Friday, March 9, 2018

Learner Agency at RJHS 'Take Two...'

Learner Agency at RJHS
Take Two..."

By Paula Wine

Learner Agency at RJHS…Take Two

Last year I wrote a blog about learner agency at RJHS and how we have tried to develop learner agency at our school...through Learner Narratives, IEMs (Individual Education Meetings), SOLO rubrics and curriculum trackers.  After two years, we have reflected on these tools and practices, and we’ve made some changes that I’m excited (and optimistic) about.
So what have we done? Well first of all we’ve got rid of the Learner Narrative.  The original intent of the Learner Narrative was to act as a tool to empower each student to be a leader and driver of their own learning.  It was essentially a google doc with a template where students could link in samples of their learning, set learning goals, and reflect on these goals and their learning.  Great idea right? Except it wasn’t. After two years we realised that it wasn’t achieving what we’d hoped it would. The Learner Narrative became exactly what we didn’t want for many students...something they complied with, completing each section begrudgingly.  It became an ‘add-on’ and far from the ‘inspiring tool’ we’d hoped it would be. The other design fault that was niggling away at me was that it was organised into courses (Modules and Flight Times), which was basically silo-ing their reflections by subjects. The exact opposite of ‘connecting our learning’.

So what have we done instead?  Firstly we’ve introduced the Learner Portfolio.  How is this different from the Learner Narrative?  What makes this a better tool to empower and develop Learner Agency?
  • We’ve changed the structure of the Learner Portfolio - The Learner Portfolio is now organised, not in courses, but in C-L-O-A-K sections.  Our CLOAK is our dispositional curriculum, it is the essence of our vision and the characteristics we are trying to develop in our learners.   We want to ignite our students’ passions, develop their resilience, perseverance, collaboration, kindness, and their ability to drive their own learning so that they can achieve in all that they pursue.   The CLOAK is not a ‘subject’ on its own, but is woven through all of our learning through every Module, Flight Time and Advisory Session. Previously we felt like we were trying to 'teach' the CLOAK, mostly through our Advisory programme. What was sometimes missing though was the meaningful connections to link the CLOAK to...for example, we would talk to the students about 'Challenge Our Mindset' or 'Learning is Connected', but these habits and skills have more meaning when they are taught in the context of our ongoing Module and Flight Time learning.

  • We’ve changed who owns the Learner Portfolio - What goes into the Learner Portfolio is completely up to the learner!  Previously the teachers would tell students what to include as evidence and tell them when to link it in.  Not exactly agentic. Our new Learner Portfolio allows students to choose which piece of evidence they want to submit, when they want to submit it and why.  The learning evidence can come from any Module, Flight Time, Advisory class, extra-curricular activity or experience outside of school. Learners then link their evidence into whichever of the five C-L-O-A-K portfolios it fits best.  For example, if they have evidence that they have demonstrated ‘Challenge Our Mindset’ in two of their courses and then at their weekend netball game, they can link in photos, samples of work, or video with a reflection as to why this is evidence of their Challenge Our Mindset learning. If we want our learners to feel inspired, engaged, and truly driving their own learning, we need them to own the process.  
  • We’ve changed the scaffolding of the process - each learner now has a set of guidelines with reflective questions they can refer to independently to support their portfolio development:
Learner Portfolio Guidelines:

  • Work on your Learner Portfolio regularly - set time aside during your Independent Advisory time each week to prioritise your Learner Portfolio
  • Include evidence of C-L-O-A-K learning from across your learning...your module learning, flight times, or advisory time, extra-curricular activities, etc.
  • Quality Reflection - think deeply about your learning using the prompt reflection questions below
  • Make it yours!  Use written work, video clips, photos, etc.  
  • Aim for a minimum of 1-2 pieces of evidence per C-L-O-A-K each term.  
  • It doesn’t have to be a finished piece of work...try to capture genuine evidence of CLOAK learning anywhere, any time.  
  • Enjoy!  This is your learner portfolio.  Make it matter to you!
  • Remember the ‘why’...reflecting on your learning helps you become an active, effective,  life-long learner.

