When I found out that I was accepted into Google Teacher Academy to be held in Sydney in September, I went and shared with a few staff members in the next office. One staff member asked whether that meant I would come back and get everyone going Google. I was startled, that has never been my intention. I have always pushed for encouraging communication and collaboration in and out of the classroom. Something that +Steve Brophy and I spoke about at the recent DLTV2014 conference. Sadly, many staff who I have worked with often see Google Drive as just a tool and not much more. I was then left wondering, why did I want to be a part of the Google Teacher Academy and what do I hope to get out of the experience?
 
I think that there is a misconception, and maybe that misconception is my own, that Google Teachers Academy is all about getting a whole lot of teachers using more Google products and somehow becoming inadvertent ambassadors for the corperation. Let me state clearly, I am not going to Sydney as some sort of fanboy. Fine, I have presented on Google Apps for Education before, and fine, I’d love to learn some awesome new tips and tricks, still remembering following +Rich Lambert‘s journey when he went a few years ago. However, I am going to the Google Summit in Melbourne the two days prior to the academy, so I am sure that my head will already be brimming with possibilities. In addition to this, I don’t think much is ever gained through blind faith in one company or product.
 
What I am looking forward to most is connecting and collaborating with a range a teachers in the push to evolve the education landscape. At the opening day of the DEECD’s ‘Teaching and Learning in the 21st Century’, +Will Richardson made the point that he wants his students to connect with strangers, to extend their thinking, to engage with difficult topics. I think that I want the same for teachers. They are learners too? What I look forward to is getting to know a whole lot of new educators and growing my PLN.
 
Another point of discussion that seems to be going on is who will be in which group or which mentor we will be allocated to who. I am going to be honest, I actually hope that I am in a group that doesn’t include any of my closer connections. I want to be challenged and to me a part of this is engaging with people who I don’t necessarily know what they think, what they believe and how they will respond. Too often professional development is organised around pre-existing groups – KLA’s, year levels, sub-schools -whereas I think that something special happens working with those who we are forced to get to know along the way.
 
There has been some criticism leveled at Google Teachers Academy as being one big clique, based on who you know rather than what you may bring. I think that a part of the problem is still some people’s fixed mindsets. For some it is another tick box, something else from the bucket list. Fine I will be calling myself a Google Certified Teacher afterwards, but it won’t be the first thing that comes out of my mouth. I entered with the dream of being able to work with +Tom Barrett and the awesome team at NoTosh. To me I see it as the opportunity to be a part of one massive Collaborative Problem Solving project where I will hopefully have the opportunity to make a greater difference to the lives of students around the world. To me, this also includes giving back, paying it forward, sharing whatever ideas and information that I gain with those willing to listen. For it isn’t one company that changes the world or one group of teachers, rather, as +Dan Donahoo put it in his keynote at the ICTEV13 conference, it takes a village.
 
Have you ever applied to be a part of the Google Teacher Academy? Have you ever been to one? How are you trying to make a difference? What are your thoughts? I would love to know.
 

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Lego poetry at DLTV2014
 
As I sat through one of the most horrendous presentations on Office 365, it got me wondering about the question, what makes a good presentation? I sat there thinking what would make this better? What was missing?

At first I thought that it was the absence of any conversation about pedagogy. A point that +Edna Sackson made about last years GAFE Summit in her post, ‘‘I Want to Talk About Learning…’ There was reference to pricing schemes and packages, what this includes and what that does. However, I had signed up with the hope that I could take back to school a few more tips relating to how to get the most out of Windows 8 – whether it be new applications or different functionalities – I was wrong.
The one thing that held me together throughout was the conversations I was having on Twitter with +Rich Lambert. He too was lost in the presentation. Although our banter was critical of Microsoft and their lack of innovation, much of it was in jest. We were adding a layer of humour that was seemingly absent. However, what occurred to me later was that it wasn’t learning or even humour that makes a great conference, it is people.
+Steve Brophy and I presented on the notion of listening to voices in and out of the classroom. Even though we created a range of spaces to continue the conversation, whether it be in our Google+ Community, through our Diigo Group or even simply using the hashtag #eduvoice. The place where most people wanted to connect and share was not necessarily online, which may come later I guess, but rather in person. People wanted to talk, they wanted to tell their story, share their ongoing journey.

