It is so important to be innovative, to look at a problem from a different perspective in order to create a new solution. What Adrian Camm describes as the ability to, “step outside of the normal and suspend our biases.” However, one of the challenges with this is giving some sort of recognition to the past, the normal, in our solution. It would be nice to think that we can start again, but as Dan Haesler touched on recently, “Your idea of innovation cannot be dependent on the removal of the immovables.” Although we may dream of such worlds, as I have said before, ideals are not always ideal.

One of the prime examples of this battle between the ideal and the seemingly immovable is furniture and structure of classrooms. Not a day goes by when a post comes through my steam about modern learning spaces. I look upon some of the ventures carried out by others in ore and excitement, wondering about the possibility of such spaces. However, this is not always the case. Schools and education departments are becoming more and more cash strapped, therefore breaking down the walls and bringing in new furniture is not always possible. Instead, we are forced to simply hack the space we have. Something that Ewan Mcintosh touched on in a recent post.

Having said all of this, such debate is all brought home when you read about teaching a hundred students under a tree in Africa. Of course, innovation is different in every context, but it is still a good reminder.

What about you? How do you balance the past with the future in bringing change and evolving the conversation? I would love to know. Comments welcome.


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

In a recent episode of Future Tense, Matthew Smith presented a report on the dingo fence that stretches across south-eastern Australia. The fence was developed to keep out dingos out of the fertile part of the Australia. However, researcher Euan Ritchie explained how the desired purpose does not always achieve the intended outcome. For although the fence was designed to help protect sheep flocks, in eliminating one of the environments natural predators, it has led to an over-abundance of wild animals and a subsequent decrease in vegetation. As Ritchie explains,

With dingoes being absent from ecosystems we have more cats, we have more foxes, we have too many kangaroos, we often have feral goats, pigs et cetera, and they all have their own impacts.

In addition to this, the fence – stretching over 5000 kilometres – costs roughly 10 million dollars a year to maintain.

The answer being purposed to improve the state of things is rewilding. Already used in Europe and America, the practise involves reintroducing top-level predators into an ecosystem in order to restore function back to the landscape. One of major concerns comes from farmers who such things as the dingo fence were created for. There have been different strategies and solutions used to quell the impact of predators on livestock. They include: large guardian dogs, such as maremmas, smaller fencing to protect young calves and lamb, as well as reimbursement for lost  stock. What is interesting is that it been argued that due to the decrease in herbivores and increase in vegetation, properties with dingoes are actually better off in a net sense. Scientists are therefore proposing not to simply remove the whole fence, but to move parts of it in order to monitor and manage the change.

This discussion of rewilding got me thinking about education. In a recent post, David Culberhouse discussed overcoming the barriers and pushing past procedures. As he explained,

The problem is that at some point, like with all obstacles or walls that we create, the danger we are trying to keep out finds a way in.

Maybe then what is needed is a rewilding of education. So often structures are put in place to support instruction and schooling. A point Greg Miller touches on in a recent post. Practises that are then measured and maintained through standardised tests. The learning landscape is then left barron with little beauty and a lot less care.

What if we removed the fences, where instead of focusing on managing experiences for students from the top on down, we co-create experiences with students from the bottom up. Supporting students to be what Ewan McIntosh describes as problem finders. This does not mean simply leaving students to their own accord, instead like the guard dogs protecting the flock, support them in the maintenance of their learning portfolios to add discipline to the process. For those learners in need of smaller fences, provide scaffolding in regards to the development of core literacy and numeracy skills, especially in early years. While provide focused assistance to those who need additional guidance to aide their learning.

Some see all of this as a risk of sending the lamb to the slaughter. Condemning students to an education of ‘stuff‘. The problem is that we are doing that now. With the research done, it is often already decided what is important to know and do, rather than placing students in the driving seat of their learning.

Some see things like Genius Hour or 2-hours allocated to inquiry as the solution. However, as Audrey Waters questions,

Don’t we need to think about how to re-evaluate 100% of time in order to make school more student-centered, not simply fiddle with a fraction of it?

This is not to say that this is simple or without risk. Just as the proposal with the dingo fence is to move a small part of it and then reassess, one approach to rewilding education maybe to take small incremental steps. Set a goal, take action and then reassess. Starting with 10%, as Will Richardson has suggested. A useful strategy in support of such change is the IOI Process which provides a series of tools that helps discuss not only where you are at, but a map of where the next step may lie.

