Saturday, October 31, 2009

Swine Flu - this cloud may have a silver lining

The whole swine flu epidemic came and went in the New Zealand Winter without creating much impact in my corner of the world. Sure a school down the road closed for a couple of days and a few adult friends were quarantined because of it, but it really didn't seem to have much more impact than a lot of the Winter health issues we have faced in schools over the years. Perhaps that meant the excessive hand washing and sterilising- the extra focus on hygiene- was effective? It certainly made an impact on the school administrators with the endless pandemic paperwork, planning and policies required to prepare for an outbreak. Our country has seen 14 deaths in total as a result and the weekend papers tell us that it is over and the tourists are returning because of it.

So when we arrived in Bahrain we were surprised to see what high profile H1N1 had, both in that country and amongst all the schools from the Northern Hemishere countries. In Bahrain we heard that the students were only just returning from the long Summer holiday mid October, having been told to take extra weeks off to prevent an outbreak of H1N1. This had impacted schools significantly and we spoke with teachers concerned with how they were going to prepare students for high stakes testing with the school year shortened.

However, we were very interested to hear from 3 educators from 3 different continents similar stories of how the swine flu had created an interesting positive (from their point of view) outcome in their schools. In preparing for a swine flu outbreak their schools were requiring their teachers to prepare effective virtual schooling experiences to enable their students to continue their learning from home if their schools were closed.

One teacher said they had all been asked to have 4 weeks of course content available on Moodle for the students; another said all their teachers had been required to explore synchronous and asynchronous options and submit a plan to interact with the students (eg Skype, Elluminate, blogs, wikis etc). The third educator said their institution was planning to use iTunes U to teach their students. In all of these cases, the thing that delighted them was that finally ALL teachers were being required to come on board with 21st Century learning. With the urgency of an in-your-face need, there was nowhere for the reluctant, late-adopters to hide. And they all spoke of being run off their feet providing professional support for the teachers who had either avoided professional development opportunities or simply not implemented them in the past.

I wonder how many eLearning facilitators and lead teachers have doubted if the time will ever arrive when being digitally literate will be a non-negotiable requirement for all 21st century teachers? It didn't happen in the first decade, so maybe the second decade will see it happen?

Unlike the Nothern Hemishpere, we didn't perceive the swine flu as threatening enough to take serious measures to prepare to teach large numbers of students virtually. But for anyone who was listening to Minister of Education, Anne Tolley, addressing the ULearn09 conference, we did hear her deliver a 'hard line' message to the 25% of schools (or was it teachers?) who have not yet implemented 21st Century technologies in their curriculum delivery. The interesting question is how she will insist that this happens?

TEP Conference Media

This movie was produced by the media crew at The Education Project Bahrain and shown to us at the closing ceremony. It is available at this link....

As I sat and waited for proceedings to begin, I whipped out the Flip Video to capture my own footage of the media doing their thing below....

I have also noticed that official video of the sessions is now being posted online:
Day One links (October 16th)
Day Two links (October 17th)

Thursday, October 22, 2009

State of Affairs of Educational Outcomes - TEP09

The Education Project conference got underway with a 'debate' style of 5 minute addresses on the subject of "State of Affairs of Educational Outcomes".
The starter questions given were:
  • Why donʼt outcomes measurements tell the full story?
  • Why are educational levels below what we expect?
  • Why have so many reform programmes that promised results not had the desired effect?
Following are couple of points from each speaker that grabbed my attention...

Tony Wagner - speaking about 21st century learners
  • All students need new skills, skills we do not know how to teach or test.
  • "Reinventing education for the 21st Century is the conversation I hope we will be having over these next two days".
Bahram Bekhradnia - speaking about Universities.
  • Governments need high class universities to achieve modern knowledge societies.
  • Universities need to be free and have good governance. Autonomous universities are the best !
  • Need quality and relevance. Some of the best graduates are qualified in subjects such as drama.
  • Universities are not there to produce oven-ready graduates for the work force!
Dr Mona Mourshed - speaking from a research perspective
  • 3 Trillion dollars is going into education across the OECD yet when you look at student outcomes over the last decade they have hardly moved! How can this be?
  • Classroom size doesn't work and research shows it is not important! Reducing class size is the most expensive reform. It has devalued teaching by making more teachers. It has created worse pre-service training by spreading the budget out further.
  • Students spend 60% of their time out of school. Technology has the power to unleash the potential of the student because they have access to learning during the 60% time.
Alan Blankstein
  • If assessment is to be precise it will be narrow. There needs to be a trade off.
  • The system delivers what it is designed to. If we want to alter the system and the outcomes of the sytem, we need to start with the readiness of the child - which may even be whether or not they have eaten. Change is technically simple but socially complex (quoting Michael Fullen).
  • School leaders need to emphasise positive deviance. Identify excellence and help to spread it. Positive deviance should become the norm.
Dr Frank J. Macchiarola
  • In education there is a difference between perception and reality. People inside education see it one way. People outside education see it differently.
  • We need to look at education as if the children in the school are our own.
  • We all have to invest in education. The school can't do it all.
  • We need schools in partnership with society. Our children need faith, belief, high expectations and love.
Andreas Schleicher - speaking via video
  • Tests are no longer sufficient to tell whether children are successful. Application of knowledge is far more important. Kids need to be able to diagnose, create, and communicate.
  • Strong foundation in base subjects is still very important. But after that comes what you can do with it.
  • We can't always break things down into bits to solve problems. We must be able to analyse, synthesise etc.
  • We need to focus on key competencies, not just build a knowledge base.
Following these presentation statements, the debate revolved mainly around class size issues, pre-service training and work conditions. One point raised strongly from the floor was, "What style of teaching was taking place when researchers concluded class size doesn't matter?" Was it a very knowledge, content, didactic approach? Or was it Inquiry driven classrooms?

