Teachers as Learners First

Sheryl Nussbaum talks about schools being “Future Ready” and there are four elements to being future ready 

  1. learning is student centred
  2. the technical infrastructure will easily support the learning,
  3. distributed, collaborative leadership which happens when many people share leadership functions. 
  4. remembering always that teachers are learners first

The final element of “teachers as learners” has been an important part of my last few weeks. They have been a whirl of learning.  In my new role as a Connected Learning Advisor I have been in a team running Professional Learning days for leaders.  First we headed to Whangarei, then Hamilton and finally, yesterday we were connected with educators in Christchurch.  Principals and eLeaders travelled from the far north and the deep south to engage in rich conversations, challenging thinking and robust questioning over the three days.

The sessions dealt with strategic planning, shifting teachers’ thinking and managing change through professional learning, and exploring how social media can build connections between schools and the wider community.

But the focus was on collaboration and connectedness and teachers as learners. Providing time to have conversations, share stories and good practice, plan and make connections was a key element of the days and it seems that it was appreciated by those who attended.

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 I know that I have learned as much as the teachers I have been working with. There is such power in conversations and I have been inspired by so many people and the work they are doing in schools, grappling with overwhelming change with commitment, positivity and open minds.  Thank you.

After each event we “Storified” the days and published posts on the VLN to encourage the participants and those who couldn’t make it to continue or join in the conversations.

The links to the Storifies are below.

Whangarei

Hamilton

Christchurch

We also used Todaysmeet to “chat” and record the conversations. Here is the transcript from some of the discussion in the sessions on Professional Learning.

BYOD: An ongoing process

byodI recently received an email from a young lady who is researching schools that have adopted BYOD for her Level 2 NCEA Accounting.  As I answered her questions I was prompted to consider more deeply the process we went through and I thought it might be worthwhile sharing.  We are in our second term of compulsory BYOD (I posted some reflections on the first few weeks in this post) and we are still learning.  I am sure that our progress will be a constant theme of my blogs this year as we reflect on how we are going.  These are just some initial thoughts.

Preparation and Planning: What did we do?

First of all it is worth pointing out that I work in a State Integrated Secondary School and we are relatively well-off in terms of infrastructure.  I appreciate that State Schools may not have the same finances at their disposal as we do and it may take longer to put the infrastructure in place. However, I believe that preparing the school community to cope with the changes to the way we teach and learn are similar wherever you are.

Planning a pathway

We restructured our ICT Committee so that there was a balance of technology and pedagogy to ensure that teaching and learning drove the decisions about technology. Discussions were focussed on what we needed in the way of technology to deliver robust teaching programmes and enable our students to own their learning.

We formed a group, affectionately called the “Bling” group (Blended Learning Instructional Group), which consisted of early adopters from different subject areas to look at the bigger picture.  We used the eLearning Planning Framework as a starting point and mapped out a pathway for integrating blended learning opportunities within the curriculum plans. We were very clear from the outset that we wanted to use technology to enhance the already very good teaching and learning that was going on in our school, rather than replace it.  Blending a range of strategies that work for all our teachers and students is essential.

The BLING team were also responsible for encouraging members of their departments, providing them with moral support and worked on a Professional Development programme.

The key component for all of this was, of course, Professional Development.  Our school academic goal three years ago was focused on building personal competency and confidence around using technology on the basis that if teachers are not comfortable using tech themselves they will be reluctant to use it in the classroom.  The following year it was consolidating on that and developing skills within the classroom, embedding technology into the curriculum and looking more deeply at learning approaches such as SAMR, Blooms and Solo Taxonomy.  Our aim was to build a sense of “it’s ok to have a go and fail” in fact, it’s better to have a go and fail than not have a go at all.  Since resiliency, problem-solving and creativity are what we want our students to aspire to then we should model that behaviour and be prepared to stretch our limits too.

Infrastructure

We have a strong tech team and we worked closely with them.  Once they were clear about what we wanted in terms of learning they set to to make sure we had enough wireless switches and that they were in the best places to ensure wireless coverage was consistent across the school.  The materials from which some of the buildings in school are constructed cause issues with wireless reception.  Our tech team have found work-arounds for these places but we still have to work within those constraints.  We planned well but still have a few “dead spots”. These are being picked up and sorted out on an ongoing basis.

