Sunday, 3 June 2012

From Hyperspace to Hyperlink

I read this blog post last night after following a link on Twitter – “Social Media for Administrators” - :

“There can no longer be an “opt out” clause when dealing with technology in our schools, especially from our administrators. We need to prepare our kids to live in this world now and in the future. Change may feel hard, but it is part of learning.  We expect it from our kids, we need to expect it from ourselves.”

There have been some key markers for me that have made me become a successful digital immigrant; though maybe I’m one of the early colonists. 
For a start, I’ve always liked science fiction.  I was an avid viewer of Star Trek right from the sixties and ingested sci fi novels at a great rate from the age of about eight.  I became aware of the way real life imitated art: Asimov’s “I Robot” was influential in the development of robots.  The flip phone and tablet had their early equivalents on Star Trek.  

Also impressive were the messages the series gave this young viewer: the importance of connecting, communicating and collaborating.  Like the NZ Curriculum vision, their vision was to value being:
a)     Confident - positive in their own identity, motivated and reliable, resourceful, enterprising (sic) , entrepreneurial, resilient
b)     Connected - able to relate well to others, effective users of communication tools, connected to the land and environment, members of communities, international (inter-galaxy) citizens
c)     Actively involved - participants in a range of life contexts, contributors to the well-being of New Zealand (the universe)  – social, cultural, economic, and environmental
d)     Lifelong learners - literate and numerate, critical and creative thinkers, active seekers, users, and creators of knowledge, informed decision makers.

Alright, Captain Kirk had a bit of biffo regularly, but that was more to do with TV ratings.  What always stood out was that lack of fear of the new and unknown.

A lot like our kids.  They aren’t afraid to get out there and "boldly go where no one has gone before."  I watched my young daughter pick up the new pair of mobile phones, and after a few minutes announce that she’d worked out how to set up the address book and remotely send it to the other phone.  No fear of the alien at all!  This was another key moment, when I realised that I had to have that ability to explore, without fear of getting something wrong. 

At Learning At School 2012, Simon Breakspear said it: “Fail fast. Fail forward. Accelerate learning.” We learn from our mistakes, so make them quickly.

Captain Kirk kept a log – we keep a blog.  The third key marker is being selected to go to a workshop about blogging.  I’d heard the term way back in 2004, but never seen one.  Instantly I was hooked! My class had a blog and published their writing.  Mum, Dad and Grandma in England could leave a comment.  Wow! The cluster map showed that we had hundreds of readers, and we were excited.  I remember one young writer’s eyes opening wide when she realised that her little post had received 235 hits.  It was empowering.

We connected with a class in Malaysia through our blog to find out what they thought was a healthy breakfast.  We followed the travels of our teacher aide through words, photos and video as she travelled through Asia.  What a way to study Vietnam!

The fourth marker was a slideshow using Photostory, recounting one young man’s experiences on athletics day, which he created with the collaboration of a buddy.  He communicated a story of photos with captions.  He was proud of the quality of the presentation, and he shared it with his mother.  All firsts.  She had never come to the parent interviews before.

The fifth marker has to be what I see in my household: three young women who communicate by text and Facebook.  We Skype when they are at uni.  We buy our groceries and do our banking online.  We research with Google rather than a set of encyclopaedia.  I have an iphone, ipad and laptop, and can never find a pen.  This is my present, and I’m charged with preparing students for a future that we can’t predict.

So fellow educators, it’s time to get on board the Enterprise.  It’s already on its way, and has been for a while.  Be one of those who “boldly go where no one has gone before.” Take that hyperlink.

The Trade Off - Bigger Classes for Better Teachers?

Yesterday, the student council at our intermediate sat down with me and wrote letters to the Minister of Education to express their concern about the changes to staffing, class sizes and their technology programme.  To my surprise, we received a reply this morning, although it did look like a very standard reply probably sent by her press secretary.  It included her speech notes and key facts from the Budget.

I absolutely agree that we need to do something about teacher quality - but by increasing class sizes?   Hekia says that we'll lose no more than two full time teachers per school and we'll only gain one or two students per class.  Somehow it doesn't sound like we're going the right way, does it?

I know that we are a little country and there isn't a lot of spare cash around.  The ratio of tax-payers to beneficiaries is very small.  The money has to come from somewhere.  But it does come hard on the heels of moves in the United States and England, to increase class sizes because "size does not matter."  Common sense and experience say it does.  The number of books to put feedback in, students to conference, bodies in the room...!

I've been aware for a long time that the quality of teacher trainees needs to improve.  When I retrained as a primary teacher twelve years ago, it was obvious that members of my cohort were there because it seemed a convenient thing to do when they had finished bringing up families.  With all due respect, and I'm generalizing, but there didn't seem to be the academic rigour that I'd expect in an educator leading a class with my children in it.  Literacy and numeracy standards weren't  always there, and sometimes not the professional ethics.  I remember the representative of one provider saying to me, "but that's all we can get." I took comfort in the fact that some of these student teachers wouldn't finish the course and others wouldn't get through the application or interview.

So how are we going to ensure this quality? Certainly not performance pay.  A lot has been said and written about how this might go wrong: principals who use it to make sure subject areas which are difficult to staff remain covered; teachers who get the credit for students who do well when the work had been put in the previous year.

  - Hekia Parata, speech notes, "Raising Achievement for All in Budget 2012", 16 May 2012.

The days and months ahead will be interesting.  We can take some hope that there will be a working party to look at the situation for intermediates. 

It's a shame the emphasis has been on where the money will come from, especially if the Minister is right and the effects will be minor (though I don't want to be one of the two teachers per school that might lose their jobs).  We will all benefit from raising both the quality and status of the profession, if that is indeed the end result.

Let's hope that it is the learners who are the winners.