Goodbye ALPA – I’ve Joined the NZATD


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Last year saw the demise of the Adult Literacy Practitioners Association (ALPA).

This means that people like me who occupy this obscure niche of education don’t actually have a professional body to belong to.

This doesn’t bother me. But I’ve decided to join the New Zealand Association for Training and Development (NZATD).

I think it’s much better to situate literacy and numeracy professional development in the larger universe of teaching and training. It can be a bit isolating otherwise…

Anyone have any experience with these guys? Let me know your thoughts or recommendations.

 

 

 

How Do I Help My Kids Develop Maths Skills At Home



If you have kids and you want to help them with maths you need to watch this short video. Actually, if you know someone who has kids you probably need to watch this.

It’s 11 minutes long. You might have to watch it a couple of times. And you might need to share this with your significant other.

The idea is that family culture matters the most when it comes to encouraging and developing maths skills in your kids. Or any kids. So we all better get started now.

As someone who is really interested in my kids’ education, I think I’ve done a good job of encouraging them to read. We all love reading at my house.

However, I’ve done an average to crap job of this when it comes to maths. Damon has the solution.

Here’s a summary of Damon’s tips from the video:

  1. Get a whiteboard and put it in the kitchen or other family area. If you have to, use your nice white Fisher & Paykel refrigerator (my idea not Damon’s).
  2. Don’t do arithmetic. E.g. don’t put up a bunch of + – / x problems. That stuff is boring.
  3. Make it easy at first.
  4. Get them talking. If they’re not talking then they’re not learning.
  5. Learning happens in the process of solving the problem. Learning ends when the problem is solved. Keep it going.

There are a bunch of ideas for five different kinds of engaging maths and numeracy problems that you can use starting at about 5 minutes in. You need to watch and listen for these.

But check out the whole clip here or here for his blog post.

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Four Tools For Building Cool Stuff Online: Or How To Start Thinking Outside The Box


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I went to the Supercharge conference the other day in Wellington. This was a business conference… nothing to do with literacy, numeracy or even education (I know… thank goodness right…?)

Lots of cool stuff. The coolest though was the 40-minute presentation by Justin Wilcox of Customer Development Labs.

At the start of his presentation, he said that in the 40 minutes that he had to speak he was going to do the following:

  1. Come up with a product idea.
  2. Get some customer feedback.
  3. Build a website
  4. Launch the product

Considering that by the time he had said all this he only had about 35 minutes left I think we were all rather skeptical.

But he pulled it off. And these were the tools that he used:

1. Customer Discovery Ninja

Just this on its own was very cool to see in action. The Customer Discovery Ninja is a tool that allows you to connect to potential customers in North America. They sign up because they have time on their hands and get a small reward for participating.

Justin had decided that he wanted to create some kind of Fitness Tracking App, so he had selected various categories and subcategories in the Customer Discovery Ninja. And ended up with something relating to fitness, weight loss, and diet as the key areas.

From there, he opened the phone line and waited for the call. 10 minutes later someone connected and we listened to him interview a guy in New York who was struggling with diet and weight loss issues.

After a few minutes, it was clear that what this guy needed was not a fitness tracking app, but some kind of product that allowed him to track what was working when it came to diet.

So based on the dialogue, Justin switched away from his initial idea to the diet tracking idea. And then he had about 10 minutes left to do everything else.

2. Instapage

And this is mostly what he used: Instapage. Within about 2 minutes, he had built two landing pages for his new product. Instapage allows you to create web pages via drag and drop.

And then he  created an alternate version of the page so that you could do A/B testing. Instapage makes this really easy. I haven’t tried any of this yet, but based on the demo I think it’s all doable.

3. Powtoon

From here, Justin wanted to jazz up the landing page a bit with a short animated video. For this he used Powtoon. Powtoon advertises itself as an alternative to Powerpoint. It;s drag and drop like Powerpoint or Keynote, but you end up with a animation at the end.

