This week I will be presenting 2 sessions at the 2015 Leading a Digital School Conference. Abstracts and session resources can be found below.
Google Apps for Education and BYOT
Abstract: Google is much more than a search tool – it is an extraordinary tool for education. Cloud-based technologies are now enabling “anytime and anywhere” access which has the ability to redefine learning and teaching for our staff and students. The vast suite of Google Apps and tools offer distinct advantages and powerful collaboration for its users. This session will: – Unpack the advantages and disadvantages of Google Apps For Education. – Provide resources and advice for deploying Google Apps in an educational setting. – Provide examples of Google tools in action in a primary setting. This session is intended for educators with basic knowledge of Google Apps or starting to experiment with some of Google’s offerings. It is also suitable for anyone considering whether Google Apps for Education is suitable for their school context, and if it might complement a BYOT program.
Ignited Learning through Genius Hour
Abstract: Genius Hour, inspired by Google’s 80/20 time, is a timely change from the industrial model of schooling. Time is set aside each week for students to take ultimate control of their learning. Teachers will no longer dictate the entire curriculum of the teaching and learning that is taking place in their classrooms. Students will have choice and voice in their learning as they pursue their interests and passions. It is Passion Based Inquiry Learning at its finest, and is engaging and motivating students around the globe to unprecedented levels. More information can be viewed at www.geniushour.com. This session will: – Explore the disruption of a traditional pedagogical approach that goes beyond the idea of flipping delivery of content, but flipping how, what and when students learn. – Discuss successes and surprises from a recent school implementation of Genius Hour. – Provide resources and advice for implementing a Genius Hour / 20 Time program in your school context.
This week I will be presenting at the annual DLTV state conference, DigiCon15. The session, Disruptive Thinking in Education, draws on thoughts and inspiration of my 2014 Google Teacher Academy experiences, where a personal moonshot was developed:
How might we amplify disruptive thinking in education to bring about positive change in our community?
In some ways, this presentation aims to amplify disruptive thinking with colleagues who will attend the session. In a broader sense, the amplification of disruptive ideas in education for wider communities beyond DigiCon15 is something that I am still grappling with, coming to terms with, and immersing myself with. One of my goals this year is to start that course of amplification in other communities, however, DigiCon15 will be a great place to share my thinking and progress thus far.
Abstract: Schools can be incredibly hard places to change, and at times, difficult spaces for re-imagination to take place. Too often we are bogged down by the day-to-day structures and internal / external forces and influences that dictate the learning for our students. Fixed-mindsets and the proud traditions or methods of “doing things we have always done” can be a toxic combination. Whilst there are pockets of innovation happening around the globe, we can’t really say that education has hit its mass tipping point as yet.
This session will unpack the importance and impact of disruptive thinking in education, as well as the methods that educators might seek in changing their classrooms and schools for the better. Examples will be provided of ideas and technologies that are disrupting our lives and shaping the future of education.
This article originally appeared in the May 2015 issue of Education Matters Magazine (Primary).
During my seemingly short teaching career, there are two questions that I have constantly grappled with: ‘What makes an effective teacher?’, and to a greater extent, ‘How does one measure their effectiveness?’.
In my opinion, John Hattie’s (2009) influential work in the study of what makes a difference in our classrooms, has made huge inroads into answering these complexities of teaching. It is with little surprise that Hattie’s work is gaining in worldwide popularity and momentum. His study represents the largest collection and analysis of evidence-based research which investigates what is actually working in schools when it comes to improving learning.
I became interested in Hattie’s work after his first major release, Visible learning: A synthesis of 800+ meta-analyses on achievement. After hearing him speak, I took a number of his principles into consideration, mainly in the areas of calculating effect sizes, providing quality feedback to students, and constructing meaningful learning intentions and success criteria with students.
In his second major release, Visible learning for teachers: Maximizing impact on learning, Hattie presents eight ‘mind frames’ or ways of thinking that must underpin every action and decision made in schools and educational systems if they are striving to improve the quality of education. Hattie argues that teachers and leaders who develop these ways of thinking are more likely to have major impacts on student learning:
- 1) Teachers/leaders believe that their fundamental task is to evaluate the effect of their teaching on students learning and achievement
- 2) Teachers/leaders believe that success and failure in student learning is about what they, as teachers or leaders, did or did not do…We are change agents!
