Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Inquiry learning - 3 reasons why


A few months ago, a rather juicy discussion erupted on a Facebook teacher group I belong to based on the graph above. One of the comments that really stood out for me was from another educator who said:
"It's evidence like this that makes me worried about the 'new' style 'open learning environments' that seem to be the vogue for schools being built at the moment. Is the 'student led, open inquiry' style of teaching going to erode progress that has been made?"
It seems that inquiry learning is often at the pointy end of the debate when discussions of academic achievement are had. Direct teacher instruction still seems to work best. The thing that many people forget however is that this works best for some things, certainly not for everything. Hattie's work in Visible Learning (as far as I understand it) looks particularly at achievement data. As does most other research because achievement is easy to measure. The thing with this research, is that it does not look at all the other measures of success, like how happy a student is, their sense of autonomy over their learning, how successful the student is beyond a school context, and most importantly, how passionate the student remains about learning. Although academic achievement may contribute to these things, it is important that we see its limitations, particularly when we start passing judgements on different and new styles of learning.

One of those new styles of learning that is frequently under fire is inquiry learning. Personally, I am a big advocate for inquiry learning because as I see it, there are a number of reasons why inquiry learning is appropriate for this day and age:

Inquiry develops student ability to understand the ‘culture of inquiry’ within a discipline or paradigm and use it to problem solve:Inter-disciplinary learning might be trendy right now, but it is important not to forget the many good things that each learning area does offer. Science has a particular way of asking questions, a particular way of seeing the world. It is precisely because of this 'culture of inquiry' in science, that we have been able to make all the stellar advances in medicine, space travel, technology etc. The same can be said for the 'culture of inquiry' within other disciplines too. Hence, inquiry learning allows students not just to learn about the knowledge that science, history, etc. has gained through its particular cultures of inquiry, but it allows them to learn to use this to seek answers and solve problems for themselves, by drawing on each discipline's culture of inquiry. Hence, they learn how knowledge is constructed in that discipline. 
A simpler way to think about this is that each discipline offers a range of toolboxes with which to solve problems. We should not just be teaching the students what each toolbox has built already, but rather, how they can use the toolbox to build and repair things for themselves. Additionally, because inter-disciplinary studies have become increasingly important, (eg. climate change, nanotechnology, etc.) we should also be developing students' abilities to mix tools across toolboxes, but do so deliberately knowing full well the power and limitations of each tool.

Develops student ability to critique their research decisions:In the post-truth age of fake news and social media, the age old philosophical question of 'how do you know?' becomes infinitely more relevant and critical for the everyday person. And so, the methods by which we find truth and knowledge becomes critical. If students have spent their entire lives consuming content that is provided by schools, they will be inculcated to consume without question elsewhere too. In order to understand the difference between opinion, perspective, information, fact and fiction, we must understand what actually counts as knowledge, the context in which we can rely on this knowledge, and the limitations of knowledge. And learning about this is not the same as developing the capacity to do this, the former just provides more content to consume. Hence, inquiry learning if done well, develops student capacity for critical thinking about far more than a content or concept focussed question easily examined in an exam. 
To get back to the toolbox metaphor, students need to learn to use each of the tools in their toolbox for the right reason, knowing that a hammer and a mallet although similar in appearance, are not the same.

Develops student ability to critique the validity of ideas, models, representations and sources:
So your students are able to navigate to a trusty source of knowledge on the internet, or can spot a biased article. You didn't really think that was enough did you? There is not a discipline under the sun that claims that its knowledge is absolute or complete. Hence, we should be developing students' ability not to think in absolutes or in final answers, but rather, to think critically in understanding the strengths and limitations of all ideas, models, representations, perspectives, opinions and knowledge.
This not only contributes to students' understanding of disciplinary concepts, but it might also contribute in helping them become better democratic citizens. After all, in the world's current political climate, I think it is safe to say that we need more people who can critically evaluate ideas, take on multiple perspectives, and recognise limitations of ideas (just think Trump's border wall!). The ability to recognise the limitations of knowledge, also enables students to see where they might contribute in the world beyond social media and click-bait garbage. If we want students to see and live beyond the instant and momentary famous of Instagram and Snapchat, then surely we must show them other ways they can contribute and leave their mark in the world? 
To use our toolbox metaphor again... Not every space that we construct with our tools is of equal quality, and even the best quality can never be perfect. There is always room for improvement. Being able to see the strengths and weaknesses in the spaces that we have constructed allows us to make better judgements about what to use a space for, how to use it and even, when not to use it.

In reference then to the fellow teacher who asked the question at the start of this post; 'Is the 'student led, open inquiry' style of teaching going to erode progress that has been made?' I have to ask, what might content driven, direct teacher instruction be eroding?

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

7 new things I tried this term


  1. I redesigned and adapted my favourite board game, Catan, in an attempt to engage some of my more passive learners in a more active way. It worked a treat, particularly for my Pasifika learners! Afterwards, I had the students evaluate their strategy from a mathematical perspective, and then plan a different strategy for the next time we played.


