EducampBOP – a challenge to secondary school teachers!

winter landscape with rainbow.Well, today was my first “Educamp“. I have thought about going to several over the years but have never quite made one. Mainly because they are on Saturdays and my boys have always had some sort of sports fixture. But also because there are very few, if any, secondary school teachers at them. They are not aimed solely at primary and intermediate schools but IMHO they tend to be the teachers who are most inclined to share. It is a shame because there are so many secondary teachers out there who do such great things in the classroom that are worth sharing. The “unconference” style means that everyone has a voice, everyone’s ideas are valued, there are no “experts” there are just learners and colleagues (and, of course, friends). However, today, I was there to learn and to meet people.  In my new role as Connected Learning Advisor I am keen to meet as many teachers as possible from all sectors and BOP and Waikato are the regions for which I am responsible.

I would love to see if we could gain some traction for a similar sort of event for secondary teachers. I am unsure if it is because secondary school teachers are too locked into their subject specialties or because there is too much competition with regard to exam results to want to share too much?  I know that each subject area has their own “conference”; languages have “Langsems” all over the country when teachers share what they have been doing, but these cost a significant amount of money and not all teachers go because of confernece costs and the relief costs on top of that.  What if secondary teachers just got together and shared their pedagogy, how they integrate technology, the tools they use?  So many approaches can be used and adapted across subject areas and as junior programmes are re-organised to be more open, task-based, cross-curricular and student-centred, there is a need to share practice and learn from each other.

Tweeting is normal at such events and the power of the “tweet” is being realised by more and more teachers.  Powerful learning not just for adults but for students too.  I wonder what the breakdown of users is between primary/intermediate and secondary teachers in NZ? My bet is that primary beat us hands down!

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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.

Celebration of Learning: Brave, Resilient teachers

prizegivingLast week during our Professional Learning session some of our teachers shared what they have been doing with their classes this year.  I probably need to give some background for this.  2014 was supposed to have been our year of consolidation after exploration and experimentation in 2013.  The idea being that teachers would choose an element of their learning from 2013, work within their departments and look at how they could embed it into their programmes of learning.  We were thrown a curve ball when, late in 2013, our BOT agreed to us adopting Google Apps for Education (GAFE).  That meant that in Term 1 of this year we focussed solely on training for GAFE.  It also meant a fair degree of stress and anxiety for some of our teachers as they had to adapt to a completely new way of doing many of their admin tasks.  Nevertheless, we think the process went relatively smoothly (more on that later) and so over the last two terms we have concentrated on blending pedagogy and “e-tools” to enhance the learning of our students.

Our Professional Learning programme is structured thus;

School finishes at 2.30pm every Wednesday afternoon. PL sessions are set in three week blocks.  In the first week we have a whole school “formal” PL session, the second week is set for Learning areas to work together.  These are sometimes “guided” by the “formal” session the previous week and discussion documents are shared.  In the third week, teachers can work independently or with their buddies on their own inquiry.  Some weeks there is no PL if, for example, there is a Parent Teacher consultation evening.

So in our last “Learning Area” PL session we asked departments to volunteer somebody to share an element of their pedagogy in a five minute presentation, and gave them these guiding questions;

  • A strategy – digital or otherwise – so that could be an app, an online tool, a pedagogical philosophy, an activity – that you have used with your class(es) this year.
  • Why you chose it
  • How you used it
  • How might it have transformed – or started to transform – your practice or thoughts about your teaching practice
  • What the impacts were on the learning outcomes for your students
  • What the benefits and challenges were
  • Your recommendations for its wider use

Just as we were last year, we were blown away by the passion, the pride and the learning of the teachers who presented.

In maths, one of the teachers has introduced the idea of “Guest Lectureres” in her class this term.  The girls volunteer to be experts on a topic and prepare a “lecture” for the rest of the group.  She said “the girls already know the concepts, so why should I teach it?”  They sourced their own notes and used a variety of media to present. She said that they loved being able to direct their own learning. And the girls who didn’t volunteer were responsive, they asked hard questions and they challenged themselves. Putting themselves outside their comfort zones meant that they thought more critically, were adaptive and collaborative.

