"You can't have an industrial revolution, you can't have democracies, you can't have populations who can govern themselves until you have literacy."
- Attributed to Howard Rheingold
Education is known to be an important marker for a wide variety of health, finance, career, and relationship success; and according to this article from the OECD, Australians receive more education than any other country between the ages of five and thirty-nine. According to the the OECD, we receive on average twenty-one years of education compared to the OECD average of just over seventeen years.
I wonder then at the continuing cries of back to the basics and improve teacher quality (slogans that certainly increase professional pride within teachers across the nation) that seemingly erupt after the release of NAPLAN results each year, or the PISA results every few years. The media and politicians seem out to harangue teachers for not being good enough, slogans that are taken up by parents, and talked about in front of the children around the house and then we wonder why there are increasing levels of disrespect towards teachers; and beyond that, increasing instances of teachers being physically attacked, such as this incident which occurred recently in Byron Bay.
What needs to change to reduce the level of animosity towards teachers that is displayed in the news, on social media, and by our nation's leaders? When did society shift and this ability to abuse and disrespect and devalue those charged with our children's education without any consequences occur? Is it any wonder, then, that early career teachers are leaving the profession in droves?
Children’s librarians are ambitious bakers: 'You like the jelly doughnut? I’ll get you a jelly doughnut. But you should try my cruller, too. My cruller is gonna blow your mind, kid.”
- Attributed to John Green
It has been a long time since I have posted anything - twelve months today, to be precise. In that time, Mrs C21 and I have purchased our first long-term debt, otherwise known as a house, our first child is nearly three, and child number two (and last!) is due around the end of November. We have had a few deaths in the family, dementia is starting to set in on one family member which is devastating to watch, and it has all been exciting and terrifying.
Moving onto the subject of this article, in my current role with ClickView, I work with around three hundred schools, and a lot of my conversations are with the library staff, as that is quite often, where ClickView is managed in schools. School libraries are, I believe, in a state of existential crisis. I am seeing a lot of schools not replace qualified librarians with qualified librarians when the incumbent retires, I have seen schools built without a physical library - everything is digital, and I have walked into a library and thought to myself that if I was a student at that school I would not step foot into the library - thankfully that has only occurred once.
I remember, as a student, going to the file card cabinet to search for books on a particular topic, and then using the file card to find that particular book on the shelf. The advent of the internet, and more specifically, Google and Wikipedia, has rendered those file cards redundant. In many cases, it has also, unfortunately, rendered the librarian somewhat obsolete.
The challenge now is for libraries and librarians to re-imagine themselves and to assert their value to schools and learning. I am sure that you have all heard the quote attributed to Neil Gaiman that says “Google can bring you back 100,000 answers. A librarian can bring you back the right one.” This sentiment has become increasingly important with the advent of Trump and the fake-news mantra, the gullibility of people who take everything they read on the internet as fact, and the trend of society consuming increasing amounts of its news not from printed or broadcast media, but from social media.
The old man was peering intently at the shelves. 'I'll have to admit that he's a very competent scholar.'
"Isn't he just a librarian?" Garion asked, "somebody who looks after books?"
"That's where all the rest of scholarship starts, Garion. All the books in the world won't help you if they're just piled up in a heap.”
-David Eddings, King of the Murgos
While I am seeing some stagnation, some librarians resigned to retiring and someone simply filling their shoes rather than replacing them; I am also seeing hope, and librarians who are working hard to continue to keep themselves visibly relevant and useful. I recently walked into a school library in a small country town. The building is three flights of stairs up, and is basic brick. When I walked in, and moved just past the circulation desk, I was greeted by an organised riot of colours. There were posters promoting various novels on the walls, a small stand that contained a series of Shakespeares' works but in manga format (you can find them here), some brightly coloured beanbags, some small reading nooks for quiet reading and I could see that there was some influence from the cave, campfire, watering hole philosophy.
I have been in order libraries where they have completely restructured how they organise the books away from Dewey and simple alphabetising and group them into genres (I am seeing this a lot at the moment), or having sections of shelving dedicated to hosting the books that are about particular themes being studied that contain books which would, under Dewey, be kept quite separately such as science and geography. I have seen libraries which have become outreach centres for students; hosting breakfasts for those students who are unable to get breakfast at home, hosting homework and study sessions, have setup small group-study spaces for group projects, and in some schools become a site for board games to be played and rediscovered by the next generation.
I have also, moving into the more technological side of things, seen schools re-purpose themselves to become a hub for robotics, STE(A)M programs, recording spaces for teachers and students, and in one school I visited recently in South-East Queensland, there is a cafe attached to the library which is accessible both from within and without the library very similar to how some universities set themselves up.
“The librarians were mysterious. It was said they could tell what book you needed just by looking at you, and they could take your voice away with a word.”
-Terry Pratchett Wintersmith
Scott Douglas is purported to have said “It took a bit of popcorn and a library snack bar to make me realize that being a librarian was about more than just giving people information. It was about serving a community. And if the community is hungry for more than just knowledge, then maybe it’s about time to open a snack bar.” There are so many things that can be done to help reinvigorate your school library, and having a qualified librarian is incredibly important. Lance and Kachel published a literature review in March 2018 (available here) that examined research into the impact of qualified librarians on schools from the body of research on the topic since 1992 which, broadly speaking, indicated a positive correlation between librarians and library programs with student achievements.
Following on from Lance and Kachel, Margaret Merga published an article in October 2018 titled How do Librarians in Schools Support Struggling Readers (the full published article is available here, a more accessible version of the article is available here). It makes for interesting reading and I would suggest that it is worth re-publishing aspects of the more accessible version in your school newsletter and putting it up on the staff-room wall to highlight to parents and colleagues alike that having a qualified librarian is valuable for your students learning outcomes.
What is happening in your school library at the moment? What can you do to help your librarian be recognised for the value they contribute to the school and your students' learning?
