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Tuesday, 29 December 2015

One Degree Makes A Significant Difference - The Educators Winning Edge

In the days when I was working full time coaching high performance gymsports and outdoor education I was exposed to a philosophy of success. At the time it felt a little airy fairy as it did not give specific details on the 'how' to be successful but it did help guide my goal to be a great educator.

It was known as the winners edge - based on the idea that the slightest edge creates remarkable rewards! For example, a horse that wins a race by a nose is a split second faster than the horse that is placed second yet the winning horse receives considerably more. Though I am not a gambling man, we saw this in the 2011 Melbourne Cup when Dunaden won $3.6 million the second place getter Red Cadeaux earned $900000. Similarly, small improvement or changes in what we do can make a significant impact on our lives and the lives of our students.

Let's be straight: the definition of insanity is doing the same things we have always done expecting a different result. Unfortunately, without change there is no improvement. Without improvement we are risking our future and the future capacity of our students.  

Change is a broad term which can be applied to many things. Perhaps it is changing grades, embedding a new technology or working towards a new goal. These adjustments to the norm, even when they are positive cause stress because we never know exactly what we are going to get and this is what frightens us. Adapting to change requires a willingness to allow our outlook to focus on the positive and not getting stuck looking over our shoulder concentrating on the past.

Ultimately, if we don't change, change will happen to us and the things we didn't want to happen will be imposed upon us. Reading the trends, innovation and holding on to the routines that are productive help us to discover the importance of proactivity. It helps us unearth the small changes to practice that gain the greatest traction. 

Let's use the analogy of heating water. If we heated water to 99° C, a great cup of tea could be made but by heating it one more degree to 100° C, it will boil. As the water boils it creates steam and if there is enough of this it can power a steamship or a train. One degree makes a significant difference. Now for each one of us this one degree is going to be different, which takes me back to my first statement in this post. 

The bottom line is we get to decide what success is for each of us. In doing so we can align our thought patterns and actions towards achieving this goal ensuring it is congruent with our purpose and values. 

Our values define what is the most important this to us and give us purpose and direction. To be living out our purpose we need an existence that is in accordance with our values. Purpose calls forth passion which is the driving force behind accomplishment. 

As we work towards a goal, we need to monitor our effort and the results they produce to discover if the life changes have created the desired outcome. This feedback alerts us of necessary course corrections. Ken Blanchard describes this type of feedback as "the breakfast of champions" as it lets us know what we should and should not be doing. 

With the new year almost upon us, take the time to think about what your winner's edge is going to be. Decide how this action is going to support your professional goals as an educator and your personal passions, values and purpose. Move beyond just writing lists and making new year's resolutions. Face the challenge of change and try something out of the box by becoming the lifelong learners we often talk about. As we step out on this path we move beyond our perfectionist mindset by embracing a willingness to FAIL (First Attempt In Learning) to allow SAIL (Second Attempt in Learning) and reinvent ourselves as educators willing to lead the innovative education revolution essential for the students of the 21st century.

Thursday, 24 December 2015

2015 Tech Year in Review

The following has been borrowed from my end of year post last year as it still remains appropriate. "The one guaranteed constant in educational technology is change, and the pace of that change is definitely accelerating. So as we approach the New Year I thought it a virtuous time to reflect on this year's development in the use of technology at my school."

The biggest shift I have seen with the use of technology had been a pedagogical one. I have begun to find teachers have moved away from asking about how to use specific programs, apps and hardware to focusing on this is what I want to teach what tools are out there to enhance the learning desired. This has included coding, makerspaces, video conferences and mystery locations. I have found a major shift towards teaching genres of programs eg word processing and presentation rather than 'word' and 'powerpoint'. I believe that this has been driven by a greater reliance on cloud based computing.

This year has been a great year to see many of the elements I wrote about last year get classroom practices built behind them, enriching the learning experience for all students. It has also been a year when teachers and students have embraced FAIL (first attempt in learning) and SAIL (second attempt in learning) realising that it doesn't always work out the way we plan things and back up plan is always helpful.

I have seen a massive growth on teacher take up in social media for professional development especially twitter. Guerrilla PD is an article that I wrote that has supported the uptake at my school.
While I haven't written much about specific programs and apps, I am encouraged because I have experienced the better utilisation of the technology we already have and observed teachers using this in increasing innovative ways. 

