Learning in Sydney

Sydney is a great city. As well as being visually stunning, there is always something interesting going on. The Vivid Sydney Festival launched last week, which is definitely worth checking out.

With my work at EdTechTeam I love being part of the crew that runs Summits all over the world, but as a proud Sydneysider I get especially excited when we bring the Summit to Sydney. And this year I’m especially excited about the Summit because of a few extras it brings with it, which I wanted to tell you about.

First, the actual Summit itself is being held in a NSW public school for the first time. We’ve run the event in private and Catholic schools in the past with some wonderful host schools. But I’ve always wanted the public sector to be able to share the Summit experience too, so I am thrilled that this year EdTechTeam is able to partner with the NSW Department of Education and Anzac Park Public School to host the 2017 EdTechTeam Summit featuring Google for Education. The NSW DET has made Google GSuite available to every public school across NSW via the DET Portal, so there are a lot of teachers and students in these schools who will soon discover just how amazing these tools are and how they can change the way our schools operate.  I think that’s exciting!

Anzac Park Public School is a brand new DET school in North Sydney. It features modern learning spaces and an open design, and the DET was especially keen to showcase it as a great example of their future schools. I know it will be a great place to host the 2017 Sydney Summit and I’m sure those who attend will enjoy spending time there.

Of course, whiel I’m excited that more public schools can join us for the Summit this year, the event is open to ALL teachers in every sector – public, Catholic and independent.

Find out more about the 2017 EdTechTeam Sydney Summit here

In addition to the actual Summit on July 4 and 5, there are also two more awesome events on either side of it.

The first is a PreSummit workshop for anyone wanting to prepare for their Google Level 2 Certification exam. It’s being run the day before the Sydney Summit on July 3, also at Anzac Park, you can take part in a full day bootcamp workshop that will not only be a great hands-on deep dive into the GSuite tools, but also get you ready to sit the Level 2 exam and get certified in them. If you’re after the certification and would like some support in getting it, this is for you.

Find out more about the Level 2 Certification Bootcamp Presummit here

Then following the Summit on July 6 (at a venue still to be announced), EdTechTeam Press will be offering a full day masterclass with the authors of three amazing books about educational change – Trevor Mackenzie from Canada, author of Dive into Inquiry, Lisa Highfill from the USA, coauthor of The HyperDoc Handbook, and Holly Clark, the coauthor of The Google Infused Classroom. These three authors will take you on deep dive into the concepts discussed in the books, and help you apply the principles in your classroom/ It’s like a book club on steroids! There is also the opportunity to extend that learning with some pre and post discussion group activities online, and I think this is a great opportunity to try something different for your PD needs.

Find out more about the EdTechTeam Press Masterclass Booktour here

Three great PD opportunities for one great city!  Hope to see some of you there!

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons via Destination NSW CC BY-SA

Push Me, Pull Me

It’s an interesting sign of how this connected world we live in actually works when I see people coming back to revisit an idea that was floated months earlier, still mulling it over and willing to come back and re-clarify things again in their own head, which in turn helps others (like me) to re-clarify things in mine. I’m referring to a post called Unlearning, Relearning, Learning by Graham Wegner, who was in turn responding to an earlier post written on this blog back in May this year.

The conversation had basically turned to the idea of how people learn. Graham referred to another post from Dean Groom, where Dean talked about the idea of people being able to learn on demand, when they need it, by accessing the wealth of available online resources that are scattered across the Internet, produced by the millions of members of the online community. This mass-sharing has produced what Dean referred to as “the scattered manual”, where the instructions for doing pretty much anything can be found and reassembled in order to learn, if only you have the skills to do so. I hadn’t heard that idea of the “scattered manual” before, but I really like it because that’s pretty much exactly what it is… a collective knowledge of many people scattered right across the network. When one has the skills and ability to decode, reassemble, aggregate the parts of the “manual”, then that elusive “independent learning” becomes a real possibility for anyone who wants (and knows how) to get it.

I think there are two very different and distinct aspects of learning something… one is obviously the learning, and that seems to be a “pull” activity initiated by the learner. Learners need to assume responsibility to pull information to themselves when they feel they need it.

The other aspect is teaching, and that seems more like a “push” activity, where information is pushed towards the learner, usually by a “teacher”, or someone who already has the knowledge, skills or understandings that the learner does not yet have.

As much as we talk about reinventing education by doing away with “teaching” in favour of “learning” (usually as a reaction against the industrial model of education where teachers taught and students were supposed to just absorb it, and in doing so restore learning to its rightful place) I think we need to be careful that we don’t push the pendulum too far the other way and marginalise the act of teaching altogether.

My feeling is that good teachers know when to actively teach, and when to allow students to independently learn. Good teachers know when to push and when to allow pull. They know when to say to a student “this is how you do it”, versus saying “you need to go away and think about this for yourself”. It’s not that Teaching should take precedence over Learning, or that Learning is somehow less tainted with the stink of the 20th Century than Teaching, but rather, we need to know where the balance point is, in various situations, for different students, and apply that balance dynamically so that every student is always right there on the edge of their Zone of Proximal Development. A learner’s reach should always exceed their grasp, but only by the appropriate amount, and perhaps the teacher’s role is to keep that gap at the appropriate amount.

As a teacher, I want to have the wisdom to know when to say to my learners (including when these learners happen to be other adults), “You seem to be struggling, let me help you”, and conversely when to say “I will not do this for you, as it only deprives you of the opportunity to learn it for yourself.”

I don’t think you should ever do for someone what they can and should be able to do for themselves. The “scattered manual” exists so readily that to deprive learners from the opportunity, and in doing so absolve them from the responsibility, to learn for themselves just shortchanges everybody in the long run.

You Don’t Have To Like It

I just read a post on a mailing list where the topic touched on teachers that struggle with technology.  The phrase that really got me going was something about making allowances for teachers who don’t like or understand technology (whether they are new grads or close to retirement) and how this is all a bit hard for them. This is something I feel really passionate about so I have to say it…

Technology in schools is NOT a new thing.

I just cannot accept excuses about technology being optional, whether it’s from someone who is new to teaching or others who are close to retirement. There are children in those classrooms every day who deserve the best education we can offer them, and it is completely unfair if that education is less than it should be because someone wants to pick and choose which aspects of their job they feel are important.  No child should have to put up with out of date learning experience just because their close-to-retirement teacher is “taxiing to the hangar”.

Computers started appearing in classrooms back when I was still at teachers college more than 25 years ago. There has been an expectation from EVERY school, school system and government policy that I’ve worked under in the past 20 years to embed and integrate technology into the education process.  Using technology in the learning process, and having some understanding of it and what it enables our students to do, is NOT something that was dreamed up in the last few months, or that appeared suddenly with the DER/BER/<insert acronomyn here>.

I’m so tired of having the integration of technology into learning overlooked because it’s “too hard”. As educators – actual professional educators, who actually go into classrooms every day and teach for a living – we do NOT have the luxury of choosing whether we should be integrating technology, or whether we want to learn more about it, or whether we think it’s relevant to the learning process.  It is, it’s part of the job and if people don’t think so, then they ought to be getting a copy of the Saturday paper and looking for a something else to do where they CAN be selective about what part of the job they are willing to take seriously without it impacting on our future generations.

Your government, your state, your diocese, your school system, your school, have all been mandating this technology integration requirement for at least 20 years that I’m aware of. Every school I’ve ever worked for has dedicated many hours and dollars to providing professional development, training, resources and equipment to make it happen.  The fact that we are STILL having this conversation about teaching professionals who are not up to speed with this stuff after all this time is downright embarrassing to the profession.

It makes me crazy when I hear people talking about using technology in the classroom as  being “hard”, as though it’s also optional.  Every job has hard bits, but if they are part of the job, you just learn to do them.

You don’t have to like it, you just have to do it.

Tiny Bursts of Learning

Despite the fact that I know many teachers who would rank Twitter as the most valuable and powerful networking tool they have access to, there are still many more who simply don’t “get” the value of Twitter. I’ve been to lots of conferences over the last few years where the enormous value of belonging to a Personal Learning Network was being touted, and Twitter is nearly always being suggested as the ideal tool for building that network. At one recent conference I asked for a show of hands for who was not yet on Twitter, and many hands went up… my response was “Why not? What are you waiting for? How many times do you need to hear people say that Twitter is the most valuable tool they have, before you actually try it for yourself?”

I spoke to a group of preservice teachers recently who were basically told by their lecturers that they needed to join Twitter. Despite the fact that it was being promoted to them as a powerful way to learn and network with others, most of them seemed to join up simply because it was part of their assessment requirement.  Because they joined Twitter “under duress”, I don’t expect them to actually buy into it, use it well, or continue to use it past the mandated requirement to use it.  And that’s a bit of a shame.

In contrast to all this is the general sentiment among many teachers that “we need more PD!”, or the always-amusing “How can they expect us to learn new things if all we get is a few PD days a year?”

If you still believe that professional development is what happens on those two or three days each year when you sit in a classroom and have some expert “deliver” it to you, I have bad news. That model is no longer sustainable and the days of PD as something that is done “to you” by “experts” a couple of times a year are over.

Learning needs to be ongoing. The world is changing. There are new tools that can help students learn, new ideas about learning, new brain research, new emerging technologies, new social structures, and so on… to think that you can maintain a professional outlook by attending two or three PD workshops a year is almost laughable. To keep up with new learning, you really need to be plugged in to an ongoing source of professional discourse and resource sharing. It needs to be something that happens regularly, at least several times a week. Like so many other aspects of the 21st Century, some of the “ways we’ve always done things” don’t really cut it anymore.

So how can something at simple as Twitter possibly be used to stay professionally current?

How I use my Twitter PLN to learn

I’ve been keeping an eye on my Twitter stream for the past 10 minutes or so. Using the Twitter app for Mac, it sits in a narrow vertical window on the right side of my screen and as the people I follow add their tweets they flow by in a steady stream that updates every few moments. How fast this flow happens is obviously dependent on how many people you follow… I follow about 2600 people, so it tends to be a pretty steady stream of tweets, but yours might be more or less. Occasionally I glance at this “stream of (networked) consciousness” and spot little gems that look interesting.

For example in the last ten minutes I’ve spotted the following things…

…to name but a few.

In the same 10 minutes worth of tweets, I also responded to a couple of questions from other people that I felt I could help them with, saw a funny story about Moodle, watched an amusing exchange between some people I know, and ended up getting invited into an Elluminate session about developing Moodle courseware.

Just ten minutes. Even just skimming through that list of things would give me more relevant PD than most teachers get exposed to in a whole year. And those of us who use Twitter in this way are able to tap this stream of information any time we like.

(I hope you also noticed that I still don’t know what Ashton Kutcher had for lunch, or what crazy antics Charlie Sheen is up to. I don’t care about that stuff, so I don’t follow those people, so I don’t see those tweets. Twitter works because you get to make choices about who is part of your network.  You create relevance for yourself.)

Now, before you assume that I spend my whole day getting sidetracked by Twitter, let me assure you that’s not the case.  I’m telling you about this 10 minute slice of time to make the point that Twitter, when you build a network of relevant people, is an amazingly rich sources of ideas, inspiration and connections.

I don’t read every tweet. I don’t follow every link. I let most of the tweetstream just flow by me, only dipping into it if I get a moment. If I spot something interesting I hit the star to favorite it and come back to it later. If anything really good turns up in the stream and I miss it, it gets retweeted over and over so the chance of me seeing it is still pretty good.  But mostly it’s just there, flowing by, ready for me to dip into it and pull out a few gems whenever i have a moment. Do that every day and pretty soon you have a substantial body of PD building up.

