Future proof your students by embracing the Arts

If you are reading this, then you will undoubtably know Ken Robinson’s TED talk from 2006 on how schools kill creativity. In fact, schools are so successful at devaluing the arts that high schools around the world have maintained Art and Music as the smallest departments for decades. But this is a society issue, which Robinson’s talk was always unlikely to have a big impact on. Luckily, Art and Music now have something fighting their corner – automation! “There’s no point doing art, you won’t get a job in that.” Robinson quoted this common argument put forward by the majority of now market-driven western society. Well now we can safely say that current school-goers won’t get a job in nearly 50% of currently discussed careers. It’s worth noting that, low-skill, high-skill, medical, finance, and legal careers are under threat and will not be replaced by new careers. So, where does that leave education?

who-can-draw-eduwells

WORKING WITH A BLANK CANVAS

Cloud computing, artificial intelligence, machine learning, and driverless vehicles are already creating a world where job unavailability is becoming common for millions. This problem will effect more and more each year. This makes a creative mindset more important than ever. It is no longer enough to be competent at completing work and following guidelines. The world and it’s industries are crying out for people practiced at dreaming up new ideas, often from outside-the-box or from a ‘blank canvas.’ They also need people who can then successfully communicate those ideas, mostly in visuals, as you can see from the explosion of infographics in the world. But where in school do students experience opportunities to practice such skills?

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THE COMFORT & DANGER OF CERTAINTY

So, it’s unquestionable that English language, Math, Science, and Social science are the top four in the not-so-invisible hierarchy of subjects that exists in schools (also highlighted by Robinson). All four have been tasked with teaching known information and also skills in analysing what appears in front of you.  I had a conversation with eight students this week who called themselves ‘average 17-year-old students’ about why they were sticking with Math and Science, regardless of saying they neither enjoyed or had much success in them. Their answers all related to getting through the school day without anything unexpected. They liked the predictability and routine of these subjects. “You get given stuff, you play with stuff, you submit the stuff” one student said. Another pointed out how they’d all given up the creative subjects years ago. The problem I have with this commonly held approach to surviving the school day, is that the certainty they have been trained for is the one thing automation is busy removing from the world.

Note: The process of analysis has always held a high status in schools but because it involves following known procedures with known knowledge, analysis is the prime candidate for automation and off-shoring. For example: U.S. brain scan analysis is already sent electronically and carried out in Pakistan, where it is done just as well but more cheaply.

WHY THE ARTS WILL SAVE THE FUTURE

The disaster in devaluing the arts in schools is directly connected to the educational culture around the fear of being wrong. Students become so conditioned to target correct answers that creative pursuits become increasingly the most challenging situations to be choosing. The creative arts all start with a blank canvas/manuscript/stage and the minute by minute problem solving in producing a ‘non-correct’ product, is exactly what the world and most businesses are crying out for. It’s no longer about society providing jobs and fitting your education to these pre-defined careers. It’s more about the process of starting from scratch and building solutions from one’s own experiences, that makes the arts the most fundamental area in 21st century education. It is time to turn the traditional hierarchy, Ken Robinson discussed, on its head and develop a generation of true thinkers and problem solvers through prominent art education for all.

There’s more on future education in my book: A Learner’s Paradise: How New Zealand is reimagining education.

 

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Richard Wells Author pic SMLAuthor: Richard Wells
Teaches grade 6 to 12
Deputy Principal 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 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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The Art of Learning

screen-shot-2016-09-11-at-3-31-13-pmIn my school, we are on a development journey to shift responsibility for learning from the teachers to the students that may take 5 years. This requires a shift in mindset by all involved, including the community, who put most of the pressure for grades on the teachers. To compliment this, we have shifted our attention when observing classrooms. Rather than focus on the behaviour of the teacher, which is common in many classroom observations, we are carrying out learning conversations with selected or random students in the room. Once the class is underway with a task, the “observing” teacher sits down with a student or group and asks what at first seem like obvious questions:

  1. Do you know why you’re learning this?
  2. How do you know how well you’re doing?
  3. What would your best attempt at this look like?
  4. What’s your next step?

