Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Education for the Future

Thanks to Leigh Hyne's recent blog post  I viewed the video of an interview with the OECD’s Director for Education and Skills Andreas Schleicher. The video is an hour long but worth watching as there are many interesting points raised that are relevant to New Zealand (and indeed worldwide) education.

Schleicher was asked (35:39) what was the most important thing a teacher could do to prepare students for their future?  His reply was to stop thinking about preparing students for jobs, jobs will look totally different in the future. In science, for example, we spend too much time on teaching content and too little time teaching students to design experiments and think like a scientist.

This fits really well with my views around the need for an inquiry approach and the use of authentic contexts for learning. Students need to do the work that would be done by those working in the discipline in the community, in science they need to do what scientists do, in art they need to do what artists do.

Schleicher went on to say that coding, for example, will look totally different when younger students leave school. This fits with my view that the coding itself is not the important part. The problem-solving and computational thinking will still be relevant, the ability to think logically, to break tasks down into parts and see patterns, to design solutions, to de-bug when things don't work and to re-design, these skills will still be useful and valuable. This is especially important to keep in mind as we consider the draft of the new Digital technologies area of the curriculum.

Schleicher believes that education systems need to have core values and everything that is in or added to the curriculum needs to be examined against those core values. This works at both a government level and an individual school level.

Schools in New Zealand have to develop their own school curriculum and their core values need to be a the heart of this. This is not always the case. Most schools have worked on developing these sets of core values as part of developing their vision and mission statements but there are still some that have not applied these when developing their school curriculum. Schools that have done this well, Te Kowhai Primary for example, have seen the benefits for their students

Schleicher also talked about early childhood education (49:34) and how formalisation of learning is doing more harm than good and that we need to let children play and socialise,  which proponents of play-based learning would be heartened to hear.

It was interesting to hear the question (51:47) from Mark Treadwell, a New Zealand educator, on how we overcome the lack of understanding around what is the difference between knowledge, an idea, a concept and a concept framework. There is a definite need to develop common understandings around what these terms mean as it impacts on both curriculum design and implementation.

Schleicher emphasised that we need to teach fewer things at greater depth, to get to the root of the discipline, to foster students' talents. Japan, for example took 30% of material out of their curriculum and it resulted in an increase in creative skills and creative problem solving. He  remarked on the tendency of schools to prioritise the urgent over the important. Just having more learning time does not equate to better outcomes (Pisa data shows a negative correlation).  He asserts that we need to help students find their passions, what they are good at, what is going to serve a social purpose.

Monday, July 03, 2017

Coding for their Future

You may have heard that the New Zealand Technology Curriculum has been revised to include two new strands: 'Computational thinking for digital technologies' and 'Designing and developing digital outcomes'. You may be wondering what this is all about, if you are a parent you may have some concerns about what this will mean for your child and if you're a teacher you may be wondering how you will fit this into your programme and why you would want to. Hopefully I have a few answers for you or at least some food for thought.

One question I've often heard asked is how we will fit this into an already busy curriculum. The Education Minister Nikki Kay, attempted to answer this in a segment on Q & A  What she could also have said was that digital technologies, coding and computational thinking don't need to be separate subjects that are shoe-horned into the curriculum. They will become a means to an end, not the end itself.

The 'Designing and Developing Digital Outcomes' area for example, involves having a knowledge of devices, apps and programs so that we can choose the best tool for the task. It has students critically analysing various digital technologies and making informed decisions about the best digital technology (or in some cases non-digital technology) to achieve the desired outcome.

In real life most of us make decisions about use of technology all the time. Will we watch that movie on Netflix, our DVD player, on our ipad or phone? If we need to do a presentation to a group of people will we use Powerpoint, Google Slides, Prezi, Powtoon, make a video or use plain old cards with handwritten notes?

Students will "work through an iterative process to design, develop, create, store, test and evaluate digital content that meets its purpose. They will recognise social and end-user considerations that are relevant when developing digital content." This sort of process can be applied in any curriculum area.

The 'Computational thinking for digital technologies' area is probably the one that is the scariest for newcomers to the world of coding and computational thinking but most people understand this area a lot better than they think.

