Prior to the holiday season I was reading a very intriguing article in the New York Times about Dr Pisa Sahlberg. Dr Sahlberg is an international keynote speaker on education and a published author. His latest book; “Finnish Lessons; What can the World Learn from Educational Change in Finland?” is a bestseller in educational literature (December, 2011).

Dr Sahlberg in the article discusses the need for teaching to be a highly revered profession. In examining the latest OECD PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) report (2009), the findings are as follows:

It can only be assumed that the new report with findings, to be released later in 2012, will be somewhat similar (possibly with only China to watch). Dr Sahlberg has a very interesting point about student achievement in relation to highly; qualified, creative, paid, and satisfied teachers. He directly relates professional standards to the success of his country’s achievements. In the article it was stated that Dr Sahlberg said:

…Teachers typically spend about four hours a day in the classroom, and are paid to spend two hours a week on professional development. At the University of Helsinki, 2,400 people competed last year for 120 slots in the (fully subsidized [five year]) master’s program for schoolteachers – It’s more difficult getting into teacher education than law or medicine.

It become obvious why the International Baccalaureate Organisation recently moved all operations to Helsinki. However, this aside, the report itself does not just measure Literacy, Mathematics and Science attainment levels. In context it measures so much more…

I was saddened to hear on a radio news broadcast only last week that there needed to be at least 100 more teachers sacked in England to ensure that the teaching standard was upheld! Though this comment came primarily around the need for Head Teachers to have more power to dismiss under performing teachers, it was still idiotic. The context of education in; England, many parts of Europe, and on a large scale in the United States, sees teaching being chosen as a profession, as a last resort. Many of the rigorous teaching degrees have now been removed and replaced with a Bachelor of Arts and a three to six month conversion for teaching. The quality of teaching can, and will, only get worse, as too will the leadership and ultimately the country’s performance, economic growth and competitiveness as a whole.

According to This is Money website, teachers in the UK rank 80th in terms of UK Salaries, which from review is extremely poor.  It gives food for thought…. How do and should we value teachers given the evidence?


Homework Rules…..

As an educator I have increasingly been amazed around the debate of homework. It has always been a sore point for students, teachers and parents. However, the debate can finally be put to rest. The data is out…..

Professor John Hattie in his meta-analysis of data on the effects of student achievement, places homework at a prominent position within his league table. Below is the first half of his table.

Effect Size Table - John Hattie

Please note: Statistically anything over a 0.4 is an above average result in the world of educational research. Effect Size is directly related to the overall incremental achievement on a student for their learning.

Click here to download a copy of his Effect Size Table

What is most interesting in examining homework, is that the research states that this 0.43 effect size is equivalent to a jump of one year at a grade level. So what are the important aspects of homework?

Repetition, drill and rote learning have been the major techniques used over the century for student improvement, and traditionally it would make up the majority of the actual homework. However, does or should it still look like this in the 21st Century?

Homework today is and has taken on a radical re-design, whereby educators are looking to find more meaningful ways to not only engage children in homework, but to bring the work from home into the learning of the classroom and drive the actual curriculum. What are the aims behind homework today?

  1. Homework is used to source meaningful information and resources for tomorrow’s lessons in class. Here it is used to personalise the curriculum for the individual student’s needs. Particularly when working in an IB or enquiry based curriculum.
  2. It opens students up to other sources of information and information gathering, for example the local library, embassy, travel agent etc….
  3. Homework activities teach students to engage with the local community and to develop and foster interpersonal skills when investigating primary sources.
  4. It encourages family members to help engage with, model and promote a greater importance of how the student envisages school, particularly in their attitude towards their overall learning.
  5. It opens students up to activities not able to be accessed at school, which could be interest based activities children engage in outside of school hours, Scouts, Airforce Cadets and/or their own personal enquiry based projects etc…
Ultimately, what educators today are trying to develop in their students are a set of skills for tomorrow’s world and to make learning both at school and home meaningful.
Underlying to the re-imaging of homework in today’s world are still the skills of improving personal, organisational and time management skills. Developing a pattern of behaviour for study that is intrinsically motivating for students to continually achieve is more attainable than ever.
Gone are the days;
  • when repetition, rote and drill learning take up the majority of homework time for our students,
  • or where study sessions are given for whole classes to complete tasks independently,
  • or when homework is given because of parental pressure,
  • or where traditionally homework is given out for homework’s sake.
As an educator, next time you give out homework think about what the implications are of the choice of homework for your students.

