Friday, February 25, 2011
At 12.51 pm on Tuesday, 22 February, the beautiful city of Christchurch, New Zealand, was devastated by a magnitude 6.3 earthquake.
This was only one of the hundreds of aftershocks, following the magnitude 7.1 earthquake that shook the city on the morning of Saturday 4 September 2010.
Miraculously, few people were injured in this huge shake for the city was asleep when it struck and despite its magnitude, its centre was 30 to 40 km west of the city centre. Christchurch was well on the way to recovering from this earlier devastation when the second major shake struck on Tuesday at a depth of only 5km.
Tuesday’s shake caused devastation that reduced many of the homes and buildings in the inner city to rubble. Over 120 people so far are known to have died, crushed by falling debris or within collapsing buildings. Over 200 people are listed as missing. Hundreds are injured, many of them severely.
The people of Christchurch have a strong spirit and they have a fine mayor in Bob Parker, whose civil defence leadership skills are second to none. But the people of Christchurch need you.
Please help by donating to the Red Cross 2011 Earthquake Appeal
or to the Christchurch Earthquake Appeal
Saturday, December 4, 2010
“A long time ago, in Newsday for November 15, 1994, Billy Tashman said with reference to a large, government-sponsored field test of different instructional approaches: ‘The good news is that after 26 years, nearly a billion dollars, and mountains of data, we now know which are the most effective instructional tools. The bad news is that the education world couldn’t care less.’
The same holds true today." James Kauffman
When I first began teaching, I bristled with the desire to instruct, inspire, coach, and enlighten. I’d just been through Moray House College of Education, Edinburgh, where my tutors and mentors truly recognised the worth of excellent instruction.
Yet for the past 30 years and more, I have felt like a disillusioned school teacher who is old fashioned, out of date and not really understanding what’s happening in education.
The other day, a good friend and colleague passed on to me a recent article from Teachers College Record, by James Kauffman. It was written as an introduction to his recently published book,
The Tragicomedy of Public Education:
Laughing and Crying Thinking and Fixing.
As I read through Kauffman's article, I recalled how I felt when I read Shelley Gare’s book,
The Triumph of the Airheads and the Retreat from Common Sense.
I experienced déjà vu at every page.
James Kauffman is Professor Emeritus of Education at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.
In his review article, entitled Reforming Public Education: A Tragicomedy, he explains how some people, working within education, fail to recognise the most important factor in improving learning:
“Truly ridiculous statements about reforming schools have been made by generally intelligent people who happen to botch thinking about education. Too often, their silly statements are taken seriously, making matters worse. Some would-be reformers ignore what produces most learning — instruction.”
Kauffman draws attention to all the areas of stupidity in education that I’ve complained about, for decades . . .
. . . about improving teaching:
“They might say we need better teachers without defining “better.” People aren’t necessarily better teachers because they’re smarter, know their subject better, or have taken more courses. We need standardized tests, but good teaching isn’t easily measured as “value added.” “Better teacher” doesn’t necessarily mean “higher average pupil gain score.” Good instruction is defined by what a teacher does.”
. . . about pursuing change without recognising what needs to change:
“On January 2, 2010, Kevin Huffman published in The Washington Post his heartfelt opinions about how to reform education, including suggestions that we recruit talented teachers and fire bad ones, base policies on student achievement, and get parents to demand what’s best for their children. He quotes a U.S. Senator from Colorado, who says that the education system must change, but he doesn’t say how. Any change will do? Sorry, Kevin and Senator, with all due respect, we don’t need just any kind of change. Unless it’s the right change, we’ll get nowhere.”
. . . about the misunderstanding and misuse of statistics:
“One reason the “thinking” of so many earnest reformers is tragicomic when it’s taken seriously is that you can’t have all of the children (or teachers or any other group we measure) reaching any percentile higher than the first group any more than you can have all of the children (or teachers) above average.”
. . . about setting education goals that are absurdly unachievable:
“No Child Left Behind (. . .) set the goal of universal proficiency of students by 2014. That goal is a will-o’-the-wisp that anyone else who understands the most basic mathematical-statistical realities knows is impossible.”
