Of Pendulums and Pedagogy

I have stumbled across two articles this week related to the role of computers in the classroom and it encouraged me to revisit an earlier post:

OECD Report on Ipads

Computers in Class a Waste!

It is a wonderfully unique time in history for education. Learning opportunities and the breadth/depth of information access is overwhelmingly delicious. Running the Teachers’ Lounge websites/pages has been a great vehicle to document some of my own exposure to this wonderful e-world and I run with arms out-flung to embrace the digital age!

I recently reflected with a friend that I recall my Dad having won a prize at his work (in the 1970s) – a hand-held calculator, with green lights! There was a huge controversy in schools about whether these devices should be allowed in mathematics classes. Similarly, the typewriter created controversy in its day, as it was seen as a ‘lazy writing tool’ ! We’ve come a long way in education.

It has been interesting to watch the evolution of the digital manifesto in our schools. Millions of dollars poured into 4 year turnaround devices (or less!) in order to ensure that schools are on the cusp of the education revolution – or at least – seen to be! Worse at times, is the competitive vying for digital one-upmanship which focuses little on the educational outcomes of the child, but rather the projected persona of the institution.

In 2011 I oversaw the roll out of iPads in our Year 6-12 classes (our focus was on portability to outside spaces, the role of the camera/video element, e-portfolio to “capture learning over time” and to enhance emerging digital skills). As a team we were cognizant that our responsibility did not end once students knew how to use the devices and commenced the interface with the virtual “www superstore”! I do see that this is a trap many educators (and leaders) fall into. The focus of time, energy and funding can be very much on getting the digital mammoth established for quick sale and the underlying pedagogy given little after-thought!

The momentum is continuing; with the development of funding (and curriculum) for coding and robotics in the upcoming “Innovation Nation” … Believe me; I’ll be on board, but with eyes-wide-open on the developmental needs of our children.

… even as some parents and educators express unease about students’ digital diets, they are intensifying efforts to use technology in the classroom, seeing it as a way to connect with students and give them essential skills. Across the country, schools are equipping themselves with computers, Internet access and mobile devices so they can teach on the students’ technological territory.  (Click for full story)

My son is currently in Year 5 at a school where iPads have been rolled out – I hear and experience (!) the concerns addressed in Growing Up Digital, Wired for Distraction. With the recent announcement that NAPLAN will now become a compulsory digital platform for “two to three years from 2017” (http://www.nap.edu.au/online-assessment/naplan-online/naplan-online.html ) – the proliferation of devices in schools for the purpose of “testing” may be a sad synergy!

In the big picture, do we want students to do better academically or find and pursue their passions? I do understand that many educators would argue for both. The current educational climate is so centered on academic achievement and standards-based curriculum, I believe we need to make proactive, concentrated attempts to get the pendulum to swing towards semi-structured, open-ended, process-oriented and student-driven learning environments. Read Full Article

Despite the genuine educational concerns about the use of devices in our community; I do believe the balance can be found and we can still embrace the opportunities at our fingertips! The engine of this opportunity is embedded in that last quote… Re-read that last sentence… NO – read it again. Do we do that? Do YOU do that? I like to think I’m an experienced educator and despite some amazing WINS in this area; I still feel I have only splashed in the pool of “… open-ended, process oriented and student-driven learning…”

My recent viewing of “Most Likely to Succeed” reaffirmed the directions we are taking and the voice we hope is heard in education… relationship, engagement, project-centric, real-world connectivity and the responsibility of exhibition (with the ultimate goal of “contribution” … in my opinion)! Yet; whilst this generation offers educators a spectrum of exciting choices; the truth is – it’s all about the LEARNER.. does their engagement with school make them want to learn more? Is it about their passions which are being foregrounded or ours? How valuable do we rate “our curriculum” over “their inquiry”?

There are deeper waters here! In our classrooms, technology must be the slave and not the master; a vehicle for deeper learning, an access for students to reach a real and engaged audience, an opportunity for deeper expression and enriched engagement… if not – we will suffer the consequences of a missed opportunity in education and deliver a generation of Candy-Crushed Kids.