I understand why people find it hard to get their head around Twitter.  I understand why people are still skeptical when they hear others say things like “Twitter is the best PD you can get!”  It sounds like complete hyperbole… How on earth can a random collection of short messages from strangers possibly compete with professionally organised training and PD sessions?

It competes because it’s more relevant, more timely, ongoing, interactive, daily and personal. Traditional PD just can’t offer all that.

If you’re one of those people who resist Twitter because it just doesn’t seem logical, please just suspend your doubt and give it a go. Don’t just join and do nothing; give it a proper go. Follow a bunch of relevant people – at least 50 or 60 – get a decent Twitter client, and open yourself to the possibilities of what a network offers. You won’t regret it.

The Right Direction

As a technology integration specialist my job is to help other teachers learn more about technology, but the real spillover is that I get to help other teachers to learn more about all sorts of stuff. Because of this I’ve come to a much better understanding of what it means to be a lifelong learner, to find true joy in learning for learning’s sake, and to be curious about pretty much everything. I love learning, and I find it difficult to understand why others sometimes appear not to.

Many schools espouse the values of lifelong learning, but not all have teachers who live those values on a daily basis. We have a new principal in our school this year, and like all management changes it often comes with a great deal of conjecture about what might change, what new ideas will be put in place. Over the last few weeks I’ve been able to get an insight into our new boss and what’s important to him, and to get a feel for where our school might be heading over the next few years. And for many reasons, I’m excited about it.

In particular, I was pleased to discover that I’m working for a guy who openly states that…

  1. ‎Learning to be a teacher is like all learning: it doesn’t occur in an easy linear fashion. All of us ‎are in the business of continual improvement.
  2. Teachers are responsible to take charge of their professional learning.‎

You’d think that such statements are obvious, but so few leaders will actually say it. What a breath of fresh air.

Finding the Right Model for ICT PD

I guess many readers of this blog would know that I work as an ICT Integrator at a large independent girls’ school in Sydney.  Large chunks of my day are spent working with our teachers and our students to help them understand a little more about technology and how it might be used to make teaching and learning more engaging and effective.  Of course, teachers always seem to be very busy, and one of the difficulties in trying to deliver some form of ongoing PD is simply getting them to find the time to do so.  I’ve tried a number of different models for delivering PD; some work quite well, others not so much. It usually comes down to finding time, and making it meaningful.

In case it’s of any use to you, I thought I’d share an email that I sent to all the teachers in our junior school (R-6) yesterday.  It’s an outline of how I plan to be delivering ICT professional development to them next term.  I’ve found that this model seems to work best for our staff, and it seems to give the most effective results.  I think this is because it’s delivered in a real situation that is authentic to them and also places a good deal of responsibility onto the staff to embrace the use of ICTs for themselves.  (one of my beliefs is that you should never do for somebody what they can, and should, be able to do for themselves) Perhaps most importantly, our teachers seem to like  this PD model and they seem quite enthusiastic about what we’re doing together… so this is what I said to them…

Dear teachers,

Although the focus of what I do here at PLC is technology integration,  it has always worked so much better when you allow me to help you link this technology integration directly into the things you plan to teach as part of your day to day activities… in this way, the use of technology can richly support and extend the learning for the students.  Over the past couple of years I feel that we have all worked together to make technology less of an “add-on” to the curriculum, and it has become more of an embedded tool for helping engage and enrich our students. Together, some of the techniques and strategies we have tried in the Junior School over the past few years includes podcasting, blogging, live webcasting, digital mapping, digital storytelling, web 2.0 tools, video news reports, social networking, manipulating digital images, and so on.  In the process, your students have come into contact with a wide range of technology tools that are an increasingly important part of the world in which they live.

