ITL Research, ICT, Innovative Teaching & the moral imperative

I am currently reading the ITL Research findings report, paying particular attention to the section written by Michael Fullan where he discusses innovative teaching & learning (p33). One piece that struck home with me was his discussion of the 3rd driver of system reform which is that ‘pedagogy needs to drive technology‘ and that the ITL research shows that ‘when pedagogy ( innovative teaching practices) is clearly the focus a lot of other things fall into place, including strong use of ICT, and improving the learning of 21st century skills on the part of students.’

One complaint made by many teachers (and I am guilty of it myself) since the advent of 1:1 computers in the DER program is that technology becomes just another distraction from the learning that should be happening (and ‘used to happen back in my day’ etc.). It is all too easy to blame the laptops for distracting the students (playing flash games when they should be typing up the notes from the board). Technology is seen as the bane of a teacher’s existence, or at least an annoying consideration that we shouldn’t have to deal with, we’ve got to get tougher on these kids, etc. Ban the laptops, burn them (ok that was going a bit too far).

The point I am trying to make here is that rather than seeing laptop technology as an annoyance (or a curse) the REAL problem here, and the one we’d rather ignore, is that increased ICT access highlights the lack that is inherent in so much teaching and learning.

Lack of relevance
Lack of engagement
Lack of meaning

Rather than seeing increased ICT access as a negative, we should see it as an opportunity for us to reassess what we’re teaching and what the students are learning and to make the teaching/learning process more engaging, relevant & meaningful.

It means we’ll have to modify, alter or even throw out what we’ve been comfortably delivering for many years. We’ll have to begin to ask students what is relevant for them. We’ll have to find new ways to engage and challenge these young minds. This is our new moral imperative (or perhaps it has always been our imperative) and we must not turn our backs from the future to waste our/their time looking back at a sepia tone past.

Getting lost on the farm

Okay so I have been really slack and this happened a while ago now, but here it is for posterity.

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Today I was lucky enough to be a part of a wonderful TPL experience, both as a presenter and participant. First of all a big fist pump (thanks @benpaddlejones for getting me onto that term) to Grant Ward and Justine Abell for organising this epic event, another one to @pryorcommitment for bringing up the concept, and @neilfara for revving me up for the event.

Having gotten lost in Barnesley on the way there I got to see a bit of countryside and lucky just made it in time for Roger Pryor’s opening remarks. I too saw the super moon the night before and reflected on what it must have been like ages ago to be out under the stars witnessing such an event, so he connected with me right away. I had read on his blog his idea of ‘planning school’ vs school planning and I believe that his tight-loose-tight model is an important one for anyone engaging in redefining school.

I have been lucky enough to witness this model in action when I visited @neilfara and Project REAL last year, and watching Neil present enthusiastically on the work his faculty has done and the results they have achieved was a good motivator for people like me who are working at the end of change. Neil is passion personified.

I was also fortunate to see two presenters Cory Macdonald and @BeauBerman talk about the fascinating work they are doing at Callaghan College Waratah with Educ8. If you have seen what they are up check out their blog here.

@benpaddlejones ‘ pecha kucha I became intrigued with his innovative approach to Professional Learning for Teachers and will definitely seek out more information. I also saw Ben’s Game-based learning session and walked away feeling excited…so much so I went back last session for a quick go on the Xbox kinect which was fun to say the least. Using my body to navigate was a bit like minority report. When my boys get a bit bigger I am purchasing one for sure!

Be Here Now

Recently I came across an article on the edutopia website regarding meditation and student engagement. Having an interest in both subjects I decided to read on.

It seems that a school that had a high incidence of violence and truancy has been able to turn their school culture around through time set aside at the beginning and end of each day, called Quiet Time, where students “permitted to read, sit with their own thoughts, or close their eyes and meditate — in which case most of them use a specific technique called Transcendental Meditation* that facilitates a state of deep relaxation. Although the meditation is optional, nearly all students have chosen, with their parents’ permission, to receive meditation training. Based on classroom reports, about 90 percent of students choose to meditate during QT.”

This article got me thinking about our ability and our students’ ability to focus in an always on, 24/7 world. I have blogged before about the need to “get off the grid” so to speak, and it is a subject that I have been thinking more about lately. With so much “out there” to keep our attention, how much time do we spend on our developing our attention to “in here”?

Now, don’t think I am suggesting that we all sit around navel gazing all the time, on the contrary what I am suggesting is that by taking time to develop our ability to focus on the internal, it will help us to make more sense of the external. In other words, meditation, far from taking us away from the world, will help us to better interact WITH the world.

How do I know? Apart from the testimony of far more experienced meditators than myself and several scientific studies into the physical, emotional and psychological benefits of meditation, my own stuttering attempts at meditation have yielded more focused mental states and an increased ability to filter out distractions, if only for small periods of time.