Learning from “The Dot”

I love this story. I hadn’t seen it before and it immediately struck me as a great encouragement to teachers. How do we manage the “little” moments that present themselves. It struck me that;

  • The teacher has this conversation “after class”.
  • The teacher asks Vashti to “own” her work by signing it.
  • The work is privileged for what the student is able to achieve “at the moment”.
  • Vashti mis-reads the teacher’s cues … is this from her experience with other teachers (e.g. Vashti’s reaction to “Polar bear in snow storm).
  • Vashti’s teacher invested in her “after class” – by framing the first picture.
  • Vashti had resources at her disposal to “explore” (her “never before opened paint box”)
  • Reflection is CRUCIAL to the next step of learning … AND teaching.
  • Most of Vashti’s learning happens without the teacher; her teacher is merely the CATALYST.
  • This teacher only has Vashti once a week. 🙂
  • The school “Art Show” … an opportunity for an authentic AUDIENCE.
  • Vashti honours her experience (and her teacher) by mentoring another.

International Mud Day

A Day for Kids to PLAY IN MUD? Is this just too KOOKY?

I promise after listening to Tim Vidler speak on ABC Radio – You’ll … “Get It”

6a00e0097e4e68883301a511d5b9d7970c-320wiBold Park Community School (BPCS), founder of the inaugural International Mud Day, were excited to join other schools and organisations to partner in an initiative to link with schools around the globe in enjoying the benefits and pleasure of playing in mud!
The intention of this event is to provide children with a symbolic opportunity to join with others around the world in connecting through the catalyst of mud.
This year BPCS “amped it up” with a dirty-big mud obstacle course (the Mudsticle Course); where children from ages 3 to 18 (and adults) interconnect with like-spirited children around the world by playing in mud together on Friday the 27th June, 2014.
Grown from its inception in 2009 with the connection of 80 Nepalese orphans and the children of Bold Park Community School, with the support of the Nature Action Collaborative for Children (NACC), this inspirational initiative has flourished into a multi-continental annual celebration.
As the participants of Bold Park Community School Mud Day since 2009 have discovered, there are children like our friends in Nepal who are prevented from enjoying nature-based play because they only have one set of clothes. One of the aims of International Mud Day is to raise global awareness of this sad reality and provide funds to meet this need to enable children to delight in the joys of mud play, and in the mean time, encouraging our own children (and parents) to overcome our fear of getting dirty!
Mud gratifies one of our first and basic instincts. We will be playing in and connecting in the same earth. “Mud – It’s universal”.
For more information, visit the World Forum Mud Day site at:

 

Why Studio Schools Might Be Worth a Look!

Over the past year I have had the privilege to work in a small school in the Western Suburbs of Perth, Western Australia. It models a unique teaching and learning environment with a constructivist/nature based philosophy operating in a multi-age/multi teacher classroom. The school has ensured that all College students have opportunity to pursue their own path of academic excellence which has included WACE Courses, Nationally Accredited Certificate Courses through TAFE, Endorsed Programs and a partnership with Distance Education.

Our Workplace Learning (Careers) has been through significant change; over the past year we have sought to find the best model for authentic vocational partnerships. Last year, we stumbled across a pocket of educational brilliance that inspired us to reconsider many portions of the traditional workplace program we offered.

In 2011, STUDIO SCHOOLS were launched in Great Britain – schools (initially three) which focused around engaging students into “authentic partnerships with local businesses”. The school had an immediate and significant impact on student outcomes and in just 12 months has grown from 3 schools to over 60 with plans for the project to be available as a mainstream model for education in the UK and the full endorsement and funding of the British Government.

The more we examined this model, the more excited we became; because many of the unique features of the Studio School were already imbedded in our teaching and learning practices – Accredited Academic Excellence, Personalised curriculum, Practical based learning, Focus on Employability & Job-Readiness, Requirements for an intimate Small school setting and Student cohorts of mixed abilities.

The piece that has been missing (for many WPL programs) is the relationship with the business community. We have established some fantastic workplace learning experiences for students with some big name operators; however, the focus of these partnerships has been to meet the criteria for the accredited Workplace Learning Course. We were inspired to trial a model which gave the work placement a more “central role” by which there is a richer and more INFORMED, inter-relationship with the rest of the school curriculum.

Workplace Partnerships have GREAT potential; especially in a post compulsory education setting. They could/should offer;

  • Employer Projects that are integrated with at-school learning in partnership with the teaching staff.
  • Ongoing Mentorship and Coaching (INTER-RELATED not INDEPENDENT OF the child’s school goals).
  • Like-any-other-employee expectation (though this isn’t a unique property – it is foregrounded)
  • Paid work placements! Because payment is also an authentic part of our working life.

For example: Angela is a local business owner who runs a large furniture import & distribution business. She has expressed interest in partnering on a project with a student (Mary).

Angela prepares a brief “advertisement” for the position. Let’s say “Import Researcher”.

