Monday, January 31, 2011

Inspiration


What inspires us to make change?
Is it the challenge of moving ahead of others or the threat of falling behind them?
I have found 2 totally different but inspirational people working in 2 totally different fields but driven by change.
Dr. Sugata Mitra, Chief Scientist at NIIT, is credited with the discovery of Hole-in-the-Wall. As early as 1982, he had been toying with the idea of unsupervised learning and computers. Finally, in 1999, he decided to test his ideas in the field. On 26th January, Dr. Mitra's team carved a "hole in the wall" that separated the NIIT premises from the adjoining slum in Kalkaji, New Delhi. Through this hole, a freely accessible computer was put up for use. This computer proved to be an instant hit among the slum dwellers, especially the children. With no prior experience, the children learnt to use the computer on their own. This prompted Dr. Mitra to propose the following hypothesis:

The acquisition of basic computing skills by any set of children can be achieved through incidental learning provided the learners are given access to a suitable computing facility, with entertaining and motivating content and some minimal (human) guidance.


The other inspirational person is a simple and humble teacher from the States who wrote one of the most thoughtful and eloquent pieces about empowering children in their learning that I have ever read. I think he certainly has his finger on the button!
Check it out...

I think we could all write our own ideas using the same format. What would happen if you gave your class a voice and choices? Just imagine how inspirational you might be in changing the very way they learn and think...

The Weekend Is Over!


So the holidays are over and the year begins today. I have always marvelled at the fact that we have a lovely, gentle 'easing' back into teaching by starting without the children for 2 days! BUT...I know that this is only because I have some personal learning and thinking to do before the classes arrive and the chaos of another fantastic year descends upon us!
So what will we be percolating on today? E-learning, classroom organisation, class management in the digital age...! No surprises there! But the year ahead WILL hold surprises....we will be surprised by what the children discover, we will be amazed at how much they know, we will be astounded by the fact that WE learn as much as the class do for in this digital revolution the teacher becomes the learner more often than not!
So the challenge for the next 2 days is this...how much can I prepare for and how much will be 'carpe diem' - for finally, we are able to 'seize the day' and allow the learner to drive the learning!
All I know is this, education and being educators has never been so exciting! Roll on the school year!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Problem-Solving

It has been an interesting day in at school setting up the classroom. With all of the greatest intentions and plans in the world, all I really achieved was a wonderful problem-solving adventure with my Activ-Board!
I have always been a rather big lateral thinker and tend to thoroughly enjoy riddles, problems, word puzzles, crosswords, Sudoku, jokes (which I like to solve rather than listen to!) and so on. Therefore, a non-functioning Activ-Board was the puzzler for the day and a puzzle that was not going to beat me for long.
Problem 1: the entire physical set-up for the board had to be put back together again. I managed to find 7 cords, plugs, cables and adaptors that had absolutely nothing to do with the board so that certainly de-cluttered things immediately. It was not too difficult to get the bits that really mattered plugged in and live but somehow that only led to...
Problem 2: the pen for the board wouldn't work and was clearly NOT plugged in somewhere
Problem 3: the desktop of the new computer was showing a desktop while the projector and Activ-Board were only showing stars...
Now, it is very easy to be tempted to (a) phone for help or (b) ask someone else to fix it but NO! (Oh okay, I did phone our fabo I.T whizz who was not available...) so it was off to check it out for myself! I compared another set up of another classroom with her later and we found the simple pen solution! However, the colour fixing of the screen and the preferences settings were a bit more difficult to get through, but problem-solve it I did!
I have learnt many valuable lessons in the past 3 years being a VERY techno-UNsavvy teacher...I am, in fact, often better off than many of my counter-parts who actually KNOW most of the answers. I have discovered that if you DON'T have the answers you really have to problem-solve to FIND your answers - no great technie-angel is coming to solve things for us!
And so it is with children who LOVE technology, computers and all things I.T - they YEARN for the challenges of the unsolved, they LONG for the challenges of the impossible or improbable, they constantly SEEK the challenges of the unknown. And we, as educators, owe them just that in this M-learning and e-Learning generation - we need to seek new and wonderful ways to baffle our learners with problems for that is what they will be. Ladies and gentlemen, look around your classrooms and enjoy meeting the future of our world - the problem-solvers.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Group Spaces Part II


