It’s official, the world loves Star Wars. Thanks for all the 100s of messages of support after my first Star Wars Edu Poster set. I was asked to do some more specific topics, so here’s some more. Hope you enjoy them. I feel they cover important educational issues but in a humorous way to get teachers talking. Ask yourself, what is your school or district doing about some of these challenges. May the Force be with you.
It’s that reflective time of year again. It’s now that educators like me consider what will define our approach to teaching and learning in the next 12 months. It’s made more reflective where I live, as the New Zealand school year runs February to December, so I’ll be starting with new classes in a few weeks.
So, here we go! Everyone else is producing target lists for 2016, so why not me. I don’t assume that my 5 personal focus points for next year are a definitive description of the perfect education, but it’s where I’ve got to and what I’ll be focused on with my students. I also want to highlight that none of the 5 explicitly mention technology. Our future-focused system in NZ has pushed many of us beyond the need to overtly talk about tech as an isolated topic.
I’m busy at the moment writing my book on teaching in New Zealand and why it’s the best system in the world. One of the many points I am raising in this book is how free I am, as an NZ teacher, to focus on these important issues and skills, having not been given a standardised list of content by the government that I must cover. Over here, it’s the teachers that maintain and develop what should be taught. Look out from my book next year if you want to know more.
Here are my 5 BIG things I’ll be focused on in 2016:
One of my big concerns is how most schools and classrooms operate in such a way that it forms habits amongst the students for depending on teachers and the school structures to move things forward. A strong emphasis on creating a collaborative learning environment means students will move away from asking teachers for everything and understand how much potential they have between them to sort problems and organise their own learning.
Learning has no finish line. All learning must have a context, expect students to look into all aspects involved, and propose and test solutions and/or new knowledge they’ve come up with. This new knowledge can then be peer evaluated to encourage feedback to highlight the iterative learning process.
Schools often claim to be connected to the community but this does not always include the learning. Connections and perspectives from outside the school gates is crucial to making learning real and relevent. This might be local or from across the world and may involve visits, webcams, problems posed by outside agencies to be tackled by students, or simply publishing for real-world feedback as part of the learning. You might be using Design Thinking or Project-Based Learning but it should at some point connect to the outside world.
This is as close as I get to directly mentioning technology. Whether it’s other students, field experts, other educators, and whether you are blogging, tweeting, messaging or skyping, learning in 2016 must be connected and shared. Groups, hashtags and commenting can add more depth to the discussion.
Self & peer assessment
Involving students in the design of how their work and projects will be assessed must become a norm. Publishing the marking matrix is one thing but having the students develop it is quite another. I was amazed in 2015 how seriously my students took designing marking matrix for team projects. One class happily took 2.5 hours over it on a shared Google Doc! It makes them consider what to focus on and can be developed as an ongoing process throughout the work. This gives them far more ownership over the learning process, than the standard top-down judgement approach.
There you have it. These are what I’ll be working on in 2016. I hope it gives some people food for thought.
So, maybe you’re on Twitter, your colleagues are on Twitter, you’re excited about ideas around new learning and your Principal might mention these themes in staff meetings. So why, to often, is no real change happening in your school?
All this 21st century learning talk is happening but you’re still performing standardised tests, teachers are still teaching from the front of class and most are still predominantly isolated in their own classrooms. There’s probably a small group of “new learning” types who you know are trying the “Project-based-design-thinking-SAMR” type stuff but the school as a whole isn’t following their lead.
I recently came across a talk by Michael Fullan on making change. I thought this would be useful to share but it also reminded me of a TED talk by Linda Hill, which then led me to dig up 3 more TED talks which when combined might give schools and their leadership teams some real incentive and instruction for change. They also combine to indicate that progress will not be made with either top-down or bottom-up approaches but from a developing a new school culture towards shared, networked collaboration at all levels.
Here are the 5 videos:
- Michael Fullan: Leading quality change
- Linda Hill: How to manage for collective creativity
- Eddie Obeng: Smart failure for a fast-changing world
- Manuel Lima: A Visual History of Human Knowledge
- Barry Schwartz: The way we think about work is broken
Inspired by these talks, here are my …
Five THINGS THAT TRANSFORM A SCHOOL
- Your Principal is seen by the teachers as an equal participant in learning.
This I got from Fullan in his talk he gave in New Zealand about transforming the Canadian school system. He highlights that a principal behaving as an active learner was a surprise key indicator in his research into schools making significant and positive change.
