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Get me some of that old time convergent thinking to go please. Include these funky keywords in your slides and the world will be at your command.

Uncover some hidden treasure in learning

GAMES are part of the mash-up, and effective, motivating, accessible resources for the classroom. Many are free to try or peanuts to buy – saving the teacher a great deal of time and giving them a motivation power-up that ignites learning.

While many continue to explore ‘web2.0’, they are often not exploring the diverse and rich media being produced for playful learning.

Picture yourself as a student – about start using this game to learn.

“Fresh from a successful exploration of the wreck of the Titanic, the Hidden Expedition Club will pit one of its stellar members against a formidable group of opponents in a race to the summit of Everest. Other groups will battle you to be the first to summit Mount Everest. Expert Everest climber Ed Viesturs will assist you along the way. Explore mysteries of the world as you find hidden clues. Race to the Roof of the World!”

Sound exciting? – Maybe exciting enough to do a couple of hours work deconstructing this text? Using Google Earth, History sites maybe drawing the character; writing a story even. My point here is that games often have an instant narrative, instant motivation to which teachers can subtly add outcomes. It almost doesn’t have to feel like learning at all.

Hidden Treasure is a very slick example of hundreds of games that are available to teachers online.  The demo alone has been downloaded over 8 million times. The game itself allows for a lot of classroom fun, but also allows wider exploration of some of the under pinning themes and concepts that a skilled teacher can weave around it. For under ten dollars; there are numerous puzzle, adventure and discovery games to explore online – allowing playful learning. Just like Web2.0, we have to adapt games into learning as a mash-up. We don’t need to use an instructional CD-Rom, just go online.

Games online have perhaps made leaps forward than ‘websites’ yet are often still viewed with a prejudicial 1990’s lens – where games were predicated violent behaviour and arcades were for drop outs and gangsters. Games, like the rest of the web have come a long way and await discovery in the classroom.

5 Ways to create spectacular classrooms

I am a firm believer that asking teachers to do more with technology is the wrong approach to renewal, unless you are removing old habits, old methods and genuinely improving outcomes. In sessions I run for teachers, I believe that it’s more effective to change the culture and narrow the participation gap between autonomous and co-operative learning. By establishing a few simple norms – for spectacular results – especially in 1:1 technology situations. To achieve this, I’m proposing 3 tools, and  dropping some old approaches to get a performance gain.

1. Use reflective, self-reporting activities

The internet is a complex and diverse environment – simplify it for students. Use technologies that accurately reflect classroom activity and narrow the gap between what you want them to do and what they actually do – and save a heap of wasted or off task time. Diigo is the tool for this. Use it to model resources for students (lists); ask them to justify their own explorations (bookmark); and reflect on group learning (forums). Diigo is not a bookmarking tool! – It’s a learning management system and should be central to online learning.

2. Students must believe their choices and opinions matter

Probing questions in online spaces, allow teachers to discover student opinions; use a weekly question in your Diigo forum to ask them a probing question that allows them to express their feelings. Encourage participation by engaging in socio-centric conversation with students in the online space – as an aside from the rigor of the syllabus routine.

3. This week matters, because there’s another one following it.

Use TodaysMeet to create a simple question and answer page that expires after a week. Let them know that information is not persistent; but needs application to become knowledge. Encourage them to take turns in using it for passing notes and asking questions. Allow them to answer them and then at the end of the week, ask them to write a weekly journal entry – by asking a driving/probing question. Students are often poor a daily journal writing (you just get recounts) – make each week a process of leveling up to a Friday summit question. Base your assessments on summit questions.

4. Make authentic connections

Bring external voices to your classroom via technology, even if it as simple as using Google Chat, or finding a voice from YouTube. Locate an authentic dimension to problems. One great way to do this is to find your schools entry on Wikipedia – and make it better!

5. Build Vocabulary Bank

Each week a student is asked to find one word that relates to the week learning. Make one page in PBWorks, and ask them to add to it – alphabetically.

•    They have to give the meaning and how it relates to the discipline.

•    They should locate a web-reference of this being applied

These two actions provide continuous formative assessment of their ability to learn, comprehend and apply – digitally and conventionally.

What does this do for learning and engagement?

These 5 things, as a norm, repeated over a semester, promote socio-disciplinary learning. For the teacher it represents a very small change to promote the read write process in their learning and welcome students with a positive approach to learning with technology. Students will begin to select when and how best to use these spaces and  replace some of the tiresome activities of writing in Word, printing it out, collecting it or transferring it to flash memory or via email. Rather than think about ‘new’ ways, this appraoch blends existing, successful practices that allow technology to augment learning, keep students on task, be accountable, and interested in working online – though teacher facilitation and communication in those spaces. Doing this over and over, insisting and persisting; will create that norm – and may take several weeks to embed in student behaviour. Don’t fall into the trap that many another technology might work better – after all for the last decade, students have used little more than office automation and Google Search. Give them and yourself time to adjust and to be confident.

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Developing a professional learning plan.

I have to confess that I struggle to overcome the dilemma of professional learning. While some seem to tackle it with vigor, others avoid all contact with it. Yet both co-exist, often in side by side classrooms. How in a culture of opt-in do people develop their own plan, get recognition and then transfer that attainment to others. I’ve been tackling this at work and so this is in someway a reflection of understanding how to at least approach it.

Professional Learning does not happen by accident.

It has either intrinsic or extrinsic motivators. “I want to learn about blogging” vs “my department is using blogs in this unit, I need to learn it”.

