Archive for the 'Future Directions' Category

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Luckily, Not My Reality

Australian schools are not without their problems.

And there are tendencies from our political masters to adopt the worst practice of other countries in the name of education reform.

But I’m still trying to wrap my head around this post.

I occupy education every time my interns ask, “Why is education like it is today with all of the restrictions including pacing  guides?”

I occupy education by telling these interns that some people do not believe that teachers can make their own decisions about how to pace curriculum.

I occupy education every time interns ask, “Why do teachers go on when they know children can not learn fractions in 2 days or one week?”

I occupy education when I tell my interns to always do what is best for the children and that includes learning well, not fast.

I occupy education every time an intern asks me why children can not talk at lunch or have to walk down the hall with military precision.

I occupy education when I tell my interns that I can not excuse a teacher who warns a child once about talking at lunch and then the second time that child talks, his or her lunch is thrown out and their nose is pressed against the wall for the rest of lunch.

I occupy education when I tell my interns that I do not understand why children have to walk down the halls with their cheeks popped out so they can not talk and their hands are rigidly by their sides like soldiers when they are 5 or 10 years old.

I mean, does this really happen?

I’ve never ever seen a pacing guide. I know I would have irate parents on my door step if I implemented the last two strategies, and have no system support for my actions.

But is this us in two, five, ten years time? Could the Aussie “she’ll be right” attitude let this all in? How do we keep what is great about Australian schools without aping the extremism warned about in the Lonni Gill post?

 

Opening The Car Door

I’ve never been one to jump in at the deep end. I ease myself into things in the same manner that I slide carefully into the chilly water of a pool or a cautious wade out into the ocean. I have been described as opinionated in a low key way but I am typically unsure of myself at the best of times. So, even after six months in this new role of Assistant Principal, I am still feeling my way, thinking and re-thinking my possible approaches for effective leadership within this role. So, in an effort to lay out some starting thoughts and switch from holiday mode where I have happily absorbed a whole lot of junk pop culture, spent simple family time doing not much at all and indulging in a lot of directionless web reading and viewing to shaping up my contribution for 2012 to the Woodville Gardens School learning community.

First, a bit of background. I had a stint as acting Deputy Principal at my previous school during Term 2 and found that I really enjoyed the time out of the classroom working on staff issues, communicating with the parent community and getting a closer look at how the administrative side of a South Australian government school works. I had the opportunity to apply for a six month stint as Assistant Principal at Woodville Gardens which I was lucky enough to win for a longer three year tenure late in 2011. So, I headed off to this new “super school” with a heady mixture of excitement and trepidation because I was stepping up into a non-classroom role for the first time in a testing environment. Everything at the school was brand new and even arriving after everyone else had been settled in for the first semester didn’t mean that all of the bugs had been ironed out! I’ve learnt quickly about the quirks of a cross platform network, large stocks of netbooks that are underpowered and disliked by staff and students alike and finding that much of my pedagogical knowledge is not necessarily common practice. More about that later – and do not mistake my observation as a criticism. In my application that culminated in my successful appointment I listed out all that I had managed in my time up to that point:

Assistant Principal – ICT and Administration
Semester 2, 2011

  • quickly established key working relationships with technician, teacher-librarian and leadership in supporting the school’s ICT direction
  • blended into the school culture, offering key support during the school’s official opening, producing and providing a student perspective video to showcase the school’s diversity
  • worked in partnership with the teacher-librarian to collaborate with middle and upper primary classes involved in inquiry research units of work
  • started a program of Professional Learning after school sessions for teachers based on the “teacher as learner” model
  • consulted with senior leadership to make decisions around student laptop distribution
  • supported behaviour management of students as required
  • taken on and maintained administration tasks including the maintenance of equitable rosters (NIT, Yard Duty, Traffic monitors), management of the School photos and NAPLAN results distribution
  • established working relations with DECS ICT support staff, learning as much as possible about the school’s technology infrastructure, its cross platform capabilities and started on the implementation of the school’s online student learner management system (StudyWiz)
  • applied for the school’s inclusion in the 2012 Microsoft Innovative Schools program
  • planned for a future staff focus on 21st Century Learning as connected to the school’s priorities, use of the TfEL and focus on personalisation of student learning

I’ve deliberately avoided rushing into the place and posing myself as some sort of expert. That approach can only put people off and backfire but I have made it my business to really take a close look at how teachers are using the technology at their disposal and how they work around the many roadblocks that invariably crop up. So, now as I’m about a week away from going back to work, I need to air out some thoughts about this year and how I will fulfil my role. I can only do it my way in careful consideration of the unique needs of this school and this community – what outside people think and do are only useful in so far in helping us clarify what is needed for Woodville Gardens.

Listening to Tony Bryant from Silverton Primary School in Melbourne earlier in 2011 made me realise that leadership for change can be achieved by focussing on one school becoming the best that it can be. The school can then be a focus point for other like minded schools looking for ideas on how contemporary learning can be implemented in a way that empowers the students. I’m lucky – we have an excellent leadership team all pointed in a common direction and we all bring various strengths and perspectives to the table. I’m there for my educational technology knowledge and experience in inquiry learning – and I can only claim the upper hand in those domains because I have been fortunate enough to be connected to the wider network of educators, drawing on their expertise, ideas and inspiration.

