A last tour

Our last day of visits took us to two different places.  Our first was to Donhead Preparatory School, a Jesuit school in Wimbledon that is a stepping stone to some of the exclusive grammar schools in the area and although they focus on academic achievements the Jesuit way is more important for them.  It is not often I step into religious or independent schools but I see many similarities here to the school I taught in during my time in England.  Learning is organised by topics and although lessons are inquiry driven the assessment pieces and learning activities are similar to those I taught 5 years ago.  It is like stepping into a museum of my teaching career.  I am confused by how it makes me feel that teaching in the primary sector hasn’t changed and students are learning the same things as the children 10 years ago, in a world that has changed considerably since then.

The highlight of the visit was having Josh show us around.  He was entertaining, interesting and showed a true care to others around him.  I could see the values of the Jesuit school coming out in the way Josh interacts with us.  The school values the fact that every boy can be their best and that they are privileged so therefore must show generosity to others.  He obviously loved learning and being at school but he also understood that he was lucky to be in his position of privilege.

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It is interesting that the things we hear from this school is not about testing or scores. In fact they try and move away from that.  They don’t want students to be a label, such as other schools when they are labeled according to their academic score.  They recognise that childhood is under threat in the area they live, that test scores are strangling the innocence of kids in this area as they push to get into the best secondary schools.  I see a pattern here of the lower the socio economic area you live the more tests are the focus of your education, whereas the more privileged a student the less emphasis on tests.

Well I thought there was a pattern until I visited LeSoCo, the further education college in Lewisham. Further education colleges are a vocational alternative to 6th form colleges for students in their 12th and 13th year of schooling.   According to the LeSoCo Ofsted report, Lewisham is “ranked as the 31st most deprived of 326 local authorities in England, and is characterised by significant socio-economic and educational disadvantages.”  I was blown away by their approach to students.   Maybe it had something to do with being treated as adults, or at least young adults and this is supported by being at a different location to their lower secondary education.  It could also have to to with the ethos of the college. In all of the presentations at the college the students were referred to as learners.   A nice moment of respect was when a student stopped our guide, Mark, to ask where they needed to go to reset their internet account.  Mark, not quite sure where to send her, asked us politely if it would be OK if he showed her where to go. Even though he had visitors with him, he put the student first.

On our tour  of the drama and dance areas with Mark, I couldn’t help but be energised by his enthusiasm for the quality teachers they had at the college.  We visited a drama class with students who were in their second year of college.  I am not sure if it was the nature of a drama class but the teacher was using a dance steps to learn about Iambic Pentameter. It was very hands on.  One thing that was clear was the respect for  the students.  Mark was the quality teaching co-ordinator for the school and was very proud to have such a great teacher working at the school.  With constant feedback and experience based learning she was a teacher he was showcasing to others.

In the dance class it was interesting to see the students working together.  They had to produce  a short dance routine and were having an opportunity to practice, receiving feedback from their teacher.  Not really anything different to what we would expect in a dance class in Australia except I found the students to have a strong mutual respect for other students in the class.  As each of the pairs had their turn, the others in the class would offer their feedback and some students were asking for extra instruction from others. It was very supportive and I wonder how they have been able to create this.

PicMonkey Collage

 

Aspirations

At today’s visit is to Quintin Kynaston Academy, located just around the corner from Abbey Road Studios, it was wonderful to have students greeting and talking to us as we signed in at the school.  Students sharing their school and being proud of their learning environment is always an exciting way to see a school.  These students were very eager to talk and chat as they showed us around the school.

After the tour we had the opportunity to see some specific areas of the school such as the young carers group.  This group of KS3 & 4 students are carers of parents with mental illnesses who meet weekly to talk about strategies, share frustrations and develop awareness across the school. The self referred group has 8 students today and they are open and articulate about why they are there.  It was lovely to see students who are forgotten by a system such as this getting support not only from their school but their peers too.

