Tag Archives: Technology

Teaching Religious Studies

25 Aug

 

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My work this week has been dominated by the Special Character Review in the College and my work with ministry and the new Achievement Standards. So it seems natural I started think about my teaching subject as I blogged this week.

In describing his conversion to Christianity, C. S. Lewis remarked, ‘I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen. Not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else’ (Lewis, 1945, p. 21). To paraphrase, for Lewis, not only is Christianity something credible to believe in, but it also provides a coherent and credible framework within which to make sense of everything else.

Theologians working within other religious traditions would mostly concur with this: while no one can have a “God’s eye” view of the world (other than God) – religion provides the most meaningful and satisfactory way to see the universe. Furthermore, in addition to perceiving, religions also provide a way of being in the world. They impact and form the habits, philosophies, theologies, aspirations, ethical positions and education (among other things), of those who identify with them.

One kind of object seen through the lens of a given religion, so to speak, are other religions. This presents further complexity for religious educators to address. An educator’s lens will affect what students are encouraged to look for, and how students are encouraged to interpret it. Error may result when our eyes are so focused on the object beyond the lens, the possible effect of the lens itself goes unaccounted. Likewise, our view may be distorted when our vision rests on our lens without looking through it at all. Nevertheless, we have no choice but to look through one lens or another and to have that lens focused somewhere (rather than everywhere).

The belief that all religions share the same common fundamental principles represents just one religious lens among a wide spectrum of positions. Many religious believers see other religions as antecedents that have been subsequently superseded by their own religions, for example. In chronological order, from Judaism, Christianity and to Islam, each successive revelation is believed by the newer religions to have ‘superseded’, ‘fulfilled’ or ‘sealed’ the previous one. The universalism of some forms of religious education can be seen as superimposing a newer narrative of the supposed unity of these traditions that supersedes the exclusivity of bygone eras of religious fundamentalism.

One alternative to a homogenizing approach that sees all religions as at heart the same, is one that apprehends the religions as a diverse and dynamic set of in-commensurable lenses. This does not mean that when we do religious education, we must don new sets of glasses – even if that were possible. Perhaps to recognize why we stick to one view over another is to be as equally well religiously educated as those who claim to have taken a difficult glimpse of the world through another perspective.

What do we need to do as religious educators to help students understand the phenomenon of religion? Clearly, we can never know enough about religion in each different context and circumstance, and even if we could, we would never be able to impart all this knowledge to our students. However, while we cannot see everything to be seen, our lenses may be adjusted, and they may also be used in conjunction with a reflector. This means that future observations may be better encountered and considered through informed understanding.

It is by helping students to construct the tools of self-understanding and adopt the practices of reflection that we may progress. Good religious education promotes the habits of mind needed for the task of understanding one’s own position and interpreting other people. This involves serious intellectual virtues: suspending judgment; thinking through one’s own views; imagining what it would be like to be different; weighing all the evidence; asking and answering questions; disagreeing respectfully; and, above all: not taking anyone’s word for it. These are just some of the ways of thinking, ways of being, that good teachers and students learn, practise and rehearse in religious education.

One way to become a better teacher or student of religious education, or indeed religious practitioner – as well as to overcome barriers between those of different religions – is to develop the reflexiveness to understand the implications and origins of one’s own perceptions. This not only enables those who look through different lenses to understand how to live well together and see each other better. It may also enable the development of more coherent visions of the world itself.

 

Devices and Other Tools

11 Jun

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Much emphasis has been put on STEM education of late, otherwise known as a combination of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. The biggest obstacle to these subjects is the fact that not all adults understand them, and even fewer can describe how to use electronic devices to effectively teach them. Computational thinking is a great example of this. Teachers have placed a decent amount of value on teaching children how to “code.”

I have been thinking how can students use screens productively if they provide no educational value?

Electronic books were invented decades ago but were recently perfected within the last 10-15 years. How many educational institutions are taking advantage of this technology? If students were looking at a screen with quality reading material on it, would that be preferable to random videos and distractions? How might carrying hundreds of books around all day change the life of the average student?

Screens are becoming an increasingly important aspect of education. Given how much smartphones and tablets are being used throughout the world daily, it’s only fitting that they become integral parts of the classroom. It is then up to us and parents to ensure that what is being displayed on those screens is beneficial for the growth and development of our tamariki using them.

Computational Thinking

31 Mar

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This week at school we have done some work on implementing the new digital curriculum in 2020. We have entered a modern age of education where classrooms are commonly filled with students who are programming robots, using data to create a plan for reducing food waste or plastic or working with a computer to design a 3D model of an area of our local environment. Computational Thinking one of the elements of the digital curriculum.

Computational Thinking is not “thinking like a computer,” but a set of foundational skills that harness the power of computing to solve problems. It involves formulating problems in a way that a computer can solve them, analyzing data, using models, creating simulations and employing a step-by-step approach to solve problems efficiently and effectively.

Today’s students have grown up with technology at their fingertips. Computational Thinking transforms students from consumers of content into creators of content.

