Bullying – an epidemic

It’s been a while since I have posted. I took a break from twitter and blogging – but I’m back! 🙂

I’m going to write about something that is very close to my heart and something that I have experienced. It’s something that has left a mark on me from childhood right into adulthood. Bullying. It has been around for a long time and comes in many guises. Bullying can be physical, verbal or indirect, you can be excluded and intimidated, these are all forms of bullying. The latest manifestation of bullying is – cyberbullying and it is unfortunately becoming more and more common.

Bullying occurs when an individual is targeted repeatedly in a harmful manner and the victim feels powerless to stop the interaction (Raskauskas, 2009; Olweus, 1999). There is common agreement between researchers that bullying includes a number of elements, those being physical, verbal and mental abuse and repeated attacks on a person occurring despite the absence of incitement by the victim (Besag, 1989; Pearce, 1991; Smith and Thompson, 1991; Sharp and Smith, 1994).

Many children and teenagers experience bullying and some teachers and adults treat it as a matter of course. Sometimes the child is told to confront the bully and sometimes there is an intervention by the adults involved. I have tried both routes. I have stood up for myself and that didn’t help. As a child and teenager adults intervened and that didn’t help. In both cases things got much worse. I’m not sure why but I think it’s because to a certain extent bullying is accepted in our society. Many schools are rife with bullying even though they profess to have ‘anti-bullying policies’ and a hard stance against any bullying going on. Research however shows that adult-bullying takes place in many schools (and many other workplaces) and research supports that when bullying is tolerated at staff level it is often ignored or not appropriately dealt with at student level. 

Teachers often experience bullying in the form of peer manipulation whereby a teacher or a number of teachers are excluded by a core group of teachers through the spreading of gossip, being excluded from conversations and the withdrawal of friendship leading to an intimidating work atmosphere (Crick and Grotpeter, 1995; Wolke, Woods, Bloomfield and Kartstadt, 2000). Bullying is often subtle at this level and difficult for the victim to prove as a group engaging in bullying behaviour will often close ranks. Bullying is a global issue and literature relevant to bullying and anti-bullying policies in schools makes it clear that bullying is  widespread and similar problems exist in addressing it appropriately within a school context globally.

Input from parents, teachers, the victim and the person engaging in bullying behaviour are all pertinent in attempting to solve the issue. It has been suggested that those who engage in bullying behaviour do so because they accept bullying as a part of life and, as they have a negative view of the victim, they see nothing wrong with bullying (Patterson, 2005). Frequent and prolonged exposure to bullying behaviours can have a detrimental effect on the well-being and mental health of an individual (Ozkan et al., 2010). When teachers take an active interest in their pupils and show concern bullying incidents decrease (Lee et al., 2008). Social, emotional and academic development for both the bully and the victim are negatively affected by bullying (Ozkan et al., 2010). There is evidence that those who engage in bullying behaviour are often at high risk of developing depression (Patterson, 2005). The input of the principal in a school influences the success or failure of anti-bullying policies (O’Moore & Minton, 2005). Bullying affects almost all children at some point in their school lives, they may be the victim, the person engaging in bullying behaviour or a bystander, it is an issue that impacts on the mental health and well-being of many children and adults on a daily basis (Elsea & Smith, 1998).

An intervention carried out in Norway in the mid-80s targeted bullying at whole school, class and individual levels and proved successful. Three years after the intervention further research was carried out to evaluate the programme, results showed that schools which had continued to with the interventions had less bullying than those schools which did not continue with the intervention (Eslea & Smith, 1998).

It is important to remain cognitive of the subtle nature of bullying. Bullying is deliberate and cannot be perpetrated accidentally. Bullying is an aspect of child culture that is both common and entirely unacceptable. Children who are different in any way from the core groups that have formed within the classroom culture are often excluded and become targets for physical and or verbal bullying. Pollard (2009) asserted that adult intervention must take place and that this intervention must be sensitive to the realities of the social situation of the child culture as if this culture is not taken into consideration then the intervention can be more damaging than positive.

The Education Act (1998) states that school policies must support equality of access and participation. Schools must ensure that there is an anti-bullying policy in place to ensure a safe and nurturing atmosphere for pupils.  The NCCA Intercultural Guidelines (2005) state that through their primary school education children will learn to recognise discrimination and learn how to empathise with the position of the victim and the perpetrator in the bullying situation. Through the application of the Intercultural Guidelines (2005) children will gain a deeper understanding of the effects of bullying and appreciate that discrimination can adopt many forms. Discrimination is not based on culture, ethnicity and religious belief alone. 

The primary school curriculum emphasises the importance of educating children about bullying. The primary school SPHE curriculum (1999) highlights the importance of enabling children to recognise bullying behaviours and teaches them that bullying is always unacceptable. Children are taught that bullying is harmful and that if they are being bullied or if they know of someone else who is being bullied there are certain steps that must be taken. The approach that teachers take in the lessons they deliver should be informed by the schools anti-bullying policy which should be reviewed regularly and adapted in order to keep it current.

