Saturday, 24 October 2015

Reading material (reflections to follow)

Reading through these documents from the OECD at the moment. 

Schooling Redesigned: Towards Innovative Learning Systems

Schooling Redesigned

The Nature of Learning: Using Research to Inspire Practice

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Well, that escalated quickly...

I've been so distracted by so much else going on, both online and off, that I haven't posted in a while. Time for a very brief reflection.

Twitter: joined in with #BFC630NZ a few mornings this week - great bunch of connected educators and some awesome kaupapa coming from the sessions. Going to look for some caution tape for my Zombie Apocalypse unit and look at an expert wall or directory for student expert knowledge to help others.

Junior curriculum review: Has been simmering away in the process and is now ramping up to some presentations to staff in the new year. Some exciting and challenging changes already in the wind, with staff, student & community consultation to help us set the direction further for 2017.

Saturday, 17 October 2015

Guest Post: @nlouwrens #EdBlogNZ

Connecting as an educator

Back in 2005 when I started teaching I had some awesome colleagues who I could connect with, ask questions of and learn from. They were great and I learnt heaps, but my circle of influence was limited mostly to my colleagues within my school and to my parents (both trained teachers).

As a secondary science teacher, I would head to PD days around my subject area and network a little, however I felt very new and didn’t feel like I had anything to offer. Being introverted, I found these days, while useful, also quite daunting.

I had the idea back in 2006 to set up an online discussion forum for science teachers to connect through, ask questions and build networks. I actually set one up, but I didn’t have the connections to take it anywhere. I don’t think the idea was before its time, but with the possibilities that are available now—Facebook, Twitter, Google+ etc—these things can be set up much more easily. I wish a little bit that I had persevered further with this idea, but now we’ve got great opportunities available anyway through the Virtual Learning Network (VLN), and various social media avenues as already mentioned.

Now, about 10 years later, it’s so easy to be connected to others, and I would argue that if you’re not connected then you’re letting down your students. Not because you’re not a great teacher, but because there could be so much more you could be doing for them. You could open up more doors for them that you might not even be aware are there and ready to be opened.

Being a connected educator allows us to grow, to question, to reflect, to learn, to inspire, to look on in awe, to get involved, to put your ideas out there, to get on your soapbox, to question your beliefs and practices, and to change. If you don’t know anything different, how can you make better decisions around your practice for your students?

These things have all happened to me. Well maybe not the soapbox one, but all the others have been a part of my journey as a connected educator. And it’s not over. I want to continue to learn from others. I want to be a source of inspiration to others. I want to grow through the connections I have from the amazing educators I connect with both in New Zealand and around the world.

If we don’t share our practice, then we don’t have the opportunity to inspire others or to influence other students outside of our school or classroom.

What if we could?
Nga mihi nui kia koe, Nathaniel.
Follow Nathaniel's Blog @ teaching at the end of the earth

Friday, 16 October 2015

Swimming out of my depth?

I've been thinking. A lot. No, I mean, a whole lot. 
Take a big pile of thinking and multiply it to the power of thought itself, then double it. Now add a pinch of sleep. 
Result? Mind = blown!

I've been reading a bit (which started this whole 'thinking' lark):

Supporting future-oriented learning and teaching: A New Zealand perspective, Bolstad & Gilbert, with McDowall, Bull, Boyd & Hipkins, NZCER, 2012.

Swimming out of our depth? Leading learning in 21st century schools, Bull & Gilbert, NZCER, 2012.

My inquiry questions (thus far, and the list just keeps growing!):

  • Is there a 'unified field theory of education'? What might it look like?
  • Should we stop talking about "21st century learning/education" & simply talk about *future-focussed learning*? The 21st century isn't going to last forever.
  • Does educational achievement (assessment results/more degrees etc) equate to societal progress/success? Does this help us tackle "wicked problems," or create more 'highly-educated fools'?
  • If "people do not learn well as 'spectators'", then why do we continue to teach teachers this way? Death by powerpoint, anyone?
  • What is 'achievement' in a truly diverse and inclusive education system? Who decides what 'success' is, or what the measures are for that success?
  • If a student 'only' achieves L1 NCEA, are they failures? Why label them so? Perhaps that student goes on to get multiple University/tertiary qualifications. Perhaps they don't. Yet our curriculum lays out a somewhat different vision (link opens new window). So are we not interpreting/executing the vision properly in our classrooms?

I'm tweeting them out but, apart from a few retweets/faves, I'm not getting much feedback. I may need professional help. Anyone know the number of a good psychiatrist? 