Technology Adoption

We decided to adopt Google Apps for Education (GAFE)  after some teachers trialled using Google Docs with classes and found that it impacted positively on student achievement.  This gave us a common platform for curation, dissemination and creation of materials for both staff and students. However, that doesn’t mean that other software, programmes and apps are not used and we encourage a broad spectrum of resources to promote effective learning.

Training & Preparation of staff

Preparation for all staff, both teaching and admin, was undertaken to ensure that staff were as ready as they could be for the transition to BYOD. This happened over a two year period prior to full adoption of BYOD.  Building confidence and integrating use of tech in teaching programmes has been successful as a result of the time spent preparing teachers.  All staff were involved in GAFE training to familiarise themselves with a new email system, calendars and the collaborative elements of Google Apps.  This happened more quickly than we had intended and required a significant mindshift and willingness to be flexible and open to new ways of doing things from all staff.  It wasn’t plain sailing but I have been amazed at the resilience of our teachers and support staff and how positively they have approached the change.

Phased roll out of BYOD

In the years prior to BYOD adoption, some teachers encouraged the use of devices and trialled using technology tools for teaching and learning. Then students in Senior classes were invited to bring in their devices, followed by Juniors but they were not compelled to do so. The challenge here was that some students would have devices in a classroom and others wouldn’t, making it difficult for teachers to manage and plan. We soon realised that we would need to make the transition to compulsory BYOD.

Research & choice of devices

We looked carefully at what had worked in other schools and decided to go with an agnostic device BYOD rather than mandate a brand or type of device. The benefits of this are that the learning is the priority not the tool to achieve it, parents don’t have to buy new devices if they already have one from a previous school, they have choice over how much they wish to spend and students use what they are comfortable with and know how to “drive”.

Battery life is a huge consideration and to avoid health and safety issues of cables trailing in classrooms we made the decision to buy charging lockers and installed them throughout the school.

Preparation for students

This has been one area that I feel we have neglected in a way. Although we were aware that not all students are “tech savvy” we did still assume that they would adapt quickly to using devices in the classroom.  However, they are not all good at managing their own devices and knowing how to use them for learning.  Digital Literacy is something that we are addressing on an ongoing basis in the classroom.  The Junior Curriculum provides opportunities in the first term for the different subjects to build capabilities sharing, collaborating and creating documents, presentations and videos. There is time to explore what plagiarism is, how to conduct research, use media and effective referencing.  Digital Citizenship is also a key factor for both staff and students and we have put in place strategies for dealing with inappropriate use of devices.  As with Digital Literacy, Digital Citizenship is being addressed in the classroom in context.

Preparation for Parents

A BYOD booklet explaining our rationale and giving examples of the sort of learning that can happen has been prepared and distributed to all parents. It includes a guide to the sorts of devices that are suitable.  We have run Netsafe workshops for parents to raise awareness of Digital Citizenship and we are building a section of our website with useful hints and tips for parents of digital teens.  We are still working on other ways of engaging parents in the BYOD process as this is an area that we identified as being relatively weak when we used the eLearning Planning Framework.

The process of going BYOD has not been without its challenges but we think we have been successful so far as a result of the planning and preparation we have undertaken.  Change needs to be managed and we need to have everyone on side for that; too fast and you lose some on the way but there has to be drive and you need to build some momentum.  I remember hearing a Principal talk about “getting everyone on the bus” so that you have a common approach, and if people aren’t packed and ready then there is no place for them.  We all learn at different paces and as long as there is a common will and understanding then we will all get there. So I think you need to be prepared to let people get off at different stops along the way to process what they have learned, have a break and then get back on again when they are ready.

After two years we took the eLPF to our staff and spent an afternoon exploring it.  They put us two places higher than we had put ourselves two years ago.  From Emerging we were now Engaging in all areas and Extending in many.  Not bad, I reckon but there is still a way to go and the technological landscape will continue to change but I think our teachers and our support staff have the positive, flexible mindset to cope with that.

Technology Integration: tips and tricks for BYOD a few weeks in

We have started off the year by throwing ourselves wholeheartedly into the BYOD ocean.   It has been a positive start to our BYOD journey.  It was interesting, too, to hear the enthusiasm of most of our parents at our Meet the Teacher Evening & Showcase last week around the benefits that technology is bringing to their daughters’ learning. However, it has not all been plain sailing and I know that some students and teachers have encountered some choppy water.  Some parents too, expressed some concern to me about the steep learning curve that they were on in terms of getting to grips with technology.  So I put together these thoughts for my semi-regular IT Update for teachers yesterday.

