Category Archives: learning

If I stayed in my library…

Am Fenster, 1922 by Hans Kammerer

In keeping with a limited budget for professional development, the question about relevant choices came up.  The conversation that arose centred on proven relevance for my role as teacher librarian, and in terms of being in line with we’re doing at school. I wanted to go to  Gary Stager’s part in a leadership seminar series. Here is an extract about the seminar –

For school leaders, the immediate challenge is to create productive contexts for learning where there are greater opportunities for inquiry, project-based learning and student leadership, regardless of gender, ethnicity or socio-economic status.

The relevance of professional development is an interesting topic for conversation especially for me as a teacher librarian. My role is not subject centred, and I find that I usually have to explain the types of things that I do, and the types of PD which might be useful. I understand that a limited budget forces the question of relevance, and might lead to the opinion that Gary’s talk is not specifically targeted to my role or even what we are doing at our school. It might be reasonable to expect that the chosen professional development session should be specifically targeted at what we do in the library.

Why does this not sit right with me?

As much as I appreciate and enjoy professional development opportunities related to my profession (teacher librarian) – and there is so much variety here since this role has an impressive array of hats – what I love most is an opportunity to be stretched, challenged and even surprised; to be reminded about the basic core of our jobs at school – LEARNING! – and to interact with people from different walks of life.

People who attend Teachmeets will know what I’m talking about. We hear from educators in different roles – primary, secondary, tertiary, from principals, heads of elearning, IT, program coordinators at museums, non-school libraries, and the such. You get what I’m trying to say. There is so much to learn from each and every speaker, regardless of their role, and that’s precisely because of the diversity of experiences. Sometimes a primary teacher will have a unique approach to teaching which a secondary teacher will not have thought of. I know that I have so many connections and ideas while I’m listening to these people. And the conversation following is just as valuable. How sad, how 2-dimensional, to receive professional development which is carefully measured, predictable and safe.

What would I be like if I stayed in my library, if I stayed in my school, my staff room, my neighbourhood?

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Discussion about teacher control of iPads in classrooms

Image from Sophie Horwood’s blog

Catering for differentiation in the classroom can open up new possibilities if you combine alternative approach with technology. Some schools are skipping the one-on-one notebooks and thinking about the lighter iPads. Of course, this opens up a whole range of new issues which need to be addressed before the investment is made.

iPads in Education ning features a discussion about teacher control of iPads – one of the first issues to arise when considering the use of iPads in the classroom. Sam Gliksman, creator of this ning, has posted a question on the forum:

Is the relative lack of teacher control over student iPad use a relief or a recipe for disaster?

Unlike laptops, which can be monitored with purchased software, the lack of such control of iPads presents a problem for teachers. Or does it?

Commenters of this post express different opinions. Some see this as a significant obstacle to iPad use, and others are willing to overlook the issue considering advanced features of the iPad. I’ve pulled out some of the positive comments:

What I do know is that iPads can bring up web pages faster than any computer that I have ever used, their use is completely intuitive, apps are endless, their fun, and on and on.

I think that if students are really inspired by their lesson, what they are being asked to research or present – whatever, they will be engrossed and will not bother to stray from the requirements of the lesson.

I generally believe that if teachers are walking around the room and being engaged in the learning process, nothing horrible is going to happen. I prefer to give students more control and responsibility rather than less.

I would like to focus on the positive side of things. Yes, there are issues but if we focus on those then we won’t get to play with the iPads, and we won’t discover their use in the classroom. Before I bought my iPad people asked me what I would do with it. I honestly didn’t know because I needed to have one in order to find out. I’m hoping to do the same if I can convince teachers to purchase at least one per faculty. The lack of control here is no different to a lack of control over notebooks. If we’re worried that students will be able to purchase apps we don’t want, how is it different to students downloading things onto their notebook?

First things first. I’m researching apps for each faculty area, and I plan to show staff or at least faculty heads. My focus in on apps which provide the kind of learning you don’t find anywhere else. I think converting teachers is a necessary step in the the whole process.

Please share your favourite iPad apps for secondary school, and any experiences from which we could learn.

