A day at the museum

I have always believed in the power of the network in education to provoke, support and connect. As a user of twitter I have built up a large network around me and now people I have connected with through that have become close colleagues who I talk to regularly about my practice. This year one of those connections I met on twitter using the #vicpln hashtag a few years back provided me with an opportunity to work closely with our local museums.

Throughout the year, our children have been inquiring into how our community curates and shares knowledge. After researching what is important knowledge, how it can be shared and the types of knowledge a community shares, the children have worked on creating their own museum exhibits for a museum at our school.

After connecting with Cam Hocking at Museum Victoria early in the year we were eager to bring the kids to the museum with a new experience of the school trip to the museum in mind. We didn’t want the experience to be anything they’d had at a museum before. Where they were told what rooms they can be in at a given time and with restrictions put in place because teachers are worried about what the museum staff an visitors would think. We wanted to see how the kids would experience the museum given the chance. Don’t get me wrong, it was hard at times to stand back and not look at my watch. But the kids were taken by what they were seeing. And they were considerate of the others using the museum. They didn’t need me to spend my time shushing them. In not being hung up on what others were thinking or what the kids should be doing, I was able to actually observe what they did. How they interacted with the artefacts. How quickly they moved from one to another. How they didn’t read anything, although much of the museum displays had writing. How they shared what they were seeing with each other and how they documented it with their cameras. The types of exhibits they were attracted to weren’t big or moving, but things they had a connection to. And surprisingly the dinosaurs, weren’t as exciting as the bugs!

But this was just part of the visit to the museum.  What we also wanted to achieve was a different experience for the kids. One were they were engaged and engulfed by the visit. What would it take for them to experience the museum on a deeper level? So after lunch we visited the museum wearing a researcher lens. Children entered with questions about the museum that would help them to build their own museum at school. How are the artefacts displayed? What do the artefacts have in common? What sizes are the artefacts? How wide are the walking paths? What senses are used for each of the displays. Why did they decide on that artefact? I took with me a bag full of tools they might need including measuring tapes, timers, paper, pencils and they all had cameras, iPads and a GoPro to use as well.

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You can probably guess what happened next. The kids spent longer at each of the exhibits. They didn’t rush. They questioned each other. They shared their learning. They interacted with the visitors at the museum. It was a completely different experience. And what the children came back with was a different lens in which to visit a museum. Not only was it a mysterious holder of knowledge but armed with the right questions, a day at the museum could be a researcher’s delight that could set the basis for developing our own museum and further strengthening our connections.

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As the inquiry continued we had many more great connections with the museum through twitter, hangouts with experts and visits from their team. As we built our own exhibits it was time to visit the museum again, this time with our own artefacts in hand.

With the ongoing relationship and connection we had with the museum we felt it was the perfect time to ask for a request; an activity room to create a School Museum Pop Up and some experts to give us some feedback. Wish granted, we jumped on a tram with arms full with boxes, ready to set up a pop up at the Melbourne Museum.

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It is not often you get to have such an authentic experience with real and purposeful feedback. The CEO of Museum Victoria dropped by, as did numerous experts within the museum; designers, curators, volunteers. All giving well considered feedback to the students who couldn’t get enough advice to make changes to their exhibits.  At the end of the day not one child was sad the experience was over as they headed back to school eager to make changes based on the feedback they had received.

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And that is not the end of it. This week the museum opened in full at school. Visitors from the community have been invited in between the hours of 10am – 2pm daily to visit, with some very animated tour guides showing them around. And it was not surprising to see some Museum Victoria staff in there eager to see the final product and get their hands on the exhibition booklet.

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….all from a connection that started on twitter and ended with the most amazing group of people from a museum, ready to support our learning every step of the way.

Festival of Gaming

At this time of year I love reading everyone’s wrap up of the previous year. Highlight, lowlight, best of.  I am not usually one to write that sort of thing, and if you look back over my year of blogging I haven’t been one to write much at all. No, this is not gong to be a promise to write more but I thought it would give me an opportunity to blog about something I wish I had through the year, the gaming inquiry my class did.

