Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The day we colonised another planet in class

This post is being jointly written by Danielle and Steve and cross-posted on both of our blogs. We are co-teaching a Science and Social Studies module called Post-Mortem for the first half of this year. This post is to share a learning experience that we designed to kick off the second term of our course. If you haven't yet, make sure follow Steve's blog. He shares great stuff!

To Make Sense of the Treaty of Waitangi by developing empathy for the perspectives involved

This term our Social Studies focus is on Responses to the Treaty of Waitangi and understanding Biculturalism. The premise for our module is that these historical responses have contributed to making NZ society the way it is today. To truly do this, I wanted students to understand why people felt the Treaty was needed and why people had responded to it differently over time.

Both of us had been unduly influenced by our time at KiwiFoo. We had many conversations about how Werewolf could be used educationally and had also both just read The Martian which was highly recommended at the Reading List workshop (about a man stranded on Mars and his attempt to survive).

Whilst discussing plans for Term 2, one of the ideas was “What if we ran a simulation of the British colonising NZ but had it as humans colonising another planet”. In this way we could attempt to develop empathy for the situation without students’ preconceived ideas about the Treaty blocking their view.

To have this close to reality we decided that there had to be communication issues (mistranslations etc.), the colonists needed a superior attitude (to match the civilised barbarians view of Maori held in the early 19th Century) and some differing attitudes towards resources.

The class (45 students) were split fairly evenly, with a mix of natural leaders in both groups and slightly more colonists than aliens.

Pre-Sim with students
Aliens:To begin preparing for the simulation, the aliens were divided into six groups. Each group contributed a different part of the planning by addressing one of the following questions:What are the distinguishing characteristics of your species? How might you ensure this is communicated (without speaking) in the simulation?How might you communicate to ensure we understand each other but the colonists do not?How do we live? e.g. niche, habitat. And how how will we set up the space (cafeteria) to reflect this?What are our resources and why are we so protective of them? Eg. food? What do our communities look like? Eg. social hierarchy, cultural norms.What are our most important values? Why?
The aliens decided on the following:They would operate in factions, each faction would dress similarly. Hence, we ended up with one faction in onesies. Their most valued resource was metal because this is what they ate. This worked well as it meant that I could represent this resource in the simulation with tinfoil!Each faction would live in their own ‘home’, a space constructed with two large tables turned on their side with legs facing each other to create a square area to sit in. In some cases it was a single table with legs turned towards the wall. There were also some free ‘homes’ set up. The students decided to communicate through a Facebook messaging group.

On the dayAliens set up the space. 
Satellite image of planet pre-colonisation 
Resource to utilise? Or sacred mountain?
I set up the sacred mountain where the food was located and told students that once every ten minutes, one person from each faction needed to go and collect a single piece of food and bring it back to their faction. Because it was a sacred mountain, students were not allowed to step on it.Students were told the pre-negotiated (negotiated between Steve and I, the teachers) hand signals. This included hand signals for friend, jail, food, trade, grow, land and person. We also included hand signals that had slightly different meanings for each group. For example, share meaning borrow and give back to one group vs. use long term together for the other group. There was also a gesture for referring to different groups. The aliens had a separate gesture for a faction and all the aliens. No distinction was made between signals for all the factions and one faction for the colonists.
ColonistsThe Colonists were told that Earth could no longer support life for all humans. This group had been selected to colonise the planet “Epic”.
It has lots of land for growing food and plenty of resources to be claimed to use for their needs. There are space creatures that live there who seem to have some form of intelligence but are not as advanced as we are. They seem capable of trade so are more civilised than creatures found on other planets but still act like barbarians at times.
In small groups, the students decided what their plan of action would be upon arriving at their destination: settle land first, source resources, seek out trade opportunities.
We had an opportunity to send 2 scouts to the aliens and ask questions that would help the group of colonists. They found out that there was plenty of metal available. The group decided this was a valuable resource and some groups started planning mining operations at this point.
On the Day:
Each group nominated 1 group member who became part of the police//military and was given a gun. We had a visiting student for the day so she became Governor as she had no pre-existing alliances with any of the students. She quickly selected 1 group to be her advisers.  
I taught the Colonists the pre-arranged hand signals that would allow some communication between the groups. I did however, purposefully mix up the signals for trade and share as miscommunication was vital for ensuring some authenticity in this simulation!
A photo was taken from the mezzanine showing how the area was set up. This “satellite image” was shared with the colonist groups so they could plan where they would head to on arrival at “Epic”.
One group of only 2 students were given a lot more resources so that we had some wealthy colonists as well as the rest.
The groups were sent down the elevator as our spaceship to Epic. They arrived in their groups of 4-5 students with the Governor and her advisors the 2nd group to arrive.

