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Well, good afternoon everybody. My name is Michael Hilkemeijer. And with me is Beck Keough. Is that how you pronounce surname?
I looked it over a couple of times. I wanted to make sure I got it right. Thank you so much, Beck, for this opportunity. It's just wonderful to finally get to meet you and to learn from you as well. I've followed you through social media and what you've done.
And yeah, I'm just all roaring for fantastic sort of opportunity this afternoon. So just to get us started, I wonder if you can tell us a bit of your background, where you teach, your year level maybe, that sort of thing?
Mm-hmm. So I'm a primary school teacher in a medium-sized Catholic school on the South Coast of New South Wales. I'm currently teaching year four. I've held a number of roles over the year, from ICT coordinator, to coordinator within a school, and have been involved in a number of projects as well as the years have gone by.
I've had the privilege of working with Dr. Jane Hunter on her high possibility classroom project. I've worked with ACARA in digital technologies. Their project on... I'm blanking. That's dreadful. I'm so tired. I'm so sorry.
On working in their project on digital technologies in focus, I knew I'd get it if I thought. Sorry, five o'clock in the afternoon, my brain's a little fudge. So yes, I've worked on that project, developing curriculum, trial and curriculum, supporting staff. I've led a podcast myself.
I am incredibly passionate about supporting others in using technology in the classroom. And currently I am working alongside a team here at my school down on the South Coast to reinvent the classroom, which is a Hewlett Packard Program with Brett Solarkis, which many people may have already heard about.
Okay, great. And what sort of technology do you commonly use in the classroom?
Over the years I've used quite a few things. Predominantly I find within the classroom context as a mainstream classroom teacher, it's more about finding purposeful uses for what you have and making sure that it connects to what you're actually doing. I like to ensure that technology isn't just an add-on, that whatever I use it for, it has purpose. So for example, at the moment in my classroom, I am teaching my year four students about how to use Google and the tools within the Google suite, to access a number of platforms. Specifically this week we've been looking at the power of Google Forms and how we can use that as a way of collecting data and information from ourselves and for others in a purposeful way.
Okay, great. Perhaps what sort of examples could you provide of really effectively integrating technology in the classroom in a particular context? And what was the impact that you've found that it had on student learning?
Excellent. Yeah, great question. Done a few projects in alignment with what you're talking about. I'll speak to two, so two different contexts.
So in the early years, framework here, I have used bee-bots to talk about positional language. So for example, having children program bee-bots on a mat, to move around a local community.
So they would plot out where certain things are within our community and then we create little roads. They might then program and talk with their robot about taking two steps forward and then they'd have to program their bee-bots to do that and record that using symbols and words depending upon where they're at.
So looking at bringing that in alignment with our history curriculum here in New South Wales, where the younger children are exploring their own community and using the bee-bots contextually to look at that kind of early programming language or input and output, explaining that the children are putting information into the bee-bot and therefore it is giving the output by moving.
So I guess it's that purposeful integration beginning from the get-go.
A second example I can give you is we ran a project which lasted a term, and this was in a year six context. So again, I guess a different mindset on how you can use technology.
We ran a project where students were tasked with considering housing issues in the future. We explored a variety of places around the world, so the students had to become an expert in a particular biome or habitat.
Once they had that, they then had to look at what some of the risk factors were for that area, why would housing become a problem in the future?
And we looked at some of what the UN had to say about problems for housing in the future. So we looked at density, we looked at things that sort of circulated around climate change. And from understanding those problems and their context, the children then had to design future housing for their areas. We launched with having some university students come in and run a project around how you can redesign homes, and then the project kind of launched through there.
We worked very explicitly with building the children's knowledge around what biomes were, what the concept of a model was, right through to integrating and ensuring that we trained the students on how to use appropriate tools to demonstrate their learning.
So some students were using concrete materials to create their designs once they'd actually created them, but then some of the children wanted to re-conceptualize what a model was. And we had them using Minecraft to create their new homes.
They had to create a plan, submit that plan, and they had to be able to substantiate why that particular plan would work with minimal impact on the environment in their particular area.
So we had one little person who was looking at the fact that housing was so dense in the area that they were looking at, that they would possibly look at building eco-friendly tree houses for people to live in, in the future.
And they built their little tree in Minecraft, and then they built their home in Minecraft, and we were able to take a tour through that.
Okay. I'm just wondering, Beck. Whereabouts with those kind of examples, have you found that the students were able to develop a new set of skills and capabilities? Where have you found examples where they have been able to transfer those capabilities into another context, like no matter if used something in maths and then be able to use the same sort of capabilities in English or in other contexts?
