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Flipped learning – a journey not just a destination

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Secondary school teacher Jeremy LeCornu shares his experiences of ‘flipping’ the classroom to improve teaching and learning outcomes.

Flipped learning or the flipped classroom is where students watch instructional videos at home and do the typical homework in class. The term ‘flipped’ is used to refer to the reversal of the traditional classwork and homework. The basic premise is that direct instruction, which is often referred to as lecture (though it is not necessarily the same thing), is not conducted in large groups. In flipped learning, the direct instruction is delivered individually, usually – though not exclusively – through teacher-created videos. This time shift then frees up face-to-face class time for richer, more meaningful learning experiences for students1.

So, why flip? The big misconception

Flipped learning is commonly thought of as ‘all about videos’ – but this is simply not the case. Flipped learning is ‘all about class time’. The driving question that should motivate a teacher to flip their classroom is, ‘What is the best use of face-to-face class time?’ There are many valid answers to this question, however many believe that having the teacher spend the majority of the time ‘lecturing’ to a whole class is not one of them. In this era the teacher can and should be so much more than simply a lecturer of information. Class time is best used applying knowledge with the support of the teacher and this doesn’t happen often enough in a traditional classroom.

One of the pioneers of flipped learning, chemistry teacher Jon Bergmann, highlighted this point during his keynote speech at the Future Schools conference held during March in Sydney. Bergmann explained that the time allocation of a traditional classroom is largely based upon Bloom’s Taxonomy.1

Most ‘traditional’ class time is spent with teachers focusing on remembering and understanding concepts and information. The students are then given homework tasks where they apply and analyse this information. The issue with this model is that the applying and analysing is essentially the hard stuff and at home there is no expert (the teacher) to assist with this.

The time allocation of Bloom’s Taxonomy in a flipped classroom is modified.2

In the flipped classroom, it is the remembering and understanding of concepts and information that becomes the homework. This is where videos fit. In the flipped learning model, in order to recuperate class time, video lesson content is sent home with the student. But the video content is just the tool that makes flipped learning possible – it is certainly not the focus. The focus is on the use of class time. Most class time is spent on the hard stuff – applying, analysing, evaluating and creating. This makes much more sense as the teacher is available to support and guide the students and to work more individually/personally with them.

In the simplest sense flipped learning enables teachers to speak with every student in every class every day and consequently this enables the development of deeper relationships. This is simply not possible in traditional classrooms and it is this that I feel is the most compelling case for flipped learning.

My personal experience

I flip my senior Biology classes and I love it. I used to ‘lecture’ all the time and I rarely had time for practical activities and helping students to apply knowledge to exam-style questions. Now I spend most class time on these things, however this change has certainly not been an instant one. In fact, it is a continuous journey – but the journey is brilliant!

I discovered the flipped learning idea early in 2013. I was already aware of some fantastic teachers on YouTube and I decided to follow their lead and produce my own videos. I started out using an iPad app called Explain Everything. I made some pretty good videos using this app and posted them to YouTube for my students. Whilst these were a good start, I wanted to do better. I had admired the work of an American YouTube chemistry teacher named Tyler DeWitt. DeWitt’s technique uses two video cameras to produce highly interactive videos with himself in the picture speaking directly to the student, and this is the preferred style according to DeWitt’s 100,000+ subscribers.

Through a stroke of good fortune, I made contact with DeWitt online and he invited me to the US to meet him and observe his recording studio set up and filming techniques. I visited in July 2014 and when I returned I immediately set up my own home recording studio:

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I am now producing videos that look like this:

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Since adopting this technique, I have produced 30 videos and have over 650 YouTube subscribers and 65,000 views.

While I’ve had great success, it is important to remember this has been a continuous journey rather than an instant change. It has been two years since I began producing video lesson content and I am a long way from finished. In fact, I have only made videos for about one-third of the South Australian Year 12 Biology coursework. However, there have been benefits for my students ever since the very first video I produced. While it took a long time for me to be able to ‘fully flip’ significant sections of the Biology course and receive the full benefits outlined earlier, it was still very beneficial for students to have access to video lessons. They could use them to recap concepts that were covered in lessons, or if any students missed lessons they could use them to catch up. They also make fantastic revision tools for tests and exams. A great aspect is that once a video is recorded it is captured forever and this means the time spent on planning and recording them can be utilised perpetually. Undoubtedly there is a major time outlay required to get started with flipped learning, however there comes a point where this investment is very handsomely repaid.

Video production tips

From my experience, I can provide some advice when it comes to producing video lesson content.

