Author Archives: Graham

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Moving on from a school to a new role gives me some mental space in which to reflect on how this teaching career has panned out so far. I think I've been pretty fortunate to work in some very interesting places under some unique circumstances with many extraordinary educators. I mean, I have heard about some teachers who can't seem to take a trick, finding themselves in untenable situations in dysfunctional sites but that hasn't been my experience. Maybe it's a positive outlook but that has been made easier through a large number of factors. So, let me check back through the years.

When I was an early career teacher seeking out rural contract positions, I managed to end up at Miltaburra Area School for a year and a term. This is a school in the middle of a paddock, near a set of crossroads intersecting the Eyre Highway - the result of a compromise between four closing community schools. It was also pretty new when I worked there so that was a great experience.

When I gained my permanency and lobbed at Willsden Primary in Port Augusta, I had the unique experience of teaching one of my cousin's kids in my Year 3 classroom. And when I applied to head back to Adelaide after four years of country service, I had to list down all of the schools I was keen on transferring to. I didn't know Adelaide very well so I started by looking at where golf clubs with affordable membership were located. That really was my sole reason for listing Flagstaff Hill at No. 1 on my list and again, what were the odds of scoring the nearby school as my new destination? Also, what were the odds of being located in an open space classroom next to a teacher whose beliefs and innovative drives were so similar to mine that we would collaborate on everything for the next eight years and he would become a life long friend?

Sometimes other people's lack of engagement can be personally beneficial. Flagstaff Hill had a great computer room at that time but very few teachers were that interested in using it much, leaving me to take my class over there more frequently than what my fair share should have been. My enthusiasm was noticed by the ICT coordinator who started moving more computing equipment to my classroom's vicinity because he could see it would be used well, and cultivating my technology skills as a consequence.

On the family side, our first son was born and there were factors at play that had me seeking to looking for a role closer to home. We still had the "ten year tenure" here in SA which moved teachers onto new schools after their tenth year without much choice. I didn't like the idea of not being in control of my own educational destiny and with some encouragement from my teaching offsider and the ICT Coordinator, I started looking for Coordinator leadership roles. Well, would you believe it, a school less than five minutes drive from home were looking for an ICT Coordinator and there was no incumbent?

From this role, I also got to work with more incredible teachers and learn from one of the most knowledgeable and switched on principals I have had the privilege to work under. We got to become a Microsoft Innovative School and I got to go to Melbourne and network with other like minded educators from around Australia. Then my boss went on long service leave to Europe and I got to act up as Deputy for the term. The normal deputy (acting as principal) and I went out to a leadership hubgroup held at the brand new "superschool" at Woodville Gardens during that term, where we met in the conference room and I said hello to their ICT Assistant Principal who I knew through edtech networks. My colleague elbowed me in the ribs and said, "You know he's retiring at the end of the term? You should find out about the vacancy he will leave behind."

I did, so through that comment and chance encounter, I ended up in my next level leadership role at a school that was so new that the grass on the oval hadn't even grown through yet. A school that was a relatively blank canvas technology wise for me to nurture and grow - a responsibility I have never taken lightly and with a lot of second guessing. Again, I got to be part of an amazing leadership team and I can't describe the enormous personal growth with enough emphasis. This was my first chance to experience the process of line management where fostering and seeing professional growth of teachers under my care is as satisfying as the progress of any students I have taught over the years.

So, that's why as I take the next step to a new school in a new role from next term, I am pretty confident that my luck will hold out.

It has so far.

Brian Tracy I've found that luck is quite predictable. If you want more luck, take more chances

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Brendan Jones has a new post up about setting up his own classroom which is a really good read. He talks about getting his first room in many years of teaching (he's a PE Specialist) and how he ditched the teacher's desk as well as trying to set up the room without any budget at all. The main point I got out of the post though was the point that in this modern trend of re-designing learning spaces for optimum learning, it is a really good idea to involve the students in those decisions, which Brendan is well on the way to doing.

My school has spent a lot of time looking at the concept of re-imagining classrooms and learning spaces with the help of some focussed professional learning with Lisa Burman a few years ago. Most teachers have had a go at embracing the concepts outlined by Lisa, and to try and deconstruct some of the sacred cows of classical classroom set-ups. When our new principal arrived from country SA at the start of 2016, she remarked that classroom set up was a concept that really stood out to her a newbie in a way that her previous schools had not. A year on now, she had a conversation with me about how different teachers had embraced the letting go of some of the traditional arrangements of a classroom and how others thought they were but were still clinging to elements that left the teacher in control.

I'll tackle one of these elements. Furniture is one area where things can be re-imagined significantly. Our school is only six years old but there is a couple shed full of traditional furniture as teachers have tangled with the idea that you don't need 30 identical chairs and 15 identical desks to have a functioning classroom. But some teachers have worked with their students to co-design their classroom together while others have given their classroom a makeover that can look very pleasing to the eye but where the students have had very little input. And it doesn't mean that regular classroom furniture can't work - antique tables and cushioned chairs don't guarantee anything except for a rustic look. One of our best teachers still uses our standard furniture but negotiates the set up with her students, designates wall spaces for learning purposes and talks through their effective use with her students. There isn't eye-candy decoration in that classroom but a real feel of inclusion and belonging, purpose for learning and pride in a collaborative space that the kids share with their teacher.

Purpose is really important. Throughout our department, there have been a large list of schools receiving STEM grants. We are not one of those schools, having been judged to have facilities already that will fulfil that function. We do have a suitable learning space called the Da Vinci Studio which was built with a Science focus. In 2011, it had tall tables and science chairs but they have all been nabbed across the school to create the re-imagined classroom spaces where there is a variety of seating choices. The room itself fell into neglect, becoming a spillover area for students working on "stuff", a place to dump junk and so on because back in 2011, STEM was not really high on the educational radar. I arrived mid way through the year and had my hands full getting laptops to work, raising my game in student achievement data and becoming a rosters guru. But as the years have progressed, the school has supported some of its innovative teachers by investing in robotics gear, makey-makeys and LittleBits for buddy class technology projects. You can see some of that here. With the ICT Committee, we formed a working party that has a plan to claim back and renew this space as our school STEM/Makerspace HQ and I've assumed the responsibility for moving this concept forward. So, to get to the point, we've cleaned the space out and chucked a lot of accumulated junk in the skip. I have cleared the room of excess furniture and thought about how the purpose behind the learning we want to happen in the classroom should dictate the furnishings.  The working party got hold of a few classroom furniture company catalogues and gushed over some of the beautiful pieces in there. Things like tech bars, soft ottomans and makerspace storage cabinets looked really cool but were really expensive. Also, did they really serve the purpose of the space? So, hopefully through the end-of-life furniture replacement process (there are a bunch of tired looking tables and regulation plastic chairs) I want to get the following. One of those large roadmap carpets for gathering and discussion, plus being ideal for programming robot routes is on my list, flip tables with whiteboard surfaces so that set ups are quickly deployed and stackable stools. That way, the classroom can be set up as needed for a variety of purposes and not be locked in.

As Brendan found out and points out:

I quickly realised that it was in the arrangement, not the type of furniture, that made all the difference to the kid’s disposition in my class.

With that in mind, he really can't go wrong. But it sounds like he still has to convince a few colleagues.

 

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Several days ago, Stephen Downes pointed out this link, adding:

"The end is near for paper-based newspapers."

I can see this on a local level. I am offered a free local Advertiser regularly when grabbing a few groceries at Foodland. This weekend, two plastic wrapped papers were left on our front lawn. I initially thought that maybe there was a home delivery mistake until the offer from News Ltd was in the mailbox was opened. Both papers went straight into the recycling bin without being read.

Interesting turn of events - we certainly need news and reporting, but accessing it in paper form, not so much.

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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.

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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.

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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.