Creating new connections is what ALL conferences should be about. Building relationships and expanding your PLN. This sense of people connecting with people, both digitally and online, is what makes them such a fantastic place to learn. To riff on +David Weinberger‘s point, “The smartest person in the conference is the conference.”
One of the things that I loved the most about #DLTV2014 was actually neither a session nor something that can necessarily be deduced to ‘one single thing’. Instead it was an initiative to generate conversations about change and reform called Institute of the Modern Learner. The idea was that anyone could add to the conversation. What made this so interesting wasn’t necessarily the idea itself, which was important, but the way in which it was carried and communicated. Some were handed random cards as they moved throughout the conference, an online space was created which was linked to a Twitter handle, while short injections were made during many different presentations. At its heart though, this movement to me was connected with the attempt to create a space for learning as embodied by ‘Gaming in Education’ stream. There were no presentations as such, instead there was a space with different hands-on posts set up, such as old console games, programmable devices and Lego poetry. Here you were at the centre of your own learning with people like +Dan Donahoo, +Kynan Robinson and +Jess McCulloch there to support and continue the conversation.
+DLT Victoria 2014 then to me has been a success. For it is easy to say that the spaces were sometimes confusing or there were too many sessions and streams, however if you walked away from the conference without creating one new connection or strengthening some ties that already existed, I would argue that you weren’t really there. Coming back then to Weinberger, “Even if the smartest person in the room is the room itself, the room does not magically make all who enter it smarter.”
Were you at DLTV2014? If not, did you follow online? What is your story? Tell me, because that is what learning is all about.

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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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‘Meaning of Success’ by Celestine Chua (Flickr)
 
The other day I got some feedback about a leading teacher position that I had applied for a couple of months ago. Although I had demonstrated the elements required in my application, it was suggested that I did not provide enough evidence in regards to my competency to lead change management. This got me thinking about what change that I had been a part of. The two things that came to mind were the introduction of the Ultranet and the roll out of interactive whiteboards across the school. However, in reflecting upon both of these situations I wondered if I was successful in bringing about change and how you actually measure such success anyway.
 

Change and Technology

The Ultranet was a learning management system developed by the Victorian State Government to support staff, students and parents by providing an online space to communicate and collaborate. It was also seen as the answer to ongoing student reporting and feedback. As a part of its roll-out, a train the trainer model was implemented where a group of lead users attended two separate days of intensive training and were then responsible for taking this back to their schools to provide support and professional development for the rest of the staff. This came in several shapes and sizes, including whole staff presentations, team focuses and one-on-one support.
 
One of the issues with the Ultranet was that it was not really taken up by all staff. Although we were told about the usage data as a region, many staff simply saw no personal purpose for it and were never really willing to grapple with the difficulties involved in evolving their practise. Subsequently, my role became more administrative than anything else where I was continually resetting passwords for students and dealing with minor problems. This all came to a head when the Australian Education Union put out a directive for members to stop using the Ultranet as a part of the industrial action in 2012, therefore ringing the death knell before the government eventually pulled the plug at the end of 2013.
 
Another initiative that I have had considerable involvement with is the roll out of interactive whiteboards at my school. Before Caroline Springs College separated into four different schools in 2012, an effort was made at the time to install an interactive whiteboard in 100+ classrooms. As a part of this package, the school was provided with a pool of professional development hours. Although I was not in charge of introducing the whiteboards across the whole college, I was given considerable responsibility at my campus. This included communicating with outside providers, as well as facilitating professional development for staff at my campus. Like the Ultranet, this involved a small group being trained up and then supporting their various teams.
 
Sadly, if I were to walk through many classes today there would be little difference from a few years ago. Although most teachers show information or use the associated software to create presentations, there are not many who embrace the interactive potential of the boards as outlined by likes of +Peter Kent and co. Where the boards are used to engage with student responses and give them an authentic voice in the classroom.
 
