Thursday, March 28, 2013

Is googling "low level"

There was a tweet a while ago challenging students to come up with questions that were "non-googleable". I think this is great. Real researchers go out and talk to people, do surveys and collect data and information from a range of sources. I strongly encourage this practise with students . Now there is a circle of thought that "googling" is low level - and of this I am not so sure. Students have always come up with questions and traditionally gone straight to the library, found a book (or 2 or 3 if you have a good library) and then copied information or taken notes etc to explain their findings. Google has merely sped up the process. As long as students are accessing websites of merit, or being discerning in their use of the information they have found - then nothing has really changed. So to say that googling is low level stuff, means that all research work like this has also been low level. Of that I am not convinced. Students knowing how to use key words and to find information from a range of sources requires a fair amount of knowledge and skills. In fact, being able to sort the huge amount of information available at the ir finger tips, from a google search, possibly means that students are required to be even more sophisticated in their use of information these days, than previously. While I support the thinking behind asking questions that can't be answered by a google search, I still believe that students need to get good at searching and using information made available from a web search. We are looking into how SOLE (self organising learning environments)can be implement ed in our Year 3-8 classes. We already have self-directed learning occurring in various forms. With SOLE being introduced we have a common system and this is kicking off in term 2. I am looking forward to seeing what occurs and talking with teachers about what we see from our students.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Sugata Mitra - a school in the cloud

Boom! It's a very entertaining and thought provoking TED talk - again! If this research and work is right, then the teaching role needs examining. Be the supportive "Grandma" who simply encourages students with their learning. Give them decent enough questions to investigate and let the students do the work. There is so much said in this talk - it's hard to know where to begin. "Don't make learning happen, allow it to happen". A simple statement with plenty of punch. We scaffold, we support, we explain, we model, we re-explain, we model again, we pull our hair out and then we keep going anyway - 'cos whether they want it or not, these students ARE going to learn this. "I've put way too much into this lesson for it not to be a success". Sound familiar? So - how can teachers allow learning to happen? Kath Murdoch had a similar message a couple of years ago when she presented at Inspired Learning in Palmerston North. She talked about the type of classroom where curiosity and real inquiry can occur. It's up to teacher to cultivate the right environment - risk taking, curiosity, wonderment and awe - all need to be alive and well. What I did like about the download from the TED talk was that it provides the "template" to work from. It has suggested time frames, sample questions and so on. So, for a Novice teacher who is having their first "go" at SOLE, you couldn't really go wrong. So, how is it different to "passion projects"? To me, the obvious difference is that in SOLE the suggestion is to have students working in groups of 4 and to having a "manager". This is were the "self organising" aspect of SOLE kicks in. And I really like this part - not a Leader, don't make that mistake, but a helper/manager. The message that I got from this TED talk was that students can learn without the traditional teacher being nearby. In fact, a supportive "grandma type" thousands of kilometers away will do just fine! We'll be watching the TED talk tomorrow and I'll be leaving it with staff to ponder for a while. It is recommended that this is suitable for 8-12 year olds. I'll be following up with my senior team to see if they would be prepared to follow the suggested plan and to implement it, perhaps once a week. I think it would be beneficial for students questioning skills, information finding and presenting skills.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Supporting the 21st century teacher