Monday, 12 October 2015

Collaboration - An Innovation Challenge Accepted

October is Connected Educator month, and this post is a celebration of connecting with others through a collaboration, on the theme of Innovation.  Most importantly, it serves to meet the #edblognz challenge to collaborate with another blogger (or in our case, bloggers) on an important issue in education.  

We are a triad (to clarify, not the secret society kind) of educators, representing primary and secondary.   Each of us are leaders of learning, regular bloggers, active in the ‘tweetmoshere, and passionate about future focussed learning.    

We chose to blog about innovation, and to explore the notion ‘is innovation a future focussed teaching must have and if so, what does it look like, and how do you encourage all educators to embrace innovation?’  We wanted to reflect on what Grant Lichtman had to say in his keynote at Ulearn2015, and in particular, apply that to what we currently do, and how it might strengthen  our own journeys with innovation.  We make no promises to solve these questions!

Is Innovation a future focussed teaching must have?

Yes, and a strong YES.  
Innovation, for me, sits at the heart of schooling improvement.  The old adage of you will always get what you already have if you keep doing what you already do, has a strong ring of truth to it.  It is not even about being ‘future focussed’ for tomorrow, but for now.  

When I think of educational innovation, I see it as improving upon the existing (in same case removing or replacing), and the addition of new methodologies, ideas and concepts to move our thinking and processes forward .  When I asked Technoman for his thoughts, he said that innovation is about ‘understanding the need, not the want and putting that into practice’, and I could see how that relates well to an educational context.  

Within our system there are so many inequalities and these pose a significant challenge to being responsive teachers, leaders and indeed, to being a responsive system.  Innovative thinking has to be a part of a future focussed educator's repertoire if we are to meet these challenging issues!

Absolutely necessary. Without innovation, just as in life, we stagnate and perish.

Sam Gibson
Absolutely. Without innovation, we all become stagnant. Innovation is what makes the world go round in the 21st century. We often hear the phrase “We are training our students for jobs that do not exist yet”. Therefore, we need to ensure that innovation and problem solving are at the top of the list of skills that we are encouraging with our students. If I am asking my students to be innovative, it is also imperative that I am innovative as an educator.

What does it look like?

Obviously, innovation is going to look different for each individual, setting and context.  At our place, innovation is on a continuum; some teachers are fully immersed, active and engaged, whilst others are a little more wary, simply content to let others bathe in the pool of innovation, whilst they quietly dip their toes with trepidation.  Sometimes it is messy, sometimes it is challenging and sometimes it is magic!

In an effort to cater for this diverse ‘continuum’ of need, we set up our innovations team.  I have blogged about fostering innovation previously, which you can read about here.  In a nutshell, the innovations team was developed to provide a place for those early adopters to gather, share ideas, practice (including successes and areas of future development) and to support each other's inquiries.  As an opt in option, it gives the passionate teachers a voice and safe place to ‘wonder’, without adding to the fear other teachers might hold around change and innovation.  

It looks like life. A complex and ever-evolving ecosystem that cannot exist in a vacuum - it is surrounded by, infused and interacting with other systems and processes that influence and affect it. Choices, opportunities and threats, failures and triumphs, weaknesses and strengths that constantly move and mould.
"Failure is success, if we learn from it." (Malcolm Forbes)

Sam Gibson
Innovation is all around us, and it always has been. However, today innovation is moving faster than ever. New ideas, new equipment, new paradigms. However it looks, the most important thing is that we keep moving forward with it. This is where we can get uncomfortable with change, but  as Grant Licthman said: “Embrace the discomfort”.  I love the Dewey quote: “If we teach today as we taught yesterday, we rob our children of tomorrow”. As the world keeps changing, this quote will forever be true.

How might we encourage others to embrace innovation?

This has to be the billion dollar question facing all early adopters and leaders with an affinity for innovative practice.  Understanding change management, making sure we have a robust self review process, being open and transparent and continuing to foster trust are all key elements in helping others overcome their concerns and fears.  

I posed the question the other day on Twitter during Grant’s keynote when he talked about fear holding teachers back, that perhaps if we understood what was at the heart of that fear, and we unlocked it, then we could move forward as a system.  For me, this begins with understanding what is sitting at the heart of my own teams fears and concerns.  If we understand what the problem is then we can work together to find the solutions (Grant elaborated on using Design Thinking during his workshop which will be a useful tool to assist this).

I encourage others by being open to change, by considering and planning, by trying new things or ideas and reflecting on the process and the results. I am transparent. I share my ideas and my outcomes with others for critical reflection, feedback and feedforward. I keep going. Life's a journey. Learning is life itself and therefore is also a journey. You journey by moving forward, one foot in front of the other, by increments (some large, some small).

