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Learning that’s bigger than Texas

isuue_53p32Learning that’s bigger than Texas
A trip stateside has opened up a whole new world of e-learning and PD opportunities for Canterbury Principal Simon Mutch … not to mention some celebrity surprises, too, as he explains.

When you hear the name Texas there are a number of things that spring to mind. Information Technology is probably not one of them. But last year, a ranch about an hour north of Dallas was host to the Willowood Technology Summit and I was fortunate enough to attend. The event constituted a group of some 25 Apple Distinguished Educators, some of whom were also Google Certified Teachers, amongst other highly impressive accolades.

There were only three people there who were not ADEs and I was one of them. Did I feel out of my depth? You bet. Fortunately this was one of the most amazing groups of people I have ever had the opportunity to be associated with. They were so welcoming and they treated me just like one of them. 

The road to Willowood
Three years ago I went on a Californian tour run by Stuart Hale and Innes Kennard, the first of these to be established. We got to visit an array of schools; our focus was laptops and handheld devices in the classroom. Back then, the hand-held device was the iPod touch. There was, however, a new device launched just a week before we arrived in the country. Needless to say, much of the trip was spent on a hunt for the newly released ‘iPad’. It added a whole new dimension to the tour, rushing from one Apple Store to the next hoping we might have just caught them at the right time. One day our luck was in and everyone bought one!

One of the schools we visited was New Village Leadership Academy, a school set up by actor Will Smith. We were shown around the school by their Technology Integration Specialist, Carol Anne McGuire, who’s an amazing person for whom no challenge is too big. One of the many areas we discussed was an internationally collaborative project she runs called Rock Our World (ROW). When I got back to New Zealand, aside from setting up our school’s first laptop class and investing in some iPods (plus the iPad), I got involved in ROW. It was a wonderful move as it not only kept me connected to Carol Anne but introduced me to so many other educators all over the world.

Unexpected celebrity benefits
For the past three years, I have been involved in every round of ROW and it’s been a wonderful experience for the students and myself. An unexpected highlight was having my class Skype actor Jaden Smith (son of Will Smith and star of After Earth and Karate Kid among others). One of my students asked Jaden if he went looking for movie work himself or did he have an agent to get him into movies?

And Jaden’s reply?

“No, my Dad just makes them.”

It was a classic moment, as he said it so matter of factly with no sense of showmanship or arrogance; that was just his world. He really is an amazing kid, demonstrated through his offer to follow each of my students, and me, on Twitter. Then he called us on Skype a week later to ensure he’d in fact got everyone’s Twitter details.

Calling Justin Bieber
During this call, one of my students, Bridget, a huge fan of Justin Bieber, asked Jaden how well he knew Justin. He told us how Justin and Selena had been at his sister’s birthday party just last week. At this stage Bridget burst into tears. Jaden asked why she was crying and everyone told him that she was such a big Justin Bieber fan. Next thing Jaden has his iPhone out and we all go quiet as we think he is taking a call, but no, he’s making one.

“Hi Justin,” he says, “I’ve got some hardcore fans here and I just wanted you to say hi to Bridget.”

“Hi Bridget, what’s up?” says Justin over speakerphone as Jaden holds it up to the computer for us to hear over Skype.

While this experience has limited educational value, it’s the fact that had I not taken the opportunity to visit California, made the connection with Carol Anne and followed it up with involvement in ROW, this would not have been possible.

Technology today is amazing and it’s still somewhat surreal with these sorts of experiences. You just need to take the opportunities and make those connections; you never know what might open up as a result.

Ideas and friendships
My work with Carol Anne led to me being invited to the week-long Willowood summit in Texas. The aim was to learn best practices for using the latest applications available in the industry of ICT in education. But as well as knowledge and ideas, I took away with me lifelong friendships and very valuable additions to my Personal Learning Network.

Since returning to school, staff have worked with a handbook written by Wes Fryer, called ‘Mapping Media to the Common Core’. It deals with using technology to meet the new standards he is working with in the States. However, it’s an effective publication for anywhere in the world. Just Google it and you will see.

Exploring AR with Aurasma
Another area I have focused on is the use of Augmented Reality in the classroom. There are numerous apps for this but one we’re working with is one called Aurasma. We’re using it to inform people about our school. The aim is to have a number of trigger points around the school that parents and visitors can use to get more information about what’s happening and projects the students have been working on. It’s not without its teething problems but is a very powerful app with so many uses and opportunities. We’re also looking to use it in our ‘Art in Hospitals’ project, so people who see our art in hospital corridors can use the app to find out about the artist and school.

Publish and be rewarded
The other huge learning I took from the summit is the idea that most people are just internet consumers and don’t actually post online or publish anything. This is mostly born out of thinking that their work isn’t good enough, when actually it probably is. It’s this thinking that has led me to publish this article. I’m just another person working in the education sector who has taken opportunities and made the most of them. I don’t feel that I’m particularly ‘worthy’ of having my work published here but I’ve decided to take the risk and put it out there. I think if we all decided to do this the world would be a much richer place because of it. Sure, there might be times when we publish something that’s not quite up to scratch. But I think that, on the whole, we’d all be surprised at how well our work is received. So what are you going to publish?

Simon Mutch is Principal at Governors Bay School in Lyttelton.

© INTERFACE February 2014

Categories: Article, Issue 53

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