Why High Schools’ biggest problem is Lessons

A major problem in High schools is their lessons. Those short 1 hour sessions that relate to a specific subject, where in most cases, the teacher stands and delivers ‘learning’.from the front. I’ve spoken before about teacher talk, so I wont go over it again but it’s time to challenge the timetable.

Here’s a summary of how my students have voiced their concerns about the typical high school day and also what I have observed as teacher:

High School's Biggest Problem

4 Problems with lessons

  1. 6195581056_281fa13715_zLessons cancel each other out: The unmentioned part of any high school teacher’s job description is to ensure that no student in their classroom is focused on what happened in the previous lesson. Students are to forget or at least change focus entirely to what is happening in their current setting. How are any young people to take anything seriously if our timetable doesn’t? [image credit]
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  2. This clock had been circulating around our school with it's twin for almost five years now. It's twin hangs on our new administrators yard wall and this one was given to me a few months back and sat in my classroom. Each measures almost 3'X3'. They are cast iron and atomic. This one will now hang in my wall. 2010/05/28: Clocks are omnipresent in modern life. Make a photo of the clock, watch, or other device that you use most to tell time. #ds194Time to inquire: As a teacher who attempts to run student-driven classes, it is often the case that just as students really gain momentum, it is time to pack up and refocus on something completely different. Many, if not all, subjects in a high school could benefit from longer sessions to allow projects and challenges to embed and students to dig deeper. Our bell-driven factory model does not allow for this. [image credit]
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  3. 7115374283_30d07f11c3_zRelations and context: So lets look at a common high school day:
    1. Plate tectonics
    2. Picasso
    3. Newton’s Laws of motion
    4. Macbeth
    5. Football
    6. Nazi Germany
      Is it just me, or is the idea that any human would be capable of ending the school day with a full retention of these 6 unrelated hours of learning absolute madness. The sad thing about much school content is that their are so many relationships that go undiscovered. I’ve been in cross-curricular planning meetings where colleagues have discovered for the first time they both teach the same topic. The saddest part of that story is that the students hadn’t even noticed! Schools must design a day of learning to make sense and add context to what’s being learnt. The factory model makes all learning abstract and doesn’t prepare young people for real life. [image link]
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  4. 6040624392_5fe29b8dae_z (1)Allowing for Energy: Teenagers take time in the morning to wake and get going, are effected greatly by food intake and are expected to deal with hours of unrelated content all day. But despite this, most teachers behave and plan lessons as if it were the only lesson of the day. Teachers need to plan activity that allows for the time of day and how much the students have had to deal with during previous lessons. In a project or inquiry based environment, free from rapid context change, the students are free to manage their own activity type to match their energy levels at the time. [image credit]

Empowered and talented

iPads and technology in general empowers students to deal with their learning on their own terms and over their own timeframes. Young people are so much more talented than the traditional school structures assume they are. To segregate each hour’s learning from the next is possible the most damaging element of high school education.

An alternative?

Here’s a timetable from Auckland, New Zealand. You can see how 3 or 4 projects are on-going through the week but span beak and lunchtimes to allow for true progress and learning. [Image source]

Screen Shot 2014-10-06 at 9.41.12 am

Demonstrating leadership in the classroom

Technology and new societal hierarchies are changing the demands on teachers and thus the opportunities for and style in which teachers should demonstrate leadership. Expectations on young people have also developed as the world evolves increasingly quickly. I wonder how many CEOs are now below the age of 25? It’s now less about displaying mastery over content and skills and more about demonstrating successful leadership by nurturing a creative and challenging classroom environment.

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Author: Richard Wells
Teaches grade 6 to 12 – Head of Technology at NZ High School
Top 40 in edublog awards 2013
Top 12 Blogger – The Global Search for Education
Known for Educational Infographics (see Posters above)
Presenter and also a father to 2 beautiful girls. Twitter :  @iPadwells

This post is written as part of The Huffington Post’s The Global Search for Education: Our Top 12 Global Teacher Blogs: A series of questions that Cathy Rubin is asking several education bloggers. I’ll be sharing the link to her post that collects all of the responses. I’m excited to be part of this group of edu-bloggers.

