Saturday, February 5, 2011

Global Collaborative Project K-6 Links

Paulo Freire suggests that we treat schooling like banking. We deposit knowledge into kids brains because we think they will need it sometime in the future. We teach kids that knowledge is something to be memorised rather than something to be used. It reminds me of the way I hoard things in the back of the closet, fooling myself that I will use them one day. This is really counter to how people learn outside of school. We learned to walk and talk on the job. I like the idea of global collaborative projects because it is learning on the job. Here are some project links.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Classroom Management: It's An Art

It is the start of the school year in Australia and a good time for teachers of all levels of experience to reflect on how they relate to students. I have collected some links to help with this. For any beginning teachers, my advice is that you learn on the job and it helps if you have good teachers to work with who can model how to relate effectively to students and mentor you. If you do not have a mentor, find one. Everyone has their own style and it is related to their philosophy about teaching and learning but I suggest the following  as helpful:

Know Your Students - Show a thorough and genuine interest in your students. Get to know as much as possible about their family early on by going through records, talking to other teachers about them, listening and talking with students and their parents. Parents know their children best so do not be scared to build relationships with parents. Focus on talents, not weaknesses. Every child has a talent. Let kids know what you think their talent is and celebrate it. 

Planning - Be prepared and classroom management is not such a big deal. Plan for a balance between novelty and routine. Kids feel comfortable with routines. They also need novelty as this provides opportunities for learning. If you think you would be bored sitting through your own lessons, the kids will be too, so do more preparation and try to make it stimulating for them. An interactive whiteboard will not save you.
If the circus van breaks down outside your classroom window, stop the lesson and take a look. Encourage and act on positive and negative feedback. Be clear and firm about acceptable behaviour from minute one. Again, this is related to preparation. Be clear in your expectations beforehand. Keep your instructions brief. Effective teachers are kind and firm. Kind comes first. Kind words have the power to change lives.

Philosophy about Learning - Do not pretend to have all the answers as Google will always win. Be a co-learner and model learning as a never-ending journey. Learning happens everywhere, not just in classrooms. Good teachers provide occasions for learning and accept they cannot force learning to happen. Let kids make mistakes and reflect on them. My teaching mistakes continue to be very instructive.

Philosophy about Childhood - Childhood is a social construct that reflects society wanting to protect children from exploitation. One unfortunate byproduct of this construct is that some people teach as if kids are made into humans through an industrial or factory model of schooling. Kids are immature but if you treat them like sub-human life forms they will reciprocate accordingly. Kids are capable of a lot more than we give them credit for. Kids have feelings and effective teachers take account of this.

Teaching is an art, not a science, so take your canvas and brush and create a masterpiece of your own. Sorry, I will get off the soap box now.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Christmas K-6 Resources and $600 so far- Last Chance to help me reach $1000 for Movember

 Find several pages of Christmas Links in my Themes section and please check out this cute Christmas Story.
Thank you to those who have contributed so far. Movember aims to change attitudes and raise some serious funds for Prostate Cancer research, because every year 2,900 Australian men die from prostate cancer and over 18,000 men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer and Beyond Blue because one in six men experience depression at any given time but most men do not seek help.
Thanks again for your support and I am hoping to reach $1000 by Tuesday. Donate at my mo space page .

Saturday, September 18, 2010

The Bruce Lee Legacy

Mandarin is the most commonly spoken language in the world. There are twice as many Mandarin speakers as English speakers. If you want your students to learn a language that will be useful to them in the future, I suggest learning Mandarin. I have collected a few links to help you. I am amazed at the number of great free videos out there. Some of my long-time readers will remember that I lived and worked in China for 2 years. I didn't learn much Mandarin, but the fact that I tried a few phrases opened many doors to me. Just learning a few phrases can break down many barriers. Speaking of barriers, this week I have posted a couple of my old China Diary entries from 2006. Hope you enjoy them.

