Friday, September 23, 2011

Is the future of learning virtual?

Douglas Gayeton and his avatar, Molotov Alva, ...Image via WikipediaRecently, Linda Ojala, posted a thought-proving reflection entitled Connecting Face To Face with Families. One of the key points she made was "There is such value in getting together as a group and working face to face....You can post videos and articles...but having these real experiences with the students and families is by far so much more beneficial".

This started me wondering - Is it a human requirement to be in each other's physical presence to learn? Is it bout trust? Relationship building? Or is it, like other of our behaviours something that may shift and change as we and technology move into the future? Could, for instance, participating in a virtual world become akin to the face-to-face experience?
Mother and Baby Japanese Macaque Monkeys at Mo...Image by Richard.Fisher via Flickr

I was listening to a podcast a couple of days back where a computer was designed to 'read'  the brain activity of a macaque monkey while she moved her arm. Over time, the computer 'learned' how the monkey achieved the movements, and a group of scientists developed an artificial arm that was also attached to the same computer. This arm was put into a room that the monkey could see through a window, and she quickly worked out that when she moved her arm the one through the window did exactly the same. Again, over time, she made the leap to not moving her own arm but using her brain to only move the arm in the other room as if it were a third limb that was an integral part of her anatomy! (You can read a more-detailed article from the New Scientist here: Monkey's brain signals control third arm).

This being the case, I wonder if humans will move toward the stage where they don't need to be in the same room, but could experience learning in as rich and immediate way, while also being at a distance? :-)

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Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Inquiry Learning: getting kids out of the box (Jill Hammonds)

Inquiry CycleImage by istlibrary via FlickrIf you are interested in inquiry learning, and finding out strategies for trying the approach with students...or maybe you are already using inquiry learning but would like to find out more - then this session by Jill Hammonds would be a useful starting point.

Jill Hammonds facilitated a Webinar session this afternoon (21st Sept 2011) entitled "Inquiry Learning: getting kids out of the box" (recording can be accessed here, and you can download the PowerPoint from the session here). Jill started by opening with a view of how schools sometimes implement inquiry learning, which is about discovering and understanding. So who drives? The student or the teacher, or is it a partnership? It is worth thinking of it as a continuum where, when students first start out with enquiry it is the teacher that does most of the driving. As students develop their inquiry skills, the learning becomes much more student directed.

Jill talked compared teaching to lighting a fire - if you build a pile of sticks and chuck a match on, nothing much is likely to happen other than the match dies. Inquiry, Jill asserts is a disposition, and teachers need to adjust their teaching to enable inquiry to happen.

Participants were invited to advise what they felt inquiry to be, and some of the suggestions included:
  • 'allowing opportunities to discover, collaborate, bounce off others, apply the new learning.."
  • "Student directed interest"
  • "a process of trial and reflection"
  • "questioning and thinking and reflecting on information to be sure it answers the questions"
Jill also showed a Wordle where the key words that popped out were: students, hypotheses, investigate and learning. The importance of being a life-long learner is critical in this day and age, and Jill stressed that this is a reason that might shape the focus on inquiry and how it is implemented in schools.

tap mechanismImage via WikipediaThe picture of a tap with a droplet with the world in it was used as a catalyst for conversation, as well as to demonstrate how to encourage people to think and work out what is happening based on prior knowledge. The next image was of several taps, along with questions of how they function, and illustrates how to put new challenges in front of learners. The scenario was expanded out to include wells, then oil wells, and finally notions of electricity and power.

animation of proof of pythagorean theorem by r...Image via WikipediaJill mentioned about her own experience of learning a language which was mainly rote, and missed the main purpose of language which was to communicate. Inquiry is providing opportunities for students to communicate with each other and to develop meaningful conversations - within language learning, but also in other disciplines. Inquiry in mathematics for example, might be based on a wide question "Suppose you want to climb on the roof of your treehouse...." and using a number of strategies such as Pythagoras's theorem to work out a solution to a 'real life', accessible problem that means experimenting with things, refining approaches, and working out a workable solution.

Literacy is not just about reading and writing and we have a lot more to think about today, and all of these aspects are opportunities for using ... and presenting inquiry. It's finding out about how things work, and how they work and link together.

question markImage via WikipediaIf we don't have a model, how can we structure the learning in our class? It is about the way we plan, but how much planning can, or should, we do? Jill presented a sample, and also has an inquiry template to help scaffold the planning process, which is available for anyone to download and use. One of the participants asked if the plan is co-constructed with students - a good question...and maybe, again, it depends on how familiar with inquiry learning the students are.

Wizard HatImage via WikipediaA key point Jill made was that the best questions often happen at the end of the enquiry process, and she mentioned thinking tools in general, and De Bono's thinking hats specifically. The thinking tools can be one way of helping students to work though and develop questions - to challenge themselves to take things further and to move away from narrow statements, and to come to a wide variety of understandings. Margaret McPherson also suggested the parallel curriculum (Carol Ann Tomlinson), which. The core strand is where the main focus of teaching is, and then the other strands are more flexible and student shaped and directed. It is about co-construction and enabling differentiation.

