It’s not about making learning happen, it’s about letting it happen…

“It’s not about making learning happen, it’s about letting it happen”… This is the crux of Sugata Mitra’s message, whether he is talking about minimally invasive education, self organised learning environments or the School in the Cloud.

It’s very different from traditional approaches to education, but not so far removed from the student centred, inquiry driven learning that takes place at my school.

My colleague Jocelyn, with the task of teaching her spelling group Latin and Greek derivations, decides to let go even more than usual and use the SOLE approach.

She begins with Sugata’s ‘Child Driven Education’ TED talk as an introduction to provoke their thinking. All she does is show the video and ask her eleven/twelve-year-old learners to make observations and connections…

  • You don’t need a teacher to teach you If you want to learn.
  • It’s like a process – we learn from each other just like the kids in India at the hole in the wall.
  • If we do our own exploration, we will learn more skills.
  • If we find out and understand for ourselves where spelling comes from, we are more likely to learn it and remember.
  • We can choose what we want to learn and we learn more when we are passionate about it.
  • When you set your mind to something you can do it.
  • Sometimes we just need someone to look over and tell us we are good.
  • You need curiosity to learn.
  • Kids learn by themselves. If they have an interest they will learn.
  • Learn how kids want to learn and they will learn.

In the next lesson, Joc introduces the ‘big question’ – How have other languages influenced English words?  She explains that in self organised learning environments, learners are free to choose their own groups and to move freely between groups. They will need to present their learning to others in an engaging way at the end.

And then… she lets the learning happen!

Marty forms a group of six and suggests they go through each step of the information process -define, locate, select, organise, present. By the end of the lesson, they have broken the big questions down into three inquiry questions and begun to explore. They will consider many ways to present but only choose later, so that they will be able to see the mode of presentation that suits best.

Raf’s group realises they need some background knowledge as they only know a little about Greek and Latin roots. They immediately start researching and are very excited to find out that the English language has developed over time from so many different sources. They are intrigued to discover the extent to which wars have influenced the language.

Each of the groups decides how they want to approach the learning and every group is different.

Every one of our learning principles underpins this inquiry -

  • We learn in different ways, depending on abilities, preferences and interests.
  • Learning takes place through inquiry: questioning, exploring, experimenting and problem solving.
  • Learning occurs by acquiring skills and knowledge, constructing meaning and transfer to other contexts.
  • Learning is active and social and best takes place through collaboration and interaction.
  • Learning needs to be challenging, meaningful, purposeful and engaging.
  • Learning includes meta-cognition and reflection, and requires learners to take ownership of their learning.

The learners are highly engaged and motivated. The teacher sits back and observes the learning unfold…

Is technology dangerous?

This guest post was written by Tali, a pre-service teacher in her final year of studying to be a primary school teacher. You may have read an earlier guest post by a pre-service teacher in the UK – A conversation with Tali indicates that it’s not much better in Australia. Why can’t so called education experts figure out how to prepare teachers?

Recently, I was informed that technology is dangerous. The person who so confidently imparted this pearl of wisdom is a university lecturer in education (I am studying to be a primary teacher).

This is not the first time that one of my lecturers has warned me of the ‘dangers of technology’, but I always find these warnings quite amusing, so I resisted the urge to laugh and instead asked what it is about technology that is so deeply threatening. He knowingly informed me that technology makes children feel that their classroom learning is boring, because the Internet is more interesting.

Other lecturers have also told me that technology is a distraction, or that it is unnecessary. One went so far as to imply that the use of tablets in classrooms is a fad that will soon pass. I do not think it is a coincidence that the online materials for these lecturers’ subjects are of a very low quality. The worst offence was probably when my readings for an entire semester were scanned and uploaded sideways, and in a format that could not be rotated. I spent many an hour on my bed, with my laptop turned sideways, silently cursing my lecturer.

So it’s not the first time I have encountered this mindset and it does, to an extent, amuse me. But it also annoys me, for a couple of reasons. The first is the use of the word “technology”. I put the word in inverted commas, because I feel that some people’s understanding of the term is quite nebulous. They say ‘technology’, but I don’t think that is exactly what they mean. Technology is actually quite a broad term, and (according to the Victorian Board of Education) encompasses ‘all processes and equipment used to…support human endeavour’. So really, pens and paper are technology. And I don’t see anyone calling them dangerous and demanding that we revert to parchment and quills or drawing in the dirt.

