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We started this term with a staff learning day that was primarily technology focused, It began with a keynote by Travis Smith from Microsoft Australia who talked a lot about the benefits of pen-based technologies. I was interested to see him using OneNote as a  presentation tool; something I hadn’t seen before. It looked a bit like a simplified version of Prezi.

Afterwards, teachers could choose sessions on Office 365, OneNote, pen-based feedback, followed by a range of other options. I gave a session on Office Mix, and teachers could immediately see some of the potential there for adding value to PowerPoint in ‘flipping’ the classroom. I also gave a session on OneNote, and it was nice to see some teachers who had never used the tool, get started with their very first Notebook. I can’t wait to see the reaction when we roll out OneNote Classroom Notebooks later on in the year.

And, on OneNote, which has gradually become my one-ring-to-rule-them-all teaching and learning tool, sometimes it’s good to be reminded about some of the connectivity built into OneNote and other aspects of Office. Like meeting notes, explained below:

OneNote Ninjaism

Anyone who’s been following this blog for any time knows that I’m a big fan of OneNote as a teaching and organisation tool. And it got a lot better this year, with Office 365 integration and especially OneNote Shared Notebooks, which for me has been the most important classroom technology tool I’ve seen for a long time.

We’re intending to roll out shared noteobooks to all teachers and secondary students; meanwhile we’re working on skilling up our teachers, some of whom are OneNote Ninjas already. And what is it about that ninja thing? Coding ninjas? OneNote ninjas? Maybe it points to the somewhat ‘driven’ need for those of who love OneNote to try to share just what this product can do.

365 Ninja offers a range of videos to help you learn Office 365, including a range on OneNote. Here’s one I learned something from today. Spoiler alert: the Mac version of OneNote is improving, but lacks lots of features, including the insert Excel spreadsheet functionality.

From the New Yorker this week:

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Code like a girl

So, in the interest of diverse opinion, in respect to the last post, I post this video of girl coders from the recent Apple WWDC Conference. I’m all for empowering girls to be what they want to be, and love the advice here: ‘don’t give up, just because it’s dominated by men’.

BTW: I still don’t think compulsory coding is a good idea! These kids all really wanted to make things happen.

Sublime WoW: Website Code over 1000!

If there’s one thing bigger than big data in the educational trendo-sphere lately, it’s coding.

Coding, I think, is a cool way to talk about what we used to call programming, and it’s all the rage, as in ‘Coding in Schools is Vital’

This is the next big thing and when the Opposition Leader stands up in Parliament and tells us that everyone should be doing it, you know it’s mainstreamed. Bill Shorten said that all Australian children should have the opportunity to learn “the literacy of the 21st century” so that they can “design, create and operate the apps and computers” that will drive Australia’s future economy. Others are arguing that coding is as crucial as English and Maths.

Read that last sentence again, then code in that smiley face with the straight-line mouth at this point. :-| Really?

Does that argument even make sense? And if you say it does, what time should be given over in the crowded curriculum, and what should go? Geography?

I used to keep a list of the all the stuff people in the papers and politicians said that should be taught in schools. It included things like (and I kid you not): chess, road safety, personal safety, origami, basic mechanics, first aid, meditation …) Many of these things are very worthy of our attention and time, but you get the point. Where do you stop, and what do you take out?

So, why coding? Well, the arguments seem to come down to these:

  1. Computers are really important in our world and you need to know how they work. This is exemplified in the Business Council argument that ‘digital literacy is now a core life skill which is becoming just as important as normal literacy and numeracy in the emerging digital economy.’
  2. This is where the jobs are. You know that Careers teacher who’s been telling us for year that the jobs of the future haven’t been invented yet? Well, now they have, and it’s called app development.
  3. It’s like another language; languages are good to learn
  4. Compulsory coding will get girls into an area that is dominated by males.
  5. It teaches you logic, cause and effect, that kind of thing.

So, do these stand up?

