Facebook + Education 

Facebook has been seen in many cases as dangerous or risky when mentioned in the same context as schools and education. We’ve all heard stories about Facebook-centered cyber bullying, inappropriate public posts by teachers or compromising photos that don’t do anyone any favours. These things alone encourage teachers and administrators to err on the side of caution and stay away from using Facebook as an educational tool altogether.

This needn’t be the case. With all common sense practices in mind, Facebook is a fantastic way to connect with targeted groups of people such as parents or fellow educators. Through creating a Facebook group, an administrator is able to control who is part of the group, who gets to see posts and who gets to contribute to the page. We set up a private Facebook group in our collaborative classroom a few years ago to connect with the parents within our class. It was hugely successful and something that I would encourage other teachers to have a go at. Parents had instant information at their fingertips about anything that was going on in our class through our posts. We were able to share photos, videos and web links of digital work our students had created to that targeted group. It allowed parents that wouldn’t normally participate in the classroom life of their children to engage from a safe distance. Many of these parents did not use email or computers, but had Facebook on their smart phones, allowing parents within the group to contact each other to foster friendships among their children, as well as contact their teachers quickly and easily. I firmly believe that the success of this form of communication was down to the fact that Facebook was a platform that parents were already using and were familiar with. They didn’t have to download and learn a new app, such as Seesaw or other such fabulous tools that are currently in use.

Since writing this original post in 2013, a lot has changed within my career, however my use of Facebook as a tool has only increased. I use Facebook to follow the pages of many talented educators from around the world and learn from their expertise. I am frequently inspired and amazed at the awesome things people are doing within their schools, and love sharing these ideas within my networks. It is so easy to find Facebook pages such as these. As a simple start, just type ‘teacher’ in the search field on your own Facebook page and see how many pages come up! Try using other key words. I have created a Facebook page called ‘Teachers of Multi-Age Classrooms’ in response to a clear deficiency of conversations, assistance and networking available for people working in classrooms catering to two or more year levels, as I was. It is a fantastic space to ask questions and share resources, and one that I intend to devote more time to this year.

Since becoming a school principal, I have found no better -or more cost efficient- method of promoting our school to the wider world, than our school Facebook page. Instead of a closed group, as we used for our classroom Facebook pages, we make all posts available to the public. Anyone that ‘likes’ our page gets a notification whenever I post something. Providing that parents provide permissions for me to responsibly post photos of their child or their work on Facebook, it is a fantastic way to show everyone the fabulous things we do, how wonderful our school is and what makes our school somewhere that people would want to send their children. I am able to demonstrate and promote our unique context at zero cost. I have had conversations with my school council and P&C about how I am intentionally using Facebook to promote our school and encourage enrolments, and asked that they like and share my posts to their networks to widen our impact. It is working! Our school’s reputation, purely through this positive exposure, is growing and we are a more visible presence within our district. I have seen many other schools do the same through the power of positive promotion on their own Facebook pages.

If you haven’t delved into Facebook as a tool within your work, give it a go! When mangaged responsibly, Facebook can work wonders for educators at all levels.

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Facebook + Education 

Professional networking through Twitter

I can’t believe it was May when I last posted. Where has this year gone? Teaching seems to be a conduit for time travelling at warp speed- everything is measured in weeks, terms, semesters, years…before you know it, you’re another year older and all of a sudden you’ve got yet another new batch of little faces looking at you expectantly, waiting for you to work your magic on them.

This year for me has been one of huge growth and opportunity. I have been given the world of education on a platter and I have lapped up as much as I could hold. By this I mean I’ve had so many professional learning opportunities in so many different areas: technology, literacy, leadership, special needs, 21st century learning design… the list goes on. Yet the more I learn, the more I realise how much I don’t know and how much more I have to learn! The more I realise that I have to learn, the more I desperately want to learn! Through making some amazing friends at the Microsoft Partners in Learning forum in Brisbane this year, I’ve woken up to the benefits of using social media for professional networking.

