Monday, 10 November 2014

Giving the Kids a Voice:Impacting on Learning Design

Recently, I have been reflecting on the place that student voice has within the context of our school and how we can best leverage it to help create a challenging, meaningful and authentic learning experiences for the children.  I believe that their voices should be shaping our systems and structures from the 'top' down and as a school we value personalisation of schools and placing the student at the centre of their learning.  The process shouldn't just be about listening to students but empowering the students to seek out problems and action solutions.  

At a recent PLN, our group of school leaders discussed the role of student councils and leadership opportunities within schools in general. We reflected on the role of a school council and how the students are designated organisation and/or fundraising type activities to run.  We talked about the possibilities from organising councils made up of a cross section of school and how we could create more meaningful projects for the students to develop their skills.   We reflected that in some school's there is a desire to give students a voice but there isn't necessarily the freedoms/opportunities for them to fully realise the impact that student voice can have on shaping an engaging, purposeful curriculum and experiences.  In summary, there is a varied understanding and value placed on student voice across school.

Something that we are prototyping at H.P.P.S, is engaging our students in the learning design right from the get-go.  Usually staff would plan our 'immersion' phase together using future focussed skill sets as a framework for creating 'taster' or provocative sessions for the students to explore new interests, passions and develop curiosities.  As a trial, leading up to our next immersion in our senior learning common, we have asked a focus group to help us to co-create what that immersion would look like.  Below is a reflection by a student on his involvement in the process so far.

Feedback from other students involved in the focus group has been positive too.  they've thanked us for allowing them to be involved and made connections with the bigger picture of learning design at the school.  Most of all, they are seeing how we value their thinking, ideas and interests and are committed in making exciting learning happen for them.

The process that we are following is using an adapted 'Learning Design Process' (NoTosh) that was introduced to me at #GTASyd.  The process is assisting us in guiding the students in identifying a problem, creating ideas to fix the problem, prototyping and creating solutions.  


To help the student understand the bigger picture of learning deign they were given research that as teachers we would use to spark our thinking of ideas for immersion.  Basically, they received a crash course on curriculum development.   The actual research was pitched at an adult level however lots of the students took it home, made notes, had it read to them in bed by parents and some highlighted a few bullet points or simply didn't have time to read it.  All of those responses were fine.  I had the students who had read and had a good grasp of the research summarise for the others.  That in itself was a good learning experience.  it was so important that they fully understood but were able to see a potential problem from a range of perspectives.

From there, we immersed ourselves in seeking out to explore what the last immersion felt like and reflect on what the students experienced at the time.  They talked a lot during this phase sharing openly and honestly. They asked us (learning advisors) questions about why we designed immersion the way we did  to try and seek a better understanding.  The conversations we deep around the essence of what we wanted to achieve.

This part of the design process was all about gathering stories, information, data and different perspectives to get an overall idea of what the issue is. (NoTosh)


We then went into the SYNTHESIS, stage of the process.  We connected what we had learned and tried to formulate into words the problem that was worth solving.

The H.P.P.S students discovered that the immersion went far too long and they didn't feel they got to experience the wide range of tasters on offer as they were locked into workshops with the one learning advisor.  They also felt that too many of our immersion workshops lacked handson, real-life learning and authentic contexts.

The students were then given 5minutes to IDEATION.  That is where they think of as many ideas as possible that may help solve the problem.  The sticky notes above show some of there ideas.  Our next step, is to go back to these ideas, filter them and then make the learning happen.

As learning advisors, we were surprised by some of their ideas as they were outside of the square and things we hadn't predicted they'd suggest.  We are also feeling more closely connected to our learners and what may engage them in their learning.  The students have given us the framework from which to design our immersion and will help to teach it as well.  One of the aspects they reflected they'd like to increase is the use of experts, students as teachers and experiences.  