So, I have an important role to play. Technology is one of those areas where to be too prescriptive and fixed in planning means missing evolving opportunities for taking learning in new and unanticipated directions. But I have to work out how to be influential in the right way, how to make wise decisions that use resources effectively and how to make sure that we have learning solutions tailored for our kids and their unique needs. It is an exciting task. I have three years to make a difference and culture within any site takes time to nurture and shape. I am part of a team but I am very aware of the responsibilities in front of me. Like all learners I will make mistakes along the way and get sidelined, but that is all part of the process.

Peeking Out Of The Trench

Like many, my career in education has consisted solely of working in schools within the one state system. I did go to a private secondary school way back in the eighties so I do have some dated preconceptions about how that system works. But it was only when I started a blog and started reading and connecting more widely beyond the confines of that system, did I gain any other perspective about what was going on in other parts of the world in education. Even now with my Twitter followings, my crammed Google Reader, I am still limited or semi-blinded to much of what happens in schools or learning in much of the world today. Anyone who thinks that they have a global perspective just because they use social media is deluded – but social media does allow people to spread word about their local or national perspective very easily beyond the boundaries of that system.

Last week, I went to a DECD (formerly DECS) conference on Innovative Learning Environments with my principal and a team from my school. We were invited to share our story as one of the new Super Schools constructed by the South Australian government and how we had gone about rethinking how we did the business of schooling. And once again during the course of the day (because I’ve heard this line of thought before) a person from the upper echelons of our department stated that Australia (and by association, South Australia) was doing pretty well by world standards in the education stakes. Apparently, our students stack up pretty well considering that Australia takes in sizeable numbers of refugees and caters for a culturally diverse student population. Now I’m willing to believe this because on each occasion that I have heard this observation, I have heard justification for our results and structures that make sense without me actually going and doing the research for myself. But I wonder why it is that the media don’t see this perspective, and are quick and ready to trumpet “slipping of standards”, “dumbing down of expectations” and “falling behind the rest of the world.”

I might think that NAPLAN and MySchool are very narrow and dangerously restrictive tools to view the success of our schools, but I also think that education is still focussed on working towards the necessary things students will require for personal success in our society. I don’t fear a massive slashing of education budgets (yet) and even if the new Australian Curriculum has the lingering odour of political interference, it is not the vehicle for big business to turn education into a commodity. Perhaps I’m being very naive.

Perhaps the biggest strength of being a mainly State funded system means that we don’t have the situation that Will Richardson is spotlighting in his much pointed to recent post. What he describes is very scary. And I’d hope that Australia would not be so foolish as to follow the American lead downwards here – but we are a culture that likes to ape the USA as much as possible. Maybe our saving grace is that the big corporations that are eying off the $$$$ available in the huge student population and numerous K-12 systems will see Australia as a market not worth worrying about, and we don’t feel the pressure that Will describes in depressing detail.

If you scroll down to the comments on Will’s post, someone challenges him to state what he thinks today’s classrooms should look like and he responds:

What’s the vision? Classrooms built on inquiry, where kids ask and answer their own questions, where teachers act as co-learners in the process because with all that we now have access to, we all better be learners. Schools where we truly value a student’s ability to connect with other learners, to create beautiful works of art and inspiration, to develop a passion to keep learning, not just learn what the system pushes in their direction.

Now again, my naivety may be showing through but this statement does describe my last two schools pretty well in terms of a similar vision to be aspiring to. It also fits with the stories of the other schools gathered there at this conference. So, DECD is on the right track here by giving these schools a platform for change, by seeking to see how their innovation can scale out across the organisation. My fear is that given our state system’s recent reputation as being a risk averse organisation (an observation made on numerous occasions by many people on the day) is that many schools will not look to create and follow their own vision, and continue to wait on the directions from Flinders Street and their district offices. That would be a real shame – and signal to corporate interests that K-12 education is waiting to be “saved”.

Unlearning, Relearning, Learning

It often takes me a while to get ideas to clarify within my mind. It can be a concept that is crystal clear to others but I need to strain the ideas through a few different sieves before I can articulate the essential gist of a concept. Forgive me if you are in the camp where I’m about to state the blatantly obvious.

I read this post from Chris Betcher back in May, and it stuck in my brain like a prickle in my sock. I’d heard the following sentiments quite a few times before in various blogs all over the web.

I’m so tired of having the integration of technology into learning overlooked because it’s “too hard”. As educators – actual professional educators, who actually go into classrooms every day and teach for a living – we do NOT have the luxury of choosing whether we should be integrating technology, or whether we want to learn more about it, or whether we think it’s relevant to the learning process.  It is, it’s part of the job and if people don’t think so, then they ought to be getting a copy of the Saturday paper and looking for a something else to do where they CAN be selective about what part of the job they are willing to take seriously without it impacting on our future generations.

