From “Push” to “Pull” – a talk on pull systems in third world countries

(*Start watching at the 2 minute mark, the stuff before is related to someone who talked earlier who we don’t hear or see.)

Charles Leadbeater went around the world looking at various educational systems around the world.  He searched primarily in third world countries to see if he could find radical new forms of education and learning.  This video presents some of what he found when exploring these communities in Asia, South America and Africa.

The video is somewhat lengthy, but it presents some very good points.  

Here is what stuck out for me:

  • One of the most important points he makes is that our current educational systems are largely based on “push”.  We push all kinds of things from exams to curriculum to assignments.  What we need to do is switch things up so that we create a system of “pul”.  What does this mean?
  •  Leadbeater explains that a system of “pull” involves creating a system in which students are motivated by or attracted to learning.  There must be extrinsic and intrinsic motivation involved in order to bring people towards learning rather than forcing them to learn things that do the very opposite of motivate or engage.
  •  Learning should start with a question or game rather than content, knowledge or abilities that “must be learned” or mastered.  Students must be engaged before learning can begin.  Educators must focus on engaging questions and inquiry.
  •  Learning should be productive: it should create something that is useful and meaningful, a final product that has value.  In the places where Leadbeater studied, he found that the best and most motivational education was created when students could use their learning directly to earn a living.  There is nothing more motivating than a monetary pay off that allows a person to live (extrinsic and intrinsic motivation).
  •  Technology plays a large role in creating useful products in today’s society.  Therefore, technology is a key in creating authentic, meaningful, motivating and attractive learning.

 In talking about educational reform, how do you think Canada could apply these parts of Leadbeater’s research?  

How could we change things to create a “pull” system where we attract students to learning?

How could education in Canada focus more on skills, abilities and products that would aid in gaining and maintaining employment?

These are only a few among many questions that ran through my mind while I watched this.  Does anyone else have thoughts to contribute?

 

 

Twitterize my PD, Please – What I like about Twitter and how I’d like to see it happen in In-School PD

Through my increased involvement in online and collaborative learning (including ECMP 355), I have really begun to take a closer look at two things:

-professional development, or as I prefer to call it, “professional learning” (here’s why I like this term better); and

-in-school professional development and how I’d like to see it change to reflect more of what I’ve lived on Twitter.

For starters, I have become increasingly excited about my own professional learning.  Twitter is one of many places offering tremendous amounts of professional learning opportunities for teachers.  (This article states its greatness in the area of PD.)

But to be more specific, what do I like about it?  Here is a list:
-It is a quick and simple way to start and keep learning about the things that interest me professionally
-It is a fast way to connect with people in the education field in order to discuss, analyze and critique a plethora of interesting and important topics.
-It provides a sharing space that is second to none. 
-Everything is collaborative: everything is a discussion, there is no one answer, nor one sole expert. 
-Everyone is equal andhas expertise/experience to share.
-It is practical in that I can share and receive ideas in a timely fashion: they are explained succinctly and could be easily applied, even as soon as the next day.

(If you’re looking for some cool apps for professional learning, check out this site for some ideas.)

What I find difficult is when I think about the type of PD we get in school.  When I take the benefits I get from Twitter and other professional learning I do outside of school and compare it to what I get at my in-school PD, I am somewhat disappointed.  I in no way intend to discredit the time and effort put into planning our PD events, but I am usually discouraged by the topics and methods of presentation chosen.  Here are my issues with PD sessions:

1) People who lead PD sessions are always experts who provide mounds of information, particularly data. 

2) Presentations are usually not engaging and do not provide time for discussion or collaboration with other teachers.

3) Sessions are usually based heavily upon theory, leaving little to no time for practical application (strategies, practices, activities, examples of these, etc.)

4) Sessions often point out professional weakness without providing “doable” solutions for said weakness.

5) Sessions often do not pertain to current issues or challenges that teachers are facing: topics are chosen by division administration based on what they feel we should know and be able to do (better). 

Again, let me specify that I am not trying to be disrespectful, but I do intend to be constructively critical because I feel that professional learning is extremely important. 

First off, based on my experience in online professional learning communities (PLCs), I think that it is essential to get away from one sole presenter in order to move towards group work.  While there is an obvious need for a facilitator/organizer, I think that more meaningful learning happens when discussion and sharing are the main focal points of PD days. 