"If the Age of Sport has been all champagne and roses hitherto, then expect our love affair with its newly-acquired prominence to become increasingly tainted by scandals about cheating. Sport is losing its shine and allure"
-Attributed to Martin Jacques
Recently, an event occurred that captured the attention of the entire country and evoked outrage, disgust, and feelings of betrayal by the everyday citizen.
Members of the men's Australian Cricket team were caught cheating.
Prime Minister Malcom Turnbull labelled it "a shocking disappointment" and the furore on social media has been predictably savage. There are, I think, two parts to the conversation that we as a country need to have.
Firstly, why are we surprised? I have been refereeing football (soccer) for several years (though taking a year or two off to be with Ms One) and I have heard from coaches, from parents, from players a disturbing amount of vitriol that all amounts to win at any costs. I have even seen this in under five's football. Five year old children being told to "cut him down," "run harder," and "what were you thinking? that was a stupid pass."
What message is being given to our kids who idolise so many sports stars when this happens, what message do we give them when we coach our local Underage sporting team and we give messages akin to win ant any costs? We get athlete's who lose sight of professionalism, ethics, self-pride, and do whatever they can to win.
Steve Smith, now ex-Captain of the men's Australian Cricket Team, said in his emotional press conference that "We spoke about it and thought it was a possible way to get an advantage. Obviously it didn't work." The Rules of Cricket (rule 41.3.2) state that "It is an offence for any player to take any action which changes the condition of the ball." Therefore, any action in breach of this, such as using sandpaper to scrape the ball, is cheating, not a possible way to get an advantage.
What message are we sending to our kids when we coach them when we scream from the sidelines about how they are not trying hard enough or making stupid decisions? Are we in fact coaching? Or are we confusing them and hurting their ability to learn given that there is (generally) one coach for the team and it is probably not you?
When I was a pre-service teacher, I was involved in helping coach the school's Touch Football Team and attended a Gala Day with them and the actual coach, another teacher. We had one student in particular who was one of those kids; brilliant at any ball game he tried his hand at. He was, unquestionably, the star of the team and had a hand in nearly every try that was scored.
Between two matches (we played four matches that day), he was involved in some deplorable sledging against another team, using language that I would never accept in the playground. I felt that it was enough to pull him from the team for the remaining games, and if it was my choice, I would have pulled him and had him returned to school immediately, with a long conversation about appropriate language, sporting conduct, and the role that off-field behaviour has for selection. However, I was over ruled. He was too important to the team and we did not stand a chance without this boy on the field.
What message does that send? How will you address this cheating with your children? With the kids sports team that you coach?
The second conversation that I think we need to have is why is this the thing that grips the nations attention and creates a furore and a national sense of self-righteous indignation and a feeling of betrayal, and demands for a change in culture and that action be taken, with the three players involved handed lengthy bans?
Why was it not the 2002 Cronulla Sharks' pack-sex assault against a nineteen year old woman? Why was it not in 2009 when Adelaide Crows gave an indefinite-ban to Nathan Bock after was admitted to assaulting his then girlfriend but lifted it a week later because they were playing a strong team the next weekend? Why was it not a few years later when Bock received a two-match suspension for dodgy gambling about his own matches - a sentence twice as bad for hurting gambling as for hurting another human. There are so many other incidents that could be pointed to that it is not worth listing them. Credit to Clementine Ford for those I have listed, drawn from her article on 27 March, here.
I have to admit that I got caught up in the indignation and shock when I first heard about the cheating by Smith, Warner, and Bancroft. When I stopped to analyse it though, I think it was because we have become so used to hearing about various incidents from other sporting codes, such as rugby league and AFL, that it's not a surprise to hear about issues in those sports. For cricket, however, it did come as a surprise.
If you coach, or are a parent with a child who plays sport, consider the message you are sending when you yell and shout and carry on at sporting events. Think about the message it sends about the value of a game compared to the value of a person's dignity.
“Seeking out people with different views, different perspectives, different ideas is often challenging, because it requires us to set aside judgment and open our minds. But we have to remind ourselves that to get beyond where we are, where I believe most of us are, we would all be be well served to choose our music carefully, to stop talking and listen to one another.”
― Susan Scott, Fierce Leadership: A Bold Alternative to the Worst "Best" Practices of Business Today
How often do you get to engage in research and conversations about what you have read in research with colleagues?
I have engaged ain and heard many conversations in staff rooms and classrooms across NSW. Many of them, most of them if am being honest, are about anything but pedagogy or education research. I peppered a colleague with questions about L3 when they were being trained in that, and learned a lot about it, and I have had sporadic conversations but there has never been a sustained focus.
Recently I was visiting schools in regional NSW as part of my role with ClickView and happened to be able to tee up a time to catch up with Pete van Whiting and John Catterson. I was expecting to catch up for dinner and a few drinks at a pub; but they had other ideas and roped me into joining them as they recorded an episode of their podcast, Teachers Talking Teaching.
I had only started listening to the podcast recently, but had managed to catch up and I thoroughly enjoy it. The banter is amusing, however, I enjoy listening to the conversations about educational research, or about articles that have been published about education. It is my experience that learningful conversations are not very common and so to be able to engage with the podcast is actually quite mentally stimulating. It also is interesting hearing two high school science teachers' thoughts on other sectors of education.
In this particularly episode, John was reviewing a book chapter which discussed the problems around having specific teaching standards and curriculum, while Pete was discussing an article about violence towards teachers.
It was a late night by the time I left, however, it was actually thoroughly enjoyable. The opportunity to engage in discussions around education theory, pedagogy, issues etc. is not one that comes up very often, and when it does, it has usually been with other primary teachers. So to be able to do so with two secondary teachers, who have a very different experience and perspective on teaching, was great.
If you have not listened to the podcast before, I do recommend it, as Pete and John are both quite articulate when they decide to be, and also hold some differing views in some areas which makes for great conversation. To be able to discuss education from a more theoretical-practical perspective based on the articles was thoroughly enjoyable from a professional level and a nice change from the typical conversations that I hear in staff rooms revolving around whether or not assessment tasks have been written, or around the activities of certain students, or what was on television the previous night.
