If you're looking for a great way to start your school year with a large dose of professional stimulation, why not come and join everyone at the Learning@School conference from 22nd and 23rd January at SkyCity, Auckland.
The annual L@S conference provides an um-missable opportunity to link with hundreds of other educators from around New Zealand, and other parts of the world.
This year I'm really looking forward to hearing Professor Tim Bell from Canterbury University who is one of the keynote speakers.
Tim is a true innovator, with a great story to tell about how he has managed to bring computer science to life for young learners. Having to find an engaging way to explain the underlying concepts of computer science to a classroom of five-year-olds provided him with a platform for a novel teaching tool that has taken the computing education world by storm.
His "computer science unplugged" programme is used internationally, and now has a significant amount of support from Internet giant, Google. You'll be energised to hear Tim's ideas on how we can engage young (and old) learners with computer science, teaching them to be creators, not simply consumers in this digital world.
To help you plan your time at the conference there's a useful 'pick a path' approach that you can use to select the speakers and workshops you'd especially like to hear or participate it. The video below explains how…
I attended a meeting of the Minister's Forum today where we had further discussion around what we can learn from the latest PISA results, and implications for future policy and professional decision making in the NZ education sector.
We began the day by viewing a webcast from Andreas Schleicher, the international 'architect' of the PISA process (see video above). A key point he makes is that global comparisons such as PISA allow us to see what's possible in education – a useful perspective I feel as we begin to see the media frenzy begin.
An old colleague of mine, and member of the forum, John Langley, chaired the meeting, and spoke about five different reactions he predicted we'll see emerge over the next weeks/months:
"She'll be right" – those who continue on with business as usual, ignoring what the data is showing us, and hoping that in the fullness of time it will all blow over and somehow rectify itself.
Puglaistic – where people initially retreat away into their respective corners to prepare themselves before coming out fighting with anyone who opposes their ideas or thinks differently. Includes those who choose to use the circumstances for personal or political advantage.
King Hit - the often seen, knee-jerk reaction where people of influence select a seemingly obvious solution and pursue it with vigor in the (often misguided) belief that it will be the solution.
Shotgun – where a range of strategies are selected and applied in a 'shoot and hope' approach, scattering them in the hope that some might hit the mark and 'solve something'.
Mr Spock - in memory of the famed Star Trek character who always approached a problem by collecting data, analysing it and using it to identify the most appropriate course of action.
As with most lists like this, it's the last one that provides the preferred solution. In this case I agree – the collection and analysis of data is essential because we cannot assume that any group of people will share a common set of understandings about anything unless they're provided with the opportunity to make their thinking explict, or to share in the construction of shared knowledge. Only then can the community identify and pursue the 'next steps' to be taken.
And so it is with PISA – we need to add this data to our pool of information from which we can explore and construct together the strategies that will take us forward – for the sake of our future generations.
No doubt there well be pages of speculative judgements now appear about what this data actually tells us, with opinions varying depending on the motivation and agendas of the commentators – including politicians wanting to secure a political advantage, educators arguing for more investment in PD, unions arguing for better pay and conditions to improve teacher quality, academics debating the validity and reliability of the data and reporters looking for a good headline to sell more papers.
My view is simply that engaging constructively with data like this can do no harm to a profession that is, like many others, facing huge challenges to cater for the increasing diversity we face in our schools. (Is it a coincidence that the latest census data was also released yesterday, revealing the increasingly diverse and changing ethnic and cultural makeup of our society?)
One of the interesting points that emerged from the data for me was that New Zealand has one of the highest scores for in-school variation in terms of student achievement, that is, students at the same school can be achieveing quite differently depending on which class they are in. This is not a new observation – it appeared as one of the key findings in John Hattie's work.
The graphic at left looks at differences in achievement that occur within schools and between schools and how New Zealand compares with other countries. (Click on it for an enlarged version). To some extent how much difference there is in achievement between and within schools is related to the type of education system. This needs to be taken into account when making comparisons with other countries.
New Zealand stands out because of larger differences within schools compared to countries in a similar position with respect to between school differences. This means that there are larger differences in the average performance of New Zealand schools compared to schools such as in Finland (second to last on the graph).
Countries that have relatively large differences within schools will tend to have students with a wide range of abilities in many of their schools. Between 2003 and 2012 there have been small increases in the differences in New Zealand students’ mathematics performance between schools, and small declines in the differences within schools.
This has me thinking about an important way we need to respond to the challenges this data presents us with. One of the things that will inevitably follow the release of this data is a call for improving what happens at schools, and in particular, a call to improve the quality of teachers and teaching. (The Minister of Education announced this week a review of professional learning and development and the establishment of a Professional Learning and Development Advisory Group.)
