Turning the Page

Only when you turn the page do you find out what happens next.

At the end of the year I will be leaving The Geelong College and finishing my role as Director of Teaching and Learning and also as Director of our Centre for Learning, Research and Innovation.

Goodbyes are particularly hard when you have grown to love what you are leaving. I will miss the staff, the students and the families that I have worked with so closely over the past five years. It has been an honour to work alongside some of the most dedicated and impressive teachers I have ever come across. I’ve learned so much during my time at the College, and so many people have been a big part of that. The encouragement, support and guidance of those in the community have allowed us to create a unique culture of camaraderie; one that I hope will continue for many years to come.

I am excited to announce that in 2019 I will be starting a new role as Deputy Principal at Mentone Grammar.

New adventures await.

But before they do, I will be sharing and celebrating stories here over the next three months. Stories about the inspirational people, programs and approaches that make The Geelong College such a special place.

How Do We Create A Good Tomorrow?

Angelo Patri wrote in 1917,

“The school must be enriched so that the child can experiment with actual things from the very first day of school. Playrooms and games, animals and plants, wood and nails must take their place side by side with books and words. Be it remembered, however, that a shop, a studio, a playroom, may become as formal, as dead, as antiquated, as rigid as any phase of the present book school, if these activities are developed by rule and applied to all children regardless of tastes or tendencies, in accordance with a fixed time schedule that has neither elbow room or leisure. The substitution for direct experiences for indirect ones leads nowhere. I wanted nature that would make the child’s heart warm with sympathy, that would make the child dig and plant and be glad of the earths smells, that would make him laugh to feel the snow and the rain and the wind beating on his face.“

I think we bring this vision to life in our environmental program that sees our Year 4 students spend every day immersed in the natural world thinking about nature, the environment, sustainability and a whole range of global issues. The year-long immersion program is centered around the driving question “How do we create a good tomorrow?”

We have just put together a new video. Check it out.


Year 4 Enviro Program from Sam McIntosh on Vimeo.

8 Things We Must Change

The inertia of a broken system often defaults to a reason for apathy, despair and inaction. At every crossroad, every junction and every pathway that leads to the future, we have a choice to be opposed by the thousands that guard the past or to push through, take action and create our own future.

Creating this future requires that;

  1. We change our attitude. By suspending our biases and disassociating with the way things have always been done, we can break free of the apathy and excuses bred of a broken system.
  2. We change the idea that one school should be just like another. Schools should be unique, not uniform. The system then exists not to strengthen itself, or to instruct others on what to do, but to strengthen the courage of the individual school in making itself a place of distinct identity.
  3. We change the notion that the school is a closed institution by breaking down it’s walls and having it come into direct contact with people. Real people. This includes parents so that we can all move beyond the thought of school as a place where children obey and memorize.
  4. We change our attitude towards the child. We are all teachers and all learners.
  5. We change the concept of having to cover the curriculum. A curriculum isn’t something that you pick up off the shelf and rigidly enforce or impose on kids. The value of any curriculum is as a framework for creating memorable learning experiences that are real, relevant and authentic. This changes our obsession with trying to assess everything. We don’t need to.
  6. We change school discipline ideas so that it gives place to self-discipline.
  7. We change the belief that the senior years of school are more important and that the teachers of older students are superior teachers. Every single year of education is important. None more so than another. This will be increasingly true as formal education models will morph and change in response to societal and environmental factors.
  8. We be confident in our “product” and not bow to external pressures whether they be real or perceived.

A difficult but not impossible task.

Vision for Learning

Complex, contextual systems like schools have one thing in common; learning. Whilst this may be obvious, the concept of learning conjures different images or remembered experiences depending on the individual. Learning as an active process of acquiring knowledge, skills and experience over a period of time used to be something that once done, would hold you in good stead for decades until new knowledge or skills were needed. However, one only has to look at the rapid changes that are taking place in the world around us to understand that this process is changing, requires continual attention and is now indeed lifelong. Gone are the days of getting your learning in a nice package and then using this for the rest of your lifetime. This need to be in a constant state of learning creates certain tensions between the traditional Just-In-Case model of education as opposed to the immediacy of the Just-In-Time model of education being driven by exponential technological change.

