Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Miss D the Teacher's Guide to Project Based Learning

I am a long time advocate for project-based learning. While not all projects are created equal, I believe the possibilities of student-led projects are immense. I have listed a few of the reasons why I am such an advocate for project-based learning below. However, in my opinion, two key criteria must be met to see the benefits listed below.

Criteria 1: Projects must have an authentic purpose beyond the classroom.
Students must be doing, making, creating, etc. something for a person, place, organisation other than the class and the classroom teacher. At my school, we talk about projects being about the "we not the me". For our school, this has meant that we have built partnerships with the Kaipatiki Project, OnBoard Skate School, the SPCA, KidsCan, Hobsonville Land Company, the Heritage Trust and many more!

Criteria 2: Projects must be based on supporting the student's response to an issue.
While the teacher might be responsible for drawing students' attention to an issue and helping them to explore and understand it, ultimately the students must make the decision about how they will respond. Their decisions should, of course, be well informed, researched and validated. For example, students might interview their community about their proposed solution to a lack of youth orientated community spaces.

With these two criteria at heart of a well-designed project, I have found an enormous range of benefits to project-based learning. Some of these include:
  • Working with authentic, real partners (the teacher is not an authentic real partner) increases student accountability and buy in.
  • Working with authentic partners gives students a much more realistic idea about careers in their field(s) of interest. 
  • Working on projects in the community helps students realise that their voice and contributions matter and do make a difference.
  • Project-based learning provides students with career skills such as budgeting, marketing, project management, etc.
  • Project-based learning provides opportunities for schools to build community engagement, and as a result, foster belonging for our students.
  • Projects provide the opportunity for students to collaborate in a more meaningful way, where diversity becomes necessary for success (rather than an inconvenient barrier). 
  • Authentic projects help students develop empathy and understanding for perspectives beyond their own lived experience. 
Below is a student created video from the group of students for whom I facilitated projects in 2018. I am so proud of the young people involved in these projects. They have persisted when things got tough, they have outwitted many an obstacle, and they have genuinely thought about others. Along the way, they have learnt all about conducting interviews, designing surveys, developing budgets and business plans, marketing, content development, social media management, and even some agile project management skills. They have had to collaborate, problem solve, think critically and creatively. It's been an awesome *ride* and I look forward to seeing how these students take on the world and their futures. 

*I have been thinking about developing a book along the lines of "Miss D the Teacher's Guide to Project Based Learning". The book would contain project-based learning examples, project-based learning resources, project-based learning activities as well as help guides for facilitating projects. I would discuss the benefits of project-based learning, as well as the theoretical justification for including it in a curriculum. This might look like a book where I release chapter by chapter for those who have signed up. If you are interested, you can sign up for the mailing list below:

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Thursday, November 8, 2018

Disengagement, or is it something else?

Where has your professional inquiry taken you this year? Our whole school focus on culturally responsive pedagogy has led me on a wild ride... 

We kicked off our Spiral of Inquiry this year with the intention of having a culturally responsive and sustaining focus. As part of my new learning, I read Culture Speaks (a book EVERY New Zealand educator should read). The sections below really stood out for me:

"They control you, and it is really annoying. They have to be the boss. I don’t know, but if I don’t like the teachers I can’t learn. They just like, pick on you, it just makes you not want to work. So you don’t work. You do that on purpose. Or you do that because you don’t know how to do the work anyway." (Kindle Locations 438-441)  
"These students raised the issue of not being able to sit by, or associate with their Māori mates. One student saw this as an attempt by teachers to separate groups of resistance, to ‘neutralise’ Māori students." (Kindle Locations 466-468)  
"They think we will gang up on them if we are all sitting together, so they make us sit by ourselves because then they think that will control us easier. That will shut us up. Well, that’s what I think." (Kindle Locations 476-477)  
"I don’t want to be a ‘dole bludger’. But … the problem is some classes are really boring, and some teachers give me such a hard time. ... He went on to tell us that he had given up working in most classes. ’Cause there was no point. They don’t like me, and I don’t like them." (Kindle Locations 670-671) 
"That’s a substantial number of our students. Not only Māori students but certainly Māori students ... the first thing you notice is the lack of equipment when they turn up in the form room and accompanying that, often, a great big chip on the shoulder." (Kindle Locations 3110-3112)

If your schooling experience was one where you felt that teachers were trying to "control" you and "neutralise" you all the time, like the students in the exerts above showed, how likely are you to feel a sense of empowerment? If you were told continuously when and if you can use the bathroom, what you should or should not be doing, and what you can and can not wear, how autonomous are you likely to feel? It is no secret that schools attempt to control the students, their behaviour, etc. It would be chaos otherwise, wouldn't it?

Our 'control' of students is of course not just confined to the logistics of schools. We also control their assessment and what they learn. By setting the due dates, choosing the standards, deciding on the learning objectives are and prioritising what I know to be the 'most important knowledge' that students must learn, I am again making some attempt at control. Our senior students are often experiencing the effects of being chased by the 'content monster', where we just have to "get through" the content that they have had little to no influence on. In senior science, there are so few standards that students hardly get a choice about what standards they have to do. The content in standards has usually been predetermined too, and not by the students...

Essentially the curriculum itself is also a form of control, it controls what learning we value and prioritise in our schools. And further, there is a range of scholars who argue that the curriculum is Eurocentric in many ways, and as a result, contributes to the colonising and control of Māori people in a harmful way.
"However, in many cases, the education system has negatively affected te reo Māori indirectly through aspects of Eurocentric education.  These  include assimilation, cultural invasion, cultural subordination, language domination, hegemony, the curriculum, class structures, racism, meritocracy, intelligence testing, and negative teacher expectations." (The impact of colonisation on te reo Māori:  A critical review of the State education system) 
"Hegemony, used as a colonising tool is invasive and attacks the fundament ideological nature of indigenous beliefs, values, and customs as well as questioning the value of indigenous languages." (A Critical Analysis of the Impact of Colonisation on the Māori Language through an Examination of Political Theory)


As I read more, thought more, observed more, I had a hunch... What if the disengagement that we see from so many of our Māori students, is not disengagement at all? What if it is disempowerment? I remember reading about a student in Culture Speaks that said "If I don’t like the teachers I can’t learn. They just like, pick on you, it just makes you not want to work. So you don’t work. You do that on purpose." These three sentences have continued to haunt me as I increasingly began to think about how the actions of a disempowered and an empowered student might differ.

