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Thursday, 29 September 2016

Riding The Wave

A surfer looks at the waves and responds to them. When looking at trends we need to do the same! paraphased quote of Mark McCrindle's.

This post has been sitting with me for a while and earlier this week I had the privilege to listen to Mark McCrindle an award winning social researcher, best-selling author and influential thought leader share on the current and future treads in Australia and globally. I was encouraged by much he had to say especially with connecting with emerging generations. The reason I was encouraged was because he said that they desire relationships that are real, relevant and responsive. This trend was common to the Builders, Baby Boomers, Gen X, Gen Y, Gen Z and the Generation Alpha. Even though we live in such a connected, device driven world, there is a strong desire for closeness and authenticity in relationship.

The emerging trends and the force of change around these trends technology, population and attitudes can be a point of tension, causing stress and anxiety. How do we adapt? By considering the enviably of change and deciding whether we can stand still or lead. By standing still, we may be digging in our heals in, we may find that things become mounded on top of us, stress builds and we become weighed down. Whereas, if we lead, we may become free to respond to the changes in the world around us. Please note, we may not always like or enjoy this change; however, through the management of change we can see and experience growth as we ride the wave.

I would like to reword and reapply Mark’s original statement about surfers and trends by applying it to our own and the lives of our students. We must to look at the situation we find ourselves in and learn to respond and adapt in ways that will produce the desired outcome. As we respond and adapt though we will often be taken through the pit of despair/learning and build both resilience and our capacity to lead.

Leadership is about guiding and impacting our own lives and the lives others. By growing through the challenges to we become people worth following. The pit is never an enjoyable place! Many of my pits have been dark places where I have needed the support of others and my faith to see light in the situation. In just over a month, I celebrate 16 years of marriage. During this time, life has been like a rollercoaster. Some of my ups and downs include: having the opportunity to lead an amazing outdoor education team; to the loss of my home in a bush fire; to having athletes represent NSW and Australia; to severe injury causing me to change the direction of my profession; to teaching in great schools; to seeing great endevours fail; to experiencing the best and the worst of humanity; to having two gorgeous children; to miscarriages; to having great investments and then losing almost the lot. Life is not a smooth and rosy ride, it is something that gets its flavour through variety. It is not about what we are given but how we respond to what we are given that counts and through our response we can experience the blessings.

It is essential to be innovative in the way we act, associate with and respond to each other. Why we connect with technology is not because we want to relate to the technology, we desire relationship to the person on the other side of the technology. Our core driver as educators essentially is not the curriculum, it is based on the needs and engagement of others, our students. Relationship and technology becomes the vehicle to deliver the content.

It was suggested that by triangulating trends we can begin to predict and engage with the future. Currently, the leading trend in Australia was collaboration and connection to solve each other’s problems. This can be seen in both business growth and on the web and as a result, it is disrupting traditional processes. Similar disruptive trends can be seen in education with flexible learning spaces, funky furniture, flexible seating arrangements, collaborative learning environments, problem-based, flipped, mastery and adaptive learning. It could be said that learning environment has shifted and as a result explicit teaching has moved into the realm of smaller group or individual teacher tutoring and mentoring.

Mark highlighted the learning ecosystem has moved from verbal to visual, sit and listen to try and see, curriculum to learner centered, closed book to open book, ridged to flexible, and as a result our roles as educators have changed from teacher to facilitator.

When I think back to when I was a student, my teacher was the fountain of knowledge and we sat in rows taking notes to their lecture. I know from experience this is not the case for many students presently. We are shifting from a liner world to a disrupted world. If I look at my own class, outsiders may see campfire, waterhole and cave moments, small teams working on independent problem solving task, brainstorming activities, the construction of models and prototypes, peer tutoring and testing of ideas. They will hear direct instruction by the teacher or expert in the room based on the explicit needs of the students and see this adapted for each student. From this they would experience active conversations and sometimes even heated ones as students wrestle with defining problems and identifying areas of concern, sharing the lightbulb moments and ideas that would be achievable within time restraints.

