uLearn – Abdul Chohan

Keynote #3 – Changing belief: Apple technology in the classroom

Abdul’s storytelling approach to his keynote made him a joy to listen to. From the challenge of the laptop trolley to the tale of the photo he found of a innovative learning environment, he could certainly spin a yarn. From his time at Essa Academy and the Olive Tree Education Trust (see Olive Tree Free School) in the UK, his intent is to see mobile technology to support student learning.

James Hopkins captures this keynote in incredible detail in this blogpost. In reading this summary, the weight of the keynote became truly clear. Some parts that I at first dismissed as an Apple advertisement became clearer as an inspirational story of educational change.

An underpinning idea was the difference between behaviour and belief. To create change we need to focus on changing beliefs and the behaviour will follow. This resonated with me as it rung true of feedback we get internally from our Professional Learning structures. Some teachers talk of wanting tools and things they can try in the classroom: “good PD is when you can take something away and try it out in the next lesson”. Abdul’s affirms that the focus is right, on the thinking behind the tools and the strategies. The belief will lead the behaviour. Admittedly there needs to be a balance but this was reassuring.

Abdul unpacked the mentality of ‘we’ve always done it that way’ – calling the phrase the six most dangerous words in education. I would challenge that and suggest that ‘we already do it like that’ worthy of more concern. Resistance to change is one thing, thinking that change has occurred when it really hasn’t is another.

Takeaways and Observations

  • ‘Believe You Can’ – the motto of Olive Tree. The motif of belief came all through Abdul’s keynote; this philosophy must have a strong connection to the success his students have experienced.
  • Are we translating or transforming? While it can be limiting to think in binaries, this is a provocative reflective question.
  • Digital quotient – build your DQ, not your IQ. 
  • Teachers are the best app for students.


uLearn17 – Brad Waid

Keynote #2 – Engaging the “globally” connected student of today

Technology is changing – but not for the first time:

The key questions posed by Brad, as collected by Jo Robson in this blogpost were:

What are kids learning? Where are they learning? What is our role? Are we changing? How are we connecting with our 21st century learners? What is happening when the students leave the classroom? What are they sharing? Would they share what we are teaching? The role of educators is changing, yet have and are we actually changing?

Brad enthusiastic shared futurist visionary videos and personal anecdotes. He suggested a framework to help change the world, to make a difference to young students in education: RULE(e)

  • Relationships – a key driven behind learning (like here)
  • Understanding – what unites us is stronger than what divides us (like here)
  • Learning – fail…fail…fail…success (felt Karen
  • Environment – flexibility is key
  • (e)xpression – SHARE!

Several videos were shown through the presentation and there was a clear futurist lean to them. While the below wasn’t the video shown – it certainly does help capture current socialnomics trends:

Takeaways and Observations

  • Like Eric Mazur, a key theme that emerged was that the learning relationship is more important than the tool. 
  • We can leverage the technology for some really great outcomes – one example was Pokemon Go and the way that it go people active and outside. 
  • Comparison has been drawn with Kevin Honeycutt‘s keynote. I went back into my archives and found some of the gems I recorded in 2012:
    • “It’s a beautiful time to be a human being. Anything is possible”
    • “Even good kids will do stupid things if no one is watching: They need us on our digital playground”
    • “A student that asks ‘why do I need to know this?’ is asking a legitimate question!”
    • “How can we make it OK to invent? Do we have a culture that can sustain invention?”
    • “If we all we are doing it to prepare students to pass tests then what is the point? We are just building middle managers.”

uLearn17 – Eric Mazur

Keynote #1 – Innovating education to educate innovators

Eric Mazur keynote (collaborative notes) was a story that captured his journey from being under the illusion that he was the best Physics lecturer to someone that reformed his approach to teaching.


As a Physics lecturer at Harvard, Eric was repeating the teaching style that he had experienced as a student. Transmitting knowledge by lecturing to the class. He told humourous stories of approaching teaching with a textbook such as finding a textbook that was out of print so the students couldn’t just teach themselves from their own copy. If you have the same textbook as the students, what do you teach them? If you are just going to hand out the lecture notes at the end of the class, what was the point of the class?


Learning, he proposed, is a two step process:

  1. Transfer of information
  2. Assimilation of that information

For example, the keynote transferred information, and the dialogue I had with colleagues after the presentation and the writing of this blogpost is an opportunity to assimilate that information. The assimilation is the hard part, but it’s the part that gets the least attention. How can we shift our pedagogy to focus more on assimilation. The curse of knowledge is that once you understand something it’s hard to remember the difficulty of learning it. His framework is displayed on the right. It is explained fully in this blog.  The learning takes place in the discussion phase.

At times I found myself wandering into a cynical state of mind listening to these ideas. I was listening for innovation, but all I heard was the learning process being broken down into a simple understandable formula. These moments were quickly challenged by reflection on my own classroom as I realise how little assimilation space I’m providing. Eric’s ideas seems simple because they should be. However, the default is transmission, and too often do I revert back to this. I feel very enlivened by Eric’s ideas and also confident that this is going to make a big impact on my practice.

Takeaways and Observations

  • If you are explaining something on the board – you aren’t engaging with your students. Face them.
  • Relationships again affirmed. Emotional engagement in the learning another key theme.
  • Mentimeter is a tool to help facilitate the framework; perusall is the platform Eric suggested.
  • How much are students dependent on a correct answer for emotional investment in a question? How do open ended questions fit in the framework? And most importantly: what skills do students need to be able to actively engage in this way?

Peer Tutoring

This year as the Year 13 Dean, I’ve accidentally stumbled into the Peer Tutoring programme. Due to staffing for our weekly wa ako – learning to learn – periods, I’ve ended up running sessions on how to be a peer tutor. While some useful things were covered (how to build a relationship with a younger peer, questioning strategies, and some learning theories) I still feel like I didn’t capitalise on this opportunity, and I wonder how well the school is capitalising on this programme. So I turned to the literature.

nzcer_peer20tutoring_cvrJesse’s Pirini‘s book Peer Tutoring: A Training and Facilitation Guide offered some insight into some of the areas to think about when evaluating the peer tutoring that is already happening at the school. The conclusion of his book brought together the research and claimed the following as the most important in successful peer tutoring:

  • Strong, meaningful relationships between educators and students
  • promoting student agency through helping students to explore their thinking
  • setting goals by imagining a better future and then considering present obstacles
  • improving metacognitive competencies through peer interaction (73).

These four areas are reinforced by literature and provide a framework for supporting peer tutors. One of the cautions of approaching peer tutoring without a framework is it will be done the way people assume it should be done. “Often, this ‘natural’ approach reinforces an instrumental test and exam focus” (72). The shift is to make our tutors focus on the learning.

For this they need strong relationships and effective strategies. It was heartening to read about the reinforcement of relationships as the backbone to learning: “higher level thinking relies on basic emotional needs having already been met…A strong tutoring relationship underpins successful tutoring” (7). Pirini also drew on the idea of a tutoring toolbox – a collection of strategies to support student learning. The toolbox contain strategies such as:

  • Demonstrate a process of exercise
  • Give the student a task to do
  • Identify a specific problem
  • Determine an initial course of action
  • Contextualise a specific task within a bigger picture
  • Describe a basic process
  • Ask a deep explanatory question
  • Assess prior knowledge
  • Give specific descriptive framework

These strategies might naturally occur in a classroom, but there’s a danger of assuming that tutors will have picked up on this.

One of the shifts I reflected on from reading the book was making the programme student centred. A case study examined in the book puts forward the idea of a senior student leadership team who administer the programme by matching students and running the publicity. The other shift for me was the importance of training that is robust and ongoing in order for a tutoring programme to be successful. It’s too dangerous to assume, and it’s too easy to miss the learning opportunity here. My hope is we can use some of the book’s ideas to support some developments on what is already a solid foundation.

Big Lessons from Little Things – Marc Wilson

This Victoria University alumni lecture from Marc Wilson caught my attention for it’s focus on adolescent well-being. This was a VUW inaugural lecture – a previous one I’ve attended from Victoria Green on bullying is reflected on here. I came away with a lot to reflect on – why I didn’t take psychology at University, and a range of information that I believe relates to teaching.

