Sunday, June 29, 2008

Working Within a Framework in the Curriculum

Tēnā koutou katoa - Welcome to you all
Dolls in a circus cage
I find it hard to look at the ‘experts’ for guidance.
Experts brought us to the broken model we are in.
David Truss.

It’s fascinating how a comment can stimulate thought. The quote is from a comment on Jennifer Jones’s post, Background Noise.

It left me thinking long and hard about senior secondary education in New Zealand, where it had come from and where it is going.

In November 1991 the New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA) launched the National Qualifications Framework (NQF) that sits over the New Zealand Curriculum. Its vision is:

quality learning outcomes for all,
ngā hua akoranga kounga mō te katoa

The requirements of the learner

Designed to “establish the parameters for nationally recognised qualifications”, its primary focus is to “be the requirements of the learner.” Assessment is to “focus on the measurement of learner performance against published standards” leading towards the National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA). The New Zealand Ministry of Education (MoE) and NZQA are currently reviewing over 2000 individual standards as part of a strategy to bring them in line with the new curriculum.

Lifelong benefits to students

The full Framework for NCEA Levels 1 to 3 is in its 5th year and has been fraught with difficulties. It is meant to help in meeting the needs for lifelong education and training. It is supposed to cover both general and career learning through a single, coordinated framework of qualifications, “the majority being supported by curriculum statements and learning materials”.

The New Zealand Curriculum, administered by the MoE, provides directions for learning and guidance. Yet the only mention of this in the authoritative document on the Framework is given in the last quote:

the majority being supported by curriculum statements and learning materials.

Study strategies geared to the standards

The confine of the Framework means that it is now no longer easy for teachers and students to explore the curriculum freely.
Teachers who have little time as it is to cover all that’s required to prepare students for the end of year standards examinations have also to teach and assess students against standards throughout the year.

A common question put by students to secondary teachers in New Zealand today is “will this help me get the standard?” Students don't want to spend time studying parts of the curriculum that do not lead to standard assessment, let alone something new and exciting someone brings to the lesson yet does not lie within a standard.

What's more alarming is that many students are now well aware of the importance of studying relevant to the confines of a standard in order to reach the required achievement award. Many intelligent students are also careful to tread only within the boundaries of the standards and their study strategies become geared to this approach.

Is this education?

Somehow I feel that it's not what education is about. I think there has to be a better way and I ask the questions:

  • How are teachers to motivate their students to learn in the important areas of the curriculum not covered by a standard?

  • How are teachers to bring a rich diversity to their lessons on many of the life-relevant issues not covered in the Framework?

Our schools are being driven by change.

"I find it hard to look at the ‘experts’ for guidance. Experts brought us to the broken model we are in." - David Truss.

Ka kite anō - Catch ya later

Thursday, June 26, 2008

A Taste Of Middle-earth

Tēnā koutou katoa - Welcome to you all
Wellington Cable Carphoto by Clare Allan.
Click to enlarge.

Michele Martin's Web 2.0 Wednesday asks us to tell something unique about where we live. The above photograph (click photo for enlargement), looking to the east across the harbour, shows the famous Wellington cable-car that travels up from the heart of the City in Lambton Quay to the Botanical Gardens near the suburb of Kelburn in Wellington
. Looking across the highrise buildings of Wellington CBD we see Mt Victoria. Tucked behind the populated suburbs of Oriental Bay and Roseneath lies Miramar Peninsula. At the other side of this natural harbour is the town and resort of Eastbourne. The Rimutaka hills rest at the horizon.

In the suburb of Miramar is the now famous Weta Workshop, co-owned by Peter Jackson who has a home in Miramar.

A Māori fable has it that the harbour was once a coastal lake where two taniwha lived. Their exploits gave rise to the natural harbour that is Wellington Harbour
(Te Whanganui-a-Tara). At the top of Mt Victoria is Tangi-te-Keo, a place that took its name from. . . well, you can read the poem I wrote about it for yourself:

Adventures In The Sun

On a beautiful South-Sea island long ago
Two taniwha lived in a shingled coastal lake,
Each day they planned where each they longed to go
And kept a friendship fine as friends could make;
This affection as long as they'd remember
Was wide as wind and deep as steepest hollow,
But Ngake of a fearsome eager mettle
With courage broad and heart a burning ember
Caused Whātaitai a weariness to follow
And wrought his thought and would his sense unsettle.

His afternoons were often spent in yearning
While tears of loneliness dropped to the sand
As Ngake stirred impatient by his learning
Of crashing waves beyond the southern land;
He often longed to swim beyond the reach
Where he believed the sea swelled large and deep,
His lashing tail would smash the rocks to silt
Beneath the craggy shore where sea sprays breach,
While Whātaitai sank in shallows fast asleep
To dream of precious days their friendship built.

In wretched depths the awful thrashing thundered
As yet the angered monster raged a fit,
And far above the hills the seagulls wondered
What evil power possessed Earth's deepest pit;
The taniwha had often mused with interest
The plan they would employ to burst these banks,
And, O, to wriggle free from yonder rocks
And span dividing ragged heights abreast
To ride on waves with Tangaroa's ranks
And leave the dismal stagnant watery stocks.

