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Teaching 21C, and no teachers in sight

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Is it okay to attend an all day conference called Teaching 21C: the big issues facing the profession today and not, in the whole day, hear from a practising teacher?

I understand that you don’t come to a conference to hear only from teachers . You can get that around the photocopier or at the water cooler and there has been the growth of more hand-on options like TeachMeets where practitioners can share practice, not to mention the networks you can develop in platforms like Twitter. You go to hear from experts, and learn.

But I did feel, at the end of a long day that felt at times a brow-beating (if not belittling) of the teachers who constituted most of the audience, that it wouldn’t have been hard to include some teachers who might be able to contribute to the discussion, if only to respond to some of the provocations.

Don’t get me wrong; there were some good moments, particularly the session on evidence-based practice that seemed firmly grounded in, and linked to, how real schools work. Suzie Riddell (SVA) took us through a toolkit for schools called Evidence of Learning, which seeks to help schools make good choices about what kinds of change you might choose to implement in terms of $$ costs, evidence for a positive effect on learning, including links to more reading and the scale of that effect; a bit like Hattie’s work put to good use.

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Earlier, Jan Owen took us through the FYA report on ‘The New Work Order’, emphasising the forces of automation, globalisation and flexibility that are disrupting work opportunities, especially for young people. You can download the whole report HERE (PDF)

But they were the highlights.

It wasn’t great to hear Teach for Australia rep. Melodie Potts Rosevear telling us how she was looking forward to the present generation of teachers to retire. (Spoiler alert: I wasn’t a fan of Teach for Australia before and I’ve blogged about that HERE and HERE; I just don’t think parachuting fast-tracked graduates into teaching and leadership, no matter how smart, does anything more than diminish the profession. Lawyers for Australia? I’d like to see that.)

Geoff Masters (ACER) was one of the keynotes and one of the most disappointing. He showed a series of un-labelled slides, designed to highlight falling standards in Australian learning outcomes (PISA, naturally). In some of the slides (shown below) high results were good, others when they were bad. It was hard to follow; they had no titles, there were no scales.

Masters talked about ‘Five Challenges’ facing Australian education: declining standards, growing disparities between schools, students falling year level expectations, students starting school at risk of being locked into long-term low achievement and (irony alert) teaching is becoming less attractive as a career option for able school leavers. Masters didn’t take questions.

And not a teacher got to speak.

It was all summed up in final plenary panel of grey-haired white men, a dynamic that even they felt a little embarrassed by.

Implementing an LMS

Implementing an LMS

Paul Mears (Firbank GS)

http://www.scoop.it/paulmears

@paulmears

Paul talked about

1 How to be strategic with human-centred design

2 selection process of an LMC

3 Implementing for success

This was interesting, beginning with a focus on ‘human centred thinking and design. ‘Opportunities, not problems’, which came out of Stanford.

He argued for ‘shadowing’, observation, interviews … and the importance of ‘student agency’ Bring the students in, give them respect and they’ll rise to the occasion.

When he talked to students the students hated the ‘mushrooms’ that had popped up with different teachers all doing their own things. They wanted to select a unifying LMS and shared the process they used to select that company. (Firefly)

Mears prefers ‘integrated learning platform’ to LMS, as the platform should integrate diverse things like YouTube, ClickView, Google Docs, PowerPoint

This was the most practical session I had for the day. Good advice, ‘The main thing is to make the main thing the main thing’

 

 

Creating Future X, Y and Z

Creating Future X,Y Z

John Vamvatkitis (Google)

Now, for something more expected. Google Director John Vamvakitis argued that the world is at our fingertips, meaning that the next prodigy can emerge from anywhere.

‘Now the world is at our fingertips’

So, how is it redefining teaching and learning?

Empowering Gen Z – ‘technology is everywhere’. This was more like music to the ears. Skills for the future are what students need (nice slide, which I’ll try to find) He talked about ‘converting information into intelligence’.

Preparing for the future: ‘Collaboration is the new normal…’

Re-imagining today. He then talked about new models of learning, transferring ownership to students … Oh oh. ‘A guide’ … (On the side?) Some possibilities were problem-based learning, flipped classroom, blended learning (the best of face to face with digital learning)

He argued for three tests for technology: sustainability, equity and impact. (Compare Google Apps for Education with OneNote shared notebook)

The whole thing was a bit of an add for Google classroom, Google Apps for Education, Chromebooks, Google Expeditions, Android etc etc.

It all got a bit misty-eyed at the end. ‘IT takes a teachers’, technology is only a ‘tool’.

About the session

9:20 | Creating Future XYZ

Education is about creating the future. Access to information is changing the way we communicate, work and learn. Technology is empowering us solve to complex problems with wild, imaginative—or even unimaginable—solutions. When it comes to building the future, what really matters – same as ever – is people. And the people who do make a difference are going to be the ones who have the right skills. How do we enable students to thrive in a rapidly evolving environment? How do we prepare students with the right skill set to take up jobs that do not exist today?

