Category Archives: Learning

a page for learning category posts

Kiwi kids big pencil and pen users – but are they doing any better?

The latest OECD report around investment in IT and student achievement has hit the media and will no doubt cause a lot of second guessing from our parent communities. The following is the article from the One News Now site with a few tweaks (Parody Alert). I am not attacking the study… yet.

New Zealand has the second highest number of pens and pencils to students, but it might not be doing much good for their performance in key subjects, according to a study by the OECD.

It found New Zealand has 0.5 15-year-old students per pencil or pen, topped only by Australia with 0.3 students that age per writing device.

The study found 86.4 per cent of 15-year-olds are using pens or pencils at school in New Zealand.

But the report found countries which have invested heavily in this proven technology for education have seen “no noticeable improvement” in their performances in OECD test results for reading, mathematics or science.

Students who use pens and pencils moderately at school tend to have better learning outcomes than those who use pens and pencils rarely, it says. 

But students who use pencils and pens “very frequently” at school do much worse, even after accounting for social background and student demographics.

High achieving school systems such as South Korea and Shanghai in China have lower levels of pencil use in schools.

Singapore, with only a moderate use of pens in school, is top for future focused skills.

To assess their real world skills, the test required students in 31 countries and economies to use a pen and/or pencil to navigate texts as well as using slide rules, cosine tables and library catalogue cards in order to access information. Students were required to make a chart from data via inserting a pencil into a compass.

The OECD says ensuring every child reaches a baseline level of proficiency in reading and maths will do more to create equal opportunities in the real world than solely expanding or subsidising access to high-tech devices and services like pens and pencils, let alone access to the newer technology of slide rules.

OECD Director for Education and Skills Andreas Schleicher says school systems need to find more effective ways to integrate pens and pencils into teaching and learning to provide learning environments that give children with the real world skills they need to succeed in tomorrow’s world.

Yes a bit tongue in cheek, but really? Couldn’t this study be summed up by “Effective Teachers make a difference in learning.”

The actual paragraph that mentioned what the test was should give us a clue as to the nature of the information and mental models of what is being measured.
“To assess their digital skills, the test required students in 31 countries and economies to use a keyboard and mouse to navigate texts by using tools like hyperlinks, browser button or scrolling, in order to access information, as well as make a chart from data or use on-screen calculators.”
Is that it? Is that the measure of technology impact? A very one dimensional view of technology use in schools and if that is the measure of 21st Century Skills, skills for the future, then perhaps the test is missing the mark. Not being at the top of that test may well be a good thing!


Agency – Student Driven Learning

If you walk into JJ Purton Jones’ room you will see students doing a whole lot of different things at the same time. There are some students working on their reading, others are tackling maths and then a few more writing. In fact each and everyone of them could be working on something different. Visitors often comment “where is the teacher?”

Agency for us is an extension of Assessment for Learning Practices. Our primary goal is to shift the locus of control from adult to student. This has been a long journey for us that started with the work that Evaluation Associates did before I started in 2006. Since then we have used Formative Practice as the umbrella for all our professional learning. Teachers regularly use the Evaluation Associates Teacher Competency Matrix to plan their next steps, they gather data and iterate new actions to move toward enabling students to make decisions about their learning.

Some people would say that JJ’s class looks like a free for all and that there is an absence of teaching. If you spend time watching and listening to the children talk about what is happening then you would realise that there is a lot of teaching, it is not necessarily just from the teacher. You see to run a class this way takes an organised on to it teacher and is actually a lot harder than a regular teacher led classroom.

The students have good data and the teacher can structure teaching clinics that students opt into around this data. The beauty of the way things run in JJ’s class is when the students say “I’ll run a teaching clinic Miss PJ!”

View image on Twitter

Each and every student can explain what they are doing in their ILPs (Individual Learning Plans), more importantly they can tell you why they have scheduled their timetable in that way. But it gets better…

JJ runs an Adventure learning time, an extension of Google 20% time. Again some people see this as a teacher opting out of teaching. Yet the rigour is amazing! I recall a student coming to my office and saying “Mr L, do you have the NZ Curriculum” to which I handed over my copy… she then said “I need another 26 because we want to map our Adventure Learning back to the curriculum documents”

View image on Twitter

I cannot wait to see what these students with a great sense of autonomy and agency do this year.