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I have just read an excellent article in Time magazine by Julie Lythcott-Haims, where she summarises her book about the growing dependency children have on their parents. She explains how middle-class parenting, in particular, has developed in such a way it helps foster this dependency. Julie highlights that children increasingly expect to be fully catered for in any event or situation. To quote Julie: “We have to deliberately put opportunities for independence in our kids’ way.” This problem often gets discussed at my school in regard to students’ lack of initiative in the classroom but I can’t help but argue that the traditional classroom fosters just the same level of dependency.

Demonstrating leadership whilst not fostering dependency

student teams02In a classroom where every child carries out the same task for the same outcome, the temptation is to lead by command and control. After all, everyone has to tow the same line. The underlying issue in this context is that every student is dependent on the teacher for every step of the task. “Turn to page 52,” “Answer questions 5 to 10,” “Draw a mind-map of …” In these situations, a student’s need for initiative and decision-making is limited to the tight confines of the page, question or requested specific output.

Like anything, humans learn best through experience and this includes leadership. To demonstrate the more modern requirements for transformative leadership, teachers need to show mastery for adapting, evaluating learning goals and building productive working structures. These need to be open enough to let the students take control over the environment where true experience is gained in managing time, information, decision-making and social interactions. This has had very positive outcomes in my school where it seems self-respect has developed and the extra ownership over the work improves attitude and productivity.

Design-Thinking-iPadWellsSince opening up my classroom to structures like Project-based learning or Design Thinking exercises, I have seen what student leadership looks like. When it’s normal for students to be dealing with self-expression, task management and working relationships, it will amaze teachers as to what young people are capable of. Regardless of teaching model, the basics of: set negotiated goals, offer working structures; expect collaboration and let the students drive, are much more likely to develop the leaders of tomorrow.

This is important as the problems these young people will face are likely to require a more collaborative and global style of leadership. In my classroom, the quality of output but more importantly, the level of understanding and ability to lead a scenario have never been better.

iPad students learn the most important skill

There’s something in the air and like the best of things, it’s exciting and scary at the same time. More and more articles like this one and this one and even this one proclaim the death of so many jobs over the next 20 years and magazines like this one explain why people not learning to adapt will be disastrous for everyone, especially current school kids. 

adaptability-iPadwells

The major problem for school children is that traditionally, the classroom doesn’t demand they practice adapting to a situation or problem solve open-ended enough scenarios. It’s always been mostly a matter of fitting in and following the guidelines laid out by the teacher. It’s heartening to read stories like this one that show things are changing but these examples still exist as a minority in education.

This is where I’ve witnessed the iPad itself shift the learning landscape over the 4 years I’ve been involved with it. They have helped but also demanded adaptation on multiple levels from both teacher and student. Here’s where iPads have helped in developing what might just be the key skill for 21st century existence: Adaptability.

Stage one – adapt to electronic workflow.

The multiple benefits from working electronically have encouraged both students and educators to adapt to a new set of skills and tools for sharing and collaborating. Many teachers have found this first step to be a major shift in how they prepare and manage the learning environment. Although young people surposedly have the upper hand in digital skills, they too have learnt many skills in dealing with people (their teachers) who might be less comfortable with tech.  Through suggestions and shared experience many have learnt to adapt to a new format where teacher and learners build a workflow together.

Stage two – adapt to regular updates and new possibilities

The iPad learning environment does not sit still and each week there are new posibilities. Many classrooms have students who enthuse over what the latest and best apps are and this has the tendency to constantly threaten the status quo. I welcome this threat and accept that there will often be a better way to create or connect but for some teachers this too has been a situation they have had to deal with or adapt to.  My philosophy is that if an individual believes they can present the result to me without me having to do too much, then go for it. If they fail, they’ll learn a number of lessons.

Stage three – adapt to higher demands from your teacher

student teams03After a while, in some cases two years, teachers who become more comfortable with the iPad’s capabilities and workflow can start to adapt their demands and expect more engaging, challenging and collaborative output from the class. With a more confident teacher in the room, students have to raise their game and realise that the death of one-size-fits-all education is more fun but also more demanding.

