Monday, February 25, 2013

Getting the "right balance" - just make sure you get "back to basics" in that Modern Learn Environment.

Content vs. skills
Face to face vs. online
Rote learning vs. deep thinking
Individual activities vs group activities
Sage on the stage vs. guide on the side
Teacher led learning vs. self directed learning
Closed classrooms vs. flexible learning commons
Discreet curriculum subjects vs. an integrated curriculum

Is it just me or are all wrestling with this concept of "the right balance"? Is there even such a thing as a right balance? And right for whom exactly?

One thing I do know is, is that if we want to shift from a "traditional" to a more "future focused pedagogy" this involves a shift in this balance. A shift to skills over content, a greater mix of face to face and online, deep thinking over rote learning, more collaborative group work, more guide less sage, self-directed over teacher-led with all of this taking place in a flexible learning space and with a more integrated curriculum model.

But even if I can get my head around this, the more I think about it, the more questions I start forming. How much shift is enough? A little or a lot. Not sure. How do we know we have shifted enough? Much gauging of student engagement and achievement I am guessing.

And actually, who decided this shift is actually needed in the first place.

All of the money being invested in the development of Modern Learning Environments and the Network for Learning certainly suggests the government sees shift as a priority. Or does it. If we are to believe our current Minister of Education, when it comes to Mathematics, we actually need to get "back to basics" and embrace some good old rote hang on a minute...does that mean that whilst the government thinks we we need to evolve and get ready for these Modern Learning Environments (see last post) we also need to hang on to traditional pedagogy.

Got it. Shift two steps forward...and um, shift three steps back.

Our (NZ) curriculum and many popular educational leaders also suggest a shift is needed, you only need to cast an eye over the work of John Hattie, Dennis Littky and Ken Robinson to name but a few. I can happily accept that. I guess the challenge will be in estimating just how much of a shift is needed, especially as we (the HPSS senior leadership team) are presented with the rare opportunity of building a school from the ground up. Already we have learned much from our local leaders (Albany Senior and Ormiston both leading the way in this evolution), next we will get to learn from some world leaders (watch this space) and finally we will need to be brave and genuinely make the shift.

Okay, so one thing I know for sure, we will struggle (and should struggle) to get the "right balance", in fact it really will be more about ensuring that we keep evolving that balance so as to respond to our learners.

You can rest assured...we certainly won't be simply "getting back to basics" in our Modern Learning Environment.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Modern Learning Environments and Learning Technologies - 21st century education change-makers or old school smoke screens?

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? 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.

Learning Technologies are a little easier to define. The term simply means any technology that may support learning. For most, this would include computers (desktops, laptops and tablets), interactive whiteboards, smart screens and smart phones. Learning Technologies are also "not so modern". I guess what might be deemed as modern is the shift in who owns and uses the technology, as 'Bring Your Own Device' initiatives see the ownership and power shifting to the student.

Interestingly, whilst I value and see huge potential in both MLEs and (student owned) Learning Technologies I am also concerned about them. 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 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" with old beliefs and teaching approaches being dressed up in hip and groovy clothing.

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 will actually be to explore how the MLEs and Learning Technologies can be used to genuinely change how and what we have been doing.

I guess my concern my concern is this - 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.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Powerful partnerships, personalised learning and a bit of foo for thought

Personalised Learning, Powerful Partnerships!

This statement outlines two of the central philosophies of Hobsonville Point Secondary School.

Personalised learning for us means that our students will be in a position to negotiate and shape their own learning. We will aim to provide opportunities for their interests and passions to translate into extended projects and possibly even shape their entire course of study. How exactly this will be achieved is still to be decided, with our timetable and year structure being developed over time, especially as we continue to view other schools and environments for guidance and inspiration. So far we have visited with Albany Senior High School and tomorrow we visit Ormiston Senior College - two Auckland secondary schools that have led the way in modern learning environments. Like HPSS, both schools have open and flexible learning spaces and have challenged traditional notions of subject and curriculum defined departments and the role of the tutor teacher. In April we look forward to visiting a number of "self-directed" schools in Canada and the "big picture" Met School in Rhode Island. Another school on our radar includes the Australian Science and Mathematics School. If you have any other suggestions we would love to hear them!

Powerful partnerships are also key. Whether it be the reciprocal learning partnership between student and teacher, student and student or the the school and community. The strength of the partnership between teacher and student will determine how successfully learning can be personalised, the partnership between the school and community will help us in offering an education that goes beyond the school boundaries as learners develop mentoring relationships with businesses and seek out ways to contribute and care for the community and surrounding environment. Again, the way this is to be achieved is still up for discussion, and any suggestions, ideas or contacts are welcome.

