Key notes on a Keynote

Today marked the second day of our whole school CPD event focusing on learning technologies. To kick off the day, my fellow coaches and I were given two slides and a few minutes to address the whole school with what we felt would be pertinent. This is a short post on the key  topics I touched  upon  during  this  micro-keynote.

We are very fortunate at RCHK to work within such a technology enhanced learning environment. We have access to handycams, professional microphones (Clip on, shotgun and handheld) and a green screen recording studio. We have dozens of makeblock robots, Micro:Bits, Arduino’s and enough Lego Mindstorms for 2:1 use across an entire year group. We have Macbooks and iPads available on loan and Adobe products to download and use… But I’m just labelling STUFF.

These are just things, and when we focus too much on the things the conversation starts to turn towards technology implementation. People ask questions like “What can I have?” before they have figured out what they need.

Instead, I urge colleagues to draw out the concepts that the new technology represents. The new ways of thinking or enhancements to their teaching and learning. When we focus on the concepts, the conversation turns towards technology integration. We start asking questions like “How does it allow me to better connect with the pre-existing learning outcomes?” or “What new ways of thinking does it achieve that could not be achieved without it?”

So before our administrators, budget holders, teachers, support staff and technicians went forth to attend workshops designed to show off a myriad of wonderful shiny new technologies, I had one simple piece of advice:

Remember that it will be the successful integration of technology into our teaching and learning that drives successful implementation of technology into our learning spaces, not the other way around.

Later on in the day I was part of an evaluation meeting for our CIS accreditation self study when the following “Essential Question” from the evaluation rubric was shared with us:

“How is the school’s approach to teaching and learning influenced by digital resources and technology?”

Sensing the long road ahead I sighed and patiently uncapped my pen to put the horse back before the cart…

“How is the school’s approach to teaching and learning digital resources and technology influenced by digital resources and technology? teaching and learning?

Instructional Technology Coaching: A Framework for Curriculum Planning and Development

‘Instructional Technology Coach’ is a nice title because it puts the instruction before the technology, so we’re on the right foot immediately. You see, I would like to start by addressing the misconception that LT Coaches are primarily teachers of technology or worse, as it removes us from teaching completely, IT support. If a school is sufficiently technologically enhanced then IT support should be available elsewhere within the school.

The IB has graphically outlined the working relationship between the ‘concepts’ and the ‘things’ that we attempt to integrate and implement across a school in the image below. The role of coach exists directly in the middle of this cycle,  connecting the technology-inspired pedagogy and ways of thinking with the acquisition and use of infrastructure and resources. We work closely with teachers, leaders, technicians and budget holders to ensure that integration is both driving and supported by implementation.

Figure 1: Technology Integration and Implementation across the IB (Source: Teaching and Learning with Technology: An Executive Summary, IBO Publishing )

To achieve this, coaches have three core responsibilities; to support technology integration through curriculum planning and development, deliver professional development opportunities for using the things and understanding the concepts and to find and share great resources or exemplar practices amongst colleagues to drive implementation. I find these three guiding statements so useful, I turned them into a Google Drawing to hang next to my desk.

Figure 2: The three core responsibilities of an Instructional Technology Coach

This article addresses the first responsibility – finding a framework through which to engage with the curriculum planning for departments across the school. Whilst I find myself helping teachers on a 1:1 basis often, and this is always rewarding, it is by working with unit planning teams to enhance the teaching and learning within the curriculum that real, lasting integration can occur. There are three frameworks that I have found useful in achieving this:

Using the TPACK framework to identify common ground.

It is crucial to establish a common ground for teachers of all disciplines and coaches to communicate on. The TPACK framework really helped me to map the terrain surrounding coaches and teachers, and to better understand the shared understandings and language that we can communicate with.

TPACK’s intended purpose is to highlight the interactions between three domains of knowledge required by a teacher to effectively teach with technology. These domains are;

Content Knowledge (CK)
The knowledge that teachers, as a subject matter experts, must call upon to identify the essential learning for the unit. This of course consists of concepts, theories and evidence but might also include best practices and methodologies carried out by experts in that discipline.

Pedagogical Knowledge (PK)
This is the teaching and learning, including knowledge of the student learning styles, activity types, classroom management styles, methods of lesson and unit planning and assessment techniques.

Technological Knowledge (TK)
This describes teachers’ knowledge of, and ability to use, various technologies, technological tools, and associated resources. TK concerns understanding EdTech, considering its possibilities for a specific subject area or classroom, learning to recognize when it will assist or impede learning, and continually learning and adapting to new technology offerings.

The TPACK framework has obvious utility for teachers to reflect on their own development in the three areas and for administrators to plan the necessary PD for successful teaching with technology. However, the framework really springs to life when we begin to discuss how the three domains interrelate with one another as we soon realise that they exist in a state of “essential tension”, and that a change in one will likely impact necessary change in the other two. If you’re new to TPACK, take a moment to explore the image below and consider which examples you have from your own practice of these interrelating domains of knowledge being applied.

Figure 3: The TPACK Framework

So, what is required for successful Technological, Pedagogical and Content Knowledge? Well, Koehler and Mishra (2009) put it well when they first put forward the idea of a TPACK framework:

“TPACK is the basis of effective teaching with technology, requiring an understanding of the representation of concepts using technologies; pedagogical techniques that use technologies in constructive ways to teach content; knowledge of what makes concepts difficult or easy to learn and how technology can help redress some of the problems that students face; knowledge of students’ prior knowledge and theories of epistemology; and knowledge of how technologies can be used to build on existing knowledge to develop new epistemologies or strengthen old ones. “

Now if you read that without feeling at least a little overwhelmed, read it again. Koehlar and Mishra have identified a long string of competencies that are required for effective teaching with technology and it’s fair to say that all of us are better at some than we are others. My response here is that many hands make light work, and that by utilising your coaches you can cover this complex terrain quite well. An Instructional Technologies Coach will likely have less content knowledge than the teacher but more technological knowledge. Most coaches come from a teaching background and many retain at least a partial teaching load and so both the teacher and coach should have good pedagogical knowledge. The common language and knowledge area in which teachers and coaches can meet then is on the teaching and learning, that is going to take place.

