Category Archives: teaching

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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What’s been happening – term 3 has been a busy one

I’m not the only one remarking on the lapses between blog posts. The blog is no longer the main platform for sharing and communicating – there is a long, long list of online places which need to be fed and looked after – for me that includes other blogs, Twitter, Pinterest, Scoop.it, Diigo, Slideshare, Vimeo, Libguides, Facebook and all its groups, and more. So I thought I’d drop in and do a quick update on what may be worth checking out in case it’s helpful or even interesting.

My school library blog has been keeping up with reading ambassadors for the National Year of Reading (#nyor12). These short and informal interviews are a pleasure to read, and reveal thoughtful responses to reading preferences. We’ve also recently celebrated 2012 Book Week with a hugely enjoyable ‘party’ in the library. I’ve included photos I think you’ll enjoy of our costume and cake competitions so that’s definitely worth checking out. This is the first Book Week celebration I’ve attended at Melbourne High School since I started a year ago, and it was fantastic. I was so impressed by the willingness of staff and students to dress up and play the part. The creativity displayed in our book-themed cake competition added a gastronomical dimension – who can resist cake? Yes, we did go on a bit about the cakes looking too good to eat but it didn’t last long.

I’ve been having such a good time resourcing the art curriculum in the last few months. My art blog churns out a diverse selection of inspiration to art students and teachers (I hope). This includes images, photography, design and animation.

Our students explored links to websites with antiquated encyclopedia images to create their ‘transformations’ which I combined in a slide show. The reduced image size doesn’t do justice to the details in the students’ work, so have a look at larger ones in Mihaela’s new art blog.

Yes! Our head of art now has a blog, and so do her students. This term our year 9s and 10s were lucky enough to get iPads, so we decided to get them to create Posterous blogs which we linked to Mihaela’s ‘mother blog’ and encouraged them to start snapping away with their iPad cameras so that they could develop a store of visual inspiration for their work. The beauty of a mobile device is the opportunity to capture photos as you go about your everyday activities. I’ve found the best images are the unexpected ones. I was inspired to get the art students blogging when I saw my dear friend, Marie Salinger’s, student blogs. Marie’s students have realised the rich potential of blogs in terms of journalling, reflecting, evaluating and just plain sharing. A blog is visual, it’s sequential, easy to access online and share with others; it invites responses and conversation. In her Visual Arts blog, Marie has reflected about the way in which iPads have enriched learning for her girls. The way Marie’s students used their blog to experiment with and evaluate iPad apps for drawing, then share with others, inspired me to talk to Mihaela about doing the same. Consequently I went into obsessive mode and lived and breathed art and apps for a couple of weeks, adding an Art Apps page in our LibGuides, my art blog, Pinterest, Flickr and Diigo.

Robot I am Apps used: Blender Pixeltwist                 (iphoneart.com)

Recently a dedicated team of students from the co-curricular group, Writing Competition, successfully wrote a book in a day. They had to collaboratively write at least 8,000 words and illustrate their story. The whole thing had to be done within 12 hours. I was very proud of the way they managed to work together and fuse their ideas and talents to produce a fantasy story for the Children’s Hospital. I hope to be able to share their book once I check the copyright.

Well, that’s it for now. Hope some of this has been useful to you.

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Thinking about teaching writing in a connected world

Image found here

The eye is naturally drawn to things you’ve been thinking about. So it was for me last night when I was browsing my Twitter feed and came across Susan Carter Morgan‘s retweet of Angela Stockman‘s link to her article The questions we ask when we begin to teach writing on the WNY Young Writers’ Studio  website. Angela asks:

“Is it possible to teach writing well if your students aren’t aware of what’s possible now? If they aren’t publishing online?”

An interesting question. Although I hadn’t exactly been phrasing it as specifically as this, I’ve been wondering about the task of teaching writing at a time when our publishing options are so many and varied; wondering whether we’re doing our students a disservice if we continue to teach writing the way we were taught. I mean without recognizing the opportunities for a broader, online audience. I’ve been rabbiting on about this for quite some time.

I also wonder why we are still predominantly text-centered with regard to storytelling options when there are so many other options for storytelling, particularly with the new digital possibilities.

“Composing isn’t just about text anymore.”

And it isn’t. That’s not to say it’s any less important to teach textual writing but there are so many other things to consider. If our students are reading stories online, enjoying graphic novels, following and creating stories in virtual worlds, then shouldn’t we be exploring these new forms of narrative with our students?

There’s a mounting list of technological applications which enable and enhance storytelling. These options incorporate visual and digital literacies, amongst others, but writing is still the crux, that is, creating plot, characters, setting. The story itself, is still a matter of writing. As Angela states:

“I don’t focus on genre or the writing itself at first either. I find myself asking questions about who the writers are, what kind of difference they want to make with their words, and for who.”