Algorithms sound scary but I would say that nearly all of you use these in one form another every week. Have you ever used a recipe, read a set of instructions for kitset furniture, done a Google search, decided the best route to get from A to B? If so you've made use of an algorithm which is just a set of step-by-step instructions to efficiently carry out a task.

Coding itself has become so much easier for beginners with block coding programs like Scratch and Tynker enabling even five year olds to code. Hour of Code is designed to get young people coding and has more resources being added all the time, it's a great place to start. Many of these early coding apps like Tynker now include the ability to see what your code would look like in more advanced coding languages like Python and Java, which scaffolds transition into these languages.

Students can use these coding apps to create stories, artwork and puzzles. As they go they are problem-solving, developing persistence, resilience and a growth mindset, they are developing their maths and literacy skills in authentic contexts. They aren't so much learning to code as they are coding to learn.

There are now a plethora of robots available that students can easily program. The hardest part is deciding which one to get as we are now spoilt for choice. Just watch a student program a robot to go through a maze and you can't deny the maths and key competencies that are being developed.

Computational thinking might sound tricky but its what we use all the time when we solve problems or complete tasks and we use things like:
  • Decomposition: Breaking down data, processes, or problems into smaller parts
  • Pattern Recognition: Looking for patterns, similarities  and trends in data
  • Abstraction: Focusing on the important, relevant info, ignoring the irrelevant
When things go wrong we need to de-bug to find out where we went wrong and how to correct the mistake. Being able to logically work through problems is an essential skill.

Lack of devices is another issue I hear mentioned by teachers but it needn't stop you. There are many activities that can be done without any devices. Sure you are going to need some devices eventually but lack of them should not prevent you getting started.
In the Q & A segment the Minister was questioned about how we can prepare students for their future when we have no idea what that future will be. The following quotes sprang to mind:

"Our job as teachers is not to "prepare" kids for something; our job is to help kids learn to prepare themselves for anything."

"Your task is not to foresee the future, but to enable it." Antoine de Saint Exupéry

PLD for teachers and education for the community are going to be essential and the Government is promising funding for this. If effectively targeted, this funding could go a long way towards making sure all teachers, not just a few specialists, can implement these new areas in their classrooms. 

I've started compiling some resources to support this new strand, still a work in progress as details have just been released, but lots to get you started. To teachers I say give it go, start small if you want, but start. 

"Don’t shortchange the future, because of fear in the present." 

For those wanting to find out more you could attend one of the MoE consultation workshops or if you want ideas and resources for implementing this in your classroom I am facilitating a 2 day course on the new areas on Mon, August 14th and Mon, September 11th in HamiltonMore details or enrol here

The revised curriculum is still in draft form and you can have your say here

I'll finish with my favourite quote about technology:

"....Computers are not rescuing the school from a weak curriculum, any more than putting pianos in every classroom would rescue a flawed music program. Wonderful learning can occur without computers or even paper. But once the teachers and children are enfranchised as explorers, computers, like pianos, can serve as powerful amplifiers, extending the reach and depth of the learners."

Alan Kay 

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

I'm a Genius!

Yes, it's true, I'm a genius! How do I know this? because Facebook told me so it must be true. Apparently my geniusness (my own word - because I'm a genius and allowed to make up words) is demonstrated in my ability to notice the missing number in this sequence and type it in the comments below. 

Or because I can think of a word that starts and ends with T, as apparently less than 10% of the population can do this. The thousands of people gleefully posting their word in the comments below are apparently also geniuses as are those who, like me, can find the number 1 in a sea of 7s or solve this puzzle that has the internet baffled. 

Once my geniusness has been confirmed I could of course post an "Amen" for the poor sick child or the animal that has been cruelly mistreated, because I wouldn't be so heartless as to scroll past without liking, sharing and commenting. Because everyone knows that God will only save the child or animal if I post to Facebook and the post gets over 5000 likes.

Or maybe I can win one of 500 BMWs or the 1000 Round the world trips in the competition by just liking and sharing the page, the one that was only created a few weeks ago. It is a shiny,new page so it must be legit, right?

Joking aside, I am pretty sure that all the above are just "like farming" or setting me up for some sort of scam. But over and over I see them in my feed because a friend has liked, commented, shared or copied and pasted. So it is working for the scammers.

