Monday, November 18, 2013

Ask not what the internet can do for you, but what you can do for the internet!

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Did you know, to become a New Zealand citizen if you have not been born here, you are required to swear an oath or  complete an affirmation of allegiance?

I (your name) solemnly and sincerely affirm that ...  ...  ...   I will faithfully observe the laws of New Zealand and fulfil my duties as a New Zealand
In England, there is a GCSE called Citizenship Studies which "helps students to develop as active citizens of our democracy." 

What is citizenship? What does it mean to be a New Zealand citizen as opposed to a citizen of another country? What is a good citizen? How do you teach someone to become a good citizen? And should there be a distinction between citizenship and digital citizenship?  

Being a bit of an E-Learning nerd, I spend a significant amount of time thinking about Digital Citizenship. However, working with +Andrew Cowie from the National Library on this subjects recently, I have realised a few more important things... 

Firstly, that although we keep saying digital citizenship, it is really an indication of our age far more than grey hair and wrinkles could ever be. Do you have an email account? Then guess what? You are a digital citizen. Although to a lesser degree than a fourteen year old who documents their whole life through Instagram snap shots or a twenty something year old teacher who blogs about everything she learns at her new school, you are still a digital citizen. Then throw in some online banking, shopping, your iTunes account and your Facebook account. Perhaps you are occupying more of cyber space than you care to think? In fact, how many of us can really function in society without connectivity? +Andrew Cowie proposed that the "digital" might fall away eventually. I agree, but I think that it should already have fallen away. Breaking a law online, is still, breaking a law, hence, you are citizen occupying a physical and a digital space. 

As always, admitting the problem is always the first step. So now that I am aware that I am a (digital) citizen, what should I know? Certainly the traditional ideas of cyber safety are my, and probably your immediate thoughts. Don't give out personal details and so forth. However there is more to it than that. I am directly connected to the world. I have a digital persona that may reflect positively or negatively depending on how what I put out there is interpreted. And that digital version of me has a reach often much further than what I would have had on my own. What is the impact of my words online? They may not break any laws, but certainly they may impact someone's perception of me. Or they may impact someone's perception of the organisation that I work with. And certainly, if you work in New Zealand, chances are, you will meet someone in person at some point.

Although we often focus on the cyber safety and sensibility side of things. We often forget about things such as intellectual property. Do you have the permission to use certain images? When I retweet an image, do I actually have the right to do so? Have you read the fine print of who owns the images you upload to Pinterest, Facebook, Google, Twitter and Instagram? Do you know what a creative commons licence is? 

Being a good digital citizen extends beyond not breaking the law, just as being a good citizen extends beyond not breaking the law. For example I might not break any laws, but I would be considered a much better citizen if I enrolled to vote and actually bothered to vote. Or if politics isn't your thing, I might choose to get involved in my community through girl scouts or other community projects. In the digital world, this may be as simple as clicking the report spam button in Twitter. It may mean that I host events such as #kidschatNZ or that I use the internet to spread the world about a good cause like +Johanna Chambers and her ride for cancer. 

There is also genuine skill that comes into being a good digital citizen. Information is no longer a commodity but being able to sift through information and curate it in a thoughtful, useful and unique way is far more valuable. Or learning to manage online representations of ourselves is certainly also a skill with genuine value. 

Citizenship is about obeying the laws of a country. However being a good citizen is about contributing in such a way that your country benefits from you, and as a result, you from it. Being a citizen you would keep yourself safe and follow the law, but a good citizen contributes. So, ask not what the internet can do for you, but what you can do for the internet. Are you contributing by keeping not just yourself, but others safe too? Are you using the connectivity and reach of the internet to achieve positive things both in a physical and a digital space? And are you really engaging with the potential of the internet? Are you the citizen who never enjoys the beaches, the parks, the public fireworks? Or are you the citizen who embraces the full power of the the Internet's enormous diversity and makes it work for you and those around you in both the physical and the digital worlds you occupy? 