Examples of reflective questions we have provided, different questions are provided for each letter of the CLOAK:

CHALLENGE OUR MINDSET Reflective Questions
Challenge our Mindset Goals:
We have a growth mindset
We try new things

We embrace the learning pit
We persevere when things are hard
Possible Challenge our mindset reflective questions:
  • How have I demonstrated a growth mindset rather than a fixed mindset?  
  • How have I taken a risk in my learning?  What have I tried that is new? How did this go for me?

  • When I was in the learning pit, what strategies did I try to get out of the learning pit?
  • What learning was challenging for me?  How did I persevere through this? What was the outcome?

    • We’ve changed our Advisory Time by introducing Independent Learning Time (ILT) - students now have 45 minutes during each Advisory block.  This is a time for learners to make decisions for themselves about their learning.  As John Spencer describes in his book ‘Empower’, it is important to develop the mindset of self managing...of following through on your plans and continuing with tasks even when nobody's looking over your shoulder. During ILT students will learn how look at their week ahead, prioritise what is on top for them, set learning goals, and self manage to achieve their learning goals.  This is a time for teachers and students to model, coach and use ‘learning to learn’ skills; learners need to be able to organise their time, identify their priorities, figure out how they learn best, practice study skills, concentration skills, meeting deadlines, etc. This is a time when students can spontaneously add to their Learner Portfolio, when they feel motivated to do so. This might also be a time for learners to engage in design thinking, inquiry, or passion projects.  While students are working independently Advisory Teachers will have time to do ‘one-on-ones’ with their students; during the one-on-ones Advisory Teachers can connect with their learners and see how they are going with their Learner Portfolio. If progress is slow, this is a learning opportunity.
    • We've changed the tool we use to link our evidence...instead of a Google Doc (not that engaging) this year we have introduced a new LMS called Schoology. Schoology has a user-friendly, engaging interface and functionality. It allows for easy uploading of evidence in multiple media (print, photos, video, voice recording) so we expect our learners will be more 'into' this tool. It also allows for embedding reflections, teacher comments and 'in-the-moment' sharing with parents/whānau.

    In essence, we wanted our students to shift from a compliance model of learning, to a model where students see themselves as the main drivers of their own learning journey.  

    Where to next? In the background we have been working on a Graduate Profile for a Year 10 student leaving RJHS. Our guiding question has been 'What dispositions, skills and knowledge do we want our students to have by the time they leave us at the end of Year 10?' In our draft Graduate Profile the focus is on future focused skills and dispositions as opposed to a bunch of content knowledge. Once we have worked through the Graduate Profile as a staff, eventually we would like to have a system where students 'pitch' for their C-L-O-A-K badges, by sharing evidence from their Learner Portfolio to justify that they have achieved that particular level of the CLOAK. Again, the onus is on the learner to drive their learning in their time.
    Through the combination of student choice, engaging authentic contexts, Learner Portfolio, and Independent Learning Time, we are excited about moving in a direction that is truly going to grow student agency.  It won’t happen overnight.  Ultimately developing student agency will happen with agentic design and pedagogy. We will need to teach our learners how to be agentic; we need to model and scaffold how to be drivers of our own learning.  There will be some students who will struggle with self starting or with self managing during Independent Learning Time; this is their learning.  To develop student agency we need to give students some times during the day when they are not told what to do or how to do it, and they have to decide for themselves.  We need to give them space to get it wrong (and right) and to learn from this. As John Spencer says ‘Student choice is the heartbeat of ownership and empowerment’ (Empower, 2017, p. 35).

    Thursday, October 19, 2017

    Enabling Gifted Learners at Nueva School Campus - a Quick Write

    Enabling Gifted Learners
    Our Senior Leadership Team visited the Hillsborough Nueva School Campus
    Paula Wine - Reflections of our 3rd School Visit


    Our third school visit takes us to Nueva School located in Hillsborough, close to San Francisco and Silicon Valley.  Nueva School originally opened in 1967 as a school for gifted  K-2 learners.  Since that time the school has grown to serve pre-K to grade 12 (the new campus at Bay Meadows in San Mateo opened in August 2014, home to grades 9-12).  Our first visit took us to the picturesque pre-K to grade 8 campus in Hillsborough.  
    Nueva currently has a roll of 800+ gifted and talented learners. To be considered for this school prospective students do an IQ test (the Wechsler Intelligence Test) and if they achieve a score of 130 or above they are considered for enrolment.  The cost of this independent school ranges from $27 000 (pre-K) to $44 000 (grade 12) per year.  

