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- At the start of each year we arrive back from our break hopefully rested and energised. The new year brings many new opportunities including new students, new team members and new teaching programmes. We begin again the climb up the hill with a fresh group of learners arriving at our doors full of excitement who will rely on us to meet their learning needs in the year ahead. All of this means we are at risk of starting the year with a certain level of panic. There is so much to do, our students are not accustomed to our routines, we don’t know each other well, there are parents to meet, assessments to be done and before we know it we are back to being busy. - Nigel Coutts
by: Nigel Coutts
Categories: International News
…because you are overthinking.
“Will anyone like this?”
“Have I wrote something similar?”
“Is it good enough?”
“What does this make me look like as an educator?”
“I am not sure it is ready to post?”
“Maybe I should go over and edit just one more time!”
“I think I need more information…”
“There are so many bloggers who are brilliant in what they share…I will never be as good as them.”
All thoughts that come into the head of many, and become the road block we have put up for ourselves.
My best advice…write for you and don’t overthink. See every blog post as a rough draft to something you are building over time, not a college term paper.
The more you do it, the better you will become.
The better you become, the easier it will be.
Be kind, be thoughtful, but don’t overthink. It is probably holding you back for inspiring someone else, and probably surprising yourself.
As an answer to the title of the post simply, “Is leadership an innovative endeavour?”, it is simply…”yes”.
To answer the question honestly, is that it should be, but it is not always true.
Jamie Notter shared this quote in a video, and it has always stuck with me:
Some things in leadership that are true 100 years ago, would still be true today, and great leaders have always embodied these traits. Having a vision, connecting with people, modelling what they seek. My assumption are these traits are not something that are new only to this generation or the one prior or after, but have been passed down as something that great leaders do.
But when you see the challenges that are facing schools and organizations, if “leaders” are not also “innovators”, there is a danger of irrelevance. As budgets are cut in many places, how leaders rethink how they spend money, rethink timetables and learning spaces, allocate resources, is part of the “new and better” thinking that is needed. As teaching becomes more and more complex, how leaders serve and support educators will need to continuously shift as well. When we want the learning in our classrooms to be more conducive to the opportunities that exist in our world today, leaders will have to ensure that professional learning opportunities are changing to give people different opportunities to learn in meaningful ways. These are examples of how leadership needs to think differently about what, how, and why they do, what they do.
If we believe that innovation in education is not only reserved for students and classroom teachers, but the administrators that serve them. If “leaders” continue to do the same things that they have always done, it will only hold back the possibilities of “what could be”, in education.
From the Cool Cat Teacher Blog by Vicki Davis
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Note taking has changed since the days of pencil, paper, and lecture lecture lecture! Now, students have a variety of tools and sources of information. From lecture, to videos, to projects -- how should students be coached to take notes? In this free webinar, I'll help teachers learn how to help your 21st Century learners […]
The post Free Webinar: Notetaking Skills for Top 21st Century Students appeared first on Cool Cat Teacher Blog by Vicki Davis @coolcatteacher helping educators be excellent every day. Meow!
For various reasons my thoughts lately have been on my college experience. Now I graduated in 1975 which was a few years ago. A lot has changed in computing and computer science in that time. But those four years were quite foundational to my whole career. In fact without those four years I would probably never have gotten into computing in the first place. As I said it was a different time.
In the 1970s there were few computer science departments in universities. My college, Taylor University, had a computer science department of sorts but no computer science major. I took my first CS course to meet a general education credit. A professor who make it interesting, gave lots of projects, and was a really great person gave me the opportunity to get hooked. I patterned my own teaching in part after his. I like to think I have gotten a few others hooked over the years. So things started there.
Taylor was, and is, a smaller school. While my wife at a large public university saw her school’s computer at a distance I had hands on experience. My last couple of years I had my own key to the science building and computer lab. This was not the sort of thing that was common back when a university would have one computer lab to hold the one computer. At smaller schools though it was an option for serious students. I left with a lot of hands on experiences that my peers from big name schools did not have. Better than that I got to try a lot of things and learn a lot of things that we not taught in class. This was a big boost in my early career.
Two other, and related things, I learned in college were debugging and grading. Related? Oh yes. You can’t grade unless you can tell what is working and what isn’t. I some experience in these things in two ways.
Without graduate students, we undergraduate students worked in the computer labs as lab assistants. A lot of this time was spent helping students debug their programs. As a result of that experience I (and the other lab assistants) get to see a lot more errors and learn a lot more about finding and fixing bugs. Learning from other people’s mistakes is a true gift for which I am grateful.
