Category Archives: creativity

Are we Copyright Cops?

I saw this film on Tom Barrett’s blog post. It’s a powerful film about young people’s behaviour on the web and the extreme reaction of the law as they succumb to ‘stealing’ that which is to easy to take.

[vimeo http://vimeo.com/23641818]

Not so long ago information wasn’t as accessible and tantalising as it is now. You only had one identity (unless you were a celebrity). Now people, predominantly young people, enjoy and possibly cultivate an online identity which may or may not be identical to their face-to-face identity. They enjoy audience most of the time through mobile technologies. Even when their blog posts claim that they are alone in their despair and will not be heard by anyone, they are generally enjoying the thought of being ‘read’ by their ‘friends’.

It’s an exciting time with the possibility of connecting with so many instantly, the possibility of finding so much information, viewing and copying so many images, so much music. It can be a confusing time, not knowing if something is true (as sometimes occurs with news on Twitter) or if it has been played with.

As educators we should try to understand the online existence from the inside, and from that perspective proceed with instruction and guidance so that young people approach that part of their life as wisely as we would hope they approach any part of their life. We should not overdramatise, not use fear-mongering, not pull them back. There is so much to be enjoyed, so much creativity possible. This needs to be tempered by an informed knowledge of how to use and share information, images and music responsibly and legally. So much is shared through Creative Commons, and it is a very good idea to attribute everything; it’s just manners.

I like the fact that this film is open source, and that it encourages people to remix and take a personal spin on what’s available.

It’s an exciting time. Let’s be open to it, be informed and respectful of each other. As educators let’s support young people in a world that doesn’t stand still, let’s not police them inappropriately.

Music apps on the iPad – demonstration overview

Today I met with colleague Stuart Collidge and filmed him talking about the educational applications of iPad music apps. Stuart gives an overview of what the iPad apps offer, particularly in terms of enhancement and creativity. There is an interest in what the iPad offers beyond what is already possible with other devices, and I think you’ll find Stuart’s demonstration enlightening if you teach music. Thankyou, Stuart, and I hope to be able to use your expertise to create further videos which focus more deeply on particular apps. Stuart did a great job talking off the top of his head so I’m looking forward to what he can show us with preparation.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ypq9UcCRJKA]

iPads in – score!

In my new role as coordinator of learning enhancement, I’ve been thinking about providing enhancement on several levels, and focusing on these in particular –

  • the provision of resources to help teachers provide opportunities for learning enhancement in their classes
  • the education of teachers to change their practice so that they realise the powerful potential of a personal learning network (PLN)
  • creating opportunities for passion-driven projects within the school

There have been a couple of major shifts already which I’m really pleased about. The first is the shift in ownership of my blog, Fiction is a box of chocolates. This year I have offered students who love writing to become co-authors of the blog. For me, this means stepping back to support these students from the back row, allowing them to drive and initiate the direction of the blog (which will have to be renamed as it increases its scope).

The second shift involves a move to introduce iPads into the classroom as tools for those who fall into the category of ‘learning enhancement students’. Now, don’t get excited. We’ve only agreed on purchasing a couple of iPads for the music faculty, but to me this a big win. I was pleasantly surprised that a meeting with those who call the shots with regard to technology in the classroom agreed to trial the iPads. The fact that one of our music teachers (Stuart Collidge) was completely on the ball with the potential of iPad technology made all the difference. Even in his initial thinking in an early email, it was clear that the iPads would definitely be an enhancement and not just extra technology:

As a conductor, I would have all my scores in it and work with it on the podium.  As a brass teacher, I would have all of my performance repertoire that I would use with students in the studio.  As an audio tech I have a bunch of apps that give me info about the room, acoustics, sound levels, remote controls for lighting and audio equipment.  The most use seems to be the iPad as an instrument.  The best uses are synthesisers and then using them to teach boys about synthesising sounds.  As they are so visually based and easy to manipulate, it would be a good way of involving students.  Some of the performance instruments invoke compositional ideas in different ways, and there are possibly ways of having individuals use them for performance projects.  Certainly some of the VET Tech Production students should be putting their hands on these and seeing how they can drive sounds, automate performance, run backing tracks, manipulate sound for performances. I guess my perspective is that for $1000 plus cost of apps, I can own 8 or 10 instruments that would be worth a grand each to buy.

