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:)

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Happy Anniversary

This is a short blog post I wrote for Tom Whitby, of #edchat fame, on the ‘aha’ moment of becoming a connected educator.

It was posted last week on Edutopia, and I cross-post it here:

“The mind, once stretched by a new idea, never returns to its original dimensions.”

  • Ralph Waldo Emerson

It strikes me as utterly appropriate to reflect on my journey from an unconnected educator to a connected educator at this time, as it’s nearing a year since I had my ‘eureka’ moment.

Last October, I attended ULearn, a massive (by New Zealand standards) conference, which draws together educators from all sectors to explore e-Learning trends and themes. I was so excited by what I learned there: it made such sense to me that we shouldn’t get hung up with the shiny tools of technology if pedagogy isn’t shifting to support a new, and more meaningful, way of teaching and learning.

And I wanted to learn more.

I had had a Twitter account, but started following the presenters I had heard at the conference. I decided to start a blog to help me record and process what I learned. I quickly realised that the way educators use Twitter, to connect and share, was extremely powerful. Through this I found blogs to follow, readings to explore, new ideas to wrestle with.

And I was hooked.

I haven’t looked back. Not only has my classroom practice changed, but my whole view of my profession has changed. I am passionate about education in a way that I simply wasn’t before. Sure, I wanted to convey my love of literature and the power and beauty of language to students, but now I want learners to think and to be engaged. Now I facilitate professional learning into future-focused pedagogy in my school. Now I’m the secretary for #edchatNZ and I helped organise their first conference. Now I’m planning to run an edcamp in my city. Now I’m a connected educator.

My mind is stretched.

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Pick Me!

This post is my application for a 2015 CORE eFellowship.

#edchatNZ steering committee. L-R: Heather Eccles, Sonya van Schaijik, me, Matt Nicoll, Alyx Gillett, Danielle Myburgh, Mel Moore
#edchatNZ steering committee. L-R: Heather Eccles, Sonya van Schaijik, me, Matt Nicoll, Alyx Gillett, Danielle Myburgh, Mel Moore

My application presentation can be found here.

My Twitter profile
My Twitter profile
The kind words of Steve Mouldey
The kind words of Steve Mouldey

#edSMAC 2: The Follow-up

At the start of Term 2, Matt Nicoll, from St Andrew’s College in Christchurch, and I, dreamed up a brilliant plan to be an ‘agent of change’ in our respective schools. To encourage staff to shift their pedagogy and to see what’s happening out there in the world of education, we invented #edSMAC, a Twitter hashtag to help us to connect and collaborate.

Matt’s managed to write his reflection on our term’s work, and here’s mine. Finally 😉

Image Credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/esthervargasc/7921868448/
Image Credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/esthervargasc/7921868448/

I want to begin with an overview of the #edSMAC term. I first put the call out to interested staff during a staff professional learning session I ran which looked at Professional Learning Networks and being a connected educator. I followed up the verbal invite with an email, and was pleasantly surprised to receive responses from six staff. I love that these staff volunteered their time, were willing participants, and were from across the full range of learning areas.

Once the PLN/#edSMAC Marsden group was formed, the first job was to get them all signed up on Twitter. This was relatively straight forward, once I ran a lunch time help session, and everyone had a go at introducing themselves to the national #edSMAC group. I also asked staff to indicate to me what their goals or aspirations were for being part of this group. Some wanted to learn more about Twitter specifically, others wanted to connect with more educators, others just wanted to develop their skills with technology and future learning more generally.

The next week, I set the challenge of exploring some blogs. I wanted to ensure that I provided other pathways into developing a PLN besides Twitter – my personal bias. I suggested several Kiwi and international blogs, and provided information about curation in case people started to feel overwhelmed with information.

We came back to Twitter after this, and Matt and I ran our own mini Twitter chat between Marsden and St Andrews using #edSMAC. We were hoping to help people to transition into #edchatNZ. This remains a work in progress, although I know one or two of the Marsden staff have lurked on occasion. A fortnight later I invited the Marsden PLN group to my house during #edchatNZ, but no one could make it as it was report writing season. Next term I hope to have wine and nibbles one Thursday evening in the staffroom to support this move further.

Another avenue I highlighted for staff was to check out popular educator websites like edutopia, edudemic and TeachThought. (The ‘extra for experts’ homework was to subscribe to RSS feeds and/or follow the sites on Twitter!)

One week I set a ‘give back’ challenge: to comment on a blogpost, or share links on Twitter using a hashtag for an even wider audience, or start a blog! I wanted to encourage staff to move from consumer to sharer or creator. Again, this remains an area that is full of potential for more exploration.

I surveyed the Marsden PLN group at the end of the term and 5 out of 6 responded. I was deeply fascinated by the replies. I asked if staff felt that being part of the PLN group met the needs they had personally identified at the start of the term. 3/5 said yes. The other 2 felt it was still a work in progress and that more time is needed. I asked if staff wished to continue being part of the PLN group next term. 100% replied yes! When asked what areas people wished to focus on next term, the responses were extremely broad: “anything at all”, being fairly typical. My heart was warmed by the “just keen to keep learning” reply.

The key reason I was so fascinated by these responses, was that I felt the experiment had been a bit of a flop. As is frequently the case, #edSMAC started with a hiss and a roar. I worked really hard to keep it ticking over, offering weekly ways to get involved and explore, and really focusing on making these ways manageable. However I would feel quite confident in saying that I believe very few of the staff did the activities on offer, which is why I’m dumbfounded they wish to continue. I confess to also feeling a little tapped out. I need new ideas about how to keep #edSMAC going from the Marsden end, and what new avenues to offer. Any advice gratefully received!

Nevertheless, I am supremely grateful to Matt, and to his colleagues Sam and Gin, for their constant support and encouragement of the #edSMAC movement. Many thanks, guys. If nothing else, I’ve enjoyed working in this collaborative way, and I can see the many, many benefits that come from being a connected educator. I am lucky to count you in my PLN.

Image Credit: https://openclipart.org/detail/192884/computer-handshake-1-by-merlin2525-192884
Image Credit: https://openclipart.org/detail/192884/computer-handshake-1-by-merlin2525-192884