The Death of School Uniforms?


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One of my favorite stories in the news last week was the group of boys who wore dresses to protest the lack of shorts as an option in their school’s uniform code in summer.

Every week there seems to be another story about students rebelling against overly restrictive or insensitive uniform and / or appearance policies.

Whether students wear a uniform or mufti, or some kind of ‘multiform’, there are always going to be ructions around appropriate dress codes. Teenagers in particular are always going to test the boundaries. And school policies around the rest of children’s appearance, such as facial hair, religious paraphernalia, political pageantry, jewelry, hair styles, and like, are equally tricky. 

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What is interesting is how often these sorts of dress code issues make national and international news.

Why is that?

Could it be that reporters revel in young rebels taking on the system? And what is more representative of the system and ‘uniformity’ than traditional schools?

Or could it be that these skirmishes over uniform and appearance are a reflection of a deeper trend of individualism and of a growing mistrust of traditional institutions? 

Do students think of these rules as an attack on their individuality and self-expression? Are kids using uniform issues to protest a system which they see as not acting in their best interests? (In the same way that Britons and Americans have used their votes as a means of expressing their mistrust in their political and economic systems?)

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Perhaps it is too big a leap to associate uniform scrimmages with Brexit and the rise of Donald Trump. Whatever the reason is, it’s interesting to me that so many schools that pay lip-service to nurturing independence and individuality and creativity and student-centered education still insist on strict and outdated uniform regulations. 

In South Africa (and many other former colonies), this is particularly rife, with many of our students still traipsing around looking like little Eton clones – in the heart of the African continent.

There are good arguments both for and against wearing uniforms at school. But the mistake that the pro-uniformers often make is to insist that they somehow magically ‘encourage respect’ (presumably for the school, or their teachers, or even themselves) or that they somehow foster ‘school spirit’. Neither of these is true.

You’ll hear the same thing that is said about uniforms said about school ‘traditions’: They are one of those things that you simply don’t question, “Because we’ve always done it this way”, or “Because it’s an integral part of our identity.”

Until a few brave young souls decide to rebel against this uniformity and obedience to outdated traditions, and to insist that schools respect them as much as they are told to respect school.

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I don’t think there is an easy answer to the problem of dress and appearance codes at schools. Nor do I think that the answer is necessarily to do away with uniforms altogether. Learning to dress appropriately for different contexts is as important a skill as understanding how to use appropriate tone in different contexts.

I do think the uniform issue is an interesting battle-ground between the traditionalists and progressives. Or between what schools say they want for their students and what they actually want.

It would be intriguing to see if a few of the boys who protested by wearing skirts actually ended up preferring them, and if the girls at the school began protesting having to wear girls’ skirts by wearing boys’ shorts. Gender bias in uniform and appearance regulations has to be an issue which is going to be increasingly questioned in the coming years. Already, some forward-looking schools are accommodating transgender students by allowing them to select the uniform they feel most comfortable in.

But why stop there?

What will happen, I wonder, when students start turning their minds to canned curricula and one-size-fits-all teaching styles?

Uniforms encourage uniformity. In an age of individuality and progressive thinking, they are surely going to come under increasing attack. Thinking critically about school traditions, and taking collective action against repressive, outmoded ways of doing things has to be a good thing. It’s what we say we want from our students more generally when we talk about independent thinking, tolerance, and social justice.

Perhaps the answer is for schools use uniform debates as a way to engage and negotiate with students in a calm and respectful manner, which models how the bigger issues in society should be handled.

 

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Espresso Thoughts: On the Moral Imperative to Innovate Education


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Espresso Ideas: Small but strong ideas to make you sit up and say ‘yeah!’ (Also known as wasabi ideas)

There are so many new ideas around improving / evolving / revolutionizing education at the moment. To mention but a few: Educational technology, progressive pedagogies (or heutagogies), brain-based research, a new focus on soft skills, collaborative methodologies, project-based learning, and many, many more.

There are so many new things in education these days that it seems to many of us that it would be better just to stick with what we know. After all, it works. Doesn’t it?

Well, yes. It often does. But my question is always about what we are potentially depriving kids of if we don’t try some of the new innovative ideas in education. Old methodologies do work, for the most part, but what about the stuff our kids might be missing out on?

By all means, let’s do our research and try distinguish what will work for us and what will not. Let’s even conduct a pilot project and research it ourselves. But, if our kids stand even a remote chance of gaining new skills, dispositions, and competencies they could not have learnt the old way, then dammit we have to try. 

Put more strongly: 

How dare we not explore new teaching methodologies if they could potentially make the education we offer our students more effective, meaningful, and relevant?

