Wanted – technologically confident teachers for mentor roles. Immediate start!

I’ve just attended the ALEA/AATE National Conference in Brisbane and am, as is usually the case at such events, feeling very intellectually stimulated and challenged. While there will undoubtedly be further blog posts on the topics I’ve been focused on and ideas that are building, this one is actually a bit of a plea.

It started with the twitter feed. I’m used to going to educational technology conferences and hanging out with people that I have first met online via twitter (or people who I have newly met on the day via twitter). At the recent ICTEV conference I attended, the hashtag trended within about 1/2 an hour of the conference keynote beginning. At the ALEA/AATE conference, I was really pleased that there was a twitter hashtag and there were certainly a few articulate and thoughtful tweeters but the feed in general was a little…….thin. Is it because English teachers aren’t comfortable with twitter? Do they know it exists and what an amazing source of professional development it is?

The theme of the conference was ‘Brave new world’ and random conversations that I had with teachers who attended were that they were looking certainly for ideas and conversations about literacy but were also very open to and wanting support and ideas for utilizing new technologies in their classrooms. What they need are the kind of mentors I’ve had over the last 3 years from the world of educational technology enthusiasts that I also frequent. Throughout the conference, I’ve attended some great presentations by teachers and researchers working with an expanded idea of what being literate means but think the overall conversation would be further enhanced by some of the work I know is being done in classrooms throughout the country that is often shared at ICT conferences and Teachmeets.

So here’s the plea to the twittersphere – come and present at next year’s ALEA/AATE conference in Darwin. Your ideas and contributions deserve to be shared with as wide an audience as possible and I know that it would enrich this fantastic event even further. Besides, if we think the Brisbane weather has been good, imagine what it will be like sunning ourselves in Darwin this time next year. Hope to see you there!

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Making my own ‘creative connection’ at ICTEV

For a while now, I’ve attended professional learning sessions about ICT in education and been enthused, inspired and, often, blown away by the creativity and ingenuity of other educators. While I’ve delivered professional learning at my own school (daunting enough) to share ideas I’ve had, I haven’t previously had the confidence to take it further. Who would want to listen to me? Are my thoughts and knowledge really worth sharing?

So, in another fit of ‘resolution setting’, I decided this year would be different – I submitted an abstract to the ICTEV Creative Connections conference and, to my utter delight, it’s been accepted. We received the program at school yesterday and I proudly looked at my name in print. The session I’m presenting is a culmination of lots of ideas, many of them that came together during my literature review for my PhD as well as some things I’ve observed in the multitude of classrooms I’ve been part of. I’m really looking forward to sharing – now I’m just crossing my fingers that people find it interesting enough to come along!

VITTA conference day 2

Day 2 of the VITTA conference was another inspiring mix of practical and thought provoking presentations that have me eager to get back into the classroom to try out new ideas and share some gems with my colleagues. As well as presentations from educators, there were lively and interesting keynotes from Mark Pesce and Suelette Dreyfus, contemplating digital citizenship, what it means and how it continues to evolve as the technology and our society do. However I’m mentally worn out after 2 days of intense contemplation and am going to keep this brief(ish!). Instead of the ‘running commentary’ I gave about Day 1, today I want to share a couple of highlights.

One of the sessions I attended was on games-based learning, the result of a DEECD initiative to support innovative practice in schools.

  • Meredith and Boneo Primary Schools presented on creating digital games using Gamemaker and the rich literacy practices that this supported. Encouraging students to build their back story, focusing on the verbs and nouns of game play, developing characters and providing structure through a design brief all take students beyond just ‘playing’ into a more critical approach that helps develop their skills as active digital citizens. Powerful stuff.
  • Fitzroy North Primary School presented on using SimCity as part of a civics unit. The aim of this was to provide Grade 5/6 students with a more meaningful experience and understanding of decisions and consequences when building civic infrastructure and planning for the needs of present and future citizens. Hearing about this, I could instantly imagine the excitement of students in such an environment, being given opportunities to not just learn about adult concepts but test, re-test and succeed at them, all in a supported yet challenging environment.
  • Pentland Primary School presented on Lure of the Labyrinth – this blog post summarises it much better than I could and gives yet more examples of engaged and motivated students being inspired and challenged with technology.
  • Balwyn Primary School presented on Quest Atlantis – an online, multi-user game where students can explore, extend and build collaborative skills with other ‘Questers’ from around the world.

I hope I haven’t missed anyone on the list – all presentations were packed with sound reasons that games are a great way to engage students and don’t have to be an ‘add-on’ to learning. Games are learning! I’m sure I’ll have more to say on this topic in future posts – it’s something I’ve been trying to incorporate effectively into the ICT lab for a while and, thanks to the presenters today, I’m hoping to be able to enthuse others at my school to extend that into classrooms.

My other highlight was meeting up with fellow educators who I have been talking to, sharing with and, most importantly, learning from for ages. The difference is, this is the first time I’ve met most of them in person. Fostering a PLN through twitter has made a huge difference to my development as a teacher and has made what can be a very lonely and isolated journey feel a lot more supported and encouraged. Catching up with like-minded people today was, therefore, definitely a bonus of such an event and was the icing on the cake.

Thanks again to the organisers, presenters and attendees who all added to the buzz of such a vibrant event. Now to get back into the classroom and see if I can take that buzz with me…

another year over…

I started the year as a Grade 5/6 teacher, mildly excited about my new grade but already becoming jaded with politics – both those within my school and those being forced on us by various levels of government.  I spent term 1 loving every moment with my students but knew it wasn’t really what I wanted to be doing.  Not quite.  I saw a job advertised as an ICT teacher and leapt at the chance to apply.

I finished the year with a huge smile and an energy that I haven’t had since my first term as a teacher.  Teaching ICT to Prep through to Grade 6 students hasn’t always been the easiest task but I have loved it all, especially learning and developing my skills along with them.  It took me a while to get my head around the role but, like I have always done in the classroom, I fed off my students.  I listened to what they liked to do outside of the classroom and tried to weave that into what we did inside it.  I don’t want the students to get bored and don’t want to suffer from boredom myself so it’s important that I keep the ICT lab lively and up to date, not bogged down in ‘old technologies’.  This is a goal for next year – I’ve started along the path but need to improve.

I was also a bit worried that, leaving behind my regular class, I would also leave behind the bond you make with children you teach every day.  However, despite only having each grade for an hour a week, I feel I have made a connection and look forward to continuing to build those relationships next year.

I would not have been able to have such a challenging and fulfilling year this year without the support of colleagues – both those within my new school and those in the twitterverse who gave me ideas, encouragement and a sense of belonging that is absolutely invaluable.  I can’t state it strongly enough – that PLN has made such a difference to my experience of being a teacher this year and it will be something I will be fostering and encouraging others to participate in next year.

So what’s ahead for 2011?  Becoming a better ICT teacher, albeit in a shorter time frame.  I’m reducing to part time hours so that I can undertake my PhD and the thought is both exciting and terrifying at the moment.  I have so many ideas and things I want to try out with the students but also look forward to the chance to get my teeth into some research – the theory to support my practice.  Roll on 2011!

you’re not alone – fostering a pln

Becoming an ICT specialist has been an interesting and very fulfilling journey, although not without its own brand of frustrations.  Probably the biggest stumbling block I found when leaving my role as a classroom teacher and moving schools to take up this job was the isolation.  They’re definitely a friendly bunch at my new school and there is always someone around to direct my silly questions to but being the only ICT teacher can be a lonely business.  Luckily for me, a week before starting this job, I attended ACEC 2010 and took the first steps towards developing a PLN.

The idea of a Personal Learning Network isn’t new – networking and sharing ideas is something teachers have been doing forever.  However technology takes the concept a huge leap forward, reducing time and geographical constraints.  An example of this recently was my first steps onto the Ultranet.  This has certainly been an isolating topic at my school.  Classroom teachers, already weighed down with a long list of other priorities, don’t have time to play and discover the benefits of this new learning environment and, at the moment, just see it as one more thing on their long list of ‘things’.  Knowing it is up to me and the other lead users to sell the benefits isn’t easy as, to be honest, I wasn’t necessarily seeing the upside myself.  I forced myself to go on and play, in preparation for my Grade 5/6 students coming on board.  Enter the PLN.  I didn’t know how to do something and tweeted to this effect, receiving replies explaining exactly what to do from several people and links to different samples of Ultranet spaces to further inspire me.  All of a sudden, I’m not feeling so alone.  I might be the only ICT teacher at my school but I’m not the only on in the state, the country or the world and I really appreciate the opportunity to share ideas and make connections with others interested in similar topics to me.

So, thanks 🙂