2014 in review

Hawaii reflections

If you write a blog, you have a great record of your thinking: the things that have inspired you, the ideas you have puzzled over, the events you have attended, even the challenges you have faced. I just browsed through my posts from 2014 and although not as numerous as previous years, they tell a story. I seem to have been a bit of professional learning junkie – attended many Teachmeets as well as a couple of formal conferences.

One of my most visited blog posts was You have a class Blog – Now What?   I have had the pleasure of working with many teachers helping them with the setting up class blogs and it started to get frustrating that their impact was not as great as I think they might be.  I now think that a teacher needs to understand and actively seek the benefits of being a Connected Educator, before or at the very least whilst setting up a blog.   So many teachers have said to me that they don’t see the point, no-one reads it and the effort does not translate into any added value for them or their students.   The exceptions are those who are creating a network alongside their blogging activities.   Whether they be actively engaging  their parent community or reaching beyond the school to other classes, they are making a difference and are feeling encouraged to continue.

The concept of collaboration is understood by teachers but when it involves actively pursuing on-line networks, many are yet to take the plunge or even understand the pathway.  This is an area I would like to focus my work on in the future.  My connections have enriched my career in so many ways that I cannot imagine life without them.  I revel in the opportunity to watch a Twitter feed/ Google+ Community, chat at a conference or Teachmeet etc and pick up news or ideas or to ask a question or contribute an answer.    Of course, it remains paramount that any of this revolves around relationships.   George Couros wrote recently:

If you are a school that does not focus on building relationships, you are on a faster road to irrelevance than one that doesn’t use technology.  

 In a world where information is easy to access and I can always find better content online than I can in school, the refocus on relationships is more crucial now than ever. Embrace technology; it will provide people opportunities that we could have dreamed of when we were kids.  But just remember that people will always be the most important part of the education system.

In conducting a bit of a mental audit on the ways I have seen technology used in my school, I am comfortable that our focus has been on the relationships.  At the end of any shared Google document, Tweet, Blog post or Skype call, was a person or a group of people we were actively engaging with.  We had clear purpose in our communication – whether it be collaborating on a task, informing parents, seeking information from experts, providing an audience for our young writers.   Technology was the enabler for the building and strengthening of the relationships.

George is right “people will always be the most important part” and I would like to thank a small band of my ‘people’ who nominated me for an award this year – I humbly accept it as I said to the teachers I work with I take pride if I have been in any way influential in all the wonderful things they are doing with our students.   I draw energy from my association with members of my PLN both at school and beyond and look forward to sharing many more stories in 2015.  Now it is time to go to the beach for a bit of rejuvenation!

Geography Walk meets TwitterTour

How often have you found a bug in the park and wondered what it is? Would you like to have the services of an entomologist at your immediate service?  Have you wondered what the street you are walking along looked like 40 years ago?  Your answers can be at your fingertips 

Many teachers can relate to taking students on a neighbourhood walk.  Commonly they are trying to get students to notice things either from a scientific, geographic, civics or historical viewpoint.    Often we have used cameras or sketchbooks to record our observations. Today, I watched from a distance whilst a group of Year 3/4 students embarked on such a walk but they had an added value component planned.  Prior to the day, their teacher contacted Museum Victoria Education staff, responding to their #twittertour of Melbourne idea.

Screen Shot 2014-11-19 at 5.00.22 pm

Screen Shot 2014-11-19 at 5.01.20 pm

What followed is detailed in the Storify below, but what I believe, is that the teachers have modelled a new way of learning to our students.  We have shown how we can seek information in a number of ways, that there are a number of sources of information and technology can enhance that in so many ways.  By making their learning and their questions visible they were challenged as well as informed to a far greater extent than a simple walk in the park may do.    Read the Storify to get the feeling of the interactions.  At their young age, they cannot use Twitter or most social media tools on their own but they are being modelled the concept of being connected learners. They have seen their teachers reach out to experts and receive feedback. They were involved in the conversations to create the questions and responded to the answers.  Wonderful modelling in my opinion. 

Thanks to Museum Victoria Education Team and congratulations to Michelle for seeing an opportunity and running with it!

Google Apps for Education

I have some renewed enthusiasm to curate useful resources for Google Tools in the classroom since the recent introduction of Chromebooks at my school.  So I have updated the Google site I began a while ago.    It is an area that is hard to keep up to date but  I find the process of collecting and organising the resources worthwhile as it makes me evaluate them and sort them and the fact that many resources are in the one place certainly helps me in my work.

