The Learning Curve

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It is been a while since I’ve ‘put pen to paper’ here, but it is nice to be back. In light of my experiences and the challenges I’ve faced so far this school year, I’m dedicating this post to the ‘learning curve’.

For me, good teaching is about learning. It is about taking risks, experimenting with new ideas, and collaborating with colleagues to improve the learning experiences and outcomes of our students. As an educator, taking risks and exploring new ideas is not an easy or straightforward process; and without leadership support, you are likely to fail. It is one thing to dream up an innovative idea, it is quite another to implement it within your school community.

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This year, with the benefit of a FIRST Australia grant, and the support of my school leadership team, I found myself teaching an extracurricular LEGO robotics program, preparing two teams for the FIRST LEGO League (FLL) competition. I’d never worked with these sophisticated robotics kits before, and I wasn’t sure how the program would run in our school, let alone how I’d teach it. After many hours of internet research, watching YouTube videos, and adapting teaching materials from EV3Lessons.com & Carnegie Mellon University, I set up my Google Classroom groups, and set to work.

Admitting that “I don’t know, but let’s try it and find out” is not an easy thing for a teacher to say to their students.  Yet, this quickly proved to be a common refrain in my robotics class! Learning isn’t linear, and sometimes it can be messy. I based my teaching and learning approach on the idea that we could explore robotics concepts and skills through guided problem solving and hands-on experimentation. If it doesn’t work, let’s keep experimenting, and work out why. I was teaching out of my comfort zone, trying to stay one step ahead of my students. I could hardly pretend to be the font of all knowledge – I was often building and testing programs and mechanisms an hour before my students arrived for class.

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Our FLL robotics program was never intended to just be about ‘teaching girls to code’, or capturing their interest in ‘STEM’ careers, although these were important underlying goals. We were interested in teaching our girls to think, and empowering them to become confident learners and problem solvers. Now, a little over three months into the program, I’m starting to appreciate the impact of this approach, particularly for those girls whose academic results would usually deny them this kind of opportunity.

Learning how to teach robot programming and engineering with LEGO EV3 Mindstorms has been a steep, yet extremely rewarding learning curve. My teaching programs are covered with notes about what worked, and what I’ll need to do differently next year. Yet, by taking risks, experimenting with new ideas, and facing my fears – I am not only growing as an educator, but I am making a difference in my students’ learning.

At the end of the day, that’s what teaching is all about.

Facing the Challenges of the new Digital Technologies Curriculum

As schools around Australia prepare for the implementation of the new Digital Technologies curriculum, teachers are starting to come to terms with some difficult new terminology, content, and skills. While Western Australian schools have been given two years to implement a slightly more user friendly version of the national Digital Technologies Curriculum, we are facing a number of significant challenges in common with our interstate counterparts.

Challenge 1: Explaining the difference between Digital Technologies and ICT

There is a common misconception that ICT and Digital Technologies are the same, and teachers who haven’t read the curriculum are in for a shock.

While ICT focuses on the use of technology for learning, Digital Technologies focuses on empowering students to be creators, producers, and developers of technologies through the development of computational thinking. 

For example, students use ICT skills when they make movies, podcasts, and digital stories. They develop understandings of digital technologies when, for example, they explore the role of hardware and software in their smartphones;  and when they use computational thinking to code digital solutions to problems – e..g. programming a robot.

A good way of defining the difference is comparing ICT General Capabilities to Literacy Skills, and Digital Technologies to the English learning area.


Challenge  2:  To integrate, or isolate, that is the question.

At the start of 2015, we introduced major changes at my school. In line with the purpose and goals of the ICT General Capabilities in the Australian Curriculum, classroom teachers became responsible for integrating ICT across the curriculum. There were two reasons for this change. Firstly, we believed that learning with ICT should not be isolated in the computer lab, segregated from the rest of the curriculum. Secondly, building our school’s reputation for high-quality ICT and digital technologies programs will rely on the expertise of every member of the school community, from the Principal down. Can schools really afford to reply on one expert? What happens when they leave …?