During the simulation

This is best described by the students in their own words:

Once the Skypeople arrived in our village/colony we were automatically put underneath them on their hierarchy, they stole resources from the sacred mountain and begun tearing down our bunkers. Attempted trades didn’t last for long and they begun putting us into prisons (which they had previously set up upon arrival) due to not signing their suggested treaty. Keagan, Micah and I hid in our secondary bunker which proved to last throughout most of the fighting outside (although they didn’t have much respect for personal privacy). The overall habitat was mostly destroyed towards the end of the fighting (and little attempted communication was used to benefit the previous environment).”
Signals were used for a variety of things such as communicating about trading, jail and whether you were friends or not.Some of the things that were communicated on facebook were about people asking for help if they were being invaded and people letting each other know who is taking whatSome things weren’t communicated well as some people didn't know what had been going on e.g the marriageEach person at the start tried to be friendly by signaling friendship but the invaders took all of our food and then tried to trade still.The communicating started to fail for us (the aliens) as we started talking verbally which we couldn’t do.Some of our stronger members started to talk with Raley who was their chief and we figured out a treaty by writing on paper and signing it. We used some hand signals that hadn’t been created yet (improvisation)Someone added a person from the colonie to our messaging system so they overtook it and started to delete people.”  
Their first steps on our planet were a mistake (literally) as their first action was to trod our holy temple into the ground. (An action of the highest blasphemy)  And to collect our offering to the gods as an attempt to blackmail us. My first actions against these vile invaders was to (I am ashamed to say) cower in my home, but the fear soon turned to anger as the tyrants began imposing rules and laws to steal our land. Without food my only option was to steal, and to say the least it didn’t work. I amassed a grand total of three  steel pieces for consumption before I was hauled (kicking and clawing, literally) off to jail. There was where I met the first civilised human, ironic really, isn't it? Who confessed to trying to take land with force (not so civilised then.) Three unsuccessful attempts later I was out! Using only persistence and a good hiding spot I had evaded the guards! I moved back to my land and kept away from anyone who might be able to identify me. This didn’t settle well with me, being a fugitive and watching them take our land. Using the telepathy our specie possessed I attempted to catch up on what I missed. OUTRAGE! They were attempting to sign a treaty with our people, (after their hideous treatment of us) and what was worse people were buying it! I was soon approached by some  colonists bartering peace, intrigued I set aside my distrust  and asked them what they wanted.  It seemed they wanted my land and they were willing to pay for it too! Grudgingly I accepted the deal (what choice did I have?) and took leave of my land.”
"Throughout the process of the “invasion” of the planet, I was put in charge of protecting and accompanying the governess while she attempted to trade and communicate with the savages. I also helped the governess reason with the savages to sign a treaty to end the violence going on between our kind. I believe that I managed to succeed in helping her do that, as I helped her also get married off to one of the savages. Although I didn’t succeed in keeping hold of our groups food supply, as our chicken was stanched from me by one of the savages, who ended up being sent off to prison for committing the crime of stealing the governesses food. If I was to improve what I did next time, I would probably spend more time trying to communicating with the savages to find out more about them rather than just trying to avoid them."  
"Today we colonised the planet epic (aka The cafeteria). My recollection of things is that when we first arrived from the elevator it seemed quite normal. My first alien “encounter” was an alien coming up to us and just grunting. But then if kind of went downhill. Lots of the aliens were acting psychotic, yelling, throwing chickens and attacking. And someone (i think) stole my backpack as it was gone from our “house”. I was sent to jail in-lawfully but luckily was understood. People kept stealing our weapons and someone stole my chicken as I was trying to defend myself whilst protecting my “house”. A lot of the time I was completely confused about what was going on so just kind of went with the flow. I think that the rich people definitely had an advantage because they were able to trade easier. There was no order and everyone just kinda did what they wanted, took what they wanted and did not obey any guidelines." 
"The colonisation was a success in our eyes, during the colonisation we succeeded in gaining their resources such as food. After this happened things got out of hand. Josh got mugged about 5 times they never succeeded and Brennan was imprisoned and escaped four times. Our Governess got married, had three kids and then got divorced. Campbell was sentenced to death and I had to kill him, I shot him many times but he did not die. "

