Future Proof your Learning Environment

BlogBut-app14“Did you know, there’s an app for that?” In fact, there’s 100s of new apps everyday and many teachers are put off technology because of it’s rapidly changing landscape. “How can I possibly keep up with what I should be asking the kids to use?” is a common question. The secret is to not worry about which app is the right one. Let the kids collectively do the ground work and worry about keeping abreast of the generic technologies and capabilities that numerous apps are making available.

But before you even worry about overall technologies, worry about what skills your teaching (regardless of content) might be developing. It is becoming a much talked about subject that any particular content schools might have “delivered” in the past is diminishing in value as A) it all becomes available on-demand on the internet in both written and video format and B) the world changes at an increasingly faster rate and priorities change year-on-year.

Universal Skills – prepare for a changing world

kids ipadMy planning starts with analysing universal skills I think are lacking amongst the students.

  • Do my students need more practice at collaborating?
  • Do they need more time on reflecting on previous work or experiences?
  • Should they be working on successfully communicating in writing or visually?
  • How about project planning or connecting with the community?
  • … and so on.

I also then ensure I have answers for the kids regarding why this is a skill worth practicing. Much of how I operate is around student devised projects but I work with the students on what they might focus on if I feel they or their team are not proving strong at a particular skill, like those I listed above. In a rapidly changing world, these are the skills that help develop what for me is the key skill: learning to learn. Why? For example, recent research is showing that unto a 3rd of jobs that exist in western countries will be replaced by automated robots or computers in the next 2 decades!    Picture Credit

Universal Content – add purpose to education

ocKids-iPadWhat information is most important these days? That’s a hard question. Given the uncertainty over even the next 5 years, how does any teacher know what they are teaching will be both paramount or relevant in five years. In New Zealand, I’m lucky that the National Curriculum took account of this uncertainty over where the future might lead and in 2007 removed nearly all content to focus on universal skills relevant to improving communities and the economy in the 21st century.

Universal technologies not apps

The freedom the iPad brings to each student’s learning experience is key when the skills and content being dealt with can be so varied within a class. Let the students find relevant apps whilst teachers focus on knowing the available technology types that they might be expect to see or encourage as options for dealing with material, even if it’s just occasionally. Here is my list of technologies that iPads now offer to a student:

  1. Movie making (Telling stories) – see here for movie making skills
    Narrative is so important in learning and allowing students to tell a story whilst combining multiple media types (film/photo/audio/voiceover) can be one of the most powerful and enjoyable learning experiences. The importance I have placed in any one-to-one device having a camera that can be used for this activity never fails to prove itself every week in my school.
  2. Animation – A challenge in planning and patience
    The opportunity to plan and produce animation, either in 2D or 3D is a real challenge at any age. It’s also fun and allows students to recreate any situation for any topic of story they might want to present.
  3. Collaborative cloud documents / presentations / planning
    This is very much how the world will operate for the next few decades and so building these skills and also their new forms of “netiquette” become paramount. The power in crowdsourcing ideas and skills when producing learning outcomes and the way in which live collaboration speeds up the process whilst developing social / team skills is crucial to all industries from the arts to business to sports.
  4. Web publishing – Blogs / wikis / iBooks / video / apps
    The fact that young people can now publish instantly for free is still not fully understood as the world-changing situation that it is by many educators. The world audience that many people under the age of 16 already have and the self-made learning network the children build for themselves through feedback and professional advice can not be underestimated in how it will change the landscape in schools over the next 10 years.
  5. Green Screening
    This technology is a powerful and fun addition to the world of mobile device learning. It is powerful for telling stories, reporting on events already filmed, school work produced in class or acting out impossible scenarios never before imagined in the classroom. My students were able to stand inside their iPad work whilst they talked us through in a video.
  6. Modelling – Allow students to play with that that would normally be impossible or difficult
    Many apps now model or simulate objects and scenarios for the students to play with but there’s also numerous opportunities to build models with on-screen clay, lego, paint, metal, or electronics. This is not ideal as the real thing is often better but if arranging or funding the real thing is difficult logistically, these virtual technologies are brilliant, especially in the way they can be instantly reset for numerous attempts.
  7. Augmented Reality
    This is the new frontier becoming increasingly mainstream. AR, as it’s referred to, is the idea of adding a layer of on-screen information, written, colour or 3D, on-top of what you can see through the camera in real life (think Robocop). Google has just completed it’s first trial with “Google Glass” and what DAQRI are doing for industry is amazing. Here’s my intro to the Augmented Reality for schools
  8. Coding
    Code.org and “Hour of Code” are part of an international push to have young people all coding. Whether you knew that or not or are already onto debating its merits or not, it can’t be argued that the results of coding now rule our lives and children should have at least some exposure to what it looks like and is about. There are now many teach-yourself systems and apps on the market and most are entertaining and successful at introducing young people to how coding works. Here’s one of my post on iPad coding.
  9. Building Networks
    This has become natural and normal practice for many children. Kids start networking online as early as age five with sites like MoshiMonsters.com and even coding apps like Hopscotch build on this with uploading, commenting and peer support through what they call “Branching”. Tumblr, Facebook and even Snapchat can be seen by parents and teachers as worrying signs but a positive view is to see them as practice for what some business experts have already predicted will be the most crucial skill of all over the next 30 years – networking & connecting. Many of my senior students will setup support Facebook groups or pages regardless of it being mentioned or not by the teacher. It’s just how they operate.
  10. Bookmarking
    Being able to not only save web discoveries but also collate, organise, collaborate and share collections of bookmarked material is an essential skill from the “to-do list” to more serious research. Systems like Evernote and others are great at helping people manage the vast array of stuff on offer. Modern bookmarking apps are also great when teams are collaborating on one project.