In our school, many teachers are exploring the power and relevance of ICT and digital technologies to their classroom teaching. I’ve watched teachers become the most excited learners in the room, empowering their students’ creativity and problem solving through digital storytelling, coding, and robotics – and starting to see authentic connections to maths and literacy.

My coaching experiences this year, and discussions with teachers (through Twitter and ISTE), raises an important question in regards to the implementation of the Digital Technologies curriculum.

What is the point of teaching students to collaborate, think computationally, and solve real world problems in one lesson a week outside of everyday classroom learning?

Yes, this may be appropriate for a technologies extension program, but surely these skills are important and applicable for all students, across a range of learning areas?


Challenge 3:  Supporting Teachers’ Engagement with Digital Technologies

The implementation and integration of the Digital Technologies curriculum will be a steep learning curve for most teachers. Some of the concepts in the new curriculum are scarily new, especially the parts about binary language and coding. Yet, others are familiar. For example, we use algorithms for problem solving, cooking, and giving directions / instructions in English , Science, and Maths. We use spreadsheets for collecting and making sense of data in Maths and Geography. These learning activities provide an authentic, relevant context for the integration of digital technologies.

As indicated by the WA curriculum writers, it makes sense to integrate Digital Technologies at the primary level – both through classroom learning activities, and through your library makerspace (if you are lucky enough to have one). If we learned anything from last year; however, it is that teachers are going to need a lot of support, both through collaborative PLCs and resourcing, to become comfortable teaching this new curriculum.

At my school, I have been working as a part-time teacher coach, supporting teachers’ integration of ICT and digital technologies in the classroom. This approach is most empowering for those teachers seeking help to develop their relatively limited technology skills, and those keen to push pedagogical and technological boundaries. I know that most schools can’t afford to fund this kind of role, but I would suggest that teacher relief for collaborative planning, classroom observation, and targeted professional development in Digital Technologies would be money well spent. I’d start by developing the skills and capabilities of a small group of interested teachers across a range of year levels, and then giving them time and space to share their learning with their colleagues. I am hoping to do this in my own school this year – it is just too hard to lead this change process alone.


Challenge 4:  Finding resources and fellow pathfinders.

As we begin our Digital Technologies journey, I take a great deal of comfort in the knowledge that we’re not alone. Around the country, and around the world, teachers are developing resources, activities, and tools that we can adapt for use in our school.

As schools begin their familiarisation and planning with the Digital Technologies Curriculum, it is important to consider what tools and resources they already have available, e.g. iPads; and plan for strategic investment in edtech tools which add value to the curriculum, such as BeeBots, Dash (Wonder Workshop), Sphero, and MakeyMakey. I’d add LEGO EV3 robotics if you can afford them!

For developing skills in computational thinking and coding, there are a range of free resources and communities available online, including:

If you’re interested in developing your understanding of the curriculum, or if like me, you’ve been tasked with leading its implementation, I’d highly recommend connecting with your local ICT subject association, joining Twitter, and exploring the CSER Digital Technologies MOOC. With the rest of Australia (except NSW) implementing this change from 2017 (2018 in WA), things are about to get really interesting!


 I’m learning as I go, and I don’t have all the answers.

Leading the familiarisation and implementation of the new Digital Technologies Curriculum in my school is probably the biggest challenge I’ve faced in my career to date; and I’ve learned some valuable lessons.

You don’t need to have all the answers when you’re starting out. If you can develop a basic understanding of the concepts and tools, don’t be afraid to learn and experiment alongside your students. It took me months to overcome my fear of learning in front of my students and colleagues, but I soon discovered that the more I threw at our girls, the more they came back and surprised me..


 Leading curriculum change isn’t easy, but its worth fighting for.

You will treasure those little moments … Watching a girl who struggles in class successfully code a robot for the first time . Noticing that a group of students have continued the Hour of Code 2015 activities independently through their Christmas holidays. That time I sat down with a Year 5 student and asked her how to explain how she did things I didn’t know were possible with Scratch.

At the end of the day, my students are the reason I teach.

