On my visit this week to Waimairi School, principal Mike Anderson showed me how teachers there are using Hapara - a Kiwi designed application that organises Google Apps. I definitely think Google Apps are an amazing tool. As my school has been moving towards collaborative learning communities, we have been looking for ways to make learning 24/ 7, engage with families and the community and to make ICT work for us.
Hapara creates a teacher dashboard, which lets you see your class and their activity on one page.
Check it out!!
During the demonstration that Mike gave me, I was impressed with the ease of navigation. Already I can see endless possibilities using this tool.
A focus at Waimairi has been the development of effective feedback. Students have nominated peers that provide them with feedback and the quality of this was excellent. It was great to be able to pull up a piece of student work, see how they had edited and developed it, read next steps and feedback from their teacher, parents and classmates and then see how they had responded to this.
Would love to hear from anyone using hapara - or perhaps there are other similar applications out there. What other ICT tools do you think will support collaborative teaching and learning to a high level?
This article also gives a good overview of the programme and check out www.hapara.com for all the details.
A quote that has stayed with me over the past few weeks, comes from Stephen Heppell, speaking at the Core Ed MLE expo, that I have blogged about previously. His words have been resonating with me and I have been doing some serious thinking!!
On the subject of school design, Stephen said, "No detail is too small. School design is ALL ABOUT THE DETAILS." On his website, Stephen has some extensive information about school toilets - an area that is often an afterthought in school design, but can actually have a definite impact on teaching and learning. Not afraid to discuss the problems of the loo, check out Stephen's research and thoughts here.
I've also been thinking about two other areas of school design that I think we need to jump on as important details that could really make differences. The first is parking lots, student drop offs and traffic safety. There must be ways that teachers car parks could be closer to the classrooms. I see teachers every day lugging huge boxes of books and gear back and forward. It's also a fact that despite our best efforts, many parents still want to drive their kids to school. How can we organise this is a safe way? I taught elementary school in the US, where we had drop off lanes at the front of the school. This worked quite well and I saw something similar at Hingaia Peninsula School. So much easier and safer.
The second is staffroom design. The teaching profession is probably one of the few where everyone in the building needs to make a cup of tea at the same time each day. We've all been caught out at the end of the long line, or constant "Excuse me's" as people endeavour to get their lunch before racing out to a sport's practice or duty. Even new staffrooms I have visited still have this problem. Again, there must be creative solutions to manage the flow of people through the area in a short time.
So that's my challenge to school designers - think about the details! Research shows that when teachers are feeling valued and their environment is positive, this in turn has a direct effect on their interactions with that environment and their perceptions. (Gifford, 2002. Woolner et al, 2007) A closer car park and a hot drink aren't too much to ask!
It would also be great to see local agencies that support traffic safety, often run by the local council, involved in the planning and design of student drop off and parking areas. The police would also have expertise in this area. Rather than trying to implement safety plans later - let's get it right the first time.
Wonderings: How do we get multiple agencies working together? How can schools participate in the design process to ensure small details don't get overlooked?
This week I was fortunate to pay a visit to Linwood North School in Christchurch. I was very interested to see the design of their school, which was built at a similar time and by the same company as the Stage 1 build at Clearview Primary. There are lots of similarities between the two builds, with the main differences probably being that they have corridor bag storage, inside bathrooms and bifold doors between classes and learning studio areas. Breakout rooms are off the learning studio. At Clearview we have bag storage inside the classrooms, outside bathrooms and breakout rooms between two classroom spaces. We have large sliding doors dividing class space from the learning studio area.
Linwood North will soon welcome Ferndale Special Education School to their campus, integrating this facility with theirs. They are looking forward to this as an enriching experience. They also have Early Childhood Provision and Plunket Rooms on site. Linwood North is currently without a hall due to earthquake damage, and have utilised their learning studio spaces for shared gatherings. This space can be a bit small when parents are involved as well, so they are looking forward to having the hall back in the future.
Future plans include developing pedagogy around the classroom spaces that they have, continuing to integrate ICT to a high level, and providing a hub for their community.
Wondering: As a lower decile school, Linwood North has a lot of support from outside agencies. They often need to use some features such as breakout spaces for meetings and for teacher aides to work with students. Different schools will have different needs - how can we ensure that school design takes these into account and caters by providing appropriate and necessary spaces?Schools are not just "one size (or design) fits all."