An open ended challenge

There are thousands of apps that offer entertaining and even interactive experiences with specific content. The issue for schools is becoming too reliant on a specific app’s existence. It is hard more most app developers to maintain the business and compete in such a difficult market and they often disappear after 2 or 3 years. Allow students to discover and use content apps but don;t centre your teaching on them. Focus your energy on universal skills and technologies and allow the students to practice and showcase their innate curiosity and talents for mastering specific apps collaboratively. in short, future proof your learning environment.

Please let me know if you have ideas for other technology types and I’ll add them to the list. Thanks.

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

How to Keep iPad children safe online

5670717552_5b4766bb55_zHas your child got an iPad from Santa? I may be an iPad teacher calling myself @iPadWells and running this blog on iPad use but I’m also a father of 2 daughters with all the normal excitement and fear that comes with that. One of my daughters soon reaches the magical double-figure age of 10 and there is talk of her maybe (insert usual “if she’s a good girl” rhetoric that usually gets ignored) having an iPad for her birthday.

The thought of her sitting alone in her bedroom with access to all that the internet has to offer scares me just as much as I’m sure will the day she steps into the first boyfriend’s car. But I’m calm. If there’s one person who can keep her safe on an iPad, it’s gotta be me or I may as well stop blogging. Photo credit.

Where to begin?

restrictionsThis topic is another reason I continue to recommend the iPad for young people, schools and families. The iPad has so many settings built-in to it’s iOS (Operating System) to keep children safe from both adult content and health issues like RSI and hearing loss. Google too has many filtering settings that can be applied to an account. These days, independence starts online before it might do in real life and online Apple and Google accounts seems scary but is necessary if a parent is to maintain a level of control. As a parent I can use the legal requirements that an online account creator needs to be 13 as a way to explain why both the iCloud/App Store account and the Google Account’s passwords must be only known by the parents.

Which Age?

11607904776_dd1a338324_zChildren still need to be able to explore the world online and also discover apps that might be of use. I think free-reign on purchasing from the App Store before 13 has gone wrong for many, especially if the child isn’t earning the money themselves. Saying that, I would want my child to be able to explore the store for potential tools and games and justify to me why they are worthy or productive.  Given what we teach to 13 year-olds in New Zealand about sex education and the like, plus what will be discussed in the school playground, I decided that 13 would be the age I would start to relax restrictions on content but until then I’d like to know things were filtered a little. Photo credit.

Filtering & Restrictions

Make sure when you turn on iPad Restrictions (see help sheet below) you at least turn off restrictions on Safari, Camera & Airdrop. Kids need: the web to learn 21st century citizenship; the camera to make films, trailers and photograph events in their life and Airdrop is useful for transferring files (like photos) between devices. Once the iPad’s website filtering is applied, websites can be unlocked with a passcode and even listed as permanently ok. I will simply tell my child she can see me to unlock a site.

Music can be filtered for explicit content and under General – Music settings, the max volume can be limited which is great for anyone but especially young people who are proving around the world to be suffering from noise-induced hearing loss due to regular earphone wearing.