After Sim reflections and discussion
Alien perspective
Colonist perspective

We were incredibly excited about the success of this lesson. As Steve put it... on second thought, it’s best left censored. It rocked (or choose another appropriate excitable word). What made this such an exciting day for us, is that the events and perceptions that emerged paralleled those around the Treaty of Waitangi amazingly well. There were no teacher prompts to make a treaty, to interfere with communication, etc. In other words, the students had full autonomy, yet acted in such a way that led to many of the events around the treaty being naturally recreated. For example:

  • Misunderstandings on what resources represented lead to conflict
  • A Treaty that was signed by some was attempted to be enforced on all
  • The majority (from both parties) felt that the Treaty was unsuccessful
  • Some had no idea a Treaty had been signed at all
  • Guns traded by colonists were used by Aliens against other factions of Aliens
  • Once Colonists got access to the alien communication, they hacked it and kicked out the aliens from the system - remind you of Te Reo being banned from schools etc.?

Alien perceptions of the colonists straight after the simulation:
  • Colonists automatically assumed they were better than the aliens.
  • The aliens felt that the colonists would do anything to get you off their land
  • The aliens found the colonists were brutish, abusive and violent
  • The aliens thought the colonists acted in a way that suggested that everything was theirs
  • The colonists automatically thought they had authority over our land as soon as they arrived
  • The aliens felt the colonists had little respect for privacy
  • The aliens found the colonists disrespectful
  • Aliens felt the colonists were not making anything, they just destructed what we had built

Colonists perceptions of Aliens straight after the simulation:
  • The natives were psychos/savages
  • If trade wasn’t exactly what they wanted they attacked you - no understanding of negotiating
  • They made really weird growling noises
  • Frustrated that the aliens didn’t pay attention to the Treaty that was supposed to stop conflict
  • A couple were interested in learning our language but the rest didn’t want to learn anything

How we debriefed the students
  • After the simulation, students were asked to write a reflection about the events from their perspectives.
  • From there, students were then asked to share their reflection with a member of the opposite group. They then had to come up with one thing that they found funny about the experience, one thing they found interesting and one thing they wondered about. These were shared as a class.
  • From here, students were asked to complete a Y chart (looks like, sounds like, feels like + wonder about) from the perspectives of both the alien and colonist groups. The students started with the group they were part of, and then had to use the combined narratives to create the Y chart from the other group’s perspective. The students very clearly identified how challenging it was to empathise and understand the other group’s perspective.   
  • Finally, we will finish this week with a SOLO hexagon task where students will be given hexagons with events that led up to and followed the treaty. They will then have to add their own hexagons of events that happened during the simulation. Students will have to find and justify the links between the hexagons. As we move through this module, the plan is for students to go back to their hexagons, adding more as their understanding develops in complexity. 
F = funny I = Interesting W = Wondering

What would we change for next time?
  • Missionaries amongst the colonists who actively try to convert and civilise the aliens
  • Wider gaps between groups of colonists arriving to allow events to unfold a bit slower
  • Guard the jail!
  • Set a maximum number of times people can die. Each death represents 100 people etc.
  • Moonshot(ish): Put chalk on colonisers to act as a disease that colonisers are immune to. When the aliens get it on them, they get sick and have to slow down, return to their home base for a while.

Other thoughts
Danielle’s nerd moment: Piecing together the story from student reflections is like doing historical research, piecing together different artifacts to get at what the story might have been. This sits really really well within my current thinking around exposing students to the ‘nature’ of each academic disciplines way of thinking and creating new knowledge. Hence, a new nerd high reached.

Steve’s term for Social Studies focusing on Biculturalism, Responses to the Treaty of Waitangi and Perspectives is set up perfectly!

Saturday, April 18, 2015

L is for left behind

It appears that I got a little left behind with the A to Z blogging challenge, for no good reason other than needing the time to concentrate on other things.  I should be up to to the letter P by now...

However that is not the only 'left behind' I want to comment on today. Today I want to comment on those people in our schools, even whole schools, that are being left behind. Chances are that by blogging about this, I am preaching to the converted. However dear converted, if you agree with what I say here, consider printing a copy and leaving it strewn across the staff room, in someone's (or everyone's) pigeon hole or wrapped in a bow with a chocolate attached on a someone's desk. 

