Thinking Like A Traveller

At the heart of all learning is the way we process our experiences. Knowledge is a consequence of experience and it is precisely the types and varied experiences that provide us all an intangible value that is perhaps most readily apparent when acclimating to a new place. Integrating into a community, interacting with local people, learning a new language and understanding the way others live, no matter how briefly, enables a cultural immersion grounded in deep learning and rich memories.

Immersion programs like our Fulfilling Lives in Year ten, encourage self-reflection on attitudes towards cultural difference, provide opportunities to build relationships, to serve and work with community members and invite the application of knowledge and skills as outlined in the Contributing dimension of our Vision for Learning.

Having just returned from the depths of the Borneo jungle, working in a remote indigenous Village called Tuba, it reminds me again that some of the best learning that takes place in school is actually outside of the classroom. Having the opportunity to travel into a remote place, you get to take a step back from all the running around you do; whether it’s ticking one more thing off your to-do list, completing an overdue homework task, answering a never ending stream of email or taking your kids to their next sporting event. Going into a remote place the world necessarily slows down, the busyness of life takes a back seat and the things that you once thought were important fade slowly into obscurity. Your mind gets a chance to relax. To slow down. You focus on the present instead of what’s next. You reconnect with the world around you. You have an opportunity to be truly present. In the moment. Free of distraction. It enables you to pay attention to the small details in everything.

For all the benefits of travelling, I think that this is the most far reaching and the most important. But equally is our connection with the people we encounter. Our students had the most incredible opportunity to connect on a deep level with the people of Tuba by living with them for an extended period, experiencing their way of life and helping construct a new shelter for collecting rain water.

The people inhabiting the Village of Tuba are from the Iban tribe. The Iban are an intriguing people. Historically they were the most formidable head hunters on the island of Borneo, but today the Iban are generous, hospitable and placid. They grow rice, pepper and fruit, and hunt and fish. They have a strong spiritual connection to the rainforest. The Ibans, whilst no longer practising the head hunting tradition have nevertheless succeeded in preserving many tribal customs, rituals and traditional beliefs. However, the ancient crafts of making boats, building longhouses, weaving, dancing, tattooing, and native art are now disappearing as the younger generations migrate to urban centres in search of a modern way of life.

Whilst the Iban people live a simple life by any standards, indeed there are examples of extreme poverty within this small Village, I wonder about what is lost in the search for a modern way of life. There were moments in the Village where I felt a crushing sadness for the less fortunate, but the sadness quickly lifted when you saw how such a simple life necessitates a contentment and an appreciation for the life that they have. From their perspective, they have most of what they need. They are living a happy life. Free from busyness. Free from the self-imposed stresses we place on ourselves. Free from materialism. Free from the illusory concept of time; a manifestation of our own minds.

People are our most treasured gifts. Taking a step back from our busy lives is important. By listening to the stories of others, helping them where appropriate and developing an appreciation for their culture, religion, values and lifestyles, we can be filled with empathy and realize that we can all live fulfilling lives by treating each other with compassion and kindness.

Without the passion of our teaching staff who give up so much of their own time and energy, experiences like these could not be offered.

Showcasing Teacher Expertise

All schools have individuals on staff who have remarkable expertise. This expertise takes many forms from curriculum development, general pedagogical, pedagogical-content, leadership, motivational and relational expertise through to a deep understanding and knowledge of the organization itself.

From the perspective of the organization, we don’t always do a good job sharing and showcasing the individual talents we have on staff. Below is the first in a series of videos we are putting together that showcases the expertise that teachers and leaders have at our College. It is titled ‘Print Making’ with artist and teacher Greg Smith.

Greg shares,

“The print is called a ‘Solar Plate’ etching. The image is etched into a shallow UV-sensitive film on the surface of the plate.

The etching can be made from almost any source – drawing, photography etc. In this case, I made the etching from a drawing that I made in the Musee d’Orsay in Paris. The drawing is transferred onto acetate, then the plate is exposed to light with the acetate clamped between the plate and the light. The UV hardens the plate where the light penetrates, leaving the drawing etched at different levels, depending on the tone. Once exposed, the plate is simply washed in mildly soapy water to wash out the etch.

