I’ve been struck by recent arguments (like the one in the article above) about the link between the activity of coding, and of writing in classrooms.
I think there’s a danger in pushing the links too vigorously: for sure, the more logical, analytical kind of writing shares many characteristics with sequencing and compiling lines (or other forms) of code, but the best writing often exploits and subverts convention. Perhaps it is unfortunate that, in the example above, the analogy is primarily with creative writing. The approach being promoted leads to formulaic writing that I would propose should be challenged, not entrenched, when writing creatively.
I accept that, in the early stages of teaching extended writing, a formula – or scaffold – is helpful, but overdependence on scaffolding, as I’ve observed in English/ Language Arts teaching even up to senior secondary classrooms, is too restrictive to produce authentic writing, in my opinion.
It’s certainly been an interesting year, rolling out a BYOD program in a school where an additional 200+ students will be joining us at the same time.
For an overview of the year, visit the College’s blog, which I started and then maintained as a way to collect information about developments as they occurred, and to which parents could be directed. This saved an enormous amount of repetitive email replies, and assisted parents – particularly those joining us in 2015 – in understanding the philosophy as well as the practical requirements of the program.
Our starting point was the lack of recurrent Federal Government funding for 1:1 devices, purchased in 2011 and 2012. As these devices approach end-of-(useful)-life, a replacement strategy was needed. We had three options, at the end of the day:
- retire all of the devices and return to labs
- purchase College-owned devices and continue to lend them to students
- make the provision of a suitable device the responsibility of the family.
Clearly, we’ve opted for the third of these: the first would see learning suffer, and the second would still be funded by parents. Our rationale for the third, in terms of the reasons in its favour (as opposed to against the other two options), included:
- recognising that students and families will already have devices they prefer to use and which are compatible with their home networks
- breaking the expectation that school-appropriate technology is only that which the College provides – with a wider range of hardware and software in play, students’ perceptions will shift in this regard.
Our rollout is staggered, so that 3 of our 6 year levels will be BYOD in 2015, and the other 3 in 2016. For details, click here.
Some factors that have simplified matters:
- As we had already removed student network drives, we did not have to plan for their access via BYOD.
- Much of our teaching materials for students is on browser-based sites such as Sharepoint and Schoolbox, helping us to be more device-agnostic
- Our use of an e-commerce portal (optional) has streamlined major support issues for us by consolidating support through one log/ helpdesk
- We have been able to use retired College devices as swaps when BYOD devices require extended offsite support
- Our infrastructure – particularly wireless – has been tweaked and upgraded to cope fairly well with the number and variety of devices.
On the whole we would count the year a success. There were some teething problems with deliveries and collections, and a relative small number of devices have had chronic problems requiring multiple returns, but these have been managed. Mind you, those families affected by the repeated failure of their device have justifiably not considered the year a major success, but we have been able to issue replacement devices and monitor the fairly slow repairs process, providing feedback where helpful.
We are about to begin the second phase of the rollout, with the remaining 3 year levels requiring BYOD in 2016. We are updating the blog, hosting a device information session supported by most vendors (Apple and Microsoft will not accept our invitation to show off their wares, as opposed to HP, who are sending a representative), and opening up the e-commerce portal for orders in Term 4.
On the whole, our transition from College-owned devices to BYOD has been relatively painless.
Last year I signed up for my first MOOC, run by the University of Melbourne through Coursera. Assessment and Teaching of 21st Century Skills* focused primarily on the process of learning collaboratively, arguing that this is an essential skill in our current world. Of particular interest in the course was the way that these skills might be assessed.
Four aspects of the MOOC have stuck with me:
1. The rubric for assessing collaboration
The team presenting the course, led my Patrick Griffin and Esther Care, developed several rubrics of increasing complexity to allow consideration (and assessment) of the skills and dispositions that, together, might be called collaborative learning. Broadly divided into 2 categories – the social and the cognitive – these rubrics prompt good discussion about the nature of collaboration (as opposed to mere cooperative or group work), the changes in classrooms that would allow it, and the ways in which it might be assessed.
