Handwriting in High Schools

A young boy I l know (who has just started high school) has been given homework every week that requires him to write an essay/story. The requirments are it must be exactly 400 words and it has to be hand written.

He is not allowed to type it – therefore he is not allowed to use a computer. His whole primary school experience has been working in Google Docs, thus developing his typing skills but more that that learning how to develop writing in a collaborative fashion and potentially co-creating characters, plot lines etc. The only logic for the current practice is that they are preparing him with the correct skills required to pass an exam called the VCE which he will sit in 6 years time. Can anyone else see the problems that might exist within this logic?

On a slightly different tact but still around hand writing perhaps hand writing should be moved from literacy and into the arts – similar to when you go to an Old Timey Theme Park such as Sovereign Hill and you marvel at the Old Timey Writing and how beautiful it is and they offer you a class to learn how – which you take in the same mindset as any other craft class you might consider.

Now why it is necessary to learn the skill of writing exactly to the word count? Well I guess we can take this question all the way up to every degree, masters or PHD document that is required to successfully complete a University course. And why do we so inherently trust words to express ideas anyway? What if they were able to sing a song in their exam, create an animation oh the list is endless.

Our model for PD

I recently took a new job at New Era where I work as a manager in the PD department. We have been working very fast to develop a new model for PD around some of the ideas I am passionate about. So…. here it is.
The New Era Professional Development Workshop Calender and the New Era PD program

Our philosophy behind the program is both innovative, well researched and representative of the practices of the modern society we live in.

Firstly “The Workshop Calender” and “Networked Educators”.
This is a series of over 80 workshops lead by leading experts in a wide array of subject areas but with ICT as a focus.
A teacher can purchase a place at one session for $80 or can buy the whole Calender for $200. The advantage in buying the Calender for is that not only do you have access to every session but you also now have access to our Connected Educators Community.

This is the fun place!!

Our Networked Educators Community is a network that we are building enabling you to do whatever you would like to. You can read our blog posts and comment, you can gain access to free resources but most importantly you can contribute – start a discussion, ask a question, answer someone else’s question, join a working group, start your own learning group around an area your interested in researching. No PD company will be able to cover all the questions you have but by setting up a network with as many passionate educators from as diverse backgrounds as possible we are hoping that all your questions will be answered.
But more than that we ware hoping that the network will drive the knowledge to new places that we alone could never have conceived. The sum of the parts is ALWAYS greater than the whole and we believe that together as educators we can achieve great things in learning and teaching. Collectively we can co-create new knowledge.

Another way of thinking about the ‘Networked Educators Community’ is it becomes a ‘community of practice or as Hayes and Gee refer to it a Affinity Space

The platform that we at New Era are building for this space is housed in our Education Portal aur.edportal.com.au . As we grow and develop we have the ability to add things into this space as required and as the network demands. For example we might decide we want to work more collaboratively in the space and therefore we would like Google Apps to be integrated into the platform. Potentially there might be certain apps which become conducive to better creativity. For example – do you use Scoop.it, or are you a huge Edmodo user – and as the network decides those apps can be integrated into our platform.
To access the full list of PD workshops heres the link http://neweraed.com.au/pdfs/NewEraPD2013.pdf

Secondly – Job Embedded PD.

We have started working with a number of schools using our Job Embedded model and are very excited to role out this program into schools around the country.
Our Job Embedded Program is about whole school change in the area of ICT but rather than focus on the tools we focus solely on learning and teaching – how has learning and teaching changed with the advent of digital age and what impact do the new pedagogies have on us as educators. These pedagogies are based in the learning theories of Social learning, Constructivism and Connectivism (networked learning)

Our Job Embedded Program includes

• working with the schools leadership team to develop an ICT road map and vision and plan for whole school scaffolding.
• working with a chosen focus group in developing learning in contemporary pedagogies planning a unit and skilling up with in the chosen tool. The tool will be chosen from one of our developed modules.
• working within the classroom with the teachers to support them in their classroom practice.
• assisting the teachers as they move into the stage of sharing their learning with the rest of the staff.

As part of or Job Embedded Program the learning is done both face-to-face (at the school) and online. Our online sessions will all run through New Eras Education Portal – the same portal that is being used to house our Networked Educators Networked Educators Community.

By being part of our Job Embedded program the school also becomes part of our Networked Educators Community. Once again this is where this is really exciting place to be. This is where you can go where ever it is you want to – learn what ever you need, help others on their journey, connect with educators from all over the world all on different stages of the learning adventure; all with a slightly different perspective, all bringing something unique so that collectively we can create some thing amazing.

Passion, Generosity, Diversity and Participation – this is what makes a great learning network.

All School Blogging

The following article was originally posted on DEECDs website. And talks about some of the work I was involved with when I was working at North Fitzroy Primary School

Blogs –Creating Worlds of Learning (Global2)

An ICTEV study group of 20 teachers arrived at the school gates to find out how blogging and games-based learning enriches learning for both students and teachers of Fitzroy North Primary School. The school in old in years (built in 1875) but young and contemporary in its use of ICT to empower learning and pedagogy. The approach and ideology has at its centre social learning theory.

Leading the group tour was Connie Watson (Principal), Kynan Robinson (Leading Teacher ICT/Creativity) and Kristen Swenson (3-6 ICT Coordinator).

Thanks to strong and innovative leadership, and the commitment of the ICT coordinators, in recent years blogging has become part of the learning and pedagogical fabric of daily life at North Fitzroy Primary. Kynan and Kristen have been active in the Global 2 blogging space for over 4 years. Kynan told the group that, “Global 2 allows kids to connect to the wider world. You can allow them to have an authentic voice and authentic audience.”

“We take seriously Hattie’s notion that feedback is one of the most potent factors in a child’s learning – blogging, where feedback is available from multiple sources is really important. They are not just posting their work for viewing by others, but posting genuine stages of their work and asking for feedback from others in an interactive process, which is much more powerful than simply learning in isolation and then posting your best work at the end of it”, Connie Watson (Principal)

With Hattie’s Visible Learning research in mind, Connie Watson decided that every teacher, every child from Years 3 -6 and every class should have a blog. All teachers were supported to develop their skills and confidence to create content, post, publish, upload images and movies, and moderate blogs. They now share and compare their blogs and their ideas with their students, parents, industry, and peers internal and external to the school.

Blogs are used to extend and assess all areas of literacy, Italian LOTE, and interdisciplinary streams of learning and skills and personal development. Kynan believes that blogging is a great, ‘platform to skill up and build confidence across the entire school staff to use web 2.0 tools to create and publish content not just be a user of content. If they didn’t blog they would miss out with connecting with the wider world. The main benefit is the ability to connect and find connections all over the world.”

The whole school community is involved at home and at school with their blogs. Homework, parent engagement, Italian recipes, news, quizzes, competitions, provocations, reviews, and reflection – it is all done with blogging accessed from home, school, during the week or at the weekends. “All of our Grade 5/6 students have their own individual passion blogs. We made the shift last year from the show and tell blogs to more of an interactive blog. Since then the quality of the students’ writing has improved dramatically. Their passion for blogging is so much greater and they just love doing it. Every time they have a spare moment in class they want to blog and it has just given them their own voice which is fantastic”, said Kristen.

Students create passion blogs and discover networks to discuss new ideas and perspectives from like-minded students. We heard from students who have created blogs on superheros, star wars, comic books, the World of Minecraft, the Hunger Games, Harry Potter and other favourite books. The students are learning to target their blog and writing style for specific audiences to elicit discussion on an international scale. According to Kynan, “the kids love the Global2 cluster maps so they can see their potential audience from across the world’. “It’s exciting collaborative learning and it is authentic for the kids because they are working on things that they are passionate about, and on questions that are relevant to them, often that they have driven themselves”, explained Connie Watson.

Also central to the contemporary learning and teaching practice is cybersafety awareness and copyright. Cybersafety is built into lessons and classroom practice at every Year level all year long. Fitzroy North PS is an ICT savvy school. Each classroom that the 20 strong study group entered, they barely caught the eye of the students who were completely engaged and immersed in what they were doing. The technology was seamless, the content was all important and it was student owned content. As Kristen says, it is not about the devices it is how they enhance the learning and fit within the learning curriculum. According to Kynan, “the point of ICT is to drive your pedagogy, to assist your curriculum”.

Blogging at North Fitzroy Primary School from Kynan Robinson on Vimeo.

How the learning and teaching is changing

Pedagogy – the art and science of teaching, the method and practice of teaching, an understanding of how humans learn best. This is what educators are interested in.
What has ICT got to do with that.
For too long ICT has been sold to us as an essential with little linking to why. How does it make us learn better?  How does it relate to pedagogy?

When we talk about ICT we need to move beyond the tools. I get sick of hearing one presentation after the other espousing the latest greatest, shrunk down, sped up, oversized, undersized piece of plastic that supposedly will change education forever. It won’t.

Education has never been about what pencils you have in your pencil case it is about people – it is about understanding how we learn. I also get tired of hearing that ICT will make your lessons more engaging – it wont – I’m sure they are already engaging and teachers all know that shiny bells in the corner only maintain engagement for a short time – what are you going to do then?


So why talk about ICT at all? The reason is that the way we learn as humans has fundamentally changed because of the digital world and as educators we need to be aware of that.

