Monthly Archives: May 2009

Creative alphabets

There are many things mulling about in my mind, none of them formed.

To intersperse the hiatus with some activity, keeping in mind that variety is the spice of life, I’d like to share a blog post about ‘Creativity with alphabets’ which I found on Crooked Brains. Who would have thought there could be so many different takes on alphabet.

Most of us have seen Fonts by people

peoplefonts

Typeface by Kalle Mattsson, made at the beach of Zandvoort aan Zee in The Netherlands.

Google Maps alphabet is another good one many of us have seen

Googlemapsalphabet

Then there are those whose creativity are a little out of left field, for example

alphabets made of minced meat

mincealphabet

I’m not even going to show you the alphabet made from clothespegs and skin.

Some alphabets are quite amazing, for example, the one made by people who have spent a lot of time looking at butterflies

butterflyalphabet

There are quirky ones, like the alphabet made from paper clips, the one made of toilet paper, the eatalphabet made by people who aren’t hungry but play with their food.

One of my favourites is Type the Sky , a work by Lisa Rienermann, a woman with a very sore neck, I imagine. Read about her project if you understand German.

skybuildingalpabet

I love the idea of the space between buildings forming the letter of the alphabet.

But make up your own mind. Have a look at Crooked Brains’ blog post.

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Learning from a phone?

One of The Simpsons episodes shows us futuristic learning that can go wrong.

Judy O’Connell gives us a more realistic idea of how technology can change teaching in her blog when she talks about  the soon-to-be-released Educate: The Ultimate iPhone and iTouch App for Teachers.

Educate is an iPhone/iTouch application designed to support teaching professionals at school, uni or college. It will allow you to:

  • plan your lessons
  • monitor student attendance and progress
  • engage with learning by posting content to your Moodle learning space, and accessing critical tools, eg. voice recorder and camera.
  • implement effective teaching strategies
  • collaborate with other Educate users through Facebook to discuss pedagogical practice.

It does make the robot look rather clunky.

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Filed under 21st century learning, networking, teaching, technology, Web 2.0

Learning is a waste of time?

A day of conversations.

Good to record these and then reflect and analyse.

Firstly, a conversation with a Year 7 student who was ‘unable’ to do any work during English class because his laptop wasn’t working (note: he managed to remain undetected for most of the writing session before we realised, and then his visit to the computer centre was uneventful because he forgot to take the obligatory note, and the second visit left him without a computer until the end of the day). During our conversation, I told him that he should put the session down to valuable life lessons – taking the initiative to solve the problems instead of sitting aimlessly and wasting time, etc. – and he said these lessons were irrelevant because he was going to change schools the following year anyway. (My eyebrows raised involuntarily). He continued: the new school didn’t have a laptop program until the senior  years, and all his problems would be gone. What problems? You know, internet not working, things disappearing. He would get more work done. So, after a respectful pause, I asked him what he thought his future life of work would be like, wouldn’t it include functioning with technology? With all its glitches? And he would have to continue to problem-solve because there would always be problems? Yes, he agreed, but in the meantime he’d get more work done at school without the technology. It would all be in the book; easy to find and keep. (Has he heard of the technicality of losing the book?)

Hmm…

Get more work done…

Funny he should say that. Later in the day we had a meeting of the teachers involved in the Year 8 immersive project (mentioned in previous posts). I was late to the meeting, and I came in at the point where  groups of teachers were doing a post mortem on the project. The group I veered towards was engaged in passionate discourse, expressing negative views. There were too many points to remember them all, but the gist of it was that the big picture week-long, student-driven project didn’t work and was a waste of time. A waste of time because it took time away from the real work that had to be taught.  If it weren’t for the project, they would have ‘got more work done’. Work that was valuable.

Hmmm…

I ventured to say (I never learn, do I?) that all the problems and difficulties expressed were part of the teachers’ learning process, and that a collective discussion of these would result in a very different project next time – properly scaffolded, rubric based not on theory but on specific skills and capabilities demonstrated (or not) during the course of the project. The need to provide consistency throughout the different classes, the need to maintain seamless transfer between teachers, to deconstruct the questions at the beginning, to check for understanding, to get feedback from students on each day’s progress, etc. – all these observations I thought were valuable reflections, driving the discussion towards collective analysis and future improvement. But what I viewed as positive, some viewed as evidence that the project was a waste of time. The project took valuable time away from real work.

Interesting….