Sam Gibson
We all ask our students to adopt a growth mindset and learn from their mistakes. We, as educators, need to do the same. Teachers need to be encouraged to innovate. We need to have an environment where it is ok to fail, where we are co-learners in the classroom. Part of this journey should involve reflecting on, and sharing, experiences. Personally, I have found blogging about my experiences a hugely valuable process. This is where I really reflect on what I am doing. Through this, my PLN on Twitter has been valuable in terms of providing encouragement, feedback and new ideas.

How do we foster innovation?  
How will we strengthen it?
Key takeout from Grant Lichtman's keynote and how it applies to our current journey?

One of the key takeouts I have been absorbing from Grants keynote is that we need to have open and honest conversations with all members of our school community about what we do, why we do it and what we want it to be like.  It starts by challenging the assumptions of the status quo (see infographic below).   Talking about these things and the resulting changes that may come from it will be uncomfortable, and they will be challenging, but on the flip side, they will be exciting!
We can’t be limited by our notions of schooling based on what was done in the past, but rather, be prepared to be embracing of what the future is and can be.  At our place we have started the conversations but we still have some distance to travel.  Big things come from small steps, and I am more than confident that we are on our way!

Sam Gibson

As Grant Lichtman mentioned in his keynote, the world is changing at an incredible rate, we therefore need to reimagine the fundamental learning relationships between teachers, students at knowledge. To be truly innovative, schools really do need to blow up many assumptions that we have about learning. Most teachers are so used to being the main source of knowledge within the classroom. This idea has changed dramatically over the last ten years with the technological advances we have seen. When thinking about technology use in the classroom, I always like to ask teachers “What are the main ways in which technology is allowing you to enhance the learning for your students?”. This question should be in the forefront of every teacher's mind in today’s classrooms. This is where we can start to blow up some of the assumptions from the past, and look to new innovative ways that we can facilitate learning.  

Using the What/So What/Now What reflective model I have been using thus far in relation to Grant's Keynote:

The one-word version: Dewey

So What:
Dewey's philosophy of teaching is (for me) essentially "Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself." It is, or should be, experiential. We learn by experiencing and exploring and trying, failing and trying again. It is not the simple transfer of knowledge from one receptacle (teacher's brain) to another (student's brain). Our industrial-age model is, and always has been, defunct, defective, and destructive to the learning process. So why continue with it? For me, the answer is, we don't!

Now What:
I will continue to disrupt, to set fire to the silos, through:

  • being open to new ideas and to change
  • growing my understanding of my own and others' pedagogical approaches, philosophies of learning, and the tools of my profession in a future-focussed learning world view
  • collaboration and connection with my professional colleagues, both within and outside my kura, and with other agents of change, individuals or groups, for the benefit of the akonga in my care and my own professional and personal development and growth

* * *
In conclusion, although we are three educators from three diverse settings, we are not that dissimilar in our thinking.  There is a reassurance here, in that if we can be on message over such an important issue in education then this must surely be a great sign.  To be able to collaborate and share thinking across sectors has been a powerful reminder of what we can achieve as educators when we share ideas and work together.  I believe it is exactly this that Grant was talking about when he said if you want to be relevant in the future than you need to be a 'big node' in the 'cognitosphere'.  

Ngā mihi nui kia kōrua, Steph and Sam, for helping me to fan the 'bushfires of innovation!

Link to Steph's blog
Link to Sam's blog

Sunday, 11 October 2015

ULearn15 and Mondays and Zombies

Exhausted. I was exhausted over the weekend and still am, but today it was back to school and back to eager young minds who were just as fired up as I was after ULearn15.

Then I got into my room and my Year 10s brought me crashing back down to earth.

I have a new inspiration for my unit on Epidemics - make it project-based, produce something at the end (art) to demonstrate their understanding of the topic:

The social consequences of the Zombie Apocalypse.

I'll ask students what links can be made between the topic and what they are covering in other silos, er... sorry, subjects. I've already been a bit sneaky and checked with their other teachers.

In PE & Health, they're looking at hitting (nice) and social responsibility (all good)
In Maths, they're covering Trig (questions related to Zombie (A) is 20m to your right and slightly behind your position (C), the house (B) is 30m ahead of you. Assuming you both run at the same speed, how far does Zombie (A) have to travel? How fast would Zombie (A) have to run to ensure your brains are on the menu tonight?)
In Science, they've just finished a unit on microbes (also nice)
Haven't checked English yet, but I'm sure to be able to link brain-eating, flesh-rotting zombies in there somewhere, especially if they're looking at Jane Austen.