Emotional intelligence (EI) and the development of same at all levels is hugely significant in addressing bullying concerns. Having emotional intelligence refers to the ability to understand the emotions of others and being able to control ones’ own emotions (Mayer & Mitchell, 1998). Studies have shown that there is a link between the EI of leaders and the effectiveness of their organisations (Rosete and Ciarrochi 2005, Codier et al. 2008). Developing EI throughout the school is significant on several different levels: research has shown that children who display bullying behaviour towards their peers are six times more likely to have criminal records as young adults than their less aggressive peers (Hoover and Oliver, 1996). By investing time into developing EI in these students this could perhaps be avoided leading to the child addressing the issues which cause him to bully and making him more aware of his own feelings and the feelings of others.

Training programmes to develop EI would be beneficial to teachers at staff level and would enable them to develop these skills in the children they teach. Teachers would benefit from training in the identification of bullying behaviours and the changes that one might observe in a child that is being bullied. If teachers were capable of recognising these signs then they would be better equipped to prevent bullying from taking place.

Training should be provided to enable teachers to support children in resolving bullying issues. The teacher should be trained to support both the victim and the child displaying the bullying behaviour. Whole school and class based activities should be facilitated to address the role of the bystander.  The bystanders should be taken into account as they play an important role where bullying is concerned. Bystanders may intervene and try to defend the child being bullied alternatively they may passively accept that bullying is taking place or they may join in and reinforce the negative behaviour (Birchmeier, 2009). Many studies have shown that the bystander plays a crucial role in bullying (Aboud and Miller, 2007; Rigby and Johnson, 2006; Lodge and Frydenberg, 2005; Kärnä et al., 2010).

Bullying influences the culture of the school as many children feel they are powerless to stop the bullying that takes place and bullying becomes an accepted norm (Hamarus and Kaikkonen 2008) which forms a negative school culture. Bullying is often misinterpreted and the mere mention of the word can have a negative impact on both pupils and their parents. As a teacher and a mother I am conscious of the ethical implications of addressing an issue as pernicious as bullying and the importance of approaching bullying sensitively for all parties involved.

Many studies have been conducted into the effectiveness of interventions to address bullying and the common consensus is that a systematic whole school approach to effectively prevent and manage all types of bullying behaviour is imperative (Pearce et al., 2011; Homgren et al., 2011; Cross et al., 2011; Watson et al., 2010). When children are left to their own devices to address bullying their choices of interventions are either ineffective or lead to further victimisation (Craig et al., 2007). In recent research Holmgren et al. (2011) investigated the use of role-playing and literature linked with establishing a school wide definition of bullying to prevent and manage bullying behaviours, Holistic interventions have met with mixed success (Eslea and Smith 1998; Smith, Ananiadou, and Cowie 2003). Peer based interventions (Heydenberk and Heydenberk, 2007; Birchmeier, 2009; Aboud and Miller, 2007; Rigby and Johnson, 2006) have proven successful in some cases but have a number of limitations with regard to set up and maintenance and there is a risk that the children involved in the intervention will be targeted and victimised themselves (Watson et al, 2010).

I am of the opinion that a peer based intervention coupled with EI training should be put in place to deter and prevent bullying behaviour from taking place. If students are cognitive of their own feelings and the feelings of others they may be less likely to engage in bullying behaviour. EI training would also impact upon the bystander as they may be less likely to reinforce negative behaviour or stand passively by as someone is bullied. EI training would enable the bystander to process what is happening and realise that they should perhaps approach an adult in order to address the issue.

The peer based intervention could be addressed during SPHE lessons and whole school assemblies. The primary school curriculum (1999) emphasises the importance of educating children about bullying however, the manner in which the lessons are delivered is dependent upon the school’s anti-bullying policy. I believe that if a policy is not regularly updated then it is not at the forefront of educators minds and they are less inclined to spot the important signs that a child is being victimised.

These strategies may impact on the level and frequency of bullying that takes place in the classroom and school yard by encouraging children to accept one another and to work collaboratively together. By ensuring that no cliques are allowed to exist in the classroom teachers would be enabling students to work with children they wouldn’t normally choose to work with. The anti-bullying policy should ensure that these strategies are outlined for staff, students and parents to ensure that the school community are all involved in the implementation of the strategies.

An effective anti-bullying policy for students should be clear. The policy should state clearly what the school hopes to achieve by putting this policy in place. This statement should be closely linked with the school’s own mission statement. The objectives should be placed in measurable terms. An effective policy would outline not alone what the school hopes to achieve through the policy but also how they hope to achieve it by outlining strategies and interventions they will put in place in the pursuit of the objectives outlined. Any resources or training required to put interventions in place should be outlined in the policy. The policy should state how the interventions and strategies will be monitored and reinforced and should set a time frame for evaluation – by including this in the policy the school is ensuring that the policy is a living document and will be adhered to and reviewed on a regular basis. All stakeholders should be involved in the writing of the policy to ensure that the children, parents, staff and management all have ownership of the policy. The policy must be enforceable and assumptions must be explicit.

