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CORE Education Blog by Anne Robertson - 1w ago
Looking Inside Out by Anne Robertson via Flickr CC-BY 2.0

I spent the last week on the road in our campervan with my husband, visiting a part of the country we didn’t know, and tramping up some mountains. We escaped, went off the grid…. no, actually we didn’t! We are social media and news junkies so being disconnected from family, friends and what’s happening in the world is not really an option. We had our mobile phones with us at all times, even on the tops of misty, windswept mountains. Why? We were making the most of the technology we had to keep ourselves safe and informed.

Before leaving we researched on the internet to plan a rough route and activities to do on the way. We connected with people online who had experience in the mountains to seek advice on the best routes to undertake. This gave us a variety of options to choose from. We checked the weather forecast daily, made observations on the ground and used our prior knowledge and understanding of how weather conditions in the mountains can change to decide our option for the day.

The TOPO maps we had downloaded onto our phones didn’t get soggy or blow away in the wind. We could zoom in to see the features and contour lines more clearly and cater for our ageing, myopic eyes! The compass, altimeter and GPS functions on our smartwatches let us know how far we have travelled, how high we are and helped us navigate.

But what has my holiday got to do with education and learning?

Children learn best when they interact with their environment, when they are able to link present content to previous experiences and knowledge and when they take an active part in their own learning.
John Dewey

In the past, we may have carried multiple field guides for flora and fauna but now we have all that information available through phones. Back at our van we would check into the online guides and identify plants from the photos. With the images in our heads and the photos we had taken we could explore the history and geography of the land and the stories behind the names of places we visited. Our learning was instant, connected and contextual.

Outside-in learning

I have long been an advocate for Education Outside the Classroom (EOTC) and the positive impacts it has on teachers, learners and their joint engagement with learning. School camps are traditionally the time when formal learning is put to one side, pens, paper and digital devices are left at home and kids get a chance to reconnect with the environment. Ākonga challenge themselves physically and emotionally, push themselves outside their comfort zones and have fun. They are active, outdoors, developing their hauora, working collaboratively with each other and learning together.

EOTC is not just about camps. EOTC activities can be planned to take place in the school grounds, down the road at the local park, in the art gallery or museum, at the marae, at places of worship, in the old people’s home or the library. EOTC and informal learning are examples of learner-centred learning. Dewey described a philosophy of learner-centred pedagogy which is outlined in this article by Steve Wheeler. The digital environment in which we live makes it much easier to provide opportunities for learners to make connections between their environment and learning across the curriculum and to ‘rewind’ what they experienced in an EOTC context.
One of the arguments for getting kids ‘off-grid’ for a few days is the concern about well-being and overexposure to digital devices. But this piece of research argues that well-planned use of digital devices increases the emotional connection that ākonga have to learning and ongoing engagement.

“Students without mobile devices were not as emotionally connected to the environment, nor were they as empowered in learning the content as the group that was given technology and a field guide.”

My belief is that school camps and EOTC activities provide essential non-formal learning which should be celebrated. But we need to go further and leverage the power they have to connect learning across the curriculum and explicitly plan to ensure that they do.


Embedded in our New Zealand Curriculum is the idea of coherence across a curriculum in which “all learning should make use of the natural connections that exist between learning areas and that link learning areas to the key competencies.” (p.16 NZC)

EOTC presents opportunities to make connections across the curriculum and learning in a local context. It also offers us opportunities to use and create with digital technologies to enhance the learning before, during and after the EOTC activity.

In a previous role, I had the opportunity to reframe the concept of the ‘end of year’ camp so that there was coherence in terms of context and experience as ākonga progressed through the school. In CORE’s Ten Trends 2019 it is recognised that;

“Cultural narratives are increasingly recognised as powerful enablers in connecting our past to the present and acts to build a platform to a sustainable future. They enable schools to situate themselves in the context of the places they co-inhabit, and recognise the influences of people, places, time and events in shaping who we are. When learners are enabled to make connections to where they live, when they create links to significant events, people and the land, they develop a sense that they are part of a larger story. As such, cultural narratives are as much for non-Māori as they are Māori. They help learners examine knowledge, issues and events from where their feet stand first, in their local environment.”

I wanted to develop a holistic vision for camps with a theme of sustainability and a sense of knowing where we are and how we fit into the environment and the culture in which we live. We start close to home and gradually move further away building on our learning and making connections through stories and activities that develop key competencies and an understanding of place and identity.

Starting locally and then moving further afield fits with Wally Penetito’s idea of us starting where our feet are, building on prior knowledge and moving from the known to the unknown.

“Start where your feet are but never let it stay there; it’s the beginning point only, everything else moves out from that.”    Wally Penetito

My vision was for these camps to be further developed through strong collaboration between learning areas and integrated and planned use of digital technologies. The flow or progression from one to the other provided rigorous learning opportunities that increased in depth, complexity and richness on camp but the opportunity to make explicit the pathway for learning for ākonga and their whanau in school was still not there. Points to consider;

  • How might we have re-designed the curriculum so that these camps provided rich opportunities for learning that ākonga, teachers and whānau could clearly understand?
  • How could we have worked together to connect the learning experiences on camp with deep learning in school across learning areas before and after camp?
  • How could we have built stronger, sustainable connections with whānau, iwi and other organisations so that there was a strong sense of ownership of the learning experience?
  • How could digital technologies have been used to plan for learning on camp, enrich learning on camp, rewind it back at school and produce digital outcomes to share learning?

Come and join the discussion in edSpace on how to frame your thinking around the EOTC activities you currently do and how you could develop them so that they are rich opportunities for learning, connected across the curriculum and based on ākonga strengths, needs, identities and aspirations.


  1. https://www.teachthought.com/learning/pedagogy-john-dewey-summary/
  2. https://newlearningtimes.com/cms/article/3447/how-to-use-phones-to-emotionally-connect-to-the-environment
  3. CORE Ten Trends –  Cultural Narratives
  4. Wally Penetito https://vimeo.com/188920083#t=6m06s
  5. Digital EOTC https://sites.google.com/core-ed.ac.nz/why-hamilton/home?authuser=0

Featured image by Alex Siale on Unsplash

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Listen to the blog post read by the author.

Imagine, if you will, a wee blonde-haired girl, loud as the day is long, aged seven, growing up on a farm at the farthest point of the South Island. She trails along behind family members, talking incessantly or singing enthusiastically, and learning the family business. Her usual attire is gumboots, a shirt and jeans, or a pair of overalls. She is often accompanied by a trail of animals, to which she clearly has a huge sense of responsibility. This Pākehā girl’s experience of anything Māori has been waiata sung by the Māori farm workers around the bonfire at tailing time, with spatterings of waiata sung at school.

Let’s move on nine years to find our farm girl at high school. She is attending a decile one school, where many students have dropped out, disengaged with the learning, and frustrated by the system. Her experience of Māori now extends to hearing friends use the odd word or phrase, but not the teachers. Her experience is not kapa haka – the school doesn’t offer this. It’s not tikanga being discussed – people even sit on the tables! Te reo is offered to students who are not doing English or Sciences. Timetabling discussions imply Māori is not a priority subject.

What about university you ask? Our wee farm girl takes te reo courses and her eyes are opened! The lecturer talks of the empowerment of fluency; he talks of how to prioritise tikanga. He models, he encourages, he empowers, he inspires. She questions where she sits in all of this.

Now fast-forward 35 years on from the start of our story, to find this wee farm girl sitting in her car outside a school, where she is about to facilitate a strong and passionate group of teachers in the Te Whakamānawa, Culturally Responsive Practice in School Communities course. This course supports these classroom practitioners to question, reflect and collectively grow their cultural capabilities, to support the engagement and success of all students.

This wee farm girl is me. I’ll be honest; before I sat in the car that day I was genuinely questioning “How do I find myself here? Am I the right person to be supporting these kaiako and their tamariki?” I confess that as a Pākehā supporting the facilitation of a course about how to reflect the bi-cultural heritage of Aotearoa I was feeling very vulnerable. As Brene Brown (2010) would say though, “you need to be in a state of vulnerability before you can be in a state of courageousness.” I decided that my personal challenge as I worked with the teachers was to accept this vulnerability and lean into it, rather than run away from it.

One of the first key discussions the group of teachers had was around the concept of the ‘cultural iceberg’. We talked about how important it is to know your own whakapapa (to recognise how where you’ve come from and how your worldview informs your teaching practice and relationships with students and their whānau). This is a perspective that helps you to understand others. I listened to teachers in this course discuss their understandings and misunderstandings of the deeper aspects of the many cultures in their school, using their own culture as a lens. We regularly reflected on how these understandings and discussions had an impact on teacher choices, for themselves, for programmes and for individual students.