With so many tools at our fingertips, I am wondering where to start. Our students have already got their heads around Google Drive but as with all things there are many opportunities to learn.   I think I will ensure that they are introduced to the flexibility of Chrome as some immediate efficiency measures can be very worthwhile and quite engaging as well.

https://sites.google.com/site/whygafe/home Google Apps umbrella

Decisions and moving forward

If you waited till you thought you had the absolute best answer, sometimes you would never make a decision.

ImageI watched today as the result of a long decision making process was rolled out – 1:1 Chromebooks for some students, 1:2 for others and shared Win8 tablets for others.   These are new devices supported by the existing ones and new Wireless.  This was the decision of a hard working group of teachers, students and parents when asked to consider the issue of enhancing the personalisation of learning through technology.

Many schools when making choices about upgrading technology, leave the decision to a few ‘leaders’ – making well thought out but less consultative choices.  I am proud of the process we explored, which although time consuming provided a result that is considered, consultative and above all focussed on the needs of the teaching and learning and ultimately improved outcomes.  I don’t deny we may have made acceptable decisions without this process but I am extremely confident that the community understand this decision, it is justifiable and above all supported by all.

Our process can be roughly summarised like this:

  1. Determine a need for change and define an ambition. In our case, “To investigate and identify devices to personalise the learning for students.”
  2. Form a representative team to lead the process and consult with other stakeholders – leadership, parents and students
  3. Carefully analyse the needs and possible pathways
  4. Investigate options – research, consult (this included vendors, other schools, alumni etc)
  5. Decide based on criteria from all involved as well as important considerations such as budget !
  6. Consult stakeholders and inform

In the end we had a solution and it is now being enacted and it is exciting to watch and be part of.

 

Through my Window

Child's Sketch based on written description only

Child’s Sketch based on written description only

I am always keen to find opportunities for our students to see themselves as learners in a wider context than their school.  As they grow, they will be connected in so many ways I could never have imagined 20 years ago.  So when we can find purposeful opportunities to enhance their learning and model the potential of connected learning I jump at it.

Recently, we conducted a Mystery Skype and it reminded me of many years ago, before I began blogging and before I was very aware of the wonders of Web 2.0 when  I worked with a class on a collaborative project called “Through my Window”.  In 2009 it went like this :

  • 4 classes connected (via email in those days)  They were based in varied environments, rural, city etc.
  • Each class took photos of scenes outside their classroom windows
  • They then wrote a Descriptive piece describing the scene in great detail – much work went into the language required : foreground etc
  • Each class then exchanged written descriptions by mail (NOT photos)
  • Each class then proceeded to draw the scene described to them
  • We then exchanged the images and were able to see how well our descriptions portrayed the scenes.

The learning involved was enormous, the ability to write a very clear description of a scene down to fine details, then the ability to decipher another person’s detail.  The students worked in teams and allocated roles, it was a wonderful task.  Probably my first experience with being a connected teacher and certainly the first time our students had collaborated in a meaningful way with students from other parts of the country.

Image

Step forward  into 2014 and we participated in our first Mystery Skype.  This is also not new, but whilst looking at the level of engagement I was struck with the potential of this activity.  We are in Metropolitan Melbourne and were Skyping a class of older students from rural Victoria about 280kms apart and had prepared questions to help determine their location.  For 9 and 10 year olds, this is a challenging task, involving mapping skills, geographical knowledge and language, thinking skills, powers of deduction.  They utilised a variety of tools including atlases and digital mapping skills.  The digital maps proved essential as we narrowed down the possibilities as our destination did not actually appear on any of the printed maps we had.

The teachers had prepared the students very well with possible questions but as you can imagine the questions were only one element, it was just as important to make deductions from the answers and this requires high level thinking.   As this was our first practice we were thrilled to be working with a very experienced globally connected educator, Anne Mirtschin.  Despite having lots of students crammed in to one working space, they remained engaged, enthusiastic and respectful throughout.  We will definitely be arranging some more experiences like this to expand on the learning and extend their geographical knowledge.  I think it would also be good to re-invent the Through My Window project.  Our blogs would make that process much easier now.  In either case, we are helping our students branch out, learn with and alongside students in other schools and gain perspectives otherwise not possible.

Community ~ Curiosity ~ Creativity

Community ~ Curiosity ~ Creativity 

#GTASyd 2014

This morning, I am feeling a sense of community, curiosity and creativity : combined with a little bit of travel weary, end of term exhaustion.  These were the themes of the mentor presentations at the Google Teacher Academy I attended during this whirlwind week, which began with sharing the Google Apps for Education Summit with 10 of my school colleagues and 400 other teachers in Melbourne.