- 3) Teachers/leaders want to talk more about the learning than the teaching
- 4) Teachers/leaders see assessment as feedback about their impact
- 5) Teachers/leaders engage in dialogue not monologue
- 6) Teachers/leaders enjoy the challenge and never retreat to ‘doing their best’
- 7) Teachers/leaders believe that it is their role to develop positive relationships in classrooms and staffrooms
- 8) Teachers/leaders inform all about the language of learning
(Hattie, 2012, pg 169)
Assessment for the teachers, from the students
Mindframe 4, the idea that student assessment can be treated as feedback to the teacher can be a hard pill to swallow for some teachers. It forces us to realise that every single student in our care has the capacity to learn, and that the teacher and school is responsible for facilitating that progress of each child. Too often, teachers tend to blame ‘undesirable’ outcomes or academic results on student absence, attitude to learning, or social / behavioural factors. However, by believing that we, as teachers, can master ways to progress every child, we can begin to make decisions which will lead to actions that make this happen.
Hattie states that all schools can be optimised to esteem the positive impacts that can lead to improved student learning, and for teachers, ‘knowing thy impact’ becomes crucial in determining and understanding one’s own effectiveness. Hattie suggests that teachers administer the following ‘personal health check’ for the principles of what he calls ‘Visible Learning’:
Personal health check for Visible Learning
- 1. I am actively engaged in, and passionate about teaching and learning.
- 2. I provide students with multiple opportunities for learning based on surface and deep thinking.
- 3. I know the learning intentions and success criteria of my lessons, and I share these with students.
- 4. I am open to learning and actively learn myself.
- 5. I have a warm and caring classroom climate where errors are welcome.
- 6. I seek regular feedback from my students.
- 7. My students are actively involved in knowing about their learning (that is, they are assessment capable).
- 8. I can identify progression in learning across multiple curriculum levels in my students work and activities.
- 9. I have a range of teaching strategies in my day-to-day teaching repertoire.
- 10. I use evidence of learning to plan next learning steps with students.
(Hattie, 2012, pg 193)
More recently, our school was fortunate enough to participate in the Visible Learning Plus program; a guided change process of professional development and practice which is based on Hattie’s work. One of the first topics of conversation, after being inducted into the program, was to complete the suggested checklist by Hattie.
For me, the point of seeking ‘regular feedback from my students’ particularly stood out. In the last few years I have come to realise the merit of asking students for feedback on my practise, but I determined that it should be increased in frequency, across multiple subjects or curriculum areas, and at various points of the teaching and learning cycle if I was to be the best teacher I could be.
In Bill Gates’ Ted Talk Teachers need real feedback (2013), Gates highlights the concern that despite teachers having one of the most important jobs in the world, many institutions and educational systems lack an effective approach to providing quality feedback to help teachers do their jobs better. He discusses his project Measures of Effective Teaching, which works towards building quality teaching practices, by analysing classroom observations, conducting student surveys, and measuring student achievement gains; which seem to go a long way in allowing teachers to reflect on their practises.
I think that the problem of teacher reflection is that, every day, the minds of teachers are filled with processes to carry out and tasks to accomplish. We think about how we meet the needs of a variety of students, all encompassing of learning, social and behavioural factors. We see our role as implementing curriculum that has links to content, outcomes and assessments. We plan and deliver lessons continually, occasionally reflecting in haste.
Often when delivering lessons, we are so caught up in the process, that we forget to stop and try to perceive learning from the eyes of our students. We tend not to realise the direct impact on our students, and whilst in ‘teacher mode’, our fundamental role should be to evaluate that impact on our students using a variety of sources.
I believe that a powerful source in evaluating the impact of the teacher can be with the assistance of students themselves.
The power of honest feedback from the people who matter most in the classroom should never be underestimated. It takes a certain level of bravery, and a possible paradigm shift of ‘it’s my fault they are not learning, not theirs’ in student to teacher relations. However, by listening intently to student voice, one can empower themselves to refined practises by constantly reflecting on their impact to improve.
In the past years I have been looking at ways of regularly seeking feedback from students. This has ranged from a variety of paper-based templates and tools to illicit anonymous and honest input from students. More recently, I have prefered to use electronic platforms with increased efficiency and effectiveness for gathering feedback.
Using Google Forms (a free online web survey collector) has been a great way to collect feedback from students. A form can be designed with a range of methods for collecting information, from short or long answers, to providing scales or multiple choices. The form is sent to students who can complete the survey on any type of electronic device. Students can easily enter their feedback, and the collection for the teacher is an absolute breeze. At a glance, I can see all of the results and even manipulate the electronic data to filter results and understand trends. Reserving 2 minutes at the end of the class becomes really worthwhile, as you explain to students that their feedback will, in turn, make you a more effective teacher.
Below are some examples of questions with short answers that I ask students. They are designed toillicit interesting responses and give insights as to how the student views themselves, the topic, and the role of the teacher. I may ask only one question or several at a time:
- What worked well today?
- What could be improved for next time?
- Were you successful today? If so, how do you know?
- Will you be able to use this learning later in life?
- What further questions do you have about ______ ?
- How much did you enjoy today’s lesson?
- How much did you learn in today’s lesson?
- What did you like about this lesson?
- To what extent do you feel that your skills in ______ are developing?
