Irresistably Engaging … for Parents Too


flickr photo shared by mrkrndvs under a Creative Commons ( BY-SA ) license

During a recent ICT planning session the age old argument was raised again, where is the promised digital revolution that everyone promised? Really, it was argued, we are not doing anything different than what we did in the past. For example, the new Digital Technologies curriculum, awaiting endorsement, calls for a focus on coding. However, it was argued by some members that this is no different to the focus on Logo in the 80’s. In response, one participant suggested that one significant change technology has brought about is the ability to communicate with parents on a more regular basis. Instead of being restricted to the usual diaries and school newsletters, technology allows schools to foster deeper connections between home and school.

I agree with Eric. I think that technology has the ability to make listening to voices both in and out of the classroom more doable. The question though is whether such messages that are enabled are always worthwhile. In his book Open, David Price discusses this problem, saying:
Most parents, I believe, would prefer to know about their child’s confidence, their sense of well- being, their capacity for independent thought, or their ability to ask critical questions – the language of milky coffee. Instead, parents only know the language of black coffee, because that’s all they hear. Are they on target for good grades? Are they getting enough homework? What were their last test scores?

For whatever reason, schools often use new mediums to provide same old information. Complaining that parents do not read printed reports, some believe that making them accessible digitally somehow makes them different. I am not so sure. Although it can be easy to blame parents, if we do not give them a reason to engage, can we blame parents when they do not show any interest?In a conversation about education reform on Twitter, Alan Thwaites shared a documentary video including the usual voices, such as Sir Ken Robinson, Tony Wagner and Thomas Friedman.

Education Documentary Clip from One Potato Productions on Vimeo. Although many of the arguments were not necessarily new, what stood out to me was the discussion of High Tech High and project based learning. For the culmination of the project, students had to present what they made to the community at an information night. I know showcasing student work is nothing new, but there just seemed to be something different about what was happening in the video. Maybe that it seemed more authentic than usual, with students enthusiastic about their work. Or maybe it was the space that was created. Whatever it was, parents seemed to be genuinely interested.

Coming back to the planning session, there were many quotes bandied around to create conversation and spur us on. One that stuck out was Michael Fullen’s discussion of technology in Stratosphere, where he states:

New developments must be:
i) irresistibly engaging (for students and for teachers);
ii) elegantly efficient and easy to use;
iii) technologically ubiquitous 24/7; and
iv) steeped in real-life problem solving.
What stood out in this quote was the reference to students and teachers in the discussion of ‘irresistibly engaging’. I was left wondering, what about parents? Don’t they have a part to play in all of this, shouldn’t developments be irresistibly engaging for them too? Are they not important?

Too often when it comes to involving parents in schools it seems to be a one way transaction, simply focusing on informing them:

  • Putting on chalk and talk information sessions for technology
  • Publishing digital newsletters discussing what has been going on
  • Sending texts and emails to parents when a child is absent
  • Providing access to academic and behavioural results online
  • Advertising school events and information on public webpages
  • Putting on showcase events once a semester to celebrate students work and achievements

Many of these things are simply substitutions, with little augmentation. While coming back to Fullan’s argument, I question whether they are irresistibly engaging.

Reconsidering the list and thinking about how they could be changed, here are some ideas:

  • Developing information sessions that are co-constructed and incorporate the practise in question, as Jon Andrews has done when introducing PBL to parents
  • Having year levels/classrooms openly publishing a blog celebrating learning
  • Engaging with parents in regards to supporting goals and homework, as Alan Thwaites has done using Compass as a means of dialogue
  • Provide parents with live updates about student activities, as Andy Hair has done using Google Hangouts during sporting carnivals
  • Publish student work online and showcase to the world, as Bec Spink has done when creating eBooks and putting them on iTunes
  • Engage the wider community using video conferencing, as Alan November has done by Skyping grandparents from overseas into the classroom

Each of these ideas and activities involve a modification of practise, but also in regards to mindsets. Many of these mediums provide the potential for parents to comment, ask questions and provide their thoughts. For some, this is fraught with danger. What if this or what if that. Such fear and trepidation though gets us nowhere. As Price points out, the world is going SOFT whether we like it or not, the question then is how we are going to embrace it. For me, it starts by fostering a culture of trust.


The reality is, many parents work irregular hours and do not necessarily always have the time to participate the way that we would like them to. The ideal of 9 til 5 is fast becoming a figment of the past. However, technology makes connections and communications that were previously not necessarily possible. Maybe there are schools already embracing such changes, if so I would love to know, please share. Or maybe ‘engagement’ is a poor metric, as Richard Olsen has suggested. Having said all this, we must always remember to never loose the human element. As always, comments welcome.