Stage four – adapt to shared cloud environment

Uploading, sharing and commenting is just they way the world works these days. Our work and home life expect it of all of us and most have adapted with relative ease. Still some teachers have kept their school workflows as they were pre-Facebook and sadly, I have found many teenagers are still in the dark when it comes to realising that the skills they demonstrate all day on social media can and are used productively at work all around the world.

Stage five – adapt to running your own learning

students2By helping me develop a new approach and new priorities in my teaching, the iPad has been a major factor in shifting the students into the driving seat of their own learning. This too is something we have all had to adapt to. I would hope that soon I will be teaching children who have had enough experience of adapting and taking charge of their own learning that I will feel confident that I have been part of genuinely preparing a generation for the very much unknown future they are leaving my classroom to tackle.

Additional thoughts

Having to adapt to a one-to-one device and mobile environment, with all its challenges is enough of a reason to make the shift, whether one feels ready or not. Unless we allow young people to experience, fail and triumph in using mobile devices for productivity and creative output, we will rob them of the key experience itself: having to adapt.

Combating teacher’s stress in a classroom

Students-postitMy general rule for stress relief is to orchestrate classrooms that rely more on the students than the teacher to lead the learning and contribute. Short-term, quick fix solutions will only work so many times with a class. I would recommend developing long term strategies that relate to overall classroom environment and relationships. When discussing stress with my colleagues, I start by suggesting moves to slow down and dedicate more time to see what the students can bring to the table in classroom activities. Here in New Zealand, our future focused national curriculum states 5 key competencies for young people to be focused on. These are aimed at reducing the demand on the teacher to ‘deliver’ education and at building habits amongst the students to manage and take the lead over their own learning. Here they are summarised that every learner should:

  1. set and monitor personal goals, manage time frames, arrange activities;
  2. interact, share ideas, and negotiate with a range of people;
  3. call on a range of communities for information;
  4. analyse and consider a variety of possible approaches;
  5. create texts to record and communicate ideas, using language and symbols.

Given these prompts, teachers must consider a pedagogical approach that will allow students to practice and develop these competencies. In most cases, designing the sort of environment that encourages this behaviour will reduce demand for teacher attention and thus reduce stress in general. Personal thinking space leads the better outcomes and happier teachers I have been doing a lot of work recently with Design Thinking. Beyond being an excellent framework for projects, it has an important and obvious first step that few classrooms utilise: personal thinking time. During my teaching career, many high school teachers have complained about the stress caused by students who just don’t engage or the supposed inability of students to discuss topics meaningfully. In both cases, the lack of time given to allow each student to think, process and prepare thoughts for the class inhibits successful contribution. Here’s my post on Design Thinking.

Typical scenario: A teacher asks the class to form groups of 4 and discuss topic X. After 5 minutes, the teacher expresses disappointment in the results of the discussions. When activities launch immediately into group or class discussion, more confident individuals dominate or if little is known about the topic, they disengage and wait for input from the teacher due to having had no real time to think about what they might contribute.

 Three to five minutes of silent thinking time for every student on a topic to consider their own existing knowledge or questions they have, before embarking on a discussion or project means each individual will bring more to the activity. Then comparing thoughts and lists of ideas they’ve had time to compile leads to more engagement from every student and less need for prompting from the teacher. It took me many years to realise this but I now enjoy working with classes of active students who display more confidence to contribute. Rather than worrying about small quick-fix tools and activities to reduce stress, teachers need to have a long-term view and look at developing a learning environment that encourages confidence in students to take charge of the learning and rely less on teacher input. This way, teachers will discover they can focus more on facilitating conversations and dynamics in the room and less on the fear of content delivery failure.

This post is written as part of The Huffington Post’s The Global Search for Education: Our Top 12 Global Teacher Blogs: A series of questions that Cathy Rubin is asking several education bloggers. I’ll be sharing the link to her post that collects all of the responses. I’m excited to be part of this group of edubloggers.