- How much have you learnt about ______ this week?
- What do you now understand better after having completing this topic?
- What would you like to learn more about in the next lesson?
- Was today’s lesson useful for you?
At other times, I prefer that students think about a statement, and provide an answer to their agreement using a Likert scale:
- To what extent do you agree with the following statements?
- My teacher helps me to achieve.
- My teacher helps me understand the work.
- My teacher helps me to learn new things.
- My teacher sets goals that are challenging for me.
- My teacher’s lessons are interesting.
- My teacher makes me feel welcome in the class.
- My teacher gives clear instructions that are easy to follow.
- My teacher often gives me feedback about my work.
Often, text fields are given to students so that they can explain their reason for agreeing or disagreeing with the statement.
There are many factors that contribute to the overall development of students. Influences such as parenting, family situations and social status all contribute to students’ learning. However, in most cases, the manipulation of these factors are completely out of our control.
Conversely, the quality of teacher practises that lead to student achievement in the classroom being the largest influence that we do have control of, can certainly be improved through reflection. Personally, I have found that seeking honest feedback from students has helped me to reflect and develop my own professional understanding into how I approach teaching and learning.
Sometimes when I read responses from students, I may be affirmed, surprised, or even laugh. On occasions, I have even been mortified! However, I can honestly say that every single piece of feedback that I have received from students has made me a better practitioner. I believe that great teachers are never afraid of inviting or facing difficult challenges. Most importantly, inviting student feedback has helped me to become a better, more empowered, and reflective teacher every year.
Cantrell, S., & Kane, T. (2013). Ensuring fair and reliable measures of effective teaching: Culminating findings from the MET project’s three-year study. MET Project Research Paper. Retreived from http://metproject.org/downloads/MET_Ensuring_Fair_and_Reliable_Measures_Practitioner_Brief.pdf
Gates, B. (2013). Bill Gates: Teachers need real feedback [Video file]. Retreived from https://www.ted.com/talks/bill_gates_teachers_need_real_feedback
Hattie, J. (2009). Visible learning: A synthesis of 800+ meta-analyses on achievement. Abingdon: Routledge.
Hattie, J. (2012). Visible learning for teachers: Maximizing impact on learning. Abingdon: Routledge.
Educational blogging in the 21st Century has quickly become an essential fluency and skill for both teachers and students.
Through an ever increasingly complex and connected world, the concept of literacy has changed, and whether educators realise it or not, it is no longer sufficient to teach students how to read, write and think via paper mediums only. If this is what students are faced with in their educational settings, then sadly, it will fall short in preparing them for their 21st Century lives. Notwithstanding the need for students to be fluent in understanding and producing paper and print mediums, our students also need the opportunities to explore, analyse and create contemporary mediums, including digital platforms, tools and media.
Through blogging, educators can teach both traditional methods of communicating as well as engaging students in modern 21st century skills.
When creating a blog, a new space with a myriad of benefits is opened for social interaction. By involving students in blogging, they are able to improve their writing skills and are encouraged to share and collaborate about topics. Teachers often post websites, resources or activities which students can access in class or at home. Students can also ask questions about varied topics. If the teacher doesn’t respond, another student or parent might! Blogging is also an efficient way to communicate with parents to keep them in the loop as to what is happening with their child’s education.
This article describes three different types of blogs that are visible in education today.
A school blog can be defined as a space where an individual class, year level, or entire school community can blog about the happenings within their educational setting. These blogs are set to be viewable by the school, wider community, or the whole world, and often invite viewers to leave comments and to interact with the community group.
Teachers often use class blogs to post assignments, create class newsletters, or post articles for discussion about special school events or units of learning. Photos and videos which enhance the experience for the viewer can be included in posts. Through blogging, opinions and ideas can easily be collected from viewers without having them physically present inside the classroom.
Blogging within the school community is a great way to engage in partnership with students because they enjoy electron-ic mediums and social interaction with their peers. They enjoy seeing their work published on the web and are therefore more likely to engage in reflective classroom topics during class or at home. The comment and interaction aspects of blogs make it easier to facilitate feedback and constructive dialogue amongst students, parents and teachers.
Some teachers use their blogs to link to other schools and communities who are also blogging. In this mode, teachers are able to provide a much more well-rounded view of the world, and open up a new perspective for students. Learning partner-ships can be fostered, allowing multiple school communities from any corner of the globe to come together and collaborate or learn from each other on a particular area of interest. Students love to read and receive comments from other people their age who are outside of their immediate school community, and are fascinated to learn about other people of the world (akin to the idea of pen-pals).
The opportunity for students to interact and publish for an expanded audience via this electronic medium can be highly motivating, and provides a viewership that is real and authentic. Writing to communicate in the traditional sense can be encumbered by physical limitations, and also limited to the pen and pa-per. traditionally, students write their understandings in exercise books, which are often only read by themselves, the teacher, and at times, possibly parents. A blog opens up a whole new community of people who can offer ongoing encouragement, feedback, and dialogue.