My favourite by far is Twitter. Here, I meet like minded educators who share fabulous ideas as well as keep a finger on the pulse of the latest trends within education. I follow people that I admire and I have been secretly chuffed when people have chosen to follow me. Half the world is already clued on to what I’ve only just hooked into these past few months, but in a small regional city like Geraldton, the need for Twitter didn’t seem too dire until I worked out what I was missing when I wasn’t a part of it! It is precisely because Geraldton is a small regional city that Twitter is so useful. I have met and chatted with people from all over the world through leads and links on Twitter. I have gained perspectives that come from people doing what I do or, more importantly, what I want to do, which is be a successful educator that makes a difference.

All it takes is to start an account and find someone that you admire within your field. Start following them and then look at who they follow. You might want to follow a few of those people too. Before long, you’ll come across more and more people that you can start following. You start paying attention to who is cued into Twitter at different professional learning opportunities and use this as a chance to connect and learn from people within these contexts. A few well placed tweets to the right people puts your name out in the public arena as an educator who is connected to the world and is interested in current trends. You also become aware of who are the big players within the profession through what they tweet about and where. Twitter is a means to gain access to their world and make yourself known to them.

A suggestion for using Twitter for professional networking: don’t mix personal and professional contexts. Tweets can be seen by anyone, including potential employers. It’s not a good look to Tweet about your fabulous Global Education project on one day and your stinking hangover in another (for example!). I keep Twitter for work and I have a Facebook account for my personal life that is accessed only by my close friends and family. It is on Facebook that I can control my privacy and who sees what. It is on Facebook that I post pictures of my children, my holidays, my friends. On Twitter I shout out my successes within the classroom and praise the ideas and contributions of those that inspire me. I receive news and participate in anything that can increase my knowledge within this ever-changing profession. I am able to construct the professional image I want to portray on Twitter through omitting most of my personal life from it.

If you haven’t hooked in to Twitter yet, give it a go. Better yet, follow me! @eduexhange and see who I follow.

Professional networking through Twitter

A different type of education from David Foster Wallace

Without intending to sound overly dramatic, I am soooo busy at the moment. Like, manic. My to-do list is now a running joke between myself and my teaching partner because of my tendency to add more to the list than I cross off. Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy being busy and I find it hard to not volunteer myself for projects or opportunities at work that I am interested in. The downside, as you can imagine, is that I tend to decrease my leisure time which can lead to a perpetual longing for school holidays!

Tonight I put myself to bed at 7.30 in the hopes of recharging my battery a bit. I got bored so I watched a couple of TED talks on my iPad. A recently featured talk, ‘David Foster Wallace: This is Water’ resonated so much with me at this moment I cried (just a little, no need to feel sorry for me!) Yep, totally a combination of stress and exhaustion, but also that it rung so true.

The clip goes on for around ten minutes and if you do choose to watch, please go right to the end. This is where the message about ‘choosing your attitude’, something I wrote about in my last post, ‘What we can learn from FISH’, was reiterated for me. I loved this clip and I hope you enjoy it also.

A different type of education from David Foster Wallace

What we can learn from FISH…

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We just came back from 9 days of camping on a pristine, isolated beach. One intermittent bar would flash up on my mobile every now and then, taunting me during my digital withdrawal and delivering the odd email from the real world. During this time I had a chance to really (and properly) sit, think, reflect, and read- all of which are sadly precious and rare in my world of crazy-busy. It was pure bliss.

This holiday I sat and devoured 7 books. The last couple of books in my holiday pile were texts that were not necessarily for pleasure, but for self-improvement. One that I want to discuss is called FISH: A remarkable way to boost morale and improve results. (Stephen C Lundin, PhD., Harry Paul and John Christensen). I chose to read this book as I had an interest more in its sequel, Cats: The nine lives of innovation, by Stephen C Lunden PhD, which I’ll talk about another time.

FISH describes how to achieve an ideal workplace: one where the staff are motivated, inspired, energetic, passionate and positive. Through a narrative the book outlines 4 strategies to achieve this:

  • Choose your attitude;
  • Play;
  • Make Their Day; and
  • Be Present.

The scenarios highlighted within the story relate to staff working in customer service and an operative group within a bank. By adopting the above strategies, the groups involved experienced greater job satisfaction, client satisfaction and an overall improvement within the workplace and productivity.

