Towards Authentic Learning – CBL

 
Recently we have been considering various Project Based approaches to learning. One of the key drivers for us is the idea of providing authentic learning opportunities for our students. One approach which we are exploring is Challenge Based Learning (CBL). I have gathered together a few links which provide some insight about this approach. Interestingly some schools in the US dabbled with CBL participating in the study conducted by NMC, but I have found little evidence of continued involvement. There is a forum, but nothing much new. I wonder whether the focus on standardised, national testing has undermined the CBL initiative there.

The main activity I found seemed focussed in Australia and most specifically in Victoria. Here I must comment that Victoria demonstrates a consistency around innovation. We have found that many of the trends that have interested our own reinvention are ideas which Victoria has embraced or explored before us. 

What is Challenge Based Learning?

“Challenge Based Learning – an engaging, multidisciplinary approach to learning that encourages students to leverage the technology they use in their daily lives to solve real-world problems.”

Benefits of Challenge Based Learning

A flexible framework for learning with multiple entry points

A scalable model with no proprietary systems or subscriptions

Places students in charge of their learning

Focuses on global challenges with local solutions

Promotes the authentic use of technology

Develops 21st century skills

Encourages deep reflection on teaching and learning
Case for:  http://www.nmc.org/pdf/Challenge-Based-Learning.pdf. New Media Consortium (Horizon Report)

Toolkit: https://www.challengebasedlearning.org/public/toolkit_resource/cf/0a/0ac5_8c6c.pdf?c=137d
CBL Website: https://challengebasedlearning.org/pages/welcome
iTunesU library – search for “Challenge Based Learning”.

  • Kalinda Primary School

ACARA – illustration Kalinda revising their approach to Curriculum and leveraging CBL to improve student learning. http://www.australiancurriculum.edu.au/Illustrations/Metadata/IPCM00014?group=SchoolLocation

School website: http://www.kalinda.vic.edu.au/page/78/Challenge-Based-Learning

  • Mont Albert Primary School

Victorian Government – seeking a solution beyond an “Inquiry Based” approach and using CBL to meet student needs.

https://fuse.education.vic.gov.au/pages/View.aspx?pin=7YWDQY

School website: http://www.maps.vic.edu.au/page/70%20

  • Ringwood North Primary School

Victorian Government: https://fuse.education.vic.gov.au/pages/View.aspx?pin=RYJ7RS

School website: http://www.ringwoodnorthps.vic.edu.au

  • Wonga Park Primary School

School webpage: http://www.wongapark.vic.edu.au/Pages/challenge-based-learning.aspx

About CBL: http://www.wongapark.vic.edu.au/Pages/Programs.aspx

School Website: http://www.wongapark.vic.edu.au

Rising to the Challenge

We are constantly challenged to remain current in the fast changing educational landscape. Leveraging knowledge of others is crucial and much of what we have been able to achieve has been as a result of interaction with the broader educational community. This is a landscape where the possibilities offered by technology are outstripping pedagogical practices.This statement by Thornburg in 2004, surprisingly, still holds currency.

“The notion of educational practice as the impartation of a (largely decontextualised) body of information to be regurgitated on examinations is dead. It has been dead for a long time, although vestiges of it seem to have survived. But consider this: this model of education is experiencing its own demise simply because it is inadequate for the educational needs of young people entering a dynamic workforce where lifelong learning and creativity are among the few certainties for success.” (Expectations, 2004, Thornburg Center)
  
Exploration of literature makes it abundantly clear that some systems are harnessing technology and pedagogy with greater success. Certainly we are seeing innovation occurring in Asia and Scandinavia. If we take PISA assessments as a litmus we must believe that some systems are working more effectively than others. 

“An in-depth report by the Grattan Institute on the successes of four of the top five territories—Hong Kong, Shanghai, South Korea and Singapore—found that the success of the East Asian ‘tiger’ countries in PISA is likely to be connected to reforms that have developed the capacity of teachers.”(Ben Jensen, Catching Up: Learning from the Best School Systems in East Asia (Melbourne: Grattan Institute, 2012)

“No education system in East Asia that participates in international tests ranks below the international average. Such outstanding performance has led to the perception that East Asian education systems, particularly Shanghai, Hong Kong, Korea, and Singapore, exemplify practices and policies worthy of emulation worldwide”(Jensen, 2012) (OECD, 2011, 2014; Tucker, 2014, 2011) (Miao & Reynolds, 2014). (Ref: Zhao, Y. (2015). Lessons that matter: What should we learn from Asia?, Mitchell Institute discussion and policy paper No. 04/2015.)