As Dr. Mark Weston explained in a recent post, if the goal is for most students to achieve and some to exceed mastery then instruction must be well designed and delivered. We must establish the relevance of the lesson, by consider the learning styles of students and teaching strategies that aide learning, the scaffolds the learning tasks will need and the effect of guided practice, and how rotate-and-check learning and harnessing peer power can have an effect on students. The effect of this will support a student’s ability to react and respond to the situation and build resilience to the challenge.

My job as the educator is to facilitate this process of discovery and construction of new knowledge based on the curriculum within the context of an age of entrepreneurism, creativity and innovation. I am a generalist primary educator and as such I am required to teach all elements of the curriculum. Playing to my strengths within an environment of a teaching team, I feed the learning through my passion for Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics (STEAM) and relate it to the students personal learning passions.

Students in our present day come to class to have a transformed learning experience, to participate, collaborate and create their understanding. By empowering this deep sense of awe and engagement in rich social environment students can experience motivation, develop resiliency, encourage critical thinking and learn to manage time in the face of challenge and frustration.

The Alpha Generation entering our schools will know less of paper and more of glass, the powerful challenge I was left with was how do I use this technology to make my learning and the learning of my student real, relevant, responsive and relational? How can I speak to them using visuals and in modes that reach to their heart to allow them to appreciate my authenticity in supporting them in responding to their learning and life challenges? 

Sunday, 14 August 2016

Guest Blog - Self Organised Learning Environment (SOLE)

This is a guest blog written by my Stage 3 Co-ordinator and year partner Richelle Hatton. This post first appeared on the Stage 3 Learning Journey on 10 August 2016. It is a wonderful reflection on the experience Richelle and I had with our class. I would strongly encourage any reader to explore the possibilities and see if there is a place for Self Organised Learning Environments within your own context.

Educational researcher Sugata Mitra claims to have discovered accidentally that students can teach themselves. He put a computer in a hole in the wall in a slum district in India and walked away. Eight hours later he returned to find local children browsing the internet and teaching each other how to use the computer having never seen one before! You can watch his TED talk and hear about it straight from him. Totally fascinating.

The concept of SOLE - self organised learning environment - came from Mitra's research. He suggests that "if you allow the educational process to self organise then learning emerges". He proposes there are three requirements for SOLE to be successful: broadband, collaboration and encouragement. He has also produced a toolkit explaining how to implement the process in the classroom.

This week we had half of our students away at Band Camp. The other half of them were at school and we couldn't just go on with our regular program. We decided to try SOLE. We are a BYOT school so each student has their own device to access the internet. That's condition one. We want our students to learn the skills of collaboration so we give them plenty of opportunities to work in teams. That's condition two. We would encourage the students to give this a try and encourage them no matter what the outcome. Whatever happened we knew we would learn something! That's condition three.

We began with an introductory session where we showed them some of Mitra's TED talk and another video of SOLE in action. We explained the origin of the concept of SOLE and got them excited to try it for themselves.

We gave students the question: "What is the greatest threat to the ocean?" and a time frame for presenting an answer. We ran the SOLE over two 40 minute periods split by lunch.

Students organised themselves into groups and went to work. As teachers we overheard comments such as:
"We have only 9 minutes until lunch. We'd better get moving!"
"I found a really great website. I'll share it with you."
This was directed to a student who was wasting time - "We really need to focus, to get this done!"
"What do you think is the best way to present this?"

Each group made their presentation to the class. We had a range of answers to our question of what is the greatest threat to the ocean - pollution, plastic, global warming, overfishing, humans!

We were amazed at the quality of the presentations given the short time frame. We do this a lot in our regular lessons so students have good skills in this area but we usually give them MUCH more time to prepare. Obviously, short deadlines can be helpful! We gave verbal feedback about what we liked about the presentations.

The depth of answers was also encouraging. Through questioning, we could determine how deep students' understanding was. Some students understood quite a lot. Since students could make their own groups we had a very large group of eight boys. We were unsure how well this group would work but they had very thoughtful answers to the question.