The last 15 years has seen the introduction of NCEA, a new curriculum and national standards in New Zealand. As well as this, there has been more schools that have introduced bring your own device and other technology related changes including email taking on a central role in teacher's lives. We have also seen the introduction of more and more modern learning environments and the arrival of MOOCs (massive open online courses, often free courses that allow anyone from any part of the world free/cheap access to courses from Stanford, Harvard, Oxford, Yale and more). There is no question about it, change is non stop (for more about this read my post about the role of 'change' in the future of education).  For some, all these changes might feel like a passing fad, and that there is no need for them to invest too much time or energy into considering the effect of these. There is however one change that I hope that fewer educators might stop ignoring, the increasing need to be connected. Let me explain.
  • Being a connected educator means that you are part of learning conversations with those inside and outside of your organisation. Or as the study by Forte et al. puts it ".... through Twitter, teachers forge and maintain professional ties outside their local schools and, in doing so, become conduits for new practices and ideas to move in and out of their local communities ...  teachers are using Twitter as a place to share resources and to make and respond to others’ requests for information." Hence, if you are not part of these conversations, it is likely that you are missing out on the distribution of effort that happens through being connected. It means you are less likely to know about international trends and influences that are or should be impacting the day to day in your classroom and school.
  • As well as not being part of the sharing, curating, discussion that happens when you are connected, it is likely that you are relying on those people in your office or your school to challenge and develop you as a professional. Chances are that you are stuck in an echo chamber, rarely having your views challenged by those outside of your organisation. Chances are, your whole organisation might be stuck in an echo chamber, reinforcing its own misconceptions. Chances are, that you are in a bubble, unaware of how the world outside education has fundamentally shifted, unaware that the job market, the value of a university degree, society, has changed more than any one person can possibly hope to know. Examining change in today's world is like "when we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else".
  • Chances are, that if you are not connected, you are likely to fall behind in both the conversations that discuss and consider new practices and ideas, but also that you are likely to constantly feel the agitation and stress from always being reactive, always being on the back foot. It is Lewis Caroll's Red Queen in education, you have to keep running just to keep up. When you stop running, you are left behind. 

"Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. 
If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!" - Lewis Caroll
Image Source or E-Book 

  • You might argue that you read professionally and that is enough for your learning. However, as Margaret Wheatley puts it, "real power and energy is generated through relationships. The patterns of relationships and the capacities to form them are more important than tasks, functions, roles and positions." Power and energy in our profession comes from the relationships that we build, and these need to extend beyond our organisations. Or as social network theorists have explained, "social network theory suspends or challenges assumptions about the meaningfulness of organisational boundaries ... social network theory eliminates the organisation as objects of interest." Hence, educators who are not connected, may not be contributing to the power and energy of our profession. 
  • Research has also identified that connected teachers are more likely to be part of, and driving reform efforts "Our findings portray teachers on Twitter as progressive thinkers who are in a position to build the trust and support networks necessary to strengthen leadership in educational communities and increase the effectiveness of reform efforts" (Fort et al, 2012). Guy Claxton quotes Geoff Mulgan about this in his great book, What's the point of school?, "One of the optical illusions of government is that those inside of it think of themselves as drivers of change ... Yet most far-reaching ideas and changes come from outside ... Most radical change has to start outside government, usually from the bottom [up] rather than the top [down]." If you are not a connected educator, how are you likely to be part of driving the positive changes that our learners need? This idea is further iterated in a report from the OECD when it says that "The complex nature of educational governance, involving myriad layers and actors, can be an overwhelming problem with no clear entry point for policy makers. Traditional approaches, which often focus on questions of top-down versus bottom-up initiatives or levels of decentralisation, are too narrow to effectively address the rapidly evolving and sprawling ecosystems that are modern educational systems. If educational governance is recast as the building of effective networks of strong independent schools collaborating continuously, and sharing knowledge both horizontally and vertically, there is no contradiction between the ideas of devolved power and effective national networks. It may not be that the devolution of power is increasing complexity in the system at all. In fact, increased curricular diversity, broader professional support, and the shared purpose this approach enables create a stronger and more reactive holistic system."

You see, being a connected educator is absolutely critical.