Alvin Toffler, in a deliberate provocation, is often quoted as saying that “the illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.” This one statement accurately captures the tension caused by rapid change taking place in society. Despite these tensions, the reality is that if you are passionate about serious intellectual inquiry, there has never been a better time in which to live. In the next five years, Just-In-Case and Just-In-Time learning will increasingly fuse and transform each other.

In grappling with this changing learning landscape, a diverse group of leaders and staff across our College drew the conclusion that for us to be effective moving forward we must pro-actively and collectively design a more connected learning system driven by a shared language of what we value in learning. With our current Strategic Education Plan drawing to a close, this was a chance to create our own vision for learning that would suit our own context, affirm our unique identity and draw on the wonderful knowledge and expertise that we have in our own community.

Drawing widely on national and international research, with a future focus that embraces aspects of experiential and constructivist learning philosophies and many national and international curricula frameworks, we have designed a comprehensive framework for learning titled our Vision for Learning. This broad framework defines learning not in terms of discreet subjects, specifics or narrow measures, but in terms of seven conceptual dimensions: Identity, Creativity, Thinking, Communicating, Contributing, Creating and Enterprising.

Our Vision for Learning is a living and breathing document that describes the skills, knowledge and expertise students must master to succeed for a future that is rapidly changing. It provides a broad framework for the development of learning experiences that invite students to thrive in the global economies of today and tomorrow.

The democratization of learning and knowledge, where anyone can learn anything at any time, is backed by an increasing collection of research that demonstrates that when students are able to spend more time thinking about ideas than memorizing facts and practicing skills — and when they are invited to help direct their own learning — they are not only more likely to enjoy what they’re doing, but to do it better. Being able to direct your own learning is a form of intellectual empowerment that allows young people today to have flexibility and to maintain a diverse portfolio of skills, knowledge and expertise so that they can respond to, and move with, the transformations of our new global economy.

Facts and skills do matter, but only in a context and for a purpose. The VCAA Chief Examiners every year lament the fact that most students are unable to deal with unseen or unfamiliar situations in VCE examinations. By organizing learning around interdisciplinary problems, projects, passions and driving questions – rather than discreet facts, skills and separate disciplines, student will develop the independence and critical and adaptive thinking skills required to thrive in a time where constant change demands a certain comfort with uncertainty.

By developing this shared vision for the future of learning at our College, it ensures a full alignment in purpose and language and changes the paradigm of curriculum work from a cycle of documentation to a managed process for focused collaborative review and improvement. Most importantly, and supporting our shift towards an empowered and innovative learning culture, it brings teachers and students together around a focal point for collaboration.

This is an exciting development and I warmly invite you all to access our Vision for Learning below.

Change: Moving On

Change is inevitable yet it’s something that scares us. Makes us feel uncomfortable. It can unlock our natural defensive mechanisms, namely resistance & fear. It’s fear of uncertainty. Fear of failure. This fear drives us to seek refuge within our comfort zone. The comfort zone is a nice place to be. It’s comfortable. Stay too long however, and it starts eating away at you. Habits become doctrine. Mindsets become fixed. It reinforces your fear of uncertainty. It’s a vicious cycle.

Regularly stepping out of your comfort zone is essential to professional growth. By stepping out you can explore what the world has to offer. You can feel the excitement of a new start.

After three and a half years being involved in the establishment of Quantum Victoria I’m moving on.