So another 2 minutes to create a short animation. And then he imported this into the Instapage landing pages.

4. Celery

Finally, he wanted a button on the landing page to take pre-orders for the product. So he used Celery for this. Celery is very simple. It’s just a button for taking credit card information for pre-orders. Buyers don’t get charged until your product launches.

And then he launched it.

So Justin didn’t actually create the product, but he did something that was in line with the lean startup method: Come up with a minimal viable product idea and then see if anyone would buy it.

From here, he would be able to take pre-orders to fund the development of the actual product.

It was fast and dirty. But it was impressive.

Justin practises what he preaches as well. And you can have a look at his series of books on how to implement this kind of thinking at his website here: The Focus Framework.

This stuff is cool. I wish I knew this when I started in business. Talking to Justin afterwards, he said that everyone wishes the same thing. And that we all come to these conclusions late.

In my field, we tend to be good at what we do. But this is only in terms of our technical skills. We get professional development and training in these areas.

But we are often rubbish at the skills we need to use our technical skills to build and run a sustainable business. We don’t know how to make a buck… to put it in crude terms.

Most of all, I think we need this kind of thinking in education: Customer validation, lean startup methodology, designing a minimum viable product, product testing.

And then quickly pivoting when it’s obvious that something isn’t working. Unfortunately, the regulatory environment (both TEC and NZQA) act in ways that run counter to this kind of thinking.

This is not their fault. But it’s time to start thinking outside the box.

Really thinking outside the box.

4 Things I Can Do to Become Antifragile in Education


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Nassem Taleb is an expert on risk and probability and he recommends in his latest book that we become less fragile, more robust, and actually antifragile.

This is more than just Sissy Resilience… and this means that when the stuff hits the fan you actually bounce back stronger than before, and actually made stronger by the disorder around you.

Education is fragile. And working in education opens you, your career, your mortgage up to all kinds of fragility by implication. This is bad.

Education, of course, is good. But if we want to survive as educators in this increasingly fragile landscape we need to embrace the fact that it’s fraught with risks and randomness of all kinds.

And we need to do things to mitigate the risks to ourselves and our businesses where we can.

One of the lessons from Taleb’s Antifragile for me seems to be that rather than avoiding things like risk, uncertainty and variability we should be embracing them. And in fact, seeking them out.

With that in mind, here’s my take on 4 things I can do in education and in my work that hopefully increase my ability to be really resilient by intentionally playing around with risk, randomness, uncertainty, and variability.

I’m not saying that they’ll work for you… but if they work for me I’ll let you know.

1. Disrupt my education business model

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The idea here is that either I can wait for someone to disrupt my work or I can disrupt it myself and maintain some slight control (even if it’s illusory) over the disruptive factors.

Our education business models are pretty much a last century paradigm. Mostly the old-school business model goes something like this:

  • Someone pays a fee + I deliver training. I might possibly award some kind of credential if the stakes are a bit higher.

Leaving aside the problems with our current models of education, let’s focus on messing with the business model.

My real business model is the unique package of things that allows me to sell education and training and generate revenue. This would still hold true even if I worked for a non-profit or charitable organisation.

But consider the new business models though… They’re online. They require people to transact online. That either means a shopping cart or a subscription-based approach.

Bothered by that…? Me too. But disturbing thoughts like these have been nagging at me for awhile. It’s time to do something about it.

If you’re curious about business models Alex Osterwalder’s book really helped clear things up for me in term of what a business model is and gives some great examples. There’s also an iPad app you can play around with.

2. Open source my expertise and knowledge

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Am I the only one who has noticed that the world I live in is radically different to the one I grew up in, even the world I started working in…?

Everything is being disrupted and education isn’t any exception. Aside from firing middle management and cutting dead wood, I think we’re going to see changes everywhere in education resulting in education products for learners that are cheaper, faster, smarter, and more convenient.

What’s more, as we move forward, education will most likely become open sourced, and possibly crowd sourced. This will come at a cost, of course. Some of us won’t survive.