China Diary - The Bruce Lee Legacy

One of the teachers on staff this week had one too many people stare at him in the street. Someone came up, invaded his personal space and stared long and hard. The teacher pushed the offender aside but decided to do some staring of his own and went up to the Chinese gentleman and invaded his personal space in return. Loud and heated words were exchanged, that neither side understood, and a crowd began to gather. At this point the teacher decided he had made his point and left. Another teacher hearing this story suggested that confronting the person was highly dangerous as there was a good chance he was a martial arts expert. The truth is the average person in the street here is just as likely to be a martial arts expert as you and me. I get the feeling that most Chinese people don't have time to drop in the local Shaolin monastery to steal a stone from the master's hand or to practice flying through the air in slow motion wearing pyjamas. Like Australians, they are basically too busy trying to earn a living and keep the tax man at bay and they really just want peace and quiet. Now and then when I am out for dinner someone across from me will have a good long stare with their mouth agape. I fight them with the deadliest martial arts move I have, the Australian wink, click, shake of the head and smile. It may take me three or four winks but I always end up subduing them by forcing them to smile.

China Diary - Happy With Uncertainty

Despite the excitement I experience every time I enter a supermarket in Guangzhou for another shopping adventure, it would be nice if, just for once, I could take an Chinese Australian interpreter with me so that searching for simple items that I take for granted at home, would not be such a chore. Take toothpaste for example. You would think that even an inexperienced shopper like me could find a tube of standard peppermint flavoured toothpaste in the supermarket. Not in China. There are literally hundreds of different flavoured toothpastes on the shelves. Up until now I have been buying toothpaste according to the pictures on the packet. The first week I didn't even realise you could have different flavoured toothpaste and ended up with a Colgate tube that was honey flavour. It tasted sweeter than honey and I am positive it was actually causing more tooth decay. I persevered for a week with the honey before returning for another attempt. The time was just as bad. I asked a shop assistant in my best Chinese for peppermint toothpaste and came home with something that tasted like charcoal. Next time I studied the pictures on the boxes carefully and decided the picture of a mint leaf on the pack assured me I would get peppermint. Unfortunately it must have been a picture of a tea leaf as I have been brushing everyday with what tastes like a cold cup of tea. I am nearly out of toothpaste again and who can guess what flavour it will be next time. In China you have to be happy with uncertainty. I think this time I will just open a few packets and taste them all until I find the right one. It is no wonder the Chinese think foreigners are strange.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Share My Computer? No Way!

I feel I need to respond to a recent article by Jamie McKenzie,  “Over-Equipped? Is it possible to have too many laptops?” His argument is that “It turns out that one-on-one is perfect for some activities but not the best choice for other learning activities.” I would have thought this would be obvious to any teacher, but I don't see the connection between the tools one chooses to complete a learning task, and personal ownership of a laptop or netbook. Sometimes pen and paper is quicker and more efficient than using a computer but we don't tell kids they have to share one exercise book or pen between two students.
He also cites an article from the New York Times that states that giving out netbooks to teenagers from poor neighbourhoods actually lowers writing and maths test scores because kids spend their time playing games on the devices. You can manipulate data to suit editorial comment at any time but I imagine the lower test scores are a result of student's disinterest in the school system in general. Kids see that authentic learning is taking place outside of schools rather than within them. The kids are saying, “I don't care about what the tests measure because it is not going to get me a job anyway". As I have stated previously, handing out netbooks doesn't change much in schools. Technology management is about people. It is change management. Teachers need support in learning how to use tools effectively. If they don't have this support, they can't make use of the a laptop's potential to support new types of learning that engages students. Good teachers, quickly learn how to use computers well in their classrooms to engage students. Just like they probably used blackboards well to engage students. Bad teachers don't do this. Invest in teachers and you invest in students.
Netbooks are getting cheaper all the time and soon students will all have something like an iPad in their bag whether teachers like it or not. So why can't each child have a netbook? How would you feel if you started work at a new company and you were told you had to share a computer with another worker? If you really believe that it is best if kids share computers, demonstrate your support for the concept by giving your laptop away and sharing a computer with the teacher in the next classroom. Go on. I dare you.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

What is Constructivism in Education?

In a recent blog post, some of the assumptions behind my thinking were identified and quite rightly challenged:

Learning new digital technologies is, in and of itself, a good thing. Fair comment. What is the point of students mastering new technology if it doesn't lift levels of engagement and thereby improve learning outcomes.

Digital media learning has an inherent "nature" or "essence", which is, at its core, best suited to "constructivist" models of learning. The problem with the term constructivism is that represents a broad spectrum of positions that include Social Radical Constructivism (there is no reality other than what I imagine). I have worried about this term myself and need to clarify what I mean by constructivism.