    Nueva is a student-centered school known for inquiry-based interdisciplinary studies, constructivist project-based learning, a focus on social-emotional learning and design thinking. The school also offers specialist teachers in numerous other core and elective areas, including STEM, writing, the arts, entrepreneurship, music, and physical education.

    Nueva School
    Nueva is a beautiful campus, happy and vibrant.  Nueva’s catchphrase is ‘teaching gifted learners by doing and learning by caring’. The school was founded as a place where gifted students could learn in an emotionally safe environment, with a programme which provides challenge and the opportunity for learners to delve into their passions (through self-directed projects) and ‘design thinking’ ways to make the world a better place.
    During our tour we visited several middle school classrooms (similar to our year 7 and 8s).
    Things I noticed:
    • I-Labs (Innovation Labs) are a key feature of this school - they resemble a typical science or hard technology space in NZ.  I spoke to one teacher getting ready for her class of 4th graders.  She happens to be a Mechanical Engineer.  The I-Labs are a place of Design Thinking, problem solving and innovation.  Students spend a lot of time in the I-Labs, both during class time and outside of class time.  If they have a passion for design and technology they will love the I-Lab.
    • Many of the teachers at Nueva are actually not teachers by trade; they are Mechanical Engineers, Computer Engineers, they have their PhD in Marine Biology or Mathematics, they are Physicists from Stanford University, etc.  When I asked about this, the reasoning is that young gifted learners have complex questions and the teacher needs to be able to have ‘mental flexibility’ to go deeply in any direction with a learner.  I personally think nothing trains a capable teacher who understands the art of teaching; with that said, deep content knowledge is really important for any inquiry, project based or design thinking project learning.
    • Nueva has a psychologist (working along-side with a teacher) who comes in to teach about the science of the mind, metacognition and the Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) programme (which sounds very similar to our Health and Physical Education programme and aspects of our Advisory programme).   During the SEL programme learners are taught about how to deal with stress, anxiety, emotions, sexuality, identity; how to develop empathy, an understanding of social justice and equity; and how to be action social change.  The psychologist and teacher are ‘on alert’ for red flags (students who are struggling) during SEL time and they refer any concerns to the school counsellor.  Social-Emotional learning, we know, is so important for emerging adolescence. For us, though, it is best delivered by the Advisory teacher.  Discussing the SEL programme with Nueva has made me reflect on our Advisory programme.  I think an idea for us could be to develop our own school model for our students, a step by step approach to identifying issues and taking action to solve their issue.  If we develop our own model, then we can empower our learners with a tool, a process for dealing with the hard stuff.  We could design an acronym that is portable (similar to WARM as part of our restorative approach).  This could be a proactive approach to dealing with life’s stressors and building resilience.  I think it is important that we all have a shared language around this and that the process or approach is ubiquitous and portable.
    • Listening to Nueva staff talk about SEL has also made me reflect on our Advisory curriculum.  We all know that  year 7s have very different social-emotional needs as compared to year 10s.  It may be time to have a closer look at our Advisory curriculum to ensure we are designing our programme to best respond to these differing needs.
    • Design Thinking is, like previous schools we’ve visited, a prevalent part of the Nueva curriculum.  We happened to have lunch with Scott Swaaley (who we recognised as the teacher from the movie ‘Most Likely to Succeed’).  The cool thing about this is that Scott used to teach in San Diego at High Tech High previous to Nueva.  When I asked what he likes most about being here, he reflected on the hours he used to put in back then to achieve the quality and high standards of the High Tech High projects.  His hours were crazy (by his account 120 hours per week…).  Do we want this for our teachers?  No way.  What I do think would be helpful though is to develop teacher resources (scaffolding, backward planning, question prompts, and processes) to ensure our teachers have a kete of tools to support our learners to achieve deep learning and conceptual connections.  It’s one thing to have a great idea and a vision for the outcome of a unit; it’s another thing to get the kids there.  Already we have many examples of modules where teachers and students have achieved this.   So let’s pool our great ideas to ensure we are building capacity in this area.  According to Hattie the effect size of Inquiry Learning is really not that impressive (0.31, below the hinge point of 0.4) so we have to make sure that what we do is resulting in depth.