The plate can then be inked, wiped back – the ink is held to differing degrees of tone depending on the depth of the etch – and printed on the press.​”

 

Print Making from CLRI on Vimeo.

What strategies do you use at your place to showcase the diverse expertise you have on staff?

What is Learning?

At the end of 2015, we asked the teaching staff at my College their thoughts on learning.

This is what they had to say.

 

What is Learning? from CLRI on Vimeo.

Also have a look at the ‘Behind the Scenes‘ footage for an insight into the making of ‘What is Learning?’

 

The STEM Imperative?

Many reports indicate that Australia has a shortage of professionals in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines. STEM completions at universities are stagnant, the number of students in Year 12 completing STEM subjects is declining and businesses are seeing a shortage of locally qualified people.

Digital disruption both creates challenge and opportunity. Freelancing has seen exponential growth as technology enables and drives the outsourcing of both skilled and unskilled jobs to the lowest bidder, irrespective of geographic location or time zone. Reports cite statistics of jobs that will no longer exist in the next 20 years whilst the exponential march of progress gives us glimpses of the jobs that haven’t been invented yet. No one would deny, at least I hope not, that automation is a part of our immediate and long-term future.

For Australia to continue to prosper economically we hear on a daily basis that we will need an appropriately skilled workforce; one that is skilled in STEM. Places of formal education dictate to a certain extent then, the interests and expertise that students develop. But what do schools mean when we start talking about STEM? What can schools do to encourage interest in what is an incredibly exciting area?

A traditional view has us thinking about the discreet subjects that the acronym entails ie. Science, Mathematics and Computer Science. An in-depth knowledge, skillset and expertise of a particular specialization is absolutely important, but increasingly major discoveries are happening at the interstices between disciplines and this requires depth in a specific field but also an ability to see and make connections more broadly.

In K-12 education, I have heard of STEM labs that house a few 3D printers, MakerSpaces, STEM class or even a few proclaim, “We do STEM!” This is all great stuff but I would argue that during the formative stages of schooling that STEM shouldn’t be seen as a subject, a room or a lab – but more a way of thinking.

For teachers it’s a way of thinking about curriculum design that includes interdisciplinary topics, contemporary disciplines, global perspectives, real applications, choice & flexibility.

For students it is a learning process that mimics the natural engagement with the world that they exhibit from a very early age. Students don’t naturally categorize the world around them into discreet subjects devoid of meaning. They relate what they are learning to their specific context and the connections that each part that they are experiencing has to the whole.

There is a growing need for the broad skills that STEM fosters. Systems-level thinking, problem finding and solving, imagination and agency are but a few. But we are not going to get there by teaching students what amounts to essentially clerical skills. Instead of students learning about Microsoft Word or PowerPoint, having them learn to program a computer or build a website is infinitely better. Better again is for them to have a context that sparks their curiosity and instils in them a passion and love of learning.

I have spoken about the brilliant interdisciplinary F1 in Schools program before, where students form teams and;

  • Design and manufacture a miniature F1 Car to travel down a 20m track in the shortest possible time using a specified amount of energy.
  • Utilise Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) software and wind tunnels to help perfect the aerodynamics of the design.
  • Utilise Finite Element Analysis (FEA) software to increase sustainability and reliability of the design.
  • Utilise Rapid Prototyping strategies to help construct components of their car.
  • Develop a 20 page portfolio which highlights the design iterations undertaken, the innovation included in the design and the interaction they had with industry through the design process.
  • Develop a marketing and promotions plan to sell their team’s capabilities and end product to industry. This includes the development of a 3m x 1m display booth.
  • Generate sponsorship by promoting their capabilities to industry and then manage all budget items associated with their team
  • Implement a communications strategy to ensure that sponsors are kept informed of progress
  • Make a 10-minute formal presentation to a panel of judges on their project highlighting the work they have undertaken, their innovation and what they have learnt by participating in the project.
  • Present to a panel of Engineers their design, the manufacturing strategies they have adopted and the unique engineering technologies they have applied to the development of their car;

but let’s take something as simple as the quadratic equation. How could this be STEM-ified?

