Teach Listening today to avoid another 2016!

Sorry to be political for just a minute but I promise this post has a non-bias, positive and productive ending. 2016 was not the best year of my life. For people like me, the world seemed to shift in a frightening direction towards isolation and polarised societies.

2016 in three words – “Failure to Listen”

As an educator, I’ve spent the last 6 months considering what has gone wrong and is it a matter of failing education producing “post-truth” generations who fail to question such things as fake news. This is where a randomised suggestion from TED.com seemed to offer me a gentle, concise, but powerful solution to all my concerns – Listening. I’d summarise 2016 as the year people failed to listen to others. A year where locking out debate and the thoughts of others became legitimised. Even the idea of listening to experts was questioned on both sides of the Atlantic. So I’d like to introduce you to (or remind you of) Julian Treasure.

5 classroom exercises to heal a world

In this talk, Treasure addresses our society’s shift towards too much noise (think social media and the pace of life) and thus loss of skills in and desire to truely listen to people and our surroundings.

“We’re becoming impatient. We don’t want oratory anymore; we want sound bites. And the art of conversation is being replaced — dangerously, I think — by personal broadcasting.” – Julian Treasure

If only we had  remembered Julian’s 2011 TED talk, we might not have has such an angry 2016. In this talk, he even predicted our current problems when he said:

“We’re becoming desensitized. Our media have to scream at us with these kinds of headlines [Sensation, Shock, Scandal, Reveal, Exposed, Fury] in order to get our attention. And that means it’s harder for us to pay attention to the quiet, the subtle, the understated … a world where we don’t listen to each other at all is a very scary place indeed” – Julian Treasure (2011)

listening-eduwells

Teach Listening today!

Here is an edited summary of Julian’s 5 suggested exercises that I believe could transform your classroom, and possibly even improve grades, not to mention, save the world!

  1. Silence: “Just three minutes a day of silence is a wonderful exercise to reset your ears and to recalibrate, so that you can hear the quiet again.”
  2. The Mixer: “listen in the [classroom] to how many channels of sound can I hear? How many individual channels in that mix am I listening to? … put names to those channels such as: pencil; tapping; pouring paint; bunsen burner.
  3. Savouring: “This exercise is about enjoying mundane sounds.” Next time you sharpen a pencil, really listen! It’s a great sound.
  4. Listening positions: “Remember I gave you those filters? It’s starting to play with them as levers, to get conscious about them and to move to different places.” This is where you focus on one of the environment’s sounds and consciously enhance it’s volume in your mind by focusing on it intently.
  5. RASA: Julian says “Finally, an acronym. You can use this in listening, in communication. RASA stands for “Receive,” which means pay attention to the person; “Appreciate,” making little noises like “hmm,” “oh,” “OK”; “Summarize” — the word “so” is very important in communication; and “Ask,” ask questions afterwards.”

I can see these skills apply to nay specialist area such a students using RASA to challenge each other on science analysis. Savouring as a dramatisation exercise, and Silence in ALL tasks – I already use it at the beginning of Design thinking tasks.

Teachers need to plan consciously for their use of listening and discuss / teach these skills specifically to improve levels of thinking and empathy practiced by their students. Let’s all start using the art of conscious listening throughout education and we help the next generations fight the noise that surrounds them and avoid another 2016.

P.S. 2016 as I saw it …

  1. The U.K. voted to ask foreigners to “leave” only to find out the next day they’d voted for the U.K. to “leave” Europe. “What is the EU” = most popular Google search on that day.  
  2. The U.S. voted to “drain the swamp” only to find that the “swamp” of bureaucrats and lobbyists were simply no longer needed because the the people who funded the lobbying were to be the new government cabinet.
  3. A horrible man in Syria officially asked a horrible man in Russia to help him sort out some people fighting for freedom, allowing the horrible Russian to perform bombing practice on civilians,. Then a tweeting 16-year-old U.S. president-elect called them both “great guys.”
  4. Nobody listened to anyone who didn’t already agree with them entirely.