Interestingly, there has been a greater uptake in the early years classes at my school as it was made a non-negotiable that planning for numeracy had to include a flipchart. What is significant about this is that linking the board to an actual area of study means that it stops simply being a tool in itself and instead becomes a way of refining learning and instruction. It could also be argued that the boards are actually better suited to younger students, a point that +Rich Lambert has made elsewhere.
 
Another issue associated with the take up of the IWBs is that their introduction coincided with the introduction of the 1-to-1 laptop program. Personally, I make more use of student laptops as a way of getting each and every student involved in the lesson, rather than teaching from the board. Whether this be brainstorming with Answergarden or collaborating with Google Drive. What is most important is that, whether be via laptops or interactive whiteboards, the focus is about engaging with student responses to promote deeper dialogue and reflection.
 

Measuring the Immeasurable

The big question then is how do you measure success of such initiatives. I can tell you as I already have what I felt worked and what didn’t, but is that success? Is success instead about data, if so, what data do you use? Linked with this, is change management simply about ‘success’ or is it about what you have done? Being a focus on change, are there some things that never really gain success due to their constant state of flux?
 
To me what stands out about both the Ultranet and the interactive whiteboards is that neither has a direct correlation to clear quantifiable ‘data’. Too often the numbers of hits was relayed to us in regards to the Ultranet. However, even this only tells a small part of the story. For it is not time spent with the tool that matters, rather it is how that tool is used that has the greatest impact. Some suggest referring to such measurements as student opinion surveys which provide snapshot of student engagement and school connectedness, but again this seems like a bit of a stretch. The reality is that there are some aspects of learning are not measurable using grades and marks, a point that +George Couros recently made referring to such soft skills as humility, adaptability and the love of learning. Often the only answers we get in such situations are to the questions we ask ourselves.
 
Although not necessarily empirical or quantifiable, one approach to measuring success is by setting a clear plan with goals and reflecting on them along the way. This is something that I have spoken about elsewhere. Looking back upon both the Ultranet and the IWB’s, I think that this was a missed opportunity. There was no explicit long term plan put into place at the school level and associated with this, no real accountability. Instead of linking them to wider change through the Annual Implementation Plans and the Performance and Development Process, both were introduced as tools-in-themselves, rather than a means for redefining the classroom. For as I have stated elsewhere, 21st century learning “is not about a solitary category or skill, rather it is about the projects, the problems and the many possibilities.” Without wider support, whatever is achieved will only be limited and often fails to sustain any sense momentum without the involvement of others.
 
Another way of reflecting on success is as a way of perceiving things. No matter what context it may be, nothing ever runs completely to plan and neither should it. There are things that work and things that don’t, success in this situation is about celebrating and building upon the positives and benefits. On this matter, I am reminded of +Mel Cashen‘s post on the Ultranet where she identified some of the things that it made possible and how she utilised these in her classroom. What is significant about Cashen’s commentary is that, although the Ultranet may not have held up against the test of time, it served its purpose and accordingly she highlights some of the good things that came out of it, such as it being a safe environment for students and parents to “test the waters of an online world without the harsh consequences the world wide web.” Like goals, reflection is something that we often don’t do enough. For as +George Couros points out about professional development: “If we start building reflection time into our professional development, don’t you think that we would start doing this in our classrooms. We have to move away from the “mass dump” process in our learning.” Sadly, if we don’t allocate the time for reflection then we take the risk of not really learning anything, instead simply making the same mistakes again and again.
 

Learning Lessons

Sometimes success is not about whether an initiative continues to have a meaningful impact or falls on the wayside, rather it is about whether we learn from our failures, whether we reflect on what worked and what we could improve in the future. Just as learning is a lifelong goal, so to should success be. Instead of considering it as something achievable and able to be quantified, I believe that it is best considered as a target, an ideal to which we aim and aspire. Actually hitting the target is only one part of the goal, what is just as important is what that target is and how we go about trying to hit it.

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Background

One thing that I have learnt over time is that there is no silver bullet in education. However, there are some things that work better than others. The problem with this though is that you do not always know what the ideal solution is until you are in the midst of learning and teaching. 

I have taken a range of ICT-based electives for a few years now. From Pulp Publishing to Multimedia. One of the biggest changes that has occurred during this time has been a transition from teaching ICT to teaching through ICT. One of the consequences of this change has been the search for the best way to teach technology without actually teaching the technology. One of the answers that I have found is the notion of Project Based Learning. 


