Posts Tagged ‘educational debate’

NZ Curriculum in Action PD Day

February 3rd, 2010

NZ Curriculum In Action was a professional development day created for two purposes:

  • To bring together the isolated pockets of educators already working in the direction of the new curriculum, and connect them with educators looking to develop their teaching in that direction but wanting to be inspired by what was possible.
  • To build a professional learning community that fostered interest in the theory and practice of 21st century teaching ideas.

Originally envisioned in a traditional workshop model, the organisers soon realised that it would be incongruous to run a PD day looking at 21st century ideas in a very traditional, 20th century way. So we adapted the concept of the World Café to give us an opportunity to run the day in a very different way.  Gone was the single presenter lecturing to the audience. Instead the room was set with five table clusters, and each presenter session saw five different presenters, one per table, leading a more intimate group discussion of what they were about, enabling more questions and discussions to occur than during a traditional style presented session. Flat screens were available to make anything on laptop easy for the group to see. These sessions were interspersed with discussion sessions around provided open-ended questions. The questions were designed to enable thought-provoking discussion and debate about some of the philosophical ideas underpinning the direction that the new curriculum allows education to go.

In order to minimise as many barriers as possible to people attending, the day was provided at no cost. The venue was generously made available by the Foundation Studies Dept of Manukau Institute of Technology, tea and coffee was generously provided by Team Solutions, and all participants were asked to contribute a plate of food for an ongoing buffet table that people could help themselves to whenever they wanted. There was a structure and timeframe to the day, to enable workability, but the overall intention was to create an atmosphere of inclusivity, flexibility, and connection, to encourage people to communicate what was important to them about the direction of education, and to learn from each other.

Held on November 26th, the day was promoted through email contacts, the most productive email lists were the Team Solutions Secondary Science list and the Specialist Classroom Teacher list. I hope to find access to other similarly effective contact lists to be able to reach more teachers in future. The original aim was the secondary sector, but across all subject areas, as the concept of inclusivity and connectedness between learning areas is one aspect encouraged by the new curriculum that I find particularly encouraging. However, as the planning for this day went on, it soon became apparent that building the connections and understanding between primary, secondary and tertiary sectors is as important as building the connections and understanding between subject areas in secondary schools, or between syndicates in primary schools or departments in tertiary institutions. I was pleased to have presenters and participants from all three sectors of the education system, and hope to be able to have a more balanced representation of all sectors in future events.

How did this day dream itself into being? I was in the early stages of a community leadership course run by Landmark Education, and had already selected a project to create, when I was introduced to the new curriculum in such a way that I actually saw it for its full potential.  For myself I saw the way to bridge the gap between my personal philosophy about what education should be, and what I instead would find myself putting into practice in my classroom – a disparity that I always felt but had little idea how to do anything about, and so had always ignored and made the best of. More importantly I also saw that the paradigm shift required to move from the traditional concept of education to what the new curriculum makes possible is not going to be easy for a lot of our colleagues, and so this gift to education could so easily fail to achieve its potential. And so I became determined to do something to help encourage forward thinking and action. My original project idea was shelved in favour of what became known as NZC in Action. What I was surprised by was the so very positive response to this professional development day, right from the outset. It then evolved and grew into something bigger and more valuable than my original idea, and the proof of this pudding was the 50+ presenters and participants that travelled from up to two hours away to attend, the large numbers of positive comments people made to me in passing across the day, the energy present in the room, and the wonderful feedback and supportive suggestions made on our survey forms. Even before the day itself, I had people contact me to say that they couldn’t make that date but wanted to be kept informed for the next one.  People clearly saw a need for an opportunity like this.

What was presented? In no particular order… Kate Slattery (M.I.T.) - Higher order thinking and questioning strategies that get students thinking for themselves; Dr Karen Dobric (One Tree Hill College) - school structures and qualification pathways and what needs to be addressed to allow us to better meet the needs of our students; Larraine Barton (Pakuranga College) – the thinking and planning behind how the Science Dept at Pakuranga College developed their new and different programme in Junior Science;  Melanie Wiersma (Clendon Park School) - using digital tools extensively and to very positive effect to develop independent learners in the classroom; Ang Whitlam (St Mary’s College) - using ICT in innovative ways to support learning in Science; Sarah Painter (Team Solutions) – integrated and contextual learning, cross-curricular teaching; Oriel Kelly (M.I.T.) - using the internet as a teaching tool; Sharra Martin (Alfriston College) – what’s been happening at Alfriston College; Sandy McGivern (One Tree Hill College) – the Shifting Thinking Conference for those who missed it; Anna Gibbs/Harold Russ (King’s College) – integrated units and Harvard’s Teaching For Understanding; Diane Hartley and Toni Shaw (Albany Senior High School) – what’s going on at Albany Senior High School; Jenny Pope (Team Solutions) - Empirical vs Rational Thinking, educational philosophy;  Libby Slaughter (Monte Cecilia School) – Enquiry-based learning.

