“You have to stick out the toughness of the business and form relationships with the people in it.” – Attributed to Rocco DiSpirito
It is only week three of term three, and already I feel like I have been battered from pillar to post. I am struggling to get into this term, and a few colleagues across a few different schools have made similar comments, so I know it is not just me. There have been a number of issues early this term which been high on the urgent and important scale, the building project in our scale continues to progress and cause anxiousness amongst many staff members about the changes, there is the ongoing stress of not being a permanent teacher, a number of units of work I am planning for future use, ideas and things that I want to try in my pedagogical practice, our semester two programs are due shortly, and to top it off, Mrs C21’s due date for our first child is only a few weeks away (25th August), but we have been told it is likely to come early given its size (Mrs C21 is terrified the baby will be size of my brother who was 10lb 9oz / 4.8kg).
I (rather foolishly, in hindsight), wrote late last year that I did not feel like I had had a proper first year out as a teacher, as I was in an RFF position. I should have kept my mouth closed. The conversations have already started about staffing for next year, as there is a huge shift going to occur in the school with the rebuild, a number of retirements this year bringing in different teachers, and a number of temporary teachers, including myself, who are going to be hoping for a new contract, some teachers going on maternity leave, and some permanent full-time teachers hoping to drop back to part-time. I do not envy our Principal his job, especially given that it looks like we are going to be on the threshold of crossing to having enough numbers for another staffing allocation.
I was away for the entirety of the first week of the mid-year holidays, acting as a referee coach and mentor, along with eleven others, to thirty-two teenagers at the Kanga Cup Youth Referee Academy, a part of my year that I look forward to, but which is incredibly draining mentally and physically. Week two of the holidays was essentially spent at school, planning with Mrs. W for the term. Of course, two weeks in, having been happy with what I had planned for my literacy sessions, I decided that it was not working the way i wanted it to, and have had to change it again.
Life is hectic at the moment. I am tired, frustrated, have too many things I want to and not enough time to do them in, am not sleeping, am eating chocolate like it is going out of fashion, and have not been able to get engaged with the term so far which is frustrating me a great deal. I have also not been able to get any writing done so far this term, and likely will not for a while.
The next few articles will be based on reflections of my time attending the 2016 iteration of the FutureSchools conference and expo, which, for the 2016 iteration, consists of master classes on Wednesday 2nd March, and the conferences and expo proper on Thursday 3rd and Friday 4th March respectively. When I attended last year (2015 review articles here), I commuted down and back each day, a return journey of approximately three hours total, which made for a long and tiring three days. When I decided to attend this year I made the decision that to engage with the networking aspect of the three days, and in order to not arrive each morning already tired, that I would stay in Sydney for the two nights. Accordingly, I wrote this particular article whilst sitting on the end of the single bed in the small (but very clean and well-kept) room, using an ironing board I borrowed from the staff to iron my shirts for tomorrow as a table of sorts, with my notebook propped up on the obligatory teacup provided in the room. It is certainly one of the more bizarre writing setups that I have used.
Wednesday was the day for master classes, with three different full-day master classes on offer (you can read the blurb for each by clicking here, here and here). After reading through the synopsis of each on offer I made the decision that the Jennie Magiera’s (@MsMagiera) facilitated master class, entitled Transforming School Culture: Curiosity Based Learning for Students AND Teachers was the best fit for where I am at, currently, as a teacher in regards to my pedagogical approach and interests and the master class from which I would gain the most benefit vis-à-vis being able to put what I learn into practice when I return to school.
When we started, Jennie stated that she wanted us to think about “…building a culture of curiosity…” in our schools and that cognitive dissonance would be the goal of today, to challenge us and to draw us out of our comfort zones in order to open us up to thinking about questioning from a different reference point. She was open that the day would be interactive, practical and not a five-hour long keynote with some breaks throughout, and that the first activity we needed to do was to smile.
She attributed this activity to Roni Habib (@Roni_Habib) and referred to it as clapping for happiness and that it worked with both children and adults. It was a very simple activity wherein we all stood up in a rough circle around the outside of the room, and Jennie timed how long it would take for what was effectively a Mexican-Wave clap to make it all the way around the room, with the goal to achieve a sub-ten second time. It sounds very simple, and it was, but you could sense the competitiveness in the air the moment a time-goal was mentioned. At the end of the activity, however, everyone was laughing, smiling and had reawakened from their early-morning lethargy that many suffer from in the short period after arriving at work, and you could feel the energy in the room shift.
Jennie took us through an interesting series of analogies and explanations, beginning with Project Based Learning (PBL v1), extending to Project Based Learning (PBL v2) and then to Curiosity Based Learning (CBL). Jennie indicated that she wanted us to think about PBL v1 as a quadrilateral. There are specific qualities needed for a shape to be a quadrilateral though these criteria are quite broad and accordingly many things can be a quadrilateral, though it is often clear when something is not a quadrilateral. To refine a quadrilateral, we need to take the definition a step further. Jennie asked us to think about PBL v2 as being a square. Though still a quadrilateral, it has further criteria that define it as a specific type of shape, and the delineation between a quadrilateral, in general, and a square, specifically, is fairly clear.
The message here is that all squares are quadrilaterals, but that not all quadrilaterals are squares. Jennie stated that
“…all problem-based learning units are project based learning, as in order to solve the problem, typically, there is some form of creation, an output at the end, achieved by completing a project. But not all Project based learning units are problem-based.”
To situate this in a context we can grapple with more easily, we often ask students to create something, a presentation, a diorama, a poster or some other output. However, the question that Jennie was asking, or my interpretation of the question that Jennie was asking here, is how often is the project based on solving a problem, in contrast to creating an output that meets a specific, already known and quantifiable purpose/rubric/metric?
Jennie’s advice was that in PBL v2, a student being successful is not required. In actuality, the greatest learning in PBL v2 may arise from a failure. She provided us with the seemingly trite, but potentially powerful and liberating acronym of FAIL; standing for First Attempt In Learning, and that too often she sees and hears of teachers providing problems that are too small, with teacher’s labouring under the notion that the problem they are working on MUST be situated locally in order to be of significance to them and their learning. Jennie exhorted us to think bigger, to think on a grander scale, and that she and other teachers she has worked with find that the questions, the problems which generate more interest, engagement and learning are those that are deemed impossible.
Jennie gave us a current example from her own career as a Year Four classroom teacher in Chicago, Illinois. Currently, a large contingent of her students are genuinely fearful that if Donald Trump becomes the Republican nominee in the 2016 United States Presidential election that he will come to the south side of Chicago, put them all in trucks and deport them. The question how can we stop Donald Trump becoming the Republican candidate generated a lot of high-quality teaching and learning moments and is of great significance to those students. This exact same unit of work, if it was to be bundled up so neatly, would likely not interest any Year Four class outside of the United States, and even within the United States, would only appeal to particular class groups, depending on their ethnic make-up, based upon Trump’s speeches. The problem is a large-scale one, not situated locally vis-à-vis their specific school, but it is a large scale problem, that has generated curiosity in the student, which takes us to the next level.
PBL v2 starts with a problem, CBL, the next step in Jennie’s analogy, starts with a question. The problem for the students was that they might be deported if Trump succeeds in his Presidential campaign. The problem generated curiosity which led to the question, how can we stop Trump from succeeding?
This chain of thought brought Jennie to reminding us that children do have an innate curiosity and need to ask questions, particularly as young children (pre-school age), but that the process of schooling often stamps out that curiosity and consequently we need to re-instil in our students a sense of wonder and curiosity, and also how to audit their curiosity in a productive manner.
To achieve this Jennie offered up an activity which we all completed which she referred to as a Wonder Catalyst. In essence, this activity involves providing students with a pad of post-it notes on which they are to write any question that comes to mind, without censorship or auditing for sensibility or practicality or answerability as long as it starts with one of the question stems (who, what, when, where, why and how) based upon a series of images, each of which is shown for a short period of time (I believe each was shown for around thirty seconds today, which was ok as adults, however, I certainly think that younger groups would need longer).
After this has been done, then the auditing process begins. Questions are to be sorted into three question types; those that can be answered simply by asking Siri, or Google and to which a definitive answer is immediately returned, which Jennie referred to as Googleable questions; those that can definitively answered with some research, whether it is through a series of web searches, phone calls, tracking people down to get dates or places etc, which are referred to as researchable questions; and finally, those questions to which, though there are best guesses (educated or not), there is no definitive answer, which Jennie referred to as Wonderable questions. You can see an example of what this might look like below.
The next level in this process is moving away from sentence stems, and towards a shift in mindset towards the curious, asking students to suspend disbelief and ask what if questions. Instead of asking when/where/why/how something occurred, ask what if……something else occurred.
Two tools which Jennie provided us to help with this process were rightquestion.org/education and 101Qs.com, both of which generate a series of images and allows you to note down any question which springs to mind about or based on that image, and to also see what questions have been asked in the past for that image.
Jennie related this process back to Understanding by Design (a topic I have touched upon very briefly in the past, following the Teaching for Thinking conference I attended in 2015), and how the process of planning a unit of work in that model is based upon achieving a particular learning goal, getting to which is based around a single essential question, which may then have three or four guiding questions. It was also noted that utilising prompts to generate questions in this fashion, as opposed to simply telling students to write down any questions they have on any topic, may also help to reduce the incidence of choice-paralysis which may also bring about fear of failure to ask the right questions.
Another method which Jennie said she has used to help generate questions in the past is the Earthview extension for Google Chrome. It sets the new tab background to a satellite photo of Earth, which students then generate questions about in order to attempt to determine what or where the photo is of. Each photo also has a link to Google Earth so that more information can be looked at if something appears that you want to pursue further.
This little segue was the close for the morning session and lead into our morning break, which makes it a good place to stop for today. I hope that you have been able to draw something out of this article, as I have found it useful to reflect upon what I learned this morning, and what practices I want to add to my pedagogical quiver when I return to the classroom. As always, thank you for reading, and feel free to leave any questions or comments below, or to contact me via Twitter if you want to engage in a discussion around this topic, or get more information about anything.
I feel like I have not achieved much today, in some ways, and I do not feel like I will get much done this afternoon between a staff meeting, chiropractic appointment and a meeting that I have to go to at Warners Bay this evening. I am currently typing this on my iPad as I wait for the weekly staff meeting to begin.
I have not had time today, for reasons, to type out my next article in the series on the Staff Development a day that I attended last Monday, nor will I have time tomorrow, as it is the school athletics carnival.
The small thing to celebrate is that I received an email today advising me that I had been nominated by my Honours supervisor to submit my dissertation for consideration to be presented at the Australiasian Conference of Undergraduate Researchers ( ACUR), which takes place at the end of September, in Perth, Western Australia.
It involves a four thousand word submission which is then considered, and though I intend to submit, I will be hard pushed to get it done as quickly as I would like.
Thank you for reading, as always, and I will try to get an article done for tomorrow, but given my time pressures, I do not think I will be successful.
“A day without laughter is a day wasted.”
– Attributed to Nicolas Chamfort
Today is Friday, the day that everyone regards as being an awesome day, as it is the beginning, for most people, of the weekend, of two days of not being at the work place. It is an odd day in many respects, as whilst it may be the end of the work week for some, that also means that it is now time to undertake the various chores around the house that have accumulated throughout the work week.
I find myself feeling inspired and motivated today, which is somewhat bizarre. On Wednesday, and again yesterday, I found myself feeling very lethargic and lacking in motivation, and I do not feel as if I achieved anything. Today, despite the fact that it has rained all day, despite the fact that I have had a number of interruptions due to various things, I find myself feeling motivated and energetic, and I feel that I have completed a respectable amount of work today.
One of my interruptions today was having the NBN (National Broadband Network) connected inside the house. I wanted to test the difference, and so ran the Ookla speed test which showed a very large improvement (ADSL: 21ms ping, 5.95 Mbps DL and 0.85 Mbps UL. NBN: 4ms ping, 23.72 Mbps DL and 4.85 Mbps UL), however I wanted something more visible, so I went to YouTube to see how long a video would take to buffer. The first video that popped up was Kid President’s Pep Talk video, and it downloaded incredibly quickly, however I decided to sit and watch it. It really is a very powerful video, and I felt it worth sharing on this wet and windy Friday afternoon.
Remember, be more awesome this weekend. Be awesome to your friends, your family, your neighbours and keeping being awesome on Monday.
Who inspires you to be awesome? Let me know in the comments.