Input from the principal and teaching staff of a school influence the success or failure of anti-bullying policies (O’Moore & Minton, 2005). The culture created by the leadership skills of the principal in a school directly impact on teachers job satisfaction and this in turn has an effect on student behaviour and performance (Roland & Galloway, 2004). Input from parents, teachers, the victim and the person engaging in bullying behaviour are all pertinent to solving the issue.

 

The Principal plays a pivotal role in eradicating a school culture in which bullying has become the ‘norm’. Teaching methods should be based on a common understanding with the principal and should support appropriate school policies. Gruenert (2006) states that bullying is a common phenomenon in schools and highlights that teachers are regularly culprits of bullying behaviour. It is necessary for the school principal to ensure that a bullying culture does not exist at either staff or student level. The school community is responsible for guiding children in resolving relationship conflicts positively so as to avoid bullying situations. Children who are victims of bullying should feel that they can approach a teacher or another adult in the school to voice their concerns and this can only happen if there is a culture of listening and acceptance in the school. The child must feel safe. The victim should feel supported and bullying issues should be dealt with discreetly to avoid placing the child under undue stress.

The victim requires support, as does the child displaying bullying behaviour. Children who experience chronic stressors are more likely to display bullying behaviour (Sharp & Cowie, 1998). Often children who come from homes with family problems are more likely to engage in bullying behaviour than those whose home life is more stable (Roland, 2002). When a child begins to engage in bullying behaviour he begins to view himself as a bully and seeks out opportunities to taunt and victimise other children (Butler & Greene, 1998). If a child identifies himself as a bully then he will continue to engage in bullying behaviour, as he feels powerful in this role. The parents of the child and the teacher must attempt to show the child that this is not the only means of identifying himself and guide him towards the constructive traits he possesses so that he begins to see himself in a positive light. The author believes that this area requires more attention as quite often children who bully are treated as if they have done something wrong and time is not spent finding out the reason behind the behaviour and addressing the underlying issues. 

Bullying is a global issue. It affects many children and adults on a daily basis. Effective anti-bulling policies can prevent and manage bullying situations appropriately to ensure that neither the victim or the child displaying bullying behaviour comes to view themselves negatively. Effective anti-bullying policies protect all involved and provide clear guidelines for all members of the school community to enable consistency at all levels thus giving the policy and procedures credibility and respect in the eyes of all involved.

As a mother I look at my children and I wonder how I will react if the time ever comes when they come home from school crying because somebody hurt their feelings. I worry that someday they will not want to go to school because of how another child or adult is treating them. I don’t ever want them to experience the fear and despair I felt as I approached the school gates. As a society we need to stop accepting bullying both at child and adult level – enough is enough!

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By maggiemulrine

Envisioning an e-vision

Thank goodness for Irish non-Summers – they make studying that little bit easier!

Tonight I hit a bit of a block when I was trying to pull all of my ideas together for my latest assignment. Everything started to get a little hazy and nothing was making sense. My notes were a little more all over the place than normal and everything seemed quite disjointed. I may have panicked (a little).. I may even have considered hiding under the kitchen table (thanks for talking me down – or up @tbbrwn) – but in good old Irish style I put the kettle on and made a cup of tea (Lily O’Brien’s chocolates may also have been involved) and suddenly it all started to come together! The magic of tea!

One of the ideas I was writing about was how to encourage and support teachers in using technology in the classroom. I was looking at this idea in a whole school context and was exploring the use of an e-learning plan and a vision for supporting e-learning (and thus ICT integration)  in schools. The vision that I would hope for may be a little conservative… but here goes – I would hope that: e-Learning would make the best use of ICT to enrich, support and extend learning across and beyond the curriculum, working towards improving attainment, enabling personalisation of learning and ensuring the development of 21st century skills for both teachers and learners.

Although an e-learning plan and vision can be useful – they are only useful in the school is committed to carrying them through! The educational philosophy to which a school subscribes can influence how ICT is integrated. Principals and teachers are key to the success of these plans! The plans need to be living and constantly evolving – not just printed off and placed in a folder never to be seen again!

Not all teachers are comfortable with technology and using something you are not comfortable with can be a daunting prospect – but teachers need to stay current to engage their students. The role of the teacher is changing and we are no longer the fountains of all knowledge. Continuing professional development is a must and if teachers will not engage in CPD outside of school then it is the responsibility of the principal to bring that CPD into the school.

