Ask the students, ‘what’s the best thing about Stonefields School?’ and nine times out of ten, the answer will be ‘Breakthrough’. It’s the day that children run that little bit faster to the front door.
The premise is simple. While we have a strong focus on developing areas of core literacy, of inquiry, and of learner dispositions, how much time do children actually spend doing what they are passionate about?
All children have innate strengths and talents. As Ken Robinson puts it, it’s not about recognising if children are intelligent, it’s how they are intelligent that matters. It’s about children finding fulfilment in learning and achieving mastery in something that they are good at, rather than hitting them over the head constantly with things they cannot do. Breakthrough is valued so highly that it forms one of the core vision principles.
“For me, it was a dream come true. I could never have dreamt of doing what I love doing during school time,” explains Jackson, a Year 6 student. For Jackson, his Breakthrough project time is spent 3D modelling using Blender. He’s one of a group of students collaborating on a science fiction movie. It’s a passion that he has brought to school, enthusing others in the process. And it’s extraordinary to watch him learning: a YouTube tutorial open in one window, Blender in another, as he develops the latest element to the fantastical creature that he’s animating. No teacher has shown him how to do this; in fact, the best way to cause learning here is for the teacher to stand back!
Some innovative businesses have had this approach for years; Google is perhaps the best known, where employees are given 20 per cent of their time – a day a week – to work on special projects. Companies like 3M have been doing it for decades, too, with huge success, and both consider that many of their innovations have flowed out of this time.
As a school, our core purpose is quite different. It’s not about making money or about innovative product lines and engineering initiatives. It is about student engagement; it is about developing a love of learning, about providing authentic context, about developing students who are intrinsically motivated, about utilising problem-solving skills and the application of an inquiry process, about building collaborative skills, and about valuing a broader notion of what constitutes success. Breakthrough does all this, and additionally, provides invaluable leverage into other learning areas.
Take a walk around school this term and you’ll see a whole school approach to Breakthrough, with Year 1 right through to Year 8 students learning together in areas of interest. So you’ll see a group working on designing a senior playground, a group learning to build a table with a parent (Breakthrough time attracts lots of parent and community support), another preparing a dance item for the end of year assembly, students painting a mural inspired by the local environment, a Year 8 putting the finishing touches to his novel, and of course, a group working on Blender.
As Jackson so eloquently puts it: “Breakthrough is a great time for me to work on my self-responsibility and self-awareness. It’s a time I can really pursue something that I’m good at.”
Undoubtedly, it is a time of the week at school that children eagerly look forward to. Just walk around school during Breakthrough time to observe the deep level of engagement or stand by the front door first thing in the morning!
a whole new take on home-school partnerships
As a school, we believe that raising achievement depends on making targeted decisions about teaching on the basis of good data (being data-driven) and ensuring that quality teaching
happens every day in every class. The big question for us is ‘when it comes to home-school partnerships, why do we revert to a generic approach and ignore being tailored and targeted about what different parents need to know to support their children’s next learning steps?’
We think that any home-school partnership committed to raising student achievement needs to be designed on those same principles – which is exactly what Mutukaroa is.
When students enrol at Sylvia Park School, a range of assessments are undertaken so that we can start teaching them properly straight away. Schools don’t often share this data directly with parents. Our question is, why not? We believe that the data is not beyond the capacity of our parents to understand – as long as it is delivered to them in a way in which they are supported to understand it and be able to respond to it.
Because we are data-driven, we have had a longitudinal research project tracking the outcomes of our work. Our commitment has always been that if it does not impact on student achievement, then we will change tack or put our energies and money elsewhere. The results have been an unequivocal success. In short, we have been able to show multiple stanine shifts over a year that are consistent, and in many cases, dramatic. Further to this, our parents learn the language and mystery of school and are able to engage meaningfully. In three-way conferences, parents can really play their part by asking pertinent questions and making pertinent suggestions. When we make overall teacher judgements in relation to the National Standards and say that these are based on a range of information, including specific assessment results such as the Six Year Observation Survey, not only do they have copies of it at home, but they understand it fully and have been responding to it themselves.
