Tag Archives: Education

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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Back from Google Teacher Academy, Sydney. Time to debrief.

So I’m back from Google Teacher Academy in Sydney, conducted in the Google offices located in gorgeous Pyrmont.

I suppose you’ve noticed my Google Certified Teacher badge taking pride of place in my blog’s sidebar. I hope that’s more a sign of what I’m going to share than any attempt at self promotion. So, you say, how was it? After the hype (which I half joking referred to on Twitter in Wonkian terms), it’s definitely time to share the experience.

For me, it was a little like T.S.Eliot said in The Dry Salvages –  ‘We had the experience but missed the meaning’, that is to say, it was such a big experience, I had to come away from it to understand its impact. One and a half days in the Google offices but many weeks of suspense, attempts at imagined scenarios leading up to the much awaited day had put us all into an emotional state which delivered us to the Google headquarters as children at a birthday party. The mystery shrouding the event and Google interior wound up the intensity even tighter. It was fun spotting the large Google sign in the foyer of the building, spotting real people whose faces matched their tiny avatars on Twitter or Facebook, meeting for breakfast and become initiates by wearing the Google Teacher Academy name tags.

So, you’re saying, stop dragging out the preamble, get to the point: what was it like? What did you do?

Short answer: It was full on!! The Magic Hat had sorted us into teams; I was in Silverbrook. We sat at brightly google-coloured tables and, shortly after breakfast, were treated to Google Educators giving us an overview of the enormous range of Google tools: Search (web, specialised, multimedia, language, custom), Google Apps Education edition, Docs, Sites, Calendar, Blogger, BooksScholar, News, Blog Search, Alerts, Maps, Earth, Gmail, Chat, Talk, Mobile, and more. Added to these sessions, some of our 55 strong cohort had offered to present Inspiring Ideas. We were treated to Google Spreadsheets (Pat Wagner), Sites for student e-portolios (Joe Donahue), creating an augmented reality school tour (Chris Betcher), e-portfolios using Blogger and Apps (Rob Clarke), using Blogger and Video Chat for minimally invasive education (Tara Taylor-Jorgensen), and an inside view of Google Apps for Education in a school (Dorothy Burt).  At 6pm, in the last session: reflection and review, we shared our ‘Aha’ moments for the day with our group, and at 6.30pm we were treated to a lovely celebratory dinner.

You can breathe now.

How do I do justice to such an intensive day and from all angles? I can’t.  Obviously the breadth and depth of the material was overwhelming, and at times it was challenging to keep up and remain focussed. I really enjoyed what the members of our cohort had to share, and I wish we could have seen more of how the Google apps could be used in creative and innovative ways in the classroom. We really needed more time and I suppose that was the biggest drawback – cramming so much in so little time.

Was it what I expected? I’m not sure. It’s not that Google apps/Apps are not out there for everyone to see and learn about. In that sense, we learned nothing new. But seeing everything in one and a half days, we probably saw more than we would have if left to our own devices. In between we struggled to make a dent in activities which gave us the opportunity to put some of the Google tools to use.

Most of us agreed that meeting up, connecting, collaborating and sharing was the most valuable part of the experience. So many interesting, passionate and innovative people, and we would continue to collaborate on Twitter (#gtasyd and #gct) and the GCT Group (sorry, closed community). I am grateful for new friendships and acquaintances. Thankyou so much to our GTA leaders, Dana Nguyen, Dr Mark Wagner, Wendy Gorton, Kern Kelley, Danny Silva and Lisa Thumann, for your expertise and passion.

Next on the agenda is formulating an action plan – how we will share what we have learned, either through presentations or in the classroom. It’s difficult to decide where to start.

As a teacher librarian, I’d like to say to my colleagues – you are already well skilled in many of the Google tools. We are experts in Search, News, Scholar, Google Books,  and there are experts among us with things like Google Lit Trips. What we don’t know, we can learn from the excellent Google help and crib sheets.

So, having said that, here is my initial idea for a Google action plan – to create a community for Google PD either in Google Groups or Sites specifically for teacher librarians. This would be a place to share knowledge, ideas and material. There are experts amongst us, and it would be good to pool our collective talents to present professional development either face to face, or through slideshows and webinars. Glenda Morris and I are both GCT  TLs in Victoria, and when I spoke to Glenda about this idea, she was happy to take part. There is already so much prepared by Google, for example, take a look at all the material in Google Web Search: Classroom lessons and resources.

What do you think? I would love to receive feedback for this idea. And please, if I’ve missed something you wanted to know about the Google Academy experience, please ask.