I first stumbled upon Project Based Learning via a post from +Rich Lambert looking at the difference between Project Based Learning and Challenge Based Learning. After exploring a range of free resources provided by BIE, such as Rubric for Rubrics, and incorporating some of these into my teaching, I got to a point where if I really wanted to see its worth, that I really needed to enter into it in a more whole hearted manner. I had already seen some of the issues associated with Inquiry Based Learning as the school actually prided itself on being an inquiry school with various ‘critical’ friends, such as Jen Wilson and Kath Murdoch. 


I just needed a little bit of encouragement and that came in the form of a post ‘PBL: Managing the Mushy Middle‘ from +Bianca Hewes. I always felt comfortable with structuring an inquiry unit. However, some of my early experiences with inquiry had petered out in the middle section and dragged at the end. Hewes’ post provided a wide array of resources and was the impetus for throwing myself into the wolves once again. To relinquish control in the hope of empowering students in their learning. I decided that the best place put PBL to the test was in my Year 9 Elective entitled Digital Publishing.

 

Context & Background

Small businesses, home office workers and social organisations often find it necessary to prepare their own advertising flyers, promotional pamphlets, menus, display notices, catalogues, timetables, tickets, letterheads, business cards and web pages. However, the question that people often ask themselves, how can it be done easier and quicker? Students in Digital Publishing will explore different information and communication technologies and reflect upon their potential. This elective will culminate in the creation of the Year 9 Yearbook.

 

Blurb from the Year 9 Elective Handbook

 

If you ask anyone, Digital Publishing is the subject where the students make the Yearbook. What that actually means, no-one really cared too much. So, Just as +Anne Mirtschin describes trialling gaming because she wanted to see their potential, I wanted to trial getting the students to produce real and authentic publications from scratch to see what would happen if students were given control over an authentic task. So other than creating the yearbook, I really had a blank slate on which to work upon. Spurred by +Jim Sill‘s call during his keynote at the Melbourne Google Education Summit 2013 to allow creativity in the classroom and let go, I let go – a bit.
 

Publishing with Purpose

I started the class off with a focus on publishing with purpose. One of the challenges that I had spent hours racking my brain trying to come up with an authentic task for students to complete in order to learn and explore the different ways we can publish digital content. A few years ago, when the focus was on the tool, not the task, I had methodically gone through a range of applications and programs with the students. Although some students got something out of this, surprisingly, there was little engagement overall. I therefore came up with the idea of creating a publication for students and staff focusing on programs and applications to use when programming.
 
In unpacking this task, students grappled with a number of challenges and issues, such as:
  • What programs should be reviewed
  • What should the structure of each of the reviews be
  • What program should be used to create the publication
  • How would the publication be organisation
Each of these questions was discussed by the class in a communal manner. Once this was done, each of the students chose their own program and went about exploring.
 
There were quite a few issues that arose out of the process, such as some students taking more responsibility than others, as well as a lack of care and consistency for the end product. In addition to that, some students took the task as being able to find other examples of tutorials and ‘borrow’ from them. 

Some of the reasons for this were that students did not believe that anyone would actually use the document, even if it were shared with staff and students, because if people really wanted to find such information then they could look it up themselves. Another issues was that I took on the responsibility of being the project manager and bringing the end product together. I think that this was the biggest mistake, because many students showed little care for what they submitted, believing that I would fix up any mistakes.
 

Yearbook 

After my mixed experiences with exploring different types of publishing, I took a different tact with the Yearbook. Instead of controlling the structure of the project, I stepped back. I handed control over to the class and instead of being the focus of the lesson, I stepped aside and simply added comment as a kind of devil’s advocate, querying decisions and posing questions when students stopped talking.

Initially, I had thought that the yearbook would simply be a digital publication, a PDF publication, that students would get access to. With little money in the budget, I was unconvinced as to how we would get the yearbook published. However, the students had a different idea. They did some research, surveyed the staff and students in Year 9 and even made some calls to some companies. Next minute, they had teed up a trial and demonstration from Fusion Yearbook Australia.


