24 November 2012

Who wants to Learn Different?

The Octopus's Garden (see previous related posts) has been launched! I do feel the need to write about my experience of my first PBL-FC project and the effect I think it is having on my learners, but for now, I need to share my experience of my attempt at a little 'subliminal advertising', and my persuasion to over-think and assume that everyone else puts in the same level of research and thought to their unit planning.

One of the roles in the teams for the project is that of Community Advisor. In an attempt to create a community spirit and to share the type of learning that goes on within our school, this role asks learners to create a physical display that shares our project with the whole community. Part of this was a little 'teaser' of posters designed at the very inception of the project, to get the community excited and interested in what we are doing.

Example of the Learn Different posters
For those of you familiar with advertising, Apple, or even design, you may recognise the reference.
Perhaps you may not.
Perhaps I was too subtle.

Within an hour of the learners requesting to and putting up the posters around school, I had been called into the office, as a 'complaint' had been made about them. The posters, not the learners :)

I thought it might be about the logo, as I know they don't like that being messed with, but I felt safe in the knowledge that I had forwarded copies to SLT for approval weeks ago, and hoped I was being allowed to make this adaptation, as it had a sound reasoning behind it.

But it was not this that was the issue. To my surprise, it was a complaint about the poster being grammatically incorrect.

I bit my tongue. At first. Then quite passionately rattled off the rationale, thinking, research, design, work, effort and thought that had gone into this. I was met with a smile. And a request to send out an email to explain this to those less geeky than myself.

Here is the statement I issued. I hope it subtly transfers my disappointment at the complaint; I hope the  irony was not lost on my readers, but I fear in many cases it was - else I would not have had to write it in the first place.

Inline image 1

"Here's to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They're not fond of rules, and they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify and vilify them. About the only thing you can't do is ignore them because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as crazy, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do."

The Octopus's Garden is a Project-Based Learning and Flat Classroom project that asks learners from Grade 7 and Grade 8 to work together to answer the question, 'What is a 21st century classroom?' The tagline is 'Learn Different' and both the project name and the tagline have multiple layers of meaning and have been researched and developed carefully.

The 'Learn Different' posters are a pastiche of the highly successful 'Think Different' Apple advertisement campaign that "reestablished Apple's counter-culture image that it had lost during the 90s". The grainy nature of the image is deliberate, the logo has been adapted to mimic that of the original, even the font is authentic. See below.
Inline image 1
The "Learn Different' posters are purely intentional - though any offence was not - and their grammatical mistake is not a faux pas but a homage. The tagline of the original Apple ads has always grated on those who are advocates of standard English, but it was a deliberate ruse (rouse?) by Apple to force us into considering things differently; their deliberate grammatical change "'conveyed a total change in the whole body of what you think about...Instead of thinking in your everyday way, ‘Think Different'.'" (Jessica Schulman, art director at TBWA\Chiat\Day, who developed the campaign). 

The Octopus's Garden project asks learners to rethink learning in the same way Apple asked consumers to rethink computers. Apple lauded those who were different as heroes and revolutionaries just as we want to echo the school's tagline, 'Celebrating Diversity. Challenging Minds', in our project aims.

"'Think Different' celebrates the soul of the Apple brand—
that creative people with passion can change the world for the better." 
Steve Jobs

Learn more about The Octopus's Garden rationale and project by visiting our website.

What disappointed me most I think, is the nature of the culture to complain over inquire. We strive for our learners to be thinkers and yet our faculty did not model this. I don't remember seeing moaner or ignorant on the learner profile; I do recall seeing inquirer and knowledgeable, yet rather than expand horizons and learn, we bitch and complain.

It disappointed me more as I am feeling a little out of place at the moment. I am suffering under a lack of belonging; I know where I want to go, what I want to achieve for my learners and where I want to take them but it seems some others are not ready. I want us to be risk takers and put ourselves out there; not all of what we do is going to work - look at this as testament - but at the same time, this was my message. Take risks; it is the 'round pegs', the ''rebels and the 'troublemakers' who make the difference. Creative people (why is creative not part of the learner profile when it is so central to learning?) challenge and change the status quo.