Mary’s first task is to apply for the position; Her Cover Letter, Resume and Selection Criteria are authentically seeking the position but also double as an assessment item for her English Course. Ideally, Mary could be interviewed and “appointed”. Mary works on her first day in the storeroom with Gavin and Doreen. Her assignment for the week is to profile the range of furniture pieces that the import company offer for distribution (these could be photographed and added to Mary’s portfolio).

Back at school, Mary researches where some of these pieces are sold in Perth and for what price. Mary is also asked to identify five places which offer similar stock pieces to Angela’s. Mary is required to produce a written report of her findings and present it to Angela and a member of her Sales team by week five.

I believe that this kind of unique partnership allows a shift in our focus from merely delivering a workplace learning ENCOUNTER to an integrated and comprehensive work-readiness program that is unique in delivery and function. A curriculum that allows us to broaden our skill development to include Communication, Relate-ability, Enterprise Planning and execution, Critical Thinking Skills and the development of Emotional Intelligence. Isn’t this what the business community SAY they want from young people emerging from the education system?

Employers have consistently raised concerns that young people are leaving education without key employability skills and a general awareness of the world of work. Many are frustrated by the failings of the traditional two-week ‘work experience’ block, and share the view that more must be done to improve the authenticity of work experience and the quality of employer engagement in education. Strong links with local employers lie at the heart of these ideas. Employability skills need to run through most aspects of our vocational curriculum, from the way students learn to the qualification and accreditation they achieve.

VET can’t remain an independent, extra-curricular consideration of our schools if we are to fairly service this growing school market. Thanks for showing us another option STUDIO SCHOOLS!

A Fairytale for the Arts – Happily Ever After?

When a school showcases the diversity of their school’s offerings in various publications and presentations, it is usually dominated by photographs from dance, drama, music, physical education, camps, concert, practical science and showcases… very few photographs show students sitting down at desks reading, writing and arithmetic-ing (I enjoyed writing that non-word).

Ironically, this projection is not necessarily reflected by the curriculum policies and procedures that underpin our school structures; here the focus is sometimes weighted heavily on academic performance in mainstream subjects and their ensuing ‘scored & ranked’ results.

There is a new tide of evidence mounting of the value of ‘the arts’ as a critical aspect of our curriculum rather than just a marginalised ‘extra’. This is a report that should be considered with some weight, especially in light of these emerging pedagogical insights.

I thought it would be worth reproducing the “Fairytale” from the opening pages of this report (The Arts and Australian Education: Realising Potential). You will note, it ends abruptly and has no resolution.

Do you think “The Arts” has a happy ending?

Once upon a time, all over the world, no children went to school, because schools hadn’t been invented. But children and young people still learned all they needed to become useful grown-ups in their community. They did this by listening to their elders, who told them wise stories and sang songs with them; together with the adults they danced and made music and performed the deep ceremonies and necessary lore and laws of the people; with the adults and each other they drew patterns and painted pictures and fashioned sculptures to create and communicate images and meanings; they invented stories that, although make-believe, were models of both the real world and other possible worlds – and they brought the models to life by acting them out. They learned by making artful and art-full play, and from all these experiences, where the body and senses, the brain and the emotions were all working together in constructive harmony, they made order and meaning for themselves in their personal, relational and objective worlds.

Then as life for humans got more complicated, some very odd people invented a special place to learn, and called it ‘school’. And the idea caught on, at least among grown-ups, who decided that in school, knowledge and compliance were the same thing. So they invented the Protestant Work Ethic, which divided work and play, and led to places for work called ‘classrooms’, where you learned sitting down – a good class was a quiet class, and play was left firmly outside in a special place called the playground where nothing important happened. The body and senses were ignored, and the emotions banished, and the brain was the only thing that counted. And they turned learning from a verb into a noun and called it ‘The Curriculum’ – a document in which what young people needed to know was all written down and could be carefully controlled, and what they did not need to know could be excluded.

The excluded bit included the Arts. This was because the odd grown-ups thought that music was noisy, the visual arts were messy, and that dance and drama were both noisy AND messy. If they happened at all, they were allowed to happen outside school time or on wet Friday afternoons. Their exclusion was also partly because another strange thing had happened in the world beyond schools.

Proper Art had become something only for grown-ups, and could only be created by special people who had a gift from the muses and had to have special training, which of course was available outside the schools.

Committing ‘Suicide’ to the Curriculum

Boy! Is this ever a contentious issue. I’m so glad that we are finally having the discussion of how ‘suicide’ is handled in our society.