These 4 strategies seem like common sense- there is nothing particularly ground breaking about them. However, the beauty is in their simplicity and ease of implementation, particularly within classrooms where the ‘clients’ are our students.

The cornerstone of this approach is the first strategy, ‘Choose Your Attitude’. In this, the authors encourage us to change the way we approach our day. They assert that ‘there is always a choice about the way you do your work, even if there is not a choice about the work itself’. We can choose to do the best that we can do, with energy and passion, or we can choose to hang on to feelings of negativity that promise to burdon us with a miserable day as well as drag others down with us. We can choose to step away from the negativity of ‘that’ co-worker who tends to suck the life out of the room, or we can choose to feed and multiply that negativity through its interaction. In this, we are reminded that we often can’t control what happens to us (such as the idiot that cut you off on the way to work this morning), but we can control our reactions and behaviours to these things. We all make a choice, be it conscious or unconscious in how we behave. ‘Choose Your Attitude’ implores us to make the conscious choice to be positive, to approach what we do every day with pride and energy, no matter what the task.

I love this philosophy because I can see how it can be successfully translated to improve my class environment and (hopefully) increase the energy and overall happiness of my students. By encouraging my kids to ‘Choose Your Attitude’, we are asking them to walk through the door each morning having made a choice about how they approach their day. A positive attitude towards their peers, their  work and their school experiences would have to result in a utopian classroom, would it not??

I’m sure that any teacher that reads this is by now muttering that many kids find it difficult to be sunshine and roses all of the time because their lives are hard, for a variety of reasons. What I am saying is that if a culture of choice and consideration is fostered within our classrooms, then our classrooms (and our workplace) can become a sanctuary and not just another battle that they (and we!) have to get through every day. If our students are taught over time to modify their reactions to negative behaviours and to choose to celebrate and embrace the positives they encounter, we are fostering life skills. Above all, it is vital that we as the adults in their lives model these behaviours.

The remaining three strategies would only serve to build upon this strong foundation for a happy, productive, energetic classroom.

The strategy of ‘Play’ is one that any good teacher uses on a daily basis. Kids learn when they have fun and learning through play is a no-brainer. ‘Make Their Day’, the third strategy,  is something we often need to put more thought into. ‘Make Their Day’ refers to making our ‘clients’ feel special, creating positive experience that students will remember and cherish. Sadly, for some of my students, basic kindnesses are enough to make their day. A conversation unrelated to school where you actively engage. A smile. A shared joke. These are not things that you should consciously have to remind yourself to do, however sometimes we need to identify and ‘bank time’ with students who would benefit from someone putting the effort in for them and showing that they care.

The last strategy is ‘Be Present’. In terms of the modeled workplace in the book FISH, ‘Be Present’ describes employees are entirely focused on their work and their clients. This is complicated when we relate it to the classroom. On one hand, the day flies by at warp speed that there is no choice but to ‘live in the now’ and focus on the task at hand. On the flip-side, however, it is for this precise reason that we can benefit from again reminding ourselves (this is not a new concept!!) to interact with our students while they are working to really learn how they feel about a task, and if they are benefiting from it. Is what you are asking fulfilling their needs as a learner? Is what you are asking the best way for this particular learner to learn?

I want to reiterate that I know what I’m saying is nothing new or groundbreaking; none of these strategies are things that we haven’t heard before. What I really enjoyed about this book was its simplicity. It served as a fantastic reminder in a job full of complicated theories and practices of ways to not only be a better teacher and co-worker, but how to foster a better classroom environment for my students, my clients.

What we can learn from FISH…

I love Google- but does Google love me back?

As with many people of my generation, I’m generally self- taught when it comes to the latest and greatest technologies and innovations. I try to keep up with what my students are already using and I try to discover technologies to enhance my teaching or save me time. There are so many options out there for us to grab hold of and use that when we find something that works, is simple and can slide into our work lives easily, we tend to just go with it without thinking too much about if there is a ‘bigger picture’ to consider.

