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End of year reflections

It’s the end of the school year at this end of the world, so it’s kind of natural for me to be reflecting on times been and times to come.

Watching this recently released video of Steve Wozniak talking about his role in the revolutionary change brought about by the development of the Apple computer is both beautifully filmed and fascinatingly informative.

Who could have dreamt of the developments that followed that momentous design?  The pace of change is indeed very fast.  How many of us could have predicted that today we would be debating the merits or otherwise of computers being able to think and act on their own?

When I read a report last week in which the pre-eminent scientist Steven Hawking warned that Artificial Intelligence (AI) could spell the end of the human race, I found myself sitting up and listening.  The article from BBC News: Stephen Hawking warns artificial intelligence could end mankind is well worth a read.  If you know little about AI, this report includes a brief, easy to understand, introduction to AI by Prof Murray Shanahan.

Stephen Hawking is not alone in voicing his concerns about AI.  Elon Musk, chief executive of rocket-maker Space X, also fears that AI is our biggest existential threat.

The question of whether or not we should be worried about the development of Artificial Intelligence is heavily debated, but this recent CNN broadcast (December 2, 2014) in which James Barrat, author of “Our Final Invention”  discusses the issue, left me somewhat disconcerted.

AI - James Barrat on CNN

Contemporary discourse, which recognizes the incredible speed of technological changes, indicates that it’s not possible for educators to plan detailed educational programs beyond five years.  With an eye on where we are headed in the future, discussion, debate, exploration and questioning are behind most everything we put in place in our schools.

Over the last 12 months, I’ve learned and explored much.  Lots of opportunities, for which I am very grateful, have been thrown my way allowing me to grow, learn and explore more than I ever thought I could.  While I look forward to the end of year break over summer, I know that in between reading and relaxing, I will also explore interests which I regularly add to my never ending ‘to do’ list.

I look forward to sharing my thoughts in future posts after the break.

 

Saying the same thing over and over again on this blog, is not too surprising I guess.  After all, the words that appear here are most often a reflection of my thoughts, my passion and those issues that inspire me to blog in the first place.

I’ve said it many times before:

The job of a teacher is to inspire, to challenge, to excite their students to want to learn …..

If we can’t inspire the students in our classroom, we are simply not doing our job.  If we are unable to challenge them with tasks that provoke them to think, reflect and grow, we are still not doing our job.  And if we are unable to excite in our students a desire to learn, to ignite a passion and love of learning, then learning will just not happen.

Although I’ve blogged these thoughts often, this time the words are not just mine.  Instead they are said, very passionately, in a powerful video released just a few days ago: This will revolutionize education.

Talking about the impact of technology on the learner, the words spoken in this video go against popular belief by stating that rather than being in the midst of an education revolution, we are instead in the midst of an evolution.

The words spoken are impassioned and exciting.   The style is slick and captivating.   But for me, the standout comments come toward the end of the video, when the important role of the teacher is highlighted.

The fundamental role of a teacher is not to deliver information, it is to guide the social process of learning …

The most important thing a teacher does is make every student feel like they are important, to make them feel accountable for doing the work of learning ……

And then the final impassioned lines of the video state the case very clearly:

….. what really matters is what happens inside the learner’s head and making a learner think seems best achieved in a social environment with other learners and a caring teacher.

It is indeed through the influence of the teacher who creates a nurturing and caring classroom environment, that our students are able to learn, grow and achieve.

We must never doubt the incredibly strong impact that teachers have on their students.   Creating a caring, nurturing and safe learning space within the confines of each classroom is what it really is all about!  It is the role of teachers

  • to take time to get to know their students
  • to provide individualized programs which nurture the skills of each learner
  • to develop in each student an ‘I can’ attitude from which confidence can grow
  • to ensure a safe and secure classroom where risk taking is encouraged
  • to create opportunities in which students can be actively immersed in new learning
  • to guide students’ learning by providing them with a scaffold they will be able to use throughout their life to pursue future learning
  • to encourage students to be patient and to not expect that learning is instantaneous
  • to foster an understanding of the value and benefits gained from collaboration
  • to guard against students competing against each other
  • to help students appreciate the value of learning by doing

When I first saw this video, I shared my find on Twitter re stating it’s words.  It was clear from the number of RTs this tweet garnered that the interest of others was also stirred.   Penny Bentley threw out a challenge to me when she asked:

With this question sitting in the back of my mind over the last few days, I realize that this is the kernel of the issue I constantly grapple with when I try to inspire within students and teachers alike a love of reading and a love of learning.   Inspiration has many facets.  It encompasses much.  And it requires the guiding hand of a teacher to ensure that it happens.

What does inspiration involve and aim to achieve in our classes?

