A Journey.

“It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.”

-Ursula K. Le Guin, The Left Hand of Darkness

 

The recycle logo with the text ‘what,’ ‘so what,’ and ‘what next’ superimposed over it. That is a framework for reflection that I am happy to embrace so without further ado, let’s go!

What

I am a social person but when it comes to work and other serious matters I have a tendency to want to go it alone. I never played team sports, I wrestled instead. my current obsession, rock climbing, requires a partner but when I am on the rock I feel alone. 32 weeks ago I had taken my first steps towards collaborative practice, but they were baby steps. We had planned the unit together and students worked with both of us to complete their project but there was no actual collaboration in terms of our teaching. The ‘what’ of my Mindlab experience was developing an understanding of the potential of and for collaboration and connectivity. Collaboration means more than breaking up a task and sharing out the pieces, in fact, it is almost the complete opposite. I now understand it to mean working together with others to create something new and beyond that which I could create on my own. The value of this understanding as an educator attempting to create engaging, relevant and productive learning experiences for young people is obvious. Connectivity refers to the ability that I have to make connections, and in doing so create opportunities for collaboration, with likeminded people in my school, in the community and nationally and internationally. Digital technology has a role to play in this process but it is still a tool, the fundamental determinant of one’s ability to make connections are your attitudes and values, not your tech savviness.

 

So What

I have now been exposed to different ways of thinking and pedagogical practices. My understanding of collaboration and connectivity has changed, as has the value I place on these concepts and the role they play in shaping my understanding of teaching and learning. When I think about best practice in my classroom, the goal posts have shifted, as has the means by which I will get there. Thinking in terms of Osterman and Kottamp’s model of the experiential learning cycle (1993), I have been able to move through the first three stages: “observation & analysis, abstract conceptualization, active experimentation” and now need more” concrete experience” before I can begin to move through the cycle again and develop, refine and internalise my new understandings and realise this understanding through my professional practice.


What Next

What next for me is not about technology. As a specialist digital technology teacher I am reasonably competent with a range of digital technology and feel confident that I can share this knowledge with my students. I have computers, arduino, 3D printers and laser cutters at my disposal. However, more than my technological competence and IT resources, My next step as a teacher and learner is refining my practice so that it allows for the creation of learning communities. In doing so I will be able to work towards achieving Practicing Teacher Criteria and e-learning Criteron 5: “Show leadership that contributes to effective teaching and learning.” Being actively involved as a participant and perhaps a leader in the creation of physical and online communities of learning is one key way in which I can ensure that my practice will continue to develop. I want to be able to leverage a range of digital technology that will allow the learners who pass through my class to achieve to the best of their ability by making connections with me, with their peers and with as many sources of information, instruction and inspiration as possible. This is essential to realise Practicing Teacher Criteria and e-learning Criteron 6: “Conceptualise, plan, and implement an appropriate learning programme.” Designing and impementing a more connected programme that reflects the highly digitally connected world that we have found ourself in is necessary in order to consider my programe “appropriate” and relevant.

 

I wish to be part of a community of learners that will inform and enrich both my practice and the experiences of my students. It is now time to become part of that community.    

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Interdisciplinary Connections

Interdisciplinary collaboration is a timely subject as I find myself rushing from meeting to meeting in order to prepare for our Term 3 focus on ‘change makers.’ This unit represents a major shift both organisationally and pedagogically for my school in that it will be the first time that home room teachers and specialist teachers have come together to deliver a single, cohesive body of teaching. Rather than running independent programmes, the two groups will work together to plan, implement and then evaluate the use of a thematic, interdisciplinary and project-based model similar to that described in the Interdisciplinary Learning video (Lacoe Edu, 2014). Although it has been a time-consuming process thus far with significant work to come, the shift to this model is exciting in that it represents a move to more authentic collaboration while also allowing for much great student agency and opportunities for deeper learning.