David Perkins in Future Wise suggests,

“What if we viewed quadratic equations as ways of modelling growth? Today’s world includes dozens of kinds of growth – in populations, markets, the spread of diseases, the proliferation of media. To go with growth there is also loss, for instance the systematic loss of biological species over the past decades and centuries.”

Instead of an exercise in Algebra that is devoid of meaning for many students, potentially all functions – linear, exponential, cubic etc. – could be explored in this way to spark an interest that connects with and enhances a students understanding of the world. I’m not talking about the token “application” question at the end of a textbook chapter here, I’m talking about a real interdisciplinary project. Not only understanding the algebra, statistics and probabilities associated with models of growth, but researching, using real data, engaging in computer modelling, testing hypothesis, making connections across disciplines and suggesting ways to accelerate or inhibit growth depending on the context.

That’s what a focus of STEM does in my book. Physics, Robotics, Coding and Mathematics are all essential in any STEM-based curriculum. But let’s set our sights a bit bigger and give students real contexts for learning the more “traditional” stuff.

Centre for Learning, Research & Innovation

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Our Centre for Learning, Research & Innovation has been in operation now for two years.

The Centre is a joint venture between The Geelong College, Deakin University and The Geelong College Foundation. It serves students, parents, teachers and the broader community.

The Centre is not run from a single building – it operates at the point of need. It is a hub of ideas that might be housed in the Creative Arts department, the school up the road, or a local business – it’s a core group of thinking, investigating people. We engage in research projects and create professional development opportunities, by recognising learning as an active, dynamic behaviour that emerges from interactions between the human brain and the social world. We are committed to understanding the science of learning and the art of teaching.

We have just released our 2015 Annual Report to coincide with the launch of our new website. Take a look and let us know what you think.

Staff Professional Learning Days

The beginning of the year is exciting.

Teaching is one of those rare professions where you get a clean slate every year. You absolutely build on what has gone before, but you eagerly anticipate what the new year will bring. The buzz that fills many auditoriums, gyms or theatre’s as staff return for their first official day back on the job is palpable. Sometimes that buzz is short-lived however as the energy and enthusiasm is wiped out as teachers have to sit through a “professional learning” day filled with compliance matters, policy and administration that really has very little to do with teaching and learning – teachers in effect get “PD’d” up to their eyeballs.

It doesn’t take too much to organize a true professional learning day and many schools do it really well.  See the program we put together below for our first staff day of 2016. I think it is a program that would rival many conferences. We organized two external speakers (which is more cost effective then having individual staff attend conferences) and then utilized the varied expertise we have on staff to put together a diverse and engaging program for the day. Workshops were grouped under the seven Dimensions of our Vision for Learning and catered for Early Learning staff through to VCE. Days like this complement our Learning Projects nicely.

A great start to the year that has a focus on what matters – teaching and learning.

Learning is…

At the end of 2015, we asked staff to volunteer some time in front of the camera to respond to the statement ‘Learning is…’

The purpose of this was twofold;

  1. To show that in a large school, learning and our understanding of it, is something that is deeply personal and yet, we share some common threads irrespective of what subjects or year levels we teach;
  2. To build culture across our community of teaching staff from early learning through to VCE

Whilst the video is still a few weeks away, we shared some of the ‘out-takes’ or ‘bloopers’ yesterday with staff. Great fun!

Password is ‘bloopers.’

A big shout out to Sam McIntosh for the great work behind the camera. Look forward to sharing the final video in the coming weeks.

Bloopers from Sam McIntosh on Vimeo.

The 3D Printing Hype Cycle

3D printing continues to transform industry, put power into the hands of amateur creators and gain widespread adoption.

In education however many people that I speak to have entered the trough of disillusionment as they realize that 3D printing technology, at the price point that most schools can afford, is still problematic. The reality is that it requires some expertise. It requires patience. It requires an investment of your time in figuring out how they work, how to troubleshoot and probably one of the more overlooked skills – competence with a CAD package.

