Thursday, October 30, 2014

It takes two to tango, like an orange and a mango (The Phoenix Foundation)

At ulearn14, Dr Katie Novak was a shining star. We all fell in love with her. 'We' being the fearless foursome from Woodford House.

Let me just dwell on that a sec: the foursome comprised three females and me; one mathematician, one scientist, one elearning/business studies expert and me.

I repeat: we all fell in love with Dr Novak! 

That's some feat. How the dickens did that happen?

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) provides the answer. It hit a collective nerve.

So what is UDL?

The fundamental principle behind it is revolutionary - we are all different!

We all learn in different ways. We understand things in different ways so we all require different ways of approaching content. Some learn some things faster than others so providing options is essential.  

We all approach learning tasks in different ways. Some may be able to express themselves well in written text but not speech, and vice versa so providing options for action and expression is essential.

As learners we all differ in our engagement and motivation Some learners are highly engaged by spontaneity and novelty while others are disengaged, even frightened, by those aspects, preferring strict routine. Some learners might like to work alone, while others prefer to work with their peers. Providing multiple options for engagement is essential.

The solution according to Dr Novak is simple: adapt your teaching to cater for these differences in three ways:

  1. Present information and content in different ways
  2. Stimulate interest and motivation for learning
  3. Differentiate the ways that students can express what they know

Dr Novak's slides from ulearn14 are here:

So - that's the orange. The mango?

Well, this all plays into our desire in the English Department at Woodford House to be much more flexible with programmes and approaches in 2015. See what I did there?

The only fly in the ointment, joker in the pack, gnawing voice in the back of my head is John Hattie and his meta-analysis regarding the effect size of inquiry based teaching as a strategy (in his book Visible learning for teachers). Inquiry based teaching intersects with UDL from what I can see.

That dilly of a pickle is explored in one of my next posts.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Don't surround yourself with yourself, move on back two squares (Yes)

Have a purpose larger than yourself- the seventh new law (of seven) for a world gone digital from Ahmed and Olander. It reminds me of that great Yes song (I've seen all good people) that I've used in the title.

Let your imagination go wild, and play from your heart but don't surround yourself with yourself.

This is a great law to finish with, it certainly plays into my prejudices:

  • Always play from your heart (trust your feelings -yes- from Star Wars
  • Be alive to being alive (Buddhism- be here now
  • Do the right thing (Spike Lee also listened to the Buddha)
  • Love what you do (Thoreau- You must love the crust of the earth on which you dwell more than the sweet crust of any bread or cake. You must be able to extract nutriment out of a sand-heap. You must have so good an appetite as this, else you will live in vain)
  • Your job is to serve (Joseph Campbell- Through sacrifice - bliss)
  • Dream in widescreen, then push on in pixels (John Lennon - Imagine...
  • Heroes can guide, teach, and encourage you (A fiery horse with the speed of light, a cloud of dust and a hearty 'Hi-Yo Silver') 

As you can tell I've loved Velocity. Here's the website with all of the seven laws again:

A big thank you to Ahmed and Olander for an inspirational conversation. Bravo and more...more...

Friday, October 24, 2014

Is there anybody in there? Just nod if you can hear me (Pink Floyd)

Velocity's sixth law for a world gone digital: 
No good joke survives a committee of six (or 'have the balls to make the calls' according to Ahmed and Olander).

So this one is aimed at leaders really. 

Guess the captain and the co-pilot from flight 1549.
The guys mention a wonderful story about the captain on US Airways flight 1549. You'll remember the flight that landed unscathed in the Hudson River after a bird strike? The story goes that the co-pilot lifted off and the plane quickly ran into a flock of geese and lost thrust in the engines. As soon as that happened the captain said two words: "My aircraft".

That is the guy I want flying my plane. Always!

Ahmed/Olander use the story to illustrate the idea that when it comes to it somebody has to take command, make the decision.

[In a business sense, companies who want to make a shift from good to great can't do so via consensus.

In education, schools who want to improve, make a gear change from great to outstanding, can't do so via consensus.]

I think they've pointed to a great truism in life: people resist change to their routine or challenge to their expertise for the usual reason: fear.

It's been interesting tracing the move to vertical forms within our existing vertical House system at Woodford. As you know I've been posting about it since April. 

In seven months we've had many meetings, a Change Action Group, staff inquiries, consultations with staff students and parents, we've had more meetings.