  • to awaken the mind of the learner
  • to arouse focused attention
  • to fill students with enthusiasm
  • to excite passionate interest
  • to motivate students to go one step further than they may do otherwise
  • to initiate activities in which students can learn with and from each other
  • to enable the student to also be the teacher
  • to stir imagination
  • to encourage risk taking
  • to create excitement
  • to arouse and enthuse involvement and participation
  • to light an insatiable spark within the heart and soul of the learner
  • to stimulate learners to be lifelong learners!

I will forever be grateful to my mentor Judith Way, who, more than four years ago, lit that spark within me which makes me constantly reach out for the new, explore the unknown, savour my discoveries and be driven to share all that I’ve learned, discovered and explored with others.

Read more about this inspirational teacher and mentor in one of my earlier posts: An interview with Judith Way – 2010 VicPLN Program Mentor.  She blogs at The Way Forward and tweets often as @judithway

Take a few minutes to watch.  The words and visuals of this video may also resonate with you for some time!

I feel both frustrated and saddened.

Frustrated because I don’t know how to change the situation I’m faced with and saddened because I know that unless change happens, others are not only missing out but those they teach are missing out too.

What happened?

Yet another professional colleague gave me that irksome, fixated, glazed stare as I rattled on about the joy of learning and all that I have learned by talking, reading, writing, listening and sharing along with the immense pleasure I constantly gain by acquiring new knowledge and knowing that I am part of an amazing never ending chain of knowledge.

Why doesn’t everyone get it?!   Why doesn’t everyone understand that all educators – young and old, experienced and less experienced – need to continuously learn?!

If you’re reading this blog, you’re already hooked.  You already know how important it is to constantly reach out for new thoughts, ideas, pedagogy and technology.  It’s something you do on a regular basis.  It’s something that feeds your joy of being.  It’s something that helps you grow and perform as a better teacher.

Unfortunately though, not everyone feels the need for ongoing professional learning.

How can we change this mentality?   How can we excite our colleagues who haven’t yet discovered not just the need to continuously learn, but the inherent joy derived from learning?

What processes are we putting in place to bring others on board, to make them recognize how important it is to stay fresh and to maintain their relevancy in the eyes of their students and their work colleagues?

A shift toward centralized teacher registration in Australia is attempting to formalize this.  VIT registration renewal now requires each of us to complete 20 hours of professional learning each year.   But, it can be argued, forcing people to learn doesn’t necessarily translate to learning and growth actually occurring.

It’s the learning culture we need to change!  

Just as we aim to instill a love of learning in our students, so too we need to instill a love of learning in educators.   Just as we grow weary of the many students in our classes who complete the bare minimum to prove competency has been gained, I grow weary when I see professional colleagues just step through the ropes to earn that ‘Certificate of Completion’.

Just recently I was telling my son about an awesome online program I had recently ‘attended’.  In between sharing details of the course, I mentioned that while I enjoyed the weekly readings and took the opportunity to play a little with some of the tools to which we were being exposed,  the weekly assignments were not to my liking, so I didn’t complete them.   In saying this out loud, I realized that this is the first time I haven’t actually completed all those ‘required tasks’ which I knew would disqualify me from receiving my ‘Certificate of Completion’.  And, furthermore, I didn’t feel an ounce of guilt!  The many hours I had spent poring over readings of websites and the comments and thoughts exchanged by all of us participating in the program was sufficient for me.  As this realization popped into my mind, I realized that gaining the certificate was not the reason I had even enrolled in the course!   And then, I was blown away when my son’s response came swift and clear:

We learn what we want to learn, not what we have to learn.”

Funnily enough, just last week,  a senior member of our teaching staff popped into our workroom confessing that he had never been interested in learning details shared in one of the mandatory sessions conducted by our eLearning teachers, never, that is, until now – because now he needs to know how to apply that learning!   A brief exchange between us deduced an eerily similar comment to that of my son:

Successful learning most often occurs on a need to know basis.   

So, could it be that herein lies an unexplored path to ignite a love of learning among the teachers in our schools?  Could we perhaps create instances in which needs are manufactured, needs which would compel teachers to step into that glorious world of learning so that they could reap the rewards and experience first hand the joy of learning?

As I said earlier, my learning is constantly propelled by

  • talking: predominantly on Twitter and face-to-face with work colleagues
  • reading: thoughts, comments and links found on social media and the blog posts of others
  • writing:  reflecting as I write posts for my two blogs
  • listening: when attending conferences, workshops or meet-ups with other professionals
  • sharing: by presenting at conferences which encompasses much thinking and planning

So, is it possible to bottle some of the experiences and dividends I’ve described as being inherent in my style of learning to create situations from which our work colleagues could gain much.

So …..

