It would be no surprise to regular readers of this blog to find out that I've been struggling for motivation to write reflectively here of late. I seem to be surprisingly resentful of those colleagues who seem to find the time to vege out in front of the television, read a favourite book or other non-digital and non-education related pastimes.
Don't worry, I'm sure it will pass.
So, instead of drafting insightful missives or spreading the comment love, I've been delving into online music. I've been listening and viewing clips from artists who I've had a passing interest in from years past but didn't spend much time listening to at the time.
I like alternative music - artists who are not mainstream (but still popular enough to have a significant body of work) and my tastes are probably hard to categorise. So, I stumbled back into the music of Eels and followed a bunch of links across YouTube, Wikipedia, the official band site and ended up at the Eels MySpace site. So, for your enjoyment (and definitely mine) here is a really nice version of "In My Dreams" performed by the very talented frontman, Mark Oliver Everett.
Ann, my principal, sent out an SOS email tonight in preparation for a presentation she has to give at a regional meeting. The questions she sent were good reflective ones so what better place to actually answer them than here. Any feedback always appreciated:
1. In what ways are you gaining as a professional by the way you work with others at LNPS ?
2. What are the skills and qualities you have appreciated in those who have supported you? You may give examples if that helps.
The co-planning teams that we work in to design our inquiry units have really helped me to improve the quality of the lessons I present to my class, become much better at effective assessment and really honed my focus in sticking to curriculum and lesson design that refers back to the skills and understandings identified as part of the required outcomes. In my role, I get to work with nearly everyone in the school and every conversation sheds light on how others tackle similar objectives. Every time we add another piece to the professional puzzle at LNPS, it opens up an opportunity to work closely with experts in various aspects of learning. In the last few years, I've got to work with Toni Glasson, Kath Murdoch and Mark Treadwell. I've had the opportunity to workshop with Jay McTighe in Melbourne to really come to grips with UbD. Like many of the staff, I've been fortunate to be trained in PLOT as well.
I also gain when my fellow professionals are prepared to take on my own initiatives and ideas enabling new ways of working to become commonplace at our school. Where else could I plan collaboratively using a wiki and a chatroom, have social bookmarking site delicious as the "glue" to save and group digital resources and have others lobbying for access to normally blocked sites like Wikispaces, Ning and YouTube so they can be embraced as effective tools. But I think that what helps our school to work well is that we really do have a form of distributed leadership where everyone can bring different strengths and expertises to the table, take in turns to lead at the front and basically, share.
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.
Two weeks ago, we packed up our computer room in preparation for the impending demolition of our current library (Resource Centre) in the lead up to the building of our BER funded new "21st Century Library". The thirty odd desktops of varying vintages were distributed throughout the classrooms or retired to the "obsolete" pile. Our focus has been on the development of wireless capable buildings to support our laptop program which has a trolley of laptops in both the upper and middle primary blocks. Add a small fleet of ten netbooks used by the Year Three classrooms to the pool and it felt quite strange to be putting old style desktops complete with CRT monitors back into classrooms where kids have become used to using the laptops on their desks as part of the regular classroom program.
As I unplugged, trundled and then re-assembled the desktops in their new homes (ably helped by an enthusiastic Year Fvie class), a few interesting things became apparent. Firstly when the classrooms were first wired with data points, it was obvious that no-one envisaged that computers would be anywhere but at the back of a classroom. The number of data points is also interesting to note where the educators responsible for planning and trying to predict future needs could not foresee a need for more than four data points in a junior primary classroom or six in an Year 3 - 7 room!
Now, my point is here not to criticise my predecessors for getting things wrong but to make the point that what we actually need in classrooms in the very near future is a very fast moving and elusive target. In the goal of future proofing a school's technology needs, the constraints of budget and what is actually available at the time provide real barriers to what is possible. For example, currently we have wireless network points running on the "g" standard meaning that all of our laptops can log on, authenticate and access the network with ease. We could upgrade to "n" standard wireless at a much better data transfer speed if we wanted but as our technician pointed out, straightaway we would have to purchase "n" wireless access points at a much greater cost than the current generation ones we have and one fleet of laptops purchased in late 2007 would not be able to connect as "g" is their maximum connection, making them redundant on our network. Also attaching more laptops to the network means that we need to have the infrastructure to support this expansion. But if we hold off for six to twelve months, prices drop dramatically as a relatively new technology becomes commonplace and more readily supported. And with budgets always tight for a humble public school, these sort of trade offs mean that sometimes we will take a wrong turn or be surprised when technology opens up new opportunities.
So, we are now in a transition period where we try and imagine what the new learning space will be like and try to eliminate the "this is how a normal library looks" type of thinking that could be very redundant and date very quickly. Things will be testy for a while as classes go cold turkey from their regularly scheduled computing room time (which was a useful time for classes to work on individual tasks) and work on ways to use these newly created pods of older computers within their classroom. I know that I will find the regular access to our old computing room to be problematic as the trolley of twenty laptops only go so far between four classes. Time for teachers to get creative - yet again.
Having holiday breaks is one of the great perks of the teaching profession - I will never deny that. At this stage of the year, it's a great chance to get some of the jobs done around the house that have been put on hold for a few months. It gives me a chance to work flexibly on planning for the final term of the year while spending some time with the family - you know, playing board games, going to the movies and indulging in a bit of fast food with the kids.
So, this morning, we went out bowling and when we returned home, there was a box from Amazon on the front doorstep. It is no secret that I am a lover of comic strips - starting back as a kid who loved the classic Hanna-Barbera characters to the antics of the Dog in Footrot Flats, and now my latest obsession with Pearls Before Swine. After stumbling on this comic during an English focus on humour, I've even managed to get my fellow teachers hooked on this little strip that constantly bends the rules of this particular media type. We've even used some of the strips in the classroom - teaching social skills and the use and mis-use of words to convey messages!
I still think that it is amazing that I can discover something new and exciting (and very funny) using this connection of the World Wide Web, and then have my own copies of several Pearls treasuries delivered to my doorstep.
Of course, my youngest son doesn't see this as a big deal at all. It was, however, a great chance to nab a handy sized box for his latest creation.