Just as we think in digital and hardcopy with data these days, so we must consider these 2 aspects when creating spaces in a classroom. One of the challenges we face as educators is the 'safe' space aspect of the internet - we need to ensure that our students are able to communicate without being threatened in any way while doing so.
Facebook has boomed over the past 2-3 years and is still rapidly expanding and evolving. There is no way that our primary students are able to communicate through this application but for parents and teachers, schools and institutions Facebook is a wonderful tool. A classic example is when there was a major aftershock in Christchurch last year when the schools had just resumed after the big earthquake. Parents in many of the schools crowded the phone lines in a panic while several enterprising schools simply posted on their school Facebook page to say that all was well and that they were checking their buildings for any damge, but that the students were all safe. Isn't this what Facebook is designed for? Reaching 600+ parents in the click of a button to instantly reassure them?
A class twitter account, delicious account, slideshare and google docs are some examples of other great shared spaces to have in our classrooms. My own class last year used our wiki to write reflections at the end of the term including posting their own favourite photos from the year. This was in turn shared with our buddy reading class and neighbouring classes who also follow our wiki! We have turned our class delicious account into a weekly voting system (using Activ-Votes on our interactive whiteboard) so that we all vote for the top website of the week! The students have the chance to 'hard-sell' the site and we choose the most used sites of the week.
Google docs became a way of building ideas collaboratively so that some of my students were going home at night and trying to find new details to add to brainstorms etc. Google reader became a way to follow our favourite 3 blogs last year as we tracked athletes at the Special Olympics and followed the comings and goings of several well-known Kiwi personalities of interest to us.
Shared spaces are all about just that - SHARING.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Group Spaces



Participating and contributing

This competency is about being actively involved in communities. Communities include family, whānau, and school and those based, for example, on a common interest or culture...This competency includes a capacity to contribute appropriately as a group member, to make connections with others, and to create opportunities for others in the group.

Students who participate and contribute in communities have a sense of belonging and the confidence to participate within new contexts.

(Taken from the Key Competencies document - MOE)

One of our goals as teachers is to create an atmosphere of inclusion. When we talk about participating and contributing, we need children to engage in and buy into being part of a community. In communities we experience life in sync with different groups. For example, in a family we are part of the family as a whole but also part of a group of siblings, boys/girls and groups of the oldest or youngest.

In the classroom, our students are a part of many diverse groups also. They may be a part of an ethnic group, a group of boys/girls, 9 year olds, oldest children, youngest children, reading and maths groups, groups of high level thinkers, a group who have learning difficulties, a group of lateral thinkers, a group of visual learners, a group who enjoy communicating by speaking etc., the list is almost endless.

But to increase inclusion and the ability to flow freely between the various groups that they operate in, there need to be areas in the class that encourage and support this. Pillows to lounge on, chairs to sit on, a mat area to be in a reading/maths group with the teacher, lots of different nooks and spaces that encourage children to sit as a part of a group and participate with others.

I have purchased some old office space dividers and have created a few spaces called 'The Writers' Cramp' - an area which is a shared space for several children who can work at their writing. There are also a number of 'kneeler' which have been used with pillows to create spaces to write and create. The class library - affectionately named 'The Collapse Inn' is also made to be a shared space or a personal quiet space. The class has a mat area for group instruction.


Tuesday, January 18, 2011

A Space To Call My Own..


I have spent a bit of time this week going into school and messing around with the use of space in my room. Being restricted to the use of individual desks and mindful of storage problems with books etc. if I don't use them in this function, I have had to resolve that, for now, the classroom us set up in groups. There will be flexibility in choices of where the class work during different parts of the day, but the desks mean that there is no way of being totally unbound by a place. Ideally, we would have tables and the class books etc. would be stored centrally but this is not what I am working with.

