Sunday, March 26, 2017

It's not about our students not being school ready, it's about our schools not being 21st Century child ready

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In one of the many fantastic staffroom chats I get to have every week at HPSS there is one that keeps coming back to me. Last week I was chatting to my lovely colleague Heemi McDonald (make sure you read his blog) about the growing regularity of school leader meetings I seem to be sitting in on where educators are voicing concerns about increasing numbers of students coming in with more learning needs than before. Principals now more than ever are struggling with meeting the diverse needs of young children and young adults with increasingly complex needs. I myself have engaged in discussion where we have tried to find the source of these "issues". Is it the development in medicine that has seen more premature babies survive who may have experienced all kinds of complications? Is the increased screen time? Is it the sugar and processed food? The increasing amount of time toddlers spend in daycare?? The reasons, and ultimately the excuses, for children not being "ready" are endless.

All to often these discussions end up making me feel uneasy. They feel like (though not necessarily intentionally) that they are looking to place blame on the child and society and fail to ask what might be the real question - is the average school really 21st Century child ready? This was the seed Heemi planted when he challenged me and another colleague during this discussion. It was a genuine light bulb moment.

What are the measures we use when we assess "readiness"? A 2014 Education Review  article outlined school readiness as "Ideally, a Year 0 student should be able to listen carefully to stories, follow instructions, sit quietly on the mat, raise hand to ask a question, put on shoes and jersey, put bag away, wash hands, sit and eat food at break times, pack bag and carry it, and so on." Seems fair enough. When we think of secondary school it is more about expecting a standardised level of literacy, numeracy and self-management. However what we seem to be presented with is increasingly complex issues ranging from poor hand writing, struggling to sit still, possible dyslexia through to behaviours associated with autism.

Or are we?

On one hand it seems to me that we are "diagnosing" students more than ever. I have been an English teacher for 20 years, and whilst we have always got students to do a bit of writing and maybe some close reading on entry, this was mostly skimmed over by some teachers and used to pick out the students who might have been directed into a "supported band" and some some ludicrous "top band". We are now entering a period where all educators are expected to be in constant state of inquiry, scanning, diagnosing and designing individualised interventions to ensure we are all getting our Vygotsky on and ensuring all learning  is in the "zone of proximal development". Therefore, I have a hunch that part of the issue is that we now know and try to do more and therefore feel overwhelmed with who walks through our school doors. And unfortunately few, if any schools are using technology well to support this. This is could be a really interesting thing for us to focus on when talking about school resourcing. I believe this government is absolutely open to increasing funding of schools, they just need some serious data about where and why we should be prioritising the spending.

My second hunch is that a big part of the issue is that business (school) simply no longer meets the needs of the customer. It is not hard to find examples across many other industries of the many companies who have failed and folded as a result of not evolving quickly enough to meet the customers needs, such as Kodak who failed to respond to the digital revolution. The challenge for educators is that we are not a business, with businesses the failure is transparent as customers simply stop spending their money. With schools we are increasingly being lulled into a false sense of security. We don't physically lose customers because are an incredibly handy social construct - i.e. schools provide incredibly cheap and reliable babysitting and teen wrangling services. Students are not going to stop going to school because the produce or service are no longer fit for purpose, they are simply going to appear like they don't fit school, they are going to become harder to engage and possible even find it harder to succeed. We may not be physically losing customers, but I would argue that we are losing them on a mental and emotional level.


And before you get huffy, note I am not placing blame, I am simply making an observation. I am not placing blame because I recognise that meeting the changing demands of our young people is bloody hard. particularly when we have remained unchanged for such a long time. And it is beyond hard if you don't have a leader who appreciates this as a issue or as a challenge and/or you don't feel like you have the resourcing to make the necessary changes. Also we all need to have the smart tools that can may diagnostics and interventions more manageable. Heck I know many a change leader who struggles even when they have the vision required to evolve education.

But that said the most important tool in all of this is the teacher, or more precisely, the empathetic responsive teacher. By that I mean a teacher who simply believes each and every student is "school ready", simply by virtue of being present. The empathetic responsive teacher relishes the new literacies and the new capabilities that the 21st century child brings and is accepting of the challenges and differences they might also bring. So what if they aren't engaging in schooling in the same way that kids did five, ten or twenty years ago. Why the hell should we expect them to? I mean if I was a teenager now and forced to experience experience an education that felt like the high school equivalent of having to watch Phillip Sherry TV1 News  every single night I'd be disengaged as well!

So if these hunches are true, what now?

In the short term I think we and in particular our school leaders needs to shift our perspective. Really asking ourselves - What is school for? Who is school for? Is what we are serving up actually fit for purpose? Then secondly, in longer term, I think we need to develop a clear vision of what a genuinely "fit for purpose school" (by that I mean what the students REALLY want and need, not a crusty academic's vision based on undoubtedly outdated mental models) and develop a detailed case for precision funding based on targeted professional development and genuinely smart tools for diagnostics and genuinely smart learning management systems that have inbuilt 21 century instructional built into it. I also think we can then make a real argument for funding reduced contact hours, especially if we have the smart tools that can demonstrate how we are using those non-contact hours to design genuinely personalised learning for every learner. I want to know what IBM Watson might look like in education? Imagine what our Spirals of Inquiry or Teaching as Inquiry could become! Bloody exiting times we live in.

I look forward to diving deeper into this thinking as I spend my coming week in Edinburgh at the International Summit of the Teaching Profession. You can follow the tweets here or by following the hashtag #ISTP2017.

I am also keen to hear your thoughts, your hunches and your solutions. I am keen to hear what you think it might take for teachers to not feel overwhelmed and to simply be an empathetic responsive educational leader and teacher.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Claire Victoria Amos: NZ Educators casualties of flawed opinion piece

At the end of last week, Bernadine Oliver-Kerby published an "opinion piece". It has prompted me to pen a letter (sorry it ain't handwritten...).

Dear Bernadine,

Your article started, innocently enough, by voicing a very valid concern, that I am sure would be shared by many parents - "I was simply asking why the children at school were practising handwriting while lying sprawled on the floor." Hey, I believe parents and educators absolutely should be encouraged to question what is going on in the classroom. I applaud your positioning of yourself as nothing more than inquisitive caring parent. If you had genuinely asked this question and then explored and investigated what is actually going on in Modern Learning Environments, I would be here cheering you on. But unfortunately you did not do that. Instead you followed up a seemingly caring and rational question with a whole raft of assumptions and generalisations that quite frankly do more damage than good.

I too share your concerns and have challenged the whole concept of Modern Learning Environments:

Modern Learning Environments is a term that seems to be bandied around a lot lately. But interestingly it is rarely defined. The (NZ) Ministry of Education has a whole section on their website dedicated to them, lots of info and tools but no actual definition. More online research and still little in the way of a definition can be found. So what is a Modern Learning Environment or MLE? It would seem (from what I have gleaned from a number of school visits and indeed our own school plans), that this is a generic term that describes a space which may include many things: open and/or flexible learning spaces, breakout spaces, small spaces often referred to as "caves", multi-purpose spaces, technology rich spaces and spaces that house "modern learning furniture" such as bean bags, camp fire seats and a variety of high, mid-height and low groovy shaped tables...on wheels. Interestingly MLEs don't actually seem that modern at all. In fact there is something rather retro and even commune-like about them and if I am honest they sort of remind me of a daycare...on steroids.

So what exactly makes these learning environments "modern"? I guess what makes them modern is the fact that they are different from the old ones (i.e. single cell rooms) and for many, rather unsettling. Historically speaking, different and unsettling seems to mean "modern" doesn't it? I guess "unsettling learning environment" was a bit of a hard sell, so "modern" it is then.

But hang on a minute, who said that modern equals good?

I, like you, questioned the whole concept. But what I know, and what you fail to acknowledge is that the success of any space, modern or otherwise, rests on the ability of a teacher to connect with the learner, know the learner and engage in thoughtfully designed acts of teaching and learning.

As I stated in an earlier blogpost about this very topic:

The reality is, good (and bad) teaching can take place anywhere. I am guessing (and I am hoping) that the MLE will not simply make the teaching and learning better because it is a MLE, but that it will encourage a more open and flexible approach to teaching and learning because as a space it is exactly that, open and flexible. I hope it will encourage all those things we refer to as "effective pedagogy" in the NZC. I also hope it might discourage too much teacher led instruction and encourage a more facilitation style of teaching and learning.

Then you threw in the highly emotive and (to use your word) ludicrous statement - "Kids, once in caged confines now roam free-range and feral."

Firstly let's look at your use of imagery. I take it that "caged" equals good, since "free-range" seems to equate to "feral"? So by this do we assume you think children should be caged? Controlled? Disciplined? Forced to sit up straight, behind singular desks and maybe focus on some good old rote learning and regurgitation? I have no doubt that this worked for you and hey, if ain't broke, why fix it!! Newsflash - that system is broken. Young people are heading into a very different society and workforce. No longer can we presume an Industrial model of reading, (hand) writing and arithmetic will equip them for their multiple careers and the increasing likelihood that they will most likely experience contract work and/or be self-employed. These kiddos are going to have to be able to self-manage and self-motivate. They will have to be able to learn, unlearn and re-learn for themselves. You might not think 'self-management' and 'self-motivation' is something that needs to be taught, and that students working independently on computers is something that we shouldn't need to prioritise at school, then I say that you might need to check your 'middle-class privilege' at the door. Schools have a responsibility to work responsively to meet the need of ALL of our young people and to most importantly close an increasingly wide economic and digital divide. 

This brings me to your next cheap shot - "It's a concept tried and failed in the 70s." 

Oh yeah baby, that is just hitting it where it hurts. You are so right, a concept and strategy that is trialled in one context or period will never work in another context or period in the future. Those early planes that didn't successfully fly, you are so right, completely proves the whole concept of flight is doomed. And those cars that stalled, in early trials, completely summed up what a failure our future vehicles would be. This makes one thing clear - Elon Musk you are not. 

Luckily I have been teaching long enough to see developments in classroom design and learning technologies, that have proven they have the power to amplify best practice, time and time again. 

Firstly let's consider the actual design of Modern Learning Environments. I am lucky enough to be Deputy Principal of a particularly kick-ass one. It has been architecturally designed to ensure the acoustics work with the open/flexible spaces. Surprisingly little noise flows from one space to the next. Secondly, the pedagogy and teaching practice that supports effective learning in these spaces is less about direct instruction and teachers shouting over students and more about facilitation of learning activities that require students to work collaboratively or independently on a range of tasks and inquiries.

To put it bluntly, if "their challenge is to not only gain, but retain attention", they're doing it wrong. 

Then you go on to incite a bit of good old fashioned parental panic about students on devices - "Oh, they'll look busy, but I know the difference between Mathletics and Mindcraft. And that is NOT HOMEWORK Missy.. put it away!"

You know I wouldn't be so upset, if this kind of comment didn't absolutely undermine the capacity of our fine educators we have in this country. Educators are working bloody hard to refine and develop their practices to ensure devices are used meaningfully. Many schools are still struggling to convince their communities just what an important investment a personal device is for our students. Throw away comments like this do so much damage.

As I have stated in another blogpost, of course introducing devices means a different approach:

Note - If your behaviour management is poor, if your lessons are poorly planned and your contexts less than engaging (and if you don't get of your bottom throughout each and every lesson) your BYOD will stand for Bring Your Own Distraction.

As the quote states below, technology can help education where it's already doing well!

Rather than finding a digital educational cure, he came to understand what he calls technology’s “Law of Amplification”: technology could help education where it’s already doing well, but it does little for mediocre educational systems. Worse, in dysfunctional schools, it “can cause outright harm.” He added: “Unfortunately, there is no technological fix…more technology only magnifies socioeconomic disparities, and the only way to avoid that is non-technological.”

- Dr. Kentaro Toyama in Time Magazine

You know I agree, we need to (celebrate and) support these educators to continue to grow their practice, particularly when using technology. 

And remember, Learning Technologies and one-to-one devices are the absolute key difference between the 70s and now. Learning Technologies have the power to amplify best practice, they also have the power to enable educators to personalise and differentiate learning to meet the needs of the individual learner.

This is not something that you or any observer would be able to appreciate when you see a sea of students "lying sprawled on the floor". 

Our educators are working harder than ever to evolve their practice, I believe each and every one of them deserves a cheerleader. They certainly do not deserve a throw away opinion piece that undermines the change that they are courageous enough to be engaged in. You might scoff at the term "courageous", but believe me, those leading the way are exactly that. They move forward, working hard to evolve what is already hard work. They do so in the face of nervous communities, relentless criticism and assumptions that change is somehow bad. I suspect if your dentist, doctor or even the media industry in which you are employed had evolved as little as schools have in the last 50 years, you would be horrified. 

If anything you should be asking why so little has changed. 

You yourself said "I don't deflect change. I'll happily embrace it - when it's for the better. But when it comes to our new "modern learning" open-plan schools, the Emperor is wearing new clothes."

Finally. You are on to something here! I too am concerned about this very issue. I am concerned that the development of MLEs and the introduction of Learning Technologies can become a bit of a smoke screen and can actually create an illusion of modernity when little has actually changed. I worry that the introduction of these physically, palpable and measurable objects will be seen as making a change for the better, when the one thing that that really needs to be "introduced" is still lacking - the teacher's and the communities (aka your) belief that the student is capable of leading their own learning. How do we ensure that MLEs and Learning Technologies don't actually create the educational equivalent of "mutton dressed as lamb" or as you say "the Emperor wearing new clothes"?

MLEs are pointless if the teacher still leads from the front of classrooms (albeit classrooms with invisible walls). Learning Technologies are pointless when the students have the use of their technology controlled and limited to little more than word processing and the odd google search. The challenge is to be supported to explore how the MLEs and Learning Technologies can be used to genuinely change how and what we have been doing.

As you infer. Changing the environment and introducing tools is easy. Genuinely changing our thinking and letting our "caged" students go "free-range" - now that's going to be a challenge.

Wouldn't it have been awesome if your opinion piece was actually framed differently. Taking that simple question and very valid question you started with and using it to challenge and support what educators are trying to do. 

In the meantime, let me just go ahead and do that on your behalf.

To the teachers of New Zealand, going above and beyond to evolve education and improve outcomes for our learners - I salute you! Whether it be through leading the way in a Modern Learning Environments or by rattling the cages of your single cell classroom, I recognise and celebrate how hard you are working to do things differently. Don't let daft opinion pieces detract from your efforts, instead take a moment to print them off, screw them up and use it to stoke the flames of awesomeness.

In closing, I would love to extend an invite to you, Bernadine, to come and see our MLE in action, I would love to take the time to explain to you exactly how we are working to use these flexible spaces to design powerful and engaging learning.

I genuinely look forward to hearing from you. 

Your sincerely,

Claire Amos

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Amplifying best practice with BYOD and Google Classroom (or any online platform)

Video - Google Classrooms, Learner Agency & Universal Design for Learning

In this day and age it blows me away that there are still high schools debating whether to introduce Bring Your Own Device (BYOD), and then it frustrates me further than when they do go BYOD and they choose to make it optional or drip feed it in level by level.

Those yet to introduce BYOD are doing their students a massive disservice, potentially widening the gap between the "haves and have-nots". Young people need these skills, and considering your school probably has something in the vision or mission statement about preparing young people, you're really not delivering the goods.

And as for those who are doing the slowly, slowly drip feed of BYOD, bravo for taking the first step, but you need to recognise that you are increasing your teacher's workload, not reducing it, and the chances are you are not getting anywhere near the benefits that a one to one BYOD programme can offer.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know what you are saying, change is hard for teachers, but dipping your toes takes just as much work, on top of still doing traditional prep and the chances are the efforts are half-arsed as a result and the students are frustrated because it's bloody unclear how they should be learning. This also allows for the nervous and reticent amongst your teaching staff to pretty much opt out and to lean on the offline they strategies they are confident in. And remember universal BYOD or one to one does not mean that you forgo that fabulous face to face offline practice, it just means that you can invest time and energy to do the online strategies well.

And yeah, yeah, yeah I hear others saying their learners just can't afford it. Well personally, I think those learners are the ones that need and deserve it more than any. Get your retailers/ICT suppliers to put together a weekly payment plan for a naked chromebook or laptop, ie. simply a chromebook or laptop. Not one that comes with case, insurance, steak knives and kitchen sink. You should be able to get these down to a few dollars a week. If your school budget or some kind school supporters can stretch to it, bulk buy and let families pay back at $3-4 a week. Yes, these strategies take time, and some financial risk,  but quite frankly if this means we are going to close the digital divide for our students and possibly their families, it is time bloody time and money well spent!

But I digress, this blogpost is supposed to about how BYOD can and amplify best practice.

Note - If your behaviour management is poor, if your lessons are poorly planned and your contexts less than engaging (and if you don't get of your bottom throughout each and every lesson) your BYOD will stand for Bring Your Own Distraction.

As the quote states below, technology can help education where it's already doing well!

Rather than finding a digital educational cure, he came to understand what he calls technology’s “Law of Amplification”: technology could help education where it’s already doing well, but it does little for mediocre educational systems. Worse, in dysfunctional schools, it “can cause outright harm.” He added: “Unfortunately, there is no technological fix…more technology only magnifies socioeconomic disparities, and the only way to avoid that is non-technological.”

Therefore it is key that when you bring in devices and start using an online learning platform you need to ensure it works to reinforce best practice. At Hobsonville Point Secondary School we have three principles that we believe underpins powerful learning: innovate through personalising learning, engage through powerful partnerships and inspire through deep challenge and inquiry. So when we looked at developing a best practice guide for e-learning our fabulous E-learning Specialist Classroom leader Danielle Myburgh used these principles to organise and construct a guide that outlined expectations for our teachers.

E-learning Best Practice Guide developed by Danielle Myburgh as E-SCT

One of the key ways we support learning at HPSS is through the development of a Learning Design Model that underpins a shared learning taxonomy that all staff use to formulate learning objectives for each and every module and lesson.

Learning Design Model - designed and supported by Di Cavallo and our awesome Learning Design Leaders

To ensure these learning objectives are visible I ensure I publish them at the beginning of each lesson, along with clear instructions as to what we are doing, so if any students are away or need to review their learning, they can do so with ease. 

A typical Google Classroom announcement

The quotes below are taken from our end of module feedback form where students were asked to comment on my use of Google Classroom.

Student Voice about visible learning strategies in my module

As well as ensuring learning is visible I am also keen to ensure that learning is as inclusive as possible. To this end I try to use a fairly simplistic approach to try and ensure that the principles of Universal Design for Learning is also underpinning how I use my online platforms (and how the students get to use their devices).

Image from CAST

This means that I try to use a range of modes for students learning about any one topic or developing any skill.

Offering a range of modes through Google Classroom 

I also let students, where appropriate, use a range of modes for evidencing their learning. For example, rather than demanding an essay, I would always let them present their learning as a podcast, video, infographic or essay/blogpost. Of course if I am assessing writing, I get them to write! But if I ain't, why the hell would I limit their chances of presenting in the way they do best. Note - it does pay to spend a little time teaching/letting them learn how present effectively through each mode. Don't worry, YouTube more than makes up for any teacher inexperience!

Offering a range of modes for evidencing learning (is easy)

The quotes below are taken from our end of module feedback form where students were asked to comment on my use of UDL through Google Classroom.

MoStudent Voice about UDL strategies in my module

Finally, BYOD has to be about developing Learner Agency! You can read more about that here. I believe BYOD and online learning platforms really come into their own when they are used to support learner agency and carefully curated choice! And as well as giving them choice, look at your direct teaching to learning ratio. See if you can do only 10-15 minutes direct instruction (if it's needed at all) and then let THEM learn! Just make sure you don't then sit back and do your sudoku/emails/Pinterest (okay that last one is a reminder for me ;). Use this time to sit amongst your students and question, challenge as support as needed. If you are take advantage of this time to do some quick admin, do it at the back of the class. Learners with screens need your support and your vigilance!