  • You should make your own videos and you should appear in them, which allows you to ensure that you deliver the content exactly as you want to and it helps you to develop relationships with your students;
  • Keep the videos short and concise (10 minutes maximum);
  • Pick the recording technique/tool that best fits the purpose – there are a range of different techniques/tools and I outline these in the section about our whole school program;
  • There is no need to use music in the background as this tends to be an unnecessary distraction; and,
  • Just hit record and have a go! It can be daunting (and a little strange/unnatural) the first time you record yourself, but the more you do it the easier it gets.

The important questions

There are some very relevant and necessary questions that come to mind as part of the flipped learning conversation. I will try to address them and how they can be overcome.

How will the students watch the videos?

Flipped learning works best if students have their own device. This device can be anything from laptop to tablet/iPad to smart phone. With one of these devices, the students can access the videos through the internet. If they don’t have a device you could copy the videos onto a DVD or USB and they can watch them on their home computer or DVD player.

What if students don’t have home internet access?

Flipped learning works best if the student has home internet access as you can provide your videos via YouTube or any other online service. However, not all students have internet access at home and this cannot be a barrier. There are several ways around this issue. The videos could be stored on the school server or they could be provided through a cloud storage system such as Google Drive. Students would then just need to download the videos at school and store them on their personal device. Again, at the very least DVDs or USBs could be used as a method of deployment. Any of these methods will ensure that the videos can be viewed by students offline.

What if students don’t watch the videos?

This is a very common question. Although I don’t see this as a flipped learning question, it is more so a question about homework in general. Yes, there are students who don’t complete homework. There are many strategies which we can use to deal with this. The first thing to bear in mind is that these videos tend to be a more engaging homework task than traditional tasks. They are also not as difficult and students have the ability to pause, rewind and fast forward as necessary. As in any homework situation there needs to be a consequence for non-completion. In my case, students are not able to enter the learning environment unless they have completed the required viewing. They are either isolated in a corner of the classroom to complete the viewing or sent to a study room while the rest of the class work on the application style lessons that I deliver. In my experience, it only takes a couple of these exclusions before students realise that there is a significant disadvantage for not watching the videos and they soon conform.

What if they don’t understand the videos?

This is a very valid question. This generation is sometimes referred to as the ‘YouTube Generation’. However, most of the videos they are watching are about things like ‘funny cats’ and not many students actually know HOW to watch educational tutorial videos. You need to teach your students how to watch your videos. This involves identifying and extracting the key information. They will need to learn to pause and rewind when necessary. They should be taking notes and writing questions that they need to clarify with you in class. A general rule of thumb is that it takes students around double the total duration of a video to complete this successfully. The teacher must provide some time at the start of each lesson to address any clarifying questions that students may have.

The whole school program

After sharing my experiences with our school leadership team, we set up a teacher recording studio in our new Bright Learning Centre so that our teachers can produce high quality video lessons at school:

video_editing

From the beginning of this year we embarked on a flipped learning program across the whole school. Teachers have formed small (3-4 people) Teacher Learning Communities (TLCs) and their goal is to produce recorded lesson content and flip their classrooms. Obviously, with 103 teachers at our school the teacher recording studio was not going to be the technique of choice for everyone. As you can probably imagine, it is right down the far end in terms of complexity.

It was important to provide our teachers with a range of different tools and techniques for producing video lessons. All of our teachers have a MacBook and an iPad and they are extremely powerful tools for producing recorded content. There are several very effective and very simple techniques we are using.

  • Keynote and PowerPoint presentations – so easy to make, or to take pre-existing presentations and record narrations to bring them to life! Export it as a video and voilà! – you have an anytime, anywhere resource for your students.
  • Screen recordings with Quicktime or Screencast-o-matic.com – With a screen recording, your imagination is your only limitation. With either of these two tools it is very easy to capture a recorded lesson/tutorial. Anything you can do on your computer screen, can be recorded. The great thing about screencast-o-matic.com is that it is free on any platform and it can access your computer’s webcam so that you appear in the videos.
  • iPad Apps – With apps like Explain Everything teachers can produce quality recorded content. It is very simple and effective.

The key aspect to this professional learning program is TIME. We have dedicated two two-hour sessions per term and two of our four full day professional learning days (student free days). Teacher engagement has been great so far. I think all teachers are motivated by a passion to collaborate with each other and improve their pedagogy – which is exactly what our flipped classroom program is all about. I am very confident that passionate teachers coupled with time to collaborate and produce content will lead to some exciting and powerful outcomes for teaching and learning in our school.

Where to from here?

At this early stage in our whole school program the aim for teachers is to master the techniques and produce a collection of video resources. As I have found with my own experience, this will take time. Once they start to produce these videos and use them with their students we will be able to turn our attention to the key question. What should face to face class time look like? The will not be the same for every teacher but the conversations around this topic will be powerful. It is an exciting time in our school and we are moving in a great direction. I hope to have conveyed in this article that flipped learning is not an instant change and requires an investment of time and training. However the great thing about it is there is as much to be gained from the journey as there is from the destination.