  2. I decided that there was not enough ethics in addressed in our curriculum. So I have made an ethics section as part of all scientific investigations. As I expected, students have actually spent little to no time thinking about preventing harm in academic contexts. To be honest, this has me a little bit concerned given the state of the world.
  3. I tried combining three achievement standards into one. This is a work in progress. I'll have to let you know how that goes. Essentially, the students are doing a scientific investigation and using the data gathering process and analysis as evidence towards two maths standards. My hope is that through combing the standards that students can gain an appreciation for the range of skills and knowledge that goes into the process of constructing new scientific knowledge. The standards are:
    • AS90925: Carry out a practical investigation in a biological context, with direction 
    • AS91026: Apply numeric reasoning in solving problems
    • AS91036: Investigate bivariate numerical data using the statistical enquiry cycle 
  4. I have been trying to help students have deeper discussion with a more diverse range of students. To do this, I have experimented using question scripts that include a series of questions to interview each other about, question cards to have a bank of questions to help draw out each other's answer in more depth, and even setting complex tasks that required extended discussion and a range of perspectives to solve.
  5. You may have already read about the Learning Hub Inquiry. The process of engaging students with actively developing a personal goal through a personal action research project. Again, a work in progress as this involves leading the HPSS staff through the process too.
  6. I've been trying to engage students with the idea of cognitive bias. I am approaching this from the angle of why we have processes such as the scientific method and random sampling, and how this helps us overcome cognitive bias. This has been inspired through two books, Tomas Pernecky's Epistemology and Metaphysics for Qualitative Research and Daniel Kahneman's Thinking Fast and Slow.
  7. I've been having a go at engaging students with futures thinking. By this I mean, getting students to engage with designing solutions for complex problems with no one right answer. Students have been designing a space city. They have been asked to make calculations about how much food, oxygen and water they will need. They have explored alternative food sources, energy sources and some even how to maintain genetic diversity in a reduced population in space. 
    Students planning their space city. 

Saturday, March 4, 2017

How do you teach students to unlearn?

It was futurist and writer Alvin Toffler who wrote;
The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.”
What I find particularly significant about this quote is the play on the word learn. My interpretation of what Mr Toffler is saying here is that to be literate in the 21st century, it is not sufficient to be able to learn a lot of stuff, or to put it another way, it is not sufficient to only teach kids a whole lot of content and skills.

To unlearn, we must first acknowledge that what we know is wrong. In some cases, this is pretty easy, we can simply change one fact for another. In other cases, where we have built a mental model, a way of making sense of the world around our knowledge, this is much, much harder. To put this into context, this is the difference between learning the names of the seasons (learning more stuff), learning that Greenland is disproportionately large on most world maps - it is not nearly the size of Africa (substituting an old fact for a new one), and learning that the earth rotates around the sun rather than the sun around the earth (changing a mental model about how the world works and how we make sense of the world). If you know even a little bit about the history of science, you will know that Galileo's heliocentric views of the solar system caused such a kerfuffle, that he was declared a heretic, condemned, and that he died under house arrest. These mental models, our way of making sense of our experience in the world, are often such deeply rooted beliefs, that we sometimes don't even know we have them, or why we have them. And what's more, when people begin to question these mental models, we often respond with aggression, discomfort, conflict or denial. Just think about how angry people get when you question them about their religion and politics!

How then do we teach students in such a way that they are able to truly unlearn? What does an education look like where students are expected to unlearn? In fact, how would parents react if you informed them the next week of school will be focussed on unlearning? When so much of school is focussed on learning, to read, to write, to discuss the evidence for atoms, or to speculate about the motivation of Shakespeare's Hamlet or Macbeth, what emphasis do we give to unlearning? How often do we teach how, or even give the opportunity for students (or teachers?) to unlearn at a deep level?

Over the past year, I have been working alongside Di Cavallo, Lea Vellenoweth Ros Britton and Jayne Dunbar to develop a curriculum for the Learning Hubs at our school. This has been a huge amount of thinking, refining and more, and we have been excited to kick off this seriously refined and increasingly rigorous curriculum this year. As part of this new curriculum however, we were grappling with how we might engage students with rethinking and reframing their visions of the possible futures that lie ahead for each learner. Not an easy ask! But together we settled on the idea of a Learning Hub Inquiry, where students might engage with all kinds of possible futures for themselves, and take action towards this.

As it happened, the Learning Hub Inquiry became one of my areas of responsibility to develop, with lots of feedback and input from the team (thanks lots in particular Di!). As I got really stuck into this project, I got more and more excited. Increasingly, this project morphed into something that felt really special, something that could potentially toe the line between doable and scalable in schools, yet truly future focussed, combining a mix of personalisation, learner agency, digital fluencies, learning to navigate complexity and the unknown, and of course, unlearning.

So what does this look like? You might recognise some of the ideas from the Spirals of Inquiry, with hints of Adult Cognitive DevelopmentKegan and Lahey's Immunity to Change, a dash of the Essential Fluencies, and a sprinkling of Keri Facer's Possibilities of the Present thrown in for good measure.

Each student will go through the process of gathering information about what is going on in their own lives, stretching across broad areas such as their digital footprint, their financial profile, their passions, interests,  wellbeing, grades, etc. From this, they will look for patterns, analysing the big picture to identify a focus area for a goal. In partnership with their learning coach, the student then constructs a goal. Each student's goal would be highly personalised, however with each student the intent being that the goal is an adaptive rather than technical goal (You know you have to exercise more and eat healthier, but you never do? That's an adaptive goal! The kind where you have to change the underlying beliefs, rather than the technical things on the surface if you wish to see long term change). Students will then devote time to research their goals, specifically seeking out new perspectives, ideas and expertise. From here, each student will create an action plan which they will carry out, reflecting, refining, and readjusting along the way. Finally, each student will then present this entire process to their family and whanāu, before beginning a new inquiry cycle. The students are of course supported every step of the way by their learning coach (kind of like a form teacher on steroids), this support looking very much like a coach and mentor rather than a teacher.