If you are not yet connected. Make sure you join your country's education Twitter chat. Join the great Google+ communities, attend the range of free EdCamps on offer across the world.  Whatever you do, get connected. If you are in New Zealand, join #edchatNZ (see and the range of other great Twitter chats we have. Join the Pond.  Educate yourself dear educator about what it means living successfully in a connected society, leveraging the network for your and your colleague's benefit. 

Daly, A. J. (2010). Social Network Theory and Educational Change. Harvard Education Press. 8 Story Street First Floor, Cambridge, MA 02138.
Forte, A., Humphreys, M., & Park, T. H. (2012, June). Grassroots Professional Development: How Teachers Use Twitter. In ICWSM.
Snyder, S. (2013). The simple, the complicated, and the complex: educational reform through the lens of complexity theory.
Claxton, G. (2013). What's the point of school?: Rediscovering the heart of education. Oneworld Publications.

Monday, April 13, 2015

K for Knowledge.

There are some weird things that we require our year eleven students to know. Trigonometry and Shakespeare for example. Now don't get me wrong, I actually rather enjoy trigonometry and Shakespeare. However I am wondering what has happened that without questioning it, we prioritise trigonometry, hypotenuses, radians and angles, iambic pentameter and Hamlet's issues, over the well-being of our students?

I have talked before about my concerns over valuing achievement over well-being, however further thinking around this subject has me wondering again.
  • Who has decided what 'knowledge' should be taught in our curriculum? Who decided that we should teach year eleven students trigonometry, or that year thirteen biology should know about Okazaki fragments? Who decided that we should teach algebra to all students?
  • Why were these specific things selected for our young people to know? Why not quantum theory? Why not philosophy? Why did we decide to value these things so much that the entire nation should learn them?
  • Why is it that we appear to value the mind more than the body? A colleague recently joked that he hardly ever gets any responses based on his report comments and grades for students, because nobody cares about PE. How many parents go to parent teacher interviews and ask about the well-being, the fitness and nutrition knowledge of their child? But many ask about literacy and numeracy... What is really more important?
  • How many teachers question the validity of the knowledge that they are imparting? And on the flip side, if they are questioning whether what they are teaching is useful, valid, important, do they actually know? Do science teachers have any understanding of what sets scientific knowledge apart from other knowledge? Other than fair testing that is. 
I know that much of the reasoning that underpins how we prioritise knowledge in our education systems are based on the ideas from Plato, Rousseau, Descartes and others. In fact, the more you read on this subject, the more you realise just how much.

However, there is another model that has been occupying my thoughts lately. I've just started dipping my toes into complexity theory. You can get some more introductions to complexity theory by looking at the videos below. The idea that really caught my eye this evening however was this:
"Care flows naturally if the "self" is widened and deepened so that protection of free Nature is felt and conceived as protection of ourselves" - Arne Naess 
The book explains this quote with "...if we have the deep ecological experience of being part of the web of life, then we will, as opposed to should, be inclined to care for all of living nature"
Quotes from The Systems View of Life. A Unifying Vision
Again, this has me wondering. What if society shifted towards a more holistic view, where we considered ourselves as part of a network and existing as a network? How would the world be different? Particularly, in relation to my questions above, if we considered our body as an interconnected network rather than a separation of mind, spirit, body, would we treat it differently? Would be pay more attention to our health and well-being? Would those over bearing parents shift their focus from not enough maths, not enough reading, to not enough exercise? Would the findings from the ERO report that told of schools prioritising assessment over well-being have been different if this was our view?

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

F is for favourite things... Show your work!

A little behind but F is for favourite things. In particular, my favourite thing I found today is a site called Dear Data. In my never ending search to give mathematics education a makeover so that more students see it as a creative, problem finding and problem solving way of thinking, I stumbled on what might be the most beautiful mathematics I have in a while.

It started with my interest in data visualisation after meeting the fascinating @kamal_hothi , a data visualiser for the New Zealand Herald. He shared a link to the Factor Dance (you need to click on this link and look, trust me).

The idea of data visualisation fascinated me as it is a role than combines artistry with a solid understanding of data and often, coding too. Hence, it is another example of why we can not continue to only teach maths, but all learning areas in isolation. It is not the data that matters, but what we do with it that matters. Is it useful? How can we use it solve a problem? What problems does the data present? The Dear Data website does a beautiful job of showing creativity in mathematics, problem finding and problem solving. I think I am in love.

