Time to think

20160505_212235-1.jpgI’ve been doing quite a lot of walking/running recently and it provides me not only with a well-needed brain break from the computer, leg-stretch from a chair and eye break from a screen but also time for my brain to slow down and stop thinking. Well, maybe not stop thinking but it helps me to filter my thoughts, get them in some sort of order through disordering them, breaking them up and somehow putting them back together again. I don’t necessarily gain any answers but they get “un-piled”!

Data has been top of mind in my work in the last few weeks. What is data? Despite myself, but also because I am a competitive soul, I can’t go for a walk or a run anywhere without trying to do it faster than the time before. I find myself calculating how many minutes it takes me to walk a kilometre, how many kilometres I can walk in an hour, was it faster than last time, slower, was the terrain similar, how much should I take off for stopping to take a photo, should I take anything off? If I hadn’t had to wait 45 minutes in the gully while everyone went through the hole in the rock, and then another 20 minutes for people to cross the river and climb the 3m rope climb how long would I really have taken to walk/run 23km and how would that equate to a half marathon…? But it is clear that those calculations are not just based on pure numbers, on data, they are based on human action, on nature, on the terrain, on feelings, on emotions, on abilities and competencies and relationships. Relationships between people and the environment, on rational and irrational fears, on prior experience and knowledge and understanding.

Take this weekend, for example. As part of the event I participated in we had to squeeze through a hole in a rock wall to get out of a gully. ‘Squeeze’ is an interesting concept – it was clearly not that small a hole as plenty of large-ish men got through with relative ease. My prior knowledge and experience of caves and caving meant that I was unafraid, eager, in fact to face the “challenge”. People around me who didn’t have that knowledge were fearful, anxious, uncomfortable. Feelings that were made more acute by the wait and the conversations and the “chinese whispers” passed back – the “fishermen’s tales” – “the hole is tiny!!” with hand gestures that indicated the smallest of gaps. But with support from those of us who did know, with encouragement, explanations and modelling of how to do it, with patience and with care everyone got through.

If this had been a test for which we were being assessed, I would have got top marks. My prior knowledge meant that the test was easy, my experience and my preparation meant that I had no problems slipping through. I may have also gained extra credit for being a “leader”. For others it was not the case, they may have been ‘judged’ not to have got top marks because they hesitated, or didn’t slide so gracefully through, or took too much time.

Personally, I think their achievement was all the greater. The obstacles they overcame to get through; emotional, physical, rational, irrational made their achievement more meaningful. Give me a situation where I have no prior knowledge, no confidence, no experience, irrational fear and I wonder how I would have fared.

So, how do you measure that sort of data when you assess people in academic tests? How do you compute immeasurable data such as emotions, human nature, social background, with knowledge and experience to make meaning, build connections and create pathways for learning?

This evening, I was talking with some friends. Both teachers and ex-colleagues. One of them is a drama teacher and some of her students do extremely well. Students who don’t do so well in other subjects. Students whose motivation for coming to school sometimes is simply because they have drama that day. Part of her inquiry this year is looking at why those students are motivated and engage in drama but not in other subjects. She said that one of the things she does is talk to her students about who they are, about their families, what they like doing, what their parents do, how many siblings they have, where they are in the family, what they do when they aren’t at school, where the family comes from, who they live with, who they spend the most time with; she finds out what makes them tick. She builds a relationship with them, trust, respect, interest, she cares. That’s what makes those kids come to school. That’s what makes those kids do well in drama.

So, in schools we need to look at our students, not just as they are in front of us, but who they are in their family, their community, their social groups, what they do in the classroom, of course, but what they do on the sports field, in the arts, in the community. Build on their experience and use all of that information, that data to gain insights, and generate meaningful action to personalise learning for them, give them and their whanau a voice, a stake in their decision-making and the pathways they choose.  That is the rich data. It’s not all about test scores. It’s about who we are, it’s about building relationships, making connections, trust, respect, humanity.

Finding the Balance – and taking the plunge!

Finding the Balance

This evening I did my first Eduignite presentation! Very nervous and I am sure I gabbled but it seemed to be well received. What is an Eduignite evening? 20 slides on a fifteen second auto transition which gives you five minutes to speak on any topic dear to your heart! We heard eight inspiring talks this evening interspersed with good conversation and drinks and nibbles. The aim is to bring educators together to share and learn from each other in an informal gathering. There are Eduignite evenings held throughout the country usually in the penultimate week of each school term. Although we are often tired and feeling the pressures of the end of term by then if you make the effort to get to one it certainly gives you a boost in terms of ideas and creativity.

Here is the transcript of my presentation – the link to the slides is above.

Connections are important – our first connections with our parents help us to develop who we are, how we behave, how we interact with other people. Those habits inform our interactions with the the global online community.

It is important to maintain some balance in our relationships and our lives so that we don’t lose sight of our humanity in a world that is increasingly played out online. We have to maintain connections, build relationships and stay grounded.