Rigor had been a word I had tried to ignore for so long when it came to inquiry but I think in this inquiry I got the true sense of the word. It feels like I have come full circle in my thinking about inquiry.  From the rigid ‘you’ll do inquiry my way, my process’, to the ‘let the kids go and they will learn’ inquiry. This inquiry was somewhere in the middle.  Did the students have complete freedom to direct their own learning? Yes. Did I influence that decision? Yes, probably. Many times I started my sentences with “It is up to you but can I ask….” and “Have you thought about…?”

The inquiry group was 24 boys who were interested in computers, games, Lego and paper planes.  The first few weeks were spent getting to know what our interests were, identifying what we knew and coming up with some questions which would drive our inquiry.  We found a common love of gaming and groups were formed by the students and the following questions developed.

  • How is music used in gaming?
  • How do you make a good game?
  • How do you make an open world game?
  • How do you get real things in games?
  • How do you make an arcade game?
  • How do you make a game?

And off they went!  During our check ins (Time for sharing what everyone was doing and discussing our next steps) we came up with ideas for finding out what we needed to about gaming.  Some students reviewed games using Sploder and Scratch, others followed tutorials on how to use different platforms. Max from grade 6 was called in as a Scratch expert.  Meanwhile, Max in grade 3 used Code Academy to learn Python. Surveys such as this one asking about the use of music in gaming were analysed to help one group design their own pieces of music using Soundation. Images of arcade gaes were used to come up with a criteria. And yes, there were lots of games played. Some students became experts in certain areas and Max and Gareth skyped another school to teach them about using Sploder.

As the groups developed their own knowledge, changing their opinions as they went and asking more questions a culture of sharing was developed where groups helped each other out in their quest to make their own games.  The music group made music for another group’s game.  Experts using Scratch helped out the music group. The list goes on.

As the games neared completion it was becoming clear we needed to share them. At a later check in it was decided we should have a festival of gaming, both as a website and an event. The festival would have a few aims. Firstly an opportunity for us to share our learning, also to get feedback and finally to prove to our school community that gaming is a good thing. Before the festival there a few things that needed to be done. Marketing had to be organised, venues booked, and the games would need to be finished.  As part of the designing process we knew it was important to have users test our games before the final showcase so the students invited their peers and parents to try out their games, then made the final changes to them in preparation for the festival.

The festival was a huge success.  With large numbers of the school community turning out to play the games, give feedback and learn about gaming through the students led workshops. It was at this stage and during the reflection the following week that I really got to see what the students had learnt about design, the creative process, inquiring, collaborating but more so the confidence they had in their own learning. And this wasn’t from me letting them go nor from telling them how to do it.  But from setting the culture, modelling the inquiry and for one group, me even being a team member sharing ideas and contributing. Would they have pulled it off without me? No.  Would they have had as many people visit their website had it not been for me?  Would the group with the arcade game thought of the idea without me.  Probably not. But what I did do is show them how next time they can do it on their own.  I modelled to them how amazing curiosity, inquiry, determination and failure can be.

Visit the Festival of Gaming Website here to play and review the games and see the videos and gallery.

Watch me talking about the inquiry for AITSL’s Teacher Feature.

Why our schools are NOT failing your children

This morning I read this article by recent graduate Johanna O’Farrell in The Age.  Of course any article which opens with “Why your schools are failing your children: a teacher tells” piqued my interest.  I have always advocated for teachers telling their stories in our media rather than politicians but this one had my heart rate rising as she spoke of schools tossing aside “any sort of rigour, routine or repetition when it comes to classroom learning.”

I am truly concerned of Johanna’s experiences in schools where she believes that the strategy is that students “will simply learn to read and write by osmosis” and that rote learning should be a valid part of learning.

If we want our schools to factories of students who can travel a conveyer belt learning times tables through hours of chanting and memorising the laws of the English Language then maybe she has a point.  But I couldn’t imagine why we would want students to know facts in isolation and that a “blackboard and chalk, a pen and paper, a few good books and some learned teachers will suffice.” Isn’t an education of experiences which connect ideas, is in context with the real world and develop skills of self directed life long learning a more holistic approach?  Sure, we can rote learn many things if we believe the learning journey ends with our VCE results.

I am saddened that Johanna doesn’t have the knowledge to explain why students expression in English is wrong, not because she was denied learning about the laws of the English language but because she was not exposed to experience of curiosity, self directed learning and how to take control of her own learning.