There was a lot of “Here, here, well said” comments and it didn’t sit well with me. So I added my own counter-rant in the comments section where I felt I was defending my much maligned less tech-savvy colleagues. I ended my rebuttal with the following:

Education is always in constant flux and teachers spend their whole careers in a state of unlearning and re-learning. I know that for every thing I can do well in terms of tech integration with students, there are other teachers with other skills in other areas outdoing me and no one really has the moral high ground.

I got a bit of pushback from a fellow commenter and sought to clarify my thoughts further:

I suppose what provoked my response is that I’ve read posts like Chris’s all over the web, lamenting those incompetents who don’t “get it” and I don’t think it achieves much more than getting a round of “hear, hears” and a tone of self-righteousness in the comments. Teaching is complex and becoming increasingly more so, and every facet deserves as much focus for our students’ futures as technology use for learning. Is everyone here on top of every aspect of their teaching practice? Or will some at least admit that, like myself, there are aspects of our job we are not top of totally, components that are works in progress and parts that we find harder to engage with. Think of those aspects and at least recognise the fact that technology use for learning does not come easily for everyone – and that does immediately label them as being less than worthy educators.

Then Chris replied in a manner that finally turned the switch on in my brain, and I could finally see his post in a different, less oppositional light.

I think you sum it up in your last paragraph when you say “Education is always in constant flux and teachers spend their whole careers in a state of unlearning and re-learning.”  For those teachers who accept this state of flux, who willingly learn and unlearn and relearn, I don’t think anyone would criticise those efforts. You’re absolutely correct in saying that there are MANY aspects of the classroom competing for our attention: staying up to date with current developments in literacy and numeracy, brain theory, learning theory, etc, not to mention staying abreast of information about allergies, child safety legislation, OH&S, etc, etc… teaching is a busy job, there’s no argument about that.

My beef is with those that have simply given up, or refuse to do the learning, unlearning and relearning.  It’s not really about technology per se, although I think that the requirement to integrate technology is a trigger that brings these attitudes to the surface.  The real issue is that some teachers – who are supposed to be learning professionals – have forgotten what it means to learn, unlearn and relearn.

Chris is dead right of course. Take the technology focus out of the discussion and what is clear that educators need to have a different mindset to be successful and relevant to their students. They must be in a constant state of unlearning and relearning, ready to challenge their established practice, looking for where to go to next, and adopting the very habits we want in our students.

I then read a powerful post from Dean Groom. As can happen on occasion, he was not totally happy with what he had written and he pulled the post from his blog. But it still came through my RSS reader and when I asked him about it, he replied that I was free to remix it as I saw fit. I’ll share a few key parts that helped me to understand the unlearning and relearning process that I do see many teachers still struggling with. And it does prove Chris’s point because technology tends to show up teachers’ learning dispositions clearly. Dean’s post was about teachers’ learning habits.

I said teachers are engineers and inventors – these are two critical skills of this decade, as trying to design learning episodes that create innovative pedagogy is a little like flying the Millennium Falcon. Nothing quite works all the time and there’s a total sense of urgency about the whole affair with a high possibility of disaster.

The manual is scattered all over the internet in videos, blogs, wikis and people. Most people lack the social keys to decode this, the literacies needed to find it and won’t use their downtime for what they see as work-related actions.

The time allocated to formal workplace development is massively insufficient, and usually lacks any innovation, invention or re-engineering of the experience.

I’ve  seen this when I conduct PD for teachers. Some only need a point in the general direction and others want you to sit side by side with them as they work out how to sign up to a new online account. It is ironic that I get requests for PD on tools that I’ve worked out for myself or by using the “scattered manual” that Dean refers to. That’s the unlearning and relearning at work there. Teachers who teach their students lock step or via spoonfeeding expect that is how their own learning should work too. I do like the idea of doing the PD as a group where I’ll start things off but the idea is to work things out by spinning things off with your neighbours and having an exploratory and playful disposition. I did that last week when I introduced delicious to my new staff (and yes, there are probably hundreds of teachers out there who have never heard of social bookmarking or how it is one tech tool that empowers teachers to learn on their own with others.

Dean also says:

There is a cultural expectation that has been created by 1990s idea of the computer as a ‘tutor’. This gives rise to the idea novices are there to learn ‘how to use’ from an expert. There is an assumptions there will be step by step instructions, that someone will read them to you, that you will attempt to follow and if you don’t succeed, someone will swoop down and move you along. At some point, you will get to decide if you want to use the tool and information in the future. We can’t really call this competency based training, as there is no assessment and therefore no external reward for effort. At best we call it professional development hours, another symptom that teachers are not intrinsically life-long learners, but need a push factor.

I’ve heard that one too. “Are you doing some ICT PD, Graham, because I need to get some more hours?” Not the best indication of an intrinsic life-long learner but the phrase “life long learning” appears in nearly every school vision statement. And it’s an important thing to have there too. Because students will need those skills – but will they get them from a classroom where the person in charge can only talk the talk?

Dean summarises perfectly (to my mind):

A key idea in downtimer learning theory is that the rewards are almost always intrinsic, fuelled by some external motivation. The product of this is the network effect, where social-encoding of knowledge, essential resources and processes become unintelligible to anyone without sufficient keys to access it externally.