An empowered individual might know that they should, could and can focus on learning in spite of the teacher. An empowered person might find other ways to do the learning. They might even seek help from a trusted adult to help them if they feel that they are being picked on unfairly. A disempowered person, in contrast, might feel that they have little choice or influence about their situation. They may be unlikely to seek help, ask questions, challenges injustice and demand more and better.
If my hunch is correct, then I am dealing with an entirely different kettle of fish than I first thought. Rather than seeking to engage students, I would be trying to empower them. It would mean that all the fun lessons in the world, upskilling on my assessment for learning practices, or building up my Universal Design for Learning arsenal is all unlikely to make enough of a difference. Perhaps it means that I would need to seek ways to dismantle the power structures that keep exerting control on the most disempowered of our young people? Maybe it means that I would need to challenge embedded cultural narratives? Or does it mean that I would need to fight against the systemic ways that we seek to control students?

Friday, September 7, 2018

Edtech Evolution

In 2012 as a beginning teacher, I wrote a blog post about the e-learning tools I was using in my classroom. At the time, the internet was rife with various blog posts, tweets, etc of various educators sharing how they were trying, testing and using e-learning tools in their classrooms. It was these early posts that first introduced me to the wonders and marvels of the blended learning world. I learnt about the power of learning management systems to support students to become autonomous. I revelled in the authenticity of the real world collaboration that social media made possible for my students. I flourished and thrived in the online communities of teachers.

Nearly 6 years later and the use of digital technology has accelerated at an incredible pace. Many educators are using scratch and makey-makey like it is no big deal. Others are using 3D printing, laser cutters and virtual reality in their day-to-day practice. So much has happened! However, I recently went on a hunt to find some blog posts that describe how various educators are using these new fandangled tools in their classrooms. I remember spending hours in 2012 pouring over the many posts about how others were using e-learning, byod, etc. in their classrooms. While I am sure that there are many out there, it was much harder to find recent posts than what I anticipated! Perhaps this is because we have passed the 'popularity' phase of e-learning. We are no longer concerned with the latest and greatest cool tool on the block, and have become increasingly focussed on the deeper learning? How do we use e-learning to amplify learning, not just use technology for technology's sake? In response, I thought I would share some of the tools that I use now. Of course, my pedagogy has evolved massively since the time of my first post. Here is a brief snapshot of the tools I use now and the pedagogy/theory that underpin them.

Fuelled by my role at Hobsonville Point Secondary School where the students are flying the plane and I am just the air traffic controller, I needed something to help me manage all the independent projects that were happening at any given moment. This can be a real juggle, especially when there are delayed flights (students not making enough progress), flights that arrive early (students making really fast progress), multiple flights arriving at once (many students needing your attention all at once) and emergency flights (urgent things that need to be addressed eg. inappropriate behaviour). I use a number of tools to help me manage the project based, personalised and autonomous learning environments that I strive to create.

Every lesson begins with a do now in the Google Classroom. Every lesson begins with a self-explanatory 'DO NOW' so that students can come to class and get started on the learning without me. This gives me time to do the roll, talk to late students, check in with students who were away, etc. The whole lesson and learning objective is also outlined in the Google Classroom along with the relevant resources. This means that students who are away can catch up on their learning. Students who finish activities quickly can also move on to the next task. We also add the rubrics and assessments in the about section of the Google Classrooms. Our use of Google Classroom is largely informed by our original HPSS e-learning best practice guide. You will see the influence of assessment for learning and universal design for learning quite heavily in this document. The image below shows the 'should do' section of our best practice guide.

My use of Google Classroom and our best practice guide has been heavily informed by:
  • Hattie, J. (2008). Visible learning: A synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to achievement. Routledge.
  • Hall, T. E., Meyer, A., & Rose, D. H. (Eds.). (2012). Universal design for learning in the classroom: Practical applications. Guilford Press.
  • Absolum, M. (2011). Clarity in the classroom: Using formative assessment for building learning-focused relationships. Portage & Main Press.
  • Voice of our students.

Trello is without a doubt my favourite tools to manage my air traffic controller role. Trello allows me to quickly identify students who are behind or ahead, students who need help, students who are struggling, etc. I set up the tasks students need to work through in each column and the names of the students/groups as cards. As students complete activities, they simply move their cards along. I have even used Trello for assessments since the cards allow you to attach files, set due dates on tasks, add comments, and track your interactions on the board. We also use the labels to signpost if students need help or are making progress.

The reason why Trello is without a doubt one of my favourite classroom e-learning tools is that it facilitates the kind of autonomous student learning environment that I am working hard to develop. Additionally, using this tool in conjunction with agile and scrum has meant that it can also be used to facilitate collaboration as it allows students to see their contributions, progress and involvement.

My use of Trello has been influenced and inspired by:
  • Adkins, L. (2010). Coaching agile teams: a companion for ScrumMasters, agile coaches, and project managers in transition. Pearson Education India.
  • Facer, K. (2011). Learning futures: Education, technology and social change. Routledge.




The latest tool that I have been using is Kialo. The website attempts to do "empower reason through friendly and open discussions." While there are some interesting debates happening on the platform, I have found it's the greatest merit the ability to map out perspectives, evidence, opinions and claims for an argument. Not only can you find some great examples of how to structure an argument, but you can also build your own. We have really enjoyed how everyone in the class can find ways to contribute, whether it is through adding their own claims or evidence to an argument, or whether it is through voting on the impact of others' claims. Additionally, after building an argument collectively as a class, you have created a digital, collaborative artefact to act as a resource for future use.