    • As part of the Innovative Learning Conference, I attended a session ‘Design Thinking in Middle School Science’ where the Nueva 6th grade (year 7 in NZ) science teacher took us through how he uses Design Thinking in his classroom.  He starts each year with what he calls a low resolution project, just a week long, to get the kids to experience the Design Thinking process.  Then throughout the year he does 4-5 bigger projects, with the year culminating with one big project that is multidisciplinary across all subjects.  In between projects he teaches content and skills.  It might be interesting for us to explore doing a project across modules to incorporate more than one curriculum area.  I liked his approach in that not every finished Design Thinking project has to be ‘high spec’.  I also liked how he highlighted the similarities between Design Thinking and the Scientific Process.

    • Nueva recognises that gifted and talented students have some unique characteristics and needs they cater for, such as gifted and talented kids needing social-emotional coaching, needing to develop inter- and intrapersonal skills, needing to have space to be deep thinkers and understanding they can be highly sensitive, being encouraged to be inquisitive and being able to indulge their intense interests and questions about the world around them, and understanding that those who exhibit ‘scattered professor syndrome’, need help to manage their thinking.  It is an interesting concept to me to have a school for gifted and talented students (800+ students no less).  While it does feel ‘elitest’ (let’s face it, this is a school for very bright kids whose parents can afford to pay the tuition) I do feel there is a takeaway here...when we talk about inclusive education often what comes to mind are learning difficulties.  How are we catering for our gifted and talented learners in our setting?  How is their experience of learning and socialising?  How is their anxiety?  Are they happy, challenged, inspired?  This is worth exploring.

    • When Nueva School had parents who were worried about the lack of spelling and handwriting, the school organised parent education evenings... potluck dinners where the parents could come in and experience a Design Thinking experience.  I think this is a great idea.  Having our Thursday morning parent drop-in sessions in Term 2 has been such a positive way to let our parents see what learning is like at RJHS and alleviate their fears about noise level, behaviour and learning.  A way to enhance this could be to invite parents into sessions in the evening where they get to experience our learning process.
    • At Nueva they say their biggest indication of success is that the students are happy.  This reminds me of one of our original parent meetings in mid-2015, when we asked our parent community ‘What are your hopes for your child at RJHS?’ The overwhelming response was ‘We want our kids to be happy and confident.’  Are our students confident?  How do we know?  Are our students happy?  How do we know?  My anecdotal information is that our students are highly engaged and happy, and that they have wonderful relationships with their teachers, especially their Advisory teachers.  It is always good to look for the ‘canary in the mine’ though, and ensure we know how are students are doing with regard to their well being.

    Nueva School, final thoughts
    Nueva is a beautiful school and campus with vibrant, happy staff and students.  Compared to RJHS it is a contrast to our context is an independent school, catering for gifted and talented learners, with a teaching staff predominantly composed of Engineers and other Industry experts, not to mention the steep yearly school fees.  The conversations with the Nueva School staff have been interesting, as well as some of the sessions at the Innovative Learning Conference.  
    To be honest, though, one of the most powerful take-aways for me is that we are miles ahead of other education systems in terms of our curriculum and our pedagogy.  Of course we’ve picked up a few ideas and definitely this has been a time to reflect and think about our next steps, but overall I’ve felt affirmed and quietly chuffed with what we are doing in little ol’ New Zealand at RJHS.

