Archive for the 'Resources' Category

The Corporate Helping Hand

Technology can be a major driver of innovation within any school setting. So, it makes sense that the corporations that develop and sell the devices, infrastructure and software that are part of this picture would want to be publicly visible as a key factor for positive change. A recent example of this came my way via Tim Holt who reflected on a partnership between Science Leadership Academy, an acknowledged innovative school in the US, and Dell who are funding Chromebooks and other benefits for the school. Now, this is a great coup for the school involved and is a win/win PR wise for both the school and the tech corporation who are very publicly providing this innovative support. But as Tim points out, “this sweetheart deal he is getting from Dell is NOTHING like what every other school will get“. There is a lot more to this story which you can follow through on the comments on Tim’s blog but I am interested in the point where the corporate helping hand starts to feel more like a forceful push in the back.

Corporations that have a stake in the education pie all want to be seen as the answer to innovation, or in many cases, just keeping pace. Schools are always under the pump when it comes to funding. Every Google Educator, Apple Distinguished Educator, Microsoft Innovative Educator or Intel Teach facilitator is the equivalent of me wearing my favourite Rip Curl tee-shirt out in public – a form of advertising. There is somewhat of an insinuation that those educators who sport these fancy titles, not earned from a university course or form of scholarship but from an application form or a weekend of workshopping, are somehow better or more qualified at being better educators than everyone else. (Disclosure: I have an Intel Teach course diploma somewhere in my cupboard and I can tell you that it has made little to no difference to my capacity as an educator.)

Late last term I went to a day event that was the launch of a partnership between my own education department (DECD) and Microsoft. I heard about it via a Community of Practice group that my school is involved in around Innovative Learning Environments, and we knew that a couple of schools within our group had been involved in the Microsoft Innovative Schools program so a colleague and I went along to see what this partnership could be offering or mean to the system as a whole. (Another disclosure: I have been involved in the Microsoft Innovative Schools program too, at the school I worked at prior to WGS, and benefitted from their sponsored interstate trips.) The message is one of the corporation is here to give back to you, the schools, here’s what we can offer you, here’s a sample of the sort of Professional Learning on offer. Which is great but being the sort of person I am, I tend to notice the subtle sub-messages, real or imagined, throughout the day that still bug me.

An example of when I feel the corporate heavy hand in the middle of my back – when a graphic of devices is shown to the audience, starting with the least powerful Smartphone then tablets then laptops and finally, the tablet PC as the ultimate learning machine. Windows machines dominate the graphic (as you would expect at a Microsoft funded day) and the sole token outsider in the graphic is an iPad just to the right of the Smartphone and well left of the inferred-superior Microsoft Surface. The message is clear about what constitutes an innovative learning device. We are also presented with a definitive list of 21st Century Learning skills – despite the fact that a quick search will provide many alternatives – but any professional learning from this partnership won’t be referencing any of the alternatives. And just in case, you think I am just being anti-MS, I think that Apple’s coining of the phrase “Challenge Based Learning” is just as blatant a grab for the pedagogical truth.

When I make decisions about the right tools for my students, I want that decision to be free of that feeling in the middle of my back. Schools should be free to decide that at a local level, and generally are, but partnerships that send heavy handed messages curb our freedom to help our students with learning and lessen world views instead of widening them.

Making The Right Decisions

My role involves the management of a large budget – the school’s allocation of funds towards its technology purchases. It is my responsibility to make decisions about spending that money wisely. Only a few years back at my former school it involved the creation of 3 year plans with purchases mapped out over a time span and the purchasing spread over that time. There was (in some schools still is) a general rule of thumb that desktop computers had a useful life of about 5 years and laptops about 3. Of course, we tried to squeeze as much life out of our machines as possible, with some of the laptops I purchased in 2007 still being used around the school when I left in 2011. But with a wider array of devices available in a number of platforms, the mapping of a structured plan is becoming less important but flexibility and adaptability are key ingredients when planning.

My employer, DECD, obviously agrees as seen in the recent release of their ICT Strategy for 2012-2014 (I know, ironically a three year plan!):

Given the dynamic nature of information and communication technologies (ICTs), and the rapid development of always connected technologies and devices, having a fixed three-to-five-year strategic plan has become unsuitable. What is emerging however is the critical nature of continual improvement and utilisation to current resources while scanning and examining emerging technologies for their potential impact on, and use in, the areas of child development, care and wellbeing and teaching, learning and administration.