See what Steve Wheeler said about the innovative learning in JJ’s class or read Jenny Magiera’s blog on undiluted student agency

The Power of KiwiFoo – expanding horizons

In 2013 I was lucky enough to receive an email from a guy called Nat Torkington. It was an invitation to attend something called KiwiFoo. After a bit of investigating I accepted the offer. The general consensus from people was that if you get an invite to KiwiFoo camp you drop everything and just say yes.

What followed was a mind expanding weekend of listening and dialoguing with the most diverse and amazing brains. There were sessions about the role of media, blue sky discussions about where we wanted to be in the future, and we even built a hovercraft out of a leaf blower.

The beauty of the weekend is it is an unconference. A co-constructed gathering where the knowledge is in the room. After that weekend my mind was buzzing with ideas and more importantly connections. It made me realise that there is so much to learn from people who have absolutely nothing to do with education and those very people can learn much from us.

I was lucky enough to get invited back in 2014 and it was an even better experience. I met so many talented people and even more connections were made. Nat and Jenine run an amazing weekend and the people who attend are just amazing. A two year run is about the most you can hope for.

This weekend is KiwiFoo15 and I am not there, but what is even better is that three people from Taupaki School got an invite to attend. Kim Baars, JJ Purton Jones and Paula Hogg will be having the same mind explosions about know. The challenge for me is to harness the energy of Foo with these three upon their return.

Sometimes people question why they get an invite to something like KiwiFoo. People get the invite because they are doing awesome things. If you ever get an email from Nat inviting you to Foo don’t question why just say yes!

Modelling a Growth Mindset

We want our kids to understand that learning isn’t easy. It is a challenging activity, it causes a great deal of head scratching and it requires risk taking.

We talk as a staff about ‘The Pit’ and what we go through when we try something new. Our class windows and walls are adorned with pits and the associated resources that children have created to help them get out and experience the ecstasy of success.

This morning Meredith Bladen’s class were leading assembly and they walked us through their learning pits. Meredith works very hard to establish a growth mindset culture. It was great to see the children showing their hand drawn graphs with notes and reflections, with actions and emotions all mapped. I have asked Meredith to blog about this but she is a little shy – please tweet her and ask her to write about how she uses learning pits.

Room 7 kids presenting their reflections in the Pit
Room 7 kids presenting their reflections in the Pit

Earlier in the assembly I had talked about one of my faulty learning habits that I was trying to get over… I mentioned how impressed I was that the school always uses NZ Sign Language as they sing the National Anthem and that I feel a little embarrassed about not getting things right so I don’t give it a go. I asked the assembly what I could do … After a couple of weeks in, I was amazed at the response from children of all ages.

In response to a middle school child saying that I should just ask for help I asked for help. At lunchtime today I had a string of children waiting to help me. One 5 year old simply said just copy the You Tube clip. This was met with a year 3 response of “yeah he could do that but it is always much better when you learn with someone else.” So for the next 10 minutes I learned and practised with these kids who had given up their lunchtime to help me out. The bell went and they were gone leaving me basking in the glow of that Year 3 child’s response. It was priceless and I was left thinking how lucky that child was to have teachers who model a growth mindset and help their students articulate effective learning strategies and dispositions.

As leaders in schools (And I mean leaders in the broadest possible sense) it is our responsibility to model these behaviours to our children. It is our responsibility to think aloud, to share our thought processes so that our children know that learning is a challenge, we never stop doing it and that we can always get better with practise and support from the collective group.

We are more intelligent when we use our extended networks.


Make Club Arrives

One of my biggest fears before make club was that we would have more adults than children. You see I broke the soft launch rule! In struggling for a #28daysofwriting topic I wrote about Make Club. Now that combined with a little twittervertisement caused a bit of a flutter and I had a worry that we would have a couple of kids and lots of adults.

Was I wrong!

A full house for Make Club Debut
A full house for Make Club Debut

A jam packed room and two teachers leading parallel sessions in scratch and tinkercad. Yes pretty basic to start with but if you want to get into some MakeyMakey you need some basic Scratch. If you want to get into rapid prototyping you need some CAD. We had parents and students shoulder to shoulder learning together.

One of the best things that principals experience are the moments when staff shine. Now Make Club is the result of hard work by Kimberly Baars and Paula Hogg but today Kate Davison shone! Her attention to detail her and her preparation was superb. Guiding children  aged 8 – 13 (and their parents) to create a multi-level maze game in under an hour was absolutely masterful. There was support for those who needed it and challenge for those who were getting hang of things. I saw success, I saw laughter and I saw sharing.

a maze game in scratch
a maze game in scratch

We made sure that toward the end of the session that the two groups shared their learning with each other. We then gathered feedback from the kids about what they liked and what would make it more awesome next time.