Flat Connections, Sydney 2014

Heading to Sydney for Flat Connections marked an important milestone, namely the first time I have ever visited the East Coast of Australia! Held at the SHORE School, Flat Connections proved to be an amazing conference, where I met many friends, new and old, and discovered leadership and multimedia skills I didn’t know I had 🙂 

(Distracting) view from SHORE School

(Distracting) view from SHORE School

Flat Connections was a conference involving teachers and students, with some flying from Canada, the United States, and Iran; and saw teachers pitching and presenting to students, and vice versa. I was working with Leadership Team 9, a diverse bunch of Australian high school teachers, and my friend from Iran. Given two days to come up with a multimedia product showcasing a global project or idea, we decided to focus on creating a pitch for secondary teachers to start exploring the power of global connections in their curriculum and learning experiences. While we had our stressful moments, I was extremely impressed with how we bonded as a team, and capitalising on our various strengths, we produced a result we were happy with.

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Leadership Team 9

 

Some Takeaways

  • I really appreciated the hands-on focus of this conference. It truly wasn’t a conference where you could turn up and vegetate. You had to make a real, collaborative contribution, and you certainly were never bored – just mentally and physically exhausted! Someone once said that this conference was “hard fun”. They weren’t joking. It was the most challenging, yet most rewarding professional development I have ever participated in; and I would love nothing more than to do it all again in future years!
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Team members working on voice over

  • I was also extremely impressed with the students, aged 10-16, who simply blew me away with their creativity, presentation skills, and ideas. I think the greatest lesson of this conference was never underestimating what students can do when given the time, resources, and opportunity to “think big”, and explore the other story. A case in point is  “The Passion Project” student video, which conveys the argument for 20% time so eloquently. Please sign their petition! 

 

Get Involved with Ed Tech Down Under! (#OZeLive 2014)


I am delighted to be involved with the brand new OzELive online conference, presented by the Australia e-Series and The Learning Revolution Project.

#OZeLive is a new virtual conference will run on February 22-23, 2014 at Australia friendly time-zones. It will feature Australian and New Zealand educators sharing their stories, perspectives, and expertise in the fields of:

  • Web 3.0 / social media
  • Educator 3.0* eLearning/ Blended learning/ LMS* Networking
  • Collaborative learning / learning theory / pedagogy
  • Use of technology in the classroom/learning environment
  • PLEs / PLNs/PLCs

Call for Presenters

If you are an Australian or New Zealand educator, with a story to share, you are warmly invited to submit a presentation proposal here. I’d suggest doing it soon, as the schedule will be finalized in early February 🙂

Attend

The conference will run on February 22-23, with presentations held in Blackboard Collaborate virtual classrooms. The 45 minute sessions will be recorded and converted to MP4 format, then made available in our OZeLive You Tube channel. More details, and schedule, to follow.

Connect

Follow @ozelivecon and the #ozelive hashtag on Twitter, and join the Facebook group here. The official website is here – http://australianeducators.ning.com/.

Global Classroom 2013-14 Launch Webinars – Nov 22 and 23/24

2013-14 LAUNCH PRESENTATION

It is hard to believe, but Global Classroom 2013-14 is upon us. When I co-founded our first project in March 2011 with Deb Frazier, I never dreamt that I’d be here, two and half years later, announcing the launch of our fourth instalment … building on some amazing years of global connections, conversations, and collaborations.

But, here we are. 

Our project launch webinars will be happening on Friday Nov 22, and Saturday Nov 23/ Sunday Nov 24 (morning), marking the beginning of the next chapter in our #globalclassroom journey. If you come along, or watch the recordings, you’ll have the opportunity to meet some of inspirational leaders, engage in global conversations, and start to explore the amazing possibilities presented by breaking down your classroom walls.

This year, we’ve set up a Google Plus invitation to enable people to check when the sessions run in their time-zone, and to add a reminder to their calendars by RSVP’ing their attendance. If you have any questions, please get in touch 🙂

As usual, these webinars will be held on online using BlackBoard Collaborate. We recommend checking you have the latest version of Java installed on your computer (or download the Blackboard Collaborate app for iOS), and log in at least 10 minutes prior to the start of the session. Thanks!

 

Session 1 –  Friday, November 22(#GlobalEd13)

 

Session 2 – Saturday Nov 23 / Sunday November 24

Please note, the repeat webinar on Saturday takes place in a different BlackBoard Collaborate room, courtesy of Warwick University. Please make sure you use the correct room link!

Scootle 101 – Resources for the Australian Curriculum

On Monday, I had the opportunity to present about Scootle, and the Scootle Community at a local school’s staff development day. As a follow up to the session, I’m sharing my slides, and links to some useful resources for teachers interested in exploring further.

Scootle 101

What does it offer?

  • Scootle is helping enable teachers to integrate digital technologies into their curriculum, assist in the discovery and creation of Australian curriculum resources, and provides a stepping stone for building professional networks beyond the school community.
  • Search for Australian Curriculum Resources by strand, year group, key words, topic, and Australian curriculum indicators.
  • Access Copyright free resources, photos, videos, units of work, and digital learning objects for all learning areas, good for literacy, numeracy, history.

  • Learning objects can be used on IWB, some will play on iPad (HTML5 objects).

  • Can share resources and learning objects with students/staff using PIN codes, or PDF export of Learning Paths (recommended option).

  • Scootle Community network is a great stepping stone professional learning network for Australian teachers.

Learning Paths

  • A learning path allows you to create folders around concepts, topics or learning area. You can classify resources or paths into folders. We created a learning path focusing on Measurement in Maths for F-2 students. The PIN is LCRFEQ.

  • PIN codes are found when you click on the Edit tab of Learning Paths

Notes for Local Teachers

  • Access via the BPS school network is best done on teacher computers or personal iPads. Sadly the Scootle app doesn’t work on the local WiFi network. 
  • Staff can access scootle.edu.au via the DET Portal in the iPad Safari browser, but the inability to access Flash content is quite irritating.

Downloadable Resources / Web Links

Thank you to Jan Clarke, of AISWA, who kindly shared some of the following resources.

Returning to #RSCON4 – A Journey Continues

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On Saturday night, I returned to where it all began, presenting at the fourth Reform Symposium eConference. Considering my global journey started with attending #RSCON11, and presenting for the very first time at #RSCON3, this was a very special occasion, and I was truly taken aback by the response and interest in my session.

With 35 attendees from 6 continents, this is a presentation I will remember for some time to come 🙂 Thankyou to everyone who attended, and thank you to all those wonderful people who’ve sent me feedback on the session. It is greatly appreciated.

Meeting My “First Year Self”

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been working with a group of student teachers and a few new relief (substitute / casual) teachers, and been given ample opportunity to reflect on my early career experiences. I still have vivid (painful) memories of my student teaching practical experiences, and remember how I graduated from university in 2008 with high hopes and a completely unrealistic sense of my readiness to teach.

It is hard for my current colleagues to believe that the eccentric relief teacher that they see now was the epitome of the ‘angry young man’ just a few short years ago. Nevertheless, it’s true. It took me years to accept that my university had not properly prepared me for the profession, and that teaching was a much harder, more savage profession than I’d ever imagined.

This is my fifth year ‘on the road’, although I’m only just entering my fourth year of teaching (in terms of days worked). I’ve yet to have a class of my own, despite spending three months in a school (an unpleasant story with unexpectedly positive outcomes). It has been an interesting journey, but despite all the setbacks and disappointments, I’m actually a better person for it. And besides, with most graduates quitting within three years, I’m one of the survivors.

I’ve come a long way

I am a different person, a different teacher than I was just a few short years ago.

It has taken me over four years to feel competent, to feel like that I actually know what I’m doing. Yes, I make my mistakes, but I’m making fewer of them … Yes, I still struggle to manage some classes, but I have a better classroom management toolkit and approach to help me get through the difficult situations. And perhaps most importantly, with an extensive national and international education network, I no longer feel angry, isolated, and alone.

So, as I reflect on my pre-service and early career teaching experiences, I found myself mentally composing the advice I wish I’d been given all those years ago. For those of you about to graduate your teacher training, and those starting out in our profession, this is for you.