The GTA experience this year was facilitated by Tom Barrett and Hamish Curry from NoTosh, leading us through the Design thinking process.  Thankfully we had been slowly immersed in the process and our ideas by connecting to our Teams in the weeks prior – being introduced and starting the conversations that would lead to much discussion, work and deliberation.

If you came to the GTA expecting to come away with a whole heap of Googley technical skills you would have left disappointed.  If you came expecting to be a passive learner, you would have been very challenged.  If you came along to see how community, curiosity and creativity can be enacted, you would be very happy.

The process was outward looking, in that,we all had been asked in the month or so leading up, to consider a ‘Moonshot thinking’ exercise from our own context.  We were guided through many steps that had us thinking, questioning, giving feedback, re-thinking, ideating and then developing an idea through to an action.  Many people found connections between their ultimate Moonshot questions – in fact in reading them I found connections everywhere.  We are all challenged to continue the process and take actions back in our wider communities.

Hexagonal thinking which I had explored a little beforehand, proved to me to be one of the most powerful ah-ha moments!  I witnessed the struggling in others and in my own thinking but the  strong links it can provide and yet the flexibility it can enable.

I loved hearing Annie Parker from Muru-D discuss entrepreneurial hacks and then Brett Morgan, a Google Developer Relations engineer discuss the Design process and seeing such strong links in the ideas and the process we were experiencing.    All this taking place in such a ‘cool’ environment as the Google Office space.

It was a lot to take in and it is only the beginning and it will be great to see where my moonshot goes and to watch and support and hopefully be involved in a few others as well
BGK GTA

Thanks to all those involved.  Google’s Suan Yeo as well as Tom and Hamish the energetic facilitators, the team of mentors including the gentle and skilful Abi and of course the new members of my professional learning network – the participants.  #gtasyd14

 

 

A presentation … A process

 

Photo credit : Wes Warner via Twitter

Photo credit : Wes Warner via Twitter

I am presenting at the Melbourne GAFE (Google Apps for Education) Summit this week.  I have never felt very confident as a speaker but recent experiences are encouraging me to extend beyond my comfort zone.  So here I find myself the afternoon before, adding, taking, tweaking for the millionth time my presentation for tomorrow.

I have chosen a topic that I hope provides a good balance on theory and practice.  I know people like to come away with new skills but I also believe any skill / tool should be used with good purpose.  The subject is basically using Google tools to create opportunities to have learning conversations – teacher/student, student/student, student/parent, student/other stakeholders etc.  The opportunity to provide feedback / feedforward throughout the learning process instead at the end.

It is probably not a coincidence that I modelled this process in the creation of the presentation

  1. I re-vamped the presentation from a similar one I had used previously
  2. I adapted, re-worded, re-ordered according to my new audience
  3. I workshopped the presentation with a group of my peers – lots of wonderful feedback and a great opportunity for me to see the gaps in my preparation and thinking
  4. I added, subtracted, tweaked content again
  5. I sought feedback from another colleague and made more adjustments according to wise feedforward
  6. I am finally prepared to present.

I will probably write more once it is done – phew !

Future skills

It is reassuring to see the link between our endeavours as primary school teachers and ‘real life’.  Whilst I agree with the notion that school IS real life and not a dress rehearsal, there is no doubt our job is to try to equip our students to be able to handle the world beyond school.    This is getting increasingly difficult as our ability to forecast what that will look like is harder and harder with the ever increasing pace of change.  The Drivers for change and Future work skills listed in the infographic below are interesting and I think provide a good point for discussion.

I have a university graduate daughter who is currently applying for a variety of jobs.  I watched with great interest as she was recently put through the hoops of an application process and wondered how our education system is preparing our students for this .  The recent process involved:

  1. An online application form.  These included a cover letter and  a current resume
  2. Participate in a video or phone interview
  3. A group interview participating in both group and individual activities
  4. Complete a behavioural based interview and 10 minute oral presentation.

This process is rigorous and demanding but not unusual in today’s competitive job market.  I obviously think about the young students we are working with, and the experiences that we give them and believe we are on the right track.

Our students are experiencing the opportunity of working collaboratively toward common goals, working independently, interacting in online spaces, presenting their findings in a variety of methods including oral presentations.  I believe that many if not most, would not be daunted by the process, even if there would be obvious levels of capability.

