"Life begins at the end of your comfort zone."

~Neale Donald Walsch~

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Moving beyond hurt

I admit not only have a I been totally overwhelmed by life in the last 6 weeks but I have had a bit of writer's block. There have been moments when I have started a new post only to sit there and stare at a blank page. Mentally exhausted and emotionally spent.  The last semester has been the most rewarding and most challenging I think of my career. There has been truly powerful moments and realisations with students that has deeply moved me. The ability to truly teach in a creative capacity allowed me to push myself harder than ever before, to see what I was capable of. I was truly chuffed to receive a nomination for an Excellence in Teaching Award for Hunter TAFE and whilst I didn't win the acknowledgement has provided some reflection on my part.

What is it that drove me to drive my students harder than ever to succeed? 

There has been many times in my life when others have told me that I would never amount to
Image from  Bigstockphotos.com
anything. I was average and mediocre at best as a teacher. Never was this more difficult than in the last school I taught at and so profoundly did one Head Teacher's negative long term harassment and bullying impact on me that I never want to teach in schools again. TAFE provided a safe place to heal and my amazing head teacher gave me the opportunity to really teach in a creative and innovative way, very different from others in my section and as a result the students have achieved outstanding results and will get into the university courses of their choice.  There have been volumes and volumes of people who have written on this topic and I join the chorus. Really negative experiences in life produced a drive in me to not only prove them wrong but also prove to myself that I could do it too.

Some students that come to TAFE have the same story. Broken people who are wanting to put the pieces back together. The outcome of success comes not in being given everything on a silver spoon but through genuine achievement found in hard work, perseverance and a desire to improve oneself. Being connected with others is profoundly important to success. Having a team or friendship group that not only values you as a person but is also happy to conjole, push and stretch you can produce a more significant result than if you are going it alone.
Henry Ward Beecher a 19th Century American Congressmen who fought for human rights and the continued abolition of slavery sums it up nicely. “We should not judge people by their peak of excellence; but by the distance they have travelled from the point where they started.” 
 Moving beyond hurt

Working and interacting with people day in day out puts teachers in line for criticism and analysis of their work. Maintaining professionalism when that criticism has no founding is hard. It's hard to not to be really affected but it can't define you as a professional. Some criticism can be warranted and helpful for growth however truly negative and truly personal criticism can be soul destroying.

There will always be bullies. These behaviours are passed down from one generation to the next or are reinforced by social groups and peers who wish to have power over others. I can't be defined by this any longer.

Not all students will pass all the time. I am not oblivious to that fact. Learning is never wasted. My journey is by no means over but I draw in the strength of past hurts to move on and as a result have more confidence in my abilities to teach and assist students than ever before.

Getting over life's hurdles can produce real growth and success.

Many of the struggles that adults have come from their early childhood, primary and teen years.

Anti-bullying songs and campaigns need to continue in work places as much as schools to continue to discuss the importance of respect and tolerance in our society. With high rates of domestic violence in our society it is imperative that we continue as a society to speak for what is right and then of course to act and model the right behaviour to our kids and our peers.

  1. Image from  Bigstockphotos.com
    The Report estimated that workplace bullying costs the Australian economy between $6 billion and $36 billion every year and that a workplace bullying cases costs employers an average of $17,000 to $24,000 per claim. Fair Work Act 2009

The social and financial cost to our community is great. I have struggled this year with over coming past hurts but at no time did I ever register a claim or take time off. How many others are part of an unknown statistic?

Anyway it's time to move on and I have some very exciting changes for next year. I have enrolled in my Masters of Education (Knowledge Networks and Digital Innovation) with Charles Sturt University and am also hoping to finish my Diploma in Adult Language, Literacy and Numeracy Practices.  I am continuing to work at TAFE but have cut right back in the hope of pursuing my business in a more significant way. I'm also going to do some work for my local community college and who knows what else I'll pick up. The future is bright and I'm excited for what lies ahead.

Thanks to you all for reading my blog and I wish you and your families a Merry Christmas and safe and happy holiday.

Until next time,

Thursday, 30 October 2014

Identify, Analyse and Evaluate

Over the last few weeks my History students have been working on a new essay. They have been considering how continuity and change effects the topic they have chosen. Yesterday I had a discussion with some students about the fact they weren't enjoying this essay and just struggling with the subject in general. I was a little gutted for a few moments and realised this wasn't about me but about the fact that for whatever reason the students were not really understanding what I was asking them to do. So... last night I did some hard thinking about how it is I can really engage them not only in the topic they are researching but really develop their analytic skills. So I have a new strategy now with some fun and engaging activities for next week to get them thinking and build their skills but it has really got me thinking about critical thinking.

So what is critical thinking?

Image c/o B. McCallum
Because we live in a media saturated world students often take what they see and hear for granted. The expression "Curiosity killed the cat" is one that does not apply here. We want students to question what they reading in relation to what they know.

So much of what students see or hear is sensationalised and writers are often paid to persuade us to believe what they write. What is needed is a good dose of skepticism in order to start thinking more objectively about things.

Developing your own views

Image c/o B. McCallum
Often students read information and only consider what they comprehend in what they have just read. They need to connect the information they have read into other aspects of what they know or how it might link in or be in relationship with other information they have at hand or have experienced.

Identify, Analyse and Evaluate

Image c/o B.Mccallum

I find sometimes that students lack logical flow in how they think when they are developing ideas. Some students like structure in order for them to develop their ideas and opinions. Sometimes students just don't seem to know which questions to ask in order to dig a little deeper in a complex problem or issue. 

As students develop their higher order thinking skills they will begin to ask more complex questions on the issue they are considering however for some students they just need a starting point. I need to help my students really understand the importance of analysis and the ability to account for the information they are reading in relation to their topic. The thing I like about this essay is that the students need to consider continuity and change and this in itself is asking them to make connections and see how complex issues form relationships within the historical context. 

So I have a challenge that awaits for me and only 3 weeks until their final exam. 