 John M. Vamvakitis, Director International, Google for Education

 

 

Life with a smartwatch

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Just before Christmas I saw an offer on a Pebble Smartwatch. $100AU from Amazon (+ postage) for the basic model, in black. I’d been a little jealous of a friend’s Apple watch for six months so decided to take the plunge and see how much value there is in a watch.

I’d been wearing a Fitbit for a while and that buzzed when the phone rang and gave information as to who was ringing, which was handy, and the Pebble does that too, and that’s the essence of it. It syncs via Bluetooth to your phone and any notifications come to your wrist.

I’ve been using it now for three months and thought I might reflect on the idea of the smartwatch, and the Pebble specifically. I’m not trying to do a full-on review, there’s lots of sites like Mashable and iMore that do that kind of thing; this is a more personal kind of reflection.

On the positive side, I’ve actually been impressed with just how handy it can be have a snippet of information on your wrist, rather than pull it out of your pocket, and not just for the ‘persons liked your post’ notifications, but messages, Google updates, and more. I like the way I can alter the watch faces and I like some of the customisation and apps you can buy (including AFL footy score updates!) I seem to get just under a week’s battery out of the Pebble, which is also pretty good.

On the negative side, the Pebble is still a bit limited. You can’t make calls or record any audio. My black and white screen is pretty basic. It’s one of those things that’s useful, not essential, nice to have. It might be a different thing if I was looking at the Apple watch, but at $500AU minimum that’s in a different price-bracelet to the Pebble.

So, are there any educational possibilities beyond the slight paranoia around watches and exams? Maybe not. I’ve yet to see a compelling use-case for the watch as a learning tool, but it may come. Field trips supplemented by GPS, quick messaging to groups on the run, the kind of quick updates, alerts, hat might prove useful for students out on an excursion.

I’m still wearing it; at $100 it’s been worth it, but I’m not desperate to spend $500 for something with the current feature-set.

New morning, new directions

Morning, day 2, #3

I’m excited to be moving into a new school, and new areas of responsibility this year. After eleven very fulfilling and rewarding years at my previous school as Director of Learning and Curriculum my new role is Deputy Principal (Secondary) in a very different school and context. There’ll be lots to learn, and and lots of changes.

One constant I’m grateful for, is that I’ll continue to be teaching a class. I’ll have a Year 9 English class this year and am looking forward to working with Middle School students again. I’m sure I’m going to miss some of the interactions and conversations I’ve had with my Literature students in recent times. Working with able, motivated, articulate students on texts I’ve loved like Mrs Dalloway, Antony and Cleopatra, and Adrienne Rich last year, has been a real privilege I’ll cherish forever.

But, having the opportunity to work with students who are at that critical time in their lives, grappling with who they are, who they want to be, and what their place is to be in the world, is exciting. And, having the opportunity to try to ‘light that fire’ in students about English is something I’ve always liked about working with students in Years 9 and 10.

Another thing that wont change is that I’ll be intensely interested in the education technology, and how that supports the learning journey. My new school is a mixed environment, an Outlook teaching platform, with OneDrive for students and iPads as well. In the senior years there’s a BYOD program. It’s a hybrid kind of approach that I think will be interesting to work in, after a long time working with the (increasingly improving) MS Office, Exchange, and Windows notebook approach. I’ve really liked the change in direction Microsoft has taken in recent years, opening up the tools in multiple platforms and, of course, the continuing development of OneNote with the shared notebooks for teachers and students: still be the best learning tool I’ve seen. One tool I’ve never really worked with is the Chromebooks, even though I’ve been a gmail user, and Google Drive user personally for a long time. I also like their new approach to Photos. I want to keep my eye on how that educational technology is developing as I take on the new role and new tools for 2016.

I’m certainly looking forward to it, and will continue to post here periodically about the successes, failures, challenges and achievements of it all. For all those teachers starting to set up for the year ahead, I hope it’s a great one for you and your students.

Goodbye to all that …

IMG_9966I’ve probably written somewhere else in this blog about how I find the gradual spiralling at the end of the school year from busy purpose to a kind of dissolving nothingness, a bit dis-spiriting. I often find it feels bitter-sweet to farewell a class you’ve taught with purpose and energy as they (naturally) go their own ways, especially maybe with Year 12s as they leave the school as well.

So, this article by Secret Teacher in The Guardian, struck a chord with me. It was interesting that a young primary teacher feels a bit the same. I don’t think it’s ‘love’ exactly, but it is something felt; partly at the work and energy and effort you’ve got into getting something running well, to see it wound up and undone. But, also of course, the individuals you’ve worked with, discussed with, wrangled with, who’ve become part of your life. Until next year.

[Photo: Warrick]