Learning

If you want to be patted on the back for being a groovy, totally plugged in 21st Century educator, don't bother going to read Dean Groom's blog. But you value some authentic alternative views and some clever metaphorical language twisting like I do, then his latest post is well worth the read.

I've been harping on the concept of personalised learning and how the version being championed by US philanthropists sounded nothing like the version I know and then Stephen Downes pointed to an article that was very enlightening.

 

So Dean's post was ringing some of the same bells and in the spirit of old skool Web 2.0, I thought I would leave him a comment but not wanting to lose those delicate personal threads of consciousness, i thought I would re-post it here. Plus, I assume it is currently in "pending approval purgatory" and he might not deem it worthy to approve!

Dean,

You always give me food for thought and much of what you describe in this post rings true for me. It doesn’t mean that I’ve been brave (or smart) enough to not get caught up in the frenzy sometimes, but when you shine the light on an object in a certain way, suddenly aspects of that object can be more easily defined – or as the saying goes, seen in a new light.

Via Twitter you pointed to a post about educelebrities that also ties in closely with aspects addressed. We have a number of these down under – some have channelled into something with broad appeal to the teaching population, and others have gone all out to deliberately cultivate their educelebrity status. The latter can be found amongst the “founders” that you reference, and from my vantage point it appears like they are mining the Australian teaching landscape for their own betterment. They write articles for ACEL, they win awards and they cross-reference each other because circular self-amplification super-boosts their online presence. Maybe I am just jealous and maybe many teachers find their insights and ideas to be inspiring and useful. I just wonder what happened to just doing a good job at your own school and letting good practice speak for itself.

The personaliSed learning reference is extremely important and one to watch unfold this year for sure. There is the definition of personaliSed learning that sits inside my head and has been part of what I tried to enable for my students for at least twenty of the thirty years I have been teaching. (I have a DECD certificate acknowledging my loyalty for that period of time). But the new EdTech enhanced version possibly defined by its American Z is a new beast that promises so much but when you look closer, it is the opposite of what most progressive educators (which I like to think that I strive to be) want for their students. PersonaliSed learning for me involves student choice, students helping define the direction of the learning and students showcasing their learning in ways that are personal. Education technology’s role in this scenario is an enabler allowing the student access to information that they want, connection to resources and people that can help them in that learning and to create their own solution / product / showcase. PersonaliZed learning wants the technology to be in control, pushing or elevating the student through pre-determined content and concepts – Khan Academy without the choice is what springs into my head. Like you point out, the Z version promises what the s version has been shown to be capable of but reduces it all down to (in your words) “various modular ‘fun’ activities under the trending veneer of gamification.”

As for your description of the blockchain transcript, it sounds eerily like the e-portfolio concept of over a decade ago. I wasted time researching some that idea back in the day and we can see how it has really taken off in schools … or not. Like questionable fashion, even edtech ideas can be recycled in new packaging and touted as new and original. Of course, none of this means that I am any better than the average educator in sorting through the gift shop paraphernalia.

Beware the Z.

Suzanne Cridge from SVA pointed to a 2015 post of Jennifer Orr's today on Twitter that awoke my brain from its holiday-induced inertia.

And as I felt uncomfortable with the wording of her blog post title (but not its content or message) I have decided to unpack it a bit here by starting by subbing out the word "Worst" for "Most Disadvantaged" to sit better in my Australian context.  Despite the difference in choice of words and we are comparing different education systems, we are talking about equivalent concepts here - a Title 1 school in the US shares similarities with "low category" schools here in South Australia - so using the phrase disadvantaged covers a lot of the same issues - trauma, migrant or refugee backgrounds, poverty, transience, disability in significant amounts.

I have heard many defensive comments from educators from private schools systems that sort of miss the point. "We have families here who are struggling financially." "We have students from different cultures." "We have students under the Guardianship of the Minister." Yes, you do but not to the same degree or in the same numbers. It doesn't impact on the way you teach or run the school to the same degree as schools that are officially designated as "disadvantaged".