As a facilitator I wanted to clarify my understanding of my whakapapa and how it was impacting on my opinions, assumptions, bias and values. How did growing up on a farm in Tiwai influence who I am, and how I think?
Co-incidentally I was spending time becoming more familiar with the Ladder of Inference. This made me reconsider that my interpretation of experiences I had at an early age had led me to, at one end of the continuum, false/skewed conclusions and beliefs, and at the other end cringe-worthy moments about other people’s. I recognised that my bias was such that I wasn’t truly walking in others’ shoes as I first thought I had been. I was intrigued to hear teachers talking of this for themselves also.

Quote from J. Riki-Waaka (2018)

For example, hearing the teachers talk about how they were making changes in their programmes that came from the Wero/Challenges of the course made me reconsider what actions displayed the difference between consultation and engagement with whānau. Hearing online course facilitator, Janelle Riki-Waaka talk of cultural deprivation of generations of New Zealanders made me realise “OMG that’s me! How do I rectify this?”

As I sat and listened to the teachers discussing, debating and consolidating their collective thoughts and feelings about this idea I came to recognise the Pākehā influence – historically and for the future.

This is my responsibility. This is your responsibility. This is our responsibility.

Our country is founded on a partnership between Māori (as tangata whenua) and Pākehā. Aotearoa has a unique and beautiful bicultural history and one that is reflected in our wonderful New Zealand Curriculum. Our Codes and Standards clearly say that we are responsible for righting the wrongs of decolonisation (pg 4). Te Tiriti o Waitangi Articles 1 to 4 are also reflected in our responsibilities.

It is imperative that we all commit to understanding culture (both our own and others), and that from these understandings we make changes in our schools to be responsive to cultures, therefore creating places where children recognise themselves as an important part of the school.

As a Pākehā I now see that educating myself will have a positive impact on how I educate others to bring about change. I eagerly read and share examples of how this can be done, such as:

  • The CORE Education Ten Trends 2019 has a trend focusing on Cultural Narratives and the powerful enablers they are becoming in connecting our past to the present and acts to build a platform to a sustainable future.
    “Cultural narratives are increasingly recognised as powerful enablers in connecting our past to the present, situating us in the context of the places we co-inhabit, and recognising the influences of people, places, time and events in shaping who we are.” (CORE Education, 2019 pg 62)
  • Principal possum – challenge of bi-culturalism lies with Pakeha
  • 10 decolonisation skills for non-Māori kiwis

As I reflect on the impact I saw on those strong teachers who did the Te Whakamānawa course, I admire how they leaned into the discomfort of the work, faced their shame or fear, and focused on what was needed for their tamariki to be successful.
These teachers endeavoured to engage with the whānau and iwi of the area, rather than consult, and they sought reciprocal relationships.
They collaboratively worked to ensure success for their tamariki, both by identifying their student’s taonga and by seeking student, whānau and iwi voice into the life of the school.

The collective bank of resources they have from this journey is immense – the videos, learner profiles, pepeha, the mihi whakatau practices, strategic plans are astounding. I wish I had recorded their conversations for you so that you could hear the depth of care, passion, and aroha for their children and their profession. I recall a conversation when several of the teachers talked about what giftedness is for their Māori students. I felt tears welling in my eyes as they discussed child after child, and how they wanted to consolidate tikanga practices at their school for these children to ensure opportunities for success for all.

They continue to be the influencers of change as they navigate processes they began as part of their journey on this course, and I couldn’t be prouder of them.

Te Whakamānawa course has encouraged me to reconsider and truly challenge myself to grow in this area. That wee blonde haired girl seems so long ago and so naive. There is such benefit in this type of development for teachers. Specifically as a Pākeha I now recognise how I can advocate for change.

I leave you with these questions to ponder around cultural capabilities:

  • How might your culture and worldview inform your teaching practice and how you engage with others?
  • What responsibility do you have as a non-Māori/Māori educator in Aotearoa to uphold the mana of Te Tiriti o Waitangi and to contribute to the success of all your students?
  • How are you currently using your influence? And what will you do next?
Need help building cultural capabilities?
Check out these great resources
Make an enquiry about Te Whakamānawa, Culturally Responsive Practice in School Communities


Abraham, M. (2017). Challenge of Biculturalism Lies With Pakeha. Retrieved from http://principalpossum.blogspot.com/2017/03/challenge-of-biculturalism-lies-with.html 
Brown, B. (2010, June) The power of vulnerability [Video File]. Retrieved from https://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_on_vulnerability?language=en#t-1200270
CORE Education. (2019). Cultural narratives » Ten Trends 2019. Retrieved from http://core-ed.org/research-and-innovation/ten-trends/2019/cultural-narratives/
Education Council. (2017). Our Code, Our Standards [Ebook]. Wellington: Education Council. Retrieved from https://teachingcouncil.nz/sites/default/files/Our%20Code%20Our%20Standards%20web%20booklet%20FINAL.pdf
[GCPE BCGov]. (2016, April 20). Cultural Iceberg [Video File]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=woP0v-2nJCU
Labrie, P. Mental Models – Ladder of Inference. Retrieved from https://artofleadershipconsulting.com/blog/leadership/mental-models-ladder-of-inference/
Ministry of Education. (2017). The New Zealand Curriculum. Retrieved from http://nzcurriculum.tki.org.nz/The-New-Zealand-Curriculum
Sheron, L. (2013). Cultural Heritage Below the Water Line | OIC Moments. Retrieved from https://www.oh-i-see.com/blog/2013/09/12/culture-smart-3s-and-4s/

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‘Matariki ahunga nui! Matariki tāpuapua!’

‘Matariki provider of plentiful food. Matariki the rainy season’

Ātea a Rangi Waharoa – Te Ika Roa/Milky Way 2018 – Permission given to use picture – Robb Te Kawa

At the time of writing, we are very close to the winter solstice, which is celebrated on the shortest day of the year. Tama-nui-te-rā is beginning his final embrace with Hine Takurua, and planning the long journey back to Hine Raumati. Te Iwa o Matariki, which is commonly celebrated in contemporary times as the Māori New Year is also about to make its appearance much easier to see. A time of renewal and celebration, where we remember those things that have come to pass, and embrace our future desires.

Very recently my whānau and I attended a tangihanga that in hindsight demonstrated the continuing consequences and impacts of colonisation.
Colonisation in this instance, refers to Māori loss of sovereignty, which eventually paved the way for political, spiritual, economic, social and psychological domination. Whilst the impacts from loss of land, loss of power, loss of language and culture continues to prove devastating for Māori, the intergenerational impacts are further highlighted by low levels of participation and achievement in education and economic well-being. As well as over representation in negative areas such as imprisonment rates.

Kohukohurangi, Putorino, Te Mauri

Due to this, my husband and I have spent the last 25 years revitalising the Māori language and traditional practices within our whānau. Our three tamariki are first language Māori speakers, and now there are three of us that are Te Aho Matua practitioners, with our eldest daughter currently teaching Pūtaiao in the wharekura section of our local kura kaupapa Māori. Our middle child is enrolled in Te Aho Tātairangi, a Māori-medium Bachelor of Education degree offered at Massey University. Our 10 year old speaks only te reo Māori to us all.

Our language reclamation journey took courage, resilience, stamina but most importantly, a huge leap of faith. Our decision to do so was based more on instinctive collective understandings, or the desire to be part of a Māori speaking movement, as opposed to a well thought out, foolproof plan. I think as far as succession plans go, we are very close to ticking off phase 2 in our whakarauora reo strategy, a language revitalisation plan that utilises theories and strategies from Kura Whakarauora Reo.

Our plan includes Māori language classes to our direct whānau as well as making safe spaces for the partners of our tamariki, who might not speak Māori, but have come into a household where approx 90% te reo Māori is spoken. Add to this the knowledge that we are very close to finishing our very first waka taurua build, and you may get an inkling of how hard my husband and I, as well as a strong collective of many Māori speaking whānau, have had to work to get here.

‘……one of the many trying to save our beautiful language and traditions from the continued onslaught of colonisation…..’

This is our reality now, but 25 years ago, we had a simple desire, and that was that our children’s first language be te reo Māori. In my head, I had consciously thought about the fact that I would become one of the many trying to save our beautiful language and traditions from the continued onslaught of colonisation, a demanding and enduring responsibility. However, in my heart I had confirmed the absolute importance of te reo Māori me ōna tikanga, how they shape my identity and psyche, to make me who I am.

Yet, through all my struggles and efforts to create a te reo Māori only household, to become a Māori-medium educator, to practise as a kaupapa Māori researcher and Te Aho Matua practitioner; attending this tangihanga clearly emphasised how far we have to go. It also reiterated the continued struggle of Māori to differentiate between modern expectations of what it is to be Māori, and a Māori of the marae.