Supporting staff in the use of ICT is hugely important in ensuring that ICT is integrated throughout the school and across the curriculum. . If staff are not confident users of ICT they may choose not incorporate it into their teaching as they may not want to risk showing a lack of knowledge in front of their pupils. Papert (1999) envisions a school where teachers and students learn together. The role of the teacher in the traditional sense is defunct in this vision. The teacher is not the disseminator of information but a facilitator of learning who brings perspective to the task at hand.

Papert’s theory of constructionism reminds us that the gathering of information and the act of simply accepting the beliefs of others is much less important than the construction of  our own knowledge and the finding of our own voices. Papert’s theory builds on Piaget’s theory of constructivism. The theory of constructivism purports that learners build knowledge through internalising actions. Constructionism builds on this in that Papert believes that this internalisation of knowledge is enhanced by the learner creating an artefact to represent their learning. Papert refers to these artefacts as ‘objects-to-think-with’  and reasons that through discussion and sharing of ideas with others knowledge becomes deeper and self-directed learning is enhanced.

If I were given the task of creating an e-learning plan for schools and with creating a model of CPD for teachers I would hope to develop a knowledge building community (Chang, 2003) in a knowledge sharing setting (Scardamalia et al. 1992) with the support of web 2.0 tools. I would hope that staff would support one another and share best practice. I would anticipate that the facilitation of this support system for the integration of ICT would encourage reflective practice and nurture 21st century skills, such as collaboration, critical thinking and problem solving (in teachers and students).

These however are just my thoughts – and I would love to hear your ideas on this – so please leave a comment and extend my thinking further :).

By maggiemulrine

Learning about learning!

Yet another late night sitting in front of my laptop tapping on the keys and trying to make sense of all of the information I have read over the last few weeks. I have drank several (dozen) cups of coffee and eaten my weight in biscuits (study makes me hungry!) and I have thoroughly enjoyed each and every document that I have come across.

The topic is ICT integration and I have covered a diverse range of material in my quest for understanding. I have read papers on ICT integration and leadership, e-Learning, digital citizenship, ICT and teacher attitudes, ICT and teacher training, ICT and student experiences. I’ve researched the learning theories of Jean Piaget, Lev Vygotsky, Seymour Papert and John Dewey and I’ve attempted to understand their theories in the context of my own teaching and indeed my own learning. I’ve read countless blogs including: @timbuckteeth, @coolcatteacher, @TeachingBlogAdd, @eschoolnews to name but a few. I have e-journals coming out my ears and my laptop is begging me to stop opening document after document after document. Earlier as I opened yet another e-book my laptop went on strike – it froze and had a little rest to gather strength for what it knew would be a long night ahead. Google and I are best buddies and that little search engine must be running out of steam at this stage with all the search terms I’ve input in the last few weeks.The EdIT library has spent endless hours searching for and returning e-journals to me only to have me place more requests. I have downloaded every government publication with regard to ICT in education that I could find and now I only have one problem – how do I take all of this information and bring it together in a cohesive, coherent understanding of the topic?!

I have gathered information, I have analysed that information – now I need to synthesise the information. I am going to have to break down everything that I’ve read and build it all up again to construct my own understanding. When I’m trying to learn or understand something I talk to myself (a lot)! So much so that sometimes my husband walks into the room to see who I’m having a conversation with. I find that by reading the information and talking to myself about it as I attempt to understand it, it begins to become clearer. When I read aloud and discuss the strengths and limitations of a paper with my learner self (two of me… scary prospect!) I develop a deeper understanding of the content. I draw diagrams – which probably don’t make sense to anyone else but me – this makes the information personal to my own learning. I regularly use mindmaps to help me to understand where I have started and where I am going. I write and type as I’m reading. I keep notes – that also would not make sense to anyone else but me – I scrawl all over my notepad. I draw arrows and squiggles and clouds to connect ideas – it’s all very messy!

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It is messy and it is confusing to others who try to make sense of it but it’s the way I learn. It took me a while to figure out how to learn but this style suits me. At secondary school I wasn’t a great student – I found it difficult and uncomfortable to sit for a long period of time. The teaching style was didactic, learning was not made personal, there was no such thing as self-directed learning. We sat, we all were given the same notes, we all turned to the same page in the book, we all took the same tests and critical thinking was not encouraged. We were told what we had to learn – not why we had to learn it. As a teacher myself now I understand that the teachers had a curriculum to deliver and they had a short space of time in which to deliver it. I think my style of teaching has been influenced by my own experience of learning (or not learning) at school. I don’t like quiet classrooms – there are times for quiet but there are more times for noise, talk, discussion, dialogue, problem-solving and project-based learning. I don’t think that children should have to sit for long periods of time listening to me talk – I am not an expert on everything (don’t tell my husband that)! I regularly tell my students that I don’t know everything and they also know that I’m studying and that I probably will continue studying for many years to come. I make them aware that I am a learner just like them. We analyse, we hypothesise, we try… we don’t always get it right but that is all part of the fun of learning.