How dare we not offer our students the chance to become better thinkers, better innovators, and better citizens of the world?

How dare we not allow them to explore their own personal interests, to become more confident and engaged young people, and to be active participants in the world, rather than passive bystanders?

We have a moral imperative to innovate how we teach, and it is simply this: As custodians of learning and the development of young citizens, we are compelled to offer the most effective education we can.

How dare we not?

Child laborers Lewis Hine (4)

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On School Leaders and Sandcastles


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Being a school leader must be a bit like trying protect a sandcastle against the waves: let off for just a minute, and things can start to go wrong, spend too long on one thing, and the other parts start crumbling. And all of this while you’re trying to make your towers touch the sky.

The temptation must be to try and buy a little time by ignoring the bits that seem as if they are on safe ground in favor of those which seem a little too close to the swash. But, as any sandcastle builder will tell you, it’s most often the parts that you never expect to fail that slump and slide into the surf.

Keep protecting the parts that you know are going to wash away, while ignoring the parts that seem sturdy, and soon enough, the whole castle will end up a featureless lump in the sand.

Instead, I think it may be best to let those bits that are going to wash away do so, while reinforcing the parts that are solid. And then adding more bits like the ones that are holding up well. 

And it can’t hurt to build the whole thing on higher ground.

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Tech Tools: Have You Tried? (6: Padlet)


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Padlet is a collaborative pinboard / brainstorming platform. It works across platforms and has quite a robust free version.

Padlet can be set up for secure sharing, and can handle many different file types. Students can reorganise ideas, and can link their thoughts with connector lines. Think of it as collaborative, interactive, less annoying version of Pinterest.

The real strength of Padlet is that it enables collaborative sharing and discussion. It is also a lovely way to encourage learning beyond the classroom.

Try Padlet for…

  • Class discussions
  • Cooperative brainstorming
  • Group research tasks
  • Curation of class resources
  • Literature analysis
  • Book reviews
  • Presentations
  • Digital Portfolios
  • Inspiration Boards

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Miss one? Go to: http://bit.ly/techtools2try

 

Head over to: https://padlet.com/

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From Mindfulness to Pivoting: On Education’s Obsession With Startup Pageantry


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In case you’re not up to speed:

A startup is a newly established entrepreneurial company which is typically founded upon an innovative product. Startups tend to be focused on rapid development in order to secure venture funding, crowd-sourced capital, or lucrative acquisitions. They are associated with highly skilled, if slightly oddball team members, and are often associated with non-traditional, low stress, fun working environments. Startups are high risk, high reward ventures.

There are quite a few features of a typical startup which make them attractive as role-models for innovative schools:

  • The rapid absorption and use of new ideas around motivation, management, and getting things done.
  • The allure of massive, unprecedented, and paradigm-shifting success.
  • A culture of expertise, experimentation, and high expectations.
  • The liberal, non-traditional environment which encourages high performance.
  • The marketing appeal of a culture of innovation.
  • The potential of attracting highly skilled people.
  • The nimbleness of being able to adapt, realign and re-imagine themselves in a relatively short period of time.

And so on.

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A great deal of the pageantry draped around startups has already made its way into many liberal schools and educational discussions:

  • The vaguely Zen Buddhist notion of mindfulness – which involves a singular, undistracted focus on the immediate task at hand. In education, this mindfulness is used to get kids to focus only on the immediate lesson or task, and to encourage them to prepare better for high stakes assessments.
  • The similarly Buddhistish culture of meditation to clear the mind of intrusive thoughts – which could potentially sabotage success with distraction or self-doubt.
  • Re-imagining spaces and environments to make them less traditional and more conducive to engagement and performance. There is a big trend in education at present to make learning spaces more child-centered, movable, modular and fun.
  • The notion of removing time and space as an obstacle to working. Blended learning and life-long learning have become the educational equivalent of telecommuting.
  • Project-based learning (PBL) programs aim to emulate startup environments by encouraging 10X thinking, ideation, rapid prototyping, real world innovation, design thinking, ‘failing forward’, resilience (aka ‘grit’), and entrepreneurial aptitudes.
  • The nearly magical alchemy of collaboration and crowd-sourcing which takes ordinary learning and makes it both richer and deeper.
  • Growth hacking – Questioning the often invisible structures, policies and procedures associated with education, taking them apart, and designing better, more efficient solutions.
  • Disruption. In the sense that we make a sea-change in how things are done. (See this post.)
  • Pivoting and agility: The ability to change course rapidly in the light of new demands and developments. (These two items of jargon are not yet widespread in education, but, if the trend I describe in this post holds true, I imagine they will be soon.)
  • Leanness and big data: Scrutinizing data in order to eliminate waste and bolster what works.
  • Gamification: Using the structures and features of games (like experience points, levels, powers and rewards) to motivate and engage.
  • Technology stacks: The unique set of ‘Lego bricks’ from which a school’s technology-enhanced learning solution is composed. Some schools prefer a single provider, most others prefer a mix-and-match, ‘horses for courses’ approach. (Note: ‘stack logic’ will, I predict, soon invade schools, and we will talk about ‘talent stacks’, ‘learning stacks’ and even ‘staffing stacks’)

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So what’s wrong with all of this?