  • what if teachers had to create a Twitter account so they could regularly receive shared information from the Principal?
  • what if teachers were then required to follow 10 thought leaders and share those they follow with their followers?
  • what if teachers had to tweet their response to at least 10 links found and read on Twitter?
  • what if teachers had to RT good tweets read?
  • what if teachers had to send an agreed minimum number of tweets a week?
  • what if teachers had to read at least six recommended blogs a week?
  • what if teachers had to view at least six videos (TED, Youtube) a week?
  • what if teachers had to create a blog on which they share reflections of their own learning journey?
  • what if teachers had to write at least one blog post a week?
  • what if teachers had to leave comments on the blogs of at least three other colleagues a week?
  • what if teachers were required to attend a school based TeachMeet where they had to present for 7 minutes?
  • what if teachers were required to attend one online learning program a year?
  • what if the above cycle was a professional learning requirement for a set number of weeks each year?
  • what if each teacher’s participation in this program was monitored by an experienced mentor?
  • what if learning time – at least three hours a week – was scheduled into each teacher’s weekly timetable?
  • what if schools underwent some rethinking and redesigning to overcome the kinds of situations illustrated here which saps the time and energy of the time poor teachers in our schools?!
The Point: Independent Education Union Vol. 4 No 6 November 2014

The Point: Independent Education Union Vol. 4 No 6 November 2014

Is it possible that by implementing these practices into our staff professional learning programs that we could, at last, instill a love of learning into the hearts and minds of all our teachers?

 

Take note:

It’s not only educators who talk about the importance of lifelong learning! 

Increasingly, employers and companies are looking for employees who don’t just have a set of skills to do a job, but rather those who have a set of skills that demonstrate their ability to know how to adapt, change and constantly acquire new skills which can be used in those work related situations that don’t yet exist.

Listening to Fareed Zakaria, a US journalist who is both the host of CNN’s Fareed Zakaria GPS and writes a weekly column for The Washington Post, talk about the Knowledge Economy focuses on this important shift which has been occurring in education.

Living in a knowledge economy, Zakaria says, employees need to be able to have some kind of ‘value add’ to entice companies to employ them.   In the past, worldwide practice has relied on elite colleges and universities as the source for the best potential employees.  Degrees obtained from schools of education such as Harvard, Stanford and Oxford have been a ready ticket into the lucrative job market.  He quips that the reason

US education can charge extraordinary fees is because employers around the world believe that this is the single best sorting mechanism they have to figure out who to hire.”

The rise of MOOCs however, which allow anyone, anywhere access to courses and programs only previously available to the select few able and willing to pay these extraordinary fees, has opened up an entirely new source for employers.  Once the market place catches up with this seismic shift in education and starts recognizing the pieces of paper earned by graduates of MOOCs which prove they have a skill set demonstrating their capacity to shift and change according to needs in the market place, opportunities for those previously denied the paths of elite college graduates will alter irrevocably.

Zakaria is clear in saying potential employees need to focus very hard on gaining those skills and

the only way you can get those skills is through learning and through continuous learning”

“The trait companies are looking for”, Zakaria says, “is not a set of skills but a demonstrated ability to acquire skillsDespite current commentary (Demystifying the MOOC: New York Times, October 29th 2014) that the completion rate of the many thousands who have been flocking to courses offered by MOOCs are very low, the fact that some are completing – and benefiting from completion of these additional skills – speaks for itself.

Take a few moments to listen to Fareed Zakaria:

 

Attending the Pearson National Learning and Teaching Conference last week in Brisbane was an awesome experience.

Apart from having the opportunity to present on issues I’m passionate about – the importance of teachers being lifelong learners plus how we can instill in our students a love of reading – I had the opportunity to attend a number of fabulous presentations by other educators.

One of the many outstanding presentations was by Hamish Curry of notosh, who gave a keynote about social media and school culture.  Using the theme engage and trust, he had the audience mesmerized for a full hour as he skipped through a range of powerful thoughts including the importance of schools creating a social media user policy that is short, meaningful and would stand the test of time by including current platforms as well as those that don’t yet exist.

Many of his statements were ‘to the point’ forcing us sit up and listen.  By stating that cyberbullying is the best thing that’s happened in education, he not only underlined the importance of this phenomena in today’s society but stated the obvious:

‘Until cyber bullying came along we didn’t know how bad bullying is’

Today, he continued, a digital trail left by cyberbullies allows us to follow up on this horrid phenomena in ways we couldn’t in the past.

Highlighting Pew Research, it comes as little surprise to educations using social media, that the average age of Facebook users is nearly 40.   To ensure their privacy away from the prying eyes of authority figures, students today are leaving Facebook to pursue other platforms.