I hope that if we start small but think deeply about the creative potential of the iPads, we can inspire teachers from other faculties. Meanwhile I will start purchasing and playing with apps from other areas of the curriculum – so far I’ve focused on music and art.

Listening to Ewan McIntosh’s interview with Gever Tulley confirms for me that the introduction of iPad technology is not gimmicky and that, as educators, we should get our hands on an iPad and play with it in order to understand its potential in class,and also put it into the hands of our students.

“Gever feels that we’re finally seeing the integration of technology to the learning fabric of the school. The best programmes seem to be those where there’s a hands-off approach, where students are trusted to bring in and use their own devices and ideas. The iPad has become the companion of choice for youngsters on their learning journeys in this corner of California, where ad hoc, on demand research enrichens the experience and conversation that Gever and his collaborators have with the learners.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dmm35OjxUFQ&feature=player_embedded]

In effecting change at my own school, two main obstacles come to mind:

  • the discouragement of the use of students’ mobile technologies which would enhance their participation in and driving of their learning
  • the need for teachers to book the internet for each class if they intend to use it

Cost has been quoted as  the main reason for the internet connection restrictions. I can’t argue against this, but my problem with this setup is that teachers will book the internet primarily when students are doing a project. This divides learning into two  – no internet access while teachers ‘teach’ and students listen passively, and internet only when the teacher steps back so that students can get the work done.

I would like to see students actively using the internet to clarify and research information while the teacher is teaching. We really  need to give students the opportunity to think actively and drive their learning during class. I still see too much passivity in the classroom.

Focus on national tests robs children of true learning

Richard Gill says it well and with the passion of a man for whom educational change is not just a pedagogical exercise. My younger son, a VCASS music student, has had the absolute pleasure and privilege of working with Richard on a performance of Dido and Aeneas, as well as during recent MYM Summer School.  Richard’s love of music and dedication to excellence in music education was obvious – my son would come home glowing, impassioned and totally connected to the the process of learning within the musical work. He was reflective, evaluative and lucid in ways I hadn’t observed before.

Before the MYM concert – presented as a transparent workshop – Richard Gill spoke passionately about the importance of music education, and the need for people to speak up collectively so that excellence in Arts teaching would not be compromised in Australia. In the following article, his message is loud and clear – the obsession and complete focus on our current testing in schools is robbing our young people of true learning – learning which develops and nurtures creativity, originality and imaginative thinking. I absolutely agree.

Read the article and judge for yourselves.

Wake up, Australia, or we’ll have a nation of unimaginative robots.

School is back and it is a matter of regrettable fact that large numbers of children in state and independent schools will be subjected to a style of teaching directed exclusively to producing satisfactory results in national literacy and numeracy tests and consequently scoring high ratings with My School.

I want to make my stance very clear from the outset: NAPLAN tests and My School have nothing to do with the education of a child. This abhorrent and insidious method of assessing children, teachers and their schools needs to stop now. Principals, teachers and parents need to stand up and be counted and resist this unnatural activity, which only succeeds in turning education into some sort of cheap competition in which the last consideration seems to be the mind of the child.

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Screaming the words literacy and numeracy from Canberra does not constitute having an educational policy. In fact, the race to become the most literate and numerate schools with the best rankings nationally is exacting a terrible price.

Evidence is now available that schools all over the country are cutting back on arts education to devote more time to subjects that will make children literate. It can be demonstrably proven that activities used in teaching for the national tests destroy individuality, stifle creativity, stultify thought and make all children respond in the same way – a sort of educational circus in which the children are the trained animals and the teachers the poorly paid ringmasters.