All at once bold Ngake had decided
To end his tortured term in nature's dungeon,
All the years impatiently resided
Had set his wrathful spirit in high dudgeon;
So plunging to the North he swam the lake
And plummeting to depths as far he could,
Binding all his fury with his anguish,
Nursing to extremes his wildest mood,
Lashing his tail fiercely fit to break
He furrowed South to execute his wish.

The North wind had doubled his intention
As in the wake it gathered up a storm,
Lightning seared and held the air in tension,
Then shook the rocks as if they would re-form;
But as the thunder died amid the blast,
And still the tempest raged towards the shore,
A louder rumble echoed round the bay
While Ngake drained his power to its last,
And hellish tremors shook the rocks once more
As the divide inexorable gave way.

At this the tender taniwha awoke
And popped his gentle head from slumber's pool
And saw his friend tear free as morning broke
To bathe his tail a bleeding broken tool;
But as Whātaitai watched him swim beyond,
With fresh horizons shimmering in the mist,
He pondered on some treasured moments rare,
His heart roused by an age-long friendship-bond,
Lamented at the chances he had missed
And the lost opportunities to share.

ātaitai loved to swim the warmest shallows
With all their pleasure coves and shady crooks,
To bask near where the water-lily mellows,
Or steep in oozing sun-soaked mid-day nooks;
Still he longed to swim with Ngake near him
To keep his life's companion by his side,
So he chose to follow, yet again,
In search of what was once an idle whim,
But knew nothing of the turning of the tide
As water from the lake began to drain.

Up the swamps he started in an instant
And thrashed his tail with all his beastly store,
Then channelled with a resolution constant
Towards the narrow strait that Ngake bore;
So proud of his new vigour he diverted
His direction to the jutting cliff beside,
And crashed through rock and boulder in a storm
That surely would be soon by Ngake's side:
Alas this cruel energy deserted
Poor Whātaitai's straining shuddering form.

For many years he stretched in grievous bondage
Stuck fast within the debris by the tail,
The more he tried to loosen this appendage
The further he was shackled in the shale;
Even at high tide his toil was futile,
The windless days of sun sore seared his hide,
The lisping ripples barely reached his flanks,
The calmest days he relished were now vile,
He feared the pitiless summer ebbing tide
And rotten stench of kelp-strewn sun-parched banks.

At last came Nature's merciful reprieve,
An earthquake struck and land and sea did heave
And lifted poor Whātaitai clear the water,
Then meted out a bloodless horrid slaughter;
The winged manuwairua Te Keo
Flew up to Matairangi knoll to weep
For all the living Whātaitai had done;
Then left the knoll at Tangi-te-Keo
For Hawaiki of taniwha, to keep
The memories of adventures in the sun.

View from Tangi-te-Keophoto by Nicolas Allan.
Click to enlarge.

From Tangi-te-Keo, overlooking Houghton Bay and Island Bay where I live, mid right.

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Ka kite anō - Catch ya later

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Integrated Teaching for Integrated Learning

Tēnā koutou katoa – Greetings to you all
Art by Hannah Christine Allan DearArt by Hannah Christine Allan Dear

The Correspondence School initiated an integrated teaching pilot programme for years 7 to 10 at the beginning of this year. I was privileged to have participated in some of the initial draftings at the very early stages. The opportunity to work with the teachers on the integrated teaching team was a special bonus. The teachers were from a range of subject areas from diverse backgrounds in early primary through to secondary.

Teachers are delightful people

Our discussions were both stimulating and illuminating. They took us in many directions. A particular consideration that caught my interest was the dialogue we had on what was meant by integrated learning from the point of view of the student. We had our own ideas on this. Eventually we agreed upon a worthwhile summary.

Barriers and links

During these discussions, however, two anomalies emerged.
The first involved the perceived barriers between the traditional subject areas. The second was to do with the so-called links that had to be made between these subject areas to establish a unified and consistent approach to teaching any particular key competency within the curriculum.

There was some emphasis placed on the need to cross the so-called barriers between subjects so that knowledge and skills acquired by the student were broadened to embrace the curriculum in a seamless and integrated fashion. Simultaneously the links between the subject areas had to be identified so that they could be made clear. It was thought that by stressing the links to the students the barriers would be dispelled.

From the student’s perspective, however, this seemed irregular, almost cart-before-the-horse. After all, students who had been taught in a genuinely integrated learning environment should not be aware of the barriers, even if their teachers could identify them; the barriers were only in the minds of the teachers. The whole point of using an integrated approach is to dispel the barriers from the learning. So why emphasise them?

Neither was there a need in the teaching to stress the links between the traditional subject areas. Teacher analysis of the learning areas would permit links to be recognised. But these would only be useful to the teacher when considering how to design a programme charting the learning pathways so that passage between subject areas was smooth.

Students who had been taught in a genuinely integrated learning environment would have no need to have the links identified as these would be implicit in their understanding of what they’d learnt.

For them, there would be no barriers between subject learning areas.

Ka kite anō – Catch ya later

Monday, June 23, 2008

Strategies for Improving Literacy

Tēnā koutou katoa – Greetings to you all
grasshopper in a bookArt by Hannah Christine Allan Dear

There has been much discussed in the blogosphere recently about the need for workplace literacy. I have to admit that my interest in literacy has been more to do with the skills my students have than with those of my colleagues.