How often did you hear this at teacher's college? "Make sure that you get lots of ideas from the classrooms that you are in, as once you have your own class, you'll be stuck in there and you'll never get to see anything!!" A dire warning from the days prior to classroom release time! But nevertheless, something I heard from almost every lecturer when I was training to be a teacher.
To me, one of the key benefits of teaching in a Modern Learning Environment, is the deprivatising of teaching practice. To have the opportunity on a daily basis to observe others teach, share planning and ideas, have professional learning conversations about a lesson, discuss student progress, plan early interventions - all with someone who knows exactly what I'm talking about?? Priceless! I have often been envious of the early childhood model - having other teachers to share the day with. Working in a MLE is giving me the opportunity to have this experience.
Last year I was trialling a team teaching situation with my team leader, when she took a maths lesson about drawing 3D shapes on isometric dot paper. Being extremely spatially challenged myself, this lesson was amazing! In 5 minutes, I learned a whole lot of new skills! I could now confidently replicate the lesson myself. Afterwards, we discussed her teaching of this lesson and she said how great it was to get some feedback.
It was with interest that I watched this TED talk by Bill Gates, on the subject of teacher feedback.
In this talk, Bill Gates argues that teachers do not receive enough feedback to make improvements to their teaching practice. He throws out some alarming statistics -" there's one group of people that get almost no systematic feedback to help them do their jobs better. Until recently, 98% of teachers just got one word of feedback: "satisfactory." Today, districts are revamping the way they evaluate teachers. But we still give them almost no feedback that actually helps them improve their practice. Our teachers deserve better. The system we have today isn't fair to them. It's not fair to students, and it's putting America's global leadership at risk."
He goes on to advocate the use of video cameras in the classroom, so that teachers can video themselves and evaluate their teaching performance. He would like to create a bank of videos, so teachers can watch exemplary lessons. The price tag - around five billion dollars!!! Which, just so you know is less that 2% of what the US spends on teacher salaries per year.
When you delve more deeply into this talk, several issues arise. Have a read of this blog post for some challenges to Bill's ideas. The author, Anthony Cody, questions the validity of Gates' statistics, his reliance on standardised test data, and notes the lack of collaborative time teachers have together: "evidence suggests that time afforded to educators to collaborate and problem-solve is eroding quickly. As recently as 2009, a MetLife study indicated that 68% of educators had more than an hour per week to engage in structured collaboration with colleagues to improve student learning. By 2012, only 48% had an hour or more per week for this essential work. In what professional field can practice improve if most practitioners don't have even an hour a week to work together collaboratively?"
I believe in New Zealand, our procedures and processes for teacher feedback are quite good. Every New Zealand school I have worked in has always had some kind of observation and feedback procedure in place. Many New Zealand schools have teachers in Professional Learning Groups or using the Teaching as Inquiry process to make sound, researched based decisions about teaching and learning.
However, teaching and learning in a MLE creates new possibilities! If you are teaching collaboratively, you have someone available to give you feedback and be that critical friend. You have someone to observe and gain ideas from. Way better than watching yourself on video!!
I think the key issues for continuous improvement when teaching collaboratively will be:
Making time for those important conversations and reflections.
Giving teachers the skills to critically reflect and potentially engage in courageous conversations.
Adapting appraisal processes and teacher induction programmes to reflect the changing pedagogy in New Zealand classrooms.
How do we construct the systemic changes required to enhance teacher feedback and collaboration?
Are teachers entering the profession being prepared for the education system that is developing?
How can school leaders support teachers to work collaboratively? What other changes might be required to traditional school timetables, meeting schedules and systems?
Check out some pictures from my visit to Lyttelton West School, Canterbury. I spent the morning in "The Block". This has Year 5- 8 students and two fantastic teachers, Eve and Jeremy. Again, this class was an awesome example of creating a "better learning environment." Eve and Jeremy have been teaching collaboratively this year. The first term of school they still had a wall between them with just a door, but now the wall has been taken out and they have two classrooms opened up.
Lyttelton West will merge with Lyttelton Main school as part of the Christchurch Renewal Project, but Eve and Jeremy are already forging ahead with changes in pedagogy. They have created a flexible learning space and have plenty of technology available in the class. Currently they are mostly parallel teaching, but are looking to develop workshop style teaching and student lead learning opportunties.
Tēnā rāwā atu koe. I had a great day at "The Block."
I quite liked this slide share presentation from Wayne Barry.