In working with the Junior School staff, I have tried a number of different models for providing professional development in these tools, from offering before and after school workshops, holding lunchtime sharing sessions, shared planning time, and so on.  With the incredibly hectic schedules that most of you have, some of these PD models have been more successful than others.

Starting in Semester 2, all staff will be required to undertake specific ICT professional development each semester.  In the Junior School, we all agree that the best way to deliver this PD to you is in your actual classroom situation.

The most successful PD model for our teachers seems to be when we create time for collaborative planning time with the ICT Integrator. Under this PD model, I meet with each year group three times per term in order to plan and facilitate the integration of ICT into a classroom project.  We meet early in the term to plan a unit of work together, meet again midterm to monitor the progress of that work, and again at the end to evaluate and assess the work.  Of course, if you need extra assistance with delivering an ICT project then I am more than happy to come into your classes and assist, or to help out with computer class time, but I feel that the core of my ICT integration support is best done by assisting you to develop the skills and knowledge you need to deliver your own classwork with a rich ICT component.  The recent Year 2 “Great Inventions” project is a good example of how I see this working.

Starting in Term 3, we will resume this PD planning model that we’ve used before as it seems to prove the most successful with Junior School teachers.  After looking at the Junior School timetable, I’ve listed some suggested dates below that we could use for meetings in weeks 2B, 5A and 8B of next term.  These all take advantage of times when specialist teachers have your students. Please take a look and let me know ASAP if there are problems with any of these dates and offer some alternate dates that  are more suitable for you in these weeks.

(I’ve removed the actual dates listed here, as they aren’t relevant to anyone reading this post…)

Ideally, in our first meeting (Week 2B) we will look at a task or theme or topic you plan to teach that ICT might lend itself to, and then we can come up with a plan for how we might integrate ICT into that unit.  We will look at modifying or creating activities for the students that leverage ICT skills, and if necessary learn those skills ourselves.  I would encourage you to think about how we can make the tasks we design highly student centric, providing your students with higher order thinking skills and open ended opportunities for creative thinking.

Our second meeting (Week 5A) will be to follow through on how the project is going, what can be improved, what can be tweaked, and also to ensure that any ICT skills are being delivered to both you and the students.

Our final meeting (Week 8B) will be used to evaluate and wrap up the project.  We can evaluate it, look at what worked well, and work out how we might modify it to use (or not use) next year.

Hope these dates suit you.  Looking forward to working closely with you all next term.

We’ve used this PD delivery model in the past and it seems to work quite well.  I start by checking out the teachers’ timetables and working out when they are free (mostly when their students are with specialist teachers for Music/PE/Languages/etc) and then I propose a list of times to meet, asking them to check and confirm that these times work for them.

Anyway, just thought I’d share that in case you can make use of it.  My next few posts will be sharing some examples of how we have made this work in various classes.

Lifelong Learners?

I got interested in computers and their potential uses in teaching and learning way back in 1982 when I was at Art School/Teachers’ College. I met a guy named Colin who worked in the media center at the art school who had taught himself how to program in AppleBasic on the original Apple IIe machines. He was doing all sort of really interesting stuff with these machines, writing his own programs for randomised poetry, creating graphics, creating maths problems, etc. Colin and I became good friends and I asked him to teach me how to program too. It was INSTANTLY obvious to me that computers and technology generally could be used to support, assist, extend and just generally make learning a whole lot more interesting, and even as a preservice teacher in the early 80s I was always trying to come up with interesting ways that computers could be used to make school more interesting.

Like most colleges at the time, the college I attended didn’t offer any computer-based courses. I went and had a chat to the Dean and asked why. I still remember the conversation… he didn’t know why, he just assumed that a computer was used for administrative stuff, keeping lists of students and managing who paid fees, etc, but hadn’t really thought about their use in education. After some fast talking, I managed to convince him to let me vary my course units for the next semester to do an off-site computer programming course and have it count towards my regular course credits. And so once a week for the semester I traveled across town to a different college to do a three hour programming course.

The following year, I managed to convince the Dean that such a course should be a standard offering for everyone planning to be a teacher. To cut a long story short, the college did start to offer a course called “The Computer and the Art Educator” held offsite at another nearby university, and counting towards our regular course credits. This course used primitive graphics tablets, graphic software and programming skills to explore how computers could extend themselves into classroom use. It was 1983. I was rather pleased that I was able to play a part in helping other people see what appeared so obvious to me.

Funnily enough, there were many of my college friends who could not see the point of computers at all, and would argue with me that they had nothing to do with what happens in a classroom. They just weren’t interested in learning about something that didn’t interest them.

Since that time, I’ve worked with a lot of teachers to help them see how much better learning can be with the wise use of technology. I’ve tried every approach I can think of, and at the end of the day, I still don’t know why some people just “get it” and some just don’t. To me, it’s so darn obvious! Having taught in a technology rich environment for over 20 years now, I have seen over and over how the use of technology can motivate, engage and inspire students to learn better and to be better. I’ve seen kids just “switch on” when they learn with computers. More than that, I’ve seen how the use of technology for learning can actually change a teacher’s practice and pedagogy for the better. I’ve seen the effects of increased student motivation and engagement, and I’ve experienced the evolution of my own teaching to take a more student focused, more choice-driven, more differentiated approach to my teaching.

Ok, so having said all that, it drives me crazy when I see other teachers who simply don’t “get it”. I’ve experienced the frustration of working with supposedly-intelligent adults who appear to be unable to move beyond the ability to cut-and-paste. I even had one colleague at a previous school admit that she had been avoiding technology for years, and I found out that she did not even know how to use basic mouse functions. How do you even function in a school these days without these skills! The frustrating thing about these situations, for me, is that part of my role in this particular school was doing technology support for the staff and despite every effort to provide support for these sorts of people, they always managed to avoid any help that was offered to them. No matter what model of technology support we tried they managed to avoid taking advantage of it.

They remind me of the people in this video clip… as soon as the external forces stop, they stop too and then seem incapable of moving forward for themselves.

So that’s at one end of the spectrum. At the other is people like you and I who probably just need a bit of guidance to get started and then we assume some responsibility for our own learning. We accept that if we want to learn something new, then taking on the task of learning it is actually up to us, not someone else.  Any assistance we get from others is seen as a bonus, not a requirement.

I will go so far as to say that those teachers who actively avoid learning about (and teaching with) technology are abdicating their basic responsibility as teachers because they are failing to model and live out the basic quality that every teacher should have – curiosity and a sense of lifelong learning.

Every school’s prospectus I’ve ever seen talks about how they aim to produce students who are “independent, lifelong learners”, but so many teachers continue to display an embarrassingly low level of responsibility for their own ongoing learning, and are therefore poor models of what they expect from their students. I find it frustrating that so many teachers willingly accept that there are certain unavoidable parts of their job, and yet they steadfastly resist adopting the use of digital technologies and act as though they are free to pick and choose what parts of their job they are willing to enact. Why is the embracing of technology for learning still seen as so optional by so many?

The answer is probably that they don’t yet see the benefits. They haven’t seen the kids’ eyes light up when they do something truly interesting with computers or technology. They still see it as another optional add-on to their already busy day. They see technology as something that has to be “bolted on” to what they are already doing, instead of something that can help them do what they already do even better. They might have experienced failure in the past because of something that went wrong, something that didn’t work, and they don’t want to look foolish again. Perhaps they just think that if they can hold out for a few more years, this will all go away, or they might make it to retirement. (although I think age has very little to do with it)

Of course, this is not true of all teachers, and there are many, many excellent educators that embody and model all of the traits of lifelong learning that they expect from their students. A lot of teachers are very good at this, but there are still far too many that don’t.  And frankly, I think that’s unacceptable.

Image: ‘I am still learning
http://www.flickr.com/photos/47244805@N00/303567279