In English, one of the senior classes has explored different media for creating Visual Stories.  This was a challenge for the teachers as they didn’t have any expertise in creating or editing videos or any other tools apart from Powerpoint. But they knew that the some of the students did, especially those who were studying Media Studies or Photography and they encouraged them to share their knowledge and transfer their skills across disciplines.  The results are outstanding but they say that the engagement of the students and the learning process was fascinating to observe. Lots of things didn’t work, they had to find solutions to problems, and there were frustrations as well as jubilations! More importantly, as teacher learners, they have role modelled the idea that we don’t have to know everything, that we can “learn as we go” and that it is ok to fail.

The Phys Ed and Health department have been wholehearted pioneers of Google Apps.  They were using them before we became a GAFE school and have used Google Forms for formative and summative assessments.  They showed us how they have used Add-Ons such as Flubaroo,  Doctopus and Goobric.  They reported that students have been more motivated to do online tests rather than paper ones.  They have found that the biggest impact has been on achievement through the use of marking rubrics and the ability to give feedback on specific elements of the assessments and areas to work on.  We noted that now that Google has introduced Google Classroom, it is possible that Add Ons like Goobric will not be needed in the same way.  Of course, giving feedback using rubrics can be done in other ways, but using Goobric has proved effective for the Phys Ed way of working and made it easier for large classes doing the same assessment.

The Music Department took the opportunity to show us how their students are using Sibelius to compose for different parts of an orchestra.  This software really makes the process of composing much more real and immediate – the sound of the music can be heard note by note as the student adds the notation. The finished product is a “real” score, and the students have the evidence of their efforts in their hands.  Seeing one student’s process of creating a composition and then her conducting the orchestra as they played her composition was fascinating and certainly made me excited!

In social studies, the Year 9 students do a unit on sustainability in which they choose a topic and follow an inquiry project.  Over the last two years the Social Studies Department have developed these as digital portfolios but with GAFE this has gone to a new level.  The girls are using Google docs to collaborate both in and outside of the classroom and as well as written logs some girls have chosen to make video diaries of their progress.  Progress is much more continuous as work on the inquiries can happen anytime and anywhere, and the students don’t have to work in allocated blocks of time as they used to.  This has the added bonus of helping maintain momentum and interest and it means that when someone is absent the group can still get on and even work with her whilst she is at home sick!

Kahoot has been a big hit in the classics classroom.  It is easy to make quick quizzes to test terminology and language and the students love the competitive element and the challenge of time limits.  Kahoot is device agnostic so the students can access it on any device they have, but even if all students don’t have a device, working in a team collaboratively leads to great conversations and learning.

The Science Department has been trialling the use of Education Perfect.  This started out as Language Perfect but the developers have been adding subjects to it as its popularity and success has exploded.  This is the platform that will be used for online examinations as they are introduced over the next 5 years so it is worthwhile students learning their way around it.  It is a fairly traditional way of learning terminology – the premise is based on flashcards for key words and concepts – but like Kahoot, the competitive element is what hooks kids in.  There certainly looks to have been some work on building its capabilities to cope with longer text answers and there is a range of past papers for practice.  One of the key elements is that teachers can track a student’s progress, set homework and monitor the rate of their learning. The more questions the students attempt the more points they earn.  If they challenge themselves to try new sections they learn more whereas if they only do the sections they know they can do, their learning level doesn’t increase.

Another teacher in science talked about how Solo Taxonomy has revolutionised the way that she teaches and manages her classes.  She is enjoying being a “guide on the side” rather than the more traditional, and for her, more natural “sage on the stage”.  She has observed the benefits to her students’ learning as they select and identify the level they are working at and can also see what they need to do to access the higher levels.  She admits that she has “bastardised” the philosophy to suit her classroom, her kids and her own teaching and learning style but also acknowledges that she has challenged herself as well as the students which has to be great for her professional learning and development.  She says that she needed something to prompt change, had been searching for the right thing, heard about Solo and realised that it could work for her.

Our Te Reo teacher showed us how she has developed a Google Site for her multi level classes where they can choose the level that is appropriate for them and select the resources they need to further their learning.  It is a great example of self-directed learning and provides support for her face to face activities in the classroom.  She reflected that she had attended another colleagues PL sessions a couple of years ago where he showed people how to build websites for learning.  She wondered if she should have started earlier and if that was a waste of his and her time.  But I think that, although she could see the benefits then, she wasn’t ready herself to start to create.  Two years down the road, she is ready and has taken the learning from then, added it to her new knowledge and is excited about the possibilities.

