This term has been huge and like teachers across Australia, I am exhausted. There doesn’t seem to be any quiet terms any more. They are all choc full of events, PD, meetings and initiatives. 

My journey at a new school this year has settled down somewhat this term and I have found my feet a little. My 3-6 teaching team is gelling as a group and everyone is supportive of each other and eager to learn. Additionally, after a long fought out battle with my students, I feel like I am finally getting somewhere with them! Across the school, behaviour has started to settle down, my students are taking greater resposnibility for their learning and behaviour and I am starting to get kids to strive and reach a standard that I am happy with. This has been a tough battle; clearly I was spoilt at Essendon North P.S with bright, capable students who could think at deep levels, came from families where a high value was placed on academic excellence and were articulate and able to transfer learning to new situations. My new school has been a different kettle of fish. I totally underestimated how different the cohort would be and how frustrating I would find this after years with able, high performing kids. Being consistent in setting high expectations, unpacking, continual reflection and modelling what is expected have been some of the keys for me. Luckily, I have plenty of student samples from previous years, which has helped my students (and team) understand/see what I was expecting from them. 

This term in year 4, we have been focused on habitats and have delved deeply to learn about four habitats in particular. Environmental learning is one of my passions and I have worked hard to integrate this heavily into literacy and numeracy so that the inquiry unit had some depth. Having most of the learning revolve around the unit seems to work for me and helps me make connections as a teacher and extend/build on student learning. This morning, my students shared their learning with the other year four class. I wasn’t particularly happy with the displays and products my students had created but when questioned, I was gratified to see that the learning was there. They could answer questions at a deep level and apply their learning to new contexts capably. And after all, its about the process, not the product, isn’t it? These kids just need longer to catch up and lift their presentation standards but process and my instruction is stretching them to a deeper level. This I am happy with. So despite the challenges, brick walls and occasional backward steps, I feel we are moving forward and I am stretching my team of teachers to move forwards with me. Through reflection with the kids, the standards of presentation will lift and next time their peer sharing with be even more powerful and we can continue to build the substance. Its about being persistent, consistent and positive. It really does pay off it you keep at at. 

Enjoy the break everyone.

What a frustrating morning! After days and hours of planning for the Ultranet Curriculum Day, the system crashes and we’re left with a horde of frustrated and disillusioned teachers to deal with! 

We initially ran a session on learning goals and digital portfolios – so far so good. People were interested and motivaterd and seemed to be taking the information on board. There was a genuine enthusiasm in the room and eagerness to get online and play. unfortunately, the system had a total meltdown and no-one could access the site. The mood changed swiftly from enthusiasm and curiousity to pure frustration and anger. As lead users, we were stuck. What do we do now. We decided to run an oral discussion in tables groups about the questions we had placed on the Melton Network User site about how the Ultranet, goals and portfolios could be integrated. Understandably, people were very reluctant to move in this direction with the system having a conniption. We ended the session with a discussion of tips for starting out with digital portfolios and learning goals but it was largely just words. Its very hard to spread the word when you can walk the talk and provide a context to what you are doing. 

Amongst us lead users, there was a sense of frustration that weeks of planning were for naught and a sense that many people would seize this as a justification to abandon the Ultranet entirely.

Back at my school, we wondered what we would do for the rest of the day? We had planned more discussion of the potential usability and functionality based on this mornings experience. Those plans were now in disarray. We spent some time doing a reflection with the How do I shape up? tool and then set people to work to build their learning profile on a word document. Basically, we were padding until lunch. 

Overall, this was an extremely frustrating experience. There was great potential and any goodwill we had gained was wiped out by the system totally crashing on the big statewide day to experiment and play.

A few weeks ago, my elearning team gave an introduction to the Ultranet to all teaching staff at my school. The session went really well and staff were very open to the new technology and full of questions and comments.

In tackling the presentation, the team decided to keep things simple and “borrow” a couple of the ideas from our Ultranet coach (Alf Galea). We had loved the activity matching Ultranet icons to rooms in a house at our training and felt it helped us familarise ourselves with the icons and consider their functions in a fun hands-on manner. This seemed to work for our Springside staff too and generated discussion, broke the ice and helped people talk about what the icons might do. We of course clarified this for staff following their entertaining sharing time.

Unexpectedly, we fund the Ultranet site live so spent some time walking staff through our personal Ultranet spaces, created at the lead user training in May. This seemed to alleviate a lot of anxiety as staff could finally see what the site looked like and that there were a lot of features in common with other sites people had experience with eg facebook, blogs etc. As a team, we made a point to contrast a few different people’s spaces to show how things could be personalised and stick to just showing the design space, express space and home page features.

We then showed some short movies about blogs and wikis and got staff to talk about their experiences with these digital applications.

Tackiing the wealth of applications on the Ultranet was tricky and we were careful to explain that there were stacks of different applications to try but not to overwhelm people. Instead we focused on applications we saw as “core”, such as notices, blogs, calendar, my content etc.  This was a key as during my own lead user training, I personally felt overwhelmed by the number of features available and really wanted to keep things simple and allay people’s anxiety by not bombarding them with millions of options. 

The other plus to our presentation was the team spirit among our elearning team. Of the five of us, I was the only person with any presenting experience and everyone was super nervous in the lead up to the session. During planning, we broke the session down clearly into components and key points to make. Everyone had tasks to prepare for and a copy of the session overview and on the day, we all jumped in and supported each other by elaborating and expanding on comments. This was a really proud moment for me as a leader as I saw members of my team flourish, gain confidence and finish the session buzzing with excitement at their new skill. It was also a great moment for me to finally have a chance to present to all staff at my school and demonstrate some of my skills and knowledge about ICT.

There are a couple of things on the agenda for the next month.

  1. Planning an afterschool “hands on” session for staff to play and experiment with the Ultranet
  2. Planning the whole Ultranet day for our school, including ES staff
  3. Sharing some of my experiences with digital portfolios with the Melton Lead User Leadership Team and then preparing to present to all years 3-6 teachers in the network on the upcoming Ultranet Curriculum Day. This is to involve presenting to around 90 teachers in years 3-6 from 10+ schools in the area. Obviously, its a key opportunity for me to try and shape the way teachers in the network consider the Ultranet as a teaching and learning tool and to extend my leadership role beyond the college itself. I’m  nervous, daunted and excited by the month ahead…

Tonight, I have been doing some reading about using student reading journals to extend  thinking and understanding about text. I have been on this “mission” to learn about teaching reading more effectively for about eighteen months now and tonight, I made some connections between literacy teaching and the use of technology to enhance thinking and learning about literacy. 

The article reinforced that we make our own meaning from text and that talk helps us extend our thinking. Conversation with others helps us formulate our response to text or media and explore our own “meaning.” Here is where Twitter comes into my thinking; Earlier tonight, I found myself tweeting in response to viewing Masterchef on TV. I searched for the opinions and ideas of others to gather different perspectives, express my emotions, sort out my confusion and seek validation that people thought or reacted to events/people in the same way that I did. It helped me clarify my thoughts on the text I was viewing and was highly engaging and fun! This is what an effective reading conversation or journal can and should do!

My article went on to propose the use of reading journals for teachers and classmates to communicate, pose questions and gather information about student understanding, thinking about text, life and the world. I recognised that this can also be done electronically via a blog, electronic journal or even using Twitter. It is the conversation that is the key here. We need to engage our students in directed conversations about text and learning to help them make sense of their world and connect and stretch their thinking.

I have also had another recent experience, which reinforced the value of conversation. At #ACEC10~ Digital Diversity conference, I was simultaneously listening/viewing presentations and conversing and listening to other delegates responses via Twitter on my iPhone. It was like being at the lecture and the tutorial at the same time! I shared and build upon my understanding from peers in the room. It helped me gain clarity, see other perspectives and provoked new ideas. It was illuminating. Overall, it reinforced that conversation is powerful and we need to promote this in our schools, whether in person, online commentary or written responses to reading journals. If technology can aid us to do this, we do our students a disservice if we don’t avail ourself of any means available to engage them in the learning conversation.

Tonight, I’ve been experimenting with how the blog features work on wordpress.  I’ve managed to figure some features out intuitively but am still perplexed by others. There are still so many features I don’t understand? Surely constantly evolving jargon needs to be explained in a more user friendly way because technology that it too difficult, is a turn off for so many.

This afternoon, I attended an Ultranet briefing. I left excited by the opportunities and potential to collaborate and work digitally with colleagues and parents ahead. However, my experience tonight reinforces how important it is that the Ultranet be user  friendly. This is vital. All but the most technically savvy give up in frustration if they can’t figure things out, or if there is too much daunting technical jargon to wade through.

The IT world needs to address this. The increasing complexity of living, working and creating online  is starting to create a chasm in society separating the technology users from the technology avoiders. They need to recognise that many people under the age of 15 still like to do things themselves and are reluctant to seek help and reveal their ignorance. Technology needs to be easy to use and understand. This is something I will need to be mindful of as an Ultranet Lead User, tasked with the mission of supporting and introducing the Ultranet to staff at my school. These are people who are likely to be less technically savvy than me. In the meantime, I will persevere…

I returned to school yesterday to a new IWB installed in my classroom. I’ve always been a bit wary of them, not seeing enough additional functionality compared to say a plasma screen TV and mini mac computer, to justify the cost. All this aside, I now have one and came to school yesterday ready to embrace it. The only problem is the IWB now covers a window and has meant dismantling a ceiling fan. This brand new school building, now only ten weeks old, has no air conditioning and I can attest to the furnace like conditions in the room on a hot summer day in Melbourne. Countless lessons had to be abandoned last term because it was too hot to focus on quality learning. This is nuts! And now I have even less access to fresh air and only one small ceiling fan for ventilation when the temperature rises above 30’C. How can a brand new school not plan for the future and allow room for something like an electronic whiteboard and prepare facilities for the Melbourne climate? Surely deep consideration of the potential usage and optimum conditions for learning needs to take place at the planning stage. When it comes to the IWB, I am determined to make it an interactive board that belongs to the students, not just me. More as I continue on my first forays with a IWB next time…

Hi Everyone. Welcome to my blog which I have rather grandly titled “Big Picture Learning.”

I spent two days attending ACEC 2010 (Digital Diversity ICT conference) in Melbourne this week, which has re-energised my passion for integrating ICT richly in the classroom. This was long overdue – let me explain…

Since 2001, I have been an eager learner and advocate for using ICT to engage students and extend their learning. However, my school based leadership role for the last eighteen months has required me to invest most of my energy into literacy. I have learnt heaps in this position and feel I am now a much more effective teacher of reading and writing, but the downside is that I have placed technology on the back burner…

I changed schools at the start of 2010 and my leadership role at my brand new school is that of ICT leader.My school is just one year old and is yet to establish a tradition of rich use of technology to extend teaching and learning. As mentioned, I have always been passionate about ICT but feel like a bit of a fraud at present as my skills and experiences haven’t really moved significantly in the last two years. Now, with a mandate to focus on ICT and a head buzzing full of ideas after ACEC 2010, I am ready to experiment and challenge myself and my students (and staff), to new ideas. 

The web 2.0 train has been travelling for a few years now and I have dabbled with some offerings in this time. One of my mantras with ICT is that it should be “rich, relevant and rigorous;” empowering students and extending their learning and understanding of the world they live in. I don’t believe in technology for the sake of it and I have always known that I do a great job of assisting students in meaningful and engaging learning, using technology. Claymation, film making, digital learning portfolios, podcasts, composing original music are all motivating, fun ways to help kids extend their learning. I always viewed doing this in an online environment as just another pathway to the meaningful use of ICT. After ACEC 2010, I can see the added power in linking to other school learning communities and helping students gain authentic insights into other cultures and communities of learners around the world. They can learn to collaborate across the cultural divide and gain first hand and immediate access to real people and their perspectives of the world we live in. Connecting with world wide experts is and educational resource on another level! This is truly big picture thinking. Anne Murchison was inspirational and so modest and low key about the fantastic learning she facilitates in her classrooms. 

Another idea at ACEC that resonated with me was highlighted in both Sylvia Martinez and Alan Novermber’s keynotes about having students teach and help each other learn. I have run peer programs about science and social skills within my schools but I see enormous merit and potential in having students support, explain, coach, troubleshoot and motivate for each other (and their teachers.) At my last school, we had a leadership program for our year 5/6 students happening last year and I looked after the literacy leaders. I feel an opportunity was missed for the ICT leaders to be skilled up, create content and teach their peers in the school about using ICT with confidence and competence. This is something I will approach my principal about this week. 

Tom March’s keynote presentation reinforced some of my learning in literacy – it needs to be at the “just right” level of learning for students (as in reading books.) We need to challenge kids but also support kids by making sure the learning isn’t too easy (boring!) or too challenging, which intimidates and demotivates. The challenge is to use the “place on the web” (Tom March) to explore and use the rich media available to produce quality products at the individual level. The level of quality will differ from student to student, according to where they are at. It is also essential that we develop students who are self managing, mirroring the real world, where they can manage, challenge and direct their own learning, following their own pathway. 

Roger Pryor presented a fantastic session which had me in tears on more than one occasion. Some key points he made was that :

  • students are still under construction. We need to help lay the foundations for their learning but scaffold them through the process. Our role is to provide support for a step along the way, help oversee and develop a relationship of trust and teamwork with our students.
  • ICT should be an integral part of learning, not something kids get to play on when their “work” is finished. This sends the message that learning is not the fun stuff!
  • We need to dismantle and look at schools through fresh eyes. Don’t do school planning – plan schools. Design them for todays world and todays learner with todays technology and value the skills needed by learners today and for the future. 

Roger gave a fabulous presentation; what a lucky region the Hunter Valley is to have such a progressive and energetic leader.

Georgina Pazzi spoke about IWB and gave me great practical reminders for getting the most out of my board. The key idea was that its the students board and that the aim is for them to be interactive and engaged with learning via the board. As teachers, we shouldn’t be afraid of the board or its potential and take on the role of co-learner with the kids. Have them explore the potential of the board and how to use it. Confronting for control freaks but educationally sound.

One new innovation heavily used at this conference was the role of Twitter in adding to the conversation about teaching and learning digitally. Browsing the Twitter feeds during keynotes and presentations was like attending the lecture and the tutorial with your peers simultaneously. It really added to my understanding of the ideas presented and challenged and excited my thinking. Bravo fellow Twitterers.

Finally, I have to mention Adam Elliot and his wonderful chat about his journey and films. How powerful! The audience hung on every word, laughed, cried and walked away inspired and excited. He is indeed a national treasure. 

I am newly excited about ICT and the opportunity before me. Until next time…

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