 

As a specialist teacher responsible for delivering a digital technology programme to Year 7 and 8 students, I find myself constantly teaching both the language and methodology of curriculum areas that fall outside of the technology curriculum. Whether it is teaching students how to give and receive effective feedback, basic numeracy to enable accurate movement when coding with Scratch or a host of other possibilities, I am working outside of the technology my current area of specialisation. This is critical to their success as the type of problem-solving and practical tasks that they work on in my classroom require them to employ a diverse range of skills. This does not equal an interdisciplinary approach, however, it is just another example of how no teaching occurs in a vacuum and highlights the need for primary teachers to be experts in a diverse range of fields. As I find myself teaching literacy or numeracy skills to learners, I often think of the many opportunities for collaboration that would support student achievement both in my classroom and in the home room but up until now, I have not actually done anything about it. The limitation imposed by the timetable and the fact that technology time represents homeroom teachers’ release time always seemed to make collaboration impossible.

 

This obstacle has been removed as a result of a whole school decision work in a different way. Interdisciplinary collaboration, defined by Andrews (1990) as a situation where “different professionals, possessing unique knowledge, skills, organizational perspectives, and personal attributes, engage in coordinated problem solving for a common purpose” (cited in Berg-Weger &. Schneider, 1998), is now possible as the barriers that were preventing it have been actively identified and removed. Students will now be able to explore what bothers them and develop and implement an awareness campaign while working across a range of curriculum areas including literacy, numeracy, social sciences, and technology. They will be supported by a range of teachers who will teach the language and methodology of all curriculum areas that are relevant to the students desired outcome. Significant work has been done to ensure that the workplace conditions, attitudes and values and shared vision exist to ensure that meaningful collaboration can occur. For me, this is an exciting and timely development and I look forward to seeing how it turns out.


Reference List

Berg-Weger, M., &. Schneider, F. D. (1998). Interdisciplinary collaboration in social work education. Journal of Social Work Education, 34, 97-107.

Lacoe Edu (2014, Oct 24) Interdisciplinary Learning . Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cA564RIlhME  

 

 

Untapped potential – Social Media

I have always thought of blogs and social media as digital platforms for self-absorbed people to post pictures of what they ate for lunch, rant about politics or share oh so profound quotes. This changed this year when I started using facebook.com to make connections with local climbers so I could climb at crags that were further from home. Before I had experienced the utility of social media, my preconceived notion of social media had limited the way that I was able to connect with students in the digital realm. I had made extensive use of a range of digital platforms such as websites and youtube channels, but had only used these to push resources and information out. This had worked well but I had not provided any real opportunities for students to interact with myself or their peers as they were accessing these resources. Students had to either talk to me in person or email me if they had questions or comments and because of this, I can now see that I had missed out on an opportunity to create an online social network or virtual community to support and extend learning.

 

Rethinking the type of digital platforms that I use and the way in which they are used made me realise how the learners could the benefit if I added a social media component to my programme. The most significant change would be an increase in ubiquity and agency for learners. It would also make the role of the teacher less central to learning in that it would provide another avenue for communication/collaboration between students. Importantly, one that exists outside of class time. It also creates another platform for feedback so that students can ask questions which they might not have time to ask or have answered in class. Furthermore, it allows for students to make connections with their peers in other groups or classes, thus widening the potential for feedback and peer support. This could also allow for learning to be shared with parents and increase their involvement in learning. Students would also be able to share resources that they find and this would encourage a more active, self-directed approach to learning while allowing others to benefit from students who work in this way. Finally, there is the potential to make connections outside of immediate school community, to connect with experts or even just other learners to gain access to greater range of skills, resources, and experiences, create a much wider network of learning for students to access.

 

Wait one second, that sounds too good to be true! Well, not really, but there are some fishhooks to take into consideration. The first major issue is selecting appropriate social media platforms given that the most commonly used social media platforms (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc.) set the minimum age for users at 13. Even if this were not the case, privacy issues would make using these platforms problematic with primary aged children. The solution to these problems would be to use a student-driven digital portfolio product such as seesaw.me that provides many of the features such as the ability to comment and ‘like’ that can be found in mainstream social media products. This could be used alongside class or individuals blogs that could be used as platforms for interaction with those outside of the immediate school community. One additional issue that exists, regardless of the social media platform/s used, is the need for learners to have a solid understanding of digital citizenship to ensure that they were able to interact online in a safe and appropriate manner. If these potential challenges were addressed then social media could play a major role in extending the learning that takes place in my classroom.