Secondly, in my in-school experience, a presenter will often stand up and lecture for large amounts of time.  Since we are trying to somewhat discourage this as a teaching method (based on research stating that lecture often does not create valuable or meaningful learning), I question why we are doing this during professional learning time. Wouldn’t the same research apply to professional learners as it does to student learners?  And shouldn’t good teaching practice be modeled within our professional development time?

Thirdly, teachers are looking for practical application of what they learn during PD: it is the practical aspect that often makes professional learning meaningful to them.  Sessions need to shift more weight from theoretical to practical if we want to see real results.  It is in the “practical” that teachers will find PD meaningful.  “Practical” helps them to feel more equipped and better able to tackle weaknesses that are identified in PD sessions.  I often find myself leaving sessions saying: “This is great.  GIVE ME WAYS TO DO THIS.”  If we can answer practical questions in professional learning sessions, then we are providing authentic learning situations.

Finally, AND MOST IMPORTANTLY, I feel that (at least) a certain amount of PD time offered should be teacher planned/directed.  While I will certainly give credit to school divisions for knowing what is important in education, and while I understand they must respond to all that is required from the provincial government, teachers will experience the most meaningful professional learning by being able to collaborate and learn based on their own interests.  Teachers are constantly identifying and addressing their challenges and questions and would appreciate time to inquire about them in a collaborative environment.  They want time to pursue their professional interests.  If board-mandated PD is all that is received, then teacher inquiry and creativity are eliminated.  Teacher planned PD will, in my mind, provide some of the most valuable, motivating and creative professional learning that could ever exist (just as my Twitter experience has confirmed for me).   

I know I’m not alone in these thoughts.  Here’s another individual who has suggestions for how she’d like PD to be.  

This is just my take.  What is it you want from your in-school PD?

 

 

Mobile Methods – “Mobilifying” My Classroom (Tech task 7)

It was super cool to talk with Liz Kolb in our ECMP 355 live session this week.  I love that she was the first in the field to take a serious look at how we can make cell phones our friend rather than our constant foe in the classroom.  I have often asked the question: “Why are we fighting something that can be SO useful?”  However, what had stumped me for so long was exactly how to use cell phones and what programs/apps were best for mobile learning.

I could discuss my happiness with many of the resources Liz discussed, but would like to focus on two that I think will be particularly useful for me: Remind101 and Polltogo.

Let it be known that I tried Celly at first based on the suggestion from our presentatation.  It seemed like a very useful tool that would provide some of what I liked from Remind101 with maybe a few more added features.  I got an account and then, when it came time to connect my phone, I discovered that it only accepts USA phone numbers.  BOO!  I was quite disappointed, but have decided to persevere with the help of Remind101.  

I already have an account on Remind101 since our professor uses it as part of our ECMP 355 communication.  I set up 2 of my classes plus my homeroom class (homeroom = 3 classes with the same group), all of which I will be teaching next semester (Fall 2013). 

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I will be asking my students to sign up as part of the typical introductory tasks on the first day of school next year.  My intensions are to maintain contact with my students a few times/week as necessary, providing reminders of things they might need to bring, school events, homework (on the rare occasion that I give any), etc.  I will also be sending a letter home to parents offering them the option to add themselves to the Remind101 class of their child in hopes of gaining further support and help on the home front.  I feel this will increase parental involvement and student accountability.

Polltogo is another tool that I really enjoy and am thrilled to have learned about.  I got myself an account and already tested out a few polls of my own.  I found that the site works perfectly for both French and English poll questions, so there is no issue there.  I like that it is immediate, with the feature I enjoy most being that students taking a poll are able to see the results as they flood in.  The real-time factor is very cool and will probably interest students: they are always excited to discover their peers’ thoughts, opinions and responses.  Another benefit is that Polltogo provides a sense of privacy for answering questions.  There can be no embarrassment for “wrong” answers or fear of difference of opinion since results are posted anonymously: there is no way to connect your name to your vote.  I’m hoping that this will give more agency and confidence to students who are introverted or shy.