To be clear, my husband and I both consider ourselves people of the marae and modern-day Māori. As such, we returned as quickly as we both were able to this tangihanga, made simpler as we work within Te Arareo Māori, the Māori-medium division of Tātai Aho Rau, CORE Education. While tangihanga leave was very easily arranged for my husband and I, this was not the case for many of our whānau who couldn’t get time off work to attend.

On arrival, it quickly became evident that we would have to lead in the front, or on the paepae. There were no kaikaranga, and the pae kaikōrero was also slim for the picking. These are honorable positions held upon the marae but in some areas there are so few kaikaranga and kaikōrero to fill them.

‘….continued impact that colonisation has on our people and our ability to carry out expected kawa and tikanga at necessary times….’

I make this statement to highlight the continued impact that colonisation has on our people and our ability to carry out expected kawa and tikanga at necessary times. It also exemplifies the honour and support of those who did their best to maintain kawa and tikanga throughout the duration of the tangihanga process.

Further intoning the desperate need for:

  • more te reo Māori within the curriculum, as well as,
  • additional free and easily accessible, good quality te reo Māori classes for those interested
  • increased culturally responsive pedagogy, (culturally sustainable pedagogy) within English-medium
  • more readily available Decolonistion – Treaty of Waitangi workshops for educators.

Throughout the duration of the tangihanga, we were constantly having to explain to the whānau some of our Māori practices, and why we do what we do. Explaining to a parent about the necessity of making sure your tamaiti isn’t running up and down the marae ātea during a pōwhiri seems like such a trivial concern. Until you become aware of the underlying ‘tikanga’ associated to this, a conversation for another day.

This was only one very small example of some of the tikanga infractions that continued to happen throughout the tangihanga, which left me bereft to think that in this day and age, there are still so many of our whānau whose experience has been influenced by the fact that they have been denied the right to understanding their own tikanga. If our whānau aren’t aware, how high are the chances that tamariki within these whānau aren’t aware, and eventually their tamariki mokopuna? Yet again, this consequence rests solely on the continued onslaught of colonisation.

I cannot get upset with our whānau who have not been taught our Māori language or traditions. But I can fight the rippling tide of colonisation that seeks to drown our collective Māori voice. I can continue to teach our young ākonga Māori about our reo, our tikanga, our histories, and to become critically aware of the continued effects of colonisation. So many have done these very things and continue to do this and more. The loss of tikanga is but a small consequence on the scale of inequity, especially considered alongside the recent Oranga Tamariki fiasco. Yet many injustices continue to occur on many fronts as shown by the following statistics.

As of March 2019, Māori make up 51.3% of the prison population (Department of Corrections, 2019) and 32.7% of Māori smoke tobacco (Cancer Society, 2019). They continue to have lower rates of school completion and much higher rates of unemployment. They are more likely to earn a personal income less than $10,000, receive income support, live in households without telecommunications which includes internet access, rent accommodation and live in crowded households (Ministry of Health, 2013).

Diabetes among Māori is about twice that of non-Māori (Ministry of Health, 2013). Whilst they are three times more likely to be admitted to hospital for asthma (Asthma and Respiratory Foundation NZ, 2018). Māori adults continue to have higher cancer registration rates, with Māori cancer mortality rates being 1.5 times higher than non-Māori. They are also twice as likely than non-Māori to die from cardiovascular disease and ischaemic heart disease (Heart Research Institute New Zealand).
Finally, Māori suicide rates are twice as high than non-Māori.

These results are the continued effects and impact of colonisation, a historical trauma that is statistically repeated worldwide in every indigenous corner of the world, where colonisation was part of their collective experience.

More importantly when reflecting on my tamariki, these statistics could potentially mean they have:

  • a 50 percent chance of being imprisoned
  • a low chance at completing school and being employed
  • a higher chance of dying from cancer, a cardiovascular disease, or committing suicide.

Statistics are especially terrifying when you are the target audience.

‘……….help break the continuing effects of colonisation…..’

I implore our educators everywhere to help break the continuing effects of colonisation for Māori and:

  • pronounce my name correctly, let me know that you respect me
  • help me learn about my histories, strengthen my identity
  • show me pathways to learn my language and traditions, care about my culture
  • let me see myself reflected in my classrooms and schools, grow my sense of belonging
  • further encourage my sense of belonging, stregthen my ability to learn.

If you are not willing to be part of the solution, then you remain part of the problem.

At this time of year, close to the rise of Matariki, I have begun to reflect on goals that I have achieved. We are a whānau kōrero Māori, everywhere we go, nationally and internationally. We bathe in the beauty of this reality, and enjoy the fruits from our years of hardship and struggle. We have faced critics who often told us that speaking te reo Māori would get us nowhere, and to leave our Māoritanga at the door every time we left home.

In my lifetime, I would like to see the Māori language, traditions and practices, alongside the learning of our Aotearoa, New Zealand histories become compulsory components of the New Zealand Curriculum. These conversations might not be easy, in fact they will be confronting for many. However, they are necessary to assist our tamariki to become critically aware about our shared histories, our culture, and our identity.

As Tuia Encounters 250 approaches, perhaps we, as a nation, have reached a level of maturity for such tension fraught discussions to be brought to light. Perhaps.


Māori English
Hine Raumati Summer Maidern
Hine Takurua Winter Maiden
Kaikaranga Caller
Kaikōrero Speaker
Karanga To Call, Formal Call
Kawa Ceremony or set of rituals
Kura Kaupapa Māori Māori Language Immersion School
Marae ātea Courtyard, public forum
Paepae Orators bench
Pono Truth, honesty, sincere
Pūtaiao Science
Tama-nui-te-rā The Sun
Tangihanga Funeral, Rights for the dead
Te reo Māori The Māori Language
Te reo Māori me ōna tikanga The Māori Language and Customs
Tika Correct, just, fair, right
Waka Taurua Double hulled, small sailing vessel
Whānau Family, primary economic unit in traditional times
Wharekura House of Learning

Māori Dictionary App


Asthma and Respiratory Foundation New Zealand (2018). Retrieved 2019: https://www.asthmafoundation.org.nz/research/key-statistics

Cancer Society (2019). Māori and Cancer. Retrieved 2019; https://central-districts.cancernz.org.nz/reducing-cancer-risk/what-you-can-do/smoking-and-cancer/smoking-and-cancer/maori-and-smoking/

Department of Corrections (2019). Māori and Prison Statistics. Retrieved, 2019; https://www.corrections.govt.nz/resources/research_and_statistics/quarterly_prison_statistics.html

Heart Research Institute New Zealand (2019). Heart Disease in the Māori Community. Retrieved from:

Kura Whakarauora. (2019). Kura Whakarauora. Retrieved from http://www.kurawhakarauora.co.nz/

Ministry of Health (2013). Māori Health Statistics 2013. Retrieved, 2019: https://www.health.govt.nz/our-work/populations/maori-health/tatau-kahukura-maori-health-statistics/nga-awe-o-te-hauora-socioeconomic-determinants-health/socioeconomic-indicators

Māori Dictionary (2019)

Paki, R. (2019). TUIA ENCOUNTERS 250. Retrieved from https://www.tuia250.nz/

Reid, M. (2019). New Zealand’s own ‘stolen generation’: The babies taken by Oranga Tamariki. Retrieved from https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/113395638/new-zealands-own-stolen-generation-the-babies-taken-by-oranga-tamariki

Te Wānanga o Aotearoa (2019). Te Tokoiwa a Matariki. Retrieved (2019) https://www.twoa.ac.nz/Pages/Te-Iwa-o-Matariki?sc_lang=en

Featured image Matariki by Ben Gracewood on Flickr, CC BY-NC 2.0

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Over the past few years an increasing number of New Zealand schools have become involved in New Pedagogies for Deep Learning (NPDL). NPDL is a global collaboration of more than 1,400 schools in seven countries, seeking ways to transform teaching and learning approaches, and provide the conditions that will facilitate deep learning.

The challenge of making learning relevant, engaging, and sustainable in the modern world is one that is confronting to all schools. The NZ schools in the NPDL project represent a variety of contexts, with their own priorities and challenges, and each is using the NPDL tools, frameworks, and support to develop a coherent, school-wide approach to achieving their aspiration for deep learning.

Deep Learning Competencies

At the heart of it all are the Deep Learning Competencies, better known as the Six Cs. These are the skill sets each and every learner needs to achieve and excel in, in order to flourish in today’s complex world. These competencies form the foundation for the New Measures. NPDL teachers use the Deep Learning Progressions to assess learner’s current levels in each of the six Deep Learning Competencies. They combine this with information about learner achievement, interests, and aspirations to get a clear understanding of what each learner needs.