For more information on programs and apps that we have implemented in the past please refer to the 2014 Year in Review

Monday, 14 December 2015

Good vs Great Education - The Difference is in the Personal Touch

I am currently in my second week of my Summer break and this morning I have been blessed with insightful pedagogical conversation.

The first came as a chance meeting with my daughter's school principal prompted by a forgotten outfit for a dress rehearsal. Immersed in end of year rehearsals, presentation preparation and school placements for next year I was given the gift of time to engage with her about the action research that the school had been conducting to promote best practice. As a professional I was encouraged to hear that many of the practices that are trending in current classrooms had been instilled in the culture of the school through teacher research. She added that due to the teachers action research they saw these classroom practices embedded well before they started trending in the mainstream. Examples she gave were Coding, Hattie's Mind Frames for Learning, Environmental Education, Instructional Rounds and Video Analysis. It was seen that this research informed innovation in pedagogy and guided the next steps needed to be taken towards the school's strategic plan. Professional development was driven by the teacher's passion but inline with the school vision to create the best experience of learning for every child.

The second came as I picked up my morning coffee. Three doors up from my house I have the most exquisite french patisserie and cafe. The owner Gary (obviously not french!) has spent many months building the business' reputation using market research, looking at the emerging trends and local feedback. This morning he mention an insightful comment "none of this matters if you don't know your customers and deliver them with a quality product that they see value in". He went on by saying "the delivery of a quality product comes from using the calibre ingredients, positive customer service and a smile. People just keep coming back because of the personal touch!"

What connections can we make as educators?

Research is important but knowing the people you serve is more important. People desire connection, this can be interpersonal face to face or online velcro moments as Mark Weston puts it. I also believe that beyond connection they want to know what you do well. If we don't promote our school successes they are left hidden. People want to know they are partnering with something that is moving in the right direction schools and teachers can guide this by controlling their narrative or reputation, Eric Sheringer calls this BrandEd. Once we are connected and control our reputation research becomes key, knowing what ingredients need to go together to deliver the high calibre education students deserve. This is where the Guerilla PD principle becomes crucial as part of the data driven research collection and teacher's professional development.

Out of both of these conversations a question that kept on spinning around my head, it is one posed by Dave Burgess in his Teach Like a Pirate book "If students didn't have to be there would I be teaching to an empty classroom?" When Gary made the statement "People just keep coming back because of the personal touch!" He gave the answer that differentiates the good from great education. When students are known and loved they want to be engaged with those educating them. Once they are engaged we as educators have the opportunity to inspire them to achieve anything.

Burgess, D. (2012) Teach Like a Pirate
Sheringer, E. (2015) The BrandED Difference
Weston, M. (2015) Velcro Moments

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Authenticity - A Tribute to a Friend

Disclosure 1: As you read this post you might think that it is not necessarily related to education but please read as I believe you will see the parallels.

Disclosure 2: This is written at a time when I should be report writing; however, as part of my grieving process I thought that it would be beneficial. 

Today I was privileged to share the celebration of life of Cathleen Cowie. I have known her as a close friend for the past 15 years to the date and on the 27.10.2015 she passed away at the age of 35. She left behind a beautiful five month old son Ryan and husband Brendon.

During today's service I reflected on all of the faces in the room. The auditorium was filled to capacity with over 2000 mourners all of which could testify as I the impact she had on their lives. As conversations and eulogies began the common theme was how positive, authentic and passionate she was. Even though Cat's schedule was probably the most full of anyone I knew she always had the time to share a word of encouragement or a listening ear. A saying that she had was "we all have 168 hours in a week and it is how we use them that is important!" She was a person who even though she was in an executive position in her work she never disconnected herself from the people in her care. Even on the day that she died she was serving her community facilitating a young mother's seminar.

Something I loved about my friend was what you saw was what you got, she had an open door policy and it was never a problem just to rock up and share what was going on in your life. She would always listen with mindfulness and encouragement and as a result you felt built up. Cat never used flattery and would not shy away from challenging you as she could see in you things that you had not seen in yourself and was able to call this out. She was connected to her community and was determined to love on them no matter what. The open door Cat had for her friends was as open to her community. So often I would hear of the pay it forward random acts of kindness she would offer to anyone who would come across her path.