Jill emphasised that the deliberate acts of teaching were essential to scaffold the inquiry process, and students could not be dropped into an inquiry approach and expected to work with it meaningfully. Likewise, the inquiry has to stretch the students, so that it actually develops the ability to think things through. Jill also cautioned against over-structuring the inquiry process, or following a model rigidly because learning is messy, and it is important to remain agile and responsive. A participant also pointed out that "inquiry needs to be inclusive throughout all curriculum and linking the learning makes it more meaningful - not just at TOPIC time!"

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Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Learning Powered School

21st Century educationImage by wlibrary via FlickrGuy Claxton today facilitated a webinar entitled The Learning Powered School. One of the first things he started by asking was why is it that the 19th century approach to learning and teaching is so 'sticky'. He suggested that few people disagreed that education in some way needs to change, and proposed a vision that suggested 21st century education needs to help you people to learn to be open-minded and inquisitive, while also discovering their passions. They should also be encouraged to make and repair friendships, enjoy seeing different sides of a subject, and be unafraid of uncertainty. So, as far as the latter point is concerned this would involve the design of a curriculum that offers, regularly, experiences that are increasingly uncertain.

Guy cautioned against using the academic jargon often used in the writing of vision statements, which are as a result impenetrable and inaccessible to a large proportion of, for instance, government ministers. Values, he also feels should be relevant to life in general, not just for a test. Fancy language gets in the way of being taken seriously!

One of the key points Guy discussed was what does it take to so a 21st century education properly? He advised that eight core principles have been distilled from research:
  1. Broadening the core aims of education
  2. A vision that offers success for all
  3. A strong rationale
  4. Precise and accessible language
  5. Progressive change to school culture
  6. Focusing on teachers and teaching
  7. Honest self-appraisal
  8. Committed leadership
 Leadership he advises will really make or break shifts in practice, along with clear, visible endorsement by leaders that reinforces objectives. The traditional education agenda, he argues, will not be changed without strong leadership.

Having an 'and' mentality is essential. People who are looking at assessment scores can also be looking at key competencies, but it is reliant on having a complementary set of ways of tracking the key competencies. The government is not stopping us changing by the focus on assessment.

The way in which education needs to change is on a whole lot of different levels. Where the issues are now are in helping and supporting, primarily teachers, but also students, teachers, and members of the wider community how change is going to happen and what it will look like. Where the world is now is moving from "vision to precision", and it requires clarity around, for instance, the role of parents in their child's learning experience. Clarity will help address misunderstandings and 'fogginess'.

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Twitter unpacked: Some resources to help you get started

Free twitter badgeImage via WikipediaOne or two days ago I received a couple of questions from a friend, Yvonne Hynson, about Twitter:  "Can you point me to somewhere to learn all about these hashtags and how to tweet @ without getting all tangled up! Please... I am really enjoying Twitter and finding it much more useful than Facebook for finding out ESOL stuff. Just don't understand all the other stuff next to the tweet!" So, I decided to collect together a couple of resources around Twitter, and some of the basics around using it.

In a nutshell, the # symbol is called a 'hash tag', and it indicates a key topic that you might want to find out about, and you'll also be able to find the trending topics on the right hand side of your Twitter page. I've included a video below where facebookmari explains it way better!! The @ symbol is used with a Twitter user's username e.g. mine would be @howen. It indicates a reply, mention, and / or a re-tweet, and is a form of providing links in a conversation, as well as being a type of attribution if you are sharing a resource or comment. It means that other people can also join the conversation, especially if you use a combination of @ and a hash tag. For example, I might see a great resource from @playnice about #elearning - the two symbols mean that I can re-tweet her link and other folk know that playnice found and shared the resource, and that the topic is eLearning.

Clear as mud? Never fear - the following resources should shed more light on the basics of using Twitter.

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Monday, September 12, 2011

No bells or interruptions to learning times....

Teacher Roles in LearningImage by hazelowendmc via FlickrLinda Ojala posted a comment on a blog post where she gives an overview of an observation at a Montessori school she had done. She describes some of what she saw as follows: "The students are creating their own 'learning pathways' - this centred around interests and strengths.  There are no bells or interruptions to their learning times.  The teacher sets up the environment, offers support but the students are encouraged to be in charge of their own learning (very strong managing self).  Reflection, knowledge of the students and assessment guides the teachers in terms of which students they need to engage with and when".

The whole notion of the tyranny of the timetable and how it can stifle learning is quite a popular one - see for example Enslaved by timetable tyranny. There are many ideas discussed in the article, a couple of which included:

ClockImage via Wikipedia

A primary head said to me recently: "Wouldn't it be marvellous if we could do the daily literacy and numeracy hours Monday to Thursday, and then have Fridays free for more flexible approaches?" One of the best literacy activities I do involves children acting as radio journalists and compiling a radio news bulletin. It needs a whole day, however, if a visit to the local radio station is to be included.