Well, for most of it, not much. When it comes to engagement, enhancing learning and generally getting things done at schools, borrowing from the trappings of the startup world has many merits.

But I do have concerns:

Progressive schools tend to seek out and implement strategies and processes which have worked elsewhere. Most often, there is a cost involved in doing so – whether it be in terms of human resources, training, infrastructure and even time. As with most things, the sunk cost fallacy makes schools loathe to backtrack on their investment – even if these new programs are not working as well as anticipated.

Related to reluctance to tank a new program because of sunk cost, is the fact that confirmation bias often creeps in to how we see new educational programs. We evaluate the successes of these programs by selecting and focusing on what works, and by minimizing and ignoring what doesn’t. Many poorly planned and implemented iPad programs, for example, suffer from confirmation bias in evaluating their effectiveness in boosting learning.

Most startups fail. And yet we tend to focus on the ones that do not. I have written about this survivorship bias in relation to education before, but in a nutshell: focusing just on ‘what works’ and ignoring what doesn’t often leads to false cause-and-effect conclusions, where the truth is more likely to be coincidental.

Wikipedia has a very relevant example of survivorship bias:

…if three of the five students with the best college grades went to the same high school, that can lead one to believe that the high school must offer an excellent education. This could be true, but the question cannot be answered without looking at the grades of all the other students from that high school, not just the ones who “survived” the top-five selection process.

(David McRaney has a fantastic example of how overcoming survivorship bias saved lives by allowing more bomber crews to return home safely in World War II.)

But my biggest concern in the trend of schools trying to learn from startups is this: No school, no matter how corporately-minded is purely about profits. They are about people. Specifically young people.

What works to secure funding doesn’t necessarily work neurologically, educationally, or emotionally at schools. High stakes and high risks are a part of school, yes, as are high expectations, but to go ahead and adopt startup solutions as haphazardly as we download apps is more than a little bit irresponsible. Schools need to adopt a research-based approach instead of being dazzled by the latest piece of startup glitter.

We also need to relearn to focus on the long-term. Our mission is not to make a short-term profit (by looking good when our students do well in their final standardized assessments), but rather to invest in their long-term future. We must never lose sight of our ultimate aim: to help our young people to become more independent, resilient, adaptable, fulfilled, and engaged citizens.

Peace.

Sean.

 

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Schools, Universities, and the Workplace. Who is to Blame for Not Producing Independent Thinkers?


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Cast:

Ms Demanding Workplace

Mr Selective University

Mrs Compliant School


DW – Ugh! I’m so tired of these employees of mine. No vision, no initiative. Everything needs to be done for them.

CS – If you could just…

SU – (Interrupting CS.) I know. It’s the same problem here. They come out of school with no ability to think independently. They just sit there and write things down. And when they’re questioned, they give us the textbook answer!

CS – But you ask us to…

DW – We have told the media time and time again that businesses of the twenty-first century demand a new set of skills. Where’s the creativity? Where’s the critical thinking? Where’s the problem-solving and the ability to collaborate!?

CS – We try to…

SU – I hear you! We have the same problem. It’s like if this stuff isn’t learned early enough, it’s too late. Our lecturers always complain about the lack of insight and critical thinking they read in student essays. And it’s getting worse.

CS – But surely…

DW – It has to be our schools that are at fault.

CS – Now wait just a…

SU – Absolutely! We can only work with what we’re given.

DW – We need to be more vocal and controversial in our communications to the media: Change the education system! Teach independent thought and innovative thinking! Ten Things Employers Look For! 5 Skills for the Modern Workplace!

SU – And let’s agitate for better teacher training! More rigor! More focus! Higher standards! Meta-analysis!

CS – (In her best teacher voice. Faint quivers in her voice giving away how close she is to losing her composure.) Sit down, the two of you. Immediately. And listen. No! No interruptions! I’m tired of your bullying. This has gone on long enough! I’m speaking now. And you’re listening.