On the one hand teachers become an easy target – but on the other their proficiency and skill is one of the key influences on student achievement, making teacher quality an important area to address. So – no doubt we will now see a lot of activity targetting teachers, aiming at improving their professional competence, particularly in the areas of literacy, numeracy and science.
The data on in-school variance reminds me, however, that the solution lies not in targetting individual teachers, but in taking a whole school approach, and ensuring that individual teachers are collaboratively renewing their practice to achieve a whole of system improvement in student achievement.
This point is highlighted very well in a publication from NZCER, titled "Swimming out of our depth?" in which the following appears:
Today’s teachers, if they are to meet the needs of 21st century learners, need to develop what they know, but they also need to develop how they know. The 21st century learning literature focuses on the need to develop students’ cognitive, inter‐ and intra‐personal capacities: however, a necessary precursor to this is that teachers’ capacity for, and awareness of, their own learning needs to be developed. Moreover, as Fullan (2005) points out, changing individual teachers will not be enough.
Change needs to take place across the system, through purposeful interaction between individuals at all levels. Twenty‐first century teacher professional development needs to combine and integrate individual and organisational development: it needs to build individual learning, but it also needs to focus on individuals working together—to build their current “community of practice” as teachers, but also to move forward together in “learning communities”.
So let's sift through and engage with the PISA data. Let's participate in the professional conversations that follow, and not be distracted by the media beat-up. And let's find ways we can improve what we're doing in our schools to raise student achievement. But let's not do it alone! Let's see more of this happening at a whole school and whole of community level.
As I left home today my son was at his computer watching more science clips on YouTube, looking set there for the day having completed his exams. With my 'dad hat' on I asked if he was likely to be taking time out of his busy 'screen time' to hook up with his friends. With a grunt, he let me know that might be a happening thing – then asked me "did I know what the best way of find out what his friends are up to?" My best guess was "Facebook". he grimaced and said, "No – Steam! – I can see what they're up to by what they're downloading and playing!"
My son's quick response reminded me yet again that our young people are growing up with quite different views about knowledge and ways of knowing – and that the kids in our classrooms today are used to interacting with eachother and with knowledge in quite different ways to what we did when we were younger.
This is the focus of the interview featured above, between Steve Paikin from The Agenda and George Siemens from Athabasca University. In his opening to the interview, Paikin asks:
"We live in unsettled times. More and more knowledge is available to us, but the amount of time for us to pay attention to it remains the same. What kind of knowledge will be needed, and in what ways are we going to be acquiring it?"
For those unfamiliar with the work of George Siemens and the emerging learning theories for the knowledge age, this video is well worth watching. Paikin asks Siemens about his views around personalisation and placing the learner at the centre of our education system. They explore together the role of technology in making this happen, and the changing role of the educator in it all.
There's a good segment in which Siemens explains the relevance of learning theory, in particular, the impact of constructivist thinking on our current system, and he discusses the concept of 'fragmentation' and of the importance of relationships in knowledge construction (not simply remembering facts).
Paikin quizzes Siemens about whether there is any knowledge that should be considered 'core' – key elements of base information that learners should have when they leave school. This is quite topical in many contexts I've been working in recently – and is always a concern expressed around this time of year when educators, parents and students alike question the validity of exams as a means of measuring a student's learning. I thought Siemens provides a paricuarly considered and useful response – our challenge is to convert that thinking into a curriculum that is relevant for all learners.
The interview ends with a discussion around the question..
"~Will the change toward personalized education deepen the educational divide between the "Haves" & "Have-nots"
This is an excellent clip to watch and digest (I suspect you may want to watch it more than once) – and suggest you have something handy to take notes as you do so, as there are lots of 'take-aways' and good one-liners interspersed in the dialogue.
If you're looking for a great way to start your year in 2014 why not book now for the Learning@School conference to be held in Auckland on 22 and 23 January?
We all understand that professional learning isn't effective in one-off or stand-alone events – it needs to be connected to the ongoing inquiry that we active as educators, pursuing answers the the questions we have about our own practice and its impact on student learning. The annual Learning@School conference has always been promoted as a sort of "national staff meeting" of all of those involved in facilitating or implementing new practices in schools. For many individuals and schools the conference provides the 'launch pad' for their PLD programme through the rest of the year, providing the stimulus and connections that are carried on through into the programme in the school context.
This year the Learning@School conference is going a step further to help you with this process by providing an online guide to let you plan your pathway of learning while at the conference, based on the questions you may be asking.
Starting with your questions you can choose a pathway from the four themes of the conference:
For each theme there is a great keynote speaker, and a spotlight speaker – plus lots of workshops being presented by classroom teachers, sharing their practice and the outcomes of their own inquiries in the past year.
