Category Archives: Curriculum

A shake-up for education?


This week I had the privilege of attending an event in Auckland where Minister of Education, Nikki Kaye, officially released the final draft of the Digital Technologies-Hangarau Matihiko Curriculum for consultation. The event was opened with a group of students from the Lynfield College Robotics club who gave an outstanding presentation about their work as a team to design and develop robots which they have been entering into various competitions since 2008 – winning multiple national and international titles in that time!

One by one the group of year 11 – year 13 students gave their perspective on what contributed to the team’s success – the key takeaways from my notes included:

  • this is a team effort, requiring the most sophisticated levels of collaboration to succeed
  • the team requires a diverse mix of skills, including coders, engineers, web designers, communications specialists, designers etc.
  • this provides the context for deep, authentic engagement in learning in a truly cross-curricular manner
  • the skills they are learning through this process are transferrable, equipping them fully for an ever changing world once they leave school
  • the entire process is essentially student driven
  • there is a lot of peer mentoring involved – the team changes each year as older students move out and younger ones join, so the continuity of the team culture is evolved and maintained through this internal coaching and mentoring process

One thing struck me the most – and was emphasised to those in the audience as a central challenge…

  • all of this is done outside of the regular school hours – after school, before school and in the weekends – the challenge being, imagine just how engaging and more likely to achieve the goals of the NZ Curriculum it would be if this sort of learning was what students across NZ had access to in the context of the regular school day?

It appeared to be a difficult challenge to respond to – on the one hand I noticed a wave of agreement with the sentiment being expressed by these young people, then, as the day progressed, concerns about the impact on other subjects, the demands on school facilities and resources, and the lack of teachers with specialist skills and knowledge to support this sort of thing emerged as reasons why such an approach may not work in all contexts.

dtcurriculumcoverAnd so these students set the scene for what was a really interesting day, as leaders from the education community discussed and responded to the details of the announcement about the new Digital Technologies Curriculum/Hangarau Matahiko. In her address Minister Kaye described the release of this curriculum as the most significant ‘shake-up’ in our education system for many years – reflecting her belief that this move is about more than simply adding yet another area to be addressed into the existing curriculum, but instead, working to introduce into the broader context of our curriculum an emphasis on digital technologies that reflects the nature of the world our young people are going to be living and working in into the future.

There were many on the room who were strongly in support here, including Ian Taylor, fresh back from the America’s Cup where his company, ARL has been responsible for the incredible on-screen graphics that we’ve become so familiar with as we watch the live action. Ian and others spoke of the urgency around introducing digital technologies into the curriculum, while others lamented the stresses felt by principals and teachers to keep up with all of this, and to find space in an already over-crowded curriculum for yet another area to be taught.

In the discussion at one table I was at a teacher was concerned that in her school the technology classes were given a lesser number of hours in the timetable that other subjects such as maths, English or science. She was keen to see more mandates coming from central government to require schools to give more hours in their timetable to this subject.

While I am empathetic to her sense of injustice based on the fact that this is the dilemma most schools will face given the way they currently organise their curriculum and subject lines in the timetable, I simply don’t agree with where this argument would lead – inevitably it would become a case of shuffling things around so that someone else would miss out!

Firstly, I believe that centrally mandating that schools give extra time to this new curriculum is the last thing we should consider, (a) because we already have the freedom and flexibility to make decisions about how time is used and allocated in our schools and mandating such things removes yet more agency from school leaders, and (b) considering the implementation to be counted in terms of hours to be allocated seems to be missing the point entirely of what this curriculum is about – or at least, how it should be implemented.

For me the lesson lies so explicitly in the message we had from the Lynfield College students – make this sort of experience a central plank of all learning, and work towards taking a far more integrated and trans-disciplinary approach. Instead of isolating these subjects into their own lines on a curriculum, each competing for hours on the timetable, work to create new ways of identifying and addressing the opportunities for learning in and across disciplines in the manner in which the Robotics team did at the beginning of our day.

Like Nikki Kaye I believe this curriculum could herald a ‘shake-up’ in education – but the experience will vary. For some it will mean shaking up the way in which learning occurs, with teachers and students working in trans-disciplinary teams on engaging and authentic challenges, whole for others the shake-up will occur only at the level of “shifting the deck chairs on the timetable” and discipline-based experts competing for the attention of the same students for their classes.

I’m for the former – but it’s going to require a lot of courage, commitment and partnership across a wide range of stakeholders! This simply isn’t going to work if it is received as yet another curriculum area we need to find space for.