Want to know why all of this is happening? It’s your fault. Mr University: Do you know why you think the students we send you are so unspectacular? Well, try a teaching methodology that goes a bit beyond your stand-and-deliver lectures for a start. And assessments which go beyond exams. Most of the schools you complain about mirror your methods exactly.

But more importantly, your selection criteria are to blame. You tell us you only want those who score above a certain average grade on a standardized test. So we prepare them for that test.

We prepare them to do well in their exams because you create the perception that this is all that matters – just so that your selection process is made easier. And our parents believe this to be the sole purpose of school. As do the media. This is why they are so obsessed with results all the time.

Perhaps if you could consider looking at a more personalized set of criteria, one that embraces critical thinking, creativity, collaborative skills and independent problem solving, we would be more able to focus on those things. Because believe me, we desperately want to.

And then you do studies and meta-studies and you create lists about what works and what doesn’t work in education – based on children’s ability to remember things and to do well in tests. Is this what education is to you? Is it any wonder that all you get is the result of children learning to take tests well?

And you Ms Workplace. It’s your fault too. You sit there all high and mighty and issue missives of complaint, but what are you actually doing to help? Sponsoring chairs and endowments and scholarships for Mr University is what. The two of you, thick as thieves, having your conferences about what’s wrong with education. And then spreading your inane ‘solutions’ to the media.

When do you ever offer to get involved with schools directly? When do you ever turn to University and insist that he changes how he does his selections? Schools these days are far more innovative than either of you two can ever imagine. But the bottom line is that we have a responsibility to get these kids where they want to go. And that is determined by the two of you.

No. I’m still talking.

It strikes me that the two of you are actually only covering up your own shortcomings. The problem isn’t a ‘foundational’ or ‘grassroots’ problem. The problem is a top-down problem. You’re passing the buck, and I expect both of you to own up immediately.

Want better schools? Want sharper, more resilient, more innovative, more independent people at your organizations? Want more mavericks, more energetic out-of-the-box thinkers? Well then, dammit, start rewarding those people who display these aptitudes in your own organizations, instead of rewarding compliance.

It’s time to go to your corner and have a rethink. Ms Workplace: how about you bring your funding and your needs to schools directly, and help us to re-imagine what we do? And keep back your endowments to Mr University until he changes what he does and how he selects students.

Mr University, how about you rethink how you select students to be trained for their careers? Yes, yes, I know it’s more difficult to work with individuals rather than test scores. But it will pay off, I promise. Nothing worth doing is ever easy, as they say.

And while you’re at it, you must set the example. When 90% of what you do is lecture and examine, is it any wonder that you have fewer and fewer independent thinkers?

Have I made myself clear? I expect much better from the two of you from now on.

I’ll be watching you.

 

 

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Tech Tools: Have You Tried? (5: Accessibility Settings)


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An often-overlooked feature of most tablets and smart devices, accessibility settings are incredibly useful in education.

The best thing is to try the various options to see what they do. (You can always turn them off again.)

 

Here are some things you can do:

  1. Have your device read text to you. (For those teachers who do a lot of reading, research, you can speed the voice up quite a bit. With some practice, you can get through long articles incredibly quickly.)
  2. For struggling readers and students who struggle to focus, the text reading function helps to focus their attention. Use ‘Alex’ for the best results (He even breathes naturally!)
  3. Students with visual impairments can zoom parts of the screen, or, when typing, the text that is typed. The zoom function even comes with filters to assist with other visual impairments.
  4. There are also options for students with psycho-motor and hearing difficulties.

Showing something on an iPad to a class or some other audience? Enable ZOOM and SHOW CONTROLLER to get something that looks like this:

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Head over to: https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT204390

 

Miss one? Go to: http://bit.ly/techtools2try

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Response: What Will Technology in Schools Be Like in 100 Years?



Written in response to this article: http://incare-k12.com/what-will-the-classroom-be-like-in-100-years/ (and others like it.)

Let’s start with this: 100 years is an absurdly long time to try and predict anything. For one thing, human population may well be in excess of 12 billion, and non-renewable natural resources will be all but used up. If we’re still around, we might have many, many other pressing issues to worry about.

Or else we might have sorted ourselves out and be living in a prosperous, sustainable, peaceful world.

Either way, 100 years is much too far away to predict anything, especially when it’s hard to suss out how technology in particular will change in just three years from now.

So let’s pick a more realistic number. How about 20 years? A generation. An entirely new set of kids. What will technology in schools look like in 2037? 

Here are my predictions:



Student Driven

Technology will challenge students to create and conduct their own individual learning journey, while connecting them with other students and mentors on similar (or even very different paths) so that they can work collaboratively to exchange and compare their learning. Benchmarking and assessing will also be more individually focused and much less standardized.