We also spent some time making a first pass of student projects before the professor graded them. We learned to deal with rubrics, spot missing features and attributes, and basically learn to tell good code from bad. I review my students projects in many of the same ways today. Some things do not change.
But that debugging stuff. Wow! That is hard to teach in a class. In fact I doubt anyone teaches a dedicated course in debugging. People are left to figure that out themselves and yet for many people it is the most valuable thing they can learn.
The key thing I take from my reminiscing is that my learning combined classroom and practical out of class opportunities. Would I have had the later if I’d lived off campus or if I’d viewed learning as just something to do in class and partied a lot? Probably not. University is a lot about what you make of it. If you view it as parties interrupted by classes you’ll probably not get a lot out of it. If you think you can max out on learning by just taking a lot of formal classes you’ll probably miss opportunities. If on the other hand you view “school” as a holistic learning experience with classes as framework and out of class interactions and involvement as important and valuable you can get a lot out of it. I don’t think college is dead. I think it just needs to be down right. And that is still a possible thing.
Social media, particularly Twitter, is awash with ‘listicles’ such as the ‘top four trends’ or the ‘five best ways to….’. So in the spirit of BuzzFeed, and to simplify the work for our politicians/policy-makers, here is a list of the top nine things that I would like to see happen in education in 2017:
- Educational discourse will be the product of informed viewpoints. Mature and reasoned dialogue will be the key to fleshing out ideas. (Are you with me David Leyonhjelm?)
- High-quality early learning will be accessible to all children. There will be more funding for childhood education. High-quality, well-resourced preschools staffed by university-educated teachers will become the norm, regardless of postcode or parental income.
- Child-centred educational policy will drive strategy. Educational policy will be centred on the needs of the child. Policymakers will realise that providing access to quality education is not only a fundamental right for all children, it makes good sense socially and economically.
- Education will cease to be a playground for political point-scoring and the establishment of ideological supremacy.
- The education profession will reclaim the educational agenda. It will seize the initiative for radical change and ignite a passion for innovative practice.
- Students will have more control over their own learning. We will find better ways of including student voice in every aspect of schooling, especially in the learning process.
- We will have intelligent rather than just standardised testing. Batteries of standardised tests can create a destructive culture of comparison and punitive accountability measures. Instead, we will have intelligent, authentic assessment that improves teacher practice and student learning simultaneously.
- Innovative practice will become the norm, not the exception. Schools will be focused on the art of the possible….
- Collaboration will replace competition!
So that’s my list. What’s yours?
A 2-Minute Technology Tip on Screencasting
From the Cool Cat Teacher Blog by Vicki Davis
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A screencast is when you record the screen. While there are many great options out there, Office Mix is so simple, I’m using it for most screencasting.
In this example, students have written a few lines of code in Scratch. Then, they open Office Mix. They use the screen recording tool to capture their program in action. Finally, they make the video and upload it to PowerSchool Learning.
This tutorial video shows everything except the uploading process.How Did I Record This Quick Video?
Now, on a more technical note, recording a screencast of a screencast is a tad tricky. In order to show how to use Office Mix, I had to use my second favorite screencasting too, screencastomatic, to record the tutorial. This is because I have to use a different program than is being demonstrated.
Basically, I’m recording how to make a recording. So, if you need to make videos of Office Mix in action, you have to pick another program to do the screencast.Popular Screencasting Tools and Tips for a variety of devices
- How to Screencast in 3 Simple Steps (a tutorial I made on screencastomatic)
- Screen-cast-o-matic – This tool runs in a web browser.
- Explain Everything – This tool is perfect for iPads. Math teachers make quick “explainer” videos about how to work math problems. This tool is perfect when you want to hand write in your video. (iPad)
- Screenflow – Tony Vincent shared this tool with me. I use it to capture my iPhone and iPad and more. (Mac)
- Office Mix for Powerpoint – Office Mix is a plugin that you add to PowerPoint 2013. This tool is the easiest video creation tool. I’m convinced any teacher can learn to make a quick video in minutes. (PC only)
I was recently asked the following question:
How do you respond to educators who say “the idea of being called upon to develop an innovator’s mindset and to innovative scares me . . . I have the opportunity to work with some wickedly smart, wildly creative, and truly innovative people and I can admit that I am not at all like them . . . I don’t have the creativity or personality to be innovative.”