Conclusion: While Dr Mourshed may have raised the most controversy with her comments over class size, it was her statements about the 60% of student life occuring outside the classroom that were constantly picked up on over the rest of the conference. Whether it was people talking about community based programmes or the eLearning crowd talking about technology making learning accessible 24/7, many of the speakers reinforced
"the solution to the questions posed at the beginning lies in being far more productive with the 60% time".

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Education Project - Bahrain 2009

"The Education Project is an opportunity to showcase innovations that have succeeded in one area – and, we hope, can successfully be adapted for another."
His Royal Highness Shaikh Salman Bin Hamad Bin Isa Al‐Khalifa Crown Prince, Kingdom of Bahrain
The Education Project has been and gone, and for many of you who have been wondering what it was all about, I am colating some of the thoughts and ideas I gathered. This post contains an excerpt from the opening Keynote from HRH. The entire speech is ten minutes long and can be downloaded as a pdf from here or watched on YouTube here (NEW!). The excerpt I have included in the video below will hopefully give you the gist of what the conference goals were. If you are anything like me, and relatively ignorant about the state of education in the Middle East, then take the 3 minutes to watch it.

The preconference blurb informed that "The Project will showcase seedling models of innovation and success in education, and encourage commitments from the private and public sector to adapt these models for wider roll-out." The conference was attended by about 300 people from 65 countries. The format of the conference encouraged maximum exposure for the greatest number of people/projects with most speakers being limited to a 10 minute presentation - quite TED Talk style. There were seven Plenary sessions, each with several speakers and 10 breakout topic streams - again with a number of presentations. With input of this intensity, there was an overwhelm of great ideas, but many of the most valuable connections came in the breaks, the shuttle vans and back at the hotel.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Peruvian Mihi

One of the fun aspects of arriving at The Education Project Bahrain is meeting up with Gabriela Ojeda from Peru, who we have got to know through the Rock Our World projects. We have talked from time to time via video conference, and it is quite something to meet up in the Middle East at this conference. One of the things we appreciated about Gaby from collaborating online was how her students responded to our Pt England kids' mihimihi on Flickr. They left a lot of thoughtful comments for the students.
Her students in Peru (which she says is pronounced correctly with a Maori accent, NOT a kiwi one!) are creating Mihi, modelling on the ones published by the PES students. Like so many of the people we are meeting at this conference, they are multi-lingual, so will create their mihi in two or more languages. Looking forward to seeing these!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

What motivates kids to write?

The latest brain based teaching techniques? Cleverly designed Inquiry units? Interactive white boards? Inspirational teachers? Fabulous black-line master lessons? Accessing wonderful digital learning objects? Mood music?

I have been spending a bit of the holidays reflecting on this since attending the ILT (Inspiring Local Thinkers) Conference in Invercargill. This conference lives up to its name with every detail well thought out and anyone who gets a chance to attend should grab it. Set aside some time in the holidays in 2011 (the date of the next one) and go and enjoy some truly Southern hospitality. Speakers such as Marcia Tate, Eric Jensen, Rich Allan and Karyn Boyes challenged the attendees to think about how young people learn best and Christine Rankin closed the conference challenging us to stand up for what we believe is right. In between times the 'locals' presented a wide range of workshops. It was refreshing being at a conference where the solutions being offered were mostly outside the realm of eLearning that I inhabit most frequently. And it got me thinking, even where I was not convinced! With all the options being offered to motivate students to learn rattling round in my brain I arrived home and opened my RSS reader. What caught my attention was a flood of posts coming from blogs in our Manaiakalani cluster of schools. OK, some of these were coming from clever teachers who had scheduled posts of student content created at the end of the term to upload automatically over the break. This is a great idea because it not only keeps the blog fresh but also provides a reason to keep checking out their class blog over the holidays. And of course they are reading in the process. But what really caught my eye was the number of students who were posting. These are students CHOOSING to write during their holidays. How do I know that these were not cleverly scheduled posts? Because the content is topical. Leoden reporting on the Eels game and the Storm's win; Toreka with her recount of holiday camp and THE Fight, Destiney reporting about Totara Springs, Tanielu with his "Mountain Warrior TUAnated" etc.

What we are seeing is a bunch of kids writing without needing any of the raft of motivational teachniques and tools I started out with. So what is that all about? Maybe it is enough to teach kids HOW to write at school and if we give them the right environment to write in they will supply their own motivation. Or maybe it is that sense of audience....