Authentic Learning/ Project-Based Learning


Many teachers have changed the way they teach a lot in recent years, or at least added to their repertoire of teaching approaches. However, the pace of that progress has varied in different places and some teachers still struggle to transition.

So, it’s always useful to have access to resources and information from any source. This week I came across some very useful and interesting resources from a US Company, Hapara:

Hapara  – Resources – Authentic Learning

When you click on the link above it takes you to a resources page. if you scroll down or use the menu on the left side there are a number of useful infographics, some e-books and around 14 webinar recordings.

Some of the most useful resources include an e-book:
Real-World, Hands-On and project-Based: An Instructional leader’s Guide to Authentic learning
(PDF includes some useful links to further reading, sources and resources on the last page)

And two webinars stood out in particular:
What does it mean to prepare students to be succesful?
Leading the shift to authentic learning

There are also some interesting resources for making effective use of Professional learning Communities (PLCs). Quite rightly, they highlight that if the aim is to enable and motivate teachers to bring authentic learning to the classroom for students, so they learning methods for teachers should also be built upon authentic learning lines.

Connected Learning

This was such an inspiring set of short profiles of innovative and exciting learning – examples of where connected IT related learning tools are changing the nature and opportunities of learning.

Digital Promise – What Powerful Learning Looks Like – Students Share Their Stories 

What I really liked about the videos was the extent to which student agency is expanding, past stereotypes are being challenged and questions of student motivation are not even required.

These are children who have a strong sense of ownership of their own learning, are pursuing learning for its own purpose, because of genuine desire to learn and not because it’s on the syllabus or a teacher says that’s what they must learn. There’s scope within the examples for the students to make choices about where they’ve taken their learning and where they might take it in the future.

The examples here challenge past narrow thinking about things like girls in STEM, how old a child needs to be before they have a voice worth hearing and even what’s worth learning (and how).

Some might watch these videos and just think of them as exceptional kids who, by accident of opportunity have found a passion and been supported to pursue it. However, I believe it says far more to us about what education has the potential to be for a bigger proportion of children. ICT


Online Inspiration

I’ve been a regular follower of the K-12 Online Conferences over the last few years.

There’s an energy that flows through so much of the material, visible when you dip in to the (now extensive) archives. This is a pure ‘teachers sharing with teachers’ platform, with some fascinating examples of teacher creativity, courage and pushing the boundaries of what’s possible, especially when harnessing the power and potential of ICT.

The conferences have been able to harness the ideas and inputs of some incredible educators spread across the world. It’s incredibly refreshing to find these being shared openly without any financial cost. This aspect of educators freely and openly sharing their ideas, experiments, innovations and trials has a long history and is vitally important to preserve. through the power of the internet and online collaboration it is given new energy and momentum with the potential to reach far bigger audiences. each incident of sharing is worth so much more when so many more can be inspired and helped on their journey as innovative, creative educators.

The 2016-17 Online Conference had a different format. Instead of happening in one short burst of time, it was spread out over some months, with three major themes. These were;
(i) Learning Spaces
(ii) Design Thinking
(iii) Creativity

K-12 Online Conferences Website

I would also thoroughly recommend checking out material from the earlier conferences, all archived on the website.

Inadequate Bandwidth, No Digital Learning

This is an article about a report I came across that i thought was really useful for schools or education groups assessing how much bandwidth they need and what other steps they need to take to ensure that they provide the necessary ‘backbone’ to enable effective digital learning, both now and in the future.

The Journal – SETDA Raises Broadband Targets For Learning in the Digital Age

I think, even though it’s written purely from a US state and District perspective it still offers some thought provoking and interesting insights in to issues of equity and fairness in society when it comes to digital access. There is no question that in developing countries equitable access to the internet is already a factor with vast implications and these will only become greater.

It also makes clear that in the private secotor, as we plan to expand the use of digital resources in the future, so we must ensure that we have the bandwidth, the firewall capacity and the networking infrastructure to support educators and students’ greater demands.

K-12 Technophobes Rule !

If you read this blog post, you might get an insight in to a fascinating little secret from within the realm of k-12 education. You see, in most countries of the world there’s been a vast investment (billions of dollars) in Information technology – sometimes broadened to Information Communication Technology (ICT).