I have learned that I need to develop a thicker skin and a stronger wall to keep the doubters from crumbling my good intentions. I believe in what I am doing; I believe my over thinking, over planning and over learning (if there can be such a thing) makes a difference. I believe in challenging it all. Rethinking it all. I hope this subtle message got across; I am the troublemaker in their midst, the one not fond of established rules of teaching and learning, who will not lie down or be quiet or let things be. I will be the risk taker, the inquirer, the thinker. And because I care, I will lead my learners out in to the world informed about how to deal with whatever comes at them and ready to question it all.

My intention with the posters was to get people talking about my project and interested in what my learners are doing. The email statement was way beyond what I would ever normally 'inflict' on people and I have to view this as a positive. The culture of complaint allowed me to openly advertise what it is I am doing and I guarantee more people read the email than click on my website links. Perhaps I should sit back in the knowledge that 'all publicity is good publicity' and take refuge in in the words of one of my favourite purveyors of wit and sarcasm:

Oscar Wilde

As always, a huge thank you is owed to my wonderful husband who, at the drop of a hat, entertains my scheming and brings into reality my excited jibberish. His, as yet unlimited artistic and IT talents, have brought to life the designs that are in my head but not at my fingertips. 

23 November 2012

Hands on. Bring it on.

I spoke at my first conference last weekend. I can't believe I, who breaks out in cold sweats even at the thought of speaking to staff informally at school, agreed to do it.
But I did.
And I did it.
And it wasn't so bad either.

The conference was the Hands on Literacy Conference 2012 organised by the International Schools Libraries Network. My friend and I presented what we have experienced in our never-ending quest to
Title of the session I co-presented.
get learners reading. We addressed the three main areas that learners raised as pertinent to their reading - or lack thereof - choice, sharing and time, and shared initiatives that we have put in place that have been successful, such as literature circles, book trailers and Google Sites designed to create a whole reading immersion/experience.

My biggest worry - as ever - is that I am not really doing anything new. Partly of course this is true but I also think I forget that I do try out a lot of new stuff all the time and that not everyone has the tools, time or know how to do all that I have done. It was great to be able to talk to other teachers and share ideas and the session was really successful I think - based on feedback - and not half as nerve-wrecking as I had anticipated. Perhaps the fact that they were strangers without prevconceived ideas of me and who I am and what others think of me helped, as my reputation has preceded me a little lately and whilst good things are said, of which I am very appreciative, it has not always been a positive or beneficial situation.  The conference was enjoyable, interesting and demanding. I learned a lot from others and about myself. I made some great new contacts, shared some ideas that have worked for me in the hope they will for someone else, and gained loads of new knowledge and insight into where I need to go next.

The keynote speeches were incredible. Dr. Joyce Valenza's opening speech was a frenzy of ideas, some old but lots new, that made me excited about learning and the possibility that technology brings. It also reiterated the need to be responsible and informed digital citizens and to instill this in our learners and teach them to be multi-media literate. Judy O'Connell's closing speech was an eye-opener into where we go next. Again, this got me excited about the possibilities of where learning is going, but also quite frustrated that her referencing our need to address and use Web 3.0 tools is difficult when many havent mastered Web 2.0 tools yet. An issue that is in mind a lot at the moment. Her quote as follows, is the one that stands out most soundly from the whole conference:-
Judy O'Connell, Preparing our Students for Web 3.0 Technology
It resonates with a conversation I had with a PL mentor recently about the importance of life experience in enquiry-based learning, in being able to bring life-knowledge into the classroom to create a rounded full learning experience. I often bring in knowledge from my studies of law and psychology, from past teaching, travel, conferences, reading and research. I bring knowldege of other jobs I have had - ranging from hairdressing to accounting technician to HEFCE funding officer. I bring this collection of experience and knowledge to the table which helps me design and implement effective learning environments. Can all teachers bring this? Do they need to? Until yesterday, I had not considered the implication of this in a negative way, until my pastiche of an advertising campaign from the late 1990s was apparently too far in the past or too culturally bound up for people to remember. And it caused a little stir. An homage does not work when others don't recognise it.

