"Life begins at the end of your comfort zone."

~Neale Donald Walsch~

Sunday, 14 September 2014

What is the new normal in education?

It's been interesting watching the trends in education over the last few years. There have been many predictions from marketers and specialists however I am a casual observer. This year in particular hasn't seen a dramatic change from any previous years but it is very to clear that different regions, schools and colleges have different levels of access to technology and the speed at which they can use this technology.

Internet Speed

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Dial up used to be the bane of our existence. We became used to the click, go get a coffee before settling in to wait for the page to upload. However it's interesting how annoying it is when there is a break in the video you are watching or the page doesn't load or crashes.Our expectation of how fast information needs to come to us has changed greatly over the last few year. I know in my area that people are moving to areas where there is high speed broadband and I myself would love to have it at my house but will have to wait some years for that to happen. I have family members who live in rural areas and can only use the mobile network and so they don't use the internet much because the speed it incredible slow and expensive. So until there is broader access to the internet there will be disparity between those who have access and those who don't. In terms of the new normal there is an expectation that when we want to purchase something, find out about something or just want to watch something that we can do it where we want and when we want either through our laptops, mobiles or tablet devices and that we can always stay 'connected'.

Skill level

We are living in an age where there is currently a generation that are 'digital native'. These children
and young people have never known a time when there wasn't computers. Just a few months ago I had a conversation with a colleague who grew up without a calculator. I just couldn't fathom what this would be like. It's just something I take for granted. Australia's teachers come from several generations and within these generations are teachers with some technology skills and others with very few. Young teachers who are graduating not only tend to have excellent computer skills but seem to navigate social media to help them in their profession and if given the opportunity will be a flag bearer for the positive aspects of using technology for teaching, learning and professional development. There will always be those who are not interested by technology at all and then there will be those that think it is wonderful and embrace it.

Time is a factor

I think one of the areas that teachers struggle with the most is time. Having had a good look at the new National Curriculum there is so much content that teachers need to cover in class but also much added pressure to be transparent about students results and feedback. The administrative side to education is getting worse and there doesn't seem to be any obvious signs this will change in the near future. Perhaps there needs to be a business admin component to the teaching degree.

Social Media

What is becoming more obvious in the last 12 months or so is the influx of educators regularly engaged in social media activity based around their teaching area. Over the last three years there have been many education chats spring up to support teachers and learning. As teachers are under great pressure to make their lessons interesting and engaging they look to the internet and social media to provide ideas and support for their projects and lessons that are quick yet very effective. There is no point re-inventing the wheel and if someone has already done it then you don't have to create something from scratch. It's about being  savvy with your time. I'm not saying go and steal ideas from others and claim them as your own I'm saying that sometimes social media can provide a starting point in your thinking to produce something better than you may have come up with on your own.

Teach Meets

Teaching has for thousands of years has always been about the sharing of knowledge and skills. There will always be those who think that their intellectual knowledge is not to be shared with other professionals and is to be only delivered to students. However there has been a real shift in thinking for many educators over the 10 years that personal knowledge is something that can be shared. Teach Meets provide an opportunity for teachers in a local communities to not only share what is happening in their classrooms but it provides support for teachers in communities for teachers and students and can address real issues that are affecting students in those suburbs or regional areas.

Education has always had to adapt and change to meet the requirements of each age and generation. As with the invention of the biro and the calculator so have interactive smartboards and greater access to the internet allowed education to become more of a global institution for our current student cohort.

I wonder what the next 10 years have install?

Until next week,


Wednesday, 27 August 2014

The art of blogging

This term, as in past terms I am one of those horrible teachers who forces their students to use technology. I
make my students create a Google account just so we can all play in Google's Technology Playground. I really think I must do that Google course and get qualified because a lot my time is spent showing others around. I usually don't have too much opposition and if a student really doesn't want to create an account then they just complete their weekly blog in a Word doc.  Anyway one of the assessment tasks this term is to blog each week. The students are given a rubric of questions for the term that they have to address each week. Some really dislike it. Others find it beneficial to help them process what they have learnt. It's no different to writing in a journal like the good old days. So is there a right and a wrong way to blog?