Tips and tricks for successful technology integration.

Keep it balanced – remember that the aim is to blend technology with your already excellent teaching strategies.  You don’t have to use technology every lesson. Students welcome breaks from their screens and it is good for them.

Provide time – time to work things out like uploading work to Google Classroom, or to learning portfolios.  It may be frustrating at first to not be able to get through your programmes but laying down the foundations of digital literacy will be worth it in the long run.  Time is also needed for homework.  Some students may not have internet at home, or they may be on a limited bandwidth or data limit.  So give them a few days to complete work that necessitates online access and encourage them to manage their time and prioritise effectively.

Lay the foundations of Digital Literacy – Our students are not all “digital natives” and they don’t all know how their devices work let alone the tools we are asking them to use. To start off with give them some choice of the tools (software) they want to use but limit it to what you and the majority of the students know.  That way they can build their competency and then spread their wings.

And talking of wings – why encourage those students who do know how things work to be “Digital Angels” in your classes and ask them to support the others.

Differentiation & Learning Readiness – just as you do when using traditional approaches to Teaching & Learning, think about differentiating when using technology.  Let the students choose what they are comfortable with whilst encouraging some risk-taking and exploration but give them the choice not to submit digitally if they prefer to write on paper. When they are ready they will go for it.

Provide some hard copies of google docs or other online resources so that students who are having trouble getting online, or those that prefer, can still access the work.  I usually photocopy about 10 copies and share them around.

Work in pairs or threes – encourage sharing of devices.  Not everyone needs to be on a device all the time. Group work that allows for mixed tasks is still seen to be the most effective use of devices in a classroom.

High stakes – start small – avoid stress.  Try to do some small tasks to start off with using the technology that you want to use for assessments in the future so that you and the students build competency and confidence.  When the important assessment comes you and they then don’t spend time stressing about how the technology works and you can focus on the task.

Distraction – off task behaviour. One of the issues many teachers encounter is  “off task” use of devices in class.  This is something that will not go away completely.  How many of you played noughts and crosses or other games, or wrote notes to friends in the back of the class when you were at school?  Or maybe I am the only naughty one here! And how many of you check your phones in staff meetings?  Are you engaged? Are you focussed on the task?  We can employ similar classroom management strategies to those we use to minimise traditional off-task behaviour for off-task digital behaviour.  It comes down to expectations and each teacher will have slightly different expectations for their classroom and they may also vary according to the activity.  Here are some of the ideas that have been discussed in our staffroom over the last few weeks;

  • Make it clear to students what you expect as they come into the classroom and ready themselves for the lesson.  Some teachers are happy for the girls to log on immediately and be working on online activities, others prefer to start the lesson off without a device.  It is up to you.
  • Ask students to close the lids of the laptops and fold covers over smaller devices when you are talking to them or when you are having class discussions. Or, you could ask them to turn their computers around so they are facing away from them and the keyboard is not a magnet for those itchy little fingers!
  • Suggest that phones, which are secondary devices are kept in pockets unless specifically needed to supplement a task.  Often the girls prefer to use their phones for quick research but they are perceived to be the biggest source of distraction. Personally, I am happy for them to have them at their fingertips as they are such a powerful tool for learning.  Trust is a huge factor here and everyone “focusses’ in different ways.
  • Listening to music as they work, has always been a contentious topic.  Again, make your expectations clear.  For some tasks it doesn’t cause a problem and will help focus concentration.  I find, though, that unless they have a playlist set up, they spend more time choosing songs than working.
  • Use situations where digital behaviour is not what you expect as an opportunity to have a class discussion about citizenship (both digital and non-digital) and our responsibilities as global citizens.
  • Knowing how to “drive” their own device  is important.  If students want to use a particular tool to complete a task you have set, it is their responsibility to know how it works before they have to submit.  As above, provide time to explore and learn in a preparation task so that you and your students can develop your skills.
  • Plagiarism, referencing, use of digital media and software. Please insist that everything is referenced and as far as is possible they have used images, music, videos that are licensed to re-use.
  • But the most important strategy for minimising off task-behaviour is engagement.  If your students are engaged in their learning, they won’t engage in off-task activities!