Discusses physical, virtual, social, biological and cognitive spaces. Some interesting ideas about future research. The more I read, it seems there is much scope for research into modern learning spaces, collaborative teaching practices, technology integration and curriculum design. However, it becomes difficult in terms of research, to isolate these from each other. My teaching instincts tell me that these four aspects are vital to achieve educational transformation, and that none of them can stand alone.
So being half way through my teaching sabbatical (sad face!), I took a moment to stop and reflect on some of my wonderings and discoveries so far this term.
Recently I read a fantastic book called "The Learning Edge: What technology can do to educate all children." by Alan Bain and Mark Weston. (2012) This synopsis describes the main idea of the text:
After billions of dollars, thousands of studies, and immeasurable effort by educators at all levels, why is the performance of students and teachers so unaffected by technology? Moreover, what should be done to extract genuine benefit from the information and communication technology (ICT) revolution? In this groundbreaking book, technology and education experts Alan Bain and Mark Weston provide research-based evidence for how the widespread application of ICT can provide powerful learning opportunities that lead to lasting gains and achievement. They show how the integrated use of technology at all levels of the educational system can greatly expand collaborative learning opportunities by giving all educational stakeholders powerful problem-solving tools and solutions. The approaches presented here are grounded in over twenty years of experience working with classroom teachers, school leaders, association members, and policymakers.
This book gave me quite a few "A ha!" moments, though don't buy it for a bedtime read. It is hard going, but totally grounded in research. One example in particular described students during the time I was in primary school. We went to the library, researched using books, made a nice poster to show our learning and if we were really good, the teacher would photocopy us a picture to cut out and stick on our poster. Bain and Weston made the case - so how is that different today? Many teachers ask students to research on the internet, find out some information, use a tool to create a poster with some pictures. Has the learning fundamentally changed, or are we just automating tasks that we used to do?
I came across this excellent blog post by Claire Amos, who discusses MLE's, technology impact and the need for real change.
So what exactly makes these learning environments "modern"? I guess what makes them modern is the fact that they are different from the old ones (i.e. single cell rooms) and for many, rather unsettling. Historically speaking, different and unsettling seems to mean "modern" doesn't it? I guess "unsettling learning environment" was a bit of a hard sell, so "modern" it is then.
But hang on a minute, who said that modern equals good? The reality is, good (and bad) teaching can take place anywhere. I am guessing (and I am hoping) that the MLE will not simply make the teaching and learning better because it is a MLE, but that it will encourage a more open and flexible approach to teaching and learning because as a space it is exactly that, open and flexible. I hope it will encourage all those things we refer to as "effective pedagogy" in the NZC. I also hope it might discourage too much teacher led instruction and encourage a more facilitation style of teaching and learning.
Claire goes on to warn that MLE's and BYOD, could become a "smokescreen" that learning has changed, when if fact, not much has really changed at all, apart from appearances.
MLEs are pointless if the teacher still leads from the front of classrooms (albeit classrooms with invisible walls). Learning Technologies are pointless when the students have the use of their technology controlled and limited to little more than word processing and the odd google search. The challenge will actually be to explore how the MLEs and Learning Technologies can be used to genuinely change how and what we have been doing.
I think we very much need to proceed with caution, questioning and constantly reflecting and evaluating. It is all too easy in education to jump on the latest trend or trial something without deep, critical thinking. Bain and Weston point out in their book, that we are finally at a place where because of technology, we will have the ability to provide truly individualised learning for all students. I think that is actually the goal and the environment, pedagogy, technology and curriculum are the tools that will underpin it.
Today I was privileged to visit Clarkville School, a school of around 200 students in rural North Canterbury. Principal Pene Abbie and her team certainly demonstrate the idea of creating "better learning environments". Despite being an older school, the staff and students have worked to create flexible learning spaces in their existing buildings and are using collaborative teaching approaches to engage their learners.
Pene described their journey beginning with staff developing a shared understanding of inquiry learning. Inquiry and the key competencies drive the curriculum at Clarkville, with strong student voice. The aim at Clarkville is for children to be leading their learning and this was certainly evident as I toured the school.
In 2012, staff and BOT representatives visited several schools in Sydney, which served as a catalyst to change the environment. At the beginning of the new school year, the classrooms were emptied of all furniture during the first week of school. Students were involved in discussions about the kinds of furniture that they wanted to use in the classrooms and really began thinking about their environment. A "funny money" auction was held for the students to "buy back" the furniture that they really wanted for their classrooms. Additional funds were then used to purchase items that were still needed. Staff and students have worked hard to create learning environments that enhance the pedagogical approaches used at Clarkville.