  1. Well, yes. computer are pretty important in our world. I’m writing this on one now and I’d hate to be pulling the fountain pen out to draft it. I happily admit that I’ve no idea just how Siri understands me 70% of the time. I’m a long time advocate for computers in schools, for students. But not for their own purpose, but for what they bring to teaching, learning, collaborating and creating: what you can do with them. So, while it might be handy to know that computers are programmable devices I’m not sure how much class time you’d devote to that simple idea. Cars are pretty important too, but nobody’s arguing that we should all learn basic mechanics in school to know how they work … (oh yeah, there was that one guy who argued that!) So, ‘digital literacy’ doesn’t mean putting on overalls and replacing the gearbox, but maybe it means being a skilled driver who can get the most out of the technology?
  2. The jobs argument seems a bit like an even weaker argument than the 1980s push that we all learn Japanese, because that’s what the jobs will be. That didn’t turn out so well. And, I don’t really think that coding is the dream-job of the future. For every Mark Zuckerberg who can code and had some good ideas, there are a thousand coding hamsters, most of them outsourced to India, doing the grunt work and making the wheel spin. There sure are jobs in technology, but if I was looking for future skills I’d want to be the creative / collaborative / inventive /entrepreneurial / inventor type rather than the poor pizza-fed employee who has to make it work.
  3. It’s good to learn languages. And coding is a language. Or many of them. But, you know, even in these crazy modern days, if I was thinking about learning a new language it probably wouldn’t be Python. I might try Spanish. You know, a language that’s lasted more than a decade and is well out of beta. Is coding ‘the most important language in the world’? Well, no. You might try Chinese, or English.
  4. That more women in coding would be a good thing is undeniable. Anyone who has encountered the pervasive, casual misogyny of the gaming world would say it needs to be more inclusive. But why should women like evangelising hamsters into the coding caves to right the wrongs of the world?
  5. That it teaches logic, cause and effect, sequencing, is to me the strongest of the arguments. One of my primary colleagues, Steve Costa, puts it beautifully when he says: “It is essential to have students learn to be creators and makers of programs as well as take risks, learn through their efforts (both successful and otherwise- and to experience that learning from their “mistakes” often helps for better understanding of the procedures being attempted… He points to articles like ‘Why we should be teaching kids to code’. Hard to argue with that, except to say that there are other well tried ways of working to develop concepts of sequencing and logic and persistence as well, and those important attributes are timeless and beyond mere content.

In looking at articles about coding in schools in thinking about this piece the name Estonia came up a fair bit. Apparently Estonia has moved to implement coding in schools in a big way. So, Estonia is to coding what Finland is to PISA tests. Something like that.

Late in thinking about this piece I came across Patrick Kenneally’s Guardian piece, ‘Let’s pause before drinking the “coding in schools” Kool-Aid, which argues in part: ‘In the absence of being able to accurately predict which skills will be in demand in the future workforce, surely it makes more sense to build broad generalist skills of numeracy and literacy in the early years, rather than concentrate on the narrower skill of coding.’

I’ve got an even better idea: develop literacy and numeracy and the 21stC skills that are likely to really useful in helping young people fully engage in their future world of learning and work. I’ve blogged about them before. And stop knee-jerking politicians telling just what schools ought and ought not to be doing.


Disclaimer:  I love technology but am not a coder. The most advanced stuff I’ve ever done is scripting in Filemaker Pro. I enjoyed it.  The high point was a Markbook program I developed that was tailored to VCE English, which I began for my own use, gave to some other teachers even considered selling to a textbook publisher. This was long before ‘apps’.

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If there was one recurring thread (I typed ‘threat’ subliminally just then and it didn’t auto-correct!) at the first day of the K-12 National Curriculum Conference today, it might have been the idea of data, analytics and ‘using evidence’ to inform teaching and learning.

‘There are two things we all agree with’, said Professor Brian Caldwell, it’s the idea of an Australian curriculum, and the idea of national testing, of some kind.

