Thursday, March 29, 2012

Back to school!

Today I had the absolute privilege of visiting a lovely school in the UK and spending an afternoon learning alongside a very talented teacher and the children as they worked on gaming and coding.

The teacher had strong relationships with the students. It was evident from the moment I entered the school. He paused happily to interact and converse with a range of ages and was clearly a very popular and well-respected staff member also. From the moment the lesson started, the children were focused and eager, listening intently as they re-visited how to use the gaming programme.

And they were off! My own 2 children who visited with me, were handed a laptop and given the challenge - they knew the expectations immediately, understood the clear instructions and set about doing the same task with their own spin on it. There was plenty of discovery, experimentation, code adjustments, problem creating, problem solving, self management and collaboration. There was trial and error, testing and re-adjusting, more creating, some on-the-spot evaluations and plenty of self assessment.

While the kids created and more, I was able to pick the brains of the teacher. Hopefully I wasn't TOO annoying (or distracting!) but my questions were answered brilliantly and set me about wondering what this could look like for MY class.

There are clearly some huge differences between the curriculum here in the UK and our own NZ curriculum. The world over, kids are the same though. The minute I traded my iPad with one of the children so that I could test his game out for him, the rest of the children around him wanted the iPad and then besieged me with questions about what apps I have, what games there are to play and so on. It became a 'trade-off' of information as I picked their brains about what they could create, make and do with the gaming programme, what challenges they'd found and what they would do differently.

We spend a lot of time in NZ with our children reflecting on their learning and self-assessing. I realised today that the system here has not moved into children self-managing but many teachers are doing it anyway. The education system here is not really interested in 21st Century Learners but lots of the teachers are teaching that way anyway. The curriculum is old, boring, repetitive and all about box ticking, but the teachers are branching out anyway. How incredible to find educators who are not afraid to do the best for their kids and drive change! It was awesome to hear this teacher talk about his passion for their learning, but also his own learning and how twitter and social networking have changed his entire approach to teaching and learning, how his personal learning happens inside AND outside of school, and to see his vision of what learning SHOULD look like - where the child is in control and the teacher is only the navigator, steering them back on track and guiding them as they choose their own route.

So what did I learn?

My takeaways are this:

  1. Teachers have to evolve and change for learning to stay rich and relevant. This teacher is growing REGARDLESS of those around him and DESPITE the rigid structure of an inflexible system. This shows me that anyone can do the same. PASSION is all that is needed and perhaps a fairly thick skin!
  2. Schools that are reluctant to change have learners AND teachers who are NOT reluctant to change. They will grow regardless.
  3. A PLN is one of your most powerful learning tools. If you don't have one, GET ONE.
  4. Gaming and coding is accessible as a skill for ALL students of ALL ages, from 5 to whatever. The only challenge is to find relevant gaming sites or software to cater for the range.
  5. I have a lot to learn about gaming and coding still, but I now have a start-point. What an exciting thought! Makes me eager to get back to my classroom and give the kids the challenge!
So let me close this with a thought that I had in the car on the way home...
"Teachers who are able to admit that they will never know more than the students are already great teachers and even better learners! "

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Now You're Talking My Language!

I had a wonderful learning experience today while simply working in my office. One of my colleagues showed me the most powerful and incredibly sensitive way of resolving a conflict between 2 children who speak English as a second language.

The story began with one of the Year 3 boys returning after morning extremely upset. He struggled to articulate what was wrong - he has been speaking English for a very short time and was really troubled. The teacher, experienced and wise, was gentle and warm but it was obvious that he was quite inconsolable.

She called in his friend who he was upset with, and set about talking gently to him also. She could clearly sense that this was a difficult conversation for them both, so she said, "How about you tell each other how you are feeling in your own language?"The boys looked at her for a moment and then started to talk. Through some tears and a short exchange, they managed to say what they had struggled to explain in English. Problem resolved, the more confident English-speaker explained to their teacher what had happened and that they had both apologised and worked out what they would do next time.

How simple, how sensitive and how powerful to enable these 2 boys to share this problem in their first language instead of leaving them distressed and struggling to explain their feelings in English. It really demonstrated to me how powerful it is to know your students and be sensitive and caring when it comes to their well-being, especially their emotional well-being.

What is illustrates very clearly is that sometimes our kids don't need us to understand everything but they do need us to be understanding.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Students as eLearning Leaders

One of the things that I have been focused on this year and trying to foster and develop among the class, is the responsibility that we have to one another and others as eLearning leaders. I have a hope that my class will begin to adopt a broader approach to their own learning and knowledge, and with that, develop a desire to share and teach through it.

Another colleague has already had wonderful success at her former school with students planning and presenting their learning to their parents and then also to other classes. It formed a huge term of work for them - a truly authentic learning pathway where they decided on what to plan, what to teach, what to share and what would be evaluated at the end. It was part of their inquiry model and they based all of their classwork around this big idea.

Although the class she was working with were considerably older than my own, I am really keen to set something up on a smaller scale for the student-led conferences in Term 2. If this time frame becomes too tight, then we could always have an EdCamp for parents in Term 3. The ideas are percolating...

The whole 'big idea' is that children are not only students or learners but are the most powerful teachers too. Part of our learning being concrete is measured by our ability to pass on or teach what we have learnt.

I am hoping that through twitter or facebook or even this blog, there might be the chance to find others who have already experimented with this concept or successfully run the same type of event with their own classes. If so, please share!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Flipped Classroom

I must admit to having rather a big chuckle to myself today while my class were busily learning without me. It never ceases to entertain me how different my day is - a veritable smorgasborg of team teaching, 'I-teach-you-you-teach-someone', paired teaching, group learning, independent learning, learning centres, online learning (wikispaces, webquests etc.) and so on.