What is really interesting about Gen Y is that they are very confident using certain aspects of technology. They appear to bawk at something that might be a bit different but they take no time at all to pick it up and run with it. I guess for the purpose of the assessment task they are just reflecting their learning online but what I find interesting is the internal thought process about their learning that I don't always hear in the classroom.
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Often they are not bothering with punctuation and there can be large slabs of text. It seems that the usual grammar rules get thrown out the window when they type. I am not really so concerned with these things as part of the exercise because it is the information I want but I do find it interesting and insightful in their thoughts and musings that grammar doesn't seem to rate as an important part of the writing process. The internal dialogue is rich with information for me and helps me pick up on those things I hoped they had learnt and areas where they are struggling and also indicates to me if there were things in the lesson that I haven't explained clearly enough.  Students often struggle with what to write. It seems that the art of thinking and writing ; considering, analysing and synthesising new learning are lost on a generation who are used to regurgitating and memorising information for tests. However all is not lost and I find that as each week that passes there is more writing and thought provoking ideas that come through the more their blogs.

There are those who clearly have the gift of writing. I'm afraid I'm not one of the lucky ones. I wish I could eloquently piece my ideas together and weave my thoughts with beautiful images and analogies however I do my best. I don't necessarily think there is an art to blogging but more over a sense of being able to communicate with others in a different space and time in which I would normally communicate with someone face to face or over the phone.  I have found blogging has been key to my own professional development and have found it has forced me to think about what I do in my classroom and also how I engage with others in the education community.

There can be no art if there is no blogging. So blog away. Delve into your thoughts and reflections and share what's on your mind with others. It's a great way to connect with yourself and others who might share in your struggles and frustrations and it will also help you process what is working in your class or what's not.

I haven't had much time to share some of my favourite websites but I have been diving into Google a little more off late as I'm teaching a Google Apps class at the moment. I guess my two favourite Googly things at the moment are Google Keep and YouTube Creator Studio. Instead of my students doing an oral presentation they are creating a 3-5 min YouTube clip on their topic. Can't wait to see what they come up with. Have a play around in the Creator studio. I love how easy it is to access creative commons videos and audio.

Until next week,

Saturday, 2 August 2014

What do you do with a good idea?

Well it has been a few weeks since my last post and I didn't realise until today that I have sadly been neglecting my blog. The last few weeks have been a real blast and I am loving teaching Humanities and History again. My brain is all a buzz with all the wonderful lessons I've had lately and the same buzz I felt when learning about the past is still as exciting as ever.It has really fired me in the belly. By and large I am an ideas person. I generate new ideas every day. I'm constantly thinking and like to look at things outside the box and search for new and innovative ways to do things. So what happens to all these ideas you come up with?

Well this has been a great source of frustration for me over the years and I have learnt (sometimes the hard way through brutal honesty by others) that not all my ideas will come to fruition. I would say very few of my ideas in fact actually come to fruition. However in saying this it is not a bad thing. Often us frontal lobe extroverts are thought and action people. The two are linked. I like to come up with an idea and then like to make it happen however in reality I often neglect to think all the steps through and who it might affect. This in term makes a lot of work for myself or others. So if you are an ideas person how can you not get discouraged when things don't happen and if you live with or have students who are ideas people how can you help them see reality and make reasonable adjustments so as not to burst their bubble all the time?

Be encouraging

Visit this site for more ideas. 
From we are quite young age our parents tell is 'no'. Often it is to keep us safe or to instruct us in what is
social acceptable in a situation. No can be said in a variety of ways. "I don't think now is the right time for that." or "We'll look into that a bit later". I know these phrases because I use them on my children however I do find it much harder when these phrases are directed at me and my ideas at work. However I have a most excellent boss who totally understands my over zealous ideas and he always starts his no answer with an encouragement. "I think that's a great idea however we might have to revisit it in a few months." or "It's a great idea but I don't think we can manage it at the moment." It's good to feel that what you have to contribute is valuable but in reality it just isn't going to happen.

Be realistic

Ideas people often have a lot of energy. There are some people in work places that this really annoys. Particularly people who want to go away and think about things for a bit and get back to you. Yet again ideas people need a good dose of reality and patience from time to time to come around and see things in perceptive like others do. I have learnt over the years that not rushing into things is actually quite a good thing. However sometimes the thinkers also need to come to the party sooner rather than later. (The great thing about a blog is you get the last word.) :)

Take a chance

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I right this paragraph on behalf of all my other fellow idea personality friends. Sometime we come up with good ideas. Give us a chance occasionally to give us the freedom to fly and you might be surprised. I have a very good friend of mine in business and we share the same personality type. Thankfully he has a job where he is paid to trouble shoot and come up with creative and innovative ideas however not all of his ideas come to fruition either. There is nothing wrong with ideas but there is a great need for perspective and time to allow others to support and come with you as part of change rather that you flying solo and forcing others to change. 

 Mark Twain writes, "Write what you know." I have found that writing my ideas down does help to 'get them out of my head' but also allows others to go and ponder these ideas and this creates an opportunity for richer discussion and sharing. Often the challenge for teachers is time management. Sometimes ideas people can take up much time and create more work however as students grow and become more independent learners there should be opportunities for students to experiment with their ideas and take manageable and realistic risks in their learning and ideas. 

"Good actions give strength to ourselves and inspire good actions in others." Plato

More pondering next week. Thanks for all your comments via social media about this blog. I do find it encouraging and find these exchanges richly rewarding.

Until next week,

Saturday, 12 July 2014

Too scared to share

What a wonderful school holidays it has been. It's been great to unwind and take time out to ponder on things. I really do love to ponder. No wonder I like blogging so much. I have spent some of the hols preparing for next term and I am feeling very excited about it. I have longed to have a senior History class for many years and finally I will be teaching History as part of the TPC course (Tertiary Preparation Certificate) at TAFE this semester. This is a wonderful subject with great scope for understanding historiography and applying these skills throughout the semester. It has been pure joy revisiting some of my resources and reliving those moments when I am truly enthralled by interesting insights into the lives of people in our ancient and recent past. I am also teaching a subject called Humanities and it is much like Society and Culture for those who understand that subject. Very interesting to learn about our own culture and that of others around the world. Anyway enough waffle.

As usual I have had some wonderful conversations with colleagues and teaching friends over the holidays on a wide range of topics but one conversation has come up a few times and it interests me greatly. Why bother sharing what you do in your classroom or your thoughts about education on social media? At first I was taken a back because I have come to realise that sharing on social media has become my new normal and so I needed to dig into this question and digest it before I answered. My dear friend who raised this question with me has given me some fresh insights into this concept that I had long forgotten and one I think is important to revisit because I think it is one that many teachers face.

Fear of rejection

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There are many wonderful teachers out there who are fantastic at their job but would not want to be judged
on what they do. In the last twelve months I have 3 instances where I had colleagues evaluate what I teach. I would prefer to speak in front of hundreds of people than get peer reviewed. I was so nervous. I was so worried about failing and appearing stupid in front of my colleagues. Of course it was fine and it went over really well but the bar I set for myself was so high I freaked myself out. The fear of being rejected by peers was overwhelming and staying within the safe walls of my own classroom is a much more comfortable space for me. Sharing on line and putting your thoughts and ideas out there for others to judge could really be daunting for some people. You do make yourself vulnerable for criticism and this can be hard.

Personality differences

There are some teachers who are quiet and private. There are some people who do not have a tendency to want to share and who like to keep to themselves. There are some teachers who feel that their intellectual knowledge has come about through hard work, experience and dedication and they are not about to share that freely with anyone or they might steal it an claim it as their own. Those of you who like to use social media probable have greatly benefited from the experience of others yet not everyone has the desire or the personal drive to want to do this. These teacher types don't like to be pushed into anything like social media and they will not be forced into doing it. I can respect that because social media is not for everyone.

Lack of confidence in writing
I know when I started to blog 3 years ago I wasn't very good at it. I might be an English teacher but writing wasn't necessarily my thing. I was so afraid that I would sound stupid and the things I wrote wouldn't make sense. It is one thing to verbalise and communicate effectively through this mode but writing your thoughts in some cohesive manner is completing different to speaking. I had to write and rewrite what I had written and even then I would delete whole blog posts. It took months and months of diligently writing on my blog to improve the way I communicate through the written word. When I was asked to be a guest blogger on some educational websites over the last few years I nearly fell over. I still don't consider myself to be a writer but I continue to develop the way that I express my thoughts and ideas through the written word. When you use social media you have to learn the language and jargon that goes with it. (e.g Twitter, 140 characters to say what you want) Like learning anything new it is best practice to sit and watch. See how others do it and then jump in and have a go. You can't break it and you might even enjoy it.

I don't have the skills
With an aging population comes an aging work force. Baby Boomers and many Generation X are not digital
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natives. We didn't spend our childhood playing internet games or being entertained by 'tablets' and devices. We actually went outside to play. Imagine that! Anyway there are many teachers who find it difficult to learn how to use technology and it takes them a lot longer to learn how to use it then say a Generation Y teacher. Some teachers are so busy with their full time teaching loads that making the time to regularly learn how to use social media falls into the too hard basket. So with these types of learners I like to go steady and slow. It's great to be in their ear reminding them of what's going on in social media and occasionally you help them 'dip a toe in' and have a go. There is a lot to be said for modelling and encouragement.

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Considering these points has brought back to the forefront of my mind the real and genuine barriers that teachers face when considering using social media.  For some teachers to share is to make themselves vulnerable for scrutiny by their colleagues and those in the education community. However whilst I can see these barriers I see it as my job as an advocate for education to equip and encourage the sharing of knowledge for the benefit of all.

"In vain you have acquired knowledge
if you have not imparted it to others."
Deuteronomy Rabbah
(c.900, commentary on the Book of Deuteronomy)

I do hope that if you do share using social media to help advocate for students and learning that you would encourage others to do so. It takes just one teacher at a time to help change a culture and recreate a technology revolution. 

I wish you all an inspiring and innovative semester!

Until next week,

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Feeling the buzz

You know when you are part of something exciting or new there is a real buzz in the air or 'feeling the vibe'.
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It's a strange sensation and not one I feel very often. I felt it at the first Teach Meet in Sydney I went to. (I was actually really nervous because I didn't know anyone and I wasn't sure what to do.) I felt it at TEDxSydney this year and totally felt like a fish out of water amongst all the young Gen Y city folk. I have felt it at staff development days when I am hanging of every word of the presenter and constantly thinking about how it relates to my teaching. I love the anticipation of knowing that I will have been part of something that improves my life for the better. I often feel this when I attend church conferences too. However it doesn't have to be a spiritual thing it can just be a moment of sheer joy and anticipation as to what is to come. The unknown can sometimes seem daunting but not always.

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This week I have been involved in enrollments at TAFE. Last week week we said goodbye to all our students who had completed their six month course. It was such a celebration of their hard work and even more rewarding was seeing many of them having confidence in themselves and having clear pathways as to what would be their next step for employment or further educational opportunities that would give them greater opportunities in the long term for employment and job satisfaction. This week was totally different. There were students standing around unsure of where they should be. Quiet students hanging back not wanting to reveal too much and some students really revving up and rearing to go. Some of our students from the previous term have decided to continue on with us and go on to harder courses because they felt they had some momentum in learning and wanted to keep going while they still had the drive. There are a real mix of people who come to TAFE and everyone who comes has a different path they need to take. 

Optimism is something I try to have lots of. I don't always succeed but often there is a real sense of optimism when students start something with the yearning desire to get through and succeed. TAFE has taught me that it doesn't matter how old you you can still learn and keep learning. I have had students in their 60s who are changing their careers. It's wonderful to see that there is no discrimination when it comes to learning. No one can tell you to stop learning. I relish the fact that life is a learning curve and I am always excited to learn something new particularly from my students. On the last day of term one of my classes  had a 'teach the teacher' day. It was great to be surprised by the different variety of knowledge and skills that my students possess. I have never and will never consider myself to be the font of all knowledge on my own subject area because quite frankly I just can't be. Knowledge and information is always changing and I am looking forward to next semester and the surprises that await for me. I am teaching on 3 courses I have never taught on before and I am a little overwhelmed by how much preparation I will need to do in the holidays but I feel like a dog with a bone. I can't wait to just get in and start programming. 

I am feeling the buzz of teaching something new that I love, History. (I love teaching History most of all) I also get to jump in and join the learning journey with my students. I am teaching Google Apps as well this term and was so excited to have the opportunity to share with others my love of technology. 
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I wish all my teaching pals a safe and happy school holidays and hope I can share with many of you at our next Central Coast Teach Meet!

