What’s a connected educator?

I know it’s nothing new any more. If you’re reading this blog you are probably part of a community of connected educators. We read blogs. We write blogs. We share resources and ideas via Twitter. We meet at online conferences. We collaborate via Googledocs and wikis and Skype.

It still seems like magic to me…

In just a few tweets, five  PYP educators, two in different parts of Australia, one in Hong Kong, one in Indonesia and one in Japan form a team without ever meeting. Within a couple of days we are exchanging ideas on a Googledoc and working collaboratively on a wiki. Connections are made. Learning is shared. Friendships are formed.

A week or so later, we have created a buzz amongst other PYP educators around the world. #pypchat is born, a fortnightly live Twitter conversation, by IB PYP  educators, about issues related to teaching and learning. PYP is the Primary Years Program of the International Baccalaureate, but the chat is open to anyone who’s interested.

The inaugural #pypchat has close to 50 participants from all over the globe. It’s early evening in Jakarta and Jay has his 4 year old with him. Hannah is kicking back on the couch after dinner in Melbourne. Tanja and Miranda in Accra have been given time out in the middle of the school day to participate. In Hong Kong, it’s Jen’s birthday and her family is waiting for a celebration dinner. Stephanie in Ohio and Alexandra in Santiago are up in the early hours to join us before work. Craig has just left a staff meeting in Saigon…

Like all such Twitter chats, the conversation is fast and furious. It helps that as PYP educators, we have a common language. There is barely time to breathe as ideas are exchanged, beliefs are challenged and questions are raised.

Sarah tweets from Hong Kong in the morning that her head is still buzzing.

I can’t wait to see how the chat is depicted by reflective illustrator, Mega in Batam….

#pypchat

10 reasons students should blog…

… and they all come from 12 year olds!

1. I think the blog has turned me into a global learner, who loves to share their learning and opinion. The disadvantage is that sometimes the blog deletes your post. The advantages are endless. You can share a video, picture and writing. I think my learning has improved from the blog because it has made me a enthusiastic learner. Its great that anyone in the world can access and comment on OUR blog. I hope to create my own blog sometime in the future. (Emily)

2.  I have learnt a huge amount of information from looking at others’ thinking and asking questions. You can post videos, texts, images, google maps, any embed things and links. One thing that really gave me information about the world was a voice thread that I set up about education around the world and after a few days comments were just flying in. I got comments from nearly every continent. This shows that the blog is wide open which is great. (Leor)

3. I think that the blog is great because we get to be a big community of learners and share with people from around the world and it’s like exchanging learning. We learn from people and people learn from us. The advantages were sharing learning with the class more… and we could have a conversation about learning. (Ieva)

4. By being able to look at other people’s learning and learn from theirs… I am more clear on what I have to do sometimes and I can get ideas from others. I also enjoy the blog because I am able to get feedback on what I do from people all over the world and improve myself to make things perfect. (Cassie)

5. I think that it’s a great tool for learning and communicating! It has many advantages like you can access it from anywhere school, home etc. also people from other countries can comment on our learning and tell us their opinion and we can learn about their country by commenting back and asking about it. We can share our learning with each other, the rest of the school and anyone from any other country. (Alicia)

6.  As a learner I think the blog is great , you can put so much effort into something and not only your friends and family can see it but the world, you can learn so many new facts from the public. The blog is like a room with different people in it. I have created my own blog and I think its great because it’s what I have to say and people all over the world can help me discover more. (Justin)

7.  At the start of the year I wasn’t very sure about using the blog and I wasn’t quite sure how to write a good post. Since then I have learnt all the skills and techniques to make a good post/comment. I am now very confident with using the blog. Looking through all my blog posts it shows how far I have come and towards the end how much better all my blog posts are. (Lexie)

8. It helped me as a thinker because when you look at other people’s posts on sometimes the same thing, they could be very different and it could change your thinking too. Because you realize the other side of what you are thinking. My comments now are very different to the start of the year because now I am thinking as a learner, but before I was more thinking about being a worker at school. This helps a lot because you want to get something out of what you do – that is what a learner does, a worker does it to get it done. (Josh)

9. Using the blog as at tool, has extended my thinking is so many ways. It has helped me communicate with people all around the world and get to know about them a bit better. The advantages of being on the blog, is learning about different people and seeing what other people post on the blog to compare! (Amy)

10. Using the blog as a tool has really helped me with all my learning because people comment from all over the world and are able to see what we are learning about. When they comment we can use that information for our inquiry. The blog has helped me as a learner because you get everyone’s opinion from around the world and you learn a heap. (Jay)

What does it mean to be a global citizen?

