‘We’re all doomed, I tell ye’. ‘We’re all doomed!’

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Just found this post from a while back which I started writing after the announcement about CoLs and CoOLs.  I never finished it as plenty of others responded in a similar vein to me and in a much more eloquent way.  See this post ‘Keeping our cool about CoOLs’ from Claire Amos.  There was a lot of ‘wailing and gnashing of teeth’ and cries that ‘the sky is falling’ about online learning. Things have gone quiet since then and we have seen the introduction of the new Digital Technologies|Hangarau Matihiko Curriculum and, of course a new government. The reason that I have come back to this post is, partly because I found it in my drafts, and having found it, it resonated with me as I am currently reading “Different Schools for a Different World” by Dean Sharesku and Scott McLeod. Now I don’t think that, for many of us who are steeped in the NZ education system with our flexible and forward thinking curriculum, they say anything particularly groundbreaking. Much of their commentary is of US schools and school system. But despite seeing plenty of excellent contemporary, collaborative, student centred learning happening in schools, I also know that there is plenty of mediocre teaching and learning happening which is not meeting the needs of all our learners. 

In the book, the authors offer 6 arguments for why schools need to be different. As I read the book I am tweeting the thoughts and questions it is provoking in me. The first deals with information, where we get it from, how we get it, and what we do with it.

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We, and our students, can find all the information we need online; what our kids need is to ‘master the skills of information filtering and critical thinking’ so that they have the skills to thrive in their world. That is the role of the teacher.

The 2nd argument is that of economics. We’ve all heard it said – the jobs our kids will do haven’t even been invented yet, automation has taken our jobs, a job won’t be for life. Shareski and McLeod suggest that manufacturing jobs are being replaced by higher skill service jobs and creative jobs. They ask ‘what value do human workers add that software robots don’t’? Critical thinking, problem-solving, creativity, high level communication, collaboration…

Screen Shot 2017-10-27 at 16.51.28Then we come to learning. How we learn, how we teach, what our role as teacher is, whether we are meeting the needs of our learners.

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A blend of digital and kanohi ki te kanohi learning provides both content and the interactions necessary for developing the soft skills needed to manage the information.  We need to prepare our students to be fluent navigators of an online world, to have a positive digital presence, to understand the ethics and legalities of a digital landscape, to be able to share their knowledge and skills as both consumers and creators. We need to prepare students for learning agility – they need to know how to ‘flounder intelligently’. (Guy Claxton)

I think online learning offers us some really positive options especially for kids who are isolated or marginalised, but also for those who sit in a system that sort of works for them but sort of doesn’t.  I’m thinking of the majority of middle of the road kids who get by in spite of a school system that is out of date and not a good fit for them.  The kids who are ‘passively disengaged’.

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This is dealt with in Chapter 4: The Boredom Argument.   A question for every teacher….

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How much time is spent in your classroom when the student is ‘passive’?  What activities motivate your students to learn? My wero to you is to time some of your lessons, or someone else’s, and reflect.

George Couros asks in one of his blogs;

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‘Different’ schools could be online schools but there is a danger that all we do is extend a traditional model of learning into an online environment.  We need to think of ways to allow our kids to learn without just replacing an exercise book with a device.  Teachers need support to design blended learning opportunities that allow pathways for all learners.  Students need to collaborate – the classroom should be a space for ‘doing’, asking, sharing, exploring, then go home and use a computer to reflect on content, write up notes etc. So, there has to be a lot of thought as to how online education is blended with face to face interaction. And online doesn’t mean ‘robots’ delivering courses as some have said. It means carefully constructed pathways of learning created by teachers, with discussions facilitated by teachers and learners with multiple ways of accessing content and creating responses.