But social media has become a phenomena that dominates our lives.   The temptation to record the minute rather than ‘live’ the minute is an issue I have blogged about previously.  Early into my learning foray I blogged Life is about change – accept it and enjoy! and then further along my journey, just on a year ago, I blogged What does being ‘present in the moment’ really mean?

Over recent months some very powerful videos have gone viral.   Noting that we need to inoculate students to protect them from the virus of social media, Hamish screened Look Up - a powerful statement.  Look Down, a parody of Look Up, is worth a view too. 

A very recent release by rap artist Prince Ea sends the same powerful message – not just to our students – but to all of us.  Titled Can We Auto-Correct Humanity? this video is both serious and profound:

How did it get to be this way, Hamish asked.

His statement that

Digital natives is a myth!”

hit me with a puff of disbelief!   Just last week I published a post which highlighted the divide between digital immigrants and digital natives.   Are all my thoughts, based on quotes from others, now totally off the mark?   Have I gotten it wrong in summing myself up as a digital immigrant – a tag I’ve stated many times when describing my own learning journey of recent years?  With a little dismay and much consternation, I tweeted to Hamish the day after his presentation:

His reply was quite instant:

Hamish concluded in his keynote that the Z generation of today are not digital natives but rather use the tools of the day, the world of technology into which they are born, and take on a role of assisting us, much the same as we did for our parents and grandparents as we showed them how to use the new technology of our youth: remote controls, cassettes, CDs, video cameras and the like.  Many of the high tech tools and platforms of the networked 21st century Hamish contends had their roots in the tools we grew up on:

vintage-social-networking

As highlighted by Hamish in his tweet to me – it is the speed of change that is different.  It is that speed of change, Hamish contends, that impacts not just on how we teach, but what we teach:

Without changing pedagogy, technology will make no difference”

Returning to the theme of the imperative need to teach our students to use social media with care, Hamish suggested that we should trust and empower our students to teach themselves.  A compelling video made by students in the Catholic Education Office Diocese of Woolongong,  concluded an extremely powerful presentation.

I came across this video of Jason Dorsey speaking to a large group of business leaders and was quite literally blown away!

Never before had I really focused on the enormous issue that within our school libraries we work with and aim to meet the needs of no less than four generations – concurrently!

This humorous presentation forces us to face the obvious: the majority of teachers in our schools are Digital Immigrants of the Gen W, X and Y classification who regularly interact with Gen Z.  Is it no wonder that transcending the barriers that divide the generations can at times seem insurmountable?  Is it any wonder that our Gen Z students look at us and wonder what we have to offer them when we don’t really ‘speak’ their language.   Is the incredible mix of generations within our schools coupled with the unrelenting rate of change in technology something that sets our education programs up for failure?

An interesting article Digital Immigrant Teachers and Digital Native Students: What happens to teaching? by Shelley Kinash, Kayleen Wood and Diana Knight in Education Technology Solutions (Issue 54, June/July 2013) raises some very interesting questions, most particularly

….. that people who have grown up with personal computers and the internet (digital natives) function and think differently from people who had to adjust to and learn new technologies and approaches (digital immigrants).”

Included in this article is a table which helps focus our attention on the wide range of individuals either working in or being served by our schools: teachers, students, parents, grandparents and board members:

Digital Immigrants & Natives

As we consider this wide range, it is worthwhile to keep in mind the words of Jason Dorsey:

Generations are not a box.  They are simply clues, clues on where to start to better lead and manage people.”

For those of us working in school libraries, it is worthwhile to have a read of the discussion presented by Steve Mattews on the 21st Century Library Blog: Customer is the Purpose which also alludes to the different generations that we are dealing with on a daily basis.

As I reflect on the essential need for teachers to embrace lifelong learning not only for their own professional development but as a way of retaining their own relevancy in the eyes of students, I find these readings valuable and enlightening.

PhotoMathLaunched just a few days, PhotoMath is a revolutionary app that quite possibly will change the way Math is taught and learned by students in schools.

To use, simply point the app at a math problem so that the smartphone’s camera can instantly scan the problem and provide a solution.   The educational part of it is that it shows the solution – step by step – thereby letting the student learn how to solve the problem.

To quote one of the developers:

PhotoMath is a 21st century evolution of a calculator and it can enable every student to have a math teacher in their pocket.”

While Math education is not my specialty, this certainly does seem to be a groundbreaking development.   The first five minutes of this video shows the developers explaining and giving examples of how it can be used.  It sounds very impressive.

Needless to say I had to give it a go to see if and how it worked.  So I tried my luck with something fairly simple and then a calculation that was just a tad more complex.

Fraction PhotMath

Algebra PhotoMath

Pretty good!  It will be interesting to see if this takes off in schools.

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