Image source
Please note, I could not find a creative commons or any other licence on the site. I have however emailed the owners to let them know that I am sharing their fabulous work on my site and will remove the work if they have any issues with me sharing it here. 
Additionally, many maths teachers also have an ongoing effort with getting students to 'show their work'. I have been focussing on developing this in my students lately using a SOLO rubric and the language of the Hobsonville Point Secondary School Learning Design Model. The Dear Data site includes not only beautiful, but clear examples of showing your work.

All of this makes me want to re-read my current favourite book, Austin Kleon's Show your work. It's a must read for everyone, and is cheap as chips on

Sunday, April 5, 2015

E for Easter in Education

Take a moment to consider how many of the students in your class were born in the same city or country. How many of the students that were born here, have parents that were born in another city? How many of the students in your class have no religion? How many of the students in your class are very religious? How many of the students in your class are deeply connected to their cultural heritage? How many of the students in your class are not particularly connected to their cultural heritage and might be searching for cultural or other roots? How many of the students in your class have particular traditions that are of special value to them? And then consider the cultural capital possibly hidden within your students. The parts of their identities that 'appear' to have no place in their maths, reading, writing... Yet, Shakespeare, Pythagoras, Pol Pot does.

E for easter has me thinking of the cultural, religious and other factors that contribute to student and teacher's identities that are simply ignored in schools. My own family have many cultural traditions related to easter and christmas. These traditions form a key part of my identity. Although we might never say your religion or your culture is not important whilst we are in a school context, we unfortunately do send negative messages about these critical contributors to identity when we do not acknowledge and integrate them. I worry that by removing the cultural and religious aspects from our academic curriculum, we are suggesting that it has no part to play in the preparation for our futures, the skills needed to gain jobs, pass exams and succeed.

In schools, we often tend to spend more, if not all of our time on academic, intellectual pursuits. As a result, we implicitly send the message that academic, intellectual pursuits are valued above all. You can see this attitude in the performing arts (think Ken Robinson's argument about schools killing creativity), but also in the Education Review Office's recent report around student well being that highlights explicitly how assessment and curriculum are valued over student well being. I have talked about this in a previous post, asking "What type of students our schools and the systems therein will be turning out? If we only teach and emphasise achievement, NCEA and national standards, then what are we teaching kids to value?" I wonder whether the similar messages are being sent implicitly around diversity?

And when we do set out to 'prove' that we value diversity, what does this look like? A map put up in class to show where different students come from? How does this teach students to value diversity and cultural capital? It may serve as a starting point but what long term impact could this possibly have? What about cultural interest groups at schools? Are they open to only students that identify with that culture, or are they open, and are advertised to be so, for any students who wants to learn about and with that cultural group?

Personally, it puts a great smile on my face seeing Asian, South African, Maori and other students performing side by side in Kapa Haka groups. It sees these groups side by side, valuing cultural capital enough to invest time and effort into understanding and empathising with its ideas. Key Competencies for the Future highlighted this idea for me again, when one of the authors talked about how she had always acknowledged diversity in her class, but she had not yet taught in such a way that valuing and utilising diversity became critical to the success of a project. Wouldn't you send a very different message about valuing diversity if this was your approach?

Consider the enormous amounts of immigrants world wide, and consider the ethnic groups that makeup schools in New Zealand (see Education counts for this data). I think it is safe to say that future success for our students requires them to celebrate and utilise the diversity of the teams in which they will work. Not only that, but responding effectively to diversity forms part of your Registered Teacher Criteria.

Given the above, I wonder... How might we embrace and utilise diversity in our schools more effectively?

Image Source

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Design Thinking

Sharing an office with Steve Mouldey a massive advocate for Design Thinking, I was always bound to pick up a few more things about it (read more about Steve's thoughts around Design Thinking on his blog). However, from the many conversations and book recommendations (Creative Confidence and How To Come Up With Great Ideas and Actually Make Them Happen), I am increasingly seeing reasons for more teachers to explore the use of design thinking.

"“leading into the future” involves abandoning the idea that there are “right answers” out there. Rather, problem definition, data collection, and experimentation all need to be carried out together, alongside each other, in a continually repeating cycle in which the aim isn’t to “solve” whatever has been identified as “the problem”, but to understand the system, to learn, and to have one’s thinking changed, along the way. As they put it: The key lever in a complex system is learning. The key methods are conversation, discovery, and experimentation." - see references below.