We will honour their voice, what they'd like to learn and experience.  This immersion design and implementation will become our PROTOTYPE for future planning and as we share across our learning commons may impact on how others are planning and leveraging student voice.  We will seek feedback from other Learning Advisors to see if this process (or parts of) could influence planning for the full range of ages in the school.

My #GTA moonshot is all about utilising student voice to impact on schools beginning in my own school context.  The next part of the puzzle is sharing with others to seek feedback and hopefully inspire.  With frequent foot traffic from visiting groups of teachers and school leaders through Hobsonville Point Primary this part is relatively easy but my next wondering is how can we can get the students sharing their learning to inspire other students beyond the focus the modern learning environment physical spaces.  I feel that this will become my actual moonshot in action.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

#GTASYD Moonshot Thinking

I've been very lucky, my head is bursting with ideas whilst I sit amongst a bunch of super talented educators at Google Teacher Academy - Sydney 2014. #gtasyd  I've experienced two fast-paced, action-packed days, lead by the inspiring team at NoTosh.  I'm at the reflection stage of the process however I have to admit, that with all of the incredible energy and thinking this is surface level for what I am capable but it is a start.

Here is our awesome team 'Google Big Kids', lead by our Google mentor Abi, who was patient and supportive as we had our thinking stretched within the amazing spaces at Google HQ, Sydney.


A little bit of context, we have 50 educators selected from within N.Z and Aussie who have been selected to participate in a programme to take an inkling of an idea and turn it into a project that in turn will have a great impact on our education context and beyond.  We've been inspired by what Google call moonshot thinking.  It's about getting you to challenge your dream and think bigger, like 10x.  NoTosh have guided through a process to get us reflecting, challenging and looking at possibilities working in collaborative teams.  It was a great opportunity to be critiqued and stretched in thinking by other educators who are doing amazing things in their classrooms, schools and beyond. Our groups were a mix of teachers, leaders, e-learning facilitators which gave the opportunity for different perspectives, skills and thinking to be brought to the table.  I felt it was a good mix and made me think about how we group students and the need for diversity to bring about tension, and falling out of that growth.

The process has been super fast paced.  At times, I felt a little overwhelmed and hit a couple of walls.  Day one was particularly frenetic and I spent a large amount of that time borderline anxious however aware that this discomfort had to be good for me!  My day two experience was more comfortable, and allowed a little more reflective time that I appreciated as I was connecting some of my thinking. Google tools were been slipped into the day that were new to me and I had some time to note, explore a little and co-create some tools with the others in the room.  At one point we hit hundreds of new ideas, that were collated and counted in a 10 minute time span.  Insane!  Goes to show just what can be created in the right environment and with the right sort of process.

To come up with our 'moonshots' we spent a period gathering observations and interviewing to immerse ourselves in our context using a reflective lens.  I work in a modern learning environment with collaborative teams of teachers who practice in a way that personalises school and learning.  We honour student voice so this is where I started as whatever my moonshot was going to be it had to be for the benefit of our students.  With so many visitors walking through our doors (approx. 2000 to date in our two years of operation) one of the greatest influence we may have on reshaping education is from what visitors take away from what our students are saying, doing and creating.

I used a range of tools such as interviews, surveys and reflecting on snapshot pictures to help me immerse myself in the learning at school.

This student voice was both amusing yet telling for a couple of reasons as I reflected on what the learning design looked like on a typical day in the senior learning space.  Q:  What do you think of workshops?   "Poo...another workshop. To be honest.  I don’t really like workshops."
Note: Typically workshops tend to be short, intensive, teacher lead sessions with a focus on a learning strategy or skill building in reading, writing and/or mathematics.

..and this .. a snapshot of practice across a typical day in the senior learning common. This discounts the massive amount of fantastic learning taking place but we are are striving to constantly push the boundaries and strive for better.

At google, we set about taking what we had observed in our contexts then going through a process of deconstructing our thinking then pulling it back together again to form a moonshot.

