12 Comments

I've been playing in the educational social media space for nearly 11 years now, and I would have to say that my enthusiasm to be plugged in at all times and have my finger on the pulse has waned in the last few years. Networked learning enthusiasts were fewer back then and much less mainstream than what I see today out in the two main areas of interaction for me, blogs and Twitter.

There are heaps and heaps of teachers on Twitter these days. Finding relevant, interesting voices to connect to is harder for me now than it was back in 2007 when I first tried out the platform. Maybe it is because I am getting older but I feel my impatience overriding my enthusiasm at some of the things I see posted in the name of professional learning. I find #edhashtagchats still leave me cold. It is difficult for me to follow conversations and I rankle at the formulated posing of questions that allow precious little time for full meaningful interaction. Yet some of these #edhashtagchats want to promote the idea that they are open and inclusive of all educators.

Mostly, I hate the Twitter shoutout. When someone posts a string of @mybestmate names for a question or an invitation or an idea, it feels like the "in crowd" reminding me that I am not one of them, my input is not valued or even wanted. That probably isn't the reality but that is how it comes across. And a lot of the time, there is a thinly veiled undercurrent of self promotion. Names that attach other names to TechCompanyEducator statuses, shout out congrats on the new book deal, or come to this great PD event featuring the tweeter as presenter or keynoter. It makes me feel very cynical as networked learning was where I went to be inspired or have my ideas challenged, but I find that hard to do nowadays.

Maybe I need to go search out that new tool that hasn't been taken over by the cyber-narcissists. Or maybe, if I don't "get" the people who populate my Twitterstream, it is time to unfollow, comb through my lists to see who actually does contribute to my learning and try again.

1 Comment

I attended a day hosted on behalf of our partnership on PAT Data today as one of my school's representatives. Student Achievement Data is one of the key parts of my role as Assistant Principal and this testing system is one that I have made the effort to become familiar with. I have blogged about some of my work in this area before so for me, the presenter was going over some familiar ground in her introduction. As she spoke, I started typing up questions that were forming in my brain about this form of testing and the data it produces.

Does standard equal average?

How do these standards then translate into comparisons for Australian schools v. other countries?

Do we set standard as average which can be variable according to the cohort (even an Australian wide cohort as measured by ACER) or is it political when standards are determined externally and then we measure whether our students are above, below or matching?

Interesting that in a multiple choice test, a correct guess is measured as evidence of student achievement – so, should we discourage the “just have a try” method if it is likely to end up with a guess?

If a child guessing produces a scattered graph where the easy questions are wrong, are the guessed correct answers of greater difficulty discounted in calculating the score?

I got answers to most of these questions along the way, but it led me tonight to pondering about the concept of making a difference.

I was lucky enough to attend EduTECH last week for the fourth time, taking a team of seven colleagues with me. For me, the highlight was a presentation and then a workshop from EduChangemakers, Aaron Tait and Dave Faulkner, totally focussed on the concept of making a difference for students. If you read this blog and/or follow me on Twitter, you will know that I have complained about the term "edupreneur" and expressed concerns about its wider connotations. So, I was surprised at myself to be blown away by this duo's authenticity and story. We had just sat through a middling presentation by a private school who had done a makeover of their learning spaces, struggling to come to terms with terms like "non-selective" (code for they don't screen potential students for academic standards prior to enrolling, no different from the vast majority of government schools) and "double streaming" (they have more than one Year 2 class - we chuckled that we must be quadruple streaming Year Twos at WGS!) and then Dave came up on stage and told us the story of his first day at Halls Creek District School where the first student he encountered looked at him and said, "What the f#^& are you looking at?"

All of a sudden, we had someone in front of us who understood disadvantage and battling disengagement, who was telling us about how to empower teachers to solve problems in new ways. I did a complete 180 degree turn in my thinking and even went down straight after the presentation to buy their new "Edupreneur" book. Both Aaron and Dave were down there at the time and were down to earth and friendly to talk to, and they both encouraged me to come to their workshop even it was officially full. The workshop was a whirlwind taste of their full day workshop change process which uses Design Thinking as its basis.