The above paragraph surprisingly does not describe design thinking, but rather comes from a reading describing what our students will need to be able to do in the future. Yet, if you know anything about Design Thinking, you might recognise just how well it sits with the needs identified above. In other words, Design Thinking gives one an explicit process to teach complex problem solving. Not only that, but it teaches tools and processes for empathising with different people and situations. It teaches skills like incorporating feedback, and that creativity is a process, not a light bulb moment that only some people have.

Perhaps I will use the E post to elaborate some more tomorrow...

Thursday, April 2, 2015

B is for Back to the future and C for Change is afoot

Over the past few weeks I have been spending a significant amount of time focussing on the ideologies that our education system in the past, and largely still in the present was founded on. You may have even read my post, Education's great wicked problem where I explore some of these ideas. However there is always more to the story...

Our ideologies are the things that we think with rather than about. It is how we think rather than what we think. There are examples of this everywhere. What we think about any given thing, a government proposal, gay marriage and even whether you recycle, is driven by your underlying ideologies. What we value drives our choices. Hence, if I value the earth and the future generations who will have to deal with the problems created by current generations (environmental degradation, over population, global warming etc.), I might be more inclined to actively promote and participate in ideas and actions around sustainability. Equally, if I value honesty, I will be more inclined to be honest. Although in both cases I might actively think about the fact that I value sustainability, or that I value honesty. What I am less likely to think about is what caused me to value it. What experiences shaped my world view, my perceptions to value those things? And further, what experiences has shaped others to think about the world and all that happens therein, differently? And without actively stopping and thinking how and why did I come to think in a certain way, I am likely to simply think about the what, e.g. recycling, asset sales, education reform and then find the evidence to support my argument. Most likely, and without meaning to, I would probably be employing some selection bias to bolster whatever I was thinking about.

It seems that everyone has an opinion about education, and rightly so since everyone has experience of it. Perhaps, what we spend less time on is thinking about what shaped our underlying view of what an education system might be. For example, most people would agree that education is a means of addressing inequality. However, have you stopped to think about what shaped that view? If you were going to cite some facts and figures now about how education has allowed some to break the cycles of poverty, I might remind you of my previous comment about selection bias. Again, what we think is that education should address inequality. But how we think is a whole other ball game. How have you come to believe your views? 

The above seems very philosophical, and you might wonder what it has to do with you. Remember those arguments you have with colleagues when you are taking risks, trying to be more future focussed? And it seems that they just can not get on board? Chances are, the way you think about the world is different. Although what you think about is the same, students, pastoral care, assessment, developing thinking, how you think about it is probably different. Given the breakdown of the ages of teachers in New Zealand, the types of thinking and socialisation that each generation would have encountered is likely to be different. 

Currently falling in the under 25 to 29 category, it is very likely that I think of the world as a constantly changing place. In fact, it is what I expect of the world, that it does constantly change. Perhaps some things stay the same, like human nature. Many other things are not the same. Society, the way it works, what we value, what our goals are, has changed. Once upon a time it may have been the case that you could go to university so that you get a good job, and then you can buy a house. You might have gone to work and spent time with your friends and family on the weekend or the evening. Some might even have travelled to other cities and countries for work. What are the chances that many if not most of the 59% of the teachers over the age of 40, currently in our education system still has a world view that resembles this? Many of those in their 30s and below will also have this world view. Go to university to get a good job. 

However, Is this a likely future for the students currently in our schools? Or are they more likely to work with many individuals, in many countries, possibly without ever needing to leave their home? I know that already I regularly Skype people from across the country and across the world, working alongside on a range of projects. I also know that the current success in my career can not be solely attributed to a university degree. It is only one brick in the wall, it is not the foundation. It is a ticket to a big party in town, with many many other guests. So I am nothing special having this ticket, but not having it just makes things a lot more challenging. Last night I attended the TEDx Auckland launch party. Of the range of people approximately my age that I spoke to, not a single one of them went to work, and then went home at the end of the night, only to repeat it the next day. They all collaborated on projects outside their 'main' job. They use social media, and any other resource available to make connections. They carve out niches for themselves, not ones that are predefined roles. And there are many people like this.Think Michelle Dickinson, Jade Leung, Oscar Ellison, Emma Winder, Claire Amos. These people don't just have a day job. The manage a portfolio of projects.