Even in the SA public school system, the degrees of complexity are easy to identify. We use a system of Categories to define the least to most disadvantaged and complex. Category 1 to 3 are the low categories where the most disadvantage and complexity can be found while at the other end, Category 6 and 7 schools have the more affluent communities where things like Non-English speaking kids are a small minority, School Card percentage is low and where families in crisis are less noticeable. I've taught at both ends of the category spectrum and can testify that there is significant difference in what teachers encounter on a day to day basis, and practices that run smoothly for a more compliant student body can come undone in environments where the kids have a lot more to deal with outside of their school life.

In my first year at Woodville Gardens, I recall some of our teachers being highly offended that a visiting teacher from a Cat 7 school making a remark that she was glad that she managed to avoid teaching in "tough schools" like ours as she wasn't sure that she could handle it. Rightly so, our teachers resented the implication that our school was viewed as a less desirable place in which to carve out a career.

Talk to teachers at these schools and you will hear sentiments about making a real difference, and about adjusting and making learning relevant for students who haven't had the advantages of being born into a family where the dominant language matches the language of our institutions of learning, where coming to school hungry is not through choice, where the impact of social issues like racism and being left to fend for yourself at a young age is a reality. The stories that are shared of students we have known sound far fetched to educators who have never experienced this complexity on a regular basis. Engagement is not just a fancy word to bandy around - it is the real key to getting our kids to buy in and own their learning.

Jennifer sums things very well in this paragraph:

Our students often speak two or more languages, help their families navigate bureaucracies, care for younger siblings, and support the family in a variety of ways. Our students are skilled and smart in many different ways. Unfortunately, those ways aren’t always reflected in school-related skills or on standardized assessments.

To bring this post full circle, that is why it is cool for my school, Prospect North which serves a complex, disadvantaged community to be connected to people like Suzanne who works for Social Ventures Australia (SVA), an organisation that helped to connect up schools from the disadvantaged sector all around Australia who are doing innovative things into a community that shares and develops its practice. These schools are working hard to ensure that these students not only have the best teachers but their educational experience matches or surpasses what high category and the private sector schools can offer their kids. It's a reason I was so proud of my First Lego League teams - they deserve the opportunity as much as any kid in Australia and given that opportunity will step up and shine. And this only happens, as Jennifer points out, if the best teaching is happening in those schools. Not just because it is a good idea but as Jen points out, it is imperative:

Every minute will be accounted for and a part of meaningful learning. It has to be.

 

My last three posts have been focussed on my first foray into First Lego League and the students involved. But together with my fellow AP, Nicola, we also decided to get started with First Lego League Junior this year to broaden STEM enrichment offerings at Prospect North, and to cater for younger students. Nicola had heard about the program before so I decided to do some research. First Lego League has been operating in Australia since 2006 (worldwide since 1999) but its younger cousin is much newer (worldwide since 2007) and seems to have been available in Australia for a few years. And while there were three regional tournaments for FLL available here in South Australia, there were no official Expos planned for this state.

What is involved in First Lego League Junior? An short excerpt from the website sums it up best:

Focused on building an interest in science and engineering in children ages 6-9, FIRST® LEGO® League Junior is a hands-on program designed to capture young children's curiosity and direct it toward discovering how science and technology impact the world around them. This program features a real-world challenge, to be explored through research, critical thinking and imagination. Guided by adult coaches and the Core Values, team members work with LEGO® elements (LEGO WeDo Kit) and motorized parts to build ideas and concepts and present them for review.

Each yearly Challenge is based on a different theme and has two main parts, the LEGO® Model and the Show Me Poster.

Teams consist of two to six children and are guided by at least two adult coaches. During the season they will:

  • Conduct research about the current Challenge theme.
  • Build a LEGO® Model based on the Challenge instructions that contains both a simple machine and a motorized part.
  • Display their findings on a Show Me poster.

