Listening with intent – what your students can tell you about your practices.

This article originally appeared in the May 2015 issue of Education Matters Magazine (Primary).

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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.

 

Seeking feedback

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?

maths2

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.

  VL1

Conclusion

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.

 

literacy1

 

References

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.

Transformed learning with Google Apps for Education

This article originally appeared in Educational Technology Solutions Issue 64 (FEB/MAR 2015)

40 million and counting. That is the number of students and teachers who use Google Apps for Education around the globe. But why are they using it? Furthermore, do schools use it to its true potential?

 

The power of the web

Google Apps is a suite of free productivity tools designed to help students and teachers work together more efficiently and effec­tively. It is a multi-purpose platform with a myriad of educational and instructional benefits.

At its core, Google Apps includes Gmail (webmail service), Google Drive (online documents, spreadsheets, presentations, forms, and drawings), Google Calendar (web based appoint­ments and organisation) and Google Sites (website creator); not to mention the many additional services like Hangouts, Blogger, Youtube, or Picasa which can be used with Google Apps with seamless integration

As cloud-based technologies, they are always readily available, backed up, accessible at any time and place, and available to use on any device. They remain automatically up-to-date, and are constantly being refined and improved with increased functionality (see http://goo.gl/CdPj).

Google’s foray into Education is enabling a total rethink in the way that teachers and students use technology for learning (see http://goo.gl/p4Cp4). Google Apps is an online solution that bridges the divide between learning at home or at school. It offers the opportunity for collaboration to happen in real time, irrespective of physical or digital location.

Google Apps makes it easy to share with fellow students, teachers, parents and the wid­er community. Teachers can apply the appropriate security and share settings for resources as they see fit, all via one account and one password. Simplicity and flexibility at its best, it is removing obstacles for students, teachers, and even technical departments.

From primary to tertiary institutions, students and teachers are realising the benefits of the Google Apps for Education platform. Google Apps has been growing fast, if not virally, over the last few years. There are currently over 40 million students using the service worldwide, and the number continues to grow each day. Google delivers a high quality service, at a cost-effective price, as an easy to use system, with powerful potential. With guaranteed reliability of 99.9% up­time, Google Apps is scaling at an incredible rate.

Each week on Google’s Official Enterprise Blog (http://goo.gl/ipTXOO), stories are emerging of the continued uptake of Google Apps, and the way in which they are changing communication and productivity for the better once organisations have ‘Gone Google’.

From connecting 45,000 schools across 7,000 islands in the Philippines, to equipping 4 million students in São Paulo in Bra­zil, Google Apps is bringing new and exciting opportunities to education.

As technology is developing at an ever-increasing rate, Google Apps has the potential to make communication easier; and lead us to more powerful collaborative and connected experiences. Equipping this generation of learners with modern tools makes sense. This is why many schools are adopting Google Apps for Education, an extraordinary platform for the 21st Century.

 

The redefinition of the “learning task”

With powerful technology comes the opportunity to design powerful learning tasks which harness the richness that digital tools offer. However, this all depends on the extent to which the technology is used effectively for such opportunities. As educators, we should not assume that the use of technology leads to the automatic enhancement of learning and teaching in our classrooms.

Instead, we should think about our deliberate practices and how they offer the opportunities to truly transform new opportunities for students which were previously inconceivable. In fact, let’s start thinking about how much of our use of technology is in fact transforming classrooms, instead of getting carried away by the simple urgency to use digital tools with our students.

Educators often talk about how apps or software are “transformational” because they are engaging or motivating, or personal devices that are in the hands of students lead to transformational “approaches”. For me, the transformative opportunities in today’s digital age with technology are when the technologies are used to connect, share and widen classrooms, which in my opinion, are scarcely met in a genuine sense.

Here are a set of 6 questions that can be used to consider how, in fact, technology is improving (or hindering) the learning process or opportunities for students (adapted from Alan November, see  http://goo.gl/wv79oL):

1) Does the task create capacity for critical thinking on the web? – The extent to which critical thinking and higher order cognitive skills are utilised with the web. The word “web” here is particularly important as it offers the opportunity to broaden perspectives, break down the barriers of place and time, and share and connect across communities.

2) Does the task enrich the possibilities for students to develop new lines of inquiry? – The extent to which the technology is used in a way that sparks curiosity and provides the avenues for students to develop and seek questions.

