Monday, June 3, 2013

Do you need Technology to be Contemporary?

I have been thinking about this question lately as I've come across a few people who believe that they are Contemporary Educators simply because their students have access to technology, or complain that they cannot possibly teach in a Contemporary fashion because their students don't have access to technology.

Contemporary Learning is more than just having access to technology. It's about what you do with it - shifting from teacher directed to self-directed, not using it as a replacement for chalk and talk and showing the children that you are a learner too.

Contemporary Learning is about collaboration, articulating purpose and need, problem solving, creativity and understanding. It's about understanding what learning is and how to move from the unknown into knowing and understanding. It's about the joys and frustrations of the whole learning experience.

Contemporary Learning is not about reams of worksheets and pages of notes and equations in books. In the future, if we want to simple arithmetic we will use the calculator in our smart phone. If we want to know a key date in history, once again we will look it up on our smart phone or mobile device. Rote learning is not an indicator of good learning and teaching anymore. Understanding key ideas that underpin historical research and mathematical concepts are what is important.

The result of this is that if you are a parent, you might not see reams of worksheets coming home with ticks and stamps and stickers on them anymore. You might get an email or a learning story describing a learning experience instead. You might not see workbooks full of pages with notes and writing. Instead you might see blogs, digital booklets your child has made, photostories or books full of flowcharts, mindmaps and brainstormed ideas. You won't hear much about sitting in a seat and doing "work", you will hear about group discussions, learning tasks, building, drawing, viewing videos and websites and talking about how to work well with others.

Technology has it's place as a research tool, a collaborative tool, a publishing tool and a communication tool. It's a key part of being contemporary but so is all of the other stuff too, like learning to work with others, asking questions, mapping out thinking and setting goals and future directions. So yes, technology is important at school and at home, but I'm wondering if it's being used in a contemporary collaborative fashion or just as a replacement for a chalkboard and solely teacher directed learning. Having access to technology does not equal Contemporary Learning. Effective use of Technology enables Contempoary Learning to become a reality rather than a pipedream.

The video below explains the advantages of using integrating effective use of Technology into Learning and Teaching. This could serve as a fantastic springboard for discussions in school communities and help to develop shared understandings about what Contemporary Learning is and how to use technology effectively.

Contemporary Learning from Danielle Carter on Vimeo.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Worth watching - Sir Ken Robinson's thoughts on Creativity, Imagination and Innovation

I found this on Sir Ken Robinson's Twitter stream (which I follow) and it resonated with me.

It is also rather apt for my school at the moment as well. Lots of food for thought here - it could be a great springboard for discussion!

Friday, January 25, 2013

An Awesome App for Mathematics

I got an iPad mini late last year and have been having a lot of fun looking into different Apps and how I might use them for Teaching and Learning during the holidays.

One that caught my attention is 'Folidfy', mainly because there are quite a number of children I worked with last year who love lego, Minecraft and Eden and were not always easy to engage. I was looking for something that would help them build or papercraft real life models of what they had created in a virtual space.

During the last few weeks of school there was a core group of boys who had been busy creating nets or skins of characters and sets created in Minecraft so they could create a stop motion movie about this world they had created, but it was really tricky for them to get the resolution right so that they could make models in a range of sizes. I think that this app may open up some possibilities for them to experience a little more success and at the same time, develop an understanding of lots of concepts related to both Mathematics and Visual Design.

Have a look at this little video I made using another App called 'Explain Everything'. It is pretty rough as it's the first time I've used it.

As you watch just think and IMAGINE the possibilities that Play, Exploration and Questioning using Technology present to us as learners and educators!


Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Developing self managed learners

Sometimes it's easy to get frustrated with kids. It seems like you're constantly nagging them to put things away, stop teasing each other, keep track of worksheets and so on. I've felt like my mum hat is on at home and at school at the moment as the end of year lethargy begins to seep in and take hold.

Sometimes you feel like a big nag, but in so many other ways, the constant discussions we have with the children about their learning has an effect without you even realising it.

My colleagues and I who teach year 3/4 are having a big focus on the children being accountable and responsible for their learning. We do this by giving them a list of Must Do tasks that they need to complete along with dates that they are due. At the end of the week, the children take their list home to be signed by their parents, making them accountable at school and at home for meeting their deadlines.

What we are finding is that as the past couple of weeks have progressed, the children are quite happy to manage more of their own time, freeing us (the grown ups) up to do some really targeted teaching at a level that the children have identified along with us.

Case in point this week:

One of the tasks we have given the children is a Maths Medley (a colleague came up with the idea) where the children had a series of challenges to complete which enabled them to practice and apply Subtraction, measurement and division/fractions.

Before giving the sheets out to the children we asked them to read it, think about what they could do on their own and what they would need help with. We told the children that we could offer workshops and focus groups on any of the topics or tasks related to the medley, and that they had a choice of signing up for any one of them. We also let them know that if the Learning Advisors thought they needed a workshop and they didn't sign up for it, that they would be put into it anyway.

So off the kids went to look at the task and identify their needs. Without even needing to be prompted, one group of friends got together, figured out their strengths and weaknesses and figured out how to support each other to get the task done. Other kids came over to sign up for workshops as I was getting organised and nominated specific needs for workshops that we hadn't thought of yet. To our suprise, the children didn't need as many workshop topics as we'd anticipated. The main demmand was related to Fractions, Making a Ruler, Subtraction with Borrowing and Perimeter.

The kids set to work on the task and my colleague and I went around collecting kids for workshops on the topics listed above. Today when a parent came in to help, they were able to run a workshop with the children who needed help with perimeter and ended up modelling how to count by multiples of ten.

It looks like they are all going to make it through all of the tasks before the end of the week - and the best bit is that they all were engaged and on task because all needs were being met at once (even the kids who find it hard to focus). There were no social issues to sort out and everyone had a chance to share their achievments at the end.

Some things that the kids said that struck me:

"When I started out, I thought that I could do this, but now I realise I need a bit of help - is it too late to join your workshop?"

"I did the workshop yesterday but I still need a bit of help - can I do the workshop again?"

"When I work, I like to see if I can solve the problems independently first, then go and ask for help if I need it. Is it ok if I have a go first before I figure out if I need a workshop on anything?"

"Look! I did the workshop yesterday and today I could do it by myself!"

Despite having to spend time modelling and explaining how to keep track of belongings and put things away properly, it was so refreshing to see that as far as their learning is concerned, that they are becoming more effective at managing themselves and more aware of their strengths and weaknesses as learners.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Partnerships in Learning

This year there are a number of kids interested in exploring Sustainability. It was a great co-incidence that this happened to be the theme for this year's Science Talent Search.

I immersed the children in texts and stories about sustainability. I got out batteries, wires and lightbulbs to explore circuits and asked the children if they knew other ways to make energy. Together we found texts about Solar power and wind power.

Children have designed and built models of Sustainable Cities using Minecraft and Eden. Now that they Olympics are on, some of them are designing Sustainable Stadiums using the same Apps. There have been lots of "WOW!" noises heard when the kids plug the iPads into the screen so we can get a tour.

There were a group of children hooked on the idea of Sustainable Housing. They have built models out of all sorts of things. One child decided to include a human powered pulley system for a lift in her house, another couple decided to have a go at making mudbricks, which they researched themselves and others built several models of houses out of different materials until they found one that worked.
This same group of children organised their own excursions to Reverse Garbage and a farm that somebody's relatives lived on. One girl built a model of her farm where she hooked up the drinking water for the animals' troughs to a huge water tank and used the manure for fertiliser on the garden. Another student wanted to make the idea of picking up rubbish fun and invented a bird rubbish collector.

These kids are only 8-10 years of age!

Not all of the children could finish their models, but they could all explain and justify the choices they have made so I know that they are very clear about what they have learned and in some cases, where they want to head next. They have collaborated and negotiated their way around acquiring materials with minimal cost. They have gone and accessed libraries, consulted experts, organised excursions, created, constructed and modified designs and interpreted information from websites. Along the way they have been able to use the language of Maths and Science to process what they have learned. They have found out about circuits and electrons. They are aware of why we need to look at our lifestyles and our homes. How rich is that?

