20 June, 2013

Some small successes

Whilst writing my last post, I've been doing some training for Accelerated Literacy and our school has been madly preparing for its annual Gala Night. As a consequence, my classes have had a couple of casual teachers and quite a lot of the students have been out of class preparing for various jobs related to the performance.

On coming back to my Year 9 class the other day, I was a bit dismayed about the low number of students but having fielded the usual "Can we not do anything as only half the class is here?" with my usual "No, you've got too much work to do!", the remainder of the class knuckled down and set to it. All of the students were actively and visibly working.

There was a little off-task discussion and the occasional game being played but on the whole I spent the lesson doing exactly what I felt I should be doing: wandering around the room; marking off completed work; checking a student's understanding when I could see that they had made a few mistakes in an exercise; helping students clarify questions and writing examples for single students or small groups.

After two lessons, I've seen the majority of students' books; awarded a stack of badges on Edmodo for completed exercises; talked a few students around to my way of managing the classroom and observed a busy and productive classroom.

Well chuffed! :D

17 April, 2013

The Problem with Problem-Based Learning

The Unit Programming Blues

Every time the holidays come round, I aim to sit down and write some units of work for the coming term. However, what invariably happens is I spend the first couple of hours banging my head off of the various piles of resources, faculty programs, syllabus documents and jotted-on bits of scrap paper. Then I go and whinge to my wife (poor love) about how I have no idea where to start. I'll then find my muse and spend another couple of hours writing notes about all the things I'd like to do in a particular topic only to find that I've spent all of my lesson time pontificating rather than actually coming up with decent learning activities for the students!

The next couple of days are spent cruising the web looking for "The Idiot's Guide to Planning a Unit of Work in Mathematics!"

I could give up and spend the remainder of the holidays doing something productive (there are any number of jobs around the house and garden), but I know that when I start back next term, I'll default to the easy option (notes, exercise, book-marking) and yet again, end up profoundly dissatisfied with my teaching and the students' learning (or lack of).

We must learn Mathematics because...? Just because!

I think the major problem I have is that I don't have any faith in the "traditional" teaching format. My programs basically follow the typical (in my experience) format of "Whole number/ Patterns and algebra/ Perimeter and area/ etc." Most of the programs I've seen basically copy the syllabus document or reword it and I find it very difficult to get out of that mindset. Each topic is treated as a separate entity with a list of associated skills, knowledge and understandings. They may form an integral part of a larger whole but each is treated as an academic goal in itself.

The majority of available resources also seem to reflect this at a fundamental level. They seem to have been created to teach the skill. This would be okay, but there are very few explanations as to why the skill needs to be learned. Ultimately, most resources (including the Rationale on page 13 of the new NSW K-10 Mathematics Syllabus) seem to imply that the primary reason for learning mathematics is to learn mathematics. Very few students will end up studying Mathematics as a pure science, so why do I spend so much time teaching them as though that is where they are headed?

Where is the recognition that Mathematics is actually a tool?

The vast majority of mathematical endeavour is a result of humanities' need to quantify. It has developed with the need to count, to measure, to trade, to predict and to build. It can be a purely academic exercise, but for most people it isn't. It is a tool that is pulled out and used to solve problems. After a while the individual recognises (maybe with some prodding from the teacher) that they can use the same tool in different situations and so the tool can be generalised.

Problem-based learning

Problem-based learning seems a much better way of teaching Mathematics. It recognises that the tool was designed to help solve a problem. Students need to be presented with problems that result in the need to develop a new or modified tool. The problems must also be sufficiently interesting that the students have the desire to want to solve the problem. If we don't present students with appropriate problems to solve then they won't appreciate the value of the tool.

It seems to me that this is the way to actually encourage a love of mathematics and an interest in seeing how it works, hopefully leading on to further interest and a career in the field.

The problem with problem-based learning

Having been to a number of conferences, I know that there are teachers programming tasks that are successful in engaging and encouraging learning amongst their students. But what do their programs and scope and sequences look like?

We've got a copy of "The Case of the Mystery Bone." I've read it a number of times but never used it because, fun though it sounds, it doesn't fit neatly into our existing programmes. There are any number of interesting problem-based resources out there (101 Questions and Mathalicious spring to mind). But how do they fit into a full program? They appear to be stand-alone lessons rather than part of a coherent whole.

My problem is that I need a fully fleshed-out model of what a problem-based program looks like. How does the effective maths teacher or faculty approach the job? I think what is needed is for interesting problems to be created and explored; and the relevant skills, knowledge and understandings to be fleshed out to make a full unit. Having addressed a number of problems, the individual skills are then cross-referenced with the idea of seeing what is still left to teach from the syllabus

How do I make it fun?

I know that education is my calling but I'm over the whole fuss of trying to teach a Mathematics curriculum that meets the needs of a nation. I'd much rather be involved in creating a curriculum that where the Mathematics is learned simply because my students are enjoying the ride.

10 May, 2011

High Stakes Standardised Testing an Anachronism (IMHO)

I just read this article in the Edublogger and thought I'd jot down some thoughts.

Curriculum-based or Needs-based?
I've been teaching Maths for eleven years now. I've always felt a little hamstrung by the fact that my tertiary qualifications used maths but weren't math-based (civil engineering and sports science). As a result, whilst I can often think of a practical application for some of the skills I teach, it doesn't necessarily attract much sympathy from students who want to know when they are likely to use the skills they are learning. Why would you need Pythagoras theorem when as far as you're concerned you're going to be doing hairdressing and make-up? As I see it, this frustration arises from the fact that students feel so time-poor in mathematics.
House of Cards
On average , I would have met the majority of students in a particular cohort by about Year 9 or 10. By this point, having given up on trying to learn their times-tables in primary, they then typically failed to understand Fractions (because the mental calculations to aid proficiency were too hard and so consequently they didn't really get Decimals or Percentages). Algebraic techniques went over their heads because the idea of a variable or pronumeral didn't have a chance to sink in (and then Equations, formulae for Area & Perimeter, Pythagoras theorem and Coordinate Geometry became inaccessible). By the time they hit Year 10, just as their first major high-stakes exam is due, they are aware of the time limit and want to prioritise on the features of mathematics which they individually feel are most important to them. They don't have time to waste on features of the curriculum they feel they won't have any practical use for.
Algebra is a typical example of this. How do you explain to a student with very little theoretical understanding of mathematics that learning algebraic skills is actually going to help them appreciate the underlying rules themselves. "When am I ever going to be doing 3a+2a as a plumber?" There may be an easy answer to this question, but I, unfortunately, don't know it.
Exams Still sat at an Age not a Stage
I think the problem is that the exam standard is linked to the age of the student. You have to sit your School Certificate in Year 10 and your High School Certificate in Year 12. We all know that students learn at different rates and the curriculum sets outcomes for particular stages (not ages). Yet we still group them according to age and expect them to sit a high-stakes standardized exam when they complete Year 10. Without the School Certificate, they cannot access certain privileges within society, such as access to apprenticeships, better income support, etc.
I believe that the vast majority of our student population would happily cruise through the NSW Mathematics School Certificate paper at the end of year 10, if they had been allowed the opportunity to continue working on a topic until they understood it. It isn't meant to be a hard exam, it just sets a standard that is meant to be achieved.
But when the curriculum states which particular outcomes each year group is meant to have addressed by the end of each stage; and the classroom teacher feels pressured to address all of those outcomes before the end of the school year, many students get left behind on a particular outcome because they get moved forward to quickly.
As a consequence, the next time the particular outcome is addressed as the preamble to the next stage, the student has to be re-taught almost the entire topic, leaving less time for the subsequent outcome to be addressed.
It's a vicious circle. The more time we allow for a student to catch-up on missed learning the less time we have to ensure that they achieve that Year 10 milestone and the more likely we are to try and hasten them forward before they are ready. Subsequently, the student becomes more disaffected with their educational experience and they are more resistant to learning the relevant material when it comes up again, having failed at it so many times before.
Different Learning Rates
We all know that students learn at different rates. Some students shoot off in front of the class whilst others lag behind and the reasons why this happens are well documented: cultural capital (the amount of learning, resources and experience accessible to a student in their home life and community); learning styles (Gardiner's taxonomy) and simple student personality amongst others. I'm sure there that there are many excellent teachers who do individualise their students' learning programs appropriately, but what happens when those students change teachers or schools? Unless meticulous records are kept (likely), shared (unfortunately, not so likely) and then used appropriately, the students just find themselves thrown back into the melting pot with the other students in their new class and have to waste time trying to help their new teacher understand whereabouts they are in the grand scheme of things.
In my school, we use the student data that is available to us to help stream our students, rightly or wrongly, into ability classes. When a student arrives from a new school, the head teacher will conduct a short interview and attempt to place them in a suitable class according to his assessment of the student's ability.
The Examination/Reporting Roller-coaster
This system tries to address the issue of students appearing at different stages but we still feel tied to the timescale of our curriculum. We try to ensure that we have taught the material we need to teach, in time for the exams. We then set and mark the exams so that we can give parents appropriate feedback in reports. We then regrade the classes allowing some students to move ahead or drop back into a class more appropriate to their ability, and so the whole routine carries on.
Where Does Their Love of Learning Go?
I was lucky enough when I first started teaching to spend a few months doing some casual blocks for primary schools around the Northern Beaches in Sydney. I mainly worked in junior primary classes. It was possibly the most joyous continuous experience of my teaching career simply because the students were so enthusiastic. They wanted to learn! They wanted to learn about everything and their enthusiasm was infectious. I got called in one morning to be the face-to-face relief teacher for all the Kindy classes. The Principal (rushed off his feet) just had time to show me the Art room and say that the first class was due in a couple of minutes and then dashed off to deal with another disaster. I looked around the room. Of course many of the cupboards were locked and the only resources I could find were a few pots of textas (felt-tip pens) and some black-and-white drawings of Easter Eggs (this was in September!) The first class arrived and I rather apologetically explained that we would be colouring in Easter Eggs. To my surprise there were huge whoops of delight and everybody set to with a will. We had a great discussion about Easter and what it meant (not just chocolate!) and I left the classroom feeling like the class (and the subsequent two classes) actually learned something.
In contrast, many high school students simply do not have that same level of enthusiasm for their education. Last year I told some Year 10 students about this and other experiences and asked them when and why they thought they stopped enjoying school and learning. Although the actual age varied, the general consensus was that it was the point where they stopped feeling successful. That failure or boredom was occurring more frequently than success.
Obviously this was completely ad-hoc and would bear further study, but my feeling is that everyone wants to learn, that they feel successful when they achieve something new. I look at the amount of time my students spend playing games, learning the lyrics to songs, arguing about sporting or media personalities and can't help but be aware of the amount of information they are happy to absorb. They are not by any stretch of the imagination, passive learners. They just don't like school! It gets in the way of their learning and has been getting in the way of their learning since they stopped feeling successful there.
What to Do About It?
Just from this little survey then, it would seem that the secret to keeping students motivated to continue learning in a school environment is to make sure that they always feel that they are successful. This means that they have to be tested when they are ready.
Unfortunately, because teachers generally have to write their own tests and should obviously be concerned that the assessment is valid, a class or cohort tends to have to sit the exam at the same time under controlled conditions, which of course argues against an individual assessment program. It also means that formal assessment occurs infrequently (once a term?)
Logistically an individual teacher setting and sitting individual tests under the current system would be facing an absolute nightmare. It may be less so for a High School faculty or larger Primary school but would still be a massive undertaking. And it still doesn't address the problem of reporting the standard of a student transferring between schools.
The obvious step then would be for these tests to be standardized across the curriculum. This sounds like I'm passing the buck onto the Board of Studies, but I think that the sorts of collaborative tools offered to us by web2.0 technologies would actually work to make this task much simpler to manage and execute.
The Global Exam Room
What I am imagining would happen is something like this: The Board sets the standards that a student is meant to achieve for an individual topic. I have a group of six students in my class who have almost finished their unit of work on Stage 3 Fractions and want to sit the test. I inform the Board that I have students who are ready to be assessed on that particular outcome. The Board then sends me an exam consisting of a random selection of questions designed to assess their understanding. The students sit the test, I mark it and feed the information back to the Board via an online form. The Board would keep records of student achievement so that when a student transfers from one school to another, their record of achievement would be accessible there.
So who writes and approves all these questions? Well we would. Periodically, the Board would send me a package containing a proforma for me to write some questions designed to assess some specified outcomes, as well as some questions written by other teachers that I would be asked to review and comment on. I would write the questions, solutions and marking guide, review the other questions and send them back. My questions would in turn be sent to another teacher or teachers to review before they were then added to a bank increasing the pool of questions available to draw from when a teacher requests a test.
The review process would be quite important as I would be required to comment on how well my students would be able to interpret and answer the question. My response would be tagged against such things as my school's socio-economic status, region and local indigenous and immigrant cultures. Having assessment tasks that are matched (by a process of peer-review) to the particular societal make-up would ease the load on task writers having to write questions that are generic but sometimes seem culturally clichéd in some areas. Some questions would be generic, but some may be extremely suitable or unsuitable for a particular area.
Importantly, the total pool of questions is always available for students to look at so that they can see how they are likely to be assessed at the end of a unit of work. They would know what they are working toward. The micro-management scale allows the student to see an achievable short-term goal in front of them and thus maintains their motivation.
In terms of ensuring that the exam is sat in a controlled environment, I would imagine that within a school, there would be a significant number of students ready to sit different tests at any particular time and so timetabling would allow for one or two classrooms and teachers to be available for testing.
How do We Teach This?
Obviously this is quite a major consideration, but it occurs to me, that there is actually nothing to prevent a teacher from continuing as they do currently. If they feel that they do a decent job of getting their class from A to B and want the entire class to sit the exam at the same time, then why not. Any student that fails would be given support to achieve the given outcome anyway and could easily be reassessed.
Speaking from personal experience, the "traditional" chalk-and-talk method has never really worked for me. I can't seem to find the right combination of materials and presentation that allows all the students to achieve the same outcome by the end of the lesson or unit. I've been to plenty of presentations by fabulous teachers who make it sound effortless (well not effortless but certainly carried off with style) and I'm in awe of the marvellous work done by our support teachers who work with classes whose difference in ability level is much greater than mine.
I find the idea of a multi-stream class quite challenging but extremely appealing. I've always worked much better as a facilitator than as a teacher. By which, I mean that I tend to go around the classroom offering help to individual students when they get stuck with a particular problem. I tend to find units of work in which the students have their own workbook and work at their own pace, are much more successful and stress-free.
I'm sure that there are also many other alternative approaches used around the world. We are already starting to see units of work shared on the web. The actual creation of units of work is becoming less time-consuming because so much is available to share. All that needs to happen is for a common standard of tagging to be applied to allow teachers to find relevant units of work easily.
The New National Curriculum
It seems to me that the development of an Australian National Curriculum offers a superb opportunity for a system of this sort to be set up. Examinations are not really a realistic reflection of how we apply knowledge in society. We do tests on a regular basis, but they aren't generally very long and we can usually resit them fairly easily e.g driving tests, first aid, etc.
More importantly though, this system allows for continuous assessment. Students wouldn't be on the verge of panic waiting for their Year 12 results to come through but should be able to predict almost a year in advance what their end result is likely to be and transmit their record of achievement to the university as part of their application. They could and should have the opportunity to go back and resit a test in order to improve their overall grade. This reinforces the idea of personal responsibility. It's up to them to work to improve their grade and also the rate of completion. An improved grade can only come about through personal effort.
Time for Change
It seems to me that a one-off one-time high-stakes test is an anachronism. It is no longer necessary to rely on a small panel of people to produce an exam that is going to be able to assess the majority of outcomes which have been taught using different methods in different areas to different subsets of society.
Students need to feel successful in their education continually from Kindergarten through to Year 12 or they lose interest and turn to richer and more entertaining sources of information and learning. They need feedback on their progress earlier and they need to feel that they are being assessed when they are ready.
Building a suitably sized pool of assessable questions designed to assess understanding of an outcome should be a relatively easy undertaking. With the advent of reliable internet tools and professional networking services, it would take very little effort by the thousands of available teachers (there were 255,000 Australian teachers in the 2002 census!)
If the emphasis is taken off a standardized test being taken at a particular age and instead placed on a student being recognised as having achieved a standard when they are ready to achieve it, I believe we would find many more students becoming less disaffected with their education at such an early age and so achieving better results continually through their educational career.
High-stakes testing is unfair and unnecessary. Standardised testing that occurs frequently as and when the student wants it would aid motivation and student success as well as support students transitioning between schools whether that be as a result of a move or the transition from Primary to Secondary.

17 February, 2011

New Years Resolutions

National Learning Partnerships

This year, our school is receiving a large amount of funding through the National Learning Partnerships program, to improve outcomes for students and professional standards attained by the teachers.

Under the program, all the staff who participate receive relief from face-to-face teaching for four periods. The four periods are split so that two periods are spent working on the Quality Teaching model and the other two on improving student outcomes. Each staff member has had an interview with the Deputy Principal who then works out how the individual learning goals can be allocated between the two initiatives.

I'm quite excited by the program as it is flexible enough for me to pursue my own goals over the course of the year. I believe that those goals are in keeping with the aim of the program. From the students point of view the aim of NLP's is to improve literacy, numeracy and engagement in the classroom. From the Quality Teaching model I will be improving my own understanding of the pedagogy as well as improving other teachers understanding of the resources available to them that will assist them in their goals as well.


So, what would I like to achieve this year?

All the work last year on Personal Learning Networks and Web2.0 resources really impressed me on the potential audience that blogs and blogging provides. I feel that this may be the hook necessary to engage students in improving their literacy skills as they communicate their understanding of their studies to a much bigger audience than just their teacher.
Goal 1. Get some students using blogs as a their learning journal.

The amount of useful tools on the Internet is amazing and there are some wonderful applications that are so much more interesting and satisfying to use than the usual MS app suite. I've already had some interest from other staff after demonstrating various gadgets and hope to share more of that with some of my colleagues
Goal 2: Help staff and students become proficient users and creators within the various Web2.0 tools available

I am getting an interactive whiteboard in my classroom and whilst I am familiar with the software suite that comes with it , I haven't fully explored the potential that an IWB offers a mathematics classroom. I want to make sure that it becomes an essential component as opposed to a useful gimmick.
Goal 3: Become a proficient user and creator of IWB materials relevant to mathematics

I have a senior mathematics class this year and am hoping that I can maintain interest in the subject (through my achievement in the above goals). My experience in the past is that the students get a little disheartened with the amount of work involved and give up, either changing to an easier mathematics course or giving up the subject altogether. I am attending one of the extension classes so I can observe my Head Teacher in action and also brush up on some maths that I just haven't used on a regular basis for several years.
Goal 4: Reduce the normal attrition experienced by our senior maths classes by maintaining interest and understanding in the subject through the use of technology and active engagement.

Getting Started
I've already signed up a fellow teacher who is exploring youtube and wanting to learn a little more. I'll post a notice in my staff common room to see if I can drum up a little more interest.
I'm also a member of our ICT and PBS (positive behaviour for success) committees and will be able to offer some solutions to problems or opportunities that arise in those forums.
I'm hoping to adapt the 23things program offered a few years ago by the Virtual Services Task Group (SJPL & SJSU staff), who modified The Learning 2.0 program designed by Helene Blowers, Technology Director, Public Library of Charlotte & Mecklenburg County. I've read through most of it and think it has a lot to offer anyone who takes it up. I know that I will benefit from actually doing it as I am still only a little way into my own learning journey.

So wish me luck and, as always, please feel free to send suggestions or offer corrections

15 December, 2010

Presenting Blogs and PLN's to my school

The school year is over, the kids are on their way home and all our staff have got two days of professional development before the holidays.

I'm trying to encourage the use of blogging as an educational strategy for our students in the New Year and am presenting my case for the use of Blogs and PLN's to the staff in a couple of sessions tomorrow.

I owe a huge debt to the members of my PLN as, over the last few months, they have greatly contributed to my understanding of Personal Learning Networks, have asked me several pertinent questions and made some wonderful suggestions abut how to go about integrating these technologies into my school's culture. Thank you so much to Susan, Chris, Vahid, Julia, Scott, Jim, Sara, Kate and Linn. I am still amazed at how wide afield my network is spread and the different cultures that it is already influenced by.

I apologize in advance for any suggestions that haven't been put into the programme for tomorrow but I am hoping that next year will see many of the staff and students continue to develop their understanding and I will be able to make use of the many suggestions that have been offered.

I'm pushing ahead with blogging as an entry point to PLN's as I believe that text is probably the most generic and applicable medium that will apply to the participants tomorrow. Other formats may be more useful to individuals and Key Learning Areas but I am hoping that I will be able to work with smaller groups in the New Year and assist them to find the tools relevant for their own PLN's.

My plan is this:
  • I am going to start with the Powerpoint presentation as it says what I want it to say and I can leave it as a resource on Slideshare for people to come back to if they want to.
  • Having run through the presentation, I will model the process of setting up a blog on the interactive white board at the front of the room. Hopefully, I'll be able to take everyone through setting up their own blog and then publishing their first post.
  • The modelled blog will become a clearing house for all the blogs that the school population creates. So individuals can return to the site and find links to new blogs that may pique their interest.
  • I'm going to use EduBlogs, although I will leave the choice of platform up to individuals. Being a school based resource, I have to try and protect the students from adult content where possible.
  • I've created a Symbaloo page to provide a series of links that I hope may prove useful.
I would like to think that this will provide an opportunity for the school population to find out a bit more about each other and discover common interests that fall outside the typical domain of a 'school'. I also hope it will set many on the same road to developing professional contacts with people outside the school and our immediate local area.

10 December, 2010

Vahid's Slideshare encouraging interent participation

Vahid offered this in my quest for material to present to my staff

09 December, 2010

Problems with comments and tracking

Many apologies to anybody tht may have tried to leave a comment. I know I've been getting a fair bit of traffic over the last couple of weeks (I can check Bloggers Stats tab), but since trying to Disqus to field all my comments and Google Analytics to give me a bit more depth about reader analysis, I don't seem to be receiving anything on either website. Very frustrating.

Have contacted both to see if they can offer a soultion. In the mean time, if you wish to post me a comment that you really wanted to make then email me at iwoods2807@gmail.com.

P.S. don't forget to include the posting title in the subject. Ta

02 December, 2010

"Sharing: The Moral Imperative" and Hug Your Lurkers

Sharing: The Moral Imperative

I have just watched this video by Dean Shareski. It is a keynote to the K-12Online Preconference and seems (somewhat) relevant to a couple of the points I've been making in my blog and various other blogs and groups after the end of PLENK2010.

Dean asks that teachers consider that their profession is one of sharing. That we share knowledge with our students. He proposes that the web has knocked down many of the walls teachers have felt constrained by when it comes to giving and receiving resources. In the past, geographical distances and the costs associated with reproducing and delivering materials meant that sharing was expensive and difficult. Now, with access to high speed internet, suites of tools are available to upload, download, rate, translate, comment on, edit and tweak a variety of commonly recognised and easily reproducible file-types. So there are few reasons why educators would not be able to share their resources.

Dean argues that there is actually a moral imperative to share the resources we create. Why should a fantastic resource that you have made be kept for the benefit of the students within your classroom walls? It behoves all of us to share the resources we have created. If it positively impacts on one student, regardless of their location, culture, language or age, then that resource has enriched the planet as a whole. The wider your audience, then the bigger the impact that your resource will have on human knowledge.

The link between this and my point about lurkers made perfect sense when I thought of it but now I find I'm struggling to bridge the gap. Oh well, ploughing on regardless...

One of the recurrent discussions I've been sticking my nosey beak into, concerns lurkers in PLN's. I get the sense generally that lurkers are seen as a bad thing. I dispute this as I see lurkers as people who, for whatever reason, are unable to contribute to the current learning being undertaken by the PLN.

My argument is, that regardless of the reasons, the lurkers are still learning. Their understanding of the world is improving. At some point in the future, they themselves will have the opportunity to share  (ahh.. there's the link) their knowledge and, so long as their initial experience of the learning was positive, then they are likely to share that knowledge in a positive way.

If, however, their experience of the PLN left them unhappy because their lack of activity resulted in other members of the PLN complaining, then they are not likely to share that knowledge as it will bring negative emotions to mind.

My message is simple. Anybody that uses some information learned as part of their involvement with a learning network, regardless of the amount of involvement they had with that network, is increasing the general level of knowing held by the human race.
And because of this gradual increase in human understanding, we should never discourage individuals by disparaging their level of involvement.

On the contrary, we should actively work to encourage participation, not by just saying "Go on, have a go!" but working to improve the self-efficacy of an individual in regards to their confidence about posting comments or resources online. Maybe we do this by inviting specific individuals that we know outside the PLN to contribute and by explicitly welcoming them to the group. Sounds a bit of group-hug kind of thing, but we have to work to improve efficacy before they contribute. Otherwise, individuals with low efficacy will not contribute and more importantly will not share their knowledge further down the track.

One of the summer camps I worked in the USA was for children with behavioural or educational disorders (Summit Camp near Honesdale in PA). We were routinely given a short in-service before the kids arrived. The aim of the camp was to improve the self-efficacy of the kids as, outside of camp, they were at the bottom end of their peer group on any number of different scales. Our job was to ensure that every interaction was to be as positive as possible, so that the kids felt encouraged to participate in activities.

It's time to build a castle
The counsellors in the camp had a video that demonstrated a great metaphor using poker chips as a tangible substitute for the amount of efficacy held in a particular situation. Those kids who had high efficacy (a large number of chips) would be more inclined to buy into an activity because they could afford to lose some chips and so could cope with failure more easily. However, those with low efficacy, or a only a couple of chips, would be inclined to horde, and not participate. Conversely, they bet big, blow their entire stack in a last ditch effort to get back in the game, and having lost it all, throw a major tantrum.
As counsellors, we had to dispense as much positivity as possible, so as to increase the kids' efficacy or stack of poker chips. I've remembered this 5 minute seminar for 13 years and still have my original blue poker chip! If anybody knows of a link to the original video and could post it here that would be wonderful.

Much thanks to Troy Adams at Camp Summit who posted me the link to the video. He says they still watch it every summer!

This simple interaction is the reason why social networking sites have pokes and hugs and welcomes. They serve to increase the efficacy of individuals joining the network and encourage them to believe that the community or network is going to receive their input favourably.

New members of your network need to be hugged or if you aren't as in-touch with your nuturing-self have their metaphorical hand warmly shaken. If this happens on a regular basis (increasing an individuals store of poker-chips) they are more likely to invest in the effort of contributing to a discussion and more likely to share the resources they have already created or will create in the future.

We all have the opportunity to teach.
We should all feel the imperative to share.
We should also acknowledge that that imperative may be overwhelmed by low self-efficacy in the face of unfamiliarity with the amazing technologies that we are faced with.

Don't encourage members of your PLN to share. Just encourage them to feel welcome. They will share when they feel welcomed enough.

group hug

01 December, 2010

Online-Self Efficacy

This is the end of a reply I made to discussion on the Grou.ps forum. I'm trying to set up an introdction to PLN's and Blogging for my staff at school and asked the group for help/advice. Susan O'Grady commented about the frustration with the blinkered view that a lot of people have about change. Specifically we were talking about educators, but the problem isn't limited to us. It applies to anyone.
I think that the blinkers are there as a result of fear. My first school was quite get up and go but we were a hard-to-staff school in Moree. I'm in Nowra now, relatively easy to staff because everyone wants to retire to the coast. Unfortunately, an older teaching population (being age-ist!) results in more conservatism. It's hard work staying up with current trends in technology, especially if you start to feel increasingly out of touch with it. At some point, self-preservation kicks in and you stop thinking "I'm out of touch" and start to think "The World's gone mad and it's all a fad anyway!" and so stop trying.

I'm lucky in that I've been playing with computers for the last 30 years, since my Dad borrowed a Sinclair ZX80 from his work. I've (luckily) never been scared about breaking my computer. I've always just played and learned things. It was the same with PLENK. I had a great deal of fun exploring all the tools.

A large part of the fear is reinforced by the negative experiences people have had or have heard about with the web. Identity theft, cyber-bullying, and the like. My own philosophy, especially since joining PLENK, is that the more positive and progressive my online persona is, then the more resilient it will become and the less llikely that negative interactions are going to have a dramatic impact on it.

Lightbulb moment - Online-Self Efficacy!!

29 November, 2010

Trying out Google Analytics

Sorry, this wasn't a very informative posting originally. I've signed up for Google Analytics to see what sorts of information it can tell me about how people navigate around the blog. So one poor soul went to my original post and then spent 10 minutes reading my questions I want to find answers to of which there's only a few seconds reading anyway.

Seems interesting though and bags of potential. Thanks to Linn Gustavsson and her post that pointed me in this direction.

22 November, 2010

Long Time, No See!! Thoughts on a MOOC

Most of the big discussion on PLENK2010 this week seems to be about how quiet it has become around the discussion forums in the last couple of weeks and the value of lurking. I was only able to get my head in the game about the middle of the course and had a good two or three weeks of ideas and input (from my point of view) before other demands loomed and I had to drop out of sight again. A good deal of the course therefore, has for me, been spent lurking or gleaning. Occasionally I feel able to create a post or add a comment, but much of the time I am put off because I'm too far removed in time from the discussion.

Time is of the essence (but not available)
The problem I've had with the MOOC is more about the timing than anything else. It is difficult to keep up with the amount of discussion that takes place and because of the way my particular combination of web tools works, it is difficult to have a late comment (i.e. one added more than a couple of days after the bulk of the discussion has ended) discussed.

I've been using Netvibes as my aggregator and whilst I was keeping up to date it was great. But because it doesn't notify me of new additions to discussion posts, I haven't necessarily been aware of whether my comments have themselves engendered any discussion.

Lurking, I think, is a by-product of not being able to keep up. I haven't yet found a way of keeping track of all of the little discussions and postings and their associated ripples. I think this is a vitally important and missing part of the process since a PLN works because people respond to each other.

Lurkers may add the odd comment here and there but get discouraged because they aren't necessarily noticed by the rest of the pack, who have already moved on. I haven't really noticed the cat-i-ness that has been mentioned a few times over the last few weeks, but I wonder if that frustration is a result of comments and postings being "ignored". Human nature, in my experience, looks to blame people for the unpleasantness that comes their way, but I am convinced that quite a lot of this unpleasantness is just "the way it is", i.e. a part of the system, not the fault of individuals. What needs to happen then, is for course conveners to take a long hard look at the system and question whether it meets the needs of the participants?

Architects design, Engineers make the building stand up!
I know this isn't the fault of the MOOC conveners, but I wonder if the architecture of the course is actually counterproductive when used with a Moodle platform. We are trying to get Moodle up and running at our high-school and one of the problems is the course architecture. We can set different faculties up and have different years/subjects within the faculties, but then we are immediately stuck at trying to put everything else into the last remaining tier. Everything ends up looking too crowded and confusing.

The MOOC needs to be set up by topic rather than by week and they need to be kept open all the time. My reason for this is that, a discussion might come up in Week 2 that attracts some interest and people want to follow the discussion. The conversation may have various tags/topics/categories which could be associated with it.
Six weeks down the track, someone else raises a point that could be easily linked back to the initial discussion but isn't because few people are that aware of the huge number of tags/topics that were raised in Week 2, let alone those over the entire eight preceding weeks!

How one is meant to keep a track of all the different threads and discussions I don't know but I imagine it will have something to do with tags. I think that the PLENK twitter network and the associated hashtags may be what I'm trying to describe, but not having access to twitter on a regular basis has prevented me from really seeing its' potential.

The MOOC has become quite messy and unwieldy and difficult to navigate around. I find it really quite hard to find the list of readings for the beginning of each week without trying to backtrack through the Daily archives. I've got no idea where a particular discussion thread was unless someone points me to it. Overall, some of the important learning points are probably going to pass me by without me noticing, which seems a shame.

So, for PLENK2011, how should the course be organised?

Ideally, I would like individuals to engage in a MOOC in their own time. We all have other commitments, so it seems fair to assume that although I may post a comment in a timely manner, it may not be read for a while. When it is read, I would like to have any comments fed straight back to me.

Also, when I am running a couple of weeks behind schedule and trying to play catch-up I would like to be able to post comments or new discussions on old topics and have them read and commented on in return. This is easy for my blog so long as I actively encourage my PLN, but I have found a bit problematic with the Moodle.

Learning by Doing
In terms of continually encouraging new people to join in the conversation we need some mechanism by which they can actively participate in conversations that are old. After all the discussion in a PLN is what creates the learning, so excluding someone from the conversation just because they are 3 months behind everyone else isn't in keeping with the spirit of a PLN.

On the contrary, it would actually be beneficial for not-so-newbies to improve their own mentoring skills by assisting newbies along the way. However, this does require individuals to step up to the mark and take on these responsibilities as they arise.

I watched the Tom Chatfield's TED video the other day and wonder if some sort of incremental scoring system (like experience points) may be useful in determining whether someone should adopt a more responsible role within a PLN. Your PLN should include a certain number of experts, peers and newbies so that you are able to fill the roles of expert, peer and newbie yourself. Your "score" should be a rough average of the scores of those members of your network. When your score starts to rise above your PLN average, you start directing some of your "newbies" to assume responsibility for the new "newbies" coming into the system.

I've tried to represent this here:
PLN Hierarchy

The diagram seems quite limiting in that I've set it at three levels but that obviously isn't necessarily the case. Also one individual may appear in more then one network and at different levels.

Active Mentoring
I suppose the idea I'm trying to get across is that unless there is some architecture set up like this, the "new-newbies" coming in at the bottom do not have someone who is only slightly above their level of understanding helping them along the way. The pressure is all on the course conveners to try and encourage the "new-newbies" and those who have been in it from the beginning.

I think it is important for the the "peers" and "newbies" to assist the "new-newbies" because this in turn reinforces their own learning (the best way to learn is to teach). I also think the "experts" have the right to delegate some of their responsibilities further down the chain so that they can devote more energy to their own learning.

Of course, all of this interaction is published on course blogs and people know where they are because of the mind-maps and organisational structures that are published. It is important though that we all know roughly what level of expertise someone has. So we come back to a point raised in the PLENK forums a few weeks ago about how individuals describe themselves in their profiles. This may have been discussed, but I haven't managed to find it yet. ;)
In summary then;
  • The MOOC needs to be structured so that learning is not limited by the time you have available to participate
  • There needs to be some way of scoring within a PLN so that it is easy for individuals to see how they compare with other members of their network:
    • this will encourage new-newbies to participate if they can see that the bulk of members of the network they are joining aren't too far ahead of them
    • it will also allow experts to estimate the level of understanding of the peers and newbies in their network and delegate some mentoring responsibilities to them
  • All of the artifacts produced by individuals within the course need to be tagged in a way which is easily navigated, so someone (or someones) need to arrange organisational maps of the tags that are easy to find and use.
    • The artifacts need to be accordingly mapped into the organisational map so that individuals on their learning journey can see if they are headed down a path already well-worn by previous MOOCers
Fairwell and Adieu you Fare PLENKish Ladies (and Gents)
I joined this course with no expectations. I'd done nothing like it before and had never heard the term Personal Learning Network. I'd never really understood the educational buzz about "collaborate, communicate and create" replacing the 3 R's. I've come away from the course with an astounding wealth of knowledge about new tools and technologies and have learned the names of a few people who I will continue to follow and converse with in the future. I am also trying to work out how I can best incorporate PLN's into the architecture of learning in my high school. They seem such a simple and yet powerful resource for learning.
Ultimately, I think the MOOC has broadened my horizons about the term "life-long learner" and given me a view of how modern technologies can have a huge impact on the efficacy of an individuals learning journey.
Long may my own journey continue.

06 November, 2010

Sydney to Wollongong

Ollie and I have reached our fund-raising goal and are setting off tonight. Staying at my cousins and then start the ride tomorrow at 8am.

04 November, 2010

Influence as a Measure of Learning (a draft)

This is my initial (planning) for the post, but I can't seem to get it finished, can't really conclude it properly and am starting to worry that its a load of rubbish anyway. I need some objective feedback please. I've numbered the paragraphs to make feedback easier. Also I have a diigo account (iwoods2807) if someone wants to share their diigo notes. Anyway here it is:
  1. Like Chris, the idea of reciprocity keeps pinging around in the back of my head and that it is somehow very closely linked with how an individual's learning may be both assessed and evaluated. Interestingly, assessment and how it would occur was one of the focus questions I set myself back at the beginning of PLENK2010, although, to be perfectly honest, I hadn't really been "focussing" very hard.
  2. I am trying to work out how the influence we have on each other (as a by-product of reciprocity) could actually be used as a measure of our own learning. That maybe there is a mechanism by which that influence can be measured in a way that indicates both an individual's depth and breadth of knowledge.
  3. Recognition of Expertise
  4. The amount of learning that can said to have been gained by an individual within a MOOC needs to be recognized somehow and I think this would be an exceptionally hard thing to do if it wasn't for the fact that individual clusters form around people who are interested in a similar topic or topics.
  5. I am still quite surprised at the robustness of the network that I seem to have found myself in. The same few names keep popping up in forums and blogs that I am reading and posting to. These people have discussions, ask questions and suggest solutions to each other's trains of thought and obviously have an impact on each other's understanding.
  6. However, I would argue that we are also forming opinions of each other's areas of expertise so that we know who to turn to for help with a specific question. That in fact we are already making an informal evaluation of each other's depth and breadth of knowledge and that it is already an intrinsic part of our PLN's.
  7. The clusters themselves are not composed entirely of newbies. As an analogue of a university faculty we have the experts at the top (the professorships and doctorates) and then a number of individuals at different points on their road to understanding (under-grads, post-grads, masters, etc.) all of which ask questions and post suggestions that trigger further understandings and questions for the other members of the network.
  8. At any point, you should be able to ask someone (or more likely 'all') within the network to evaluate the "learning" of the other members and would be able to get a pretty reasonable snapshot of the relative understandings of the individuals within the network.
  9. The specific nature of the network indicates the field of learning (what are you learning about?) and the individual members of the network should be able to recognise at least some of the different levels of expertise of the other members of the network (who are the experts, leaders, etc?)
  10. n.b Some nomenclature for the different types of personalities within the network would be really useful here. I know the terms lurker, gleaner, but that's about it. Is there an actual list somewhere? If someone has a definitive(ish) list, could you let me know?
  11. Stephen Downes started a discussion in week 5 of PLENK2010 "Evaluation by Recognition". His opening statements were:
  12. Learning is recognized, not measured
  13. Recognition is global, not particular
  14. A lot of the discussion concerned how we recognise learning in individuals. Largely, the discussion centred around "testing" and how hard it could be to have learning recognised without passing a test. Given that the test could only measure a "snapshot" of the information taught or learned, it wouldn't necessarily give a clear picture of the level of competency or knowledge achieved by an individual. "Cramming" for an examination is an obvious way of trying to get by in a test without actually 'knowing' the course content.
  15. My thoughts concerning Stephen's initial points are that we are able to recognise that somebody is an authority in a field without asking them to do a test on the spot. The evidence they present when we are in communication with them will generally be examples of expert knowledge, informed on-the-spot conjectures and if an answer is not known, then reasonable pointers toward the gaining of such knowledge.
  16. The longer that the dialogue occurs, then the more likely that the recognition of expert knowledge will either be confirmed or denied. Or, from the point of view of evaluation, that the level of understanding of an individual can be identified.
  17. If this evaluation had to be assessed by an individual teacher, then the amount of time involved becomes a major obstacle to an informed assessment of an individuals understanding. However, if the assessment is based on real-time analysis of the interactions between members of a network and how individuals are referred to by the network then assessment of learning for a specific piece of knowledge may be done by simply looking for traffic containing key words and how the different members of the network interact with that traffic. Assessment can become an intrinsic part of the network.
  18. What do WE know?
  19. In terms of assessment or evaluation then, the key is the quality of sustained dialogue between the testers and the "testee" (careful not to drop an 'e' here). But how do we measure this?
  20. Traditionally, assessment occurs as a form of dialogue between the teacher and the class and is usually some form of a test or task. Any longer form of dialogue would be difficult because of the time involved. One of the discussion points raised was that the sorts of dialogues that would expose learning could only occur on a one-to-one or one-to-few basis. A teacher would have to continually monitor and make notes of his/her students and essentially assess the entire body of work produced by the class.
  21. I would argue that this is where the strengths of PLE's and PLN's come into their own. The network itself is already a sustained dialogue between its members. We are producing an enormous amount of information and because it is electronically stored, maybe it can also be electronically analysed using tools like Google Analytics or Gelphi (neither of which I have any experience of, so I am taking a leap of faith that such analysis is possible)
  22. What do YOU know?
  23. I think that the number of times an individual is referenced, invited to discuss, quoted or cited could be a fare indication of the level of knowledge that other members of the network feel that that individual has. Is it possible to reverse this relationship and assess someone's knowledge by looking at how much recognition or influence they exert over the network?
  24. There are some issues in the different ways influence can work: An individual may produce one piece of work which demonstrates a deep understanding of a particular topic, that is referred to many times. Their influence may be large but the breadth of knowledge exhibited by the artefact may be relatively narrow (although profound).
  25. Alternatively , there may be a member of a network who works hard to nurture his contacts and appears all over the place (a nod to Chris Jobling,your efforts are much appreciated!). His influence is that he provides little titbits of knowledge that assist the members of the network. The titbits themselves may only help a couple of people but the individual may influence many people in a multitude of different ways. This may indicate a wide breadth of knowledge but little depth and yet still exert a similar amount of influence to the example above. (I'm now NOT referring to Chris as I feel he demonstrates both depth and breadth of knowledge).
  26. In reality, individual members of the network probably exert influence in both ways. We may produce an artefact that is referred to many times and also provide smaller titbits all over the place.
  27. What I would like to know is, is there a tool or tools that could measure depth and breadth of influence. I think that influence can be measured by looking at the number of citations and references, but don't have the expertise to be able to test the theory.
This is where I got bogged down. I can't seem to bridge to my rather shaky conclusion:
When embarking on a learning journey it is important that you establish a Personal Learning Network for the following reasons:
  1. You quickly establish a dialogue that protects and time-stamps your intellectual investment
  2. Your learning about subject is instantly recognised (evaluated) informally by the members of your network and may be established formally (assessed) by using tools such as Google Analytics and GELPHI.
  3. Your understanding of the subject will improve more rapidly because you engaged in an ongoing dialogue with a number of different people who all at different stages on the same journey
  4. Your influence is recognised and appreciated by the other members of your network
  5. Reciprocity is important because it both encourages development of your network and also improves the amount of influence you have on the network, thereby improving any assessment of your learning that might take place using network analysis tools.
  6. Your value as an individual within the network is determined by the amount of recognition and influence that you earn.
Other references I had thought were useful but hadn't yet found a home for.
  1. Emma Stoedel's PLENK10: Competency levels for building and managing a PLE - Annotated
  2. A note of my own about reciprocity:
  3. The members of your network have a vested interest (they themselves learn more) in understanding and encouraging your learning.
  4. Reciprocity is important therefore, as the central idea behind the MOOC and PLE's/PLN's is the building and strengthening of networks that help you learn. Without reciprocity, your network won't grow and the amount of learning you can achieve may be relatively small. You have to nurture the relationships between individual members of the network in order for them to feel it is worth their while supporting you.
  5. Issues of Plagiarism
  6. It is possible that one individual may pass themselves off as an expert (as a doctor, or airplane pilot, etc.) but these are situations in which sustained dialogue should quickly expose the fraud. Susan O'Grady's concern (in the original Influence of Reciprocity discussion) that "lurkers" may use the ideas posted by someone else, I would therefore suggest is not necessarily an issue.
  7. It is entirely conceivable that an individual may steal an idea and claim it as his or her own, and they could even build up support for the idea amongst their own network. However, since their interests are likely to coincide with that of the original authors' network, there will inevitable be some sort of a show-down in which the two camps try to claim ownership of the original idea.
  8. I think that this is likely to be resolved favourably given the nature of the tools we are using in this course. All the artefacts we produce are pretty much open to public scrutiny and are date/time stamped. It is therefore in participants best interests to post ideas and have them be scrutinised by the members of their networks in order to protect and develop their intellectual property under the protective guidance of their network.
  9. Using web tools to analyse the structure of networks
  10. It may be possible to measure the influence of a PLN by using some form of network analysis tool (Tony Hirst used GELPHI to identify the network cluster in the twitter messages about PLENK2010). JGChesney's response and suggestions for the network analysis also incorporate the strength of the influence (i.e tweeting original though or re-tweeting has different impact on analysis).
  11. Collaborative Learning is more beneficial to the population than individual Learning
  12. Evidence for a Collective Intelligence Factor in the Performance of Human Groups -- Woolley et al., 10.1126/science.1193147 -- Science
  13. Implications for teaching kids that can be taught to share an wait their turn may do better as part of the group than they would as individuals, (use Socratic dialogue)
  14. Group intelligence improved by the sharing between community members rather than individual intelligence.
  15. Is Citizenship more important than content in education?
  16. In the Evaluation by Recognition discussion, Chris Foster made a point about the evaluation of two students:
  17. "...one is naturally good at math and wrote down all the right answers. The other put in some extra work, wrote down mostly right answers, and got some special dispensation from the teacher (extensions, hints, offers of extra credit, etc.) 30 years later, I'll bet the student who was less good at math will be the more successful one."
  18. I think then that it is much more important that the particular qualities that the individual brings to their assessment are recognised in the assessment. That we do not just judge understanding of content but instead value the qualities of citizenship and work ethic that an individual applies to their work. I think this is most easily recognized when that individual makes a noticeable effort to help those around them.

27 October, 2010

My PLN "The Duck"

At the risk of repeating myself in numerous places...

I finally had a bit of a breakthrough with using CMAP to chart my PLN. I don't really know what clicked but it all just flowed onto the screen one morning. The duck is purely serendipitous. The map just ended up in that vague shape and given that I'm a visual learner and like to make people associate understanding with visual cues, I pasted the duck in.

My Personal Learning Network

On reflection there are a few issues:
  • I don't yet use some of the tools I've listed
  • I'm fairly sure there are also some missing
  • I'm not entirely happy with the use of the clip art picture. I think it is free, but I'm not sure and I think I may end up doing my own duck (which may be fun)
I know there are some tools not listed because although they are used to interact with the network, they aren't actually a part of it. I'm thinking specifically of Netvibes (which once I worked out how to use has proved absolutely invaluable) and Delicious and Diigo (also essential) and Facebook/Twitter etc

I think that they are part of my PLE but have yet to concrete my understanding of the term.

As soon as I'd added the duck in though, it did occur to me that the PLE should be done in a turkey and that I needed to include a chicken in the middle. A turducken seems too good an opportunity to pass up :)

25 October, 2010

I'm a Gleaner, not a Lurker

This is my response to a two week old discussion in PLENK " Is it the topic or the period in the course?"

The topic was, I think, meant to be about how the "flow" of the course depended on the topic being discussed as opposed to the nature of the course delivery. The topic rapidly moved onto how people interact with the course and some of the reasons why many people do not appear to interact with it all. Minh Mccloy suggested that "lurkers" (the people who watch but don't contribute) may in fact be "Gleaners" (thanks Minh) who are actually waiting until they enough to feel confident about contributing. The conversation also suggested external time-commitments being a major factor governing how much people are able to devote to the MOOC.

Anyway, here is my response:

Sorry for the late response, but I think the lateness may be a relevant (if not designed) part of the discussion. I constantly seem to playing catch-up with PLENK. I'm about 2 weeks behind and am finally catching up now that I've discovered how to get the best use out of Netvibes as an aggregator (never heard of the term before the course started).

I feel I'm one of the silent members of the PLENK course precisely because of this lagging behind. I'm reluctant to post to discussions that seemed to have ended two weeks previously and as I feel that people would probably stop their subscriptions to discussions they feel are over, just to stop their in-trays clogging up. What I would like to know is, how many gleaners like myself actually get heard when they post to non-current discussions?

As such, I have been feeling that I may need to re-enrol next year (assuming it runs again) just to have the opportunity to participate in a MOOC as a contributor rather than a lurker or gleaner.

I really hope that something like PLENK continues next year. I'm not going to finish this course on time this time around and want the opportunity to develop my PLE/PLN as a regular contributor and not just as a lurker/gleaner/spectator.

23 October, 2010

Why teach PLN's?

I'm Teaching but they don't seem to be Learning

I've been trying to work out why the PLENK course peaked my interest in the first place and I think I've come up with an answer.

I started teaching because of my experience at Camp Chipinaw in NY. I found that I got a great deal from working with kids who were able to make huge developments in their self efficacy through positive experiences in quite challenging environments. I then spent about 10 years following a career path involved in experiential education. I only entered mainstream education when, having arrived in Australia, I found that the outdoor recreation industry here is more seasonal than in the UK (go figure!!). I trained as a PE teacher and then, when it became apparent that there are too many of those in NSW, I retrained as a Maths teacher and, in the process, returned to subjects I pursued rather unsuccessfully in Years 11 and 12. (A case of those who can do, those that can't... !).

So I don't feel particularly successful as a Maths teacher. I love the idea of teaching and I've had successes in terms of "light-bulb" moments, but not many in my current field. I can get by and I can teach the content, but I don't seem to be able to get the students into a state of "flow" (by which I think I'm referring to Vygotsky's Zone of Proximal Development)

Paddling the River PLENK

I'd not really thought about it in this way before but the ideas were flowing on Friday night and this was one that popped up. When I'm in a particular mood (relaxed, pressures off for the day), I sometimes find that what I am thinking or writing about continually triggers fresh ideas or insights. I'll start by jotting down a few ideas and then an hour later realise that I've filled out several pages of notes. Up till now I've enjoyed these moments of productivity but not really considered the vehicle by which I can disseminate them and receive feedback and criticism. My PLN is the most obvious mechanism in which to do this.

What I enjoy about PLENK is the feeling that I'm involved in a highly productive network of learners and experts. Some of the content is way over my head, but it's not hard to find things out and catch up. It is also very empowering to be able to contribute to discussions. Even if my input is not very ground-breaking (or even helpful), it can generate feedback and further discussion and so help expand this gradual unfolding of knowledge.

In terms of flow, the river analogy has already been used several times in the various discussions and web posts. But I'm a paddler at heart and so will string it along a bit further. Engaging in this course does feel like I'm sat on the side of a river watching a lot of information drift past. Every so often I jump in and float along with the current by joining conversations and making comments on people's posts. Every so often I'll get swept into an eddie where I'll decide to hop back on the bank again or wait until someone throws a metaphorical rock into the pool and the conversation sweeps off on a new wave.

I still feel, very much, the novice paddler. I stay close to the shore, not yet brave enough to head into deeper waters and paddle with the pro's. The fear of capsizing by posting a discussion topic or blog post that tries to chart new territory that has already been charted and finished by others! I know that my fear in this regard is unfounded. Throughout the course, the support for newbies has always come across as whole-hearted. I know there will be people around to put me back in my boat and help me figure things out, point me in the right direction.

The classroom as a component of a Personal Learning Network

As a teacher, I love the idea of my students being exposed to a supportive learning environment in which the emphasis is on them to contribute and improve each other's understanding of the course. I want the physical classroom to become a part of my students personal learning network, as opposed to it being the only place where they learn Mathematics. Of course they learn maths in hundreds of different places, but they don't make the connection between what they do in "real life" and what they do in the classroom.

I want the lesson to continue outside the classroom and I see PLN's as a method of enabling that. The important element being that the network is explicitly about the students interactions with maths and maths ideas as they travel through their day. The more those interactions are published by the students and then read by their peers, the more noticeable they will become to everyone in the class. I've introduced Edmodo to my classes and we'll see how they respond to it to the stimulus questions I've posed on it.

But to make the most of the opportunity, I really need to be able to teach them how to build their own PLN's. To stop relying on the educational structures that have been imposed on them since primary school. To be brave.

My view of education doesn't fit the current model. It's never really worked for me, neither as a student or as a teacher. Experiential education had a major impact on the direction my life and career took and inspired me to be a teacher. But my classroom isn't based on experience and it is, quite frankly, boring. I believe that teaching students to develop their own personal learning networks, and engage with conversations outside of the classroom is closer to the idea behind the one-to-one laptop programs appearing in schools then the more traditional methods of education. But I can see that implementing this will require a fair bit of work and, worryingly, a departure from the traditional curriculum. A risky move really given the students whose futures I am experimenting with.

23 September, 2010

All the gear! No idea!

I've just seen the PLENK Daily and my blog is at the top of the blogroll! Very exciting.

Well today was the Year 12's Formal assembly so I went and watched some presentations and baby photos for a bit. However because so many of our students deciding that the holidays have started two or three days ago, I had very little responsibilities. So I spent the majority of the day exploring all the different web based tools around to see if I could solve one of my problems with managing the volume of material I'm trying to wade through.
What I wanted to do was to achieve electronically what I'm used to doing with pen and paper. With the week 1 reading list for PLENK, I foolishly printed some of the papers of and then USED A PEN (oh the nostalgia) to highlight the parts of the text that I felt were relevant. However, having done this, what I really wanted to do was start collecting all my notes together centrally so I could come up with some sort of summary of my reading for the first week. This meant re-typing all the notes that I'd just printed off the web in the first place!! A little counter-productive (not to mention a waste of paper!) I believe tools like Diigo and Evernote can actually do this. I was quite impressed with diigo although our DER laptops are a bit frustrating in that it's impossible to install any of the helpful little applications and add-ons for IE that would help improve productivity. I hit a road bump this evening when the diigolet (which I could install) decided it didn't like PDF files. The page just kept closing. So i'm no closer to solving the problem YET! There is a way, I've just got to find it.

Anyway, the shear number of utilities available on the web is quite staggering. I compiled a list of the tools I have already found or used here. But my list is short and I know I've barely exposed the tip of the iceberg.

For those not living in NSW, the state government have funded laptops for all Year 9 students for the last two years. I feel that they are are proving to be somewhat of a white elephant at the moment, at least for our school. I feel that Year 9 is too late. Our Year 7's arrive at high school expecting something new, but have more change and uncertainty and more sterile classrooms than they are used to. If hey had the notebooks, we might be able to kick start a new learning journey for them. However, Year 9 are quite jaded and mostly use the laptops for games, iTunes and movies. Or trying to hack their way past the the DET's net-nanny! I have found it very difficult to inspire them, which is why I'm so keen on the PLENK course. I hope that the idea of a PLE will help them see that their education could be a liberating and inspiring activity as opposed to the gaol-sentence that they seem to think it is.

PLENK - Too much information...

There is so much information to absorb in this course. I thought last night that I may just have to resign myself to working through everything more slowly than the offical course allows and hoping that the Moodle and resources will still be open after the ten weeks are up. The downside is that most of the important discussion points will probably be over. I'll be tagging comments on but everyone else will have moved on. This flies in the face of the idea that I am part of a network of people who are learning together.

Lindsay Jordan has made a nice post about how to effectively manage the overload of information and I hope that some of her pointers will help me deal with the information overload.

I suppose I should be attempting to answer the questions I posed in my first post.
  1. How applicable do people see this in high school or primary school settings? 
  2. How do people envisage assessment occurring? 
  3. Would assessment be a case of submitting pieces of work, or would it be a case of gradually developing and quantifying the respect of your peers as you progress from novice toward expert in your particular interest area

21 September, 2010


Just followed link to Symbaloo from PLENK discussion. Seems like an excellent way to store links, resources etc. Working out how to share so I can help others in my PLN (what others?) access similar materials.

20 September, 2010

Are Personal Learning Networks a modern entity?

Hi there. This will be a short post as I've spent all night trying to work out how to use Adobe's Contribute to edit my blog only to figure out that it is much easier to do it online. Maybe I'll figure that out at some point in the future.
Well I'm enjoying what I'm reading so far. The "7 things you should know..." peaked my interest immediately. The idea that an individual creates their own network of peers, experts and resources in order to follow their own particular interest is fascinating.
I wonder for how long they have actually been occurring outside of formal education. It seems to me that an individual would probably have developed a PLN as they try and learn about any undertaking. I try to paint every so often and I get better at it by asking people for suggestions or criticism about what I do. The people I ask are students, art teachers, my peers, my sister (who is a graphic designer), and others. I have books of my own and borrow from the local libraries as well. I have occasionally used the web to find forums or watch videos.
My point is that PLN's have probably always existed in some form or another for as long as people have tried to improve their skills by developing a network of experts, peers and resources. The addition of technology into this mix has just broadened the distance between the individual nodes of the network. I can ask my sister in the UK just as easily as one of the art teachers in my school. The Internet wasn't available 100 years ago, but the ability to network certainly was.
From that point of view, maybe the idea that PLN's are an effective tool for education won't be that hard a sell. The issue would be to show how this potentially open-ended and unstructured system would lend itself to the assessment of required outcomes for students.
.....added later (found comment in similar vein in discussion on Moodle)
Some questions:
How applicable do people see this in high school or primary school settings?
How do people envisage assessment occurring?
Would assessment be a case of submitting pieces of work, or would it be a case of gradually developing and quantifying the respect of your peers as you progress from novice toward expert in your particular interest area?