Anyhow back to my own zany method of learning for me 🙂

Guiding light

The sun was shining today in my particular corner of Ireland and as I sat at my laptop reading through e-journals – highlighting and underlining and adding notes – I kept reminding myself that all this reading will be worth it. My pale Irish skin was also better off inside shaded from the sun anyway – wasn’t it?!

The reading focus of today wasLeadership and ICT integration (still searching for a definition on this one!). There was such a volume of literature but I’m only going to share one of the studies I read today with you as I really enjoyed reading it and it just made sense!

I am going to state the obvious but if a school hopes to achieve any level of ICT integration then leadership is key. A strong leader will assess where the school currently is with regard to ICT integration and create a vision of where the school needs to go next. A carefully designed plan must be created to guide the school on the journey to ICT integration and supports should be put in place for students, teachers and other members of the school community. This premise however assumes that principals or ICT coordinators are comfortable with assessing the needs of the school, creating this vision and supporting others on the journey – so who supports the principal and the ICT coordinators?

Meier & Mineo (2011) recently conducted a study focusing on how ICT integration becomes more probable when supports are put in place for principals. The study showed that cohesive long term processes for ICT integration could be developed when principals were provided with the necessary training and mentoring. During the study principals were mentored by other principals who were successfully leading efforts to integrate technology into their own schools. Teachers demonstrated to the principals how they were using technology in their classrooms to support the development of 21st century skills. The principals involved in the study also had the opportunity to used the technologies themselves during the course of their learning activities. All of these supports enabled the principals to develop an understanding of how technology can support learning and increase understanding for students.

The design of the study was quite simple and the supports put in place for the principals were straight forward and practical. The principals had their eyes opened to the uses and benefits of technology and through using the technology themselves perhaps they lost some of the fear they felt around it. I particularly liked the fact that teachers demonstrated how they used technology with their students and that the principals got advice from other principals – a professional learning network of sorts. As educators we all need to support one another and share resources and best practice – we are all striving for a common goal after all aren’t we? Principals supporting teachers, teachers supporting principals, principals supporting principals – everyone learning all the time 🙂

Video

Engage Me!

How do students feel about 21st century skills? Do your students have to shut down before they come into school? How many schools still have ICT policies that don’t support the development of 21st century skills?

By maggiemulrine

It’s all in the Definition

What does ICT integration mean to you within an educational context?

Does it mean that your school has purchased all the ‘must have’ technologies? Are the computers in your school networked? Do you have policies regarding ICT in place? Does it mean that you have a designated computer room and classes are timetabled to use it once a week? Do you have a computer or two in the classroom that students use for researching their projects? Do you have an iPad? A classroom laptop?  Is there an interactive whiteboard at the top of the room that you use to deliver your lessons from? Do you have access to a digital camera, a dictaphone, a flip-camera? Are your students using web 2.0 tools? Do staff use web 2.0 tools for professional development? Do your students see ICT as an add on? Do the staff in your school see ICT as an add on? Is technology in the classroom and the school the ‘norm’? Can all staff use the tools available to them? Has the school invested in training for staff? Do staff seek training themselves? Is there sharing of best practice at meetings? Does your school support BYOD or are all mlearning devices banned in your school? What does ICT integration mean to your school? Does it mean something different to every school?

I’ve been reading through some of the ICT publications available to Irish schools. The publications recognise the importance of ICT in the education of learners today. 21st century skills are held in high regard and schools are encouraged to ensure the effective integration of ICT into teaching and learning. The report of The Ministers Strategy Group – Investing Effectively in ICT in schools states that it is important that all citizens of Ireland are capable of participating in ‘this digital world’. The report goes on to say that the government recognises the potential offered by the ‘effective integration of ICT into teaching and learning’ and that the government now needs to facilitate further ICT integration – which is commendable is it not? Within the first 25 pages of the document ICT integration is mentioned a whopping 28 times – but I didn’t see a single definition of what ICT integration is (if I missed it please correct me!). I have my own understanding of what ICT integration is and I’m sure you have your own understanding of what ICT integration… but what about a standard definition of what ICT integration is for the school principals and ICT coordinators who are trying to make sure that it’s taking place in their schools?

The NCTE have provided a very user-friendly assessment tool to schools to enable principals and ICT coordinators to ascertain their current state of play with regard to e-learning and provides guidance on where to go next. The e-learning roadmap looks at ICT under the following headings: leadership and planning, ICT and the curriculum, professional development, e-learning culture and ICT infrastructure. There are a number of statements under the headings and they are categorised as follows: initial, e-enabled, e-confident and e-mature. Principals and ICT coordinators can assess where they are, plan where to go next and reassess if they achieved what they set out to do. If schools can tick off every box on the roadmap does that mean that they have successfully integrated ICT? I’m not sure.. I think that there needs to be slightly more guidance in place when it comes to technology (and the future of our students!!!!). Whilst the roadmap is well designed and well thought out it is still depending on the competence of the person who is using it and not all school principals are confident with tech (no matter how user-friendly the roadmap is – for someone lacking confidence it’s just another document pertaining to ICT) and not all schools have ICT coordinators.

