Learning opportunities are everywhere!

An important component of learning is interrogating information: asking questions, researching, critical thought and possibly asking more questions. In today’s modern World this is an important set of skills for all members of society to posses. As a society we are faced with complex issues that require nuanced solutions. To make informed decisions we need to determine the validity of the presented information and sometimes find independent sources of information. At our school we need to provide our students with opportunities to learn, develop and practice these skills. There are many learning opportunities, we can draw from in our everyday lives.

I live and work in Woodenbong. The village of Woodenbong is located on the NSW side of the NSW-Queensland border (Australia).

 At the beginning of October I was told that Woodenbong would have 300mm of rain from October to the end of December. My first reaction was that is a lot of rain. On reflection I asked is it a lot of rain at that time of the year and how would I find out? Fortunately there are rainfall records for Woodenbong since November 1933. I asked how many times since 1934 has Woodenbong had exactly 300mm of rain: Answer not once. My next question was: on how many occasion has Woodenbong had more than 300mm of rain from the beginning of October to the end of December? Answer 28. That is, based on the historical data there is a 36% chance that Woodenbong will have more than 300mm of rain over October to December. The records also indicate that over that interval the maximum rainfall is 687.7mm (in 1959); the minimum rainfall is 105.6mm (1957); the average rainfall is 284.7mm and the median rainfall is 259.5mm.

So, is 300mm of rain a lot for Woodenbong in the October to December period?


Why are we so slow to adopt new technologies in education?

 In a recent blog Doug Johnson agrues that value of creating “tech savy” educational administrators yourself and not wait for formal training. This leads to a bigger questions: Why in education are we so slow to adopt new and emerging technologies (both hardware and software)?

In educational jurisdictions across the world new technologies are banned, filtered or have restrictions placed upon their use. For example there is considerable debate on whether to ban or allow mobile technologies within schools. Web tools such as YouTube, EDMODO and social media are unavailable to teachers and students or they are only available to teachers or the are available to teachers and some students. 

It can take time for technology to be incorporated into educational practice. Email has become a tool used by teachers. However, often email is used as an administrative rather than an educational tool. Some may argue that the rise of email in education, especially from centre, is a cost cutting measure: reducing paper cost, mail cost and the cost of faxes. In some jurisdictions students (K-12) have recently  been provided provided with systemic educational email accounts. Given that email is about 40 year old technology, it has taken decades for it to be used in most schools. (By the way, the fax is over 150 years old).

Why does it take so long to adopt new technologies in education? Is there a reluctance to change practice, fear of making a mistake, a natural tendency to risk aversion or is it hard for big bureaucracies to be nimble and able to readily change?

Whatever the reason our students and their learning that is missing out.

Sir Ken Robinson has discussed the need to change educational paradigms.  Mark Treadwell states: without a paridigm shift schools cannot improve and that there is a need to move to a new concept curriculum . “One size does not fit all” and there is also a need to personalise learning. Technologies along with emerging technologies can assist with both the shift to and the delivery of the new curricula. 

Technology should not be used in an educational setting just because it is technology or because it is new. It should only be used because it supports the purpose of education in the 21st Century. It enables students to learning to be creative and innovative; to become effective communicators and to connect (learn) with others.

 Can education wait another 30 years before mobile technology and social media are embedded within educational practices? We need to identify and address issues that are prevention the adoption of technologies in classrooms. It would be better teacher students to become responsible digital citizens than to filter or ban Internet access.

Why are we slow to adopt new technologies in education? What are the issues? How do you address them?

Wordle: technology


How do we measure student engagment?

Wordle: Student engagement What does student engagement in a classroom look like? How do you know that a student is engaged in learning?

We often hear that students or engaged in learning, classes are engaged in learning, that a particular task is engaging or that particular strategies such as games based learning or project based learning are engaging but how do you know they are engage students in learning?

 Some have argued that engagment is one of the most misused term in education. There is a difference between a student being on task and in task. A student who is on task may not be engaged they are “doing” the task but they may be cognitively disconnected from the task and not emotional commected to the task.

To be explicit I will follow the definition used in the Fair Go project   that suggests student engagement operates at three levels:

  • cognititive – thinking (head)
  • affective – feeling (heat)
  • operative – doing (hands)

So how do you know if a student is engaged (in task) that is they have their engaged their head, heart and hands in the task? Is engagement too difficult to measure within a classroom?

Do measures of enagement include:

  • the number of questions a students asks? Especially those the teacher does not know the answer?
  • the time the student spends on the task outside normal classroom times?
  • the discussions on the topic?

What are your measures of student engagement in the classroom?

How do we fit it all in?

The purpose of education in the 21st century identified important skills for students. It might be time to reframe and view what we are doing through the lens of this purpose to avoid an overly crowded curriculum .

That is we can view whatever we are teaching (the content) as opportunities for at least one of these skills: critical thinking, problem solving, developing information …..

For example the purpose of a Year 4 lesson on longitude and latitude is not just about longitude and latitude: its purpose is also the development of information skills. The content provides an opportunity to develop skills in finding information. Students learn how use a search engine, in particular how and what questions to ask the search engine.

When reframing the purpose of a lesson to include the skills of the 21st C there can be changes not just in how we teach, what we teach but how we assess. For example in the Year 4 lesson on longintude and latitude should the teacher assessment be based on the questions the students asked, the information found or a combination?

Wordle: porpose of education in 21st C

What is the purpose of Education in the 21st Century?

With the development of a National Curriculum in Australia it is timely to ask the question “What is the purpose of Education in the 21st Century?”.

Systemically the purpose of education in Australia is outlined in the Melbourne Declaration on Education Goals for Young Australians that outlines two goals:

  1. Australian schooling promotes equity and excellence; and
  2. All Australian students become successful learners; confident and creative individuals; and active and informed citizens   

Some may argue that the purpose of education has changed little from the time of Plato who believedthat the purpose of education was to teach “good character, citizenship and leadership”. A common theme throughout the history of public education in the United States, the UK  and Australiais the the need of public education to be free, compulsory and secular. Also, education should produce informed, useful and active citizens. What has changed is what it means to be an active, useful and informed citizens.

Educator responses to a question in YAMMER “What is the purpose of education in the 21st Century?” indicated that there still is a strong belief that a purpose of education is still to develop citizens. Whether that be sustaining community, inter-cultural understanding, socialisation, preparing students for the society in which they will live, transmission of culture in society, develop the skills that will help them with their future lives, good people or to develop respectable, thoughtful and creative citizens who participate in the wider society.

Further it was suggested that there are skill that students will require include: 

  • Critical thinking
  • Problem Solving
  • Creative expression
  • Communication skills
  • Access, interrogate and manipualte  information. Create content
  • Understand yourself. How you learn. Your perceptual and cognitive biases.
  • Collaborate
  • Peaceably resolve conflict
  • Knowledge of a discipline
  • Interdisciplinary knowledge

Some may see these as the skill necessary for students to become active and informed citizens in the 21st Century.

How we do and how we put it into a framework are questions for another time. But however we do this we must ensure that the love of learning is kept alive. “Education is about lighting that inner fire – not filling a bottle”

What do you see as the purpose of education in the 21st Century?