This is the presentation I gave on the last SDD of the year.
Following an email from the HT English yesterday (@madiganda) in which she noted the negative attitude that Year 10 students displayed toward the use of the DERNSW laptops in a letter to the editor as part of their Trial School Certificate I decided to come out swinging…..
To me it is not unexpected that the students are commenting that laptops have caused distractions and are actually having a negative impact on their learning because generally as a school we are not using them properly yet. (Disclaimer – there are some teachers who are!). From my conversations with Year 10 students the sum of the laptop usage at the moment is to: copy notes down from the board into a “One Note”; access the internet for research; and play Mathletics.
While these represent a start none of them seem to promote higher order thinking or seem to be a change in pedagogy as a result of the DER program. In fact while the NSWDET has done a fantastic job with the introduction of the DER my only criticism would be that it gave teachers an out with regards the opportunity for a “revolution”. A common phrase bandied around is “the laptops don’t have to be used every lesson”, “we can do this slowly”…etc. While both those statements are true I would never have said them! It is the same as me saying to my students: alright you really need to do these problems by the end of the week they an essential part of the course – but if you are not confident then just do one (or none!) and that will be enough. Too many teachers in my opinion have latched on to the option that laptop use is optional.
The obvious answer is training of teachers so that when they are not confident they seek out support – with an emphasis on the teachers seeking the support. At present it appears as if there is an expectation that training be provided – but what in? What program? How? When? Who pays? (I know there is a DER PL fund!). In a reply email yesterday @madiganda noted “Maybe the kids don’t like it as much because it does require them to use their initiative a bit, to be self-directed and many are not capable of this yet – again, we need to train them from Year 7 for this self-directed learning.”. I think she is spot on – and not just for the students.
Teachers themselves need to become independent and self-directed in their learning of the technology – to seek out information when it is required – as it is required. Venture into the unknown – take the risk – challenge all previously held perceptions of how teaching is undertaken. Model being a learner to our students. Make mistakes – be a non-expert.
I think I understand the “softly, softly” approach that has been taken with regards the politics of education. But I do not agree with it. In fact it reminds me of a quote from Douglas Adams in the ‘Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy’ : “utterly insignificant little blue green planet whose ape-descended life forms are so amazingly primitive that they still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea.”. Do we fit that mould?
One year on I think we should be focusing on the “revolution” part of the DER. And revolutions are often bloody. I for one have taken my gloves of – I will no longer accept the idea that technology should not be an integral part of all education – particularly when access issues are removed. Students and teachers must now embrace the opportunity. To steal President Obama’s famous phrase: “Yes we can”.
A future post will contain a brainstormed list of suggested activities that promote higher order thinking using technology.
Well since I wrote my initial posts a lot has changed.
However some things also haven’t changed. There is still a large element of fear (in my faculty and generally) of the introduction of laptops and the impact that this will have in our classrooms. More often than not this fear is expressed as denial – “I’m not going to use laptops – they won’t help my teaching at all”, or as an excuse “I can’t start teaching with laptops until the department provides all teachers with one”.
While I agree that it certainly would be better if ALL staff had laptops before the students so as to facilitate skills acquisition and good will, it simply is not going to happen. In fact Dianne Marshall explained the financial reasons at the North Coast ICT conference the other day – it is linked to the financial year spending of DET as the teacher laptops are funded through the state and not the Commonwealth DER project. As educators we NEVER have the perfect environment in which to perform our duties. Sure we should always aim for the best, but have to have coping mechanisms to deal with the actual reality. Simply refusing affects our students far more than attempting in less than perfect circumstances. – End of rant 🙂
The wireless install has been fraught with glitches. Some of the information that has been passed on to our network administrator and the Head of the ICT committee by the contractors is just wrong. Thank you to the DET online communities and Tweeps for passing me the correct information. We needed to locate our new box approximately 20 metres from the Campus Distributor – and put in the adjustment paperwork prior to install. Conduit was run to enable the two boxes to be connected. When the IBM guys turned up 3 weeks ago to hook them up, they only had the short leads, then proceeded to spend 3 hours arguing with the network administrator that the new box and the Campus distributor would communicate with each other wirelessly! Needless to say eventually they realised that this was not the case and left….. 3 weeks ago.
On a more positive note, like many schools CHHS had only 2 of 4 building distributors with optic fibre cabling, with one BD (that serves Maths & TAS) a run of over 110m of Cat 5. However as part of our 7.5 million Capital Works Project the Maths faculty has just taken possession of 2 new classrooms – and the Cat 5 cable that supplied the BD was replaced with Optic Fibre! 🙂 I will post some pictures of our new classrooms later!