Maybe you don’t think that this metaphor works? The strategies are too simple or lack nuance? You don’t think that learning is the top predator? That could be so. However, what is important is to continually reimagine and ask the question, what if? Such ideas may not be right or necessarily work, but they promote more discussions and help build towards a brighter tomorrow.

I will leave last word to Gillian Light who, on reflecting upon the need to lead digitally, summed the situation up nicely:

School doesn’t have to involve students sitting in straight lines listening to an all-knowing teacher. Because learning certainly doesn’t involve that.


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creative commons licensed (BY-SA) flickr photo by mrkrndvs: http://flickr.com/photos/aaron_davis/16693027205

It has been interesting following the #28daysofwriting initiative organised by Tom Barrett. The premise behind it is that committing to a month of regular posts will hopefully help develop a sustainable habit of writing and reflection. I have not participated as I feel it best to commit time when I have it and also write based on need, rather than time. Sometimes this may mean going beyond the rudimentary four paragraphs every now and then, but so be it. Anyway, I digress.

One of the observations that has arisen is the lack of comments occurring amongst the various posts. A lot of people are writing a lot of things, but not many people are actually responding. The proposal that has been put forward is a return to commenting with #28daysofcommenting. Now I am not against comments, as demonstrated by my recent post. As I have said for a long time, responding is an integral role to reading. The challenge is making this visible to others. I have issues though with the argument that ‘micro engagement has killed off the edublogging community‘. I do admit that things have changed, but I wonder if blaming this change on micro engagement is missing something more?

In a post looking at issues with education today, Peter Skillen puts forward a range of arguments. One is that there can be no wisdom and development gained in one-line. Although I think that there is plenty of drivel out there full of excessive branding, self-promotion and back-slapping, as well as enough people engaging in what Doug Belshaw describes as ‘elegant consumption‘, I argued then and I would argue now, there there is still a potential to such interactions. Going beyond being a representation of our digital identity, Twitter offers a means for sharing the main idea, writing aphorisms and generating new ideas. It provides new beginnings if we are willing to take them.

To look at this from a different perspective, Corinne Campbell made the observation that, “creativity requires design constraints”. What is often overlooked with a medium like Twitter are the constraints at play. I think that it is easy to get lost in the flow of things and forget that Twitter can just as easily be seen as a form of creativity. A point that Dean Shareski makes so well. The issue then is how to make the most of such constraints?

As I have discussed before, there are different ways to share and respond. The easiest and quickest thing to do is to simply post a title and link. Something that Barrett puts in the red zone. However, in order to develop richer communities and smarter rooms, it is wise to include handles and hashtags. For me this includes both the author and anyone who I know the topic maybe applicable to. Going beyond this, I also try and post quotes rather than titles. For one it demonstrates a higher level of engagement with the text, but it also offers a different entry point for readers.

Both Barrett and Ewan McIntosh have reflected on the halcyon days when posts would get long streams of comments, where the initial idea acted as a start for a deeper debate. (See debate over Design Thinking for a good example.) Whereas now it is more common to get a retweet, a like or a +1, with little if any actual engagement. McIntosh wonders if “anyone cares about many blog posts any more.”

This move away from commenting was brought home to me by Steve Wheeler’s reflection on his most read posts of 2014. His most read post was Learning First, Technology Second. It received over 8000 hits, yet only twenty three comments, half of which were his own responses. When quizzed on the matter of hits to comments ratio, Wheeler suggested that it is often the more emotive posts which usually gain the most interaction. I wonder if this has always been the case?

A problem I have with comments is that with a move to mobile, they just aren’t as easy as they used to be. A majority of my digestion comes via Feedly. I then save posts for commenting later. Sadly, this does not always happen.

In addition to this, commenting does not always seem as interactive as other mediums. I write a comment and it is between myself, the author and anyone else who may come upon the response. When I write using a medium like Twitter, my response is shared with whoever is viewing and is more visible, meaning the conversation has more potential. For example, I was recently wondering about iPads in Prep and put it out on Twitter:

Fifty posts later and I was left with an array of thoughts and ideas. I wonder if a blog would provide such engagement?

