Tuesday, December 28, 2010

How to make science more interesting

When I did science at school I found it to be the most boring of all subjects.  Whereas it should be an opportunity to do practical experiments, it invariably became a case of balancing scientific equations as written paper exercises.  No wonder that, apparently, the number of science graduates is plummeting.

Even in primary schools science seems to be having a reduced role.  The science fair in the province that I am living in now happens only every two years.  Most schools, including my own, only offer the science fair to selected students, meaning that a vast majority have a limited opportunity to take part in a subject that is key to producing the innovative citizens who will lead to our societies dealing with the many dilemmas and problems that our communities are sure to encounter over the upcoming decades.

Perhaps we need to look at ways in which we can make science a far more appealing and exciting subject.  One such approach is taking place in the United Kingdom.  To find out about what is happening in the UK, click here to read an article in the education section of the Sunday Times.

Monday, December 27, 2010

How to achieve your New Year's Resolution

I believe that the principles outlined in this short You Tube video by Dr Richard Wiseman re achieving New Year resolutions could also be applied to students achieving learning goals.  Take 59 seconds of your time to find out the five factors that will enable anyone to achieve their goals.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Using Ipods to Boost Reading Comprehension

I really like this Apple education profile on the use of the Ipod Touch in an elementary school in the United States.  The impact on improving reading comprehension makes for very interesting reading and viewing; a compelling case for using Ipods in any school that is looking to improve literacy levels. 

The presentation starts as follows: 

'iPod touch has transformed the learning experience for fourth-grade students at Central Elementary School in Escondido, California. These students are excited about learning. And they have the test results to prove it.'

To see the full presentation, click here.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Make the most out of your incredible brain

This Google Talk presentation contains a wealth of fascinating facts about that capacity of the human brain and strategies to make the most of the brain's potential. It's 52 minutes long, but well worth the time it takes to watch (especially for New Zealand teachers who are on their summer / Christmas holidays).

However, if you find the Dr Medina's presentation style a little overpowering I have taken a summary of some key points, as given in the most useful Amazon review, of the book that he discusses in the talk. These key points can be found below.

I particularly like the information on the benefits of exercise to enhance the capacity of the human brain.

The points below were identified by Dr. James T. Brown in his Amazon review of John Medina's book.

I. Some parts of the brain are just like a baby's and can grow new connections and strengthen existing connections. We have the ability to learn new things our entire life. Medina states this was "not the prevailing notion until 5 or 6 years ago." So much for the "you can't teach and old dog new tricks excuse." The old dog line is exposed for what it really is...an excuse.

II. Humans can only pay attention for about ten minutes and then need some kind of reset.

III. The brain can only focus on one thing at a time. This is further rationale on the futility of multi-tasking.

IV. Exercise increases brain power and aerobic exercise twice a week reduces the risk of general dementia by 50% and Alzheimer's by 60%.

V. There is a biological need for an afternoon nap.

VI. The brain is very active during sleep and loss of sleep hurts cognitive and physical ability. 

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

New Zealand's Fantastic Education System

Have a read of this excellent article, published in the New Zealand Herald about the success of New Zealand's 15 year old students in maths, science and English compared with other OECD countries.

It's interesting to note that the achievement of our students is not due to National Standards, but do take note of the levels achieved by those countries that have implemented their own versions of National Standards.  It makes me wonder what on earth our Ministry is thinking and who is advising them.

This makes me proud to be a New Zealand teacher!

Warwick Elley: Our forgotten 15-year-old classroom stars

By Warwick Elley
5:30 AM Monday Dec 20, 2010

Why aren't we celebrating our international success in education, asks Warwick Elley, emeritus professor of education.

New Zealand students were ranked fourth out of 34 OECD nations in reading literacy, fourth in scientific literacy and seventh in mathematical literacy. Photo / APN

In a year when our news was dominated by reports of earthquakes and mine tragedies, collapsed companies, droughts and cricketing disgrace, it was great to learn that our 15-year-olds are still in the top echelons of the OECD in reading, science and maths.

In the latest survey, New Zealand students were ranked fourth out of 34 OECD nations in reading literacy, fourth in scientific literacy and seventh in mathematical literacy.

Why isn't it front page news?

Why don't we celebrate the achievement of our schools in producing so many bright students, with so little per capita expenditure?

At this time, when schools are completing their academic year, and plaudits are being handed out to our top sports teams, business leaders and media stars, we should be congratulating our rank and file teachers for drawing the best out of thousands of children, and showing the world that we still have a great education system.

As in all past OECD surveys, New Zealand students were shown to achieve near the top, surpassed only by countries with ethnically homogenous populations such as Finland, Korea and Japan.

A quick glance at our results in literacy shows that our mainstream Pakeha students had a mean score higher than any other country. We may value our ethnic diversity, but we should also allow for its influence on educational outcomes when evaluating the quality of our education.

This year we showered congratulations on our All Whites, for making it into the top 50 nations in the soccer world.

Our 15 year-olds were fourth in the OECD survey.

This year we celebrated when our Silver Ferns defeated Australia in netball. Our 15-year-olds beat Australia in reading, science and maths. This year we proclaimed our All Blacks as heroes for shutting out South Africa, Australia and each of the UK teams. But so did our 15-year-old students. Did anyone notice?

There is much more to learn from the comparative results of the OECD survey.

While New Zealand students maintained their position near the top, Australian authorities are deploring their "significant decline since 2000" on all the skills measured.

The Ministry of Education in England has called for wholesale reform as their own report shows that, in the survey of all 65 nations that participated in the survey, their students slipped from seventh in 2000 to 25th in reading, eighth to 28th in maths and fourth to 16th in science.

Meanwhile, another country we like to compare ourselves with, the United States, languishes well down the scale, around the average of all OECD countries. So much for former President George W. Bush's hopes for the No Child Left Behind programme.

All three of these countries spend more per capita on education than we do, yet all show lower performance levels.

Perhaps there is a lesson here for our Minister of Education.

Throughout this period, 2000 to 2009, all three of these countries have had in place a system of national (or state) standards in primary schools, with annual compulsory assessments, reports to government and league tables designed to rank their schools.

We too are introducing a system of national standards, compulsory assessments, reports to government and league tables in our primary schools.