I questioned my stance. Am I too 'tech', too 'media', too 'Western-cultural'? Does having a techie graphic design husband give me more specialised knowledge? Has my exposure to and teaching of the reading of different text types mean that I have a knowledge I assume is more widely known? More about this on Who wants to Learn Different?

The balance beween bringing experience and using our 'old' to create our 'new' is one that must be trodden carefully; a teacher needs to use what they know yet challenge themselves to learn more. Always learn more. We can all then have something to bring to the table.

Judy O'Connell, Preparing our Students for Web 3.0 Technology
I think one of the most insulting and upsetting statements I ever heard from a 'colleague' - and I use that term loosely for loathe at the implied association - was, "I don't want to learn anything new." It made - and still makes - me sick to my stomach.
We must step outside our comfort zones, we must build on what we have and do what we ask of our learners everyday. We must learn. We owe it to our learners.

We don't all have to be totally tech-savvy and all-singing, all-dancing but we do need to know what is out there. We need to know what they are doing, how they are doing it and what they might need in the future. Part of this means moving away from content-based curriculum, about the need to avoid teaching anything that can be answered by a Google search. It is about up-skilling and equipping our learners to deal with everything that is thrown at them. This means upskilling ourselves and being ready for everything that is thrown at us. I admit that I am a little nerdy when it comes to professional learning and find it nigh-on impossible to turn down a PL opportunity (hence I am drowning under a mountain of due assignments for three courses I am currently doing whilst in the process of applying for a Masters...) but I firmly and truly believe that we need to model life-long learning. The world is changing at an increasing rate (just watch Judy's slides to see just how quickly); more students will graduate in the next 30 years than have ever graduated to date. We have a responsibility to learn, so we can teach them the skills that will enable them to learn - for the rest of their lives.

13 November 2012

Blooming Orange

Learning Classification Chart using Bloom's Taxonomy
Educational technologies for addressing each level of learning

My latest assignment for the course on New Learning Environments asked me to explore existing educational technologies and how they may apply to Bloom's Taxonomy. I had to choose one tool for each level of learning - which, if you are aware of just how much is out there, is no mean feat! 

I am so new to technology I think I have a grasp only on the tip of the iceberg; keeping up to date with new tools is one of the things I find the hardest. Working full time, leading PL sessions at school whilst completing three online courses (and being a mom and wife and runner) means I have limited time to fully explore every new tool I come across. I am trying to limit myself to experimenting with new tools only once I have applied, used and evaluated one fully. Therefore, whilst there are many possible, perhaps limitless potential tools for each level of learning, I have tried to stick with the ones I am used to; these are tools that I have tried and tested with learners; these are tools that have allowed success and thinking; these are tools that I have chosen based on active research in the classroom.

When I first came across Bloom's Taxonomy, it was explained to me as a ladder suggesting a sequence, one leading to the other. Whilst I do agree that in order to understand, we have to remember; in order to apply we have to understand, etc. I see the learning process as more cyclical, rather than a ladder or step system. I like the idea of the orange, above and highly value the revised Taxonomy over the original, as 'create' is one of the most important parts of learning to me. The hardest part about this assignment was slotting the tools into each level, as I do view the process of learning as cyclical and many of the tools I think can be used across the levels. I tried to base my classifications on a progression that allows for review so that learners can come back to any stage as needed yet build on the prior ones. For example, Mural.ly is an excellent 'storage' tool where things to be remembered can be put and revisited as needed. However, it is also a great tool for understanding, as it is collaborative so can be contributed to and viewed by many learners at once; therefore they have to be able to analyse and evaluate their sources and links and images and those of others in terms of relevanc to topic. Equally, Mural.ly is an excellent tool for creating - the whole process creates an interactive collection of knowledge, learning, understanding etc. Mural.ly could therefore fit in any level - or, looking at it another way, fits in all levels. Remembering becomes creating; creating becomes remembering. Isn't this learning?