This is where I feel that Blogger wins out over WordPress. I like the fact that comments are connected between Blogger and Google+. Lately, I have taken to sharing comments I receive just as a way of spreading great ideas.

As an alternative, although I may not comment, I do connect. What I do is remix other people’s ideas into my own writing. They will often lay dormant, waiting, then something happens, they connect and spur on a new idea in a new context with a different perspective. What is different about remixes as opposed to connects is that it allows for multiple interactions. Pingbacks then connect back, something missing with Blogger.

At the end of the day, there are many ways of continuing the conversation, whether it be Diigo, Facebook, Google+, Voxer, the list goes on. Although there may have been a reduction in direct comments, I wonder if there has been an increase in engagement overall? I love Robert Schultz’ endeavour to comment on at least one post a day, but I think if we are to move forward then maybe we need to look more closely at the problem? Is there a new idea that needs to be unearthed? What is your take?

I encourage you to continue the conversation here.


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creative commons licensed (BY-NC) flickr photo by CaptPiper: http://flickr.com/photos/piper/4249136849

One of my goals this year has been to move towards a more student-centred approach. Whether it be reducing the time spent on instruction or providing more meaningful tasks, I have sort to evolve my own practise. Often such conversations open up into talk about choice, authentic projects and placing students at the centre of discussions. However, a particular ingredient that I have added to my cocktail this year has been the focus on ambiguity.
 
Ambiguity can come in many shapes or forms. For me, it maybe leaving a project open for interpretation or providing a task where students are given a space to decide on various elements. In his book on digital literacy, Doug Belshaw wrote a fantastic explanation of ambiguity, influenced largely by William Empson’s book Seven Types of Ambiguity. For me, ambiguity has come in the form of narrative. My focus has been to move the focus away from what to focus on why. Although this feels like a long way from +Ewan McIntoshcall for students to find their own problems, it is at least a step towards a space where students can play and explore. I feel that at its origin all learning is ambiguous and messy. The biggest challenge is what we do with this.
This year has been a bit topsy turbo in regards to my allotments. I have had the opportunity to teach a wide range of subjects, including music, media studies, literacy intervention and business studies. Some of the challenges I have facilitated have included creating a yearbook and developing a performance based on space, not just content. However, the topic that I found most interesting was the use of 3D shapes with a group of Year 7 Numeracy Extension students.
 
I always find intervention and extension classes interesting. Unlike a traditional classroom where you maybe in charge of implementing the curriculum, I always feel a responsibility to not only provide support based on where students are at, as all teachers should, but also to sustain some sort of connection to what is occurring back in the classroom. Therefore, I always ask the usual teachers if there is anything that they would like me to cover? This term the students had been focusing on shape and measurement, I was therefore asked to explore surface area. 
One of the interesting things associated with extension classes is which pedagogical cocktail do you use. I made the decision to provide the students with a beginning, interested in where they would take it. I decided to use measurements associated with houses. So after brainstorming all the different forms of measurement associated with houses, I gave each student a net of a simple model house created using Foldify and asked them to choose a particular form of measurement to focus their investigation. I am going to be honest, I was a little nervous, but isn’t it amazing how with a little faith students can achieve amazing things.
 
Although I spoke to the students about surface area, I encouraged them to focus on any problem and said that I would support them with whatever they came up with. Some of the projects that students posed were:
  • how much paint would be needed to repaint the exterior
  • how much glass would be required to replace all the windows
  • how much wood would be required in making a staircase for a second story
  • how many tiles would be required to replace the roof
In addition to the problem, I told the students that they could use any measurements that they liked. If they wanted their house to be twenty meters wide then they needed to consider the height and whether it was still logical based on the model at hand.
What was great about all of the different problems was that each of these tasks was just as unfamiliar to me as it was to them. Unlike the situation that often arises in class where the learning at hand is relatively familiar to the teacher providing support and instruction, in handing over some sort of ownership and providing an element of ambiguity, the role of sage is truly compromised. What takes pride of place in such situations is learning.
Although +Ewan McIntosh makes the point the challenge of finding a problem is often the first decision taken away from students. I feel that providing the situation for them to develop their own problems is at least a step towards this. To me this is also a step towards what +Peter Skillen‘s calls Tinkering-Based Learning, where the focus is on exploration that leads to questions, rather than vice versa. 