Not entirely surprising, though. I think you have to expect the initial digging in of heels, the panic and confusion when things are not spelled out, when teachers are just as much learners as the students, when stepping out onto unchartered territory. I can’t say that I”m not uncomfortable in new situations – of course I am. But if at least half of the teachers see the positive elements of the project, the rationale behind passion-based, student-driven, enquiry-based learning, then I hope that the scales will tip in favour of trying this out a second time. View this as a first draft, and collaborate towards an improved second draft.

Hopefully…

And please, consider the definition of ‘work’. Think about what it means to ‘get something done’. Or maybe you’d rather refocus on ‘learning process’ and navigate your learning  instead of getting it done.

Any thoughts?

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Filed under 21st century learning, debate, Education, learning, research, teachers, teaching

The rules of school, or what is worth knowing?

It’s a great day when I discover a great blog, or, should I say, a person whose writing reveals someone I would love to meet. Just yesterday I came across Steve Shann’s blog, Birds fly, fish swim, and I don’t think I’ll be able to read anything else until I finish reading his posts.

In his post today, Steve describes what happened when he blasted his Year 11 students for not taking their writing responsibilities seriously on the class ning. The responses that followed in the ning were surprising (to me, at least) and revelatory. Here’s what one student (eloquently) said in this post entitled ‘Play the game’:

…in Years 11 and 12, it’s barely even about the learning at all. … In most subjects, we learn how to pass the exams… how to structure an essay, how to deliver a speech the way they want it, etc. School is all about how you play the game these days. It’s all about doing what you can to get an A, regardless of what you’re learning. … And I guess it does teach you stuff about the real world. Teaches you to try to beat the system, that menial busywork sometimes is what you need to do to do well in life, and, most importantly, no matter how much you hate your job, the best revenge is success.
I don’t think this is what the people who planned this school system had in mind. I guess those guys at the Board of Studies think that the system as it stands is a genuine attempt to educate kids in the subjects they selected for us. Simply put, they’re wrong.
…The reason why we (I) am having trouble with this course at times is because I have been trained to think like that. I do what I can to do well in the HSC. And I think some others in the class (although they may not know it) think the same way. Blogs aren’t marked, so I don’t do them; projects require organised creativity as opposed to just knowing shit, and suddenly I’m confused; Dr. Shann asks for dedication to the course but he can’t put a date or a number on it, so we just don’t try, et cetera, et cetera. 

I’ve already vented my dislike of teaching to the test, so I won’t say it again. Instead I’ll pull the same paragraph out of Greg Thompson’s post on his blog, Constructing meaning, as Steve did. Only I’ll include a little more of it because I think it’s worth the read:

Standardized textbooks work nicely for standardized testing. However, they do not do much for the idea that life is a big picture. Integration of content into a whole is hard work. It is far easier to teach a fractured curriculum because the result demanded is a standardized test that seeks the ability to see myopically, one subject at a time. Dr. McLeod is correct. This fractured approach has long been the model for education. The assembly line reality of the industrial age required each worker to do one thing and to do it well. Employee A did not need to know what Employee B did to complete their task five feet further down the line. That worked. Today, standardized testing requires each student to know how to do each thing in exactly the same way in order to produce the same product. The world they live in however, requires them to see the integrated picture. The test does not fit with reality.

I really do think that we must keep in mind the integrated picture when we teach, but it’s not going to happen unless we move things around in our education system, and in the way our classes and curriculum are structured. I can’t blame Steve’s students for not doing anything that falls outside of what is required for the final testing in year 12. Sometimes, when I talk to teachers about changing the way they teach, trying something new or integrating technologies into their curriculum to promote engagement and creativity, they will take on the challenge in the middle years, but the final 2 years of school really are devoted solely to the teaching of content that will get students their final ENTER score. If I were teaching senior years, I’d be torn between feeling responsible for students’ final scores, and wanting to  teach skills relevant to the world they were just about to jump into. It’s no doubt possible to do a bit of both, but I don’t think it’s easy, especially when students have been so carefully prepared for the test-readiness game.

Steve closes his post on a positive note. He quotes a student’s reflection which gives hope to teachers looking for evidence of a yearning for learning beyond the test.

English Extension and Studies of Religion are the only classes that allow us to be creative and have a relaxed teaching style that is more about us becoming educated, reflective, well-rounded individuals (if you’ve seen ‘The History Boys’, that is exactly what I’m talking about).

So what I’m saying is, give us a prod every now and then like you did today, because we are trying to untrain ourselves from what we know, or at least I am.

