Powering Practice in 09

The end of the school year – yes! The end of planning changes – no! Last week an intrepid Powerful Learning Practice team at Joeys gathered to plan for their work in 09. Our day was about developing concrete steps forward, as well as sharing, dreaming, and wondering how to move forward.

Dean Groom came along for the day, and acted as facilitator extraordinaire – an outside voice always makes a difference. Best of all, Ross (Headmaster) came along for the beginning hour or two, and urged us to look for achievable gains..even if small to begin with. So, true to his intention, we have come up with some small but achievable actions to begin to turn the learning focus around.Our focus will be on Year 7 in terms of a whole school project, even though each of us will be doing things in our own classes, we figure that a full school focus will add that extra level change.

Learning Framework

First up – we will introduce all Year 7 to their new school and their new life at Joeys via a Ning. Each boy will join the Year 7 Ning, and use it to build up their profiles, network socially within the school, and achieve what is traditionally done in Year 7 in terms of ‘introducing myself’ into a new school environment.

Second – the reason for this first jump into a Ning, familiarisation, and establishing connections is to move to the next phase of the project – digital citizenship. Again, the Ning will model online behaviours, allow for indepth work in the area, and expand the boys understanding of digital citizenship with a broader range of tools, so that the learning landscape becomes embedded in their online world. Amongst the tools chosen for early use will be Glogster – so that students can fashion their classroom projects (some of which will still be relatively analogue depending on the class they are in) and enhance their wikispaces accordingly. Hey, this will be a new take on the inevitable poster/powerpoint activity! I am going to use the new eduGlogster to set up accounts for all the boys in Year 7, and Anthony will set up the Ning.

Finally – we will of course use a variety of tools as the project progresses. But the idea will be to embrace digital citizenship and online learning as a normal part of schooling. Cool.

We are not sure how it will evolve – it’s a work in progress. The main thing is that we are embedding online learning as mainstream for these boys – so regardless of whether they are at school for study or at home for homework, they can connect and continue their learning and thinking. I hope that my work with my Year 7 English class (which I also asked for, so I could ‘do’ rather than ‘mentor’ all the time) will help us to better understand the possibilities for us at our school at our point in the learning journey revolution.

I have to thank my PLP team for being so keen to do this, given the remarkable constraints that the workload in a 24/7 boarding school imposes. We don’t get much time at all to participate in the PLP online Ning, but we do chip away at it at school, taking ideas and enthusiasm from the PLP project run by Will Richardson and Sherly Nussbaum-Beach which is empowering our transformation. We’ve embedded an official time each fortnight within our teaching schedules so that we can be guaranteed to meet and evolve our own understanding as well as our student’s learning. We have online collaborative tools that enhance our connectivity – Google Chat and Google docs are our mainstay at the moment. We will probaby also use Microsoft Onenote within school too.

Will we go into virtual worlds together? I certainly hope so, as there is such a strong interest emerging in Australia now, and Jokaydia is getting to be such a central hub for developments in the school and tertiary sectors.

Roll on 2009!

Celebrating Blue Day with Al Upton

Celebrating Blue Day with Al Upton

Eemo Dean and Judy

Eemo Dean and Judy

‘Buy in’ is low!

We often talk about the challenge of developing our 21st century learning capacity amongst our teachers. But I, like so many, have to start at the beginning. Personally I love that challenge, because it makes me reflect deeply on my own core beliefs about learning and teaching as we find it today.

So here’s our latest challenge – introducing all of Year 7 to the Resources Centre (library).

Shudder – well at least that is what the older boys do when they remember their time in Year 7 undertaking their 7 week project. I have the blue printed book on my desk. I opened it once. I rejected it immediately. We now have the Science Research wiki instead!

So we are developing a new approach – the is of course delivered online, that builds in to the program key points of information fluency. Let me tell you, this is just the beginning!  This is very new for my teachers, and is being welcomed with open arms so far.  So that’s the trick isn’t it. Start small, turn around the tide.

This is what I wrote about it at school:

Staff in the Resources Centre are always keen to find ways to promote reading and literacy as well as thinking in all areas across the curriculum.
We believe that thinking should be treated as a fundamental literacy skill, whether the ‘language’ in question is Maths, Science, Art or English! There is no question that reading, writing, speaking, and listening are interconnected skills that develop synergistically and are key to teaching thinking. The more fluent students become as readers, writers, speakers, and listeners, the clearer, more coherent, and more flexible their thinking will become.
So we look constantly look for new opportunities – and a few have come our way this term.
We have launched a new Year 7 Science Research program in collaboration with teachers, to introduce students to what the Resources Centre can offer, coupled with research techniques, learning strategies, note-taking ideas, web evaluation, using a bibliography, and more. This new programme has been launched as a web-based wiki that provides the pathway for learning, without being didactic about the approach. Each class is different so though key areas are covered for all, the learning experience is modified to suit the needs of each student. You can find the Research Wiki at http://scienceresearch.wetpaint.com/

Photo: Solar System

Emerging technologies for learning

Some excellent research and commentary is available from BECTA in the UK in the recent publication

Emerging technologies for learning: volume 3 (2008)

The various chapters explore the ‘net generation’ who can seamlessly move between their real and digital lives; examine the implications for education of the convergence of mobile devices, pervasive wireless connectivity, and internet applications and services; discuss the development of virtual worlds and ‘serious games’ and how we can make best use of these technologies to support better learning; analyse the problem of finding and searching digital content on the web and the limitations of current systems; and considers the potential of some emerging display and interface technologies to improve interaction with computers and facilitate collaborative activities in more natural and intuitive ways.