Until next week,

Saturday, 18 October 2014

YouTube's Creator Studio

So I mentioned in my last blog post that my students have been using the latest in You Tube's video application. Many of my student have had no experience with videos and video editing and they have picked it up as though it was child's play. It's not the Rolls Royce like Adobe's Premier Element 11 which is fantastic if you can master it but it's great to put together something if you have little time or experience.

The example I am using below is from one of my students. This term we have been talking about different cultural values we all possess. We have been examining how we are shaped by stereotypes and how we can overcome some of these negative stereotypes and break down some of these barriers we place on people. This student created this video with no knowledge of video editing. I think he did a great job but I'll let you be the judge.


YouTube's Creator Studio
One of the best features about this program is that it's really easy to use and the interface is similar to all other Google products.

Students like the freedom to be expressive using technology and this new application really does tick a lot of boxes. Have a play with it and see what you think. Probably 3 of my favorite features are:

1. Creative Commons
I am always banging on to my students the importance of copyright on the internet. The videos in CC are great because the students can use them to get the message across legally without having to worry if they are using someone's work without permission.

2. Audio
There are many different sounds and songs that are free that they can use to make their videos interesting. I was really surprised at the range of music and genres and there are plenty to choose from.

3. Cutting Tool
Once you have dropped in your video you can cut and move it around very easily. Students were able to add in images, video and music and manipulate them into different time frames and places within the video. This gives so much flexibility for students to be creative and publish a really nicely finished video.

So why not have a play around with the new Video Editor in YouTube. You can't break it and you might actually have fun.

Until next week,

Favorite Google Docs Tools

Well it has been some time since my last blog and so much has happened. My TPC History class handed in their essays and I was so proud of their efforts. So pleased everyone passed and 3 got full marks. So after a lot of sweat and tears some excellent results. It's a bit stressful to get them all through (50 of them) however it has been very rewarding. So many of them have improved in their skills and really that's all I expect of them.

Loving Google Docs.....

My greatest tool this term has been Google Docs. I have been using Google Docs now for about 4-5 years. I can't really remember when I started using them but I really find this technology extremely useful and they are the best way to work with students on their essays or pieces of writing. I also like to use them for collaborative purposes and they also like to use them this way. Clearly the sharing option in Google docs is so great and one I use all the time.  My favorite function is the comment function followed closely by revision history.

Sometimes in class the students and I work on the document together in real time and they find this so helpful. I also work with them outside of class time if need be and Google docs gives you the freedom to do that. It's great that you don't have to print out multiple copies of drafts. One of my other favorite new features in comments if one of the add-on called Kaizena. 

You can voice record your comment rather than typing it out. I like this option when you have a little more to say about a paragraph and I use this option rather than have a really long comment on the side of the page. 

As I mentioned earlier I also love revision history. It's great to see when your students are working and also great if they make a mistake and accidentally delete a paragraph or sentence and they can easily go back and restore it to an earlier time when they were working. The only time I know that you can rewind your life. You can click on any of these time and the document will be restored to this time. If you are working on a doc with multiple students then you can see how much each student has contributed to the assessment or classwork. It's such a great feature. 

In one of my other classes the students have been using the relatively new 'YouTube' Creator Studio. It was launched in July this year and it has been great for them to create some videos about negative stereotypes we have about people and how we can overcome them. I'll blog about that one next week. 

Happy playing in the land of Google. 

Until next week,

Sunday, 14 September 2014

What is the new normal in education?

It's been interesting watching the trends in education over the last few years. There have been many predictions from marketers and specialists however I am a casual observer. This year in particular hasn't seen a dramatic change from any previous years but it is very to clear that different regions, schools and colleges have different levels of access to technology and the speed at which they can use this technology.

Internet Speed

Image by bigstockphotos.com
Dial up used to be the bane of our existence. We became used to the click, go get a coffee before settling in to wait for the page to upload. However it's interesting how annoying it is when there is a break in the video you are watching or the page doesn't load or crashes.Our expectation of how fast information needs to come to us has changed greatly over the last few year. I know in my area that people are moving to areas where there is high speed broadband and I myself would love to have it at my house but will have to wait some years for that to happen. I have family members who live in rural areas and can only use the mobile network and so they don't use the internet much because the speed it incredible slow and expensive. So until there is broader access to the internet there will be disparity between those who have access and those who don't. In terms of the new normal there is an expectation that when we want to purchase something, find out about something or just want to watch something that we can do it where we want and when we want either through our laptops, mobiles or tablet devices and that we can always stay 'connected'.

Skill level

We are living in an age where there is currently a generation that are 'digital native'. These children
and young people have never known a time when there wasn't computers. Just a few months ago I had a conversation with a colleague who grew up without a calculator. I just couldn't fathom what this would be like. It's just something I take for granted. Australia's teachers come from several generations and within these generations are teachers with some technology skills and others with very few. Young teachers who are graduating not only tend to have excellent computer skills but seem to navigate social media to help them in their profession and if given the opportunity will be a flag bearer for the positive aspects of using technology for teaching, learning and professional development. There will always be those who are not interested by technology at all and then there will be those that think it is wonderful and embrace it.

Time is a factor

I think one of the areas that teachers struggle with the most is time. Having had a good look at the new National Curriculum there is so much content that teachers need to cover in class but also much added pressure to be transparent about students results and feedback. The administrative side to education is getting worse and there doesn't seem to be any obvious signs this will change in the near future. Perhaps there needs to be a business admin component to the teaching degree.

Social Media

What is becoming more obvious in the last 12 months or so is the influx of educators regularly engaged in social media activity based around their teaching area. Over the last three years there have been many education chats spring up to support teachers and learning. As teachers are under great pressure to make their lessons interesting and engaging they look to the internet and social media to provide ideas and support for their projects and lessons that are quick yet very effective. There is no point re-inventing the wheel and if someone has already done it then you don't have to create something from scratch. It's about being  savvy with your time. I'm not saying go and steal ideas from others and claim them as your own I'm saying that sometimes social media can provide a starting point in your thinking to produce something better than you may have come up with on your own.