So what has been an ingredient that you have added to your pedagogical cocktail this year and how has it turned out?

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Via @hhoede on Twitter 

 

I remember late last year discussing ICT with a guy I know who loves technology and he suggested to me that you need a complete vision for technology in school. Don’t say, ‘I wan’t iPad’s in Early Years or laptops in Secondary’, you need to have in mind a complete vision as to what a 21st century classroom looks like, for students, for teachers, for parents, for administration, for everyone.
I understood what he was saying, that when it comes to 21st century learning, it is important to have a narrative, a story to tell, a painting to show in order to provide the reason and purpose behind the call for change. The problem is that a part of me felt that every time I started imagining such a reality it simply collapsed in heap. All I could see were the road blocks, the hurdles to be jumped. For as I spoke about in my post on excuses, we so often worry about what is not possible and start there. Instead, I have decided that I am going to lay down my dreams, create a vision of my future and start there. So here is my dream for technology in education, actually for education in general …

An Appropriately Funded Education System

Graham Brown-Martin recently posted a graphic comparing military and educational spending around the world. Although there are some countries which spend more on education, such as Norway, Mexico and Canada, more often than not there is often an unequal divide. However, even this only tells part of the story. For what inadequate funding is provided is then often inequitably shared out. There simply needs to be more public money spent on education for it is an investment that all of society benefits from. The Gonski-cum-Better Schools plan was a step towards a more equal divide in Australia, but even that was undermined as it was in stark contrast to the recommendations that the panel headed by David Gonski put forward. The reality is, it does not matter how much technology you have in the classroom, if you don’t have the appropriate structures in place to support it, then it is often meaningless. Funding is a big part of education.

No More Technological Hurdles or Hindrances

I want a learning environment where connection to projectors, to the Internet or school networks is seamless. No more disconnect, connect or finding a cable for the screen. Although many schools have moved to devices such as Apple TV, I feel that the better answer needs to be more open. In addition to this, I want devices which don’t take forever to load up or need to be managed in regards to battery time. Technology should not hold us up, instead it should allow for the more effective use of learning time.

1:1 Powerful Devices

Fine many schools are moving towards BYOD, however I think that as a part of a properly funded education system, all students should be provided with a powerful device to aid their learning (powerful is in reference to a point made in a discussion as a part of Episode 185 of the +Ed Tech Crew Podcast.) I just don’t think that it is either equitable or necessarily fair to have a situation where there are some students in the classroom that due to a range of circumstances are unable to bring a device or have one provided by the school. I am fine if students bring in a second device, such as a tablet. However, making sure that all students have access at the point of instruction is a necessity.

Teachers Given Access to Multiple Devices

I love my laptop, but feel that in a classroom it has its limits. I love my iPad, but feel that when it comes to more series work that it has its limits. I believe that every teacher should have access and be supported with two working devices. +Rich Lambert wrote a fantastic post exploring the issue of whether teachers should have to pay for the technology they use. He suggested that devices should be subsidised and a wider choice provided. Having been provided with a iPad due to my role in the school, I find it frustrating that this access is often limited to those who choose to bring their own. I would go a step further than what Richard is suggesting and argue that all teachers such be provided with two devices to support their teaching, a point I have also made elsewhere.

Access and Infrastructure

Associated with the need for funding for teachers devices is the need for acceptable access and infrastructure. There are too many tales of public schools going out and purchasing their own lines, because the Internet and access supplied by the government is either unreliable and inadequate. In addition to the pipe coming in, there needs to be appropriate support and investment in regards to the infrastructure within the school. The worst scenario in regards to technology is having a classroom full of devices which are limited to themselves or a digital camera with no computer cable or battery charger. No point owning a fast car if there are no roads to drive it on.

Curating not Consuming

Too often the focus of ideas and information seems to be around consumption. Take for example English, there is still the focus in too many classrooms on how many books have been read, rather than what is actually done with that reading. +Heather Bailie makes the suggestion, in her post ‘Curation as a Tool for Teaching and Learning’, that we should no longer read, write and react, but rather create, curate and contemplate. In this situation, students (and teachers) would not just collect information, but “comprehend, critique, think critically and use digital media strategically.” To me, the biggest change in the 21st century is that whereas in the past information was often considered in isolation, as we move towards a focus on curation, everything becomes interconnected and ideas move between subjects, across years, between classrooms and across borders.

