Thursday, 22 May 2014

Heritage & Design - #hackyrclass week 3

The challenge for this week is design thinking and I will be the first to admit I'm struggling to find ways to get a really good grip on it! While the general ideas underpinning the philosophy ring true for me, including the processes it involves, and I can see it as a whole approach for learning, I think it's going to take me more than a week to implement!

So what are my thoughts on it?
My late father was an architect, an industrial designer (we used to call his profession a 'dusty shiner' as children!), and also a tertiary educator of design students at Unitec and AUT over the years.

Whenever I remember him talking about his designs, including the spatial design course he ran, his emphasis was always on people - how would people use the space? How would they feel within the space? out of the space? What purposes and functions could the space adapt to? All his design ideas came back to people at the heart of it. He was also obsessed with mathematical concepts like the 'golden ratio' and Fibonacci numbers - but not in the mathematical ideas themselves, but rather how these numbers and ratios made people feel more comfortable in spaces.

He was a very quiet and gentle man, and a very deep thinker. Everything was well-thought through and meaningful, if always extensively late and beyond due dates! But I am now realising how important it is to approach things, like teaching, with purpose and to accept that it will take time to develop ideas and pedagogies properly. The first time I try things, they may not be completely successful, and will probably need tweaking (with students providing the feedforward as to how to improve).

My own lesson in this: I tried to remember every lesson of design and architecture from my Dad when I drew up plans for our own house building last year. I kept us as a family in mind - what spaces did we need? how would we use them? what technically had to be located close by? how would we feel in the spaces? The final plans were very close to what I started us off with, but many iterations were needed to get there - tweaking and adjusting and sometimes going back to previous versions when 'brilliant' ideas didn't work out. It took much longer than we expected just to get final plans done - but now living in the house there is barely anything we would change.

So, how do I apply this to teaching? I know I need to give my current students more room to 'prototype' - they are very set in aiming for 'perfect' and 'right', and have been spoon-fed so much (not by me, but as a general rule to a certain degree!), they don't have well-developed skills in drafting & developing ideas. I want them to know that the process of truly developing ideas and answers can be scary and at times you're not sure that you're going in a forward direction, but that you can end up in a much more satisfying place than model answers can provide. (and this doesn't mean that there are no wrong answers - in science there certainly are wrong answers, just like in house building.... no, you cannot move that room there!... but maybe it is better for students to find their own way there).

I also have been pondering some questions - are our learners, who have always lived with the internet at hand, more likely to believe that there are answers to every question? When I say in class: "I don't know, how do you think we could find out?" are my students surprised that I don't know everything? Do they feel everything should be knowable? In my schooling days (yes, feeling a tad old now!), we didn't tend to look beyond our textbooks - and we weren't encouraged to question what our teachers told us, even if we knew they were wrong! (my sister tells a wonderful story of her form 7 bio teacher who disliked being questioned when he said that paternal was from your mother and maternal from your father!). Are our learners as resilient as we had to be in terms of finding answers? (are they more resourceful?) I remember at Uni, every time I wanted to find a research paper, I had to trek to the library, climb down 2-3 flights of stairs into the (completely scary!) stacks of journals, wind the handles to separate the stacks (hoping someone else didn't squish you between them!), physically find the journal I wanted, find the pages, trek upstairs and photocopy it. Was I more resilient or just wasting more time? ;)

Regardless, I am going to continue my learning about design thinking as it feels natural and genuine.... any advice welcome! 

Sunday, 18 May 2014

#hackyrclass week 2 - knowing me, knowing you....

It has been a very busy week here, so I have not been able to put as much energy into the #hackyrclass theme for this week as I would have wanted, however I thought I'd comment on a couple of things I have previously done to get to know my learners better.

One thing I have done this term within tutor group is to get each person in our group to share something with the rest of the group, be it bizarre skill or a hobby they enjoy. I've kept to the theme of sharing 'random' things, as many students within our tutor group are introverts and not very confident in sharing things about themselves.

I started us off by sharing something that is important to me - I'm a bit of a hippy and into yoga & meditation, and wanted to share something that might be able to help with the stress bunnies that are my students, leading up to exam/internal assessment week (that starts this week!).

So, I showed them this video: 'One Moment meditation', and then we had a wee chat about how it can help to de-stress and chill out a little ;) (and a pretty amazing thing was that a week later one of my rather straight-laced students told me she had used the meditation technique when faced with a stressy situation - and it had helped, so that was pretty cool :) )

Another thing I found last year (I won't call it a strategy because I never intended it as one, it was simply something that happened organically through conversation) - was that when I shared something about myself to my classes, this greatly strengthened the relationship we had.

My example is that we built a house last year, which was (as you would expect!) a long drawn-out and sometimes stressful process. Each weekend we would visit the construction site, and photograph how the progress was going, and in the following week, I would share a photo with a couple of my senior classes. It became a way for students to connect with my story, offer their own experiences, and I found I was always being asked how my house was going, even in the corridor in passing. My students were genuinely interested too, and were excited for me when we finally moved in! This year, I have inherited about 1/2 my students again in one particular class, and at the start of the year it was one of the first conversations to come up.

From this..... this in about 9 months.

So while this isn't specifically about getting to know your learners, it is about 'building' ;) relationships with them - and for me, it is through things like this that I do get to know them really well. I've found if I'm willing to open up and share aspects of my life (not everything obviously!), then they tend to open up and help build strong, positive learning relationships.

Saturday, 10 May 2014

#hackyrclass first week - part 2

The first week of term and more excitingly, the first week of the #hackyrclass movement (yes, it is a movement! In fact I'm calling it the #hackyrclass revolution ;) ) has passed, and I'm certainly back into the swing of things. We have 8 teaching days left before assessment week (exams, internal assessments), and so the pressure is on to make every lesson count.

A completely bizarre time to try out new things, you say? Not in my mind - because everything I'm doing is trying to maximise my students' learning opportunities, and I'm trying to get them to make the most of the 'contact' learning time we have together (because I know they are also learning outside of class - grateful for YouTube view tracker plus Moodle logs!).

This week being growth mindset focused (see Claire Amos' blog), my aim was to get my students embracing the challenge of taking charge of their own learning journeys. I also sought feedback on both how students approached their learning, and how they felt about the learning approaches we had tried this week.

Things I did this week:
  • Let students make mistakes: we are prepping for a L1 science practical internal, which is rather a big deal for our students (kinda scary for them to design an experiment, carry it out, collect data, analyse data, write a method, discussion and evaluation all in a set time frame, all by themselves). But I know that students (and me!) learn best by doing, not being told, and I include making mistakes in this. Several times I caught students using methods that I know are not reliable or accurate but instead of telling them how to improve then and there, I let them collect their data and see what discrepant results they had. This meant we could then have a discussion about what went wrong, and they were able to problem solve and correct the issue. Had I just told them to use the exact same equipment for repeats (for example), they wouldn't have really seen why that was so necessary.
  • Seek feedback as to how they approach problems and challenges:  I surveyed both a junior class, who have recently been away at a camp for one month (part of school curriculum), and also a senior class, asking how they approached life, basing the questions on ideas behind the growth mindset. Questions below:
Interestingly, all students responded that they knew they were capable of improving their intelligence through effort. The other questions were more mixed, with the juniors especially responding that they often saw other's success as threatening.

The juniors did state that their approach to learning had changed since their camp, and nearly all said they were now more resilient, and more likely to persist in the face of setbacks as a result of the camp. (feedback I will pass onto the camp co-ordinators, really good feedback!)

I did notice that individual students responding that they avoided challenges, gave up easily or ignored useful negative feedback were my students who tend to struggle a bit more with their learning - something to follow up on and see what I can do to change their mindset! 

  •  The last thing I want to write about was the big thing I did this week: 'flipping' the learning with my Year 13 class. I pre-recorded myself talking through slides I had planned to use in class (via the explain everything app on iPad), and asked the students to watch these prior to class, so we could use our class time to differentiate their learning, and I could thoroughly check-in with every student during class time, run mini-tutorials to those who needed it, and basically personalise their learning (rather than have me run through the slides in class time, which is an obviously passive, sage on the stage type approach which I am really not comfortable with, and it makes me feel immensely dissatisfied!) 
The videos were reasonably intense (the Biology they learn in Y13 is full-on, stuff I didn't learn until 2nd-3rd year physiology!), and so I had my doubts as to how good their retention would be..... but as soon as I asked some introductory questions the next day, and they all enthusiastically responded with really good understanding (although that obviously still had to be unpacked), it blew me away.

Our lessons were more productive than they had been last term, and every student was working on something different, something that they needed to move forward. I happily played the role of guide on the side and was able to provide differing levels of help depending on what they each wanted. (I used SOLO taxonomy to differentiate activities for them as below):

I continued to develop this throughout the week, and by the end of the week I had the students come up with their own learning objectives, and even more excitingly, categorise them using SOLO, so they could get an idea about which activities might help them the most.

  What could get more exciting than this, I hear you ask? Their feedback! I've just started collecting data, but so far it's looking good, and even better they have had some really helpful constructive criticism and suggested ways to improve the approach, including breaking the videos into smaller sections (something I had planned already), and even multiple suggestions of having a quiz at the end to test their knowledge (something I'll do with Edmodo). The media (and perhaps other teachers) don't give these learners enough credit: they know how they best learn, and give them a chance - they will tell you what they want.

Other surprising results so far - I'm finding I have more 'free time' available, as I am doing incidental marking and feedback in class, and because I would have been prepping at night anyway, it's not taking up any more of my time. Work in progress? Definitely, and certainly things to improve upon and change as we go, but because the student feedback has been positive so far, we'll keep going down this road.... remembering that this is but one tool I can use - approaches to improve student ownership, not use technology for the sake of it!

