There are some great videos on the TEDX Denver Teachers site. Really enjoyed this one from Co Barry, examining how exposure to complex problems develops students into creative innovators. Barry describes a process called "Design Thinking", where students work through stages to solve difficult problems. There are many elements similar to various inquiry learning models, and ideas such as risk taking and experiencing failure to develop resilience are also commonalities.
Barry has a great website where she explains the process and has some great success stories. The premise is that "Teachers cultivate a creative mindset to develop rigorous and relevant programs for their students. Design thinking allows students to fail fast and learn by doing rather than avoiding failure by striving for initial perfection. It fosters the need to ask relevant questions versus giving correct answers. It requires teachers to guide and show pupils instead of telling and lecturing. It encourages students to become process experts as opposed to subject experts. "
So the model fits really well with the intent of the NZC, with the focus being on the skills required to solve the problem and ways to find the knowledge required. I taught in the US for 6 years and content knowledge was still very driving the curriculum in the state that I taught in. I can believe that schools adopting this model are seeing significant gains in engagement and achievement as outlined by Barry and fellow educators.
I quite like the early stages of this model -really focusing on the audience that you are designing for. Getting that clear purpose is probably something I should spend more time on as part of my school's inquiry model. We are about to start a design process for a Gorilla Enclosure as part of our current inquiry unit and I think I'll give this Design Thinking model a try and see how it supports our current inquiry model and the technology process that we use in the classroom here.
So the term has whizzed by - not quite sure where the weeks went! Of course, it feels like I have never been away! The kids are loving the new classroom set up, and it has been great to see them start to "own" the space. They make great use of the bean bags, floor pillows and cushions. The old bar stools that were destined for the dump, and the number 1 favourite. There is often competition to see who will get to sit in those!
We were also fortunate to get a low white board table to sit in the learning studio. This is really popular with the kids too. I'm planning to develop a resource box, with activity cards for the students to choose independent activities that they can complete on the table. Eg. word families, ways of making different numbers, sentence starters.
We are team teaching Maths among three teachers. What we are trialling is this:
We have 3 homebases and a long learning studio area. 1 teacher has groups in HB10. This is also the SILENT ZONE. Any student can choose to work in here, but they must be on their own and silent. It has been really interesting to see who chooses to work here - one day there were 20 students making this choice.
The second teacher has groups in the learning studio outside HB10. We have a whiteboard station set up here.
HB 11 is a space for practice activities and computer tasks. Students working on these can also choose to work in the learning studio. HB12 is Maths Games Zone. The interactive white board is loaded with games, there is chalk outside and there are maths games to play and reinforce learning. This room is buzzing and often quite noisy - but that's the purpose. The teacher who is not working with groups that day is the roving teacher. They are available to help students, check practice activities, monitor students and supervise the general area. Guess which is the hardest job?
We have just introduced a teacher aide two days a week, to release the roving teacher to work with a targeted group of students. This is also working well. Parent help is available several days a week also.
When you are teaching, you are focused on your group and there are hardly ever outside distractions.
When you are planning, because you are only planning for one or two maths stages, the quality really improves. We have all agreed that we have got to know a math stage in depth and that the quality of our lessons, ict integration and follow up activities has improved.
Students who are not with a teacher have someone to go to when they are stuck. Games are purposeful because there is someone to monitor those children who are using those activities.
Students are working through maths progressions for their numeracy stage.
The space that we have can be a little tricky to use, but I feel like this "power of 3" math is going really well. There are still a few kids whose self management needs work, but as I keep reminding myself, that's also the case in your own classroom.
During a class circle time with my kids, we came across a couple of potential problems that needed solving. Firstly, lots of children reported others taking computers and saving them for friends who were still in their maths group. Many also said that when choosing a space, someone else would tell them that they couldn't have that space as they were "saving" it. We had a hui to discuss these issues and reiterate that no-one owns a space in the block. During the circle time, the kids noted several positives such as meeting students from other homebases, developing key people that they worked well with and not being distracted or interrupted in group time.
I personally cannot believe how much learning has happened in the term. I would estimate that I got through almost twice the Math Key Ideas that I would usually get through. The progress has been amazing and I have been super impressed with the students. We're still working through new ideas, finding solutions and refining, but I'm really enjoying this way of teaching!
Some of the best learning experiences I have had this year, have involved getting out and about and visiting schools, talking with teachers and principals and seeing what other people are up to. When you are a classroom teacher, it is all too easy to get stuck in your own environment and not know what is going on, even in your own school.
Fortunately the internet provides a window into the outside world. There are hundreds of educational blogs, tweets and facebook posts that give you instant professional development. But seeing something for yourself is the ultimate!
I love this blog post from The Third Teacher + about the value of field trips. They are inviting people to share their field trip experiences and have these tips for making the most of a visit to a learning environment.
I love these suggestions, especially the ask and absorb questions. I was trying to think what is my favourite place in my school, and apart from the coffee machine in the staffroom, I think it is probably the learning studio area. This always seems to be a hive of activity, a place where students interactions are taking place and I love the hum of "busyness".
So why not try and take a field trip yourself? Stop hiding in an office on your classroom release day doing paper work. Plan and make time, even for a field trip in your own school. The inspiration, ideas and even validation of your own practice will be way better than getting that data entered!
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?
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.
Christian Long was the final keynote for the CEFPI conference. He was such an inspirational speaker. Below are some TEDx talks that he has done - Empowering Learners to Redesign the Classroom and Reimagining Students as agents of change. Worth a watch!
At the conference, Christian's topic was "Designing Agile Learning Ecologies for Complex Futures." Christian discussed how we have the privilege of "disrupting" because of our time in education. School's hadn't fundamentally changed in over a century, yet the rapid introduction of technology has enabled us to be part of a new future. His advice? Don't react - EMBRACE! His question? How do we disrupt and transform with PURPOSE?
Christian challenged us to be brave enough to build the schools that will serve our students. He encouraged the audience to think of a different design pattern. By developing effective pedagogies, we can then create schools to match. Don't start with the school.
Christian is part of a forward thinking organisation, The Third Teacher +. You can also find them on facebook and twitter. The book, "The Third Teacher," is a must read for those who are interested in environments and education.
I have seen Dr Julia Atkin speak several times, and always leave with my brain buzzing. Her keynote at the conference was no different. Julia discussed how the disruption caused by natural disasters around the world, leaves us with an obligation to create something better. Transformation doesn't occur without disruption, not just disruption to our physical environment, but also disruption with our thinking.
When developing new learning environments, teachers and designers are battling their own upbringings. We are struggling to develop clarity for a new way of seeing things. School design has changed little in the past hundred years. It is easy for us to go "back to what we know" and struggle to imagine new futures or ways of doing things.
Julia reiterated that piloting and trialling of ideas is extremely important. Time and energy is required for teacher change.
Julia encouraged the audience to foster innovation and listen to student voice. Innovation has to make things better. This will lead to unexpected and startling results. She urged us to disrupt entrenched pattern and prevent the domestication of innovation.
Design needs to reflect the nature of learners and the nature of learning. We need to constantly ask ourselves; "What is exemplary practice?", "What do we believe about learning?" Collaboration will be the key to creating better learning environments for everyone.
Julia challenged the use of the term "Modern Learning Environment" , urging us to not get sidetracked by the word "Modern". Not everyone will get a new school building, but everyone can make changes to create "Better Learning Environments".
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.