References:

  1. Flipped Learning – Gateway to student engagement by Jonathan Bergmann and Aaron Sams, published in 2014 by the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE).
  2. http://whitman.syr.edu/wsmhelp/faculty-resources/instructional-design-delivery/teaching-pedagogy/blooms-taxonomy.aspx
  1. http://www.happysteve.com/blog/the-curious-case-of-the-flipped-blooms-meme.html

Jeremy LeCornu is the Digital Learning Coordinator at Brighton Secondary School in South Australia. He is passionate about making curriculum content readily accessible to students anywhere and anytime by producing video lesson content for his Biology students. Jeremy has had great success through publishing these lessons on YouTube and anytimeeducation.com.

As much as Jeremy loves to use video content to enhance his own teaching, he is equally passionate about inspiring and helping others. He has been responsible for leading the implementation of a whole school flipped classroom approach at two schools in Adelaide. You can read more about Jeremy’s experiences on his blog https://jeremylecornu.wordpress.com/

Brighton Secondary School has been recognised as an Apple Distinguished School and Jeremy, along with fellow staff member Sam Moyle, has been recognised as an Apple Distinguished Educator.

 

Projects for a new paradigm

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Innovation Integrator at St Columba Anglican School (SCAS), Meridith Ebbs, shares some of the ground-breaking ways technology has been incorporated into the curriculum at the school.

St Columba Anglican School is in it’s 14th year and is located in Port Macquarie on the mid-north coast of New South Wales. Four years ago the decision was made to migrate the school to the cloud and implement a voluntary bring your own device program and during this time there has been significant investment in technology and staff training. Many staff now use technology on a daily basis. Implementing technology also requires a commitment to evolving pedagogy. To assist all staff to continue to evolve their teaching methods requires continued support for staff financially and physically with training and flexible resources.

Being a regional school attending professional development in the city can be costly so the school committed to employing skilled and innovative teachers to lead the school into the 21st century. The decision to employ skilled and innovated educators has resulted in new approaches to teaching and learning. The challenge now is to maintain the passion and continue to evolve pedagogy for all teaching staff.

Coding in a primary school

Four years ago coding in primary schools was not common and it was difficult to locate resources. Microsoft Kodu was one of the few resources with tutorials and teacher resources suitable for primary-age students. At this time the Director of Curriculum agreed to the idea of teaching coding to Year 4.

Now in its fourth year, each Year 4 group has been taught coding for a term. The outcomes are linked to Maths and English.

The coding program is now beginning to expand to:

  • A primary girls’ KodeKlub;
  • A primary boys’ KodeKlub;
  • SCAS has recently commenced an extension program using the Google Computer First Coding Club in schools in the learning centre;
  • A robotics program in Year 9 Science;
  • Computational Thinking elective in Year 8;
  • Coding is used to teach angles in secondary Mathematics;
  • 20 hours of code is taught by Year 6 teachers in Mathematics; and,
  • The Head of Primary agreed to allow 500 K-6 students participate in Hour of Code during the last week of school in December 2014.

KodeKlub

Why a different KodeKlub for boys and girls? Two years ago when the lunchtime KodeKlub commenced there were fifteen students and two were girls. In 2014 I decided to implement a girls club to see if I could increase the participation of girls. The number of girls increased significantly, there are now approximately fifteen students on each club roll. To be a member of the club there are two prerequisites – you must be able to log on and you must be able to read. I have had students as young as Year 1 through to the occasional visit from secondary girls.

Hour of Code
Hour of Code is an international initiative to encourage students worldwide to learn to speak the language of computers. To implement this in a school of 500 students was difficult. To ensure equity with school devices we ran it over two days. Students who had already completed the 20 hours of code were given the role of ‘techsperts’ and peer tutors. Two students were sent to each class to assist teachers with problem solving and provide technical support. The event was very successful and the students and staff were very positive about event. It is hoped this will become an annual event in the school.

Year 5 Science

This term Year 5 are looking at the science unit, ‘Earth’s place in space’. As a part of this thematic unit we are using the science connections material available through Scootle. To supplement this program we are working through some computational thinking projects to investigate the scale of the solar system. This has included:

  • Location of the distances of each planet from the sun (research);
  • Discussion of different forms of measurement used when discussing the solar system, kilometers, astronomical units and light years (maths);
  • Identifying the best unit of measurement to use for a scale model of the solar systems;
  • Plotting the solar system on a one-metre long piece of grid paper (maths);
  • A scale plan of the Solar System plotted on a football oval – students are required to located distances of planets from the sun then calculate the scale of the solar system should it be reduced to 100 metres – once the model is plotted on the football field, we fly a drone over the students to capture a bird’s eye view (maths);
  • Research the diameter and scale of a planet of their choice (research and maths); and,
  • Create a scale model of the planet of their choice – students are required to research their chosen planet’s dimensions and then create a scale model of the planet – students use the medium of their choice e.g.: paper mache or create a virtual 3D model and print it using the 3D printer (problem solving, research, maths).