This is illustrated in the video below where Tracey Scott, Visual Arts teacher from Bream Bay College, shares her story of using the 6Cs in her senior NCEA classroom.

Also from Bream Bay College, Gwyneth Cooper has been using the NPDL frameworks to establish strong connections between Cultural Competencies and Deep Learning. How can we weave the 6C learning competencies into learning experiences which are socially and culturally located?

Deep Learning Lab

Participating schools gather each year at a Deep Learning Lab (DLL), where they come to be inspired and informed about the ways they can deepen learning in their schools. The 2018 DLL was held in Auckland, which included inspiration from CORE’s Rosalie Reiri on the significance of local context and the development of cultural narratives and global NPDL team member, Mag Gardner, sharing her expertise on building collaborative cultures.

After attending the DLL in Auckland the teachers from Hawea Flat School in Otago gave feedback on what they’d learned from attending the Lab:

“We had a team of people come to the Deep Learning Lab in Auckland that ranged from teachers presenting workshops, lead teachers in other areas of the school as well as teachers new to our school who had little understanding of NPDL. The keynote speakers are critical and there was something there for everyone. As a team we connected strongly with Rosalie and her place-based keynote address and also with Mag Gardner. It’s great to hear from international speakers as well as those from NZ. The workshops catered well for the different places we’re all at on our NPDL journey. We came away feeling energised, inspired and everyone motivated to go ‘deeper’. Everyone on board our waka is paddling in the same direction. It affirmed a lot of what was happening back at our school and showed us how we could go further. We felt confident to ‘let go’ and follow the children’s lead while at the same time engaging more with our parent community and what they felt was important for their children to learn. We hadn’t in the past found that out from parents during the ‘planning’ phase and after the Deep Learning Lab we followed multiple times with our parent community. One of the biggest impacts has been us realising how important it is to show our parents what ‘deep’ learning is as many of them have come through a system where test outcomes have been the main priority for learning.”

Cultural narratives

Building on what they had learned at the DLL, teachers from Hillpark School and Clevedon School in Auckland decided to put into practice the ideas they’d gained from Rosalie regarding creating a cultural narrative relating to their local context. They identified that a number of their teachers didn’t actually live in the same area as their respective schools, so set about creating an “Historical hikoi” to help build an appreciation of the cultural histories of their local areas that they could then integrate more effectively into their classroom programmes. Their story is shared in the video below.

Wellbeing and literacy

The NZ schools involved in NPDL are demonstrating a variety of ways to implement the frameworks available through being a part of the NPDL project. A recent article in the Education Gazette records the story of Cobden School near Greymouth that has used a wellbeing focus to improve boys’ literacy.

Learning partnerships

Providing opportunities for immersive, trans-disciplinary approaches to learning that involve close links with the local community are a key focus of what schools in the NPDL programme seek to achieve. In the video below, Janis Sandri from Holy Family Catholic school in Wanaka shares her school’s story of how they formed learning partnerships with key members and organisations in their local community to support learner driven passion projects.

As each of the stories of impact in this post reveal, the NPDL programme is not a ‘recipe’ to follow. Rather, it provides a robust set of frameworks and tools, together with the support of experienced facilitators and a broad community of educators, that can be used to augment and further develop the work you are doing in your school already. The challenge of how we meet the needs of each individual learner while creating a localised curriculum and ensuring that the learning is deep is not an easy task, but with the support of a local and global community, and with the tools to help us plan for and measure deep learning, it does become more achievable.

NZ NPDL Deep Learning Lab 2019.

A two-day New Pedagogies for Deep Learning event. Be a part of the action! Christchurch 18-19 July – registrations open now.

If you’re interested in knowing more about how your school or cluster could become a part of the NPDL programme in NZ please contact:
Margot McKeegan margot.mckeegan@core-ed.ac.nz or
Derek Wenmoth derek.wenmoth@core-ed.ac.nz

This blog post was written collaboratively by Margot and Derek.

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How relevant is a six-monthly report by the time it gets home? Yr 4 student using sentence structures to help them articulate their learning.

Adapting assessment practices to gather evidence of 21st Century outcomes/skills is becoming urgent!
Providing timely personalised feedback to students which lets them monitor their own progress and develop self-regulatory skills is becoming a high priority!
Connecting with parents/whānau to develop genuine collaboration to help build insights about student’s learning progress and challenges is vital!

Although this is easier said than done, and can feel overwhelmingly challenging, it is also achievable. One strategy is by leveraging digital technologies. “New possibilities for diversifying collection and judgement of evidence Smart technologies allow online, anytime, anywhere, and on-demand assessment” (Murgatroyd, 2018). The benefits by far outweigh the current six-monthly reporting model. Digital tools add to curriculum/assessment alignment challenges by enabling “just in time” assessment close to the learning and an opportunity to engage, deepen and extend the learning conversations.

What’s driving the need for this change? The CORE Education 2019 Ten Trends identify these societal influences when it comes to real time reporting:

  1. Demand for more timely, personalised feedback
  2. Greater emphasis on formative assessment and reporting
  3. Technological developments
Building assessment capabilities Yr 4 student using sentence structures to help them articulate their learning.

Teachers need to build their own and their students’ assessment capabilities so that they can develop and bring to life formative assessment using digital technologies in their learning environment. Actively involving students is an important part and provides opportunity to develop the language of learning. “The evidence is unequivocal that self and peer assessment practices are strongly associated with student achievement.” (Hipkins & Cameron, 2018). We need to allocate time in our learning programmes for peer to peer assessment conversations and how we respond appropriately to feedback from teachers and peers.

The call for reporting on progress in real time will allow the learning gains of every student to be acknowledged.

Have you considered the following?

  1. Do learners know what is expected? Are they clear on the purpose?
  2. Do learners know what quality looks like? Do they know where they are at with their own learning progress?
  3. Are learners comfortable with giving and receiving feedback? Peer and self assessment/reflection?
  4. Can learners articulate their learning clearly and concisely?
  5. Can they manage their own learning by responding to feedback that was designed to move them forward?
Some practical strategies to get started with learners: 5 year old student using a support sheet to develop digital literacies to share learning.

If you are starting out with developing the language of learning so students can articulate their learning you might want to support them with sentence structures.

  • I was pleased when…
  • I found out…
  • I now understand…
  • I worked hard to…
  • I practised…
  • It was hard but I managed to…
  • I was interesting when…
  • I used to…but now I…
  • The next thing for me to work on is…
  • I wondered if…
  • Sometimes I need to remember…
  • I tried…
  • Today I learnt…
  • I am proud of…
  • My question is…

Support students to develop digital literacies to move towards becoming digitally fluent (they can choose the digital tool fit for purpose). They will learn different ways to share their learning and the digital tools that enhance this. For example if you are using Seesaw you can develop how to use the different in-built tools (camera, video, voice recording, drawing, labels, links).

Deepening the learning conversations

Relationships between home and school are important! How can we get parents/whānau to engage in more meaningful feedback and conversations beyond responding with ‘that’s cool’ or a ‘like’. We want online conversations to amplify our face to face conversations. Students are our best advocates to move the online conversations to foster collaboration. Once the students have developed confidence with the language of learning they can ask for specific feedback. The following example shows how Clifton Terrace Model School in Wellington launched a school wide approach to deepen learning conversations through students posting on Seesaw.

The next steps

Allow time for students to read the responses and  scaffold how to respond. Initially this could be a “thank you”, then move into using the Key Competencies. How do we respond to positive feedback? How do we respond to constructive feedback?

The principles of effective reporting and information sharing from the Ministry of Education clearly indicate the requirement to move to using digital technologies that enable parents and whānau to see their child’s progress on-line in real time.

To engage further in this conversation go to: https://edspace.org.nz/discussion/view/102871/ten-trend-real-time-reporting. You will find out about what other schools are doing around the shift to real time reporting. Join the conversation and share your thinking or what strategies you are using to approach real time reporting effectively. Will making a shift to real time reporting be a more effective use of teacher time and be more beneficial for students than a six monthly report?

Images taken by Katrina Laurie at St Anthony’s School (Seatoun), all rights reserved.