I have viewed 'The Seven Spaces of Technology' by Ewan MacIntosh and have been extremely mindful of how I utilise the spaces around my classroom. My class library has been named 'The Collapse Inn' this year and it is gradually transforming into a secret space - somewhere quiet where children can be reflective and spend time there in silence or be alone if they wish. Over this week as I work to develop each of the 7 spaces in my classroom I will reflect on what I am doing and also comment on what I hope to achieve through the access and use of each space by the learner.

So, for today, the secret space...

I have covered the windows in black paper where the library is and have put up camo nets over the area. There is a large mosquito net also above - one which gives the impression of light against the dark. I have also purchased extremely safe LED lights with butterflies on them and the overall feel is that of a jungle or forest. I have some lovely plastic bugs that will be attached to the camo nets to add to the effect. I researched the lights as I needed to create a safe environment and fire-risk or the children getting burnt was a concern if I was including lights so I found these great ones on trademe.co.nz and they are cool to the touch and do not have any fire-risk so I am confident with their safety. It is a lovely effect, very calm and quiet which is exactly what I hoped for. My challenge in the first few weeks of school is to teach the children about the function and importance of this area in our room - the secret space.

Technically speaking the children's e-portfolios and blogs form the digital secret space also - a place where they can be alone to reflect. This will be a huge part of our first few weeks of school as we set up these spaces and begin to use them.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Books vs. iPads



There have been many interesting discussions and debates around whether the hard plastic of an iPad will ever replace the slightly musty smell and pleasant feel of a book. Many have been quoted as saying that they could never imagine curling up in bed or relaxing by the pool or lazing in the bath while reading an iPad.

I have to say that I was one of the sceptics. It is beyond the realms of my imagination to think of laying around outside reading my iPad on a sun lounger while sipping my Pimms and munching on strawberries. Somehow, spilling food and drink on a $40 book is less stressful than the thought of writing off an $800 iPad! I kept thinking of the sun-glare and how annoying that would be as well as all of the logistical things (such as the spillages...)

But, what if the iPad was actually never meant to truly replace the book but instead, to provide another vessel for a reader to enjoy a book through?

So, I have started to read a bit on my hubby's iPad. I have started it simply by just looking up free books and enjoying browsing, all of the while not even thinking about the reading that I am doing while just searching, selecting and reviewing. It makes you think - how much more reading are we all doing simply by browsing???

Now my attitude is this...anything that makes people want to read to gain knowledge, find information or simply enjoy text has got to be good! So...perhaps you will find me by the pool flicking through the pages of a good paperback, sipping a summery beverage or it may be that I bypass the extras and simply fire my way through the same paperback on the glossy pages of the iPad...

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Noise vs. Nerds

LONG gone are the days of quiet classrooms – surely we have realised that with this generation, that just means disconnection. The children are no longer RECEIVING an education as if it were somehow owed to them or fed to them through a textbook-shaped straw.

If you come into my classroom the initial thought may be that they are a ‘noisy bunch’...but on closer inspection, you will find (on most days at most times!) engaged and purposeful pupils who are independent, active and interactive learners.

This takes a lot of groundwork and a high expectation from me as a teacher. It means that over 22 years I have had to constantly shift my thinking and continually change and evolve as the demands of learning changed. Notice I didn't say 'the demands of teaching'? It is the learner who defines the needs, NOT the teacher.

There has been such a complete about-turn of change with this that we can only call it a revolution in learning. Perhaps our earliest classrooms are a way to look at total teacher control. In the 1800s when classrooms were first evolving, text books ruled, tests were given daily, physical punishment was administered to control children's behaviour AND learning and the teacher was usually an old maid who didn't like kids anyway! To ensure learning, the idea was to punish lack of learning rather than reward learning. The children took home books of homework and were expected to work alone late into the evening to achieve the tasks - many of these children were first generation learners and some even had totally illiterate parents who were no help at all. It is hardly surprising then that the jobs available to most of these learners were physical labouring jobs for the boys and frankly, the girls were going to marry one day soon anyway so they weren't going to do jobs (consider this, the secretaries of the time were male also). Children left school at 10-11 years old at the end of primary as there was little option. Most boys went to work with their father in his family business and there was no chance of higher education.