A lack of available LAN connections in our staff rooms means that the majority of T1 rollout users have not connected at school (only at home) and subsequently the copies of Windows are now past the 30 day trial – annoying but still functional. It will take considerable time before the teachers at my school are taking responsibility for their own PL in non-school hours, there is still a common opinion that this should all occur 9 – 3 and the amount of upskilling that is required WILL NOT be possible during these hours. I have already dedicated 1 Maths Faculty Meeting to the GeoGeBra introductory course.
But I do agree with Stu Hasic – DER NSW is an awesome accomplishment thus far and it has only just begun.
Step 1 – Join.
This doesn’t work at school – Twitter is blocked. You have to join at home. I will explain later how to tweet at school.
Go to http://twitter.com Join – create a username that identifies who you are. Make sure that your profile allows someone to get to know you a bit – e.g. Maths Educator with an interest in technology (or whatever). Don’t protect your tweets, or noone will know to follow you (counter productive for a social network)
Step 2 – Sign in.
Then find people to follow – a good place to start is to follow someone you know is already on Twitter. I am SimonBorgert there is another Maths Teacher SimonJob Once you started following a couple of people look at who they follow or reply to – it gives you other people to follow as well.
Step 3 – Start tweeting.
This is where you say what you are doing in 140 characters or less. BUT for educators this is more about the sharing E.g. “Just found this really cool website http://gooogle.com“. If someone tweets something that you like you can either favorite it – or retweet it (that is where it is rebroadcast to your network). Follow more people. The @SimonBorgert stuff is where someone is replying to a user. Start replying to people that you like what they are saying. Then they will start following you.
Step 4 – To tweet from school. If you already have an IGoogle page there is a Twitter Gadget. Otherwise goto http://tweetree.com/ and sign in with your username and password.
Some Useful Links
An interesting compelation of tweet about the DER with suggestions for teachers (back when it was called L4L) from @darcy1968 a DP on the South Coast
This last link is from @lasic on twitter
I will put all of this on my blog http://simonborgert.edublogs.org
Enjoy happy tweeting!
For those of you who haven’t played with Wolfram|Alpha it is a great new concept in search engines with a very worthy goal
Wolfram|Alpha’s long-term goal is to make all systematic knowledge immediately computable and accessible to everyone.
While much of the information has a decidly US centric vent it is still possible to discover some interesting information – watch the introductory video for ideas. Other people have also been blogging about it’s potential impact in education http://slav.globalteacher.org.au/2009/05/19/wolfram-alpha/
As I delved a bit deeper it became immediately apparent that it will easily function as a free CAS (Computer Algebra System) and give worked solutions to almost all routine Mathematics homework problems and you can bet as soon as the kids have discovered this is the case they will be using it. Just as many teachers in other subjects prefered setting assignments BG (before Google) because at least the students needed to read the information they were plagiarising (as they were copying it word by word from the encyclopedia), I think that Wolfram|Alpha will have the same impact on Mathematics tasks. I know that CAS have been available for a while now – but they have not been as easily accessible or free.
For example I am currently setting a homework assignment for a NSW 2 Unit Mathematics class studying Linear Functions. Typical question that might be asked are sketch . Normally a student would have to find the x intercept and the y intercept, then sketch – a key skill that the question is assessing. However those less capable students could get this from W|A
Or if the student was asked to find the point of intersection of 2 lines
they would normally have to solve them simultaneously then sketch both lines labeling key points (once again key concepts the question is designed to assess) . Or from W|A the simultaneous solutions
and then the lines can be plotted as in the first example.
These are only trivial examples (relevant to what I am covering right now!) and are no different to issues arising from the introduction of graphics calculators in other systems (NSW does not currently allow them in 2 Unit or Extension Mathematics). However W|A is capable of far more complex interations for example a typical Extension 2 question normally a case for integration by parts which W|A gives as:
Full working and everything!
Of course student understanding of these key concepts will still be able to be assessed using in-class tests, but it is obvious that simple drill and practice homework assignments will most likely be solved by time-poor students using technology – why wouldn’t you? (Typical student note to conscience – “I understand and I’ll practice it later- I’ve just got to get to work and earn money right now and the assignment is due tommorow”)
However it is not all bad! In fact I am very keen to investigate further how Wolfram|Alpha can be used to enhance student learning of Mathematics in the same way that some (rich?) schools have used Mathematica (the big brother of Wolfram|Alpha) See http://library.wolfram.com/infocenter/BySubject/Education/Precollege/ for some examples.
So as Mathematics teachers do we bury our head in the sand for a while and hope that the students don’t discover these powerful tools until later, then attempt to adjust our tasks accordingly? Not this little black duck 🙂 I’m going on the front foot and showing my students what these tools can do for them (if I can get a room with internet connection tomorrow!) and putting the Wolfram|Alpha search bar on the blog I maintain for my students
As for the Linear Functions assignment for my 2 Unit class – looks like it is back to the drawing board so I had better stop procrastinating. But it is clear – the days of traditional drill and practice homework are over!