All people are innovative and creative at some point in their lives in different areas, yet we tend to lose this belief somewhere along the way. Why it was important for me to identify innovation as a way of doing “new and better” things in the book, “The Innovator’s Mindset,” was to help people see that they have been “innovative” in many ways already. What I continue to observe, is that in many schools, they use the word innovation and connect it directly to how people use technology. Although technology provides opportunities that did not exist before, its use does not equate to being “innovative.” In fact, I have actually seen that sometimes technology has led to some people being less innovative in the sense that they believe the technology will do the “work” for them, instead of thinking deeply about why they are doing what they are doing, and how they are doing it. It is how we think and what we create, not what we use.
The scary thing about the word “innovation” is that people are using the term in a way that it can potentially just become a buzzword. Right now, we have an abundance of information at our fingertips, and thinking that the pendulum will swing back to a point where we will not have information abundance, is not a reality. Thomas Friedman said, “The world doesn’t care what you know. The world only cares about what you can do with what you know, and it doesn’t care how you learned it.” We are here at this point in time, and we are not going back to a point where simply knowing will ever be enough. What we create is essential. We should not limit the imagination of ourselves or our students.
There is a delicate balance here. I believe that there are many great things that are happening in education right now, and there are some things that are non-negotiables. Focusing on starting with relationships was something that was important in education when I went to school, and it will continue to be so, especially in a world where great content is easily accessible anywhere. The shift that is needed in education is in our thinking, not necessarily the stuff we use.
I heard this quote recently, “Have a mind that is open to anything, and that is attached to nothing.” If all educators were open to embracing that notion that learning is about constant growth and development, not only in our students, but in ourselves, education would make tremendous shifts. The “system” is run by people, and educators are the people. I believe that if educators can shift their thinking, the “system” will be so much better off.
Innovation is a process, not a product. Once we embrace that notion, education as a whole, will be so much better off.
IMAGE – Innovation is a process, not a product
I return to work tomorrow. Sigh…
2016 was a big year for me. Not a big year for this blog, but a big year for getting stuck into seriously difficult work at my current school and ensuring that the work that needed to be done got done. It’s worth a blog post of its own, and I just may write one. There was a lot of learning to be had and, dare I say it, many opportunities for “personal growth”.
Unfortunately, this blog’s growth remained pretty stagnant throughout. I’m not going to declare publicly that this situation is going to change in 2017 because I’m beyond making false promises. If I become more prolific, then that will be a good thing, because I’ve found writing cathartic – cleansing for my soul. But, if it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t. One thing 2016 taught me was that it’s OK – essential even – to take care of your mental state when you are working yourself hard. I found solace in my family, in quiet moments with friends, in reading without feeling the need to break it down in a blog post to help others understand it too. I adopted a slower pace, and it’s taught me that caring for me is pretty damn important.
So, for the last three weeks I’ve sat in the sun, enjoyed time with family and friends, read my Twitter feed (that’s a constant), and discovered some great viewing on Netflix. I’m rested.
One of the Netflix finds was ‘Black Mirror‘, a series that explores in single stand alone episodes the potential impact of new technology and the effects it may bring to bear. It’s fascinating and unsettling all at once. While trying to find out more about the series writer, Charlie Brooker, I came across this YouTube clip of him discussing what provoked the series creation.
I was entranced by the first part of the interview, as so much of what Charlie said echoed thoughts I’ve had over the past year. Like Charlie, I’m increasingly concerned about our inability to control technology that is going to have an impact on all of our lives and I worry about future possible scenarios that may play out. Charlie speaks of how he became fed up with writing columns as there was a cacophony of noise with so many sharing extraneous information. I’ve felt much the same at times. There are so many people writing in education spaces and it seems (feels) like my contribution would be pithy so I find myself withdrawing, lacking the drive to contribute, or starting, and creating for the first time ever, unfinished drafts that never see the light of day.
Maybe, as Charlie thought, I’ve already said enough?
Well, I’m writing this post so I don’t really think so. (Heck, Charlie wrote series episodes!) I do have words, thoughts, ideas to contribute. Maybe a few unfinished drafts will see the light of day, maybe I’ll write about lessons learned over the past year. Maybe I’ll write about my concerns around the technology I saw as liberating in 2008 morphing into scenarios not unlike those dreamed up by Charlie Brooker for his Black Mirror episodes.
Time will tell. In the meantime, a return to work beckons. What will 2017 bring? Time to write, reflect, contribute, or a need to find energy from slowing down, caring for the soul?