No, now I am reading the book which is focussed on teacher-led innovation. As the title of this post suggest, this is all linked to the innate desire of most educators to make a difference. This can be on a small or major scale but it is surely a driver of any teacher who participates in any form of professional learning or self improvement. It is also the desire of systems who choose testing systems like PAT.

What making a difference looks like can wax and wane over time. I know it has for me. Even when I see some educators on Twitter participate in self-promotion and in-crowd shoutouts, I know that they are only seeking to make a difference for their students. I was probably like that a decade ago, full of idealism and a desire not only to make a difference but to be seen to be making a difference. But time can erode self confidence and the bravado and self righteousness of youth can be replaced by doubt. Every now and again, it is good to take stock and re-ask the question, "How can I make a difference for the students I work with?'

In my second year here at WGS, I had a conversation with the Primary Head of School about how we might cater more effectively for some identifiable students with mathematical talent in our school. She was wondering out loud whether the Westpac Maths Competition would be a good idea. But then I remembered entering students from my previous school in the Mathematics Challenge For Young Australians (MCYA for short) and how I thought that it was a well constructed competition that focussed on the application of mathematics to problem solving situations, rather than being an exam type scenario conducted within a day.

We tried it out that year across several year levels, and the students really found it engaging. We even had a group of high ability Year 4 students who we entered into the Year 5 division. I remember sitting with this group, explaining how the challenge worked. You had four worded problems to solve, you had three weeks to do the challenge, you could work with others, you got to work independently, you had to show your working out, you sometimes had to explain your answers and so on. Later that week I checked in on the students and one boy made the comment to me with a smile that showed his keenness, "This is hard. I'm not used to maths being hard - usually it's easy for me."

Interestingly, this same group of boys are now in Year 7, midway through this year's Challenge. I was talking to their teacher, Jasmin, tonight and she was telling me how much they loved doing the MCYA. They were begging for more time to get back into it, and so we were thinking that we might enrol them in the Enrichment section. It has also been a great validation for other kids - one that I can recall was a girl from a very disadvantaged background who downplayed her abilities in front of her peers to the point where she started to believe that she was not much more than average. We put her in the competition and with a bit of gentle encouragement she slowly warmed to the expectations and realised that finding the solutions was well within her capabilities and that she could see possible strategies that remained invisible to her peers. And her friends got on board and told her what they already knew but she was trying hard to deny - she was really smart and Challenges that privileged kids take for granted is theirs for the taking, were well within her grasp. She ended up with a Distinction. For me, this is a really great competition that gets mathematical kids stretching beyond memorised algorithms. I like the fact that it allows and encourages collaboration. I like how it draws out kids who are a bit dependent on their after school Kumon diet into thinking about not only what is the solution but WHY is that the solution.

Thank you, Australian Maths Trust and the University of Canberra. You put out a first class offering for our talented Maths students and in this age of STEM heightened awareness, I am surprised that your competitions and challenges are not more widely touted.

mcya

I forget sometimes that my iPhone 6 has a camera and thought I would video one of my playing partners today who likes to work his drives from left to right, and see how he would adjust for the howling northerly that was coming off his left. I then noticed the slo-mo option which I had never tried, and took footage of our whole group on the last tee. My friend Ian kindly filmed mine and it is amazing that my swing is still very long (not the shot, the swing!) even though I am rapidly approaching my half century.

2 Comments

I posted last year about my new model for Digital Leadership here at WGS and also presented about my plans at a local TeachMeet and at one of the TeachMeets at EduTech in June. the concept was to use badges as a way of recognising skills and contribution of students involved in the program - and as a model that would be intrinsic rather than extrinsic in its overall philosophy. I advertised for interested students, talked them through my plans while emphasising that my ideas were still in beta form. And it was very successful with over fifty students from Years 5 to 7 having some form of involvement. It was deliberately designed to be flexible and allow for students to buy in and commit to doing as much as they felt comfortable with. They played with and ironed out teething problems with some new robotics for me, ran lunchtime MinecraftEDU clubs for interested students and spent an afternoon every week with me looking to improve their digital skills. I had based it on the two areas of big interest around our school - Minecraft and robotics (mainly Spheros) - we then had digital leaders support teachers in their first foray into robotics which was great because student peer tutelage and troubleshooting allowed me to spend more time ensuring that the teacher's confidence levels in this area were on the right track. A core group of leaders volunteered to help with our senior special class experience MinecraftEDU for the first time and built some real bonds with the students within that class. It was amazing to see the leaders really show patience and interest in others, and see that extend into social connections out in the school yard as well. I had two leaders volunteer to be buddies for two at risk early years students, again using Minecraft as the medium, but being calm positive role models for these young students was the real achievement beyond any digital skills being honed.