So, technology is important because in today’s world it is the enabler of learning unfettered by control. When the learner has that freedom, they work things out on their own or with others but they are not dependent on others to provide them with the resolution. With that technology in most people’s pocket or purse, there is no reason other than ignorance (unintended or willful) for anyone in the learning game to not be actively in charge of their own learning. And then starting to work out how they ensure that their students have the same options for their own learning within their classrooms.

Post update:

I thought that Dean had written another post illustrating the point I’m trying to make here, but I was wrong. He had referenced another post written by Sarah Thorneycroft and he graciously pointed me back there. Read that for a clarifying example.

 

The Fabulous Dr Joyce Valenza

I was very lucky to attend today’s seminar with Dr Joyce Valenza here in Adelaide, and my head is still swimming from the sheer breadth she covered in the day. The whole day in terms of her presentation, her links and pathways can all be found here on her wikispace created for this down under visit. So I won’t try and recreate the day actually that would be impossible because what the site can’t convey to you is the sheer passion that Joyce has. It certainly won’t demonstrate the furious pace at which our collective brains were filled – I was asked to run the backchannel which was quiet and understated, but participants were too busy listening, watching and checking out links and tools on their laptops to be throwing back too many queries and challenges. By only using the wikispace, you would not also appreciate the urgency in her message – encouraging and enthused – but urgent nonetheless. With an audience of mainly teacher-librarians, I got the feeling that the urgency is as much for the future of this role in schools as it was for the future of our students but of course, the two are connected.

So, thank you, Joyce, for a brilliant day. What your brilliant online resource does is enable those of us at today’s seminar to go back through your day in smaller bite size chunks at a pace that allows for deeper reflection, fuller exploration and lengthy consideration of how to change and improve the learning for our respective student communities. It’ll be something I’ll chew for quite a while and is a very timely focus as I start in on my new role.

A Change In Direction

I’ve made a change in my professional life. From next term, I will be the Assistant Principal in ICT & Admin at Woodville Gardens School here in Adelaide, moving on from my position as the Teaching and Learning Technologies Coordinator at Lockleys North Primary School. It’s an upward step and a significant change from what the last eight and a half years have been like. People who know me well know that I’m not an impulsive person and I usually err on the side of caution in most aspects of my life. So, many of my colleagues were surprised to find out that I had applied and won this particular job for the remainder of 2011. After all, Lockleys North is an excellent school with nice kids, parents committed to their children’s learning and many great programs. I’m not being a sycophant by pointing out that the school has one of the best principals going around and I’m not being a braggart in stating that I have been a fairly big influence in the school’s forward movement in the use of technology. But the time seemed right for a new challenge and this opportunity appealed to my restrained sense of ambition and sense of social justice. I’m a proud advocate for public education, and it will be good for me to put the expertise and experience that I have put under my belt to improve the outcomes for a population of students here in suburban Adelaide who in general don’t have life as easy as the kids I’ve been working with.

Back in 2003, I was given an opportunity as a green-behind-the-ears young classroom teacher to become the ICT Coordinator at LNPS. I had an abundance of enthusiasm, some ideas around how technology could make a difference to student learning and a whole lot to learn about being on the first rung of leadership. Being a coordinator in South Australian schools means still being responsible for a classroom as well as the leadership and management aspects of the wider role, and that is a much harder juggling role than being full time in the classroom. I also went from a school where I had access to a well equipped computer room whenever I wished, pursuing digital projects with my class without worrying too much about the whole school direction. I started off in my new role with one computer room with twenty computers and one solitary PC in the back of each classroom for a school of over 400 students. It was always going to be a long term job but I was not following in an incumbent’s footsteps and had the freedom to build up overall ICT focus of the school gradually. In 2005, we started introducing interactive whiteboards well before they became mainstream items in this state and in 2007, I got our wireless laptop program up and running. In 2008 – 2010, we were one of only four DECS schools involved in a lengthy Learning Technologies research project right before the State Government wound up that arm of the department. Late last year, I wrote the application that got our school into the 2011 Microsoft Innovative Schools program. Ironically, the final two Forums of that program are something that I am giving up to move to this new position!

So, I feel that I have achieved a lot in my time. I never did my job so well as to become redundant, but stretched between classroom commitments and other constraints, I feel that what I have contributed will continue and branch off in new ways without my input. I’ve mentioned some of the outstanding colleagues I have been lucky to work with – the rock stars who have embraced digital planning, real “just in time” use of technology and tasks that have pushed student learning into new places. These same colleagues encouraged me to apply for this new position when I wasn’t sure if I was the right person or if it was the right opportunity, and were the first to congratulate me when I got the news of my appointment.