This really is common sense, and at WGS, we have decided to check out the developing technologies by using a Lighthouse Classroom project approach. Specifically, the eLearning Committee, and myself look for innovative applications of technology and classroom teachers offer to trial and feedback to the larger staff group. The Lighthouse classrooms get technical and pedagogical support from me in my role, but the nature of teachers who volunteer for things like this tend to trend towards risk takers, active learners and problem solvers. Projects range from trialling tablet devices to using blogs to using Minecraft for learning – and there are many more avenues of opportunity to go down. In the end, what we (the school community) are trying to foster is a culture of innovation. We want to move from a school with pockets of innovation (because every school has them, supported or subversive) towards being an innovative school. An innovative school which does not rest in its goal of improving learning for all students – and the more complex the school, the more innovative we will need to be to meet that aim.

So, the technology purchases and money must align with that aim. So, some budget goes towards these exploratory classroom projects, which then helps to inform more mainstream purchasing for the wider school classrooms. It is very important for me to do the “scanning and examining emerging technologies for their potential impact” to ensure that decisions are made wisely, balancing between what we need is needed right now and what needs to be explored for its potentially improved impact on learning.

What Does An Educational Supplies Store Tell Us About Teachers?

I went with my wife and eldest son to an educational supplies store today. My wife is an early years teacher and wanted to have a look around for a few key resources for her classroom, and my son and I were along for the ride, looking forward to the walk down Jetty Road afterwards on an unusually warm September day. Now a retailer that decides to cater for a market of teachers and schools has to think carefully about its targetted demographic. So as I wandered around the store, I also wondered what a place like this says about teaching, schools and teachers.

So, in summary, I noticed the following:

  • Racks of blackline masters books catering for every possible curriculum area. A lot of pre-planned unit theme books as well.
  • Two hefty books on Mathematics written by two eminent Australian experts in the field, Di Seimon and George Booker, retailing for $120 and $115 each respectively.
  • An entire rack of NAPLAN style test books. I think I have seen the same product in a mainstream bookstore, in newsagencies and even in a supermarket.
  • A professional development section taking up a very small corner of the shop – obviously the demand for books on pedagogy and research is not high.
  • An entire wall of sticker packs, reward charts and posters.
  • Maths textbooks with the “Now Aligned With The Australian Curriculum” headline on the front. I didn’t check to see if the previous editions on the shelf below had been marked down in price.
  • Hands on equipment for Maths limited to one shelf while worksheet books and Maths topic books dominated one side of the room.
  • The same names – Pearson, MacMillan, Oxford – kept popping up on products all around the various stands and shelves.

How would you interpret these observations? I’ll share my observations in a day or so – but I’d be keen to hear what you think.

 

Today’s Quote That Makes Perfect Sense

Whenever I set aside time to check through my blog feeds, I will invariably find a sentence or paragraph that really resonates and has me thinking, “I wish I had written that.” But I suppose the good thing about finding these succinctly written pearls of wisdom is that my colleagues are more likely to take the message on board if the quote comes from someone other than me!

So, here’s today’s quote that I’m earmarking for future reference. Source – Kate Nowak:

But when people talk to me about the technology I have to constantly Reframe the Issue and explain how I’m not all pro any technology for its own sake. You don’t go, “Oh here’s this cool technology let me shoehorn it into my classroom.” Instead you go, “I think I have thought of the best way to teach this, and it would be impossible in an analog world, but I know enough about the technologies to realize this idea.” You don’t go to a twenty-minute inservice about xyz.com and go “I’m going to make an xyz.com lesson.” You use xyz.com for your own purposes, or you suspect its utility and put it in your back pocket, until your awesome instruction idea needs xyz.com in order to exist. Your lesson is the fuel and xyz.com is the oxygen.

I suppose the only rider on this one is that this idea only works effectively on the premise that the average teacher will read and browse enough online in order to develop a deep enough back pocket to call upon.