I’m pretty sure that when they say “technology” they mean “ICT, computers and the internet”. And this is the thing that bothers me the most. How can any educator actually think that demonizing those things and banishing them from the classroom can benefit students in any way?

A computer is a tool like any other. Their usefulness in the classroom is determined not solely by their own capabilities, but by the way they are utilised and the attitudes and culture that the teacher fosters towards them. And ICT and the Internet offer us dynamic learning opportunities that (among many other things) can enhance end deepen thinking, give students more responsibility over their own learning and more ways to show it, and connect them with classrooms and thinkers around the world. To me, it is actually a bit bizarre not to utilise these tools in your practise, given that we are so privileged to have access to them.

However, the many benefits of e-learning are actually beside the point. The reality is that this is the direction that the world is ever more rapidly moving in, whether we think it is a good thing or not. I feel that we actually do a disservice to students by neglecting to develop their e-literacy, for in the future it will almost certainly be an integral part of their studies, employment, and indeed their social lives. Does the Internet pose certain dangers? Of course it does. That’s even more reason to be having conversations in our classrooms about Internet safety, bullying, and the nature of one’s digital footprint. As teachers, we have to prepare students for a future we cannot envision. The least we can do is educate them using tools from the present, instead of recycling the education of the past.

So why do some of my lecturer’s discourage me from using “technology”? I can’t say for sure, but I would guess that, as is so often the case, they fear it because they do not understand it. And that is fine. Long gone are the days where the teacher is the beacon of all knowledge. But if you don’t understand something, you need to be open to learning about it, and if you can’t manage that then you should probably stop trying to train pre-service teachers.

Otherwise they’ll blog about you.

The shifting roles of the Librarian and the IT Facilitator…

Once upon a time (in what seems like a faraway land, in another lifetime) students went to the computer room and the library for isolated weekly lessons.

When we acquired laptops, the roles of Linda and Fiona, eLearning Facilitator and Librarian respectively, changed. They shifted to flexible timetables, going into classrooms, as required, to deliver specific lessons, team teach or support teachers and students with resources or tech trouble shooting.

This year, every student in Year 4- 6 has their own iPad and it’s clear that the traditional Librarian and eLearning Facilitator roles are shifting again. Resources are at the learners’ fingertips, devices are easy to use and apps are intuitive. It’s evident that iPads, by their very nature, promote inquiry learning. As Linda points out, there’s no need for the e in eLearning any more. And the once distinct roles of librarian and technology teacher have blurred, resulting in a dynamic partnership of overlapping skills and ideas.

In this week’s meeting, I ask the Learning Team Leaders -

What’s the most obvious way to eat these biscuits (cookies)?

With that out of the way, everyone writes down as many other ways as they can think of to eat them. Once we’re past the obvious, the ideas get more creative and, the more time people have to think, the more unusual the ideas they come up with. I love this exercise, borrowed from Heidi Siwak’s recent blog post.

The group notes that-

  • creativity takes time
  • looking at things from different angles helps generate new ideas
  • we need to be prompted to think beyond obvious solutions
  • hearing others’ ideas can spark creative thinking

At this point I ask everyone to think creatively about Linda’s and Fiona’s roles. 

Initiatives already in place

  • Active participation in collaborative planning sessions with teaching teams
  • Curation of online resources to support learning (Netvibes)
  • Working together to develop understanding of how to evaluate online resources
  • Establishment of e-book, audio-book and video-book libraries
  • Responding to teacher needs individually, in groups or whole school sessions as required
  • Leading whole grade level collaborations
  • Expanding the use of blogs to promote global interactions
  • Introduction of Twitter, supporting kids and teachers in developing global PLNs
  • Collaboration with the music teacher, using Garageband
  • Animation (collaboration with the art teacher) and film-making workshops for Y6 PYP exhibition groups

Once we’re ready to spend some time looking beyond the obvious, a range of new ideas are generated.

Suggestions

  • Dropping into classrooms and responding to learners at point of need
  • Introducing new projects for small groups of students
  • Becoming involved with learning in other contexts, such as the kitchen garden
  • Working with individual students on personal passion projects
  • Promoting trans-disciplinary learning by building connections with specialist teachers
  • Helping students define and refine inquiry questions
  • Integrating learning in ever more organic, authentic ways, not isolated out-of-context lessons

What’s next? 

Fiona would like to collaborate with the Art and Music teachers on a unit of inquiry exploring multimodal texts and the way eBooks incorporate video and music.

