Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Science Essence Statements

This an extended version of an earlier post, exploring the way we can communicate common written documents, like essence statements, more visually - using web2.0 tools such as animoto. This is a definite improvement and gives more of the idea I was trying to achieve. A little bit more of a play and I reckon I can nail it, but now, it's time for a bit of a holiday.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Is google making us stupid?

I was at a dinner party the other night. Right, that in itself sparks some interest - teacher invited to dinner party, what's the likelihood of that? Anyway, in the course of events we were discussing the role of technology in enhancing teaching & learning when someone suggested I needed to read Nicholas Carr's article in Atlantic, "Is google making us stupid?", cuts through all the cliches, he said. This was left open enough for me to make my own mind about the content, but the inference was that the hype around use of technologies may come with unexpected negative consequences. (Actually, I happen to believe that unless technologies are used effectively to enhance learning then all we are doing is edu-tainment, but that's another story). So I got a hold of the article and had a read.

Carr raises some interesting points. I was particularly intrigued by the notion that technologies can affect not just what we think, but how we think - an historical example he uses is how our concept of the world changed through the widespread use of timekeeping instruments. This led people to ignoring their senses and deciding to follow time more - when to eat, work, sleep, rise and so on. People also began to think of our brains running like "clockwork". Carr follows this example by stating, the internet promises to have far-reaching effects on our cognition. I agree, this will be no doubt the case.

Carr earlier uses examples of his own internet use to suggest some of the negative consequences of the internet on how we think and this is one of two major issues I have with the article, the second issue arises towards the end of the article and perhaps provides a nasty underlying problem with how Carr perceives education. I will discuss each of these in turn,

1. Carr bemoans that fact that he struggles to carry out deep reading anymore, that a decade or so of surfing the web means his ability to concentrate has diminished. Carr supports his own and other anecdotal evidence with research from scholars at University College London (why did he need the word scholars?). This research was based on a 5 year study which examined computer logs and it showed that people visiting sites exhibited a form of skimming activity, typically reading no more than a page or two of an article before bouncing off to another site. Sometimes they would save a long article, but there's no evidence they actually read it. They conclude - it is clear users are not reading online in the traditional sense. OK, nothing surprising there. But then comes this huge jump - It seems that they go online to avoid reading in the traditional sense. Hello? Sorry, where did that leap come from. If you were to look at my on-line use you would most certainly find a distinct lack of deep reading, mostly because I hate reading long sets of text off a screen. I use the internet to browse and search for articles which I actually usually print and do then set down and read. Just because there was no evidence that the articles downloaded weren't read, there was equally no evidence that they were. This is shonky stuff. Likewise, Carr's classic use of confusing correlation with cause. I use the internet, I don't deep read so much anymore, therefore the internet must have caused me to not deep read. Any researcher would tear that to shreads. There could be so many other factors that have influenced this, work changes, lifestyle, kids?, stress, getting older - who knows.

2. Here's my second major issue with the article - Carr states, I come from a tradition of Western Culture, in which the ideal (my ideal) was the complex, dense and "cathedral-like" structure of the highly educated and articulate personality - a man or woman who carried inside themselves a personally constructed and unique version of the entire heritage of the west. Yikes, OK no wonder Carr is afraid of how the internet is affecting peoples thinking. Am I stretching it too much to suggest that it threatens the elite system of education we have had for decades that relies upon the success of few, at the expense of many? (I suggest that's what he means by cathedral, with the spire getting narrower at the top!). Does the internet all of a sudden make information accessible, when in the past it was only handed down by the more learned? Does thinking now require more emphasis on how we access information, evaluate it, synthesis, analyse and apply it - rather than memorise and regurgitate it? For those of you who have seen Sir Ken Robinson's TED talk, he says that one of the major problems with our education system is that it has been set up to essentially provide a pathway for people to go to university, as if this was the exclusive divine passage. The challenge is of course to be thinking of an education system that moves beyond this paradigm and celebrates other aspects of human endeavour and creativity.