Author: Richard Wells
Teaches grade 6 to 12 – Head of Technology at NZ High School
Top 40 in edublog awards 2013
Top 12 Blogger – The Global Search for Education
Known for Educational Infographics (see Posters above)
Presenter and also a father to 2 beautiful girls. Twitter :  @iPadwells

How do you balance preparation for high stakes assessments with teaching and learning in your classroom?

Author: Richard Wells
Teaches grade 6 to 12 – Head of Technology at NZ High School
Top 40 in edublog awards 2013
Top 12 Blogger – The Global Search for Education
Known for Educational Infographics (see Posters above)
Presenter and also a father to 2 beautiful girls. Twitter :  @iPadwells

How the average classroom operates, especially in high schools, has to change if we are to level the playing field in preparing every child for assessments, not just the middle class.

Classroom

Image credit˙

This post is written as part of The Huffington Post’s The Global Search for Education: Our Top 12 Global Teacher Blogs: A series of questions that Cathy Rubin is asking several education bloggers. I’ll be sharing the link to her post that collects all of the responses. I’m excited to be part of this group of edubloggers.

Do your parents affect your grade more than your teacher?

What makes the real difference to who succeeds in high stakes assessments? What generally correlates most consistently with exam success in the US, Europe and Australasia? Is it IQ or access to technology? Is it money spent on schools? No, It’s family background or socio-economic circumstance. This has always been the elephant in the room when discussing the approach to and success of education in the developed world. For decades, the the traditional teacher-led classroom model has helped purpetuate the obvious trend that, in general, the higher your family’s social status, the better your grades. This fact alone proves how ineffective most classrooms around the world have been in attending to student needs. But there is hope.

Does government money help?

student teams01In New Zealand, we have what we call a decile system that allocates government funds to schools based on socio-economic student circumstance.  So surely we have a fair system where all classes achieve equally. Of course we don’t. In general, it is still the wealthier learners who succeed in school. One reason the government money does’t change grades in the lower deciles is that the considerable extra funds received by the more needy schools quickly disappears providing the extra social, medical and family support required in such situations and little extra gets spent on the education of those students.

Teachers can’t do it alone

Government money is a great start but once you’ve ensured every child has had breakfast (still not the case in New Zealand and certainly not in the US), what can the classroom teacher do to start to leveling the playing field regarding the support and motivation for learning each child experiences. The classrooms need to operate in ways that maximise the amount of support every child has access to at any moment but with only one teacher in the room, this means collaborative environments that build knowledge and skills not rely on receiving them.

ocKids2-ipadAll learning environments and classroom activity should allow and cultivate collaborative workflow from early years all the way through to college. Classrooms should not be reliant on either each individual student’s personal access to the teacher or a child’s ability to stay focused on the same single point of information delivery. By making teamwork the learning norm, you not only mimic standard workplace practice but also start to provide more support to more students.

This is why a number of new classroom models, such as Project-based learning (PBL), Universal Design for Learning (UDL) or Design Thinking, to name but a few, focus on building knowledge collaboratively so as to involve every learner in an active role, rather than as a passive receiver. Building a team mentality around learning will also mean students have more people to turn to in preparing for high stake assessments, alleviating the pressure on both the teacher and the family at home.

iPads for Teachers – The Unboxing

unbox iPadI’ve been asked a number of times to help with iPad “unboxing” sessions in schools and it can get messy if you try to do too much. It is temping to download and run through numerous “amazing” apps and quickly showcase all of their abilities in transforming the classroom. But from my experiences, I have learnt that many teachers are unaware of fundamentals that others understand as everyday knowledge, so be careful. Keep it simple and avoid needing the internet as much as possible during the session. I know of a school where they asked everyone to get iMovie, which is 500MB! This not only killed the internet but the rest of the session also! For me, the important fundamentals are iCloud, Photo, (small) App download and messaging. Photo Credit.

iCloud.com

I recommend everyone get a new iCloud.com email during the iPad setup screens and use this as their Apple account to ensure they aren’t restricted from using any of the Apple services. Restrictions can crop up later if you use something like a Gmail. The smallest of task can take a while when a number of people attempt it at once. A simple task that more advanced users can help the novices through works much better.