I read an article the other day about how exams should be about creation - how we need to stop asking fact recall or multiple choice questions, which show nothing above remembering; how we need to make learners apply their knowledge, evaluate what they have learned and create something with that learning. It made me think about my A-Level English Language exam which I sat, (gulp) 18 years ago! I admit that I used to really look forward to that exam - yes, I am an English geek - but it was unlike any exam I had done before and I found it exciting and interesting and yes, enjoyable. On the Friday, we would be issued with two big booklets of material, each on a different topic. Each would be a collection of articles, images, fiction, non-fiction etc. - two collections of different text types and two different topics. We had the weekend to review and read and assimilate the material. On the Monday we sat our exam. We would have a variety of questions and would choose one, for example create a leaflet advertising the positive effects of..., create a fact sheet for parents on..., write a local newspaper article expressing your views on..., write a speech for your classmates about... Then we would create! Using the material we had in front of us and our knowledge of text types, language, audience and purpose, we would apply our knowledge and understanding, evaluate the material's suitability and create a new product. It was awesome - writing, sticking, gluing, drawing - I loved it! I loved it because it didn't feel like a test - but it was; I had to take everything I had learned and make something of my own. This was 18 years ago. This is what we should be doing now. This is why so much of the learning in my classroom culminates in a showcase of something created by the learners that shows what they have learned through the products they create.

Anyway, I digress. Here is a breakdown of the education technology tools currently available that I have used to great effect in my classroom. But bear in mind the Blooming Orange - learning is a cycle that goes round and round and should never stop.

An interactive pinboard/collage that allows learners to add links, images and ideas for use at a later time for design, sharing, analysing etc.

An excellent tool for collaboration, communication and clarification.
Multiple users and classes mean all members can add comments and share learning and understanding. Rather than sending one email to the teacher and having to wait for a reply, learners can ask each other questions in a forum where all are able to answer to confirm, clarify and consolidate understanding.

Google Drive
Learners use Google Drive to organise work and collaborate. I can share tools easily; provide models and frames to allow for them to apply their knowledge.
Forms can be used to apply criteria to peer and self assess work or collect responses.
Drawings can be used to apply learning in image sorts etc.
Organisational skills are applied in sharing folders and files or keeping things private or public.

Brilliant tool for searching and asking questions. It is THE place I go to find out stuff - but I have to read and I have to analyse because the wealth of material out the would be overwhelming. 
Learners are just getting to grips with this as a learning tool; they need to analyse the validity of the variety of answers that may be provided and come up with an acceptable result of their own. They need to make value judgements on what to read, what to follow up and what to discard. The ability to analyse and discriminate is an essential skill in this explosion of information.

Blogger /
Great place for reflection. Having an audience adds value to their work and I seem to notice my learners writing a lot more than normal. They are also classifying their work with labels, meaning they are thinking about style and purpose and making it easier for them to return to work at a later date.
Review past work work allows them to evaluate their learning and make progress based on past comments.
Commenting on others means they have to evaluate the learning intentions, purpose, audience and language of the posts. They have to critically comment and add suggestions that are constructive, useful and helpful – hopefully informing their own learning.
Linking with outsiders makes this even more authentic through organisations such as Quadblogger.

Allows learners to easily create effective movies from presentations, images, film etc.
Allows easy editing and adding of effects, text etc. to showcase learning.
Even the most challenged ‘creative’ learners are able to create and show a variety of learning easily.