If we are really honest with ourselves our schools haven’t really changed a great deal since the idea of compulsory schooling began. We are all aware of the numerous ‘21st Century Learning’ presenters who talk about 19th Century production line education turning our standardised products for the industrial age. Trying to break free from the constraint of established buildings, systemic structures and engrained mental models of how things should be done can be a challenge.
Having fresh ideas and new ways of doing things can be challenging to established norms but necessary if we are going to progress learning to the ideals espoused by many proponents of 21st Century Education. One of the stumbling blocks to innovation is the notion of Best Practice. This very idea that there is one state or way to do things is from a stance of a Fixed Mindset (Dweck, 2012). Sometimes the pursuit of ‘Best Practice’ can be to the detriment of ‘Better Practice’. An iterative, growth mindset approach leads to better practice.
Innovation for us is all about deepening our pursuit of effective learning. Over the years we have implemented many innovative ideas including Student Led Conferencing, Bring Your Own Browser, Robotics, Coding, 3D printing, e-textiles, student driven timetables and maker culture. All these ideas have come from being connected to others, professional reading, and conference attendance. These initiatives have (or currently) started small in a trial environment before slowly scaling them up. Enabling teachers to connect and share via social media (especially Twitter) and face to face encounters provides a rich source of ideas, energy and enthusiasm from a variety of places and industries. As leaders we need to model the use of these vehicles for sharing ideas.
It is vitally important that innovation is a not linked to one individual, it needs to be part of the culture. This year we established an innovation team who are charged with finding new practices that will align with our school vision and deepen our understanding of effective learning. This team is lead by two teachers and has a voluntary component to the team composition. The team is not limited to teachers – board members, parents, scientists, IT brains, business people are welcome. The leaders of the team are given one management unit each ($4000) to coordinate the ideas, generate feedback loops and plan next iterations. The innovation team leaders report to the Leadership Team about their progress and thinking. As principal it is my job to coach these leaders in how we package and implement these new ideas in a way that will get maximum buy in and engagement from the school community.
A very recent outcome from the Innovation team is the ‘Staffie’ – a regular voluntary gathering of staff in an ‘unconference’ approach where we learn from each other. This was the result of our innovation leaders attending numerous educamps, unconferences and non-edu events that highlight our belief that the knowledge is in the room. Innovation, and therefore better practice, starts with an inquiring teacher given permission to think, act, reflect, re-design and share.
Teaching is a profession where we can collectively agree to a vision and a set of practices that we will live by. It is also a profession where we can ‘do our own thing’ within the walls of our classrooms. As a profession we are great at giving the appearance of change whilst maintaining the status quo of established routines and norms. This is frustrating for leaders who are implementing change initiatives centred upon solid evidence of effective practice.
So how do we open our practice so that we attain a sustainable reality that meets the needs of the students we teach? By now it should be no surprise that we have a deep belief in Assessment for Learning practices. These practices are firmly entrenched in the use of quality data and analysis of this data for next learning steps. In my last post I addressed the idea of Teaching as Inquiry as a means investigating evidence based strategies in the pursuit of student achievement. For us, the answer to sustainable practice can be found in peer coaching and reflective journals.
We have a mental model that if it is good enough for students then it is good enough for teachers. If we believe that students need time to reflect and gather evidence of their learning (development) then adults need to do the same. Teachers identify their priority learners and then foreground them in their online professional journals. Next teaching steps are planned and then information gathered about how these steps have helped move the priority learners closer to their goals. This then results in an iterative inquiry based upon data.
Peer coaching and observation is a crucial component in sustaining any innovation or shift in teaching practice. Once teachers have identified next teaching or learning steps they need feedback. This comes in the form of a coach, a trusted colleague, coming in to observe the teaching. The key difference here is that the teacher seeking feedback is asking for feedback in a particular area of our assessment for learning teacher matrices. They want information so that they can reflect about what they need to next.
After the observation the coach and teacher dialogue about the data collected. It is important to note that the coach is not there to fix the teacher being observed. The coach uses facilitative questioning techniques to help the teacher come to their own insights about where next learning steps may be. These insights are recorded in professional journals and the process begins again. The data from the observations forms part of the picture and is collated in the online journal along with reflections, ideas and thoughts about next steps. These journals can be shared with colleagues so they can contribute.
This expectation that we all give and receive feedback about our teaching and learning practices ensures that there is a collective responsibility towards sustaining and improving our assessment for learning pedagogy. This shared responsibility for priority learners and their achievement ensures that we all hold ourselves to account and are always pushing ourselves to learn and teach more effectively.