Wilson’s sprawling lecture began by working through the usual suspects of social psychology, which offered both a historic perspective on the learning area and an introduction to the types of the authoritarian (bad people do bad things), the new authoritarian (submit to authority or you should be punished), the machiavellian (unemotional and detached), the social dominant (hierarchy, structures, developed to maintain social dominance orientation) and the psychopath (limited empathy: primary – no fear of authority or punishment; secondary – impulsive [prisons largely full of secondary psychopaths]).  He made connections between personality types and attitudes towards vegetarianism noting the new authoritarian and the social dominant eat more meat and predominantly vote right wing. He made connections with prejudice, sexism and discrimination.

The point this came to was the importance of emotion. As people become older, they have less emotional recognition. Your social dominant orientation (SDO) can be used to predict your social and political attitudes, therefore: what is the role of educators in teaching empathy and emotional intelligence?

This is where Wilson connected his study of adolescent wellbeing, which has focused on self-harm. He asked: “why would people hurt themselves?” The EAM (below) helps to explain this, but the concerning part that Wilson expressed was how some youth find that self-harm works.


EAM source

Importantly, the study showed conclusively that teachers’ concerns that surveying students, or raising self-harm does not have a negative impact – self harming activity does not increase from talking about it.

Various findings from Wilson’s research were summarised – the sprawling nature of the work makes it difficult to summarise. The Youth Wellbeing Study site offers a brilliant hub of the research and the outcomes including some really lovely work with different media forms like graphic novels. I was left thinking about the important of more guidance education for teachers around this area. Teachers are the front line of these issues, perhaps even more so that parents because we are nearby for a lot of their in person peer-to-peer interaction. How informed are teachers about the latest thinking in this area? How capable are we of recognising a student in need? And do we understanding self-harm and suicide enough in order to have appropriate conversations around this which aren’t stigma-enforcing or harmful? The heart of the lecture was the importance of emotion – something we could all do with better understanding of.

eFellows17 – Hui #3

The CORE Education Dr Vince Ham eFellowship programme continued a couple of weeks ago with the third hui of 2017. I’m privileged to be one of seven teachers on this year long journey that will see us challenged and inspired as we all take on individual inquiries that will be presented at uLearn17. 2018 eFellowship applications are now open! Continuing the trend from my second hui and first hui summary, I’ll capture the journey with three ideas and three questions.


1. Kaurilands and Koru School

The opportunity to undertake school visits continues to be one of the most heart warming parts of this journey. We visited Kaurilands School and Koru School with Jo Robson, who has been supporting their development. Both are at various stages of implementing Innovate Learning Environments. Both came from strong passionate leadership and in both cases it was a real privilege to see the environments in action. I’ve seen Cashmere Ave School‘s ILE in action and was inspired by the attitudes to learning that this approach to agency encourages. In fact there is still learning from that trip I am still trying to implement into my practice. The main focus here was the shift and change process. This is where the themes of a shared vision, collaboration and communal values were so strong between the schools. The main takeaway for me was the importance of leading with the needs of your learners.

2. Agency Ladder

School ladder

Arnstein’s ladder of participation (adapted on the right by Adam Fletcher) was raised a couple of times over the hui. If “the pinnacle experience for children in organizational decision-making [is] to initiate action and share decision-making with adults” then is becomes vital to create inclusive environments. Can genuine agency be achieved without equity? This appears to be a superb model to have on hand. Very adaptable.

3. Vulnerability

‘The Power of Vulnerability’ is a TED talk I remember seeing many years ago. Brené Brown raises some powerful ideas in here, not only an insight into humanity but also into the research process.



1. Thriving Schools

The highlight of the hui was the chance to connect with John Fenaughty, who has blazed a trail for sexuality and gender inclusive pedagogy. It was a honour to talk through my research with him, discuss the connections with his work and evaluate the state of NZ schools and their approach to gender and sexuality diversity. In a broad ranging chat I left pondering what does it take for a school to shift from coping with sexuality and gender diversity to thriving with sexuality and gender diversity?

