Why our schools are NOT failing your children

This morning I read this article by recent graduate Johanna O’Farrell in The Age.  Of course any article which opens with “Why your schools are failing your children: a teacher tells” piqued my interest.  I have always advocated for teachers telling their stories in our media rather than politicians but this one had my heart rate rising as she spoke of schools tossing aside “any sort of rigour, routine or repetition when it comes to classroom learning.”

I am truly concerned of Johanna’s experiences in schools where she believes that the strategy is that students “will simply learn to read and write by osmosis” and that rote learning should be a valid part of learning.

If we want our schools to factories of students who can travel a conveyer belt learning times tables through hours of chanting and memorising the laws of the English Language then maybe she has a point.  But I couldn’t imagine why we would want students to know facts in isolation and that a “blackboard and chalk, a pen and paper, a few good books and some learned teachers will suffice.” Isn’t an education of experiences which connect ideas, is in context with the real world and develop skills of self directed life long learning a more holistic approach?  Sure, we can rote learn many things if we believe the learning journey ends with our VCE results.

I am saddened that Johanna doesn’t have the knowledge to explain why students expression in English is wrong, not because she was denied learning about the laws of the English language but because she was not exposed to experience of curiosity, self directed learning and how to take control of her own learning.

Maybe this is a message that we need to be more articulate in what we are doing in schools.  I too believe that technology is not a silver bullet and have questioned the use of “genius hours” or “inquiry learning days.”  But I do believe that inquiry learning and technology should be embedded into our classrooms and become as normal as pen and paper learning and chalk and talk was in the past. We need to talk about why we do what we do.  It is more than engagement.  It is embedding real experiences and constructing knowledge through context, introducing conflicting ideas, connecting those experiences and developing their own understandings.

Maybe the more we talk about the why, the less misconception will be there about the relevance of education and demonstrate how schools are helping our students to succeed.

Hacked Learning

Image: ‘hack my creativity 1
hack my creativity 1
Found on flickrcc.net

I have been hearing a lot about hacked design recently.  You may be confused with hacking we associate with computer systems but this requires taking an already design object and changing it to fit another purpose. Or as the Hacked Design Blog explains it, “Hacking is user initiated product intervention. The idea is to take an object and optimize its function through an alteration that was not intended by the manufacture.” Blogs and websites are popping up like the Ikea Hackers community where people share their ideas and how they have repurposed furniture and designs.

I wonder what it would look like if we took this view of education and decided to hack learning? I hear schools that say, “We do Walker Learning”  or “We are an inquiry based learning school.” But it worries me how limiting it is to put learning in a neat little box.  Imagine if blogs popped up talking about how I used this aspect of design thinking and mixed it with this part of project based learning and repurposed it to meet the needs of my students? What if schools started to say we are “hack schools.” We choose learning based on our students?

So how do we define hacking?  We often think of it as something illegal and wrong.  But if we think of it as taking something that had one purpose and mix it with other tools, resources and thinking to create some new and even more functional.  The RSA suggest hacking has evolved from, “audacious breaches of private electronic systems, through to one which increasingly invokes a broader range of stunts and sabotages of convention.”  Once again you may have thought of sabotage as something negative, to ruin.  But what if we think of it as an ‘obstruction of normal operations’ and that is what we use in hacking learning.

Imagine if rather than looking for the perfect “thinking” or “learning” we hacked learning to produce the best opportunities for our students at that given time, in that context and in that environment. Rather than putting a label on learning we actually get to the bottom of what is important at that precise moment in that child’s learning.

Actually I know that this is already happening. Teachers willing to take a risk, to see things as they should be not as they are, are breaking the learning design rules to create new opportunities for students.  But I would love to see more of it.

Kickstarting the Classroom

I have an addiction – It is called Kickstarter!

Kickstarter is a crowd funding website, which allows people to fund projects of creativity.  It provides a platform for people to promote their ideas and facilitates the collection of funding.

When you first visit the site there are thousands of creative projects looking for funding ranging from documentaries, art exhibitions and technology to fashion, games and films – plenty of creative projects for everyone’s interests.  If you come across a project you would like to support, simply back the project with an amount of money you choose.  If the project reaches the funding goal by the deadline, your money is sent on to them to complete the project.  If it is unsuccessful in reaching its goal you don’t pay a thing.

So what do you get for backing a project?  The wonderful feeling of helping out someone, rewarding them for their creativity.  For many of the projects you get rewards depending on how much you pledge.  This reward could be in the form of your name in the credits of a book, a sample of the product or simply receiving a thank you letter from the makers.

A recently successful project, the  interactive ‘Story of Flewn‘ gave backers the opportunity to add their own character to the story, working with writers to develop the character.  Many other projects similar to this give you opportunities to add feedback, follow the creative process or become part of the team.

