Removing the 'e' from 'e-learning'

Integrating important new technologies more seamlessly into our teaching.

Entries Tagged as 'Teaching'

Digital Search: are you explicitly teaching it?

August 7, 2013 by richlambert · 1 Comment · Digital Literacy, school mangement, Teaching

One of the things still not adequately covered in our curriculum documents, at least here in Australia, is skills associated with searching for information digitally. Teachers and curriculum writers almost seem to treat search skills and the understandings associated with ‘smart’ searching as assumed. This is a touch ironic, because in my experience many teachers don’t have advanced skills or understandings around digital search themselves (as I touched on a bit in my last post).

It is an indictment on our education systems that in 2013, these crucial skills are left to companies like Google to develop education packages for. Luck they do a fairly good job of it! (see here for Google’s great ‘Search Education’ resources).

The fact remains that there is no official guide for teachers for what skills to teach and when to teach them when it comes to digital search. (The closest we come in Australia is the Australian Curriculum General Capabilities document, yet to be formally accepted by many states)

So I’ve made one.

Digital Search Progression of Skills is a document I have written to attempt to define explicit teaching guidelines for both whole class and small group/individual students in a Primary School, as well as defining what may be reasonable to expect students to achieve at each ‘stage’ in their learning. I haven’t put grade levels on this document, as students develop at different rates. Also, students in a school that explicitly teach digital search from the students’ first year will have students with skills far more advanced than schools that don’t explicitly teach it, or treat it as a bit of an after thought.

Have a look and let me know what you think. It is certainly a working document. I don’t mind you using it at your own school, but please contact me to let me know that you are.

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Search Smart – 5 fast ways to locate appropriate websites for your students

July 20, 2013 by richlambert · No Comments · Digital Literacy, Teaching, Web 2.0

At school our big focus on CBL and Inquiry Based Learning has led to conversations around how to scaffold and teach students skills  relating to researching on the web. It’s my opinion that Primary School students should not be left to do open searches Google – there is simply too much information to sort through. (This doesn’t mean we don’t teach them how and give them opportunities to practise, it just means we don’t set them Challenges and let them ‘go for it’ on the open web) Instead, teachers need to find relevant websites for students to search for information from, and post them on their class Site or Blog. This limits the amount of information students need to search through, and guides their searches to appropriate websites for their reading level etc.

This then leads to the issue of how much time it takes for teachers to collate and curate information for different groups of students in their class, as it is sometimes difficult to find informative sites at their reading level and relevant to the inquiry they are engaging in. I have found that teachers are often as ignorant as students in knowing how to search in a smart way for the type of sites they want. (This has led to some PD on how to teach search skills, or Information Literacy. A blog post on this is to come!) That’s why I produced the following guide for our staff:

5 Fast Ways to Find Appropriate Websites

1. Use Google filters

After you do a search in Google, on the results page select from the filters to narrow your search. Select ‘Search Tools’ and ‘Reading Level’ to sort websites by reading level. Select the specific types of media you want to search: videos, images, scholarly articles, news, blogs, apps etc.

2. Benefit from the work of other teachers by searching collections of education resources, rather than the open web.

3. Google isn’t the only search engine!

Use one of the many dedicated ‘kids’ search engines instead. This article will explain the reason for them and give you the top 3:

4. Search education sections of relevant agencies/organisations

5. Live like its the 21st century – leverage the power of social networking

  • Diigo – a social bookmarking site. Store your bookmarks online and see everyone elses as well. Join communities around particular topics. Search what other people have already found to be useful and bookmarked rather than the open web.

  • Twitter, Google+, Pinterest – All searchable by hashtags. Bring a world of information to you from some of the best educators on the planet. Join some communities on Google+ and watch your education knowledge explode.

  • There are sharing networks for resources around particular products, such as iPads and even IWBs, such as Promethean Planet

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Should teachers have to pay for the technology they use?

April 6, 2013 by richlambert · 6 Comments · school mangement, Teaching

It was reported today that the Australian Education Union in Victoria is taking the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development (DEECD) to court over the requirement of Victorian teachers to lease a laptop for school use.  Jewel Topsfield from The Age reported:

A highly contentious requirement that teachers at state schools fork out for their work laptops - even though they are essential for them to perform their duties – is being challenged in the Federal Court.The Australian Education Union is suing the Victorian Education Department, claiming it has contravened the Fair Work Act by deducting hundreds of dollars from teachers’ pay if they chose to lease a notebook computer from the department.

(Read more:

A Brief History of the Issue

This issue first blew up 2 years ago, when the DEECD in Victoria stopped subsidizing the lease they offered to teachers. Teachers in Victoria are required to use a leased computer, being restricted from bringing their own to work due to software licensing agreements and the contractual definitions of the technical support supplied to schools.

When the lease program first started, it offered teachers a new model Windows notebook for a minimal price (around $4.00 a fortnight). Macbooks were offered as well, at just under double that price, but still heavily subsidized. As technology evolved and diversified, unfortunately the lease offers didn’t. To make matters worse, DEECD abolished any subsidization of the program. This left teachers with the full cost of a lease where they had very little choice of their device (other than Mac vs PC), and no choice over the length of lease.

