Reflecting on EDFD459…an online learning revolution.

The following post may contain the following: gushing, warm fuzzies, and positive vibes..

I have sincerely enjoyed the interactions and unit content I have been engaged with in EDFD459 this semester. I never really thought I’d be so eager to check LEO (Learning Environment Online) every day. I really enjoyed checking in to see what people had written in response to the e-tivities every week.

In terms of unit content, I feel as though some of the things I have learnt over the past 12 weeks will be some of the most practical when I (eventually) have my own classroom! I’m particularly excited that I’ll be able to bring a wealth of knowledge about PLNs and the electronic learning space to a school one day. I also can’t believe how useful Twitter is as a professional development tool! I never thought I’d be using it to look at lesson plans, check up for links to interesting educational articles, or just keep up to date with the happenings of the educational world!

However, I think the most valuable part of this unit has been the transformative learning experience that we have all experienced. At the beginning of the semester we were all ridiculously concerned with meeting expectations, ticking things off lists, and ensuring we had done things ‘properly’. However, as the semester progressed, under the trusty guidance of Adam, we have all learnt that sometimes it’s not about getting it right, it is about progressing through content and using it to enhance your understanding and responding to it to show your understanding. I found myself changing from writing descriptive forum responses to more critical and thoughtful ones as the semester went on. I am so grateful that my thinking has been challenged, and that there’s been so many helpful and lovely students around to give feedback on my musings.

EDFD459 is the unit of work that prompted me to start up this blog (not exactly of my own free will, it’s part of an assignment haha), but I have thoroughly enjoyed trying to post at least once a week. I intend to keep posting to this little page as I continue my university degree and beyond!!

Narmbool Escapades

Today I had my last day of university classes for 2013, so early in the year and we’re already finished! Seems a bit silly really, not to worry. Thursday has been science day for me this semester; it has encompassed lots of learning about sustainability and technology, and today we topped it all off by driving out to Narmbool. Narmbool is an excellent educational centre about 20 minutes drive from Ballarat. It was given as a bequest to Sovereign Hill a few years ago, and consists of a whopping 2000 hectares of land. Narmbool run stacks of different camps for school kids, with lots of different focuses. It is an incredible centre, that is built using sustainable materials and harnesses renewable energy.
Today we gained a bit of insight to some of the activities the lucky kids get to do while staying at Narmbool.

We got to try our hands at water sampling. Looking for bugs and working out whether the water quality was good or bad. This would be a really easy task to replicate in the classroom, all you would need is trays, icecube trays, spoons and a nearby water source. There are endless educational opportunities involved with this sort of activity; science, literacy, maths etc.

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After this we were whisked off to the art centre where our job was to create a plant, insect or animal. We had to consider habitat, eating habits, appearance, defence mechanisms, sounds, predators, and its place in the food chain. My group came up with the “Snoggy”…a cross between a snail and a frog. This creature could not only curl up in its shell when attacked, but could also run away from predators if need be!

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It was another great activity, incorporating many different curriculum areas!  And finally, I shall leave you with the breathtaking view of just a tiny part of the land, gorgeous!

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Indigenous Ways of Knowing…another perspective.

Avid readers of this little blog may remember a few weeks ago I posted about Indigenous ways of knowing after completing a lecture on the topic.
Last week I was introduced to another perspective on Indigenous Ways of knowing, and that is the 8ways program.

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The original owners of Australia are incredibly intelligent people. They’re connected to the land, their culture, their spirituality and their families. Knowledge is passed down through generations through means telling stories, modelling behaviour, partaking in ritual and of course, being at one with the land. Children learn from their parents, extended family and other community members. Childhood is seen as an early stage of adulthood, rather than a completely different stage. Children are expected to listen and learn from those who are older than them, that’s just how things have always been. And as educators we must respect that.

