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.

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.

The Connected Classrooms Challenge

i4S-The Connected Class Challenge

EXISTING SKILLS

How might we develop young people’s obsession and engagement with social media and texting into a deep desire to learn and create together?

My first thought is to ask why people become so obsessed. In my digital citizenship programme, we cover social media addiction and why it effects people of all ages. One key issue is that when a post or message is sent into the system to people who can’t be physically seen, the unknown amount of time it might take for a reply keeps people watching. We all want to be appreciated and of course “Liked!”

HOOKED ON CONNECTIONS

People get locked into a “have I had a reply or a like yet?” universe and they develop habits for needing connection & recognition. Rather than worry and scorn, this might be a situation teachers can use to their advantage. I’m always keen on students working in teams for everything they do – Yes, an author might write a novel alone but they still need an editor and publisher to finalise it.

CONTINUOUS REFLECTION WHILE WORKING

connected-ClassesMy observation of teamwork in many classrooms, including my own is the lack of space and time for each member to contemplate what another has said or done. There’s often a rushed atmosphere of trying to get the work done quickly. More ongoing reflection from each member can result in higher quality outcomes. It is often the case that someone shy in public is confident online and this has a lot to do with the extra time they have to reflect and consider their responses. Social media creates a more level playing field where the more outgoing and confident are less obvious and the quiet can contribute fully.

THE CHALLENGE (C.C.C)

One idea to combine the positives of remote connection in social media and productivity at school is to physically separate team members and organise projects over 2 or more classrooms. Students from different rooms or even schools come together online to use their well honed social media and texting skills to build a more professional 21st Century view of workflow. It’s important to highlight to young people that these tools and systems are being used by adults to carry out projects around the world and that in many occasions this connects people in several countries.

students2

Yes, this is an iPad photographing an iPad filming an iPad – normal in my existence!

At first, you may have to allow a little more time for a project you normally carry out in one room but the students will develop these skills in a productive sense and experience the need to allocate roles and work efficiently. The students love feeling connected to the world outside the classroom, even if it’s people next door!! I also find they read and ‘listen’ to each other more intently due to the nature of these communications.

I can highly recommend it for some projects. It helps keep things fresh and connects both students and teachers. I suggest the teams ensure they are putting together a ‘package’ of all media types they can publish or present to both classrooms online. Another reason for trying this is that a teacher confident with technology can join their classroom to a less EdTechie teacher and help with the learning process. The irony is that social media removes much of the social distractions evident in face-to-face interactions. After some initial excitement, the communications eventually become more considered and task focused.

OTHER THOUGHTS & IDEAS

Don’t necessarily subscribe how they produce output or communicate. If they’re obsessed with Snapchat then have them sketch ideas with it. It will educate them into seeing anything as possibly productive and not just frivolous.

How about 4 teachers specialising in each of 4 rooms as mentors for Leadership, Research, Technology & Presentation. Each student team members are also divided into classes along the same lines. The teams can then rely on their team’s specialist knowing they have a mentor in their specific role.

Have one room speak a different language and use either Apple or Google’s translation tools. It’s good preparation for world collaboration. (I personally have sent several tweets recently in French without speaking a work myself!)

Evernote is also good at sharing all media types and having shared work spaces. It’s also cross platform too.

Google might be my preference but if you understand iCloud well and the devices are logged in. Then sharing video, photos and docs is already build into iPads and Macs.

The First 5s with iPads

This is just a quick nod to my EdTechTeacher friend Beth Holland, who has written another excellent post updating ideas around what teachers might do in the first 5 hours, days and weeks with iPads in their class. The original post can be found here on Edutopia.org.

Beth and the EdtechTeacher team are an excellent source of ideas and inspiration. Beth asked me to update my infographic for the post and so here it is:

i4S iPad First 5 v2

Teacher’s iPad 2015

iPadWells iPadDuring this coming academic year, the iPad will celebrate it’s 5th birthday. I decided to take a look at my own iPad and what systems, apps and activities fill up my school day as an iPad teacher 5 years on. I’ve produced a breakdown of my home screen and realised it can be summarised in 5 points.