Even if you have never sat down on a cushion to do some breath meditation, or only know “Om” as a scientific term or the beginning of OMG!, I think anyone can benefit from a more focused, more aware state of mind. The truth is there is so much to distract us, so many things to multi-task, that now, more than ever before, we need an antidote to distraction that will help us to better function in our everyday lives. If you have ever “lost yourself” playing a computer game or listening to a piece of music, then you have experience in the intensity that comes from greater focus. Through concentration developed through meditation, we can enhance our capacity to engage effectively with our busy lives.

If you want to give it a try it is as simple as watching your breath. There are many wonderful breath watching/counting techniques out there, pick one and get started. Get to know your mind. Learn to be here now.

Stop Stealing Dreams

I have been reading Seth Godin’s ,ebook manifesto stop stealing dreams and like so many things in my life there is a marked congruence between it’s ideas and my own meandering thoughts. I have looked forward to a book like this since reading Linchpin last year. I welcome someone with Seth’s analytical ability and way of raising questions taking a long hard look at the education system, every aspect – even the role of the teacher, which is where most hackles will rise. The fact is that education as we know it is not as effective as we need it to be to prepare for the future. We can watch as many shift happens videos as we like but until we start to envision and create that shift, that revolution in education then we’ll keep getting the same old stuff – disengaged learners who don’t see the point of much of what we do in the classroom.

Now this is a big job to tackle and many of us are tackling as best we can. Neil Fara’s Project Real is one example of challenging the status quo in teaching.
The status quo says one teacher per classroom, 30 students to a class, chairs in neat rows, everyone on the same page working at the same speed, teaching to the middle ability. Project Real challenges this in many ways. To better understand it follow the link.

Then there is another of my inspirations – Bianca Hewes who is incorporating Project Based Learning in her classroom to inspire a love of learning and enquiry that results in skill and knowledge acquisition , not to mention 21st century skills. There are many more teachers out there trying to do something that is better than the status quo. Unfortunately there are many more who are happy to keep doing what they have been doing or have been taught to do for many years.

Having recently changed schools, I found myself wandering around lost the other day and it really struck me, as I walked past classroom after classroom of students sitting there facing the front, listening to the teacher, that this is very far removed from how I like to learn. What I like to do when I need to learn something is not sit listening to someone speak about it ( especially at Professional Development Days), rather I consider what it is I need to know/learn ( often in a hazy way) and then I start to gather information, usually from the web, but also in books, videos (ted talk anyone?) and consider it more deeply, maybe jot a few ideas down, trying to organise the process. Then I might engage in conversations with my colleagues to find out what they know or bounce my ideas off them. Then I will come to some sort of resolution where I can reflect back on whether I have fulfilled my original goals and then I develop further goals on the learning or I seek out new, relevant things to learn.

None of this involves sitting down and learning what someone else wants me to learn. It is self-directed, self-motivated, individual and collaborative, engaging, relevant to now (not some distant future), haphazard and, ultimately, rewarding.

Is this what I see when I walk around schools? Probably not. Is this what I see in MY classroom? Not yet.

I am not holding up what I do in the classroom as any sort of model. I am not there yet, but I have a plan and I have the motivation to give my students the education they will need. Now I just have to set about making my edu-dreams a reality.

Going Offline

With all the weather we have been having lately I suddenly realised that it has been a long time since I just enjoyed nature, being offline or off the grid. You know, just taking time to BE! The moment really hit when I was putting out the garbage and I saw the evening sun shine behind a large cumulus cloud and I suddenly saw the old saying – every dark cloud has a silver lining. I realised that in my 30+ years alive I don’t really recall seeing that. Pity. It was a wondrous sight and I am glad I took a few moments to just appreciate it, to observe what the world can offer us when we just look up from our busy lives once in a while.

I have resolved to spend more time appreciating nature and sharing it with my family.

Shipping the Product

Today was ship date for our first project. I have to say I am happy with the final product and I am even happier that the students got to work together to develop their collaborative working skills. I feel like the end product (a website) is a meaningful product that will show the students that they can put something “out there”.

Even better, from a PBL perspective, is that they (and I) have seen that they can do it, they can work together to learn something rather than just being fed facts to remember.

http://www.wix.com/bevenden/legacyofthegreeks

Gates & Barriers

Don’t you just love when life throws up meaningful metaphors?

On the weekend I took down one of the many child safety gates that cordon off areas of our home. It wasn’t until later that night when I really noticed that the gate wasn’t there. What I found most interesting about the whole thing was the strange feeling that overcame me when I realised what was different…freedom. My life was that little bit easier because a gate, a barrier, had been taken down.

This then got me to thinking about the other barriers we have in our lives, barriers that are both physical and mental. Of the two, the mental barriers we erect for ourselves are the most insidious. Everyone has physical limitations that they live with, but the barriers we don’t see are often the most destructive.