My use of Kialo has been informed by:
  • Scardamalia, M., & Bereiter, C. (2010). A brief history of knowledge building. Canadian Journal Of Learning and Technology, 36(1). doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.21432/T2859M
  • Hipkins, R., Bolstad, R., Boyd, S., & McDowall, S. (2014). Key competencies for the future. Wellington, New Zealand: NZCER Press.
  • Gilbert, J. (2005). Catching the knowledge wave? The knowledge society and the future of education. Wellington, New Zealand: New Zealand Council for Educational Research.
  • Gilbert, J. (2007). Knowledge, the disciplines, and learning in the Digital Age. Educational Research for Policy and Practice, 6(2), 115-122. doi:10.1007/s10671-007-9022-1

As I wrote this post, it struck me just how much my pedagogy has evolved. I have become increasingly focused on translating academic and scholarly work into a workable classroom version. (That means I genuinely enjoy having a good debate about epistemological integrity and then working out what that could and should mean for the class I am teaching this week.) I also recognise some of the early elements of my practice that are still present too. For example, I still think that saving time is a key filter for the tools I use. Electronic grade books, automarking and productivity tools are all a key strategy to juggle the many demands of being a teacher. The time I freed up by getting Flubaroo to mark the quiz was time I could spend on high quality feedback instead! 

So my education friends... I am curious what e-learning tools you use now and why? What is it that has stood the test of time for you? Perhaps it's time for a circa 2014 chain blogging event? Tag three people to share their #edtechevolution?

PS: Some other tools I have used recently include Playposit, Google Cardboard, Kahoot, Quizizz, Google Maps, Google Earth, Google docs/sheets/presentations/drawings, Piktochart, YouTube, Socrative, videonot.es, Read Write for Google, Equatio, iQualify, Khan Academy, Soundcloud, Garage Band, iMovie, Screencastify and so many more! 

Thursday, July 19, 2018

14 alternative ways to top up your professional learning...

Everyone knows that I am a professional learning junky. I love professional learning. I love the feeling of knowing that your practice has truly been transformed and has made a positive difference in the world. What you might not know, is that I get my kicks from far more than just conferences and reading educational books and journals. Next time you are in need of some professional learning or a new perspective, why not try one of these...

#1 Visit the art gallery.
Visiting a well-curated art gallery is a relaxing but cognitively engaging way to gain new perspectives and understanding about many issues in society. For example, my visit to the Auckland Art Gallery this week revealed some new understandings about the way that our 'priority learners.' I was interested to learn about the way that the term Pasifika is used and perceived. It had me wondering about my own inquiry and the language that we use in schools that inadvertently serves to alienate, exclude or include people. Additionally, the gallery also provided some inspiration for my upcoming module about Megastructures! I see some making in our future!

Photo taken at the Auckland Art Gallery, 18 July 2018.
Photo taken at the Auckland Art Gallery, 18 July 2018.

#2 Visit the museum.
Museums can hold many clues about how we got to where we are. At the same time, they can provide inspiration for where we might go next. My most recent visit to the Auckland War Memorial provided inspiration for an upcoming module at school called War Machines. Not only did it help me to plan out my unit, it has provided me with relevant examples from the New Zealand Māori and European context. As my inquiry this year is focussing on how we might draw on and build cultural knowledge (in the science classroom), the inspiration was well received and immediately implemented.
At the end of the museum visit I had to sit down and take a moment to write down all the ideas!

#3 Curate a Twitter list. 
One of the reasons why I keep coming back to Twitter over many other social media platforms is that I have far more control over what I see. There are fewer algorithms prioritising what I see (in my experience at least). Hence, to increase my understanding and awareness of alternate perspectives, I have curated a Twitter list of Māori new sources, influencers and leaders. This provides an ongoing narrative helping me to reframe my thinking about what is going on in our world on a daily basis. I find Twitter an endlessly useful tool for exciting my regular thought bubbles.

#4 Watch a comedy show.
There are some absolutely brilliant comedians that provide a nuanced and critical view on many of the issues that influence our young people and their decisions in school. And, they do this in an entertaining way. Just think about Trevor Noah or Hannah Gadsby.

There are tons of other ways that you are able to top op your learning too. Here are a few of the other ways that I like to supplement my academic reading with:

  1. Interview an expert.
  2. Watch a related documentary.
  3. Listen to a podcast.
  4. Read a novel with a similar theme or context. (Talk to your librarian/English teachers about this!)
  5. Watch a movie with a similar theme or context. (Talk to some media studies teachers about this.)
  6. Complete a MOOC. They are free, fantastic and flexible with time. 
  7. Curate a Pinterestrest board with some visual inspiration. 
  8. Observe a colleague.
  9. Visit a school who has attempted to solve the same problem in a different way.
  10. Check in with your local university about upcoming (and usually free/cheap) seminars and talks.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Do we really need 13 reviews in education?

At my last count, there were 13 reviews currently underway in education. The review fever is so intense right now that some principals have called for "the [NCEA] review to be reviewed" (NZ Herald, 1 June 2018). But do we really need all these reviews? 13 potentially signals further shift in an education system where teachers, school leaders, and other stakeholders are already resistant and reluctant to embrace change. 13 reviews seems a bit much when educators are talking about things like change fatigue.

The past few months have seen various agendas in education pushed to the forefront. The New Zealand Initiative is promoting agendas such as returning to more external exams, suggesting that 21st-century approaches that promote creativity and critical thinking is selling snake oil. In the meantime, both NZEI and the PPTA are concerned about teacher workload, pay, and student to teacher ratios. There are also the Ministry of Education's priorities to add to the mix. The past few years have seen them demand Innovative Learning Spaces and Communities of Learning, and at the same time request more and more data.

While the battle rages, I wanted to take a moment to remind all of us, the unions, the school leaders, the teachers, the government, the students, the parents, the universities and any and every other stakeholder in education why it is so important that we take an in-depth and critical look at our education system as we engage with these reviews.

There are many reasons why I believe that large-scale change is desperately needed in education, however, one reason stands out to me in the New Zealand context. For generations, our education system has been failing to meet the needs of Māori and Pasifika students. Māori is not only said to be "underachieving" in our current system, but they are also over-represented in our prisons and in our suicide figures. For anyone who believes in education being egalitarian, this should ring alarm bells (and trigger an evacuation?). It was Marx who argued that education "propagates the social hierarchies of the ruling class." For me, this demands serious action, not just a review.