The ultimate goal of any school should be to develop self-regulating, self-monitoring and self-motivated learners. Children who develop a capacity to ‘know what to do when they don’t know what to do.’ These broad dispositions or key competencies can be hard to measure, and in political circles can be seen as ‘soft’ data. Yet these very capabilities are what determine a child’s capacity to learn.
Data is an important aspect of the learning and teaching cycle. Professor John Hattie argues that quality data about what a child can or cannot do is extremely important in planning learning – this is common sense but too often in schools we have a preconceived notion of teaching to a standard rather than starting where children are at. An assessment for learning approach is very important for teachers and students.
New Zealand Schools are very familiar with the notion of ‘teaching as inquiry’,
it is an important part of our Curriculum document. In a nutshell it is an iterative cycle. The key aspect of our inquiry into practice is centred on student capability. We ask questions like…
• What is the data telling me about progress of students?
• What is the data telling me about the teaching strategies I am using?
• What does current research tell me about effective practice in this area?
• What am I going to try as a result?
At our place we gather data that gives us detailed information about what students can do, we use a rage of tools and understand that each assessment tool gives us different information. In Years 4 – 8 the use of e-asTTle assessments helps the learner to become more aware of their strengths and areas for development. Teachers and students use this data to plan their next step learning.
Teaching clinics are becoming the norm. We are encouraging students to look at their data and make choices about what teaching clinics they need in order to progress their learning. It is important to note that teachers are acutely aware of the needs of these students and if they notice that a student hasn’t self-selected a teaching clinic then they get alongside that student and have a conversation about their learning needs, suggesting they may need to attend a particular clinic. This ensures that the student is getting what they need in order to progress but also serves as a coaching conversation based upon data, thus developing their learning capacity.
This approach is grounded in valid and reliable ‘hard’ data. Yet the way we use the data develops the broader goal of self-regulation. In shifting the locus of control to the student were are developing the more important key competencies that they need in order to become life long learners. We capture this journey via our Learning Management System in our student learning journals thus giving us a window into student metacognition.
Assessment for Learning mental models drive our professional lives and our teachers are focussed upon the importance of data in everyday learning. This approach takes some time to embed yet the rewards for student and teachers are invaluable in the quest to develop self-motivated, self-monitoring, self-regulating learners.
In short our educative purpose must be to develop self monitoring, self motivated, self regulating learners. Regardless of test results and qualifications our moral imperative is to develop not only a love of learning but an iterative capacity to learn, unlearn and relearn in all our students. In addition to this herculean task we are also focussed on developing happy, well rounded individuals who turn out to be nice and treat others with respect and courtesy. All this in five learning hours a day!
By now it should be no surprise to you that Vision drives our practice at Taupaki School. But how does this trickle down to students? How do we empower students to take responsibility for their own learning? There a couple of levers that we use in our place to help develop student autonomy.
Our core values are Nurture, Respect, Personal Best and Learning. These were extracted from our vision. Each is unpacked with students and revisited year upon year. Our children talk about what each core value means and how they put it into everyday practice. When we unpack the learning value it is from an assessment for learning (AfL) perspective. The ultimate goal of AfL is for students to progress their autonomy, to deepen their self-regulatory capacity within a supportive socially constructed learning environment (Black et al, 2003; Cowie, 2005; Nicol & McFarlane-Dick, 2006).
Teachers ‘iconify’ and attach stories to the core values. The Learning value has attracted the idea of the Learning Pit, an iterative journey that is fraught with frustration yet if we adopt growth mindset strategies (Dweck, 2012) we can overcome any challenge. This redefines the idea of intelligence being what you can recall to a standpoint of intelligence as an actionable disposition – knowing what to do when you don’t know what to do.
Student Led Conferences (SLCs)
We have a belief that students need to know where they are and what they need to do next. Students look at their data and then co-construct a way forward in their learning. Student Led Conferences are a practice field for talking about our learning journeys with our parents and caregivers. We provide a scaffold for these conferences but the children do all the talking. Our 5 years are so good at it these conferences can last over an hour.
SLCs are the product of teachers using AfL practices in their everyday work. The goal is to move the locus of control to the student. Our use of learning journals in our KnowledgeNET learning management system is a further scaffold for reflection and a gathering point for feedback from a number of sources.
Where to next?
We are starting to see classes from year 4 – 8 use individual learning plans where children plan their week based upon their data, they opt into teaching clinics and in some cases run teaching clinics for others. This is a natural extension in our AfL journey. We are starting to see the practical implementation of personalised learning unfold.
Black, P., Harrison, C., Lee, C., Marshall, B., & Wiliam, D. (2003). Assessment for learning. Putting it into practice. Berkshire, England: Open University Press.
