Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Self-assessment in education

Over the last few weeks a lot of things have been happening at my school. Year 12s finished their studies with end of year exams; Year 11s have had their final assessments and are beginning Head Start classes for next year; Year 10s have had final assessments; including their research presentations; Year 8s have had camp; I have been teaching Head Start; I have spoken at my first assembly for year 11 in my new role as curriculum leader; and I have begun moving office into the VCE centre.

Oh and reports and finishing marking.

So apart from feeling a little:

I am actually quite excited about teaching my Head Start classes. This week I have started teaching year 11 biology and chemistry. In my chemistry class today, one of the things I was doing was getting my students to self-assess a timeline that they had produced in groups in the previous class. The timeline illustrated development of atomic theory, hopefully showing understanding, content knowledge, and presentation skills (in order of relative importance).

What I found was that students were quite on the mark in terms of assigning 'grades', compared to what I assign. More importantly, the discussions that ensued were particularly revealing. Through a conversation I facilitated, they indicated why and why not they thought particular posters were well done- several students were corrected by peers for praising well-presented work that showed no understanding. They began to auto-correct and critique the work beyond a surface/superficial level. Some students misidentified information (dates/names etc) as understanding, and were able to be corrected by their peers, who explained that the posters did not in fact show the experimental evidence leading to the development of the different models.

I know that Hattie ranks student self-assessment as an important and powerful element of education, yet I do not think I had experienced just how powerful it could be in my classroom. To watch students reflect and change their thinking in front of me was really satisfying. Taking the time to think, to really slow down and look at a piece of work, was something that benefited my chemistry students. I will definitely be employing this more often in my classes, with the intention of developing self-correcting, deeply understanding students.

Monday, 25 November 2013

Module 9 (web2.0 online course)

In this module, we are asked to explore social networking sites including scootle (educators online community, Australia based), Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook. The module also reviews what social networking is, in case we had forgotten!

There are some interesting social media statistics out there...

I think that social networking might offer some benefits in the classroom, although given that teachers need to maintain a professional boundary with students, social networking tools are of more benefit to a teacher connecting with other teachers. Establishing an online presence can serve to connect teachers to a large professional network that operates 24/7 around the globe. Beginning teachers can seek advice from expert teachers, and there is a sense of not being so alone knowing that many other teachers are blogging about the idiosyncrasies,  the particular demands of, and ways to develop teaching.

One of the problems I see in networking and social media sites, is that as 'new media' voices can be echoed and teachers can begin feeling as though everyone feels the same way, even though only a small minority of people are joined to that conversation. This bias is something that needs careful scrutiny - how many teachers at your school are actually connected to Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter? Probably less than you might think.

Our school has a mix of staff on any of these social networking sites. A majority use Facebook, but not for teaching purposes. Some are on LinkedIn, as a form of online/digital CV, whilst very few are on Twitter.

I find Twitter a great network for teachers, particularly with conversations such as #edchat and #tmmelb being some useful ones close to home that I follow. The ability to have these ongoing conversations with other education professionals is something that I have found beneficial as a beginning teacher. I also particularly enjoy being able to find teachers' blogs and reading about their experiences and opinions.

Overall I think the benefit of social media in the classroom, at this stage, belongs to empowered teachers being able to connect and share ideas, support and stories.

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Contextual learning

We have just finished a semester long course at year 10 in advanced chemistry and physics, a subject we called Future Energies and Sustainability. The focus of this course was a research project into our local suburb, Ferntree Gully, to investigate different aspects of energy production, usage and sustainability that could be improved for the year 2040.

Josie Hopkins and I came up with the idea of contextual unit to teach science at St Joseph's College because we wanted to achieve several things:

1) We wanted to students to engage with science as an inquiry based subject, rather than a content based subject (although there is a need to teach content as part of science).

2) We wanted students to be involved in a learning process (the research project) that is authentic (solving real world problems, engaging with real people)

3) We wanted to use assessments (the research project, the student blog) that allow for deeper learning through reflection and collaboration in an ongoing process for students.

Last Monday we came to the end of the course, finishing on a high with student led presentations in our learning centre, Chieri. The students put on a science fair of sorts, presenting their research into future energies and sustainability for the suburb of Ferntree Gully. What they presented was of high quality, with deep understanding evident in many presentations. Some groups had made posters communicating their ideas, whilst others had conducted experiments to test and refine hypotheses. We provided the boys with an authentic audience - Lisa Loulier and Sam Sampanthar from Knox City Council's Community Sustainability Program; Kate Evans, Director of KIOSC at Swinburne University; as well as a member from Energy Australia; and a long serving member of the engineers' institute of Australia. These visitors were full of enthusiasm about the program after speaking with the boys, impressed by the level of their understanding and knowledge in their project areas. Several students have been asked to present at an Expo at KIOSC early next year.

What really hit me with this course finishing up was that it could work. Science education could be contextualised and allow for deeper understanding. Students could have a longer term exposure to the themes underlying a subject and move beyond surface or skill learning. It was by no means perfect, and I can already see ways to improve how we ran the course, including: how and why we use the student blogs, incorporating more practical work, building more links between students and the community. Yet the overall results of the project encourage me to think that we can positively engage students in science, and achieve better understanding of science through making it real in the classroom.

Friday, 22 November 2013

A cheeky demo!

Here is a little taster of something we have been working on at the ECCN... Enjoy!

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Module 8 (web2.0 online course)

In this module we are asked to develop a familiarity with RSS and different RSS tools. In particular we looked at Feedly (a popular RSS service that replaces Google Reader). I think that having another service to help manage new content from the web would be useful for the avid user of the internet (although somehow I have survived without using any kind of RSS service for years!).

I struggle to see how the majority of classrooms would benefit from using this kind of service at this stage. Many of my students are less au fait with technology than might be expected, and trying to get them to use something like feedly, when they see the internet mostly for connecting and communicating, rather than researching and learning, does not seem like it would be effective at this stage. I am happy to be wrong in this regard, and perhaps there is a way in which students would use this.

I currently use feedly to keep on top of various sites of interest, including various science and education blogs. I think that some of my students would read blogs, but perhaps not as much as would warrant using feedly. Perhaps they could use it as part of research into a given topic - but I am still unsure...

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Module 7 (web2.0 online course)

In this module we are introduced to the tools delicious and diigo, tools to help share, manage and collate online content. I have started using delicious for some of my cycling related websites (being an avid bike fanatic) and have found it quite useful to tag different bookmarks. I think that this particular topic does not lend itself to immediate reflection (what does?) and I will surely begin to appreciate it more deeply as I build up all my regular websites and new areas of interest and begin to catalogue them using these tools. It looks like they would benefit online communities of teachers- PLNs where teachers with a similar method or topics could easily and effectively share resources. I found one of the interesting features of delicious to be that it could synchronise with twitter to build a feed based on your interests (although this kind of feedback cycle is not always useful imho). I already use twitter as a professional networking tool, so am hopeful to see some good material come into my delicious feed (not so many just yet...).

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Module 6 (web2.0 online course)

In this module we asked to explore using Picasa to share photos/images. Initially I uploaded photos using Google's Photo app - before trying the Picasa app. Honestly, although I found that Picasa has more options, the Photos app as part of the Google suite of tools was much easier and straightforward, not requiring me to install anything else.

Having the photos online allows me to visually reflect on a learning activity from a class - in the particular example I uploaded for this module, I am able to see examples of student conceptions regarding the model of the atom. It allows me to work out what I could change for next time. For this particular activity I was happy with what my students developed in small teams - it accurately reflected the model I wanted them to understand.

More powerfully, publishing online allows a user to share photos with a colleague and allows for external contributions, rather than leaving things in just the one classroom/professional learning team.