(A big thankyou, also, to Lisa Perez (TL in Chicago) who initiated meeting Glenda and me before the conference, and encouraged us to join forces as TLs).

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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

Technology brings back the village doctor

Vodpod videos no longer available.
Thanks for Gabriela Grosseck for the link to the video.

This little talk grabbed my attention.

Arna Ionescu talks about change in the delivery of health care, but she may as well be talking about change in education.
Yes, Google has an immense store of information, but how do you make the decisions as to the right course of action? Just as health care is built on a foundation that’s personal and caring, so is learning. We accept information from sources we trust, but more often from people we know and trust.
Arna mentions the nostalgia surrounding the family doctor of the past. I often think that today’s personal and professional learning networks are moving closer to the notion of the family doctor. We feel more confident asking people we know than following a Google link.
Arna also talks about using technology to channel the motivational people in our lives -technology as the enabler that allows personal and human touch to spread; technology as a conduit.


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Sir Ken Robinson animated

Here’s a great example of how visualisation enhances a very good talk by Sir Ken Robinson;

Some of the most disturbing parts:

  • Schools are trying to educate children like they did in the past, and consequently alienating millions of kids who don’t see any purpose in what they do in school.
  • Ritalin is overprescribed (in USA). We shouldn’t be sedating our kids, we should be waking them up to what they have inside themselves. They live in the most intensely stimulating period in the history of the earth; they’re being besieged with information that calls for their attention from every platform, and they are getting distracted from comparatively boring stuff at school.
  • Schools are still organised on factory lines. We still educate our children by batches in age groups. Why is the most important thing kids have in common is how old they are. It’s essentially about conformity and standardisation.
  • Kids’ scores for divergent thinking deteriorate the older they become mainly because they become educated to accept that there’s only one answer and that you don’t copy.

Two concluding points by Ken Robinson:

  • Collaboration is the stuff of growth.
  • It’s mostly about the culture, the habits of our institutions.

What does this say to  me?

We can’t improve kids’ learning in schools by doing what we are already trying to do inside the current system. We can only improve their learning by changing the culture of schools, by changing the ways we do things – not within the current setup we have which is clearly not working because our teachers are really trying. What we need is a whole school system change which will discard the outdated factory model. I think this talk explains why we are trying so hard and yet failing on the whole.

What do you think?

Read about RSA here. How is it I hadn’t heard of RSA Animate before? It really does bring discourse to life.

Thanks to Sheryl A. McCoy for the link to this video.

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Filed under animation, Education

Nicholas Carr at The Wheeler Centre: We’re drowning in the shallows

Last night I attended a talk by Nicholas Carr at The Wheeler Centre.

One of the world’s most ground-breaking and thought-provoking writers on technology and its impacts talks to Gideon Haigh. The celebrated journalist and author of The Shallows, presents his arguments about how the internet’s pervasive influence is fostering ignorance.

Nicholas Carr has a point: the internet is addictive; there’s so much to investigate and dip into, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to move from A to Z without darting off into various directions along the way, and you may not even get there at all.

The pioneering neuroscientist Michael Merzenich believes our brains are being ”massively remodelled” by our ever-intensifying use of the web and related media.

I’m not even going to go into the topic of brain rewiring, but I think that if our neural pathways can change depending on the nature of our activity, then we are still not doomed as long as we don’t turn into robots.

It is possible, though, that we might be at risk of losing our ability to focus on any one thing in a deep way, what with so much clamouring for our attention and our focus being diffused  through a myriad of hyperlinks.  And this is worth thinking about especially in the context of school education.

However, during Nicholas’ talk and subsequent question time, I realized that the culprit for the loss of deep concentration, defined loosely as either ‘the internet’ or technology,  was being bandied about in a disconcerting way, and that it is important to define exactly which activities on the internet we are talking about when we start blaming ‘the internet’ for rewiring of neural pathways and even ignorance.

Nicholas Carr referred repeatedly to online activites such as those on Facebook, Twitter and instant messaging/chat, when he spoke of distractions which prevented us from deeper concentration and understanding. He was using a broad brush to paint a picture of what the internet has to offer,  focusing on the more superficial exchanges as if this was all there was to the internet. Gideon Haigh, the presenter, jumped on the bandwagon and made a disparaging remark about Web 2.0 in education, saying that Facebook and Twitter were hardly learning – and he got an applause for that remark. It was obvious that the audience were not all on the same page. How is it that ‘the internet’ is limited to the more superficial social media? And please, inform yourselves before you judge technology as the cause of lower academic performance. Technology and the internet are only as good as the people who use them, and that is always about educated and intelligent teaching.

From  my own experience, it’s clear to me that the introduction of new technologies requires support, not only how to use these technologies, but also the thinking behind pedagogy – how to use these technologies  to enhance learning, not to tick off boxes for technology use. Obviously technology without the support is going to mean a backwards movement.

If the internet –  and Nicholas Carr also mentioned ebooks with the distractions of hyperlinks and commenting, online research, and multimedia –  if all these things are responsible for the loss of deep concentration, then why don’t we blame television for distracting us from serious novel reading, and why not blame popular music (and the radio) for taking away generations from an appreciation of more serious music and the ability to listen to a long ‘classical’ music performance? Even years ago how could we compete with Sesame Street when teaching young children in the traditional way?

If Nicholas laments the quietness which, he claims, is conducive to deeper thought and concentration, solitude even, then we should really retire to a convent and possibly an Amish community, so that there is no electricity to enable all these distractions.

I know that’s a little extreme but really – aren’t we being a little purist? Who are the people who focus deeply on reading? Are we talking about a scholarly article or book, because then we are talking about academics, not those of us who prefer to sit in front of the television for light entertainment after a long day.

As one of the guys in our computer centre said to me recently – by encouraging teachers to use the internet, aren’t you leading them along the path to addiction, and what will happen to stillness?

I think ‘stillness’ disappeared long ago even with the advent of radio and television. Yes, modern technologies are more mobile, more interactive, more engaging, but aren’t we in control of our online behavior? And if not, we should be. Pick out the wheat from the chaff, or teach yourself to do it. And if you want stillness, perhaps you should consider monasticism.

So Nicholas, before you say that what we need is money going into good teachers instead of into technology in education, please do your homework. Why should the two be mutually exclusive? We have always needed good teachers but we also need teachers who prepare kids for their world. And like it or not, that world is connected. More than ever we need to understand what engages young people and how they learn and socialize, so that we realize the power of social learning. Not because we think Facebook is the answer but because we think Skyping a class from the other side of the world and engaging in authentic conversation is more engaging and informative than reading from a textbook. Because we think that choice and hands-on creativity is more productive than passive learning. Because we find experts all over the world, and not just in the teacher who happens to be standing in front of the class.

I was amused that Carr quoted a 6th century bishop, Isaac of Syria, when he said that our furtive internet behavior was responsible for the permanent loss of the capacity for dream-like concentration:

“With prolonging of this silence,” wrote Isaac, “the turmoil of memories is stilled in my heart, ceaseless waves of joy are sent me by inner thoughts, beyond expectation suddenly arising to delight my heart.”

Bishop Isaac of Syria was a monk, an ascetic. The silence he speaks of is no doubt the silence that comes with private prayer and monastic isolation. Should we then go back to eating in silence while we listen to the readings of the lives of saints?

Finally, Carr discovers shocking statistics about multi-taskers. New research shows that multi-tasking results in poor comprehension. I say there is a difference between multitasking well and dividing your attention between too many things and not doing any of them well. Definitions, people! Let’s not be sloppy with our definitions, let’s be specific when we judge an activity such as multitasking, or something like ‘the internet’.  It’s just as easy to blame the internet as it is to blame society. As Alison Croggon says

The internet is whatever we make it. It isn’t an abstraction: it’s the collective creation of millions of individual human beings.

To conclude, if Nicholas Carr has decided to take a break from being connected 24/7, then rejoined online life after discerning what was valuable and what wasn’t, then isn’t this just part of the evaluative process we should all be going through? Aren’t we doing that already? As teachers, isn’t that part of our job in forming critical thinkers?

I am reminded of the episode about ‘the Internet’ on the IT Crowd. Seems appropriate for today’s post.

Nicholas Carr’s latest book, The Shallows,  is worth reading – or skimming…

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Filed under debate, internet, network literacy, Social media, teachers, teaching, technology, Web 2.0

Are schooling and learning synonymous?

I’m adding a post about a post added by Will Richardson who added a post after he read a tweet by Alec Couros.

Yeah.

Will starts out like this:

Yesterday, Alec Couros went “Back to School” to “Meet the Teacher” of his first grade daughter. Here is what he saw:

Photo by Alec Couros (from Weblogg-ed)

Both Will and Alec have children in school or about to start and feel pretty much the same way about schools which seem so traditional that they have been left behind in the Industrial Age (my interpretation).

Will’s post nails the problem for some parents (are most of these teachers themselves?) when school isn’t the ideal place to educate their kids. What do you do then?

Will has captured the Twitter responses to Alec’s initial tweets and they are definitely an interesting read.

I agree with you, Will – this tweet expresses my own view of my sons’ schooling:

“We’ve always considered public school ed our kids receive as supplemental to the ed we provide at home so we don’t go crazy about it.”

I’m writing from the perspective of a parent who has been though a few hells and come back to review school education many times. My boys are now in second year uni and year 10. I’ve never expected school to be responsible for all the learning or to contain the most important learning for my boys. Or did I understand that gradually? Did I expect more and come to accept less? Yes, I think so.

I am not about to criticise all schools, all teachers. I’m a teacher and far from perfect. I would not like to be a principal. So when I say that schools have been less than what they could have been, I just think that the talent and dedication which many educators display every day could be better directed with an informed view of the kind of learning which truly prepares our kids for living and working in their world. We are not preparing our kids adequately for their future because we are not projecting our goals into their future – we are clinging to our old perception of what we need to teach them.

A few things that spring to mind throughout the years my boys were at school:

  • My older (tested as highly gifted at the age of 5 – not because I wanted to bask in this, but because I wanted to cater for his needs and understand him) came into mainstream Grade 2 from Montessori. When he was given a list of spelling words to learn which he’d known since the age of 3, and I discussed this with his teacher, his teacher said, ‘We can’t have Sasha doing his own work and the rest of the class doing their work…’  My question at the time: Why not? which I didn’t voice because I still respected that the teacher knew best and the parent should comply.
  • When I asked subsequent teachers for support in keeping my son interested at school, they either

1) gave him extra work which he didn’t want to do, and then told me he wasn’t cooperating

2) devoted all further discussions to pointing out that he wasn’t like other children, and that he should concentrate on fitting in

3) placed all importance on social skills (his apparent failure to be like everyone else) and ignored the academic aspect. (Let me say that pointing out to a child that he is different and that this difference is somehow a handicap, is not going to help his social skills. Telling him to dumb down, as the school psychologist did, is also not going to help)

I just want to say that I also have many excellent memories balancing out these not so positive ones, and these centre on wonderful teachers. I’m not painting an entirely black picture but still, if I had to estimate how much of school I thought was truly valuable, I would have to say that there is so much I would have done without, so much I would have done differently, so much wasted time. But it’s worse than wasted time, it’s the turning away from a natural love of learning. Sometimes I think that my children, my students, are successful despite their schooling, not because of it.

My younger son absolutely lives for music and wants to be a comp0ser. He is happy this year in his new school, The Victorian College of the Arts Secondary School, in year 10, where he follows the same academic curriculum as in other schools but also benefits from expert tuition and performance experience in music.

How do I remember most of his schooling before this? Apart from his two final years in primary school when he had fantastic teachers who did wonders for his love of learning and self esteem, the first 3 years of secondary school were times where he had to put away his burning desire to compose and play music because he spent almost every waking moment completing homework tasks. Granted, some students would have either done the same more quickly or not been as conscientious, but the hardest part was seeing him develop an aversion to learning and a low opinion of himself as a learner. That’s difficult for a parent.

In retrospect, I would perhaps do some things differently. I like the way Will and his wife communicate with the teachers:

We write an e-mail (or a letter) to each teacher introducing our kids and ourselves, letting them know what our hopes are, what we’d love to see our kids doing, and what we’ll do to support the classroom. We also introduce ourselves, and talk a little bit about what our worldview of education looks like. Finally, we offer to continue that conversation and help make it a reality in the classroom in whatever way we can. And we cc the principal and headmaster (since Tess is in private school.)

I think you have to work hard to develop a positive relationship with teachers and principals. I gave up too easily in situations when a teacher responded in a defensive manner, particularly when it meant resenting my child. In this case I withdrew, fearing the repercussions for my child, but now I might hold my ground a little longer and try not to take the whole thing personally. The parent/teacher relationship can be delicate.

Certainly I have always taken a very active role in my children’s education, and I’m not referring to basic literacy and numeracy skills, but to opening up their minds to bigger picture questions, providing them with resources and activities within their interest areas.

I wonder how differently teachers would teach without the sometimes crippling restrictions of curriculum, if there was time to discuss what they thought was most important and without the looming university entrance scores.

Despite all this, I think that, if I had the chance to do this again, I would still not choose homeschooling – which is not to say that I think it doesn’t work. My husband and I always felt that being part of a school community was important for our sons, and finding your place was also important.

Katie Hellerman was also inspired to write a post after reading Will Richardson’s, and it’s a good read.

I would love to hear from you about the topic of schooling and learning. Do you think schooling prepares young people adequately, well? If not, how would you reconfigure schooling?

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