Digital literacy – A communities’ responsibility

Digital literacy – A communities’ responsibility

Image source: Unsplash

The new Australian Curriculum rightly demands that all students become digitally literate and learn coding, as both will be crucial for future job opportunities. But this is easier said than done in an already crowded curriculum. Without appropriate support, schools with limited resources will struggle to deliver on this admirable but ambitious goal.

The “Embracing the Digital Age” project is a key component of the Australian government’s National Science and Innovation Agenda. Designed to establish Australia as a global leader in science and innovation, the project aims to ensure young Australians are highly digitally literate and have the necessary digital skills to thrive and prosper in the future workforce.

Demand for digital literacy in the workforce is already high. The recent Foundation for Young Australians New Work Order report series showed a 212 per cent increase in demand for digital literacy skills by current employers. The new Digital Technologies curriculum, which will be compulsory in all schools by 2018, has the capacity to help meet this demand. Designed to develop computational thinking, design thinking, systems thinking and problem solving in all students from Prep to Year 10, the curriculum provides a robust guide to follow.

But for teachers, schools and school leaders, it raises a lot of questions and builds a lot of pressure.

The Australian Curriculum is already bursting at the seams, so where does this new element sit in a full curriculum? The new curriculum’s rationale states that “deep knowledge and understanding of digital systems” are needed. However, a jam-packed curriculum only promotes breadth, not depth. Throw in the pressure for schools to perform well on high stakes testing such as Naplan and developing depth and understanding in areas outside literacy and numeracy become much more challenging.

The specialist thinking, skillsets and language required by the Digital Technologies curriculum are also posing a bigger challenge for schools. Who will teach it? How will we teach it? While some schools are lucky enough to have teachers with the necessary expertise and passion, this isn’t the case at every school. Kevin Rudd’s Digital Education Revolution (DER) was designed to bridge the device access and infrastructure gap between schools, but are we now facing another divide? Is access to staff with extensive digital expertise and pedagogical capacity the new digital divide?

As it currently stands, schools and teachers without the specialised expertise or experience must learn on the fly and offer engaging, robust programs that teach students how to code or deal with big data. While there are a plethora of fantastic resources and training available, is this enough to deliver on Victorian Education Minister James Merlino’s requirement that all Victorian students learn to code?

For the National Science and Innovation agenda to succeed, these resources and programs aren’t enough. Nor should this responsibility fall solely at the feet of schools and teachers. Developing our nation’s future innovators and thinkers is a collective responsibility and it really does take a village.

So How Might We bridge the digital expertise and skill divide within our schools so that all learners, teachers and students have equity of access?

Firstly, schools need to look is in their own backyard. What parental expertise do you have in your community? Who can you bring into the conversation? Our diverse school communities offer a tremendous array of perspectives and experiences and schools need to find positive ways to harness them to foster community around this challenge.

Schools have always been great hubs for community engagement and in the space of digital technologies, we can look to communities like Connected Community HackerSpace (www.hackmelbourne.org) or Footscray Maker Lab (http://footscraymakerlab.com/) for inspiration. Outside of the school community, there are also fantastic not-for-profit organisations such as Code the Future (http://www.codefuture.org/) and the Tech Girls Movement (http://www.techgirlsmovement.org/). Driven by social good and not profit makes them the perfect companion for schools struggling to bridge the divide.

The Digital Technologies curriculum is a good step forward for Australian schools but schools need support to deliver on its admirable aspirations. The mecca of digital innovation, Silicon Valley, began and grew thanks to a rich community of hobbyists and electronic enthusiasts. It is with ‘community’ in mind that schools and their wider networks can help inspire our future innovators and disrupters.

In my next post, I’ll share my school’s 3D printing journey. A journey not possible without partnership.

A way to breathtaking truth and discovery

A way to breathtaking truth and discovery

Header image source: Unsplash

So often the daily practice of writing can seem frustrating and lack purpose. There are the days that the words flow and there are the days that my brain goes missing in action. One of the ways that I jolt my writing into action is by typing up my post it notes from the books I read. The process serves many purposes. I re-engage with the ideas of great authors and do so at a pace that allows the words to percolate as I type them. I start to see patterns between ideas from one author and another and from there I start to create new meaning. I use the great thinking of others to look further.