Teachers a Part of a Community

A big part of curating is sharing information. A sad irony in today’s world of growing connectedness is that you still hear stories of teachers keeping their thoughts and ideas to themselves, instead of actually giving back to the wider community. Now when I say ‘sharing’, I’m not talking about sharing to make teaching easier, rather I believe that sharing makes learning richer. +Dean Shareski even goes to the point of saying that without sharing, there is no learning.” For me, being a connected educator has not only had a positive influence on me as a learner, but also my work teacher. A part of this is change has been openly reflecting on my practise online. The big challenge is to make this deep and meaningful for everyone, not simply dry and tokenistic, something ticked off on a sheet, but something intrinsic to who we are, something that we want to do, rather something that we are forced to do. In this environment, teachers are then instilled with more ownership over their learning. Rather than buying goods from a small corner store, where what is available is often curtailed by what the owner has bought, teachers can have the choice and variety available at a shopping centre, where they can mix and match, coming up with their own cocktail.

Students Publishing for an Authentic Audience

I am always left wondering when teachers run around after student work, ringing home to complain, chastising students for falling behind, who is this all for? Here I am reminded of Alan November’s story about the student who spent hours writing stories for Fan Fiction, yet failed to get her homework done. The explanation that the student provided was that she makes the choice to publish for the world over publishing for her teacher. Instead of completing tasks for themselves or worse, for teachers, students need the opportunities to publish for authentic audiences. For example, after consulting with a teacher from another state +Cameron Paterson got his Year 9 History class to create picture books around the topic of World War 1 for a kindergarten. If not publishing for a purpose, at least publishing for a wider audience as +Bec Spink has done with the eBooks created by her Prep classes or through a classroom blog as +Celia Coffa has discussed. For what is the point of having a fast car if there is nowhere to actually drive it?

Collaboration not Competition

A part of the problem that I find with a lot of assessment is that too often it is done in isolation, where everyone maybe responding to the same question, they do so individually. There is so much discussion in education about feedback, in particular peer-to-peer feedback, I have concern though that when this is done in an environment where the focus is being the best and therefore being better than everyone else, we miss out on an important aspect of learning, that is collaboration, connections and global communication. Technology provides so many means for this to occur, whether it be working on a project using a Google Doc or connecting all over the world using Twitter. +Anne Mirtschin provides endless examples in her blog as to how technology can be used to open up learning to the world. Whether it be learning how to use Scratch or having a guest author Skype in, Mirtschin always has a story as to how technology opens doors in her classroom to deeper learning. Just as it is said that if a question can be Googled then it isn’t a very good question, I would like to pose that if a task is corrupted by being done in collaboration with others then maybe it isn’t a very good task?

Students Learning at the Centre

 

Although students are often the focus of learning, I wonder if they are necessarily at the centre of it? There are too many choices about the what and why of learning that are made for students. +Ewan McIntosh makes the point that the challenge of finding a problem, one of the most important aspects of learning, is often the first decision taken away from students. Ideally, learning should be at the centre. In his excellent series on learning theories, +Steve Wheeler spoke about heutagogy, the study of self-determined learning. Ultimately, as we aspire to develop lifelong learning, actually learning how to learn in different contexts for different purposes is most important. For as Wheeler suggests elsewhere, “pedagogy is leading people to a place where they can learn for themselves.” Sometimes though it feels like students are learning for us?

 

 

Learning Supported by Space

I must admit, the structure of space is something that I haven’t necessarily thought a lot about and probably should. I think that one of the reasons for this is that so often it feels like such decisions are made for us, not by us and certainly not by students. I remember reading a post by +Matt Esterman on what your schools would say if they could talk. Along with +Stephen Collis‘ response, I was quite challenged. At the very least I think that we need to create flexible learning spaces. This maybe team teaching and open learning spaces, but it also maybe having different uses of the spaces we already have, as was outlined by +Michelle Hostrup on Episode #20 of +TER Podcast. The reality is that although we can make some changes to what we have now, many schools need to be refurbished to account for this change. At the very least, as +George Couros pointed out, technology should not be an event, done in a lab, rather it should be a part of all learning, whatever space that maybe.

