I’ve spent a lot of time this year experimenting with data collection and monitoring student satisfaction and achievement using traditional and digital technologies. After a recent professional development where the staff at my school discussed the qualities we would want in a leader/teacher, I started thinking about asking my students what they wanted in their own teachers, and what qualities stood out as being the most valuable.
This came together in an activity that I did during Genius Hour yesterday and I wanted to share it because it was fun, eye-opening and a good way to start the school year. Unfortunately we’re right at the end of the school year in Australia, but that just means that reports are done and it’s a perfect time to experiment with ideas for the future.
First, I handed out strips of colourful paper and asked the students to complete this sentence: ‘A good teacher …’. I gave one example of my own but then encouraged them to write anything they could think of. They had five silent minutes and weren’t allowed to talk about their ideas (except for the EAL students) and the strips were anonymous. I went into the activity with no preconceptions about what they might write, just a hope that they would take it seriously.
After five minutes most of the class were still thinking and writing so I gave them a couple more minutes, then they gave their strips to me and went on with Genius Hour. A couple of students asked if they could help Lynda (an aide in my room) and I sort the strips, so we tried to make categories and removed any answers that were identical.
I was blown away by some of the answers, such as ‘enjoys their job’, ‘wants to share knowledge’, ‘lets us be creative’, and ‘doesn’t make useless tasks’. All the things I want to do as a teacher! And my favourites – ‘is funny’ and ‘tells good stories’. Maybe not quintessential parts of teaching, but certainly qualities of my most memorable teachers at school.
Then we stuck the strips on a big piece of paper and taped it to the board. After Genius Hour the students were given three star stickers and asked to star the ideas they thought were most important.
So what was most important? By far ‘being fair’ and ‘making learning fun’ were the top hits. If I’d been asked beforehand what I’d thought the students would say I’d probably have picked these two as well, because it’s what is important to me too. It was a great discussion to have and I could tell the students were pleased to be asked for their feedback. I spend all day telling them what I think of their work and behaviour, why not give them a chance to give me some feedback?
The highlight of the day came when we had our ‘School Value Superstars’ session (students nominate each other for stickers in the six categories of the school values) and one of the boys nominated me for a sticker because he said I did all the things on the list. Well, my heart nearly exploded. Then one of the other boys started to say ‘Well, actually Miss Lenon doesn’t… ‘ but I told him to be quiet and let me enjoy the moment ;-).
I’ve stuck this sheet on a noticeboard in the school because I love, love, love it. I highly recommend the process to other teachers. I’m looking forward to seeing whether next year’s class makes a similar list or comes up with very different things – and I look forward to using it as my own guiding principles throughout the year and doing an accompanying poster about what makes a good student and then the class and I can work together to become better.
For approximately 14.5 of the 15 years I’ve been teaching, I thought that networking was a fairly pointless activity for teachers. Isn’t networking all about getting another job? I’m perfectly happy where I am, thank you. And that was the end of that.
It was like a lightbulb went on when I attended a network PD meeting a short while back. Oh yeah – I could learn from teachers at other schools and find out more about the things that interest me! And this meshes so perfectly with my current interest in Minecraft and other aspects of ICT. I made a connection with a teacher at Greythorn Primary that is leading up to a visit next week to talk about MinecraftEdu, and last week I spent two hours at Auburn Primary. I was there to check out their PBL (Project Based Learning) program in the 1/2 level, thanks to an invite from my former student teacher, Max, who is doing his internship there.
My current student teacher/sidekick, Ellena, and I arrived a tad early and met outside the rather imposing Auburn Primary building. From the cafe across the road (where we adjourned for a sneaky coffee before returning to school) the dark clouds that loomed above gave the old building a bit of an Aadam’s Family feel.
We were led over to Max’s room by the jocular deputy principal, Martin. It’s always lovely to enter a school where every staff member seems to be having a great day and every teacher we were introduced to was welcoming and happy to answer questions, talk about their work and let us take photos.
We found Max working in his nook – the 1/2 area is an enormous open plan space with little alcoves for each class. I find this kind of arrangement somewhat daunting as I’ve never experienced a really successful example of it, but I was keen to see how the Auburn staff managed. There were 7 classes of 22 students (I think… I might have the numbers wrong) in the space every day and I just couldn’t imagine how the noise didn’t become overwhelming.
