"We spent $10bn on [physical] school improvements yet no measures of educational outcomes improved."
Disclosure: My attendance at FutureSchools 2017 is under a media pass provided by the conference organisers.
If you have missed the previous articles in the FutureSchools 2017 series, you can view them here.
I do not intend to write a hugely detailed review of Prakash's keynote as there was significant overlap between this presentation and the masterclass, which I have already reviewed here. There were, however, some differences. One of the differences was the inclusion of his statement which I have included at the top of this article. It was part of his opening phase, giving some of his own background, including his early career where he felt that he was doing some great work with the company he was employed with and the realisation that there had been no measurable improvement in learning outcomes for students as a result of the work done by his company.
It was, for him, a watershed moment and he took the bold step of starting his own company on the back of that realisation in order to be able to work to positively impact student's learning outcomes. It was asked by one audience member, Martin Levins, that perhaps the reason no improvement in student learning was observed was that the wrong things were being measured. This does go back to the general theme that had come through from Milton Chen's keynote and Jan Owen's keynote, that education needs to change the focus from high-stakes testing.
Prakash commented that there are two trillion dollars worth of obsolete school buildings in the United States, if one goes with the definition of obsolete as those which are based on cells and bells. There are two categories of people in society who are typically given no choice in their movement; students and prisoners. He continued this theme by stating that there is less square feet of space given to students than to prisoners in current school building designs, with around thirty percent of space in schools lost to useless corridors. It does not take much work to change that, however, nor an overly large investment in money to do so.
Prakash exhorted us to stop assuming that students need to be taught in order to learn and to go forth bravely and be the change we want to be in our schools. I am going to hold the article there as I do not feel I can write much more that I have not already said in my review of Prakash' masterclass. That said, feel free to read through the Storify of the Plenary session to get an insight into the general flavour of what was being said.
"Having a student-centered space is not the same as having student-centered learning, nor does it equal a change in pedagogy."
-Prakash Nair (paraphrased). 22 March 2017.
Disclosure: My attendance at FutureSchools is under a media pass provided by the conference organisers.
If you have missed any articles in this series, please click here to find the full list.
FutureSchools 2017 began, for me, with a nice walk in miserable weather from my hotel to the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre (MCEC) for the Masterclass Day. I planned to sit in on Prakash Nair's masterclass examining "Practical Strategies to Maximize Teacher Effectiveness in New Student-Centered Learning Spaces" which, for me, was something of personal and professional interest when the arrangement for me to attend FutureSchools was initially made. As my regular readers would be aware, my school has been undergoing a capital building project, and I was intriguied as to what I would be able to take back to my school about using learning spaces and designing them for students benefit and to change pedagogical practices. However, as I sit here now, my context has changed significantly and school design is not on my radar personally or professionally. I therefore struggled, significantly, to engage with what Prakash was saying and asking us to do as I struggled to see where I could connect with it.
Prakash opened by commenting that in his experience, Australia is often one of the key innovators in learning spaces, which I found a genuine surprise. Moving forward, he indicated that his view is there are three types of learning (as seen in the above tweet) and that these take place in a range of contexts, at a variety of times and that they can occur side by side with each other in the same learning space. He then showed us some examples of what these look through a series of photographs of learning spaces around the world.
Changing tack, he then noted that they believe in sharing and that everything they do, they share, that they hold no intellectual capital. I find this an interesting stance to take from a corporation, however, some of his comments over the course of the morning indicated that the contextual approach to school planning that they take means that a design may be transferable in the physical sense to another location, but that they are highly personalised to suit each individual context and thus may not fit in the community they have been transferred to.
Prakash spoke to this for a lengthy period of time, showing some examples of school change they had worked on in poor areas of the world as well as in affluent areas. It came across quite clearly that he believes that change can occur anywhere and on any budget but the key is changing the learning space to suit what is needed pedagogically. He commented that buildings often negatively impact on what teachers want to achieve which is not how it should be, that they should facilitate the achievement of learning for students and that when a cohort of pre-service teachers were challenged to come up with what they would do if they had no resources whatsoever, they came up with a list of things that we often spruik; collaboration, creativity, critical thinking etc. When they had produced this list and went into a classroom and asked to list of what they could achieve now, he said the list actually shrunk.
The discussion then changed to talking about types of learning theory, based upon a free course that Harvard University run online (see tweet below for the link).