Do you engage in pedagogy-based conversations at all? Occasionally? Sometimes but not as an instigator? I would be curious to understand why you do or do not. Leave a comment here or over on twitter.
In this Flipped Teacher Professional Learning video, I show you a great website that will provide you with free access to digital books for your students across a range of subjects, including fiction and non-fiction, that your students can also access at home.
For more FTPL videos, click here.
I have written many articles over the last few years about conferences; reviewing sessions and presenters, and lamenting missing sessions. Early this year I was chatting with Mrs C21 about this years conferences and which ones I would or would not attend decided that I would make a change.
My current role with ClickView has me travelling quite regularly, being away from my family for a week at a time, three times a term (this year, anyway). That is part of the job and we knew that would be a factor when I took the job. However, we are also playing that incredibly difficult game called save a deposit for a house.
Given those two factors, I have made the decision that I will not be attending any conferences this year other than those that I attend as part of my role with ClickView. This will save me being away even more, save us a significant amount of money - conferences are not cheap but then you have to factor in flights, accommodation, and food - and also it reduces the amount of annual leave I have to take. A two day conference would require me to take two or three days of annual leave depending on where it is, maybe even four days. With ClickView having a Christmas shutdown period, I need to ensure that I have sufficient leave to take over the summer without getting caught short.
There were a number of conferences that I was looking at this year. The On Butterfly Wings group is planning a conference in Sydney which looks to be excellent and will be focusing on mindfulness for teachers (register here), and I was very much looking forward to the new format for FlipConAus, which is being held in Melbourne this year at Monash University (info and register here).
Ultimately though, I have to make the best decision for my family and Ms One is so much fun right to be with right now (other than teething). I do not want to look back in years to come and decide that I regret taking time to go to conferences but ultimately missed out on time with my family. For this year at least, I will only be attending conferences that are part of my role with ClickView and not attending any others.
“I’ve come to a frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element in the classroom. It’s my personal approach that creates the climate. It’s my daily mood that makes the weather. As a teacher, I possess a tremendous power to make a child’s life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated and a child humanized or dehumanized.”
― Haim G. Ginot
What do you think will reduce the churn rate of teachers?
Being a teacher is an incredibly tough, tiring, frustrating profession that also brings great joy, excitement, and a sense of fulfillment. Yet we continue to hear about the numbers of teachers leaving the profession in the first five years, and more recently the lack of people applying for leadership roles, particularly at the Principal level (though the recent Principal Wellbeing survey results I think are indicative of one reason why that may be).
If this is the case, how can we improve the process by which we educate our teachers through their initial training? How can we strengthen it to ensure they have not just the knowledge of content, curriculum, pedagogy, educational philosophy and history, but also how to empathise with students, de-escalate situations, recognise student well-being issues and not only know what to do procedurally, but what to do in the classroom or the playground in the moment? How can we screen those who are entering initial teacher education programs to look for best fit without the feeble increase the entry ATAR requirements?
I have seen over the last few years a number of articles that are pointing towards the use of avatars and virtual reality training such as is outlined in this 2010 Inside Higher Ed article, and this article from VR ROOM in 2016, and finally, this Market Watch article from 2017.
One problem with this scenario is that in all of the articles that I have seen where this is addressed, the classroom is very traditional with the teacher at the front and some very stereotypical student mis-behaviours. It does not allow for the teacher to get alongside the students, to deploy some basic classroom management skills such as the simple use of presence or nearness. Additionally, where the students are performed by actors who are in a building nearby, they are trying to work against the teacher and may push well past where an actual student would.
These systems also seem to presume that the classroom in which all teachers practice are simply those with the teacher at the front of the room giving a lecture. While this does happen, I have never met a teacher who only stays at the front. There may be a lecture component, but then the teacher is moving around the room, working one-to-one wit students, answering questions and providing assistance. This system of training teachers could potentially, therefore, embed poor practices before those teachers have even entered a classroom.
I do not know what the solution to reducing the churn rates within teaching is, but I do not think that using avatar and virtual reality simulations is it. More support in the early years, job security, mentoring, better respect from the broader community and less blaming of teachers and education for the ills of society would all go a long way.
What are your thoughts on reducing the churn rate in teaching?
In this Flipped Teacher Professional Learning video, I show you how to ensure that comments are included when you force a copy to be made people click on a Google Doc link.
If you missed the video on how to force the copy of a GDoc, you can view it here.
For more FTPL videos, click here.
"The strength of the team is each individual member. The strength of each member is the team."
- Attributed to Phil Jackson
Group work is often either enjoyed or reviled by students and this can come down to a a range of factors, including previous experiences with group work, the individuals in the team, the task, the culture of the classroom, and how the groups are set up - assigned or self-chosen by the students. I enjoyed some group tasks; typically those where I had a team around me with everyone doing their part towards the whole, and I have also strongly disliked other group tasks; often those where there was a perception that one or more people in the group was not pulling their weight. Setting groups can be important.
You want students to mix with others, especially those with whom they might not associate with (reasons for which are perhaps self-evident, but also laid out nicely in this TED talk) and so it is often necessary to assign groups. This leads to the question of how do you do that? You can, of course, always manually assign the groups looking for the optimal mix of students who work well together, will encourage each other etc. or you can use various tools to randomly assign groups. This post is going to look at some of those.
1. Class Dojo (free)
Class Dojo cops a lot of flack for a lot of reasons, but it does include the ability to create groups within Dojo very easily. These groups are manually set up but it allows you to then use those for a variety of activities, or even just table groups.
2. Team Shake (paid)
Team Shake is an app ovailable on iOs and Android that allows you to create up to sixty-four groups that can either be random or balanced. You also have a few other nifty features such as always enabling that people are on the same or different teams, exporting the teams to another device, and the ability to assign user strength levels which can then factor into the balancing of the teams.
3. Random Group Creator (free)
This free tool is very simple and allows you to enter all of the names and then randomise those names into groups, either by keeping them evenly sized or by filling a group to its maximum capacity (set by you) before creating the next group.