A newly-appointed geography teacher in a very academic grammar once persuaded his head to suspend the timetable for two days so the whole school could do Project Africa. It was a knockout, and he went on to be one of the best heads of his generation.

There is also the negative effects that timetables can have on the teachers. For example, in this paper Living by the clock: the tyranny of the secondary school timetable, Kathy Brady quotes:

Bells ring to signal the passing of classes, each of which will spend some parcel of time with the teacher in his or her classroom. Though students may move throughout the building, high school teachers often never leave their rooms in the course of a day. For every ‘period’ or ‘hour’, there is a routine: taking attendance, continuing from yesterday, introducing today’s material, winding down. Repeated five times a day. (Johnson, 1990, p.6)

I wonder if some of the notions about organisation and standardised assessment tend to go hand-in-hand with timetables. I know, from a personal point of view, when I am learning something it can take ages to get my head down and 'into it', and sometimes it's really frustrating to have the flow broken. And when you get back, sometimes those good ideas will have dissipated...along with some of the motivation to continue.

High school students, DubaiImage by hazelowendmc via Flickr

I would say, though, that in my experiences with working with students, there needs to be quite a lot of support and guidance up front...and skills to be taken on board such as time-management, digital literacy, research skills, self-reflection etc. A continuum where you move from a relatively teacher-led approach at the beginning of a year, to a student-led/directed one by the end of the year seems to be fairly effective, and helps ensure that differentiation can be built into a programme...especially if a blended approach is used. (This is a paper - Meeting diverse learner needs through blended learning - about one of the programmes I developed - it's tertiary but it describes the general approach. We did have an extremely supportive department management though, who were really happy to have a way more flexible view of what comprised the what, why, when and how of learning).
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Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Using the curricula from other countries for inspiration for online teaching

Today I received a query about whether it is possible to "get access to another country's curriculum, in this case Germany". The person posting the question is looking at some possible models to teach online. So, I set about doing a wee bit of online sleuthing.

The International review of curriculum and assessment frameworks (Sharon O'Donnell, June 2001)has a good overview of many countries' curricula including New Zealand, Italy, Switzerland, Germany, Canada, France, Japan, Hungary etc. For Germany, it is indicated that "There are over 3,400 individual subject curricula in Germany" (p. 12) and :

"There is no national curriculum in Germany. The Ministries of Education of the individual regional authorities (Länder) develop their own region-wide curricula, with which schools must comply" (p. 12)

So - no central area to access curricula for Germany. INCA (Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency) do provide and overview of curricula and curriculum development in Germany, as well as information about many other countries. (And good old Wikipedia has a general description of education in Germany if you were keen just to know more from a general point of view!).

The National Report on Curriculum Innovation in Germany covers all sectors, and has a specific focus on language and language teaching. Also, the Appendix on Page 50 has some interesting links and information, and the document also has a really useful reference list with hyperlinks to further resources (pages 51 to 54).

However, the following do have access to their curricula online:
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Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Interested in ePortfolios? The International Journal of ePortfolio

The International Journal of ePortfolio (IJeP) is described as "a double-blind, peer-reviewed, open access journal freely available online". Subscriptions and fees are not required to access this journal; however, readers desiring hardcopies of issues can order them online.

The mission stated on the site of the International Journal of ePortfolio (IJeP) is "to encourage the study of practices and pedagogies associated with ePortfolio in educational settings. The journal’s focus includes the explanation, interpretation, application, and dissemination of researchers’, practitioners’, and developers’ experiences relevant to ePortfolio. It also serves to provide a multi-faceted, single source of information for those engaging in projects and practices associated with ePortfolio."

"A refereed (blind) peer-reviewed journal, IJeP embraces inquiry into ePortfolio in educational settings holistically; therefore, manuscripts considering the following areas of investigation are welcomed:
  • instruction and principles of learning that utilize and inform practical, effective ePortfolio methodologies;
  • evaluation and assessment methodologies and practices supported by ePortfolio;
  • case studies and best practices regarding applications of ePortfolio for learning, assessment, and professional development supported by scholarship of teaching and learning practices and research methodologies;
  • theoretically rich accounts of the principles grounding ePortfolio work and its relationship to larger social and cultural phenomena; and
  • innovative development and applications of technologies that enable new ePortfolio practices."

"IJeP employs a rolling submission process; however, those wishing to be considered for the next issue of IJeP should plan to submit their manuscript by December 1, 2011. Those submitting manuscripts to IJeP can expect the review process to take approximately 90 days."

the next four journalsImage by paperbackwriter via Flickr

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Thursday, September 1, 2011

How do I measure the effects of shifts in my professional practice?

This presentation looks at how self-reflections is positioned in relation to evaluation, feedback, assessment and research (and also looks at possible definitions and purposes). Links to a video and a Prezi around reflective practice as a personal and school-wide activity are included - which are complemented by a concrete example provided by the principal of Matapu school, Rick Whalley.

How do I measure the effects of shifts in my professional practice?