For years it has been a taboo subject; particularly in media where the issue has been addressed with ‘kid gloves’ in fear of copy-cat events from those who may be more vulnerable in our community. In media circles the only time that suicide is openly discussed is if; a ‘person of note’ has committed suicide, the journalist is reporting on the death of others from a ‘suicide-bomber’, suicide statistics are being discussed and/or the various classifications of this data (e.g. gender, age-ranges, etc.)

The state of mental health in our community is such that we need to have a wider conversation than this. More people die from suicide than in fatal motor vehicle accidents in Australia. Currently, about 2,000 people commit suicide per year in Australia. There is hot debate about what is the best course of action with some arguing ‘we have seen a small drop in the suicide rate – if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ and others saying ‘let’s take it off the taboo shelf and discuss suicide more openly’. Both sides agree that ANY reporting and/or discussion must be defined by a mature, non-sensationised conversation.

So where does this leave teachers who are being asked to incorporate ‘suicide’ within the national curriculum (Health? Physical Education?) under the mental health banner. See report:http://au.news.yahoo.com/thewest/a/-/breaking/8989646/calls-for-schools-to-address-suicide-prevention/

If the mental health experts can’t agree on how it is best to deal with it – is it something that teachers should be ‘boldly addressing’? I’m getting mixed messages, this recent article highlights some of the issues that are bound to await us http://www.theage.com.au/national/education/experts-warn-of-danger-posed-by-school-text-20110216-1awnt.html (I wonder if Romeo & Juliet is being slammed with equal rigour?). Whilst it seems ludicrous to ask students to write ‘suicide notes’ (an oversight on the part of the publisher more than the teacher I would suspect), surely it is important to find and CREATE learning opportunities that allow students to discuss this issue?

There are many texts from my own teaching that I have used in the English class (frequently) that allow discussion of this topic in a controlled and meaningful manner. Romeo & Juliet, Dead Poet Society and short-stories such as On Saturday Afternoon (from the classic short story collection in SPECTRUM ONE) all open doorways for discussion about ‘dark feelings’, ‘the black dog’ and (not just by osmosis) pathways of help and assistance.

For me it is about PLANNING these teaching experiences. Don’t misunderstand me, they are not a daily showcase piece of my teaching practice but they are in my ‘swag bag’ and I would certainly be prepared to ‘go there’. I believe that students need to have the opportunity to discuss things in order to be informed, have access to support and have some issues ‘deconstructed’ in complexity.

I should say that I do take precautions when delivering any kind of sensitive material. In the case of texts that address suicide (yes – even Romeo & Juliet!) I would consider the following list a bare minimum of preparation;

  • If I don’t have a good rapport with a group of students, I wouldn’t go there; likewise, if you know that friends/family of students have committed suicide it is just insensitive to ‘go there’ through the use of (in my case) a text choice!
  • Keep those ‘LIFELINE McDonald’s CARDS / KID’S HELPLINE CARDS(you know the free ones they send to schools) ready for these lessons
  • Deliver this type of content when you have TIME – save it for a DOUBLE-PERIOD
  •  Notify the counsellor / chaplain / HoD that you are covering sensitive material
  • Don’t deliver the materials or lead the discussion like you are at a funeral
  • Allow students to talk openly
  • Pitch the depth of conversation to the age

I would love to hear other teachers response to the idea of being mandatated to deliver curriculum in this arena. All thoughts, disagreements, cases, examples greatly appreciated!

If you or someone you know needs help – please access the FANTASTIC resources available at the following website: http://www.suicideprevention.com.au/

Who IS Responsible for Student Learning?

Of course, I laughed and thought that this video (which has now received over 1 million hits worldwide) ‘had a great message’ and that all parents should listen to it and reflect on their school communication BUT…. it is really only a half truth if considered as anything other than a clever (and funny) SATIRE. As a disclaimer to my following comments; only read on if you are able to consider these comments but STILL ENJOY THE VIDEO. This is not meant as a vigilante on humour. If you haven’t seen it, here is the video…. followed by my ramblings.

Am I being a spoil sport by writing about this in a serious way and objecting to some of its content? (Especially the final comment which shoots inclusivity as an unfriendly footnote!). Well, the fact that the video is now packaged as ‘an actual recording that is used in a Queensland school’ is both dubious and (I would suspect) an attempt to give a tongue-in-cheek, satirical look at parent/school communication a far too considered hearing. I sincerely hope that no one REALLY used this for an actual answering service (as stressed in this posted version).