Why Google and Apple Filter?

The iPad will filter the sites from loading but not the Google search results. You need to separately log the child in to Google and turn on search filtering for the account so all searches show appropriate results only. This filter can then be locked with a passcode. (See help sheet)

Below is my quick click-by-click guide on getting started with filtering for safe iPadding:

(This is version 1.1 – no black arrows on step 4)

Child-Safe-iPad-@iPadWells

Next step?

PLAYING-MAKING-iPadWellsOnce your child is using the iPad you might want to have a discussion about screen time and how it might be limited. Here’s a previous post and poster about the discussion/agreement I had with my kids: iPad Screen Time

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!

playingvsmakingFeat

iPad Screen Time

So, I’ve got kids. 2 girls, 7 & 10. We’re a normal family with normal issues, including the worry about screen-time. I had a good conversation with my girls and we all agreed what was useful for young brains and what was not. I started by comparing how much they created inside the game with how much everything was given to them by the game. In Moshi Monsters Village, for example, we agreed that there was no trick to it, it was just buying or choosing from all the stuff to give to the monsters etc. Nothing in the game was made by my girls.

Proud?

We talked about how amazing they feel when they’ve actually made something or finished a drawing and how much they always want to show me. My girls agreed that they didn’t always get that feeling from the games as much as they did from making real things or even making stuff in Minecraft.

Playing or Making

I told my girls that I would be happy for them to have more iPad time if they were creating things, experimenting or learning new things. We needed to restrict the amount of time gaming as their mum and I could see it having negative impact on our girls’ relationship as they often fought over who’s turn it was or that one would not share access to an iPad. (They don’t have their own at the moment, although that’s just about to change!)

I said we would decide on a total amount of screen time for a day and then decide how much could be spent gaming and how much extra we’d allow if they were making things.

The Minecraft debate

MinecraftThis was a tricky one. Yes, Minecraft is used by millions and seems creative and open-ended but I pointed out that after hours of playing it, the girls rarely rushed to show me their creations and this might have been because they sort of made things up as they went along and never knew when they’d finished. This aspect put it more in the gaming category as they were not yet building planned or team projects. We decided we might change which category Minecraft fell into if they were more organised about what exactly they were going to build and why.

Games

In a previous post, I’ve highlighted the positive effect that comes about from playing puzzle or logic games. I can see at home how calming the right game can be and sitting with my girls trying to conquer levels together is a great experience. Saying that, they do still add to overall screen-time and without having a direct creative output, they seem to add to what seems like a minor iPad addiction. I must admit that this addiction is also seen in the parents to and is common to many families in 2014.

Laying down the Law!

The result of these debates was our collaboratively designed family poster to remind us what we could do on the iPads and for how long. It was difficult for me to consider time-limits on something like reading as this seemed counter-intuitive. But given a free reign on iPad reading time would often mean 20 minutes of gaming followed by 60 minutes of movie making followed by hours of reading resulting in whole evenings looking at the screen and no time conversing with the family. My daughters, of course, have many standard paper books to read and have free reign on those.

Some parents might find it useful so here it is. Note: Making Games is fine!

PLAYING-MAKING-iPadWells

gameFeatImg

Games to Ignite Brains

7439512656_04f88d7461_zHow about this for an idea? Your learners can game when they want at any moment during class. I know it sounds a bit crazy, so let’s put some structure and reasoning around it.

I’ve outlined in a previous post, my findings that quite obviously, the moment that any individual learner is ready to listen, read, watch or even learn will vary. To expect any class to turn up at a scheduled hour and fully engage in the same learning activity is literally treating them like products on a factory line and not the humans they enjoy being. Photo Credit.

I have 2 daughters, both brought up by the same parents who approach everything in life very differently. Why would we expect 30 young people form different life situations to behave and have the same needs for an hour?

e1yeaWhen I regularly divide my classes into groups, I often notice that a number of the groups have a member who seems distant or unengaged and I wonder how I can energise these kids to engage with the group or task during the short time that I’ve got them? (I teach in a high school still restricted by segregated, hourly subject lessons) Most of my class activities involve an element of problem solving. Examples might be, How are we going to reduce cyber-bullying in the school? What do the students need in a school app? Or even, How can I start my music career in New Zealand? It is the problem-solving part of the brain I want to activate in my students who are not in that frame of mind when I need it.

