Learning, 21st Century style.

Drupal
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Lately I’ve been trying to learn how to use Drupal. The motivation for this is my husband’s business that needs a web presence. I set something up in Google Sites but had a look at what some businesses had achieved with Drupal and thought that might be a better option. My problem was I have never used Drupal, knew nothing about it and needed to find out how to approach setting something up.

 

So what did I do? I went straight to twitter and asked people there to point me in the direction of tutorials that might help me.  Did I get help? Absolutely. Links were provided, twitter names were offered as go to people and I connected with some followers who I hadn’t  connected with before. So why am I telling you this?

I was in a PLP fellows meeting and we were discussing the successes and challenges we were having with teams in our cohorts. The discussion led by Sheryl and Will was centred around how we have to connect what we are trying to do to learning rather than focusing on teaching Web 2.0 tools acquisition.  The idea was that it isn’t the tool that should be the focus but rather how that tool can be the effective medium for the learning possibilities for our students. Now I totally agree with this, it’s the kind of thinking I believe and it’s what I try and focus on when I discuss adoption of new ideas in my school setting.  However, there is no avoiding the fact that at some point teaching the tools has to happen. Our teachers need to feel competent dealing with blogs, wikis, nings, voicethread, and any other web 2.0 app that has the ability to connect our kids with one another and the outside world. My feeling is if they don’t feel confident they will be less likely to adopt these ideas as permanent shifts in their classroom practice.

I was making the point that I could empathise with how some of our staff are feeling since I’ve started exploring drupal. I feel ‘dumb’ for want of a better word; I can’t figure out where best to start and it all seems a bit overwhelming. Similar to feelings I had just over a year or so ago when I started exploring new technologies.  Will countered me by suggesting that my learning is now different. He asked “Did I go and buy a manual or did I go to my network first”?  The point he was making was that I learn differently now and this is the kind of thing I need to impress upon the teachers and students I interact with. My community of learners has shaped my attitude and actions and this very powerful learning is something that our colleagues and students need to benefit from also.

There are many challenges ahead for us if we want  to see systemic change happen. I need to remember that small steps are OK   – they will muster support and allow us to start taking larger steps, maybe even leaps.   

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How do I learn best?

I’m trying to get back into the swing of things now that I’m back from 3 weeks away from my networked existence. I did have a few opportunities to dip into the pool, but they were very quick forays into the shallow end. No deep immersion. Have to jump back in without checking if the water is warm.

Part of the dive back in is getting myself immersed in the ning site that supports the Powerful Learning Practice cohort my school is part of. I feel remiss for not fulfilling my end of the deal, but it was just too hard trying to update the blog for parents with the little time for the internet that we had when we had retired to our rooms (or Starbucks during the day!).

One of the forum discussions has asked us to think back to our best and worst teachers and think about how we learn best. Here is the reply I posted;

My best teachers. Mr. Peterson, Mr. Maughan and Mrs. Underwood. All were chalk and talk teachers for the most part, but they took an interest in me and made me feel that my opinions were valued.

Worst Teachers. Can’t remember their names. They were paycheque teachers who didn’t care for my opinions and didn’t make me feel involved in the subject matter.

How do I learn best. Connection, connection, connection. For me, learning is about relationship building. If I feel that someone is interested in my thoughts and want to encourage me in my learning I will go the extra mile for them. That’s been my experience as a teacher also. I invest time in finding out about the kids I teach; I think it makes a difference. If they know that I care they will do more for me. I’m convinced of that.

How do I learn outside of school now? I take the initiative and search the web for answers. I use my connections, connections, connections. My friends in this online world are the best sharers I’ve ever met.

I liked reflecting on my learning experiences. I still think that taking an interest in the kids you teach is the most powerful thing you can do as a teacher. You don’t need technology to help you with that. You need an open personality and a desire to make a meaningful difference. What I find exciting about teaching now is that I know how to make more meaningful connections for my students with teachers and potentially other students, who have open personalities and a desire to make a meaningful difference. Opening my students minds to the world by connecting with people rather than words on a page is a pretty exciting possibility. This is all about human interaction.

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Powerful Learning Practice – our community forms

Today was the Australian face to face kick off at Toorak College for the International Powerful Learning Practice cohort. Sheryl Nussbaum Beach and Will Richardson flew into Australia yesterday to help us kick off what is going to be transformational for many involved. Helping to get this cohort together has occupied me for the last few months. There have been meetings and countless emails and skype calls and chats that have led to seven Australian schools participating. We join a New Zealand team from Core education and nine teams from the United States.

Yes, we were experiencing technical difficulties here. Can you tell??

It was inspiring to see the Australian arm of the cohort come together today. Sometimes it’s hard to visualise something that has been long in the planning. When it happens you are so busy trying to make sure things run smoothly that you miss part of the experience. It felt a little like that today. We had technical hitches that impeded the ustream going out and getting everyone connected was a bit of a chore. I was a little stressed I have to admit, but you know what, these hitches didn’t much matter. What mattered was the fact that we were all there as interested educators, working towards forging links that are going to drive our learning community forward.