Left to a consensus we would do nothing - some of the girls don't like it; some of the staff don't like it. They fear the change. 

Finally, the decision was made recently to change some of the horizontal systems for next year. The decision: vertical forms within Houses from next year.

It took a while, but it's the right decision. 

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Set the controls for the heart of the sun (Pink Floyd)

I promised a post on Dr Harpaz's ideas on the ideology behind education (and Dr Novak - I haven't forgotten you either - will get there soon). 

[Both were stand out performers at the ulearn14 conference]

So here it is.

The Doctor tells us that there are three mutually exclusive* super aims of education.

*BTW many people at the ulearn14 conference didn't believe this - including Mark Treadwell, although they didn't articulate why.

When education serves the society, its aim is to adapt the students to society by imparting tools – knowledge, skills, habits, behaviors – that will benefit society. When education serves the culture, its aim is to cultivate the character of the students in the light of the values and truths which constitute the preferred culture. When education serves the individual, its aim is to 
enable him/her to fulfill him/herself.  

In the first type of education – socialization – The Educated Person is 
a person who is adapted to her society and directs herself within it successfully. In the second type of education – acculturation – The Educated Person is 
one whose character reflects the values and beliefs of the prevailing culture. In the third type of education – individuation – The educated Person is one 
who realizes her unique personality in her course of life. 

The ideology of socialization comes with the pattern of imparting, which is based on techniques of exemplification and practice; the ideology of acculturation comes with the pattern of molding, which is based on techniques of modeling and attraction; the ideology of individuation comes with the pattern of development, which is based on techniques of enabling and guidance. 

If you're super keen on reading more, the full text of the good doctor's thoughts on the subject are at

At the ulearn conference Dr H held a poll on what ideology we wanted at school and what we have as a default. Individuation was the overwhelming favourite for the former and in the overwhelming minority in the latter (Socialization won out).

The challenge for us in this 21st Googled/Twittered/Facebooked/Teched Up world we live in is choosing what is right for us and our students.

Again, according to Dr H 'Good teaching... involves constant care 
for the logical match between ideology and technology".

To me - individuation's time as (a dominant) ideology has come. I'm not sure, though, if schools can have their socialization cake and eat it up in an individuation way. I sense they can't but they'll try anyway in the special control freak way teachers and administrators have.

I'll be a keen observer and yes, as much of a mover/shaker as I can be, to see if we can free up our socializationistic rules and timetables and enable students to embrace Dr Novak's Universal Design for Learning (coming soon to a post/tweet near you). 

Sunday, October 19, 2014

R-E-S-P-E-C-T Find out what it means to me (Aretha Franklin)

The fifth law of Velocity is as simple as it is groovy: Respect human nature.

Part of why I'm loving reconnecting to Twitter is the human contact with people I'd otherwise never know. 

I have been getting loads of follows from musicians who seem genuinely pleased to reply when I tell them they delighted me so I'm sending them a message of encouragement. 

I don't do it lightly. Their music is amazing and I've never heard of them. A very humbling experience.

Anyway - back to Velocity.

The thrust of this law is that Velocity doesn't get blinded by technology - on the other end of a tweet or an app or an anything is a person.

In terms of education this means that behind every student in my class is an extended family of people.

I well remember when this dawned on me. It was 1983. 

My first teaching job was as an English teacher at New Plymouth Boys' High School. 

When my first parent-teacher evening had finished I was pleasantly exhausted and fizzing. My students had parents. Who knew?? Parents who cared about them enough to meet me. I looked like I was 16 but I was now the 'expert' who was giving a report and advice on their son.

It was seriously cool!!

We recently had some PTSIs at school - Parent Teacher Student Interviews. It was, again, a wonderful experience.

I had indicated to the parents who I REALLY needed to see but loads more came anyway. Fab! Again - fizzing and pleasantly exhausted - and long may those feelings continue.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Sunrise over the turquoise mountains (Phish)

It's amazing how much I keep coming back to Velocity - the conversation between Ahmed and Olander. I've posted on their seven new laws for a world gone digital a few times now.

It seems that every day, something happens that makes me think about one of their laws.

Law four is Convenient is the enemy of right.

The basic message is that doing something worthwhile takes imagination and commitment.

One of my dad's favourite sayings is burned into my psyche: If something's worth doing, it's worth doing right!

