Wednesday, August 17, 2011

A Day in the Country ... or "Where the bloody hell are you?"

I had the pleasure of visiting a couple of schools about an hour north of home today. Both schools were primary schools and had small rolls compared to our school. I had gone with a few other teachers from our junior school to get an idea of why these two "rural" primary schools had chosen to invest in iPads and iPod Touches for their classrooms, rather than the traditional desktop or laptop, and how the students were going with them.

It was an interesting day with the two schools adopting quite different ideas, though their choice of technology was pretty much the same. The first encouraged their students to work independently, as being a small school, they have classes with students at Year 3 - Year 8 in the same room. So it makes sense that students are working on different projects at varying levels. What I hadn't expected to see was the level of engagement and independence that these students showed. They were highly engaged in organizing their own learning - they took pride in showing what they were doing ... From their favourite apps for various "subjects" through to their blogs. They impressed as highly articulate students (the ones I spoke to were year 5 and 7) and they arranged their day via a shared Google calendar with their teachers. It was very clear that these kids loved their iPads - and they loved their learning.

It was equally clear that the principal was the owner of the vision for how they were planning their work and their use of the technology to make the vision achievable. Reminds me of how important it is to have complete buy in from leadership.

The second school we visited had what I would classify as a more formal teaching approach. Here the students were still pretty engaged in their learning, but they tended to be all on the same task at the same time. A subtle difference in the classroom dynamic still saw students congregate around a desktop while there were still iPods and iPads available for use.

My lasting impression for the day was the students who took obvious pride in their work and were working on their own timetable to achieve what they had obviously negotiated with the teacher. This was exactly the type of classroom I want my kids to learn in - and exactly the type of classroom I want our high school to develop. I presume that the "personal" aspect to the iPads and iPods was a contributing factor to the success, but without the leadership and shared responsibility for learning ... the story would be different.

So I am again left with what I so often see when I look around - the technology is clearly "there"; the software is clearly "there"; the students are obviously capable of high degrees of ownership of learning. The teachers I saw were pretty much the "guide on the side". I'm left thinking the words of that horrible Australian tourism ad - "where the bloody hell are you?" when I wonder where our secondary teachers by and large are at across the country.


  1. It was a great trip - I had imagined it to be something like I saw and this was encouraging. I agree having support from leadership is vital which makes our next steps in this process vital - seeking support for our proposal. I loved seeing the children so engaged, motivated and passionate about their learning - it was such a natural thing for them, regardless of their locality. Imagine what our girls could do! I think we have an exciting opportunity to be 'leading edge' and have to ensure we see it through to fruition!

  2. I totally agree about leadership needing to be the driving force behind new initiatives. Interestingly both principals had been on a US Apple tour with Stuart Hale and were obviously hugely inspired and motivated to make changes in their schools. If we are to be 'leading edge' then everyone is going to need to be on board - leadership, teachers, community.

    I think a lot of the success and high engagement levels we witnessed at the school where students were working independently comes down to a teacher who sees the huge advantages of allowing students to have autonomy over their learning. Most teachers still have the need to control what, when and how students learn. However, students once they are capable of independence need increasingly more autonomy to remain motivated, taking greater ownership over their learning. Teachers need to let go of the control! Having independence can therefore be a motivator in itself but combined with new technology like iPads that foster this autonomy, that is fun to use, that is multifunctional and "cool"....well that combination we witnessed on Wednesday. Success!