According to Future Work Skills 2020  Institute for the Future for the University of Phoenix Research Institute

To be successful in the next decade, individuals will need to demonstrate foresight in navigating a rapidly shifting landscape of organizational forms and skill requirements. They will increasingly be called upon to continually reassess the skills they need, and quickly put together the right resources to develop and update these. Workers in the future will need to be adaptable lifelong learners.

Are we preparing these lifelong learners ?  How ?  Could we be doing it better?

Important Work Skills for 2020
Source: Top10OnlineColleges.org

You have a Class Blog – Now what?

 

Slide2

http://langwitches.org/

I spend a fair bit of time as an eLearning Coach talking to teachers and helping them set up class blogs.  This is a common and wonderful first step towards opening classrooms to the outside world, sharing practice, collaborating, modelling cybersafe behaviours, digital writing skills and much more.  The value of class blogs is the topic for another post and is well summarised by Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano in the graphic above (if you want any further information on blogging Silvia’s blog should be your first stop!) .

I have found that there is a point at which teachers struggle to move on – they learn the mechanics of blogging, most often making their blogs a wonderful showcase of classroom activities.  They get a small audience, mainly from parents and their local school community.  Then the enthusiasm wains as the feedback circle ceases or remains small.  They see blogging as an extra activity to their daily routine not one embedded into their practice which has clear purpose and direction.

These are the ideas I then present :

Use blog as a reflective tool.  Simple classroom activities where you take the last 5-10 minutes of the day to reflect on an activity and note the learning that has taken place – scribe the students words.  Openly create the post with the students (modelling writing and reflective language) creating a chronicle of their learning and hopefully their wonderings too – these conversations happen anyway – blogs allow you to record it and share it .    Using blog posts for shared reading and writing in place of a big book etc., simple transferral of everyday tasks into the digital space.

Slide3

Many teachers do not know how to create a network, how to connect their class with others.  Publicising posts via email to families and ensuring all class blogs have links to each others blogs are important starting points.  Remember it is a blog not a poster on your wall – use the benefit of Blogrolls and links  to connect.

Slide4

 

Finding other class blogs and starting relationships with them by commenting and leaving links back – a bit like  introducing yourself to someone you don’t know at a party !   Once a connection is made and it may even be with the class next door or down the street, you can agree to support each other by regular visits and comments, ensuring an audience for your writing.  Slide5

There are websites such as Quadblogging , which will partner you up with other class bloggers around the world. Each class takes a weekly turn to be the recipient of support.  Amazing connections have been started through this method.

Slide6

I think I will have to say that I believe Twitter is the best way to connect your blog to a wide audience.  Amongst the Twitter world there is a supportive community ready to respond when teachers ask for feedback.   Using hashtags such as #comments4kids ensures an audience.  Admittedly, not every tweet translates into a comment or connection but I have seen amazing results from teachers who use Twitter to encourage an audience.  More information on comments for kids here .  Some teachers use their own accounts or create a specific class Twitter account to share their class news and posts.  Slide7Activities such as the Student Blogging challenge which can be participated in by individual students or by classes is another method.  The Challenge appoints voluntary mentors to students as well as actively teaches and encourages students to apply quality commenting skills when responding to other students posts.

Slide8I think that summarises some of the tactics that can work to move classroom blogging to the global level and extend the reach of the message.  Do you have any other ideas???

 

Professional learning junkie or just curious?

I participate in all of the following types of learning opportunities.  Some may call me a junkie but I gain something from each, something different from each.  Each type has the added value of meeting members of your Professional network created through Social media face to face. The nature of the opportunities could be summarised as follows:

Large scale conferences (eg EduTech, ISTE)

  • Sponsors
  • Keynotes – mainly Ed Guru types with a smattering of high profile current practicioners
  • Programs and Trade Shows
  • Largely big picture issues
  • Open to all but limited by funds available

 

Industry Association Conferences (DLTV and ACEC2014)

  • Sponsors
  • One or two keynotes
  • Most sessions run by practising teachers – practical
  • Open to all but limited by funds available
  • Lower cost ?

 

Teachmeets (Teachmeet Melbourne)

  • For teachers by teachers
  • Limited structure
  • Free
  • Mixture of practical skills and issues

 

School based Professional learning Inquiry

  • Action research
  • Practical – directly related to student outcomes
  • Free
  • Amongst colleagues

Twitter / Google+ / Scootle Community 

  • Personalised to my needs and interests
  • Online – Any time, any where
  • Creates a PLN

Is one better than the other ?  I don’t think so, but I would not want to limit myself to one type.  The mixture provides a blend of experiences that I value.

What Professional Learning Opportunities do you value ? Why ?