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?

What Great Teachers Do Differently – Part I

The difference between more effective teachers and their less effective colleagues is not what they know. It is what they do (xiii)

41204q11wal-_sx313_bo1204203200_What Great Teacher Do Differently was a super summer read from Todd Whitaker. This blogpost is just a capture of his first 7 main points (the books is subtitled ‘the 14 this that matter most’) and a few thoughts that those chapters provoked.

1.It’s People Not Programmes

Improving teachers or getting better teachers are the best ways to improve a school. People make the biggest difference. But people are all different, and what is effective to one person isn’t going to be effective to someone else. I am a remarkably different teacher to the colleagues that I work most closely with. To pick up a programme or a plan of theirs and take it into my classroom is a mistake. People make the difference: not just myself as a practitioner, but the students in every class are different. No programme can be the solution; people have to be at the centre.

2. Power of Expectations

The start of the year is the chance to set the tone and to frame positive expectations of the behaviour of the students. The book doesn’t mention it but I kept thinking of the ‘don’t smile until Easter’ mantra that some of my colleagues still mention (and possibly even employ). I couldn’t think of a worse way to create expectations than not smiling. That kind of approach leads to setting rules (being responsive to behaviour) rather than expectations framed as positive and welcoming statements.

3. Prevention Versus Revenge

My takeaway from this chapter was the reframing of the toolkit of behaviour management strategies. The point Todd made here was that every teacher has a list of options they may take when a situation arises (eye-contact, send to the Dean, praise another student for the correct behaviour etc.). However, the point is which of the list of strategies always work? Answer: none of them. So what makes an effective teacher is being able to select the right strategy at the right time. Also: never use sarcasm and never yell.

4. High Expectations – for Whom?

Todd points out that high expectations is not a variable between ineffective and effective teachers: all teachers have high expectations for students. However, great teachers have high expectations for themselves. “If the students are not focused, great teachers ask what they themselves can do differently” (34). Sometimes I find myself articulating this idea through asking whose actions are you ultimately responsible for, so therefore whose actions can you actually change?

5. Who is the Variable?

The empowering approach of accepting that you yourself is the one in control can raise teacher efficacy which will trickle down to the students. A focus on self, on responsibility, on how we respond and on what – at the end of the day – we can control will lead to success. I would challenge the binary that Todd suggest here however. I do feel there need to be a balance managed between reflecting on our own actions as teachers and attributing success of lack of successto the actions of students. We need to be cautious about attribution or causation when thinking about pedagogy.

6. Ten Days our of Ten

The challenge for all teachers is not to be positive and upbeat some of the time – it’s to create a positive atmosphere of mutual respect all of the time. Todd explains a number of aspects to this, from arguing that you don’t have to like all your students – you just have to act as if you like them, to the ins and outs of praise: effective praise must be authentic, specific, immediate, clean and private. And finally, you can never have too much nice.

7. The Teacher is the Filter

As teachers, we are responsible for the tone of the class. When we sneeze, the class catches a cold. Our focus becomes the students’ focus. Meetings are an opportunity to make “the teachers more excited about teaching tomorrow than they were today” and lessons a chance to make the “students to be more excited about learning tomorrow than they are today” (57). Filter out the negatives that don’t matter: they don’t do good to anyone. Instead share a positive attitude and watch that spirit become infectious.

uLearn16 – Keynote #4 – Karen Spencer

‘Beyond the echo chamber: The extraordinary possibilities of a networked profession’

Karen will take you on a provocative journey to explore the rapid rise in innovative professional learning. From ‘done to’ staff meetings to collaborative, agile investigations into what’s happening for our learners, the way educators improve and grow has evolved rapidly in recent years. She’ll explore new insights into professional learning, best ways to embrace change, and invite you to think about how we can transform what we do for our learner.

In many ways this was a perfect closing to uLearn16: synthesising the key themes of the conference and drawing together some superb advice for working in praxis. Karen acknowledged poetically the essence of teaching, affirming that getting better at what we do is part of our DNA and that methods matter. She also affirmed that the greatest difference to student achievement is teachers. Teachers’ beliefs are fundamentally important.