There is a strong perception that the strength of these systems, and I must include Finland here, is that these systems are actively evolving to embrace pedagogical practices which better prepare students for a 21st Century World. To continue our evolution we should look beyond the traditional conferences and courses. We need to look at regions that are innovating differently and importantly are perceived to be succeeding. We should see what can be learned from the innovators in Asia.

“Outside observers have largely neglected or misunderstood these reform efforts, either failing to address why and how East Asian education systems have engaged in continuous reform over the past three decades or mistakenly treating some of these reform efforts as reasons for outstanding performance on international assessments. As a result, many of the popularly promoted lessons drawn by outside observers relate at best to the recent past of education in East Asia, while these systems have been actively working to create an education of the future.” (Ref: Zhao, Y. (2015). Lessons that matter: What should we learn from Asia?, Mitchell Institute discussion and policy paper No. 04/2015.)

And finally this comment, while reflecting on the UK system, is relevant here too. 

“Success will go to those individuals and nations that are swift to adapt, slow to complain and open to change. The task for UK policymakers is to help its citizens rise to this challenge.” (Andreas Schleicher is deputy director for education and special adviser on education policy to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development’s Secretary General.)

Here I have included links to a couple of conferences occurring in Singapore and Hong Kong later this year which look worthwhile opportunities. (Wish list items)

https://asia.bettshow.com

http://www.ltexpo.com.hk/expo/who-will-visit/

Readings:

http://www.mitchellinstitute.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/Lessons_that_matter_what_should_we_learn_from_Asias_school_systems.pdf

http://grattan.edu.au/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/129_report_learning_from_the_best_main.pdf

https://www.tes.co.uk/article.aspx?storycode=6301764

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/03/28/finland-education-overhaul_n_6958786.html

Making It Easy Isn’t Easy

  

  
Walking into classrooms and seeing learning in action is always a great pleasure. I am seeing a range of activity which I wouldn’t have imagined could become a reality just three short years ago. It is amazing how far we have progressed in our journey towards making technology a truly integrated part of our learning environment. Even our perception of what integration looks like has changed and that in itself is exciting.

  • Students regularly recording their learning using a variety of media
  • Teachers delivering differentiated and personalised content directly to students via their devices
  • Student workflows leveraging multiple applications
  • Regular, integrated use of open ended applications
  • Teachers actively recording learning for formative assessment
  • Teachers providing timely, poignant feedback 
  • Students working, regularly in productive collaboration
  • Student and teacher intuitive engagement with technology
  • Curriculum being manipulated to leverage technology meaningfully 
  • Direct and necessary communication between students and teachers
  • Students and teachers happy to explore, try new things and take risks 
  • Students extending their own learning
  • Technology tools regularly employed to extend and support students 
  • Confident technology users
  • Changing classroom dynamic – use of space, the way teachers and students work together
  • Easy exchange of information between teachers and students
  • A shift in the relationship between the student and the teacher
  • Greater ownership of learning by the students
  • Open ended learning – PBL, CBL
  • Proliferation of authentic learning opportunities 

What I like best is that it all feels effortless. This isn’t to devalue the work of our wonderful teachers in any way because I know that in the background there is a great deal of effort being employed to enable the learning programs, but when I see it it feels completely natural. There isn’t a feeling of bells and whistles. The technology is seamlessly woven into the fabric of purposeful activity. And I know that this is how it is meant to be. 

Making it easy isn’t easy. So what have been the crucial elements which have enabled our progress to this point?

Firstly the technology itself needs to be right. This is a major component. The technology needs to work reliably, day after day. Crucially for us running with a 1:1 iPad Program Internet and Wireless infrastructure are vital enablers. We opted for a corporate level CISCO wireless network. These devices have worked perfectly and have coped well with the high demands of multi user traffic. Our Internet has been continuously improved as demand has grown (40 up / 40 Down). Providing redundancy in case of failure of this primary link is also essential. If our Internet fails then our classrooms stall too. We have a 10 up / 10 down fibre redundancy. 

iPads are our 1:1 device of choice and they have been brilliant. They have challenged us too, but once we understood the device and its Cloud based DNA we were able to leverage its versatility, portability and power. IPads for us have been a game changer. They have great battery life and they have proven to be extraordinarily robust and reliable. We turn over our iPads on a biannual basis. This maintains the quality of our iPad fleet. We do as little as possible regarding apps. Early on we realised that the best apps are the open ended ones and we only add odd apps here and there as required. In most instances the central core of apps are all that we require. Compnow have helped us with device deployment.

