Sunday, January 29, 2012

Teachers As Learners

My daughter Erin recently expressed a desire to learn how to play the piano. As every parent knows, the responsibility to help our children find their talent is a heavy burden, and we immediately signed her up for classes. I am enjoying watching her learn. She is ready and eager to leave for class with everything she needs with no nagging involved, except when she nags us for fear of being late to class! She listens intently during the lesson and as soon as she gets home she writes notes about what she learned and sets about practicing her new skills on the keyboard. She is currently working on mastering Twinkle Twinkle Little Star-a tune I'm sure many of you have heard slaughtered many times with pianos, violins, recorders, guitars etc.

It's her perseverance and independence that amazes me. With no direction whatsoever from us she happily spends hours tinkling away, frustrated when she fails but unfailing in her determination to succeed. Tackling math homework is a very different scenario! Getting started is a chore in itself, frustration leads to tears and independence is non-existent. I shouldn't be surprised, the answer to this mystery is easily solved when I consider myself as a learner.

In the last few weeks I've been involved in several very different forms of professional development. Most recently I've attended district mandated sessions. I was given choices on the workshops I could attend which was great as it meant I went willingly and keen to learn. The delivery of all of them however was the same-sit and get. I've discovered that I have the attention span of a goldfish, even when I am interested in the topic. I simply can't sit and listen for more than twenty minutes at a time. I listened to the best of my ability and walked away with some new knowledge but not much motivation to pursue the topics further once I'd left the room.

At the beginning of January I was involved in my first ever MoodleMeet, which was not mandated, I got no kind of credit for it and yet I was completely energized and excited by the possibilities it afforded me. What made the difference? For me it was the interaction. I consumed information, just as in my district PD but I was invited to respond, ask questions, connect with peers and continue the conversation after it was all over. I made new connections with teachers I've never met before such as Claire Thompson, and strengthened existing bonds with teachers like Phil Macoun. I learned so much because I was interested in the content, being online I was able to participate when it suited my schedule, and there were no expectations placed upon me other than to engage and enjoy.

I've read several Blog posts about Professional Development that have resonated with me. Most notably Should teachers own their own learning? by Dean Shareski, and Do teachers need to relearn how to learn? by Jonah Salsich. Both make excellent points about the need for Professonal Development to be more focused on the individual needs of teachers and I whole heartedly agree. Professional Development sessions are opportunities for teachers to reverse their usual roles and become learners and they would be more successful experiences if tailored to specific needs . I think the most common element to all PD experiences, good or bad, is that they provide teachers with opportunities to reflect upon the barriers to their own learning. What did we enjoy most about the session and why? What were our challenges and why? Just as I have learned much about myself as a learner , my aim is to have students learn just as much about themselves as learners. How powerful would it be if our students were given opportunities to identify and articulate clearly the barriers to their learning and the teaching styles that most appeal to them? Couldn't we then better serve their needs and help them to become more independent thinkers and learners?

As I wrap this up I can hear Twinkle Twinkle start up once again in the background. My very own little star learns best just like me-when she's interested, motivated, under no pressure of expectation and not afraid to fail. How do we as teachers transfer this type of learning to the classroom?

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Authentic Global Collaboration

I am on day three of my first ever MoodlMeet through LearnNowBC and I'm having a fantastic time! Phil Macoun from Aspengrove School on Vancouver Island asked me to help facilitate this course on authentic global collaboration after meeting at the World Future Conference in Vancouver last summer. Not really understanding what a MoodlMeet was I immediately accepted and I am learning so much. Participants from all over the globe are consuming, connecting and creating. The pace is frenetic with constant questions, discussions, and additions to not only Moodle forums but wikis, Google Docs and Diigo. I think I'll still be hearing the ding of a new email alert long after they have stopped!

This experience is in stark contrast to another global collaboration project I have been working on recently with another group of international teachers. As a participant in the Microsoft Partners in Learning Global Forum in November , I was fortunate to be able to take part in a professional development session dubbed “Learning Excursions.” Myself and the other four educators in my team from Egypt, Canada, Mauritius, and the Philippines were taken to the Smithsonian Natural History Museum and given a behind the scenes tour. As a follow up we were charged with task of developing a learning activity that we could take back to our classrooms. The chosen theme was water, aligned to the 2012 Shout online conference series.

