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A great EARCOS 2014 conference was had with some very enlightening presentations, here are my reflections from the keynote speeches.
Transforming Learning and Leading in International Schools by Yong Zhao
A wonderfully reflective and engaging opening speech by Yong Zhao entitled Two Education Paradigms: What Defines a World Class Education?
The ‘education system’ has arrived at its current state (like all things) as a result of evolution, but that does not necessarily make it good or right. Unlike biological evolution maybe this beast needs examining and even severely changing.
The key reviewing of the system should be from the future to present in order to redefine it successfully. In other words where do we want to go? What skills will our students of today need for the future? Obviously the answer involves a fair amount of conjecture but there are some strong indicators to point us in the direction of positive change.
In general the current successful end product of our education system is seen to be ‘a readiness for college’ an ‘ability to jump through hoops sets by others’; but is this really a quality education? The ultimate goal should be to enable the acquirement of skills to produce truly independent citizens, financially, socially & personally.
Across the world youth unemployment is rising and it is estimated in the US some 50% of jobs don’t actually require a degree. There is a global talent mismatch and that is a dilemma/challenge to education systems.
The current education model can be thought of as the sausage-making model
We start as Humans beings’
Culturally diverse after leads to
Individual/Multiple Intelligent ————-> SCHOOLING ————-> EMPLOYMENT
Passion and these traits are lost/not valued.
This model has its origins in the Industrial revolution. Not every talent has equal financial reward, technology is quickly redefining these values and education is being slow to respond. For example prior to Gutenberg the ability to read was not a valued skill, farm working was. Henry Ford and his workers knew the skills that were required and would stay in demand for their foreseeable future.
Nowadays robots and computers have replaced many of those jobs, but its not just blue-collar employees. Accountants, bank tellers and even lawyers (thanks to Google) are less in demand. Globalization has moved many jobs off shore; fortunately teaching still remains a difficult one to replace.
So lets investigate some trends and predictions for future in demand skills. Not surprisingly farming talents, which were highly valued in the 1800s, have a very small-predicted future workforce. On the contrary now consider the amount of choice in the world today and how recently that has been with us, for example how many TV channels can you watch? Or ice creams/food flavors/biscuits you can eat? Think online shopping selection. Personalization is the rising star! He who can create choice will be in demand. Service industries are the future. Apple and Facebook (now bigger than General Motors) look for creative, open-minded, entrepreneurs.
Are these traits flaunted/encouraged in schools? As the sausage model illustrates and the data shows as human being we start out with them but after n years of schooling these traits become greatly suppressed.
Schools should nurture and reward creativity, passion, confidence and entrepreneurialism. Curricula need to be more personalized and less restraining. Giving students more freedom of choice rather than forcing uniformity is the direction education systems should be moving. Return ownership of learning to students!
I was heartened by this speech and will try to continue looking for ways my students can be creative within the current framework in which I work. One example is allowing students freedom of choice in Independent Research projects. Students are required to formulate their own research question and then design, perform and record an experiment to formulate conclusions.
Mark Polansky, the three times commander of the space shuttle Endeavor, ran his sessions slightly differently. He narrated over some well-chosen video and then turned it into a question & answer session. It struck me that this format encouraged creativity from the audience as the questions went in many direction, even questions sent in by 2nd graders. Mark is hugely knowledgeable in his field and has the confidence to respond to anything in an instant. It’s evident his claims that his NASA training prepares astronauts for every event is true.
Space is a naturally curious place for humans and you don’t often get the chance to meet people who have been there so his insights were fascinating for me, particularly as a Physicist. He exudes intellect and structured his answers in very appropriate ways. It got me thinking about how I could employ this technique in my classroom. On the occasions I have used it, there is a kind of fascinated, curious hush that descends upon the room and students become super absorbent, hanging on your every word. No tech, no notes, no books just focused verbal engagement and it’s an incredible powerful moment. Unfortunately for students it has a fairly short lifespan, only happens occasionally and the vast majority can be forgotten easily (however you never know who will latch onto what). For adults, if the subject matter is right it can work really well as in the case of Mark’s presentation.
More information from: http://zhaolearning.com
So the Coetail Course closes with my redefinition of the grade 9 Kinematics course. I have to admit this project was a little daunting to start with and on reflection there are some improvements I would love to have made, for example including video clips of the students performing the experiments, but I am happy with the final product and how positive an experience it was for all in the classroom.
The Coetail course has immersed me in technology, I’d been meaning to get a blog going, use imovie, RSS reader, tweet etc and Coetail encouraged me to do these things. It all about having the confidence and seeing the use. These can only be got by participation and experience. No room for lurkers.
I anticipate that the skills learned will be used and modified in years to come. I have many positive takeaways, for example e marking and flipping the classroom.
The course has definitely helped me grow as a teacher, it had professional development stamped on the box and that’s exactly what it’s done!
What If… The Best Education
Tue, 19 March 13
Duration: 24 mins
Will a sophisticated revolution in online teaching – from the best universities on the planet – meet the shortage of higher education across the world?
So there I was listening to one of my usual quality weekly podcasts from the BBC and it’s all about online learning. Open enrollment, MOOCs and even Sal Khan has his say with 6 million users a month on his Khan academy. He foresees a huge growth in subjects and languages. Online education will offer world wide learning at much smaller costs. It can even enhance learning.
Give it a listen.
I have been finalizing my ideas for my project and have settled on the topic of motion. Traditionally I would drive the pace and development of the ideas from the front of the classroom, using worksheets and the Physics book for reinforcement as well as additional questions and extension material. There would also be a fair amount of practical work. Assessment would be in the form of written lab reports and responses to mathematical & graphical questions.
This time round I will be using an interactive e text book and flipping the classroom. I see myself setting homework as a block of time rather than numbers of questions to be completed. It requires the students to learn responsibly, for example using their time and the worked solutions appropriately. Students will learn at their own pace, a truly differentiated class with all students learning at their own pace and level. Class time will be spent individually helping students and performing the practicals to cement the concepts. I will insist data logging equipment and graphing programs are used. Assessment will be submitted and marked electronically.
I want to develop and embed an e marked quiz with feedback. I am still fine tuning this as I may be able to utilize a program that can respond to number inputs rather than just multiple choice type responses. I hope my colleagues will utilize this assessment.
Having produced the flipped classroom videos on The Story of the Atom in a previous course (see 19th October post) I decided to trial them and get some feedback from my students in order to help me improve them in the future.
My big takeaways are:
- The students enjoyed the ability to stop and replay at their leisure.
- They enjoyed learning when they wanted and having less distractions particularly when using earplugs and the screen.
- They appreciated have an activity (a table) to fill in while watching, this kept them engaged.
- The material was interesting and well presented with clear explanations.
- I should talk a little slower and include some gentle pauses particularly when they are required to fill in their tables.
- Use a better camera/lighting and write clearer/larger.
- Wear a microphone so the sound is clearer, useful particularly when turning around.
Food for thought……
For my course 5 project the unit I am looking to embed technology into will be the Grade 9 Physics trimester on Mechanics. This is an easy choice, indeed the only choice as I want to trial it during the induction. Currently I only teach two sections; grade 12 and 9. In the next semester I will be preparing the former for their I.B Diploma final exams, this will entail finishing the course content, reviewing, revising and plenty of practice exam questions. I do not feel these activities or the timing is optimum to initiate new technology. I do have some new technology I want to try with them, for example instant electronic grading and feedback of multiple choice questions, however in my opinion the stakes and pressure are too high to be doing too much ‘testing’.
On the other hand my Grade 9 classes will be moving from Biology into my specialist area thus strengthening my understanding of the conceptual requirements. I plan to teach their Mechanics unit as a flipped classroom. This will be supported by online materials, I will use booklets for them to refer to write in revise from and cover the likely case that at some stage their will be a technology problem. I also want to look into setting up some kind of online work that they can submit and I can mark, grade and give feedback on. I would like to get some kind of discussion group/networking going that each student contributes to, showing their thinking, asking questions, responding to others, giving suggestions.
Another activity I certainly want to include is class practical work, I will definitely be incorporating technology into these activities.
I am curious to see how they will take to this, will they get immersed or want to fall back on the more familiar teaching style they are used to. This is a key aspect for reflection. I am also considering how I will assess and grade certain aspects of their involvement. I will need to think carefully about setting the correct tasks as they will need to hit our broad learning categories with the correct proportions.
A few other concerns are how many technical problems there will be, how the students technical abilities may undermine their progress and how best to deal with these unpredictable issues.