I did notice a few things about the sort of student who is interested in my program though. They generally are kids who enjoy being helpful but don't always have the self confidence to push themselves forward. They enjoy learning new things and having some status as an "expert" but rarely use that as a platform for showing off. I also noted that the Year 5 students were the keenest and most enthusiastic, but some were prone to see the Digital opportunities first and then become scarce when the leadership aspect was being emphasised. Year 7 students tended to dwindle to a handful as there seemed to be other leadership and community service opportunities available exclusively for their year level at our school competing for their attention. The Year 6 students were the most reliable and the ones who had joined the program for the leadership and helping aspect first with the digital playtime being a bonus second. I have also had a couple of students who come from very disadvantaged homes who gain a great sense of self belief and worth from being involved.

So, when it came around to thinking about what changes would make the program better for this year, I invited eight of the most engaged 2015 Digital Leaders to a round table discussion to help me design this year's version. They were really helpful, and helped me iron out some of the kinks in my new plans. They even helped to conceptualise the new lanyards and create the idea of a Senior Lanyard to retain and recognise those students who were going to be involved for a second year.

So, instead of eight different badges centered around Minecraft etc, I thought that I would separate the badges into Digital Badges and Leadership Badges so that the leadership aspect (working with classes, being a mentor or a buddy, running a lunchtime club, helping a new Leader become proficient) shared equal billing with the Digital side of things. I also wanted to broaden beyond Spheros and Minecraft and create expertise in a wider range of other Digital learning initiatives that are available or needed development at our school - things like Lego Stop Motion, Beebots and game creation.

2016dl

So throughout Term 1, the Friday afternoon time that I have has been dedicated to covering the Digital side of the ledger. We started with the familiar and ran Minecraft in the first few weeks, then Beebots and finally started on some Lego Stop Motion movies. Ninety minutes once a week goes pretty fast, and I had kids nominate what they were interested in and created a schedule with equal number of slots for boys and girls. I gave priority to kids who signed up for more options, and when I found our LittleBits kits in their hiding place, I found some kids who were ready to learn and become familiar with this technology and move on from Minecraft early. These kids were all new Year 5 Leaders and we quickly formed a Junior Inventors Club for them to run at lunchtimes catering for interested Early Years students.

So, the plan is to continue offering time to use the Digital options on a Friday, but start to expand the Leaders' opportunities to earn their Leadership badges throughout the next term. The new lanyards have arrived and will be given out to all Term 1 participants who attended at least two sessions, with badges to be awarded as the year progresses. Teachers will then be able to seek the services of this group of Leaders as required - and this group of dedicated students will find an outlet for their unique talents.

To properly look at and talk about the future, it is important to look back at the past. If you are an educator using social media for your own professional learning, or if you are leading professional learning around any current issues, it is important to know a bit of history and to recognise that you are moving along a path that has been forged by others before you. I haven't always been so quick to recognise that myself in the past - and I see some of my own naivety and self importance from a decade ago manifesting itself in others in the present day. I will try to provide an example.

I first joined my local edtech professional association back in 2005, being encouraged by a mentor from the Technology School Of The Future named Yvonne Murtagh. It was through one of her workshops that I became really interested in the potential of Web 2.0 (as it was called back then) and I embraced the concept of blogging for professional learning. The association was CEGSA (known now as EdTechSA) and through various channels I met a high school teacher named Bill Kerr. Bill was working in the area of computer science and digital game making (amongst other things) with his students, and was an advocate of programming well before the recent push that sees coding as an important skill that students need. I am sure that he would view the latest push from experts with a wry smile and just a little frustration that so few educators (myself included) could see the value of this work eight years ago. Bill ran some great presentations at the annual conference where he would buck the trend of what was being offered, and showcase some interesting things. One year, he managed to get his hands on a OLPC laptop - and another time, he gave a talk about Alan Kay, a contemporary of Seymour Papert that seems even more relevant in today's STEM and Makerspace frenzied edusphere.