Lets quickly look at some of the more exciting current thinking about learning.

Social Learning - For too long in western education there has been the over emphasis on the individual. We see children coming to us as empty vessels that need to be filled by us with whatever information (content) we think is important. This learning is done independent of others.
Rather knowing (or knowledge) is about who you are, what you are doing and it unfolds within a social environment – never independent from it. ICT allows for connections, communities of practice and social learning to occur like never before. How are schools prepared to deal with Social Networks (Facebook, Twitter etc) and utilise them for a new approach to learning? baby

Constructivisim / Experiential Learning – This is not a new theory, its been around for over 100 years, but still many schools regard it as radical. We learn best through experience. The worst way to teach is to stand at the front of the class pass on “content” in a lecture style. If you think you can hold more information than the internet well keep teaching this way – if not lets find new ways. This is not to say that explicit skills based teaching is not at times necessary. But the internet holds many repositories of content and millions of examples of good explicit teaching. For example see the Khan Academy, or just type your question into Google or ask Youtube and someone will have uploaded a video teaching you how to do it. If it is a simple explicit fact that needs to be “learnt” in order to achieve a greater purpose, point the student to a place where they can find it (or better still teach them the strategy to do it so you never have to point them again). This frees you up to provide far deeper experiences for your students to learn. Gaming is one great way to develop experiential learning. Digital games such as Sim City or Civilisation or a host of others can be used to give the students the experience previously unavailable to them. For example in SIM city they experience being a Mayor with all the responsibilities and consequences involved with decisions made. Use it to teach ai Civics and Government Unit. The axiom of experiential learning is “I can teach you about swimming or I can let you go for a swim.” Which one is is the most powerful learning experience. ICT now provides us with potential experiences previously unavailable.

Connectivism – this is a relatively new theory that is entirely relevant to the digital age and in particular, the Internet. It claims that all knowledge is now residing in the online networks. Moving on from experiential learning, Connectivism claims that the world is now moving so fast that we can no longer experience all the things we need to in order to keep up. I’m sure we can all relate to this feeling. Since we cannot experience everything, other people’s experiences, and hence other people, become the surrogate for knowledge. “I store my knowledge in my friends” is an axiom for collecting knowledge through collecting people.

This theory is very relevant for the why and how we would use ICT. You can see evidence for it in Social Media, the use of Nings, Wikis, Blogs and many other devices that help students connect to whatever networks they need to to assist their learning. It is our job as educators to encourage participation in these networks. That includes publishing work, expressing opinions, asking the network questions, commenting, tagging information and sharing it to a networked group such as Diigo and so on. Active participation is the key.

This is what makes ICT so exciting, no longer are students locked in to the reductionist methods of closed classroom doors. Rather there is a whole diverse world to navigate, to collaborate with, to co-create with to learn how to communicate with. Use whatever tool you want but keep this deeper principles in mind.

 

Minecraft Project 2 – A Very Complex System

Evidence of Emergent Phenomena in the Minecraft project.

Complexity Theory – the science of all sciences. It is a theory that has been used (amongst many other things) to study the stock markets and traffic conditions in an attempt to try to explain stock market crashes or traffic jams. Complexity theory states that when you have a complex system a thing called emergent phenomenon will appear (or emerge). A complex system can be defined as a collection of interacting objects competing for a limited resource.

The emergent phenomenon arises generally without the help of a central controller. It would be almost impossible if a central controller had to recreate a traffic jam. As Neil Johnson says in his great little book Simple Complexity:

“A universal feature of Complex Systems is : emergent phenomena can arise without the need for an invisible hand. Instead the collection of objects is able to self organise itself in such a way that the phenomenon appears all by itself – as if by magic.”

As the phenomenon is emergent it has not been predicted or planned for, it is generally surprising and can be extreme.The precise nature of the phenomena depends on how the individuals objects in the system interact and how interconnected the are.

One thing observed in this new science is that the behaviour of the objects involved in the complex system is greatly effected by feedback and they can adapt their strategies dependent on their history (through memory). One final and interesting point is that a complex system always shows a complicated mix of ordered and disordered behaviour.

I love this theory for it’s slap in the face to nonsense that is the traditional reductionist approaches to understanding the world.

In our Minecraft project (which I spoke of in my last post) we have 140 students building a new world in a MMOGing (Massive  Multiplayer Online Game). They are all in there building at the same time. I would describe this a complex system and the observance of the emergent phenomenon has been eye opening.

As the students are in total control of this Minecraft world which they are creating, the project has become very student driven. This has had the unusual effect of driving the content we are teaching to a much deeper place. Our initial aim was to cover some science based curriculum teaching about our solar system but the demands bought about by the conflicts and collaborations naturally forming up within the group of 140 new citizens has taken the “science learning” to a far different and more relevant place.”

