Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Explicit Instruction and Flipped Classrooms

Apologies for how long it has been since my last posting. I'm now working as a maths teacher in high school and a full-time relief teacher in primary school which is somewhat of a contrast from that of a university lecturer and trainer in vocational education.
Moving into schools has been motivated by my desire to work with indigenous children and make a difference in their lives as well as "Walking the Walk" rather than just "Talking the Talk" in terms of education approaches.
In Queensland, Australia there has been a considerable push by the State government to bring back explicit instruction and to abandon the constructivist approaches that have been adopted by schools and teachers over the last 15 or so years.  Explicit instruction, it is argued, provides a better learning performance and this can be demonstrated under controlled experimental conditions (Rosenshine, 2012).
For the most part, NAPLAN (national numeracy and literacy) testing offers the only truly independent measure of education in Australia in years P - 10 and has the ability to be a strong motivator for education administrators in terms of their education approaches and policy.  Queensland school performance in NAPLAN testing currently sits second lowest in Australian States and Territories, so there is considerable pressure from government to look at ways to improve our school's performance.
I've long held the view that if we can increase student engagement in our classrooms we will deepen the learning and improve all students' performance. Engagement Theory (Keirsley and Shneiderman, 1999) offer a proven approach that seeks to engage students by having them in groups, RELATE to a complex real world problem/project, CREATE a solution/product and DONATE this into the "real world" for feedback.  On the surface, the engagement theory model appears to be at odds with the  explicit instruction model, particularly when it comes to presenting a problem prior to delivering explicit instruction and developing the skills to deal with and create a solution.  The distinction to draw here is that whilst the real world problem/project/task is presented first, there needs to be a systematic programmed scaffolding that explicitly teaches the skills and knowledge to complete each section of the project.  The Engagement Theory method is a far cry from the Bruner (1961) pure Discovery Learning approach, in that learners have access to a significant level of scaffolding which recognises that there are key skills and knowledges that need to be learned and mastered in order to successfully complete the project.
Kirschner et. al. (2006) and Marzano (2011) acknowledge this and assert that some background knowledge and skills are required before commencing a complex task.  Not to do so, dramatically increases cognitive load and reduces learning effectiveness (Kirschner et. al., 2006).
It is well to note that while this research appears to provide evidence for prescriptive courses of learning, some of the most effective learning occurs with no instruction or guidance at all.  Online gaming and self directed computer-based learning appear to occur very successfully outside of institutional learning environments.  At my school our students are learning how to use "XOs" and are doing so before and more quickly than their teachers.  This is an example of pure discovery learning and serendipitous peer teaching opportunities. Online gaming uses anonymous player failure as a teacher and these games are highly successful, learning wise and commercially.
So enough about the tired old behavoiuralist vs. constructivist debate.  What about this notion of a flipped classroom?
Well, the flipped classroom seeks to marry both approaches together, but in a way that dramatically changes what happens in a classroom.  The flipped classroom relies on an explicit approach delivered outside of the majority of class time and then uses differentiated group work within the class to allow the teacher to teach all students in a large class rather than the middle group of students.
The following set of videos explain the method and answers to the kinds of questions I had about the approach.

What is a Flipped Classroom


What happens if students don’t watch the videos?

What happens if no access at home?

How do to make these videos?

Dealing with disruptive students.

What does your flipped classroom look like?

How does this work for all learners?


So what does it all mean?  The behaviouralist vs. constructivist is a pretty two dimensional debate and not really representative of the complexities of learning, short of seeking a way of understanding parts of the learning process.  The cognitivists also have a part in the discussions, but again more in terms of explaining the process.
Flipped classrooms offer, in a connected world, an opportunity to improve learning associated with schools for virtually all students through a more manageable differentiated approach that does not "kill" teacher.
Group-based learning, based around "real-world" projects that produces products valued in the "real world" engages students and engaged learners learn more deeply.  This approach builds stronger schemas in long-term memory.
Finally, learning research measures specific outcomes.  If those outcomes are limited to the traditional acquisition of knowledge and skills then the research is limited by the rapid changes in ways of knowing and the acquisition of generic skills and attributes (often called 21st century skills) that will equip learners to learn and re-learn and adapt to new requirements in a rapidly changing world.  The flipped classroom and learning engagement have the power to accomplish all of the above outcomes and should be seriously considered by educators and schools.

