"We need to ensure that students see their ideas as valid so that they connect with school."
Disclosure: My attendance at FutureSchools 2017 is under a media pass provided by the organisers.
The buzz amongst delegates at the conclusion of the opening plenary session was palpable. The buzz on Twitter was observable with a large number of tweets commenting about how much they enjoyed the presentations from Milton Chen, Jan Owen, and Prakash Nair, with tidbits of quotes, ideas, realisation and musings filtering through the twittersphere during the morning tea break. One of the first things I noticed during the morning tea break was that to access the tea and coffee and the morning tea, you had to be a delegate or a speaker.
The gentleman manning the access to the morning tea catering area indicated that his instructions were only those people were to be allowed through. I find this rather surprising, that exhibitors, who spend a considerable amount of money to be there, are not allowed food, nor media. Given that extortionate prices of the food vendors on the expo floor (lunch later in the day of a basic wrap (ham, cheese, tomato) and a 600ml bottle of soft drink cost me $13.50!) one has to question whether a percentage of the profits go back to the organisers. What was particularly annoying was that the only bathroom in the expo hall was accessed through the catering area, so one had to leave the expo area for those needs. Poor planning.
The other thing that I observed was that there did not appear to be anywhere near as many people on the expo floor as in previous years, both in terms of exhibitor numbers and delegates. That said, the space was a lot more contained insofar as it didn't have to be spread out across a cavernous concrete floor with steel beams and fenced off areas in the way as was the case at Australian Technology Park, the venue of the previous few years. Perhaps I am wrong, but given that three of the conferences were in small sectioned off areas of the Expo hall, that the catering area was significantly larger in floor space than previous years and also in the same area, and that at no point did I feel that I needed to squeeze through people talking in groups, I do not think I am.
After the morning tea break, I headed to the Special Needs and Inclusion Conference to heard Deborah Nicholson speak about the impact of arts and music programs on the equity gap. It was a very small group, perhaps fifty delegates in the space, however, it was an interesting presentation. The create and performing arts are something of a passion of mine, writing my Honours Thesis on the topic of Teachers' Self-Efficacy in Teaching the Arts, and I do believe that arts, as a key learning areas just like mathematics, English, and Science, gets comparatively shafted. Not true in all cases, I know, but by and large, I think that I would be fairly accurate with that assessment.
Deborah spoke about the impact of the arts on Indigenous education. She noted that the positive experience of creating and performing helps students to feel more connected and confident. This flows on to positively impact on their academic results at school. Deborah pointed delegates to the Arts:Live website, a free resource that contains an array of professional learning and teaching resources specifically dedicated to the arts and their impact in schools.
As I was listening to Deborah present, I found myself continually distracted by the hubbub on the expo floor and the faint sounds of speakers from the other two conference streams that were being hosted in the expo hall (ClassTech and Young Learners). It was not enough to drown out Deborah, as the conference stream did have its own microphone and PA system, however, it was distracting nonetheless.
"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.