Sunday, November 02, 2014

Pianos and Computers

Was reminded of a favourite quote of mine, so sharing for those who haven't seen it before.

"....Computers are not rescuing the school from a weak curriculum, any more than putting pianos in every classroom would rescue a flawed music program. Wonderful learning can occur without computers or even paper. But once the teachers and children are enfranchised as explorers, computers, like pianos, can serve as powerful amplifiers, extending the reach and depth of the learners."

Alan Kay 

Wednesday, October 15, 2014


This is my reflection on my learning from the Ulearn 2014 conference. In my previous post I talked about my thoughts around the first keynote from Yoram Harpaz. Here are some of the other highlights for me.

Tom Barratt talked about fostering questions and how our reactions to them can either encourage them or close them down. This fits well with the idea of fostering an inquiry disposition. We all know how many questions pre-schoolers ask but by the time they reach upper primary school many of them have stopped. We need to make sure nothing we say or do contributes to this but instead makes questions and wonderings an expected part of what goes on in classrooms. As Tom put it, we need to "encourage students to be resilient questioners of the world."

Yoram Harpaz spoke about how education is always in crisis because we expect to achieve too much. This leads to us always looking for saviours. Teaching thinking was the saviour for a while, currently it is digital technology.  He didn't seem to have a high opinion of digital technology but that is another story. 

He talked about the three elements of thinking:

  • thinking skills
  • thinking dispositions
  • thinking for understanding
To find out more about his thoughts on this read his paper 'Back to Knowledge: The Ironic Path of Teaching Thinking". Just as he believed we must choose one ideology, he believed we had to choose one way to teach thinking and he believed that was by teaching thinking for understanding. Part of his reasoning was that we can only think well in areas we understand therefore teaching for understanding should be the focus which does make sense to me. 

However, even though I agree that teaching for understanding is really important and is one of the main reasons I believe in an inquiry approach to teaching, I still think there is a place for explicit teaching of skills in context. Teaching dispositions is also important, although probably the hardest of the three to develop. In my opinion the skills and dispositions support the development of understanding, just as when we teach reading we teach that meaning is essential but there are skills and strategies that need to be used and we foster the love of reading. 

In my next post I will talk about my thoughts around the breakouts from Lane Clark and Mike Scaddan.

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Social Media as a Professional Development Tool

October is Connected Educator month and so I have set myself a challenge to write a blog post at least once a week during October. I'm starting with a post that I think is very apt - talking about about social media as PLD. 

Online communities are great sources of information and support and in recent times have reached a sort of tipping point where the numbers of educators involved has taken them into the realms of more mainstream PLD. Where once it was rare to find teachers who tweeted or were involved in online communities, it is now becoming almost the norm. 

It won't be long before the unconnected teacher is the exception rather than the rule. More and more teachers are realising that it is not only their students who need to be capable, connected, actively involved, lifelong learners.

So why are these online communities gaining popularity? Well for a start they are virtually free, other than the cost of the data and the device to access them. And let's face it, most people already have an internet-capable device.

Secondly, you will be interacting with educators from a wide range of backgrounds from diverse communities. You can just lurk and read what others have to say or take the next step and make a contribution, ask for help or even answer someone else's question.

How connected are you? You can take this survey to find out. I was 2 points off being a Web Celeb, maybe blogging a little more frequently will bump me up. What will you do this month to bump up your score and help you become a more connected educator?

My challenge to you in Connected Educator month is to sign up and attend at least one event. The great thing is that you don't even need to leave home to do it. Then join at least one online community, whether it be Twitter (suggested educators to follow - I am @jkellow), the VLN or an education-related Facebook group like my Inquiry group, EdudemicEdutopiaTED Talks or Te@chthought

Or follow some educators on Pinterest and start your own Pinterest boards, get the Pin it extension for your browser and start pinning sites that interest you to your boards. You can check out my boards here and see what is possible.