One of the most important opportunities that comes via blogging with students is the tangent of facilitating the ethical use of technology. Rather than paying lip-service to the idea of respectful technology use, engaging in cyber safe activities, or minding one’s digital footprint and identity, teachers can integrate these vital messages in meaningful ways through blogging. It is much easier to explicitly show students or to let them experience how to protect one’s privacy, or the conventions of respectful and effective digital communication, if you have a tool such as a blog as a way of making this meaningful.
Moreover, blogging is a way of modelling to students to appropriately use digital technologies for learning. The ‘digital native’ argument, where today’s generation are born with the innate ability to become fluent with technologies, is one that I don’t hold much value in. In my experience, young people today have little fear in using digital technologies, but often don’t demonstrate how to appropriately use digital tools. Through blogging, educators can model how to write for a purpose and audience using electronic mediums.
Some teachers use their blogs to link to other schools and communities who are also blogging. In this mode, teachers are able to provide a much more well-rounded view of the world, and open up a new perspective for students
Examples of school blogs can be seen at:
- Mrs Yollis’ Classroom Blog (yollisclassblog.blogspot.com) – Mrs Yollis and her third graders in California, USA connect frequently with other global learning communities.
- A Room with a View (aroomwithaview.edublogs.org) – A group of Year 5 and 6 students blog from North Yorkshire, En-gland from a classroom window with a stunning view of a castle which once belonged to King Richard the Third!
Personal student blogs
A personal student blog can be defined as a space where students are able to curate, reflect upon, and showcase their development of learning. Often these blogs are facilitated by the teachers of the class, in partnership with parents, as a means of maintaining an electronic portfolio.
Through blogging, a teacher can transform expectations of their students. Students no longer create for themselves, but potentially for their peers, and their school community. Personal student blogs open the possibilities for a diverse audience in new ways, so that when they are writing or authoring for a purpose, they are considering how it will impact on their viewers, and in turn, drive their intrinsic motivation to publish with quality.
A public blog, open to the world, is a great way to encourage students to have a positive impact on their online digital identity. They also love the potential of receiving comments from other nations. Students can showcase examples of their projects which are curated over a period of time, and can then be demonstrated year after year and beyond their school years.
Examples of personal student blogs can be seen at:
- Alyssa’s blog (alyw.weebly.com) – Alyssa (Year 5) attends Junction Public School in Newcastle, Australia and provides her readers with wise words: “don’t focus on the future, don’t focus on the past, just focus on the present cause it might be worth a laugh”.
- Christina Online (christinaonline.edublogs.org) – Christina (Year 6) lives in Canada and has been recently blogging about her science project.
Personal educator blogs
An educator blog can be defined as a space where teachers or those interested in education curate resources, thoughts and ideas for their own professional development. The blog is often used to articulate their own understanding of the complexities of teaching and learning, to share success stories and resources, or as a means of expanding their own Professional Learning Network (PLN).
Blogging about professional experiences can be a worthwhile experience for teachers if done correctly. One of the most difficult parts about blogging is finding something meaningful to write about. Some teachers start strong and aim to write a post weekly or fortnightly but sometimes run out of steam. Engaging in reflective blogging and communicating with a wider network of peers is a habit that definitely pays off. One of the reasons why teachers are reluctant to blog, or don’t blog as frequently as they should is because they don’t think that what they have to say is important; but someone else might think so!
Social networking and micro-blogging platforms such as Twitter can be integrated to expand the audience and interaction of educator blogs, making it easier to connect globally with other educators. Through this experience, I have personally met (virtu-ally or otherwise) many other amazing educators.
I have been able to find blogs which provide great resources for myself and for others who I can share with, both in my immediate school community and my (now) global profession-al network. I have read posts that have affirmed, challenged, or changed the way I think about a particular topic. Blogging is as much about sharing with one another as it is about finding one’s own voice.
Examples of personal educator blogs can be seen at:
- What Ed Said (whatedsaid.wordpress.com) – Edna Sackson, Teaching and Learning Co-ordinator from Melbourne, Australia runs a fortnightly discussion on Twitter for teachers interested in the International Baccalaureate Primary Years Programme (#pypchat).
- The Principal of Change (georgecouros.ca) – George Couros, Principal from Alberta, Canada shares fascinating and inspiring stories of learning and leading, as well as presentations and re-sources from his global speaking appointments.
In a traditional sense, education in the past has been separated from learning communities across location, language and culture. With technology at our fingertips and at the disposal of our students, these obstacles are no longer present as barriers; blogging is a great way of expanding the immediate classroom community.
