Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Disadvantages of using digital technologies in schools.

I read a blog today on Mindshift about what students think about using ipads in school. I skipped through the positive comments pretty quickly.  After all, I am a big fan on using digital technologies for learning and I pretty much have all the positive things in my heart.
But then the last comment (voice and text) on the page was from a student, Anthony Mainiero, who says there are disadvantages, like when there are glitches.  And there are times when the pen and paper would work just as well than the $US600 device that the school gave him.  This is so true!  For those of you who are familiar with the SAMR model, you will no doubt immediately realise that the learning in this instance is at the S or substitution level.  As one of my colleagues would say - "ipads are very expensive pen and papers".

But Anthony had more to say.  He talked about the fact that they did less field trips at school now.  This is another very valid point.  Are schools relying on the technology to connect them to experiences that would take hours of paperwork to prepare for? There are all the things that can go wrong on a field trip.  And you are responsible for getting all the little (or big) darlings back to their mamas and papas.  Far too easy just to do a virtual field trip and there are many good ones around.  Learnz in New Zealand provide a fabulous range of virtual field trips for students, backed up with awesome resources, prior learning and next steps and so on.  You can visit Art Galleries, World Wonders and Online Exhibitions using the Google Cultural Institute site or even explore space and our planets using Google Sky.

Still, I don't blame Anthony for wanting the school to make learning more fun by having more field trips.  I will always remember that class trip to W(h)anganui (the spelling changed to the correct Maori version from when I went to school), where we climbed the Durie Hill Tower, the Water Tower, visited the underwear factory, and I rode on a town bus to school for the first time from my billet host home.  All the sights and sounds of the city were pretty exciting to me and they became etched in my memory from first hand experience.

I also know that my own students will remember forever the 8 day trip a colleague and I took them on a trip to Fiji.  It was an awesome experience for them sit in open motorised canoes, travelling inland up the river to a remote school and to suddenly feel utterly privileged to be from Ohakune, Waiouru and Raetihi, where they had books, pens and beautiful classrooms.  But I digress. These field trips were once in a school lifetime experience.  They were not the normal classroom activities and will continue to be the special events that teachers selflessly craft for their students.  School camps will not fade into oblivion, nor will trips to the swimming pool, or on a bus to the marae, or local farm.

The technology, on the other hand should be seamlessly integrated tool for learning that students use as second nature, just as they once used the pen and paper.  The learning will need to be a bit more relevant for the students though.  If Anthony's teacher knows her/his stuff, she/he will be using it to enable the students to cross barriers that have never been crossed before.  Teaching and learning will be collaborative, connected and students will be confident learners.

I recently heard a teacher bemoaning the fact that kids just dont remember stuff any more.  Well guess what?   They don't need to any more. They can google almost any bit of knowledge they want to if they have the skills.  That is what they need to learn - skills and attitudes and dispositions that allow them to LEARN.

The students  will know themselves well, their strengths and weaknesses and what they have to work on. They will be creating their own personalised learning journeys, and learning to learn as they go.  They will have choice, decisions to make about which way to go and what goals to reach.  They will be making stuff and communicating with others about what they have made.  They will be taking photos and making slide shows and videos and voice recordings of the events in their lives and have permanent records of the awesome times they spent in their school years.
I hope Anthony does not give up hope.  I hope he can teach his teacher about what matters to him, what is going to hook him into his own learning journey and develop into the best human being he possibly can be.  And most of all, what digital technologies will help him on that journey.

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

In my perfect class

I have been out of secondary teaching for two years now after 33 years.   I loved teaching, and of course, my practice had changed a lot over the 33 years but the rate of change in the last 10 years had suddenly increased and was continuing to grow exponentially.  Why?  Because I found digital technology and new, exciting, more engaging ways to do things.
I often wonder what it would be like to be back in a class again on a permanent basis. Even in the two years that I left, I have thought about so many new ways for me to try to improve student outcomes.  I think about the students I have failed in the past and "what if things were different."    How could I meet every student's needs? How could I design a course with UDL guidelines to the fore.
I have a friend coming over today.  She wants to know how she can rethink her classroom into a modern learning environment.  It is not just the environment that is important, - it is the modern pedagogy.  So I need to start asking questions.
How do I allow students to collaborate, create and connect with others?
How do I make the learning relevant to them?
How do I build on the relationships that I forge with them?
How do I teach them to learn?
I must design my classroom for learning, for inquiry and for discovery but not forget the qualifications that they are moving towards. So now it comes down to the practical stuff.  My friend's school has a newly acquired Google Apps For Education platform to work with so this is the chance for me to say how I would use it in my perfect imaginary class.
Screenshot 2014-04-30 at 3.35.12 PM.png
In the beginning:
First of all, my students would all have a device through which they could access GAFE.  I would use Google Classroom to  push out the daily instructions to my students.  I would initially get to know my students by using Google Forms and getting them to fill in some information about themselves, including asking them to identify anything about what helps them learn and what stops them from learning that they would like me to know.  Information about themselves would include where they have come from, what school they went to, who their close friends are, how they see themselves as a learner and what they needed from me.
Every student would be introduced to their Google account, and their own Drive with unlimited storage for all of the files that they may have gathered over the course of their schooling years.  They would learn how to share and collaborate with teachers and other students.
My students would initially collaborate on a class Google Presentation and make a slide each for someone else in the class.  It could be a friend, or someone they feel safe with and I could model that by making a slide about myself and perhaps even another student.  It would include a photo and a "flavour" or style that the other student was happy to be identified with.  These two things along will help me lay the foundation for positive relationships with my students.
Along with those two things, would be a brainstorm on good citizenship including digital citizenship on Google Draw from which we could elicit our own class rules together on a Google Doc.  This would be referred to and modified throughout the year as circumstances arose.

During the year
A Google Site would be where I placed a lot of resources and activities for the class.  There would be a Google Calendar on the front page which would inform the students of any crucial dates and class wide assessments that were due.  Students would also have their personal calendars into which they could add the class calendar.
Other pages on the site would contain resources organised into content and assessment pages. Students could choose what content and assessments they wanted to learn about.  The learning outcomes would be clearly identified.  There would be instructional videos, and resource videos as well as written, image and audio resources to account for different preferences. Practical sessions would also be explained though video, and the students would be able to access the resources that they needed to do the practical work through information on where and how they could find them.  Access to formative assessment would be through the site.

 Every day I would have a video or image to start the whole class thinking and group discussion. This may or may not be relevant to the main body of the individual student work.  I would choose appropriate images from "The Big Picture"  for example, or "Ted" talks as prompts.   There might be associated activities which could lead the students into deeper thinking about the matter at hand and these could be on a Form or a shared Document, but could also make use of a number of apps, add-ons and extensions for Google.  Class discussion would be essential.

Work in the class would be differentiated and individualised through the affordances of technology. To some extent, choosing my subject has already allowed for some personalisation of study.  The contexts in which they studied different aspects of my course could be chosen by them as often as possible.  My students could work in groups but would not be streamed on ability.  They would create Forms to test their group members on what they needed to know for assessments.  They would also create presentations, videos and sites to showcase their work, so that others in the class could learn from their work.   Some students may prefer to work alone but they would be required to share their learning later with others in the group.
Students would work collaboratively on constructing their knowledge.  I would expect the students to do a lot of creating resources themselves for example, I would expect them to create their own Sites. There would be time for the presentation of their work to the class.  They would learn to be construcively critical of their own and others work by asking for feedback.  I would collect feedback from them on their learning experiences and what worked best for them.
Links to work that was submitted for assessment would also come to me through Google Forms or perhaps I would use Google Classroom.

Outside the classroom: 
Students would have access to all of the resources and work 24/7. For homework, I would expect the student to use Blogger to report about and  reflect on what they have learned and to embed videos, images, voice recordings and links to which they could refer back to their own work when it came time to revise for assessments.  The new blog posts would be submitted to me using a Google Form so I could regularly check that the work was being completed. Their blogs would also be linked in to the class blog which students could have turns at writing, along with myself as the overseer of the class blog.  The class blog would be a multimedia affair - images, videos, embedded apps.  Students could use their own phones to collect images or borrow the class camera and upload to their Drive and share if need be, or they could use the class ipods.  I would write comments on their blogs and other students would also do the same.  Students would invite feedback from their parents and well beyond classroom or even country borders.  The blogs could also serve as eportfolios.
Parents and whanau could access the blogs and the class site so that they could be involved in their child's progress.  There would be no surprises as there were sometimes on parent teacher night because the progress on assessments would be available on the student mangement system portal as well.
Other connections would be made to the parents using gmail, google docs (newsletters) and google forms,  for example consulting and collecting relevant feedback from the forms onto spreadsheets.

As I wrote this blog, the enormity of the teacher's job hit me.  There is so much that I could do to teach my students how to learn.  In the end, there are only so many waking and working hours that you have.  A teacher's job is never done.  Organising the class needs to start one step at a time.

I wonder if I will ever go back into the classroom to try this out?

Monday, 3 November 2014

What is the most important thing?

I have a great builder.
He can visualise what can go into a space to make it more beautiful, and he crafts and builds with skill and accuracy.  He is also dyslexic.  This means that he doesn't read my emails very easily and I have difficulty understanding what he means when he replies to my emails. So, I have learned through experience (and finding out about his dyslexia from his offsider plumber) that it is best to phone him and/or talk to him face to face.  He has a successful business, is always busy, keeps to his spoken schedule and is genuinely a nice man.
Why am I telling you about my builder?  Well, at school I believe he would have struggled to meet the literacy standards of the day.  And therein lies my problem with the obsession with measuring literacy and numeracy standards across the country, and I suspect, across many countries' education systems.
Unfortunately, I think much of this focus on meeting national standards is driven by the idea that people must be literate and numerate to be able to succeed in life.
Is this paradigm is driven by the people who are in business in high places right now?  Outmoded education systems were built for the Industrial Age, and we must start to prepare our students for an unknown future.  It is, however, apparently still very hard for some schools, some teachers and some parents to make the shift to a more personalised, future focused education for children.
I think that very often, parents support and perpetuate the old system of education.  They seem to want to be educated the way that they were educated.  You hear these phrases often: -

  • You should get back to basics.  
  • Focus on the three Rs.  
  • You are not getting enough homework
  • The teacher knows everything you need to know
  • You just need more discipline slash respect
I do understand how literacy and numeracy are important for many real life situations.  But they are not the most important thing.  The most important thing is that success will come from focusing on learning through and about what interests you. Teach yourself how to learn, how you learn best and seek help as and when you need it.  
I believe that technology opens up a number of different pathways to success.  My builder uses an ipad to help visualise the project, along with his own notes which may not be very comprehensible to others.  It works for him.  There are a whole bunch of successful creative people out there who do not need to know when to use particular punctuation, or know the difference between an adverb and an adjective.  Instead they have learned to improve, how to strive for improvements, how to learn and often they have had a supportive mentor, a guide on the side, a teacher, partner or parent who has encouraged them to go further, or even keep going when others would have given up.
So in your quest for success, always remember these important things.
  • Be prepared for failures.  
  • Be prepared to unlearn what you may have learned in the past. 
  • Be prepared to adapt.
  • Be prepared to work on improving.
This way you will find your own niche in life.

Image sourced from openclipart