That risk-taking and failure are also inherently good things, and in the case of schools and digital technologies - are in fact, inevitable things. I think that some of those who are passionate about educational reform and technology believe that schools need “a bomb under them” and need to try new strategies that reflect the use of technology outside the classroom. My view about risk taking is a little different. I think we all can learn best by doing things ourselves or “learning on the job” which inevitably leads to mistakes and learning from these. As Halverson and Jenkins state:
“In the apprentice system, it was taken as given that most students would learn, eventually, what they needed to know, while the public school system starts from the premise that only a small portion of the population can fully master its expectations.”
“The idea that the apprenticeship model was successful for individual learning is by and large true. Because the master could work closely with the learner in apprenticeship, most learning failures could be mitigated or averted.”
“The long-term individualized attention to learning-from-failure that came with apprenticeship learning was not a part of traditional public schooling. This intolerance for failure at the system level has been translated into a similar intolerance to experiment at the classroom level. Contemporary public school policies insist that all students show learning progress, which has led to dominant models of instruction that emphasize efficiency, smooth learning trajectories and predictable outcomes. Schools are often reluctant to experiment with high-yield, high-risk, instructional practices. Innovation is risky - most innovations fail, and even the ones that succeed are usually fundamentally transformed before achieving wide dissemination.”

Student choice is an inherently good thing, and should, as a default position be expanded - while the teacher's power in the classroom, as a default position, should be diminished. I think that rather than leading to anarchy, teachers gain strength as leaders in the classroom by modelling their own learning. If the aim of education is to build an enthusiasm for life-long learning, students need role models who can learn with them. But, yes, it is again a valid criticism that I have not explored and argued opposing positions.

What do you think?

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Computers ≠ Student Engagement

Engaging students and enthusing them about learning has always been my goal. That is the main reason I have advocated the need for technology rich classrooms and in particular, one computer per child. A ratio of 1:1 in a classroom is not twice as good as 1:2. It is about one hundred times better. If I only had 30 computers in a primary school, I would give them to year 6 only. Anything less than 1:1 is just a distraction and annoying. Can you imagine sharing a pen with 4 other kids when you were at school?

I have been running one-to-one trials in primary schools for a couple of years now and reviewing recent research about one-to-one programs has changed my thinking. The little I have read suggests that there is no evidence that giving each kid in your class a computer will lift their test scores. That's obvious, I hear you say, but I think like many, I was carried along with much of the hype surrounding the promise of technology. I am beginning to understand that student-teacher interactions or relationships or classroom dynamics or whatever else you like to call them, are much more important in lifting students levels of achievement than the technology. Don't get me wrong. One netbook per child is essential, but my reasons for believing this have changed. A netbook can be "an instrument whose music is ideas" or an "imagination machine" or they can be digital exercise books. Teachers who use them as exercise books are wasting the devices' potential as cognitive tools that can help to ignite a love of learning in each student. That is where the student-teacher relationship comes into play. Recently I was telling a class of kids with netbooks that backing up data to a USB stick can be a problem because magnets can wipe the data from them. Before I had even finished the sentence some kid put up his hand and said, " It says here that's a myth about magnets and USB sticks". This 10 year old had googled my sentence and exposed me as imperfect. Someone had told me the story about magnets years ago and I swallowed it and passed it to kids for years. The embarrassment made me realise that I can no longer be the "Sage on the Stage" when kids can check everything I say on Google. It means teachers have to admit we don't know everything and that cooperative learning and collaboration is just as important for teachers as for kids. What I should have said was, " I need a group of you to work out a procedure for backing up data that we can communicate to other students around the world so this myth is busted. Google it and get back to me when you have put something together in a wiki."
Teachers are the gatekeepers of any innovation and are notorious for sticking their heads in the sand. Even if every kid is given a computer, as is happening in high schools,  teachers are the ones who decide if, how and when they will use use them no matter how hard you twist their arms. I think many of them are just being used as paper weights. I hope I am wrong.

Someone once said that, "learning is the product of effort" and Seymour Papert called his Logo activities "hard fun". I think any learning activities have to be hard fun in order to be worthwhile and computers are tools that can help teachers create hard fun. Note that I said they help teachers. The computers don't do it on their own. Teachers have to come up with the ideas, ask the kids what they think (that's novel) and be prepared to abdicate the thrown. So if you are not interested in lighting the fire of learning in kids, don't bother with computers, they will make no difference.