3) Does the task broaden the conversation via authentic audiences? – The extent to which the technology is used to flatten classroom walls and open dialogue and interaction between other students, teachers, parents, and the wider community.

4) Does the task allow opportunities for students to publish with the possibility of continuous feedback? – The extent to which the technology is used to publish student knowledge and synthesis with the opportunity of viewership and feedback from others without the restrictions of place and time.

5) Does the task allow opportunities for students to create contributions? – The extent to which the technology is used for questioning, moderating, collaborating and co-creating with others.

6) Does the task expose students to “best in the world” examples of content and/or skill? – The extent to which the technology is used to demonstrate high quality examples of the learning objectives content and/or skills.

If the answers are more no than yes when analysing the impact of technology to the task at hand, then we could suspect that transformation is not taking place.  According to the Substitution – Augmentation – Modification – Redefinition (SAMR) model by Dr Ruben Puentedura, transformation occurs when the technology has allowed for significant modification of the task and / or created new opportunities which were previously inconceivable.

SAMR

 

Beyond substitution with Google Apps for Education.

As educators, how do we harness the richness of Google Apps to go beyond substituting the traditional tools employed in many classrooms?

Take the example of Google Docs, a light-weight word processor delivered through a browser or the use of an Android / iOS App. Let’s assume that students are crafting a piece of writing that might normally be achieved with paper and pencil.

Students could use a static word processing application to type up a draft or final piece of writing. In this case, one could argue that nothing significant has taken place except that, instead of using paper and pen, students have used a device and application to communicate their thoughts. Here, substitution of the paper and pencil has taken place.

If students drafted or published their piece using Google Docs, their piece becomes accessible from any device with an internet connection, and thus removes the physical barrier or carrying around the paper and pencil. Whilst the purpose has slightly changed, augmentation of the task has occurred.  The improvement means increased student access and word processing ability that is irrespective of neither place nor time.

If students share their Google Doc with multiple classmates then this could open the opportunity for collaboration and synergy to the task. The students might ask to receive feedback or invite input from peers or the teacher. The teacher could check the revision history of the document to monitor the activity and progress of the exercise. Through communicating and working together in a production space, modification of the initial task has taken place, and an entirely new opportunity has been created, that goes beyond paper and pen that was once private to the student.

If students share their Google Doc with ‘view’ or ‘comment’ access to a global audience then this could open the opportunity for authentic connections that go well beyond the classroom community. The task of processing words has transformed to an opportunity which requires a set of high-level thinking skills, where a stage is offered for students to share their learning beyond their local contexts.

Below are further uses of Google Apps for Education with the SAMR model.

GAFE and SAMR

Design Thinking during the Genius Hour process

“How might we use Design Thinking and ICT to increase student engagement and motivation during the inquiry process?”

The CEOM ICON Research Schools Project aims to research powerful approaches to learning and teaching that harness the richness of technology in order to provide opportunities to transform learning. As a participating school we are supported to conduct our own research in our setting. Together with other participating schools, we are invited to produce artifacts to inform the CEOM system towards ICON.

This is a reflection for our school’s progress in 2014.

For our school, our Inquiry question was:

  • How might we use Design Thinking and ICT to increase student engagement and motivation during the inquiry process?

In particular, we wished to apply this question to our Genius Hour program in Years 5 and 6. The Design Thinking process and tools were used for both staff planning when designing learning opportunities for students, as well as mapping the current Genius Hour program against this process.

 

 

In Genius Hour, students develop personal questions of their choice and research and present in any method they wish. They are able to work collaboratively or independently towards an action, and is a form of Passion Based Learning that follows a line of inquiry.

Students have already been visibly engaged and motivated during the Genius Hour program. However, as a relatively new program which was introduced last year, the team felt that there were opportunities to strengthen the process of inquiry within Genius Hour as well as consolidate and build upon the use of ICT.

In Years 5 and 6, students are provided with one-to-one access of a Windows 8 ultrabook. In Genius Hour, students use technology to:

  •  Submit proposals: via a Google Doc shared between the relevant teachers and students. Comments can be made as feedback during the proposal and planning stages.
  •  Conduct research: using Google Search on the World Wide Web, as well as World Book Online.
  •  Create products: producing video and pictures, designing websites, or coding games and applications. At times this includes the use of personal technology that students are encouraged to bring.
  •  Share learning: via a Google Presentation, shared between the relevant teachers and students.
  •  Communicate learning: via the Year 5 and 6 blog, where final projects are posted for the wider community. A selection of students also shared their learning via Google Hangouts to reach the parent and wider community.
  •  Collaborate and extend beyond their community: Some students worked with another school (St. Francis of Xavier Primary School in Box Hill) who were also doing Genius Hour using the Google Apps platform.