But one of the things that has changed for certain in my mind is that there is no longer a competitive advantage in sitting on any kind of “secret sauce”. The new secret sauce is open source.

And that has implications for my job. And my expertise. What I know and can do is not just information, but a big chunk of it probably is. And that information really wants to make itself freely available to others. This is just the nature of the web.

And the thing is, if I don’t open source what I know, then someone else will do it for me. Either they know they same stuff and they’ll open source that, or they’ll just upload what they’ve learned off me.

So I need to do it first. That’s why I’ve open sourced what I know about our approach to embedding literacy and numeracy via Pathways Awarua and through making our course content freely available to everyone.

Doing nothing is not an option. In fact, doing nothing while everyone and everything around you moves forward is pretty much the same as going backwards.

3. Design the way I want to work

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I think that another part of the solution is to design the way that I want to work. For me this means:

  • treating everything as a project
  • working on these projects with a small agile team
  • being mobile and “always on” (except when I switch everything off)
  • working from home (or anywhere)
  • having a team that is geographically dispersed,
  • and mostly ignoring conventional establishment wisdom relating to what I do.

To expand on these, everything in education can be a project. This includes training, resource development, writing and publishing, and running conferences. If I make everything a project then I can project manage. I use Basecamp for this.

“Always on” means that I can work on my projects anywhere. Most of my work is written on laptops and devices in various cities and towns in New Zealand. I now use cloud-based applications almost exclusively for this including Google Docs, WordPress and Evernote. I also use Dropbox and Google Drive to manage it all.

4. Look for new ways to do the same stuff

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Another part of the solution for me is to do education and training in new ways that meet the needs and demands of 21st century work and life. This is where expertise needs to collide with new opportunities and disruptive technologies.

And this is hard because it means I have to learn new stuff. And sometimes things don’t work out.

I’m not quite sure where to go with this in all honesty, but something that I’ve done intentionally is to mess around with different online platforms used for authoring education and training materials. I’ve tried a bunch of them, but the one that stuck was the Bracken platform that we used to write up our course and assessment modules.

Authoring software is kind of tricky… and it’s time consuming to learn how to use… but something that is a whole lot simpler and still incredibly disruptive is video and audio. The incredible success of Kahn Academy continues to testify to the disruptive power of video.

I’m hoping to make this year the year I really get serious about capturing much more of our training, resources, knowledge, and expertise via niche audio and video content.

What have I missed? What do you have planned for 2015 that is going to make you stronger, more resilient, resistant to risk, and ultimately more antifragile?

 

How to learn anything part 2: What you need is an operating system for learning…


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I started my riff on How to Learn Anything in another post which you can read here.

Basically, what I’m suggesting is that you don’t need to be smart to learn new stuff. What you need is a combination of grit plus a toolbox of tools to help you learn.

A reliable system, in other words, is all you need to learn anything. And this system is not any kind of secret knowledge. It’s in plain view and the tools are accessible to anyone.

But what you might need is someone to help you put all the pieces together. To show you what the tools are that you need in your tool box.

So the next question is… what would this system look like? Here’s the answer:

In broad terms, it’s an operating system for learning. There are specific tools to use at each stage, but as an overview your operating system for learning looks something like this:

  1. Seek to understand context and connections: Try to work out, investigate, and understand the context for what you want to learn. And look for connections within this context between chunks of content as well as outside to other areas, particularly areas that seem – on the surface – to have no relationship to what you’re trying to learn. This is ongoing. It’s not just something you do once.
  2. Work out what you don’t know: This can be difficult. After all, how do you know what you don’t know, right? However, start with the big picture, your broad goals, or  desired skills and then break it down from there. Deconstruct where you want to be – the intended outcome or state – into smaller and smaller chunks. And you have to break this down into specific kinds of learning. e.g. practical skills, vocabulary, being able to read and understand the source material.
  3. Work out where you are now: In order to move forward you need to have a sense of where you are now in relation to where you want to be. You need a way of knowing how much you know about your new learning goal as well a how competent or proficient you are. This might be easier particularly if you’re starting something new from scratch.
  4. Work out what the next steps are: What you want is a sequence of highly focused next steps to take you to your goal. You want to be able to target each of these next steps in your development with the precision and focus of a crack shot military sniper. And in these next steps you need to know what to do. Here you are going to need strategies for learning skills, reading complicated materials, dealing with new language and more.
  5. Have ways of measuring your progress: This is critical. How will you know that you’ve made progress or arrived at your goal? You need clear ways of measuring your progress that are SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-bound).
  6. Have ways of measuring your effectiveness: What we’re talking about here is you reflecting critically on what you’re doing and figuring out what has worked and what you need to do differently to keep moving forward.

Next we’ll need to know what some of the practical tools are that you can use at each stage.

Paulo Coelho

How to learn anything: Part 1


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Let’s face it. Learning stuff can be hard. It’s not easy to go through a new learning curve for new content that you need for work, study, or even just for a hobby.

However, what if it was possible for you to learn anything?

Find an expert right? Get a teacher or a tutor? Join a course? Find a Guru? Go to college or university? Read a book even… Watch youtube videos…

But there’s a problem: People that are really good at whatever it is that you want to learn, aren’t always the best teachers. So you can’t always get the tools that you need from the masters or the experts. Or even from their books.

There’s reasons for this of course. Often it’s because the people that are really good at something, really outstanding at what they do, are often so immersed in their own stuff that they just can’t see or understand that you (and me) don’t already know what they know.

Experts, specialists, master practitioners often become so close to their own content that they simply assume – without meaning to and without awareness that they’re doing this – that you already have certain foundational building blocks in place for whatever it is they want to tell you.

And we’re all guilty of this actually. And just have a think about it. If you’re in business, and unless you’ve got an accounting background, do you really understand what the last thing was that your hot-shot accountant said to you? Or your mortgage broker? Or your IT specialist?

What about if you’re at university, or in a technical or vocational training course, or even at high school? Did you even grasp part of what the Economics teacher just said? Or the electrician? Or the doctor?

You might think that what you’d need is some kind of secret sauce perhaps… Some kind of pill to make you smarter or able to concentrate hard or work better…?

Perhaps not.

What you’d really need is a toolbox of tools to help you. This toolbox of tools would be your super learning system.

Hopefully, it would be a system that you could use again and again with new and different content. It would evolve and develop with you as you evolve and develop.

Learning new stuff will still be hard. It often is. But you can make it better by having the right tools. The right tools for the right job.

What we’re experiencing is an exponential growth in knowledge right now. More and more people are becoming more and more specialised in narrower and narrower fields.

It’s overwhelming. Confusing. Intimidating.

But what if the tools and the toolbox you needed was really simple… really straightforward… What if this toolbox contained a lot of things that you already know and use.

And what if the tools didn’t depend on smart… but on grit.

I’m not saying it’s going to be easy. Not everyone is smart… but perhaps grit is something you can learn too… something that everyone has access to already if they just switch it on in their brain and body.

What if I could show you this toolbox of tools? Would you find something to apply it to?

What would you learn if you could learn anything?

How do I get started on Assessment 5 of the NCALNE (Voc) and demonstrating that I’m actually embedding literacy and numeracy into my training?


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If you’re up to this stage, you’re actually about, or even over, half way. This section is a big chunk… but it’s also the teaching component of the qualification.

Basically, after having mapped the literacy and numeracy demands, and diagnosed your learners literacy and numeracy needs, you actually need to get out there and do some embedded literacy and numeracy teaching.

These are your interventions, in other words. You have to come up with embedded literacy and numeracy focused learning outcomes, activities, and strategies. We’ve got a very specific format for doing this, so make sure you pay attention to what’s in your Assessment Guide or in Pathways Awarua in Assessment Module 5.