For me, this is the very picture of student agency and personalisation. Not only does each student have a personal goal that they come to based on making sense of their own personal data, but they also learn to navigate the true complexity and uncertainty of genuine self improvement. They learn to find new ways of looking at what is going on in their life, new ways of looking at their problems, and then to try out new models of doing things. This could look anything like students setting goals to learn to collaborate more effectively, manage work flow more effectively, lead their responsibilities in the school more effectively, or even make academic shifts. Anything!  Meanwhile, the teacher shifts from knower to coach, entering into a partnership of facilitation rather than director of learning.

Enabling our students to learn, unlearn, and relearn will hopefully develop the capacity of our students to take on any challenge they may face in the future, regardless of how complex it might be. I am also excited about this model because it incorporates opportunities for students to bring their own diversity to the table, rather than always relying on the teacher to bring the direction. It potentially also provides the space for students to mentor each other, as different students will inevitably have different strengths and expertise to offer.

Now... The big question as we launch into our first round of the new HPSS Learning Hub Student Inquiry is really just this: As teachers, are we willing and able to learn, unlearn and relearn enough to take this from possibility to reality?

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

A quick visual guide to online learning at HPSS

For all those visual learners out there... Here are two visuals that I have developed in my role as e-learning specialist classroom teacher to briefly summarise e-learning at Hobsonville Point Secondary School. The first graphic is aspirational, the second is essential!
PS: All images shared on this blog are creative commons, hence feel free to share.




Sunday, February 5, 2017

Exiting the edu-bubble


Diversity, dissonance and new ideas are not only proven to inspire creativity and innovation, but also to stimulate cognitive development in adults. With this in mind, in 2016 I deliberately sought to participate in professional learning experiences that sat outside the normal realm of education conferences. After all, we all seem to agree that education is particularly slow to respond to change, or to adopt new ideas. It seems to me, that if you want to be a leader in education today, looking outside of education to the global, national, economic and academic landscape is key.

With that in mind, here are a few of the key events I attended in 2016 to gain inspiration from outside the edu-bubble:

  • SingularityU New Zealand SummitSingularityU New Zealand exists to support New Zealand to understand, adapt and thrive in an exponentially changing world. The group was originally formed to bring the SingularityU New Zealand Summit to Christchurch, but we know this is only the beginning of our journey.
  • Startup Weekend Auckland: Startup Weekends are weekend-long, hands-on experiences where entrepreneurs and aspiring entrepreneurs can find out if startup ideas are viable.  On average, half of Startup Weekend’s attendees have technical or design backgrounds, the other half have business backgrounds. Beginning with open mic pitches on Friday, attendees bring their best ideas and inspire others to join their team. Over Saturday and Sunday teams focus on customer development, validating their ideas, practicing LEAN Startup Methodologies and building a minimal viable product. On Sunday evening teams demo their prototypes and receive valuable feedback from a panel of experts.
  • Complexity and Leadership with Jennifer Garvey BergerJennifer designs and teaches leadership programs, coaches senior teams, and supports new ways of thinking about strategy and people with clients facing these dramatic shifts in complexity, volatility, and change in their workplaces and markets. She blends deep theoretical knowledge with a driving quest for practical ways to make leaders’ lives better.
  • Kiwi Foo: Kiwi Foo Camp launched the Unconference format in Warkworth, New Zealand for the first time back in 2007, bringing together experts in fields from neuroscience and physics to open source programming and politics. This annual, invite-only gathering attracts nearly 200 people from New Zealand and across the globe to share ideas, network, show off their latest tech toys and hardware hacks and find new partners for future collaborations. Attendance at Kiwi Foo, like every Foo Camp around the world, is by invitation only and is free for attendees. 
Each of these events have paid off in a number of ways. Kiwi Foo consistently inspires me into action and motivates me to keep tackling enormous problems in the world. On top of this, Kiwi Foo is a phenomenal networking opportunity where you not only meet inspiring people, but you also create connections that often later pay off in fantastic ways. For example, it was great to be able to invite the ambitious Ludwig Wendzich, founder of NZ Gather (whilst he was still in high school), to speak to the students at my school.

SingularityU inspires me to feel like despite climate change, Trump and his cronies, there is hope. This stellar event convened by the inspirational Kaila Colbin, captured and discussed some of the radical changes that already disrupt our day to day lives, but also those that are likely to radically disrupt our lives in the very near future. The event also came with a very firm call to action, to not let the opportunities brought about by innovation in the tech world go to waste in making the world a better place. Of course, just learning about these things is only one step of a learning journey, it's what you do with these ideas that count. I am looking forward to teaching a course inspired by exponential technology such as genomics, artificial intelligence and nanotechnology this semester at Hobsonville Point Secondary School. In a maths module I have planned, I will even be touching on block-chain technology. If you don't know about these yet, you better get outside that edu bubble of yours... 

Both of Kiwi Foo and SingularityU gives insight into the massive volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity (VUCA) that has become so characteristic of our world. Despite the healthy dose of hope these events come with, these ideas can be so big that one could almost be forgiven for responding with paralysing fear. Fortunately, I was also lucky enough to attend a two day workshop with Jennifer Garvey Berger (thanks to Edge Work, The Educational Futures Network) focussing on leadership in complex times and spaces. This fabulous two day workshop explored some of the strategies we might use to navigate complex and uncertain times. If you haven't yet, I highly recommend reading Jennifer's book, Simple Habits for Complex Times. I've just recently purchased a copy for my mum too!