Where to from here? The survey showed an overwhelming enthusiasm for more of the same, the two most popular suggestions were a blog site and a continuation of the NZC in Action days, at the frequency of once a term. A large number of people signalled their interest not just in attending again, but in being a part of bringing the next PD day into being. I will be getting in contact with those generous people in the New Year so that we can put together the next NZC in Action day with many hands making the job effortless.

My particular thanks to the key supporters and organisers, Mike Stone, Harold and Linda Russ, Sarah Painter,  Anna Gibbs and Jenny Pope, and the numerous people I met and talked with from Team Solutions, Shifting Thinking, M.I.T, and schools around Auckland who answered my opening question of “So who do you know that’s doing edgy and innovative things that I can show to the world?” with great enthusiasm and support. And finally to the group of presenters, who were the embodiment of NZC in Action, generously sharing their ups and downs, breakthroughs and hiccups to help support and encourage others as to what can be done. You really made our day!

Note: This really was much easier to bring into being than you’d think! And so rewarding, being part of building a community of like-minded people. If anyone wants to see something similar happen in their area, please get in touch with me, I’d love to help support other similar professional learning communities getting underway, in other parts of the country!

Sandy McGivern

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Educating for the 21st century – is this just about school?

November 23rd, 2009

Others have written about communities learning together and of the fluid and ever changing nature of communities. The point has been made that we need dialogue between different groups within the community, such as between people within what we currently call formal education and people in the wider community (parents, employers, etc). Others have highlighted the more permeable boundaries between the formal (usually in the context of schooling) and the informal (community-based, out of school experiences, etc) and the enriched opportunity to learn that when this occurs.

As I have mentioned in other blog entries I attended a symposium, Educating World Citizens for the 21st Century and I one thing I am left wondering about is why when we talk about educating for the 21st century the assumption commonly made is that the conversation is about the education of 5-17/18 year olds (being in the US the speakers all referred to K-12)? The title of the symposium didn’t suggest to me that attention would just be on these years. There was maybe a hint in the high level questions posed in the programme: “How can our educational system evolve to meet the challenges of the 21st century; and “How will we educate people to be compassionate, competent, ethical and engaged citizens in an increasingly complex and interconnected world? But, with the exception of references to the importance of learning in the very early years all the conversation focused on the systems of schools and schooling. Interestingly too there was only passing thought given to maybe re-thinking aspects of schooling. The conversation was mostly about how can we use the knowledge that we have from a variety of disciplines to improve the way we educate young people, mostly in terms of the curriculum we offer and the pedagogy we use. There was some acknowledgement that adults would need to learn new things, in this case the teachers who will need to take account of developing knowledge from neuroscience and psychology given that such knowledge could help improve the learning of their students.

Now of course we know how important learning is during the years of schooling but the very early years are also critical (with growing evidence that these years are even more important than we have realised) and the kind of education that supports learning post school; at work, and throughout life seem rather important too! We can, of course, hope that schools can be beacons ­ as many already are ­ of what 21st century learning might involve but to me it feels too narrow a window to be pinning all our hopes and attention in these years of life. Do we need a more spacious definition of “education system” so the default position isn’t just a focus on schools but takes account of the kind of “systems” we need at the various stages of life? Or, given that many are advocating more permeable boundaries between the so called “formal” and “informal” systems maybe we need new terminology so that we keep our conversation on education and learning and not on the “systems” of today?

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What are schools for?

October 16th, 2009

Michael Young-1 If you’ve been paying attention, you’ll know that our first guest speaker in Act II (Tuesday 3rd November) will be Michael Young, and the title of his talk is: Schooling, curriculum, and social justice.

If you’re interested in brushing up on your sociology of education ahead of time, Michael has sent through a book chapter he has written entitled “What are schools for?”. This chapter gives an interesting overview of the main arguments and debates in the sociology of education since the 1970s.

Young, M. (2009). What are schools for? In: Knowledge, Values and Educational Policy (eds H.Daniels, H.Lauder and J.Porter. London: Routledge.

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Opportunities to engage with 21st century ideas

August 17th, 2009

The NZ Curriculum has 8 principles. These principles are supposed to underpin all decision making in schools. One of these principles is about community engagement and one is about future focus. At NZCER we are running a project (Families’ and communities’ engagement in education) that is looking at what opportunities whole school communities (students, teachers, families) have to engage with 21st century ideas about education. Whose responsibility is it to ensure that families (and the wider community) have access to some of the current ideas about schooling and how it might need to change to meet the demands of our rapidly changing world?

Recently a group of principals (and other school leaders) we are working with met to talk about what current school practices might be useful for engaging families with future focused ideas about education.  How might parent-teacher interviews for instance be structured differently to serve this purpose? What messages do parents currently get about what is important to learn, from looking at their children’s homework or  school newsletters? What role do (or could) students themselves play in challenging the way the adults around them think about education?

What future focused ideas do you think your communities need to engage with? Why these ideas?  We’d love to hear your thoughts.

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“What’s climate change got to do with education?”

May 15th, 2009

Negev Desert (C) Rachel Bolstad, 2007

The title of this posting is a verbatim question I was asked by a teacher after a presentation I gave at their school last year. At the time, the question left me a bit stunned, and I have been wanting to write a posting about it ever since.

To give you a sense of context (and why the question shocked me), here was the gist of the presentation I’d just given (or at least a small segment of it). I’d used the work of Jane Gilbert and others to discuss how certain Industrial Age social and economic imperatives have  influenced the development of the systems, structures, and ideas we have about secondary education today. I discussed some of the major shift in concepts of what “knowledge” is and what it does, and how many of these new ideas have arisen in the world outside education (see more about that here and here ). I talked about some of the important capabilities, dispositions, competencies etc that 21st century education ought to be focussing on – such as those mentioned here . Then, I gave what I THOUGHT was a good example to illustrate exactly WHY we must take all this seriously, and WHY these kinds of 21st century learning approaches really do matter.


Delhi, India (C) Rachel Bolstad, 2005

I said something along the lines that the 21st century world brings with it a whole new gamut of changes and challenges – social, economical, political, and environmental – that will require us to be able to think and act in new ways. We are in a world where the future is unknown – and where people need the ability to deal with uncertainty, be confident to take on open-ended challenges, where the solution CAN’T be known in advance, and where we can no longer assume we can leave things up to some “authority” to fix the problems we (and they) have collectively created. A world in which people will need to rapidly build new knowledge to address emerging challenges, collaborating across disciplines, cultures, and nations, drawing on many sources of evidence, and constantly re-evaluating decisions and actions as new knowledge and evidence is generated, with a concern for the impacts of their decisions and actions on the people and world they live in. A world which demands much more of its citizens, and in turn, demands much more of or education systems.


Flooding, Bangkok. (C) Rachel Bolstad, 2006

Climate change – a global problem which is a genuinely open-ended challenge, and which has deeply interconnected social, political, scientific, and economic dimensions – and which we are all affected by (and which we all affect) – what could be a better example to illustrate why we need to think again about what we are doing as educators? Or so I thought.

Yet at the end of my presentation, it seemed at least one teacher could not see that climate change had any relevance whatsoever to education. I wonder, what DID they think was the point of education? Unfortunately I didn’t have the opportunity to have this conversation with the teacher, nor was I able to actually give a response to the question (assuming it was really a question, rather than a rhetorical statement of exasperation at my presentation!)

Since I never was able to discuss this with the teacher, I plan to start this conversation on instead. In the coming weeks and months, we’ll be building up some material on our “Theory” section to explain some of the current thinking in environmental and sustainability education, why it matters, and why this ought to be absolutely central to our thinking about 21st century learning and education. We’ll also be blogging more in this area, and pointing you towards other blogs, resources, and people who can help us learn more.

I’d love to hear from any and all of you out there who are passionate about environmental and sustainability education!

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Curriculum conferences

May 13th, 2009

At NZCER’s recent series of curriculum conferences there was a lot of interesting discussion relating to the implementation of New Zealand’s revised curriculum.  You can find out more about the conferences at

I thought it might be useful to post some of the questions we discussed at the conferences here as an invitation for anyone interested to continue the conversation. Some of the questions posed were:

  • How do we balance a national and a school-based curriculum? What are the universal things that all schools need to be doing? (Are there any?) What are the areas where schools have the freedom to choose what they teach and how?
  • What does achievement look like and who decides?
  • What role do structures play in initiating, processing and sustaining change?
  • How do we support and grow leaders of learning at all levels – principals, teachers, students, BOT?
  • How do you encourage staff to be brave and visionary?
  • What are the barriers/ enablers for deep change?
  • What are the most effective levers for changing the school culture?