A Balanced Curriculum

There has been so much talk of late about the ideals of 21st Century environmental structures for schools to aid in the improvement of student development, that I think the discussion around the learning curriculum itself, is either not-exisent or coming about tragically slow.

There has been a push in Australia, from the Australian Commonwealth Government, for performance pay for teachers. Personally, I was saddened to see that Australia has gone down this path. Though I am not adverse to the world of business offering performance pay for their employees (other than the ridiculous bonus wages given to CEOs), I must confess that the innovation that these companies can both afford and expect, is culturally not something that the education community world-wide really has wanted to promote in the past.

Just as it seems that education in Australia is pushing forward with structural improvement, BANG!, you’ve got another nail in the coffin which hampers the premise of innovation in practice. It feels like performance pay brings about a focus on curriculum that rewards knowledge acquisition and the retainment of this knowledge (see Performance Overview Independent Education Union June 2011). The government wants to promote ongoing teacher appraisals, teacher reflection, quality teacher professional development and ultimately better practice, which I am all for. However, they are going about it the wrong way, mainly because the merit pay for teachers is subjective to the results of the students in standardised tests. It makes you wonder about authentic curriculum and the learner attributes we want to promote through curriculum. Give me a student any day that knows how to go about finding information, rather than a student who can just remember and regurgitate it.

After teaching with the International Baccalaureate Primary Year Program (PYP) Curriculum, I think Australia has a lot to learn about curriculum innovation. I’m not saying that there is nothing wrong with the PYP. However, it is an attractive curriculum from; a parent, student, educator, administrator, business and stakeholder view point.

Greg Whitby, Executive Director of Schools for the Catholic Education Office Parramatta, in his post on ‘A Relevant Curriculum’ says that;

With the process well underway for a National Curriculum that centres on standardisation and continuity of learning across all states; ensuring access to resources and data, I think we need to broaden our understanding of curriculum as a single entity and see it in a multidimensional way such as:

1. Form – what do we want students to know about themselves and about the world they live in and what do they already know?
2. Function – what learning opportunities are being created by the delivery of the curriculum?
3. Understanding – how are learners situating their experiences and connecting the dots?
4. Hidden – what are students unintentionally learning about the world through culture, custom and the media?

It is interesting to note that the underpinning Key Concepts of the PYP Curriculum itself does focus on the above attributes.

I believe that if we are to innovate on our curriculum we must drive student learning from the attributes of a effective life-long learner. We also need to examine the Values and Attitudes (particularly from a Catholic perspective – the Beatitudes) to the re-imagining of the skill set of the 21st Century Learner. I believe that this is extremely achievable and is something I am trying to work towards at my current post in Germany. It will be these attributes that will become the driving forces behind our new curriculum/s, particulary for our Pre/Elementary/Primary Schools. The knowledge, as important as it is, should really be the bi-product, not the focus. Below is an image from the International Baccalaureate’s Primary Years Program Learner Profile. Food for thought….

IB PYP Learner Profile Attibutes

In conclusion, I am not an advocator of chucking out the whole entire curriculum structures we have in place. I am a very big fan of protecting both a daily uninterrupted Literacy and Numeracy Block, but we really do have both the ability and the scope to move away from a curriculum based solely on knowledge acquisition. As Alex White writes in his blog that;

The ACER report (states): ‘incentives in themselves did not necessarily improve what teachers knew and could do, or lead them to teach more effectively.