For PC users, DEECD offeres the contract to supply the Windows notebooks for the lease program basically to the lowest bidder, and as a result Lenovo has supplied, what, in my opinion, have been some very ordinary models up to teachers (the edition running Windows Vista was a particular shocker, although Microsoft is as much to blame as Lenovo for that 3 years of leasing hell).

Not being able to enter into any bargaining agreement with Apple, the white Macbook being offered jumped in price from $7.50 to $11.50 after subsidization stopped. It also went from a 3 year lease to a 4 year lease. Making matters worse, it was the old white Macbook model, already scrapped by Apple and unavailable in stores. (This year, teachers will be offered last year’s Macbook Pro model, also at the end of its production life, at a cost to teachers of $17 a fortnight over 4 years.)

When I reported on this on my blog (see my original post on the issue: The Victorian Teacher Notebook Scandal) the story went viral on social media and was widely reported in the mainstream media as well. It seemed for the first time Victorian teachers were awakened to the injustice of being forced into a less than satisfactory agreement that was costing them a significant amount of money for a tool that they couldn’t do their job without.

What is the state of play outside of Victorian state schools?

Conditions for teachers vary greatly in this reagard in Australia. While some states have leasing schemes similar to Victoria’s, others have nothing at all. In some states and territories, if teachers don’t buy a laptop privately then they don’t have one to use, which makes encouraging appropriate technology use by teachers a nightmare for some schools. Many Catholic and independent schools provide laptops for their teachers. Some even provide a laptop and an iPad.

What about tablets?

This leads us to a further complication of this issue: the advent of tablet technology. In my opinion, the iPad (or Android tablet if you like) is essential and perhaps the most important tool a teacher can have. I’ve explained that in other previous posts, see in particular Evernote – an attempt at the definitive summary of teacher uses! and a pre-iPad post: iPhone: the Teacher’s Best Friend.

One of the first things I did as an Assistant Principal was provide an iPad for all of our staff. This means they all have a laptop which they pay for through the DEECD lease, and a ‘free’ iPad that remains the property of the school but is essentially theirs for personal use. At a school down the road, staff must pay another lease to get an iPad on top of their notebook lease. At many other schools, staff simply have to buy their own if they want one.

So what should we be expecting here? What digital tools, if any, should teachers get provided with to do their job?

I don’t believe its fair for teachers to have to cover the full cost of any tools that are absolute necessities for their job. Having said that, I don’t necessarily believe the best use of limited State money is to cover the full cost of notebooks and tablets for all teachers.

My opinion is that we need to look at this with a much broader and more modern perspective. When my blog post was published in 2011, much of the comments and commentary in the media turned into a Mac vs PC debate. Comments such as: “Teachers should just be happy with the $4 per fortnight PC and stop complaining. Why do they need a Mac anyway?” abounded. It should be obvious to all by now the ‘Mac vs PC’ debate is absolutely absurd and an unhelpful distraction. There are a multitude of devices now on the market that serve many different preferences and needs.

So the first thing to think about in answering the question of what teachers should be provided with is that the ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to technology of the past is long out-dated.

The next thing holding us back from answering this question properly is the attitude of many IT technicians that only certain devices should be allowed onto their ‘secure’ school networks. Everything is locked down and secured so tightly in a government school that typically only one device with one set of software is allowed for teachers. (at a real stretch and with lots of angst your average school tech will allow a Mac!) Besides the fact that this in itself is an insane approach to supporting a place that should be geared towards education and creativity, aren’t we past the local network age yet?

As a Google Apps school, I had to really think this year about whether we even needed the department image or school network for any of our devices. Almost everything we use is web based. We even have printers now that don’t require more than a WiFi connection. Shouldn’t we be aiming for school environments where you bring your device of choice and all it needs to be able to do is connect to the school WiFi? Couldn’t we use cloud based methods of putting any essential non-web based software onto our machines? Better still, couldn’t we use cloud based virtualization software to run apps on our machines when we need them, rather than having to store them on our hardrive and necessitate the running of Windows or Internet Explorer? In this way, any device could be used and run any software needed virtually.

With these things considered, wouldn’t the modern way to approach all of this be to provide teachers with a certain dollar amount that would subsidize the device/s that best suit the specific needs they have that may be school or subject specific?

If this sounds crazy, consider that there are companies that are already doing this. I spoke to a Cisco employee last year, who told me that he gets a certain amount from his employer, with which he can buy any device or combination of devices he likes that will effectively support the particular job he does for the company. He chose 2 devices with the money provided: a Macbook Air and an iPad. Any Windows specific software the company had could run on his Mac via cloud based virtulization software.

Now, obviously we’re not realistically going to have the same budget to work with in state school education compared to a multinational company, but the same concept can still work.

The point is, even if DEECD backs down in Victoria and provides all teachers with a certain notebook, we should still consider ‘one device for all’ the wrong path to go down.

It’s not appropriate for all teachers to be using a Lenovo laptop. Most teachers doing their job well should need a combination of devices. A PC netbook and an iPad. A Chromebook and an Android tablet. A Macbook and an Windows 8 tablet.

Whatever the devices, surely what works best for teachers within their specific environment to provide the best education posible is what’s important and what we should be aiming for.

I’m certain that rather than receiving a $500 notebook, many teachers would prefer to be given that $500 in one form or another every 3 – 4 years to subsidize the devices of their choice. We would need to put some sort of requirements on those devices to ensure money isn’t wasted and the devices chosen can do the job. A similar system of minimum requirements exists in most BYOD schools for students bringing their own tech. Why can’t it work for teachers?