Or maybe you could start your own blog. Many teachers already have a class blog and this is a good place to start but you could also start a personal blog to reflect on your teaching or share your own learning with others. You might even get some feedback. 7 Reasons Why Teachers Should Blog. You could also follow some of your favourite educational bloggers. See the sidebar for some of my favourites or to follow this blog. 52 Educational Bloggers to Follow

While you are at it, why not get your school connected if it isn't already. Lots of schools are now using Facebook and Twitter to connect with parents. Creating a Dynamic Facebook Page for your School 

So go on, dip your toes in the water, take the plunge and make new connections. You'll soon find out which ones work for you.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Disasters, Dilemmas and Decisions

I recently visited Christchurch. It was my first time back since the second and largest of the quakes in February 2011 and it was a very emotional experience. I had visited briefly after the first big quake in 2010 but my main memories of Christchurch come from the time I spent there as an e-fellow in 2006 and at several Ulearn conferences before and after that. So much has changed. 

There are still many buildings left that are obviously due to be demolished, many, many open spaces where buildings used to be, and many in the process of either being rebuilt or demolished. Many of my favourite places no longer exist or are scheduled for demolition.

Many new artworks have appeared in the city, providing a strange contrast between beauty and destruction. This building was one of the strangest and, to me, most meaningful, of those artworks. Look carefully to spot which parts are real and which are paintings. A view of this building from the back is included at the end.

The saddest part of my visit was seeing the Christchurch Cathedral. This building was badly damaged in both earthquakes. Parts of it look almost unscathed, if you don't look too closely, providing a glimpse of its former glory.

Sadly, the front and tower including the beautiful rose window, have completely disappeared, leaving a gaping hole. No-one was killed or injured when the tower collapsed. Having climbed to the top of the tower myself in 2006 I can appreciate how lucky that was.
The church owners have decided to demolish the church and build a new one. This decision has been surrounded by much controversy with attempts being made to restore the building

In the interim a transitional "cardboard" cathedral has been built. Very beautiful in its own right, but naturally very different from the original. When designing the front window, designs from the original rose window were incorporated into the design to provide a link between old and new. 

So what has all this to do with education? Change is inevitable. Sometimes it is gradual, happening over a long period of time. Often we are barely aware of these changes happening, or of making conscious decisions about them. 

We can also consciously decide to change something and spend time exploring possibilities and making decisions about how best to implement those changes so as to cause as little disruption as possible. Sometimes we will implement temporary changes to ease that transition or to provide some improvements while we work towards a bigger picture.
Sometimes we will have change thrust upon us. This can leave us reeling and feeling helpless. It can however give us a chance to rethink what it is we value, what we want to keep and what we need to leave behind. 

Schools looking to implement an inquiry-based approach need to think about what they value and need to retain and what they can remove from their curriculum. Attempting an inquiry approach without doing this can only end in tears. More on this thought to come.

More Photos

Cathedral 2014
Cathedral 2014

Photograph G. O'Beirne 2006
What is real? 2014

Monday, July 21, 2014

Play, Passion and Purpose

Play, Passion and Purpose

Tony Wagner's video on creating innovators looks at 5 key factors in creating innovators. These include and my personal favourite: Play, Passion and Purpose. We need to give students time to play and explore the world around them, with guidance so they can get the most from their experiences. We need to encourage play and passion in ways like Stonefields School is doing in their Break Through time, and companies like Google do with their 20% time or Genius Time. 

We need to value creativity, innovation, problem-solving and iteration. As Wagner says it is not what students know that matters, " What the world cares about is what they can do with what they know." So what is it that we assess and therefore show we value? Edutopia describes some ideas on Building Creative Confidence.

One of the questions I find myself asking teachers most often is "What is the purpose of this lesson/activity/inquiry...?" Sometimes teachers find this easy to answer, others struggle, eventually giving answers like "It is in the test", "We have always done this" or "I was told to".

The purpose of everything we do in the classroom needs to be really clear to both us and our students. If we are clear on the purpose it will make choices surrounding the lesson/activity/inquiry much clearer for the teacher and the student. The purpose of the inquiry will provide clear guidance on what we do as a result of an activity or inquiry. Which also means that often we may not know at the start of an inquiry exactly what we will do as a result as our findings and our purpose will guide that action.