Mistakes when integrating Technology into classrooms

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

What’s the biggest mistake teachers make when integrating technology into the classroom?

During a recent conversation I had regarding a new tech tool, a colleague told me, “it would probably go wrong and mess his lesson up.” The root of much fear around integrating technology derives from teachers wondering, “what do I do if it goes wrong?” In working with teachers in multiple schools, I have found this is due to a traditional mindset that the teacher must be the master of content and activity in the room. Fear of losing that control and sense of respectability is what still leads many teachers to avoid introducing technology and limiting the scope of what might be achieved with it.

Classroom Design Thinking

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.

Teachers often prescribe which apps, websites and gadgets are allowed in “their classroom” to ensure nothing goes wrong. Notice here that the priority is on teacher comfort over that of the students. This can lead to learner frustration, scope limitations and restrictions to creativity and many learners not realizing their potential. Creating an environment like this, can foster disconnect between teacher and learner, and for me is the most common mistake I come across when working with schools introducing technologies. Young people live in a world where technology offers them much personal control over when, where, and, how they do things. If school does not reflect this world, it will seem to become ever more irrelevant.

In all my teaching, writing, research and presenting, the central theme in education at the moment is the empowerment of students over their own learning. As this becomes more understood by teachers, it redefines the classroom as a space of shared ownership, relaxing the need for absolute control and freeing them up to work with the students, whilst learning alongside them. Most technology these days has to be designed to be user friendly or it doesn’t survive in the marketplace and young people have become accustomed to quickly mastering gadgets, apps and other technologies. If the classroom is a flexible and collaborative space, my students help each other apply their own choice of technology to the task at hand. The focus is on the learning goals and/or problems, not the technology itself.

Operating a more democratic classroom environment has led to my own use of technology being enhanced by student suggestion. The Iinternet has increased the speed at which young people discover new tools and examples of them being used. Allowing them to experiment with their new discoveries gives them ownership over how they learn and in my experience and observations of others, it increases engagement in the tasks and content in nearly all casesclassroom.

The issue is not about faith in technology but more faith in the students to showcase their own mastery and adoption of a rapidly advancing world. The trick is to harness this potential and use the keenness shown by young people to enrich the learning experience for themselves the students.

Read the other excellent posts here: Top 12 Bloggers

Can iPads help achieve a state of Flow?

Lev VygotskyI’ve just had the pleasure of being inspired by Keryn Davis at Core Education, New Zealand. Keryn was speaking to a selected group of talented NZ teachers and the not quiet as talented me, who are all carrying out research projects on teaching and learning in 2015. Keryn spoke to us about the power of play in schools and used research and her own data to convince all of us that this was a significant issue for educators to explore.

Starting with the work of Lev Vygotsky, Keryn highlighted that people naturally stretch themselves during play. Vygotsky said: “In play, a child always behaves beyond his average age, above his daily behaviour; in play it is as though he were a head taller than himself.” This idea struck me as quite profound and had me hooked the rest of the way.

Next we were taken through some inspiring examples from her own research where play had been first introduced as a special hour at the beginning of the day, for “proper” school to commence afterwards. She explained how the positive results from this specially timetabled hour of play had led the schools to extend it and use elements of play throughout the day, making the most of opportunities that arose. Learners naturally started to organise, lead others and collaborate. I highly recommend you read more about her work here.

Play, Involvement & experiencing Flow

What I liked most was how she linked play to considering the level of true involvement a child displays in any school activity and finally onto the idea of flow, being a state of intense concentration on the present moment. As a tool for measuring activity and flow, we were introduced to the Leuven Scale for Involvement. Originally designed by Ferre Laevers.  This is used by elementary school educators to grade students during observations regarding how involved they are in various activities during the school day. Normally data is gathered by recording the observed involvement in activities of one child at a time as they carry out the different types of tasks in one day. I can’t see why these wouldn’t apply in principal to a learner of any age.

Here’s my infographic version:

The Leuven Scale for Involvement-@iPadWells

 

We were looking at her data that recorded both involvement and well-being at 5 minute intervals for a child during a school day. We started discussing the idea of flow as being the state that people attain when these 2 measures are at their peak. Karyn had actually discovered that flow was achieved when involvement was “Extremely High” but Well-being only had to be “Moderate.”

Here’s the Leuven scale for Well-being:

The Leuven Scale for Well-being-@iPadWells

Flow

Nakamura and Csikszentmihályi identify the following six factors as encompassing the experience of flow.