Gary Stager has also worked in this space for many years, working with the acclaimed David Loader in Melbourne back in the early nineties on a pioneering one to one laptop program. He has been and is still a leading advocate of the maker movement for learning. I have had the privilege of seeing Gary on several occasions and he always challenges my thinking because he can take what is accepted as good practice in the wider education community and turn it on its head. He also must be frustrated and relieved in equal parts that his message and work over such a long time is now gaining mainstream acceptance. But education and schools are slow moving beasts - so slow that messages and ideas that seem new are often reincarnations from the past. But the latest generations promoting edtech quite often think they are the pioneers and the innovators when in fact, with a little bit of digital literacy, they can find that they are the benefactors of less heralded but more important work and thinkers from the not so distant past.

Like I wrote earlier, I too have suffered from the delusion that I was travelling a new path that the majority of educators had to eventually get on board with. But being an early twitter user or maintaining a blog for over a decade or doing interesting things in the classroom doesn't qualify me for anything but being a learner who can still learn from others and share a few things along the way with others. Bill critiqued the read/write web I was in love with back in 2007, and at the time, I felt offended and a bit misunderstood. So I am sure that some more recent voices on Twitter and other online spaces would likely be unresponsive to my plea to "know your history" a bit more before you put yourself up on a pedestal as a progressive educator or a changemaker. But if you are pushing makerspaces and don't know who Gary Stager is, you need to look back. If you think you are being cutting edge with games and have never heard of Marc Prensky, do a bit of homework. And if you think you're cool because you're a self professed connectivist or have a PLN, but have never read Stephen Downes, George Siemens, Nancy White or Leigh Blackall, then get in touch with the recent past. I'm not bothering to link those names because Google will lead you down as many relevant rabbitholes as you can handle.

Don't be like George Bush when he said, "The past is over."

So, a couple of teacher have approached me about some help with their buddy class project - they want to do Stop Motion videos. Now, being the resident Learning Technologies leader does not mean that I have my finger on the pulse of all things edtech but I said, yes, of course I will help. I figured that I would just learn ahead of time, on the fly so to speak, modelling being a learner. Stop Motion has been around for years in classrooms, with Plasticine models being a popular choice paired with web cams and stop motion software. With the advent of iPads and a rising popularity in the use of Lego, I thought that I would try to see if I could whip something passable using the Lego Movie Maker app.

One Day On Tattoine from Graham Wegner on Vimeo.

My son has plenty of Star Wars lego around the place so that was easy, getting the iPad to stay still was solved by building a Lego cradle for it, and the background was printed off the web from a fan image from DeviantArt. It was difficult to get the whole set in shot and I am still not happy that the background takes up more real estate than the foreground - it would probably be easier to use my iPhone but the kids will have to use iPads so I needed to foresee issues from that perspective. There are plenty of videos on the web on how to improve the way it hangs together and my character voices are pretty terrible (except for Obi-wan / I think I do a passable job there). I might have another go over the Easter weekend but I can see the key will be sourcing plenty of mini-figures for the fifty odd students who will be creating their own stop motion masterpieces. Not that is - a masterpiece, that is. Wow, starting to type like Yoda already.

The first week of school has just finished, and at my site that has meant some new staff, a number of new students and a heady mix of excitement and trepidation. I spent some time this morning with my new principal trying to describe the scope of and the idiosyncrasies of my role at WGS. I am really lucky to work in a role that suits me and challenges me at the same time. I am always fretting about whether I am prioritising and making correct decisions, and am probably my own harshest critic. Being at a disadvantaged school does mean that I have access to funding to really be able to provide quality technology options for our students, and I really try to think through the best way to use that tax payer funded money.