"Changing the script" has some pretty big implications for leaders. How do I show my staff and encourage my staff to explore new ways of "being" in their classroom. We seem so engrained in our practice in education. This applies to leaders too. There is a certain expectation of what the Principal, DP or AP do in schools. I think if we expect change in the classroom, then we as leaders must show that our role has changed and that we operate in different ways now. This is a challenge given the huge amount of administrative duties thrust on us as Principals, possibly more so in smaller schools. We are in our first round of formal observations for the year. This is the "compliance" check in. Is the planning, assessment and so on in place. What has been set up in classes over the past 6 weeks? It's an opportunity to start a conversation that will last all year, hopefully. So, this morning I observed a great literacy session. Students were engaged. They had clear learning intentions displayed. They watched a movie clip as a motivation for writing and groups worked at different levels so their writing needs and abilities were met. Almost faultless really. There are some talking points and it will be important that I take the opportunity to challenge this teacher into how they can further change their role as the teacher in the classroom and act in more of a facilitator role. Be less helpful. That's my current mantra. I'm doing it this year with my own leadership too. I've been way too keen to ensure that all the boxes are ticked, by myself, so far in my leadership. I've scaffolded too much. I've provided too much security and been too involved in controlling the curriculum. I haven't made it clear enough what we need to be achieving and how we're going to get there. So, in short, I've realised, that if I want to change the script of the teacher, I'm going to have to start by changing my own too.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Changing the script

It would be easy to buy some new furniture and create a look of a modern learning environment and then change not much in the way of teaching.
The teacher of the 21st century would need to rethink all they have observed and been of in their teaching so far. Challenges would include the structure of the day - what would a day look like in my class? when would we do things and why? What will I assess and why? What is the nature of the relationships I have with my students? How do I increase the learning capacity of the students in my class? What habits might my students need to "unlearn"?
Phew! The list just goes on and on. What an incredible challenge. Plus, still meeting assessment and data requirements that fulfill National Standards requirements.

Really, the 21st century teacher needs to prepared to "let go" of lots of established practice that has been embedded/ingrained in us for many many decades. In letting go some prior practices, they will be able to venture into new practice. It's a shift from "transmitting" knowledge and assessing student performance in set ways to working with students' strengths to see what they are capable of.
What needs to happen to allow these conditions to occur? I think the way we plan would need to change. Students would need to have a lot more input into the structure of what they were learning and how they might show their learning to others. Certainly assessment practices would need to be changed in many cases. Teachers would need to be able to focus on what the student has got better at, rather than deficit thinking practices.

So if we could "redesign" schooling, what would we change? If we could start from scratch (we still have the same buildings) and ask, how would our school run and what would students do if we knew nothing of requirements, policy and forgot all our current practices - what would our school look like?

How do we shift our culture based on what we really truly believe and what we want to achieve for our learners?

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Update on my thinking

Supporting future-oriented learning and teaching - a NZ perspective is challenging me and inspiring me. Authors Rachel Bolstad and Jane Gilbert published this in June 2012. A NZC update from Issue 26 in the Education Gazette does a 4 page summary of this too.

Ok, so we all know that something needs to change in education. In some cases possibly a lot needs to change. The success of this is hinged on my ability as a leader in my school to work out the process for this change. What experiences and learning might my staff need? What systemic changes might we need to make?

First question. Why change?
Basically I would challenge a lot of schools to identify at least 10 things that look different in their current classroom to a photo from the 1900s. Actually, we did this at the start of the year. Kind of like the "spot the differences" activities we did as children, but this time we tried looking a bit deeper. Yes, blackboards have changed to whiteboards/smartboards and the desks have changed a bit. Classes are generally smaller and the teacher looks a bit friendlier too. The biggest change we could see was the technology. Desktops, laptops, ipads. We still have 4 walls, one teacher and a certain number of students in there. Not a lot else seems to have changed. Why not?

I think we, and by we I mean schools, are kind of stuck. We think we have to keep on doing what we've always done because that's the best way. Obviously there are lots of exceptions. Some schools have been able to have modern learning environments (mles) built and I do believe that the physical environment effects the students and allows teachers to operate in non-traditional ways. So the challenge for schools, like mine that still have traditional classrooms, 4 walls etc, is to make changes in the physical set up that show the students that things aren't the same, that we won't be doing things how we always have.

So what type of teacher is needed? Clearly someone who can make a paradigm shift and operate their class in a non-traditional way. And that leads me on to Chapter 6 - "Changing the script": Rethinking learners' and teachers' roles.

Is school just preparation for life?