Now we want sustainability, and the test will be who comes back next week. But judging by the feedback and excitement in the room I think there will a number of kids back. We are in this for the long haul, this club isn’t a flash event designed to ignite imagination. This make club is a long term investment in sustained imagination, creativity and making.

pondering the feedback
pondering the feedback

Well done to the team from Ministry of Make – I can’t wait for next Thursday!

Taking your community with you…

This #28daysofwriting piece is at the end of a school day just before dinner in the staffroom as we have our ‘meet the teacher evening’ tonight.

We have bombarded our parents with texts and email reminders as most of our parents know us. It is really important to get the community together so that we can talk about what school means to us. It is vitally important that we have alignment and that the parent body are with us.

One of the biggest issues schools face is that everyone is an expert about how schools run. This is due to the fact that we have all been to school and enjoyed it – hated it – endured it – regretted it – loved it – never left – never want to go back… the experiences are so different. Yet each of these experiences shape our mental models of what school should be like.

The stock standard line we often hear in our jobs is “School wasn’t like this in my day, it has all changed!” Well some of us would argue that it hasn’t changed enough and any changes that have actually happened are pretty surface level.

Tonight I am tackling this with the parents from the point of view of of course things have changed – would you expect your Doctor to treat you the same way as they did twenty years ago? The key driver for this mental model at the moment is the proliferation of 1:1 devices and schools asking kids to BYOD. So tonight I want to reaffirm our position on BYOB (yes B) and then address the age old issue of what about reading, writing and maths.

Literacy and Numeracy are still the basics yet the medium or context for them is shifting. Our children are in a digital world. The parents may prefer to curl up with a good book by the fire but the children may choose to flip electronic pages.

Tonight I have set up a padlet wall so that parents can ask questions. I want to show them the power of technology to provide voice because I guarantee you that parents, just like kids, have a fear of asking questions in public. I have emailed the link to everyone, printed off QR codes so they have access from their devices (yes so two years ago!) and embedded the wall on our caregiver page. I have primed the staff to try and answer questions on the wall while I am presenting. I have absolutely no idea how this will go. But let’s take a risk…

‘Plain Language’ Education

One of the great things about the #28daysofwriting is reading what other people have to say. There is a lot that resonates in the hash tag, but this is also one of the dangers. If we keep reading stuff we agree with we will never really explore the reasons why we don’t agree with different points of view. Dissonance leads to clarity of our mental models as we mould and shape what we assume and believe to be true.

Steve Mouldy writes great stuff. His piece for Day 6 of #28daysofwriting centred around an experience he had where a group of teachers were banned from using education buzz words. Anyone who was caught using the buzzword had to put a token in the fine jar. I thought finally I can disagree with Mouldy about something! Banning professional language at an e-fellows retreat? Let me hoe into that one! Would doctors talking with other doctors substitute specific words in an effort to eliminate ‘jargon’? Do lawyers use less precise language so that everyone gets the general idea – not very lawyer-like.

Now I am not suggesting that teachers are in the same league as Doctors after all they save lives, teachers just mould, guide and inspire them. But really, if we are having professional conversations should we not use professional language? Now I am taking Steve’s post literally and he does make a killer point in that everyone has such different ideas of what the buzzwords mean that there is confusion. So let’s have those discussions. Let’s talk about what agency means to us, let’s get it clear in our heads what it looks like, sounds like and feels like. Let us define it so that we can applaud it when we see it and go ‘that ain’t agency’ when it is passed off as such before our eyes. After all if we can’t decide as a profession then how can we talk with our communities?

Is this the rationale for plain language reporting to parents? At what point do we say, ‘hold on what I am trying to explain requires precise language’. Isn’t our job to educate, can we not use the language and bring our parents along with us so that they can use the language that teachers and students share? Does watering down a statement add to comprehension or merely consign it to a sea of sameness.

Long live precise, clearly defined and understood jargon.

Make Club – a debut

I am looking forward to the opening of our Make Club on Thursday 12 February for a number of reasons. I have long been a proponent of schools and communities using facilities outside of the regular 9am – 3pm day.

analogue and digital meet
analogue and digital meet

Make club is a mid-term event in the bigger journey of turning our technology centre into a community maker facility that is open 24/7. Make Club will be open to students, parents, teachers and any adult who likes to tinker, build, create, make and more importantly share knowledge.