CORE Education. (2019). Real-time reporting. Retrieved from http://www.core-ed.org/research-and-innovation/ten-trends/2019/real-time-reporting/

Hipkins, R., & Cameron, M. (2018). Trends in assessment: An overview of themes in the literature [Ebook]. Wellington: NZCER. Retrieved from https://www.nzcer.org.nz/system/files/Trends%20in%20assessment%20report.pdf

Ministry of Education. (2019). Principles of effective reporting / Reporting to parents & whānau. Retrieved from http://assessment.tki.org.nz/Reporting-to-parents-whanau/Principles-of-effective-reporting

Murgatroyd, S. (2018). New approaches to the assessment of learning: New possibilities for business education. In A. Khare
& D. Hurst (Eds.), On the line—business education in the digital age (pp. 141–155). Switzerland: Springer

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Image source: Suzanne D. Williams, CC0

I am often skeptical of some of the language we use in education, and that is common in other sectors too. This includes words such as: disruption, innovation, transformation. I wonder about the human impact using these words has. How does it feel to be ‘disrupted’, to be asked to ‘innovate’, or to ‘transform’ one’s self or one’s practice? This isn’t to say though that I don’t believe in challenge or provocation, nor that I don’t see the value in encouraging people to test their assumptions and question their underlying beliefs. Indeed, far from it.

So let’s think more about transformation for a moment.

Common metaphors for transformation include the butterfly, which evolves from its humble beginnings as a caterpillar into a beautiful, soaring creature. Another metaphor is a Biblical one: St Paul’s conversion to Christianity on the road to Damascus. Both of these metaphors encompass the idea of a sudden, dramatic, and profound change in direction or orientation or worldview. When we talk about transformative experiences, we might say something like: ‘the scales fall from your eyes’, or use what is a favourite quotation of mine (attributed both to Ralph Waldo Emerson and Oliver Wendell Holmes): “The mind once stretched by a new idea, never returns to its original dimensions”.

But there is another aspect to transformation I think it’s useful to know of: the adult learning theory – Transformation Theory. Transformation Theory is generally ascribed to American Jack Mezirow based on his study of women returning to university in the late 1970s. Mezirow (2009) offers this definition of transformative learning: “Transformative learning may be defined as learning that transforms problematic frames of reference to make them more inclusive, discriminating, reflective, open, and emotionally able to change” (p. 22, emphasis in original).

Transformation Theory focuses on critical reflection and dialogue to support people to adapt their worldview – to orient it towards being agentic, inclusive, open, seeking social justice and equity. Therefore we could say that transformative learning occurs when a person is able to change their their worldview, for example about what knowledge is; how society operates; or about their beliefs about themselves (Kitchenham, 2008).

In practice, Transformation Theory could look like CORE Education’s Dr Vince Ham eFellowship. The Dr Vince Ham eFellows are committed to exploring ways of doing education differently for their schools, kura, centres and communities. The purpose of the Dr Vince Ham eFellowship is to inspire transformational practice through inquiry. eFellows are mentored through their own deep inquiry journey that generally takes the form of an action research project. They experience workshops, field trips, critical reflection and dialogue – learning from and with one another.

Further, Transformation Theory can also support school and kura leaders to think about how they design professional learning and development opportunities for their colleagues. Some of the challenges include: nurturing robust professional learning conversations; creating safe environments where people feel comfortable in being vulnerable: admitting they don’t know, or made a mistake. It is important that leaders value and model critical reflection and dialogue with one another, and with colleagues.

To that end, leaders might consider the following questions:

  • How might we encourage teachers to understand their current worldview and assumptions about education, including their position within the education system?
  • How might we foster supportive, safe, and inclusive relationships that allow space for critical reflection and dialogue to unfold?
  • How might we respectfully challenge our assumptions and our assumptions of others so that we can learn other ways in which to view the world?
References and further reading:

Kitchenham, A. (2008). The evolution of John Mezirow’s Transformative Learning Theory. Journal of Transformative Education, 6(2), 104-123. Retrieved from doi:10.1177/1541344608322678

Meluish Spencer, K. (2016). Can we create conditions for transformation? Retrieved from http://blog.core-ed.org/blog/2016/04/can-we-create-conditions-for-transformation.html

Mezirow, J. (1991). Transformative Dimensions of Adult Learning. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Mezirow, J. (2000). Learning to think like an adult. Learning as transformation: Critical perspectives on a theory in progress / Jack Mezirow and Associates (pp. 3-33). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Mezirow, J. (2009). Transformative learning theory. In J. Mezirow & E. W. Taylor (Eds.), Transformative learning in practice: Insights from community, workplace, and higher education (pp. 18-31). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

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Image by CORE Education, all rights reserved.

Wellbeing everywhere

Wellbeing has permeated every facet of our social psyche. It’s in vogue, a fashionable word, possibly even overused. A bit like resilience, but that’s a word for another day. It’s even made CORE’s Ten Trends this year. Wellbeing is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as “The state of being comfortable, healthy, or happy.” Internationally there is no agreement on a definition for wellbeing, however, those who research the area agree that wellbeing is more than the absence of disease, it is a construct with many parts. In order to flourish, people need to experience high levels of wellbeing.

Positive Psychology is the field of science that explores optimal human functioning and aims to discover the factors that enable individuals and communities to thrive. Where traditional psychology explores what’s wrong with us and is very much focused on a disease model, Positive Psychology asks what is right with us. This science is also about the permission to be human and being able to experience the full range of human experiences and emotions without getting stuck or hiding from emotions that are hard. As humans, we can become mentally unhealthy when we get stuck in anger, anxiety, depression, judgement or guilt. Positive Psychology offers us tools for coping with negative events, enhancing positive experiences and flexibly moving through the whole gamut of human emotions as we journey through life. It is this lens that I write with.

Focusing on the adults first

It makes sense that if we look after our teachers that they are going to look after our ākonga. I like psychology professor Felicia Huppert’s description of wellbeing: Feeling good and functioning well. So for the purposes of this post, this is the definition we will keep in mind

To operate at our best we need to be well. We all have personal stories about people who, by their own admission, contributed to the outcomes of challenging and difficult situations because they were not operating at or even near their full potential. I’ll never forget the highly stressed doctor (her very own words, and she looked it) repeatedly failing to insert a needle that would drip feed essential medication to our fragile premature son’s heart. Thankfully a mindful nurse intervened, took over and got the vein on her first attempt. We intuitively know it, and the evidence backs it up, when an organisation or individual’s wellbeing is high, performance is enhanced, people are happier, healthier and more connected.

As a profession here in New Zealand, educators are a generous bunch. At times it appears that working hard in education is like a badge of honour. How can you really care when you don’t put your life and soul into the vocation. Give, give, give until we’re spent! Let’s be realistic, this is not sustainable, certainly not if we expect the best outcomes for our ākonga. We instinctively know this is right. How could it not be true? Yet the conveyor belt that is modern life, and our education system, continues to rattle around at an ever faster pace.

We need to be mindful that giving everything for others and leaving nothing in the tank for ourselves can leave us utterly depleted. Again sustainability is the issue here, particularly given the critical teacher shortage that we are currently experiencing in Aotearoa, New Zealand.

We need to be more mindful about our lives, including our workspaces. We need to make the connection that our wellbeing impacts on our ability to be great at what we do. We need to tune in. We need to make wellbeing a part of daily routines.

Just one small step

We often talk about the idea of micro-steps when working with teachers around their wellbeing. There is a variety of wellbeing frameworks out there. However, one of the most widely used wellbeing frameworks referred to as PERMA, comes from the work of Professor Martin Seligman.

Seligman believes there are five foundational pillars to wellbeing:

  • Positive emotions (some describe this as happiness)
  • Engagement
  • Relationships
  • Meaning and purpose
  • Accomplishment.

Graphic by Lauren Douglas, CORE Education. CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

Want to measure your own wellbeing?

Your responses to the 23 questions on the PERMA meter will give you an idea of how well you are doing in relation to the five pillars. Other researchers have since added an additional pillar of vitality or health which refers to our sleeping, eating, physical movement and our ability to cope with stress. I like the PERMAH (where the H stands for Health) survey created by McQuaid and Kern, leading researchers in the applications of positive interventions.

When considering being well from a Te Ao Māori stance, one of our well-known wellbeing frameworks is Te Whare Tapa Whā, developed by Professor Sir Mason Durie ,1995).

Te Whare Tapa Whā has four foundational walls:
Te Taha Hinengaro (psychological health)
Te Taha Wairua (spiritual health)
Te Taha Tinana (physical health)
Te Whānau (family health)

Image by gerard on Flickr. CC BY-SA 2.0.

We also have Te Wheke, which was developed by Dr Rangimarie Turuki Arikirangi Rose Pere. This model provides the additional dimensions of Mauri (life force in people and objects), Hā a koro mā, a kui mā (breath of life from forbearers), Mana ake (unique identity) Whatumanawa (the open and healthy expression of emotion).

The Fonofale model created by Fuimaono Karl Pulottu-Enderman considers the Pacific view on health. Here the idea of cultural values and beliefs as being the shelter of life are expressed.