It was very pleasant at 8:30am though, and Max took us on a tour to meet other teachers, look at displays and admire all the inquiry spaces. The students were currently working towards the culmination of a unit on the Great Barrier Reef. Their final project was in several parts. They had to write a play script, design and build a minature theatre, advertise their play and buy the materials they wanted from a shop manned by parent helpers (pictured above with all the supplies laid out).
Max told us that the approach they were working with was similar to the Kathy Walker program in that it was an inquiry approach, but students were directed using task cards. They were also encouraged to visit a variety of different coloured stations over a set period. Colours identified which curriculum area each station was aligned.
A great deal of work had obviously gone into making each station unique and attractive. Elements of student ownership and input were everywhere. In many ways it was like the inquiry stations in my own school’s Prep and Grade One areas – but with a great deal more space to work with.
We watched the students file in at 8:45 then headed to assembly at 9am. I won’t lie. Assembly is not my favourite part of the week, but it was quite interesting to watch another school go through their routine. Unlike Chatham, Auburn sings Happy Birthday to the students who’ve had birthdays that week, and they only sing one verse of the national anthem. In fact, I think Chatham is the only school I’ve ever been to that sings two verses. They had a class performance – each class has a turn, I assume. This is something we don’t do but I really like the idea, and I remember doing when I was in primary school.
After assembly we headed back to the classroom. Each group sat with their teacher for a fruit snack and roll marking then they disbanded to work on their puppet shows. There was quite a bit of noise but it certainly wasn’t overwhelming, and the teachers played fun music sporadically while the kids worked. We noticed a few students getting up to do a bit of spontaneous dancing in between tasks.
There were parents manning the materials store, students working all over the place, and everyone seemed on task and extremely engaged. There appeared to be a great balance of freedom and structure.
Perhaps the best moment of the visit came when Ellena and I spotted a student vigorously hacking into a cardboard box with what looked like a serrated knife blade. Concerned, we walked over to investigate. The student showed us his tools and they were amazing. The knife was made of plastic and unable to cut skin but perfect for boxes. There was a large bag of other bits – plastic hinges, screws (technically called ‘scrus’) and ‘scrudrivers’. All invented and sold by the student’s dad. The boy kindly gave me one of each and instructed me on their use. He also gave me the website address. I strongly encourage you to go look at this simple but elegant solution to construction for kids – I’ve done a poor job of describing how versatile and empowering it can be. Here’s a photo of the tools.
I took them back to my class and the students immediately wanted to use them, so I’m hoping several sets can be bought for a few grade levels at my school – if for no other reason than I hate covering boxes with miles of sticky tape that then makes them difficult to take apart and recycle.
After about an hour in the room, Ellena and I said our goodbyes and headed back to Chatham, heads full of ideas and thoughts on the future. I felt grateful for the opportunity to visit and wished for more time to see other grade levels in action and also for opportunities to see how edtech is used at a school that is further along that road. Currently Auburn have a 1:2 tablet program in the junior years and I’m interested to see how they manage devices, how they monitor students who are using technology and what apps they find useful. I had a quick chat about data storage with one teacher and thought afterwards that I should’ve mentioned Showbie as an option – although I’m hardly an expert. Where and how student work is stored when there are so many devices to use is something my school will probably be considering shortly. I imagine that making sure each student has the same tablet each time is slightly challenging, whereas having an account in the cloud would make more sense – and make work more accessible to teachers too. If anyone from Auburn is reading this I’d love to read your thoughts on the subject so please do leave a comment :-).
Visiting another school was incredibly valuable. Not only did I get to ask questions, I was able to see things happening that I wouldn’t have even thought to ask about. I’d definitely encourage anyone reading this (particularly those in Melbourne’s Eastern Region!) to consider begging, borrowing or stealing a few hours and spend a session or two visiting another school. I’d be particularly happy to set up some reciprocal visits with my school – if you’re interested leave a comment or join the new ‘Boroondara Teachers’ group on Facebook.
I’d also be interested to know if any teachers reading this do regularly or sporadically visit other schools and what you’ve gained from the experience. Do leave a comment and let me know :-).
The mini stage in the classroom area. I LOVE this! If any Auburn teachers are reading, I’d love to know where you got it.
I asked to attend this ICT education conference after the advertising material landed in my inbox a while back. The promotional material made it sound like a big deal, but my natural skepticism ensured that my expectations remained low. I mean, for goodness’ sake, they had a magician on the program and were offering cash prizes on the day. I wasn’t sure how seriously to take the whole event.
Very seriously, it turned out.