This brings us on to the Innovation Argument; Dyer, Gregersen and Christensen (2009) suggest that innovators possess 5 key skills;Screen Shot 2017-10-27 at 17.40.43

and that we need to create an environment in school which allows for those skills to be developed and flourish. My question is;

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We are constrained by top down drivers – results and standards, which can be used as an excuse not to provide opportunities for genuine inquiry and experimentation, to limit questioning, to stimy divergent thinking, and to prevent kids from forming and using networks to amplify their learning.  I can see so many possibilities to support and develop these 5 key skills by using a powerful blend of online and face to face learning.  At the moment, though, our assessment system isn’t playing ball and too much testing is still geared towards passive ingestion and thoughtless regurgitation.

The final argument is one of equity.  The obvious is a lack of access to digital technologies and thus online opportunities. But it is also a question of usage – even with access what do kids from different socio-economic backgrounds use digital technology for?  Studies done in the USA suggest that substitute tasks such as drilling and practice are overwhelmingly done by African American kids whilst more affluent students use technology for creative, higher order thinking activities.

I haven’t had time as yet, to explore my thinking about how online learning would solve the issue of equity – my initial thought is around attendance.  It is clear that lack of attendance at school has a profound effect on kids learning outcomes. Barriers to getting to school are many but if kids can access learning from home when they can’t get to school, surely that helps to reduce the inequity in some small way?  It is also a question that Shareski and McLeod don’t really answer either apart from suggesting that we ask questions of our communities to get a clear picture of who has access and who hasn’t, and to build partnerships with community and businesses to support access.

When we think about ‘different schools’ we are not talking about the physical or virtual space, we are talking about pedagogical philosophy.  As teachers we can all be part of the conversation, pushing for dialogue, questioning our own assumptions about how we teach and how our kids learn. We can demand (in reasonable terms) that those in power think very carefully about how to implement what could be a very positive model for learning. We also have a responsibility to read widely all of the information and assess critically, not jump to conclusions and onto the ‘sky is falling’ bandwagon. Online learning in some shape or form is going to happen so we might as well work together to ensure that we implement the best model possible which works for all our learners.

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#28daysofwriting Day 3

teenage boy wearing a yellow and green football shirt sitting under a Trig point in New ZealandOkay. It is 11.30pm so I have just over 28 minutes to get this one done and dusted!  Here goes!

I know I said that I would write about our Oxfam walk preparations but we had a rest day yesterday and Sunday is too far away to remember!  I was tired, my legs were tired. That’s it.

Today my team mates all had an excuse not to walk.  All perfectly plausible, understandable and acceptable and as I have already said, they are already much better prepared than I am.  So I decided to go on my own.  Actually, I persuaded (with little resistance, I might add) younger son (aged 15) to come with me.  I was surprised because when I came home he was playing a computer game with his friends.  All in separate houses, on separate computers.  He does sometimes invite them to our house (or he goes to their’s) and they bring their computers and they all sit at their computers, stare at the screens playing the game and yet talk to each other.  They plan, they strategise, they negotiate and they fall out and then in again!   It is fascinating to listen.

But I am a mother and I am of a certain generation and even though I am relatively techy minded and I do understand the benefits of online gaming and all that sort of stuff, I still worry about how much time he spends on a screen.  How much time this summer break he has spent on a screen.  And I feel guilty.  I wasn’t here for four weeks.  And then I needed to work.  So he stayed on his screen.  And it was easy.  For me.

In the winter when he is playing hockey and football and training five times a week with matches on Wednesdays and Saturdays and homework, I can justify the times in between when he is on his computer games.  But in the summer, I struggle.

School starts tomorrow for him. Year 11.  NCEA Level 1.  NO MORE COMPUTER GAMES MIDWEEK!!!

So, he came out for a walk with me.  It was a pleasure having his company.  We talked.  We walked.  He ran!  We went further than he expected but he kept up and he didn’t complain.  And I actually think he quite enjoyed it!  10km.  One hour 40 minutes. Time with my boy.  Need to do that more often.

Pencils

I was just scrolling through my twitter feed and found this.

