28 March 2013

Reflecting - An Essential Skill for Learning

I recently had to write an assignment reflecting on the learning that happened during my capstone project for the PBLU teaching certification course, 'The Octopus's Garden'.

I firmly believe that without reflection, there can be no real learning - and I am talking here about educators as well as the children before us. The Flat Classroom Teaching Certification course I am also currently working on, also advocates 'personal reflection and celebration [as] a vital habit of the successful 21st century person' (217).

I tried to build in many opportunities for discussion and verbal reflection throughout the project though learners completed two main written reflections during the project.

The first one was after the first checkpoint, which was a practise presentation completed in teams. This was to determine the progress of the next phase and how to complete, the final presentations. Learners were able to make informed decisions about the next part of the project based strongly in their reflection of their learning up to this point.

The final reflection, Phase 4 of the project, determined their self-assessment of contribution and collaboration as this was a major focus of the project. It also asked them to consider their goals, accomplishments and any outstanding issues or questions they may have following the project. Following the final showcase, which was on the last day of term, learners were asked to complete two pieces of homework during the break. One was their report of their research and findings (workshop 1, workshop 2), the second was a Self-Reflection.

Learner Examples
Example 1
Example 2 (ESL Learner)

My Reflection on their reflections
This project has been challenging for me on many levels - not least because it was my first PBL unit. I feel like I have learned just as much as they have in terms of PBL but also about collaboration. If I had had the rest of the school on board with this, this could have been a fabulous multi-disciplinary project; art, science, maths and humanities could easily have been involved to make it even more successful and even moe full of learning. Whilst it has been used as an exemplar of PBL and is the way the school would like to go, I feel there are still many skeptics who are still not convinced and believe I sit behind my desk while my learners just 'get on with it'. There is also some criticism as many do not recognise this as ‘English’ teaching - and I suppose it is not, in the 'traditional' sense of teaching. But the world of education is changing - it has to as the actual world is changing. Fortunately, many in the school community have been along to lessons, the soundboard, the assembly and the showcase and are beginning to see how much work is actually involved and how many skills are actually covered. I have an open door policy in my classroom and obviously my resources are all online - I even opened up Edmodo to any staff who wanted to see how we use it as an effective 1:1 tool. At times, the negative attitude has been very tough to deal with and I have had some very black moments, but my online PLN through completing courses like this and the Flat Classroom, mean I have a great support network - and the feedback I get from my work means that I know I am doing the right thing.

One of the main outcomes for me from this project is that learners have begun to work together, something that was not happening before. In their reflections, many have asked to complete our next Unit together as G7 and G8, as they have enjoyed the challenge and opportunities afforded through working with other grade level learners.

We are going to continue the themes of collaboration and teamwork explored through the skills developed in this project, through a Unit that asks them if they dare to be themselves. Through a study of Jerry Spinelli’s, ‘Stargirl’, we will explore prejudice, tolerance, conformity and individuality, ultimately searching for the answer to the question, “Do we need individual and social conscience?”

This is still work in progress and I have yet to think about a final product - but am thinking along the lines of a video or handbook for younger learners on the importance of having tolerance for others and their differences, as well as the courage to be ourselves, as I know there are bullying issues in the primary school. As ever, once I have launched the Unit, I will have a discussion with the learners about how they want the unit to go and what they would like the outcome to be so they have some buy-in - and probably more interesting ideas than I do - about what the final outcome could be.
I do want to make sure that there is more contribution in terms of final product and I will require everyone to produce something this time, rather than a team presentation. I am currently studying towards my certification in Flat Classroom Teaching and there are many parallels between PBL and FCT so I am going to look at how the two use final outcome to plan accordingly to allow all learners the opportunity to produce and create. During FCT meetings, we have discussed the issue of non-contribution and one of the main ways we have decided to try to overcome is to have is as part of our rubrics to help enforce the importance of it.

The Future
In addition, as a faculty, we intend to include a research-based PBL project in each grade level. I am not sure The Octopus’s Garden could be reused with the same authenticity, but I intend to use the project as a template for real-life research such as an investigation into the 'Future of Fiction', or an investigation into where reading is going and what a library needs to be - and even, if and when we move to a new campus, what a 21st century school is.

I like the fluidity of the project and the clearly defined phases; I will however rethink the final showcase to include more of a presentation opportunity for everyone - though, as my way of teaching is, each project would be very different as each would be designed and develop with the needs of the learners in front of me.

Lindsay, Julie, and Vicki A. Davis. "Chapter 9: Step 7: Celebration." Flattening Classrooms, Engaging Minds: Move to Global Collaboration One Step at a Time. Boston: Pearson, 2013. 215-233. Print.

22 March 2013

Collaboration: The Legacy

Dipping my toes...
For the first three months of 2013, I took part in my first MOOC, 'Designing a New Learning Environment' offered by Stanford University via an initiative called Venture Lab. I signed up because it ties in with my Octopus's Garden Project and also because I wanted to experience this Flat Classroom-global-type of learning for myself.

The course required us to watch weekly lectures and complete readings; for assessment we had to submit five individual assignments, one final team assignment and five peer assessments of other final projects. We signed up for teams of our choice and developed an area within new learning environments; developing our final project design based on our findings, readings and experience.

Leading & Contributing
I became team leader late on in the project as the original one, the one who set up the actual topic, went quiet and dropped off the radar. Having 40000 people taking part in a course makes it hard to communicate with those who may offer help or advice and what I learned through this role most, is that leading a team of adults can be challenging, as contribution levels are so diverse. It made me wonder how my learners cope with this? I found some team members very quick to make suggestions yet slow to contribute; others contribute and are supportive, mostly though, they lack the ability to think independently or actually do something without being told what to do explicitly. Interestingly, this is the the very skills that I am trying to instill most in my learners - to self-motivate and regulate; to think critically and independently; to contribute fairly. My experience from the MOOC means it has become even more important to me as what amazed me t is the absolute inability of some adults to be able to conduct themselves as a independent and autonomous learners. We do not want this as the future.

I learned a lot about the nature of learning via this first MOOC; I do believe collaboration is key and yet I feel, I could have done better if I was by myself perhaps... On occasion... Despite my previous thinking about Collective Intelligence Ratios - perhaps some are lifted, whilst some are dragged down...