Being able to work on something that you are passionate about and then having the opportunity to bring that vision to life has been a rewarding experience both personally & professionally. Having the ability to employ and work with a creative and incredibly diverse staff made it one extraordinary learning journey filled with memorable experiences. A special shout out to my colleague Paul Taylor, possibly the most gifted technically-minded person I know who just makes stuff happen; and Soula Bennett the Director who allowed me freedom to think outside the box in terms of curriculum development and our work with students & teachers.

To say i’m excited about what lies ahead is an understatement. In 2014 I will be taking on the position of Head of Teaching & Learning at The Geelong College. Heading into the new year, I am really looking forward to meeting, learning and working with the students, staff and wider community as I embark on the next stage of my career.

Yeah but…

Following the #pencilchat storm over the weekend (I wonder how many people know that John Spencer’s blog Adventures in Pencil Integration has been doing this for years and in fact Seymour Papert used the pencil allegory dating back to 1980) got me to thinking. As educators who are pushing change or perhaps just trying to promote the integration of more technology, we need to have a go-to list, to overcome the ‘yeah buts…’

Developments in technologies have played a critical role in bringing about social and institutional change throughout the ages, but resistance to change is not new.

From Rethinking Education in the Age of Technology:

From the journal of the National Association of Teachers, 1907: “Students today depend too much on ink. They don’t know how to use a pen knife to sharpen a pencil. Pen and ink will never replace the pencil.”

From Rural American Teacher, 1928: “Students today depend on store bought ink, They don’t know how to make their own, When they run out of ink they will be unable to write words until their next trip to the store. This is a sad commentary on modern education.”

From Federal Teachers, 1950: “Ballpoint pens will be the ruin of education in this country. Students use these devices and then throw them away. The American values of thrift and frugality are being discarded. Business and banks will never allow such expensive luxuries.”

Or from Out of Our Minds:

“If Shakespeare was alive today he would only understand 50% of what we were talking about – as indeed many of us struggle to completely understand Elizabethan English”

“At the end of the 19th century, artists worried that photography would be the death of painting. Others argued that this would be unlikely since a photograph could never be a work of art.”

Many people have interpreted passages of the Bible to imply: “The earth is fixed and immovable and lies at the center of all things.”

Or Bill Gates: “256K should be enough for anybody.”

These points illustrate the long struggle people, let alone educators, have had with contemporary technologies and dealing with change. The future is hard to predict, but one thing is certain – in a world moving at an exponential pace, change is the one known against the multitude of unknowns. So the next time you here a “yeah, but…”, tell them to get over it.

Add your own evidence below about resistance to change.

Change and a Better Future

As part of the scholarship application process for Creative Innovation 2011, I was asked to respond to the question,  “In this super-connected world, what is your idea for change and a better future?”

This is my response.

Catalyzed by technology and fueled by creativity and innovation, fundamental and exponential change is now a common part of the super-connected world in which we inhabit. In this rapidly changing world in which we live, technology is driving change and is increasingly a means for empowerment, a method of communication and socializing, and a ubiquitous, transparent part of many people’s lives.

A better future can be achieved by harnessing the potential of technology to provide equitable access to quality education thus ensuring systemic and fundamental restructuring and economic prosperity for all. By leveraging open content and the idea of having the entire sum of all human knowledge at your finger tips, barriers of geographic isolation, socio-economic status and disadvantage are removed. Young people now have the ability to learn what they want, when they want and from whom they want and are not constrained by their location or the knowledge and quality of their teacher. Young people now have a voice and can be a contributor to peace, economic and education reform, the improvement of public services and many other aspects of society.

Traditional schools currently face a challenge unprecedented in our history. How do we adequately prepare students for a future that is yet to exist and constantly changing? How do we ensure students enter the workforce with the most important skill of the 21st century – learning how to learn?

To meet these challenges, I have been part of a team establishing a new initiative, Quantum Victoria.

