Saturday, August 18, 2012

PD workshop worked; Edmodo, Wallwisher and Changing the Paradigms

Even though the business of education is teaching kids, I find it a relief when they aren't actually in the school.

Not that I don't generally enjoy teaching.  It's just that one never knows how much stress - ie. shit - one is likely to incur in each 75 minute period.  So Thursday, the day before a pupil free day, felt like a Friday, and Friday, Curriculum Day, felt like a gift; a junket.

First mid-year curriculum day we've had for a while, like most Victorian state schools. For the last four years, under a different state government, the curriculum days had all been bunched up at the start of the school year.  I've found that arrangement wanting.  Lots of time wasting for various reasons.  And I'm quite cynical too, in case you hadn't noticed.  Most of the PD offerings at school have seemed to me to be 'under-graduate' and I'm too long in the tooth for that.  There have been exceptions, of course.  

Today's focus was ICT.  Given all our year 9s and 10s have been issued with notebook computers, this was timely.  As I've said, I'm keen to use the computers with my year 10s more effectively, even if it does mean assessing student work on-line.  

The day began inauspiciously when 80 plus of us crammed into the learning centre.  The principal had made a powerpoint.  The screen was so low as to prevent all bar those in its immediate vicinity from being able to see it.  I struggle with my eyesight at the best of times so that first half hour was literally a blur with me twisting, squinting and craning to see between the heads and shoulders of my colleagues.  Something about how we're no longer preparing students for one life-long career; things have changed.  To be honest, I don't remember much other than writing a note to my mate asking her if she thought I'd had my hair cut too short.  I did notice a student teacher opposite earnestly taking notes with a fountain pen.  Or perhaps she's already learned my trick of 'journaling' whilst feigning interest in the proceedings.  Just keep that brow furrowed, nod occasionally and incline your head in the direction of the speaker.

Next hour for me was a KLA - Key Learning Area, ie. Faculty - meeting.  More of the same, but not too bad now I'm not the coordinator.  Time to 'booklist' texts for next year.  Same old discussion.  Basically, the sixteen or so members of the English KLA have divergent tastes for various reasons. What some want to teach others want to drop and vice versa.  I no longer care.  I can 'teach' anything unlike some of my colleagues who fear setting a new text that may not have a prepared assignment.  Sheesh.

During the next part of the program we'd elected to attend one of three ICT sessions.  Unfortunately, before we could get started we all had to herd into the learning centre again for a useless ten minutes of the curriculum coordinator needlessly providing a summary of the contents of all three workshops.  Why? Why not just send us our separate ways so we can get on with it? Power trip?

 Happily, after this my day picked up.  My workshop was led by three male science teachers, two of whom don't ordinarily lead.  That was refreshing; different.  One is my vintage and one of my friends on staff.  So good to see someone who's seen it all, with 30 years of teaching experience, rolling creatively with the changes.  The second speaker is probably in his forties but is still a 'beginning' teacher.  (I could be doing this guy a disservice.  I'm estimating his age based on his bald head and a five o' clock shadow that developed into a full beard during a two hour session.  Yes, I know.  Irrelevant, but nonetheless remarkable.)  The third presenter is probably around 30 with perhaps four years teaching under his belt. 
Basically, the three of them prompted in me a storm of emotions and ideas concerning the way I teach.  I felt variously like an absolute beginner, an anachronism, borderline redundant and, happily, capable of changing and improving the way I teach some of my students.  (Not all.)

They began their session with a short film, Changing the Paradigms.  (Perhaps you've seen this RSA Animate film already.  Perhaps I'm the only teacher in Australia that hasn't seen it.  Highly recommended.)  It made a lot of sense.  Based on a lecture by Sir Ken Robinson, it's one of those powerful, assertive pieces that seduces the viewer with its matter-of-fact confident tone.  We didn't discuss the assertions in the film; it wasn't that sort of a workshop.  But it's something I wouldn't mind doing in the future. 

One thing posited in the film was the alleged 'epidemic' of ADHD and the consequential anaesthetising, with Ritalin and the like, of so many kids.  Robinson suggested, I think, a link between the hyper-stimulation of the 21st century and the phenomenon of ADHD.  Not so sure.  Those hyper-active easily distracted disruptive boys - usually - were certainly around, unmedicated, when I began teaching in the late 1970s.  I also remember how savagely they were beaten back in primary school in the 1960s, subduing all but the most extreme by my high school days in the late 60s and early 70s.  Those boys continued to get 'the cuts' regularly, administered by the principal, who strode around our western suburbs school in his academic gown.  Think it's more a case of some parents these days needing to 'pathologise' their kids' unorthodox behaviour and having the means to do so, given the willingness of medicos to prescribe Ritalin etc.  (I say this knowing my own son would have been beaten to a pulp by those strap and cane wielding school masters of my youth had he been born a generation earlier.)

The point? This film made me think about things, rather than sitting cynically feeling my time was being wasted, and it led appropriately into learning about what seem to be potentially more effective ways of teaching my year 10s.

I'd chosen this particular workshop because it was about using Edmodo, an educational Facebook of sorts.  But I also learned about Wallwisher, a web program that could enhance the way note-making occurs during discussions with year 10s. 

Love it when I learn something new, but I especially love it when presenters recognise that we're all teachers already and they take it to the next level.  All three presenters spoke efficiently - I could learn something there!  They didn't jaw on for the love of the sounds of their own voices; no time wasting.  They showed us the programs and got started.  It was easy to access the on-line tutorials and videos they'd prepared to explore the media.  Meanwhile, they modelled effective teaching by roving and assisting as required.  

It was very good, so much so that I, and many of my colleagues, turned up early after lunch for the second part of the workshop so we could get on with it.
Now to develop a bit of expertise and put it all into practice.  That just might help my year 10s.  My year 8s?  Na-ah.  That's a whole nother blog.

BTW, I hadn't heard of the brilliant Sir Ken Robinson.  It was worth going to school yesterday for that pleasure alone.

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Fahrenheit 451? Welcome to my year 10 English class.

Ray Bradbury's imagined future is happening now, in 2012, in my school, and more especially in my Year 10 classroom. Last week, Guy Montag and his crew of firemen would have had to burn just four paperback copies of Bradbury's book. Irony.

Recently, every Victorian student in years 9 and 10 was issued with a small notebook computer. They all had their computers in class that morning, but do you think they could manage to bring the set text, Fahrenheit 451? Why did I even expect they would?

I had repeatedly reminded them to bring the text, all to no avail. Just about every kid in the class has got a mobile phone. Many of them have new iPhones. Most have the white headphones, plugged into at least one ear under a wadge of hair, or swinging around their necks. But many of them still haven't acquired, so they say, this book-listed text.

If I want to chat to them about The Shire, or Masterchef or their mums reading about sex in Fifty Shades of Grey, I'm on. But trying to get them to engage with something that uses figurative language - huh? - or complex ideas? Apologies to the writer of Fifty Shades if he/she uses figurative language. Don't know. Haven't read it. I'm currently getting my gratuitous sex courtesy of Boardwalk Empire. (BTW, the teacher's aide was keeping quite a poker face as she read Fifty Shades during Year 8 sustained silent reading recently.)

Re those free issue computers: Good that I'm getting lots of typed essays handed in - takes me twice as long to assess on line so I'm not going there again. Bad that plagiarism's on the increase. You have to be really limited to hand in something brilliant and not think the teacher is going to do a Google search. Tip to sad plagiarist students: at least put it into your own words. You never know, you might learn something.

And another thing. Students who've never done any work before are now eagerly flipping open their computers and concentrating furiously and quietly while I try to teach them the finer points of using language to persuade. Must be making tons of notes; all those intense, furrowed brows. As if. They're checking their uploaded weekend photos or browsing pictures of 'muscle cars' on line. And the rest.

So, taxpayers' hard-earned money at work. Well, at least in my class.

Yes, I know, I know. Computers are here to stay and I certainly love my gadgets and social media. These kids were born into this world and I'm an immigrant.

The task is for me to get the kids to use their computers to do some complex learning. I'm working on it.

Suggestions gratefully received.