The inability to use the tools I suggested and the absolute reluctance to even try baffled me. I truly thought that in signing up to do collaborative learning online, there may be some skill set or at least some willingness to want to try. However, more often, I came across comments that, "I can't...", "it won't work", "I don't get it". I provided multiple tools as suggestions yet team members did not engage or sign up. These are tools that I suggest to my learners who have had equally limited exposure to prior to use - and yet figure it out. When do we ever hear kids moaning about not having had PD on something new we ask them to use? The lack of willingness to even try and the sit back and let the leader do it attitude very frustrating. Is this symptomatic of the way they were taught - the legacy of past educational methodology?

Testing the waters
It did not put me off though - oh no! Since completing the above, I have taken part in another MOOC, 'E-Learning and Digital Cultures' through Coursera (read more here) along with a few other online courses - English B Category 1 via the IBO, Project Based Learning Certification through PBLU (still ongoing), Flipped Classroom Certification through Sophia.org and of course, Flat Classroom Certification, which is still ongoing. I have also signed up to do my Masters in Education in Instructional Technology via online learning through the University of Maryland, as I believe online learning is rigorous and effective - as long as the participant is a learning-junkie, self-motivated to work and learn.

Flat Classroom
My experience of the Flat Classroom collaborative element so far has been quite different. Our first (formative) attempt was as a Quadblog, where a group of us were assigned a topic to create a collaborative post on. However, even though we completed this successfully, we did 'lose' one member along the way - one group member never contacted us and never contributed. We contacted the moderators who also tried to reach out, but still, they did not contribute. I guess there are always going to be occasions where not everyone can contribute for a multitude of reasons and non-contribution remains a perennial issue. It is just harder to understand from people who choose to sign up to these courses rather than learners in a class who have it as a mandatory part of their education.

In my classroom
One collaborative project I have tried in the classroom is The Great Gatsby website I created with my Grade 10 class. I designed the project to be a way of getting learners to think about a text a did not have time to 'teach' (a variety of issues have conspired against these learners who I inherited in August, having done nothing for their IGCSE language or literature exams this summer but who have worked incredibly hard to cover both courses in the space of seven months) and also as a revision site for them to use to prepare for their final exams.

We had a variety of issues - namely that the Google Site kept kicking them out and wouldn't let them edit, which meant they ended up emailing/sharing their work with me for me to upload and edit. Not ideal for a teacher already stretched to the max. However, even though this is still work in progress and not completed, many said they found it helpful for their mock exams and intend to use it for their summer exams. The downside of course is that as learners were responsible for individual pages or sections, some are always more conscientious than others and contribute more fully - however, as I have learned, this is not something something that seemingly changes with age or maturity and so perhaps, is a valuable lesson to learn at school!

I have written extensively on The Octopus's Garden project that was primarily designed as a capstone for my PBLU course and a preparation for the Flat Classroom course. Two grade levels have worked together on this creating problems of communication and collaboration similar to global classrooms - however, they do have the advantage of meeting at break-time, although Skype allows this too.

For the final presentation we did have one member join us via Skype as she was sick - it was brilliant as she was able to contribute to the discussion and even answer some of the questions put forth by the Principal.

The final term of the school sees me designing a new project for Grade 7 and Grade 8 who want to continue to work 'together'; my intention is to try to reach out globally for this one if I can to expand the boundaries of our experience.

I have also made a connection (via Twitter) to share learning with a class in America. I responded to a request for mystery Skype but our time difference made it very difficult. Not wanting to give up on the connection established, we devised a work around and so now, the Grade 5s in America are creating a video for my second language Grade 12s who will have to try to guess where the Grade 5s are. Then my Grade 12s will reciprocate - helping to develop their language skills even further.

Dive in!
For those who want to take control of their learning, both the MOOCs mentioned in this post are running again. Check out VENTURE LAB and COURSERA to sign up.

Learn more about the thinking I did through the two MOOCs:-
- Are Two Heads Better Than One or Do Too Many Cooks Spoil the Broth?
- 21st Century Teachers
- Graveyards of Technology
- The Machine is Us...
- Going Digital = Going Dumb?
- What is Human? What is Humanity?
- Evolution Technology: Visual Digital Literacy

21 March 2013

Empower Digital Citzenship

In my post "What is human? What is humanity?" I explored the future possibilities of technology with particular reference to education.

My thinking summised that the "the future will never be without teachers" but rather our roles will change; technology will allow teaching and learning to be "more effective"and will allow educators to become "enablers and supporters" rather than "lecturers and controllers". I would argue that it already has - this change should already have happened. In twenty years, we will be, should be, way beyond this. In order for this change to truly shape education - and the world - we need to start with the people in front of us, as they are the true future of education and of technology.

As outlined by the Flat Classroom book, there are five areas of awareness to use as a lens for viewing digital citizenship choices:
  • Technical Awareness
  • Individual Awareness
  • Social Awareness
  • Cultural Awareness
  • Global Awareness 

My Quadblog assignment post, "Digital Citizenship: Individual Awareness" focuses, obviously, on Individual Awareness, about how individuals understand online behaviour and how they chooses to behave online. In my post, "Habits of Learning: Responsible, Reliable Management of Online Activity", I quote the Flat Class book that states that "our future as a planet relies on our ability to use incredible technological advances for good and that begins with being able to relate to one another and prevent cultural disconnects from happening (98)" Digital citizenship needs to concern itself much more with social responsibility and social learning (95); building a responsible habit of mind when it comes to being a digital citizen means "having a professional approach to all things digital" (107) and it is through a unit called Snapshots that I intend to deliver this message and learning.

To each Grade 6 entering the school, we will deliver a unit developed this year that asks learners to think about how they want to present themselves to the world. Through an exploration of who they are and who they want their professional digital persona to be, we will set up and create a professional portfolio of online presence that will serve as a showcase for all their learning and achievements. Rather than having an embarrassing set of images, we will create best work that can compliment their CV/resum├ęs upon leaving school.

Starting with a paper blog community in the school, learners practise commenting and posting to an audience. Learners will then explore social media, online safety and digital footprints before creating a presentation to 'reverse mentor' Grade 5s in the primary school to teach them about the importance of safe, responsible online personas. Once this is completed, learners will sign an agreement about online use and then go 'live' with real blogs and take part in Quadblogs.