Maybe this is a message that we need to be more articulate in what we are doing in schools.  I too believe that technology is not a silver bullet and have questioned the use of “genius hours” or “inquiry learning days.”  But I do believe that inquiry learning and technology should be embedded into our classrooms and become as normal as pen and paper learning and chalk and talk was in the past. We need to talk about why we do what we do.  It is more than engagement.  It is embedding real experiences and constructing knowledge through context, introducing conflicting ideas, connecting those experiences and developing their own understandings.

Maybe the more we talk about the why, the less misconception will be there about the relevance of education and demonstrate how schools are helping our students to succeed.

Hacked Learning

Image: ‘hack my creativity 1

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Found on flickrcc.net

I have been hearing a lot about hacked design recently.  You may be confused with hacking we associate with computer systems but this requires taking an already design object and changing it to fit another purpose. Or as the Hacked Design Blog explains it, “Hacking is user initiated product intervention. The idea is to take an object and optimize its function through an alteration that was not intended by the manufacture.” Blogs and websites are popping up like the Ikea Hackers community where people share their ideas and how they have repurposed furniture and designs.

I wonder what it would look like if we took this view of education and decided to hack learning? I hear schools that say, “We do Walker Learning”  or “We are an inquiry based learning school.” But it worries me how limiting it is to put learning in a neat little box.  Imagine if blogs popped up talking about how I used this aspect of design thinking and mixed it with this part of project based learning and repurposed it to meet the needs of my students? What if schools started to say we are “hack schools.” We choose learning based on our students?

So how do we define hacking?  We often think of it as something illegal and wrong.  But if we think of it as taking something that had one purpose and mix it with other tools, resources and thinking to create some new and even more functional.  The RSA suggest hacking has evolved from, “audacious breaches of private electronic systems, through to one which increasingly invokes a broader range of stunts and sabotages of convention.”  Once again you may have thought of sabotage as something negative, to ruin.  But what if we think of it as an ‘obstruction of normal operations’ and that is what we use in hacking learning.

Imagine if rather than looking for the perfect “thinking” or “learning” we hacked learning to produce the best opportunities for our students at that given time, in that context and in that environment. Rather than putting a label on learning we actually get to the bottom of what is important at that precise moment in that child’s learning.

Actually I know that this is already happening. Teachers willing to take a risk, to see things as they should be not as they are, are breaking the learning design rules to create new opportunities for students.  But I would love to see more of it.

Classroom Connections

Over the past 18 months I have been lucky enough to build a wonderful personal learning network, mostly through Twitter and blogging.  I couldn’t begin to list the ways it has helped me to further my learning and my teaching.

This year, participating in the PLP Connect U project, I have continued to build a connected network of wonderful educators who inspire me to learn more, teach better and share often. These connections allow me to bring experiences into the classroom I know would not have been possible before, such as the learning we did yesterday.

Our inquiry unit for this term is, ‘How do we design and create furniture for a particular purpose?’ After spending the last few weeks learning about the design and features of different chairs we are now delving into the design process of making our own model chairs.  It soon became evident we needed some skills in woodworking from someone with a greater knowledge than mine.

With perfect timing I happened upon the blog, which the PLP Connect U – Animals and Habitats team were using to share their experience of Project Based Learning. They had made possum boxes at one of their schools and it was obvious they needed some woodworking skills to produce this.  It was time to do some investigating.

After an email to Ben Gallagher, he was able to suggest a student who had worked on the boxes and was happy to do an Elluminate session with us.

So yesterday the kids all crowded around the Interactive Whiteboard to hear Harris’ presentation.  It was amazing! Harris worked through the slide show he had prepared, sharing with us tips for using a hammer, a drill and saws as well as how to choose the correct wood.  He spoke with such confidence and the students were mesmerised by his expertise.  He then answered our questions without hesitation. We did have a few technical hitches where our class didn’t have a microphone but it certainly didn’t matter, especially as we now have the recording.

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As a teacher it was such a powerful experience to watch our expert share his knowledge with the class.  And he wasn’t an expert in the traditional sense but someone who was confident in his knowledge and willing to share it. The students in the class listened attentively and took on board all of his advice. Can teaching and learning be any more authentic?

How have you connected with an expert, classroom or teacher?

Do you have a similar classroom experience to share?

Random Wall of Questions

Quite often in our class the kids will ask me questions.  Especially questions I have no idea of the answer.  And I think that is great.

