I hope you like this year’s set of Star Wars Education posters. The theme is very much in keeping with my 2016 posts on students driving their own learning. More will be on their way soon. Thanks for the wonderful feedback on last years.
Every 11 seconds on Wall street, someone has the thought “There are billions of dollars tied up in public education that I can’t make more money on using the money I already have.” The phrase “Corporate education” does not sit comfortably with most voters on both sides of the political divide and so right-wing parties and their financial market friends around the globe try to disguise corporate education models under better sounding social initiatives, such as “School choice.” Trump obviously hasn’t had a thought about education and so has borrowed one from the Koch brothers.
Learning is first about money making
It’s Facebook that personifies the idea that all human activity should now be monetised as the social-media giant indirectly makes money on every photo and comment we upload. [Note: The scary prospect of how much money Trump made Facebook in the last 18 months.] So why shouldn’t the activity of learning be any different? Kids learn while rich investors make money! Sounds wonderful, doesn’t it? So, with Republicans in control of every level of government and federal “School choice” almost inevitable, it’s worth looking into whether it works in practice.
This is where I could stop writing and just ask you to Google it. It takes the most basic Google searches to discover that all these market-driven policies are made to sound nice but do the exact opposite they claim to. Like all right-wing policies, they never allow for natural human behaviour such as personal and organisational self-preservation, and greed. This was made clear in “The maestro” Alan Greenspan’s comments on the (his) 2008 global financial crisis, “I made a mistake in trusting the banks would act in the best interests of their investors.” Even the wikipedia page on School choice goes to great length at explaining how the policy doesn’t work!
“Many of the current school choice models do not offer transportation to out-of-neighborhood schools, which discourages low-income families from selecting schools outside of their neighborhoods. The “free market” created by school choice models is inherently unequal.” – Wikipedia
The thought that I could save American education by simply asking Donald to go read Wikipedia sounds crazy but his lack of awareness of world issues and life on earth in general, he proved during campaigning, shows me that he’s never read wikipedia anyhow. The problem America has is that the political discussion is always centred on the funding and organisational structure of education, rather than the experience one receives in the classroom. My own country New Zealand outperforms the US on every indicator at a fraction of the cost. We are worried firstly about what happens in the classroom and how engaged and involved individual children are in their own learning. We can only do this because we have no external pressures from third party interests, such as lobbying corporations like Pearson. Teachers know education better than corporations and business leaders and it’s teachers who run education in New Zealand.
If you want to know how to improve education for all at a fraction of the cost, learn from New Zealand. I just happen to written a book on the subject, in which I cover how we organise and fund public education to be one of the best in the world.
There’s more on future education in my book: A Learner’s Paradise: How New Zealand is reimagining education.
Reminding teachers of what it’s really like to be a student in school is one of my favourite professional pass times. I was presenting at a conference recently and at 3pm, many teachers were talking about being overloaded with information and how tired they were. I highlighted that this was exactly what it’s like to be at school except they had not even been asked for any outcomes or work and would not have to do this for the following 200 days! They all agreed this was good news for them. But what about our students?
Thanks to my friend Danielle Myburgh for telling me to get on with producing a Factory Education poster!
IS School is still a burden?
My presentation (Slides below) was on Learner agency: the purpose, control and ownership students do or don’t feel they have over their learning. I started with a 1957 Chuck Berry line: ““Soon as three o’clock rolls around, you finally lay your burden down” I highlighted how 40 years of almost zero development had led Bart Simpson in the 1990s to share the common joy of : “woo hoo! Snow Day!” I asked the audience of about 50 teachers to fill out 2 Google form questions to confirm if they thought the school day was still a “burden.” Even with a massive majority of elementary school teachers, there was still a 50% agreement that it was. I’m sure this figure would have been higher with high school teachers.
Top students hide their grievances
3 examples I gave of academically successful students not rating the school expericene as positive, regardless of being able to comply with it, were:
- A top grade 7 student regularly achieving a top 3 in class tests and projects, excelling at two sports and working as a library assistant, expressing most mornings how she did not want to go to school due to it being “really boring!” This was the last student her teachers would expect to have this attitude towards school. What must the less engaged be saying?
