Category Archives: 21st century learning

The only answer to the best questions is another question – Michael Wesch

Photo source: Jesse Stommel

The only answer to the best questions is another question – Michael Wesch expressed this in his article Anti-teaching: confronting the crisis of significance (2008).

Michael goes on to say ‘Great questions are rarely asked by students in an education system facing a crisis of significance. Much more common are administrative questions: “How long does this paper need to be?” “Is attendance mandatory?” Or the worst (and most common) of all: “What do we need to know for this test?”

Assuming that we all agree that the above-mentioned questions are a symptom of an education system that has failed our students, what kinds of questions should we ask to propel us into a direction which engages students in learning that is not aimed at marks?

When marks are the most important goal of education, it follows that there is a right and wrong answer, or at least the answer teachers favour – which is the best way to stand in the way of genuine questioning and meaningful learning.

As a teacher librarian, one of my roles is to support students in the research process. What I don’t think works is presenting the research process as formulaic, a process that is sure to work if you follow the given prompts. Research is more like the behaviour of a detective uncovering truths when following clues. It is a thinking and reasoning path which leads anywhere and everywhere. There is no single path.

Today I was helping several students who were researching an ‘Old Boy’ who fought and died in the First World War. As one of the tasks within the Civics and Citizenship curriculum, students are given a list of questions to answer about the veteran: What is his name? his rank? When was he born? Where was he buried? and other questions. Sometimes there is no easy way to find the answers to these questions; you have to persevere and think about piecing together what you have found, making connections and intelligent guesses.

What kind of questions did these students ask me?

“I’m finding conflicting information – what should I do?” “What is the right answer?” What do you think I should write?”

The learning here is not just about the veterans and the war, it is also about the nature of research, it is about the critical process in discovering information. It’s about developing the confidence to make conclusions based on the collected data, and it’s about understanding what you need to find out, and finding the language to express your uncertainty when you ask for help.

I’m completely comfortable admitting I don’t know the right answers with certainty. I usually tell the students that I trust their instincts and that they’re heading in the right direction, that there are many questions that lead the research. In preparing our students for tertiary study, we need to remind them that research will always be difficult, and that it’s okay to feel confused and disheartened when facing a great unknown. Learning is process; let’s not forget the process.

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Are we teaching our students the skills they need for their future?

Are we teaching our students the skills they need for their future?

Do we know what these are and if we do, are we aligning these to our curriculum? Are we making the shift necessary for this to happen?

Dr. Tony Wagner, co-director of Harvard’s Change Leadership Group has identified what he calls a “global achievement gap,” which is the leap between what even our best schools are teaching, and the must-have skills of the future: * Critical thinking and problem-solving * Collaboration across networks and leading by influence * Agility and adaptability * Initiative and entrepreneurialism * Effective oral and written communication * Accessing and analyzing information * Curiosity and imagination

Here are the 10 future work skills identified by The Institute for the Future for the University of Phoenix Research Institute.

  1. Sense Making
  2. Novel and Adaptive Thinking
  3. Transdisciplinary
  4. Social Intelligence
  5. New Media Literacy
  6. Computational Thinking
  7. Cognitive Load Management
  8. Design Management
  9. Cross Cultural Competence
  10. Virtual Collaboration

For teacher librarians, these skills clearly identify our areas of expertise at a time when some principals are making decisions to reduce staffing in school libraries, or replace teacher librarians with librarians or technicians, indicating their loss of faith that teacher librarians are an essential part of the teaching staff. Our strength lies in working with teachers to embed these skills in student learning, to encourage collaborative platforms and relational learning through the connections made possible by social media platforms, to embed critical, digital and information literacies into student learning.

Read more about the skills our students must have for their future here and here. Please share more if you have them.

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Coding literacy

Here’s something I’ve been hearing about and ignoring. Coding sounds too much like maths to me, and I was never good at that. But it’s not about me, I keep having to remind myself. It’s not about what I’m comfortable with, what I’m drawn to. Knowing how to code is going to be something really big in the life of our students. I don’t even know if our school is teaching this; I should really find out. Take a look at this video from Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg.

Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg are teaching coding online here. Reluctantly I’ve signed up just to see what the course is like for coding luddites like me. I’ve read a little about the role of schools in teaching kids these skills but haven’t delved any deeper until now. Darcy Moore’s article on ABC Splash caught my attention in my Facebook feed this morning. The fact that students are seeking out these free online learning opportunities outside school underlines the need for schools to revise what is worth including in the curriculum. School is no longer the only place to learn, and this is becoming more and more evident. Although it’s not a bad thing for learning to take place outside school, it does beg the question: are schools as relevant as they could be?