At the heart of Indigenous Australian culture is oral storytelling, and this comes through in the 8ways model. The model is driven by this narrative based approach. Stories are shared and spoken word is valued. Learning is assisted by working with your hands, approaching something in different ways until it makes sense, taking it outside and making connections with the land, pulling things apart and re-working them so they are improved, incorporating visual images, learning by watching others and of course, sharing your knowledge with others.

Upon reflection, I think that there’s definitely a place for an 8ways pedagogy in our schools. 8ways has such a strong focus on respecting cultures and responding accordingly. By allowing all children to learn in this way, I think we present them with an amazing opportunity to learn in a way that Indigenous Australians have been successfully learning for centuries.

How fantastic to encourage visual elements to the classroom for those students who respond well to imagery, or to place a focus on speaking for those students who might struggle with writing. The mindset of approaching things in different ways until you understand them, and sharing your struggles with your peers to get their input is a key factor of the collaborative learning approach currently favoured in so many classrooms.

References

Learning Spaces of the Future

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Time to do a bit of crystal ball gazing and think about what our classrooms might be like in the future. Obviously we’re still quite a way off having our schools up on sticks, floating in mid air like on The Jetsons, but compared to the learning spaces of 50 years ago our classrooms are positively futuristic. Interactive whiteboards have replaced blackboards and whiteboards and students often do their research on the internet instead of books. We can carry around wealths of information in our pockets, constantly connected to the world around us through the technology we use. We can see people when we talk to them on the phone by using things like Facetime or Skype and we share our knowledge and opinions through Web 2.0 like never before.

However, we need to think about the long term implications of our current reliance on technology…will it backfire on us sooner rather than later?

This TEDtalk talks about our reliance on the materials that satisfy our needs and wants as a society. It focuses on many, many commodities that serve us in our every day life, and how we need to consider the rate in which we consume them. So, what will happen to our classrooms if we can no longer use our precious iPads? However will we cope if we cannot bring up a document on our SMARTboards to show our students? Will we have to go back to writing on whiteboards and blackboards!?

This may not have such an affect in some countries though…Across the world, in less developed countries, many students are still taught in large classes, desks facing the front, teacher up the front writing on a blackboard. These countries are less developed than ours, but are they worse off? The students in these classrooms value education like no other; they beam and react with upmost enthusiasm as their lessons progress. These students are in the most basic of classrooms, yet they wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. To these students, education is still seen as an absolute privilege, a way to hopefully help them better provide for their future families. All too often in the Western world, and indeed our own classrooms here in Australia, we are presented with students who have absolutely no desire to be in school. They see it as a hassle, a nuisance, an interruption and way of stopping them from doing heaps of other fun stuff.

At what point did we, the countries with the most amazing opportunities, stop seeing education as a privilege and instead as something we just ‘have to do’? Why is it that so many members of our communities place so little value on education? Did the system fail so many parents that they have passed on their negative views of education to their children? Does this mean that in the future, we will be faced with a generation of students who are so conditioned to thinking education is useless that they will be almost impossible to teach?

How can we stop this from happening? How can we instil a love of education back in our students? How can we ensure that our classrooms will not end up empty shells if we can no longer access the technology we can today?

It’s not all doom and gloom of course! For the near future at least, we can see our classrooms changing dramatically. Open Plan Learning is becoming more and more commonplace, teachers are collaborating like never before, students are being encouraged to learn in the way that benefits them, and we are starting to consider sustainability.

I recently completed teaching rounds in a School with a Kitchen Garden, and the program was amazing. Students had a lesson in the garden each week. They were all involved with the planting, watering, feeding, harvesting and maintenance of the garden. In turn, each class then has a lesson in the kitchen, where they use the ingredients grown in their garden to cook delicious food. While I was there we cooked a delicious Balinese feast using beautiful fresh produce grown just outside the kitchen! Amazing.

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I’d love to hear the experience of others in schools that are embracing sustainability. Anyone care to share?

 

References

Mindset Mastery

Today we were really lucky to have Lorraine Davies come in to speak to us about Mindset Mastery; changing from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset.

