goodbye 2011, bring on 2012

Another year gone and, as always, I’m amazed at both how much I’ve done and how much I intended to do but didn’t get to this year! Trying to cram a full time job into 3 days a week so that I could spend 2 days doing my PhD was a challenge and one that, in the end, was too much. However it’s certainly been a full and busy year and it seems the right time to reflect.

Memorable bits of 2011

  • Ultranet successes. It’s been a slow and steady process and, at times, I didn’t feel we were getting anywhere. However, looking back, we have achieved a lot. All students in my school regularly log in and interact with different aspects of the Ultranet. Grade 3/4 students created their own pages, Grade 5/6 students collaborated with each other in an online environment and Preps managed to master their complex 7 passwords and log on independently (mostly!). All of our staff log in daily to check our bulletin, upload their work programs and add meeting minutes. The journey is by no means complete but we’ve begun and are definitely moving in the right direction. Thanks so much to the great PLN that I’m part of through Twitter and the blogosphere who have been a constant source of encouragement and inspiration.
  • Learning to learn. This has been a big focus in my ICT sessions this year and is something that I’m proud of. Grade 3/4 students in particular have become more confident in managing their own learning around the Ultranet and Superclubs. Hearing students support each other and echo some of the strategies we’ve been developing has been really rewarding and most have thrived in this more open environment. Watching them take their learning home and eagerly eat up opportunities to extend what we’ve done in class has been an absolute highlight. Definitely something I intend to build on in 2012.
  • Scratch. I know I sung its praises in 2011 but really, once you’re a convert, you’ll never stop talking about it. Grade 5/6 students again used this program to explore, create and share but, more importantly, to learn how to learn. I encouraged them to take risks, test things, fail miserably but pick themselves up and try something different. It was always enlightening to watch the students who shone and those that struggled – not always the ones I expected. It was often students who were used to achieving great results found Scratch hard because its not about learning the right answer and providing it at the right time. There is no one right answer. An important lesson not just in ICT but in the life they’ll encounter beyond Year 12 exams.
  • Starting and withdrawing from my PhD. Again, I’ve already blogged about it but, having had some distance from the decision, I’ve still got no regrets. Mostly, I’m really glad to have had the opportunity for focused study and to have a go at something that had been on my list for a long time. My research, reading and thinking certainly hasn’t been wasted effort and I was lucky enough to present a PD for ICTEV based on some of the work I did. I’ve been exposed to ideas and ways of seeing the world that I hadn’t seen before and it’s changed my teaching, my learning and my attitude about education and technology. So, definitely worth it.

2012 will see me return to full-time work as well as a modified role where I’ll be teaching ICT as well as mentoring colleagues, supporting them to successfully and meaningfully integrate ICT into their classrooms. While I’m already feeling exhausted at the thought of full time work again, I’m really excited for what the year might bring. Bring it on!

Scratch – the way learning should be

I attended a Scratch PD earlier this year run by ICTEV and left full of ideas about running with it in my Grade 5/6 ICT classes.  Chris Betcher’s blog post a short time ago reminded me of my earlier thoughts and pushed it to the front of my agenda.  All I can say is – WOW!
For those of you not familiar with it, Scratch is a program which allows users to create their own games, stories and artwork using blocks of code which slot together.  It doesn’t require programming skills but introduces the early concepts of programming without much of the stress.

This week is my third week working with Scratch with my Grade 5/6 students and I am constantly blown away by its power and the learning environment it helps to create.  You could have heard a pin drop in the classroom today as students furiously moved blocks, tested code and tried different ways to get their car to move around a race track. The only sounds were those of collaboration – ‘Do you know how. . .’, ‘Can you help. . . .’, ‘Look at what I did!’.  Students who previously were lukewarm about ICT are suddenly and thoroughly engaged and grumbled when the bell went and it was time to go out for recess. Most importantly, they’re doing what I’ve been trying to encourage them to do all year – Explore. Experiment. Try things to see what works. Question. Set their own boundaries then push them out further. While I’ve introduced Scratch each week through a guided activity where they make a game similar to that which I’ve created, this is only aimed to give them the basics and I constantly encourage them to see where they can take it.  Not that they are needing much encouragement – the majority of students love it. I walked out of the classroom this morning feeling fantastic and like I’d been part of rich, effective learning.  It was one of those ‘moments for which we teach’.

The final, delicious icing on the cake was having students ask about what they needed to do to become computer programmers. I’m not suggesting that they’ll all follow this path (nor should they) but I hope that it’s ignited the spark in some and that it’s added another possibility to the list for others. Anything that provides children with a feeling of possibility and excitement about the future has to be a good thing.