Category Archives: Education

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.

 

Are schooling and learning synonymous?

I’m adding a post about a post added by Will Richardson who added a post after he read a tweet by Alec Couros.

Yeah.

Will starts out like this:

Yesterday, Alec Couros went “Back to School” to “Meet the Teacher” of his first grade daughter. Here is what he saw:

Photo by Alec Couros (from Weblogg-ed)

Both Will and Alec have children in school or about to start and feel pretty much the same way about schools which seem so traditional that they have been left behind in the Industrial Age (my interpretation).

Will’s post nails the problem for some parents (are most of these teachers themselves?) when school isn’t the ideal place to educate their kids. What do you do then?

Will has captured the Twitter responses to Alec’s initial tweets and they are definitely an interesting read.

I agree with you, Will – this tweet expresses my own view of my sons’ schooling:

“We’ve always considered public school ed our kids receive as supplemental to the ed we provide at home so we don’t go crazy about it.”

I’m writing from the perspective of a parent who has been though a few hells and come back to review school education many times. My boys are now in second year uni and year 10. I’ve never expected school to be responsible for all the learning or to contain the most important learning for my boys. Or did I understand that gradually? Did I expect more and come to accept less? Yes, I think so.

I am not about to criticise all schools, all teachers. I’m a teacher and far from perfect. I would not like to be a principal. So when I say that schools have been less than what they could have been, I just think that the talent and dedication which many educators display every day could be better directed with an informed view of the kind of learning which truly prepares our kids for living and working in their world. We are not preparing our kids adequately for their future because we are not projecting our goals into their future – we are clinging to our old perception of what we need to teach them.

A few things that spring to mind throughout the years my boys were at school:

  • My older (tested as highly gifted at the age of 5 – not because I wanted to bask in this, but because I wanted to cater for his needs and understand him) came into mainstream Grade 2 from Montessori. When he was given a list of spelling words to learn which he’d known since the age of 3, and I discussed this with his teacher, his teacher said, ‘We can’t have Sasha doing his own work and the rest of the class doing their work…’  My question at the time: Why not? which I didn’t voice because I still respected that the teacher knew best and the parent should comply.
  • When I asked subsequent teachers for support in keeping my son interested at school, they either

1) gave him extra work which he didn’t want to do, and then told me he wasn’t cooperating

2) devoted all further discussions to pointing out that he wasn’t like other children, and that he should concentrate on fitting in

3) placed all importance on social skills (his apparent failure to be like everyone else) and ignored the academic aspect. (Let me say that pointing out to a child that he is different and that this difference is somehow a handicap, is not going to help his social skills. Telling him to dumb down, as the school psychologist did, is also not going to help)

I just want to say that I also have many excellent memories balancing out these not so positive ones, and these centre on wonderful teachers. I’m not painting an entirely black picture but still, if I had to estimate how much of school I thought was truly valuable, I would have to say that there is so much I would have done without, so much I would have done differently, so much wasted time. But it’s worse than wasted time, it’s the turning away from a natural love of learning. Sometimes I think that my children, my students, are successful despite their schooling, not because of it.

My younger son absolutely lives for music and wants to be a comp0ser. He is happy this year in his new school, The Victorian College of the Arts Secondary School, in year 10, where he follows the same academic curriculum as in other schools but also benefits from expert tuition and performance experience in music.

How do I remember most of his schooling before this? Apart from his two final years in primary school when he had fantastic teachers who did wonders for his love of learning and self esteem, the first 3 years of secondary school were times where he had to put away his burning desire to compose and play music because he spent almost every waking moment completing homework tasks. Granted, some students would have either done the same more quickly or not been as conscientious, but the hardest part was seeing him develop an aversion to learning and a low opinion of himself as a learner. That’s difficult for a parent.

In retrospect, I would perhaps do some things differently. I like the way Will and his wife communicate with the teachers:

We write an e-mail (or a letter) to each teacher introducing our kids and ourselves, letting them know what our hopes are, what we’d love to see our kids doing, and what we’ll do to support the classroom. We also introduce ourselves, and talk a little bit about what our worldview of education looks like. Finally, we offer to continue that conversation and help make it a reality in the classroom in whatever way we can. And we cc the principal and headmaster (since Tess is in private school.)

I think you have to work hard to develop a positive relationship with teachers and principals. I gave up too easily in situations when a teacher responded in a defensive manner, particularly when it meant resenting my child. In this case I withdrew, fearing the repercussions for my child, but now I might hold my ground a little longer and try not to take the whole thing personally. The parent/teacher relationship can be delicate.