Today's task for our topic on plants was to view some teaching vids through the wiki and then take a quiz that I created about the information on plants. Part of the process was to take the 'test' and compare answers with someone else before submitting them, having to justify their opinion based on what they had heard and seen.

What a privilege it is as a teacher to sit back and watch learning. My class were darting between pairs, asking each other why they thought one answer was right and another wrong, confirming and debating. Four children sat together poring over one laptop to re-watch the vid because they couldn't agree on an answer! Then there were another 4 children who were avidly diving through some topic books to confirm their thoughts!

Having a classroom where the children are self-managing and collaborative is just priceless. There is so much learning going on all of the time and it is exciting to watch!

Monday, March 12, 2012

You May Think It's Weird But...

Sometimes teachers wonder why I have Lego and Duplo in my classroom.

Others roll their eyes when they spot the Playdough. Occasionally I get odd looks because I have a 'Tinker Table'.

You may already be thinking that's weird...but...

According to all of the 'reports' and stats out these days, our kids are spending so much screen time that they have forgotten how to function with unstructured play. Most of them go home and sit in front of a screen - Nintendo, PSP, X-Box, Wii, iPads/iPods, laptops/desktops, TV. They can interface but not interact. They are experts at social networking but poor at socialising.

So why do I have Lego, Duplo, screwdrivers, magnifying glasses, playdough and so on in my room?

We are an eLearning class. We have every bell and whistle available to mankind in this day and age. We have limitless access to all the web has to offer. But we need to know how to create PHYSICALLY not just on a screen. We need more than just augmented learning and gaming/coding - our kids need to create something from nothing in a tangible and tactile manner. They need to make and break. They need to imagine, create, test and evaluate - discussing and negotiating along the way. Our kids can do all of these things on a computer but it is essential that they can do them in real life too.

So, with Lego or Duplo, they sit and play before school. I teach 7-9 year olds and they build farms and castles, fairylands and fairgrounds. They make animals and towers, guns and weapons, trains, planes and automobiles. As for the playdough, they make their names, they create a house or building, cut shapes, roll 'food', copy characters and more. The tinker table is filled with old phones and radios, screwdrivers and parts, all ready for the disassembly process that helps to understand how things work. The microscope (actually it's a digital Dino-scope!) is on our geologists' table - the boys have become fascinated by the different types of rocks and gems, loving every moment before school of being able to examine closely and compare and contrast the features of each.

If we desire for our children to be whole and rounded lifelong learners, then we must create every opportunity for them to explore and discuss the world around them.

I think that may explain why I have, have ALWAYS had, and always WILL have these essential tools with me. Lego, Duplo, Playdough, tinkering bits, tools and stuff to examine!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Homework Debate Continues

Having been a staunch advocate for less homework and more time for parents to spend with their children, I have to say how impressed I have been with one aspect of my own son's homework.
He is in an eLearning class this year and his teacher seems to have got it right. I mean REALLY right.
My son comes home at the start of each week and knows what is expected of him. He can use the tools that he needs and the search engines he requires, to find the answers to his homework. It comes in an online form - one where he has 10 questions to answer based on the news of the week. He has to look up the current events through any method he chooses, and is only required to give a multi-choice answer in most cases.

What is the point? Well, here is my child, coming home, reading the news - which is of course extremely relevant to him. Seriously, he loves this! He is motivated - self motivated in fact. He GETS why he is doing it, so the work has purpose. He can talk about what is expected of him. He is reading, using skimming and scanning techniques, understands and is required to use keywords and different search tools, can summarise, is able to locate information in a text using shortcuts and more. THIS is purposeful homework! It doesn't take more than half an hour but he enjoys doing it, he talks a lot about what he has learned through it and there is definite sense of purpose and achievement.

I may not like homework at times but that is only when there appears to be no correlation to building skills, broadening knowledge and students understanding the purpose for it. The homework my son gets for his current events ticks every box.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

World Book Day

What is the book that you remember most from your childhood? What books do you recall your parents reading to you? What are the books of your teens? What books were you *encouraged* to read at high school? Here is my not-yet-exhausted list in honour of World Book Day!

My childhood:
My mum used to read us all of the Golden Books. My favourite ones were 'The Naughty Little Kittens' and 'Skippy The Bush Kangaroo'. She also read us a book about being adopted (my sister and I both are) called 'Mr Fairweather and His Family'. That has always stuck with me as a childhood memory.
My own reading choices extended to The Secret Seven (Enid Blyton), The Three Investigators (Alfred Hitchcock) and Trixie Beldon. I was a right old tomboy so the 'girly' books were nowhere near my bookshelves! I loved reading all of the C.S Lewis 'Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe' books too.

The Teenage Years:
The Halfmen of O (Maurice Gee), The Outsiders (S.E. Hinton), The Catcher In The Rye (J.D Salinger) were all books we read for school. Some goodies too!

The Adult Years:
Gotta say, my reading is so broad and so varied I would struggle to pick favourites, but some authors who have really inspired me are: JK Rowling (sorry but I LOVE that boy wizard and his stories!) Tom Clancy (pretty much every book he has written, it's the tomboy in me!) How To Train Your Dragon (Cressida Cowell) - my class just LOVE this series! The 'Twilight' series (sorry folks, got addicted to these too!)
I read so much online now that I wonder how often I actually read a whole book undisturbed these days...not so much! But I also wonder...if we ask our own children in ten year's time what THEIR favourite books/stories are from their childhood, will their memories be vastly different to ours? Will they celebrate World BOOK Day or will it become World READING Day?