It is important to note that throughout the process of identifying technologies that might transform the learning, the learning itself might change and it is the responsibility of the unit planning team to ensure that the content knowledge still addresses the prescribed SOI and assessments.

Using the RAT framework to evaluate the level of integration

When new approaches to teaching and learning through the use of technology have been identified by the teachers and coach, it is useful to identify the level of integration that has been achieved. There are many frameworks for assessing how successfully technology has been integrated, but a couple of years ago I was convinced to adopt the RAT model. It is simpler than most models whilst containing the essential elements for sufficient measurement and reflection, which is perfect when you are working across multiple frameworks like this.

The RAT model identified three levels of integration, outlined in the image below:

Figure 4: Teaching and Learning with Technology: An Executive Summary, IBO

This reflection is an important step in realising what is being achieved with technology, and should be documented. Our primary school currently maintains a ‘Technology Integration log’ which allows our primary school coach, teachers and administrators to see how teaching and learning is being changed by the technologies we are using.

Figure 5: Technology Log created by our primary school coach

Using Levels of Collaboration to Identify the Support Required

When we have determined the technology that is being used, coaches should identify the level of support that is required by the teachers involved. Another way of thinking about this is, by how much does the teacher need to collaborate with the coach to achieve the integration?

High – Full Collaboration
Full collaboration involves co-planning the learning process and team teaching when the technology is in use.

Medium – Coaching
Coaching involves providing ‘just-in-time’ training on the technologies in use and some assistance on planning and resource development.

Low – Mentoring
Mentoring involves offering help and advice as required but all or some teachers are capable of successfully integrating the technology into their teaching and learning and supporting one another.

By identifying the level of support required by each staff member, an idea of how intensive the unit is going to be on the coaches time can be drawn. Overlapping units that consist of high levels of collaboration should be avoided or teachers may not receive enough support.

Bringing it into the Middle School Planning Process

To recap, we have identified three frameworks for having a conversation with coaches throughout curriculum planning and development:

  • The TPACK Framework, which allows us to identify the knowledge domains required by teacher and coach to identify opportunities for technology integration into the teaching and learning.
  • Use of the RAT framework to identify the level of integration that is occurring.
  • The language of levelled collaboration to identify the level of support that will be required by the coach.

The final challenge is to identify where this all fits into the planning cycle. In the MYP unit planner, teachers identify the concepts and contexts that lead them to crafting the statement of inquiry, inquiry questions, objectives, assessments and content before considering the learning process’ that will take place. This much can be done prior to inviting the coach into the planning process as the teachers apply their pedagogical content knowledge to determine the knowledge and skills that are essential learning for success in the planned assessments, and the best pedagogical structures for successful teaching and learning to take place. Once this is done, the conversation is ready to move towards how technology could be integrated to enhance the learning process.

Figure 6: Coaches begin working with teachers to identify opportunities for learning enhancement through technology during the learning process planning stage.

Once the technology use has been mapped, coaches should utilise some of the reflection time prior to teaching the unit to identify the training and support that will be required and the scheduling and booking of equipment. Reflective conversations can then continue during and after the unit. I have detailed questions that might crop up at these stages in a copy of the unit planner below.

Figure 7: Reflection questions for coach/teacher conversations prior to, during and after the unit.

Overall, these frameworks combine to give a pretty good picture of the coaching process during curriculum planning and development. In the diagram below I have attempted to outline this process alongside the teaching process to highlight the interactions that will happen throughout.

Figure 8: The combined processes of teacher and coach during curriculum planning and development.

Festive Turtle Art

A Christmas tree drawn with Python Turtle

This month I have been working with one of our technology superstars in the mathematics department to see if we could enhance a preexisting unit on angles by introducing the students to the Turtle library in Python. Each lesson would begin with a structured introduction to the math, followed by either an introduction to new Turtle commands or a deconstruction of an existing Turtle program and finally a challenge that required students to draw a word, shape or pattern.  For building the challenges we are using Repl.It

The students took to the code a lot faster than we expected, which I think is a credit to the work being done in our primary school. The students already have three years of block based coding experience under their belt and my general impression from time spent within classes was that the students were very well prepared for transitioning to typed code.

To celebrate our students successes and the approach of the winter holidays, we challenged students to create some festive art using the knowledge and skills they have learned throughout the unit so far. The code for the christmas tree drawing shown above was shared with the students and deconstructed to introduce the functions in Python Turtle and to revisit the idea of a loop. 

The tree could be broken down into the following four parts, each of which allowed us to discuss a little math, and a little syntax in Python Turtle:

  • The tree trunk – This was a simple square drawn once; it allowed us to remind students of the use of loops in Python Turtle.
  • The green triangle – This was defined as a function and called three times. It was the most complex block of code as it involved writing a function that called a loop and used the correct exterior angles for an equilateral triangle (See code below)
  • The star – This was an interesting block of code because it involved looping five times and again turning the value of an exterior angle for a five point star. I was happy to be teaching alongside a mathematics teacher when introducing this shape!
  • The baubles – These were a single function to draw and fill a circle, that was called at random locations around the tree.