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How SOFT Are You?


creative commons licensed ( BY-SA ) flickr photo shared by mrkrndvs

I recently started reading David Price’s book OPEN: How we’ll work, live and learn in the future. After extracts, reviews and recommendations I entered wondering what he would have to add to the debate about education. What interested me about Price was that, along with others like Graham Brown-Martin, his take on the future of education did not come via the usual teacher, turned academic, come consultant. Instead it was a bit more indirect. Such a point of view helps by bringing an outsiders perspective, rather than being caught up within schools and politics. It is a focus on learning, something not constrained to the classroom. Questioning what it is and what it maybe in the future.

Many of Price’s thoughts and observations touch upon various facets of society, pointing out that things are not always as the seem. One of the ideas though that really stood out was the notion of SOFT. When I first saw it mentioned I thought that Price was going to touch upon Thomas Friedman’s analysis of what matters in the 21st century are soft skills, such as leadership, humility, collaboration, adaptability and loving to learn and re-learn. However, this is not what Price means by SOFT.

For Price, SOFT is an acronym standing for four inter-connected, consequental values which he sees as integral for being open in the the 21st century.

  • SHARE: Whether it be adding ideas to a wiki or posting an update on Facebook, sharing involves connecting and collaborating  with others. There are two key characteristics to sharing, the speed at which knowledge is able to spread and the ability to work together to take action.
  • OPEN: Whether it be providing corporate data online or living life through social media, open is about being transparent. What is interesting is that for many it is something we have taken to whether we were aware or not, some are just more radical than others.
  • FREE: The notion of free includes such things as the value of knowledge, the consumption (and production) of digital goods, as a business model, the ability to fail and an entitlement. Many of these examples are about mindsets and adjusting existing models to add free into them.
  • TRUST: For each of the other elements of SOFT to work, they depend upon trust. When we read an update on social media, we trust that our friends are being honest. When data is provided openly online, we trust that it would not be used to undermine us. When we foster a culture of prosumers (producers and consumers), we trust that people we at least provide attribute when content is made available through Creative Commons licences. When trust is stripped away, we are usually simply left with accountability, this is particularly true of schools.

In many respects, Price’s description of SOFT touches upon David Weinberger’s ideas about networked, society, where just because you are in the room, it does not make you smart. The warning is that going SOFT is now inevitable. It has allowed us to take control of our lives and make decisions which were often left to the experts in the past. As Price states:

It’s simply inevitable that, having helped shape how we now live, and work, these values will become central to how we learn. Embedding SOFT values into innovative learning environments is not without its dangers. Giving employees and learners greater freedom demands greater responsibility. Being transparent may provide disgruntled employees with the means to act maliciously. But we have to learn how to adapt, and we have to adapt how we learn. As W.E. Deming once said ‘Learning isn’t compulsory…neither is survival’. (Page 74)

So how are you adapting and learning in the 21st century? More importantly though, how SOFT are you?


 

For those interested, here are a couple of resources unpacking David Price’s book in more detail:


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So Which Pedagogical Cocktails Are Drinking Today?

cc licensed (BY-NC) flickr photo by Thomas Hawk: http://flickr.com/photos/thomashawk/2355249759


I am not sure if I was being naive or slightly arrogant, but this post began its life as an effort to provide an overview of the different modes and methods of inquiry. Whether it be challenged-based, project-based, problem-based or plain old inquiry, I was trying to bring everything together in my own head, to make more sense of it all. However, what I soon realised was that the more I explored the topic, the more variants that appeared, with so many different ideas and interpretations. It all came to a head when +Richard Olsen shared a blog with me from +Ewan McIntosh on the difference between project-based learning and design learning. As you read through both McIntosh’s post, as well as various comments that follow, you realise that there is little consistency throughout. Although many of the differences are only marginal, there is little agreement on what constitutes either problem-based learning and design learning.
At the end of the day, the reality is that every teacher is different – we just choose to deny it. Even though we may practise a certain pedagogy, it does not necessarily mean that it will be the same as the next person. Rather, everyone has their our own intricacies and twists on the way they do things. What then starts to matter more is the practitioner rather than the pedagogy. I think that this is the point that John Hattie and co are trying to make by moving the focus from the student to the teacher.
I believe that this re-visioning of education is best summed up by Kath Murdoch in her fantastic post on the attributes of an inquiry teacher. Murdoch argues that inquiry-based learning is more than planning a unit, it is about facilitating this learning in the classroom. As she states, “Inquiry is not just about knowing how to plan – it’s about how we teach.” This got me thinking that maybe a better approach to work towards isn’t about identifying the ‘best’ practise as revolving around curriculum where the end is decided before the beginning, maybe our focus should be on how we teach and adjusting this to the needs of each and every situation.