Let's got free-range!

More blogposts on this topic:

Saturday, November 19, 2016

#SUNZSUMMIT - What I learnt from attending SingularityU and what I reckon it means for education in NZ

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Earlier this week (Mon-Wed) I was lucky enough to attend the inaugural SingularityU NZ Summit in Christchurch. Since then (Thurs-forever) my brain has a been a whirl as I have tried my best to understand and appreciate exactly what it is I learned and heard at the event. The saying "the more you know, the more you know you don't know" kept coming to mind. I went in to the event fairly confident I was abreast technological developments, what was in store and what that meant for education. I came away from his event patently aware that whilst I am relatively aware of technological developments, my knowledge really only skipped across the surface like a skittery ol' skipping stone and my understanding of the impact it is going to have on education was way short - I need to stop thinking Blue Sky High and need to start thinking Intergalactic Intelligence Building!

The SingularityU NZ website describes the event as bringing "the world’s top speakers and experts on exponentially accelerating technologies together with New Zealand's and Australia's leaders of today and tomorrow, giving us the knowledge and insight we need to compete — and win — in an exponentially changing world." Basically, think a future-focused TEDx on steroids and you will get the idea.

As someone who has the attention span of a flea or truly worried about the format, I would probably rather perform a bit of at home dentistry rather than sit through 20 lengthy TED type talks, but somehow, the format worked...maybe it was something in that tasty and ridiculously healthy cuisine they kept feeding us...and the free coffee certainly helped. I came away from the event with my brain absolutely stuffed full with new learning and with an appetite to learn more and more importantly to ACT!

Moore's Law
Image Source

The first day was all about setting the scene and ensuring each and everyone of use understood the concept of exponential change and what the ramifications of this change will be for every one of us. Kaila Corbin (who made this event happen), kicked us off with lesson in exponential change. Exponential change was often exemplified by the concept of Moore's Law which is based on Intel founders prediction that computing power would double in power every year and would half in price and size (or something like that) and thereby providing a handy example that is symbolic of the exponential technological change we are experiencing. Moore's Law is something that I have often quoted, so whilst this wasn't a new concept, what I did take away from Kaila's talk was the realisation about how the vast majority view the trajectory of development and resulting change. If you look at the graph at the top and imagine you are standing on the "you are here" dot and looking backward. The slope is insignificant, and by looking back, there is nothing to suggest that the trajectory will change, thereby lulling us into  the notion of gentle change, change that can make you feel like you a skipping through a field of daisies, the change is visible, at times its exciting and other time's pretty disappointing in it's glacial nature. However if you turn around and look forward, with a knowledge of the principles that underpin exponential change, you are hit, smack bam in the face by a sudden acceleration that results in a trajectory that appears damn near vertical! Unprepared, and it could feel like chaos, more prepared, I reckon you might more likely experience amazement and ultimately be more ready benefit from the down right bonkers rate of change.

Along with this intro to exponential change and many examples of it (think Uber, Tesla, Virtual Reality and Artificial Intelligence) the first day also set the scene for ensuring we approach all this technical whizz-bangery with empathy and ethics. Basically we can use all of this stuff for bad and selfish means, or we can use these developments for the good of humankind, as Nathaniel Calhoun asked us - what impact do you want to make on society?

The three days were jam-packed with lightbulb moments and technological takeaways. There is no way I can do it justice here, so here are just a few that stuck with me:

"Re-spect abundance... If you look again you might see that there enough resources for everybody" - Tiago Mattos stressed the idea that whilst we might have been plundering our Earth's resources that if we harness technology in a positive way it can lead to abundance for all.

"Technology allows us to be more human" - David Roberts flipped the notion of us all being bereft as a result of being replaced by robots in our workplace, we can see it as an opportunity to be freed from tedious repetitive jobs and to have more time. Of course that does also beg the question asked by Kathryn Myronuk - what will life look like when 80% of our work is automated? And I kept thinking how will we then make money? I keep clinging to the rather romantic notion that this may lead to a modern day renaissance...just don't ask me how we will fund it.

There were other less scary concepts to think about, I particularly like the idea of bitcoin and blockchain and the way that it allowed for things like mircopayments, allowing to bypass advertisers and companied to simply pay micro amounts, say 10c, to read an article. "Imagine our browser had digital currency built into it. A simple click & a micropayment goes directly to the original creator." said Mandy Simpson. Imagine how this could allow for individuals to flourish by cutting out giants such as Amazon or Facebook. 

There was also a lots (and I mean A LOT) of talk about self-driving and electric cars, this was combined with Uber and the concept of "uberisation". Basically the message was that we will all be in driverless, electric cars before we know it, and we will probably access vehicles as and when we need them. As stated by Amin Toufani, it will be about "access instead of ownership". Brad Templeton warned that we should not underestimate the level of disruption electric/driverless cars will cause - "Ownership, parking, real estate, energy, retail, food, medical… Just some of the industries self-driving cars will disrupt".