People often cite that old pearl "there is nothing new under the sun". But that is just not true anymore. Do you realise, that the question "where are you?" is a new question? Because before mobile phones, email, internet, you could only contact someone if you knew where they were.

The way we communicate, they way we network, the way we build relationships, the way we run companies, the way we organise events have all changed. Children working abroad don't get occasional letters from their family or friends that they left behind. They can Skype them, see them, interact with them, on a daily basis. Talking to an employee at Spark's Lightbox (TV programme streaming service), she commented on the distinctive difference between viewing habits of those above and below 30. If you ask my 14 year olds at school how they would go about learning something new, they would say Youtube and Google, usually in that order. We are never going to go back to the local library being the place for information. It is not just book publishers and journals that are publishing and creating knowledge. They key difference to note here is that although anyone might recognise that trends come and go, what everyone does not recognise is that they way the world works is fundamentally shifting. Where things might have stayed largely the same with a few trends changing around the peripheries, we are moving to and already largely living in a world where things are constantly changing and a few things are staying the same around the peripheries. 

You might recognise some other events in history that caused fundamental changes in the way the world works and how people view it. Namely, world war one and world war two. You can imagine the massive paradigm shifts that people experienced when women all of a sudden had to work. You can imagine the personal conflicts that many would have experienced, debating whether some individuals were taking too many risks, letting their daughters go to work! Can you imagine the outrage. Yet, compare that with how we view woman in the workplace today. Can you imagine the personal conflict, the emotional lashing out against those who challenged world views? 

Granted, and thankfully, we are not experiencing another world war. But we are experiencing another fundamental change in the way the world works, in how people view and create their identities in the word. We are experiencing fundamental changes in how and where people work. We are experiencing changes in the skills needed to do our jobs. An example being a conversation I have heard time and time again, "I was hired to be a teacher, not to build a website" - this is in reference to adding resources onto a student learning system for learners to access. Where one used to be hired to do a job, chances are, you are now hired in an 'evolving' role. To prove my point, use a job search website and search for the word 'evolving'...  Does evolving really just mean that we can not guarantee that your job is going to stay the same, because the world is changing? Given that there were literally hundreds of search results for this...

These screenshots were taken from today...

Change is the new normal. No wait, break neck, constant, large scale change is the new normal. In other words, the way the world functions is and has changed. Hence, when we still maintain our old paradigms about how the world works, it is likely that we will struggle to embrace change. It is likely that our organisations and companies will struggle. But also, if we do embrace change, unless we realise that the way we view the world is different, it is likely that we will encounter dissonance with our ideas. Our new New Zealand curriculum states "New Zealand needs its young people to be skilled and educated, able to contribute fully to its well-being, and able to meet the changing needs of the workplace and the economy." Has the way you view the world meant that you assumed that the world is changing and students need be prepared for this 'new world', or, has it meant that you assumed that every job that a student will do, will constantly evolve? Even check out operators at supermarkets work differently nowadays... 

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Another blog challenge....

Yup. It is A for April and A for the A to Z challenge, a blogging challenge I joined with my colleague Ros at HPSS whilst teaching a module about Social Media last year. Participating in Tom Barrett's #28daysofwriting challenge I remembered just how much I enjoy having a bit of external motivation to share and contribute. Starting my masters this year also means that a writing habit is probably a good thing to keep on developing.

So... It's not too late. You can join the blogging challenge too! Jump in, have a go, participate. Especially with two weeks of school holidays to get you started if you are in New Zealand. You can sign up here.

My top tips for a blogging challenge:

  1. Preplan the day before when you will blog.
  2. Set a timer. The 28 minutes challenge from Tom Barrett was particularly good. It forced me to write long enough to explain a single idea well. Hence, some of the more difficult to explain thoughts that had been drifting around in my head, were distilled to manageable chunks.
  3. Use photos. A great way to blog if you are pressed for time is to take a couple of photos you would like to share and then caption those.
  4. Try and push your creativity. Draw something. Annotate something. Review something. Try something new. Creativity is all about risk taking.
  5. Because your mind will be looking for ideas to blog about, you might find that inspiration hits at weird times (the shower, in the car, whilst trying to concentrate in a meeting). Record those ideas as they are great to go back to when you are stuck. 

Good luck to all the other A to Z participants. Check out the #atozchallenge hashtag to see what they are sharing.