We have had so many things change about our world since then. The industrial revolution followed and grew more powerful each year as new inventions and manufacturing processes added to the efficiency of machines and increased productivity. This totally transformed society as there was suddenly an availability of different jobs and also new and wonderful inventions to make lives easier springing up every day. Teaching and classrooms had to evolve and develop around this change, but our classrooms have always been playing 'catch-up' - being reactive instead of pro-active.

So here we are, firmly embeded in the digital age, possibly running to catch our tails already but suddenly faced with the unique opportunity to create curious learners and thinkers rather than to attempt to keep up with the ever-changing demands of the age. It will mean mind-shifts and broadening of ideals but none-the-less, it means that the silent, disengaged and conformist classrooms of the past must remain just that, and they now give way to engaged, interactive, proactive and vibrant classrooms of today. NOT the future - TODAY.


Friday, January 7, 2011

Information Literacy


As a literacy nerd and passionate communicator (in other words a talker...) I have been pondering the shift into information literacy yardsticks - the ability to measure new learning and also the ability to define a set of global skills which are specifically taught and developed in our classrooms. In New Zealand, we have a great curriculum which allows us to encourage new thinking (synthesis) both from students and teachers. It also provides us with the ability to plan collaboratively as teachers and students and to work within a totally student-driven classroom. However, we have a set of assessment requirements such as the National Standards, which tell us that we must have certain literacy and numeracy benchmarks met each year - yet there is no gauge for the information literacy learners of the web2.0 generation before us. Do we need such a gauge? What would we measure and how? Well, I think we have to come back to the idea that all of our research skills were driven by the limitations of our school and public libraries 10 years ago. Kids would hike off to locate their Encyclopaedia Brittanica and search for the information as required. It was limited and obsolete as soon as the presses were cold. Fast forward to the students of today who tap their iPads or laptops for 10 seconds and have the information - fresh, relevant and often as up to date as the time on their watch. But therein lies one of the problems - discernment. We must, as educators and parents, teach our children responsibility around their use of technology as well as the ability to check sources and gather information from credible portals. Information literacy is defined as the ability to recognise when information is needed and be able to locate, evaluate, and use the information effectively.
So our children need specific teaching and learning around these skills - recognising, locating, evaluating and using. What do we know that sounds just like this? Inquiry Learning! Nothing new there...but now we have so many more devices and tools to include in this search. Our learners also need to take responsibility more and more for the questions - both of these things require independent thinkers as well as learners, yet another set of skills. Our key competencies mean that here in New Zealand we approach our learners as a whole person - we are looking at a much wider set of skills and we are teaching our children to dare and challenge. Now, when did you ever see those ideals in a curriculum document?
With this raft of options available, is it really more about teaching students the right tool to use and choose - or is it even more than that, the ability to decide which is the BEST source or resource - is it a wiki? A blog? Is it walking across the room to ask a friend for the answer? Will they get the best information from a book in the library or a podcast?