4. Setting up Rotating Groups (free)
You may want to have your groups change on a regular basis. This system provides a relatively quick and easy way to set that up knowing that you are getting the students rotated through to work with each other.
5. Random Group Maker (free)
This website is quite straightforward, allowing you to enter in the names, set the number of groups, the number of people per group, and then randomise the names across the groups.
They are just five quick and easy tools to set up your groups in class. If you have a favoured tool that is not listed here, let me know what it is and I can update the list, with credit to you for sharing the tool.
As always, thank you for reading.
"What if, instead of avoiding social media in school altogether or focusing solely on the negative aspects, we teach students how to leverage it to connect in positive ways and build a digital footprint that reflects their best selves..."
- Susan M. Bearden
Digital Citizenship and how to teach our students to be careful, critical, and safe users of the internet is a hot topic at the moment, particularly in the wake of the tragic suicide of Dolly Everett here in Australia. How do we tackle this challenge to make children realise the impact that they can have on others in this age of internet anonymity?
There are a number of resources and tools that are available and I want to outline three of those in this article.
Office of the eSafety Commissioner
The website of this Government Office has a range of resources, both for classroom teachers, for parents and grandparents, and for a range of online activities for children to work through. There are also links for those who are struggling with cyberbullying through social media, a link to Kids Helpline, and a link to report offensive/illegal content. If you are a parent or educator, I would recommend having a look here. The eSafety Commissioner also has active Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube pages for you to engage with.
Interland is a website put together by Google that gamifies four aspects of using the internet: Reality River is about awareness of the credibility of news and information, Mindful Mountain is focused on responsible sharing, Tower of Treasure targets having appropriate password and being aware of privacy settings, while Kind Kingdom is about treating others as you want to be treated. It is aimed, quite clearly at younger students, up to around eleven or Twelve years of age, perhaps a young thirteen year old. The games themselves can be a bit clunky, but it is a reasonable resource to utilise for primary-aged students to encourage awareness of these concepts. There are teacher resources to go with the games (available here) and it is worth checking out to help you get started with considering how to teach these concepts.
Jacqui Murray wrote an article for TeachHub outlining the specific topics that she sees as being included in the broad category of digital citizenship (nineteen topics in all!), but then also breaks down an easy to follow suggestion for when and how to introduce these different concepts to our students, starting with Kindergarten and moving forwards from there. Links to different resources used with different ages students are included throughout.
The subject of digital citizenship is not going to go away, and simply banning phones and other devices from our children is a strategy akin to sticking our heads in the sand - the world is not going away and doing that sets our students up for failure when they do leave us as adults. Realistically, whatever we are trying to shield them from, they are likely seeing or hearing with their friends.
We should be proactive and work with our children from the beginning to understand how to be responsible online just as we do to teach them to be responsible off-line. We also need to stop referring to off-line as the real world. Online is as real world as off-line, the impacts are just as real, the friendships and social networks are just as real as those in the offline world.
In this Flipped Teacher Professional Learning video, I show you a tool that I can see being useful and fun with Geography and Visual Arts where yo draw a line on the screen and the program matches it to a line of a similar trajectory from a satellite image.
This could be utilised a stimulus for visual arts (I am seeing Mr Squiggle in my mind at the moment), or it could be used as a quick fire engagement task in geography with students having to identify the type of geographical formation.
For more FTPL videos, please click here.
"It may be that there is as much variation within the digital native generation as between the generations."
- Bennett, Maton & Kervin’s (2008) The ‘digital natives’ debate: A critical review of the evidence
Recently, i was listening to an episode of Jon Bergmann's podcast, Flipped Learning Worldwide that was titled What Old-School Teachers Know that New-School Teachers Need to Know. Jon indicated that there had been a twitter conversation recently talking about how #oldschoolteachers are perceived, but that we need to remember they still have valuable knowledge and expertise.
My experience with the term old school teachers is around the way experienced teachers do or do not engage with technology. Old school teachers are apparently incapable of learning, or do no want to learn how to use technology, while newer or younger teachers are often automatically tapped on the shoulder to be the IT person. I have heard "you're young - you can be the tech person" said.
I find this discourse troubling in its in accuracy, and it harks back to the digital natives vs digital immigrants conversation. Marc Prensky first coined the term in 2001 in an article titled Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants and it is worth noting that the magazine in which that article was published, On the Horizon, was not a peer-reviewed magazine. The discourse around this topic since then has become about older people are not good at or with technology and younger people are.
There are a number of problems inherently wrong with this discourse - what does it mean to be good at or with technology? The inventors of the various technologies typically referred to in this discourse, computers, smartphones, tablets, etc., are all in the age group to be considered digital immigrants, yet they are, if anything, the original natives. The basic assumption in this discourse, if you are old then you are not very good with technology; and if you are young then you are good with technology, is also quite clearly false.
I am thinking of three particular teachers at the moment, all of whom would be considered late-career teachers. One of these teachers is neither comfortable with using technology, nor open to learning about it and how to use it. This teacher has learned just enough to get by in terms of writing reports, emails etc. That teacher retired at the end of last year. A brilliant teacher in his preferred subject area, but not interested in technology.
The next was someone who did not feel particularly comfortable with technology but was open to learning how to use it; but only after you had convinced them that the technology had a solid pedagogical application. This teacher was highly skeptical, but open to being convinced. I spent some time with that person helping her to understand they why behind using various pieces of technology, some of which they took on board, and others were left by the wayside.
The final teacher that I am thinking of was quite comfortable with technology. Would be quite happy to be shown something new, whether by colleagues or students, to learn about it and to incorporate it into their practice if appropriate. This teacher did use some pedagogical strategies that might be considered old school, but was very good at her role.
Three old school teachers, each of whom had different feelings towards technology in the classroom and different levels of self-efficacy.
