"The future is here. It's just unevenly distributed."
Disclosure: My attendance at FutureSchools was under a media pass provided by the conference organisers.
The session between the lunch and afternoon tea breaks was designated for the roundtable and breakout sessions which I have been critical of in the past vis-a-vis their structure. I was curious as to what impact the new venue would have on the way that they were structured and whether they were better organised. They unfortunately were not. The issues with the reverberant nature of the previous venue was gone this year as there were carpet tiles down on the floor, however, the issue of the roundtables being vastly over subscribed was still present. Chatting with one delegate, they were on the opposite side of the table to the presenter and struggled to hear them. In the second session, they had to stand due to the number of people present, and were actually butting up against someone sitting at a different roundtable. Once again, many people gave up after the first or second round table session and headed to the expo floor.
This is a real shame as the roundtable sessions have the potential to generate some real peer to peer engagement around a common interest or theme which can foster practical ideas for application in the classroom. it is also odd, because the space being used was the Classtech conference area and there was easily space to spread the tables out far more to reduce the crowding. The people I was chatting with during the afternoon break indicated they would be giving some very honest feedback if there was a feedback form or email offered that would enable them to do so.
I unfortunately missed the start of the final session. I had in my head that Marita Cheng started at 5pm, unfortunately I was wrong and by the time I got my seat in the plenary session, Lisa Rodgers was on stage and telling the audience that when she went to print the Australian Curriculum, she made a very important discovery which she was glad she found before she clicked on print. It is, all told, over 2500 pages long.
Teaching as a profession is a mess, Lisa continued. Why can a teacher who registers in NSW not move to any other state in Australia and immediately begin teaching? Why are our qualifications not more easily transferable across state borders? Damien Taylor asked on Twitter if a genuine national registration could be drive by teachers rather than politics. A friend of mine completed her initial teacher education in Queensland and had to complete a horrendous amount of paperwork to be allowed to teach when she moved to NSW; the paperwork and registration process taking about three months, during which she was unable to teach and therefore earn a living.
Linda extolled the belief that a new curriculum is not needed. That more support for teachers to enable them to better implement it is what is required. She did not specify what the support would look like, however, at the very least, more professional development seems to be a safe assumption. We have more students than ever before entering tertiary education, yet Lisa commented that there is a significant lack of diversification in the courses they are entering. The question was then asked if there should be a national curriculum and if so then what should the measuring stick be of what should be included and how it should be measured.
Lisa observed that we allow students to opt out of subjects that only a few decades ago were mandatory (maths, science) and that the lack of confidence which is often a driver for these choices infiltrates teachers. She commented that, particularly in secondary education, that many maths teachers often shy away from topics they are not confident with and give them only cursory attention in their teaching. I do not know how widespread this is, or on what data that comment was made as we were given no indication.
Linda quickly shifted gears, and began talking about the way in which Maori students represented a small percentage of graduating students for a long time, but that when the Maori culture began to be embedded and valued in education that there was an immediate impact on Maori learning and thus the graduation rates. In contrast to that, Aboriginal culture is often taught as history, or not taught at all. The recent TeachMeet Central Coast event was focused on Aboriginality in education and we were fortunate enough to have a local Elder speak (the recording of the video will be uploaded into the TMCoast archives shortly. I learned more about Aboriginal culture, religion and beliefs in that session than I think I learned in my own schooling.
Maori students felt connected to their first nation according to Lisa, can we say the same of Aboriginal students? I suspect that for some, we possibly could. Like so many areas of education, there are pockets of excellence around the country, the excellence is unevenly distributed.
There was some excellent back and forth of ideas on Twitter during Lisa's presentation, with some counter-ideas and positions taken up which made for great reading and which I believe challenged people to listen critically to what was being said.
I enjoyed Lisa's presentation, it was engaging, interesting and had some interesting insights, however, as with some presentations over the course of FutureSchools, there was no practical takeaway that could be applied or possible solutions, merely a, as Damien Taylor put it, a creative reiteration of the problem. I enjoy a good engaging talk, however, I would like to see more presentations that have a practical takeaway for the audience.