I am very conscious of the responsibility of being accountable as an employee of the public education system, and I wouldn't want to work in any form of school. I turned down an invitation to showcase some of our technology at one of Adelaide's more prominent private schools because I just couldn't bring myself to even indirectly contribute more to the already well advantaged. It felt traitorous to the system to which I am loyal. I am aware that religious institutions helped to popularise education well before public education became an essential public good. But in my eyes, so much of private education is about maintaining class divisions, gatekeeping against the wrong sort of people, or lavishing even more opportunity on the most privileged within Australian society.

I have heard the cries before from private school teachers and supporters before about catering for the disadvantaged and being inclusive - and some are, but only to a point. I had the privilege of hearing Lynne Symons speak last year at our EdTechSA AGM. Lynne was, at the time, the principal of Mark Oliphant College, the biggest of the government super schools founded just over five years catering for over 1500 students from Reception to Year 12 in one of the most disadvantaged urban areas in the state. As she said in her speech, and I paraphrase here, you might have some poverty in your school or have some disadvantage in your school, but our government disadvantage and complexity eats any private school's for breakfast. And I know it's not a competition about who is serving the neediest or who has the most families under stress, but only the public system takes all comers in and is more concerned about the progress and journey that each student takes, rather than if their students can get their Year 12 results on the front page of the state newspaper. No school gets it right for all of their students all of the time but I am proud to work for a system where that is the goal.

 

2015 has been a very busy year for me from a work perspective and although I have learned heaps, not much of that learning has ended up here of late. Part of that has been the fact that a lot of my steep learning curve has been in the people management aspect and the collaborative leadership part of my job, all of which have confidentiality issues that limit me from sharing too much too readily. There have been moments of high challenge when people's futures and relationships were quite fragile, and where I have had to work hard on diplomatic solutions that still haven't left everyone happy with the end resolution. However, there are a few things that I can reflect on.

We tried a new product called Class Creator when constructing our 2016 classes. This was definitely a worthwhile investment as after all of the teacher data was inputted, it created classes that were a good starting point for further negotiation. Whenever someone considered shifting a child to a different class, I could look them up and see who they needed to be separated from, what a move would do to their friendship options and whether they had students who were conducive to their learning success. The company themselves were quick to help out with any technical hassles. Our school certainly still tested the outer limits of what the software could do - for instance, we found you couldn't program in separations from students in different year levels. Class Creator said that would require an even more complex algorithm!! But because we knew about the limitation, we could work around. But avoiding that first initial bunfight of getting teachers to put names out onto class sheets was avoided. When someone said, "Can't we just have straight classes in this year level?", I could run it through Class Creator, create the scenario and people could see for themselves whether it would work or not, or what were the compromises that would need to be made to make it happen. So, a big tick for this product.

I ran a Sphero workshop for EdTechSA in Week 7 of all times and that was pretty successful. I'm due to do another one early in 2016, and I am seeing more teachers becoming confident in using the robots themselves. Another teacher has discovered another robotics product with potential called Ozobots, and is keen to enlist my help to explore their potential for learning in 2016. I am confident that more teachers will get on board, especially as I have already seen some of our teachers get involved in a DECD Digital Technologies project focussed on the use of Makey Makeys in buddy class projects. Mel, one of the teachers involved, has been leading out in the area of robotics as can be seen in the video below.

Along with three other colleagues, I attended training for the Microsoft Peer Coaching course, led by my line manager and acting principal, Marg Clark (who happens to be one of only two qualified trainers). Karen Butler from DECD also helped lead some of the training as Marg's "apprentice" but essentially it was about becoming familiar with 21CLD and then rehearsing the required skills and techniques to facilitate professional conversations about planned learning with peers. I am hoping that some of my Green Building teachers who I line manage will be keen to participate and have me as their coach in 2016. We have also been working with Tom Barrett from NoTosh on Design Thinking, and looking to develop that more within our school in 2016.

Speaking of 2016, we are welcoming a new principal to the school. Having a new person at the helm is always going to mean that things are about to change but we need to embrace the opportunities that will come with this, while highlighting to our new boss all of the great stuff that goes on and makes the school such a great place to work at where staff feel like they are making a real difference to the students from our increasingly complex community.

