Daily Archives: February 4, 2006

I've been pondering a rethink of the ICT training and development opportunities that I might provide my staff in 2006. Part of my role description here at my school calls for me to provide T&D to improve skills and confidence for my onsite colleagues. So in previous years, I've run courses on FrontPage, digital cameras, saving files to our network, trouble shooting where I've designed a step by step approach with handouts, examples, personal support and explicit demonstration. Has it improved the overall skill set of our staff? I'm not convinced. For example, my FrontPage course started with 10 participants which dropped to 8 the following week when a couple of junior primary teachers couldn't see the relevance of designing web pages for them. A few more dropped out halfway through when they acquired the basic skills they were after and eventually two continued to the bitter end. One staff member moaned that I responded to the loudest voices when they wanted help, some others wanted handouts with step by step instructions and a couple needed to start from the beginning of every session. Clearly, the one size fits all model doesn't work with learners, especially adults who have their definite preferred learning style and who, like kids, all have different levels of confidence, experience and expertise. So, inspired by my own experiences in the edublogosphere and Leigh Blackall's concept of Networked Learning, I am trying to draw up a plan that would guide my interested staff members towards self directed professional development. It's still embryonic so naturally I'm gonna put what I've got here and if anyone [please!] wants to give me feedback/suggestions/ridicule, I'm all ears. Here goes:

2006 LNPS Staff ICT Personalised Learning Program
Proposal for regular T&D opportunities on Tuesday afternoons.
Rationale: We are in the business of lifelong learning - developing this in ourselves will help us to facilitate this mindset in our students. ICT and e-learning have developed to the stage where we can personalise our learning experiences - new technologies are constantly providing us with better ways of connecting to others, documenting our own practice and developing our own content.
The IWB program needs to be supported with a regular time set aside for (1) the practice and use of the IWB, (2) planning and designing of own resources and lessons, (3) finding, reviewing and bookmarking of relevant/useful online resources, (4) professional reading and connection and (5) personal professional reflection.
Teachers may also wish to develop other skills related to specific software applications (desktop and online) by accessing online tutorials and courses to work through. The goal is for teachers to become self-directed, self-paced "just in time" learners, so that they can acquire ICT knowledge and skills from multiple sources and modes of instructions.
In my role as Coordinator, I would assist teachers to put together a Personalised Learning Program (as the guide on the side). Each week, a limited number of slots would be available for closer personal assistance while other staff would work in a more independent mode, using each other and a network of outside educators developed over time via social software (bookmarking, blogs, forums). Time spent would be documented and count towards DECS professional development hours requirement.

 Does it even make sense? Any suggestions? Help!!!!

As I read more and start thinking about the year ahead, I find that the blogs engaging my brain are quite different from my original Top Five list. Leigh Blackall would still be there as his posts really challenge - even though he is based in a different sector of Aussie education to me, his thoughts are always relevant. I certainly admire his "say it as I see it" style and wish I could inject more of that into my own blogging.
But the two blogs that keep hitting my relevance button are NZ's own Artichoke and Doug Noon's Borderland. Part of my role here at my school is the implementation of a Problem Based Learning program. I consider myself to be one of those creative types who can set up meaningful and engaging learning experienes but documenting along the way and really assessing what the children have learnt. So this year my partner in crime, our teacher-librarian, have resolved to get the model right with time set aside to plan with teachers, following closely the PBL model we have chosen, allowing students enough time to solve the problem and tying it all together with a meaningful assessment of the solutions and the skills and standards displayed along the way. So, in timely blogosphere fashion, Artichoke's post about inquiry learning really got me questioning about the effectiveness of my previous PBL units and what I could possibly do now in the initial stages to get it right. I don't really want any of the classes I'll be working with to be lost in a tunnel of goats. Artichoke points out:

Inquiry learning is an attempt to get students involved in Chris' "work that matters" or "work that cuts it".

So what would meet that criteria? Is a problem that gets kids to design a pamphlet or website warning citizens of Adelaide what to do if a bushfire/tsunami/earthquake struck going to "cut it" or is it roleplay beyond the maturity of a primary school aged student? Or does the problem have to focus on what our students could realistically have some influence on - how could we support a refugee child starting at our school? Maybe both ideas are valid. But Artichoke has already done some of the research hackwork for me and summarised a solid consideration to take on board when we meet to discuss and design:

It was only when the problem oriented learning activity required students to compare and contrast quite different cases; to look for similarities and differences across dissimilar and apparently unrelated problems that students showed transfer of knowledge and dramatic learning gains resulting from the activity.

One post back on Artichoke's blog, I find a potential starting point for our middle school students. How about a re-mix of the final paragraph?

I might start with explorations of Search Engines. And reckon Blogbar the free search engine bar you can include in your own blog or website will be useful in that it is going to allow students (remix insert) to easily play with, and compare a range of major search engines [Google, Yahoo, MSN, Ask Jeeves, Exalead], and major blog search engines like Technorati, Google Blog Search, Yahoo! Blog Search, IceRocket, Blogpulse, Feedster, and Del.icio.us.] And I think I might follow up with explorations of The Question.

The question could be something along the lines of, "Which search engine easily and efficiently produces the most accurate and meaningful results?" From this question stems many other subsidiary Jamie McKenzie style questions that can be covered either explicitly or by investigation and students are (hopefully) gaining relevant and necessary information literacy skills by exploring the way that information is delivered to them.
However our first cohort of students for this term's PBL program are much younger (Years 2 - 4 / 8 & 9 year olds) so the planning and thinking has to be different and provide much more support.
So where am I going with all of this? I'm not too sure but fast forward to Borderland where Doug has extracted his own useful take on Artichoke's observations.

Artichoke questioned the uncritical application of inquiry approaches to classroom learning, and recommended that teachers introduce relational and extended abstract thinking challenges into inquiry tasks. She left a link to an article called Using the SOLO Taxonomy that I found useful for answering a problem I’ve been pondering for about 9 years. The article provides a framework for teaching to levels of thinking that are appropriate to a student’s specific background and needs. The SOLO taxonomy defines levels of learning competence for students. With Vygotsky’s zone of proximal development in mind, maybe I can use this model to find challenges that are just right for my students.

This is the great thing about blogging. We all interpret written language from our point of view - so I might read Artichoke's post and go, "Aha, that's what she's on about!" But Doug has pulled alternative meaning from the same post and reading his post Herding Goats helps me to see and read the original post in a new light. And by following the link to the SOLO taxonomy, I now have a great tool to assess the quality of the students' solutions to the set problem without being dazzled or disappointed by their use of ICT's in the research or presentation side of the PBL process. I'm taking this along to the planning session on Friday as well as the process. I'll post here after the planning session. And Arti and Doug, I'd appreciate your uncensored thoughts - now, then, anytime.