The very things that promote literacy and numeracy are the arts, beginning with serious arts education in the early years. If we want a creative nation, an imaginative nation, a thinking nation and a nation of individuals, then we must increase the time for arts education, especially music education. If we want a nation of non-imaginative robots who can do tests, then we are well on the way to achieving that condition.

Parents need to know that it is through participation in arts subjects that the mind, imagination, spirit and soul of a child are stimulated. Through this stimulation comes a bonus in all other areas of learning.

Music, for example, when it is properly taught, requires an extraordinarily high level of listening and concentration from the student. It requires the student to have a capacity to work in the abstract, an ability to work across several skill areas simultaneously and the ability to rationalise this verbally.

Children’s involvement in musical activity has a profound effect on the development of the child’s general learning. It is now proven beyond doubt that children who are engaged in arts activities, especially music, have advantages in all areas of learning. The research is in, proven and beyond doubt. Why, then, with the evidence so overwhelmingly supporting children’s involvement in arts education, would schools decide to reduce teaching time in these important fields?

In supporting statements of this nature, let’s examine one school in Victoria, the Victorian College of the Arts Secondary School, where senior students spend half a week on the academic curriculum and half a week on their chosen arts discipline. Each year the students from this school seem to do extraordinarily well at the year 12 examinations in spite of only spending half the time on academic work.

How can this be? My view is that they are highly motivated children who have, early in their lives, encountered enlightened parenting and teaching and are motivated to work hard in all disciplines in an environment that promotes creativity, imaginative thinking and individuality. In short, most of them have had early, prior opportunities.

All children in Finland, Norway, Sweden and Denmark seem to have such opportunities; why can’t all Australian children? By ignoring arts education we say to our children: ”You are too stupid to have good education in the arts – your brains will never cope with intense learning in music, for example, so we will only do the bare minimum with you in any arts education and really concentrate on getting you through your NAPLAN tests.”

Wake up, Australia, before it’s too late. Teachers, parents and children need to let governments know that we are heading into a cultural and educational crisis unless we address these issues now.

Richard Gill is the music director of Victorian Opera.

Article in The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald Wednesday 9 February 2011.

Flashmob Moscow style

You’ve all seen the flashmob events made famous by Improv Everywhere, for example, Grand Central Station in New York. Here is a group doing the same thing  in a Moscow shopping mall singing a popular Christmas carol. The singers are from an Orthodox boarding school and include clergy (obviously the bearded ones).

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JPlZTqc5z7o]

A bit late for Christmas, I know, but just came across it.

Holiday bloggy sluggishness. But wait! something… mathematical?

Apologies for my rare postings of late  to those who still take an occasional peek into this blog  – although I doubt the existence of these people very much because there has been an unmistakable lapse in eventful posting. This is due mainly to school holidays and family things, not all pleasant. Nevertheless, here I am, and even if nobody is here to witness my thoughts falling into this post, I will proceed undeterred because I haven’t got anything better to do. OR, I actually have something interesting to share with you.

Today a Facebook link shared by my dear online friend and PLP colleague, Hiram Cuevas (@cuevash on Twitter), gave me the pleasure of discovering a rare talent, Vi Hart, who is obviously a very gifted young lady. Vi is as passionate about maths as she is about music, art and other things.  Her website made my jaw drop. Often I’m astounded by how much of value very young people have achieved in their short lives; how much more do they have to offer.

Here’s the first video that caught my attention. Let me know what you think.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CfJzrmS9UfY]

I love the doodling videos; here’s another one

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=heKK95DAKms&feature=player_embedded]

What did you think?

I haven’t explored everything in Vi’s site but the music boxes are fascinating.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3iMI_uOM_fY]

The balloon page looks challenging. Not sure if the average party clown would be game for these.

A little about Vi from her own website:

I like most creative activities that involve making a lot of noise, mess, or both. Aside from composing, I love improvising on various instruments, drawing, sculpting, and other methods of making things. My main hobby is mathematics, with special interests in symmetry, polyhedra, and surreal complexity. This usually manifests as collaborative research in computational geometry and other areas of theoretical computer science, or as mathematical art. I think the human brain is incredible and strange, so I have developed a great interest in dreaming and consciousness. As a result, I am a trained hypnotist and a lucid dreamer. The human body is pretty neat as well, so I enjoy dancing and judo. I always love to learn new things—variety is the food of creativity!