I may be living in a bubble and I fully understand that in the CURRENT CLIMATE (a rather over-used phrase of late!) funding isn’t available for everything that we might want. Let’s pretend though .. just for a moment that we live in an ideal world… What if each cluster of schools was assigned a mentor, guide, adviser to help them to follow the e-learning roadmap (I’ve spoken about this in a previous blog post too!). The mentor could visit schools and help them to assess where they are. Schools could be set goals to achieve by the next time the mentor visits. Principals and ICT coordinators could seek advice on policy development (perhaps the policies could actually be living documents that are constantly changing and evolving…instead of printed off documents stored in file folders that never see the light of day). The mentor could group schools for training. Staff meeting times could be used to share best practice and resources could be compiled and shared. The mentor could work with staff to try to achieve ICT integration. This may be happening in some schools around the country but it is not happening in every school and it needs to start happening.

So what is ICT integration? To me ICT integration is everything I have mentioned in this post and more. ICT integration is when technology becomes as banal as a pencil in the classroom and school. ICT has to become embedded in the culture of the school. Technology isn’t magic. It isn’t going to make teachers better at their jobs but it does afford teachers and learners many opportunities. We are urged to make sure ICT integration is taking place in our classrooms and in our schools but I would like to see ICT integration defined so that all schools in Ireland could work towards a common goal.

 

If you would like to let me know how ICT is integrated into your school setting please feel free to contribute to this document: https: //docs.google.com/document/d/1GiSRLnmyydXir7sKcPXBXivoXsWg48gTZhJMqxAWQ4Y/edit

It’s all just a game

‘We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.’

George Bernard Shaw
In recent months I’ve become more aware of games and virtual environments in education. I haven’t used them in the classroom myself yet but when I return to work next term I plan to harness some of the power that is out there to engage and motivate my students. I’m going to attempt to put down a little (very little) of what I have come across so far. I’m still trying to digest all of the information myself so please forgive me if this is a little basic.
Games are influenced by cognitivist, behaviourist and constructivist theories. Games today are more likely to be influenced by the constructivist theory. These games are more complex and require the construction of knowledge – many games such as minecraft and world of warcraft require collaboration. In most games players are assisted with scaffolding in the early levels as the game progresses the challenge or game play increases the levels get harder and there is less scaffolding. These games require the player to learn new skills – problem solving and critical thinking.
The Bill and Mirenda Gates Foundation have made games based learning one of their priorities. They are investing $20 million into games based learning and other technologies which they hope will change the way teachers teach and students learn. Bill Gates spoke of the total immersion that takes place when a child plays a video game – he wants to harness the time and passion children put into video games and use it to promote learning. What the Gates Foundation is proposing to do is quite balanced in that their designers will create games that are aligned with the curriculum. The games will promote problem solving, critical thinking and collaboration. The games will have inbuilt assessment – teachers will be able to view the results as students play – this will enable teachers to pinpoint what areas need more attention and thus inform planning.
James Paul Gee describes video games as just a set of problems – children have to solve those problems in order to win. He purports that teachers teach a certain way because of assessment and that assessment has to change before teaching can. James Gee states that testing will at some point in the future become primitive and that students will use facts and information that they already know to solve problems. Assessment will be integrated with learning. Students will use information in context rather than learning to rhyme off disembodied facts. This video about video games and learning will introduce you to some of James Gee’s thoughts.
Initially games and virtual environments in education came to my attention after I joined Twitter. I started following interesting people and read their tweets and encountered a few more interesting people and read their tweets and so on and so forth. One of the interesting people I encountered was @saorog aka Stephen Howell. I had already heard of Scratch which is pretty amazing in its’ own right but @saorog has made it that bit cooler by developing a piece of software called kinect2scratch which enables data from the microsoft Kinect controller to be sent to Scratch. You can find out more about the man himself and watch some videos of the software he developed in action by clicking on his name.
Another interesting person I follow on Twitter is @MissionVHQ. MissionV is a non-profit organisation which promotes the development of 21st century skills through game based learning and virtual worlds technology. MissionV is in effect developing skills in the students of today for the jobs of tomorrow. The students who take part in projects run by MissionV are being given the opportunity to reach their full potential by bridging the disconnect that they may be experiencing with regard to education and engaging them in learning.
Another interesting @ to follow on Twitter is @Coderdojo. Coderdojo is a free non-profit Irish-led global movement to introduce children to coding. The Dojos are set up and run by volunteers. Children are taught how to develop games, websites and apps and whilst doing so are developing those all important 21st century skills.
Aside from learning that I follow some very interesting people on Twitter I hope that you have found this post informative. I’ve really enjoyed my introduction to games based learning and I know that as of yet I have only skimmed the surface. Click on the links in the post – there are some really interesting things going on out there – you won’t regret taking a look 🙂
By maggiemulrine

Feet up!

