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Monday, 15 October 2018

Authentic Contexts For Learning - When Did Make-Believe Become Authentic?

The new digital technology areas in the New Zealand Curriculum both urge learning to be carried out in authentic contexts, as does the whole Technology Curriculum.    I really like the idea of authentic contexts for learning as it implies genuine, real-world, problems that learners are able to explore in a flexible, engaging way.

However, I have heard a number of definitions which leave me scratching my head about what is an authentic context.  Some say if it engages the learner and that they can see where it is applied then it is authentic, but I disagree.  To me, that sounds like applied learning and is not much different to the way I was taught, where we were told the "law" or "truth" or "fact" and then provided with 2 or 3 examples of this.  For example, some bacteria are helpful to humans eg they are present in the gut and stop harmful bacteria from causing disease, or bacteria help in the breakdown of dead organisms.  Some also use the "mantle of the expert" approach, so that learners can imagine and explore how real-life situations might pan out.

An authentic context, however, is a real-life problem or project that is relevant and engaging for the learners as they work toward solving the problem.  Because real-world problems are often messy and even "wicked", the learning is often not linear and can lead the learner down all sorts of rabbit holes.  The one thing for learners to keep in mind, in this distracting situation, is the problem.  Will the learning help solve the problem?

It is very difficult to plan in depth for this type of learning, other than to spend some time working together to identify a real-world problem or project that is interesting to them and will engage them.  From there you will need to do some backward planning (what have the children learned during this work?) to ensure that your students are making progress.

There is danger in the authentic context being too teacher-directed or externally imposed on learners. Sometimes community contexts are not engaging for learners as described in Themes of Future-Oriented Teaching and Learning: A New Zealand Perspective on page 53.  Piquing the interest of learners can happen in a number of ways - perhaps something they heard at home, there was something on the internet, or a principal talked about something in assembly or they watched a youtube in class.  Whichever way the interest started, discourse helps learners understand the complexity of the problems.  Talking amongst themselves and asking questions is so important.

Remember, too, that not all learners will engage in a specific authentic context, and you will need to allow for more personalized learning approaches.  Inquiry learning which is less teacher directed should meet the needs of these learners.

In this video, two authentic contexts are shown.  In the first example, the students are younger and there is more teacher direction about the questions that are posed, while in the second, the students are older and are charged with teaching other people about the water quality of one of their community rivers.



Computational thinking is about understanding the computer science principles that underlie all digital technologies, and learning how to develop instructions, such as programming, to control these technologies. Designing and developing digital outcomes is learning how to design quality, fit for purpose, digital solutions. Both of these areas need to be explored in authentic contexts. How are you ensuring that your learners are doing this?


When you explore some of the contexts in which the progress outcomes are embedded, do you consider that they are authentic? Does anyone have any relevant readings?

Monday, 25 June 2018

If You Are Using Google Classroom, It Isn't Enough.

I have a fear that in 20 years time when I am probably ready for dying, that school will still be the same as it is now.  There are still too many teachers still standing in front of classes "delivering" the lesson to the learners.  Andreas Schleicher says in this 2017 video, at about 12mins 30 seconds, that we have 21st-century technology and 21st century learners, with 20th-century pedagogy, in 19th-century institutional structures.

This is why we are in a position where technology has not necessarily been helpful to learners yet, because we are doing old things with new technologies, which means students have "mile-wide, inch-deep understanding" as Schleicher puts it.  Deep conceptual understanding is not there, as shown in the PISA testing.
Schleicher says to overcome this, we must find a way to amplify the relationship (13'56") that teachers have with their students, because learning is a very social, relational process.  Just replacing a teacher with technology is doing more bad than good.
I have noticed teachers telling me that they are using digital technologies really well because they are using Google Classroom. This is not enough.  Don't just use the technology to "deliver" a lesson in the same way that you would have delivered it in the past.