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I think I will use Polltogo primarily for pre and post lesson activities, as well as for comprehension check points.  For example, I could poll kids prior to a lesson to gauge and activate prior knowledge.  During the lesson, Polltogo could be used to provide check points for comprehension, ensuring students are understanding the necessary information as we go.  At the end of a class, the tool provides a useful method to distribute and retrieve a sort of exit card where the teacher can gauge understanding or assess students’ meeting of an outcome. 

I’m sure with time I will explore the many other resources we discussed in our session.  For next semester, my goal is to successfully apply Remind101 and Polltogo in my 5 classes.  I look forward to positive results!

Get Me to the “Finnish” Line – What We Can Learn from Ed in Finland

Education

Many people in ECMP 355 have posted about the education system in Finland after Dean Shareski highlighted some cool articles about the subject.  I am somewhat of a slow thinker, so it has taken me awhile to fully gather my thoughts.  I also did some research on the matter in order to solidify my thinking and decide what I truly feel about it all.

I have posed and reposed the same three questions to myself:
1) Why is the Finnish education system working so well?
2) How could similar ideas work for us in Canada and, particularly, in Saskatchewan?  and
3) What is so different between us and them?

Based on my findings, I would like to comment as simply as possible on these questions.

1 – Why it Works for Them

a)      The first thing that seems blatantly obvious to me is that teachers feel valued in Finland.  Spokespersons and educators from the country tell of their sentiments in most articles I read.  They are well-educated, highly regarded professionals, held in similar tenure as doctors and lawyers, even though their pay grades are not comparable, significantly less.  I find this both shocking and fascinating.  Many studies on work environments consistently prove that workers will perform better and will experience higher motivation when they feel appreciated and respected as professionals; monetary gain is not the primary motivating factor in job performance.  This is clearly the case for Finland.

b)      Staying on the topic of teachers, the next thing I’ve noticed is that they are not only highly regarded, but they are trusted as knowledgeable professionals.  Because of this, they are given free agency to work with flexible curricula.  Teachers possess full creative control in their classrooms to do with their students what they feel is best.  Not only are they adapting curricula to fit the needs and interests of students, they are adapting it to fit their own personal strengths, areas of expertise and creative notions.  This would not only contribute to job satisfaction for teachers, but would greatly increase performance again and would surely improve student engagement, interest and skill.  Finland for the win again.

c)       Tests and class hours: this is an area in which Finland is vastly different from Canada, as well as many other countries.  Finnish students are not exposed to standardized testing.  They believe strongly in meaningful assessment that does not require extra preparation or data collection.  They feel that testing should be used for diagnostic purposes, but they are never used on a divisional level to track teacher performance or student progress.  All assessment done in classes is specifically related to curricular skills and outcomes and is created by teachers (again we see teacher freedom) in order to meet these particularities.

As for class hours, students in Finland receive up to 75 minutes of recreational time within a school day, proving to be vastly higher than students in Canada.  Teachers are only in class for 4 hours per day and receive the rest of the school day for professional development and preparation.  Teachers spend far less time in front of students than Canadian teachers and receive a greater percentage of preparation time throughout their work day.  Perhaps we can attribute Finland’s high level of successful students to better prepared teachers and increased physical activity.

d)      A final point of amazement for me is the length/size of the curricula in Finland.  According to spokesperson Pasi Sahlberg, the length of curricula is minimized to what I would interpret as “need to know” skills and information rather than “nice to know”.  This gives teachers great autonomy/creativity but also allows for more time to focus on the quality of education being delivered.  According to some articles, Finland’s curricula per subject measures out to be only a few pages, nothing lengthy as we have seen in the old Saskatchewan curricula (curricula that has not yet been renewed).  Now wouldn’t it be nice to have 4 months to cover a few pages of content/outcomes?

There are many other interesting factors such as teacher training, class size and funding to consider, but these are the points that stuck out for me.  So now, the second question:

2 – How Could it Work for Us?

This is the most difficult question of all and the answer leads into my third question regarding the differences between Canadian/Saskatchewan students and Finns.  However, in order for a similar system to work for us, we would need to make huge changes.

Keeping teachers in higher regard would require a huge societal shift.  Would requiring teachers to have masters’ degrees change the public’s perception of them?  I’m not sure.  What if we paid them the same as doctors and lawyers, would people suddenly see them differently?  That is very hard to say, and the likelihood of such a thing happening is next to none in my opinion.  Somehow, we have to tackle the issue of teacher retention as well as overall professional trust, respect and autonomy.