I also had an opportunity to see the Aspire unit at the school. This unit is similar to a Pupil Referral Unit but sits within the school.  Students are referred to a PRU if they are excluded or unable to attend mainstream school where they can receive a more tailored and personalised program and some of the students here are referrals such as these from outside schools but can also come from within the school.  What makes this unique is the fact that the referral unit is attached to the school and classes are taught by mainstream teachers.  In Aspire students work in small numbers with teachers and support staff towards 5 GCSEs with two optional subject areas such as construction, hospitality or art.

I could see they were very passionate about offering opportunities for students but I find I am second guessing the school’s motives.  Is it really the students they have in mind when developing these programs or is it about the money. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to appear to be putting down schools and teachers and I don’t for a minute think that teachers are thinking money but that it the effect the policy in this country has.

PicMonkey Collage

Our second visit for the day cements my thinking about the pressures on schools with the push towards marketisation of education and academy schools. At our visit to the Jack Petchey Academy they explain they were one of the original new labor academies set up in 2006 to replace the failing Kingsland School with new buildings.

The idea of closing a school and starting a new one in exactly the same location to improve education intrigues me. I wonder how many of the students who attended the school before the closure of Kingsland school are still enrolled at the school.  I know that as a Labour Academy they would be able to select 10% of the students based on the specialisation of Health, Care and Medical Science as to change the socio economic standing of the school.  It would be interesting to see how long the school was closed for, where the students went in the meantime and how many of the original students returned to the school when it reopened.

PicMonkey Collage

This visit certainly got the conversation going in our group.  Many were upset with the amount of testing that was done.  And it seemed they were very proud of testing their students every three weeks and completing ‘Mocksteds’ whereas to many of us that is not what education is about.  The school seemed to be very strict and rules were enforced tightly. I have always had a belief of education being a better method than adding rule after rule. It appeared here that there were a lot of rules enforcing what they believe students needed for their work life but I would question whether they are learning or  just becoming compliant.

The fact that the sponsor could decide on some rules within the school worried me. It was mentioned that Jack Petchey is a great sponsor and although he is interested in the school he does not enforce them to do anything, except for the rule about no chewing gum.  So although in this instance Jack Petchey doesn’t make the rules the system is set up that it is possible for sponsors to decide on the values, rules and the way the school is run.

A common theme of the academies we visited was their use of language to describe functions within the school.  On speaking to the deputy at Petchey I asked about using principal instead of head teacher.  She said she felt it sounded better and more “businessy.”  It is interesting that they found it was a good thing to be using business speak in their school.  They also used words like line manager, deploy and secure, demonstrating the changing face of schools.

Once again there is no blaming the school for this but this is the repercussion of the system in place.  In listening to the school they are passionate about offering the best possible opportunities for students but they are surrounded by a system which promotes competition and testing.

As the sun goes down on Copenhagen

This post is part of a series reflecting on my international study tour to Copenhagen, Berlin and London.

Today is our last day in Copenhagen and we head off to Aarhus University to hear from Frans Ørsted Andersen, Associate Professor in the Center for Educational Research who will talk to us about comparing Denmark and Finland. I must admit when I see what Frans will talk to us about I have a little chuckle.  Even this close to Finland it seems they are just as obsessed as we are and asking themselves, why does Finland stand out?

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Aarhus University, Copenhagen

Frans’ research looks into what the differences are between school life in Finland and Denmark.  He believes the broad picture in the two countries is the same so the differences lie in the finer details. The themes, which Frans identifies as the different details between Finland and Denmark are;

1. Parents are kept at a distance in Finland

  • On the first day of school parents drop students at school and keep to a distance compared to Denmark parents who continue to be present through all of their child’s schooling.

2. Discipline is more present in Finnish Schools

  • Attention and engagement is more easily obtained from Finnish teachers due to the appreciation of the teacher.

3. Danish education focuses on the individual

  • Finnish focuses on the community

4. Finnish evaluation is based on teaching

  • Denmark tends to be based more on benchmarking

5. Teachers in Finland are more ambitious

  • They don’t give up on students regardless of their background

6. Special Education is well respected

  • In Finland you require special training to teach special needs students

It was an interesting lecture, listening to someone talk about a country I have started to put on a pedestal in relation to the way they respect students and build independent learners, while they then compare themselves to Finland, just as we do in Australia.  At least for Denmark they begin with a similar homogeneous culture.

