I do actually like Mondays. I like the possibilities of a new week, the prospect of exciting lessons and learning opportunities ahead. I like not knowing where my students’ learning will take them this week. I like the feeling of nervous anticipation and excitement, the butterflies and jitters.
I know that by the end of Friday I’ll have had enough and need a recharge. But that doesn’t dampen my enthusiasm for Mondays!
I’ve been struggling in the last few weeks to engage with social media – whether it’s this blog, Twitter or posting on Facebook. I’ve tended to be a lurker – watching, absorbing and taking it all in, rather than contributing myself. Lately I’ve also taken the opportunity to reflect on why this has happened.
I guess that I’ve found it difficult to know what to say. I don’t want this to become a post about how I’ve got nothing to post (try following that logic!), but more of an expression of the feeling of having lost my voice. I have become increasingly reluctant to get involved, to tweet and post my thoughts and ideas. Perhaps it’s a loss of confidence in what I have to offer; especially when my PLN is filled with a number of deep thinkers, vocal advocates or those with strong opinions. I guess that I tend to retreat within my own world, in the same way that you might tend to quieten down at a dinner party full of loud and opinionated guests. After all, what else is there to say that someone else hasn’t said already? Who wants to know the relatively mundane details of my working day?
Another factor I suppose is a lack of confidence in my audience, if you could call it that. Who cares what I have to say? Who’s even listening anyway? Lately I’ve found Twitter to be like shouting in a noisy crowd, as there’s so many competing voices all speaking at once it’s hard to believe that anyone would pay attention to my little comments. So much of the time questions and comments that I’ve tweeted have disappeared without trace, it’s hard to believe anyone is actually listening.
Paradoxically, I’ve also become more worried about who IS paying attention to what I say. Since becoming employed full-time (and with more mouths to feed on my lone income), I suppose that I’ve become more conservative in what I say and how I say it, so that my meaning isn’t misconstrued. I love my job and my school, and I don’t want anything I say to jeopardise that. I realise that this may well be unfounded, but it’s hard to get away from that niggling fear all the same.
Whatever the reasons, I also feel that I want my voice back. I want to contribute and share my thoughts, lesson ideas and opinions, but I don’t really know how to get it back. I want my confidence back!
Last week, I was fortunate enough to be able to go to the Google Apps for Education (GAFE) Summit, held at MLC in Burwood. As a now-second year teacher, it was a fantastic opportunity to be able to attend an event with such a great reputation. It was so worth making the trip to Sydney to take part (in holidays no less!) and I’m really excited to share what I learned.
It was a whirlwind of new information and busy sessions, so it’s taken me a few days to process some of the things I’ve learned and I thought I’d share some of them here.
- Collaboration. Collaboration is the key theme that ties it all together. So much of the potential that I see in the Google tools that I got the chance to play with is the way that students can work together almost seamlessly.
- Google Docs and Drive. Google Docs will totally change how my students and I work in the classroom. There have been so many times in this past year when an activity has been hampered (or ruined altogether) by difficulties in getting students to easily work together. Group work in particular will be made so much easier – you know what it’s like when one student being off sick causes the whole group’s work to grind to a halt! It also avoids the nauseating back-and-forth of email attachments of 1st draft, 2nd draft etc. etc. Google Forms will also be really useful, especially for beginning of the year activities.
- Flubaroo and Doctopus. These are scripts that run inside Google Drive to help try and take the fuss out of some of those everyday but time-consuming things. Flubaroo works with Google Forms to automatically mark students’ quizzes and email them their results. But the one that I’m really interested in is Doctopus, which works with Google Docs to quickly share documents with students, help manage group work and give students feedback. The potential for this one – especially in terms of the time it can save – is fantastic.
- Google Sites. I had been investigating Moodle to help put all my content in one place, but I think that I’d be better off putting my efforts into a Google Site instead. Much more seamless integration for a start!
- Fusion tables. By far the geekiest thing that I looked into while at GAFE, this is all about new ways to visualise data using Google Maps. You can make interactive maps that incorporate whatever data you like across a map, as long as it has a geographical component. It gives the visual element and still conveys a richness about whatever data you like. In having a play around with it, I discovered a number of useful sources of data that might be useful: the UN Environmental Program, Geoscience Australia and data.gov.au.
So many things to try! We’re just starting to implement Google Apps in our school this coming year, so it’ll be an interesting learning experience to put some of these things into practice. I can’t wait!
Even though we’re winding down towards the end of the year and it often feels like the students are just biding their time, I’m still trying some new things to mix it up a bit.