2. The opportunity to engage with a very wide professional network
More than I expected, there were lots of colleagues from a much wider range of backgrounds who signed up for the MOOC. As a result, the exchange of perspectives was, on the whole, a bonus. For example, hearing about the way collaboration might feature in a language classroom in central Europe was quite different from how an arts class in Singapore might see it. Again, the rubric allow common ground for discussion, although it was noticeable that some colleagues were not distinguishing between working together and working collaboratively, and this was borne out in some of the assignments submitted for peer assessment.
3. The challenge to derive practical applications for classroom use.
The course was very much focused on the practical – essentially, how could we design activities for our students that were truly collaborative and allowed us to assess their collaboration. Ideally, technology plays a big part in tracking collaborative activity and allowing analysis of patterns, and some interesting work is being done in this area at Melbourne University.
4. Peer assessment
Each of us was required to assess three others’ submissions and, in turn, to have our work assessed by three peers. The criteria and the way that Coursera was set up to allocate a mark from a small range of marks to a relatively discrete or technical element of the submission seemed not always to allow the kind of assessment one felt might be most useful, and the overall sense of what a submission was ‘worth’ was sometimes not reflected in the total mark assigned. Some of the criteria, in other words, biased the result in a way that seemed unfair to some.
I would recommend this particular MOOC as the standard of materials is high, the activities worthwhile and the focus, relevant to contemporary education. I find that the work we did continues to be relevant in discussions with colleagues (a couple of whom have also participated in the MOOC) and in assisting colleagues meet their professional development interests.
*I know lots of people object to this term, but that’s what the course is called!
Read here a short article on how we are using WordPress to curate digital professional portfolios as part of our teacher growth and development program:
The FutureSchools Conference 2014 was held at Australian Technology Park in Everleigh, Sydney. This literally post-industrialist site,drawing attention to its 19th C construction and more recent 20th C re-construction, seemed a fitting location for a conference that focused primarily on what a future school might look like.
Day 1 was advertised as a ‘Masterclass’ with Stephen Heppell. Originally billed as the chance to work with Stephen in a small group, the session blew out to a large lecture-style presentation; nonetheless, there were some illuminating insights from Stephen’s long and varied career. Days 2 and 3 were the Conference proper. With a range of schools – independent / affluent government / struggling government – talking about topics such as learning space design; re-conceptualising organisational structure to promote post-industrial learning models; transparent, student-chosen technology; extended learning periods with flexible timetabling; student voice; peer instruction and flipped instruction; engendering staff enthusiasm for change; and project/ problem-based learning. Below are links to my posts about some of the sessions that offered relevant prompts for my own professional work. Incidentally, the twitter stream was relatively active and can be viewed here.
The programme for the two days of the conference were:
- Stephen Heppell Keynote
- Northern Beaches Christian College (Sydney) Keynote
- Brisbane Boys’ College building program
- St Raphael’s School (Melbourne) managing transitions
- Belmont Primary School (Melbourne) modernising a heritage listed school
- New South Wales Dept of Education and Communities identifying future directions
- Panel discussion: creating your vision for the future school
Eric Mazur Keynote
- Scoth Oakburn (Tasmania) placing technology at the forefront of inspiring learning places
- Stonefields School (Auckland) designing learning hubs
- Australian Science and mathematics School (South Australia) ‘FutureSchool’
- Newington College (Sydney) student panel discussion
- Churchie (Brisbane) effect of design on learning
- Mordialloc College (Melbourne) flexible learning and teaching
Simple but effective. Avoid the tempation to leap on every latest trend; rather, find the one core goal and make it happen.
Step 1: Find your true north
Step 2: Do everything that will make Step 1 happen
Many of us agree that the historical model of school is broken and not serving the future, or even the present. Often the factory analogy of separation is used to describe the education that many of us received:
Separated preparation and planning
This model has led to teachers as the driver, represents dependence and independence (not interdependence), one size fits all, confrontation, control and the relational tensions that often arise. Students usually become either compliant and passive vessels, or defiant and active resistors.