I also believe that the world has changed. To argue that education should not drastically change for the age of the internet, e-commerce, big data and climate change, would be the same as saying that education should not have changed with the arrival of the printing press, international trade and the industrial revolution. I worry that the traditionalist agenda does not seriously address the reality of our times, and instead may inadvertently create further inequality in our education systems by failing to acknowledge or address the reality of climate change, automation, networked knowledge, radical inequality and exponential technology such as quantum computing.

There are many other reasons why I think education should change. I have briefly summarised them in the infographic below. Hopefully, your critical information consumer alarm bells start ringing when you see such abbreviated versions of complex issues... If this is you, you can skip the junk food (infographic) and instead read the far more in-depth explanation (nutritious citations, references and a dash of philosophy) included at the end of this post.

(You can download the image here)

13 reviews seem like a lot, but when you consider the systemic problems of our current system, I wonder if it is enough. Hopefully, these reviews are are only the beginning, a starting point for systemic educational change that eliminates inequality in our system. I hope that these reviews create possibilities for a more hopeful future for everyone.

And for those of you who wanted a more in-depth version of why I believe education should be different... The text below is an 'outtake' of writing that I used to make sense of some of the themes that informed my thesis. 

Is education broken?

Purpose of education

To understand why education, and in particular schools might need a radical transformation, it is important to first examine its purpose, as this inevitably acts as the measure by which we establish whether it is in fact, fit for purpose.  Additionally, these conflicting philosophies contribute tension in public, private political and academic debates where unknowingly, arguments about the priorities for educational outcomes are underpinned by conflicting ideologies. These ideologies are philosophically “fundamentally irresolvable” (Biesta, 2009; Egan, 2001).

Generally, we can agree on a range of common, albeit conflicting purposes for education; Plato’s academic idea, Rousseau’s developmental idea, and socialization (Egan, 2001), or similarly as identified by Biesta (2009), socialisation, subjectification (development of individual autonomy), and qualification, (acquisition of knowledge and skills). Despite these ideas underpinning most, if not all debates in education, they are rarely acknowledged, but instead are assumed as a common understanding and assumption. This problem stretches beyond our current dissatisfaction in education, even extending to Aristotle who captures these tensions when he writes; “For in modern times there are opposing views about the tasks to be set, for there are no generally accepted assumptions about what the young should learn, either for virtue or for the best life; nor yet is it clear whether their education ought to be conducted with more concern for the intellect than for the character of the soul. The problem has been complicated by the education we see actually given; and it is by no means certain whether training should be directed at things useful in life, or at those conducive to virtue, or at exceptional accomplishments.”- Aristotle (Thomas, 2013)

Further, the legitimacy of these conflicting purposes are rarely questioned when considered in terms of postnormal times, described by Sardar (2010) as being “characterised by uncertainty, rapid change, realignment of power, upheaval and chaotic behaviour. We live in an in-between period where old orthodoxies are dying, new ones have yet to be born, and very few things seem to make sense. Ours is a transitional age, a time without the confidence that we can return to any past we have known and with no confidence in any path to a desirable, attainable or sustainable future.”

Hence, if we wish to consider the ‘state of education’ and whether change is truly necessary, it is important that we examine these conflicting purposes in the context of our current, postnormal times.  

Plato’s academic idea or qualification

Despite the shift in the New Zealand Curriculum towards key competencies, much of the current New Zealand schooling experience is still heavily academic. Particularly at senior secondary, content is still assessed, usually with academic, externally marked and moderated exams at the end of an academic year. In many schools, these results act as gatekeepers for entry towards the next level course. Content is staggered, with schools gradually exposing students to increasingly complex ideas. Most schools still divide their time according to the academic disciplines – mathematics, English, science, social sciences and the arts. Few of these institutions however would recognise that these structural elements within the school timetable and their associated national qualifications are influenced by Plato’s ideas and purpose of education. 

Of particular importance here, is the purpose of education as upheld by Plato, that the ‘best’ accumulated knowledge is learnt, and that it transforms the mind of the learner to become increasingly rational (Egan, 2001). Thus, by selecting the best of our human knowledge, and selectively and gradually exposing students to the best of knowledge, we will develop students who are rational, and as a result, increasingly just and virtuous, and further, who might appropriately and rationally contribute in a democratic society. Biesta (2009) identifies this, as the qualification purpose of education, where the key purpose is the provision of particular knowledge and skills, often for set purposes such as preparation for the workforce or for economic development and growth.

We can thus conclude that Plato’s influence on education provides much of the foundation upon which the academic purposes of our current education systems rest, and as such, why so many of the systems and processes in our current education landscape reflects the ideals upheld in Plato’s Republic. Additionally, subsequent philosophers of education have also been influenced by Plato, and as a result further established these ideas as part of the common education paradigm.  

Rousseau’s developmental idea or subjectification

Jean-Jacques Rousseau is a second philosopher whose ideas have had a significant influence on the current education paradigms within which we operate. Rousseau is credited with reimagining education as “supporting the fullest achievement of the natural process of mental development” (Egan, 2001). Or in other words, Rousseau is credited with reimaging education to be ‘age appropriate’, matching the curriculum to age of the child. Roussea’s ideas about a developmental curriculum is of particular significance as it forms the foundation upon which Piaget and Vygotsky’s theories were built (Egan, 2001). Much of today’s debates around personalisation in education are echos of Rousseau’s ideas which evolved to include learning style and personal sensibilities as matters also to be considered in educating a child. Thus, for Rousseau, the purpose of education was to develop the potential of the individual child and as such, he contributes a second potential purpose for education. 

Roussea’s ideas can also not be viewed in isolation, as he himself credits Plato’s Republic as “the finest treatise on education ever written”(Rousseau, 2012). However, Roussea’s philosophy does suggest an entirely different focus for the purpose of education. While Plato’s education system focuses on the society, seeking to develop the role of education in stabilising society, Roussea seeks to develop the individual development of the child, viewing society as a corrupting influence. Central to Rousseau’s philosophy, is that the child is at the center, and as such, we might conclude that the second key philisophical purpose of education is the development of the autonomos individual . This idea of the development of the autonomous individual is also echoed in Biesta (2009) who writes that “any education worthy of its name … allow those being educated to become more autonomous and independent in their thinking and acting.”


