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

~Neale Donald Walsch~

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.

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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
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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
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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%.

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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
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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
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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!