Here’s a list of various links and articles that might support you through this part of the training:

  1. As always, if you haven’t already, all of our course content is available for free in interactive modules on the Pathways Awarua literacy and numeracy learning platform. You can find the instructions on how to register here if you haven’t already. We have a unique ALEC join code so email us for it if you need it (assess@alec.ac.nz)
  2. I know I said it already, but don’t forget to check what’s already in your ALEC Study Guide and Assessment Guide for this part of the course.
  3. We’ve also got a great one-page handout that summarises the connections between assessments 4, 5, 6 – email us for a copy if you haven’t got it already.
  4. You can listen to an audio-only podcast of me talking through Assessment 5 here if you need a refresh on the requirements.
  5. There are video clips on Section 5 of the NCALNE (Voc) here on our Youtube channel.
  6. If you need ideas for activities for reading, writing, listening, speaking, and numeracy there is a wealth of material including teaching points, guided learning sequences, and resources in your ALEC Study Pack in the Learning Progressions support guides. Much of that is also online here if you want to go in and find it.
    • Unfortunately, this great content tends to be buried inside the other content so you have to click through a sequence like this to find an activity: Go to website >> Click Explore the learning progressions for Make Sense of Number to Solve Problems >> this takes you to a page from the learning progressions for multiplicative strategies where you can click on an activity like Multiplication Strategies where you get the actual activity or can download it as a PDF. The alternative is just to turn to page 39 in the Teaching Adults to Make Sense of Number book. I’m going to have a go a progressively dealing with this issue and liberating this material, but it might have to wait until another time.
  7. As well as the massive amount of content and ideas provided in the support materials to the Learning Progressions there is also a wealth of information on LN activities online. For this reason, I haven’t focused so much on the activities on my blog or in the ALEC Study Guide. However, I have posted a few bits and pieces here that are useful. First though you need to make sure that you understand how to write really focused embedded literacy and numeracy learning outcomes. If you need them, please refer to:
  8. Here are a few numeracy activities that, while they aren’t particularly contextualised, they are fun and they work:
  9. I did also start looking at some ideas for designing independent reading activities based on literacy unit standards 26622 and 26624 here if that’s of interest. There’s a downloadable cover sheet that you could adapt or cannibalise in any way you like here. Just a caution though, if you’re just doing a couple of embedded reading activities for your NCALNE (Voc) and you don’t care about US 26622 and 26624, you’d be well advised to strip back my suggestions to only what you think you really need.
  10. In terms of writing, I also started developing some ideas for a writing workshop here which I did flesh out in a bit more detail here. But again, just pick and choose what you want. If you’re just doing a couple of embedded writing activities for the NCALNE (Voc) you can be very selective here.
  11. Lastly:
    • Don’t forget to collect actual evidence of your learners actually doing the learning that you’ve designed. Think about using the digital camera on your phone. Scan copies of their completed work or drafts. Take a photo of what on the whiteboard at different stages. And send all of this together with your write up of Assessment 5 and copies of the activities that you used.
    • Don’t forget to make at least one of your embedded LN teaching interventions some kind of independent learning activity, i.e. where your learners do it without you (whether at home, in class, or wherever).
    • Don’t forget to think about where and when you will re-assess your learners using the contextualised LN tools you used earlier. You’ll need this for Assessment 6.
    • Don’t forget to build in some kind of evaluation component. You’ll need this for Assessment 7.
  12. If you’re working on this through the Pathways Awarua MOOC, your employer will need to have paid your course fee in order to unlock assessment modules (3 – 7)
  13. And if you’re a paid up student and you’re not completing this through the Pathways Awarua MOOC, you can email us (assess@alec.ac.nz) for the latest version of the template for assessment Task 5.
  14. Otherwise, give us a call to discuss (0800-ALEC-1-2) or email us anyway (assess@alec.ac.nz) and we’ll be in touch to help explain or clarify.