Marsden Professional Learning Session 12

The theme for today was critical thinking, and it was mostly about having two staff members highlight activities they have used to encourage critical thinking in their students.

Here is a copy of the wrap-around presentation I used:

I enjoyed talking about thinking, particularly the opportunity to share how I feel I have been guilty of having quite a shallow understanding of the ‘thinking’ Key Competency specifically, but all the Key Competencies of the New Zealand Curriculum more generally. When I put the slide up of points about what ‘Thinking’ entails from Bolstad et al’s book ‘Key Competencies for the Future‘ (2014) there was quite a buzz that suggests to me that I was not alone in treating the competencies lightly. We need to ensure that we don’t play lip service to thinking, but are offering explicit strategies to our learners, and to highlight to them times when they are thinking to build this awareness.

It was fantastic to hear from a PE/Health teacher and a Science teacher about their practice. The staff were impressed by the health advertisements some Year 9 students had produced. It was great to see Health content, English and Performance Media skills coming together. A challenge would be to do this in a more explicit way for cross-curricula links to be forged. I also loved how the teacher spoke thoughtfully and honestly about worrying that her students would ask her for technical support and she wouldn’t be able to offer this. She learned over the course of her unit that it doesn’t matter if she doesn’t have all the answers. Powerful stuff.

A Science teacher spoke about the collaboration I have blogged about here – whereby we teach the same Year 8 class and the girls used their forensics knowledge from Science to write ‘whodunit’ plays in English. I appreciated that she highlighted the usefulness of Google tools such as Docs and Slides to allow the students to more easily move across the learning areas and tasks. She also commented that she thought the task was a challenging one, but the students showed resilience and critical thinking in having to interweave the skills and content needed. I’m pleased that she’s keen to use the unit again next year!

My workshop was one offered previously on Edmodo, and the helpsheet for this is available here.

Redundant Adjectives

This post is my contribution to a collaborative project initiated by Sonya Van Schaijik that aimed to unpack and question the various ‘buzzwords’ currently in use in education. This collaborative book was launched at the end of Connected Educator Month. I am proud to have taken part in this challenge, and am grateful to and appreciative of the warm but demanding support of Kathy Scott who was my critical friend.

Redundant Adjectives: Pedagogy’s built-in understanding of being future-focused

To all intents and purposes, the New Zealand Curriculum’s opening words are those of the overarching vision for the document: “Young people who will be confident, connected, actively involved, lifelong learners.” Note the use of the future tense. This verb tense continues over the page where the stated vision is fleshed out into five bullet points including: “Our vision is for young people who will be creative, energetic, and enterprising”. Thus, the intention of the curriculum document is to “set the direction for student learning” and that direction is one pointing firmly into the future.

A further way that the New Zealand Curriculum explicitly sets its direction as being future-focused is through its principles which, “embody beliefs about what is important and desirable in school curriculum – nationally and locally.” One of these principles is that, “the curriculum encourages students to look to the future by exploring such future-focused issues as sustainability, citizenship, enterprise, and globalisation.” It is clear then that the New Zealand Curriculum is an aspirational document and one which seeks to address the future needs of Kiwi kids.

Pedagogy, while a separate concept to ‘curriculum’, is similarly forward-facing. The Oxford English Dictionary defines the noun as, “The art, occupation, or practice of teaching. Also: the theory or principles of education; a method of teaching based on such a theory.” If you like, curriculum is the ‘what’ of teaching, and pedagogy is the ‘how’. Generally speaking, the meeting point of the two is schools and the main medium for delivery is teachers. Therefore, while not synonymous, the two concepts have the same basis of intention: to shape young people into the kind of adults a society deems desirable.

Thus, in my opinion, the phrase ‘future-focused pedagogy’ is redundant because the future is already inherently implied and understood in the use of the word ‘pedagogy’: schools and teachers are naturally focused on developing students’ capacities and capabilities. And these are the capacities and capabilities that will best serve them as adults and future citizens in society. Needless to say there are considerable value-laden assumptions behind what kind of adults and future citizens are seen to be necessary by curriculum writers and the research they draw upon. But all of this, in my opinion, begs an important question to explore: what kind of future is implied by our pedagogy?

One of these visions for the future is an industrial, production-based model. Most recently Sugata Mitra has argued that our current school system was designed with elegant efficiency by the Victorians who wanted to produce future workers for their industrial age factories. Students in this era experienced a factory-style pedagogy appropriate for molding factory-style workers. Young people were viewed as empty vessels to be filled with the knowledge they would require when they needed it. Curricula prescribed the knowledge that young people ought to know, and, to some degree, ought to be able to do with that knowledge. All students learnt the same thing in the same way for the same kind of future.

But we are no longer in the Industrial Age. We are now in the Knowledge Age where “knowledge and ideas are the main source of economic growth”. This change also signals a shift in what ‘knowledge’ is. We also understand a lot more about how learning occurs. Students no longer need a sole diet of ‘just in case’ learning but rather need ‘just in time’ learning: knowing how to learn when learning is required; how to critically navigate a glut of information. This is an entirely different vision of the future. Rachel Bolstad and Jane Gilbert talk about knowledge as having metaphorically shifted from a noun to a verb: “as a resource to do things with, not an object to be mastered.” Students need to know how to interact with, and build knowledge. And the pedagogy needed to empower this capacity in students is fundamentally different.

The 2007 New Zealand Curriculum document reflects this difference. While, as already noted, curriculum is not pedagogy as it is not a description or formula for how to teach, there is substantial overlap between the two. The focus in the New Zealand Curriculum on the five Key Competencies of managing self, understanding language, symbols and text, participating and contributing, relating to others, and thinking, implicitly requires a different pedagogy from that operating in an Industrial Age model. I urge New Zealand educators to concentrate their focus on this ‘front half’ of the document as a signal to shift attention away from content and instead onto skills and dispositions.

But let us now return to the question posed at the beginning: What kind of future is implied by our pedagogy? While the very nature of the future is that it is definitively unknowable until it is the present, we tell stories of what the future is ‘likely’ to be all the time: hover cars, robot overlords, post-apocalyptic wasteland, living on Mars under a great glass dome… Keri Facer, in her important book Learning Futures, explores some of these potential futures ahead of us. In doing so, she emphasises that these stories of potential futures are precisely that: narratives. And the nature of narratives is that they can be manipulated and changed, that they are not set in concrete. The future is the consequence of a whole series of decisions that are made right now. As Facer says, “The future is not something that is done to us, but an ongoing process in which we can intervene.”

Pedagogy, with its in-built understanding of being future-focused, is one of those intervention methods. We don’t know what kind of future lies ahead of us, but we are pretty sure of what it isn’t likely to be: a Victorian manufacturing plant. Therefore we must ensure that our pedagogy is future building, a term that, “implies we have power and agency to create the future we want.” Certainly the intention behind the New Zealand Curriculum, and its Key Competencies in particular, reflects this.

I believe that teaching is an expression of hope for the future. That our learners not only become “confident, connected, actively involved, lifelong learners”, but adopt this vision as part of their current identity. That our learners do not become citizens, but see themselves as citizens already. Thus, while the adjectival phrase ‘future-focused’ is indeed redundant to qualify the noun ‘pedagogy’, we must make sure that our pedagogy is an expression of this hope. Bibliography (To access a version of this blogpost with footnotes, please click here.)

  • Claire Amos, “Futures Thinking and the Future of Education.” Accessed online 20/9/14
  • Rachel Bolstad and Jane Gilbert et al, “Supporting future-oriented learning and teaching – a New Zealand perspective”, NZCER, 2012
  • Rachel Bolstad and Jane Gilbert, Disciplining and drafting, or 21st century learning? Rethinking the New Zealand senior secondary curriculum for the future, NZCER, 2008
  • Keri Facer, Learning Futures: Education, technology and social change, Routledge, 2011
  • Rosemary Hipkins, Rachel Bolstad, Sally Boyd, and Sue McDowall, Key Competencies for the Future, NZCER, 2014
  • The New Zealand Curriculum, Ministry of Education, 2007. Accessed online 20/9/14
  • Sugata Mitra, “We Need Schools…Not Factories“. Accessed online 20/9/14
  • OED, Accessed online 20/9/14

Want to read more? The other chapters of the collaborative book are here:

He aha te mea nui o te ao?

He aha te mea nui o te ao? 
He tangata! He tangata! He tangata!

What is the most important thing in the world? 
It is people! It is people! It is people!

 Reflecting on my ULearn14 experience, for me the overarching theme of this year’s conference was relationships. Everyone is a learner – teacher and student alike – and all learners should be at the heart of what we do. I could see this message coming through from every speaker I heard:

  • Yoram Harpaz’s keynote argued for three ‘meta-ideologies’ in education. I align myself mostly with ‘individuation’ – the fostering of autonomy and honouring the authenticity of the child.
  • Mark Osbourne’s breakout highlighted to me the learning that teachers can experience in a MLE (Modern Learning Environment) is as powerful as the learning the students can experience.
  • Tom Barrett’s breakout on design thinking: curiosity is the start of everything; it’s about questioning the world
  • Adam Lefstein’s keynote on teacher professional discourse and learning: the kinds of conversations we have as professionals can help or hinder our practice
  • Katie Novak’s UDL keynote: when we host a dinner party, we serve the food we love to eat. In what way do we address others’ dietary needs? We certainly don’t try to fix the diners’ problems; we cater accordingly. This is what UDL asks us to do for our learners.
  • Derek Wenmoth’s breakout: MLP (Modern Learning Practice) requires rethinking content, learners, teaching, learning – we need to be adaptable and flexible
  • Jo Wilson’s breakout: Professional Learning programmes should allow staff to grow into the roles they seek, allow them to be great leaders.
  • Steve Mouldey’s breakout: creativity enables you to create change in the world around you.
  • Quinn Norton’s keynote asked: What’s the MacGuffin of our generation? We probably won’t know until we’re scrambling to catch up, so learning to build relationships is an important future-proofing skill.

I also enjoyed the opportunity to present at ULearn on the staff professional learning I co-lead in my school. Although it was a small (but perfectly formed!) group, it was a satisfying experience. Tuning into myself as we were speaking, I realised how much staff had moved in their skills and that there is a growing appreciation and awareness for the need to embrace future-focused pedagogy. (Presentation here)

Oh, and I got named as a CORE eFellow for 2015. What an amazing, humbling and gratifying moment. I only hope I can do the opportunity justice. I so look forward to the learning to come, and the relationships to be forged with the other eFellows.

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Happy Anniversary

This is a short blog post I wrote for Tom Whitby, of #edchat fame, on the ‘aha’ moment of becoming a connected educator.

It was posted last week on Edutopia, and I cross-post it here:

“The mind, once stretched by a new idea, never returns to its original dimensions.”

  • Ralph Waldo Emerson

It strikes me as utterly appropriate to reflect on my journey from an unconnected educator to a connected educator at this time, as it’s nearing a year since I had my ‘eureka’ moment.

Last October, I attended ULearn, a massive (by New Zealand standards) conference, which draws together educators from all sectors to explore e-Learning trends and themes. I was so excited by what I learned there: it made such sense to me that we shouldn’t get hung up with the shiny tools of technology if pedagogy isn’t shifting to support a new, and more meaningful, way of teaching and learning.

And I wanted to learn more.

I had had a Twitter account, but started following the presenters I had heard at the conference. I decided to start a blog to help me record and process what I learned. I quickly realised that the way educators use Twitter, to connect and share, was extremely powerful. Through this I found blogs to follow, readings to explore, new ideas to wrestle with.

And I was hooked.

I haven’t looked back. Not only has my classroom practice changed, but my whole view of my profession has changed. I am passionate about education in a way that I simply wasn’t before. Sure, I wanted to convey my love of literature and the power and beauty of language to students, but now I want learners to think and to be engaged. Now I facilitate professional learning into future-focused pedagogy in my school. Now I’m the secretary for #edchatNZ and I helped organise their first conference. Now I’m planning to run an edcamp in my city. Now I’m a connected educator.

My mind is stretched.

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This One’s for Alex (and anyone else who needs encouragement to keep going, keep going, keep going)

Oil Tanker (n): a large form of oceangoing transport, designed to carry oil from its source to a refinery, or from a refinery to its selling-point. Various size classifications, including the largest, the “ULCC – Ultra Large Crude Carriers … with DWTs of 320,000 metric tons (352,740 tons) and above – [which] are comparable in length to the height of some of the world’s tallest buildings.” (http://science.howstuffworks.com/transport/engines-equipment/oil-tanker1.htm, Accessed 2/10/14)

Oil Tanker (fig): a monolith, a huge or massive structure that is nigh impossible to shift or move.

–//–

Sometimes making changes can feel like trying to shift an oil tanker with butterfly wings. It seems like an exercise in futility; a sisyphean task, doomed to failure. These changes can be to your own classroom practice, within a department, within a school, or even within the education system as a whole. In fact, you can begin to wonder what the point is at all. What is the point of persisting in the face of what can feel at times like unrelenting, unwavering resistance?

Well, the point is that you believe in what you’re doing. You believe that your vision for what education can be, should be, is valid and important. That it will inspire real learning and engagement and empower citizenship. And that’s a very big point indeed. These are your butterfly wings.

So say yes.

Embrace the opportunities that come your way, and seek them out if they don’t. Believe people when they tell you that you can do it, even if you doubt it yourself. Tap into the help and support of others. Then, you fake it ‘til you make it and learn along the way.

Read. Challenge your thinking. Curate resources. Build your Professional Learning Network. Process your thoughts and keep a record of your learning journey. Then share and give back to the PLN who sustain and support you. And then look back at how much you’ve learned, how much you’ve grown as an educator. Because the thing with butterfly wings and oil tankers is that you don’t know how much you’ve moved until you’re suddenly facing the horizon.