- The teachers are aware of the impact of 21C opportunities and challenges
Eddie Obeng’s talk is both fun and powerful in explaining how so many people didn’t notice when all the rules changed regarding how success happens, how organisations are run, how work gets done and what skills & knowledge are required to survive in a world where the new scale people of all ages operate under is global. If we want to say we are preparing young people for the world, we need to wake up and take note that many of them are already making use of this new interconnected world that many schools are yet to accept exists.
- The school now operates as a network not hierarchy
Manuel Lima indicates how one of the changes that’s taken place without most schools noticing is that, after 2000 years, we’ve moved from seeing everything as a hierarchy and now view and operate everything in networks. This is also backed up in the Fullan talk. Lima’s talk will make your school consider if it operates as a 20th century hierarchy or a 21st century network. This is key to preparing both staff and students for the next 50 years. It also connects with Fullan’s theme about “social capital” or the quality of the group work and connections used by the teachers and with Obeng’s thought on everything now operating at a global scale, due to new online networks.
- Schools are doing more than just handing out grades
Complementing Obeng’s need for a new look at learning, Barry Schwartz introduces his concept of Idea Technology. He explains that one simple assumption introduced by Industrial Revolution removed all non-material incentives to work on a premise all people were inherently lazy and you wouldn’t get them to work without incentivising with pay. It made me think that schools adopted the factory model and it seemed only natural that you would need grades as payment for work without considering what work environment might be created to have people genuinely satisfied at school. A wonderful quote is : “The very shape of the institution within which people work, creates people who are fitted to the demands of that institution and denies people from the kind of satisfactions from their work that we take for granted.” If students work for tests and grades they are only prepared for exactly that environment. An environment that doesn’t exist outside academia.
- School leaders have stopped ‘building visions’ and inspire people to follow it
Linda Hill says “Innovation is not about solo genius but collective genius.” She goes on to outline how the most successful organisations build organisational structures and cultures that are “iterative, inter-related and quite frankly messy.” She also highlights that investing in all the people to give them time to develop and collaborate around new challenges and ideas. It is also critical to build a culture where everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, feels they might have something to offer in improving the operation of or output from the the organisation.
This is a huge issue for schools, where many teachers never bring problems to the leadership team because they don’t think it’s there place to suggest change. Schools are often not flexible or iterative enough to adapt to changes as they arise. A fixed-time vision for learning in a school issued from top-down can kill excellent ideas that surface during the period of time in question. What I took from Linda’s talk was that schools need to develop a staff culture for collaborative problem solving, discovery driven learning (and that’s the teachers we’re talking about) but run integrated decision making where everyone is confident to express ideas.
Adapt or lose your students
Schools lag further and further behind the pace of world change year-on-year and we need bold, aware, flexible leaders who know how to work with their community to collectively build a new culture of adapting to change to remain relevant. More children every year are finding alternative paths to early success and careers because their school was unable to adapt to their needs. Let’s stop wasting the potential of what might take place during a person’s school years and start operating the way the world does already.
P.S. This whole post and graphic were spun towards a positive rather than negative angle thanks to Lisa Donohue in Canada (@Lisa_Donohue). Thanks Lisa for your #Growth Mindset approach.
I had a fantastic brainstorm meeting with an extremely talented educator and colleague Maya Foster (@MayaFoster4) where we decided to summarise our vision for a teacher’s daily priorities, the order they should be placed into and how we could get teachers to reflect on their own practice in regard to them.
We developed an idea that Maya had sketched out on paper which placed the student at the heart of successful teaching and highlighted assessment as the last thing an effective teacher should be considering. We both agreed that many teachers start with the assessment and work backwards towards considering the students as individuals. This leads to very uninspiring and often un-motivating classrooms. I’ll break our discussion into its four components but here’s the graphic:
Priority One: KNOW YOUR STUDENTS
Spending time to build a strong understanding of exactly who each student is can save time in the long run. Students who feel genuinely appreciated will perform better throughout the school year and just knowing their name isn’t enough. The more you can connect with a student around a personal interest, the more a student will work with you and respect your ideas. This will make everything else much easier. Using the school’s data to find out which areas or school they are strong in can also help build a more useful understanding of how to design activities for the class.
Priority Two: PEDAGOGY AND ACTIVE LEARNING
You might know your students but you won’t get every student to engage with your content unless you have a variety of sound pedagogy at your disposal. Successful pedagogy leads to student engagement in the content without constant teacher oversight. The careful design of activities and tasks tailored for the specific students in the room can reduce the energy required by the teacher in the classroom. I have covered in previous posts my belief and findings that any lecturing does not attain the the assumed outcome of all students engaging in or listening to the content. Make sure your students are active and working together to challenge the content with deeper thinking.
