Paul Diete | Middle School Math (Interview)

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Paul Diete
Head of Faculty – Middle School Mathematics
Anglican Church Grammar School (Churchie)

So tell us a little bit about your personal teaching philosophy… if you could boil it down to just a few sentences?

‘Students first, me second, content third’ was my early mantra and probably still underpins my holistic approach to the classroom, something which my current school fully endorses and models. I want my students to be independent thinkers and to have the innate ability to learn, rather than me simply teach. This means I am constantly looking to evolve my room into a 360o learning space where the boys inhabit this mentally and physically.

 

How long have you been teaching? How long have you been teaching in a one-to-one environment?

I am now into my 9th year of teaching, starting as a mature-age graduate. This is my 8th year in a 1-1 environment; however, my first where the students have a tablet/stylus.

 

When Churchie first implemented the 1:1 computing program, what were some of the challenges you experienced?

I wasn’t here for their first roll-out to the Year 10 cohort of 2010 so can only talk about this year’s roll-out to the current Year 7’s. Because ICT is not specifically taught to our boys here, there were some challenges with the students actually being able to navigate their tablets and we also probably over-estimated their technological prowess with very simple programs like Word, Excel, etc. Things like not being able to quickly ‘cut-and-paste’, change fonts, etc. This has already been addressed and Churchie is implementing a very thorough orientation and training program for every boy from 2012. Of course, there is also the challenge for teachers to see how we can meaningfully use the technology to value-add to the student’s educational experience. Education needs to drive the technology, not the other way around.

 

How did you overcome those challenges? How did you use DyKnow to overcome those challenges?

Across all learning areas, the concept of differentiation is being talked about more and more and we definitely saw the need to address this issue in our mathematics classes in 2011 here at Churchie. DyKnow has enabled us to quickly determine the level of understanding of individuals in a given class on any given topic and then gives the teacher the capability to group and share according to each boy’s starting point of knowledge. DyKnow then allows us to ensure that every student has all worked solutions (the playback function being great here as well) and they then save this work into their Mathematical OneNote Units I have constructed for them. DyKnow used in our classrooms meets the immediate needs of the teacher and student, and it is also a highly engaging and collaborative piece of software that keeps our boys ‘in’ the lesson. DyKnow is perfect for the 1-1, stylus mathematics classroom.

 

Tell me a little more about the DyKnow PD you conduct for other faculty at Churchie. How did you come about doing that job?

Terry Byers, our Head of Digital Learning, drives this PD for the school. He still teaches in my faculty and is our school expert on DyKnow but saw the opportunity for a newer teacher, being me, to show what is possible in a very short time-frame when using DyKnow. Churchie also runs PD for external teachers and this has been highly successful as more and more teachers of math search for useful ways to use technology in their teaching. The 1-1 revolution is not a fad and there is a great thirst for meaningful professional development within the teaching community. Teachers want immediate solutions, not theory. Churchie also has at its core, the belief that teachers and institutions should share, and not hoard, their knowledge and in our presenting at conferences, workshops and others schools we do not seek to be the font of all knowledge, but rather want to create pathways of sharing within the teaching fraternity.

 

What do students like about DyKnow?

Students like the ‘now-ness’ of DyKnow. They like the ability of being able to let the teacher know their level of understanding with the click of their mouse. They like the shared/collaborative features. They like that they can try all work while knowing that their teacher can ‘retrieve and send’ all the correct answers from another student to their laptop. They like that they can save all class notes, theirs and mine, to their OneNote with the click of a few buttons. They like that they can replay the solutions to better understand the communication aspect of the maths better. They like that they can create their own DyKnow documents in PowerPoint.

 

What do you think are the key factors/reasons Churchie’s 1:1 program is so successful?

Churchie has a very good IT Services department that ensures our network and hardware are always working. The Churchie executive team also supports the 1-1 program and I believe they have made some very wise key employment decisions. They did not rush into the program and have not simply ‘grabbed’ at something that sparkles but have rather invested time, thought and money into the process. However, when mistakes are realised, Churchie works to calmly address them and does not buy into knee-jerk reactions as I have seen other schools do. I think Churchie also supports teachers, like me, who are keen to use technology. Lastly, Churchie is collecting data on how the use of technology, coupled with innovative learning spaces, value-adds to our boys educational experience. I believe it is imperative to collect the data and to not base big or small decisions on our anecdotal or largely historical experiences as these are decisions that will affect our boy’s futures.

 

Ok, last question: what advice would you give administrators who are apprehensive about pursuing a one-to-one program? What advice would you give teachers who are concerned about using computers full-time in their classes?

For administrators, I would suggest that you invest in time and research as to what works and does not work in other schools and to not be tempted into ‘quick/rash’ decisions that are sometime driven by savvy marketing (think Ipads!). If you are 1-1 and do not have a device that has a stylus in the student’s hands then you are wasting your time and money. Any executive team should also ensure that they have recruited someone highly competent to lead this research and implementation on both the academic and technical level. Thought, time and money should also be given to up-skilling and employing teachers who believe in the journey being undertaken. Again, liaising with other schools is an imperative. For teachers, I would hope that if they truly believe that education is about the student then they would see the need for 1-1 teaching now and in the future. Once they realise this need they just need to ‘start’. Fear is the greatest inhibitor for teachers needing to embrace change but that is why their school should ensure that staff are supported in words and deeds. Not every lesson will be golden, but the mistakes made will maybe make sure the next lesson is.

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