Why I feel this post is important as an educator is this is the attitude we need to have with our students. Unfortunately many of us get consumed with the doing of teaching and lose sight of the being. This is something that I hope to learn to imitate from Cat life. I want to be present for my students and their families, I want to celebrate with them, learn them and walk the path with them. Cat taught me that knowing a person's heart gives us permission to speak into their lives and call skills, knowledge and talents out of them. As a teacher this is want I want to do for my students, calling out the positives in them seeing the possibilities that they are yet to see. I believe authenticity is the ability to be real and this is what I saw in Cat.

Friday, 6 November 2015

Moving Students Beyond Making Connections to Making an Impact - Empathy Connections

As I ponder global trends impacting global education I recognise the three major drivers. They are information technology, brain research around growth mindsets and neuroplasticity and cultural globalisation. With technology and globalisation I'm really excited to see how we can actually challenge some of the greatest issues in society. Currently we live in a world where communities and even nations are either coming together or pulling apart. The problem we have is a lot of the understanding children have around these issues are coming from a generational reasoning of stereotypical beliefs that are reinforcing the opinion that we are all so different from each other. As educators in not challenging these stereotypical beliefs we are allowing students to blindly accept this conclusion. In contrast as we intentionally get children to break down the walls and connect on an empathetic level they talk and engage, building understanding about culture and reconnect with humanity. By leveraging technology we are able to give students a global voice while dealing with some of the major issues in society and in the curriculum.

This year I have been privileged to have my class connect with so many amazing people from around the globe. These connections are designed with a purpose to create engaged and aware global citizens who are critical and creative thinkers. Empathy connections allow students the opportunity to see from another's perspective. They get a glimpse of what life is like for someone else. In this I encourage my students to be positive and encouraging, looking for common ground between them and the students they are meeting. We do this no matter the format: blog post/response, a twitter post, video chat or face to face.

This premise has allowed my students to understand that they are uniquely special as individuals but also very similar to the rest of humanity. The are very aware that they are not perfect and make mistakes. They understand that these mistakes are not fatal but obstacles used to help grow, develop and teach us. Carol Dweck describes this as a growth mindset, something that I work very hard in my class to establish. I believe my students brains and talents are just the starting point, their abilities can be developed through hard work, focus and persistence, where they learn from the past errors. They realized they have limitless potential and can have the moonshot thinking needed to be innovative in the 21st century.

My students have benefited from the experience of opening up our class to the world. They have learned they they have the ability to globally support and encourage students through the appropriate use of social media. They have learned that even as 7 year olds they practically can do things to advocate and help others. I have experienced that students don’t want to just make a connections. Students want to be making an impact. My students impacts have included:
  • raising money to buy books and pencils and making small wooden toy horses for a school in Uganda,
  • writing letters of encouragement to a school in Nepal after the earthquakes,
  • connecting through blogs and twitter to student from America during the Not Perfect Hat Club Blogit challenge.

They have also experienced the power of learning another language. In one of our connections the class we were speaking to only spoke Mandarin and my students were able to emotionally connect with them because they had this globalised academic experience.

I have found these experiences incredibly authentic and I firmly believe as educators embrace a willingness to tackle some of the major issues facing society by opening up their classrooms they will discover students will rapidly adopt a growth mindset. The mindset that sees the possibilities beyond the obstacles. As teachers begin to see the value in and teach more about emotional intelligences, I feel we will see greater connections between students from all cultural backgrounds. This not only benefit them but all of humanity.

An interview with Vicki Davis I did on Moving Students Beyond Making Connections to Making an Impact is available in the link below.

Saturday, 31 October 2015

Guerrilla PD - The Rise of Social Media for Educators

I was recently asked by a group of preservice teachers what has been the most powerful professional development strategy that I had undertaken during my career? This was a profound question because they had give me permission to share with them a practice that had revolutionized my world as an educator. My response initially took them by shock but as I explained my reasoning and philosophy they discovered an untapped supply of experts, experience and resources.

Social media once was just thought of as a means to connect social stories, updates and status but in recent times there has been a professional revolution with many educators taking up Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Pinterest etc. as a means for quality professional development. It has become a form of "Guerrilla Professional Development" where educators have access to professional conversations happening around the world anytime, anywhere, without cost and restriction. For me my choice in social media has been Twitter and Linkedin as they flatten my world and removes educational hierarchy. People are people even if they are professors, doctors or classroom teachers. In my professional network I have some of the world's most innovative educators and researchers. I find they have no problem taking time to inspire and encourage good practice and are willing to engage with me as a professional and with my students.