What do you think? What agreement should exist for teachers in regards to providing the technology that is essential in their jobs?

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A follow up on teaching ‘the HOW’ of an activity

March 29, 2013 by richlambert · 3 Comments · Teaching

I’ve received a fair bit of feed-back from my last post, ‘Give students the what, the why and the when – NOT the HOW‘. Most feedback was from teachers keen to trial what I’d written about in their own classrooms. Some feedback was from teachers that felt perhaps there was something important missing. And that is: don’t we need to teach students about all the different ways they could complete an activity before we open things up for them to choose how they want to respond? Isn’t it good teaching practice to explore with students what elements make a poster (for example) effective before students go about producing posters? Shouldn’t you explore what makes a good film before you let students create their own?

This is absolutely true. How can you expect students to come up with a quality end product, whatever form it takes, if you haven’t shown them how to create it in the first place?

Recently we hit this problem at school. Our Level 4s were given half a day to show what they’d learned from a special Cybersafety presentation from ACMA (Australian Communications and Media Authority). Most groups chose to make short films that focused on a particular element of the presentation, for example, cyber bullying.

As teachers began to view the first results from this session they weren’t overly thrilled. The students had clearly learned a whole lot from the presentation, and their ideas were great. However, their movies weren’t. Many were shot all in one, with kids acting whole scenes out in front of the camera. There was no thought given to camera angles, framing or editing. And the sound was terrible.

Have we skipped a step here? Should we have just set them the task to make a movie and then taught them the things that make a good movie good?

Well, that’s certainly the way we used to do it. And maybe at times there is still some merit in that. But what I wanted our teachers to do was to dig deeper into what was really going on here.

What did the students’ movie making skills tell us about their visual and multimedia literacy skills? Their near finished products clearly showed that they knew nothing of how a film communicates messages to an audience. This isn’t just a problem for this activity, this is a massive whole in their literacy skills.

Teachers shouldn’t be waiting for a film making activity to teach how to make a film. Likewise, you shouldn’t just be teaching about effective poster making when asking kids to make a poster.

For more than 10 years now I’ve been banging on about how our literacy texts in Primary Schools are far too narrow. We spend over 90% of our time teachings students to read from books or pieces of paper. And yet in the ‘real world’ I would estimate over 90% of the literacy they require has nothing to do with books or paper. It’s high time we broadened our everyday idea of what ‘teaching reading’ should actually mean.

We need to look at more than the written word in our literacy sessions. We need to go well beyond ‘big books’ in our shared reading. Posters, web pages, short films, advertisements should all be looked at and dissected. Students need a critical literacy of all these medias to be informed and successful in their lives.

When our students went into that session to make a short film they should have already had a background knowledge from years of literacy sessions about how films communicate to audiences. They should have known to show the ‘bully’ from a low angle which would make him or her look more menacing. They should have known to cut to a high angle shot of the victim to make them look more vulnerable and scared. They should have understood how a close up captures facial expressions. The should have put thought into a sound track that would be appropriate to the emotions they wanted to convey.

In short, if we are giving our students a proper and full literacy education, and teaching them to critically examine all types of media and how they work, then we should see the results of that come through in their work. By grade 5 and 6 they should be able to choose the ‘how’ of an activity and have the skill set to ‘pull it off’. And if they can’t, that should speak to holes in their literacy understandings that are critical for you to fill.


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Give students the ‘what’, the ‘why’ and the ‘when’ – NOT the ‘how’

February 11, 2013 by richlambert · 4 Comments · Teaching

In my last post, I mentioned the change in pedagogy that going 1:1 with any device should demand. Too often 1:1 allows teachers to slip into the trap of every student doing the same thing at the same time in the same way. In my opinion this should probably be the most important deficiency in our teaching that 1:1 should provide the solution to.

I’m not being critical of teachers here, merely making an observation.’Whole class’ teaching is exactly how many of us have been taught to teach. Not at university, but during our teaching rounds and our first, most impressionable, years in the profession. In this post I wanted to build on a suggestion that I mentioned in my last post, which is a very quick and easy way to move away from this problem. That is, stop telling students ‘how’ to complete an activity.

Students need to know the ‘what’ of what you’re asking them to do. They definitely need to know the ‘why’ – this is the Learning Intention, the most important aspect. ie. ‘What’s the point of this?’ (teachers sometimes forget this one, but that’s a topic for another post) They also need to know the ‘when’. As in, “when is this due?” i.e. “How long have we got to complete this activity?”

But telling them the ‘how’ is stealing a lot of the thinking and the learning from them.

It is often VERY difficult to resist telling students ‘how’ to complete an activity. But since we’ve gone with 1:1 iPads at Kalinda, I’ve been surprised time and time again at what students come up with if you only leave it open for them to do so.

Simple case in point. Students today had 6 maps of Australia from different points in history. Each map showed a different moment in the development of Australia’s colonies (later states). Students were to use the maps to show what they had learned about how and when each colony or state of Australia came to be following their research about it.

If it were up to me, I probably would have planned every last bit of the activity, right down to the ‘how’. That is, I would have guided students to use a particular app, probably something like Strip Designer, to copy and import the maps into. I would have then asked them to order and label them in the app. Fortunately, the teacher delivering the lesson has been wonderful at leaving the ‘how’ open for students. He let them know the basics of what the activity was, the reason for it, and how long they had to complete the it, and then ASKED THEM what apps they might use. After getting some suggestions he set them off to work.