    Tuesday, October 17, 2017

    Design Thinking at Design Tech - our Study Tour Continues

    Design Thinking
    Our Senior Leadership Team visited the Design Tech Campus
    Paula Wine - Reflections of Day 2


    I have been really looking forward to our second stop...Design Tech, a free public charter school in San Francisco.  The school opened in 2014 with a cohort of Grade 9s and this year is their first year to be at capacity with 450 grade 9-13 students.  In January 2018 they will move to a custom-designed, newly built campus funded by a Silicon Valley company in partnership with the Oracle Education Foundation.
    When I asked our guide Nicole how she got involved with this school, she explained that previously she was teaching in a state school in an affluent area.  She and a group of fellow teachers started questioning the effectiveness of the traditional school system.  Even though by all traditional measures (college entrance, state exam scores, etc.) their students were doing ‘well’, this group of teachers was still worried that their students weren’t prepared to be successful at college or even more importantly, what was to come after college.  These teachers recognised that learning to ‘do school well’ no longer guaranteed entrance into a successful career.  As Nicole described, “It’s not about the 4 years after High School, it’s about the next 40 years.”  They were also concerned that the assessment tail was wagging the dog, and university entrance was dictating how and what students learned and crammed in for the final exams.  This group of teachers believed there was a better way, and they realised that teaching design thinking (make and create) wouldn’t work in a traditional school, so they decided to open their own school.

    Design Tech
    A main priority for Design Tech is to develop collaborative problem solving skills (Design) and technological skills (Tech).  Their mission is to help their students believe the world can be a better place and that they can effect change. Their curriculum is competency based, personalised, and academically rigorous (every assessment must be completed and each student must achieve proficiency or better).  Entrance into Design Tech is by lottery; last year they had 600 applications for 120 spots. Their current demographics are 16% Hispanic (compared to 42% at HTH), 52% Caucasian (compared to 30% at HTH), 24% Asian (compared to 12% at HTH), 2% African American (compared to 9% at HTH), the remaining Other.  According to our guide, they  have more IEPs than the average state school and they have a comparatively lower percentage of girls (38%) and low income students (4%).  

    Design Tech in Action

    Design Tech’s guiding design principles are Knowledge in Action and Extreme Personalisation.

    Knowledge in Action

    Design Tech are guided by the common core curriculum (like other schools in California).  Their philosophy is ‘so you have all this content...Physics, Maths, what are you going to do with it?’  The idea is that with this knowledge they will be ‘need finders’ - independently finding and noticing problems and then developing solutions on their own.  Design thinking is an integral part of all aspects of learning at Design Tech.  It is a process that provides a problem-solving strategy for students to use throughout their lives.  In its most basic form it involves identifying an area of need/conflict/problem, exploring, brainstorming and creating solutions, very much like our technological process.

    Rather than pen and paper tests, assessments are performance tasks which are more authentic to the discipline (eg. social media performance task is to create a newspaper, science performance task is to design and carry out an experiment, etc.).

    An interesting aspect of their curriculum is called Intersession; four times a year, students press pause on all their regular course work and they have what is called a ‘deep dive’ or d.labs, where they work on a special design project each morning for two weeks.  The purpose of the d.labs and intersessions is to explore new topics and to work towards UC requirements.  They told us about one Intersession group currently planning a trip to China.  This group (entirely planned and organised by students) is responsible for all details, logistics and fundraising.  Two teachers will accompany the group, the bulk of the trip responsibilities lies with the students planning it.

    During Intersession students also have the opportunity to make and create in the’s ‘makerspace’ called the Design Realization Garage.  The makerspace includes sewing machines, laser cutters, paper prototyping, larger woodworking tools, 3D printer, etc.   All Freshmen (US Grade 9, our Year 10) take a prototype design course.  Students get exposed to a range of technology tools and skills with the idea that when they are ‘Design Thinking’ more independently later on, they will have a foundation of design technology skills.  The class we observed were designing the wire frame for an app and then pitching their ideas to their peers.  Part of being in this class is learning how to give and receive feedback, which they did publicly while we observed.  I did note that in this makerspace there were 9 students in the first class and no more than 15 in the second class.  The teacher we spoke to explained that it just wouldn’t be effective with any more.

    During these 8 weeks of Intersessions students also take part in Electives.  Each afternoon, through community partnerships, the school brings in 35 Industry Experts (not staff) from the community to work with the students on electives.  There are a range of electives including photography, culinary fare, microcomputing, computer science, sustainability, etc.).  It is during this Intersession time that staff are released for 2 weeks (x4, equating to 8 weeks in total) to take undertake their professional learning.  Staff also attend a 2 week summer institute with other educators to prepare them to teach in this environment.