This was a fascinating look into how your state of mind can affect not only your teaching, but also the outcomes of your students.

To begin the lesson we were all given a post-it note, and on it we had to write one word to describe a person who had inspired us in our past. We then had to stick this post-it note on the board under Skills or Qualities. The overwhelming majority of our cohort had written down a quality, something about that person that we wished to emulate. Words like passionate, persistent and determined all came up often. This highlighted the fact that as a teacher, it is your qualities that will resonate with your students, not your skills.

Your students probably wont remember that you were really good at say, skipping, but they will most certainly remember that you were always fair in the classroom, or that you always displayed a passion for learning. 

In turn, Lorraine reminded us that every time we step in front of a class, they are asking three unconscious questions of us as teachers..

  1. Can I trust you?
  2. Do you care about me?
  3. Are you committed to excellence?

It is our job as teachers to model this to students, and through the right kind of feedback and classroom atmosphere, we will create a sense of trust, caring and commitment for our students. 

But how do we do this?

A lot of it has to do with our language in the classroom; this starts with praise and feedback. It is vital that we don’t praise students for ability, but we do praise students for their effort. As soon as we set performance goals for our students, we are saying to them that we expect perfection and we expect them to do ‘well.’ Whereas, if we set learning goals and praise the effort, we are encouraging students to have a go, to put in their best and to not shy away from mistakes. If we focus on ability, we can hinder a student’s confidence, effort and performance.

 As an extension of this, we must not praise the person! As soon as your tell someone “you are so smart, well done” or perhaps “you did that so quickly, you’re so clever” you are creating a level of expectation, and the student will feel a massive sense of obligation to live up to this. Therefore, it is much more beneficial to praise the process. By telling the student how they did their best or what they did to achieve their goal, we can help ensure that this process can be repeated and used when setbacks are encountered.  

I also found it really interesting when Lorraine spoke about normalising mistakes. She reminded us that if we take away that fear of humiliation that so often comes with failure, we take away that fear of a challenge that we so often see in students. If we own up to our mistakes, we allow children to see that to err is human!

So, what’s all of this got to do with a mindset? This graphic is a great visual way to explain the differences between a fixed and growth mindsets..Image

It must be noted, however that not everyone is wholly growth mindset or wholly fixed mindset, we are often a combination of each. However, when we work towards gaining a growth mindset, we set ourselves up for greater chances for success. We embrace challenges, we stop giving up as soon as something blocks our path, we don’t shy away from effort and stop seeing it as a sign of weakness, we take on criticism and learn from it and we learn from the success of others.

It’s hoped that this growth mindset will be adopted by many educators in the future, as it seems to be a transformative learning approach. 

What do you think?

My Personal Learning Space

My very first online slideshow, the things you learn at uni, eh?

http://slide.ly/view/9fa8b0ca1cac746a90a055c2ae5b5951

I had a really fun time thinking about my personal learning space this week.
I feel like it’s really important for us as educators to have a successful learning space for ourselves, so that we are at our full potential to teach and learn with our students.

This week  I noticed a few things about my learning habits..

  • I have a terrible habit of surrounding myself with immense amounts of mess while I’m working. I tend to spread my work from one side of my bedroom to the other, so that I have everything at my fingertips whenever I need it!
  • I am very prone to drawing and doodling while I’m sitting in lectures. However, I actually find this helps me pay attention, as it stops me from fidgeting and doing other things (like checking my phone!)
  • I like to reflect by doing quiet things like exercising and drawing when I need to refocus..I also found out last weekend that gardening is an excellent way to do this as well!
  • I like to recharge my batteries by visiting my family and boyfriend (all of whom live over 2 hours away.) This allows for lots of thinking time while I am driving, and I quite often find myself planning my week’s activities in my head as I drive to and from Ballarat on the weekends!

