Friday, April 25, 2014

Food for Thought

Dear all,

It’s been a tough couple of weeks and your support and professionalism throughout has been very much appreciated. I know that there was no food for thought last week but that was because I was frying my brain listening to a true pedagogical guru paint a picture for our constructivist future. These articles and links originate from this thinking and are this week’s Food for Thought.

·        Beyond Worksheets, A True Expression of Student Learning

By Shawn McCusker
We live in a world where we are constantly connected to information. This vast ocean of information, the best knowledge of mankind — almost all of it — can be accessed at any time in just seconds. But simply being able to access information is not all that impressive. It in no way means that we can understand the information, evaluate it, or grasp its implications. Possession of facts is not learning. What is an important skill is the ability to sift through abundant information, identify what is valid and meaningful, then use it to create meaning and express it. This is why student creation is so important in the new economy of information.
Jason Dvorak, who was teaching a unit on “Sensation and Perception” in his high school psychology class, had planned to first lecture, then have his students evaluate visual examples that he created to represent each concept from the lesson. They would then decide as a group which concept they represented. But Dvorak’s classes had just been given iPads as part of a pilot program, and because the school’s emphasis was on student creation and making use of these tools, he knew that he had to reconstruct the lesson. In the new iteration, the students were tasked with research and the creation of their own unique visual representations of those key concepts. Once the images were complete, the students reviewed and evaluated them as a class, discussing the strengths and weaknesses of each and suggesting ways to improve them. Throughout the lesson, Dvorak monitored the discussion, adding nuanced detail and keeping the focus of the discussion on the ultimate learning objective, but the real work was done by the students.
More often than not, the memorable assignment was one that allowed them to build and create.
This constructivist approach, as outlined by Dennis Jonassen in his 8 Characteristics of Constructivist Learning, values hands-on and experiential learning that allows students to create multiple representations of ideas. The variety of examples that they create prevents oversimplification and allows students to address topics in their complexity. The emphasis on constructing knowledge, rather than reproducing it, is not only effective at revealing comprehension, but also the misapplication of concepts and ideas. In Dvorak’s class, the examples were not without their flaws. Dvorak used this reality to have a discussion that evaluated and identified the strengths — and just as importantly — the weaknesses of their work. In many cases, that happened without the teacher having to point out the misapplication since students were able to evaluate and give feedback during the discussion.
In the past, these types of activities were not entirely foreign to classrooms. The regularity with which they take place, the power of the creation tools available to students, and our ability to share these creations is what has changed today. The increasingly available classroom technology and the growth of student 1:1 initiatives means that students not only have access to abundant knowledge, but also the ability to create and express their learning in powerful and creative ways. Today, student “expressions of learning” can take the form of videos, podcasts, songs, and a limitless number of dynamic and interactive presentation formats. Many of these opportunities transform learning from a presentation of information to the creation of art.
Far beyond filling out answers on a worksheet, these assignments allow for individual talents and personality to shine through. While it’s unlikely that you have ever heard a person say, “that worksheet changed my life,” most people have an assignment from their childhood that they remember with pride because it was meaningful to them. More often than not, that memorable assignment was one that allowed them to build and create.
Perhaps the most important effect of the new economy of information is the need to make sense of information that is around us. “In order to do this, students need to literally create their learning and demonstrate not just what they know, but what they can do.”

Here is new direction that Paul Ginnis introduced to us at his workshop and aligns perfectly with a constructivist approach to teaching.
Bloom’s Taxonomy is without a doubt the most often used taxonomy for educational outcomes, but in many ways the SOLO taxonomy of Biggs & Collis (1982) represents a more useful tool for assessing the levels attained in students’ work. SOLO stands for Structure of the Observed Learning Outcome.
The taxonomy enables teachers to assess students’ work in terms of its quality not in terms of what they got right and got wrong. There are five levels, rising in complexity and competence. At the lowest level, (pre-structural), students miss the point entirely. At the next level (unistructural), students are able to identify only one aspect of a topic, At the third level (multistructural) students are able to identify several aspects but they are unrelated. At the fourth level (relational) students can integrate different ideas into a whole. Finally, at the highest level (extended abstract), students are able to generalise and hypothesise.

