Today I took a moment in between creating online modules for my classes, and I realised that my teaching is different now from what it was this time last year. I’m not talking about slightly different – I mean completely different. And this is largely due to technology.
So I started to think about the metaphorical journey I have travelled so far with educational technology. It really began when our school introduced laptops for Year 9s up at the beginning of last year. I was really excited about having this technology but wasn’t really sure about where to begin with implementing it effectively in the classroom. This produced a huge challenge with a class of Year 9s who wanted to use their laptops (mainly for playing the numerous games they had quickly uploaded on to them) and a teacher who had a vision for what she wanted in the classroom, but wasn’t sure how to go about achieving it.
Then in October of 2012, I was fortunate enough to attend a full day workshop with George Couros, The Division Principal of Innovative Teaching and Learning for the Parkland School Division in Alberta, Canada. Here I was introduced to the use of Google Chrome, Twitter and Blogging for education. Inspired by George’s workshop, I set up my Twitter account and started to build my Professional Learning Network (PLN), connecting with other teachers and institutions at local, interstate and international levels. This has allowed me to participate in engaging professional discussion, pose questions, and draw on others for ideas about how to improve my practise. (As an aside- I highly recommend following @gcouros, @TeacherTechnol and @EduTweetOz – among many, many others – if you are looking at setting up your own PLN on Twitter) I also set up this blog to reflect on my personal learning, both in and out of the classroom.
Yet, once I’d learnt to navigate the world of Twitter and blogging, I needed more. In my opinion, it is not enough to connect with others if there is no tangible change in my classroom. So I spent some time over the summer holidays exploring the use of the online learning management system Edmodo and planning a class blog for my Year 8 pastoral care group. This is their space where they can reflect on their learning and share it with their parents, and other students and teachers. It took some time to digitalise my resources, create new, more meaningful resources and get the students and their parents accustomed to Edmodo, but once the inevitable teething problems were resolved, it went from strength to strength.
My next aim was for my students to use the digital technologies available to them to connect at a deeper level with their learning and to create their own online content, rather than simply being consumers of online content. The current generation is often described as ‘digital natives’, but I’m not sure that that description is entirely accurate. Our students have grown up with technology as a way life – but more often than not it is used to consume, rather than reimagine, reinvent and create. I believe it is the higher order thinking behind synthesis and creativity that defines the digital native.
Our school is now 1:1 laptop across the entire College, so this year my Year 8s have technology at their fingertips – and many of them only knew how to word process, create a Powerpoint presentation and search the internet. So we started small, using online tools such as Padlet to share ideas and brainstorms. A colleague and I then built on this by running simultaneous Year 8 Religion lessons where the students had to work in groups and then share their learning with their peers in both classes via a Padlet wall.
Our next step will be to involve the students in an inquiry-based project that will require them not only to engage with the digital content created by others, but to work in groups to analyse, reflect, synthesise and create their own content using the knowledge they themselves construct and the opinions they develop.
I have said it before, but my iPad has also been crucial to transforming the way I teach and my students learn. For example, the app Explain Everything has allowed me to create videos that explain and demonstrate concepts and pose questions to the students which I can then post on to the YouTube channel and playlists that I have created for them. I have recently extended this to setting up the subject specific blogs English Excel and Italian Like a Boss, as well as the creation of apps for Apple and Android devices that are linked to the blogs – http://myapp.is/EnglishExcel (on the right in the photo below) and http://myapp.is/ItalianLikeABoss (on the left of the photo). The apps are designed to give students and teachers access to a range of online learning opportunities. Users can link to the blogs, to video tutorials, and to news and podcasts, among other resources. The Italian Like A Boss app will provide a useful platform for our Year 10 and 11 students to communicate their experience with their peers, parents and teachers back at the school through the app and the blog, as well as connecting with others to enhance their learning in a meaningful way. Their learning is more mobile, accessible and relevant to their everyday lives than ever before and will hopefully continue to become even more so!
So this is my journey with educational technology so far. It is by no means complete and certainly not without its challenges. But it has transformed me into a very different teacher from the one I was at the beginning of October last year. There are certainly lots of things I have had to take into consideration, and one thing I firmly believe is that technology is the tool to facilitate and enhance the learning and not the end point. If students are simply learning about the technology then it is not being used effectively. Of course, there will inevitably be some of this, but it shouldn’t be the central focus. The central focus should be the knowledge that students construct through the use of this tool – and not simply for research (i.e. “googling”) or basic word processing! Students should be creating things with the technology that they could not do with pen and paper.
For those who feel like the integration of technology into the classroom is an enormous mountain to climb – it may well be. But if you start small and take it one step at a time, just like we ask students to do, then eventually that one thing you have learnt becomes second nature and you can build on it. You’ll be amazed how quickly it can transform your teaching.
I’ll leave you with this clip that I first saw at George Couros’s workshop. It certainly demonstrates how I – and I am sure others – felt at the beginning of this journey.
It has been some time since my last post. The past couple of weeks have been full of marking, report writing, TESMC, Language and Literacy Levels and Youth Mental Health First Aid courses. Needless to say, I’m glad to finally have a little time to breathe and get some thoughts up on my blog!
Today I was fortunate enough to attend the launch of a very talented colleague’s second novel. You can find his Facebook page here and follow him on Twitter (@rjbrownauthor). R.J. Brown has an incredible ability to draw even the most reluctant readers and writers into the world of literature and creativity. There were actually two launches of his book – one public and the other one at the school. I was unable to attend the one at school, but from what those who did go have recounted, the event drew together students, parents and staff in a shared celebration of the achievements of someone who is an integral part of our school community.
These events got me thinking. As English teachers, part of our role is to help students develop and apply their creativity through language. Yet one of the biggest obstacles I come across in my English classes is how to inspire students to play with language and engage with their creative sides. So often, when doing a unit on narrative, have I heard students try to use the excuse “But I’m not creative.” I don’t think this is true at all. I think humans are innately creative. Watch children play with their toys. Whether it’s girls playing with dolls, or boys playing with cars or action figures (or vice versa), kids make up story lines. They act out these narratives through their toys, or through the performances that they put on for adults. They are being creative without even having to think about it.
So what happens to make so many students seem to lose confidence in their creative side? It is still there, but it can be a challenge to help them find it.
Perhaps it is the absence of ‘play’?
Or the imposition of rules and limitations on what they should be writing about?
Or a belief that they need to write simply to please the teacher, rather than for their own pleasure?
Or a culture that doesn’t encourage spontaneous reading and writing?
I’m not a hundred percent sure if it is any of these, but I know that one thing I would like to do this year is to help my more reluctant readers and writers to find their creative sides and to use them whether they are writing a narrative or an essay. Another colleague and I are working on a project which aims, in part, to do just this. More information to follow on that at a later date as it is still in its early stages.
In the meantime, I’d love to get your thoughts – how do you help your students engage with their creative sides? What do you do to counter the attitude that writing is “just something they have to do” to get a grade?