Brilliant, I thought. A combo of fun, cross-curricula and learner-led inquiry culminating in a product for public exhibition.

"What the hell!?"
"Zombies aren't even real!"
"How is this learning?"
"I'm scared!" (ok, that last one didn't actually eventuate, but I was ready with my response - "Go to Mitre 10 Mega, check out Aisle 3, about 3/4 of way down on the left side, bottom shelf - you'll find the cans of HARDEN UP! there, soldier! This isn't kindergarten anymore. These Zombies will devour you!" Too much?)

Ouch. I'm going to need to run that under cold water for about 20 minutes.

"Brainstorm some questions that the topic brings to your mind," says I, pressing on with third-degree burns chaffing something chronic.

"Why are zombies so ugly?"
"Why do zombies eat people?"
"If a pregnant woman became infected, would the baby be a zombie and eat the mother?"

Wait, what!?

On reflection, I need to do more prep. And fast!
But I don't need to have all the answers. Just follow the inquiry cycle/spiral and get out of the way of the learning that will begin to take place. That last question was a doozy, I thought, and I encouraged S to be sure to look at cross-placenta infections (apparently they're called vertically transmitted infections. You learn something new every day!) in their inquiry.

We might look at clips/trailers from World War Z, 28 Days Later, Warm Bodies, and Maggie. We might read some Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.

I'll try to keep you posted (if I survive).

Thursday, 8 October 2015

Reflections on Day Two of ULearn15

1- the what?
2- so what?
3- now what?

1. The What?
Keynote 2: Teachers who lead are inquirers into their own practice; community is critical; culture is critical to leadership; go public/share
Breakout 1 & 2: The breakouts today weren't about content (I was pretty covered on both areas - Minecraft & Google), but about connections for me, and there were connections aplenty! Awesome to meet or hear face-to-face some of the great educators from Aotearoa who are helping others along their journey in these areas. I came away with some new directions (collaborative Minecraft server, and exploring the GEGNZ further) and feeling more connected.

2. So What?
Connectedness is and will remain critical for my development as I move forward. Feelings of isolation will creep back in once I'm away from the buzz of ULearn15.

3. Now What?
Embed the connections. Order and organise the large number of contacts into clear groups of focus and schedule time to maintain and enhance these connections.

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Reflections on Day One of ULearn15

1- the what?
2- so what? 3- now what? easy prompts for quick and easy reflections

(Shout out to Mark Buckland (@mjbuckland) for the guide/template/outline/whatever)

1. The What

  • Powhiri was awesome
  • politician's address not so much
  • Keynote 1: Grant Lichtman was brilliant - Break down the silos; paradigm shift from industrial model to ecosystem model (teachers as 'farmers' who tend and nurture a student that will grow, in some way, whether we tend it or not); Dewey - Ecosystems: Dynamic, Adaptive, Permeable, Creative, self-correcting; Cognitosphere; we have the hardware (buildings, infrastructure, people), we have the software (books, apps, internet etc), we need a new operating system!
  • Breakout 1: The Pond - went slightly differently to how I imagined (many didn't know much about it at all).
  • Breakout 2: Death by Powerpoint. They meant well and possibly had a good message, but 'they lost me at hello' with so many words on their slides that I just couldn't take it all in and gave up (sound like our kids?)
  • Movie night: Bloody Brilliant! Most Likely to Succeed (@MLTSFilm #MLTSFilm) echoed what I have said from the start. We are not preparing Ss for life if we use standardised tests/exams where we teach to the test and the Ss forget the material as soon as they leave the test/exam. And none of the tests assess the skills that are most useful in the world - the 'soft skills,' the ability to collaborate, problem solve, communicate, learn/unlearn/relearn, find/evaluate/synthesise information to create a solution, perseverance, empathy.
2. So what?
  • Must work on my reo!
  • More blah/fluff/politic-speak, but at least the Minister was busy elsewhere... and those that fronted, did so. Kudos for that.
  • Keynote 1: Burn down the silos. We have to have a new operating system if we are going to remain relevant (see comment on Movie)
  • Breakout 1: Burn down the silos. Share, share and share some more. Communicate, collaborate - SHARE!
  • Breakout 2: Greedo shot first.
  • Movie Night: Burn down the silos (am I detecting a theme here?) Revolutionise the way Ss can learn. Assess through authentic audience/project-based output. Nurture those soft-skills.
3. Now what?
  • Where are my matches? "Be the change you want to see!" he cried as he poured more petrol on the fire. Connect more and in more meaningful ways. Share, collaborate, innovate. To fail IS to succeed if we learn from it.