I watched amazed (yet again) as students came up with brilliant ways to show their learning, stuff I would never have thought of. They took the 6 maps and used them in all different ways. Some created timelines. Some used Poplet – they imported the pictures and created a mind map along with their own annotations. Some saved the maps to their iPad camera roll and used Art Set, a drawing app. They could easily import the pictures into the app from their camera roll, drag them into place anywhere on the page, and annotate or label them in any way they pleased. Some even printed the maps off and cut and pasted them into an ‘old fashioned’ timeline on a piece of paper!

Time and again this sort of thing has happened. In little ways, such as I’ve just described, right up to the really awesome ‘big’ things. Such as in our Challenge Based Learning units, where a challenge is set and the students are completely free to come up with their own solutions in their own way. Death to ‘make a powerpoint about a bushranger’  or ‘make a poster about an early explorer’ projects!!

So challenge yourself. Often the first thought when you set an activity is that students will need to be guided into exactly how to complete it. Resist this. Let students come up with something far more brilliant that you would ever set them.

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1:1 iPads – Don’t stuff it up! Here’s some ideas…

February 3, 2013 by richlambert · 2 Comments · learning spaces, school mangement, Teaching

1:1 iPads are up and running at Kalinda. We’re finally seeing the very exciting pay-off resulting from hundreds of hours of hard work in preparing for and establishing the program.

We really wanted to do this right. And to get it right right from the start. As such I’ve personally spent 100s of hours on this. I talked to lots and lots of schools doing 1:1 in preparation for setting up our program and heard some success stories, some horror stories, and some stories of missed opportunities.

What do I mean by ‘missed opportunities’? Schools that put an iPad in every students’ hand but hadn’t prepared teachers properly and therefore they were underused or not used at all in classes. Schools that jumped from classes where every student does the exact same thing at the exact  same time with pen and paper to students doing the exact same thing at the exact same time with the iPad. Schools that used the iPad purely to house text books and have students digitally complete worksheets using Goodreader. I won’t go on because I’m describing the teaching ‘syndrome’ that I’ve previously written about here.

What I wanted to cover here were some quick points that I’ve learnt along the way and thatI think are important to get ‘right’ by schools going down the 1:1 track:

1. Communicate and initiate inclusive discussions with your school community.

Change is scary for people regardless of whether it is ‘good’ or not.  That’s because it’s unknown and uncertain. A wise educator once told me “its not the ‘what‘ of the change, but the ‘how‘ that’s important”. I’ve seen parents raging against 1:1 programs being implemented in their schools, not because they don’t agree with the concept, but because they felt they weren’t consulted or informed well enough. Flag the change early. I brought the idea of 1:1 iPads to my School Council at the beginning of Term 2 the year before I hoped to implement it. At that point they were almost all dead against it. By the beginning of Term 4 all but 2 members voted for the program to proceed.  Another point to keep in mind: it doesn’t matter how much thought and preparation you’ve put in, if the parents only find out about the program ‘at the last minute’ they’ll assume you haven’t properly thought it through and that you rushed the decision. If that becomes the dominate belief among your parents its extremely difficult to get black on a positive footing.

2. Prepare you Teachers

Teachers need to be prepared to teach with iPads. This isn’t news. But how do you do it? My opinion is that no amount of PD is really going to achieve this goal fully. I believe the first step is for teachers to live the change you want them to be teaching. For example: want to use Edmodo with your students? Teachers can’t teach how to use a social network effectively if they’ve never used one themselves. They also can’t teach how to leverage the hundreds of tools the iPad can provide unless they’re comfortable and experienced at doing it themselves in their own work everyday. This doesn’t mean that they have to have used every app their students will use, but that they are used to the workflow of needing to do something and using 2 or 3 apps at each point of need to get it done. Or using a different 2 or 3. Whatever works. Our teachers had their own iPads for 2 years before our 1:1 program and relied heavily on Google Apps, Evernote and many other iPad essentials in their daily work life. They were also heavily encouraged to become active members of social networks such as Twitter and Pinterest for their own Professional Learning. iPads were second nature for them when 1:1 hit.

3. Change Your Pedagogy

Don’t wait for 1:1 to begin for your pedagogy to change. If each teacher’s pedagogy has changed prior to 1:1 they will be desperately needing each student to have ‘regular access’ and iPads will take off from day one. This is ideal compared to the alternative of teachers not being certain how to work them into their classes. Create the need through the change in pedagogy and then fill it. Don’t put the tool before the pedagogy. We implemented Challenge Based Learning (see Do you know your CBL from your PBLs?) in the year before 1:1 iPads came in. This style of teaching and learning was a steep learning curve for teachers and students, but wow, what a pay off in the end! The main benefit was the process of ‘letting go’. Teachers had to let students find their own way through tasks, rather than controlling each step of the process. The importance of this can’t be overstated.  Too often, having 1:1 leads down the road to traditional pedagogy. Why? Because each student has the same device, just like they all had pencil and paper and the same text book previously. This means teachers can slip seamlessly from ‘every student read page 55 and answer questions 1 – 8′ to ‘every student open this app and complete the activity’. In other words, each child is still doing the exact same thing at the exact same time. This happens often and is a small tragedy in classrooms where the opportunity for  individualised and personalised learning has never been greater. For our teachers it has been about focussing on the ‘what’ and the ‘why’ of each activity, and letting students work out the ‘how’ themselves.  This leads to a wonderful variety of responses from students using a huge variety of different applications on the iPad.

