Let’s Make Time for the Big Ideas!

This week, as part of the Creative Computing Online Workshop, I decided to complete some of the recommended reading.  In particular, Seymour Papert‘s 2000 paper, What’s the big idea? Toward a pedagogy of idea power, formed part of a very special week for me in discovering the “heart” of my beliefs about creativity and technology.

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I’ve started reading, Invent to Learn: Making, tinkering and engineering in the classroom by Sylvia Martinez and Gary Stager.  In chapter 1, there’s a beautiful photograph with the caption, “Seymour Papert delights in a kid’s computer programming”.  This first chapter of Invent to Learn prompted me to take a journey back to the first time I used a computer.  I decided to deviate slightly from the Creative Computing activities for the week and work on a digital storytelling project using Scratch to illustrate my first interaction with computers.  It was this experience as a teenager that would not only influence my career but my beliefs about teaching and learning.  (More about that in a future post!)

As I read Seymour Papert’s paper, I had mixed feelings.  From the enthusiasm of “light bulb moments” to the sadness of the many ways we have failed as educators.  Although this paper was published in 2000, Papert could have been writing about any number of schools today:

(We need) a new direction for innovation in education: re-empowering the disempowered ideas.

Educators faced with day-to-day operation of schools are forced by circumstances to rely on problem solving for local fixes.  They do not have time for “big ideas”.

The most neglected big idea is the very idea of bigness of ideas.

Many (students) react badly to school because its emphasis on memorising facts and acquiring skills that cannot be put to use is like a prison for a mind that wants to fly.

A kid who cares about ideas finds precious few of them in elementary school where he is expected to learn fact and skills that he experiences as excruciatingly boring.

Papert also gives a specific example showing how educators opt for the “dumbed down” version rather than offering their students the opportunity to embrace “the big ideas”.  He illustrates how the concept of probability can be taught at various year levels, using programming as the tool for teaching and learning.  This reminded me of Dan Meyer‘s well-known TED Talk, Math Needs a Makeover, where he talks about students becoming “impatient problem solvers”.  Many students are the product of their education – they have been “dumbed down”, become “impatient problem solvers” and had very little opportunity to develop the “big ideas”.

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So, why is it that many of the issues raised in Seymour Papert’s 2000 paper are, sadly, still current?  What are we doing about it?  For me, my “light bulb moment” occurred during a presentation at the Australian Computers in Education Conference in 2010.  Steve Collis, Director of Innovation, from Northern Beaches Christian School, said, “I don’t think of myself as part of a school. I’m part of a global movement.”  I framed this quote and it is now displayed in our eLearning Room.  It reminds me everyday that, whilst I am working hard to assist teachers to use technology at my school, I am part of something greater.  What I do can not only have a positive influence on those at my school but also my colleagues around the globe.  I share a common goal with educators around the world.  It’s a goal that’s worth all the ups and downs, frustrations and even disappointments.  Why?  Because when you “delight” in a student’s achievements, just like Seymour Papert did, you know it’s worth it!

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Click here for more information about Invent to Learn by Sylvia Martinez and Gary Stager.

Part of the Global Movement at ACEC 2010

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Two years ago, I was extremely fortunate to travel to Canberra for the Australian Computers in Education Conference 2008.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to attend the entire conference this year in Melbourne but, none-the-less, was excited to attended the final day of ACEC 2010.

It was like the final day was tailor made for me, with wonderful sessions to assist and inspire me.  And, after such a frantic and sometimes frustrating first term, I felt I needed some inspiring! 🙂

I had heard so much about Gary Stager and was keen to see his keynote presentation, You Say You Want a Revolution?
I know that Gary is sometimes controversial and his “straight talking” approach doesn’t appeal to everyone.  However, I was in the right frame of mind for some straight talking and “tough love”, as he put it.  Although Gary was direct in his presentation, I felt it was beautifully balanced with lots of humour.  It was a reminder that, although there are some worrying things occurring in my school and in education in general, I must not give up.  Not wanting to settle for an average 1:1 program but striving to help teachers create an excellent 1:1 program is paramount.