The gathering gave me much hope. During our lunch in our school’s Dining Room I looked around and realised that all these people were here because they have a genuine desire to learn what they can do to implement change that will benefit the students they teach.  For some time I’ve been on a bit of a solo trip trying to move people with the thinking I have after a period of immersion. I realised early on that my solo wasn’t going to cut it to get serious change happening. A chorus was more in order. Today I saw a choir who may still be in rehearsal, but practice will make all the difference. Our practice will take place in our dedicated ning environment which is being supported by Sheryl, Will, 21st Century fellows and our community leader Darren Kuropatwa.  

Tania Sheko, who is part of our cohort, has summed up how I think many participants feel about the change we are facing and the learning ahead;

“…..when change freaks me out, I have to remind myself that I also like moving the furniture around. It gets boring sitting and looking at the same view. There are new configurations to be discovered.”

Time to move the furniture I think.

School’s out Friday

End of the first week back at school for me this week and can’t believe how tired I am. This term looks set to be running at a fast pace from the get go with no likelihood of slowing down. Speech night next week, China for 18 days in two and a bit weeks, then return to correction and reports. Sounds busy just thinking about it!  

I am looking forward to next Monday. That’s when we host the Australian cohort face to face meeting of Powerful Learning Practice. Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach and Will Richardson are visiting our school to introduce us to the concept and help us form connections in the learning community we are to become. I’ve been active in the ning that supports the project and am really enjoying getting to know the US counterparts via activities set up by Darren Kuropawta who is a driving force in our learning community.

But the weekend beckons first! Start it by watching the Human Slinky. Someone sent out a tweet to a video featuring this guy this week and I was mesmorised.

Beautiful weather in Melbourne coming our way this weekend and I intend to make the most of it. Enjoy whatever comes your way.

EdTech Crew interview

Recently I was interviewed by Tony Richards and Darrell Branson, the Edtech Crew. The podcast of that interview is now available from their site if you follow this link. If I knew how to embed it here I would!

Tony and Darrell asked me about my foray into the world of blogging, my ideas about blogging as a classroom tool, the experiences I’ve had as an online learner and my involvement in Powerful Learning Practice; how this came about and what I think it will mean for the cohort that has been formed.  

After listening myself, I’ve realised that I talk at a mile a minute and say ‘you know’ an awful lot!  If you’re interested in hearing my voice instead of just reading my words, check it out.

What kind of world are we preparing our students for?

I’ve had a very busy couple of days. Actually, I’ve had a very busy last few months. I’m immersed in a new way of looking at education and it’s very hard to switch off. As much as I try and stay off the grid for periods of my day, I find myself thinking all the time. Any down time I have for housework, driving my kids to their next destinations, even having a shower and getting ready for work seems to be occupied with my head mulling over ideas about the future direction of education and how we respond to it.  (Just to clarify my interpretation of down time – none of that is really what I’d like to think of as down time, but it’s the only down time I have!!) 

Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach’s visit to my school this week brought a lot of this into focus for me. Of late I’ve been reading Dan Pink’s A Whole New Mind. He talks of society moving from an information age into a conceptual age, where we are going to need people who are creators with the ability to empathise with others using Right brain directed thinking. According to Dan, Left brain directed thinking is still important, but there needs to be a balance betwen the two. Hence the book’s title, ‘A Whole New Mind’.  Much of what Sheryl relayed coalesced with the thinking I have after my period of immersion.

Sheryl was speaking of the need for education to address the changing society we live in. Her focus was on the Human Network we habitate, and how we can use technology to foster relationships with people not just in our immediate locale, but worldwide and the importance of these digital literacy skills for the students we teach. Tania Sheko, who is from one of the school’s joining our cohort, was in attendance and she has written a  very good post about Sheryl’s visit. Here’s some of what she had to say ;

Firstly, she emphasised that 21st century learning, although based on technologies, was primarily a human network. These technologies enable global connections and wisdom of the crowd. Sheryl gave the example of Twitter as a means of finding the best information about buying a new car. I suppose it’s an extension of the network of friends and colleagues people turn to when looking for a good car, or finding a good plumber, only the global aspect facilitates expert knowledge more effectively. In a fast-changing world, where the information today will be outdated tomorrow, rather than teach memorisation of content from a single text, we need to teach students how to work collaboratively. As Sheryl said, ‘don’t think computers, think innovation’. Our students need to be able to be productive, self-directed and effective communicators, understanding digital communications, and not be overwhelmed by the fast pace of change in their lives. It’s not about the tools, the technology, but about learning. 

A very good summary Tania. Read her post  – she has much more there and it does encapsulate the thinking of Sheryl.