4. Get your infustraucture right

No one necessarily likes spending money on stuff no one can see. But in our case that’s where the most money had to be spent. Thousands of dollars on upgrading our server and WiFi. In particular we installed WiFi that was specifically built for environments with large numbers of wireless clients. This meant removing the Department supplied WiFi, which my research told me would simply not cope with the demand of up to 200 devices in the one space trying to use it. In our case, the new Xirrus WiFi is simply fantastic, and integrates with the existing Cisco WiFi throughout the rest of our school. Upgrade your systems and test them out well before 1:1 begins. Everything failing or falling over once the iPads get to school is a bad look. Not only is it frustrating for students and teachers, but its another sign to parents that you haven’t properly thought the whole thing through and their confidence in the whole thing may take a hit from day one.

5. Step back and allow magical things to happen

When implementing new things, the temptation is to plan every last thing to the finest detail to ensure you get it right. This is a good way to be, but not when it comes to student learning. Remember, the whole point of this is that students now have a personalised digital learning tool that should create very dynamic and individualised learning spaces in your school. Once again, if more often than not every student is sitting in their seats using the same app at the same time doing a set activity all in the same way, then you’ve stuff it up. This is the opposite of what you were hopefully aiming for in the first place. One of the things that is classically over-planned is apps on the iPad. Research shows that one of the huge benefits of 1:1 is students having their own ‘personalised‘ device. So why, as soon as they get it, do we feel this need to give them a long list of apps they all have to have on it? We get all these devices in and then try as hard as we can to make them all the same. Does every student really need the exact same apps? Of course not. There needs to be some commonality for sure, but there also needs to be scope for students to discover their own apps that will help them at points of need, and also to install apps that meet particular ongoing needs for them. One student might need a fractions app that is very basic and visual because they really struggle with fractions. For many other students this app is a waste of time because they’re well beyond it.

My advice is start simple. We put out a list of 20 apps that we want all students to have, spending only 20% of the total budget for apps for each family. We will then respond to needs as they arise, great apps as they are invented, or allow students to take their own path with apps that fill particular learning needs for them. The 1:1 iPad trials in Victoria showed that when you install a whole load of apps onto student iPads right from the start of the year it leads to students and teachers never really being sure of what most of them do. The majority of these apps end up being rarely or never used. By the end of the year students have only used a few of the apps they started with and have a whole list of apps they would have preferred to have but can’t because there was no money left.

Apps should be a toolkit that students can pull up to complete tasks as needed. As such, they need a familiarity with them to know what needs they can fulfill. Need to attach audio to a picture? Well, I know this app can do that. Then I know I can edit the image with this app etc. Start with a small and simple list and allow students and teachers to become confident users of these apps, then respond to needs as they arise.

I appreciate all this is far harder to achieve in a larger Secondary school that in a Primary/Elementary setting, however this is just one of many cases where the old school structure needs to be challenged in order for ‘real’ 21st Century pedagogy to begin to be truly taken on.


Our first days of 1:1 have been fantastic and well worth all the hard work. We are desperately trying not to be a school that doesn’t use this opportunity to its full potential, and hopefully our experiences through the year can help others to achieve the same.

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1:1iPad program rationale

November 18, 2012 by richlambert · 2 Comments · Teaching

At Kalinda we are launching a 1:1 iPad program in 2013.  As a part of that we are setting up a website where parents can buy or lease the iPads and read information relevant to the program. I’ve just finished writing our rationale for the program for this site, and as our journey is so similar to many schools at the moment, and there are so many parents asking the same sorts of questions of teachers and principals, I thought I’d share it here in case its helpful for anyone else.

1:1 iPads @ Kalinda 2013

“We believe the curriculum we present should be individualised to suit learning strengths, differentiated to meet academic need, and structured in a way that encourages and values our student’s creative passions. We strive to provide this within ‘real world’, meaningful contexts in a way that will develop the varied skills our students will need in order to be successful in the 21st century. We believe the iPad is a tool that can help us achieve that goal to even higher standards.”

 Our children are growing up in a vastly more complex world than we did. There is now so much information that is freely available on any topic at any time. Communication can happen in an instant with people in any part of the world. Because of this, the ‘basics’ of education have changed. Yes, literacy and numeracy are still the core of our school’s focus. However, school is no longer about learning content as much as it is about learning the skills and habits of mind that will allow a student to be a successful life long learner. Skills like information literacy, collaboration, creativity and innovation, critical thinking, problem solving, and of course ICT literacy all now form part of what should be ‘the basics’ of a child’s education.

As a result, what happens in our classrooms has changed quite dramatically from even a few years ago. Students are now involved in real world challenges that require them to solve problems as a part of a team. Their solutions are designed from their own investigations which involve researching a wide variety of resources and communication with experts and relevant members of our community and the wider world. They are not only learning about the topic at hand, but about the power they can have to affect change in our world, and what it means to be a global citizen in an increasingly interconnected world.

