Friday, November 09, 2007

While in Helsinki we visited a high school. I was very distressed to hear about the school shooting near Helsinki shortly after my return home. I was pleased to hear it wasn't the school we visited but very distressed that this disturbing trend has moved to yet another country.

The students at the school I visited all looked very relaxed and friendly. There were lots of open areas with tables, chairs, sofas etc where students congregated in their breaks.

All students receive a free lunch at school. The school also had a tuck shop with decidedly unhealthy food for sale. There were however very few overweight students to be seen. This was despite the fact the students could not go outside at breaks on many days.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

I am currently attending the Microsoft Innovative Teachers' Forum in Helsinki Finland in late October. This is an amazing city steeped in history and there is some truly amazing architecture. The weather here is not as cold as I thought it would be, around 5 degrees C.
There are over 80 educators here from all around the world and the range of projects is incredible.You can read my thoughts on the conference at the Microsoft Partners in Learning site.
Have a look at the photos below, they were all taken during the day. I only saw the sun on the final day I was in Helsinki and it was quite low in the sky even at mid-day. It was mid Autumn when I was there. To view more photos go to my Flickr page.

Monday, October 15, 2007

If, like me, you have had your doubts or disagreed with Marc Prensky's article Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants, you should take a look at Jamie McKenzie's latest article in which he not only disagrees with the main premises of Prensky's article but also produces research to support his opinion. Well worth a read.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

On Monday I attended a one day workshop with Sharon Friesen from the Galileo Educational Network. If you haven’t already checked out their website then I recommend you do. Sharon’s workshop focused on inquiry-based learning. Sharon talked about the key features of inquiry: Creating Knowledge, Disciplined Inquiry and Value beyond school. For a spectacular example of the authentic work being done check out the ‘Nitsitapiisinni - Stories and Spaces: Exploring Kainai Plants and Culture’ project undertaken with First Nation students in Canada.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Well I haven't blogged so much in months - lots of inspiration and the luxury of time! Went to Sharon Friesen's workshop on curriculum. It reminded me of something else our students need. We need to design work for our students that fosters an inquiring mind in our students. Considering the name of my website this was a surprising thing for me to leave out as it certainly would be close to the top of my list.

The other areas she mentioned as needing emphasis, all of which I totally agree with, are:creating knowledge, solving problems and creating products that go somewhere, do something, make a difference.

Jeremy Kedian asked a good question today - "Are we planning for teaching or planning for learning?" His questions on the nature of learning were very thought-provoking. He asked 'What is the purpose of schooling?" and Julia Atkin asked a similar question "Why school? What is your educative purpose?" We need to be asking these questions as we move into a new curriculum. Schools need to find out what their own values and beliefs about learning are before they move into the new curriculum.
More on Ulearn - Helen Baxter's keynote this morning Renaissance 2.0 - Educating the new Leonardos. You can see the mindmap of her presentation on Mindmeister. She made some interesting points about developing the 'can do' attitude'.

I get her point about students not needing to carry knowledge around in their heads as they will be able to find the info they need on their cellphones or whatever, but I do think there will still be some things we actually need to know just to be able to carry on a conversation. We can't be stopping the conversation every couple of minutes - "Hold on I just have to Google that". So students need some knowledge, understanding of concepts and the skills and strategies to find out what they don't know. They will of course also need critical and creative thinking skills and the ability to communicate, and a whole range of other things.

What we as educators need to do is have conversations about what knowledge, understanding, skills etc our students need. This will differ from school to school (and indeed from student to students) so it is great the new curriculum is giving schools explicit permission to develop their own curriculums. Of course some schools have been doing this for a while but for many this is a new concept.

I'm going to spend some time looking through Helens' Mindmeister mind map. Maybe somewhere in there I will find the answer to her question "How do we educate students for jobs we don't even know exist?" I do know however, that if we give students the things I talked about in the previous paragraphs including the 'can do attitude' and a dollop of passion, then we will have made a good start in the right direction.
I'm sitting at the Ulearn07 conference in Auckland. The conference started off with a great keynote from Ewan McIntosh. He made a great comment about not supporting the digital natives/digital immigrants concept which I definitely agree with. I certainly don't fit with Marc Prensky's idea of a digital native, not having been born in the right decade, but I have been using computers for over 20 years and I'm more at home with computers & technology than many teenagers I know.

The points that especially resonated with me were:

Thin slicing - the once-over lightly mentality.

Audience - students used to do their work for their teachers and maybe their classmates and parents, now they can have a potential audience of 1 billion people through the web.

Creativity - Ewan talked about the avenues for creativity that web 2.0 opens up. I liked the idea of the use of Flickr for story telling. Do a search for 5 frames on Flickr where people tell stories in 5 photos. This has amazing potential and I can't wait to try it with some kids.

Authentic goals - Asking the question - what is the purpose of this work? For me I think this is the first question we should be asking before we teach anything and we should be getting our students to ask the same question.

I also particularly liked the his statement "It's not about the teach, it's about the tech".

After this great start I'm looking forward to the rest of the conference.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Great discussions have been happening on the NZCompEd listserv about Creative Commons and open source software. Check out this slide show which arrived on the listserv via the Cool Cat Teacher Blog.

Monday, May 21, 2007

The Kopu Digital Opportinities project, of which I am facilitator, will not be getting rid of their laptops as some schools in the USA are doing: "Seeing No Progress, Some Schools Drop Laptops". This article demonstrates a sentiment best expressed in a quote from Jamie McKenzie's article: "When schools put the cart before the horse - buying technology for the sake of technology without asking critical questions about purpose, use and the classroom impact of such tools - they are inviting disappointment."

In addition to not providing adequate PD for teachers, I believe these schools also made a mistake in providing one-to-one laptops. As I mentioned in the Computer Ratios section of my Inquiring Mind website I believe a 1:5 or 1:6 ratio in the classroom is best, made up to 1:2 when needed by mobile laptop pods. I also believe a combination of desktops and laptops works best in the classroom, giving the benefits of both while minimizing their negative aspects.

Too many computers can cause technical difficulties and frustration for teachers and students. Teaching teachers and students how to cope with minor problems so they do not interfere with teaching is very important. Professional development in the use of the computers to support teaching and learning is essential.

At Opoutere School we have been part of the Kopu Digital Opportunities Project for two and a half years and have been using a combination of desktops and wireless laptops in the classroom with good success. We have a ratio of about 1:3, which we increase to 1:2 or better by borrowing laptops from other rooms when needed. We are planning to purchase a mobile pod of mobile laptops to share amongst the classes so borrowing from other classes will no longer be necessary.

Although there have been a few technical issues it is nothing we can't cope with. Each class has students who have been trained to look after the computers and can deal with most issues that arise.

Laptops seem to have a life of about 3 years before they need to be replaced or at least need replacement batteries (and often power cords and CD/DVD players), so there needs to a plan in place for their replacement. We are investigating leasing which may be a useful option. We are also switching to child-friendly laptops which have toughened screens and reinforced edges to minimize damage.

The combination of using inquiry-based learning, aided by internet-capable computers, has resulted in greatly increased motivation and engagement levels from our students (long after the novelty has worn off) and improvements in their information literacy skills, along with many other benefits. We have no intention of throwing out our laptops any time soon.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Cambodia Pt 2
The Microsoft Innovative Teachers' Regional conference in Cambodia was a very interesting experience. The conference was a great opportunity to mix with teachers from other countries and share experiences. It was amazing how many areas of commonality we had. It was also interesting to see how advanced New Zealand is in terms of ICT use in classrooms.

I only visited one school in Cambodia but it was an unusual one. The school was floating on a barge on a lake (Tonle Sap) and the pupils mainly came from the floating village on the lake. They even had a floating basketball court and floating playground. Most of the pupils only attended school for half a day so they could work the rest of the time.