For example the children demanded that districts were forms in order to maintain some sense of organisation on the new planet.  This was never planned for or expected. Those districts have taken responsibility for the tasks that they see as important to survive on this planet eg the technology district has seen the need to create energy to power the planet. This has lead to confrontation as some students wanted to develop nuclear energy while others wanted to go down the wind farm, green energy rout. To overcome this confrontation both sides have done extensive scientific research into their relevant areas. This research has led to some students changing their minds, others sticking to their guns but solutions have been achieved. The teachers involved were suddenly required to assist in new scientific study far beyond what they had originally predicted – we are now assisting in the learning about desalination plants, the use of methane as a source of energy, how is nuclear energy actually created and so on.

For this style of learning and teaching to be successful it requires teachers that are very adaptive, open to new learning, operating as facilitators and able to drop their own egos and needs for power. In an ideal world all teachers would have these fundamental skills.

There are literally hundreds of other examples of emergent phenominum being driven by the group which I will report on over the next few weeks.

Now lets talk about one of the other points I Mentioned earlier and have blogged about previously – feedback. All of the students research and work has been reported in a wiki space. I find this to be an extremely effective feedback mechanism for our COMPLEX SYSTEM. Every child can see every other child’s work and ideas, they can take ideas from others they can input into other students pages, they can survey the citizens when needed, they can communicate effectively – they provide powerful feedback to each other and the network drives itself to deeper learning. Screen Shot 2012-12-01 at 6.59.19 PM

I cannot express how exciting this project is for staff, students and parents because of the emergent phenomenon we are observing which has the effect of driving the network or system (or student body and teachers) to a very interesting and exciting place. The evidence of deep and personalised learning is overwhelming. Have a look for yourself. AURORA 5/6Z WIKI

Minecraft Project

At NFPS we are a school very focussed on gaming in education (using digital games to teach).
Some of the games we have used include  Civilisation and Sim City to teach term long units on government etc. We have done entire term projects on game making (looking at programming skills plus narrative development etc) in the grade 3/4 area. We used programs such as Scratch, Atmospfir, Sploder and Game Salad to do this.
We also use a lot of games on mobile devises in the Jnr levels to enhance the numeracy and literacy program.
This year we received a schools specialisation grant  to investigate the use of gaming to teach and part of this has linked us into working with Deakin Uni and their researchers, investigating some of the things we are trying to achieve.
This term, in an attempt to teach a science based unit looking at biospheres we are using the game Minecraft across all the grade 5/6 classes (140 students).
The premise is the world is coming to an end and all 140 of us  have to move to a new planet. Decisions need to be made before leaving Earth and Arcs are getting designed in google sketch up and prototypes being built using a 3D printer.
Everything we need to establish our new planet is going to be taken with us so decided upon pre leaving. Then we all fly to our new planet.
The new planet, called Auroura 56 Z will be simulated in Minecraft.

I have built a minecraft server for the school where all the work will be completed.
It is a very interesting project to observe. The way we set these things up are the it is mostly student driven with the teachers working as facilitators to the learning.
The kids have organised themselves into 5 districts (technology and industry , agriculture, discovery and education, recreation, city and culture) and have started to build.

One thing of note observed so far in this project is  the levels of bureaucracy the kids are bringing into the game – demanding the establishment of councils and committees. A lot of it has been driven by their existing knowledge of the game.
I regularly meet with a group of 10 kids  who advise me on game play and how to adapt it to enable the efficient and smooth development of our planet. The project has raised a lot of questions regarding global warming – what causes it, how can we avoid it on our new planet – do we really need to mine everything etc. Furthermore  the game based project has raised very interesting discussion about policing – people can obviously destroy other people’s work in the Minecraft environment – how do we control this amongst 140 players (these decisions are all controlled by the students)

All of the students work is being recorded in a wiki. This allows them to collaborate and plan across classrooms as well as reflect on their learning and cross pollinate ideas. An example of a designed arc is below.

Digital Gaming In Education, Aiming to Transform Not Merely Enhance

I have attached an article I recently wrote for technology In Education Magazine talking about the extensive program of digital gaming I have incorporated at NFPS. Gaming is used extensively throughout our entire curriculum including games such as Minecraft, Little Big Planet, Civilisation and Sim City along with a host of IOS games. I also speak about gaming enabling a school to move from its use of technology from being a substitution for other formats or beyond that an augmentation of other formats through to something that  modifies or ultimately redefines the learning. This is where the technology become transformative.

Gaming In Education – Aiming To Transform, Not Simply Enhance