Advances in computing have expanded our capacity to solve problems at a scale never imagined, using strategies that have not been available to us before. Students will need skills to be successful. Students will need to learn and Computational Thinking skills to take full advantage of rapid changes in technology.

Through workshops last week we identified Computational Thinking activities in many classes, from maths and art to music and Te Reo. We know there’s a strong economic imperative to prepare the next generation of -literate students but I think it’s about giving students the essential skills to create their own futures and helping them find meaning in the tech-powered world around them.

How are you delivering this new curriculum? What are your challenges?

 

More LwDT

22 Jul

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Last week I left my phone at home and the day at school was difficult. A little, like this.

Think about this. When was the last time that you left your cell phone at home? If you left it at home, did you go back home to get it? My students are bringing their devices to school everyday, so there is not a question of whether or not to have BYOD, Bring Your Own Device.  Our school is a BYOD school because parents have equipped their children with devices. I have seen different ways that we have embraced BYOD. It reminds me of the SAMR model.

  1.  Negative Embracement

For fear that students will use their devices for inappropriate purposes, teachers ban them altogether.  They institute fine systems for pulling them out in class; therefore, students learn to use personal devices in a very secretive way. The result of this form of embracement is negative in every way: time wasted correcting students and negative student perceptions of school.  Even worse, there is a negative impact on learning because students will find a way to use their device regardless of punitive tools at your disposal.

  1. Dispassionate Embracement

Because school staff know that devices are everywhere, and they can’t eliminate them, they choose to put policies in place that tolerate cell phones. Students are allowed to use them at times where learning does not occur such as during class change, during lunch or during “free-time” at the end of class. In this system students are conditioned to believe that devices carry no real potential to enhance learning. They are explicitly taught that personal devices are for personal business and nothing more. The result of this form of BYOD is negligible.  Time isn’t wasted, but it isn’t really maximized either.  Learning isn’t really enhanced either.  The status quo keeps pretty much everything stagnant. This form of embracement puts learning in neutral.

  1. Constructive Embracement

Since the potential found in devices is limitless, schools are finding unique and innovative ways to incorporate technology into every aspect of their system. Schools are eliminating announcements in place of using social media to communicate with kids. Research is being conducted on screens instead of in books. Technology is being leveraged.  Positive effects are abounding because with proper procedures and training for staff, students are more engaged, more connected and more focused. Their learning becomes more relevant, more purposeful and more productive. The more successful the integration, the more positive rewards students will reap from their learning.  Positive embracement of technology occurs only when technology is infused into areas where learning is expected to take place.

Take time to quietly reflect how is your school approaching this? Which category do you really sit in?

 

 

Ease up

6 May

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Let’s ease up on our tamariki. What troubles me the most is that so many educators fail to recognize how real being young is. As I think about the experiences of our students nothing young people face today is a fantasy. Last time I checked, the stress at home is real, the bullying is real, the poverty is real, the tension within their friendships is real, learning to read is real, developing fundamental skills is real, their success and failures are real, and not knowing what is next from school is all-too-real.

Lamenting the younger generation is both timeless and tired. The following quote (attributed to Socrates):

“The children now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise.”

Sound familiar? This could be a quote from any adult referring to almost any child or teenager in 2018.

A common soap box is technology. Instead of being amazed at how quickly young people master technology (i.e. cell phones, tablets, apps, etc.) too many adults cling to the ole “…back in my day we didn’t need any of that stuff.” Just once I’d like to hear an adult say, “You know what, kids today are way ahead of where we were at that age.”

Our version of “real” is not their version of “real” and too often this conversation about when kids arrive in the real world illustrates more about how disconnected adults are from the realities of young people today. Let’s ease up on our tamariki.

More Blended Learning

22 Mar

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At Manawa Tapu (my School) we are aiming to enhance our learning and teaching by fully utilising technology that is available.  However it is important to note that we can’t just throw out everything we know that works for our students.  Blended learning is about combining what we already do so well with technology.  The clip below illustrates this nicely. This was a key point from my blog last time.

Simon Sinek takes a great deal about the Why? This “Why” is so relevant with LwDT. The SAMR model is worth revisiting.

 

How is your journey in this area going? What are the challenges you are facing?

Blended Learning

20 Mar

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I am immersed in a blended learning environment at present in my classroom. Blended Learning doesn’t leave any kind of learner out—whether you prefer the familiar traditional classroom or would rather do things online or both—everyone has a chance to benefit from this all-encompassing style. Not only that, but Blended Learning utilizes so many methodologies that the content can be customized to the learner and optimized for the subject matter.

Blended Learning is an interactive experience in every sense of the word, which makes it fun. Learners engage with the offline lessons by practicing online through a variety of different content media, each geared to suit a certain learning style. Learners can choose which type of content they wish to interact with, practice what they learn and communicate with instructors and other learners anytime and on any device. The community experience keeps learners engaged and informs teachers as to their progress and areas needing more attention.

This week I brainstormed what my classes looked like pedagogically.