Moreover, teachers are able to incidentally include the development of keyboard / typing skills, teach about copyright and Creative Commons, allow students to develop their navigation and research skills, and foster the smart, safe and respectful methods of electronic communication; thus giving the students the potential to become more literate with technology.
Henderson, M., Snyder, I., & Beale, D. (2013). Social media for collaborative learning: A review of school literature. Australian Educational Computing, 28 (2), pp. 1-15. Available at:
This presentation builds upon some of the ideas discussed in my recent article for ETS Magazine. Furthermore, the challenges for implementation will be unpacked, as well as the most useful starting points and resources for teachers and leaders who are ready for partial or full adoption of this much needed curriculum in our schools. The slides can be found here or below:
This article was originally published in Educational Technology Solutions magazine, Issue 66 (Jun/Jul 2015).
Our nation’s first digital technology curriculum is on our doorstep, and if you have been paying attention in educational circles for the last 2 years, the words “Computational Thinking” and “Coding” are all the rage right now. So what are the implications for the practitioner, who is likely to have had little exposure in their training as to how to teach Computer Science to children, and are therefore somewhere between frightened or excited by what lies ahead?
The dawn of a new curriculum approach to technology.
The official stance from the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) of the Technologies Curriculum at the time of writing is that the curriculum is “available for use; awaiting final endorsement”, even though it has been in this state for well over a year now.
Our current education minister Christopher Pyne has done little to ensure the endorsement, particularly after a review of the entire National Curriculum was released in October 2014. Political agendas and duress aside, it is ACARA’s intention that schools commence partial adoption of the curriculum, with full adoption expected by 2017.
The Technologies Curriculum encompasses two interconnected areas; Design and Technologies, where students use critical thinking to create innovative solutions for authentic problems, and Digital Technologies, where students use computational thinking and information systems to implement digital solutions.
According to ACARA, the aims of the syllabus are to ensure that students can:
- create, manage and evaluate sustainable and innovative digital solutions
- use computational thinking and the key concepts of abstraction to create digital solutions
- use digital systems to automate and communicate the transformation of data
- apply protocols and legal practises that support safe, ethical and respectful communications
- apply systems thinking to information systems and predict the impact of these systems on individuals, societies, economies and environments
What is most promising about the way in which this curriculum is written is the way in which it has embraced technology as a holistic approach to thinking and exercising creativity. The traditional teaching of ICT in schools has usually been around the idea of integrating tools to assist in other subject areas, which is the intention of the ICT as a General Capability in the Australian Curriculum. Instead, the Technologies Curriculum paves the way for teachers to work with children as young as Foundation on pattern recognition and classifying data in contexts that they can understand, which gradually builds up to the development of students with a strong understanding of computer science by the time they reach Year 10.
The content structure of the Technologies Curriculum can be viewed at australiancurriculum.edu.au/technologies/rationale
Noticeable in the Digital Technologies component of the new curriculum are the ideas of Computational Thinking and Coding, which are introduced to students in early primary school.
The idea of coding is not to simply have students churn out computer programs. Rather, it is about assisting them to identify and analyse problems, develop innovative and creative solutions, which will ultimately help contribute to a global society improved by technology.
Computational, System and Design Thinking all require the ability to examine problems clearly and to break them down into manageable parts, in order to systematically analyse a process to best solve them.
It encourages the design of several solutions that can be applied in broad contexts. This type of problem solving – or thinking – is highly valued in the outside world. The ability to analyse problems and come up with clever solutions is the kind of thinking that continues to push our world forward, yet oddly enough, we don’t teach it in a deliberate and defined way – until now!
Through the Code.org initiative, more and more advocates are championing the idea of coding in schools, from celebrities like Will.I.Am to the Silicon Valley elite. The worrying trend is that the number of Computer Science graduates are currently not meeting demand, yet alone in the future, where the demand is expected to further increase as the world starts to crave employees who are affluent in using technology to design products and solutions. Mark Zuckerberg is quoted as saying “Our policy (at Facebook) is literally to hire as many talented engineers as we can find…the whole limit in the system is that there aren’t enough people who are trained and have these skills today.”
Coding can have the stigma of a un-sexy operation which takes place in a dark room with nerds sipping on soft-drinks, huddled around glowing screens and punching in lots of ones and zeros. Once upon a time, one was required to have a tertiary degree to operate punch-card machinery and to develop lines of code for programs that ran on mainframe computers. Through the advancements of technology, and particularly in the way in which we can interact with it, anybody of any age can now code.
Put simply, coding is about writing and following instructions. When a set of instructions are written for the computer, it follows them. Any time you have explained to someone how to bake a cake, or typed a sum on a calculator, or organised a filing cabinet in alphabetical order, you have essentially been designing an algorithm to execute a desired action. Coding is teaching a computer how to run a sequence of events, for the reason that a computer can execute steps a lot faster than a human can.