[political bit over 😀]

 

 

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Why Teachers should act like Rookies not Experts

RookieAs a teacher, I found Curious Minds episode 41 with Liz Wiseman on Why Learning Beats Knowing, sparked a number of ideas that connected with my recent posts emphasising the need for self-learning practice in schools over that of receiving teaching. Liz explains with numerous examples, why a ‘rookie’ approaches problems and projects from possibly a better starting point than an expert might. I thought I’d offer you my takeaways from this podcast (although I highly recommend listening to the whole thing). Liz’s book is available here.

Be Rookie smart not Expert smart

The most important role a teacher has theses days is to model learning and encourage curiosity. If we continue to base classroom practice around our expert status, we present ourselves as the endpoint of any expectation or debate. Teachers develop better learners when they model trial & error. Nurturing a classroom culture where everyone, including the teacher, is in a constant state of personal development means expectations and possibilities are left open-ended rather than fixed to the teacher’s ‘correct answers’.

Rookie Smart

 

Hide your inner expert to inspire your rookies

  • Learner plateRookies make for better learners than experts.
  • Ability to learn has more value than what you know in the 21st Century.
  • Rookies aren’t weighed down with prior assumptions and have a larger need to seek and build new knowledge. This leads to new ideas and approaches to problems.
  • A rookie has to make smaller but more regular development steps, constantly needing feedback and assurance. ‘Expert’ teachers often make giant leaps towards known answers. The rookie’s baby steps require a rapid feedback loop, which leads to a more agile learning process more suited to the 21st Century economy/society.
  • Acting as if no expert exists in the room, rookies need to connect with others, which encourages collaboration and participation.
  • Lacking knowledge resources leads to more adaptive and resourceful approaches to problem solving and knowledge acquisition.

It’s time for teachers to ask their students:

  • What makes a successful rookie?
  • What do we need and where might we get it?
  • Who can help us? etc.

It’s best teachers present the idea that no correct answers exist in the room and even if they secretly do, it’s the challenge for teachers to guide in such a way that students might arrive at their own answers but hopefully in new and inspiring ways that the teacher can learn from. This completes a rather neat circle of learning.

Here’s a great video (via @geomouldey, via @Dwenmoth) that outlines many of the reasons why we need rookie rather than expert approach to classroom practice.

Book banner.001Want more ideas and initiatives like this one? My book A Learner’s Paradise by Richard Wells is full of them. Available now on Amazon.com

How New Zealand builds the best and the brightest teachers

The conversation around diminishing teacher numbers and the quality of new applicants has been going on for some time. Here’s one from 1999! You only have to look at the stock exchange to realise that the brightest flock towards the money and teaching in most OECD countries, doesn’t pay enough. Until the shortage of teachers becomes the largest of political hot potatoes,  It might be decades before the public in general support significant rise to wages. In the meantime, rather than wait for the golden ticket, New Zealand has taken a systematic and pragmatic approach to ensuring quality teaching and learning.

PTCs

Teacher certification-Growth NOT compliance

Question: Will a teacher’s current practice and content be appropriate in ten years? Given the rapid developments in culture (transgender), communication (Social Media) and technology (Uber), values, skills and their subsequent requirements are also changing rapidly. To ensure relevant and quality teaching, one does not just require people to be clever and talented. An education system in the 21st century needs teachers who adapt and challenge their practice against such changes.  This is where New Zealand has hit the ground running. For over a decade now, teachers in New Zealand have been asked to provide a portfolio of evidence that confirms their quality practice every three years.

To many teachers around the world this would seem like an affront to their professionalism, but in New Zealand we are developing a new kind of growth-mindset culture amongst educators. Teachers are not asked to prove their compliance with a set of rules but show growth in twelve teaching practice criteria determined by teachers and the NZ education council. This turns conversations onto development and experimentation with new ideas and research trends. As long as a teacher is showing they are applying effort to grow their practice, that’s fine. Collected over three years, evidence of growth in these Twelve areas of practice is required.

How to encourage a growth culture

To complement this demand for professional growth, New Zealand has devised a development model called “Teaching as Inquiry“. As part of their professional development, all New Zealand teachers are expected to document small action research projects that target either weaker areas of their own practice or new initiatives. Teaching-as-inquiry_referenceThey are expected to use data to evaluate the success of these new ideas and can often be found running several each year, as part of their teaching. This makes the planning and implementation of teaching a much richer experience that generates critical thinking discussions between teachers.

I believe it makes for a more positive debate when people discuss the potential growth of current teachers, than that of asking how do we attract better people? New Zealand has developed a model based on growth-mindset and there’s very much a national sense of collaboration and support between government agencies and schools. I am proud and excited to work with all New Zealand teachers.

Want to know more? My book is out next month! A Learner’s Paradise by Richard Wells

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Richard Wells Author pic SMLAuthor: Richard Wells
Teaches grade 6 to 12
Leader in a New Zealand High School
Top 40 in edublog awards 2013
Top 12 Blogger – The Global Search for Education
Known for Educational Infographics (see Posters)
and an International Speaker.
Twitter :  @EduWells

This post is written as part of The Global Search for Education: Our Top 12 Global Teacher Blogs: A series of questions that Cathy Rubin is asking several education bloggers. I’ll be sharing the link to her post that collects all of the responses. I’m excited to be part of this group of edu-bloggers.

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DIY – Breakout #Education

There are crazy people in Auckland who pay to be locked in a room and forced to escape. Why? Because it’s fun! The people at EscapeMasters provide problem solving escape challenges for parties and corporate team-building. There’s also an app version where clues around the room combine to be your key to escape. So, how are educators using the popularity and opportunity these game ideas present? How could schools possibly get away with locking children into a room? Well, the people at BreakoutEdu have solved the problem.

breakoutEdu2

Breakout Education

Breakout Education is a gamification of teaching and assessing knowledge and skills. You can purchase or build your own to whatever complexity you require. Instead of breaking out from a room, participants attempt to solve and combine the clues around the room to break into a padlocked box. The box, obviously, is filled with treats. BreakoutEdu.com offer products that include multiple types of padlocks. This allows you to invent numeric, alphanumeric or directional solutions that the clues might lead to. When I was introduced to it by EdTechTeam, we had to solve 4 different types of padlocks!

Limited time = simpler problem

I decided to give this a go but with 1 hour lessons periods, I thought one padlock would do. I bought a metal box and a 4-digit numeric padlock. I then created a simple enough set of clues that would lead to the 4-digit solution that might be introduced and solved in one hour. My problem worked like this:

  1. Four picture clues that point to four numbers used in my sum
  2. Each number is coloured in the clue
  3. 2 more clues point to how the colours are paired-up in the sum
  4. One clue reminded the children about the order of operations (The order of the sum)
  5. 3 clues combined to draw out the position of numbers in the sum

I divided a class of 24 kids into 3 teams of eight. I think teams of 5 or 6 would be best. I found with 12-year-olds, I had to remind them to write down in one place, everything they had discovered so far. This included “You have found numbers, colours, pairs of something and order.” It took one team of eight 12-year-olds 40 minutes to piece together my clues and break into my padlocked box. For mine, they needed phones or iPads as I’d used URLs and QR codes as clues. I also ‘hid’ a clue in ultraviolet ink and quietly left a UV light in a jar on a table. I’ve attached the slides of clues below that you could use as a template or just print off and use as it is.

More complexity and topics

Clues can be made really tricky. Such as, making a QR code from a plane journey that stops at a number of airports, whose airport codes are an anagram of a required number in the sum! Using URLs, QR codes or AR to get to Google streetview points where clues can be found at street level in other places around the world. Science can use material clues to point to atomic numbers in the periodic table. The potential exists to involve any type of content, so get creative!

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Schools & the Death of the UBER career

Everyone is talking about UBER. There are now sites dedicated to “The UBER for X“. It is a popular analogy for presenters and bloggers because it epitomised modern technological disruption. UBER is a great example of how questioning the status quo and connecting dots between existing ideas can have such significant global impact in just a year or two. A similar thing is happening with telephone operators v.s SIRI type technology.  But for me, it’s the next chapter that most interests me: The death of the UBER career.

UBER timeline-Eduwells

I thought presenters, bloggers, and teachers might find a simple timeline useful. Please feel free to use this but please give me a mention:-)

People? What people?

This article discusses how many of the major car companies, alongside Google and UBER (that’s quite a team!) are lobbying the U.S, government to ensure their driverless cars (it’s not just Google who are making them) can cross state borders and be recognised as ‘legal drivers’. Given the safety, cost-saving and productivity gains offered by driverless cars, I think most people will be surprised at how quickly they embed into society in the developed world.

The UBER story is more about entire new industries being born and dying in the same decade, than it is about the death of old industries. The speed of change is getting faster and this is a new norm that schools must be aware of when discussing their purpose for existing. How quickly people can learn new knowledge and skills is far more important now than any particular knowledge or skill. This needs to have a huge impact on what gets practiced and emphasised in classrooms around the world.

best-apps-of-the-year-uber

The most expensive thing in any industry is it’s people. Most companies are working hard to remove the requirement for employing people. Amazon already have robot organised factories passing products automatically to drones for delivery! Losing your job because it’s cancelled all together is now so common, the U.S has introduce new employment insurance products to help people out.

What does this mean for the classroom?

The classroom is now a place to practice collaborating to learn. The questions that students should be allowed to ask and run with might be:

  • What should I be working on?
  • Who with?
  • What will we need?
  • Who can we call? (Ghostbusters?)

Practicing these questions and improving one’s collaborative productivity is going to be key to surviving the 21st century job market. This will help people continue to remain employable as well as up-skilling them for developing their own careers and businesses in a market where that itself might become a necessity. This does mean that if students in a classroom are currently reliant on a teacher for what to do and how to do it, they’re in big trouble!

What teachers could learn from startups

I was privileged recently to be invited by New Zealand Education innovator, Chris Clay to a Startup Weekend in Auckland. This was a very strange experience where I knew nothing about startups but my badge said VIP. I decided this stood for very ignorant person.  An opening statement by host Rowan Yeoman (@yeoro) was “realise everything is an assumption.” This was aimed at the participants to encourage them to question everything they held as fact. This might include such things as what they think customers will like, how much it might cost, who the business will need on staff, and what problem their ‘solution’ might solve. Rowen pointed out that a startup often fulfils it’s namesake and acts as a starting point that quickly morphs into a completely unforeseen type of business with a whole new customer base. So, like normal, this made me think of the classroom.

IMG_0459What teachers could learn from startups

The evening made me think about all the assumptions that education lives by. I thought I’d make myself a list of school modus operandi that rarely get questioned. As I pondered this, I realised that my examples came from all areas and aspects of education.

School administrations rarely question such things as:
  • Our results are good so our students are learning
  • Our community don’t want change
  • Our school vision impacts on who we are
  • Which ‘customers’ are catered for by their decisions
Teachers rarely question:
  • the need to organise students’ workload
  • the need to divide the day into manageable lessons
  • the priority of numeracy and literacy
  • if the relevance of their teaching has changed
Students are rarely encouraged to question:
  • the structure of their school day
  • the justifications for what they are offered to learn
  • the format of their assessment

IMG_0456

Let’s start-up questioning in schools

The issue for me is that ingrained assumptions have led the majority of the education sector to build an opposite environment to startups. They not only don’t question their own assumptions enough but many schools have such a prescribed day assigned that they don’t develop genuine questioning habits in their students. It was a little sad to see such an energised learning experience like this startup weekend being organised for adults, when the format of most lessons (assumption alarm) is relatively a closed deal before it starts.

The Startup Weekend was an agile experience where the process of problem finding and solving was allowed to develop naturally during the event. This is something that schools could learn from. To watch such an open-ended environment excite and drive learning was inspiring. I just hope a growing number of educators will realise that they can use such an approach to develop a new type of learner who expects to get teams organised so that goals, academic or practical, are achieved. I’ve done much experimenting with student empowerment in the last 5 years and I can confirm that people of almost any age are capable if teachers are willing to watch them work together to build their own learning successes, even if that’s not “the Uber for schools

What is Student-Centred Learning?

A recent job vacancy for a leading position in a New Zealand school asked for a focus on genuine student-centred learning. What fascinated me was their use of the word ‘genuine’. My experience shows me that confusion, misinterpretation, and a lack of exposure to relevant examples, means that too many educators do not understand true student-centric learning. Many schools feel under pressure to be implementing such models but often only change surface level elements whilst proclaiming they have achieved it.

What is student centred learning-eduwells

Why being student-centric matters

Let’s cut to the chase. This matters because we all know that young people (including ourselves many moons ago) would rather stay at home than go to school. If students tell people that they like school, what they’re often picturing as they say it are things such as hangin’ with friends, music productions or the sports events. When students are asked what their favourite part of school is, they rarely mention anything that takes place in a classroom. I recently asked 3 boys, who had moved from elementary to junior high, what was positive about the change. They actually agreed on “moving between rooms” as the first improvement that sprung to mind. That’s right folks, their best part of the daily school experience is the brief time spent in the corridors! All you have to do is endure an hour with one teacher and then you get a break for 5 minutes before the next.

The New Zealand education review office that runs quality assurance checks on schools’ practice recently reported on 68 schools that :

“Students in all schools were experiencing an assessment- driven curriculum and assessment anxiety. In many schools the only people who understood the overall curriculum and the competing demands on them were the students.” – ERO “Success in secondary school

The constant amongst most schools that drives this pessimistic view held by students is that they rarely control any significant part of their day. As an example of how common this view is, I can even use teachers to prove my point. I’ve worked in four schools that have all held teacher training days. During a number of those days, sessions have been prearranged to showcase tools or pedagogies and staff have moved from one session to another. Many of these days have received feedback that they were not very useful. A recent example I experienced broke the trend and offered longer sessions of self-directed time for colleagues from the same department to work on their own material. The feedback included:

“Best staff training days so far, we got to work on our own stuff and had time to get things done. It was great to work with other departments” – Teachers

Many teachers agree that student-directed learning makes sense when it comes to their own learning but this rarely translates to their approach to teaching.  Releasing control is always difficult, so I thought I’d do my best to outline some practical questions and advice from my own experience that will hopefully make some teachers reconsider their need for absolute control of when, what and how learning takes place.

1. TIME(TABLE) TO LEARN

Timetabling the day has more impact than you think. As the teachers highlighted above, how the day is divided often shapes it’s potential to engage people in learning. A comment by a New Zealand principal has confused many educators I’ve shown it to:

“The timetabling I’ve grown to love is that which subjugates the timetable to its role of representing the vision and values of the school and bringing life to the curriculum design principles that emerge from the vision and values – a timetable that is flexible and responsive with the needs of the learner firmly at the centre.” – Mauri Abraham (NZ Principal)

The idea of a timetable representing the vision for the school confuses many. The way you allocate time indicates your school’s priorities and thus your values. This is because teachers who are used to a day centred on the their needs don’t view the timetable as an enabler for students to learn but as another mechanism for managing them.

One major requirement for learning is reflection. Hardly any schools timetable for it.

“We do not learn from experience… we learn from reflecting on experience.”
― John Dewey

Students are normally given no time to reflect on recent learning before they are thrown into another unrelated lesson (High school) or topic (elementary).

2. RELEASE CONTROL

If your timetable is focused on the needs of the learners rather than teachers then you’ll be free to let the students shape a great deal of your teachers’ day. One issue that both restricts student experience and makes it less engaging  is that the whole day is often prearanged by the teachers for the teachers. Where to be, what to look at and what to aim for has been predicted and so actually demands less challenge. Learning happens when best when the learner is immersed in the experience. To truly immerse, a learner must have input into that experience.

Compliance is not learning, even if it results in good grades. Teachers should arrive at work wondering how they will be needed, not how students will conform to their pre-arrangements. I’ve always thought that the prescribed experience of school that teachers experienced in the 20th century is to blame for so many not taking ownership of their own professional development. Many are still waiting for the imaginary PD timetable and activities to be written for them. I wouldn’t want to think we were breeding another generation of people who wait for learning to be arranged.

3. allow technology to reach its potential

Technology is not essential, but it helps. A large number of schools are now using technology but teachers’ prearranged learning and goals restrict the experience for students in what potential there is to explore and discover with technology and the internet. Rather than learn, they are asked to use technology to achieve prearranged targets. This does not allow them to experience the same real learning process that people do outside classrooms.

Most young people are used to exploring and contributing to online discussion and events in their personal life. Many schools don’t make the most of this and create an abstract environment where study material has already been sorted and the path a discussion will follow is already well trodden by previous classes. Access to technology should be an empowering opportunity and I hope teachers ask students to surprise them with what the can achieve rather restrict expectations with rigidly structured tasks.

4. Students owning their assessment

Involving students in the design of assessment is both crucial to engagement and exactly what any learning involves when people outside schools undertake a challenge. If adults attempt to learn anything they start by setting criteria for how they will know they’ve reached their goal, be it piano or a google chrome extension. This is also something we generally deny students in schools. They are normally adhering to someone else’s idea of success. In doing this, teachers and schools remove an important personal connection to the learning experience.

I have experimented much in the last 3 years by challenging students to consider what marks success within each task they undertake. I have been surprised by how engaging this activity is for my students. It might be because it’s a novelty in relation to other learning they do but one group, for example, extended the assessment design to a full week of lessons without any encouragement from me!

Even if you are working in a high school and assessments set by high authorities. Ensure your students have time to review the course demands and construct their own list of requirements. To some teachers, this will seems like a waste of time, when they have already done it for them. But again, I stress that it is part of true learning and to remove this step only creates an environment of compliance and the skill of learning is not developed by the students.

Like reflection, considering one’s own success criteria is an important part of the learning process and schools should reintroduce this if learning is ever to be considered as authentic and meaningful.

Don’t just state your vision but be it

Many schools will state that they want students to be independent, responsible and confident. But if your students are walking into a school environment where every aspect is prearranged, you remove the need to be independent, responsible and confident about anything significant. We say practice makes progress, well let’s start allowing students to practice what we want them to become.

How I’ll be learning in 2016

2016 Learning-EduWellsIt’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:

Collaborative learning

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.

ITERATE

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.

Community

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.

Connect

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.

How New Zealand connects young learners

When I first think of globally connected classrooms, I immediately think of various systems I’ve blogged on before like Skype Classroom, Quad-blogging or Google’s Connected Classrooms.  But I thought I’d bring you a connections story directly from New Zealand.

Success is messy

For me, the important point around global student discussion or in fact, any situation that introduces new perspectives to a classroom topic, is that of depth and what I like to call, messy learning. You may have seen this common graphic about success (left). Well, I like to think the same about learning. It is detrimental to education when anything or any person encourages the idea that learning is linear. The idea that at the beginning of learning, you don’t know something  and then after following a particular study path, you complete your learning by obtaining said knowledge. True deep learning is a social exercise. Multiple perspectives are always required if a true understanding is to be achieved. Perspective that won’t necessarily become apparent unless you involve other people in the journey.

The teachers who understand the importance of connecting students and classrooms to the world for new perspectives, still have at least three driving questions:

  1. How young can we start this process?;
  2. How best can we showcase positive and relevant online behaviour and;
  3. If we start young, how do we ensure safety?

PalmyTeacherThis is where I would like to introduce you to a kiwi called Stephen Baker. For two years, Stephen has run a hugely successful classroom Twitter chat every week on Wednesday afternoons. When I say successful, I really mean it. Over 230 elementary classroom accounts have been involved, and remember, New Zealand only has a population of 4 million! The chat can be found on Twitter under the hashtag: #KidsEdChatNZ and has it own account and also a website.

