Future Schools: Technical Language….Piaget or Push?

In a previous blog post, I wrote about what I presented at Future Schools. I was lucky enough to be selected to present, but from the minute I got onto the plane, to the minute that I left (and I think the next Friday at school) I was running a bad fever and the last thing I wanted to be doing was going to a conference. I really wanted to be sleeping in my (super) comfortable hotel room, trying to get over the flu that I had. And I really did think that my learning was greatly effected by this, but as I’m going through and writing out my learning for these blog posts, I feel this is going to be a series….not a duo. So obviously, I learnt more than I thought. 

One great session that I went to was from Martin Levins. Martin and I have known each other for a while through the ICT Educators Board, but I have never heard him speak before. I absolutely loved his speech. He spoke about not letting our knowledge of Piaget put a cap on student capabilities. Martin’s work at ACARA puts him in the Northern Territory quite often. They have no computer educators group like ICTENSW and a large transient and distant teaching force. He spoke about going out to a community and teaching some basics of scratch, leaving computers and then returning weeks later. He then showed a video of students explaining their scratch game. The funniest thing listening to the student mispronounce the word variable….obvious that he’d not actually been taught about variables.  This shows that we can sometimes put a device in the hands of kids and don’t tell them what they’re not developmentally ready for and they will stretch themselves and experiment if the motivation was there. This student was using technical language due to the fact that he had seen variables in the program, and he had wanted to know how to do something like a score.  What amazing things students can do if you use technical language with kids. If they have the motivation, then they will unpack it.

Funnily enough, one of our Guru science teachers, Oriana Miano and I were having a similar discussion in previous weeks about the word variables. We were deciding what to do with the term in activities club, in which we both teach K-7 students. Oriana for science (Tuesday), myself for technologies (Thursday). Variables in K-6 are called “factors that effect experiments” and the word variables itself does not appear in the primary syllabus.   I, of course, didn’t know this and had been discussing variables in coding in activities club….so variables (factors that effect experiments) was related to variables (values that can change) and we decided to go with using technical language and unpacking it. Students found this very easy, and while I was doing scores and health values in coding on a Thursday, Oriana was experimenting with variables such as the amount, type of coke, amount of mentos and delivery method in order to create the best Mentos and coke reaction. The point of this was not to just blow up Mentos and coke, but it was a deliberate and explicit unpacking of how variables can effect experiments.

I was also lucky enough to be asked a few weeks ago by our Instructional Leader  (Julie Preston)  to take Stage 2 through some 3D printing processes, as they had done some study of this within their reading sessions with her. Oriana again decided to jump in with me and we had great fun teaching a group of stage 2 students about 3D printing. Within about three seconds we learnt not to lower our language to talk to stage 2, and we ended up talking to stage 2 about the chemical composition and density of 3D printer filament, sustainability being more than just recycling, and about computer aided manufacturing. With the work that Julie had already done with students in problem solving terminology when they didn’t know it, students were able to, with very little prompting, extrapolate what CAM was through their knowledge of CAD.  I imagine this was not what was expected with the development of the new syllabus and where students were “developmentally ready for”.

I am so lucky to be in a place that questions our standard expectations with students.  To be in a place where personalised differentiated learning is not just something that you put in your programs in order to pass compliance, but that is an authentic, living, breathing focus of learning. That we consider Piaget, but are not limited by him. That all students are given the opportunity to learn something new that they didn’t know (or know how to do) before they came to school that day.  Now that we have been in it for a term, and know our students better, I’m excited to see what our year 7s particularly will be able to produce this term. It’s also nice to see that the concept of variables in the new science and tech syllabus has been put into Stage 3.

Sneaking through Stage 1

In my day, I regularly try to quietly and sneakily cut through the stage 1 classroom in order to get either across the school or up to Stage 3 and year 7. It’s the shortest route, and after climbing the stairs five or six times a day, my laziness kicks in and I wander through the classroom trying the best I can not to disturb.

Lately, however, I’ve been cutting through the classroom for another reason. I have been in a lot of PBL classrooms, and I have sat through a lot of Entry documents. I have used this example of an entry document when I’m training people in entry documents since 2012. It’s so far the best example of getting kids emotionally (sometimes angrily) involved in a project.

Then, I saw this on twitter. What an amazing way to engage students curiosity and invoke questioning around the topic. Each day some something is added to this section of the classroom. I walked in the other day and animal sounds were playing, and there were leaves all over the ground.  Students are starting to ask questions about what could possibly be in the box, and teachers are putting them up on the wall around the box. Students are then making hypotheses around what could possibly be in the box, and then using logic to rule out ideas (no, it can’t be a shark, it’s not big enough). Each day I walk past I now make sure to stop and look to see if there’s something new.

It’s interesting, my experience in the past is actually that where teachers have been effectively trained, that where PBL has been implemented in a primary setting, the change has been significantly easier, longer lasting and more rich for a number of reasons….firstly, experiential learning has always been a feature the younger that students are in education, secondly, that primary teachers understand the connections between syllabus documents better, and that finally, change in a year in a primary school requires change of maybe three or four teachers to effect an entire year group. In high school a year group may have 30 or 40 odd teachers in a normal school.  I also think primary teachers also have a greater knowledge of their students….the difference between five hours a day in primary and five hours a fortnight in secondary is significant.

I’m really interested to see what’s in the box. I think I’ll be secretly cutting through their classroom a lot more this term.

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