So all up a good week! Many of these things I would have got around to eventually (I already had the flipped video thing planned from last term), but having the #hackyrclass community there to give constructive feedback and most of all a sense of accountability has been a real impetus - a great start to the term. Thank you @ClaireAmosNZ :)

Monday, 5 May 2014

#hackyrclass week 1 - growth mindsets (part 1)

I am super excited to step up to the challenge of the #hackyrclass project via @ClaireAmosNZ and @GeoMouldey of HPSS. Even more exciting is starting off with growth mindsets... see Claire Amos' blog post for more details

I've been a big fan of the idea behind growth mindsets ever since I first read about it back in TCol (I suppose we did learn at least a few relevant things ;) ) - mostly because it fits with my interior reasoning in life that hard work and effort are far more likely to result in positive outcomes, than relying on some innate ability. (In fact I believe it was pure stubbornness that got me through my postgrad study ;) )

Another good read is: growth mindsets in maths and science - very interesting in particular to me, given my experience at a girls school - relating to the achievement of women in science and maths.

So I naturally agree with everything in the growth mindset model - but is this a result of spending many (unsuccessful) hours doing (repetitive) experiments that (most of the time didn't, but) sometimes worked? Did I always think this way, or was it something I picked up along the way? To be completely honest, I suspect when I was at school, I saw myself as being moderately intelligent - there were certainly other students I saw as being 'brighter' than me - and I didn't question it too much. Certainly no teacher introduced me to the idea that if I simply applied myself and made more of an effort that I could achieve greater results - I still remember being one of the students NOT hand-picked to sit the scholarship exams (even though I still managed a pretty good A Bursary, for those that remember it!) - I saw myself reflected in my teachers' eyes that I wasn't quite capable enough. (Perhaps one of the reasons I felt the need to 'prove' myself by spending the next 10 years at University?)

So regardless of my background in growth mindsets, how do I invoke this change of understanding in my students? There is a big problem with many students set on getting the 'right' answers, and falling into "I don't get it" mode, without hesitation.

This post is about things I try to do already in class to emulate a growth mindset, and I'll post later about a little experiment I have planned with my students this week :)

So, what did I do today that emulated a growth mindset, and hopefully influenced my students through osmosis?

Feedback on student work - I try and avoid giving grades where possible, but instead give lots of feedforward advice, how students can continue to improve upon their work. The wonderful Alfie Kohn's research supports this: the case against grades . Did my students initially complain? Maybe, but once I explained the rationale, they accepted it an moved on! Today, as well as giving written work back, I commented to the entire class how pleased I was that everyone had attempted all questions, there were no blank answers, and I could really see that they had put lots of effort into it. I see it as a win-win: I feel good for having positive, genuine interactions with my students, and they feel good for having made an effort, even though they may be able to make further improvements!

I love this video - Austin's butterfly. Where would Austin be if his first butterfly had been awarded an Achieved grade? Would he have continued to develop it?

This also ties into my obsession with SOLO taxonomy - allowing students to have a clear understanding of where they are at and where they can move to without getting hung up on A, M, E. (More info on SOLO via this link and also here, on the wonderful Pam Hook's site)


Trying new things with relish - today I launched my own version of flipping my classroom in 2 of my classes (see previous blog post on this). Last term I found I was doing more transmission-style teaching than I was comfortable with, mostly due to the huge amount of tricky content to cover, and it made me feel dissatisfied and unhappy. I was open with my students at the time, and told them I wasn't happy with teaching that way, so today I explained that we were going to do things differently this term - but this was going to require a commitment on their part to fully participate in flipping the classroom, and (thankfully) they were excited and on board with the idea! I'm looking forward to 'pre-loading' the content before our lessons, and being able to facilitate genuine personalised learning in our precious class time. I explained I had taught myself how to use the 'explain everything' app over the holidays, and had created a new YouTube channel (which brought some laughs) - but it was important for them to see me being willing to learn new things without fear. Tomorrow will be the first lesson post-flip, so I'm excited to see what the students think.

Challenging student conceptions - Today one of my (younger) students claimed she was waiting to write an answer down until it was perfect, until she had seen what everyone else thought the right answer was. I rail against perfection! Perfection is impossible, as I told her, and to aim for it is to be continuously disappointed. I asked her to take a chance and write down (in pen!) what she thought the answer was - it didn't matter if she got the answer not quite right (and in science there really are correct and incorrect answers) - it mattered only that she took a chance and trusted in her brain to come up with the correct answer.


So, what are my next steps? My senior classes have internals coming up, so class time is at an absolute premium (hence the flipping idea), but I intend to have a discussion with my junior students about growth and fixed mindsets, especially because they are more inclined to see themselves as 'clever' or 'not clever'. I'm really interested to see what they think, and how recently being away at an intensive camp for a month (part of their school year) has influenced their mindsets.... more to follow!

My last thought for today - what can I do better? Where do I fall down? Today I instructed some of my seniors in the 'rules' of how they can best include concepts in their upcoming internals - I hated doing it and wish that we had more time to allow them to explore their own ideas to come to similar conclusions. It's a rather prescriptive internal in terms of the ideas the students need to communicate, and also a practical internal, so our lessons have to concentrate on allowing students to design and carry out their own experiments, and perhaps even fail doing them, so that they can develop their technical skills...... so maybe not all bad, but my approach wasn't as open-minded as I would normally have preferred. So maybe something I need to develop - to trust both myself and my students that they are capable of coming to a deep understanding on their own.