So how can you amplify the relationship?  You as the teacher are the person that they know and trust.  How can you make sure that you multiply your availability without wearing yourself to a frazzle?  Some of the things that I would try would be to

  • have a class blog or site that your learners can refer to for aspects of their work, like resources.  Personalise it as much as you can with your face, interests, and snippets of what you thought was exciting on the news or in school.  
  • make little instructional videos with your face embedded (yes, get over it, it is a 21st century requirement).
  • get involved in social media - professionally!  Use Snapchat, Instagram or Twitter in your classes for learning.
  • reach out to your students through feedback forms (getting to know your learners, finding out their questions, formative assessments).
  • make the conversations two-way.  Respond to their work (through commenting, posting, voice notes).
  • ask an open-ended question on Flipgrid at least once a week and review/respond to the answering videos.
  • explicitly include collaborative digital activities in your classwork, and assign a group leader each week to give feedback to you and each other on how work is progressing.  Ask them their next steps.  Develop their collaborative problem-solving and social skills so that they can work with people who think differently to them.
  • teach and learn about digital citizenship (that is, how to be a good person, no matter what the medium).
  • use social bookmarking (sharing resources through an app like Diigo) and share your comments, while asking for their comments as well.
  • make connections to your learner's whanau through google classroom, Seesaw, Flipgrid or whatever your poison, through positive affirmations on achievements.
  • acknowledge talents and adjust students' work accordingly
Doing any one of these things takes time to set up, so start with small steps and build up from there. Your aim is to amplify the relationship that you have with your learners digitally so that your face to face time with them is a lot less demanding and easier to manage,
I will be really interested to hear of other ways that you have amplified the relationship with your learners, and of course if you try any one of these things then what have been your successes and failures?  
Schleicher says you have to believe that education can change.  I hope my fear is not realised.





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Monday, 23 April 2018

Google Summit 2018 - Portfolios for the Teaching Standards

Last week, I attended the Google Summits, run by the EdTechTeam, in Auckland and Whangarei.  So much learning still!  These are the best events I attend in terms of professional development because they are well organised, friendly, and provide inspiration and learning in such a variety of ways, with overseas and local presenters.
As I am a Google for Education Trainer, I presented a workshop on 'Good Google Tools for Portfolios for the Teaching Standards', a subject that all teachers need to address. There are so many easy ways to get your portfolios together for certification, and appraisal, through which your principal must ensure that you meet the standards.
I am sharing my slides here and also will shortly add a video which will talk you through the slides.  Hopefully, you will find some gems here which will suit your purposes. What you actually need for your portfolio is shown in slides 10 - 15.  Some examples can be found on how you can do that in later slides along with some of my youtube videos.
And here's the video which will talk you through some of the slides - GOOD LUCK!

Monday, 26 February 2018

National Standards are Over? What Are We Going to Do Now?

It scares the hell out of me that educators are so entrenched in assessment-driven curricula that they are panicking about what to do in class now that National Standards are abolished.

  • Step 1. Do some reading around future-focused learning and new pedagogies for deep learning.  Go on, google it!
  • Step 2. Start by getting your learners to talk about what is important in the world.
  • Step 3.  Let them think about ways they can have a part to play. 
  • Step 4. Teach them ways of working on being communicative, collaborative, connected, creative, critically thinking, and expressing their character or culture
  • Step 5.  Build on their individual skills and talents.
You won't stop wondering why you ever thought National Standards were so great.

Saturday, 24 February 2018

The Age of the Textbook is Over - Own It!

In talking to a friend recently, I discovered that her teenager, who has just started college, and is still small, as boys often are at that tender age of 13, has a backpack full of textbooks to carry every day, along with a laptop as well.    This just about makes my blood boil.  What on earth are teachers doing, still expecting kids to carry textbooks? And exercise books?  This is the age of the digital school, isn't it?

If your school has moved to a digital environment (and there is no reason why it should not have in this eighteenth year of the 21st century), then you need to ditch the textbooks and the countless exercise books.  There is absolutely no need for huge stationery lists anymore.  You need to protest and make sure the school makes changes so that stationery lists are minimal and the only book that the learners carry is the occasional one that they might borrow from the classroom or the library for a bit of extra reading or study (yes, chuck out the homework, too).

Why on earth are schools spending their budgets on textbooks?  Please, can someone explain?

Wednesday, 21 February 2018

My five minutes of fame slipped by.

I was invited to appear on TVOne's Breakfast programme on Friday 16th February to answer a burning question from a viewer who wanted to know if Modern Learning Environments (MLEs) were better for children. 

Unfortunately, because I was due to be working at a school in Masterton, the cameraman could not get to me, and the organisers decided to "go down a different direction" which meant that they interviewed Leon Benade from AUT instead.  Leon is a senior lecturer in education, researching MLE's and was interesting to listen to.

I wanted to add in my ten cents worth, as you do, and thought I should post another blog about it.  I have blogged about MLEs before in this 2013 post and this (April, 2015) and this (also April, 2015) and this (November, 2015) and this ( January, 2016), but thought it might be useful to revisit since the discussion is freshly at the forefront, and I don't want to think that my potential 5 minutes of fame has fizzled into nothing.

Leon identified modern learning environments as large open spaces, with multiple use zones, modern brightly coloured mobile, furniture for up to 120 learners and 4 teachers.  I would like to add that a modern learning environment can also happen in a single cell classroom with one teacher, and that it is more about the pedagogical approach than the space.  (Leon alludes to this later in saying that the people in the space make the difference.)

The advantages of having more than one teacher in the space were covered by Leon - giving flexibility to the teachers, utilising different areas of expertise, and load sharing.  Enabling the conditions for personalised learning can also happen in a one cell classroom, with the support of digital technologies. 

Jack Tame interviewing said that parents are scared, and Leon advised them to acknowledge and embrace the changes because we can't go on teaching the same way.  Why not, I hear you ask?  Because we were preparing our learners for a different industrial model of work and now we are preparing them for an uncertain future but one in which individual strengths coupled with ability to integrate into team approaches, collaboration and knowledge building and sharing, and innovation will be valued, rather than compliance and standardisation (hurrah for the end of standardised testing in New Zealand!).

Jack said (and Leon confirmed) that the learners much prefer this way of working.  When the viewer was asking if it were better for children, she was not clear by which measure you could tell if it was "better" for children.  If you were looking just at the results of standardised tests, then you might see some differences (I don't believe there is substantial research about this out there and do hope that no one feels the need to do this).  If, however, you are talking about the well-being of learners, their ability to grow their own strengths and expertise and interests, and their preparedness for an uncertain future, then I think you will find that MLEs (or ILEs) will win, hands down.

Harking back to the people in the spaces, the teachers need to be well prepared and have had time for professional learning.   It is not a simple switch from single cell to MLEs.  Oh yes, the furniture and environment can be changed easily, but it is the practices of the teachers and learners that have to change hugely.  The MLE's must be supported by the use of digital fluency (teachers and learners knowing how to use a variety of tools to support and innovate their learning) and they will also be identified by the themes of future oriented teaching and learning espoused in Bolstad, Gilbert et al's 2012 work. 

And if you say you have a child who only likes working in a quiet space with no distractions, I do understand that, and there will be some quiet spaces in a MLE , but it is important that your child works at developing other ways of working so that they become flexible in approach, and able to adapt to very different working lives.

So there you have it: - what was my five minutes of fame, reworked into a blog post. 
A typical classroom in a Japanese junior high school (Wikipedia)



Monday, 29 January 2018

Keeping the Lines Open

As the school year starts up and I start hearing ways of connecting with parents and caregivers, I am reminded of the importance of having conversations with those at home.  I don't just mean having a casual chat when they call at school to pick up their children, big or small, although there is no doubt that those are crucial times to establish relationships and plant seeds of thinking about education.


No, I am talking about all of that, and more - making phone calls, sending newsletters, keeping an open and informative website and/or classroom blog, seeking information and feedback, having a parent/teacher meeting to open learning conversations, consultation or new initiatives, and individual, tete-a-tete conferences.


These events are so crucial for the welfare of children and particularly the welfare of their learning.   It is difficult to break down barriers built up by lack of communication and misinformation.  It is hard to fit everything into the school year but keeping the lines of communication open must be one of top priority.

Some teachers think that by sharing the work done in class, that is enough. But there needs to be a lot more to it than that.  Blogs and Seesaw are awesome ways of sharing, but they also enable you to move beyond the sphere of showcasing into the realm of co-constructing ideas about learning and what is important for the child.

Teachers roles have changed.  They are not to be seen as the font of all knowledge and so should not be publishing only the best, "corrected" work of their learners.

The most powerful blog posts that a child can make are ones where they are open to learning - that is, they demonstrate knowledge as a process.  They do not just publish a final product, but they post the stages in building knowledge and get feedback from teachers and parents and hopefully both.  They learn to become critical thinkers.  How can a parent contribute to this learning?  The same way that teachers do.  Through acknowledging, questioning and suggesting.


How are you keeping the lines open so that conversations are not just one-way traffic?





Images acknowledgements.

  1.  Teachhub 
  2.  Apple 
  3. Pixnio