Technology is starting to automate a lot of tasks that can easily be replicated by traditional human driven processes. For this reason, we have started to see a shift in our modernised and globalised world.
Take for example, Japan’s Toyota production line which, through the use of machines and robots, can assemble a car in 18 hours to specific client orders. Or the ambitious Google Car project, which promises to safely transport passengers from A to B without requiring the commuter to lift a finger. Or the use of computer assisted self-checkouts at the supermarket.
The overly critical may say that technology is taking over our jobs, which to some extent, is true. However, more accurately, it is disrupting jobs and changing the supply and demand for workers. Jobs for production factories will still exist, as will people who drive cars, as will people who work in supermarkets.
What will probably be true, is that these jobs are far more likely to require the skill sets of engineers and coders, who are affluent with technology and programming, to be able to deliver solutions. Those who can build robotic arms to weld alloy will be more sought after than those who can assemble nuts and bolts. Those who can write programs that analyse traffic patterns for automated cars will eventually be in more demand than taxi drivers or chauffeurs. Those who can design computer-assisted checkout systems will replace those who manually scan items for consumers.
It is for this reason that we all need to embrace the new Technologies Curriculum for the good of our kids, and the future of Australia as a technologically relevant country.
How to support Computational Thinking, Coding and the new Technologies Curriculum
- Code.org – Launched in 2013, Code.org is a non-profit organisation that is dedicated to expanding participation in computer science, particuarly by increasing participation amongst women.
- Hour of Code: an initiative of Code.org, is an annual event that promotes coding in primary and secondary schools across the globe. The coding tutorials can be completed online and have modules suitable for all ages (see studio.code.org).
- Code Club Australia: a nationwide network of free volunteer-led after-school coding clubs for children aged 9-11 (see codeclubau.org).
- Code the Future: aims to forge crucial links between the technology industry and education (see codefuture.org).
- Bebras Australia Computational Thinking Challenge: Bebras is an international initiative whose goal is to promote computational thinking for teachers and students in Years 3 to 12, and is aligned with the new Digital Technologies Curriculum (see bebras.edu.au).
- Computer Science Unplugged: is a collection of free learning activities that teach Computer Science without having to learn programming first. (see csunplugged.org).
- Careers with Code: is a publication by Refraction Media and Google which promotes computer science careers in design, education, science, health, arts, media, law and business (see refractionmedia.com.au/careerswithcode/ or search for Careers with Code on Google Play or iTunes App Store).
- CSER MOOC: the Computer Science Education Research Group at the University of Adelaide have developed a number of open, online courses designed to assist teachers in addressing the new Digital Technologies learning area (see csdigitaltech.appspot.com/course).
This week I will be co-presenting a paper at the ACER Excellence in Professional Practice Conference in Sydney with Phillip Holmes-Smith. Philip has worked closely with our school in the last few years and has been instrumental in pushing our thinking when it comes to data literacy and fluency.
The session aims to describe the process in which our school has undertaken to improve outcomes in mathematics by using Google Forms for assessing skills and concepts for and of learning. The presentation builds upon previous talks I have given (particularly at #GAFEsummit) but is more explicit in the rationale behind our initiative and the associated improvements in outcomes which are drastic.
At St. Mark’s Primary School in Dingley, Victoria, teachers have developed an effective and
efficient approach to teaching mathematics in the senior years. For several years the school was faced with NAPLAN results which indicated average performing students in mathematics. The school desired to lift this by structuring an approach to mathematics where the use of data was central to the teaching and learning process.
The teachers developed a scope and sequence of curriculum for each area of mathematics. They used them with students who were able to plot and track their learning at various stages of development. The teachers designed assessments using a free tool, Google Forms (a web based data collector). Students take the online assessment as a pre-test of their learning. The data of 125 students is captured instantaneously, the test graded automatically, and the students are sent an email with their results. They use it to plot their current stage of learning on their scope and sequence.
With a guiding hand, they make decisions and elect to position themselves at given stations to suit their progress. The teachers design activities, tasks, and pathways to deliver explicit instruction of skills and concepts in mathematics over 6 lessons. At the end of the unit, the same assessment is taken as a post test of learning.
The approach developed at the school has led to several improvements. Time and money has been saved, but most importantly, the strategy has demonstrated significant improvement in learning outcomes for students. Teachers calculate effect sizes for individual students and cohorts to track growth.
The data correlates to more longitudinal sets like NAPLAN and PAT-M which confirm the effectiveness of the approach. This presentation will unpack the data and explain the process employed in detail.
Last week I had the privilege of presenting on Google Edu On Air, a 2 day global PD event that took place online. Many keynotes and over 100 sessions took place this year, all of which can be watched on demand from the 2015 Google Edu On Air website.