This is the first year I have taught every student having been issued with a Lap Top. I am pleased to report I really like it and think it has created far fewer problems that I expected. All students have the same Macbook pro with programme suite and can get quick, reliable support; this is vital.
During class when we are having a discussion or developing a key conceptual idea I like to have the lids firmly closed this encourages focus. There are other times when I like to have them open, sometimes I station one student to be on lap top duty to search and add comments during the lesson.
Some students work better with their computers than others. I think flexibility of use is the key to success. You do have to be aware that the box of technology in front of them can be distracting. I have ‘caught’ some students off task but a correcting word and an explanation of expectation has so far been sufficient. I do not see this as much of a problem in my class.
I still regularly insist that hard copies are brought into class as a myriad of technology problems, genuine or otherwise, can contrive to hinder progress. It can also be more efficient to give instant feedback and write a comment. I must admit I am yet to try electronic marking; something for the future.
These residual problems can often impinge on my lessons, I always have a plan B and have used it more often that I would have liked.
I am very open to use the students as a technology resource. It is amazing how much they know and how much they can help each other, for instance the submission of work to turnitin. An activity I would like to try when the subject matter lends itself would be to use a class discussion page.
I believe bring specialists into my classroom enriches student learning. I have invited a technologist and a librarian in for specific activities (the later for correctly researching, presented and referencing the periodic table project that I refered to in an earlier blog post).
I find good apps can be really powerful tools. I like using online multiple choice questions with immediate feedback response and applets that allow you to preform impossible experiments like lauching cars as projectiles.
Three common theories of learning Behaviorism, Cognitivism, and Constructivism were developed when technology did not have such a powerful impact on education. We are only talking twenty years but boy how things have changed. In a word it’s the ability to connect or network that I see as the game changer. Technology is rewiring our brains because it’s changing the way we learn and how we demonstrate learning. For example some traditional information processing is almost becoming obsolete. Currently in grade 9 I insist my students draw at least one table and graph by hand, but that is far less than ten years ago. Then I would never have believed that now I would only insist on one! How long will I continue with this?
Know where is more important than know how. With excessive information available the skill is becoming recognizing recent, relevant and useful information from the rest.
So along comes a new educational theory called Connectivism, trying to take on board these technological changes. The learning is not internal and individual but open and shared. The knowledge is distributed and participatory through networks. It is modified and continuous.
MOOC or Massive Open Online Course as well as UoPeople University of the People are two new examples of the potential seismic change about to hit education. As university tuition fees soar here is free education (excluding nominal fees and payment for credits). Students select courses, which admittedly are rather limited in choice at the moment. Then a cohort of 20-30 are required to perform weekly online readings, watch lectures, respond and comment on their own and others blog posts, contribute to forums, complete written assignments, quizzes and exams. Providing the weekly work is completed on time the flexibility of online courses allows student to have a job if required.
The nature of this learning and assessment reflects Connectivism (as does this COETAIL course) and while I can see many advantages in this model I still have a few unanswered questions. How can you be sure of the validity of the student’s work? How can practical subjects be taught this way? Nevertheless, revolutionary times ahead brought about but technology.
The flipped classroom aka reversed instruction is a fairly new idea to the educational world and one that might seem rather radial but does appear to make a lot of common sense.
The basic mode of operation of the flipped classroom is that students do not come into class to be lectured to. This content bit happens at home for homework and could take the form of a virtual lecture, screencast interactive site or activity. Class time is used for practical work, increasing engagement, assimilation, enhancing content, problem solving, guidance, questioning and more. The nature of the flipped classroom enables teachers the time to focus and ‘teach’ individual students rather than lecturing to the masses. It also allows students to chose their own time to receive instructional information with the added bonus of pause, mute and repeat button. This method builds in greater individualism and differentiation which has ultimately got to be a good thing.
Although there are many fine sites where you can find lectures, The Khan Academy is probably the most famous and comprehensive but there are other ways to deliver content, for example there are many fine interactive science activities on the Phet University of Colorado site and these can be used with worksheets, instructions and questions.
One of the pitfalls of the flipped classroom is students not doing homework. In the traditional classroom this is not ideal but in the flipped world this halts any possible progress. From my experience for flipped class success the teacher must ensure each student is regularly given class time to ensure there is steady and satisfactory forward movement. Accurate feedback and individual goal setting also leads to success. For example I might assign homework in minutes to be spent rather than questions to be completed.