A series of posts by Virginia Yonkers on writing and learning, notably one on Knowledge and Meaning Making, sparked my thinking on language and thinking. It also brought to mind the work of Marcy Bauman on the difficulties faced by online students.

I recalled some notes I’d taken a while back (
5 July 2004) when attending a seminar session by David Whitehead of the University of Waikato, New Zealand, entitled Strategies for the Improving of Literacy. The seminar was sponsored by The Royal Society of New Zealand.

While cleaning out my PC files this weekend, as I do from time to time, I serendipitously came across my old notes.

Here they are.

Strategies for the Improving of Literacy
Notes taken from David Whitehead’s speech,
National Library Auditorium, Wellington (05/07/04)

David spoke with commitment and clarity, and gave an academic perspective of teaching literacy. He introduced his talk with the idea of teaching “thinking”, and that students could learn to think through literacy - not a new idea. It means adopting a new view of ‘process and content’. Process can be seen as a key content of curriculum. He implied that teachers should teach students how to think.

Alluding to a play on the word “epistemology” and its meaning, he posited that the language of a subject reflected the way in which that subject constructed reality, an idea that led on to David Kingi’s concept that thinking is an integral component of the curriculum, that it cannot and should not be separated from a meaningful context, and that transfer is more likely if the thinking is done in that context.

In accepting this foundation, subject departments need to identify the types of thinking evoked by the texts they ask students to read, the type of writing associated with their subject, and the types of thinking central to the tasks they ask their students to complete.

David spoke of the need to teach the understanding of all aspects of the literacy of “the subject”. There are areas of the brain dedicated to language and areas dedicated to thought, but students need the language of the subject in order to think about the subject.

He spoke of the decrease in use of visual ideas and images in student every day life, and that simply asking students to imagine (as a thinking/learning tool) may not be as successful as it was in the past. There is a growing need for the use of visual images as learning tools to stimulate student imagination. Still images, moving images, melting images - he summarised the usefulness of each of those in a discussion that led on to visual imagery thinking and the use of visual imagery tools.
(RISE – read, image, share and evaluate).

David concluded, “I believe we can prepare all students (not just the gifted and talented) for the challenges of the future by teaching them how to think today, and that to function in the 21st century, students need to become subject-literate thinkers.”

Ka kite anō – Catch ya later

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Learning and Assessment

Tēnā koutou katoa - Welcome to you all

As a writer and designer of both printed booklets and online learning resources for many years, I’ve always been keenly interested in how students learn from the prepared resources. I’ve been fortunate to have had the opportunity to observe some of the governing factors that are considered to affect and effect student learning.

I teach Science at The Correspondence School of New Zealand (TCS), a distance education centre, perhaps the biggest school in Australasia.

Education for rural students

Founded in the early part of last century, TCS was originally a primary school providing education for students, usually living in rural areas, who were unable to attend day school simply because there was not a school near where they lived. Today TCS provides education to a wide range of learners from early childhood to senior secondary.

Support from the postal service

Traditionally students were sent modules of work in printed booklets delivered by the New Zealand postal service. Junior modules were designed as write-on-the-paper booklets. In the senior secondary school, students wrote their assignments on refill. Their booklets provided a learning text as well as assessable assignments. Once completed, students returned their assignments by post to their teachers who examined their written work. A teacher would check the student’s written assignments, monitoring the formatively assessed activities (self-assessed by the student) and evaluating the summatively assessed activities (so-called teacher-marked activities).

Much of the study and assessment is still done this way at TCS. Students are encouraged to complete all activities, including marking formative activities where they can assess their own progress.

Standard based assessment

The 1990s adoption of standard based assessment in New Zealand for the secondary education sector meant that students could receive assessment for qualifications throughout the school year, as well as by examination near the end of the year (externally assessed qualifications).

Standards are obtained at levels 1, 2 and 3. Today these standards contribute to a National Certificate in Educational Achievement (NCEA) administered by the New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA). NCEA can be obtained at levels 1, 2 and 3.

Teachers in secondary schools assess so-called internally assessed standards. Students who have been assessed in this way have opportunity for re-assessment in areas where they did not achieve a standard on first assessment.

Recent elearning

In recent years at TCS, a move towards elearning has meant there is some study online or through other digital media such as CD or DVD. I
n a
recent post I outlined just a few of the elearning resources used with students in Science. These usually provide direct formative feedback to the student. So instead of reading sample answers listed at the back of a booklet, the student is given more immediate and direct visual feedback related to each learning step.

The use of elearning resources provides opportunity for scaffolding and for the student to monitor his or her own development at each learning phase. Online assessment cannot be used for standard assessment, at least not in the direct sense as it is not constitutionally possible at present for a qualification to be obtained by the entry of assessable material through the keyboard. It is significant that the universal requirement for assessment towards a qualification is the skill in the use of a pen.

Varied support

Students at TCS come from a huge range of differing backgrounds. The support available to them at their place of study varies, from caring supervisors who participate in the learning experiences of the students, to virtually no supervision at all. While there are some exceptional students who seem to succeed with study despite lack of support at their place of study, students generally learn best when well supervised and their supervisors take an interest in their learning development.