Adapting some of the strategies from a Lean Canvas
for managing my thesis.
Adapting the Kanban board for my thesis.
For some reason, in education conversations, I have often heard the mindsets and ideas from the business and corporate world dismissed, even ignored or avoided. Although I can see some merit in not blindly adopting strategies from the corporate and business world in education, there are many great things to be learned from this sector. Startup Weekend is perhaps one of the best places for educators to do this. Not only is it targeted at being an educational experiences, it does so in a phenomenal way that combines hands on learning, learning to collaborate in a diverse team, and learning to become more agile and responsive. I have also been incredibly fortunate to have acted as a mentor for Auckland Startup Weekend in 2016. This was an intense and rewarding experience where I had the opportunity to work with stellar mentors including Rowan Yeoman and Alan Froggatt. Not only is this event carefully curated to ensure lots of diversity in the room, but it is also a great experience in learning to be a mentor. Perhaps one of my favourite experiences of this event is the mentor room where all the mentors meet to talk about the strategies they have been using with different teams, and what each team might need next. The experience of hearing the thinking that goes into each mentor's decision making is a stunning example of learning from the diverse wisdom of the crowd. Interestingly, Startup Weekend is also where I picked up two of the strategies that is helping me manage my thesis writing at the moment. I have converted the Lean Canvas into an academic one to ensure that I keep the full picture visible at all times and update it regularly, whilst also adopting the Kanban board to juggle the many different strands of things to do.

Without a doubt, some of my biggest learning moments, but also most useful strategies I have picked up over the past year, have come from those who work outside of education. I know that my students have benefited from me being able to offer them insights and opportunities from and with the world that is happening outside the classroom door. I can not hope to keep their learning and my leadership up to date and relevant if I am trapped in the education bubble where things change ever so slowly. Although there are some quality professional learning events in education, I urge you all to step outside the education bubble.


PS: Upon reflection, it is really interesting to note that of these events, how much of an investment came from me personally, rather than from my school. Although school paid for my registration and relief for SingularityU, I paid for the flights and accommodation. Startup Weekend saw me gave up every minute of my weekend (twice!) for a whirlwind of an experience, and again with no contribution from school. Kiwi Foo, thanks to the phenomenal work of Nat and Jenine is free to attend for those lucky enough to be invited, however again takes your whole weekend. That said, I would gladly invest the time and money in these events again. They are 100% worth it. 

Monday, January 2, 2017

3 New Year's resolutions for the future focussed educator

So you think of yourself future focussed? Maybe you are aspiring to be more future focussed? Perhaps you are a fan of the work of the inspirational education authors like Grant Lichtman, Keri Facer, Jane Gilbert and Rachel Bolstad? Most of us know that being a future focussed educator means a lot more than e-learning and and modern learning environments. It's not just iPads. Google Apps for Education, and bean bags, but rather a complete transformation in how we think about the world and our role in it.

For me, being a future focussed educator means that I am actively helping my students build a positive future for themselves, their children, their communities, New Zealand and the world. I believe that being a future focussed educator means letting go of the paradigms from the past, and choosing a new set that is appropriate for the advances we have made, socially, scientifically, technologically, and elsewhere.

As educators we often say that we are preparing students for the future. We often suggest that we are preparing students for jobs. In fact, many us us would go so far as to say that we have our students' and our children's best interests at heart. But do we really? How can we possibly have the best interests of our young people at heart, if our everyday choices contribute massively towards a pretty dark future, one of radical inequality, food scarcity, economical and political instability... Let me explain.

Can we call ourselves future focussed educators, if we are not actively striving to become more sustainable? Living a life that actively damages the resources of current and future generations, fiercely undermines all our beliefs of education as having an egalitarian purpose (egalitarian: "believing in or based on the principle that all people are equal and deserve equal rights and opportunities").

  • Climate change threatens the very economy of New Zealand. Since our agricultural industry is currently heavily dependant on climate, it means that extended droughts, floods, etc. may impact our exports, the jobs provided through our export trade, and even our ability to feed ourselves. This of course has major impact on communities that depend on agriculture for their income. 
  • The current rate at which fish is being caught in the world, means that we are likely to run out of fish as a food source in my lifetime. Take a second to think about the huge number of communities around the world that depend on fishing as one of their primary food sources. How will this impact them? Did you know that Snapper, our fish and chips on the beach kiwi favourite is one of the worst possible choices you could make? Not only is some if caught through bottom trawling that completely destroys habitats, but it also further endangers our Maui's dolphin (PS: Check out the awesome Best Fish app from New Zealand Forest and Bird).
We also need to think about our throw away culture. Just think about the past two weeks, as many of us celebrated the festive season. How much did we throw away? How much of what we purchased were 'nice to haves', rather than 'have to haves'? And what was the collective environmental impact of all those 'nice to haves'? What did we throw away that could have been recycled or repurposed, reducing its environmental impact? What did we buy that was new, where second hand would have been just fine? How much extra carbon and environmental destruction did our festivities contribute?

Back to that egalitarian purpose of education, where we believe in equality. Do your choices as a consumer reflect the equality that you believe in? Take a second to look at the clothes you are wearing. Do you know where they came from? A sweat shop in China or Bangladesh? Just because you don't know where your clothes came from, does not make you any less responsible for the cycles you continue to propagate through your choices as a consumer. This might also be a good time to mention that the fast fashion industry is one of the largest contributors towards our global carbon production. If we believe in equality, then how can we justify our unethical clothing choices? What kind of a message does that send to our young people? What kind of a world does that create?



For some of us, we also might also like to think about whether our food is ethically produced? So you buy free range eggs, but is your mayonnaise made from free range eggs? Was your Christmas ham from an SPCA approved farm?