Well, this was the case when I discovered (much later than the rest of the world, I know!) Google Chrome. I just love it! Google Docs, Google Drive, the web store and all of the web apps- it has really simplified some of my most time consuming tasks. For example, I team teach a class of Year 5 students. My teaching partner and I often use common documents to record data that previously we had just emailed back and forth (from home at midnight, slaving away over an overworked laptop…). Now, we simultaneously work on the same document from our separate homes while it saves and updates in real time.

These multi-user capabilities hold huge potential for collaborations between students within classrooms all over the world. Imagine a project partner that lives in a different country! The power of the internet really is fabulous. While I’m here, let me say that I’m a huge fan of OneNote and Skydrive, which have similar capabilities, however for ease of simplicity when I’m on the net, Google’s products win out when I’m in a hurry- which is almost always.

So, when I was shown the ‘Hungry Beast- Google’ clip (attached) at a recent conference, I was forced to stop and think. What am I risking by using this product? Am I tech savvy enough to protect myself? I hope no one actually puts this to the test! Am I just falling for a big joke formulated by a ginormous corporation that really just wants to own me?

I don’t know!

When we’re sifting through all of the amazing technologies available to us, we are generally pulling them from one of the big boys- Apple, Microsoft or Google. The question I’m now asking is, when I use something of theirs, what are they taking of mine?

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It’s all about the learning…

Here in Australia we’ve started a new curriculum that links the states and territories for the first time. We as teachers are all required to cover English, Mathematics, History and Science (among other learning areas) as well as the cross curricular priorities of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander History and Cultures,  Asia and Australia’s Engagement with Asia and Sustainability. Of course these are all essential to promote literate, numerate students with a sense of social conscience and place within a global community. However, it is the general capabilities of our curriculum that are something to get excited about.

It is here that our curriculum attempts to align an education system that is in love with chalk and talk, standardized testing and outdated technology with the holy grail of 21st Century Learning practices.  The general capabilities of Information and Communication Technology, Critical and Creative Thinking, Personal and Social Capability, Ethical Understanding and Intercultural Understanding all outline skills and essential practices that need to be woven throughout the curriculum to create lifelong learners that are prepared to survive and thrive within a 21st century world. Despite all that these general capabilities cover, they are nothing but words on a page unless they are embraced within the spirit of 21st Century Learning Practices.

What is 21st Century Learning?

The 21st Century Learning model aims to prepare students for the world that they will graduate into. What will that world look like? No one can honestly say! The last thirty years has seen vast amounts of change in almost every dimension of our lives and we will continue to see change. We live in a technology and media-saturated world where news is instant and we are more globally connected than any other time. The industrial model of teaching and learning, the teacher centered, chalk and talk method is simply too slow for the learners of today. These kids were born into a digital world  where multi-tasking is the norm and flat out is the only speed they know.

So what do we do? We as educators need to prepare students to cope with change, to be creative, innovative and critical thinkers that have the ability to problem solve and work comfortably within a truly global community. We do this by exposing them to the real world using relevant and real life examples. We give them opportunities to collaborate with peers from around the world. Rather than a textbook approach, students should be encouraged to discover using the technologies they are so comfortable with.

The ‘teacher knows all’ achetype that led to reams of paper wasted from copying from the board is now shattered by the fact that kids of today often know more than we do about the use of technology in particular. They are fearless learners, they have no qualms about experimenting, guessing, checking, making mistakes and moving on. They love creating, collaborating and discovering for themselves. They love sharing their knowledge and teaching others. Our greatest battle as their ‘teachers’ is trying to keep up!

It is vital that we as educators facilitate these invaluable learning experiences for our students.

It’s easy to argue that this fast-paced and digital world is not an ideal way to live, that a slower, simpler, less stressful approach is better. The simple fact is that this is not how the kids of today roll. If I asked a nine year old boy to sit at his desk while I lectured him about the joys of persuasive writing, he would last all of ten minutes before he started looking for other ways to entertain himself. Certainly, students need to be taught skills to be successful both as independent and collaborative learners and there is most definitely a place for rigorous teaching and learning of literacy and numeracy in particular. It is the delivery of this content that needs to change in order to engage our learners so that we can say we’ve done our job, which is help our students to learn and prepare for their futures, whatever they may hold.

http://www.australiancurriculum.edu.au/

It’s all about the learning…