Messages

imessageIntroducing teachers to the idea that free web-based messaging is available using the iCloud accounts is something I think is important. It can greatly reduce the pressure on the school email and people quickly get used to it and many often prefer the format of messaging over email. Group messages can be started between 3 or more, which can help department discussion too. Get your school leaders messaging as a group and they will love iPads forever :-)

Here’s my list of do’s and don’ts:

  1. pair-up the less confident with a more confident buddy.
  2. For your first session task, only attempt to use pre-installed or free apps that don’t rely on the internet connection after they’re installed (reduces problems by 80%)
  3. Make sure people get the best from the iPad by setting up an iCloud.com email account using the iPad setup screens (easiest way to setup the account) Advice: use the same email name as your normal (most used) email name, e.g. johnDoe86@gmail.com = JohnDoe86@iCloud.com
  4. Other than the iCloud account, don’t spend too much time with other account setup. It’s more engaging to get on with some fun first.
  5. Make sure they have at least taken a photo, downloaded an app and sent an iMessage. (iCloud based iMessages can reduce the strain on the email system and only use wifi)
  6. Make your first tasks are fun and use a small number of apps
  7. In most cases, don’t let the technician run it. In my experience too many technicians focus on technical issues like server connections and file transfers. This can kill the fun and initial desire to use iPads.
  8. Have instructions in writing (with screenshots if possible). Relying on verbal instructions to any audience gets very messy very quickly.

The main aim is to have a task that everyone can enjoy, regardless of the ability level. Photo Booth and Pic Collage are both simple but fun apps that all can enjoy and this is why I included them in my resource below.

I thought I’d put together a quick resource that you might use if issuing a number iPads to teachers in your school. Hope you find it useful and good luck! This JPG links to a PDF version.

iPad handout PD-iPadWells

Digital and Collaborative Learning

A three minute video highlighting a journey from 20th to 21st Century learning. Video transcript below.

An incorrect start…

At the beginning of 2014, we started a new computer programming module with all our Year 8 students. This was part of their technology curriculum and offered them 2 hours a week to look at coding and how applications were made. My colleague and I went though a relatively standard planning period for this and as experts in code, we broke the subject and potential problems down into sections and prepared resources and videos for the students to access.The students were using iPads and an coding app called Hopscotch.

student teams01During the first term, we noticed that although the work was self-paced, the diversity in both ability and interest for coding was causing problems for real understanding and engagement. Students were attempting to learn the separate coding elements by running through our tasks as individuals, asking a friend if they got stuck but the classroom had only small numbers of students showing a genuine love for learning this knowledge. At the end of Term 1 we reviewed the course and i highlighted that the students’ level of communication was very shallow, limited to short moments where one would help another over a small coding hurdle.

A new beginning…

student teams02The start of the second term meant a rotation in the timetable and a new group of students for our programme. I proposed that to gain more engagement from a wider pool of the students we focus not on coding elements, i.e. the content, but develop the programme so that collaboration and engagement become the primary goal. If we focus on team-based activity, there will be more sharing of knowledge, collective responsibility and knowledge creation. We were also in luck, Hopscotch added built in tutorials and most importantly an online sharing and feedback community for students to upload their products to. A shared learning journey would make it more enjoyable for all and the Hopscotch online community will allow the teams to share their products and offer feedback and advice to others.

A change in leadership…

student teams03So the course transformed from a teacher led, heavily structured acquisition of knowledge and skills into a more inclusive and active programme that all could be enjoyed by all. The teams of students set about developing a computer game without teacher-led instruction. The focus was shifted away from the content and more towards the experience of collaboratively learning. We even got a mention by Hopscotch when I published evidence of a the new level of engagement. Another development that arose from this new more open approach was that I would often learn from the students and the traditional teacher-student hierarchical relationships started to change.

As covered in the ITL research on 21st century learning design, we were now focused on skills such as collaboration, learning with ICT, self-regulation, and knowledge construction, whilst also being more successful in students developing coding and problem solving skills.