Every week, Stephen and his co-organisers, Marnel van der Spuy and John Willoughby, post the questions for the classes to answer on Wednesday, between 2 and 3 pm. The classroom accounts are added to a Twitter list which they then subscribe to so as to isolate the discussion from the rest of Twitter. Students respond to each other’s reflections and thoughts on topical issues. Questions have included:

  • What does good problem solving look like?
  • Should you be able to use Minecraft in your School/classroom? Convince us! How can it help learning?
  • How do your School’s values impact on your learning?
  • Can you think of any problems that you could solve with coding?

CVvw0j6UkAAn2brAlthough this is a national initiative, #KidsEdChat has introduced thousands of children as young a five, to a world of online connections and the learning and impact those connections bring about. They also get to see online discussion in the context of a real social media platform safely monitored by the classroom teacher.

Why not a #KidsEdChatGlobal? To have students discuss their learning and reflect on each others perspectives could have similar positive outcomes to our home grown equivalent. The question is, will you be the teacher to start it?

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EduWells2015Author: Richard Wells
Teaches grade 6 to 12 – Head of Technology at NZ High School
Top 40 in edublog awards 2013
Top 12 Blogger – The Global Search for Education
Known for Educational Infographics (see Posters above)
Presenter and also a father to 2 beautiful girls.
Twitter :  @EduWells

This post is written as part of The Huffington Post’s The Global Search for Education: Our Top 12 Global Teacher Blogs: A series of questions that Cathy Rubin is asking several education bloggers. I’ll be sharing the link to her post that collects all of the responses. I’m excited to be part of this group of edu-bloggers.

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Challenged by Seductive Technology

Technology can still be so inviting to teachers, it can often damage the potential for learning. I recently trialled the app Floors by Pixelpress, planning it to be a fun and creative exercise in computer game design. After introducing the app and explaining the activity, I realised I had missed an opportunity to plan a much more thought provoking exercise. It made me realise that even now, I can succumb to the seductive ‘cool’ of an app and design a shallow learning experience. Here’s the trailer for the app:

The app is really impressive and scans pencil game designs immediately into real playable iPad games. This sounds so good, it was easy to consider it as a just a fantastic blend of tactile and tech learning. What I missed was an opportunity to raise the level of both thinking and collaboration. Like me, many teachers are falling for the modern teaching trap to think “the app does all the work.” On most occasions, if you think an app does the job for a lesson, you’re more likely just killing time rather than ensuring true learning is taking place.

IMG_0008 (1)The next lesson gave me a chance to reflect and act on this mistake. The type of game the activity produces is a platform game of 3 levels. Before they started, I reminded them of the Design Thinking process we’d used before and asked them to consider what makes games addictive and why their level design would be considered better than another design. This had groups discussing designs being too easy or too hard and what made them so. It also introduced situations where students challenged each other’s assumptions. This does not happen if you allow them to simply play with the app as presented in the trailer.

There are enough options within the app to make very complex game challenges but it’s the job of the teacher to plan how the opportunities presented by the app can enhance the type of activity in the classroom. We must remember that it’s what takes place in the mind of the student that is most important. I have mentioned before that in New Zealand we generally grade students on their ability to collaborate and generate new knowledge, rather than learn a fixed curriculum. This means, it’s my job to make students generate connections between elements and concepts they come across. The collaboration & communication is important as it adds depth to their understanding.

FloorsThe app encouraged me to focus on skill competency and open ended creativity:

“This app is fantastic! It will have them be creative with non-tech and the technology allows them test and reiterate the process to improve the outcome.”

I redesigned it as collaborative Design Thinking to ensure a more robust learning outcome:

“Before you open the app, collaborate in considering how this activity might be more successful in producing a game people will not want to put down. There are too many games in the App Store to only be producing yet another one. Every student in the class has the potential to create the best game in the room but what makes one better than another?”

The Floors app is a technology that allows for rapid testing of ideas but its ensuring the students take a considered approach that’s important rather than adding elements randomly without any particular reason. This teaching situation is common for many apps and I’m always keen to remind teachers to not underestimate children in their ability to handle more complex thinking.

App designers often consider the functional activity over the learning experience. It’s our job as teachers to not succumb to this and consider first what’s being developed in the minds of our students.

Here’s a presentation I did on this story fro #AppShareLive with Mark Anderson: