Friday, May 29, 2015

Cultures making connections

Students who identify as Pasifika, whose cultural background is one of the many the Pacific Islands - what is their experience of learning in a school around Ashburton, Christchurch - Ashcoll to be exact? And if you take a large pinch of Ceilidh, a heap of enthusiasm, and a wide range of cultural backgrounds - what happens? Nearly 8% of the students at Ashburton College are Pasifika.

In the school there are no teachers from the Pacific Islands so the teachers step up as leaders. At the Ceilidh, there were breaks so there was a wonderful moment where the students were dancing in the interval to the delight of the Scottish fiddle band. It was the most amazing connections between disparate groups of people who would not normally have connected. Teachers, students, people from the community, laughing, talking and having fun - the most fun fundraising(for the students to go to Samoa) that was had in a long time...and it was people who would maybe not have been involved.

The kids are running the thing, and you have to 'get over yourself' and engage and be part of it.

It's all about process and progress, and student agency. We can't teach them, they have to teach each other. Five years coming to the VPLD, four years going to the speech fest. Each year we have come away with prizes. All that Marg can do is support, including with practical aspects such as driving around to pick students up for practice - but then all Marg has to do is be there and unlock the door. The students take it from there!

Thursday, May 28, 2015

The discomforts of change

What happens when a school isn't working - for the learners, the community, and the teachers? Sometimes it's a case of bringing in the broom, working with leadership, and then starting again. 
Gavin Clark shared his story from the Board resigning, the Commission coming in, and the subsequent changes in leadership. The school is now undergoing a process of revisioning, which includes consultation with the community and with the learners. 
The arising challenges include the pace of change. The pressure is on to make a difference from day one for learners - and progress is more important than attainment. Other key factors that will help ensure the school can keep up with the rate of change include setting expectations clearly and co-constructing these if possible, and supporting staff to step up and take responsibility for their professional development. 
 In 2014 a survey with students illustrated that students appreciated the integration of technology into the curriculum, but that staff did't value this. As a result, in 2015, this has become a non-negotiable. Staff development is tracked, and student voice is collected every 2 terms, and community voice is collected once a term. Constant reflection is one of the requirements of ensuring that this level of impact is continued. 
 Massive change is possible, but, as Gavin's story illustrates, it isn't comfortable. Some people found it so uncomfortable in this case, they have chosen to leave. The benefits for learners however, appear to be huge. Can't wait to see some of the emerging results from this change.

Image: Silverdale students, From the Silverdale Primary School Web site.

Student agency: Some benefits

Student voice and student agency are key to learning. However, this doesn't always seem to be an unquestioned (inconvenient?) 'truth'.

Lorraine Makatu explains what happens when student agency is supported and nurtured.

Mangere Central School has sister schools in Bali, and Lorraine shares some of the experiences of students who start to explore different places and life experiences in Indonesia and Jakarta, for example. The school web site is the portal, and the families are able to go in and see and ask questions. The students asked questions like: 'what did they eat?', 'Are they on Facebook?', and 'Will they Snapchat with me?'. It was a reality check when one Skype call used the whole Bali school's data for the week.

The students are also involved in local projects such as the SH20 upgrade, where students are working with the environmental managers of the project to help ensure the environment around the school is protected. For example, a culvert was dug and some eels were found. So now, all of the eels are being relocated. The health and safety manager is also being shadowed by one of the students - they are making connections with what is in the school such that students are walking around saying things like 'someone will trip on these shoes'.

These are great illustrations of transference - making connections between knowledge domains, and applying the learnings across them. They also show how students are developing identities, taking on roles, and making connections between their current world views and the other domains around them.

Collaborations and connections

Me, us, you - over time we make connections, grow and expand out thinking. Over time we come back together in groups to connect with people we know. The collaborations that develop from those connections can be incredibly powerful.

Heather Eccles, Krishna Ramadugu, and Geoff Wood highlight that much of their professional learning has been about specific collaborations and connections that they have made, initially by being part of the Virtual Professional Learning Development (VPLD) programme. Krishna talked about light and what it means to her: "It's the lamp of knowledge that can light the fire of thousands more and yet not diminish in its brilliant. It benefits both the giver and the receiver".

Krishna made contact with Geoff, who heads up the Over the Back Fence (OTBF) project. Where there are connections between students with the older students leading sessions for the younger students (tuakana teina). There have also been sessions where authors have beamed in for sessions with the students, and connecting different cultures with groups in India.