A Better Way

I was in a Year 1/2 classroom this morning working with a teacher new to our school. The kids had netbooks out and the teacher wrote up some website addresses on the whiteboard with interactive content about the Water Cycle that she wanted the students to visit and use. Being seven and eight year olds, there was a strong possibility that entering these sites successfully into the browser would be a tricky task. My quickfire solution was to open a Word document, paste in the two sites, press enter to make them links and then save that file in an easy to access folder on the network. I then informed the class where to go to find the file – hopefully creating an easier pathway.

However, I don’t think that this is a very good solution and so now I’m appealing to the collective wisdom of this blog’s readers. How would you create a way for young students to get easily onto teacher curated collections of websites? I’m thinking that even a delicious tag might be too confusing for this age group – but maybe a class blog that they become familiar with that puts these websites into a blogroll or page. But, you guys are smarter than me. What do you think?

Share On Sunday

Just thought I’d point to a few things that I’ve found and enjoyed of late.

Went onto last.fm the other night to find out that what I thought was a free service is actually a limited trial. Saw a new station on there for the band Angels And Airwaves and had a quick listen before realising that this band was former Blink 182 front man Tom De Longe‘s current main musical project. I can sort of relate to the way that DeLonge started off making his mark in, well, the making of some pretty immature music content and concept wise (I still enjoyed it) and now as he’s heading into his mid thirties is more interested in “creating positive music that he hoped would inspire kids to make a difference.” Sounds like a late maturer – and I can definitely relate to that.

Anyway, following the lead of Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails, the new Angels And Airwaves album “LOVE” is now available as a free download. If the music is to your taste, then it’s nice to see another quality band trying to shake up the traditional music distribution model.

This album is free for you. If you like it and want to put some money towards it, we would be grateful for your support. In fact, as our way of saying thanks, we’ll give you an exclusive song remixed by Mark Hoppus of blink-182!
If you don’t want – or aren’t able – to contribute, then please accept the album free of any charge.
You don’t even have to give us your email address.

In class, we are looking to sharpen up our apostrophe usage and I’m loathe to critique the students’ own errors in a public way to learn the differences between omission and possession. Thankfully, there are a few very useful web based resources that any teacher can use with their students – starting with the Grocer’s Apostrophe Flickr Pool. Back this up with some savvy blogs (apostrophism, Apostrophe Catastrophes and my personal favourite Apostrophe Abuse) jam packed with real life boo-boos and laced with snappy, sarcastic one liners and apostrophes can be a lot of fun to tangle with.

http://www.apostrophecatastrophes.com/2010/03/not-britains-leading-experts-on.html

http://www.apostrophecatastrophes.com/2010/03/not-britains-leading-experts-on.html

So, in the absence of any insightful blog posts, I humbly share these offerings. And I hope that I haven’t allowed any errant apostrophes into the place.

New Life For Old Laptops Running Ubuntu

We have these old Leader laptops at my school that were part of our original batch of teacher laptops and they have not really been used since those teachers upgraded to more powerful machines in 2006. We put them out in classrooms for a while as bonus computers but they’ve struggled with our network image. So they’ve been sitting in the technician’s office (aka the server room) for over a year and I had this idea about using them as a side project for tech savvy kids in my classroom. One day when I was contemplating on Twitter what to do with our old Pentium 4 desktop that was being strangled by viruses, Chris Harvey recommended Ubuntu as an excellent operating system that would breathe new life into older machines. I know a few other members of my network are Linux advocates so I figured that it would very appealing for these tech savvy students to tinker and set up these machines in my classroom. So, I downloaded the latest version of Ubuntu and burnt it to DVD and grabbed one of the old laptops for the summer holidays.

So, you’re thinking – big deal. I know that many of my network are avid Linux users (of which Ubuntu is but one option) and that installing and playing with open source products is just part of what they do. But I am no computer whiz. I have never installed any operating system on any computer before and never really used a Linux based operating system. I’m not really that technical minded as I discovered when I went looking for details on how to get rid of the original XP operating system. I got lost for several hours, looking through forums, downloading a couple of utilities only to discover that I needed to know how to get into BIOS, or how to partition a disk or any number of things that kept telling me I’m out of my depth. So, if anyone knows of an idiot proof way for me to ditch Windows and keep the Ubuntu install (or failing that how to wipe the laptop completely and re-install Ubuntu only) I would be most appreciative. These old babies only have 40G hard drives and I don’t need any MS memory hogging stuff eating into that precious space. The batteries are nearly shot and they have makeshift power adaptors, but they do offer a chance to boost what we can do in our 2010 classroom.