    Extreme Personalisation

    Design Tech follow the A-G curriculum which is personalised based on needs, abilities and interests.  There is a big emphasis on using their knowledge to make the world a better place.  Value is placed on both academic achievement and important transferable skills such as collaboration and problem solving.  

    Students have a choice of projects and flexible groupings within their classes.  All students need to achieve proficiency and demonstrate an understanding of how their learning applies to real-world contexts before they can move on.  There is flexibility in how long it takes to achieve proficiency, with multiple attempts allowed if required.

    Students follow a regular timetable every day (except Thursday).  The regular time table includes all core subjects with 4-5 classes per day for 50 minutes.  They also have 1-2 FIT sessions per day (Focused Independent Time) where they can get their own school work done.  

    Thursday is Lab Day.  Learners start the day with their Advisory Teacher who gives them a slip of paper with a list of ‘recommendations’ and ‘requirements’ from their teachers.  Based on these, the students work with their Advisory Teacher to design their own timetable for the day.  Lab days start 6 weeks into the new school year; in the second semester, one Lab day is increased to two Lab days.  The Lab Days give students more ownership of their timetable and they give teachers time for interventions and a way to offer students extension if needed.  At the end of each Lab Day students return to their Advisory to reflect on whether they achieved what they set out to achieve on their day.  The kids love Lab Day.

    My Takeaways

    We are doing some similar stuff...

    • Open plan - they are currently operating 9 classes in big warehouse-like ‘hangar’; within this hangar they have ‘hacked’ 9 areas to be makeshift learning areas
    • Design Thinking reminds me of our Technological Process in the NZC.  I like the Design Thinking aspect of ‘Start by Gaining Empathy’ (in our Technological Process it is knowing the stakeholder’s needs), followed by ‘Ideate to Generate Alternatives to Test’, then ‘Iterate Based on Feedback (Prototype and Test)’, and finally ‘Reflection and Takeaways’.  As I said, very similar to our Technological Process.  What is interesting is that every teacher they hire at Design Tech goes to Stanford University for a 3 day course on Design Thinking (for free!).
    • Advisory Classes - as academic and pastoral coach
    • They, too, have to be innovative within the constraints of state requirements and UE, and they too find this frustrating (when they want to be focusing on future focused skills and capabilities rather than content for an exam; our guide Nicole said they jump through the hoops, ensuring their students have the minimum to achieve well on state exams, and then they are free to be innovative and focus on what really matters to them)
    • Emphasis on dispositional curriculum and academic excellence - using new knowledge for a real-life purpose
    • They value and develop growth mindset, self management, problem-solving, and perseverance

    What I noticed about Design Tech that has made me think...

    • Design Thinking is a lot!!! easier with 15 in a class - space and resources (physical and personnel) can only stretch so far
    • This is another school where ‘less is more’ - they do cover the core curriculum and then they specialise in Design Thinking - this is what they do well (but there are some areas they don’t ‘do’, for example I didn’t see a focus on Drama, Dance, Visual Art, Health & PE, Music, or Food Technology), but I did see a focus and deep expertise in Design Thinking and Digital Technology (the Robot they designed was impressive!)

    Robot design for the International Robotics Competition.  A challenge is released in January and they have 6 weeks to design a robot that can achieve the goal (i.e. shooting a dodge ball into a hoop).

