Monday, 11 August 2014

Informal chat with Dean, Cathy from St Andrew’s and Grant from Westlake boys’ and PB Tech

As I already know who I am voting for this election, I chose not to attend the political debate. Instead I thought I would inspect the hardware on show at the PBTech stall. One device caught my eye in particular and that was the Asus 8” tablet with intel atom processor and a stylus.

Since I have been using a tablet this year and it has been an integral part of my teaching, I am keen to see what is out there at an affordable price. While I would not use the Asus table myself, I immediately saw the potential for it as a student device.

Why is it not a teacher device? It is too small. Teachers type a lot and require a large keyboard and screen for things such as reports. The Surface Pro 3 satisfies these requirements and also has an accurate stylus for handwriting.

However, as a student device, perhaps even a secondary student device the Asus is spot on. Its size makes it portable. With an intel processor it is able to run a full desktop version of Windows. And most importantly in my mind it has a pen/paper accurate stylus which allows the user to write with their palm resting on the screen. Combined with Microsoft OneNote, and a price of $520 + GST, this makes for a formidable competitor to any other tablet on the market.

During this time I ran into Dean Mackenzie and Cathy Kennedy from St Andrew’s and Grant Saul from Westlake Boys’. Our chat centred on OneNote and the wider Microsoft ecosystem. Grant demonstrated OneNote toolbox. All I can say is, this, along with each of my students having something equivalent to the Asus tablet would make my class a dream. My students already have convenient access to the notes and examples I do in class through OneNote. OneNote toolbox just lets me have that same access to their OneNotes.

Creating connections –Cheryl Doig

Cheryl Doig is an ‘ex’ primary school principal. She now works as an educational consultant. She spoke about strategy in influencing others, particularly those above you in the hierarchical structure.

Her rationale was that it is teachers at the ‘coal-face’ that have the best ideas of how to progress educational policy within a school, yet all the power resides in those whose time in the classroom has diminished to very little.

Her methods were closer to quiet persistence rather than abrupt confrontation. She suggested understanding the way in which those around and above you think and how you can address their requirements as a person. For example, if your leader is a logically inclined individual, avoid engaging in emotional discussions as this will have little bearing on their decisions. Instead you are better off providing reasoned well researched arguments that they can discuss and work through to understand. Equally don’t bog down a ‘big picture’ leader with details or facts around what you want to do.

This was an interesting section, giving me plenty to reflect upon.

Hobsonville Secondary Secondary School tour with Principal and Board Chair

This was a guided tour of the new campus at Hobsonville Point Secondary School, led by Maurie Abraham, the Principal and he was assisted by the Chairman of the Board, Alan Curis.

The campus is unlike any secondary campus I have ever visited. It is built to accommodate 1350 day students, but currently it has a roll of around 120 year 9s. The roll is expected to be added to year by year for the next five years. There is a wide central corridor, with large open areas branching off in either side. There are no classrooms as such, however, within each broad space, there are smaller room that can be closed off if necessary.

The feel of the building is much more in line with what a modern library, university campus or software development company office might feel like. It is physically set up to encourage openness and collaboration.

The hierarchical structure of the school is also very different. Although there are still traditional positions of responsibility like Principal and Deputy Principal, the boundaries between teacher/student are somewhat more blurred than in traditional schools. Students are on a first name basis with their teachers and freely roam all areas of the campus, including the staffroom.

There are no classrooms, form-groups, timetables, bells, periods or subjects. As a teacher from a ‘traditional’ school, the question begs, how on earth does anything get learnt?! (or taught)

Yet, despite the apparent lack of structure, the year 9s were busy doing all sorts of things. The walls were covered with examples of student work.

Whole term themes underpin the direction of the school. Teachers come together to discuss which achievement objectives from the curriculum are to be covered in that term and what will have to happen in order the learning to take place.

Students are also given scope to choose their own direction within the theme. Students are free to explore their own curiosity and pursue particular areas of interest, while linking it back to a particular theme.

What struck me a lot within the way students self-direct themselves was the way they are encouraged to be self-aware of their goals and what they will have to do along the way to achieve them. Maurie quoted an example where a student articulated that he needed to choose a maths option in an elective area to ensure he had prerequisite knowledge to do further maths that would lead to credits in NCEA in three or four years’ time, enabling him to get into the university course he needs.

Such a pedagogical structure places massive amount of responsibility on the individual student. This is not a fact lost on the staff at Hobsonville Point. They seek not to fill young minds full of facts, but develop a sustainable disposition of self-awareness so students are able to know their own strengths and weaknesses and develop them appropriately.

I was inspired, not so much by the building, but the philosophy of education at Hobsonville Point. It is about taking the onus of teaching content off the teacher, putting them in more of a position of ‘guide’ or ‘facilitator’. The onus is on the student to be responsible for their own learning, but in a very caring and supportive environment.

As I reflect on the big picture of society, and question what do I want to come out of process of education in New Zealand, for me the answer is not ‘people filled with knowledge’ but ‘community minded individuals, filled with drive, conviction, responsibility, collaboration, diligence and determination’. Can this happen only at a campus like Hobsonville Point Secondary School? No, I think it can happen anywhere. But it has more to do with the teachers and leaders within schools than the physical buildings they occupy.

My next step will be to ask my year 9s a few questions like: -what do you enjoy? What do you want to do? What has been most interesting in maths this year? Then I want to explore how I can fit the curriculum around their responses. They must learn, but they don’t have to hate it. 

#EdchatNZ conference reflections

Over the next few days I plan to do some reflections on the various workshops and discussions I had at #EdchatNZ conference.

All in all it was a great time and already I can't wait for the next one. I just hope that between then and now, my teaching practice has changed somewhat for the better.