Our Year 6 students have been inquiring into a range of countries in the Asia Pacific as part of their exploration of what it means to be a global citizen. The central idea is that to be a global citizen, we need to understand and engage with our neighbours. They prepared a range of questions to help them understand our neighbours and then they engaged!

Here’s an example…

What’s the story? (Edna)

The session was planned for 2.30pm Melbourne time, but I reached the library a bit earlier to find a group of kids already chatting excitedly. Tahni, Alex, Ronnie, Ruby, Jaimie and Elijah were about to connect with Craig and his Year 4 class in Saigon to further their inquiry into Vietnam.

Craig’s Year 4s were quite delightful, as was the entire session! Craig fielded the tougher questions and encouraged his students to respond to the ones they could. Theirs is an international school, but they explained that their life and school are not typically Vietnamese. It was great to hear the authentic Vietnamese voice of NguyenU Phuong, the Vietnamese Teacher’s Assistant providing her perspective too. Craig seemed a bit surprised at his students’ ability to identify and describe difficulties faced in their country, such as Dengue Fever, flooding and traffic congestion.

The Aussies talked quietly amongst themselves in between, comparing the responses with their own lives here. Their questions showed that they had already done some research and they connected what they heard with prior learning. As well as wanting to know about school, festivals and daily life, their deeper questions related to government and social inequities, big ideas from earlier units of inquiry.

The session went on longer than expected and the Year 6s loved every minute of it. As they gathered their belongings to go back to their classes, I heard their comments:
‘I got so much out of that’, ‘All my questions were answered’, ‘I didn’t even know there were PYP schools all over the world’, ‘The kids were sooo cute’, ‘You learn so much more this way, than from just looking stuff up’….

What’s the other story? (Craig)

As with many students attending international schools, our students come from upper middle class to upper class homes. The students see what they have and their lives as being ‘normal’. It is quite common for families at our school to have housekeepers, nannies, drivers, security guards and the like. Other children come to school on the back of a motorbike, which is the most common form of transport used in Vietnam.

To prepare for the session with the Year 6 students in Australia, my students were asked to think about the questions over the weekend so we could brainstorm and share ideas prior to the Skype conference. I was quite pleasantly surprised by the thought the students had put in and some of the contributions that they’d made. My students reminded me of the mosquito borne virus, Dengue Fever, which has affected the families of at least 7 of my students, including my wife. They also came up with the flooding that we deal with on a monthly basis due to king high tides on the Saigon River. I wish I was that switched on to the world around me when I was 9 years old.

While my students recently completed and video recorded many personal interviews as part of  their current unit of inquiry, the Skype conference with Year 6  students from Edna’s school has given me the inspiration to try something similar when we’re inquiring into cultures and religions. I have former colleagues teaching all over the world who might be willing to support my students as they continue accessing primary sources. Instead of reading books about religions in February,  the students inquiring into Judaism can Skype with students at Edna’s school, those inquiring into Islam can talk with students from my former school in the Middle East.

I think by the time the conference had come to an end, everyone had taken away something positive – what could be better than that?

A global inquiry…

Year 5 students at my school are inquiring into how the growth and survival of plants are affected by environmental conditions. The world is helping them out!

Click here to add to the learning!