I am now thinking of three teachers who could be considered early or mid-career teachers. The first is in their early thirties. Does not use social media in any form, has a fairly basic non-smart phone, needed some help to work out how to use the interactive whiteboard, and how to use Google Suite to to write his teaching program. This person is an age where it would be assumed you are good with technology. The next is someone in their mid-twenties. Uses social media, email, Google Suite, but will not go beyond that. They are comfortable with what they use and do not want to move beyond that. The final person is someone who was tapped on the shoulder and told that they were going to be the tech person because they were young (mid-thirties). This person is young and is quite happy to explore new technology, how it fits pedagogically, share it with others, runs training sessions with colleagues who want to learn more.
Some of those who have taught me the most about using technology would be considered digital immigrants. Many I know who are my age or younger can use social media comfortably but would not know how to set up a Google Doc for their students to do some collaborative writing in.
This divide between older and younger teachers and the assumptions about technology-efficacy levels needs to stop. It is not helpful and it is not accurate. Being young and using a smartphone along with some social media apps does not equate to being able to use technology as an effective pedagogical tool.
The first of the older teachers that I mentioned was an amazing teacher and could very effectively communicate the essential points of what was being addressed in a lesson to students, irrespective of whether they were in Kindergarten or in Year Six. I learned a lot about communication in an outdoors environment from this teacher. I also learned a lot about teaching oracy to students from the third of the older teachers. Old school teaches are also experienced teachers, with a wealth of knowledge and practical experience built over years of teaching.
While there is a difference, as Jon phrased it, between having been teaching for thirty years, and having been teaching for one year thirty times, we can and should sit alongside them to share our collective knowledge.
What are your areas of opportunity that you may be able to tap into an experienced teacher for help with? What can you offer to a colleague to help develop their knowledge and practice?
"We carry with us habits of thought and taste fostered in some nearly forgotten classroom by a certain teacher."
- Jerome Bruner, The Culture of Education, p. 24
I have written on occasion in the past, including last week, about the importance of relationships in the classroom. After hearing it mentioned a few times on the Teachers Talking Teaching podcast, I have dived into listening to the EduChange podcast. Each episode has been an interview with someone involved in the education space in some way, usually as an educator, talking about what they have changed in their context and the impact that it has had. There have been some striking consistencies across the episodes that I have listened to thus far.
Initially, each guest is asked to outline a brief synopsis of their life in education and how they have ended up where they are, and at the end are asked to share a takeaway message with the listeners. In between is the really interesting conversation.Strikingly, relationships have been coming up a lot in the episodes that I have listened to. I do not know if that is a specific focus or if it is just how the interviews have played out, however, so far relationships with students has been a strong component of the change being affected in the interviews with Shane Hancock, Brett Wood, Peter Hutton, Matt Noffs, and Ashanti Branch.
The five educators whom I have listened to thus far are from very disparate ares, the UK, North America, and various parts of Australia. But for all of them, relationships with students came through. One of the educators made a remark that for some students, they are confused when a teacher shows them care outside of where a teacher should care because they are not used to being cared for.
“If you care more about the subject you are teaching than the subjects WHO you are teaching, there will probably be a disconnect.”
- Ashanti Branch
We do not necessarily know what is going on at home, students, just as much a teachers, wear masks to hide things from those around them. Ashanti Branch is working in his community, through the Ever Forward Club, to break down those masks, to help students see that students' challenges are not there's alone, but are being borne by others as well.
Brett Wood, co-founder of Music Industry College, has used embedded relationships into the school. The size of the school has deliberately been kept small so that all staff know all students. The power behind that is incredible. To be able to know the names of all the students in a school has the power to change your relationship with them immensely, and their relationship with you, and with their learning.
There are a range of available resources to help you learn how to build and strengthen the relationships with your students, from the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD) (here), to the National Education Association (NEA - North America) (here), and the Victorian Education Department (here), and the American Psychological Association (APA) (here).
Hattie's work in Visible Learning indicated that student-teacher relationships had an effect size of 0.72 on learning outcomes in both his 2009 and 2011 reports, which is quite a significant impact. Relationships play such an important role in the classroom.
What are you going to do to help strengthen yours?
In this Flipped Teacher Professional Learning video, I show you a tool called Tour Builder that can be used to build routes or tours to highlight journeys from history, from book studies, or from impending school excursions.
This could easily be adapted for use in English, History, Geography, and even Science or CAPA.
For more helpful FTPL videos, please click here.
“What is a teacher? I'll tell you: it isn't someone who teaches something, but someone who inspires the student to give of her best in order to discover what she already knows.”
― Paulo Coelho, The Witch of Portobello
The final unit in the Flipped Learning Level II certification course is titled The most important things. I am not going to talk about the unit in this article, however, other than to say that it is a largely an interesting conversation between Jon Bergmann and Pedro Noguera on the topic of student-teacher relationships
I agree wholeheartedly that our relationships with students will be one of the most important factors in determining whether you will have a fruitful year with that student. Relationships can start poorly and recover, start well and sour, or as in most relationships, be up and down throughout the year. But good relationships will bear fruit in the form of learning.
What do you do at the start of each year to build strong relationships with your students? What do you do at the start of term/week/day/lesson to reconnect and check in with your students? It is something that you do not receive any training or advice on during your initial teacher education other than learn their names and their dis/likes. That is pretty basic and, unless you are a robot, should happen naturally. How do you take it another step so that students look forward to your lesson, knowing that your class is a safe and supportive space where they can fail with confidence, learn without fear, and be challenged with a foundation of trust and respect underpinning their perception of the classroom?
There are some fairly straightforward things that can be done that I have seen and/or used in my own classes, such as simple celebrations of every students birthday as class, sharing (appropriately) about yourself, having one-on-one conversations with your students each day, recognising celebrating their successes and failures, trusting them, showing them the respect that you expect....the list goes on.
I will end this short article with a video from Kid President. My regular readers will have seen this before, as I referenced it when I delivered the Graduate Address at my graduation ceremony. I would love to be remembered the way that Mrs Flexer was and is remembered by her students. I think that we should all be striving to be remembered this way. I have been asking teachers in professional learning sessions that I have been running lately who can point to a teacher that you had a student, who you can look back on and point to as, if not influencing your decision to enter teaching, then as having a significant and positive impact on your life. I am yet to ask this question in a session and have no responses.
As teachers, our words and ideas can change the world. Be awesome and build amazing relationships with your students so that they can be awesome.
Thank you, as always, for reading.
"Research is to see what everybody else has seen, and to think what nobody else has thought."
- Attributed to Albert Szent-Gyorgyi
The penultimate unit in the Flipped Learning Level II Certification program was focused on understanding how to find and engage with research, and was with Dr. Robert Talbert of Grand Valley State University (MI). This unit I think was one that was extremely accessible for everyone and that all teachers should work through.
Given the rhetoric that is often present in the media and from politicians around the need for research-based teaching practice, this segment provided some very practical strategies for engaging with research. Robert acknowledged the challenge that paywalls present in preventing easy access to research, however, Google Scholar is a very good tool to utilise to help with that. It may be worth approaching a nearby university campus to see if you can arrange access to their library and therefore their databases and access research that way.
Anyone who has been required to read research will know that journal articles are often dense, long, heavy on statistics, and use overly-complicated language. One strategy, as obvious as it is, to help determine whether it is going to be worth reading an article or not, is to read through the abstract, which provides a summary of the article. I discarded a number of articles in my research after reading the abstract, however, I still found myself reading articles that I would decide partway through were not actually going to be useful for me.
Robert's advice was to skip straight to end and read the sections labelled discussion and conclusion. Robert pointed out that if these two sections, typically only a few paragraphs each in length, end up not yielding useful information then diving into the remainder of the article is not going to be worth the investment of time. It is such an obvious thing to do that I am disappointed in myself for not realising it while doing my own research.
Robert also spoke about some strategies to help determine if the research was quality, well-conducted research or not. Initially, this revolved around the clarity of the questions that the research was investigating. If the question being asked is not clearly defined or not explicitly stated that should raise some potential alarm bells. As part of this, any variables, or restrictions that relate to the research need to be stated, including any survey instruments such as questionnaires. Critically, the methodology needs to be laid out clearly in order to allow for replication. Good research should be able to be replicated and achieve the same or very similar results.
There does often seem to be a disconnect between research and the classroom, however, there does not need to be. Google Scholar allows you to set alerts so that you receive an email with the titles of a number of articles that meet search criteria that you set. This allows you to simply scan through and perhaps identify one or two articles each week that you want to invest the time into reading.
Another way of engaging with the research is to listen to podcasts where they explore research. Two very good podcasts that I listen to and recommend you listen to are The Education Review by Cameron Malcher, and Teachers Talking Teaching by John Catterson and Pete Whiting. Teachers talking Teaching is the less reverent podcast, however, both podcasts tackle education research and policy, and its implications for classroom and are worth listening to.
As always, thank you for reading.
In this Flipped Teacher Professional Learning video, I show you how to do a reverse image search using Google Images. This can be helpful for finding alternative sized versions of the image or determining where it came from.
For more FTPL videos, please click here.
"Do things with passion or not at all."
Unit eleven in the Flipped Learning Certification Level II course was with Kate Lanier, a Physics teacher in Texas. I have come across genius hour in the past, I think you would have to be living under a rock to have not heard of it. My understanding is that it originated with Google or one of the other big tech companies who gave employees twenty percent of their time at work to work on passion projects with some stunning results, a concept has been taken by education and tweaked to be the genius hour.
There were a few key points that Kate outlined as being critical to genius hour. One of the critical aspects in my opinion is that we as teachers do not have to know the skill or have the knowledge that students want to pursue; I suspect it may be better if we do not know. As teachers we often feel that we have to know everything about the topic or subject and this is why many teachers do not dive into new strategies or ideas such as genius hour, project based learning, flipped learning etc. We do not need to know coding, for example, if that is what the student wants to pursue. If we can point the student to some good quality resources, that will be enough in many cases.
Kate also stressed that it has to be new learning for the students, that it cannot be something they already know about. It can be an extension of something they know, if new learning will occur as part of that extension. This could mean that they cannot simply research their personal fandom (Marvel, Star Wars etc.), however, if they wanted to learn to make a stop-motion animation, they could certainly use that fandom as the base.
Reflecting on Kate's explanation of genius hour, there seemed to me to be a lot of similarities with Project-Based Learning, with the key difference being that the student chose their own project or focus rather than being given one to work on. I have come across various criticisms against genius hour; including that it is inappropriate in novice classrooms, which seems to make sense; that it sets a poor standard by indicating we can relegate creativity and passion to an hour a week, and the criticism that expecting employees to do all of their work in only eighty percent of the time in order to free up twenty percent of their time to work on a personal passion project that will benefit the company seems like it is completely inconsistent (I have been unable to find the article where I read this criticism).
My belief is that like anything this can work in some contexts but not in others. I would not be putting this in place in a novice class, however, providing genius hour as some sort of integrated cross-curricular project to help students tie up and bring together their learning from a unit of learning could be a valuable investment in time. The challenge, however, is still being able to complete the required curriculum in only eighty percent of the available time.
I would love to hear from anyone who has tried to implement genius hour, successful or not, and what your leanings were from the experience.
"Doubt is the incentive to truth and inquiry leads the way."
- Attributed to Hosea Ballou
Unit ten of the Flipped Learning Level II certification course was focused on the how flipped learning supports inquiry-based learning (IBL), facilitated by Ramsay Musallam and Enoch Ng. There was, unfortunately, video issues when Jon Bergmann and Ramsay were recording their segments and as a result, not much of the video content of Ramsay was usable.
I have to say up front that I struggled with this particular unit. What I have heard about IBL in the past has been that it is rather wishy-washing and lacking in evidence to support it. Kirschner, Sweller, and Clark published an article in 2006 titled Why Minimal Guidance During Instruction Does Not Work: An Analysis of the Failure of Constructivist, Discovery, Problem-Based, Experiential, and Inquiry-Based Teaching (available here), in which the first sentence of the conclusion states that "(a)fter a half-century of advocacy associated with instruction using minimal guidance, it appears that there is no body of research supporting the technique." The authors do state their definition of minimal guidance pedagogy in the article, including inquiry-based learning in that. There is also this:
"Interestingly, PISA 2013 found a negative correlation in all participating countries between a ‘student-orientation’ and maths results, with the construct roughly mapping onto some forms of inquiry. Even more strikingly, PISA 2015 found a negative association between increased use of ‘enquiry’ methods in science class and science performance."
- Retrieved from https://gregashman.wordpress.com/2017/11/18/a-toolkit-to-help-you-resist-inquiry-based-learning/ on 26 January 2018
I do need to make it clear that my understanding of inquiry-based learning has been based upon what I have seen written about in blogs discussing the research, and a few articles, many by the above three authors. I am not intimately familiar with it as a particular pedagogical strategy.
What I write below is of course my own understanding / interpretation of what was said, and it is not my intention to misrepresent the process. If I have got it wrong, please let me know - I am always happy to engage in dialogue. Ramsay and Enoch define IBL as being a general term for letting students' questions be the starting point for lessons, with teachers activating students' prior knowledge to create the awareness/information gap. Students ask questions on the topic, exploring it to find their own answers at which point they engage with the learning object, and then apply that updated knowledge or schema in some way through active learning activities.
Ramsay refers his model of inquiry as explore, flip, apply. This is the part that is leaving me feeling uncertain; I know what I have heard and read about IBL, however, I do not feel that this is inquiry, merely a fairly standard process - ascertain preconceptions and prior knowledge, address them through explicit teaching via a learning object, and then apply this to ensure the correct understanding and schema are embedded, not the misconceptions.
Jon asked them directly, why should teachers engage with IBL and they responded that it is how the human brain works, we are inherently curious creatures, trying to work out how and why things happen which creates problem solvers and which can be used to create problem finders. I know from watching Miss One that she is fascinated with trying to understand how things work and conducting experiments, as only a toddler can to understand it.
I am not sure how I feel about IBL. I know what I have read from the research and this has not convinced me that IBL works and the research is wrong. That said, it was not intended to do so and only gave a very brief overview of what Ramsay's model of IBL is. I would encourage anyone who is a proponent of IBL to get in touch via the comments below, or if Ramsay or Enoch happen to read this, to expound on your thoughts in more detail.
As always, thank you for reading.
In this Flipped Teacher Professional Learning video, I show you a tool that is part of the Google Maps tool, Google Maps Space. It will be useful for any units relating to space and the solar system as it provides you with easy to access imagery relating to the celestial bodies in our solar system as well as the ability to do a virtual tour of the International Space Station.
For more helpful FTPL videos click here.
"The good thing about science is that it's true whether or not you believe in it."
- Neil deGrasse Tyson
As a teacher, how do you deal with Easter, Christmas, and Halloween in the classroom? What are your thoughts and ideals about those events?
I have seen Neil deGrasse Tyson described as a national treasure and he is someone for whom I have a great deal of respect. He is not highly intelligent, but he has the ability to explain often complex concepts in a way that makes them accessible without talking down to people. He has always come across in interviews that I have seen, as being an incredibly down to Earth and ordinary man.
As some of us do, I have some quite strong beliefs about a number of things as an individual that influence how I would like to raise my daughter, but which I am struggling to reconcile as a professional in my teaching practice. I would like you to think about some of the sensible beliefs and practices we, as teachers and parents both, work to instill in our children.
If you have not already done so, I would encourage you to go back and watch the above interview with Tyson.
"That's what it's all about right? That's what it's always been about! Gifts, gifts, gifts, gifts, gifts, gifts! Do you know what happens to your gifts? They all come to me...in your garbage. Do you see what I'm saying here? IN YOUR GARBAGE! I could hang myself with all the bad Christmas neckties I found at the dump! And the avarice! The avarice never ends! "I want golf clubs!" "I want diamonds!" "I want a pony so I can ride it twice, get bored, and send it away to make glue!" Look, I don't wanna make waves here, but this WHOLE Christmas season is STUPID! STUPID! STUPID!"
- The Grinch (from the 2000 movie)
I do not like Christmas. The idea that we have to spend so much money people whom we often do not like to show them that we like them and that we can afford to spend money is just ridiculous and the wastefulness during Christmas both materially with packaging and wrapping paper, and with Christmas Cards that go in the bin only a few days later is phenomenal. As parents, we get cranky with our children they demand particular toys, or if they sulk when they get what they want. We do not let them go up to strangers and ask for things. We get cranky when our children lie.
But at Christmas time, we encourage our students to demand things from a fictitious man who we have lied to our children about the existence of by having them write Dear Santa, this year for Christmas I want.... We then take our students for a photo with a complete stranger we know nothing about, often forcing them to be in the photo, often forcing them if the number of photos I have seen with screaming children are anything to go buy. If they get sulky because they did not get what they want at Christmas, it is often called cute. Societally, we then tell people that what they gave us was not good enough by spending, in 2017, $2.4 billion dollars on stuff at the Boxing Day Sales (source).
That said, I love Christmas because it is a guarantee chance to spend a few hours with family. This past Christmas was amusing as we spent Christmas day with my wife's family and both of my brothers-in-law have daughters who were born six and eight weeks respectively after my daughter. Three little girls who are all cheeky in different ways and were all toddling around the house was incredibly cute and you could see the joy on the the faces of the family.
As you may have guessed, I do not plan on doing Santa with my daughter and it is something my wife and have been debating the handling of for a long time. But where I am finding a professional dilemma is in the classroom when it comes to the lead up of Easter, Halloween, and Christmas. As teachers we should not be imposing our beliefs on students. And so I have struggled with those events. It has been made easier the last few years as I have been either job-sharing or team-teaching and simply allowed my partner to do any activities relating to those events.
It is becoming something that I am feeling increasingly uncomfortable with; due, I think, to becoming a parent and feeling the way I do. The way that Neil deGrasse Tyson addresses it seems like a reasonable compromise, challenging the students to think critically for themselves. Is that an approach that could be taken in the classroom without causing too much uproar, do you think?
