26 September 2012

Creativity Runs Wild

“There’s probably no better example of the throttling of creativity than the difference between what we observe in a kindergarten classroom and what we observe in a high school classroom.” (Levine)

Wherever in the world I have been teaching, one of the most common observations of my classroom by other teachers is that it is "like a primary classroom". This is, more often that not, said in a derogatory and dismissive way, as if the colourful and expressive landscape of learning created through explorations of language and literature is a negative thing. That I cannot possibly be teaching a secondary curriculum if they seem to be creating so much..."mess" (as it has also been called).

I have never paid much attention to this; I believe that my IB Diploma English Literature class learnt a great deal about the symbols, motifs, characters, language, themes and setting through the mural we painted all over the classroom. They learnt to problem solve and collaborate to effectively and seamlessly weave together the fifteen different texts across the walls and ceiling. They brought the texts to life and populated the classroom with characters and settings, so they became a part of our everyday and 'joined in' our lessons. Listening to my class explain the mural to other learners from the year above, who had not had the opportunity to be in my class, demonstrated a depth of knowledge and understanding that was very much (and very sadly) lacking in the older contingent. It also promoted the course as well as a love of literature to everyone else who had the fortune to use the classroom. Every single one passed English, which I was pleased with. Some of them changed career paths because they realised new sides of themselves, which I was ecstatic about.

Grade 7: Choosing how to present poems they have written about themselves

I therefore find it refreshing to read Levine's suggestion that "a child’s time in school should look much like what kindergarten did", where we give them choices about how to show their learning, where we give free reign to their creativity and let their imaginations run wild. We need to move away from rows, even away from desks and chairs. Oh I can't wait for The Octopus's Garden :) I am all about choices and creativity; about expressing learning through sculpture, song, painting, drama, music, and poetry; about the integration of the arts into the curriculum as we do now with IT - rather than it being a stand-alone subject. Levine states that arts are essential for "developing creativity and flexible and divergent thinking", echoing the recent articles in Edutopia, highlighting the success of a school in the US which has been integrating arts in ways that IT is being integrated in many schools.

Through her work with Challenge Success, Levine posits five criteria as essential for changing the obsolete system of education as we know it: Project-Based Learning, Alternative Assessment, Scheduling, Climate of Care and Parent Education.

PBL is a methodology I am trying to implement in my classroom, but as Levine points out, people don't like to try new things and I am, as noted in a previous post, facing some opposition from learners with this system. However, I strongly believe that it is important and I will not give up, as it is a much more effective way to think about learning, “particularly when you live in a world that’s incredibly unclear on what content is going to be relevant in not just 10 or 20 years, but in three years" (Levine). In conjunction with this, and in the same vein, Flat Classroom Project designs take this one step further to address the needs of employers who need workers who can "be collaborative, work across time zones and cultures because problems are so complex" in the 21st Century.

Both these feed into alternative assessment, as there are plenty of opportunities to partake in different roles and activities. Writing essays has to have its place whilst out-dated exams still exist but we must move away from these tests that "only show what some kids know, but leave out a whole bunch of kids who aren’t able to show what they know in different ways" (Levine). The crunch comes when it is exam and reporting time; we are currently in the process of decided what and how we report on our learners achievements who are lucky enough to not be in exam courses. In attempting to move away from grading and towards commenting, we need to design an effective system that allows for PBL, FCP and creativity, that fosters 21st Century trans-disciplinary skills and yet satisfies parents. And here comes the bigest hurdle and Levine's fifth criteria: Parent Education.

Levine's book is a start at educating parents to seek for "authentic success' which is not measured necessarily by grades. Until we can educate parents who are entrenched in the old-school ways, who are not exposed to all this amazing new thinking and ways of learning, who may still be a little bit frightened of technology - or who even have not thought about alternatives - we will still hit a brick wall and all our hard work will crack and fall apart. We will be forced to take our creativity and our technology and our 21st Century skills and glue them back together, mismatched as a grade. Mismatched to true achievement and failing to measure "authentic success".


"At Challenge Success, We Believe That Our Society Has Become Too Focused on Grades, Test Scores and Performance, Leaving Little Time and Energy for Our Kids to Become Resilient, Successful, Meaningful Contributors for the 21st Century." Challenge Success. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Sept. 2012. <http://www.challengesuccess.org/>.

Levine, Madeline. Teach Your Children Well: Parenting for Authentic Success. New York: Harper, 2012. Print.