Like I said, time will tell…
- What becomes clear, as you dive further into the emerging research that connects what we know about learning, mindsets, dispositions for learning and the development of mathematical understandings, is that a new approach is required. We need to move away from memorisation and rule based simplifications of mathematics and embrace a model of learning that is challenging and exciting. We can and should be emerging all our students in the beauty and power of mathematics in learning environments full of multiple representations, rich dialogue and collaborative learning. - Nigel Coutts
by: Nigel Coutts
Categories: International News
This Tony Robbins quote, “Where focus goes, energy flows”, has been stuck in my head all week.
Whether you look at this quote from the perspective of an individual, or an organization, it is important to understand that if we are to grow in any area, the willingness to learn is crucial. Not only is it important to learn, but to apply that learning, and be willing to be focused and persistent in application.
Yet it is easy to want shortcuts that we believe will lead to success, or to hope that we can jump simply upon the success of others. When I first started on Twitter, I remember constantly nagging my brother who already had developed a network to tweet out my posts, and the first couple of times he did, but then he sent me a message. He told me that if he simply shared what I wrote with what he had established, that people would know that I didn’t earn what I had received. Was my focus on getting my work seen, or to do good work?
What I believe is that if you do quality work, consistently, people will see it, and opportunities will arise. But there are two keys here; quality and consistency. This doesn’t mean that you won’t have bad days, or things will be “less than” at some points, but it is persistence at a high quality, that will start to open doors. We should not only look at the success of others, but try to learn what were the things they did that made them successful in the first place. I can look at people that are in great shape, but wanting to be in great shape doesn’t make it so; I have to learn and apply on a consistent basis what they did to get to that point. It might be harder for me, it might take longer than what I would hope, but without learning and applying, it won’t happen.
…he told the story of how one summer his dad tore down a brick wall in front of their family business and then told 12 year old Will and his 9 year old brother to rebuild it. They told their dad that it was impossible. He told them to do it. It took them a year and a half, but they did it. Upon completion Will’s dad said to his sons, “Now don’t you ever tell me there’s something that you can’t do.” In the interview Will said these words, “You don’t try to build a wall. You don’t set out to build a wall. You don’t start there. You say, ‘I’m going to lay this brick as perfectly as a brick can be laid.’ You do that every single day. And soon you have a wall.”
At the organizational level, this same level of thinking applies. Although it is important to understand new opportunities that exist for our students, we have to learn to narrow our focus, and have the patience to focus on depth, not just embrace the next “new thing” as it comes along.
Simply put, the one quality that all successful people have, whatever the endeavour is that they aim to be successful in, is the patience and willingness to learn while applying that learning on a consistent basis. Do that with a focused persistence, and sooner than you think, you will start achieving the progress you seek.
Remember…”Where focus goes, energy flows.”
This is another year again…and one that may well see me more productive on the digital front – at least in terms of data. I have not been writing much online as I have been pretty much taken up with my various positions at CSU – yes, two different ones in 2016 saw me pretty much scrambling most of the time trying to make sense of my workplace.
But 2017 is going to be a little different. Along with all the adventures of 2015 and 2016 (who can forget being bed and housebound for so long in 2015?), I have also been working on higher degree doctoral research at LaTrobe. This year I hope to be more immersed in the data collection phase.
What’s this all about? Research of course, and in an area that is of deep interest to me, both at an individual level and how it plays out in our higher education enterprise – particularly in the field of academic digital scholarship.
The internet lies at the core of advanced scholarly information infrastructure to facilitate distributed, data and information-intensive collaborative research. Perhaps it is that the technology and digital environments which now exist can enhance scholarship and learning since technology has become a pivotal process or tool in connectedness through globally accessible knowledge and scholarly connections. Digital scholarship is valued for openness or open access within the boundaries of open data, open publishing, open education and open boundaries , and for utilising participatory or collective ways of thinking. The impact of technology has emerged as complicated and disruptive while being highly relevant and transformative. The emerging implication is that academic scholarship practices are undergoing something of a transformation in internet-enabled online environments and that this requires review and reconsideration of the technology-related pivot points (or dimensions) of liminality within this environment of digital scholarship.
So I’m out to learn more about digital scholarship and leadership.