Image by Michael Coghlan on FlickrCC BY-SA 2.0.

All these frameworks have much in common. Our head health, body health, our relationships, and meaning and purpose matters to our overall state of being well. Which framework you decide to use, and there are more than I have mentioned here, depends on your own needs in aligning with culture and or personal preference.

Formulating your wellbeing plan

There are a number of positive interventions that we can use to dial up our pillars of wellbeing.

If I had used Martin Seligman’s PERMA framework and completed the survey, a helpful next step for me to consider might be to focus on two of the pillars to keep it manageable. For argument’s sake, let’s say I chose the positive emotion and engagement pillars as my foci.

Positive emotion – To boost this pillar, I may want to engage in the jolts of joy activity. Here I would write down five things that bring a smile to my face and then reach for this list when I need a boost of positivity (such as after an excruciatingly long meeting).

Engagement – Create my play history – remember a time during my childhood where I did something that brought me great joy and excitement, and then think about ways I could recreate this in my work.

Other examples of activities can be found within the PERMAH survey.
When we talk about positive interventions, they are usually simple in nature and often have us referring back to something in our past, present or future. Very doable indeed.

Wellbeing as a collective endeavour

‘Wellbeing’ is very subjective and means different things to different individuals, so a nice place to start is to have a collective understanding of what wellbeing can mean for all those who have a role in supporting our ākonga and then growing your shared understanding from there.

If Positive Psychology were to be distilled into three words it would be that “other people matter”. These are not my words, but those of the late Professor Chris Peterson.

We know from the research that if we wish to impact the wellbeing of our ākonga, we must first impact the wellbeing of our educators. This is not just our teachers, but also any other adult who works directly or indirectly with our ākonga.

Embracing wellbeing: a few compelling reasons
  • We often mirror our teaching counterparts in the UK. In the 12 months leading up to April 2018, the Guardian reported that the number of teachers seeking mental health support had risen by 35% from a charity that specialises in supporting teachers in education.
  • A 2016 NZ teacher survey discovered that around 87% of teachers (mainly primary) used no strategies to respond to stress and just carried on regardless.
Strategies that enable staff wellbeing

Some effective strategies and practices include:

  • Regular conversations about wellbeing with staff
  • Leaders being approachable and open to discuss issues around workload and how to collectively manage this
  • Flexible spaces and places to work from when on release
  • Wellbeing as a regular agenda item on meetings
  • Individual/group coaching to support the wellbeing of teachers and leaders
  • Having a well-being team that is able to support a planned approach.

In a recent article from one principal who prioritised the wellbeing of their own staff found that they were able to positively impact stress levels and feelings of working in a much more supported environment. Ākonga achievement was also positively impacted.

As nation builders, I believe that our profession is a splendid torch and we want to make it burn as brightly as possible for our future generations. It is imperative that we can do this with our wellbeing intact. We all deserve to feel good and function well.

By being able to focus on wellbeing we are able to build on our emotional resources so that when we are faced with challenging times, either individually or collectively, we can draw on these bank of resources to support us through.

Find out more
  • Explore the Educators’ Wellbeing Toolkit
  • Talk to your PLD facilitators about how you can weave in wellbeing into your context when considering growing your leaders, staff wellbeing, inclusive practices.
  • Chat to Ara about wellbeing facilitation and the next steps in your own learning.

Ao Ako Global Learning. About Rose – Ao Ako Global Learning. Retrieved from https://aoakogloballearning.co.nz/about-rose/

Central PHO. (2017). Central PHO Pacific Cultural Guidelines (pp. 3-4). Central PHO.

CORE Education. (2019). Ten Trends 2019 – Wellbeing. Retrieved from http://www.core-ed.org/research-and-innovation/ten-trends/2019/wellbeing/

Health Promotion Forum of New Zealand. (2011). Te Whare Tapa Whā: Mason Durie – Hauora. Retrieved from https://hauora.co.nz/te-whare-tapa-wha-mason-durie/

Lang, D. (2018). Every school needs a staff wellbeing team – here’s how to start one. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/teacher-network/teacher-blog/2018/feb/01/staff-wellbeing-team-school-improved

McQuaid, M. Kern, P. (2017). Your Wellbeing Blueprint: Feeling good and doing well at work, Australia.Michelle McQuaid.

Profile: Christopher Peterson. (2013). Retrieved from https://www.livehappy.com/science/profiles/profile-christopher-peterson

Save Our Schools NZ. (2016). Teacher Stress & Anxiety in New Zealand Schools. Retrieved from https://saveourschoolsnz.com/2016/12/01/teacher-stress-anxiety-in-nz-schools/

Seligman, M. E. (2011). Flourish. North Sydney, N.S.W.: Random House Australia.

Stanley, J. (2018). Teachers are at breaking point. It’s time to push wellbeing up the agenda. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/teacher-network/2018/apr/10/teachers-are-at-breaking-point-its-time-to-push-wellbeing-up-the-agenda

University of Pennsylvania. Profile of Dr. Martin Seligman | Authentic Happiness. Retrieved from https://www.authentichappiness.sas.upenn.edu/faculty-profile/profile-dr-martin-seligman

University of Pennsyvania. Professor Felicia A. Huppert, Ph.D. | Authentic Happiness. Retrieved from https://www.authentichappiness.sas.upenn.edu/faculty-profile/professor-felicia-huppert-phd

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CORE Education Blog by Stephen Lowe - 3M ago

Game-based learning is a big subject, and you could go broad, or you could go deep. It means very different things to very different people. I’m thinking about just one facet of it, gaining an introduction to computer science and computational thinking through the design of games.

Before we go any further, we need to do some disambiguation.

This is not gamification. Gamification is the application of game techniques in non-game environments. It is used as an extrinsic motivator in regular courseware, and it usually takes the form of points, a leaderboard, and badges. It may be used in more subtle ways, like upvoting in forums and a reward for best post.

Nor am I talking about fully-worked strategy games like Civilization, or fast action multi-player games, not in this article. Creating games like these is at a level of human achievement second only to building a railway through the jungle.

What I am talking about is scrolling platform games, like Super Mario, and top-down adventures, explorations, and simulations. The emphasis is on storytelling, and there are strong links to the curriculum. Using a web application such as Gamefroot, which supports block coding, students can start from a young age exploring the wonderful sense of agency that happens when you tell computers what to do.

In this initial sketch the scoping exercise is done. It is easy, for example, to draw a robotic arm for manipulating rock samples, but to animate and code it would truly be a mission into deep space. Note that the learner is starting to consider the forces acting on the rocket: gravity, weight, and drag and the thrust that will be needed to overcome them. Graphic by Stephen Lowe, all rights reserved. In the future everyone will not be a computer programmer. So what is the point of students learning coding at school?

Edsger Dijkstra, the revered matua of computer programming, is famous for saying, “Computer Science is no more about computers than astronomy is about telescopes.” What he was trying to say is that Computer Science is a way of thinking, a lens through which to understand the world. Living in a world where even your wristwatch is a computer, where robots do factory jobs, and driverless taxis take us across town it has to be important to have this Computational Thinking lens in your kete. It’s the new literacy.

“Computer Science is no more about computers than astronomy is about telescopes”
― Edsger Dijkstra

Isn’t Computational Thinking just a buzz word for mental arithmetic?

I’d be the first person to lament the passing of mental arithmetic. It’s a skill, a knack, that was distributed through all layers of our society in a time when we still carried notes and coins in our purses and calculators were heavy mechanical devices. Take the slide-rule, a more portable calculator of the recent past. For an engineer or a navigator to use a slide rule they had to know the order of the answer before they started, the slide rule merely filled in the detail. Shop assistants working the till could do mental gymnastics at light speed. Gone. Now the domain of eccentric hobbyists.

Computational thinking is a different animal altogether. It’s about decomposition, abstraction, algorithm design, and pattern recognition. When we do stuff like that, far from weakening our brains, we start to see the world in a whole different way. Seeing things in a different way is one of the most important things we as humans can learn, because it gives us what we need to adapt and survive.

Firm foundations

Game-based learning as it might be practiced in schools today stands on firm foundations. Surprisingly perhaps, it is neither new, nor is it experimental.

Seymour Papert’s book Mindstorms: Children, Computers, and Powerful Ideas was published in 1980. That’s forty years ago. In the foreword Papert refers to the transitional object. That’s what the sprites in the game become, objects that embody higher and more abstract concepts. Objects to think with.

Mitchell Resnick, who was a student of Papert, started Computer Clubhouse in 1993. This free after school club instantiated Papert’s thesis of social constructionism. Today it has matured into The Clubhouse Network “where young people from underserved communities work with adult mentors to explore their own ideas, develop new skills, and build confidence in themselves through the use of technology”. It is a worldwide network with nodes in eighteen countries.