ImageIt is a very simple and graphic way of illustrating Roger’s Bell curve of adoption.   I also think that it is a very apt image to use for education.  However, it made me think of a “story” that went around the email circuit way back in the 90’s when I was first experimenting with using computer technology in the classroom.  When we were fighting to get computers in every classroom and not just in “Computer Suites”, when we wanted to have a little bit more control over the computers rather than being magnanimously granted the honour of being able to book into a computer suite once a month, when control was wielded self-importantly by those who “knew” and who had the “power”.   

Here is the story:

Pencils Across the Curriculum
A Fairy Story

Bryn Jones c 1990
(Except for some very minor revisions, the text is as it was in 1990)

SCENE : It is deep in the past, schools are using chalk and slates, stylus and tablets, chisels and granite. Suddenly a new technology appears:

The Pencil!

Once upon a time, the Ministry of Education, after appointing a Special Pencil Task Force and inviting tenders from all the major Pencil manufacturers, gave 16 Pencils to each High School as part of a Special Pencil initiative.

(They also gave ONE Pencil to each Primary School but that’s another story!).

This is the story of two of those High Schools.

SCHOOL A

Opened a New Pencil Centre in a blaze of publicity and housed all 16 Pencils in it. They appointed a Teacher-in-Charge of Pencils.

They were worried that someone might steal these rare and valuable Pencils so they put bars on the windows.

“Special Pencil Centre” signs were painted on the outside wall to tell the world that they were proud of their Pencils and that Pencils are special.

Teachers were not allowed to use Pencils unless teaching a Pencil Studies course – special training was needed to handle these expensive and delicate instruments: teachers needed to understand about Hardness, Length, Handling, Care and Safety (Pencils are very sharp).

Pencil Awareness was introduced as a compulsory course for all Year 8 students – they studied the Applications of Pencils, Pencils in Drawing, Pencils in Writing, the Social Implications of Pencils, Design and Manufacture of Pencils, History of Pencils and Future Trends in Pencils.

10 Pencil Scholarships were offered to local primary students to attract the brightest and best.

One day the Art teacher heard about these new Pencils and thought they could be useful in Art classes but the Pencil Studies teacher explained that all the Pencils were always being used by Pencil Studies classes, and anyway, you need special training to use a Pencil.

The Pencil Studies teacher agreed to do a few lessons on the use of Pencils in Art as part of the Pencil Awareness Course (despite not knowing anything about Art).

“Wouldn’t it be better if we had our own Pencils in the Art Dept?” inquired the Art teacher.

“NO, NO, NO! DON’T BE SILLY!” countered the Pencil Studies teacher.

A similar thing happened in Technical Drawing:

“I’ve heard these Pencils are great for Technical Drawing – really sharp!” and “It sure beats chiselling in granite – can we have some?”

Across the way in English:

“Could we use Pencils do you think? Would they make it easier to create and edit writing?”

“We’ll see what we can do,” said the Teacher-in-Charge of Pencils, “but it’s very hard to fit any more into the Pencils Awareness Course. Besides, all our Pencil teachers are incredibly busy”.

In Business Education they got the news:

“Accounts, Letter Writing, Bookkeeping…could pencils have a role to play here?”

Similar things happened in Music/ Theatre Arts/ Home Economics/ Science/ Mathematics/ Library.

Demand for Pencil Studies courses became so great that School A had to spend $100 000 on new buildings to house more Pencil Labs and hired more Pencil teachers.

Meanwhile, back in the Technical Drawing room the stylus and tablet is all they have, in Art, chalk is state-of-the-art and in Business Ed the abacus is all the go.

Tons of granite are consumed daily and a granite recycling programme is introduced.

Five years later School A had 5 Pencil Labs, 6specialist Pencil teachers and half the students doing Pencil Studies courses.

But no-one else in the school ever used a Pencil!

Then one day all the Pencil Studies teachers left to work in private schools and industry!

SCHOOL B

School B also started with it’s 16 Pencils in a special room but they had a PLAN.

The plan was ‘THE PENCILS ACROSS THE CURRICULUM PLAN’.

It was a Brave Plan, a Bold Plan, a Problematical Plan – but it was a Good Plan!