In our own experience Professional Development has been crucial to the success of our program. 

Before embarking on our 1:1 commitment we needed to invest in preparing our teachers. Initially we supplied all of our teachers with iPads. We conducted workshops and provided hands on support via a full time support teacher to help our teachers with the technical side of using devices and to support pedagogical change. 

We teamed with Datacom (originally Xcitelogic), a provider, who had a strong educational support team. We were able to leverage their experience, gained in early adopter iPad schools in Victoria, Western Australia, to inform our own experience. Datacom educators facilitated traditional workshops for our teachers and parents, but crucially they offered a mentoring program for our teachers. This mentoring enabled a personalised approach to support, grow and develop our teachers. Catering to the different needs of our teachers was essential and as a result we were able to bring all of our teachers along on a journey no matter what their starting point (this program is an ongoing part of our PD program). Teamed with this is a natural organic internal mentoring where our teachers work together to support each other.

Datacom educators have helped to push our boundaries and opened us to new possibilities.

We have also formed a close relationship with Apple Education and this relationship has provided ongoing vision around pedagogy and considerable inspiration and sense of purpose. We are supporting our teachers to participate in the Apple Distinguished Educator Program

We are actively, now, involving partners like Datacom, Apple, Stile, Clickview, CISCO and Furnware in the process of helping to develop our teachers. We have found great advantage in developing and leveraging external connections. 

Professional development has helped change us from being inward looking to becoming outward looking. Where we can we involve teachers in conferences and external workshops such as Edutech, Future Schools, AIS, Apple, VIVID, Datacom, Furnware, Stile etc. 

Our professional learning journey has delved widely into Curriculum, thinking processes, pedagogical theory along with the integration of technology. Our teachers are becoming leaders of change, they are open to new ideas and our students are the clear beneficiaries.

  

The third game changer for us has been the integration of Stile into our classrooms. This has been a relatively new component in our program. The to and fro of information between the teachers and students has been one of the greatest challenges presented by our brilliant iPad tool. While we could create amazing work on our iPads being able to easily view and share was difficult. Initially we were using a range of tools e.g. Dropbox, email, Evernote, Showbie, Edmodo and iTunes U (iTunesU has rich content which is valuable. With a recent update  (3.0) iTunesU now has capacity to interact in the to and fro of information more fully). All of these required accounts and offered different capacities. Stile has to a large extent allowed us to consolidate all of this via one application. Stile has “unlimited” capacity and is able to transfer all sorts of work. Stile has also enabled work anywhere, anytime capability because it is accessible via any browser as well as an app. Here I should mention that we don’t send iPads home (this has helped with maintenance and reliability) and Stile has meant that we have easily been able to blur the lines between home and school. Flipping becomes an easy, realistic option. 

The last element I will discuss is planning and leadership. In our circumstance having leadership and commitment from across the School has enabled our vision to become a reality. In my role as a dedicated resource (supporting, managing and dreaming) I have needed the commitment of many participants. Bringing all together in a purposeful way is key. Often with all of this it has been about DREAMING BIG. While I can certainly dream big sometimes there are those who can dream even bigger. Being open to the dreams and visions of others is most crucial. Our School Board is a good example of dreaming big. We have recently perceived a need to evolve our learning spaces. We were starting to consider how we might reinvent our existing classrooms with furniture and some minor renovation. Our amazingly progressive Board wanted to dream much bigger. A whole architectural program has resulted, which will substantially reinvent our school. Sometimes the dreams can become enormous challenges. Here I must emphasise that the vision is what makes the dream sustainable. Certainly this has been true of our recent evolution and our integration of iPads in our learning environment. Leadership and Big Dreams have punctuated this. Dreams of teachers, of parents, of students and of administrators have sparked and evolved the vision. The tricky bit is interpreting, articulating, realising and building these into the structure. Some of the dreams of course don’t become reality immediately timing is also crucial. Knowing what will fly and when is also important. I have a strong belief that simplicity is vital. Educators don’t need or want complexity as it gets in the way of the teaching and learning. Students also need things to work easily. So sometimes dreams have to wait for technologies to mature enough to be viable. I note here that in some school environments there is abundant technical support and often these schools are able to be early adopters. In our circumstance we can observe and learn from these early adopters. There is much to be gained from learning from the experience of others.