We have had an amazing response after informing our community, with numerous people wanting more information and asking if children can come along. This is fantastic, not just for the fact that we will have lots of minds to set free but because of one of our founding principles for Make Club. All kids who attend must bring a parent/caregiver. You see Make Club isn’t a glorified after school care programme where you pay your money and leave. We believe that parents and kids creating and learning together can’t be a bad thing.

This club is also open to teachers. Teachers who want to learn about new technologies. Teachers can join in and learn alongside others and it is an extension of our experiment with ‘Staffies’ last year. Teachers have an amazing capacity to see an idea and then just run with it. We have all experienced a time when we have sparked of each other and come up with some amazing experiences for kids.

More importantly make club is open to makers. Adults who want to turn up and share. Experts who want to pass on their knowledge. We have been very lucky to have range of people visit our school over the past few years giving their time and energy. This is because we value collaboration and encourage people to join in.

Make club is the result of Kimberly Baars (Design Tech Teacher) Paula Hogg (BoT Chairperson) and I saying “wouldn’t it be great to…” Kim and Paula have done all the work though and without their input and urgency it would still be an idea. We don’t yet have a website for Make Club… but maybe the kids will fix that up for us, as we really want authentic contexts to be the backdrop for making.

Our hope for make club… to build community, to build capacity, and to build stuff!

MoM_header brand

Short Term Wins

In any change initiative that is designed to alter our fundamental values, beliefs and assumption we need to make sure there are short term wins. We must celebrate them to ensure that the energy and drive moves us closer to the vision. Essentially short term wins maintain vision focus.

With the end of our onsite server lease we were ready to make full use of our N4L Connection and head to the cloud. We were finally ready to sip at the Google Kool-Aid.

A main part of our staff only day was exploring Google Apps for Education. We could have had sessions from experts but we decided that we would follow a key mental model for professional learning – The Knowledge is in the Room! So we un-conferenced it up and teachers opted into workshops across the day run by colleagues. We worked on need to know skills but the sessions soon delved into what we could do. Exclamations of “hey we could…” or “how could I” were common.

Now we have a range of technological competency in our place and yes there were some very apprehensive people. Can I still use word? What do you mean my documents aren’t stored on the Teacher Drive? Normal first order change and in some cases reactive tension hit.

This week was full of wins…Greg the ‘caretaker’ Caretaker set up his Caretaker’s notebook in a google form and activated a notification add on so that he knows when people have requests. Shannon shared folders with her PRT Ashley and then promptly shared her meeting notes and received comments from both Mary the AP and myself. A transition to school meeting was captured in a shared doc with teachers contributing to notes and thoughts. Whilst one was note taking another was adding links and resources. Amanda and Carole are now emailing me phone messages that go straight to my todoist messages project – Amanda is even experimenting with priority settings and time based alerts. All within a short time frame and yes albeit with people who are not afraid to take a chance and try something new. But short term wins nonetheless.

Change, however small can be a challenge. I am fortunate to work with people who embrace challenge and who possess a growth mindset. Can’t wait to see what else eventuates.

Who are you selling as role models?

We are firmly in the age of the “I”. It is a time of the individual, with rhetoric that anyone can be the next leader of their country, make millions of dollars and have the house, nice car and a boat thrown in for good measure. The secret is that you just have to work hard.

Where did this myth eventuate? I am surrounded by lots of hard working people who are not the Prime Minister, CEO of a major corporation or get away on their launch for a jaunt around the harbour.

Yet we hear stories of people who have risen from challenging backgrounds and situations, overcome huge obstacles and achieved at the highest levels. But aren’t these the exceptions to the rule? Isn’t the norm absolute mediocrity or are we missing the point on what constitutes success?

I have no doubt that the ‘success stories’ have worked hard for their achievements, but when we use these figures as role models for our kids are we leaving out a crucial part of the story, that of blind luck or chance? Are we omitting the impact of significant others in an individual’s success? Do we underplay the idea of right time right place?

Schools are very good at determining and teaching the skills for success but do we oversell the ‘the world will be your oyster’ tag line? I was at conference where the speaker said that one of us in the audience could be teaching a future Prime Minister. That sort of rhetoric at that time in my career did give me a boost. But looking back would it have been more inspiring if the speaker had said “You are teaching the mothers and fathers of our future.”

Our kids have a lot to learn from the extraordinary lives of ordinary people. How are we including these role models in our efforts to instil key competencies, values and civics in today’s classrooms?