Planning ahead for 2016

“I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes. Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re doing something.”
– Attributed to Neil Gaiman

Welcome back to a new year! I hope that the Christmas and New Year break was relaxing and you have returned refreshed and ready to start with your new class. Personally, I am looking forward to an exciting and eventful year, and will be achieving some goals and going a long way towards achieving others. What are your goals for the year? Have you set any?

As my regular readers may recall, I have been offered a year-long temporary contract for three days per week on a Year Five class with a more experienced teacher which I am excited for. I am hoping to utilise this year to complete my accreditation to move into the proficient bracket, as well as to expand my skills and abilities.

I am attending FutureSchools again this year and am also hoping to attend FlipConAus in Adelaide in November. I will once again write up a series of review articles based on my notes from the conferences. I am also attending a THRASS Foundation Course in the April holidays, which I am looking forward to.

I plan to continue with this blog, posting an article each day, Monday to Thursday, however, that may scale back to only Monday to Wednesday, depending on time management needs as I have a lot going on, as we all do, outside of education.

I am in the process of an upgrade certification as a Football (soccer) Referee, which when completed will see me refereeing in the third tier of football in Australia, National Premier League Division Two, and this goal will require a considerable amount of time and energy for training and matches.

My biggest goal for the year, however, is to manage my time more effectively. I have decided that in regards to working outside of school hours, I will, where possible and practical, only work while Mrs. C21st is at work, and I will not be working outside of school hours on Thursdays or Fridays unless absolutely necessary (such as during report season and the beginning few weeks of the school year where there is still a significant amount of planning and programming going on). I feel like this is going to be crucial to not burning out this year, given the time, physical and mental demands that I will be under with everything that is happening. I will also allow me time to complete any marking, planning, blog writing, Tweeting etc, but also provides me with time off (Thursday and Friday, though I will be looking to undertake some casual work on these days).

Thank you for reading, and I would love to hear, either in the comments or over on Twitter, what your goals are for the year.

TeachMeet: Teaching for Thinking

“It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”
– Attributed to Aristotle

Earlier in the year I attended a TeachMeet about Teaching for Thinking, or Teaching Philosophy in Schools at St Leo’s Catholic College, Wahroonga. The event was a very interesting one, with lots of challenging ideas about education and how we teach children to think. As always, I wrote a series of review articles, which you can find linked to below:

  1. Part One
  2. Part Two
  3. Part Three
  4. Part Four

Another Teaching for Thinking TeachMeet has been organised, to be held on Sunday, 29th November from 1300 to 1600 at Wyvern House Preparatory School in Stanmore.

From the invitational flyer:

The teachmeet will be an introductory platform for passionate and interested educators and leaders from a range of schools across Sydney to share their experiences, expertise, vision and learn from one another. Topics for discussion will include: Critical and Creative Thinking; Philosophy in the classroom; and Tools of inquiry The afternoon will include five presenters, a Q&A session, followed by an open forum/panel discussion. The teachmeet will also be a great opportunity to start a broader dialogue about teaching for thinking and build professional networks.

Speakers include Emeritus Professor Phil Cam,  President of Philosophy in Schools NSW from the University of New South Wales speaking under the title Because and Therefore;  Dr Britta Jensen an English and French teacher from Marist College North Shore speaking under the title Fostering a thinking disposition in our students; Mr Dan Smith Deputy Principal at Leichhardt Public School speaking under the title Bringing philosophy into school – 10 years of experience; Ms Sally Parker, a Science Teacher from Moriah College speaking under the title Stimulus material, Concept games and Questioning tools for the Science classroom; and Ms Ksenia Filatov, English and Philosophy Teacher at St Leo’s Catholic College speaking under Teaching and Applied Philosophy elective course for years 9-10.

To attend, please RSVP through this google form by Thursday 26th November.

The moments that remind you why you teach.

“I am indebted to my father for living, but to my teacher for living well.”
– Attributed to Alexander the Great

Recently I wrote an article talking about the issue of teacher work-life balance, and my current lack thereof. It has generated some interesting discussions and I have had some helpful conversations with members of my PLN who have reached out, for which I am grateful. It seems that the conversations I have had face-to-face where it has been indicated that the hours I keep currently are somewhat normal have been somewhat supported by conversations on Twitter.

A conversation with one Tweacher indicated they kept similarish hours to myself vis-a-vis time spent at school but allowed a longer break between the end of the school day and resuming work at home, and with more frequent breaks over the weekend when working at home. Another Tweacher noted that for them, involvement with professional associations and Twitter allowed them to blend their social life with their educational life, acknowledging that  they were unsure if this constituted having a work-life balance.

When I first began this blog, I wrote about why I teach and why I joined the teaching profession in a time when there is intense scrutiny of men professing a desire to work with children and men are seemingly avoiding the teaching profession. In my own Initial Teacher Education (ITE) cohort, there were perhaps only ten of us out of around one hundred and fifty.

Despite how I was feeling in general, I was still excited to be in the classroom. I have some great things going on with my students, particularly my Stage Three classes and this morning reinforced that. I had one of my Stage Three classes, and we have been learning about the Cornell note-taking strategy. To be able to take good quality notes is a very handy skill and something that I wish I had had in high school, or even in my first two years at university.

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I was open about that, as well. I showed them some of my notes from a first-year course and we talked about what was wrong with them and why those notes were not as helpful as they could be. We then talked about the projects that they had completed that year with their classroom teacher and the research they did as part of that and how having useful notes would have made things easier.

I have been really proud of the way they have engaged with the learning process for this topic. We have spent a considerable amount of time practicing using the strategy and are now at the point where it is time to wrap the unit up with a summative assessment task.

