On Blogging in the age of Facebook

This morning I saw that Judy O’Connell, the author of Hey Jude, one of the education-related blogs I’ve been following for years, was taking a break for leave this year and wouldn’t be updating the blog for a while.

In a short post Judy reflected briefly on the changes in the digital landscape since she’d begun her blog and that nowadays opportunities for reflection and interaction online are so much more various.

She wrote: ‘Rather surprisingly to me, I have had this blog since 2006, when writing a web journal was new, and amazingly clunky. But there was a real desire for educators to learn about and become familiar with working, writing, thinking, sharing and in general ‘being online’. Since then of course we have traversed many platforms, virtual and digital, but some foundational activities remain the same.’

I agree, and it made me reflect a little on my own blog, which I’ve turned to less often over the last two years. I think that’s partly because my role has changed: from learning and teaching focused in curriculum, to Deputy Principal with a broader set of objectives and responsibilities and Acting Principal last term last year, with an even broader agenda.

Over the summer break I looked at my blogs (I have several: one reflecting about my creative writing and a family history site) and deleted a couple of early ones that were no longer active at all. My first ever was called ‘Stuff from Warrick’ and I posted pictures and articles I thought were worth re-sharing. That’s gone!

During this process I thought about whether I should keep this blog going. After all, I follow lots of educators on Twitter, and am semi-active in that space. I could just reflect in that arena?

But I decided to keep this going. One reason, as Judy says in her post, there’s an archive of my thinking and reflecting on learning and teaching here and that’s worth something, even if only for me. And, secondly, I think there is still worth in the slightly longer-form writing of a blog beyond the (now slightly extended) limitations of the twittersphere. So, perhaps it’s the warm after-glow of a summer vacation (see pic) about to end, but I intend to revisit this space more often over the next little bit.

Reflections on EduTech

Program or be Programmed

I always come away from a big conference with a mixture of big ideas, cynicism, idealism and genuine tiredness, mostly in equal measures. In a big conference (5000+) like EduTech you can get lost in the streams and the conversations and never come to anything at the end. So, some final reflections from my Qantas flight home.

  • The various strands work well, but they probably too broad. Ed-Leaders? I’d like to see some more specialised strands: PD, LMS integration, maker-spaces, these are all potential conferences within the conference
  • Some of the keynotes seem short and a bit rushed
  • It’s driven by the makers of tech ..we’re along for the ride. If we aren’t the product, we are being actively marketed as the buyer of it. Most speakers had something to sell, some more obviously than others.
  • Besides the games which sort of worked, a bit more interactivity wold be good at times, but sometimes that ‘stand up and talk to the person next to you’ is just a bit tokenistic and annoying.
  • STEM is everywhere. That, and making, scratching, coding, playing and building. ‘How many of you are planning a maker-space?’, one speaker asked. Lots of hands shot up. There were drones and robots in equal measure; I was waiting for them to fight each other.
  • The interactive white board thing is done.
  • The flipped classroom thing is hanging in there.
  • I’ve got to think again about what good PD looks like; I was ashamed at myself for not doing more to respect teacher prior knowledge and individual pathways, even if they follow school-wide goals. This is my new goal.
  • I wanted to explore more feedback options (apps and devices) and there were plenty that I hadn’t seen before, and want to explore with my own class before I try them with teachers.
  • LMS proliferation continues, but our choice of Schoolbox seems to be more than holding its own in this space. Major competitors seemed to be Firefly (UK) and Canvas (USA) but I saw nothing startling out there that justified a major re-examination. One problem is that some of the textbook makers also pretend to be an LMS. To me, the future LMS will integrate beautifully with the full range of learning tools; you want Office Mix, OneNote, Yammer, but you also want Google Forms, collaborative Docs and to be able to embed YouTube and ClickView.
  • Teachers are pretty dedicated. They get up, they do their best. They want to learn, they want to help their students. For many of them, getting away for a couple of days with peers like this, is pretty special, and very valued.
Google VR
With Rupert Denton from ClickView
The Main Stage
Coding
View from inside
Brisbane

 

My brain is full

 

EduTech Stage
EduTech – Day 1

‘How the digital world will change the way we think and learn’

Baroness Susan Greenfield, Neuroscientist.

 

Humans adapt to the environment.  We got a short course in Neuroscience 101. It’s the brain that determines our individualism.

 

Greenfield is a renowned neuroscientist, and  talked about the plasticity of the brain, neural connections and experiments that establish that the mental is the physical.  ‘Thinking is movement confined to the brain’, she quoted, and showed how ‘use it or lose it’ principles of physical exercise also worked in brain cells.