My next session, Virtual Worlds – their roles in learning, teaching and professional development, was with Lindy McKeown who “planted the virtual worlds seed” after her incredible keynote at the VITTA Conference in 2006.  I was truly amazed at what she showed us years ago in Second Life and I continue to be amazed today.  My school is currently in the process of setting up our private grid, Begonia Island, so seeing how Lindy conducted her session entirely from her “Terra Incognita Island” was fascinating.  Lindy was not physically present at the conference but “in-world” with Dr Bron Stuckey directing proceedings in the actual conference room.  We examined the roles of virtual worlds, their potential and explored active or passive forms of learning.  Getting the balance right when it comes to active and passive forms of learning in virtual worlds is important as we prepare to introduce our private grid to our students and staff.

In Virtual Worlds for Education – don’t just imagine the possibilities, experience them, I was excited to meet Kerry Johnson who I had previously met via Twitter.  Kerry has been a real inspiration to me as I have followed her OpenSim journey.  She is as friendly, caring and delightful in person as she is on Twitter!  Six months ago, I knew very little about OpenSim and the work of ReactionGrid, let alone how to actually setup a grid for our school.  Now I am coordinating the development of our private grid and loving the steep learning curve!  I owe a great deal of this progress to incredible educators like Kerry.  I was amazed to hear that Kerry also had very little experience when she started her work to establish the ImmersED grid and I came away with lots of tips and a greater confidence in my abilities.  Thank you Kerry!

My final session for the day was Professional Development and the Web with Steve Collis.  I have followed Steve’s work for years now and find him to be one of the most inspiring, innovative and giving educators I know.  Without fail, he will prepare wonderful resources for every presentation that he conducts, making it possible for people to participate from anywhere in the world.  Steve always speaks with such passion and I found myself with tears in my eyes as he invited Henrietta Miller to speak about how Twitter has inspired her in her role as a primary teacher.  It confirmed for me the need to continue developing my Personal Learning Network and the importance of introducing wonderful online tools such as Twitter to my colleagues.  Something that Steve said will stay with me…

I don’t think of myself as part of a school, but part of a global movement.

I need to stop thinking of myself as the Staff ICT Trainer at an Independent School.  Perhaps that is why I lose faith and feel frustrated when progress is slow or does not occur.  I am part of a global movement in education and that is a wonderful thing!

Of course, there is so much more to a conference than keynotes, presentations and workshops.  Having the opportunity to meet members of my Personal Learning Network is always exciting.  These are people who assist, encourage, share and make me laugh.  I’m not sure if they realise just how far reaching and valuable something as simple as a tweet can be, but it is something that I truly appreciate.

To the conference organisers, presenters and participants – thank you! 🙂

ELH: Life Lessons in ICT

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I was fortunate enough to attend the Exapanding Learning Horizons Conference which is held each year in Lorne.
2009 was the third ELH conference I had attended and, this year, I had the pleasure of sharing it with five of my colleagues. This definitely added to the experience! 🙂

The highlights for me were many and varied.  During a number of sessions throughout the conference, you could have been forgiven for thinking that we were attending a personal development conference and not an ICT one.  For me, this was why this year’s ELH conference made an even bigger impact on me than previous years.  I really felt that things were “coming together”, so to speak.  Valuable lessons in life were merging with ICT and educational issues – I loved it!

It was during two of the Critical Conversations sessions that I felt real connections were made between life and ICT in education.  The discussions during both of these sessions headed down the ICT Professional Development path.  In one session, I heard Margaret Meijers talk about the importance of the right attitude and, in another, I met Roy Williams, who told me of his great passion for Physics.  The idea of the importance of picking up on people’s passion and linking this with ICT was then raised during the Critical Conversation by Peter Steer.
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I was first introduced to the idea of Attitude determines Altitude by Roger Barrow, whilst he studied for his Private Pilot’s Licence.  Although the “attitude” it refers to is the attitude of an aircraft, of course it also suggests that with the right mental attitude and self-belief, we can achieve great things!

