Today I took my year 10 IST students to the Microsoft headquarters in Sydney. This was the first school excursion I’ve ever organised and after jumping so many hoops, I was really hoping it’d all be worth it.
The free event was organised by 2realise, a government-funded initiative to help students explore career pathways. The pitch was promoting careers in IT for women and this was good enough for me to jump the hoops to take my girls.
The event ran for 2 – 1/2 hours, comprising of an overview of career pathways in Microsoft, a Q and A session with a panel of women employees from various divisions, a tour of the office and finally a session on gaming (er, Interactive Entertainment Division), including playing Xbox Kinects.
All-up, I think the event was a success in enthusing students about IT, in general, and the potential of careers in IT. One student said, “I thought that I really couldn’t work in an office environment but I could work in that office”. Microsoft had funky furniture in different configurations, shapes and colours – meeting hubs, workspaces, etc. Employees had cool lockers – because they have no desks. Each floor had a kitchen/dining area where employees could get free hot and cold drinks. There were also chill zones for relaxation or playing Xbox, table soccer, etc.
Panelists spoke passionately about their different roles and how they loved the flexible work arrangements, travel, opportunities for professional learning and career advancement. The graduate program sounded really good. They all seemed to love what they were doing and genuinely loved working at Microsoft (maybe I should go back to IT and work for Microsoft).
My students were a-buzz and the de-brief on the way home indicated that they really enjoyed the experience…. I even got a ‘thank you’. (Aside: I’m sure I read a while ago that students remember excursions more than what they learn in the classrooms).
The downside, I think, was that there were no panelists who were “real” techies – the geeky side of IT. It’s not a real surpise given that Microsoft research and development are all outside of Australia (maybe I won’t go back to IT or work for Microsoft, after all). The focus in Australia is sales, marketing and technical support. All good professions, I’m sure, but not for me.
I felt disappointed every time a panelist said that they’re not a techie as I felt they were saying they were not good enough for it. Maybe they’re too cool to be a geek? OR maybe, I’m just reading too much into it? However, I felt short-changed for not hearing techie stories of women thriving in a techie world.
It was certainly good to hear that the company is working towards further raising the current 29:71 ratio of women to men. I do wonder though if that ratio is higher in Sales and Marketing and so the disparity and stereotypes continue?
Here I am trying to enthuse my girls to get excited about IT research and development. Yet, how much of that actually happens in Australia? Are exciting IT jobs off-shore?
So, was it worth it? I am not so sure yet. But hey, I’ve learned how to organise excursions. The class feels closer and I’ve also got something concrete I can refer back to in future lessons.
Hmmm, where can I take them next? Requests are in for Apple and Google. How hard can it be to score an excursion to these places?
My year 10s had just had their storyboards assessed and approved.
They were supposed to get started with planning for the next stage of their multimedia projects; maybe even get started developing components of it.
My year 10s were visibly unsettled today at period 1. They said they had an English assessment next period – speech. They exchanged stories of how late they went to bed to get this ready and the ‘winner’ (not in my class) went to bed at 4:30 a.m. How anyone could function with such little sleep is beyond me!
We ploughed through the work that needed to be done but they were easily distracted and not really focusing.
In the end, I succumbed and gave them the last half hour of the lesson to practice for their speeches. They had to pretend it’s the real thing so they had to perform in front of everyone as against doing it quietly in their own ‘corner’. I figured, they weren’t really being productive in my subject so they might as well be productive in something.
Here’s a gist of what happened:
- I had a glimpse of their creativity, literacy and thinking skills in another context (English)
- Students took on roles voluntarily as time-keeper and editors
- Students gave each other constructive feedback
- I gave constructive feedback
- Students felt more settled and ready to face their assessment, even those who did not perform but still got editing help
- We’ve got a concrete example of positive collaboration – one I’m going to keep promoting in MY class
Part of me feels like I’ve been sucked in. Yet, was it really a waste of time?
Two of my edu heroes have recently blogged about being viewed as heroes: Bianca Hewes and Alice Leung, both in response to an ‘encounter’ with Valerie Hannon, Director of Innovation Unit and founding faculty member of the Global Education Leaders Program (GELP).
The incident revolve around Alice being called a hero teacher and Bianca being stumped as to what sort of support she needed to sustain the [amazing] work that she does. I encourage you to read their blogposts for their responses.
I’m posting to present another perspective and perhaps, in response to some of the negative reactions towards Hannon – a lady I’ve never met or heard of until now.
See, when I first saw the word ‘hero’ in this whole thing, my first thought was the Capability Maturity Model (CMM) levels - something I came across when still working in software development (my career prior to teaching) in the process of effecting business process change (yes, in the era of Business Process Re-engineering…geez, I feel old). That’s when I first heard of an organisation being predominantly of hero-mentality and that this wasn’t good because successes depended on individuals who can not be with the company forever (people move, people die). So then, it was important to capture expertise (think Knowledge Management) and roll out ‘best practices’ (think Process Management).
Business Process Re-engineering meant Change Management which meant having change agents, across all levels of the organisations – a combination of top-down and grassroots change. I worked as an IT Process Manager, I knew that without grassroots support, none of my “peddled” best practices would’ve been implemented, let alone managed or optimised.
Back then, we were in Level 1 – chaotic, ad hoc, hero mentality and aiming for Level 2 – Repeatable processes….and the holy grail: Level 5 – Optimising.
I think Hannon may be coming from this perspective, i.e. for good change to be sustainable, it’s got to be more than grassroots level – her response to Bianca suggested as much (you’ve read Bianca’s post by now, right?). One cannot be behind GELP and not push for the value of leadership as necessary in effecting sustainable change.
