April 2012

Ooh, a long time since the last post but it has been a busy term and now it is the holidays I have a bit of time to catch up on reading.  The content in this blog resonates with me and sort of follows on from my previous post. http://mgleeson.edublogs.org/2012/03/10/when-it-comes-to-technology-teachers-need-as-much-scaffolding-as-students/ I am  the “IT Teacher Coach” at my school.  In short, this means that I am often only one or two steps in front of some of my colleagues and probably several steps behind others! However, the upside is that I have 6 hours of dedicated time a week which gives me some opportunity to do some research and be able to help and support my fellow teachers using and integrating technology and Web 2.0 tools in their learning programmes.  I also lead an “elearning” group as part of our Professional Development programme and Reflective Practice and am trying to work out the best way to facilitate this group.  They are all willing conscripts and very keen to learn how to develop their own expertise and how they can implement the tools into their lessons, but the constant reprise is the lack of time.  We are luckier than most teachers in that we have 30 minutes each week dedicated to PD but by the time we leave our classes, get to the designated room and assemble we are down to maybe 20 minutes and it is never enough – our discussions often go well into lunch time. Last term we spent most of the time discussing the benefits of blogging and so I asked my colleagues to set up their own blog as part of learning more about what blogging is all about – my argument being that if teachers don’t know how to blog, how can we expect our students to do it and what is the point anyway? I provided them with several links to other blogs and to blogs that blogged about the benefits of blogging and It led to some robust discussion!  I am hoping that they have all had time this holiday to add some posts to their own blogs and reflect on how they could help their students in their learning.  So what about next term?  Well, I would like to look at the benefits of using Social bookmarking to share resources between colleagues and students.  We have an LMS at school and one of my aims is to encourage more teachers to use this with their students.  I think it is important that the teachers know how this can work to their advantage as well as to their students’ advantage. So as part of the group I have set them up with a virtual classroom and am showing them the tools that they can use.  At the end of last term we briefly looked at using the Quiz Box and Evaluation tools to get the students to reflect on what they had learned and for the teachers to find out how much the students had learned.  I have been using this tools with my classes for a while and have refined the sort of questions to ask to get the most effective answers although I would still not regard myself as any sort of expert in this area. However, I made the basic error of forgetting how much learning I have done over the last two years in this regard and blithely talked about how easy it is to set these quizzes up quickly flicking through the quiz on the Whiteboard and expecting my colleagues to keep up. This is not something I would do with my classes so why should I expect to do it with my colleagues? I realised when they asked me what sort of questions to ask and how to set it up and “could they have a template?” that I really need to think again about how to approach these sessions.  I am keen that they are collaborative, discursive, interactive sessions, that I am the “guide on the side” and not the “sage on the stage”, but I also realise that in such a short time when my colleagues are pushed for time between timetabled classes, tutorials, writing reports, preparing lessons and marking work, I maybe have to do a bit more directing. Maybe I have to scaffold the sessions more and maybe I also have to push for more time to be made available for teachers to learn the skills that we are expecting our students to have.  Yes, kids today have lots of technological know-how but they don’t necessarily know how to use it most effectively for their learning.  Teachers need to also understand how they can use technology to effectively for their own learning and professional development and in their teaching.

Conference envy!

I am not at Learning@schools this year as I thought I would be recovering from shoulder surgery, but have been trying to keep in touch with what is going on through the Twitter Feeds. This organisation and another similar one seem to be making an impact. I think we already have a fantastic and stimulating environment for our students to work and develop in, but there is no reason why we can’t think how we can make it better. I have the good fortune to have a brand new, beautiful classroom this year and have enjoyed being able to put posters on the walls and create a pleasant and (hopefully) stimulating learning space. However, I am conscious that what I perceive to be an environment conducive to learning, may not be what the students see as stimulating for their learning. I will observe how the classes work in the room and we can move furniture around as appropriate. Unfortunately, I had no control over the types of tables and chairs so will have to be creative around what I have been given. Nevertheless, the lighting, the ventilation, the aspect and the layout is fantastic and I look forward to welcoming the students in and encouraging them to make it their space as well as my space.

Prototype is another organisation that seeks to look at how we and the students can best use the tools at our disposal for teaching and learning. I like this statement from their website under the heading “The shift from tools to learning”; “While many ideas celebrated emerging technology and the impact of architecture, the groups’s energy focused more on “what” students (and teachers) would be challenged “to do” in a truly 21st Century learning environment.” I constantly ask myself what I can do with a tool to make it work for my students and to help their learning. All too often I end up in lectures at conferences where people talk about how wonderful a tool is without giving us any concrete ideas or example as to how it can work in a real classroom environment. I know that I can use my own imagination to create new ways of doing but in the hectic madhouse that is the academic, teaching year, there is often not the time for thought and creativity. I am lucky because I enjoy creating and thinking and imagining, and I think I have said before that I get bored easily and so need new ways to teach old stuff to keep me motivated. However. I know that others are not blessed with the time I have, nor with the inclination, and prefer to have those concrete examples given to them so they don’t have to do the thinking that they have so little time to do. And, yes, I know you might be thinking that it is good for us to take a bit of time out to think, that it actually helps us to develop and ultimately makes us feel better, but I know that it is often difficult to persuade some people that it is good for them.
I was reading a blogpost by Steve Wheeler the other day; 7 Reasons why teachers should blog and I also read the many comments on that blog which suggested many reasons why teachers didn’t blog! Time, or lack of it, was the major factor cited by many. I responded by saying that I am a firm believer in using the tools available to us to enable learning. I too have found it difficult to find time to blog, and the long gaps between my blogs reflect that. However, one of my personal goals in 2011 was to try to reflect more on my lesson, what worked and what didn’t and what I could do to modify what I did to make it more effective. I have been using Springpad to plan my lessons and reflect on how they worked. I have found that making time for that daily reflection has been hugely beneficial and I hope that I have improved my practice as a result. I will continue to use it this year. I used to use Onenote which I think is a great product but when I bought a new computer, I went Open Source and so had to find a new tool. I tried several but Springpad works for me. I like the way I can add documents, links to websites, videos, sound files to it so that I can build a sort of scheme of work with associated resources. I can also add photos, sound recordings and videos that i take in class with my phone and it automatically adds them to that lesson so that I have “evidence” of learning for my teacher registration portfolio. O-oh! Spuds are burning, better go and sort them!