What I find particularly useful about this approach is that it looks at the work students produce in ways which are intuitive and easy to understand. This makes it a usable framework. One of the problems with Bloom’s taxonomy is that it focuses on behaviours which are often hard to discern. How does one know when a response reflects analysis rather than knowledge, or synthesis rather than comprehension? Anyone who has ever tried to differentiate between elements of a student’s response will understand what I mean. This is compounded by the fact that few students ever attain any ability to display the higher order thinking skills. Perhaps this only really happens at post-graduate level. Many students are, however, capable of multi-structural or relational thought, and some of abstracting to new situations or contexts.
The taxonomy is more relevant for high school, and less tainted with the charge of being Behaviourist. SOLO was designed within a Constructivist framework. And this is where its usefulness really comes to the fore – as a tool for helping students think about their own thinking and how to make it more complex, using simple rubrics.
There’s a level at which everyone can understand the phrase, “You’ve used several ideas, but you haven’t made connections between them to make an argument” while telling a student that they have analysed but not synthesised is pretty meaningless for all concerned. Teacher and student can then focus on particular thinking skills to help progress to the next level.
·         And last but not least here is a link to a fantastic site about SOLO taxonomy that I discovered through the above blog whilst deepening my understanding of SOLO taxonomy.
“Learning to learn” requires the learner to think about the strengths and weaknesses of their own thinking when they are learning and to make thoughtful decisions on what to do next. Students of all ages can use SOLO levels, rubrics and frameworks to answer the following questions:
  • What am I learning?
  • How is it going?
  • What do I do next?
HookED uses SOLO to help students think about the strengths and weaknesses of their own thinking, to “learn to learn” and to help schools develop a common, school wide approach to making learning and learning outcomes visible to students. HookED uses SOLO to help schools develop a school-wide understanding of:
1. The learning process (SOLO and the NZC Key Competencies);
2. The language of learning used in schools. (SOLO learning verbs);
3. Learning intentions and learning outcomes (SOLO differentiated learning experiences and WALT statements);
4. Self-Assessment of the learning process (SOLO differentiated student self-assessment rubrics);
5. Interventions (Thinking interventions and e-learning interventions) that enhance the conditions of value when learning (SOLO differentiated interventions).
SOLO is used to:
  • Plan for differentiation;
  • Give and receive feedback;
  • Develop self-assessment resources;
  • Design innovative curriculum;
  • Reflect on learning processes and products;
  • Undertake research and student led inquiry;
  • Integrate e-learning and thinking strategies;
  • Establish a school wide common language for learning.

Have a good weekend,



Sunday, April 13, 2014

Food for Thought. You will all find this interesting

"How do you pick up a malicious online virus, the kind of malware that snoops on your data and taps your bank account? Often, it's through simple things you do each day without thinking twice. James Lyne reminds us that it's not only the NSA that's watching us, but ever-more-sophisticated cybercriminals, who exploit both weak code and trusting human nature."

Friday, April 11, 2014

Food for Thought: Sawasdi Phi Mai

Dear all,

Re discovered this quote the other day and thought how well it fitted with the culture that we are building here at ISHCMC, being the best in the Universe. I’m going to print it out and tape it to my desk each day to remind me how lucky I am working at ISHCMC with all of you.

“When what you are deeply passionate about, what you can be best in the world at and what drives your economic engine come together, not only does your work move toward greatness, but so does your life. For, in the end, it is impossible to have a great life unless it is a meaningful life. And it is very difficult to have a meaningful life without meaningful work. Perhaps, then, you might gain that rare tranquility that comes from knowing that you’ve had a hand in creating something of intrinsic excellence that makes a contribution. Indeed, you might even gain that deepest of all satisfactions: knowing that your short time here on this earth has been well spent, and that it mattered.”

Jim Collins, Good to Great.

Food for Thought

This week's article at first sight sounds and I feel is intended as radical. However if you read between the lines you will note that much of what he talks about as the practice for the future we are already doing, have thought about and deliberately planned for our student's learning.

