Thoughts on Pedagogy and Space

Pedagogy and space are inextricably linked. They are not mutually exclusive. Progressive pedagogies can exist within even the most traditional of spaces, as can traditional pedagogies in the most modern and contemporary space. Space shouldn’t be used as an excuse for a particular approach to teaching and learning but often schools are restricted by their physical space and lack the necessary budgets or locations to physically change the infrastructure of their buildings.

So without access to new buildings and significant budgets for new furniture what can be done to transform existing spaces? Here are four simple things that can disrupt the traditional way of thinking about how a classroom environment operates.

1. Remove the front of the room

Arrange the room so that there is no “front” of the room. This is actually easier than it sounds with some judicious placing and rearranging of existing furniture. What this does is change the dominant paradigm of teacher standing at the front, students facing the teacher, and teacher delivering the required information to students. Our Vision for Learning talks about what we believe when it comes to pedagogy – “We believe that the preferred kind of pedagogy is learner-centred and learner-driven, project-based and experiential by nature, interspersed with purposeful periods of direct instruction.” Purposeful is the key word here as direct instruction is still important but it shouldn’t be the dominant style of pedagogy.

2. Create multiple focal points

This supports the idea of removing the front of the room. Instead of purchasing an expensive interactive whiteboard or a 90″ LCD screen, purchase 4 smaller LCD screens and position them either on stands or mounted on swivels at various locations around the room. Also provide a wireless presentation gateway to each room.  We use the WiPG-2000 as a wireless presentation gateway which allows a single device to project to multiple screens or for a screen to have 4 devices connected to it simultaneously as a 4-way split screen. This allows students and teachers to connect, share and collaborate in new and various ways.

3. Have less chairs than students

This one is simple. Have less chairs than students. This can cause a serious rethink about how a class operates.

4. Create different height work spaces

This doesn’t necessarily require the purchase of new furniture, just get creative. We have used old student lockers as standing work spaces, or have reused old whiteboards and re-purposed them as collaborative work tables.

Crumpler Kitchen

Crumpler has given away the pattern for one of their original messenger-style bags via an initiative called the Crumpler Kitchen. As a big fan of Crumpler, this seemed like a great opportunity for a project for our Year 5’s.

Beginning in term 3, this project will involve students:

  • Selecting an appropriate material.
  • Examining the pattern and scaling to size.
  • Sourcing approximately two meters of shoulder strap webbing, some Velcro, a clip or a buckle and something to adjust the strap length.
  • Learning to use a sewing machine.
  • Using 2D Design to design a Crumpler-esque badge for their bag. Similar to this one.
  • Sourcing some two-tone, light weight rubber for use on our Trotec laser cutter
  • Using the laser cutter to produce the badge for their bag
  • Hand-stitching the badge to their bag.

Students will show their creations to the Crumpler Team upon completion.

This is a real project that has process, product and audience and effectively uses technology to create something of value.

See our student handout – Crumpler Task

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.

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:

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.

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.

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.


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.”

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.

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.

It Just Doesn’t Add Up

It’s funny how as we go about our lives, we can sometimes wander around blissfully ignorant of the amount of bad mathematics that is used in society.

Snap 2012-07-26 at 16.01.13Snap 2012-07-26 at 15.48.29

Images like this are great lesson starters. Pose the question, “What’s wrong with this picture?” and let the discussion begin. (Visit the Bad Maths Flickr Group for more examples. Another slightly different example is Dan Meyer’s 101questions.)

Regularly you will hear things like, ”Up to 25% or more” or see misconceptions accepted by those who don’t know any better ie. imagine a fictitous company that draws 5% sales from Australia in 2010 and 10% sales from Australia in 2011. This does not equate to a 5% increase in sales (like many believe) – it equates to a 100% increase in sales, as the amount of sales in total has doubled from the previous year.

The one that always gets me is the statistical insignificance of the data that most schools use to make decisions. Student Opinion Survey’s, Parent & Staff Opinion Surveys, Annual Implementation Plans where schools look for a 4.765% gain in student attendance from one year to the next. OnDemand testing, NAPLAN, class tests, SAC’s, work requirements, exams, practice exams, performance reviews… This all amounts to naught if you don’t have the right culture in place. Put the bad use of data aside and to drive change follow these 5 simple strategies:

1) Establish a culture of passion

2) Get your ‘curriculum’ right (And no, a teacher-led textbook approach is not right…) 

3) Provide rationale for change and always include teacher/student input

4) Understand what improvement actually looks like (Hint: it’s not a number…)

5) Provide time, support & assistance

Its been written about countless times before, but it’s that simple. Using data (correctly or incorrectly) doesn’t equate to improvements – what the data can show is that you have improved.

Student Game Art

Game art design is a vital part of game development and one that is often overlooked by students. Game art is the process of creating 2D & 3D art for use as character models, scenery, items or even user interfaces. Below is some concept art for a new game character that a talented student at Quantum Victoria developed in under 30 minutes. (On a Fujitzu Lifebook T Series Tablet)

It’s awesome.

‘Jeremy’ had never thought of using his skills in this way before.

Jeremys Drawing