It would be interesting to trace Vi’s learning history to peek at the environment which supports such an intelligent, creative and unique person. I will be taking on a new role at school next year, Coordinator of Learning Enhancement, and I’m mentally hovering over different mental images of how best to support and inspire those responding to learning enhancement opportunities. All suggestions and ideas are very welcome.

When are students leaders and experts? Listen2Learners @ State Library of Victoria

When are students leaders and experts?

When we hand over the stage to them to play in.

When we give them more to do than listen to us.

When we trust them to be responsible and capable.

Yesterday I saw evidence of this at The State Library of Victoria’s Listen2Learners. Thirteen school teams, some collaborative, presented their learning to adults. They were articulate, intelligent, knowledgeable and impressive. The buzz in the room was palpable.

Young people may be learners today, but tomorrow they are employees, employers, citizens, CEOs and community leaders so decision makers in government, business, industry and the social arena are taking notice of how young people learn with technology.

What young people think and have to say is helping to shape decisions and inform policies.

I was impressed and excited by the showcase of what kids – many of them primary – can do given meaningful, collaborative, real-life projects and connected through technologies to learn from and with real people. My excitement was tempered by the thought of them entering secondary school, the fear that this freedom to learn would be taken away from them due to a fear of technology and the restrictive nature of a score-centred curriculum.

The groups showcased a variety of focus, approach and location. Sacred Heart School, Tasmania collaborated with Pularumpi School, Northern Territory. A student from the Tasmanian school said that the best part of the project was meeting the other students, learning about how different people and places can be in your own country. They worked in Google docs, online social networks, and used Skype to communicate and collaborate.

Students from Prospect Primary School, South Australia, became teachers when they reversed roles to show more than 70 teachers and school leaders how to produce a movie.

Their work had all the hallmarks of good teaching and learning; planning and storyboarding, brainstorming an authentic enquiry question, setting assessment criteria, modelling and coaching.

Students ran an online radio station, they demonstrated how rural schools connect for the best science education, created video games, prepared a cybersafety program for incoming primary students for orientation day, created applications to help users develop numeracy skills, used technology to learn instruments and play in online bands, designed a Multi-user Virtual Environment (MUVE), connected with students from around the world in virtual classrooms, and more.

It was extraordinary to see what these young students were capable of doing, and inspiring to witness their passion, engagement and enjoyment.

These kids really knew what they were talking about. They had to ask the hard questions throughout the process, and in many cases they had to provide written applications for a place on the team. They knew what they were talking about because they worked through the process and were engaged, not because they had listened to what they teacher had told them or studied a text. When I listened to these kids it was obvious that they had worked through the what/how/why and understood the thinking around and inside their project and process.

This was by far the most inspiring learning opportunity for me this year. And, to boot, I got the opportunity to chat with Stephen Heppell.

Read about the schools taking part in this event.

 

Rest, recharge, and ready for another term!

National Gallery of Victoria (Städel exhibition)

I don’t know how non-teachers survive with so few holidays.  I’m not feeling guilty about teaching holidays though because that’s what I do, and I work hard, so if you’re not a teacher and feeling resentful, why don’t you do a teaching degree?

Seriously.

Teaching is one of the most satisfying careers. Yes, it can be frustrating, infuriating, depressing, tiring, all-consuming – but it’s definitely a privilege to have a hand in shaping young minds, the shapers of our future.

For me, working with people who love shaping those young minds is more than satisfying. Some of these educators are at my school, and many are elsewhere, and I’m grateful to them wherever they are.

