Adjusting expectations…

‘Do you have any questions?’

‘No, Ma’am’.

I’m interacting via Skype with Grade 8 students in a SOME session at Ashraya Neelbagh, a residential school for children of migrant labourers near Bangalore and, to my surprise, I’m not finding it all that easy!

When I first began to interact with Indian kids in this way, it took a while to overcome the obstacles, to understand their context and to adjust my expectations. You can read about my early sessions with SOLEs and SOMEs here and here. Once past that initial stage , my experience of such sessions with SOLES  in the past couple of years has usually involved a bunch of enthusiastic, noisy children gathered around the computer, often all talking at once. In one case, it led to a series of valuable learning interactions between some of my own students in Australia and a group at a rural school in Shiragon, 100kms from Goa. Despite the differences in language, environment, culture, economic background, and religion, they found much in common.

This is the first time I have worked with a group in an organized setting such as Ashraya, and it feels more like a school class… albeit a very different type of class than the ones I am used to in my own setting. The children sit in rows on the floor, listen attentively and respond when spoken to with a ‘Yes Ma’am’ or ‘No Ma’am’. They look towards Rajkumar, the volunteer facilitator on their end, every now and again for clarification or reassurance or both.

In my first two sessions, I call them to the camera one by one and ask them individual questions about their families, their favorite subjects at school and the festivals they recently celebrated. They respond willingly and I make a few notes beside their names on my list to help me personalise our connections. I notice 14-year-old Marlinga, right away. He tells me he loves Maths because it’s like a game. It’s different from the other answers, which are polite, short and to the point. He’s the only one who really responds when I ask why a particular subject is their favourite. Is it because his English is better than theirs? Or is he is just a little more confident than the others in interacting with this strange, foreign woman?

When I ask if they have any questions for me, they say ‘No ma’am .’  I share pictures of Australian animals which they appear to enjoy. I show them where I am on the map compared to where they are and they answer my questions about their area. I show them photos of kids at my own school. They seem interested, but have no questions. I am a bit at a loss as to where to head next. I wonder what interests them and how to move past their polite responsiveness.

We talk about games and they tell me what sports they play. They mention a game I am unfamiliar with, and Marlinga tries to explain. When I ask if it’s played with a ball, he says yes and there is a bit of quiet laughter. I ask if they can share what’s funny and after a little resistance, they reveal, with help from Raj, that it is not played with a ball. He has simply said yes, because it’s easier than trying to explain. They show me the sort of stone they actually use and when I laugh, they all laugh with me and  the ice seems to have broken… for now. I ask them to demonstrate the game. They get up and kick the stone around, laughing and chattering as they show me. I feel optimistic, but I know that next time they will be back on the floor in rows, listening, waiting and responding politely…

I need to be respectful of their context and of cultural expectations. Communication is somewhat restricted by language limitations, differences in accent and the Skype connection. But I know I need to find ways to get them to relax a little (me too) , to ask questions and to engage in a two-way conversation. And I know I can’t do this the way I would at my own school…

With whom do you learn?

With whom do you learn?

Do you collaborate with a group of teachers at your grade level?

Do you share and bounce ideas with others in your school, your building, your area?

Do you belong to a network of teachers who meet to exchange ideas and share practice?

Do you participate in voluntary reading and learning groups?

Have you been to informal ‘teachmeets’ organised by teachers for teachers?

Have you participated  in global online conferences?

Do you write your own blog to share your ideas, reflections and practice with other educators?

Do you participate in the global education conversation by reading and commenting on educational blogs?

Do you engage with other educators on Twitter?

A session with teachers yesterday on developing our class blogs,  highlighted ways we can learn together.

  • A group of teachers of different grade levels gathered together (voluntarily) to share ideas and learn together.
  • A  range of great ideas was crowd sourced via Twitter before the session, with contributions from educators around the globe.
  • At the last minute, David Mitchell offered to Skype in (at midnight!) from the UK to share his schools experiences with blogging.
  • David introduced the concept of Quadblogging, in which classes around the world are grouped together

I was reminded of one of the most powerful influences in the building of my online  PLN.

