Googling Libraries

The future of libraries is in research

A collection of ways Google G Suite for Education can be used in the library, including the creation of digital spaces, supporting research, organising thinking and making connections beyond the classroom.


One of the areas that the team that I work in supports is GSuite. This year we have looked to provide for some different stakeholders within school, one of which are librarians. I have written before about the future of libraries, touching on ideas of a hybrid learning space always open. Here then are some further thoughts on the ways that GSuite can support these changes:

Spaces

A significant change in recent times has been the development of virtual spaces. David White describes this intersection between the physical and digital as a coalescent space. Google provides a number of options including: Sites, Plus, Classroom and Blogger. Each application has its own set of features and affordances.

(New) Google Sites is a static website builder that allows a lot of drop and drag. It offers a number of possibilities. It is also now found within Google Drive and allows users to embed a wide range of content. One of the limitations is the ability to converse and the use of mobile platforms to create and update.

Another option is Google Plus. Like Facebook and Facebook Pages, Plus provides the means to create communities where people can meet and share. These can be both public and private. Additionally, Plus allows users to organise resources in collections.

A development over recent years has been Google Classroom. This space allows many of the features of Plus communities, but in a closed environment. A recent addition to classroom has been the ability to engage across domains.

The original Google space is Blogger. One of the original blogging platforms, Blogger allows for an open and dynamic presentation of content. This could be a shared space for different writers, a place to collect links or a space to document news and updates.

There are so many options for spaces. However, rather than choosing one or the other, sometimes the best option is combining different solutions, whether it be a Site and a G+ community or a blog and a Classroom space.

Further Reading

Research.

In an age of abundance, customised content and fake news, one of the more important roles for a library is to develop digital citizenship. For David White, this is about being an “expert at navigating content, not owning it.” A common use of libraries then is to support research and investigation. Google provides a number of tools to support this, such as:

Google has also created a range of material to support the development of research skills. This includes a Power Searching Course, Search Literacy Lesson Plans and the game-based A Google A Day

Another collection of strategies comes via Mike Caulfield and his work around fact checking. In his book Web Literacy for Student Fact Checkers, Caulfield outlines four key strategies:

  • Check for previous work: Look around to see if someone else has already fact-checked the claim or provided a synthesis of research.
  • Go upstream to the source: Go “upstream” to the source of the claim. Most web content is not original. Get to the original source to understand the trustworthiness of the information.

  • Read laterally: Read laterally.[1] Once you get to the source of a claim, read what other people say about the source (publication, author, etc.). The truth is in the network.

  • Circle back: If you get lost, or hit dead ends, or find yourself going down an increasingly confusing rabbit hole, back up and start over knowing what you know now. You’re likely to take a more informed path with different search terms and better decisions.

This book also explains how to use Google Books to track down quotes and use reverse image search to find the origin of an image.

To support these strategies, Caulfield also started a new site, Four Moves. This has been designed to provide prompts and practice to support students with the act of fact checking.

It is often stated that the best firewall is the human sitting using the computer. That is part of the reason Google developed Be Internet Awesome, a program designed to support students to be better online citizens. It is organised around five fundamentals – being smart, alert, strong, kind and brave – and mixes together a curriculum with a series of game-based activities.

It is important to note that Digital citizenship can mean many things to many people. Sometimes the best thing to do is start by defining what it means within your own content.

Further Reading

  • Google Search Presentation – Anthony Speranza provides some tricks to making the most of searching with Google.
  • Be Internet Awesome – A range of resources developed by Google to help kids be safe, confident explorers of the online world.
  • Web Literacy for Student Fact-Checkers – Mike Caulfield provides a range of strategies, tactics and tools, which, properly used, can get students closer to the truth of a statement or image.
  • Four Moves – A collection of activities to support Caulfield’s work with fact checking and digital citizenship.

Beyond Book Reports

The traditional perception of the library are rows and rows of books and with this the age old practice of standard book reports. It would be therefore easy to use technology to just reproduce this. The problem though is it fails to recognise new possibilities associted with the various features and affordances.

One possibility is to explore place using the range of geo tools. Whether it be plotting a narrative with Google Tour Builder, going on a Lit Trip with Google Earth, collating books from around the world with My Maps, exploring places with Google Cardboard or testing your knowledge with Smarty Pins.

