A personal history of education

Oxford conference



Sir Bob Geldolf replaced De Bono at late notice as the keynote and talked about how ‘crap’ teaching must be, and how important it was. Education matters to him, and he’s helped build over ten thousand schools in Africa.

He argued that to be left out of the knowledge economy is to be left behind. Education is liberating. He talked passionately about his personal journey. ‘We are living through a moment that will be discussed in three hundred years’.

He also gave us some much needed perspective on Pisa, and just how well Australia was doing in these international rankings,  a completely different country to the one he began visiting thirty years ago, a country that was willing to try new things.

He was scathing about the economy of greed that led to the GFC, the very opposite of pluralism. ‘What’s the point of economic progress without social progress?’ He said that we thought we were teaching subjects, but we were teaching ethics and values.

“What it means to be human in the modern world” is the real curriculum.

He told us his own story, of his own lack of a positive education experiences. Of growing up without authority figures. He was saved by the whispering music coming out of Radio Luxembourg.  It was riveting.

And, he had his blue rock stars shoes on!



Planning for the Oxford Conference


I blogged about the forthcoming Oxford Conference in Sydney a while ago, but not it’s well and truly coming up and I’ve been thinking more about what to say, and how to get the message across. The key idea is to respond to the Australian Curriculum in English in new and innovative ways. New responses for a new curriculum, that kind of thing.

So, I thought I’d start with an overview of English (real quick) and a link to some of the online curriculum and curriculum resources available, then delve into what teaching (should?) looks like now, and then in to more detail about the kind of (flipped classroom) tools and tips and techniques that might help make that happen. Then, finish with a bit about building your own personal professional learning network online and not relying on school-based old style PD, with an emphasis on Twitter and all that.

Sound reasonable? I like presentations that are specific on tips and strategies I could walk away and try, so that’s the aim. Suggestions welcome! Hope to see you in Sydney. You can learn more about the conference HERE

So, what have I learned?

I’ve certainly been in a number of sessions over the last three days, many of which I’ve blogged about here, but what have I learned?

It’s been refreshing to immerse myself again in the IB world and its vast labyrinthe infrastructure which only becomes (frighteningly) apparent at times like these. It’s been good to catch up with some familiar colleagues, spend some intensive time with a colleague from my own school and meet some interesting new people. I’ve had an invitation to a primary school in Bangalore, seen a new and interesting looking anti-LMS called ‘teamie’ and have had the new iPad Shakespeare app demo’d for me by a super-keen Cambridge University Press man. I’ve taken the subway to Chinatown (*like every other system in the world the ticketing system is better than Melbournes) gone to the top of the tallest (twin) towers in the world and enjoyed performances from a range of talented students who’ve been featured every morning.
And that’s without mentioning any of the sessions at all, including some great keynotes and a session on leadership lessons from Shakespeare’s Henry V that was entertaining and moving and had some good lessons from the leader’s experience of the ‘dark night’. (Interestingly, the sessions I took notes with the stylus using Penultimate haven’t really featured in the blog; I have to type them up again afresh and that seems an effort at the moment.)
I’ve been to some great workshops and some infuriating ones, have put my hand up to contribute only to be ignored for the keener student with the straighter hand at the front (oh yeah, that’s how that feels), have listened to some teachers and leaders who talk about themselves and their school but never their students and seen others who have made it their life work to change the world one conversation at a time.
Taking up my pet topic of technology I’ve been heartened to see more conversations that ‘get it’, and less that talk about how kids ‘only play games and muck-around with computers’ and only a few outright annoying ‘Google is making us all stupid (except me)’ presentations, warm, nostalgic and comforting to much of the audience as they are, like a nice cup of Ovaltime in your pyjamas in front of the fire.
There are problems with the IB; it’s huge Gormenghastian indifference, the transitional moments, the elitism, the dotpointing and the bureaucracy it serves, creates and fosters.  But, at the heart of it, there’s also some compelling learning that’s possible within the structure, and some passionate people working in it.
I fly home tomorrow, with only four days of the term left until Easter, and then back up this way to Vietnam for a holiday. I’ve been there before and was entranced. I hope to have some new learning there too.
Above and below: some images from a short time in Kuala Lumpur. Photos: Warrick. Below: Green view from the 22nd Floor
Below: Dr Paula Barrett talking about the importance of preventative work in mental health.
Below: Cooling down in Chinatown.
Below: View from the Two Towers
Below: Conference essentials.

The IB Five Year Review: what’s new

We’re doing an IB Five Year Review this year (though it’s not called that now) so I thought I should go to this session on  what’s involved, and what’s changed, presented by Stephen Keegan, who did a great job, given the nature of this presentation and its emphasis on governance and regulations.
Some of the changes to the process include:
  • Centralised documentation
  • Emphasis on ongoing development through the school’s action plan
  • More detailed explanation of the self-study process
  • More focused questions under each standard
  • Specific PD requirements to complete during the period.
There are 76 practices listed for schools to cover and they emphasised that they’d thrown the review back on schools, ‘you are evaluating yourself, dynamically, over the full five years’. They argued that the self-study should take around a year and that there is room for celebration as well.
The action plan lists objectives, actions, dates, whose responsible, budgetary implications and evidence. He suggested by starting with every practice as an objective, then starting from there. Not all need to be addressed in detail. Philosophy etc. might already have been dealt with, but Curriculum might need more attention. Lots of things are uploaded, especially policies.
There needs to be Professional Development plan, a curriculum review cycle. New requirements here come into play in January 2014.It isn’t necessary to upload evidence in the form of certificates to prove staff went to the PD. Also, only one teacher in each subject (eg Language B) needs to attend the PD; they argued for a reasonable and common-sense approach.
Next year the PD requirements will be stricter with a real emphasis on new teachers coming into a school having access to IB PD.
There was some discussion about gathering evidence,who does it, and what it looks like. Student surveys should be done, he argued. Parent might also be involved, either with a survey or forum. Existing school documentation should be emphasised. Only the overview is submitted to the IBO now. This is an area where providing some more information about the nature of the school might be useful, especially if one review looks very different to the others. The course outline required is a course outline – “it doesn’t need to be Atlas Rubicon up in lights” on registration ,but there is a lot of interpretation around the require, not for “comprehensive” curriculum. They argued that some sample curriculum would help: a unit plan from maths, some formative assessment from History etc. they also suggested that passwords into systems like Atlas would be fine. Also, if you say you exceed the practice, then you should provide evidence.
On another matter: first time I’ve seen PREZI used as a presentation tool too; nice transitions, but a big bunch of text on a slide isn’t really anything radically different from PowerPoint really and it was too small to read from the back of the room, even with my new 1.5 magnifiers!

Where is the IB heading?

I thought I should take the opportunity to acquaint myself with current IB strategic directions and how the organisation saw itself, so I got into a session at IBAC2013 on this topic Here’s what I found out:

Where is the IB heading?
The IB is three years into a five year strategy, looking ahead to new directions especially regarding digital technologies. We were given a break-down of the kinds of new directions that the IB is looking at currently. I haven’t included notes here on the MYP or PYP programs specifically.
IB Alumni Network
The IB now has nearly 30000 students in an Alumni Network, helping with university recognition and research participation.
myIB – Promoting IB Success
A promotion to personalise the impact of IB for personal stories
World Student Conferences
Global learning opportunities to bring students together. In 2012, 561 students from 49 countries attended a conference in Segovia, Spain. There will be four more in 2013: Hong Kong, Canada and in the UK. (more at www.ibo.org/wsc)
MyIB Digital Toolkit for IB World Schools
Advertising and communication tools to inform (and persuade) parents and students
IB Continuum
More linking of the program contexts
Revised IB Learner Profile
Will stay as 10 attributes with revised descriptors and clarifying relation to international mindedness.
Approaches to teaching and learning across DP
Trying to make the Diploma teaching more focus and coherent, featuring best-practice pedagogy. New Global Politics subject.
Online diploma courses for students
Over 1000 students, 260 schools already involved, expected to double. The idea of ‘open world schools’ for external students
IB Career Related Certificate (IBCC)
A new program providing multiple pathways
University Performance
Increasing data showing higher results, completion etc in university for IB graduates.
Moving from paper to digital. May 2013, 97% of scripts e-marked, with quality assurance through pre-marked random ‘seeding’.
Photo: Twin towers at night by Warrick

New thinking and learning opportunities


I have begun to come together for the ‘New Thinking and Learning Opportunities’ Conference, coming up in Sydney in May. Organised by Oxford Education I’m excited to be presenting on using new technologies in the teaching of English in the Australian Curriculum.

Of course Edward Do Bono is the main attraction! I joked with someone at school that I was presenting with De Bono and he said, ‘What, are you one of the hats?’. I said, ‘Yes, the yellow one.’

The conference details say:

The Australian Curriculum is a profound educational reform. It represents a singular opportunity to improve teaching and learning outcomes, and Oxford University Press is delighted to host this event, designed to support the New South Wales educational community in realising implementation from 2014.

My session says:

The Australian Curriculum: English offers both challenges and opportunities for teachers. In this session, Warrick will explore approaches and tools to support English teachers in implementing the Australian Curriculum in the secondary classroom, including iPad and iPhone resources to support critical thinking, reflection and collaboration, as well as supporting teachers in giving students targeted feedback.

The program for the day is here. The full conference brochure is here

Back into it! (goodbye summer)

Well, the first full timetable cycle is over and schools is well and truly back. It’s always a challenge coming back after the long summer break and, in Australia, the return to school time often coincides with the hottest part of the summer and not the ideal environment to begin working with eager young minds.

This year, the dry heat has stayed away but it’s been sticky and unusually humid in Melbourne; hot, overcast afternoons getting stickier and stickier until it breaks into loud thunderstorms and tropical-like rain for an hour or so. All very odd! And it might explain that teachers and students looked a bit tired after that first cycle, getting out of the holiday routine and back into a timetabled structure that includes lots of new interactions. I was thinking about the Year 7 students especially, coming out of primary school into a new school and multiple new relationships with teachers and students. Tiring stuff, though, ironically, they seem to have the most energy of all. I’ve begun to know my new Year 12 class, and we’ve had some good discussions, but we haven’t really ‘bonded’ yet. I don’t know them well enough and they’re still mostly treading warily, not wanting to make too many mistakes too early in the year.

Teaching’s an odd profession. I speak to lots of people during the day, students and teachers. So many that, when I first get home, I often want some quiet time, a ride on the bike, or a walk down to the river, or a good read of the paper. But funnily enough, one of the most positive things for me in the first fortnight was getting together again with a network of teachers who meet two or three times a term for breakfast and to discuss and reflect on the craft and art of teaching. I never like getting up early, but this meeting is always worth it. I came back to work from that breakfast meeting, all energised, and ready to leave the summer behind.

Top: Mornington Beach, January 2011, Photo: Warrick

Just the facts Ma’am

I went looking for a picture of the Blues Brothers because I thought that the old ‘just the facts, ma’am’ quote came from them, but I found that the quote actually came originally from a much earlier TV series called Dragnet, which I vaguely remember from the black and white TV past, and which the Blues Brothers were clearly parodying. (hence pic above)

And what inspired this rash burst of reckless Googling? The Guardian article TODAY which reported new UK Schools Minister Nick Gibb lamenting that students were leaving school not knowing enough facts. And gave the startling example that some UK students were leaving school not knowing who Miss Havisham was!

Now, before I go on, I submit this brief multiple choice exercise, which you may choose to ignore. Miss Havisham was:

  1. The real name of Queen Victoria
  2. The maiden name of the wife of UK Schools Minister Nick Gibb
  3. A fictional character created by Charles Dickens
  4. The tall one of the Spice Girls.

If you followed multiple choice logic that stipulates ‘when in doubt, always choose C’ you’d be right. Below is Sian Phillips playing Miss Havisham.

But is this an important fact that all students should leave school knowing? I wonder. According to the article:

Today’s schoolchildren lack basic facts, such as who Miss Havisham is or who was in charge at the battle of Waterloo, the schools minister, Nick Gibb, said today.

“Knowledge is a basic building block for a successful life” and children need a grasp of the facts to master subjects such as science, maths, English and history, said Gibb. Instead, the education system is downplaying knowledge and concentrating on teaching “skills”.

He told a Reform conference in London: “Getting to grips with the basics – of elements, of metals, of halogens, of acids, of what happens when hydrogen and oxygen come together, of photosynthesis, of cells – is difficult. But once learned, you have the ability to comprehend some of the great advances in genetics, physics and other scientific fields that are revolutionising our lives.”

Gibb extended this argument to history, geography and English literature.

“The facts, dates and narrative of our history in fact join us all together. The rich language of Shakespeare should be the common property of us all. The great figures of literature that still populate the conversations of all those who regard themselves as well-educated should be known to all.

“Yet to more and more people, Miss Havisham is a stranger – and even the most basic history and geography a mystery.

“These concepts must be taught. And they must be taught to everyone. Sadly, that is not always the case.”

I’ve had this discussion with a number of teachers over the years; often as they’ve come to me frustrated that this generation doesn’t seem to ‘know’ anything. That they don’t know basic ‘facts’ and that it was our job to teach them those facts.

All laudable stuff, and I couldn’t agree more about our responsibility to our students, but what facts?

As soon as you enter that part of the conversation it gets trickier and pricklier. In the not-so-recent past Geography students had to memorise the names of the rivers of south-eastern Australia and I seemed to spend much of my time in primary school drawing the routes of the early explorers into the blank outline maps of Australia they provided. Recent governments have played around with Verse 2 of ‘Advance Australia Fair’ and the tale of Simpson and his donkey as ‘essential facts’. Are they? The trouble is everyone has a different list of the essential facts: the works of Shakespeare, Bible stories, the table of chemical elements, what’s a triangle, the names of the great artists or the essential elements of the internal combustion engine. Write down your essentials and put it next to another teachers, and they don’t match.

Maybe, just maybe, it might be better to look again at skills, at how students can learn to learn, can become inquiring and interested and questioning about the world and know the tools, strategies and skills to find out what they need to know? I’m all in favour of the grand narratives that drive the imagination and I’m not against facts. They can be important too, but the facts that are important to me, may not be the ones you need.

“C” for (Australian) Curriculum

From the AGE today a top Victorian educational bureaucrat grades the draft Australian Curriculum as ‘C’ standard. Mind you, that would be totally acceptable by VIctorian VELS standards.

Interestingly, David Howes’s main criticism was couched in terms of curriculum over-crowding and increasing expectations about what schools should have to teach. I liked the comment that Howes keeps a list of all the things he sees in politics and the media that are pushed into schools, from road safety to table manners, from reading a Rip to reading food labelling. My crtiticism of the Australian Curriculum has been differently focused (lack of local control = lack of relevance to specific cohorts) but I take the point about overcrowding. The piece says:

A VICTORIAN education chief has graded the draft national curriculum a ”C”, in a blunt assessment of the way schools will have to teach from next year.

In a critical appraisal, David Howes, general manager of curriculum at the Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority, warned of the risk of ”overcrowding” in the national curriculum, saying there were already increasing expectations of what schools should teach.

A recent example was of a school in Melbourne’s east whose year 9 students were learning table manners at a local TAFE, after the principal decided they had no idea how to conduct themselves at the table during a school camp.

The national curriculum, to be introduced from next year, will require indigenous perspectives, Australia’s engagement with Asia and a commitment to sustainable living to be part of every subject.

Mr Howes warned this risked overcrowding the curriculum.

”The way in which this is being designed and included in the curriculum is not a helpful one,” he told a seminar on Asian perspectives last week.

He said rather than singling out Australia’s engagement with Asia, the curriculum should talk about ”global competence”, which would mean important regions such as the Middle East were not forgotten.

He told the seminar he kept a list of all the times someone had said: ”Schools have to …”

Premier John Brumby had said there was not enough respect and school should teach it, Mr Howes said.

Many schools were running sessions on responsible pet care, following an RSPCA campaign, he said.

And there had been claims children had drowned because schools didn’t teach them how to read where rips were.

”Time is not an elastic phenomenon – we need to get consensus on what schools should be teaching,” Mr Howes said. ”Schools cannot do the lot.”

Waleed Aly on National Curriculum

I said in the previous post that I was having trouble figuring out Aly’s take on National Curriculum in the latest issue of The Monthly.

Some of the key points seem to be:

“(Curriculum) … is a form of political activism.”  [National Curriculum, like Texas curriculum on evolution, is political]


“…Perhaps I never got a decent education in Australian history – but it is abundantly clear that the failures of our education system have occupied a significant place in this country’s culture wars in the past decade or so” –

DISAGREE –  The ‘failures’ of our education system are ‘alleged’ and also political.

“Is this the Rudd government finally putting its stamp on the country, Education Revolution and all? Well, sort of. Certainly, the idea of a national curriculum, displacing the various state-determined curricula that currently prevail, sounds suitably muscular and revolutionary. It has the resonance of ‘getting serious’, of ‘raising standards’ – of whipping our kids into shape. But only very modest changes have been made to the maths and science curriculum we presently have, and these changes will actually make the materials less dense, with an increased focus on statistics and probability. The biggest change is history – which will now actually be taught in its own right – but even here, the revolution is incomplete. And who, exactly, is going to teach it? “

UNSURE. Most experts I’ve talked to who’ve looked closely at the drafts so far have seen them as regressive. Aly seems to be arguing for DENSE curriculum (think stand-alone history rather than soft and fluffy SOSE) but the curriculum drafts seem content heavy and old-fashioned.

“You could be forgiven for assuming Australian students have become an embarrassment when it comes to literacy and numeracy. Nobody seemed to listen when Peter Freebody, the lead writer of the English syllabus, said that “Australians are more literate now than they were when grammar was taught intensively, but in isolation from language use and literary studies.” Freebody’s point was that “the basics” are no panacea, and have to be combined with a study of literature. But Gillard chose to stand before the media scrum, spelling – “c-a-t, cat” “

AGREE – See previous post.

Aly  goes on to argue that Rudd seems intent on being both Asian-centred and progressive, as well as tougher on teachers and asylum seekers than Howard.

However, I was surprised to find that the whole piece is online and you can try to figure it out yourself HERE.