I would love to hear your thoughts on this, and whether you agree or disagree about the inculcation into the capitalist-fantasy world of the Easter bunny, Santa, and Hallowe'en.
Thank you for reading.
“Stories can conquer fear, you know. They can make the heart bigger.”
- Attributed to Ben Okri
As a child and a teenager I was always reading, devouring books similarly to how I devoured food - voraciously, getting lost in the story of the character about whom I was reading. There are many stories that I look back on with fond memories. Goodnight Mr. Tom by Michelle Magorian is still one of my favourite stories of all time. I read through my mother's collection of Jack Higgins, Wilbur Smith, Robert Ludlum, my Pop's collection of Ion Idriess, Frank Herbert, Isaac Asimov. Each time I would be lost in the story of the protagonist, and much of my spare time was spent reading these great stories. When I then saw that Unit Ten in the Flipped Learning Level II Certification course was titled first person narrative, I was naturally curious as to what it was about.
Ryan Hull is a Year Seven Social Studies teacher in Kansas and he was increasingly finding that his students were heading to Wikipedia for their research and were simply copying and pasting without actually engaging with the knowledge through analysis. Ryan's process was around having them use that knowledge that required them to think about it differently, to analyse and synthesis is it into a different form by having them write, initially, journal entries of particular historical figures reflecting on certain events, and then by having them write scripts for and record interviews with or as those characters.
The concept that Ryan spoke about which intrigued me the most, however, was using what he terms a creative use of social media. Social media is a tool like any other; it can be incredibly useful in the classroom or it can be a hindrance, it comes down to how we use it. There are many tools out there that allow you to create fake social media accounts (a great consolidated post of some of them by Gayle Pinn can be found here) and these can be used to generate exchanges between historical figures, timelines or recounts of historical events (such as the @RealTimeWWI and @RealTimeWWII twitter accounts).
I think this is interesting from how it can be used in History, using historical figures and events as the inspiration, but also for other subject areas as science (maybe a day in the life of the moon, or have some of the elements from the periodic table talking about relationships), for Geography (have a mountain talking about how it has changed and shrunk over time (interesting relationship here perhaps with PE and how we grow?), or for English with various characters from set texts interacting with each other (an interesting take on using Twitter to write stories is here).
I think that the use of first person narratives in the classroom is not a new strategy, however, the use of fake social media accounts presents an opportunity to integrate responsible use of social media into the discussion.
If you use fake social media to have students write, create, or respond to historical figures or events, I would love to hear about it in the comments.
Thank you for reading.
In this Flipped Teacher Professional Learning Video, I show you useful and easy to use tool for showing students time-lapse imagery of different regions of the world. Lots of uses in history and geography across all year groups to help reinforce how the environment has changed over the last thirty or so years..
For more FTPL videos, click here.
"Teaching is listening, learning is talking."
- Attributed to Deborah Meier
When I saw that the title of one of the units in the Flipped Learning Level II Certification was titled Peer Instruction, my thoughts immediately went to Vygotsky's Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD), something that I learned about during my initial teacher education and which I think is a valuable tool. The unit was led by two people, Eric Mazur; a Professor of Physics at Harvard; and Troy Faulkner a Social Studies teacher in Minnesota and my initial understanding, based solely on the unit, is that while it is not, in itself, just ZPD, it does appear to be based on and utilise a lot of ZPD theory.
Eric and Troy defined Peer Instruction as being a process wherein students engage with each other to convince the other of correctness of their position to a question asked by the teacher through discussion, comparison, (classical) argument (as opposed to the I'm right and you're wrong so ner!" style of argument), and reflection. This is of course predicated on students having a basic understanding of the concept before engage in the peer instruction component, with further learning experience through the process of arguing their point and having flaws pointed out to them.
Peer Instruction appears to be a process that, depending on the age of the students, would be relatively straightforward to implement. One of the biggest benefits that spring to mind from this strategy, whether it is used in a flipped context or not, is that it would appear to aid in the development of the ability to argue using evidence and logic. Students are required, as part of this process, to defend their position whilst working to win-over the other person using evidence from the pre-learning, the text, background knowledge, and logic. I can imagine that in the early stages of this process being implemented in a classroom that the arguments would potentially be quite simplistic. Students would of course need training in how to form logical coherent arguments, in identifying evidence that will be useful for demonstrating their position in a logical way.
There was another element about this that I liked, which was that how you implemented it can be varied to suit your personal teaching style; structure with set time frames through to laissez-fair and that even that might change over time. If I was to use this strategy in the classroom, it would be quite structured initially in order to provide a firm structure for the students to work within and learn how to engage with and implement the process, becoming less structured and more open as they became more comfortable and confident with the process.
If Peer Instruction you wanted to look into further, take a look at Peer Instruction by Eric Mazur, or visit Troy's website and his page on peer instruction. There is also a blog written by Julie Schell who is a member of the Mazur Group at Harvard University.
"There is no science in this world like physics. Nothing comes close to the precision with which physics enables you to understand the world around you."
- Neil deGrasse Tyson
I stumbled on a tool recently that is designed for science classes and is an app for both iOS and Android. I am not doing this as an FTPL video as I have only had a brief look at it. It looks like it has a lot of potential for helping students capture data, particularly outdoors, reducing the amount of paraphernalia that is required for going out and gathering data.
The app asks for permission to access your microphone, camera, and camera roll and it also uses the device's inbuilt accelerometer to capture that data as needed. It also has a note-taking feature.
Together, this enables students to collect data for light, sounds, motion, direction, magnetism, barometric pressure, and make observation notes; all of which can be exported as a CSV to be opened in any spreadsheet software for analysis.
Having such an easy ability to record data live can be helpful across a range of science lessons and will also enable students to capture data anywhere.
As I said, I have not explored this in-depth as yet, but an initial look makes it appear quite useful.
You can download the Science Journal app using the links below:
Android version - Google Play Store link
iOS version - iTunes App Store link
In addition to the apps, Google also provides a collection of activities and lessons to use with Science Journal.ons