So I guess that comes down to that explicit teaching. When you're planning a unit, obviously there's a number of components.
You've got your skills and your knowledge. So whenever I'm planning a unit I think, okay, what skills do the students need and what knowledge do they have?
So explicitly teaching those skills. So I'm just trying to think of an example of where we've taught a skill and then that's been transferred. There you are. We looked at how we could use Google Slides to plan a story. On top of that, we were teaching the students obviously how to use Google Slides, how to do transitions, et cetera.
Another lesson we explored putting in hyperlinks. Now, one of our students then came to me and said, "Mrs. Kio, I really want to write a choose your own adventure story." And I said, "Oh, this is interesting. What skills do you think you could use?"
And they said, "I really want to use PowerPoint or Google Slides." I said, "Yeah, that sounds great.
We could definitely use Google Slides to do that." And I said to them, "Well if you're going to use Google Slides and you're going to put pictures in and words to kind of use this story." I said, "You want to choose your own adventure. How are you going to do that?" And they said, "Well, you were talking about hyperlinks. Is there a way that we can use hyperlinks?"
So sitting alongside that student and supporting them to use the two skills to then level up, we wrote a choose your own adventure story and they were able to put in hyperlinks to go to certain pages when people wanted to, I guess, choose their own adventure.
That's a really good example, Beck. I think one of the most important things which I've learnt over the years, and I'm sure you've also found it yourself, is that with technology integration, the transfer of capabilities is so important and across the context. To me, that really is what the true essence of what it is all about, being able to develop those capabilities in a one context and then use those same capabilities and maybe even build upon them in another context. So I think in a society that we just sort of so dominated by ICT these days. And all the pressures that teachers have with integrating new technology, I think it is just important to make sure that, that occurs.
I think the key to that, Michael, is the planning. I really feel that when you're looking at creating a unit of work, again, like I said, you need to look at, well you've got to have the end in mind.
What do you want your students to be able to do? And what knowledge or what knowledge do you want them to be able to demonstrate? I think making sure you front load any unit with explicit teaching around concepts, around factual information, and building that bridge for the students to remove the cognitive load is incredibly important.
I think what happens sometimes is we get this idea, and we forget that we kind of assume that just because children use technology or we consider them to be digital natives, that they must know how to do this, but it's not the case. It really isn't the case.
And I think ensuring that you're explicitly teaching those skills to give them success whilst you're teaching, and then giving them an opportunity to practice that, you've got to do that throughout your planning. You've got to give intentional thought to what knowledge you want them to be able to share, but also an opportunity to practice using those skills. Otherwise it's a one-off opportunity and there's no transference. If you're just going to ask a child to, I want you to create something without all that prior knowledge and that support, it's not going to happen. You're in the wrong inquiry zone. You need to be supporting children very well through their inquiry or through their learning to get to that phase where they can use their inquiry skills.
Yeah, I absolutely, absolutely agree there, Beck. I think that there's so much more emphasis that needs to be put on planning for effective and successful technology integration. I think that many of us, it's kind of like a... So negative side effect of society's use of technology, that's what I'm trying to say, we're also used to it.
And I think that there is a misconception amongst some teachers that just exposure to technology will actually do the job, and this is where planning matters.
There have been so many studies in the past that have proven that if teachers do actually know that they're going to use technology, they can plan to develop those capabilities in students, and to really focus on developing the metacognitive abilities as well. And that's where it really does count.
I think effective feedback in that phase is really important as well. Developing that metacognition or thinking about your thinking is exceptionally important.
But the only way your students are ever going to do that is if you've got effective feedback with somebody working the journey with them.
So like you were just saying, if you're not putting that effort in to make sure, or intentionally putting in stop points or checkpoints or whatever level of feedback you think your students need in that point in time or that point for that particular skill, the students won't understand or they won't be able to keep developing that skill. I think that's really important. I think you've hit the nail on the head there, I really do.
Yeah, absolutely. And one of the things that I've learned is that particularly with capabilities in teachers planning, that it's important that they do consider the current level of capability.
So for example, you cannot give a more sophisticated bunch of techniques to a younger year level, who have no idea how to do it.
And one of the things that I kind of like to sort of push out there is that I think it's important to them, you have no idea. If these are your first time you've had these students, you've got no idea about what they have done, to maybe give them a pre-lesson and have a bit of a checklist or an activity where you would list down the capabilities that you would expect they might have, tick them off and then you can go from there in your planning and then plan for progression in the capabilities from there.
And that's very important in being able to ensure learning progression with technology. One of the things I wanted to ask you too, Beck, was was there a particular strategy that you'd like to use the most that really works for you well?
Is that when I'm implementing the use of technology? Is that what you mean?
That's correct, yes.
Yes. So I think basically scaffolding the students, it's a lot easier to start at a lower level of entry and scaffold them up. I'd much rather go in and show students or model something that the students go, "Oh, yeah, we know how to do that." Number one, they've already got confidence, they haven't given up hope.
Not only that, you're starting at a lower point, so you're giving children buy-in straight off. But also those students who perhaps aren't as tech-savvy or haven't had as much exposure or are new to your schooling context, also have buy-in.
You're starting at an entry point. I think the other thing then is you need to then scaffold up and start to build on those skills. So start where they've definitely got the skills, and then build up from there. I had a young student once who was incredibly bright, very, very bright, but did not use technology at home at all.
So his skills were quite behind his chronological peers who were using different things at home.
And therefore, I needed to give him equal opportunity to be able to build his skillset, so I did have to take the lesson back a few steps before we went forward.
And sometimes you'll walk in thinking that you know what kids know, and you're wrong. And sometimes you have to take two steps back or two steps to the left, to make sure that all the students can have access to what it is that you're demonstrating or offering.
One thing I think, or one point or one place I find that in particular is with coding. When you're explicitly teaching children how to code, a lot of people assume that most children should be able to do block coding, but some kids just can't. And you actually have to take them that step back and you actually again have to go back to that simple use of symbols on a whiteboard.
You have to explain this idea of what all these things are.
Whilst the rest of the class may be very confident and capable of putting the scratch coding together, some other students may need to take that step back and go back to actually looking at what happens when I ask something to do something.
And it might even be something as rudimentary as going back to a lesson whereby it's an unplugged lesson and you pretend to be the robot. The good old veggie might sandwich lesson, or the tell the teacher what to do lesson.
And all of a sudden they start to realize that actually what I'm putting into this device is incredibly important. The choices I'm making and the instructions I'm giving this really determine the output that it's going to give me. So sometimes you do have to do that left step, right step, back step, in order to give access to elements such as coding.
Yeah, that's a very good point, Beck. That's a very good point. I'm also wondering too, today there is so much divide, digital divide in areas. What are some ways that you think that teachers can help bridge that gap?
I think there's a divide in a few places, and I think some of the divide comes from us as educators to be quite honest with you. I think some of us are a little bit afraid of technology. I think that some of us are a little bit afraid to implement it or use it.
We want to play in our safe zone and therefore sometimes that creates the divide for our students. I think that there's also, you've got your socioeconomic divide that you can talk about as well, but I think being mindful of where your students are and what they need, we can start to bridge those gaps.
Obviously we can't, unless you've got the whole where you take a device home situation and you provide that scaffolding and support. Some families may never have or some children may never have that opportunity to bridge those gaps or that, I guess, close that divide.
I feel that school is a place that can really make a difference if we're providing opportunities. I've worked in situations where that's been put on the classroom teachers, and that can be really hard and confronting for some educators to actually realize that they actually have to take that time to teach or expose children to the digital capabilities.
And I find that the digital curriculum is incredibly overwhelming for some educators. I think that we need to support each other and help each other where we can, and that's where things, like I used to lead to something called Techspresso, where I would give up my Wednesday morning shout people a coffee at my school.
And they could come in and we'd talk about one piece of technology that might be useful and how it's useful, might be something like Canva, something as simple as Canva that they could implement really easily, really user friendly, right through to looking at how to use a 3D printer, which is a whole different level.
But I think walking the journey with each other as educators, number one is important and looking after each other, meeting educators at their point need and not assuming we all know it is.
Well, we don't only know what we know, but then providing those opportunities for our children is really important. Similarly, on the opposite side, I've also worked in schools that have, and I currently work in a school where we have explicit lessons where the students actually learn specific skills that they can then use in their classroom.
I feel that those kind of programs really need to be done in conjunction with classroom teachers, so classroom teachers know what's happening and then they've got an opportunity to then expose the students again to what's being taught.
And perhaps even give opportunities for students, as you mentioned as we spoke about before, to transfer that learning into another context so that the children see that this isn't a tool just for that, "Hey, I can use this here in maths as well."
Yeah, I really like that idea. If you had Techspresso. I think that's just such a wonderful idea. Do you find that there was a particular technology tool that you always sort of fell back on the most?