The aim of our research was to examine ways in which we can use design thinking and consider the use of technology to further strengthen the inquiry process throughout Genius Hour, so as to improve student engagement and motivation.

 

Measures of success

From a qualitative standpoint, we hoped that if we succeeded we would see an improvement in:

– engagement

  • less off task behaviours.
  • increased ownership of projects.
  • increased quality of projects (depth of questions).
  • increased positive attitudes towards Genius Hour.

– motivation

  • increased perseverance throughout the process.
  • increased impact of projects (in terms of a positive influences unto others).

 

Review

Through NoTosh resources and support with the work conducted at the CEOM leadership days and team based days, several deliberate actions were introduced to the Genius Hour program:

Immersion / synthesis:

  • Viewed St. Francis of Xavier Primary School’s (Box Hill) Genius Hour presentations on Google Hangouts
  • Generated ideas using “100 ideas in 10 minutes” and evaluated them
  • Categorised questions as “Googleable vs Non-Googleable” using a filter
  • Presented provocations from the Google Science Fair and example of IBM’s Watson Super Computer
  • Developed questions using the Complex Questions Matrix
  • Gave the opportunity to a few students to work with another school on a joint Genius Hour project effort. Students at St. Francis in Box Hill who are also doing Genius Hour were able to work with students from St. Mark’s using the Google Apps platform

 

Prototyping:

  • Communicated progress of projects on the Year 5 and 6 blog
  • Gave opportunities for feedback (kind, specific, useful) in small groups at various stages

 

Exposition / Presentation:

  • Uploaded all projects to the Year 5 and 6 blog.
  • Shared learning (10 groups) on Google Hangouts to an estimated audience of 300. Participants answered questions from viewers outside of the St. Mark’s Community.

These actions can also be viewed via this Thing Link.

As a third and fourth generation of the Genius Hour program, a lot of improvements have been observed anecdotally:

Quality and depth of projects – When comparing the sets of questions and projects against previous iterations of Genius Hour, students have been far more creative, original and inquisitive in their research. The deliberate teaching of a “Non-Googleable” question to this part has been instrumental, as has been the high bar and expectation for students for their projects to be meaningful.

Perseverance and engagement in students – In this iteration of Genius Hour, the teachers have observed increased determination and perseverance. As a long-term activity, students in the past have become disinterested or “lost” with their projects. There has also been increased enthusiasm and excitement for the times in which students are given specific time to work on their projects at school.

Ownership and collaboration amongst peers – A problem with Genius Hour in the past has been with medium to large sized groups, which can be dominated by a few students, or have timid students reluctant to participate. There has been a lot more shared ownership of the projects, leading to less “bystanding” and more active participation.

***

As part of our evaluation, we developed a survey to ascertain the attitudes and behaviours towards Genius Hour. 103 responses were collected out of 126 students. Students were asked to what extent they were enjoying Genius Hour this term, and then to respond by explaining their answer:

 gh feedback 1

low responses

medium responses

high responses

“Well this year it is different and so the question is harder to make so did not get to do a topic that I was interested in”

“I like it a little because last year they got to do it on whatever they want they could even make a game”

“I love working with other people but my group members muck around and we never get our work done”

“I’m enjoying the freedom of doing whatever you like but I not enjoying it because I’m falling behind, so to fix that problem you should give us more time.”

“We can use our own creative talents and we can make it our own project. Also we can do it with who ever we like and be fun and creative with it. Plus it is easier to learn what you’re interested in!”

“I like doing Genius Hour because I take more control of my learning and I like doing Genius Hour because it challenges me.”