Teach Meets

Teaching has for thousands of years has always been about the sharing of knowledge and skills. There will always be those who think that their intellectual knowledge is not to be shared with other professionals and is to be only delivered to students. However there has been a real shift in thinking for many educators over the 10 years that personal knowledge is something that can be shared. Teach Meets provide an opportunity for teachers in a local communities to not only share what is happening in their classrooms but it provides support for teachers in communities for teachers and students and can address real issues that are affecting students in those suburbs or regional areas.

Education has always had to adapt and change to meet the requirements of each age and generation. As with the invention of the biro and the calculator so have interactive smartboards and greater access to the internet allowed education to become more of a global institution for our current student cohort.

I wonder what the next 10 years have install?

Until next week,


Wednesday, 27 August 2014

The art of blogging

This term, as in past terms I am one of those horrible teachers who forces their students to use technology. I
make my students create a Google account just so we can all play in Google's Technology Playground. I really think I must do that Google course and get qualified because a lot my time is spent showing others around. I usually don't have too much opposition and if a student really doesn't want to create an account then they just complete their weekly blog in a Word doc.  Anyway one of the assessment tasks this term is to blog each week. The students are given a rubric of questions for the term that they have to address each week. Some really dislike it. Others find it beneficial to help them process what they have learnt. It's no different to writing in a journal like the good old days. So is there a right and a wrong way to blog?

What is really interesting about Gen Y is that they are very confident using certain aspects of technology. They appear to bawk at something that might be a bit different but they take no time at all to pick it up and run with it. I guess for the purpose of the assessment task they are just reflecting their learning online but what I find interesting is the internal thought process about their learning that I don't always hear in the classroom.
Image by bigstockphotos.com
Often they are not bothering with punctuation and there can be large slabs of text. It seems that the usual grammar rules get thrown out the window when they type. I am not really so concerned with these things as part of the exercise because it is the information I want but I do find it interesting and insightful in their thoughts and musings that grammar doesn't seem to rate as an important part of the writing process. The internal dialogue is rich with information for me and helps me pick up on those things I hoped they had learnt and areas where they are struggling and also indicates to me if there were things in the lesson that I haven't explained clearly enough.  Students often struggle with what to write. It seems that the art of thinking and writing ; considering, analysing and synthesising new learning are lost on a generation who are used to regurgitating and memorising information for tests. However all is not lost and I find that as each week that passes there is more writing and thought provoking ideas that come through the more their blogs.

There are those who clearly have the gift of writing. I'm afraid I'm not one of the lucky ones. I wish I could eloquently piece my ideas together and weave my thoughts with beautiful images and analogies however I do my best. I don't necessarily think there is an art to blogging but more over a sense of being able to communicate with others in a different space and time in which I would normally communicate with someone face to face or over the phone.  I have found blogging has been key to my own professional development and have found it has forced me to think about what I do in my classroom and also how I engage with others in the education community.

There can be no art if there is no blogging. So blog away. Delve into your thoughts and reflections and share what's on your mind with others. It's a great way to connect with yourself and others who might share in your struggles and frustrations and it will also help you process what is working in your class or what's not.

I haven't had much time to share some of my favourite websites but I have been diving into Google a little more off late as I'm teaching a Google Apps class at the moment. I guess my two favourite Googly things at the moment are Google Keep and YouTube Creator Studio. Instead of my students doing an oral presentation they are creating a 3-5 min YouTube clip on their topic. Can't wait to see what they come up with. Have a play around in the Creator studio. I love how easy it is to access creative commons videos and audio.

Until next week,

Saturday, 2 August 2014

What do you do with a good idea?

Well it has been a few weeks since my last post and I didn't realise until today that I have sadly been neglecting my blog. The last few weeks have been a real blast and I am loving teaching Humanities and History again. My brain is all a buzz with all the wonderful lessons I've had lately and the same buzz I felt when learning about the past is still as exciting as ever.It has really fired me in the belly. By and large I am an ideas person. I generate new ideas every day. I'm constantly thinking and like to look at things outside the box and search for new and innovative ways to do things. So what happens to all these ideas you come up with?

Well this has been a great source of frustration for me over the years and I have learnt (sometimes the hard way through brutal honesty by others) that not all my ideas will come to fruition. I would say very few of my ideas in fact actually come to fruition. However in saying this it is not a bad thing. Often us frontal lobe extroverts are thought and action people. The two are linked. I like to come up with an idea and then like to make it happen however in reality I often neglect to think all the steps through and who it might affect. This in term makes a lot of work for myself or others. So if you are an ideas person how can you not get discouraged when things don't happen and if you live with or have students who are ideas people how can you help them see reality and make reasonable adjustments so as not to burst their bubble all the time?

Be encouraging

Visit this site for more ideas. 
From we are quite young age our parents tell is 'no'. Often it is to keep us safe or to instruct us in what is
social acceptable in a situation. No can be said in a variety of ways. "I don't think now is the right time for that." or "We'll look into that a bit later". I know these phrases because I use them on my children however I do find it much harder when these phrases are directed at me and my ideas at work. However I have a most excellent boss who totally understands my over zealous ideas and he always starts his no answer with an encouragement. "I think that's a great idea however we might have to revisit it in a few months." or "It's a great idea but I don't think we can manage it at the moment." It's good to feel that what you have to contribute is valuable but in reality it just isn't going to happen.

Be realistic

Ideas people often have a lot of energy. There are some people in work places that this really annoys. Particularly people who want to go away and think about things for a bit and get back to you. Yet again ideas people need a good dose of reality and patience from time to time to come around and see things in perceptive like others do. I have learnt over the years that not rushing into things is actually quite a good thing. However sometimes the thinkers also need to come to the party sooner rather than later. (The great thing about a blog is you get the last word.) :)

Take a chance

Image by Bigstockphotos.com
I right this paragraph on behalf of all my other fellow idea personality friends. Sometime we come up with good ideas. Give us a chance occasionally to give us the freedom to fly and you might be surprised. I have a very good friend of mine in business and we share the same personality type. Thankfully he has a job where he is paid to trouble shoot and come up with creative and innovative ideas however not all of his ideas come to fruition either. There is nothing wrong with ideas but there is a great need for perspective and time to allow others to support and come with you as part of change rather that you flying solo and forcing others to change. 

