Are schools agile enough to evolve with society?

This text was originally prepared for Educational Services Australia and published on the Scootle Lounge, and has been modified to suit this post.

A photo by Denny Luan. unsplash.com/photos/ovm_b91yEgY

(Image credit: A photo by Denny Luan

 

Agile: the ability to move quickly and easily.

A question worth considering is, ‘Are our schools agile enough to evolve with society?’

Do they move quickly and easily, with clear purpose? Or are they clumsy, stiff, and slow?

Most importantly, are they responsive to changes happening in society? If so, how responsive are they, and in what way?

The Greek philosopher Heraclitus once said ‘Everything flows and nothing stays’ — a striking reminder that the only guarantee in our complex world is that change is constant. In modern society, change is occurring all around us, at a seemingly exponential rate. In particular, technology has changed the way in which we live, work, play, and socialise. Yet at times, it seems that our schools are stagnant, unresponsive, and unwilling to adapt, reinvent, and reimagine learning opportunities in order to stay relevant.

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‘Agile’ as defined by a Google search. Interestingly, its use over time shows a significant spike just before the turn of the 21st century.

Let’s rewind only a modest 10 years ago. No iPhone existed, nor did any iPad. Instagram was unheard of, and Facebook had a mere 12 million users.

Fast forward to today, and it’s hard to argue that technology hasn’t fundamentally shifted our world as we know it.

But has technology pervaded our schools in the same way that it has augmented our lives? To a degree it has, in scattered classrooms, with teachers and leaders who recognise the potentials and pitfalls of technology, and are agile enough to adapt.

Has technology pervaded into every classroom, or has every teacher changed their processes and structure in response to technology? Not a chance.

Our ignorant inheritance

Today we live in an ‘innovation economy’. The skills required to succeed in life have intersected with the skills required to be an effective citizen. Several decades ago, well before teachers and students used the internet, it made a lot of sense to teach the facts and content of a specified curriculum. This ‘factory model’ of education, where the teacher was the ‘dictator’, was acceptable for the time, but bears little relevance for today. However, the influence of an industrial era model can still be observed in schools now.

The tragedy of this inheritance is that we hold a lot of traditional structure that has become engendered in us. Generally speaking, learners are grouped according to age, with the teacher then deciding how to unpack the specified curriculum to those groups of learners. We tend to favour the telling of content to students rather than allowing them to discover. We tend to teach to the cohort rather than personalise pathways. Innovative teaching methods that involve technology such as flipped-classrooms, blended learning, game-based learning, makerspaces, inquiry, and project-based learning are yet to become the ‘norm’ in every school community.

Above all, technology has made access to information ubiquitous. Students no longer have to rely on only the teacher to learn or discover. Yet, the majority of our schooling system reinforces that students should come to school ready to listen and memorise the content from the teacher, or risk a demotivating failure on a test.

There should be no competitive advantage on how much ‘Student A’ may know in comparison to ‘Student B’. Both have, or should have, the commodity of knowledge available to them with the swipe of a finger. Instead, both students need to be able to ask great questions, critically analyse information, form expressive opinions, create products and solutions, and collaborate and communicate with one another, with and without technology. These are the skills essential for life in today’s world.

Essentially, school as we knew it, depended on how well pupils could passively consumecontent and retain facts and knowledge from the teacher, assessed by what students knew. School as we need to know it, should depend on how well pupils can actively consume then create content, critically ascertain facts from multiple sources, and be assessed with what students do with what they know.

So we need to ask ourselves, are we consciously and actively developing these opportunities with our students in mind? Or are we falling short? As the 2016 education machine turns out the next graduates from a system that teaches and tests narrow aspects of a curriculum that any smartphone can handle, we potentially set our future generations for failure, unhappiness, and social discontent.

We need to face the facts and recognise that technology has caused disruption to our economy and society. However, embracing technology will also be one answer moving forward, with many schools having already done so. Has technology fundamentally changed the machine of education? Not yet… but it certainly has started to put the wheels in motion.

Change in our schools

With the rapid change in the last 10 years, one has to wonder what the next decade will bring. Will schools be responsive enough to meet the needs of today and tomorrow, with one eye on the present and one eye towards the future? Will they be agile enough to remain relevant for students and their parents?

Schools will need to be prepared to change, adapt, and reimagine the established machine of school as we know it.

Change is taxing and requires effort. It requires us to be comfortable with the uncomfortable. It requires us to challenge the status quo, recognising that what we have always done may not be the best solution; and being dissatisfied with ineffective and no longer relevant pedagogies, procedures, and structures. It requires relentless dialogue and shared vision with all stakeholders about the purpose of school, the alignment of our beliefs and practices, and asking the question: ‘is this best for our students right now’?

We have natural a disposition to protect the tried and tested, rather than embracing the ‘new’. This is why new and innovative ideas are difficult to launch and gain traction, as the natural response of the status quo is to favour the known road rather than the risky foreign pathway.

