Sunday, September 28, 2014

#GTASyd14 - It's Google Teacher Academy, but NoTosh you know it

Google Teacher Academy, Sydney 2014

Last week I was lucky enough to attend the Google Teacher Academy in Sydney, completing two days of workshops run by the NoTosh team and a group of fabulous GTA mentors. It was a jammed packed two days where delegates were taken through the design thinking process so as to realise our 'Moonshot Thinking' and make a plan for changing up education and us all to take our aspirations for education and multiply them by 10.

My Moonshot

So what did we do?
The first day was mainly about taking us through the design thinking (see NoTosh explanation of design thinking here) phases of immersion and synthesis, so as to explore and define our 'Moonshot thinking' - this was basically an issue or opportunity we saw for implementing change in education. We used strategies such as hexagonal thinking to connect/arrange our thinking about our issues and ideas before we then tried to capture our moonshot plan within a writing frame. We then adjoined to lunch in one of the many Google staff lunchrooms - a spectacular canteen, located in the 'penthouse' location atop the habour side building. After lunch we got to hear from a range of GTA mentors about how they used a range of Google tools and apps in and beyond their classroom, loosely connecting these to the design thinking process by linking them to the concepts of creativity and curiosity. The day then was rounded out with an inspirational talk from muru-D co-founder Annie Parker who shared her insights into the awesomeness that is the world of start-up incubators and accelerators.

Hexagonal thinking

On the second day we continued to explore the design thinking process to develop our moonshot plan, moving through ideation, prototyping and feedback. To encourage ideation we partook in the 100 ideas challenge where we tried to come up 100 ideas to help realise our plan in 10 minutes. We then selected three ideas - one we considered a safe bet, one we considered our darling or favourite and one that epitomised moonshot thinking. This was followed by a silent gallery where we could survey and feedback on the others' thinking. Then it was time to hear from Google Educational Evangelist Suan Yeo and a Google Programmer whose name escapes me. This was followed by a decent chunk of time to work independently in hope of entering the implementation phase, where we could start putting our plan into action, with celebratory party poppers being let off to highlight any GTA peeps that reached the display phase and put their moonshoot thinking into some kind of action. We ended the two days with a mentor group award ceremony to celebrate our new Google Certified Teacher status.

Officially certified

So what were the highlights?
NoTosh taking over the reigns was definitely a highlight for me. Tom Barrett and Hamish Curry leading us through the design thinking process was fabulous, their tools and strategies supporting each phase, encouraging both depth and rigour. The location and 'being at Google' was awesome as well, and whilst there was no slide (disappointing), there was a spectacular jungle relaxation room and monorail carriage serving as an office within an office to be experienced. In terms of presentations Annie Parker was a stand out - I loved her passion and also love the whole incubator concept and culture (in fact it is something we need to do more of in senior secondary school - I would love to explore the idea of making the whole final year of formal schooling an incubator model for students). The main highlight as always was the people - it was awesome to meet Tom and Hamish in person and lovely to spend a little more time with Google's Suan Yeo and Adam Naor as well. Then of course there was also our team - Team < x >. This was the team I worked with in the lead up to GTA and will continue to work with over the coming months as we develop our moonshot plans. I loved the conversations we had and look forward to ongoing discussions with them - Chris Harte is proving a great mentor, getting the balance of warmth, humour and challenge just right.

Team < x >- photo by Tom Barrett

And what were the challenges?
This was the first outing of the NoTosh led Google Teacher Academy and whilst it was (based on what I have about past Google slam type GTAs) definitely a big step in the right pedagogical direction it was not without it's challenges. I felt like we could have had the whole vision for the new NoTosh GTA articulated a little more clearly up front - I got the sense that some delegates were disappointed at the lack of Googliness - maybe someone like Suan explaining the reframing up front might have helped?? Timing was also a challenge - attempting to immerse in short bursts was challenging at best and bloody frustrating at worst. Whilst we did have immersion activities provided in the weeks leading up to the GTA it was hard to engage when still immersed in other things like teaching. This did improve on the second day, which meant we did get a little more time to dive deep...ish. The mashing up of NoTosh and Google was a little like oil being blended with water at first, with the workshops going from design thinking to Google slam sessions and back to design thinking again. Whilst we did use google apps throughout I did wonder if the NoTosh resources could have highlighted how and which Google tools might best support each phase of the design thinking process? I also wished we could have tried on some Google glasses and heard from Adam Naor about chromebook developments - surely this is what 'being at Google' is all about? 