After, a couple of rigorous days of thinking I came to this...

'How might we leverage our open-mindsets for us to continue to innovate, engage and inspire learning in our schools whilst under pressure?'

My solution to the problem to to honour student voice and align to our values of personalising, innovating, collaborating, relationships and authentic learning.  But I'm missing parts to the puzzle.

So what now? thinking is to bring the kids to the board table...have them reviewing, critiquing and discussing our overall learning design model alongside staff.  Have them truly driving all aspects of the learning design, the day to day design and the bigger picture parts.  'Under pressure' is another part of the puzzle as under pressure we tend to default to the tried and tested in other words our safe place.  So we need a tool to help us to reflect against, we have our values but also there's a need for something else to sharpen our thinking.

After a month of reflecting, actioning and talking to the kids I'm now going with a moonshot of:

'How might we leverage student voice to continue to impact on, redesign and create what schooling could look like?'

I feel this puts the kids at the centre and that's integral to my project.

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Modern Learning Environments : More Than Just Beanbags

Modern Learning Environments are a hot topic in education at the moment.   Having opened up our doors in 2013, Hobsonville Point Primary School has had more than 1200 visitors to date and many visit to experience the physical space.  Often, what people come here to see and what they take away are two different things.

The most common feedback we receive is that people come with the view of gathering ideas about spaces and furniture however after seeing the teaching and learning in action their focus shifts to pedagogy in their schools.

To give context, Hobsonville Point School is open-plan design, with learning commons (classrooms with break-out spaces) that can cater for approximately 80-90 students.  There are some specialist spaces such as a gymnasium, cooking room and science lab.  Each learning common has a fenced outdoor area, with mini performance stage and seating.  The school also has a community cafeteria and covered communal outside space.

The facilities are impressive however we view the environment as a supporter and if we don't shift our pedagogies and embrace what learning could look like then we are not doing our jobs properly.

The environment is an enabler for us in living out our values of:

  • personalising learning,
  • innovating,
  • authentic learning,
  • relationships,
  • and making learning authentic.
Traditional practice, within an MLE, could easily happen without questioning then redesigning what learning could look like.  

This video shows the school (and students) within the new Hobsonville Point community

Hobsonville Point Primary MLE Snapshot

Classrooms look very different to the traditional four-walled, desks and chairs design.  There is no  fixed 'front' of the classroom and learning advisors (teachers) work alongside students rather than the more traditional model of teaching from the front.  Each learning common is the same size as three traditional classrooms and is staffed by 3 teachers.  The layout of the space and types of furniture we have are enablers and we deliberately avoid the lecture style type of pedagogy as we personalise learning for our students.

Spaces are flexible.  We have mobile whiteboards and TVs so that these supportive tools can be accessed practically anywhere within the school with the goal of reducing barriers to learning.  Spaces can be used flexibly, with concertina dividers in some spaces, and most of the furniture is on castors and easily shifted.  Often students will redesign spaces, to best support the learning that is taking place at the time.  The students have a strong sense of belonging and ownership of the school.  They negotiate use of spaces, design and are a part of projects that develop and resource the school.  They engage in authentic learning and student voice is honoured.

We teach collaboratively and a positive outcome for students is that they can build relationships easily with a range of mentors.  A positive for staff is that we can reflect on students together, have  regular, just-in-time conversations and be fully responsive to the students needs.  We are able to tap into passionate experts across our team as we feel a sense of responsibility for our whole cohort opposed to the traditional model of a class that changes from year to year.  It allows us to support each other and collectively raise our own professional knowledge, understandings and practice.

Students are multi-aged grouped and social and dispositional growth influence where we place students across the school.  We tag individual students to individual learning advisors where there is a natural positive relationship.  This 'home' learning advisor stays with the student for a number of years so a really deep understanding of them as a learner can be developed.  The larger learning common grouping is multi-age grouped which assists in breaking down mindset barriers around students' perceptions of their abilities.