    • They also talked about how Maths doesn’t integrate easily (HTH mentioned this as well) which is similar to what we have found, so their Maths is stand-alone and progressive (i.e. every student does a Maths Capability test before they start and this determines where in the progression they will start their Maths courses (Algebra→Geometry→Advanced Algebra→Pre-Calculus (including Trig)→Calculus or Stats).  Each Maths lesson begins with around 5 ‘hard’ problems that may require application of knowledge and strategies they learned several months ago; this is to teach students to go deeper, problem-solve collaboratively and persevere.  
    • Opportunities for PLD - wow!  All teachers get to attend a 3-day Design Thinking course at Stanford University, plus 8 weeks of PLD afternoons during the year, plus the 2-week summer institute.  Both HTH and Design Tech provide extensive PLD.  If we were interested in a more ubiquitous approach to Design Thinking or Project Based Learning we would need to support with high-quality PLD.  In both HTH and Design Tech teachers learn by doing, that is they learn by going through the Project Based Learning and Design Thinking process in order to fully understand what their students will experience.  
    • In both schools there was very little student choice within their timetable, at least initially.  However, within their daily Prototype Design projects and Project Based Learning Projects, there is choice.  In Design Tech, for example, all students in their Freshman (first) year take Prototype Design which is very teacher scaffolded.  I see the benefit in taking our students through our Learning Process in a very scaffolded way so they all develop the foundation skills in Design or Project Based Learning.  More freedom and independence can come in time, when they are ready and have demonstrated proficiency in the basics.
    • Students don’t arrive at school with self managing skills.  At Design Tech they have a staff member employed as a ‘Self Direction Coach’.  Students have a lot of choices at Design Tech and as our guide put it ‘not every 9th grader does it well’.  Students get referred to the Self Direction Coach if working with their Advisor isn’t enough.  The referred students work with the coach for 6 weeks and then gradually ease off so they can being to take ownership of their learning.  Their Grade 9s are equivalent to our Year 10s.  So my question is, are we expecting too much ‘self managing’ from our Year 7s?  I think about what a huge transition it is for them, coming from a very supported, managed single-cell classroom with one teacher, to our plan, multiple teachers, BYOD, etc. and I have to ask, are we ‘self direction coaching’ them enough?  
    • Design of environment dictates function...and ambience matters (to me anyway)...the environment at Design Tech was what our guide called ‘edgy’.  There wasn’t a great deal of student learning visible and the central hangar area was actually a industrial-like warehouse.  There was a variety of furniture that the students had actually built (cool!) and a hodgepodge of interest pieces (grand piano, foosball tables, etc.) scattered around, as well as a scatter of random tables.  My need for order was truly challenged.  😀  During the break time all the students congregated in the middle of the hangar and hung out.  My colleague and I both exchanged a knowing look…’What, no outside?  No fresh air and sunshine?  What about lunch time sports?’  To be fair, with smoke from the the Santa Cruz fires drifting through, the air quality was not great.  But the outdoor area available to these young teens was not exactly encouraging outdoor sport, socializing or exercise.  In fact, when we asked about whether they offer PE, the response was that students have 2 years to get their PE credits and they have to do this during their own time.  If I had to choose (and apologies for the generalisation) I would describe this as a masculine, hard, techie environment that wasn’t very endearing to me.  Incidentally they mentioned that they couldn’t understand why they had so few girls applying for their school, and I wonder if the environment could be off-putting for some who may prefer more soft furnishings, colour and student work on the walls.  I will be interested to see their new campus design.

    Interestingly, in Mark Osborne’s recent Changing Spaces Conference address on Modern Learning Environments, he asks the question Does the physical environment support or hinder people and purpose?  Is it informed by research, open, flexible, connected and responsive?  He goes on to describe the features of a well-designed learning environment (has optimal heat, and light, has very strong connections to the outdoors, has at least three acoustic zones - quiet, conversational and noisy, offers the ability to work standing up, and has uncluttered, spacious use of furniture).  

    • I like the idea of Lab Day.  An idea to consider in the future could be to keep our year 7-8 programme quite scaffolded and then introduce a Lab Day in year 9 and/or 10.  This could be an opportunity for them to engage in some Design Thinking, some independent study, some extension or remedial work, or opt into time with an teacher they need to see.  This would also give our older students the opportunity to have more control over their own timetable and more ‘self direction’.   
    • Both Project Based Learning and Design Thinking/makerspaces have merits and help develop future-focused skills.  We need to continue to reflect as we visit other schools this week.  Regardless of what ideas we pick up and implement, let’s focus on one thing and do it well.  What we’ve seen in both schools is a very scaffolded, structure approach at the beginning, with more independence and freedom as students move through the grades and have acquired the skills and competencies to achieve deep learning.  The idea is to enhance what we are already doing so well.  
    • Finally, we definitely need to develop our ‘Graduate Profile’...what kete do we want our RJHS students to leave with?  This is something we, the SLT, have been mulling over for several months.  I look forward to us co-constructing this together.

    Thanks Design Tech.  It was really neat to see your school.