My Year 7 students have been studying a unit on Planet Earth, looking at the rocks and minerals, the atmosphere, the water cycle and energy sources. So to give them something meaty to work on, I’ve been getting them to find out about different alternative energy sources like solar, hydroelectric, wind and geothermal. But instead of writing an information report or something fairly generic, I’ve tried to give them something different to do with this information and hopefully they’ll pick up some new tools.
This project combines screencasting with a Pecha Kucha. A Pecha Kucha is a type of presentation (Powerpoint or otherwise) where the presenter has to used a fixed number of slides that go for a fixed length of time, after which they automatically transition to the next slide. For example, 20 slides of 20 seconds each. This forces you to think creatively about what to say, as well as knowing your material cold so that you can present naturally.
However, rather than take up a lot of class time with actual presentations and introduce a lot of anxiety, I’m having the students create screencasts of their presentations instead. One tool I was pushing was present.me, a useful tool I discovered from Terie Engelbrecht at Crazy Teaching – Crazy Thoughts as she is seeking to flip her classroom. I gave it a try and found it to be really easy to use and integrates Powerpoint slides seamlessly with audio or video. I even created my own screencast for my students to show them a) it is easy to use and b) how to use it. Some other tools that they could use are Screencast-o-matic and Screenr, as well as plain old narration in Powerpoint.
So far they’ve really embraced the challenge. The two conditions I set for the Pecha Kucha were:
- 10 slides of 10 seconds each, and
- No words at all on the slides (not even headings) – just images
It’s been interesting to see them struggle to stick within the rules, especially the no words one, but the challenge has been good for them. I wanted to completely avoid the Wikipedia copy-paste exercise and force them to be creative about what to say, especially as they only have 10 seconds per slide. They needed to practise, edit, time themselves and say it aloud to get the timing right. It’s been really great for their presentation skills, and it will be interesting to see the results on Monday when they hand it in.
This post is a little after the fact, but it’s still something worth sharing.
On a Friday afternoon a week or two ago, I was teaching a Year 8 class in one of our after-lunch periods. As you can imagine, it’s not exactly the most productive time of the week for their learning but it’s often a nice chance to change the pace a bit.
On this particular day, however, we had their final exam coming up and so we didn’t really have the luxury to take things a bit more slowly. But one thing that did work really well was to change my approach a little – I gave them some autonomy about how the lesson went. Hardly radical, I know, but it really worked! I had a few activities for them to do but THEY got to choose the order in which they completed them. And considering it’s a very small thing and not very groundbreaking, they really enjoyed it! They relished the opportunity to make some choices about their learning and which task they wanted to tackle first. It was great!
Today is the day that our Year 12 students start their end of school exams for their Higher School Certificate (HSC). 2 years of learning, study, stressing and (hopefully) revising culminate in these exams, which are an understandable source of considerable stress for many students.
As tends to happen at this time of year every year, we as a society ask ourselves whether or not we are putting too much pressure on students in their HSC. Are we pushing them too hard and creating a perception that learning is all about passing high-stakes exams and getting into university? Or is it an appropriate amount of challenge and setting goals for future success?
Personally, I have a significant problem with our HSC system. Lately there have been stories in the local paper about cheating and students abusing ADHD medication to help them study. What kind of a messed-up system is this that students feel they have to resort to this in order to succeed? This seems to me to be a sickening symptom of a fairly rotten disease. I know that this sort of problem is far from unique, but if anything that confirms to me that things need to change.
There has been a slow but strong push towards more student-centred learning in our classrooms. To me it is jarring to go from (ideally) student-directed inquiry learning in junior science to drill-and-kill, syllabus dot point-led learning. If it’s not in the syllabus, too bad – we don’t have time and we need to prepare them for the exams/assessment task/whatever. I know we don’t actually have unlimited time to go every which way and to learn everything we might be interested in. But to have to fundamentally change our way of thinking and our approach to learning from the very end of Year 10 to the beginning of Year 11 seems like lunacy to me, never mind having to rank students as well! To quote the Bard, surely something is rotten in the state of Denmark?
Back from a refreshing (if not quite relaxing) two week holiday – or vacation for those north of the Equator. It was the first day back at school today and it feels like its showing! It’s hard to believe that two weeks off can make you feel so rusty, but it’s much more real than I would like.
We’re doing a bit of geology and environmental science with Year 7, some anatomy and astronomy with Year 8, more biology (including reproduction!) with Year 9 and some the origins of the Universe with Year 10. That and the fact that my Year 11 Chemistry students have now become Year 12′s – with a few that have dropped it along the way. It should be an interesting run down to the holidays!