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

National Standards and eLearning


Having spent the most wonderful day with my BFF we paused during our lunch break to ponder my year ahead as a teacher. It is always great to bounce ideas around with others in the profession and although she has been out of the full time teaching racket for a few years, she is one of the most well read and incredibly informed people that I know. Therefore, any ideas or questions from her are certain to probe parts of my psyche that I had not poked around for a while! She is refreshingly frank and will certainly hold me accountable for the answers that I provide! Probably why I admire her so much!
Anyway, the dreaded moment arrived soon into the conversation as the horrible NS words popped out...oh yes, the question hung in the humid air around us as I pondered my reply. The question was this...how will the expectations around achieving National Standards affect/restrict the ability to teach in a digital classroom?
(I clawed around for some pithy reply when in reality I knew that this serious question deserved some serious utterances.)
Well, first of all I must admit it is a question that I have given a lot of thought to. The National Standard expectations are all around reading, writing and maths - not the ability to think, question and create ideas. So in reality, the measurable outcomes are all about an aged-based level. This kind of livens things up for us because we are not being measured against norms for thinking skills, inquiry learning or independence. How can we quantify this sort of data? Or can we? Is there really going to be a tick box that I wind up carrying around to show performance data for my class based on their I.T literacy? Surely not!
BUT...
surely there have to be measurable outcomes to justify our use of devices such as iPads, iPods, laptops, video etc. It is not okay to simply slip these into the back door of our rooms and allow them to be toys rather than tools. If we wish to enhance the learning then we must be prepared to somehow justify the outcome.
This is where I feel our classrooms and classes are changing shapes massively. They are transforming into the digital age of child-centred learning with digital portfolios which are driven by the student and summative assessment being usurped by formative and ipsative assessment. Although the need for normative assessment is still there - hence the National Standards making parents feel somehow better - there is much less emphasis around this evident in the classroom.
For example, ask any 20-70 year old what they learnt and why and what control they had of their own learning and the answer is simple. They were TOLD what to learn and when to learn it. They had no control of their own learning. They were set against norms constantly. Pass and fail were the only possible outcomes and written testing was the only means of gathering hard data.
Ask my own children now what they learn and why and what control they have over their own learning and they will use a language which is as foreign to most parents as Flemish.
They will site their goals. They will reel off a string of ideas around their next learning steps. They will explain to you how and why they make the choices that they do around their own learning based on what they find tricky. They possess an acute awareness about their personal goals and will not hesitate to take you on their learning journey, but do take care to strap in as they are usually on a wonderful ride!
And so, back to the question of the day - what about National Standards? With this wonderful New (yet old) curriculum and the freedom to direct children's learning through it, and the amazingly learning literate generation we have in schools today, are National Standards a threat to that progress? Or, are we simply going to need to find a way to ensure that they are met without damaging the process of independent learning that we are striving to grow in every classroom in this nation?
The quesiton hangs. And the answer eludes me. But I do believe that the answer lies with the children. They will surely find a way around the problem since we are teaching them to be problem-solvers!

Thinking...



Today I have been thinking about which Apps would be best to use with my students to start the year off.
As my processing went on, I realised that (of course) I am in fact approaching this in reverse, a fatal and commonly made error in teaching at the moment - well, that's my opinion. So, first we should be looking at what the students already know and what they can do within technologies and devices, and THEN we should be working WITH them to decide where to next? You see, there has been a massive mindshift over the past few years within teaching circles in New Zealand and some other countries - not quite a global shift, but not that far off. The shift has been from teachers deciding what students need to learn to students working collaboratively with their teachers and other children to work out what THEY think is their next learning step. One of the problems that faces all educationalists currently is making sure that students are equipped to make these decisions - that they possess a framework of language for learning and that they are confident in discussing what they do well and what they find tricky. It takes an awful lot of input and time as a teacher to ensure that relationships of trust have been securely established before even really embarking on this complex journey with our students. And then there is the added complication of all of the technology available to our students to enhance this learning. I firmly believe that we are in the middle of a most amazing time for teachers and learners as we move towards a very different type of classroom and a vastly different style of teaching. Don't get me wrong, the 3 Rs will never lose their power or importance but the way we teach and learn is what is currently evolving. I mean, we actually have no idea of the futures that these children have before them as we know so little of the jobs or potential for developments in the next 2 years let alone the next 10 years when this group of 8-9 year olds will be heading out into the workforce.
So we have to wonder, is it about the devices and the apps, is it about the web and the phones, is it about bluetooth or blu-ray...
or is it about teaching the students how to think, question, work with others, be independent, be curious, challenge ideas, process the literal or lateral?
If we are sending them into an unknown future then we must equip them with skills such as resilience, flexibility, communication skills, the ability to listen, tolerance, integrity and grit.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Google Reader and Twitter