Students in the senior school have opportunity to learn from assessment in a number of ways:

  • Formative assessment (immediate feedback)
  • Summative assessment (delayed feedback)
  • Re-assessment revision activities as a result of first assessment (delayed feedback)
  • Practice examination (delayed feedback)

My own personal interest, from the point of view of a distance educator, has been to do with the way distance students learn. As a writer and designer of both printed booklets and online learning resources for many years, I’ve always been keenly interested in how students learn from the prepared resources. I’ve been fortunate to have had the opportunity to observe some of the governing factors that are considered to affect and effect student learning. A critical part of the student's learning cycle is to do with the feedback the student receives by way of assessment, either formatively or summatively.

Although mostly anecdotal, the results I've seen have been consistent over the years. But two years of gathering more formal information with two classes of online students yielded very little evidence that would conflict with the anecdotal indicators.

Here is a summary description of what I’ve found:

Willing participants

Students who participate
regularly in formative assessment tend to be achievers. That is to say they eventually succeed in gaining some qualification, such as an internally or externally assessed standard. It is rare that a student who diligently participates in formative assessment does not achieve some standards towards a qualification. My guess here is that willingness to participate in formative assessment is firmly linked to student motivation to learn.

Not all students indicate that they have fully participated in formative assessment. Approximately 10% of students will not show anything on their returned scripts that suggest they have taken part in formative assessment of any description; that does not necessarily mean that they have not done some.

Students who are urged to participate in formative assessment, after evidence has been obtained that indicates a reluctance in this area, rarely engage fully in this activity. There are exceptions and these are most usually students with caring supervisors who are monitoring learning in the student as it progresses.

High achievers monitor their learning

Students who do not indicate that they are making use of formative assessment rarely achieve at the highest levels. Even the most successful students who achieve at the highest levels are invariably those who make full use of formative assessment. Some of my top scholars are exemplary practitioners in this aspect of study strategy. Again it appears that participation in formative assessment is linked with student motivation to learn.

Teacher-student contact

Contact with the teacher either by phone, email or letter seems to have a significant influence on student engagement. This applies as much to student contact with the subject teacher as it does to contact with a teacher in a learning advisory role. Students who are well supervised at the place of study tend to respond especially well to teacher support through direct communication by phone or email. It appears that teacher-student contact tends to have a distinct motivational influence; many distance educators have made similar observations.

Timely Feedback

Prompt feedback to the student with the results of summative assessment and evaluation of assignment activities has a major motivational influence on student learning. Ormond Tate, past director of TCS, used to regularly urge teachers to assess and return assignments to students as quickly as possible. He claimed as his golden rule the 7 day turn-around for the return of assessed student material.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Down To Earth Web 2.0 in 1 Minute

Tēnā koutou katoa - Welcome to you all
This is definitely not rocket science, after all I'm still a rooky with all this, but it's a practice that I've used with Web 2.0 stuff for months.
While on The Comment Challenge recently, I found I had to refine the technique a bit. It is simply a way that I can quickly have at hand the tags or addresses that I may need. I can then copy and paste onto the blog when I write a comment without stabbing at the keyboard and possibly making more mistakes that way.

Notepad screendump
I have a Notepad file that I keep on my desktop. In it are listed my blog and email addresses for those annoying times I come across sites that don't default my blog site or email address. I also have a few html tags in it that I use as well as what I call the link formula when I want to include a link on a word or phrase that I enter in a comment.

Before I start writing a comment against a post, I open up the Notepad file and leave it open. If I'm writing a long comment I often enter it directly into a Word file and copy it from there into the Notepad file
to leave behind the unwanted html I may pick up from the Word file. I then cut and paste the comment from the Notepad file into the blog. The other tags and addresses are also there on the Notepad if I need them, or if I want to paste a link onto a word or phrase in the comment.

That's it! I timed it. It took 58 seconds.

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Ka kite anō - Catch ya later

Saturday, June 14, 2008

The Word Is A Metaphor

Tēnā koutou katoa
Welcome to you all

This was originally to be submitted to Michele Martin's post as a comment but due to its length I decided to post it here. In no way is there any intent to upstage Michele's post on How Do You Use Metaphors For Learning?

Key terms: sound, symbol, word, metaphor, target, source, ground, tension

The word as a written metaphor:

The written word, being composed of symbols, is itself a metaphor for the spoken word that’s made up of sounds. Already once removed from the sense of the uttered sound, the written word has to be interpreted before it’s understood.

Despite the thousands, perhaps millions of written words at our disposal, people still invent words – all the time – some of which are never written. Yet for some people the reading of a word new to them can cause them real problems. They may decide, for instance, that a new word has been miss-spelt, relating it to another familiar word, and may lose entirely the sense connoted by the context that it is in.

The best metaphor is spoken:

Exponents of our language such as Shakespeare and Hopkins invented words to convey meanings that could not be conveyed by existing words. Shakespeare is given credit for inventing thousands of words that are in use today. The distinction between Shakespeare’s and Hopkins’ is that Shakespeare’s were heard by his audience, not read by them. Perhaps it’s for this reason that he was so successful in making in-roads to the language with his own words, though the quantity of his writing would also have contributed to achieving this.