Bruner, J. S. (1961). "The act of discovery". Harvard Educational Review 31 (1): 21–32.
Kirschner, P. A., Sweller, J., and Clark, R. E. (2006). "Why minimal guidance during instruction does not work: an analysis of the failure of constructivist, discovery, problem-based, experiential, and inquiry-based teaching". Educational Psychologist 41 (2): 75–86. doi:10.1207/s15326985ep4102_1
Marzano, R. (2011). "The Perils and Promises of Discovery Learning". Educational LeadershipSeptember 2011 | Volume 69 | Number 1
Rosenshine, B. (2012). "Principles of Instruction". American Educator. Spring 2012

Friday, April 13, 2012

The future of online learning.

I read an article from eSchool News this morning about the future of online learning as a disruptive innovation and it got me thinking.
The article from Horn, the co-founder and executive director of the education practice of Innosight Institute, suggests that like all disruptive technologies/innovations there are periods where there are experimenters who seek to use these technologies in different ways.  Some are successful while others are not.  Additionally, the technology developers and designers do likewise and this results in easier to use and smaller technology that is more intelligent in customising the learning to each individual learner.

Currently, we have two clear levels of online learning--one that is developed by altruistic enthusiasts who wish to share their knowledge and skills, and one that is developed by institutions and corporations whose clear goal is to make money by being at least competitive in the educational market place--preferably ahead of the competitors (corporations).

The altruistic enthusiasts have done a great job, and together produce some excellent content that enables just about anyone to learn outside of a formal course of study.  These practitioners are not "blinkered" by formal course structures as is the case with schools and tertiary institutions, and typically produce small bits of key content that can be searched online to meet a learners specific needs.  This content is often highly innovative and can take the form of different media which allows learners to choose the type of learning media that best suits them and their learning preferences.  Additionally, search engines like Google rank sites according to their popularity, so the best learning content is at the beginning of the page. To see this in action undertake a specific search on something like "adding a column to Excel Spreadsheet".  The first page of the search brings up all of the best content to answer your question (this is learning--user generated questions answered quickly).  Notice that there is a variety of content--text, images, links and video, all just to answer this relatively simple question.
This ability to answer simple learner generated questions quickly speeds up learning far beyond what can be achieved in a classroom, or when locked into a poorly designed online learning tertiary education course.

While the altruistic enthusiasts model is fantastic for skills based learning, it is not designed for bigger picture learning.  This is where schools and institutions have the ability to leverage the online content with a particular emphasis on high level objectives/goals. Horn (2012) sugests that like all disruptive technologies, online learning faces challenges from institutions that have a large inertia that, in many cases, actively works to curtail the disruptive innovation.  Universities want to lock up what they see as their their intellectual property and this where many of them believe they make their money.  MIT, however, provides all of its content freely available on line.  They contend that it is the interaction with teaching staff and their assessment that sets them apart from other institutions.
Many schools lock down the use of Internet resources using "Black" and "White" Lists to "protect" students from what the schools consider unsuitable content.  Not all schools do this and many non-government secondary schools in Australia use a contract arrangement with parents and students where they initiate agreements that specify students will not seek to view unsuitable content.  Breach of this contract can result in student suspensions.  While the checking of server log files might seem somewhat tedious, I know of one school in Central Queensland that have allocated this duty to their IT person who is able to complete the task relatively quickly at the end of each day.
Government schools are subject to State regulation and the Government Minister for Education is ultimately responsible for what goes on at schools. In what is a volatile public environment where the press are continually looking for stories involving children to sensational to sell their content, many government schools take a very conservative approach to Internet access.

Ultimately, schools and universities that persist in teaching traditionally skills and knowledge that can be better learned online will find themselves no longer relevant and overtaken by a world that wants to see examples of what you can do and how you think rather than bits of paper (qualifications) produced by traditional institutions.  As learners realise that they can learn better outside of classrooms there will be a quantum shift in attendance at institutions.  Already today learners are being asked to justify and demonstrate skills, knowledge and their ability to think critically and analytically.  Assessment by portfolio will need to become more prevalent is schools and at tertiary institutions in the future as a rapidly changing work environment demands much more than institutional certification.  It is the ability to effectively and efficiently demonstrate an ability to continually learn throughout one's life and to clearly demonstrate your skills, knowledge and abilities that will ultimately count in acquiring employment and help throughout life.

Sunday, April 01, 2012

Full Time Primary Teaching Position--Cape York

My school currently has a vacancy for a full-time primary teacher in Bamaga which we would like to fill ASAP.  Could I ask you to share this information with your friends and colleagues who may be chasing a full time gig.