"MindShift." MindShift. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Sept. 2012. <http://blogs.kqed.org/mindshift/2012/09/why-kids-need-schools-to-change/>.

Not enough time in the day...

This seems to be a recurring theme. Ironically, I have been writing this post for over a week and have to keep coming back to it as I have so much else to do. The only way I can catch up with myself is because I am at home, in bed, with a dreadful cold :(

The last week was hectic to say the least. I have written many Blog posts in my head - as I am running, cooking, reading, sleeping, talking to colleagues and learners - but have not had the time to sit down to actual type them up.

I did manage to find the time this (now last) weekend to pass my Google Apps for Education exams though. I had 'Docs' and 'Other Tools' to go and sat them both on Sunday. It was awesome to get them over and done with - though on sharing with my DP, I was 'shoved' in the direction of applying for 'trainer' status. Which of course I will - there are, at least, no exams for this, which is something I believe more and more strongly against as time goes on.

Sitting these exams reinforced my belief that exams prove nothing about learned knowledge; I knew the answers to a lot of the questions but I looked up others. It tested my ability to search rather than my learned knowledge of Google Apps; I am not good at falsely created scenarios and hypothetical questions. A test where you have to actually 'do', rather than answer questions on 'how' would be more realistic. Though that could just be me I guess as exams still exist the world over.

It did also make me think about the need for my teaching and assessing to be authentic - something the PBL course has also reinforced. I must ask learners to apply their knowledge in realistic and authentic tasks - which is why I like the Blog project and The Octopus's Garden project. The audiences for both these are real and the outcomes are tangible.

The Blog project is going very well. I was observed with Grade 8 who were at the end of the presentations and moving on to reflections; I had developed the reflection lesson in conjunction with ELS and LS and it was totally learner-led and personalised. The Internet has made teaching quite tricky this week as it has been in and out and this has put a big burden on me as I am planning my lessons as sites still, but am having to print out the instructions in case the website drops out. I also have to make sure I have hard copies of all my resources. This is almost doubling my workload - though I have been reassured that I am having an Internet upgrade installed in my block today/tomorrow so should see a difference. (Since writing this, the upgrade has been installed and, so far, it is being MUCH better).

Another issue I am experiencing is a reluctance of learners. Or perhaps it is a lack of skills - they do not want the personalised learning pages; they do not want to have to learn and think for themselves. I spend hours planning groupings that work and support best strengths and needs and have individualised  pages with instructions - yet they just guess what they need to do rather than figure it out. More than once I had to remind them that they must follow instructions - a success criteria written by them! They are too ready to come to me to tell them what to do than figure out what is next. I even had a go at some flipped instructions today - I recorded video instructions that they could review as needed that explained each step. This allowed each group to be working independently whilst I supported. They didn't seem to want to watch or read and still kept coming to me. I know they are not used to this but I did not quite expect this level of ineptitude or lack of desire to use new tools and ways of learning. (Since writing this, I have also found and signed up to a course for flipped classroom certification!).

On other fronts, this week has been successful - I attained Google Certified status, I retained my 100% score for every assignment submitted for PBL, I wrote my Project Overview for The Octopus's Garden,  I managed to record some videos to use in instructions in class and I fit a 10km run in. Plus, I just managed to write this Blogger post.

Next week I need to start building the website for the Learn Different: The Octopus's Garden , set up the Blog and Twitter account, then start the pre-launch campaign - the prototype posters are awesome (thanks fb x) but need approval. I might add some QR codes on to link to the website to generate more interest. Again though, the lack of IT skills or know-how may not work. However, I will not give up. I hope my drive and enthusiasm will bring the community into the 21st Century.

Next week I would also like to do some more reading on 21st Century literacy and skills, as I want to consolidate what it is that is important for learners in anticipation of the jobs they will have and technology they will use that do not even exist yet.

12 September 2012

Learning: developing awareness

I just read some excerpts from David Foster Wallace's graduation speech - his only public speech - delivered to Kenyon College in 2005, which has now been immortalised in This Is Water: Some Thoughts, Delivered on a Significant Occasion, about Living a Compassionate Life. There are a couple of points that struck home in particular, as intrinsic to what I want to achieve in terms of life-long skills.