What’s “on top” for you? What’s puzzling you about how we can move towards a more future focused view of learning and education, whilst still keep everything up and going on a day to day basis for today’s students ?  What are the questions you think we all need to be asking? What are the most important things to think about?

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Lurkers, reveal thyselves!

April 15th, 2009

According to our “About” page,

This website is a space for theory and practice to interact, for theory to inform practice, and practice to inform theory.

We aim to support educators to talk about contemporary education, and to equip them with some analytical tools (articles, thinking objects) for doing so.

Reading the description above, it does seem to me to read a little bit one-way – i.e. this site is about “us” helping/telling/teaching/equipping “you” to be able to think about or talk about 21st century learning.

However, I personally think  of as a space for people to engage in collaborative knowledge-building, debate, discussion, questioning, etc. It’s not about “us” telling “you”, but rather, it’s about all of us thinking together, pushing and challenging our thinking, asking questions, and so on, within the general “frame” that we have established around 21st century thinking about learning and education.  However, as many bloggers know, in the absence of comment or feedback  sometimes you can really feel as though you are just talking to yourself. (I’m sure a lot of teachers and parents must feel like this sometimes!).

Thanks to the magic of google analytics, we know that we are getting visitors from around the world to, and I have also had people emailing me or telling me in the kitchen or staffroom at work that they’ve read some of the site and found it interesting.

In the interest of opening up these discussions further, I would hereby like to call on all you lurkers, readers, and passers-by – drop us a comment or two!!  (In the last week or so we’ve been getting hit by spam-bots,  so it would be nice to read some genuine comments from humans, rather than websites trying to sell us viagra!). So if you are reading this, don’t be shy – I’d love to hear:

  • Who are you?
  • What brought you to, what do you make of these ideas?
  • What are your own questions, experiences, memories, visions, and challenges with respect to thinking about education and learning for the 21st century?
  • OR – if you’ve been lurking for a while – what’s held you back from commenting to date?

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It’s a tragedy – or is it?

February 25th, 2009

The traditional academic curriculum – powerful knowledge for all in the 21st century?

Recently I had to give a talk to a group of secondary principals. I was supposed to be talking about personalizing learning – what it is, why is/could it be good, and what, if anything, it has to do with 21st century learning.

When I was thinking about what I should say, I came up against a problem that has worried me for a long time now. It’s a problem I thought about a lot in the past and left it for a while, but now, in the context of all this talk about 21st century learning, I want to come back to it, to think more—and write—about it again. This problem is a very hard problem (and I don’t know the answer to it – yet), but I think it’s a problem that, because it leads us into some very unproductive (from an educational point of view) blind alleys, is really worth trying to think our way through..

What is this problem? It’s the problem of the traditional academic curriculum. In particular, how and why is it—or should it be—important in schooling? What role does it play in producing (or not producing) equal opportunity? What—if anything—does it have to do with 21st century learning? Does this kind of knowledge still matter, and if so/not, why?

Two stories about the school curriculum debate occur to me as a way of beginning this discussion. The first story is the source of the title of this piece.

The front page headline of a recent[1] Saturday edition of the Dominion Post newspaper read “It’s a tragedy. Teachers fight to save Shakespeare“. According to the text, school principals are “alarmed” that the new curriculum will “axe” Shakespeare and other “basic content” in a drive to make school subjects “achievable” by more students. This, they say, will “dumb down” school children, and we will see schools offering “lightweight courses” that “deprive pupils of key knowledge”.

The second story is about something that happened more than fifty years ago. In his book The biography of an idea, Dr C. E. Beeby (Director-General of Education in New Zealand for more than twenty years) tells the story of a trip he made to Te Araroa in the 1940s to attempt to persuade local Mäori of the merits of a new District High School for their area. This new school would add a ‘top end’ to the existing Native School. It would offer a curriculum emphasizing practical/technical subjects designed to prepare students for agricultural and/or domestic work. This, Beeby argued, would help to keep young people in the local area when they left school. At one hui Beeby was challenged by a kaumätua who asked him if he had learned Latin at school. On hearing the reply—that Beeby had in fact learned it – for six years, the kaumätua simply replied “and look where it got you”. Beeby comments in the book, published in 1992, that fifty years later he still hadn’t thought of a suitable reply.

Putting these two stories alongside each other allows us to see some key tensions in the secondary school curriculum, tensions that have been around for a very long time, and that we seem to have no idea how to resolve. Why are they there, and what could we do about them? Why does it matter that they are there? It is these questions that I want to raise—and invite discussion of—here.

I’ll start with two ways of looking at these competing sets of ideas (but there are many more).