Sugata Mitra is best known for his Hole in the Wall Project in 1999. It has come in for quite a bit of criticism, but personally I buy into it. The gist of it is that, left to get on with it, children learn naturally. The role of the teacher changes, providing the learners with a safe environment, resources, and encouragement. Game-based education has elements of MIE (Minimally Invasive Education) and SOLE (Self Organised Learning Environments). This is in keeping with modern trends in education where children are afforded greater agency.

Here the final artwork has been completed. Fully saturated colours have been chosen, and some of the finer detail dropped to create a pleasing cartoon representation of a rocket. Note that the learner has had to explore the genre and will have tested their colour scheme against intended backgrounds. Graphic by Stephen Lowe, all rights reserved. Objects to think with

I’d like to quote Seymour Papert here, from the transcript of a speech he gave in 1998: “My goal in life, which has been my major activity over the last 10 years, has been to find ways children can use this technology as a constructive medium to do things that no child could do before, to do things at a level of complexity that was not previously accessible to children.”

So what are these transitional objects called sprites and where do you get them?

Sprites are the actors in a game. In a gaming world an object like a planet or a rock might be as much an actor as is a rocket or a cosmonaut. Learners drag objects from a library onto the stage, at which point they become sprites. Scripts are attached to them to cause them to do things like move, interact with other sprites, and interact with the scene. The scene is made up of tiles. Learners can use ready-made collections of objects, or they can draw their own according to the time they have available, their level of study, and their aptitude.

What are the powerful ideas, the higher and more abstract concepts?

So, it’s pretty easy to understand that you can attach scripts, and tell your rocket to move. But let’s extend this just a little bit and see where it goes. Assume in the first place you want to escape Earth’s gravity. How much thrust will you need, and for how long? The space shuttle needed 1.2 million pounds of thrust for 6 minutes to reach orbit at 17,000 miles per hour. Now do you see where this is going? How this meshes with STEM?

Let us now visit three planets, each with a different gravity to Earth. We want gentle landings and successful escape from their gravitational fields. This simulation, with some timely prompts from a game-savvy teacher, will cover Science, Technology, Engineering, and Maths. It’s going to be fun. But it’s going to be “hard fun”, a term Papert himself used.

And the higher and more abstract concepts, what about them? Computational Thinking, as we explored earlier, is not just maths. Computational Thinking is about how to think and how to solve problems. It’s about Decomposition, Abstraction, Algorithm design, and Pattern recognition. The meat in tomorrow’s sandwich.

While Gamefroot comes with a good library of game objects there is something satisfying about drawing your own. Gamefroot is about learning coding, but it can be about creating game art too. Note that in the attached script values are assigned to the concepts of gravity, thrust, acceleration, and drag. Experimenting with the balance of these values will affect the behaviour of the rocket. Graphics by Stephen Lowe and Gamefroot, all rights reserved. The challenges we face

I hope the argument I have presented here helps in the challenge to convince sceptical parents that games-based learning is not an ill-defined liberal whim, but a well-established pedagogy standing on solid foundations of research and practice.

Working with individual students to move them from fun to hard fun will sometimes be a challenge, but in many cases will be surprisingly easy. The joy of the games-based learning approach is that each learner will be able to perform to the best of their ability scaffolded by a framework that really knows no bounds.

Teachers will face challenges. It is important to remember that you do not have to keep one click ahead of the kids, you can happily let them overtake you in that respect. If this aspect of game-based learning is stressing you I suggest you follow the links I offered earlier to Sugata Mitra’s work.

Suggested resources

Kia Takatū ā-Matihiku CORE Education are partners in this valuable self review tool. Find out how ready you are to implement the new curriculum content and catch up with students. Completing the review takes five to ten minutes and all of the results are confidential to you.

Educational Games Design Fundamentals: A journey to creating intrinsically motivating learning experiences by George Kalmpourtz. (Expensive but comprehensive).

Algorithms to Live By The Computer Science of Human Decisions by Brian Christian and Tom Griffiths (Requires no maths to get the most from it).

The Art of Game Design A Deck of Lenses by Jesse Schell (Useful in the classroom).

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Citizenship is a term that will have very different personal meanings to all of us. From the whenua we come from, to the land we live in, one thing remains the same – we’re all part of a bigger networked, global ‘village’. With easily accessible, borderless spaces online, there has never been a more important time to reflect on what it means to be a responsible digital citizen, both in Aotearoa and the wider global community.

One of three overriding themes for CORE uLearn19 is Kirirarautanga | Citizenship.

He hapori e ngaruru ana i te ao kōtui, he wāhi, hei tāpaetanga, hei tūrangawaewae mō te katoa.
Thriving communities in a networked world, where everyone has a place, everyone contributes, and everyone belongs.

Derek Wenmoth (2019) writes in his blog about ‘Auahatanga | Innovation’, if we want our young people to be innovators and change agents, who can begin to mobilise in response to the growing concerns they have about the problems they see looming on the horizon, then we will need to empower them to be the change agents that make a positive difference in the world they live in – both in person and online. And Richard Culatta (CEO of the International Society for Technology in Education, ISTE) also echoes these thoughts in relation to the use of digital technologies and the way they influence our participation as citizens in society:

Preparing a generation of effective digital citizens is the most important thing we can do to ensure a democracy for the future. (Rethinking Digital Citizenship, Youtube, 11.08)

Social networks and online communities break down barriers of geography, time, culture, and identity. Relationships are formed and boundaries overcome where people join together online through common interest (hobbies), circumstance (possibly not by choice), place (location), action (cause) and practice (job related). Most work for good, while some violate the rights and well-being of others.  Shortly after Twitter was launched, it gave millions a voice on a global stage. The platform didn’t differentiate between the social good or the defamatory, offensive content. Thirteen years on, and in light of recent events in Christchurch, many countries are now calling for social media controls where giants like Youtube, Facebook and Twitter are held to account for the management of offensive and harmful content online.

While algorithms do their best to ban illegal material, questionable and undesirable content remains readily available, regardless of the age, culture and gender of its consumers. As a society, we must critically reflect, not just on the technologies, but rather on how we’re choosing to use them. As educators, we need to nurture our young people into becoming discerning users of these spaces. In addition to teaching about online safety, we need to teach what safe, ethical and responsible use of digital technologies looks like.

Digital technologies provide us with ways of connecting and participating in society that we’ve not experienced in the past. Digital citizenship (underpinned by digital fluency) is defined as participation in civic, cultural, economic and environmental opportunities online. (A definition of digital citizenship, Netsafe, 2018, Enabling e-Learning: Digital Citizenship). In this Youtube video (11.08), Richard Culatta talks about digital citizenship not a set of rules for what not to do, but about using technology to:

  • make your community better
  • respectfully engage with people who have different beliefs from yours
  • be able to shape and change public policy
  • be able to recognise the validity of online sources of information.

Everyday we see social media and web platforms used for social good where social impact enhances the lives of others, champions a cause, or inspires a collective call to action. We witnessed this in 2011 when 10,000 young people mobilised a volunteer army during the Christchurch earthquakes. The impact of their social action lives on with founder Sam Johnson (28) who has started a company to connect younger community members with lonely elderly folk. As Sam says,

The student army was never really about shifting silt. It was about connecting people and helping people out. Christchurch Student Volunteer Army founder’s plan to combat elderly loneliness

On the flip side, social platforms have been used to incite hate, validate radical propaganda, sway public opinion, and interfere with political outcomes. Here six degrees of separation becomes a seamless, ubiquitous network of association where confirmation biases misinformation, and thousands (potentially millions) of people are presented with falsehoods they start to believe, adopt and share.

To make sure we are ingesting truth, and not propaganda with a strong political slant, it is important for everyone to independently verify information gathered through social media and many news sources with a known political persuasion before presenting it to others as fact. Unfortunately, few people do this research.Are You In A Social Media Echo Chamber? How To Take An Objective Look

If social media can shape our collective thinking, then a digitally-savvy person will need to be able to question the validity of information sources and distinguish fact from fiction. They will also need to be media literate. As educators, we can teach our students how to understand different types of media and the messages they’re sending. If we don’t, young people are left to navigate this on their own.

This is too important to leave to chance. After all, the obligations, rights and actions of citizenship permeate every part of our lives. If we all took a stance by respectfully engaging with others from different practices, cultures and world-views, social media platforms could become a space where trolling would be discouraged and hate commentary ignored. Collectively we could create a tipping point, and become part of the solution rather than perpetuating the problem. When we teach students about wellbeing, we need also to talk about the consequences of using technology in ways that impact negatively on the wellbeing of others. Discussing technology use “for good” will help them to see its potential as an influential channel where voices, including theirs, can have a positive impact on shaping public policy. When they understand this power, and mobilise it, then we will genuinely see change for the better.