Wallace deliberates on the idea of suicide by firearms - this is not something I want to teach per se - but rather his idea of how the person wielding the gun is dead long before they pull the trigger. I want my learners to live their lives and embrace their experiences - not go through the motions of being alive. I want them to relish opportunities to grow and learn and share - just as I do. Every time I am stressed with how much I need to do, or how many projects I am planning, or how much reading, marking or planning I need to do, I try to ground myself with the notion that I am making a difference. Somewhere. To someone. I try to fit in my runs, Yoga, family and PL with the balm that soothes by telling myself that I am eking out every second of my existence; pushing myself; making the most of it (the Bon Jovi lyrics Live while I'm alive and sleep when I'm dead play too often at these times, though I try not to admit that to myself).

I like to think that I am not simply going through the motions. I like to think I may contribute to someone's life insome way, in the same vein Wallace suggests we need to go outside of our "internal, hard-wired" self-obsessed monologue and see the world through a lens not centred upon our self. But this is hard; every experience we have is through and within ourself, as Wallace says, "there is no experience you have had that you are not the absolute centre of".  The trick is to turn this monologue upon its head. When I am the learner in for example, a workshop or lecture, as I was at the Google Summit all weekend, I try to make the experience count. Even if the delivery is dull or the material old-hat, I try to take it on board and see things from the point of view of learner - and attempt to avoid similar in my own lessons. Every experience, even bad ones can be learning experiences that we can use for the betterment of our teaching. If we turn that internal lens away for a second - or at least use a different lens to interpret our self-centred view, our "natural default setting of being uniquely, completely, imperially alone", through the eyes of another 'self', we are seeing compassionately. We are contributing.

Wallace sums it up more eloquently that I ever could;
"The liberal arts cliché about teaching you how to think is actually shorthand for a much deeper, more serious idea: learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience. Because if you cannot exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed."

Ironically - or not - four years ago today, Wallace committed suicide. By firearm.

From Popova, Maria. "Brain Pickings." Brain Pickings. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Sept. 2012. <http://www.brainpickings.org/index.php/2012/09/12/this-is-water-david-foster-wallace/?utm_source=feedburner>.

The Octopus's Garden - Inspired Creativity

I was amazed today at how much a simple rearrangement of the learning has rearranged the thinking space. Immediately today, my Grade 8s utilised all the different possibilites - the make-shift Chrome Books (though we have some issues there regarding speed and applications), the Macs, the floor, the paper and paint and crayons - they were painting, sculpting with paper, making collages, Prezis and Pixton cartoons; they shared work and gave feedback and collaborated more than they ever had - it was awesome and made me even more exciting to roll out the project. Look what has happened with a shift of furniture. Imagine the possibilities when we rethink and customise the whole space... :)

Create. Innovate. Future Learning Spaces.

For Project Octopus's Garden, I have created a thinking space using Mural.ly, a cool Beta site that I discovered over the weekend at the Google Apps Summit.

Some ideas I am collecting
I like it as it is easy to drop in links, photos and add text to create a collection of ideas from a variety of sources. On my Mural.ly have added articles from sites, photos that have been shared with me, thoughts, images from my Pinterest board that I have also started for this project. What is also great is that it can be shared with other people so it becomes a collaborative drawing board - perfect for this project.

I ran this morning and did some more thinking about how to develop this project. I aim to pitch it at my grade 7 and grade 8 classes. They will be responsible for polling the Nexus Community about their ideas to make it relevant and a shared experience. I also want to build in some research skills to prepare them for the IB later in their educational career - as I want their ideas to have some grounding in some published thinking on the topic of future learning spaces. I am going to suggest they share their thinking on a Mural.ly board as it seems like a workable tool for a collaborative multi-media collection. I would like a public display space somewhere in the school that can be interactive for people to leave comments and suggestions - with some QR codes to link to their Mural.ly boards perhaps. I think we should try to build a website together too - we can have discussion forums, forms for market research, links to thinking boards and articles etc.

I also want to pilot a Flat Classroom type environment with them, as they will need to work together as one rather than two separate classes. I would like to team them up across the two classes to make it more like a real Flat Classroom to help them work on some 21st Century skills in collaborating on one project from different locations. This will bring together my current PL courses in both PBL and FC, which is awesome.

I am really excited about this, as the more I think about it, the more I can bring my current learning and pedagogical explorations together into one place. What makes it even more exciting is that it is authentic - it is not a 'if' project - the learners ideas stand a real chance of becoming reality. How fantastic that they learn all these amazing skills and then get to actually appreciate the fruits of their learning.