Teachers with the right attitude, even those who lack ICT skills, means that we are half-way there.
Teachers who do not have the right attitude towards the use of ICT in education means that we have an even greater challenge on our hands!
I would rather train a room full of “believers” who lack the skills than try to convince the “non-believers”!

Keynote speakers Andrew Douch and Travis Smith were both inspiring. Andrew showed us how ICT is “Redefining the Classroom” and how his use of Web 2.0 tools has improved the academic results of his students.  However, it is not just his use of Web 2.0 tools – it is also his passion for learning.  His students love Biology!  Travis’ enthusiasm and sense of humor was also a highlight for me.  His keynote presentation about “Scaling Innovation in Teacher Practice” touched on a number of important issues that generated valuable discussions with my colleagues.  He also included just the right amount of free software to keep us “Web 2.0-holics” happy! 🙂

I was fortunate to spend an entire afternoon with Steve Collis as he outlined his school’s “Real Audience Project“.  He illustrated the many innovative ways his school uses ICT to publish a variety of student work from traditional printed books via lulu.com to podcasts aired via their own school internet radio station using SHOUTcast.

Steve’s colleague, Mark Liddell, gave an incredible presentation titled, “Technology Ideas for Mathematics“.  Maths is definitely not my strength so I was intrigued to see how Mark approached his use of ICT with his students.  Again, it was this presenter’s passion that shone through.  If only I had a Maths teacher like Mark when I was at school!

Learn how to learn with passion and curiosity

Learn how to learn with passion and curiosity

There were many other highlights throughout the conference and I would need to several blog posts to do this conference justice.  However, for me, all of the highlights involved people who have an enormous amount of passion for what they do.  At the 2008 ICTEV Conference, I heard Margaret Meijers say, “Learn how to learn with passion and curiosity”.  At the moment, I am reading Sir Ken Robinson’s book, The Element, in which he speaks about “how finding your passion changes everything”. It was clear to me from the keynote speakers, presenters and the many people I met and spoke to at ELH that they had all found their passion. 🙂

Our Virtual Worlds Project

At the end of 2008, we embarked on our virtual worlds journey with the introduction of Quest Atlantis in our Year 6 English program.  You can find more detailed information about this project on our My Quest Atlantis Blog.

As Quest Atlantis is designed especially for middle school students, we started to explore ways in which we could extend this type of virtual world experience for our students.

After exploring options such as OpenSimActive Worlds and a closed estate in Teen Second Life, I was amazed and excited at the possibilities.

I was aware of the wonderful work being done at Suffern Middle School in New York by Peggy Sheehy and, a little closer to home, at Northern Beaches Christian School by Steve Collis.  I think the real “light bulb moment” came to me when I read Steve’s blog post, Practical Examples of 3D Virtual Environments for Learning in High School.  As I watched the accompanying movie I was, to say the least, completely blown away!  You may wish to read more about Booralie and Ramapo Islands on their blogs.

I have been very impressed with the possibilities available to students and educators using a virtual world such as Second Life.  In particular, the opportunities for students to develop 3D design or “building” skills are enormous.  Their completed objects and buildings have a real purpose as they can then be featured in the virtual world and used by teachers and students as part of the curriculum.  I have loved “playing” in jokaydia’s building sandbox so I can only imagine how much the students would enjoy this type of activity!

At this stage, I have explored a number of different educational areas in Second Life’s main grid.  I am particularly grateful to Dean Groom for suggesting that I explore the islands of jokaydia.  It was the perfect place to start for a Second Life newbie like me!

We are now at the stage where we will soon be putting together a project proposal and I have been in discussions with different staff members to gauge the interest in this type of curriculum development.  Their reactions have been extremely positive and part of the purpose of this post is to provide a little more background information to interested staff.

For those who have never experienced a virtual world, it can be difficult to visualise based on the blurry descriptions of an over-excited ICT Trainer! 😉  I hope the links in this post and the slideshow below will give staff a little more insight into the exciting possibilities of this type of project.  If you are unable to view the slideshow below, you may wish to go directly to flickr and view the full set of images.