So we leave Copenhagen and head towards Berlin for the next adventure in our tour.  I take with me the beauty of a respected youth and culture who believes in education for everyone.  It seems a stark contrast to Australia and now I think about how I may take some of this back with me to Australia.  

 

 

 

When the sun shines through…..

In today’s school visit I had a chance to teach 24 eleven year olds from Niels Steensens.  It was a lovely experience and I had a chance to work with the students for around 90 minutes.  After looking at some images of Australia and thinking about the different perspectives the students had an opportunity to ask questions.  Although this was quite reciprocal as the three of us in the room asked as many questions of them. It was clear fairly quickly that students in Denmark are different to those in Australia.  The respect from the teacher was one of mutuality.  Not once did she make a decision without asking the students if it was OK first.  And I felt silly when I asked her if it was OK to take the student’s photos.  She turned directly to them and and repeated my question. I felt ashamed that I hadn’t considered their voice to begin with.

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Our conversations turned to different rules schools have in Australia and they were shocked to hear that in schools we had to wear uniforms, could be suspended from school and each class had a set of rules, which were strictly adhered to.  It became clear that students here had a huge respect for what their teachers asked of them, which I believe comes from the teachers also having such respect for them.  It was  an expectation that they were responsible for their own learning and that all of the students felt it was important to go to school.

Our afternoon visit was to Gammel Hellerup Gymnasium where we were mesmerised by some of learning spaces. Gammel Hellerup is the former school of the famous Danish architect, Bjarke Ingels, who has recently returned to design the sports hall and field.  Ingels’ designs aim to make the best use of space and even the curved top of the sports hall is utilised as seating in the outside area.   The new football field will form part of a drama and arts centre, where the roof will become the seating for the sports field.  Take a look at the plans here.

Gammel Hellerup

During our chat with teachers from Gammel Hellerup it is clear they have had to deal with lots of changes over the last few years. The 2005 reforms which saw more autonomy for head teachers and a new financial structure has meant the leadership teams have had to deal with new and unexpected issues. I am intrigued how autonomy and choice of schools affects students in Denmark where the welfare state ensures everyone is treated equally.  In Australia I expect the push for more autonomy and school choice because of the traditionally more dog eat dog environment we have but for Denmark it seems to be more traditional for them to prioritise equality.  Maybe that’s for a later blog post!

New Education Adventure

This post is part of a series reflecting on my international study tour to Copenhagen, Berlin and London.

Today I sit at another airport as I write this post.  The last time I did this was May last year as I waited for my flight to Rwanda, which would in turn be the catalyst for many changes in the last 12 months. The first being a new job and a move to Melbourne.  It was Rwanda that really opened my eyes to education being bigger than just my primary classroom.  Don’t get me wrong,  I understood the process education took but to make change in education I knew I needed to understand it well.  From the first years to the years beyond secondary school.  It certainly prompted my move into higher education and I have truly loved the experience (as much as I miss the classroom) and have learnt so much in the past 12 months, all of which no doubt I will use when back teaching in a school.

The second decision, made after my Rwandan trip, was to head back to uni to get my Masters and it is this course which brings me to the airport today.  The International Study Tour is the second subject in my Master of Educational Policy (International).  I really enjoyed learning about China, India, England and Finland in my first subject, Comparative Studies and look forward to seeing first hand how policy effects education in Copenhagen, Berlin and London.

It is hard to know what to expect from schools in these countries, well except England where I taught for 4 years, and that is one of the real joys of learning!  I have over the years visited many classrooms but this trip will be a little different as I have always had my teacher hat on, looking at what I can take back to my classroom.  Tomorrow I will have my policy hat on, looking at how the policy effects education, schools and classrooms.

Part of my assessment is to write a reflective journal on my visits so I look forward to blogging over the next three weeks and sharing my experiences. But for now I have a plane to catch!