Focusing on ideas about what schooling is for, this tension might look like this:

Idea 1: Schooling provides the conditions for equal opportunity by allowing everyone access to powerful forms of knowledge and powerful ways of thinking. These forms of knowledge and ways of thinking are powerful in themselves, and mastery of them gives access to powerful positions in society…


Idea 2: Schooling is an important way of sorting and selecting people for the roles they will occupy in their lives beyond school.

Or: from another angle:

Idea 1: The knowledge that underpins the traditional academic curriculum has been chosen because it is powerful knowledge. It is powerful knowledge because it is universal, timeless, and objective knowledge: that is, it is powerful for—and applies to—all people in all times…


Idea 2: The knowledge that is the basis of the school curriculum is a selection from all available knowledge. It is a selection that reflects and maintains the values and interests of particular social groups and, because of this, it marginalizes—oppresses even—individuals from other social groups.

Thinking about all this again raises some questions for me: for example…

1. Is the traditional academic curriculum, still powerful knowledge? Is this kind of knowledge still linked with powerful ways of thinking? Does mastery of it still provide access to power? Or has the power shifted in the 21st century?

2. If we think ‘rigor’, ‘standards’ and ‘’quality’ are important, does this have to preclude equality and/or inclusiveness? Why does this issue polarise people?

3. What, in the 21st century, does an ‘educated person’ look like? What sort of person should our education system be attempting to produce? Why? Does this person have the same features as one educated in the 20th century? Do we just need to add some more new things – or do we need new, qualitatively different things? What issues does this raise for the curriculum of the future?

What do you think?

If the number of letters to the editor in the Dominion Post in the days following the appearance of the Shakespeare story is any indication, lots of people really care about these issues.

Do you? If so/not why? Where do your ideas come from? Have you thought about them lately?

[1]  15th November 2008.

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Drawing pictures to shift thinking

February 24th, 2009

When I’m trying to understand something in a new way, or trying to communicate my ideas to other people, I often start by drawing a picture. In my experience, visual metaphors are great for generating discussion, and they can enable us to take our thinking in interesting and unexpected new directions. Below is a metaphor I’ve created to represent ideas about “shifting thinking” in education from the 20th century to the 21st century.
ship metaphor

The boat represents the education system, which is sailing from left to right – that is, from the 19th and 20th century, into the 21st century and beyond.
What moves the boat along? Well, this boat is special because it has several methods for propulsion. (However, as we shall see, this doesn’t necessarily help the boat to move more efficiently! In fact, it can have the opposite effect). These are:
The wind –what we might call the influences of “the 21st century world”. For example, all the shifts in society, economy, new technologies, and so on, that inevitably influence the direction our education system is sailing.
The propeller – Educational policy, which can also propel us towards change – sometimes fast, sometimes slow, sometimes with the wind, and perhaps at times, in the wrong directions (or even backwards!).
The oars – These are the influences of the people “on board” the system. This could include teachers and school leaders, as well as students, parents, and society at large – in other words anyone who has an opinion and a voice about how education “should” be. As you can imagine, we might have people rowing in different directions, or “putting the oar in” to steer the boat to port or to starboard, or to create drag to resist the efforts of the winds and the motor…

There are two other significant things in the picture: the anchors, and the buoys.

The anchors are meant to represent certain ideas about the education system that we’ve inherited from the past – again in this metaphor they show up as something that is maybe creating “drag” on our boat, keeping it from moving in spite of the wind and the motors which are trying to push us forward. One example of such an idea is that education is most efficient as a “one size fits all” system, much like a factory or production line.

Out in front of the boat we’ve got our buoys, representing aspirations for the future of education. These represent the goals and ideals that are often articulated about what kind of education we think matters, and what kinds of young people we want our education system to help shape. For example: “developing lifelong learners”, “developing active citizens”, “developing learners equipped to deal with the challenges of the 21st century”, and so on. So we’re tossing a line to these buoys to help pull our ship in a bit closer.

The question this visual metaphor is designed to provoke is: how is the ship going to move towards these aspirations? Do we need to cut our anchor lines in order to get there? If we do, what would happen? Would the wind, the motor, and the oarsmen and oarswomen start to carry us in the right direction, or will we end up travelling in confused circles?

Maybe the answer is that we people on the ship – all the oarsmen and women, and the policymakers – need to get up on deck with our telescopes, barometers, and other navigational equipment. We need to study the winds carefully, and plot our course intentionally. We need to pull up our anchors and see whether they are holding us back, whether it’s time to cut some of them loose. Then maybe can start to agree what direction this boat should be moving in, and actually start to head it towards our goals…..

What do you think?

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