These might seem obvious when considering the apparent purpose of education but parents and teachers themselves can get quite a shock to find how often the answers are not clear to the average student. This is because we have developed education systems that place such an emphasis on teachers issuing education to students, that as long as work is being completed, the learners can feel quite separated from the reasons they’re there in the first place.

“Let’s just get this fiNished”

In a BYOD environment it is common for students to develop habits where they gravitate towards the same app and output format because it becomes the most familiar and thus quickest with which to complete work. So in my school, I am finding that teachers offering free choice of expression are still receiving predominantly presentation slides as the output of choice. So, during a number of my learning conversations, I decided to find out how much thought was going into considering approach to a goal and the actual output produced.

conversations

Here is a summary of these conversations from multiple classes of 15 year-olds:

  • Teacher: “why are you learning this stuff?”
  • Student: “cos it’s probably useful”
  • Teacher: “Why are you using Keynote?”
  • Student: “it’s easy and teachers say we get higher marks for colour and pictures but we don’t know why”
  • Teacher: “why is that slide a useful one in the presentation?”
  • Student: “it’s got words and pictures … I don’t know really”
  • Teacher: “If you’re all doing Keynote presentations on the same topic, how do you know they won’t all be the same?”
  • Student: “… How about … we not talk to each other!”
  • Teacher: “what grade are you hoping for?”
  • Student: “Above average.”
  • Teacher: “Do you ever aim for a top grade?”
  • Student: “If I like my teacher or am already good at the subject”

Answers like these are common in schools around the world. They are also eye opening to teachers who don’t spend enough time discussing learning and focus too much understanding course content. The lack of genuine engagement in what one is doing is symptomatic of an understanding that what is taking place is a teacher devised workload, not a learning experience that one is part of. The drive for results can reduce the art of teaching to an ability to produce completing, compliant students, but what about the art of learning?

Engagement relates to locus of control

It is time that classrooms place the emphasis on students making nearly every decision regarding what, when and how they go about learning. It is time for teachers to focus on challenging students on their decisions whilst realising that through practice, students will develop an understanding that they are in charge of and thus responsible for their learning. When I’m talking to students in a year’s time, I hope to receive detailed explanations as to how and why their learning is happening the way it is.

I would not have understood this by carrying out a standard teaching observation. I would have reported on wonderful teachers carrying out their lessons with nice compliant children. Let us worry more about developing learners than topic absorption and we will eventually shift the pressure from that of compliance to that of students articulating their own learning success.

More like this in my book A learner’s Paradise: How New Zealand is reimagining education.

How New Zealand education builds appreciation for cultural differences

donald trumpIf you look at current world events, such as #Brexit or #Trump, it’s not hard to conclude that ignorance of other cultures leads to prejudice and intolerance. Changing people’s prejudices is not impossible but ongoing conflicts around the globe show it’s difficult. The place to really tackle these unfortunate human habits and build a better future is to overtly address them in your nation’s education system. I wonder how your country’s education is tackling them? At what levels and in what form are these issues systematically addressed by your education system? IMAGE CREDIT

Not just tolErance but full appreciation

This is where I can proudly explain how New Zealand’s approach to educating appreciation for other cultures is both systematic and multifaceted. To be clear, New Zealand has not solved or completely eliminated issues around race, culture, and tolerance, but the initiatives it has implemented as integral parts of its education system have made a serious start at addressing these concerns. This small Pacific country has woven the development of cultural understanding into its education, from government level down to every classroom. It’s not just a topic in our curriculum but a requirement in how we approach everything at school. It also forms part of our professional development requirements to remain registered as a teacher, a process that expects growth every three years.

The two New Zealand schools in the video below are not typical as they are both exclusive schools teaching generally the children of the most affluent in the country. But because of this, this video acts as a good example of how prevalent cultural respect is in New Zealand schools. Even in the most conservative, traditionally “white” schools, the cultural respect is still successfully encouraged.