I think it depended upon what we needed at that point in time. Techspresso I ran at the last school I worked at.
And it actually started with just teachers coming together and chatting about how to implement Google and the Google Suite into our teaching and learning. We were asked to pivot and reimagine the way that we were, I guess, creating our programs.
And that's where it started, supporting teachers. From there, as I became involved in the digital technologies in Focus project, I rehashed the idea and started to introduce new concepts and new ideas, that also involved going in modeling lessons with teachers or beside teachers or helping them with their programs. Rather than asking teachers to rewrite a program, I'd look at what they had and I'd say, "How about I come and show you how you can bring this little bit of technology into teach what you're currently teaching?"
And that's where that bee-bot lesson came from. A teacher was already teaching a lesson on history. I said, "Let's just bring this into your history unit. Let's look at this. The kids will love it.
They'll be practicing positional language, which they're doing in kindergarten anyway. They're looking it up, they're looking it down, they're looking at below, they're looking at beside." So we're reinforcing all that positional language from their mathematics, but we're also bringing in the history aspects.
So let's print off a picture of the church, let's print off a picture of the courthouse, all those things that are within our walking area, let's put them on the map and let's get the kids to actually drive the robots or control or give input to receive output. And it worked to treat. The kids absolutely loved it.
Oh, that's great.
But I just think it's about, as I said, meeting teachers at their point in need. Techspresso built a little bit after that, Covid hit, good old Covid. Another good old Covid story, that old chestnut.
And I couldn't reach teachers. And so one of the teachers actually said to me, "Oh, I wonder how we can do this." So we ended up using, I think it was Microsoft Teams. We initially started with Zoom and then we went to Microsoft Teams, which then opened up a whole different idea, "Hey, what do I need to talk to people about technology?" And I started inviting other experts in. So I would have other experts come in. I had Gareth. We'd come in, he ran a session, Mel Hughes ran a session. Kim Vernon, she ran a session for us as well.
And it was great for me to be able to just step back, let them do the talking and run the session, and teachers were then able to I guess hear from experts as opposed to me just prattling on about technology.
They'd heard me prattling on for a couple of years, so it was nice to have other people interested. That actually ended up opening the Pandora's box and we had schools chiming in from all over the place. We had schools out at parks join us, which was fantastic.
So for me personally, it was so rewarding to be able to just help other people. It was so good.
That's awesome, Beck. And you mentioned Covid. I was going to bring up a question. Do you find now that there is more of a urgency with teachers now to sort of jump on the bandwagon, to learn more about technology integration in the classroom? Or is it more the same or a bit less ?
That's a big question. That's a really big can of worms that one. Look, I think teachers certainly from my experience, I spent a lot of time during Covid, troubleshooting with teachers over the phone, making videos for people to help them understand how to do things because they just couldn't, talking teachers down, dealing with tears, and walking the journey to support other amazing educators.
Jen Scofield and Carla Derna, two teachers I worked with, who really walked the journey beside me in supporting our staff at that point in time.
But I think a lot of educators are a little more open when you mention a new tool now. And I think that people are less afraid to try, because they know they can. I think people were forced into this situation where all of a sudden you may have never ever held a Zoom meeting with anyone, and all of a sudden you were put into this situation where you may have had to have had a small group meeting with a group of students and do a reading session.
You had situations where teachers could certainly create programs, but then when it came to actually delivering content and working out the balance between how to put content up and also how to deliver it virtually without the students giving you that feedback, it's a really different skillset for people to develop.
I think in that, it's kind of given teachers a new ability or a new resilience factor when it comes to something new. I still think teachers are always apprehensive when it comes to using a new technology.
And I think the reason for that is there's so much out there, it's overwhelming. Are you a Google person? Are you a Microsoft person? This whole conundrum around the amount of things out there that can be used. And now throw into that AI and ChatBot and all those things that are coming out, some teachers are just, again, getting into that space of things overwhelmed.
Exactly. It's kind of becoming like that, Oh wait, there's more? I feel that educators are always willing to learn, but you've also got to remember that we've got to walk the journey together. We all have our own skillsets, we all have our own fears, we all have our own time limitations, and so you've got to be really mindful of what people need whenever you're introducing or considering technology.
Yeah, absolutely. There's so much, like you said, so much technology out there, so much pressure being put on teachers. Now we've got a ChatGPT, AI, and that's got so much more things to think about in terms of making sure that students don't depend on AI for their answers and go all mushy in their brains, so to speak. Yeah.
It's interesting, having played with some of that technology just purely to see, okay, what can it do? What are its limitations? I think there's some real opportunities with it and I think rather than being afraid of it, I think we need to understand it.
I think that there's a real opportunity for educators here to talk to students about ethics. I think looking at that moral, using that moral journey could be a really good segue for a lot of those teachers.
Talking about, well, intellectual property, talking about ensuring that what you are presenting or what you are sharing is truly your own work. I actually don't think that there is an issue with students using it, if they are also reading what's being put on the screen and it links to their content.
Most educators that will be kind of coming across that level of exposure, will probably be in the high school setting, one would assume, or in a university setting.
Now, most of those teachers or educators or lecturers have a certain curriculum and they have certain textbooks that they rely upon and their students rely upon to gain information from.
And in my experience, I don't think the technology's quite there where it's going to reflect accurately what has been taught in content in a classroom. So a teacher is well attuned to what texts they've used and what resources they've provided.
So I think that in this early, in this beta phase that this all seems to be in, there's certainly some big limitations. But there's some really powerful opportunities here as well to teach our students early on about the strengths and the risks in using these kinds of technology.
Yeah, absolutely. And just to backtrack a little bit too. With regards to your teachers feeling overwhelmed with the amount of technology that is placed pressure, or how you want to define, it in the classroom.
One of the things that I do like to get out there as well, is that when it comes to technology integration, if you are a beginner teacher or no matter what level of expertise you might have, I think one of the best ways I think to really just focus on being able to successfully integrate technology in meaningful and purposeful context, is to first of all just pick a context that you know, then find an area in that context so that the students have difficulty learning, but then go and find technology.
Now, this could be hardware, but mostly software. Find some software that you are familiar with, that these students may also be familiar with, and just focus on developing capabilities in that program across a wide range of context.
Because it's far more important for that to occur, for the students to be able to really develop the sort of capabilities in a versatile sort of programs. Then huge large number of programs and only then superficially develop the capabilities that way.
Yeah. And I think it comes down to wow versus purpose. Are you going for a big wow, look at this pretty lesson? As you say, that's not going to have longevity.
They're going to forget that in three lessons time. Or do you have purpose to this lesson and what's your audience? I think understanding purpose and audience can be really important.
But adding on to what you were just saying, so an example of that might be a microbit. You might teach the students how to explicitly use a micro bit.
You might teach them how to do all sorts of fun things on it where it says words across it, et cetera. But then you might then transfer that into science, where you are actually programming your microbit to measure the temperature outside and recording temperatures. You might then use it in math to create a dice, a shakeable dice.
And then a third shift and another way to use that device in the classroom context is to perhaps use it in English, whereby they are programming the microbit to perhaps respond or to display certain words, or it's a word game, et cetera.
There's a lot of ways to choose technology or choose a piece of technology that's the focus of your ICT capabilities, and then to actually embed that into different context.
So that was successfully done with the year three and four cohort, whereby we taught them to use the microbit in those particular ways over a certain, I think it was a two-week block where we kind of intentionally brought it in, brought it out, brought it in, brought it out, just across different KLAs or learning areas.
Yeah. I don't want to take too much of your time, Beck, because I know you're busy. But I just wanted to ask you finally, what advice would you give maybe a beginner teacher, or maybe someone more experienced with who is less confident with technology? What advice would you give them in terms of getting to take the step into successful technology integration?
I think firstly, my first piece of advice would be to try and find somebody who you can talk to about it. Don't do it alone. I think talk to somebody who you've perhaps seen in your school or somebody who can use the technology, and maybe you could do one of two things.
If you're not confident yourself, why not have them come in and co-teach with you? Walk side by side, shoulder to shoulder with somebody and be a part of the learning journey.
The other thing I would say is don't do too much at once. I think it's important again that you go for purpose over wow. I think you need to think, well, am I actually teaching the children something or is this just a big wow factor?
It's really important to determine no matter what you're doing, what skills you have and acknowledge what they are or what they aren't and seek support. And also to ensure that the learning that you are putting in is really purposeful and connected to content. There's no point teaching something that's really irrelevant.
Well, that's great advice, Beck. And yeah, I'm sure that'll just go a long way for many, many listeners. Thank you so much Beck, for today. It's been a real pleasure.
A pleasure. And if anyone wants to connect, I'm always up for a yarn or a chat, and I absolutely love sharing. So yeah, please reach out and connect. You can find me on Twitter, and obviously lurking on LinkedIn as well.