In this environment, ICT tools are essential. It is no longer good enough to have a scheduled ‘computer time’ on shared devices. On the other extreme, it is also not appropriate to have students ‘staring at a screen’ all day. The tools our students use as part of their investigations need to be there, in the background, available when they need them as a small part of a bigger task. Much of the student’s iPad use might be in 30 second blocks. They may need to check a fact, look up where a town is on a map, jot down a key bit of information. Having a tool on hand progresses their learning immediately.

It also allows them to document their learning in a way they never could before. Being able to take a photo or video of an experiment and save it to their blog along with their reflections, recording a video diary of their learnings at each stage of a process, sending photos or sections of a piece of writing to their teacher via email or a shared document to get real time feedback. These things, which were all fantastic futuristic visions only a few years ago, are now being made a reality for Kalinda students.

And of course, in the key areas of explicit numeracy and literacy teaching, our students will have 1:1 access to hundreds of thousands of resources and apps that can support them in their learning. Every imaginable resource is on hand for them, from a virtual calculator, to interactive tables games, to spelling and grammar resources – there are so many possible learning avenues that the iPad makes possible, with every different learning style now being far more easily catered for. These digital resources also allow our teachers to differentiate their curriculum to meet your child’s specific needs in a way that simply wasn’t possible before. Interactive videos explaining specific Maths or English concepts can be accessed by the students at any time in any place. It’s no longer a case of ‘if you didn’t understand the teacher when they explained it then you’ve missed the boat’. Kalinda is extremely excited by the possibilities our 1:1 iPad program represents for our students next year. We hope you are too!

(here is a link to our information session slides for those that are interested)

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Do you know your CBL from your PBLs?!?

November 11, 2012 by richlambert · 5 Comments · learning spaces, school mangement, Teaching

Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn

The above quote could easily be thought of as inspiring Inquiry Based Learning…except that it was said by Benjamin Franklin about 250 years ago. The more things change in education, the more they stay the same!

At my school it has become time to formally institute a new curriculum structure that best suits the needs of our 21st century students. But which pedagogical approach do we go with? Or rather, should the question be, which acronym do we go with? There’s IBL or EBL (Inquiry Based Learning or Enquiry Based Learning, depending on which brand of English you prefer), CBL (Challenge Based Learning), and an awful lot of PBLs (including Project Based, Product Based, Problem Based, Play Based, Passion Based and Process Based Learning!).

Lets make it simpler. In truth, Inquiry Based Learning is more like an overarching philosophy that the other acronyms are specific workings out of. It’s based on the premise of students asking their own questions and seeking their own answers to form their own understandings. It evolved from Discovery Learning, which itself was a response to the traditional idea of a student as a silent receptor of knowledge imparted by the teacher.

Project Based Learning is probably the most commonly spoken about term under this Inquiry umbrella, especially in the US. Project Based Learning is a particular incarnation of the inquiry approach focussed around students completing a project set by the teacher through which they can ‘construct’ their own understandings of what needs to be learnt. Project Based Learning is heavily influenced by Piaget and Papert’s theories of constructionism; the idea that learning is most effective when the learner engages in activities that ask him/her to construct a meaningful product that exists outside their head and can be shared.

Product Based Learning is just now evolving, probably as a response to badly implemented Project Based Learning. It calls on educators to facilitate the students actually producing something for a purpose, that has been designed and refined to perform a task or solve a problem.  In other words, traditional teacher designed projects about presidents or explorers no longer go far enough in preparing these 21st century kids for what they will be called on to do in their professional lives.

In Australia, the term ‘Project Based Learning’ was never really widely adopted, partly due to a more formalised version ‘Enquiry Based Learning’ being so well championed by people such as Kath Murdoch, and the connected concept of Play Based Learning (or Developmental Curriculum) in the junior years by Kath Walker. Each of these ladies have written their own specific approaches that schools in Australia, and perhaps particularly in Victoria, have taken on to varying degrees.

When I say varying degrees, I think we all share the broad ‘inquiry’ philosophy, but let me put it this way: I’ve worked at a number of schools that have shared a similar journey, through topic based units, to inquiry learning, to integrated inquiry learning and back again. Probably the most consistent thing I’ve seen is that a school’s ‘integrated’ units have their own time in the day to be taught, their own books to be taught in, and in general are about as ‘non-integrated’ as it is possible to be. Likewise, I’ve showed up to work in ‘inquiry’ schools and after spending quite some time working with the school, almost being embarrassed to ask the Principal “are you aware that your ‘inquiry based’ school isn’t actually doing any real inquiry?” As for ‘Play Based Learning’, that can look like just about anything, and has come to broadly mean ‘letting little kids play with stuff in an unstructured way’. (Kath Walker’s ‘Walker Learning Approach’ defines a set developmental, or Play Based, pedagogy but I’ve rarely witnessed it being strictly adhered to by schools).

In general I find that teachers and school leaders can throw a lot of these acronyms around without having a deep understanding of what they actually represent, and the philosophy behind why you would teach like that. Or perhaps once upon a time the school leaders of a particular school did know the ‘why’ and ‘how’, but more than half the staff have changed over in their school since all the original PD was done, and what has resulted is a broken down, fatally weakened version of whatever the ideal originally was.

