As a child of the 70’s, I grew up watching crime dramas and some of the most memorable ones revolved one main character, Columbo, McCloud, Barnaby Jones, Mannix, Ironside and my personal favourite, Police Woman.
These characters seemed to magically solve the crime, without the assistance of anyone of importance. Clues fell into their lap and evidence magically appeared. If you look at shows that are popular now, you will find the likes of C.S.I where a team of experts is needed to solve the crime. They rely on each other and spend a great deal of time communicating their thinking throughout the mystery.
Likewise, gone are the days of teachers working in isolation trying to meet the diverse needs of their students. The best teaching and learning occurs when we call upon the strengths of a team approach. This past week, our primary teachers took part in a collaborative inquiry learning model whereby they collaboratively planned a numeracy lesson, taught it with a partner and then took the time to debrief about their observations and next steps. The excitement was evident as they shared their “co-learning” with their students. Teachers need to talk about our teaching, just as we need to ensure that we are providing our students with time to talk about their learning.
A few weeks ago, we held a technology conference for teachers and administrators within Thames Valley. For the first time in the conference’s history, we decided to dedicate an entire morning to providing administrators with workshops on a variety of technologies from which they could choose. We offered sessions on Twitter, Facebook, School Websites, Video-Streaming and Notebook Software to name just a few. It was so encouraging to see such a number of principals and vice-principals spend a Saturday morning networking and learning together. The dialogue was rich, the laughs were many and the learning curve for many of us was an entertaining journey. I walked away from those sessions determined that we need more of them. As with any group of learners, time to spend with a new technology, tool, resource is important but just as important is the opportunity to dialogue with others about what we were learning; to share our commonalities and to learn from others about different applications of technologies.
Shouldn’t we be providing our students with the same opportunity? Do we truly value student voice and conversations in our learning environments? Gone are the days when classrooms should be silent with students, independently completing worksheet after worksheet to demonstrate their learning. If we want our students to be engaged in what they are learning, they need to be able to talk about it, demonstrate their learning in a variety of ways and have choice in their activities. One of the things that I do as I visit classrooms is that I take notice of who is doing the talking. Yes, there are still times for direct instruction by the teacher, but the teacher’s voice should not dominate the majority of the airtime. Have our students been taught how to challenge each other’s thinking? Try and prove a point to a friend; nothing shows your strong understanding of a topic or an opinion, than having to defend it to someone else.
Have our students been provided with opportunities to choose activities which they are curious about learning? Choice doesn’t mean answering every other question. Choice means allowing students to dig deeper into topics that are of an interest to them, reading material that interest them.
Providing choice and creating the conditions for conversation are challenging. But, our students deserve educators who embrace those challenges!
How do you provide choice for the learners in your classroom?
My final and most profound workshop during my time at ECOO12 was a presentation from Rob Policicchio and John Maschak.Thank goodness for the link to their information, as my fingers couldn’t keep up with all of resources that they were sharing and the context in which they were examining the role of technology in today’s educational settings. The most memorable phrase was, ” The role of the educator is to create conditions for invention rather than provide ready-made knowledge”. We all know that our youngest students are now arriving at our school’s front doors with the basics of how to use technology. Have you watched a two year old with an iPhone lately?
They know instinctively how to pinch, touch and swipe, just as my own children, 15 years ago walked into their JKSK classroom knowing how to turn on a computer, load their favourite disc and play “Reader Rabbit”. So, we don’t have to waste precious time teaching them skills that will be extinct within a number of years. Have you ever asked a hockey-loving student, the stats of his favourite team? He instinctively knows how to use a variety of technologies ( iPhone, Blackberry, iPad, computer, laptop, netbook etc) to search for that answer. So, we don’t need to spend precious time teaching facts that students already know how to access and we don’t need to feel that we have all of the answers.
If we go back to the original statement and focus on our role as the “creator” of invention conditions, what does that look like? What do we currently have to let go of in order for our classrooms to be places where students are producing things verses being taught? And from the perspective of an administrator, how do I support my staff in creating those conditions? What learning tools need to be in all classrooms? How do we assess “inventions”? What feedback do we provide our students, if we want them to improve?”
Within their presentation, they referenced the work of Dr. Bill Rankin, wherein he shared the results of one of his studies where students’ brain waves were actually flat-lining, thus resembling their brain waves while sleeping, while they were in class. Now there is some disturbing news!
So, as educators, if we want to avoid “sleep brain waves”, what are we going to do?
The challenge after attending a two day conference is deciding which of the amazing, wonderful, innovative ideas that you are actually going to implement when you return to the reality of your life at school. Last week I had the opportunity to attend and to present at ECOO12, a provincial technology conference. I spent the first hour trying to get my head around the fact that I was surrounded by 700 participants who not only share my passion for technology but whom, for the most part, are far more adept at using new technologies than I am. I was proud of the fact that I was simultaneously using my Evernote app on my iPad to capture the nuggets that the presenters were sharing and using my iPhone to text message colleagues and maintain some connection with what was happening at school.
The keynote on the first day was John Seely Brown, the co-author of “A New Culture of Learning”. I found myself enthralled with his presentation, as he was sharing in a cohesive manner what I’ve started to understand as we, as a school staff, delve deeper into our use and understanding of how to incorporate technology into our teaching. For most of my administrative career, I’ve believed strongly that students need access to technology and that with access to technology students will improve. But how do I turn my belief into tangible results.
Brown effectively used his knowledge about emerging technologies and wove that into a discussion about how we need to allow our students to “tinker”, to build a sense of the world through play and that learning occurs through conversation. What resonated with me was more about how technologies can assist students in making learning a constant adventure, how technologies can play a major role in which social networking becomes the trajectory for making connections and how we need to appreciate that students need an equal dose of academics, peer relations and interests.
The implications of Brown’s keynote address and the components of his book are shaping how I think about what should be happening in classrooms. If learning NEEDS to be social, what should I hear as I go from classroom to classroom? If “tinkering” is acceptable, what should I see as I go from classroom to classroom? And if I believe those components to be important, how do I model that when working with a staff of educators?