It’s not that being a hero is undesirable as such. We need heroes. I certainly do. Really, it’s just that heroes are not enough.
I love that Bianca and Alice blog because they actually document and share their work so others can do them, too (think Level 2 – repeatable). They blog and tweet about their successes and questions and doubts ….altogether painting a very human picture; these are the type of heroes I love. I’m not a hero nor do I aspire to be. That’s not really the point, because I am a teacher, grassroots level in the educational hierarchy. I am dancing with the lone nut, awkwardly, but dancing nonetheless. I blog even, in the hope that some of the stuff I do can be repeated (OR AVOIDED).
BUT, I also believe that heroes are not enough. Change has to happen at many levels. I see hope because I know people like Cameron Paterson, John Goh, Edna Sackson, Matt Esterman- and many many more who are trying to effect sustainable change in different ways, at different levels of the organisation. Of course, I would MUCH prefer that we actually worked in the same school!
As for CMM, check out the critique. In an environment where there are so many variables, even heroes doing exactly the same thing can get different ‘results’. We are dealing with people, individuals – not programmable software with predictable results. By the way, this is an insight to my critique of applying corporate practices into education, e.g. performance pay, but that is subject of another post…if I get ”round to it.
Change is afoot. I am part of it. Are you?
Thank you to my year 9s for injecting a bit of fun at the start of today’s lesson AND giving me a huge nudge to blog. It’s been a month since the last post!
A few weeks ago, I introduced the archetypal learning spaces (Bianca Hewes makes an appearance here yet again as a source of inspiration). Since then, we used campfire, waterhole and cave on a regular basis. To my surprise today, my year 9s decided to voluntarily form a campfire because apparently, “it’s tradition” and “it’s fun”…like, checking in with each other (not quite the definition, I know, but still….). Also, one of the students used her tablet to display a roaring fire. We soon realised that this was indeed fun and a photo opportunity…..smartphones galore…mine included.
This class is shaping up to be a real community of learners, happy to be in the classroom and almost reluctant to leave even for recess or lunch. Go figure! They have become comfortable with the self-directed approach and regarding each other as resources for learning AND me as NOT a font of all knowledge…more like the font of questions! Subsequent iterations of Medals and Missions (mentioned in this post, Making Progress) are better with me being less austere with the medals (haha). I don’t even have to prompt them to do their missions…they just get done.
No deep post here; rather, a celebration. A good reminder that sometimes, things work and when they do, life’s good.
Maybe I miss teaching maths as I feel compelled to use some mathematical terms and concepts in this post about how my (non-Maths) PBLs mentioned in the previous post, are progressing. Oh, and this is inspired by this video on dissociating learning from performance, linked to me by the wonderful Kelli McGraw (@kmcg2375) who constantly pushes my academic thinking, among others.
Anyway, I had to watch that video lots and lots and lots of times. What really hooked me was this notion of variability as aid to learning and transference, even if the performance gain (observable stuff we teachers measure as evidence of learning) is non-existent or slow. See folks, this is why I love Algebra! And in fact, that’s how Algebra should be taught, i.e. change those variables so students can see that the relationships expressed in an equation will yield different values as variables change. This is transference in number terms, literally.
I’m not going to pretend I understand the video completely. I don’t. What does spacing even means? I’m guessing interleaving means making connections. Interleaving vs blocking new things to be learned. whoa!
This is exactly how my PBLs are progressing. Variability. Interleaving vs blocking new things. Conditions are neither constant nor predictable (these terms are from the video, ok?).
Precisely because of how the Year 9 Digital Media Jedi Academy is set up, there is so much variability. I’ve got kids learning to write HTML code, writing ebooks, creating wikis, typography and critically analysing their process…yep, writing their applications to level up. And they’re excited about what they’re doing that invariably (haha) I have to boot them out when bell goes. Comments heard today: “I’ve done so much”, “I’ve learned so much”, “This is exciting”. They’re collaborating, giving peer feedback and affirmations and best of all, learning how to help themselves.
Their applications to level up are done in Word, submitted to our virtual classroom (a Sharepoint site). I annotate these. Then it hit me that I had no idea of checking if they’ve really read these annotations – we’re talking individualised feedback here that took time and effort! Bianca Hewes (@biancaH80) to the rescue. More specifically, her post on feedback (a must read so go there, will you?) that mentioned the Goals, Medals, Missions framework. I told the students that they had to hunt down the medals and missions in my feedback. This had the added bonus of student feedback on my own annotations. It was clear that I was rather austere on the medals department. haha. I’ll fix that. I wish Sharepoint has notifications like edmodo.
My Year 10 PBL on the school purpose has taken twists and turns I could not have predicted. These kids are getting so engrossed on making sense of the school purpose and want to take the rest of the school with them. I’m actually rather flabbergasted though obviously proud of them taking ownership. They designed surveys for staff and students and we had amazing discussions on the art of writing surveys and the challenges of collation…we were optimistic we’d get heaps of responses. Now they’re talking about making it a game and what do I know really of Game Design. Well, I’m learning along with them. Like my year 9s, I have to dismiss them a few times before they actually leave the room.
This post is long enough methinks. Anyway, I’m feeling good about the progress. Yeah, I still feel lost but I think I might get used to it and welcome it. That’s a good thing, right?
And just to end on the idea of abstraction: neither Bianca nor Kelli teach maths or computing; yet, see how I’ve abstracted from their work and applied to my context (steal like an artist - go on, check it out….interleaving, see?). This abstraction is Algebra IRL. really.
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