Health was another area that will see massive disruption. Raymond McCauley terrified and excited us with the potential impact of biohacking - "By 2022, sequencing a human genome will be cheaper than flushing a toilet. That’s so cheap it’s almost free". Basically stating that in less than 10 years our ability to "fix" by sequencing human genomes will be a viable option for many. If you could produce a child that was immune to influenza, immune to HIV, could be born without Downs Syndrome, would you do it?? I experienced massive internal ethical debates after this session. We also heard from Michael Gillam about the potential for exponential improvement of health advice around the corner, with the use of IBM's Watson in medicine we have "not just the mind of one doctor taking care of you, but the minds of 7 billion doctors taking care of you".  Now that's got to be better than my one vaguely interested GP.

And of course it kept coming back to the idea that all of this technological can do damage or can do good, depending on how we, the humans, harness it. As Ramez Naam so eloquently (and terrifyingly) stated - "We’re in a race - how fast we screw up our planet and how fast we innovate with these new technologies".

So what does this all mean for education?

Well for one, I feel like each and every session reinforced that we as a nation are doing one of two things:

The first group are sticking their heads in the sand by thinking that education (and probably everything else) won't or doesn't really need to change. Think back to that early image I created where people were standing on the "we are here" dot looking backwards. These are the people in education who protect the status quo, who think BYOD, makerspaces and a bit of coding will equip our young people for gently evolving future. And I fear A LOT of our schools are exactly in this place and space.

The second group of people are pretty much who I have been hanging with (up until I attended this pesky event ;-), a growing number of educators who are trying new approaches, enjoying Blue Sky High thinking. They are the schools exploring knocking down walls, exploring project based learning, integrated studies, self-directed learning time, STEM and STEAM initiatives. These are the educators who are aware that the world is changing and who are exploring innovation from within the still largely traditional enabling constraints of our primary and secondary schools. An increasing number of educators are in this space and this is exactly where we need to be....for now.

What I now realise is that second scenario is a good one for the very short term only. It is a scenario that relied on the idea of a qualified teacher being optimal, a physical school being necessary and the notion of a localised curriculum and qualification being relevant. After the three days at SingularityU I now no longer believe any of these things can be relied on as a "enabling constraint" for more than the next 10 years, 15 max. Sue Suckling (Chair of NZQA) set the scene when she stated - "The day of the qualification is over. The era of verification is coming". Now when the CHAIR of NZQA states that the very idea of a qualification is numbered we need to sit up listen. Consider this. One of the main reason children attend school until 18 (aside from it's obvious appeal as a free baby-sitting service) is to gain a qualification. What if the whole concept of a localised curriculum and qualification disappeared, would there be the same compulsion to remain in school? Combine that with the reality that access to the Internet and increasingly engaging, sophisticated online learning options become available we are no longer going to be able to lure students in by our ability to teach them anything they can't get online. And I am not just talking hokey MOOCs and Khan Academy, I am talking training with NASA experts and leaders from all fields from across the world. Who knows what the future holds when you combine this with AI and VR. You could be walking around NASA, learning alongside astronauts from the comfort of your home. And basically you can translate this to any field.

At one point during the summit I had an absolute lightbulb moment. Here we are with people stressing about local educational developments - how we can evolve NCEA, sticking antiquated exams online, worrying that COOLs will bring about terrifying change. And all we are doing is panicking about the sideshows, getting distracted by the local developments. We are standing on that "we are here" dot, kidding ourselves that the gentle incline we are standing on will continue ahead of us. If we use the "horse to cars" analogy, I can't help feeling we are painting wings on a pony when we should be building a freakin' Tesla. We need to be thinking beyond the bricks and mortar and the local curriculum and qualification and start thinking about how we can harness each and every learning opportunity beyond our classroom walls, whether it be out in a forest, in a local business or in a virtual landscape. We need to think about how we can completely revise this concept of a school or at least this concept of a physical school. As Jane Gilbert often reminds me, we need to come back to the big question of "what is education for?" and go from there. I was only half joking when I tweeted the following:

But seriously, if we want to do this thing and we want education (and educators) in NZ to be relevant beyond the 10-15 year window we might have, we need start thinking outside the box and most definitely outside this thing we call school!

Innovation: doing the same things better
Disruption: doing new things that make the old things obsolete.

Basically our days of "innovation" being enough in education are numbered. I suspect we might experience disruption sooner than we think. Whether we want it or not. Let's stop seeing the "we are here" as a destination and recognise it for what it really is....a bloody exciting starting point!!

Sunday, November 13, 2016

#SUNZSummit - Why I am looking forward to SingularityU

On the eve of the inaugural SingularityU NZ Summit I am continuing to build some very genuine levels excitement about what I might learn and how it might reframe my thinking about the future of education. It has been awesome to be part of what feels like a groundswell of educators who share a passion for futures thinking and educational change and it has been equally exciting to see this become a theme of large scale conferences such as Ulearn and EduTech and the many smaller corporate organised edu-conferences that have popped up in recent years.

