Connected Learning

Jarrod Lamshed

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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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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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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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Activating the Hidden Talent

The-greatest-leader-is-not-necessarily-the-one-who-does-the-greatest-things.-He-is-the-one-that-gets-the-people-to-do-the-greatest-thingsI’ve presented a lot of workshops over the years I’ve been teaching. It’s a great experience that forces¬†me to critically reflect on my practice. When you stand in front of an audience you need be ready to back up what your saying and answer the curly questions that are thrown at you.¬†You need to know your stuff.

This doesn’t mean that we need to be the all knowing expert on everything, but we need to have looked at our own practice through a critical lens and have a good understanding of why we do things the way we do.

Something that I need to better as a leader is to activate opportunities for other staff at my school to be able to do the same. There are many times that we run small professional development sessions within our school that other staff could be a part of. With a consistently long list of ‘things’ to do, it’s easy to use this excuse to just run these sessions myself. I guess this is the leadership version of the ‘default mode’ that we all fall back to when we get stressed or busy. Instead of taking this easy way out, I need to be making more time to activate those around me.

Our schools are full of hidden talent. I say hidden because a lot of the magic happens behind closed doors, and many teachers don’t automatically feel comfortable sharing the great practice that is happening in their classrooms. As a leader in the school, I need to be having conversations with these teachers and support them to share with others as often as I can. When I began teaching¬†I had leaders that helped me find opportunities to share and develop this side of my learning. Without that, I wouldn’t have had the opportunities that have been so important in developing my teaching. This is something that I need to a¬†better job at from now on.

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Social Media in Schools

Periscope-logoSocial media is well and truly a part of our lives. We tweet our way through TV shows, Instagram photos of our dinner, pin that craft idea and update our Facebook status to let everyone know what we’re up to or share endless photos of our kids (sorry). For our kids, the world of social media is even more crowded adding Snapchat, Kik, Omegle and Vine… the list goes on. It’s almost impossible to keep up with, with new services popping up regularly.

Given the huge number¬†of services to wade through paired with the hype around children’s safety in these spaces, you can almost be forgiven for wanting to steer clear of social media in the classroom altogether… almost.

There is a lot already written supporting the use of social media in schools. From taking control of your school’s digital footprint, to drip feeding information to your school communities, the applications are wide and varied. For me though, the exciting stuff happens in the classroom.

In many of our classrooms at Woodend Primary School, our teachers are using Facebook to improve their communication with parents. Replacing regular class newsletters, Facebook groups have become an interactive way to bring parents into the classroom. We decided that rather than continue trying to get parents to go to a new space, we would go to them. Most of us are on Facebook and know that ignoring that red notification dot is not really an option! These groups have been well received and are now a natural extension of our school community.

Even better, several classes are regularly using social media to connect their learning with others classes around the world. Twitter being used alongside student blogs has let students start building authentic audiences for their learning.

Twitter has also helped our class along with Jess Ottewell’s class make connections with the Behind the News television series. Behind the News is a current affairs show aimed at a student audience. Each week our classes have been using twitter to ask questions about the week’s stories and to share our ideas and learning. Last week, we were contacted by the show to be a part of a new ‘Ask the Reporter’ session using the new app ‘Periscope’. We were one of only a handful of classrooms to be invited to participate in this trial event where we were able to send questions via Twitter and have them answered live by a reported from the show.

Apart from the obvious added value to the learning in our classrooms, this is a great example of how a new social media app has been harnessed for a learning purpose. A lot of reports surrounding ‘Periscope’ have been negative, highlighting the possible negative uses of the app. As educators, it’s important that we see past the knee jerk reaction surrounding social media and look deeper at how it can add to learning in our classrooms.

The video of this event is posted below.

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A Stroke of Genius

jobs-300x225There’s a lot of googleable information about the origins of ‘Genius Hour. From the perspective of being based on Google’s 20% time¬†¬†or inspired by the ‘Caine’s Arcade‘ video… you can take your pick. In our classroom, the idea for our ‘genius’ time comes from a desire to be absolutely engaged in learning.

Any of us that pride ourselves on being life long learners know how this works. We get hold of an idea that goes around and around in our minds until we have an opportunity to spend some time digging into it. The REALLY good ideas can’t wait and the digging often happens when we should be sound asleep!

The premise for genius projects in our classroom is based around that same idea. We are always looking for ways to better engage kids in learning. We want them to be enthusiastic learners during classes, so… why not give them an opportunity to learn about something that they are already enthusiastic about?

Over the years I’ve done this with my students, I’ve heard the arguments against it. Where’s the structure? How is this covering the curriculum (hmmm)? There’s no control over what’s happening? How can you be in charge of so many different projects at once? For many teachers, this can be a difficult concept to grasp. The idea of students co-constructing the learning… students setting the structure around the project… students investigating the curriculum… is something new for many. I am NOT in charge of these projects, students are. Isn’t that the end game? We want to develop students that become independent learners? Surely they aren’t going to achieve this without practicing it.

I think, sometimes, we create too much of a gap between what WE expect as learners and what we see as acceptable learning for kids. We have all been to professional development that we see as sub standard. It’s either too much talk… it isn’t pitched right.. or we just aren’t interested. Why do we expect that our classrooms are any different? When we have an opportunity to design our own learning and make it completely relevant to us we are more engaged. We not only commit our working time to it but will dig deeper into it at home. This is what genius projects do for students.

Seeing the value in loving learning is essential. If kids are cheering when you say it’s time to work on these projects, that’s got to be a good thing. Not only are they engaged, but they are learning. Currently I have a student creating scale models of famous political buildings (yes this is his passion) using minecraft. This is a student that doesn’t engage in maths lessons, but here, he is calculating scale reductions of measurement.. area, perimeter, volume. He’s writing willingly about types of government.. it amazes me every time. We have another student who is challenging our school’s fundraising policy to get her idea off the ground and raise money for motor neuron disease. She is writing persuasive texts, preparing presentations for the principal, designing a business plan and budget to support her idea. It’s a wonderful thing.

Another criticism of ‘Genius Hour’ is that this type of learning should be happening all the time… and they are right. That is part of the reason that we’ve opted for the ‘Genius Projects’ title and dropped the ‘hour’. In reality, whatever amount of time we allow kids to work on these ideas at school, they spend more of their own time own it at home.

We are certainly a long way from all learning being as engaging as this, but we are working on it.

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Sparking Change

Change is a funny thing. Some people like it, but for many it brings about feelings of discomfort and anxiety. Being a member of the first group, I find the challenge that change brings exciting. The opportunity to participate in new learning is something that is fairly unique to our profession. In many jobs new information is distributed, but teachers get to participate in the learning. We get to take new ideas and try them out. We have the luxury (for the most part) to decide if something new improves the learning in our classrooms or not and then decide what to add to our practice and what to leave out.

The process we go through in doing this is extremely valuable. It challenges the ideas we have about how students learn and, just as importantly, it challenges our own learning. I firmly believe that a growth mindset is necessary for us to do our jobs properly. Being unwilling to consider new ideas is detrimental to our student’s learning. One of the most powerful things we can do is model learning to our kids. It shows them that we are the ‘life long learners’ that we want them to be.

Having said this, the realities of our day to day work are often harsh. The overwhelming feeling of having ‘too many balls in the air’¬†can plunge us into our default modes very quickly. It’s not ideal, but it’s a real thing. When we are stressed and busy we fall back to what we know works and it can feel like there isn’t time to try new things.

So how do we break through this feeling? I don’t know that there’s an easy answer. For me, it was being exposed to some high level professional development at an EdTechSA (formerly CEGSA) conference. I was already engaging with new learning regularly, but for whatever reason, the connections I made both to what was being said¬†by the keynotes and in my discussions with other attendees left me with a need to commit myself deeper to new learning. George Couros, Summer Howarth and Louka Parry were some of these people.

I have been lucky enough to follow this up with regular, inspiring, professional development opportunities both locally and at two EduTech conferences in Brisbane. My connections (mostly through Twitter) with generous educators like Alec Couros and Stephen Heppell alongside a huge number of connected local and global school based teachers has helped me to continue my new learning every day.

In a few weeks, I look forward to taking 25 staff from my school to this year’s EduTech conference. This is a huge investment for our school but one that is well worth the cost. Over the last year I have asked our teachers to consider a lot of change and they have all shown a willingness to invest their time and effort in what I have had to say. To me, this says that our students are in good hands. I work with a group of teachers that have stepped a long way out of their comfort zone.¬†For me, being able to take them to EduTech, I hope will provide an opportunity for our staff to make some new connections of their own.

 

 

 

 

 

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The ‘Do Over’

The Do OVerIn my time as a teacher I have been lucky. I’ve spent all of my time in a school where teacher professional development is highly valued. Because of this, I’ve had many opportunities to implement new programs and improve my teaching practice. As with most things we do, we have conversations to reflect. A lot of these conversations begin with “If I was to do that again I would…”.

This year, I’m in the position to be able to do just that. I am starting a new job at a new school where many of the programs I value are not currently running. Most of these programs will continue to be a part of my teaching and learning program and I will have the opportunity to start again with a clean slate. This is a real opportunity. It’s an opportunity because this time I’ll be starting with a much greater knowledge base. In order to not stuff it up it’s important to set some goals. So here we go for term 1.

Student Blogs: Starting again with kids blogging for the first time there are a lot of things I’d do differently. Less ‘cookie cutter / all do the same’ blogging and more of an emphasis on kids blogging from their interest base. I will work harder to help connect kids to ‘their’ authentic audience rather than purely tapping them in to mine. I will work harder to encourage regular commenting from families and attempt to buddy kids up with a blogger from another school. I also want to explore the idea of ‘quadblogging’. It sounds like a lot when you write it down!

Connected Learning: From a class perspective I plan to start the wheels rolling on at least one authentic learning experience that involves an expert from elsewhere teaching us something. I think this is a great way to show kids that learning shouldn’t be limited by the walls of the classroom. The bigger picture part of my job is to support teachers on their journey into connected learning. This will involve modelling and professional development based on the individuals needs of teachers. I want to explore Google Apps for students.

Single Sex Education: This is something that I feel passionate about. I have spent the last seven years teaching in a single sex program. This year my challenge is to implement these important practices in a mixed class environment.

As with every year, the first term involves lots of relationship building and I look forward to this part of the ‘job’. I’m excited about the year ahead and look forward to reflecting on these term one goals in ten week’s time.

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Moving on…

Today was a strange day.

Among the usual ups and downs of a school day I told my class that this would be my last year at Hackham East Primary School.¬†Yesterday I got the official call that I have won a position as a Senior Leader at Woodend Primary School. This is an exciting opportunity to take on a new challenge in an area that I am passionate about. Part of my new role is to help establish a connected learning environment. My job will be to help ¬†build a culture of connected learning among staff and to introduce new ¬†learning technologies and pedagogies to around 700 students across the school. It is a challenge that I’m looking forward to and one that I feel is the right ‘next step’ for me.

Telling my students that I would be leaving at the end of the year was a hard thing to do. My year 6 students had assumed that they would continue in my class for year 7 and I know that they felt at least some sense of being ‘left behind’. It’s not a feeling that I liked, but I know that there is never an ‘ideal’ time to make this type of move. After some questions and discussion, by the end of the day we were back to business as usual and I am looking forward to the rest of our busy year ahead with a great bunch of boys.

My time at Hackham East has been fantastic. It has been the place that I have learned everything I know about being a teacher. I have been lucky enough to work with a great team of staff and students that have allowed my to take risks in my teaching and to introduce programs that I felt were important.

One of these programs is our school’s single sex program. I flagged the idea for this program along with Rebecca Hepworth, another teacher at our school and it has been by far the highlight of my teaching life. This program has given me the opportunity to work with some fantastic young men and build relationships with them and their families that I wouldn’t have done in a ‘normal’ classroom. I have had the chance to teach boys in ways that suit their learning and a chance to challenge stereotypes and gender roles. I feel lucky to have had this opportunity and I will miss it very much.

I am looking forward to the rest of my year and am grateful for the opportunities that I have been given.

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