Illegal File Sharing…

In 2013, the rollout of ultrafast broadband for schools began with great fanfare. Our school just got on board this year. The stated goal of this significant technological step forwards was “to encourage collaboration and sharing of resources and knowledge between school communities and learners around New Zealand (“The network for learning”, 2012). Unfortunately, a significant legal barrier currently exists that prevents the realisation of this goal – New Zealand’s copyright laws. These laws have the potential to ride roughshod over collaboration if enforced to the letter of the law, and even at their most innocuous, they represent a significant barrier to innovation and collaboration in the education sector. The ethical dilemma that I face most frequently is my desire to share the resources that I create with other teachers and even students across New Zealand and even around the world. While the sharing of resources in a free and collaborative manner sounds like really positive step and one that should be free from any ethical dilemmas, it is illegal. According to the 1994 Copyright Act, any resources created by teachers currently employed in a New Zealand school is property of the school and permission must be granted by the board of trustees before it can be shared in any form. Forget making money from the brilliant teaching material that you create, even giving it away could potentially land you in hot water!

 

While people may be quick to dismiss this issue as nonsense given the fact that these laws are not enforced and teachers are constantly sharing resources, lesson plans and all sorts of other material related to the business of education, it is a significant issue. Section three of the code of ethics for certified teachers states that in order to fulfill their obligation to society, teachers will “teach and model those positive values that are widely accepted in society and encourage learners to apply them and critically appreciate their significance (“Code of Ethics”, 2015).” Willfully disregarding the law is not upholding the positive societal values. Section four also calls on teachers to “advance the interests of the teaching profession through responsible ethical practice (“Code of Ethics”, 2015).” There may be an obvious difference between illegal downloading episodes of Game of Thrones from torrent sites and sharing resources that you have created with other members of the profession but this is not the case in the eyes of the law. Although the chance of being either act resulting in legal sanctions are very low for both of these acts, they are both illegal and therefore represent a departure from the trust in which society places in teachers and a departure from professional standards. At this point, it is important to state that the fact that these totally different acts are comparable in a legal sense is ridiculous. Rather than supporting this state of affairs, I think it needs to be resolved the utmost urgency to ensure that learners in New Zealand have access to the best possible learning materials, not just those that are created in their particular school or shared illegally. Fortunately, Creative Commons represents a solution to this ethical dilemma and legal nonsense

 

Creative Commons represents a robust legal framework that would solve a range of legal issues whilst also promoting many key elements of digital citizenship if it were used more widely in the New Zealand education sector.  Creative Commons would allow teachers to select from a variety of licenses that would allow for them to share, remix and materials that they create. This would encourage teachers to create more resources and share them more widely by freeing them from any legal uncertainties and creating a culture of attribution where people were acknowledged for their creativity, expertise and hard work. The introduction of Creative Commons policies into New Zealand schools requires only effort on the behalf of teachers and an open mind from Boards of Trustees. The use of Creative Commons in education has received approval from the government and many schools already have Creative Commons policies in place. It is now time for the rest of us to catch up and put an end to the nonsensical ethical dilemma which some of us face.

Culturally Responsive Pedagogy…

The most easily understood and compelling definition of culturally responsive pedagogy turned up in an unexpected place. Mathew Lynch, posting on huffingtonpost.com explained culturally responsive pedagogy as being a student-centered approach to teaching in which the students’ unique cultural strengths are identified and nurtured to promote student achievement and a sense of well-being about the student’s cultural place in the world (2011).” For me, the strength of this definition is the fact that it places the student firmly in the centre and focuses on both education and wellbeing. The idea that all students are individuals seems to me to be implicit in the definition and this removes the possibility of an essentialistic bi- or multicultural interpretation of culture and what it means to belong to a specific culture.