PLE Murder Mystery

On Thursday and Friday this week I was lucky enough to run two workshops at the PLE Conference held at Monash University.  The PLE Conference is a two day conference held in two cities, Melbourne and Berlin.  This year’s program, Personal Learning Environments: Learning and Diversity in the Cities of the Future, was full of presentations looking at the use of PLEs in education and examined the use of technology enhanced learning.

A PLE, or a Personal Learning Environment includes methods, tools, communities, and services constituting individual learning infrastructures or ecosystems which learners use to direct their own learning and pursue their learning goals.

The first workshop I did was a Murder Mystery.  Although I have never participated in a Murder Mystery dinner party I love the idea of immersing yourself in a character for an evening of mystery!  So I thought why not add that to a presentation.  I hoped that by placing the participants in different situations and looking at PLEs from different perspectives would help to make clear our understandings of PLEs and the different ways we use them.  In the session, participants were able to play the devils advocate and possibly the opportunity to play a role that went against their true beliefs of Personal Learning Environment.

The setting for the Murder Mystery was the launch of PLE – a new program that brings together different tools of collaboration, work flow and networking.  At the launch were a variety of people, some who loved the idea, others who felt a PLE should not be forced upon someone and of course those who were anti technology all together.  As part of the launch I shared a few of the tools which would appear as part of the make believe program’s suite of tools.

Unfortunately for Paula Louise Evans, the CEO of PLE, she was the victim of the afternoon and the other characters spent the rest of the session trying to determine the killer. Needless to say we all had a lot of fun.  The conference participants were wonderful getting in to their characters and there were many robust conversations about PLEs.

My second workshop looked at my Personal Learning Environment.  After having participants choose a photo that best represents their Personal Learning Environment, I used Richard Olsen’s White Paper, Understanding Virtual Pedagogies for Contemporary Teaching and Learning and the Collective Knowledge Construction Model to map some of the tools and networks I use as part of my PLE.

Then came the fun part as we used some craft materials to make a visualisation of our Personal Learning environment  It was really interesting to see the different ways people think of their PLEs.

I enjoyed being part of the conference and enjoyed the opportunity to see how others are using technology to enhance learning experience and enjoyed the opportunity to tackle questions such as what is the difference between personal and personalisation.  If you would like to check out any of the tweets for the conference you can do so with the Storifys of Day One and Day Two.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mixed Messages

I have been reading about this initiative on the WISE website about lifting the public image of education in Chile.  They are working on changing the perception of education in the public and increasing the image. It has got me thinking about the messages we send out, often without thinking, which impact on the public image.

I remember asking my students in an inquiry unit, “How do I learn best” about what learning looks like.  I was really surprised by their answers.  I thought they would talk about working with friends, real life experiences, hands on learning etc.    Instead they talked of silence, sitting with one child per table and wait for it….worksheets!  Needless to say I was taken back by these responses but I could understand where these messages come from.

Growing up I was told I was great at Maths because I had good recall of my times tables. When people talked about Maths it always related to if I knew the times tables.  Of course I thought that was what was most important about Maths.  Being a good reader was determined by how long the book I was reading was.  “Wow, that’s a big book.  You must be a good reader.”

All around us we see underlying messages of what is important.  The new National Plan for School Improvement, an initiative by the Australian Government, uses an A+ in their logo. This sends the message that improving schools, and in fact learning, is all about getting an A+. Even if there is more to the plan, the message is clear.

In NSW, the ‘Teachers Make a Difference,” videos are meant to lift the perceptions of teachers in the public eye.  Although the videos are great at showing how teachers are more than someone who stands at the front of the classroom there are other messages.  The “First Day of School,” video shows the teacher meeting a student on their way into the school, both on their first day.  So instead of showing how wonderful teachers are at building relationships with students, the message becomes that teachers arrive at school at 9 am as the students are walking in.  I know this doesn’t happen but I have lost count of the times I have been told it must be great to have a job when you only work 9-3.

Maybe the greater message of how teachers change lives or that our government cares about education is more important but we shouldn’t overlook the underlying messages and how they effect how we think of teaching and education.

So there’s a new Bill?