Associated with this, the students had looked at some examples of yearbooks and brainstormed a list of things that they thought should be included. Once they had refined this list, they then divvied up the list amongst themselves, with students working in pairs. In addition to the various jobs, such as student profiles, elective reviews and organising photographs, two students were chosen to oversee the whole project, helping out where needed and making sure that everyone knows what needs to be done.


The students then proceeded through what Hewes’ describes as the ‘mushy middle’. One of the biggest difficulties faced was in gathering together all of the content and information. A part of the problem was that the photographs and reviews had to be gathered. In addition to this, just as with the first project, some students put in more effort than others. This led to a tight situation in regards to submitting the yearbook online on time, which meant that instead of having a few weeks to thoroughly edit and proofread the finished product as a class, this process was left to a group of dedicated few, who gave up their own time to make sure everything was as it should be. 


Although I had always intended to implement many of Hewes’ initiatives, such as developing a comprehensive project calendar, creating a contract and constructing a self-assessment rubric, once I had relinquished much of the control to the students, they were sometimes hard to implement. Often, the class leaders thought that some of these things were a waste of time and were really about me taking back control. 


Although running a class on passion led to some great initiative on behalf of some, it still had the problem of everyone being being passionate about the task, which was not always the way. I guess though that this is sometimes the risk, if you are not willing to fail, then sometimes you cannot really succeed. My only concern is that sometimes I felt that the class failed more than it succeeded.

 
Once the yearbook had been submitted to the publishers, the class came up with a list of suggestions for future students and this is what they came up with:
  • Maybe use Microsoft Word, instead of Fusion, unless the Internet is improved.
  • Spend less time planning what needs to be done and more time doing it. 
  • Find an ‘alternative’ to student laptops, as they are too slow and crash all the time 
  • Collect images from the start of the year, rather than wait until the end.
  • Have people should take more ownership over editing of their own work.
  • Be clear and consistent about the fonts, layouts and backgrounds used.
  • Split tasks so that each individual knows what to do to help with accountability. 
  • Develop a ‘cheat sheet’ for students, which include jobs, layout and timeline. 
  • Have a weekly update as to where things are at and a list of any new jobs.
  • Create clear descriptions and expectations for the different roles 
Although I did not agree with all of their points of reflection, it was interesting what the students identified in their sometimes scathing review.
 

Learning is about Lessons Learnt

Some of the lessons that I learnt from the whole unit include:

  • Be more stringent with timelines. That means not only providing the due date, but breaking projects up into its part and providing each of these a due date too. I had encouraged students to set both short and long term goals in regards to the project and was hoping that managing deadlines would be a part of this. However, some students are better at setting goals than others.
  • Plant the seeds for the task earlier on in the year. That means that people need to be aware from the very start where to save photographs or submit reviews to.
  • Be clearer with descriptions of the different roles and the project as a whole. It is funny reading back through Hewes’ post now, especially when she says things like, “I thought team contracts were completely naff. I didn’t use them for years. Now, I think they’re really important documents for my students.” I could not agree more. I did not implement them because I thought that the students would laugh at them, telling me that they were for primary classes. Whereas now I think that they were exactly what was needed, something that they could refer back to, a reference point, a set of expectations that everyone agrees to.
  • Support the People, not the Project. I really did not know where to step in and when to stay out. I was so worried about it being the students work that I don’t think that I got involved enough. Although I helped a few groups solve some of their problems, I think that I could have done more equipping the leaders in the class by sitting down with them and not just discussing the project, but also helping them to better facilitate the project. Although they did a fantastic job, they still needed prompts and guidance and I could have done this better.


In the end, I am not sure that this is the best representation of Project Based Learning or if it really constitutes Project Based Learning at all, for the end goal/product was decided upon prior to starting. However, I learnt a lot about how students learn and look forward to running the class again this year.


Would love your thoughts and comments below, especially about how you think that the whole process could be improved.


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The Day Technology Came to Town

Two things happened this week, the new iPad was released and the Immergo rolled into my classroom. A multi-touch surface that can act as both a vertical screen and a flat table, it came in as the latest and greatest tool for learning that every classroom needs, on loan for a week. It is similar to the screen used in the modern remake of the television show, Hawaii Five O. Described on the website as the ‘next generation solutions for the classroom’, it got me thinking what was the problem that was needed to be solved and is the Immergo really the solution.
 