How long before we start to drop off the top of the OECD scale? It is no wonder that teachers in all these countries are continually protesting against the obvious drawbacks in this system. It is of note that the significant decline in the Australian figures was caused largely by a drop in the proportion of high achievers.

Is that where we are heading?

It is true that the latest survey still shows a wide dispersion of scores among New Zealand students.
We have more high achievers than other countries, but still too many at the lower end of the scale. However, the proportion of Kiwi students who did not reach Level 2 - the OECD benchmark of being able "to participate effectively and productively in life" - was 14 per cent, not the much-vaunted 20 per cent claimed by the Government.

These under-achievers are readily recognised in this survey. They can be identified by gender, by decile level and by ethnic group, but repeated studies overseas show us that compulsory assessment and league tables do not change them.

The Minister of Education may welcome the positive feedback she is receiving from some parents about clearer reports of their children's achievement levels, but only 5 per cent of principals believe that they will help under-achievers.

The problems lie not so much in schools' efforts, but in such social problems as poverty, dysfunctional families, and home language traditions. In a year of frequent teacher-bashing, we should recognise that we have many dedicated, competent teachers, doing great things for our children's minds, and our future national prosperity.

Merry Christmas New Zealand teachers. Pat yourselves on the back.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Google Docs - What a great presentation tool!

I believe that applications are what you make of them, and more often than not it is simply a case of taking the time to experiment with something that we aren't fully familiar with before we can make a true assessment of how effective it can be as a learning tool.  Case in point; check out this You Tube clip on what can be done with Google Docs Presentations:

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Learning French Online

In 2011 I will be teaching Year 7 and 8 students French. Before I start this process I want to develop my own French language skills. Initially I looked at purchasing a French language kit; the sort with booklets, CDs, maybe even a DVD. The problem with this was that it was going to cost money.

Naturally I then looked to the Internet. Here I have found all that I need. I will be using the Coffee Break French series of pod casts. These are 20 minute weekly lessons in which an experienced French language teacher takes a non French speaking adult student through the process to learn the language.

Coffee Break French is a wonderful resource. Unfortunately, though, the full package requires the purchasing on PDF files of notes to support the audio pod casts. My way around this has been to open a window in Google Translate as I am listening to the podcast. This has enabled my to create my own notes as I listen to each lesson. I have found that this has led to me making significant process, even after only a few weeks.

It's fantastic to see what is available through the Internet to support learning in just about any area you can imagine. Best of all, a huge amount is free.

I will keep you updated through this blog of how my French language learning progresses.

Au revoir!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Google Chrome OS - I can't wait for my CR48 laptop!

Check out this CNET review of the Google Chrome OS. This could have a huge impact for schools, especially those, such as Lakeview School, which are looking to cloud computing as the future of ICT for students.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

It's not always as easy as it seems!

Sometimes what seems so easy to someone with a reasonable level of skill in the area of ICT may not be so easy to others.  This is something that must always be taken into account when delivering ICT professional development.  I think this point is highlighted brilliantly in the following You Tube clip.

Friday, December 3, 2010

It's Nurture, not Nature

I have long believed that we become who we are through nurture, not nature.  If it was all about nature, then we are blessed or doomed from the start.  Anecdotal observations and experiences as a teacher tell me almost overwhelmingly that our environment plays a huge part in the success, or lack of, that we may have in all areas of our lives.  My views are supported by this article from The Dominion Post today. 

Naughtiness not genetic, study shows

KIRAN CHUG - The Dominion Post

Relevant offers

Researchers have opened another chapter in the nature versus nurture debate, finding that when it comes to bad behaviour, it is no use blaming your genes. 

In a new study, researchers have looked at anti-social behaviour and depression in children, and found that genes alone can no longer be considered primarily responsible. 

Led by the head of Otago's Centre for Research on Child and Families, Gordon Harold, the team studied the behaviour of parents and children who were naturally conceived and those conceived through in-vitro fertilisation. 

Professor Harold said the idea that depression and anti-social behaviour were primarily influenced by genes passed on from parent to child had now been called into question. 

The researchers found the same links between parental and child behaviour in the naturally conceived group and the IVF group – where there was no genetic link between adults and children. 

From their research, they found it was either positive or negative parenting practices, and not just genes, which could be linked to children's mental health problems. 

The findings had significant implications for all parents and could help them understand why some children developed behavioural problems while others did not, he said. 

"Rather than blame children's behaviour solely on the genes passed on from a biological parent to a child, look at the environments that children live in." 

The not-for-profit Jigsaw agency, which is a network of organisations working with children and families for better well-being, said the study proved the importance of the environment that children grow up in. 

The network's strategic operations chief executive, Liz Kinley, said the research was sophisticated and carried out by a highly regarded team and "absolutely reflected" the work of its agencies. 

It also highlighted the importance of early prevention in abusive environments to protect children, and also help prevent them from developing the same characteristics as their parents. 

Professor Harold said the study found parents who were hostile to their children promoted increased levels of aggression in their children. 

The study involved questioning the parents of 1000 four to six-year-olds from Britain and America.
It has been published in the international journal Psychological Medicine.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Digging Deeper in Wikipedia

I love using Wikipedia. It is my first port of call as far as any type of encyclopaedia is concerned. The content is up to date and has been proven to be, almost overwhelmingly, reliable.

Wikipedia is more than an online encyclopaedia though. Just as I discovered Google is more than a search engine through my journey into Google Apps, Gmail, Voice and so much more.  I found out about Google providing a vast range of resources and tools by clicking on the 'more' link on the home page a few years ago.  Since then I haven't looked back and have become one of Google's biggest fans.

I believe that the same can be said for Wikipedia.  Scroll to the bottom of the Wikipedia home page and you will find the likes of Wikiversity, Wiktionary and Wikibooks, just to name a few.  My personal favourite is Wikiversity.  Take a few minutes to have a look.  Beware though, you may find the the few minutes you planned to spend browsing will turn into a few hours.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Google Docs on the Ipad

Last week I enjoyed working with an ICT specialist for the day. We spent some time looking at an Ipad. I was really impressed with what this device can offer as an educational learning tool.