We ran another session the next day and then surveyed the students to seek their feedback on the SOLE experience. They indicated their experience of SOLE was overwhelmingly positive. 5 on the scale represented "strongly agree".

Quotes from student survey 

I like SOLE because:

·                I was able to be responsible for my own learning
·                It is a fun way to learn and makes work harder without slacking off
·                You get to choose who’s group your in and the time limit pushes you to work harder.
·                You did not get guided much by the teacher.
·                I was responsible for my learning and I was able to learn, present and collaborate with people in any way I want. I LOVE BEING ABLE TO CHOOSE MY GROUP. I liked it because I was free to learn how I want to learn.

I found SOLE difficult because:

·                You only get a short time.
·                They were hard and new questions that I wouldn’t expect.
·                We didn’t have enough time to look at every website or resource.
·                We had to find out everything ourselves and no teacher helped us along the way.
·                I didn’t find it difficult.

As teachers, we also reflected on the experience. We can see great benefit for student motivation, collaboration and time management skills. The deadline to present an answer was integral to the experience but it doesn't have to be the final answer.

We can see how this could be an iterative process where students generate an initial answer to the big question which is presented to the group. Students receive feedback on what's great and how to improve their presentations. We could then generate secondary questions that flow out of the first question and the given answers. For example, for our investigation secondary questions could include: what is global warming, why is high acidity in the ocean a problem; if humans are the greatest threat to the ocean what does this mean?

Students could then investigate these secondary questions and present their findings. This would be followed by a return to the original question where students revisit and deepen their initial answers to include new, relevant information. Thus the learning is being built upon and deepened as students respond to feedback and revisit their thinking.

We're going to look for ways to include SOLE in our regular teaching and learning program.

Sunday, 24 July 2016

Increasing Student Agency through the use of Awe

Do you remember the moment that you decided teaching was your career?

Some of us maybe still searching for that moment!

For me, it was in Year 6, as we did the time honoured “light” unit of work. My teacher was eccentric but in one moment helped to define the direction of my professional life. Wrapped in his white lab coat and armed with 4 D-cell batteries, alligator clips, a jar and one of my pacer leads, he made magic happen!

"Let there be light!"

In that moment he captivated all of us with awe. I cannot remember the exact details of what he was teaching but I remember the experience of seeing the light illuminate from the bottle.

There is a constant tension between what we need to teach and what we as professionals know our students need to know to apply this understanding. Frequently, these two don’t perfectly match and as a result, there is a tension. Teachers often try to find the links to draw correlations between the two but an essential and often overlooked element to this connection is awe.

AWE: Amazement + Wonder = Engagement

The more teachers I speak to the more I hear the desire to have student’s access deeper learning. This requires students to think, question, pursue, and create—to take agency and ownership of their learning. When they do, they acquire a rich understanding and the skills that they can apply to become more competent learners in and out of school.

This means we allow them the opportunity to show what they know and then take control of their learning, taking it to places we as teachers could not have even dreamed.

By allowing students to take control of their learning they begin to gain the space to wonder and confront the mysterious. They inquire, ponder and critically think with eyes wide open the beauty that surrounds them. When students stand in awe they experience the source of true Art and Science that generates wisdom and understanding.

When we experience awe it changes our mental models of thinking, filling us with sense of vastness and perspective.

As teachers, we have the privilege to help students understand and process the experience of mental growth at a deeper level. We can do this by finding ways to empower empathy, contextualizing on a personal level the encounter.

We must realize it is disruptive, we can choose to either embrace and encourage it or shut it down.

As with teaching 20th-century skills, we need to be deliberate and intentional. My intention is to create a hunger for learning so the tools I use must serve that purpose.

Tools such as:

  • Genius Hour/Passion Projects
  • Minecraft
  • Coding
  • Makerspaces
  • 3D Printing
  • Augmented Reality
  • Mystery Locations/Virtual Excursions
  • PBL
  • Blogging
  • Digital Portfolios
  • Social Media
  • BreakoutEDU
Too many of us get caught up in the glam before doing the diligence, chasing the next trend. I use these because they have demonstrated through research and evidence to enhance the engagement levels in my class. It is important to remember what works in one place may not work in another so a large 21st Century saddlebag for the learning journey is essential.