Certainly I have always taken a very active role in my children’s education, and I’m not referring to basic literacy and numeracy skills, but to opening up their minds to bigger picture questions, providing them with resources and activities within their interest areas.

I wonder how differently teachers would teach without the sometimes crippling restrictions of curriculum, if there was time to discuss what they thought was most important and without the looming university entrance scores.

Despite all this, I think that, if I had the chance to do this again, I would still not choose homeschooling – which is not to say that I think it doesn’t work. My husband and I always felt that being part of a school community was important for our sons, and finding your place was also important.

Katie Hellerman was also inspired to write a post after reading Will Richardson’s, and it’s a good read.

I would love to hear from you about the topic of schooling and learning. Do you think schooling prepares young people adequately, well? If not, how would you reconfigure schooling?

Is depth an obsession? And is obsession sometimes what you need?

Is depth an obsession?

And is obsession sometimes what you need?

Obsession can lead to deep understanding, rich skills, the ability to write the truth or create beauty, as in the meticulous illustrations of Shaun Tan.

My son, Maxim, is obsessed with music and composition. You can listen to one of his recent compositions here.

Lately I’ve been obsessed with the richness of image archives online. I could spend the rest of my life searching and saving the image sites shared on the blog BibliOdyssey.

Some of the amazing resources I’ve been discovering just this morning are:

Graphics Atlas

Beinecke Library’s photo sets on Flickr

Digital resources from the Knitting Reference Library WSA (how’s that for esoteric)

(even more esoteric) The Renaissance Curioso

Pratt Libraries Ex Libris collection on Flickr

Sometimes you have to go deep to get somewhere.  My concern is that we don’t allow for this at school. We’re hellbent on cramming the content and discrete skills in our curriculum into our students.

Teachers are often distracted by what they see as duty to cover criteria. Distracted from what, you ask? From what they might do if they had the time to think about it, if they functioned in an environment that encouraged and valued thoughtful experimentation.

But an internal voice urges us: Move on, move on…

There seems to be little or no time for our students to go deeper, no time to evaluate – let’s look at what we’ve done, could we have done it differently? No time to reflect: how do I feel about this? Does this affect me? and how? No time to celebrate – lets’ showcase what we have learned/created.

And what about us, teachers? Do we have the time to think about these things?

It’s different for me as teacher librarian (but then again it’s different for every teacher librarian). My focus isn’t marking, my driving force isn’t keeping up with the onslaught of face to face teaching.  I have time to learn, to absorb. Resourcing others’ curriculum allows me to browse, soak up what I find online. Focusing on information fluency encourages me to think about how different people learn.

When we want to reassure ourselves about the future of a young person, as educators, we say that he will be fine as long as he has one passion, something to feel empassioned by, to follow through. But do we create the environment which allows our students to find their passion? And do we provide the time to pursue this passion?

I’m afraid that we distract students by pushing them through a schedule we ourselves are not empassioned by. Are we, as educators, empassioned by what we teach? Or are we trying our hardest to cover material, texts, skill sets?

I may be speaking out of turn here, so please speak up if I am.

I think  teachers and students are in a difficult place.

Don’t you think we need a new reason to teach, a new model for schooling?

How is Google indebted to Maria Montessori

I take this passage by Maria Montessori from a blog post in Space Collective:

“Scientific observation has established that education is not what the teacher gives; education is a natural process spontaneously carried out by the human individual, and is acquired not by listening to words but by experiences upon the environment. The task of the teacher becomes that of preparing a series of motives of cultural activity, spread over a specially prepared environment, and then refraining from obtrusive interference.

Human teachers can only help the great work that is being done, as servants help the master. Doing so, they will be witnesses to the unfolding of the human soul and to the rising of a New Man who will not be a victim of events, but will have the clarity of vision to direct and shape the future of human society”.

I was drawn to Maria Montessori’s understanding of the natural learning inherent in all of us from my first readings, so much so that my two sons spent their formative years in a Montessori preschool and early primary school.  For unavoidable reasons, they returned to mainstream education, but I come back to Montessori philosophy of education again and again, still trusting in its founder’s views.

The author of the article cited above has made an interesting and I think, significant, discovery:

…it came to my attention that at least three pillars of the current internet were informed by a century-old educational system conceived by Maria Montessori … both Larry Page and Sergei Brin attributed Google’s success story to Maria Montessori. According to them their Montessori education taught them to be self directed and self starters, adding that their schooling taught them to think for themselves, giving them the freedom to pursue their own path, which would lead to the snowballing success of Google, which aims to provide the world with near universal access to all information known to man.

