Looking back, looking forward

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This week marks a personal milestone, I move from the comfort zone of a school working environment which has become familiar and has provided wonderful opportunities and move on to an exciting new adventure.  Time for reflection, Time for appreciation, time for nerves and above all time for thanks.

In a few short years the technology landscape in schools has changed beyond my wildest imagination.  When I started working in my current position, I had never heard of a Chromebook or Google Apps for Education and most definitely knew little about coding.   The iPad was not yet invented.  I had never blogged or tweeted and my professional learning network was just in foundling form through mailing lists (List-servs).  I had never been to an on-line or face to face technology conference, let alone presented at one and I had only experienced the atmosphere of a few schools.

This could be construed as covering decades, but in fact was only eight short years.  I now count the blogging and tweeting as commonplace and a regular part of my professional routine.  The students in our classes today will never remember the way things were before and in many ways take their connectedness for granted.  Watching the Olympics live from their Chromebooks, writing collaborative documents with peers and sharing their work to a potentially global audience are just what they do!

I am glad to have the hindsight as it makes me more grateful of the opportunities around today.

The things that remained constant are the people and the big purpose – to improve student outcomes.   I have been blessed to be working with and amongst dedicated teachers who have been willing to try new things, adapt, consider, challenge and in some cases ignore.  I have made so many mistakes, had false starts, trials and a few successes but all these were learning moments.  My blog is the chronicle of much of that learning and I am grateful to have the evidence of my changing thinking.

As is often the way when I am composing a post or preparing a lesson, Twitter has just alerted me something that just clicks with my thinking.   A tweet from Steve Brophy (@stevebrophy3) introduced me to  Kelly Sewell’s post discussing a book  ‘The Buzz – Creating a thriving and collaborative learning community’ by Tracey Ezard.  Whilst reading I realised that there has been a ‘Buzz’ in my school.  As Kelly describes “… the ability to apply, synthesise, evaluate, discard or embed. It is a growing intelligence and the most important aspect of learning intelligence is the mindset of curiosity and growth.”

It was this Buzz that made the past eight years amazing in my school for me.  Teachers have come and gone and stayed and each of us has taken on what felt relevant and comfortable for them.  We have all learned from each other, questioned each other and made our own choices.

The most profound understanding I take from this most recent experience, allbeit eight years, before I embark on another challenge, is the power and importance of relationships. The creation of a story alongside other learners, whether they be younger students or colleagues.   If I had tackled these challenges on my own they would have had such smaller impact.  This could have been at my own school, within the Teachmeet network (that also spawned in this era) and within the wider teaching network, both local and overseas created through Twitter and Blogs.

I am a different teacher than I was eight years ago, the sum of added years with amazing experiences, failures and successes has given me confidence to move on.    I would hope that that attitude was spread to others I have dealt with.  I have most certainly come to agree with Seymour Papert (who passed away recently) .  This philosophy has driven my interactions with teachers and students and will continue to do so.   I know that I don’t know much, I am not really technologically skilful, I am however blessed with a questioning mind and that has allowed for many learning opportunities and it makes the next era very exciting.

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Using Google tools to collect, represent and analyse data

The familiar unit of ‘weather’ in our Junior school provided a great opportunity to break down the classroom walls and connect to real world data. The process for our young students went like this:

1. Write some questions about the weather – things we want to know about the weather in other places (literacy)
2. Create a Google form (survey) – modelled with young students
3. Share the form on our blog
4. Ask for help from around the world on Twitter
5. Create a Google My Map to display the results – modelled with young students
6. Share the results on class blogs
6. Analyse the data – class discussions, writing task
8. Get some help from our older buddies (see comments below)

With older students we could have explored the Google Sheet which collected the data to create a variety of graphs.

Why I blog

My presentation for Teachmeet Melbourne 28 April 2016


Why I blog – Created with Haiku Deck, presentation software that inspires

I started my blog as part of a professional learning network Online course.  It was how we shared with the other members and provided feedback and evidence to the course convenors.  I liked it from the beginning.  

The concept of my writing and thinking being in public was initially daunting but once I started getting feedback, I relaxed a little and have not looked back.

I waiver in my attention to my blog and accept that as a busy teacher I have my moments of opportunity and inspiration and times when other things are more important.

IT’S A PROCESS

Clicking the [PUBLISH] button is not the main point.  It is the process involved of thinking of a topic, determining how to share it, finding examples, finding connections.  The actual publishing is not even the final step as often my posts illicits reactions that make me re-think.

I admit to hovering over it for long periods of time filled with self doubt – is this worth sharing? have I made a fool of myself?  Do I really want others to read this?   I also have many posts in Draft form that may never see the light of day as after writing I re-thought the need to make them public.  The carthartic experience of writing was enough.

The thinking you have to do before you can write about a topic is the actual process I enjoy.  

TO REFLECT

As teachers, we all should aspire to be lifelong learners.  If we are happy with the status quo we really should not be.  However long you have been teaching, whether starting out or working for 40 years, we all need to continue to think about our practice.  

In my case, sometimes, I like to write about it.  This part is purely selfish – not for anyone but me.   It is possible that someone else might benefit from my ramblings but that is not an essential result.

TO SHARE

A wonderful little movie entitled “Obvious to you … amazing to others’ is in the back of my head when I write about the things I do at my school.

Every teacher will do something in their day to day practice that another teacher would benefit from hearing about.  

One of the key things to remember about sharing your professional practice or thoughts is that it is not ‘showing off’ – it is SHARING and I can attest, it becomes a two way street when you reciprocate. Also, there is nothing wrong with receiving affirmation from our peers.  I think as a profession we sometimes forget to value of the work in the rooms next door or in a nearby school.

TO CONNECT

By putting myself ‘out there’ I am opening myself to the contribution that a wider network can offer me.  It is a reciprocal thing, I read many blogs and feel connected to the thinking and experiences of teachers who are way beyond my local geography.  Many challenge me, inspire me as well as inform me.  When I can, I connect, I might comment, tweet or share on Google+ within my school community.

A blog post, written and shared brings new value.  I use Twitter and through that get an audience to my direct learning network and beyond by means of retweets etc. 

A recent post was linked to a few other sharing sites around the world and my simple story about getting students to write blog comments was viewed by more than 200 people in 24 hours.   I honestly thought I was simply annotating some ideas for myself – some resources for getting students to interact professionally online – but apparently it was of interest to others.

TO LEARN

The sheer process of Blogging exposes you to a variety of digital tools. Take Haiku Deck for example. Blogging is not all about text, it provides an opportunity to learn different ways of displaying your ideas.  Simple <HTML> to widgets, plugins etc all become part of the experience

TO KEEP A RECORD

My blog is my online professional journal.  I have a record back to 2010 of my journey in the world of eLearning, online spaces and much more.  It is like having a diary of my professional life.  I have a record and a positive digital footprint.

TO CREATE A LIBRARY

I also decided a while ago to use Pages within the blog as a place to store and easily access resources that I want to be able to find and share.

I have pages on Google Tools, Cybersafety resources, Digital Technologies and Inspiring videos.

IT’S PERSONAL

Above all, my blog is an outlet for me.  Public Speaking is not my preferred method of communication (as the presenter that is, I love witnessing great public speaking).   I prefer to chat in small groups over coffee and nearly always preferring to think something through before reacting.  So a blog post is my preferred style of communication in many ways.   I know it is not for everyone. 

I still struggle with believing it is worth publishing and I know I don’t have the academic skills or deep thinking nature of many bloggers – I am an ordinary teacher who likes to write and that is Why I blog.

 

 

‘Tweeting’ our way to Reading and Writing

Young children cannot use social media on their own. That does not mean they cannot use it, guided by their teacher as a great way to share their learning and to develop their literacy skills along the way.

A wonderfully rich experience in junior classrooms is the experience of witnessing chickens hatch and grow.  Teachers garner so many opportunities – in viewing and observing, language vocabulary, maths, not to mention the sense of awe watching a living creature grow.  Nowadays, that learning does not have to stay inside the classroom and through technology, the experience can be broadened and extended. What would you prefer?  Your student completing a written journal of the growth of a chick that is never seen by anyone except the teacher, has no interactions or … the written journal (for the personal task) AND this shared experience with their class ? 

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The students are observing, questioning, reading and writing, just as they would without the technology, but with the added value of a real audience, others involved to share it with and extend their thinking.  Questions and affirmations from other stakeholders in their learning – an audience that provides a true purpose to construct replies and articulate their understandings as well as just the fun of sharing the excitement!

The journey is recorded in a digital format, available to be shared with families, the rest of the school and used in many other ways.  

Interacting in online spaces – comments

From this ….

OMG …. that’s soooooooo coool! cu l8r

I loove yr blog 😉   ……

To this ….

I have had many discussions with students about the protocols on interacting in online spaces in an academic or professional manner.  Whether they be commenting on a blog or giving feedback in comments on a Google document or interacting in Edmodo or Google Classroom, students need to be modelled the ‘professional’ way to behave.   Commenting within an academic context is in fact providing feedback and as such quite a complicated skill for a young student.

Their previous experiences whilst quite valid in the online environments they exist are often quite informal – from games and online social chats.  We discuss that there is nothing wrong with text talk or friendly chat but when they are working in some environments, some behaviours are preferred and expected.

Academic digital etiquette is akin to formal letter writing and knowing how to construct feedback needs to be explicitly taught.  I have used guides including : Kind, Specific and Helpful.

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I stumbled upon this guide which is one of the best I have seen and quite adaptable to all ages.    It is from Out of Eden project An initiative of Project Zero at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

INTERACT MOVES   Out of Eden Dialogue Toolkit

   Notice: What stands out to you or catches your eye in this person’s post? In other words, what do you notice in particular? Be specific.

   Appreciate: Share what you like, appreciate or value in the post you’ve read. Be specific.

   Probe: Probe for more details. Ask questions that will help give you a better sense of another person’s perspective. (See Creative Questions & Sentence Starts below)

    Snip: Cut and paste a phrase or sentence from the original post into your comment. Ask a question about it or say what you find interesting or important about what is being said.

   Connect: Make a connection between something in the post and your own experiences, feelings, or interests.

   Extend: Describe how the post extended your thoughts in new directions or gave you a new perspective.

Creative Questions & Sentence Starters 

Brainstorm a set of questions about a student’s post. Use these question-starters to help you think of interesting questions:

  • “Tell me more about…”
  • “I wonder if…”
  • “Help me understand…”
  • “I was surprised by….”
  • “I connected to…”
  • “What I found interesting was…”
  • “I learned from your post that…”
  • “One sentence you wrote that stands out for me is…”

A few other images and ideas that I have used :

blogging comments

ksh

Do you have any other suggestions or ideas on how you teach students to interact in online spaces ?

References :

Silvia Tolisano : Learning about Blogs
Chris Harte : http://chrisharte.typepad.com/
Anne Kenneally via http://www.vln.school.nz/discussion/view/827695
Project Zero : http://learn.outofedenwalk.com/dialogue-toolkit/