Friday, January 30, 2015

Striving for balance: Be careful what you wish for

In the end, the quest for balance is bogus. Love your burdens. Love them hard. And when your loves knock you down or your weak ankles trip you up, stop worrying about balancing - 'cuz you're not - and bounce.
~ Kelly Diels, Cleavage

I'm not sure how it happened, but nearly a year has gone by and I have not written one post. No excuses, no explanations, just a new determination to not let this happen again. So...

January is a reflective month for many and I have used this time to think about how I best learn and how a blog might support this and keep me on track. So often, as I strive for balance, things that are important to me (like this blog) get moved to the side to make room for being a good <   > (insert various roles: mother, teacher, wife, friend and so on). What's getting in the way?

Image: MacBook Air 2012, Ian Dick on Flickr CC-BY-2.0
I tend to suffer from an "all or nothing" type of disposition and so when time is tight, I let things go, rather than make a small attempt. Over time, this inaction grows and eventually becomes overwhelming. I once had a close friend tell me that it was okay if I only sent her a one line email - she would rather I send the short note more often, than lengthy letters once in a blue moon. So this is my first insight into potential stumbling blocks to blogging and has become my first 'resolution'. I will set aside time once a week and write something - it might be one line, but I'll post it.

Another obstacle I must face is the fact that I'm really not much of a writer. I struggle to find the right words and am a bit of a perfectionist and so I am never really satisfied with anything I compose. I work with some amazing people (eloquent people!) and the blogs I read as a part of my PLN are not only informative, but moving, witty and well crafted. Trying to write in a way that is 'worthy' of being a member of such a network is exhausting (and not that much fun). And so - I will let that go (okay - I know that sounds easy, but it is hard for me!). My blog is written for me. It is a space to reflect on what I am learning, to sort out ideas, to share and record my wonderings. It helps me to become a better teacher and colleague. This brings me to my second resolution: I will write for myself.

My last resolution is actually something that I have always strived to do as an inquiry - model learner behaviour for my students. When I had my own class this happened quite naturally and I was able to write about our shared experiences more consistently. Now, working with so many different classes and teachers, this natural modelling doesn't happen as easily. There is a need to be more mindful. By returning to weekly writing in a blog, I will have authentic experiences to share with students (and colleagues) about the writing process, about reflection and struggling and commitment. And so, through this blog I will model my personal inquiries - my questions, my explorations, my reflections.

Letting go of this idea of being balanced is empowering. I feel more free to make thoughtful decisions about how I spend my time. I feel better equipped to bounce.
Image: Ball, Riley Kaminer on Flickr, CC-BY-2.0

Friday, February 07, 2014

A Different Type of Reflection

As a part of my own learning about quest design, I created a GoAnimate video about pedagogical considerations and quest attractiveness.

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Designing My First Quest

"Arriving at one goal is the starting point to another."
~ John Dewey, Democracy and Education

After carefully planning my first quest 'roadmap' to use in 3D Game Lab, I was very keen to get started and develop the actual quests my students would explore. Then I began to learn more about quest attractiveness and the impact this will have on the success of the quest and student learning, and I realised that I have much more to consider.

Dr. Chris Haskell defines this attractiveness as, "...the operational relationship of three components: capturing one's interest, sustaining one's effort, and ... a meaningful, personally relevant (highly rated) learning experience (2012). Thinking about this definition, I immediately slowed down to consider what this means for my design process.

  • What can I do to catch students' attention? 
  • What will appeal to them? 
  • Once I have their attention, how will I sustain it? 
  • What will I build into to the tasks to ensure students will be able to complete them once started? 
  • How can I provide enough flexibility within the quest to support the different needs of different learners?
One of things I so appreciate about learning about quest-based learning in a quest-based environment, is that it allows me to think at my own pace; to stop and reflect at a time when it will be most meaningful to me. This was certainly one of those times.