The approach that will make the greatest difference to students is self-belief in teachers to collaborate and to be effective

If we are to surround ourselves with only voices that agree with us then we can end up operating in a filter. It’s vital we keep our views being challenged and engage with dialogue with alternative viewpoints. There is no one idea, so we must hold our ideas lightly.

The key note stuck to a central theme of embarking on change. This was fitting, as come the end of the conference with so many ideas boiling at the surface, the how was never more important. The three considerations before embarking on change:

  • Find the urgency
  • See the story behind the data
  • Embrace discomfort


1. Find the Urgency

With so many initiatives and ideas surrounding us, a continual yearn for solutions and constant educational designing; it is hard to have deep meaningful change. So we need to focus on the most urgent area that students need most. Find the urgency. giphy

Go slowly into innovation and take the time to ensure it is deep and meaningful, not a band aid solution. Focus needs to be spent on the things that are urgent. There’s no such thing as small change. The answers are not at the next exit – because it is a fluid process. Look for the alignment between the vision and what is happening for the students.

Pause before you leap into the next innovation…

how-to-hire-a-cfd-consultant-maslow-71405b732. See the Story Behind the Data

Data is one thing, but the story is as important. Listen to your learners. Make it be OK for it to be safe for them to offer us their feedback. Their voice is so important, but it has to be genuine. They have to have the space for their voice to be heard authentically.

3. Embrace Discomfort

Being a modern educator means having our biases being gently exposed. You need the diverse views in order to realise where you are making assumptions. We all see things differently and being open to alternative points of views is fundamental to success across the board in education. Our challenge sometime sis finding ways to hear diverse perspectives.

Naturally there is pressure to conform (last clap) and agree with colleagues. Devil’s advocating and seeking diverse views can help – read a blog you don’t agree with. John Cusack rule:

I have one rule: keep the fear off the set

Five Actions

  1. Compare the school’s vision and curricula
  2. Explore the story behind the data
  3. Walk around all the information
  4. Resist ‘solutionitis’
  5. Agree on the strong signals before you test and trial

The learning we do together is not the extra thing we do on the plate, it is the plate. Education doesn’t change the world. Education changes people and people change the world.


uLearn16 – Assessing Deep Learning

uLearn16 – Assessing Deep Learning

By Margot McKeegan and Derek Wenmoth

Deep Learning is the key focus of an international collaboration led by Michael Fullan, involving clusters and networks of schools working together to build knowledge and practices that develop deep learning and foster whole system change. In this workshop participants will be introduced to the measures being used to evaluate the deep learning in this programme, and experience how these are applied in a practical way to form judgements about the learning that is occurring.

Notes below are a bit sporadic representing the sort of spitfire nature of the session where Derek threw out a lot of provocations. The notes written here are largely responses captured from my own thinking or something contributed from the group attending the workshop. Lots of things to continue unpacking.

Key questions:

  • What is deep learning?
  • How might we measure it?
  • What evidence would we use?

What is deep learning? Collaborative padlet. No one was talking about tests or national standards etc. Connecting this to the learning stories that we’ve experienced. What indicators do we use?

What does deep learning look like? What does it sound like, look like, feel like? When learning is deep it will feel hard and frustrating. The challenge of overcoming something because it is hard is what makes the learning worthwhile. It will involve emotion where the students and the teachers are excited – mutual respect. Zone of proximal development – it stretches people. Challenge for educators thinking about scaffolding the processes so that the learning is accessible. It sounds like students being about to articulate their learning, using their voice.

How is this measured? Consider the models of Bloom’s Taxonomy, SAMR, AsTTle, and SOLO Taxonomy. How do you know if someone is successful? Co-construct the success criteria with the students. Allows deeper learning of ourselves – how has the learning changed you as a learner? The idea of self-empowerment and leadership allowing the learner to become more self-aware and global citizens.

Connection to the movement in the media whereby news stories are about the soundbite or the headline. Do we still value the 6 o’clock news? Is news coverage now surface level, or deep.pedagogies-for-deep-learning

New pedagogies foster deep learning. It has to occur in four dimensions: pedagogical practices, leaning partnerships, learning environments, leveraging digital. Building precision. The focus of most of the workshops discussion was pedagogical practices.