 Mark Twain writes, "Write what you know." I have found that writing my ideas down does help to 'get them out of my head' but also allows others to go and ponder these ideas and this creates an opportunity for richer discussion and sharing. Often the challenge for teachers is time management. Sometimes ideas people can take up much time and create more work however as students grow and become more independent learners there should be opportunities for students to experiment with their ideas and take manageable and realistic risks in their learning and ideas. 

"Good actions give strength to ourselves and inspire good actions in others." Plato

More pondering next week. Thanks for all your comments via social media about this blog. I do find it encouraging and find these exchanges richly rewarding.

Until next week,

Saturday, 12 July 2014

Too scared to share

What a wonderful school holidays it has been. It's been great to unwind and take time out to ponder on things. I really do love to ponder. No wonder I like blogging so much. I have spent some of the hols preparing for next term and I am feeling very excited about it. I have longed to have a senior History class for many years and finally I will be teaching History as part of the TPC course (Tertiary Preparation Certificate) at TAFE this semester. This is a wonderful subject with great scope for understanding historiography and applying these skills throughout the semester. It has been pure joy revisiting some of my resources and reliving those moments when I am truly enthralled by interesting insights into the lives of people in our ancient and recent past. I am also teaching a subject called Humanities and it is much like Society and Culture for those who understand that subject. Very interesting to learn about our own culture and that of others around the world. Anyway enough waffle.

As usual I have had some wonderful conversations with colleagues and teaching friends over the holidays on a wide range of topics but one conversation has come up a few times and it interests me greatly. Why bother sharing what you do in your classroom or your thoughts about education on social media? At first I was taken a back because I have come to realise that sharing on social media has become my new normal and so I needed to dig into this question and digest it before I answered. My dear friend who raised this question with me has given me some fresh insights into this concept that I had long forgotten and one I think is important to revisit because I think it is one that many teachers face.

Fear of rejection

Image by bigstockphotos.com
There are many wonderful teachers out there who are fantastic at their job but would not want to be judged
on what they do. In the last twelve months I have 3 instances where I had colleagues evaluate what I teach. I would prefer to speak in front of hundreds of people than get peer reviewed. I was so nervous. I was so worried about failing and appearing stupid in front of my colleagues. Of course it was fine and it went over really well but the bar I set for myself was so high I freaked myself out. The fear of being rejected by peers was overwhelming and staying within the safe walls of my own classroom is a much more comfortable space for me. Sharing on line and putting your thoughts and ideas out there for others to judge could really be daunting for some people. You do make yourself vulnerable for criticism and this can be hard.

Personality differences

There are some teachers who are quiet and private. There are some people who do not have a tendency to want to share and who like to keep to themselves. There are some teachers who feel that their intellectual knowledge has come about through hard work, experience and dedication and they are not about to share that freely with anyone or they might steal it an claim it as their own. Those of you who like to use social media probable have greatly benefited from the experience of others yet not everyone has the desire or the personal drive to want to do this. These teacher types don't like to be pushed into anything like social media and they will not be forced into doing it. I can respect that because social media is not for everyone.

Lack of confidence in writing
I know when I started to blog 3 years ago I wasn't very good at it. I might be an English teacher but writing wasn't necessarily my thing. I was so afraid that I would sound stupid and the things I wrote wouldn't make sense. It is one thing to verbalise and communicate effectively through this mode but writing your thoughts in some cohesive manner is completing different to speaking. I had to write and rewrite what I had written and even then I would delete whole blog posts. It took months and months of diligently writing on my blog to improve the way I communicate through the written word. When I was asked to be a guest blogger on some educational websites over the last few years I nearly fell over. I still don't consider myself to be a writer but I continue to develop the way that I express my thoughts and ideas through the written word. When you use social media you have to learn the language and jargon that goes with it. (e.g Twitter, 140 characters to say what you want) Like learning anything new it is best practice to sit and watch. See how others do it and then jump in and have a go. You can't break it and you might even enjoy it.

I don't have the skills
With an aging population comes an aging work force. Baby Boomers and many Generation X are not digital
Image by bigstockphotos.com
natives. We didn't spend our childhood playing internet games or being entertained by 'tablets' and devices. We actually went outside to play. Imagine that! Anyway there are many teachers who find it difficult to learn how to use technology and it takes them a lot longer to learn how to use it then say a Generation Y teacher. Some teachers are so busy with their full time teaching loads that making the time to regularly learn how to use social media falls into the too hard basket. So with these types of learners I like to go steady and slow. It's great to be in their ear reminding them of what's going on in social media and occasionally you help them 'dip a toe in' and have a go. There is a lot to be said for modelling and encouragement.

Image by bigstockphotos.com
Considering these points has brought back to the forefront of my mind the real and genuine barriers that teachers face when considering using social media.  For some teachers to share is to make themselves vulnerable for scrutiny by their colleagues and those in the education community. However whilst I can see these barriers I see it as my job as an advocate for education to equip and encourage the sharing of knowledge for the benefit of all.

"In vain you have acquired knowledge
if you have not imparted it to others."
Deuteronomy Rabbah
(c.900, commentary on the Book of Deuteronomy)

I do hope that if you do share using social media to help advocate for students and learning that you would encourage others to do so. It takes just one teacher at a time to help change a culture and recreate a technology revolution. 

I wish you all an inspiring and innovative semester!