Continuing my sticky note addiction

If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders [sic] of Giants
Isaac Newton

Newton’s statement is pretty famous and one I thought was his own original quote. It comes from the latin “nanos gigantum humeris insidentes which means “discovering truth by building on previous discoveries“. This is exactly what I try to do with my writing process. I try to discover truth by building on the previous discoveries of intellectual giants. So much of what we learn starts with riffing on the ideas of others. In education, intellectual giants like John Dewey, Maria Montessori and Seymour Papert, still influence modern day thinking on pedagogy, curriculum and technology. This “copying” of thinking is not plagiarism. Austin Kleon calls this “reverse engineering”. There is a reason the words and thinking of giants jump out at us. There is a reason I sticky note particular passages in the books I read. The words are speaking to me. Unpacking the words is the first step towards new truth and discovery. Copying is our mirror neurons in action. We imitate when we first start creating.

“Start copying what you love. Copy, copy, copy, copy. At the end of the copy, you will find yourself.”
Yohji Yamamoto

Being a guitar player, I copy riffs that I love. I learn them not to pass them off as my own but to influence my own style. I learn them because they connect with me musically and emotionally. These discoveries are allowing me to discover new truths, and to see further. Once you have seen further, then it is your duty to allow others to stand on your shoulders and see further. This is the often the part where imposter syndrome kicks in and start to think like the two wise men below.

Image source: http://www.okmoviequotes.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/3-Waynes-World-quotes.jpg

Creating starts with copying. Our influences drive our initial thinking. The key part is to delve deeper and to explore those who influenced your influences. Read the books they quote or the research they highlight. Delve deeper into the giants they stood upon. Doing this will allow you to develop your own voice.

Just remember…

If you copy from one author, it’s plagiarism, If you copy from many, it’s research.
Wilson Mizner

Enjoy the research. Enjoy the view. You are worthy.

This is your Captain speaking…A tale of true leadership.

This is your Captain speaking…A tale of true leadership.

I was on a flight from San Antonio to Dallas recently that was delayed for a long period of time. This normally leads to unease amongst the passengers as the prospect of missing a connecting flight or not getting home on time to see loved ones becomes a real possibility. In the larger scheme of life, it doesn’t matter but I don’t judge in this situation as I know what it feels like. A large part of the frustration stems from a combination of no control and poor communication.

This flight was different.

Normally information is communicated by the Captain from the confines of the cockpit. A faceless voice from the wilderness. Captain Bob was different. He spoke to the passengers on the steward’s intercom while standing in the middle of the aisle of the small plane in full view of all passengers. He communicated the situation with clarity, unpacking air safety protocol and jargon into plain speak for all to understand. He spoke with empathy, apologising for the impact on us, our time and our family. The clarity and sincerity of the Captain’s communication demonstrated the utmost of respect for the passengers. Many passengers would possibly miss connecting flights but there was no grumbling and complaining from those onboard. We know airlines will never compromise on safety. As much as we may complain about them, we totally support that dedication to our safety. The display from Captain Bob was a great example of a leader communicating the challenges being faced and the possible paths forward. The constant communication continued throughout the flight and his team echoed his clear and empathic sentiments. They constantly checked on connecting flights. They did not charge for food or drink. They came together to meet a common goal and totally supported the leadership of their Captain. The Captain even called on each of us to think of our fellow passengers who had connecting flights to catch and to allow them to leave the plane first. Many people did miss their connecting flights and you can normally cut the tension with a knife when this is the case. This flight was different. Passengers thought about each other. Passengers understood exactly what was happening and what was being done about it. Passengers were treated with respect and responded with the same in return.

True leadership in action.

A true leader leads with EMPATHY and communicates with CLARITY.

A true leader RESPECTS the people they lead.

A true leader works WITH people to serve a common goal.

A true leader is SEEN.

