On Saturday I had the opportunity to join a group of very enthusiastic teachers to hear Alan November and Carl Jarvis speak at North Turramurra Primary School. That so many educators from across Sydney were keen to give up a Saturday is a testament to their desire to improve their teaching but also a measure of the respect these speakers garner.
Alan November is the author of ‘Who owns the learning?’ a provocative book that encourages teachers to consider who they may best ensure their students are the ones doing the learning. Alan encourages a re-assessment of how we structure our classrooms and our lessons to place the student at the centre of what is happening rather than to continue in the model where the teacher plays the role of the sage on the stage. He points to the ways in which teachers inhibit student learning when we try to take control and prevent access to the powerful learning tools that all students should have access to. Carl Jarvis is a respected educator who has shown how a passionate leader can transform a school. His story of the transformation of a school from fifth worse to outstanding is compelling. Together this pair ensured a rewarding day of learning and chance to consider how we may enhance the learning that occurs in our classrooms. Here is a little taste of what was shared.
- Our students need to be able to publish their ideas to real audiences - This was a recurring theme that was perhaps best illustrated by the example of Miller Wilson a boy from the Australian bush who was discovered thanks to his YouTube channel by Ellen DeGeneres. His latest video on catching eels has had over 200,000 views. The other amazing example of students using YouTube to share their learning with a real audience is mathtrain.tv a student created series of mathematical tutorials where the success of the content can be measured by the thousands of people viewing each video.
- There are amazing learning resources just waiting for you to find them - Harvard’s most popular course ‘Introduction to Computer Science’ for example is available online and free. edX offers course in a wide range of disciplines from Architecture to Law to Social Sciences and they are all free and online. This is just the tip of the iceberg of what is available and students in schools can and do make use of these courses. The question is how does your school’s computer science course measure up? How will you compete and why would you try?
- Wolfram Alpha is a massively under utilised tool for learning - If you have not explored Wolfram Alpha with your students you really should. Not just for its amazing computational engines utility for mathematics but for how it brings a new level of analysis to all manner of learning. Try asking it to analyse ‘Romeo & Juliet’ just as an example of how a computer makes sense of a piece of literature in ways a human can’t. it brings a new perspective.
- Prism brings collaborative interpretation of text to the classroom - Around the world right now countless students are reading texts and highlighting the parts they find interesting, the parts they don’t understand and the parts they might plagiarise later. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could make visible the highlighting of your entire class in a way that revealed what areas of the text gained the most attention. This is exactly what Prism does. You set it ups with the text and highlighting scheme for the class to use; maybe red for 'I don’t understand', orange for 'I think I get', green for ‘I understand'. Students read the text and use the highlight function to respond and then Prism shows you a colour coded word cloud where the frequency of highlights corresponds to the relative size of the words. - View Online
- We are not very effective users of Google - How often do we type in a search term and then just use the top two or three results ignoring the 897,791 other options. Do we know how the results are generated or how reliable they are? Do we know how to refine our results so we are finding what we really want? Alan November encourages us to use Google to find the best information in the world and showed the audience how to do. One of the keys is using Googles sixteen operators to refine your search. Fortunately Google is keen to help its users become more effective and empowered users and as such provides guides - View Online
- Learning is more important than knowing - How do you respond when confronted by a question that you don’t know the answer to? Do you see this as an opportunity for collaborative learning with the person asking the question? A chance to show that you are both teacher and learner? If we value learning more than we value teaching then the difficult question will never cause us fear. this approach can be extended to the use of technology and allow you to accept a students Minecraft project even if you don’t fully understand how they did it.
- 78% of students don’t enjoy school - This is rather frightening statistic shared by Carl Jarvis. He adds that more testing is unlikely to change this figure. But learning is powerful motivating force in itself and humans do love to learn, it is what makes us human. So why don’t children enjoy schools? Does it have something to do with who owns the learning?
- Use Twitter to share your classes learning with the world and to see how the world is learning - A class Twitter account allows you to connect with a mixture of school around the world and enables a shared learning experience for your students. The real power comes when your students ask you ton include the learning experiences they have seen other students enjoy through their online connection.
- Six strategies for school transformation from Alan November:
- Teach web literacy in assignments
- Ask deeper questions and encourage and teach the students to do the same
- Use Making Thinking Visible
- Encourage authentic conversations
- Allow students to make a contribution - to the class and globally - knowledge construction
- Show students the best in the world - knowledge, ideas, learning
- Be brave and confront change - Use your support network to help you confront change and help you push through your barriers. Change occurs at the point where you force your brain to create new connections and new pathways but fear stands in the way of this and it is too easy to return to your default position.
Thanks to the team at North Turramurra Primary School for a great day of learning and to Alan November and Carl Jarvis for their time and commitment to education.
By Nigel Coutts