They would need to have well developed behaviour management skills and be prepared to spend a minimum of 2 years at the school. If anyone is interested contact the Director of ISSU, on 07 4044 5600.

I'm happy to have a chat with anyone that may be interested and can be reached via comment on this posting.



This position has now been filled--thank you for your interest.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Gaming in Maths Education

Firstly, apologies for my lack of postings recently.  It's been for a variety of reasons related to the job I accepted at the beginning of the year as a high school teacher in a remote Australian Indigenous community--new job workloads ect.

One of our challenges in this part of the world is to engage our students successfully and in a way in to which they can readily relate.  Most of the high school students have not been exposed to the rest of Australia let alone the world and this poses challenges when it comes to providing authentic learning tasks and assessment.

What does engage the vast majority of the kids here are computer games and as a maths teacher, I recently discovered Manga High and its array of games and learning pathways.  Manga High offer games and learning opportunities that can be specifically targeted as each student's level without them being aware that they are playing at a higher or lower level than the rest of their class.  This is particularly important for indigenous students as "shame" is an important part of their culture.  In playing Manga High all students are able to achieve and there is no shame from being at a higher or lower level.
Manga High also offers some very challenging games that will also allow students to develop strong skills and automaticity which should better prepare students for more sophisticated mathematical concepts later in their schooling.  The maths is aligned to the new Australian curriculum for K to 10.
Manga High provides strong analytics for teachers so that you are able to see how each of your students are progressing at any time throughout the gaming process as all of the assessment is formative and continual.

So far I have used the games in class with an interactive whiteboard (IWB) and the kids are intrigued and engaged when they play them as a class.
Next term I will be trialling individual student use, and making this available during lunch time for students who volunteer to undertake gaming at this time.  Half of the students will be able to play any maths games they wish while the other randomly chosen half will be provided with Manga High accounts and their games set at their beginning level.  All students will be pre and post tested and the relative gains in their maths knowledge and application will be measured.  I plan to run this trail for a full school term.

My thanks to Mohit Midha from Manga High for allowing us to trail his product in this manner.  Mohit also tells me that they are working on an online multi-player game at the moment and this may well be released later this year--I'll be keen to see how that works and what it does for student engagement and achievement.

It will be interesting to see just how well the student engagement lasts and just what gains are made during the trial.

More soon.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

A New Era in Learning?

I've just returned from a trip to Melbourne where I had the opportunity to visit a couple of Victoria's outstanding schools, Manor Lakes (P--12) and Silverton Primary.
While I've already Blogged about Silverton, Manor Lakes offers a slightly different approach and context.  The School is a P--12 (only P-7 at the moment) with a special education (specialist) unit that assists students with learning and physical disabilities. 
Jason Smallwood, the Principal, organised for Corrie Barclay, a teacher and ICT mentor, to show me around for the morning.
The school is new and has been open less than a year.  There is still a significant amount of construction still underway on the campus.  The school has 76% of its students in the bottom quartile of the SES index and none in the top quartile.  The school has also become popular choice for parents of students who have had difficulties at other schools.
The classroom design is less open plan than Silverton, but the building design allows classrooms to be opened up with each other and there are breakout areas as well.  Each student is supplied with a Mac iBook laptop and there are significant amounts of additional wireless connected devices available to students as well.  The school is currently taking part in an iPad trial and the students seem to have taken to these devices with eagerness from what I observed.

One of the classrooms I visited had its wall opened up so that two classrooms were joined, although the classes were operating separately.  One teacher was involved in some explicit teaching regarding the writing of persuasive text while the other class were working autonomously with their peers.  iPads were being used by both classes and the students were all on task and engaged.  When I spoke to some of then students, they were easily able to explain what they were doing and why.  Again, as with the Silverton classrooms, there was a quiet hum from students who were working together and on task.

As with Silverton, the students had easy access to a wide range of Web 2.0 tools that are not available to students in public schools in some other states of Australia.  Cyber safety is taken very seriously with students provided with intensive explicit instruction and training right from the beginning of their school experience.  All students and parents sign contracts that explain the required code of conduct. Breaches of Web safety are treated as a behaviour management issue with a number of levels that allow for an escalation of consequences.

While the Manor Lakes NAPLAN performance is not good, it is early days for this school with  the likes of Silverton having some 18 odd years to innovate and adapt their approach.