Yet a third purpose of education as outlined by Egan (2001), is that of socialisation, where education seeks to  impart the norms and values of a particular society. Or, as Dewey (2012) explains, it is the process by which a social group moulds or shapes an immature member into its social form. This means that a third potential purpose of education is that it helps young people learn to navigate the social codes of their society succesfully. Dewey (2012) even goes as far as to suggest that this socialisation contributes towards an individual winning the approval of others. Further, the socialisation purpose also might seek to inculture ways of being, or cultures of inquiry (Kuhn, 2008) within an academic domain as mathematician, scientist, sociologist and so forth (Biesta, 2009).

Coupled with the idea of socialisation is also that of democracy. Education serves a purpose in establishing a particular kind of citizen, as well as the type of democracy this is to bring about (Biesta, 2009). This is evident in Plato’s ideas in particular as his educational dialogues are heavily connected to ideas of a just society. We can thus conclude that it is this socialisation purpose that fosters a sence of belonginging and responsibility within a community (both academic and civil), particularly in regards to citizenship.

Fit for purpose? 

Although Biesta (2009) begins to stress the importance of examining the purpose of education within the current political landscape, his argument does not extend to a critique of these ideas, or the extent to which the current system actually meets these goals. Further, whilst the above three ideologies regarding the purpose of education are inherent within current and historical debates around education reform, a case can be made that education within its current state does not serve any one of these three foundational purposes of education. Thus, an argument can be made that a radical shift is needed within formal education, particularly in schools and tertiary academic institutes.  Further, since the intent of this study is to disrupt debates on educational futures, it is thus necessary to justify why such a disruption might be required.  

Individual level
One might begin a critique of the current modus operandi of education, and in particular schooling in New Zealand, with an evaluation of how the purposes of schooling are serving the individual. 

Central to the philosophies of Rousseau’s developmental idea and subjectification as discussed by Egan (2001) and Biesta (2009) respectively, is that the child and their needs are at the centre of the educational experience. However, if the child is in fact at the centre of our current system, the vast literature on student disengagement in school, particularly that of the ethnic minorities and those with special educational needs would suggest that this intention is not being met (Appleton, Christenson, & Furlong, 2008; Finn & Servoss, 2014; Wang & Eccles, 2013). A further example that illustrates that the child is not in fact at the centre, is that here in New Zealand, there are concerns around the unhealthy levels of stress and anxiety experienced by young people, because of their schooling experience, particularly around assessment (Education Review Office, 2015).
One might thus make the argument that the increasing levels of disengagement, partnered with concerns over student wellbeing indicates that the current schooling experience does not have the students at the centre, particularly for those students most at risk. 

The socialisation aspect of education as outlined above would suggest that education might play a significant role in helping students assimilate and to be successful within our social codes. Despite a general public consensus of the egalitarian purpose of school (Gilbert, 2005; Gordon, 2016), that education should act as the great equaliser, for some time now, research has suggested that this is in fact not the case (Biesta, 2009; Bishop, Berryman, Cavanagh, & Teddy, 2009; Peet, 1975; Roscigno & Ainsworth-Darnell, 1999). If we are successful at using school as a means to socialise our young people, then we should not see such stark differences in the engagement, dropout rates, exam results and even incarceration of ethnic minorities or those from a lower socio-economic groups. However, given the differences we can observe between ethnicity and socio-economic groups (Finn & Servoss, 2014), we can thus argue that at an individual level, education does not successfully socialise all our young people to effectively navigate the social and political codes of society, but rather, as Marx argued, that it propagates the social hierarchies of the ruling class (Peet, 1975; Roscigno & Ainsworth-Darnell, 1999).

As to the third purpose of education, that of qualification or Plato’s academic idea, where the intent is to expose students to ‘best’ accumulated knowledge with the intent of developing rational and virtuous citizens, we can argue that here too education falls short in its goals. 
When considering the current rate at which knowledge advances (Weinberger, 2011), in conjunction with the pace at which National Curriculums and policy are reviewed and adapted,  we can raise serious questions as to the relevance of the knowledge to which students are exposed to throughout their academic career. This of course does not even begin to address what the expansive and exponential explosion of information should mean for education.
Additionally, the academic ideals of exposing our young people to the ‘best’ of human knowledge in an effort to prepare them for the working world, falls remarkably short of its promises too, as is evident by the skills gap (Stewart, Wall, & Maciniec, 2016). Graduates are frequently criticised for not having the right skills for success in the workplace, whilst the media also have begun questioning the usefulness of current qualifications including tertiary degrees (Alton, 2016; Durden, 2015; Duronio, 2012; Lehmann, 2015; Ryan, 2015). 

Further, one might also argue, that our education systems not only falls short in developing adults with the necessary skills for the postnormal workplace, but an argument can also be made that education is failing to develop adults with the mental models to successfully navigate the complexities and demands of the modern personal life too (Kegan, 1995). Not only are we seeing increased diversity within our communities and schools that require the skills to communicate effectively across cultural differences (Hall & Theriot, 2016), but we are also seeing a redefinition of how personal and professional relationships are navigated and established thanks to the rise and reach of social media (Gardner & Davis, 2014),.

In summary, we might argue that public education, in particular schools, fail to meet the needs of the individual. Not only do they fall short in socialising students in such a way that they are able to successfully navigate the vast complexities of postnormal life, but, it would appear that the academic agenda fails to do so also. Moreover, high levels of student disengagement, dissatisfaction and frustration would also suggest that the personal needs of students are also not met. 

National level

Despite the value that we have placed on the individual in recent times, national goals cannot be excluded from the debate around whether education and schooling is in fact meeting its goal. As is highlighted by both Plato and Dewey, the role of education is fundamental in that of the democratic society. 