- The head girl and head boy in a high school both starting the respective ‘high achievers’ speeches with implications that their success was in spite of school not because of it. The top female student highlighted that she had been a well supported high achiever from day one and school had been a great opportunity to show how her already positive approach to challenges could yield great results. The male top student semi-joked that making his bed every morning had started his day with a sense of pride and achievement meaning his self-worth would approach the required compliance in school more positively.
Employers and Universities share their GRIEVANCES
- “teenagers are leaving school lacking basic skills” – UK (Source)
- “School leavers are not meeting the needs of the New Zealand workplace, according to an employer survey.” – NZ (Source)
- “… despite being fully eligible to attend college, they are not ready for postsecondary studies” – US (Source)
My presentation also included 3 examples of the 100s of articles and reports you can find to show employers, universities and even parents are commonly under impressed or disappointed by the motivation and skill set held by school leavers. I highlighted that Malcolm Gladwell’s Ten thousand hour rule, would expect that after 12 or 13 years of 5 hours a day experience, students would be extremely motivated and skilled to make significant impact on the world. The fact that they are commonly unmotivated and lacking confident to tackle situations without significant guidance and scaffolding, means we have them practicing the wrong things.
Tackle Deja Vu with “VuJa de!”
‘Vuja De’ definition: “The vuja de mentality is the ability to keep shifting opinion and perception. It can mean reversing assumptions about cause and effect, or what matters most versus least. It means not traveling through life on automatic pilot.” – Bob Sutton – ‘Scaling Up for Excellence’
It is time for all school leaders to question every aspect of deja vu within their professional life. This is best explained in the way that comedians take a seemingly fresh look at everyday occurrences and by highlighting them, make us laugh out loud. This type of perspective is required if school leaders are to ever see that what they think is being successful within their factory school model is not serving either the children or their future.
Here are my slides:
So, maybe you’re on Twitter, your colleagues are on Twitter, you’re excited about ideas around new learning and your Principal might mention these themes in staff meetings. So why, to often, is no real change happening in your school?
All this 21st century learning talk is happening but you’re still performing standardised tests, teachers are still teaching from the front of class and most are still predominantly isolated in their own classrooms. There’s probably a small group of “new learning” types who you know are trying the “Project-based-design-thinking-SAMR” type stuff but the school as a whole isn’t following their lead.
I recently came across a talk by Michael Fullan on making change. I thought this would be useful to share but it also reminded me of a TED talk by Linda Hill, which then led me to dig up 3 more TED talks which when combined might give schools and their leadership teams some real incentive and instruction for change. They also combine to indicate that progress will not be made with either top-down or bottom-up approaches but from a developing a new school culture towards shared, networked collaboration at all levels.
Here are the 5 videos:
- Michael Fullan: Leading quality change
- Linda Hill: How to manage for collective creativity
- Eddie Obeng: Smart failure for a fast-changing world
- Manuel Lima: A Visual History of Human Knowledge
- Barry Schwartz: The way we think about work is broken
Inspired by these talks, here are my …
Five THINGS THAT TRANSFORM A SCHOOL
- Your Principal is seen by the teachers as an equal participant in learning.
This I got from Fullan in his talk he gave in New Zealand about transforming the Canadian school system. He highlights that a principal behaving as an active learner was a surprise key indicator in his research into schools making significant and positive change.
- The teachers are aware of the impact of 21C opportunities and challenges
Eddie Obeng’s talk is both fun and powerful in explaining how so many people didn’t notice when all the rules changed regarding how success happens, how organisations are run, how work gets done and what skills & knowledge are required to survive in a world where the new scale people of all ages operate under is global. If we want to say we are preparing young people for the world, we need to wake up and take note that many of them are already making use of this new interconnected world that many schools are yet to accept exists.
- The school now operates as a network not hierarchy
Manuel Lima indicates how one of the changes that’s taken place without most schools noticing is that, after 2000 years, we’ve moved from seeing everything as a hierarchy and now view and operate everything in networks. This is also backed up in the Fullan talk. Lima’s talk will make your school consider if it operates as a 20th century hierarchy or a 21st century network. This is key to preparing both staff and students for the next 50 years. It also connects with Fullan’s theme about “social capital” or the quality of the group work and connections used by the teachers and with Obeng’s thought on everything now operating at a global scale, due to new online networks.
