"Twitter is my primary network for learning"
-Jenny Luca, Chair, FutureSchools Conference, 23 March 2017
Disclosure: My attendance at FutureSchools 2017 is under a media pass provided by the organisers.
If you have missed any of the articles in the FutureSchools 2017 series, you can find them here. The excitement for FutureSchools fairly exuded from Twitter this morning as people began arriving with numerous photos popping up on Twitter.
I was very curious as to how the change in venue would change the vibe of the expo hall and the event in general. and the plenary was a nice change. It brought everyone together, and no doubt made filling time slots easier with less to worry about! There was also a definite TED Talk vibe going on with the stage setup
Jenny Luca, Chairperson for the FutureLeaders conference welcomed everyone and encouraged the delegates to think differently about education while we were there. She also commented that Twitter has been, for her, the greatest network for professional development. When I retweeted and asked who agreed with the comment, there were a great number of positive responses which was not at all surprising. I have had a few conversations recently with people who have dabbled with Twitter on and off, but a large number of people whom I have spoken with over the yesterday and today are active Twitter users, but I digress.
Milton Chen was the first keynote speaker and his topic was educating the whole child, with a focus on the arts, nature, and place-based learning in education. He began with a topical jab at Donald Trump ("Thank you, Australia, for letting me into your country), but then spoke about the accident of history that formed George Lucas' entry into the film making industry, that it was only a car accident that led him into film making. In Lucas' childhood, a teacher would not have been able to do too much to nurture and utilise a child's interest in film making to help their learning. Now, however, it is relatively easy to do and we need to personalise the learning to the interest of the learner.
I feel like this relates to the discussion in Prakash Nair's masterclass yesterday where he was talking about the concept of four theories of learning, specifically, the Distributed Collective theory wherein groups of learners converge around common interests with different levels of expertise, on an as needed basis and an individual will often be across multiple networks at the same time participating in different ways and levels across each of those groups. Milton's words here are perhaps not quite in the same vein, however, there are certainly shades of similarity.
At this point Milton brought up a topic that intuitively makes sense, yet, has much support in various teaching circles, yet which, as far as I am aware, does not have any empirical evidence supporting it. It intuitively makes sense and like many things which intuitively make sense, teachers run with it because much of teaching, if you ask in casual conversation, is based on gut feeling, on professional judgement honed over years of teaching and trying and failing in various contexts.
Science does not appear to support Multiple Intelligence as a theory of learning.
The concept of educating the whole child, of nurturing their social, emotional, academic, physical (fundamental movement skills, physical health etc), creativity vis-a-vis the arts is one I can agree with. What I do not agree with is modelling that based upon the notion that students have an identifiable preference which has a direct causal relation with their learning outcomes.
We heard, next, about research (un-cited) which shows that students who undertake a structured curriculum focused on social and emotional development see a statistically significant improvement in their overall testing results. I find it interesting that everything comes back to their impact on testing results, however, I feel that that is flogging the metaphorical dead horse.
Milton posits that students can learn more than we think they can. In what regard, and what the key is to unlocking this we were not really given an answer, however, it feels like pieces of the jigsaw puzzle are being extracted from various speakers at various conferences and that eventually, hopefully, maybe, we will get to a point where those who make the macro-level decisions about education will realise that the system needs to change.
It was next noted that the school year in the US is quite short comparative to Australia. As a result of this, there is a plethora of after school programs and clubs, not to mention the summer camps. This emphasises two things in my mind. First of all, the relationship between student's desire to work hard when they see the benefit which Prakash spoke about yesterday and secondly, the fact that this would appear to indicate that schools are not meeting the desires of students learning interests. It was also pointed by Martin Levins that we need to be careful not to over-curricularise students, I would add, especially in areas they do enjoy learning
We next heard about the six edges of innovation and the learning ecosystem, moving from here into place-based learning. Milton commented that in urban areas of US cities, students can easily graduate from secondary school without ever planting something. That in cities along the coast, students who live only an hour or two from the beach can graduate without ever seeing the ocean. The Edible Schoolyard project seeks to rectify that by creating programs where students not only are engaged in planting, growing and harvesting, but then in cooking the produce.
Makerspace came up as part of Milton's presentation, particularly the way that it addresses the need for practical skills, even in this age of automation and doom and gloom news about the prospects of blue-collar jobs in the future that is prevalent in the media. He commented that you would not have found any Makerspaces in schools five years ago, but that you would ave twenty years ago. I missed any discussion of the why behind this in a short conversation with the person sitting next to me, however, I would posit that the cotton wool movement might have something to do with it, though I could be wrong.
Milton showed us a video of a student who was heavily into makerspace, soldering circuits, 3D printing pieces and building using his hands as well as teaching peers how to solder because "once I teach them, they can teach some of their friends." I wonder how often a student has some sort of heavy interest in something that we as teachers either miss completely, do not understand, or are not able to facilitate learning through that interest, or are not able to due to administrative direction and the elephant in the room: mandated testing. The makerspace / STEAM / HacherSpace movements are, in my perhaps very wrong opinion, still constrained by perceived current purpose and focus of school, which to many stakeholders, including a reasonable proportion of student, is to get a good HSC result for uni.
It was observed by @MrsAngell that "[p]arents are our biggest barrier they say its great as extracurricular but...not for class the purpose of class is get my kid to uni." This led to the Bioblitz citizen-science movement, and its relationship to allowing students to experience their local environment in natural ways that are fun, contextual, exciting and scarily, not necessarily related to learning outcomes.
Milton closed by challenging us to define what makes a great school, in a short but measurable definition. Paul Houston's definition is apparently do the student run in at the same rate they run out. Are they eager to come to school, or are they hanging out out for the bell at the end of the day? It is an interesting question to ponder and twitter flooded with a variety of ideas. Feel free to share yours in the comments.
As always, thank you for reading. I hope to get some more articles out over the next few days while people are still following #FutureSchools on twitter.