Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Overview of Google Apps For Education - Introduction for Teachers

Over the weekend I have been preparing this video for some of my schools. It provides an overview of some of the apps which are available to teachers and students in the Google suite.The video will give you some idea of what each of the apps are and how you might use them in a class.  It is rather long but you can stop and start and play with the apps to explore their functionality as you go.
Enjoy the journey!  As with all of my videos, it is warts and all!

Friday, 17 April 2015

Don't throw out the MLE's. (Modern Learning Environments)

As a follow up from the previous blog, I thought I had better make it clear that I do love the idea of a modern learning environment.  Oh yes, I am not against that at all.  I am against trying to change based on furniture and space alone and trying to do it without much thought.
MLE's work when they are coupled with effective pedagogy.  Effective pedagogy is spelled out very clearly in the New Zealand Curriculum.
So here are the points summarised: -

  • create a supportive learning environment
  • encourage reflective thought and action
  • enhance the relevance of new learning
  • facilitate shared learning
  • make connections to prior learning and experience
  • provide sufficient opportunities to learn
  • inquire into the teaching–learning relationship.

What could this look like in your secondary school class?  (I am a secondary school teacher).  
Answers: Here are some ideas that I have about what a MLE would look like in my school.

  • Students arrive in the MLE, very clear on the learning outcomes for each area of learning that they can choose from.  They know what they could learn about and they have choices. 
  • They feel welcomed by the teachers and they are a valued member of the class and school.  They have shared their own (digital) mihi, or poster in the MLE that identifies them as part of this community but also as an idividual.  They have had a chance to share with the school community, who they are and where they have come from and where they want to go.  The rest of the class know what their interests and strengths are.  They feel safe and are also confident to share what areas they want to develop further.
  • It is easy to sign on to the digital learning management system, with easy access to school devices if students do not have their own.  (Their own devices can be stored as safely as school devices.)  
  • When students get online, they can see what work they have already done and what needs to be completed in the future.  They can see other students who are available to work with them on collaborative projects.  They can see what other students have been working on, and elect to join a particular group work or not.  
  • There are a variety of relevant online resources and students know how to seek out, search and share new information and resources safely.
  • They can choose from a variety of learning media and strategies like group discussion, individual reading, creation of knowledge, giving a talk or teaching others in their group about what they have learned.  They can have quiet time to work on their own or join with others to share knowledge, ideas and wonderings.
  • Real life contexts are exposed by teachers and students alike.  The student is encouraged to find out how the work is relevant to them or if there is hidden relevancy that needs to be uncovered.  There are groups having discussions about contexts and relevance, both online and face to face and these are advertised both formally and informally.  Next steps are decided and acted on.
  • New knowledge is shared (- either digitally or face to face as appropriate) and celebrated.
  • Students value feedback because it helps them to take further steps.  They improve and refine their work based on their evaluation of the criticisms. They can not only reflect on their own work and the journey that they have travelled but they are happy to receive critical evaluation from their peers and others, because they are confident, connected, actively involved, lifelong learners.
  • They keep portfolios of their work online - showcase, process and accountability portfolios and share them with a wide audience
  • Teachers meet with the students regularly to evaluate and determine next steps in collaboration with the students.  Parents and caregivers are fully informed about the progress that the student is making and how they can help at home.  At home they know what outcomes are expected and what outcomes have been achieved. Students can continue to work on and access their learning from home if there is a need or a desire.
  • Teachers would meet regularly and the students would see this happening in the MLE.  They would talk about what was going well and what not so well.  They would pick up the stragglers and loose ends and tie them into the fabric of the class.
  • The class would come together at times during the day to share, and celebrate.

A stranger coming into the room would see students working in front of computers or whiteboards, or teachers or their peers.  They would see some students by themselves reading, making, thinking, performing and some students together doing the same.  There could be loud raucous learning going on but that would generally involve the whole class or small groups would be in a place that did not disturb the others.

What other factors would ensure that my MLE worked well?

Friday, 10 April 2015

Modern Learning Environments without the Pedagogy- Building a Plane In the Air?

Well, MLE's are the flavour of the year, aren't they?  I want to get on my high horse over this one.  I have seen MLE's fail in a number of schools.  It is not that the idea behind it is not an excellent one. It is just that those schools have not looked at the reasons for change closely, nor have they looked at the pedagogy behind the concept and so teachers have been caught unawares, ill-prepared and doomed to failure.  It has left a bad taste in the mouths of the schools and their communities, who saw their students start to "run wild" without structure to their schedules.  It has put those schools back to square one with a lot of rebuilding and public relations to be done.
The schools went into the MLE with good intentions but eyes shut.  These changes take a lot of planning.  Time for all involved to settle down to establish a clear vision, set strategic intentions and goals, provide targeted professional development for teachers, engage in consultation and dialogue with the community, establish agreed outcomes, develop a long term plan and a short term plan.  Years not months.
I started writing about this a few weeks back but got inspired to say more when this blog by Karyn at Te Karaka School caught my eye in my facebook feed (via Rebbecca Sweeney).   Karyn asks teachers and schools to lots of questions about what they are doing and how they are doing it.
I started thinking again about the tension between striving to meet school goals around numeracy and literacy, or NCEA and the seemingly opposing pull toward future focused personalised learning, nurturing of individual talents and abilities, and desiloing of schools, with establishment of contextual learning in the "real world."
It seems to me that the short term numeracy, literacy and NCEA goals are looming too large in the teachers' worlds.  I am not a primary school teacher but a secondary one.  NCEA can and does open up opportunities for a lot more peronalised learning pathways, but not within the existing timetable  restrictions that many schools place on themsleves because that is the way they have always done it.
How do we build this plane while it is flying?