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"We need two kinds of education: One that teaches us how to make a living; and one that teaches us how to live." - James Lee

James Lee

3 Rs of Successful Teaching: Rapport, Respect, Relevance.

I believe in Respect, Rapport and Relevance in my teaching.

One should have respect for all living things; that all life is precious and we should look after one another in the school and the wider community, and protect those from physical or emotional harm. One should respect diversity while at the same time respect themselves, their own beliefs and hold true to them in the face of adversity or peer pressure.

Developing rapport with students and each other is important to nurture student wellbeing, encourage innovative ideas and experimentation in a safe supporting environment, and support creative curiosity, knowing that it’s ok to fail and make mistakes as part of the learning process as long as we reflect on them.

Relevance is important to engage and inspire students with lessons that reflect real life practices in order to better prepare them for the world. Critical thinking, innovation, collaboration, communication, resilience, and sustainable community are essential 21st century skills that each student will need experience developing, and so all lessons and activities should reflect this.

Teachers are role models.They should be enthusiastic, confident, have a sense of humour, and above all, approachable. They should develop a students desire to learn, a love of learning new things, and how this learning enables them to see the world in different ways, thus enriching their lives.

Finally, teachers teach the forms, theories, skills and arts, but in the end it is up to the student to take what they need from the lessons and find their own way. Teachers should be there to support and guide them in a positive manner.

Receiving 1st prize in the Young Australasian Game Awards 2013 with my students involved in developing the winning entry at the VITTA ICT expo 2013.

Click here for more information

The Herald Sun selected to include in their newspaper a mini newsletter created by my Media Studies students celebrating their achievements at Lalor North Secondary College.

Click here to download the newsletter.

Key ideas for 21st century Learning

"Our world (and all of its cultures, economies, politics, and social challenges) continues its rapid pace of change into the 21st century. Economies all around the globe are shifting their basis of production from goods to information. The currency of an information-based global economy is ideas, and creativity is the means of production. Knowing how to create, communicate, collaborate and think critically are the essential skills of the next century."
- Source

Invisible-Visible Learning.

I am a big advocate of what I call "Invisible-Visible Learning". Invisible learning is where a student participates in an activity which results in achieving learning outcomes - without the student even aware they've been learning the whole time.

Visible Learning is where a student can proudly display their knowledge, skills and expertise to a select or global audience. Being recognised for their achievements provides motivation to do better, and raise self esteem and expectations of themselves.

Using games is a good example of this. For example, the game Minecraft can be used to get groups of students together to compete on building the best house in the class. Students will need to share resources, communicate on strategy and design, and define roles (builders, resource miners, decorators, soldiers, etc). From this they learn how to work in teams, communicate ideas, visualise thinking, and experiment with creativity - vital 21st Century skills. Finally they can choose to proudly display their group achievement with the class, or share with with the world as a downloadable Minecraft object or YouTube clip.

People are creatures of necessity.

Do we learn French, engineering maths, or football all right now just in case we might possibly need it in the future? Most people don't! We only learn things when we are interested/motivated, because we have to know it in the near future, or if it is a clear long term goal or purpose we have set for ourselves. Without appealing to any of these reasons, it is very hard to convince students to learn more than the bare minimum or push themselves to their fullest potential.

Along these lines, we need to set real life practical tasks that utilise what they learn. For example, don't just teach geometry; get students on a group project to actually design something like a bench or chair, and get students doing woodwork to build it for the school to use.

Teach not what to learn, but how to learn.

The Internet is a repository of the world's knowledge, instantly accessible to anyone who wants information on anything they like. This is a huge difference from several decades ago where teachers were the gateholders of knowledge, and so anyone wanting to learn something would turn to them. Today, this is no longer the case. Teachers are now in a world where students often know more on a given topic than them (eg, ICT), and it is not uncommon for people to question the knowledge of an expert authority figure such as a teacher or doctor based on research they have done online.

Some people have even suggested that teachers are no longer needed. However I strongly disagree.

Teachers are needed more than ever; however their role has changed. Instead of being holders and distributors of knowledge, they should be seen more as mentors and guides assisting students on how to learn. Students need guidance on how to analysis and evaluate reliable information online. They need to know how to synthesise it into forms they can use or communicate.They need help on how to review, revise and retain what is learnt. They need to know how to test and evaluate their knowledge. They need a helping hand and a guiding eye on completing projects and tasks. Teachers are also connectors to other people and resources within the community that can help a student acheive their learning goals.

Students are not realists; they are dreamers.

Studies show that the human brain does not fully form until the age of 23. Based on this, it makes sense to understand that because children do not have an adult brain, they therefore cannot think or rationalise like an adult. Thus, it is wrong to assume that students will ever the world as adults do. They are not bound by adult issues of paying off the mortgage, health, work or making ends meet. They can only imagine the practicalities of life in the future, if they do so at all. Most are content to live in the present. For most, adult life is a long time away, and it is difficult for teachers and parents to tell students to work hard for a future that they cannot comprehend.