The culmination of the hard work for many teams is the participation in an expo event ... Volunteer Reviewers at the event interview the teams to learn about their LEGO® Model and Show Me poster. All the teams are celebrated and leave with an award.

I had bought Lego WeDo 2.0 kits for the school as one of my first investments from the STEM budget and worked across the Year 2 - 4 classrooms to give students the opportunity to use this very hands on technology. FLL Jr is tied to the use of WeDo - and so together, Nicola and I decided to offer this opportunity to four teams of students from ages 6 - 10. We started by asking the Digital Leaders who might be interested, and then asked the Year 1 teachers to nominate a student who would benefit from the experience.

I ordered four team Inspiration Model kits which are part of the year's program. This year's theme was Aqua Adventure, which ties in with the FLL's HydroDynamics theme. The kits were ordered from Macquarie University and cost $20 each. When I looked online to find out a bit more about the kit, I was very pleased to see that each kit had over 700 pieces! Lego are a bit like Apple in that they don't really do discount on their products so these kits represented phenomenal value. When I told my principal, her first reaction was to ask, "How many of these kits can we order?" Schools can always use more Lego.

This much Lego for $20!

There is also an Engineering Notebook that is given out to students in the US but it raises the costs of registration significantly. Here in Australia, participating coaches could access the Notebook via a download link which I cannot share here. The Notebook was a great scaffolded learning journey that Nicola and I used as a blueprint with the students, covering ideas like the PlayPump™ and getting kids to use Lego to engineer concepts along the way on the them of human water use.

The four teams gave themselves theme based names and we nominated Year 4 students as leaders to keep the mixed gender and year level teams on track. These leaders helped to design the team t-shirts which also helped build the excitement as we worked our way through the ten week program. We decided to hold our own local Expo with the goal of expansion in 2018 once we felt like we knew what we were doing. With a few weeks to go and while balancing the responsibilities for the Hydrodynamics teams and a school commitment to hosting a Kids Teach STEM conference for our local partnership schools, we nailed down an Expo date. The teams worked towards this by typing up what they had learned and displaying it on large ShowMe posters. The working models were constructed - even though they did not approach the scale and complexity of what we could see online. Nicola and I worried about our standards not being as high and the students' work needing more depth but in the end, the students did a commendable job considering how much time they were given and that this was a brand new process for everyone and no one really knew how it would all turn out.

The models had to demonstrate a solution to a water based problem for humans. One team looked at how to decontaminate water, one looked at recycling water for showers and other non-drinking purposes, another two showed how to filter household water out to a garden or other purposes.

So, the day after the Kids Teach STEM Conference, we gathered in the library for our initial FLL Junior Expo. The four teams were dressed in their various coloured t-shirts and stood proudly by their displays. I had some small Lego based trophies for Awards out on display - the rules state that each team must win an Award if awards are given. I had the team names on lego blocks that were to be added as the Awards were determined. More parents than expected came along for the introduction and I even made contact with a grandparent who was a retired engineer who was full of praise for the event and offered to be of service to our school with possibilities of STEM mentoring in 2018. After parents and classmates had a good look, it was time for the teams to be reviewed. Marg, our principal and Phil, our retired Scientist in Residence did the reviewing and some senior FLL students ran a Core Values activity and a Guess The Famous Lego Minifigure quiz for teams while they waited. We then held our Closing Ceremony with certificates for all participants via the traditional High Five Line, and the trophies were awarded to each team.

Check out my custom Lego trophy in the student's hand!

The whole program was quite successful and I hope to promote this out to the wider education community here in South Australia, with the goal of becoming the official host of the First Lego League Junior here at Prospect North. So, if you are from a South Australian school with a 6 to 10 year old demographic and you are reading this, it is a great opportunity. For the cost of $20 for the Inspiration kit, it is a cheap STEM enrichment option. Feel free to email me - graham.wegner499@schools.sa.edu.au

 

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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.

 

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

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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.

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.