A similar background informed the career of Jeff Bezos who created the groundbreaking online retail organization Amazon.com, and another online celebrity on the list is no less than Jimmy Wales, whose Wikipedia has become the online fount of encyclopedic knowledge. Interactive game designer Will Wright also mentions Maria Montessori as his main inspiration for his seminal hit The Sims, while crediting like-minded Dutch educator Kees Boeke for the Powers of Ten metaphor that helped him create his new game Spore.

Photo courtesy of cogdogblog on Flickr

I think that’s very impressive. How can we help our students to be self-directed and self-starters? Are we helping our students to think for themselves, to direct their own path?

Don’t forget TED for teaching

Engagement in the middle years of school may well be an oxymoron.

This was recently confirmed for me when starting off a year 9 class of boys in their research for an effective speaking competition. We gave them a brief: talk about an event which has had a significant impact on society or has stood out in history.

Hmmm….  reading long chunks of text wasn’t something they were going to do willingly, especially during the last period of the day. What about videos? Yes, miraculously focus was rediscovered, and the boys managed to maintain their concentration for almost an hour as they browsed the list of videos I’d prepared.

Fact known by all: young people respond well to information presented in video format.

That’s why TED is such a great teaching tool. I forget about it sometimes, but really, there’s so much information to spark thinking, discussion and debate.

Today the TED blog recommended the childish thinking playlist.

Today’s playlist is about kids and their brains, which hold the dreams and possibilities of our future. How can we teach them … and how can we learn from them?

TED recommends, amongst other videos,  Adora Svitak, who makes the case that grownups have lots to learn from “childish” thinking — creativity, audacity, open-mindedness.

[ted id=815]

Here’s another one:

Who are the leaders of tomorrow? Joachim de Posada shows how to find them — with a marshmallow

[ted id=553]

Dave Eggers thinks like a child to create a massively popular after-school tutoring club — starring pirates, superheroes, time travel …

[ted id=233]

Then you’re invited to share your favorite stories about kids in the TEDTalks archive –

Add your suggestions for this playlist to the comments below, or email contact@ted.com with the subject PLAYLIST: KIDS. (Jog your memory with the TEDTalks spreadsheet.)

A brilliant way to share best TED content within a theme.

The spreadsheet is seriously informative, and lists the name of the TED talk, the speaker, a short summary, duration of video and publishing date. Very nice. I really like seeing, at a glance, the shorter videos because they are often just what I’m looking for to show students.

I found Sirena Huang, an 11 year old prodigy on violin, playing beautifully and talking about her instrument.

[ted id=45]

TED’s format is satisfying, providing biography and links, as well as transcript. Excellent for teaching purposes. It also provides relevant websites, you can bookmark the speaker on the site if you like, and you also get a list of related speakers and themes.

I think I should plan to use TED in teaching regularly.

Has anyone used TED talks in teaching? Would you like to share your experiences?

Is our own education system like Hogwarts?

Is it just me or is this scene reminiscent of our own education systems?

From now on you’ll be following a carefully structured, ministry approved course.

I can’t imagine why you’d need to use spells in my classroom; you’ll be learning in a secure, risk-free environment.

What use is that when we’re going to be attacked? It won’t be risk free.

It is the view of The Ministry that a theoretical knowledge will be sufficient to get you through your examinations which, after all, is what school is all about.

And how is theory supposed to prepare us for what’s out there?

There is nothing out there!

See the parallels with our own school system, specifically with regard to preparing our students for the digital age?

Who’s still saying

There’s nothing out there?

Whose job is it to teach responsible online behaviour?

Everybody’s talking about it: online behaviour.

We’ve come around, finally and reluctantly, on the whole, to accepting that social media is part of our world, young people as well as adult. Even television shows and radio stations are tweeting and blogging – how more mainstream can you get?

On the negative side, we also hear about  bad behaviour online, and the confusion arising from changes to privacy, particularly on Facebook. Many people have spoken out about what needs to be happening in schools, including Jenny Luca and Will Richardson. There are many passionate responses to Facebook’s handling of privacy on the web.

Some people are leaving Facebook.

Some people are staying.

It’s interesting that morning programs on television are often featuring conversations about social media, Twitter and Facebook in particular. This morning Channel 7’s morning program featured a spokeswoman talking about Facebook privacy and the inappropriate content that was being shared outside the users’ immediate circle of Facebook friends. I was surprised that the tone was reasonable, and many interesting points were raised, for example, the question as to why people post strong and even abusive comments to people on Twitter when they wouldn’t behave that way if they met these people face to face.