 The second day of The Octopus's Garden has been ok - the learners were hesitant at first but managed to use Google Apps to do all they needed for their current Snapshots work. They need to mindshift from thinking they 'need' Word etc and explore the capabilities of Google to understand that they can pretty much use it to do whatever they want.

What I like is that they are selecting the tools they need to do the job. My reading for the current module of the PBL unit is about using and assessing Critical Thinking Skills, and what has interested me most about this is the need to develop the skill in just that. Technology is great but quite frankly, I get overwhelmed by what is out there. I sometimes feel like I want to try something just for the sake of it, rather than it being a useful tool for the job. I was lucky that Mural.ly was a new thing I wanted to try, but happened to be the right tool for the job. I want my learners to be exposed to a variety of the amazing tools that are out there, but more importantly, I want them to be able to evaluate and assess what it is they need for their task in hand and choose accordingly. My Grade 7s used a mixture of Google Apps, Snapseed photos and images from the Internet, but then put their final product together with 3-D stuck on embellishments, added detail with crayon and hand drew some elements.  I cannot wait to see what they do for the 'future learning spaces' project!

11 September 2012

The Octopus's Garden

I have had the most exciting morning that has spawned a big project for my learners and me.

The Octopus's Garden, A3-4, NISS
In our attempt to support all staff in going 1:1, with only one trolley of Macs for the secondary school, in the midst of an explosion of need following the awesome Google Summit at the weekend, I have been asked to host what we are dubbing, The Octopus's Garden. This involves twenty 'reconditioned' laptops that have been stripped and made into make shift 'Chrome Book' type machines being installed in my room. This is great as it means we 'get out there' - they have to be plugged in to work however, hence the 'octopus' of wires.

Project Octopus's Garden: Embryonic
We set up the plug-in laptops at stations around the room to minimise the 'tentacles' leaving a huge empty space in the middle. My first lesson in The Octopus's Garden was rated 7/10, which is ok. The idea works, the machines didn't always. Some were frustrated by lack of applications such as iMovie however, there were some Macs brought in too so there was a mixture of tools available.
Desks are dead
The future of this project is what is getting me really excited though, as this is merely the embryonic idea of what is going to change out learning spaces; this has spawned a whole new project for my learners and me. I need to think of a name for it beyond Project Octopus's Garden as well as develop a driving question, but intrinsically it will explore what makes a 21st century learning environment. We need to move away from desks and tables - we lure learners into our schools with the prospect of new ways of learning, yet they turn up at classrooms that have changed little since the invention of chalkboards. How does this help us get them to buy into the fact that we are innovating learning? Ironically, I was reading this article on the bus just last night, discussing how desks are 'harming' education and it was something I tried to work on last year but got nowhere.

I am so delighted to have the opportunity to work on something real and authentic. My challenge now is to write a good proposal based on research, knowledge, experience - and design a project that involves learners, so we get what it is that defines, drives and innovates 21st Century learning.

Watch this space.

Thanks to http://www.phillewisart.com/octopusblog.html for the image.

10 September 2012

Google Summit Day Two

With a rather fuzzy head really in need of a lie in and a day off from thinking, I head off to day two of Googlicious learning.  My first session of the day is on blogger. I chose this mainly because of the paper blogging project I have been working on with my classes, which is teaching them all the skills they need to blog successfully. Obviously, our next step is to go live and I really want to see how the experience has been for others.

Why Blog With Learners?
The session delivered little about successful blogging, as the leader was in a similar position and it was a new thing for her. I was looking for a way to manage the blogs easily and effectively  but this was barely touched on. In the past, Google Reader was used but they have just moved to Teacher DashBoard - which is an awesome tool I think we really need to get hold of, as I hear nothing but praise for it and how it is changing things. However, thankfully, the Google Reader session yesterday gave me some tips on how to manage them in the meantime.

There was an activity using Google Drawing as an interesting tool to allow collaboration on a topic, sharing and sorting of ideas about why we blog with learners, which I would use in the classroom in the future. I just need the computers in the classroom to be able to implement these tools :P

The second session of the day was quite possibly worth the cost and time of the whole two days by itself. In experimenting with the idea of the flipped model of learning, I have this week started on my first attempts. I made the slides, got the clips etc that I wanted to share then, put it together to record a voice over with instructions etc. I downloaded a trial of Camtasia but I needed to watch some tutorials to get going. Frankly, even though this is where I want to go with my learning tools, I just do not have the time to be watching tutorials. I need something easy, effective and intuitive. I need something ready to go quickly. The Getting Flippy With It workshop was awesome - I learned so much about how to edit and pause and cut clips and share and add music and comments and annotations - FAB! AND all on YouTube. Ed Ted also works with YouTube to help you get flipped quickly. Patrick Green @pgreensoup has a fantastic site with some awesome tutorials on how to get going and more advanced stuff like adding banners to customise your YouTube channel.