Priority Three: KNOW YOUR CONTENT
Successful teachers bring any content to life. This is done by knowing the students, using appropriate pedagogy and the linking the content to current affairs, the students’ culture, other subjects being studied or its relevance to the future. All topics can be made relevant. Throughout history, humans have showed a wonderful talent for sticking to about 5 core themes, such as, greed, love, war, innovation and charity. If your subject is not directly linked to modern developments like the sciences might be, then it will always parallel something going on in the students’ lives or the world at large. Make sure you are reading-up on the developments and stories relevant to your subjects. Make connections and place the content in some kind of real context. Disconnected content leads to disconnected students.
Priority Fore: Know your assessment.
Yes, the assessment should be the last consideration, but sadly is often a teacher’s first. Worrying about tests and marking guides can suck the joy from both teaching and learning. That said, it should not be completely ignored either. Make sure the requirements of the assessment are known early in the course and ensure the classroom activity allows the students to explore and challenge the content whilst being able to relate it to the demands of any future assessment. One trick is to use Flipped Teaching to relieve the pressure from worrying about whether you’ve mentioned every detail. The students can then access that detail in their own time.
Priorities for success
Too many teachers worry about assessment and grades and in doing so actually do damage to the success of many students. Many, if not most high school teachers are still subject first, teacher second. This devotion to content can lead to a devaluing of pedagogical ideas and a reduction in genuine engagement from all the children. I say genuine because ‘good’ kids will always play the game but if you get your teaching priorities straight, more students will love learning.
Finding interesting ways to evaluate, reflect and report on work and projects can be tricky. Many students struggle to engage with the reflection properly as it is often a dry, unentertaining end to any unit or project. But that’s where the Green Screen App can help. (How-to help sheet below)
People don’t learn from experience.
People learn when reflecting on experience.
People learn more when they can witness their own reflection.
It’s not all about being Superman!
Being able to place moving images as well as still behind the student reporter / reflector makes the report far more engaging for the viewer. Any student work or objects can be filmed from all angles and got up-close to to show details. This footage will display large in the final product in a way that is not achievable in most other formats.
Making tiny reference points on your green screen (cloth) can also allow students to point at specific things behind them.
The possibilities are endless and can be used by any subject at any grade.
- Use the camera to simply record a computer screen playing a Youtube clip. Then interview the student about the clip.
- History footage is discussed
- The aims or process behind Art work is explained
- Students can analyse their own pre-filmed sporting performance
- Book reports can now include large shots of the illustrations
- 3D objects can now be walked around whilst they’re talked about
- School tour videos can include someone welcoming you to the school as the camera roams the site.
- Worlds built in Minecraft can now be toured with a tour guide pointing out features
- Still images can be used whilst a student narrates their own story.
Students who don’t necessarily write well or in-depth enough can be interviewed about their work, where teachers will often get more from them as they can tailor the questioning as details come up in the background.
Green Screen setup
The Green Screen app is made by DK Pictures (@DoInkTweets). It’s US$2.99 (NZ$3.79) and is a tiny price to pay as you only need green material on-top of the app purchase. Although the app allows you to select any colour, Green works best as it does’t interfere with skin tones. So far, I’ve only worried about having the app on my iPad and can record a whole class worth of reflections in one lesson.
HOW TO GUIDE
Here’s my how-to on producing the basic report with either still image or video backdrops.
Have fun reporting, interviewing and showcasing the best of the students output and projects.I run a technology department where our tech products from apps to robots to food can now be showcased in detail and given a face to regarding its creator. Evaluation is now fun for all.
I’ve always been happy that I could visualise ideas for others and have had fantastic feedback from my readers, particularly in that area. Thanks readers! But…
Back to the drawing board
I also know when I’ve been outclassed by a talent on all levels. Below is a ThingLink poster that itself contains interactive elements to fill anyone with a complete understanding of the SAMR model for integrating Technology in the classroom. The fantastic Lisa Johnson (@TechChef4U) has combined knowledge, resources, (one of them’s even mine), and a flare for design to produce a toolkit for educators to start understanding where to go with technology integration.
This has inspired me to up my game further and definitely start using ThingLink properly!
I’m also jealous that her site looks so slick too.
The WordPress rules are blocking the interactive bits so checkout the ORIGINAL:
Here is the excellent design work that embeds on any site with the link in the top corner. Thanks Lisa!
Priority no.1 ?
I’ve covered technical and workflow ideas on this blog a lot but it’s time to properly summarise a teacher’s first priority when the kids have iPads. Now here is where I have an issue with terminology…
Maybe not an issue of “Pedagogy” (As many know it)
Until a few years ago, I would have used the word pedagogy in this post but this now has the wrong connotations for me as it is linked more strongly to ‘teaching’ and not ‘learning’. To many I’ve worked with, the word pedagogy still implies “the way in which I deliver the content to the students”
The tiers collapse
The one-way ‘dumping’ of teacher knowledge into students has never inspired and is just not the way the world operates anymore. Traditional hierarchies of age, resource ownership and societal prejudice are being eroded and we need new generations to be adapting and not waiting for information from the tier above.
What really matters?
In numerous surveys and studies, employers and universities say they desire the following qualities, which many of them say often seem quite absent in young people:
- Creative thinking
- Independence / self-drive
- Problem solving strategies
- Confidence to try new things
These are all skills and traits that are not evident in many school leavers either because they were never given the opportunity to develop them or that they existed in elementary school but the classroom routines lacked a need for them and they were lost over time.
Try, fail and develop
Many teachers need to try something that I will admit is scary to think about. Namely, handing over the control of the classroom to the kids! All young people need to experience the pressure & excitement of sorting themselves out, especially within a team. The iPads add a further layer of possibilities and individual power for discovery and presentation and teachers will always be surprised by the quality of student output as long as some freedom is offered in what a team focuses on within a topic and how they demonstrate their findings.
They will fail some of the time but as far as what matters is concerned, these moments become the most important learning opportunities. Developing keen learners who see failure as opportunity must be our first target. This requires freedom and support from the teacher.
Let the kids decide
I have an apps page and make a point of talking about my list’s theme of general purpose and it not being content specific. But it should be the kids who make this decision. There are many apps that my students are excellent on that produce fantastic output in a format I’d never imagine but of course their peers respond to much more genuinely.
Also, in a major meta-data study by John Hattie, the number one driver in student performance was self-reported grades / expectations. (See Info-graphic – the full version can be found with a google search)
What I often do now…
- Divide my topics into important sub topics
- Get the kids into groups (3s works best for me but 4 if I have to)
- Pose a ‘driving question’ to the class that doesn’t have a specific ‘correct answer’ E.g. “Should everyone contribute to the web?”
- Offer supportive questions to spark the groups conversations and give them areas to look at.
- Get the groups into the habit of recording their discussions and discoveries in their favourite format. (Some group message, some audio record, some mind-map)
- Have a shared class “success matrix” for every group to add to which outlines what would make a successful group product in general when covering the topic, answering the questions plus also product quality.
- Challenge them to “AppSmash” their learning as a way of sharing with the class. “App-Smashing” is where content created in one app is used in a 2nd app. This forces a little more creative thinking in how to present their learning.
- Most of the time we then upload, share & comment on other groups’ creations.
Time consuming ?
My time is now spent crafting better and better questions for my class to deal with in ways that suit them best and give them a genuine experience of crafting their own learning and enjoying the process. If we continue to push the idea that you need a teacher to learn then we’ll maintain the same small percentage that develop a real passion for learning right through high school and beyond.
The iPad Effect.
It’s the iPad’s versatility, portability, camera, app selection and user-friendliness that keeps it ahead of the others for education but it’s the approach taken by the teacher to learning within the classroom that realises these benefits, not the iPad alone. Worry first about what you are asking of your students and how much they are reliant on the teacher.
“Teacher, I’ve finished your work”
It can be easier for a teacher managing a class of iPadding students to design projects where students own their own learning and thus care about the quality of their outcomes. For me, ensuring students care is my primary goal when designing tasks and programs. If they are doing ‘the teacher’s work’ then any motivation to produce the best result will probably have to come from external sources, like material rewards from the teacher or even as simple as making the teacher happy (Teacher’s pet). The teacher’s work is always seen as ‘work’ and genuine engagement is difficult.
Here is a list of ideas for adding incentives to tasks to help the kids intrinsically care about the outcomes.
- The success criteria should be devised by the students themselves before commencing any task. These should be discussed and agreed upon by the class or group. Design a success criteria template that’s always filled in by the group.
- The teacher only asks questions. Give no answers. Students should find their own answers and be taught to confirm them with more than one source including each other’s research.
e.g. Try to always prompt for output with ‘Why’ questions and never start a lesson with “today class we will…” because who knows what the kids will do in todays lesson!
- Choose a creative & fun task for all and / or allow freedom of expression (choice of app) but remind students of the success criteria.
e.g. You must record a TV news story containing an interview but it must explain how X affected Y. This will be shown on the class TV channel.
- Focus on the students producing ‘products’ that could actually be used to benefit others, be they classmates or the community. Even if it’s not used in the end, work should seem purposeful and be seen as usable in the real world.
e.g. If you are writing stories then ensure they look into how one self-publishes online. This opens the possibly of a real audience with real feedback. student blogs are an obvious starting point but why shouldn’t a child consider starting their writing career now, earning real cash? (There are examples online of this happening)
- I think the world is getting to a point where evidence of all student work should be stored / published online. My students always react with amazement when they first realise the videos / animations are going onto Youtube on my dept. channel. This creates an environment where students can easily peer review and encourage but also parents too, which I find has the biggest impact on motivation.
I have started to have a go at this with my year 7s and 8s and am now considering how future senior classes who have iPads will also own their learning whilst still working towards the national qualifications. I am lucky as the New Zealand assessment system if very flexible and I look forward to the challenge!
What can schools learn from why millions of people of all ages are turning to online gaming and online virtual environments? I’ve been reading this book by Jane Mcgonigal on the effect of and reasons why millions of people of all ages are turning to online gaming and online virtual environments. Here’s Jane at TED summarizing the book in 15 minutes. The basic premise is that the continuous feedback and desire for self-improvement becomes the drive to continue.
It goes as far as to say that games that have a definitive end and can be won are less appealing. A classic example is “Tetris” which became one of the most popular games in history regardless of not being able to win it! It never ends, you just continue to challenge yourself to last longer each time, whilst receiving continuous visual and sound feedback.
Gamers just want work and learn! The more work the better. World of Warcraft has clocked-up 6 million gamer hours in about a decade! (That’s as long as humans have been upright!) It takes 500 hours of play to reach the highest levels in the game and this is now seen by gamers as a small amount of work time!
The constant desire to get more work done within the world, whilst continuously “levelling-up,” and the fact that one’s levels are shared across the system is what drives the engagement. The other thing going on in these games is learning. the students only really score points if they show they have learnt something new. I’m wondering if we can bring that level of drive & dedication to work and learn into the school environment.
So I thought I’d have a go!
Here’s an idea for a mobile app system used by teachers and students that could work in many schools to drive student engagement but also provide individual student performance analytics to the school.
Allowing for my previous blog posts, I must add that this would only work in a student-centred environment where students were self-directed on large enough projects that the teacher is free to only offer 1-to-1 guidance and have time to truly assess how each student is developing.
Step 1 (Objectives)
The school decides on about 8 core requirements for life in the 21st century. Skills that it feels students must be assessed on across all their school-life and students can then “Level-Up” on each day/week.
These might be things like:
The school could outline a matrix of examples of how students might behave and think to Level-up in each requirement.
Step 2 (Technical)
Classes are set up on a database system accessible through mobile devices by everyone in the school. An app is created with both a student and teacher version. A website also collates the data for the school leadership team.
A Mobile app is used by all the teachers to simply issue points on-the-fly to each student. Any evidence at any moment, either in the classroom or when marking work in the evening can gain points in any of the identified core requirements.
The app design is key and is simple to use. The class list is shown and clicking on a name brings up 8 large buttons that allocate a point on each click to the student for any of the core requirements identified by the school.
TEACHER APP (MOCK-UP)
Step 4 (Feedback and Socialising)
Students download the student app and can login to view a live self-profile and see the levels increasing day-to-day. For fun they can design an avatar (maybe to illustrate a future career) and possibly even share their thoughts on their scores with other students in the school. Socialising about your levels using the app would also be key to the engagement. Students who have Levelled-Up in Creativity, for example, might share what they did to show creativity. Their peers might then attempt to model the same behaviour.
Students start to question at all times in the day how they might show evidence of creativity or leadership etc, knowing they’ll receive the feedback on the mobile app almost immediately. They also understand the core skills are cross-curricular and essential to life in general. It also pushes the idea that any moment of the day is an opportunity for self-improvement.
…anyway, it’s just an idea and please feel free to make the system and become a millionaire! However, I might spend some time next year developing it.
STUDENT APP (MOCK-UP)