Then there are the "copy and paste, don't share" posts". Thanks to Allanah King for sharing this article which confirmed for me the reasons why I never do this.

It's pretty simple to stop these scammers in their tracks. All we have to do is think for a minute before we like, share etc that post. Think about why they might be posting/asking you to do this and ask ourselves is it true/real? How can I find out? While you are at it apply the same questions to any "news" you see posted.


Cima da Conegliano, God the Father

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

Developing an Inquiry Disposition in the First Month

I was inspired to write this after reading a few posts from people I admire. Firstly  
Kath Murdoch's post 'Establishing a Culture of Inquiry Through Inquiry' caught my eye. In it she discussed some of the questions we might ask of students so that they are involved in designing the learning and developing a learning community in the classroom. Questions like "What do we need we find out about each other? How could we go about this?", "What should I (as your teacher) learn about you?" and my personal favourite, "What are you most curious about when you think about the year ahead?".

Taryn Bond Clegg showed what inquiry in the first week might look like with her post 'What Does an Inquiry- based First week of School Look Like?', I loved that students were invited to post their questions first rather than being told what the teacher thought they needed to know and their questions were honoured. "If Mrs Griffin was the answer, what might the question be?" was a great way to value students' questions as well as helping the students get to know their teacher.

Then this morning Leigh Hynes shared her post 'Okay - It's the First Week of School - What am I going to do with my students?', discussing how teachers in secondary schools might define their role through their actions, whilst developing strong relationships with their class and ensuring students understand the relevance of what they will be learning. In Secondary Schools, especially in the higher levels with the focus on achieving qualifications, it is very easy to lose sight of what really matters in a classroom in the rush to fit everything in.

So as you move through this first month of school here a a few questions to keep in mind:

  • How are you modelling and developing an inquiring disposition in the classroom?
  • How much agency do students have? 
  • When deciding things like what groups will be called or how the furniture will be placed, have you asked the kids?
  • Do all students feel that they are accepted,  welcomed and part of a learning community? How were students involved in that happening?
  • How well do you understand the purpose and relevance of what the students are learning?
  • How well do students understand the purpose and relevance of what they are learning? 
  • Are you a role model in the classroom? Do your actions match what you are asking of students?
  • How well do you know the students in the class and how much do they know about you?
  • Who owns the learning?
  • How will parents/whānau be involved in the learning?
I could also ask how you will develop the 6Cs - Deep learning Competencies of Collaboration, Character, Creativity, Critical Thinking, Citizenship and Communication, but that's another post.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Olympics - why, why, why?

I was discussing the Olympics with some colleagues today, or more specifically I was discussing how important it is to know why you are asking students to complete a particular activity. I've talked about being clear about your purpose before in my posts Play, Passion and Purpose and again in UDL and Task Design.

What I hear a lot of is "That's a cool activity, I'll try that with my kids tomorrow" or "That's going to look great on the classroom wall and the kids will really enjoy doing it" or similar types of thinking. Topics like the Olympics, ANZAC Day, Easter and Christmas seem especially prone to this.

The very first question that needs to be asked about anything you are doing with students is "Why are you doing it?". The "why" helps us make decisions around other questions lile "How important is this?" "Is this activity the best use of valuable class time?" and "Is this the best activity for the purpose?".

Let's look at the example of Olympic artwork - just because this will look lovely on your wall is not a good reason to spend class time on it. Why are you doing it.? Ok, it might be developing some new art techniques (or it might not) but often that is not why teachers are choosing to do it. Surely art should have meaning and a purpose beyond pure decoration.

What if we used that time to look at something like the 'Olympic spirit and what it means to us' or 'How the Olympics have changed over time and whether it is for the better' or 'Should we still have the Olympics?' for example. What if we looked at how we could portray our thoughts on these matters using art? What if we looked at some examples of Olympic artworks and asked what the artist was trying to convey through their artwork? Or looked at how portrayal of the Olympics in art has changed over time and discussed why that might be? What if we then looked at the techniques etc that the artist used to get across that message? Wouldn't that lead to some artwork that we could proudly display on our classroom walls while being a meaningful use of precious class time?

