The following is an article by England-based teacher Adam Webster. This article was featured in the December issue of the Edudemic Magazine for iPad. The issue features a look back at the best apps, tools, and devices from 2012 all for $.99. Available now in iTunes.
Education policy in the UK seems to be divided into two distinct camps; the government-led view that education needs to return to a place where facts and the learning of facts and memorising of poetry should be prioritised, and the opposition, which believes in creativity, freedom in the curriculum and project-based learning.
I read a very interesting article a few weeks ago which tried to justify the government view (in itself the fact that the government view needs to be constantly defended is telling) by explaining that creativity and project-based learning aren’t possible if students don’t have a core set of facts and figures in their heads to guide them along the journey they choose to go on.
In many ways I thought the article made a good deal of sense. Of course you can’t just constantly send children off into the wilderness without a map or at least a compass, but neither should you lock them in a room with nothing but pictures of the wilderness and the things they may or may not encounter there.
Project-based learning (which in the UK we are more likely to call ‘Independent Learning’) is hugely significant as a concept and is massively misunderstood.
Too many teachers embark upon an independent learning project to give themselves a break from teaching. The truth is, you have to work just as hard, perhaps harder than a normal classroom practitioner; you need to be able to mentor each student in your class individually and this can be really hard work.
This is where technology can come and lend you a helping hand. And this is where technology can show you that every method of teaching can be facilitated and new ones invented.
A VLE can allow students to submit work and post questions to teachers and if so necessary, teachers can reply to these questions as well as post work to be done. My big issue with VLEs is that they tend to be clunky and rarely imbedded into the culture of the school and classroom. I am currently trying Edmodo as a substitute for this option and am really impressed by the simplicity of the interface and the positive reaction from students. One commented the other day, ‘Is this made by the same people that made Facebook?’ And therein lies the secret of its success; it’s a program they feel like they already know and as such they are automatically more sociable and open on it which is great as they try answering each other’s questions instead of waiting for my response. It’s also incredibly easy to submit work and do other simple tasks like taking quizzes.
This is exactly the sort of tool that allows a teacher to give both general and individual advice as needed; you can post publicly or to individual users, meaning that you are able to give the help needed, exactly when it is needed.
Nearpod is a slightly different kettle of fish, though at its heart is the similar outcome – I can see a snapshot of exactly how my students are getting on and respond to that on an individual basis. Nearpod, which connects a whole class of iPads to the teacher’s presentation, but allows for interactivity and submission of questions and answers to questions, is a real motivating tool as the teacher can also push out content that is handed in, so if a student answers a question in an interesting way, you can show that answer to everyone who is logged in, straight away. This really raises the stakes in terms of the effort students put in, just in case they are selected to be shown to the class.
These bits of technology allow a teacher to see what their whole class and every individual is up to, virtually simultaneously; it’s just about the most difficult thing in the world to do in a classroom if you teach by lecturing at the front. You may be aware of who is making notes, but you have not one iota of a clue as to who is absorbing what information.
The range of apps out there also means that you can satisfy both sides of the educational debate in the UK – you can help students learn facts, but you can get them to deal with them in insanely creative ways.
My Favourite Lessons
My favourite lessons are the ones where I tell my students to represent on paper, in any way they like a certain idea, or thing they have learnt. For example, I told an exam class of 16 year olds to take an A1 piece of paper between 4 of them and express in any way they like, what the most important things about Acts 1 &2 of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest are. The results were beautiful; they were carefully considered, carefully constructed, creative beyond words and of very real value to their education and as a by-product, for their exams. These now proudly hang from the walls in my classroom.
Come revision time, they will be of absolutely no use to them whatsoever – they’re hanging in my room, not the place where they revise. A couple of them might think to take a photo of them on their phones, but the clarity of the pictures probably won’t be good enough , especially as some of them were drawn with pencil.
When these students have mobile devices and the resources attached to them, the results are equally as creative, but they are in a format, not only that they can keep and use, but in a format that they can share. They can parade this triumph as a mark of their success and I can tell you for certain, that a video posted to YouTube that gets a view hits and ‘likes’ is worth more to them than the comments I might write at the bottom of their poster.
Rightly or wrongly, the medium of the 21st Century learner, is not paper and pen. Obviously it’s going to take the education system (and the exams system probably won’t ever clock on to this) a while to catch up with this, but it isn’t ok to enforce a lockdown on the way our students express themselves and it isn’t ok to tell that they must learn in a specific style.
I have noticed also that using technology in lessons means that they are harder to judge by traditional criteria. When someone walks into my classroom and they witness students doing their own thing, ticking a box to say whether or not the students were learning the content outlined at the beginning of the lesson becomes a moot point.
Students will learn facts whether you tell them or they find them out for themselves. The problem the government has at present is that they feel it necessary to dictate what facts are learnt and in what order. I have no issue with the learning of facts; it’s actually quite important at times if you want to progress and develop, but what I think remains the most important objective of teaching is that we facilitate the best learning opportunities possible for our students.
It seems obvious that if students were able to be taught 1:1 by all their subject teachers, they’d probably be a lot better off, but this is impossible and impractical and actually not a great idea, because there’s so much value in the social interaction associated with being in a class full of your peers. So now that there is a way to give them much more personal and immediate feedback, we have the best of all worlds: the government will see students able to learn the facts they need in a variety of ways, whether being led to them by their teachers or not, education reformers will see students who are creating their own content in a whole range of mediums which are meaningful to their world and most importantly of all, the students will be more engaged with their own learning than they have ever been before.
I wanted to put Cageless Thinking together as it combines the two aspects of education that I most care about and that are all too rarely discussed at the same time; technology and creativity.
Technology changes at such a fast pace, it is hard to keep up if you’re in the industry. Schools however, have lagged behind for too long and are now desperately trying to plug the gap between themselves and the real world.
Every day we learn a little more about how the brain works and thus how we can enhance our ability to be creative.
To be able to combine these two areas is the key to ensuring that the schools of the future are fit for purpose – that is, that they allow our students to be everything that they should be, even if we, as their teachers, do not know what that future is going to look like.
I am currently the Assistant Director of Learning and Teaching at a secondary school in Surrey, England where I do my best to practise what I preach whilst teaching English!
I write for the wonderful Edudemic Magazine, giving international readers a taste of what it’s like to teach in the UK, and I also contribute to the Guardian Teacher Network blog and the TES magazine.
I hope that you will enjoy exploring the content on Cageless Thinking and contribute your own thoughts, ideas and experiences of innovation and creativity (or a lack thereof) in education.