Most consistently what I’ve observed is teachers wanting to retain too much control over what goes on in their rooms. They control the activities that are done by students, denying them almost any choice in their learning, and in general just talk too bloody much! (If I had one piece of advice to give to every teacher, it would be: “the kids don’t learn by listening to you talk!”) To cut to the chase, this means that in many Australian schools, the ‘Enquiry Approach’ is actually a topic decided by the teacher, followed by a brain storm of questions relating to that topic by the students (if you’re lucky) with a series of activities that relate to that topic that the students complete, with an ‘enquiry project’ (read: set project) tacked on the end.

Don’t let my casual tone bely what this really means for our kids: this situation is a disaster happening in our schools. Our kids just aren’t getting the opportunities to develop the skills that they critically need to be successful in the 21st century.

Inquiry type curriculums had their origin in the 1960s, and the theories behind them date back even further, probably to John Dewey’s writings on education at the turn of the century (yes, 1897 and 1902 believe it or not! Not new ideas at all!) But the irony of it all is that our students need a true inquiry approach now more than ever before.

That is because information is now so freely available, and what is important to know so rapidly changing, that learning ‘content’ is no longer an appropriate focus for our classrooms (and never was according to Dewey writing more than 100 years ago!). What is important now is learning how to learn. Questioning is more important than answering, and understanding broader concepts that can be applied across many specific situations and topics is far more important than knowing specific information about specific topics.

This move to a ‘concept’ generated curriculum (another acronym just waiting to happen!) is a vital step for any school. By ‘concept generated’, I mean beginning from a starting point of the student’s learning being focussed on concepts that can be applied in many situations and understood at many different levels, rather than the traditional beginning point of focussing the learning on specific content that ‘needs’ to be taught. (For example, the concept of ‘Change’: When a student understands that change is inevitable, they can take that understanding and apply it across different stages in their learning. For example, a six year old may understand that people and animals grow and change over time, while a ten year old may begin to recognize that relationships change over time.)

For a local school I recently visited, it has meant that instead of teachers walking into a planning meeting and saying ‘Term 3 is going to be our unit on the Gold Rush’; they  might instead walk into their classrooms and present the concept of ‘Change’ or ‘Courage’ to their students, who then generate questions and ideas around that concept. They narrow these down to an ‘Essential Question’ that will drive the focuses of their investigations relating to this concept. Then, as a part of their investigations, the more specific content knowledge specified in the National Curriculum is skillfully drawn in by the teachers as it becomes relevant to what the student needs to learn as a part of the goal they are trying to achieve.  (For example, recently our grade 5 and 6 students planned our school fete. The entire Economics curriculum was suddenly something the students needed to know, rather than something that would in previous years have been forced upon them).

Which brings me to the ‘CBL’ mentioned earlier, as this is basically the thrust of Apple education’s ‘Challenge Based Learning‘, which is an effort to design a specifically 21st century version of Inquiry Learning. The ‘challenge’ that is presented to the students (or in pure CBL, arrived at by the students themselves) at the beginning of each unit is a ‘call to action’ that should break the boundaries of the classroom. It is calling on your students to create a solution to a ‘real’ challenge/problem in the ‘real’ world, and then to communicate their results not just to the teacher, but to the wider community and the world, usually in the form of a multi-media presentation posted on the net.

As I mentioned, I see CBL as like a 21st century update of the Inquiry approach, with a set focus on real world application and 21st century skills. You can read more about it here or better still, check out all the great resources on Apple’s iTunesU by searching for CBL. (CBL was initially developed with Marco Torres and is still being refined by very fine educators across the world).

Whatever acronym of a curriculum model we choose for our school, I believe the important thing is that it basically fits the following description: an engaging, real and relevant student driven curriculum developing understandings of broader concepts that students can apply in countless situations, fostering 21st century skills such as collaboration, problem solving, innovation, information literacy and the communication of ideas through multi-media mediums. It calls on students to be curious, demands of them to question and be critical, and challenges them to engage with the real world to find answers and be an agent for change.

Now, as far as I’m concerned, if your pedagogy manages to do all that, you can give it whatever name or acronym you want!

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The Assumption of Limitation

May 30, 2012 by richlambert · 11 Comments · Teaching

Recently I’ve been struggling with what I see as the core problem of education present: how do we as school leaders get teachers to transform their practice to teach in a way that is more appropriate for the technology that is available to them?  This was stemmed by stories of schools getting 1:1 iPads and using them just to do old things in a new way. The old times tables sheets? They now do that with one of the many drill and skill apps. Homework? Instead of a printed out sheet it is now….a PDF on the iPad! Don’t even bring up with me Secondary Schools that believe it is innovative to put textbooks onto an iPad. Why would anyone want to do something like that? So lacking in innovation it could make you cry.

So why do teachers resort to old methods even when every child in their class has such an amazing tool (the iPad in this example) in their hands?

I got to thinking that its probably because they’re still trapped in their old ways of thinking, and that is, that there are certain limitations on what they can do. For teachers my age and older, we have been trained to plan lessons within the limitations of yesteryear. When I set out as a teacher we all worked in our own little classroom and all we had at our disposal was a blackboard, paper and pens, and maybe a few computers in the corner. Within those limitations we planned our lessons.

With those limitations, how would you teach the kids about another country, Greece for example? Well, the best way to do it would be to all jump on a plane and take them there. But you can’t. There are limitations. So you look for some worksheets relating to Greece. You find some relevant books so that the kids can read about Greece and see some pictures of it. You may even set them to look up information about Greece on the computer. And then each student can make a poster about what they have learnt. Sound familiar? Its old world teaching designed to make the most of old limitations of what was available to us.