In collaboration with the IT department, I would like to continue this work throughout the school an build in more reverse mentoring opportunities (to staff as well as learners) by offering the Digiteen Project to Grades 7 & 8, the Flat Classroom Project to Grades 9 & 10, and the NetGenEd Project to Grades 11 & 12. I would also like to help write a clear Acceptable Use Agreement, embed a culture of 'Stop, Screen shot, Block, Tell, Share' to allay fear and upskill all teachers and learners to be aware of and build the habit of mind of how to be socially digitally responsible.

20 March 2013

Free Learning!

Statement of Accomplishment
For learning-junkies - like me - Coursera allows you to search for, enrol and take part in interesting and varied courses, offered by legitimate universities - for free!

I have written before about taking control of our own learning; whilst I am lucky enough to be in a school that values Professional Learning highly, that funds PL and devotes one afternoon session a week to helping staff learn, not everyone is so lucky. However, as explored in Kristen Swanson's book, 'Professional Learning in a Digital Age', the advent of technology and the Internet, means our learning can be 'user-generated' - we take control. Organisations such as Venture Lab and Coursera make this even easier.

This year online, for free, I have taken part in the following online courses:-

  • Designing a New Learning Environment (via Stanford University, through Venture Lab)
  • E-Learning and Digital Cultures (via The University of Edinburgh)

I am also signed up to show interest in taking the following courses over the remainder of the year:-
Subjects of courses offered

All who successfully complete the course requirements get a Statement of Accomplishment; there is even now a 'Signature Track', which, in select classes, allows you the opportunity to earn a Verified Certificate for completing your Coursera course. Signature Track securely links your coursework to your identity, allowing you to confidently show the world what you’ve achieved on Coursera. 

62 universities from across the globe are partnered with Coursera who offer courses in English, Spanish, French, Italian and Chinese across a huge range of subjects.

There is no excuse for not learning - time is what we make it and we have a duty to continue to develop as learners and educators. Model life-long learning in your classroom. Share with your learners what you are learning. Let them know you too are continuing to improve yourself. 

Lack of funding in your school for PL is no longer an excuse for lack of professional development and all employers should acknowledge this. You have the power. Take control, learn, develop - get your fix!

Visual Poetry

In my post 'Evolution technology: Visual Digital Literacy', a response to the MOOC 'Digital Cultures and E-learning' via Coursera and The University of Edinburgh, I explored the notion of how visual representations are considered less scholarly or rigorous than written exposition. I use, as an example, artist Ebon Heath, whose beautiful word sculptures expound my thinking that visual representation is just as valid as written explorations of thinking. His three dimensional poetry rebuts any criticism that we can only think and explain sufficiently in the written form.

The final assignment of the course asked for a digital representation of an element of the course that had impacted on us, or that we wanted to explore more. I admit that I did find it difficult to express my learning of the course in a visual way, as I am, by default, a writer. However, I think that being taken out of my comfort zone actually made me think harder and really consider what it was I wanted to say without waffle, without the luxury (mine) of being able to explain or justify my choices. I had to be clear, concise and choose carefully. I created a Glossi (a great beta tool that allows you to create your own magazines) to show my thinking about visual representation of understanding and knowledge with particular emphasis to the impact technology has on education. I called it Silent Noise linking to Heath's expresion of the multitude of information and media we are exposed to every second of every day but are becoming oblivious too because of its omniscience and our immunity due to over exposure.

I love Heath's work and message and I like the idea of drawing or creating with words; art and writing are the same to me - visual and language arts - and if I can bring them together, I will. Recently I was shown a tool that possibly merges these two mediums - word and visuals - in a really easy way. Tim Holman is an "Aussie interactive developer living in busy New York" and amongst his "folio, and web playground" - all of which are worth a play - he includes TEXTER. This little HTML5 'playground' allows you to type in any text - not sure of the limit, I included a whole poem - and then, with a swipe and a swirl, to draw with the words. Beautiful.

The faster you draw, the bigger the text; you can change minimum and maximum sizes as well as angle, background and text colour (hex). I include below my first attempt to 'draw' one of my favourite poems, 'Full Moon and Little Frieda' by Ted Hughes.

Full Moon and Little Frieda

A cool small evening shrunk to a dog bark and the clank of a bucket - 
And you listening. 
A spider's web, tense for the dew's touch. 
A pail lifted, still and brimming - mirror 
To tempt a first star to a tremor. 

Cows are going home in the lane there, looping the hedges with their warm 
wreaths of breath - 
A dark river of blood, many boulders, 
Balancing unspilled milk. 
'Moon!' you cry suddenly, 'Moon! Moon!' 

The moon has stepped back like an artist gazing amazed at a work 
That points at him amazed.

There are many implications for this across the curriculum, not just in English. I am planning a photo/image based poetry assignment for my IGCSE group after the spring break; I am going to ask learners to create a Glossi of their understanding of the set poems and just may have to include a visual representative of the poem using TEXTER as part of it. Watch this space for more about this as it develops.
Posts exploring the Digital Literacy and E-learning Course in more detail:-

17 March 2013

'The Art of Asking'

Is not the world very odd and strange place? How while you are thinking about something, often quite random, you all of a sudden come across many other things that are all linked to the initial thing you were thinking about... an unusual word, or new acronym or concept, for example. I recently wrote a blog post called, 'A drop in the ocean...', an extended metaphor attempting to establish stability and hope in a sea of despair, frustration and confusion. It was inspired by my fabulous and ever-growing PLN, that has recently grown through my participation in the wonderful Flat Classroom Teacher Certification programme.
The post discusses my desire and hope to find other, similar 'drops' to join together, collaborate and cultivate a cloud; to learn and strive to find the best methods and burst forth, raining down our knowledge of learning, in the hope of encompassing and inspiring more drops... and so letting the cycle begin again. From my PL came a rainbow;
"I love the rain drop analogy that you employ. I saw a wonderful Ted Talk yesterday by Amanda Palmer that made me think of you. Your message of hope and optimism in the form of a rain cloud is brilliant and touching. Let it rain, let it rain, let it rain!
This supportive comment cheered me up AND lead me serendipitously to Amanda Palmer, Neil Gaiman and all that jazz (thank you for your lovely comment btw, you know who you are).