I really like the way in which the apps are so easy to access once they have been uploaded from the Apple Itunes Apps store (In itself a very simple and easy process). You aren't reliant on the speed of your wireless Internet connection, as you are when using learning websites on a mini laptop. It's simply a case of turning on the machine and touching the app icon and you're away. How very simple for students at all levels of a primary school!

The one issue I had with the Ipad was that Google Docs could only be viewed and not edited. As we are a school that has chosen to focus on Google Docs this was a significant barrier to us choosing to go the Ipad way for our mobile technology. However, that very evening Innes (the abovementioned ICT specialist) sent me this link 'Editing your Google Docs on the go'. Google Docs can now be edited on an Ipad! (and other mobile devices).

I am now almost convinced that the Ipad is the perfect ICT learning tool for schools.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Teaching Kids Real Maths with Computers

Watch this Ted talk on how maths can become more practical and more conceptual.  Here is how Ted describes the talk:

'From rockets to stock markets, many of humanity's most thrilling creations are powered by math. So why do kids lose interest in it? Conrad Wolfram says the part of math we teach -- calculation by hand -- isn't just tedious, it's mostly irrelevant to real mathematics and the real world. He presents his radical idea: teaching kids math through computer programming.'

You might not agree with everything that Conrad Wolfram has to say (I don't!), but it's certainly worth 17 minutes of your time to have a look.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Why learn a second language?

All New Zealand Year 7 and 8 students are required to learn a second language.  The Ministry provides superb language learning kits for this purpose for Maori, French, German, Japanese and Mandarin (Chinese).  Unfortunately, though, learning languages is often the first thing to be cancelled when the timetable is too cluttered.  However, I feel becoming bi or multi lingual should be seen as a priority, particularly is these benefits, highlighted on the Vistawide World Languages and Cultures website (click the link to read the full article), can be attributed to second language learning:

To increase global understanding

To improve employment potential

To increase native language ability

To sharpen cognitive and life skills

To improve chances of entry into college or graduate school

To appreciate international literature, music, and film

To make travel more feasible and enjoyable

To expand study abroad options

To increase understanding of oneself and one's own culture

To make lifelong friends

Saturday, November 6, 2010

What can a school learn from a top gym

The Les Mills Organisation is one of the most successful fitness organisations in the world.  This can be attributed in no small part to the quality and passion of their instructors.  Reading the book Fighting Globesity I came across the Les Mills group fitness instructors creed:

We are the warriors in the battle against sedentary lifestyle.
We are the warriors in the battle against apathy to learning.

We are here for the people in our classes.

We honour or programme, our peers and our club.
We honour or programme, our peers and our school.

We keep ourselves in peak physical condition.
We keep ourselves in peak mental condition.

We love music and exercise.
We love teaching and learning.

We welcome feedback.

We create magic fitness experiences.
We create magic learning experiences.

We strive to be star performers and remain team players.

By inspiring positive changes in our classes we can change the world.

By only slightly modifying this, with a change of words here and there as I have done in some cases with italic, we could take the Les Mills creed and create one that would be perfect for a school and education system that is looking to have a positive impact on all students.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Build your website with Google Sites

I read an article today on school websites and what is involved in setting one up and maintaining it.  There are many web creation businesses that can be hired to do this, with a charge for the initial work in creating the site, as well as an ongoing hosting fee and further costs to maintain the site.  The process seems to be both time consuming and expensive.

I believe that schools, with their limited resources, should use and alternate option, this being using Google Sites.  The Lakeview School site was set up by someone with limited ICT skills and is now maintained by staff and students.  It is very simple to set up a Google Site, and even easier to maintain it.  Best of all, there is no cost whatsoever; all that is required is enthusiastic staff members and motivated students (all schools have more than enough of these!).

I cannot recommend Google Sites enough.  If your school doesn't have a website, or does have one but it is not updated on a regular basis because the process is just too difficult, get on Google Sites.  You won't be disappointed!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

RSA Animation does Sir Ken Robinson

This RSA Animate presentation starts with 'Every country on Earth at the moment is reforming public education. There are two reasons for it...'.

To find out more, watch this wonderful presentation.

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Value of Professional Development

In the book Development of  Professional Expertise a lot of  focus is on the military and how the military can get better at what it does.  Schools are obviously a lot different to military organisations, but one thing that schools can learn is highlighted in the following extract :

'An SAS (British Special Air Services) officer remarked ... on the problem that afflicts many third world armies, of concentrating on acquiring expensive technology rather than applying basic training and skills.  On his own travels abroad, he said, he found again and again that his hosts disbelieved all that he told them about the achievements of the SAS being based on intensive, ceaseless and meticulous training and preparation: they all secretly believe that there is some pill you can take if only you will tell them what it is.'

When you read the quote substitute:

  • SAS (British Special Air Services) officer for  successful school leader 
  • Third world armies for under-performing schools
  • SAS for high performing schools
'A successful school leader remarked ... on the problem that afflicts many under-performing schools, of concentrating on acquiring expensive technology rather than applying basic training and skills.  On his own travels abroad, he said, he found again and again that his hosts disbelieved all that he told them about the achievements of high performing schools being based on intensive, ceaseless and meticulous training and preparation: they all secretly believe that there is some pill you can take if only you will tell them what it is.'

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Why the Internet is Wonderful

I really like this quote from Steven Fry, taken from the awesome BBC series The Virtual Revolution.  It really highlights why the Internet really is such a wonderful thing.

'We have the knowledge of the ages gathered for us to browse in, in our pockets, and if we seriously think that's a bad thing, if we seriously think that's something we should turn our backs on or sniff at then we really deserve a slapping. This is astounding technology and we should just take a moment to celebrate the power and the reach that it gives us across time and across ideas, and across continents, both past, future and present to connect with people.'

Monday, October 18, 2010

Nicholas Carr; The Conversation: Is the Web Rotting Your Brain?

Some more food for thought on the impact that the Internet may be having on our lives.  You may not agree with Nicholas Carr, but it does make some interesting listening.

Unfortunately I couldn't paste the code into this post, so you will need to click this link to see the four minute You Tube clip.  Click here to check it out.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

More debate on how smart or dumb the Internet is making us

On the 10th of October I did a post titled 'Could Google make you dumb'.  I was interested to see this theme covered in the Sunday Star Times today with Sarah Harvey's article 'Are we smarter or stupider with the internet?  Experts can't agree.'    Click the link to check it out, or read the article, which I have pasted on this post, below.