Part of my professional development recently has included conversations about student choice, prompted, I think, by a comment that Jon Bergmann made during one of his keynotes at FlipConAus recently when he asked the audience “Why do we make our students demonstrate what they learned by making them take a test?”

I had heard something similar previously, though I cannot recall where, and I decided to try it out. So I had a conversation with each of my Stage Three classes and asked them “what do you want to do to demonstrate to me that you know how to use and can use the Cornell note-taking strategy on your own?” We discussed that, and then I asked them “what does success look like in your chosen strategy?” which prompted a conversation about what would be expected in each method that demonstrates understanding. The students loved it and were genuinely engaged with the process of developing their assignments.

It was a “so this is why I teach” moment for me. The students were genuinely engaged, poring through the notes they had taken as we learned about Cornell note-taking together to help them put together their own demonstration. Some of my students were filming a video where they explained it and then demonstrated how it was used, some of my students chose to take some notes on a self-chosen topic and submit those with annotations, and some have chosen to put together a powerpoint presentation. There was creation, there was analysing, there was collaboration, group work, individual work, peer support as one of a more advanced students worked closely with a student who required some additional support, going through the same steps that I would have to support the students. I was cheering inside.

I told the students this during the session-end reflections. I also asked them how they felt about being able to direct their own learning in this way and as a whole group, they felt empowered to own their learning and show off what they actually knew in different ways, rather than in the same way as everyone else.

It was a great morning.

Then things returned to Earth and I ended up wandering down to our Deputy Principal’s office and asking her for some advice on an incident, which in and of itself, was very minor, but which in the larger picture of the students involved could merely be a stepping stone to something larger.

The afternoon was much better, I had another Stage Three class, who are one session away from finishing the current unit of work, after which I have said we will explore green screen technology using VeeScope Live.

Oh, the roller coaster of teaching! I wonder if students are truly aware of their impact on us, as teachers.

The Light Bulb Moment

“There’s nothing better when something comes and hits you and you think ‘YES’!”
– Attributed to J.K. Rowling

From time to time in life, you experience an epiphany, that moment where the light bulb suddenly turns on and you get it, whatever ‘it’ is. I had this earlier in the week midway through a lesson with around note-taking with some Stage Three students, when I noticed they were struggling with the task that I had asked them to complete. I was attempting to discern where I had let the students down; was the task too difficult, had I not explained things clearly, and I suddenly realised that I had completely failed to model the task for them.

I am not sure how it happened, but upon reflecting back over the last few days of lessons I realised that I had done this a few times and that it was becoming something of a habit. I am working on breaking that habit, and have redone that session with the classes affected, and it has gone much smoother. I am still working on getting the flow smoothed out, as I am not particularly happy with that aspect of the session, but it is a work in progress. I went through the session in question with a Stage Three class this afternoon, and I am reasonably happy with how that went. I think that I have found a balance between talking and doing, and the engagement reflected that, as did their responses at the end of the session as we reflected on the learning.

On that note, I found it interesting how excited they got when I explained that they were going to decide on the top three ideas they had learned that session and post them on my classroom Twitter account. Students discussed what they thought were the three important ideas from the session, and then I asked a student to Tweet that idea out. When the first student hit the Tweet button for the first one, the room erupted into cheers and applause. Will they remember that session? Will they remember the ideas? I hope yes to both, and I will check with them next week when I see them if they remember what we talked about.

Thank you for reading, and if you are using Twitter in the classroom, please follow me using your classroom account, and I will follow back. I would love to make some connections nationally and internationally with other classes as a vehicle for talking about global issues, digital citizenship and other topics.

Staff Development Day Term Three (Part Three)

“The growth and development of people is the highest calling of leadership.”
-Attributed to Harvey S. Firestone

Welcome back to the third article in my series reviewing the Term Three Staff Development day for schools under the Gosford City Learning Community banner. In the first article, I reviewed the opening remarks by Gosford Public School Principal, John Anderson, Acting Director Public Schools, Jason Baldwin and then the keynote speech by Jane Caro. Part two in the series, posted yesterday, reviewed the first half of the talk from Michael Auden, and today’s article will be spent on reviewing the remainder of Michael’s talk, which resumed after the lunch break.

 Michael resumed his presentation by continuing the discussion regarding the differences between the male and female brain, specifically the surges of testosterone that the male brain receives at three key points in their lives; in-utero, at around the age of four years old and again at the onset of puberty. I must have missed the subsequent link from that due to writing my notes, as the next note I have is that the biggest box in the male brain is the empty box, a point that follows on from The Tail of Two Brains video by Mark Gungor. I have included the clip, again, below, but have set it (hopefully, to start at the section in which Mark discusses this particular point.

Michael elucidates on this point, taken from the video, where research was completely by the University of Pennsylvania that demonstrated that men were capable of thinking about absolutely nothing, and still breath. Michael continued by explaining that there is research which demonstrates that women’s brains generate more electrical energy, when they are asleep, than many men’s brains do when they are fully engaged. Michael unfortunately did not offer any citation for this revelation, and I have to admit that firstly, I am no neuroscientist, and secondly, that I am only in the beginning stages of my teaching career, but that that statement does not sound quite right to me. I am not sure whether then that an indicator of my ego feeling affronted or something else, but it does not feel right.

Michael continues on this point, men’s emotional and vocal processing centers are on opposite sides of the brain which creates lag-time between processing and expressing in boys, which for impatient teachers, can cause issues as they see delayed responses, particularly in boys who are being roused on, as indicators of defiance or lack of understanding or other negative indicators. It further, according to Michael, goes to the point of life being a physical job, as boys apparently often need, or are assisted by visual or tactile learning, yet are also easily distracted by anything that catches their eye or ear or nose.