The landscape of learning in higher education is such that it creates complexity for academics, and places demands on leaders within institutions to foster growth and change. In fact, the complexities and influences impacting the processes of both learning and teaching as an academic endeavour are the topic of much research and writing, and according to Savin-Baden (2015):
“much of the current research that transcends pedagogy, technology, education studies and computer science remains disconnected, with the result that although we know students adapt to the cultures of school and university, their learning preference and practices in the twenty-first century continue to be under-researched” (p. 16)
No need to say more, other than that it will be an adventure. My working field of endeavour is to be an analytic auto-ethnography of pathways to digital scholarship in academic leadership. No, this is not navel gazing at all, but a highly complex endeavour using an emerging research approach that will be more demanding than the average “go and interview and survey a bunch of people, and write it up” kind of research. It’s going to be a big job, but what is more important, it is going to be an interesting job!
A year of data goodness? Or a year of living dangerously? Time will tell.
Here’s the scenario: abstracted from my first annotation in the diary that I will also be keeping offline (not quite – digital format in OneNote which is in the cloud and online privately -right?).
Welcome to my auto ethnographic diary of myself. I am looking forward to taking up almost where I left off some years ago when I wrote A Week in the Life of a New Media Librarian, which was eventually also turned into a publication in Dutch. O’Connell, J. (2010). Het 21ste-eeuwse klaslokaal, Media Coach, January, No. 1.
In this publication I said:
“Our capacity to ‘connect’ will strengthen or weaken depending on our socialnetwork awareness and our capacity to use Web 2.0 tools to harness and organize information and add value to the collective. Educators who understand this know that to be good mentors in the 21st century learning landscape is to use the power of personal learning networks and Web 2.0 tools to empower information seeking and knowledge creation”.
Published in 2010 it’s essentially my last year in school education, so sets the scene nicely for the work that followed.
I have spent time while on leave reorganizing my digital files – just because things DO get untidy. I’m new to OneNote, but as part of my digital preparations I found that Nvivo imports OneNote data so had to add this tool. Now the scene is set for a rational and organised approach to the personal diary of events, thoughts and more. Plus I can access it all in the cloud too!
So I have re-organised my digital tools related to the research – specifically
- Google Docs
- Google Drive
It’s all part of the personalisation – being digital doesn’t mean that we don’t want to personalise things – right?
These are all tools I use daily, except for Scrivener, which will be used more as I progress. I am also investigating NVivo to see how concept mapping in that program compares with concept mapping with Scapple for Scrivener . I suspect that they will each stand separately – one around the idea formation for writing, the other around idea formation around the data analysis.
Time will tell. In other words – this thing is digital.
Interestingly as I was cleaning up (as you do at the beginning of a new year) the physical trappings of papers and filing cabinets were useless. Yes, I had printed out stuff, and promptly forgotten I had that very same stuff. But digitally – I knew exactly where things were, and when I hadn’t filed them neatly to be able to be organised!
In a sense this is a data discovery – or confirmation for me that I am fully digital, though not AI (artificial intelligence). I wish!.
This IS also the commencement of genuinely and thoroughly investigating how my digital scholarship practices have emerged in my work within higher education and how they are shaping or have shaped my leadership practices. Were they shaped by higher education or by evolution in digital environments? Or my PLN? Or something else?
A year of data goodness indeed!
Savin-Baden, M. (2015). Rethinking learning in an age of digital fluency: Is being digitally tethered a new learning nexus? New York, NY: Routledge.Image: Research Data Management flickr photo by jannekestaaks shared under a Creative Commons ( BY-NC ) license
Filed under: digital scholarship, Higher Degree Research, Higher Education, Personal
(This is trying to look at something that is an obstacle, and creating an opportunity. I would love your feedback and any examples of classrooms doing this already.)
I know this might be an unpopular opinion, but I struggle when I see teachers or schools seeking funds for their classrooms through sites like “GoFundMe”.
First of all, it is something that bothers me because we all know that education can be better funded as it is an investment both on the future and right now. Yet, are schools thinking about how they allocate funds in a way that is looking to the future, or tailoring to the past? This is why terms like “stewardship of resources” are coming in lots of district and school priority lists to ensure that we are allocating funds to ensure students are giving every opportunity to succeed.
That being said, no matter how well funded a school is, and how well those resources are managed, there are still things that we could use for our classrooms. Is a site like “GoFundMe”, asking for donations, always the best choice? Discussing this with some educators today, they had a “matching” program with a company, that matched every dollar they raised, and yes, I would take that. But are there other ways that we can thinking of raising funds for our schools than simply asking for donations?
In a conversation I was having with a group today, I threw out the idea of “creating something of value”. Sites like etsy.com, are an opportunity to sell things have an access to a large market, but what makes something sell? How much money would you sell a product for that you created on that site? How would you get this in front of people that might be interested?