Why such a strong cultural focus?

nz curriculumsIt helps that New Zealand is bi-cultural with a founding treaty demanding the strong union between to strikingly different cultures. Our geographic situation also places us within easy reach of multiple asian countries making Auckland, in particular, a cultural melting-pot. Ive been to 3 schools that boast over 40 nationalities amongst their students. All government departments have an obligation to represent both Maori and Pakeha (European colonial cultures) equally in all processes and initiatives. This means we don’t just have one national curriculum translated in two languages but have two curriculums that share the same values and goals but outline very different culturally sensitive approaches to achieving them.

Developing culturally respectful learning

In New Zealand, teachers are expected to professionally develop to such an extent they are required to maintain a portfolio of growth and development in 12 professional practice criteria, Three of which directly relate to cultural respect and awareness. They are stated as:

  • demonstrate commitment to promoting the well-being of all ākonga(students). Take all reasonable steps to provide and maintain a teaching and learning environment that is physically, socially, culturally and emotionally safe. Acknowledge and respect the languages, heritages and cultures of all ākonga
  • Demonstrate commitment to bicultural partnership in Aotearoa New Zealand. Demonstrate respect for the heritages, languages and cultures of both partners to the Treaty of Waitangi.
  • work effectively within the bicultural context of Aotearoa New Zealand. Practise and develop the relevant use of te reo Māori me ngā tikanga-a-iwi(
    the language and culture) in context. Specifically and effectively address the educational aspirations of ākonga Māori, displaying high expectations for their learning

Teachers must provide evidence each three years that their practice has grown in respect to the criteria above. This leads to government and teacher driven supportive resources and networks that help teachers develop their practice in helping young people become respectful and appreciative of each other’s cultures and customs. I would go as far to say that there are few places on earth more peaceful and safe as New Zealand. Given its education system, this will only improve further in the future.

I have covered most aspects of New Zealand education in my book A Learner’s Paradise: How New Zealand is reimagining education. Here’s the Ad:

 

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Richard Wells Author pic SMLAuthor: Richard Wells
Teaches grade 6 to 12
Deputy Principal 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 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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How compliance hurts all learning

Like many deputy principals around the world, I didn’t do very well at school. I was cheeky (not naughty) and hyperactive … every teacher’s favourite nightmare!  If I did the work, I always used the popular “bare minimum, last minute” approach. With no real world experience, and parents who had understandably given up trying to help, I couldn’t see any reason to comply with the prescribed workload. I knew I was capable and the teachers frequently told me so, but what I saw as simple compliance just didn’t excite me.

compliance-EduwellsIn my 15 years of teaching I have always sympathised with non-compliant learners but only in the last 5 years have I realised that compliance is not the only option for a classroom. I am currently working with the teachers in my school on a transition of staff and student mindset (it might take 5 years) that will hopefully have classrooms involving each learner in discussing and developing awareness of their own learning processes. Having students consider how they personally would best achieve the goals makes them feel appreciated as an individual and ironically (strict conservatives probably think this is nonsense) demands more from them. The alternative is to continue prescribing it for either entire classes or subsets of these (I’ve never been comfortable with teacher devised “differentiation”) and hoping for compliance.

Why not comply?

Success in school, something I knowingly chose to throw away, is predominantly a measure of your willingness to comply. If you sit quietly, follow all the guidance and complete the work, you will undoubtedly succeed with at least a satisfactory grade. Compliance was very important when preparing populations for factories and hard labour, but why comply these days with someone else’s learning program? If learners have evidence in their life that ‘playing-the-game’ means success or they have been conditioned to comply then schools generally achieve their assessment goals. Under the existing worldwide school compliance schooling, rich kids outperform poor kids and girls outperform boys. This explains why rich kids see ‘the system’ worth complying with and this explains why girls comply and thus “succeed.” But is compliance genuine success?

It is not hard to find evidence from industry, universities, and parents that even school leavers with successful grades disappoint those in the real world, who expect them to show initiative and make decisions, something classrooms have hardly shown a interest in. All young people are capable of initiative and decision making, they just get very little practice. Students taught as a class, think as a class and not individuals.

“Students taught as a class, think as a class and not individuals.” – Richard Wells (@Eduwells)

Compliance classrooms promote further undervaluing of students who’s lives already feel undervalued and hold back those who feel confident to suggest better approaches and stretch possibilities. From top to bottom, compliance hurts all learning and it’s time to start involving the young people in their own development. School as a journey of self-development is often as invisible to learners today as it was to me when I scraped a pass for compliance in 1995.