Some of the students’ thinking, based on what they have observed  so far:

  • We noticed that so many plants look similar but they are all unique in their own way (Nadz and Steph)
  • We notice that three of these plants were from the exact same place yet looked different in every way. (Gidon and Brad)
  • I wonder how the leaves would change if they were put in an environment that they were not used to.
  • I wonder why the plants in california change colour every season and the ones in Canada don’t. (Jack)
  • We think it’s because California changes weather conditions … In canada it is always cold and the weather doesn’t change so the leaves don’t either. (Nicky and Gabi)
  • I  found out that a plant can grow in the snow and the funny thing is that the plant is a cactus and the cactus is usually grown in the desert. How does a plant survive in the snow? (Ryley)
  • We noticed that all the leaves are different shapes and sizes. All the leaves were made to help the plant survive in the weather which it lives in whether its hot weather, cold weather, hot and dry weather or cold and moist weather. We wonder how plants adapt to the environment. We wonder if plants can actually see the world around them. (Bunny and Dana)
  • We saw that plants in the dry areas look like they are dying but they are still alive. So, how do plants survive without water or how to plants survive with only little water? (Ellie and Rikki)

And this wonderful question posted at 5B’s blog by Mr Webb and Room 8, New Zealand:

  • What if everyone following the blog planted the same thing at the same time, and then kept checking on the progress of how it was going to see if it got influenced by environmental factors?

Global Education Conference 2011

Preparing for my Global Education Conference presentation is an opportunity to reflect on how far we have come and to imagine where else we might go.

I first dreamed of global interactions when I saw this video conference posted on The Fischbowl a couple of years ago…

I’d used Skype to connect with family but the idea of connecting students with the world in that way simply hadn’t occurred  to me.

It led to my first blog post

‘ A teacher’s job is to calm the disturbed and to disturb the calm’ (unknown author)

Disturbing the calm is definitely my preference!

My current goal is to disturb the  status quo of classroom teaching.  After a great deal of reading  and a few encouraging successes,  I am excited about the concept of the ‘flat classroom’  as a meaningful way to  enhance learning.   I want to explore ways to collapse the walls of the classroom and find possibilities for taking learning outside of the conventional structure.

You’re  invited to join me on my journey! Let’s create opportunities for our students to connect and collaborate with others outside of the classroom.

That led to the first ever Skype interaction between kids at my school and someone in the world (Raj in India)…

And subsequent global connections to enhance learning about…

different cultures

other religions…

different places…

world issues…

Not just for students, but for teachers too…

My Global Education Conference presentation (with Rajendran Dandapani sharing perspectives from India) will be on Thursday 17th November at 9pm Melbourne time, 3.30pm Chennai time, 10am GMT. Check for your time on the full schedule here and come and join us. It’s an opportunity to establish global connections, share ideas and imagine what’s possible in the future…

Connections…

I enjoyed my day of professional learning with Alec and George Couros in the beautiful Ravenswood surroundings. A great learning environment, a few new tools, lots of laughs and loads of inspiration.

At the end of the day I spent some time trying to capture the essence of it.

It was lovely to spend a day out of school with members of my school leadership team. It was an opportunity to connect more closely with them, to talk about all manner of things and to learn. I highly recommend staff participating in workshops in groups, so they can deconstruct together, learn and think collaboratively.

The day was also an opportunity to make new connections. It was great to converse with and learn from teachers in a range of schools and from different backgrounds, to share and compare our teaching and learning experiences.

It was really special to engage in person with educators with whom I have previously interacted only online. In particular, my young friend George Couros, who feels like an old friend! We’ve connected via social media for a couple of years, learning from each other and taking each others’ ideas back to enrich the learning in our schools.

Alec shared many examples of incredible school-wide and worldwide collaborations, highlighting just what’s possible in our connected world. His wonderful 40th birthday video, created by 75 of his ‘closest friends’, many of whom he has never met in person, was a perfect example. My mind was buzzing with possibilities for learners in my school… and in the world.

It was heartwarming to hear Alec and George talk about the influence of their parents on their lives as educators. Their stories resonate for me. My own father was an inspirational educator and it stills thrills me when I meet people so many years later who talk about the way he touched their lives.

The essence of the day was connection. Connections between ideas and practice. Connections between new knowledge and existing thinking. Powerful global connections. Meaningful personal connections…. And the places where all of those interconnect.