But what used to happen is I would say the standard response of, “Mmmm.  I am not sure.  Interesting.  Maybe we could investigate this.”  And of course never find time to come back to it.

So a few weeks ago we started to wonder what happens to all those random questions.  Do they get answered?  Or do they just stay floating around?  Did we think we would be better people if we were more dedicated to answering our random questions?

Random? I hear you say.  Things like;

  • Where does the word Pyjamas come from?
  • Why do leaves fall off trees?
  • Is water alive?

So we decided it was time to start respecting these questions some more.

ENTER RANDOM WALL OF QUESTIONS

So how does it work?

  1. Students think of random question and writes it in a cloud on the wall.
  2. Students and teachers walk past the wall and ponder the question.
  3. The wrench is added to the wall to suggest ways we could find out the answer to the question.
  4. When an answer is found it is written on a brick to be added to our wall.

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What are some of the questions the kids have come up with?

  1. How much wind speed would it take to fell a tree?
  2. Why do watermelon have two different coloured seeds?
  3. How do I sleep?
  4. What would it be like if there was an extra letter in the alphabet?
  5. What does the ‘san’ mean at the end of a person’s name in Japanese

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So now we are looking forward to answering some of the puzzling questions.

Inquiring minds

I have recently read Nigel Holloway’s great post on the, Art and Power of Reflection. I am a very reflective person by nature and I guess you would say I am a bit of a self learner too. I often reflect on how I have contributed to, or behaved, in a particular situation. For example if the kids are not on task during a lesson, I think first about what I could have done differently.

One thing I don’t always do is reflect on the positive things I do.  But today I had good reason to.  I had one of those moments that I work hard to acheive.  Well not achieve per say but to see occur in my classroom.  First I need to give you a bit of background.

For the last ten years I have taught using an inquiry approach.  Well at least I thought I was. Like many others I use the topic headings to plan all of my unit – tuning in, finding out, sorting out etc.  But what I wasn’t doing was actually giving students any opportunity to inquire or think for themselves.

 

Last year I was lucky enough to spend a few days learning from Nadine Le Mescam, an educator who is passionate about inquiry based learning and is an amazing wealth of knowledge.  From those few days, with Nadine,  I learnt so much and now work very hard to give students opportunities to direct their own learning and lead inquiries.

With this in mind I planned, along side my colleagues, the beginnings of an inquiry unit on electricity.  Our inquiry question was – How does electricity affect our lives?  I say ‘was’, as this is where it started but it has evolved since then.

As a school we were using the Primary Connections as the basis of our planning and although I found it a little too prescribing for what I wanted to achieve,  I used elements of it to frame the question, such as finding out how a circuit works.

Now back to the change in question.  We watched an episode of Mythbusters about electricity and the kids came up with loads of questions.  I couldn’t let the opportunity be wasted so we started getting into groups to investigate them.

The questions included; How much electricity does it take to kill someone?  Can electricity jump out of a power point?  Does a conductor have to contain metal?  Of course we decided that some of the questions couldn’t be tested by ourselves and would rely on researching.

Today we had a group of kids working on a question about static electricity.  The question had changed a couple of times as they researched and found new information but they settled on – Can static electricity move water?  Together as a group they did some research and designed an experiment where they would create static electricity by rubbing a balloon on their hair and placing this near a running tap.

If I am to be honest, I doubted (in my obvious lack of science knowledge) that it would happen.  But sure enough I could see the water move.

The great thing was that the learning didn’t stop there.  They then wanted to know the science behind it and did more researching.  They have also altered their experiment to test if all objects will transfer the static energy – like a comb.  Or if they rub the balloon against their hair more will the water move even more.

Watching the kids with huge smiles on their faces from their inquiring and being so eager to share their learning for others was a great moment today.  It was a time where I definitely reflected on how I had set up this learning experience and allowed them to inquire in such a way.  A moment that I am very proud of. I love that I was so far off the mark with what I thought the kids would learn but because they led the learning and used the problem solving and researching skills I had taught them, the learning was so much more meaningful.

And by the way – the kids are now writing out story boards to make their own films based on the Mythbuster theme, which we will enter in the 60 Second Science Video Competition.

What great teaching moments are you proud of?

How do you use inquiry in your classroom?