Whodunit??

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This term my Year 8 class scripted, rehearsed and performed their own plays. I’ve taught various versions of this unit for a couple of years now. The students always enjoy it, and often create quite good dramas. It was time for a twist though, and it came in the form of cross-curricular learning with Science.

[A quick contextual note: at my school Year 7 and 8 are integrated into the secondary school, i.e they have subject specialist teachers. Year 7 are taught in a homeroom, with the exception of subjects such as Science, Art and Music. Year 8s move around from subject to subject, teacher to teacher, as Year 9s and upward do.]

I found out that the Year 8 Science classes do a forensics unit, complete with a trip to Police Museum – fun!, and often they make their own films showing a crime to be solved. It seemed that this could dovetail nicely with my drama unit.

In addition to the drama skills, including mime, improvisation and drama conventions, I usually taught, we also covered some plotting ideas. We discussed the need to plan carefully. The girls would need to know ‘whodunit’, why, and how before they started writing. This was a real spin-off bonus to the unit, from my perspective. I do find that sometimes no matter how much I emphasise the need to plan before starting, the starting is the planning for many! However, in crafting a detective story, students could see the benefit of working backwards, so to speak, in order to take their audience on a journey.

The Science teacher and I decided on some parameters: no brutal CSI or Criminal Minds episodes for us, thank you! (The relevant information sheet is here: Year 8 Crime Drama Play)The girls had the prompters of three titles: The Locker Raid, The Case of the Missing Lunch and The Words that Should Not Have Been There. The girls weren’t to stage the crimes, but to start in medias res, as many plays do – smack bang in the middle of the action – after the crime had been committed. The plays were to be set at school and be realistic. I wondered if the girls might not find this much fodder for their creative juices, and one group wasn’t so keen initially, but I think the task had its own challenges and working with a familiar setting and context actually was easier.

In order to incorporate the forensics, the girls had to include a ‘multimedia presentation’ in their play. This meant that the audience could ‘see’ the clues that were discovered during the course of the play. They learned about fibres and fingerprints and tooth marks in Science and took pictures with a microscope which they put into Google Slides. These presentations were then screened during the play – another element to incorporate into their scripts as stage directions. While the quality of the images wasn’t always so great, and the girls didn’t spread the clues throughout their plays as I had imagined they might, this definitely helped keep them on task and focus on the real Science behind their crimes.

Working in Google Docs and Slides worked so well for this unit. We had a lot of students struck down by illness, but sharing the documents and working collaboratively meant no excuse for work being in one book, or stuck on one student’s account. It also allowed students to work on different scenes of their plays at the same time – a more equal sharing of responsibilities. The illness was an issue when we moved into rehearsal phase though. I didn’t get to see many groups rehearse fully to give them as much feedback as I normally would around their use of space or audience awareness.

Overall though, this was an interesting unit. The girls kept a reflection log throughout the process, and the overarching theme of these was how much fun they were having. I did ask them to reflect on what they had learned, but some found this difficult. Maybe some sentence starters next time will help bring more focus to their responses. The thing I most enjoyed was the group who had a completed script…and then realised that the Science didn’t support what they had planned to use as clues…so back they had to go and re-work their piece. I don’t know if their Science teacher prompted them to do this, but I certainly didn’t. Seeing the girls having to think critically about how to interweave the forensics into their English script was amazing. I also enjoyed inviting parents into the class to see the girls perform. While we didn’t have a huge uptake, at least one-third of the girls had a supporting adult come along. This small but authentic audience helped the girls to focus on learning their lines and taking their performances seriously. As always, there are things I could have done better, but I was proud of what the girls achieved and having to work cross-curricular really added to their learning experience.

Ring In

Yahoo! Today is Day 1 of Connected Educator Month – and I got to participate! This amazing, global, event champions collaboration and networking amongst educators. Unfortunately Danielle Myburgh, our wonderful #edchatNZ host, was unable to present in the ‘Connected Professional Learning: Stories from NZ‘ so I was her ring-in.

I thought it was really important for #edchatNZ to be represented because of its role in inspiring and empowering New Zealand educators. As I said during the session, to me #edchatNZ, and particularly our amazing conference in August, truly embodies the spirit of Connected Education Month. It is a community which aims to support and foster ‘lone nut‘ educators who seek to engage with professional learning in order to bring the best of the cutting-edge pedagogy for the benefit of Kiwi kids.

It was also interesting to be presenting alongside representatives from the Ministry of Education, NetNZ, Secondary Literacy Online and Te Manawa Pou. As one astute presenter commented: the thread really was collaboration. It’s amazing what we can achieve together.

Oh, and I earned a badge 😉

CEM