I had the pleasure of speaking with the Openhouse Team as part of a Webinar recently, connecting a range of global voices – we discussed the challenges and changes over the past year in regards to online/distance learning. Also on the panel were Allan Shaw, Principal of The Knox School in Melbourne, Saloni Todi, a first year Hong Kong University student, and Yashovardhan Poddar, co founder of Openhouse,
Openhouse is a learning community based in India with a bold mission centred around nurturing a better society for all.
“Our mission is to build a better society by creating powerful communities. We believe visionaries are not born but nurtured. So by redefining how the world learns, we empower students to become thinkers and leaders. Changing society, one child at a time…..”
I was delighted to be part of this conversation, listen and learn from other perspectives, and explore how fostering a sense of community has helped support continued learning during this time. Grounding ourselves, and our students, in a shared learning community; one of acceptance, vulnerability and with a growth mindset have all been key. I loved learning about how this looked in different contexts and being inspired by these different voices. You can read more on the Openhouse blog – thanks Openhouse team!
I recently wrote about missing the sense of, ‘a learning buzz‘, during these times where many of us have moved to virtual learning spaces. It made me wonder, how can you generate a ‘learning buzz’ in this virtual space? It of course would be fruitless and frustrating to try to copy and paste the same approaches into an online space – context matters and what works in one will not necessarily work in the other. However, whilst the ‘learning buzz’ may not look and feel the same, how would we define this in an online space I wondered? What opportunities might there be? How do we adapt our learning environments?
Learning, teaching and leading in an inquiry based, PYP School, one of our challenges has most definitely been honouring the values of our learning and teaching principles. Despite pressures faced, focusing on our beliefs and values to foster curiosity and inquiry at the heart of our daily approach to learning.
This prompted me to refer to the PYP guidance on creating learning environments and think about the different elements that are defined as going into cultivating these and intentionally exploring how these evolve.
‘PYP learning spaces affect and reflect values and beliefs about learning. They play a role in shaping the culture of the learning community by facilitating certain ways of acting and interacting. They support a constructivist and social-constructivist (Vygotsky 1978) approach to learning and teaching. They are multifunctional, emphasizing personalization of learning, promoting independence and engagement.’
My IB – Connecting pedagogy and design
So how do we nurture that magical ‘learning buzz’ in whatever context we are in?
This diagram shows the elements I believe contribute to enabling a ‘learning buzz’ to flourish and as a way to illustrate what this could look like in a classroom or school community. I use the word ‘enable’ intentionally as this learning buzz is not something any one person can create but from my perspective is about letting this have space to flourish and blossom. Below are some examples I made connections to from experiences during Distance Learning at my School. I would love to know of others that you may have to get further inspiration!
Sense of being ‘me’
Finding space for individuality to be celebrated and to bring community together in an inclusive way is so important. During lockdown we could not run our Home Language Program as usual so we made this into a community event. We created an interactive map of where we feel at home for everyone to anonymously share, shared our languages through poems and sayings and students (and adults if they wanted!) created Language Portraits. This was all done virtually through a live stream assembly and recorded activities and video calls.
Shared Values & Understandings
Making sure to share beliefs and values with community ensures learning is effective, and it can be done in a fun, informative way! We made a series of video clips to remind everyone about online meeting etiquette and created Community fact sheets with our rules and essential agreements reflecting our Community Values in the virtual learning space.
Rituals & Routines
Rituals and routines are part of every learning environment, of every school community; whether it be a morning greeting, check in circle, or roles and responsibilities that are assigned to the class each week. These all form part of a shared classroom culture. In the online space, we saw morning check in circles often replaced with a morning prompt in the chat in MS Teams, a way for everyone to say hello and connect before starting their learning day. Or for the younger grades, a morning video message. I also observed the beauty of new rituals or routines forming – a favourite way to end a call in one of 6th grade classes for example, has now become an embedded ritual for the class to say goodbye!
Teachers found ways to adapt roles of responsibility also in the virtual space, assigning chat moderators in video calls for examples or continuing to use hand signals in video calls to show agreement/disagreement/ connection/questions and so forth. We also tried to keep to our regular school assembly schedule and routines to bring everyone together as part of our regular routine.
Learning Purpose and relevance
Ensuring learning is purposeful, challenging and relevant for all students became ever more complex in a distance learning world where differentiation strategies and the ease of interaction between teachers, students and peers is more challenging. Finding ways to engage in learning with materials and experiences at home, ensuring learning engagements are open ended and encourage further student led inquiry all can help ensure that learning remains purposeful and relevant for the individual. We had great examples with students carrying out science experiments, building machines, testing theories and recording their experiments as learning evidence.
Interaction – Dialogue
Here are some examples of teachers finding ways to promote interaction and dialogue using tools such as Padlet to share in online lessons. We also used Padlet to encourage interaction within our community too, with the song sharing and virtual arts day as some examples!
Fun & Connection
Bringing community together through shared events and having fun together! We celebrated Earth Day, Sports day and other events together and brought a bit of fun to lockdown life. I feel fortunate to work with such a dedicated, fun team!
My school community is filled with educators who come from a range of backgrounds and have a wide variety of expertise so it would be foolish for us not to take advantage of such a skilled and knowledgeable bunch of teachers and encourage a professional sharing practice.
John Jones, @mrjonesICT, and I first introduced the idea of a TeachMeet to the ISM teaching community well over a year ago. Our first session was met with a mixture of extreme caution, some resistance but mostly curiousity and enthusiasm. We welcomed some risk-taking teachers to stand up and share their experiences, wisdom, learning and innovative ideas to colleagues. They led the way in ensuring that gradually TeachMeets are becoming part of our School community culture.