Photo courtesy of Jane Hewitt on Flickr (Great quotes about learning and change)

I’ve really enjoyed these two weeks of holiday, and  balanced a nice mix of everything I need to recharge – enjoying the company of good friends, catching up with news and exchanging stories and ideas; going out into various parts of Melbourne in the winter (Melbourne has its own Winter style which I really like); appointments(!); domestic chores (not fun, but inevitable); reading and thinking, reflection and re-evaluating, shifting perspective, gathering strength and resolve, making plans for the new term ….

Amazing that I managed to pack in so much in the two weeks, including (possibly too many) musical concerts, for example, the Goodbye Hamer Hall concert in which my younger son played in the Melbourne Youth Music orchestra, the Tim Burton exhibition at ACMI, and I also went to see the European Masters from the Städel Museum in Frankfurt. AND I still had a lot of me-alone-time.

I finished reading Will Grayson, Will Grayson – a young adult novel written by John Green and David Levithan about two separate Will Graysons whose chance meeting changes their lives – and I’ve also started Seth Godin’s Linchpin (incidentally, Seth has just shared a free e-book) and Ali Shaw’s The girl with glass feet. I hope the reading doesn’t stop but somehow school projects always spill into the evenings and reading only begins just before my eyelids glue themselves shut.

The Tim Burton exhibition made me want to drag all the students out so they could be inspired by Tim’s prolific and imaginative illustrations. I could see so much potential for students writing, drawing, animation, sculpture, photostory, film-making – so many possibilities. I think the exhibition inspires because it shows early work back as far as school, and makes you want to have a go at all that zany creativity yourself.

So, what is my direction for third term? Well, apart from existing partnerships with classes, I want to trial more of my Writing Prompts. I want to give Howard Rheingold’s expert crap detection program a go, as well as teach some serious critical thinking.

Apart from stuffing my literature blog with new reviews by different members of my community, I’d like to take some of the ideas from Joyce Valenza’s Reading Wiki and run with them. There’s so much in this reading wiki too, and this one is bursting at the seams with resources for teacher librarians.

Plenty to do, and I’m even starting to get a little excited. I hope that you all have a great term, and for those of you in the middle of things, be inspired and re-inspired!

Collaborate with an artist to write an online story – Storybird

This has been cross-posted from Storyteller.

Thanks to Judith @brightideasblog for the Storybird tip.

Storybird is a very easy way of creating an e-story using picture sets shared by various artists. It’s easy and it’s cool.

This would be an enjoyable writing exercise in the English, LOTE or ESL classroom.

Once you have an account, you can browse existing stories or just click createand write your own.

I whipped one up in a matter of minutes (so it’s not great) but it looks good! You can read my story here. Once you choose an artist, you just drag the pictures you like onto your page, then keep creating (or deleting) pages until you’ve finished.

You can write your own story or collaborate with a friend.

If you scroll down this page, you can search images by theme.

I like the way you can use somebody’s shared art. The artist I chose is Dwell Deep (Sam) and you can read a little about her here. She has a website and a blog. It’s a good feeling to have created a story in collaboration with an artist.

Flattening the world with Flickr in the classroom

Photo courtesy of matthewpAU on Flickr

In his book, The World is Flat, Thomas Friedman says that there are certain ‘flatteners’ that promote and allow for connection, collaboration and creation via distance.  He was referring to technological applications which shrink geographical barriers and make global connections possible. This is my aim for a special project at my own school – a project which would enhance teaching and learning through ‘connection, collaboration and creation’, taking the students out of the classroom and into the world.

In 2009 I decided to take up a Flickr challenge to upload a photo every day for a year and post it to appropriate flickr groups. As a result I connected with others through interest and dialogue, and three of us –  Marie Coleman, Sinikka Laakio-Whybrow and I –  agreed that a similar project  would be an enriching experience for students. I was lucky to find a teacher who was interested in the project and who has supported it wholeheartedly.

Sinikka reflected:

‘I would really like to challenge my students to bring out their real personalities in the foreign language. I have learned over the years that Finns especially seem to suffer greatly from a sort of ‘personality reduction syndrome’ when using a foreign language. I blame our text books and language classes for this, since students hardly ever get the chance to express THEMSELVES in the target language, but are always asked to talk about external topics, or role play. Their use of the language is also far too fact-based – emotions and feelings are hardly ever touched upon’.