We chose a few projects to enter in the Science Talent Search and some parents came up with the idea of looking for a category to enter the children's work in for the Whittlesea Show later on this year. One of the best pieces of feedback I got was from a parent who was telling us how they got out a torch one night to show how the eaves on a house work. They had a great Learning Conversation with their child about how the Sun is lower in the sky during Winter and higher in Summer. He was amazed at the understanding his child had of the world around them and their curiosity about it. "Projects make fantastic learning." Not only has it been great for the children's learning at school, it has been great for being able to build partnerships with parents as well.

The children are still interested in Sustainability. There is a boy who has his heart set on building a solar powered robot, some children who want to advise the principal on how we can design the next stage of the building program and a few more speculating about whether we should investigate getting solar panels on the roof. A groups of kids are keen to recycle our scrap paper by making new paper and addressing the issue of reducing waste.

This could be going for quite a while yet!

Some examples of the work the kids have done is seen here.


Thursday, June 7, 2012

Who says kids can't organise their own learning?

I'd like to share a bit of a story with you from my Maths workshop yesterday morning...

I have a year 3/4 homegroup this year. We've spent a lot of time talking about making choices to further learning and consolidate skills. We have talked about working with strengths and suggested many ways to consolidate and practice number facts and skills over and over again. Sometimes it has become tiresome because it's felt like nothing is sinking in.

We were working with table facts and their relationship to division. I showed the kids who already know their number facts an App called Trichotomy on iPad, which goes through problem solving using greater than, less than and equal to. For the rest of the children I said I'd run a focus group for anyone who needed help and set up the expectation that by the end of the session - everybody would have worked with "flipping" at least 5 facts.

Here are some of the spontaneous things that happened. I didn't plan for them to happen, but they did;

- Two children who didn't want  < and > explained to them, figured out what these signs meant and how to apply them through playing with the iPad App using trial and error. "Don't worry - I figured it out through making some mistakes - I get it now, I am getting them right, see?"

- Two children disappeared, saying something about photocopiers and returned five minutes later with table fact worksheets they'd photocopied from a book brought in from home. They then 'roved' around the Village to see who else wanted a worksheet to use. (And they had a variety to choose from, though I have a feeling that they hadn't planned for things to turn out that way). Great use of intitiative and resources.

- Another child asked if he could help his friend who is struggling with learning his table facts to work on some strategies for learning 7 and 9 times tables. His 'student' then shared these strategies with the group at the end of the session. Fantastic collaboration.

- I worked with some children on the table facts of their choice, using concrete materials. These were all children who had identified that the concept of relating times tables and division was an area they wanted to work on during conferencing. By the time they got it, some of the other children had reached an impasse and were asking for help. "Don't worry, I'll teach them" they all said and one by one, they got up and left to tutor somebody else.

And guess what? I actually got to sit back for a moment, observe them all collaborate with each other! I actually had a moment to (wait for it...) BREATHE and take it all in. No arguments, no complaints, no need for redirecting kids back on task, just engagement and purposeful learning.

Wow! It's moments like these that make all of the modelling, purposeful conversations and strategic planning worth it.

Who still says kids can't organise their own learning? I say they can, but we need to model how to 'walk the talk' and give them opportunities to put it into practice. Even the kids we know will struggle with it.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Sharing Learning with parents online

This year our school has been looking at ways to share conferencing documentation and Learning Stories with our parents in a way that is sustainable, accessible, yet private and allows for interaction between parents, children and staff.

How can we do this in a 21st Century/Contemporary way??


We have created a private blog for each student using blogger. We have allowed students and other staff to be co-contributors and have made the http address 'unguessable' so people cannot access blogs that are not shared with them willy nilly.

It's been time consuming to create and set up the blogs, yet we hope that now that they are up and running, they will be easy to maintain. This has been a huge learning curve not only for the children, but for the staff and students.

We have also created a Google Site where students and parents can access planners, home learning and village bulletins so that they can stay informed anywhere, anytime.

It will be interesting to see what sort of feedback we get from our families and how to communicate with those families who cannot access the internet easily.

Fingers crossed this works!