Students were then asked to rank their agreement on the following statements:

Genius Hour makes me happy Strongly Disagree 0%

Disagree 2%

Neither Agree or Disagree 20%

Agree 52%

Strongly Agree 25%

Genius Hours inspires me to try something new Strongly Disagree 0%

Disagree 1%

Neither Agree or Disagree 9%

Agree 57%

Strongly Agree 33%

Genius Hour challenges my thinking Strongly Disagree 1%

Disagree 1%

Neither Agree or Disagree 15%

Agree 52%

Strongly Agree 31%

I feel energised during Genius Hour Strongly Disagree 0%

Disagree 5%

Neither Agree or Disagree 32%

Agree 43%

Strongly Agree 20%

Doing Genius Hour is useful for me Strongly Disagree 0%

Disagree 3%

Neither Agree or Disagree 25%

Agree 52%

Strongly Agree 19%

I am bored during Genius Hour Strongly Disagree 41%

Disagree 44%

Neither Agree or Disagree 13%

Agree 2%

Strongly Agree 2%

Genius Hour is interesting for me Strongly Disagree 0%

Disagree 0%

Neither Agree or Disagree 14%

Agree 52%

Strongly Agree 34%

I want to do well during Genius Hour Strongly Disagree 0%

Disagree 0%

Neither Agree or Disagree 6%

Agree 36%

Strongly Agree 58%

I care about my work and efforts during Genius Hour Strongly Disagree 0%

Disagree 0%

Neither Agree or Disagree 6%

Agree 41%

Strongly Agree 53%

I am “in the zone” during Genius Hour Strongly Disagree 2%

Disagree 3%

Neither Agree or Disagree 41%

Agree 41%

Strongly Agree 14%

I use my time effectively during Genius Hour Strongly Disagree 0%

Disagree 3%

Neither Agree or Disagree 19%

Agree 57%

Strongly Agree 20%

We also collected data from teachers in other year levels on the Open Expo day, as we thought it might be useful to seek from teachers external and independent to the year level:

 

“There was a wide range of projects that reflected the children’s interests and ability.  The children that I spoke to were able to talk about the reason why they chose their particular area so I was able to see the purpose behind it. I enjoyed looking at the journey, not just the finished product.  I also noticed that for some students the journey will continue.

No matter how big or small the project was, all students were very proud to showcase their work and get feedback from their family, peers and teachers.”

“What an incredible celebration of creativity and imagination! The students appeared excited by their chosen field and proud of their accomplishments. They seemed to be more willing and able, this year, to discuss their work with depth and clarity. I was very impressed by the students’ use of trial and feedback to test and refine their work before showcasing it.”

“I was very impressed with the level of research and how well some students explained their research topic. The students were very engaged and very enthusiastic to show off their designs and outcomes.”

“A brilliant Genius Expo that showed imagination has no limit. It was a privilege to witness the journey (struggles, failures, successes. breakthroughs, frustrations…) and to experience the destinations. Not only was the learning and skills that were gained evident, self esteem of all the participants oozed from their presentation sites regardless of whether they had achieved their goal. Visible learning in action! Strong, focused leadership! And the Google Hang-out…so cool! Hope all of our school got to see it.”

“The time and effort the students put in was evident in the depth of their work. There was a genuine knowledge and passion coming from the kids about their chosen topics. It was very clear the children had control over the development of their projects and it was great to see a wide range of topics and interests investigated. No two projects were the same. I think it agave our 3/4’s something to aspire to, they came back inspired, with open eyes excited to tackle their own inquiry.”

Whilst there have been some positive gains in light of the teacher and student data, we feel there is still room for improvement.

 One of the key principles of Genius Hour is for students to make a meaningful impact on their wider community. Whilst some students appear to have the correct intention and motivations, we feel that on the whole students were not following through with their impact. After designing a graphic to assist students to reflect on their intended impact, it was clear that most students genuinely wanted to have a reach far beyond what they achieved but required assistance to do this.

Moreover, as highlighted by the student survey, they are some negative feelings towards Genius Hour. We feel that this could be a barrier to engagement and motivation if we are not effective in communicating the process or ideas behind Genius Hour for all students.

Design Thinking is a relatively new process and concept for the team but it has certainly made an impact. From a teacher standpoint, it has promoted critical and creative thinking that has improved the quality of the inquiry process.

Further resources

Term 2 Projects

Term 2 Hangout

Term 4 Projects

Term 4 Hangout

What do students at St. Mark’s think about Genius Hour?

 

What’s your impact?

One of the 10 principles of our approach to Genius Hour which we maintain to be of high importance  is to encourage students to have an impact beyond themselves. We want our students to think about how they could potentially change the world, whether that is on a local, national, or global stage. We are bringing the expectation that they could contribute something meaningful as a global citizen.