I encourage you to embrace that you are probably like me, a child of two worlds. You live in a physical and a digital space. So I invite you to step up, and live in that space as you would in your home, your neighbourhood and your community. Make it a better place! 

Monday, November 11, 2013

"Miss, why are we learning this?"

"Miss, why are we learning this?" When a student asks this question in my class, I know I have messed up. I believe that a student should never have to wonder why they are required to learn something. And no, telling a student that "it will be on the test or the exam" is NOT why they should be learning it and neither is "the result will go on your report". Some things we do in school are much easier to show the relevance, take algebra versus the study of sustainability. Which one would you find easier links for students to relate to?

Lately however, I have become more and more aware that my links to the real world are not sufficient in my hope to engage every student in the classroom. What's more, talking about and showing the links to students certainly do not have the same effects as allowing students to make the links themselves. This of course requires the teacher to step back from sage on the stage and really move into the realm of enabling students to make connections in authentic ways.The extract from Dennis Littky's book, The Big Picture, Education is Everyone's Business, highlights incredibly well what real authenticity might look like, but also, what it might look like if a teacher has enabled their students to make the links rather than telling or showing them.
"The hands on science curriculum I’ve heard so much about turns out to be the kids conducting an experiment showing that Diet Pepsi floats while regular Pepsi sinks. This is learning? No, but to an educator who thinks innovation means simply getting away from the chalk-and–talk and getting the kids involved, it looks good to see everyone in small groups, writing down what they observe. Still, the task isn’t real, and I don’t think there are many kids who really care why one soda sinks and the other doesn’t. 
Here’s a great story about two units done at one of my schools. The first was an election unit, where the kids learned about the current candidates and their stands on things like education and the environment, and then they went into town and actually helped register people to vote. I remember the teacher saying to me, “You now Dennis, the kids did amazing work, really amazing. They registered about 300 people, they really enjoyed themselves. That was a great unit” Everything changed with this teacher’s next unit, which focused on travel. If you had walked into her classroom, you definitely would have agreed that everything looked very good. The kids were all working. They’d each called a travel agent and were planning different trips. They were busy, busy, busy. At the end of this unit though, the teacher came back to me and said, “Every kid got an A on the election unit, but for this one, there were a lot of kids who didn’t do their homework and just weren’t as motivated.” What happened? She wanted to know. What was the difference? The kids knew they weren’t going to go on the trips they planned. It was a good, well thought out lesson. It was very hands on. But it wasn’t real. The work that is done in school looks like real work, but it is not real enough." - From Dennis Littky's The Big Picture. Education is Everyone's Business
The more I read, and believe me, I am reading a lot at the moment, I realise the importance of real world learning. That does not mean learn about the real world. That means we learn in the real world. In the real world, research is step one to help us make informed decisions, solve problems or form an opinion. Research is not an end product. And yes you might become a scientist that does research but how many of our kids become one of those? And what's more, even scientists (and I checked this with my marine biologist and evolutionary geneticist friends) start with research to design their own research project, they use research to design their methods. In the real world we write a letter to a newspaper, a comment on a blog or a tweet, and we send it. Why would one carefully draft a letter, edit rewrite, check grammar and punctuation, ask someone to proofread it for you and then not send it?

So real world, authentic learning... How am I planning on structuring it when I have students again? Well, let me tell you about another exciting pearl of the Hobsonville Point team. The Hobsonville Learning Design Model (or some name like that!).

Although as a teacher I might might find that I already use most of these aspects on this diagram (all drawn directly from the NZC and used to describe the combined learning areas), I realise that often, I stay with the traditional explore, make sense and focus parts. Although I frequently veer off to the generate, test, refine and share parts, perhaps not enough, and in not enough depth. Generate, test, refine and share are the parts where students really gain depth in their understanding as they need to apply knowledge. Now imagine this model, combined with the idea of learning in the real world, and then for good measure, you throw in an aspect of service learning where students are required not only to generate, test and refine, but to do this for someone else. Someone outside the school, in the community, in the world.