I think Sinikka hit the nail on the head by underlining the importance of students expressing themselves, instead of practising their writing skills using isolated topics and writing mainly for the teacher.

The learning is happening for us as teachers too. In the planning stages, we collaborated in a Google document, using Google spreadsheets and slideshow (thanks Marie!) to brainstorm and formulate our project. The geographical time differences weren’t a problem at all, and occasionally Sinikka would catch me in Google chat before going to bed if I was online early enough in the morning.

The final product is an 8 week project with a weekly assignment based on a photo and written description following a theme. The first assignment is to take a photo which ‘is not you, but represents you as a person’ – so, an introduction to initiate the sharing of personal information and interests. Although almost every student included sport and music in their introduction, there were diverse details which created interest in the group. The cultural differences were obvious conversation starters, and the similarities brought the students together through shared interests. I know that our boys, being in a single sex school, were interested in the opportunity to connect with the girls!

Photo courtesy of MorganT7.USA on Flickr

The project is quite  simple but with very rich results. The weekly themes set  diverse tasks. Some themes ask for the sharing of personal, cultural or geographic information, some encourage photographic creativity (‘Take a photo: of something you go past every day and take it from an interesting new perspective”), while others require deeper thinking and creative solutions (‘Take a photo that goes with the title or lyrics of a song’ or ‘Take a photo that somehow represents learning to you’).

We have used Flickr as a platform for this project. Flickr provides an easy way to upload photos, an automatic photostream for each student, and a profile for identification. Our group, Through global lenses, is a one-stop shop for the whole operation. It holds all the members from the three schools, allows for instructions and program, as well as storing all essential information such as netiquette, creative commons, commenting guidelines, etc. It even has email.

Challenges

Following  a weekly theme and guiding questions, students’ task is twofold. Firstly, to take their own photo – this requires thinking and reflection, creativity, individuality, and it is hoped that, as students become accustomed to the challenge, they will become more creative and try different things. Secondly, to write something which responds to the theme, answers prompt questions, and informs and entices readers.

When students view each other’s contributions, this sparks curiosity, natural questioning, and ensuing dialogue. It also brings out  a desire to do as well or to do something different. Students are not writing for the teacher, but for a peer audience, sharing generational views and tastes, and learning about cultural differences.

It really is one big conversation, with everyone getting a go, and nobody feeling they can’t get a word in. Several people can engage in dialogue under the same photo. Conversation arises from shared interests and curiosity about cultural differences. Students encourage each other and develop trust and respect for each other. The result is writing from desire instead of duty.

Differences in language are often the subject of conversation. Students ask and explain linguistic and semantic differences, for example, the first week’s photo has resulted in a discussion of the differences between American and Australian football.

Challenges for us include encouraging students to move away from ‘chat language’ and to write correctly and fluently. Despite our instructions, I’ve noticed in the early stages students reverting to their preferred chat in the comments.

Practicalities

It’s easy to keep up with who is commenting on your photo, or further conversation in photos you’ve commented on, when you visit the homepage for the group. Another useful feature is the availability of editing comments or writing. Teachers can ask students to improve or correct their writing at any time.

Reading through comments in the early stages, I can already see the conversations developing as more people enter the conversation, as questions are answered and elaborated on, and the desire to develop the dialogue becomes self motivating. This is very different to writing for your teacher which is a static exercise. Here the writing is interactive and can continue at any time.

I’ve noticed that our boys seem different in their writing and comments to the way they present themselves at school. In the comments they seem unafraid to say that something is beautiful, comment on cute dogs, and be generally more open. I guess that’s what comes with writing to a peer audience. That and writing to connect with kids like them from distant places. For these reasons I’m excited about this project which, even in its initial stages, has sparked authentic and engaged conversation, and which will no doubt develop for each student  his/her voice through images and words.

Photo courtesy of BasseFI‘s photostream on Flickr