Still, when all is said and done it was an awesome experience. It was a treat to be immersed in the NoTosh Google Teacher Academy prototype and I have no doubt that with a little feedback, ideation and further prototyping the implementation of NoTosh Google Teacher Academy London and Amsterdam will be all kinds of awesome. 

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Google Teacher Academy, moonshot thinking...and assessment

Tuesday morning this week I am lucky enough to be flying away to Sydney to join 49 other educators at the Google Teacher Academy. Below is the video I submitted as part of my application to be considered as one of the GTA Ambassadors for Change.

So why did I apply for the academy?
Whilst I am actually an advocate for educators to be as device and brand agnostic as possible, I have to admit, I do really like Google Apps for Educators. The reason GAFE appeals is simple. GAFE is a suite of tools that supports the pedagogical approach I value - co-constructed, sharing, transparent and supports student agency.

The other reason I applied was the company who was taking over the GTA. This GTA is the first academy to be run by NoTosh an international education consultancy "which challenges the status quo in schools, public services and creative companies. We work together with clients to improve the way people learn, the results of the organisation and the spaces in which people work, learn and play. Everything we do has learning at its heart." The fact that they were taking the academy marked an important change (at least it did to me), signaling a shift of focus from 'tools in education' to 'change in education'. This very much aligns with my values. Over the last 5 years as I have built up my profile as an e-learning/ICT in ed type leader-y person in NZ I have actually become less interested in e-learning and ICT in and of itself. Instead I am finding myself increasingly interested in leading change in education, albeit change at least partly facilitated by technology.

This is where the concept of moonshot thinking comes in as well. As Astro Teller in the Wired article  Google X Head on Moonshots: 10X Is Easier Than 10 Percent states "...when you’re working to make things 10 percent better, you inevitably focus on the existing tools and assumptions, and on building on top of an existing solution that many people have already spent a lot of time thinking about. Such incremental progress is driven by extra effort, extra money, and extra resources. It’s tempting to feel improving things this way means we’re being good soldiers, with the grit and perseverance to continue where others may have failed — but most of the time we find ourselves stuck in the same old slog.

But when you aim for a 10x gain, you lean instead on bravery and creativity — the kind that, literally and metaphorically, can put a man on the moon."

Put this in to an educational context and you have an interesting concept. What if we thought less about how to improve education through small a series of small incremental changes and thought more about how we might re-vision education from the ground up. This is moonshot thinking - terrifying, liberating, paralysing and awesome all at the same time.

However, I am not just a dreamer or part-time visionary, I am a pragmatist. Whilst I believe we do need to re-vision and think big and blue-sky, we also need to consider how we might achieve change in the interim. This is where assessment comes in. Aside from being a foundation Deputy Principal at Hobsonville Point Secondary School, I am also involved in several national groups that are exploring how we might lead future-focused change across NZ. In the 21st Century Education Reference Group put together by Associate Education Minister Nikki Kaye we have made a number of recommendations in the Future-Focused Learning in Connected Communities report. I stand by each of the recommendations, all necessary and if we are honest, should have been implemented yesterday! Another group I work with is the NZQA Future State reference group put together by Steve Bargh. It is this group that is making me think more seriously about how national assessment change might actually be the way for leading pedagogical change - particularly as it is the mighty tail that wags the curriculum design dog...even if we don't like to admit it.

So I suspect my moonshot(ish) thinking may head in this direction - how would national assessment need to change, to change the way we think it needs to change?