Thriving in a modern world

I've just been watching this film from the Let It Ripple Series titled The Adaptable Mind (11 mins) which explores the skills we need to flourish in the 21st Century. Like many other lists that have been created to define and describe the skills/knowledge/dispositions that are needed for the 21st Century (e.g. a previous post Driving the skills agenda), there are several familiar terms here:

  • Curiosity
  • Creativity
  • Initiative
  • Multi-disciplinary thinking
  • Empathy

The difference with this list that is so well illustrated in this short clip is that each of these things are in essence a part of what makes us human. There's nothing in this list about specific domains of knowledge, or specific technological skills etc. Even the STEM set isn't represented here. These five things have been the engine of innovation and survival since the beginning of civilisation. We're at a point in history where our human skills are just as important as our knowledge. 

The challenge for schools and educators is to maintain a focus on these things amidst the pressure to also ensure we are addressing those fundamental pre-requisites of literacy and numeracy. We're fortunate in NZ that our National Curriculum has at its primary focus the Key Competencies around which the curriculum in our schools should be designed. New Zealand schools have the scope, flexibility, and authority they need to design and shape their curriculum so that teaching and learning is meaningful and beneficial to their particular communities of students. 

So one would imagine that in such an environment we'd see amazing things happening in terms of the development of 'an adaptable mind' as this clip celebrates – and we do, but often in pockets rather than in a systemic way. The constant pressure to recognise and measure achievement in terms of the traditional subject areas can mitigate against efforts to develop a curriculum that will truly inspire and develop things like curiosity, creativity and initiative among our students. 

As we enter a time in our system where the primary focus of attention will inevitably be on identifying and addressing specific achievement challenges in our schools and clusters of schools it will be important that those leading these initiatives are also abe to maintain a focus on the development of these deeper, more enduring skillsets.

As a father of five and grandfather of five also, I have high aspirations for my children and grandchildren, that indeed they will be proficient in the key skills that will enable to learn and be successful in their learning – but just as importantly, I want them to posses the quality of 'an adaptable mind' that is identified in this clip!


Computing our future…

SchoolNet_programming To code or not to code – that is the question that has been debated hotly for more than two decades now in many countries around the world – including New Zealand. 

Like many other countries, New Zealand put all of its eggs into the 'ICT and digital literacy for all" basket from 1990, when the first MoE-funded professional devleopment programmes began. That philosophy has underpinned all of the ICT-PD strategies and spending to the current day – the argument being that ICTs (or digital technologies as they're now being referred to) are a part of everyone's experience, not simply those who are programmers.

This strategy has been reasonably successful in gaining a system-wide acceptance of ICTs within the educaiton sector (although I still come across teachers and schools who see ICTs as one of those 'optional' things for them to focus on!)

As we are now in the fourth decade of having computers in our schools, there's a growing awareness that, as the tide of digital literacy has risen, and we're seeing ICTs used routinely by students in schools across a wide range of contexts to support their learning, simply teaching learners to be users (or consumers) of the technology, without teaching them fundamental skils of creating or constructing with these tools is tantamount to teaching kids to read, but not to write, to listen but not to speak, or teaching them to appreciate art, but not to draw etc.

The simple truth is that while we all marvel at what these new tecnologies can do – someone has had to design, create, build, program and test them. So it makes sense that somewhere in our system we're creating opportunities for our young people to learn skills that are foundational to an ever growing need in our future workforce. 

The UK Department of Education has been working on this for awhile, since deciding to scrap its traditional ICT (Information and Communication Technologies) curriculum almost two years ago. Earlier this year  they announced the coding requirement for schools, and in September they introduced the new national curriculum for computing for all children from five upwards. This is being given a boost with a half million pound initiative known as the “Year of Code.”

Of course, skills for employment are only one part of the reason for introducing such an initiative. This recent report from European SchoolNet emphasises the wider significance of teaching coding and computer science within our curriculum. The report states..

Coding is becoming increasingly a key competence which will have to be acquired by all young students and increasingly by workers in a wide range of industries and professions. Coding is part of logical reasoning and represents one of the key skills which are part of what is now called "21st Century Skills". 

The report outlines responses from 20 countries to a survey where their Ministries of Education gave an overview of their current initiatives and plans. Across this sample of countries it is evident that they see a wider range of benefits accruing from including coding and computer science programmes in schools, including fostering logical thinking skills, coding and programing skills, problem-solving skills, skills for employment, as well as fostering other key competencies.

Papert quoteI was a part of the generation who grew up introducing computers into my classroom under the influence of Seymour Papert, being fascinated with what could be achieved using Logo, and later with Scratch, as well as learning the fundamentals of Basic and later HTML. Finding out what made the computer work the way it did intrigued me, and so discovering that I could create instructions that would get the response I desired seemed a natural thing to do. 