Until next week,

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Feeling the buzz

You know when you are part of something exciting or new there is a real buzz in the air or 'feeling the vibe'.
Image by bigstockphotos.com
It's a strange sensation and not one I feel very often. I felt it at the first Teach Meet in Sydney I went to. (I was actually really nervous because I didn't know anyone and I wasn't sure what to do.) I felt it at TEDxSydney this year and totally felt like a fish out of water amongst all the young Gen Y city folk. I have felt it at staff development days when I am hanging of every word of the presenter and constantly thinking about how it relates to my teaching. I love the anticipation of knowing that I will have been part of something that improves my life for the better. I often feel this when I attend church conferences too. However it doesn't have to be a spiritual thing it can just be a moment of sheer joy and anticipation as to what is to come. The unknown can sometimes seem daunting but not always.

Image by bigstockphotos.com
This week I have been involved in enrollments at TAFE. Last week week we said goodbye to all our students who had completed their six month course. It was such a celebration of their hard work and even more rewarding was seeing many of them having confidence in themselves and having clear pathways as to what would be their next step for employment or further educational opportunities that would give them greater opportunities in the long term for employment and job satisfaction. This week was totally different. There were students standing around unsure of where they should be. Quiet students hanging back not wanting to reveal too much and some students really revving up and rearing to go. Some of our students from the previous term have decided to continue on with us and go on to harder courses because they felt they had some momentum in learning and wanted to keep going while they still had the drive. There are a real mix of people who come to TAFE and everyone who comes has a different path they need to take. 

Optimism is something I try to have lots of. I don't always succeed but often there is a real sense of optimism when students start something with the yearning desire to get through and succeed. TAFE has taught me that it doesn't matter how old you you can still learn and keep learning. I have had students in their 60s who are changing their careers. It's wonderful to see that there is no discrimination when it comes to learning. No one can tell you to stop learning. I relish the fact that life is a learning curve and I am always excited to learn something new particularly from my students. On the last day of term one of my classes  had a 'teach the teacher' day. It was great to be surprised by the different variety of knowledge and skills that my students possess. I have never and will never consider myself to be the font of all knowledge on my own subject area because quite frankly I just can't be. Knowledge and information is always changing and I am looking forward to next semester and the surprises that await for me. I am teaching on 3 courses I have never taught on before and I am a little overwhelmed by how much preparation I will need to do in the holidays but I feel like a dog with a bone. I can't wait to just get in and start programming. 

I am feeling the buzz of teaching something new that I love, History. (I love teaching History most of all) I also get to jump in and join the learning journey with my students. I am teaching Google Apps as well this term and was so excited to have the opportunity to share with others my love of technology. 
Image by bigstockphotos.com

I wish all my teaching pals a safe and happy school holidays and hope I can share with many of you at our next Central Coast Teach Meet!

Until next week,

Sunday, 15 June 2014

When learning becomes super fun

A friend of mine who owns a wonderful book shop, The Book Bazaar in Umina recently took a pic of one of
her window displays in which she drew the viewers eyes to Enid Blyton's, The Magic Faraway Tree series. These were some of my favorite stories growing up. When I read these stories as a child I was with Joe and Beth, Fanny and Dick (I have noticed in the new versions they changed the names of Fanny and Dick) and all the other characters. I was one of the kids. I couldn't wait to get up to the part in the story when they went up the Faraway Tree and peeked through the clouds to see what land was at the top. I loved the different folk that lived in the Faraway Tree and those who would come visit it when their land was at the top. I wanted Silky the most beautiful fairy I could imagine to be my best friend. Moon Face was one of my favorite characters and I would dream about trying one of his delicious gooey honey flavored pop cakes. One of the most wonderful things about these stories was that in my imagination the scene was perfect and the pictures in my head were clear and wonderful. So engaged was I in the text that 25 years later I feel like I am writing about an old friend. I went on scary and dangerous adventures as well as indulging my imagination in the Land of Sweets. These stories made me read deeper and deeper into the text and I tasted every morsel of imaginative delight as I read from cover to cover.

One great thing about the internet is that you can get some wonderful and creative teaching ideas from others. Just as Enid Blyton stirred my imagination as a child I know that there are teachers who are recreating places and adventures right in their own classrooms. There may be some of you that feel that Harry Potter or The Magic Treehouse series are some examples where students can immerse themselves in the land of make believe. I know some teachers whose students are so engaged in what they are doing that they don't hear the bell or keep talking about the lesson via social media sometimes days after it happened. Your imagination is a learning muscle just like any other learning muscle. It needs to be flexed and used every now and then. 

In this day and age technology has become, for some teachers the thorn in their side, whilst for others they are too busy playing maths in Minecraft with their students to notice that other teachers have no clue what
 they are up to and can only see them wasting time and resources playing video games. We can't have every lesson playing games but there is much to be said about learning when it is fun. There are some that think video games are a cop out to students using their imaginations but I think there can be a balance struck. There are so many apps that students can use to create their own video games and movies which display their knowledge and understanding of a topic or concept that allows them to not only learn experentially but enables learning to be super fun. 

My son went to Super Nova in Sydney today and met one of his childhood heroes Stan Lee. (The creator of Marvel comics.) He was telling me about this creative place where people were dressed up and thoroughly immersed in the world of make believe. There were people from all generations there and clearly make believe doesn't just stop when we leave our childhood. Some of the world's most amazing theme parks, architecture, art and engineering all require that space in our brains where our imaginations are probed. So clearly learning can be super fun and I hope that our students can develop life long learning through engaging in super fun learning from time to time in our classes. 

Until next week,

Friday, 13 June 2014

Cross curriculum sharing

Over the last month I have attended some professional development training through TAFE that was specifically targeted at inspiring us as teachers to reflect upon our teaching practices and philosophies. Yesterday marked the last day and so it has been on my mind in the last 24 hours. The best way I find to get these thoughts sorted is to blog. Yeah for blogging!!

These sessions covered teaching and learning styles, classroom management, lesson preparation and delivery, feedback, validation and  challenges our students face through discrimination, stereotypes and disabilities and the struggles that our international students have to contend with each and every day. It was quite refreshing to hear how teachers were able to facilitate learning where there seemed to be many barriers. It was wonderful to hear about students who are making an impact in our communities and below is a story of a student who truly inspired me.