Technology is a ubiquitous part of learning.  Students use varied devices for a range of purposes such as; creative design, organisation, collaborating ideas, accessing information, creating learning tools and connecting within the global community.  The school is BYOD however we provide enough technology and devices so that every child has access.

Teaching practice is deprivatised within the open-plan MLE environment and that also extends into online spaces.  Teachers plan on google sites.  Students, parents and other teachers are able to access this planning.  The design of the planning is responsive so it changes on a daily basis and every child personalises their day attending 'must do' workshops', negotiated 'workshops' and self directing learning.  We do not subject silo, however you may see target workshops addressing some of the core curriculum needs such as developing specific writing or numeracy skills.  Whenever possible, learning is linked to students passions, interests and curiosities or framed around immersing the students into a 'world they do not yet know, they do not know.'

Example of planning for senior school students on a google site

We value relationships and we utilise online spaces to engage our community.  For example, we use social media as a way of connecting, have a school app to share alerts and important notices and use google documents to share updates with parents about their child's progress and well-being at school.  We invite and encourage commenting and interaction within our google sites, blogs and social media accounts.  For those parents who work full-time or struggle to get into school, the feedback has been positive as it helps them to stay connected with their child during the day.  For those who are curious and want to know more, Amy McCauley blogs from a technology perspective and she also shares her teaching journey at HPP.  Have a look at her blog iLearn as it has lots of great ideas and information.

Here is a snapshot of our learning commons in action at 2.45pm on a Monday of the last week of term.  In the senior common students were involved in project based learning, reflecting on their learning by emailing learning advisors or blogging.  In learning common 2, students were engaged in a range of self-directed activities from maths challenges to problem based learning experiences and in the junior common they were been read to as a group.

The beanbags are a small part of our MLE, what is truely exciting is seeing students engaged in their learning after been given permissions and freedoms to fly.  

Fresh off the press, there is an interesting article regarding the designs of Hobsonville Point Schools in Commercial Design - Trends vol 30 no 3, from an architectural perspective.

Mark Osbourne, Core Education has published an interesting read on modern learning environments.  Click here to be directed to his paper.

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Engaging Learners Through Project Based Learning

This statement is designed to create tension because without that we may well continue to do what we have always done and that is to deliver reading, writing and mathematics in an increasingly effective manner with no change in our practice. Thus, if we don't shift, we are preparing our students well for the industrial age, in which recall and regurgitate of information was the backbone of education.  

Stating the obvious, we are no longer in the 'industrial age' and education serves very different needs that demands us to shift our thinking and practice.

Future Work Skills 2020, lists the following as key skills and we need to make our curriculums about them not the subject silo approach of reading 9-10am, writing 11-12pm etc as powerful learning takes place when learning is connected.

- sense-making
- novel and adaptive thinking
- social intelligence
- trans-disiplinary
- new media literacy
- computational thinking
- cognitive load management
- design mindset
- cross cultural competency
- virtual collaboration

Recently, at Hobsonville Point Primary during a parent information evening, Daniel (principal) posed this question to parents.  'Would you go to a dentist who was practising in the same manner that they were 20 years ago?  This was prompted by parents making sense of practices such as Project Based Learning (PBL) and understanding how learning fits into this model.

Emerging PBLs at H.P.P...

In 2013, we opened the new school and we wanted the kids have a strong sense of belonging and to dream big in their aspirations.  So, we did something something that was a little uncomfortable for many of us.  We took off the control hats and handed-over to the kids.  

PBLs began very organically, the kids needed sports gear so we let them go shopping and kit out the gym, they wanted art up so we let them create murals, they needed more technology so we listened to them and facilitated purchases, they wanted to do a trip together so we let them organise it.  The list goes on... we went from 'sages on stages' to the 'guide on the side' and began to change some of our practices.  The practices of PBL aligned to our values of collaboration, innovative practice, personalised learning, relationships and authentic learning.

Kids and Daniel planting out the garden

Through PBLs we have seen student's delve into projects that they are passionate about, experience a connected curriculum and reflect on the way they felt when projects succeeded or failed.  We see mistakes as opportunities to learn, and creating an environment where students feel free to take risks and make mistakes is an important part of the process.  So too, is allowing PBLs to take a natural course.

There are some elements to PBLs that make them different to other similar modes such as problem based learning, inquiry and design process.  We do not take a cookie cutter approach to PBLs and use other similar processes such as problem based learning or we apply the design process to suit the students design.  The key is expanding on the students wondering/curiosity/interest or passion which naturally leads to engagement.

The following are five criteria that define PBL's: (see link below for additional information)

Sometimes students, do not know, what they don't know so we provide a period of immersion into new learning which leads into projects.  As students become more comfortable we notice that they tend to take greater risks in their projects and many still start out with safe options that they are familiar with and this gradually improves.   We treat this as a reflective learning opportunity for them.

We provide scaffold tools to assist students in making connections in their learning, across the learning areas and also provide frameworks in which they can record their thinking.  They document the process visually (through blogs) or photos and in the case of the juniors, through learning stories. projects are co-constructed with Learning Advisors and learning goals are set and reflected on through this process and at Individual Education Meetings.  These take place once a term, and are the main part of our reporting with parents, students and Learning Advisors.

Example of snapshot from draft H.P.P senior student rubric

Example of individual student plan (Designed by Kristyn Dempsey/H.P.P A.P)

PBLs are an evolving part of the curriculum at Hobsonville Point School, and it is student voice that is driving them.  We have developed a curriculum model to help demonstrate how they fit into the big picture of what we do and they seem to be playing a big part in us living out our values.  Personally, it is the energy that they create and students engaging authentically in some of the core basic and also dispositional growth that excites me.  Most of all they are fun!  On the front of the slide below, you can see students who recently organised, planned and ran a gala day to raise funds for their E.O.T.C experiences.  It is a great example of a collaborative, student lead PBL that had a real impact on them as learners.

Recommended sites:
Bob Pearlman PBL Best Practice Good light read, research paper, on core best practice for PBLs
BIE (Great explanation of PBL's) and associated resources for students and teacher
Thom Markham Blog  Educational specialist with PBL, good tips for effective practice
Century EdTech WordPress Driving Questions Excellent for getting students to have depth in their inquiries
Discover Design The Design Process Great graphics and examples of the design process in action
Edpopular Problem Based Learning  explain the process for problem based learning and why it is useful
Edutopia Suzie Boss - 20 Engaging Ideas for PBLs Great site for links to PBLs and sparking ideas

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

How do we honour the key competencies?

Prof Guy Claxton 
'What building learning power does...'

You don't have to go far, to find research that discusses the skill sets that children need to grow, to be successful during these times of exponential growth. As educators, we are in the privileged yet challenging position of helping to prepare children for jobs that researchers predict do not yet exist and we are on the cusp of change that will occur at a rapidly increasingly pace.  Jane Gilberts, 'Catching the Knowledge Wave' discusses the concept of knowledge and how a traditional education system does not necessarily support the development of the skills that will be needed to be successful.  Readings like this have made me sit up and sit up, pay attention and reconsider.

So, what skill sets are we growing?  When I was preparing myself for the exciting (yet slightly overwhelming position, if I am to be honest) of joining the foundation leadership team at the yet to be opened Hobsonville Point Primary, I found Guy Claxton's work to be very useful in shifting me from thinking purely curriculum areas to a more holistic view that included thinking about the possibilities of developing dispositions.   It also helped me begin the reflective process of questioning, why we do what we do in schools and provoked thoughts on the possibilities of redesigning what school looks like.  Statement's such as, "The school I'd like would be one whose primary aim was to teach me how to live...Today, academic knowledge has become the sole interest of many school, and few (teachers) are daring enough to abandon the exam rat-race for the job of creating thinking, adult individuals." (Chrisa, 16) helped me to shift my mindset.