We have to nurture our connections to nature if we are to maintain our dignity and humanity in the face of constant change. Maoist philosophy sees life as endless change in which we have to keep our minds open to grow and learn.

For me humanity is our ability to empathise, to care, to connect, to communicate, to feel, to believe, to be spontaneous; it is the spirituality that you can’t pin down but you know to be the essence of our relationships.

People are the root of our connections to the earth and our humanity so this sculpture called “Tangata Whenua” represents the idea of humanity. My son’s hand connects with the sculpture, connects him to the earth and to the people who inhabit it.

In adverts for new technology – I don’t know if you have seen the adverts for Corning Glass, nature often seems to be missing from visions of the future. Everything is white or glass and sterile. But I was struck by this description of an exhibition at the Hamilton Sculpture Park. ‘We sometimes forget our connection to nature and our instinctual selves when we are immersed in a society of fast information and constant stimulation.”

One of the artists suggested that our own experiences inform how we see the future, how we interact, how we cope with change. Is the past a beginning that opens up and generates connections? Does the past empty into the future? And is there a danger that our potential is limited by the limits we impose on ourselves.

So what effect has technology had on society and our humanity? Wide swathes of native bush and forest were cleared in the 1870s to make space for the extraction of gold. Massive stone pillars, towering buildings and huge cyanide tanks dominated the landscape which was once home to native flora and fauna.

Just over 100 years later nature has reclaimed the land. The amazing technology that belched steam, smoke and poison into the atmosphere has gone; the remnants of a once powerful technology are overgrown with flowers and shrubs and the birds are starting to return.

The online world has the capacity to reach across the world, across continents, into our living rooms, into the palms of our children’s hands. We have to engender a sense of responsibility, a sense of morality, a sense of belonging to a world that feeds us and nurtures us.

Nothing else has had that power since, perhaps, Gutenberg’s printing press, radio and then television. It is up to us to teach our children to filter, to be critical, to assess and to analyse what they see, hear and read; to consider their digital footprint as well as their environmental one – they are, after all, inextricably linked.

Midway is an island in the North Pacific 2000 miles from the nearest continent which is the subject of a film. It explores the plight of Layson albatross who ingest the plastic waste that we carelessly discard. It is a graphic and shocking expose of how our actions impact on nature and the environment.

And if our thoughtlessness about physical waste wreaks untold damage on the other side of the world, what might carelessness with our personal information do to humanity? Do we consider how what we post, how we share and how we interact with each other online affects other people and ourselves.

Technology is part of our lives. Technology is everywhere; In school we use pens and pencils, books, slates, blackboards, whiteboards, interactive whiteboards, tape recorders, computers, CD players, video players, data projectors.

At home we use telephones, mobile phones, dishwashers, washing machines, we watch television, we listen to radio, toast bread in toasters, heat food in microwaves. We drive cars, we have electric lights, heaters to keep us warm and air conditioning to keep us cool. The list is endless, so what is the problem?

What we accept today, without even thinking about it, is the disruptive technology of the past. Technology that made people stop and think about the status quo, it challenged people’s thinking, it changed the environment for better or for worse, it changed society and the way that we behave communicate, connect and interact.

There is always something new, but how long will it last? And what will be along to take its place? How does the way we use technology affect our humanity? If technology is always and has always and will always be with us, then we have to find our place within it. Where do we fit in as teachers and learners?

I believe there will always be a need for face to face teaching and learning. Online courses provide an extra dimension; they democratise education = anytime, anyplace, anywhere for anybody. But technology is just another tool to enhance learning….

The key to effective learning according to Dr John Hinchcliff is relationships and you really need to be face to face, in the same room to build relationships, don’t you?

John Hinchcliffe says “learning is taken to a higher level when it is done with humility, and with unconditional personal regard.” Which brings us back to relationships, to the way we interact, to the way we make connections and to humanity.

Making connections – more powerful than you know

I watched this Tedtalk back in May and it sent tingles down my spine.  A colleague just shared it with me today and I nearly didn’t watch it because  knew I had seen it before.  However, with only  a few minutes left of my “non-contact” time that had been eroded by dealing with unnecessary emails and admin tasks, I decided to click play.  I am so glad I did, my spine is still tingling as I type.  Rita Pierson is an inspirational, passionate speaker but she cuts to the core of what it is to be an effective teacher.  Which teachers do you remember from your schooldays? I know that I remember the grumpy ones or the ones that were mean, and we all have anecdotes about the teachers that we played tricks on.  But they are not the teachers whose subjects I ended up studying further, they didn’t inspire me to become a teacher, they didn’t encourage a sense of self-esteem or achievement.  The teachers that did that were the ones that cared, the ones that showed an interest in who I was and what I could do, who encouraged me and explained when I didn’t understand their subject, the ones who were kind but also didn’t take any nonsense.

I started to wonder whether being good at a subject is related to how we perceive our teachers .  Do we feel inspired by teachers who teach the subjects we like or do we end up liking the subject because of the teacher?  And does liking a subject mean that you get better at it even if you don’t have a natural talent for it?