This image on the right is taken from this blogpost which unpacks the new pedagogies for deep learning. The model below gives criteria and indicators that can be used (and were used) to assess a lesson plan:


While it is easy to be critical of something in this context, the challenge is to apply the same critique to our own lesson plans.

If you think you’re already doing it. Ask for a second opinion

uLearn16 – Keynote #2 – John Couch

‘New Dimensions in Learning’

John leads the Education business at Apple – his more than 40 years as a computer scientist and his advocacy for the use of technology in education has revolutionised learning in the classroom. At Apple, our dedication to learning has always been a part of our DNA.

John captured the shift in education – defining it as a movement from education to learning. He reminded us of the ‘memorisation era’ and what has since happened to transform practice. School used to be a place where one could memorise their way through, but this is no longer the case. Education is what people do to you; learning is what you do for yourself.

So… we need to have a vision. A vision clairfies one’s mission. Vision is inspirational; mission is measurable. Why does your school exist. Can you articulate the why? Creativity allows us to think differently and provide environments where a student can be engaged. If the student is engaged, they’re going to learn.

How are we creating a learning environment around technology?  We look at technology as a tool. Digital natives see it as an environment. We used to call it cheating, now we call it collaboration.

All books, learning materials, and assessments should be digital and interactive, tailored to each student and providing feedback in real time – Steve Jobs

Think about Apple Education and their leading example:


Knowledge is…something that emerges from the students’ own curiosity-fueled exploration. – Joshua Davis

wp-1475722668894.jpgPersonalised learning environment works just as well inside and outside the classroom walls. If content is free, whats your value? How do we reframe knowledge and make it purposeful and relevant? The Zone of Proximal Development suggests we need to develop collaboration. The great the knowledge and greater the zone.

So how to reframe education? One framework is Challenge Based Learning (CBL). It has a familiar feel to it (and relates a lot I guess to the design process and PBL) but sets out a strong structure to position knowledge in a process where learning is the driver:

Framework CBL.JPG

John critiqued the tendancy to teach to the middle. He demonstrated this with a couple of graphs that hit close to home. No student is average; any institution that is based on average is doom to fail. Todd Rose talks about this more in his TED talk:

Another way of visualising this is through the work of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi who argues there is a space for optimal learning when challenge and skills are balanced. This argues once again for a personalised learning approach:

Fundamental flaw of the education system is that we still can’t meet all the individual learning needs. But John Couch’s ABC’s could help!

  • Access
  • Build
  • Code


The keynote wasn’t full of anything that was remarkably new or controversial to my thinking and philosophy. However, what it gave me was ammunition. It contain language and examples that will be powerful to use in my journey. The overall message seemed to be that we need to move beyond education and unleash learning. And I am very excited about this.

uLearn16 – Digital Assessment and Quality Assurance

Digital assessment and quality assurance — responding to rapidly changing technology and adapting pedagogy for assessment in the 21st century

By Alan Sorensen

The New Zealand Qualifications Authority’s (NZQA) role is to ensure that New Zealand qualifications are accepted as credible and robust, nationally and internationally, in order to help learners succeed in their chosen endeavours and to contribute to New Zealand society. NZQA is committed to providing the highest quality service to our clients with every interaction, and we’ve been thinking about what kind of organisation we want to be, and where we go next.

A huge relief of a breakout here. The presentation went through a number of changes that NZQA are undertaking in terms of moderation and assessment. The changes demonstrate they understand the movement to

  • 1280px-new_zealand_qualifications_authority_logo-svgModeration plans are now turned over to the school – giving teachers the power to determine what standards they get moderated. Brilliant for responding to the changing ways of our classroom and give the power back to the teacher to seek support where they need it.
  • The movement towards digital evidence seems to be unsupported by the sector at this stage. I’m shocked that only 5% of materials submitted in the last year was digital, but an estimated 50% of assessment work is now digital. Stop printing out the work! Be reasonable secondary teachers!
  • Internal moderation tool to help teachers collaborate online and discuss assessment decisions. Amazing stuff.

So reassuring to hear such exciting news from NZQA. They seem to be on board with new approaches to learning and are listening to the sector. MOE you are next.