Now what?
The above are huge issues with both local and global impact. Hence, if I hope to help the students I teach be happy and successful in their futures, if I truly have their best interests at heart, then it is time I make some changes in my personal life too, not just in my pedagogy. Being a future focussed educator in my mind requires a transformational change. A change where educators take responsibility for more than just content and the best way to transmit it. Being a future focussed educator means taking responsibility for our place and impact in the world.

If, like me, you believe in helping build the best possible future for the students that we teach, then I would encourage you to join me in taking on some resolutions for 2017.



Resolution one: Accept responsibility.
I can not change you, but I can change me. I can not change the world alone, but I can certainly do my part. I will educate myself about the global issues that threaten the success of our young people, so that I might actively guard against ways that my actions might contribute in aggravating the many wicked problems looming.  But I will also change my actions, through being a more conscious consumer, choosing products with sustainability and ethics in mind. I will increase the amount I recycle, reuse, repurpose.

Resolution two: Live a more sustainable life. 
All those literacy, numeracy and test results will seem utterly trivial if we don't stand up and protect the critical resources all our young people need for a happy, successful future - our planet. It would be a shame if one day in the future the history books showed us too worried about tests, numeracy and literacy, than the fate of the planet.

Resolution three: Live a more ethical life.
What are we teaching our students and children about priorities? Are those new running shoes more important than the wellbeing of the people who produced them? Is a bargain for you more important than establishing whether the source of the product is ethical?

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

A very VERY first draft Introduction - Using complexity thinking and MOOCs to disrupt current debates on educational futures.

I am a firm believer in showing your work (Austin Kleon style). Especially when it is in the super messy, 'I just had a go just to get something written down' phase. For many of us showing the raw, vulnerable side of things is incredibly difficult, myself included. However, I have learnt that the sooner you show your work, the sooner you can get feedback to make it better. So here goes... The very, very first draft of an introduction to my thesis. I have a hunch it is not formal enough, not official enough and is probably littered with spelling and grammar mistakes. But, it does tell the very important story of #edchatNZ and why I do what I do, and that seemed worth sharing regardless of whether the words below end up in my thesis or not.

Introduction
Formal education is broken, expired and fundamentally flawed. Academic experts across the world have argued that our current education system is not fit for purpose. The public mirrors their arguments too, everyone from politicians, parents, teachers and students can, and do find fault with the current system. Yet, despite these arguments, formal education has changed very little since the industrial revolution. The question then arises, if so much is wrong with education, and so many are dissatisfied, why then has there been so little change?

My personal experience as a beginning teacher also mirrored this dissatisfaction. With less than two years of experience as a classroom teacher, I had already become disillusioned with the education system.  My dissatisfaction was not just limited to the education system in New Zealand, but rather started in England where I had begun my career as a science teacher in a very low socioeconomic area. I started my career in a school that had a disproportionately large number of students in foster care, a large number of refugees and a student body that was so malnourished that school inspectors and other visitors frequently commented on the small stature of particularly the boys (Murray, 2011). Whilst working in this school, it was glaringly obvious, everyday,  that the current system was just not serving those students who were most at risk. The students were disengaged, angry and disheartened. From this very  low socio economic school in England, I moved to my next role as a science teacher in New Zealand. This new school was only eight years old with great infrastructure, had good reports from the education review office,  and was in a high socio economic area. However, here too, the students were disengaged, anxious, unhappy, and found much of their schooling experience irrelevant to their lives. If in both these polar opposite schools, the system was not serving the students, I started wondering if there was something fundamentally wrong with the entire education system.

As well as the severe disengagement of student, national and global news was and is littered with stories of university graduates who can not find jobs, who are moving back home at thirty, who can not buy homes. In addition, employers are arguing that graduates do not have the skills required to be successful in the workplace (Alton, 2016; Duronio, 2012).

Increasingly, I became dissatisfied with the status quo. It was this dissatisfaction that drove me to Twitter where many educators were convening around a range of hashtags to discuss their own frustrations with education in their context. Twitter functions through the use of a hashtag that tags words, making them searchable and filtering them to a particular stream. This means that using a hashtag, anyone can participate in the discussion about a certain topic. A number of the education chats are contextualised to location or theme for example, #dtk12chat for design thinking in K12 education or #UKedchat for United Kingdom Education. Through the public discussions of educators around hashtags such as #edchat, #PBLchat, and more, I had been exposed to a brave new world of alternate ways of thinking about education. It was through Twitter that I was first exposed to new pedagogies that attempted to reconcile some of the shortcomings of the current systems such as project based learning, bring your own technology, design thinking and more.

However, despite there being many New Zealand educators participating in these online discussions, there was not yet a hashtag that allowed a single space for New Zealand educators to discuss education in our national context.

Hence, in October 2012, in the absence of a clear New Zealand hashtag for education, I launched #edchatNZ. This was an effort to curate the New Zealand discussions of education, teacher practice and professional learning. Now more than four years down the track, this hashtag has grown beyond a bit of code, into a professional learning community. Although there is no formal membership, various educators from across the country regularly use this as a space to discuss and learn. Fortnightly Twitter chats have become supplemented by two national conferences, a podcast and a range of live webinars. #edchatNZ has also helped a number of other New Zealand based education chats get started. We have even collaborated for joint chats with #aussieED, an Australian based Twitter chat. Because the foundation of this community was around the need for change in education, all online events have remained free so that as many people as possible might engage in the discussion. Even our two conferences charged a registration fee below $30 in order to enable more people to participate since almost everyone in our community participates in their own time, through no encouragement of their school.