Cowie, B. (2005). Pupil commentary on assessment for learning. The Curriculum Journal, 16(2),137-151.
Dweck, C. S. (2012). Mindset: How you can fulfil your potential. [eBook version]. Retrieved from http://www.amazon.com
Nicol, D., & Macfarlane-Dick, D. (2006). Formative assessment and self regulated learning: A model and seven principles of good feedback practice. Studies in Higher Education, 31(2), 199-218.
We have had 3D printers for a couple of years now. We bought our first Up3D printer a few years back for about $4500. Then at the start of 2013 we made an active decision to use the technology of the day in our technology centre with a client school. We bought (leased) another two Up Printers and one Up Mini Printer along with a pod of 8 MacBook Pro laptops so that we could look at a design focus in addition to more traditional forms of technology education.
Within the first three months of 2013 the Hard Materials technology teacher and I had built two Version 1 DiamondMind printers which used a more sustainable form of filament (PLA), open source software, and off the shelf electronic components – all in a kit set form from Mindkits.
These printers were under half the price of the UP printers, over double the print area, made in New Zealand and most importantly – you could fix/tweak them yourself! You also have the ability to print your own printer as these printers fall into the RepRap category.
These printers were featured on Breakfast on One with our school providing a little of the education context for the printer. We have had students using a variety of applications for designing in 3D and the printers provide the physical result of that design.
Why 3D printers – they are a gimmick, right?
3D printers are not new technology – in fact in using 3D printers we are not preparing kids for their futures – we are just using the technology of the day – the here and now.
3D printers are more than printing plastic models and must be seen in the bigger picture of thinking digitally in 3 dimensions. Being able to print out the end product is a bonus.
I see 3D printing as creation – we can design / draw in Google SketchUp (remember NZ Schools get your 2013 Pro version codes from Datacom – no need for an .stl plugin), FormZ, TinkerCad, OpenSCAD and then have that design built for us to use. At our place the printers have been used to produce attachments for robots, stands for devices, key rings, buttons, moulds for chocolate, replacement plastic parts – even hooks for school bags (normally $15 per hook for metal under a dollar to produce your own!) Hydroponics containers, modelling prototype wind turbines.
Art projects in a virtual world can become physical through the act of printing them out – vases, bracelets and functional artwork. Imagine being able to produce or replicate your digital creation in the physical world. However the tool is only an instrument of the creative person behind it. As teachers we need to focus on unleashing this creative potential in a digital age.
The power comes when you combine the printing with other maker technology like Arduino (micro-controllers) and electronics. I witnessed an example of this when I had a group of kids putting together arduino light sensing robots from @zombiebothq, the robot has no body – it is over to the kids to make this out of cardboard, lego or wood or as one 10 year old said “I could take measurements of the arduino and the breadboard and draw a case for it in SketchUp then print it out!” – CREATION!
As always the teacher is crucial – let us look at the normal laser colour printer – yes you could download resources from Sparkle Box and print them – is that creation? The same with 3D printers, you can download from Thingiverse, you could scan using 123DCatch and print out someone’s head, or you could CREATE.
This is the new frontier, do you remember getting your kids to design an amazing playground? As teachers we usually said let’s build a model of it to sell the idea to the Board of Trustees. The resultant model looked rubbish as it was made of tooth picks, cardboard and toilet rolls. Kids know that the model is budget! But design it virtually in 3D and then have the bonus of printing it as a scale model? The product actually looks like the design. This increases engagement.
We will be printing our own spare parts for everyday items within 5 years – these will be downloaded to your home printer and then printed. Our kids must be able to work in a 3D virtual space in order to be creators.
To those who say ‘I can’t see the point’ I answer with a statement of my own – I can’t see the end to the possibilities.
The key to the question is not the technology – in fact leave out the technology full stop! The real issue is us teachers – how are we creating opportunity for creative, innovative authentic learning using the technology of the now?
It is a journey of professional freedom…
My Breakfast on One 15 sec sound bite was never really enough to capture the essence of why we do it. I wish they had used the “It isn’t really about the printing it is about thinking and manipulating in the virtual 3D world” comment as it would have made me sound more intelligent than the “our MoE visitors liked it – great engagement!”