10 principles of genius hour

Our 10 principles of Genius Hour

What we found in our first iterations of Genius Hour last year was that this notion was hardly realised. Students unsurprisingly grappled with the foreign concept of undertaking a lengthy process of discovery on a deep level, let alone considering what they were going to do with their new found knowledge in the inquiry. This improved in 2014 as we applied a Design Thinking process to Genius Hour to focus on the development on a deep, complex and “Non-Googleable” question. The introduction of “How might we…” led naturally to tangible actions that could potentially lead to opportunities for sharing beyond a student’s own benefit.

During the proposal stages students considered what the impact beyond themselves would be. However when it came time to undertake the inquiry, students became caught up and often forgot about it and therefore was often too little and too late in the process  for their impact to be realised. Having said this, in our most recent Genius Hour attempt the majority of our students were able to at least make, teach or do something genuine for their school and wider community. Holding an Open Expo for the school community, and sharing projects via the level blog and on Google Hangouts certainly helped in this regard.

We asked our students to map out a self-assessment of their impact using a graphic organiser with the levels of SELF, SCHOOL COMMUNITY, WIDER COMMUNITY, STATE, NATION and WORLD by providing evidence of what they either made, did or taught. Upon completing this task, students reluctantly realised that their intended impact may not have been entirely realised.

IMG_5180IMG_20141119_173107

In our next attempt of Genius Hour, we feel that it would be appropriate to use this graphic organiser during the ideation stage and development of the inquiry line. Our challenge as educators is to assist students during the inquiry process to connect them to opportunities that allow them to make their desired impacts, particularly those outside of the school community.

Below is a copy of the graphic should you wish to use it (or in PDF). I would be interested in hearing about how other educators are encouraging their students to think beyond their community and actually making their efforts a reality!

What's Your Impact

 

Getting comfortable with being uncomfortable

Capture

 

Last Thursday’s GEG Melbourne event “Feed Forward” was another huge success.  Google Teacher Academy participants shared their journeys, their moonshots, and their intended journeys for the months to come.

I shared my moonshot and a little bit of thinking that I have been doing about the area of innovation in schools. As I started to explore the problem a little more deeply in an almost re-immersion of the problem, I have been grappling with the reasons why education can be appearing to move so slowly. Maybe some of this issue revolves around the obvious notion that change can be hard to achieve, but I think that challenging the “status-quo” of the system and changing fixed-mindsets is the real problem. Whilst some of us might view ourselves as change agents by standing up in our schools and leading the charge, true educational change requires challenging the thinking of every educator, student, parent and bureaucrat in the system. This might seem a little more challenging and risky then simply standing up in one school community!

I spoke to a few people in the breakout sessions about disruptive ideas in education, and several were excited to find a common ground with others who were also frustrated with the slow pace of innovation in education. If you haven’t yet done so, please fill out this form to share your ideas.

Slides from the presentation are here or below:

 

EdTech MasterChef Challenge at ACEC14

A paradox exists between adult learning at conferences and student learning in the classroom. On one hand we talk about students taking ownership of their learning and collaborating with others without the teacher “giving” all the information…yet at conferences, the majority of the time we seem to sit submissively and listen to presenters in a didactic style approach.

This was one of the major reasons for bringing the EdTech MasterChef Challenge to the Australian Computers in Education Conference 2014. With colleague Narissa Leung, we facilitated the event to offer an alternative style of professional development for educators at the conference.

We were inspired by the EdTech Iron Chef Challenge at the International Society of Technology in Education Conference 2013 in San Antonio. Attending as delegates from the ACCE Study Tour, Narissa and I went into the Iron Chef event excited by the possibilities of a challenge-based style of professional development for teachers at a conference. We weren’t disappointed as we had the opportunity to debate, co-construct, innovate and articulate our approach to using technology in a hypothetical setting. For the first time, we had experienced an alternative style of learning at a conference that truly put meaning to the buzz words “connect, collaborate, crate”. (Did I also mention that our group were also declared joint-winners of the challenge with another group?)

This was another reason for facilitating the EdTech MasterChef Challenge at ACEC14. We didn’t want to lecture to people about the importance of networking with other educators, we wanted them to make their own connections. We didn’t want to show examples of students collaborating, we wanted them to experience it for themselves. We didn’t want to discuss the higher-order thinking skills required for creating meaningful products, we wanted them to use the skills to make something. The organisers of the original event are offering their resources to anyone who wants to host their own challenge, and we adapted the ideas from Iron Chef at ISTE to bring the EdTech MasterChef Challenge to ACEC14.