At a national level we might also make the case that here too, education is not meeting its socialisation purpose. Within New Zealand, lower socio economic groups, as well as Maori and Pasifica groups, all have a long history of underachievement within academic contexts, but also of higher levels of unemployment, as well as higher levels of incarceration, illness and poverty (Bishop et al., 2009). Thus we can argue that education does not serve these groups in helping them to assimilate and be successful in the dominant culture (Peet, 1975).  Again we might bring into question the supposed egalitarian intent of education. Additionally, Dewey (2012) highlights the role of socialisation in bringing the “immature members into its own social form”. Thus, for those who have been marginalised within education and society, this will likely continue as these values and ideals are proliferated through the socialisation that takes places in education. Further, this educational idea also struggles in navigating the tension between the losses of cultural knowledge at the expense of socialisation (Milne, 2013). 

When examining the ideas of subjectivity and Rousseau’s developmental ideas within a national context, again, our current education model struggles to meet its goals here too. 
Current education models see large amounts of standardisation, a remnant from the industrial age. This sits both within the organisation of schools, but also the standardisation of the academic curriculum through achievement objectives and an externally driven assessment systems. Our students are educated in batches where everyone must learn the same things, where machinelike efficiency is valued (Berry, 2011; Callahan, 1962; Claxton, 2013), often over diversity, creativity, innovation, complex problem solving, individual strengths, passions and cultural capital, autonomy, and personal agency (Berry, 2011; Wagner & Compton, 2012). Given current, and potentially future economically and politically volatile times, one might argue that diversity, creativity, problem solving and critical thinking will likely play a key role in adaptability of communities and nations (Capra & Luisi, 2014; Facer, 2016) yet, our current system through high degrees of standardisation acts to reduce and diminish this diversity. Further, diversity is also attributed as a key factor for innovation (Pentland, 2014; Wagner & Compton, 2012), and as such, one may question whether the excessive focus on standardisation might mean the loss of economic revenue at a national level, due to the loss of creativity required for innovation.

A further contention within the national context when evaluating whether education is in fact fit for purpose is again, the academic agenda. A national curriculum serves the purpose of establishing an agenda for the ‘best’ knowledge. In New Zealand, despite the socialisation aspects of the curriculum that seek to develop “young people who will be confident, connected, actively involved life long learners” (Ministry of Education, 2007), a large part of the curriculum (or the back half as it is more informally called), still concerns itself with establishing what knowledge and skills students should learn. Despite the values of the curriculum claiming diversity, inquiry and curiosity, the back half serves as a reminder of the Platonic ideals of education where we already ‘know’ what the ‘best’ knowledge is. The achievement objectives that fill the second part of the New Zealand curriculum falls short because not only do they (potentially unintentionally) act to limit the potential of diversity through their standardisation of what students must know, and hence limit inquiry and curiosity within schools, but additionally, it also makes some assumptions about what constitutes the ‘best’ knowledge and skills for our students to learn. This begs the questions what knowledge is best to learn for who and for what purpose? 

Additionally, when considering the tension between social and cultural diversity, and the role of education to socialise individuals into the culture of inquiry within academic disciplines, one should also consider the changing nature of knowledge. David Weinberger (2011) and others (Barker, 2000; Cope & Phillips, 2009; Gilbert, 2005, 2007) argue that the internet, much like the printing press before that, has shifted the nature of knowledge. 
The rise of the printing press saw knowledge often being treated with an artificial linearity and hierarchy, and as a scare resource (Weinberger, 2011). However, the Internet, as well as wicked problems such as climate change that transcends disciplinary boundaries, has led to epistemic shifts in the way knowledge is produced, stored, used and communicated. Weinberger (2011) and Bolstad et al. (2012) summarise these shifts through identifying that knowledge has become more accessible and less of a scarcity, becoming available to a much greater number of people in a greater range of contexts, but also through being filtered forward (rather than out, as was necessary in the age of print where every word costs money to print). In other words, knowledge is no longer guarded in paid journals and university libraries. This has a range of implications including, that the shape of knowledge has shifted to networks of interactions, people and reasoning. This also means that we have seen an explosion of knowledge, particularly as knowledge production is no longer reserved largely for universities and academia, but rather, we can now easily find the contributions of the expert amateur, corporate research and development, and cultural knowledge. 
Essentially, knowledge has become networked, exponential, dynamic and diverse (Weinberger, 2011).

When the very nature of knowledge is shifting, then here too we can argue that socialising students into the culture of an academic domain poses problems. For example, when knowledge no longer needs to be dominated by a male Eurocentric bias (Ruse, 1981), what becomes the ‘best’ knowledge to learn and teach? Additionally, what new role can and should the greater accessibility to knowledge play when considered in light of developing the individual rather than the society or class? Should individuals be allowed and enabled to choose their own path through the exploded landscape of knowledge, or should the best knowledge be chosen from across this landscape to expose all students too? And, by choosing the ‘best’ knowledge to expose all students to, what critical redundancy is removed from the system, by socialising individuals into particular modes of thinking that might serve to propagate existing cultural norms and mental models that have contributed to climate change, inequality and other global wicked problems?  
Further, few national curriculums make space for the rise of emerging interdisciplinary fields such as climate change and nanotechnology, quantum biology or nutrigenomics. As noted earlier, national curriculums generally cannot keep pace with the dynamic rate at which knowledge is evolving in modern times. 
In summary, the idea of the ‘best’ knowledge no longer holds up in postnormal times, where the selection of this knowledge not only serves to exclude, both cultural and academics perspectives, but also that national curriculums simply cannot match the current explosion of knowledge and so is at risk of forever being out of date. 

Global level

At the global level, a large number of factors contribute towards experts predicting shifts in our society as radical as the Industrial Age, if not more (Brynjolfsson & McAfee, 2012; Facer, 2011; Sardar, 2010). Hence, if we compare the present model of education against currents global trends and challenges, here too, the purported purposes of the education, of what school supposedly provides do not hold up to their promise. 
Whilst our current education system was a product of the industrial revolution, one might argue as Gilbert (2005) does, that a new model is required for a different age.

On a global scale, humanity is facing a number of wicked problems. Of major concern is the rising impact of climate change (Stokes, Wike, & Carle, 2015). Rising sea levels that will impact coastal communities and infrastructure, drastic differences in climate that will likely impact global food production through drought, floods and other changing weather patterns, as well as increased risk of natural disasters, means that this environmental problem is likely to impact the lives of citizens in every country, at every level. Given that most of New Zealand’s economy is dependent on agriculture and forestry, it becomes urgent and critical that the possibility of radical climate change is addressed as this will directly impact out economic sustainability. Alongside climate change, radical inequality, over population, resources scarcity, specifically around food and water are also major global concerns (Emmott, 2013; Facer, 2011). 

