Professional learning communities

I have the privilege in my work to be able to both facilitate and participate in a number of online communities of practice (CoP). It’s a great opportunity to learn from others as well as share my own experiences and what I have come across. Like many online communities, sometimes they seem to rocket along and at other times they appear to be rather quiet. This has got me thinking about the online communities I’m a part of and question what it is that brings people to them and engage in them.

I have been given the opportunity this year to undertake some research and have decided to focus it (broadly) on what fosters engagement or participation of educators in online communities of practice (particularly in the communities in which I facilitate). While still very much in the development phases, I would like to come away with a better understanding of where educators are accessing their professional learning from and why. It is also an opportunity for me to find out and hopefully trial different strategies to increase participation in the communities within which I facilitate.

I feel like my thoughts are still quite a jumble, which I think is okay at this stage. As I’m going through the process of thinking around why I want to undertake this research and just doing some general wondering around the topic, I’ve realised how the whole thing kind of aligns with the research I did for my MEd on online student engagement. While there are definitely differences (I’m working with adults rather than middle-school students; participation in the CoPs is completely voluntary), there are also similarities. For example, we still have those that are visibly active and those that are often called lurkers (I prefer the term ‘listener’ myself). We don’t know what impact is being had on those who don’t contribute but could still be reading/learning from the community. It’s also not clear how deep the engagement is going. For example, someone might be reading and commenting, but there is no impact back into their classroom. Understanding this could be useful in determining steps to encourage greater participation.

The expertise and knowledge held with an online CoP can be incredibly vast. Yet, it appears sometimes that we like to hold on to our own knowledge, or perhaps we don’t feel like what we have to share is worthwhile to others. Other times, looking at the various communities, it can appear like we’re just after a quick fix, or something to get us by, eg. “Does anyone have a resource/unit on…”. I’m not saying this is an issue. It is simply an observation. I’ve got quite a few other questions and thoughts at this stage as well, but won’t list them all here.

If you’ve read this far – well done on making it through my jumble of thoughts. Hopefully as the year progresses and I get further into my research things will start to become much clearer. I’m looking forward to developing a better understanding of what is going on in the online CoPs and further develop my facilitation skills as a result. I’ll try to remember to share my progress here as well.

Anxious no more

anxiety

I don’t have time to do anything else! I don’t have time to craft, or to do things for me. I have too much homework to do.

These are the words of my daughter. She has just turned 15. She is in Year 11 doing NCEA level 1. She is intelligent. She already has a couple of excellences under her belt. But she is stressed. She is anxious.

This post is a few days late for the March #EdBlogNZ challenge. The challenge is to write about your dream school. I had done a bit of thinking and thought it was going to be about all the amazing things I would like to see in a school, but as a parent, watching my children go through school, I’m seeing their stress levels increase. It’s not good.

So in my dream school, right at this point in time, while I would like all sorts of technology and opportunities for the students within it, I would first and foremost like to see a school that truly values the health and wellbeing of their students. I’m not saying these schools are not out there, or even that any school doesn’t value this, but sometimes it appears school work, teacher expectations or qualifications take precedent.

Both of my eldest children are feeling exceptional pressure from school at the moment. Miss 15, as described above, and Mr 10 who is in Year 7. Miss 15 has actually recently blogged about Anxiety in the classroom. It’s worth a read.

Yes, education is important, but as a parent I have to put the wellbeing of my children first – and that means before school, before qualifications, and yes, even before teacher expectations.

I don’t have any amazing ideas for how to reduce anxiety of students at school, but I do believe that raising awareness about this issue is important. I do believe that some educators (myself included) just have not really considered it, or if we have, we still have to get through all this work with our classes before the end of the year, and therefore do not know how to manage it.

Perhaps this is something we can all consider for now. After all,

He aha te mea nui o te ao
He tangata, he tangata, he tangata.

What is the most important thing in the world?
It is people, it is people, it is people.

IEP – Where is the individual?

This post is a reflection on the IEP (individual education plan) meeting I attended for my son recently. I don’t mean any of this as a criticism of the school, but simply as observations and a reflection from my perspective as a parent (and yes, as an educator).

The first thing was (and to be honest, I thought of this before the meeting), where was my son’s invitation to attend the meeting? Surely, if we’re looking at his education plan then he should be involved – especially by Year 7. He may or may not have much to contribute, but he should be given the opportunity. I did actually ask him if he would like to attend, but as he was already home, sick, he decided he’d rather stay in the warm house! If he had already been at school, I might have asked for him to attend. I really think it’s important that the child attend these meetings to bring the focus back to learning rather than what will the teachers do all the time. The child then also knows what is going on and was a part of the decision making. As it turned out it was more about “this is what we want for him” and “this is what we (the school) will do to make it happen”.

The second thing was that as the parent, I felt that I should have been invited to speak first. This was possibly just an oversight, but I do believe the parent (if not the child) should be invited to speak first in this type of meeting. The reason I feel this way is that otherwise the school staff drive the conversation and concerns of the family get relegated to the end rather than brought out at the start.

Thirdly, education jargon needs to go. Yes you’re in a room full of educators, but most parents are not. Not everyone understands what a stanine is or what “5b” means in relation to asTTle. I did, but they didn’t know I was in education until I pointed it out later on.

Interestingly, my son had his goal-setting interview the day before the IEP meeting. I would have thought, therefore, that his goals would have been a part of his IEP. But this was not the case. It seemed to me to be more focused on what the teachers would do. Yes, it was to help raise his achievement in various aspects and support him, but there was no onus on him to do anything.

Finally, don’t rush. An IEP meeting is not one that you should rush through. These are important decisions being made about the future of a child. As a teacher, it might not be the only child you need to consider, but for the parent in the room, right then, their child is the most important person on the planet. Rushing can make it feel like you don’t want to be there or that the meeting is just a bit more of a bother for you.

A delightful way to teach kids about computers

I really enjoyed this TEDx talk by Linda Liukas. In it she shares her passion for coding, including how she realised she has been coding her whole life through, for example, learning the patterns of a language or learning to knit.

She says that we need…

to not see computers as mechanical and lonely and boring and magic, to see them as things that they can tinker and turn around and twist, and so forth.

 [ted id=2417 lang=en]

The kids of today, they tap, swipe and pinch their way through the world. But unless we give them tools to build with computers, we are raising only consumers instead of creators.

We often hear in education that we need to be creators and not consumers of technology. That means that we need to give our students opportunities to be creative and not just do the same kind of stuff all the time. Our students need the chance to think. They need to be questioned to help stretch their thinking. They need to be given the tools and support to make some of their dreams and ideas become a reality.

Programming gives me this amazing power to build my whole little universe with its own rules and paradigms and practices. Create something out of nothing with the pure power of logic.

The quiet learner

This post is part of the #EdBlogNZ 2016 Challenge for the bonus Leap Day challenge. The challenge was to “stretch yourself and create an audio or video post about a passion of yours”.

I have focused on being an introvert and a learner. My audio recording is below and beneath this is a transcript of the recording.

Transcript

 

introverts uniteIn a group I can feel isolated. I can feel alone.

Sometimes I can feel more alone in a group than when I’m on my own.

Words wash around me, over me, through me.

I might have something good to say. Something relevant to the conversation. But it’s too late. I didn’t speak up in time. The time has passed. The conversation has moved on.

I might be questioned on the topic. I had something to say, but now I’ve been put on the spot. My mind is blank. My thought has gone. And now I feel even more alone. People are waiting for a response and I have no words to speak.

Talk with me one on one. Give me time to think and to process and we can have an in-depth conversation. Don’t bother with small talk though, I can’t keep that up. I’ll answer your questions about the weather or about what I do. But they will be short and to the point.

Engage me with my passions and I can talk with you. In fact, I might not shut up.

You see, I’m an introvert. I value my own thoughts and my own space. I don’t need to be alone, but I don’t need constant attention.

When I was at school, I hated being put on the spot by my teachers. I might know the answer or be able to respond, but as soon as my name was called, it was gone. My stomach would start to churn. My face would go red. I appeared as if I didn’t know anything. It was unfair.

Yet, I found myself doing this as a teacher.

Why?

Because I hadn’t understood my own personality. I hadn’t understood my introversion.

I despised group activities as a student. If it was only with one other person, I could manage. But with a larger group I felt my voice could not be heard.

However, I found my way with working online. Put me in a collaborative doc, and I can contribute. My voice can be heard. Throw me into a fast-paced Twitter stream and I will love every moment. I’m in a crowded online space yet physically I’m on my own. I am happy, I am learning, I am contributing and I’m engaged.

 

Image source: Joe Wolf, Flickr – CC BY-ND 2.0

Breaking down the walls

2016-02-27 12.18.40I spent today at EducampWelly. It was about 5 hours of educators having the opportunity to share and discuss all things education – what’s on top for them. I always love these events because you see the real passion of teachers come out, especially since they have made the decision themselves to use up one day in their weekend to continue to grow and develop for the benefit of their students… our children!

The thing that stood out to me is how in so many ways at the moment, schools are trying to break down walls.

  • Breaking down walls of their classroom (sometimes literally) and reimagining what learning is, how, where and when it can take place.
  • Breaking down the school fence/gate and getting out into the community; encouraging two-way communication and engagement between what goes on inside the school and outside it.
  • Breaking down the silos of subject teaching – integrating more across subjects (particularly at secondary) and reimagining assessment.
  • Breaking down the barriers between the various sectors; realising that all sectors can have something to offer to all others – early childhood, primary, secondary and tertiary.

That last one was the big one for me today. It was so good to see a range of educators from across the sectors.

Let’s keep breaking down the walls and continue to engage, discuss and learn from one another.

Learning spaces

This post has been written as part of the 2016 #EdBlogNZ Challenge for February which encourages participants to share a virtual tour of their learning space.

My own learning spaces

As I’m not currently teaching, I don’t have a classroom or learning space for my own students, however I do have my own personal learning spaces and this has made me think about what I find suitable for my own learning needs.

my workspace

In my “office” at home, which is really just a small corner of my bedroom, I have set up my desk, and a ridiculous number of devices and monitors. Okay… I’m sure some others have more, and to be honest I don’t always use them all at once. But this works for me. Yes, it’s my workspace, but I also do a lot of learning here as a part of my job.

2016-02-17 19.34.43

While my job sometimes takes me to work in various locations, I do have another space that I have used for both work and specifically learning. It’s a place that I find peaceful, calming and generally relaxing. I sit in my car and work/study with a view across the Wellington harbour. Even on an evening like today’s which is overcast, with a slight breeze (not even a Wellington breeze!), I can enjoy it.

What draws me to my learning spaces?

I’ve always liked my work or learning spaces to be as uncluttered as possible. I think I’m probably a little anal about this actually as I would often procrastinate when I was studying by tidying up my desk (although it honestly did help as I was able to calm down and focus more with the clutter gone)… And… I don’t know why I’m sharing this one… When I’m watching TV I can’t stand there being any mess around or anything visual that might distract me after a slight glance at it. Again, I tidy up the space and make sure none of the white backing on the curtains are showing (including the ones behind me because once I know…)

Actually I do know why I shared that. I have seen so many classrooms that are just full of clutter, whether it be stuff or colour. For me, this is distracting. I know it’s not the case for everyone, but there will definitely be some of our students who also find it distracting or possibly even over-stimulating.

Overall, I like the spaces in which I’m working/learning to be open and peaceful, with not too much noise or distraction.

What do my children like in their learning spaces?

I thought I’d ask my children what they prefer in their learning spaces/classrooms. I’ve got 5 of them, so I figured this was a reasonable sample size. 😉

Miss14 (Year 11) – prefers to lie on the floor; doesn’t like lots of people in one space; prefers an open space but not a big space; likes some things on wall but only if relevant; when lots of posters/student work on wall and/or with lots of colour, it can be distracting.

Mr10 (Year 7) – prefers to learn inside, at home; inside at a desk (at school); quiet space; computers; not lots of stuff like books – take up too much space; doesn’t like lots of clutter – too hard to work with and too hard to find stuff (low vision); lots of colour can be distracting.

Mr9 (Year 5) – prefers quiet, not many people around (personal space), likes sitting at a desk.

Mr7 (Year 4) – likes a lot of colour, quiet, sitting on a cushion.

Miss6 (Year 2) – likes lots of stuff around, teacher, not much stuff on the wall (also low vision), quiet, at desk.

Every teacher needs to consider their learning space and the students they have at that moment. Not all people can cope with a lot of stuff around. It can be visually exhausting or distracting. Some like music playing, others can’t focus with it. Some like sitting at a desk, others like sitting under desks, on a cushion, lying on the floor. It’s exciting to see more and more schools and teachers creating flexible learning spaces for their learners.

Live!

EdBlogNZAfter getting the #EdBlogNZ 2016 Challenge set up with one blogging challenge a month, I’ve waited until the very last day of January to write my first post. The main reason for this is because I was hit with pneumonia just before the New Year and was laid up for much of the month. Not exactly the break I was hoping for.

This though has given me a chance to do a bit of thinking about this year and to consider the word that I want to define my year. My #oneword2016.

After spending so much time in bed throughout January and having my plans for my break turn to custard I really want to make the most of the rest of my year. I want to LIVE!

Live!

To live this year I want to:

  • Step out of my comfort zone and take responsible risks. A few things have slowed me down a little over the last couple of years and this has meant I’ve become a bit tentative around some things. I really want this to change.
  • Learn and put my learning into place. One of my goals is to learn some basic Te Reo M?ori and have enrolled in a course as part of my PD. I’m looking forward to taking part in this. I’m also looking forward to the other learning that’s coming up.
  • Stretch myself in my writing both for work and my blogging. I don’t really know what this will look like yet but I want to take my writing to another level.
  • Spend more quality time with my kids. Yes, I know it’s a bit cliche but after losing several weeks during January where I had plans to do so much with them, I want to make sure they don’t miss out the rest of the year.

It’s time for me to LIVE!

Flipped learning

This post has been written as part of the #EdbookNZ Book Terms organised by Sonya van Schaijik for Connected Educator 2015. I chose the term ‘Flipped learning’.

A big thanks to my disruptive friend, Amanda O’Connell for supporting me in this effort.

Thanks also to Leigh Hynes who sent me some resources to read through around flipped learning for this project as well as some other work I’ve been doing.


Triple Flip
Triple Flip: Taylor Hand, Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

Flipped learning

Digital technologies have enabled teachers to develop new pedagogical approaches and teaching practices in order to increase student engagement and achievement. One of these new approaches is that of flipped learning or the flipped classroom.

Flipped learning or the flipped classroom is a method to teach students. Put simply, the flipped classroom is a “model in which the typical lecture and homework elements of a course are reversed” (EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative, 2012). The idea is that rather than spending in-class time teaching or explaining concepts and ideas, the teaching is delivered through video that students watch during their traditional homework time. Class time is then used to develop the ideas and concepts and apply what has been learnt from the videos.

Video sharing sites such as YouTube and Vimeo are already providing plenty of learning opportunities. For example, if you want to learn to play the guitar, you don’t need to necessarily pay for lessons. Instead, you can do a quick search on YouTube and learn through video. Why not use this same method in formal education?

Of course, in-class lecture is not the way us Kiwi’s teach in general. Homework time is moving away from worksheets and textbooks with practice material. We also don’t want to see our students sitting in front of those same worksheets or textbooks in class repeating  practice exercises, or watching 50-minute videos for homework. We want to see the development of all the key competencies. We want to see, among other things, higher order thinking skills developed, with students collaborating and contributing to solve complex, ‘wicked problems’ (Hipkins, Bolstad, Boyd & McDowall, 2014).

How can we re-think what flipped learning is for us in New Zealand? How can we also ensure that flipping the learning doesn’t simply take away the responsibility from the teacher to teach their class and give students more work to do at home? How can we ensure flipped learning is equitable as some students don’t have internet access or digital devices at home?

The Flipped Learning Network defines flipped learning as:

a pedagogical approach in which direct instruction moves from the group learning space to the individual learning space, and the resulting group space is transformed into a dynamic, interactive learning environment where the educator guides students as they apply concepts and engage creatively in the subject matter. (Flipped Learning Network, 2014)

This means that students watch the direct instruction on their own through videos, and then develop and apply the concepts taught in the classroom group situation. By taking this broad definition we can rethink what flipped learning looks like and ensure that our approach best meets the needs of our students.

We can think of flipped learning approaches along a continuum. On one end of the continuum, we have the true flipped classroom model where the teacher records themselves teaching a particular concept or idea and posts it online for the students to learn in their homework time. They then come back to school to demonstrate their understanding through discussion with peers, practice and application. On the other end of the continuum we might have rewatchable learning such as recording your teaching, modelling, explanations as they happen in class, and posting these online allowing students to rewatch and review what they covered in class, or learn what they missed if they were absent. Both of these allow for students to rewatch their learning as often as required.

In between these two extremes, we might have students creating flipped lessons by teaching their peers through online video. These can then be used in future years as well, bringing the students into the picture in creating new ways to explain a concept or idea.  Of course we can mix it up a little and have different lessons approached in different ways.

In order to ensure we’re not just using up students’ homework time (or free time!) when  employing such a model,  we need to be sure that the videos are succinct and relevant. Teachers love talking. They can talk a lot. Videos of concepts or ideas need to be short, no more than three to five  minutes long where possible. Think about your own online video viewing habits. Many of us switch off after less than a minute unless it’s highly engaging (Shout! Communications, 2014). You might also need to record different ways of explaining concepts. Don’t keep reinventing the wheel though. Use what others have created already.

Don’t forget that relationships are important too. Your students need to see you or hear your voice, otherwise are YOU really teaching them! Make sure that class time is used carefully to develop deeper understanding of concepts through a variety of ways.

Keep considering what will make learning equitable to all and accessible to all. Flipped learning doesn’t have to require students to watch videos at home. What about spending the first minutes in class allowing students to watch? They might need to re-watch them during class time too. What about ensuring devices are available at lunch time or after school for those who don’t have access at home? You could even add subtitles to your videos or include the transcript.

Used with other pedagogical approaches, the flipped learning model could help support a move to developing deeper discussions in-class in order to increase understanding. Through the removal of a lot of in-class direct instruction time, students can ask questions, think more deeply, and consider real-life global examples and problems. It is a model that is worth considering as digital technologies become more prevalent in school and the day-to-day life of our students.

References

EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative. (2012). (7). Things you should know about Flipped Classrooms. EDUCAUSE Creative Commons. Retrieved from https://net.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/eli7081.pdf

Flipped Learning Network. (2014). The Four Pillars of FLIP™. Retrieved from http://www.flippedlearning.org/definition

Hipkins, R., Bolstad, R., Boyd, S., & McDowall, S. (2014). Key competencies for the future. New Zealand Council for Educational Research (NZCER) Press.

Shout! Communications. (2014). Online video viewing habits – what latest figures tell us [Blog post]. Retrieved from http://www.shoutcommunications.co.uk/blog/online-video-viewing-habits-latest-figures-tell-us/

 

Guest post: Mike Buckham – Impact of the EdBlogNZ challenges

This guest post is written by fellow #EdBlogNZer, Mike Buckham, as part of the #EdBlogNZ 2015 Connected Educator challenge.

 

<– This guy 🙂

Follow Mike’s blog: MB@WORK.


 

My experience with the Edblognz challenges and the impact it has had on me

My experience with the Edblognz challenge has been nothing short of transformative. By participating in the challenge I have connected with other educators across the sector (ECE to Research) and this has re-invigorated my passion for learning and my part in the journey (my own and that of my students).

The impact? A massive (read, “possibly completely overwhelming” aka “Am I nuts!?”) learning journey has been sparked from the experience. I’ve connected with educators and ideas that have me thinking about more ‘big picture’ questions:

  • Is it possible to have a ‘unified field theory of education’? If so, what might that look like?
  • Should we stop talking about “21st C learning/education” and simply talk about future-focussed learning? What does that look like?
  • Does educational achievement equate to societal progress/success? Does this help us tackle the “wicked problems,” or create more ‘highly-educated fools’?
  • What is ‘achievement’ in a truly diverse and inclusive education system?
  • How do we define success, and who gets to define it? What biases are inherent in those definitions? How is our success then to be measured?
  • How do we deal with these challenges? Individually and collectively?
  • How do I bring all of that down to my kura/students and how do we move forward?

I don’t have the answers and probably never will. Maybe my students will carry on the journey for me. With a life-long journey there is always another horizon.

 


Thanks, Mike, for sharing your thoughts on this blog.