Want to read more?

I written more on this subject in my new book A Learner’s Paradise: How New Zealand is reimagining Education (Paperback and eBook)

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Schools Move Forward by Embracing Confilct

It is extremely instinctive to avoid conflict. For decades, schools have been presented with ideas for change and development, multiple ‘experts’ explaining the rapid evolution of technology, the workplace, and global human requirements. Due to the conflict these ideas can cause in a school, leaders and teachers have become extremely adept at supporting the status quo by inventing excuses for why they can’t be expected to do ‘too much crazy stuff’ (by the way, three different schools’ leaders said these exact four words to me in conversations this year).

This is why I found the following 2012 TEDGlobal talk by Margaret Heffernan, really powerful. Her bio on TED states: The former CEO of five businesses, Margaret Heffernan explores the all-too-human thought patterns — like conflict avoidance and selective blindness — that lead organizations and managers astray.

In this talk, Heffernan uses excellent true stories to illustrate that avoiding the things that challenge our assumptions can have disastrous consequences. Likewise, finding systematic methods for embracing and allowing ideas that challenge to be aired can make all the difference in turning an organisation into a leading example for others. I listened to this and saw obvious parallels in all the schools I’ve worked in. Schools will only make real and relevant progress if they can ensure school leaders and teachers organise and then listen to genuinely critical friends.

Cultivating a school culture that is not just an echo chamber of professional back slapping or an isolated ivory tower of decision making is difficult in schools where the leaders are not skilled or prepared for challenging the status quo. As Heffernan explains, this has the tendency to make people less likely to offer any challenge in the first place. The echo chamber within the school then continues to develop what are seen as more robust arguments against change. One of my most quoted statements from a post this year was: “schools should spend more energy challenging your school’s status quo, than any alternative that might be suggested.”

“Teachers will meet after work only to discover in conversation that they have the same gripes about work but see no potential impact from voicing them”

School Echo Chamber3In many schools who claim a friendly atmosphere amongst staff, this friendliness and social comfort is often seperate to any professional or operational issue. If you’ve ever been on a team-building excursion, you’ll know what I mean by seperate. Furthermore, teachers will meet after work only to discover in conversation that they have the same gripes about work but see no potential impact from voicing them. In contrast,  I know a small number of schools in New Zealand that ensure teachers and leaders have at least one identified critical friend. In one high school, this system is site-wide and on a rotation each year to ensure many different perspectives are heard on any idea or current practice. Students are also involved in planning meetings to help the school appreciate things from the viewpoint of those receiving the learning experience. This has created a more open, adaptable and friendly culture towards developing and improving all aspects of school.

I’m off to read Heffernan’s book Wilful Blindness: Why We Ignore the Obvious at Our Peril. I think many school leaders should do the same. 

 

 

 

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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Demonstrating leadership in the classroom

Technology and new societal hierarchies are changing the demands on teachers and thus the opportunities for and style in which teachers should demonstrate leadership. Expectations on young people have also developed as the world evolves increasingly quickly. I wonder how many CEOs are now below the age of 25? It’s now less about displaying mastery over content and skills and more about demonstrating successful leadership by nurturing a creative and challenging classroom environment.

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Author: 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 :  @iPadwells

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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I have just read an excellent article in Time magazine by Julie Lythcott-Haims, where she summarises her book about the growing dependency children have on their parents. She explains how middle-class parenting, in particular, has developed in such a way it helps foster this dependency. Julie highlights that children increasingly expect to be fully catered for in any event or situation. To quote Julie: “We have to deliberately put opportunities for independence in our kids’ way.” This problem often gets discussed at my school in regard to students’ lack of initiative in the classroom but I can’t help but argue that the traditional classroom fosters just the same level of dependency.

Demonstrating leadership whilst not fostering dependency

student teams02In a classroom where every child carries out the same task for the same outcome, the temptation is to lead by command and control. After all, everyone has to tow the same line. The underlying issue in this context is that every student is dependent on the teacher for every step of the task. “Turn to page 52,” “Answer questions 5 to 10,” “Draw a mind-map of …” In these situations, a student’s need for initiative and decision-making is limited to the tight confines of the page, question or requested specific output.

Like anything, humans learn best through experience and this includes leadership. To demonstrate the more modern requirements for transformative leadership, teachers need to show mastery for adapting, evaluating learning goals and building productive working structures. These need to be open enough to let the students take control over the environment where true experience is gained in managing time, information, decision-making and social interactions. This has had very positive outcomes in my school where it seems self-respect has developed and the extra ownership over the work improves attitude and productivity.

Design-Thinking-iPadWellsSince opening up my classroom to structures like Project-based learning or Design Thinking exercises, I have seen what student leadership looks like. When it’s normal for students to be dealing with self-expression, task management and working relationships, it will amaze teachers as to what young people are capable of. Regardless of teaching model, the basics of: set negotiated goals, offer working structures; expect collaboration and let the students drive, are much more likely to develop the leaders of tomorrow.

This is important as the problems these young people will face are likely to require a more collaborative and global style of leadership. In my classroom, the quality of output but more importantly, the level of understanding and ability to lead a scenario have never been better.

How do you balance preparation for high stakes assessments with teaching and learning in your classroom?

Author: 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 :  @iPadwells

How the average classroom operates, especially in high schools, has to change if we are to level the playing field in preparing every child for assessments, not just the middle class.

Classroom

Image credit˙

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 edubloggers.

Do your parents affect your grade more than your teacher?

What makes the real difference to who succeeds in high stakes assessments? What generally correlates most consistently with exam success in the US, Europe and Australasia? Is it IQ or access to technology? Is it money spent on schools? No, It’s family background or socio-economic circumstance. This has always been the elephant in the room when discussing the approach to and success of education in the developed world. For decades, the the traditional teacher-led classroom model has helped purpetuate the obvious trend that, in general, the higher your family’s social status, the better your grades. This fact alone proves how ineffective most classrooms around the world have been in attending to student needs. But there is hope.

Does government money help?

student teams01In New Zealand, we have what we call a decile system that allocates government funds to schools based on socio-economic student circumstance.  So surely we have a fair system where all classes achieve equally. Of course we don’t. In general, it is still the wealthier learners who succeed in school. One reason the government money does’t change grades in the lower deciles is that the considerable extra funds received by the more needy schools quickly disappears providing the extra social, medical and family support required in such situations and little extra gets spent on the education of those students.

Teachers can’t do it alone

Government money is a great start but once you’ve ensured every child has had breakfast (still not the case in New Zealand and certainly not in the US), what can the classroom teacher do to start to leveling the playing field regarding the support and motivation for learning each child experiences. The classrooms need to operate in ways that maximise the amount of support every child has access to at any moment but with only one teacher in the room, this means collaborative environments that build knowledge and skills not rely on receiving them.

ocKids2-ipadAll learning environments and classroom activity should allow and cultivate collaborative workflow from early years all the way through to college. Classrooms should not be reliant on either each individual student’s personal access to the teacher or a child’s ability to stay focused on the same single point of information delivery. By making teamwork the learning norm, you not only mimic standard workplace practice but also start to provide more support to more students.

This is why a number of new classroom models, such as Project-based learning (PBL), Universal Design for Learning (UDL) or Design Thinking, to name but a few, focus on building knowledge collaboratively so as to involve every learner in an active role, rather than as a passive receiver. Building a team mentality around learning will also mean students have more people to turn to in preparing for high stake assessments, alleviating the pressure on both the teacher and the family at home.

Coding on iPads – Beginner to Pro

Code and programming may not be the most important topics on the planet but it is an area of study that sufferers two major problems. one: an industry with millions of unfilled job positions and two: a world where not enough teachers feel confident to run programming projects. The iPad can offer a solution in these situations.

There’s an app for that (and a generation)

Fortunately, the world of code education is getting easier and more self-sufficient every month. When I say self-sufficient, I mean such that having an expert in the room is not longer a requirement. Thousands of children, some as young as four, are teaching themselves to program and make apps and games . They are using, apps, YouTube, gadgets, drones and robots, all available at home. This generation are also becoming experts at collaborating online.
Initially, many code teachers in the world were skeptical about whether the iPad had any role to play in code learning and thought of it as just a consumption device. That was never quite the case and now the millions of iPads held by children everyday are primed to take them on the full coding journey from beginner to pro.
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Here’s a summary of some of the apps on offer and the level they cater for:

Code Beginner to Pro with iPad-EduWells.png

Where do I start and end this journey?

Here I will attempt to summarise the various levels of learning and the apps that sit at each stage.

Stage one – Single procedure

Getting from A to B might be easy for humans but computers need commands every step of the way. There’s also a long way and short way to code anything to get from A to B and learning the shortcuts is important. These apps are great at introducing the main options when doing any type of coding. They will do the teaching and the students can get quite competitive over how far they’ve got.
code1

Stage two – multi character

All apps, websites and games always have more than one thing on the screen that has been coded to do something. Learning how components and characters can interact, pass messages and information and even borrow each other’s code is key to start the development of full products. These apps will open up more open ended options and allow and the students to get creative whilst still delivering extra lessons to spark ideas. They do all this with friendly drag and drop commands, whilst still offering the full toolkit. Pictured: Tickle; Hopscotch; Tynker.
code2

Stage three – IDEs and Text code

Before you take the final plunge into typing your own code to make products that might change the world, it’s worth being introduced to the type of application coders use, namely the integrated development Environment (IDE). These apps offer tools, buttons and shortcuts specific to a platform or language. For example, Apple’s IDE is called Xcode and has iPad specific tools and will emulate an iPad to trial your app on. It’s important to introduce to text coding so students discover how carefully you have to be with syntax. These three apps find a friendly and fun way to introduce IDEs and JavaScript and a real text language. Pictured: HyperPad; Hakitzu; Codecadmy.
Screen Shot 2015-11-26 at 12.36.26 PM

Stage four – time to go pro!

IMG_0688There are a number of app developers creating apps that allow you to type, compile and test real code in nearly every language. They can cost a dollar or two but come with keyboards specific to providing shortcuts to allow you to type and organise the code quickly. This will allow students with iPads to make a serious start on their coding career. Pictured: Python 3 (but they all look similar)

Journey as a team

This whole process from beginner to pro can be done without the need for an expert. More teachers need to feel confident that they can introduce coding at almost any age, get the students onto the apps and then step out of the way. I find teams of 4 work well to build coding knowledge collaboratively and helping each other through the various challenges.

Jobs for the boys and the girls

Find your local jobs website and do the >$100 job search. In nearly all cases, IT will be the industry with the biggest need and in many cases it will be double the 2nd place industry for job availability. There’s a global discussion about success rates with boys and coding often interests boys who struggle elsewhere. It can also act a a gateway to covering much math. Girls are also being encouraged into the industry with extra incentives and programmes such as GirlsWhoCode.com. Google also run special initiatives just for women.
Kids – start coding! 
Teachers – let them show you what they can create!

Are your kids always staring at screens?

IMG_0651I’m a father of two girls (7 & 10)  and like many fathers in developed world in 2015, school holiday time has become “constant screen time” for my kids. Unless I painstakingly structure every minute of their day, given the choice, they pick screen time before considering other activities. They are kids after all and it may have been 1987 and it may have been an Atari ST, but I was just the same.

The 70s gave us screen time, the 80s brought it home, the 90s expanded the choice and the 21st century has now given many young people the power to download further screen time options when they feel like it.

What’s good for kids?

If most parents are allowing it, is it ok to deny your own kids (as a parent or teacher) the access other’s enjoy? What long-term effects will show themselves in 20 years? Will they be positive or negative? You can find news stories and studies to prove any case you’d like to.

So, what do we parents and teachers do with a generation who have increasingly higher expectations for how much screen time is considered normal? I have written before on categorising screen time to give more value to creative pursuits and this has helped family time in my house considerably. But here’s other ideas I’ve had that help in this increasingly challenging debate about what is good or not good for children.

Children generally think of the games first but are also naturally curious and creative and often just need reminders of the more productive activities available. Here are some ideas for how to structure these reminders.