I hope that my slideshow is visible to people without a Slidely account; I found this website extremely user-friendly, and I think that it would be a fantastic way to get students to create slideshows on iPads, as there is an app that can be downloaded..

References

Collaborative, Cooperative, Group, and Open Plan Learning Spaces

This week I have learnt a great deal about group learning spaces, and more specifically, collaborative and cooperative learning spaces.

 This all starts with the curriculum, which is one of the biggest and most important learning spaces we inhabit as teachers and students. It is the skeleton on which we build the flesh that is our smaller learning spaces in school and classrooms. It provides structure and stability that helps us move forward and keeps us all held together. I guess I can further add to the analogy by saying that, like a skeleton, it really won’t get far unless the muscles attached to it are cooperative and strong; just like in the education system…It’s all well and good to have a strong, supportive curriculum, but if the schools and learning spaces don’t cooperate with it and each other, they’re not going to get very far.

A curriculum, and in particular, the Australian curriculum, provides a common ground for all teachers and students. By clearly outlining all goals and standards, there is a strong sense of equity; that is, all students are given equal opportunities to learn and succeed. Furthermore, by introducing a national curriculum, this extends to ensure that across the country all students are given the same opportunities to access a quality education. This common ground is an integral element in the group/collaborative/cooperative learning space.

It is vital that teachers work together with other teachers in their schools and wider communities to ensure that they are adhering to the curriculum, and getting the most out of it. By planning units of work together teachers inhabit a group learning space; they are working to create a unit that reflects and satisfies the curricular requirements. I think that having a national curriculum creates an enormous and exciting collaborative learning space. By having a common curriculum, who’s to say that through using technology, classes on opposite sides of the countries can’t interact and work through a unit of work collaboratively? This could significantly broaden students’ perceptions, knowledge and learning.

Today’s learning spaces are increasingly becoming places of cooperative and collaborative learning. These types of learning require careful orchestration by the teacher, to ensure that students are equipped with the skills to work successfully in a group situations, and that no students are left behind or coasting through without contributing or benefiting from working socially and collaboratively. Co-operative and collaborative learning styles are quite successful because they allow students to see that their peers see things differently, and that each individual has their own strengths and weaknesses. In terms of learning spaces, by allowing students to sit at tables organised in a social manner (groups, facing other students, not individual), students are encouraged to discuss and collaborate with their peers while completing their work.

A group learning space, to me, is a much broader and generic term, referring to a learning space in which the whole group is required to work together to discuss or build upon knowledge. To me, collaborative and co-operative learning is more successful than mere group learning, as it is more structured and goal oriented.

I think that it’s also imperative to think about these social constructivist forms of learning (thank you Mr Vygotsky) in terms of classroom design. How do we design our classrooms to best suit the collaborative and cooperative approach?

This leads into Open Plan Learning Spaces (OPLS). While my experience in these types of learning spaces is very limited, I understand that there are many positive and negative aspects to learning in this format. Students must be very well prepared to motivate themselves and to keep themselves on track. Teachers must also set very clear behavioural expectations, and meticulously plan their lessons to ensure no child is ‘left behind’. I am also curious as to whether the noise levels in such an environment would be a cause for concern? However, it must be very beneficial to allow children to facilitate their own learning to a degree, and to openly collaborate with colleagues in the classroom.

References

  • Slavin, R. (2010). Co-operative learning: what makes group-work work? The Nature of Learning: Using Research to Inspire Practice, OECD Publishing.

Introduction to Indigenous Ways of Knowing and Learning

As part of my Education degree, I am enrolled in a unit in which I am learning about Teaching and Managing Learning Environments. 

So far in this unit, I have learnt about the importance of equity, fair assessment, collaborative and cooperative learning and differentiation in education. However, the next component in the unit focuses on the teaching of Indigenous students in Australian Schools. I attend the Ballarat Campus of the Australian Catholic University, and within this campus, we have an Indigenous Unit called Jim-Baa-yer.

This week, our cohort undertook some immersion activities to prepare ourselves to begin learning about the best way to teach and support Indigenous students within our classrooms. We were lucky enough to be involved in a version of an Earth, Fire and Water Ceremony, in which we thanked the traditional owners, and thought about the relationships they have with the land. We also thought about the importance of fire, water and earth in Indigenous cultures.

After completing this ceremony, we broke of into smaller groups to undertake sessions in which we would complete a surprisingly pertinent activity. We were asked to write down who our family is, where we’re from (and what we call home), our religion and beliefs, our hopes and dreams and some happy and sad memories we could recall. We were then asked to share one thing with our group, as this is how Indigenous people share their stories. 

What came next was very powerful. We were required to hand up our pieces of paper, and the woman running the sessions talked about how she now had a collection of our stories. She then proceeded to rip them in half, and scatter them across the floor. We then had to collect our now ripped pieces of paper, and try to put them back together. Naturally, we could sit them close to each other, but they were no longer the same. There was a giant rip across the middle of our story, forever changing the way it was put together.

This activity was a metaphor for the way in which so many Indigenous (and non-Indigenous) children’s lives are today. Their stories are whole, but they may have been ripped apart by heartache and hardships, forever changing the way in which they live their lives. This helped us to think about the importance of acknowledging the context in which students enter our classrooms, and how the past affects the way in which they will respond to education.

As a teacher, it is vital that we provide and equitable and culturally sensitive space for these children to learn. 

The Electronic Learning Space

Boy oh boy what an interesting time it is to become a teacher!! As I finish my degree and enter my own classroom,  I will become part of a somewhat revolutionary time in education. Technology is becoming an enormous part of every day life for many school children across the country, with many children being part of 1:1 technology programs in schools. A child in Foundation may be given an iPad as soon as they enter the classroom, ready to live up to the expectation that they too will be a techno-savvy participant in the 21st century. However, it must be questioned whether this enthusiasm toward technology in the classroom has merit. While it must be said that in terms of engagement, there may be no better resource than a computer or handheld device, one must question the success of these devices in terms of content delivery. Is it better for a student to look at a screen to learn the alphabet and phonics? Or should they be taught explicitly or through discovery based learning, using physical objects and resources to consolidate their learning? I have seen examples of lower-achieving students being given iPads during reading groups just to keep them quiet; the children were expected to go on the “Eggy Words” app, however these students with attention problems quickly excited the program and began playing the games that interested them more. How can a teacher be expected to monitor their students’ learning while he or she is focusing on other groups, and the students using iPads are sitting quietly in the corner, seemingly engrossed in their task?
There are also questions as to whether the use of technology in the classroom has effects on children’s attention spans and ability to interact with their peers; if we have our students with an iPad each (often wearing headphones to ensure minimal distraction), how can we expect them to collaborate during the learning process?

I understand there are numerous positive aspects of iPads in the classroom, with many genuinely useful educational apps available, however I am reluctant to move to a place where we rely heavily on them to provide stimulation for our students. I think there’s a very long way to go before we can say we use such devices successfully and holistically in the classroom.

In terms of the broader application of technology in the classroom, I think that schools benefit immensely from being connected to the wider world. Teachers can expose their students to not only their immediate community, but also communities from all over the world. Students have information at their fingertips, and more equipped than any other generation to access it. It is vital that teachers expose children to technology and utilise it in their classrooms without using it as a crutch for learning.

 In regards to my own learning and ever-expanding technological education, I find that I am forever thanking my lucky stars that I live in a time where I have google and online databases at my fingertips. More recently, I have been exposed to the enormous online resource that is Twitter. I (like many others of my generation) had a personal Twitter account with which I used to whine about every day niggles, and to gain insights into celebrity lives. However, I have recently created a professional Twitter account in which I follow countless people who are passionate about education. I think it will be an immensely useful resource as I complete my tertiary education!

P.S, if you’d like to check out my Twitter account, you’ll find a widget at the bottom of this page!