- Schools are doing more than just handing out grades
Complementing Obeng’s need for a new look at learning, Barry Schwartz introduces his concept of Idea Technology. He explains that one simple assumption introduced by Industrial Revolution removed all non-material incentives to work on a premise all people were inherently lazy and you wouldn’t get them to work without incentivising with pay. It made me think that schools adopted the factory model and it seemed only natural that you would need grades as payment for work without considering what work environment might be created to have people genuinely satisfied at school. A wonderful quote is : “The very shape of the institution within which people work, creates people who are fitted to the demands of that institution and denies people from the kind of satisfactions from their work that we take for granted.” If students work for tests and grades they are only prepared for exactly that environment. An environment that doesn’t exist outside academia.
- School leaders have stopped ‘building visions’ and inspire people to follow it
Linda Hill says “Innovation is not about solo genius but collective genius.” She goes on to outline how the most successful organisations build organisational structures and cultures that are “iterative, inter-related and quite frankly messy.” She also highlights that investing in all the people to give them time to develop and collaborate around new challenges and ideas. It is also critical to build a culture where everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, feels they might have something to offer in improving the operation of or output from the the organisation.
This is a huge issue for schools, where many teachers never bring problems to the leadership team because they don’t think it’s there place to suggest change. Schools are often not flexible or iterative enough to adapt to changes as they arise. A fixed-time vision for learning in a school issued from top-down can kill excellent ideas that surface during the period of time in question. What I took from Linda’s talk was that schools need to develop a staff culture for collaborative problem solving, discovery driven learning (and that’s the teachers we’re talking about) but run integrated decision making where everyone is confident to express ideas.
Adapt or lose your students
Schools lag further and further behind the pace of world change year-on-year and we need bold, aware, flexible leaders who know how to work with their community to collectively build a new culture of adapting to change to remain relevant. More children every year are finding alternative paths to early success and careers because their school was unable to adapt to their needs. Let’s stop wasting the potential of what might take place during a person’s school years and start operating the way the world does already.
P.S. This whole post and graphic were spun towards a positive rather than negative angle thanks to Lisa Donohue in Canada (@Lisa_Donohue). Thanks Lisa for your #Growth Mindset approach.
Here’s a rework of Michael Fullan’s model:
There are more transformative ideas in my book A learner’s Paradise: How New Zealand is reimagining education.
Do you ever teach a class?
By ‘teach’ I mean talk to the whole class to share instruction or discuss content. If the answer is yes, then I would like to examine your aims in doing so. The three common reasons for talking to a whole class are:
- Task instruction;
- Delivery of content/concept/facts;
- Class discussion.
I believe that only the first of these 3 can be said to succeed in it’s aims and even then fails often. All forms of learning should offer equal opportunity to all, not only to be involved but succeed in the learning intentions. Every learner deserves to maximise their time available to ensure they definitely learn and grow. People are different and so any one-size-fits-all mechanism is guaranteed to fail to be fair to all. I have spoken to people of all ages who agree that teacher verbal + visuals delivery of content to a large audience (more than 5) only suits a small minority who can focus, retain and process the information as it is shared. Photo Credit
Let’s examine each one in turn.
A. Task instruction
A task instruction should be 5 minutes at most. Even if a list of instructions are verbally delivered to the class, at least they are static, surface level information that can hopefully be easily repeated and spread through the class by the learners themselves. I’ve seen many teachers upset that tasks were not carried out as per instruction but this is solved by ensuring their is a mechanism or practice designed to receive and record the instructions. This is the least of our worries.
B. Delivery of content (big topic!)
Question: Why is traditional class teaching / lecturing still so popular?
Answer: It’s the easiest option available to any teacher. They know their topics, they know their script, they did the same lecture last year (most of the time) and thus it requires no preparation, no planning of student activity, no thought as to the current relevance of the content and in most schools, nobody will complain as students will be blamed for not ‘studying’ if they fail. Easy!
An important aim should be that every moment in the development of young people in schools is fully inclusive. Even the idea that a variety of teaching techniques is ok suggests that waisting the time of 50% of learners for 40 minutes is ok as we’ll cater for them later on. This is not good education.
10 assumptions behind teaching a whole class (single-point delivery of content) are that:
- All listeners are listening. If they’re not, that’s their fault.
- If listening, all listeners can absorb information at the same pace.
- All students will be present for this once-a-year performance. If not, too bad.
- All listeners understand at the same level. (Your delivery caters for both slow and fast processors equally)
- All listeners only require the one delivery (or you’ll be repeating yourself any number of times)
- All learners hold the courage to stop you and ask questions publicly (Self esteem has no impact on learning)
- There’s not much that can be done as some learners are just better at ‘learning’.
- Delivery style can make teaching ‘entertaining’ and thus work for most. (after all, you can’t cater for all)
- Students ask for lectures, they like them and these requests have nothing to do with a desire to passively disengage during the teacher’s ‘performance’
- Some kids are just cut out for school more than others and can concentrate. That’s life!
Even if you accept that only some of the assumptions above are not true then you have to accept that by not catering for all, delivery of content to any audience larger than about 5 people, fails immediately in it’s aim to include all in the learning. Education must move on and take much more flexible, student-centred forms if it is to fulfil its aims for all learners.
Here’s a version for Star Wars fans 😀
The next question for most teachers is: how can I get through all this content whilst catering for all types of learners and offering flexibility?
Your first step into student-centred learning is to remove the one-size-fits-all delivery and “Flip” the content online. Flipped teaching is a few years old now and has been presented as a structured programme of: “watch the lesson for homework, then do activity in class.” I prefer to not structure it so much. Once I’ve said and shown what I need online, I can feel confident to handover the designing of activities to the student.
Some students share headphones to watch the teaching videos in class, some watch at home and some don’t need the lesson at all. Everyone goes at their own pace and I challenge the whole class to only prove certain understandings or solve certain problems. The time freed up by not teaching the whole class allows me to dedicate all my time to individuals or small groups requesting extra assistance. This also allows the students to involve more people outside the class in their projects.
First App – Teach the way you’ve always done but more efficiently.
Here’s a little intro into the Explain Everything App. My first Flipping tool 2 years ago. All teachers need to know their year long courses are actually only 3 hours of teaching, once you remove the pauses, tangents, diagram-drawing time, mistakes etc. I’ve recorded 7 high school courses for ages 14 to 18 and they all came under 3 hours. 1st time Flipped teachers don’t know what to do with themselves.
C: Class Discussion
This is a grey area and can depend on the skills of the teacher. Designing how the discussion will include all and then how to manage the discussion as it takes place is tricky. Very few people have the skills to really have everyone in the room feeling confident they can be involved. Large group discussion can be heavily influenced by personalities, which can act as obstacles to the aim that all learn equally. Unless you divide the room into smaller discussion groups and help structure how each individual will feel included, discussion can rarely succeed in all its aims.
If your young or old learners have devices, they are free to access your teaching when and however it suits them. It is time to open up learning as something they do in life, tackle and enjoy together and not just something they receive from a single point at a single time. Learning is also something every teacher should be doing and it is most important that every teacher model good learning behaviour. Technology has quickly changed the educational landscape and it’s time for all teachers to learn to navigate and be part of this landscape.
I posted more ideas about why this is important here: iPad Teaching is NOT about iPads
There’s lots of talk of the SAMR model, which simplifies the common process that people go through when introducing any technology, designed by Ruben R. Puentedura. This of course applies to introducing iPads too. There are 1000s of great examples of iPad use in primary / elementary schools but not as many in high schools. I thought I would produce a version of this process that is common with many teachers in secondary / high schools. It’s a little tongue-in-cheek but might give some people ideas about how it relates directly to pedagogy.
I have many colleagues who have gone through something very similar to this:
“Teacher, I’ve finished your work”
It can be easier for a teacher managing a class of iPadding students to design projects where students own their own learning and thus care about the quality of their outcomes. For me, ensuring students care is my primary goal when designing tasks and programs. If they are doing ‘the teacher’s work’ then any motivation to produce the best result will probably have to come from external sources, like material rewards from the teacher or even as simple as making the teacher happy (Teacher’s pet). The teacher’s work is always seen as ‘work’ and genuine engagement is difficult.
Here is a list of ideas for adding incentives to tasks to help the kids intrinsically care about the outcomes.
- The success criteria should be devised by the students themselves before commencing any task. These should be discussed and agreed upon by the class or group. Design a success criteria template that’s always filled in by the group.
- The teacher only asks questions. Give no answers. Students should find their own answers and be taught to confirm them with more than one source including each other’s research.
e.g. Try to always prompt for output with ‘Why’ questions and never start a lesson with “today class we will…” because who knows what the kids will do in todays lesson!
- Choose a creative & fun task for all and / or allow freedom of expression (choice of app) but remind students of the success criteria.
e.g. You must record a TV news story containing an interview but it must explain how X affected Y. This will be shown on the class TV channel.
- Focus on the students producing ‘products’ that could actually be used to benefit others, be they classmates or the community. Even if it’s not used in the end, work should seem purposeful and be seen as usable in the real world.
e.g. If you are writing stories then ensure they look into how one self-publishes online. This opens the possibly of a real audience with real feedback. student blogs are an obvious starting point but why shouldn’t a child consider starting their writing career now, earning real cash? (There are examples online of this happening)
- I think the world is getting to a point where evidence of all student work should be stored / published online. My students always react with amazement when they first realise the videos / animations are going onto Youtube on my dept. channel. This creates an environment where students can easily peer review and encourage but also parents too, which I find has the biggest impact on motivation.
I have started to have a go at this with my year 7s and 8s and am now considering how future senior classes who have iPads will also own their learning whilst still working towards the national qualifications. I am lucky as the New Zealand assessment system if very flexible and I look forward to the challenge!
The iPad empowers students to create products within any subject context, physical space and even on the move. This is why the iPad is so important in transforming education into a genuine learning experience, not a knowledge absorption space. This well known Ken Robinson video has, for a while, indicated the importance of creative process in learning. Creating is important because during the process of creating something new, a student is:
- the owner of that process
- fully immersed in the experience
- genuinely engaged
- driven by and personally connected to the learning objectives
Under these four circumstances, you create truly life-long learners, who are intrinsically motivated by their own demands and ideas.
(picture via @gcouros)
Common misconception 1:
“My subject’s not creative”
Many teachers do not see creative process as part of their subject. The factory based education system used throughout the 20th century, isolated subjects as disconnected silos of information and creativity was removed from most of these study areas and confined specifically to the arts subjects only. This is not how the real world operates and creative thoughts and processes are demanded in most, if not all industries. All subject areas within schools (while those areas still exist), must harness both the students’ genuine will to create and the iPads power to enable this in so many forms and under so many circumstances.
Common misconception 2:
“I can’t grade & compare different creative output styles”
What exactly does grading do for a student? It gives them a record of how they compare with their classmates or even national year-group. What does this positioning mean? … nothing! The minute you leave school you will be working and competing with different groups of people of various ages and your grade comparison becomes meaningless immediately. Yes, you looked amazing in your school when up against your fellow students performing standardised tests, but now you’re suddenly struggling against people from different backgrounds and may even look quiet incompetent.
Students also become distracted from their learning when focusing purely on their grade comparison with their friends. This removes any interest in learning for the sake of bettering oneself and even engagement with the objective of the tasks. Students take shortcuts and do anything that would increase the grade regardless of the impact it might have on truly understanding concepts or not. Students also find it very difficult, if they can do it at all, to articulate what an A or a B means. The grades themselves are arbitrary and mean nothing in terms of personal achievement and only make the lower grade achievers give up on learning anything.
This UK BBC documentary, The Classroom Experiment, covered many common traditional teaching habits that actually do harm rather than good in education, including grades:
A shifting agenda
An increasing number of educators are agreeing that:
- Personal creative processes should replace fixed content delivery and
- meaningful comments from both peers and teachers should replace meaningless grades
The iPad is both a personal creative device and a great tool for collaboration and documenting discussion. This is the basis on why and roughly how schools should push forward with 1-to-1 iPad integration.
It is common for outsiders (like me) to picture America as:
- conservative (traditional and proud of their American way);
- security conscious (all ‘foes’ must be known and controlled);
- having a poor standardized public education system (Something the US is currently debating publicly – “Waiting for Superman”
If true, all 3 ‘generalizations’ would have an extremely detrimental effect on introducing iPads in schools. Below is a personal view of how these 3 factors will impact on the success of iPads in transforming American education.
