Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Re-imagining Hornby High School

I recently gave an address to the Hornby Rotary club in which I aimed to update them on happenings at Hornby High School. I realised that I had actually put together a lot of our thinking over the past two terms, and so I thought this was worth sharing with our wider community audience.

We live in exciting times in education, and that is a good thing, contrary to what is supposed to be an ancient Chinese proverb ( I have been able to find no evidence to convince me that it was).

Across the city we are seeing significant Govt investment in the schools network, with several hundreds of millions of dollars being invested in new secondary school facilities. We are also seeing more cooperation than ever before across the secondary network. We are seeing collaboration about everything from enrolments to learning pedagogy (that stuff about how we cause learning).

We are also seeing unprecedented levels of investment in the up-skilling of teachers.


We are living in times of exponential change. Technology is changing at a pace never before experienced in human history. Jobs as we have known them are at the very least changing if not disappearing at a similar rate.

The very meaning of the concept of knowledge is changing. It was once a noun, meaning facts and data. Today it is a 'verb'. That is, the concept of knowledge covers not only the stuff (facts/data) that we need to have in our heads, but also the ability to do something with those facts, that data.

Schools are becoming increasingly aware of the expressed needs of employers who tell us that 'soft skills' are a key factor in determining employability. Employers tell us that if we produce literate and numerate citizens who have the skills to get along with their fellow human beings, who can empathise, collaborate and think, then they will give them many of the technical skills that they need. That statement is certainly open to challenge but you get the idea.

This is driving changes in the way we cause learning, in the pedagogy that we employ in schools.

There is this increasing focus on the ‘soft skills’ that employers are telling us they want - those abilities to collaborate, to empathise, to communicate, to have a set of values to hold fast to.

Schools are always seeking improvements in the levels of engagement of students, and Hornby is no exception. Project Based Learning is well up over the horizon and set to become a normal part of how we engage and motivate learners while developing the knowledge, skills and key competencies that we all need. Enthusiastic staff are planning and trialling approaches that will make this common across the curriculum.

There is a shift to more online learning, although like most schools we hold fast to what we call 'blended learning' where learning is achieved in a wide variety of ways, using a wide variety of tools, and we focus on 'the right tool for the job'. We don't live solely in the digital world.

Hornby High School's participation in Manaiakalani Outreach is yielding growing benefits in improved learning as our learners are empowered with the MKO pedagogy 'Learn Create Share'. Of course to do this learners need to be connected and to have devices. For this reason the recent Spark Foundation announcement of their newest programme Spark Jump, designed to help struggling families 'jump the digital divide', is a huge step forward for New Zealand. Learning any time any where is now available to what has previously been a disenfranchised portion of our society.

This still leaves us with the challenge of how to make sure that every student has a device in her or his hands.

We can increasingly see evidence of the impact of this technology, here for example is commentary from across the fence at Hornby Primary School on the benefits to their children.

Finally we are about to undergo an almost total rebuild of our school. At the heart of the school culturally will be a whare, sitting alongside fantastic new science, technology and visual arts facilities. At the very centre of these facilities will be the creative arts. We believe that creativity is central to what will keep us apart from technology and offer us a future in a world of dramatically different work.

When I first joined the amazing Hornby team I invited my new colleagues to help re-imagine education. Most have taken up the challenge with relish.

Look out for the new Hornby High School, watch the progress and be a part of our re-imagining as we shape education to equip our wonderful Hornby kids for their extraordinary futures.

Nga mihi nui
Robin Sutton

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

'Learn, Create, Share'

In education you often see the word 'pedagogy' used and it's one of those words that can be quite intimidating. It just means 'how we cause learning to happen'.

Now a device is a device is a device, whether it be a Chromebook, or an iPad, or any other tablet of laptop. It's how we use it that matters. Or more appropriately it's how we use it to cause learning that matters.

Hornby High School, and the Uru Manuka cluster of other local schools with which we are in partnership in an educational sense, are a part of the Manaiakalani Outreach programme. This means that we have agreed to use the 'pedagogy' used in the original Manaiakalani schools set up in east Tamaki to help improve student learning.

That 'pedagogy' that is central to this programme is 'learn, create, share'. The technology (or the devices we refer to) is used to help students to learn content knowledge, to create new 'knowledge or product', and to share that with a real audience.

There has been a lot of debate about how much effect devices have on student learning, and there is certainly evidence around to show that if not used effectively devices can have a negative effect on learning. Distraction alone has a huge negative impact on learning.

But similarly there is a growing body of evidence to support the view that if used effectively devices can have a strong positive effect on learning.

'Learning' is improved in many ways. Evidence suggests that students are better engaged with their learning, they have access to a far wider pool of content knowledge, and the technology can be used to 'flip' the learning (where students review content at home, and then do problem based work in class with teachers) or rewind the learning (look at it again) any time they want.

The technology also promotes better writing, and better thinking. There is a  growing body of evidence in the research literature to support this too.

'Creating' is a much easier process with the right technology. Whether it be creation through writing, the production of video clips, or design of structures, the technology makes this process much much easier, shifting the focus to the thinking that lies behind the creation. That is, it allows students to unleash their true creative powers.

Creation doesn't just have to be done digitally though. We should never forget that creation of objects in a technology workshop or an art studio or a science lab is just as much a part of that as it ever was. The difference is that there are now so many more possibilities with access to 3D printers, or CnC cutters, for example.

Then there is the power of the Google suite of applications that allow students to work together (to collaborate), and to build their understanding of new ideas through that collaboration. Tools such as Google Forms and Google Docs (entry level applications these days) have revolutionised what can be achieved in terms of collaboration, and they are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of applications.

I have previously talked about creativity and the idea of 'reimagining' here.

'Sharing' is perhaps more profoundly affected by the technology than anything else. Access to the world wide web means that students (well, anyone actually) can share their creation with the whole world if they choose. Student blogging is becoming more and more a part of that activity every day. The blog itself is an act of creation but more importantly it acts as a simple way to record and share the results of student creativity with whomever students choose.

This sharing is perhaps most powerful when done with family and whanau. It is an amazing experience for a child in Christchurch to get positive comments on some work she has created from whanau in Kaitaia.

Where does this leave us? Access to devices, and to the internet, are both vital to improving our kids' learning. A strength of the Manaiakalani approach is that by agreeing on common devices we are able to work with suppliers to get better prices for those devices, so giving families easier access. By using a common 'pedagogy' students find their transitions from one school to another that much easier. This is important because there is some learning lost for students every time they make a transition (a shift such as from one school to another). By giving students the same approach to their learning we make that transition less of a problem for them, so reducing the amount of learning lost as they shift from (for example) their primary school Year 6 to their intermediate or secondary school Year 7.

There are great things afoot in New Zealand to allow easier access to the internet.  There is also a lot of work going on behind the scenes to give easier access to Chromebooks. Access needs to be easy for everyone.

We have a saying: "It's not about the devices, it's about the learning".

You can read more about Manaiakalani here.

Nga mihi nui
R Sutton