Teacher Roles Rewritten

Teachers and schools will have to rethink their roles in education. If students can learn almost anything, anywhere, on differentiated paths, driven by their own interests and focused on independent learning, schools and teachers will need to become more like diagnosticians, emotional guides, character coaches, and partners in the learning journey. I do not think, however, that schools and teachers will become redundant. Exactly the opposite: kids need other kids, and they need an environment in which they can receive support, in which they can be challenged, and from whence they can draw inspiration.


Ubiquitous Access 

Internet connectivity will be so cheap and easy that almost anyone, regardless of socio-economic circumstance, will be able to connect. Online and blended learning opportunities will become widespread, cheaper, and as easy as drawing with chalk.


Truth Tussles

We are only just beginning the war on misinformation. In a generation, the fight will largely be won – in the sense that there will be very reliable fact-checking tools and filters, and young people will know how to evaluate information more effectively.


Democratized Content

Class, subject, school and inter-school wikis will largely replace static textbooks. Students will be generating their own collaborative, fact-checked, inter-connected and constantly revised notes rather than having content handed down to them. Syllabi will be more customizable and more differentiable. 


Haptics

We already have texture-simulating haptic technology. In a decade or two, kids will be able to use their devices to feel things like a tortoise shell, elephant skin, the surface of the moon, hardened lava, and space shuttle porcelain. Add these to gyro-weighting and feedback systems in devices, and we open up a whole new world to our vision-impaired students. Now mix in high-speed, cost-effective 3D printing, and kids become more design and creation focused, while working on real-world problems.


Seemlessness

Many apps and programs do not play well with one another. (Most often on purpose.) In a generation, all hardware and software will work together in any conceivable configuration. And those who insist on having a closed ecosystem will be left behind. (And perhaps by then, we will have had an international convention and decided on universal charging cable and adaptor designs.)


Batteries

One of the major headaches today with using technology in the classroom is ensuring that batteries are always sufficiently charged. Quick-charging, long-life batteries will largely solve this problem – especially if twinned with kinetic or solar chargers.


Privacy and Safety

Students’ personal information will be extremely closely guarded. Schools around the world will form a cooperative which will unanimously leave those vendors who violate our trust out in the cold.


Personalized 

Software will adapt to the interests and needs and personalities of individual students. Operating systems will become more like personal assistants.


Intuitivity and AI

The best software out there is already trying to anticipate our needs. In the future, software will become more intelligent, working hard to anticipate what we want – sometimes before we know what we need.


Ageographic Learning

Learning technologies will connect young people around the world.


Design

Hardware will become more and more inexpensive, more and more robust, and more and more user-friendly. Devices will become light-weight, malleable, foldable and wearable.


Mixed-Interactive (MI) Reality

The problem with holographic, virtual, and augmented reality in education is that they are largely passive. In a decade or two, students will be able to be fully immersed and fully active in simulated reality. They will be able to build, change and interact in their own worlds. 


The World of Work

Deeper connections to what employers need will be made with learning centers. Students will get to experience and learn what it is like to work as a scientist, lawyer or entrepreneur through simulated experimental learning.


Invisibility

Having an educational assistant (i.e.: a smart electronic device) will no longer be noticeable – just like having pen and paper in a classroom today is taken for-granted.


Off Time

Devices will be configurable to reduce eye strain, and to turn themselves off if kids have been using them for too long. Teachers will need to plan around this and ensure that kids get enough non-screen learning time.


Pedagogically Focussed

Most ‘educational’ apps out there are focused on shoveling out content. A few even target skills. But very few explicitly nurture twenty-first century dispositions like curiosity, collaboration, creativity, independent learning and critical thinking. In the twenty-thirties and forties, apps which encourage independent and collaborative thinking and problem-solving will become the norm.


Learning Spaces

Because learning can happen anywhere, and because education will be so customizable, schools will have to radically rethink timetables, lesson times, and the arrangement of classrooms. Modular and shiftable spaces and schedules arranged around the needs of our students will become the norm.
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The future of education is going to an exciting place to be. I will be on the cusp of retirement, no doubt fighting to stay on!

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What If?


What if schools really are what most people think they are?

What if they’re really all about getting good marks so that students can move on to university?

What if respect and rigor and discipline and conformity really do matter more than anything else?

What if remembering facts is actually more import than the ability to reason independently, decode problems, and generate innovative solutions?

What if canned syllabi actually do matter more than the individual needs of our students?

What if there really doesn’t need to be any connection and collaboration between different subjects and the skills they teach?