Motivation plays a huge role in any incremental improvement, as to make it stick, the participant needs to be interested, willing and have the social capital to implement it. I’ve heard so many times from teachers frustrated with management chains over things they want to use but can’t – firewall policy,  sabotage by other staff members (who don’t want any change) or lack of time allocated to learn new methods etc.,

Winnicott (1965) uses it to describe the conditions under which potential growth can take place

  • The belief that the learning can be achieved
  • The pay-offs will be sufficient to justify it

Two simple, yet BIG statements that preempt professional learning at the individual and group level. If you don’t believe, then you are going to have a hard time getting motivated.

Individual Belief

If you don’t believe that you can do it, you are un-motivated. This maybe due to personal attainment – access to technology, time etc., or that the organization will permit it – let alone support it. The pay-offs need to be measureable. What is the benefit? All too often the innovation that classroom teachers do is difficult to ‘prove’ as ‘better’ – to others. Developing a professional learning plan has to address these things, in order to show increased performance – and increased fulfillment and life/work satisfaction. What do you believe you can do? even if it just one thing.

I like the idea of ‘storming, norming and performing’, but initially I found it hard to define characteristics for it. I it took me a while to get it.

Individual Hit Takers

I think that we are talking about change at an initial loss. There is no pretending that the challenges we face in education are otherwise. Many have chosen to take hit at the personal level – on emotional stress, family life and greater investment in their own professional learning. It is irksome that the institution rejects the idea they might need to.

We initially stormwhich is a de-stabilisation – as we declare that there is something new to learn. This leads to a time where we seek to ‘norm’ our learning. This is a period of disorientation. We have emotional responses to what we are doing. The moments of ‘elation’ are fewer than those of anger, frustration and depression. Finally, we enter the performing phase – which is a process of re-orientation. We turn innovation into integration. We add it to the new learning and into our overall belief systems. We eventually have to face the challenges and start delivering – showing results that mean something – not anecdotal stories.

These phases require individual strategies, as each requires quite different approaches. For example: Some things are hard to measure – such as ‘problem based learning’ . Boud (1991) ‘there is no universally agreed set of practices which must be found in problem based learning courses”. Others are simpler. “21 teachers attended an introduction to wikis workshop and 4 are now using them independently in 10 classes”.

The Scale Fail

This is not sustainable for the individual, the organization or the students. This remains the challenge educational systems. How do we develop effective professional learning frameworks – as the ‘skills’ are often buried inside ‘teachers’ who are atomistic in changing their classrooms.

Institutional Fuddling

To take this to any kind of ‘scale’ is not something that will occur outside ‘networks’, as it does inside them. The local network looks something like this. It is atomized fragile, based on email, faculty meetings, conversations in the staff room etc., Not all it’s parts like change and therefore it is almost impossible to operate effectively, let alone scale. The bigger the organization, the more links and more delicate the eco-balance becomes. One person can sabotage the work of several, as most people operate as individuals most of the time.

Strategic change to the incumbent curriculum and belief system, must be a simple, yet powerful vision – followed by an operational plan. Teachers lack the social capital at the local level that they often seem to hold in spades though their professional learning networks.

The Facilating Environment

It’s great to have a PLN, but imperative that you can unleash it’s potential to the local community. The reality is that sites and services are still banned, teachers harassed by mis-informed parents. (Yes parents your kids will post things online sooner or later … that is why we are teaching them early, before they cyberbully or get bullied).

Good leadership in a Web2.0 world means solving this dilemma, not orbiting it, or citing it as ‘the problem’. Teachers, I don’t think can’t carry the day – unless leaders develop pathways addressing increasing student dis-satisfaction with their environment and modes of learning. I may well take deliberate effort to de-stablilse the previous learning in order to begin the change process. Storming begins with developing a Facilitating Environment in which we can create conditions for this growth in learning and teaching. This is a strategic plan. Simple in design, easily understood and impactful, delivered in partnership with teachers and leaders.

Develop a powerful learning plan!

I can’t imagine that anyone who has a ‘leadership’ position is not aware of how ICTs are central to life long learning and knowledge is more than ever, socially constructed – by doing. Few cannot have heard of what is possible – yet students are still waiting for them to end the digital winter and open up classroom learning to it’s potential. I imagine a courier van. The driver has a hectic schedule and the drivers door won’t open so they have to climb in an out using the passenger door. There’s no time to fix the door and as the driver is still making deliveries, then unless the other door develops problems – there is no need to fix it. I am amazed at what teachers achieve in a deficit model, and can’t begin to imagine what would happen in a facilitative one.

The future of teaching will change

The dilemma here is that as individuals, we are developing personal learning plans, we are intrinsically motivated and drawn towards global solutions. I wonder what happens as their skills begin to be in high demand. Will the get tired of using the passenger car door and take their skills at least in part, online into virtual classrooms. There is significant research to suggest that this is not only viable, but profitable, both for the individual and the institution.

Factories have closed, and yet the machine that made the workers seems convinced that they will come back. Maybe it is just bullish behaviour and no one wants to make a phone call to the ‘factory floor’ to seek assistance.

Teachers: Develop a professional learning plan. Schools: Develop a professional learning plan to support teachers. [please]

References:

David Boud, Grahame Feletti (1991) The challenges of problem based learning. Kogam Page, London (p.15)

Winnicott D W (1965) The Maturational Process and the Facilitating Environment London: Hogarth Press

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