Re-Visioning Education – Starting the Year

My start of year programme has always been very subject specific in Media Studies. We’ve close read a short film, introduced key concepts, and explored the idea that a image is a representation of thing, not a thing itself through looking at Magritte. In the last couple of years as my philosophy has changed and matured, I’ve begun looking more and more at the big picture of learning in the opening lessons – but I took this even further this year and the results were fascinating.

I set up the opening periods as a opportunity to re-vision education and critically review our systems and structures. I started my provoking discussion through a couple of texts. First we listened to a section of a Film Analysis with Luke podcast where he took a break from discussion Inglorious Basterds and ranted about his problems with his education. He lamented that he was a disengaged student most of the time because most of what he was learning didn’t matter to him. He argued that pop culture should be taught in schools over classic texts like The Scarlet Letter and Shakespeare. I followed this by introducing Ken Robinson:

Many ideas stuck as students responded to the idea that education had a particular view of the mind that favoured being smart over non-academic skills and abilities. They responded to the way school was critiqued as being suppressing environment where listening to the teacher was the expected behaviour despite the amount of simulation that surrounds every student. They really responded to the question: “why is there an assumption that the most improtant thing kids have in common is how old they are?” Following this we listened to John Green’s TED talk:

He talks about how school didn’t work for him – how it was a set of arbitrary hurdles that had not meaning for him. But he balances this with a insightful discussion about learning communities that exist outside of school and how brilliant learning can be if you connect with a community that is passionate about knowledge. School – in a traditional structure – isn’t the only way we can learn.

After these clips and the discussions which often devolved into tennis balls being hit across the classroom as points were debated with rigor and passion, the students re-visioned school. Their ideas were recorded by each other on this padlet:

Re-visioning Education

The ideas themselves were fascinating to hear, but what was truly striking was the passion and depth of thinking that was conveyed in the discussion about them. Our next step is to start framing our class of 2016 into something that aligns with what they think education should look like. I want to respect their views and do my best to embrace their thinking because I believe there are some suggestions here that are workable and have value.

However, the most significant takeaway from this journey is how powerful equipping students with the power to choose and have a say in their learning. Student agency is just such a beautiful thing.

WellyED: Classrooms Across Wellington – Day 30


Today’s blogpost comes from Newlands College.

GetAttachmentThis year at Newlands College, our teacher Mr Cargill introduced a new initiative to our year thirteen Media Studies course – self-directed learning! This meant that we had the agency to select, construct and manage our own courses and learning activities. We could choose our own standards and work to our individual timelines.

The best thing we found about the self-directed learning was that the course could accommodate the needs and interests of us as individuals and provide opportunities to pursue a wider range of interests than normally possible in the pre-defined Media Studies curriculum. Even those topics that were within the usual school curriculum could be explored in greater depth, and more meaningfully, in self-directed learning with many resources gathered by Mr Cargill and the myriad of resources Online.

GetAttachment-2A few of us learned the hard way, that for self-directed learning to…

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Is Project-Based Learning Actually Effective?

In a morning journey that begun with this small article that asked: “Do the Most Innovative Schools Actually Prepare Students for the Real World?” I ended up looking a few articles discussing Project-Based Learning.

One of the major criticisms, or barriers to the approach – according to this (US context) article – appears to be where it is sandwiched in a learners’ educational journey:

graduates end up in large, public institutions in which they sit in massive lecture halls with several hundred other students as a professor talks from the front of the room…students find themselves overwhelmed by the different environment at college and have a difficult time making the transition to lecture-hall learning.

There is also a feeling that PBL doesn’t offer the full breadth of the curriculum:

Critics of project-based learning say the model doesn’t provide a rigorous enough education or a breadth of knowledge. While students tend to delve deeply into a single topic, many others subjects are not addressed.

It seems that this is a question of values – do we value content more that skills and competencies? Does PBL offer more opportunity to explore the skills and competencies that are relevant in today’s workforce than the content that might help them there?

My personal feelings on PBL is that is works best in a blended model of learning. PBL shouldn’t be the dominate form of instruction, but it should be part of the journey because of the hugely valuable learning opportunities it encourages. It is “contextual, creative, and shared” and it makes the learning meaningful.