 

bit.ly/edtechchef

 

The Challenge

Attendees who attended Day 1 of the challenge were encouraged to form teams to collaborate with for the duration of the challenge. Whilst most people in the room brought along a friend and subsequently ended up in the same group, it was great to see a mixture of educators from various levels of experience and backgrounds in each group.

Participants were given a set of “ingredients” to use in their challenge to address a problem. The ingredients were selected intentionally to reflect the common obstacles in our everyday education contexts, and were supposed to stimulate thinking about the effective use of ICT and resources to overcome these obstacles.

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Teams collaborated on their solution and were encouraged to set aside some time during the conference to meet up physically or digitally to review their progress.

On Day 2 of the challenge, teams presented their solutions back to everyone participating and other interested delegates from ACEC14 in a fast-paced style snapshot of their solution. Guest judges formed a panel and scored each solution and presentation with a rubric.

 

It was a close battle, but congratulations to Team Epicureans on taking out the win!

 

All of the final projects submitted can be seen here

 

The Takeaway

Overall, the feedback from participants was very positive. Most seemed to enjoy the level of thinking required to address their challenge and present their solution with familiar and unfamiliar conference delegates. This was not withstanding obvious difficulties in some groups like time constraints or poor communication between team members; both of which are barriers to students that we as teachers deal with in these contexts in our classroom. However, it was encouraging to see that problem or challenge-based learning which we so often promote in our classrooms can have its place in adult learning at the conference level.

How might we amplify disruptive thinking in education to bring about positive change in our community? – A #GTASYD moonshot.

As part of my moonshot from the 2014 Google Teacher Academy in Sydney, I am seeking ways to highlight disruptive thinking and ideas in education.

How did I arrive at this? A striking difference from previous academies was that a Design Thinking process was employed, as a vehicle to generate a problem for solving and creating sustainable change by educators who attend the academy. Attendees were encouraged to think about an area of interest and a “chunky” problem that they wished to solve. These ideas were to be brought to the academy for further investigation.

It was during the immersion phase prior to the academy and within the very early stages of the 1st day that I started to narrow in to an area of interest….that of system reform, hack schooling, or disruption in education from traditional norms and systems.

My overall sentiment on this issue is that often in schools we are bogged down by the day-to-day structures and internal / external forces and influences that dictate the learning for our students. Coupled together with fixed-mindsets, schools can be hard places to change, and at times,  difficult for re-imagination to take place. Whilst there are pockets of innovation happening around the globe, we can’t really say that education has hit it’s mass tipping point as yet.

This was confirmed during the synthesis phase where fellow attendees at the academy were grouped to think critically about their area of interest by using hexagonal thinking. The aim of the exercise was to think of the factors within the issue and consider where the links and connections exist.

Whilst the hexagons can be placed in an almost infinite number of ways, here is just one way of viewing the problem with all signs pointing to “conformity”. (Humorously, the group decided that the the surrounding factors around conformity were too many, so therefore justified the use of a 7-sided shape).

 

From this phase, we were encouraged to generate a question for inquiry. This was developed around the following structure: How might we (ACTION) (WHAT) for (WHOM) in order to (CHANGE SOMETHING). The question I have developed is:

  “How might we amplify disruptive thinking in education to bring about positive change in our community”

 

ACTION: Amplify – Encourage, highlight and celebrate were considered but to amplify means to make louder, increase, magnify, intensify, or heighten. I have chosen this word because I believe there are already great things happening in some schools which we should bring to the forefront for everyone to see, and that if we can create stimulus and aim to change mindsets in “laggard” schools then we might just reach a tipping point in education where we can realise a whole vision for the future of education.

WHAT: Disruptive Thinking – includes ideas, systems, process and models which throw away or “hack” the traditional norms of education and are not encumbered by the status-quo.

WHOM: Education – including all stakeholders. Educators, parents, students, systems / bureaucracy.

CHANGE SOMETHING: Positive change in our communities – This idea is two fold. First, that through disruptive thinking we are made aware of the possibilities for improving schools and ultimately students. Secondly, that the impact is not only on students in the present within their school and community, but for life and therefore making an impact on wider communities.