Last night I had the chance to roam around google reader. I must admit to never having explored MANY of the features of Google (other than messing with my foreign mates by pretending to be fluent in Norwegian or German while really using Google translate!) so it was great to be able to look at some other features.
Early last year I discovered iGoogle and set this as my own home page with all of the features such as CNN, Wikipedia, world weather and so on. This was also a great thing to do with my class as we delved further into the web 2.0 era and got into class blogging and using our wiki as a mainstay for learning activities and thinking skills. The children really enjoyed being part of the decision-making process for what we should have on our iGoogle homepage and there were many negotiations around this. Collaboration is a huge focus both in my classroom and school so every opportunity to work at this is embraced, which contributes hugely to our class and schoolwide culture.
So, onto the other features we have discovered so far...yes, the kids and I messed with Google translate and discovered many ways to say 'excuse me' and 'sorry' in loads of different languages and we looked closely at how to be a responsible web user through this - mainly because the days are NOT over when someone in the class locates a swear word or hilarious phrase in the dictionary, it's just that they can do it online and in any language they like...!
We developed a class treaty at the start of the year but had to revisit this mid-year and add in some rules and expectations around blogs, wikis and the internet. It is amazing to see children adhere to these as they strive to do the right thing and act responsibly about the trust involved with both new devices such as the iPads/iPod touches and also the freedom of the web.
We also then looked at how to refine our searches and also how to discern that which is fact and that which is just stuck on the web for the heck of it. After viewing footage about the tree octopus of South America and the humble house hippo of North America (youtube clips) the class began to realise that much of the information on the internet is questionable about its validity, authenticity, accuracy or relevance. This called into question for the class - how do we make sure that a fact is accurate?
It has been an interesting journey - one that I look forward to starting again this year and also continuing as my Year 3&4 children embark on another remarkable year of learning together. This is our school motto and one that encapsulates who we are as a community - we are all learners and as I realised many years ago, we are actually all teachers too - something that is so important to demonstrate to children.
And so, back to Google reader...I have used Google wonder wheel to find the top blogs around education and have subscribed to some as I read through and became interested by the content. Some were sifted out of course as irrelevant to my particular teaching journey but many are there ready for me to get to. It is amazing that only last year I was reading many pieces of educational info as it was in magazines both hard copy and online whereas this year I spin into the 2.0 age fully and the majority of my professional reading is blog based!
I have also managed to find many professionals in the fields of education and e-Learning through Twitter and last year I was struggling to find 'how' to get the best out of Twitter while now I am trying to work out how to keep up with the best!
More to come I am sure!

Drop Box


Okay, so last night my hubby sent me an e-mail asking me to join 'Drop Box' so that I could share my files with myself over any computer! This is way cool as it means that no matter where I am or which device I am on, I am able to access my files. It also backs up stuff automatically and saves changes for 30 days which means that if I have lost a file from this computer, it can be retrieved from dropbox!
I have signed up for it and now I am madly deciding on what needs to go across to it - my theory is to do so gradually but also discriminitely as it is not actually a 'public' storage hold but it is also important to protect ourselves online.
Will let you know how I get on but check it out for yourself and tell me what you think...!

Welcome

It is the beginning of a new year and in only a few weeks, it will be the beginning of a new school year for me too. This year brings with it many challenges and many new learning experiences for me. The idea behind this blog is for my journey to be charted along the way as a means of documenting what takes place in my own learning.
There are several new aspects or facets to consider - one of my biggest questions being...how do we, as educators, ensure that there is a balance in learning in our classrooms as we integrate e-Learning skills and the new (although now, much older) National Curriculum?
This year, I have put all of my class tumbles onto my class wiki so that it frees up my ActivBoard even more for teaching and learning. Last year my class were amazing at their use of the ActivBoard so I was always slightly annoyed when I had to interrupt their work while I showed them the next activities for their group or reminded them of their next tasks. With the tumbles on the wiki as slideshares, this ensures that they can access this information themselves on any device in the room - iPad, iPod touch or laptop/desktop.