During each of these activities students were given the basic task and time to locate key information and solve the problems, initially with minimal instruction. Some students were very successful at locating the required information and then working towards a solution. Those students requiring additional assistance were given more direct instruction to assist with the process in a small group away from the main group. The results were checked as a class and then the process revised to ensure all students understood how the answer was obtained. The benefit of completing the task in this manner is that students are given the opportunity of locating information without being given the answer. It provides an opportunity for students to work collaboratively to solve a problem.

Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM)

This year, the Director of Curriculum requested the development and trial of a STEM course with three Stage 2 classes. The requirement being it must be hands on and be linked to outcomes in Mathematics and Science. Students focused on construction and engineering structures with strength. The students were given open-ended tasks and resources and they were then required to solve the problems. The activity was interspersed with short sessions of direct instruction to demonstrate skills and discuss the theory behind their task. Some of the activities students have completed this year include:

  • Constructing a games arcade using cardboard boxes;
  • Constructing 3D shapes using only newspaper and sticky tape – we had competitions on the tallest and the strongest;
  • Constructing a structure to support a book using playdough and toothpicks;
  • Design and construction of a solar cooker – this had thematic links to the science unit of Heat it Up;
  • Circle Geometry on Pi Day – an American celebration on 14th March, 3/14/15 – this year was particularly special as the American date was 3.1415; and,
  • Reviewing games and identifying what makes a game great, then using this information to create their own computer game using CodeKingdoms.com or kodugamelab.com.

“STEM is a curriculum based on the idea of educating students in four specific disciplines – science, technology, engineering and mathematics – in an interdisciplinary and applied approach. Rather than teach the four disciplines as separate and discrete subjects, STEM integrates them into a cohesive learning paradigm based on real-world applications.” (Hom, 2014)

The STEM course has been a fantastic opportunity for students to collaboratively solve problems. Students have been very excited and proud of their constructions. Pi day was particularly interesting as circular geometry is not usually taught in Stage 2. Students quickly learnt the importance of accuracy when measuring the circumference and diameter to try to achieve the number 3.1415. The measuring task required accuracy in millimeters. This activity was so popular the school is planning to run the activities again in Term 3 as July 22nd is the Australian equivalent of pi day – 22/7 is the closest fraction to calculate pi.

Online course in Computational Thinking – Year 8 elective

What is Computational Thinking?

Computational Thinking is the process of finding a solution to open ended problems. Computational Thinking is usually associated with computer science, however it incorporates the way we set problems in all key learning areas (Google for Education). The four stages of computational thinking are:

  • Decomposition, breaking a large problem into smaller parts;
  • Pattern Recognition, identifying similarities and differences;
  • Pattern Generalisation and Abstraction; and,
  • Algorithm Design, step-by-step strategy for solving a problem (Google for Education).

On Computational Thinking, Jeanette Wing of Carnegie Mellon University believes, “It is a fundamental skill for everyone, not just for computer scientists. To reading, writing, and arithmetic, we should add Computational Thinking to every child’s analytical ability.” (Wing, 2006)

Schools have been teaching Computational Thinking for many years by way of procedures, data collection, decision charts, programming and problem solving. The Digital Technologies Australian Curriculum formalises Computational Thinking and provides learning opportunities and a deeper understanding for students. New South Wales is currently the only state not to have begun the endorsement process for this curriculum. This means the state has limited formal outcomes that can be used to specifically address Computational Thinking. Fortunately these skills can still be taught using outcomes in most of the existing and new NSW curriculums.

Computational Thinking is often linked to computers and coding. While it is a problem solving method that uses computer science techniques, it is possible to teach these skills offline using other technologies. Computational Thinking can also be taught using Mathematics, Science and English.

The course

This year the opportunity arose to create a new Year 8 elective that uses a blended format – a combination of face-to-face and online delivery – and were thus offered the elective Computational Thinking. The course is being facilitated online over a semester. Students are timetabled to attend classes and all content is delivered via a Google Classroom and a Google Site. The course being offered is cross-curricular and offers the opportunity for students to develop skills in Computational Thinking, writing and reflection, covering outcomes from the English and Computer Syllabi.

The purpose of the course is to encourage students to explore areas of interest with a focus on problem solving and logic, through to personal research projects.

Some of the proposed projects include:

  • Learning to program – beginning with a tutorial program called ‘20 hours of code’ and continuing onto a personal coding project;
  • Coding a game using online game builder in both visual programming and Java;
  • Robotics with Lego Mindstorms; and,
  • Building a remote-controlled lawnmower.

