Connected Learning

Jarrod Lamshed

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Global Connections Are More Important Than Ever

“When we seek for connection, we restore the world to wholeness. Our seemingly separate lives become meaningful as we discover how truly necessary we are to each other” Margaret Wheatley

We live in unusual times. The loudest voices we hear are advocating for the segregation and isolation of our worlds most needy citizens. Our children are bombarded with words that encourage us to pull away from those that are different from us and paint a picture of a world that should be feared. On top of this, those that oppose these ideas of segregation are rightfully vocal in their opposition to those in power. All of this has to be creating some pretty mixed and messy messages for our kids.

As parents and as teachers, we need to be actively and purposefully planning opportunities for positive, respectful and joyful global connections. Seeing ourselves as global citizens is more important than ever. With technology on our side, this is not a difficult thing to do.

Through our class blog, in the first few weeks of school, we have been able to connect with classrooms in New Zealand, France and Canada. These have all been extremely positive and each connection has been easily set up with a single blog comment by a student. This week we had students in Canada join us in a literacy task and in return, our students made individual comments on each Canadian student’s blog. We’ve since had emails and more comments back and forth creating a new and positive global experience. This has been a great kick start for conversations around writing for different audiences, purpose for writing, text types and giving critical, respectful and useful feedback. Not bad from one student blog comment.

Next week, we are stepping up our connection with France as their students return from their holidays. For this connection to happen, our students used digital tools (Google Translate) to help overcome a language barrier when they stumbled on this blog written in French. Again, with technology on our side, we can teach our children that these barriers are easy to overcome. We compared French words to English words and discussed the origins of our English Language. From a student comment translated into French a connection between teachers has been made and plans for ongoing learning are underway.

The empowerment felt by students making these connections is contagious. Our students are asking about starting their own individual blogs to share their own writing and thoughts about their learning and are asking to write to our new collaborators whenever they have some time. We eagerly mark countries on the world map in our class and learn about the geography and culture of those countries. Learning with purpose.

A great way to start making connections with your class blog is by jumping on board with David Mitchell‘s ‘Quad Blogging’ program. This fantastic program helps to link you up with three other schools from different parts of the world that you can begin your global learning experiences with.

Working with students to build a sense of global identity has always been important and, I would argue, this is even more so now. Planning and fostering positive connections with our global neighbours is a something that we can all do to work toward turning the volume down on these messages of fear for our children.

 

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Connected Classroom – Twitter

One of my ‘back to basics’ this year is harnessing the power of Twitter in both my and my students learning. This is something that has taken a back seat to the ‘busy list’ over the last year or so. Re-establishing this as a part of my routine has added immediate value to both my professional learning and learning in my classroom.

When we talk about ‘new basics’ in education, facilitating a connected classroom has to be one of these. Keeping a class Twitter account open in a browser tab on the screen in our class adds a layer of depth to the learning opportunities we create. A simple thing like our shared class novel becomes a whole different experience when we can have access to the author to interact with as we read. This term we are reading ‘Refugee’ from the ‘My Australian Story’ series, written by Alan Sunderland. One tweet from our class account connected us with Mr Sunderland who has offered to answer questions from students as we make our way through the novel.

Another common experience in Australian classrooms is ‘Behind the News‘. With a class Twitter account, this moves from a ‘viewing’ experience to an interactive learning experience where our students develop questions to ask of expert reporters on a weekly basis. This transforms the learning and allows students to see connections to their world.

For me professionally, being back in the Twittersphere keeps me on my toes. Feeling accountable to someone keeps me blogging regularly which I know helps to solidify my thinking. It keeps me in regular touch with creative thinking about education and it gives me a much broader learning network to bounce ideas around with.

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Back to Basics

This year it’s back to basics for me. Now a few years into my first leadership position, I still manage to get caught up in the juggle between the ‘business’ of a leadership role and the demands of the classroom. In amongst this, I’ve slowly and unintentionally ‘let go’ of a lot of things that were successful in my classroom. With that now clearly in mind, it’s time to rectify the problem.

I don’t think that it’s bad to ‘let go’ of things. We all should be doing this. Paul Clapton-Caputo talks about educators aiming to to have 20% of their practice in a school year be things that you haven’t done before. What I’m talking about is keeping an established base of NEW or CURRENT basics.

A few years ago, Edmodo was the platform for my students to organise themselves and collaborate online, now we use Google Classroom. Even though Edmodo is no longer the right tool for us, the underlying idea of a collaborative and creative, safe, online space for students to work in should be one of these new basics. Connecting globally is another. Instagram, Twitter, Blogs… there a MANY tools that let us do this. The ‘basic’ is that our students develop an understanding of global thinking and collaboration. Having developed a community of educators online over many years, this isn’t a difficult thing to do. It just needs to be brought back into focus.

We all should be having discussions in our schools about what ‘the basics’ are. What are the base line skills and resources to we need to be offering to our students?

Getting ‘back to basics’ doesn’t end in the classroom. What are the basics for me as a professional learner? My goal for this year is to re-engage with my online learning network. These are a group of people that push and challenge my thinking yet, when I get busy, I disengage. Writing on my own blog is another thing that I KNOW helps to clarify my thinking. Again, I struggle to maintain momentum when things get hectic. George Couros talks about not feeling guilty about isolating some work time to do this. I will give this a try.

Having a default mode is normal. It’s what we do. The challenge is to keep moving this ‘default’ forward so we keep improving.

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An Ongoing Battle

Last night, my son was sitting at the dining room table doing his homework when I noticed that he was using a calculator that I didn’t recognise. When I asked him where it came from, he said that he had borrowed it from school.

I had that instant feeling of embarrassment that you get as a parent when you feel like you aren’t providing for your child. At our usual beginning of year school supplies shopping extravaganza we had decided that we wouldn’t buy him the $200 calculator that had been listed, but instead buy a $3 scientific calculator app for his iPad that, by all accounts, performed all of the same functions. If we were wrong, and the app was not adequate, we would buy the calculator.

Unfortunately, he didn’t get the chance to find out. He tells me that his school has a blanket ‘no phones or mobile devices after year 10’ rule. The school sees them as a distraction in their important final years of high school. I almost couldn’t grasp that we are still dealing with this type of thinking in 2017. This is nearly a deal breaker for me! How is this policy relevant to the real word? When will he need to calculate compound interest in an environment where someone says… ‘oh no, you can’t use that calculator app, we insist you use this one model of ‘real’ calculator’? I doesn’t make sense.

We really need to be challenging this type of thinking in our schools. Tying the hands of our students with antiquated rules and ‘we’ve always done it this way’ is not ok.

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‘Back to School’ news story

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Noticing the ‘good stuff’

It’s easy to notice the things that people do that bother us. We don’t even have to try. When someone behaves in a way you don’t like, it draws your attention and drives you crazy. It’s easy to let this stuff take over your day and quickly become a bit of a grump! On top of this, we are bombarded with bad news stories on TV and radio and every time we go online we are greeted with something horrific that someone has done somewhere in the world. It’s different than when I grew up. The only news bulletin I ever saw was at 6pm each day and I’m sure that my parents were able to shield me from the really bad stuff by turning off the one screen we had. With the amazing benefit of the instant information we have today comes the downside of not being able to restrict the flow of ‘bad news’ to our children as well as we could before. This isn’t the end of the world… but it’s something to think about.

With this in mind, it’s really important to teach our kids to notice the ‘good stuff’. We try and make this a part of everyday in our classroom. Making the time to pause and notice someone doing something good takes a conscious effort! Like everyone else, I more naturally notice the student repeatedly tapping their pen on the table before I notice the student quietly getting on with their work. By making the effort to stop and publicly notice the positive it slowly becomes part of the culture in our classroom. Doing this at home is even more tricky! In our house it feels like we are ALWAYS rushing off to something and always running late. At these times I still fall into the role of cranky dad… but I’m trying!

This is particularly important for our boys. When you look at statistics around our boys and young men, it’s not great news. Suicide rates are incredibly high for boys and men aged 14 – 35 compared to women and we have all seen data around domestic violence that says that our young men are becoming perpetrators. As a parent of a son AND a daughter I find this slightly terrifying! There’s not a simple answer to these problems but it’s a conversation that we need to keep having.

In our class we attempt to promote a positive outlook in lots of different ways. We try to promote our failures and mistakes as something we do publicly and without shame. This helps to break down the stigma around ‘messing things up’ and creates a willingness for our boys to ask for help and support when they feel like they need it. Another way we do this is by making regular times to formally and genuinely acknowledge people for the good things they do. This doesn’t mean only things like ‘getting a good mark in a test’ but also for trying to improve at something or showing courage and persistence in a tricky situation. As a teacher, this is a pleasure to see!

Our boys have agreed to show you a snapshot of these acknowledgements in the video below.


 

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Changing Perceptions

before and after

Throughout this year I’ve been working with a group of boys at our school on challenging stereotypes. I’ve written (a lot!) about my thoughts on this topic and about the work we’ve been doing around this in the classroom.

While doing some reflection work, one of our students made the comment that he felt like the group now looked at their future in a positive way and that before our work they weren’t doing this. Even though they hadn’t realised it, their self image for the future was based around the images in the ‘before’ graphic.

We had certainly hoped that opening up the discussion would help our boys to understand that what they see in the movies and in other media weren’t realistic portrayals of what their future’s should be like. We didn’t necessarily think we’d see such a significant change in such a short time.

Our next step is working towards our boys becoming the positive male role models in our school community.

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Today Tonight – TV Report

Over the last few weeks, the gender based learning that’s been happening at our school has been under the spotlight with an article in our local paper and now the TV news story above from the ‘Today Tonight’ program. This isn’t something that I’m particularly comfortable doing! But, I believe in the work we are doing in this area and am glad that we can be a part of the discussion.

My co-teacher in this program, Aimee Aparicio, and I both worked in a single gender program in my last school, Hackham East Primary. After attending a workshop with Ian Lillico, an Australian expert in boys education, another colleague, Rebecca Hepworth and I started trialling some of our new learning. Drawing heavily on Lillico’s work and that of Michael Gurian, we were supported by our school leadership to build a strong single gender program that still exists there today. At our peak, we had single gender and mixed class options from year 2 to year 7.

In our new roles at Woodend Primary school, Aimee and I can see that the needs of boys and girls at Hackham East aren’t unique. in fact, world wide data suggests that programs like these would have value in any school anywhere.

The program that we are running now is a great start. We have been able to tackle some topics around gender stereotypes and masculinity. An important part of this for us is that we are seeing the students becoming the drivers of this learning. They want to spread the message within the school community. This post from a student last night is a great example of that.

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This is great to see. Students empowered to make a difference in their communities. What we are doing isn’t difficult. It just takes a willingness to try something different. The conversation around the individual needs of boys and girls in schools is happening and we look forward to seeing where it goes.

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Feedback is the Breakfast of Champions

quote-Ken-Blanchard-feedback-is-the-breakfast-of-champions-66830“Feedback is the breakfast of champions”. This is an interesting quote. Breakfast of champions conjures up images of Rocky downing a raw egg… not something that is necessarily enjoyable, but it has an important purpose in his plan for self improvement. I think, for many people, feedback is a bit the same.

Feedback is an interesting thing. It’s something that we know is vital for improving students learning. Giving students regular, targeted feedback helps them to improve. No arguments… we accept this as fact. This isn’t something that is specific to schools either. As parents we regularly give ‘feedback’ (sometimes in the form of light ranting) to our kids and sometimes they take this on board and learn from it. When we have problems we don’t know how to deal with, we talk to our trusted people and take on what they say to help us make the right decision. Feedback is everywhere… a natural part of our lives.

So, why is it that the idea of professional feedback makes many of us uncomfortable? If regular targeted feedback helps students improve, surely it’s not a stretch that it will do the same for us.

We are lucky there in South Australia that we have a Department supported tool to help us manage feedback easily. The TfEL (Teaching for Effective Learning) Compass allows us to seek feedback from students, parents and colleagues. It’s a powerful tool that is easy to use. If your are in SA and haven’t tried it, it’s certainly worth exploring.

The idea of hearing what our students really think can be a scary thing! Nobody wants to hear that the lesson we spent hours planning and preparing was a flop. But, it’s important that we do hear it. We need to know WHY it was a flop. What hit the mark and what went terribly wrong? What can we learn from this experience that will help us do a better job next time? Even when something goes well, there will always be feedback that can help it be even better. This is the nature of our job. Nothing is ever finished.

In Australia we have a set of Standards for teachers (AITSL) that are now tied directly to our teacher registration requirements. I believe that this is a good thing. In the past we’ve often had the problem of not knowing what is expected of us. We have often felt like the benchmark keeps shifting. Now, the expectations are right there in black and white. We can’t meet these expectations without the help of feedback. Standard 3.6 says…

Conduct regular reviews of teaching and learning programs using multiple sources of evidence including: student assessment data, curriculum documents, teaching practices and feedback from parents/ carers, students and colleagues.

This is something we HAVE TO do. It’s not an option.

I think that 99% of us want to do our jobs the best that we can. More than that, we want the best for our students. Moving past the discomfort we feel and seeking honest, regular, targeted feedback is the best way to achieve this.

So, how do we make this happen? Even with a firm willingness to push forward we still have the struggles of ‘not enough time’ and finding regular, quick ways to get the feedback we need. How does this happen in your classroom? What tools and strategies to you use?

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Bridging Gender Gap in a Brave New World

In last weeks Messenger Newspaper, Amy Moran wrote an article discussing the idea that gender education is the key to reducing domestic and sexual abuse statistics. After a discussion about the article on Twitter, Amy asked if, colleague, Aimee Aparicio and I would be a part of a follow up story looking at the gender learning program we have started with our classes. It’s always an interesting experience to be involved in something like this but the article is a positive one, and we are glad to be a part of the discussion.

 

Messenger Community News

 

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