So in terms of success, the suggestion is that a good metaphor should be spoken first – a difficult task when using written words to describe a metaphor.

What is the composition of a metaphor?

Wikipedia describes the metaphor in detail and outlines how the metaphor relates to what it's supposed to convey. A metaphor can be thought of as having two parts, the target and source (other terms are used for these - tenor and vehicle). The target is the subject to which attributes are ascribed. The source is the subject from which the attributes are borrowed.

It also speaks of the ground and the tension of a metaphor. The ground relates to what is similar between the target and source. The tension relates to the dissimilarities. The dead metaphor is explained as one that doesn’t work – “the sense of a transferred image is not present . . . dead metaphors, by definition, normally go unnoticed.”

When a metaphor is used for learning, it follows that it must have life. Dead metaphors, whatever application others may say they have, are unlikely to have much use to the teacher. To have life, the metaphor must have ground, sufficient so that the imagination is invoked and as little tension as permits the ground to be envisaged.

Other disciplines:

Mathematics is steeped in metaphor and its symbols are often chosen with metaphor in mind. It’s no accident that the Greek alphabet is so widely used in this discipline, for its letters are also steeped in metaphor – they are the alpha and omega of metaphorical symbolism.

Choosing metaphors that have their source within the scientific discipline can be useful but it can also cause problems. It is often important that the mapping of the source components of a metaphor is clear and accurate. Unless the source components are clearly understood there is danger of poor mapping onto the target that could result in a confusing metaphor. There are also many concepts in Science that are difficult to understand. This is why scientists and science teachers so often use visual models and tangible ones. Not only are they helpful for learners of Science, but they are also useful tools for communicating scientific ideas with others.

Metaphors can mean less learning:

Models like the particle, the wave, the balance and the wheel are often used in Science since these sources are already familiar and understood. With demanding concepts come difficulties associated with understanding and the teaching of them. In attempting to find a model, sometimes the metaphor that’s chosen is as difficult to understand as the concept itself. So it becomes redundant and little is achieved through its use.

Examples of this are attempts to use metaphors for the processes of mitosis and meiosis, biological terms applied to different processes of cell division. Because of the similarity in the look and sound of the words describing these processes there is often confusion as to their application to the related processes.

In introducing these processes to students the teacher has to resort to a related, but nonetheless simple, metaphor in order to convey some understanding of the difference between the terms.

For someone who has been introduced to the concepts of mitosis and meiosis and understands them, for instance, the metaphor ‘sex’ can be of some use. The words ‘sex’ and ‘meiosis’ both contain the letter ‘e’. Meiosis is the special division of cells in the gonads that gives rise to the sex-cells (or half-cells) sperm and ovum.

Mitosis is the term used to describe cell division giving rise to two whole cells. Though it’s a process used in reproduction, it is entirely different from the reproductive processes that involve meiosis. The word mitosis does not contain the letter ‘e’.

In this case, the association of meiosis with the word ‘sex’ related to the context of its use through a common letter ‘e’ can be used to draw the distinction between two similar words mitosis and meiosis. But the metaphor is contrived and is really not an elucidating one, for it conveys only a way of telling which term applies to which process. I
t does not convey a useful meaning that helps a learner understand the individual processes.

A simple model for metaphor:

Occam’s Razor is a good metaphorical tool that’s helpful when choosing or inventing a metaphor for use in a learning environment.
It says that the number of things needed to explain anything should not be increased more than necessary.

Even the introduction of a metaphor, by its occurrence, is increasing the things that must be assimilated by the learner. If the learner must first discover and understand the source, especially if it encompasses difficult concepts to begin with, the target simply disappears from sight. The whole reason for using the metaphor is lost. So it makes sense that if a metaphor is to be used, it should have a source that is well known and understood. This makes for one less learning task that has to be done to reach the target.

What makes a good learning metaphor?

To find examples of the use of splendid metaphor and how it is employed we need look no further than the successful poets. It is no coincidence that in the traditional teaching of the meaning of metaphor there is often reference to the works of the poets. Their words ring clear, simply from the common nature of their craft. They are well acquainted with the need to find idea from familiar source to target what they wish to convey.

I think that this should apply in a similar way to metaphors that may be chosen as possible learning tools.

The fine delight that fathers thought; the strong
Spur, live and lancing like the blowpipe flame,
Breathes once and, quenched faster than it came,
Leaves yet the mind the mother of immortal song.

Gerard Manley Hopkins

Ka kite anō
Catch ya later

Friday, June 13, 2008

Learning Objects & Other Useful Outdated Things

Tēnā koutou katoa - Welcome to you all
The End of Static Learning Objects
I read about the perceived demise of the learning object, or at least the preparation for its passing and I wonder.

I use learning objects, now called learning resources, in my teaching. They can be integrated into parts of modules and used for spot learning when necessary. They’re interactive and kids like them for this reason.

I’d never consider making up a module that contained more than one or two learning resources. I apply my Death by Chocolate metaphor

A poor chef may include chocolate as an ingredient in every dish, but it is a shortsighted one who excludes its use altogether. If the only recipe available that includes it is mediocre, then chocolate should be off the menu. Good chefs choose menus wisely.