The Victorian approach to P-12 education is interesting in that there is a great deal of flexibility for regions to operate and innovate.  The Corio/Norrlane region in Geelong, for example, are in the process of undergoing a Regeneration Project that will result in P--8 as the new primary with years 9--12 as the new secondary.  The Victorian Labour government have made significant amounts of funding available for innovation projects and it is with some trepidation that I see that the State election held last weekend has resulted in the Liberal coalition party wining a majority of the seats and are now set to form government.  Let's hope that the devastation in education caused by the previous Victorian coalition government does not occur again!!

So, back to the title of this posting, what are the characteristics for a new era of learning?
  1. Engaged students (adequately supported with ubiquitous technology) with improved behaviour enjoying and being challenged at school. 
  2. Peer mentored/coached teachers who enjoy their work because they are planning and supporting learning rather than managing poor behaviour.
  3. Learning that is transdisciplinary with authentic contexts.
  4. Learning that is meaningful and with outcomes that are valued in the "real world".
Having had the opportunity to meet and speak with some outstanding Principals and a regional coordinator,  I asked them where they saw the most pressing need for improvement in the Public education system.  There were strong suggestions regarding the need for teacher education to catch up with the innovations currently occurring in some schools and to restructure their Programs to better meet the needs of modern schooling and 21st Century students.  While schools can and do develop teachers after they graduate, it would be easier for them if there was less unlearning required.
This is a challenge to all Australian universities and pre-service teacher programs, including my own institution.

Many thanks to my Victorian colleagues who took time out of their busy days to chat and show me around.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Innovative Schools that Engage

I'm currently in Melbourne to deliver the final report of a study focusing on a Problem-Based Learning (PBL) initiative that began about five years ago in three Geelong Schools.  While the findings are interesting, I've also had the opportunity to visit Silverton Primary School in Nobel Park, Melbourne and chat with the Principal Tony Bryant.
Silverton is not your ordinary primary school, its classrooms are large open plan spaces with a wide range of technology spread across the room for students to choose from.  ipads, itouchs, notebooks, laptops, desktop machines, electronic microscopes and much more. The whole campus is wireless accessible with fast router/switches enabling rapid communication between devices and the schools computing backbone.
Most classrooms have over 100 students working and learning in the same space with teachers dispersed amongst the students for support and explicit teaching where it is required.  Despite the number of students, there is little more than an audible hum as students work individually, in pairs, in small groups and in teacher-centred activities.  These kids are ENGAGED and it shows.  They all undertake authentic project work of their own choice and negotiated with the teachers. 
From Prep, students are taught how to inquire and discover--their curiosity is encouraged and fostered. They are also taught how to work together in teams and this sets the stage for the latter part of their primary school years.
Remarkably, this school is not a private school set in the leafy affluent suburbs of Melbourne with students from well to do parents.  This school draws 68% of its students from the bottom quartile based on Index of Community Socio-Educational Advantage (ICSEA) and is a public school funded by the Victorian government. Only 2% of its students are from the top quartile of parents.

The Principal Tony Bryant explains that the students are pre-tested in areas of literacy, numeracy and key learning areas to determine their needs and have individual learning plans negotiated for each student.  The students are partners in the process and see the testing as a way of identifying their own needs.  Regular post-testing is also used to measure and determine if the agreed outcomes have been met.

Key to the success of this school is the students ability to negotiate their own authentic projects such as radio and TV programs.  Each project is completed by a presentation to the target audience who have the ability to provide formative feedback.  Often the audience is other student groups, parents and outside organisations.  While I was at the school two grade 6 students described how they were planning an open day for the school to showcase to other students across the State just how their school works.  They had convinced Peters Ice Cream and a local grocer to donate substantial amounts of food that would be consumed on the open day.  While a teacher was on hand to help with any problem-solving, she was only at the periphery of the project--the students were making the big decisions.  This approach typifies the schools approach to learning where the students are full partners in the decision-making that occurs with their learning.
And it works, true student-centred learning environments with authentic projects and highly engaged learners who have strong NAPLAN results.

Tony indicated that there were few incidences of poor behaviour in any of their classrooms. I'm sure that this would mystify many teachers who have taught in low SES schools!

New teachers to the school are allocated mentors who induct them with regard to the school's methodology and ensure that the teachers are properly supported throughout the process.

Additionally, the school regularly surveys its students, parents and teachers across a wide range of issues and variables.  The survey data show strong student, teacher and parent satisfaction all well into the top quartile possible.