Another potential is to use Google Forms to gather student reviews and then publish these with Awesome Tables. These reviews could even be audio or video recordings, collected using the file upload question format. Videos could even be played within a Google Slide, therefore avoiding the need to upload to YouTube.

HyperDocs provide another way of rethinking how students respond to books. They are documents which incorporate different interactive activities, usually involving a range of choice. They help provide the structure for self-determined learners. A creative activity involving hyperlinks is the making of a ‘choose your own adventure’ story. Another format to support thinking and research is the Iron Chef Lesson Plan, which involves working collaboratively to develop ideas and understanding.

Further Reading

Thinking

Libraries are often the space within a school which provides the possibility to go beyond the subject silos. In regards to curriculum, this provides the opportunity to explore other areas, such as the critical and creative thinking curriculum.

Google provides a number of ways to make our critical thinking visible. This can come in many formats, whether it be conducting brainstorms, organising ideas using graphic templates or representing understanding using infographics. For creative responses, you can make poems or digital comics. Two tools useful for working collaboratively with text and visuals are Drawings and Slides.

Gone are the days of libraries being silent spaces dedicated to independent reading and reaearch. Now they are spaces design to spark conversation and creativity. A part of this is the inclusion of makerspaces, but another change is the addition of games and a focus on collaborative problem solving. One possibility in this area is BreakoutEDU. Based on the escape room, BreakoutEDU provides a way of engaging with the wider space, but they can also be a way of developing critical thinking. An extension of this are digital BreakoutEDU experiences.

Further Reading

Connected Classroom

The move of libraries into the digital realm not only opens learning up into different spaces, but it also provides different connected opportunities outside of the school.

Hangouts Meet allows for synchronous video connections beyond the four walls of the classroom. This could include sending out an impromptu invite or scheduling an event beforehand. Whereas previously recordings had to be done using YouTube Live, users can now record with Meet and save to Drive. Virtual connections can be used to connect different classrooms, conduct virtual debates or provide an alternative point of access to classroom material.

Google provides a number ways for sharing video for asyncronius connections. This could be as simple as a presentation with Slides or content added to a blog. Another possibility often overlook is the ability to create a shared channel in YouTube. This allows multiple people to manage things and passing on content if they leave. In addition to uploading video, a channel can be used to share curated playlists of appropriate content. An important topic with the increasing influence of algorithms on what is shown on YouTube.

Further Reading


So there it is, a breakdown of some ways that Google can be incorporated into the library. One thing to be mindful of is not every application is covered by the standard collection notice. I have also excluded some that I am unsure about from educational sense, such as Google Books, as they do not seem to be available in Australia.

So what about you? Would you have structured things differently? Or maybe you have an activity that could be added? Or even a resource? As always, comments welcome or you could even write your own post and send me a webmention.


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Daily Habits

Steve Brophy has been digging into the art of deliberate habits lately, whether it be having a clear morning routine, 750 word and setting up his workspace to nullify distraction. During the recent episode of Design and Play he posed the question:

What are the daily habits that you do as a learner?

This got me thinking. I have spoken about the process involved in learning and the tools I depend upon, but never thought about the daily activities which help me as a learner.

Combing the Curation

A few years ago, Doug Belshaw wrote a post, ‘Curate or be Curated‘. In it he reflected on the rise of algorithms in curtailing and constraining the content that we consume. Although I do not subscribe to several newspaper subscriptions, I use Feedly which captures posts from over two hundred blogs (see my list here). I will be honest, I used to read everything, now I skim first then check out those pieces that catch my interest – I am human. If the posts are too long I send them to Pocket. I then either save them to Diigo or capture specific aspects in a Wikity card. In addition to this, I have a number of newsletters and summaries that are sent to me via email (this is something I have reflected on elsewhere).

Lurking and Listening

Another habit that I do every day is be actively open to interesting ideas. Curiosity breeds curiosity. In part I pick up some of this perspective from the blogs I read, but I think that it also comes from engaging in the world around. David Culberhouse describes this as spending time at the idea well. This might involve chatting with people at lunch or asking clarifying questions of others. I think that this is why I love professional development sessions and conferences so much. It isn’t always the intended learning opportunities, but the often ‘hidden’ incidental learning at the periphery.

Thoughtfully Thinking

Michael Harris talks about the theory of loose parts, which focuses on the importance of changing environment to foster independent thinking.