This post is a quick assignment for the Mindlab.

Edchat – A Measure of School Quality

What are the teachers discussing in your school?

teacher chatMy 15 years of working in schools tells me that high school teachers talk firstly about non school issues, secondly about problems with the school administration and thirdly about current progress on the course calendars. Talking about non-school matters is fine as we are only human after all . The other 2 common topics for teacher discourse not only trouble me but also worry education supremo, John Hattie. Here you can hear him discuss a number of issues central to improving education but mainly that quality teacher collaboration within schools is what really drives change for the better.

Troublesome assumptions 

teachers talkingWhen it comes to talking about education and learning, most teachers still focus on content and one’s progress through it. A focus on content means that many teachers see themselves as subject first and teacher second. For example, Math teachers will discuss students’ handling of Math topics far more than their own teaching of it. Teachers often assume that their colleagues teaching practice is either something they’re not to concern themselves with or something they can do little about.

Many schools have little in the way of successful systems for encouraging professional dialogue amongst staff and this leaves leaders frequently assuming that tolerating whatever practice is in place is probably safer that tackling it. This is so because most senior leaders feel it should be their job to instigate improvements directly and doing this without treading on toes is difficult.  This leaves many elementary school teachers isolated to do their own thing in their room and most high school teachers to only worry about the delivery of their subject content. Photo Credit

Teacher Conversation-iPadWells

Quality Reflection

The problem that arises when staff become isolated inside what they assume is their only relevant grouping is that the teachers fail to understand themselves as a profession with shared objectives and similar problems to solve. When I talk to teachers in other schools, or other departments, the issues we face are essentially identical and having these discussions always makes me reflect on my teaching practice and pedagogy and less about the content I might be dealing with.

Schools must look to increase the quantity and quality of cross-school teacher discussion. There must be encouragement for challenging one’s own assumptions. Most humans are selective when focusing on evidence that backs up their preconceived ideas and schools must start a dialogue that takes this into account. Only when school leaders and teachers (as classroom leaders) present their ideas as possibilities instead of absolutes can real progress be made in learning.

Filling a void

Twitter SandThere is a growing number of teachers finding professional growth and dialogue outside their own school environment and with what seems like a faster pace of life, use the various online networks like Twitter as a more convenient way to continue professional discussion, many claiming it greatly re-energises their work life. This is often because they are not experiencing this within their school. These teachers then evaluate their own practice against the ideas presented by their network. This can only lead to better teaching and learning and this self-evaluation is what’s lacking in more fragmented schools where departments or individuals are left to work things out alone. Photo Credit

The Challenge

kidsChallenging one’s own beliefs and practices is what many teachers still struggle with. Opening up to dialogue around these issues is difficult for some as it presents the possibility of being wrong or in many cases openly accepting the failures one secretly knows already exist. An encouraging and supportive school environment can change this. Teachers can start to see the benefit of general professional debate about how to move forward and both cope with a rapidly changing world and make direct improvements in their own classrooms. Please start talking about teaching and do it with teachers who are not in your normal discussion circles. Set up systems within the school that are centred around general teaching issues such as boys education, differentiation, technology integration and the like. Photo Credit

School practices should encourage the behaviour in teachers that we hope for in children. Good luck!

SITTI FeaturedImage

SITTI – School Improvement Through Teacher Inquiry

In New Zealand, we are fortunate to have teacher inquiry/research written into our national curriculum document. This asks teachers to ensure they are experimenting with strategies to improve their practice and recording the process and results. My own school has put together a planning group to bring all of the school-wide improvement strategies together. The aim in doing this is to make more sense of why we have each component. It is a common complaint from teachers that school organised PD is irrelevant to what they do. It is also common for teachers, when asked to quote school vision or goals to draw a blank.

SITTI Model by iPadWells

As a way of structuring my own thoughts around this, I have sketched out a model that I’m referring to as SITTI (School Improvement Through Teacher Inquiry). The aim of this is to link the components and increase awareness amongst the whole school community of why various strategies to improve the school and professional development are taking place. By the way, I’m pronouncing SITTI and one says “City.”

Here is a summary of my thinking regarding each component of this cyclical process.

SCHOOL VISION:

School vision is generally universal around the world but should be tailored to local circumstances and current research regarding the needs of young people given the world they will be entering after school. It’s from this vision a school should build its goals.

SCHOOL GOALS:

Aimed at achieving the vision. Based on research & data within the school plus worldwide initiatives and research, the school needs a limited number of annual goals that are realistically manageable and measurable through teacher action. I would recommend about 3 based around pedagogy, tech integration and community collaboration.

TEACHER INQUIRY

This is becoming the norm in New Zealand but some schools are still struggling with implementation. These inquiries are measured and documented teacher or department experiments with teaching practice.

The key here is that teachers:

  1. Consider the school goals
  2. decide on something they can experiment with to improve outcomes (Student surveys can offer teachers ideas)
  3. Collate data or carry out surveys with the students to gage current status regarding the targeted improvement.
  4. record / blog the experiment
  5. Compare results at the end and evaluate to decide the next steps
  6. repeat forever!

TECHNOLOGY?

There might not be “an app for that” when it comes to the chosen strategy experiment but I am sure technology can assist in some way. This might be in how communication takes place, recording results (Socrative survey) or just a useful website not used before. Technology can make things more interactive, more personal and more efficient. I would talk to you technically minded colleagues to see if what you are trying could be assisted by technology.

PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT

If PD is centred on aiding the specific inquiry that the teacher has chosen themselves, there’s naturally more relevance and meaning and so more engagement by the teacher in question. Often schools provide or issue so much generic PD for all staff that strategies don’t embed because too many staff fail to engage meaningfully. This way, the teachers feel in control of their own development and can even work in teams to experiment with the making new strategies work for the students. There’s much talk online about student-centred learning, well we now need to ensure personalised teacher-centred PD too.

EVALUATION

This is the important bit. One issue here is that the evaluation should never be carried out alone. Students or other teachers should be involved in analysing results or offering suggestions as to whether improvements of any kind have been achieved and what still requires further inquiry. If possible, good data should be used and class surveys be carried out to ascertain which aspects of the strategy should be worked on and which dropped.

TEACHER REGISTRATION

In New Zealand we have to provide a portfolio of evidence every 3 years to renew our teacher registration (eligibility to teach in NZ). This is expected to include an inquiry and in doing so fulfils many of the 12 professional standards that NZ teachers are held to by the government. By working through this SITTI model, a school can be sure that awareness of vision and goals, teacher research and inquiry, collaborative working environments, teacher registration / professional practice and steady school improvements will all be more successful. Presenting it in one model also makes the 6 components make more sense and connect all the activities into one process.

SITTI MODEL

I hope this helps teachers worldwide but particularly in New Zealand. Many of these issues are becoming more problematic as schools develop and modernise expectations of teachers to not only use technology but also connect and show more awareness of their profession and be more transparent regarding the work they do in the classroom.

End to 21C Tools-FeatImg

An End to “21st Century” Learning Tools

21C Learning Tools-ipadwells

Digital Learning Tools and Modern learning technologies

Digital learning tools are seen by many people as those tools that are in some way different to other learning tools and need to be treated and discussed as such. “Let’s go to the digital learning zone” or “Now it’s time for class to use their iPads” are common announcements in many schools. Maybe we should stop saying digital, 21st Century and modern. I wonder if this mindset might be damaging to learning.

What are the issues?

baby on iPadIn the developed world, Digital technologies are embedded in all life experiences and ’embedded’ is the key term here. Many schools set themselves apart from this life by making these latest learning tools somewhat mystical or special. Schools purchase class sets of iPads or Chromebooks and then allocate time slots for their use. Lengthy deliberations take place before Youtube or other social-media is permitted into school sites. Draconian blocking policies are written regarding the specific apps learners are or are not allowed to use in school (here’s an app kids use to get past the blocks). Punishments are organised for those learners found “off-task,” a judgement of “bad choice” applied to the student that is never applied to the teacher who designed the task being avoiding. Teachers do have a tendency to design tasks that they would enjoy or that work for their own way of thinking. On this matter, I would advise teachers check out Universal Design for Learning and the work of Katie Novak, Ed.D.