However alongside this excitement this excitement there has also been a sense of frustration. Whilst there is absolutely a growing demand for educational change, there is also sense that these "edu-changemakers" still, in a sense live within a bit of a bubble. Head to any conference and you see the same lovely group of educators, speaking for the most part about variations of the same stuff - me included (see above). You can't help feeling that those wanting to make real change exist in what can feel like an echo-chamber, who for the most part are simply preaching to the converted.

So I guess I am looking forward to SingularityU for two key reasons.

The first reason - I want to hear fresh stuff.

I am really looking forward to hearing stuff that blows the top of my freakin' head off. Whilst I am passionate about and a passionate advocate for the concepts and thinking that sit behind "design thinking", "makerspaces", "e-learning", "BYOD", "learner agency", "coding" and all the other educational jargon that I and everyone else seems to be waffling on about at educational conferences, I  fear I am suffering from "jargon jaundice", and worry this may lead to "futurist fatigue". So SingularityU I am looking to you! I want new learning, like hurt-your-brain learning. I want to be shaken out of my "modern learning malaise" and come away thoroughly coated in some "exponential ectoplasm".

The second reason - I want everyone to hear fresh stuff...and want them to want change.

I really hope this event is a catalyst for a widespread call for change, particularly in our schools. One of my frustrations is the sense that whilst people love educators writing and talking about change, they still seem to hesitate appointing "change leaders" to lead their (secondary) schools. Until each and every school leader is a leader of change, education in NZ will stumble and ultimately stall. Schools in NZ are governed by Boards of Trustees, who for the most part are interested parents and community members. I am hoping an event like SingularityU reaches them, the communities and families who will then demand schools (particularly secondary schools) evolve to meet the exponential change we are are experiencing in our workplaces and society at large. NZ already has one of the most open and future-focused curriculum, we also have a pretty flexible and forward thinking qualification framework, yet many secondary school timetables look the same as they did 50 years ago. I really hope this event can rattle the "college cages" and help our schools and communities to understand that it is going to take more than BYOD and Makerspaces to properly prepare our young people.

And of course I am looking forward to visiting Christchurch and meeting many like-minded people! Bring it on SingularityU!

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Keeping our cool about COOLs (without drinking the COOL aid)

Yesterday the government (as part of a wider announcement around updating the Education Act, announced they are to "Establish a future focused regulatory framework for online learning", which is unpacked as "A new framework for correspondence education (modernised to refer to “online learning”) to future-proof the Act, and enable students to study online as an alternative to, or alongside, face-to-face education. The new framework enables new providers to enter the market, as accredited Communities of Online Learning (COOLs)." I can understand that this may have come as a surprise, and that in and of itself makes people nervous, not to mention the use of the term "market", what I don't understand is the nearly universal "Chicken Little" response which has seen nearly all peak bodies, politicians and many media outlets declare that "the sky is falling!".

Personally my first instinct was - awesome! I mean, imagine the possibilities! Imagine how we might reimagine schooling? Imagine the way we could genuinely personalise learning? Imagine how we might build on the already successful models of online learning that we tap into through HarbourNet or NZNET and the virtual learning network? Imagine how we might build on the (fabulous) evolving model of correspondence learning already available through Te Kura? Imagine how might we stretch COLs and collaborative models of delivering education to ensure all students from Cape Reinga to Stewart Island all had access to the very best subject specialists, that all schools no matter how small could offer their learners a rich diversity of subjects? Imagine how we could leverage this opportunity to provide genuine, next level, learner agency? Imagine how we might let students learn how and when they wanted or needed. And of course we will also need to imagine how might we do all of this without losing what we know is at the heart of effective learning. How we can take this bold leap into the future and still ensure our young people are socialised and experience a sense of community? How might we respond and take advantage of the flexibility that technology affords us and still build relationships between educator and learner?

However the more I looked across the papers, the more lonely I felt. Through nearly every media outlet and every social media platform all I felt I heard and read was shock and horror and instant assumptions (even before we had any detail) about what what we would lose and what agendas were really at play here. Are we really so shocked that online schooling is going to be a reality sooner rather than later? Personally I'm shocked we aren't there already. Are we really so cynical that we can't even pause long enough to consider the possibilities before launching into scaremongering diatribe that would suggest the end is nigh and we are all going to hell in a hand basket?

Don't get me wrong, I don't think people are wrong to be nervous, especially when it felt like a bolt out of the blue and we currently have so little detail (note there is now more info available here). As with everything, the devil will be the detail. This policy will need to enacted incredibly carefully and slowly to ensure that any new models complement or build on our current models. Just like any learning environment, real or virtual, the output will be directly related to the quality of the input - bring on those registered teachers and curriculum experts! There will be massive fish hooks to work through, but man isn't it awesome we can genuinely explore these options...and only sixteen years in to the 21st Century!

Goddam. I can't wait to run my school-less COOL from my driverless car!