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

#ULearn15 #Excited

Well, here we are. It has finally arrived and I have finally arrived. It's the first time I've been back to Auckland in 18 years, having lived here from 1987 - 1997. The ride from the airport was surreal. So much of the scenery, the buildings, and the businesses are drastically different - they weren't there before! As soon as we got to Pah Road, it all started to come back to me. Street names, stores, parks... they echoed in my head and I felt... I don't know what I felt. It was just strange.

But I'm excited for tomorrow. The event, the people, the speakers, the topics, the discussions, the people... everything. I was last at ULearn in '09 in Christchurch. It seems like a lifetime ago. I was a first year teacher. A noob. And I felt like a noob (not a nice feeling most of the time, particularly when getting stomped by smurfs) without even a tenuous grasp on my pedagogy, my understandings, or my content and there I was on a massive conference with bells and lights and whistles and speakers and jargon, all flying at me at a rate I couldn't begin to comprehend. I had fun though :)

Here I am, sooooo many years later ;) and I can now (almost) understand some of the jargon. And I've got a slightly clearer view of what I like and don't like about the system I have chosen to inhabit. I am becoming a quiet disruptor, an instigator and an infiltrator. I am a white-hat hacker starting on my true journey. I feel like I am where I belong.

Anyhoo, here's a vlog entry :)

Saturday, 3 October 2015

The pace slows - "Discipline your body, that your mind may find a greater power."

The maxim from Master Po of the programme Kung Fu, which I watched so diligently as a child, reflects something that I need to hold to. I have terrible short-term memory and find it difficult to stick to most routines or form good habits. I lack the self-discipline to maintain these habits and then berate myself when time has passed with no progress due entirely to my slackness. 

"So must we seek a discipline of mind and body within ourselves." Kwai Chang Caine, Kung Fu

To paraphrase the Psalmist, if my work is ever before me, I cannot help but attend to it. So when I shut down my computer at night now the same tabs are open in Chrome: Blogger, Core, Tweetdeck, Bundlr, TeachMeet and Google Drive. When I start up in the morning, there they are to greet me and command my attention. During Connected Educator Month 2015, I hope to develop some good habits and maintain my connections. #CENZ15 #edblogNZ

Friday, 2 October 2015

My first TeachMeet

Well, another day, another first. #ConnectedLife

I experienced my first TeachMeet via an event linking educators in TeachMeetNZ and TMSydney.

The educators were a mix of experienced and less-experienced practitioners, and I was impressed by how much they all brought to the event. There were a number of topics covered which spanned almost the whole sector (tertiary wasn't explicitly addressed, though many of the ideas could translate, I'm sure). I enjoyed the event and live-tweeted as we went - another first for me. Copying the hashtag set so it was already on my clipboard and just pasting into and editing each tweet as needed saved me a lot of time and I was better able to keep up with the presentations. Note to self: have a notepad window open with key hashtag sets available if there are a number of tags to copy into tweets on the fly. Or look for a plugin/app that will help with that.

Some minor technical issues cropped up, but didn't stop the process cold. The format was disciplined and driven forward and kept on point by excellent facilitators.

Disclaimer: This post is simply to reflect on my experience of the event, not the content and how I might use/adapt it in my own practice.

Thursday, 1 October 2015

What I've been thinking lately

During my many years (*cough*) of teaching, I have begun to move further and further away from the 'tried and true' content that has been handed down ad nauseam for the past several decades (I have seen text books at school older than I am!).

I have always been a bit of a rebel. Black sheep of the family, eldest child of the eldest child, first to forge the path, first to monumentally stuff things up, first to fail at school because it bored the hell out of me. First to homeschool my kids (well, my beautiful and talented wife did the vast amount of the work there) because I didn't trust the education system as far as I could throw it to challenge my kids, to see them as individuals and to inspire them to pursue their passions and dreams (one is an actor, one is an artist, one is still deciding). But enough about me and mine.

I have seen a few students pass through our kura now and I am terrified that so few of them were truly served by the system. Yes, they (well, 80-odd % of them) got a piece of paper to say they had met the standards imposed on them by the system. But how many of them left the gates for the final time feeling empowered, inspired and enthusiastic about what lay ahead on their learning journey? How many of them shook the dust of the school from their sandals and vowed never to set foot there again, as long as they could possibly help it? The thought of how I/we may have failed them in that regard fills me with horror. How much damage have I/we wrought on these young minds to the point that they will break out in a cold sweat at the thought of another test, another exam, or more learning?

It keeps me up at night...