So, why this new job? Well, Woodville Gardens is one of the sites dubbed as a “super school” by the South Australian media, formed by the amalgamation of three smaller schools. The school is brand new (well, six months old) and the notion of being part of building a new school culture is very appealing. The school is also a Category One with the greatest level of social disadvantage, so knowing that I will be working towards improving these students’ future means I have the potential to really make a difference. I also get to apply all of the experience and knowledge from my own time at Lockleys North into a new site and open myself up to new experiences to continually make myself into a better educator. The role also has more time built into working with staff, and influencing practice on a bigger scale is important too, especially if the mantra of “21st Century Learning” is to have any meaning at all. This new school is about re-defining the schooling experience for our less privileged students and it will be humbling and exciting to be in on the ground floor. I’ve seen how schools like Dallas Brooks Community, St Albans Meadows and Silverton (all in Melbourne) have become learning centres of excellence and hotbeds of exceptional practice – so I’m hoping that my new role can help lead out in a similar direction.

So, I’ve been lucky to be part of one of the best schools in this state. It’s time to see where this new opportunity goes. Wish me luck.

NAPLaNs And U-Turns

Australian students in Years 3, 5, & and 9 have just spent the week taking the annual NAPLaN tests. With some controversy last year over cheating allegations, there can be no doubt that the label of “high stakes” can now be applied to these tests. It doesn’t seem to matter what is said about the fact that a test like this is only a snapshot of student capability – the inclusion of this data on the MySchool website causes a lot of angst amongst students, parents and educators as the media and politicians line up to judge their worth individually and collectively. There are fears that the data will be twisted to tell an unflattering story and one school at least has moved to deny the MySchool site that NAPLaN derived data.

AS MORE than 300,000 NSW students sat the first of three NAPLAN tests yesterday, parents at a small private school in the Blue Mountains staged a boycott to ensure its results will not be reported on the federal government’s My School website.

But schools whose principals or teachers encourage children not to sit national literacy and numeracy tests may face disciplinary action in future, the NSW Minister for Education, Adrian Piccoli, warned.

I also had an interesting conversation with one of my colleagues who had caught a television interview with Linda Darling-Hammond where she was convinced that the education adviser of President Obama’s transition team had said that the US was moving away from high stakes testing. Because I rely on my Google Reader filled with the savviest educators from that part of the world to keep me informed, I was skeptical. I’ve been reading over the last few years about how intense and how data driven schools have become in America that I was sure that my colleague must have been mistaken. So I went hunting to find out for myself what was being said.

Professor Darling-Hammond said Australia would be wiser to follow the examples of Finland, Korea, Shanghai and Singapore, whose 15-year-olds achieve the best results in numeracy, literacy and science in comparisons with other developed nations.

“The US is taking a U-turn away from test-based accountability,” said Professor Darling-Hammond. ”We hope not to meet Australia heading in the other direction in seeking policies we have sought to move away from.”

From The Australian:

Professor Darling-Hammond said Australia’s national literacy and numeracy tests, NAPLAN, were not “intellectually ambitious” but “bubble”and provided only limited information about students’ capabilities.

And The Age:

Linda Darling-Hammond, Professor of Education at Stanford University, said the perception of improved results in New York was created after performance standards were lowered. Once standards were readjusted, results “crashed”.

Professor Darling-Hammond, who advised US President Barrack Obama on education during his presidential campaign, and who was reportedly among candidates for the position of education secretary in the Obama administration, will address educators in Sydney tonight, warning Australia against repeating the same mistakes the US has made.

She says NAPLAN-style testing has failed in America. Standardised tests in the US have been criticised for narrowing the school curriculum to reading and maths and multiple choice formats. Punitive measures had resulted in teachers “teaching to the test” to improve results, which determined whether schools and teachers would receive bonus payments. Judged by student results, many of the best teachers fled the underperforming schools that most needed them.

So, my colleague was right about what Darling-Hammond was saying. But what I’m curious about is the statement that the US is “taking a U-turn”. Is that true or just wistful thinking on her part?

MIS 2011 – Melbourne Forum

I returned yesterday from three days in Melbourne attending the first Microsoft Innovative Schools Forum for 2011. Twenty schools were selected from around Australia to participate as the 2011 cohort and Melbourne was the first event in a program that is designed to promote innovation and networking between public schools with a change agenda that leverages the potential of ICT. My school, along with Charles Campbell Secondary School, was fortunate enough to be one of the two South Australian representatives attending with our key select group of Ann, my principal, myself as the ICT coordinator and Trent, our focus classroom teacher. Each school sent a similar team of three. The forum consisted of an official launch at Parliament House in East Melbourne on the Wednesday night, a full Thursday meeting, setting up for and connecting the 2011 cohort at an inner city conference facility, and the Friday was spent out at the fabulous Silverton Primary School following through on a focussed inquiry that would tie to our own school’s developing project plans.

Dallas
Trent and I flew out of Adelaide early Wednesday and took the opportunity to visit Dallas Brooks Community School. Amanda and Lynn, the two campus principals, and Ramon, their ELearning coordinator were extremely generous with their time and we got a really good look around a school that has really made a name for itself. I won’t go into a lengthy description about the school here but if you go to this page, click on the Worldwide tab and scroll down to Dallas Primary, then the embedded video tells their story far better than I can.

