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. 

  

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Frenetic Activity – PBL in a Year 6 Classroom

  

One of the most enjoyable aspects of my current role is visiting classrooms and working alongside our wonderful teachers and students. Last week I spent most of the week working with our Year 6 group. For much of the time the children were engaged in a project based learning environment which leveraged their open plan activity space, collaborative groups and technology (iPads and MacBooks). 

The children’s work related to Science – Natural Disasters. Students had selected events such as tsunamis, bushfires, cyclones etc. The children were investigating their chosen event and then worked together to produce information / script, a stop motion claymation and a news report. 

Apps used: Pages (word processing), Stop Motion (animation of claymation), iMovie (combining video, sound etc.) , Safari (research, connection, collaborative tool), Stile (content delivery and upload), Veescope Full Live (green screen – news report scene creation).

This short video shows activity underway in our Year 6 classroom.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=stbaWzIbvFg

Journeying in a Sandbox: Learning Spaces

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For some time we have been considering how schools can innovate their learning spaces. I must stress here that while we are talking here about changing our spaces what we are really talking about is changing, or adapting, our pedagogy to the changing needs of students, teachers and the community in general.
This was my blog entry in May 2013: A Different Direction – Thinking about learning spaces.
https://rhp123.wordpress.com/2013/05/20/a-different-direction-thinking-about-learning-spaces/

When I attended the Edutech Conference in June this year I had the pleasure of listening to a couple of educators talking about how their school had started to think about innovating their learning spaces.

“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.”
From my earlier blog entry: Two Days in Brisbane – Edutech 2014 https://rhp123.wordpress.com/2014/06/09/two-days-in-brisbane-edutech-2014/

Also visit Margaret River Primary here: http://mriverps.wa.edu.au

We have also been very interested in the work of Stephen Harris (Northern Beaches Christian School). https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/29167837/Edutech%20Brisbane%202013_Harris.pdf

https://rhp123.files.wordpress.com/2014/09/16ce0-stephen-harris_virtual-pedagogical-physical-space-21st-century.pdf

Additionally we have had the opportunity to visit a number of schools to look at learning spaces. Some of these were independent visits and others via http://cefpi.org.au.

These visits inspired this post: Two Different Learning Space Concepts
https://rhp123.wordpress.com/2014/06/19/two-different-learning-space-concepts/
And also Exploring Spaces – Lite: https://rhp123.wordpress.com/2013/08/02/exploring-spaces-lite/

We have also met regularly throughout the last couple of years with a small group from our school community to discuss innovation. We had discussed the idea of sandboxing a space / spaces ahead of a more general redesign / building program. The basic rationale for this is described below.

“A sandbox is a place where you have the power and control to quickly iterate and gather feedback that you can use to grow your established business. A familiar concept to software developers, it’s an isolated environment that you can update quickly and where you don’t have to worry about breaking anything. Beyond merely a test framework on top of your existing site, this is a completely separate space that might share content and functionality with your main site but which can be experimented with and run independently from your main site, with you and your marketing team in charge. It might look a little different and it might work a little different, but it’s still your business underneath. You get to dictate the priorities, you get to dictate the pace and you get to fail fast.”
(Ref: http://www.wizecommerce.com/thinking-lean-marketing-team-sandbox/#sthash.2L27dX5V.dpuf )
In many ways this isn’t a new concept we have used the idea before in our initial iPad trial where we tested the iPad in our environment and then resolved issues prior to a much wider application.

All of this has culminated in a meeting with a company – Furnware
http://www.furnwareaus.com.au/furnware%20showcase

We intend trialling some furniture in both an Infant and Primary classroom to see how we can innovate our learning spaces. We recognise that different age groups require different environments so we have elected to trial in Year K and Year 6. Furnware will help us in the process of design. We have asked Furnware to look at the two spaces (double classrooms) and suggest ideas based on their experience. We will then use these ideas to help formulate our own design in consultation with teachers. In the case of the space for the Primary invention involving the children in the design process will also be important.
In the spirit of the ‘Sandbox’ we accept that some things will work really well and that others won’t and we hope that we will invent spaces in the future which will reflect this learning.

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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