The event was held at Kingswood Primary School in the south east of Melbourne. As soon as I arrived I found my coworker, Tim, and picked up my lanyard. The day was organised into a keynote speech, two workshops that we chose from a selection on offer, and then three more speakers, one of whom was ‘COSENTINO! WORLD FAMOUS MAGICIAN!’, of whom I knew nothing.
We all filed into the well-appointed school hall and the first of the cash prizes was given to a random attendee. Most of the prizes were linked to giving feedback immediately after sessions via QR codes and it only occurred to me halfway through that trying to bribe people in giving feedback was probably a good idea. Teachers, after all, are busy people who rarely do anything they don’t have a very good reason to do, and filling out feedback after a long day’s PD is just not going to happen without a carrot on offer. Some of the prizes were up to $250 – pretty impressive.
The first speaker of the day was a man named Will Richardson, whose very readable blog can be found here. He is an American writer who is a proponent of education change to cater to the needs of modern learners. His speech was outstanding. This video covers some of the key points:
From my own notes, for those who can’t be bothered watching the video (although it’s only 14 minutes and you’ll love it, I promise!), here’s my key impressions from his talk.
Students have access to the sum of human knowledge on their phones and people who want to learn can do so anywhere, anytime, therefore this is the best time, in the history of the world, to be a learner. It’s also a very complex time to be an educator.
Schools’ responses to the wealth of technology and information have not been relevant. We limit and schedule student access to the global pool of knowledge. This does not reflect how their lives will be beyond school – and how their lives are currently outside of school.
teaching children information ‘just in case’ they might need it one day is a mistake because students (and adults) today learn information ‘just in time’ – right when they need it and for a purpose. I know that I do this in my own life. I want to change a fuse? YouTube. I wanted to learn how to crochet so I went straight to YouTube. We need to let students access the knowledge they seek.
the internet allows students access to millions of potential teachers and we all need a network of people who share our passions. How do we help students moderate those who will influence them, and connect with people who can help them?
what is an education? What will be most useful to students in the future, when it is predicted that a large proportion of jobs our students will have, haven’t been invented yet?
we have access to such a vast resource and wealth of knowledge, how do we decide what to spend our time on? Allowing students to studying a few things of personal interest deeply is more valuable than skimming many things because it allows students to experience what it is to become an expert, and they can apply that level of persistence to any new area that they wish to master.
Every keynote speaker on the day referenced Seymour Papert whom, after 5 minutes research, I cannot believe I had not heard of already.
I enjoyed both the workshops I attended. The first was on the subject of iBook Author, an app that allows easy creation of iBooks. The teacher was quite dry in his humour and raced through his presentation but it was a good overview of the program. The second was on robotic Lego. It was fun and I could see lots of great educational applications but the cost of Lego is just crazy. Perhaps a task for the Parent Committee, who do amazing fundraising at my school.
The next speaker was the AMAZING MAGICIAN COSENTINO! who, it turned out, was the son of the principal and was also actually pretty famous, having won Dancing With The Stars and quite a huge range of awards across the globe. Plus he actually was really good. Most of his speech was about how he educated himself to become a magician and how school didn’t work for him or help him in his life goals. He told us about his journey and it was really interesting, as were the magic tricks he did throughout.
The next two speakers, Chris Betcher from NSW and Lee Watanabe Crockett from Canada, were as informative and inspiring as Will Richardson. They followed the same themes of reinventing education to suit the digital age, and encouraged the audience to consider the purpose of education and their use of technology.
I took more notes throughout the day than I’ve ever taken at a PD previously and it’s very difficult to condense three hours of wisdom into one digestible blog entry. Alongside the points I mentioned under Will Richardson’s talk, Chris Betcher made a number of excellent points and I particularly liked his quote from Douglas Adams. While I don’t think it necessarily applies to everyone, it certainly does help explain why teachers can lack an understanding of the way students view and use technology.
He also made the excellent point that yes, there’s so much stuff out there that learning about new technology can seem like the labour of Sisyphus, but it’s not like that at all, because teachers don’t need to know how to use all the apps in existence, because students teach themselves – and they’ll teach you too, if you let them. Really, the role of teachers is to help students discern what is good quality, how to extend themselves, how to communicate clearly through whatever platform they choose, how to present information effectively, how to do all those things that are the reasons why we use technology. He said to think about the verbs in the curriculum – create, consider, describe, explain, elaborate. We still need to teach students how to do this. He made an excellent point with an example about making movies. He asked a group of adults, after a quick introduction to iMovie, how difficult they’d rate the process. They said that it was easy – maybe a 3 out of 10. But then he asked how difficult it was to make a good movie? Well, that would be more like a 9 or of 10. Teachers are needed to help students understand and create quality work and make good decisions based on common sense.