 

Great learning happens when teachers get out of the way of students

Great learning happens when teachers get out of the way of students

Photo by Jens Lelie
I’m hearing this constantly on Twitter following some powerful student Ignite speeches at the recent ISTE conference in San Antonio. The implication that great student learning only happens when teachers get out of the way is a false dichotomy. It implies that the students succeed despite us. I bet behind the scenes for all of those amazing students, there was a powerful and passionate teacher and supporter. Whether this is a school teacher, a parent, a friend, a brother, a cousin, whomever, everyone needs a supporter, coach, or teacher. A great teacher will impact learning. A great teacher doesn’t put a ceiling on a student’s potential. Students need great teachers. I am a massive advocate for learner-centred pedagogy and curriculum but there must be a balance. In the “The Child and the Curriculum”, John Dewey calls for a balance between the curriculum and the child. Neither should dominate. It is a democratic balance. Too skewed in the child direction “minimises the importance of the content as well as the role of the teacher.” 

The role of the pedagogue

Pedagogy is defined as “leading children to a place where they can learn for themselves”. This leading can be done from any position. By their side, in front, behind or from afar. Great pedagogues use an arsenal of tools to lead students to a place where they can learn for themselves. Pedagogues provide a hand up. They throw learning curveballs. They meddle in the middle. They sage on the stage. They guide by the side. The key is knowing when to switch the roles. Knowing what toolset to pull from the pedagogical toolkit to assist students in learning for themselves. 

Do great teachers get in the way? Yes…when they need to.

Do great teachers get out of the way? Yes…when they need to

Finding your true authentic creative voice

Finding your true authentic creative voice

“If you take the process of creativity seriously, it has no shortcuts. You need to wait for authenticity. The discomfort is always there.”
Jad Abumrad – Founder of Radiolab

We all have our heroes. Creative individuals who make the creating of art seem easy. The quality of their work inspires you in one breath and stalls you with another. We see them way up at the top of the creative mountain and we’re stuck right down the bottom. The gap is enough to deflate you. Enough to make you not want to start the climb.

But don’t walk away.

Just start.

Megan McArdle writes in her book, “Up and Down”, that “it is easy to begin once you have accepted that what you produce may not be very good, and that is normal”. Giving in to the idea that your first attempts at climbing the creative mountain won’t be very good is liberating. Every first iteration needs work. Think of the work your students hand you. How often is the first draft a masterpiece? Pixar is an incredibly creative organisation and they say that ALL their movies are terrible when they first begin. It takes time and dedication to make the beauty appear from a first draft. It is step by step with no shortcuts. “Ask anybody doing truly creative work, and they’ll tell you the truth: They don’t know where the good stuff comes from,” Austin Kleon writes in Show your work, “they just show up to do their thing. Every day.” If you are wanting to do creative work, you need to do it every day.

The challenge with truly creative work is that the journey can be a lonely road. You toil away every day and there seems to be little interest. You have days where you question why you continue to pursue it. You have days where the creative work just doesn’t flow. It is not as good as you want it to be. Don’t fret.

“The first couple of years that you are making stuff, the stuff you are making is disappointing. Most everyone who does interesting creative work, the most important is to do a large volume of work. The work you create will then be as good as your ambitions”
Ira Glass – The Gap

A study conducted by Professor Dean Simonton shared by Adam Grant in the Originals supports this.

“Simonton finds on average, creative geniuses weren’t qualitatively better in their fields than their peers. They simply produced a greater volume of work, which gave them more variation and a higher chance of originality. “The odds of producing an influential or successful idea,” Simonton notes are a “positive function of the total number of ideas generated.”
Adam Grant – Originals

The key is to produce more work.

Every day, create more work. I can attest to this. I have written so much lately (over 50,000 words in two and a half months) and a large amount of that is just crap. Straight up garbage. Amongst the garbage though are ideas worth iterating on. Good starts. This post alone has been rewritten about 7 or 8 times. To get it right, I just had to keep going. One move at a time.