At the moment, I am enjoying the time to recharge my batteries, spend time with the family and get in a few games of golf. At the moment I am enjoying a patch of improvement in this area, and have even started a blog to capture some of my learning and experiences in this area. The audience for that particular niche could be very small indeed!! I am having fun playing a few games on my son's new PS4 and even reading my way through the PC Grant novel series by Ben Aaronovitch. We'll see how 2016 develops soon enough.

 

1 Comment

I actually titled my first post about Spheros and my July EdTechSA conference workshop as "Meet The Robot That Got Me Interested In Robotics." It's true. I have neglected the area of robotics and programming for a long time. It was a personal blindspot and one that I felt guilty about but willing to leave because I felt that it would be outside of my comfort zone. I even felt like a fraud being a so-called leader in ICT or eLearning who had yet to properly engage in the STEM arena.

I'm getting better and I know that it is important. I even went along with our Lego Robotics teaching guru, Mel, to our state Lego RoboCup event. I still don't know a lot about being hands on with Mindstorms gear but learnt a lot by watching the two teams compete in the Soccer division and the Rescue section.

The good thing about my school is that we do have teacher leaders who will take ownership of initiatives and run with them with little more than moral and budgetary support from me. Our Beebots are used widely in our Early Years classes with a couple of teachers taking the lead - and we have had our kids use them for learning Vietnamese!

But Spheros in our school has been my own journey. I have added to the original 15 Spheros that I bought in March, bringing two Sphero SPRKs and four Ollies in as additions. I just want to reflect on what else I have learned since the last post when I was still just working with my Digital Leaders.

This term, I started to work with some classes within my own building. I am line manager for four classroom teachers and my office is based in that building. I am also the self appointed Sphero maintenance person - I keep them secure, charge them prior to use and kept tabs on the apps needed on the building's squad of 10 iPads. Just prior to starting with the first class, I saw a tweet about an app called Tickle that uses a Scratch style interface to program a number of connected robots including both Sphero and Ollie. It is easier to use than MacroLab and as I was about to introduce programming robots to Year 3 and 4 students, it was the perfect tool to use to set some simple programming challenges.

I listened to a great podcast on Teaching With Sphero Robots which I found via Wes Fryer, where I picked up a great tip about numbering the Spheros and the iPads and pre-connecting them so that when woken up, there isn't the Bluetooth configuring or misconnections that can happen when multiple Spheros try to connect to multiple devices simultaneously. This was fine except for when I had a flat Sphero that meant grabbing a new one, waking it up and connecting it out of this carefully planned sequence. I lined up Digital Leaders to help out in the classrooms and we made a start with three different classrooms.

The students used a checklist sheet that was based loosely on the badge system I had been using with Digital Leaders and a skills sheet I used with staff during a Student Free Day professional learning session. Basically it works them through at their own pace to gradually move from using the Sphero as a Connected Toy over to using it to Program. I set a simple programming Challenge as the first step for using Tickle.simple tickle challengeThis was very engaging and I was surprised at how quickly kids adapted to the app and completed the challenge. For those who were struggling, some help from a Digital Leader gave them the confidence to persist and work through. The next step was to design a maze and program your way around that maze using Tickle. I created an example maze using a large Nerf Gun box but one of the teachers I worked with, Salma, suggested that masking tape on the carpet would work just as well. The common area between the classrooms is now covered in a variety of challenges! Again, watching how some kids went into a flow state of trial and error as they tried and adjusted and tried again until their Sphero was following their predetermined path and changing through a planned sequence of colours.

This was really pleasing to see. The checklist sheet become the self directed learning sequence, and kids would call their teacher over to see them achieve the next skill and have it signed off, so the formative assessment angle was working really well.

Using this sort of technology will always have its issues and you just have to be flexible and adaptive. If you are patient and just work through ways of solving a problem, the kids see that approach being modelled and immediately reduce their own agitation when things "go wrong" or "don't work". Sometimes a Sphero wouldn't charge properly and it would mean getting a spare and helping them get connected so they could get back on task. Sometimes Tickle would lose connection with the Sphero and so a process of shutting down open apps and then re-opening them would solve the problem. The great thing was that all three teachers picked up their comfort levels using these robots and didn't require me to lead their following lessons  but were more than happy for me to be the person to ensure they were charged and organised!!