Craig Kemp has written a wonderful post on "10 Steps to Creating the perfect Educational Twitter Account" it is definitely worth the read. When I professionally use twitter I engage a viewer called tweetdeck to organise the chats that I am following. In doing this I am able to track trends and interact in a productive way.

In understanding how twitter works you have 140 characters to post a comment. This is known as microblogging. Each user has a username known as a handle for example @hostbrian and the use of a hashtag # creates conversations between groups of people that are socially related or interested in particular topics. I describe them like classrooms!

The list of these professionals could go on and on, however; these are a list of some of my favourate educators to interact with:
Prof. Mark WestonSir Ken Robinson, Prof. Alec Couros, Vicki DavisCraig Kemp, Ritu SehjiAndrea StringerLeonie Bennett, Matt EstermanZeina Chalich, Sunny ThakralBrett SalakasAlice Keeler, Jason HoskingAnna CarswellMeridith Ebbs, Abi Woldhuis, Deb ClarkeMaggie MattsonJena BallMarty KeltzBev LaddDave Burgess and Dr Karl Kruszelnicki

Some of my favourate hashtags to follow and engage with that always offer quality professional conversations around pedagogy and practice are:
#aussieed, #satchatOC, #whatisschool, #inzpired, #dojochatanz, #makered, #tesoloz, #asiaed, #PSTchat, #BFC530, #tlap, #includeed, #educoachOC

As I continue to grow as an educator I have continued to innovate. Working beyond my own professional account similar to a growing number of teachers, I have successfully implementing a class twitter account. I have done this for the purpose of engaging students with an authentic audience from the community and connecting students to the world, optimising their understanding by using 21st century tools that enhance their learning.

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

What are some 21st Century Innovations every class can achieve?

Recently I have been challenged to look at pedagogy to discover some 21st Century Innovations that were not just based on technology and could be applied to a majority of classrooms.

The use of video in the context of a lesson has significant impacts on both content retention and student engagement with McInerney  and McInerney (1998, p.166-167) claiming that the technology provides students with ‘greater control over their own learning’ with benefits amounting to enhanced understanding resulting in ‘self-confidence, independence and autonomy’ within learning experiences. In the realm of language education, a key component across all key learning areas (KLA), Mejia (1999) extols the use of video as ‘valuable tool that can enhance a classroom experience’ through the acquisition and development of ‘listening, speaking and writing skills’ and using multiple ‘playbacks’, activities that include independent, group and whole class situations can elicit successful outcomes through ‘planned, flexible lessons, working with the level of the class’. ‘There is no one correct way to use video’ (Stempleski, 1987), however to not use this valuable tool within the class may be to the detriment of those who occupy the room.  

Collaborative discussion
The mutual experiences shared through the use of technology offer realistic opportunities for student/teacher - student/student collaborative discussion to take place before, during and after its use. The importance of collaborative discussion can be seen in the unscripted and unpredictable dialogue which occurs and this collaborative discourse means that the outcomes emanating from these lessons are determined by all participants (Sawyer, 2003). The basic insight of constructivism is that learning is a creative improvisational process (Sawyer, 2003). Recent work that extends constructivist theory to classroom collaboration conceives of learning as ‘co-construction’. Both neo-Piagetian social constructivists and Vygotskian-inspired socio-culturalists focus on how knowledge is learned in and by groups (Verba, 1994) with studies demonstrating the importance of social interaction in groups where the processes reveal insights into how learning takes place, guiding future practice and planning for teachers as a result. 

Kurt Lewin suggests that group work within a balanced, egalitarian, safe and emotionally secure environment is dramatically more effective as a learning methodology then an authoritarian approach (Exley & Dennick, 2004, p. 36). The classroom environment is, or should be, a safe and secure environment where groups can be facilitated in order to advance from a authoritarian environment to a self exploration of ideas, understandings, processes and knowledge applied to practical and educational tasks (Exley & Dennick, 2004, p.37).