So what are the implications here? 
  1. These students were engaged and required very little intervention from teachers to remain on task--I was there for most of the morning and saw no instances of students straying from task.
  2. This model would work well in high school as teachers from a range of disciplines could be present at the same time in such a large learning space. This would mean that integrated curricula could work with flexibility for staff and students.
  3. Personal Learning Environments (PLEs) were being created with students storing their work in eportfolios and demonstrating how the students have accomplished their own personal learning goals.  
  4. One of my main reservations to the notion of PLEs in a school environment was the maturity of the students to make informed decisions about their own learning--I may need to re-think these reservations because if this works with early childhood students, the chances are that it will work with high school students!!
If you are in Melbourne and can make it out to this school I would strongly suggest that you contact the Principal and organise a tour--very impressive indeed.

Friday, September 24, 2010

The Future of Education??

This month marks the beginning of Doctoral studies and as you would expect the reading and research has led me into some interesting areas.  One such article is titled "The Future of Education" and written by self declared futurist Thomas Frey.  Tom works for the DaVinci Institute, "... a non-profit futurist think tank in the fertile proving grounds of Colorado".
The article is interesting in a number of ways as it offers a view of institutional educational blockers in much the same way (metaphorically) that Roman Numerals limited mathematical and scientific discoveries when the Romans colonised much of the world (see the article for a deeper discussion).  The article also offers a prediction that a centralised courseware development and storage tool would revolutionalise education and take over from what we now see as traditional schooling and higher education.
Frey notes, as do so many other education writers, that traditional notions of education are not coping with the content explosion generated by the rise of the knowledge economy.  Specifically, the idea of the teacher struggling to be a "sage on the stage" expert in all areas.  While Frey offers the popular view of a more student-centred focus with teachers as coaches, he goes on to suggest that 60 minute curriculum modules will be developed in a single, centrally located design environment by anyone and that these can then be tagged in areas such as their education field and quality.

In his discussion, Frey makes mention of the open courseware initiatives such as WikiUniversity currently being pursued around the world, but makes some interesting, and in my view, contestable assumptions that are worth discussing.  The first is that of a standard courseware development template based on one or a limited number of pedagogical approaches.  The second is that knowledge provision equates to learning. The final issue relates to the first two (indeed all three are inter-related) and is his apparent oversight of the current Personal Learning Environment (PLE) discussions and literature.

The standardised development template suggests that all learners learn the same way.  There is a great deal of literature that suggests just the opposite.  Writers such as Felder et al demonstrate a significant quantitative difference in learning efficiency based on learning preferences. Jung (1971), Briggs, and Myers similarly suggest that personality also has an effect on learning and that careful learning design can result in improved learning.  Clearly, a standardised approach to learning design (based on which assumptions?) would not present the most effective approach to a learning environment.  Cronje offers a four quadrant approach to learning that suggests that the nature of the content to be learned should dictate the learning philosophy used.  His model suggests a mix of constructivist and objectivist approaches that depend on the type of learning required.

The second issue is closely related to the first, in that Frey appears to make an assumption that the presentation of knowledge (using a standardised approach) is the same as learning.  Constructivist theorists offer a view that learning occurs best in a particular context to which the learner can relate and use their pre-existing knowledge. This contextualising of knowledge would mean that learning design should be directly related to its relevant application.  For example, learning how to calculate monetary discounts and additional fees would involve learning how to calculate percentages as well as addition and subtraction.  In another learning context percentages, addition and subtraction could/should be taught in a different context.

The final oversight, in my view, is the lack of acknowledgment of the growing literature on PLEs (see Siemans, or Downes). Personal Learning Environments offer the flexibility to contextualise and individualise content in ways that appeal to and engage learners.  When a learner learns to construct their own PLE, they themselves construct the learning modules to suit their own requirements.  If they need to learn how to video edit using Premiere then they search and construct their own learning environment that includes exactly what they need.  In the process they can tag information/tutorials they have found useful and share that information with any who wish to learn.  The most popular information will rate highly in Google searches and this makes it easier for others to find.  A quick reference to Wikipedia will in the vast majority of cases provide an authoritative cross reference in terms of accuracy.

Overall, I found Frey's article intriguing and there is no doubt that he has identified some of the major blockers to the transformational change that needs to happen in education.  His ideas on "Learning Camps" and 24 hour access to school learning centres are excellent as is  what he calls 'Confidence-Based Learning" where testing is an integral part of student learning diagnostics and formative feedback.

Jung, C. G. (1971). Psychological types (Collected works of C. G. Jung, volume 6). (3rd ed.). Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. First appeared in German in 1921. ISBN 0-691-09770-4

Myers, Isabel Briggs (1980). Gifts Differing: Understanding Personality Type. Davies-Black Publishing; Reprint edition (May 1, 1995). ISBN 0-89106-074-X