Is the internet making us stupid? Sarah Harvey searches for the answer. 
OUR ONLINE reading habits are making us stupid and unable to read anything longer than a paragraph or two, according to research in London.

But New Zealand psychologists reject that notion, saying we are actually getting more intelligent because of the screeds of information available to us at a click of a button.

Journalist Nicholas Carr said, in an article published recently in The Atlantic and republished here in the Neurological Foundation's Headlines newsletter, that he was no longer "thinking the way I used to think".
"I can feel it most strongly when I'm reading. Immersing myself in a book or a lengthy article used to be easy. That's rarely the case any more. Now my concentration often starts to drift after two or three pages. The deep reading that used to come naturally has become a struggle.

"I think I know what's going on. For more than a decade now, I've been spending a lot of time online, searching and surfing and sometimes adding to the great databases of the internet.

"What the net seems to be doing is chipping away my capacity for concentration and contemplation."
University College London researchers agreed that our habit of skimming stories, reading what we wanted to read in short digestible pieces and not stopping for long on anything else meant that our concentration was diminishing.

They looked at research from different generations on the way young people get and process information and watched the way people from different ages used two web-based information resources.
They found lots of people indulged in a form of "skimming activity", while about 60% of e-journal users were found to view no more than three pages and a majority (up to 65%) never returned.

"It is clear that users are not reading online in the traditional sense. Indeed there are signs that new forms of `reading' are emerging as users `power browse' through titles, contents pages and abstracts going for quick wins. It almost seems that they go online to avoid reading in the traditional sense."

But Tamar Murachver, from Otago University's psychology department, said it was the same old "scaremongering" that occurred when there was any change in society or technology.

"When people started reading books, when books were first in print and were available in everyone's homes, there was scaremongering about how this was going to ruin the social fabric of society because people would sit in the corner and read instead of conversing with one another.
"People made similar kinds of arguments when we had television, and then it was computer games and now it is the internet. It's almost like if there is a change, it takes people a while to adjust to it, and initially they just see that any kind of change is bad." She said there was more evidence that over the last decade intelligence has been increasing.

"It might be that being exposed to a lot of different ideas and having to integrate them could be a good thing for thinking."

Prof Michael Corballis, of Auckland University, said one could make the argument that the internet was an alternative to our memory so maybe our memory would be affected.

"It's a revolution something like the printing revolution – a step up making everything more accessible – but I don't know that it makes us stupider. In some ways it makes us more intelligent. But I think there is a natural tendency to balance things out, and if it's all crap, people will look for more intelligent pieces of information."

Friday, October 15, 2010

A Focus on Pedogagy

There are three major parts that make up education, these being: the curriculum (what we learn); assessment (how well we do at learning); and pedagogy (what The Oxford Dictionary describes as 'The science of teaching').  It seems to me that the focus in education always seems to be on both curriculum and assessment, with pedagogy being the poor cousin.

A suitable analogy for this would be the manager of a football team focusing only on the rules of the game and the results, while paying little attention to coaching players to actually play the game.  It's time that we started to focus on the best ways in which to get our children to learn through an emphasis on improving teacher practice.

I really like Sir Ken Robinson's (yes, him again!) comment from his book The Element:

'There isn't a great school anywhere that doesn't have great teachers working in it.  But there are plenty of poor schools with shelves of curriculum standards and reams of standardised tests'.

Monday, October 11, 2010

The Mentor Teacher

I am reading Sir Ken Robinson's book The ElementAs he describes the role of a mentor I can see how the same steps used in mentoring can also be applied to teaching.  Sir Ken outlines four steps in the mentoring programme:

Identifying the skills that the student has.  Traditionally intelligence was seen as being either number or word smart.  Howard Gardener introduced the idea of multiple intelligences, in which anyone can be recognised as intelligent in a number of ways.  The role of the teacher mentor is to recognise the way in which all students are intelligent.

The student will feel that he or she can achieve something that was almost improbable to the student before coming under the guidance of the mentor teacher.   The mentor teacher will stand by the student, reminding him or her of the skills that they already have and what can be achieved through hard work.

The mentor teacher will help students by offering techniques and strategies to achieve learning goals, knowing that students will falter along the way, but will learn from mistakes that are made.

The effective mentor teacher will push students past perceived limits.  Students will not be allowed to produce less than what they are capable of doing, always striving to be the best that they can be, never settling for being 'average'. 

Thursday, October 7, 2010

How IT can benefit students in those places where few are prepared to teach

Check out this TED talk by Sugata Mitra; totally inspirational!  It goes to show that where the Internet can reach, quality education can flourish and children will learn and achieve.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The owner of the best gym in the USA gives advice

I was listening to the fitcast podcast when I was in the gym today.  This is a great source of fitness advice for anyone interested in personal health and fitness.  The podcast featured an interview with Mike Boyle, who runs what Men's Health magazine has rated the best gym in America.  I found that a lot of the common sense that Mike Boyle talked about the fitness industry could be directly related to education.  Here are four key points that really struck a chord with me:

Some of the 'new' approaches in health and fitness are simply what was being done 30 years ago.
Often when I hear about a new fad or approach to teaching an experienced teacher will tell me that the same thing was being done years ago, only then it had a different name.

Too often we are making simple things seem a lot more difficult than they actually are.
See my post from the 23rd of September in which I discuss how to get really good at something, as outlined by Professor Anders Ericsson.
Put yourself in environments that will help you to become successful.
As teachers we need to create the stimulating environment that gives our students the optimal chance of achieving success.

The more great trainers that are developed, the more people will benefit from and become healthy and fit.
The more great teachers that we have, the more successful members of society we will teach and inspire to contribute to making the world a better place.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Could Google make you dumb?

I write this post as an unabashed fan of Google and ICT in general.

At the end of the last school term I organised and ran an inter-school netball tournament.  As I was about to sit down and manually create a round robin draw, I thought 'why not do a google search?'  I typed in 'six team round robin draw' and sure enough there was the draw and my work was done.