Although #edchatNZ started as a means to curate New Zealand education debate, conversation and learning, it has evolved immensely. The community, and the leadership thereof has evolved into a narrative of rethinking education, both at the classroom teacher and system wide level. Through the discussions of the #edchatNZ community, it appears that this community has evolved to think of themselves as the space where the movers and shakers, the lone nuts (see Derek Sivers’ TED talk, How to start a movement), and even the revolutionaries meet and discuss their ideas. It is often those people who find themselves dissatisfied with the status quo that makes their way to #edchatNZ.

The #edchatNZ community consist of a diverse group of people with a range of expertise. It is for this reason that the leadership of this community needs to examine how it brings appropriate levels of challenge for all members of its community. Additionally, Twitter limits each tweet to 140 characters, and although over a single hour of live moderated #edchatNZ conversation there are usually well over 1000 contributions, the medium is ultimately limited in depth. Hence, in pursuit of challenging this community, I began exploring alternative options to further our collective learning and resulting practice. It was through the exploration of these alternative ways that might extend the professional learning and discussion of the #edchatNZ community, that the idea of the #edchatNZ Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) was born.  A MOOC could still maintain the informal membership and  community aspects of #edchatNZ, whilst providing the space for extended, deeper and sustained discussion, exploration and new avenues of professional learning. The #edchatNZ MOOC, or formally called Cyborgs, Schrödinger and School – Rethinking Education for the Future, became an eleven week course that sought to challenge participants to deeply question their underlying beliefs about education, test those ideas in against current global trends, and then take action accordingly.

This thesis explores new territory in a number of ways. Firstly, the #edchatNZ community has a fundamentally different approach towards teacher professional learning as it seeks to develop the collective intelligence of the group, rather than focussing on the individual teacher in the classroom. Additionally, this community is both dynamic and diverse, with individuals in the community stretching the span of New Zealand, from remote, suburban and urban locations. Individuals have a range of expertise from beginning teachers, all the way to veteran teachers and senior leaders. Participation in community events are highly informal and community members will opt in or out according to their schedules and their professional learning interests and needs. Hence, the community members are highly autonomous, whilst still acting together as a network.

Secondly, this thesis also explores new territory in that it attempts to bring together a theoretical framework to make sense of this diverse and dynamic community,  and the ways in which this network might be enabled to influence large scale shift in education.  The #edchatNZ MOOC was specifically designed to increased the number of interactions participants had about education futures. Hence, This thesis uses ideas from complexity thinking and adult cognitive development, to make sense of these interactions, and any potential changes in the way participants or those they have interacted with think about education futures.

This masters project intends to capture whether a MOOC might serve as a means to nudge a learning community towards rethinking education at a deeper level. Ultimately, this project is an exploration of how we might develop the collective intelligence of the lone nuts in our schools to act with greater knowledge as they challenge the status quo in a system that is no longer serving its purpose.

References


  • Alton, L. (2016). Millennials Are Struggling To Get Jobs - Here's Why, And What To Do About It. Forbes, 2016.
  • Duronio, B. (2012, 24 April). Bad News: Just Half Of Recent College Grads Are Landing Jobs.  Retrieved from http://www.businessinsider.com.au/northeastern-recent-graduates-jobs-2012-4?r=US&IR=T
  • Murray, J. (2011, 27 June). New GCSE targets are a fresh blow to struggling school. The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/education/2011/jun/27/schools-government-gcse-targets













PS: The first go of planning this introduction and the literature review to follow was an explosion of post it notes. It was incredibly helpful and I really appreciate all the invaluable advice for getting started from the Patter blog, an incredibly useful blog for those doing academic research. 
The photo does make me wonder just how many steps I am of going full John Nash from A Beautiful Mind... 

Monday, December 19, 2016

The end of the lone nut?



In 2014, I opened the first #edchatNZ conference with the above talk from Derek Sivers about how to start a movement. I declared that I was a lone nut. Personally, I found the lone nut metaphor really useful, as more often than not, I found myself in schools where I was considered a bit weird, eccentric. I was an outlier, the one person dancing alone in a field. Being a bit weird and not fitting with the status quo can be isolating. However, through Twitter and #edchatNZ, I found there were others dancing with me. I was less of a lone nut, and part of a movement.

Two years down the track and there are many important lessons that I have learnt since first declaring myself a lone nut. In particular, lately, I have questioned whether it is time for a new metaphor? Perhaps the lone nut is past its used by date? Let me explain...


For many of us outliers, the lone nut metaphor is useful to make sense of our feelings as being other, of being different. We can take solace in it, when we feel like we are dancing alone in our schools, when we know our cause is worthy yet nobody seems to be listening. One of the most common themes that stand out from moderating #edchatNZ for four years now, is how often educators across the country, feel and think that they can see a better way forward for students or staff in their context, but that their thoughts and feelings are ignored. There are numerous educators in countless contexts who are eager to see improvements in everything from priority learners, student engagement, staff or student wellbeing or better preparing students for our changing world. Frequently, these same educators feel alone, that they are the only ones championing these critical causes. To return to the metaphor of the video above, many of these educators feel like they are dancing wacky in a field, but National Standards and Qualifications, senior and middle leaders, other staff and parent communities are telling them to sit down.