I like this idea from Dean Grooms blog
‘Team teaching’ in the classroom (with or without an expert mentor) – supports and allows peer observation in authentic settings. This strategy provides focus on practice, techniques and student behaviour through observation and reflective notes. It might be a focus on the way students are given instruction; they type of instruction; the time management of activities; the type of questions being asked or reactions to events. Secondly, agree some facets of their teaching that they feel they want to work on with technology. Agree some element of the class that they wish to try-out. 10 minute activities are great for focusing practice and student attention. So in an hour, 15 minutes is given to the newcomer trying out agreed methods and techniques.”
Introducing a mentor system for teachers would be of great benefit and is possibly the easiest way to support teachers that are fearful of a 1:1 laptop programme. I know that at our school we have funds set aside for team building – perhaps they could be utilised as a carrot to encourage this spirit of cooperation. It could even be extended across schools using collegiate groups.
There are several things that must be considered regarding L4L before the actual planning of specifics can start. The most obvious is: when are our students actually going to get the laptops? Will all Year 9 teachers have laptops at this stage? Will there be network/internet access in the staffroom for those teachers with laptops? Will there be network/Internet access in all the Maths classrooms for the teachers? Will there be network/internet access in the classrooms for all the students? What access to projection devices will there be for teachers? How do I inspire a somewhat techno-phobic Mathematics staff that this is all a good idea?
This post will look these issues in some detail as they relate to the circumstances of my Department, but hopefully they will allow other people to reflect and solve issues prior to them becoming a hindrance to the actual implementation of L4L.
This information is taken from the L4L intranet site today.
Staff Rollout: July 22 laptops in initial rollout
Student Rollout: August
There are 6 Year 9 Mathematics classes that all run at the same time – thus my department would need 6 laptops from the initial rollout (7 if you include me – I take a Year 9 class once a fortnight). However I have heard rumours that there is also going to be a discretionary allocation of laptops to schools initially, and it would certainly be our intention to issue these to teaching staff to enable them to familiarise themselves. Lets hope that the teacher rollout is before the school holidays start on 10 July as this would allow staff to “play” with their machines over the holidays and for the staff day at the commencement of Term 3 to be dedicated to Professional Learning on the Laptop.
The end of August is Week 6 Term 3, so for curriculum planning this is when we will plan for first implementation of laptop based activities.
The L4L programme incorporates a wireless network rollout to all learning spaces in every eligible NSW school – eventually. The wireless installer visited our school last week but as yet the L4L wireless rollout schedule has our date as TBC. From everything I have read the initial wireless installation will be in one central space to be followed up by other spaces later (potentially by the start of Term 2, 2010). In our school the Mathematics department is definitely not central – so we won’t be in the first rollout. However there are bigger issues for us initially. Every classroom at our school has a network point – except for the 4 existing Mathematics classrooms. In fact the switch on the network that services our staffroom is at the end of a 105m length of CAT5 network cable, and is not reliable.
Fortunately there are currently 2 new Mathematics classrooms being constructed that will have network points (and IWB’s!) albeit running from the same switch. Our staffroom currently has 7 staff, 2 desktops, my personal laptop and 3 network points. Obviously we need to ensure that all staff have internet and network access in the staffroom as soon as they receive their laptops. My current thinking is that this may be possible through installing a wireless router on one of the network points as an interim measure. I am also considering installing a wireless access point in one of the new classrooms to service the other 4 classrooms for teacher use only.
As part of the wireless rollout it will be necessary to install fibre-optic cable to the switch servicing our office which will alleviate many of the reliability issues. But at this stage we can’t really count on student access until Term 2 2010. Hopefully the above measures will allow teacher access almost immediately
Currently the Mathematics Department has 1 multimedia projector. At the commencement of Term 3 we will have two new classrooms fitted with Interactive Whiteboards (Yes I am excited!). There is access to one other projector in the school (but this will possibly be in high demand). In my experience it is almost impossible to teach students with Laptops (in most cases) without having some form of projection device. Short term is that I will try to purchase another projector with Departmental funds (and look at ways of ensuring 1in every room ASAP) and to organise a roster system for the rooms with IWB’s and the departmental projector.
So far the best I have come up with is to believe in the L4L programme myself and to take every opportunity to spruke it! (Not quite a SHOUTY ad, though). I am hoping that involving all the Year 9 teachers in the process and supporting whatever Professional Learning needs they have will help. The Mathematics staff at CHHS are very cautious in their approach to “new” things, until a real benefit is seen they are generally not implemented. Thus it is essential for all aspects of this process to have a real value. Hopefully my reflections on this blog will be of assistance to them as well.