#28daysofwriting Day 19: BYOD, playing in the waves

In a Whirl
In a Whirl

As usual the school year has started in a whirl, but what an exciting whirl!  We took the plunge last year and decided that after two years of allowing students to bring their own devices to school on a relatively ad hoc basis and introducing Google Apps for Education, we would make it obligatory for all students to bring an internet enabled device for their learning.  We didn’t mandate a type of device that the students can bring, but we did say that it had to have a screen size larger than 10″ and it had to be able to have Google Chrome as a browser. So that means we have classes with a range of devices from tablets, to Chromebooks, to notebooks, to laptops.

The preceding two years were spent enabling our teachers through regular Professional Learning sessions to develop their skills and competency around digital technologies.  As well as providing strategies for their use in teaching and learning, some teachers needed to become proficient and comfortable navigating their way around devices on a personal level.  We adopted a differentiated approach by offering whole staff training as well as one to one and small group sessions.  The administration staff were not forgotten either although, if truth be told, we needed to include them more in the planning.

My role in all of this is as the “Elearning Mentor”.  I have some allocated time each week in which I can work with individual teachers when they have non-contact time when they are ready to move on to the next step.  I also offer drop in “techy brekkies” each week when teachers can come along for some support and I publish “techy tips” on all manner of things.  Usually little shortcuts and niggly things that come up in the course of conversations with teachers in the staffroom or in my sessions with them.   Over the last few years as more and more students brought their devices and teachers enabled their use in the classroom for learning we have  gradually built the capacity of the infrastructure to cope with possibility of more than 1200 devices trying to connect to the internet at any one time.wave breaking

I would like to say that it has all been plain sailing over calm waters in the last three weeks.  But it hasn’t.  However, it hasn’t been a maelstrom either.  There has been some choppy water, and the odd big wave but I think that is what might be expected.  Our teachers have thrown themselves into the challenge wholeheartedly and positively at all sorts of levels.  At whatever level is right for them.  And the students too, have taken up the challenge, they are creating, collaborating, connecting (just occasionally too much and not always about what they should be, but that is teenage girls for you!) and learning.

One of the biggest challenges is for our boarding house.  As students have come back from the day school with homework to do online, the boarding house network has not been able to cope with the traffic.  Another issue is getting a whole class full of students to upload finished products into their portfolios at the same time.  And another is dealing with the different types of media that the girls are choosing to create in and them not really understanding how their own device works or how the app they have chosen works.

But they are not insurmountable problems and we have to remind ourselves to take baby steps.  We may fall down occasionally but I am heartened by the positive comments I hear and the solutions that are being found.  We are all in this together and we are talking and building resilience amongst teachers as well as students. We are “Keeping it Real” and moving forwards, one big stride at a time.

#28dayofwriting Day 5: Keeping it Real

First week of school for 2015 over!  Fortunately a short week, but a busy one.  I love meeting students for the first time. They are all excited and nervous and eager and reluctant all at the same time.  I wonder if they realise that their teachers often feel the same way?  What does the year hold?  What will I learn?  What will I achieve?  How will I fail?  Will I cope?  Will I inspire my students?  Will they inspire me?

Every year we have a theme for the year.  Last year was “Kotahitanga” which means ‘united” or “together”.  In fact for the last couple of years we have had a Maori word as our theme.  But our theme for this year is “Keep It Real”; Developing Resilient, Enterprising, Authentic, Learners.

logo for school them of the year "Keeping it Real"

Resilience (or resiliency) is a buzz theme at present in education, isn’t it?  Sometimes called grit, determination, picking yourself up, failing forwards, pluck.  Thesaurus.com gives these synonyms for resilience;  elasticity, bounce, flexibility, spring, stamina, staying power.   Then of course there are synonyms for each of those words but the idea of being able to adapt, to problem solve and to persevere is constant.  A necessity for living in the real world beyond school.