When considering the potential socialisation purpose of school, one may then question the role that education plays in the increasing amount of concerns around these wicked problems that may dramatically, if not catastrophically transform our environment and way of living. Where socialisation is considered to act as a means to impart the norms and values of our culture (Egan, 2001), we can then question the extent to which schools have contributed in socialising the populous into cultural norms that prioritise economic growth over environment, consumerism over environmentalism, growth over ethics. In other words, to what extent are the ways that we socialise our young people into the current ways of doing things, the current paradigms of thinking, actually contributing to the escalating environmental disasters? Monbiot (2012) captures much of this culture of consumerism that feeds large-scale environmental destruction when he writes, “Pathological consumption has become so normalised that we scarcely notice it. … There’s nothing they need, nothing they don’t own already, nothing they even want. So you buy them a solar-powered waving queen; a belly button brush …”

Additionally, since the establishment of our current education model, globalisation has taken hold. Not only are we seeing significantly increased international levels of trade and exchange, but also some experts have argued that we are in the ‘age of migration’ (Triebert, 2014). 
Individuals are asked to navigate the complexities of a range of cultural norms and practices on a daily basis within the workplace and community. This means that our formerly homogenous communities have been overtaken by new levels of cultural and social diversity, meaning our norms and traditions within which we have been socialised, are challenged on a daily basis (Kegan, 1995).
Hence, we can argue that here too socialisation falls short of its goals, since we can argue that our schools do not socialise our young people into new models of citizenship and ways of being within this global landscape; a task that might be increasingly necessary given the ever-increasing levels of migration and globalisation. 

It is evident that these new models of democracy and citizenship in increasing cultural and social diversity is not yet established, particularly when considering the on going public discussion around the banning of hijabs (Kakissis, 2016; Nasralla, 2017), or gay rights movements (Herskovitz, 2017), or recent current events in the United States of America and their executive orders around excluding refugees from particular countries. 

It is difficult to see how a focus on literacy, numeracy, academic qualifications and standardised testing helps to socialise a population to navigate the complexities of human diversity successfully, whilst maintaining the ideals of equality and democracy, particularly when these are not the histories or values of all the people that now make up our economic, social and political contexts. 

Questions can also be raised about the homogenising effect of socialisation, and how these serve in direct opposition to the subjectification goals of education. If diverse student bodies are socialised in such a way that we are homogenising the population, enormous cultural capital, as well as personal autonomy and identity is lost. 

Much has been written about the role of education in preparing the individual for society (Biesta, 2009; Plato, 2004; Rousseau, 2012), yet, again when examined on a global scale, we can argue that current education models are failing to do so. The rise of VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity) in postnormal society suggests that it has become nearly impossible to ‘prepare’ students for their future, particularly as already their present is characterised by extreme volatility and complexity (Facer, 2011; Sardar, 2010). 

Within the business world, this has led some experts to argue for the limitations of a strategic plan in a volatile, complex world (Bennett & Lemoine, 2014; Berger & Johnston, 2015).  The question can then be asked, if in the business domain strategic plans no longer provide the flexibility for companies to adapt to a changing world, how then does a standardised education system largely designed during the Industrial Revolution prepare our young people to be sufficiently adaptive in a volatile world? In a system where command and control dominates, how might students develop the agility and adaptiveness that enables successful navigation in and of a VUCA world? And, when considering Rousseau’s developmental idea, how can an education system conceived of during the Industrial Revolution, possibly provide for the passions and interests of our modern students who are living in fast paced world characterised by new technology including social media, online gaming (Gardner & Davis, 2014), and a myriad of other new economies, and communities, all of which contribute towards increasing complexity, volatility, uncertainty and ambiguity.

Further, amongst politicians, academics and social forecasters, much speculation has centred around the role of increased automation and the impact this will have on society and economy.  In particular, growing concerns are suggesting that the impact of automation on jobs including lawyers, doctors and so forth might see a shift in society as big as the industrial revolution, albeit more rapidly (Brynjolfsson & McAfee, 2012). Already, IBM’s super computer Watson is diagnosing lung cancer at rates more accurate than experienced human doctors (reference?). As a result of the increasing impact of automation in replacing human jobs, many governments around the world are investigating the concept of Universal Basic Income (Bulman, 2017) as a means of managing a society where many people may no longer need to work. 

Again, the qualification purpose of education is brought into question here. Since currently much of school supposedly serves as a means of preparing students for the workplace as a means of financial providing for oneself or family, what happens when the workplace becomes a choice rather than a necessity? What will schools then be preparing students for? Additionally, the rise of automation raises serious questions about the types of jobs that we are preparing students for. Not only are jobs such as truck and taxi drivers and factory workers already being replaced, but traditional while collar jobs such as doctors, lawyers and accountants are too (Brynjolfsson & McAfee, 2012; Morgenstern, 2016). Although it is not clear what types of jobs will be demanded in future economies, current trends are suggesting that jobs with high degrees of routine are most at risk of being replaced by machines, hence the arguments from futurists, economists and educationist, alike who argue for the emphasis of soft skills such as collaboration and creativity in schools (Brynjolfsson & McAfee, 2012; Claxton, 2013; Facer, 2011; Sardar, 2010; Wagner & Compton, 2012). Yet, currently, schools still emphasise traditional pathways of preparation for the workforce, with the supposed soft skills serving largely as an add on rather than the core business of schools. 

For much of the history of public education where a national curriculum has stipulated what children should learn, we have selected the ‘knowledge to be imparted’. Teachers have acted as the experts and so, for many generations now, students have learnt of Shakespeare, Pythagoras, Newton, and Darwin - the supposed ‘best’ of our collective human knowledge. Much educational debate has centred around the suggestion that these academic pursuits will develop the rational thinking that will see students succeed in future. However, this selection of the ‘best’ knowledge carries with it some mental constructs and paradigms that may in fact limit the thinking of our students.
 Examples of this is evident within feminist(?) research, complexity theory (Capra & Luisi, 2014) and other models of thinking that deliberately seek to create and explore knowledge from paradigms outside of the dominant social culture. Capra and Luisi (2014) provide a prime example of this when they explain the limitations of the traditional reductionist approach in scientist when dealing with quantum theory, where reducing the structures studied to smaller and smaller parts to attempt to understand the whole, fails, as some properties only emerges within the interactions between parts, rather than the parts themselves. 