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The rain is falling hard outside and the garden is drenched in rain more fitting for November than July. The sound of the rain against the window is soothing and both my children are sleeping. The house is completely silent and at last I can put my feet up.

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In previous posts I have written about a paper I have been writing based on blogging. Just half an hour ago I did a final check of my references and breathed a sigh of relief. It’s finally finished. I have been burning the midnight oil of late (which isn’t advisable with a three month old baby who thinks sleep is for the weak!) trying to get the assignment finished. I have been reading and writing and re-reading and re-writing and to say that I’ve been stressed out is putting it mildly. The assignment is due in on the 20th of this month and I was very concerned that I wouldn’t reach the deadline. I have an incredible knack of going over the word count and it usually takes me several days to cut back on words while trying to retain the original meaning of my paper. I was very proud of myself when I finished with time to spare tonight. I took out the assignment guidelines and had a read over them to make sure that I had fulfilled the criteria and as I scanned the paper one thing stood out…. it was in bold print and it was laughing at me Due date: 30th July 2012.. yes that’s right folks the 30th not the 20th .. the 30th!!!!! Note to self … read guidelines properly next time!!

I’m trying to look on the bright side.. now I can take tomorrow night off. I don’t have to read and I don’t have to write (but let’s face it… I probably will!). This assignment for me was all consuming. As I read the literature germaine to the topic I got drawn in further and further. As a novice blogger I myself am growing acutely aware of the power of blogging. Through blogging and reading the comments my blog posts receive I am more aware of what I write. Blogging encourages bloggers to think more critically about what they are writing and reflect upon input from their audience  to improve their posts, in effect writing becomes public, participatory and is constantly evolving. Blogging challenges us to construct our own understanding of the topic we have chosen to write about.

Next year I will be setting up a classroom blog for my students. I plan to use the classroom blog to support the development of writing skills (amongst other things) in my students. As I was reading for my paper I encountered a lot of evidence in the literature that suggests blogging has a positive influence on student writing. Giving students the opportunity to choose their own topic to research and write about also gives them the opportunity to become co-creators of their own knowledge. Students can research, gather information, synthesise the information and develop their own understanding to create their own knowledge. I am also planning on using the classroom blog for homework activities – which will present challenges – but it’s all a learning curve isn’t it and it’s healthy for my students to see me as a learner.

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For now I am going to pack up my journal articles and shutdown my laptop (maybe!). This assignment has brought it home to me more than ever that students should not ever sit by passively absorbing content – it’s imperative that they are actively and collaboratively shaping that content. Right now however, for tonight at least, I am happy to be passive so passive in fact that hopefully I’ll fall asleep!

By maggiemulrine

Moving forward one step at a time.

Classroom blogs. Focus on integration. Web 2.0 tools must be used within context. All technology must be used within context. Technology in and of itself is not the answer to all educational problems. Teachers should be able to utilise technology effectively. Technology is just another tool. A pencil would be useless if someone didn’t know how to use it – how is technology any different? Curriculum should remain central in planning when using technology. Students are not vessels to be filled with information. Students should be active in constructing their own knowledge. Teachers should act as guides for their students. Scaffolding should be provided to enable the construction of knowledge. Students should be encouraged to become independent thinkers and learners. 21st century skills should be nurtured and developed. Blogging encourages critical thinking and problem solving. Constructivism provides a framework for using technology in productive ways to support student learning. Behaviourism has a place in the use of educational technology. The reinforcing nature of certain technologies support basic behaviourist theory. Digital divide. Digital natives. BYOD. Teacher training. Teacher confidence. Student confidence. Parental support. Cyber-bullying. Blogging. Closed blog. Comments. Feedback. Monitoring. Role of the learner. Role of the teacher…

Welcome to just a small portion of the thoughts running through my slightly manic head tonight! I have read so much about constructing knowledge that I find it slightly ironic that I cannot construct my own!

‘Much learning does not teach understanding.’

Heraclitus

Last night I posted about some of the problems that I had encountered in trying to finish my latest assignment. Those problems still exist but now I’ve thrown a few more in for good measure (I never do anything by halves!!).

Attempting to integrate technology and the use of web 2.0 tools into teaching can be an uphill struggle for many. As I mentioned in a previous post not all teachers are confident or competent in using technology and therefore avoid using it completely. Interactive whiteboards become very high tech whiteboards used only for writing or sometimes for death by powerpoint. The interactive side of these boards is lost completely. Not all teachers are happy to try new teaching styles. To me a quiet classroom is not the way to go- I like a busy classroom. I like to hear ideas and see children engaging with content and getting excited about it. Yes there is definitely a place for quiet times in the classroom but I don’t think that all learning is or should be quiet! Not all teachers would agree with me on this and some might find it difficult to adapt to the noise that can arise during collaborative projects and inquiry based learning. So how can we change this? Teachers cannot be forced to like technology! Forcing change can lead to further resistance… can’t it?!