Collaborative Teaching was originally trialled in the Year 5/6 area of the school, with other teams gradually joining in. This year, all classes are being taught collaboratively. I especially liked the way the teams are named; Ignite (NE), Launch (Y1-2), Discover (Y3-4), Explore (Y5-6) and Aspire (Y7-8). The Ignite class often works in with Launch, but provides a safe and secure environment for 5 year olds making the transition to school. Teachers plan collaboratively and have collective ownership of the students. Both teachers are present at student led conferences.
Discoveries at Clarkville:
There are no bells ringing at Clarkville. There are break times and duty teachers, but there are no interruptions from a ringing bell or other signal. If students are engaged in their work, there is no point interrupting them. Instead, there is flexibility.
Clarkville believes learning doesn't just start at 9am. There are before school opportunities for students to participate in CHILL - children leading learning. There are activities and workshops based around the inquiry theme, available for students to participate in. This also provides an excellent opportunity for parents to participate in a learning activity with their child.
The school has a BYOD programme, which has been the inspiration for this year's inquiry theme of "Cybersafety." No device is specified, students can bring whatever device they have. Clarkville has excellent community support, so uptake has been high, particularly in the senior end of the school.
When choosing an Inquiry theme for the year, the focus is on authentic contexts and student needs. Student voice is powerful at Clarkville. Students are involved in the planning process, as part of a team made up of students from years 4-8. They will even attend BOT meetings as necessary. Younger students often get to contribute their ideas as well. Curriculum coverage is back mapped.
Professional development and continuous improvement makes use of the three P's. People, pedagogy and place. There are focus groups of teachers responsible for the development of each area. People looks at the staff, students and community. Pedagogy looks at constantly refining and improving exemplary practices. Place examines the learning environment.
Students are very aware of their achievement. They have learning pathway folders that contain their goal sheets and reflections, peer feedback, learning maps and learning stories. A Year 8 student explained to me that he knew how to read his Asttle data in order to know his next learning steps in Maths. Students opt into workshop style learning as necessary. Teachers are not necessarily teaching groups of students, they are teaching based on the student's next learning steps.
With inquiry learning, teachers prepare workshops to facilitate knowledge building in the "Finding Out" phase of an inquiry. They teach students from Years 1-8 in these sessions, reiterating the belief that all teachers are responsible for all learning. In the Going Further stages of inquiry, students work in their teams and this will often lead to students teaching other students.
Staff are using the Teaching as Inquiry model and meeting in Professional Learning Groups to further develop their professional knowledge. A mentor is available for support. This is leading to excellent discussions and teaching and learning decisions based on best practice research.
I loved the way teachers are teaching every student in the school. What could be ways of grouping students so that something similar could be done in a large school? Perhaps vertical teams?
How do we ensure that inquiry learning is authentic and access student voice so that they are truly involved in the process of developing and leading their learning, not just asked for an opinion?
It was an awesome experience to visit Clarkville School. I really appreciate Pene and the staff making time for me, and I had two wonderful tour guides from the senior school. Tena Koutou i a koutou manaakitanga mai. Thank you for your hospitality.
Saturday saw a large turnout for the Core Education Modern Learning Environment Expo, held at the Air Force Museum in Christchuch. It was a great opportunity for educators and the public to have the opportunity to listen to speakers and see the future of education.
The day began with the internationally renowned Stephen Heppell. Make sure you check out his website - it is an incredible resource for those exploring mle's and the use of technology. Stephen bombarded us with amazing images of learning environments from around the world. He challenged Christchurch to be brave enough to build schools that will inspire and engage our students. Stephen wanted us to remember that every detail matters and that students should be involved in the process of the Canterbury rebuild - not just asked for opinions, but actually involved in the whole design and creation of new learning environments.
Stephen's talk was followed by a virtual tour of Stonefields School in Auckland, a school that is inspirational in their development of pedagogical practices that complement their modern learning environment. James Petronelli from Clearview Primary in Rolleston also spoke about our school's design journey over the past four years and our next steps with the use of effective pedagogies.
Unfortunately I couldn't stay the whole day, so I would love to hear from anyone who heard the afternoon speakers at the expo. Thanks to Core Education for putting on such a comprehensive event for Canterbury.
My name is Ngaire Shepherd-Wills. This website is a record of my TeachNZ sabbatical, Term 2, 2013 and then I have continued to share my wonderings and discoveries about Innovative Learning Practices. I now work for CORE Education. Views are my own.