We are seeing a revolution occurring and being a part of the conversation is crucial. For my own part social networking is vital – conferences, workshops and Twitter have been major enablers. I read a huge amount and it helps that I am really obsessive about enabling our learning environments. Seeing it all working simply and seamlessly in a wholistic educational context is the really exciting part. 

  

Food For Thought

I am in the process of digesting a rich piece of work “Technology Integration and High Possibility Classrooms“, Dr Jane Hunter. This work provides a comprehensive look at the context for the integration of technology and considers how TPACK comes into play in classrooms. It is good to find research and thought brought together in this cohesive narrative. The Australian perspective makes the work particularly relevant for Australian schools. As the author points out there is a lack of research in the field and the work provides practical examples which apply theory to classroom practice. Schools require academic leadership and they want to understand better the possibilities opened through technology. Educators are seeking a theoretical foundation to support change in their learning environments.

In addition to Dr. Hunters work I recently read a valuable work which looked at the use of ubiquitous computing in the systemic transformation of a high school to embrace 21st century teaching and learning, Leah M. Christman. I liked this paper as it drew on TPACK and SAMR and provided evidence to support a series of recommendations. Among these were the following:

“• clearly articulated vision, goals, and expectations;

• leaders who understand the mission and create supporting policies and procedures;

• teacher and stakeholder support and engagement;

• reliable supports for technology infrastructure, hardware, software, and training;

• connections between technology, pedagogy, and 21st century skills; and

an ongoing measurement plan to analyze results.”

(Ref: https://idea.library.drexel.edu/islandora/object/idea:4534/datastream/OBJ/download/UBIQUITOUS_COMPUTNG___SYSTEMIC_TRANSFORMATION_TO_21ST_CENTURY_TEACHING_AND_LEARNING.pdf)

   

 Both works brought me back to consider the excellent framework developed by Apple to help define their Apple Distinguished Schools Program. In this framework the following criteria is provided to guide schools:

Visionary Leadership

  • Shared Leadership

School leaders take collective ownership of the initiative.

  • Individual Leadership

A credible and inspirational thought leader sets and articulates the vision.

  • Community Engagement

Broad community sponsorship supports the institution’s initiatives.

Innovative Learning and Teaching

  • Student Learning

Learning is a personal experience for every student.

  • Instructional Practices

Faculty are master learners who expertly guide their students through difficult and complex tasks.

  • Curriculum Design

Innovation and rigorous curriculum is redesigned to leverage technology.

Ongoing Professional Learning

  • Relevant and Timely Professional Development

Faculty engage in a cycle of inquiry that promotes reflection, experimentation, and sharing.

Compelling Evidence of Success

  • Quantitative

Data is routinely collected and analyzed to inform progress and measure success.

  • Qualitative

Narrative, reflective, or anecdotal evidence is collected and shared.

Flexible Learning Environment

  • School Design and Facilities

Facilities and schedules are designed to maximize learning opportunities that technology provides.

  • Information Technology (IT)

Information Technology (IT) infrastructure supports innovation in teaching and learning.”

(Ref: https://www.apple.com/education/apple-distinguished-schools/)

The Apple framework has been useful in evaluating and benchmarking our own process. Continuous evaluation of our effectiveness and being open to ideas which are informed by research is crucial. The work of Dr. Hunter and Christman will add useful input to this process. I am also keen to look at the work of Dr. Damian Bebell who is a leader in the design and implementation of empirical research studies in technology rich educational environments.

A Journey Filled With Connections

The last month has been filled with rich moments. I have travelled to Melbourne and Canberra and have participated in events locally too. This has really been a journey of connection. 
  
I attended the Association of Independent Schools ICT Conference in Canberra. This is a great opportunity to connect with educators from across Australia. There are also a wide range of vendors attending so it is a great chance to learn about current trends and to ask deeper questions about possibilities. There were some excellent speakers including Jeff Utecht, Dr Jane Hunter, Nas Campanella & Colin James. 

Two of the presenters Dr Jane Hunter and Nas Campanella were of particular interest to me.
Dr Jane Hunter is a teacher educator in the School of Education at the University of Western Sydney (UWS), Australia. She has received five teaching awards for Outstanding Contributions for Student Learning in universities and is now on an international team of educators providing Technology Enriched Instruction around the world. Her doctoral thesis developed a new model for technology integration in learning in schools; titled High Possibility Classrooms. 