These are all good questions….ones that students should be studying and researching, and learning about in school. They also have to tie into your curriculum somewhere…can you find the places and make a connection?
Yong Zhao talked about this need for entrepreneurship in his book, “World Class Learners”:
Youth unemployment has become an urgent challenge facing the global society. In 2011, nearly 75 million youth aged 15 to 24 were unemployed worldwide. The majority of the world’s youth (87%) living in developing countries “are often underemployed and working in the informal economy under poor conditions,” according to the 2012 The World Youth Report of the United Nations.
We need to have our students not only think differently about the world we live in, but partake in that same world. I know there are a lot of logistics that would have to be worked out through this process (can we sell things and take profits in our schools, board policies, where would money go, transparent policies, etc., which are all good things for learners to research). Yet working with our students to help find and develop innovative solutions to create funding for things that we want in classrooms or schools, might be a process that not only helps to fund the change we are looking for in our learning environments, but will give students relevant real skills that are needed now and in the future.
From the Cool Cat Teacher Blog by Vicki Davis
Follow @coolcatteacher on TwitterWe spend way too much time trying to be normal.
David Salyers, VP at Chic Fil A says,
“Normal can never be amazing.”
The truth is that normal is average. Normal is every day. It is truly not normal to be amazing.
So, from now on I want there to be nothing normal about my life or my classroom or my family or my friendships.
How about you? Who’s in for awesome?
Let’s stop being normal.
Hat tip to my former student, Carlton Brooks, for this jewel.
I was interested to read a recent report that Singapore schools will ease their focus on exam results in order to foster teacher/student innovation and creativity. Singapore’s authorities have recognised that blitzing school exams may reflect a good technical understanding but it doesn’t guarantee a creative or innovative mindset – a key ingredient in the knowledge economy.
Although Singapore has been at the top of its game in terms of educational excellence particularly in the international testing arena, there is a growing consensus that an overemphasis on exams takes away from the real purpose of learning – discovery. A director with Singapore’s Ministry of Education was quoted as saying “Society’s mindset also needs to shift over time, to celebrate a multitude of talent and the successes achieved via varied paths.”
That shift is the acknowledgment that schools cannot operate the same way they have done for decades. Schooling has to evolve just as societies evolve. What is ironic is that we live in an age where technology and innovation touches our lives on a daily basis and yet we are still happy for today’s young people to receive the same education and in the same manner we did. Schools largely continue to remain in some kind of stasis.
Three short months ago, we had in excess of 60,000 students in NSW sitting pen and paper Higher School Certificate (HSC) exams in rows of desks in school. What’s changed in fifty years? Very little and that’s something we shouldn’t be celebrating. Singapore’s rethink illustrates why we need to think differently about how we educate today’s learners as well as how we measure success.
Last year I spoke at a conference of several hundred South American teachers and school leaders about the need to transform schooling for today’s world and today’s learners. While there is general assent to this proposition, all too often the feedback is that changing the nature of schooling is too difficult. Of course it will be difficult, transformation requires everything about schooling to change. Dealing with the naysayers, the skeptics, resisters and frightened is the territory you have buy into on the transformation journey.
As I said at the time, change starts with the individual leader and teacher. Don’t wait for others to show the way or you’ll be left in Godot’s world. If every teacher in every school community introduced just one innovative practice, think of the number of examples of contemporary teaching practice we could explore.
Manual labour was hard work in the agrarian age; innovative schooling is hard work in a knowledge age but that’s where we are in history. Progress begins by doing things differently and better.
Countries like Singapore and Finland are recognising there is more than one mountain to climb besides the international testing one. If the innovation mountain won’t come to our teachers, then it’s time we found ways of moving our teachers to the innovation mountain.
Katie Martin and I have become very good friends over the past few years. We seem to be passionate about many of the same things, yet we both push and support one another. You need those type of people in your life; people who know when to be a “cheerleader”, but also a critical friend. Katie is one of those people to me, and I try to return the favour to her. People like this in your life push you to become better.
In her recent post, “What Are We Really Measuring“, she takes on the complex topic of standardized testing in schools. At the end of her post, she makes a compelling case on why we need to rethink standardized testing:
The Future of Jobs Report describes the urgency to to prepare future workers for the not so distant future. “The talent to manage, shape and lead the changes underway will be in short supply unless we take action today to develop it. For a talent revolution to take place, governments and businesses will need to profoundly change their approach to education, skills and employment, and their approach to working with each other.”