It was Kelly Tenkely‘s blogging alliance that first connected me with many other educational bloggers around the world.

  • The more I read other’s blogs, the more I wanted to find and read.
  • The more comments I began to get on my posts, the more I wanted to write and share.
  • I was exposed to different people, places and practice.
  • I began to engage with teachers and learners around the globe.
  • Connections were made, friendships were formed, ideas were exchanged.
  • The learning was addictive.

It seems to me that connecting our students via Quadblogging can have similar effects. It’s much more than what David describes on the website as ‘a leg up to an audience for your class/school blog’,  although that’s an important starting point. Writing for an authentic audience, receiving feedback from the world, reading what others write and responding to them are all undoubtedly valuable outcomes.

But it’s more than that.

With whom do your students learn?

Are they expected to spend a whole year engaging with the same group of  twenty or thirty students in your classroom?

There are so many ways we can help our students create their own personal learning networks.

Quadblogging is another way to extend the potential for learning beyond the classroom walls…

A family connection…

When our Year 6 kids first Skyped with Raj in Chennai, India, for an inquiry into our Asian neighbours, it was a something out of the ordinary. Raj dressed in a special shirt for the occasion and the children sat politely in their seats, venturing to the microphone when it was their turn to speak.

A couple of years later, this is nothing unusual any more. Various classes have communicated via Skype with individuals and classes in other countries. Students and teachers alike have learned a great deal about different people, countries and cultures through these personal connections.

From 4G’s room in Melbourne to the living-room in Chennai.

Today Year 4G is interacting with Raj for an inquiry into cultural beliefs and traditions. It’s completely relaxed. There are groups of Aussie kids moving around, chatting about what Raj is saying, a core group is on the floor at the front lapping up every word and some serious inquirers sit at their tables taking notes. It doesn’t matter that some kids drift in and out of out of the conversation… so does Raj. It’s a holiday and he’s talking from home, with his son Aditya chiming in from time to time. It’s not the first time Adi has joined a session, but this time Raj is in the living-room and we can see the rest of the family going about their business in the background.

This is the week of Raj’s father’s Sadhabhishekam, a Hindu commemoration of the 80th birthday. The Year 4s explored photos from the occasion, before the session, and have loads of questions about the clothing, the food, the rituals… and about the values and beliefs underlying these. They are familiar with the iceberg model of culture and know that there’s much more to explore than what you can see above the surface. They have even classified their questions in this way, and one class has a paper model of an iceberg, with sand at the bottom, where they place their ‘very deep’ questions!

The engaging thing is that Raj draws in whichever family member the question relates to. The children meet his father, in traditional Brahmin dress. He demonstrates the application of the holy ash on his forehead and shows them the thread he has worn since his coming of age. His mother brings the box of vermillion, used to apply her bindee and she opens her hands to reveal the henna patterns applied for the birthday celebration. Raj’s wife Radha, demonstrates how she draws the kolam, a welcome pattern symbolizing ‘no end no beginning’, usually drawn on the floor outside the house.

They show the children ritual items and artefacts and almost share some traditional Indian sweets… It’s a shame we’re more than 8000 Km away! I have to say… it feels as if we are in the living-room in Chennai.

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?

Refining questions…

The whole of Year 6 (100 students) gathered in the open space to prepare for their coming Skype interactions with teachers and classes next week.

They are 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. So they will!

We started by viewing a few clips to highlight some drawbacks from previous sessions, so that we can learn from our mistakes…

More here, here and here.

We moved on to a famous quote ‘Too hot, too cold, just right’ (Goldilocks) and discussed examples of  how to refine our questions to make them ‘just right’ … relevant, appropriate and engaging.