 

First Year Teaching is Hell Hard.

 
cc licensed ( BY NC ND ) flickr photo shared by wakingphotolife:

Please don’t enter this profession with rose coloured glasses. Please don’t expect to easily get a teaching position in a good school, in a good class. Don’t expect to be the perfect, well organised competent classroom teacher from Day One …

Teaching is not an easy profession, and your first year will be, to put it mildly, hard slog. It is a matter of survival, resilience, and perseverance. The meetings, the dealings with parents (who can be difficult), the planning, the extracurricular activities, the classroom management challenges … and the list goes on.

It is easy to be disillusioned, isolated, and alone as a new teacher, particularly when you’re a relief teacher or new graduate in a ‘horror’ class. Research shows that virtually all new teachers go through a process of survival, disillusionment, and rejuvenation, although some people take longer to go through a phase than others.

Image via http://www.weac.org/professional_resources/new_teacher_resources/beg_handbook/phases.aspx

(Image source:  http://www.weac.org/professional_resources/new_teacher_resources/beg_handbook/phases.aspx. BTW, I highly recommend the Survival Guide at this link)

As a relief teacher, I didn’t have the support network that most new teachers have when they’re posted to a school. I was lucky that I had a few schools which were willing to forgive my horrific management mistakes, and give me the teaching experience I so desperately needed.

I am indebted to those relief coordinators who gave me a chance to learn and improve, who didn’t ‘spit me out’ after one or two days in their school. I went through some very traumatic experiences, yet I was one of the luckier ones, as I wasn’t stuck in a horrible class or supportive school for my first year of teaching.

It isn’t really possible to adequately prepare for the challenges of first year teaching, but there are some strategies and resources you can access to help ease the transition.

 

Develop your PLN / support network BEFORE you graduate from your teacher training course!



cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo shared by Alec Couros

If I could go back in time and change one thing about my university teacher training, I would have started building my online support network as a first year teacher. In fact, I’d go so far as to suggest teacher trainers should provide some information about online education networks and support communities as part of the first year teacher curriculum and graduate teacher programmes, as this would make a significant difference for many early career teachers.

My online support network has helped make me the teacher I am today. From providing emotional support behind the scenes through some of the most traumatic episodes of my career, to giving me the empowering chance to present at my first online conference, and to the ongoing collaboration that I contribute to, my online network has stood by me, and helped me grow over the past few years.

And remember, if you’re employed in a school community, don’t forget to develop your local support network as well. You’re not expected to know everything (although we often think we should), and don’t be afraid to ask your colleagues (teacher next door) for help and advice. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness, as you can’t survive in this profession if you try to go it alone. You’re working to create a learning community in your classroom and school, so don’t be afraid to practice what you preach!

 

Engage in State/Union Graduate Teacher Professional Development opportunities. 

In Western Australia, I was lucky enough to be one of the few relief teachers to progress through the Education Department’s teacher induction programme. It is called different things in different states (see here for details) and different countries, but early career mentoring and professional development programmes are truly invaluable. You’d be truly mad not to participate if you’re eligible, and I was certainly glad I did so.

 

Try and maintain your health

This is vitally important, and something that I probably should have paid more attention to in my first few years. Eating healthily, aiming for regular exercise, and maintaining an outdoor hobby are critical to surviving first year teaching.

I must confess that while I became a skilled ballroom dancer during this time (it was my only social outlet), ignoring chronic stress-related health problems saw me end up in hospital. I know for a fact that I wasn’t the only first year teacher who went through this experience, and I can only stress that setting some time aside to look after yourself, however hard, is critical when you’re starting out in this very stressful, and time-consuming profession.

 

Document the Journey

As you progress in your career, there will be times where you will want to look back, and see how you thought and acted in your early years. In fact, I’m doing that now …

A private journal or blog is an essential medium for first year teachers. Believe it or not, it really, really helps to just take a moment to write down what you are doing, how you are feeling, and what you’re planning to work on. In my first year, I took a few hours each school holidays to sit and write, and what I wrote makes for interesting, if admittedly painful, reading.

In more recent years, this blog has replaced my journal, although I have always maintained a separation between the raw emotion of the journals & the more professional tone I use here. I’m not sure I could have publicly blogged my first year experiences, although I do know, and greatly respect those teachers who do so.