That’s the difference – face to face interaction compared to faceless interaction. Facebook, ironically, is faceless. When we get involved in a passionate discussion we may be talking to friends of friends who are faceless to us. We don’t expect to meet them, and we don’t exercise the same caution that we would if we knew we’d be seeing them in person. It’s the same with road rage.

For me, that’s the message we need to get out to students. Don’t get me wrong – I’m an advocate of the connective power of social media, but I think that students should be reminded that while they are chatting with ‘friends’ in the privacy of their bedrooms, their conversations are very public.

Facebook is very easy to use. It’s easy to add friends, photos, applications, become fans and group members. But it isn’t easy to wade through the new privacy regulations. Even with a manual it confuses me. And it’s not something young people (or anyone) are likely to do any more than they would happily peruse a legal document. Changes occur without enough notice, it’s easy to let it all go and hope for the best.

The Australian government’s cybersafety program directed by The Australian Communications and Media Authority has published units of work designed to teach responsible online behaviour.

But who is responsible for teaching this? Will it be taught by the few educators who have independently decided it’s important, or across the school following a directive from principals?

I worry that while primary schools may consider this an essential part of the curriculum, just as they educate children about bullying, drug-taking, etc., secondary schools may be confused as to whose role this is.  It may not fit into an already overcrowded curriculum. It may be perceived that secondary students are old enough to be responsible or that what they do in their private time is no concern of the school.

I would like to run parent sessions on Facebook, but it’s blocked for staff and students in our school. The leaders of our school have made this decision in the best interests of our students. Fair enough, but have they thought the issue through? Blocking Facebook at school prevents education. It indicates serious handwashing.

Parents are talking about feeling helpless and ignorant when it comes to their children’s online activities. We could say that they should monitor their children’s Facebook activity, but until what age? Try monitoring a 16 year old and see what happens.

Parents should be educated but then so should school leaders and teachers. The only way to understand something is to get into it and see how it works. It’s not a matter of saying ‘it’s not for me’; we can’t afford to say that anymore. We can’t keep blaming parents, schools, the government.

I remember a primary school principal once saying that what the students did out of school wasn’t his responsibility (when I raised the issue of pornography sites being passed around online). We can no longer separate school and home. Online interaction out of school spills into school interaction.

We are all responsible. We should all become educated. We should all educate where appropriate.

Pass the blog (quickly,it’s hot!)

As much as I enjoy writing blogs, I love reading them. There’s nothing more exciting than discovering a new blog – a new voice, source of ideas and information.

Just today I noticed that Bright Ideas Blog – a blog many of us have at the top of their reading list – has kindly included my blog in a list of blog nominations.  It’s a ‘pass the parcel’ kind of activity, at the end of which we all end up with an enormous list of new blogs to investigate. Wonderful!

I’ve found out from What Ed Said that ‘it’s part of an initiative called ‘Vale a pena ficar de olho nesse blog’, which means ‘It’s worth keeping an eye on this blog’. Great idea.

For those I am awarding below, here are a few rules to follow:

1- Copy and display the picture of the award given to you;

2- Link back to the blog that nominated you;

3- Nominate 10 different blogs yourself;

4- Inform the people you nominated, so they can in turn, continue the chain and spread the word about other great blogs out there.

My Google Reader is bursting at the seams and needs house-cleaning. I revise it fairly regularly  to keep it relevant to my needs. Over time, my reading focus changes.

Whereas I enjoyed educational blogs with a technology focus initially, now I read these less, since I discover new technologies in Twitter and Facebook.

Whereas I used to read The Great Bloggers, the big guys, I now also like to read the less well known bloggers who might have more time for face to face teaching and so share detailed experiences of what works and what doesn’t.

Whereas I used to read like-minded blogs, now I enjoy reading different voices to push my thinking.

Whereas I used to read education blogs only, blogs about the future of education, or blogs about my own subject areas, eg literature and languages,  now I’m discovering terrific science, maths, art, animation blogs.

I think the best thing about blogs is that they have a voice. Unlike professional, formal, peer-reviewed information, blogs reflect the author. Reading the blog means getting to know the person with the voice.

I had trouble selecting these blogs, keeping to the limit.  In no order whatsoever, and not all of these what you would call educational blogs:

Lisa Hill’s literature blog – ANZ LitLovers LitBlog

The Animation Blog

BibliOdyssey (Books, illustrations, science, history, visual materia obscura).

