Tag Archives: talk

Welcome to your library – teachers

Welcome to your library teachers

 

On Tuesday I’ve been asked to give a very short talk about the library at the staff meeting. It will be my first talk to staff since I’ve been acting head of library at MHS. I’m very nervous about speaking to the staff at my own school, more so than if I were speaking to a group of people outside the school, but I need to get over it.

Basically, I want to let teachers know about the change of culture for VCE private study. Previously the library was home to an enormous number of students who had no other space, and the noise was often out of control. Even though I was initially unsure about insisting on a silent library, favouring discussion and collaborative study, I had to respect the principal’s directive, and believe him when he said that students were complaining they couldn’t study in the noisy spaces. This year students have a choice between the silent library and the ‘dining hall’ (sounds much more posh than it is) where they can work collaboratively or just relax. We’ve all been flabbergasted that most of the students still choose the library despite our strict rules for silent study. Who knew? Of course, carpet and air conditioning have something to do with this, but we are seeing so many students knuckling down to serious study.

I’ve spent quite a bit of time on a presentation which is just a visual prompt for my brief talk. I hope teachers will look at the slides instead of me! Our main focus this year is to work more closely with teachers to create rich resources, create curriculum/assignments and teach collaboratively. We hope to forge relationships and become a vital part of teaching and learning at the school. We’ve divided faculties amongst the teacher librarians, and I hope that the TLs take ownership of their areas of expertise, and that they enjoy their new roles.

I hope you can make sense of the visual prompts in the presentation. My talk will be brief and I plan to speak very plainly; I’ve consciously avoided educational jargon. Today I read an article by Daniel Pink, “My challenge to you: only speak like a human at work” which confirmed what I’ve believed – that if you can’t say it simply and sincerely, you’ll lose your audience, or at least you won’t have much of an impact.

Sorry I wasn’t able to embed the presentation, so you’ll have to download it via the link at the top of the post. Not sure why I can’t – maybe it’s Chrome?

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David Astle is puzzled

Last night I travelled to another planet. Sitting in a long, narrow room bursting at the seams with puzzle and palindrome addicts, I wondered where these people had been hiding? Out of body experience? No, just another Wheeler Centre offering. I had come to the session David Astle: Confessions of a Wordaholic.

Father holds six over least arrangement. (5, 5) A gibberish sentence for many of us, but an irresistible clue for those in the thrall of cryptic crosswords. And in the Australian scene, there are none more cryptic, more revered and more dastardly than the man known as DA.

To celebrate the launch of his new book Puzzled, meet David Astle and find out why Geoffrey Rush calls him the ‘Sergeant Pepper of cryptic crosswords’.


As Harriet Veitch said in her Sydney Morning Herald article:

It’s scary inside David Astle’s brain. It’s stuffed full of words endlessly doing things. Palindromes and semordnilap run back and forth, spoonerisms climb up and own, thickets of anagrams form and reform and the tendrils of double meanings reach out to trip the unwary.

Even Astle occasionally wants to get out. “If anyone finds the exit, could you let me know? I’d like a rest sometimes.”

Despite the fact that I am not a puzzle person, that even when shown the answer , I remain puzzled, it was an immensely enjoyable and mentally exhilarating hour. I had expected David to be – dare I say it – more of a geek, considering the intensity of his word obsession, but in fact, he is  very sociable and entertaining, with a sharpened intellect and almost incapable of leaving a word alone, set on automatic pilot to continuously pull words apart, stretch them into new meanings and possibilities. In David’s own words, his gift for word play is ‘like synesthesia, only instead of seeing colours, I just see acrobatic letters’.

David’s new book, Puzzled, is surprisingly thick. Apart from chapters of clues, Puzzled is also a insight into David’s life and ‘how a seemingly normal boy from Sydney’s northern suburbs turned into a man whom people curse on a regular basis’ (Harriet Veitch).

In researching for this post, I discovered David Astle’s website and blog – both which have been added to my RSS now for titilating reading.

Thankyou, Wheeler Centre, for providing the opportunity to meet in person so many diverse and fascinating people. For free!

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The world needs all kinds of minds

I agree with Temple Grandin, the world needs all kinds of minds.

We should stop celebrating normal and worrying endlessly about what doesn’t fit within that normal.

Temple’s ability to verbalise her own autism has broadened our understanding of what it means to be autistic. Instead of looking at autism in terms of what is wrong, Temple turns our perspective around by stating that we wouldn’t have evolved without those people who think and function differently.

I’ve pulled out some of what she said in her  TED talk, things which resonate with me, both as a teacher and just in general:

People are getting away from doinghands-on stuff. I’m really concerned that a lot of schools have taken out the hands-on classes

We’ve got to think about all these different kinds of minds. And we’ve got to absolutely work with these kind of minds, because we absolutely are going to need these kind of people in the future.

And this brings up mentors. You know, my science teacher was not an accredited teacher. He was a NASA space scientist. Now, some states now are getting it to where if you have a degree in biology, or a degree in chemistry, you can come into the school and teach biology or chemistry. We need to be doing that. Because what I’m observing is the good teachers, for a lot of these kids, are out in the community colleges. We need to be getting some of these good teachers into the high schools.

If by some magic, autism had been eradicated from the face of the Earth, then men would still be socializing in front of a wood fire at the entrance to a cave.

Question: So, most people, if you ask them what are they most passionate about, they’d say things like, “My kids” or “My lover.” What are you most passionate about?

Temple Grandin: I’m passionate about that the things I do are going to make the world a better place.

I would love to see the school that Temple would create if she were a principal or education department head, wouldn’t you?

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Who’s leading? How a movement is made

Derek Sivers received a standing ovation at TED for this talk about leadership.

This really made an impression on me. I realised that, yes, it’s the first follower who plays a crucial role,

he publicly shows everyone how to follow.

This is so true, and I can speak from experience when I say this. Last year, when I took the risky step of creating a ning for a class, my brave and trusting friend Maria was the one who said yes, I’ll do it with you.

It takes guts to be a first follower! (Thankyou Maria! You’re the best)

She trusted me (even when I didn’t trust myself), and together we joined forces not only to create the ning as a learning and teaching platform for the year 7 class, but we forged new territory as we went, supporting each other and later demonstrating to the rest of the staff what this new learning environment looked like.

The first follower transforms a lone nut into a leader.

This year our school has taken off with Web 2.0 platforms for classes, a couple at first, serving as examples for others. Thankyou, Una and Catherine, for making the ning such a rich learning environment and inspiring other teachers.

The 2nd follower is a turning point: it’s proof the first has done well. Now it’s not a lone nut, and it’s not two nuts. Three is a crowd and a crowd is news.

Now there are more and more teachers wanting to try nings, having seen the wonderful examples.

Now here come 2 more, then 3 more. Now we’ve got momentum. This is the tipping point! Now we’ve got a movement!

I may be jumping the gun a little, but I’m predicting that soon the Web 2.0 learning platforms and tools will be part of the everyday learning and teaching practice at my school.

As more people jump in, it’s no longer risky. If they were on the fence before, there’s no reason not to join now. They won’t be ridiculed, they won’t stand out, and they will be part of the in-crowd, if they hurry. Over the next minute you’ll see the rest who prefer to be part of the crowd, because eventually they’d be ridiculed for not joining.

I love the advice that Derek Sivers gives about leadership – listen particularly if you don’t consider yourself a leader:

The best way to make a movement, if you really care, is to courageously follow and show others how to follow.

When you find a lone nut doing something great, have the guts to be the first person to stand up and join in.

Check out Derek’s biography.

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TED Q & A with Ken Robinson

KenRobinsonTED-reddit

The TED blog describes an interesting Q&A session with creativity expert, Sir Ken Robinson, author of The element. Reddit gave TED fans the opportunity to submit questions for Ken, with the 10 most voted questions being answered.

Here are the 10 questions Ken answered. Many of these are long, and I’ve tried to select the main part of the question, but you’ll have to go to the post to read the rest:

1. What specific actions do you recommend taking to overhaul, say, public education to maximize how we identify and nurture creativity? And what place do you think things like critical thinking and logic (also noticeably absent) have in basic education?

2. …why do we make these distinctions between “math”, “biology”, “history”, and “art”, when they are all linked, and when the interconnections so often make them meaningful? Is it OK if children are not “well-rounded,” as long as they are following their curiosities, or does a lack of “well-roundedness” mean we are not exposing them to enough bridges to new interests?

3. What do you think is the correct way to grade/rank/assess an individual’s academic performance? And what do you think should & should not be included in standardized entrance exams like SAT?

4. … some would advocate that video games are in fact best preparing kids for 21st century life. What’s your opinion on this, and of the place of video games in education?

5. There are so many individual teachers and librarians out there who GET IT, who want to help their students stop “playing school” and start having authentic learning experiences. How do they build critical mass to change our bureaucratic, cookie-cutter approach to educating children?

6. How do I get involved to make this change happen?

7. … What are your thoughts on the future of distance learning, and have you seen any signs of a breakthrough that will replace the status quo, while delivering interactive, powerful, social and visually simulating learning?

8. What is your opinion of the Summerhill School?

9.  I’m a maths teacher, in England, in a forward-thinking school (the head showed your TED talk to the whole school a couple of years ago at a staff meeting) and I believe in what you say about creativity passionately. So what three things should I do in September to foster creativity? I’m talking about definite, in-the-one-hour-lesson things I can do to my classes to change their experience.

10. … We all know you can find your element at any time in life but what more can I do to find out what MY element is?

 It’s definitely worth reading in full. I won’t summarise but I’ll pull out sections which resonated with me.

 The basis of my argument is: creativity isn’t a specific activity; it’s a quality of things we do. You can be creative in anything — in math, science, engineering, philosophy — as much as you can in music or in painting or in dance. And you can certainly be involved in the arts in ways that are especially creative. And so it’s important to emphasize that it’s not about creating some small space in schools where people can be creative, and particularly not if that means just tacking on some art programs on a Friday afternoon. It’s about the way we do things.

Ken talks about a ‘grammar of creativity’:

You can help them think productively, generate ideas effectively, help them to think of alternative approaches to issues and questions.

It’s a series of processes, not an event. And helping people understand how that works is an important part of being creative. You wouldn’t expect people to become literate just by hoping it’d happen.

And I think subjects is a poor idea, really, for the kind of work I’m interested to promote, because it suggests that the world is definable into entirely different sorts of content or subject matter…. So now, we live in an age where there are multiple variations of different disciplines — the merging of physics and chemistry and of engineering and genetics. And the problem is that schools and institutions are often slow to keep up with these changes.

It’s not that I am against standardized testing. What I’ve personally got a rant about is the extent to which standardized testing, firstly, has become a massive commercial industry which is detached, in most cases, from the real purpose of education. And secondly, the extent to which we’ve come to associate standardizing with raising standards. Now, everybody agrees we should raise standards in schools. Of course you should. But, the primary instrument that’s being used is standardized testing. And the problem with it is that it fails to do the one thing we know works if we want to improve standards in schools, which is to address personal development… It’s not there to identify what individuals can do. It’s there to look at things to which they conform.

So, my argument is that instead of standardizing everything in schools we should be going in the opposite direction…. I think we should be personalizing everything in schools. We should be looking at ways of making education relevant to each individual child. And there’s no other way of improving standards. Actually, there’s no other way of doing it on the grand scale.

 On the whole, people in education get this as much as anyone else. And they don’t like it. They know there’s a big problem in the system, and they want to change it…. 

The real place to focus, initially, is on the work you do yourself. I’m always keen to say this: Education doesn’t happen in the committee rooms of Washington, or London, or Paris or Berlin. It doesn’t happen in government buildings. It happens in the minds of students and learners. It happens in the classroom… So what I would say to teachers is: Change your own practice, today. The education your children are getting is a result of what you’re doing with them.

Don’t wait for the government to change things; get on and do it yourself. But also, if you’re in a position to do it, you should try and influence policy. There’s an opportunity to do that in many countries. It depends on your position.

Just dumping stuff online isn’t the answer to it. But there’s a massive thirst for ideas, for this sort of content, as illustrated by the mushrooming of social networking and user-generated content… Because we now have the ability to put the best thinking, materials, pedagogy, resources in front of everybody. This should be seen by schools as a massive opportunity to — not to replace what they do, not to replace their own teachers and curriculum, but to enrich and enhance it.

But there are some characteristics of good teaching which are concerned with promoting creativity. One of them is to engage children’s curiosity to get their imaginations fired up. I was saying earlier that the fundamental capacity is imagination. Well, what I mean by that is you can’t be creative if your imagination is not engaged.

If you want to promote creativity, you need, firstly, to stimulate kids minds with puzzles and questions which will intrigue them. Often that’s best done by giving them problems, rather than just solutions. What often happens in classrooms is, kids sit there trying to learn in a drone-like way things of not much interest that have already been figured out.

I talked about, in the All Our Futures report, two things, one of which was “teaching creatively”: teachers finding interesting ways into material. Presenting unusual points of entry or interesting angles or perspectives, and enjoying the process of finding them. So, that’s important. Teachers themselves should try to evolve their own creative capacities and enjoy what they do, creatively. Standardized testing has taken the joy of teaching away from them.

The second big part of this is asking open questions as much as we ask closed questions. Giving people questions they can explore, rather than ones to which they have to find answers that have already been given. That, to me, is the fundamental piece of all creative processes. Giving area for exploration.

One thing I didn’t touch on earlier is, the creative process is a bit like a DNA strand. There are a lot of things weaving through it. One task being creative is to hypothesize and think of possibilities and look at alternatives ideas — to speculate. To be imaginative. But an equally important part for every creative process is to act critically on the ideas you’re coming up with. To evaluate them.

… group work. An awful lot of creative work doesn’t happen individually. It happens with people interacting with other people. The most powerful engines of creative thinking are groups. And the reason that’s true is because a great group models the human mind: it’s diverse, it’s dynamic, it’s distinctive. So, knowing how to form groups, how to get groups to work, how long to leave them doing it is a core skill of good teachers.

So I think its three things: it’s stimulating imagination, it’s telling them problems with open questions, and knowing how to organize groups. And I think in there are the answers to things we can all start doing tomorrow.

Fertile ground for personal and professional discussion, don’t you think?

 

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Tinkering as a mode of knowledge production

Listen to John Seely Brown’s talk where he addresses the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, Stanford, CA, 2008.

I am what I create is how John Seely Brown defines our new identity.

I’d like to paraphrase what John says in his talk ‘Tinkering as a mode of knowledge production’, and also to offer some of my own thoughts.

Here’s the gist: Since many of the skills that we learn today have become obsolete several years ago, we must find a way to get today’s kids to embrace change, to want to constantly learn new kinds of things, to find a way to play with creating knowledge on the fly by experimenting with things. Notice how different this is to the traditional learning of finite knowledge imparted by the omniscient teacher . How do we initiate this tinkering, this creating of knowledge? John Seely Brown says we need to look for ways to foster the imagination; if there’s no imagination, there’s no creativity. And he places the tinkering learners within a new culture of sharing, in peer-based learning communities, where kids learn from each other. The challenge, he says, is to find new learning environments. We need to go back in time, so to speak, to the comprehensive classroom that had students of all ages in it, where the teacher was the organiser, the facilitator, and where students’ learning was as much from other students as from the teacher. We need to construct an environment where we are constantly learning from and teaching each other. And now for the tinkering.

What is tinkering? John Seely Brown sees it as the creation of something concrete as opposed to abstract or theoretical learning out of context.

Let me take my imagination and build something from it. Build something concrete instead of decontextualised knowledge. Once we’ ve created this concrete thing, we can see if it hasn’t worked, why doesn’t it work, and ask questions: how to build it better. We expect this thing to do something.

Why do we need this new learning environment? We live in a different type of world, one of rapid change. We need to find ways to tinker with ideas, ask good questions, and be able to take criticism. We need to learn in this architectual studio, where all work in progress is made public .

This makes so much sense to me. Currently, as part of our project for the Powerful Learning Practice program in which our school is involved, we have decided to create a NING, a whole-school online learning network, in order to bring the members of our school together, learning from each other, sharing, and making all our processes and projects transparent. In the new learning environment Brown speaks of, we are all able to witness each other’s struggle, understanding the process each of us is going through. What a powerful way of learning with and from each other. As Brown says, when the design is finished, and you overhear the master critiquing another’s design, this has tremendous meaning to us as well because we’ve been part of the process of the each other’s constructing of design. In this distributed learning environment, you learn to accept criticism. You want to be critiqued, you appreciate criticism, you learn from it. Brown sees this as one of the key platforms for lifelong learning and in embracing change.

Today’s networked technology allows us to build distributed communities of practice. Instead of us physically working shoulder to shoulder with others, our avatar is working shoulder to shoulder with others. We have infinitely more powerful tools to craft things, to mash this up. Creativity takes on new possibilties through tinkering – our tools not only allow us to create but also remix. In a short space of time, we can take what we see from others, rework it and recreate it, then give it back to the community for further reworking. How much better is this than isolated learning and creating?

The second message in John Seely Brown’s talk is something I’m very excited about. It’s a positive statement about young people today, and I urge everyone to think about it seriously, because it counters the many negative statements that are thrown out about young people in the age of technology. We are on the cusp of the creation of a new identity. In prior decades a lot of kids grew up thinking ‘I am what I wear’, or what my parents own, or how much money we have. Identity came from material possessions. I’d like to add to that by saying that identity also came from what we did for a living. Our occupation was who we were. It was the name of the occupation that was important, not the internal workings and processes of these occupations.

Here is the most exciting part of Brown’s talk for me : JUST MAYBE, he says, just maybe we are entering into a world now where our own identity gets defined by what we’ve created and what others have added to it.

This is a sense of identity constructed for myself. I passed something onto others, and they have been able to do wondrous things with this as well.

I can relate to this so well. When my children were younger and I was unable to teach full-time for several reasons, I was a ‘housewife’. I was not a teacher, I was not a thinker, I was not someone with creative talents, I was defined by my title. Now that I’m a teacher once again, I’m pushing beyond this title too. In my writing (which is really a remashing of my reading of others’ thinking with my own thinking) in my blogs and personal learning networks, I’m stretching my identity to include much more of my potential, and I’m doing this shoulder to shoulder with many others around the world. Technology is allowing me to recreate myself along with others – unlimited by my geographic location, unlimited by time zones. I’m creating my own identity within a new learning community. I’m a teacher, but what’s most satisfying and comfortable for me, I’m a learner.

As John Seely Brown says THIS IS A DIFFERENT WORLD.

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Filed under 21st century learning, creativity, Education, learning, play, teachers, teaching, technology, Web 2.0