  1. Being relevant as a professional
  2. Being relevant to my students
  3. Collaboration with students
  4. Collaboration with teachers
  5. Production of Interactive material.

My teaching emphasises the fact that I’m still a learner and still creative. I overtly discuss this with my students every week and showcase my own productions amongst their various presentations. I also showcase my collaborations with other teachers and the fact that reflecting on my professional life on my blog is important to personal growth.

I’m very proud that creative writing, Music, Art, Media and Coding all have a presence in my iPad teaching. You’ll also notice that each of the major social websites are utilised for different reasons.

I hope it helps some teachers new to professional iPadding. For more information about how I use the apps, use the search facility on the blog.

i4S 2015 iPad

 

Why recommend the iPad for schools?

ocKids-iPadThis blog is nearly 2 years old and I thought it was time to revisit the reason for its existence. I am still teaching 11 to 18 year-olds everyday in BYOD classrooms (not iPad only) and can claim a significant experience in the various pros and cons of all types and brands of devices. When I’m considering which students are supported the most in their learning by their device, I still conclude the iPad and its eco-system is my recommendation for handling the full breadth of activities and opportunities undertaken in 21st century schools.

I do appreciate that during the last 4 and a half years it has become fashionable in education to proclaim “the device doesn’t matter” but each week I experience a at least one moment where it does.

10 Reasons why I still recommend iPad

Issues 1 – 5  – Tablet format over Laptop

  1. Filming
    filming-iPadThe first one is easy and takes into account that an individual learner’s ability to film and edit, either to learn or reflect on learning is such a important tool these days that the device must be able to be used as such. Young people live their lives through instant access and ability to take photos and videos on the move. This is where my students on laptops and Chromebooks are left stranded at their desk. Photo Credit
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  2. Active learning
    outsideIt’s not only the resulting photos and films that come from tablet devices but that the learners can be on the move so easily during the process of learning. This extra flexibility that the tablet format offers my students allows them to move from inside to outside as they need, often on the spur of the moment . My students work outside for both the sake of the project requirements and/or that of just comfort. It’s often highlighted that if a learner’s not comfortable, they wont learn.  Photo Credit
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  3. Touch
    drum machineWho said you can’t teach both programming and digital citizenship with drum machines? I do. Be it a sliding control, a drum pad or an paint effect, the learning opportunities that touch offers far outweigh any outdated argument that young people can’t comfortably type vast amounts of text by tapping the screen. After all, they tap 30,000 words per year into Facebook alone, mostly on the phone! Touch offers a much more connected, real & enjoyable experience during activities. It often removes from the mind the fact that tech is even involved in the process.
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  4. Tilt & Flexibility
    spiritThe iPads ability to physically replicate so many tools in the hand, such as a spirit level, microphone, test tube, moving paint, bouncing ball and any number of physics experiments, never mind the wow factor of green screening on the move also means the laptop student is left to imagine and not experiencewhat physical effect one thing might have on another.
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  5. Augmented Reality (AR)
    iPad-ARAR is already becoming a major feature in education and iPads have made a great start with a a number of great apps and systems like Aurasma and Layar. To make the most of these systems and also create your own, you need a device that can be held on the move. This has become a major part of my arguments for iPads over laptops. Photo Credit
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Issues 6 – 10 – iOS, Apps, eco-system  & learning opportunities