Whether you see social media use as a problem or an incredible resource, there can be no denying that it is firmly entrenched in our society. Learners of today value their online interactions as highly as their offline conversations. Our role as teachers and educators has never been more crucial in helping them find the balance, behaviour, and beauty that exists in all their lives (James Hopkins, CORE blog, I am a citizen of Facebook).

As educators we want our young people to find that balance, to have a sense of belonging (whanaungatanga) and wellbeing, to be part of safe, respectful, thriving, networked community online, that reflects us as Kiwis on a global stage. As global citizens, we could help positively shape spaces online – where diverse language, culture and heritage would shine. This won’t happen if we don’t actively teach what digital citizenship means to us, both in Aotearoa and a global context.

In the broader sense of the CORE uLearn19 theme Kirirarautanga | Citizenship, we can also use the following focus questions to deepen our understandings, ignite new ways of thinking and inspire new ways of working.

  1. What does it mean to be a citizen in Aotearoa, in an inclusive modern society?
  2. What does collective responsibility for all learners look like?
  3. How do we teach our learners to be active, responsible ‘digital citizens’?
  4. Whose responsibility is student wellbeing? How might we create supportive systems and contextual wellbeing?
  5. What impact is globalisation having in our local context? How do we maintain our identity on a global stage?

How do you promote good digital citizenship in your classroom? Do you want to know how to promote better and safer practices? What is one deliberate act of teaching you pledge to help promote good digital citizenship in your classroom?

edSpace is CORE Education’s online network for educators to connect with others, discuss strategies, and share information – join edSpace. Once you’re there, head to our uLearn discussion forum, to discuss more about Citizenship.

Photo by John Schnobrich on Unsplash

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Reflective practice and lifelong learning, are fundamental dispositions for educators in Aotearoa. We are guided by a professional code which asks us to demonstrate a commitment to providing high-quality and effective teaching, to analyse and review our teaching practice, and to innovate through inquiry. While we proudly claim a world-class education system, in terms of educational equality, New Zealand ranks in the bottom third of all OECD countries (UNICEF Office of Research, 2018). It is increasingly evident that disruption is needed. Disruptive education calls for us to go further, moving beyond our pursuit of improved practice to creating entirely new ways of doing things which make the old methods obsolete.

People of Aotearoa have a whakapapa of disruption. Linked by the histories of our land, we all share a connection to Māui; well known for his stories of innovation and disruptive action.

Māui the disruptor: At one time, all the fire in the world needed continual tending as only the flames of another fire could be used to start a new one. Māui, the disruptor, wondered what would happen if all those fires went out, he leapt to action extinguishing every last spark. The disappearance of their vital fire threw the people into turmoil; Māui needed to find a new solution. So he sought out Mahuika, goddess of fire. Mahuika was open to hearing Māui’s plea and offered a new flame so that Māui could return fire to the world. However, Māui was not satisfied with the idea of reverting to the way things had been. He destroyed each flame Mahuika offered and challenged her to consider a new approach. Drained of all but her final spark she flung her last flame toward Māui, setting alight the forest behind him. Honoured by this gift the trees guarded the spark now within them. From then on, by rubbing two sticks together from these trees Mahuika’s flame would be released. Now people possessed a source of fire, disrupting the old practice of flame keeping, as a new and more efficient approach, became available to the people of the world. (Grace, 2019)

This story of how Māui brought fire to the world helps us to understand the potential for disruptive change, that displacing established practices can create a place for us to consider an entirely new way of reaching our goals. So how did Māui embrace disruption? His curious nature helped him to think beyond the comfortable norm. Māui’s bravery meant that he fearlessly acted on his hunch to explore beyond current circumstances. His steady tenacity enabled Māui to persevere in his pursuit of a new more effective solution.

The teaching and learning in many of our institutions undeniably looks, sounds and feels comparable to the systems of 100 years ago. We must acknowledge that many of these old approaches no longer serve the goals and visions of learners today. It seems that innovators in education have not yet disrupted the current state enough to force the shifts needed to reimagine an education system which equitably serves the needs of all stakeholders and their communities. So, how might we get there? What are we doing to enable disruption in our education settings? Moreover, are we going far enough?

One way for us to facilitate disruption is by embracing new technologies. Technology can act as a catalyst for disruptive change. Consider how the entertainment giant Netflix utilised the technology available to disrupt the entertainment industry. Providing a more efficient system, which met the developing needs and expectations of its users rendered the previous models insufficient and led to the demise of preceding giants who chose to retain the walk-in video store models which had served them well in the past.

It is the evolving needs of its users which drives disruptive change in any industry. As we are challenged to embrace disruption in education, we should reflect on who it is that our education system is working to serve. Learners placed at the heart of learning should be empowered to drive disruption. Those holding power to enable disruptive change in education will determine the future of our communities. Let us consider who has been empowered by our existing systems to affect change and how we might deconstruct these power structures to bring all stakeholders to the table. There is massive potential for these shifts to enhance our nation’s commitment to Te Tiriti o Waitangi in upholding Kāwanatanga, Tino Rangatiratanga and Ōritetanga. We should appreciate not just the impact that disruptive education might have on our communities but also the impact that our communities might have on disruption in education.

He whakatōhenehene te karawhiu! Kia mārama ki ngā karawhiunga o te whakatōhenehene i te ao ako me te wātea o ētahi tū āhuatanga ki te whakatōhenehene.

The new norm. Recognising the impact of disruptive forces in our educational context and harnessing the opportunities to disrupt the status quo.

Examining trends in education may be one way that we can predict where disruption is most likely to take place. Consider how these Ten Trends are causing disruption in current practice and how we might explore the potential for these trends to disrupt our teaching and learning contexts.

  • A focus on wellbeing
  • Cultural narratives
  • Social mapping
  • Real-time reporting
  • Schools as part of the community
  • Changing role of teachers
  • Micro-credentialing
  • Big data, small data
  • Human capital
  • Understanding success

The uLearn19 conference themes of Kirirarautanga | Citizenship, Whakatōhenehene | Disruption and Auahatanga | Innovation intertwine to help us to recognise new ways to effect positive change. The following focus questions empower us to consider our role in influencing disruption:

  1. How do we build the capacity for continuous disruptive change in ourselves and our learners? What competencies are required
  2. How can we disrupt in mana enhancing and inclusive ways?
  3. Where disruptions are evident in your educational setting, how do we know that they are occurring for the better?
  4. How can we understand and respond to the disruptions that are happening in our society? What have we learned from past disruptions to take us into the future?
  5. What effect is digitisation having on the workplace and how can we best utilise the opportunities?

Imagine the impact of an education system, which genuinely reflects the needs of those it serves. When all learners, educators, whānau and community are empowered to be disruptors in our education system, we will witness disruptive changes which move beyond doing the same things in better ways, to being presented with new ways of reaching our evolving goals. As we embrace our innate Māuitanga and the qualities of curiosity, bravery and perseverance bestowed on us by our whakapapa as New Zealanders, we will discover new ways of teaching, new ways of learning, and new ways of being, to share with the world.

edSpace is CORE Education’s online network for educators to connect with others, discuss strategies, and share information – join edSpace here. Once you’re there, head to our uLearn discussion forum, and join the discussion about Disruption.

What actions might you take toward activating disruptive change?

CORE Education. (2019). Ten Trends. Retrieved March 19, 2019, from http://core-ed.org/research-and-innovation/ten-trends/

Grace, W. (2019). How Māui brought fire to the world / Māori Myths, Legends and Contemporary Stories / Te Reo Māori / Support materials / Home – Mātauranga Māori. Retrieved from http://eng.mataurangamaori.tki.org.nz/Support-materials/Te-Reo-Maori/Maori-Myths-Legends-and-Contemporary-Stories/How-Maui-brought-fire-to-the-world

Iny, D. (2018) Leveraged Learning: How the Disruption of Education Helps Lifelong Learners, and Experts with Something to Teach. Washington, Columbia Country: Influential Marketing Group.

Ministry of Education. (2019). Kia Takatū ā-Matihiko. Retrieved March 19, 2019, from https://kiatakatu.ac.nz

UNICEF Office of Research (2018). ‘An Unfair Start: Inequality in Children’s Education in Rich Countries’, Innocenti Report Card 15, UNICEF Office of Research – Innocenti, Florence.  Retrieved March 19, 2019, from https://innocenti.unicef.org.nz/

Photo by Yaoqi LAI on Unsplash

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