Thanks @lynnesilcock for the inspiration for this post.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Andragogy vs Pedagogy - Makes me want to scream!

NB. I have written an updated version of this blog post here as some of the original links are no longer working.

There is nothing more likely to get me to screaming point than an article about the supposed differences between androgogy and pedagogy. Why, you may ask? It may be helpful to start with a definition of both terms:

Pedagogy: The method and practice of teaching (Oxford
Andragogy: the method and practice of teaching adult learners (Oxford

This is interesting because the pedagogy definition makes no mention of the age of the learner, although it has become more common to use this in reference to teaching children and young people, possibly because of its roots in the word paidagōgia meaning 'lead the child'.

The term andragogy appears to have come to the fore because people looked at descriptions of pedagogical practice and said "Hey! that's not how adults learn best". Well I have some news, its not how children learn best either.

This excellent article by Tom Whitby sums up many of my concerns. In particular this list of the characteristics of adult learners from Malcolm Knowles:

  • Adults are internally motivated and self-directed 
  • Adults bring life experiences and knowledge to learning experiences 
  • Adults are goal oriented 
  • Adults are relevancy oriented 
  • Adults are practical 
  • Adult learners like to be respected 
I look at that list and think, so if I made a one word substitution would it still be correct?
  • Learners are internally motivated and self-directed 
  • Learners bring life experiences and knowledge to learning experiences 
  • Learners are goal oriented 
  • Learners are relevancy oriented 
  • Learners are practical 
  • All learners like to be respected 
Does it still hold true? I think it does. Sure there are degrees of each for all learners but that is true of adults and children alike. Surely we must look at the individual learner and not put them automatically into a category based on some magic age. I have seen incredibly self-directed and goal-oriented children and adults who are neither.

This Pedagogy vs Andragogy chart (The original link is no longer valid so I've linked to Richard Byrne's copy of it) and the fore-mentioned article on Andragogy really sum up the issue for me:

It makes me wonder what the magic age is when people suddenly become adults. Is is 16? 18? 21? 30? Do we wait till the day of their birthday before we suddenly shift to using a different teaching strategy with them?

It makes me want to scream when I read things like "Children have to follow a curriculum. Often, adults learn only what they feel they need to know." , "Children learn skills sequentially. Adults start with a problem and then work to find a solution." and "Children learn by doing, but active participation is more important among adults." (Full list here)

It makes me wonder about a schooling system that thinks the things in the Pedagogy list are okay. Where is the learner agency in this? Why can't young people do the things in the Andragogy column? Answer: because we haven't given them the opportunity.

As Tom Whitby puts it:
"If we respected kids more as learners, they might be more self-directed and motivated in their learning. If they are allowed to participate in their learning, they might take more ownership. "

Thankfully the effective pedagogy section of the New Zealand curriculum looks more like the andragogy section of the Pedagogy vs Andragogy chart. Those who are advocating the type of thinking espoused in the chart should read this section of the curriculum. Let's look closely at the individual learner and let their needs be the basis rather than some set of rules based on an arbitrary age.

Saturday, October 03, 2015

"Those who cannot remember the past..."

It's that time again, Connected Educator Month (get the starter kit) and I've joined the blogging challenge.  My first challenge is to reflect on how my teaching practice has evolved over time. As I am no longer a classroom teacher I have taken the opportunity to reflect on my first year of teaching and compare aspects of that to today's classrooms.

When I reflect back on my first year of teaching over 30 years ago there were a lot of ideas that were similar to those around now but have evolved. My first year was in what was then called an open plan classroom, which very superficially resembled today's Modern Learning Environments (MLEs). Two classrooms had a wall removed to turn them into one large space and two single cell classrooms were also part of the set up. 

Students were all brought together in the open space between two classrooms for introductions to units or any time we were wanting to deliver content or messages to the whole syndicate at once. This usually meant one or more teachers could be released to do other things like admin tasks or individual testing (although there wasn't much of the latter happening). 