Instead, teachers must create learning experiences that has each student leaving the classroom at the end of every lesson with a sense of achievement, confidence and self esteem.

Of course, sometimes you have to teach things with no immediate benefit or relevance. For this it is important to explain to students that sometimes they have to trust you to have them do tasks they won't enjoy even though they might not see how it relates to their goals in the future (For example I usually make references to the Karate Kid movie where the student is made to do menial tasks not knowing he is actually being taught learn Kung Fu).

Creativity is just as important as knowledge.

Unfortunately, the conventional model of education values the ability to take tests, right vs wrong, and rote learning over creative thinking. As renowned education innovator Marco Torres states, "Attend+Comply+Regurgiate does not equal success". As a result, students tend to lose their creativity and willingness to take risks with their learning as they get older. For example, when asking students to create a short story, a typical conscientious student will often ask "How many words?" or assume it must be in written format. This is not a good thing, as creativity of new ideas and innovative problem solving are just as important as technical knowledge and skill. Lets encourage students them to keep dreaming and stay curious!

Teach less; inspire more.

In this day and age, Students are motivated to find out and learn things by themselves through self directed inquiry driven by curiosity. However, students won't be curious about the world if teachers don't create lessons that promote wonder and intrigue.

How do you show a student there is more to IT than playing games? Do they know how they are made? Are there programs they never knew existed that they can download and experiment with to make and share their own games? Did they know they don't need to wait till they get a university degree to start doing that?

A student's world is rather small - it's up to teachers (and parents) to expand it; introduce and guide them to things and concepts they never considered or knew existed; and allow them to explore it, take risks and learn from mistakes. In other words, teachers should no longer called teachers, but mentors.

Failure IS an option.

WD40 is called that because the makers failed at making it work 39 times. The inventor of the lightbulb failed at it many times before resulting in what we have today. Learning from mistakes with a mindset to always try to improve is often the best way to learn and become great at something, like learning a new instrument or cooking. A concert pianist does not become an expert without constant practice and constant failure. Education should focus on rewarding effort over achievement and ability. This mindset of risk taking and having a go without the negative stigma of making mistakes or failure is one of the things we should be developing to successfully prepare students for the real world in the 21st century; for jobs that don't even exist; with technology that hasn't been created yet.

Technology is only just a small part of the solution.

There has been alot of emphasis on improving technology capabilities in the classroom. Words and ideas such as 1:1 computing and interactive whiteboards are often mentioned and implemented in the desire to "keep up to date" with other schools aiming to innovate. However, without a clear vision and strategy on how to use the technology means the difference between it being a tool, or being a fad gadget.

The technology alone will not improve engagement or teaching and learning outcomes. Teachers require professional development on how to use the technology and know what is available to use on it. It is then up to the teacher to ascertain what will improve their teaching and learning outcomes, and what will hinder it. Self-paced math programs might be more engaging, but will teachers know what to do with the data that comes in; how to read it and use it to inform and improve learning? Will teachers know how to manage a classroom full of equipment, or draw attention away from the devices to provide instruction, or teach students how to protect themselves from online threats?

Studies show students learn better from their own teachers than strangers - will teachers know how to create, personalise and empower the learning experience for their students? Are teachers aware of studies suggesting that PowerPoint presentations are more engaging but less effective learning tools? And that many PowerPoint presentations out there tend to be more wordy textbooks (that you even print and hand out as notes) than visual aids to teaching as they are supposed to be?

Although students are becoming increasingly adept at using technology and doing learning tasks by themselves, many do not have the inspiration, motivation or knowledge of what they need to do without proper teacher mentoring and guidance. Practical application of learning can also be difficult. Teachers will also be needed to support the emotional and social aspects of learning which cannot be experienced through a screen.

In summary, technology forms only a small part of improving teaching and learning outcomes in the 21st century. The rest comes from clear vision and expectations, strong solid leadership, and most important of all, improving teacher competency and capacity through proper support and professional development. A confident, competent teacher can do more with a few old computers running dated software than a not so competent one with a classroom full of the latest internet capable tablets.

View my workshop presentation on 21st Century Learning - A reflection on current practices (2014)


Other Key ideas

  • "Quit, complain, or innovate". “You’re not trying, you’re whining”. - Marco Torres

  • Do they really REALLY need to know it? Quality over quantity.

  • Bad students, bad person, or bad learners? Most fall in the first category - but is that due to bad habits, bad teaching or bad learning environment?

  • Motivation to learn can't come from outside, it must come from within.

  • The computer is an “imagination” machine. They allow risk taking, undoable mistakes, and innovation. Don’t use computers just to meet the status quo or because they are there - Use them to solve problems; to do things they couldn't do before and beyond.

  • Effective questioning - plant a question in their minds to think over the period. "Never ask questions you can look up".

  • Give them "Thinking" time.

  • Give feedback.

  • Empower students. Leave memories of accomplishment.

On Coding in schools:

Software is magic - All you need to change the world is imagination, programming ability and access to a cheap PC. You don't need money, equipment or adult permission.

Click on the image above to download this poster I made.

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