Reflection: Social Media in Year 13

I’m continuing to reflect on my practice this year. As you may recall from this post or this post, I chose a focus for each of my classes upon which to build more future-focused pedagogy. In Year 13, where I taught a very small class of students who had opted into tackling Level 3 and Scholarship English, I wanted to focus on the use of social media in order to promote the idea that learning is ubiquitous. The social media tools I chose were Edmodo and Twitter.

The latter was a complete flop. While I certainly learned how to set up a separate Twitter account for teaching purposes, and how to start a new Twitter hashtag (i.e. just start using one), with a small class, and an even smaller proportion using Twitter, there just wasn’t the critical mass required to be sustainable. I would definitely try this again though, because there is such a richness of material out there that would be of interest to students. I think I would explore other ways of making this material available to students – even if it’s just posting links to interesting readings on Edmodo.

Edmodo was much more successful. When I surveyed the students, they naturally compared and contrasted it to our Learning Management System, and favourably. The students liked that they could post questions and articles themselves on the forum (although I acknowledge that this is also a feature of our LMS – the students don’t spontaneously do this). They liked receiving notifications from Edmodo via email when something new was posted. This prompt was viewed as handy. I take it as a sign of success that the students did not set up a separate Facebook page, which they usually do. To me, this meant Edmodo was fulfilling the need it should do.

While not social media per se, in the survey one student also commented on the use of Google Docs, reporting that she enjoyed collaborating with the class in real time. This was my favourite comment from our end of year survey: “I think that the actual information we learnt and way of thinking we developed was improved by not being as credit focused and more education focused.” Yes! I’ll take that as a compliment!

My overall reflection is that this was an enjoyable class to teach, primarily because of it being small, we could all sit together, and have a more informal, discussion-based learning environment. I think I would like to find ways to encourage more reflection on skills and content, ways to ‘check in’ with how students perceive they are progressing, in order to provide them with more targeted support. Because the class was small, I fell into the trap of assuming I was observing accurately how they were feeling. Mostly I was correct, but assumptions are not valid means of assessing situations!

I like the way I really did re-jig the 2014 course based on the feedback from the 2013 students. I feel taking on board their advice was helpful, and did create a better, more cohesive year. Again, there would be further adjustments I would make to the programme, particularly in our focus on critical theory. And this year’s students wanted me to insist on more work being handwritten – note to self.

 

Reflection: Collaboration in Year 11

This year I have looked to push my teaching practice to embrace ‘future-focused’ pedagogy. In order to make this more manageable for myself, I chose to focus on one area of inquiry for each year group. I gave an overview of this at the end of Term 1. As a quick snap shot, I wanted to provide more opportunities for my students to learn from one another, rather than solely relying on me. I had my tables in little ‘L’ shapes, had a seating plan which changed every term, and introduced the class to Edmodo and Google Docs. I was hoping that students would learn to connect their ideas to other texts, and to the world beyond the classroom. We had as a theme for the year ‘find your voice’ and I hoped to reflect this in honouring student voice.

Before the girls left to sit their final exams, I surveyed them on several aspects of the year’s programme, but particularly focusing on the measures I had put in place to encourage collaboration. Here’s a summary of the data:

Question 1: Comment on the layout of the classroom

All of the comments here were positive – although ranging in enthusiasm. I was interested in the perception of seating plans, which is mandated by my school. However, the girls like being mixed through as this gives them the opportunity to work with other people and be exposed to other ideas. For next year, if I am to keep a similar physical layout, I want to think more about moving students more from the front to the back and to put more thought into the groupings of students. Perhaps seeking their input would be good. Although there was a comment about sight lines, I didn’t use the front of the room much, in terms of a ‘chalk and talk’ approach. While the projector screen is at ‘the front’ almost every time the same document was available to the girls on their own devices via Edmodo.

Question 2: Comment on the time given to you to discuss work with your group or with the whole class

There was always going to be a range of opinions here! However, 11 out of the 17 respondents felt positive about the time they were given. Students commented on the fact that working with others helps them to understand better, to hear a variety of ideas and “appreciate” them, that it brings out ideas everyone can benefit from and that you can “analyse work with lots of different perspectives”. I’m pleased by these responses. What I would like to do more of is shared negotiation of time and to ensure these mutually agreed time frames are put on the board for everyone to monitor.

Question 3: Comment on the use of Google Docs as a way to work together with others

Again it is clear that the students enjoyed working in Google Docs…once we had got over the novelty of them! One student responded honestly that they were “sometimes frustrating but a good way to learn new ideas”. I also liked that it was “fun to share our opinions instantly”, and that “if you were ever stuck you could get inspiration and help from other people through the doc”. Here’s an example of one of our collaborative docs, from towards the end of the school year.

Question 4: Comment on the use of Edmodo as a way to help you access information and resources

All of the comments were positive in response to this question. The girls liked having all of their notes stored in one place, the ease of access, and being essentially ‘paperless’ (less to lose, their lockers were tidier said one student!). Students felt that Edmodo was a great way to share files and to have tasks set for them. I was appreciative of one student who made it her mission to capture any notes that went on the board and share these with the class via Edmodo.

So, what are my next learning steps?

I didn’t especially want to teach Year 11 this year. But this class was a blast! It was a great embodiment of ‘hard fun’ and the surveys reflect this. However I felt that overall the lessons were still very traditional. I really want to get into the habit next year of timing myself – no more than 15 minutes of direct instruction at any one time. This comment from one girl: “I thought the classes were run really structured and organised which I really enjoyed! I also like how sometimes we were allowed to plan the lesson to what the class as a whole thought we needed more work on.” has prompted me to commit to more co-construction of work. This is always successful when I take this approach. And I want to push the boundaries of collaboration more. Rather than ‘just’ sharing of ideas – which the girls clearly found powerful – I want to encourage more reflection, analysis, feedback and critique. Suggestions welcomed!

But Why?

[Using the idea of asking ‘why’ five times, I have an imaginary conversation with a hypothetical teacher about the need to do things differently.]

I’m a good teacher. I don’t have behaviour management issues in my classroom, and my students get good results. Why do I need to shift my practice to this ‘future learning’ thing?

  • Can we start with the assumption that good teaching = good results and therefore = good learning? I think we can all easily fall into the trap of thinking that when our students get good results in their assessments that is because we are good teachers, but when students don’t do so well, then that’s because they experience some kind of barrier to their learning. I think that if we’re being honest we can admit that sometimes our students learn despite us.
  • I also worry about the equation of assessment results with learning. I think at times we’ve all decried the ‘credit-accumulation’ mindset of our students; that they don’t seem to want to learn for a love of learning’s sake. I worry that assessment, like we have here in NZ with NCEA, whereby discrete content areas or skill sets are assessed in an oftentimes fragmented way, doesn’t actually allow for the kind of learning and skill development that we’d like to see in our learners.

Why? What kind of learning do we need our students to have?

  • As we know, we have moved out of the Industrial Age to the Knowledge Age. Wikipedia knows more than it is possible for one teacher to know. The pace of change has increased with a corresponding increase in knowledge. It is no longer really possible to define what we need to know, and it is no longer necessary to store knowledge in our heads in case we need it later on. If we need it, then we’ll Google it. Therefore a different model of education is needed.
  • There are different ways of looking at the future. One of these ways is to discuss so-called ‘wicked problems’. These are problems that are complex and interconnected, such as climate change, food security, the ethics of biotechnology, poverty, etc. These require solutions, but the nature of them is such that they are not easily solved, and in fact implementing a solution for one facet of a problem may well even exacerbate other facets.
  • Therefore we need learners who are capable of dealing with these problems. There have been many attempts to define the skills needed, such as this framework. I also like the ‘4Cs’ of creativity, critical thinking, communication and collaboration. The change here is an emphasis is on skills, rather than content.

OK, I can accept that the world looks different today than it did when I was growing up. But why does my classroom practice needs to be different when I can cover the 4Cs within my subject area?

  • I agree that traditional, siloed education can cover the 4Cs, and the NZC’s Key Competencies, but we know more about the way the brain learns these days, and we know that a diet of only traditional, factory-style lecture from the front of the room isn’t it.
  • Just like wicked problems are interconnected and complex, we need to offer our learner the means by which they can learn to apply their understanding in interconnected and complex ways if they are going to make an impact on society. To do this authentically will require a shift away from a subject-siloed approach.

What role does technology play in all of this? Why do I have to be a teacher of technology as well as my subject area?

  • Luckily, you don’t. Technology is an enabler. We’ve already acknowledged that Google knows more than a teacher can possibly know, but the search results are massive. We need to teach learners skills to deal with information, how to be critical and discerning with information, how to apply information, and how to make new information.
  • Rather than looking for cool new apps, we should ensure that we use the right tools for the task. But the tasks themselves may well need to shift in order to focus on the skill building we’ve been discussing.
  • Models like SAMR and the eLPF suggest that technology allows us to offer more authentic and genuine learning experiences than have before been possible.
  • Redefined tasks that focus on skill development within an authentic, problem- or inquiry-based context also helps young people to learn how to tackle wicked problems.

If it’s all online, why do my students even need me anymore?