The Starter League is another place to go if you want to learn to code and design on the web. Thanks for the article, Darcy, it’s given me something to think about.

 

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Schools can no longer provide students with a complete toolkit for their futures

Schools and unis can no longer provide students with the complete toolkit for their futures; now it’s about equipping them with skills to be lifelong learners.

Our students need self confidence, adaptability, and strong values

School’s task to develop people as successful learners, confident individuals, effective contributors and responsible citizens.

Knowledge remains vital but it’s not enough. Success depends on deep understanding and having the skills to turn knowledge to useful effect. Deep learning and the development of skills is important.

The curriculum should not be a catalogue of content – things to be learned. Students should be building networks and developing collaboration.

Deep learning and development of skills are critically important.

In the modern world, the evidence needs to be increasingly in advanced transferable cognitive skill – critical thinking, problem solving and creativity.

There is a new emphasis on learner engagement. There is the idea that the learner has to take responsibility for his/her own decisions and has to be involved in his/her progress.

All learning has to become more ambitious. We have our new mission statements. We share the objectives but nobody has yet made the breakthrough to real 21st century practice.

When will we stop talking about this and start taking apart an outdated, irrelevant system?

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Should teachers make their students suffer? Let’s not show them how to do it.

Scott McLeod shares this video from Michael Pershan in his post ‘A Japanese approach to Khan Academy’.  Michael raises the question: why do US students lag behind their peers in many other countries?’ It seems that the US and Australian teaching styles – showing students how to do something and then getting them to practice over and over – is not the best way to teach. The video shows a Japanese teacher giving students maths problems and leaving them to work out how to solve them. Listen to the video, it’s very interesting. So all is not well with Khan Academy for this very reason, and it’s interesting to project the possibility of Japanese educators’ version of Khan Academy. Problem solving, not practising ad nauseam according to a prescribed model, is the suggested alternative. It would obviously work with numeracy but also with literacy. If our students are disengaged in our classes, this might be one of the reasons. Don’t you think? And while we’re at it, why not give our students real world problems? How involved can they be in something that doesn’t matter to anybody.

Diane Curtis’ post about project-based learning quotes Seymour Papert on the reason why students are turned off by school:

“We teach numbers, then algebra, then calculus, then physics. Wrong!” exclaims the Massachusetts Institute of Technology mathematician, a pioneer in artificial intelligence. “Start with engineering, and from that abstract out physics, and from that abstract out ideas of calculus, and eventually separate off pure mathematics. So much better to have the first-grade kid or kindergarten kid doing engineering and leave it to the older ones to do pure mathematics than to do it the other way around.”

I know what I would prefer – being challenged with real-world problems rather than work from textbooks which are predictable and uninspiring. Recently our year 9s and 10s received iPads – as I’ve mentioned before – and sadly the focus has been on the technology rather than how teachers and students can use these mobile devices to teach and learn differently. So far it’s been more about learning how to use the iPads to do what we already do, and throwing in a couple of apps. Hmmm…. No wonder the general consensus from staff is not overly positive. My favourite aspect of one-to-one devices is the possibility of connecting with others. If iPads are mobile devices then we should be using them to reorganise the classroom or even take it outside. Why don’t we connect with others outside the classroom, perhaps globally? Sharing ideas, opinions, photos and created multimedia is surely more engaging than practising skills in a theoretical situation.

What do you think?

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Videos + rich class discussion = Vialogues

https://vialogues.com/vialogues/play_embedded/3402/?width=540

A retweet by Jenny Luca informed me of Vialogues

Vialogues supports meaningful discussions around video. Video can be a powerful instrument with which to engage an audience. However, while videos are essential to the equation, the conversations surrounding these videos are what characterize a vialogue. Vialogues gives you the opportunity to participate in a focused environment that allows you to absorb the content of a video while commenting on it.

The heart of Vialogues is embedded into its name; a vialogue is a video plus a dialogue.

This is a neat way to use videos for class discussion online. Currently I’m involved in the rich sharing of writing in Year 9 blogs. Videos can be fantastic for sparking discussion. The advantages of online discussion directly under the video include participation for every student and an overview of the whole conversation. I hope to be able to use this or other Vialogues with the Year 9 students soon.

I had trouble embedding the Vialogue on my Macbook Pro using Chrome. It may just be an issue on my machine and if anyone can help me embed successfully I’d really appreciate it.

Click the ‘explore’ button to browse people’s Vialogues – so many ideas here to use or modify. I’m interested to hear if you’ve used Vialogues in your classes and how successful they were.

https://vialogues.com/vialogues/play_embedded/328/?width=540

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Writing for an authentic audience, being real. Thanks Isobelle Carmody.