 

Connections give ever deeper meaning over time as the world around you is personalised.  (The opposite happens in Alzheimers)

 

She then ventured into more contentious areas; quoting the Daily Telegraph on the ‘erosion of childhood’ and the habituation of violence from video games,  attention problems from high video game and TV watching. There were lots of peer-reviewed journals (and more of The Telegraph) and some emotive terms like ‘gambling’ and ‘addiction’.

 

She argued that there are two basic modes for the human brain: meaningless and meaningful and you could see where this was going: video games are bad. This lead to a critique of social media, narcissism. ‘In the old days we used to play games like this ..’ (Shows picture of kids in sandpit)

 

Interestingly, she argued that being in charge of your own identity was very important to avoid loneliness, and argued that immersion in social media was losing that control of your own identity.

 

From there it became a bit predictable, and limited. Books are good (I agree) video games (no meaning, no connections) are not, search engines and relegating our memory to Google are bad …. She read a bit about the importance of facts, from Dickens. I think, without irony.

 

Good things she argued for: stories, physical exercise, interacting with nature. Then, a quote from a the ‘laughter, fun and giggles’ of bike riding with the kids. Really.

 

Odd choice to open a tech conference. I guess it reveals that the smartest scientists in the world, with the best machines for registering brain activity in the world, are still prisoners of their own imagination and own neural connections.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Network takes Over

This post was written at the Idea13 #idea13 Conference, MCG, 12/11/2013

Mark Pesce, from the University of Sydney was the opening keynote.

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Connected World

Pesce opened with the idea that ‘this is the moment’, when things aren’t going to be transformed. They already are. Pesce argued that we’ve gone from little or nothing to a radical change in just over fifteen years; about a billion seconds. Eighteen years from the beginning of the web to now.

The biggest change, he argued, was connectivity and the literally unimaginable possibilities that connectivity created. He said it was about ‘knowledge amplification’ and gave Wikipedia as a key example.

He argued that the next key moment after the internet was the smart phone. ‘A fundamental transformation to the construction of human knowledge’. The smart phone and tablet (he reminded us that the iPhone was only five years old in Australia) were desktop computers in the palm of your hand; ‘a huge, growing wealth of human knowledge’ was the world of our students.

It was interesting, for a futurist, that Pesce seemed to assume that he evolution was now complete. ‘I’ve seen the full evolution of the connected computer’.

‘If the classroom lacks the tools for sharing that are available everywhere, then how is it going to survive?’ was something like a key point. He gave the example of the students who invented a social network for their school, because it needed one.
He called the new generation ‘sharing natives’; sharing and collaboration was native to them, and that’s why THIS moment was the greatest challenge in the last 200 years. Knowledge is not not rare, it’s ‘universal’. What does mean for librarians? What does that mean for teachers? What does that mean for schools?

Craptastic World

What does the educator offer now? In two years the now craptastic $79 tablet will be powerful enough, as powerful as today’s smart phones, which means that everyone will have one. Schools will hand them out every year, with the textbooks on them. The digital divide has expired, he argued. It’s available to everyone, everywhere.  A key point is that sharing is not going to be restricted to the wealthy (the $29 Indian tablet) nations.

He talked a bit about ‘flipped classrooms’ and the rise of MOOCs. ‘The classroom is the least natural environment for the new learning. Peer mentoring is now easier for students to access than a classroom or a teacher. Teachers (professional educators) will need to be problem solvers: innovative, creative, capacity amplifiers.

But…

Sharing can be distracting, the ‘weapons of mass distraction’ and it can arrive too early for some students. We know we can’t stand against this ‘tide of change’, but ‘what do we have to surrender, when the network takes over.’

Keep Calm and Find a Peer Mentor

There may not be a class in the future. Or a school? If everything is connected, why centralise it? Pesce argued that the ‘foundation skills’ (reading, writing, numeracy) are an essential preparation for immersion in the culture of shared knowledge. Digital citizenship, time management, etiquette, safety still need ‘an attentive educator to monitor their progress and provide assistance.’

The next question was around, ‘how does assessment work in a world of shared knowledge?’ Pesce said that this question was a furphy; the key point is that ‘assessment is intrinsic to the act of sharing’ Every moment of peer-mentoring is a moment of assessment. Being able to critique, and receive critiques of mentoring, is a new key competency in the middle years of learning. Schools initiate students into the culture of shared learning and establish patterns of behaviour. The role of the professional educator will change, will be mentoring students some of whom will be face to face, some who won’t. It’s not either/or.

The secondary school will be:

  • Connect.
  • Share.
  • Learn.
  • Do.

A never-ending process of continuing education.

Students need to be able to grow their own networks, beyond a learning network for teachers, but a network of peers, mentors, problem-solvers,for life. ‘The classroom, as it is beginning, is the initiation into this network … the path is clear.