The syndicate was comprised of what would now be called year 3 and 4 students and we cross-grouped for maths. This was partially on ability and partially on year level so there were two year 3 classes and two year 4 classes. This was the most restrictive subject as we taught from a text book (Modern School Mathematics), a double page a day. There was a teachers book which we used to introduce the day's topic then the students completed the exercises from their text book. The next day we moved on to the next pages whether they understood it or not. When I questioned this I was told there was a spiral curriculum and the subject would come round again. What they didn't seem to take into account was that when it came round it was a higher level, if they didn't get it the first time it was going to be harder to get the next time. 

For reading the students were ability grouped, and then within each class we grouped again. We used the School Journals and the old Ready to Read series of readers - Hungry Lambs, Boat Day, Sweet Porridge etc. and the NZEI book which supported these with  the sight words, blends and comprehension questions relevant to each story. We didn't teach strategies like cross-checking cues or reading-on.  We used a round robin approach with each child reading aloud a part of the book while the others in the group supposedly followed reading silently. I ran a reading task board which was like a reading tumble and did at least try to have activities with some relevance to the learning. 

In the afternoon the classes revolved around teachers with each of the four teachers specialising in an area - PE, Music, Art or Drama. We taught the same lesson 4 times to different classes for all these subjects. This certainly saved on planning time but there wasn't a lot of (or in most cases, any) adaptation for individual classes or students.  

Learning in Social Studies and Science was topic-based and thematic rather than cross-curricula. If the topic was Spring then we drew blossoms and glued cotton-wool on lambs, we sung Spring songs and read Spring poems. We counted daffodils and learnt about baby animals. We crowbarred Spring into every aspect of the curriculum. We had little idea of why we did most of these things, they certainly had little or nothing to do with the objectives of the unit. We cooperatively planned and then each teacher would teach a different aspect. So again the same lesson repeated 4 times with little or no adaptation. 

Back then I was already using a constructivist inquiry approach to Science which was the subject area I got to teach. Prior knowledge was determined and student questions were collected. We would hypothesise and test our hypotheses, then analyse our information and form conclusions. At times we even tried to find authentic contexts and help students see the relevance to their lives. It wasn't inquiry as I would see it today but it was a good start. What we failed to do however was the 'what next' step, the action as a result of the inquiry. Instead we would give them a test to see what they understood and move on to the next topic.

So how does all this relate to teaching today? Well our open-plan classrooms were not a success, they were very noisy, there were no breakout spaces and learner agency was almost non-existent. We talked about being student-centered but did very little to walk the talk. There was certainly no personalisation of learning going on, teachers, not students, had control of all aspects of the learning. Cultural responsiveness was virtually unheard of, other than a token Māori Culture group which was brought out on special occasions to perform waiata-ā-ringa and haka. The whole thing seemed designed to make it easier for the teachers, not to benefit the students. It wasn't long before the walls were going up again. 

Unfortunately I see the same mistakes being repeated in some (please note that it is only some) schools who are trying out the so-called MLEs.  Walls are knocked down, new furniture (dare I say bean bags) is purchased and classes are thrown in together with little thought as to why they are doing it, and even less into thinking about the changes in practice that are needed to make this work.I see teacher-decided cross-grouping happening in some of these MLEs rather than flexible skill and strategy-based grouping tailored to the students needs.

I still see thematic units happening in classrooms, often under the guise of inquiry, where teachers have little idea of the purpose of what they are teaching. Teaching a double page a day from the maths text book may have gone (thank goodness) but in some classes there is little more personalisation of learning happening now than there was then. Teachers still have firm control of the learning in these classrooms, and true student agency is hard to find.

"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

George Santayana

It is not all bad though. I also see lots of classrooms where the learner really is at the centre of everything that is done. Where students have control of the learning and teachers really understand the purpose of everything they teach. I see most teachers working a lot harder than we did 30 years ago. Personalising learning is more difficult and more time-consuming than teaching from a text book but the effort is worth it.

I have also seen some some excellent examples of MLEs or ILEs (innovative learning environments) or whatever you choose to call them, where personalised learning and student agency are the key, and proven, research-based pedagogy is put before everything. I continue to hope that teachers will visit these classrooms, talk to the teachers and see past the physical spaces into the real changes that are needed to make our classrooms places students want to be, where they feel in control of their own authentic, rich and relevant learning.  

Photos from
Hobsinville Point Primary where supporting sound pedagogy has been the priority when designing learning spaces.