. . . about teaching methods inappropriately applied to all learners:
“Direct, systematic instruction is more effective than other approaches like “discovery learning” (essentially, letting kids find out for themselves) and a lot of the other popular but failed ideas about teaching. Go to www.adihome.org/ to find out more.”
. . . about using test scores to judge success.
Kauffman lists his criteria for judging success:
- effective instruction,
- students’ engagement in productive activity,
- homogeneous grouping for instruction,
- positive emotional climate,
- clear school-wide expectations,
- positive support for desired behaviour,
- involvement of parents and communities.
The Tragicomedy of Public Education: Laughing and Crying Thinking and Fixing,
James M Kauffman, FULL Court Press, 2010 – ISBN 1-57861-682-4
The Tragicomedy of Public Education – DESK COPY
Saturday, October 16, 2010
A rare commodity
Water is amazing. It is truly the universal solvent. While there are solvents that can dissolve some things far better, there is none that dissolves as many different substances as can water.
It’s all to do with the structure of water’s molecule – that particle scientists refer to when they talk of the tiny bits that some things are made of. Water molecules can cluster together and share parts of each other to form other discrete particles that have unique affinities for different things.
Sugar is made of molecules. Common salt consists of two very different bits, called ions that are positively and negatively charged.
Though sugar and salt look very similar, their fundamental differences, at the sub-microscopic level, make these substances behave so very differently. Very few solvents can dissolve both sugar AND salt for this reason. But water can.
This strange property of water – the ability to dissolve molecular substances as well as those that are made up of ions – is one reason why it is extremely difficult to obtain pure water.
When it rains, droplets of almost 100% pure water form high in the atmosphere. Yet it’s not long before this water has dissolved all sorts of substances, often before it reaches the ground. Pure water is actually an extremely rare substance.
Repositories for everything
Near-pure droplets of rainwater that drench the land eventually find their way into the oceans. There is a little bit of everything to be found in the world’s oceans. This is because water dissolves just about everything.
Gold is one of the world’s rarest and most precious metals. Yet we are told that the world’s oceans contain enough dissolved gold to provide every person with a tiny piece weighing over 8 tonnes!
Gold is just one of the billions of substances that water washes into the world’s oceans, every day. The seas and oceans throughout the world are repositories for all that is washed off the land.
End to fresh water
All over the world, beautiful freshwater lakes represent a half-way house for water that makes its way to the sea. These wonderful reservoirs are topped up by rivers and streams fed by water that takes many paths, from slow percolations of ground water to direct runoffs.
Fresh water reservoirs contain water that has had only a relatively short time in contact with the earth. Most contain water that is near pure. They have enjoyed a place in the eye of the beholder for thousands, perhaps millions of years. Lakes, and the streams and rivers that contribute to them, have served living creatures with necessary fresh water during that time. But this service is literally drying up.
Something in the water
Supplies of drinkable water are dependent on readily available fresh water sources. The demand for water of this purity is increasing every day. I’m told that about 24 litres of fresh water can be used during the entire production of just one hamburger. Yet the world’s fresh water supplies provide water only at a worldly rate.
That rate is huge, and hitherto has been unvarying. While that rate is now not sufficient to provide the world’s demand for fresh water, there is much now happening on the surface of the earth to actually decrease the rate of this provision.
Wastes from farming, industry and the effluent from the people who rely on these present day processes are fast diminishing the usefulness of water sources. Many fresh water reservoirs are now becoming polluted and the level of pollution and the occurrence of this are always increasing.
Now running to ground
About 20% of the world’s fresh water is drawn directly from the ground. It is seen as a way of safeguarding against periods of drought while providing an almost unvarying year-long supply of fresh water – water that slowly percolated its way through the ground. Such water sources are still vulnerable to pollution, however, as surface pollutants can percolate through the ground and contaminate the ground water.
Moreover, the removal of ground water at a rate higher than the natural recharge rate means that these sources diminish in time and can affect water replenishment of nearby reservoirs.
A global contribution
Further to this, some people who support theories of global warming believe that the usage of ground water may actually contribute to global warming, a proposed climatic effect that may also contribute to diminishing the supply of available ground water.
The world’s use of fresh water is now outstripping the rate of its supply. And there are factors brought about through industrialisation and land use that are serving to reduce the suitability of otherwise useable fresh water.
Clearly the world’s populations cannot continue to consume water the way they have been up till now – and it will take more than just a token act of water conservation.
Tuesday, October 12, 2010
Venues: Te Kura (Day 1) and Te Papa Museum of New Zealand (Days 2 and 3)
Wellington, New Zealand
Wellington, New Zealand
I was privileged to attend the AADES Leaders' Forum 2010.
This was a well attended three day event, with speakers from New Zealand and afar. While I attended all three days of the Forum,
I did not attend every session and there were some that were held concurrently. However, I report on all the keynote speeches here.
This was essentially a listeners’ event, though there was a little opportunity for participation from the floor.
Day One consisted of a late afternoon powhiri held at Te Kura.
Marcus Akuhata-Brown was the facilitator for Days Two and Three of the Forum, at Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa. His humility, balanced approach and sense of humour were evident in the elegant way he conducted the programme.
A feature of the Forum was the Māori music and harmony. Each guest speaker was thanked in a traditional way by music and song, a true mark of respect. It is a credit to Mike Hollings that he joined in with every one of those musical occasions (I’m sure he engineered them all) most times accompanying on his guitar. This part was altogether a most memorable, entertaining and cultural contribution to the atmosphere of the Forum.
The Forum began mid-afternoon with the gathering of staff, contributors and visitors and a powhiri in Kauri room, Te Kura, followed by congenial time for refreshment.
Then followed brief welcoming addresses from Mike Hollings, Trish McKelvey and the Chair of ADDES, Bronwyn Stubbs, as well as short speeches from Karen Sewell and Janelle Cameron.
Karen spoke of the future that lay in the education of children. She spoke of the trauma that children suffered during and after the recent Christchurch earthquake, and how Te Kura had stepped in extremely quickly to provide support with this.
She talked of the complex and uncertain future that children will follow. Education must transform, not reform ‘the system’ in order to permit children to navigate intricate pathways. Teachers have a part to play in changing our children’s future.
Janelle spoke of the digital divide – how she was still grappling with the technologies – how the digital age seems to overwhelm many people of her age.
Her metaphor for the happenings in learning today was like “a train going through (a station) and not stopping”.
She referred to the Internet and its use as a teaching tool and to what she called “Bloom’s Pedagogy”, the new “Digital Taxonomy” and their part in teaching today.
Day One closed with drinks and nibbles and a chance to network.
Hekia gave us a National Party view of where teachers are at in 2010. She spoke of them focussing “on teaching rather than learning”
(I think she was referring to their learning rather than the learning of their students). Hekia explained that teachers do not seem to learn from learning, and referenced this to education research.
She referred to the mind/brain as the most important part of the being. Yet kids, all over the world, are still sitting in classrooms being taught by a single teacher using traditional teaching methods.
Hekia specially referred to the 1 in 5 students that were clearly being failed by the system – that schools focussed on crowd control rather than on learning.
Hekia’s description of Ruatoria formed a large part of the manifesto-like speech she delivered. She spoke of her family/ brothers, sisters/ community and what they did when she was a child.
Hekia spoke of the demography of New Zealand and of how many children were uninspired at school.
She spoke of the money New Zealand borrows every year to spend on education and the community. Hekia referred to the 1 in 5 ratio and that for many, the model is not working. Her concern was mainly about what she called “brown students”, and referred to their place in the diverse population that is evolving in New Zealand.
She spoke of professionalism that customises skills to give a service, and that such a service was needed by the 1 in 5 children in New Zealand: those that needed to find a job, for instance – a sector that “deserved all the attention teachers can give”.
Hekia summarised her speech by referring to the triangle of Identity, Community and Education: three important areas that provide the basis for learning in an individual.
Liz examined some of the statistics on Māori success in education from the Starpath project, University of Auckland. Her quote from Niels Bohr, “Nothing exists until it is measured”, summarised her approach.
She also examined some recent government statistics of Level 2 NCEA results, from 2003 to 2008, comparing Māori with non-Māori. Only 40% of Māori learners get to year 13. Less than half of these go on to study at tertiary level. She showed graphs indicating that in percentage achievement and in success rate, Māori learners were substantially behind learners from other ethnic groups.
Liz analysed these results in a number of ways: that 32% of Māori learners in a year 13 group will eventually go on to further study – that 18% of those will have achieved university entrance qualification – that 6% will actually enter university – that 2% will finish the courses with a degree – that 0.4% will go on to doctorate study.
She explained that Starpath, led by The University of Auckland in partnership with the New Zealand Government, is a research project (now in its 6th year) that focuses on the educational outcomes of New Zealand learners who under-achieve at secondary school. Starpath utilises:
- research teams,
- 5 high schools,
- 1 university and 1 technical institute.
Liz spoke of the need for evidential material that schools require in order to make informed decisions – that schools were not getting help with bringing all available useful data/ideas/strategies together and with aligning these so that they could be used to improve learner outcomes.
She explained that schools do collect data on student learning and achievement, but the data is not centrally stored. She asserted that schools do not feel that ownership of this data is important. She stressed that there was a real need for concerted strategies so schools could usefully collate data related to student achievement and use this to accomplish an improvement in learner achievement.
Liz spoke of the Academic Counselling and the Target Setting (ACTS) programme and how they improved final year NCEA completions. The biggest gains were made by Māori and Pasifika students, with 16% more Māori students and 20% more Pasifika students achieving important learning in NCEA Level 1 Numeracy and Literacy.
Liz concluded by warning that gains for Māori learners were lessening - that many schools had a plethora of programmes, 84 in some, based on teacher interest rather than what could benefit the learner. She appealed that this was actually a moral issue that needed attention, by all parties including teachers in order that it be addressed effectively.
Bentham, CEO of Te Wānanga o Aotearoa, gave an overview of the Open Wānanga – a “Māori Higher Learning Tertiary Institution” of 37,000 learners – 40% of those do not have a secondary education.
He put a number of questions:
- What counts as knowledge? What knowledge counts? Who decides?
- What counts as success? What success counts? Who decides?
- What counts as assessment? What assessment counts? Who decides?”
Te Wānanga o Aotearoa is unique:
- kaupapa wānanga
- unique programme-offering delivery
- home based kaitiaki (guardian) supported
- monthly cohort enrolments
- centralised support
- minimised restrictions.
Viv spoke briefly of Big Picture Education Australia (BPEA). She then looked at some learner statistics and other related learner information:
- 14% learners not learning or earning – 50% in some places
- 20% fail to complete year 12 – 50% in some places
- complex social background
- distance education is not immune to the same problems that exist in F2F systems.
She stressed how serious these facts were and that a new model was called for. Viv then put the question that I had asked her at TCS Forum in May this year(!) – basically:
“Can we create a Big Picture Distance Education model?”
Viv then returned to the Big Picture model:
- 1 learner at a time (which is how Te Kura works)
- small by design
- advisory 1 – 15 | 1- 17 |
- Learning Training Internship.
Learners could achieve improved outcomes: engagement – graduation – tertiary learning. She spoke of beginning with network connections – developing a community of practice and commitment to collaborate – building a system of influence: not with critical mass but with critical connections (BPEA and Te Kura).
Jen defined authentic learning in the context of Te Kura, explained the process and outlined some of the approach used – one that focussed on the learner in context. She spoke of how it relies on rich conversation between the Learning Advisor, the learner and whanau.
Jen explained how finding the centre of what interests and impassions a learner was an all important part of that process. It’s then that a start can be made on building relevant programmes around the learner and nurture these with frequent ongoing discussions.
Jen went on to define what constituted a ‘rich conversation’: goal setting – identifying ‘aspirational’ goals – career exploration – interviews and talking with people – job-shadowing – resetting goals. She mentioned the part that Gateway, Star and other programmes can play in the development of this process.
She described the ‘tail of underachievement’ and mentioned the consequential 25% of people aged 15 to 19 years who are unemployed.
Westley is Director of Online Learning, Skoolaborate. He began his delivery by demonstrating an online delivery/facilitation by an avatar in Second Life (SL). Westley then Skyped his friend, Chris, who was the person behind the SL avatar.
Westley spoke briefly of the developments in online learning at MLC School. He spoke of how technology makes the routes to achievement more facile, and not just in learning but also in creating commercially useful objects, such as the Doritos commercial he showed us and that was made for $150 by a teenager using readily available equipment.
He encouraged that we should “try things new” – to “move forward with real action”. He spoke about personalised (online) learning. He spoke of how to get the attention of learners if they have computers in their hands. He spoke of how “knowledge”, and how to use it, takes on a new meaning with the developments in technology, Google and the Internet.
Westley talked about giving people experience in the use of technology – in particular giving young learners safe, ‘unblocked’ experience in technology use. He spoke of the technologies that can change learning, including the development of the e-book such as the Amazon Kindle.
He referred to the improved success by learners using online learning productively with other learning methods compared to those learners who are in the classroom without such technology.
Sandy Dougherty & Nathaniel Louwrens
Sandy and Nathaniel gave a presentation on their experiences in trialling Active Worlds. The study was to evaluate Active Worlds as a learning technology and also its suitability in a distance education setting.
They demonstrated a treasure hunt that had been built in the 3D environment of Active Worlds. Some of what they reported was about their own initial experiences in the 3D environment – some of the seeming ‘chaos’ perceived by people who are new to this technology – which later developed to a successful resolution.
Their intended focus was to be on working with learners collaboratively and how to get learners to work together. The reality was slightly different.
Sandy and Nathaniel found that young learners (years 7 to 10) learnt the technology skills for themselves very quickly, skills that the teachers had taken 2 terms to learn. They also reported that the learners preferred online (txt) chat rather than using the voice chat, though they were comfortable with the teacher using voice chat in instruction.
Sandy was careful to get useful (and fascinating) feedback from her learning group, to which she put a number of questions. Asked how they learnt, Sandy’s students gave a number of interesting answers, among which were ‘playing’ and ‘practicing’.
Asked if they needed a teacher there was met with a resounding, “YES”. The children preferred the teacher speaking to them rather than using the chat box. The common feeling expressed by learners was that the whole learning experience was “awesome!”
About the technology . . . learners felt that though it was a bit clunky, it was like playing a game that was really school. Navigation in commercial games technologies tend to be far more facile in comparison and the 3D renditions are often superior to what they experienced in Active Worlds.
Mike Hollings – Walking in Two Worlds
Mike spoke of the money poured into education and the efforts that are not actually achieving learning. He cited Cisco’s The Learning Society and stressed that the cost of education should be tax-efficient.
A successful education system has to be based on the principle that it is for everyone and must embrace ones personal culture while at the same time supporting innovation. He stressed that there was a need for a huge change in present systems. He cited Phillippe de Woot’s need for societal educational metamorphosis and referred, once again, to Allen Curnow’s Landfall into Unknown Seas:
“Simply by sailing in a new direction
You could enlarge the world.”
Mike spoke of leadership today and the huge diversity of theories that are based largely on western ideas. He asked of leadership, “what could we learn from other wisdom?”
He drew attention to how Māori people spend a lot of time ‘going back’ to their cultural places, communities and the related pursuits. The educational system in New Zealand does not acknowledge this cultural aspect as much as it does that of western cultures in activities such as music, opera, and dance.
Mike gave an overview of some of the wisdom from Māori leadership, and how it focussed on the needs of people and the resources they needed – the understanding of communities and their tribal/cultural boundaries. Māori leadership qualities are not necessarily accepted or respected in the wider community in New Zealand. Mike listed some of the elements of that leadership:
Manākitanga – hospitality
Rangitiratanga – weaving people together
Whanaungatanga – interdependence
Wairuatanga – spirituality
Kaitiakitanga – guardianship
Whakapapa – genealogical connections
Te Reo Rangatira – Māori language
Mike observed that community intellect is at risk when languages are lost. He also spoke of the worth of trust and the value of openness – that for trust to exist, intentions must be clearly understood and patently visible.
Mike summarised the thrust of his speech by saying “we cannot (always) rely on western systems”. He referred to the importance of locality in determining who we are and where we are at in New Zealand. He used lines from the poem Lost, by David Wagoner, to illustrate this:
Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you
Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here,
And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,
Must ask permission to know it and be known.
The forest breathes. Listen. It answers,
I have made this place around you,
If you leave it you may come back again, saying Here.
No two trees are the same to Raven.
No two branches are the same to Wren.
If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you,
You are surely lost. Stand still. The forest knows
Where you are. You must let it find you.
Jen McCutcheon and Viv White
This was a panel session introduced by Marcus Brown where Jen and Viv spoke freely of their vision of the Big Picture.
Jen gave a brief summary of the Big Picture process including some of the best practice used. There then followed a brief session of questions from Marcus and from the floor. Jen and Viv both spoke to the questions that were asked.
Brenda summarised her vision of what she called “visual knowledge” and its place in 2010. She spoke of the need to reduce the barriers that may exist between people and their use of available technology, and also of the need that industry has to learn to manage technology. She posited that teenagers lose trust and respect for people in industry when they see that they do not have skills to use the technology effectively.
Brenda spoke of tacit knowledge, implicit knowledge and cultural knowledge and their use to the people employed in a company. She emphasised the need to have online portals for children to access at any time of the day.
She spoke of the frustrations that an organisation has in finding and in accessing data with technology and that there was a need to have technology built for people, not just for the technologists to use. Its property and function need to be relevant, evidential, contextual, credible and collaborative.
Brenda spoke of two important reports, the Horizon Report and Learning Powered by Technology, and summarised some of the key elements brought out in these. She then spoke further on visual knowledge and explained and demonstrated how 3D (stereoscopic) visualisation could give a better perspective in viewing machines and other structures in context.
Hine introduced herself from her tribal background, then spoke of ako, a pedagogical concept that encompasses both teaching and learning as parts of the same process. She illustrated how ako had been brought out in the Forum with reference to those presenters who had told of their experiences in learning (and teaching) during their presentations, and the stories they told.
She spoke of Māori carvings and tukutuku and how these also have stories to tell. They are different forms of literacies. Hine spoke of her appreciation of landscape but also recognised that there was much there she did not understand.
Hine read the story, Butterflies, by Patricia Grace, depicting ‘difference’ without a need for that difference to be fixed. She went to the heart of this idea by referring to how the grandfather did not correct the teacher, but simply explained where she was at.
She also illustrated how teachers have power and authority to direct ‘values’. She asked,
“What are the values that lie at the core of our (teaching) practice?”
She then talked about the tail of young learners who struggle with their ‘education’, listing the 5 Ds:
Tuesday, September 14, 2010
This year, the New Zealand Ministry of Education displayed a list of terms in a draft instruction sheet for learners of Chemistry.
The proposal is that page 3, labelled for student use, may assist learners to reach the standard and achieve a rudimentary qualification in secondary education (NCEA Level 1).
Learners at this level must have a “comprehensive understanding” of aspects of basic Science. Here’s a sentence from the draft sheet:
A comprehensive understanding means you are able to link ideas to integrate the relevant chemistry through elaborating, justifying, relating, evaluating, comparing and contrasting, or analysing.
The new Bloom’s Taxonomy, a tool for teachers, lists the same and similar terms as in the sentence shown above. It is understood, however, that teachers using Bloom’s taxonomy are either familiar with the meanings of the terms or have the initiative and required education to find out about these for themselves.
Terms like justifying and evaluating are not easy to define clearly, even for some teachers. Most teachers do not draw a clear distinction between the processing skills of contrasting and comparing, say.
Yet these are just a few of the difficult terms that are found in a draft instruction to NCEA Level 1 learners.
As teachers, of course, we must teach/coach/train our learners to be able to recognise the difference between such terms as contrasting and comparing. The learner needs to be introduced to what each of these analysis processes has to offer.
Why do we end up asking kids to get their head round the lingo that teachers may well have difficulty grappling with? I wonder if this intellectuality is really beyond the stage that most NCEA Level 1 learners are at, given that many already have difficulty with literacy at this level.
It seems that responsibility for learning continues to devolve.
It is as if learners are now expected to know the meaning of terms (or at least acknowledge their existence) often before they have the chance to get any real practice in the skills they are the labels for. These are skills that learners may not yet have the developmental ability to permit them to understand.