Systems: universal, national, local, like the idea of data. ‘We’re not just wasting our money here. Look. You’re not doing it right…’ Data to drive improvement, data to drive reform, data to drive teachers out of the profession. ‘PISA has become an article of faith for policy makers …’ someone said. There was lots of talk of data analysis, of acronyms like PISA, NAPLAN, ACER, VCAA, ISQ, GKR, PAT, EBO, PATT … and on it went.

Everyone wants a dashboard, and they want it now. Not as much talk about how we might deal with all that data once we have it, or how that might drive … well, even more data.

There were some refreshing asides, talk about creativity, problem-solving, the value of learning for its own sake and not as an atom in a productivity machine, but data. Everywhere data.

Most of the presentations are on Slideshare HERE

[Vette Dashboard by Wayne Silver, on Flickr – https://flic.kr/p/8rhcNg ]

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This week I was finishing up my planning for a unit of work in Literature loosely called ‘Views and Values’ and focusing, in this case, on the poetry of Adrienne Rich and the kinds of viewpoints about the world, as well as the underpinning values that emerge, in her work.

Rich is an American poet with strong feministic beliefs so, besides being an excellent poet, she’s ideally placed in this aspect of the course. Students need to work with the poetry but also unpack and analyse the way the author critiques society. It’s challenging, but also really interesting.

This is a senior Literature class, mostly of self-motivated students who are interested in the material and want to be there. It’s a privilege and makes teaching a pleasure. My teaching in this subject involves a lot of talk: discussion, student presentations, me talking (sometimes too much), students talking (in groups, pairs, or whole class) reading aloud, annotating, summarising, synthesising, analysing, coming to judgement and personal evaluation. Developing a reading, by talking it through, is the key I say.

But it’s not talk and chalk, but talk and tek, for me in my teaching these days. Quite a while ago now I pretty much stopped using the analog whiteboard altogether and projected the notes and discussion points on a screen via data projector; firstly using PowerPoint as the preferred note-taking tool, and then, as screen resolution improved to Word, and finally OneNote. Where is is today.

OneNote is a wonderful tool for organising and capturing note and research, but I find it also worked really well to organise the notes (and teaching) for a course. I’m sure I’ve written about this before, but my Literature OneNote notebook has a section for each text and pretty much a page for each lesson. It structures itself wonderfully as the lessons unfold. Students would have their OneNote notebook too, and I’d generally email them a OneNote page for homework, or with material to read. Moving notes around from email into OneNote is a bit of a pain, but it was still worth it.

This year, a lot of that approach changed as we’ve been trialling Office 265 and OneDrive. The game-changer here is the possibilities in OneNote Notebook Creator; a tool that takes a lot of the hassle out of setting up and maintaining OneNote as a learning tool, and adds some powerful features that simply weren’t possible or were really tricky to do before: a collaboration space and a personal shared notebook space with each student. You can read about the features on the Microsoft site, but I’ve used OneNote this year for course content delivery, for collaboration spaces for student groups, for a space for students to submit work for feedback and lots more. Its the main teaching tool I use.

Along with that, I’ve got a couple of standard technology tools I use and like. I like Padlet for online brainstorming, and use Schoology, thought not as much as last year, mainly for its assessment and feddback and assignment/homework completion qualities. I put student results up there so students are able to get their results online rather than wait and get the results in class in that social context. I also have used Office Mix to jazz up PowerPoints with audio and video, Office Sway a new tool for delivering information; you can see a Sway on an Adrienne Rich I put together HERE. (However, I’m thinking that the main use of Sway might be in students presenting their own findings and in their presentations, and use Diigo, online bookmarking to set up lists like Resources on Adrienne Rich, to supplement the classroom work and resources.

Funny, that after I’ve been so critical of Windows and the operating system and the Office tools, and am such a fan of the Apple ecosytem that the principle tools I find myself working and teaching with in 2015 are from Microsoft.

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