Dr Hunter’s presentation sparked particular interest for a couple of reasons. I am very interested in evolving pedagogy and enabling teachers to open the learning opportunities through integration of technology. I am also interested in gauging improvement in non traditional, technology rich environments. 

I really enjoyed listening to her ideas and in a subsequent workshop there was some great discussion. I am looking forward to reading her book which I hope will further inform our own vision. http://www.routledge.com/books/details/9781138781337/

A later discussion with her via Twitter regarding The SAMR Model resulted in a wide exploration re TPACK, SAMR and RAT. This resulted in finding another really excellent article 

https://idea.library.drexel.edu/islandora/object/idea:4534/datastream/OBJ/download/UBIQUITOUS_COMPUTNG___SYSTEMIC_TRANSFORMATION_TO_21ST_CENTURY_TEACHING_AND_LEARNING.pdf

This article strongly references TPACK and SAMR and provides some excellent tangible recommendations founded on the research conducted by the author regarding the development of 21st Century schools. 

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Nas Campanella a journalist and newsreader for the ABC and Triple J. 26-year-old Nas is blind and has a medical condition which prevents her from reading braille.

Nas discussed the challenges of navigating life with a disability and of facing discrimination as well as the positives and negatives of technologies that helped her at school, university and in the workplace. 

Her tenacity, in the face of adversity, was truly inspiring and her capability is extraordinary. It underlined, for me, how crucial it is for schools to persevere with challenges that appear and how important it is for educators be open minded in resolving the needs of students. In Nas’s circumstance at one point there was a disconnect between support being provided and her real need. Understanding her need and then supplying a credible solution was vital and ultimately opened a world of possibilities to her. Clearly great schools and great educators are the ones who can really make a difference by being aware and responsive. We certainly should personalise our approach to our students. I have included a graphic which was created during her speech at the conference. It summarises the key points from her speech. Thanks to Rachel Dight for the great graphic.

  Graphic by Rachel Dight 

If you’d like to learn more about Nas this short video via the ABC provides some insight. 

  
https://t.co/WjFFEHAcu1

In Melbourne I attended a “Stile” conference day. I enjoyed listening to the two excellent speakers Andrew Douch (The Tools of Engagement, Redefining the Classroom) & Georgina Pazzi (The power of online differentiation,The Differentiated Classroom in Action). We have certainly seen the possibilities around engagement and differentiation, individualisation and personalised learning blossom with ubiquitous technology in our learning environment.

The conference also provided a chance to meet with many educators who were using Stile actively in their classrooms. Victoria seems to be further ahead on the innovation curve. When we were considering our iPad trial Victoria and Western Australia were already rolling iPads into their classrooms and the Victorian Education Dept had embraced the innovation. We were able to leverage their experience to help enable our roll out. Similarly Stile has a strong base in Victoria (Stile’s home state) while in New South Wales it is just starting to gain a foothold. Here I must add that I also really love the rich content that Apple has and is producing via iTunes U. There is no reason why Stile and iTunes U can’t work well together in a school environment. The particular benefit, for us, of Stile has been the easy ability of teachers to deliver content, for students to return work and for easy, direct, formative feedback. Where it has been employed actively in our classrooms, in tandem with our iPad Program, it has revolutionised the teaching/learning environment. Discussions that I had with Stile educators provided insight and opened conversations around broad educational innovation. I was also privileged to spend a little time with Dr Alan Finkel AO, the Founder and Chairman of Stile. His interest in enabling educators to be more effective in their work and his commitment to STEM initiatives identifies him as an innovation leader. The fact that he made time to connect and really listen to educators showed his real commitment to making a difference at “the coal face”. 

  
I also attended an Open Morning hosted by CISCO at North Sydney. This too was a chance to meet with other educators. The CISCO presenters were very polished and knowledgeable. We have a CISCO wireless infrastructure so I was interested to look at where wireless is headed. Remaining current in a fast changing landscape is important. Two quick takeaways – yes wireless speed is much faster with the new standard Ac and CISCO’s new generation access points enable easy upgrade via an interchangeable component.