Nature is an infinite source of loose parts, whereas the office or the living room, being made by people, is limited.

Where possible I try and to make sure that I get some sort of thinking time each day. A few moments where I stop doing what I am doing and do something different. This might involve going for a walk or listening to music. Warren Berger describes this as ‘Time Out’ in his book A More Beautiful Question. This is something that Pearman and Brophy also touch upon in the podcast. What is important is disrupting the flow of things.


So they are some of habits that I keep. I am not sure that I am as deliberate as Brophy, however they work for me. What it does leave me thinking is how this compares with the learning environment in school? So what about you? What are your habits? As always, comments welcome.


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Questions for Cal

Mark Scott, Secretary of the NSW Department of Education, recently closed the National Coaching Conference for Educators with a suggestion to move away from false appeal associated with social media. Instead, he encouraged educators to spend their time focusing on ‘deep work’. To support this, Scott spoke about the work of Cal Newport. Ignoring the segmented nature of schools (see Richard Wells) or what we focus on (see Audrey Watters), the debate around reclaiming our attention is not new. However, Newport’s call to close accounts has been doing the rounds. After watching his TED Talk though, three questions puzzled me: what is social media, what is work and how do I differentiate the changes in my mind?

What is ‘social media’ anyway?

The message is clear, get off social media, your career depends upon it. Newport explains that interesting opportunities are not dependent on being online and in fact social media is harmful (see for example Doug Belshaw’s post on Facebook). Although I did not go and close all my accounts, Newport’s video did lead me to reflect on the place of social media within my life. However, as I watched the TEDTalk I thought that maybe I was misunderstanding his message. With his reference to RSS, it seemed that he was suggesting getting rid of all dynamic content? In many respects, social media is just as ambiguous as digital literacies. Is it how we use it? Is there something baked into applications or inherent in various web formats? Does it depend on if the application calls itself a media company? Are applications like ClassDojo or Seesaw examples of social media too? This was all confounded by the fact that Newport, someone who proudly flaunts the fact that he has never had a social media account, himself has a blog.

Finish at Five

Late in the presentation, Newport shares how he rarely works beyond five. This is such an interesting point, which leaves me wondering when ‘work’ starts and stops? People like David Culberhouse and Steve Brophy get up early in the morning to read, to write, to reflect. If they do not check email, does that mean that it is not ‘work’? What is work? My other concern is with the work that we ask people to do. As an educator, I feel uncomfortable telling an specialist teacher with 400+ that the reason they are working long hours to get reports written is because they are not committing themselves to ‘deep work’. Deep work is often associated with flow, I have never entered such a state while compiling reports. Maybe some work is always shallow?

Minds Changed

One of the concerns that Newport raises is that the instant gratification provided by social media rewires the brain.

The more you use social media in the way it’s designed to be used — persistently throughout your waking hours — the more your brain learns to crave a quick hit of stimulus at the slightest hint of boredom.

Our inability to commit ourselves to concentrating for lengthy periods of time means that we are unable to complete deep work. Maybe it is just me, but being a parent has taught me to seize the minute. If my daughter is asleep on my knee or I am waiting for pick up I often use my phone to dip into some reading. I get moments. I make the most of them to dig down into awesome ideas that I may not get the chance to do at ‘work’. In regards to putting on headphones or going into an office speaks of privilege? Then again, maybe it is just my broken brain.


In the end, I may have been hooked in by the click-bait nature of the New York Times and the TED Talk? Not sure. Maybe at some point I need to stop doing such shallow readings and dive into a deep reading of Newport’s book?


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Lessons Learned as a Parent Teacher


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In a recent post, Matt Esterman looked back on what he has learned this year. He touched on the lessons learned professionally, as an entrepreneur and personally. He ended with an invitation to share the lessons that you have learned this year.

For me, a lot has happened this year. I have watched in amazement as our youngest daughter has developed from a baby to a toddler. I remember being caught up by every stage with our eldest, but with two life seems to fly.

In addition to this, I changed jobs. After spending a quarter of my life at my previous school, I decided to completely change tact. Not only did I move sectors, but I also went from the role of a classroom teacher to being a technology implementation coach located in a central office.