The Pedagogical Cocktail

The idea that caught me was the metaphor of a cocktail. While chatting with some new found members of my PLN (Dick Faber and Alan Thwaites) it occurred to me that our chats were something akin to being at a bar and what we were drinking were pedagogical cocktails. However, unlike a traditional bar where you go up and request your drink, all the ingredients are laid out for us to make up our own. This creates a scenario where choice is only limited to our own creativity. Then after enjoying a cocktail or two, we are able to share back and reflect with those in our networks, hearing about the ups and downs, and helping us with our next choice of cocktail.
I think that the problem is that sometimes we think that we feel that we can only partake of a particular cocktail, that someone else always knows better, therefore we should listen to them. However, this denial of choice often results in teachers who have little engagement and ownership over their curriculum and classrooms, while it also restricts many potentials and possibilities. Instead, teachers maintain a status-quo that often no longer accounts for the world that will come tomorrow, let alone we live in today.
In an interview for the +TER Podcast, John Goh captures this situation by suggesting that, “all of us have a ‘default’ value from teachers college.” This concoction of tastes reassures and comforts us. That old friend whose welcoming aromas makes us feel at ease. The challenge though, as Goh goes on to propose, is that “we need to make sure that we move on from that.” Although we may know it, like it and find comfort within the default value, we need to move on and adjust our choice of cocktail to the food on offer or to the environment being set. It just wouldn’t feel right drinking a stock beer with everyone wearing tuxedos. The reality is that it is not enough to going back to the tried and trusted again and again.

The Right Method for the Moment

I entered this year with the endeavour to provide more time for student lead learning. Other than exploring +Mark Barnes‘s The 5-Minute Teacher, I took to exploring the potentials of different modes of inquiry. Having had some history with inquiry-based learning, I returned like the prodigal son, but this time instead of sticking to one particular model, I was instead interested in identifying the right method for the moment. This is portrayed by two contrasting units of work, one for Robotics, while the other for Business Studies.

An Introduction to Robotics

Having taught the class for three years, it was due for an overhaul. Fine, I had refined things each year, but instead of rolling out the same assignment with a set of questions and tasks containing a restricted set of ideas and information, I had taken to providing more opportunities for students to follow up on their own interests. So I began with a series of lessons focused on immersing students into different aspects of robotics, such as what constitutes a robot, some of the history associated with robotics and how everything is represented through popular culture. Once students had completed these tasks, they posed questions associated with each of the three areas. They then chose one of their questions to investigate and present back. As a class, we then created a measurement for greatness to provide a point of reflection for students to work towards. I really wanted to share these collaboratively and get everyone commenting and questioning on each others presentations. However, due to some technical restrictions, we weren’t able to do this. 

How Can we Measure Success?

On the flip side, for Business Studies I started the unit by posing the question ‘how can we measure success?’ From there the class investigated who they consider as being successful and what makes them so. After that, I gave the challenge of coming up with a way of measuring the success of a student, the principal and Lionel Messi. They then shared their different conceptions with each other, giving feedback about what they thought was good and what they would improve. Once they had fixed up their various forms of measurement, the class then used Socrative to vote on which one was the most effective and why. With this decision, they then decided to work in pairs to make a series of profiles of successful people and combine them into a book.

Although I am sure there are some who would argue that I have not really done inquiry, that I have probably cut corners and that I haven’t really taken authentic action. I would agree and I admit that this is something that I still need to work on. However, sometimes ideals aren’t always ideal. At the very least, a move from the teacher at the centre to the student was a positive change.

Know What Your Drinking When Ordering from the Bar

It can be so easy to jump on a band wagon, to wear a certain ‘ism’ on your sleeve as if it were some sort of given. The reality though is that there are no ‘givens’, instead their are choices and consequences, as I have stated elsewhere. The most difficult thing to do is actually making the best choice for the current context and situation. In a recent interview on +TER Podcast, +David Price suggested, “I’d rather you do didactic learning well, than project learning badly.” His point is that we sometimes choose a particular method because we feel we have to and baulk at others, because they are seen as flawed or contradictory. However saying a blanket ‘no’ to didactic learning is just as bad as saying a blanket ‘no’ to inquiry-based learning. No is not really a useful word when discussion choice.

+John Spencer makes a similar point in his insightful post ‘Seven Horrible Things That Really Aren’t All That Horrible‘. In this post, Spencer discusses such taboos as worksheets, multiple choice tests and textbooks, arguing that sometimes it is how these things are used which is the issue and that sometimes they do have a place.

In the end, the most important thing that we can do is be conscious of the decisions we make. I am aware that this is no simple matter, as was pointed out to me by +Darryn Swaby on Twitter:

@mrkrndvs #pedagogicalcocktail Here’s the thing…I’m not sure I know [what pedagogical cocktail I’ve been drinking]. I think that is why your analogy resonated with me.— Darryn Swaby (@DarrynSwaby) March 28, 2014

To me this all starts by asking yourself, what does my classroom look, feel and sound like and how is it different from other classrooms. I think that this may be what +Richard Olsen is aiming at with his new venture ‘The Modern Learning Canvas‘. Where teachers are not only encouraged to identify the how and what associated with learning and teaching, but most importantly, the why. At the very least, we owe it to ourselves to at least be informed, through data and feedback, so that we can make the best choice possible, rather than keep on drinking the same old cocktail again and again.

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