Despite differences in language, culture and experience my team had one thing in common. Inspired by Will Richardson, we knew we wanted to create something of meaning and consequence. The notion of our students being heroes was appealing and it wasn’t long before the H20 Heroes wiki was created. We decided our project would be a call to action online game. Working collaboratively, students complete learning missions. Inspired by the mission of the Smithsonian Natural History Museum, the missions require students to acquire knowledge about nature and culture through research. They then exhibit or demonstrate their learning to inspire others to support a sustainable future.

My team continued to communicate over the next few months developing missions that would be appropriate and applicable to students from all over the world but progress was slow. Emails responses took a lot longer than my impatient self would have liked. Every day I would eagerly check my emails in the hope that one of my team members had responded, and I was often disappointed .My students were the designated test pilots but I soon became to rely on them more as partners in the design and creation process making suggestions for improvement, identifying potential problems and contributing their own unique and wonderful ideas from the student perspective. Despite slow progress I believe that our collaboration resulted in a great project that both my students and team are excited to share.

Being involved in both of these wonderful projects has reminded me that the learners in my classroom have diverse needs. While some like to travel along their learning journey at break neck speeds, others like to meander and enjoy the view along the way. I need to be constantly aware that my own learning style is not overpowering the way I teach and ensure that I try to facilitate learning in a way that appeals to all the students in my room.

I'm sure that I will have more to share about my MoodleMeet experience after it has finished and I have had some time to process but for now, I would urge all teachers to consider participating in the Microsoft 2012 US Forum, which launches on Jan 23rd on and on I would also recommend that they join one of the MoodleMeet sessions offered by LearnNowBC, and finally, I would like to invite them and their students to join the H2O Heroes wiki and be prepared to consume, connect and create.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Just Another Day

We woke up this morning, made coffee, had breakfast, read the papers, just another day right? But it isn't is it? The first day of a new year is so much more than that because it holds promise. It's like the human version of pressing the refresh button. We wake up excited to clean the slate, learn from the mistakes of last year and commit to achieving new goals. The prospect of new adventures, new opportunities and life taking us in a new direction makes waking up today downright exciting!

Professionally I'm excited about three new adventures. Next weekend I'll be helping to facilitate a Moodle course called Authentic Global Collaboration. I was invited to participate by Phil Macoun, a technology teacher at Aspengrove School on Vancouver Island. I met Phil at the World Future Conference in Vancouver last summer and despite the fact that we spent a very short time together I learned so much from him and he became my Twitter Tutor, opening up a whole new world of learning for me. He continues to push and expand my thinking by inviting me to take part in this class. This is a whole new territory for me and while I'm nervous and unsure about what I can offer, I 'm also exhilarated by the challenge of it and the learning opportunities it will provide.

I was lucky enough to receive an iPad just before Winter break and have been invited to take part in some action research to determine the value of educational applications. Once again, I'm exploring a whole new landscape. Being part Luddite the Land of Apps is new to me and I've been reading and learning throughout the break to get a feel for where to begin. Education researcher Michelle Riconscente, a USC professor, conducted a study to assess the effectiveness of Motion Math with 122 fifth-graders. Her findings were very positive, reporting an improvement in test scores , attitudes and confidence. The full study can be found at Being given the opportunity to take part in a similar kind of action research project that may result in useful and meaningful data other teachers can use is exciting for me.

I also want to try and get more exercise in my life in 2012-well, technically in my classroom. I saw Dr. John Medina in Redmond, Seattle last summer. He is the author of Brain Rules, a wonderful collection of stories that demonstrate how the brain works and how physical activity can get your brain working at it's best. One of the most outstanding stories he shared in Redmond was the impact of exercise on mathematical ability. The studies he referred to showed that just twenty minutes of aerobic activity each day can result in a huge improvement in mathematical reasoning. As a math teacher this obviously fascinated me and I've been trying to figure out how to make this work in my classroom. After attending the Microsoft Partners in Learning Global Forum and seeing the work that many great educators are doing with Kinect, my aim for the year is to try and get Kinect into my classroom . I haven't figured out all of the details yet but have heightened my chances of success by enlisting the help of some fabulous people I am proud to know and now call friends: Lou Zulli, Johnny Kissko and Doug Bergman.

When I woke up on January 1st 2011 I was equally as excited as I was this morning. I could never have envisioned the year that followed ,the many marvelous people I would meet and places I would go. That's what 's so thrilling-the not knowing what lies ahead. I hope 2012 brings you joy. Look out for new opportunities and new adventures-if you want to ride shotgun with me for a while please jump on board!