2. Race and Gender

In the first eFellow hui, Alex Hotere-Barnes introduced me to the concept of “Pākehā paralysis” and in doing so really unlocked something in my thinking around this issue. My research has since stumbled across a different type of paralysis, a fear of action around issues of gender and sexuality. This has led me down a rabbit hole of thinking and discussion in trying to understand this more and this journey has stumbled across the concept of diversity inertia. I wonder how issues of gender and sexuality are connected to issues of race? Each area has very different and complex histories, but both contain themes of invisibility and marginalisation. How might there be a connection between the fear that teachers are experiencing and pākehā paralysis?

3. Student Voice

My research will soon seek to gather student voice from some consenting members of the classes taught by the teachers I am working with. At the beginning of the process I insisted that student voice much exist in this process and I still stand by this. However, I’m now re-evaluating this stance and trying to answer the question “what for?” I was reminded by this powerful post from Richard Wells where he examines putting the word “genuine” in front of “student-centred learning”. Is there a difference between student voice and genuine student voice? Am I seeking student voice in order to affirm what I already know? How can I gather their voice objectively if I have conclusions already in mind?

Some of this relates to the scope of my research and I can make changes accordingly, but the wider question lingers for me: when we make claims of collecting or using “student voice” to what end is it actually authentic?

Digital Vs Human – Richard Watson

9781925321173My previous holiday read ‘Mobile Learning Through Digital Media Literacy‘ was a strong advocate for the integration of digitally based learning through careful application of several key principals. This book, “Digital Vs Human” by Richard Watson, is a far more cautionary tale. Watson is a futurist (interviewed here on Radio NZ) who was mentioned and recommended by Derek Wenmoth in his presentation on future trends.

The main them of the book was around the impact of automation and digitalisation: “How new technologies change the was that humans relate to one another, and ultimately, how technologies change human identity and purpose” (172). However, Watson is clear, boldly announcing in his preface “the problem we currently face is not technology, it’s humans” (xv). He encourages us to take control of the changes going on, to ask questions about purpose and impact, and evaluate ethically any technological change.

He considers the impacts of technology change on jobs, the economy and privacy, identifying that an “imbalance has emerged between work and life…individuals and community …liberty and equality…economy and the environment…physical and mental health” (16). The imbalance is leading to loss of connections and isolation of individuals. Watson implores us to stay in the driving seat, keeping creativity and empathy at the fore. Instead of blindly accepting new technology as progress, we need to ask what is it for? Who does it serve? Watson also considers the development of AI in depth. Where is the line between human and non-human? To what extent will humans “be happy to use machines in place of people and in what roles? Is there an obvious limit?” (58).

A chapter is devoted to education, but strung throughout the book is a challenge to rethink the relationship between technology and education. We live in an era “where our opinions are increasingly based on very little knowledge” where “knowledge of the fact a thing exists or is happening” is more important than knowledge itself (153). Are we over-schooling and under-educating? Are devices conditioning young minds “away from deep reflective thought”? (157). Is our tiered education system skewing our outcomes through the favouring of wealth and social status?

I think the issues discussed pre-date our current era; however, they have been exacerbated by technological change. The underlying issue, which he tackles, is the emphasis on learning to pass, or short-term knowledge. He promotes education through portfolio and people. Watson is particularly cynical about MOOCs and CoOLs which contradicts the research that people and relationships are what make the biggest difference to learning.

The final chapter of the book contains some ideas to address the themes in the book:

  • “consider the physical and digital domains as one” (240)
  • “challenge the myth that the intelligence of a large number of people online can exceed that of a single individual” (241)
  • “individuals should be granted the legal right to be forgotten…this might encourage more experimentation and act as a counterweight to conformism” (242)
  • “we must be vigilant against the threat of human extinction” (243)

Earlier in the book Watson suggests only when things are rock bottom, does humanity really truly reflect: “the threat of impeding death or disaster does focus the long lens of perspective” (93). I think the biggest takeaway from the book is the need to promote this wider perspective more often to have more ethical conversations about the progress society is making. The last six words of the book are a great question to start with:

Who do we want to be?

Watson, Richard (2016) Digital Vs Human: How We’ll Live, Love and Think in the Future. Scribe Publications: Croyden.