If this moonshot is to be a reality, I believe that we would see an incremental improvement in the conversations that take place around education reform, and the actions that schools take place around the globe to bring positive change in their communities (10x thinking).

I aim to make this moonshot a reality with a two pronged attack.

Firstly, I wish to make an impact within my own school community. I will need to consider the influencing forces in my school setting and the avenues to hack / rethink to improve opportunities for schooling. Having said this, I think my school setting does “buck the trend” from the status-quo in a lot of ways but there are always opportunities for improvement. Moreover, I hope to use these experiences as learning opportunities for myself and our school which can be shared to the wider community.

Secondly, I wish to examine what is happening locally, nationally and globally in education in regards to disruptive ideas. I aim to curate resources which highlight narratives of rethinking education which is not encumbered by traditional norms or influences. I also aim to share and provoke wider professional networks through teacher PD, conferences, and social learning networks.

Last week at the academy I created a Google Form and sent this out to my PLN. The aim of the form was to immerse myself in the problem again, and find out what other educators around the globe think about this issue. I am also using it to connect with people and to find out whether they are willing to help me curate some of the interesting ideas around disruption.

I have already received a number of responses from Australia and the US. If you are interested in helping this cause, I would love a response on the form below:

http://goo.gl/VvZyUH

Please re-share in your communities!

Dare to dream and discover empowerment – a #GTASYD reflection

Last week I had the privilege of attending the Google Teacher Academy in Sydney. I had every expectation that the academy would be 2 days of high-energy thinking, mind-stretching paradigms, and dialogically rich conversations with existing and new-found members in my PLN. In this regard, the academy didn’t disappoint. As other’s have already pointedout, this year’s academy and possibly subsequent academies are taking a new direction in the way that attendees are selected, inducted and sent forth from the academy. Under the guidance and incredible facilitation of (NoToshTom Barrett and Hamish Curry, this year’s intake had the prowess and wisdom of previous Certified Teachers from Sydney 2013 as mentors. Attendees were supported by teams and were stepped through a Design Thinking process as a vehicle of empowering attendees to create sustainable change in school communities.

It goes along way to answering the question, “how do you personalise learning for 50 incredibly passionate teachers?”, let alone those who are already “Google Savy”. For me, the process was very suitable for exploring problems in our school communities and seeking the opportunities for positive improvement. It meant that teachers could tailor the two days towards their own visions for education and make something meaningful of it.

A large part of the academy is to bring to fruition a Moonshot, that is, an incredible idea that could make all the difference yet is seemingly impossible.

In the early stages of immersion, themes were collected of all the topics that educators were interested in developing moonshots . Noting these it was interesting that they included common ideas in our professional practise like changing teacher / student mindsets, assessment, personalisation, leadership, learning spaces, pedagogy, curriculum development, change beyond the classroom, and even the notion of hack schooling or complete system rethink. Of all these interrelated issues, a similarity found in all was that they were about forces of change for the better of education.

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 My own moonshot that I have developed from the academy is along the lines of hack schooling, system rethink, and disruptive learning…more on those in another blog post!

For me, the Google Teacher Academy was incredibly energising. The most important part was not the fact it took place in a Google office, or  that we used / discussed Google tools, or even technology for that matter. The most important parts were the connections that were made, the challenging conversations that took place, and the energy and belief that gripped each of us in those rooms that we can make a powerful difference within and beyond our school communities.

At the end of the two days we were asked to develop a six-word memoir that encapsulated our feelings at that point. I believe the memoir I developed (Dare to dream and discover empowerment) is a reminder not only for myself, the community of GCTs but all educators…that we have a responsibility to ourselves and to grow the profession together.

Huge props to not only to Google Education Evangelist Suan for the GCT program, but also Chris Harte who has been an inspirational and provocative mentor for Team <x>.

So you think you are using technology to “Transform” learning?

At ISTE 2014 in Atlanta, I attended Alan November’s session on “Learn to Learn: First 5 Days of School”. Alan spoke about the opportunities within the first five days of the school year, and the range of activities and pedagogies that could be “invested in” during that time and carried into each term.

Whilst the topic of conversation was very interesting (See the November Learning resources and #1st5Days), there was something else that sparked an interest in me.