Until next week,

Sunday, 15 June 2014

When learning becomes super fun

A friend of mine who owns a wonderful book shop, The Book Bazaar in Umina recently took a pic of one of
her window displays in which she drew the viewers eyes to Enid Blyton's, The Magic Faraway Tree series. These were some of my favorite stories growing up. When I read these stories as a child I was with Joe and Beth, Fanny and Dick (I have noticed in the new versions they changed the names of Fanny and Dick) and all the other characters. I was one of the kids. I couldn't wait to get up to the part in the story when they went up the Faraway Tree and peeked through the clouds to see what land was at the top. I loved the different folk that lived in the Faraway Tree and those who would come visit it when their land was at the top. I wanted Silky the most beautiful fairy I could imagine to be my best friend. Moon Face was one of my favorite characters and I would dream about trying one of his delicious gooey honey flavored pop cakes. One of the most wonderful things about these stories was that in my imagination the scene was perfect and the pictures in my head were clear and wonderful. So engaged was I in the text that 25 years later I feel like I am writing about an old friend. I went on scary and dangerous adventures as well as indulging my imagination in the Land of Sweets. These stories made me read deeper and deeper into the text and I tasted every morsel of imaginative delight as I read from cover to cover.

One great thing about the internet is that you can get some wonderful and creative teaching ideas from others. Just as Enid Blyton stirred my imagination as a child I know that there are teachers who are recreating places and adventures right in their own classrooms. There may be some of you that feel that Harry Potter or The Magic Treehouse series are some examples where students can immerse themselves in the land of make believe. I know some teachers whose students are so engaged in what they are doing that they don't hear the bell or keep talking about the lesson via social media sometimes days after it happened. Your imagination is a learning muscle just like any other learning muscle. It needs to be flexed and used every now and then. 

In this day and age technology has become, for some teachers the thorn in their side, whilst for others they are too busy playing maths in Minecraft with their students to notice that other teachers have no clue what
 they are up to and can only see them wasting time and resources playing video games. We can't have every lesson playing games but there is much to be said about learning when it is fun. There are some that think video games are a cop out to students using their imaginations but I think there can be a balance struck. There are so many apps that students can use to create their own video games and movies which display their knowledge and understanding of a topic or concept that allows them to not only learn experentially but enables learning to be super fun. 

My son went to Super Nova in Sydney today and met one of his childhood heroes Stan Lee. (The creator of Marvel comics.) He was telling me about this creative place where people were dressed up and thoroughly immersed in the world of make believe. There were people from all generations there and clearly make believe doesn't just stop when we leave our childhood. Some of the world's most amazing theme parks, architecture, art and engineering all require that space in our brains where our imaginations are probed. So clearly learning can be super fun and I hope that our students can develop life long learning through engaging in super fun learning from time to time in our classes. 

Until next week,

Friday, 13 June 2014

Cross curriculum sharing

Over the last month I have attended some professional development training through TAFE that was specifically targeted at inspiring us as teachers to reflect upon our teaching practices and philosophies. Yesterday marked the last day and so it has been on my mind in the last 24 hours. The best way I find to get these thoughts sorted is to blog. Yeah for blogging!!

These sessions covered teaching and learning styles, classroom management, lesson preparation and delivery, feedback, validation and  challenges our students face through discrimination, stereotypes and disabilities and the struggles that our international students have to contend with each and every day. It was quite refreshing to hear how teachers were able to facilitate learning where there seemed to be many barriers. It was wonderful to hear about students who are making an impact in our communities and below is a story of a student who truly inspired me.

Through cross curriculum sharing I have begun to think with a new perspective about the teaching and learning experiences in my classroom and how they are going to impact my students when they engage in work and employment once they leave my course and how their learning experiences will impact their life and others in their lives. Any sort of learning is never wasted and even on our worst days we can learn from our life experiences. Often it is in these difficult experiences that we learn the most. We often don't know as teachers when our students will apply what they have learnt in class or with whom.

It's easy to stay in our own teaching discipline to work hard at what we know but I have rediscovered that the learning experience is much broader than that for our students and drawing on experiences and stories from a range of educational and work disciplines allows the students to make greater connections, be more resourceful and reflective.

So can I encourage you to go and ask a colleague what they are teaching in their classroom and share a story or two. Whilst I am thinking in this vein I am currently in the throws of organising the next Central Coast Teach Meet. If you do live on the Central Coast then please come along. Make sure you register and please consider sharing what's working in your school/ TAFE college or University that might inspire others to think beyond their normal range of experience.

Until next week,