The other day, I noticed one of my daughters playing a puzzle type game on my iPad. It was obviously challenging and often frustrating but she kept at it regardless. The game was direct problem solving and my girl was deeply engaged. It was then I had an idea. If any learner who found themselves disengaged from a school task had permission to select from a list of problem-solving, “brain igniting” games, it might mean they return to the task more energised to tackle it or suggest other solutions.

Initial Trial.

e1ybfTo carry out an initial trial, I projected a problem-solving game on my board and invited individuals to have a single turn to complete the puzzle/level. After 2 minutes, pairs were coming up to have a shared turn. This turned into small groups and after 10 minutes had 8 people competing to make suggestions for the next move. What I noticed was that these 8 were not a normal grouping within the class but had selected themselves to share an experience. This had an immediate effect on the dynamics in the class. I have found that after this exercise, new pairings started appearing in the class and it definitely made it easier for me to suggest new groupings without any backlash.

Class gaming rules

  1. Time Limit: A set amount of game play per hour or per week might be allowed but there would be freedom to select when that time was used.
  2. The games would be form the endorsed “Brain-igniting” list.
  3. All games would be Problem-solving
  4. Gaming progress (levels) could be reported to class to encourage collaboration between students that might not otherwise connect.
  5. New Game teams are organised around individual’s favourite games

Class management

  1. e1yl0Ads: “The Games have too many Adverts!” Airplane mode (in the control centre) will remove most, if not all the ads that pop up.
  2. 2. Student suggestions – Students should be free to make suggestions for adding to the approved list. I think keeping it to about 10 will encourage more discussion in the class about solving certain levels. With too many games, the classes attention can become fragmented. Suggesting games for the list will give them ownership over their problem solving world.
  3. Students are allowed to connect over a game to discuss strategies to beat levels. This builds strong relationships which spill over into class tasks.

Brain igniting Games

So I set about searching and inquiring after entertaining puzzle games I could issue as an endorsed game list. These are just suggestions but will give you a starting point.

  1. VERY BAD CUBE
    VeryBadCubeiconThis game builds in complexity from the most basic of starts. Join all the cubes of the same colour. Sounds easy but had my classes connecting into larger and larger groups trying desperately to beat a level.
    .
  2. 2048
    T
    2048iconhis game is challenging and demands a little math. Same number blocks collide and merge into a single doubled number block. Trick is to not fill the board. Even my senior students play this by choice.
    .
  3. DUOLINGO
    Lduolingiconearn another language in a personalised, fun and accessible way. With an account, each student is automatically tracked and reminded to return to their 10 minutes a day if they forget. I’m learning Spanish along with the rest of my family!
    .
  4. 2 DOTS
    2dotsicon
    This game does not have a single solution for each level. This means it is less likely to bring students together but does quickly get an individual’s brain working. This too nicely grows in complexity and is good for the quieter students to work on alone.
    .
  5. THINKROLLS
    TThinkRollsiconhis is good for younger students but fun for all. A constant rolling screen of quick problems to solve before the character can continue on. My7 year-old daughter  played this game for much more than 10 minutes!
    .
  6. MOVE THE TURTLE
    moveTheTurtleicon
    This challenges with simple puzzles whilst teaching the fundamentals of programming. There are programming iPad apps but most allow kids to play games already made and Move the Turtle is the game itself and so is on my list.
    .
  7. POP WORDS
    popwordsiconThis is a great twist on the game Boggle. It has a individual time-pressure game where you try to find words on the grid before your timer runs out. It also has a great puzzle mode where the letter tiles disappear when used to see how many tiles you can score with just one grid. This is great for building literacy skills and again naturally draws students together to find new words.
    .
  8. MEMNEON
    memneonIconThis is a bit different. At first you think it’s just a very simple memory game where you only have to remember which neon lights lit up for 5 seconds on a grid to complete a circuit. It seems quite tricky so you find yourself developing your own strategies for remembering which lit up. I even started remembering shape names to jog my memory. This really gets the brain working hard.

Team building

Sometimes we consider the term team-building as only something employers organise. I’ve found this to be powerful in my classes, especially with boys, who are often less social and likely to work well in new teams. You may have heard of Google 20% time, well this is an endorsed form of team-building / brain ignition time. Give it a try!

EXTRA LINK: Games are good for you

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.

ConClassChal-FeatImg

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.