Tuesday, December 08, 2009

When learning is done well, the technology becomes transparent

Today was our last day in Australia, and we are exhausted. Our feet and legs are tired from walking, and our brains are tired from taking in and processing so much information. I believe we have served Atomic Learning well on this trip, giving lots of people in lots of schools lots ideas for how to utilize the features of our site and bring 21st century concepts into the classroom. I know that the people we have met with have also served AL, providing us with important feedback and knowledge about the educational systems within their country.

We spent the morning at CEO Sydney*, a wonderful facility and an organization with lofty goals and every intention of meeting them. Over morning tea (which means coffee and snacks, either “sweet” or “savory”), they shared with us their iLearn program and some of the projects teachers are developing and students are diving into.

Built on philosophies and ideas similar to ISTE’s 21st Century Concepts, the iLearn program is a PD program available to all teachers in the diocese. Teachers work with partners to develop a class unit rich in big-picture concepts like Collaboration, Global Citizenship, and Creativity. During all stages of their work (from brainstorming through student assessment) they reflect on their work and their learning. In the spring of the year, projects are showcased and shared with all participants. The Best Of projects are used as examples for the next year’s group. Helen, birth-mother of the project, indicated that the quality of the projects continues to improve as people see what their colleagues are doing, and that teachers who complete the project are loathe to return to their former teaching methods (and are not allowed to by their students!). (We found it interesting that in the first few years projects done by elementary teachers were far superior to those done by secondary colleagues. This could be a blog entry on it’s own…speculation is that K-5 teachers are more used to collaborating and cross-disciplinary learning… what do you think?)

Did you notice that nowhere in this discussion of iLearn is “technology” or “technology integration” mentioned? The reason for this is that the projects aren’t about technology. The projects are about getting kids to work in the big-picture concepts and learn deeply about themselves and their world; the belief is that this can’t be done in today’s world without technology. Technology is so ingrained in our lives and the lives of our students we do a disservice by talking about it in an isolated manner, as though it's a separate add-on or something we don’t have to use but it would be cool if we did. The idea is that we cannot effectively teach students today without using today’s technology, but the momentum generated by focusing on what’s important will drive us to learn and use the appropriate tools. (How can we expect kids to effectively Communicate and Collaborate in school the way people do in “the real world” when we don’t use “real world” tools? Will students really grasp Digital Citizenship when they don’t have to make any decisions because our policies have already made them? Can students be truly Creative and Innovative when we tell them what product they need to create and what it needs to look like?)

I think the greatest power of the iLearn model is in its modeling. Teachers are taught within big concepts and take that with them to their classroom. They understand the importance of reflection in learning because they have experienced it, and they in turn expect it of their students. They gained valuable insights by collaborating with their peers in other geographical regions through a wiki and are keen to have their students experience the same richness. They have discovered the value of social networking and are open to their students using these tools in their learning.

CEO Sydney truly embodies the belief of Atomic Learning: If we want 21st Century students we must start with the teacher.

*CEO stands for Catholic Education Office and is the governing body of Catholic schools within a diocese. There are many CEO’s in Australia, including CEO Brisbane, where we started our trip. Some are now referred to as CSOs, Catholic Schools Office.


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