This year we have made the decision to go compulsory BYOD.  We also decided that we would not mandate a type of device except that it had to be equal to or larger than a 10″ screen.  Devices also have to be capable of using Google Apps as we are a GAFE school. Phones are permitted and welcomed in school for learning but have to be a secondary device.  This decision was made after two years of experimentation and exploration when students could bring devices if they wished.  Feedback from both students and staff was clear;  laptops and full sized tablets were much easier to manage for learning than smartphones.  Older students preferred laptops whilst younger students would rather use their smaller devices.  Some of the issue around handheld devices is that blurry line between whether a student is using the device for social and personal use or education and learning.  Teachers who are not comfortable with tech themselves are understandably unsure about how to handle it when students have their phones out in class.

hands holding smartphones to take a video of a pronunciation activity on a laptop screenSo my first full day of teaching was Year 9 ICT induction.  A day spent delivering the same lesson to 5 different eager Year 9 classes, with a mixture of devices; some shiny and new, some borrowed, laptops, tablets, Apples, Androids, Windows.  Some girls knew how to use their devices, some clearly did not!  First message; “Go home this weekend and learn how to drive your device!”

A fair degree of resilience was required, for all of us!  But we got there, working together.  I loved the way that they helped each other.  We have “Techy Angels” at school who run the techy stuff in Chapel for our Chaplain.  We also talk about “Digital Angels” in our induction lesson.  How can you help others who don’t know how to create a Google Doc or share a video or email a recording to a teacher?  How can you help a teacher who may not know as much as you and is feeling a little nervous about using technology?  There were plenty of “Digital Angels” ready to spread their wings last week.  Very heartwarming!

But it isn’t just our students who we are encouraging to “Keep it Real”, it is us too. The teachers.  In a high achieving school such as ours, with ambitious students, parents and teachers, the pressure is to succeed and that often leads to a non-risk taking approach.  The balance is difficult to reach – you can experiment but you also have to succeed. It was great, then, to hear our Principal giving the message to both staff (in our first meeting of the year) and to the students in their first assembly about aiming high but also being prepared to fail to move forwards.

A friend sent me a link to a paper written by “ETAG” The Education Technology Action Group chaired by Stephen Heppell.  I haven’t had time to read it in its entirety but this paragraph resonated loudly with me.

“This is an area (integrating technology into education and learning) where we would seek to shout out loud and clear that faced with the certainty of uncertainty and the constancy of change, the greatest risk, the most reckless course, lies in trying nothing new. We would and should expect occasional failure. Properly observed, professionally managed, collegially shared, a little failure is a necessary step in progress. Which is not to say that constant and abject failure is tolerable or useful. But in, for example, quality assuring an institution, an element of risk and discovery – of research – would surely always be a pre-requisite of the highest quality of practice in an educational organisation?”  

So, if you are feeling a little nervous at the start of a new year, with new initiatives, new students, new courses, take heart that it is ok to fail and “Keep it Real”.

edchatnz October 31st

twitter map of edchatnzThe Hallowe’en edition of edchatnz was frantic and energising as tweetchats usually are.  This is only my second edchatnz as I am often out on a Thursday but I managed to catch the first part of this one.  The topic was BYOD and as you can imagine there was plenty to talk about.  Some teachers are just starting out with BYOD in their schools, some are old hands and some are somewhere in between.

Lots of questions, lots of advice.  Do you specify devices or allow anything? Do you shut the network down or do you open it up? What do you do about user agreements, security, equality of access?  How do you prepare teachers and students and parents?  What role does the tech support play?  Do you work in the cloud or store on servers?  Android, Apple, Microsoft, Open Source, Chromebooks, netbooks, laptops, smartphones, tablets? Opportunities for learning, sharing, failing, succeeding, self-direction, motivation, differentiation, time-management, distractions, off-task, on-task, classroom management…..

So many issues but the great thing was the collegiality of the chat, the solutions that were offered, the fact that we are modelling a community of practice, just in time PD. The information gleaned was relevant, useful, authentic, in the moment.  The overwhelming theme that came through for me was the emphasis and focus on LEARNING.  We are all starting to get the message that PEDAGOGY has to drive the tools we use and not the other way round.

@Mrs_Hyde created this Storify from the Tweets and I created another map of the tweets and conversations using TagsExplorer to chart the tweets and the conversations.

Thanks @MissDSciTeacher for getting the ball rolling – edchatnz even gets a mention in the latest edition of the Education Review in an article “10 Twitter tips for Teachers“.

 

 

 

What Parents Want From Technology In The Classroom

http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/Edudemic/~3/PjaDOxgCmCI/  A Fascinating infographic. I wonder wahtvthe figures would be if we surveyed our parents. Interesting but not surprising that parents of younger students seem more positive about the benefits of devices. Is this a generational thing or educational  – tied in with learning or just being successful in exams?