So, what’s the secret? The clues are in the following article written by a prominent US educator;

Get Schooled Blog – Atlanta Journal Constitution – Article – New Study – Students Use Technology Everywhere But School

Across the world, in rich and poorer countries alike, in state and private sectors, billions of dollars have been invested in hardware, software, training etc. related to ICT – and in too many places, the children never get to really use it effectively! The article highlights a couple of important issues;
a) training teachers to use ICT and purchasing hardware/ software etc. doesn’t mean that anything very significant or substantial will have changed for the children (they get a more professional looking worksheet!). Seeing teachers using technology shouldn’t be mistaken for believing that the learning process has changed for the pupils.
b) teachers today are still, to a great extent and in many places, fixated on issues of ‘control’. The issues of being the ‘sage on the stage’ are still very much alive and refuse to die. As a result, all the time teachers see putting IT in the hands of the children as a loss of control, then the greater the likelihood that little will change.

On the latter point, I well remember, not so very long ago, the school i came across where a one to one tablet programme had been introduced. After some parent complaints it was discovered that many of the teachers were in the habit of collecting the tablets from the pupils “so that we can all concentrate.” Then, they would tell them, “If you’re very good, I’ll let you play on the tablets for 20 minutes before you go for lunch.”

Clearly, when so many of us started to get truly excited by the potential for what ICT can do and be in the classroom, how it can be a vehicle for personalisation of the learning experience previously only dreamed of – this was not what we were looking for.

We’ve seen ample evidence of what can happen, across countless countries with the introduction of interactive white boards. These, as teaching and learning tools, had great potential to bring real enhancements to the learning process, student attention and motivation, understanding and speed of learning. However, the problems all too often started with the fact that the decisions to install such boards came from a marketing position rather than an educational position. The net result was that when they got used almost entirely as an extension of the teacher’s ‘showing and telling’ traditional methodologies, nobody really batted an eyelid. sadly, as a result, they became very expensive white elephants, paid for through school fees.

The earlier article alludes to something that I’ve personally witnessed in this as in many other scenarios in schools – in the words of the great Peter Drucker, “Whenever anything is being accomplished, it is being done, I have learned, by a monomaniac with a mission.” Where ICT has been used genuinely to change the way learning happens, to bring real personalisation it’s been because an individual or a handful of individuals were prepared to change things despite the system (not necessarily because of it!) It takes a certain degree of zeal to ride out the problems and challenges, to question and challenge oneself and to step out of comfort zones to try new things.

As long ago as 2011, it was very clear to me that these enthusiastic pioneers existed and were doing work that really mattered to change education, as evidenced by one of my blog posts from that time:

Mark Parkinson Blog – Get in on the Global Action For Free

The Global Collaboration In Learning referred to in that article is still very much active and bringing amazing educators together to share ideas and creativity around the ideas of utilizing ICT to change the way children learn;

Global Education Conference

Incidentally, those interested will see that the next conference is due to take place from Sunday 13th November to Wednesday 16th November, online, free of charge – certainly a great opportunity to put in the diary. From the website it’s also possible to dip in to the vast archive of material from the past conferences.

The driving forces behind all these initiatives have included many people. However, one who has long stood out for me as a pioneer and a tireless worker to share information about educators bringing real innovation and change is Steve Hargadon. Here’s an article from a couple of years ago sharing some of his concerns about what’s wrong with education today and why we need to be looking to bring about real change:

Mindshift – KQED – Steve Hargadon – Escaping The Education Matrix

Among many other things Hargadon has been responsible for one of the most prolific series of podcasts with interviews with educators who are making a difference. You can get access to the archive here;

Future of Education – Past Interviews

A vast range of interviews going back to 2006/07!

The reality is that too much of what’s happening in education today is not serving children well. Too many could benefit from education that treats them as individuals and enables them to learn in ways that are more appropriate for them. It’s time to find the monomaniacs, to share their stories and ideas and to multiply their numbers. There should be no prizes for simply doing ‘yesterday’s education’ but doing it incrementally 1% better. We have to be ready to reform and to rebuild the plane whilst flying at 35,000 feet.