These are excellently presented too, and make good professional reading handouts for staff discussion.

The problem with powerpoint

The problem is that some people are offended when I explain that good powerpoint presentations are….well good! and represent a completely different presentation design to 20th century versions. Our understanding of how to promote thinking, engage audiences, and use powerpoint as a visual communication medium has matured. So also has our understanding of how we can teach kids to engage with knowledge, and provide a visual synthesis of their ‘take on a topic’ via a powerpoint and an actual talk about a topic, rather than read of a topic! has ‘come of age’.

The presentation Dodging Bullets in Presentations explains the design and function developments beautifully. Now I urge you to apply that reasoning to the next ‘powerpoint project’ that you give your students. They may be a little surprised at how much work and how much understanding is required to produce an assessment without all those bullet points. Their supporting ‘talk’ just may need them to know and understand their topic for their talk – especially if no notes are allowed :-)

Google for newbie Web 2.0 teachers

I like to point out obvious tools to teachers to discover – and challenge their thinking about Web platform tools. So here’s a little reminder to keep an eye out for good Google tools.

Too many teachers know about ‘googling‘, but don’t know enough about what else is worth using for Google tools.

googlemore.jpgSo remember, when you go to do a Google search, look up at the top left-hand corner and discover a few other tools – the magic one to follow is the little word “more“.

Most teachers are already know about images, maps, Gmal…but more?

Yes, there are a few other very useful goodies. But then what about “even more“?

That’s a page that all smart 21C teachers should visit and come to grips with! Not necessarily to use them…but to be aware of what these represent..the required pervasiveness of Web 2.0 tools in our daily educational practice.

Check out Google Notebook, and Google Scholar - if you haven’t already done so. There are many Google tools that deserve attention and discussion. How could we use them? What other ‘brand’ tools might be a better choice? What are the tips for good pedagogical integration?

What you’ll also notice on the full listing page is that sometimes a new tool appears with the label New! right next to it. Google Notebook has that right now.

Did you know that this doesn’t really mean ‘totally new‘ but rather that the tool is no longer in beta phase?

Indeed!

Google Labs are the place where the up-and-coming tools can be found. Checking out Google Labs is a great way for teachers to find out about some of the future trends.

I wanted to highlight this information about Google because Google is everywhere – especially where teachers haven’t moved beyond the “go and do some research on the internet” phase of online instruction.

Google is more than a search tool or email facility. Know what else Google actually is, and then develop a good sense of discernment – so that you can determine whether a Google tool or another tool is the best for your particular learning and teaching need!

That’s a fun series of PD sessions for you to try out?

Hmmm, might do that myself later in the year too :-)

Core knowledge and creativity for Learning 2.0

Today was interesting! I met two year 11 Chemistry classes and spent a little time opening up the options of choosing a Web 2.0 tool to produce part of their assessment task. These students have by and large been operating in a Web 1.0 world for school learning – but of course are operating in a Web 2.0 world of social networking with the usual MySpace, Facebook or Bebo.

The challenge for them was to think about creativity and the learning process, and if they dared, to step out of their usual comfort zone and into Web 2.0.

Why did we want to do this? Well the issue is this – that critical thinking skills cannot be learned in the abstract. They always pertain to concrete knowledge of subject matter. But by the same token, absorbing and ‘learning’ some concrete subject knowledge does not necessarily lead to critical thinking or creativity. Learning is a delicate pattern of interconnections!

If you sit boys in rows, if you always ask them to write an essay, produce a poster, deliver a talk, or make a powerpoint then without a doubt the capacity for independent learning or flexible collaborative learning that is deeply reflective just ‘ain’t gonna happen’ easily.

It’s true – we threw these boys in the deep end with a big challenge. Sorry boys!

…….. and I watched some of them run right back to safe shores, others forgot how to paddle or swim and splashed and floundered around (hiding their confusion behind boyish bravado), and others got right in and swam to the new shore across the bay. A few quiet ones spent a lot of time exploring the tools, checking the parameters and began to talk about the nature of learning this way.

We’ll be happy if we see a few wikis, maybe a blog or two, or maybe even a voicethread. This was just an experiment. No student will be advantaged or disadvantaged for either choosing or not choosing a Web 2.0 option. All we hoped for was that for some boys – the naturally curious and creative ones – the opportunity to use a Web 2.0 tool just might make the learning experience fundamentally creative, collaborative, and fun!

I’ve added a new TAB to the blog for the students called Student Tools – Let them fly!

So back to the beginning of the lesson.

What DOES this video prompt YOU to think about creativity and learning?

After all, an escalator can never break. It can only become stairs. Have we nullified the capacity of our students to be creative in the very ordinary yet essential daily processes of learning? That’s the message the video gives to me :-)

Photo: One small piece of machinery