Students split into groups based on which country they have chosen, and applied their new understandings to refining and prioritising the questions they had already prepared.

The questions they shared at the end demonstrated the thinking and learning that had taken place in most groups.  We’re looking forward to some great Skype sessions with India, Sri Lanka, New Zealand, China, Japan, Indonesia, Vietnam, Korea and the Philipines!

Do you know anyone in Burma, Papua New Guinea, Laos or Timor that could help us?

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…

Taking learning forward…

What do our students know about the countries around us?  Not that much, apparently.

Our Year 6 classes have kicked off their new unit of inquiry by thinking about what it means to be a good neighbour and then discussing which of the requirements apply to being good global citizens too. They know we need to work towards understanding our geographical neighbours, engaging with and learning from them, but it seems that many aren’t quite sure who our neighbours are!

By the end of the unit they will know a great deal more. They will inquire into Australia’s interconnectedness with countries in the Asia Pacific, explore the region through Google Maps and a range of other resources and, best of all, they will interact with real people to find out about the countries in which they live.

“Learning  from someone is much more real than learning about them.”  (Year 6 student)

In my very first post on this blog, I stated that my goal was to flatten the walls, take the learning beyond the classroom out into the world, and bring the world inside. Not long after that, the first time Year 6 explored this topic, I persuaded the teachers to have the kids interview a friend in India via Skype. It was an experience that opened new doors and highlighted what was possible.

A year later, for the same unit of inquiry, student’s created a Voicethread with their questions and were able to pursue their personal inquiries via Skype too. They interacted with people in Japan, India, Singapore, Thailand, Bali and Sri Lanka.

This year, we would like to find even more primary sources in every country that our learners choose to investigate. Rather than a formal class structure, it would be great to see them in small groups talking via Skype to as many people as possible. We’d love to have them engaging with students in other countries and continuing to connect with them after the initial interviews.  It would be great to see them work collaboratively on Google Maps to which they add photos, information, questions and new learning. Hopefully they will use their class blogs to reflect on what they learn and to record their wonderings, so that people ‘out there’ can respond.

Do you want to help us learn?

Do you live in the Asia Pacific Region? You don’t need to be an expert. We’d be happy to send you some questions in advance, if that helps. We don’t mind using Skype, Voicethread, email or any other collaborative tool we know or have yet to learn (if it’s not blocked in our school…). We’d love you to include some students, preferably Year 6 or older, as we sometimes ask tough questions, but we’re just as happy to talk to adults. We’re willing to tell you a bit about Australia, in return.

If you’d like to join our learning community and can spare us a little time in the coming weeks, please let us know.

social media

Update: My PLN has delivered willing people or classes in India, China, Singapore, Korea, Japan, Phillipines, NZ and Indonesia! Still looking for Thailand, PNG, East Timor, Malaysia, Burma and Laos…

Final update: We got Malysia, Laos, Thailand.. and a few came too late, as our school year is just about over, but we’ll save them for future collaborations. Thank you!

Connecting Cultures…

Jessica Dubois has worked for the past 3 yrs in a remote South Australian community as a primary teacher and Student Learning and Wellbeing Coordinator at Mimili Anangu SchoolIn this enlightening guest post she shares her reflection on an interaction with Year 5 students at my school…

“For a long time, people don’t know that we live out here. They don’t know our stories. They don’t know what we do out here. We need to teach them”.

Sandra, the Anangu Coordinator with whom I work, shared this thought with me recently. We work together in a remote Indigenous school in far north-west South Australia. Sandra recently helped our middle school students share their stories with a class of year 5 students in Melbourne, some 2000km away. As part of the Melbourne students’ inquiry into Indigenous identity, our classrooms were connected to learn about each other’s cultural and religious beliefs and values.

This was the first time our school had been involved in such a learning experience that made use of video conferencing technology – not a small feat in the middle of the Australian outback! While the call was not without technological hiccups, the learning that took place in such a short period of time was invaluable.

Sandra and our middle school students expressed wonder at how a classroom of students in Melbourne knew about us to begin with. How did they contact us? How did this happen? I explained how a connection was made through twitter and how we can use technology like this to connect with other people and classrooms from around Australia and the world. Amazing!

During the call, we loved the confidence with which the Melbourne students asked and answered questions about their religious beliefs. Sandra commented on this and compared this confidence to Anangu culture. Anangu way, according to Sandra, involves asking questions in a round about fashion. Direct questions, especially to ones face, are usually asked only after a relationship has been formed between the people involved, something we were yet to do with these two classrooms. This reminded me of what I was told during my induction to Anangu culture before beginning teaching: “For Anangu people, the wise person learns by careful observation and by personal experience, not by asking questions”. Sandra and I spoke about this at great length. We share the belief that we as educators have the role of providing learning experiences for Indigenous students that help them learn how to belong to and be successful in two worlds. They must learn the values of their own culture (Anangu culture) and what is expected of them in the broader Australian society.

This skype link up helped to provide such a learning experience. Here, our students were involved in asking and answering questions, communicating in English successfully (their third or fourth language) and developing a relationship with a class of mainstream students in Melbourne. In order to do this, they spent some time learning and inquiring into their own cultural stories and beliefs with their Anangu teacher, so that they could share this information with others. Honestly though, we had not spent enough time preparing. We had just returned from a three day whole school sports, dance and singing competition. Time was short but we thought we’d persist with the call anyway. Reflecting on this together with everyone involved from both schools has been a learning experience in itself. We feel better prepared to engage in collaborative projects of this nature in the future and we’ve identified other meaningful ways to enhance the connection between our schools and develop those vital relationships between our students.

This experience made clear for us the importance of valuing Anangu culture and providing our students with opportunities to learn and articulate their histories, experiences, cultural beliefs and values. Sandra supported this idea when she said in reflection; we need to teach our children how to be proud of their culture so that they can teach other people about it. This will be a focus for us as we head into the final Term of the year. Similarly, we have seen the importance of providing a stage for our students to practice and gain confidence in speaking publically and with people they don’t know. We hope that providing these learning opportunities will help our students feel successful in both worlds and gain confidence to effectively code-switch between the two.

I am extremely proud of our students and their teachers for jumping in and giving this a go. What we learnt during the call, but particularly the learning from our reflective conversations after the experience has been incredibly powerful for our growth as educators and our student’s development. Through one small ‘tweet’, a connection was made and a learning journey embarked on. The opportunities for technology to connect people from all educational and cultural contexts are endless; as is the learning our students and yours can gain from such connections.

Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara are the two main languages spoken in Mimili. Anangu is the Pitjantjatjara word for ‘people’ and is the word used to identify the cultural group that lives across the APY Lands. So, the local community members in Mimili will call themselves Anangu, to identify who they are and what Indigenous cultural group they belong to. 

A big idea…

We had a great learning session yesterday for our unit about coming of age in different cultures. We watched this beautiful video, created by Raj in India and his little pal Vignesh, about Upanayanam, the sacred thread ceremony in Hinduism. We Skyped with Raj simultaneously so that he could ‘watch us watch’ and answer our questions.

In the follow-up lesson today, we explored the big ideas. The students discussed in pairs and then shared their ideas with the class and justified why they had chosen the concepts they did. The lively discussion centred around the following big ideas: culture, religion, coming-of-age, responsibility, traditions, family, values, beliefs, ritual, change, maturity, celebration, symbolism, spirituality and learning. We’ll be looking at which of these are common across all coming-of-age commemorations!

Then one student said ‘social media’. Puzzled, I asked him to explain how he saw that as part of the Upanayanam ceremony. His response:

‘You asked what the big ideas were in yesterday’s session. We used Skype. Skype is an example of social media. Social media is a pretty big idea, don’t you think?’…!