Tonight my twitter feed is flowing fast as the Australian Political leadership contest is played out in front of our eyes. Lost in those feeds is the news that the Australian Education Bill 2013 was passed in the senate.  What this means in the political future, it seems no one can predict, but it shouldn’t make it any less important.

I don’t pretend to understand politics and in fact my knowledge of how a bill is passed comes from visiting Parliament House with my students. But I do know education.  And I think it is really important to read through the Education Bill, to have some understanding of the direction our Government is heading in regards to education, because the objects of this Act will effect educators and the students we teach.

You may be easily mistaken after the hype from the media to think that this Bill is just about Gonski but it is more than that.  Don’t get me wrong I think the most positive aspect to come from this Bill is a more equitable approach to school funding and a more fair and effective system.

There are other postive aspects to the Bill as it  talks often about about individual students and meeting student needs. Both good things to be talking about. But on the other hand “high quality” and “equitable” are spoken of in terms of where we sit in the education league tables and that we are in the top 5 performing countries by the year 2025.  And most alarming to me is that “Data collected on schools and school students will:

(a) be of a higher quality; and
(b) contain more detail; and
(c) be more consistent; and
(d) be more available to the public;
than data currently collected on schools and school students.”

Sounds like more NAPLAN to me.

Another thing to consider is the Bill also implements the National Plan for School Improvement.  Once again there are many aspects of this plan which I am happy to see.  A look into vocational education, strengthening of community relationships, more support for graduate teachers, varied admission to university courses, more training for leaders. But the use of words such as ‘best and brightest’, ‘lift results’ and ‘left behind’ worry me greatly.

And there is more that scares me; a rigid curriculum, literacy and numeracy tests before teachers can graduate, data about school performance, more information in my school website, teachers receiving a review.  There is a lot of policy being ‘done to teachers and students.’

So please take the time to read these documents, talk about them in your staff room and think about our future of education.

 

 

 

 

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.

Me vs Dad

“Why would I need a computer?”

My dad is very much a traditional man, living most of his life outside he pretty much does everything himself.  He is a get it done man. No time for thinking about it or waiting for tomorrow.  And he certainly has no time for the Internet or computers! In fact I think he actually believes that they may harm him in some way.

This week I have been using the term dystopian in relation to how we look at technology and the negative effect it has on society.  I am well aware of a utopian technological view (In fact I see through an edutopian lens all of the time!) But it is hard to believe there is such a thing as anti utopian. That would mean the glass half empty!

When it comes to technology I am certainly stand on the utopian side while my dad is over the other end on the dystopian side.

Me:

  • I love how my phone takes into account the traffic and my location when it tells me when to leave for a meeting.
  • The last thing I do before I go to bed and the first thing in the morning is check twitter.
  • It is amazing to see the look on student’s faces after connecting with someone on the other side of the world in the classroom.
  • I can get consumed in amazing facts when looking up something on Wikipedia and it takes me on a journey of hyperlinks and knowledge.
  • When I have a question I ask my friends Google, You Tube, Twitter and Facebook.
  • I couldn’t be the person I am today without technology.
  • I may have a slight addiction to Minecraft.

 

Dad:

  • Technology makes you less smart.
  • If you don’t know your times tables then you don’t know Maths.
  • Why text something that will take you 3 seconds to say?
  • What would you get me for Christmas if I didn’t have a diary?
  • Why do I need some lady telling me when to turn when I can take one look at the map and save it in my head?
  • You can’t learn something from playing a game.
  • You miss out on the real world when your head is stuck in a computer.
  • You’ll get square eyes looking at that screen.

Dad refuses to convert to a GPS and continues to buy a map, he is happy to receive a text but will not reply to it, his calendar is in a hardcopy diary and he sends out invoices with a stamp and envelope.

So what is it that gives Dad the dystopian view and I the utopian one?  Is it our outlook on life? Our experiences or the knowledge and experience we hold in the area.  Is it influences from the people teaching us or those around us?  Is it the need to survive or the amount of knowledge we have?

One thing I can be pretty sure of – it is not genetic!

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He certainly wouldn’t be happy if he knew this was here but I figure I am quite safe!