“When my grandmother died, she left behind her childhood journals and a whole bunch of letters,” someone mentions to me quietly. “Seeing her handwriting helps me hear her voice. It keeps her alive.” And I appreciate this. I know that when I look at my daughter’s blog and when I skim through her Flickr stream or her Facebook updates, I experience the same feeling. For me, it isn’t about the ink. But I’m not the only audience the writers I work with will have. In fact, one thing I do know for certain is that if I’m doing my job right, they won’t be writing for me—they’ll be writing for other people, and their purposes and the tools they will use to connect with them will vary. As a teacher, what I think and what I need doesn’t matter at all. It’s all about the writer.”

I wrote about something similar in a post a long time ago when I found my grandmother’s old autograph book, remarking:

The autograph book demonstrates a lovely collection of shared sentiments, but at the same time, this generation is collaborating in newly found ways to create.

The tools are always secondary to what is being created. Angela says:

“Our first task is to connect writers to themselves, their needs, their vision for the difference they will make, and their ideas. Who do they want to move with their writing? What is the best way to accomplish this? What’s possible, given the range and access of tools that are available today?” (my emphasis)

Trying out blogging as a platform with year 9 students has shifted something seminal to successful and convincing writing. I was nodding when I read Angela’s words:

“My work involves helping writers develop and share their own. What they are writing has to matter to them. It also has to matter to someone else. Otherwise, they will not persevere as writers. It’s as simple as that. School teachers can force kids to write by threatening them with failing grades. Fortunately, we don’t have that awful luxury at Studio, and I’m grateful for this. It keeps us honest. It keeps our writing real. It helps us persevere.”

In her excellent article Remaining seated: lessons learned by writing Judith M. Jester advises teachers to write if they’re teaching writing.

“As a teacher of writing, I consider writing to
be one of the most important things I can do for
my kids. I need to put myself in their place on a
continual basis so that I more fully understand
what I am asking them to do. How can I know
what difficulties they face if I don’t face them, too?
How will I know what strategies to suggest if I
have not tried them first? How will I know the
joy they experience when they are genuinely
pleased with a draft if I have not felt the same joy?”

It’s a shame that teachers are so busy teaching, assessing and writing reports that they don’t have time to do what they teach. Judith is passionate about the teacher modelling writing:

“What they fail to understand is that they will produce better writers if they pick up a pen for something more than evaluation. If they do, they will learn far more about teaching writing than any instructor’s manual can ever tell them.”

I’m not sure that teachers have much of an opportunity to do much more than keep up with teaching their classes, correcting work and writing reports. The expectation of schools, of a curriculum which drives teachers and students towards the final assessments in senior years so that students enter tertiary institutions of their choice – does this allow much room for senior school teachers to choose between what they want to do and what they must do?

The article gives food for thought. Judith writes about the power of process, the power of feedback, the power of audience, the power of modeling, the power of thinking. Definitely worth reading and thinking about.

Wouldn’t it be nice if teachers’ lives were balanced to allow time for themselves – to think, to try things out, to model what they teach, to alleviate the relentless pressure and give them some space just to be. Teachers should be nurtured as learners too, not just have their last juices squeezed out of them.

Image found here.

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Hello, anybody out there? Writing for someone

Somehow I managed to create a visual presentation in the period before coming into a Year 9 English class to talk to the boys about blogging. My focus was on the motivation for writing and the reason why you would want to write a blog. I wanted the students to think about people writing from earliest times, what motivated people to write so that others would read. Whether it’s the love message scratched onto a tree or the messages on the back of a toilet door – or on Facebook – people seem to want others to read what they have to say. I told the boys that when I was their age, in order to have your writing in print, you had to either be super talented or important, or perhaps succeed in having your letter to the editor make the local paper. Not so anymore – we can all be published online and enjoy the satisfaction of audience participation through comments.

I’m sharing the visual part of this lesson in case anyone else finds it useful.

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21 signs you’re a 21st century teacher

Yes, the phrase (is it a definition?) 21st century teacher has been bandied about and annoys some people, but whatever you want to call it, shouldn’t we all, as educators, use this checklist to check our relevance? Or at the very least, we could evaluate these checkpoints to determine whether we judge them to be important in the scheme of our work as educators.