My vision is that these laptops become an extra resource for students to complete work on, access the web, edit photos, create graphics and so on. The tech savvy kids will be able to install and uninstall open source programs (although Ubuntu comes with an excellent array of software as part of the package) and teach themselves and others a bit more in an environment that is geared towards education and help them to move beyond the Windows only world view of computing.

Here’s where I’m open to suggestions. Your ideas on how I could use these five laptops would be greatly appreciated. Maybe I should get the kids to run a different flavour of Linux on each one. They could become the publishing and graphic design workhorses leaving the faster laptops we have for working on the wireless network. What technical challenges could I set my small band of junior geeks? I am sure that they will quickly master the particular pathways of the Ubuntu environment and show me a thing or two. What would you do?

ubuntuPosted from an old 2005 Leader Celeron laptop running Ubuntu 9.10. A bit less pretentious than posting from my iPhone.

Simple But Powerful

I was chatting with a colleague the other day about the most effective way to create a list of online Mathematics resources for our school. We were both thinking of delicious as we have a significant number of teachers with accounts. The idea was to use a group of teachers as the “curators” of these resources and tie them all together in some way. Initially, my colleague figured starting a new delicious account perhaps under the name lnpsmaths might be the best approach. But the problem was sharing the logon and password with the others participating in the initiative – and delicious works best when you are constantly logged on, see the resource in the course of the working day, then hit TAG without too much thought required.

So, using the power of tagging, we decided the best and easiest option is to use a unique tag to tie all of the saved resources together regardless of who was doing the tagging and saving. This way, even the teachers who are not using delicious (even though we are getting closer to total staff participation) can just have a shortcut to http://delicious.com/tag/lnpsmaths on their EdPort homepage to benefit from the Mathematics focus group’s hard work.The only glitch we’ve discovered is that the same site can be saved by multiple users and it will show up each time as a separate entry on the list. Our stopgap solution is say the first person to find the site uses the unique tag, and others can save but avoid the lnpsmaths tag.

Now none of this is ground breaking or unique, but it showcases the simplicity of the way delicious works (I think it is quite a bit simpler than diigo and most staff are not power users of social bookmarking at this stage) in a very powerful way. Now, we have a hotlist of sites that is constantly growing, anyone can contribute and it gives using digital resources in the teaching of Mathematics a real vitamin hit.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/double-h90/3014614501/

http://www.flickr.com/photos/double-h90/3014614501/

Vimeo Is Better Than YouTube

Whilst flicking from one task to another I’ve been checking out some of the “Videos We Like” on Vimeo. I didn’t know much about Vimeo until Dan Meyer did his dy/av series and hosted his awesome summer series (during our wintertime) there in mid 2008. He’s pointed to a few since then and I find it’s more of an arty hangout for filmmakers of varying types and small ad agencies. So, I’m poaching an idea directly from Dan and asking a simple question:

What could you do with this in a classroom?

Suddenly from Magnus Engsfors on Vimeo.

Or this?


lost in a moment from dennis wheatley on Vimeo.

The quality is way better than YouTube and there seems to be less wading through the junk to get to the interesting stuff. But maybe that’s just me. These will look great on the interactive whiteboard – but in what context?

Tuesday Night Gripe

Perhaps it’s because my sinuses are playing up and my sleep patterns have not been the best. But I’m finding that I have less and less patience with teachers who’ve been given opportunities with school supplied laptops, IWBs, data projectors, PD sessions, hand holding, screenshot handouts – and all they can do is tell me about what they are going to do next year with technology in their classroom.

I’m sick of hearing promises of change. Tell me how all that stuff is impacting your practice now and how that investment of scarce school funds is invaluable to your students’ learning. And don’t give me that spiel about equity – because giving every classroom equal access to certain technology tools does not guarantee that the teacher will use them in equal ways. 

I want people telling me about how indispensible that laptop/projector/IWB/whatever is already to their teaching and their students’ learning before I’m faced with the choice of deciding where that piece of tech will make the most difference. 

OK, let’s hope the Nasonex works better tonight…