Through cross curriculum sharing I have begun to think with a new perspective about the teaching and learning experiences in my classroom and how they are going to impact my students when they engage in work and employment once they leave my course and how their learning experiences will impact their life and others in their lives. Any sort of learning is never wasted and even on our worst days we can learn from our life experiences. Often it is in these difficult experiences that we learn the most. We often don't know as teachers when our students will apply what they have learnt in class or with whom.

It's easy to stay in our own teaching discipline to work hard at what we know but I have rediscovered that the learning experience is much broader than that for our students and drawing on experiences and stories from a range of educational and work disciplines allows the students to make greater connections, be more resourceful and reflective.

So can I encourage you to go and ask a colleague what they are teaching in their classroom and share a story or two. Whilst I am thinking in this vein I am currently in the throws of organising the next Central Coast Teach Meet. If you do live on the Central Coast then please come along. Make sure you register and please consider sharing what's working in your school/ TAFE college or University that might inspire others to think beyond their normal range of experience.

Until next week,

Monday, 9 June 2014

Do we trust teachers?

A good friend of mine posted this image on her Facebook page the other day and it really got me thinking. Has there really been such a paradigm shift in the thinking of parents in relation to how their little darlings are 'performing' at school. Being a parent myself there are certainly the 'over achieving' parents who will do anything to make sure their little treasure is coming first however do we by and large really trust teachers to fully educate our children?

Image by bigstockphotos.com
This thinking led me to a conversation with one of my classes this week about school reports. All of the students in the class who were parents (which was about 90%) felt that they would like someone to sit down and explain the school reports because there was so much education jargon that they really didn't understand how their child was really doing. They really felt that school reports were not in plain English. Perhaps it is these confusing reports that are really putting pressure on teachers to try and explain to parents what their student can and can't do?

It seems as though on the world stage Australia's are excelling in many areas. Science, Arts, Medicine, Innovation, technology, Agriculture yet we often hear in the media that we need more teacher training because it must be the teachers to blame for the supposedly bad school results. I find all this very confusing and conflicting and it is hard to know what to believe.

It is hardly fair of parents who have unrealistic expectations of their child and take no responsibility for their child's education outside of school hours to blame the teachers for their poor results. Perhaps it's a generational thing. Maybe kids these days spend too much time on technology and don't do the extra study and reading that previous generations did?

There is a bigger problem here though I think. In generations past teachers were rev erred and admired.
There has definitely been a shift in thinking in subsequent decades. There have been many reported cases of child abuse in both public and private schools. There have been schools and individual teachers sued because of poor school results and of course don't forget the overly scrutinised NAPLAN results that have left genuinely great schools and teachers feeling vulnerable by the lack of trust of parents in the community.

It's a real shame and I don't know how to solve the problem but I wish parents would take on board a team mentality. Children and adult learner's alike need to be in a learning partnership so that all partied have the opportunity to succeed.
During the week I watched Sugata Mitra talk about his dream for a school in the cloud. Perhaps this is where education is going in the future?

Until next week,

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Why not think outside the box?

I don't know about you but in recent years I have completed some personality tests. I have blogged about this before. It's a very interesting topic because it makes you think about why you are the way you are and what is it that drives you to work and function in life. As the years go on I am becoming more comfortable in my own skin. That's a strange statement for a 37 year old. You'd think by now that I had grown up. Well I feel like I still am. I have always been an out of the box thinker. My mind is veraciously coming up with new ideas for teaching and education. My poor boss can barely keep up with my ideas. He says I have ADHTD, Attention Deficit Hyper Teaching Disorder. I'm always on the go and constantly thinking and sensing how we can do things better to engage students in their learning.

Image by bigstockphotos.com
There have times this year when I have felt very down about the changes that are happening in the education sector however if I allow these to take over then my teaching will be greatly affected. So when I feel that my teaching is tired and mediocre I turn to the file on my hard drive called, 'Kathryn's big ideas'. It's these teaching and learning ideas that I have come up with or gleaned from others that allow me to think outside the box. Sometimes these ideas are to do with technology and other times they are more to do with the connections that people have to their space or community. In doing so I have notice that if I incorporate some of my crazy ideas in class the students are more engaged in their learning and they often comment more on how passionate I am about what I do. It is these unique ideas and ways of teaching that shows we aren't robots. I have noticed that when I am enthusiastic, passionate and creative in how I teach it is the students in turn that learn and experience new concepts and ideas in real and meaningful ways and I find I have my best teaching days. A shared journey is far more exciting and meaningful then one where you are going at it alone. 

If you are reading this blog then you are clearly a dedicated teacher or interested person who wishes to engage in a world outside your own thinking. I'm clearly not talking to you. However if you know someone that doesn't engage in regular (I mean at least every few weeks or at the very least once a month) professional development or conversation about what they are actually doing in their classroom then how can they ever remain fresh, vibrant and relevant to the cohort that they are teaching? I often need others to inspire me or to help me get an idea going and there is no way that I could do my job on my own. My teaching practices reflect a community of educators who support and share with me and allow me to make mistakes and give me feedback on how I can do things better. Our head teacher regularly pops in to watch our classes. He is happy to discuss what is going on in our classes over lunch or just pop into his office for a chat. 

So can I encourage you if you are an out of the box thinker to never stop dreaming and thinking of new and
Image by presentermedia.com
innovative ways to learn. If you aren't an out of the box thinker then please be there to keep us grounded in reality with a hint of compassion that our bubble might be burst but necessary because our ideas are a little too way out there for that particular moment in time.

I think I've 90% secured a place for the next Central Coast Teach Meet so watch this space because by next week I will announce the venue. (It's a fantastic venue too!) Friday night 8th August is the date so keep it free. More info to come next week. 

Have a great week,

p.s. Check out #ozengchat on Twitter from last night for a most interesting discussion on cognitive enhancement drugs with Dr Nicole Vincent. 

Saturday, 24 May 2014

Is technology the silver bullet to getting a job?