The area in which I have learned the most though is as a parent of a school age child. It is not that our daughter had not been to kindergarten, but the step up into primary school has been steep. Going from a center with fifty students to a school with near on a thousand has brought about its own set of challenges. I think that there has been three distinct lessons:

  • Dual Roll: I am so glad that my daughter did not start at the school I taught at. I have found the balance between teacher and parent really interesting, in particular online. It is not that I haven’t had a dual roll before, being both a member of the community, as well as a local educator. This was especially the case in the country. What I have learned is that connections are always complicated.
  • Empathy: I have worked in Prep classes before and supported various teachers in a number of ways. However, there is something uncanny when it is your child and you live with them every day. I feel a deeper sense of appreciation for Prep teachers and the various challenges faced.
  • Communication: A few years ago I was lucky enough to attend Google Teachers Academy (now the Google Certified Innovator Program). I left with the question, how might we engage parents in a cultural shift to make relationships and connections the focus of learning? I had toyed with creating a website to communicate ideas with the community, but had always felt constrained in going further. My daughter’s school have seemingly taken up this challenge by maintaining a Facebook Page for every class. However, where have I been? Although my wife loves it, I barely get on it, refusing to go on Facebook on my phone, actually refusing to go on Facebook much at all. In addition to this, I am unsure of the expectations within this space. Am I meant to comment? Converse with others? Like? What this has taught me is that communication and connections involve more than just a website and at some point need to be made explicit.

So that is me and some of the lessons learned this year. I am not trying to suggest that those without children could not experience these things. They are my experiences and I would argue that they are unique to my situation.

So what about you? What have you learned this year? As always, feel free to share.


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Quotes to Provoke Technology-inspired Teaching and Learning


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In a recent post, Diane Kashin shared a series of quotes associated with Reggio-inspired learning. After being inspired and provoked, it got me thinking about technology and provocations that could be used to help dig deeper into digital pedagogies. This lead me back to my collection of links housed in Diigo, as well as various visual quotes kept in Flickr. So here then is a collection of images to get you thinking deeper about technology:

Why Technology Alone Won’t Fix Schools


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In this extract from Geek Heresy published in The Atlantic, Kentaro Toyama makes that point that technology merely amplifes pre-existenting pedagogical capacity and only emphasises differences in wealth and achievement.

Why Coding is the Vanguard for Modern Learning


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In a response to the debate about coding, Richard Olsen makes an attempt reposition the way we see coding and why it truly matters. I wrote a response here.

Invent to Learn


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In their book Invent to Learn, Sylvia Libow Martinez and Gary Stager unpack everything from Project Based Learning, to Reggio Emilia, to makerspaces, to coding, all with the focus on learning through the act of making.

Parents: Reject Technology Shame


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In her post in the Atlantic, Alexandra Samuel argues that there are three distinct styles of digital parenting: limiters, mentors and enablers. I wrote a post wondering if the same distinctions could be applied to teachers.

(Digital) Identity in a World that No Longer Forgets


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In this post, Alec Couros and Katia Hilderbrandt ask the wicked question about life when we are no longer able to forget. There answer, empathy.

Visitors and Residents


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In response to Marc Prensky’s notion of native verses immigrant, David White and Alison Le Cornu put forward an alternative with the idea of visitors and residents.

Computers in Education – Great Machines, Wrong Results


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A central figure behind Wolfram Alpha and Wolfram Mathworld, Conrad Wolfram questions the way we use technology.

Delayed Gratification


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A continual inspiration in regards to play and experiential learning, Adrian Camm highlights the importance of developing resilience and moderation, rather simply banning devices like Sydney Grammar.

Creative Learning is Relational


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In this post exploring creativity, Tom Barrett provides an explanation for social bookmarking as a means of resurfacing ideas.

Scaling Creativity and Innovation


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In his book exploring the idea of creativity and innovation, David Culberhouse outlines the challenges associated with being a connected educator. Along with The Changing Face of Modern Leadership, Culberhouse’s books are a useful resource for addressing education in an ever connected world.

Curation as a Tool for Teaching and Learning


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Along with Robin Good’s post, Heather Baille’s essay offers an excellent discussion of all things curation and its place within education.

Too Big To Know


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In the book that produced the saying that the smartest person in the room is the room, David Weinberger provides the warning that being in the room is not enough. It is what you do that actually matters.

OPEN


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In his book on the modern world, David Price coined the notion of ‘SOFT’. Central to this is the power of sharing.