It was noted that the traits being discussed in the context of make brains are not exclusive to the male gender and that there are many females with some male tendencies and vice-versa, and that this is a combination of a lower serotonin levels and higher testosterone levels then typical females.

Michael next discussed male emotional expression and said that from around the age of ten years, boys need older male role models for appropriate emotional expression. Up until that age, they take much of their emotional expression cues from their mother or other female role models, but that around the age of ten, boys are on the cusp of puberty and are therefore receiving additional testosterone levels and feel the need to look for manly ways expressing themselves.

In previous generations, this has been the stoic male, the man who does not cry, or demonstrate emotion, which has been culturally reinforced in many cultures and generations, and continues to this day, of telling boys who are crying “….don’t cry, be a strong man. Men don’t cry…” and similar, gender-stereotypes which perpetuate this notion of stoicism as the definition of masculinity, and which, arguably, is part of the reason for the high levels of suicide in young males that we are currently seeing. The BeyondBlue website writes the following about suicide in the male population:

“Depression is a high risk factor for suicide and, in Australia, there are approximately 2,200 suicides each year. 80 per cent are by men – with an average of 5 men taking their lives every single day. Suicide is the leading cause of death for men under the age of 44, significantly exceeding the national road toll.”
BeyondBlue, Men, emphasis my own

This gender stereotyping is further seen in the way that boys and young men are encouraged, socially and psychologically to take risks, particularly through the puberty years. Michael made the point about thinking about how we react when a young boy takes some sort of physical risk, such as climbing trees, or running across the roads and how we react when a girl of the same age takes the same risk. Michael did note that the introduction and mass social-acceptance of platforms such as Facebook and Twitter has seen a rise in male emotional expression, but was unsure as to whether or not this was positive due to the social impacts that those social media and statements within those forums can have on our social interactions.

There are some other significant factors that make boys different to girls, according to Michael. Boys need explicit modelling on how to handle anger appropriately. Boys who do not eat breakfast have been shown to have, by eleven am, the cognitive reaction time of a fifty year old male, and that on top of that, many boys do not become cognitively awake until after lunch time. I very much believe that explicit modelling of appropriate anger expression is a must for young boys, and also for young girls, and that we need to do this in order to shift our culture away from domestic violence, playground brawls and alcohol-fuelled fights and the current upsurge of the so-called coward’s punch. 

I can also attest to the accuracy of the second and third points from my own experience. I cannot function with any level of intelligence without breakfast, and though I am good for getting physical work done around the home in the mornings, such as vacuuming, washing the dishes, mowing the lawn etc, I do not get anything intellectual done on my days off such as programming and planning for school, writing blog articles or marking student’s work until the afternoon. When I was completing my initial teacher education, it took a supreme effort of will, or a due date of that afternoon for me to get any work done as far as completing assigned readings, tutorial work or assignment research done before lunch. That said, if I was able to get myself started on those tasks, I could be highly productive.

Michael’s next point was an interesting one, and is a topic that I have read about, which has been termed the Hermione Granger Effect and indicated that it created resentment and frustration for those who are not called upon but did, in fact, know the answer.

Michael closed out his presentation by offering a series of what he termed boy-friendly strategies:

  • Utilise stand up desks where practicable. Boys will work longer and go deeper when they are up.
  • Time bites. Boys cannot concentrate for long and need regular breaks. Before a task, have a mental challenge to promote cross-brain fitness.
  • Less teacher-talk. Best ration is 20/80 teacher-talk/ student engagement. Unfortunately many classrooms operate in the opposite ratio.
  • Treat the first ten minutes of your day with students like speed-dating. Get them excited to learn and motivated for the learning, not the mundane lethargy-inducing tasks like roll marking or note collecting.
  • Hand writing is a physical task for boys and they need help with strategies to make penmanship easier.
  • Share your sunshine through body language, words and smiles.
  • Though this applies more to secondary school, remember that for students it is very much a case of like the teacher, like the subject.
  • Make introductions to topical or thematical studies interesting and engaging. An example can be seen in the below video, which was an introduction to a group of year five students and their goldfields unit of learning:

  • Boys often see mistakes and bad relationships as irreparable. Promote new beginnings.
  • Have a beanbag in the class. It is hard for anyone, let alone a boy, be angry, while sitting in a bean bag due to the physicality of that simple task.
  • Where possible, give boundaries rather than rules, and the rationale for the boundaries. Boys see rules as a challenge in many cases, and boundaries can be easier to manage from a classroom management point of view when working with some students.
  • Use postcards to send home short messages about success, particularly with struggling boys. The postcard will likely take pride of place on the household refrigerator for the next month.
  • Similarities and differences. Use similarities and differences to teach about difficult concepts. This gives students a starting point to understand what the idea or concept is about and something to which they can relate it.
  • Show and tell. Public speaking is a literacy, and should be treated as such. Start it early, from kindergarten, but continue it all the way through. Where appropriate, record students speaking to allow for self-assessment and to teach specific public speaking skills. This can help with teaching the often difficult topic of grammar.
  • Utilise the four C’s: be competent, show confidence, be caring and communicate with the student and with the parents and the what and the why of what is happening in the classroom.