A typical journey of skill acquisition is as follows:

Novice
This is where you think “This is awesome!” and then promptly head over to Thingiverse and download and print a miniature Yoda Head on your new 3D Printer.

Advanced Beginner
You have printed a number of small objects and are thinking “This is still awesome! How do I make my own stuff?” So you go over to TinkerCAD, start playing around and follow some of the tutorials. Inevitably you get frustrated. So you download and print a T-Rex head that takes 22 hours to print.

And this is where the skill acquisition usually stops because the next level requires a steep learning curve. TinkerCAD is great, but to take yourself to the next level you need to invest some time in SolidWorks or AutoCAD – industry standard platforms used by real designers and engineers. Spend 100 hours learning one of these packages and you will be on your way. Also, nothing will accelerate your understanding of 3D Printing technology like actually building one. So I recommend buying a Printrbot kit and putting it together. During this build you reach the stage of competency.

Competency
You are making some progress but start thinking “This is hard.” Solidworks won’t quite do what you want it to do or you find that you have assembled your Printrbot wrong. At this point you throw a mini tantrum and think “This is shit” immediately followed by “I’m shit.” Don’t despair though. Keep at it and you will reach the Proficient stage.

Proficiency
You get over your tantrum, get your Printrbot working and think “This might be ok.” You feel pretty good about your CAD skills. You are making your 3D printer sing. You start incorporating cross-curricular design challenges with your students. Someone at work tells you that they have broken a part on their pBone. A pBone is a fully functioning dual bore Eb alto trombone constructed in ABS and glass fibre. With all the benefits of the normal trombone but smaller and lighter. An ideal instrument for beginners.

timthumb

You take a look at the part, which is called a water key and say “leave it with me.” You go away and replicate the object in Solidworks and then print it out.

Much like the early personal computers, 3D Printers are a game changer. Its what you can do with them that matters most.

Then you think “This really is awesome.”

Leadership Lessons

Being a leader isn’t easy. There is no playbook. Everything is contextual. You have to figure out on your own what you need to do. You have to find ways to adapt, overcome and be innovative – but the foundation of everything is culture. Work on culture first and everything else starts falling into place.

To be a leader is to be always learning. These are the lessons I have learnt:

1) Work relentlessly on culture.
2) Schools are never exactly how you want them to be.
3) Relationships are important.
4) Don’t talk. Listen.
5) You are never going to have all the resources you think you need.
6) No amount of professional development is ever going to help anyone.
7) Evangelize learning by doing.
8) Communicate your thinking. Even if you think you are being repetitive.
9) People are always going to criticize – no matter what you do – so do what you think is right and stay true to your vision.
10) You will make mistakes. Get used to it. Own up to them, acknowledge them and then move on.
11) Get feedback. But ultimately you decide how much weight to give it and what to do with it.
12) If you don’t feel uncomfortable you are probably playing it safe.

What else would you add?

Building Prosthetic Hands

In July, I took some students to Swinburne University of Technology to be part of the Digital Learning and Teaching Victoria Conference.

A group of six students ranging from Year five through to Year eleven worked together and built a 3D printer from its basic components and printed and assembled working prosthetic hands. These hands, designed as part of the E-Nable open source project that has brought together engineers, artists, makers, occupational therapists, prosthetists, garage tinkerers, designers and many others from all over the world, can be printed and assembled for less than $50.

Real-world projects like this enable students to become deep, independent thinkers, who take responsibility for their own learning and solve problems that have a real outcome as they experience first-hand what it is like to be a designer, a mathematician or an engineer. Our students are empowered to be the creators and inventors of tomorrow’s technology by having the mindset that nothing is impossible and that you can create whatever you imagine. Whilst the designs of the hands are downloadable the deep learning is during assembly, the understanding of an interconnected system, the engineering and in the linear and parametric scaling to ensure hands are printed to the correct size.  It made the local paper – SCT August 20th 2015

Two prosthetic hands have now been completed as our students go about identifying a potential donor so their work can go to someone in need.