Quantum Victoria is a new centre of excellence and innovation in science and mathematics which is currently being built in Melbourne, Australia. Quantum Victoria aims to re-energize science and mathematics education across Australia by:

  • Increasing students’ interest, participation and engagement in science and mathematics, and encouraging more students to pursue careers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM)
  • Expanding the knowledge base of teachers and increasing teacher capacity to engage students

Our blend of in-house and online outreach programs will embrace cutting edge, aspirational technologies with a particular focus on games technology, providing virtual reality experiences, augmented reality, CAD, 3D Printing, robotics and mechatronics.

We are currently involved in International consortia that are investigating:

  • New and best practices in online education for STEM students and the professional development of teachers
  • New models of student-driven STEM learning that are engaging, lead to higher retention rates and promote learning how to learn.

With the increasing pervasiveness and ubiquity of technology the physical, social and virtual worlds are colliding, merging and enabling us to form new ideas about teaching and learning. At Quantum Victoria, we believe that all children can excel in STEM disciplines, including computer science, which they will need to work in the multi-disciplinary, high-tech industries of the 21st century.

The obstacles we currently face as we implement our initiative include old mindsets and resistance to change. Quantum Victoria believes that new, innovative forms of teacher professional development are the cornerstone to building teacher capacity in the 21st century. To excite the next generation of STEM students, Quantum Victoria will offer educators a unique opportunity to re-envision their curriculum in ways that are relevant for today’s learner.

Students with STEM skills, combined with innovation and entrepreneurship, will be equipped to find solutions to current and future problems such as clean and renewable energy, climate change, poverty, health, etc. and this will lead to changes that ultimately improve the world.

Switch: How To Change Things When Change Is Hard

“For things to change, somebody somewhere has to start acting differently. Maybe it’s you, maybe it’s your team. Picture that person (or people). Each has an emotional Elephant side and a rational Rider side. You’ve got to reach both. And you’ve also got to clear the way for them to succeed.”

On the plane to New York I got the chance to read Switch: How to Change Things when Change is Hard by Dan and Chip Heath. This book is relevant for anyone leading change in their own school, no matter how large or small that change is. It is based on the premise that ‘change is hard’ and ‘people hate change’ and delves into case studies of people who have successfully led change initiatives in industry, business, education and their personal lives. The book highlights the fact that no matter what change you are trying to lead, successful change agents share some important characteristics and successful change initiatives share a common pattern. In short, to lead change, people must do three things:

Direct the Rider

  • Follow the Bright Spots
  • Script the Critical Moves
  • Point to the Destination

Motivate the Elephant

  • Find the Feeling
  • Shrink the Change
  • Grow the People

Shape the Path

  • Tweak the Environment
  • Build Habits
  • Rally the Herd

For a more detailed account, the Heath brothers have made a downloadable overview of this change framework available from http://www.heathbrothers.com/resources/. The book itself, includes a detailed section on overcoming obstacles – relevant for educators who encounter problems as they fight for change (I think we have all heard at least once – “Why should I change? This is the way I have been doing it for years….”), along with advice about overcoming them. The Framework makes sense. Too often we only focus our change efforts on the Rider, without trying to motivate the Elephant – ultimately the Rider gets tired and the change effort fails and the status quo remains. This book has given me a new perspective – I highly recommend it.

My first day in New York, I got a chance to spend some time with the Institute of Play team and visit the Quest2Learn school. This is an innovative games-based learning school which currently has 6th and 7th graders with a new intake of 8th graders for the start of the next school year. The focus is on an integrated curriculum, systems thinking, reasoning and deduction, where students get to learn key academic content whilst involved in game play and games design. A unit of work is called a mission, and within each mission there are quests as students respond to real-world and fantasy stimuli in order to solve problems that are personally meaningful. I will write a more detailed account of this visit in the coming days as this approach really needs to be shared far and wide – great collaboration between students, teachers, curriculum experts and game designers and developers. In the meantime, check out SMALLab, something the Quest2Learn school makes extensive use of in some of their missions.

SMALLab @ Arizona State University – 2009 from aisling kelliher on Vimeo.