From Master Teacher to Master Learner


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In his book From Master Teacher to Master Learner, Will Richardson provides an outline for what is required with modern learning.

Why I’m Giving up on Creative Commons on YouTube


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In a post aimed at Youtube’s confusing CC licences, Eddie Kai highlights the purpose of such licences and where this has gone wrong.

How to Get a Job at Google


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In an article exploring modern employability skills, Thomas Friedman explains what you need to do to get a job at Google.

Revolution or Encouragement?


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In a response to Will Richardson’s post, Dean Shareski argues that what is needed is not revolution, but support for those already doing great things.

The Essential Elements of Digital Literacies


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In the book summarising his work with digital literacies, Doug Belshaw addresses everything from what constitutes technology to how we actually define literacy. I wrote an extended response here.

A Bicycle of the Mind


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Reflecting on the place of iPads in teaching and learning, Chris Betcher makes the call to let students actually utilise technology.

Smarter Than You Think


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In an extract from his book Smarter Than You Think, Clive Thompson suggests that even the worst bloggers are making us smarter by working openly in the connection of different ideas.

Keeping Teens Private on Facebook Won’t Protect Them


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Like Adrian Camm, danah boyd argues that instead of worrying about locking teens into protected communities, rather our concern should be about integrating them constructively into the wider web. This is a message carried through her book It’s Complicated.

On Best Behaviour- Three Golden Rules for Ethical Cyber Citizenship


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Although there is some dispute about the application of Kant’s transcendental principles, David Tuffley’s post provides an interesting take on digital citizenship.

Inequality and BYOD


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George Couros touches on one of the biggest challenges associated with technology, that is how we use it. This is a

What the Net Did Next


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Taken from danah boyd’s book It’s Complicated, this quote from Vint Cerf sums up much of the challenge with technology, that it is how and why we use the internet that needs to be questioned.


Here then is a collection of quotes that I have come upon. They may not be the most quotable, rather they are those moments that stood out to me as I read. So what about you, what are some of the quotes you draw on to help stretch your understanding of technology. As always, comments welcome.


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REVIEW: The Thinking Teacher by @OliverQuinlan


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I am not sure exactly what I thought when I started Oliver Quinlan’s The Thinking Teacher, but a part of me wondered whether maybe it would be a step-by-step guide on how to teach the art of thinking, incorporate it within the curriculum, assess it, measure it. And in many respects it was, just not in the manner that I expected.

Unlike other edureads which set out to provide some sort of defined answer, slowly unpacked across one hundred odd pages, Quinlan provides a book of questions and beginnings. It is not as much about the answers as it is about the act of reflecting.

Touching on a range of different facets central to education, such as the lenses we apply, the purpose to learning, planning for learning and what might constitute success. The book never feels like a lecture or a diatribe, but rather an invitation to get the reader to think for themselves, providing alternative points of view to get things started.

The Thinking Teacher is one of those books which in itself provokes thinking. The well intended irony is that in the end the thinking teacher is you, the reader, the teacher, the learner. As Quinlan asserts,

Asking questions that we do not know the answers to can lead to change – either a change in how we interact with the world or about how we think about the way it works.

The succuess of this book is not because it provides a series of checklists or resources in the appendix covering all things thinking, but for providing a context to reflect, wonder and imagine.


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An Introduction to Making Thinking Visible


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Visible Thinking is an approach to learning developed by Project Zero, a part of Harvard Graduate School of Education. Project Zero was created in 1967 by Nelson Goodman to improve education in the arts. As the website explains:

Goodman believed that arts learning should be studied as a serious cognitive activity, but that “zero” had yet been firmly established about the field.

Some of the achievements have been Howard Gardner’s work around multiple intelligences and the promotion of educational philosophies developed in Reggio Emilia. A core theme throughout has been thinking and its place within learning.

Central to the act of Making Thinking Visible is a series of routines designed around authentic questions. Rather than focus on the retention of information through rote practice, the routines are intended to be tools which students can draw upon to support their learning at any time. Although it can be easy to see them as activities or worksheets to be handed-out, the focus is on repeated use, in a range of situations, in the effort to create a culture of thinking.

Divided up into understanding, fairness, truth and creativity, some of the routines include:

This however is not a set list, for there are some like Cameron Paterson who have stretched it, both bringing in new routines and borrowing from elsewhere. Some of these routines include the 3 Y’s and Parts, Purpose and Complexities.