Transforming Our Learners’ Experience: Future Focused Learning Design

Karen Melhuish Spencer presented this workshop at a Core Breakfast capturing a compelling argument for why we need to keep moving education forward towards a future focused learning design. The emphasis was not on a specific destination, instead it was about the ever changing education landscape and the need to move with it. Below is a bit of a scatter gun, from quickly jotted down thoughts through to links like Core Education’s 10 Trends, but hopefully it contains a sense of the presentation, and a lot of thoughts I took out of it:

What is ‘Future-Focused Learning’? Why? How? What? … Where to begin?

To capture the language that pervades the idea of future-focused learning, there was a short game of buzzword bingo (zeitgeist bingo)

photo (7)Agency, self-direction, connection, collaborative, co-operative, 21st century, lifelong learning, modern learning environments, confident, self-motivated, beanbags, flipped classroom, 21st century learning, transformation, MOOCs, growth mindset, gaming, anything digital

Lots of language around to describe the process, hard to get a handle on.

PART ONE: WHY? Because of the image of the traditional classroom (which provokes a distinct shudder down my spine). The drivers of the new world is the industries that are adapting, embracing new technologies and developing. Some industries are also fading. What we are preparing students for is shifting. From the Independent: “Firm says it will not longer consider degrees or A-level results when assessing employees” and from Stuff: “Empathy, adaptability key to survival in new-age job market“. We must prepare students for “jobs that don’t exist yet”.

Why change? The need for individual education. We now understand so much about the way students learn and the differences that children present. Like Rosie, the main focus of the BBC piece called “My Autism and Me“.  We have changed the types of conversations we can now have  about learning for young people who bring a whole range of differences. The real transformation comes when we think about systems that remove barriers for learning for all young people. Transformation – does not mean tinkering and improvement; it actually means transformation. It’s a mindset not a destination.

A market economy cannot thrive absent the well being of average people, even in a gilded age

From Jaron Lanier’s, Who Owns the Future. To change we start from the people – identify the strengths and then we challenge the status quo. Key parts of this design:

  • Learner agency is the power to act. Ultimately we are trying to design learning experiences and systems in school where students have the power to act.
  • Global connectedness – we are global citizens – no one sits alone. We are part of a community. The school is part of a network. Schools as part of a cluster/community. Students need to believe they can make a difference. A shifting world that is changing the world around us. Learning is now visible to the world.

PART TWO: HOW? Ways of working is the how: a shared vision, inquiry. It involves a number of key ideas:

  • Learner orientation – designing systems around learners – “whose interests are bring served?” Is it the convenience of the school or the learners. Re-imagine our roles as teachers.
  • Inclusive design – removing barriers to increase opportunities and offer choice. Students who are part of the learning – a collaborative approach. All students have a place at school. How do we help them feel part of the system?

PART THREE: WHAT? Signposts and indicators:

  • 7 Principles of Learning – as also described here.
  • Hattie – another piece of evidence to determine what this might look like.
  • ERO: School Evaluation Indicators 2015 Trial – indicators about what powerful teaching might look like.
  • Networked organisations – distributed expertise, on demand – breakdown the hierarchy – create a cluster on the same level, not waiting for someone else to intervene. Staffing, PL structure all could change.
  • New approaches to assessment – targeted, visible and relevant – UK Report finds exams damaging students’ education experience. (However, on the horizon is national testing ahead for Year 9 and 10).
  • Matt Nicoll – St Andrew’s College – Y11 Science rethinking assessment – his blog is here.
  • Maker Culture – active creation, not passive consumption
  • Innovation and entrepreneurship – fail fast, take risks, take action. How do we innovate? Don’t try and get it right all the time!
  • Learner Analytics – data that is useful and used – harnessing technology. Joining up technology with whanau and communities. Student voice in the data.
  • Digital Convergence – changing roles, anytime access. Let their voice be heard

PART FOUR: Where to begin? There is no compass – there is no there to get to. The mindset is about changing ways of thinking that is highly reflective and considers what was outlined above. When change occurs, fear and the valley of death is inevitable. The key to valley of death is to tell people that it will happen. There are models and methods of change – they are all circles – they all are about reflection and a continued journey, not a destination.

The learners need to have the confidence and the bravery to have a voice be confident and be who they are.