Providing opportunities for students to engage collaboratively in lessons and activities is an important part of the learning process as it creates possibilities for students to engage with and develop skills outside the specific framework of the outcomes with any given lesson (Herrington & Herrington, 2006, p.4). The intentional design of groups within this lesson is specifically aimed at allowing students to engage with not only the skills of working together but also solving problems from a collaborative perspective and allowing students to observe and interact with different perceptions and different ways of addressing tasks (Herrington & Herrington, 2006, p. 6). It is this methodology that will allow students to rationalize their own understanding of what needs to be achieved and then articulate that intention effectively to the group as well as evaluate and analyse it in comparison to the other members’ intentions and perceptions. 

Implementing a group rotation phase within the lessons sequence allows students to not only engage with different ideas, concepts and perceptions but it also encourages cooperation. Cooperation is achieved as the elements within the lesson require collaboration to ensure success (O’Sullivan et al, 1996, p.38). Through collaborative learning and group phases students will engage at a deeper level with the lesson material as they will need to have some tasks explained to them by others, which will require the development of questioning techniques, just as they will need to explain aspects to others, requiring reconstruction skills and effective communication (O’Sullivan et al, 1996, p.39). It is this engagement with the task on multiple levels and constructing it in varying ways to ensure others within the group can relate strategies to other students and in turn become a more effective communicator, learner and group collaborator (Jones & Jones, 1998, p.221). 

Student Centred Teaching
Student centred Learning is the process whereby students themselves observe, apply and engage with knowledge to experience success within an environment constructed by a teacher for the students (Glasgow, 1997, p. 34). This is to say that this lesson is designed around the concept of creating an environment whereby students have access to information which they use to develop their understandings and then apply that in contextual problem based or investigation based activities. This methodology is advantageous as it allows students to “learn to learn” and expand their roles as stakeholders in their education (Glasgow, 2007, p.35). 

Learning to learn, or “positive interdependent educational interaction”, is a key aspect of what a contemporary educational environment should be built upon as it allow students to move away from recited facts and recalling list based answers and develop skills in experimentation and exploration to solve problems in the classroom and in life (Johnson et al, 1991, p.17) This lesson fosters these skills and allows students to find answers by employing techniques of questioning, analysing, assessing visible thinking and evaluating rather than recalling rhetoric. This in turn will then equip our students to engage with unfamiliar tasks in the future with confidence as they have developed a learning style built upon adaption, interaction, reflection and experimentation (Fraser. 1996, p. 3).

Computing Technology
Computing technology is used as it offers many benefits to the given lesson; these include demonstration and modelling as the teacher could showcase the application or video from the board (Moss et al, 2007), interactivity with a board or device using their finger as the mouse. It is easy to show the important features of particular software and have students interact with the material. 

Computer technology can accommodate different learning styles (Herrington & Harrington, 2006). Tactile learners can benefit from touching, marking and creating text, audio learners can have the class discussion and auditory multimedia, visual learners can see what is taking place as it develops at the board and it offers multimodal learning which can be tailored to the ability and stage of individual learners (McInerney & McInerney, 1998). Students can work together with individuals contributing either at board or within a Google Doc whilst the group as a whole discussing the activity.

The ultimate goal is to give students the best opportunity to be engaged with each learning experience offering them consistency, accuracy and comprehensiveness. This is primarily a constructivist approach to teaching (Mcleod & Reynolds 2007:12-14) and as such, we appreciate that students build their own understanding of the world they live in. From our experience we find Students respond well to the student-centered approach, they are quick to respond, engage and participate in class. Such an approach establishes high expectations of students and the teachers, in regards to the quality of the learning experiences (Vialle, Lysaght & Verenikina, 2000). The Constructionist approach emphasises hands-on, activity based teaching and learning during which students develop their own frames of thought. 

Computer technology is an excellent tool as it presents the teacher with the ability to encourage critical thinking in students (Hmelo-Silver, Duncan and Chinn, 2007). Its creative use is limited only by the imaginations of teachers and students (Mejia, 1999). The Substitution Augmentation Modification Redefinition Model offers a method of understanding how technology might impact teaching and learning.

Scaffolding and modelling activities
Scaffolding and modelling provides an example of the teacher’s expectations, whereby the most important steps and decisions are emphasised (Jonassen, 1998).  Scaffolding the learning builds student confidence and ability to expand intellectual qualities through constant constructive feedback as part of learning processes (Beale, 2005). This occurs when the learner’s inner speech occurs on an automatic, unconscious level (Ellis, Larkin and Worthington 1994). The teacher demonstrates using video, websites and the information desired for the student to learn then students interact and engages with this to build context for new knowledge. Interaction with technology supports the development of proficiency to create a basis for further student development. Additional scaffolding examples can be contextual support, support by asking 'leading questions' , support by giving away parts of the solution and asking students to draw on their previous experience (Winnips, 1998, p. 35).  In addition to improving learners’ cognitive abilities, scaffolding instruction in the context of classroom learning Delivers efficiency as the work is structured and focused. The distractions have been reduced allowing time on task and efficiency in completing the activity to be increased.