Of course, that's fine for someone like me who has a natural interest in such things. But introducing a curriculum requirement for all schools to include coding in their curriculum begs a simple question, "who will teach it?". In an already crowded curriculum, and with change being naturally resisted by many, this is an extraordinarily big challenge. I noted with interest that even England's 'year of code' initiative has attracted cynical responses when the director of the programme herself revealed that she doesn't know how to code.

I see these issues becoming a big challenge for New Zealand into the future. We are a small country, 10,000 km from our markets, with an economy reliant on the export of primary produce products. Into the future we'll need to put more emphasis on the development of knowledge economy skills, because (a) of the impact of much of our primary produce production on our local environment, and (b) the fact that our traditional export markets are now establishing their own means of supply negating the expense of long distance exports. If we're to heed the challenges of the late Sir Paul Callaghan and others, we need to find ways of appropriately incorporating more coding opportunities within our school curriculum across all age groups. 

As a parent and as a grandparent, I am increasingly concerned that we act now to ensure my kids and grandkids are equipped with the skills, competencies and dispositions they will require to enable them to function effectively in an increasingly digital world – and exposure to the delights of coding and computer science must certainly be considered here. 

Thinking more about Globalisation

Global Economy maps

I've just arrived back from a trip to Chengdu, China where I was present for the signing of the Sichuan Christchurch Education Alliance. Nearly 40 educators from greater Christchurch were present, with a key focus of the time spent on developing relationships that are intended to lead to opportunities for educational exchanges between Christchurch and Chengdu teachers and students.  

Globalisation will undoubtedly be one of the most significant influences on modern learning practice as we look further into the 21st century. The need for students to have well developed understandings of cultural literacy, inter-cultural awareness and a basic grasp of international language(s) must inform how we shape our curriculum and the sorts of learning experiences we provide for our young people. It's no longer satisfactory to simply teach about these countries and issues – we need to be exploiting the power of online technologies and authentic learning contexts to enable our students to interact directly with people in other places, and to collaborate on projects that lead them to these deeper understandings of the impact of globalisation.

The trip to Chengdu has reinforced this for me – and coming back to NZ on the day of the national election and the associated conversations about what people in our nation consider important even more-so. We cannot ignore the impact that being a part of a global village, with its global economy, will have on the lives of our young people into the future. Preparing them in this way must be a priority in our curriculum ad everyday practice. 

The map at the top of this post links to a post of 38 maps that explain the global economy – a useful resource for educators interested in thinking about the impact of the global economy and how to relate this to students – as is this link showing where the oldest and youngest people live in the world's populations. This sort of information can be very useful in forming a more global picture of the sorts of issues that face us here in NZ, now and into the future. 

Focus on energy

energy kids

Occasionally I come across a resource site for teachers that I feel is worthwhile sharing on my blog – today it's energy kids – developed and made available by the US Energy Information Admistration. 

Energy – its production, use and conservation – is a hot topic for today's young people. It will be one of the things that defines how society develops into the new millennium as old forms of energy are depleted and new forms are developed, experimented with and adopted. Our young people will need to be well informed about these issues – and many of them will find employment in energy-related areas, so the focus on this in our schools is very important. 

What I like about this site is that it's a veritable treasure trove of key information about energy, that will appeal to and inform kids of all ages – and their teachers. It's an ideal site to be used as a reference for an inquiry topic, self study or you could use some of the games and activities as a part of a whole class activity. 

I found the section on the history of energy really intriguing, satisfying the belief I have about needing to look into the past to really understand the future. There's a great deal of well presented information here that could provide a springboard for further inquiry. 

On the topic of energy – let's not forget Electrocity, a game-based resource that helps develop understandings about the electricity supply chain – developed by the NZ electricity company, Genesis Energy.

I'd be keen to hear from anyone using these resources.

Reading for pleasure

I'm about to take three week's leave and travel with my wife to the US, and in preparation, I've been choosing some novels to take with me to read. Reading for pleasure is one of those activities that can easily be 'lost' in the competition for time to keep abreast of all of the professional reading that comes across my desk, plus, of course, the interminable barrage of emails that require reading and dealing with each day. Yet while reading all of that sort of thing may be intellectually stimulating and professionally engaging, nothing beats the sheer enjoyment of sitting with a good novel and reading purely for pleasure – to get lost on the plot of a gripping thriller, or carried away with the imaginations of an historial novel etc. 

In the modern world, of course, there's more competing with reading for pleasure in the lives of our children than simply reading texts and emails – their lives are full of TV, computer games and other forms of 'quick fix' communications – yet even for them, a good book can be extremely engaging. 