Many teachers found it an enlightening experience to hear what fellow colleagues who they share their morning break with every day actually find useful, engaging tools to inspire learning in the classroom. Since then the #ISMTeachMeet has gained momentum and we have scheduled to have these school-wide at least once a term. Our Spring TeachMeet is lining up to have everything from Design Learning presented by Jen Rhodes @JenRhodes to using Pinterest & Smore to create and share revision guides by Michael Cotgrave @Miclaaa.
Now, my next thought is how about we create a StudentMeet for teachers and students! Why don’t we ask students to present for 2 or 5 minutes about the technology tools and learning practices that engage and inspire them in their everyday learning….. Wouldn’t it make sense to hear what they find successful? My next goal has been set!
I was delighted to be able to attend BETT 2014 in London this past month and, just as last year, have come back inspired and renewed with ideas as to how to engage and inspire students through using technology mindfully; with purpose and taking a balanced approach. Reflecting on BETT this year these two words, mindful and balance, are what spring to the forefront. I believe being mindful and finding balance are going to be fundamental in moving forward with how we enrich student learning through use of technology.
At present, I have, quite literally, maxed out the memory space on my iPad with the number of apps I have downloaded, however, I know that my first step post BETT will be deleting apps and reflecting on the tools I will use and introduce to teachers and students now back at ISM. That is not to say that all the apps on my iPad aren’t brilliant in their own right, but what is relevant, suitable and going to be effective right now at my school?
Being mindful, I believe, is going to become a term that we will hear more and more in our everyday lives, it is actually something that we actively now have to draw attention to, as evolution has pulled us away from doing just that, from being aware in the present. We are so ‘busy’ and ‘connected ‘ all the time that we quite simply have forgotten to be present in the here and now.
I think being mindful can also can be applied to our use of technology as educators; we must be mindful when introducing new tools and experiences to students, and whilst embracing the innovation we must also evaluate and reflect upon its use. Here are some questions I will be asking when deciding what tools and apps to share with teaches and students.
Is it serving a true purpose in this moment?
Is it enriching the message or learning that I would like the learner to engage in?
Is it delivering or conveying information in the most effective way?
Is it helping to provoke questions and engage the learner in deeper thinking?
I also believe that balance is going to be something we must consider in both our teaching and learning. I certainly have come away from BETT with a determination to be more mindful about the tools I use, and, how they impact learning. Finding balance, well that, as always is going to be a constant tightrope walk!
that charted the highs and lows of the blogging journey our school has been traveling along at the Bett 2013 Exhibition, I was struck by a number of things.
Firstly, the immense progress that can be made in a relatively short space of time; what has been achieved is inspiring and is largely due to the passion and commitment of our Head of ICT. Our school has opened its doors to the outside world and invited others in to share in successes, provide inspiration for learners and give feedback and purpose to the learning taking place. What’s more, the reciprocal role of this experience, that is, that the students are also being asked to give their personal opinions and feedback has been transformative in many of our classrooms.
That is not to say that the journey has been smooth, in fact, in reality it has been anything but smooth! Nor does it mean that blogging has been embraced by all, although, it is gradually spreading school-wide as teachers explore what is the best fit for their classrooms and learners.
Change, any kind of change = tension, heightened emotion and hopefully a great deal of reflection and debate. Being part of charting the unknown and navigating a pathway to successful blogging has been an enriching experience as an educator. Would I change anything about the journey so far, not at all, it has all been learning, the highs and the lows.
Secondly, the greater realization that technology, rather than stand in the way of forming relationships has actually opened possibilities, broadened horizons and enriched learning for everyone. This is often the argument I hear against using blogging or indeed, technology as a tool in classrooms, that it depersonalizes leaning, or stops traditional talk and collaboration.
Relationships are really at the heart of any learning community and this is exactly why blogging has transformed much of the learning taking place in our classrooms.
No longer is it only the teachers’ opinion that provides feedback to students but suddenly there is a wider audience to encourage, critique and comment on student learning. The relationships that form from this online forum are key to its success. The one thing that has changed however is the definition of these ‘relationships’. That, I believe is the ‘new’ part of using technology as a tool in education.
So, I survived my first BETT show, I navigated the maze (quite literally a maze!) of stands, speakers and technological wonder and made it through, overwhelmed, exhausted but most definitely inspired and restored!
Interestingly, all of this without actually knowing what BETT stood for… I mean I had a guess, a pretty good idea what the acronym was… but I didn’t really know. On reflection, I thought of the question Sugata Mitra concluded his presentation at BETT, ‘Do we need to know?’. Was my understanding and appreciation of BETT lessened any by my ignorance as to the title of the event?
I have read and heard varying reports and comparisons to previous BETT conferences about the location, layout and physical space that it encompassed and the ‘buzz’ or ‘energy’ it generated, but for me the whole event was simply about people. Technology may have been the focus but people were at the heart of the BETT show. It was truly the people there that inspired me and restored my values and beliefs in education and learning. The tools that are available now are truly amazing and innovative but it is the ways in which teachers are using them to enrich learning and allow students to make connections from an early age.
The 100WC created by Julia Skinner, @TheHeadsOffice, is just one such example of how technology has been used to inspire and encourage even the most reluctant writers and essentially is all about connecting people to share comments and give feedback. Our Year 6 students at ISM are enthused and love this morning writing challenge which gives them the opportunity to be creative, share thoughts and ideas and gain feedback from readers around the world. A simple, but powerful way in which technology has been harnessed to improve student learning. http://100wc.net