Other dominant paradigms such as the belief that continued economic growth is possible (Kirk, 2015), may also dominate, yet it is this very paradigm that one can argue has contributed to the large-scale environmental destruction that has now led to the climate change concerns. As such, we can see then that the purpose of education to impart the ‘best’ of human knowledge has limitations on a global scale too, as not only do we stumble into challenges when selecting the ‘best’ of knowledge given the knowledge explosion that has accompanied the Internet, but also that by the very selection to include some knowledge, others are excluded, and by that means, we exclude knowledge that may in fact be critical for the future sustainability of the planet. 

Re-evaluating the purpose of education given postnormal contexts

As Egan (2001) explains, education is difficult and contentious precisely because at its philosophical roots, the very purposes of education are in conflict with each other. As such, in increasingly diverse communities, conflicting ideologies are always at odds with each other in education debates. Particularly as Biesta (2009) argues, because we do not explicitly call these ideologies to the forefront. Further, we can argue that extensive economic, social and environmental changes are contributing towards a radically different society from the one in which our current education system was conceived in, and as such, our current education models does not meet its purpose when evaluated for its role in postnormal society. In conclusion, we can thus argue that our current formal education model, particularly as it relates to schooling, is no longer fit for purpose, and that a radical shift is needed. 

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Monday, May 28, 2018

Three important growth mindset lessons for teachers ...from skateboarding

I imagine you would be hard-pressed to find a teacher in New Zealand who has not heard about growth versus fixed mindsets (see the video below if you haven't yet). Most of us have a poster or two about in our schools or classrooms. we have used it to encourage struggling or frustrated students. Some of us have even used the posters to remind ourselves from time to time to keep at a task when it seemed impossible, challenging or daunting.

I was reminded this weekend of a few important growth mindset lessons. I went along to my first all-girls skateboarding class today. The class is aimed at women eighteen years and over. After getting my elbow and knee pads, helmet and wrist guards on, I picked up my new skateboard and prepared for some new learning. Now you would be forgiven for thinking that I am sporty and co-ordinated. I'm not. In fact, I am all uncoordinated limbs that constantly suffer the impact of my limited spatial awareness. And this skating thing? I tried it for the first time about two years ago. So we are talking real beginner here. And on top of this, my lack of participation in a sport before this means I have few muscle memories to help ease the transition.

As I practiced my tic-tacs (turning by lifting the front of the board as shown in the gif below), it occurred to me that I had forgotten some of the important lessons about growth mindsets in the way that I was planning my lessons.

Image result for skateboarding tick tack gif

Lesson 1: Play
How often do we give students a chance just to play? How often do we structure, scaffold and constrain students? Particularly at secondary schools? How much science is done with instructions, rather than as explorations? Yet, we know that much learning happens through play whether you are an adult or a child. In my skateboarding class this morning, I was reminded of just how different my attitude is to play than it is to work. I tried different strategies, I practiced things so that I could feel confident about moving on to try something else. I tried stuff and failed, and tried again because there was no real risk involved. How often have we wished that our students would keep trying, or would search out new strategies? Yet how often do we give them the chance to play? Perhaps if I gave my students more time to play, they might seize the reduced risk environment to fail safely and try again.

Lesson 2: Choose your level
I watched in admiration at the other women who attended the skate session with me. One of them was teaching herself to drop in from increasing heights on the ramps available. Another one was practicing getting over the lowest ramps for the first time. I was practicing turning (I am not an ambiturner yet). If I had tried the drop in on day one, things would have ended badly. I would most likely have felt terrified and not very successful. At the same time, if the more advanced skaters had to practice how to do a basic turn like I was, they would most likely have felt frustrated and bored. Chances are, all of us would have gotten distracted and off task if the learning wasn't pitched at the right level for us. This was an important reminder that often in schools we make assumptions about someone's fixed mindset when in reality it is the learning that is not pitched at the right level for the students. The emotional roller coaster of learning a brand new skill reminded me that it is time to break out my professional readings about the zone of proximal development again.

Lesson 3: If you are not falling, you are not trying hard enough
Between tangles of limbs, high speed, and attempting to lift the front of the board off the ground while turning, and staying balanced, falling is pretty much inevitable. In fact, it almost feels like you are not trying hard enough if you turn up with knee pads that are not scuffed. Also, I have yet to meet a skater who is content and isn't working on a new trick. This too had me wondering about school. Just how much is failing encouraged in your school or classroom? It seemed to me that the contrast between learning to skate and learning at school was massive. You arrive at skating expecting to fail, accepting that you won't make progress if you don't take risks. All skateboarders can regale you with tales of their injuries and epic falls. Watch any skating contest and you can see how people fall, get up, and try again. Yet, even in the most growth mindset orientated classroom or school, there are so many systems, traditions and behaviours that actively discourage the kind of risk-taking in learning that skate culture seem to be made of. I have yet to sit around with a student and compare notes about how we both failed something at school or university.

So this week as I plan my classes, I intend to include a whole lot more focus on these three lessons. To start with, we are going to play with virtual reality. No scaffolding, no tasks, just time to play. I will plan time to share and celebrate the mistakes we make and get the chocolate fish ready as rewards! I think the stop-motion films we are making about plate tectonics is a perfect context for this. And finally, I'm going to adjust my exit slips for the week to give me feedback about whether I pitched the various parts of my lesson in that sweet spot between can and can't. I think a renewed focus on differentiation is just what the doctor students ordered.

PS: If you are in Auckland, 18+ years old, and a female, feel free to join me on Sunday mornings at 11am for OnBoard Skate's all girl skate session. 

Is your #transport to work as #ecofriendly #healthylifestyle or as #fun as mine? #climatechange #longboard #girlswhoskate