By Alex More

Happy New Year and sorry it’s been a while since we last blogged. As one year ends and another begins it’s tempting to pen a blog on 2018 and the trends, stories and ideas that shaped our craft, but, this blog is all about looking forward into 2019 and what ideas might light our pedagogical fires.

So, let’s start 2019 with a dilemma. If you were presented with an opportunity to attend a one off CPD event in January with the following titles, what would you choose? Feel free to add your choice in the comments tab below;

Source: London BETT conference 24th – 26th January 2019 LInk

It’s a tough choice. Personally, I would go for ‘connecting classrooms with AI’ as I would love to see how this would be or could be done. Or, perhaps ‘Growing Humans for the Digital Age’. One thing I noticed about all of the CPD choices above is the presence of technology as a change agent.

Ever since Marc Prensky’s digital natives paper in 2001, the role technology plays in evolving or in some cases distracting learning has intrigued teachers and the media that surrounds education. Daisy Christodoulou in her controversial but brilliant book ‘seven myths about education’ makes the point that technology is not new, it’s always been with us and humans have always evolved through technological advancements. Conversely, technology advocates Jon Bergman (Flipped Learning), Sugata Mitra (School in the Cloud & Hole in the Wall), Sal Kahn (Kahn Academy) and Steve Wheeler (Learning with E’s) believe technology is changing the way we consume knowledge and that we are living through a technological revolution. Now, that’s an exciting prospect.

Like all great revolutions, there are going to be believers and haters. For the sake of this blog I am going to sit firmly on the fence and simply present some of the big ideas about what might happen in education this year. I am always a critic of hunches and vague predictions so what you will read below is evidence based and from some of the leading minds in education starting with Alex Beard, author of Natural Born Learners which should be on every teachers 2019 reading list.

The educational revolution has passed, we are now living through a technological revolution. 

Imagine what a time travelling child, aged 11 would make of our world today. This child from 1910, pre-war Britain arriving on the streets of London in 2019. They would not recognise the fashions, smart phones, social media, hashtags, colour television, game consoles, likes, notifications, electric cars, digital street signs and many other everyday things we have come to accept as normal. However, if you were to drop that same child into one of our classrooms they would feel instantly at home. Why? Because classrooms have hardly changed in the last century. They would recognise the lay out of the desks, the board at the front, the teacher, at the front and the students listening, taking notes and being punished if not engaged with the content. So, if technology in the world outside of the classroom has evolved so much, why does the classroom look so similar to what it did in 1910? 

There’s no simple answer to this. It’s true teachers are habitual and that routines are repeated, sometimes five times a day. Teachers are under increasing effort to teach content for students to pass tests and then the same teachers are judged on how well students perform in those tests. So, maybe we play it safe and keep students in their seats. Note to self: In 2019 I am going to change the way I use the classroom to teach. 

So, let’s look at some exciting work done by Professor Stephen Heppell on Agile Learning Spaces 

These ideas are alternatives to the teacher at the front of the class norms and could be used in combination with this traditional approach.

Setting up your learning space to encourage student voice. How about surfaces you can write on? Writable surfaces with pen pots available to scribble ideas, thinking and questions on the desks, tables and walls.

Writable surfaces are different and will encourage students to be creative when recording and sharing ideas. Surfaces can be wiped cleaned, photographed, presented on, it’s a winner and easy to implement. In addition, it gets students out of their seats, it allows the teacher to move around the space and support learning.

Family Learning Tables (FLT) or cluster tables. A simple but effective idea. FLT’s allow students to work together, be grouped together or sit together but work independently. Heppell (2018) described these spaces as tables can be long (five seats on each side, one on each end…) or circular but the long rectangular shape takes up a lot less room whilst still encouraging “quiet time” work. Often these are sourced pre-used. There is something grand about an ex-boardroom table that seems to the add status and value to quiet work.

Learning everywhere. Spreading the learning around the room, filling spaces with meaningful words and that spark curiosity is effective in creating a stimulating learning environment. This can take the form of posters, displays and student work. A school that has this dialed is High Tech Hire in San Diego where students are surrounded by work, creations and things designed to spark their curiosity and creativity.

WAGOLL: What a Good One Looks Like. A variation on the learning everywhere theme is the classroom friendly WAGOLL, which stands for What a Good One Looks Like. The teacher creates a space in the room where students can view work that has been teacher and peer assessed. I first saw WAGOLL presented at a TeachMeet by an enthused textiles teacher who created a wall display of graded work from A-E. Students were encouraged to use the display to inform their own judgements about existing work as they developed their projects.

Attention squares: Talking in small groups. This concept works when a task lends itself to collaboration. The groups sits or stands looking inwards. If a member wishes to present an idea or question they move to the middle of the square so others acknowledge and respect their right to talk and be listened to. These squares could vary in size depending on the task but Heppell suggests 4-8 is the ideal size.