Creative work is as much a battle against ourselves as it is a battle against the generation of original thought. Everyone is their own toughest critic. We all face insecurity. Feel like a fraud, an imposter at times. Being in our own heads all the time can stunt your creative output. Get out of your head and get your idea/s out there. Do as Seth Godin says and “ship it”. Talk outside of your head with someone on that idea. It is this process that helps you improve it. Constant self-editing and analysing stunts growth. Create, share, feedback, create, share, feedback. A great story or artwork is hardly ever created in one sitting. It is an ongoing dance.

To help you develop your ideas, take Austin Kleon’s advice

“Chew on one thinker – writer, artist, activist, role model – you really love. Study everything there to know about that thinker. Then find three people that thinker loved, and find out everything about them. Climb up the tree as far as you can go. Once you build your tree, it’s time to start your own branch”

Everyone starts out as a cover band. We are the product of our influences. The key is to continue to do it. Day in and day out. The great ideas aren’t gifts from the heavens above. They are the product of dedication and hard work. While you may feel like the top of the creative mountain is too far away, the journey to the top is the same for everyone. One move at a time.

 

“Don’t walk away from the mountain”

Srinivas Rao – Unmistakeable Creative

Your voice will come.

 

Be wary of the power of your words

Be wary of the power of your words

I remember it clearly. Even though it was 32 years ago, I can remember it just like it was yesterday. While the memory has faded into the background of my subconscious, it had a tremendous impact on the person I became.

I was born in Ireland and as you do in Ireland, I was playing Gaelic football for our local team. It was my first year playing and I was completely out of my depth. My cousin was the star of the main team and I was just glad to be playing in his vicinity. As one of the youngest players, I rode the bench. I wasn’t too fussed as I was still more interested in Spiderman than kicking a ball around the place.

The game that shook me to my core was played in Enniscorthy, a little town in the south-east of Ireland. I arrived at the game with no expectations of playing. I hadn’t played a game yet so why would this game be different. We gathered in a cold change room (even for Ireland) and waited for the team to be read out. Back in those days, the jerseys were handed out by the coach out of a large plastic bag. The jerseys looked heavy. I didn’t know as I had never worn one. I sat on changeroom benches and listened.

And then it happened.

I was pointed to and handed a jumper. I was stunned. That thing was on in no time and I stood there proud as punch, smiling at everyone. Wait till my Dad sees me I thought.

And then it all came crashing down.

The coach looked at me and said words that I can still hear.

“What are you doing wearing that. Get it off. You’re not good enough to play.” 

Everyone laughed.

I was 7 years old. I didn’t cry. It cut deeper than that. I watched the rest of the game on the sideline in a daze. Now approaching 40, I remember that day as clear as if it was yesterday. Those words. That tone. The laughter.

Great lessons from poor leaders

You learn as much from poor leaders as you do great leaders. I learnt valuable lessons that day. I learnt how NOT to speak to people. I learn how NOT to be a role model. As a grown man now, I say that no person should be spoken to like this, let alone a 7-year-old. Our words and actions can have a huge impact on the lives of young people. Beyond the interaction, those words are taken inward and stew. The rise in depression in men is evidence of this. To young men, we say “man up”, “harden up”, “grow some balls” but this is wrong. As men, we need to stand up and raise young men who can be open to talking, are respectful and truly value our role in raising good humans. This is done by leading by example. This is done by speaking with respect.

Today, I never speak to students/young people that way EVER. I pay them the courtesy they deserve. I listen with no judgement. I smile and encourage. I value my role in raising good humans. While I am thankful (now) for that experience, there is no place in my world for that type of interaction.

Be wary of the power of your words. Never underestimate the impact your words can have on young people. Break the cycle by speaking with respect and integrity.

I was inspired to write this post after reading Benjamin Hardy’s great post on fears and emotional blocks

 

 

Want to actually have breakthrough success? Develop a daily habit!

Want to actually have breakthrough success? Develop a daily habit!

And just like that, it was gone!

It had such promise. It had been on your mind forever and you were determined that this time you had its measure. But it eluded you…again…as it always does. As the excuses pile up; “Life got in the way”,  “I ran out of time”, “It just wasn’t meant to be”, you reflect and are downtrodden.