 

 

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Filed under 21st century learning, learning, technology

iPads in – score!

In my new role as coordinator of learning enhancement, I’ve been thinking about providing enhancement on several levels, and focusing on these in particular –

  • the provision of resources to help teachers provide opportunities for learning enhancement in their classes
  • the education of teachers to change their practice so that they realise the powerful potential of a personal learning network (PLN)
  • creating opportunities for passion-driven projects within the school

There have been a couple of major shifts already which I’m really pleased about. The first is the shift in ownership of my blog, Fiction is a box of chocolates. This year I have offered students who love writing to become co-authors of the blog. For me, this means stepping back to support these students from the back row, allowing them to drive and initiate the direction of the blog (which will have to be renamed as it increases its scope).

The second shift involves a move to introduce iPads into the classroom as tools for those who fall into the category of ‘learning enhancement students’. Now, don’t get excited. We’ve only agreed on purchasing a couple of iPads for the music faculty, but to me this a big win. I was pleasantly surprised that a meeting with those who call the shots with regard to technology in the classroom agreed to trial the iPads. The fact that one of our music teachers (Stuart Collidge) was completely on the ball with the potential of iPad technology made all the difference. Even in his initial thinking in an early email, it was clear that the iPads would definitely be an enhancement and not just extra technology:

As a conductor, I would have all my scores in it and work with it on the podium.  As a brass teacher, I would have all of my performance repertoire that I would use with students in the studio.  As an audio tech I have a bunch of apps that give me info about the room, acoustics, sound levels, remote controls for lighting and audio equipment.  The most use seems to be the iPad as an instrument.  The best uses are synthesisers and then using them to teach boys about synthesising sounds.  As they are so visually based and easy to manipulate, it would be a good way of involving students.  Some of the performance instruments invoke compositional ideas in different ways, and there are possibly ways of having individuals use them for performance projects.  Certainly some of the VET Tech Production students should be putting their hands on these and seeing how they can drive sounds, automate performance, run backing tracks, manipulate sound for performances. I guess my perspective is that for $1000 plus cost of apps, I can own 8 or 10 instruments that would be worth a grand each to buy.

I hope that if we start small but think deeply about the creative potential of the iPads, we can inspire teachers from other faculties. Meanwhile I will start purchasing and playing with apps from other areas of the curriculum – so far I’ve focused on music and art.

Listening to Ewan McIntosh’s interview with Gever Tulley confirms for me that the introduction of iPad technology is not gimmicky and that, as educators, we should get our hands on an iPad and play with it in order to understand its potential in class,and also put it into the hands of our students.

“Gever feels that we’re finally seeing the integration of technology to the learning fabric of the school. The best programmes seem to be those where there’s a hands-off approach, where students are trusted to bring in and use their own devices and ideas. The iPad has become the companion of choice for youngsters on their learning journeys in this corner of California, where ad hoc, on demand research enrichens the experience and conversation that Gever and his collaborators have with the learners.

In effecting change at my own school, two main obstacles come to mind:

  • the discouragement of the use of students’ mobile technologies which would enhance their participation in and driving of their learning
  • the need for teachers to book the internet for each class if they intend to use it

Cost has been quoted as  the main reason for the internet connection restrictions. I can’t argue against this, but my problem with this setup is that teachers will book the internet primarily when students are doing a project. This divides learning into two  – no internet access while teachers ‘teach’ and students listen passively, and internet only when the teacher steps back so that students can get the work done.

I would like to see students actively using the internet to clarify and research information while the teacher is teaching. We really  need to give students the opportunity to think actively and drive their learning during class. I still see too much passivity in the classroom.

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Filed under creativity, learning, teaching, technology

Focus on national tests robs children of true learning

Richard Gill says it well and with the passion of a man for whom educational change is not just a pedagogical exercise. My younger son, a VCASS music student, has had the absolute pleasure and privilege of working with Richard on a performance of Dido and Aeneas, as well as during recent MYM Summer School.  Richard’s love of music and dedication to excellence in music education was obvious – my son would come home glowing, impassioned and totally connected to the the process of learning within the musical work. He was reflective, evaluative and lucid in ways I hadn’t observed before.