Keep hold of your dreams, passions, and reasons for entering teaching.

Each person comes into teaching for different reasons, and there will be times in your early career where you’d will be wondering if it is all worth it, whether you’re actually achieving anything, or making a difference.

Don’t let go of your dreams, find something to cling on to – through the good and the bad. If you’re lucky enough to discover a passion for something, hold on to it with both hands. Having a sense of purpose and direction makes a huge difference when you’re going through the rough times, and will help you stay in what is, at the end of the day, a wonderful profession.

Remember, you’re never alone. And you ARE making a difference.

 

Enjoy the ride

First year teaching will be a challenge, but it is just the beginning of what we hope will turn out to be an amazing journey. As I enter my fourth year of teaching, the painful memories and traumatic experiences have faded, replaced by the triumphs, successes, and positive learning experiences of the past two years.

They say “what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger”, and that seems to have defined my teaching journey. For all the highs and lows, I’m a better person, and a better teacher. I’m looking forward to an exciting future in my chosen profession, and can’t wait to discover where it will take me.

Yes, I may not have (yet) had my own class, or a school to truly call home. Yet, I’m a teacher, and I’m proud of it.

All that remains is to wish my student-teacher and first year colleagues ‘good luck’ for your future. You have the potential to become great teachers, and I look forward to working with you in the years to come. Welcome to teaching.

 

SSTUWA Relief Teacher Professional Development – October

This is for the Western Australian relief teachers who read my blog 🙂

I highly recommend you take up the opportunity to attend the Relief Teacher Workshops run by our local union in the upcoming October school holidays.

I have attended several union professional development events in the past, and highly recommend them, particularly if you are a local relief teacher wondering how to get a job next year.  I also highly recommend the session on the Teacher Online Planning System (TOPS).

For details on dates and registration, please visit this page. Please note that while these workshops are FREE, they are available to SSTUWA union members only.

Cheers,

Michael

 

 

#iEARN13 Workshop & Presentations

 

I am still coming to terms with the fact that I travelled halfway around the world to share my social media journey and experiences with The Global Classroom Project at #iEARN13.

Qatar was the venue for my first (three!) international presentations, including my first Global Classroom Workshop, and the launch of my first iEARN project.

Here they are, with links to explore further if you wish.

Connecting Globally via Twitter and the #globalclassroom Chats (Workshop)

I still can’t believe that nearly 50 people attended this workshop, which was live translated from English into Arabic. It seemed to make quite an impact, judging by the frequent informal sessions I held with new iEARN twitter teachers over the days which followed!

It was a pleasure to present in front of the @iEARNAustralia management team, who now have a much better understanding of what I’ve been trying to do with our organisation’s Twitter account.

This workshop was also the first time I experimented with a bilingual “Find Someone Who” activity as a brief 5 minute introduction to the ‘essence’ of Twitter – short, rapid fire conversations with global partners around a range of issues.

A huge thank you goes to @rawyashatila in Lebanon, who generously translated the document into Arabic! 🙂

Workshop Notes

Workshop Handout & (Crowd Sourced) Twitter Tips

@mgraffin Twitter Workshop

Via @FrisoDoornhof

 

Social Media Panel Contribution

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One of the unexpected surprises of the iEARN Conference was the invitation to contribute to the Social Media Panel Keynote, created by Khitham Al-Utaibi (@khitamah) and Rebecca Hodges (@ProfHodges).

Presenting alongside 3 academics, and one of the most globally aware high school students I’ve ever met (@AndrewNasser), was quite an experience. We had around 450 people in the audience, and I received some very positive feedback on my contribution. I suspect I went over my time allocation slightly, but I think this tweet sums it up nicely:

 

Building the Global Classroom: A Substitute Teacher’s Twitter Journey from Michael

iEARN Travelling Scrapbook Project Launch

This turned out to be one of the more productive sessions of the conference, where I took the opportunity to share the story of the #globalclassroom travelling scrapbook project, and discuss plans for an iEARN version.

I took away some hastily scribbled notes / suggestions, and a list of potential partners. I’m hoping to get this project running by September 2013, and will have to try and sort out the planning / organisation approach over the next week or so.