Again the old chestnut came to mind, what comes first: the pedagogy or the technology. I have spoken about this before when I looked at the way we learn. What concerned me last time was you couldn’t deal with ways of thinking without also addressing how we work and the tools we use. I think much the same can be said about addressing the tools for working in the 21st Century.
 
In his fantastic keynote for the 2011 ICTEV Conference, +Tom March spoke about the importance of refocusing education around learning and moving away from all the inhibiting factors, such as time and space. He describes technology as the real game changer, the enabler in all of this. Associated with this, he spoke about the danger of eternally waiting to jump on board the latest developments in technology, warning that there will always be something to replace what you are using today. At some point you really need to grapple with what you have. Instead of forever waiting for the next technological change, March suggested that we need to embrace organisational change, open the classroom to the world. For at the heart of it, what technology can do has not really changed in the last fifteen years (a point also made more recently by +Chris Betcher at the 2013 Melbourne Google Summit), what has changed is the way we use it. However, unlike in the early days, where everything was open, now we block sites, banned devices and poor bandwidth. Continuing the argument popularised through the TED talks by Sir Ken Robinson, March suggested that we need to move away from the constraints imposed by schools and instead focus on the possibilities of authentic learning.
 
I am left to wonder, are devices such as the Immergo the real game changer – the ‘next generation solution’ –  that everyone has been waiting for, or is the real solution already here simply waiting for us to embrace and engage with it? 
 

New Uses, Same Abuses

When I first saw the surface, I was reminded of the video series ‘A Day Made of Glass’:
 
Developed by glass manufacturer, Corning, the videos provide a snapshot of a future where everything is made out of smart glass, making every surface interactive and to be engaged with. In one scene a whole class of students stood around a glass table that had been turned in a touch screen and were experimenting with different colour combinations. It begs the question, is the image created by Corning really the future or just an elongated advertising campaign?

Let me then outline some of the uses and abuses that I observed associated the Immergo. Firstly, unlike the surface in either the Corning advertisement or Hawaii Five O, the Immegio doesn’t allow a whole class to comfortably stand around it. When I tried to get my class all around it, I couldn’t fit much more than six or so students, until it got rather squashy (and they were middle years students, I would hate to see how many senior students, let alone adults, would fit?) In addition to this, many of the apps had a decisive top and bottom of the screen, meaning that some students were disadvantaged. Don’t ask about the cable.

Associated with this, the great utopian desire to decentralize the classroom and place more focus on the learner is only partially achieved. For although the surface can be moved around the room to where it is needed, due to its slightly cumbersome size, it simply creates a new focal point in the room. Although this may no longer be at the front of the room, it still creates a new centre, therefore, in my view, only temporarily alleviating the original problem.

The biggest concern I have is with the applications. Maybe I am just not imaginative enough or just restricted by the limitations of a demonstration model, but I don’t believe that any of the applications offered within the interactive surface really provided for the creation of new original tasks, let alone the significant redefinition of current ones. For example, one of the applications allowed you to take apart a 3D model. It is pretty cool and offers a perspective that was previously unavailable. However, unless, as Tom March pointed out, there was a significant change in the way learning happens in the classroom, to me nothing much has really changed. For a new tool or program does not automatically constitute a new pedagogy.

The website for the Immergo suggests that the “integrated software … allows for a seamless content collaboration.” I do not necessarily disagree with this, but once you get a few people touching the device, it really starts to glitch and slow down. (I must admit, my students were really pushing it to the nth degree.)

I find it interesting to compare the Immergo with the ActivBoard Touch. Like the Immergo, the Touch also offers the potential to have multiple students interact with the board at once, not just write on it like traditional ActivBoards, which are dependant on the pen. I remember hearing Peter Kent talk on behalf of Promethean, at a presentation for the Touch about the potential for engaging students by creating content that they can manipulate, whether this be images, shapes or text. Getting them up to the screen and adding their own voice and opinion to the content. The Immergo offers much the same experience. What is most interesting though is that I have not really seen many teachers actually do this with ActivBoards, so why would they all the sudden change with the arrival of a new device offering much of the same capabilities. I think that if these applications were going to find any use, it would be in the early years. However, in the middle years, and especially in secondary school, I question whether these ‘collaborative’ applications would really be that effective.

Returning to Tom March, he suggested that we need to skate to where the puck is going to be, which is personalised learning, not simply play school at the front of the classroom. I question whether the Immergo really changes any of that.

There is Always A Choice

Often when ICT companies come in and spruik or some advertisement for some schmick professional development is placed on our desks, there is a perception that the new shiny device on display is the only future possible. However, as I have written elsewhere, what is often ignored is that there is always a choice. So here are some of the options that are an alternative to jumping on the next best thing.

  • Stick to What You Know: It may seem stupid, but the first option is surely to better utilise the technology already around before getting rid of the supposed dead horse that has been flogged to death. I remember hearing of a school that removed all whiteboards to force teachers to utilise the IWB’s in their classroom. Now I am not necessarily agreeing with such measures, but maybe we need deal with the flog, before simply getting another new horse.
  • LCD Screens: One of the issues that I have found with IWB’s is the projectors and the globes. No matter how often you clean them or what process you put in place in regards to extended their lifespan, they only ever last so long. If then the issue is in fact the projectors, why not, as +Richard Lambert has suggested, replace the boards with LCD screens. (Bill Ferriter wrote in a recent blog about the people that have changed him. If I was to write such a list, one of the people that would be included on much list would be Lambert. Although he does not write posts as regularly as I would like, when he does write, it is worth reading.) 
  • Lead Learners: Associated with the LCD screens, why not install an Apple TV and provide each teacher with an iPad to manage it. Not being in a 1 to 1 iPad school, this solution would not be the best fit. However, having a device that could be passed around means that although there is central spot in the classroom, defined by the screen, it does not mean that it needs to be necessarily operated by a teacher (or student) on the stage. For example, I recently came across an app from THIX called Chemist. What it allows you to do is conduct virtual experiments. I could imagine passing this around a science class and allowing different student to test out their own hypothesises. In addition to controlling the screen, the iPad then offers an opportunity to work with students in small groups. Although the screen is not as big as the Immergo, it has the potential to go where the learning is, whether it be in a small meeting room or out on the oval. Also, if the issue is bang for your buck then buying every teacher an iPad is priceless. Can you remember the last time you saw a teacher take an IWB home on the weekend to continue their learning?
  • Scrap the Digital: This may seem strange, but maybe something is lost in moving everything to the digital. If so many staff are rebelling against the sometimes fiddly nature of using an IWB, maybe we need to return to the board. I was inspired by Jak at the Google Summit to reconsider how I take notes. There are times when you just need to get messy, write things down and scribble things out, and an IWB just doesn’t suffice.
Created by @Chitombo
  • I have actually had a bit of a ‘return to the board’ recently with some of my students developing a yearbook. They feel more comfortable using the whiteboard and in order to capture this information, simply using the camera on my iPad to keep a record of everything as they go.
 


Next Generation of Learning

I am sure that if I spent more time with it that I would find some purpose – to be honest, if you spend enough time with any piece of technology, you will always find a use for it. However, at present I do not think that it is a solution truly required at this time. If we are to worry at all about the ‘next generation’, let’s start with the next generation of learning, for that is where the real change needs to happen.

To end with an authentic voice in all of this, here are the results of the SWOT analysis that I got some of my Year 8 students did in response to using the Immergo:


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In a recent blog post on being a connected educator, Tom Whitby suggested that:
The unconnected educator is more in line with the 20th century model of teacher. Access to the Internet is limited for whatever reason. Relevance in the 21st century is not a concern. Whatever they need to know, someone will tell them. If they email anyone, they will follow it up with a phone call to make sure it was received.
The question that it got me thinking was that if not being connected means not being a part of the 21st century, what does it actually mean to be working within the 21st century? There are many contrary opinions out there about what 21st century learning is and what are the skills associated with it. However, the one thing that stands out across all discussions is that to ignore one element often collapses the whole definition.