So why write about a site like this in an education blog you ask?  Just imagine learning about narrative writing in your classroom where you develop a character, work with authors and add creative input to an interactive text.  Students authentically having input in the creative direction of a real project, which they will be able to share with not only their friends and family but the world. For the same price of a textbook you can become part of a team, offering feedback and linking to the creative team of a storybook. This is just one example of many authentic opportunities for schools to support projects (And I imagine there are huge opportunities for students to present projects and seek backers for their own projects.)

Personally I love flicking through the thousands of creative projects and the feeling I get when I support a successful project. I am currently backing a couple of projects and eagerly check each day to watch the percentage of funding grow. Two projects I am excited about at the moment are Dandelion and Draw a Stickman Epic.

Dandelion – Bullying is for people with no imagination.

This is a story about a young boy who is bullied each day at school and the world he develops in his imagination, with the little help of a dandelion. It is ‘a story to encourage parents and children to talk about bullying and look at whether some problems can be solved with a little imagination.’

As a teacher, bullying is an area often talked about and discussed in our class and I work very hard to look at resilience and building skills to put students in control of how they react to others.  Not only ensuring students know how to report and seek support for bullying but also giving them skills to deal with bullying should they ever come across it.

So when I read the brief f or this project I became very excited.  A story which shows that people who are bullied are in control of how they react and the concept that with a little imagination life can take on a different look. To add to this the team have created a beautiful iPad app where children can interact with story, including a stunning moment where children can blow the seeds from a dandelion.

Draw a Stickman Epic

I have blogged previously about Draw a Stickman, a great little website where the stickman you draw comes to life in a story.  Now these guys are making a game. Similar to the website, you start by drawing a stickman who will become the hero of the game and then creativity takes over.  ‘Each new level presents you with new creative problems and puzzles. You will meet a fantastic assortment of imaginary creatures that will hinder, or help, your progress through the game.’

For $10 backed to Draw a Stickman you get access to the behind the scenes development, opportunities to offer ideas and give feedback and a copy of the the game when it is released. And you get to submit your own stickman!  What a great project for the classroom.

Have you used Kickstarter in your classroom?  I would love to hear about it.

Draw a Stickman

This week I came across a tweet from @willie42 sharing the website “Draw a Stickman.”  On this website you draw a stickman which then fights a dragon, puts out a fire and saves itself from a shark.  You really need to visit the site to see what I am talking about but as it finishes, the letters – BE CREATIVE, are left behind from the flooding water.  After spending some time ‘playing’ with the stick man I then sent it on to my sister, who in turn sent it on to her kids.

Today, during a conversation with my niece, the topic of the stickman came up.  We spoke of how we had come to try the website a few times over and that it was always  the same.  That got me thinking that, in fact, both of us had gone back to play it again. Why?  Well at first it was to see if the story would change.  Maybe this comes from our inner belief that there aways to be something else, something more!

We did soon discover, however, that each of us had also gone back to improve our drawings.  Not because we were going to display our work.  Not for a sticker to wear on our shirts.  Not even for bragging rights of having a great stick man.  We did it purely from wanting to improving ourselves.  To do something better.

After a few more laughs of our similarities we then entered my nephew into the recount.  Not only had he gone back to improve his drawing but also to bend the rules.  “I made my sword a flower but it still killed the dragon!”


And it didn’t stop there.  Having a friend visiting we encouraged her to try the website and watched with anticipation to see what she would draw.

“It is not what I imagined.” she exclaimed!

“It is called draw a stickman.  What were you expecting?”

Even the simple part of drawing a key was interesting.  “Oh – I drew my key on the other hand.”

“Really?  I drew mine there because it had more room.”

“No.  I put mine closest to the box.  It is a stickman you know!”

The Draw a stickman website certainly showed me something about the way we learn and motivate ourselves.  So what was it that got us attempting the game more than once?

  • Inquisitive and curious nature.
  • Inner competitiveness.
  • Stretching the boundaries of the world as we know it.
  • Creativity.

And the learning didn’t stop there.  We then reflected on what we had done and out thinking around it.  Finally we went back and tried it again.  And yes, the next time I did draw the key in a different hand!

This is true learning.  Innocent, authentic, creative, non judgmental.  And it wasn’t about the stickman.  Shouldn’t this be what learning looks like in our classrooms?  Where students:

  • Don’t feel confined by boundaries or worried about what others are thinking
  • Are reflecting on what they are learning
  • Feeling confident and comfortable to take risks
  • Are willing to push the boundaries of society’s beliefs
  • Are intrinsically motivated, not just trying to impress others
  • Sharing their learning
  • Are comfortable to have a different opinion to others

Wow – All this from a stickman!