How to Fix Classroom Education: Get Rid of It

Debates about the right way to educate our youth usually focus on the margins—the length of a school day, the right time to start teaching algebra, or the best size of a class. But to German philosopher and author Richard David Precht, such quibbling over details is missing the point. Precht thinks it’s time we rethink even those things that most people agree on, up to and including the need for teachers, classrooms, and homework itself. The model doesn’t simply need updating, he says. It needs to be thrown out and replaced.

Precht, 48, contends that the current educational system doesn’t foster the kind of creativity or original thinking future generations will need to succeed. Young people would be better prepared for the workforce, he says, if there were no grades, no subject-based instruction and, in some cases, no teachers—nothing less than radical reform will do the trick. Credit Suisse recently caught up with Precht to discuss his thought-provoking views on education.

Credit Suisse: What do you think is the primary problem with our current educational system?
Richard David Precht: The gap between what our children are learning in school and what they will need in life is wider than ever before. We insist that children memorize facts and figures, but that’s not the kind of knowledge that lasts. People forget over 90 percent of what they learn in school within a few years of graduation, and we don’t encourage the curiosity, creativity, originality and teamwork skills people need to survive in a complex world. We should cultivate and encourage a child’s intrinsic desire to learn – not destroy it.

CS: How does eliminating grades fit into that?
RDP: A child’s personal development is more important than acquiring a certain body of knowledge over the course of a school year, and that can’t be captured in numbers. For example, I was good at gymnastics as a child. Jumping over a beam was easier for me than for an overweight classmate, so if he managed to do it, his achievement was greater than mine. Grades aren’t very helpful in measuring accomplishments like that. A written evaluation at the end of the school year might be the best approach.

CS: But in the workforce, isn’t it absolute performance that counts, rather than an individual’s personal development or potential?

RDP: I’m not so sure of that. Evaluating an adult’s performance isn’t always easy, either. And there’s a lot more to success than performance. My point is that we need to give children a chance to find out what appeals to them. What do I like to do most? What is easy for me? What is the best way for me to learn?

CS : You have a 10-year-old son. Are you saying there’s nothing specific he should study to maximize his chances of success in the labor market?
RDP: That’s not the right way to look at it. When I finished school in the 1980s, everyone said that engineers and programmers were in demand. At a class reunion years later, a large number of classmates who had chosen those fields were unemployed. Besides, many of tomorrow’s jobs are entirely unknown to us today. So how can a student know which subjects are the “right ones”? Young people should learn what they want to learn.

CS: That sounds very open-minded, but what if your son were to announce that he wanted to be a harpist – or perhaps just a free spirit?
RDP: I would point out that there aren’t very many harpists in the world, and that a fulfilled professional life might be very difficult to achieve. But I wouldn’t stand in his way. I would, however, caution against earning three degrees in the humanities, as I did. I’d suggest he should also learn about economics, law, the natural sciences, or technology.

CS: Why do you object to subject-based instruction?

RDP: After students learn the basics, schools should put much more emphasis on projects. Placing boundaries between subjects impedes learning and stifles curiosity. The real world isn’t divided into subject areas – it’s interdisciplinary..

CS: What would project-based instruction look like?

RDP: In a project focused on the era of Goethe, for example, students would read “Faust” with their German teacher, while their history teacher would explain what was happening in Germany during that period. Their chemistry teacher would tell them about alchemy and conduct experiments using iron and sulfur, and students interested in theater might act out a scene from the play. That kind of approach would help students understand the context and significance of what they are learning.

CS: But isn’t pure knowledge essential for some subjects?  It’s hard to argue with the need and benefit of memorizing your multiplication tables.

RDP: You’re right. And that brings me to my next point. You don’t need a classroom to learn mathematics. We now have excellent, exciting learning software that allows each student to master material through play. Traditional classroom instruction doesn’t teach the top students anything they don’t already know, but it’s too difficult for the weakest students. Whole-class instruction is therefore unnecessary in certain subjects and after a certain level.

CS: So what “hard knowledge” should schools impart? What minimal curriculum is required to prepare students for the workplace?
RDP: Students need to be able to communicate confidently through both writing and speaking. They should be able to think abstractly and have an understanding of history, geography and political thought. Basic knowledge of the law and economics is essential, and they should have some practical experience with the arts.

CS: Do you see any use at all for traditional classroom structures?
RDP: A system that may be reasonable for the first four to six years of primary school shouldn’t be set in stone for a child’s entire school career. We need to stop relying on class-based instruction, in which children are grouped by age and forced to learn the same things in exactly the same ways. We know that the more children and adolescents feel part of a community, the more they enjoy learning. The question, though, is whether such communities need to be classes that are defined by age.

CS: If you don’t think classroom instruction is necessary past a certain point, what do you make of studies that show teachers are the critical factor that determines a school’s quality?

RDP: When teachers are involved, they need to be excellent, and most importantly, they need to be good communicators. Today, they focus far too much on didactics and deciding what students should learn. But if you don’t enjoy listening to someone, you won’t learn much from that person. I would hold teacher auditions and hire only candidates who could captivate their students.

This weekend is special for the Thai community because it is the start of their New Year.

Wishing you a Happy and Peaceful Songkran. (Thai New Year)

Sawasdi Phi Mai (Happy New Year)

All our best wishes,


Adrian, Nok and Ken J

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Food for Thought

Dear all,

 Firstly, thanks to all of you for your help and input into the policies last Tuesday. They have all been updated thanks to your comments and suggestions. As a result of the usefulness of this process I am going to try it again with the CIS/NEASC requirements for Sections C and E. We will post them as onedrive documents and if you could write your comments in the space provided this time rather than as an attached comment. To make this work it will need Grade level Coordinators and Department Leaders of Learning to make time in their meeting over the next 10 days to collaborate with their teams and go through the standards adding their comments. If this is successful it will save both time and effort of forming committees and I can collate your comments and share back to you all for final input. I will share the template links in another email.

Earth Day April 22nd

sustainable transportation for green cities

April 22nd is World Earth Day and it’s not too late to do something in your classroom that day to raise awareness.

Here is the link to the official Earth Day trailer and an excellent set of resources that could be shared to bring Earth Day alive in our classrooms I have been through these resources and you will need to register (takes 2 minutes) and even then some videos are not available due to Rights issues. However, there is time for anyone with friends in the US to be able to download and send to you if that is possible with PBS.
Would be great to have some activities taking place.

 Food for Thought:

As you know last week the PTO held their annual second hand book sale. In a conversation with one of the PTO organizers she informed me that there were far fewer books donated this year and she put this down to technology and families having fewer books in their homes. This interesting article that I was sent last week, K-12 Education in a Post-Literate Age, extends this thinking. Definitely Food For Thought as we extend our 1:1 programmes and introduce more digital resources.

“In a post-literate world, the late historian Eric Hobsbawm suggested, the dominant feelings are of information overload and disconnectedness. A pervasive sense exists that too much is happening too fast to understand. Hobsbawm described this "eerie" sensation in the early 1990s during the Internet's infancy. He concluded that "most young men and women at the century's end grow up in a sort of permanent present lacking any organic relation to the public past of the times they live in." I believe such disconnect and overwhelm form a byproduct of the turn away from books.

Among counterarguments hailing the information age as a revolution in personal enlightenment, the education researcher Sugata Mitra articulates perhaps the most sweeping variant. In a TED talk, Mitra discusses providing students with technology (laptops, the Internet, "the cloud") to "teach themselves." He sees schools as props for a "bureaucratic administrative machine," itself a byproduct of Western imperialism. I applaud Mitra's boldness and am certainly no fan of imperialism. Yet there exists troubling, long-term evidence showing that young people who most readily access these new technologies become less independent. Today's young Americans are, in the words of Steven Mintz, a historian of the family and children, "isolate[d] and juvenilize[d] ... more than ever."

Post-literate schooling does isolate students from narrative structures conveying meaning. It also juvenilizes via technologies that oversimplify and denigrate analysis. Such tools contribute to overwhelm and disconnect: Kids drown in data bereft of higher logic.

I have responded by assigning more books, selected for interest. I coach students away from taking bulleted, fragmented notes and insist they articulate higher meanings from our subject matter. I invite authors to the classroom to discuss their work. I bring boxes of books from my home and town libraries to assist research. I challenge kids' use of technology and sweat my own. Still, I remain unsure whether such tactics do anything even to delay a post-literate future beyond my control.”

Have a good Sunday, April 06, 2014