But seriously, I am going to stay excited, I am going to put on my Pollyanna pants and positively pursue the possibilities of COOLs...whilst ensuring I don't "drink the COOL aid"". I am going to dive deep into any info that gets published, I am going ask questions, I am going to challenge the stuff I am concerned about whilst also thinking long and hard about how we might use this development to further support personalisation, learner agency and redefine what we think of as "school". I am going to challenge myself to embrace change in the hope that we might just evolve education at a rate that reflects the rate of the evolution of the society I live in. I am going to challenge myself to not simply cling on to the rose-coloured memory of the schooling and school that I might have loved and excelled in, in the past. I am going to do this because, quite simply, it is not about me and what I am comfortable with, and it is not about what I know to be true from past experience. It is is about being open to what could be and what could take us a step closer to ensuring we have a wide variety of models of schooling that might better meet the needs of the wide variety of young people we are tasked with looking after.

I am going to close this blogpost with an excerpt from a post I wrote in December 2013, this post was originally written as part of a 'Thoughts on the future of EdTech' blog series on the Ed Personnel Blog. I can't help thinking, to continue the poultry theme, that the chickens may just be coming home to roost a little sooner than we might have imagined...

“If the rate of change on the outside exceeds the rate of change on the inside, the end is near.”
- Jack Welch

I believe that the future of EdTech will actually facilitate something even more exciting - the partial dissolution of what we have come to know as “school”. I suspect that if schools continue to struggle to evolve and to leverage the power of EdTech effectively and cannot change at a rate that mirrors the rate of change in wider society we will begin to see a society that questions the relevance of such a formal and seemingly inflexible structure. In fact, it is possible that we could see the whole notion of school questioned and the relevance of formal education challenged as future generations refuse to accept the glacial pace of change and instead harness the powers of EdTech to form something akin to connected home-schooling community. You only need look at the global proliferation of democratic schools and rising profile of hackschooling to get a sense that this shift has already begun. And whilst democratic schools, for the most part, still base themselves in what we might recognise as a school, I do wonder if the ubiquity and autonomy that EdTech affords learners, we may see that change as well.

The future of EdTech is one of disruption, democratization and for some, complete dissonance.

Before you dismiss this as little more than a pedagogical fantasy, I would suggest that you at least stop to consider the future of EdTech as something more than the status quo on steroids and I implore you recognise that what is really exciting is not the EdTech at all, but rather how EdTech might help to redefine what “an education” might look like in the not distant future.

Genuinely keen to hear your thoughts on this issue!

Make sure you read the info here:

Monday, June 6, 2016

Innovate Out West - A Collaborative West Auckland Teacher Only Day

Innovate Out West
West Auckland Teacher Only Day
Tuesday 7th June

Conference Theme: Innovative Learning - sharing the best of the West!

Tomorrow marks the inaugural 'Innovate Out West'. A teacher only day with a difference! This year a range of secondary schools from across the West Auckland area (Hobsonville Point Secondary School, Waitakere College, Massey High School and Kelston Boys High School) are getting together to share their best practice with each other. It will be an opportunity for teachers to visit two different schools the learn about their best practice and innovative strategies they are developing, so as to improve outcomes for all.

Workshops include topics such as 
  • 'Pasifika achievement' - Strategies that empower Pasifika students to succeed, 
  • 'Matau Tatou' Kelston’s brand of PB4L, 
  • 'Restorative Practice" - Focus on relationships 
  • 'Cross curricular learning in a traditional context'- Sharing our current exploration of cross curricular collaboration around Matariki, 
  • 'Hillbilly Lemonade' - Teachers talk too much! This session will not only quench  your thirst but will provide some strategies of how to encourage students to ask more questions and also examine how teachers can improve their questioning techniques, 
  • 'Know thy Self!' - Analysis of teachers strengths and weakness and how this might be correlated to facilitate improved teaching practice and targeted PD, 
  • 'Project Learning' - PBL - Project Based Learning at Hobsonville Point Secondary School - how we do things. The process of Projects - Kick Off, Plan, Action, Showtime and Final Look. The requirements at each stage of the process. Working alongside authentic partners to reach an outcome. Collaboration with peers, Guides and partners. Links to the Values of HPSS, and 
  • 'Learning design for deeper learning' - Explore design thinking principles and ways they can connect with teaching and learning. Look at how common language can enhance teaching and learning processes and influence learning outcomes. Explore and share tools and strategies about teaching and learning.

It will be a chance to connect, collaborate and learn from each other. 

The conference follows this structure:

Conference Structure
9.00-11.00  AM Session - choose school/workshops
11.00-1.00  Lunch - choose lunch location
1.00-3.00   PM Session - choose another school/location

Plus a big thanks to TTS for sponsoring the lunch. 

Tomorrow is hopefully the beginning of something special, with the intention to grow it year on year to include all West Auckland schools working together to share best practice and innovation. If you are at a West Auckland school, get in touch with one of the schools involved this year. Let's show the rest of Auckland what Innovating Out West can really look like!

Make sure you follow the twitter feed tomorrow #InnovateOutWest