Tag Archives: Key Competencies

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!”

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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”

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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

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?

Maker Culture

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.

Programming the DiamondMind with @vikolliver
Programming the DiamondMind with @vikolliver

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.

Arduino in engaging context
Arduino in engaging context

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.

What is the residue?

After the last post about impending league tables I thought that I would post an article I wrote for the Teachers Matter magazine produced by the talented Karen Boyes @karenboyes from Spectrum Education.

The article, written in 2008, tried to capture the opportunity of a New National Curriculum in New Zealand. It talks a little about change and a lot about the role of the teacher. How does this article sit in 2012? Interested in your thoughts.
What is the residue?
It never ceases to amaze me the range of responses we have to change. In fact the one certainty in our lives is just that, change. But how do we handle it? Where do we pick up the skills to deal with change? Is it largely to do with your outlook on life; the age-old adage of the glass being half empty or half full? Consider the following stereotypical responses to the Revised New Zealand Curriculum that I am sure you have all heard to varying degrees.
“We live in exciting times, we are at the cutting edge of education change. We have a revised curriculum that focuses on Vision, Values and Key Competencies. We are jumping for joy that the word ‘Thinking’ appears in our guiding document at the top of a list of capabilities for living and lifelong learning. We are pioneers, constructing a framework that will allow our children to thrive in a rapidly changing world.”
“We have seen it before, change for change sake. What, a revised curriculum? We never paid attention to the last one! Can’t we just do what we have always done? We really haven’t got time for this in our busy lives. Thinking you say, we have always taught our kids to think, we give our bright kids all those thinking skill things when they have finished their real work.”
The New Zealand Curriculum Vision talks about our young people being confident, connected, actively involved lifelong learners. Words like creative, energetic and enterprising sit side by side with resilient, resourceful and motivated. Our challenge is to model these very attributes in front of our students. Energetic, enthusiastic educators who model the NZC vision, values and key competencies is what our children need in their lives.
Whenever I think about the role of enthusiasm and passion for learning in schools I reflect upon a conference I attended a few years ago where the keynote speaker crystallised my thoughts in a very public way. In his opening address he asked how many principals in the room were tired. A number of principals put up their hands. Then came the killer line… “Well then perhaps it is time to retire and let the energetic, enthusiastic people take over.” Whilst harsh and hard hitting it is true, schools are not the right place for those who have lost their spark. But rather than weeding out the unenthusiastic and tired people we have to find new ways to reignite the passion, perhaps one way to do this is the notion of legacy. What is your legacy?
Someone once said to me that it is not what you teach it is how you teach it that will be remembered. Perhaps I am lucky that I had teachers as I was growing up who, whether they knew this or not, demonstrated this very point. What I value today is a result of how my teachers taught. Mr Kay taught me about persistence through Sport. Mrs Nicholls taught me about the joy of Music. Mr Thornewell taught me about curiosity, about questioning, he left with me a love of learning and most importantly he taught me about enthusiasm. At Intermediate Mrs Gribble taught me that looking at things from a different perspective opens up a range of new ideas and possibilities. At High School Mr Staniland, Mr White and Mr Druitt showed an enthusiasm and a passion for their given subject areas that was infectious. I must have learned all the other stuff, the ‘what’ of their teaching.  But it is definitely the how that is their legacy and it remains with me.
Currently we are grappling with curriculum change and the notion of explicitly teaching thinking and learning dispositions. We have schools adopting wonderful programmes like Costa’s Habits of Mind and Claxton’s Building Learning Power that build a child’s capacity to be successful in a rapidly changing world. How many of us model these dispositions? If we really think they are important for children to have, how are we using them successfully in our personal and professional lives? Dr John Edwards uses the example of de Bono’s six thinking hats tool. Lots of people use it in classes but how many of us use it in making decisions about the future direction of our schools, our lives? If not why teach it?
So how do you stack up? What will the children of today say about how you taught them when they think back on their schooling… will how you taught be remembered at all? What will the residue be in 5, 10 or 20 years? Will they be reflective thinkers because you have explicitly modelled this in your classroom? Will they have an enthusiastic outlook on life because you were energetic about all that you did with them. Will they be creative because you allowed them the freedom to step outside the square more often than not? Will they love life and all it has to offer because you showed them something about your life outside of school. Will they treat others with dignity and respect because you walked the talk?
Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on your glass, you can’t hide from the children you teach… they watch you, they pick up on your values, on your beliefs. You know from your own life experience that teachers leave a legacy, so why not leave a powerful one for your students.
At the time we were looking at a new curriculum – I was excited. A lot has changed for us since then – but let us all remember the New Zealand Curriculum Document is still our guiding document it should drive our decision making, it should give us direction. Or are we doomed to only deliver and measure what is assessed as, after all, what you assess is what you deem to be important.