Learning resources are easy to use. They can be sent by email, in a link or embedded as a link in an html or word file. They are splendidly useful when students need a patch somewhere in their learning, or need a shot of repetitive practice in a skill routine.

Here’s one suitable for year 10 and above on drawing graphs. Here’s another on body defenses, another on acid-base titration curves, one on genetic crosses and another on practice in circuit calculations. You can tell that I’m a Science teacher.

Fun for kids:

Learning resources can be fun for kids as well as assisting with their learning. Complex learning resources built around a theme can take advantage of virtual environments as in this year 10 Digital Electric Lab, or the guided Journey in the Solar System, or the mini-projects on the Southern Night Sky. My feeling is that there’s life in the old RLO yet.

The Lone Ranger:

Before I built my own web-based set of learning resources (they used to call people like me Lone Rangers), I'd look for sites on the Internet that I could email in a link to students. I still do this from time to time but these are rarely interactive in the way learning
resources should be and there can be other problems.

Reputable sites on obscure topics are often hard to come by. The special site I spent so long looking for might suddenly disappear, leaving the frustrated student the option of getting back to me with the same plea for help. Or worse, the content of the site may change and the whole focus of it may alter, putting me in a professionally compromising situation. That doesn’t make me feel safe, let alone how I feel about the safety of the kids.

How safe is kid safe?

There are still some useful ways of using the Internet safely, however, and I’ll explain one here. I have found it specially good for helping kids with projects.

I use Onekey. I find it more flexible than Gogoogle for Onekey permits the use of Boolean search symbols – not necessarily for the kids to use, but for me. Let’s say there’s a project where kids need to gather data from various sources (and not always the Internet). If the objective does not involve having to do an Internet search (a task fraught with problems for poorly supervised distance learners) the student can be sent a safe list of sites.

Safer, reliable links:

Here’s a way that ensures safety and reduces the likelihood of sites being unavailable when the student goes to use them.
I never list the individual sites on the digital worksheet. I tweak the search criteria so that I have a suitable number of hits on the final search: 10 to 20 is a good range to work from, depending on the project and student ability. Then I use the resulting search address for a link.

Here’s the criteria I used for listing suitable sites on a project involving making huge soap bubbles:

+huge +soap +bubble -gum -vending -wax -lube -bath -punk -nitro +mixture +recipe +glycerine

I enter the criteria in the search line and do the search. Then I copy the resulting search address into the Huge Bubbles link in a word or html file with the rest of the worksheet instructions. When the student accesses the link, it may not necessarily list all the same sites that I saw. There may be a few new ones and others may have dropped off the list, but it is almost certain that they will all be relevant to the topic.

The more time spent tweaking the original search criteria the greater the success.

Advantages of this method are:
  • it delivers a safe list of Internet sites
  • the sites invariably all work
  • they are always relevant to the topic
  • I can roughly control the range of sites listed.
Ka kite anō - Catch ya later

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Workplace Literacy

Tēnā koutou katoa – Greetings to you all
Sign on the door
Lynne Truss would love this one. The above picture of a notice is implicit (more about that later).

A few days ago I was fascinated by a series of posts on workplace literacy, notably by Tony Karrer and another by Michele Martin.

I suggested in a comment on Michele’s post that there was a real danger of the invention of ‘digital’ bourgeoisie - an artificial set of digital protocols and practices that is more likely to exclude than include those who are not 'in the know’.

My point was that it has taken around 4000 years of human existence for reading and writing to get to where they’re at today. Perhaps we should first reflect on the practices associated with workplace literacy (never mind the digital bit) over the last 100 years or so before diving into looking at changing people’s attitude/skill/awareness on this one.

Michele made a good point “that if we don’t begin engaging in discussions like this about the skills that are needed and ways to develop and use those skills, we’re going to be in a world of hurt. I’m not sure that we can afford to take 100 years to figure things out.” Her worry “is that we won’t do that and we’ll end up behind the 8-ball!”

I must admit that I agree with her, but I feel that we are behind the 8-ball already.

Tony supported Michele suggesting that workplace literacy should be opened to the early majority “not by dictating, but by suggesting what the opportunities are. Studies of PIM show that this is all highly personal (at least subjectively).”

While I agree in part with what Michele and Tony are saying, I don’t agree with the moving-right-along attitude to progress for it rarely actually establishes true progress. It simply moves on to ground that’s new to some.

I’m also aware that it is a postmodern trend to discard history - it’s rarely looked back on for its usefulness. Yesterday is history in some postmodern arenas.
If we were to follow to its logical conclusion what Jacques Derrida was saying, we would be scrapping the very idea of writing - anything, digital or otherwise. Derrida was a dyed-in-the-wool postmodernist.

Society should be just as capable of learning from its mistakes as a young pianist new to the piano. Perhaps the reason society has learnt so little from its past mistakes is because of a reluctance to stop, study and think about the implications of past mistakes in terms of what can be learnt from them.

The moving-right-along now-faster-than-ever attitude was used in Physics for the last 75 years while Niel Bohr’s theories and the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle marked time as Science attempted to pursue logically related avenues. We now believe that Bohr and Heisenberg were wrong in their fundamental assumptions, but only because no-one dared to look back - for nearly a century! The silencing voice of authority.

Sign on the door
Derek Wenmoth very recently posted photographs of the notices that were displayed by the venue hosts to identify the room used at a working group convened by the New Zealand Ministry of Education focusing on Multiple Literacies. The Day 1 notice heads this posting and the corrected sign that appeared on Day 2 is shown directly above.

Derek points out that “the sign serves as a useful reminder that we mustn't forget the conventions of traditional writing!!!!! (The thing that makes the sign doubly amusing is that it is printed on paper and taped to the front of an LCD screen which is normally used to display notices like this.”

Derek states my point exactly.
His observations bear out what I say about the implications of past mistakes.

Let’s get back to the drawing board, or in this case, the Board Room!

Ka kite anō – Catch ya later

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Take charge of your e-book learning - a metaphor

The recent discussions on training and education pose interesting questions on how these disciplines are defined. I recently put a sheet together for use as a training aid, but perhaps it's more education. Reading some of the opinion commented on blog posts recently I wonder how others may define this. What do you think?

Take Charge Of Your E-Book Learning

“You can have it all. You just can't have it all at once.” Oprah Winfrey

Complaints and objections:

The technological advancements of the latter part of last century, such as electronic computers and the Internet, have made learning more accessible to us all. Among the innovations that came with these developments is the e-book but it is not always looked upon as a helpful invention. Common grumbles about e-books are:

  • Too difficult to read – ‘I get sore eyes peering at the screen.’
  • Too unwieldy – ‘l can’t flick through the file like a book.’
  • Too many pages – ‘I haven’t time to read all that!’

The list goes on. The fact is we are living in the 21st Century. People do learn from the computer screen and some of the most up-to-date learning can happen this way. Most e-books are not intended to be read from start to finish but that is a poor learning habit whatever the medium that’s used.

Just as there are smart ways to learn from a hard-copy resource book, there are effective ways to learn from an e-book. The techniques can be applied as much to gleaning what’s new on this morning’s intranet as gathering useful information from a weighty text file.

Windscreen wipers:

Rule number one is optimise your viewing.

Grime on the screen limits ease of reading. You should clean your screen regularly and this is simply good practice. Correct adjustment of the brightness and contrast settings of your monitor can also go a long way to improving the readability of information on the screen.

Unwanted reflections and glare from nearby lights or windows can interfere with your ease of viewing so adjust the monitor position to reduce or if possible eliminate these. Though liquid crystal displays do not show the same annoying array of reflections so common with convex glass monitors they still need regular cleaning.

Text size:

Text that’s too small to read comfortably can make learning a real effort but there are many adjustments that can be done to help with this. You may have to think about your PC display settings for instance but it could be as easy as looking for the text option on the application you’re using, like the zoom button shown above and that's available on most tool bars or using a browser menu option to alter the text size.

Contents, indices, bookmarks, & other features:

Use the contents list or index if there is one. Just as in any hard copy book, a directory in an e-book gives a summary of what’s contained there. It pays to scan through a directory before you begin study reading and this is just good practice when using any resource book. If you are lucky to have a directory that’s equipped with hyperlinks you can be taken to the start of relevant sections on a click. The width of a directory frame is usually adjustable so that it doesn’t encroach on your text space and it can often be closed or hidden when not in use.

Most e-books have powerful summary links such as bookmarks included in the left frame. They’re a real lifesaver for those who can’t stand scanning hundreds of pages of boring text to find the interesting parts. Though bookmarks may not present a comprehensive inventory, they usually point to the beginning of key sections and therefore save time.

Links within a text can help you flick swiftly to important parts. Most texts provided with those also have ‘Return to Top’ links at convenient positions, permitting the reader to return immediately to a key starting point.

Some e-books permit you to re-open them where you left off. For instance, in Adobe Reader the page-holder is switched on by choosing the settings:

Edit (Windows) or Adobe Reader (Macintosh) >
Preferences >Startup > Reopen Documents to Last Viewed Page > All files.


Many applications have search capability. Some are more sophisticated than others but usually the quick keys Ctrl F bring up a plain search window, like the one shown above, to allow a keyword to be entered when looking for a specific item or reference to it. A few slick searches with careful keyword selections and using the ‘next’ function can frequently save time otherwise spent exploring a large directory.

Learning needs energy:

The environment must be right for effective learning so you have to choose the appropriate time and have the right headspace. When the delivery is very low energy, as with information viewed from a file, you must bring energy to the process. Learning from the screen requires high energy – a passive approach doesn’t work. Many learners have difficulty knowing what parts of an e-book to scan through and what parts should be studied in detail.

Scan sections that seem to have parts you may find useful.
Study parts that have specific information you need to remember.

Printing a section of text:

When there’s a need to work with a section of information repeatedly it’s sometimes easier to pick up a printed copy than it is to keep accessing a file. Though this is not recommended as a standard practice, it is an option that may present some relief for those who must have a hard copy of a chunk of text. But before sending part of a text file to the printer, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Am I sure the printed text is going to be useful?
  • Are there any pages that I don’t need?
  • How often am I likely to use the copy after I’ve read it?
  • Am I likely to pass the copy on to someone else?