In terms of process, I had to start by reflecting honestly on what I though I knew, then begin dreaming big then be challenged by Daniel, my principal around dreaming even bigger and have this vision clear in my mind before even considering dispositions.

The position I was in at the time, was I was fortunate to be moving into a brand new state of the art, modern learning environment.  We had many discussions around the fact that the environment itself would be good enabler for these skills to be grown (BYOD, open-plan etc) but without a dispositional curriculum working alongside an academic the impact would not be great.  Also, a huge factor would be on teacher actions supporting the development of these dispositions.  For example, you cannot grow self managing students without freedoms.

The New Zealand Curriculum places the Key Competencies at the front however in my opinion a lot of teachers struggle to create opportunities, within traditional systems, to provide opportunities for children to grow these skills.  I have reflected on my own practice and I realise now that my honouring of the key competencies has been, in many cases, at surface level.  There are many reasons for this but I believe that pressure around national standards and still having the claws of curriculum coverage in my back has not helped.  It is exciting to know that we do have a curriculum that gives us the freedoms to create experiences for children that are rich and empowering if we are brave, open to change and prepared to change then we can create really rich and powerful learning experiences for children.

So, what do we do at Hobsonville Point Primary?   We have designed an emerging curriculum that places a dispositional curriculum alongside an academic curriculum.  I say emerging, as we are constantly reviewing the practices as we evolve.  We have started with dispositions, as this is what we value and after a year and a half of operation are beginning to explore essence statements for each of the learning areas.

So, how do we do it?  Teachers plan through a concept that is directly related to NCREL 21st Century Skills, identify dispositions to be experienced, reflected on and then make curriculum links.  Concepts fall out of these links to be explored.  The students are immersed into a 'world they do do know, they do not know' then through capturing interests and passions students delve deeply into new knowledge and learning.  They do this in various ways such as Project Based Learning, problem Based learning, Inquiry and Social Action Projects to name a few.

What are the dispositions H.P.P values?  

We have identified:
  • researching
  • reasoning
  • questioning
  • reflecting
  • self knowledge
  • resilience
  • self motivation
  • perserverance
  • social confidence
  • courage
  • coachable
  • noticing
  • collaborating
  • listening
  • balance
  • imagining
At the time we were exploring the dispositions, we had been profiling our staff using the Herrmann Brain Dominance Instrument (HBDI) which is a system to measure and describe thinking preferences in people.

Overview Of The HBDI®

The world’s leading thinking styles assessment tool, the Herrmann Brain Dominance Instrument® (HBDI®) is the assessment at the core of Herrmann International’s Whole Brain® Thinking approach. Developed in the 1970s by Ned Herrmann, then a manager at General Electric, more than thirty years of research and innovation stand behind the validity of the HBDI®.
The 120-question HBDI® assessment, which is administered by anHBDI® Certified Practitioner, evaluates and describes the degree of preference individuals have for thinking in each of the four brain quadrants, as depicted by the Herrmann Whole Brain® Model.
The basis of Whole Brain® Thinking and all Herrmann International learning modules, the HBDI® teaches you how to communicate with those who think the same as you and those who think differently than you. Once an individual understands his or her thinking style preferences, the door is open to improved teamwork, leadership, customer relationships, creativity, problem solving, and other aspects of personal and interpersonal development.

As we value growing the whole self we used this model as a frame to organise the dispositions.  The dispositions look different in each quadrant.  For example, a student demonstrating 'perseverance' in relationships looks very different to a child who is been perseverant in their ideas or organisation.

We developed a curriculum model that places our values at the centre then the dispositions fall out of the four areas of self.  There are natural links between the key competencies and the four quadrants as shown below.

The four quadrants are:
and Experimental self.