So it was with interest tonight that I came across this briefing note from the Department of Education in the UK, titled  Encouraging reading for pleasure: What the research says on reading for pleasure

The first section of the briefing note highlights research evidence on reading for pleasure from domestic and international literature; exploring evidence on the trends and benefits of independent reading amongst both primary and secondaryaged children, as well as why children read.  The second section of this briefing covers the evidence on what works in terms of promoting reading for pleasure.

Some highlights from the paper:

What are the benefits of reading for pleasure?

  • Children who say they enjoy reading for pleasure are more likely to score well on reading assessments compared to pupils who said they enjoyed reading less
  • There is some evidence to show that reading for pleasure is a more important determinant of children’s educational success than their family’s socio-economic status
  • It can have a positive impact on pupils’ emotional and social behaviour It can have a positive impact on text comprehension and grammar.

What works in improving independent reading?

  • An important factor in developing reading for pleasure is providing choice – choice and interest are highly related
  • Parents and the home environment are essential to the early teaching of reading and fostering a love of reading; children are more likely to continue to be readers in homes where books and reading are valued
  • Reading for pleasure is strongly influenced by relationships between teachers and children, and children and families.

No particular surprises here for those who have been involved in teaching reading for a while – but a very useful paper to support teachers and schools that may be considering bringing back the good old 'silent reading' period in class, or promoting reading for pleasure as a key part of their reading programme. 

The full paper can be accessed as a PDF file here

A parent guide to 21st Century learning

I've just been reading this new guide published by Edutopia, titled A parent's guide to 21st Century Learning. As with much of the material published on the Edutopia site, this is a really useful collection of tips, ideas and links for parents and educators alike (and I qualify on both fronts 🙂

The ideas in the booklet are grouped according to the age of the students, and use the “4Cs” from the Partnership for 21st Century Skills as a framework for emphasising the educative value of the learning resources that are shared.

  • Collaboration: Students are able to work effectively with diverse groups and exercise flexibility in making compromises to achieve common goals.
  • Creativity: Students are able to generate and improve on original ideas and also work creatively with others.
  • Communication : Students are able to communicate effectively across multiple media and for various purposes.
  • Critical thinking: Students are able to analyze, evaluate, and understand complex systems and apply strategies to solve problems.

Each resource is briefly described, followed by a section on 'how to get involved', providing practical suggestions for how to engage with and use the resource with you children. 

The resources provide a range of engagements, from projects that promote particiation in social change and the development of digitial citizenship, to using online games and social media to promote collaboration and support project based learning – plus everything in between. 

I like the section at the end titled Ten tips for bringing 21st century skills home which provides sompractical tips and links for parents wondering how to foster the 4Cs at home.

If you're not a member of the Edutopia site, here's a good reason to do so – it costs nothing to sign up, and the resource is free tod ownload to members. 


Adventure in your community

it's always useful at the start of a school year to come across resources that might be useful in the school programme. This one from National Geographic Education came to me through TES Online, and is intended to support Geography Awareness week (which I wasn't aware existed). 

The parent guide provides an excellent overview of the sorts of activities and challenges you can set kids to do – it would make a superb resource for teachers also to incorporate some of these activities into a classroom programme. 

The resource is designed to invite individuals or teams of students, families, or friends to explore their own communities anew through geographic eyes by undertaking a series of “missions.” These missions emphasize geographic skills such as photography, storytelling, mapping, and taking action. Complete missions and earn points toward badges in each of the skills, demonstrating that you are able to see your community and the rest of the world with deeper understanding.

NB: You need to create a TES account to access the resource, but it's straight forward and extremely worthwhile doing so.

Critical thinking about conspiracy theories

It's always useful to find resources that can be used to promote a combination of critical thinking, cyber-citizenship, research and history (to name a few). The following resource came to me via Learning Times, and provides some material that I'm sure could be used very creatively in classrooms: 

Conspiracy Theories in Aerospace History
A lesson in Critical Thinking for the Internet Age

You can't believe everything you read on the Internet. How do you evaluate the reliability of online information?

Check out the conference archives from this National Air and Space Museum interactive online conference developed especially for teachers and secondary students. Historians and educators from the Museum, and guests from the Department of the Navy and National History Day, demonstrate critical thinking skills they use to evaluate information.

Four major events in aerospace history that have captured people's imagination and given rise to speculation and conspiracy theories were discussed:

  1. Thinking Critically – Apollo Moon Landings
  2. Thinking Critically – Amelia Earhart‚s Disappearance
  3. Thinking Critically – UFOs
  4. Thinking Critically – Attack on Pearl Harbor

Find the exciting FREE conference recordings here.

Periodic table of videos

If you're a chemistry teacher you have to like this one – a periodic table consisting of an array of QR codes that link you to a video abut that particular elements. I've tried it using the bar code scanner on my android phone and it worked brilliantly – you can adjust the size of the image on your screen so that the scanner gets a good read.