"There is no end to education. It is not that you read a book, pass an examination, and finish with education. The whole of life, from the moment you are born to the moment you die, is a process of learning."
- Attributed to Jiddu Krishnamurti
Disclosure: My attendance at FutureSchools 2017 is under a media pass provided by the organisers.
The structure of FutureSchools 2017 is going to be rather different to my experience over the last two years. The Australian Technology Park venue in Sydney did not allow for plenary sessions and so it is not a big surprise to see that plenary sessions are on the agenda with the move to the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre. I have previously written previews of the five conference streams (read it here) and what they are themed around, as well as a Masterclass Preview article. In this session I am going to explore the agendas for day one of FutureSchools 2017, highlighting the sessions in particular that I will be visiting.
This year’s FutureSchools event will be opening with a plenary session featuring the three keynote speakers, presenting on very different topics. After the welcoming remarks by Jenny Luca of Wesley College Melbourne, delegates will be hearing from Dr. Milton Chen about the role of the Arts, Nature, and Place-Based Learning. The topic intrigues me. I strongly believe that we do not give enough love to the creative and performing arts. Whilst I absolutely agree that literacy and numeracy are important domains of learning, and have a significant impact on a successful life, I believe that the Arts play a significant role in our ability to be creative and empathetic.
The role of Nature and Place-Based Learning is one that intrigues me. I recall a talk at FutureSchools 2015 where a Primary School in Western Australia had created a nature-play space complete with climbing trees, dirt pits for playing in and other nature-based play spaces (though I cannot find the article in question or recall who it was). I am not sure if this is what Dr. Chen is referring to in his title, nor do I know what is meant by the phrase place-based learning, however, the Arts are something I value and I am intrigued as to his view of how they connect with the other two topics.
Following Dr. Chen is Jan Owen, AM Hon DLitt speaking about skills, particularly entrepreneurial skills, needed by today’s (and presumably tomorrow’s) youth. This is a topic that I am generally a little sceptical about. I recently wrote an article about the nature of twenty-first century skills and the fact that there is nothing twenty-first century about them, other than a temporal reference to when we are utilising these skills. The abstract for Jan’s presentation indicates that the session will help us to identify entrepreneurial skills needed by immersing us in leading research and insights into changing enterprise.
I would not personally consider myself an entrepreneur nor would I necessarily be able to list the particular skill set an entrepreneur would need, however, I would imagine that they would be similar to those that entrepreneurs needed in previous generations. Talk about studentpreneurs, teacherpreneurs, and edupreneurs is, from my perspective, concerning. Perhaps I am coming at this from the wrong angle, and I would encourage you to let me know in the comments if you think that is the case, however, entrepreneur has business and commercial connotations in my mind and implies a sense of going about something for commercial benefit or profit. This is not what education is or should be about (although I acknowledge that what education is and should be about is a particularly large and divisive topic in its own right). It implies a focus on teaching our students a set of skills that allow one to be successful, but in one particular area of society; business. The focus on money and keeping up with the Jones' is pervasive in society today and is in my view a sad indictment on our collective societal and cultural drive.
All of that said, I am interested to hear what Jan has to say as I have not actually listened to a presentation on this topic in the past. I will also put my hand up and acknowledge that I could be coming at this topic from the wrong angle. It would not be the first time I have gone into a presentation on a particular topic with a viewpoint and walked out forced to rethink it, such as this PBL session with the Hewes' family).
The final keynote speaker is Prakash Nair under the title of Learning Environments: Optimising Places and Spaces for Learning. I am particularly interested in this talk as my current school has recently undergone a capital building project with the view to removing the twelve demountable buildings on site in order to reclaim play ground space. The demountables are gone, the new building is open, and it is the final preparation of the new playground space that is now underway. The new building looks amazing from the outside, it looks good from the inside, and I am hearing from the teachers in those spaces that they are largely enjoying the team-teaching aspect. I am not in the new building, however my current classroom used to contain three spaces separated by walls; namely the library, the librarian’s office and the computer lab. It has been renovated and turned into a single space for two classrooms, and I am enjoying working in a team-teaching context.
Following the plenary keynote session is the ever important morning tea break, a chance to recharge laptops, connect with old friends, meet other educators and stretch the legs and mind after an intense opening session. The second session is where delegates break into their respective conference streams and this is where the media pass under which I am attending FutureSchools this year kicks in. Part of the agreement is that I attend at least one session in each conference stream, a relatively easy request as each stream has sessions that I am interested in. I will be beginning with the Special Needs and Inclusion conference stream where I will be hearing Deborah Nicholson speak about Bridging the equity gap for vulnerable students through music and arts programs.
There is an equity gap in our schools, a fact that at the moment is inescapable and strategies put in place, such as Gonksi seem to be helping. I have seen students who are not academically inclined light up during music or PE or drama lessons as it is an area they are successful in. I have seen students from difficult backgrounds turn a corner when they are able to be provided additional support in class through a Learning Support Intervention funded by Gonski. The different it can make to the confidence and self-belief for a student who struggles with [insert numeracy or literacy struggle here].
Following Deborah’s presentation, I will be shuffling quickly across to the ClassTech conference stream to hear Linda Ray speak about the impact of technology in the classroom on digital dementia. The abstract contends that neuroleadership ensures that our focus remains on the real, not virtual tasks at hand. This promises to be an interesting session as the impact of technology on students’ ability to focus is still being assessed. There has been some research in this field, however, to the best of my knowledge, the debate is certainly not over. Understanding how to recognise, avoid and combat cognitive overload from educational technology is a skill which I feel will become more and more important as technology becomes more pervasive throughout our education systems.
The final session before lunch and a return to the plenary room is, for me, in the Future Leaders conference stream where Dr. Rachel Wilson will be speaking about …aspiration, trends, challenges and cautions in assessment. This topic is rather timely given the teeth gnashing that occurred when the latest PISA results were recently released, the current public debate about the HSC changes to English and Physics as well as the deplorable changes to being eligible to sit the Higher School Certificate which are being proposed. I will be interested to hear what role the Australian Curriculum has in the talk as well as what role having a national final exam may play, if any.
The current system of assessment is broken if you listen to the media but they do not seem to be able to offer any genuinely viable alternatives. There are certainly areas of opportunity for improving assessment, but the teachers at the coalface can only do so much.
After lunch is when the breakout sessions are scheduled. I have not been particularly impressed with the structure and organisation of this session at the previous iterations of FutureSchools I have attended; however, I acknowledge that the organisers were hamstrung with the spaces available to them at the Australian Technology Park. I am hopeful that this year, with a new venue, that greater consideration to the logistics and acoustics of the breakout sessions is given and that they are more beneficial to everyone who attends the, not just those who sit nearest the presenter.
The final session of the day will see delegates return to the plenary room for two final keynotes. The first, from Marita Cheng focuses on the impact that the Victorian Government’s TechSchools Initiative is having, particularly in the STEM area and the impact that early exposure to technology and engineering is having on students. Finishing the day off is Lisa Rodgers, the CEO of the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL) presenting under the title From Young Learners to Lifelong Learning. It should be an interesting session as the abstract promises to [b]uild insight to raise achievement and improve system effectiveness. Discover the levers that really lift educational attainment. Given that it is the final session of the day, it will either be very well or very poorly attended. I do not know what the wider educational community’s attitude towards AITSL is, however, I personally have heard a range of opinions.
Day one of FutureSchools 2017 will of course be concluding with the customary networking drinks event and I look forward to seeing some old friends and meeting some new ones. Let me know in the comments what you think will be the highlight from the FutureSchools timetable and what your thoughts are on the edupreneur conversations which seem to be taking place more frequently.