The focus throughout is the development of understanding, rather than as some sort of by-product. Central to this is the notion of documentation. This can be split into four practices: observing, recording, interpreting and sharing. What is important about documentation is that it, “must serve to advance learning, not merely capture it. As such, documentation includes not only what is collected but also the discussions and reflections on those artifacts.” Gary Stager suggests that one of the easiest ways to document learning is through the use of photography. However as Silvia Tolisano touches on, there are many different ways. Whatever the form, documentation not only helps advance students’ understanding of their learning, but also provides a powerful assessment tool to help guide practice.

So what about you? How do you deepen understanding and help make learning more visible? Feel free to share in the comments.

RESOURCES

Making Thinking Visible – The first place to start is to read the book by Ron RItchart, Mark Church and Karin Morrison. This provides a thorough introduction and gives practical suggestions for each of the different routines.

Visible Thinking on Youtube playlist – A collection of videos, these short pieces provide a different entry point into understanding Project Zero, Visible Thinking and the various routines.

Visible Thinking website – From resources to thinking ideals, this space has everything needed to get going.

It’s All About Learning – Cameron Paterson is a great proponent of Visible Thinking and has written several posts reflecting on the different iterations in the classroom.

40 Years of Teaching Thinking – A discussion by David Perkins of the history associated with thinking and the challenges that have arisen over time and still need to be faced in the future.

Langwitches – From documentation to thinking routines, Silvia Tolisano has created a range of resources to support thinking in and out of the classroom.


Originally published at Humanities at Brookside


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Genius Hour, My Genius Hour


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There is nothing that bugs me more than the idea of ‘ICT’ as a subject. I understand the point of computer science. However, much of the time, ICT is created as the place for students to learn about technology. The problem is, we should not learn the technology, rather we should focus on what opportunities technology affords. Here I am reminded of George Couros’ remark that, “Technology should be at the point of instruction and be as accessible in learning as a pencil; it shouldn’t be an event.” I therefore decided to introduce Genius Hour in my ICT class to make the focus neither technology or content, but learning. My question was, how might we empower students to guide their own learning in order to explore the potentials of technology. In part, I was inspired by Dave Cormier’s discussion of learning’s first principle. After much reflection, Cormier came to the conclusion that learning comes down to a question of care. “When you ask the ‘care->don’t care’ question first all the time, it seems to have some interesting impacts on a discussion.” I wondered then whether giving students choice over what they learnt would result in a deeper focus on how and why we learn.

Only a few students had ever heard of Genius Hour or any of the other names it is known by, such as Passion Projects or 20% Time. No one though had ever completed such an assignment. I therefore started by showing Kevin Brookhouser’s video and got students to brainstorm what they thought.

Some of the suggestions were: an hour where geniuses think, making something that inspires you, a focus on what you want, about process not just product and an idea started with a question. Although I could have and maybe should have left it at this, I then showed Chris Kesler’s introduction to Genius Hour:

After reviewing their initial thoughts, we brainstormed questions they might be interested in and share with the rest of the class. Having planted the seed, I then outlined my expectations for the project. I adapted Anthony Speranza’s 10 principles of Genius Hour:

10 Principles of Genius Hour.

I however removed the last principle as this was the only thing that we were doing in ICT. One of the things that really confused them was asking questions that were ‘larger than Google‘, I think for some they felt Google could give them any answer. To somewhat clarify this and to explain the depth associated with the project, I used the planning templates I got from Eleni Kyritsis. To support this, we discussed impact using a graphic created by Speranza.

Whats-Your-Impact-1cnrdtz-211x300

Often students will claim to be ‘done’ or ‘finished’ with a project or assignment. However, when they reflect on their work from the point of view of impact they have not ventured far from the centre. Although coming at this problem from the perspective of SAMR, Alan November points out that there are times when we redefine the classroom, only to discover that it was far from transformational. This is something that Speranza touched upon in his application video for GTASYD15:

In addition to the planning document, students were required to create a ‘How Might We’ question to guide them. This is something that I learnt while working with No Tosh at Google Teachers Academy last year. Why HMW is so important, Warren Berger explains, is that it “ensures that would-be innovators are asking the right questions and using the best wording.” To support this process of planning and questioning, I allowed students to browse through some of the past and present projects Speranza has shared from his school. All along I reiterated that I would be assessing how they work, whether it be the detail of their reflections or how collaborative they were, not their actual product.

I envisaged that once students were hooked into learning that they would be off. I could provide support and feedback where required, but they would manage things themselves. However, what became evident was that some student just weren’t hooked.

Although there were some who knew exactly what they wanted to do, whether it be exploring different techniques for drawing or creating a game, there were others who took a little more work. Some were caught on the whole googleable vs. non-googleable argument, while others just didn’t know what their passion was. In addition to this, I was chasing up permission forms, setting up Global2 blogs and organising Google Apps accounts. This meant that where I’d thought that I would meet with each group weekly, I was left to touch base more sporadically.

In regards to the presentations, students shared what they had done, while the rest of the class provided feedback about what they thought could be improved through a Google Form. After that, both of my classes reflected on my Genius Hour Project, which as I explained to them, was Genius Hour. Some of the suggestions that they had for next time was:

  • Clarify Confusion: Although I provided explanation at the start, I really needed to do more in regards to non-Googleable questions, because as one students explained, “every question is googleable”
  • More Structure: Although I provided an assessment rubric, as well as a planning sheet in which to maintain ongoing reflections, I really need to place more emphasis on this. Whether it be doing more gallery walks or sharing reflections through a Google Doc, I need to add more structure to the process.
  • Provide Authentic Examples: Although I provided students with a link to various examples, I did not actually show students any real products which showed what was possible. For example, Bill Ferriter recently reflected on his students blog focusing on the impact of sugar. It is a great example of an authentic product made by students.
  • Pairs Only: With the focus being on the idea, I gave students the option of working with whoever they wanted in groups of all sizes. I simply asked them to justify why they chose what they did. The feedback I got was that groups should be limited to two only, as some slacked off, and maybe the focus needs to be working with different people.
  • Allow Fall Back Options: Even though the purpose was to allow students to follow their passions, for some this was just too much. The suggestion was made that there be some fall back options for those who are unsure.

It is interesting looking back at my first iteration of Genius Hour. A part of me is wary of Audrey Watters’ warning that fiddling with just an hour misses the need to re-evaluate 100% of time in order to make school more student-centred. However, such ‘re-evaluation’ and revolution comes in time, one change at a time. To bring the learners up too quick risks a case of the bends. Will Richardson talks about making things different 10% at a time. Although not the answer, I think that Genius Hour is still a movement in the right direction.

For a great introduction into Genius Hour, I recommend Anthony Speranza’s 2015 Edu On Air presentation. So what are you doing to make learning more student-centred?


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Who Would Be In Your Creative Council?


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

In a post exploring the challenge of gathering different perspectives, Tom Barrett spoke about Thomas Edison’s practise of convening a creative council. A group of people who allowed Edison to ‘cast widely’ in order to accelerate creative connections.  Reflecting on this, Barrett poses the idea of having our own ‘creative council’. Not necessarily a group of literal people, rather an imaginary group who you could turn to answer such questions as:

  • What would…think?
  • How would … approach this problem?
  • What actions would … take next?

I have discussed the idea of turning to imaginary figures before. However, I had never really thought of a ‘set council’. What was interesting is that every time I started a list, I just felt that it did not have enough breadth either in time, experience or gender. I decided I needed a range of people including a religious figure, a scientist, an artist, a military strategist, a philosopher and a musician. Here then is my creative council, a group of people who I think would make for some interesting conversation:

  • Nicolaus Copernicus: Let alone for his breadth of work and experience, Copernicus persisted a truth that lie outside the view of so many others, even with the consequences it might have.
  • Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: As much as I think that it would be interesting to have Richard D. James at a table, I wonder what Mozart could add to the discussion. Like Copernicus, Mozart’s ability to envisage new beginnings and possibilities always intrigues me.
  • Jane Austen: I remember growing up with the BBC costume dramas, thinking I someone knew Jane Austen. However, like so many, I believe there is more than meets the eye with Jane Austen.
  • Leonardo da Vinci: It seems so odd that we still talk about many of da Vinci’s ideas and innovations so long after the fact. He seemed to have a knack of seeing the new in every situation.
  • Lao Tzu: I am neither sure that ‘Lao Tzu’ was a real person, not what he would add exactly, but I am sure the conversation would be better for it.
  • Ludwig Wittgenstein: Unlike those who spend their whole life justifying their position, Wittgenstein seemed to continually start again. I think that the willingness to not hold tightly offers a lot.
  • Hernán Cortés: Although I do not agree with anything that he did, I do think that anyone who is committed enough to burn his own boat certainly adds a different perspective.