These last two teachers are evidence that we understand concepts when we are ready, seeds need to be planted but only when we see a purposeful application for an idea will we adopt it, develop it in our own way and embed it in our practice.  Just like our students really!

Engaging and Extending

Teachers at my school are amazing.   They, like many other teachers, have coped with a huge amount of change. Scarcely has one new intiative been incorporated into already busy schedules than another is introduced.  There is little time to assimilate, practise and embed.  Two years ago we introduced a BYOD programme and we focused our Professional Learning on blending technology with effective pedagogy.  This year the plan was to have some time to consolidate what we had explored last year.  Then GAFE came along and we had to put plans on hold.  After three years of pushing for the school to adopt GAFE, all of a sudden we got the go ahead and we were determined to make sure that our teachers and admin staff were as well-trained as possible.  Term 1 was spent learning how to manage gmail, Google calendars, and Docs.  As you can imagine, some people took it and ran with it, others, are still feeling overwhelmed!  However, they continue to be positive and motivated as we have continued to support and develop.

Last week we had some really rich discussion looking at the eLearning Planning Framework with our teachers.  The eLearning Planning Framework is “a tool to help schools and teachers measure eLearning capability.  It can support regular self-review and subsequent improvement of eLearning skills and knowledge, in ways that reflect our bi-cultural heritage”.  As we started our journey on the eLearning road 3 years ago our BLING group explored the eLPF and put ourselves at the Emerging level for most areas, definitely Pre-emerging at some areas and with pockets of Engaging in terms of individual teachers using and embedding technology in their teaching programmes.

After two years of professional learning focused on exploring how technology can be blended with pedagogy we thought it was timely to look at the eLPF as a whole teaching staff. My motto for this year’s professional learning sessions has been “short and snappy”. Whilst we finish early every Wednesday afternoon to allow time for professional learning we are conscious still that our teachers are under huge pressure.  Last week Junior reports were due the next day and so a short, meaningful, engaging session was called for.

The objectives of this session were:

  • to introduce the eLearning Planning Framework to teachers
  • to examine where we sit as a school within the framework
  • to identify what we need to do next

Snapshot

In cross-curricular groups of four with a facilitator, a recorder and a set of colour-coded descriptor statements from the eLPF, the aim was to choose one statement from each colour that they thought best described where we sat as a school.  This was a quick 5 minute, gut reaction activity to get a very quick snapshot.  The recorder transferred the group’s choices onto a shared Google Doc.

Exploration

After a brief opportunity to share the groups then had 30 minutes to look in more depth at one of the sections of the eLPF.  We had taken out Technology and Infrastructure so the remaining 4 sections were randomly distributed to the 14 groups.  Our Senior Leadership team worked in a group together to nut out the Leadership and Strategic Direction section.  The idea was that we would get a broad idea of  where we sat without having to spend a lot of time going through the whole document.  We asked the groups to consider where we were as a a school but also to reflect where they were on a personal level as they talked.  The discussions that ensued were engaging, at times quite heated, and very robust.  It was fascinating listening to them and joining in as I circulated.  It was also very tempting to let them keep going but, conscious of time, we kept to our schedule.

Human Bar Chart

Time to get up and move around!  The groups were asked to look at the complete page 3 from which the statements for the first activity had been cut.  They reflected on the statements they had originally chosen and then looked at where they had assessed us to be in their particular focus section to see if it was the same.  Then they came with a “label” for their section and stood on our “stair-o-meter” – Pre-emerging at the bottom of the stairs and Empowering at the top.  I think you will agree that the results were fairly unanimous!  We are engaging!

 

teachers standing on stairs indictaing where they syand on the elearning Planning Framework from emerging to empowering

Reading the summaries of the discussions that were shared with us via their Google Docs painted a much more detailed picture.  We think that maybe our teachers are just too hard on themselves!  For many of the aspects within their sections they suggested that there were elements of extending and the examples they gave to justify their viewpoints were robust and very valid.

For those that are interested, here is a copy of the plan for the session.

We followed up this session with a discussion document for the respective faculties to look at in the Learning Area PL slot the following week.