One of the things I like about keeping a semi-regular blog is that it makes me reflect on sessions I’ve attended as I revisit them to blog here.
This week I saw Brian Caldwell present on ‘Globalisation and the Business of Schools, a long, occasionally disjointed but always sincere meditation on change and culture and how schools might responde, or will be forced to respond.
Despite the recurring reference to FINLAND, which I’ve mentioned here before always annoys me, I liked Caldwell’s talk about ‘new enterprise logic’ and putting students at the centre of cultures. He expanded on how making the ‘student the core unit of school organization’ (from timetables to building design) meant a profound change to the way things are done, and much more personalised future direction.
He talked about new concepts of leadership, as developing capital: spiritual, social, financial etc. So leadership is capital formation. He argued, controversially, for fewer, better teachers (like Finland) and gave an example of an English school that had done that, and tailored its staff around the specific needs of its students.
He also talked about something we’ve all probably heard before, how students ‘power down’ for school, though he didn’t use that term, but argued that ‘the out of school engagement and collaboration that our students do at home between 4PM and 2.00AM is the most powerful learning these students do.
He had indicators for everything, talked half an hour too long for a pre-dinner event at the end of the school day, and loves his Finland. He also demonstrated pretty clearly that he’s cares about this stuff, is sceptical about national curriculum and national testing and is going to practice ‘radical dissent’ in resisting all that. I’m with him on that.
A little while ago I was in a meeting of Year 12 English teachers, discussing how the course is going, and planning for next year. One thing that got agreement from everyone was that we needed to improve the way we distributed newspaper articles to students for the language analysis task.
In essence, what we did this year was collate a booklet of articles that the library had found for us their online databases. We were asking students to analyse the language the media had used in their coverage of the issue of whaling over the Australian summer. We had a nice little booklet of articles, letters, editorials and news stories at the end, but it was the format that bothered us. Because the articles had been derived from an online search they were in that online format; a single headline in about 14 font, in one column with no accompanying photographs or artwork. Just text.
In fact, they didn’t look like newspaper articlea at all. We decided next year to use the databases to find the articles, then go and find the originals, and cut them out! With scissors, through paper.
So I thought about that conversation again today when I received a trial subscription to the Australian Online, not the website, but an online version of the newspaper that looks like the newspaper. You can scroll through it, look at a whole double page spread and then click on an article to read it, albeit in text form at that stage. The site also offers 90 days of back issues, advanced search and audio of each article (if you like your articles read in that robot voice from Radiohead!)
I’m not sold on the proprietary nature of the viewing platform, maybe Adobe has a chance to snaffle this market if they’re quick, and I know that various newspapers are taking up this challenge in a variety of ways, but I read through the various sections of Friday’s Australian very easily, and more easily than I would have thought. It certainly provides the visual context that was lacking in the print outs we gave our students, but also the visual context that is still lacking in the online version of most newspaper sites.
Maybe I wont need those scissors after all?
Lots of talk in education circles recently about the fairly recent discoveries going on in brain research, how the brain works being translated into how people learn and unlearn, and some scientists (though not many yet) looking to what this might mean for how we teach.
One article this week, looks at the ‘gender’ of the brain, how girls think differently from boys, and how those differences, some of which protect girls from extreme risk-taking behaviour, may also limit girls in other ways, including the kind of risk taking that’s likely to lead to success in some areas. Another ‘visiting expert’ (I must add a tag to this blog with that title!) JoAnn Deak, says in the AGE this week that:
GIRLS must resist their brains’ innate biology if they are to be happy and successful, according to a visiting expert on neuroscience and learning. JoAnn Deak, a US psychologist told a group of year 8 and 9 girls at Ivanhoe Girls’ Grammar last week that the part of the brain known as the amygdala, which regulates survival reactions, is more active in girls, making them, on average, more fearful when faced with challenges.
Conversely, boys respond to threats with a surge of testosterone, which, she says, makes them more competitive and aggressive. While this can make boys restless during high-school years, Dr Deak says it can help when dealing with conflict in adult life. As a consultant to Outward Bound in the US Dr Deak says she has observed the different reactions of boys and girls to being lowered off a ledge on a rope. Boys tend to be less afraid, she says, as their prefrontal cortex, which mediates inappropriate risks and thinks about rational details, is not mature, plus there is a testosterone surge. In contrast, the amygdala and the prefrontal cortex of girls becomes more active. “You can see them thinking, ‘I could become a quadriplegic’ and so they feel more fear.”
As well, she says girls produce oxytocin daily, which makes them care for others. Oxytocin is best known as the hormone that surges at childbirth. “The problem is that it can make them care about the opinion of their friends too much.” Oestrogen can make girls favour co-operation over competition. Dr Deak says these factors explain the paucity of female chief executives. “For many it is a rational decision of ‘why would I want to put myself in a situation of constant conflict?’. Yet for men it’s an exhilarating experience.”
My fear with some of this new brain based learning theory is that, like some of the kinds of ‘categorising’ and generalising I’ve seen in the past, that it becomes a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy; ‘oh, you would think like that wouldn’t you’ or worse, that we ignore the individual in our new knowledge which tries to make scientific the innately human interaction of how people think and learn.
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The new Avatar feature of the edublogs posed some confronting problems. What picture should I post of me? Something casual; strolling along a beach contemplating the universe, or at work posing at a whiteboard or hovering around the edge of a group of students? Or what about a comic look: a unicorn, or a martian or my favourite Skype avatar, the everyman heroic journeyman of Kubrick’s 2001?
These things can haunt you in the late hours! In the end I went for a conservative approach; head, shoulders, collar and tie, and look, identity-tag! I belong!
I was sorely tempted to create an avatar with a Simpsons look using the new tool on the movie web site but after three go’s I couldn’t get anything like me. Have a go yourself at the Simpsons Movie Site
The ICTEV session today opened with a keynote address from James Farmer (edublogs inventor) where he talked about our intoxication with content, and our binge-media approach.
I thought edublogs was Australian only but with 75,000 blogs and growing by about 1000 a week I guess not. James showed the audience some gee-whiz tools coming out of England’s futurelab which LOOK like good learning, but he argued weren’t. He argued that they were great examples of digital CONTENT, but not transformative tools. He argued that the key elements necessary were: AUTHENTICITY, IDENTITY and ENVIRONMENT.
He also talked about our onine environments SHAPING what we do, and that learning management systems like Blackboard and WebCT shaped learning in ultimately unproductive ways. I must admit that, even though I’ve been thinking a bit about physical learning environments, I hadn’t consciously thought of the LMS working in the same way to create a style.
I also went to a workshop session with James and about 20 teachers where he took us through the edublog experience, and I learned some things there too (which kinda surprised me after all this time) He sure love the wordpress thing, and it was great to see him moving around the admin features of the blogging system.
About to head to Tokyo for a couple of weeks to work at our sister school and learn as much as I can about Japanese culture, education and life as well as work with their English teachers and give some lectures on Australian student life. Not quite sure what to expect but very excited about seeing this innovative yet traditional culture close-up. I’m sure there’s more to it than fantasic anime like ‘Spirited Away’ but I’m really open-minded as to what those things might be. Stay tuned!