Michael finished up here, though there was much of his slideshow that was skipped over due to time constraints. It was a long presentation, but I personally found it to be highly relevant and engaging. There was a closing motivational talk, from Australian Paralympic Liesl Tesch, who won a Gold Medal at the London Paralympics for Sailing, having previously won a Silver Medal for Wheelchair Basketball. However, I was so riveted by her talk that I failed to take any notes. I also am not sure that her talk would have transferred very effectively into the written medium, as much of the engagement came as much from her body language and persona as it did from the content.

I thank you for reading this article, and this series reviewing the Term Three staff development day and I hope that you found these articles as useful as I found the presentations from which they were derived. I would very much like to hear from anyone regarding any aspect about this series, and wholeheartedly recommend you take up the opportunity to hear either Jane Caro or Michael Auden should the opportunity to do so present itself to you.

End of term reflections

“By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest.”
– Attributed to Confucius

The EduFunding storm generated as a result of the leaked green paper, which I wrote about in yesterday’s article, continues on unabated. Yet it is also prudent, as pointed out by Corinne Campbell, to consider the now, especially when considering our students. My reading of Corinne’s article is that she was intending it to be taken as a factor in regards to our students; lives overall. My intention in today’s article is to to consider what I can do now, at the end of term, to strengthen my program from this term, in order to make flow smoother, be easier to implement, to be more beneficial for the students, and requires them to be more active in the learning process.

I was asked a few weeks ago how the program was going, and the first reply that came top mind was that there were lots of things I would change if I was to deliver the program again. Things that did not quite work out as I had planned, technical issues that I was required to surmount, lessons that upon attempting to enact, I discovered that I had not thought through as well as I had thought and was left having to think on the fly.

The barriers about which I could do nothing included the lost two weeks at the beginning of the term due to the horrendous storms which battered the region, and left significant damage to my school, the annual NAPLAN testing as well as having significant disruptions to my Stage Three classes due to a Year Five week-long camp midway through the term, and the Year Six Canberra excursion this week. These disruptions led to a loss of a fairly significant amount of learning time in their own right.

As to things things that are within my providence, there are many. The most obvious thing is that I overestimated the current skill level and the time that it would take to get through the Fundamental Computer Skills (FCS) unit. My initial plan of working with small groups of students on their FCS quickly fell to the wayside. The videos that I had created were, generally speaking, above what the students was capable of doing on their own in the time frame I had allotted for each question, and I discovered that not all classroom’s had functioning computers. I was able to counter this by utilising the school bank of laptops, however there was only a sufficient number of those to allow one laptop between two students. This allowed me to work through the unit, however I had underestimated the rate of skill uptake. Each session would begin with a brief review of what we had learned the previous week, but I was finding that students were still struggling with some skills, or were going about things the ‘long way’ rather than using the more efficient method that I had explicitly taught.

This realisation leads me to believe that I had only been imparting a surface level of understanding as opposed to a deep embedding of skills, which, as someone who has high self-expectations, is disappointing. Some of the fundamental computer skills that I have been working on include the basics of logging in, which is a genuine challenge for my kindergarten students, how to open and close programs, and practice typing. These are fairly basic skills and I am not sure what else I could have my students do, other than practicing the skills, that would embed these skills in my students.

 Beyond that, I have already written about my dissatisfaction with the lessons I ran discussing copyright and pirating, and I would very much like to hear from anyone with suggestions for rigorous,  relevant and authentic lessons discussing those two concepts. I was happier with the lessons that I ran around digital citizenship that dealt with strong and weak passwords, cyber bullying and online privacy, once I worked out a few issues. I utilised an online game called RU a cyber detective, and  initially, I asked my students in a combined year three and four class to work their way through the game in pairs on laptops.

This brought up a range of issues, including some students not being able to navigate to the game in order to play it,  the game not being particularly clear on what to do in order to begin it, which was fine for my Stage Three students, however my Stage Two students are not particularly adventurous and were worried about breaking it. Ultimately, the biggest issue I found was that I did not have the opportunity to spend the time talking to the students about the concepts, which is what I wanted. I ended up changing the way I used the game after I discovered that my Stage Three students were unable to complete a critical portion of the game on their iPads. I had the Stage Two and Three classews join me on the floor in front of the whiteboard / projector image / interactive whiteboard and  we played through the game as a class. This worked fantastically well. The students were not anxious about the actual operation of the game, and we were able to have some very robust conversations about the different concepts that arose, including passwords and online privacy and cyber bullying, including a lengthy discussion about the hows and whys of dealing with cyber bullying and why protecting your privacy online is so important.

There were other areas of my pedagogy that, upon reflection, need to be improved, within the FCS. It did not occur to me that as someone who regularly uses technology, that I needed to make the distinction clear when having kindergarten student type the old favourite the quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dogs to account for the fact that I had typed it as normal in Microsoft Word, but that the letters on the keyboard were all in capital letters. It was not until near the very end of the lesson that I realised what the issue was. The students were correctly naming the the (lower case) letters on the whiteboard, and they were correctly name the (upper case) letters on the keyboard, but they were not linking the two types of letter as being the same letter in a different format. The next lesson, I was able to get access to alphabet strips, which showed the upper and lower case letters next to each other, and this immediately made a big difference.

I commented to the classroom teacher when she returned from her break what had happened, and she indicated she had the same issue at the start of the year when she attempted to have the students do some typing on the computers. Currently, Year Six are away on the annual Canberra excursion, and I have been able to commandeer one of the Year Six classrooms, which has an interactive whiteboard. I utilised this when I had a kindergarten class this morning, and had each student name and type one of the letters using the on-screen keyboard.

It is, I keep finding, the little things that make the difference. As always, thank you for reading, and I would like to hear from anybody who has realised things that they need to change in their pedagogy when teaching ICT skills, to any age group. Please pass this onto any pre-service teachers or newly graduated teachers that you know. I would rather they learn from my mistakes, than have to make the same mistakes themselves.

Musings on Initial Teacher Education provoked by a Twitter conversation (Part 1)

“The evolution of social media into a robust mechanism for social transformation is already visible. Despite many adamant critics who insist that tools like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube are little more than faddish distractions useful only to exchange trivial information, these critics are being proven wrong time and again. ”
– Attributed to Simon Mainwaring

The @EduTweetOz Twitter account describes itself as “RoCur for Aussie educators to share ideas, experiences, q’s & passion. Building community. New host each wk”  and is a very worthwhile Twitter account to follow. Each host brings with  them a new topic and their own perspective on that topic to the table for discussion, and each host is also given an introductory interview blog on the EduTweetOz blog site which allows the accounts followers to gain an insight into the week’s host.

The beauty of the account is that it is open to nominations from educators from any sector of the industry, which keeps the discussion topics from the account fresh and interesting. You can nominate yourself to be a guest host by clicking here.

Recently, the account was hosted by Mark Johnson (@seminyaksunset) and I stumbled onto a conversation regarding pre-service teachers partway through the weekend, and joined in, as you can see below:

Screenshot from Twitter conversation with the @EduTweetOz account being controlled by @seminyaksunset on June 6, 2015
Screenshot from Twitter conversation with the @EduTweetOz account being controlled by @seminyaksunset on June 6, 2015
Screenshot from Twitter conversation with the @EduTweetOz account being controlled by @seminyaksunset on June 6, 2015
Screenshot from Twitter conversation with the @EduTweetOz account being controlled by @seminyaksunset on June 6, 2015

There are a few thoughts that arose from this conversation which I believe are important to discuss and if I provoke some constructive dialogue, whether it be in comments to this article here on WordPress, or alternatively, on Twitter or Google+, I believe that I will be happy. There were six main ideas or topics that I drew from the conversation with Mark, and this article will address the first of them, with others emerging over the course of the next week.

  1. Entry into Pre-Service Teacher Training / Initial Teacher Education (ITE) courses
  2. Pre-Service Teacher Training / Initial Teacher Education (ITE) structure and content
  3. The value of teachers and teaching as perceived in the public sphere
  4. The role of the Education minister and his/her (currently his) stance towards education and teachers and the way the Education Minister is perceived by teachers.
  5. The integration of graduate teachers into the profession
  6. The rate of graduation vs the available number of employment opportunities

I certainly do not believe that I hold the answers to any of these issues, though I certainly have some opinion, however rigorous discussion around some of these issues appears to be sparse in their occurrence, despite the level of importance to which society as a rule attaches to education. The above issues are all, to a certain degree, inter-related, so their may be some topic-jumping, however I will do my best to keep this series of articles on topic.

  1. Entry into Pre-Service Teacher Training / Initial Teacher Education (ITE) courses

This topic was my initial entry-point into the conversation, on the back of the below Tweets:

I do not disagree with the premise, that increasing the entry score for ITE courses will necessarily equate to a raising in teacher standards. I strongly believe that there are too many variables in play, as with any sort of standardised testing regime for the overall mark awarded at the end of a students secondary education when they are either seventeen or eighteen to be any indication of the kind of teacher they will be later in life. I pointed out that as a secondary student, I performed poorly in my final secondary education exams, receiving a University Admission Index (UAI, currently known as the ATAR (Australian Tertiary Admission Rank) in NSW) score of only 55.55.

There were a number of potential reasons for my low score, which are ultimately irrelevant in this  conversation, but I entered university as a mature age student, put in much more effort than I ever did in my secondary education, and came away with Honours Class I, the Education Faculty Medal and will be the Graduate Speaker at my cohort’s graduation ceremony in July of this year. My UAI was no indication of what kind of tertiary student I would be, and my tertiary academic results are no indication of what kind of teacher I will be.

So I do not believe that relying solely on an arbitrary ITE entrance score would necessarily have any real impact on the quality of teachers that graduate. My initial response, that ITE should move towards an entrance model akin to the medicine entrance model that combines entry score requirements with an interview and personality test would only help to a degree. For someone who wished to enter the teaching profession immediately out of high school in their late teens, the interview process would serve well to weed out those who only want to enter the ITE courses as they see them as an easy option. This may sound a little silly, but I distinctly recall hearing two classmates during my undergraduate state that they were only doing the course because their parents said they had to go to university after high school and teaching was easy to get into. However this alone would serve to reduce the number of disinterested teachers entering into the profession and that reason on its own, to me, seems to make introducing entrance interviews worth examining further.

Another measure that I believe could be added into the entry process is perhaps more controversial. I am aware from conversations with a number of my classmates that many of us feel that nothing in our ITE properly prepared us for what teaching is actually like. I was not offered a permanent position under the NSW Department of Education and Communities  Targeted Graduate Program (TGR), and to be quite frank, I am rather thankful for that fact. I picked up some casual days early this year at a local school where one of my classmates received a permanent position under the TGR and when I asked how she was finding the position, she commented to me that, and I’m paraphrasing from memory here, “…[she] was not ready for a full-time spot straight out. There is so much stuff that was not covered [in our ITE]; even just the admin requirements alone, forget the need to interact with parents.”

This is a sentiment that I can sympathise with. I do agree that there was a lack of understanding imparted to us as to the way in which teaching can consume you if you do not take steps to prepare yourself, and the requirements outside of the purely teaching that are placed on teachers. A teacher friend of mine, who is currently in an Executive position, commented to me during a conversation one afternoon that “…teaching is a twenty-four hour job.” A sentiment which my classmate, and myself, are only just starting to properly grasp to truth of.

This knowledge, this understanding needs to be made more explicit somehow during the admission process. Whilst it may scare off some who would in fact be excellent teachers, it would also scare off those who think that teaching is a nine-to-three job, and allow prospective teachers to go in with, if not eyes wide-open, than at least somewhat aware of the enormity of the role which they are undertaking. There are a few ways in which this could be done, such as requiring prospective teachers to spend time with a teacher, not just in the classroom, but attending staff meetings, professional development session, report writing, planning and programming in an attempt to understand the workload that is placed on teachers. However, something such as I have just described could not realistically be expected to occur before the commencement of the ITE.

I am not sure what measures, other than introducing an interview process or perhaps some sort of requirement to spend time in a classroom prior to commencement of the ITE, could be introduced to the front-end of the ITE the system that would actually enhance the quality of teachers that graduate at the back-end. I would very much like to hear from anyone who has ideas to achieve this, either in the comment section here or alternatively on Twitter or Google+.

Thank you for reading my semi-organised thoughts on ITE today. The next article, which will be published on Monday, will discuss the structure and content of ITE courses in general, and mine specifically.

Art

“A broad education in the arts helps give children a better understanding of their world…We need students who are culturally literate as well as math and science literate.”
–Attributed to Paul Ostergard, Vice President, Citicorp

As I believe I have previously written, Thursday is my day where I get thrown around class to class according to where extra relief is needed. I may say thrown around, but I do enjoy the variety, and often it is a nice break from my own program, as I often am asked to teach from the classroom teacher’s own program. It is a nice way to end my week, usually, and today was no exception.

Today started out with plans for navigating around the final day of NAPLAN, with my original timetable modified as a result of NAPLAN, but actually working out quite well. I had one particular class today, and it was the first time that I had had them for a decent block of time. I had them for an hour with the laptops, and then again later on for another hour in the school computer lab, and it was absolutely fantastic. We were able to achieve so much, and when I showed the class the spreadsheet with the achievement dates in it at the start of the second session, and showed them how much we had achieved, the students got quite excited and were quite well focused for the second session as well. Being open with the assessment strategy in this case, helped with the engagement levels.

My afternoon session was great, I had a year one class who has been learning about the weather, the different seasons, the types of weather that occur in the seasons etc, and today’s lesson was to do with rain. We spent the afternoon creating blue sponge-paintings as backgrounds for the crayoned umbrellas.I have not, up until now, done a painting session with any class, so it was quite the experience, however I was able to avoid getting any point on my clothes, and only a small amount on my hands. It was, however, a lot of fun, and the students were able to explain a fair bit to me about the weather, which demonstrates that the knowledge and the concepts of weather and their relationship to the seasons has been absorbed and retained.

As always, thank you for reading, and have a great weekend. I’m heading home now to start creating some more videos for my program (which I will be doing all day Friday and Saturday).

FutureSchools ClassTech conference review. Day 1 Session 3

“Whomever sets up the blog, owns the blog.”
Sue Waters and Richard Byrne

As promised in the previous article, I will be covering three presentations in this review of session three from day one of the FutureSchools expo ClassTech conference stream. Initially, I will be reflecting on the ‘ask the expert’ mini-presentation that occurred during the lunchbreak, led by Sue Waters and Richard Byrne which was about blogging, after that, I will cover the two presentations that occurred session three proper, covering 3D printing and the Connected Classroom.

At the end of session two, there was of course a bit of a mad rush out to the expo hall where lunch was being served, in order to get that, and then get to the ask the expert session with Sue and Richard. This was a topic I was keen to hear about, as I had started this blog with the aim of using it as a place of reflection on my teaching practice (which is yet to occurred), to share insights from my teaching practice (also yet to occur) and to reflect on events and professional development sessions, such as FutureSchools, which is, obviously, happening right now.

The discussion was targeted, primarily, at classroom and student blogs, but much of what they said also applies to personal or professional blogs, such as mine. Richard and Sue believe that as teachers, we don’t self-promote enough about our achievements. They pointed out that there is a different between self-aggrandisement and self-promotion, with one being excessive and over the top, and the other being celebrations about successes, acknowledgements of struggles and the little things that make us smile (my interpretation of their words).

There were some pitfalls around blogs that need to be avoided in order to have a successful blog. We need to be persistent with our writing. A lack of comments, shares, or likes, or views does not negate the value of the writing we are doing. Blogs need to have a clear purpose. For those using them as a learning tool in the classroom, blogs need to be fully integrated into the classroom infrastructure, rather than considered an add-on, and we need to provide our students with the tools to understand how and why to use it, and make it a tool that they will want to use.

Pitfalls facing classroom blogs in particular are the optional nature of blogging. If we are going to have our students blog, make it something for which they are held accountable, as much as you would any other piece of learning. The posting schedule needs to be consistent, whether it’s daily, weekly or monthly should be negotiable, but it should be consistent so readers know when a new post will be up. The purpose of the blog should be clear, both to the students and to the audience. Sue indicated that classrooms in which blogs are used successfully have set routines and strategies that are used consistently around the blogging requirements, including some schools where the blog forms part of an e-portfolio which stays with the students as an artifact of their learning across their entire school career.

As teachers, we should have a goal for the blog – whether it be a presentation of facts, a discussion starter, or a demonstration of has been learned or achieved. In achieving this, we should not constrain our students creativity by limiting them to literacy skills. They should have the opportunity to use other forms of expression, including vlogs, though there should of course be dialogue around when this appropriate in regards to the age of your students.

Statistically, it appears that for younger students, up to around years five to seven, that the majority of students will be on the one class blog, and that the older students are more likely to have individual blogs. That said, there is some intermingling or crossover of when this shift occurs and would depend on your specific context and your students and community.

Additionally, both Richard and Sue agreed that whomever sets up the blog, owns the blog, so in order to allow students ownership of the blog and the likely engagement that comes from that, it is important to allow students to change things such as the theme of the blog, allowing some appropriate non-school postings as both of these encourage not only ownership, but creativity.

The debate over the public vs private nature of student blogs continues on in various settings (including here, here, here and here) and that decision may be made by the school or education department as a matter of policy, or you may have some scope to make a professional judgement on a case by case basis. As with BYO programs though, opening up a dialogue with the parents and students, about the how and why of the blog, whether public or private, is important to its success and the engagement and discussion that it can foster in the school community. Additionally to this, it is vital to have the conversation about privacy and not identifying anyone personally by name or other descriptors that people are able to know exactly who is being talked about, and there are special considerations to take when uploading media such as images or videos such as not showing faces of minors.

To get the blog noticed within the public sphere, it is important to write, and to write often, but not too often. Richard Byrne is a successful blogger and posts up to four or five blog articles a day, however they are only a few hundred words longs. Alternatively, posting once or twice a week, with longer posts may be more effective for you – it is going to vary according to the individual context. If you are curious to see some examples of how classroom blogs have been sued successfully, Richard has provided a list of examples of blogs from the readers of his website.

In closing, Richard and Sue pointed out that Youtube is a form of blog, or rather a vlog, and that links or youtube videos can often be embedded directly into a blog post.

Once the lunchtime break finished, it was time for session three. The first presentation in this session was titled 3D printing – start small, think tall and was delivered by Teresa  Deshon, Deputy Principal and Kirsty Watts, Academic Dead of Technology and e-Learning, both from Kilvington Grammar School. I have to admit that this session didn’t engage me as much as those before had for the simple reason that I had had no exposure to 3D printing beyond what I had seen on the news.

I can see some applications for 3D printing, however it is not something that I can get excited about at this point. Teresa and Kirsty spoke about some of the challenges of working out how to use the 3D printing technology from storage, to the time frame required to print objects, the safety requirements, getting used to the CAD software and the need for calibration after moving the devices. They also spoke about their successes, which they said included increased engagement in learning by students, by staff interest in the technology once it had been applied to some school projects that were displayed around the school and the different thinking skills that were required, such as working out the best way to print objects that required physical support, such as printing cylinders vertically instead of horizontally to reduce the stress load on their frame during manufacture.

They felt that the 3D printers were being successfully and authentically used, and from the intial seven students they had utilising them, now have a dedicated room to store the printers and their products in, and have now purchased a total of six printers. They were able to implement the 3D printing in cross-curricular ways, and were investigating ways of further increasing their use, including investigating the use of the 3Doodler, a 3D pen.

The second presentation within session three was titled The Connected Classroom and was delivered by Anne Mirtschin. This topic interested me more, as I can see application for connecting with other classes, domestically and internationally for a wide range of  learning opportunities in a variety of curricula areas. Anne started out by saying that a connected classroom is one that is not just connected internationally. A connected classroom is connected with its students, its teachers, its parents and its local community – that it is about relationships, a theme that has started to emerge from the conference thus far, with it featuring in Richard’s, Matt’s and Simon’s presentations. Anne also pointed out that teaching netiquette is very important to foster those relationships, especially when forming them with online communities.

Anne talked about tools that she has used, including Blackboard Collaborate, which allows for virtual classrooms, and the use of ‘back channels’ to allow sub-discussions to go on at the same time, such as additional questions, or insights from students, and that videoconferencing encourages engagement by students when a back-channel is provided for students not engaged directly in the conversation to be engaged.

Anne pointed out the logical nature of using global days to connect with other schools, such as World Peace Day, World Wildlife Day, World Poetry Day etc ( a list of World Days observed by the United Nations is available here). She also indicated that video conferencing needed to be regular and genuine, and that doing so would help break down the barriers of geography and language, as students would engage more with others when they were used to engaging with others through the medium of a webcam, and that it allowed students to ask questions of other peoples that would not ordinarily be able to ask.

Some tools that were mentioned as being useful by Anne included Skype, Flat Connections, Backchannel chat, Padlet, WeChat, WhatsApp, QQ International and Viber. This is another area of learning that I can see potential for, but at this point in my career, as a casual teacher, I don’t feel that I can implement in a genuine way. It is certainly something that I hope to be able to implement in the future, but as a casual teacher, I don’t see it being a viable tool.

The next post will be the final presentation from day one of the ClassTech conference stream at FutureSchools, and possibly a run down on the expo, and the networking drinks and then dinner.

As always, thank you for reading and leave a comment. I’d especially like to hear from any educators who do use a blog in their classroom, and how you utilise it as far as strategies, routines expectations etc.

FutureSchools ClassTech Conference Wrap Up – Day 1 Session 2

“Moving to BYOD as a financial choice, is a financial choice for the school, not the parents.”
-Simon Crook

At the end of session one, I was genuinely excited to go back home and test out some of the ideas that had been discussed, so knowing that Simon Crook was the first speaker for session two, with the presentation title BYOD, mobile devices and apps in K-12 schools had me champing at the bit to get back into the venue.

Simon started out by saying something that I’ve observed, that many implementations of BYOD, bring your own device, are in actual fact, implementations of BYODD, or bring your own designated device. Schools either give a list of acceptable devices, sometimes with one device listed, sometimes with multiple devices listed, or they give a list of minimum specifications that need to be met for the device to be acceptable. This came about due to the end of funding for the DER (Digital Education Revolution) program, and saw schools wanting to continue with the use of devices, but without the funds to do so. The choice to move to a BYO program is therefore a financial choice. A financial choice for the schools, that is, not the parents as Simon pointed out. Simon also discussed that the move to a BYO program as a drive for pedagogical change is a contentious factor for some people.

Simon posed the question to the audience “is BYOD for everyone?” Of course the answer is not quite as simple or straightforward as a yes or a no, but is a combination thereof. BYO programs are not for everyone if the teachers within a school are not ready for it. Teachers need significant professional development and support to move to a BYO program to facilitate high quality teaching in a different pedagogical framework and utilising a different infrastructure. It’s not enough to simply move everyone to devices, they need to be used appropriately. I’ve written previously about the SAMR model and its application for BYO programs and believe that it plays a significant factor in genuine use of devices in classrooms.

At the very least, Simon pointed out, teachers need to have devices of their own to utilise. I’ve known a school who rolled out a device to each teacher for twelve months to use as they were able to, with support, in the classroom before opening up the door to BYO programs. Only one class went ahead with a BYO program, and that teacher was highly engaged with using the provided device and worked to learn how to gain best results from the BYO program.

Three other questions were listed that need to be asked, to determine if a school is ready for a BYO program: Are the students ready (do they respect devices, will they have access to devices, do they know how to use the devices); Are families ready (has there been an ongoing dialogue with the community about the how, why and when BYO will be implemented, are parents supportive, are all or most parents able to provide a device) and finally is the infrastructure ready (sufficient coverage, sufficient density, cloud or physical storage, power/charging options, secure storage for devices when not in use etc). If you are wanting to know more about the coverage vs density/capacity distinction, I recommend reading pages two and three of this article on the Aerohive website.

“Using technology in school should be about using it to complement the already excellent pedagogy going on, not about the ‘keeper of the kingdom’ saying no to ‘protect’ the school systems. The pedagogical needs should inform the IT decisions, not the other way around.”
-Simon Crook

Buy in from the school leadership is critical, as those schools where the leadership is on board and directs the IT team to find the solution often see more success than those schools where the leadership are ambivalent and simply ask the IT team if it is doable. There are factors to be considered, such as coverage v capacity as previously mentioned, and a genuine need to consider the security and protection of the students from undesirable content on the internet, but it needs to be considered intelligently, rather than simply whitewashing the internet en masse. Additionally, part of the conversation should be about teaching digital citizenship, which may form part of the conversation around Communicating and interacting for health and well being  and  Contributing to healthy and active communities both of which are part of the Australian PDHPE curriculum, and which a variety of age targeted resources are available on the Cybersmart website.

Following on from this was the discussion of ‘equity’ which can often be a cause for consternation around BYO programs. Simon made his position clear – equity is not about the lowest common denominator, it is not about making one software suite dominant and that cloud computing is the way to go. Simon indicated that decisions about hardware and software are going to vary from family to family and that where possible, utilising cloud-based storage would facilitate engagement as it would remove the problems of “I forgot my flash drive” or the issues of “I don’t think that’s the right version, there’s a newer one on my computer at home” that teachers often hear, from both students and colleagues.

Ultimately, BYO programs are for everyone. Prices on the hardware continue to drop, and there are more and more options for those families who are price-point sensitive. The critical thing to remember, however, is that a dialogue needs to be opened up, early in the thinking about BYO programs to address concerns from parents, students and teachers, and that the dialogue needs to be ongoing.

If you are curious about implementing BYOD, there are a growing number of schools who have implemented it, and many of these schools are open to visitors to find out more about what it looks like in practice. Some online resources that Simon provided include the NSW DEC website BYOD Sandpit and the Sydney Boys High BYOD page.

We had a few minutes after Simon finished speaking to stand and stretch, while the second speaker for session two, Matt Richards, set himself up to present Makerspaces.

Matt Richards spoke about the phenomenon known as “Makerspaces” which are student centered spaces where students are able to utilise technology in various forms to create objects. Matt talked about how he took a disused space in his school and transformed it into a student-owned space through allowing groups of students to paint the walls with differing images, and the leveraging of the tech-savvy students who ordinarily hide away as mentors for others wanting to learn more about technology. His aim, he said, was “…to create a space where kids learn how stuff works.”

Makerspaces doe not require large amounts of cash to get started, and Matt related how he started simply with a number of old defunct computers, and the students were dismantling them and attempting to repair them and get them to work again. These achievements generated confidence and a buzz of accomplishment in the room which led to an increase in student self-efficacy as they experienced success, even if it was in the creation of ‘useless devices’ such as the one shown below.

A Useless Device. Image from geek.com

Beyond utilising defunct computers, Matt spoke about a range of low-priced resources including Goldieblox,Osmo, Littlebits, Raspberry Pi and Unity amongst a range of small kit computers. Matt said that the Makerspace movement changes teachers roles from content leaders, to relationship facilitators.

Matt’s final point was significant, and I believe ties his, Simon Crook’s and Richard Byrne’s talks together. “We need to evolve learning spaces from teacher-centric to student-centric, and getting there is going to see different paths taken for different schools.” This sentiment can be applied to BYO programs, as well as game inspired learning.

That is the end of day one, session two from my FutureSchools ClassTech wrap up. The next article will include the brief lunchtime session with Richard Byrne and Sue Waters which took place in the expo hall, as well as session three of the ClassTech conference Stream, covering 3D printing and the Connected Classroom