Learning, changing and growing

For the past year I have been working outside the classroom, and hopefully I have been making some sort of [positive] difference to the way things have been operating within the faculty.

Of late I have been restless though.

I do miss the classroom, and not just in the fleeting “oh wow, this really sucks I wish I was back there doing that” but more in the “I wish I was doing some of these really cool things myself and not just designing them” but design them I do.

One of the greatest challenges I have had over recent months, has been the frustration of not being able to do it myself.

To know how cool the things are, what the potential of what we are building is, but to not be able to actually get in on the ground and teach is proving to be one of the biggest challenges of my job. I don’t want to lose that particular skill set – and yet, I don’t think that there is the potential for me to do what I want to do in the online space at the moment.

I am having to learn to live vicariously through others. I am having to change my thinking about how I feel about that. I am having to grow a new appreciation for the people who are able to actually do the things I design.

I need to sound less bitter about it all. But perhaps that is a thought for another day.

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Getting ready for SOLO

The real countdown is on now. Back to school for the new year tomorrow, meeting the new principal, some new classes and lots of excitement. I may also be ready to introduce the SOLO Taxonomy to the kids.

I have been loathe to put too much into this until my timetable has been confirmed, there are always late minute changes, but I have made the approach I am going to take with the class/es reasonably generic so that they will “get it” and why we are doing things this way.

My reasoning for introducing the taxonomy is that I would like the students to understand why giving me one single answer for a question doesn’t actually cut it. I have had this frustration with classes (and even my own children) in the past. I know what many of these students are capable of, so I just want to show them “the trick” to understanding how a single response answer can be improved upon, and hopefully make them a little more independent with this as we go.

This is part of my starting point…

Then there will be guided examples moving to students giving me their examples. I am also going to try and engage parents using this. Sometimes when we as parents (and I include myself in this) are asked by the kids to proof read something, we have no idea what we are looking for. Perhaps offering them some structure will help engagement with that as well. Shall see.

Once More into the Breach

One of the most read posts on this blog is Hidden in the blue box, a post published about this time last year. At the time I was pretty hopeful about actually clearing the box, finishing the thesis, publishing it, and adding some more letters to the end of my name. But it was not to be.

Following a series of unfortunate events (which include a retirement, the moving on of teaching staff, and the reorganisation of an entire faculty), I was unable to finish things off at the university I started at in another state. In the middle of 2012 when I was informed that I would be unable to submit my thesis with that institution as there wasn’t anyone left to examine it, I went into what could only be described as a bit of a temper tantrum – I may be almost 40, but trust me there is a 2 year old in there too (but then under some conditions I think we all have one).  One of the things which was suggested to me was that I change universities, to the one which is actually within walking distance of my house. Made sense really. So that is what has happened.

In the meantime, things have changed. My focus at the time was looking at the introduction of digital tools designed to assist students understand their learning styles and how using technology could change that. Unfortunately due to, shall we say challenges… the focus became how the change was managed within the school, and how the communication between the school and the students was done and how effective (or not) it was. Essentially it was change management, and how it was handled. But that was research I did some time ago now, so things have moved on a little from there.

Change is continual in education. Teachers, parents and sometimes students lament that things are not the same as they were. Teaching practices, curriculum, technology and a myriad of other things change – sometimes in cycles, sometimes not. But one of the things which remains constant is that you need to keep up, it isn’t like fashion where eventually they will do things your way again.

As I look through the subject selection listing at the units I have to choose from, I was struck that I am not really looking at things which I would have chosen 5 or even 2 years ago. Recent experiences such as #etmooc are pushing me to look more globally than I have in a while, and the subjects which are interesting me are the ones which are looking more widely.

#etmooc started as my attempt to do something for me and my professional development – to build connections and lift my skill set, but I am now seeing that it is coming right at the time when the perfect storm is forming for me. I just hope that I don’t drown in the process.

Holiday time

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Not quite Queensland where I spent Christmas, but just before the beginning of the longer break I spent a weekend in Newcastle (NSW, Australia). I have pretty much always lived inland, so the beach was something which we had to visit and get to know once a year.

What has this got to do with education?

We have students who live in places which they never leave, not being able to experience things which are outside their everyday. I was lucky that Dad used to take me to the beach at least once a year. Just as I was lucky  that he took me to the city (Melbourne mostly) so that I was expose to things like public transport and different types of people. There was a large learning curve from the dairy farm I lived on everyday.

A few years ago I had the pleasure of taking a group of country girls shopping to the city. We went on trams (a first for the majority of the group), went to shopping centres which were more than one floor and 15 shops, and ate things for lunch which they had never had before (sushi). They spent money on things they didn’t want or need, but they had an absolute ball doing it. There was laughter, photos of girls wearing shoes they would never buy (or be able to walk in), and the look on their faces when we exited the train into a group of about 20 black clad goths was possibly my highlight of the trip. They had been removed from their everyday and learned many valuable things. None of which are in the official curriculum.

Sometimes straying from the curriculum is important. As is taking a break to step outside your everyday.

SOLO – The Path to Here

When you start out on the journey to becoming a teacher, there is so much to learn. You need to master classroom management (or at least get a handle on it), content, getting to know your students, managing relationships between staff and parents and generally getting your head around everything. Along the way you make choices about what it is you take in and what you leave behind. In a post a couple of days ago I wrote about my first exposure to the SOLO Taxonomy at university. At the time I flagged it as something to come back to, given it is going to change a whole lot of what it is that I do as a teacher – or actually more to the point tie a lot of what I have always done together with some of the things I have wanted to try out.

Last year I did some professional development with John Hattie, one of the things which he mentioned (in passing) was the SOLO Taxonomy as something he agreed with, and it was that which triggered the memory of it from uni and wanting to look at it again as something to tackle in the new year. While sunning myself in Noosa coming across my Twitter feed was a book called ‘Using SOLO as a Framework for Teaching by Steve Martin: A case study in maximizing achievement in science’. Now while I don’t actually teach science just now – I have in the past – I thought that for the price it may give me some concept of what I was going to need to go through. It did. Excellent book.

Too often we dismiss ideas and approaches because they don’t come directly from from our KLAs. I can honestly say that in the process of researching and mapping out this change I have read and asked help from many teachers from different KLAs, year levels and teaching experiences, and through the power of the internet – from all over the world. You may have helped me in your sleep 🙂 (thanks will be following)

The SOLO Taxonomy

The Structure of Learning Outcomes (SOLO) Taxonomy came into being through John Biggs and Kevin Collis in their 1982 publication Evaluating the Quality of Learning: The SOLO Taxonomy. SOLO is based on five basic levels:
Prestructural: No clue, avoiding or repeating the question or focussing on some irrelevant point.
Unistructural: Having one piece of information or one idea.
Multistructural: Identifying or listing relevant pieces of information, but has made no connections between them.
Relational: There are connections being made between several relevant facts or ideas.
Extended Abstract: The top level – where learners have several facts or ideas and have connected them to some other concept or theory.
When you start researching SOLO you end up being pointed in a couple of directions repeatedly:

http://taitcoles.wordpress.com/
http://pamhook.com/ – where there are a lot of downloadable resources available

But I also found really useful explanations at:
http://purpleelf.edublogs.org/ – also found some information on the 5 minuite plan which I am going to blog about soonish
http://reflectionsofmyteaching.blogspot.com.au

Lets face it – the internet is a really big place, and there are times you don’t know how you end up some of the places you end up. Through this whole process I am also developing a growing appreciation for Twitter, which I have dabbled with from time to time, but never really taken to – until now.

This year I am going to have – in addition to my ICT classes – two SoSE classes, one Year 9 and one Year 10, which of course may change by the time we start for the new academic year, but none the less it is primarily these two groups that I am going to be introducing SOLO to. These classes will be made up from students I have taught before in other year levels or other subjects, and I know some of the challenges I am going to be facing with them… putting in minimal effort to jump through a hoop is going to be on of the main problems. What I am hoping that this will do, is give us the language to set the higher expectation about what it is that they are going to be achieving, and giving them the skills to be able to show and understand what they need to demonstrate to improve their output for themselves. Essentially giving them the skills to be more self motivated.

I am not expecting miracles from this, but evidence and the opinions of people I trust tell me that it can’t hurt.

What may come – the inevitable 2013 ‘What I hope for this year’ post

The Mayans were wrong, so we get to start a new year, which is quite okay with me I had had enough of 2012 and was ready to move on.

So what does 2013 bring?

  1. More education. For me that is. After having to take a break in 2012, I have enrolled at University of Canberra to complete the MEd I started at La Trobe a couple of years ago. I love learning and the university experience has generally been a positive thing for me, so with a bit of hard work I should have it all done by the end of this year.
  2. New challenges and new subjects. In the next week I will be starting the qualifications I need to be able to deliver Certificate I in Information, Digital Media and Technology. I was fortunate enough to be part of the writing group for the new training package during term 3 last year, it will be great to be able to deliver it to our seniors.
  3. A new focus. I have always loved planning and curriculum, with the leadership roles I have had over the past couple of years I have moved away from them in some respects. Stepping back to classroom teaching and working with a smaller group of people in a more informal way (joint planning, mentoring and the like), I am able to get back to what it was that attracted me to teaching and education in the first place. Working with students. The SOLO thing is a part of that.
  4. A new name. Rather amusingly apparently there was a rumor going around work at the end of last year that I was getting married again. LOL. no.

What about you? What does life have in store for 2013?

Talking Innovation

Earlier in the week I gave a talk about the Innovation Project I was involved in. Speaking in front of people is something which I have always struggled with. I hate it. But it is also a necessary evil of what it is that I do. Generally speaking (pardon the pun) I am okay – as long as I am prepared and there isn’t a microphone. Well this week at least I felt prepared.

The notes I wrote in preparation for the talk are scribbles in the first point, which moved to sentences and then finally notes to accompany the presentation. The process of writing this down, of having to order my thoughts and put together a meaningful message that I wanted to get out about innovation and ICT in education. But this wasn’t the forum for what it was that I wanted to say. Perhaps this is.

What I would like to have told the assorted leaders in the room is that there are times they need to get out of the way and let the innovation happen. Having your boss breathing over your shoulder while you are trying to teach is hard enough, but having your boss leaning over your shoulder while asking you where your innovation is, is it working, how can it be measured and are the students engaged, while you are trying something new makes the process even harder.

We need to let innovation fail. There are times when on pure enthusiasm alone teachers will try something, and it may not work out quite the way that is should. Assuming that there was no real harm, there will be things which can be taken from what the outcome was going to be that (perhaps) will lead to greater things. In the classroom we encourage students to try… surely it isn’t too much to ask that the teachers be afforded the same encouragement.

The final concept I actually said.

We need to move teachers to the post-Microsoft Office age

For too long integrating technology has been the act of typing up assessment or having students present a PowerPoint of their learning. We need to move beyond this, and quickly.