I am a firm believer that there is one killer app in education – A thinking Teacher who adapts to change. We are like every other school, we have teachers who are groundbreaking in their approach to using technology and those teachers who doing a great job – the second wave if you like. The biggest factor has been professional freedom – freedom to experiment, fail, redesign and try again. With any resource, technology, or plan it is the teacher that ‘makes the magic possible’
The key for me as a leader has been to play and tinker with the technology. I had no clue at the start of the year I would have built a 3D printer (even though it was under expert supervision) I had no idea we would have students coding, Junior School kids using Scratch or Senior students collaborating with another group of year 8s in another school on the their own video game using Unity. I had no idea of the impact that arduino technology would have on my view of bridging the analogue and digital worlds. More than anything the maker movement is having a powerful influence over my thinking about curriculum.
The potential is huge! I cringed when a Member of Parliament and Honorary Fellow of the New Zealand Computer Society Maurice Williamson said 3D printers are dangerous as they can print guns. As a maker friend of mine said “if you want to build a gun you wouldn’t use a printer” This technology will be pervasive and, as with any technology, we will have creators and consumers – our kids need a creator mentality. I loved a comment from an 11 year old in my Zombie Robots group – “Hey Mr L I mucked around with the code look what we can make this circuit do now…” As teachers we need to ‘muck around with the code’ are we using the technology of the day, today? Are we relying on the technology to do it for us? Are we the slave to the technology bound by its apparent limitations or are we the masters of the technology making it bend to purpose?
Tinkering and making is a natural human endeavour. We try to encourage it in our schools but how far do we go?
We bought our first 3D printer a couple of years ago. To be able to draw on the computer and then print it out was indeed an amazing experience. At the start of 2013 we bought another 3 commercial 3D printers and Ian Ingoe set about using them with a client school attending our technology centre – a brave move considering Ian hadn’t really worked with CAD or rapid prototyping.
Mark Osborne introduced me to Arduino boards early in 2013 and then I attended KiwiFoo where the world of tinkering, hacking and making was opened to me.
Thanks to Vik Olliver and Tim Carr we managed to build our own 3D printers – something I thought I would never do. all at under half the price of a commercial one and the best part – we knew how the printer worked!
Combine this with the work that JJ Purton Jones and Rochelle Spicer are doing with coding during 2013 as well as the gifted and talented LEGO robotics programme led by Mary Fursdon and it is clear we are developing a maker culture.
Toward the end of 2013 I started working with groups of children working on an innovative Arduino based maker project called Zombie Robots. Watching the problem solving and independent learning reinforced my thinking around deepening a maker culture at school.
Design Thinking is going to be a key driver in developing this culture. 2014 is going to be a year for me to get my head firmly around design thinking from a curriculum implementation standpoint. I can see strong links and many a long dialogue session with Steve Mouldey from Hobsonville Point Secondary School. We both share an admiration of the book Invent to Learn by Gary Stager and Sylvia Libow Martinez
The next steps are already in place. Robotics is no longer the domain of the Gifted and Talented programme – all our year 7&8 children will experience LEGO robotics each week. We have a new teacher joining our technology centre! Kimberly Baars is into Robotics, Arduino, Rapid prototyping and wearable electronics! Zombie Robots will continue for small groups of students throughout the year. Kate Davison – a self confessed ‘mad scientist/artist creative who likes robotics’ joins our Junior Team and Dana Smith brings experience in student driven learning projects to the middle school! The maker coalition is building!
The long term dream is to turn our Technology Centre into a 24/7 community maker space complete with laser cutters, rapid prototype printers, kilns and design space. We would welcome the community in to work alongside children so that their creativity and wisdom would rub off.
2014 will be about making steps and plans toward developing a maker culture. Progress and everyday stories will feature in this blog.
e-Learning is a recurrent theme in my recent presentations and discussions with visitors to Taupaki School. 21st century learning dominates conversations. We end up talking gadgets or apps and how to get teachers using them. When we get down to the nuts and bolts it really is about effective teaching and learning not the gadget or app!
I like to use an example from when I was a primary school student in the 1980’s The gadget – The Overhead Projector.
Most teachers thought – ‘Great I can write all the content for the class once, next year I use it again!’ I was lucky to have a teacher who used the OHP for the first Powerpoint I had seen – he used multiple transparency sheets to display the parts of a volcano. He then let us use the OHP to create shadow puppet plays. SAMR that! He thought of every creative way he could use that device – he failed, he redesigned and tried again! A quality example of learning. The point of the story is that the technology, the gadget or the app isn’t the silver bullet!
We often think that we need to ‘Professionally Develop’ teachers to get them ‘up to speed’ with technology. Do we need time set aside to allow teachers to play with the technology? Perhaps we need school cultures where risk-taking and mistake making extend to teachers. We definitely need to have a collective mental model that we need not be experts in order to use technology with kids.
I am often asked what is the killer app or device. The answer is very simple there is one killer app in our schools – A thinking teacher who adapts to change by using the technology of the day effectively.