My session, titled ‘Ignited learning through Genius Hour’, was an overview of our school’s experiences five iterations of Genius Hour in Year 5 and 6 and the lessons learnt since it’s inception.
A recording of the session can be viewed below, as well as on the Google Edu On Air website.
This article originally appeared in Educational Technology Solutions Issue 64 (APR/MAY 2015)
Genius Hour is a movement picking up traction globally – an opportunity where students given true autonomy explore their own passions and exercise creativity in the classroom. It allows pure voice and choice in what students learn during a set period of time during school. Genius Hour is student-driven, passion-based inquiry at it’s best which can be enhanced by technology in the hands of modern learners. Put simply, it is a time where learners choose what to learn and how to learn.
A traditional view-point of education is one where teachers map curriculum and standards, plan and control units and lessons based on those standards. Yet in Genius Hour, students are the ones completely in control, choosing what they study, how they study it, what they do, produce or create as a result.
With the ever increasing rise of information and communication devices in the hands of students, Genius Hour is allowing students to pursue their interests, seek information, and make genuine impacts in ways never possible otherwise.
Where has Genius Hour come from?
Genius Hour is commonly associated with innovative companies like Google, where engineers spend up to 20% of their time working on projects they are interested in and passionate about. The study and process is motivated intrinsically instead of extrinsically, which lets people work on whatever sparks them and therefore reaps productivity benefits. Engineers spend up to one day of their working week on projects and initiatives of their choice. Have you heard of or use Gmail? If so, you are enjoying the use of a product conceived during 20% time, an idea that started with one person’s interest which now benefits millions of others.
In 2011 Daniel Pink blogged about this idea in relation to other workplaces in his post ‘The Genius Hour: How 60 minutes a week can electrify your job’. He stated that:
“Each week, employees can take a Genius Hour — 60 minutes to work on new ideas or master new skills. They’ve used that precious sliver of autonomy well, coming up with a range of innovations including training tools for other branches.”
If the idea is to give employees in a workplace a scheduled time each week to think, learn and explore themselves and their work environment better, more creative and more exciting things might ensue. In essence the idea is very simple. If you give time for creativity, discovery and learning, you create an opportunity for empowerment and growth of both the individual and therefore the organisation.
His blog post sparked conversation with educators on Twitter, and shortly after, the hashtag #GeniusHour was born. Since then, educators globally have been marvelling at the engagement and motivation happening in classrooms adopting the idea of Genius Hour. A group of educators around the globe are actively compiling resources and reflections of this movement which can be accessed from geniushour.wikispaces.com, and is an excellent go-to point for any one interested in pursuing this idea further.
How does Genius Hour work in our school?
Similar 20% Time principles were applied to our school setting in our version of Genius Hour. Together with my colleagues we went about designing this opportunity for our students.
We set aside time for students to work on their own projects. We challenged them to explore or do something that they were interested in. They would spend several weeks researching and working towards their projects before sharing their results. We would show students how to use ICT’s to research, create, communicate and collaborate to carry their intended actions.
The Genius Hour projects became revolutionary. They changed students’ thinking and developed their knowledge and experience even if their projects didn’t quite work out. We placed emphasis on the process of learning, innovation and iteration; not the product itself. After all, if a student’s intended product didn’t eventuate or failed numerous times, haven’t we created a valuable and meaningful learning experience?
We discovered that it is not just the projects which are important. Rather, it is how the underlying skills that empower students to transform themselves into active and critical citizens in their education and future lives that really mattered.
All students are naturally curious. Our job as educators is to get them to realise how to take productive actions on those interests. Here lies the essence of Genius Hour: the point being that students learn how to transform their passions and interests into actions. Through this they realise that they don’t have to be a bystander, but they can take actions that matter, and that they can make contributions and communicate their understandings in an ever-connected globalised world.
It has been extremely positive to see a high level of engagement and motivation during the term as students were working on their projects. I remember on one particular day during the term I had a professional development to attend outside of school. In the afternoon I returned to find the whole Year 5/6 level working on their Genius Hour projects. When I walked into our building, I found students in different spaces, not necessarily in their home class or with their home teacher, using various pieces of technology, from their laptops, to their mobile devices which they had brought in to assist them with their projects, to school video cameras to record and produce content. Not one single student was off task or disruptive (which is rare for an afternoon late in the week), and is a testament to the deeply personal and motivating influence of Genius Hour.
10 Principles of Genius Hour.
In commencing Genius Hour in my school I designed 10 principles based on what I have read and understood about Genius Hour, and suited it to our students and the desired process.
1) Start with a question – We wanted our students to lead an inquiry, and therefore the question became a crucial point in determining how the project unfolded. A great deal of time was spent with students in developing a question that was deep and complex (see principle two).