Integrated Assessment & Reporting

At present, teachers often give feedback along the way and some sort of detailed assessment at the end. Using technology this can not only become more streamlined, but also more effective. What’s more, it means that the conversation is not always one way. For if a student wants clarification then they can follow up whenever they like. This will hopefully blend with a more fluent reporting system which continually grows and develops to show a students progress over time, rather than the current culture where students get a report at the end of each semester, which other than the previous progression points, exists as an isolated historical snapshot. As +Catherine Gatt so succinctly put it, “assessment is just charting the next part of a student’s journey, invariably owned by them and not by me.” Technology only aides and increases this dialogue that is too often missing in education.

 

 
I feel in many respects that this vision could be more cavalier, could be more bold. However, I am sure that the more I grow and evolve, so to will my dreams and ideals about education. This then is my starting point. It may not be a vision for tomorrow, but it is a vision for a better future. The challenge is to stop making excuses. Although ideals aren’t always ideal, working towards them is the least I can do.
If you have any thoughts, ideas or suggestions, I would love to hear them. Even better, what are your dreams for technology in education or education in general? For if there is one thing that I have learnt, we are all better off together.

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This post is a follow up to my presentation at the Melbourne Teachmeet held at the Immigration Museum on the 10th of May. The focus was the question, “are you really connecting if you are not giving back?” This was a topic that I had previously written about in a post of the same name. The one difference was the implications for sharing in the classroom.
 

 
 
I don’t know how many times I have heard Edmodo referred to as being ‘Facebook for education’. Other than the fact that it simply isn’t, the biggest problem I have with this is that so often such spaces are set up as a place for one way communication. Where although the teacher has stepped off the physical space, they have merely stepped into a virtual stage.
 
Now I understand that as the teacher we have a responsibility to manage such spaces. However, should it be any wonder when there is little traction from students when such spaces only allow discussion to be driven from the perspective of the teacher. This assignment is due, complete this quiz, answer that question.  I wonder how much take-up there would be with spaces like Edmodo when the focus is on learning and the topic at hand? 
 
I have heard so many presentations spruiking the benefits of Facebook for education. Usually such discussions revolve around students creating their own pages where they then gather and discuss information and ideas, including homework. Not only are they collaborating in such situations, but they are driving their own learning. So often Facebook works because students have a stronger sense of agency. When it is taken over by teachers and education, it looses its potential, the sheen rubs off.
 
In addition to issues with control, my experience of ‘social media’ of any sort in education (I include the Ultranet in this) often fails to replicate what is happening in the real world. We live in a world of excess where we are given a choice whether to participate, to comment, to view, to consume. Yet how often are students given such choices?
 
One step towards relinquishing this sense of control is to share with students those resources that we often stumble upon while exploring new opportunities. Although on a different level, +Cameron Paterson recently shared a change at his school where student representatives are included in every subject meeting. That means when there is a professional reading for staff that students complete this as well. If this is the case, why not share those articles and videos with students? Not necessarily because they have to read or watch them, but so that they have a choice.
 
In his Ted Talk+Ewan McIntosh questions why teachers rather than students do all the problem finding? This really got me thinking about what else that teachers do that students are missing out on. Short of actually committing to McIntosh’s ‘Design Thinking’ edict – we can all dream? – one step towards a focus on sharing and collaboration is actually sharing some of the messy play that often only teachers engage in. That meandering through websites in search of quality resources.
 
For example, last year I ran an elective looking at 21st Century Learning. Each week I would post links to additional material, such as posts or videos, such as Sugata Mitra’s ‘Kids Can Teach Themselves’ and Ken Robinson’s ‘How to Escape Education’s Death Valley’. This wasn’t about flipping the classroom, but rather supplementing the learning. It was amazing how many students actually watched the videos and came back the next week with other videos of their own to share back.
 
In a post discussing Three Common Myths About Innovation in Education, +Dan Haesler posses the question, “What if innovation in education sought to (genuinely) empower rather than control students?” I would like to think that sharing with students is very much a part of this. How is it that you share with students? What are some of the steps that you have taken to making online spaces safe, but also giving students a sense of choice? Please share, I would love to hear about it.

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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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