So, the ideas above present ways to change the layout of the classroom, quick grab ideas that could be tried without too much disruption or effort. I have intentionally left out the role technology plays in this as feel the next part of the blog focuses heavily on our relationship with emerging technology. So here we go …

Light boards. Student engagement in flipped learning and podcasts has risen exponentially since the Kahn Academy’s early podcasts. Now students have so many digital learning options at their fingertips, perhaps this version will attract even more learners to view learning online via podcasts.

Time travel, lightsabers and hoverboards have kept Back to the Future and Star Wars fans optimistic about how technology might rock our future world. None of the above have been fully realised yet but Star Wars fans might recognise light boards, a super cool bit of tech used by Princess Leia in the Empire Strikes Back movie.

Towards the end of 2018, Flipped Learning innovator Jon Bergman started experimenting with the use of digital lighboards to create new and engaging flipped podcasts for his students. The result is an interesting user experience, check the video out here: Light boards. 

In Bergman’s own words … What I love about videos made with lightboard’s is that for most teachers, it seems intuitive. They know how to draw on a board and teach their subject. It is also more personable as you get to see the teacher and you feel more connected to him or her with visual cues.

SOLEs (Self Organised Learning Environments) and the School in the Cloud. Do you want SOLE in your school? What if teachers were not present in the classroom and students actually taught themselves via digital online instruction and exploration?

In 2001 Sugata Mitra placed a basic PC ‘hole-in-the-wall’ style in impoverished areas such as Bishnupar in India to see if students who were illiterate could teach themselves how to use technology. His hole-in-the-wall experiments were dubbed ‘minimally invasive ways to educate’. In 2013, Mitra won a $1 million TED grant to fund a new innovation in the field of SOLE learning. He started to build the school in the cloud. The concept of having a school based in the digital cloud is a new idea and one that has attracted a great deal of attention, both from critics and advocates alike.

The community map which presents on the homepage of the School in the Cloud website Link shows how countries around the world are engaging with this new way to acquire content. Word is spreading far and wide and educators seem to be engaging with the big questions concept.

Mitra is a Scientist at heart, being a Professor of Educational Technology at the School of Education, Communication and Language Sciences at Newcastle University gives him a unique platform to grow the school in the cloud. There is huge potential to develop STEAM work (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art & Mathematics) through the Big Questions, something we could all adopt and use in lessons. Let’s look at some of the big questions which have been created from the minds of children worldwide.

Children are naturally curious learning animals so it’s no surprise they come up with so many great questions. I can hand on heart say I don’t have the answer to most of the questions above, but I am willing to find out. I wonder how this might work as a starter activity in a science or art lesson? Could students potentially answer these questions using knowledge available online? Could students discover the answers to the big questions without teacher help?

Keep an eye on Sugata Mitra’s school in the cloud, it could be a game changer!

Immersive learning experiences and the surprising role AI (Artificial Intelligence) could play in the classroom. One of my most memorable learning experiences involved a ad-hoc History teacher who used to bring props into the lesson. He was the master at capturing your imagination. One day he brought a huge stuffed eagle into our classroom, placed it on the table and said nothing. He taught the full two hours with our undivided attention, waiting to see when and how this strange animal would fit into the lesson we were captivated. At the end of the lesson, he simply placed it under his arm and walked out. Imagine if you brought a robot into the lesson with you, the most jaded student would be intrigued surely?

Setting up a Google Assistant, Apple Siri or Amazon Alexa and getting it to answer some of the questions that come up in a lesson would be a fairly simple task for many computing teachers. Most students have access to this at home so why not embrace AI in the classroom as digital teaching assistant?

Machine-learning can already play a vital role in setting work, in marking and assessment, and can track individualised learning very proficiently. There is a plethora of online platforms that rely on AI to convert dialogue, provide summative assessments, socrative, google docs and google classroom to name a few. A recent Dragon’s Den pitch saw a teacher from the UK secure funding to pilot a ticketing system that uses AI (voice recognition software) to convert spoken comments into written labels, alledgedy saving teachers time.

We are a way off Robots taking the class but AI if used correctly has the potential to change again the way he receive and consume knowledge.  This is an exciting development and 2019 could be the year we start to see AI’s vast potential realised in the classroom. I wonder if our time travelling child ever dreamt such things were possible. We are evolving so fast. We are living through a technological era which evolves and changes weekly. If someone on a street corner had shown me Google Maps when I was 20 years old it would have blown my mind, that was only 20 years ago! Who knows what the future holds? One thing I think we can all agree on is that it will involve change and change can be a good thing …

Happy 2019, make it a good one.

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