Tag Archives: teaching and learning

Leaving the school, again

A few days ago, I hinted on Twitter I am leaving Yule Brook College at the end of this year. It’s the end of four years of not just teaching here but four years of daily think about the place and its people.

As one of the most memorable teaching posts and workplaces I have been a part of, the experiences from YBC will stay with me strongly and shape my professional and my personal self forever. Working in a flagship Big Picture school, expanding my teaching qualifications and repertoire to now include Design & Technology, envisioning and starting in many ways a trailblazing makerspace on a shoestring budget and turning it into well functioning, well received (by students and staff) space, finding and securing funding for this and a similar STEM-related initiative makes the highlights reel. But, as always, I have been far more interested in the people I have worked with and their stories, the goodwill, the resilience, the struggles, without the (self)promotional BS for this and that.

For the large part of my teaching career, I have worked in low socio-economic areas like the community YBC serves. Here and elsewhere, I have seen kids overcome incredible odds, succeed and flourish academically and socially. I have also seen the sad spiral into misery, often from misery, (too) many times.

I have grown so tired, yes here at YBC too and elsewhere, of motivational posters and one-line messages, inevitably aimed at individual, glossing over the structural causes of misery these kids have had no say in it. I am equally tired of the corrosive low expectations, yes here at YBC and elsewhere, inevitably aimed at entire groups (‘this class’…), populations (‘these people, this postcode’…) that trap the individuals who are capable of alternatives far healthier than those on offer, some of them generational.

To me, good answers lie not in the binary of “personal grit” or utopian “equal society” but somewhere in between. Our job as educators is to help students make choices and have the resources to build the former (I dislike the word grit though) but not ignoring, glossing over, dismissing the energy and opportunity-sapping chances of the latter. At all times, we ought to figure out and modulate our responses and consider the potential costs of those responses to the student, ourselves and the broader community.

We need to do this to the best of our professional ability and knowledge. These we can only expand by reading, engaging, thinking and honest critique, not just moaning about it on one side and clapping to rather than pointing out the emperor’s new clothes on the other. This is the hard work, not the paperwork.

Over the past couple of years, I put my heart and soul in building the makerspace at YBC. I did that not because of my deep passion for STEM which seems to be all the rage last few years. Yeah, sure, I do like making and design, kids figuring the usefulness of sometimes the most rudimentary numeracy and literacy. But that’s almost a necessary by-product of something else.

I did it to provide opportunities for students, to create an oasis of abundance my friend Ira Socol speaks of and many of YBC may not enjoy. A pocket perhaps of abundance of opportunities, of the kinds kids in leafier suburbs of this town would take for granted. Abundance of something that values learning, is socially positive, doesn’t stratify you and/or ‘confirm you’re dumb’ (student words, not mine) every time you stuff something up. A place you can try things that maybe ‘cost a bit’ (student words again, because $50 of acrylic plastic she used up in making her design here would be going towards keeping the lights on at home). Simple – but profound stuff.  

Next year, my journey across the educational landscape takes me in a new direction. I have accepted a position as a Teaching and Learning Coach for the Graduate Teacher Induction Programme with the Department of Education of Western Australia. After a period of initial training, I will be helping out new graduates across Perth metro and the entire state of Western Australia (very, very large one at that) survive and thrive in their first steps in the workforce. GTIP is a unique programme and I am very fortunate and excited to have secured this position. Those of you who have come across myself, my work and thoughts over the past couple of decades will probably know I could talk about bloody teaching and education all day. So, look out for my travel reflections next year.

As for my dear colleagues at YBC – we have become lifelong friends. The tougher and longer we stuck at it, the more it makes us bond beyond the shifting job titles now and the future. Plenty of that at YBC where I am sure will always return as a good friend.

What I learned in 2011

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My big(gest) lessons and reminders of 2011:

The importance of doing what you love doing in your career.

I never have or will regret joining Moodle HQ but I never have or will regret leaving Moodle HQ this year either. Thank you Martin & Moodle HQ. I love Moodle and its community but I am really happy to be a Moodle volunteer again and get paid (less) to work with teens that I dare say majority of teaching colleagues would not want to see in their class.

The importance of expectations.

You don’t significantly change or disrupt status quo by doing more of the same (way) but harder. Changing expectations shifts things dramatically.

Picture the expectations of a kid (and his surrounds) who has been told, overtly and covertly by the system of mainstream schooling, that most he can aspire to be is a dumb poor loser with some dead-end job as his only option (like many in his family). Suddenly, he completes a great project in the field he is passionate about. He is told, for the first time in his life, that a local university is offering courses in that field, and that, on the basis of things shown and in all sincerety,  going to uni and/or getting a well paid, challenging job in the industry is a realistic option for him in a couple of years if he puts in the effort. I saw the reaction of this kid and his parents. And it gives me tingles as I write this.

The value of Big Picture.

Big Picture is not a panacea for all our educational ills. It also isn’t for every kid out there. It requires a special kind of educator to really ‘get it’ too. But from what I have seen, learned and experienced this year after working in a Big Picture school and seeing some great work of kids and colleagues in BP schools around the country and the world, it is an approach, a state of mind rather, that truly empowers.

‘School’ is deeply ingrained in our societal DNA

It is soooo damn hard to ‘forget’ what ‘school’ looks like and does. In a ‘school’ you learn to play the game (usually called ‘what does the teacher or test want me to say’) then pass … and largely forget. There is a teacher, the knower, and a bunch of students who need to be ‘taught’ stuff prescribed by often someone else and contextually remote. You need a grade to show how much you are worth. Above all – you don’t ask (tough) questions. Things like: ‘What are we doing this for?’ And if kids don’t learn, the teacher says ‘I taught them that but they didn’t learn it’ (akin to a realtor saying ‘I sold them the house but they didn’t buy it’ …).

No wonder it takes us a very long time at our school (yes, we are one, but a Big Picture one) for kids and parents to come to terms with statement/questions like: “What are you passionate about?”, “What is worth learning?”, “No, I am NOT going to tell you what to do next, but I am happy to figure it out WITH you.” “You (student) know more about this (topic) than me (teacher) already so I am going to learn with you.” Crazy stuff huh? Or is it? Ask yourself why (not).

The value of networks

You have no idea how grateful I am of my, well our, network. This goes particularly when I see you from around the planet interacting with kids at our school, kids who, in most cases, have barely left their suburb all their life. Things like comments to ‘John’s’ motorbike website or ‘Billy’s’ ‘World Of Drugs‘ wiki project (one I am hugely excited and hopeful about in 2012) are small but priceless.

Every comment here on Human, every @ reply on Twitter, every *Like* on Facebook, every email, Skype call, shared document or other interaction reinforces my liking for Stephen Heppel’s observation: Previous century was about making stuff FOR many people. This century is about helping people help each other.

and finally … drumroll …

Watching students flourish in front of my eyes in moments during the year and particularly during their Big Picture exhibitions reminds me why I want(ed) to work in education: not to be “the knower” in some field and bang on about it as if it were the most important thing in the world but watch and help others becoming knowers (of) themselves in the fields they chose and share.

PS. If I don’t post anything before Christmas/New Year it probably means I am playing with my own kids and enjoying a bit of holidays. But I do check in here and Twitter …

Have a peaceful Christmas and a wonderful New Year. Kiss your kids and loved ones and tell them you love them. Often. And mean it.

Moodle Wizard?

Today, I have been closely following the #mpos10 Twitter tag from the 2010 Moodleposium in Canberra. The next best thing to being there (but then again, I get to ‘go’ to many sessions simultaneously…)

This afternoon, I found an absolute gem that I just have to share – a course called ‘Translating Learning Outcomes in Moodle‘ by Srinivas Chemboli, Lauren Kane (@l_kane) and Lynette Johns-Boast from Australian National University in Canberra (presented and available as part of the 2010 Australian Moodlemoot I happened to miss 🙁 )

This resource speaks to the educator and Moodle fan/user/improver/researcher in me, particularly after the recent conversation(s) with Mark Drechsler (see the post, presentation & comments) about Moodle course design, key features of a ‘good Moodle course’ and a long standing distaste for ‘technocentric’ thinking (as Papert explains in his seminal paper). I have been banging on ‘people and learning first, technology last’ for, huh, some time now (strangely, I still have a job with a software maker 😉 ). This course/resource fits the bill very, very nicely.

I invite you to have a look and explore at the course yourself. In a nutshell, it starts with ‘what do we want to learn’ down to ‘what Moodle tool(s) to use’. A very nice, diagrammatic flow that would complement Joyce Seitzinger’s excellent Moodle Tool Guide for Teachers poster. But it is more than a flow in a sense that the user actually gets asked some questions along the way. And that’s the reason for the title of this post…

Imagine Moodle standard shipping out with a ‘wizard’ (for lack of better word…) that guides the teacher or whoever we choose in the course as a community to create activities, resources and other? A wizard based on the insights of Srinivas, Lauren, Lynette and their team at ANU that starts with a problem, idea, learning/teaching goal and ends up (!) in choosing the appropriate Moodle tool(s) for the job, in the very context where it is used.

Imagine the delight of ‘tech integrators’ in changing their role to ‘learn-with-tech integrators’ (which is what they really are most of time but titles often betray 😉 ). Imagine educators seeing Moodle not as a piece of software but a way to help and encourage meta-thinking about teaching and learning needs of people they work with. Or as Punya Mishra aptly states:

“Learning about technology is different from learning what to do with it”.

A word of caution!

Whatever the ‘wizard’ and its qualities, it will never, ever, ever, ever be a panacea, an all-fitting solution or perhaps even a substitute for great teaching. Or as another apt line, this time by Tony Bates, goes:

“Good teaching may overcome a poor choice of technology, but technology will never save bad teaching.’

Teaching and learning (the separation of these two terms is so superfluous sometimes…) has always been a bricolage, endless contextual adjustment of things, not an automated process because it is/they are essentially some of humanity’s biggest and oldest ‘wicked problems‘.

But sometimes we just need a little bit of helping hand to set us off on our exploring, moodling ways.

Thank you Shrinivas, Lauren and Lynette!