To still teach within those limitations is madness, but it is happening everywhere. Why? Because even though those old limitations are gone, there is still a subconscious assumption that they’re still there. Even new teachers are teaching in this old fashioned way, because they’re getting their training from older teachers that are used to working within the old limitations.

So, how do we get teachers to break out of the old mindset and set their creative minds free? And what would it look like if we did?

Let’s take our old unit on Greece. No, we still can’t all fly to Greece. But in about 20 seconds every student in your 1:1 iPad class can be standing on any street corner in Greece and looking around them. They can visit all the major tourist sites. They can then see what those sites looked like at just about any point in their history. They can interact with the language. They can convert the currency. They can look up what the weather is like at that point in time in various cities in Greece. They can talk to a student in Greece and find out what growing up in Greece is like. How does going to school over there compare with over here? These are just a couple of ideas off the top of my head that can all be achieved without students even leaving their seat. Sitting down and coming up with a proper Challenged Based unit of work with these old assumptions of the limitations of what can be done removed should produce a whole lot more.

Am I on the right track here? If this theory is true, I believe all school leaders need a strong focus on encouraging and facilitating new ways of thinking among their staff. Ways of thinking about their lessons where their old assumptions of what can and can’t be achieved are consciously removed.

The world has changed radically, but unfortunately much of our thinking about it hasn’t.

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Traveling Light: the teacher that arrives to work with just his keys!

March 12, 2012 by richlambert · 8 Comments · Teaching, Web 2.0

The other week I pulled up to work at the same time as one of our Grade 1/2 teachers. While I got out of my car juggling my usual laptop bag, lunch and sets of keys, I noticed that this teacher was carrying nothing but his lunchbox. “Traveling light?” I asked. “Always!” he replied cheerily.

The next week I ran into him again on the way into work. This time he had nothing with him but his keys! The image of a teacher showing up to work without the usual bundle of workbooks, bags, computers etc was so jarring I just had to find out the story behind it. The resulting conversation was a really encouraging insight into how the changes we’ve made at school over the last 18 months have completely changed some of the habits of our teachers.

This particular teacher saw no reason to carry anything with him from school to home or visa versa. For a start, there was no need to carry student work as it was all online or captured by camera and stored online. So then, wouldn’t that make carrying his computer to and from work all the more important? Well actually, carrying his computer is a wasted activity because he has a computer at home. But how does he get to all the things he has on his laptop at school? The answer to that is there is nothing that actually lives on his school laptop.

Dropbox: all his files are stored through Dropbox. Accessible on all his devices or any computer he happens to sit at anywhere in the world

Google Apps: all our school calendars are run through Google calendars on our Google Apps for Education account. Staff calanders, level planning team calendars, grade calendars etc are all available online when you log into Google.

All our staff planning documents are also on Google through Google docs. This means they are not only online (rather than trapped on an intranet server or as individual copies on each teacher’s computer) but any change made to each planning document by one teaching team member is instantly viewable by the rest of the team. They can also all collaborate on the one planning document together, as well as chat about the planning taking place, without having to be in the same place at the same time. Not only that, but all the resources used by each teacher (activities, worksheets, professional reading, links etc) are uploaded onto Google docs and shared for everyone to refer to or use whenever they like.

Also, because all our students have a Google Apps account, they do most of their work online through Google docs, spreadsheets, draw etc. This means you can annotate student work online at any time from any computer. No more carrying bundles of student work home with you.

Evernote: I wrote as comprehensively as possible about Evernote in my previous post. The ability to take snapshots of student work on the go and tag it to save with all the other notes, photos and recordings of that student’s work is beyond brilliant. Everything you’ve ever observed about that student is then waiting for you when you next log in to the device of your choice.

What about actually marking student work to give back to students? My philosophy is, don’t take daily work home to correct if you’re only doing it for the student’s benefit. Especially in the junior grades, it is completely pointless marking work and handing it back to them the next day or later. They are not old enough to self reflect on something from 24 hours ago and learn from it in a way that will alter their practise next time. From their perspective, they are handing in a piece of writing which they are hopefully proud of, only for their teacher to trash it with red pen and hand it back some time in the distant future. Teaching points need to be made in the moment. If you don’t catch students at the point they are doing the work then it’s too late to make the teaching point. Therefore, you don’t have to mark every piece of work every day. Roam the class and capture as many teaching moments with individuals or small groups as you can. Keep a list of students whose work you’ve seen on any particular day and make sure you have conferences with each student at least once a week.

If you want to mark work for your own assessment purposes, that’s fine. Get your students to leave their books open on the table at the end of the session and when they’ve gone out to recess or lunch take a photo of their work through Evernote so it’s saved in their ‘file’ for you to look at and annotate later on at home. Once again, you don’t need to take a pile of books home to achieve this.

So in short, our teachers now have everything stored online waiting for them whenever or wherever they want to access it. No more huge bags or piles of workbooks being carried to and from school.

So what’s the end of the story? How was this teacher walking in from his car with nothing but a set of keys, not even his lunch? He had a credit card in his pocket and was planning to buy it. Imagine showing up to work with nothing but your keys. Great stuff!

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