teachers we know that not everything we try will work with every learner, yet George writes, "Risk is necessary to ensure that we are meeting the needs of each unique student.  Some respond well to one way of learning, while others need a different method or format.  Not taking the risk to find the best approach for each student might seem less daunting than trying new things, but maintaining the status quo may have dire consequences for our students."
  • Networked: for years bloggers such as George have argued that being in spaces where people actively share ideas makes us smarter - and social media provides the place for ideas to spread.
  • Observant: this ties in with the last point as George writes that "sometimes the most valuable thing you get from the network isn't an idea, but the inspiration or courage to try something new."
  • Creators: anyone can consume information but that doesn't equate to learning - learning is creation not consumption ... knowledge is something a learner creates.
  • Resilient: for me this is a really important one - certainly in my time in tech I've noticed that anything new and different can see threatening.  George writes, "for those with an innovator's mindset, the reality is that their work will constantly be questions simply because it is something new ... innovators must be prepared to move forward, even when the risk of rejection is involved."
  • Reflective: we need to be asking ourselves what worked and what didn't, what we would change and what questions we have as we continue to move forward.
So here is the crux of the matter:  as leaders we cannot tell others they should be innovative while we continue to do the same thing.  As I reflect on the 8 characteristics outlined by George, there are some I know I'm strong at (being networked, risk-taking, resilient and reflective) and others that I could do with more work on (creating, being observant, empathetic - actually I think I am empathetic to students, what I need is to become more empathetic to the challenges my colleagues are facing - and being a problem-finder).  

I'm at the end of Part I of the book.  It's been really useful to me to reflect on some of the questions that have been posed and to think about where I am today.  Now it's time for Part II which focuses on creating the conditions that empower a culture of learning and innovation.

If you want to purchase The Innovator's Mindset you can find it on Amazon.

Creating our own education: voice, choice and ownership

I have been reading on in George's Couros's book The Innovator's Mindset, and at the start of Chapter 2 I have come across a quote from Stephen Downes:
We need to move beyond the idea that an education is something that is provided for us and towards the idea that an education is something that we create for ourselves.
The reason this struck me as being so important is because I've recently finished Cognitive Coaching Days 5-8 (again) where I was able to again think about the concept of efficacy and the belief in the ability to succeed or to make a difference, and more recently I've been considering the changes that will come to the PYP with greater emphasis on learner agency.  As Downes alludes to, people with agency take responsibility and ownership of their own education/learning.  Dispositions that we want to promote in both students and adults who have agency include critical and creative thinking, perseverance, independence and confidence.  This idea of perseverence is built upon by George Couros in Chapter 2 of his book when he writes:
Having the freedom to fail is important to innovation.  But even more important to the process are the traits of resilience and grit.  Resiliency is the ability to come back after a defeat or unsuccessful attempt.  Grit is resolve or strength of character.  These two characteristics need to be continuously developed as we look for new and better ways to serve our students.
I think the word "serve" is important here.  I've come across this again recently in my reading around coaching - a coach is there to serve the coachee, to help the coachee tap into his or her inner resources, to help convey a person to where he or she wants to go.   In the same way that a coach needs to give up his or her own agenda, teachers need to be mindful of the diverse needs and interests of the students they serve.  George suggests some questions that will help teachers focus on the students (as opposed to the curriculum, standards etc), for example
  • What is best for this student?
  • What is this student's passion?
He is a real advocate of developing empathy for our students and of pursuing our desire as educators of giving our students the best that we can.  An innovator's mindset, therefore, is focused on the desire to create something better - and to do that we need to continually ask the question "is there a better way of doing this?"

Back to the quote at the start of this post, if education is something that we create then both teachers and students are partners in the process.  As teachers we need to work alongside the students, to monitor their learning and to provide feedback and feedforward to help the learning process.  We need to listen to their wonderings, and help them to explore their interests through open-ended tasks and we need to involve students in making decisions about what and how they learn - which means as teachers we often need to co-learn with our students.  In these inquiry-based classrooms, our teaching should be "just in time" and not "just in case".

Photo Credit: venspired Flickr via Compfight cc