CISCO also have some fabulous conferencing hardware and software. As we reinvent our learning spaces bringing some of this into the mix would be great, but cost may be a factor for smaller schools like ourselves. I wasn’t convinced that a typical teleconferencing space would be the right fit for all schools. I can see that the possibilities for virtual excursions and interactions across the world will become a common part of our modern classrooms. I was interested to see that CISCO are putting energy into classroom design as they recognise the changing classroom dynamic. I hope we can leverage some of this in our own reinvention. 

I participated in an Apple Integrators Group which was held at the Apple HQ in Pitt Street, Sydney. It was good to have a chance to share and exchange ideas with other Apple oriented educators. Here too we met with some great Apple personnel who provided information about Apple support and provision. A Development Executive K-12 Education from Apple facilitated discussion and considered the factors which enable technology in the school environment. He also discussed tools which could help evaluate the capability of teachers and leadership in relation to their capacity re the SAMR model. The meeting was enabled via iTunes U which worked really well and some great learning resources were highlighted in iTunes U and in iBooks. We were shown resources that were developed by students and teachers and which were available to experience and download in the public domain. Being able to provide students with an audience, and an authentic reason to publish, is a very powerful motivator. Certainly something that we could leverage more extensively. 

These were my excursions. We also have had several incursions where we have shared experiences with visiting educators. These too have provided rich collaborative opportunities. It has been a very busy few weeks and we have learned a great deal which will help to improve our learning environment. 

Reinventing Spaces

In a previous entry Journeying in a Sandbox I had discussed our intention to innovate our learning spaces and how initially we wanted to trial furniture in our Year 6 and Year K spaces. 

Our motivation for innovating spaces was based on changing pedagogical needs. Ubiquitous access to technology spurred by our 1:1 iPad Program was enabling our teachers and students. Effective, meaningful integration of technology into teaching programs was expanding opportunities and changing the way that we worked. Our classrooms needed to accommodate the more diverse needs of both the students and the teachers. Project based learning, blended learning, authentic learning tasks, differentiation, personalisation, collaboration, workflows, potential for real time feedback and formative assessment and the possibilities to redefine (SAMR) were surfacing across our school and we were starting to feel the constraints of our boxed traditional classrooms. Change was necessary. 

To a certain extent we were blind and uncertain about making furniture choices. It is easy to recognise the need, but much harder to translate that into real furniture. Remembering here that we weren’t changing the architecture (yet). The classroom spaces that we were seeking to reinvent did at least have the capability to open walls which meant that one large space for each year group was possible. We had visited other innovative schools and had explored literature extensively and so this combined with the knowledge of our furniture partner ‘Furnware‘ enabled our initial reinvention.  

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Above – Year 6 (Featuring Furnware furniture)

Below – Year K (Featuring Furnware furniture)

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The Year 6 classroom space has certainly been applauded by the students and the teachers. They really love their space and are taking enormous pride in an area which is really unique. The thing I notice most, about their use of the space, is that it is constantly changing throughout the week and often throughout the day. The space is really fluid and can adapt to the needs of the users really well. Here I must add that the program of learning in Year 6 is very dynamic leveraging PBL with authentic learning tasks and collaborative learning. The teachers team really well injecting direct instruction as required. Their management of the space is artful and purposeful. 

Similarly the Kindergaten space too is open plan and fluid. It is exciting to walk through the space when the dividing wall is open and the children are working in stations or interacting in group activities. The open nature of the space is a shift for the teachers as they move away from a more traditional model. It will be interesting to observe how the use of this space evolves as the children mature and the teachers innovate further.

I am hopeful that during Term 2 the teachers in both these areas have the opportunity to visit other schools to see how other teachers are working in innovated spaces. Being able to learn from others and improve our own innovation is vital as we move to innovate spaces more widely across the school. 

Towards Digital Technologies

We have been employing our Year 6 Student Technology Committee to run a Minecraft Group. The group meets twice a week and the Year 3 and 4 participants have been actively involved throughout. The Year 6 students have worked as mentors / teachers and have created lessons and worlds for the younger students to help them to learn and expand their understanding. We chose to purchase several user accounts for the online version as opposed to the less expensive iPad app. I really liked the dynamic of using the older students to lead, manage and enable the younger students. It also enabled me as a Minecraft beginner myself. The creative and collaborative nature of the game has made this group very exciting to work with and I have really enjoyed seeing the interactions and authentic learning occurring.

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As we start to grapple with the “Digital Technologies” aspects of The Australian Curriculum applications such as Minecraft may provide a vehicle which could be integrated into learning programs.