I now feel better prepared to create a quest that will consider the student experience from beginning to end. Considering the three components of quest attractiveness will enable me to collect data on their effectiveness and to make revisions to the quests as I learn more from student feedback.

photo credit: tvancort via photopin cc

Monday, February 03, 2014

Whoo Hoo! Now the real learning begins!

"The journey is the reward."
~ Chinese Proverb

I've been exploring the world of quest-based learning through 3D Game Lab for the past few weeks and I cannot remember a time when I have felt so driven to learn and energised by what I am discovering. This type of buzz - the excitement of mastering new skills and striving to unlock the next quest, is exactly what I hope to provide for students.

Having teachers participate in this quest-based learning platform before being able to design their own quests for students is an excellent idea. By becoming a true learner myself, I now have a greater appreciation of the student experience in such an environment and I believe this is critical when designing curriculum. The tasks and reflections that were a part of the initial teacher training have prepared me to tackle the writing of my first quest ~ something that seemed rather overwhelming when I first began.

This is a short and sweet post - I want to get back to the game and begin designing my students' first quest!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Personal Passion Project: Let the quest begin!

"Learning is what most adults will do for a living in the 21st Century."
Alfred Edward Perlman

I have been exploring ideas around the transformation of education through gamification for a couple of years now and so I am excited to finally have found something to really support this in my teaching and learning. In a nutshell, 3D Game Lab is a platform in which teachers can create quests that allow students to select their own learning pathways. Like a game, students can earn experience (XP) points and rewards as they work toward 'winning' a class.

As an educator who believes in the power of agency to foster student engagement, I have been trying to create personalized learning environments using a variety of digital tools to help. I've had blogs and class web sites; tried flipping my classes; used digital learning menus; implemented Genius Hour or passion projects; and created Edmodo groups - all to try and allow for my students to have choice in how they learn and how they share their new understandings with others. While these tools and strategies were a step in the right direction as my students were definitely engaged, it all felt too disjointed and it was difficult to manage so many different approaches. I kept thinking if there was only a way to bring all of these different elements together; some type of platform that would keep track of all the students achievements and accomplishments.

One of the things I loved about Edmodo was the ability to create and award badges for students when certain tasks or activities had been completed. The students loved receiving the badges, but they could only share them with their classmates or others they were connected to on the site. They were unable to share these digital badges on their WordPress blogs / digital portfolios, where they communicated about their learning with the wider community. This led me to look for alternatives and that's when I discovered the Open Badges Movement.

As I learned more about the philosophy surrounding open badges I became more convinced that this is the direction forward - that such a movement will support the transformation of education. I created my Mozilla Backback and began to explore. I loved it! So much choice and so many opportunities to connect with like-minded others. This was some of the best professional development I had experienced and I immediately began to think of my students and how much they might benefit from such choice and control over their learning.

It was through this exploration of open learning that I found 3D Game Lab. After trying a demo account I have now signed up to make the most of what I believe will provide the type of learning environment I've been striving to create. I am 'playing' to learn how to best use the platform as I complete quests about game-based and quest-based learning. Once I earn my 'builder' badge I plan to design quests for my students and colleagues and that's when the fun will really begin!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Changes, Challenges & reCharging

"The challenge in my life really is keeping the balance between feeling creatively energized and fulfilled without feeling overwhelmed and like I'm in the middle of a battlefield."  
~Amanda Palmer
Not writing a post on my blog has been haunting me for months. The longer I waited, the more daunting the task became. I had many legitimate reasons for not writing: looking for a new job, finding one and then preparing a family for a move to a new country, moving, settling into a new role, new school, new home, new country. But it's been 8 months! I'm officially settled (and so is my family). No more excuses or long winded explanations ~ I'm going to eat my biggest frog.

Since moving into my new role as a Technology for Learning Coordinator at an international school in Switzerland, I've been feeling too overwhelmed to contribute my thoughts about anything. A 'virtual colleague' in my PLN, @DwyerTeacher wrote the blog post, A Sea of Ideas and it seemed to echo my thoughts. Having to define and explain what is important to me as I build new relationships with new colleagues - well it has simply been exhausting. Where do you start?