In assembly today, the Principal talked about kindness and read out an edited version of George Saunders address to Syracuse University students.  I like this ” If we’re going to become kinder, that process has to include taking ourselves seriously – as doers, as accomplishers, as dreamers.  We have to do that, to be our best selves.”  However, we also have to be careful not to get wrapped up in accomplishing being the end-game as the journey is just as important, and if we rush too fast to the goal we might just forget to be kind on the way.  Saunders also talks about how being kind gets easier as we get older because we become less selfish, less wrapped up in ourselves and who we are and more concerned about others.  The goal shifts from looking out for yourself to looking out for others .

Reflecting on my time in schools, I can relate to that.  I don’t think I was ever really ambitious but I have always enjoyed my work and constantly seek to improve what I do.  I also know that as a young teacher I was probably more focussed on me than on the students.  Having my own children definitely changed my whole outlook on life and watching how they have grown and how they learn has informed how I work with the students in my care.

It is humbling and quite frightening to think of the effect I might have had on a couple of generations of children over my nearly 30 year career as an educator.  I hope that on balance I was more kind than not!  What about you?

P.S.  Being kind is as good for you as it is for the people you are kind to.

#edcmooc Maintaining Momentum

remnants of old railway lines in a hatch formation
Connections

Nearly the end of Week 3, it has been a full-on week at work and I am struggling to marshall my thoughts.  I have managed to snatch ten minutes here and there to watch the videos for this week and scan the readings at a very superficial level. I really wanted to try to create a photo for the Flickr project but just haven’t had the time to be creative.  Never mind, I will try to catch up a little in the next couple of days.

It has been interesting watching the dynamics of the interchanges in the discussions and  Twitter chat; I have tried to avoid Facebook as I felt a need to filter so as not to be overwhelmed. It seems to me, as a newcomer, that some people have made MOOCs their home and are involved in several of them all at once.  They have already forged tight knit friendship groups, comment on each others blogs and engage in chat on Twitter in quite an intimate manner. Others may only have “met” since the beginning of this course but they connected early on and formed groups to blog together.  Others, like me, maybe observers, hovering not quite at the edge but gaining confidence, commenting occasionally, following blogs and feeling empowered when I get a notification that someone has “liked” my blog or comment, or even more exciting when there is a comment, a “follow” or a pingback!

It is interesting in the context of our discussions around humanism, the theme of disconnection, and the impersonal aspect of technology, the relationships that have formed.  It is highly likely that if these people had met “face to face”, on the street, in a university seminar, at a sports club, they would have formed the same bonds of friendship.  As human beings we are drawn to people who have similar ideas to us, similar likes, interests, dislikes be that online or in the “real” world.  I hesitate to use the phrase “real world” because the online world is becoming so much part of our everyday experiences now that it is essentially the “real world”.  The blurring of the lines is ever more blurry.

So, I need to maintain the momentum I had in the first two weeks; I have so many half-formed ideas whizzing round my head that I really need some time out to think them through.  I have had moments of doubt and feelings of inadequacy when I read some of the more esoteric, very academic comments made on the blogs and discussion boards; how can my thoughts possibly have any meaning or value?  But I also read lots of posts that concur with my ideas and reactions to the videos and I feel affirmed and more confident about that.  So, I will bumble along in my own way, reading, digesting, watching and occasionally throwing my twopenn’orth in.

#edcmooc Sight

Well, that was quite disturbing! Is life a game, or is the game life? How does one differentiate between what is real and what is not? I guess relationships are a game, a game of strategy, of manoevering, of compromise, of second guessing, of intuition… I am uncomfortable about this short and the ideas it suggests to me of mind control, of brain washing, of “Big Brother”.

For centuries men and women have counted the “notches on the bedpost”; in battle soldiers have kept a tally of the number of the enemy they have killed; how many fish have been caught, how much game has been bagged; competition is part and parcel of life and is what drives people forward to improve and develop. Is that why computer games which are based on accumulating points, conquests, trophies have been so successful?

Relationships are also often a power struggle and the protagonist who has most power is often the one who has the most information. In this short the male clearly has plenty of information and as the story develops, it is also clear that he thinks he has the upper hand. I am not so sure though; has he met his match? Has he taken control of her to re-configure her profile or will she resist? Maybe I just want to believe that she is not a victim?

In contrast to the sleek, pristine, clean backdrop of the first two films, this film seems outwardly more sinister. The atmosphere is darker and more menacing and the empty walls of the character’s apartment hide what is underneath.

In the future will we be able to use facial recognition and body language sensors to help us know what to do in any given situation? Will we be able to inbuild a sort of intuition that is sensitive to mood and circumstance? That could, of course, have a positive effect on society much like the robot seal that one poster mentioned that affords some comfort and healing to convalescing patients. Will the technology control us or will we control it? It comes back to the idea of what motivates people to invent and create? In this film, it felt to me quite negative, a dystopian vision rather than utopian.