  1. Intense and focused concentration on the present moment
  2. marking action and awareness
  3. A loss of reflective self-consciousness
  4. A sense of personal control or agency over the situation or activity
  5. A distortion of temporal experience, one’s subject’s experience of time is altered
  6. Experience of the activity is intrinsically rewarding, also referred to as autotelic experience

Reference: Nakamura, J.; Csikszentmihalyi, M. (20 December 2001). “Flow Theory and Research”. In C. R. Snyder Erik Wright, and Shane J. Lopez. Handbook of Positive Psychology. Oxford University Press. pp. 195–206. ISBN 978-0-19-803094-2

All teachers have the opportunity to design school structures and activities with an aim that children will experience states of flow during their day. These two scales are also useful for a teacher to use in judging their own activity design and classroom structures.

What does this mean for iPads?

i4S - APPSMASHING.001Combining the ideas behind play, involvement and flow, I believe teachers need to be open-minded when deciding how and/or when iPads will be used by learners. Allow learners to play and express themselves. Let them build their own learning experience and in doing so become more focused and absorbed in the moment.

App Smashing is a great example of this, as long as it’s not the teacher prescribing the exact apps to be smashed. Learners should develop their own workflows and styles of output. Having to conform to any generic structure for learning is always going to lessen the chance that moments of true flow might develop.

The flexibility and massive possibilities for expressing, creating and publishing from iPads means they can enable a learning environment that caters for every individual. Personal agency can lower self-consciousness and this might in-turn lead to deeper learning and students lost in moments of their own creation.

 

What will be the most significant classroom innovation in the next 10 years?

The devaluing of content demands innovation

In my recent work, both in the classroom and in research, the most common recurring question is “what should we be teaching?” This question is valid in a world of Google, Wikipedia and instant access to information from the device in your pocket. This educational challenge is also expanded by the thousands of young people already pushing beyond the conventional system due to success in personally instigated start-ups and projects they have organised themselves. The personal empowerment and opportunities that the internet and technology offer will challenge nearly every aspect of traditional education.

robots

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.

The most significant innovation in the classroom during the next 10 years will not be some magical technology or even students staying at home. It will be a shift towards student-led education, which focuses on the development of key competencies for success in this century.    Photo credit

I’m lucky. I live in New Zealand where we have a future-focused assessment system that allows teachers to develop a relevant educational system for the 21st century. To give you an indication as to how different it is, the national curriculum has less than one page dedicated to Math! Our focus is on five key competencies:

  • Thinking;
  • Using language, symbols, and texts
  • Managing self
  • Relating to others
  • Participating and contributing

This means teachers are free and trusted to tailor their classroom activities to suit the exact children in the room and also allow them to inquire into content of their own choosing. That said, the change to this less structured approach has been a challenge for many long-standing educators and only in its eighth year is it starting to bear real fruit.

The need for this pedagogical innovation in teaching philosophy involves technology but is also, in part, driven by technological advancement. The speed at which technology is altering the opportunities within the job market is increasing each year. Recent studies indicate that large percentages of jobs will disappear altogether. This increasingly flexible world requires flexible but also collaborative learning environments. Students are being encouraged to create their future career rather than find one.

My conversations with educators around the world indicates that we are seeing a worldwide shift towards student-driven learning, where the content studied, and challenged, is also selected by the learners. Teachers will learn to stand back and be amazed at what students are capable of when given this freedom.

The innovation will come from the dismantling of traditional classroom hierarchies and the empowerment of young people to use any technology and skills, which they can more successfully develop in a learning environment that they control.

A Teacher’s Target

I had a fantastic brainstorm meeting with an extremely talented educator and colleague Maya Foster (@MayaFoster4) where we decided to summarise our vision for a teacher’s daily priorities, the order they should be placed into and how we could get teachers to reflect on their own practice in regard to them.

We developed an idea that Maya had sketched out on paper which placed the student at the heart of successful teaching and highlighted assessment as the last thing an effective teacher should be considering. We both agreed that many teachers start with the assessment and work backwards towards considering the students as individuals. This leads to very uninspiring and often un-motivating classrooms. I’ll break our discussion into its four components but here’s the graphic:

2015 WLS & FTR TEACHING

 PDF version here

Priority One: KNOW YOUR STUDENTS

students targetSpending time to build a strong understanding of exactly who each student is can save time in the long run. Students who feel genuinely appreciated will perform better throughout the school year and just knowing their name isn’t enough. The more you can connect with a student around a personal interest, the more a student will work with you and respect your ideas. This will make everything else much easier. Using the school’s data to find out which areas or school they are strong in can also help build a more useful understanding of how to design activities for the class.

Priority Two: PEDAGOGY AND ACTIVE LEARNING

ped targetYou might know your students but you won’t get every student to engage with your content unless you have a variety of sound pedagogy at your disposal. Successful pedagogy leads to student engagement in the content without constant teacher oversight. The careful design of activities and tasks tailored for the specific students in the room can reduce the energy required by the teacher in the classroom. I have covered in previous posts my belief and findings that any lecturing does not attain the the assumed outcome of all students engaging in or listening to the content. Make sure your students are active and working together to challenge the content with deeper thinking.

Priority Three: KNOW YOUR CONTENT

content targetSuccessful teachers bring any content to life. This is done by knowing the students, using appropriate pedagogy and the linking the content to current affairs, the students’ culture, other subjects being studied or its relevance to the future. All topics can be made relevant. Throughout history, humans have showed a wonderful talent for sticking to about 5 core themes, such as, greed, love, war, innovation and charity. If your subject is not directly linked to modern developments like the sciences might be, then it will always parallel something going on in the students’ lives or the world at large. Make sure you are reading-up on the developments and stories relevant to your subjects. Make connections and place the content in some kind of real context. Disconnected content leads to disconnected students.

Priority Fore: Know your assessment.

assess targetYes, the assessment should be the last consideration, but sadly is often a teacher’s first. Worrying about tests and marking guides can suck the joy from both teaching and learning. That said, it should not be completely ignored either. Make sure the requirements of the assessment are known early in the course and ensure the classroom activity allows the students to explore and challenge the content whilst being able to relate it to the demands of any future assessment. One trick is to use Flipped Teaching to relieve the pressure from worrying about whether you’ve mentioned every detail. The students can then access that detail in their own time.

Priorities for success

Too many teachers worry about assessment and grades and in doing so actually do damage to the success of many students. Many, if not most high school teachers are still subject first, teacher second. This devotion to content can lead to a devaluing of pedagogical ideas and a reduction in genuine engagement from all the children. I say genuine because ‘good’ kids will always play the game but if you get your teaching priorities straight, more students will love learning.

2 Teachers have 9 thoughts as iPad turns 5

I am very excited to be collaborating with the great Steve Lai again (@sly111). We decided to celebrate the iPad’s 5th birthday with a quick brainstorm of our key lessons from 5 years of iPad teaching. Education across the world continues to evolve in its understanding of how 1-to-1 student device learning can and will revolutionise the industry. Photo Credit

5 Years pic

We started predominantly with our 20th century mindset: “The teacher must be master.” This approach led many educators and schools to hold students back whilst they themselves struggled to master it first or feared the technology altogether. My recent evidence shows that a gradual development of this mindset has taken place and students are more often offered greater freedom to control how their learning might involve and benefit from an iPad. 

Teachers are now accepting that the very definite hierarchy that existed in the classroom has been dismantled somewhat and students are now able to access information on demand then create and collaborate in ways that many teachers struggle to keep up with. The secret is to challenge students to prove just how talented they can be, but this requires certain freedoms.

Here are our 9 thoughts:

  1. BlogBut-app14Richard: “Never prescribe an app for a task. Let the students surprise you.”
    I was introduced to Green screening and stop-frame animation by my own students. Students continuously discover apps and will be keen to apply them to class tasks. In a flexible learning environment the teacher spends less time hunting out apps for students to use and more time devising learning intentions.