 

Reading, a Sum of Many Interconnected Parts

The other day, I was discussing the practise of reading with a fellow teacher. Although seemingly obvious now, it occurred to me that although there are various strategies and focuses (inferring, summarising, questioning etc …), they are all interrelated and interconnected and cannot really be taught in isolation. Take inferring for example. Students are asked to refer to background knowledge or text structures in order to develop inferences from the text, even if they are not necessarily the focus (see Harvey & Goudvis Strategies That Work). The reality is to talk about any strategy or skill-in-itself often misses or denies something else that is happening during the process of reading, pushing the other activities into the margins. Reading is subsequently often taught in an isolated fashion, with ‘focuses’ and so forth, based on the effort to structure or organise practices. In this situation, I am reminded of Roland Barthes’ S/Z where he unpacked the different layers of meaning inherent in Balzac’s novella, ‘Sarrasine’. Barthes approach was to be open to the meaning within the text, rather than restrict himself with a predefined focus. This seems in vast contrast to the practise of reading with a ‘focus’ in mind. The question this poses then is whether focusing one particular strategy really constitutes reading? (I have also written about this elsewhere). To me it is comparable to a running through a training drill as opposed to playing a game. Clearly they are related, but are they really the same? 

 

21st Century Learning, A Whole or Many Parts?

In an effort to organise the different skills associated with the 21st century learning, the researchers at ATC21S divided them into four different categories:
Ways of thinking. Creativity, critical thinking, problem-solving, decision-making and learning
Ways of working. Communication and collaboration
Tools for working. Information and communications technology (ICT) and information literacy
Skills for living in the world. Citizenship, life and career, and personal and social responsibility
Often this division into separate categories leads to people responding to the different parts in isolation. However, when you start to look at the list, you begin to realise that each of the different categories are inseparably interlinked. For example, it is through the use of Blogger that I am able to critically engage with ideas and communicate them with others. The question that needs to be considered then is whether the different categories can really be dealt with in isolation? Are they things-in-themselves or just a way of thinking about the bigger question of learning in the 21st century?

I think that this point is particularly comes to the fore when you consider the use of ICT tools. It is often believed that teaching the tool somehow automatically  equals  utilising 21st century skills. However, in my opinion, this is a bit of a misnomer. Too often the focus of professional development revolves around the use of a particular tool, as that is where the money has been spent, rather than focusing on the skills that are made possible and the changes that this might bring to learning.

Take for example the failure of interactive whiteboards. I was once privy to an inspiring presentation run by +Peter Kent for Promethean. His main point was that the interactive whiteboard offered an opportunity to modify the way we teach and the way students learn. Take this possible sequence of events as a model: after brainstorming ideas, students are invited to come up to the board and engage with the content by reorganising the information, these choices are then used to develop a further conversations, such as ‘why did you make that choice’. This series of events shows the possibility of the interactive whiteboard to not only decentralise the classroom (at least remove the teacher from the stage), but also the ability to engage students in the critical question of ‘why’ they made the decision that they did. Sadly, from my experience, the use of IWB’s has never really gotten past using the boards as an overpriced projector, a part from those few cavaliers trying to lead the way. I feel that there are two things that have inhibited the take up of IWB’s by teachers. Firstly, many staff struggle to utilise the associated software to its full potential (this is often the biggest hurdle), but more importantly, there is often an inability to link the use of IWB’s with the skills of thinking and collaboration. Is it any wonder then why they have never really taken? (I am of the belief that many of the benefits of interactive whiteboards are slowly being undermined by the rolling out of 1 to 1 devices, see Rich Lambert’s blog on the matter.)
 

Thinking in the 21st Century

Once again we come back to the question, does focusing on one particular category really constitute 21st century learning? Does the fact that you are focusing on thinking-in-itself simply equate to focusing on the skills of 21st century learning, rather it means you are focusing on thinking. Would you consider teaching students how to infer as covering all the different skills associated with reading,? Clearly not, it is simply teaching students how to infer. Why then does the same not apply to the different skills associated with the 21st century? When introducing 21st century, it is not about a solitary category or skill, rather it is about the projects, the problems and the many possibilities. There are sometimes in life when the sum of the parts are just different to the whole.

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