There were no prerequisites for this course. To be successful in this project students will need to be self-motivated.

Students are monitored through a learning journal and are required to keep a personal blog. Students are provided with a set of sample questions they can use to discuss their ideas and learning experiences, and will be required to take photos, movies, screencasts and/or screen shots of their progress. These should then be used as stimuli for discussion in the blog. Students are also required to comment on the blogs of their peers. They are required to provide constructive and positive feedback to projects.

Assessments

The course will have two assessments.

  1. Student blogs will be assessed for use as a learning journal and marks will be allocated for use of documentation of the learning process, media, grammar, punctuation and spelling. It will be worth 50% of the overall mark.
  1. There will be a student presentation. The format of the presentation will be determined by the student, in keeping with the self-guided philosophy of the course. Students may do a slideshow, YouTube clip, Screencast, demonstration or speech and incorporate student peer assessment with a value of 50%.

Rather than creating content consumers, this course allows students to become content generators. They take a topic they are interested in and then create, model, build or research it, in a similar fashion to a major work at HSC level. The documentation is done via their blog. The response from the students has been very positive.

Digital Citizenship Program

In 2012 I designed and developed a K-12 Digital Citizenship Program (DCP) at SCAS. The content, sourced from free programs available on the web, includes lesson plans for teachers and covers a range of topics.

The topics for the Digital Citizenship Program include:

  1. Access: full electronic participation in society.
  2. Commerce: electronic buying and selling of goods.
  3. Communication: electronic exchange of information.
  4. Etiquette: electronic standards of conduct or procedure.
  5. Identity: creating a positive digital footprint and online presence.
  6. Health & Wellness: physical and psychological well-being in a digital technology world.
  7. Literacy: process of teaching and learning about technology and the use of technology.
  8. Law: electronic responsibility for actions and deeds
  9. Rights & Responsibilities: those freedoms extended to everyone in a digital world.
  10. Security (self-protection): electronic precautions to guarantee safety.

The outcomes were drawn from various syllabi. The outcomes came from syllabus units related to personal safety, physical safety, emotional and mental health, relationships, writing online, safe use of technology and ethics.

  • Personal/Development (PD/H)
  • Technology
  • Economics, Business Studies
  • English

The lessons were compiled into a scope and sequence. Primary has a yearly cycle, secondary has a two-year cycle. Primary teach the content during PD/H and secondary teach the DCP during pastoral care and PD/H.

The roll out of the DCP began with professional development of staff. Initially there was some resistance as staff were unfamiliar the concepts and skills required, but with support and comprehensive lesson plans the DCP was implemented and is now taught across the school K-12.

The internal Digital Citizenship Program as SCAS has also evolved into running digital citizenship conferences for other schools through the Professional Excellence and Innovation Centre (PEIC) due the interest it has generated. The conference has been run twice now and will be run again in Term 4, 2015. The conference instructs delegates on considerations for the development of a digital citizenship program.

The digital citizenship conference runs through definitions, policies, principles of digital citizenship, and resources. The response from delegates from each event was very positive. All delegates are given resources to take with them and have the opportunity to share in a private Google Community, on an ongoing basis.

Below are some resources that have been created and are curated by Meridith Ebbs in her work at SCAS:

kodeklubbers.weebly.com

inspireslearning.weebly.com

elscas.weebly.com

observelearndo.blogger.com.au

 

Meridith Ebbs BSc. DipEd. MA

Meridith is the Innovation Integrator at St Columba Anglican School, Port Macquarie, NSW. She has a blended role, teaching classes from Years 3-10 and working as an e-learning integrator to support the e-learning programs within the school.

Meridith is a key staff member of the Professional Excellence & Innovation Centre. She develops and facilitates conferences and workshops. Meridith acts as a consultant in digital citizenship, in the use of technology to enhance 21st century pedagogies and social media. Meridith speaks at conferences and at Newcastle University on digital citizenship, coding, technology and pedagogy.

Successful projects include: 

  • Developing and trialling a new STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) course for Years 3 and 4;
  • Developing a new elective for Year 8 in computational thinking;
  • Developing and trialling an online course for secondary students;
  • Developed courses, applied and gained approval to provide school-based registered professional development for All Standard Descriptors of the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers at the level of Proficient Teacher;
  • Development and rollout of a K-12 Digital Citizenship Program;
  • Facilitation of ‘superclasses’;
  • Differentiation of tasks for superclasses;
  • Project-based learning;
  • Edu-gaming with Minecraft, CodeKingdoms and Kodu;
  • Establishment of a two coding clubs; 
  • Introduction of coding to teach maths and literacy in Stage 2;
  • Development of lessons to differentiate maths in Year 1 using iPads;
  • Use of cloud-based applications for learning;
  • Curating resources for computational thinking – inspireslearning.weebly.com;
  • Developed a resource for teaching coding –  kodeklubbers.weebly.com;
  • Maintenance of an educational blog for students – elscas.weebly.com; and,
  • Maintenance of an educational blog for educators – observelearndo.blogger.com.au

Other projects outside of school:

  • Participant in CSER Digital Technologies MOOC Implementing the Australian Curriculum Learning Area, May – June 2014;
  • Social Media Facilitator CSER Digital technologies MOOC Implementing the Australian Curriculum Learning Area, Dec 2014 -Feb 2015; and,
  • Participating in the CSER Digital Technologies MOOC, Next Steps years 7 & 8, May – July 2015.

References

Google Education, http://www.google.com.au/edu/resources/programs/exploring-computational-thinking/

Hom, E. J (2014) http://www.livescience.com/43296-what-is-stem-education.html

Microsoft Kodu, www.kodugamelab.com/resources/

Wing, J 2006, ‘Computational Thinking’, COMMUNICATIONS OF THE ACM, vol. Vol. 49, no. No. 3, March, accessed 7 February 2015, <https://www.cs.cmu.edu/~15110-s13/Wing06-ct.pdf>.

 Acknowledgements

I would like to thank the teachers of St Columba Anglican School who support me and are willing to try new things with their classes. Lisa Gooding (Director of Curriculum) for her encouragement and support of new and innovative projects. Janet Geronimi (Head of Special Projects, PEIC) for her vision, encouragement and support. Janet Geronimi, Emma Cooper (Marketing), Geoff Lancaster (Head of Innovation) and Chris Delaney (Head of the Learning Centre) for their support with planning with the Computational Thinking Conference.

Doing away with student exams

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Harvard University physicist and educator Eric Mazur speaks with Education Matters editor Kathryn Edwards about how he believes approaches to assessment in education are outdated and that teachers should rethink their approaches in order to better prepare the leaders of tomorrow.

With our testing and assessing models so much embedded in our education system’s culture, what is a good way to start teaching teachers about more creative thinking and teaching students to be more risk averse?

Well, let’s first talk about change in general. I think change is difficult because you don’t know when you start out changing things whether it will get better or worse, and you step into the unknown. So change itself is taking a risk and I think it was Machiavelli, already 500 years ago, who said that nothing is more difficult to undertake than to change the order of things, because the innovator, and that’s actually the word he used, “the innovator” has all those who have done well under the old system for enemies and those who might do better under the new system as lukewarm defenders, and that’s definitely true.

I think in education it’s particularly difficult because we’ve built up an almost cartel-like system where the people doing the education are the ones controlling the education too. You know, the people teaching are the people assessing, so you can always assess in a way as to create the appearance that things are all right because you assess for what has been taught, and then there tends to be not really an honest assessment of what we accomplish with our teaching. So in order to induce change, to get to your question finally, I think there are two things that are in need: first of all, people need to realise that we need to change. Why change if you’re not convinced that you have to change?

Which brings us back to the point I just raised, that people teaching are the people assessing in general in schools and in tertiary education, so they’ll always adjust their assessments to match their teaching – that means everything is all right, so why will we need to change our assessment? I think, though, if you take an honest view at assessments, you find that it often tests only the lower order thinking skills and that a lot of things that can be done with low order thinking skills are slowly going to, might be offloaded onto information technology, smart phones, computers and so on, so that the jobs that are associated with, let’s say, rote memorisation and rote procedural problem-solving, will simply go away. So I’ve been hammering on that message. So I would say that’s the first step that we need to get the word out: if we continue to assess the way we do, we’re going to continue to create people who are good at doing things that can nowadays be done by information technology and therefore those jobs will go away.

I think the second step is that if, or once, we convince people that there’s a need for a change, we need to create an environment which is risk-free so that the people who are doing the change, the courageous leading-edge instructors in institutions are okay if not everything works out fine the first time around. There’s a risk in change and the risk is: you might fail. Right, so if we continue to assess the efficacy of teaching the old way, the indicators might not immediately go up or they might even go down, and we need to create an environment where it’s okay for people to try things out.

Are there small steps teachers can implement to encourage their students to be creative and take risks?

I think so, yeah. I was walking through a university in Melbourne and, as I was taking the escalator up to the floor where I was giving my talk, I passed a couple of classrooms that have glass walls so I could look into the classroom, and it’s the first day of exams so the scene I saw in there, even though I didn’t know it was the first day of exams, I could recognise it right away: desks separated by a metre or two, bare tables with just a piece of paper, an eraser and a pen; no calculators, no computers, nothing; students cut off from each other; students cut off from any source of information. Ask yourself, “Will these students ever in their future career encounter a situation where they’re similarly cut off from any source of information; from each other?” The answer’s no.

I mean, I certainly can’t think of any case in my work, and I’m sure that in your line of work as a writer that you don’t get cut off from information and have to come up with everything on your own, sitting alone at a table with just a pencil and an eraser. So why are we testing our students that way? How do we even imagine that the results we get from that testing will reflect something, a skill or knowledge, that is going to be useful in students’ future careers?

And as you and I know, deep down in our gut, grades that we give our students are really not reflective of their future success. I mean, I can make a long list of people who dropped out of college or high school and who were immensely successful, and I can make an even longer list of students with absolutely spectacular straight-A records, not because they were so fantastic but because they were great test-sitters.

And eventually in life they failed, because they were missing some crucial skill that is very important in real life that was never tested for. So I think that the first thing we need to do is we need to reflect in our assessment processes more the mode of operation in which it is actually going to work. Why cut them off from information? It’s not about storing the Internet in your head; it’s about knowing how to use the information.

Why cut them off from each other if they’ll need to work, they’ll need to solve problems collaboratively anyway? Yes, there has to be an individual accountability. But observing how people work together and training people to work together, teaching people how to work together, I think is an absolutely crucial skill that we really fail to both teach and assess in the standard approach to education.

In your experience and in your research, how are you developing meaningful ranking systems?

Well, first of all, I abandoned the standard creating approach because, I mean, how can you even imagine capturing something as complex as a human being’s performance in a single number, single digit, or single letter: a B, or a C, or an A? I mean, how informative is that really? And also if you look at the correlation, have a look in my own class at the correlation between letter grades and actual abilities, and it’s horrendous. I think it’s more an injustice than anything else. So unfortunately I think that the main purpose of assessment has been ranking people, but we do a very poor job at ranking, as we know. And look, if we were really able to rank people very well, then all of the presidents in the world and all of the CEOs of big companies would be graduates of Harvard University and MIT and Stanford and the top few schools.

And as you and I know, that’s not true at all. In fact, many excessively successful people come from colleges and universities you’ve never of, so the ranking does not translate in actual things that end up mattering in life. So I think that we should basically give up on the ranking but it doesn’t mean we should give up on assessment. No, we should have assessment but we should keep track of people’s performance in dimensions that matters: how well can this person work together with other people; how well can this person, and have sort of a more Rubric based approach where we rank people in a more absolute sense than in a relative sense.

Now, when do you envisage that more and more countries’ education systems would take up this type of assessment?

I’m an optimist, okay, but I’m going to say, “Not in my lifetime.”

I’m an optimist and why am I giving you such a pessimistic view I think is because look at teaching and classrooms around the world in the 21st century and yes you will see technology embedded, people using PowerPoint and this, and projectors and, but you know, the basic standard approach is still not very different from the one that was used in the middle ages.

And was instructors basically, or maybe computer screens, delivering information to students and the education system has probably been more slow to change than any other aspect of society. And in part I think because, as I said, the people teaching are the people assessing. I mean, we don’t have an external accountability or, you know, an easy external accountability. So I think unfortunately change will be very, very slow. There are a couple of countries that I think are ahead and those that are ahead tend to actually do better on international rankings: Finland, Singapore, and so on. I was just at Singapore and I was really impressed by their redesign of learning spaces, by their thinking about innovations in teaching, by their scholarship of teaching and learning. You know, Finland has abolished a lot of testing, well, testing like high stakes testing; that doesn’t mean that there’s no assessment, but there’s just no tests for which students cram and then forget.

 

 

Higer, the obvious choice for school contracts

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Higer buses have been in the Australian market since 2008, and can now be seen serving schools across the country, from the most prestigious schools in Sydney and Melbourne, to smaller schools in regional centres.

For a bus operator, there is no cargo more precious than a group of school children, so when Norwest Coaches was allocating buses for its private school run, they selected their largest and most luxurious vehicle, the Higer H9250 Midi Boss.

Norwest Coaches is a charter business in the north-west of Sydney, primarily operating club and pub courtesy runs and specialised school runs. Fleet Manager Steve Trlin says the company bought its first Higer about eight months ago and it is used for transporting students to two different schools in Sydney’s Hills District.

“We know that parents want their children to get to and from school in safety and comfort, and we felt the Higer could offer both,” he said. “The bus uses very well regarded component brands, so we knew it was going to be reliable, and the quality of the finishes is very high.”

The Midi Boss is powered by a Cummins ISB e5 6.7 litre power plant, which is mated to an Allison automatic transmission for easy-starting and efficient operation. The model also features Wabco ABS disc brakes and Firestone airbag suspension, and like all Higer buses, the 41 seat Midi Boss is equipped with seatbelts.

“The Higer Midi Boss is used on our Hills Grammar and William Clark school runs,” Trlin said. “There are children on this route travelling more than 30 kilometres per day, so it’s essential we can transport them not only in comfort, but on a bus that is extremely reliable and very safe.

“One of our requirements when choosing a new bus is that the brand be well-supported in Australia with ready access to parts and servicing. Higer really fits the bill on that front. We need the Midi Boss to be available for the school runs, so the Cummins workshop were able to service the bus at 6pm on a Friday. This kind of flexibility really makes a difference to us, allowing us to keep the bus on the road and generating revenue when we need it to.”

According to Trlin, the Higer Midi Boss was very well received by Norwest Coaches’ young passengers. “They really have been overwhelmed by the quality and luxury of the coach that takes them to school every day.”

‘Two for Three’ offers vale for money

Passenger safety has always been a priority of the Higer brand – Higer has the way in Australia in providing lap-sash seatbelts across its range. Higer now also offers “2 for 3” seating, which allows two adults, or three primary school students to share a seat, all with the safety of lap-sash seatbelts.

CEO of WMC Group, importer of Higer buses to Australia, Neil Bamford says that the “2 for 3” seating gives a new level of flexibility to the Higer range.

“We understand that schools need to get the most out of their buses, and 2-3 seating allows schools to safely carry up 35 students in our popular H7170 Munro.

“Adding the extra capacity without adding significantly to the cost takes the already competitive H7170 Munro to another level in terms of value for money,” he added. “The seats are ADR approved, factory-fitted, and are now available as an option for all buses in the Higer range.”

Higer buses are sold and serviced from dealers across Australia, and can be seen at www.higer.com.au

 

Building courageous resilience in kids

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Finding opportunities in the turmoil takes real courage, writes Darren Stevenson, Extend Managing Director.

Nelson A. Rockefeller said, “Wherever you look upon this earth, the opportunities take shape within the problems”. Opportunities aren’t always obvious. Sometimes it looks scary or tough. So how do we summon the courage to march into unchartered waters, and show our kids how to do the same?

For most of us it’s not too difficult to embrace the obvious opportunities as they arise, such as that job promotion or marriage proposal. But what about those events that are thrust upon us, rather than designed or chosen? Finding opportunities in the turmoil takes real courage. It’s called resilience, and it’s a skill that both adults and children can benefit from practicing more.

It might be a life changing turmoil such as a family breakdown, or something more minor, such as a change or end to a friendship, a change of school rules, or moderate alterations to daily life. Either way, if the changes worrying you are not what you think you want, your first response might be resistance. You won’t even think to look for opportunities. And if you can’t find the opportunities in adversity, your kids will never see how it’s done.

When encouraged or forced by others to accept unwanted change, such as a change in friendship groups for example, it can feel very uncomfortable, even scary. The current reality, the situation you have been used to, is deconstructing before your eyes. At this point it can be difficult to see that any new beginning might be better than the reality you have known. But some changes are unavoidable. Often, the sooner you embrace the deconstruction, and take charge of it, the sooner you can begin to create a new reality that works better for you. Rather than leaving it up to others, you need to have the courage to construct the new environment that you want.

Firstly, you need to recognise that your fear of the unknown is normal. Resistance is usually borne from fear; of the unknown, of failure, of change. Once you understand and accept that fear is part of the process, this can help overcome the discomfort that comes with an unknown future. Understanding why you are afraid and exactly what you are afraid of, will help you begin to imagine the potential future you desire.

From here, you have the opportunity to start to actually shape your unknown future. It’s a clean slate. And the more you move towards your desired future, the less you have to fear. You can start to look for the opportunities to create the future you want.

It also helps to understand that sometimes plans won’t come to fruition. Sometimes you will succeed in the opportunities you seek. Sometimes you won’t. And that’s ok. There will always be something to be gained or learned from your best attempt. You just have to be open to seeing it.

When we understand this as adults it becomes easier to help kids deal with their inevitable setbacks in life and develop resilience.

Extend is a leading provider of high quality Outside School Hours Care services within primary schools throughout Australia. Visit extend.com.au to read more useful articles for school leaders.

 

Victoria to consult with public over future of education, states call for Gonski commitment

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The Victorian Government has launched discussion papers that urge Victorians to have their say about the future of the state’s education system.

Premier Daniel Andrews said at today’s State Library launch that as Victoria’s economy is changing, its education system needs to change with it.

“We’re inviting every Victorian to have their say about their education system and their future,” he said.

The two-month consultation will seek the views of students, parents, carers, teachers, principals, school council members, businesses and community groups, and will also test the development of specific targets for the improvement of Victoria’s education system.

The 2015-16 Victorian Budget pledged $3.9 billion towards the state’s education system.

Meanwhile, The Australian has reported that Labour states are pressuring Opposition Leader Bill Shorten to commit $7 billion in federal funds to meet the final two years, 2018 and 2019, of Gonski funding that was agreed to under the Australian Education Act with former Prime Minister Julia Gillard.