Art21 blog an amazing art resource for education

Urban Sketchers

Urban Sketchers is a nonprofit organization dedicated to raising the artistic, storytelling and educational value of location drawing, promoting its practice and connecting people around the world who draw on location where they live and travel. We aim to show the world, one drawing at a time.

The Daring Librarian – Gwyneth Jones – Twitter bio: The Daring Librarian: Celt. Teacher Librarian & Technology Specialist. Redhead. Digital Collaborator. Victorian Steampunk. Second Lifer. Goofball.

Sean Nash at Nashworld Must always mention Sean Nash – nobody else like him

CMIS Fiction Focus I trust this blog to keep me up to date with books and reading for our young people

Steve Collis on HappySteve – Love this blog, fingers in many pies and fun to read.

New blogger – Nicholas Cowall: Music solo performance at Braemar (Nicholas has recently burst into the blogosphere with energy and passion; an example to all teachers. AND he has a schedule which is not for the faint-hearted, so he puts to shame those who claim not have time for blogging and the like.)


Top 100 best of everything

Photo courtesy of Beverly_&_Pack on Flickr

A while ago I was surprised to discover that my blog was included in a list of 100 most inspiring and innovative blogs for education published by Online University Reviews.

At the time I just skimmed the extensive lists, but this evening I have been poring over lists in different categories, and I must say, they’re definitely worth looking at.

Not one for business or gossip, here are some of the lists which caught my eye:

50 best blogs for grammar geeks

10 important writers who went to jail for their work

100 best scholarly art blogs divided into the categories of best art news, best art critic, best art communities, best artists’ blogs, best artist inspirational blogs, best children’s art, best art photography and best art resources

(also including Art forum Australia)

50 free games for teaching literacy online

100 useful tutorials for the twittering librarian including for the beginner, best blogs for Twitter, best way to find other twittering librarians, best timesavers for Twitter, best ways to promote your library using Twitter, best tools for Twitter, best games for Twitter, best add-ons for Twitter, best image tools for Twitter, best video tools for Twitter, best books for Twitter and best librarians to follow on Twitter.

50 best websites for modern Shakespearean scholars

50 incredible books every educator should read

100 famous writers you can follow on Twitter

100 most inspiring and innovative blogs for educators – these are divided into the categories: general teaching blogs, specialty subject blogs, best podcasts for teachers, best video blogs for teachers.

top 100 poetry blogs

100 open courses to take your writing to the next level

top 100 liberal arts professor blogs – these are divided into art, economics, education, english, history, maths, media/technology, music, philosophy, psychology, political science, science, sociology and theology

50 best blogs for literacy teachers including ESL/EFL, grammar, literary criticism and reading promotion

I hope you have an enormous amount of time on you hands because you’ll need a small lifetime to investigate all these links. I’ve been madly saving some of these to my Diigo library. Although I doubt that these lists even cover most of the best of the best – obviously other bests exist elsewhere – it’s definitely a list where you can find something for everyone.

The new citation

Photo courtesy of kharied on Flickr

As we continue to teach students how to seamlessly embed quotations into their writing, it occurs to me that we have developed a new way to cite our sources, namely online and using hyperlinks.

The hyperlinked citations are much more than an attribution of cited sources; they are also:

  • a direct link the the source itself
  • a solution to wordy explanations which interrupt the flow of the sentence
  • a dense and complexly charged way of writing

Here’s an example from a  blog post I was reading this morning:

(Brian Lamb is writing about the notion of curation as a model for teaching)

Yet again, I’m reminded of my favorite band of mad, bad content curators at WFMU (this year’s fundraising marathon is over, but they’ll still take your money), and how its Free Music Archive places curation at the centre of its mission. There’s an interesting interview on 3 Quarks Daily with WFMU station manager (and killer OpenEd 2009 keynoter) Ken Freedman that cuts to the intersection between freeform weirdness and careful curation.

Not only is this hyperlinked method of citation a new way of writing, but it’s also a new way of reading. You might say that the writer has done the work of bringing in the textual background for his ideas, but the reader also has to do the hard work of going to the sources and reading for understanding.

Footnotes? Why have these at the foot of the page when you can embed them directly?

I’m thinking that this hyperlinked writing should be the way of student resources at school and universities. How much richer and more efficient would online resources be which embedded background knowledge and served as a model for referencing sources?

What I like best about hyperlinked citation is that it leads me to places I haven’t discovered, giving me the option of following new research paths, often serendipitous. It’s an exciting way to learn – not didactic, not limiting, but opening up options for independent learning.

Shouldn’t we start to teach students this new way of reading and writing?