What if encouraging grit and determination and resilience really are more important than exercising compassion, understanding, and empathy?

What if it really is all about competition and being better than everyone else, rather than learning to negotiate, cooperate, and collaborate?

What if the ability to take a test well really does trump abilities and dispositions like critical thinking, curiosity, compassion, creativity, and good communication skills?

What if after-school programs like dramatics, debating, chess, dancing, and robotics really are not as important as the traditional sports codes?

What if the Arts and Humanities really aren’t as important as mathematics, the sciences, and the languages?

What if teachers who teach senior grades really are more important than those who teach younger students?

What if having more experience does indeed make you a better teacher?

What if kids really should sit still and shut up?

What if it’s true that students have to learn lower order thinking skills before they learn the higher order stuff?

What if it truly is their responsibility to listen and learn rather than to debate and ask questions?

What if practice really does make perfect?

And what if every teacher believed that this was really all there was to education?

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Espresso Idea: Great Teachers Are Not in it to Be Remembered


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Espresso Ideas: Small but strong ideas to make you sit up and say ‘yeah!’ (Also known as wasabi ideas)

Yes, every teacher does make an impact on a child’s life. And the best of us make a lasting difference.

But the most lasting gift a teacher can give to a child is to get them to think they did it all on their own, to build their own sense of independence, self-worth and confidence so that it is the child who stands on their own and goes on to forge their own path – and to make a difference in the world.

Most often, this involves standing back, only offering guidance, correction, a kind word and a gesture or two of encouragement.

So what if they don’t remember how they became successful? So what if they never look back?

We are who we are because of the great teachers we have had. And they are who they are because of their selfless devotion towards helping us become better people.

We teach for life and for the betterment of humanity, not for for our egos.

We teach for the future, not the past.

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Tech Tools: Have You Tried? (4: Apple Clips)


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Apple Clips is another idevice app. It works quite simply – you record a video and the app automatically adds subtitles (which you can edit if your accent doesn’t translate well!).

Clips is another cool way for students to create content on the fly or for teachers to create short explainer videos.

You can also add effects, sounds and even motion to your pictures and videos.

There is a bit of a learning curve, but the controls are mostly intuitive and easy to use.

A few ideas:

  • Make dynamic posters
  • Create living poetry readings
  • Jazz up explainer videos
  • Speak in one language and retype captions in another

Head over to: https://www.apple.com/za/clips/

Miss one? Go to: http://bit.ly/techtools2try

 

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Espresso Idea: Argumentation & Guerrilla Punctuation


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Espresso Ideas: Small but strong ideas to make you sit up and say ‘yeah!’ (Also known as wasabi ideas)

Very few things drive me as kooky as people who take what I say and spit it back at me covered with flecks of punctuation. I am becoming particularly revolted by snotty inverted commas and gooey quotation marks.

As if if this is all that is needed to confute the point I am making.

I find this is especially rife on Twitter – mostly because of the character limit (and the impersonal nature of social media). But I’ve also had emails and replies on Facebook where the same fallacious use of punctuation-as-a-counter-argument is employed.

And then there’s the sniffy question mark or exclamation point, or even a ‘hmmm?’ or a ‘huh!?’ or even a ‘lol!’ after quoting something I have said. (Although to be fair, I do say a few bizarre things.)

I am all for open and respectful debate, I am happy to be proven wrong, and I celebrate people’s right to disagree, but using guerrilla punctuation to make these arguments smacks of lazy thinking.

I’m not saying I need a three page rebuttal. But surely, with a bit of thought, a concise, witty counter-argument isn’t impossible? Or even a more engaging ‘Have you considered?’ Or what about something entirely vanilla-flavored, like ‘I believe you are wrong because…’?

Or perhaps even a short blog post…

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What Happens When Kids Design Their Own Competency Descriptors


When Kids Design Their Own Competency Descriptors (With Thanks to Ronel Hugo)

Our Preparatory School teachers are deep in the throes of preparing for student lead conferences. Because we are long longer working with grades, we are focused heavily on skills.

One of our superb Afrikaans teachers, Ronel Hugo, decided that she would get her students to collaborate on redesigning their own descriptors. Rather than teacher-based competency descriptors, she thought it would be a good idea to let her students collaborate to decide on how best to describe their skill levels in various aspects of second language learning.

Here’s what they came up with:

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What I especially like about the descriptors they decided on is how the help level goes from ‘I need help from my teacher’ to ‘I need someone to help me’ to ‘I can help others’. Not only does this describe competency levels, but it also details a different type of collaborative class dynamic.

Ronel also has a more detailed reflection sheet where the kids are asked about their favorite parts of each particular section, as well as to provide strategies they can use to improve their skill level in each aspect of learning their second language.

The level of metacognition and reflection involved here is wonderful.

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What Roboting Teaches You About Life (Students Write)


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So I ‘coach’ robotics. Which is my way of saying I use robotics to teach kids to solve problems. I don’t ever teach them how to build or code their robots. Instead, I give them a challenge and stand back, offering guidance only every now and then. 

For the last four years, I have entered teams into the World Robotics Olympiad. I have had teams make it to the international rounds for two years. Unfortunately, none of my teams performed particularly well in the actual international competition, but they were amongst the best in the country, and they did learn heaps: about themselves, about independence and about how to solve problems. And even those who didn’t make it past the regional rounds learned similar things. This is why I love robotics so much.

What follows are my students’ ideas about what robotics and being involved in robotics competitions has taught them about life.

  1. Don’t give up. To be successful, you have to fail plenty. Look closely at where things went wrong, understand why they went wrong, and fix them.
  2. Be very patient. Great things always take time.
  3. Find good partners. Things are easier in a team.
  4. Keep calm when things go wrong. If you panic, you won’t be able to fix anything.
  5. It’s better to use a smart code and to go with the flow and self-adjust than it is to try and ‘hard code’ to control everything step by step. 
  6. Look for different solutions. Sometimes you get stuck on one idea. 
  7. Be honest with yourself. If something really isn’t working, and you’ve tried a million ways to make it work, try something else.
  8. Once you are most of the way towards a solution, be careful about changing things too radically. Going back to line one isn’t always a good idea.
  9. You’ve got to learn to do things for yourself.
  10. Create some flair!
  11. Be organized. If you don’t have a plan, it will take you longer to find a solution. But be prepared to change your plan as other things change.
  12. Better parts don’t necessarily mean a better robot. Sometimes you just have to make do with what you have. (This sometimes forces you to be very creative.)
  13. Don’t compare yourself to other teams. Set your own goals and benchmarks and meet them one at a time. That way, you can never lose – even if you don’t win.
  14. Don’t copy other solutions. You have to understand the problem and find your own solution. Otherwise, if things go wrong, you won’t know how to fix them.
  15. Don’t be afraid to stand out. If everyone has a similar solution and yours is way different, you will stand out from the pack.
  16. Don’t let your coach or your parents or anybody else do too much for you – no matter how well-meaning they are – or you will never learn to do things for yourself.
  17. Help other teams. Sometimes the best way to learn something is to teach it to others.
  18. Don’t be intimidated by big occasions. Take some time to explore your surroundings, and figure out where things are and how things work. Talk to some people, and give yourself time to settle in.
  19. Take a break. Sometimes you need to walk away or do other things. When you come back to the problem you can often find a good solution.
  20. Don’t get lost in the competitive element. You won’t learn as much and it won’t be as enjoyable if all you want to do is win.
  21. Sometimes you need to look at the details, sometimes you need to zoom out and see the big picture. Don’t get stuck on either one of these problem-solving methods.
  22. Every new environment brings with it its own set of challenges. Instead of complaining, learn to adjust.
  23. Stay with it and keep trying. You’ll never know how far you could have gone if you give up too quickly.
  24. Have fun!

 

Such smart kids.

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Google Sites as a Digital Portfolio and Showcase for Learning (Guest Post)


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The following post is from Mr Mitchell More – a dynamic middle school English and History teacher at Redhill School.

 

This year in History, the Grade 7s are busy creating their own Google Sites based on the work we are doing throughout Term 2 and 3. This is an ongoing process.

The process started off with me recording a video for them on how to create a Google Site. (It’s really easy.)

Then the fun happens:

Firstly, students work in groups of four to develop the look and feel and structure of the site. (We obviously give them hands-on guidance and information to assist them in this aspect of website creation.) They then create sub-pages for the sub-topics we cover, and then adjust headings and themes. The History teachers also show them the site that I set up as a guideline.

(As an example, the topic for Term 2 is the Transatlantic Slave Trade. This will be one of the ‘main pages’ and the ‘sub-pages’ will be the topics and themes we cover in class under this main topic. So in the main page they should have some short description of the slave trade, and the the first sub-page will be the story of Olaudah Equiano.)

Students are also tasked with getting more information than just the outline their History teachers give them. They have to ensure that this information is reliable, and to rephrase and bring together this information in their own way. (They have to provide hyperlinks to their sources.)

The sites they produce this way will then work as their history portfolio for this year.

As they do individual classwork, something like an essay or an analysis, each item needs to be published on their site under as a sub-page, once their work is marked and suggested changes have been implemented.

Unfortunately, we cannot share the link to the site with the outside world as we would like to protect the privacy of our students, but there is a screenshot of the site at the top of this post.

We look forward to watching what the Grade 7s produce Mr More!

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Tech Tools: Have You Tried? (3: VideoScribe)


 

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You know those videos where a hand seems to write text and slide in pictures? Well, this is what they use. VideoScribe Anywhere is an app for idevices, and is great as an alternative presentation app for students or for teacher recorded ‘explainer’ videos.

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This app does take some getting used to. The timing and other settings need to be tinkered with a little before starting any project.

Miss one? Go to: http://bit.ly/techtools2try

 

Head over to: http://www.videoscribe.co/anywhere

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Espresso Idea: Why More Teachers Should Blog


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Espresso Ideas: Small but strong ideas to make you sit up and say ‘yeah!’ (Also known as wasabi ideas)

Spend more than half an hour with any random teacher and you’ll walk away with at least one cool new idea.

And I’m always the guy who says “You should share that idea with the world!”

Some of the braver ones do.

But most teachers think that their ideas are somehow not good enough to share. Or that someone must already be doing what they’re doing. 

There are so many ideas that regular non-blogging teachers have that other teachers around the world would love.

I know teachers who teach Grade Ones to code, who engage in philosophical discussions with Grade 3s, who lead Middle School students on historical murder mysteries using augmented reality, who use robots to teach literature, who have created low cost learner-friendly furniture, who create makers’ spaces out of cardboard and masking tape, and who have created entire blended learning platforms. 

I’m in touch with teachers around the world who are outdoor learning specialists, creativity domos, brain specialists, and magicians. And I wish everyone could see the amazing things they’re doing.

So get to it teachers! Start a blog. Share some espresso ideas. Or even some fancier cappuccino revelations. (WordPress and Blogger are relatively simple to use, but you can also micro-blog on Twitter.) It’s time to get your ideas out into the world!

(An open invitation: If you don’t want to create a blog, consider sending me your post and your details and I will potentially publish your guest post on this blog. Keep it short and sweet and send me a few pics. Post a reply below and I’ll be in contact.)

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Espresso Idea: Why This Foolish Teacher is Wary of What Research Tells Us Doesn’t Work.


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Espresso Ideas: Small but strong ideas to make you sit up and say ‘yeah!’ (Also known as wasabi ideas)

If only teachers would listen. Research proves that when they do X, it has no effect on learning.

We now even have a list hundreds of items long that tells us what works and what doesn’t.

So what’s the problem? 

Scientists and researchers define ‘learning’ as the ability to recall information. And empirical testing is used to judge a methodolgy’s effectiveness in students’ ability to memorize. 

But I say education is so much more than memorization. Learning happens in the heart as well as the head. Education is also about nurturing critical thinking, creativity, independence, curiosity, compassion and many more of these wonderful aptitudes.

I can see that teaching method X works to stimulate progressive learning because I am there. With my students. Watching them learn.

And unless these researchers can show me that X doesn’t work in the context of my classroom and with my definition of what learning entails, then, yes, I will be one the fools who doesn’t listen to their recommendations.

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Tech Tools: Have You Tried? (2: TellaGami)


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TellaGami is an app for idevices which allows you to create talking, moving, expressive avatars. Students love this as an alternative to traditional presentations and teachers love using it to create videos for flipped classrooms.

TellaGami is very easy to use. Backgrounds can be customized, as can the characters you create. Try using different moods.

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The free version only allows 30 seconds worth of recording at a time – which is okay if you record a whole series of videos and then splice them together using an app like iMovie.

Head over to: https://tellagami.com/  

Miss one? Go to: http://bit.ly/techtools2try

 

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Tech Tools: Have You Tried? (1: ThingLink)


This, the first in the series of recommended tools for teaching and learning, showcases ThingLink. ThingLink allows users to insert hotspots over an image containing text, videos, audio, hyperlinks, maps and much more.

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Imagine students using this when analyzing poetry, developing map skills, understanding physical forces, studying plant life, breaking down the parts of an equation, cartoon and/ or visual image analysis, and so on. It also makes for a great way for students to demonstrate their learning in collaborative or child-driven learning experiences.

The icons on these images are hotspots which you or your students can create and then tap to explore.

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Thinglink is cross-platform (meaning you can create and view on any device) – and it’s free. (You will need to pay to access the virtual reality ThingLink maker though.)

Head over to: https://www.thinglink.com/edu

Miss one? Go to: http://bit.ly/techtools2try

 

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