Alan showed a set of questions that he had been working on, named “Six questions to ask for transformed learning”. Alan’s point was that the we ought to consider more frequently how much of our use of technology IS in fact transforming classrooms. His questions could be used to “test” or analyse assignments, as one can easily get carried away in the urgency to use technology but not consider how in fact it is improving (or hindering) the learning process or opportunities.

Here are Alan’s questions in full:

1) Did the assignment create capacity for critical thinking on the web?
2) Did the assignment reach new areas of teaching students to develop new lines of enquiry?
3) Are there opportunities to broaden the perspective of the conversation with authentic audiences from around the world?
4) Is there an opportunity for students to publish (across various media) with an opportunity for continuous feedback?
5) Is there an option or focus for students to create a contribution (purposeful work?)
6) Were students introduced to “best in the world” examples of content and skill?

 

Upon reflecting on Alan’s questions I thought that they ring true; in that if the answer is no to all of the above, then there is a danger that technology has merely substituted the task and not transformed it in any way. Educators often talk about how apps or software are “transformational” because they are engaging or motivating, or personal devices that are in the hands of students hands lead to transformational “approaches”. For me, the transformative opportunities in today’s digital age with technology are when the technologies are used to connect, share and widen classrooms, which in my opinion, are scarcely met in a genuine sense.

 

 SAMR

 

According to the SAMR model above (Dr Ruben Puentedura), transformation occurs when the technology has allowed for significant modification of the task and / or created new opportunities which were previously inconceivable. For more on SAMR, see Kathy Schrock’s awesome guide.

 

So you think you are using technology to “Transform” learning?

Taking Alan’s questions, I have modified them slightly and improved the wording of them for teachers to use more succinctly to get to the heart of the question; so that they could be used to think about whether technology is indeed transforming learning and teaching in classrooms.

The first change you might notice is that I have modified the word “assignment” to task. Assignment to me brings connotations of a moment in time, a “project”, and often used as an assessment piece. To me the word task is a lot more applicable yet still suitable to learning opportunities in the classroom.

1) Does the task create capacity for critical thinking on the web? – The extent to which critical thinking and higher order cognitive skills are utilised WITH the web. The word “web” here is particularly important as it offers the opportunity to broaden perspectives, break down the barriers of place and time, and share and connect across communities.

2) Does the task enrich the possibilities for students to develop new lines of inquiry? – The extent to which the technology is used in a way that sparks curiosity and provides the avenues for students to develop and seek questions.

3) Does the task broaden the conversation via authentic audiences? – The extent to which the technology is used to flatten classroom walls and open dialogue and interaction between other students, teachers, parents, and the wider community.

4) Does the task allow opportunities for students to publish with the possibility of continuous feedback? – The extent to which the technology is used to publish student knowledge and synthesis with the opportunity of viewership and feedback from others without the restrictions of place and time.

5) Does the task allow opportunities for students to create contributions? – The extent to which the technology is used for questioning, moderating, collaborating and co-creating with others.

6) Does the task expose students to “best in the world” examples of content and/or skill? – The extent to which the technology is used to demonstrate high quality examples of the learning objective’s content and/or skills.

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Educators, what do you think? I would welcome you to “test” these questions to analyse tasks or curriculum against the SAMR model. Do you agree with Alan November? Would you include anything else in this set of questions?

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As part of my Google Teacher Academy application, I have made a provocation that can be used for critical and creative thinking about the opportunities of transformational learning with technology. This might be useful to view when planning for deliberate tasks, or consider when delivering of lessons, or for post evaluations and analysis of tasks or curriculum.

 

 

“What characteristics does Google look for in their employees?”

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The Google Apps For Education summit and all of it’s “Googly Goodness” doesn’t kick off until tomorrow, but this afternoon +Riss and I had the pleasure of attending a pre-summit tour of the Sydney Google offices hosted by +Suan.

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+Riss asked +Suan a very provoking question, “What characteristics does Google look for in their employees?”. His responses echoed sentiments of what Intel told us last year on the ACCE13 Study Tour, that Google employees are to be open minded to the constant of change, team players and collaborators, and skilled at finding problems and designing solutions.

For +Riss  and I it sparked 2 important questions. If education is to prepare our young minds for their future lives and to supply workforces:

how much of our teaching & learning is genuinely geared towards team work, problem finding, designing solutions and a healthy attitude for the unknown? Moreover, if teachers are not open-minded to change, how can they expect their students to be?

 

Taking these questions as a lens will be a great way to kick off tomorrow’s summit!