Some of the outcomes, for all the learners, have included the enjoyment of students learning from each other in a way that is experience driven, rather than content driven. It has encouraged students to engage and participate, and to embrace new literacies, as well as developing a deep sense of fulfilment in sharing. Curiosity has developed along with a desire to learn and succeed.

Geoff and Anne Kenealley started to talk about connecting classrooms at a bus stop after a conference. Since then the project has burgeoned, with students running sessions online with other students around the world. The connections have been amazing, opening up worlds and windows on cultures and understandings that otherwise wouldn't have been possible. It's the global connections - the questioning of early-formed beliefs, and a way of helping the youth shape their understandings of the world.

Going back to the whole notion of connections - they are myriad. They involve young learners, older learners, teachers, education leaders...all with a thirst for learning and eye for the potential of the affordances of technology. Bringing us back's not the's what you do with it!!

So - what connections are you making? How are you exploring and opening up the world of learning for yourself? How are you empowering your learners to open up their own world?

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Experiential learning and reciprocity in action

We are so lucky to live for as much of our time as possible in a place up in the north of New Zealand, that we love.

Over the last 5 or so years (and after doing a lot of homework) we have planted over 20,000 trees and plants (see pic on the left to see what it looked like in Year 1!). We have planted a lot of native trees, heaps of trees for bird food, and a lot of plants that have blossom for bees (see pic on right for a Year 4 comparison - including over 500 lavender plants, and a couple of hundred rosemary plants).

Through trial and error, as well as by seeking advice from the wonderful folk in the neighbourhood, we learned what would and wouldn't grow, when and where. We also planted our orchard, and have planned our veggie gardens.

Next step - the bees. A while ago I'd bought a book on beekeeping, and decided that full scale beekeeping may be a step too far...but I had heard, and read a bit, about folks who were keen to keep their hives in suitable places such as (fingers crossed) ours. By dint of a chance conversation, Grant Engel from Revolutionary Beekeeping Ltd came to see our place, and to my delight, is going to bring his fabulous bees to work with us!

Grant will come to check on the bees to make sure they are healthy and well-fed, and he also harvests the honey they produce with his innovative mobile honey harvester (see videos below for a demonstration). In return, these fabulous insects will make the most of the blossoms, including in our orchard and (soon) veggie garden, and in turn do a wonderful job of fertilising the flowers so we get fruit and veg. O - and the pot of honey a month will be a fabulous treat - plus we get to be serenaded by gentle buzzing.

I love the reciprocity of the whole cycle, and was also particularly impressed with Grant's enthusiasm for his bees and for beekeeping. Revolutionary Beekeeping states that they will not only "provide a service that will support, educate and fairly reward our clients", but that they will also "continue to create innovative technology that will make beekeeping easier and more enjoyable", and "focus on the health and sustainability of beekeeping as it plays a vital role in global food production" (source). Can't be better than that!

At the end of the day - the whole process has been about planning, finding out what is needed, applying, learning (often through mistakes), hard work, trying different approaches, and figuring out next steps...sound familiar? :)


Tuesday, May 5, 2015

'I can': A movement underpinned by design thinking

This inspirational video illustrates very clearly what an incredible responsibility we have as educators. A reaction can undermine a learner's confidence, and leave them with an "I can't response" if we're not really careful. However, sometimes from set backs, great things can grow, and Kiran Bir Sethi, from Ahmedabad, India, after her son experienced a blow to his learning, has started a "movement of empowerment and education that has reached over 30 countries – impacting more than 25 million children. She shares with the audience what happens when learning environments are infected by the 'I CAN' bug and how design thinking has been used to create empowered individuals who can be agents of change" (source).

The description that accompanies the video reads "Kiran Bir Sethi is a designer and director of The Riverside School, but also the founder of the 'Design for Change' - the world’s largest movement of change – of and by children. Based on four simple steps - Feel, Imagine, Do and Share - children around the world have developed ideas and projects to drive social change in their society. She shows vivid and inspiring cases of social transformation that promotes optimism in education. Her talk asserts that new and better things are possible and that each of us can make change happen. After this talk, you will realize that change is the result of a process that can be consciously nurtured and energized " (source).

Would be great to hear what you think about the 'I can' approach underpinned by design thinking - and similar things that you are undertaking with your learners (of all ages). Please leave responses in the comments below.