  1. Technology for all.
    6228914346_a84141e62d_qApple has always maintained the same philosophy. “We want you to be you, whilst we worry about the tech.” You may have read my many posts on kids’ programming and think I’m one of those extra-techie types but I have a strong argument for the fact that most people are ‘normal’ and not interested in how it all works. They want to get on being the artist, author or scientist they’d like to be. I have found my non-iPadding students having to do far too much research into if an equivalent app is available or which plugin they require to carry out a task. This slows down to learning process, causes frustration and has many of my students leaving their device in their bag and pairing up with an iPadder. Yes, Apple’s walled garden of a system frustrates geek types, but for the huge majority it means immediate productivity. Photo Credit
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  2. Advanced App store with education focus
    app store edThe average teacher and student needs as much support as can be made available when introducing or keeping up-to-date with using their devices to learn. Apple has always led the way with providing this support for education, highlighted by their organised, categorised educational app store. iTunesU has also become a major educational system for many schools and allows for the easy management of content whilst developing student driven programmes. iPads have the advantage of being the primary educational choice and in-turn have the educational app developers investing more time and money into serving schools on iOS.
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  3. Kid friendly code learning
    hopscotch screenYou may already know me as a supporter for kids learning to code. There is an international push to have all students learning this craft that forms such a central part of everyone’s lives these days. You can code on both Android and Windows 8 but only in it’s full advanced code form. If elementary / primary school kids want to learn how computers think and how code works, the iPad is still the only tablet offering apps, such as Hopscotch to learn how code works and has many on offer.
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  4. Teachers supporting teachers support Students supporting students.
    ipad-helpUnfortunately for the other companies, most teachers I’ve met and know have an iPad (except the really geeky ones). When it comes to professional development, teachers prefer to receive ideas and recommendations from other teachers. This has led to a much stronger knowledge base in how to get things done on iPads than that of other devices. In Education websites, blogs and in professional social-media chats, the dialogue around tablet use will be centred on what’s available for iPad and someone venturing out on this road will find the transition far more easy if holding an iOS device. Photo credit
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  5. Technical Management for Schools
    iphone_configuration_utilityNot my favourite topic, but for elementary / primary schools, non-BYOD and any school wanting more control over devices, apps and multi-seat licensing, Apple has now produced a suite of management tools that make this easy. I wont go into too much detail but check out the MDM and iOS8 pages for more info. The competition is far behind in this area, especially in offering educational multi-seat licensing for those apps you want every student to have.

 

Extra thought – Google Account is a must.

I thought I’d just add that in addition to the iPad, I do still recommend a Google account. The cloud-based document sharing eco-system that Google provide, along with Youtube makes it a must for handling the bulk of traditional documentation, whilst adding the sharing and collaboration tools. The Youtube is also a must of offloading the iPad video content. It’s just a shame that Google went with the business model when designing their Chromebook device, meaning people would require a 2nd camera device to carryout truly active 21st Century education.

 ocKids2-ipad

Conclusion

I write this from years of personal experience and yes, I know that there will be thousands out there who know one of the other systems inside out and will argue that it’s just as easy and flexible on the other platforms. My experiences tell me that the key difference is the amount of technical information required to setup quickly to learn on the other platforms. This takes time that many teachers & students are not willing to invest.

One issue I’ve noticed is that where elementary / primary schools are more likely to be flexible, innovative learning environments, as students enter high school, teachers, concerned with what seems like a long list of content to get through, are more likely to be demanding lengthy written work after hours of lectures. This drives them away from considering the iPad as the appropriate device. I would ask those teachers to take a real look at how the world and especially the young people in their classroom go about their lives. Look at how collaborative, active & flexible we all are these days and consider how your content could be accessed and processed rather than delivered and simple duplicated by the students.

For me, the iPad is still the device to get. It’s not just about business tools and apps, it’s about learning and this is still the are where Apple leads in tech. Education needs it easy and the iPad just works!

 

 

 

 

 

The Myth of Device fatigue

6660040845_df16b08be8_mMy wife came home the other day and started describing a new problem arising in her school, where students were claiming to be tired of using devices for everything. The students were apparently saying “Can’t we just do a lesson on paper today or you just teach us.” As she told me this, my wife didn’t notice that she was simultaneously picking up her iPad to check Facebook and that made me think.

Photo Credit

In my observations around my school, it’s those same students claiming device fatigue in the classroom that are not hesitating to turn to their device for ‘life updates’ as they leave that very same room. I would propose that it’s not fatigue caused by device use but that caused by the pain of trying to carry out conventional, 20th century classroom tasks on devices that are designed for a world that conducts itself very differently.

20BD (Before devices)

When I was a student and my teachers were handing out the standardised task to every student, I too remember asking, “please sir, can we do something different today?” I wasn’t asking that we not do something on paper, I understood that in those days paper was always going to be the prefered option, but that the challenge was different and looking back, any task that had me working with my peers was always more engaging but a rare occurrence.

Some classrooms don’t suffer

6660083573_140106428b_mI have evidence from my current workplace that two teachers teaching the same subject will share very opposite quotes from students on this topic. Whilst one shared with me that the students were tired of devices, the other shared that students were asking how the subject was ever interesting before devices. What makes the difference?

Photo Credit

Device fatigue would mean life fatigue

Touch screen devices of all shapes and sizes have become a part of our existence and the way we now conduct our lives is partly shaped by them. Why should education be separate from this. To focus on the positives, the combination of mobile device and social media has made young people experts in:

  • Sharing ideas and discoveries
  • Debating those ideas
  • Communicating in groups
  • Organising events and resources
  • Working on the move.

14183121963_78c1c34ffe_mSchools and teachers need to embrace this and design learning around these strengths rather than fight against them. They need to look at how the world now operates and not attempt to rein-in these developments as bad things and attempt to shape educational activities with outdated moulds. The world is moving on and learning has to do likewise.

Photo Credit

Many classrooms still use numerous approaches which do not reflect the practices the creative industries, businesses, universities or even individual professionals expect to see in their new recruits and don’t do much to prepare young people for the rapidly changing reality of life after school.

5 tips for avoiding claims of Device fatigue:

  1. Keep the learning Active. Ensure that at least part of the task involves moving around.
  2. Keep it Social. Kids must discuss their learning as it happens. Only through reflection will true learning take place. 
  3. Keep it flexible. Don’t prescribe the app they must use. Lay out your expectations but allow for individual expression.
  4. Keep demanding. Have high expectations and be clear about the depth of evidence required.
  5. Make it personal. Ensure the task allows the kids to personalise the result. Have them link topics to their own experiences.

Final Thought.

The western world is no longer paper-based, factory-based or slow-moving. please ensure your classroom reflects this.

 

Hopscotch 2 – Lesson 3

gameBGGame Backgrounds

When kids are learning to code, it’s better to get on with things as quickly as possible. In lesson 3 of my Hopscotch course, I get straight into making it look like a game. This involves adding sky, ground and moving objects. My students are keen to get the project looking good but in doing so, they learn the basics behind achieving what they want with logical thinking.

Life is Random

They key feature introduced is the Random option when adding numbers. Without the Random number option Games wouldn’t seem very realistic as background objects always appeared in the same places every time they repeated their animation.

Hopscotch-RandomHelp Sheet

In this help sheet, I colour in the background and add floating objects moving both right and left. Objects move 1000 or -1000 across the screen but have a slightly random Y value to change their height on the screen for each repeat.

HopScotch2-Lesson3-i4S

 

Adding Emoji Keyboard to your iPad

Here’s the step by step on adding the Emoji keyboard (Sorry that’s it’s in iOS6 format)

NUTSHELL_EMOJI

Hopscotch 2 – Lesson 2

How Hopscotch builds Abilities from Abilities.

The iPad coding app Hopscotch is now able to teach kids about the primary way coding is organised. Procedures (abilities) can be named and referred to by name when needed by multiple characters. My 2nd lesson shows how an overall task can be broken down into it’s smaller stages and these stages are called upon to perform the larger task.

Here’s my help sheet showing how procedures can be built from smaller procedures:

HopScotch2-Lesson2-i4S HopScotch2-Lesson2-i4S

Hopscotch 2 – Lesson 1

Hopscotch 2 means better learning

You may have read my previous posts on Hopscotch, the iPad app that teachers kids to code. This is an important app doing an important job for the world. They have now released version 2 and my coding lessons can now step-up to a new level.

Kids understand Superhero abilities

A major coding feature missing in version 1 was naming the sets of code and then characters sharing the sets (procedures) of code by these names. Hopscotch have chosen to use the term “ability”, which I think is a great idea. Characters and objects now can have various ‘abilities’, which my students understand from all the superhero films. They also understand the idea of 2 characters sharing the same ability, such as “this is how to fly” and I will give this ability to 2 characters.

Here’s my lesson 1 slides introducing the naming of abilities and the repeat function:

Hopscotch2-Lesson1-i4S

 

Start your kids coding ASAP! From 5 onwards, this is learning at its best! (more help sheets to come…)