Before the MYM concert – presented as a transparent workshop – Richard Gill spoke passionately about the importance of music education, and the need for people to speak up collectively so that excellence in Arts teaching would not be compromised in Australia. In the following article, his message is loud and clear – the obsession and complete focus on our current testing in schools is robbing our young people of true learning – learning which develops and nurtures creativity, originality and imaginative thinking. I absolutely agree.

Read the article and judge for yourselves.

Wake up, Australia, or we’ll have a nation of unimaginative robots.

School is back and it is a matter of regrettable fact that large numbers of children in state and independent schools will be subjected to a style of teaching directed exclusively to producing satisfactory results in national literacy and numeracy tests and consequently scoring high ratings with My School.

I want to make my stance very clear from the outset: NAPLAN tests and My School have nothing to do with the education of a child. This abhorrent and insidious method of assessing children, teachers and their schools needs to stop now. Principals, teachers and parents need to stand up and be counted and resist this unnatural activity, which only succeeds in turning education into some sort of cheap competition in which the last consideration seems to be the mind of the child.

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Screaming the words literacy and numeracy from Canberra does not constitute having an educational policy. In fact, the race to become the most literate and numerate schools with the best rankings nationally is exacting a terrible price.

Evidence is now available that schools all over the country are cutting back on arts education to devote more time to subjects that will make children literate. It can be demonstrably proven that activities used in teaching for the national tests destroy individuality, stifle creativity, stultify thought and make all children respond in the same way – a sort of educational circus in which the children are the trained animals and the teachers the poorly paid ringmasters.

The very things that promote literacy and numeracy are the arts, beginning with serious arts education in the early years. If we want a creative nation, an imaginative nation, a thinking nation and a nation of individuals, then we must increase the time for arts education, especially music education. If we want a nation of non-imaginative robots who can do tests, then we are well on the way to achieving that condition.

Parents need to know that it is through participation in arts subjects that the mind, imagination, spirit and soul of a child are stimulated. Through this stimulation comes a bonus in all other areas of learning.

Music, for example, when it is properly taught, requires an extraordinarily high level of listening and concentration from the student. It requires the student to have a capacity to work in the abstract, an ability to work across several skill areas simultaneously and the ability to rationalise this verbally.

Children’s involvement in musical activity has a profound effect on the development of the child’s general learning. It is now proven beyond doubt that children who are engaged in arts activities, especially music, have advantages in all areas of learning. The research is in, proven and beyond doubt. Why, then, with the evidence so overwhelmingly supporting children’s involvement in arts education, would schools decide to reduce teaching time in these important fields?

In supporting statements of this nature, let’s examine one school in Victoria, the Victorian College of the Arts Secondary School, where senior students spend half a week on the academic curriculum and half a week on their chosen arts discipline. Each year the students from this school seem to do extraordinarily well at the year 12 examinations in spite of only spending half the time on academic work.

How can this be? My view is that they are highly motivated children who have, early in their lives, encountered enlightened parenting and teaching and are motivated to work hard in all disciplines in an environment that promotes creativity, imaginative thinking and individuality. In short, most of them have had early, prior opportunities.

All children in Finland, Norway, Sweden and Denmark seem to have such opportunities; why can’t all Australian children? By ignoring arts education we say to our children: ”You are too stupid to have good education in the arts – your brains will never cope with intense learning in music, for example, so we will only do the bare minimum with you in any arts education and really concentrate on getting you through your NAPLAN tests.”

Wake up, Australia, before it’s too late. Teachers, parents and children need to let governments know that we are heading into a cultural and educational crisis unless we address these issues now.

Richard Gill is the music director of Victorian Opera.

Article in The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald Wednesday 9 February 2011.

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Filed under creativity, Education, learning, music, teaching

Going for Google Academy

I thought I was dreaming when I read a tweet about Google Teacher Academy running in Sydney, Australia this year.

The Google Teacher Academy is a FREE professional development experience designed to help primary and secondary educators from around the globe get the most from innovative technologies. Each Academy is an intensive, one-day event where participants get hands-on experience with Google’s free products and other technologies, learn about innovative instructional strategies, receive resources to share with colleagues, and immerse themselves in an innovative corporate environment

Only 50 educators Australia wide will be selected. Although my chances are small, thanks to Anne Mirtschin, I decided to have a go. Why not? The application process itself is valuable in its evaluative and reflective focus. An important part of the application is the creation of an original 60 second video on either  of the following topics: “Motivation and Learning” OR “Classroom Innovation.”  To me, they’re pretty much one and the same. I chose “Classroom Innovation” and included evidence of some of the learning which used new technologies to take learning out of the textbook and the classroom by creating interactive, collaborative and often global learning opportunities.

What do you think? Not easy to cram a message into 60 seconds. The music is from Public Opinion Afro Orchestra, and I’m grateful that the manager of the band, Tristan Ludowyk, responded so quickly to my email request and gave me permission to use the band’s music.

If you’d like to apply, you’d better hurry up because applications close 27 January 2011. Click here for information.

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Stop telling me I’m wasting my time on Facebook

I’m a little tired of people telling me I’m wasting my time on Facebook.

Yes, I do enjoy keeping an eye on what my friends and colleagues are up to, seeing photos of their weddings, new babies and celebrations, particularly when they don’t live close. But I also use Facebook professionally. I’m a teacher librarian – I resource the curriculum, and that means I need a constant stream of information coming to me. Facebook, my Twitter network, Google Reader, my Diigo and Delicious network, my Vodpod network – all connect me to what I need to do my job. The same goes for what I’m interested in.

Some read the newspaper, others do it differently.

I don’t know what you see on your Facebook page but this is a cross-section of what I see –

You get the idea…

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Filed under learning, reading, Social media, Teacher librarians

Is depth an obsession? And is obsession sometimes what you need?

Is depth an obsession?

And is obsession sometimes what you need?

Obsession can lead to deep understanding, rich skills, the ability to write the truth or create beauty, as in the meticulous illustrations of Shaun Tan.

My son, Maxim, is obsessed with music and composition. You can listen to one of his recent compositions here.

Lately I’ve been obsessed with the richness of image archives online. I could spend the rest of my life searching and saving the image sites shared on the blog BibliOdyssey.

Some of the amazing resources I’ve been discovering just this morning are:

Graphics Atlas

Beinecke Library’s photo sets on Flickr

Digital resources from the Knitting Reference Library WSA (how’s that for esoteric)

(even more esoteric) The Renaissance Curioso

Pratt Libraries Ex Libris collection on Flickr

Sometimes you have to go deep to get somewhere.  My concern is that we don’t allow for this at school. We’re hellbent on cramming the content and discrete skills in our curriculum into our students.

Teachers are often distracted by what they see as duty to cover criteria. Distracted from what, you ask? From what they might do if they had the time to think about it, if they functioned in an environment that encouraged and valued thoughtful experimentation.

But an internal voice urges us: Move on, move on…

There seems to be little or no time for our students to go deeper, no time to evaluate – let’s look at what we’ve done, could we have done it differently? No time to reflect: how do I feel about this? Does this affect me? and how? No time to celebrate – lets’ showcase what we have learned/created.

And what about us, teachers? Do we have the time to think about these things?

It’s different for me as teacher librarian (but then again it’s different for every teacher librarian). My focus isn’t marking, my driving force isn’t keeping up with the onslaught of face to face teaching.  I have time to learn, to absorb. Resourcing others’ curriculum allows me to browse, soak up what I find online. Focusing on information fluency encourages me to think about how different people learn.

When we want to reassure ourselves about the future of a young person, as educators, we say that he will be fine as long as he has one passion, something to feel empassioned by, to follow through. But do we create the environment which allows our students to find their passion? And do we provide the time to pursue this passion?

I’m afraid that we distract students by pushing them through a schedule we ourselves are not empassioned by. Are we, as educators, empassioned by what we teach? Or are we trying our hardest to cover material, texts, skill sets?

I may be speaking out of turn here, so please speak up if I am.

I think  teachers and students are in a difficult place.

Don’t you think we need a new reason to teach, a new model for schooling?

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