In addition, this year we're introducing our 'sofa sessions' – informal discussions with experts in their field, focusing on issues and ideas related to each of the themes.
I have the privilege of hosting a panel on the theme of "Achievement", which is the area I feel is most in need of a complete and radical reform in our education system – and I believe it is coming!! I'm currently confirming the members of my sofa team, and will let you know through my blog when this is done, but I am looking forward to a really interesting dialogue in which some game-changing ideas and initiatives will be shared.
At next year's conference I'll also be running a workshop to launch CORE's Ten Trends for 2014 and another on what it means to be learning-centred in what we do in our schools and classrooms.
Learning@School is a time I really look forward to each year, to be energised by hearing about and observing what teachers are doing in their classrooms, to discover how schools are addressing the issues and concerns they have, and to be inspired by the various keynote and spotlight speakers. I look forward to joining many of you there!
Please click on the image below to download a PDF version of the document outlining the CORE Education Dr Vince Ham Excellence in Postgraduate Research Scholarship with the changed closing date (now Monday 9th December)
I remember back in 2007 when I got by first Android phone and installing an early verison of Layar. We used it for all sorts of things then, from creating orienteering trails to historical walks through the city.
Things have moved on a lot since those days, and now there are all sorts of applications and devices that draw on augmented reality technologies to provide you with an 'augmented' view of the world around you.
As time passes, I'm even more convinced that augmented reality will become one of the key technologies used in our classrooms to support student learning, providing rich contextual customized learning environment and contents for each individual.
Something we need to bear in mind here is that the technologies conventionally used for augmented learning incorporate touchscreens, voice recognition, and interaction, through which the learning contents can be geared toward learner's needs by displaying plain texts, images, audio and video output. These are all characteristics of the devices many of our students carry around with them in their pockets – they're not reliant on the previously expensive equipment owned by schools!
The other thing is that in addition to being users of AR, many of the apps appearing now provide student with the opportunity to simply and easily create their own AR experiences. Definitely something to keep on our radar!
Computers (aka digital technologies) have been in our classrooms and schools for four decades now – almost as long as I’ve been an educator – yet still we’re trying to find a way of describing or explaining what the contribution is of these devices to the education of our young.
As the use of digital technologies has become more pervasive, the focus of attention has shifted to questions about the measurement of this impact – both in terms of the contribution of digital technologies to learning, and in terms of the qualities and we deem to be desirable in the users of these technologies, those who will live their lives in an increasingly digital world.
When I started working with computers with learners, the focus of attention seemed to be predominantly on teaching the skills associated with their use – how to open files, save files, cut-and-paste etc. These foundational skills are still regarded as important, and in the 1980s there was a big demand for courses with this focus. Nowadays it’s questionable just how much of this needs to be ‘taught’ explicitly vs. learned in the process of using. Many schools are using some form of ‘computer drivers license’ or ‘digital passport’ to provide explicit expectations of students in terms of their digital proficiency, but how these are learned and demonstrated is left to the students.
The OECD suggests that governments should make efforts to identify and conceptualise the required set of skills and competences, and then incorporate them into educational standards and, in response to this suggestion, there are several national projects working on defining national standards.
More recently there’s been a shift to talking about digital literacy. Simply put, digital literacy represents a person’s ability to perform tasks effectively in a digital environment. The power of literacy in this context lies not merely in the ability to use the various tools and applications, but rather in an individual's capacity to effectively and critically navigate, evaluate and create information using a range of digital technologies. This includes the ability to read and interpret media, to reproduce data and images through digital manipulation and to evaluate and apply new knowledge gained from digital environments.
It’s a bit like learning to read and write. While building a vocabulary of words and being able to represent them in written form are pre-requisite skills, becoming fully literate involves a much wider and more complex range of abilities – engaging with text, extracting meaning, synthesizing, analyzing etc.
Developing digital proficiency and becoming digitally literate can, to a significant degree, be achieved by an individual. They are important, indeed essential qualities and characteristics for an individual to possess if they are to lead productive and satisfying lives in the digital world.
Yet to be fully functional in the digital world requires more than this. It builds on the awareness of being part of something bigger than one’s self, and of the need to temper one’s individual use (or misuse) of digital technologies with the responsibilities that emerge from understanding the impact of our own behaviors on others. It requires a sense of ‘citizenship’, and the rights and responsibilities associated with that.
In thinking about this I was reminded of a diagram explaining the information age that I first drew up for classes of initial teacher educators I was teaching back in the early 1990s. It’s not an original idea, and versions of this sort of thinking have appeared in all sorts of forms over the past decade or so.
The diagram begins with data at the bottom – the building blocks of all information. When gathered with purpose the data becomes information. When used in context, the information becomes knowledge (some have added ‘understanding’ here). But when knowledge is consistently applied and becomes embedded in action, it becomes wisdom.