He posited that there are four main theories of learning that traverse a spectrum from students having no choice and teachers deciding what they will learn to completely student centered learning. He showed us a few videos from a free online course promoting an understanding of your own theories of learning that defined each of these and asked to talk in our table groups about how we felt about each type. Hierarchical Individual is effectively the completely teacher-driven model and is very common in schools in Australia now due to the pressures around NAPLAN and the final Year Twelve exams (HSC, VCE etc) that are what entry to university is based upon. IT was also noted in the discussions on my table that even when schools do move to open learning spaces, that teachers often put up their own walls, even if they are invisible ones to maintain the facade of their classroom and their students because that is what they know.
The second model that Prakash spoke about was the hierarchical collective, which someone on my observed seemed like a good compromise for schools wanting to be progressive whilst maintaining some traditional aspects. Schools using this model often have close connections with their community based upon the belief that education is not necessarily for yourself, but for the community as a whole. It is an interesting concept. It was noted that primary schools typically find this an easier model to use than secondary schools do, once again, noting the pressure around high stakes exams at the end of students' schooling.
"If a teacher teaches a lot that does not mean that students learn a lot"
The distributed individual theory of learning is underpinned by the belief that students are natural learners and want to learn with the ability to direct their learning to their interests. This can be seen in a lot of areas in students lives, but more commonly, their lives outside of school. The number of conversations I have had with students about something they went to YouTube to learn, or have seen students join a lunchtime club to learn and engage with something they are interested in is phenomenal. However, I cannot recall seeing this model in classrooms. This model, it seems, comes down to having the strong relationships with students and knowing their and understanding their interests and being able to meet them at that place with the learning task when it is appropriate to do so. However, once again, the elephant in the room called Mandated Testing raises its ugly head and trumpets loudly through parents, administrators and the media (among others) about the need to do better and improve our results because our ranking in PISA and TIMMS is declining; and other similar arguments.
The final theory of learning is identified as the distributed collective and is groups of learners coming together around a common interest with varying levels of expertise for varying lengths of time and in different self-organised contexts to learn from and guide each other. There are lots of examples of this in the lunchtime and after school programs, however, this is limited in the classroom and comes back to a question that I have seen popping up time and time again in various contexts over the last eighteen months; which is what is the purpose of schooling and education?
The first two theories of learning were based around the way the teacher teaches while the second two models are about how the student learns. There seems to be a common view, Prakash noted, that students are lazy. You only have to see a student devouring player guides for games, or manuals for a model, or coaching sessions for sport or musical instruments to know that students are not lazy when they can see that the hard work will lead them towards the thing they want to learn. Intrinsic motivation is key and we need to stop motivating students to do things they do not want to do. This raises further questions.
Prakash said that as someone who hires employees that he is more interested in what prospects can do than in what a piece of paper says and that he often finds that those without a formal architecture degree are better at designing than those who are formally qualified. The key to the distributed collective is that any one student can be simultaneously involved in multiple collectives, at different expertise levels for different lengths of time.
The above image from Prakash's slide deck shows the spectrum of learning opportunities and that the black vertical line shows the point where students are typically limited to due to the design of buildings and the educational paradigms used where the left hand side is completely isolated content and the right hand side is where students are learning things by doing those things that interest them. Prakash said that if you walk into a learning space and there are twenty-five students facing one teacher than the paradigm chosen is pretty clear. I am not entirely sure that I agree with this as there are going to be times when it is authentic and necessary to address everyone at once, however, I can see his point.
It was at this point that we were given a series of school buildings that Prakash's company had worked on and redesigned, and asked to select one and have our turn at redesigning it, keeping in mind everything that we had heard about thus far. I made the decision, that mentally I was struggling to engage and that in my new context this conversation was not one that was particularly relevant to me and so I made the decision to step out, which was effectively the end of my involvement in this masterclass. I did come back in for a short period after lunch to hear how people had gone about their design changes, and there were some interesting concepts, with some tables here in school groups and choosing to work with an existing school building. I have some photos below of those designs, and some of them were fairly close to what was actually achieved in reality.
I personally found Prakash to be an engaging speaker, and I apologised to him for popping in and out and then effectively leaving the session. I think that if I was still in my previous school that it would have been a session I would have engaged with wholeheartedly. As I am in that awkward phase of having just started a new role, I was mentally distracted and struggled to to focus and engage properly. If you were in the room, please comment and share your thoughts and reflections on the session. There were also other masterclasses running parallel to Prakash's, tweets from which can be seen in the Storify here (which I need to redo as it is missing a significant number of tweets).
As always, thank you for reading. I hope to get the first article from Day One of the FutureSchools later on today. Keep your eyes peeled for it.
Hello everybody, today was Masterclass day for FutureSchools 2017, and there looked to be a good turnout across the six Masterclasses. I will write more in depth about the Masterclass I attended later on this evening to publish tomorrow, however, here is the link to the Storify of the day to tide you over.
"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.