It seems however, that there is something we lone nuts sometimes forget, perhaps even conveniently ignore: "The first follower is what transforms a lone nut into a leader." Without the followers, you remain a nut. Being a leader is not as simple as dancing wacky. It is not enough to shout our vision at the top of our lungs, regardless of how important, ethical or critical it might be. Our ability to build a community is key. More important than our wacky dance moves, is our ability to make connections, to listen, to show empathy, to build trust, to talk with rather than at. Standing on a soap box professing your view only helps those who are already converted to your world view feel important, it does not necessarily bring anyone new to the cause. Dancing like a whack-a-doodle, does not a leader maker. If we really believe in the causes that we champion, then we must build trust, we must build a community. It is our ability to build a community, a following, a movement, that will transform us from lone nut to leader, not the dance moves alone. We must strive to become less lone nut and more mixed nuts.

There is also a further reality that some of us lone nuts need to contend with: not all dance moves are created equal. Some dance moves are just the flavour of the moment, they might be the 'juju on that beat' of the moment (here's the link if you're not up with the latest move). Just because you have read a whole bunch of blogs and a few books about something does not elevate it from the Harlem Shake (yet another wacky dance move you may have missed) to the moon walk, it does not elevate it from the Macarena to a pirouette.

Perhaps it is time to evaluate the merit of your dance moves? Are student inquiries, design thinking, personalised learning and bring your own device just the flavour of the moment? How would you know? Are they just ambulances at the bottom of the cliff and there are bigger problems to contend with and explore? Why should your moves be prioritised over that of others who are also dancing?


As useful as the lone nut metaphor is, like all models and representations, it has its limits. Perhaps it is time that we invest more of our own efforts into these limitations. For those of us who are eager to see change in our education systems, perhaps it is time we start focussing on how we build our movements, and whether the new paradigms we are suggesting are powerful enough to withstand genuine critique and existing momentum.

It is high time we examine the limitations of the lone nut, and challenge ourselves to look and act beyond the metaphors we identify with the most. If we don't, we are doomed to remain lone nuts, and our students will most likely be worse off for it.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Visit to Design39Campus

Over the holidays, I was fortunate enough to visit Design39Campus, an incredible school in San Diego California. On their website, Design39Campus describes itself as:
"At Design39Campus, learning experiences are designed with the individual learner in mind. As a collaborative community, we nurture creative confidence, practice design thinking, learn through inquiry, connect globally, use technology and real world tools, and promote the courage and growth mindset necessary to change the world." - source


There are many great things that happen in a great many schools and classrooms around the world. There are a great number of people who are experimenting with rethinking education and schools and who are having, or starting to have great success at doing so. However, every now and then, a school comes along that not only rethinks and experiments with new ideas of school, but who are truly revolutionary. Although I only visited for a few hours, I suspect Design39 is more than just another school rethinking education. I think there might be something truly revolutionary taking place.

I took eleven pages of notes and many photographs, I have pages of questions and have wondered aloud about much of what I saw at this school. The following are a few of the key things that really stood out for me from my visit.

Collaboration
One of the things that I genuinely believe is critical to the future success of both our education systems and of society is an increased need for collaboration. If we are unable to truly collaborate, if we are unable to learn and think together, our impact will always be limited. If we are not collaborative, we will always be limited to our own perspectives, trapped in our own eco-chambers, and we will be unable to use the diversity in our teams to solve complex problems.

Many schools make claims to being collaborative. Many schools are genuinely collaborative, where teams work together to solve problems. However, in many other schools, we often talk about how we need more collaboration. The question then becomes, why don't we see more collaboration in schools? What stops us?

One of the things that made Design39 so revolutionary in my opinion, is their attitude towards collaboration between their teachers. The school recognises that collaboration is not easy, that it takes time. However, not only do they value collaboration and recognise its challenges, but they have made significant commitments towards ensuring that it can happen. Design39 have been bold enough and committed enough to create the space and time for collaboration. Teachers at Design39 meet every morning before school for an hour to collaborate in various teams. Additionally, the teachers in the school are also relieved every few weeks for entire days to work collaboratively.

How many of us are willing to really commit to collaboration? Are we really willing to accept how much time it takes and how challenging it can be? How many of our schools are willing to make this much of a commitment towards collaboration. And if more of our schools did, how would education be different?

Refusing to accept the status quo
I bet as some of you read about the extra time commitment towards collaboration, you already started thinking that it's just not possible in your context.

One of the major aspects about why I feel that Design39 is not just innovative, but revolutionary, are the barriers that they have overcome in realising their vision. For many of us, we encounter obstacles and might find ways to work around them. Sometimes, we even let obstacles stop us. As you can imagine, the enormous commitment towards collaboration from the school has encountered a number of obstacles. One of those, is the teacher union. However, after years of negotiation, the school now have a memorandum of understanding with the teacher union that allows for their collaborative vision.

I feel this memorandum of understanding is hugely significant for a number of reasons. Firstly, how many of us are willing to defy the status quo when it might involve taking on a teacher union? What about a government organisation? The Design39 story suggests that if we want to see genuine shift in education, then we will need to take on more that just our parent communities and our professional learning structures. We will need to take on the institutions and systems that might contribute towards keep our education systems stagnant and slow to adapt.

I also want to emphasise the 'understanding' part of the above. I believe this memorandum of understanding is significant because it shows not just a school that was willing to challenge the status quo, but rather, it shows a school and union who found a new way to define their relationship and conditions. If a collective agreement from the union, standardised rules and even the way stipends are paid does not allow enough flexibility to reimagine school, perhaps they need to be renegotiated? I commend both the school and union for taking on this challenge!

Elephants in the room
One of the elements that also appears to be key in what makes Design39 so special is their approach to mistakes, failures and uncertainty. On the tour, principal Joe Erpelding was unbelievable frank about what the school is still struggling with. This frankness seems to permeate the school in many of the systems and structures in the school including the use of Design Thinking to problem solve, action learning groups and even the use of elements such as the Brain Trust.