So if not all teachers are willing to try using technology with the children they teach and if not all teachers are willing to up-skill and pursue CPD courses how can technology be integrated in schools? A classroom at a time? Is it appropriate to have a teacher in one classroom supporting the development of 21st century skills in her students while another teacher down the hall sticks to more traditional instructional techniques? Shouldn’t there be some level of consistency to enable children to further develop their 21st century skills as the move through their years at school? Shouldn’t ICT integration be school wide? How can this happen with resistance?

I think strong leadership is a key player in answering this problem – principals can make this change happen in the school communities they lead. It’s not about forcing teachers to change – it’s about enabling them and supporting them and principals can do this in conjunction with other members of staff who feel confident in using technology. It’s not about doing ‘everything’ right now and ticking every box.. it’s about taking stock of where you are right now and moving forward one step at a time.

I don’t know if this post makes much sense to anyone else but it has helped me to clarify a few things 🙂 Thank you for reading!

 

 

By maggiemulrine

Burning the midnight oil..

‘How do I know what I think until I see what I say?’
E. M. Forster

It’s Saturday night and I am sitting at my desk staring at my laptop screen with a cup of cold tea beside me. I have a deadline fast approaching and the pressure is mounting. My head is swamped with information but I have a complete writing block! I cannot seem to bring all the information together cohesively – it’s all a bit disjointed at the moment. On the advice of @tbbrwn I have stepped away from the journal articles and I’m going to attempt to work out some of the problems I’ve encountered right here!

‘A writer doesn’t solve problems. He allows them to emerge.’
Friedrich Dürrenmatt

As I mentioned in a recent post, ‘Definitely not blogged down…’, I am writing a paper about blogging in the classroom. I have had no difficulty in finding the advantages of blogging but I have found it more challenging to ascertain the disadvantages of blogging. Teacher training and confidence seems to feature quite heavily in the literature I’ve read and yet very few of the studies I’ve encountered have addressed this in their research designs. How can teachers support their students effectively if they don’t feel confident using web 2.0 tools? Shouldn’t teacher confidence be one of the first areas addressed in setting up a study to establish if blogging can improve student writing? The teacher after all will partly facilitate this in the classroom.. the teacher may respond to blog posts outside the classroom… the teacher may model writing via a blog post.. the teacher will act as a guide for the students so the teacher should know what he or she is doing to a certain extent… shouldn’t she/he?!

In many of the studies I’ve read the students have not been given clear guidelines with regard to what is expected of them as digital citizens when blogging. They have not been shown what a blog is and they have had minimal ‘training’ in using the blogging tools prior to starting to blog. Some studies have taken this issue into account but unfortunately many of the studies I have read have not. If you can point me in the direction of more research papers that have addressed this issue please do so as I’d like to have a broader view  🙂

McGrail and Davis (2011) recently examined the impact of blogging on the development of student writing at elementary school level. A case study method was used in this research paper and a single class of fifth grade students were engaged in the study for one academic year. The teacher became a learner during this research study as she observed one of the researchers use her blogging experience to guide the students. The researchers worked collaboratively with the classroom teacher to ensure that the blogging process was integrated into the existing curriculum. Writing was given priority. The students were provided with mentors to guide them throughout the course of the research study. Frequent interviews took place between the researchers and the students and the researchers and the teachers.

Initially the students were introduced to the concept of blogging and were given very clear guidelines as to what was expected of them. A class blog was created to enable the scaffolding of writing development and the researcher modelled how to communicate via the blog. The students worked collaboratively in order to improve their posts and used other web 2.0 tools to communicate with other classes around the world about blogging.

This study was well rounded and took into account the pedagogy involved in the blogging process. There was evidence of improvement in student writing and I believe that this is due to the rich collaboration that took place between the researchers, the students and the teachers. The comments made on the students blogs and the mentors impacted greatly upon the quality of student writing. Teacher training was taken into account and the teacher was afforded the opportunity to become a learner alongside the students.

Blogging allows students to share their information, to write for a larger audience and to learn from others. Through blogging writing becomes a different type of experience for the students – blogging is faster and more efficient than paper and pen, students who have difficulty with handwriting have that obstacle removed which can improve the flow of their ideas, information can be easily accessed and checked through search engines, editing is faster and easier than traditional paper and pen editing. Students are creating their own content and sharing it with a global audience when they blog – comments about their writing help them to think critically about how they can improve and encourages deeper thought.


Wordle: Classroom Blogging

I am going to return to my reading and writing (hopefully) and try to address some of the challenges I’ve encountered… I may even make myself a fresh cup of tea or alternatively a REALLY strong coffee. Despite my current state of writing limbo I know this too will pass! I’m slightly (very slightly) more grounded after writing some of this out. Blogging isn’t reinventing writing but it can enrich the writing experience.


			
By maggiemulrine