Since the federal budget was announced last week there has been speculation and overall outrage by many
Image by bigstockphotos.com
students about the high cost of education in Australia. I have been reminding myself this week that I do live in the lucky country. We do enjoy a high standard of living for most Australians and this by in large is because we live in a safe country. It must be terrible for teachers and students who live in country's where you they sure there will be a bomb explosion somewhere near them and they hope it's not on their house, bus, school or shopping centre. Learning and working under this kind of stress must be awful and frightening.

I agree that education needs to be affordable but there is a part of me that is so grateful that we value education so highly that we need to pay well for it and that all can access it. There will be some that argue that this is a middle class mindset yet I know I had to work three jobs in order to get myself through uni all those years ago. Nothing changes. Having to pay back student loans has been around for a long time now and this is not going to change. My parents are farmers. My father came to this country from a Japanese prisoner of war camp after World War II with nothing. Through sheer hard work he managed to forge a life himself and his family. He worked several jobs to save for a deposit for a farm. He worked the land and loved it and still does. We were not plonked into middle class Australia like some but through sheer blood and sweat worked solidly for many years, like many migrant families to build a better life for ourselves. When I left home in my second year of uni I had nothing. I was not handed a silver spoon and had to work hard to pay my bills, educate myself and gain employment. However I realise that times are changing and there are those who are not fortunate enough to have the same opportunities I was afforded. Notably unconditional love and support of my family.

With the changing social fabric of our society the educational demands of this current generation will not be getting easier any time soon. The previous generations (baby boomers and generation x) are the employers and they are demanding higher qualifications for jobs. Experience too is required to get a reasonably paying job. With such great demands on generation y it is no wonder they are frustrated about finding employment when many of them live in areas such as the Central Coast in NSW where unemployment of this highly educated generation sits at 24%.

Image by presentermedia.com
So is there a silver lining in all of this? Well I am no fortune teller but I see that there will be a greater influx of students who will head towards MOOCs for their qualifications. For many students they have grown up with access to an online world. Education and training that is provided through the online space will undoubtedly grow rapidly in the coming years.  Zac Sims, founder of Code Academy suggests that they live in a 'tech-saturated culture' so they will certainly welcome this change. Institutions like Coursera will continue to grow and allow free access to higher education free. The university of Queensland is also getting on board with idea through UQx and it will not be long before it becomes the norm. Already most universities are offering courses online or at the very least are using technology to support face to face learning.

It will be a challenge for some educators to embrace this change. Debbie Morrison notes that in Columbia University's research on future forecast in learning educators have not yet fully embraced it as a learning
medium.  Future directions for the university in terms of online delivery as seen in the above table. This shows the institute values online learning but those who will actually deliver it are still to embrace and come on board fully. The cost of online learning in regard to preparation and delivery are set to sore yet if both universities and institutions for adult education and training don't come on board they will be missing out on a large portion of their revenue to a cohort that is demanding learning that is flexible and accessible online.

Quality education is what matters in my classroom. Evaluating and reflecting on teaching and education is why I blog. I need to take time to think about how and why I use technology and whether or not I will be part of this great new change in education that is happening. It is clearly a revolution in learning and one which I do hope to be part of. I am excited by this new medium and I know that quality education can still be delivered using this platform.

I do hope the next generation don't give up on education because of the high price they will pay for it. I do hope that there can be greater opportunities for them through the online world to get a great education and also a great job.

Until next week,

p.s. This week I tried using Poll Everywhere to gauge a response from students. Fast and effective. Will use again!

Sunday, 11 May 2014

What's your story?

Stories reflect the very essence of who were are. There are some that think hand writing can reflect our personalities. Milton Newman Bunker invented a system called graphoanalysis that determines our personalities based on the slants and curvature of our hand writing. Many of my students still like to make hand written notes because they say they recall information more easily if they have written it down. Whilst hand writing is fast becoming a thing of the past I don't think it will ever be completely replace with technology. At least I hope not.

Every where we go we leave bits of ourselves in the world we live in. I remember watching the film Gattaga and thinking do we really shed 500 million cells a day? It seems we leave an imprint of ourselves now through social media and technology as we weave our way through the internet and our new social environments. More and more we print and write using technology and every strike of the keyboard is an intended thought reflecting yet again another inch of who we are. So even while we may try to remain ambiguous to those who we don't know, particularly online, there is no escaping the actual person behind the writing. Robots will never be able to reflect individual thought and personality.

Much of what I do in life is listen to stories. I love stories and always have. Adult education lends itself to a lot of story telling. Without listening to people's stories we can't really help them reach their potential. Tailoring learning to meet each person's need is so important in adult education because these learning experiences often affect not only the individual but their families also. Changing your life or career can have a major impact on your family and students need quality educational outcomes to meet the great sacrifice they are making to their lives and their families.

Sharing the learning journey becomes part of the weave of your life as a teacher. For many students writing their story becomes extremely powerful. I have had a number of students who had years of therapy only to find they felt free when they had written and shared their story were they ready to move on. Writing can be incredible intimate and leave you feeling vulnerable. It can allow thoughts to be processed and decisions to be set in concrete. For thousands of years writing can change the course of peoples lives. One love letter can set in course a motion that will completely change your life forever.  It is these stories that shape and frame us. The stories of our lives and those around us infect our thoughts, actions and deeds and it upon these that our working lives are influenced. We are who we are not by being hermits but by the stories and interaction with others. Stories have the power to change perceptions and allow us time to reflect and consider the state of play.

As I write this blog I am about to go to a funeral of a wonderful 91 year old lady who influenced my life
through her story. I hope that you have people in your life who influence your life story in a positive way and help you be the best person that only you can be. We can never try to be anyone other than ourselves and to try and do otherwise is to cheat ourselves and ignore the very core of who we are.

Even though I have not met a lot my teaching friends on social media they have become part of my story. Please keep sharing your stories with me, they enrich my life.

Until next week,

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Is there a literacy gap for Gen X and Baby Boomers?