Nick and I are very excited about the way our Year 9 blogs are developing. But before I go any further – Isobelle Carmody has visited us in a guest post!! Isobelle has been very gracious and has taken the time to write down her thoughts for our boys. I would like to share her entire post with you:

I was never much for diaries, and then I read the Diary of Anne Frank, and it was so vivid and real and it felt so true, that I have on and off again over the years, tried to write diaries. I was never very good at them, perhaps because I was the only audience and it seemed to me that I poured the best of myself, the truest words I could write, into my books. You might smirk at this, given I am captive in the fantasy genre corral (save when I can jump the fence and go for a midnight roam in the other paddocks or even out into the wild, where there are no rules or fences). But I don’t see the best fantasy as escapism. I see it as an attempt mostly to try to look at human existence from the outside. To get outside of ourselves, because reality always feels like I am too close to the mirror to see properly. You know when someone shows you something and they hold it too close?  For me right from the age of 14 when I first started to write, I was striving to get some distance, some breathing and thinking space, and fantasy and science fiction allowed this. For me it is a very philosophical genre – it allows me to grapple with the great questions of human existence. Why am I here?  What is the nature of existence?  Am I (are we) FOR anything? Why are humans capable of such wonderful and dreadful extremes of behavior? etc
When Ms Sheko asked if I would like to post on your site, I came to visit to see how I would fit in there. I was immediately taken by the techno-beetle, and then that lovely quote from Thomas Mann had me hooked. It was also timely because having resisted blogging as I resist all new things that force me to pay attention to the world and hence to neglect the worlds I am building in my imagination, I was asked by the State Library blog for a month Inside a Dog. I was intrigued and agreed before I could stop myself. So, ten days and five posts in, I am really fascinated and interested in the process, because it seems to me like a diary and yet it does have an audience and feeling that, it causes me to treat the material I want to talk about differently. Unlike books, it does exactly what Mr Fairlie talks about in your site – it allows me to try out ideas on paper (well, cyberpaper) for an audience that may or may not read me, but they might, and so I have to take their presence seriously. It allows me to find out what I think about things- that in fact is what I think all writing should be about. Writers figuring out the world for themselves.So, good luck to all of you and take full advantage of this site. It really does help you to think better.

Oh, and if any of you would like to visit me, either send me a friend request on Facebook or better still, come visit me this month on Inside the Dog– it is a lot less unsavoury than it sounds. Here is the link to the latest blog and you can read down and back from there. There are lots of other fabulous blogs too, and you gcan get to all of them.http://www.insideadog.com.au/blog/short-story-pt-1

best wishes

Isobelle Carmody

I particularly love this section of Isobelle’s post

I am really fascinated and interested in the process, because it seems to me like a diary and yet it does have an audience and feeling that, it causes me to treat the material I want to talk about differently. Unlike books, it does exactly what Mr Fairlie talks about in your site – it allows me to try out ideas on paper (well, cyberpaper) for an audience that may or may not read me, but they might, and so I have to take their presence seriously.

Having an audience, even a potential one, apart from the teacher and outside the classroom, sets the boys in a completely different space. I know that because I’ve been writing blogs for a few years, and although I’m never sure who will read my writing, I have a sense that somebody out there might, and so I write for that somebody. That’s entirely different to writing a prescribed piece of writing you know your teacher will read – not for pleasure, but in order to give a mark.

Amazingly, Nick has already seen evidence of this awareness in our boys within a very short time –

They are all really experimenting with voices. I love the difference in voice between the first and subsequent posts. They very often go over the top, and mimic what they think is an adult voice. This is so much better than what they usually produce, which is the voice they think is the ‘right’ one (bland and devoid of personality).

I’m overwhelmed by what is happening in these blog spaces within such a short time. The boys have demonstrated some excellent philosophical thinking. In the second task they have reflected on what constitutes learning, whether this happens in or out of school and about their ideal learning context. They have been reading each others’ posts and have started to have meaningful discussions. This is a far cry from the banal commenting which is often associated with teenage social media environments. This is high quality writing, reflection, evaluation and interaction.

Most of all, the boys are feeling their way into their blog spaces. They are starting to feel comfortable in their blogs and are finding their authentic voices. As Nick has observed, the quality of their writing has increased noticeably. Some are using images to complement their writing. It hasn’t taken long at all.

Who says deep learning isn’t possible within social media?

Take a look at the boys’ blogs, their online conversations. Please come in here and leave a comment.

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