References

  • Hockley, N. (2013). Interactive whiteboards. Technology for the English Language Teacher, 67(3), 354-358.
  • Murray, O., & Olcese, N. (2011). Teaching and Learning with iPads, Ready or Not? TechTrends, 55(6), 42-48
  • UNESCO. (2012). Turning on Mobile Learning: Global Themes. France: United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

Communities of Practice and Learning Beyond the Classroom

Communities of Practice

A Community of Practice (or, CoP) is a group of people who come together to enhance their understanding of a particular interest, hobby or subject. By meeting regularly, these people begin to learn through interaction with each other; this is done by sharing skills, conversation and ideas.  The area in which these people are interested in learning about is referred to as a domain, and interest in this said domain is what separates a CoP from other groups or communities. The word practice also implies action, therefore to be considered a CoP, a group must be actively working together to achieve their desired goal, which could be anything from increased knowledge to the success of a sporting team.

Personally, I am involved with two CoP that immediately come to mind. I am a team member of a social netball team. We meet every week and share the common goals of wanting to win games, have fun and to maintain fitness. By coming together and interacting often, we become a Community of Practice in netball. The other CoP I am involved in is an online unit I am undertaking this semester at university. I am in the unit with many different students from many different campuses, and there is much shared communication through online forums and discussions. We all have the common goal of working towards a deeper understanding of traditional and modern learning spaces, therefore, our combined knowledge and skills are all considered useful throughout the group.

I hope that as my teaching career progresses I may become a member of many more Communities of Practice.

Learning Beyond the Classroom…

 When we take children out of a classroom to learn, we introduce the element of surprise, and the joy and wonder of the unknown. Taking students out into their wider community, or even just for a stroll outside in the school grounds can present opportunities to teach about local history and culture in a practical sense. As educators, it is our responsibility to ensure we have planned and connected with the content being explored during an excursion or incursion; if we are disengaged, then there’s a chance our students will be too! If we can successfully plan preparatory and follow-up work to support the learning beyond the classroom, we give our students an amazing opportunity to learn in broadened social contexts and cultural locations.  By providing stimulating and dynamic opportunities for learning beyond the classroom, we allow our students to be completely immersed in learning. We give them the chance to learn content in its rightful context and we can solidify their understanding through experiential learning.

I grew up in a little country town, about 4 hours away from Melbourne. It was a great place to grow up; our excursions were more than often around the area (although I actually think we did a tour of a nearby McDonalds on one trip haha!). As we grew older, our excursions grew too. By year 6 we headed off on a trip to Melbourne for the week, which, for a group of 50-something country kids, was quite the eye-opening experience! These excursions were a way for us to see a world in which we were quite far removed from by distance, they provided immersive and productive adventures in which we would learn about the world around us and the people in it.

Learning beyond the classroom is a chance to be a part of a community of practice! 

An excursion venue is often a place where students come to learn. They are presented with new people, new smells, new sounds, new visual information and of course, new experiences and factual information. To me, I think a group visit to an excursion venue should not be isolated. Children thrive knowing that they are not the only ones to have been to a place, that other kids just like them have also been and experienced the things that they’re about to. How fantastic would it be if children could contribute to some form of ‘visitor-book,’ in which they can collectively record their experiences through visual or written means for the next group of students to reflect on. This not only connects the many different students visiting the venue, but also provides the venue hosts or teaching staff with an indelible understanding of how the students have reacted and been affected by the excursion. To me, this satisfies the characteristics of a Community of Practice, and would transform an excursion venue to an ever-evolving place of learning.

References 

  • Johnson, J. (2009). Beyond four walls: experiential and situated learning. Teacher. (198), 18-20.
  • Lorenza, L. (2009). Beyond four walls: why go beyond the bounds of school? [online]. Teacher. (198), 22-25.
  • Smith. M. (2009). Communities of practice. Retrieved from http://www.infed.org/biblio/communities_of_practice.htm