Monday, 22 September 2014

Hmm where did the time for weekly reflection go? Timely to revisit this...

How to Make Kids Listen to Their Minds

Self-reflection to help enlighten children is being introduced into classrooms worldwide

There are two jobs that have become a lot more difficult in recent years. One is being a teacher, which was never easy at the best of times. But in an age of virtually unlimited opportunities for distraction and shrinking attention spans, getting kids to focus on their schoolwork can be (with apologies to dentists) like pulling teeth.
I know: as a former school aide working with young children in inner-city schools, it was often all that I could manage just to break up fights and keep the decibel level below that of an international airport. Any learning that took place in such an environment was a small miracle.
The other job that has become harder nowadays, of course, is being a student. Believe me, I sympathise with their plight, too! Today’s kids are weaned on electronic devices to move between one website, text message, or video game and the next at lightning speed. Where does a child learn how to direct their attention to just one maths problem or reading assignment when there are so many distractions a click away?
Yet recently I watched a movie that gave me hope. Room to Breathe by director Russell Long was filmed in a public school in San Francisco. The Marina Middle School with 900 students is one of the largest in the bay area, and it has the dubious distinction of having the highest suspension rate in the city.
We see why in the opening shots – pencil-throwing kids, schoolyard squabbles and frenetic hallways. Children fail, we are told by guidance counsellor Ling Busche, not because they are stupid, but because they are unable to focus: ”There is this sense of nonstop entertainment and whatever is happening in the lesson often becomes secondary.”
So it is surprising, given this chaotic atmosphere, that Mr Ehnle’s home room has been chosen for an innovative new program in self-reflection called ”mindfulness”.
Actually mindfulness is not ”new” at all. It originated more than 2000 years ago in the monasteries of south Asia. This form of bare-bones meditation, in which attention is focused on bodily sensations, is now being introduced to classrooms from San Francisco to Sydney and scores of other cities worldwide, less as a path towards enlightenment than a practical method to help kids settle down and learn.
The idea, according to Megan Cowan, the instructor from the group Mindful Schools who worked with Ehnle’s class, is to give students ”tools and skills” to tame the disorder within their own minds.
A tall order, as Cowan herself discovers when her efforts to get the kids to sit still and focus on their breath are greeted with wisecracks and expressions of boredom. She wants to move these disruptive ones out of the classroom for the duration of the mindfulness exercises, but the assistant principal reminds her that in public education nobody is excluded.
So Cowan soldiers on with the full class and, surprisingly, by the end of the film some of her ”toughest cases” have come to value what these simple techniques offer them.
Where does a child learn how to direct their attention to just one maths problem or reading assignment when there are so many distractions a click away?
For example, Omar, whose older brother has been killed in gang violence, testifies that mindfulness has taught him to step back from potential fight situations without reacting. Jacqueline’s mother says on camera that her daughter has become more respectful of others and now gets better grades. And Gerardo, an aspiring artist, says that mindfulness helps him to concentrate better when he paints and draws.
These modest ”success stories” are backed up by a growing body of research.
In one of the largest studies to date, 2nd and 3rd graders attending an inner-city school experienced significant improvements in concentration, academic performance and social skills, which were sustained more than three months after the end of their mindfulness program.
Research has also shown that exercises such as listening to ambient sounds and focusing attention on breathing have a profound effect on human physiology, slowing respiration lowering blood pressure levels and reducing harmful levels of stress. The practice is not a panacea. Clearly lots of kids need more than a few quiet moments in their day to calm them down.
But for many who took part in the training at Marina Middle School it was a revelation. It showed the teens for the first time that they need not be puppets dangling on the strings of their own overactive minds. On the contrary, they can make choices about how to direct their thoughts and respond to their own emotions.
This is something that adults also need to learn. Mindfulness programs are increasingly being introduced into hospitals, drug treatment programs and even corporate boardrooms across the nation.
”Mindfulness does not make problems go away,” says Megan Cowan. ”But the way that you are meeting your experiences changes to allow more lightness and happiness.”
And kids who are calm and happy are disproportionately the ones who succeed at school.
Let’s hope that mindfulness training spreads to more of our nation’s embattled schools, where teachers and students alike can use all the help they can get.
This article appeared on the Sydney Morning Herald on October 12 2012 and was written by Richard Schiffman.
About Richard Schiffman

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

My Stump Speech...