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Assessment and the future of education - lessons learned from ACACA

On Thursday I was lucky enough to be invited to give the opening address at the Australasian Curriculum, Assessment and Qualification Authorities (ACACA) Conference who as their website states is the national body for the chief executives of the statutory bodies in the Australian states and territories and in New Zealand, responsible for certificates of senior secondary education. ACACA provides a (Australasian) national means for monitoring and enhancing developments in senior secondary curriculum and certification. 

My message was a variation on what I often get invited to speak about - my journey from English teacher to e-learning learning and the lessons I have learned about leading change from my time at Epsom Girls Grammar School and the work I am involved in with the team at Hobsonville Point Secondary School rounded off with a few challenges and reminders as to why we all must be invested in changing education and ideas about how we might start making that change. It was yet again a humbling reminder of how lucky I am at this stage of my career, on one hand doing what I got in to this game for - teaching and helping to lead change at a classroom and school level, whilst also being in a position to work with a number of national agencies to explore how we might lead this change at a national level. Thank you again to Maurie Abraham (my visionary Principal) for letting me indulge in my edu-passions on so many levels.

I had gone to the conference not really knowing what to expect. To be honest I was actually momentarily daunted when I was saw the seriously besuited crowd for the first time. After a brief moment of "sh*t balls this event is SERIOUS" I got into my happy presenting zone and realised the audience was interested and incredibly open to the messages I was sharing. I had already made the decision to stick around for the day, even if I wasn't the intended audience for the conference I am big believer that I have a lot to learn and that any conference is an opportunity to soak up new ideas and perspectives. The session after mine was an opportunity for different Australian state agencies to share projects or recent initiatives they had been working on. It was interesting to see how different Australia is to NZ, particularly this notion of state led education systems rather than country wide - although all eight states are delivering the Australian Curriculum and NAPLAN which is similar to National Standards, senior qualifications are assessed and managed state by state in isolation of each other. 

There were two states and initiatives that I found really interesting, both of which I believe could be adapted for the NZ context to move us forward. The first was the NSW agency BOSTES (the board of studies, teaching and education standards) who have developed two online environments for their teachers. The first was Programme Builder which allows teachers to create programmes and units directly from the NSW syllabus. The fact that you could work beyond the templates and share your programmes looked rather useful. I could see a similar tool being developed around NZC learning area AOs that could be a great help in ensuring units were being build around our curriculum documents.

The other online platform they shared was Scootle, this looked like the next level tool that allowed you to create online learning pathways for students that integrated a wide range of digital tools. I did come away wondering if this is how Pond might work in the future?? The image below provides a nice overview of how educators could use Scootle to enhance teaching and learning.
The next thing I saw was very interesting, for me I liked the way that it answered to an extent that question as to how we might go about assessing and there by raising the status of some of our key competencies. SACE (South Australian Certificate of Education) offers cross-disciplinary qualifications, the crowning glory of which is the SACE Research Project. The Research Project is a semester long assessment in Year 12 that as the website states "students have the opportunity to study an area of interest in depth. They use their creativity and initiative, while developing the research and presentation skills they will need in further study or work." In many ways the SACE Research Project reminded me of the state wide version of the fabulous Albany Senior High School Impact Projects. What I loved about the SACE Research Project is that it took senior assessment out of the context of siloed subjects and focused on the assessing the students ability to actually 'learn to learn'. Considering how the NZC highlights the importance of schools developing 'life-long learners' surely a compulsory national qualification like this would be an excellent start to ensuring all schools were teaching these skills and giving dedicated time for these skills to be developed. Check out the Videos of Student Stories here. I loved the fact that they even hosted a state-wide exhibition of learning to celebrate what the students achieve each year. The sooner we refocus on these broader cross-curricular skills the better!

So all in all it was a great day, both as an opportunity to share and to learn. The week after next I head to Google Teacher Academy in Sydney where I hope to also catch up with ACARA and the NSW agency to learn more about their software developments. We are certainly living in exciting times, just wish we could make a few changes here and now.

Thank you to Sue Chalmers (and Steve Bargh) from NZQA who invited me to attend the event.