But I can tell you what I saw, and that was students focussed on their learning, using technology tools as they required, across the year levels in a variety of ways. We had a look through the Year 5/6 unit first and saw the students using their 1:1 netbooks. Much like I saw at St Albans Meadows 18 months ago, the devices were an integral part of the classroom, students using them as the need arose in a very independent way. There were no whole class teacher led lessons going on, but a mixture of independent and paired kids working on tasks, or small groups focussed on a particular activity. Throughout the school, this was a real feature and what impressed me was the focus of these students, many of whom come from a disadvantaged background. In one classroom, there were two Year Six students coaching some Year One students on how to use an X-Box Kinect that focussed on developing their gross motor skills. They had four young proteges and worked with them in pairs, bringing one pair to use the LCD television at the front of the room while the other two simply picked up their readers and continued with that particular task. While this went on, a larger group of students were seated in a corner on the floor working with their teacher on word letter blends, completely absorbed in their activity and no paying any attention to the potentially distracting Kinect action. Dallas has a student television station that is part of a larger focus on oral language skills – something that their large English as a Second Language population needs as a priority. My takeaway from this is not that every primary school needs a television station, but that having a whole school project around a student priority is a great way for all year levels to connect.

I think one mental danger when visiting other schools is to start thinking about what can be replicated back at my own school, or grabbing ideas that start next week, when clearly what I saw there was part of a long term big picture strategy that requires staff commitment, exceptional leadership, piece by piece implementation and tellingly, a commitment to being as open as possible. The fact that we were able to access that is a great example of that openness. Dallas are also a Microsoft Innovative School (Pathfinder status) and Amanda’s and Lynn’s advice on how we could get the most of the program was very helpful.

dallas

Kinect @ Dallas

Parliament House
This was a pretty swish affair with all 2011 school teams gathering around drinks and nibbles before an official launch by the Microsoft Australia Education team, in partnership with the Victorian DEECD. We heard from the principals of Dallas and Silverton, and got the chance to mingle and start the networking that promises to be a major feature of this program.

2011 Microsoft Forum Launch

2011 Microsoft Forum Launch

Wegner with Kennett

Wegner with Kennett

Forum Day One – Cliftons
Our next day was run at the Cliftons Conference Centre a short stroll from our accommodation, where the day was capably run by Sean Tierney, Joan Dalton and Cheryl Doig. We were paired with another person from another school to conduct a Partner Inquiry. I got to connect with a young teacher, Mitchell, from Buckley Park College who was a very nice person with a high level of tech-savviness. She had the AnswerGarden page for the group up and bookmarked before I could even get logged into delicious. I suppose that could explain why she was the school’s eLearning Coach. The two of us then made up a larger six person Co-Lab who met to introduce ourselves. The Co-Lab was made of two principals, two middle managers (like myself, holding down coordinator or Assistant Principal positions) and two classroom practitioners and our group of six came from six different states. Later the group met to discuss a document called the Learning talk Covenant using a structured method called “final word”. We all read silently, highlighting a phrase or section that struck a chord with us. That was shared in turn, with each Co-Lab member reading their chosen segment aloud, then each other member responding until the original person had the “final word”. A lot of this activity was geared towards opening lines of communication and getting us all to be open to listening to other cohort members without necessarily polluting conversational waters with our own experiences from and change agendas for our own schools.

We had a look at an online project for students called DeforestAction, which is what Microsoft Education believe technology enabled learning could (and maybe should) look like. Another tool we were introduced to was the Microsoft PIL “Building Skills for Tomorrow” which shares a strong resemblance to many similar tools, including the ISTE NETS which we use at my school. At this stage, we re-convened back in our school teams as we then use that tool to hone in on planning a Learning Walk¹ for the next day’s program at Sliverton. Ann, Trent and I identified Love of Learning as our focus, keeping in mind the possible transference to our own school’s needs. We then formed planning groups with other people covering the same Skill, and worked out what questions we would focus on asking students and staff in the classrooms at Silverton, what we would be looking for in terms of student learning and facilities and tools to assist that learning, plus thinking about what it would sound look as well. I worked with a teacher, Julie from Tasmania, and a high school teacher from Townsville in Queensland.

Old Melbourne Gaol
This was the site for the Gala Dinner and we were assigned three other schools to sit with. We were given a guided tour by Mrs. Kelly, the “mother” of infamous Australian bushranger, Ned Kelly, who was hanged in that very gaol in November 1880. The dinner was served at an enormous long table running the length of the bottom level of the gaol and was a great chance to meet and mix with others.

Wegner with Ned Kelly

Wegner with Ned Kelly

Silverton
Friday saw everyone up early and on the bus down to Silverton Primary on the south east side of Melbourne. We were greeted by the two school captains and ushered into the school’s new BER funded hall. We got ourselves ready for our targetted Learning walk throughout the school where we were free to talk to any child, staff member or leader about what we were seeing. We met Tony Bryant, the principal and got into our teams to check out the school. The first thing I noticed was a large LCD television screen embedded into a wall with a Wii-mote hanging from a hook – Wii for the students during their break times! We went into the Year 5/6 Learning Centre first and what struck me first was how scattered the students were around the unit, all engaged in a variety of learning activities using a blend of technologies and traditional paper based materials. The students were obviously used to having visitors and happily spoke about their learning. We saw inquiry tasks around the topic of the Victorian gold rush before adjourning to the Year 3/4 Centre where Literacy block was in full swing. Again, technology was there but used as one of many choices for the learning to be done. Students were constructing learning goals on documents and small groups were gathered around portable projectors examining texts as part of their reading program. We looked at the Year 1/2 kids and the Preps involved in their Discovery Time, which is a structured play program that had a very detailed ongoing assessment regime maintained by the supervising teachers. I spoke to the Multimedia teacher, who ran the Television and Radio station, an enterprise much like the one at Dallas, that was a whole school project focused on improving the oral speaking skills of their students. There were predetermined roles for various year levels – the Year 1/2s were the anchors, the Year 3/4 kids did the filming and the Year 5/6 students were the reporters. The footage was then broadcast around the school on the many LCD screens and uploaded onto the school website where the parent community could access it.

TV Station @ Silverton

TV Station @ Silverton

The Learning Walk focused us on the Love of Learning angle, and we took photos and snippets of Flipcam footage because our final task was to start a multimedia presentation on that angle about the school that we could share with other 2011 MIS cohort members and to take back home to our own schools. We also shared our start on this with another school – in this case, Coomera Springs State School from Queensland. Seeing another group’s take on the school also opened up our own perspectives. No matter about what anyone thought about the school’s practices, it is one heck of a statement of trust and belief to open up your school to sixty high level educators for examination and Silverton should be congratulated on that. They do have a lot to be proud of.

Learning Centre @ Silverton

Learning Centre @ Silverton

So, What’s The Big Deal

Microsoft is often portrayed as being the bad guy in the technology world and there are some good reasons for that label. But Apple advocates don’t hold the moral high ground either when it comes to monopolistic practices, so I’m fine with my work at educational improvement for my school and its learners being associated with the Microsoft name. Truth be known, I’ve applied three times to be a Microsoft Innovative Educator and never got close. But my record with helping my school to gain entry to these sort of programs is a lot better, and now I’d rather be a team player than an individual maverick seeking acknowledgement from a mystery corporate judge. So, this opportunity to meet and mingle with leaders and teachers from over twenty public schools around Australia trying to make a difference is a career highlight. The Microsoft funding gives us access to some of the highest quality facilitators available in this part of the world and a chance to look closely under the hood of schools that have moved to the next highest level in the Microsoft Education program. These three days have been invaluable for examining where our school is heading, whether the initiatives we are trialling will have legs, gaining some affirmation for the programs and ideas we already have in place and making plans to continue the growth of learning programs for our students.

I have had some personal revelations building from my participation at the recent ACEL conference when thinking about my own leadership roles and opportunities within our education system. The message I got from that conference was don’t be afraid to look for the next opportunity, be ready to move if needed and don’t stay in one place for too long so that your own change agenda becomes mundane and ineffective. But listening to Tony describe his school’s journey and his role over an extended period of time (he started as principal in 1989) had me re-thinking about what it means to make a difference. I’m lucky. I work at a progressive school in a role well suited to my skills and knowledge in Learning Technologies and one could argue that the school could continue to progress without my input but another school less advanced in their journey would benefit from my experience. Our school has already that several times as teachers and other leaders have gone onto more influential positions in other schools, thereby raising the possibilities for their new schools and improving the education system in that way. But another way to look at that could be that my current position helps drive our school in time to a level similar to Dallas and Silverton – the influence is then that schools come to look at what we do and take those ideas and seeds for improvement back to their home base. Either way is a valid use of my talents – and my leadership does not have to come from a positional title. I like to think that I also provide some of that influence via this blog and my other online contributions, showing that ordinary educators need to roll up their sleeves and get online to mix it up and trade ideas and knowledge with other educators worldwide.

1. A Learning Walk is defined as “a regular, focused walk in and around learning areas for a brief period of time – observing and gathering data – followed by reflection, feedback and setting of future goals.” think.beyond.co.nz

Connected Students

One to one laptop programs have been around here in Australia for quite a while now. Gary Stager spoke extensively about that last year when he was in Australia, pointing out the work of David Loader who pioneered the first school notebook program at Melbourne’s Methodist Ladies College back in 1990. I’ve visited a couple of schools who have ventured down that track – St Albans Meadows in Melbourne and Holy Family here in Adelaide – and the model seems to be the same whenever one talks about 1:1 in today’s schools. Firstly, head over to the Anytime Anywhere Learning Foundation (AALF) website, plan your school’s path forward using their excellent 21 Steps To 21st Century Learning and decide on a suitable affordable model of laptop to roll out.

I really enjoyed the sessions with Travis Smith late last year and took his advice of “don’t rush your school community into things” advice to my site as we grapple with our own proposals for a 1 to 1 program. We are close to running a 1:1 classroom trial for the year in a key classroom to answer a number of the questions posed by our parent community. But what if the tried and true model of 1:1 laptops has already had its day?

Quite a few high schools around Adelaide have already jumped into the breech, rolling out parent funded laptops to their Year Eights. Through my contacts, I’ve seen some of the laptop choices (ranging from a 10 inch netbook to a Apple Macbook) and heard some of the stories. Paraphrased quotes and stories following below:

“My son was proud when his class received their laptops in the first week and he knew how to log on and get using it straightaway while some of his classmates struggled. Unfortunately, it hasn’t been called upon in classes since.”

“My sister had her laptop in her backpack when she went down to the beach after school with her friends and it got stolen.”

So, the popular move is to use a one size fits all model. Working for a large system, I understand the thinking behind this – control, control and more control. It’s seen in the way we set up wireless and networks in schools where digital certificates and complex logons manage and restrict the connected environment. This way, the school owns the laptops, can manage the software licensing, keep technical issues down to a minimum (which is lucky because most schools operate on a shoestring budget when it comes to technicians) and keep track of laptop movement via library barcodes. We can feed our filtered “safe” internet through these networks onto identical, predictable machines that equalise the connected experience.

But is this the only scenario?

I lurk on a mailing-list called Oz-teachers where the regular contributors debate topics in such an in-depth and authorative way that I feel more comfortable dipping into their conversations via my Gmail. Brett Clarke is an Oz-teachers frequenter whose observations really challenge my fairly conservative (conservative as in limited in scope, not as in right wing political leanings) world view. On a number of occasions, he has posited that 1 to 1 as a managed roll out is a concept that passed its start by date. Recently, he stated the following:

If you’re at a school that didn’t already catch that wave several years ago, then just skip it and move on. The kids will thank you  for it and the staff won’t have to learn the whole laptop thing and then learn what it means to go mobile 12 months later…

Another gem that has me wondering about what we should be doing in the primary when investing for the future:

I’ll say it again – now is NOT the time to be starting a laptop/netbook programme in your school!

This is not to say schools shouldn’t have some laptops – but not high ratios – just for the few situations where the tablet may not be the most convenient/appropriate alternative…

I’m also intrigued by David Truss’s BYO Laptop program as a concept. I know from conversations with my students that a sizeable number of them already have a laptop of their own. I then wonder what their parents’ reaction would be when the school announces a laptop program that dictates a particular model and cost. I can hear it already.

“Why can’t my child just bring their laptop to school?”

There would need to be several major shifts in thinking to be able to say yes.

Firstly, our wireless network would have to change its security settings so that non-networked laptops could gain access. There would be the issue of software licensing and a well thought approach so that office software like OpenOffice or possibly GoogleDocs become ways to avoid breaching proprietary software licenses. The biggest shift would have to come from teachers who are comfortable with familiar programs, network paths and occasional use of computing technology.

There are times when I think that the students are more ready for these shifts than we are.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/brownpau/5108073282/

http://www.flickr.com/photos/brownpau/5108073282/

T..y..p..i..n..g

My principal and I have had a few conversations of late about the role of typing in a computer rich environment. Basically, we are both pondering about what level of typing skills are needed by primary school students and what sort of support for these skills should come from the classroom. Despite the inroads of laptops and desktops within our school environment, the majority of students spend a large part of their day using the cheap and common tools of pencils, paper and pens and handwriting skills are part of the curriculum taught to enable students to be successful using those mediums.

So, I raised the issue the other night with our eLearning Committee to see what our teachers thought about the role that typing skills played within our classrooms. I heard that in reality, students have limited opportunities to use laptops and that within the scope of those limits, spending a chunk of time focussing on the formal skills of typing was not a high priority. We use a program on our network called Typing Tournament  which the students really enjoy. It is low fuss, each student has their own profile that saves their progress and the game interface holds their attention. I then referred to a really useful blog post from Mike Dunlop where he airs quite a lot of very worthwhile thoughts. This is a short sample from that post:

Keyboarding is now a low stakes activity. Errors can be easily corrected with the click of a mouse. Whole paragraphs can be changed, moved and formatted during the proof-reading phase. The concept of a typing pool has all but disappeared – most adult professionals are capable of keyboarding to a level sufficient to perform their computer-related jobs independently – whether or not they took high-school typing courses.

Whenever I’ve looked around the web for research on either for or against keyboarding instruction in primary classrooms, I have come up essentially empty handed. Tonight, I had another browse around and found some interesting links worthy of further exploration and consideration.

Keyboarding Research & Resources (most posts seem to be very pro-keyboarding but there are pointers to research that support their chosen position).

Keyboarding skills…do we need to teach them? a post by Jacqui Sharp with some teacher resources to support some of the concepts she covers.

When Or Do We Teach Typing? by Jeff Utecht. This is more a post where Jeff explores his own perspective rather than actual describing classroom practice or citing research but there is a wealth of opinion in the comments.

Keys to the (Online) Kingdom: The Importance of Basic Computer Skills – from Edutopia.

How do YOU Teach Touch Typing? is a back and forth conversation between Linda George and her respondents on the value of a typing program schedule used by her school.

But I am interested in what other schools do and what informs your thinking behind the programs you run (or don’t run) within your schools or classrooms. Any feedback is very much appreciated in the comments, with thanks in advance.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/mrwilloby/54713273/

http://www.flickr.com/photos/mrwilloby/54713273/