Lee Watanabe Crocket was the final speaker. I had not heard of him, but a small amount of googling revealed his great devotion to creating digitally literate students. He has a foundation that promotes what he calls ‘digital fluencies’ that he believes should be at the core of all curricula.
I won’t try to elaborate on the diagram above, but I encourage you to watch this video in which he talks about his ideas on the future of education.
He generously offered his book, Digital Literacy Is Not Enough for free from iBooks for a short time for conference attendees and I look forward to reading it.
The entire content of the day was valuable and the overall message was ‘change or fail’, when it comes to traditional education. I do think that Australia is generally on a more dynamic path than the US. All the speakers I’ve heard from the US give the impression that classrooms there still operate on an extremely rigid model – and in the forums I read that have US teachers in them (Class Dojo, primarily), those teachers are only just starting to move away from individual desks in rows to groups of tables – quite mindboggling to me, when I haven’t seen a classroom like that in Australia for decades. But different table arrangements is only one tiny indicator of vast systemic problems. One of the speakers said something along the lines of ‘students today are the best prepared students for the industrial revolution’. We need to think about, and discuss, what we can do for students that will best prepare them for the unknowns of tomorrow.
We were left with the question – what should education actually look like?
Ok, I’m being a tad hyperbolic (and btw, ‘PD’ stands for ‘Professional Development’ and not, as one of my friends suggested on Facebook, ‘Panda Disco’… although that would definitely change your life) but I’ve been to a bunch of great PDs this year and they are changing my professional and personal perspective. Being reminded repeatedly that it’s not just the students who are learners in the classroom – I need to get with the technology program in order to do my job effectively and relate to this generation.
I’ve always enjoyed learning new things, but I’m coming to see that being a teacher in the modern age is about learning with or from the students as much as teaching them. Perhaps more than teaching them, particularly when it comes to technology. My students this year are thrilled to be teaching me how to play Minecraft. We have skyped from home while playing in the evening so that they can give me instructions. Well, I say ‘give’ – really they shout each other down to have the honour of teaching me how to do something new. I have never seen some of my students so excited, so thoughtful, as when they are trying to explain a Minecraft skill or concept to me and I pretend I don’t get it. Well… sometimes I’m pretending.
In this post I’d like to try to cover some of the key concepts of one of the PDs I’ve been to recently, so I’ll start small with the one hour session some coworkers and I attended at Canterbury Primary.
The focus of this PD was to make connections and expand our PLNs (Professional Learning Networks) and look at what Canterbury were doing with ICT in their classrooms. The presenter, Matt Forrest, made an excellent point about the great value of social media connections, but the far greater value of face to face connections, and encouraged everyone there to get into a conversation with another teacher, swap details and talk about common interests. I struck up a conversation with a teacher from Greythorn who happened to be part of a team who had instituted MinecraftEdu at their school. Score! It felt good to have a contact at another school and someone to ask about my new interest – even though I feel as though I only know one percent of one percent of what the game has to offer. I don’t even feel ready to describe Minecraft in a post yet, let alone try to go into the educational advantages. However, if you’re interested this isn’t a bad gateway to some useful sites.
Along with the chance to talk (you don’t need to tell teachers twice) there were also stands set up so we could see what students at Canterbury had been doing with all their ICT equipment and skills. It was pretty impressive, to say the least. They have a radio station, for one thing, and they were using QR codes like they were going out of fashion. I particularly liked the ‘Genius Hour/Passion Projects’ that were on display, as I’ve just started a small scale of this concept in my classroom.
Matt had started a hashtag for the event (#BoroondaraNetworkPD) and it got me thinking about ways to make stronger connections with teachers in my area who would be an invaluable source of ideas. Not just that, but if I knew someone local was doing something I wanted to learn about, I could actually go see their room, their work, and have a much deeper conversation than would be possible online.
After coming home from the PD I decided to create a ‘Boroondara Teachers’ Facebook group. I immediately signed up everyone I could from my school, hoping that would make it look like the group was already popular and cool 😉 and then asked Matt to promote it on Twitter. It’s only been going for two days and I’ve had a couple of requests from new people. Hopefully it grows and can become a useful resource for local teachers – so if you’re reading this and you’re involved in education in Melbourne’s East please join – even if you’re not actually in Boroondara. The more the merrier!