Friday, November 21, 2008

"Work with the Living" - A week with Gary Stager

Qatar Academy are preparing for their 1:1 learning with laptops. The school Board approved recently that all Grade 7 and 8 students in 2009-10 will have a new laptop (bought by Qatar Foundation). What this will finally and ultimately look like is under discussion. To promote the use of laptops and online learning in a constructivist mode we invited Gary Stager to visit for a week.

Numerous words and phrases come to mind when I review the past week here at Qatar Academy with Gary as our consultant in residence to help move us closer to a 1:1 and constructivist learning environment.
These include some often-used sayings from Gary himself, adjectives about the week as well as practical and philosophical objectives that have emerged or re-surfaced and discussed, sometimes ad-infinitum.
Gary has a great passion for learning and a straightforward approach to using technology, specifically laptops, in the classroom. His phrase "Don't be a jerk", offered as advice to those who asked certain "What if...." questions inspired many of us to think again the systems for learning with mobile technology and how responsibility for the device needs to be with the user at all times, with a focus on common sense. In terms of moving the school and the teachers forward Gary uses the term "Work with the living, and do no harm", stating that in the early stages of a laptop program (or any new methods relying on technology use) it is best to work with those who are willing and able to take on board new modes.

Resources from the week with Gary can be found on our E-Learning wiki, and also on Gary's website for Qatar.

Gary Stager at Qatar Academy
Can you believe it...the only photo I have with Gary and me......

Here are further essential ideas from the week:
  • Gary said "Bad ideas are timeless, good ideas tend to be fragile" in relation to building a sustainable learning environment using technology
  • Gary said "Less us, more them" when talking about student-centred learning and building from the learner up
  • Challenge the assumptions about children and their capability to survive in a digital world....yes, they can be responsible for their own backups
  • Get back to the roots of 'personal computer' meaning an individual device that each learner has/owns privately
  • Focus on non-Internet based use of computing and use offline mode as much as possible...bandwidth is finite, no matter how good it may seem to be
  • Consider a parent-education program to fully introduce laptops at all levels of learning
  • Promote an active classroom and active creativity as opposed to passive 'screen-watching' when using computers
  • Promote a community of practice (a learning community)
  • Promote writing...if kids are writing more it has to be better!
  • Consider re-writing curriculum to accommodate the opportunities laptops bring
  • Make wise and creative decisions about software use - Web 2.0 will not do everything you need
  • Move away from using language such as 'producing content', inspire creative solutions and problem solving using laptops
  • Have a laptop expectation for all staff, however for those teaching Grades 7 and 8 next year, make sure they are on board with the 1:1 initiative
There is no doubt after viewing the schedule I put into place that Gary worked hard! His versatility, energy and willingness to take on a range of situations meant that all members of the Qatar Academy community had the opportunity to see him, talk to him, and to workshop with him. Gary spoke to parents, the wider community, teachers at all levels in all sorts of configurations (HODs, early years, subject groupings, 21st century learners, administration); he was in the classroom running model lessons for Grade 5, as well as senior school Mathematics, Science and English; he workshopped teachers in constructivist learning; keynoted "Ten things to do with a laptop - Learning and powerful ideas", followed by a panel session including local teachers and leaders (thanks Jabiz, Mike, Sam and David!) and he met with the Student tech team (quite a highlight, especially when he produced the XO laptop!).

Gary Stager at Qatar Academy
Gary with Grade 5 students

Gary Stager at Qatar Academy
Gary with some Student Tech Team members

Nothing was too daunting or irrelevant to Gary. He spoke to the PE department, the Modern Foreign Languages group, and the school counselors and more...... At each teacher session he spoke with passion and knowledge; at each model lesson he pulled out activities that provided a new way of looking at computers in the classroom; at meetings with the administration he challenged current thinking and reinforced the notion of best-practice meaning student-centered. He even spoke to Qatar Foundation IT Dept. personnel in a teacher/infrastructure joint meeting and we all had the chance to discuss what works best and what we need in a classroom to promote learning using technology.

Gary Stager at Qatar Academy
Dinner at Souq Waqif

What did I learn from Gary Stager?
  • I was reminded that there is a a complete history of using computers in education that is easily overlooked in the 21st century
  • That Web 2.0 is not the only, or in fact the dominant, focus across a school and in relation to implementing 1:1 learning
  • That reading research and going to the root of an idea, the original author and proponent, is the best way to understand where we are now and how we got here
  • I need to find more time to re-visit Seymour Papert and the many other authors and visionaries that Gary has collected in his online Constructivist Consortium Bookstore
  • That good teaching, no matter what century, requires imagination, patience, structure that focuses on the learning and creativity and that students at all levels need to be continually challenged and allowed to construct their own meaning
As a sideline, Gary and I have a similar interest in playing and listening to jazz therefore had some interesting conversations about this....I think he has convinced my daughter (a new convert to the tenor saxophone) to attend the Stanford Jazz Workshop one summer soon when we are in the USA.
Oh, and another thing......I feel like an ice-cream connoisseur after having been out with Gary for dinner 3 nights in a row.....what fun we had! (For future reference, Cold Stone at Villagio is the best!)

More pictures from the week:

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Anonymous said...

I am happy to read this little update from my former school - I had wondered how things went, and had heard bits and pieces from those who are there. Sounds like it was a great success and that QA is moving forward in the right direction, with Gary's help and advice. That's great!

I cannot agree more with the "Work with the living, and do no harm" advice. I love that Gary has put that in such simple, succinct terms. This is a lesson I have learned the hard way, and in retrospect I think I've wasted a lot of time and energy trying to convert the unwilling. His advice is going to be my new mantra!

Thanks again for sharing! It was a special treat for me to see the photos and view my former QA colleagues in action!

Anonymous said...

I know Gary advocates for computational thinking as part of the constructivist approach. I don't see this was addressed head on... Maybe it's one of his "Ten Things to Do?" Can't wait for his Sci/Math workshop at Educon.

Lee Kolbert said...

Thank you for sharing this with such great detail. I'm going to use this as a basis for discussion as we make some similar attempts here in our district.