I love the idea of sharing and trust explored in Amanda's TEDTalk, 'The Art of Asking'; there are those who will never understand why some of who do what we do (whatever it is, be it art, music, writing, teaching) and give so much of us into what we love - for free. I give my all to my job, it is never 8.30-3.30, it is constant. I see teachable moments in adverts, bill boards, films, books, music, conversation - heck, even aeroplane information cards! I think, I write, I read, I try - and it really impacts the relationship I have with my learners because I am so involved in it. It is not just a pay cheque. My 'obsession' some say, those love-haters, as Amanda says, causes tension. Amanda suggests that they can't see the relationship; they can't see the exchange; the exchange that is very fair to us but alien to them. Because they are not there. They aren't in it. And they can't get there unless they try. They must dip their toes.

The sharabale connectable content in the Internet takes us back to relationships that allow us to really connect. We can ask learners to come on a journey with us. Online tools make it easy and instinctive for learners to connect and share and ask others to help, comment and support; equally, my PLN makes my life easier and much fuller. I feel like I can ask.

My PLN makes me realise it is ok to be 'obsessive' and 'passionate', and importantly, that I am not odd for it and am not the only one. Even while many around me think I am simply 'rocking the boat', my PLN calm the ocean; they know I am just trying to get out of the boat to test the waters. If those around me were onboard, if we were sailing the seas together, we could balance and steady the ship - but they panic and try to push me away for lack of understanding, for resistance to change, for fear of the unknown deep. The Ted Talk led me to Palmer's "Bed Song", which suggests that when we don't communicate, small issues grow bigger and scarier; the deep waters I swim in may look unfathomable, but they hold a million treasures that would be best explored together; I want to take my immediate community with me - we need to talk, we need to reach out, we need to connect, we need to understand, we need to swim around and explore together. Sure, some things will not work, some things will go wrong and not everything will be successful but that is ok. We can bail each other out, we can throw each other a life belt, we can offer a shoulder to cry on or an ear to chew - but we must be there. We must ask.

Thanks to:
Just One Drop.org

16 March 2013

Google Forms for AfL

My focus this term for my Professional Learning has been on assessment. Our school focus for Professional Learning sessions has been on the holy trinity - Technology, Pedagogy, and Curriculum/Content.
Learners using Google Forms for Peer Assessment

In an attempt to create sound links between these three essential areas, different members of the school team led different workshops in a rotating carousel. For the technology element, a selection of tools and methods was showcased and then teachers signed up for further workshops in the areas they wanted to focus on. Workshop 1 or bit.ly/aflgoogle was my showcase.

Staff using Google Forms to give Feedback
(see post "Reflection & Revision"

I then led a series of short workshops, every three weeks (following the TPC rotation), on using Google Forms to help with Assessment for Learning in an attempt to meld the three areas together. In the first workshop (Workshop 2 or bit.ly/aflgoogle2) I gave a few examples and talked through how to set up a basic form. Attendees were requested to set on up to use before the next session three weeks later (Workshop 3 or bit.ly/aflgoogle3), where they were asked to reflect and share their form with the rest of the group.

The examples shared were great and all had had a go. They came with some questions that I was able to help them with and hope that they will continue to try and play around with Google as it has some great uses and it easy to share with learners to help with reflection and revision. More examples of how I have used Google Forms can be read in my recent post, "Reflection and Revision Opportunities: Check!"

Reflection and revision opportunities: Check!

My latest assignment for the PBLU course is a reflection on formative assessments or 'checkpoints' in my capstone project, The Octopus's Garden. Along with a short Professional Learning course I led at school on AfL using Google Forms, my focus lately has been very much on assessment and on ensuring I build in enough opportunities for essential revision and reflection before summative pieces are submitted. As a result of this thinking, I wrote a post on my 'Golden Rules' for AfL, which I am sure I will edit and develop as I continue to explore this vital component of teaching and learning.
Can we rethink the classroom?
PBL Guidance states that learners should be allowed two formative assessments for each summative assessment. The final product for The Octopus's Garden Project is a presentation to the Principal of the school with design ideas for a 21st century classroom that will enhance teaching and learning in the school (post on this coming soon). Learners will also have to recount their learning in a report following the presentation.

To prepare for these assessments, we worked on:-
- note-taking skills
- writing instructions
- persuasive language
- organisation
- effective slide-making
- recount writing
- report writing
Team Files & Contracts
Check Points: Presentations
Formative 1: team presentations on areas of expertise
Formative 2: draft final presentation to soundboard
Summative: final presentation to SLT

Check Points: Recount/Reports
Formative 1: recount following team presentations
Formative 2: recount of either the the peer assessment lesson with Grade 2 or the Shamini Flint workshop as well as a discussion following feedback from Formative Presentation 2
Summative: report of whole project

Formative 1: team presentations on areas of expertise & recount
The first presentation, the small-team one, took place about a month before the final two and showcased  each team's expert research into a given area of the classroom.

Every team completed a peer assessment form (on a Google Form) created from the co-constructed presentation rubric when watching the films. Team videos of these first attempt at collaborative film-making can be viewed on our website. Feedback from the Google Form peer assessment was posted on the project website to allow learners to let it inform their recount reflection and the next stage of the project.

Following this presentation, learners used the peer feedback to write a recount of Phase 2 before moving forward to work on the final presentation. This provided me with an opportunity to build in more conspicuous English content skills. Recount writing essentials were introduced using the flipped classroom method via a tutorial on Sophia.org. Following this, a lesson was delivered via the project website, where a writing frame and rubric were provided to support learners in the creation of their post during lesson time. Learner blog posts can be viewed on the Grade 7 or Grade 8 class blogs by clicking on individual names on the right. I also wrote a blog post, “Flipping Heck” on the success of this lesson and flipped methodology.

Formative 2: draft final presentation to soundboard & discusion
The thinking that led from the feedback and reflections is outline in my post "Final Phase Begins" - ultimately, learners decided to stay in their teams and use their expert knowledge to create and contribute to a final overall presentation. We planned it out using sticky notes and a management log to track and control the process; you can read more about project management in my post "Managing the Octopus".