Creating the space for innovative change to occur requires risk, trial and error, and an open mindset. After all, no real learning happens with failure, for either students or teachers. This means schools, leaders, and teachers need to be prepared to try new techniques if we are to disrupt conventional methods of education. We also need to be prepared for the status quo push-back, and allow space for positive conflict, disturbance and uncertainty to occur, in order to find ideas that will provide the highest level of value and outcomes for all stakeholders.

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Schools need to create space for innovation, and at times, tolerate the messy and chaotic rather than the predictable and ordered. (Image credit: A photo by Azrul Aziz)

The age of disruption

Examples of disruptive innovation and its impact on society can be observed at an increasing rate, as more and more organisations exploit technology and the consumer. Uber and similar ride-sharing services are changing the way in which we travel, Airbnb is changing the way we sleep abroad, and Google Cars and other autonomous vehicles are changing the way we commute, deliver, and transport goods.

The innovators behind these initiatives have a few things in common:

  1. They are agile and responsive. They have grown quickly, and have a ‘fail fast, fail quick’ approach to rapidly improve their services.
  2. They leverage technology to find gaps and meet the needs of clients in new ways.
  3. They are not afraid to find problems and tackle them head on.

Schools could probably learn a lot learn from these examples!

American businessman Jack Welch once said: “If the rate of change on the outside exceeds the rate of change on the inside, the end is near”. As tomorrow comes around, current and future technology trends will continue to push the boundaries of traditional schooling.

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Can schools keep up with the pace of change on the ‘outside’? (Image credit: A photo by Tim Gouw)

Responding to these trends will be crucial for schools. They may struggle or embrace, dissolve or evolve with society. Those schools that are not agile or responsive may eventually be scrutinised by society. It is possible that we could see the whole notion of school questioned, and formal education challenged.

A useful resource for schools and teachers alike is the NMC Horizon Report, which discusses developments in technology, short to long term trends in education, and the associated challenges for schools. It is essential reading and research for any educator who wishes to stay abreast of the influences that will drive educational change and policy.

 

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Johnson, L., Adams Becker, S., Estrada, V., and Freeman, A. (2015). NMC Horizon Report: 2015 K-12 Edition. Austin, Texas: The New Media Consortium. Available from http://cdn.nmc.org/media/2015-nmc-horizon-report-k12-EN.pdf

There are no easy answers available to shift schools in the right direction. The ‘right direction’ will need to be determined by the schools themselves, who will write their own futures. It is reliant upon the stakeholders within school communities to acknowledge the need to take appropriate action. The obvious stakeholders who wield the heaviest axe are teachers and staff leaders.

It is up to us to challenge ourselves to embrace change, so that we might evolve education to a rate that reflects evolution in the society in which we live.

It is up to us to challenge ourselves to let go of the past, recognising that it’s not about what we know from past experiences; but about being open to what could be, and what might better suit the needs of young people today.

Every decision we make contributes to this. When we teach in a certain way, question a traditional paradigm, leverage technology to new potentials, nudge a school in one direction, or influence today’s generation, we co-create what is coming next. It is up to us to be responsive. If we are passive, we will be too late. We can make change happen. We are all, each of us, practising futurists and world-makers. Let’s do so with open eyes, hearts, and minds.

Let’s think differently, learn differently, and disrupt the machine of education as we know it.

It’s up to us to define our own relevant futures.

Listening with intent – what your students can tell you about your practices.

This article originally appeared in the May 2015 issue of Education Matters Magazine (Primary).

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During my seemingly short teaching career, there are two questions that I have constantly grappled with: ‘What makes an effective teacher?’, and to a greater extent, ‘How does one measure their effectiveness?’.

In my opinion, John Hattie’s (2009) influential work in the study of what makes a difference in our classrooms, has made huge inroads into answering these complexities of teaching. It is with little surprise that Hattie’s work is gaining in worldwide popularity and momentum. His study represents the largest collection and analysis of evidence-based research which investigates what is actually working in schools when it comes to improving learning.

I became interested in Hattie’s work after his first major release, Visible learning: A synthesis of 800+ meta-analyses on achievement. After hearing him speak, I took a number of his principles into consideration, mainly in the areas of calculating effect sizes, providing quality feedback to students, and constructing meaningful learning intentions and success criteria with students.

In his second major release, Visible learning for teachers: Maximizing impact on learning, Hattie presents eight ‘mind frames’ or ways of thinking that must underpin every action and decision made in schools and educational systems if they are striving to improve the quality of education. Hattie argues that teachers and leaders who develop these ways of thinking are more likely to have major impacts on student learning:

  • 1) Teachers/leaders believe that their fundamental task is to evaluate the effect of their teaching on students learning and achievement
  • 2) Teachers/leaders believe that success and failure in student learning is about what they, as teachers or leaders, did or did not do…We are change agents!
  • 3) Teachers/leaders want to talk more about the learning than the teaching
  • 4) Teachers/leaders see assessment as feedback about their impact
  • 5) Teachers/leaders engage in dialogue not monologue
  • 6) Teachers/leaders enjoy the challenge and never retreat to ‘doing their best’
  • 7) Teachers/leaders believe that it is their role to develop positive relationships in classrooms and staffrooms
  • 8) Teachers/leaders inform all about the language of learning

(Hattie, 2012, pg 169)

 

Assessment for the teachers, from the students

Mindframe 4, the idea that student assessment can be treated as feedback to the teacher can be a hard pill to swallow for some teachers. It forces us to realise that every single student in our care has the capacity to learn, and that the teacher and school is responsible for facilitating that progress of each child. Too often, teachers tend to blame ‘undesirable’ outcomes or academic results on student absence, attitude to learning, or social / behavioural factors. However, by believing that we, as teachers, can master ways to progress every child, we can begin to make decisions which will lead to actions that make this happen.

Hattie states that all schools can be optimised to esteem the positive impacts that can lead to improved student learning, and for teachers, ‘knowing thy impact’ becomes crucial in determining and understanding one’s own effectiveness. Hattie suggests that teachers administer the following ‘personal health check’ for the principles of what he calls ‘Visible Learning’:

 

Personal health check for Visible Learning

  • 1. I am actively engaged in, and passionate about teaching and learning.
  • 2. I provide students with multiple opportunities for learning based on surface and deep thinking.
  • 3. I know the learning intentions and success criteria of my lessons, and I share these with students.
  • 4. I am open to learning and actively learn myself.
  • 5. I have a warm and caring classroom climate where errors are welcome.
  • 6. I seek regular feedback from my students.
  • 7. My students are actively involved in knowing about their learning (that is, they are assessment capable).
  • 8. I can identify progression in learning across multiple curriculum levels in my students work and activities.
  • 9. I have a range of teaching strategies in my day-to-day teaching repertoire.
  • 10. I use evidence of learning to plan next learning steps with students.

(Hattie, 2012, pg 193)

More recently, our school was fortunate enough to participate in the Visible Learning Plus program; a guided change process of professional development and practice which is based on Hattie’s work. One of the first topics of conversation, after being inducted into the program, was to complete the suggested checklist by Hattie.

For me, the point of seeking ‘regular feedback from my students’ particularly stood out. In the last few years I have come to realise the merit of asking students for feedback on my practise, but I determined that it should be increased in frequency, across multiple subjects or curriculum areas, and at various points of the teaching and learning cycle if I was to be the best teacher I could be.

In Bill Gates’ Ted Talk Teachers need real feedback (2013), Gates highlights the concern that despite teachers having one of the most important jobs in the world, many institutions and educational systems lack an effective approach to providing quality feedback to help teachers do their jobs better. He discusses his project Measures of Effective Teaching, which works towards building quality teaching practices, by analysing classroom observations, conducting student surveys, and measuring student achievement gains; which seem to go a long way in allowing teachers to reflect on their practises.

I think that the problem of teacher reflection is that, every day, the minds of teachers are filled with processes to carry out and tasks to accomplish. We think about how we meet the needs of a variety of students, all encompassing of learning, social and behavioural factors. We see our role as implementing curriculum that has links to content, outcomes and assessments. We plan and deliver lessons continually, occasionally reflecting in haste.

Often when delivering lessons, we are so caught up in the process, that we forget to stop and try to perceive learning from the eyes of our students. We tend not to realise the direct impact on our students, and whilst in ‘teacher mode’, our fundamental role should be to evaluate that impact on our students using a variety of sources.

I believe that a powerful source in evaluating the impact of the teacher can be with the assistance of students themselves.

The power of honest feedback from the people who matter most in the classroom should never be underestimated. It takes a certain level of bravery, and a possible paradigm shift of ‘it’s my fault they are not learning, not theirs’ in student to teacher relations. However, by listening intently to student voice, one can empower themselves to refined practises by constantly reflecting on their impact to improve.

 

Seeking feedback

In the past years I have been looking at ways of regularly seeking feedback from students. This has ranged from a variety of paper-based templates and tools to illicit anonymous and honest input from students. More recently, I have prefered to use electronic platforms with increased efficiency and effectiveness for gathering feedback.

Using Google Forms (a free online web survey collector) has been a great way to collect feedback from students. A form can be designed with a range of methods for collecting information, from short or long answers, to providing scales or multiple choices. The form is sent to students who can complete the survey on any type of electronic device. Students can easily enter their feedback, and the collection for the teacher is an absolute breeze. At a glance, I can see all of the results and even manipulate the electronic data to filter results and understand trends. Reserving 2 minutes at the end of the class becomes really worthwhile, as you explain to students that their feedback will, in turn, make you a more effective teacher.

Below are some examples of questions with short answers that I ask students. They are designed toillicit interesting responses and give insights as to how the student views themselves, the topic, and the role of the teacher. I may ask only one question or several at a time:

  • What worked well today?
  • What could be improved for next time?
  • Were you successful today? If so, how do you know?
  • Will you be able to use this learning later in life?
  • What further questions do you have about ______ ?
  • How much did you enjoy today’s lesson?
  • How much did you learn in today’s lesson?
  • What did you like about this lesson?
  • To what extent do you feel that your skills in ______ are developing?
  • How much have you learnt about ______ this week?
  • What do you now understand better after having completing this topic?
  • What would you like to learn more about in the next lesson?
  • Was today’s lesson useful for you?

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At other times, I prefer that students think about a statement, and provide an answer to their agreement using a Likert scale:

  • To what extent do you agree with the following statements?
  • My teacher helps me to achieve.
  • My teacher helps me understand the work.
  • My teacher helps me to learn new things.
  • My teacher sets goals that are challenging for me.
  • My teacher’s lessons are interesting.
  • My teacher makes me feel welcome in the class.
  • My teacher gives clear instructions that are easy to follow.
  • My teacher often gives me feedback about my work.

Often, text fields are given to students so that they can explain their reason for agreeing or disagreeing with the statement.

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Conclusion

There are many factors that contribute to the overall development of students. Influences such as parenting, family situations and social status all contribute to students’ learning. However, in most cases, the manipulation of these factors are completely out of our control.

Conversely, the quality of teacher practises that lead to student achievement in the classroom being the largest influence that we do have control of, can certainly be improved through reflection. Personally, I have found that seeking honest feedback from students has helped me to reflect and develop my own professional understanding into how I approach teaching and learning.

Sometimes when I read responses from students, I may be affirmed, surprised, or even laugh. On occasions, I have even been mortified! However, I can honestly say that every single piece of feedback that I have received from students has made me a better practitioner. I believe that great teachers are never afraid of inviting or facing difficult challenges. Most importantly, inviting student feedback has helped me to become a better, more empowered, and reflective teacher every year.

 

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References

Cantrell, S., & Kane, T. (2013). Ensuring fair and reliable measures of effective teaching: Culminating findings from the MET project’s three-year study. MET Project Research Paper. Retreived from http://metproject.org/downloads/MET_Ensuring_Fair_and_Reliable_Measures_Practitioner_Brief.pdf

 

Gates, B. (2013). Bill Gates: Teachers need real feedback [Video file]. Retreived from https://www.ted.com/talks/bill_gates_teachers_need_real_feedback

 

Hattie, J. (2009). Visible learning: A synthesis of 800+ meta-analyses on achievement. Abingdon: Routledge.

 

Hattie, J. (2012). Visible learning for teachers: Maximizing impact on learning. Abingdon: Routledge.

Transformed learning with Google Apps for Education

This article originally appeared in Educational Technology Solutions Issue 64 (FEB/MAR 2015)

40 million and counting. That is the number of students and teachers who use Google Apps for Education around the globe. But why are they using it? Furthermore, do schools use it to its true potential?

 

The power of the web

Google Apps is a suite of free productivity tools designed to help students and teachers work together more efficiently and effec­tively. It is a multi-purpose platform with a myriad of educational and instructional benefits.

At its core, Google Apps includes Gmail (webmail service), Google Drive (online documents, spreadsheets, presentations, forms, and drawings), Google Calendar (web based appoint­ments and organisation) and Google Sites (website creator); not to mention the many additional services like Hangouts, Blogger, Youtube, or Picasa which can be used with Google Apps with seamless integration

As cloud-based technologies, they are always readily available, backed up, accessible at any time and place, and available to use on any device. They remain automatically up-to-date, and are constantly being refined and improved with increased functionality (see http://goo.gl/CdPj).

Google’s foray into Education is enabling a total rethink in the way that teachers and students use technology for learning (see http://goo.gl/p4Cp4). Google Apps is an online solution that bridges the divide between learning at home or at school. It offers the opportunity for collaboration to happen in real time, irrespective of physical or digital location.

Google Apps makes it easy to share with fellow students, teachers, parents and the wid­er community. Teachers can apply the appropriate security and share settings for resources as they see fit, all via one account and one password. Simplicity and flexibility at its best, it is removing obstacles for students, teachers, and even technical departments.

From primary to tertiary institutions, students and teachers are realising the benefits of the Google Apps for Education platform. Google Apps has been growing fast, if not virally, over the last few years. There are currently over 40 million students using the service worldwide, and the number continues to grow each day. Google delivers a high quality service, at a cost-effective price, as an easy to use system, with powerful potential. With guaranteed reliability of 99.9% up­time, Google Apps is scaling at an incredible rate.

Each week on Google’s Official Enterprise Blog (http://goo.gl/ipTXOO), stories are emerging of the continued uptake of Google Apps, and the way in which they are changing communication and productivity for the better once organisations have ‘Gone Google’.

From connecting 45,000 schools across 7,000 islands in the Philippines, to equipping 4 million students in São Paulo in Bra­zil, Google Apps is bringing new and exciting opportunities to education.

As technology is developing at an ever-increasing rate, Google Apps has the potential to make communication easier; and lead us to more powerful collaborative and connected experiences. Equipping this generation of learners with modern tools makes sense. This is why many schools are adopting Google Apps for Education, an extraordinary platform for the 21st Century.

 

The redefinition of the “learning task”

With powerful technology comes the opportunity to design powerful learning tasks which harness the richness that digital tools offer. However, this all depends on the extent to which the technology is used effectively for such opportunities. As educators, we should not assume that the use of technology leads to the automatic enhancement of learning and teaching in our classrooms.

Instead, we should think about our deliberate practices and how they offer the opportunities to truly transform new opportunities for students which were previously inconceivable. In fact, let’s start thinking about how much of our use of technology is in fact transforming classrooms, instead of getting carried away by the simple urgency to use digital tools with our students.

Educators often talk about how apps or software are “transformational” because they are engaging or motivating, or personal devices that are in the hands of students lead to transformational “approaches”. For me, the transformative opportunities in today’s digital age with technology are when the technologies are used to connect, share and widen classrooms, which in my opinion, are scarcely met in a genuine sense.

Here are a set of 6 questions that can be used to consider how, in fact, technology is improving (or hindering) the learning process or opportunities for students (adapted from Alan November, see  http://goo.gl/wv79oL):

1) Does the task create capacity for critical thinking on the web? – The extent to which critical thinking and higher order cognitive skills are utilised with the web. The word “web” here is particularly important as it offers the opportunity to broaden perspectives, break down the barriers of place and time, and share and connect across communities.

2) Does the task enrich the possibilities for students to develop new lines of inquiry? – The extent to which the technology is used in a way that sparks curiosity and provides the avenues for students to develop and seek questions.

3) Does the task broaden the conversation via authentic audiences? – The extent to which the technology is used to flatten classroom walls and open dialogue and interaction between other students, teachers, parents, and the wider community.

4) Does the task allow opportunities for students to publish with the possibility of continuous feedback? – The extent to which the technology is used to publish student knowledge and synthesis with the opportunity of viewership and feedback from others without the restrictions of place and time.

5) Does the task allow opportunities for students to create contributions? – The extent to which the technology is used for questioning, moderating, collaborating and co-creating with others.

6) Does the task expose students to “best in the world” examples of content and/or skill? – The extent to which the technology is used to demonstrate high quality examples of the learning objectives content and/or skills.

If the answers are more no than yes when analysing the impact of technology to the task at hand, then we could suspect that transformation is not taking place.  According to the Substitution – Augmentation – Modification – Redefinition (SAMR) model by Dr Ruben Puentedura, transformation occurs when the technology has allowed for significant modification of the task and / or created new opportunities which were previously inconceivable.

SAMR

 

Beyond substitution with Google Apps for Education.

As educators, how do we harness the richness of Google Apps to go beyond substituting the traditional tools employed in many classrooms?

Take the example of Google Docs, a light-weight word processor delivered through a browser or the use of an Android / iOS App. Let’s assume that students are crafting a piece of writing that might normally be achieved with paper and pencil.

Students could use a static word processing application to type up a draft or final piece of writing. In this case, one could argue that nothing significant has taken place except that, instead of using paper and pen, students have used a device and application to communicate their thoughts. Here, substitution of the paper and pencil has taken place.

If students drafted or published their piece using Google Docs, their piece becomes accessible from any device with an internet connection, and thus removes the physical barrier or carrying around the paper and pencil. Whilst the purpose has slightly changed, augmentation of the task has occurred.  The improvement means increased student access and word processing ability that is irrespective of neither place nor time.

If students share their Google Doc with multiple classmates then this could open the opportunity for collaboration and synergy to the task. The students might ask to receive feedback or invite input from peers or the teacher. The teacher could check the revision history of the document to monitor the activity and progress of the exercise. Through communicating and working together in a production space, modification of the initial task has taken place, and an entirely new opportunity has been created, that goes beyond paper and pen that was once private to the student.

If students share their Google Doc with ‘view’ or ‘comment’ access to a global audience then this could open the opportunity for authentic connections that go well beyond the classroom community. The task of processing words has transformed to an opportunity which requires a set of high-level thinking skills, where a stage is offered for students to share their learning beyond their local contexts.

Below are further uses of Google Apps for Education with the SAMR model.

GAFE and SAMR

Design Thinking during the Genius Hour process

“How might we use Design Thinking and ICT to increase student engagement and motivation during the inquiry process?”

The CEOM ICON Research Schools Project aims to research powerful approaches to learning and teaching that harness the richness of technology in order to provide opportunities to transform learning. As a participating school we are supported to conduct our own research in our setting. Together with other participating schools, we are invited to produce artifacts to inform the CEOM system towards ICON.

This is a reflection for our school’s progress in 2014.

For our school, our Inquiry question was:

  • How might we use Design Thinking and ICT to increase student engagement and motivation during the inquiry process?

In particular, we wished to apply this question to our Genius Hour program in Years 5 and 6. The Design Thinking process and tools were used for both staff planning when designing learning opportunities for students, as well as mapping the current Genius Hour program against this process.

 
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In Genius Hour, students develop personal questions of their choice and research and present in any method they wish. They are able to work collaboratively or independently towards an action, and is a form of Passion Based Learning that follows a line of inquiry.

Students have already been visibly engaged and motivated during the Genius Hour program. However, as a relatively new program which was introduced last year, the team felt that there were opportunities to strengthen the process of inquiry within Genius Hour as well as consolidate and build upon the use of ICT.

In Years 5 and 6, students are provided with one-to-one access of a Windows 8 ultrabook. In Genius Hour, students use technology to:

  •  Submit proposals: via a Google Doc shared between the relevant teachers and students. Comments can be made as feedback during the proposal and planning stages.
  •  Conduct research: using Google Search on the World Wide Web, as well as World Book Online.
  •  Create products: producing video and pictures, designing websites, or coding games and applications. At times this includes the use of personal technology that students are encouraged to bring.
  •  Share learning: via a Google Presentation, shared between the relevant teachers and students.
  •  Communicate learning: via the Year 5 and 6 blog, where final projects are posted for the wider community. A selection of students also shared their learning via Google Hangouts to reach the parent and wider community.
  •  Collaborate and extend beyond their community: Some students worked with another school (St. Francis of Xavier Primary School in Box Hill) who were also doing Genius Hour using the Google Apps platform.

The aim of our research was to examine ways in which we can use design thinking and consider the use of technology to further strengthen the inquiry process throughout Genius Hour, so as to improve student engagement and motivation.

 

Measures of success

From a qualitative standpoint, we hoped that if we succeeded we would see an improvement in:

– engagement

  • less off task behaviours.
  • increased ownership of projects.
  • increased quality of projects (depth of questions).
  • increased positive attitudes towards Genius Hour.

– motivation

  • increased perseverance throughout the process.
  • increased impact of projects (in terms of a positive influences unto others).

 

Review

Through NoTosh resources and support with the work conducted at the CEOM leadership days and team based days, several deliberate actions were introduced to the Genius Hour program:

Immersion / synthesis:

  • Viewed St. Francis of Xavier Primary School’s (Box Hill) Genius Hour presentations on Google Hangouts
  • Generated ideas using “100 ideas in 10 minutes” and evaluated them
  • Categorised questions as “Googleable vs Non-Googleable” using a filter
  • Presented provocations from the Google Science Fair and example of IBM’s Watson Super Computer
  • Developed questions using the Complex Questions Matrix
  • Gave the opportunity to a few students to work with another school on a joint Genius Hour project effort. Students at St. Francis in Box Hill who are also doing Genius Hour were able to work with students from St. Mark’s using the Google Apps platform

 

Prototyping:

  • Communicated progress of projects on the Year 5 and 6 blog
  • Gave opportunities for feedback (kind, specific, useful) in small groups at various stages

 

Exposition / Presentation:

  • Uploaded all projects to the Year 5 and 6 blog.
  • Shared learning (10 groups) on Google Hangouts to an estimated audience of 300. Participants answered questions from viewers outside of the St. Mark’s Community.

These actions can also be viewed via this Thing Link.

As a third and fourth generation of the Genius Hour program, a lot of improvements have been observed anecdotally:

Quality and depth of projects – When comparing the sets of questions and projects against previous iterations of Genius Hour, students have been far more creative, original and inquisitive in their research. The deliberate teaching of a “Non-Googleable” question to this part has been instrumental, as has been the high bar and expectation for students for their projects to be meaningful.

Perseverance and engagement in students – In this iteration of Genius Hour, the teachers have observed increased determination and perseverance. As a long-term activity, students in the past have become disinterested or “lost” with their projects. There has also been increased enthusiasm and excitement for the times in which students are given specific time to work on their projects at school.

Ownership and collaboration amongst peers – A problem with Genius Hour in the past has been with medium to large sized groups, which can be dominated by a few students, or have timid students reluctant to participate. There has been a lot more shared ownership of the projects, leading to less “bystanding” and more active participation.

***

As part of our evaluation, we developed a survey to ascertain the attitudes and behaviours towards Genius Hour. 103 responses were collected out of 126 students. Students were asked to what extent they were enjoying Genius Hour this term, and then to respond by explaining their answer:

 gh feedback 1

low responses

medium responses

high responses

“Well this year it is different and so the question is harder to make so did not get to do a topic that I was interested in”

“I like it a little because last year they got to do it on whatever they want they could even make a game”

“I love working with other people but my group members muck around and we never get our work done”

“I’m enjoying the freedom of doing whatever you like but I not enjoying it because I’m falling behind, so to fix that problem you should give us more time.”

“We can use our own creative talents and we can make it our own project. Also we can do it with who ever we like and be fun and creative with it. Plus it is easier to learn what you’re interested in!”

“I like doing Genius Hour because I take more control of my learning and I like doing Genius Hour because it challenges me.”

Students were then asked to rank their agreement on the following statements:

Genius Hour makes me happy Strongly Disagree 0%

Disagree 2%

Neither Agree or Disagree 20%

Agree 52%

Strongly Agree 25%

Genius Hours inspires me to try something new Strongly Disagree 0%

Disagree 1%

Neither Agree or Disagree 9%

Agree 57%

Strongly Agree 33%

Genius Hour challenges my thinking Strongly Disagree 1%

Disagree 1%

Neither Agree or Disagree 15%

Agree 52%

Strongly Agree 31%

I feel energised during Genius Hour Strongly Disagree 0%

Disagree 5%

Neither Agree or Disagree 32%

Agree 43%

Strongly Agree 20%

Doing Genius Hour is useful for me Strongly Disagree 0%

Disagree 3%

Neither Agree or Disagree 25%

Agree 52%

Strongly Agree 19%

I am bored during Genius Hour Strongly Disagree 41%

Disagree 44%

Neither Agree or Disagree 13%

Agree 2%

Strongly Agree 2%

Genius Hour is interesting for me Strongly Disagree 0%

Disagree 0%

Neither Agree or Disagree 14%

Agree 52%

Strongly Agree 34%

I want to do well during Genius Hour Strongly Disagree 0%

Disagree 0%

Neither Agree or Disagree 6%

Agree 36%

Strongly Agree 58%

I care about my work and efforts during Genius Hour Strongly Disagree 0%

Disagree 0%

Neither Agree or Disagree 6%

Agree 41%

Strongly Agree 53%

I am “in the zone” during Genius Hour Strongly Disagree 2%

Disagree 3%

Neither Agree or Disagree 41%

Agree 41%

Strongly Agree 14%

I use my time effectively during Genius Hour Strongly Disagree 0%

Disagree 3%

Neither Agree or Disagree 19%

Agree 57%

Strongly Agree 20%

We also collected data from teachers in other year levels on the Open Expo day, as we thought it might be useful to seek from teachers external and independent to the year level:

 

“There was a wide range of projects that reflected the children’s interests and ability.  The children that I spoke to were able to talk about the reason why they chose their particular area so I was able to see the purpose behind it. I enjoyed looking at the journey, not just the finished product.  I also noticed that for some students the journey will continue.

No matter how big or small the project was, all students were very proud to showcase their work and get feedback from their family, peers and teachers.”

“What an incredible celebration of creativity and imagination! The students appeared excited by their chosen field and proud of their accomplishments. They seemed to be more willing and able, this year, to discuss their work with depth and clarity. I was very impressed by the students’ use of trial and feedback to test and refine their work before showcasing it.”

“I was very impressed with the level of research and how well some students explained their research topic. The students were very engaged and very enthusiastic to show off their designs and outcomes.”

“A brilliant Genius Expo that showed imagination has no limit. It was a privilege to witness the journey (struggles, failures, successes. breakthroughs, frustrations…) and to experience the destinations. Not only was the learning and skills that were gained evident, self esteem of all the participants oozed from their presentation sites regardless of whether they had achieved their goal. Visible learning in action! Strong, focused leadership! And the Google Hang-out…so cool! Hope all of our school got to see it.”

“The time and effort the students put in was evident in the depth of their work. There was a genuine knowledge and passion coming from the kids about their chosen topics. It was very clear the children had control over the development of their projects and it was great to see a wide range of topics and interests investigated. No two projects were the same. I think it agave our 3/4’s something to aspire to, they came back inspired, with open eyes excited to tackle their own inquiry.”

Whilst there have been some positive gains in light of the teacher and student data, we feel there is still room for improvement.

 One of the key principles of Genius Hour is for students to make a meaningful impact on their wider community. Whilst some students appear to have the correct intention and motivations, we feel that on the whole students were not following through with their impact. After designing a graphic to assist students to reflect on their intended impact, it was clear that most students genuinely wanted to have a reach far beyond what they achieved but required assistance to do this.

Moreover, as highlighted by the student survey, they are some negative feelings towards Genius Hour. We feel that this could be a barrier to engagement and motivation if we are not effective in communicating the process or ideas behind Genius Hour for all students.

Design Thinking is a relatively new process and concept for the team but it has certainly made an impact. From a teacher standpoint, it has promoted critical and creative thinking that has improved the quality of the inquiry process.

Further resources

Term 2 Projects

Term 2 Hangout

Term 4 Projects

Term 4 Hangout

What do students at St. Mark’s think about Genius Hour?

 

What’s your impact?

One of the 10 principles of our approach to Genius Hour which we maintain to be of high importance  is to encourage students to have an impact beyond themselves. We want our students to think about how they could potentially change the world, whether that is on a local, national, or global stage. We are bringing the expectation that they could contribute something meaningful as a global citizen.

10 principles of genius hour

Our 10 principles of Genius Hour

What we found in our first iterations of Genius Hour last year was that this notion was hardly realised. Students unsurprisingly grappled with the foreign concept of undertaking a lengthy process of discovery on a deep level, let alone considering what they were going to do with their new found knowledge in the inquiry. This improved in 2014 as we applied a Design Thinking process to Genius Hour to focus on the development on a deep, complex and “Non-Googleable” question. The introduction of “How might we…” led naturally to tangible actions that could potentially lead to opportunities for sharing beyond a student’s own benefit.

During the proposal stages students considered what the impact beyond themselves would be. However when it came time to undertake the inquiry, students became caught up and often forgot about it and therefore was often too little and too late in the process  for their impact to be realised. Having said this, in our most recent Genius Hour attempt the majority of our students were able to at least make, teach or do something genuine for their school and wider community. Holding an Open Expo for the school community, and sharing projects via the level blog and on Google Hangouts certainly helped in this regard.

We asked our students to map out a self-assessment of their impact using a graphic organiser with the levels of SELF, SCHOOL COMMUNITY, WIDER COMMUNITY, STATE, NATION and WORLD by providing evidence of what they either made, did or taught. Upon completing this task, students reluctantly realised that their intended impact may not have been entirely realised.

IMG_5180IMG_20141119_173107

In our next attempt of Genius Hour, we feel that it would be appropriate to use this graphic organiser during the ideation stage and development of the inquiry line. Our challenge as educators is to assist students during the inquiry process to connect them to opportunities that allow them to make their desired impacts, particularly those outside of the school community.

Below is a copy of the graphic should you wish to use it (or in PDF). I would be interested in hearing about how other educators are encouraging their students to think beyond their community and actually making their efforts a reality!

What's Your Impact

 

Getting comfortable with being uncomfortable

Capture

 

Last Thursday’s GEG Melbourne event “Feed Forward” was another huge success.  Google Teacher Academy participants shared their journeys, their moonshots, and their intended journeys for the months to come.

I shared my moonshot and a little bit of thinking that I have been doing about the area of innovation in schools. As I started to explore the problem a little more deeply in an almost re-immersion of the problem, I have been grappling with the reasons why education can be appearing to move so slowly. Maybe some of this issue revolves around the obvious notion that change can be hard to achieve, but I think that challenging the “status-quo” of the system and changing fixed-mindsets is the real problem. Whilst some of us might view ourselves as change agents by standing up in our schools and leading the charge, true educational change requires challenging the thinking of every educator, student, parent and bureaucrat in the system. This might seem a little more challenging and risky then simply standing up in one school community!

I spoke to a few people in the breakout sessions about disruptive ideas in education, and several were excited to find a common ground with others who were also frustrated with the slow pace of innovation in education. If you haven’t yet done so, please fill out this form to share your ideas.

Slides from the presentation are here or below:

 

EdTech MasterChef Challenge at ACEC14

A paradox exists between adult learning at conferences and student learning in the classroom. On one hand we talk about students taking ownership of their learning and collaborating with others without the teacher “giving” all the information…yet at conferences, the majority of the time we seem to sit submissively and listen to presenters in a didactic style approach.

This was one of the major reasons for bringing the EdTech MasterChef Challenge to the Australian Computers in Education Conference 2014. With colleague Narissa Leung, we facilitated the event to offer an alternative style of professional development for educators at the conference.

We were inspired by the EdTech Iron Chef Challenge at the International Society of Technology in Education Conference 2013 in San Antonio. Attending as delegates from the ACCE Study Tour, Narissa and I went into the Iron Chef event excited by the possibilities of a challenge-based style of professional development for teachers at a conference. We weren’t disappointed as we had the opportunity to debate, co-construct, innovate and articulate our approach to using technology in a hypothetical setting. For the first time, we had experienced an alternative style of learning at a conference that truly put meaning to the buzz words “connect, collaborate, crate”. (Did I also mention that our group were also declared joint-winners of the challenge with another group?)

This was another reason for facilitating the EdTech MasterChef Challenge at ACEC14. We didn’t want to lecture to people about the importance of networking with other educators, we wanted them to make their own connections. We didn’t want to show examples of students collaborating, we wanted them to experience it for themselves. We didn’t want to discuss the higher-order thinking skills required for creating meaningful products, we wanted them to use the skills to make something. The organisers of the original event are offering their resources to anyone who wants to host their own challenge, and we adapted the ideas from Iron Chef at ISTE to bring the EdTech MasterChef Challenge to ACEC14.

 

bit.ly/edtechchef

 

The Challenge

Attendees who attended Day 1 of the challenge were encouraged to form teams to collaborate with for the duration of the challenge. Whilst most people in the room brought along a friend and subsequently ended up in the same group, it was great to see a mixture of educators from various levels of experience and backgrounds in each group.

Participants were given a set of “ingredients” to use in their challenge to address a problem. The ingredients were selected intentionally to reflect the common obstacles in our everyday education contexts, and were supposed to stimulate thinking about the effective use of ICT and resources to overcome these obstacles.

PANO_20141001_115335

Teams collaborated on their solution and were encouraged to set aside some time during the conference to meet up physically or digitally to review their progress.

On Day 2 of the challenge, teams presented their solutions back to everyone participating and other interested delegates from ACEC14 in a fast-paced style snapshot of their solution. Guest judges formed a panel and scored each solution and presentation with a rubric.

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It was a close battle, but congratulations to Team Epicureans on taking out the win!

 

All of the final projects submitted can be seen here

 

The Takeaway

Overall, the feedback from participants was very positive. Most seemed to enjoy the level of thinking required to address their challenge and present their solution with familiar and unfamiliar conference delegates. This was not withstanding obvious difficulties in some groups like time constraints or poor communication between team members; both of which are barriers to students that we as teachers deal with in these contexts in our classroom. However, it was encouraging to see that problem or challenge-based learning which we so often promote in our classrooms can have its place in adult learning at the conference level.