Finally, over the weekend, I was lucky enough to attend Kiwi Foo, an annual unconference organised by Nat Torkington that sees a rich range of thinkers and doers camping out and sharing experiences and ideas for an intense 48 hour period. Once I got over my initial intellectual inferiority complex and recognised my camp companions for what they were - a stunningly rich and varied collection of generous, passionate, funny, candid and clever folk - I got down to business, making the most of an opportunity to connect with, learn from and share ideas with as many as possible. By the end of foo, not only was I mentally exhausted, but I also had more ideas, new friends and connections than I know what to do with. Interestingly, it was this experience that really made it hit home - authentic and relevant personalised learning can only take place when the content is crowdsourced and the schedule is entirely co-constructed (this being what defines an UNconference) and that when you bring people together, with a little time time and space powerful partnerships can be formed very quickly.

Some personal highlights from the weekend included robot building, the Ignite presentations, discussions about playing games in public spaces and sitting in on a number of discussions ranging from 'how to talk to the media' to 'what and how we should be teaching our kids'.

But actually what I think I enjoyed the most was the chance to move beyond the "educational echo chamber" and the opportunity to see a range of topics and issues though the lens of academics, entrepreneurs, thinkers and doers from a range of disciplines. I do wonder how we might apply this interdisciplinary model in a school environment....I mean why couldn't school be one big unconference?

Hmmmm. Foo(d) for thought indeed.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Do we exist in an educational echo chamber?

One outcome of being part of something as exciting as setting up a brand new school is that you find yourself explaining (or at least attempting to) the underlying philosophy of the said school. Whilst we are still wrangling with the precise wording of the vision and principles I do have fairly strong personal philosophies about education that (I think) reflect those of the school...I mean, I assume that's why I got the job? Isn't it? I know I value student engagement, creativity, future focus, innovation, collaboration and differentiated or personalised learning. I know I care deeply about professional development, teaching as inquiry and the thoughtful integration of e-learning tools and strategies.

However, I am also aware that I am very good at surrounding myself, in both a digital and physical sense, with educators who hold similar views and share similar passions to mine.

This leads to me to my latest edu-conundrum. Is our ability to curate our reading/listening/viewing through platforms such as Twitter and RSS feeds etc. actually just creating a an echo chamber that simply amplifies what (I think) I know to be true. Is this ability to manipulate and control our information flow actually narrowing our views and preventing us to from challenging and questioning these beliefs? Then, on top of this, particularly if you are a bit of an edu-geek and 'professionaldevelopmentophile' like me, you also attend many (and I mean MANY) conferences (and unconferences) that do little more than reinforce these beliefs and passions. The converted happily preaching to the converted. We might share, discuss and even debate, but really, we do so within a safe wee haven that only represents a small portion of a much broader educational sector. I can't even use the "but my beliefs are backed by research" card, because lets be fair, you can find research to support most things, and history has shown how misguided and even deadly this can be.

I know (I think) I can be safe in my beliefs if I undertake an inquiry and/or research so as to measure outcomes, based on interventions informed by these beliefs...but even that is hard to prove as being evidence that MY beliefs are "right" and could actually, at least in part, be influenced by a number of other factors.

So where does that leave us?

How do I actually go about ensuring I am genuinely challenging my educational beliefs, ideas, values?

Do I even need to?
I suspect I do.

Or is the realisation that I might be stuck in an an educational echo chamber actually enough?
I suspect it isn't.

Are my visible tattoos bad advertising for the school?

I have never thought so, but then again I have many visible tattoos and am possibly just a little biased.

Interestingly at least one community member thinks they might be. It was in response to the pic seen in an earlier post, you can see the incriminating shot here. When I first heard this I laughed. "How ridiculous!" I thought. "What do my tattoos have to do with ability as an educational leader?" I thought. So on it went, the internal and external dialogue dismissing such close mindedness (echoed of course by the supportive, liberal, educated and fabulous people I call my colleagues and friends).

So why then has the comment (long deleted) stuck with me. Easy to disregard as a single person's view but does it actually represent a view that many are just too polite to articulate.

For me, tattoos have simply been a way of expressing my love of their designs. I love how they look, what they represent and for the most part I guess I do enjoy how people respond to them. I am proud that I am confident enough to express myself personally irregardless of what people might perceive as a norm for an educated professional. But even as I type out these words I wonder if I too have some deep-seated prejudice against my own tattoos. I mean, I do cover them for job interviews - usually because I don't want them to distract or to inform some incorrect perception. But if I think that, am I just as bad?

Do I think my visible tattoos are bad advertising for me...even if only in a first formal interview.

Then again, I guess most of us play that game, whether it be disguising our preference for going barefoot, wearing casual attire or something more permanent like me. Funnily enough I have never hidden them in the work place, nor should I.

Okay so this post has been a bit self-indulgent but it does raise an interesting point I do want to explore some more. What is the relationship between how we present ourselves and what we might be "saying" about our school or work environment? Does a suit, cap and gown suggest a more academic environment? Some would say it does. Ironic when you think of some of the most genuinely powerful people - Sergey Brin and Mark Zuckerburg don't strike me as the sort of dudes that don a suit too often and they seem to be doing okay.