Learners showed real engagement and dedication to the final presentation, by coming to the classroom to work during their breaks to rehearse and edit ready for the final deadline. To allow for the essential review and revision process, I sent out on open invitation to the school to ask for volunteers to act as a soundboard and provide feedback so learners could make final adjustments before going 'live'.

Two days before this final deadline, a panel made up of teachers, parents and the head of primary, who kindly gave up their free time to support and help the project, came and watched their work. The 'soundboard' gave some critical feedback via a Google Form developed from our co-constructed rubric.  All Octopus's Garden Project presenters were really nervous as they have worked really hard and it was the first time they had showed anyone else their work - other than me and our support staff. However, they were kind and supportive of each other and did a really great job. I was really proud of them - though we still have some areas needing attention. The soundboard’s comments, questions and feedback were really encouraging and helpful; the feedback was given verbally and shared on the site to allow for discussion, review and revision before the final presentation.
Presentation for the Soundboard

Learners now have the spring break to write a detailed report about their learning from the project. To prepare learner for this, they have been given the writing opportunities above but also have been provided with scaffolding. Using the flipped method, learners watched a video about report writing and completed a quiz to test their understanding. They included a question they still had about report writing, which we will attempt to answer following the report writing after the break. 

After this, learners took part in a workshop that I designed based on Bloom's Taxonomy that asked learners to:-
- recall the elements needed in a report from the flipped homework
- identify the essential components of a report
- analyse how planning (learner model) becomes writing
- apply this knowledge to write their own plan
- create a report of their own using a frame

Learners were supported in creating the plan and now have to create the report in the break. To give additional support, learners have been given a step by step process workshop and video to consult should they need it.

The final assignments for the PBLU course require me to reflect on the whole process of project-based learning - including looking at learner assessments and their reflections about the project. I have also set a 'reflection' task as Spring Break homework, which is a method I had already adopted as part of my teaching process through MYP teaching. I believe it is equally as important for teachers to reflect and take on board the comments of learners to ensure our teaching is continually up to date, authentic and relevant.

13 March 2013

Almost there...

What is a 21st century classroom?

The time has come! For the past few months, Grade 7 and Grade 8 have eaten, slept and dreamt about this moment - the final presentation for the Senior Leadership Team happens ON FRIDAY!
Our soundboard

I have been really impressed with the engagement and dedication of the learners who have been working during their breaks to get together and rehearse and edit their presentation, ready for the deadline.

In preparation and to ensure the presentation can be the best possible showcase for all their hard work, learners presented their final ideas to five volunteers made up of teachers, parents and the head of primary, who kindly gave up their free time to support and help us. This afternoon, our 'soundboard' came along to watch the final presentation and give some critical feedback via a Google Form developed from our co-constructed rubric.

All Octopus's Garden Project presenters were really nervous as they have worked really hard and it was the first time they had showed anyone else their work. However, they were kind and supportive of each other and did a really great job. I was really proud of them - though we still have some work to do. Their comments, questions and feedback were encouraging and helpful - and now we have some great advice about how to improve for Friday.

Soundboard completed Google Forms to give feedback
The project team will work on final adjustments and rehearse a few more times before finally presenting on Friday afternoon - and then we will celebrate with a party after all the hard work - what an awesome way to end a fabulous term!

Watch this space to find out if our pitch is successful!

11 March 2013

AfL: Golden Rules

Assessment for Learning: My Golden Rules

Evaluation and assessment are not the same. My husband worked with a colleague who 'assessed' final exam art-work based on the standard of the class. He was gobsmacked when, during his first 'standardisation' meeting for IGCSE art, she laid out all the pieces across the room. She had decided, subjectively and without consultation of the criteria, that 'Sue' had produced the 'best' work, therefore she got an 'A', whilst 'Peter' was the 'worst', so he got the 'U' grade. She then divided up the grades equally among the remaining learners ranged between 'Sue' and 'Peter'. She seemed horrified when my husband challenged her evaluation and argued against her normative approach. She seemed mystified when he suggested that they should be doing criterion-based grading based on - wait for it - the IGCSE assessment criteria... This was only 3 years ago and even then, I was stunned that anyone actually did this. But this is a true story.
Poster Campaign,
The Octopus's Garden Project

Since then, I have continued to think carefully about the purpose of assessment and how we assess with particular focus on Assessment for Learning (AfL). I recently led a few little workshops on using Google Forms for AfL to share with educators in my school, showing how technology can enhance our AfL practice. Wary that some think I am all about the technology, when in fact I am all about the learning, I have reflected on this and this term's work, most notable, on The Octopus's Garden Project, and have tried to distill my thinking about AfL into a few Golden Rules.

Comment OR grade. NOT both.

The advice of my Principal is to choose one or the other - feedback or grade - but not both. Giving both is counter-intuitive. I try to stick to this - not only because it saves my precious time, but because I do believe that if we give a grade, learners don't read comments, and if we do give comments, there is no need for a grade, because the comments are there to help work towards a formative piece.  

The feedback is part of the journey, the grade is the destination.

Summative before formative.

I believe we should, as Dylan Wiliam asserts, embed formative assessment into our everyday practice. Each conversation or comment, either verbal or written, should be used to allow learners - and teachers - to reflect on the learning going on and plan where to go next. Relying on one single summative assessment at the end of a unit does not allow opportunity for rethinking and revision; it does not allow us to adjust our learning - and teaching - based on the needs arising and issues being identified as the unit progresses.

Learning Conversations
I try carefully to distinguish between the two; formative assessments, with detailed feedback; summative assessments with a mark/grade based on specific criteria, with no feedback. I also try to adhere to having at least two formative assessments for each summative assessment to allow for that reflection, review and revision.

Criteria should be transparent.

All formative and summative assessments should be based on appropriate and specific criteria or rubrics. When a task is set, the criteria or rubric must be available from the start.  In exam-based classes, theses are defined for us. In non-exam classes, we should make the criteria or rubric co-constructed, learner-friendly and appropriate to relevant standards. Formative feedback should be based on this criteria/rubric so learners can identify where there are and where their next steps are.

The Octopus's Garden Project Team
Assessment is a dialogue.