Questions I had
Is the internet ‘wisdom’ or even ‘knowledge’
Is it overly optimistic to believe that peers will shape things nicely and positively for learners?

2013-11-12 08.49.19

De Bono on ‘cave-man’ thinking

Secret Cave, Hai Long Bay

The first session of the Oxford Conference was a video of De Bono talking about thinking.  He had been scheduled to open the conference, but was too ill to travel. It was still very worthwhile to hear him.  De Bono argued that we are locked into standard responses,standard thinking. This is “cave-man thinking” – responsive. He said we were locked into “Thinking to find the truth”, the thinking that grew out of church beliefs. But what about “thinking to create value”?  That’s been neglected.

He argued for teaching thinking directly, and that improved results in all other subject. And, not thinking in subjects, but the explicit teaching  of thinking frameworks.

He also argued that we should be teaching the “now-story”, how the world works now, as being at least as important as history teaching.

He also talked about the six hats thinking tools he developed, and argued for their continued relevance in moving thinking beyond instinct and emotion.

He also talked about the logical and patterning systems in the brain, and how humour was an example of creativity. Lateral thinking, he said, was formalised, creative thinking (random word technique, provocation technique etc). These can be learned.

Our existing thinking is ebne (excellent, but not good enough).  We’ve been hung up on “truth thinking”.

Above: Secret cave near Hai Long Bay, Vietnam.  Photo: Warrick

Happy Holidays

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Teaching is an odd profession in some ways isn’t it? I think I’ve said this before! The timetabled unstoppability of it, the emotional investment (and roller-coaster) that’s part’s of working closely with young people who come to you at all stages of their learning journey. The four-term (I could graph this) rises and lows of energy, workload and feedback. And, at the end you say goodbye and start again. Some keep in touch. Others you never see again.

Last week I went into work and picked up my Lit class results and sat and thought for a little while about all the stories in those scores. Every year some students delight and surprise you, others don’t go as well as you hoped or expected. How can you predict that? What can you do better? Every year I ask myself if there’s something I could (should?) have done for that student who was just off the radar a little, or who didn’t know how to ask you the right questions or didn’t how how to think differently.

So, the ‘down-time’, the summer holidays is a place to start again, to think again, to walk down to the beach and plunge yourself into a different world. After a week of holidays I’m already sleeping better and feeling fitter. And, I’m starting to think about next year, and what to do different.

To all those teachers (and students) who have followed these musings this year, and maybe even have responded, thanks. And enjoy the holiday season.

Gloomy day at the office

We’ve all had ’em I console myself. Those lessons that just don’t quite go right. Where you get out at the end and say to yourself, ‘well that was pretty ordinary’.

I had one last week, a gloomy perfect storm of missed opportunities and mis-chances I tell myself. A room change due to exams putting us up in a weird little room of different layout and logistics and throwing the old tried and true relationship seating upside down, the last lesson or so before their exams and a while off to our next coursework assessment, so no real urgency maybe about the lesson and no end in sight. Combine that with an 18th birthday party to plan in the back corner and me with a sore back from a frozen bike ride on the weekend and not mobile enough to get around and check things out, and you’ve got a lesson that never got really started, half-baked discussion that never got thought about, and half the class who never got involved at all.

Back under the cold harsh fluorescent light back in my office I take more responsibility. It wasn’t ever going to be a great lesson, pretty passive and lacking an explanation of the purpose or learning that might have happened.

We’ve all had them. It’s often our fault. You’ve got to think about and do something different next time. We have, in a year together, so few of these times. These lessons are valuable, they should matter, we should make them count.

Cloud photo by Warrick 

Monitoring (and celebrating) class behaviours with Class Dojo

A little while ago I was lamenting with my Literature class that it wasn’t always easy to document how that class went and establish what to do next, both of which are critical for effective planning, reflection, and formative assessment practice.

I take notes on student progress (formerly in OneNote, latterly in Evernote) but it takes discipline (and time) to do that after every lesson, let alone in that lesson itself. I might do that once a week, so I often don’t even have a record of who I’d had a good learning conversation with each lesson and, importantly, who I hadn’t spoken to 1-1 for a while in class.

It’s something that concerned me again recently when, at the end of term, I asked the students to complete a short online survey of how the course was going for them. Most of the results were positive; the students felt they could learn, were challenged to think and participate and enjoyed the range of activities, though one wag suggested that I could improve my tech skills 🙂

However, the lowest response came from the question: ‘Do you have a good sense of how you’re going in this class?’. It’s something that is difficult for Year 12 students sometimes, especially early in the year when they haven’t done much School Assessed Coursework (SACs) and it’s one place where a short 1-1 conversation can have much more impact than any general or group activity you set up.

But, who have I spoken to recently? Is the problem I began with.