They introduced special programmes to lend Pencils to teachers and put a Pencil in each staff office.

They put a few Pencils in the staff room so that staff could play with them at lunchtime.

They paid for teachers to go on Pencil courses.

They even put some Pencils in the Library for ANYONE to use even if they had no training!

“What? Anyone? “, “Oh what problems!”

“Who will sharpen them?”

“Who can understood all the jargon – HB, 2B, 2H?”

“What about quality?”

“What about editing – who will replace the erasers?”

“Who will look after them?”

“What about compatibility problems – 0.2 , 0.5 mm or non-standard leads?”

“Who decides whether to have hexagonal or circular Pencils?”

“What about all these new Pencil technologies which appear with monotonous regularity – who will make decisions?

Well yes, there were a few teething troubles but somehow people coped. After a while they began to realise that Pencils were quite easy to use, even for teachers!

A few Pencils were put in subject areas for teachers to experiment with.

Some teachers were so impressed, they even bought their own Pencils and wondered how they ever managed without one.

There were still major problems to overcome as far as using Pencils in the actual classroom. New discipline and management problems that teachers hadn’t faced before. Was it necessary for every student to have a Pencil each or could they share or work in groups?

Would One Pencil per Classroom make a difference?

To begin with, only a few brave teachers used Pencils in their lessons but as time went by more and more teachers saw the amazing work being done by the students of the teachers who used Pencils and they began to ask for some Pencils in their classroom too.

Five years later the school didn’t need its Pencil Lab any more except for a few students who wanted to do Pencil Science at University or get a job in the Pencil Industry. There were Pencils all over the school and most staff and students used them quite naturally. Some even carried a pencil about in their pocket.

This was written around 1990 and I am pretty sure that most people will have read this story several times over the last twenty years.  Sadly, there are still schools where this system holds sway, there are still schools where people lack the courage to let their staff play, experiment and explore, there are still teachers who lack the confidence to take a risk, to try something new, to allow themselves to “fail”.  There are also plenty of pressures on our schools and teachers to succeed, to have high pass rates in examinations, pressure to perform and to be seen to perform, pressure from parents to educate their children the way they were taught, self-imposed pressure to not fail. Pressures that hinder educators from doing what we know could work and could improve the way we teach and our students can learn.

Roger’s Bell Curve and the Pencil Illustration underline the fact that we are all human, we are all different, some of us naturally want to try new things and are not afraid to fail, some of us want to try but want others to trail blaze and we will follow more comfortably in their wake, some of us just want to keep on doing what we are doing, it is easy, it is comfortable, it works, but we might just be tempted to try something new once it has been proven to work.  And some, well we just want to hide in a corner and hope that the future will go away; if we keep quiet for long enough and resist for long enough maybe we will be forgotten about and nobody will bother us any more.  Worse though, are the nay-sayers, those that actively undo the good work that others are doing through constant moaning, undermining comments, they suck the good will and the positivity out of workplaces. 

We also have to understand that our students will also match these human qualities.  They may all have been born in the “Digital Age” – brought up in an age where technology is at their fingertips but they are not all “Digital Natives”.  They do not all use, know how to use, or like to use technology all the time.  Nor do they often see the benefits of what they see as a toy, to aid them in their learning. 

The challenge is to somehow encourage everyone to realise the worth of trying something new.  Not just doing new for the sake of new, but new because it helps us to do things more effectively, more efficiently.  The challenge is to negate the “nay-sayers”; they are often a vocal minority but they hold some sway.  

“Attuning yourself to others—exiting your own perspective and entering theirs—is essential to moving others. One smart, easy, and effective way to get inside people’s heads is to climb into their chairs.” Dan Pink

Thanks to George Couros for the above quote from his blogpost “The Value of the “Naysayer and Antagonist””.  He has some interesting things to say but I like his perspective that we all have the potential to be a “naysayer” or an “antagonist” depending on the context we find ourselves in.  There is also a lot to be said for putting ourselves in the shoes of others to be able to understand where they are coming from.   Food for thought…