Carr's article is not all bad, I do think it raises some interesting points. However, I think to fear that the internet in some way makes us less able to deep read, spreads us pancake thin and makes us stupid in the process, is simply just that, stupid.

(Maniakalani also comments on Carr's article).
Photo credit aims

Friday, December 12, 2008

My twitter story

I think it's time to tell my Twitter story, because I need to make my peace with it. Thing is, when I first heard of twitter at ULearn'07 I thought now there's a big fat waste of time. In fact, a year later at ULearn'08 I thought exactly the same thing. Then, final day, final workshop I'm sitting next to @janenicholls when she tells me she couldn't live without her twitter network. Strong statement. I think, maybe there's more to this than "I just ate the yummiest chicken tikka masala at Mr. India". So, she hooks me up and says I should get into a group. Hmmm, how do I do that? In walks ICT guru, cyber-sage @suzievesper who says, just follow a whole bunch of people and comment on their blogs. Then, to help out she puts out a plug to her twitter network saying Hey, follow @craigsteed and Yippee, some of you did - that was encouraging! OK, so from slow and humble beginnings, gradually around me develops this amazing network of educators. I now love twitter - it's not just another social network, but it's more my Personal Learning Network. That's what I love about it, thinking & learning with others. One recent example of this was when @snbeach asked four important questions about education, threw out to her network and gathered the responses to post on her blog.

This story I know is not just mine, it is mirrored on a recent post by @klandmiles and I imagine the story is similar for many of you. Criticism of Twitter has been levelled at the type of tweets that occur, that they can be inconsequential or that in situations like conferences, tweets can spiral into negative commentary, the tone of which can be influenced by intial tweets and a subsequent flow of imitative tweets - a phenomena Derek Wenmoth describes in his blog post titled Digital Lemmings. OK, agreed but like Derek I also have found my involvement with twitter on the whole to be a highly positive and valuable experience. Also, let's be realistic, we don't operate in an emotional vacuum and for me some of the more personal tweets are actually just as important as the learning tweets as they allow me to get to know some of my network. I honestly know only 4 or 5 people personally in my twitter network, so these tweets allow me to get to know my network a little better, and that's important too - it allows me to connect at emotional level with this very important bunch of educators.

So thanks twitter - I misjudged you - accept my apologies.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Using Animoto to explore curriculum ideas

Following on the idea of using stories to explore kids ideas of values, I've been thinking about use of web2.0 tools to communicate other parts of the NZ Curriculum. Early on this year our Science department rewrote its essence statement. I've picked up on a small number of ideas from that to trial with an animoto slideshow. The trial you see below is not perfect, but the idea is there to be picked up on and perfected. How awesome would it be to create these (using animoto, moviemaker and so on) with a department? How great is it to use images of kids from school to say, this is what science is about for us. How much more powerful would it be when ERO visit and ask to see our essence statement in our scheme and we say check this out, this is what we think science is about. Like I say, this is just a kernel of an idea, but the potential extends beyond this...what you see here is an early attempt, its missing some of the slides I'd added to animoto, 30 seconds is way too short, watch this space for improvements...

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Charter for Compassion

I can't help but be taken by 2008 TED Prize winner Karen Armstrong's desire to get people of all faiths together to write the charter for compassion. Presently, religious fundamentalism can been seen to dominate the world's perceptions of religion and additionally create deep divides between differing faiths. The charter for compassion aims to show that all faith's share in the 'Golden Rule' in one form or another, that of showing compassion for others. We can all contribute our thoughts on this principle here. There is more to bind faiths together than to force them apart.

On watching the video I am also moved by the power of story telling. From an educational perspective the potential power of students we teach gathering the thoughts of others (students on values, community on issues close to their heart and so on) and sharing them as a collection of stories is a powerful way to communicate. I'd love to know if anyone has done anything of this sort and would like to share their experiences...

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Reflections from Australia - Part 3 (QLD Schools)

This final entry deals with some highlights from schools in Queensland – to actually do a comparison of the assessment systems between NSW and QLD would require some pages. I can’t being to compare the highly prescribed ‘dot points’ and high stakes HSC external examinations of NSW with the flexible internally assessed system in QLD (but with the unique Core Skills Tests in Year 12 to moderate against). Both systems are so fundamentally different that creating a national qualification system (as is being talked about) would require the worlds greatest diplomats to manage and organise, good luck I say!

The schools I visited were largely in the Brisbane area. My first Queensland school was Cleveland District State High School, about 1 hour 15 minutes east of Brisbane by train. The reason for visiting the school was because my school has had music exchanges with Cleveland and they are similar schools in make-up. Cleveland is a co-educational state high school with a roll of about 1200 students. The day was structured with 8 periods, each of 35 minutes, though most ran as double periods. Of interest was the fact that seniors, Year 11 & 12, attended school on Tuesday – Friday for extended days (8.30 – 3.25) and did not attend school at all on a Monday. An interesting class I observed was the schools SRT class (Science Research & Technology). In these classes students were in a purpose built lab with 15 computers and desks for working in. Students were working on finding out about certain aspects of science – the first class using lego to find out about gears and the relationships between gears. The second class were doing extended projects – all self-generated and well resourced. These ranged from making different types of coloured fireworks, experimenting with mouse memory, exploring rocket trajectory, crystal formation, plane flight and so on.

John Paul College is a large co-educational private school about 20 minutes from the centre of Brisbane. It has a large campus which hosts three schools – primary (1000 students), middle school (800) and secondary (750). The growth in the school is occurring with an approach toward students being sent to private primary schools. All students are required to lease a laptop from Grade 4 (our Year 5). Students bring laptops to class and spend a large amount of time using them. The schools are also set up with permanently mounted data projectors and staff members each have their own laptop/tablet for use in class. All classes I observed involved students working independently on research or tasks using the internet and laptops in class. Courses were organised on-line on a ‘workspace’ where students and staff could access material from anywhere.

The senior school (Grades 10-12) had very modern and well maintained facilities and was undergoing a Consultation Process for the next 10 year upgrade. I also observed the school assembly in which an amazing array of top awards (state and national) were given out for academic, sporting and cultural achievements. The school had a relaxed but focussed feel – students were easy to engage with and very polite (behaviour management is not a term necessary at the college). It was a real insight to see inside a private school and to see what difference the privilege of money can buy (but see earlier blog post). Interestingly, State Academies are attracting top students away from private schools so the school has gone and introduced the International Baccalaureate to try and compete in this respect.

The final school I visited was Holland Park, a state high school of about 520 students. A particular highlight was the time I spent with the literacy co-ordinator of the school. The school has received numerous awards for the literacy programme they run. Students spend 35 minutes (1 period) out of each of the 3 core subjects (Science, Maths and English) at Year 8 and 9 to improve their literacy skills and work through a series of literacy booklets. The students are ability grouped to give them access to different materials. The literacy program had shown students reading ages increase 2-3 years each year for some of the lower groups and students all improving above their yearly increment by being involved in the programme. The program had 3 foci: Tools of the Trade (decoding and grammar), Reading for Meaning and Critical Understanding.

The Fellowship offered me opportunities to enjoy times in schools and it was a privilege to visit. It also offered me a fantastic opportunity to have time away with my family, which we all relished.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Reflections from Australia - Part 2 (NSW Schools)

As I mention on my earlier blog-post, I recently had the opportunity to visit schools in Australia as part of a Woolf Fisher Fellowship. The focus of this posting is to mention some the highlights of visits to three NSW schools.

The first school I visited was Caringbah High School, a State Selective High School. There are about 8 selective high schools in Sydney, these are schools which have academic entry criteria good academic success. Selective schools provide an academic state education and are very popular. Students get selected to attend before Year 7 via the Selective High School Test in Year 6. One of the special programmes that ran out of Caringbah was a NASA supported space education programmes which had a Martian exploration context - looking for life on Mars. This has involved microbiology – looking at what is needed for life, mechatronics fun with a local university – remote controlling rovers, and use of the IMAX cinema to view Space exploration images on the BIG screen. The programme has also been extended into the local primary school with Year 5 & 6 kids visiting to have a similar course, this time supported by the Year 8 students at Caringbah. The programme appealed to me because of the way education became more seamless and links were made between the high school and both the university and local primary. I am sure all parties benefitted from the interactions and I feel all too often educational institutions work in isolation from one another when such links may prove very fruitful.

My next visit was Strathfield Girls, a successful state school with ESL students making up around 80% of the population. One special class I visited was a Year 10 ESL targeted class. This was team taught by a Science teacher and the ESL teacher. The teacher set up the practical work and the ESL teacher taught in the class with specially prepared resources. What amazed me was the ESL teacher was also a trained Science teacher. She was therefore able to create high quality resources with relevant science content and contexts and which specially targeted improving the language skills of ESL students. This team-teaching approach with ESOL students is a model I would love to see around any school I taught at.

Georges River College - Oatley Senior Campus is a senior college – Years 11 and 12. Senior colleges, like Selectives, arose from State attempts to stem the flow of students to private schools. The College formed about 4 years ago by drawing the year 11 and 12 students from three local schools. These schools have now become year 7-10 Junior Campuses. They are all Georges River College (GRC) but have different sites. School periods at GRC-Oatley Campus are 75 minutes long (this was common across Australian Schools), four of these on the average day split with 2 main breaks, each 30 minutes long. The campus was the site of an old teachers college and the school had a relaxed but mature feel about it (not dissimilar to a university). Students took responsibility for their attendance with the use of swipe cards - now there's an interesting idea!

One of the things I particularly liked about Georges River was their promotion of “The Oatley Way”. When I think of my own school, do we have a “Freyberg Way” and if we do, is it they way that we should be celebrating? I think articulating a school way could be a great way to highlight some of the values the school is focusing and promoting within the school community.

Next post...Queensland Schools.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Reflections from Australia - Part 1

I recently had the opportunity, as part of Woolf Fisher Fellowship, to visit Australia and look at the educations systems in two States. I visited schools in Sydney to explore the NSW system and similarly Brisbane to get a sense of the QLD system. The majority of schools I visited were state schools, though I did visit John Paul College, a privately funded school in Brisbane. The contrasts between state and private were obvious, not in the quality and enthusiasm of the teachers, nor noticeably in the nature and attitude of the students, but in the infrastructure and resources. John Paul had wireless internet throughout the school, all teachers had an IWB, their own laptop provided by the school, permanently mounted data projectors, class printers and every student has a leased laptop. The nature and type of lessons that could be supported through the available technology was markedly different from other schools. Linked with the observation is the alarming fact that some 35% or so of Australian students attend private schools. Furthermore, while private schools have typically been secondary there is now a significant growth in private primary education. For example, John Paul College had about 1000 students at its primary campus with approximately 700 in the middle school and slightly less again in the senior school. The growth in private education stemmed somewhat from under-resourcing in the public system over the last couple of decades. My concern is that this movement towards a private system could become a reality for New Zealand. With National due to form a government any day now I have fears that the funding required to allow state schools to meet the needs of 21stC learners may be a distant hope, though I would dearly love to believe they will make good of their promise that they will "Future proof schools with better ICT facilities and integrated ICT access within the teaching spaces throughout schools" - I just have my doubts
. Lack of decent funding to state schools, coupled with John Key's recent promises of increased funding for private schools, serves only to widen the gap between state and private schools. Contrary to Key's beliefs, extra funding to private schools does not provide more access to other less well-off kiwi families, it just means the ‘haves’ become ‘have-more’s. NZ Governments need to seriously consider their investment into state education to ensure all students have free education that meets their needs and caters for diverse learners. This will need to involve funding in infrastructure and resources – such as broadband with decent bandwidth, computers for students and teachers (and not just a lease scheme, but properly funded), along with creative vocational programmes that are not confined to school timetables, but are appropriately funded to allow students relevant educational pathways. Without this NZ risks following the same path as Australia, which only left States scrambling to find ways to address the issue through the creation of selective schools and academies. In my mind these seemed only to add another tier to the school ‘class’ system [though there were some great things going on too, that's for my next blog post]. It is a right of all citizens to have a first class public education system and this is necessary for the future of the country. The sooner governments begin to recognise this the better. We watch and wait for action...

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Demo Utter for my blog

Hi just trying to post an utter to my blog so that I can check on the cross-posting.

Mobile post sent by steedy using Utterli. reply-count Replies. mp3

Monday, November 3, 2008

Mole Day Celebrations


This was part of the famous mole day celebrations in my Year 13 Chemistry class at school. Mole Day of course arises from Avagadros number 6x10^23 and is from 6am - 6pm on the 23rd of October. The celebration consists of horrendously bad jokes told by Malcolm the mole (who yes, is a hedgehog hand puppet, but try find a mole hand puppet!). Here's an example... Q: What was Avagadros favourite dip? A: Guacamole (ha ha ha he he!!!). The special mole day cake is shared after we sing Happy Mole Day. Oh the celebrations of Chemistry. Anyway, check it all out on this video...

Friday, October 31, 2008

Elections and the web

I am enjoying watching the way election candidates in both America and here at home are utilising the internet as part of their campaign strategies. Locally I have been invited to be a friend of Helen Clark's on facebook and receive regular updates on what she's up to. I've also taken to reading David Farrar's kiwiblog which provides some interesting commentary, despite my different political position to Farrar himself. Also, the website pundit has added an extra level of interest with its online election quiz, if you haven't taken it already check it out at their website, it makes for an interesting exercise. Likewise their poll watch on their homepage provides combinations of poll results which may provide a more accurate picture of the state of the nations thinking than some of the small sampled poll results we are hearing about. National radios media watch program this morning (Nov 2) gave a great coverage of some of this and is worth listening to when the get the podcast up online. With respect to the American campaign I was impressed with the Alt-Country band Wilco's desire for change. They have emailed all their fans allowing a free download to their new song provided people commit to voting in the election. This was part of their email, check the link for more details...

Speaking of "I Shall be Released", the version recorded this summer with the Fleet Foxes is still available for download at the cost of a mere pledge to vote in the US elections next Tuesday (4 Nov.). We should add that if you are not a US citizen or for other reasons ineligible to vote, we'll settle for a good deed of your choosing (how about, for instance, giving someone who CAN vote a reminder phone call or a ride to the polls?). Click here for the download and more info.

Carrying on with NZ's campaign, I have enjoyed the NZCTU's You Tube clips, obviously wearing their political affiliations on their sleeve these clips deal savagely to right wing policies, but all with good humour (although I suppose that depends on your political position). Check out part 1 here...

Sunday, October 12, 2008

A new direction...

So here we go, time to take a totally new direction with this blog. I have been blogging all these great gigs for a while now but time to shift this little blog into something more. Having just returned from ULearn08 I am inspired to particularly work on developing my network of educators, both here and abroad. It seems to me social networking of this sort is one of the keys to the future of education and is one of the best examples of social constructivism I can think of. We all love the rhetoric around social constructivism, but really as teachers, how often do we model it and participate in it - to be honest transmission is all to easily the default position. Anyway, off we go into a new direction.

My particular highlight of ULearn was Suzie Vesper's preconference workshop on blogs and wikis. Not only did we learn tricks to smart-up our blogs using things like slideshows from Flikr , like this little one I made here at The Botanic Gardens in ChCh...

But also did nifty remote audio clips using Utterli. She has a link to her wiki which is filled with great ideas.