As a teacher librarian I can only do these things if I find a willing teacher with a class. Not much you can do without a class – a one-off lesson doesn’t make a great deal of difference. Some of the things I have done with classes include:

  • Your students work on collaborative projects…with students in Finland/USA.
  • You share lesson plans with your teacher friends…from around the globe. Most teachers don’t see the point of sharing. Sorry, I don’t want to sound critical, but I’m talking about those I know both in my own school and colleagues in my city. I say, try it, and see how much more satisfying teaching becomes. What you get back is amazing. Not to mention valuable connections with other educators. Start a PLN!!
  • Your classroom budget is tight…but it doesn’t matter because there are so many free resources on the web you can use. Yes, there is so much out there. I collect it, share it, promote it, but don’t often have any takers. What’s the problem? Teachers are too busy, too content-driven, too VCE-focused (not their fault), too afraid, too put off by technology not working. All valid reasons, I’m not knocking teachers, but from my perspective, I’m always thinking about how I can make a difference here.
  • You realize the importance of professional development…and you read blogs, join online communities, and tweet for self development. Oh yes, definitely, perhaps compulsively. Love it. Highly recommend it. Does it eat into you personal life? It becomes your life.
  • Your students share stories of their summer vacation…through an online photo repository. Yes, one of my classes used Flickr to share aspects of their life with classes in Finland/USA
  • You showcase your students’ original work…to the world.  This is something I feel strongly about. Authentic audience, global sharing. Students love receiving comments from people outside the school. Whatever I create, I make sure it’s out there for everyone. I’m proud of what I/we do.
  • You have your morning coffee…while checking your RSS feed. What do you think I did before writing this post. The rest of my family are still asleep. Yes, I know, I’m nuts.

Some of these have given me ideas –

  • You give weekly class updates to parents…via your blog (I have documented class activity in blogs, but haven’t gone the step further to sharing with parents. What a great idea.
  • Your students participate in class…by tweeting their questions and comments. (I would love to do this but I’m not sure about permissions. Fear of social media is still prevalent at school. I think this needs education.
  • You ask your students to study and create reports on a controversial topic…and you grade their video submissions. (Teachers have begun to offer videos as presentation options, but a consistent assessment rubric would be a good idea, and there is still the feeling that writing is most important as this is what is assessed in year 12. Videos are okay in middle years but after that teachers start to get nervous, understandably. We need an assessment revolution.
  • You prepare substitutes with detailed directions…via Podcasts. What a great idea! Yesterday I was talking to a teacher from another school who records his corrections as podcasts. I love that. And I think it would be less laborious than squeezing everything you want to say in the margins.
  • Your students create a study guide…working together on a group wiki. Another great idea! I’ve seen nings allow students to discuss essay topics and texts so that ideas and content are developed collaboratively. I might search for examples of study guide wikis to see what these look like. Any suggestions?
  • You visit the Louvre with your students…and don’t spend a dime. Must do this with an art class. Or any class.
  • You teach your students not to be bullies…or cyberbullies. How do I convince teachers that taking the time to teach responsible and productive online behaviour is just as important as a content lesson? Again, I blame the system
  • You make your students turn in their cell phones before class starts…because you plan on using them in class.  Bit of a sore point at school; we still ban many things. I am required to chastise students who play games on their notebooks, but at the same time, I show them problem-solving games on my iPad. We need a mindshift.

The last point: You tweet this page, blog about it, “like” it, or email it to someone else…

Yes, I write a blog post, tweet it, and add it to Facebook. I’m not writing this for myself…

What about you?

Read the full list here.

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Music apps – a music teacher’s perspective

As I’ve already mentioned before, I’m in the process of investigating iPad apps for learning enhancement in the classroom. A few weeks ago a colleague and brilliant music educator, Stuart Collidge,  joined me in a meeting with our Deputy Principal (Curriculum) and a few other leaders in the school, to put forward a case for the use of iPads in the school, specifically for learning enhancement. I asked Stuart to write up how he sees the use of the iPad in the music classroom.

Recently, Tania asked me to speak with some of the decision-making powers that be at school to pitch the use of iPads as learning tools.  This was something that Tania and I had reflected on a little and saw some potential in so I was more than happy to make the pitch.  After borrowing Tania’s iPad to have a play on (I am not yet one of the iPad collective L), I worked my way through a few possible applications and uses.  It was also very useful to troll through Google and look at the ways that other music educators are using these beasts.

Being a laptop school, it was important to differentiate the potential of these units from the laptops that are already in the hands of the students. For a school with no laptop program, I imagine that a class set of these would be AWESOME for a whole raft of areas of study, but being outside my brief, I didn’t focus too much on it.

My impression initially (and once we are up and running with a program, I’ll report on the accuracy of those impressions) was that this device would be awesome for me on two levels: as a music/education professional, and as a performer.  I can also see how students could use these devices in the same way.

As a performer, the iPad is now a very comprehensive musical instrument. In fact, several instruments all in one.  There seem to be two different approaches to performance apps.  The first way is to use the device as a synthesiser. There are several things that already do that, but the advantage of the iPad is in the interface which can encourage different approaches to composing and performing.  If you sit down at a conventional keyboard, the notes are laid out in a particular way and we are trained to approach the keyboard in that particular way (unless you are into avant garde composition).  A lot of music is constructed around  melodies and chords that “fit under the fingers”.  Take a look at a synth like Musix.  The layout of the octaves and notes allows us a melodic freedom and an opportunity to audition sounds that are harder to achieve on a conventional piano.  I imagine that you can find many other synths that encourage alternative approaches to melody making.