Another key development in my understanding of culturally responsive pedagogy was becoming aware of the connection between engagement and culture through the writing of Wlodkowski and Ginsberg. These two authors argue that engagement, the observable outcome of motivation, is deeply connected to culture because of the way that individuals’ emotions are a product of the socialisation that occurs within their cultural context. Therefore learning experiences are likely to elicit different responses among learners depending on their cultural background. Teachers need to understand the way in which students’ attitudes toward learning experiences is a product of their culture. This idea links back into the strong emphasis that Lynch’s definition of culturally responsive pedagogy placed on it being a ‘student centred approach.’ As teachers, we must understand the culture of students to the greatest extent possible in order to be able to work with students to maximise their engagement and achievement. Developing a student centred understanding of culturally responsive pedagogy and the connection between engagement and culture is one practical way in which some of the current disparities evident in New Zealand education can be addressed in a manner which does not position students and their families as the problem.

When I began to reflect on the current state of my school’s ongoing efforts to introduce a more culturally responsive pedagogy using the Mauri model, I was surprised that we had made significant progress. Steps taken to lift the cultural intelligence of the staff had most likely contributed to this shift. Over the past eighteen months our PD and staff meetings have devoted a significant time to examining the idea of a cultural lense, looking at events such as Parihaka from more nuanced perspective, raising awareness of local as well as global issues, and deconstructing the relationship between both historical and current power structures and different cultural groups. While these discussions have been challenging for many, they seem to have created a greater openness to the idea of creating both a classroom curriculum and an environment in our school that acknowledges and validates the culture of our learners.

This progress, however, has been greatest in the area of our vision, goals and core values and significant change still needs to occur in the area of learning activities and assessment. This different rate of change does appear quite natural in the sense that developing the former would seem to be a prerequisite to moving the latter forwards. Using the Mauri model, our commitment to incorporating Maori language, customs, and values while actively seeking to understand and acknowledge a Maori world view would suggest that we are Te Taunga o te Mauri Moe – the state of being of Mauri Oho. This assumption is based on my observation that our school is working in this area in a proactive manner. Time and effort is being dedicated to developing a more culturally responsive mindset and this is resulting in significant change in our school culture.

If we shift the focus to nature of learning experiences in the classroom, then Level 1 or 2 of Te Taunga o te Mauri Moe – the state of being of Mauri Moe seems to be a more accurate reflection of where we are at. Teachers seek to acknowledge the value of different cultures but do not yet teach “to and through [students’] personal and cultural strengths, their intellectual capabilities, and their prior accomplishments (Savage, Hindle, Meyer, Hynds, Penetito, & Sleeter, 2011).” Teachers still exhibit a degree of ‘shyness’ or limit themselves to ‘expressions of possible interest’ when asked to do so. Hopefully, the transition into a more active, participatory and engaged approach to creating implementing a culturally responsive curriculum will occur in the near future given our school’s commitment to realising this goal.

Reference List

Lynch, M (2011, December). What Is Culturally Responsive Pedagogy? Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/matthew-lynch-edd/culturally-responsive-pedagogy_b_1147364.html

Savage, C., Hindle, R., Meyer, L. H., Hynds, A., Penetito, W., & Sleeter, C. E. (2011). Culturally responsive pedagogies in the classroom: Indigenous student experiences across the curriculum. Asia-Pacific Journal of Teacher Education, 39(3), 183-198.

Alphabet Soup: MLE/MLP/ILE?

Modern Learning Environments (MLEs) and Modern Learning Practice (MLP), or whatever acronym they are currently known by, have my full attention at this moment in time. This is primarily because of the central role that they have played in the current reshaping of education both in New Zealand and abroad. It is also related to the strength of the emotional response that this concept elicits from teachers and others working in the field of education, both positive and negative. As well as my personal interest in this educational trend, it is extremely relevant to my practice in the sense that my school has a strong commitment to developing and implementing its own vision of MLA/MPL, referred to in-house by an acronym which always reminds me of popular frog shaped chocolate treat.