Another necessary change would be for us to revisit the idea of class hours and standardized testing.  At this point, it seems as though Saskatchewan is going in the very opposite direction of Finland by imposing standardized testing and increasing class hours.  According to the mass research done on Finland’s system, these changes are not the answers to achieving a higher level of provincial education.  As a teacher, it is my responsibility to continue to speak out against these decisions which I feel will not benefit students or create meaningful learning.

This section could go on endlessly, but I will move to my third question since Finland’s system could not fit us perfectly: we would have to first make changes and then tweak and adapt to respond to the needs of our specific students.

3 – What is Different about Us?

I feel that, while Finland has definitely hit the mark with a successful system, they seem to be facing different challenges than we do in Saskatchewan.  Finland deals with a primarily homogenous student population.  Most students are from Finland, have Finnish parents who speak the nation’s language and are relatively well-educated, and have necessities such as a stable living situation and food.  Why are we different?  Here are the two main points I find:

-The rates of poverty in Finland are significantly less, with only around 4% of students counting in that bracket.  Student poverty in Saskatchewan is significantly higher, varying between 20-30% depending on location.  We all know that poverty affects one’s ability to learn and certainly presents other challenges related to diversity.

-Our province is also seeing increasing numbers of immigrants, bringing large numbers of EAL students to our classrooms. Students, and often parents, arrive unable to speak English, or at least not always at a level that allows for normal or simple interaction in school or society.  The teacher’s job to adapt and diversify for these students is at an all-time peak.

The moral?  We have a lot of work ahead of us.  There is much we can take from Finland’s system: things that should be causing all Saskatchewan educators to reevaluate what it is we’re doing.  However, we could never make a type of shift that would entirely replicate what is happening in Scandinavian countries since our students are very unique and our challenges are so different.  What’s the solution?  That is the million (*cough* BILLION *cough*) dollar question.

Please check out these articles and videos
Oh to be in Finland


18 Things to Know about Education in Finland
26 Amazing Facts about Finland’s Unorthodox Education System
What the World Can Learn from Educational Change in Finland
Why Are Finland’s Schools Successful?
Finland’s Revolutionary Education System
Finland’s Education Success

ds106 FuN (Tech Task 6, Part 2)

From the presentation we had with Alan Levine, I really thought that ds106 sounded cool, so I went to check it out.  I chose to do a writing assignment and a visual assignment.  Below, please find my writing piece:

Clean Hate

I’m TIRED: tired of being dragged across every dirty and filthy thing around here.  Why can’t you pick something else to abuse?  Just because I’m super absorbent does NOT give you grounds to treat me this way.

I’m smelly.  I’m stinky.  The pretty and colourful pattern I once wore has now been tainted with stains of grime and grub.  The varying shades of brown and grey do NOT appeal to me.  Would Cinderella want to go to the ball looking like this?  Oh the humanity! 

I think I have served my time here.  I have submitted to your every wipe, swipe and rinse in order to rectify your endless mess.  Don’t you notice the rank odour coming from my blemished fibers?  Would it kill you to toss me into the wash?  I like being washed: it brings me back to my original state of glorious cleanliness where I can regain the tiny bit of dignity I have left.

Also, do you not realize that I cannot wash without being washed myself?  My operator sure needs to get a clue.  If only this person could hear my desperate pleas…

Here is my visual assignment: “My Biggest Dream”

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DailyCreate, You Make Me Gyrate! (Tech Task 6, Part 1)

My first choice for this tech task was to check out DailyCreate.  I followed them on Twitter so that I’ll continue get their updates on daily creative activities!  I chose three different assignments.  Check out my creations!

Daily Create – 3 Assignments

Here is my writing assignment wherein I had to write from the perspective of my favourite food (without giving away exactly what is it).  Can you figure it out?  I’m pretty sure it’s a cinch!

Here is an audio assignment wherein I had to record my surroundings for 20 seconds in order for others to guess where I was located.  Can you figure it out?  Listen!

My final choice was a photography assignment.  Here I had to choose a picture that displayed having a glorious time.  Check out the photo here!

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