The third session gave some ideas about how to create a learning environment using sites, maps, docs etc. Nothing new really though I did like the idea of having, per lesson, a Scribe - or Google Jockey as I refer to them - so every learner has notes, as well as a researcher who answers the questions that arise in the lesson. I also really like the idea of taking the rubric for a project and creating a form that can be shared for peer assessment really easily.

The fourth and final directed workshop is about assessing and scaffolding research skills. Generally a little flat compared to some of the other workshops - could just be because it is a Sunday afternoon though it was a little disappointing to have a final session be so lifeless. There were however, some interesting links that can be incorporated into my extended essay website that I will use so still a useful session in that respect.

The final session is a wrap up in the drama studio about the importance of building a personal learning network. I featured twice - as a Tweeter and a Google+er - PLN is the way forward and these social media tools make it so easy.

It was an amazing conference and I learned so much. I am buzzing with ideas and projects and experiments - I just need our school to go 1:1 as soon as possible to make it happen.

Thank you to SAS, Google, EduTech and all the presenters for allowing this opportunity for sharing learning experiences.

08 September 2012

Google Apps Summit Day One

I kick off the Google Summit with the wrong workshop. Ho hum. Anyway, despite not being the workshop I wanted to go to, I decide to stay, as it is about digital storytelling. So the leader said - the learning intention for the workshop was not clear however. He was very full of himself, his abilities, how long he has been using Drive - basically, how goddam awesome he is, man!

I learned little due to their being no clear outline or direction other than sharing how fabulous he was. I did learn some little tips though - mainly how NOT to be so self-absorbed and egotistical. Other things I learned that I will use:-
- WeVideo
- Sound File Site

The second session is a fest of useful links in a session about collaboration. Here are the choice ones:-

Google Hangout - up to 10 people conferencing at one time
Google Hangout on Air - broadcasts and saves your hangout
Transl8it.com - to use for text speak
Flubaroo with forms for sharing feedback etc.
Wikispaces - for those without gmail accounts

The third session is about the creation of scripts to help save time in forms etc. This was a lot more advanced than the previous two sessions but really taught me something new - in particular, I learned how to set up autoresponse emails when forms have been submitted. Plus, I can set up auto emails when the form has been submitted. This will be great in particular for my EE website, where I do not have time to check in and out of the form, then keep track of where learners are up to and what I need to email them next. I am going to set up this up straight away!

My final session of the day was about Google Reader, which I already have but don't use enough. I got some great ideas about how to set up bundles of feeds that I can set up for learners to access for homework. There are some great Apps, such as Flipboard, which means I can access these on my phone. It will also be a great place for me to subscribe to my learner Blogs once they are set up.

Overall, a great day - some stuff reinforced and some new stuff learned with some ideas of how I can implement and use some of the tools to help enhance learning as well as help me manage my delivery and management of courses.

06 September 2012

Twitter: Grade 7

I stumbled across a Google Doc of teachers adding details about classes wanting to use Twitter to communicate. Always up for a challenge, I decided to try it out and join in.

My Grade 7 class are awesome - lapping up all the new ways of learning I throw at them, and in four short weeks have gone from learners who sat in rows and were spoon-fed to autonomous self-regulating 21st century learners. Who better than to experiment with social networking tools? I set up a class email on my domain and used it to open a Twitter account for them.

In class the next day, we all logged on - I wasn't even sure we could all be on at once. But we could - and together they customised it, we added a photo and figured out ways of Tweeting that would be helpful. We then looked at the Google Doc and found some other Grade 7 classes from around the globe to follow. They were really excited and I am sure we can develop it into a useful tool. I also think it is a good step in practising being online before our Blogs go live.

Follow us @NISSGrade7

04 September 2012

Flipped Classroom Webinars

I have not managed to create a video for my flipped classroom yet - I need to wait until I have more time and have more IT available so I know what I publish can be watched.  However, I was sent this link today for some Webinars that will show "firsthand, from master educators who are experts in their field talk about how they started, how their teaching has changed, what their students (and parents) are saying, and how they will continue to improve their craft", which may be useful and will probably give me the final push to get this going. Flipped Classroom Webinars