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Classrooms Discover Web 2.0 (well kind of!) June 25, 2007

Posted by davidit in Education, Education 2.0, ICT Integration, Web 2.0.
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I often get the impression that I create my own natural blind spot! By that I mean that often when I suggest an idea to staff in school it is often not heard, almost like it was never said at all. In other words it can often appear that there is an inverse law in operation. When I enthuse about a new tool or idea the staff back off ever faster as I enthuse more! Well not all staff, I have a very loyal and experimental group of early adapters who love the challenges that integration of ICT into the inquiry model are throwing up. I have been bashing on about various web 2.0 tools for a while now, most notably netvibes and del.icio.us but people are not listening!

Well anyway, this week flickr, bubbleshare and teacher tube have been discovered, embraced and loved by my early adapters. If you have been following the blogs from the previous post you will have seen the various scrollers and album collections appearing in the blogs. The teacher tube phenomenon is happening mostly on this blog. However, what is happening is that other staff are starting to see and crucially, to want to have some of these cool options appear on their class web pages. It is almost a viral infection within certain parts of school. The Bubbleshare slider is cropping up all over the place and this is a good thing. Firstly the storage of these large files is now being managed by someone else and for free! Secondly Staff are starting to realise that time invested in learning how to utilise such tools is worth the effort, because uploading the images is a one shot deal. Once the images have been loaded to bubble share or the video uploaded to teacher tube it is then a simple process of making albums and linking photos to different locations, in other words a time saver.

The blog is also starting to come into its own. We have used it this year deliberately as our only form of recording our professional development in our plc groups. It has taken some time to take off, but now it has teachers are starting to see the potential that it has for curriculum work. This blog I set up as the result of a partnership between my school and a school in the UK. It has taken all year for the partnership to flourish and we are still in the early stages of establishing meaningful and authentic links, but the teachers at my school are starting to see the benefits of using these tools to create authentic learning opportunities that have relevance and resonance with their students. Needless to say the students are really enthused about such ideas. To play Devil’s Advocate for a moment, I wonder if student enthusiasm is because it is all new? I hope that it is because of a resonance to them, that school is finally getting them! Only time will tell.

I have no doubt that the Bubbleshare slider will be used to death, however I suspect that this simple tool is acting as a Trojan Horse; little by little ICT is being integrated into differing areas of teacher consciousness. It is a short step from a teacher using a tool like bubbleshare to display work, to actually using it as a teaching tool for students to independently use. The same is true of Teacher Tube, pretty soon the students will be using these tools independently in class, like they already are at home with Bebo, Myspace etc! Once this happens the teachers will be well on the way to their conversion from sage on the stage to facilitator.

Long live the revolution! We have already moved 10 degrees, maybe this last week represents a further 5 degree shift.

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A Sea Change? June 14, 2007

Posted by davidit in class blog, Education, Education 2.0, ICT Integration, Inquiry Model, mathletics, partners.
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I started this blog with the analogy that my role in encouraging change was that of a tug boat manoeuvring a supertanker, hence the title. Well in the last week or so I am almost optimistic about my chances. I hesitate to say that we are experiencing an epiphany here at school, but the indications here this week might suggest that our heading is starting change. Yes it is my pleasure to announce that my particular supertanker has started to change course from a heading of 180 degrees to that of perhaps 190 degrees. We are swinging to starboard ( To the right or to the green side for the less nautically minded!)

I have been beavering away here at school targeting certain members of staff and suggesting certain resources or ideas that might be of use in their quest to integrate ICT into their class programmes. At the same time from another tack several members of staff have been championing an online maths programme called Mathletics. There has also been an increase in chatter on our school PD blogs and these three courses of action seem to have created a confluence of positive energy in the last week and hence my optimism.

We have set up several plc (professional learning circles) here in school this year and each group has been charged with investigating certain aspects of the inquiry model. Each group has to contribute to their respective blog by adding links to resources that they have found as part of their individual professional reading. In addition they also have to post comments illustrating their thinking about the area of focus and their responses to colleagues comments. So far the comments posted have been rather dull and each post was lucky to attract three or so comments. In my own group there has always been a hard core of contributors, but at our last meeting it was evident that the group was in danger of polarising. Several members of the group are steaming ahead, implementing and experimenting with ICT ideas and initiatives. That week I posted several posts to the blog, one about Interactive whiteboards and the following quote, which I knew would provoke a reaction, it was a risk and one that I agonised over, but published anyway.

“ICT will not replace teachers BUT teachers who use ICT will replace those that don’t”

(Carrey, EQ,-Curriculum Corporation – Winter 2006)

It came though on a paper that I read as part of the BECTA ICTRN that I subscribe to. It had the desired effect. It provoked a reaction and caused a flurry of angry comments on the blog. One of my colleagues described the effect as lancing a boil! I prefer the uncorking of a Champagne bottle myself! As the angrier members of my blog commented the others dived in to suggest alternative points of view and slowly within the comments you could see the anger die and a more reasoned stance being taken. Within the individual threads you could witness philosophical movement by individuals. There is now talk of experimenting with ideas, of taking things slowly, of practical solutions. In short people have started to make tentative steps and not throwing up barriers. It has been great and I thank all of my plc group for being honest, scared, brave and professional. Long may this continue.

At the same time and almost in tandem, there has been a growing clamour within school about this online Mathletics programme. Now I have to confess that I have deliberately kept myself ignorant of this product. I reasoned that if I got in on this initiative from the start, my mere presence might be enough to put some off for life! I treated it as a Trojan Horse and to date my strategy has not failed me! There is a buzz about this programme. It was introduced into one class initially and has quickly spread in almost a viral way to a third of the school. It is highly likely that the vast majority of the school will be using it in some form or another by the end of term 3. Because it is online, the classrooms that have adopted it have by default begun to wrestle with some of the integration of ICT issues and solved them, without realising that they have begun to integrate ICT into their daily programme. ICT has moved to the centre in one aspect of their day!

Our plc blogs have also had spin offs. A couple of members of staff have now created their own blogs for their students to use and are getting great results. What has happened is that student motivation has increased, parents can comment on student work, not only that one blog has been set up to link several schools together so that students and teachers from different parts of the world can contribute. You can check out the blogs here:

Year 2 Blog

Year 5 Blog

Year 4 blog

The year 4 blog is a project that I have been instrumental in. It is a partnership with a school in England. This partnership has been built throughout the year, it too has taken time and energy ensure that it could flourish. At first it seemed as this link would whither away, but to the credit of my partner in England she has stuck at it and we now have a great partnership that is gathering momentum between us and is now spreading to other classes in both schools. Currently we are co-operating on podcasts, classes are e-mailing each other and now this blog. This project has the potential to really explode. Motivation of teachers seems to be a real sticking point and then creating genuine authentic learning opportunities for the students is the other. At times these two elements seem to be almost mutually exclusive, but when the synergy is right change is almost instant and oh so gratifying.

The nut has not been cracked, the heading is still largely against me! But progress has been made, it now has to be maintained and extended to others and as momentum builds the pace of change will quicken! This week I love my job!

 

What’s The Relevance Kenneth? June 3, 2007

Posted by davidit in Education, Education 2.0, ICT Integration, Inquiry Model, Web 2.0.
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To paraphrase REM’s single What’s The Frequency Kenneth? many students and educationalists are asking this very question about the education system that they are in. They are not only questioning the relevance of the curriculum and its content, they are also questioning how education as it stands, prepares students for the world of work beyond school. There is much anecdotal evidence to suggest that the overwhelming sentiment of students is that school just is not relevant to them. A well known t-shirt slogan says:

I’m not ADHD. I’m just not listening.

This is a wry observation of school and students’ attitudes to the institution they endure 6 hours a day in, but I contend that we ignore it at our peril. A former Principal that I used to work for, often used to say that he feared that students learned in spite of us and our input! What does that say about the state of current schooling practices?

I have made much about the case for change and at my current school we are slowly working towards a goal of creating a curriculum based around student needs. We are aiming to create an environment where students learn through following their own passions and interests. This is a path that is strewn with challenges and the most vociferous of them are the bastions of traditional pedagogy! Teacher led instruction, assessment regimes, sacred curriculum content etc!

Take a look at this video. Listen to what the students are saying, especially about reading and books. How does that challenge what you are doing in your class? How can you change what you deliver to be relevant to the students in front of you? Do the students in this video read any less? It could be argued that they communicate more and more effectively through a multitude of media than we ever did or do! If this is true then our students are already more adept at communicating, gathering information, re-interpreting and publishing than we are. Is it any wonder then that they are increasingly feeling that school is irrelevant? For me lots of what these students are saying has echos of the comics are not worthy reading arguments of earlier decades…

Further on in the video, one educationalist emphatically states that we need to have a big discussion about the future of education. I bet that his statement implies that only big people, ie teachers, elders and betters, would be part of that discussion. In education:

discussion+new fangled ideas=inertia! (And by that I mean inertia factorial)

We do not have time to discuss we need to act. Our students are not waiting for us to catch up, they are forging ahead in spite of us. If we have to discuss, then our discussions must include our students. Once we ask them what makes them tick? What do they want to see in their school day? We will have opened up the door to genuine inquiry learning.

In my current school a year 2 teacher has taken a look at her writing programme and has adapted it. She now uses a blog for the students to use as their free writing books. This has proved to be a mini revolution in her class. She has not abandoned any “sacred educational cows” she is merely doing the same but different. The difference is that she is laying foundations for future teachers to use web technologies in their programmes and make learning in their classes more relevant. So what has the revolution been? At its most basic, the students are writing for an audience, their parents. The parents can see what their child has written today and can give feed back via the comments and they do! The writing has relevance to the children, because they have an audience beyond the class, the programme has its own inbuilt perpetual motion. In the future the students will then copy and paste their initial posts and edit them, so that the teacher has evidence of progression. It is all the same stuff, just done differently. It is a simple idea that has far reaching consequences. The good news is that we can all do it.

I hope that this video makes you think about what you can do to change, to adapt, and to adopt new technologies in a meaningful way in your class.