A sense of awe is important whether teaching English, Art, Humanities or STEM. However, there are no test that measures awe—or any curriculum, anywhere, that contains a section on wonder but history testifies that it is the greatest driving forces behind innovation and invention. As a result, we can only look at its product.

A Quick History Lesson
On a Stanwell Park beach, Lawrence Hargraves made aeronautic history when he strung together four box kites and hovered 5 meters above the ground in front of a group of skeptical spectators.

He had a sense of wonder, inquiring about the physical forces that allow birds to fly. Using this sense of awe the designed, prototyped and tested his theories and opened the door to other inventors and pioneers.

Building on the understanding of Hargrave and buoyant by the success of their 1902 glider, the Wright brothers recognized that much hard work lay ahead as they moved forward towards the creation of the propulsion system. They were not deterred by this but motivated.

There are countless examples of awe being the spark for curiosity from Thomas Edison with the light bulb, Ada Lovelace creating the written instructions for the first computer program in the mid-1800s, Steve Jobs with all of his “I” things, or Taj Pabaria a 15-year-old student made famous by a 60 Minutes segment, who is considered to be just one of the next generation of entrepreneurs. Their engagement and success derived itself from a sense of amazement and wonder.

Traditionally, subjects are taught separately. The notion of STEM/STEAM education places value on the real world integration and backward mapping. This emphasis puts them at the forefront of education and the new economy.

  • It takes its theoretical roots from Dr. Seymour Papert, founding professor of MIT Media Lab & the research colleague of Jean Piaget.
  • It integrates the design thinking pathway where the student - empathises, defines, ideates, prototypes and tests.
  • It empowers imagination and new ways of thinking about how things work.
  • STEAM embraces new technologies and applies them in novel situations, growing the sense of amazement, wonder and engagement with the world around them.
Dr. Seymour Papert (2016) states “Education has little to do with teacher explanation & more to do with student engagement with the material.”

So through STEM/STEAM we have students engaged with material to create a sense of amazement and wonder. As a result, we find:

  • They are problem-solvers, able to frame problems as puzzles.
  • They are innovators, with the power to pursue independent and original investigation.
  • They are inventors, meeting the world’s needs by creatively designing and implementing solutions.
  • They are self-reliant, able to set agendas and work within specified timeframes.
  • They are logical thinkers, able to apply mathematical concepts and make advanced connections to the real world.
  • They are collaborators, able to flourish in-group settings.

My questions:

  • If this was a leveling gauge where do we sit with student inquiry?
  • What is holding us back from empowering students to go after the moonshots?
  • Could we use a little bit more awe and inquiry to increase student agency?
The funny thing, when we let go, students will surprise us. Now the unit I mentioned earlier, I had the privilege to teach to my Year 6’s this year. Guess which free inquiry experiment appeared?

That’s right the pacer pen light.

To close, William Damon (2008) put it this way, "This is how all young people should feel about life. Idealism, high hopes, enthusiasm and a sense of awe and wonder in exploring the world around them."

Let’s work towards awakening a sense of passion, awe, and inquiry in all areas of the curriculum.

Damon W (2008). The Path to Purpose, Free Press, NY
Macinnis P (2016). Teaching children wonder and science
Mackenzie T (2016) Types of Student Inquiry via Anna Carswell
Pappert S (2016) Quote from Creating Modern Knowledge Conference via Zeina Chalich
Sheninger E (2016) Inspiring Students: Bringing Awe Back to Learning
Sherrington T (2013) Great Lessons 8: Awe
Zakrzewski V (2013). How Awe Can Help Students Develop Purpose

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Is there a need for Social Justice in Schools? Part 2

This is part two of the Need for Social Justice in Schools series.
Headlines such as “PISA shows Indigenous students continue to struggle” (ACER, 2007) reflect areas of real inequity in Australia’s education system. Reports (Thomson, 2008) indicate that Australia's lowest-performing students are most likely to come from Indigenous communities, geographically remote areas and poor socioeconomic backgrounds. These results indicate that in Australia issues of inequity need to be addressed to ensure access to quality education for all students (Thomson, 2008).
It is important in terms of equity to consider the choice of knowledge and skills selected for the assessments. To achieve equity the curriculum must include valued knowledge and skills consisting of different kinds of cultural knowledge and experience, reflective of all groups, not privileging one group to the exclusion of others.
The goal of assessment must be that students of all groups have equal opportunity to demonstrate best performance, thus ensuring equitable, if not equal, outcomes (Gray & Sharp, 2001). Wolf et al., (1991) contend that education systems increase equality by the employing performance assessments as they allow for the integration of instruction and assessment in authentic, situated or localised means. This form of assessment is compatible with constructivist theories of learning within and across cultures (Garcia & Pearson, 1994).
The multi-dimensionality and flexibility of performance assessment form the bases of its suitability as an assessment system for a culturally diverse society. Aboriginal society is itself highly diverse with a wide range of linguistic and social patterns and aspirations, from rural, traditionally-oriented bilingual children to urban, English-speaking upwardly-mobile students and a host of variations in between (Warren and de Vries, 2008).
Traditional Aboriginal learning focuses on acquisition of real-life skills by observation and imitation (Folds, 1987). As a result, significant errors in the acquisition of these skills were rare.  The implications for culturally sensitive assessments bring to light the need for assessments to be embedded in whole, real-life tasks, not imposed as isolated, decontextualised tests. Collaborative effort should also be valued in recognition that knowledge acquisition is a social process (Wolf et al., 1991).
In a culturally diverse society, flexible performance assessments are more likely to maximise fairness than standardised testing (Garcia & Pearson, 1994). Through the acknowledgement of the socio-political nature of educational assessment and the elimination of performance deficit theories among minorities the issue of equity begin to disseminate (Habibis and Walter, 2009).
Equity or fairness in assessment is a complex issue. Attention to whether all students have access to learning, how the curriculum and standards are defined and taught and how achievement in the curriculum is interpreted are equally important considerations. As facilitators of learning, the desire is to create a learning environment in which students would question, discuss, gain new insights, and collectively solve problems. In essence the education system requires teachers to equip children with strategies for rigorous intellectual activity (Wiggins, 1993) in culturally relevant contexts and using assessments that reflect and commend each child's progress. In taking this stand, teachers challenge practices that contribute to inequities and make curriculum decision that promote inclusion and participate of all children. This commitment to expertise and professional practice is central to improving student learning outcomes. In supporting current learning theory, honouring diversity and encouraging equitable assessment, situated performance assessments appear to show the way forward to educational justice for all children.
Australian Council for Educational Research (2007) PISA shows Indigenous students continue to struggle, Media Release, Camberwell: ACER.
Folds, R. (1987) Whitefella school. Sydney: Allen & Unwin.
Garcia, G. E. & Pearson, P. D. (1994). Assessment and diversity. Review of Research in Education, 20, 337-391.
Gray & Sharp (2001) Mode of Assessment and its Effect on Children's Performance in Science. Evaluation & Research in Education, Volume 15, Issue 2, October 2001, 55 – 68.
Habibis, D. & Walter, M.M. (2009), Social Inequality in Australia, Oxford University Press, South Melbourne.
Warren, E. & de Vries, E. (2007) Australian Indigenous students: The role of oral language and representations in the negotiation of mathematical understanding. In J. Watson & K. Beswick (Eds) Proceedings of the 30th Annual Conference of the Mathematics Educational Research Group of Australia, Victoria: MERGA Inc.
Wiggins, G. (1993). Assessing student performance: Exploring the purpose and limits of testing. San Francisco: Jossey Bass.

Wolf, D., Bixby, J., Glenn, J. & Gardner, H. (1991). To use their minds well: Investigating new forms of student assessment. In G. Grant (Ed.), Review of Research in Education, 17, (pp. 31-125). Washington, DC: American Educational Research Association.
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