 

My time spent with Sheryl lived up to expectations. She loved Toorak College and felt like she’d been visiting Hogwarts. We do have the most beautiful school setting; a wonderful original building and stunning gardens. Sheryl was impressed with the examples of self directed learning taking place. A Yr 8 inquiry week and students from Yr 7 filming in groups for a Connections class. She’s a frenetically busy lady; when you listen to her describe her schedule you swear you are never going to complain again about how busy you are. When she presented to the staff at my school I’m sure none of them would have been able to ascertain that she had come off a long haul flight with no sleep. By the time I left her Thursday night she’d been awake for 33 hours and she was still sounding very lucid. We’ve chatted many a time through Skype, but this was our first meeting. I have to admit to being a little apprehensive – what if she didn’t like me or vice versa? Happy to report we got on really well. She’s passionate about what she does and so am I. That ‘s what’s important in being able to relay this message and have it heard; you have to believe it.

This brings me to Friday.  As with any staff, there are going to be people open to new ideas and people who take time to move along with change. A discussion ensued with a member of staff about the relevance of Sheryl’s message in the light of the stringent exam structure that exists in our senior years of high school. The argument that was presented suggested that our parent community wanted high enter scores. Our job at those year levels was to get our students through the curriculum and prepare them for 700 word essays, and it wasn’t helping them to have them learn how to collaborate with students from around the world. The other argument was that they couldn’t see how computers could be used for exams and didn’t see how it would be likely in their lifetime.  

My answer to these statements went something like this. What is our responsibility as teachers? Is it to prepare them for an exam, or is it to prepare them for life and the type of world they are going to be entering where these type of collaboration and digital literacy skills are going to be valuable? Will there come a time when we are going to see students use technology in exam situations? I think so. When, I don’t know, but with the rate of change and adoption in our society it could be within the next 10 years. I’ve been mulling this over the last 24 hrs and have been wondering if the English course will adapt and have students complete tasks that assess their digital literacy skills. At the moment we assess their ability to analyse persuasive language. I could see this evolving to include  assessing their ability to locate persuasive arguments from Web based sources; it seems to me that in the future, and now for that matter, it’s becoming more important to know how to find the best and most authoritive source of information in tandem with how to analyse the language and persuasive techniques (including visual stimuli) being used. Digital literacy , knowing how to find what you need, for the purpose you need it for, is going to be the vital 21st Century skill in my belief. We will all be in command of hand held devices, our phones, that are going to be able to perform so many tasks for us. We need to know how to use these to best effect and how to source the best of what is out there.

The week finished with a dinner in the city with Sheryl and local Melbourne based bloggers. Sue Tapp, Jo McLeay, John Pearce, Lauren O’Grady, Pam Arvanitakis and Darren Murphy (soon to relocate to London).  A fun evening where I got to chat with new found friends and share some ideas.

My hope is that Powerful Learning Practice is going to be the launching pad for further uptake of this kind of thinking in the school I work at. After meeting Sheryl, I know she has the passion and commitment to help us traverse this new approach to learning and hopefully give us the capacity to build this with our staff who are yet to be convinced of the need to move forward. What we’re facing is the change cycle that comes from moving from the knowledge age to the conceptual age. We are all going to have to adopt a whole new mind in order to cope with this change.

It’s the field of dreams adage, ‘If you build it,  they will come’. Hope so.

Sheryl’s visiting Australia (and Toorak College!)

If you’ve been following this blog you’ll have some inkling that I’ve been helping Sheryl Nussbaum Beach and Will Richardson set up an Australian arm of their Powerful Learning Practice initiative. This group is going to be global in scale including schools from the United States, New Zealand and Australia. I’ve been working at getting schools here in Australia to join this initiative and am pleased to report that we have schools from New South Wales and Victoria across all sectors; Independant, Catholic and Govt. Schools.

Some of the people leading these school teams include those writing blogs. Dean Groom, Judy O’Connell, Frances Manning, Rhonda Powling and Tania Sheko. Three of those names are Teacher-Librarians. Great to see them at the helm of change in their schools.  It’s going to be very exciting leading our schools through what we all hope is going to be something transformational for our colleagues who are taking the leap with us. I first started reading about Powerful Learning Practice in December of last year. I could see that it had the potential to shift my school and it’s teachers towards an understanding of the power of these technologies to reach out and make a difference to the learning environment for our students. We start the program on Sept. 8th. Our United States participants will be having a fact to face meeting at Freidricksburg Acadamy and we’ll be joining them via ustream. I’m excited to see that there are names I am already familiar with from our United States and New Zealand participants. Elizabeth Helfant, Alex Ragone, Lenva Shearing and  Jane Nicholls.

What is really exciting for me is that tomorrow I am finally getting the opportunity to meet Sheryl. She’s in Melbourne to keynote at the Expanding Learning Horizons conference being held in Lorne. She’s visiting my school tomorrow to present to the staff here about 21st Century learning and Learning communities.  I hope the people I work with realise the status Sheryl occupies in the Educational Technology sector and pay heed to the message she delivers. I’m sure her visit is going to make an impact; I feel very fortunate to have been able to work with Sheryl and get to know her during our Skype chats. It’s going to be wonderful meeting her face to face at last!