Modern learning practice is a transformative innovation that seeks to “chang[e] the ways students engage with their learning, how they learn and what they learn (ERO).” It is commonly presented as best practice with the implication being that previous approaches to education are now outdated and not able to meet the needs of modern students. The OECD Centre for Educational Research and Innovation state this position very clearly, arguing that

“innovative ways of organising learning at the micro level (learning environment) and how this connects to the meso level (networks and communities of practice), as well as strategies for implementing learning change at the macro, system level ((Istance, D., Heppner, E. & Martinez, M., 2014)” will allow for learning to be made more central in education, increase the social component of learning, allow for learning to be more individualised while also being more collaborative, and allow for better assessment practices. The authors of this document show an incredible mastery of understatement when they describe this change as “far reaching innovation (Istance, D., Heppner, E. & Martinez, M., 2014).” While the outcomes that they describe as achievable through properly implemented Innovative Learning Environments (ILE), their preferred term for MLE/MLP, sound amazing, one is left wondering how real is this? Does a strong body of evidence exist to support these claims? Unfortunately, this does not appear to be the case and research into the efficacy of MLE/MLP appears to be extremely limited. Furthermore, research into this critical question is appears to be extremely problematic. For example, it is possible to use poor pedagogy within the context of an MLE and have this result in poor outcomes for students. How do you apportion responsibility if you wish to evaluate the impact of your Innovative Learning Environment? I wonder if building a stronger evidential basis would have preceded building new schools whose design is based on this educational approach.

Although at some level I believe that something good will come of the MLE/MLP approach, and that evidence will eventually exist to support it, I wonder if we need to change the way that we evaluate this approach. Rather than trying to measure the effect that it has on learning, an approach that seems fraught with difficulties, why not ask how innovative learning environments bring about changes in behaviour and pedagogical practices (Blackmore, J., Bateman, D., Cloonan, A., Dixon, M., Loughlin, J., O’Mara, J., & Senior, K. (2011)? For me, this question reframes MPE/MLP as a space in which teaching and learning occurs and allows questioning to focus on what impact this approach has on established pedagogical practices while examining and evaluating ‘new’ pedagogical practices that may evolve or emerge from this new educational setting.

Answering these questions in an open-minded and evidence-based manner is critical for all of the stakeholders involved. Students, parents, teachers and the wider community need to feel confident that they are not guinea pigs in an educational experiment, that this transformation of mainstream education has the potential to result in positive outcomes for all involved.

 

References:

Blackmore, J., Bateman, D., Cloonan, A., Dixon, M., Loughlin, J., O’Mara, J., & Senior, K. (2011). Innovative learning environments research study. Victoria: Department of Education and Early Childhood Development.

 

Istance, D., Heppner, E., Martinez, M. (2014). INNOVATIVE LEARNING ENVIRONMENTS. Retrieved June 13, 2017 from https://www.oecd.org/edu/ceri/ILE_Brochure.pdf

Socioeconomic Context

Statistical information about the socioeconomic status community in which the school I teach at is limited to the information made available in each Education Review Office review report. This only really informs me of the breakdown of the school students in terms of gender and ethnicity. This knowledge is supplemented by my own local knowledge and general understanding of the socioeconomic characteristics of the suburbs that fall within our school zone. This limited information tells me that my school is reasonably diverse in terms of ethnic makeup and that it draws students from suburbs that range from reasonably affluent to much less so.

 

In terms of the culture of the culture that the school currently seeks to create, much more information is available. This culture is most evident in our four school statements: Embracing Challenge, Building Independence, Celebrating Diversity and Developing a Passion for Learning. They are also evident in the Six C’s that shape our learning as a school that is part of the New Pedagogies for Deeper Learning project. These are Character, Citizenship, Collaboration, Communication, Creativity and Critical Thinking. These values apply both to teachers and students as both groups are seen as learners. As a school, we strive to create an environment which values learners as individuals, promotes students agency and independence, and encourages deep learning. We also seek to create a safe environment, both physically and emotionally, for students and staff.

 

In terms of issues arising from the socioeconomic context in which our school exists, the most obvious one would be the introduction of a BYOD policy given the economic disparity that exists among the parent/caregiver community. Our school encourages, but does not mandate, that students bring a suitable device to support their learning and teachers are expected to implement programmes that leverage our digital infrastructure. The challenge of having parents/caregivers that are not willing or able to ensure that their child has a device is not unique to our school. Unlike some other schools, we have decided as a school to make significant numbers of school purchased Chromebooks (120+) available across the school rather than adopting alternative solutions such as school or cluster led scheme to support students purchasing a device for their child. This means that all students have access to devices and ensures that educational opportunities are as equitable as they can be in terms of this area. It also allows for the use of ICT to be embedded into the practice of all teachers as they can be confident that students have the tools required to engage in learning with a significant digital component.

 

This has made it possible for the school to place an increasing emphasis on the use of ICT in classroom programmes. “Leveraging digital” has become an important component of our pedagogical approach, an understanding made clear by the importance placed on this aspect of teaching both in terms of PD and our ongoing teacher review processes. This expectation, along with the PD develop the necessary skills and understandings needed for teachers to deliver a digitally rich programme has created issues in the form of a perceived increase in workload. Given that coding will soon be added to the required digital knowledge, some staff do feel overwhelmed by what they see as a significant quantity of learning that they are required to master. Given the potential for the use of digital technologies to streamline some elements of teaching I am not sure whether or not this perceived increase in workload, in fact, real or not. However, our school culture has helped address this issue in that is highlights the important role that digital technology plays in our approach to learning while ensuring that teachers actively engage in this learning and develop and adapt their practice as a result of this learning because of the shared understanding that as teachers we have a responsibility to continue to adapt and develop our practice.

Communities of Practice – Where do I belong?

Although I had not considered my place in a community of practice before beginning to write this post, the more I reflect on this concept the more I become aware of the potential benefits of consciously positioning myself within a relevant community of practice. However, a number of factors make it difficult to define my community of practice and in order to do so, I need to consider what my role is within my current educational context.

Defined by Wenger as “groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly,” communities of practice consist of three key elements: the domain; the community; and the practice. As a technology teacher working within the wider context of an intermediate school my domain at its narrowest would be that of technology teacher and simply educator at its broadest. In terms of belonging to an actual community of practice rather than a community, I feel that it I strongly identify as a technology teacher and that it is this domain of knowledge that serves as the common ground on which I make connections with others. In terms of defining the domain of the community of practice that I feel that I am a member of, the two key areas of knowledge are pedagogical approaches that work well in a technology context and technical knowledge related to developing an understanding of the technology curriculum and specific areas of knowledge such as coding, 3D modelling, animation and the design process.

The community element of the community of practice that I see myself belonging to consists of four layers. The inner layer of this community is made up of the technology teachers with whom I work with. We collaborate on a daily basis,  sharing ideas and developing understandings as we work alongside each other to deliver and engaging technology program. The next layer is the wider teaching staff and management of the school in which our technology department is situated. This layer provides the pedagogical framework in which we operate along with opportunities for professional learning and regular interactions with other teachers. These elements all impact on my understanding of what it means to be a technology teacher and my vision of best practice. Beyond this exists the wider network of technology teachers in Canterbury, with whom I connect with virtually through the Greater Canterbury and occasionally in person. Finally, the enormous array of people who make information relating to understanding and using technology available via the internet for the final layer of community. Although connections with these people may be incredibly tenuous, consisting of a few posts on a blog or forum at most, the vast amount of information that is accessible because of their efforts make them a critical part of this community of practice.

In terms of evaluating the extent to which in contribute to this community as a practitioner, I think that I make some significant contributions at each of the four levels described early. I have a leadership role within the technology team at my school and this position allowed me to share my knowledge whilst also learning from my fellow teachers as we work together to develop our practice. This is also the case at the wider school layer. I also see myself as an active member of the community of technology teachers in Canterbury. I have participated in professional development with this group and run a series of workshops to share knowledge about a range of topics including  3D modeling and working with Arduino. My interaction with the final layer of community is much more limited as my interactions with this layer tends to be limited to searching for answers to technical questions relating to technology used in my classroom. My one significant contribution would be the series of instructional videos on the use of Autodesk 123D shared with others via youtube. However, now that I am aware that I am a member of a community of practice, I can see the many benefits that could be derived from engaging with the other members of this community in a more sustained and purposeful manner.