Idea 1: Make rules & reasons clear

Folders screentimeRealistically, most families I know would allow a couple of hours in any day for iPadding. Organise apps into folders based on family rules about screen time. As examples: 20 minutes playing games; 40 minutes playing ‘thinking’ games; 1 hour of these creative apps. Using the Control Centre (swipe up from bottom of screen) you can quickly access the timer to ensure the kids get an alarm to say ‘time’s-up’. I also use Emoji characters to help the kids remember why they’re categorised (see pic). It seems sometimes that screen time becomes the issue more than worrying about exactly what’s on the screen. and my kids will move onto more productive activities, if it means more screen time. (Sad, I know)

Idea 2: Make them earn this precious resource

Yes, they will do almost anything for screen time and so use this to your advantage and make them earn it. The parenting advice on this also changes week to week, depending on which book, expert or website you follow but generally, publishing a list of ‘good citizen’ tasks that all earn screen time works well. It puts the onus on the child to carry out good deeds before the earn device time. My daughters have very tidy bedrooms, we have an automatic filling dishwasher and the fire wood was transferred to it’s winter location all because of the desire for the screen. I’ve had no arguments about work around the house if it’s weighed up against iPad time.

Idea 3: Become master of the games you want your kids playing

Here are some games I’ve recently become very good at, so as to spark discussion and competition within the family.

land of vennMath: The Land of Venn – Geometric Defense This is a great game where young kids learn and draw geometric shapes as weapons against monsters. It quickly had my 7-year-old daughter using math vocabulary she might never have used at home. Lots of extras to win and spells to purchase with your winnings. Cleverly designed to award more power to the more complicated shapes. Great fun and sparks good conversation.

 

English : Sentopiary

sentopiaryThis was a great distraction that both my daughters enjoyed as it reinforced things they’d studied at school and was interactive enough that even I learnt a few things regarding grammar. As the app states: “Guided by Common Core standards, it is intended to be used both at home and in classrooms and works well in environments where iPads are shared.” This is true as it also sparks conversation between 2 people looking at it.

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Languages: Duo Lingo

duo lingoWe’ve made it a family challenge to learn Spanish using this app. My elder daughter has now decided that after Spanish, she’s ‘gonna learn Russian’🙂. Make it a weekly challenge to work through a particular number of lessons. The app is very carefully crafted to make sure you build your knowledge and skills in successfully in written, reading and spoken forms. There is discussion about the teaching of languages dying out in schools but this app and gasified online system could be the saviour for language learning.

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Art: Sketchbook Express

Sketchbook ExpressThis free app gives you advanced tools presented in a straight-forward fashion. Even I could reignite my liking for art with some nice first steps tracing a photo using the layers available (see pic). This immediacy and extra safety (kids don’t like to mess up their pictures) of this layering made it an instant hit with my 10-year-old daughter.

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Movie making: iMovie

iMovieUsing siblings, pets or classmates to put together a story introduction using iMovie’s Trailer option is a popular activity that I find with some theme prompting from me always gets my kids outside and ‘acting’. The other day, all I had to say was “what about using our chickens for a trailer?” and they were off!

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Logic & Coding: Kodable & Thinkrolls 2

IMG_0642Both these apps challenge the brain for logical thinking. They present themselves as games but in such a way that the kids have to pause and think rather than just react on instinct like typical gaming.

Kodable is a great introduction into coding that both my daughters will play for the full 30 minutes overtime they’re reminded of its existence.

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screen322x572Thinkrolls 2 looks easy to start with but quickly gets very challenging and is cleverly designed to deliver challenges in quick succession that my kids will choose to play this without reminding.

This means WAR!

Yes, as a parent or teacher you might feel you are in a constant fight and you may win some and loose some battles but if we are careful, I believe we will win the war. With some thought and a positively mindset, this screen time might create a generation of thinking, creative and collaborative people. By setting up structures to help the children self-manage their screen time, I am hoping that I can already see the benefits of what these apps have to offer transferred to ‘real-life’ with two girls who are happy to help, keen to solve problems and create projects of their own design. Make sure you make some time to showcase the results of their more productive device use and it will encourage more.

Good luck everyone !!!