My point is, are we becoming more reliant on the likes of Google to do the work and thinking for us?  Sure, I saved some time and I will do the same for numerous other tasks in the future.  However, it is important that we don't lose the skills and ability to do things for ourselves.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Five dangerous things we should let our kids do

Have a look at this TED talk by Gever Tully (founder of the Tinkering School, a school in which children build the things that they can think of).  This highlights the need for our students to create and take risks in practical learning sessions.

In summary, here are the five 'dangerous' things we should let kids do:
  1. Play with fire
  2. Own a pocket knife
  3. Throw a spear
  4. Deconstruct appliances
  5. Break the DMCA, and drive a car (you'll really have to watch the video to understand this one!)

Thursday, September 23, 2010

How to get really good at something

According to Professor Anders Ericsson, who has ideas highlighted in Dan Pink's book 'Drive', getting better at something isn't rocket science, but it is hard work.  Follow these steps and you will become a master at whatever pursuit you choose to follow:
  1. Remember that deliberate practice has one objective; to improve performance.  Deliberate practice is about changing your performance, setting new goals and straining to reach a little bit higher each time. 
  2. Repeat, repeat, repeat.  Top sports performers don't hit 20 tennis balls in practice, they hit 2000!
  3. Seek constant and critical feedback.  If you don't know how you're doing, you won't get better.
  4. Focus on where you need help.  Too often we focus relentlessly on what we can already do, not what we are struggling to do.
  5. Prepare for the process of getting better to be really hard work. If it was easy, we'd all be masters!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Sharing through digital technology

Digital technology is a great way to share work that is being done in class by students that parents, caregivers, other teachers and friends may otherwise not have the opportunity to see. This is demonstrated by students at Lakeview School who are learning Mandarin. Have a look at their videos in which they are sharing information about themselves.












Saturday, September 11, 2010

Pop Quiz

This week's post is a quiz.  There are five questions in the quiz, with the first four answered by clicking on the answer link that follows.  The final question is one to think about and for readers of this blog to answer.

Question 1
What is the least corrupt country in the world?


Question 2
What is the most beautiful country in the world?


Question 3
What is the safest country in the world?


Question 4
What is the most generous country in the world?


Question 5
With the natural advantages New Zealand has, along with the honesty, generosity, and self regard we have for the welfare and safety of others, what can we do to create the best education system in the world?

Sunday, September 5, 2010

The New Apple Keynote Address

Last night while my daughter was watching Nancy Drew with her friend on a sleepover I strategically removed myself from the room and went to watch the latest Apple keynote address on the new Ipod range.  This is definitely well worth a look (although you may choose not to do it on a Saturday night as I did).  The thing that really caught my interest was the new Ipod Touch.  What an incredible and easy way for children to create and share video!   Take the time to check out the keynote; I am sure that you too will be impressed.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Google Apps Beliefs Reaffirmed!

Last week I went on an ICT tour of schools in the Palmerston North region.  For some time I have been a believer in the power of Google Docs as a teaching tool in schools (an earlier post on this blog goes over my views on Google Apps).  It was reaffirming for me to see that a number of other schools have clearly seen the benefit of using Google Docs.  This was particularly evident at Ross Intermediate, where all students in the laptop programme class enthusiastically use it as their main word processing package.

Following on from this topic, I was please to see a letter I wrote to the magazine Interface ( a New Zealand magazine of the year) was used as an article in the latest issue.  I hope that our Google Apps journey will inspire others to see the benefits of this fantastic set of applications.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Key Ideas on Praising Children

I'm reading the excellent book 'Drive' by Daniel Pink.  Pink highlights key points on praising children, these being:

Praise effort and strategy, not intelligence
An earlier post on this blog outlined some research done by Carol Dweck on the negative impact of praising students for their intelligence, and the positive impact of praising children for their effort.

Make praise specific
Give students useful information about their performance.  Avoid generalities.

Praise in private
Praise is feedback, not an award ceremony.

This is one area that I don't necessarily agree with.  I believe that praising in public will encourage others to do the same thing that the praise is being given for.

Offer praise only when there's a good reason for it
Don't kid a kid; they can see through false praise in a second.  Pink says 'Be sincere, or keep quiet'

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Internet tools supporting Mandarin language programme

I have been teaching Mandarin to a group of Year 7 and 8 students since the beginning of last year.  The plan is to have two 30 minute (which are often shorter, as sessions tend to start at least five minutes late as students come from various classes to attend) classes a week for about 30 weeks of the school year.  However, many of these 60 sessions are cancelled for various reasons.

The problem with so few sessions is that our students find it difficult to retain what they have learned, especially as the sessions take place on Thursday and Friday, meaning that there can be up to six days between sessions during the school term, and even longer over the term break holidays.  There have been many occasions in which my group has performed very well with assessment tasks, but have struggled to retain knowledge over an extended period, despite regular revision sessions (although revision sessions can be quite brief because of the already limited time available to introduce new content).

To address this problem I have set up a blog to support student learning (click here to check it out).  This will enable my students in their own time to check out revision material on current and past topics.  In finding relevant content material my first port of call was You Tube.  Here I found a video on the colours in Mandarin, perfect for what I needed.  Students will be able to comment on posts, enabling me to see who has visited the site. 

My Mandarin blog will become a key part of the Mandarin language programme.  I am confident that it will both enhance learning and engagement of a group of already motivated students.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Flip Video and Imovie - Intuitive Products!

I love intuitive product that can be used at school to enhance learning and engage students.   Two such products are Imovie and Flip video cameras.  For some time now I have been planning to learn how to film and edit a movie, yet had never gotten around to it because it always seemed too difficult.  However, recently our school bought a Flip video camera.  Yesterday I took my dog for a walk and got my six year old daughter to come along and film our walk together on the Flip (it took me about 60 seconds to show her how to use it).  When we got home we uploaded the video footage and set about creating a simple movie on Imovie, which included scene changes, music and sound effects, a title, and a credit sequence at the end.

All this may seem very simple to many of you out there who happen to read this post; but to a lot of us who have limited technical knowledge, it is very exciting to see what can be achieved with some relatively inexpensive equipment.

I decided today that I would show my eight year old daughter how to create, edit and publish her own movie.  I spent about 15 minutes showing her what to do, then set her and her friend loose with the camera as we went on a walk to buy ice creams.  It's all very well saying what I managed to do in creating my movie; I'm a postgraduate qualified teacher.  What is far more impressive is what a couple of eight year olds can achieve.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Those Magnificent Polgar Girls

The story of the Polgar girls is an inspirational one for anyone who believes in nurture over nature (as I do).  Laszlo Polgar raised three daughters; Susan, Sofia and Judit, who all have gone on to achieve amazing success in the field of chess.

Before the girls were even born Laszlo wanted to set about proving that anyone could become a champion, that all have extraordinary potential given half the chance.  To demonstrate this he chose to have his children focus on chess from a very young age (Susan was four, Judit and Sofia were five).  Chess was chosen because ability can be measured objectively; your ranking and stature is based on how many games you win and lose. 

Despite being no real expert chess player himself, Laszlo created an environment for the three girls that enabled them to play a considerable amount of chess, whilst ensuring that the girls developed a love for and an enjoyment of the game.

Through hard work, a supportive environment, and belief in human potential, Laszlo Polgar has been able to prove that anyone can on to achieve extraordinary success.  There was no natural or hereditary talent that his girls were born with.  However, what they were born with was a family that believed that they could go on to become great in a field in which they applied themselves to.  

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Healthy Body, Healthy Mind

I am a huge advocate for exercise, PE, sports and fitness programmes in schools. I try to set an example in my own life through participating in a wide range of sports, competitive running, and regularly attending the gym.  I really do believe in healthy body, healthy mind.

It seems to me that PE and sports are too often placed on the 'not so important', or 'we'll do it if we have time' lists for many teachers.  The feeling being that literacy and numeracy must be fitted in first.

My feeling is that neglecting physical fitness is detrimental to the learning of students; with my belief confirmed by research highlighted in Lord Robert Winston's book 'The Human Mind'.  One example given is a case study in Japan in which two groups of students are selected at random, with one being prescribed a regular jogging programme and the other group being sedentary.  After a 12 week period the regular exercisers did 30% better than the non-exercisers in similar academic based tests.  Lord Winston states that there are several other studies that suggest regular exercise enhances memory.

Teachers, the next time you think about canceling a PE session due to lack of time or a commitment to a 'more important' learning area; stop and think about what our priorities should be in terms of providing our students with every opportunity to perform to their potential.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Hats off to Google!

Lakeview School, a U5 school in Masterton is fast becoming a Google school. Here's how:

Last year we replaced our locally hosted Microsoft Outlook email system with school gmail accounts. Since this time staff haven't had a single problem with their email accounts. Previously a lot of our ICT support time was spent addressing a wide range of issues that meant staff couldn't access their emails. Additionally, being cloud hosted, email can be accessed from anywhere that an Internet connection is available; be it school, home, or Timbuktu!

Our school website (www.lakeview.school.nz) was created on Google Sites and is also hosted in the cloud. Updating it is ridiculously easy, meaning that it is as up to date as any school site that I have seen anywhere (take the time to check it out). Our student Tech Crew has taken on responsibility for maintaining the website.

Class pages have been created on Blogger. Teachers are very good at keeping them up to date with what is going on in their classrooms. The ease of using this product is highlighted by the fact that teachers who had struggled with ICT are now doing (at least) weekly updates.

This term all of our Year 5 - 8 students will be trained in the use of Google Docs as their primary word processing tool. This has been done by creating a Google account for every student within the Lakeview School Google Apps account. Students will have access to their work anywhere that there is an Internet connection, meaning parents and caregivers will be able to check out what their children are doing at school.

Student Google accounts also give students their own email address. This provides them with another means of communicating with their peers and teachers.

Our school calendar is now a Google Apps calendar. This can be accessed by our parents and caregivers via the school website.

I stumbled across Google Apps when I clicked on the 'more' option on the Google home page. From here I, an ICT novice, have become self taught in the wide range of applications within the Google Apps product base. Staff and students are now doing a lot of what our ICT service providers had done in the past, saving us potentially thousands of dollars.

Oh yeah, Google Apps for schools education edition is free. What more can I say about a great range of products from Google. I strongly believe that cloud computing is the way of the future, a future that we are embracing at Lakeview School.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Keep your eye on the goal, but ...

I read a really interesting true and tragic story in Matthew Syed's Bounce book today.  The story goes over the events leading up to a plane crash in the early 90s, causing over 100 deaths.

The story outlines how the flight had gone without fault or problem until the pilot tried to engage the landing wheels.  As he did so he noticed that the light to signify that the wheels were in place wasn't on.  The pilot called the tower to say that there may be a problem; leading to the plane needing to circle the area as the crew attempted to rectify the problem.

The pilot, co-pilot and everyone else in the cabin then got to work.  They pulled off the light from the control panel, discussing how it could simply be that the light was faulty, that the wheels may actually be in place; the whole cabin crew was captivated with the problem.

As this was happening, the autopilot was disengaged; no one noticed because they were so engrossed with the light problem.  Time went passed by; the ground warning system started showing that the plane was rapidly losing altitude; still no one noticed as their attention was totally focused on the light issue.

It wasn't until the plane was seven seconds away from hitting the ground that the crew noticed their dire predicament and attempted to take evasive action.  Unfortunately it was too late, leading to the deaths of almost everyone on board as the plane crashed into the Florida Everglades. 

Everything that took place in the cabin was recorded.  The crew were so totally focused on the one, obviously important, thing that all other matters were left unattended.  Later, air craft crash investigators found that there actually wasn't anything wrong with the landing gear; it was simply a matter of a cheap bulb not working.

As educators we need to have targets in key areas, such as numeracy and literacy.  However, it is imperative that the the education of our students doesn't crash and burn as the arts, PE, science, social studies, ICT, and health are left unattended.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Watch what you say!

'Later doesn't always come to everybody'  These were the words that Shaquille O'Neal's mother said to him when he returned from a basketball camp feeling that he didn't quite have what it took; that he would take it easy for a while and put in the hard work later.  The words of O'Neal's mother jolted him into action to work hard to achieve to his potential.  Years later look what the guy has achieved.

A close friend of mine who had a love of art at college was told by an art teacher that art would never be any more than a hobby to her.  These words from a teacher; someone who should be inspiring and encouraging us, were enough to kill the dreams of a person who could have gone on to follow a tertiary education and a career in an area that she loved.

As teachers we need to think carefully about what we say to our students.  One careless comment could kill the dreams of a child.  Conversely; a carefully though out piece of feedback could lead a child onto the path of fulfillment as they follow their passion to achieve their dreams. 

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Providing Opportunities

I am really enjoying the book Bounce, by Matthew Syed. Syed introduces the idea of many who go on to achieve great things have been in the right place at the right time. In his own experience as the top table tennis player in Britain, he writes about four factors that gave him an advantage over other aspiring players:
  1. His parents bought a table for his family when he was a child
  2. He had a brother who also became passionate about table tennis
  3. A teacher at his school was a sports fanatic, especially in regards to table tennis, for which he was one of the nations top coaches
  4. There was a local club that his teacher ran that provided Syed almost unlimited access to the facility.
These four factors were key influences to Syed's later success.

From a teaching and learning perspective, we need to look at being factors that could have the same sort of positive influence on our children in all manner of areas: running a chess club; providing music tuition; coaching sports teams; a computer club; teachers with a passion for creative writing; teachers who have a love of numbers. There are so many ways that a school can provide opportunities for children to take initial steps towards achieving great things.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Three Factors to Motivate Others to Perform at a Higher Level

Following up on the Dan Pink presentation from my previous post, where I asked 'what are the three factors that motivate others to perform at a higher level?'. Here they are:

Autonomy: The urge to direct our own lives
Mastery: The desire to get better and better at something that matters
Purpose: The yearning to do what we do in service of something larger than ourselves.

What do you think? Do you agree?

Monday, June 21, 2010

And Make the World a Little Bit Better!

This is a superb presentation on motivation and is linked to Daniel Pink's book Drive (well worth a read, which the presentation will demonstrate).  Take 10 minutes of your time to check it out, you won't be disappointed!

As you watch, take note of the three factors that will motivate others to perform at a higher level.  One thing that doesn't make the list, in fact is detracts from performance, may surprise you.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Carol S. Dweck; A Common Thread

Two books that I have recently finished reading (The Talent Code and Nurture Shock) and one that I have just started (Bounce) have something in common; this being that all three use research from Carol Dweck.  I have found her research on motivation to be both interesting and enlightening.  All three books are worth reading for Carol Dweck's research alone.

I have added a link to Carol S. Dweck's web page under the education links on this blog.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Nine Characteristics of High Performing Schools

This is a worthwhile checklist for any school leader. Are they being implemented at your school? Certainly something worth thinking about. Click here to read about one school's journey with the process of implementing the characteristics.

The Nine Characteristics of High Performing Schools:
  1. clear and shared focus;
  2. high standards and expectations;
  3. effective school leadership;
  4. supportive learning environment;
  5. high levels of community and parent involvement;
  6. high levels of collaboration and communication;
  7. frequent monitoring of teaching and learning;
  8. curriculum, instruction and assessment aligned with standards;
  9. focused professional development. 
Clearly there is no silver bullet; but through hard work and dedication, the rewards will follow.

Friday, June 4, 2010

A Sir Ken Robinson Follow Up Presentation

The following is the promo comment for the Sir Ken Robinson's follow up talk to his 2006 TED talk (which I posted on an earlier blog entry).  Doesn't this sound very familiar?  A lot like what New Zealand schools have been aiming at for some time, although perhaps not so much any more with the introduction of National Standards.

'In this poignant, funny follow-up to his fabled 2006 talk, Sir Ken Robinson makes the case for a radical shift from standardized schools to personalized learning -- creating conditions where kids' natural talents can flourish.'

Take 15 minutes to have a look.  It's well worth it!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

A Learning Community of Educators

The deputy principals and assistant principals in my local area have formed a network group.  It's great to be around a group of professionals in the same field to share ideas, thoughts and opinions on education and learning in general.  Our meetings will be used to:
  • Share ideas on teaching and learning
  • Review books , resources and programmes
  • Use resources, such as www.ted.com to watch keynote speakers and presentations
  • Visit each others schools
  • Organise trips to schools in other areas to observe different areas of expertise.

Ideas discussed will be shared by me on this blog, therefore creating an event larger community of learners.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

My View on the Learning Styles Debate

The previous post included a You Tube video of Doctor Daniel T Willingham on the learning styles debate. A lot of what Doctor Willingham says certainly stacks up, particularly the comments on the lack of any emperical research demonstrating how learning styles improve student learning outcomes.

However, there is plenty of hard evidence on the engagement of students.  I strongly believe that a varied teaching programme, in which the teacher uses many approaches, will be more interesting and engaging to students.  My fear is that research by the likes of Doctor Willingham could lead to teachers approaching a one size fits all teaching methodology, thus taking some of the fun out of the classroom.  This could possibly lead to some students becoming less engaged and, in turn, achieving less.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

The Learning Styles Debate

This You Tube clip is really interesting and thought provoking. The basic premise is that good teaching is good teaching and you don't need to adjust your teaching style to meet the needs of students. Check it out.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Two Questions to Ponder

Two seemingly similar questions to think about:
  1. How intelligent are you?
  2. How are you intelligent are you?
 The first question is one that we are more likely to consider a narrow focus for an answer, perhaps an IQ test score would be a measure to use for defining how intelligent you might be.

The second question I believe is far more valid.  Howard Gardner developed the multiple intelligences theory.  This takes a far more broad view on intelligence, with eight intelligence areas having been identified:

  • Visual-spatial
  • Verbal-linguistic
  • Logical-mathematical
  • Bodily-kinesthetic
  • Musical-rhythmic
  • Interpersonal
  • Intrapersonal
  • Naturalistic
A student who has difficulty with mathematics (logical mathematical) may have a gift for playing the piano (musical-rhymthic).  A student who have trouble with reading (verbal-linguistic) may be a gifted dancer (body-kinesthetic).

Just because a student struggles in one area, it does mean that he/she is not intelligent.  As teacher we need to recognise the many ways in which children demonstrate intelligence, which will in turn make them more engaged students at with their learning.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

My previous post, 'Back to Basics' brought to your attention Ken Robinson's book 'The Element'. A lot of the points highlighted in 'The Element' are covered in this TED talk. It's well worth taking 20 minutes to have a look at what Ken Robinson has to say on a different perspective on education.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Back to Basics

I was recently in a discussion about the focus on basics in education, this primarily being a focus on numeracy and literacy.  To many this means a narrowing of the school curriculum to the point that the emphasis is almost entirely on these two areas.  Does this mean that students will become more successful in the acquisition of numeracy and literacy skills?  In my view it doesn't.  A narrow focus will be more likely to lead to bored and disengaged students.

In his book, 'The Element', Sir Ken Robinson highlights the need for schools to have a broad curriculum, including the teaching of performing arts, as a means of fostering student achievement and engaging students.  Sir Ken gives several examples of how students have thrived and achieved considerable success in a broad based environment.

I have only just started 'The Element'.  Judging on the first few chapters I am sure that it will proved a lot more food for thought in regards to the way we teach our children.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Making the most of a classroom release day

Yesterday I was lucky to be involved in a panel discussion on tutor teachers and support for beginning teachers.  Part of the discussion went into how to make the best use of release days as a means of becoming a better teacher and to stay on top of things.  The Teachers Council has some great information on this topic, which I believe is relevant to all teachers, not just those who are starting out in their careers.  I am sure that anyone who does the following will be delivering quality programmes to their students.

  • Observing other teachers and students in your own or another learning centre.
  • Having your supervising teacher or another colleague observe your own teaching.
  • Working with individual students or a small group.
  • Monitoring and assessing students' learning.
  • Discussions with parents, whanau, community resource people.
  • Discussions with other teachers such as guidance counsellors, senior staff, or with advisers or specialist education services.
  • Becoming familiar with the library, teaching resources and records of the learning centre.
  • Finding out about the policies and procedures in your learning centre.
  • Studying professional material, analysing your own professional needs and development, and planning for better teaching.
  • Participating in courses and meetings, which require release from your teaching duties
One point that is a stand out for me is 'Becoming familiar with the library, teaching resources and records of the learning centre'.  Schools are a wealth of resources, many of which are almost forgotten about by most of the staff.  Take the time to have a good look around in the resources room cupboards; you never know what you'll find!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Learning from the Past

This morning I attended the ANZAC Day dawn parade with staff, parents and students from Lakeview School.  It was great to see so many from our school community attending the event, especially as it meant a 5.00am start to a Sunday morning!  The Lakeview School students were primarily made up of the student leaders, who, along with the other students, were dressed in their full school uniform.

One of the reasons I feel that the ANZAC Day Dawn Parade are so important is that they give us the opportunity to both pay respect to those who served our country, and to learn from mistakes made in the past.  Our children of today are our leaders of tomorrow.  As teachers and parents we need to ensure that children are aware of how and why events such as WW1 and WW2 took place.  This awareness will contribute towards an understanding of how to avoid such world wide catastrophes occurring again. 

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Intelligence verses Effort

I read the following story in The Talent Code, by Daniel Coyle.

Which child is going to make the most progress; the child praised for his intelligence, or the child praised for her effort?  The question has been answered by Professor Carol Dweck.

In an experiment done by Dweck with 500 New York 5th graders (approx 10 years of age), two groups were formed.  Both groups then went on to do the same relatively test.  At the end of the test one group was praised for their intelligence; 'you must be very clever'; and the other was praised for their effort; 'you must have tried really hard'.

Both groups were then given two options, either a much harder test or one at the same level as the first test.  90% of the children who were praised for their effort chose to do the harder test, whereas a majority of the children praised for their intelligence chose to have the easier test.  Dweck feels that this is because those praised for their intelligence are 'playing the game' of not taking risks in their learning so as not to make mistakes; therefore maintaining the impression of being smart.

A third test, much harder test was then given to both groups.  The effort group really dug in, trying new strategies.  This group commented on how much they liked doing the test.  The intelligent group overwhelmingly disliked doing the test; they took it as proof that they weren't smart.

The experiment then went back to students doing the initial test again.  As you have probably guessed, the effort group improved their results by 30%, whereas the intelligent groups overall results declined by 20%.  Dweck then went on to repeat the experiment five times with different groups of students, and each time came up with the same result.

The message here is that a few simple words of  seemingly positive feedback can have a significant impact on future learning of students.  This demonstrates the powerful messages that we as teachers can convey to our students and the need to choose our words carefully.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

A little more on early age identification ...

A quick follow up on the previous topic; I was reading Nurture Shock by Po Bronson and the topic came up in relation to identifying students for gifted and talented programmes in the United States. Testing in pre-school is used as a means to place students in gifted and talented programmes. Bronson unveils research that clearly highlights that this is far too early, and leads to many missing out who develop a little later. It also leads to many being included who wouldn't necessarily be there based on analysis of results achieved after extended periods in gifted and talented programmes.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Early Age Group Talent Identification

A book I recently read, Outliers, by Malcolm Gladwell, highlights the need avoid labeling children as talented too early.  This was brought again to my attention in a Tony Ryan course I attended today.  Tony mentioned the fact that many sports teams around the world are dominated by people born in the first three months of the year.  This is due to the fact that with an age group cut-off on the 1st of January, a child born in January has a whole years advantage over a child born in December in terms of physical development.  The Jan 1st child will then receive the better coaching through being part of representative teams from that point on.

The policy of this early labeling means that we are potentially denying a large percentage of children the opportunity to reach their full potential, or to have the chance of competing at the highest level in sports.  Why not instead leave the talent identification for a later time when there is more equality in the level of fairness for all children, regardless of when they are born.

It was interesting to see that in a room full of education leaders, only two were aware of the advantages of being a child born early in the year (The issue was only brought to my attention because Outliers was bought for me as a gift).  Perhaps now that these leaders have now been enlightened they will use their influence to avoid this birthday discrimination occurring in their own schools for all manner of school programmes, both academic and sporting.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Some interesting thoughts on motivation

Check out this video to see a www.ted.com talk by Dan Pink on motivation. It highlights the need to develop intrinsic motivation over extrinsic motivation within our lives and the lives of our students. It's eye-opening stuff that I certainly agree with.

I would be interested in hearing any comments from readers on their own thoughts on the video and motivation in general.