Creates momentum through the structure provided by scaffolding. Students spend less time searching and more time on learning and discovering, resulting in quicker learning (McKenzie, 1999).In this, the needs of individual students learning styles are catered for, increasing engagement (DET NSW, 2003:13) and significance (DET NSW, 2003:14). By teachers knowing and utilising the student’s learning styles, they help develop coping strategies to compensate for the student’s weaknesses and capitalise on the student’s strengths. Scaffolding is an important instructional tool because it supports students’ learning. It helps students to understand that they can teach and learn from others which leads to collaboration. Students require practice to actively construct knowledge, build connections and mental schemata. Learning in this type of socially constructed environment leads to students taking responsibility for their own learning and respecting their own and others’ thinking.

As it can be seen innovation can be unplugged as much as it can be based on technology. Innovation is more about the attitude and desire to do whatever it takes to create an environment that cultivates rich learning.

ReferencesBeale, I. L. (2005). Scaffolding and integrated assessment in computer assisted learning for children with learning disabilities. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 21(2), 173-191.
Exley, K. & Dennick, R., 2004, Small Groups Teaching: Tutorials, Seminars and Beyond, RoutledgeFalmer: New York. 
Ellis, E., Larkin, M ., & Worthington, L. (1994). Executive summary of the research synthesis on effective teaching principles and the design of quality tools for educators. University of Alabama, AL.
Fraser, K., 1996, Student Centred Teaching: The Development and Use of Conceptual Frameworks, H.E.R.D.S.A: Canberra.
Glasgow, N., 2007, New Curriculum for New Times: A Guide to Student-Centred, Problem-Based Learning, Corwin: Thousand Oaks.
Herrington, A. & Harrington, J., 2006, Authentic Learning Environments in Higher Education, Information Science: Melbourne.
Hmelo- Silver, C. Duncan, R.G and Chinn, C.A. (2007) Scaffolding and Achievement in Problem Based and Inquiry Learning. Educational Psychologist, 42(2), 99-107
Johnson, D., Johnson, R. Smith, K., (1991) Cooperative Learning: Increasing College Facility Instructional Productivity, Washington University: Washington.
Jonassen, D. H. (1998) Designing constructivist learning environments. In C. M Reigeluth (Ed.), Instructional Theories and Models (2nd ed.). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
Jones, V. & Jones, L. (1998) Conprehensive Classroom Management: Creating Communities of Support and Solving Problems, Allyn and Bacon: Sydney.
McInerney, D. & McInerney, V. (1998). Educational Psychology: Constructing Learning. Sydney: Prentice Hall. 
McKenzie, J. (1999).  Scaffolding for Success. Beyond Technology, Questioning, Research and the Information Literate School Community. 
McLeod & Reynolds (2007) Quality Teaching for Quality Learning, South Melbourne : Thomson Social Science Press.
Mejia, E. (1999). Video in Language Education: Making News Broadcasts Work for You. URL: 
Moss, G., Jewitt, C., Levačić, R., Armstrong, V. Cardini, A and Castle, F (2007) The Interactive Whiteboards, Pedagogy and Pupil Performance Evaluation: an Evaluation of the Schools Whiteboard Expansion (SWE) Project: London Challenge, School of Educational Foundations and Policy Studies, Institute of Education, University of London.
DET NSW (2003) Quality Teaching in NSW public schools, discussion paper. New South Wales Department of Education, Sydney.
O'Sullivan, T., Rice, J., Rogerson, S & Saunders, C., (1996) Successful Group Work, De Montfort University: London
Sawyer, R. K. (2003). Improvised dialogues: Emergence and creativity in conversation. Westport, CT: Greenwood.
Stempleski, S. (1987). Short takes: using authentic video in the English class. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages: Westende, Belgium.
Verba, M. (1994). The beginnings of collaboration in peer interaction. Human Development, 37, 125–139.
Vialle, W., Lysaght, P. and Verenikina, I. (2000) Handbook on Child Development. Social Science Press Australia.
Winnips, J. C. (1998). Scaffolding the development of skills in the design process for educational media through hyperlinked units of learning material: report of activities performed in the first year of PH. D. research (Internal report). Enschede: University of Twente, Netherlands.

Thursday, 24 September 2015

What are Mystery Locations & Why?

Mystery Locations is an educational game where your class uses GHO or Skype with another class somewhere else in the world. The goal is for each class to determine where the other is located using critical thinking, collaboration and geography skills.

Why Mystery Locations?
According to Paul Solarz (2013) “Reasons to Do a Mystery Skype” are numerous:
  • Geography Skills
  • Critical Thinking Skills
  • Listening & Speaking Skills
  • Student Directed
  • Student Resourcefulness
  • Collaboration
  • Global Community of Learners
  • Future Partnerships
  • Authentic Purpose for Research
  • Supports and links to the Curriculum
Connecting Classrooms around the World
Whilst this video is promoted by Skype it gives educators a snapshot of the educational benefits of Mystery Locations.

Ways to Play
Within my educational context I have used 3 particular styles to play.
  • 20 questions - recommended for beginners and younger children.
    • Students prepare 20 questions and 5-10 clues.
  • Clue Drop - recommended for intermediately experienced classes.
    • Statements like: we don’t have… we are not… we don’t live near...
  • Yes or No - recommended for more experiences classes.
    • Classes are only allowed to ask yes or no questions.
Mystery Locations Jobs
  • Greeters - Say hello to the class and give some cool facts about the class without giving away their location.
  • Questioners - These students ask the questions and are the voice of the classroom.
  • Answers - They are the students who answer the other classes questions about their location.
  • Runners - These students run from group to group relaying information.
  • Google Mappers - They are the students that work with Google maps/earth studying the terrain and also piece together the clues.
  • Globe Hunters - These students use atlases, pull down maps, country maps, paper maps, globes and time zone maps to piece clues together.
  • Supervisor - Oversees the entire operation and takes notes on what worked and areas to improve on. They also lead the post-call debrief.
  • Note Takers - These students type all of the questions and answers for review during the call and assists to develop the post-call blog.
  • Reporter - Takes pictures/video during the call and assists to develop the post-call blog.
After the Mystery Location has been Identified
  • Share information about country, state, city, and/or school
  • Compare & contrast communities
  • Make plans for future projects
  • Share common projects
    • Global Read Aloud, Maths Challenges, NPHCBlogIT, etc.
  • Traveling scrapbook/journal
  • Add Mystery location to Google map and/or wall map.
  • Reporters write about event for classroom blog or twitter.
  • Continue to make connections with class via Twitter, GHO & Skype.

        How to Get Started

            Paul Solarz (2013) Becoming a Global Educator through Mystery Skypes

            Monday, 7 September 2015

            The Not Perfect Hat Club

            Earlier this year I was blessed to connect with Jena Ball and Marty Keltz founders of Criterkin. Jena was an author of numerous children's books and Marty an Emmy award winning producer. As part of this conversation I was exposed to an initiative they they were working on. Their goal was to create a movement that taught emotional intelligence and shows the importance of relationships. This plan was well thought out and put together with the intention to engage a variety of younger audiences.

            As the year went on I had multiple virtual visits with Jena and Marty. Jena while she was writing would come and meet my class, sharing the opening chapters of the Not Perfect Hat Club. As expected my class was delighted to meet a published author, which instantly improved their own creativity in writing but the surprising element was how quickly they took on the message Jena had to share. They were able to empathise with Newton, a well breed but abandoned golden retriever. They connected his story of feeling not accepted, failing to do the right thing and not being perfect. They understood the feeling of others talking behind their backs and their desire to be loved for who they are. They connected with Jabber's willingness to befriend, forgive and not listen to the bad things others had to say about Newton.

            Late last month, shortly after it was released I got a copy and it has been fantastic! I love that helps me to teach concepts and encourages generosity, respect and acceptance towards others. My children are not wanting to put it down because it speaks to them and to the things that they are dealing with. It says to them that it is okay to be yourself and to be unique. Its all right not to get things always correct because "you are not perfect but perfectly imperfect". By getting things wrong we grow and learn to be better. 

            We soon came to know our classroom as a Not Perfect Hat Clubhouse, a place where the students knew their feelings and emotions were safe. A place where they could put their Not Perfect Hats on as they knew they were okay to try and fail because they understood that they would be supported by everyone because it was part of their "First Attempt In Learning." My students are often heard quoting “I have you got my not perfect hat on, have you!”

            Some other quotes from Students
            "I liked that nobody really cared about what their hat looked like, we were not being teased."
            "I used to feel that I needed to be perfect, I used to think that other people were better than me but as we read I realized that I am okay as myself."
            "I loved that I can be not perfect, the Not Perfect Hat Club means we can try."
            "I liked that Carl accepted Newton and cared for him even though he was not the best dog. My dog does the wrong thing all the time and I still love him. It doesn't matter that he makes the mistakes because this is how he learns!"

            I would highly recommend this book and the experience of the Not Perfect Hat Club. It changes the class culture in tangible terms by highlighting to students the grasp of perfectionism.

            Sunday, 6 September 2015

            Learning Spaces

            The next paradigm shift that is going to take in education in Australia will be the ready adoption of STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics) taught in a holistic and blended way. As part of this shift, makerspaces are going to become more common to allow students ways to express understanding and knowledge in practical and physical ways. They will use cardboard and craft, electronics, computer based tech as well as robotics and blended learning to achieve this (Cooper 2013).

            The Makerlab (an alternate name for the makerspace area) will be spaces or units where school budgets will be directed towards sparkfun kits, littlebits, makeymakeys and Ardinos. They will also provide students access to smart robotics for enrichment and reinforcement. These spaces are being designed to shift students understanding by moving to teach students about physical computing and how all things work in processes and systems. These understandings can be easily seen through active participation with STEAM rather than sitting in front of a screen.

            By changing the space you cause engagement, using lights, decorations, choose your own adventure activities, toys and tools that force students to look at the problem, issue or learning in a different way. Kinesthetic sensory learning is still one of the most valuable forms of learning; however, it takes a bold teacher to move outside of their comfort zone and experiment. Failure is part of the learning course of a students as, such within our learning spaces we need to be happy to try and fail in front of them. We then model ways to work through, process and learn from this. Making our thinking visible in this process guides our students. These process is a unique trait of STEAM education.

            STEAM allows the basis of the teaching that schools adopt to tap into social and cultural interactions (Trillig and Fadel 2009) as it helps us realign and change focus. For example history is not just about learning facts but learning lessons from the past and using these lessons and manipulating them to create new innovations for the future. They also desire to develop a global literacy which is a student's ability to connect people, problem solve and create creative solutions to others problems (Hayes Jacobs 1989).

            Another aspect of this change within learning spaces is blended or flipped learning. This way of teaching has powerful repercussions for student learning as it frees up time to engage students in richer conversation. Much of the rote is given through video and websites allowing for rich tasks to be completed within the context of the class with teacher guidance.

            Cultural globalization is a reality that we need to acknowledge. Desire to have engaged and aware global citizens. Authentic experiences that inform the curriculum should drive teaching. It seems that this is something that many educators are catching on to and engaging students with real world stuff, they like it and love to learn about it. An example of how we can engage culture and history is by virtually bringing grandparents in the room as experts. They provide a wealth of life experience that often they freely will give if asked.

            Ideas for experimenting with virtual learning spaces
            • Mystery locations is a great way of completing authentic geography content in one session. It is real, genuine and engaging. 
            • Not perfect hat club is a great tool to link students with an expert author. 
            • Connected classrooms with google and google cultural institutes also allow educators to move outside of the walls of the classroom. 
            • Twitter is seen as the fastest growing social media tool for educators and an excellent strategy for creating a larger audience for student work.
            The future of learning spaces are connected, open and engaging. They are places where there is a lot going on and there is noise. They are flexible and have multiple ways of allowing students to see and represent material. They have a variety of rich tools (lego, playdoh, makeymakey, minecraft, craft) where students have choice in use. They are bright and exciting places to be where teachers work as students in collaborative spaces. They are learning together. Teachers will not explicitly teach subjects as siloed activities but will need to combine them to make the best use of time and allow students the richness they require as 21st century learners.

            Cooper, J. (2013) Designing a School Makerspace

            Hayes Jacobs, H. (1989) Interdisplinary Curriculum

            Trillig, B. and Fadel, C. (2009) 21st Century Skills, John Wiley & Sons

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