I believe that improved student learning outcomes are more likely to result from skill and attitudinal based approaches to our curriculum.

I have recently come back from a trip around Central/Eastern Europe with the family. In preparation for the trip I did something I hadn’t done before… I purchased a roaming data package for my iPhone for the time my family and I were going to be away. I thought that this might be a good idea, but I didn’t realise how true this was going to be.

Crossing from Germany into the Czech Republic and heading to Prague, I thought I might just check out what the currency exchange rate of the Koruna on my XE App. Lucky I did. I realised that on the way from the boarder to Prague, the exchange rate was becoming less at the roadside booths. I pulled over quickly into a service centre, which appeared acceptable, and exchanged some Euros to Korunas for a very good price.

When I got to Prague I felt lost. I quickly opened up the Maps App and placed a marker at the hotel and went for a walk. I made sure I kept to the main roads, until I came across a Metro stop. Here I used the Metro Prague App on my iPhone to check the train times. I caught a train five minutes later that was able to get me to the city centre quickly (and I knew that I needed to get off in three stops because I could count the stations on my iPhone Map App).

In getting off the train and heading to the town square, I came across one of those city bus tours, which we planned to do. It had a sign that I couldn’t read. This perplexed me as I waited for the family to exit the WCs. I just couldn’t work out this brain bender. So I browsed the apps store and purchased an app called Word Lens. Here is a sample of what it did for me.

We ended up catching the next city bus tour, because the sign said it was the last extended bus trip for that day before the night ones began. The small print read that the night rides were more expensive and reserved for international tourists.

This was day one of our trip. It went on much the same the for the rest of the fourteen days. The apps and the data package for the entire trip paid for themselves on day one.

Life Long Learning just took meaning.

A panoramic picture I took on my iPhone using the Pano App at Neuschwanstein Castle in Fuessen Bavaria.

The apps in this post include:

Recently, I heard Jamie McKenzie give a talk about Digital Nativism and the impact of technology on our students. Jamie is a published author, and probably best known for his book titled; ‘Just in Time Technology, Doing Better with Fewer‘. In his talk he spoke about the ‘delusions of our digital age’ and the importance of teaching our children to read in between the lines. Here is a wonderful example:

Critical literacy has taken on a whole new meaning for teachers. As advertisers look for new ways of persuading and marketing their products, teachers seem to be ever increasingly subject to tackling the side-effects of their methodologies. Marc Pensky first coined the term ‘Digital Natives’ in his book; ‘Digital Natives: Partnering for Real Learning‘, where he explains that the children born into the digital age have realities based on their perceived world,… their created world,… their technological world, and the partnerships between this reality and the technology we employ, is how we as teachers must engage our students.

The above advertisment brings about several ideas. The first being that we understand the importance of questioning everything we see, asking whether what we see is it reality or not. The second is the feeling/s we associate with a company portrayed as helping others – BUT are they helping others? Or are they helping themselves? What is the bottom line?….. In the end, is beauty still the focus of this commercial?

It is a very exciting time to be a professional in education. Shaping the nature of schooling in our reality today is not something that we can be complacent about, or even base our shaping on the previous idealisms of the 20th Century. Let’s really revolutionise our thinking, right from the development of learning environments to the technology and structures we employ. But at the same time let us be cautious and decerning about what we do. Jamie McKenzie says;

“…Schools can ill afford to squander scarce resources on frivolous, untested gimmicks and gizmos. We are emerging from a foolish experiment with just-in-case technology – loading up classrooms with equipment.

This decade will be remembered as a time of discernment – a period when teachers, parents and school leaders all demand smart buying, smart deployment and smart program development.”

When we get our children thinking about our world, and what is happening in it, we get creative responses even more powerful then the message that they intend.

iPads in Learning

With the release of the iPad 2 in Frankfurt the other day, I was amazed at the queue outside of the Apple shop! It went for more that half a kilometer and this was at 4:30pm. It got me thinking about the use of the iPad 2 within all levels of schooling.

In my last post I spoke about Gaming in Education, though I have no doubt that the iPad can facilitate the higher order thinking skills needed, I also thought of this as a replacement for the laptop in schools. Computer technology has become a necessary tool for both home and school learning – it keeps us connected, allows us to explore and to share our ideas, and does not constrain our learning to a 9-3 timeframe.

A huge impact on schools and systems is the financial ramification on the up keep of this technology. I don’t believe that it is viable for schools or school systems to pay for new technologies to be used on a mass scale (i.e. 1:1). Some principals and system leaders may argue that it is our duty to supply these, particularly for families who are constantly challenged with the cost of educating their child/ren. I argue that it is a government responsibility, where tax deductions or even subsidies can be given to families to help absorb this necessary this cost. The Rudd Government Laptop Initiative in Australia, beginning in April 2009, saw a huge investment into the one-to-one laptop scheme for Grade 9-12 students, as well as the Digital Education Revolution Funding for all schools K-12. Though this major injection into the economy has been received well, I don’t believe that the impact of this will be felt for many years. I believe that this was a turning point in the nations history, where we will see the greater development of tertiary industries in the years that follow, transitioning us from the depleting primary resource sectors to a more technological and scientific based country.

Greg Whitby, Executive Director for Schools for the Catholic Education Office Parramatta in his blog BYOT (Bring Your Own Technologies), gave a very interesting account into the need for more personalised technologies for student use. In examining the iPad 2 I think that it has many of the bugs worked out, where; the VGA adaptor and ability for Flash files to be played on a projector has now been rectified. And the ability to connect to the Smartboard (IWB) via wifi has been fixed.

I do think that there are some limitations with these however. The constant connection to an iTunes account (rather than a Time Machine backup to a server is an issue), and the inability for international students to use existing iTunes accounts is a REAL problem (when moving from one country to the next). However I like the ergonomics and classroom environment it promotes, particularly when they are flat on the table. However I think this is a good option too:

Any which way, I recognise that these are a wonderful tool for learning and can’t wait to see how they will impact the teaching and learning, and ultimately the outcomes of our students. Please click on the link below for a wonderful video on iPads in Learning:


Gaming in Education

Last week I attended the European Council of International School’s (ECIS) annual I.T conference in Frankfurt. One of the key interests for many of the attending educators revolved around the release of the 2011 Horizon Report. The report itself focuses on developmental trends and the future impacts of technology within education in the next 5 years.

An aspect of the report examined the future of Game Based Learning in Education. Bill MacKenty, the Director of Technology at the American School of Warsaw, and a presenter at the conference, spoke on the impact of Gaming in education. Bill argues that there is no better way to challenge, motivate, engage or develop higher order thinking skills within our students than with the use of games, provided eductors are savy about the selection and employment of these.

Bill sees learning through ‘Play’ as the pest possible platform for learning to be more meaningful and instrinsic. This is however, nothing new. Piaget, Vygotsky and even Reggio Emilia’s Approach to developmental play in preschool education centres, prior to WWII, has impacted on education greatly, particularly in emphasising the role that the classroom environment plays in educating. What is new though, is the way in which Bill sees the context and benefits of play here in the 21st Century classroom.

David Williamson Shaffer, professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the author of ‘How Computer Games Help Children Learn(2006), in his book discusses the importance of Epistemic Games: “Games which are fundamentally about learning to think in innovative ways”, and how we as educators need to challenge the fact based…, pen paper test…, how much can you remember?.., educative practises.

One of the main critisisms of Game Based Technologies in Education, is the impact (or the lack of) on the social development of our students, paricularly in high school. However, I advocate that children need to be challenged in their real world context, engaging them in their interests and allowing them to share and develop their ideas, particularly in miltiplayer games and games which are serious in nature. Take a look at the game Peacemaker….