- The new mobile world needs new thinking (not conservative)
I found a blog post, glowingly discussing the iPads potential to transform education and you might think I’d agree with it. But for me, most the writing and attached picture sum up all the obstacles facing iPad integration in the US. The article does mention collaboration and iMovie (specifically only in regards to FIlm courses), but essentially describes the iPad as a great note-taker, textbook and consumption device. That consumption is of the teacher’s education. In particular, the image advocates standardized education where one-size-fits-all and a teacher is the only source of learning. Here’s an indication of what I’m getting at in two images:
As a simple starting point, american schools must dismantle the traditional classroom layout which isolates the students as mere educational factory products and places the teacher at the centre of all learning. This is simply not the way the world operates anymore.
- The world no longer recognizes the carrot & stick external control.
One of the driving theories behind 20th century education was the idea that given a choice, students would not want to be at school. This thinking led to the traditional carrot and stick approach, where rewards were offered for conforming to the teacher’s demands and punishments issued for breaking from the “norm.” The article mentioned above, also positively refers to how “schools can be in control of what applications are on the device as well as what students do with it.” This desire for control is only needed within the out-dated education model that expects students to conform to an education put upon them rather than expecting them to enjoy exploring and understanding the world they live in. If it’s the school’s education, a student might not feel a connection and avoid it. This is where external control is required. If the education is student-centred and demands the student prove themselves within an open-ended model, then the student can genuinely connect as best suits them and the control measures will be detrimental to the freedom and thus are not required. The iPad is a personal device and pushes a personal education agenda. The iPad is not a school device, ready to deliver an externally controlled experience of the world. Read this book for more info.
- Poor education?
Until the US reduces its devotion to 1 & 2, and stops trying to press a pre-written education into every american, then iPads will never be allowed to transform learning. As I’ve mentioned before, The professional and personal worlds we now live in are both personally curated and social. Young people now have these factors as normal life expectations and school systems that isolate individuals physically & academically will not seem relevant and will cause disconnect and continue to fail.
I teach to the exam. There, I’ve said it! After all, doesn’t everyone smile when the student gets an A grade? Isn’t graduating what’s life’s all about?
But what does A mean?
It means that when given:
- An exam date;
- A fixed list of topics and themes;
- Last minute, panicked revision;
- A table and paper in a large silent hall; ..the student can perform! Wow!
Thank God, life outside schools and every workplace is both silent, organised in straight rows and has no technology beyond the pencil! Thank God working life only means working alone within fixed boundaries. ….Oh that’s right, it’s not. And many of these A grade students prove to be useless when given any creative challenge in a real workplace scenario, something universities and employers complain about. Fortunately most develop many skills outside school that allow them to cope.
Solution: Make the exam the side-project
One joy of working in this crappy system of 20th Century factory education is that now with the Internet and video I can record each of my full-year courses’ exam lessons into about 4 hours! Yes, 4 hours and yes, it’s the full course of teaching! See this for details.
The direct teaching of the exam is now outside the classroom. I can ask them to complete an amount of the course by a certain date and check this with traditional assessment while they spend all the class time working on a related project of their choosing and design. If there’s a practical element to the course then all projects and time can be based on this practical work, within the context of a real-world scenario.
These projects can be long, the whole year for all I care! They can also work in groups if it suits. As long as the project is engaging for the student and they take real ownership over it. They should also set their own check points to monitor their own progress. Ownership, creativity and variety is what the iPad does best. Hopefully the project connects directly with the outside world directly. I like to pitch the possibility of making money in any area using the internet. For example, any student can publish a book for free.
Examples: (Off the top of my head)
- Biology: Produce a set of videos covering the relevant experiments to compile in an ebook to sell online.
- Geography: Film a documentary on the local geography for the school to use.
- Computing: Make $million with your first iPad app!!! (I heard the “Pocket Whip” app was making $30,000 a week and it doesn’t do much!)
- Mathematics: Learn how to produce a website of embedded web-based Maths tools that your peers need for the course you’re all doing.
- English: Publish a short story on Amazon that contains the same themes as X.
The important thing is that they are engaged in your subject and see the exam as an unfortunate extra rather than the whole reason for school. If they need to learn how to do something during their project, they find it themselves on the internet (this is what they should do, it’s what we do!) or if the teacher can help then great, as the teacher now has time to work one-to-one!