    Richard: “Green Screening was introduced to me by my students. It revolutionised my classroom!”
    Check out this slideshow describing how to use Green Screen Movie FX Studio
    Check out this post describing DoInk’s Green Screen app
    .
  2. iOS7TechnicalSteve: “Know the ins and outs of how to troubleshoot potential roadblocks”
    If you are the “go-to” iPad person at your school, your students (and some coworkers) will regularly ask you how to do even the simplest tasks. Try to predict potentials roadblocks by practicing on your own before any iPad lesson. Try giving some of your new and exciting lessons with your family and colleagues and see if they have any questions to stump you.Another consideration is to develop a small network of students that will help people in your class or even school with these common roadblocks.Here are examples of student-run tech support teams:
    .
  3. ocKids-iPadSteve: “Always continue to learn and its okay to sometimes admit you don’t know how to do something.”
    We should strive to be lifelong-learners. That’s why you’re reading this article! While you should be the best at your teachable subject, your students need to realize that we aren’t infallible. When tough questions arise, learn the solution as a class. The learning of that topic, on your part, is professional development in itself. Keep up to date with the latest teaching tools. Attend iPad pro-d’s if available.The views on iPad teaching have evolved over the 5 years and teachers are realising that the traditional view that they must be the master of the classroom content does not have to apply to the use of technology. Consider what you’d like the students to be doing but let them discover the best way iPads might help.
    .
  4. Thinking Digital Citizenship-iPadWellsSteve: “Be wise in what you share online”
    Teachers are hopefully willing to share great creations made by students to other teachers, both within their schools/districts and also to a broader community. Take special care in how you share. Don’t publish full names, and make sure to get full parental consent if you want to post your students’ photos. As a professional, be careful and what you post about your personal lives as well, as it is an open book for all to read.
    .
    Read: How Teachers Should Stay Safe Online & Safe Facebook use in schools
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  5. NUTSHELL_iCloudSteve: “Make the cloud an essential tool. Know how to use it efficiently, ie. back up student work”The cloud is a relatively new tool. Learn how to maximize its potential. Cloud storage is becoming more affordable, and free storage options still offer a lot of great sharing features. Discover sharing and collaborative features and learn about the different forms it comes in. Make sure what you upload is secure and safe. Educate your students, as cloud computing is here to stay. The iPads will operate with all main cloud platforms by Apple, Google, Microsoft and Dropbox.Read: Dropbox for Dummies, Why You Shouldn’t Need your USB again.
  6. NUTSHELL_21C_Learning.001Richard: “Understand that while the iPad is an incredible teaching and learning tool, it doesn’t change what works and doesn’t work in effective learning”
    iPads don’t always change students’ engagement or desire to learn. True success in the classroom still requires a teacher to create the right atmosphere for deep learning. More success is realised by teachers who create flexible learning spaces and set student-driven challenges that demand deep thinking whilst allowing the iPad to help student collaboration and present this thinking.Read : iPad teaching is NOT about iPads
  7. i4S SAMR MindsetSteve: “Don’t teach with an iPad just for the sake of it”
    Teachers need to have (or develop) a certain passion for integrating technology (not just iPads) into their everyday teaching. If it’s not really your cup of tea, don’t feel like you have to do it. Find your niche and go forward with it!
    .
  8. Richard: “Worry less about “Wonder” apps and more about Collaboration and Teamwork”
    Why hunt for an app that can do everything, when tasks conducted in teams can demand each team member use the simplest of apps just to fulfil their team role.

    •  Student A: Camera for photo evidence
    •  Student B: Notes or Pages for text
    •  Student C: Simplemind for mind-map
    •  Student D: Blog setup & management for collating material and publishing

      iPads also allow for collaboration between students in different classrooms or even schools. Here’s a “Connected Classroom Challenge” to test students’ ability to run projects whilst working remotely. This is great practice for 21st Century workflow.
      .
  9. iPad 4 Schools PosterRichard: “iPads are still the most popular, flexible and successful device in education.”Whether it is the USA buying iPads in their millions or reports showing 86% of New Zealand schools have students using iPads, there is still a worldwide understanding that they are the easiest to integrate into classrooms. Educators around the world are often found discussing the benefits of active learning which the iPad continues to allow for in  a way that laptops / Chromebooks don’t, keeping students rooted to one spot.Read: Why I still recommend the iPad for schools

ipad kid drawingEducation’s landscape has changed greatly in 5 years and many aspects of teaching and learning that once were concrete are now being questioned. The iPad has played a big part in starting this questioning and challenging of old norms. Students are also challenging the system and their teachers as they take control of their learning. Education is no longer just about information and as the value of knowledge tumbles and access becomes more fair and democratic, the flexible talents of the iPad for creating, learning, collaborating and problem solving continue to shape this new world of connected learning.

Steve’s blog here: TeachingwithiPad.org

How to make an @iPadwells Poster #01

I blog about many educational things but by far the most common question I get is:

“What do you use to create your infographics?”

So here’s lesson 1 from a series I’m recording about what I consider when breaking down a topic into a structured graphic that people might choose to digest. This lesson is about layout, order and balance. There will be more videos to come and each one will be accompanied by it’s own summary infographic. #Funny

Although they can be made with an iPad, the level of design details I consider make it quicker to do on my Mac.

Music by Kaitain:

Other Uses:

These videos might also help students to improve the quality of presentation for many document types and not just posters. I use all the same rules and tools when designing documents, flyers, websites and even resumes. Teachers might find it useful when putting together Keynotes or resources for students too.

Here’s the summary slide:Posters-lesson01-by-@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!

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.
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  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.
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  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.