I hope that most students, deep-down, will want their schooling to help them become ‘educated, reflective, well-rounded individuals’, and not only young people whose formative years are summarised and evaluated in the one final ENTER score.

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Wallwisher

I discovered Wallwisher when I came across Wallwishers created by Nik Peachey and Ackygirl through Ackygirl’s link.

Wallwisher

Looking through the FAQs, I discovered the following information about Wallwisher:

Wallwisher is an Internet application that allows people to express their thoughts on a common topic easily.

A wall is basically the ‘web page’ where people actually post messages.

You don’t need to sign up to use the Wallwisher, but you do need to provide an email address. A temporary account will be created for you using your email address so that you can come back and make changes to the wall.

Have a look at FAQs for more information about how to use Wallwisher.

You can also share the Wall, embed it in a website or organise an RSS feed for Wallwisher.

I like the collaborative aspect the best,  the fact that it looks better than a list, it links to things easily, and you can even embed a video.

It would be an excellent way to brainstorm ideas and collaborate for students and teachers alike.

What are your ideas on the potential of Wallwisher?

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Get tweets from space!

astronauts

Tweets from space?  So, don’t tell me Twitter is just boring stuff about what people are having for breakfast. Follow NASA astronaut Michael Massimino (@Astro_Mike) on Twitter. You’d better hurry, he’s just launched into space.

From orbit: Launch was awesome!! I am feeling great, working hard, & enjoying the magnificent views, the adventure of a lifetime has begun!

And a little earlier

astromike

Thanks to @Zadi for the tip.

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Our own process

I’ve been talking a lot about process in the learning journey, so it’s a little surprising that process has flown out the window for me in my conception of what our team is doing for the PLP (Powerful Learning Practice) project.

Tonight the Australian teams had a live meeting with Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach, and I decided to cast aside the old familiar feeling of being seen as the idiot in asking a question, a question which I probably should not have been asking so far into the session, but one which I was certainly glad I asked.

21st century learning is the theme for schools involved in the PLP learning journey, and each school presents their 21st century project to the entire cohort. I must say, I’m a little apprehensive (so what’s new?) about our project, as I explained during our Elluminate meeting tonight. Yes, we’re creating a ning, and the ning will be testament to what we’ve done using Web 2.o technologies, and to ways we’ve enhanced teaching and learning in the school. As I said to Sheryl and others, I don’t know if that’s enough. Maybe we’re just putting up disjointed projects, and we need a unifying one. Is the ning this unification? Do we need connections outside of the school?

Sheryl’s answer was loud and clear (and I had trouble keeping up with my notetaking, but it doesn’t matter because the session was recorded). She said that the project was not the ning, and we should stop thinking about it as the ning. The project is about the learning. It’s about what we are trying to change and accomplish in our school community, whether that ‘s building community, creating an awareness of 21st century learning, helping start conversations, etc.

It’s about the big goal.  We need to look and see what others have done, then work on developing a comprehensive action plan. Our team should be having regular discussions about how to manage change, and we should be looking at strong evaluation at the end of the journey. Have we accomplished what we set out to do? The success or lack of success is not the aim of the project, it’s the evaluation. Haven’t I been saying this to students all this time? I need to remember that I’m a learner first, and teacher second.

How will we prove mastery? Will we use computer-mediated analysis? Could we, for example, look at blog posts for evidence of teacher discussion? Could we track/count how many times people have posted? How are we going to measure our big picture project?

We need evidence of change and successes in the way teaching and learning happens in our school. We need to be able to show the principal and school leaders evidence and examples of how we’ve grown, how much we’ve shifted, and what we still want to do.

At the moment, I feel that we are still treading water. Good things are happening around the school, but we are yet to come together and have a deeper conversation. We are yet to fuse. I’d like to have more discussions, not just with individuals, but with the whole team. This is part of the process. Realising what isn’t happening, what needs to happen, is part of it. Our last meeting was productive, and we need to do that more often. It’s not easy, but it should be a priority.

Having thought about this overnight, I think we should focus on what we always tell our students –  QUESTIONS.  Too quickly we run to embrace answers, to set things in stone, convince ourselves we’re there. Questioning broadens the scope of our vision, helps to unpack and redefine.

As for me, I’m hoping that my lack of clarity at this point is a good sign that I’m still on the way.

Ever felt you’re waiting for the click?

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Filed under 21st century learning, Education, learning, teaching, Web 2.0