So what do you think? Should school expect a level of formality so as to suggest it is somehow more "serious" about education? I sure hope not. But the more I think about it, most schools...even those who pride themselves as being at the more liberal end of the spectrum have reinstated uniforms (although that may be a different argument...) and expect a level of formality amongst their staff.

Is new NZ ready for a more "Google" approach to the education work environment. I desperately hope so, especially if it means we can a have a slide....

Monday, February 4, 2013

Libraries as beacons of 21st century pedagogy

Last year, (as Director of e-learning at Epsom Girls Grammar School on behalf of the school) I responded to the Parliamentary Select Committee's 'Inquiry into the 21st Century Learning Environments and Digital Literacy' with a submission that touched on a number of areas. One area that has really stuck with me is the point raised about how important the school library is, and will remain to be, within our 21st century learning environments. See the excerpts below:

From the written submission:

The traditional school library building would be a good place to start in the re-visioning process - a secondary school library presents the perfect environment for a shared learning environment that could be redeveloped to provide resources (books and Digital) ICT, media and production tools and spaces.

and from the oral submission:

We need to see libraries as a strategic place to start this shift for all schools by ensuring that schools get the advice, guidance and funding they need to transform traditional libraries into multi-media multi-purpose learning commons and information centres. This would be a pragmatic way of ensuring all NZ students were able to access digital resources within a “21st Century Learning Environment” and therefore able to develop their digital competencies with an educational context.

Basically, school libraries are important, and in this digital age, they are only becoming more important. School libraries have the potential to represent a kind of beacon of 21st century pedagogy and competency development. Libraries and librarians are in essence all about information (and digital) literacy and the curation of information - a skill that has never been more important as our learners navigate their way their way through a sea of paper and digital resources. As a physical environment they often represent a kind of curriculum version of Switzerland, a subject neutral territory, an open learning space, a space that provides the tools and guidance to support genuine student-led learning and inquiry.

Also, it's the home of books. You can keep your Kindle (for now) - I still love books.

So, this leads to the actual point of today's blog post. Today we (the Senior Leadership Team) ferried (and I mean, literally ferried via the new Hobsonville-City ferry route) to the National Library to meet with the lovely Lisa Oldham to discuss some of our ideas...and more importantly, to shamelessly poach hers. Lisa is the Development Specialist for School Library Futures for the National I an guessing we are entitled to do so. Talking with Lisa was great, reaffirming our as yet fetal vision for the HPSS library and giving us much food for thought. I will be diving head long into some of her recommended reading before we meet again next week. Check out her blog and her recommended reading below. Also please feel free to pass on your recommendations as well!

Click here to view Lisa's EdTalk
Lisa's Blog 

Recommended reading
Joyce Valenza
Buffy Hamilton (kindle/ebooks)
Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano (Langwitches)
Ross Todd
David Loertscher
Lyn Hay
Judy O'Connell

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Creating a school. Awesome in every sense of the word.

Looking back on the first week...okay, I admit it...the first three days at Hobsonville Point Secondary School, I can honestly say that being part of an establishment Senior Leadership Team is awesome. In every sense of the word.

Day one was about de-schooling and the school vision. Nice.

Day two was about thinking and discussing (and getting our head around the fact that we do actually have time to think and discuss). Nice, but actually more challenging than you might think.

Day three was a day for planning our time, creating to do lists and diving head-long into unpacking and refining the vision, principles and values that will define Hobsonville Secondary School for our staff, students and community.  This is AWESOME.

It was only as we wrestled with the taxonomy, pulling apart every word, word variation and statement, that it hit home how powerful and important these pithy phrases really are, especially as they will literally "define us" and everything we stand for. No pressure or anything. Interestingly, this is made even more difficult because the New Zealand Curriculum is so darn good at doing this already. Whilst we need to (and want to) align to the NZC, we can't just simply adopt it verbatim, because it needs to define "us". If that wasn't tricky enough, it not only has to define us, but it also has to be all a bit deep and meaningful, and on top of this it also needs to be rather poetic...or at the very least memorable. Sheesh.

But joking aside, this is actually what makes this so exciting, as well as a genuinely once in (a school) lifetime opportunity. I do feel very lucky. Not only am I part of a great team (see last post), but I am being given the time to de-school, think and discuss (unheard of in normal school life), as well as being part of a team that actually builds (quite literally) a school and school philosophy from the ground up. One word at a time.


Friday, February 1, 2013

We are family!

Just thought you might like to meet the Hobsonville Point Secondary Leadership Team! Pictured below (from top left going clockwise) Maurie Abraham (Principal), Lea Vellenoweth (Deputy Principal), Claire Amos...that's me (Deputy Principal) and Di Cavallo (Deputy Principal).

Feel free to follow us or the school on Twitter: