Thursday, 14 September 2017

Consistency or Creativity - You Make The Choice

I quite often hear teachers talk about the need for consistency in using a certain format or platform in schools.  For example, when making art work, some teachers want their students' work to all look the same because it looks more effective on their classroom walls.  Or when choosing a digital platform for school, the teachers want senior leadership teams to make a decision for the whole school - to use Microsoft 365 or Google Suite or Schoology or Edmodo or any other that they have seen in operation.

When I ask teachers why they want "consistency," they reply so that the teachers and learners will know what to do, so that everything is the same, so that everyone is on the same page etc.   I hear no really valid reason, in my books.  I dispute the need for consistency and I am all for giving teachers and learners choice.  Choose the product that works well for you at the time.  If you have the opportunity to use a variety of platforms, then pick one that you and your learners like.  As long as we perpetuate the myth that students will not know what to do, they will continue to remain in a state of learned helplessness.

So how could this work in art?  There are a variety of different techniques that learners could be exposed to.  Making videos on how to do these different techniques would provide learners the opportunity to have choice and control over what they do.  Giving them the opportunity to investigate and try different techniques is important in my view.

But then comes the practical side of things.  How can you cater for a whole lot of different techniques and media in one classroom? I am thinking that this is where the whole idea of student agency is exposed for its true meaning.  Not only do learners have choice and control of what they do and when they do it, they have to be self-organising.  They would need to organise researching and finding the resources themselves, and this will require teachers to let go of the control as well.

Good things take time.  If I were a teacher thinking of transitioning to this way of working in Art, here is what I would do.  I would take videos or collect videos of different techniques and post them up in a central place (maybe a site for example).  I would ask learners to investigate different techniques and learners could make videos about what materials were needed and how to carry out the technique.    This way the learners would become a lot more creative rather than following a set "lesson plan" for art.  I would be there to help, suggest, guide.   You know, the whole idea of guide on the side.

And yes it would be very messy.  Am I just dreaming about what could be, or is this far too impractical?

Photo:  A Duck Out of Water.

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

Politics, Colleagues and Friends

It is so easy, isn't it?  The elections looming in the next few weeks and posts go up on Facebook declaring your political bent.  In the coming weeks, they will be more frequent and strident.  The Primary Teachers Facebook Group administrators were forced to draw a line in the sand recently and suggested one post per member on the political scene.  Teachers were getting too aggressive in their stances.
I must admit to having one friend on Facebook unfriend me because I posted too much on Donald Trump and how ridiculous the man is.  I guess the friend wanted to live in an echo chamber where only his views were visible. But I, too, have been tempted to do the same as the elections loom.  I cannot believe some of the "stupid" posts that people put up about their preferred party or politician.  I have come close to hitting the unfriend button several times but stop myself by thinking about internet guru, Howard Rheingold, and his assertion that we need to learn to be critical consumers to survive online. To do that we have to ensure we do not surround ourselves with like-minded opinion online.

How do friends view the world so differently?  I guess we are all brought up in different ways and experience different things in our lives and work.  We make judgments based on the ladder of inference.  Our action (voting and expressing our political bent) will be based on the reality that we select, the assumptions we make, and the beliefs we have developed.

Teachers are taught to question their beliefs, assumptions and try to look at unselected data about their learners when they start out on a teaching as inquiry cycle.  It is difficult to do by yourself, and this is where a critical friend comes in handy.  Not an uncritical friend.  Someone who agrees with everything you say and constantly affirms you and supports you is not a good critical friend.  An excellent critical friend is often one who challenges his/her own beliefs constantly.   A good critical friend will challenge you even when they do not necessarily believe that the challenge is correct.

So my promise is not to unfriend or even unfollow friends who have a different political bent to mine, no matter how angry I become at their stupidity.  Of course, the challenge is to resist responding in anger. That will lead to them unfriending me. And then I will have another echo chamber.

Image from Stuff

Tuesday, 5 September 2017

Stop the World - Teachers Need to Get Off!

Education is being reinvented.  This is not just a "tune up" of the existing education system.  It is a whole rethink of the purpose of education, with all the flow on effects of curriculum design, teaching design, learning design, and still teachers have to carry on.

  • The 30 children are still turning up at the classroom door every day. 
  • Duty still has to be done at interval and lunchtime. 
  • The working parents are still breathing sighs of relief as they drop their children off before the call of their own industrious travails.  
  • The helicopter parents are still hovering, criticising, stirring discontent in their social spheres.
  •  The MOE is still looking for the elusive literacy and numeracy improvements,  or searching for some nebulous positive relationship between cohorts in the analysis of NCEA achievement. 
  • The BOTs and the Principals are still trying to push the school to climb the league tables in an effort to make theirs the most desirable school to attend.
And the list of the everyday demands of schooling goes on.  It is hard to look past the metaphor of building the aeroplane while it is flying.
As a result, we have a number of different "types" of teachers emerging.  My own opinion of educators oscillates wildly between unbridled excitement at the potential and burgeoning talents of some of them and utter despair at the complete lack of understanding and willingness to adapt of others.  Of course, the reality is probably somewhere in the middle, but I think it is a reflection of the environment we are in.  
What we really, really want is to stop the education world for a while, all re-imagine what it could and should be, and then build the infrastructure and capability to achieve it, giving time for teachers to re-educate themselves and not fall back into the same old "safe" practices that they have used for years, or that others have passed on because it worked for them.  

Wednesday, 30 August 2017

Padlet - A great platform for sharing your videos if you are "Flipping your Science Learning"

I recently gave a presentation to a school about flipping the learning and posted this example of a Padlet as platform to share videos with learners, so thought I would share it with you.
Made with Padlet

This particular one is about Safety in the Science Laboratory and I used random videos that I found on Youtube.  But you could easily get your learners to make a video about different aspects of laboratory safety and ask them to post their video onto the Padlet for the class.  Remember that creativity is the key to remembering, understanding and applying.

Sunday, 13 August 2017

Bringing it all Together

My last post shared a video to help you create a blog which is a great way to collect evidence for your appraisal or teacher certification.  This post today is about creating a Google site to bring evidence together from your blog and folders in Drive.  Sites are a great way to select what is needed for your purpose and present it in a static way.  While I am not yet a fan of the new google sites compared to the old google sites, one thing about them that is useful is that they are easy. So watch this video if you are keen to bring it all together.

Thursday, 10 August 2017

Teaching Standards Portfolio

If you are looking for a way to record evidence for the new teaching standards, here is how I think you could do it. This video helps you set up a blog for that purpose.


Learning in and About Vietnam in Ho Chi Minh

This is the second post about a recent trip to Vietnam as part of ongoing professional development provided by the IPL, University of Waikato, for teachers from Vinschool.  I travelled to Vietnam in June with a colleague to facilitate 6 modules of work, firstly in Hanoi and then in Ho Chi Minh city. We flew in, along with a whole lot of tourists, to Ho Chi Minh City on a July Thursday, disembarked on the tarmac as you do,  and we met with our new translator at the newly built secondary VINschool.  The teachers that we met here were all new to the Ho Chi Minh school as it had not officially opened.

Construction was still going on in the Vin complex so this time we were accommodated in a nicely centrally placed hotel - the Bong Sen. We travelled each day via taxi to the school.  Catching a taxi was something I quickly adapted to.  Just step out on the scary Vietnamese roads and hail one down.  Each time I stepped onto a road I would cross myself and say "I'm with Mary" hoping that Mary's experience and the religious connection would help me.  Those who know me well will realise how preposterous this mantra was.

Generally speaking, I was terrified every time I looked out of the front of the taxi, and so I forced myself into the habit of looking out the side windows (still not an infallible method of avoiding traffic scares but better on the nerves).  It did give me the opportunity to focus on the transport and the buildings.

We were the first to use some of the facilities at the school so everything was pristine and after starting up in one room, we realised that we would need a lot more space for the activities that we needed to do, and were moved to an enormous presentation room.

Friday went well as did Saturday, but as afternoon tea time finished, we realised that the teachers were up to something when they broke out the karaoke youtubes.
They usually had time to work with their teams on their presentations following the mid afternoon break but they said - it is Saturday evening, time to relax! And so, we became part of the ongoing karaoke show.  Mary bravely found a Pokarekareana youtube and we sang along for our part. There were songs from the North and songs from the South and some of the teachers were real entertainers.  Dancing, laughing and singing until time to go home.

Mary and I checked out some of the views of the Vin complex up the river from a hotel dining room one night and then other views of the Saigon River from the Bitexaco Tower viewing platform another night.  Living right in the middle of the tourist area provided us with ample opportunities to sample the food, with my favourite restaurant being one right next to the hotel called Lemongrass.  Fabulous food and Vietnamese music being played live as we ate dinner.

We were also able to see many of the tourist sights in the evenings, and on our day off we took a tour of the inner city which was really worthwhile in getting our bearings and also provided us with an interesting history of the city.  We visited the Notre Dame Cathedral,  the Independence Palace, the Post Office, a Taoist temple, the Book street and the War Remnants Museum (sobering). This place is chock full of history and I made a promise to myself to read some books with Vietnamese history.  The first book I have found is called "Saigon: An Epic Novel of Vietnam" so I will look forward to reading it knowing a bit about the area now.

We found the Vietnamese teachers just as charming, humble and gracious as those in the North, although a little more outgoing (see karaoke photos).  Everyone had told us that Saigon was much more westernised and open than Hanoi but I found it hard to make that discernment and I think that was due to the fact that we were in the middle of the tourism area in Saigon after all.
We had school lunches in the school dining room each day.  These were superb!  Always rice or rice noodles, vegetables and meat dishes followed by fruit.  They were very healthy as well as delicious, and we also had fruit at every morning and afternoon tea break.  The teachers took to bringing us different fruits to try out and there were a lot that I had not sampled before.  Fresh lychees, rambutan, jackfruit, dragonfruit, and longan to name a few.
As we worked through the modules each day, we talked with teachers about how the learning could be adapted to their own context.  Once again I found myself pondering on how difficult it was to reconcile the crowded Vietnamese curriculum with deep learning practices.  We are so lucky in New Zealand to have the curriculum framework that we do.  The teachers in Vietnam seem to be so busy all of the time, and they make fun when they see an opportunity.  During several of their assessments, there were dances and songs incorporated as you can see in this video of the last day.

The remaining days at work passed really quickly and as we approached the final presentation day, Mary and I reflected how quickly the time had flown.  The teachers had worked hard on every activity and it was going to be hard to say goodbye.  Our last day was another day of celebration of learning, with presentations given, assessments completed, certificates presented and feedback given, followed by more gifts and exchanging of Facebook details so that we could stay in touch.  Here is one of our last photos together, with a few faces missing as teachers dashed off to other venues for different responsibilities.

Mary and I stayed on for another four days after the programme was finished.  We moved to a backpacker hotel in a different part of the town and took time to try out more food, visit the Mekong Delta, go to the Ben Thanh market each day for shopping (strange smells, crowds, bartering, heat and crazy, crazy, traffic) and I took advantage of the tourism dentistry opportunities. But that's another story.