Education is free in Cambodia but only very basic facilities and equipment are provided. The teacher's desk was dominated by a large donation box and all the desks were inscribed with the name of the person who donated them. They had a blackboard, maps on the wall, a few teacher textbooks and a few exercise books but very little else. There was no electricity and certainly no technology. The students were all very friendly.

Teachers earn about $US40-50 per month but the Cambodian government has promised to increase this amount by 15% p.a. and has committed a large amount of its budget to education.

My time in Cambodia was certainly very educational, for both the conference and the experience of the country itself. It is not somewhere to which I would like to return, but I'm glad I had the opportunity to visit.

Don't forget to check out my Inquiring Mind website which is regularly updated.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Singapore Sightseeing

While in Singapore I had a short time for sightseeing and shopping. I loved the markets there, very vibrant and much more 'alive' than the many shopping malls. I did enjoy visiting Sim Lim Square where every imaginable piece of technology was available. The prices seemed to get cheaper the higher we went in the building.

We were in Singapore during Chinese new year celebrations and were fortunate to see one the major parades down Orchard Road. This was truly a spectacular event. People were sitting 3 deep on the road and had paid for this privilege. Those of us who had not paid got to stand at the back but still got a great view, if a little hot and crowded. The crowd was very well behaved but considering the armed police doing crowd-control this was not surprising.

We took a tour of the sites in a double decker bus which gave us a good view. The tour guides spent a lot of time telling us about how Singaporeans believe in racial harmony. Got to see the famous Raffles hotel but decided against a Raffles gin-sling for $21.

There were some real contrasts between the old and new parts of Singapore, the skyscrapers with the older buildings. Also between the markets and the huge shopping malls. Certainly an interesting place to visit.

Cambodia was a land of great contrasts. The divide between the haves and have-nots was very visible. We visited Siem Reap and though we were only there for a few days we were able to visit quite a few places. Tuk tuk was the preferred method of transport and the drivers were incredibly friendly and helpful, as were all the Cambodians we had contact with. The tuk tuk were powered by motorcycles and bicycles and motorcycles were the main mode of transport.

The markets were incredible places. We first visited the tourist market where bargaining was definitely the order of the day, I'm sure they artificially inflate the cost just so they can make the tourists feel like they have a bargain. Things were incredibly cheap with silk ties for $US1 and $US2 and t-shirts around $US2. Silk was sold for $USA4 a huge piece and silver jewellery sold by weight.

The markets where the locals shopped were an experience not to be missed. The smells are something I'm in no hurry to repeat. You could buy anything there, including petrol in whisky bottles, motorbikes alongside the fruit, cigarettes that were being made on the stall and cockroaches and grasshoppers by the basketful.

The sight of the meat and chicken lying in the hot sun, covered in flies was hard to take (and smell) as was the sight of live chickens tied together in bunches of four waiting to have their heads chopped off in the street. There were also large containers of fish flapping around in containers with little or no water. All in all an unforgettable experience.
I recently had the good fortune to be selected to attend the Microsoft Regional Innovative Teachers' Conference in Siem Reap, Cambodia. On the way to Cambodia I went to Singapore visiting two schools there: Xingnan Primary and River Valley High. Xingnan Primary is experimenting with new modes of delivery for effective and engaged learning. They include the use of podcasts, video broadcasts, real-time or pre-recorded interviews/ programmes, and movie-making. They have a room permanently set up for blue-screen photography and broadcasting.
River Valley High is a school where the students are using laptops and tablet computers to improve outcomes for students. The picture on the left shows a Chinese language class where the tablets were being used for calligraphy. The students worked together in pairs on their tasks.
The school was conducting a lot of research into whether the use of ICT was having an effect on outcomes for students.
More photos from Singapore can be found on Flickr using the keywords Singapore, Xingnan and Rivervalley.