Many educators know that transformation is essential, collaboration is necessary and rethinking student success an imperative. We also know that it’s not a simple thing to transform a school, but perhaps distilling the magnitude of change to a few…
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Mooted as a chance to work closely with Stephen, this started somewhat disappointingly in a medium-sized lecture room packed with about 80 delegates. Clearly there was going to be less ‘working with’ and more ‘listening to’ than anticipated. Nonetheless, what we were offered was a wide-ranging and coherent view on learning space design, primarily, and how student voice in that design was crucial to achieving better learning. Here are my records of his observations, sometimes through my own current workplace ‘filter’.
STEPHEN’S PRESENTATION TECHNIQUE! Throughout the day, and the keynote the following day, Stephen eschewed traditional presentation software such as PowerPoint or Prezi, and relied on a series of images – mostly pictures but sometimes slides of text – stored in folders which were arranged on his desktop in intersecting circles that suggested a unique organisational structure that allowed him to delve into topics by quickly locating and displaying those images. The message – never spoken – was clear: try to avoid linear presentational technology! Thinking – and communicating with others – is just not like that… or if it is, perhaps it could just as easily be delivered by a robot. Never was the importance of the human in creating a meaning-full learning experience more clearly yet unobtrusively made. The landing page of his website shows this approach albeit not as well as his desktop did! To Stephen’s points:
- His favourite building is the State Library of Queensland, apparently. Over the rest of the day it became clearer why, as he unpacked his criteria for stimulating learning spaces through illustration and analysis. He has photos of inspiring and effective learning spaces (and toilets!) here.
- ‘Teaching algorithmic thinking’ was an early line, almost thrown away in the course of talking about designing learning spaces. His point seemed to me to be that so much of existing curriculum is based on memorising what the teacher tells you, telling it back to them in a test, then forgetting. What gets lost is the need to teach how systems work – for example, how web-based technologies are able to compute your preferences from only a few interactions you have online. More simply than that, though, is the need to teach even very young children how ideas are joined up into logical sequence.
- We spent some time thinking about the ideal level of light for different activity. Some classrooms where the data projector is constantly on but the bulb is too dim require students to sit in almost constant gloom. 250-300 lux are required for effective learning – he suggested that we survey our learning spaces. Interesting…
- He proposed that students should do this kind of measurement, as well as measure decibels, consider colours, music, etc., as part of projects to consider and improve their own learning spaces. Too often we do design ‘to’ students in the belief that we are providing optimal conditions- they often think differently. Why not make a unit based on the project of analysing effectiveness of learning spaces and offering suggestions for improvement?
- The way we speak about 21st Century learning does not tally with what we still do in learning – short lessons, segmented curriculum, absorption of content with little focus on extending, refining or applying it. He pointed out that primary schools and universities are structured to allow for immersion and therefore deep learning – so why are secondary schools aberrant? He gave an example of a school in the UK – Dudley School – where immersion is making a difference.
- Stephen works in Spain a lot and he has seen the staffroom of effective schools become places where important readings are shared. In one school there was a weekly ‘menu’ of readings on the wall, with copies available on iPads (I think) or on paper left lying around. There were also shorter ‘readings’ recommended as a kind of ‘tapas for the mind’, down to the small document holders on lunch tables with the tapas ‘menu’ on display.
- Stephen commented on the prevalence of internet filtering and how it harms learning. His approach is to reduce filters to all but the nastiest material, but have monitoring software in place that is regularly checked for concerning events or trends. Summaries of browsing (without names) are displayed around the school and are accessible to parents. Pull aside students who may be doing something worrying.
- 3D printing was a major theme of his presentation. He claims that UK fashion schools/ colleges have more 3D printers than sewing machines these days!
- A supermarket chain, ASDA, has offered a service to customers who can have 3D models of themselves/ loved ones/ objects made within 24 hours.
- Stephen spent some time talking about how some of the southeast Asian countries that are so admired have moved in policy over the years. In particular he talked about Kenneth Chen, the current Secretary General of the Secretariat of the Legislative Council of Hong Kong. He was appointed as the Undersecretary for education in 2008. In a country that many think of as a factory of learning, he was quoted as saying that their recent changes – which have brought such good results – shift the focus from content to the process of learning. A quick scan of his Twitter feed confirms this.
- An example of how technology can allow students to focus on learning is the Raspberry Pi – a small computer ‘core’ that can be programmed and for which a number of peripherals are being made.
- Quote about technology: Give teachers permission not to know everything but to learn from their students – who also don’t know everything but who may be more willing to experiment with it – while offering guidance and advise (about learning).
- The role of collaborative spaces was emphasised – students working together (and with others beyond the school walls) work better and learn more. We heard about different learning ‘modes’ picked up later in the conference by others – such as the ‘campfire’, the ‘cave’, the ‘watering hole’, and the ‘sandpit’.
- Several times throughout the day – and in a way that resonated with most of the other presenters over following days – Stephen spoke of the widespread policy in successful schools of having mobile phones out but off – unless their use was justified. time and again he explained how this worked not only as a useful BYOD, but also as a better way to minimise its inappropriate use. We all know, he implied, that students are carrying them around and sneaking them under the desk, so out on the desk and off unless their use can be justified (they have to be used on the desk) eliminates that ‘we know that you know but we’ll pretend’ situation. The value of social media in education was explored and an example – the Mark Oliphant College in Adelaide – serves to illustrate his points.
- Student voice featured strongly in his talk about designing spaces for learning, and his daughter, Juliette, a teacher in Hounslow (currently on maternity leave) illustrated this well. She explained the cyclical project she has deployed where students are given a (limited) budget to design their learning space. They have to research their ideas and present them with due analysis to the teacher before any change is made; she explained that they chose things she was not entirely happy with but that was part of the process – letting go. None of their choices impeded learning, though – she did not agree to any that might, but if students came back with valid reasons, she felt she had to. Students LOVED their space – so much so that they broke into the staff lounge over Easter to steal the keys to get into their space – to study for their GCSE exams! As she explained, they were happy to break into the staff lounge but they would NEVER break into their own space. Here is a link to a BETT presentation about this project.
- At this point we were entreated, in not quite as few words, to respect student voice as long as it was based on research and reason, not merely opinion.
- We were also offered the view that universities shouldn’t be trusted to run teacher education courses if they aren’t running a highly successful school themselves!
- At the end of the day, Stephen reminded us that we have been looking at the past even though we might have thought we were looking at the future. There’s something in that….
Stephen’s website offers interesting resources linked to these and other ideas. One that seemed useful for a staff meeting was a video taken at the end of a session in Hobart in 2010 where he asked participants to record what they were ‘taking away’ from the session.
As Pew Internet’s March 2013 report on Teens and Technology reports (using US data), 95% percent of teens are online, a figure unchanged in the last seven years. However, the major change has been to the way in which they are online: rather than the family’s desktop or laptop PC connected by the family wireless router to the internet, or the school’s lab of PCs, they are increasingly using mobile devices with data connections that bypass home and school filtering. According to the research, 74% of teens in their study now access the internet this way, with a number of consequences for families and schools.
In particular, three components of a school’s online safety program need to be reconsidered:
- the technological controls in place
- the digital citizenship (or responsible use) program
- the promises made to parents about access during the school day.
- Firstly, it should be obvious that students can now easily bypass filtering and other technologies that schools (and parents) have long depended on to keep students and undesirable content apart. Not that this was ever the only, or even best, way to do so, but it was a way that technology staff could provide immediate support to teachers and required nothing much in the way of educating students – it was a barrier that worked when there was only one way ‘out’. With internet-enabled mobile devices increasingly available to students, not only can they use these to access the internet, they can set up hotspots to use more powerful devices, and share this connection with other students. This has been the case for several years, but it is still surprising how few teachers realise how little control they actually have through their schools’ filtering technology.
- As a result, there has to be a significant shift in the digital citizenship program. If students can use their mobile devices to access inappropriate materials, then it is even more important to teach them that they ought not access them, for reasons that are convincing ethically and in terms of their well-being. Clearly, this is not going to guarantee a student never encounters inappropriate materials either deliberately or accidentally, so the program needs to have in place a range of strategies students can use if they, or their friends, are affected. I would hazard that a number of schools are yet to make such a shift and still believe that the filtering they put in place at network level provides adequate protection. Further, the school/home relationship is vital: parents play an indispensable role, through reinforcing the messages from school and being aware of devices being used in the privacy of bedrooms. There are several good guides for parents on the kind of strategies that will help now published.
- Finally, schools must ensure the communication with parents on this matter is grounded in reality. While schools are often proud of the level of care they can provide – I can’t think of a school that is not – this must be based on what is possible, realistically. Ensuring that children, while on school premises, will not be able to access inappropriate content online cannot be guaranteed.
The hope, I believe, is both in educating parents about the realistic risks, and sharing with them ways to mitigate them, and educating students about the ways to manage the inevitable collision with unsavoury material, drawing on their desire to care for their own and their friends’ well-being.
This post outlines a simple recipe for an effective digital portfolio of PD – reflecting both the very wide range of PD opportunities that exist (many online), the continuous nature of PD, and the need to be able quickly to record and organise thoughts, ideas and reflections for multiple audiences.
There are dozens of tools that do very similar tasks, so it is the function rather than the tool that is important to me. I’ve chosen these three basic ‘ingredients’ either because they are very flexible, or have a particular feature that is easy to use:
- Diigo – find, extract, annotate, share/ curate (Bookmarks, Highlights, Sticky Notes, Tags, Lists and Groups)
- Twitter – monitor, compile/ curate, engage, question, respond (hashtags, following/ be followed, retweet, lists)
- WordPress – record, collate, organise, collaborate (Pages, Posts, Comments, Categories, Tags, Menus, Widgets)
Having prepared your Diigo account earlier, liberally scour the internet for articles, projects, etc. that you find address your professional growth aims. YOu may encounter open groups with similar interests, When these are found, use Diigo’s highlighting and bookmarking tool (I find the context menu approach to be the most efficient) to highlight something to remember the page by, and remember to add tags for later use. You can also add related bookmarks to a particular list, if you want to collate (and share) them that way, or add to groups, for like-minded users to collaborate. Tags are essential to get the most out of the tool. Add further comment if you wish (now, or later).
When Diigo is simmering nicely, use hashtags to drill through the ephemera on Twitter to find links to other great resources – including people with similar interests. Start with some popular hashtags at first – here’s a link to some with an Australian bias. Build lists for particular topics, too. (Once you have several hashtags you’re monitoring and/or people you’re following, think about an optional tool like Tweetdeck to see them in a single interface.)
This mixture gives you a substantial resource base to pull together into a WordPress blog in a way that is meaningful to you according to your purpose (and, probably, audience). By using the widgets in WordPress, you can display filtered lists from Diigo and feeds from Twitter in the one interface. Combine, finally, with your own ramblings – perhaps elaborating on one of the tweets or websites you’ve identified – and againk use tags to make filtered searching easier later on.
In my particular setting, I ensure that, where appropriate, any log entry is categorised according to the AITSL Professional Standards so that my blog functions as a portfolio of evidence of growth. As I encounter further resources of interest, I either add a new blog entry or update an existing one – reflecting the continuously evolving nature of my professional growth path.
The most important ingredient in a fruitful PD portfolio is, I believe, collaboration. At some stage, create a Group in Diigo to share thoughts with others; follow particular Twitter writers to benefit from what they find/ recommend; and share your WordPress posts with others. As your network of contacts builds, so does your confidence to share ideas and to try them out in the classroom.