The most productive assessment is dialogue. These learning conversations can be between teacher and learner or learner and learner; they can be verbal, written or virtual. Technology makes this easier than ever - Google Forms, for example allows instant feedback; Edmodo ensures constant dialogue and sharing using appropriate language, and builds a culture of collaboration and support. I have spent a lot of time this year working on developing 'critical friends' in the classroom. Through blogs and commenting, this learning dialogue has become easier and far more ubiquitous; we have focused on how to provide positive feedback that gives helpful advice rather than criticism or negative remarks, so learners are in a position to be able to help each other move forward. Use of the rubrics or criteria to provide this feedback means also that learners are more aware of the requirements of a particular task, allowing them to be more successful in turn. 

When we build learning-focused relationships, learners engage with the task, with us and with each other. Being able to communicate constantly, openly and honestly means we all gain more. Technology just helps this process.

Here are the links to the outlines for my Google Forms for AfL Workshops 

With reference to:

"6 Common Misunderstandings About Assessment Of Learning." TeachThought. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Mar. 2013.

"Welcome to Dylan Wiliam's Website." Welcome to Dylan Wiliam's Website. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Mar. 2013.

10 March 2013

Digital Citizenship: Individual Awareness

A Quadblog assignment for Flat Classroom Teacher Certification. Composed collaboratively by Holly, Dottie, Kerry, and Penny.

Five areas of awareness - use these five areas of awareness as a lens for viewing digital citizenship choices:
  • Technical Awareness
  • Individual Awareness
  • Social Awareness
  • Cultural Awareness
  • Global Awareness 
The focus of this Quad-Blog will be on Individual Awareness

Individual awareness is a person’s understanding of online behavior and how he/she chooses to behave online. Some factors that play into individual awareness are healthy lifestyle choices, balance, and a person’s individual goals.

Major Topics:

Safety, Privacy, Copyright, Fair Use, and Legal Compliance
Etiquette and Respect
Habits of Learning: Reliable, Responsible, Management of Online Activity
Understanding Literacy and Fluency

Safety, Privacy, Copyright, Fair Use, and Legal Compliance
What is it?
In basic terms Safety, Privacy, Copyright, Fair Use and Legal Compliance are the rules that guide schools and organisations into how digital citizenship will look.

What does it mean?
When students are ‘online’ at school they are operating under the terms and conditions set by that school. In most cases schools will be guided by their educational ministries and the rules of their state or country.

Schools enforce these rules to protect a student's’ intellectual property and to protect the school from illegal or compromising activity. Schools are legally responsible for the content both downloaded and uploaded by students. In maintaining privacy and safety many schools use web filtering software. When students try to enter websites or applications that are deemed ‘harmful’ they receive a message ‘ This blog sites that may cause ‘harmful’ exposure’.

Some filtering systems electronically scan incoming and outgoing messages to check for explicit language. These messages are not delivered and are sent to the ICT manager for review.

This makes sense as schools need to protect themselves from legal infringements and parental concerns but does little to empower and teach students about why these rules are in place.

A challenge also arises when students leave educational settings and do not apply those same rules at home. We need to make sure that children understand the importance of following these rules wherever they are and who ever they are with.

What do schools need to do?
As educators we need to teach students about being safe and protecting their privacy. In many cases we also need to teach and empower parents to not only protect themselves but actively monitor their children. Kevin Honeycutt talks about parents having an obligation to be aware of what their children are doing online and the footprints they are leaving for others to walk beside.

The Flat Classroom book (103) provides some questions that students can ask themselves as they develop an awareness of Understanding Safety, Privacy, and Copyright, Fair Use, and Legal Compliance.

Safety: How can I be a self-confident advocate for myself and others when safety is a concer?

Am I aware of Geo-tagging in my photographs and if that compromises my safety and

Privacy: Do I understand the long-term implications of inappropriate photos and have I made
a decision about the type of photos that are acceptable in my online spaces?

Do I know how to purchase safely online?

Copyright: Do I know the kind of licensing I prefer for my work depending on where it is and how it is being used?
Fair Use: Will I adhere to fair use?

Legal: Can I self-confidently resist peer pressure to pirate music or videos? Am I able to resist texting while driving?

Schools need to be explicitly teaching children skills in answer to the questions above, ensuring their awareness and personal responsibility. It is important for students to understand the consequences of what will happen if they upload copyrighted material, or compromise their privacy and that of their friends.

Schools need to rethink their filtering software and instead spend time on education what safety looks likes and what to do when it goes wrong.

“Educated digital citizens are an army prepared to protect themselves from the vagrants who want to steal their future” (102)

As a school, as an educator, as a parent, as a friend are you helping to prepare an army?
Lindsay, Julie, and Vicki A. . Davis. "Chapter 5: Citizenship”. Flattening Classrooms, Engaging Minds: Move to Global Collaboration One Step at a Time. Boston: Pearson, 2013. N. pag. Print.

Etiquette and Respect

Individual Awareness with regards to etiquette and respect begins with choices that the global citizen will make about how they will treat others and how they will be tuned in to their own personal needs. Good manners can and must be taught. Some good options to help teach this are PBS Kids, The Growing Up Online series, the information from Flat Classroom Projects, and Common Sense Media (116). Using these sources while a project is going on, is the best method.
Students need to treat themselves and others with respect regardless of whether or not they are online. Some rules and guidelines for online netiquette would include:

Identify yourself
Avoid sarcasm
Don’t type in all caps
Avoid IM speak
Respect other’s privacy
Tell the truth
Be yourself

In addition to these basic guidelines, it is important for students to be aware of cultural disconnects that can occur in the global community. By communicating cultural norms, or manners of a society, they will be able to remain open even if an offense has occurred (106).

A couple of simple but key guidelines for etiquette and respect are that the student should be in tuned to their emotional state before communicating online. This would involve the student being aware that when they are tired, angry, frustrated about something, then it is probably not a good time to begin communicating online. The person on the other end can’t see their facial expressions or know what is going on at that moment and the wrong message could be sent. A second key guideline involves the student respecting their personal need to disconnect from technology and rest (106).