Where are we going...?Developing students capacity to act as their own educational advocates, agents of learning. Children who actively participate in a community of learning seeking support to understand where they are at, where to next and how they will get there. 

Why are we going there?
Children who have a strong sense if agency are more likely to take up opportunities, push their boundaries and grow as a person and learner.
Who's going with me/ us..
Get on board staff student and parents. Where taking on the educational world. 

How will we get there?Conversations, planning, resourcing strategic pd and seeking a network of support. 

Another great session with Carol. Talking about leadership, emotional wakes and fierce conversations. 

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Reading An interesting article at the forefront of our thinking and planning.

Monday, 8 September 2014

How to Integrate Tech When It Keeps Changing

Sensible Technology Integration
By 2015, 80 percent of people accessing the Internet will do so with mobile devices. What other fundamental advances and cultural shifts will come our way? Nobody knows. But here are some guidelines for negotiating those changes:

1. Take Off Your Expert Hat

You’ll never keep abreast of every technology innovation, so allow yourself to be a curious learner that doesn’t know it all. Give yourself 30 minutes every couple of weeks to learn a new tech tool from Tammy’s Technology Tips,Edudemic, Monica Burns’ ClassTechTips, Kathy Schrock’s Guide to Everything, Cybraryman’s Teacher Tools, or Richard Byrne’s Favorite Resources. Happy clicking!

2. Get to Know the Standards

Refer to the teaching standards crafted by professional organizations in your discipline, and then make the technology serve those standards and literacies. Let’s take interactive white boards (IWBs) in math class as an example. “If children’s only interaction with an IWB is to come up one at a time to answer a question,” says researcher Sandra Linder, “then it is not being used in the most effective manner.” Math lessons that integrate the IWB, she argues, benefit when a lesson follows the processing standards recommended by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics:
  • Building communities and communication
  • Making connections
  • Representing understanding
  • Exploring with materials
  • Child-centered tasks.

3. Reach Out to Thought Leaders

To find the best tools for an authentic task, peruse the top education technology bloggers and ask their advice on social media.

4. Interact with Students via Tech

More specifically, use tech to interact with students during their learning. Two years ago, Catlin Tucker, an English teacher at Windsor High School in Sonoma County, California, created short mini-lesson videos — flipping her writing instruction so that more class time could be used for students to write. In the computer lab, she comments on students’ Google Doc drafts in real time as they’re being composed. She says, “The time I spend helping my students to edit and refine their writing as they write is exponentially more valuable for them than the final comments I leave on their essays.”

5. Read Henry Jenkins

North Carolina educator Jennifer Smyth introduced me to Henry Jenkins’Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century. The text identifies a set of core social skills and cultural competencies that young people should acquire in order to read and impact our emerging participatory culture:
  • Play: the capacity to experiment with your surroundings as a form of problem solving.
  • Performance: the ability to adopt alternative identities for the purpose of improvisation and discovery.
  • Simulation: the ability to interpret and construct dynamic models of real world processes.
  • Appropriation: the ability to meaningfully sample and remix media content.
  • Multitasking: the ability to scan one’s environment and shift focus as needed to salient details.
  • Distributed Cognition: the ability to interact meaningfully with tools that expand mental capacities.
  • Collective Intelligence: the ability to pool knowledge and compare notes with others toward a common goal.
  • Judgment: the ability to evaluate the reliability and credibility of different information sources.
  • Transmedia Navigation: the ability to follow the flow of stories and information across multiple modalities.
  • Networking: the ability to search for, synthesize, and disseminate information.
  • Negotiation: the ability to travel across diverse communities, discerning and respecting multiple perspectives, and grasping and following alternative norms.
If your students are developing disciplinary skills and knowledge through these practices, you’re on the right track.
For even more information on this topic, visit Edutopia’s Resources for Technology Integration. Finally, don’t worry about how the flurry of tech revolutions on the horizon will impact your classroom. Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker believes, “Far from making us stupid, these technologies are the only things that will keep us smart.”
Tell us your technology integration success storie