But wait, that's not all! Once you have generated, tested and refined, you need to share too. So then you add in this idea of a panel to evaluate the work rather than just a teacher. A panel with perhaps one or two teachers, some peers, an older student, and even the member of the community that the product was for.

Well doesn't that sound far more rigorous and exciting than open your textbook to page 55? Practice makes perfect. But what are you practicing? And how many of your students are learning?

So now do you understand my excitement to start planning for 2014?

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Value added

What are the values and the principles of your school? Do you know them off by heart? Or do you have to look them up? I am pretty sure that if you ask any of the teachers at Hobsonville Point that they could tell you what the school's values and principles are. You might say values schmalues. They make little to no impact on the day to day business of teachers. Or do they?

The professional learning team have started working on the appraisal and professional learning programme of our new school. We started with an anonymous survey to get an idea of everyone's past experiences and possible suggestions. These suggestions, as well as the professional learning team's ideas for the appraisal and professional learning were all then tested against our school's values and principles. This, and just about everything else we at Hobsonville Point, is tested against our values and principles. What it means is that everyone is on board with the school's vision in their decision making. But also, that we all understand why we are there. 
The values are at the core of the circle, the principles are on the
 second circle and the practices are on the outside circle.
I am interested to know whether if I looked at an old classroom observation from a previous school and the practices that I had, whether they would support the values of that school directly? Even more so, I wonder if I wrote my own values for education in the centre of that circle, how often my practices do or do not match. The real question though, is whether the values you and I have for education, matches what the students actually need. 

So what values and principles do you have? Are the students' at the centre of your values? And are you living and breathing those values and principles through your practice? 

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Timetable 2.0 and Rainbow Unicorn Schools

It has come to my attention that we have been called the rainbow unicorn school. I should point out that this was before Halloween on Thursday where the staff of Hobsonville Point made an excellent effort to get dressed up. No unicorns though but certainly an excellent Medusa (Natural Confectionary Company jelly snakes attached with hairpins) and of course Thomas the Tank Engine.

I suspect that part of the reason for being called the rainbow unicorn school is our tendency towards blue sky thinking. Lots of teachers have thought "what if..." What if we could do this? Change that? If we had this and we had that. The difference when you go to a rainbow unicorn school, is that it is not enough for people to think what if. They actually have a go at changing things. And they take the what if one step further, we actually believe that things can change. That said though, passion is not enough to create effective and meaningful change. One needs research, strategy, determination, resilience, collaboration and a whole lot more. However, from my own experience, I know that it is passion that allows me to put in extra hours, gladly, even when I am tired. It is passion that allows me to have another go at something even if I have failed miserably a few times before. It is passion that allows me to keep revisiting and idea, question it, turn it over, learn more about it, try again. And so, I think it might be the collective passion of the staff at Hobsonville Point that might allow our new school to succeed. It is passion that has allowed the team to break down the old school secondary timetable into a model that allows personalisation, autonomy and choice for students but teachers too.

Personalisation will happen at Hobsonville Point through three parts, projects, learning hubs and modules. Big projects will be a whole school approach however with an emphasis on service learning. Passion projects will be just that, passion projects. The learning hubs will replace the old idea of a from class. Learning hubs will use the advocacy model to ensure a focus on a dispositional and academic curriculum but also to ensure that every student has one person in the school that knows them really well. Hence, every student will have a mentor. The modules will be the vehicle for curriculum delivery. Each term, every student will select one large module, two small modules and four spins (mini modules) as well as hoops (workshops). Cross curricular teaching teams plan these modules together however all under an overarching theme for the term. The SLLs (specialised learning leaders) then have the job of ensuring curriculum coverage.

Myself, and the rest of the team are hugely excited about the new timetable and the possibilities that it holds.