Habits of Learning: Responsible, Reliable Management of Online Activity

"Our future as a planet relies on our ability to use incredible technological advances for good and that begins with being able to relate to one another and prevent cultural disconnects from happening (98)"
Digital citizenship needs to concern itself much more with social responsibility and social learning (95); building a responsible habit of mind when it comes to being a digital citizen means "having a professional approach to all things digital" (107). The main questions individuals must ask themselves are:
  • do I have personal habits that facilitate lifelong learning?
  • do I share with others and understand their own value of education? (107)
These are questions we must ask ourselves as educators as well as of our learners - we must model individual awareness and let them see it in action; we must make it a habit of mind in order that it becomes entrenched in our teaching and learning and is automatically instilled into our approaches.

I recently took part in a virtual book club about taking control of your own learning, very much concerned with creating sound habits of learning that support our professional learning in a digital age. Kristen Swanson, author of Professional Learning in the Digital Age, advocates three main steps to creating a habit of user-generated learning - curation, reflection and contribution.

In the Flat Classroom book, Vicki Davies and Julie Lindsay suggest that "reliability is shown by having an online presence, often called "digital footprint", that is proliferated through sensible actions and responses while using digital tools" (107). In addressing question 1) do I have personal habits that facilitate lifelong learning?, Swanson's chapters on Curation and Reflection will help to build solid foundations that allow you to get out there, manage what you find and reflect on it's use. My blog post 'Pearls of Wisdom', discusses the awesome Pearltrees as a great curation tool, and the post 'Bare your Soul' advocates how "the act of finding resources and thinking about them changes your practice. The more exploring [you] do, the more [you] try, and the more [you] learn", Richard Byrne, quoted in 'Reflection', 'Professional Learning in a Digital Age' by Kristen Swanson.

One way I have approached this with my learners is through a project called 'Snapshots' that I wrote to ask learners to think about the question, 'How do I want to present myself to the world?'. This project ran from G6-10 and began with an exploration, through poetry, of who they think they are - and more importantly, who do they want to be seen as to people who don't know them. To establish the habit of learning about responsibility, we moved on to a 'Paper Blogging Project' that had learners post blog post simulations, on paper, on the outside of my classroom walls. The school community was informed and invited to contribute and learners used sticky notes to 'post' comments on each others’ writing. We took time to review these posts and then discussed what was appropriate, kind, critical commenting as well as how to take responsibility and remove inappropriate or unhelpful comments. We signed up to Quadblogs, with the agreement that we would go last, and spent three weeks looking at our assigned school blogs to to see their organisation and discussed how to organise our own. We drew up and signed an agreement with parents before launching them online.

In addressing question 2) do I share with others and understand their own value of education?, my blog post about contribution, quotes Vicki Davis in 'Global Education by Design' stating that we "must leave digital footprints so people know you’re treading among them and part of the community." It is our responsibility to do that safely, responsibly and build this in our learners. Having the chance to practise blogging safely and see others doing it before going 'live' I believe built in some great habits of responsible and reliable behaviours; it made learners very aware of the language being used and they started pointing out non-standard English immediately - I hope that my reinforcement of the need to have a "professional approach to all things digital" particularly in terms of language is affecting their communication in all areas.

Common Sense Media is a great place for digital citizenship sources; I want to develop the 'Snapshots' unit into a more detailed exploration of digital citizenship that all Grade 6s must complete at the start of secondary school. Their Digital Passport site looks like a really interesting place to start. I also want to build in more consideration of Digital Culture from my current learning through a Coursera MOOC I am just completing on E-Learning & Digital Cultures with the older grades. I also want to approach the administration at school about building in some of the projects offered by Vicky and Julie: the Digiteen Project, the Flat Classroom Project and the NetGenEd Project to allow all learners at all levels develop strong habits and exposure to online, global citizenship.

If, as is suggested in Flat Classroom's Chapter 3: Connection, "ninety-five percent of [we] accomplish is due to our habits" (Tracy, 35) then I recommend Kirsten Swanson's book; it ties in really well with the Flat Classroom book and will guide you into building solid habits of learning, especially those new to online networking and managing a digital footprint - it could really help you develop strong habits to ensure your footsteps are smooth, safe and steady so you are ready to help learners. Our own individual awareness needs to be established; individual awareness about habits of mind will allow us to act with responsibility and reliability; it will ensure our footprints are positive and sure, it will help prevent us slipping off the path into danger, it will help stop us tripping ourselves up!
Lindsay, Julie, and Vicki A. . Davis. "Chapter 3: Connection, Chapter 5: Citizenship. Flattening Classrooms, Engaging Minds: Move to Global Collaboration One Step at a Time. Boston: Pearson, 2013. N. pag. Print.

Swanson, Kristen. Professional Learning in the Digital Age: The Educator's Guide to User-generated Learning. Larchmont, NY: Eye on Education, 2013. Print.

Understanding Literacy and Fluency

An individual awareness of literacy with regards to digital citizenship involves an understanding of and appreciation for the many different communication tools available to make connections with others around the world. As educators we must explore as many of these tools as possible so we can guide students in both their choice and use of these tools. To do this effectively we need to keep in mind that not everybody with whom we hope to communicate with around the world will have the same level of access to technology with regards to both hardware and software. Guiding students through the process of selecting which tools to use will provide valuable learning experiences as cultural, economic and social considerations will be fundamental to this decision making process. Encouraging our students to put themselves in the shoes of those with whom they are connecting with will help them to be empathetic global citizens.

Understanding fluency as a global citizen involves the skills of self analysis. Both teachers and students need to be aware of their own abilities and have confidence to ask themselves where gaps in their abilities lay and what measures can be taken in order to fill these gaps. Whilst some of the skills needed to analyse one’s abilities can be explicitly taught, a teacher role modelling how they determine where the gaps in their abilities lay will provide a wonderful learning opportunity for their students. This role modelling may also encourage students to be confident of their ability to take risks and solve problems. From my experience of working with adolescents, when a good relationship is formed between student and teacher and the teacher works alongside of their students facilitating the learning process and modelling their own learning, the positive environment this creates encourages students to take risks and have the confidence to tackle problems.

09 March 2013

It's all about Choice and Voice

Collaborative Planning in PBL

In Phase 3 of The Octopus's Garden Project, Grade 7 and Grade 8 have been working on the importance of visuals in getting their message across clearly and effectively to their audience.

They recently collaborated to decide how to proceed with their final design presentations. Using the feedback and reflections from their Phase 2 presentations, along with some lesson on slide design and visual story-telling, they created a list of guidelines to guide their final designs.

Lots of critical thinking happened as learners made important decisions about how teams would be formed, how the presentation would work, what would be included and the order each section would occur in. Learners took part in a poll to decide on team formation for this Phase and then, using the guidelines and learning from the slides above, worked on planning out their section of the final design presentation.
Created with Haiku Deck, the free presentation app for iPad, http://www.haikudeck.com/p/erLtqL3EJt/visual-storytelling
Rubber Ducks: 'Walls' Presentation Planning

Using sticky notes, each team planned out exactly what they wanted to be seen on each slide and in what order, with notes about what would be heard whilst the slide was displayed - speech or music.

Two members from each team then circulated among the rest of the group, spending two minutes discussing the plan with the remaining members. Returning to their own team, they shared what they had seen and heard and adjusted their plans accordingly, (see right).
Plan for Slide 1 of
Final Presentation

Once each team's plan was made, all sheets were stuck up on the wall around a central overall plan - which included a general introduction to the whole project, (see left and below).

As a group, we then started to plan out the whole presentation bringing together all our ideas. Learners wanted to mix up the different areas in a logical way. By discussing links and connections between different topic areas, learners began to create a presentation plan that seamlessly links different areas together. For example, discussion of a ceiling painted like the sky (from G.O.A.T.'s 'Ceiling' plan) lead to a discussion of flooring like grass (from Dominant Innovation's 'Floor' plan) to create a more sophisticated presentation that shows careful thought about all the different elements.
Final Presentation Plan starting to take shape
Learners recognised that these thinking, planning and linking skills are essential in effectively and clearly showing all their designs in a cohesive way, but are also very important for organising their writing.

08 March 2013

The Launch: Octopus Entry Event

One of the essential elements of Project-Based Learning is the Exciting Entry Event - the launch of the project that incites and inspires the learners. This is a reflection on the design and implementation of my first full PBL unit.

The launch of The Octopus's Garden Project took the guise of a class visit by the deputy principal to request the help of the classes in launching our school into the 21st century and helping establish our position in Singapore. The driving question became, ‘What is a 21st century classroom?’ and essentially, ‘Can Nexus learners re-think the classroom?’; learners were also shown this page with a basic project overview and a video to inspire them about what classrooms can look like with thought and imagination.

Upon being asked to run with the idea of classroom re-design (see my post, 'Birth of the Octopus' for more background on this); I was briefed about the parameters the design could take, e.g. no structural changes, budget, sourcing from our island etc.  This informed my planning and dsign of the project.

Before the launch was scheduled to take place, I shared the Project Overview and the Project website with Senior Management. This allowed all members of the project development team to be fully up to speed and knowledgeable about the project, relevant curriculum focuses and key words involved. In addition, I put up posters as ‘teasers’ around the school, featuring the learners involved but with no explanation, just QR codes linking to the site, to get some buzz generated. The thinking behind my designs and the project evolution can be read about in more detail here.

The DP came to the lessons for both grades involved in the project (I am running this across two grade levels in mixed teams as an extra challenge and introduction to flat classroom methodology). He explained the mission statement of the school and the long term plan for making it a top school but one that is different and forward-thinking. He went over how much had been invested into the building already; the library, gardens and canteen, as well as on resources and new staff. Then he led into how important learners are in our philosophy, and how their say matters to us - and so the next phase in the development of the school is to think about the actual learning environment. He said that they are the experts of the learning environment, so it is only right that they are involved in this. He explained the parameters of the project and ended by opening the floor for their questions. He left with the promise that if the learners are successful in creating a viable design, based on sound research, that they can persuade the Principal will enhance the teaching and learning experience of as well as meet the needs of the Nexus learner (and teacher) then it will become a reality!

Following his visit, the discussion continued as I showed them the project website and explained how the project would work. I also showed them the inspiration page I had created and the links I had found as a starter for ideas. I broke down the project into phases to show them what each part expected of them and the tools we would use to collaborate and create each phase leading up to the final design and pitch to the senior management team. I included details about how they would be assessed in each part so they were completely aware of the whole content required. My own planning out, in terms of the management log, allowed me to have anticipated the skills they might need, so I was able to lead discussions clearly from a teaching perspective, particularly if they were not aware of skills they did not have. I was also able to provide concrete examples, such as needing to create a video presentation, meaning they could identify that they would need particular technological skills as well as persuasive skills. From this, they split into groups to create their Need to Know lists, which informed the actual content part of the lessons e.g. persuasive language skills, report writing, how to use Twitter, how to work as a team etc. They mind-mapped in small groups as below, and this was collated into a project Need to Know list.
Learner Created Need To Know

I was pleased with the launch overall; the authenticity above all means they are really excited about this project. Having senior management in the room actually asking them really enforced this and their buy-in. 

On reflection, as well as the visit and request from SLT, a short video with a collection of examples of classrooms that have already been changed, or some ideas etc. from the collection of resources and links I had included on the site, might help in giving them a more visual idea of the possibilities. Having the project broken down into phases really helped them narrow down the activities and the skills they needed to work on to be successful in the project. The authenticity of the project meant there is such a vested interest in the research - with the knowledge that they have to be thorough as they are the ones who benefit from it essentially. The Need to Know List was great, as it allowed me to build on the skills I had anticipated would need to be covered to ensure all learners are up-skilled as well as satisfy English curriculum content. It was also a great way to share gaps in knowledge and skills with the EAL department, so they were able to provide adequate support throughout the project. 

The most important and largest element that came out if this, is their need to know how to work as a team. Theses kids have been rote-learning and have been spoon fed; until now they have never done anything like this, they have never been asked to think critically, collaborate or create, and were very concerned about what it means to be a good team member. Allowing space at the start of the project to allow these worries to surface meant I could factor in a lot of time working on creating profiles of teamwork, discussing tactics and groupings with the relevant support departments and from all this, a co-constructed rubric for teamwork and contract was developed and signed to ensure effective and successful collaboration throughout the project.

Rocket Image By Autopilot (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL  (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons