Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Thoughts on PBL

So tonight I thought I'd get some of my thoughts down on camera. It was taken raw with a few minor edits to get rid of my long awkward pauses. I'll follow up the video with some further written thoughts on PBL.


// Edit real quick - I'll post some thoughts also on our 2D/3D printers - very exciting tools!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Taking students and teachers out of the comfort zone

Re-reading my own post from last week I could summarise it by just stating 'we need to change the structure of 'traditional timetabling!'

Why am I in education? That answer can partly begin to be found in my last blog post in which I mentioned my last years of high school. I want to make sure that every student comes out of high school with a mindset of 'I can be great! I can achieve! I can create my own path...it is not predetermined!' What is crucial in the school I work in is that we have to get to our students before they leave high school. Instil an optimism and drive that becomes so strong it cannot be crushed by the first rejection they get when they leave our doors.

6 hours per day is what we have to constantly reinforce values and belief in our students. It's not a lot of time given that you lose so many learning minutes thanks to the bells. In fact when we travelled to Ulearn 2010 the statistic we learnt was that on average, time wasted in which students are not actually 'doing' in a school amounts to about 1 day per week. I love having conversations with my students - to me it is critical in beginning to form a teacher - student relationship and from 6 weeks worth of conversations one of the major points I've come away with is that learning for most of my students is done at school.

Home unfortunately often has a number of distractions and negative conditions which make it difficult for rigorous learning to take place.

Now for a quick update on where my students currently are at in terms of Year 10 Multimedia before I continue (you'll see the connection of where I'm going with this). A quality multimedia project has to live with the student well after they have submitted the piece of work - it needs to have a life of its own. At the moment I'm structuring a situation in which my students will create TV and Radio episodes that are ongoing and relevant to their interests. So far students have engaged in:

An RC Car TV Show
A Movie Review Show
A Rugby Show
A Show on Science
A Show on Soccer
A Show on Port Adelaide Football Club
A Gamers Review Show

Let me take one of these shows and breakdown how if the timetable allowed it and as teachers we took ourselves completely out of the comfort zone the 'multimedia project' could become 'the students entire semester of work'.

An RC Car TV Show
'Bob' has a huge interest in RC Cars (I had no idea what they were) and asked if his TV show could focus on them. 'Perfect!' I replied. RC Cars are remote controlled cars and as I've found out have a huge following around the world. So the TV show in this case would centre around RC Cars, how to repair them, new models coming out etc (the etc is important as this is an organic project - it grows with the student).

As the student led me down the path of explaining these cars; as the teacher I started making some serious links to the fields of science, mathematics and design and technology. ICT and English were already embedded in the multimedia side of the project. The student given the right conditions could conduct a fully fledged show on:

- The design of the engines in the cars
- A discussion on speed, energy generated, pollution (some of the cars are petrol operated)
- Marketing, competitions
- A hundred more ideas!

We need the timetable structured so when he comes to school during the 9-11am block titled for titles sake 'Think 1,2,3' he is analysing the mathematics behind the car. The dimensions, rotations per minute of the wheels, cost of the car - breaking down the price of parts, etc

He is doing this in a room setup that has other students also working on their own project. Relevance in the mathematics!

This is a difficult setup to envisage now because we are so committed to what we have because what we have is what has 'worked' for a number of students (across the state and Australia). I spoke with a good friend (head of school) of mine from an elite private school in Adelaide. I spoke to him about the structure of schools and I'll never forget his comment, "Emil, the reason we can get away with the traditional setup is that the students just accept it". For some reason, deep down when I went to my elite private school I was one of the few students that actively didn't accept it - I wanted more than just ROTE.

No time to waste - lets begin the discussion of how we'll bring about this change in structure. If we don't and if we somehow think that by sprinkling a bit here and there but leaving one of the major pieces of the problem untouched (and in my eyes the perhaps the core of the problem is the traditional subject/timetable setup) then we will never truly end up with significant lasting change that will produce students who LOVE learning, see a PURPOSE to education and have the BELIEF to change when everyone in their past hasn't.


Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Setting the conditions

I wanted to write up a combined Week 3 and 4 blog post, instead of delving straight into 'what happened' in my classes during the last 2 weeks. I have been pondering as I often do about the structure and setup of my classroom.

I'll begin with asking you this question; when are you truly engaged in the process of learning? I'm talking about that period of time that all your inner focus, mental ability and desire is set to achieving a set academic task.

During my senior years at high school I strongly rebelled against the system that I saw was suffocating in its archaic approach to teaching. I openly sabotaged those two final years at high school to a point that rock bottom academically had been hit by the end of year 12. Mentally I knew that I was at the darkest blackest academic hole I feel anyone could place themselves.

From this hole I developed a system that took my learning to places that many of my teachers probably didn't see possible. By the end of '09 I had achieved my Masters at a GPA of just under 6 whilst working almost full time throughout the year. I have a strong conviction in getting it right for students, setting the right framework for deep, higher order thinking and answering the question; when are you truly engaged in the process of learning?

As Sir Ken Robinson discusses schools need to change. We've known what Robinson talks about for years, conferences constantly sprout the same message however we always end up with a sprinkle and not a flood of core change. So let me now begin by laying out my initial draftings of how I would love to see schools structure themselves - whilst keeping the Government at bay (because the last thing we want them doing is coming in and declaring 'BUT your not doing like we did in the 19th Century!' and sack everyone.

Condition 1 - Setting the mood

This traditionally occurs at the start of every year and term: a roll check, discussion into school expectations, a reminder about diaries and a handout of stationery...40 minutes later first lesson of you go!

Could the first lesson instead of English, Mathematics, Science etc be something different? Something that sets a more concrete mood for the day? Most students struggle with planning, the first step in my learning journey as I dug myself out that hole I previously mentioned. Ask the students to plan out a contact list of teachers they will have and how they will contact them when they run into issues in class. One of the first things I remember from my first year of university was sorting out my 'contact list' of lecturers - every lecturer mentioned how to get in touch with them. Now of course students will see us everyday but I still see this as an important part because it is triggering that sense of 'when I leave the classroom I am still able to connect and engage'. Many of our students come into class and are present 'in the moment' however sadly for many that moment disappears when they leave the room. The lesson may lead into a discussion of the teachers classroom blog or a twitter account, Facebook page etc and a general chat about what to do when the student feels their voice was not heard in the class. A lesson specifically on planning how to connect a teacher be it in person, or online I think is critical - many of my university friends did not have these skills!

There is much more that could be said about 'setting the mood' but I'll leave it at that for now.

Personally in my classroom I will run with my ideas and I have been looking to develop a 'staff card' for myself. I couldn't believe how proud the students were to receive their own ID cards and a similar one with 'teacher safe' contact details may be a first step in giving the students a sense of learning beyond the walls of school. We need to instill a sense of responsibility for students and their own learning - making it easy for them to contact us be through a teacher Facebook account may break walls they have had for years and never known how to get past.

Thank you for reading,