Yeah baby! I agree!

Think about this though: the caveat is IF it's worth doing...

Along the way in this Velocity chapter they use a quote from Brian Wilson (yes of The Beach Boys - are you wondering any longer why I LOVE this book so much?): Beware the lollipop of mediocrity; lick it once and you'll suck forever.

Currently I am engaged in a curriculum mapping exercise. It was a goal that the English department had this year, something the school believes is a priority. It's a concept that I'd never come across before.  

So - what is it? Curriculum mapping takes place within a grade level and between grade levels. Mapping serves as a detailed lesson plan for the school year's curriculum.

We already had a plan for the individual year levels so this latest exercise was to make a chart showing how various skills in English progress from Year 7 to Year 13.

It took quite a while to compile and my eyes are feeling the effects of concentrating on a computer screen for hours with multiple pages open.

So - is it worthwhile? 

Short answer is a, well...yes. 

Thanks to Greg Semmens for this one
Long answer is a, well...yes, if it helps identify gaps in progression (stuff that is left out or ends in a cul-de-sac), if it prevents repetition and if it helps the alignment of the standards, content and methods across year levels. If the school takes all of the various department maps and looks for alignment between subjects then it will have even greater value. That is what a Change Action Group within the school is proposing to do so...great! 

Given that we are embarking on a shake up of the English assessment standards used in senior classes from 2015 onwards this can also be seen as a valuable activity.

So, bottom line (literally) - it's worth doing right. Hence my bleary eyes and a (shock horror probe) proposed English meeting to discuss the draft map.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

I'm tied to him, or him to me, depending who you ask (Phish)

The more I delve into the nether regions of twitter's interweb universe the weirder it becomes. 

People I want to follow like, say, Arsene Wenger, have a number of parody accounts which is a waste of time as far as I can see. 

Why spend your on line time doing parody tweets? Bizarre. Boo hiss parody accounts - even if you're THE UNIVERSE parody tweeter who responds to those who use the words 'the universe' in their tweets: What a jolly jape.

Galactus gets to grips with twitter
People I'd like to follow like, say, George Lucas or Nick Hornby have no twitter presence. Hello!! You're a writer Nick! Yes okay 140 characters is a tad limiting for someone of your genius but you couldn't even maintain an interesting blog. I don't get it. Bizarre. Still love Fever Pitch though.

People who I thought would have little time for twitter, like, say Steve Carell, actually do! The man's hilarious.

The other bit I find weird is the sheer volume of stuff being tweeted. It's a Galactus sized never ending stream of stuff and I've yet to figure out how to sift and find the time to read the good stuff. Must be a way. 

Fun though. Most definitely fun - so thanks again Toni for the not so gentle prodding to get reconnected.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Connection, I just can't make no connection (The Rolling Stones)

Staff at Woodford House taking a break from the classroom
 pose in normal day wear - nothing embarrassing here!
Just the opposite actually - I seem to be making more and more connections the older I get.

Let me see - I have a presence on Linkedin, facebook, my three weblogs of course, and twitter.

But wait - there's also google!

Some of my Year 11 students searched my name yesterday and came up with a load of mentions. It led them to my blogs and that in turn led them to some embarrassing photos that I have long forgotten about. Nothing was inappropriate or dodgy but old photos in particular can spookily reappear to haunt me from time to time.

The message is clear. Beware! Things put on these blogs and the messages and photos sent out into the blogosphere via the interweb in moments of innocence - all of that has a long shelf life.

Why this has not really dawned on me until now I have no idea.

I do self censor but time flies like an arrow and something posted during my experiences in the Middle East or China or England just stays in the blogosphere until a student clicks a mouse button.

Anyway - the above photo shows that I'm not alone. Embarrassment comes with the turf when you're a teacher.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Some folks up in treetops just look to see the sights (The Grateful Dead)

My day three highlights package contains:

Best presenter of the day - Mark Treadwell. He's so damned likable and he stirs things up - to wit: maths as a subject is dead!

Best sights - the beautiful gardens in Rotorua. The township and shops are weird (no central hub or landmarks), but the gardens are spot on!

And so the conference came to an end.

Of course, the real challenge of being away at a conference starts when school hits again come Monday morning. Remembering all those big ideas and the inspiring thoughts that occurred during the keynote by...what was her name again?

I came to the ulearn conference with a goal, or maybe an objective? Yes - I came to ulearn with an objective - to get some validation and inspiration for our proposed changes to our senior English courses for 2015.

Oh boy did I get that! The talk of individuation (not a pretty word but a great ideology), Universal Design for Learning (UDL sounds like a finance company but is really the nuts and bolts of individuation), and the big project work at Hobsonville Point School were all directly relevant to our plans.


And so - it's back to school on Monday and some meetings with the English staff about where we go from here - not just to see the sights, but to put ideas into action!

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Woh, oh, what I want to know - will you come with me? (The Grateful Dead)

Dr Katie Novak
Day two from TechCrunch, a.k.a. ulearn and another doozy!

Attended a great workshop and a great keynote, had an okay gluten free lunch, chatted with Dr Ian Hunter PhD., and met some amazing people (young, vital, enthusiastic, energetic - that sort of thing) who are genuine in their desire to serve their students and communities. Humbling really.

Best keynote - well it was the only one today but Dr Katie Novak was wonderful. She spoke about the Universal Design for Learning programme that she works with in America. It provides flexible ways of presenting material to students, flexible options for student engagement and flexible methods of expression/assessment, and I am sold!

Best workshop/ best presenter - Sarah Wakeford from Hobsonville Point School was terrific. An energiser bunny on steroids. She spoke about the Big Project based learning that she oversees. Wonderful.

Best individual moment of the day - when Sarah's youtube links failed she reenacted them for us in hilarious fashion - way better than the originals I'm sure.

Best old friend meeting - Rachel Roberts (not the WH social scientist but the RR I knew from Stratford days) was a presenter at one of my scheduled breakouts. Great seeing her again. 

Lowpoints  - not winning the Schoology draw for the smart phone - means the Nokia gets a temporary reprieve. And the gluten free lunch wasn't that groovy!

A face that seems to laugh alone (Jack Bruce)

First full day at ulearn? Check.

It's been a great day all up. Here are my highlights and lowlights of day one.

Best keynote - Dr Yoram Harpaz on the three incompatible driving ideologies in education. More on this to come.

Funniest stories - two of my fellow Woodfordites sharing their adventures with the spa baths in the motel.

Most unlikely event of the day - I reactivated my twitter account from 2011 following a taster session by Craig Kemp. I know, I know.

Best meal - sharing some Indian takeaways with the Woodfordites and friend.

Best news of the day - our family pet (Bazil) is okay for now after a major health scare. What with the twitter reboot and Bazie - apparently you can teach an old dog new tricks.

Surprisingly, a large number of rudeness moments of the day - people buried in their devices while presenters present - even a large number with their backs to the presenter. Amazing! It's a modern curse. I'm definitely old school - please don't read your emails or ignore what's happening live, in front of your eyes. Take it from me, you'll miss the good stuff.

Friday, October 3, 2014

I'm just out to find the better part of me (Five For Fighting)

I watched a cool 2010 documentary film this morning by director Davis Guggenheim called Waiting For Superman. Picked it up for $5.00 from The Warehouse t'other day.

The film analyses the failures of the American public education system by following several students as they strive to be accepted into a charter school. It's a lottery and that means sadness as well as joy. Great human drama!

Smart guy - by focusing on some personal stories Guggenheim makes the film's ideas both emotionally affecting and accessible.

One of the features the film analyses is 'tracking'. As explained in the film I understood this to be what we know as 'streaming'.

Streaming has its proponents and opponents. Having experienced both streamed classes and non streamed classes I'm not a hard line advocate for either method. Both have their merits and drawbacks.

It did remind me of starting school at Mt. Albert Grammar in 1971 though. 

The tracking then was blatant and unequivocally labelled. Top third form kids went into the 3A stream (core + Latin and French), next lot went into the 3B stream (French). After that there were specialised tracks like 3 Commercial or 3 Agriculture.

I started in the 3A stream but was quickly demoted to the 3B track - where I stayed for the next four years (and where I failed School Certificate). The sixth and seventh forms were all about options. I guess they figured if you stuck to it you could choose your poison.

I've never really thought about it but it was clear what tracks the school thought we were all on: 3A went to University; 3B maybe went to a polytech or something; and the 3 Com and 3 Ag boys went into business or farming. All sorted! 

Imagine trying to sell that in 2014!!!!