There is also a variety of apps that are much like a hardware synth allowing you access to oscillators, LFOs, filters, etc. You can also use the iPad to drive Digital Audio Workstations for tracks or DJing live.  Ableton seems to be the best suited to creating and manipulating arrangements in a live situation.  And for patching your iPad into your amp/PA/recording rig, try this: https://www.alesis.com/iodock.

All of this means that with a few apps and some time, students can generate performance material  in a variety of different ways to suit a particular idea or project and allows for a greater degree of creativity and freedom.

As a music professional, I am most interested in using the iPad as music stand. I have spoken with people that do this and received mixed reviews, but I feel that this is where music reading should be going.  An iPad could contain an entire library of sheet music in PDF format (solo music, ensemble parts, method books, scores, backing tracks) and would be fantastic to use in performance or rehearsal.  No longer need to worry about losing original parts, remembering pencils (the software stores any annotations made), or sorting through libraries of stuff (although the logistics of scanning everything might be headache enough, until publishers are in selling more of their material in that format).  Imagine being able to transpose a score instantly into a new key (to my way of thinking, the only way for us to be rid of the archaic institution of transposing instruments).

Of course, it already has a variety of apps that are useful (and which I use on my iPhone) like chromatic tuners, tone generators, metronomes, DMX dipswitch calculators, remote control for lighting desks, decibel meter, power load calculators, chord finders, etc.

All this in a device the size of a small text book!

I am very much looking forward to putting my hands on a unit that I can stock it up with goodies!

Stuart Collidge

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#edchat discuss social media

I learned a familiar lesson about professional development – you don’t have to go far or pay much.

Today I grabbed the opportunity to join the Twitter stream #edchat, something I’ve wanted to do for a while. This regular Twitter discussion was created by Tom Whitby and  Shelley Terrell.  For me in Melbourne, Australia, #edchat takes place on a Wednesday morning so school interferes. This year I have Wednesdays devoted to my role as learning enhancement coordinator, and so I jumped into the #edchat stream for the first part of my morning, frantically trying to keep up with my racing #edchat Twitter column.

A more exciting and informative form of professional development you will be hard pressed to find. The topic was:

What are specific ways educators can incorporate Social Media as a tool for learning into content-driven curriculum?

Being the dymanic multi-tasker that I am, I started pulling out shared links which caught my interest and ended up with a very long list.

Using ipods to increase reading comprehension

We love you Japan. Messages from teachers and students around the world to Japan in crisis.

Teachers really do inspire

Social media revolution 2 (video)

It’s not only about the technology

Embracing the reality of change

iLearn.org – Learning with the world, not just about it

Quick list of iPad resources for the classroom

When rethinking the school itself

Twitter for teachers (youtube)

Quality commenting video

8th graders creating the concept for an iphone game for learning Spanish

Links to many educational chats on Twitter by Cybraryman

Your students love social media and so can you

An easy, secure way to find, organise and share educational videos

Engaging students through communication and contact

C2C Twittup: bringing classrooms together via Twitter

Cybersafety by Cybraryman

Mastering marking madness

100 helpful websites for new teachers

Critical thinking: problem-based learning, creative thinking by Cybraryman

Problem-based learning video by World Shaker

The #engchat Daily

Social media and social networking links by Cybraryman

5 things in education we need a new name for

Facebook’s new anti-bullying tools create a culture of respect

Chimacum’s science blog

Using the snap-block teacher tool in maths

Twitter for teachers on YouTube

The state of the flipped class model

Come together (post by Shelley Terrell)

Common Sense education programs

Mr G’s science classes ning

YouTube tools for teachers

Mathchat wiki

10 teaching questions to make you comfortably uncomfortable

Teacher uses Twitter in the classroom

Social media and education

30+ places to find Creative Commons media

Twitter 102 video

Let kids rule the school

Writing prompts

Schools use digital tools to customise education

Education transformation through collaborative videos

Creating effective programs for gifted, low income urban students

Learning 2025: forging pathways to the future

National Science Teachers Association US

About #edchat

Make your videos compatible with all devices with the help of Vid.ly

In a transparent world, we’re always being observed

Do blogs develop content learning? (kids’ maths blog)

An Adoption Strategy for Digital Media in Schools Turning Great Individual Practice into the Norm

Well, that should keep me busy and fill out my curriculum-based wikis and Diigo bookmarks. AND I have new educators to follow on Twitter, more blogs to save into my Google Reader. I highly recommend the experience. Hope I get to do it again soon, but meanwhile the tweets are always there.

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Filed under Collaboration, Social media, teachers, teaching, technology