Linda’s next project is to meet with the new Year 4 and 5 tech minions, see what needs they perceive and develop their program with them accordingly.

We’ve only begun to look at new possibilities and we’d love to hear about how these roles are developing and shifting at your school…

And, while we’re thinking creatively, who else in the school has knowledge and skills that can be drawn upon in new, different and innovative ways?

A whole school collaborative reflection…

Conversation…

Clusters of teachers are scattered in different areas of the school talking about learning… It’s a student free day and we’re discussing the IB standards, reflecting in groups on our practice and recording evidence as part of our self-study process. 

Relaxation…

We start the day with a brief mindfulness exercise followed by a meditation  session, led by Fiona, our Head of Learning Resources. She’s modelling a focus on wellbeing and encouraging teachers to use these approaches with their students.

Inspiration…

We view the first few minutes of the Apple recruitment video, mentally replacing Apple with Our School’s Name. The messages include -

Main ideas

Collaboration…

We’re a three campus school and our teachers rarely have a chance for inter-campus interactions, so this a great opportunity to establish connections and collaborate with different people.

IMG_0016

Integration…

There are printouts on the tables of each of the four curriculum standards (Collaborative Planning, Written Curriculum, Teaching and Learning, Assessment) as well as our school’s Learning Principles. The task is to make connections between all the above.

Investigation…

Making connections in this way encourages teachers to carefully read and consider the various practices, analyse and discuss them. Experienced practitioners work with some who are brand new to the PYP, drawing on examples and deepening understanding collaboratively.

Application…

Time for creativity. Teachers work in small groups, sharing photos of great learning from their classes, finding suitable illustrations of the various practices analysed and discussed in the previous session. Peer support and encouragement are at hand for those still mastering the tools on recently acquired ipads.

Presentation…

Here’s an example, connecting practices across the four standards, including living evidence!

Screen Shot 2014-03-12 at 11.21.42 pm Reflection…

Clusters of teachers are scattered in different areas of the school talking about learning… For the final session, the teachers break into their assigned teams (in which they have been working since last year) to reflect collaboratively on the standards and practices and record evidence from across the school.

Celebration…

It’s exciting -

  • to see the high level of engagement and participation.
  • to notice teachers (some of whom haven’t before) taking the lead and driving important conversations.
  • to observe new members of staff making valuable contributions.
  • to listen to over a hundred voices engaged in educational dialogue.
  • to hear teachers say they will apply some of the strategies modelled today in their classrooms.
  • to receive so many ‘thank you’s for organising this day of learning.
  • to realise how far we have come in the past few years…

This is how inquiry teachers teach!

Traditional pedagogy sees the teacher provide a set of instructions, make sure everyone ‘knows what to do’, explain everything and THEN students might be given some time to do a task themselves. It’s about 80% teacher led and 20% student. Inquiry-based pedagogy gets kids doing, thinking and investigating – and the explicit teaching happens in response to what the teacher sees and hears. The 80:20 ration is reversed. Good inquiry teachers know how to get more kids thinking more deeply more of the time.

- Kath Murdoch, How do Inquiry Teachers… teach?

Jocelyn (Year 6) shares her excitement at the way her students extracted the conceptual ideas from a series of learning engagements before collaboratively developing their own ‘central ideas’. We recall a time when we thought we had to explain all of this to our learners at the beginning of the unit!

Claire (Year 5) talks about how she provoked her students’ curiosity by asking simply ‘Can graphs be persuasive?’ Instead of Claire covering the material, the kids took off on their own inquiries, discovering different kinds of graphs themselves and making connections between maths (data) literacy (persuasive writing) and their unit of inquiry into digital citizenship.

Hailey (Year 4) reflects on the process of letting go of control, as her students develop the skills to take responsibility for their own learning. She’s practising what Guy Claxton calls split screen teaching, and her kids are using the language of ‘learnacy’ to reflect on their own learning. ‘Metacognition’, once a word teachers hardly understood themselves, let alone shared with learners, is not only practised but noticed and named by Hailey’s students.

Linda (eLearning Facilitator) tells us how she’s been supporting learners in discovering effective search strategies in an authentic context in year 5. As the children googled what they needed, they uncovered what kinds of sites would give them unbiased information and she was able to respond with tips at their point of need. She highlights the difference between this kind of learning and the old way… where she would stand and teach an isolated lesson on a particular computer skill, unrelated to any particular learning context.