Then a couple of things happened this week to bring me back - the Hour of Code and a global classroom project. While these are two very different ways to integrate technology into primary education, both are at the heart of what I think is important to learning - they allow for student driven inquiry, they are flexible in order to meet students' individual needs and both endeavours are highly engaging.

And so I must thank my students for their enthusiasm during our first Hour of Code session. They were an inspiration and I had just as much fun as they did trying to solve the problems. This type of student engagement and the possibilities provided by technology to transform of education are the reason I keep learning and pushing my own little envelopes.

Finally I must thank a person I've only just met through our new collaborative global project. After reading her blog I have been inspired to get back on track and start reflecting on my own learning. Blog posts do not have to be essays or position papers. It's okay to be brief and write what you are thinking.

I am leaving the 'battlefield' of not being good enough and beginning to feel creatively energised once again. It feels good to be back.

photo credit: Lawrence Whittemore via photopin cc

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Student Driven Inquiry

"The fact is that given the challenges we face, education doesn't need to be reformed -- it needs to be transformed. The key to this transformation is not to standardize education, but to personalize it, to build achievement on discovering the individual talents of each child, to put students in an environment where they want to learn and where they can naturally discover their true passions.  ~ Sir Ken Robinson in The Element, 2009
We were most fortunate to have educational consultant, Kath Murdoch visit our school recently to explore inquiry and literacy.  Teaching in a big and busy PYP school, collaboration and inquiry is an integral part of our practice, but we do tend to have a lot going on and as a result reflecting on our own practice is at times pushed to the side. I am not referring to the reflection we do as a team on our planners, looking for evidence of student learning and thinking about the extent to which we achieved our purpose. I am referring to personal reflection, asking about the practices in our own teaching and what is happening in our own classes. Having the opportunity to talk with Kath about how children best learn was a wonderful invitation to take a closer look at the inquiries taking place in my classroom.

One of the aspects of the PYP that I have always loved is the belief in a constructivist approach to learning and the importance of student-driven inquiry. The tension I find is in the planning - if the teachers are deciding upon the central ideas for the planned units, how do we allow for student voice? Yes, we strive to create provocations that invite students to engage in open-ended inquiries, but in the end, we have a 'programme of inquiry' and this has been created well before we have even met our students. I shared this tension with Kath and my teaching team and I was introduced to the idea of Genius Hour.

Genius Hour is a time set aside each week for students to pursue personal inquiries. I loved the idea of this for it would allow for authentic student-driven inquiry, something that I feel passionate about. It would also be a vehicle to help students to uncover their own passions ~ what interests them? So much of our time in class is spent engaged in activities created by teachers, Genius Hour would empower students to create their own investigations, formulate questions to which they were truly interested in finding answers. 

It did not take long to find a host of resources to support the introduction of Genius Hour to my students. I discussed it with my Grade 4 class and they were keen to give it a go. After some initial set up and determining our essential agreements for this time, our Genius Hour was born. 

It has been amazing watching the students during this block of time each Thursday. They are so engaged in their own learning that you would never know there are 25 students working on different projects at the same time. Their choices are also varied ~ from learning more about quasars and atoms to investigating art forms and ancient history. While I expected the engagement to be high, I was not prepared for the how interested the students would be in each others' learning. Listening to classmates ask questions of each other and the proud way in which they share what they have discovered ~ this was nothing like the way my students have typically shared findings during our unit investigations. 

I have no regrets about implementing this change to my classroom practice. Yes, it does take a considerable amount of our time, but it is worth every minute of it. The students are still developing the transdisciplinary skills and attitudes that are a part of our PYP programme and more importantly, they are acquiring a love of learning. They are becoming more curious and confident in their own abilities, willing to take risks and try something new. They are becoming inquirers.

We may not yet have created the school environment envisioned by Sir Ken Robinson, but I believe this is definitely a step in the right direction.