I see the discussion about digital literacy developing in the same way. The building blocks (data and information) of the digital world are the skills and competencies we develop that make use digitally proficient. Applying those in our daily context makes us digitally literate. But developing the wisdom associated with being respectful, keeping ourselves and others safe and being productive in the digital world is what characterizes us as citizens.
I’ve attempted to capture this thinking in the diagram at the top of this post. The challenge I want to post is, should ‘digital literacy’ be our aspiration for the young people in our schools? Sure, being digitally literate will likely provide them with greater opportunities for employment and success in life, but shouldn’t we aspire to see that success and participation operate at a much higher level than simply what benefits the individual?
As our thinking at both school and national level continues to develop, I vote for an emphasis on nurturing our young people with the competencies required to demonstrate qualities of citizenship in a digital world.
Last night I had the privilge of attending the year group prize giving ceremony at the high school my son attends. It was a proud moment for me as he received an excellence award in science, the subject area that he has been most interested in and intends to follow through next year.
Watching the assembled group of teachers and students, I was reminded, yet again, of the incredible investment of time and effort that is made by these professionals as they work tirelessly to shape and mould the young people in their care. The high quality of the musical performances, the looks of appreciation that were exchanged between students and their teachers, and the overarching sense of pride and achievement that filled the hall made me proud to be an educator.
So it was with interest that I watched the clip titled "Mushy finds his voice', in which pupil Musharaf Asghar overcomes a lifelong crippling stutter and tells his classmates and teachers: 'Thank you for helping me speak'
Preparing for a crucial GCSE test in which he has to speak aloud, 'Mushy' struggles. His teacher, Mr Burton, recalls something he saw on The King's Speech, involving the use of music to re-focus attention while speaking. Mushy pops in the headphones, and tries again, and as the words start pouring out of him Mr Burton's face is a picture of pure joy.
At the end of year assembly a teacher tells the pupils how when he arrived at the school Mushy could barely talk, was badly bullied, and had just a 34 per cent attendance record. Now he's a prefect and Mushy has something he'd like to say, she tells them.
Now that's a great story – an individual changed and liberated as a learner through the actions of a teacher. We need to hear more of these!
Keynote Three: Knowledge is a Blessing on your Mind
Those who didn’t have to rush away to catch a plane were privileged to hear eminent historian, writer and academic, and current New Zealander of the year, Dame Anne Salmond as the final keynote at the ULearn13 conference. For me there couldn’t have been a more fitting climax to the conference.
Dame Anne’s message brought the perspective I’d been hoping for – a well articulated case for why we must be striving to see change in our education system if we’re to prepare our young people for the future they face – and deserve.
Dame Anne expertly combined personal stories, historical perspectives and elements of contemporary philosophy to describe possible futures in New Zealand, and the idea of education as a journey. She quoted her personal mentor Eruera Stirling who once told her that thinking of learning as a journey "helps your footsteps to find the right pathway."
Here teachers give their students the confidence and skills to navigate towards new horizons. Teachers stand at the nexus between our children and their future. No pressure here, just a challenge for us all as educators to consider what really drives what we do – the 'why' question again.
Dame Anne repeatedly asserted that every child is a Taonga. Our children are our guarantors of our future happiness and prosperity. She illustrated how in pre-European Māori tradition, children were afforded a special place in everything that occurred on the marae. They were not separated from the world of the adults, and so their learning was in the context of the everyday affairs of the marae and its people.
She contrasted this with the influences on our current Western society, citing the great chain of being that has left us with a legacy of hierarchical, top down structures and processes in almost every fact of our society. This approach, so ingrained in our thinking and behavior, can be seen in everything from the structure of our corporations and governments.
She also referred to The Order of Things, that has given us gridded models (think Linneus, calendars, spreadsheets), as a means for organizing ourselves, our lives and our society. This gridded pattern is deeply ingrained in how we have constructed schools – both as physical entities and in terms of the patterns of organization that exist within them (think timetables, subjects, exams etc.)
For me this was of particular significance, as I am immersed currently in thinking about modern learning environments and how these might be conceived of and developed. Dame Anne’s address has been helpful in understanding from an anthropological and socio-cultural perspective the tensions that exist in our discourse and behavior that cause us so often to retreat to what is known and familiar (the order of things) rather than take risks and explore the more open, connected and heterarchical approaches that will ensure our future – and the future of our children, our taonga.
If there's one thing I've taken from this conference it is the re-kindled determination to more consciously resist the traditional, hierarchical 'chains of command' that exist in our workplaces, our schools, our classrooms, and activley support alternative approaches. These are anathema to the state we should be endeavouring to create, and everyone who succumbs to this way of thinking becomes a block to progress being made.