Photo Credit

The development of computer labs or “iPad hours” is something that whiteboards, pens, books and other learning tools never experienced. Many schools are still isolating digital experiences as something special and separate to the ‘norm’. This appears strange to the so called “digital natives.” They are “natives” not because they are naturally expert but because they have not experienced a world without regular contact with digital technologies, such as digital TV. What takes place in the digital lives of these ‘natives’ is routinely unspectacular and only commands the same level of interest as any non-digital thing they might do. This does not stop schools and institutions reacting to those more extreme stories that hit the headlines or become staffroom gossip when deigning policies and procedures.

Individual teachers too use their personal fears or lack of confidence with devices and technologies, such as cloud computing, to restrict the opportunities of the learners in their charge. The format for learning that is most comfortable to the teacher can reduce the depth some students might reach and standardisation is still seen by many teachers as the only manageable way to assess the learners.

How did “digital is separate” develop?

Perspective

old-computerI think this derives from the experiences the teachers had when schools made the transition to using digital tools, a transition young people today never experienced. They never had to wait 10 minutes for dial-up or a ZX Spectrum game to load! I try not to be amazed when some of my students are sketchy about what exactly a CD is. The students so often seem surprised by viewpoints (often hostile) that schools develop towards digital tools. Although there are many individual exceptions (I know many personally), it might be that the generations that did not enjoy playing with digital technologies as young people, don’t have as friendly or playful a relationship with them and thus take much more cautious and smaller steps. Photo Credit

Costs

The cost of these tools is also a complicated issue. I have heard many discussions about how buying an iPad is not like buying a pencil.  There are many examples, such as this one, where schools prioritising the need to make access to digital tools as ubiquitous as pencils and paper, find ways to fund them, even when serving the poorest communities. Cost is often used as an excuse to bolster the preexisting reservations held by the adult school community rather than be an absolute obstacle itself.

Primary vs. Secondary

The primary / elementary sector are doing better at making a more life-reflecting adoption than secondary / high schools. It showed recently when it was reported at Ulearn, the biggest New Zealand education conference, that only 15% of delegates discussing current best practice were from the secondary sector. Why is this? I have much experience in training secondary school teachers to say that the power base they wish to retain as masters of their own subject silos, encourages them to shy away from any tool or pedagogy that might readdress the balance of control over the learning in the room. It doesn’t help that the universities are often as silo’d and traditional and demand more traditional preparation and evidence of learning.

Managing mindsets

window BrainstormAlthough the pace to adopt digital devices is relatively rapid and there seems to be various understandings that they are either necessary or seemingly ‘ the ‘thing to do’, I wonder how schools will manage the mindsets of teachers and parents to not treat them as the only tool required or a special set of tools to release at particular hours of the day.

If schools continue to treat these tools differently they risk operating a school environment that becomes alien to the students and thus harder to learn in. Young people have expectations regarding the ubiquitous nature of these tools and do not view them as special but just part of doing anything. A recent example of this was when my BYOD class showed far more excitement that they could write on the windows to plan their project than the fact that a video documentary was an option for the outcome.

Not special but expected

I can tell you one fact and that is that learning does not happen just because you’re holding a device or connected to the internet. In fact the reasons why successful deeper learning takes place have never changed, regardless of our rush to be excited about the web, social media and iPads. Young people don’t want to do everything on devices but do have experiences or witness examples daily of their effectiveness for communication, active learning and creativity output. Young people understand digital tools as a constant option on a Smörgåsbord of numerous tools to carry out all sorts of tasks both in life and for learning. All tools offer potential, the trick is to keep an open mind and not treat one tool differently based on one’s own skill set or experience.

This post is part of a #ebookNZ project organised by Sonya Vanschaijik and being co-authored by a great set of New Zealand based educators for Connected Educator Month – Click here for details

Big thank you to Beth Holland (@brholland) for giving me feedback and advice on this post before publishing. Checkout her work at edtechteacher.org.