Having considered answers to all of these and you still wish to print, take care to select only the pages you need. Some e-books can run to more than 500 pages. Imagine your embarrassment if you accidentally lock up the printer as people wait for the next quarter hour while you waste a bucket of paper.

If this happens, switch off the printer and cancel your print order. If you don’t know how to do this, ask around for help.

Perhaps it’s best to find out how to learn from the screen.

Ka kite anō
Catch ya later

Friday, June 6, 2008

Where Do The Boundaries Lie?

Tēnā koutou katoa – Greetings to you all
a badminton racquet

Where do the boundaries lie in training and
education? For many teachers, drawing the distinction between these disciplines is seemingly very difficult. It poses the same illogicality as does the chicken and egg paradox.

I left a comment on Michele Martin’s recent post where she spoke of the corporate trainer as distinct from the teacher. In doing so I attempted to define the distinction between education, being preparation for life in its many facets, and training, being preparation for routine: a prearranged detailed course of action performed recurrently, as in a standard procedure.

Training is explicit

Back in last century, while training as a teacher I was also completing my education at university. I had signed up to do post-graduate research immediately following the completion of my honours degree and was still writing my PhD thesis when I did teacher training. The distinction between the two institutions, university and teacher training college, was explicit for me.

Routines and practices

University was not unlike senior secondary school in terms of the learning that had to be done. Even in my post-grad years I was acutely aware of the brainwork involved while I grappled with ideas, concepts that were new to me. But teacher training? That was refreshingly different. We learnt routines and practices. We spoke of pedagogies, read about the works of the theorists. It all seemed reasonably straightforward and it was almost effortless for me to see where a lot of what I was trained in could be applied.

What is more, I had no problem with accepting that what I was experiencing was training. There was something light and less cerebral about it, compared to the heavy theory and traction of degree course and research learning. I’m aware that this may just be my perception, but it defined some distinctions that I could later identify when I became a teacher.

Where is the boundary

So what’s the guts? How does one tell the difference between training and education?

In the 70’s, throughout the globe, we were still teaching logarithms to year 11 students in mathematics classes. That meant using log tables, as opposed to manipulating exponents or ‘powers’. In New Zealand, students had to be able to find the logarithm of a number by reading it from a set of tables. They also had to be able to convert back from a logarithm to get a number by using antilogarithm tables. I recall only too vividly the lessons I gave where fifth formers learnt (or didn’t learn) how to use these sets of tables. This was training.

It was a manipulative skill where data was read and transcribed from one paper resource to another, usually with a pencil. The “how to” could be taught to some students in a few minutes and to others over a variably longer period of time. Nearly all my students could learn how to ‘read’ log tables within a few days.

Tricks of the trade

There were certain techniques that I taught, in spirit not unlike the tricks a coach might impart to a tennis player. Simple ones like using a ruler to read across the lines of numbers so that the eye didn’t accidentally jump up or down to the wrong line.

Examination candidates were supplied with sets of mathematical and statistical tables in a booklet where all the pages looked more or less the same. So it was important for a student to be able to read the labels that lay along the headings on the pages so they could check that they were reading from the correct table. This required a certain base education. If students could not identify which table to use, and this was coached in training practice, they had slim hope of performing what was otherwise a relatively simple task.

Falling off a log

When log tables were replaced with calculators, as happened globally toward the end of last century, I had to train students to use quite different routines. Instead of learning to use tables and rulers and all the techniques that went with those, students had to be shown which buttons to press on their calculators. They had to learn what all the little button-symbols meant. Essentially the same degree of training was required with calculators as with log tables though
the manual skills required to perform the tasks were quite different. There is no fundamental distinction between their correct numerical outcomes.

pH is powerful

I teach chemistry in the senior school. Year 13 students are required to perform calculations in solution pH. This requires not only the ability to find the logarithm of a number, but also the ability to understand what is meant by a logarithm in terms of it being an index or power. Hydrogen ion concentration is expressed in powers of ten (10) and calculating the pH involves finding the logarithm of this concentration. A chemistry student who has never been introduced to the idea of a logarithm or power is at a distinct and severe disadvantage.

First, they have to learn to be able to find the logarithm of a number using a calculator. They then have to understand and come to grips with the concept of an exponent or power. It is often all too obvious that students find it easier to determine the logarithm of a number than to understand what to do with it once it's obtained.

Education not training

Understanding about powers of ten is not something a student can gain through training. If they are not familiar with the concept, they need educating, not training. The ideas associated with thinking about powers and exponents in relation to logarithms or indices to the base ten have to be understood before a student can perform a sensible calculation with any given data to do with pH.

So concepts imparted to novices tend to fall into the category of education. Most secondary teachers assume (or hope) that their fresher students will have been educated to a level where they can read and write. For most students these skills and knowledge will have taken development years to acquire. During that time the students would have assimilated the associative skills to do with understanding symbols leading to literacy and numeracy, all of which would have been acquired by a deal of conceptual learning, otherwise known as education, most of which is simply taken for granted.

Anyone for tennis?

Ka kite anō – Catch ya later