Having thought about the real life influences on my thinking before, this was a different sort of task. I think that looking back over it, I feel it says so much about me and my thinking. Each of the people in their own way challenging conventions and breaking the mould. However, it also highlights many of many of my biases and prejudices. For one thing, whether intentional or incidental, many of the thinkers are male Europeans. Maybe this says a lot about my own background, I am not sure. I also feel that even though the different people represent various fields of work, they all seem a little bit similar, too familiar.

I wonder if such an activity is better suited within a context, a point that Barrett was trying to push towards in suggesting a ‘classroom’ creative council. For example, at Google Teacher’s Academy last year, it was often asked, “What would say or do Sergey Brin?” While maybe this might add a little more impetus to house systems, with those figureheads being seen more as a name. Allowing such questions as: “What would Fred Hollows think?” or “What would Caroline Chisholm have done?”

I also think that maybe the concept of a creative council is best thought of as an ever present growing organism with people coming and going. In his response, Bjorn Paige suggests that his PLN is his ‘creative council’.

For the times I need advice, consolation, or just an ear to hear, a constellation of educators fill my night sky, always pointing true north.

What about you? Who are those people, past and present, that you go to in your thinking? How do they push you deeper? What values do they espouse? Are there any biases? How do you challenge them? I know I have some work to do, more recruitment needed to be done. As always, feel free to share below.


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21st Century Learning is More Than Just Technology, But It’s a Big Part of It


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

A colleague queried me the other day about the differences between a 21st century learner and someone who is really good with technology. This is a bit of an age old problem about what comes first, the device or the doing done with the device, the tool for working or the actual ways of working? As I have discussed elsewhere, I believe that something is misunderstood in this argument, for in many respects, they are inseparable.

In an insightful post debunking the naïve myth that “it’s not about the tool”, +Peter Skillen makes two key points. First, that computers are a form of media through which we can think about problems in a deeper way, and secondly, tools and technology shape our society in both intended and unintended ways. Often one of the arguments made about 21st century learning is that many of the attributes are possible without the use of technology. Surely you don’t need a computer to help you think? Although this may be true, I would argue that they are significantly amplified with the use of technology.

I remember my early days of incorporating ICT into the classroom, as a part of the YVeLC, and all my focuses were on using specific tools and programs. This is a point I made in regards to the Ultranet. However, tools are better considered as a means to enhancing various skills. In themselves, the use of tools are usually inhibited to lower order thinking – build, construct, produce – but used as a catalyse, they are a means to higher order thinking. For example, one does not:

  • Use iMovie to produce a trailer for a book, rather one makes a creative representation of a book involving a range of choices.
  • Develop a Google Slide to provide information on a topic, rather one shares a presentation with others and opens it up for critical responses.
  • Program using a Lego Mindstorm robot, rather one uses it to solve a problem based on the options and variables available.
  • Record a game of soccer, rather one uses it to reflect on choice of actions and game sense.
  • Write a response to a question on Edmodo, rather one uses it to reflect on what has been learnt through the act of learning.
  • Compose a blog revolving around their reading, rather one uses it to engage others in conversation in order to gather different ideas and perspectives.
  • Add to a brainstorm using Answergarden, rather one uses it to develop a collaborative idea about what a group may think about a question.

Although each of these tasks are engaging and important in themselves, they lack potency if they are not linked to a deeper intention.

In the end, it comes back to a question of choice. Although a student could reflect on their lesson in PE and the various choices made, recording themselves and reflecting on it afterwards not only provides a wider perspective for the person in question not possible if it is left to just them, rather it allows for a deeper sense of self-reflection, often leading to answers in a shorter amount of time. For there are many ways of travelling from point A to point B. Clearly, one could walk, but if one rode, they would get to their destination quicker, while if they drove they would get their even quicker again. Although technology and tools are not essential to learning in the 21st century, they are definitely a big part of it. I think that once we understand that there is a more effective way from getting from point A to point B, it allows us to get to start dealing with the deeper question, why are we trying to reach point B anyway, but I’ll leave that for another day.


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