According to the report, the skills that will be in high demand by 2020 are:
- Complex Problem Solving
- Critical Thinking
- People management
- Coordinating with Others
- Emotional Intelligence
- Judgement and Decision Making
- Service Orientation
- Cognitive Flexibility
The world of work demands individuals embody these skills but our actions in schools still rely on antiquated (and inaccurate) testing practices, which have prevented us from aligning a vision that creates the desired culture and experiences. It’s critical that we rethink why, what, and how we learn in schools for students to thrive in the information economy of today and tomorrow, not yesterday.
Brilliant stuff and makes you really think about not only why we use standardized tests, but what will this lead to for our future students?
But this was not the part that caught my attention. It was the comment right at the beginning:
This post, I Can’t Answer These Texas Standardized Test Questions About My Own Poems brought me back to being in school when we had to answer questions about the main idea or what the author’s purpose was- I remember being frustrated that there was just one answer and thinking how does my teacher know? Did she call the author?
That made me snort laugh.
But it also made me want to read further. This is key.
I remember early on in my career listening to a speaker who is brilliant. They were showing us the latest in technology and the amazing things that were possible in our world today. The speaker was talking in certain formulas, code, etc., and I remember thinking, “That was brilliant but I could never do that.” I did not see myself in that picture.
When I talked to Katie about her post, it was gnawing me why it resonated so much. Simply put, it was “smart and relatable”. I felt a connection to a human reading it, and wanted to read more. The comment about “calling the teacher” made me think, “I used to wonder the same thing!”
Whether you are writing, speaking, teaching, or leading a building, being “relatable” is crucial. If people can’t see themselves in what you are sharing, it doesn’t matter how brilliant the idea is. That personal connection is vital and is the most crucial element in helping others move forward.
Do high school or younger computer science students really need to understand number-base conversion and binary, decimal, and hexadecimal number systems? Obviously most students are comfortable using decimal numbers. How important though is them knowing Binary? Or hexadecimal ? Especially hexadecimal?
Now in my career there have been times when I used Binary, hexadecimal, and even octal (very useful in machines with 12 bit words.) But do we need to teach these to secondary school CS students? If so why?
Do we have students reading hex dumps or looking at data in hexadecimal format? I can’t remember the last time I asked students to do something like that. So why hexadecimal?
Now ok Binary comes in handy for understanding things like why character variables are between –128 and +127 when expressed as integers. ASCII (and other formats) are available in decimal as often as Binary, Octal, or hexadecimal. So we really need students to know that a space is 20 in hexadecimal and 32 in decimal? Isn’t the decimal enough?
Binary is useful in other ways of course. Setting and reading flag bits for example can be very efficient and useful. And it is helpful in some cases to get a deeper understanding of data storage.
Now I do think understanding number systems is important. Just as learning a new natural language often helps people understand their native language, learning about number systems/bases can help students understand decimal better. But is the a math requirement or a computer science requirement?
OK let’s discuss.
I had a knock on our front door a few weeks ago. It was a young English guy going door to door for an electricity retailer, trying to get me to switch my power company. As it turns out, it was his first day so he didn’t really know a lot about what he was selling and couldn’t answer many of my questions in detail. To be fair, I can be a bit analytical about these things and I don’t think he was prepared for so many questions. His spiel was basically “You should switch to us because we are better”, but when I asked about the rates they charge, all he could respond with was “We have really good rates”.
If you ever come knocking on my door, whether you’re trying to get me to switch energy companies, or convince me that Jesus loves me, you better be prepared to engage. I ask lots of questions. You better have answers.
So I grabbed my most recent power bill, and asked him exactly what their rates were per KWh. He had never heard of a Time Of Use meter (TOU), which our house uses, so I had to explain the concepts of Peak, Shoulder and Off Peak rates to him. As we compared the rates, we both learned that his company’s “really good rates” were not quite as good as he had been led to believe. Compared to what we were currently paying, they were slightly cheaper for Peak and Shoulder, and quite a bit more for Off Peak. It was an interesting discussion and I told him I would take the data he provided and think about it.
When I think about data, I do it with a spreadsheet. I often amazes me how few people really understand the power of a spreadsheet to analyse numbers. Even with just a few simple formulas, it’s possible to dig into numbers and see what they really represent. Especially with consumer level data – like knowing how much things really cost – it astounds me that more people don’t know how to make sense of the numbers for their basic expenses.
So I knocked up a spreadsheet in Google Sheets. I transferred the KWh usage from my last power bill onto the sheet (which was a little tricky as there was a rate change part way through the quarter, so I had to calculate the different rate amounts and add them together for the total) but in the end was able to correctly derive the exact same $429 figure as I actually paid. Just that part of the exercise was useful as it helped me understand exactly how my power bill was calculated. (Do you understand how yours is calculated?) I then projected the amount of my next quarterly power bill – $529 – assuming the usage was the same, but with the latest rates.
Then I copied the usage data and plugged in the KWh rates being quoted to me by my door knocking friend. His company was offering a 15% pay-on-time discount on the bill (but only on the actual power usage, not the supply charge, as I found out later by reading the fine print). As it turns out, his company – Simply Energy – was indeed cheaper than my current provider, coming in at $439 for the same usage and a saving of $89.88. Not bad.
But wait, it got me thinking. Could I do even better? A quick internet search turned up a power provider called Red Energy. Red Energy was highly recommended by Canstar, so I found their rates and plugged them into my spreadsheet. Their KWh rates were cheaper, however they only offered a 10% pay-on-time discount, but it was on the whole bill not just the consumption component. Can you see why you really need a spreadsheet to analyse this data if you want to make any informed decisions? I’m sure that companies deliberately calculate their charges using different formulas to their competition, just to make it harder for consumers to make apples-to-apples comparisons. Thank goodness for spreadsheets and knowing how to use them.
Red Energy was not actually the cheapest option, but they were close enough and the one I felt best about as they are a 100% Australian owned company. So I called them, and made the switch.
And then the fun started. Yesterday I got a call from Energy Australia, my current power provider, telling me what a valued customer I am and how much they wanted to keep my business. So much so that they offered an ongoing 26% (!) pay-on-time discount on my power bill. While that certainly sounded like an attractive deal, their actual rates were still higher, so how can you tell? Yes, with a spreadsheet.
As the Energy Australia rep was wooing me with enticing offers I was able to say “Hang on, I have a spreadsheet!” I quickly entered their data into the sheet and was now discussing the options knowing exactly what I was talking about. Having data is powerful. Turns out it was a good deal, so I decided to remain with my original provider (although I was a little bit annoyed that you need to threaten to leave them before they suddenly discovered they can offer me a discount!)
Now I had to call Red Energy and tell them I was cancelling the switch. But, surprise surprise, Red has a customer retention department as well and they didn’t want to lose me as a potential new customer either. So they upped the ante to a 12% pay-on-time discount AND a $100 rebate on my next bill. Into the spreadsheet that new data went. And it turns out that when you take all of that into account, Red wins – by $6.34 annually. So I decided to stick with my decision to switch after all.
You can check out the spreadsheet I made here if you are interested.
I think there are a couple of lessons here…
- If you want to be a canny consumer, you need to have the facts. Many companies give you information that is confusing, incomplete or just misleading. Take the time to analyse the data for yourself so you know the reality of their claims.
- If you want to save money on basic bills, then leave your current provider (or at least threaten to). Switching your power, phone, gas, or other service to a competitor is likely to get their customer retention department calling with a much sweeter deal than you currently get.
- Learn to use a spreadsheet! They are a simple tool, but oh so powerful. I can tell you, at least anecdotally, that most people I meet have absolutely no idea how to use one. Don’t be one of those people.
- If buying locally matters to you at all, do some research. Turns out that Energy Australia, despite the name, is a wholly owned Hong Kong company. Red is 100% Australian owned by the Snowy Hydro Scheme. Foreign ownership of Australian companies is an interesting can of worms.
Here the educational part of this blog post…
As a teacher, I see this kind of thing as a brilliant activity for students. What if you gave your learners the basic skills of calculating numbers with a spreadsheet, and then a bunch of different rates from different competing companies and simply asked “Who is offering the best deal?” This process usually raises lots and lots of questions, and will certainly make them better consumers, better at understanding data, and better users of spreadsheets.
For an example of the kinds of ways you can take this convoluted consumer experience and turn it into a reasonably useful learning task for students, the links below are from a task I have used with my Year 11 students looking into how to figure out the best mobile phone plan. As you will see from looking at the task, it tried to take account of the complexities of the word “best” by introducing a user-centric approach (best for who?) and encouraging them to really dig into the information being provided to make sense of it. I’ve also included a grading rubric to give you an idea of how I graded this task.
- Choosing the Right Mobile Phone Plan – Task Description
- Choosing the Right Mobile Phone Plan – Supporting Slides
- Choosing the Right Mobile Phone Plan – Grading Rubric