Face-to-Face Teaching: Traditional instructor-led learning sessions, supplemented with technology to allow learners to control their own learning pace. Benefits are role-play, mentoring, hands-on practice, collaborative group work and feedback.

Moving it Around: Students go from learning activity to learning activity, either in a structured learning session directed by a teacher, or online in a self-directed manner. Examples include learning stations, labs, and the flipped classroom where learners practice the lesson before attending the face-to-face training.

The Lab: This blended learning model is entirely digital, with little or no instructor interaction. It takes place either before, during or after a lesson. Learners can access content on mobile phones (this is known as mLearning), laptops or tablets.

Flip the classroom: This blended learning model is entirely self-directed and takes place in a digital environment. Learners can engage with an instructor through chat, email or message board. It provides a flexible schedule and personalized learning, but lacks the face-to-face interaction of other types of blended learning. This great for conferencing assessment both formative and summative.

How are you dealing with this digital environment?

 

Flipped Learning

12 Feb

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As educators we should ask ourselves “what would we lose if we put all of our lecture notes online, or made them available for students online?” Would we lose interaction? Collaboration? Contribution? If education is more than the transfer of information, what is it? I have been doing a great deal of thinking at present about the change we need to make in teaching.

This week I have been doing some work on Microsoft Teams. This is a great tool and it had lead me to think about the work of Eric Mazur who I was fortunate to listen to last year. Eric Mazur claims we’d lose very little dialogue, very little interaction if we shared our notes with students. I agree with this looking at my evidence this week. I saw an interactivity in learning.

I really enjoyed Mazur’s approach to this in his writings. Mazur’s clever use of the physics problem of what happens to the hole in the middle of a metal plate when it is heated demonstrated very powerfully the way we can increase learning power when we turn on the innate learning curiosity of our learners. The exercise moved from a focus on the fact, to the reasoning – he ignited the fire of the audience curiosity! His point was powerfully made with regards to how we need work with students in our classrooms. Mazur’s use of this approach has been researched to demonstrate the impact of this on student retention – the significance here being the difference between simply transferring information (focus on facts) to the engagement in creating knowledge (emergence of reasoning).

The Flipped Learning environment offers such richness for a learning point of view.  There is more student accountability and agency for gathering information so we can better help them assimilate it.

There is a change the idea of delivering and transferring information for the learner. It puts the learner in charge. There is a transmission of knowledge vs construction of knowledge. We need to allow time for the brain to process the information – not simply ‘remember’ it. Moreover, but involving students in sharing among themselves, the learning is no longer an isolated experience. Education, deep down, is a social experience – not an isolated one (reference here to Vygotsky’s theories here)

 

Summer Goals

15 Dec

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Summer is here and so is my month long break from school. The following are my goals for the summer or at least until January 15.

De-clutter: We as teachers need to take time to let it go. Have a clean out and get rid of all those daily worries for the time being. January will bring new perspectives.

Reflect on Your School Year: Here is another opportunity to take advantage of specific starting and ending points in our profession. Make time with a colleague to reflect upon the school year. Discuss what worked, what didn’t work, and what you will do differently next year. This process will help bring closure to one year and set you up for the next year.

Spend Time With Loved Ones and Reconnect: As teachers, we spend our entire day with other people’s children. From the early morning until the late afternoon, we interact with very few adults. Take time over the summer to have adult conversations.

Have a Real Coffee: With others or By yourself. Most people don’t understand that teachers can’t go out for lunch. We just do not have the time. Do it over the summer.! Be an adult.

Read and Relax: Especially not work related content. Enough said.

Examination Time

8 Dec

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NCEA is over and we have just concluded the examination season. Phew.  Do teachers really need contrived, formal examinations at the end of a full school year in order to make a professional judgment – should one be required – on their students? We are also talking at our school about the purpose of junior exams. What is the point?

What were exams originally introduced for? If we are honest, it was to sort the elite minority into elite, selective institutions in order to perpetuate a hierarchy in which wealth, knowledge, and possibilities were exclusively defined, controlled, and limited.

Society has certainly changed this we know. Technology has transformed the possibilities for learning and the opportunities for our young people. We are challenged with the reality of inevitable, unknown challenges and known global crises that are not going to go away with a bombing campaign or populist piece of legislation. We know that all people have the capacity to learn. We recognise that the elite selection process throws – along with the brilliant and truly bright – some of the most banal and incompetent into positions of power and influence. Knowledge is cheap today and access is virtually unlimited; the ability to create transcends the old order and requires real talent. Yet the exam system remains largely the same.

Imagine an educational system in which we based our understanding of student potential and achievement upon individual interests and passions, developed and nurtured throughout the years of schooling. This is what most teachers instinctively seek to do. Imagine, then, how amazing schools could be without the false conventions of examinations and tests that are philosophically at variance with all that we know about learning and humanity. The fact is, we know that we don’t need examinations for students to get into good colleges and we don’t even need good colleges to learn and be successful, so why is this absurdity still the unchallenged tail that wags the dog of our school systems?

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