The Australian Curriculum: Digital Technologies (F–10) comprises two related strands:

Digital Technologies knowledge and understanding – the information system components of data, and digital systems (hardware, software and networks)
Digital Technologies processes and production skills – using digital systems to create ideas and information, and to define, design and implement digital solutions, and evaluate these solutions and existing information systems against specified criteria.

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© Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority

Next term we will have a group that will work on Lego Robotics. Another group will be learning to create special effects in movies. These too will hopefully add to our digital skill repertoire and will marry to Curriculum more directly in the future.
I have had several students starting to independently develop coding skills and a few have successfully created apps using Xcode. I can see that coding could be very effective across the Curriculum.

Whilst we have moved to a 1:1 iPad program we have realised the need to provide other devices as a part of the learning environment. Limiting ourselves to just iPads, as brilliant as they are, would be counter productive especially if we want to work in higher end applications such as Minecraft, Adobe, Xcode etc.
One of the things I noticed with the Year 3 students using Minecraft in our activity group was that some had no laptop capability. We have provided some fast, new MacBooks and Windows laptops in technology hubs in a couple of locations and clearly we need to expand access and continue to up skill our students. As we reinvent our learning spaces we need to ensure that students have access to many different devices in addition to their primary device (which at this time is an iPad).
Last week I attended a Microsoft teacher event and I felt that both Windows 8, Windows 365 and the new Surface seemed to be coming of age. I also got the impression that “365” might be adopted more widely in NSW schools later this year. Clearly providing a wide range of opportunity and capability is crucial.

A ‘Stile’-ish Journey

We have just started to initiate a trial of the web application ‘Stile‘. This is a relatively new application (Australian) which makes it possible for content to be easily delivered to students via a web based workbook.
What does Stile offer?
*Stile can be accessed on any web capable platform
*Students can respond directly and teachers can review, respond and record within the application
*Stile may have the potential to act as a student digital work portfolio
*Stile can handle all sorts of files, media, etc
*Unlimited storage
*On iPads ‘Stile’ can interact well with most apps via camera roll and email (it is possible to email directly into Stile work spaces)
*The simplicity of Stile appeals especially in a Primary context.
*Easy for teachers to set tasks and easy for students to respond

In our trial we will be using Stile with children from Kindergarten to Year 6 and it will be interesting to see how the younger children manage within the ‘Stile’ workspace.

Stile isn’t a free application so, to justify the cost, we will need to see substantial benefit and real adoption by teachers to improve learning opportunities of the students.

We have an early adopter year group (Year 4) leading into our trial.
The screen shots below:
These screen shots are from a workbook / lesson produced by Year 4 teachers as part of a Science unit. The screen shots provide a student view of some the possible types of activities in Stile.

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Two Different Learning Space Concepts

Concept 1

This concept has learning pods in place of the traditional classroom space. These are smaller classroom spaces. The pods are equipped with tables and chairs. The tables are mobile and can fold down and the chairs can stack. Walls between the two adjoining pods can fold and the space could become a larger classroom area. The pods also have glass walls which can open onto a large shared space (shared by a number of class pods). The shared space is multipurpose. There are seating areas, small glass rooms, wet areas, performance areas, group work spaces.

See pictures below – Concept 1

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Concept 1: Looking into class pod from shared area.

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Concept 1: Above and below – Shared multipurpose area which the pods open to.

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Concept 2

This concept leverages the idea of a zoned versatile year space. In this version the whole year space is zoned for different uses, but things are mobile so can be rearranged if desired. There are small group spaces, larger group spaces, wet areas, quiet zones, desks, couches etc.

See pictures below – all the pictures below are of one multipurpose classroom area – Concept 2.

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Both concepts have merit. Both provide a solution which works in the context of the schools concerned. This is key. As with so much innovation a one size fits all isn’t possible. For us it may be that a hybrid version which leverages the best of both of these concepts might work. It is also necessary to consider how different age groups might use spaces differently and how this might impact design.

Two Days in Brisbane – Edutech 2014

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I attended the 2014 Edutech Conference in Brisbane again this year.

In the past I have really enjoyed this conference. The calibre of the speakers is always excellent. This year was no exception. The lineup included Sir Ken Robinson, Sugata Mitra, Ewan McIntosh, Ian Jukes and many others.

The overarching message was about enabling learners.
#The constant theme, which was continuously articulated by the various keynote speakers, centred around the idea that education needs to change from the old industrial model, with a focus on content, to a model which develops creative thinkers.
#That individual’s needs need to be accommodated more actively in the learning process.
#That the teacher needs to get out of the way and facilitate and enable rather than hinder the learner with old instruction models. Ideas like Flipped Learning, Project Based Learning, Design Thinking, SAMR are potential enablers.
#With the advent of achievable 1:1 implementations schools need to be harnessing the opportunities which the technology brings.

Sugata Mitra’s insights into learning and how digital capacity can enable learning even in remote, backward regions of India was compelling. He stated that research has proven that threat is an impediment to learning and that testing can be threatening. Instead he argued for a Curriculum of questions, peer assessment and certification without examination. He spoke about creating Self organised learning environments (SOLE) arguing that the idea of regimented learning wasn’t the goal, but that collaboration, engagement and admiration were key.

I am always impressed with the ideas presented by Ewan McIntosh. He spoke about agile leadership and the need for schools to be responsive to change. He argued that it is OK to fail. He described FAIL as First Attempt In Learning. He talked about contradictions, tensions and surprises and that agile leadership is about taking these and using them.

Ian Dukes spoke about education in the age of disruptive innovation. He presented a passionate case which focused on the changing nature of the world and the need for schools and education systems to change. He argued that students of today need to be prepared for a very different tomorrow. Jobs will be increasingly global and will be much more about thinking and creativity. He cited the decline in industrial and service jobs and the growth of jobs such as app creation, jobs which will require collaboration and creative thought.

Sir Ken Robinson was very engaging in person. He is a compelling speaker any time and it was great to hear him speak twice during the conference. He argued that just as farming is moving to organic so too should education. He recognised the challenges that schools face from politicians, but was adamant that politicians are just passing through and that the responsibility for change lay with the educators. He told one of his great stories about the farming family who after generations of eking out a poor living on a farm learn that great wealth, in the form of nickel, lay just below the surface. Obviously the intent here is to point out that often schools fail to realise the full potential of their students.

I enjoyed the various presentations that I attended. A couple of the leadership team from Margaret River Primary School told a compelling story. Their presentation started with a parody which set the mood for their entertaining presentation. The learning environment that they have created, at Margaret River, was really engaging and exciting. Their simple incorporation of Caves, Waterholes, Campfires and Mountain Tops as a natural part of the learning environment was impressive. Some great ideas from these inspired educators.

Another speaker Greg Whitby, Executive Director of Schools, Catholic Education Diocese of Parramatta also had some great messages. He insisted that schools must innovate to improve outcomes for the individual learner and that we need Curriculum for the individual. It shouldn’t be one size fits all. He argued that Innovation is not experimentation and that we must base decisions on the best we know. He argued that schools should aim to create a positive environment for teachers and build teacher capacity. He sees teachers as entrepreneurs and the drivers of innovation. Learning spaces need to be collaborative, agile, personalised and have ubiquitous access to technology.

It was interesting to see where other schools are in their respective journeys and my impression was that most schools have either geared towards 1:1 or are moving in that direction. This being said a model which isn’t entirely 1:1 may be desirable as it enable greater collaboration (as Sugata Mitra’s work attests to).

It was I thought quite interesting to see where the clusters of interest were in the exhibition hall. I think that that gives some insight into where educators are and where they are headed. Certainly cloud based applications were extremely popular. Office 365, Google Apps, Stile, School Box and MyEd seemed to attract interest. This I think ties with our own needs. Being able to seamlessly move all sorts of data to and from various devices and platforms is a crucial enabler. My school will trial Stile (an Australian cloud solution) next term.
There was interest in innovations such as 3D printing, robotics and alternative furniture and in generalists such as Datacom (Here, I must say, it was refreshing to attend the Datacom Workshop because the presenter was talking insightfully about educational solutions rather than product).
It was interesting that this year wireless solutions, which were popular in previous years, were less of a focus this year. Perhaps many schools have invested in wireless upgrades already.

It was also great to see TeachMeets taking place in the exhibition area at the conference. The TeachMeets certainly added to the atmosphere and added great value to the event.

On a light note, I was catching a Taxi to the airport after the conference and I offered to share my taxi with a fellow traveller. It turned out that she was a delegate at the conference and that she had won the “Grand Prize” – which was a car. Hoping a little of that luck rubs off.

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