Something For Nothing – From Microsoft?

Microsoft have a history of working very hard to get themselves firmly embedded in schools and the day to day lives of children. I have often wondered why educators didn’t raise a hue and cry about the only company on earth capable of making their products (microsoft office etc.) made part of the school syllabus and the wider curriculum for millions of children all over the world.

Their latest Trojan horse appears to be the Minecraft Education Edition. When i first saw that Microsoft had purchased Mojang (the company that owned Minecraft) for $2.5bn I suspected exactly this. And, now here they are enticing in teachers and students with lesson plans (teacher’s job done for them if they’re inclined to be lazy?) collaboration features and all the addictive qualities of computer games, with no proof that it contributes to learning that i can see.

EdTech Magazine – Microsoft Releases Free, Early-Access Version of Minecraft: Education Edition

In the wider sense, it’s been disappointing over the last few years that we’ve not seen a more concerted effort to make open source operating systems and programmes like Open Office made more accessible and easier to install and use in the education domain. Because, the fact is, they’re completely free. And maybe that’s the key as to why any potential support for them got stifled?

Schools spend a lot of money on licences for Microsoft products (even at the reduced rates for education) and these recurring licence fees are passed on directly to parents in the private sector (taxpayers in the public sector). However, one of the biggest hurdles was that use of the Microsoft pay model software even got built in to government policy, national syllabus and curricula in country after country. Really, when you think about it, a quite amazing and monopolistic state of affairs that ties in children’s learning to the products of this single company.

This then can make you wonder just how philanthropic really are the efforts and contributions of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (I guess they won’t be offering me a job any time soon!) when they choose to direct the lion’s share of their dollars at education. Will a government reliant upon their spending in education say no to inclusion of their software in the computing syllabus of the schools?

Really? Is this healthy? Has anyone noticed?

Screen Time

Here’s a very interesting article that shares details of a recent piece of research related to screen time/ face to face interaction time impacts for children, as well as bringing together a pretty good summary of some of the other relevant research conclusions.

NPR Ed – Kids and Screen Time: What Does the Research Say?

Whilst it’s too early to draw hard and fast conclusions on the matter, common sense and most of the research appears to be pointing in the direction of suggesting that a lot of what’s happening today with rampant unchecked and unmoderated control of ‘screen time’ is to the detriment of children and the development of healthy, positive interpersonal relationships. Within schools and other learning spaces, we need to acknowledge that children will not always be the best at making choices about what’s appropriate or right. We also need to understand that the technology cannot be treated simply as a teacher substitute or an easy way to keep children occupied and distracted.

Each time a teacher uses any kind of media, it needs to have clearly thought out justification and there needs to be a continual weighing and balancing against alternatives. I also believe that teachers need to be ready to integrate meaningful and purposeful group, pair and team based activities that have learning goals both related to the learning content and the process by which the collaborative learning takes place. I also believe we should see teachers making more use of rubrics for group work that highlight and explore children’s perspectives and understanding (and reflection) on how best they work together for maximum effect.

This is an area where i look forward to seeing more research and engaging with fellow educators as we explore the ways to effectively harness the undoubted powers and benefits of ICT in education whilst reducing the costs in interpersonal skills development.

In the meantime, families need to be continually thinking about how ‘screen time’ plays a part in their home life and all its implications.

Technology Extending the Classroom

Google recently announced ‘Google Classroom’ that comes in to compete in the same area as programmes like Blackboard and Moodle.

Fast Company Video and Article

I see these as exciting developments as the competition will spur greater innovation and creativity. Also, I hope that the net effect will be to encourage far more teachers to be prepared to put their toes in the water. Having been involved with projects based on use of Moodle in the past, I’m convinced that such virtual learning environments offer considerable opportunities for empowering learners, freeing up teacher time for personalised facilitation and generally making more effective use of time in school.

Creative Education Uses for Google Hangouts

Here’s a nice short article in which a teacher shares some innovative ideas for how to use Google Hangouts as a learning tool with children:

The Journal – Article – Google Hangouts

I love to see the innovative ways technology is being used to go beyond simply new ways to ‘show and tell’.

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