Disclosure: My attendance at Education Nation (#EduNationAu) was through a media pass provided by the conference organisers.
As Leanne and Elizabeth were wrapping up their session, I saw a tweet that Corinne Campbell (@corisel) was beginning her session. This was unexpected, as it was about fifteen minutes before the scheduled start time for her session. I quickly collected my belongings and head upstairs, missing only a few minutes of her session. Corinne was speaking about the empowering or disempowering of the teaching profession as a result of the focus on evidence-based practice.
When I entered, Corinne was discussing the fact that metaresearch research by John Hattie (@john_hattie and @visiblelearning) shows that all interventions have an impact, however, it is the size of the impact that varies. Corinne also brought up the Teaching and Learning Toolkit by AITSL, which includes a page that outlines a series of pedagogical practices and, relative to each other, their implementation of cost, time for them to produce their overall effect as well as the overall effect size. I have included a screenshot below of what this looks like. The filters (not in the image) allow you to refine the search based on a range of parameters and the list can also be sorted high to low across all four columns. It is another tool on the AITSL website that I have never seen before and reinforces, for me, the feeling that the AITSL website is a vastly underused and under-respected toolbox; I cannot recall the last time I heard any reference, positive or negative, to it in any discussions with other teachers.
Corinne then spoke about unintended consequences of the focus on evidence-based pedagogical practices, beginning with a burgeoning standardisation of practice without consideration for specific contexts. An example of this is the apparently mandated use of direction instruction in remote Aboriginal schools which has been in the media recently. I say apparently as I have not read the articles surrounding the issue and cannot comment either way on it.
The above tweet was the theme for the next portion of Corinne’s presentation. The focus on evidence-based practices is leaving many experienced teachers second-guessing themselves and their teaching strategies despite having many years of experience in the classroom. This has come from, Corinne elaborated, the use of microdata within schools which is causing many teachers to doubt their own practices if they are not achieving growth in their students learning outcomes. It occurred to me at the time that teachers without confidence in themselves and their pedagogy will teach by the book and not take risks pedagogically or instill passion in their students.
Corinne then introduced the thinking of Gert Biesta (@gbiesta).
The last sentence of the quote is, I feel, the important piece here. It relates to a theme that had arisen in earlier sessions at Education Nation; that what works in one context will not necessarily work in another. Corinne then showed us a graphic, which I, unfortunately, did not get a photo of, but which shows three ways of thinking about pedagogical practices and their impact on a student; qualification, socialisation, and subjectification, which, the way that Corinne spoke about it, was a method of thinking that encouraged questioning the purpose of education. My notes on this section are rather lacking, which is disappointing as it struck me as being an important point. I even went to the trouble of (badly) drawing the graphic in my notebook. Rather than include that messy diagram, I have included below a form of the graphic I retrieved from another site which outlines, I feel, the message that Corinne was aiming to impart to the audience.
Corinne elaborated on this as her closing point. If we put in place a program which aims at improving a student’s acquisition of knowledge in a particular learning area, without paying any attention to the contextual use of that knowledge (socialisation) or the impact that knowledge may have on the student’s self-efficacy or self-perception (subjectification), then while the qualification may improve we will ultimately see a negative impact. We need to be making contextualised and informed professional judgements about pedagogical practices that will have an overall positive impact in our classroom. That was my understanding of what Corinne was saying, at any rate.
I would have liked to have heard all of Corinne’s presentation, and for her to have had more time to elaborate on some of her ideas. I have a gut feeling, a sense of something itching away at the edge of my consciousness, that there was something in Corinne’s presentation, that I was missing; an idea or concept that would have….I do not actually know. There is a sense that I am missing something important from Corinne’s presentation, however.
Thank you for reading, as always. If you have kept up with the articles I have written as a result of Education Nation, then well done, as they have been rather lengthy articles. I can only hope that my readers have found them useful, particularly for those sessions they were not able to attend themselves. If you have missed any of the articles, you can find the consolidated list by clicking here. Take heart, however, there are only two more articles to go!