  • I’ve been thinking about timetables. I’ve decided that a timetable can be both a literal and a figurative structure. It is the schedule that organises a school day, but it has become a mindset. As adults we know that the world, and even our brains, don’t work in perfectly scheduled 55 minute slots. I believe we do a disservice to our 21st Century learners when we offer than a 19th or even a 20th Century-style education model like this.
  • So, if the emphasis shifts from content to skills, what else can you offer your students? A positive learning-based relationship, encouragement and motivation, learning opportunities, an expert network to tap into, access to you; the most experienced learner in the room. You know, all the stuff that does make you a good teacher – which is where we started. You are absolutely a good teacher. Now, what steps are you going to take in order to be even better?

(Need some ideas of where to start? Start by getting connected and learning:)

Marsden Professional Learning Session 13 (‘un’Lucky Last for 2014!)

Whew – what a year of learning and growing together! Today was our final professional learning session of the year, so we used it to reflect and review. Here is the guiding structure we followed:

You can see we used a Design Thinking process. We wanted to ensure that while staff had time to think about the high- and low-lights of their future-focused pedagogy learning journey, we actually moved on to offer solutions to continue to grow, learn and improve for 2015.

In this regard, I feel as though this afternoon’s session was successful. The short time frames and targeted tasks kept staff focused and productive. The final pitches highlighted key themes, such as ways to give staff more time, ways to work in smaller, more focused groups, and ways to explore successful models of future-focused pedagogy in practice.

Likewise, the anecdotal feedback has been positive. I think we’re all aware that sometimes when we’re asked to give an opinion on something this can easily turn into a negative whinge session. Whereas following a process of reflection, definition, ideation, feedback, refine and pitching really worked to move people out of that mode into problem-solving instead.

For me too, I really enjoyed introducing staff to a design thinking process without saying, ‘Now everyone, let’s learn about Philippa’s edugeek passion: Design Thinking.’ Nah, just get on and do it. At the end of the session when I congratulated everyone for participating in design thinking, I invited staff to visit my Year 8 class who are in the midst of an extended design thinking-based unit. And – awesome sauce – a taker!

A Call to Arms!

On Thursday, I attended my very first eduignite session and, actually, delivered a talk.

Here are my slides:

Thanks to Rebbecca Sweeney for her help, encouragement support with this.

The story behind the talk is simply this: I was privileged enough to be on the steering committee of the #edchatNZ conference, held in August at Hobsonville Point Secondary School. Attending the conference itself was an amazing experience, which I’ve written about here and here. And then I came home.

I feel amazing support from my PLN. I am so lucky to connect with like-minded educators up and down the country and even overseas. Some of those like-minded educators are in my school. But I felt – I feel – that there should be a way to experience more support within my own physical community.

I expressed this view on Twitter in early October, and have spoken to a few educators that my ‘real’ aim for enabling #educampwelly to be hosted at Marsden, my school, was to start to build this very community of Wellington educators. When Rebbecca tweeted this to me:

IMG_0176

I felt so validated and understood.

Those of us in the Twitter conversation quickly realised we needed a Connected Educators group in Wellington. We met up briefly at ULearn and agreed this was the case. With the support of others, such as Nathaniel Louwrens, Tara Fagan and Leanne, a decision was made to use the eduignite evening to pitch the idea. Rebbecca put together a Google Doc so educators could register their interest.

The evening of talk I went straight from the offices of CORE Education, our eduignite hosts for the evening, home to participate (of course!) in the #edchatNZ Twitter chat (side note: real doozy – on collaboration with #aussieED). With “encouragement” from the ever-visionary Matt Nicoll, the founder of #edchatNZ, Danielle Myburgh, allowed me to ‘make a special announcement’ – that #WellyED, the Connected Wellington Educators’ Group had been born.

And it has – my Twitter notifications went off! To date, nearly 20 local educators have registered on our Google Doc. Tomorrow, a bunch of us are meeting at a local watering hole to plan #educampwelly – and, no doubt, discuss our burgeoning community. Exciting to say the least!

So, where to next? I have a few ideas, as do others … We’re definitely inspired by the Connected Christchurch group’s blog, and the VLN group of the Connected Rotorua educators. There’s a Wellington Teachers’ Network on Facebook, and Amesbury School kickstarted a Wellington Professional Learning Group. Hopefully, by bringing all these fantastic ideas and people together, we can build a supportive community which will showcase the innovative practice I know is happening in Wellington, and provide warm and demanding critique for educators wanting to be stretched in their thinking.

In my talk I kind of had a ‘cloud’ theme running through it. And you know what? The sky’s the limit!