I was part of a staff discussion once (no school / staff disclosed) in which we discussed the role of the teacher. I asked staff to move to different corners of the room according to their response to certain statements. The room corners to which staff moved were labelled “AGREE”, “DISAGREE” and “UNDECIDED” – we covered a lot of issues over this time but the core intent was to get to the following decision statements:

Teachers are responsible for student learning” – AGREE / DISAGREE or UNDECIDED

and

Students are responsible for their own learning.” – AGREE / DISAGREE or UNDECIDED

I admit the questions could be interpreted as divisive yet I realistically thought that there would be a 50/50 split between the AGREE and DISAGREE categories on this issue. That wasn’t the case. Only 4 of over 50 agreed with statement one and only 5 disagreed with statement two. There were a handful in UNDECIDED. Each group was asked to defend their position, ‘Why” did they believe this was the case?

The discussion was robust, challenging and decisive. Being one of the five, I reflected long and hard about the beliefs of my peers. I knew that they were committed, focused individuals who gave beyond the ‘requirement of the job’ on an ongoing basis; yet I found it difficult to understand what I perceived to be a lack of personal ownership of our responsibility in teaching.

  • Was there any incentive to ‘get better’, as a teacher, if one fundamentally believed that learning was the sole responsibility of the child?
  • Did this belief make staff more resistant to ‘changes’ that created ‘inconvenience’ on the journey to a ‘greater good’?
  • Were staff of the opinion that educators who delivered Professional Learning to THEM were more or less effective in achieving learning outcomes based on an adjustment of teaching style/energy/activity choice, etc?
  • Did this belief impact a teacher’s willingness to support ‘special needs’ in the classroom?
  • Did this belief foster an attitude of ‘giving up’ on students too early?
  • Did this attitude result in a tendency to ‘quickly flick poorly behaved students to someone else’?
  • Did this belief impact the volume of teacher/parent/student communication?
  • Was it WRONG to THINK this way?

I have a simple illustration that I use most frequently with students to help them understand effort and reward. “If I promised to give you $1,000,000 if you got a “B” in English, what would you DO to ensure it happened?” Clearly, they know I will not be delivering on this but the point is clear – behaviour WOULD change. Can’t I ask the same question of our teachers? Our parents?

The truth is, that we are responsible to partner together regardless of how right or wrong any of us are. I will try to the best of my ability to persuade staff that whilst students must contribute a willingness to be present; that we do bear a responsibility to be ‘learning bridges’, to take students as far as humanly possible.

If the point of this video is to remind parents that they can’t flick all responsibility to schools, point well made – but I just don’t want to hear others cheering TOO loudly about it.

A Matter of Merit

My daughter doesn’t know it but apparently she will be receiving a merit award tomorrow at the assembly. My lovely wife commented that teachers make sure that every student in the class gets at least one each year.

That wasn’t my experience at school! I sat through nearly 500 assemblies at school and I never received a merit award, a congratulatory sticker, a trophy or a word of public acknowledgement. I even remember buying my year three teacher a present (I think it was soap) two days before an assembly to ensure I was “on the radar”; unfortunately, it didn’t work 😦 … I hope I didn’t spend much on the soap.

I was involved in a few sports, I cleaned out the pigeon holes, attended after-school recitals, was part of the drama team, debate team, chess team, I stacked chairs, did my homework and helped the canteen ladies carry heavy boxes … BUT………NOTHING!

Those who know me will muse that I am more than compensating for this lack of foundational attention. I could launch into a diatribe about how mediocrity is celebrated and awarded but I don’t want to do that in the context of MY GIRL getting her merit award tomorrow for (clearly) exceptional excellence.

I’m only sad that the young people of today will miss out on the opportunity to be bitter and resentful about their schooling the way that I am.  🙂

E-Portfolios OR Why I Wish I Was a School Student Again!

I have a great interest in this area and have been examining a wide range of online facilities that students are able to utilise. Mahara.org certainly seems to have the best scope for our needs (from the ones I have looked at – Moodle ready). I like the idea of a student being able to carry their accomplishments, results and samples with them across their learning years / lives. It ‘feels’ more like going to school to ‘write your life book’.

We talk of the notion of ‘life-long learning’ and this is a true opportunity to capture it all’. I can see many benefits;

  • Strong sense of ‘audience’/ ‘readership’ through online publication (secured distribution)
  • Record of ‘progress’
  • Organisational maintenance of portfolio
  • Students look for opportunities to capture their achievement
  • Ongoing access to assessment items that can influence new learning
  • Functional – students should be able to use their e-portfolio as a project that ‘moves with them’ both from year to year, but also, school to school.
  • Mum’s LOVE it!

A particularly useful resource for teachers who may want to investigate this further has been produced at http://wiki.rscwmsystems.org.uk/index.php/Eportfolios if you have no intention of visiting the site – no worries – here’s a video!