Action Research from Joe Erpelding on Vimeo.

Public acknowledgement of our mistakes and our failures is in my opinion one of the most fundamental things that we must do if we hope to redefine schools and our classrooms. Unless we are able to identify those elephants in the room, we are unable to address them. And education is full of elephants that need addressing.

Of course there is a whole host of other things I enjoyed about the school. The enormously respectful way the students and teachers spoke to each other, the clear presence of some of Jo Boaler's mathematical mindsets thinking, the students sitting in small groups have discussions and recording the video for their teachers to monitor the discussion and more. I also genuinely love (and I use the word love very deliberately here), that their school vision is not just about the individual, but also focussed on how they might enable their students to make the world a better place. Over the next few weeks as I settle in back home I will make sure to share some of what I saw at this incredible school. In the meantime, make sure you follow the great stories, thinking and people from Design39campus and also the great collection of videos about the school.

Finally, a huge thank you to principal Joe Erpelding for hosting me and Grant Lichtman for recommending the school and helping me set up the visit. A massive thank you to all the team at Design39 too, for their hospitality, but more importantly, for their bravery, hard work and collaboration in rethinking education.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

The pedagogy of ice cream, skateboards and diversity.

Throughout the past three years, I have become reacquainted with the concept of diversity. I knew the definition of diversity, I knew that it was one of the major strands of the practicing teacher criteria. However, working at Hobsonville Point Secondary School has helped me convert my textbook understanding, to one of the heart. Not only do I now have a Pepeha that I have said proudly in front of hundreds of people, I genuinely know what it means and why I say it. And what's more, I want to say it, I don't just do it because I have to. That said, I am only at the start of this journey...

As well as cultural diversity, I have also developed a genuine appreciation for the role of diversity in other spaces too. Largely through my masters studies, I have become exposed to ideas such as those from David Weinberger in Too Big to Know: Rethinking Knowledge Now That the Facts Aren't the Facts, Experts Are Everywhere, and the Smartest Person in the Room Is the Room (I also had the awesome privilege of interviewing him earlier this year, see here). 

They way I see it, there is so much knowledge in the world, (actually, I mean Knowledge with a capital K. I don't mean the meaningless shallow drivel or the endless information that clogs up the internet) that one person can not know it all. If we are dealing with complexity, uncertainty, volatility and so forth in our world, it becomes rather critical that we diversify because we don't know what knowledge, skills, expertise or capabilities we will need. Hence, making all learners learn the same thing seems silly, if not dangerous. It seems foolish removing all the redundancy from the system by making everyone learn the same thing and think in the same way? Hence, it becomes critical that we allow individuals to pursue their personal interests and passions. Perhaps we need to encourage diversity, not just acknowledge or manage it. This idea is also echoed in one of my current favourite readings from Keri Facer. Keri also argues for possibilities, rather than pushing all our students into STEM. Pushing all our students in one direction also removes redundancy from the system.

It was in 2014 that I read Key Competencies for the Future where I stumbled upon the idea of not just valuing diversity in the classroom, but rather making it a necessary component for success. This idea stuck and in 2016, it informed one of my professional learning goals for the year; How might I develop my and my students' capacity to leverage diversity for more effective problem solving? In 2016, I wanted to help my students view diversity as a critical resource, a strength. I wanted my students to seek out diversity rather than avoid it. I wanted them to recognise that there are challenges when working with diverse groups, but we learn to manage these in order to collaborate. 

So what does this look like? A whole bunch of experiments really...
Winning groups. Visit Wendy's Supa Sundaes in January to
try some of the products these students inspired!
  • In one of my classes, Yu Ting my co-teacher and I made the students write CVs. We then chose team leaders who were put in a separate room. They worked through the class CVs to pick their teams. Each team had to recruit a design officer, human relations manager and a finance officer. Each team also had to contain at least one boy and girl. The teams then had to design a product for Wendy's Supa Sundaes, design the marketing campaign and calculate food costs. They also had to present these ideas on the last day of term to the brand manager of Wendy's. This particular experiment culminated with Wendy's acknowledging the winning teams on stage last week. I was stoked, because the incredibly diverse range of students being acknowledged on stage was incredible. There were a number of students who I had never seen on stage before. Additionally, the products inspired by these students will be available across the country in January!
  • In another module, I collaborated with Tome my co-teacher, and OnBoard Skate to run a
    Showing my growth mindset in action.
    Learning to skate!
    module called Heaven is a Halfpipe. Often in schools, we see the same students shinning in multiple contexts. This module however saw some new students step into the foreground. Many of our students who are sometimes disengaged were suddenly the stars in the class. It's amazing what a change in attitude happens when individuals feel valued and like they have something to contribute. It has really made me wonder about whether the disengaged students in our school systems really feel valued and like they have something to contribute. 

The thing with diversity however, is that I am only at the very beginning of this journey. I have found that more and more, I see how we unconsciously discriminate against diversity. Even in #edchatNZ, diversity topics are usually the ones not picked. At our most recent conference, it was the strand with the fewest workshops proposals submitted. Even school uniforms discourage diversity. They often blatantly suggests that students should leave their culture, personality and gender at the door. If we do not differentiate or personalise in our lessons, what implicit messages do we send about diversity?

I believe that a good professional learning goal should lead on to a few paradigm shifts, some good books, trying new and different practices in my teaching that improve outcomes for students, and should lead to me becoming more aware of all that I don't know. I think my goal this year has certainly ticked that box...