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Channel 10 News Story on NBCS / SCIL

Here is tonight's channel 10 story on our school. Everyone in the story, including the reporter, spoke insightfully (I reckon!) about how we work and what the benefits are for learners.

The story touches both on the potential for personalisation when working in an open space with a collaborative team of teachers, and on the power of authentic (versus simulated) purpose, or Project-Based Learning. As my colleague Brad Fuller says in the report, "We're not preparing for the music industry, we're in the music industry".

I'm delighted, too, that the report picks up on just a couple of the other out-of-class innovations: we don't have a bell (we all just check our phones or watches) and there is a café in the centre of the school, where students, teachers, parents, are all on common ground. You can see me munching on a salad with a visitor at 1m27!!

By the way if you're keen to visit & see it for yourself, we're running our "Making it Mobile" event in a few weeks. Maybe I'll see you there?

Here are colleagues from NBCS who tweet.

Adrian Bruce, & the "Go Teach This" Story

This post is directed at Primary school teachers, and especially literacy and numeracy, and is about a website with resources and its author, my friend, Adrian Bruce.

This is my third and final post spruiking an opportunity! The previous two were:

I conclude today with a hearty accolade for a friend and colleague whom I admire: Adrian Bruce, and a shameless plug for his new website - "Go Teach This". Let me quickly do the shameless plug first and then finish with the personal accolade! 

The Shameless Plug

His website, www.goteachthis.com, makes available his home-made resources for Primary literacy and numeracy activities. Some resources are free, and some cost a couple of dollars. There are posters, game cards, board games, flash cards, and the like.

They are all original, custom crafted by Adrian, and with designs that draw on his long and successful experience as a Primary school teacher!

So check it out! And now for the accolade:

The Accolade

I first met Adrian at a conference where he was running long, deep, hands-on sessions on providing students with opportunities to be creative using ICT. I learned Adrian was a long time Primary teacher, a fellow INTJ, and a fellow Microsoft Innovative teacher awardee. Well we hit it off!

During a break time I saw him sketching something with a pencil, and asked him about it: he was designing a new graphic for a mathematics game. 

I warmed to Adrian quickly because he is very real, and honest, and not distracted by the latest edu-craze. He values, like I do, practical plans that provide practical opportunities for young learners. He is a do-er, not a talker. 

Adrian's older website (still running)

Adrian's older website (still running)

For some years now Adrian has been making a living out of creating original content and offering it to educators. I believe strongly in the value of the small entrepreneur, and I admire and respect Adrian's courage to take this difficult path of self-employment, for the benefit of other educators. 

His old website (LEFT) continues to offer a plethora of original, creative resources at no cost.

In this age of content-mashups, I particularly value Adrian's contribution in publishing high quality, original resources. I want to see him succeed! I'm barracking for him!

It's been a while since it occurred to me that I could support his initiative in a small way with a blog post.

Adrian, keep up the good work, and I hope this post brings more educators your way!

Big History, and "Generalism"

This is post 2, of 3 posts spruiking groovy opportunities floating about at the moment. (The last one was: beta-test a next-generation learning management system).

This one should appeal to: History teachers, Science teachers, Geography teachers, Primary teachers, and more broadly, everyone

Big History

The opportunity: a free conference for educators with experts in the field, next week, at Macquarie University in Sydney. Go suss it out, and maybe come along

Yes, Steve, but WHAT IS IT?

Darcy Moore introduced me to Big History via a Facebook post spruiking this audiobook - available cheaply via Audible.

You might want to read Darcy's blog post

I loved the audiobook, and the concept:

  • Big History is an emerging integrated field, championed by David Christian from Macquarie University since about 1990.
  • It treats history as everything since the beginning of the universe.
  • Therefore, it seeks to bring together diverse fields such as astronomy, cosmology, anthropology, archaeology, natural history, biology, economics, geology, physics and chemistry.

Here's a TED talk by Christian on Big History:

About "Generalism"

I love Big History because for some years now I have realised how deeply I value generalism and aspire to be a generalist. I just wish the word "generalist" didn't sound so boring and mundane!

I want to dig in to every field of expertise that exists, and mine it for whatever insights it can offer into our amazing world for a layman's mind. Yes, each field has its experts, spending years diving deeper into particular sub-aspects of other sub-aspects of the field, but all this research and wrestling and discussion feeds into insights and paradigms, and these can be intelligible to outsiders like me. 

For instance, I have had no formal study of biology ever, but after a few years of obsessively reading books, articles, listening to audiobooks, asking qualified friends, etc, I have a broad sense of what sort of a world is contained within our cells. I know its driven by Brownian motion, stuff smashing into other stuff. I know that the geometric shape of proteins is critical to extracting meaningful work from all these bumps.

From other reading I know that huge magnetic fields play a protective role preventing "cosmic rays" from mucking up our DNA too much. Suddenly I'm in cosmology, not biology, but the why a gap? I also learn that atoms, apart from hydrogen and helium, needed a supernova to be formed, meaning many atoms in my body came into being during the life of a previous star, before our solar system existed. 

It's glorious when these different worlds, the world of the very small, and the galactic, meet in incredible mutual relevance. 

So I want to do MORE connecting. I want to connect the Brownian motion of cells to how social networks can operate. In social networks, people bump into each other, and not physical shapes but another sort of shape has an impact on how we then interact, and what results. 

You think I'm stretching the metaphor? But everything is metaphor, everything is analogy. I can't understand any new thing except via a bridge built from what I know already.

For me, there aren't enough hours in the day to go mining into other people's fields and swim in their hard-won insights.

This is why, when Darcy introduced me to Big History, I couldn't get enough of it!

Integrated Learning

This is so obvious I'm can't be bothered typing it. It often becomes a problem in High School and gets worse and worse. 

Here's a tiny, practical idea: a few weeks ago I created a Google doc and flicked it through my Year 8 teacher colleagues. The document had a simple table with a row for each week in the year. Then, a column for each subject. "Please write in the topics that come up in your subject" I wrote. 

It took a couple of minutes, and immediately it became apparent that PDHPE are doing the human body while Science is doing the human body. Music is looking at music in film, while English are doing film study, and in French we're producing a French play in film. 

It's about a camera lens. Forest for the trees. Have to zoom out. Have to de-focus our eyes and look for meaning.

Anyway, Big History... come along! 

Beta-Test A Next Gen Learning Management System?

This is 1 of 3 posts spruiking some really cool opportunities on my radar.

First is a chance to beta-test a next generation learning management system (LMS) (an LMS = Moodle, Scholaris, Desire2Learn, etc) which is looking for teachers to test it.

Just head here to get the gist of their system. See below for screenshots. Read on for a bit more info. If you want to pilot their system - click "join the closed beta" here.

You see, I've been meeting with these two 20-something geniuses, Rowan Kuntz and Yohan Dantan every month or two, with some other colleagues, as they've sought input into its development. "Geniuses"? Well, they're smart, insightful and passionate about learning, and have already grown their own medium-sized businesses while in their teens. Read their bios here. I won't be surprised if a big international tries to buy them out, because they've hatched a damn smart little duckling. 

Why am I so excited by it?

  • they've been emphatic that they wanted great learning, not content-grinding.
  • their system combines structured learning paths with Edmodo-style collaboration and social learning... integrated!
  • it allows a central skeleton structure for a main course pathway... while also allowing drag and drop side quests for learners
  • it has an integrated learning-analytics PLUS gamification layer, woven into the system, i.e. badges, progress bars, suggested-quests, etc. It's really smart.
  • did I mention it's not designed for CONTENT-GRINDING!!  
  • it is SCORM compliant... so you can import, for instance, a Moodle course
  • the system looks beautiful. Let's face it, most LMSs are ugly. This looks like Apple designed it. 
  • it fits BYOD like a glove, with apps for Android, iPhones/iPads, + classic web access for Mac and PC.

So, if the time is right for you, why not drop them a line. They're keen for tests this year or early next year.

(Sneak peek at next two blog posts: #2 is concept of "Big History" and #3 is an amazing new original-resource website by my buddy Adrian Bruce.)

Reflections on Games as Media

Early last year I blogged about how we construct definitions of 'gaming' versus 'real life'. For me, I am fascinated by the acknowledgement of artifice that is invoked as soon as we call something a game.

Just yesterday, Dean Groom posted a lovely long comment, and I thought it a shame to leave it languishing at the bottom of my post, so here it is, below.  Dean tweets here and blogs here. I find Dean's writing to be nuanced, insightful and subversive.

Here's the comment: 

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Hey, thanks for happy comment Steve. What I'm really interested in is this: How do games (as a form of media remediation) change the way in which families negotiate fantasy and reality. I'm mostly talking about kids 7-12, pre adolescents, as there is spotty research. I happen to think kids need to explore the bounds of reality, and have always done this though fantasy - playing out games with anything from shadows, to sticks and more lately games like Minecraft. What I think is significant is that parents now have to learn to deal with games as a media form - having no previous experience (as parents) even if they are players. It adds to the anxiety and dilemmas we all face. As much as I like games, my kids like different ones for different reasons. They negotiate playing them (and the media at swirls around them) in way that I might not like, or even be aware of.

Ultimately I believe that many kids are locked into a commercial hyper-reality which reflects the goals or vast corporations (be that Apple, Google or Rio Tinto). I find it unsettling that teachers are commonlt used as preachers for this. I guess I completely reject the Will Richardson "Blogs, wikis and podcasts" because it failed to deal with the ethical realities that schools (and society) are now dealing with.

To me, games allow some kids to find respite and connectedness. They need fantasy to deal with the relentless pressure for them to be what commercial and political interests wish them to be. I grew up in the 70s and 80s, so we bought guitars and hung out in video arcades ... but today that seems impossible for most kids. So why not let them blow stuff up, and be knee deep in gore - as the literature that opposes it yet to prove more than debatable.

To me this is the role of teachers - to take kids to imagined reality of what they could be. I accept there are tests and content, but see no reason that they two things are separated. It matters nothing if teachers or parents don't like games, or don't like the kind of games kids want to play.

Games are simply another layer of the ever evolving cultural literature that is all around us. Play is absolutely real, because it is an autotelic function of the imagination being coerced by our conscious. What we think we are doing and what we are actually doing have been show to be quite different.

The problem with GBL is that it is a commercial hyperbole, which should (but doesn't) present teachers with an instructional method that aligns with outcomes (and what is popular). GBL is simply the act of holding your hand to the sun in order to create shadows, and that is something being driven out of childhood IMO.