Lana (Maths Coordinator) shares the excitement of one of our new teachers, developing her understanding of inquiry. She took her Year 2 students out for a walk to collect data and encouraged them to observe and count whatever they like, to be represented visually later back at school. Once she would have given them all the same boring worksheet with specific items to count. This time the learners are highly engaged as they notice their surroundings, independently recording their observations and wonderings.

We relate all these shared learning experiences back to Kath Murdoch’s latest blog post ‘How do inquiry teachers… teach?’  (Every teacher should read it!)

Kath’s post is our inspiration at today’s Learning Team Leaders meeting, one of a range of such communities of practice which exist within our school’s wider learning community. Sharing practice and professional dialogue are part of our culture. Inspirational blog posts such as this one are often the trigger for our discussions.

There is nothing quite so satisfying in a school as the passion in the voices of teachers, as they talk animatedly about teaching and learning, ask provocative questions, openly express frustrations, offer each other advice and support…

The challenge is to create enough time, within the hectic demands of school life, for everyone to be involved in these conversations.

Blogging for authentic trans-disciplinary learning…

Overwhelmed by demands of mandated curricula?

The Australian curriculum lists ten learning areas (English, Maths, Science, History, Geography, Arts, Economics, Civics and Citizenship, Technologies, Health and Physical Education) as well as general capabilities and cross curricular priorities. If you had to ‘cover’ all the skills and knowledge listed, you’d need to be at school for 24 hours a day for about thirty years.

Learners reading, writing and collaborating on a class blog can address a range of curriculum areas simultaneously and incidentally. Take a look at what’s happening in @Mr_Kuran’s class.

All you need is imagination…

Blogging in the classroom is an exceptional tool for learning that is engaging, relevant and trans-disciplinary. All you need is a bit of imagination and you’re away. (Or you can borrow my ideas)

And a blog…

Our new Year 3 teacher @Mr_Kuran kicks off with a few simple posts for all the Year 3 students to comment on. The children are still learning how to sign in and respond. They have yet to work on writing quality comments that encourage conversation, before moving onto writing their own posts later in the year. The blog will provide an authentic context for reading and writing, as well as a forum to express thinking and an avenue for extending inquiry beyond the school walls.

Meanwhile, the children have started to write…

And an audience…

A tweet out  to the world by @Mr_Kuran (with a #pypchat hashtag) brings a visitor from Mozambique! Checking the flag counter in the next few days, the children discover they have had visits from Poland, Switzerland and Laos. Barely a week later they are hooked! The blog has received visitors from near and far, including countries the children haven’t heard of. Our young learners are exploring the geography of the world as they plot their visitors on the map.

Screen Shot 2014-02-28 at 6.19.55 pm

The flag counter encourages not just curiosity but a range of mathematical skills, enhanced by engaging learning experiences such as this QR code investigation.

Hopefully, as things unfold, a global audience will motivate our young learners to write more…

Authentic trans-disciplinary learning…

After only an initial introduction to blogging, many areas of the curriculum are already being addressed and the children are developing a range of trans-disciplinary skills.

And they are loving it!

More ideas here - 20 ways to think about your class blog.

 

Leave a message…

What messages do you get from this great little clip?

Here’s the kind of responses that came from teachers in our Learning Team Leaders group…

  • Anyone can be a leader.
  • Collaboration leads to success.
  • Set an example and others will follow.
  • Find a solution, rather than complaining about a problem.

The clip elicited different responses from 6th grade students, asked to make connections with themselves and their learning…

  • It makes me feel that I have a strong power inside me that can allow me to do anything.
  • It tells me a lot about learning, it tells me to be a risk taker and never be scared…
  • Everyone can be a leader and do what ever they want, if they have a lot of determination.
  • Team work is very important in and out of school.
  • We need to learn to help people even though you haven’t been asked.
  • This video tells me that even though I’m a small kid doesn’t mean I can’t do big things.
  • One small act can infect a lot of people.
  • I think this video will inspire children that think they can not do anything.
  • Everyone can learn something from someone, no matter what age or gender.
  • Anyone, doesn’t matter what size, can help the community and be an active citizen.

You can read the whole delightful conversation, including responses from kids in other schools, here. (It highlights the possibilities of blogging as a tool for authentic reading, writing and conversation beyond the classroom walls, but that’s another story!)

Often the best clips to stimulate thinking are not directly related to the subject at hand and can be used in a range of contexts. Do you have any other ideas for using this one? Have you come across any great, short videos that provoke thinking and inspire conversation?