A few weeks ago I said I needed to apply for my job. Well I have and I am still waiting for my interview but hey, I'm not going anywhere so I'm sure it will happen sometime. Anyway after chatting with some colleagues of mine about addressing selection criteria in a job application it got me thinking. Why do so many people stress out about addressing this criteria when they are applying for a job? Much of what I do in my job is to make learning meaningful and the skills set that we give students also needs to be relevant to today's world and I feel that interpretation of 'job jargon' or should I say 'industry jargon' is not explicitly taught. It is something that we all assumed to understand.  However I don't think that this is the case.

When I was in primary school in the 1980s we weren't given marking criteria and guidelines. (If fact we
Image by bigstockphotos.com
spent most of our time trying to record our favorite songs off the radio using our super cool tapes and walkmans.)However there were fairly detailed syllabuses for year 11 and 12 but for junior years in high school it was widely open to creative teaching on a range of topics and ideas. It wasn't until you were in your senior years of school that the whole assessment thing because seriously hectic. So for many people who were taught in schools in the 1980s they were given a task and then asked to interpret and complete it to the best of their ability. Of course the teacher would explain the task clearly but there was never the strict dot point and guidelines like there are today. So you might be wondering why I am rabbiting on about assessment tasks and being able to interpret them however I see that there is a direct link to this and being able to address selection criteria in a job application. Being able to read, interpret and analysis are higher order thinking operations. Not only does the information in the job application need comprehension it also requires much more thought than that in order to address all the requirements of a job. In many instances employers are looking for how you have used these skills and applied them to your current job or situations that you have encountered. Being able to understand and use the jargon to best address the selection criteria is paramount to even getting a look in with an employer.

After many discussions with students and teachers this week many felt that it is something that is time consuming and confusing at times. Many felt inadequate about really understanding what it was that the employer were asking and weren't confident using the jargon that was used in the job advertisement.

It seems that this current generation at school will have an advantage when it comes to applying for jobs
Image by bigstockphotos.com
because they are familiar with reading and understanding how this type of text operates. There has been much debate about increasing the retirement age to 70 and if this happens then we will all be working longer and applying for more jobs when we are older. It becomes much harder to compete with young people for work when they are confident in addressing selection criteria. Many of my students reflected today that having a gap in education and work to have children had greatly decreased their literary abilities in this area because they haven't been reading, writing and thinking this way for many years. If you don't use it you lose it. It is hard for them to compete for work with young people because they don't feel confident addressing selection criteria and using current industry jargon. This is why TAFE is yet again another crucial service for these people because we can help these adult learners understand the jargon and try and address the selection criteria so they at least get a look in for a job.

I don't know how this can be addressed but I do know that it is becoming increasingly harder for older workers to stay employed and be employed and I do hope that governments begin to tackle this problem in a more genuine way than they have off late. There needs to be a change in perception about older workers and their contribution to the work force because they have much experience and wisdom to contribute to the effective and efficient running of the nation's work force.

I'm not usually one to be so political but it is a concern that there appears to be a literacy gap for some adult workers and I do hope that TAFE will still be around long enough to help them.

Enough musings...

Until next week,


p.s. Just an aside, thanks so much for the great feedback from last week's posts. Don't forget to check out all the talks for TED x Sydney 2014!

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Are Cognitive Enhancement drugs over perscribed?

So I had a fantastic weekend at TED x Sydney. It's not often I take time out of life to think about things beyond my world and situation. The event showcased scientists, professionals from the education and medical profession along with with talented musicians and artists. There were speakers with disabilities who highlighted the point that they live in the same world we do and often have similar jobs to able bodied people yet they are often treated so differently even when they don't want to be. Judy and Tim Sharpe were super inspiring and I would encourage you to watch their talk when it becomes available. They were the only talk that received a complete standing ovation from the audience.

I guess two of the speakers that stood out most to me were Neuroscienist Cyndi Weickert and Philosopher Nicole Vincent. It was so inspiring to hear about the advances into a cure for Schizophrenia from Cyndi. Her amazing journey and clearly passionate drive is seeking to really make a difference for suffers of this really debilitating mental illness. Nicole Vincent's talk on Cognitive Enhancement drugs has still got my brain thinking and I had a lively conversation with my colleagues today. These drugs may include Ritalin, sleeping pills and other stimulants that help you to focus or stay awake. She, like many others have some real concerns about the long term impact of these drugs on young and developing brains as well as consideration as to how these drugs might be giving some students an academic edge over others. This was something I
Image by bigstockphotos.com
hadn't really thought about. If an elite athlete took drugs to enhance their performance they would be stripped of their titles and shamed beyond all measure yet we have kids who take drugs to help them focus and learn whilst other students don't take any cognitive enhancing drugs. For some children who find that Ritalin does help them focus because they suffer from ADHD this can be a life saving gift for them but does this mean that they will have to take it for the rest of their lives in order to keep a job or function in life? As a stimulant it would be concerning the long term impact this might have on their body.

Image by bigstockphotos.com
For some academics and professionals who travel around the world to speak many take sleeping pills to help regulate their sleep patterns so they will be fresh to give talks. Are we getting to a stage where we need to take drugs in order to do our jobs? Is this ok? These were some of the arguments that Nicole pondered and I think that having a debate about this is essential or otherwise taking drugs for cognitive enhancement will become the norm. I don't have any real answers to these questions but I do think a debate about this is necessary and not one to be taken lightly.

Connecting with people outside the realm of education was great and broad networking is helping me stay current in terms of what different industries are facing at the moment and it also helps my general world view on a range of topics. Talking to people with experiences from a variety of industry backgrounds means they often come to topics with a slightly different perspective to mine. It's refreshing to look at something in a new way.

All in all I know that thinking outside the box can deliver new ways of approaching a problem or present a new perspective on a topic that once appeared so clear but now there may be different options to consider. I'm enjoying the mental stimulation and have been thinking of ways of incorporating some of the ideas that were presented at TED x Sydney into my classes and into conversation with family, friends, colleagues and students.

Try a TED talk with your class today.

Until next week,