Destructive? Insidious? Harsh words maybe, but true. Think about all the things that stop you from going out and achieving what you want in life. Sure there are those barriers we have to work with like lack of funds, someone who will get in your way or that well-meaning friend who points out that it has been tried before and has failed…etc.

Then there is US. If only I was smarter, more interesting, more passionate, more creative, more (insert excuse here)…you get the point. How often do we critically examine the voice inside us that says we’re not there yet or we’re not ready yet? This is the place we should start our search when thinking about change! Too frequently it turns out that the voice inside is making stuff up. Why? Because it is that part of ourselves that doesn’t want us to be noticed, to stand out, to try something new. ‘If you do this you might fail and imagine what “they’ll” say!’ says that voice. Note: there is always a “they”. Who?

Fear, especially fear of failure, lies at the heart of what Seth Godin terms “The Resistance”. I’ve blogged before about this part of ourselves that stops us from achieving our potential and from helping others to achieve their potential, and this whole metaphor stuff on gates really highlighted for me the importance of questioning that scared part of ouselves that puts up the invisible barriers that are the hardest to see – and what you can’t see, you can’t change!

See what you need to see and change it! Do it today because no-one else will!

Getting it together

Today we were in the computer room: students working on their part of the project, me working on the webpage at wix.com. For me there was a sense of excitement as I demonstrated to the class what we were working on and how their parts fit together with the evolving product. As groups were finished I invited each group over to see what I’d done to their information.

Aside: due to internet filtering, students are unable to create their own website so I had to manage the details for them. So, unfortunately the final product is my vision, but I’ve tried to get students’ okay on each of their sections, which is the best I can hope for at this stage.

As I was working on this, students had to work on another personal interest project and submit it to edmodo. Unfortunately some were playing games and mucking around, which annoyed me. Here I was working hard to make a real product for a real audience using their info and they were wasting time! Part of me says, “what do you expect? They’re kids and they’ve done what you asked! Get over it!”

What I’ve found interesting about this whole process of PBL is that, at the moment, my students are happy to hand in whatever, to just “get it done”, so to speak, without really looking at what they’ve created and who they’re creating it for. Part of the problem lies with me, perhaps I didn’t make my case strong enough in the beginning, but I think it is also the mindset we’ve created in our students: ‘get the answer and move on!’ I am hoping that with further engagement in the PBL process and being able to see the “real world” results of our first project will spark greater engagement in the future.

 

Project LEGACY Day 3

Today saw some progress in research on the topics the groups chose: students started answering the focus questions for their topics. What I found most disconcerting about the lesson was that, despite my instructions, groups still didn’t know what to do next. They had textbooks with information in them on their desks, copied sheets with more info, the focus questions written out to answer based on their research…but there was a disconnect between all of that and what THEY had to do. Several groups just did not know what to do next. So I sat down with the groups, even reading the information aloud to them in some cases, and asked the focus questions again to which the students had to answer based on what was said. It was frustrating! I think that either 1) I didn’t explain the process properly, 2) they can’t read or 3) they just don’t know how to research on their own.

I keep telling myself that this is a process and that each successful task and project completed will help them to develop the required skills for effective, student-directed learning. Essentially I feel that they need to be taught HOW to learn, or rather how to “un-learn” the passive learning style that they’ve been engaged in (and I, as one of their teachers, am partially to blame for this) for most of this year (if not back in primary school). I feel a bit sad when I think back to their bright, shining faces at the beginning of the year: they were ready to learn, eager for new experiences, willing to take risks…what happened? Basically they got what every other year 7 student has been given in every year: a quick lesson in compliance and passive learning based on the outdated factory model of schooling. Sit-down-shut-up-and-learn-these-facts-regurgitate-them-and-move-on! I had high hopes for something different for my teaching style this year, so where did I go wrong?

I “chickened out”, to put it bluntly. I didn’t take the time to learn more about project-based learning (which I knew was something that would help me to evolve in my teaching) and put it into practice. In LINCHPIN, Seth Godin terms this reluctance to take risks “The Resistance” and my lizard-brain saw to it that I caved in to the (perceived) pressure to do what everyone else was doing and which has “worked” for so long. Ahhh, the wasted opportunity!

But we can’t mull over past mistakes. The fact of the matter is that I am now purposefully evolving my teaching and trying something different. There will be successes and plenty of failures – but that is okay. If I show my students that it is okay to make mistakes then maybe they will be willing to try new ideas, to think “at the edge of the box” (another Godin term). What’s more, if they see that what is important is not the mistake-making, but the learning that takes place when you reflect on mistakes, then I will be a happy teacher.

Back to the project: To end the lesson, I reiterated the need to show outsiders (HT, principal, etc.) our product before the ship date in Week 10 (it is currently week 7 of term 3) and hopefully that will help to motivate them to put in the hard yards to get it done. Next time we’re in the computer room – let’s see what happens.