Why does this happen every time?

Why can I not achieve this?

 

If this sounds like you, you are not alone. 

The path to mastery is long and winding. It is a blank canvas filled with hopes and dreams and no matter what your goals are, you begin with zest and determination and work hard for the first few days and/or weeks.  Then the motivation wanes, the determination disappears and the temptation takes over.  Sound familiar? What if you are going about the process of reaching your goal the wrong way?  What if you are setting yourself up to fail?  According to Art Markman, a cognitive scientist, the author of Smart Change and co-host of the “Two guys on your head” podcast, the process that most people use to try to achieve their goals is the perfect recipe for failure. Gyms, personal trainers, companies who sell weight loss products rely on this formula. So how do you set yourself up for success? The key to success according to Markman is to understand how your brain works, especially the motivational system.

 

How motivation works

Our brains are primed to allow us to succeed but are also on the flipside of that are primed for energy preservation and efficiency.  This is achieved by automating behaviours in the form of habits. Ever arrived home after a familiar drive remembering nothing about it? It felt like you were on autopilot. You may take the same way home every day on your drive and as a result, you don’t need to make conscious decisions about this. It is a habit. It is our brain’s autopilot. An incredibly efficient system designed to reduce the workload of our brains to preserve energy. Now, what happens if there are roadworks blocking your normal route home? All of a sudden, your brain needs to engage and make decisions on the fly and this requires energy to do this.  The autopilot is disengaged and you take back the wheel.  Habits allow us to use mental energy in the right spaces.

 

Positive habits to achieve your goals

Markman says we have two circuits that assist with motivation and sustainable behaviours.   He calls them the “Go system” and the “Stop system”.  Understanding the key components of our motivational system and how to utilise them to use our energy in the right spaces is essential to achieving personal goals.  The Go system has two parts – one which outputs effort to allow us to develop new behaviours and the other which automates the behaviours we do often in a more energy efficient way by way of habit development.

The Go system associates certain times and places with certain behaviours.  Do you go pull your phone out while riding on the train or put your bag in a certain place when you walk in the door?  These frequent patterns of behaviour are on autopilot and help us with decision fatigue. The Stop system is our ‘brakes’ system. This system requires mental energy and mental energy is a finite source. This is why all of our hard work comes apart in the afternoon. Our brains are tired and so the mental energy required to make the right choice is not there.  Trying to change a pattern of behaviour by constantly riding the brakes is not sustainable. We run out of energy this way. The key, is to find ways to make the behaviour we wish to develop, a habit. Create a trigger that prompts that behaviour. Build an environment which promotes this behaviour.

 

Move from aspiring to practicing

The Go system is all about habits. The Stop system is all about goals. In this great Farnam Street blog post from Shane Parish, he highlights the power of habits over goal setting in the pursuit of excellence. Goals have “endpoints and require willpower and self-discipline”. Habits once formed are automatic. They are easy to complete. This is so on the money. Writing for me has always been a passion. I was, like Joshua Fields Milburn from the Minimalists, an aspiring writer. Always aspiring to write but never actually getting it done. I set myself goals of one blog post a week which seemed like a pretty reasonable target but I rarely achieved it. The #youredustory challenge helped me do it for one year but I dropped the ball after that. The writing was hard. I would sit down and nothing would come out. I struggled for content. Since I started writing 750 words daily, I have written over 50,000 words in two months. That’s a book worth right there. Through the habit, I have written two and sometimes three blog posts a week. My work writing is easier. The words just flow. Now, not all of this writing is brilliant but there are speckles of gold in there and it feels natural every day. To start writing is easy. To finish is easy. I sit down and it just happens. This was not the case when I set goals to write. My dream has changed from aspiring to write a book to writing a book. I have applied the same changes to exercise, meditation and reading. I do them daily at the same time (most days) and it feels unnatural not to do them. I have harnessed my Go system and made the process easier. It is the power of incrementalism. One step, every day and you get to where you want to get to.