2) Be larger than Google – Technology allows us to retrieve fact-based questions quite easily, so we wanted our students to investigate a question and share their knowledge with something that cannot be answered with a simple Google search or a flick through a book. Why teach others about “What are reptiles?” when the answer can easily be discovered for oneself? Hence, we encouraged students to pursue a “Non-Googleable” question that could involve the use of technology or a library search to assist, but wouldn’t necessarily locate an answer in an instant.
3) Work towards a project – We wanted our students to have a desired outcome, product or goal related to their question so that they had a direction and could accomplish or achieve something during Genius Hour. We encouraged our students to think about what they might make, do, or teach to others (see principle four).
4) Make an impact – We wanted our students to think about how they could shape the world around them, whether that be on a local, national, or global stage. We raised the expectations that they could contribute something meaningful to their society and that their contributions were valued. Could they create a useful product? Could they carry out a socially just action? Could they teach others by tapping into their creative talents or passions?
5) Share your learnings – We wanted our students to communicate and celebrate their learnings to make those above-mentioned impacts. Students presented their projects to their peers in any format that they wished. We held an open expo day in our school where other students, teachers, and the local community came to see and celebrate our students’ passions and interests evident in their projects. We offered students the opportunity to connect to a virtual community via Google Hangouts, so that they might teach others, present to a meaningful audience, and seek feedback on their learning. We uploaded every project to our class blog to reach a global audience (see principle six).
6) Present and capture digitally – Students were free to use their school provided laptop or their own mobile devices for researching and presenting information. Whilst not all students used digital tools for creating or completing an action, having digital evidence meant that they could share their projects to the class blog and reach a wider audience.
7) Include a bibliography – We want our students to be digitally literate and 21st century responsible citizens; which means understanding sources of information, copyright, and giving credit where credit is due! As students uploaded their projects to the class blog as knowledge artefacts, they were required to include a bibliography for their images and sources of information.
8) Don’t ask for a mark – We wanted our students to be intrinsically motivated and self-critical of their own processes, and not expect that there would be a final mark or score for any produced product or presentation. As teachers we were critical of the impact that a score or rubric could dictate on a highly creative process. Instead we placed emphasis on the students conducting their own weekly self-assessments and reflections whilst giving and receiving teacher and peer feedback.
9) Work on your project only when your other work is complete – In some ways, Genius Hour is a direct contradiction to what goes on in most of our school day, where the teacher ultimately decides the content, even if it does include student voice and choice. Nevertheless, the nature of the beast is that there are areas of the curriculum in which students must be entitled to.
10) Learn by yourself or with others – We wanted our students to decide for themselves if they should pursue their interests individually or with others. Students used a variety of Google Apps tools to share their documents and presentations during the process with their teachers and peers. Students working independently could do so at home or at school. Pairs and small groups of students could share and work on files at the same time regardless of the time of day or place.
Below is an infographic that I have developed to display these principles visually, or click here to download as a PDF.
Genius Hour – an oxymoron?
Genius Hour is often challenged. After all, if it is indeed so good for students, why relegate it to only an hour? Whilst there is some truth to this premise, for some teachers Genius Hour might be a means to an end where their context is challenged by the impact of high-stakes testing, content-based teacher practises or other influences which might inhibit student voice and choice in the classroom. Genius Hour may offer a practical way of changing this paradigm, but certainly the principles are nothing new of contemporary or sound education practises. Whether it is the Maker / Tinker movement, Challenge / Problem Based Learning, or in this case Genius Hour, our job as educators is to carefully create and deliver pathways for students that cover an entitled curriculum for all, whilst delivering it in the most meaningful, relevant, and developmentally suitable manner for each child.
The impact of technological rich classrooms.
The idea of passion-based learning or passion projects are not new. In fact, I remember completing my own project about dinosaurs in the early nineties in my primary schooling; ironically enough, it was also one of my most vivid learning experiences from that era. In that time, education was mostly bound by teacher control, with typical information accessed from textbooks and the library. In today’s modern classroom, a reflection of an ever-increasing technologically developed world, students have a multitude of avenues to seek and find information, and have an arsenal of physical and digital tools at their disposal.
As such, we live in an age where information is becoming ever ubiquitous, should you know how to find it an discern it. This is an essential and basic fluency that any citizen needs. However, beyond this lies an even more important facet. It should be with urgency that we encourage our students to pursue deep and meaningful experiences that go beyond surface level learning being permeated by our increased access to information.
Our aim should be to push the boundaries of kids and their imaginations so that they become creative citizens who find problems and develop ways to solve them. We need to stretch their minds so they fully believe themselves to be capable of genius as they go forth into an uncertain future.
You can find more information about our Genius Hour implementations via this blog – http://anthsperanza.global2.vic.edu.au/category/geniushour/
To view examples of our student’s projects see – http://stmarks56.global2.vic.edu.au/category/geniushour/