Yesterday was a great Thursday – for learning.

Getting to work at 6.45am is a little different for me. I have colleagues at other schools – often Primary schools – who get to work at 7am on a regular basis. For me, living an hour away and needing, you know, sleep, I tend to get in a shade before 8am to begin the day after battling Sydney traffic. Sometimes I win.

Walking into a staffroom with just two rows of fluorescent lights on, I thought what a great location for a zombie movie. Then I thought… there’s someone else here… and indeed there was. A colleague who was busy marking so that she could meet a student at 7.30am piped up and said hello. Whoever says teachers have an easy 9-3 job should really try coming to a school and doing it for a week.

Who’s at the desk next to you? I had been working with two of my colleagues on a History project with kids from two different History classes since late last term. Our students were investigating the similarities and differences between Australia and America in the 20th century, in particular: women’s rights, immigration, crime and indigenous issues. Almost completely done in their own time, the students had even added each other on Skype and Facebook in order to do the project over the holidays and weekends.

The students had to work in mixed groups – each group had students from each class. Using some basic driving questions for their research – some groups took their structure from them, others just used them as springboards – they were to create a presentation for their peers and teachers in which all group members could speak about what interested them from their investigation and could use the presentation slides to make switching speakers more fluid. (Instead of the usual “oh who’s speaking now… oh it’s Maddie…OK Maddie up you get… ” etc.)

So the students spoke in their allotted spaces (decided wholly by them) and gave the audience – a mix of their peers and other teachers who had been invited – a very compelling and educational overview of the various comparative facets of the 20th century.

The main differences were that instead of emailing slides to each other, the students used Google Docs, linked to a wikispaces site, to collaborate in real time in their notes and presentations. (I learned that Google Presentations actually allow full-screen, fully animated/transitioned slideshows – awesome) Also, the students had to negotiate their roles and were only expected to ask teachers for help as situations arose. Negotiation is a key part of collaboration.

The other major aspect to this project was that one of my colleagues, and thus an entire class of this mixed group, actually live in Pennsylvania USA. That’s right. The other side of the world (kind of). Different timezones, different curricula, same passion. The reason our kids had to add each other on Facebook and Skype was that it allowed them to talk and collaborate synchronously and work on their projects asynchronously as their work demanded.

Therefore, yesterday’s Skype session was happening with co-presenters from the USA and Australia – live – on a shared project. Our girls didn’t get any marks for it (though they’ll get public recognition and merits galore) and the vast majority of the work was done in their own time. They said they loved it and they did a damn good job in presenting the information clearly and in an engaging manner.

It was a fantastic project for my colleague from my school as well as my colleague at another school and our respective groups of students. Please, I implore you, try to get authentic audiences for your students’ projects. You might have to play around with timezones and tools, but it’s worth it.

Who’s at the desk next to me? The entire world.

So floating on an air of happiness (and, yes, relief that it all worked) I was then involved for the rest of the day in meetings with Seqta, a school management system based in WA. We’re moving through the process of culling down to a few options from which to select the system our school will move to for the foreseeable future. A big choice but one that will benefit the staff and make our pastoral care of students – amongst other things – much more rich and effective.

I left the meeting to chat about Trotsky with my Year 12s. They are such a great class. They actually laugh at some of my jokes – which is kind of them.

Then back to more Seqta talk and after lunch, off to a school on the north side of the Harbour Bridge to chat about the impact of BYOD/1:1 on teaching and learning.

Some interesting and challenging questions for schools:

  • When so many students already have devices of their own and can outpace whatever the school can provide, why have a 1:1 school program? Personally, I believe BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) will become more rapidly accepted as schools shift from providing hardware to providing infrastructure
  • What are the equity issues for students who cannot afford to bring their own device?
  • What real impact has the Digital Education Revolution had on learning in the classroom? Has it actually benefitted or hindered sound teaching and learning practice?
  • Should technology be used at home more than at school? To connect students with each other, with information and experiences that are separate to the human interactions that schools are surely meant to facilitate.
  • Where is the research? I know a fantastic bloke who is completing research into the impact of the DER, but how many others are out there actually researching and gathering empirical evidence on the impact of the DER. Otherwise, is it all just anecdotal? And further, is it therefore redundant evidence due to the differences between schools? (culture, approach, philosophy etc)
  • Should schools have ICT policies or ICT philosophies? I believe teachers need some kind of foundation to manage their classrooms effectively, but I don’t believe in putting down on paper what might be irrelevant in two years.

Yep – it was a belter of a discussion.

Finally, I had the pleasure of attending TeachMeet USyd at the University of Sydney. Hosted capably by @amymcburney (who I am sure I will be on her way to leadership roles soon enough) we had presentations on:

  • Gifted and Talented Education
  • Oxfam and real opportunities for participation by students in social justice
  • Classroom ideas for History, Maths and English (from praccies!) including how to use The Voice to explain price change to Year 7 Mathematics students.
  • Teacher wellbeing
  • Using social media in the classroom
  • Storytelling
  • PBL (project based learning)

and much more.

Search for #tmusyd in Twitter as the conversation will still be going, I’m sure. A few people have Storify-ed it in order to capture the learning, including me 

It was fantastic to yet again see the power of dialogue between current and future practitioners. I think all pre-service teachers and their supervisors should have to go to a TeachMeet each semester in order to share and learn with colleagues in their region and thus add to the pool of awesome that is the teaching profession.

You want powerful learning that doesn’t cost anything but your time? And isn’t so haughty that it demands you sit listening to one person for an hour (even if you don’t like what you hear)? Do you wish you just had the chance to peek into a colleague’s classroom and ask what IS IT that they do to make their kids so engaged? Host or join a teachmeet like the one hosted by Amy McBurney and you’ll find out. or for national events!

Yesterday was indeed a great day for learning. Let’s see how much I can make stick!