So, I was very interested in the possibilities of the unlikely tool named Class Dojo which promises real-time behaviour monitoring. I saw the program from Roger Zuidema on Twitter and recorded that I was about to invent this!

I was surprised to get a pretty quick reply from the people who make Class Dojo too, proposing a Skype chat sometime about how it could be improved, which I’d like to do sometime.

How it works is you set up your class, who get zany colourful avatars, and you record good behaviour or bad in the class very easily via web page, iPad or iPhone. They get +/s or -/s against their name and the tally adds up. Over the lesson, or the week, or the term or whatever period you decide.

I’m lucky to work in a school where disruptive behaviour is rarely a problem but I was very interested in how this tool might be used to record learning behaviours. Our school’s reports, for example, include a set of ‘Positive learning behaviours’ from ‘Participates in class discussions’ to ‘Is organised and up to date with set work’ that teachers are asked to record in terms of how often they’ve seen their students exhibit those behaviours? Always, often, sometimes, rarely? But how do teachers record those behaviours and could Class Dojo help?

One of the first things I did was enter my students names and then showed them how the class looked via the data projector in class. They’re Year 12 students but they loved the quirky little pictures, immediately wanted to customise theirs (you can’t) or swap with someone else (you can’t).

We then looked at the behaviours section, which is at the heart of the program. We looked at the default behaviours (out of chair!) and talked about what + or – behaviours might look like in our Literature class, and then added them. One of the nice things is that you can set the positive and negative behaviours yourself and can even vary them from class to class. So, I can set up a series of learning behaviours that suit my senior Literature class, which are different to the ones I want to establish with my tutorial group in the wellbeing program. Here’s the behaviours we agreed on.

 

We agreed on these positive and negative behaviours and I was ticking off some of the things in Class Dojo through the class. This year I’ve started using a student as ‘class blogger’, who records the class discussions, rather than doing that myself all the time in OneNote, (they’re put up on the class wiki) and that’s helped free me up more to direct discussions or take records like this. So you click on the student names and assign ‘points’ as you go and it even pops up on the screen with a cool sound if you want.

At the end of the class, you get a report something like this

or you can get a report for each individual student, from any duration (whole year so far, this lesson etc) and you have the option to email that report card to a parent or student or email all the cards (it remembers the email addresses once you’ve put them in once)

 

 

I don’t think our school would approve of zany colourful non-letterheaded reports being emailed to parents, but I was happy to send them to students, always in a positive way to celebrate some ‘points’ they’d gained during the class. I wouldn’t want this to be a negative thing, and I wouldn’t be showing negative scores a lot, or giving them I hope. But, ‘not doing the homework’ is a pretty clear – in a Year 12 year.

Is it perfect? No. Is it a fun, simple and useful way to clearly document and share the good things that are going on in class? Yes. You need to have internet access and more importantly, your students on board; to involve them in the discussion about criteria and be clear and objective about how you’re using it: it’s not an assessment, it’s a tool for improving learning.

I plan to keep using it with my Literature class and wellbeing class this term and see how it goes.

 

It begins

What do you do first lesson of the year? What do you do first in that lesson? With that group for the first time. Remember, this is the first class of the year after the long summer break, and after the long induction and prequel and all that thinking about how you’re going to do it better this year; how you’re going to do it different this year.

What do you do that first lesson?: talk about the summer break? roll out the PowerPoint about the course again (in case they missed it last year when you had that orientation session)?, ask them to talk about their reading over the summer? share some stories of first impressions of the text (Mrs Dalloway), mark the roll or get straight in to the book?

I must admit that, even after all these years of teaching, I still get slightly edgy about that first lesson of the year. I want to get it right. I want it to be a start, and not a talk-fest from me but an idea about how this class will be, and who we will be in this class together.

So I did all of the above, maybe not as purposefully and mindfully as I should have, and we made a start. I spent a little time getting OneNote organised (because it’s got to be from day 1 and organising it isn’t super-easy) and I asked a student to read from a passage (the skywriter scene) and we talked about that for a while. I told them how much I enjoyed reading Woolf again after a few years without having read her, and I got some nods, but also one or two half-looks of ‘I didn’t’. I should have followed up that look I think; what was troubling about Woolf? And what was difficult? And, I couldn’t help but think that a couple of students hadn’t quite finished it and didn’t want to talk about the text in too much detail, and didn’t want that conversation yet.

Afterwards, I felt vaguely disappointed that I hadn’t really grabbed them somehow. Not sure why, but it was that anti-climactic feeling that I could have done better. So, I emailed them all and clarified the lesson’s objectives, what I hoped they’d got out of it, and what the homework was, and a mindmap I’d done on the iPad and put into OneNote.

And, so we’ve started.