We are at a particularly exciting stage now as we are seeking to roll Mutukaroa out to several more schools in 2013 – watch this space!
There are 200 schools implementing Reading Together this year as part of a three-year project managed by John Good for the Ministry of Education to scale up Reading Together to decile 1-3 schools across New Zealand. >>
Good says it is no surprise the Reading Together programme has been successful, given that it has been extensively researched since 1982, when it was developed by Jeanne Biddulph.
“The research has replicated the evidence of just how high the impact of the programme is if implemented effectively. It engages parents/whānau as hugely significant learning partners with the school, produces accelerated reading and engagement in learning for their children, and often transforms homes from stress to harmony around kids and their learning,” says Good.
Good shares recent feedback received from one participating school to illustrate the effectiveness of the programme. In this example, nine parents (eight Māori and one New Zealand European) attended four workshops of an hour and a quarter run by the school. They then take their child to the second workshop.
“It is good to know that we do not have to be the teachers. I like being the cheerleader rather than the coach,” says one parent.
“I have a much better relationship with my children now. We read together as a family. Everyone wants to be involved,” says another.
A third parent adds, “I’m not afraid to just tell them a word. It’s good to not have to sit there and make them work it out for themselves and see them get frustrated and angry. I don’t worry about little mistakes now. If the story still makes sense, I let them keep reading.”
Arguably most inspiring was the feedback from this parent who found the programme beneficial to their own learning journey: “I loved coming to these workshops. It was fun, and I think every parent should do them. I found it hard to come in the door, but it has given me the confidence to enrol on a course to better myself. I wouldn’t have believed I could have done this, and joining this group was enough to make me realise that I could learn.”
Laurie Thew, principal of Manurewa Central School, describes Reading Together as “an amazing programme” that is very supportive of parents. “[It is] certainly one of the positive initiatives happening in New Zealand at the moment,” says Thew.
Ultimately, the Reading Together workshops aim for parents and whānau to develop a basic understanding of the reading process, support their children’s reading at home, reflect on their children’s reading, and select appropriate reading material for the children from school and local libraries.
Students become forensic investigators
More than 80 budding investigators from schools across Auckland came together at Kristin School over the October holidays to take part in the second annual Forensics@Kristin camp run by a group of 46 students. An intensive five-day student-led experience, the camp is designed to test the participants’ problem solving, research, logic, and creative skills when they take on roles of Detective, Controller, and Scenario Doctor and work through evidence to solve simulated complex homicide cases.
Kristin Gifted Education teachers Raewyn Casey and Rod Fee worked tirelessly in the weeks leading up to the camp with Year 9 and 10 Controllers and Logicians, who spent over 600 hours creating extensive records, databases, interviews, and evidence to accommodate whatever line of enquiry the 80 Detectives may follow.
The Detectives tested fingerprints, DNA and toxin samples, documentary evidence, forgeries, footprint and tyre-print casts, pollen, and soil and fibre samples. The groups led their own investigations, tested the evidence in the laboratories, and arranged for specialist testing, police interviews, and search warrants. They utilised the multitude of resources, skills, and intelligence at their disposal to sort out the evidence from the red herrings in a race to solve the case and find the killer.
Always ahead of the Detectives were the 46 Controllers, Scenario Doctors, and Controller Directors who were responsible for delivering evidence to the young investigators, leading them ever closer to their final conclusions. Supporting these teams were a group of organised and efficient logistics specialists from Years 9 to 11, who kept the wheels in motion throughout the week.
The investigations culminated in a simulated court trial where detectives became defence and prosecution lawyers, interviewing key witnesses and arguing their side of the case.
Over the course of the week, the participants attended presentations by specialists who explained the real-life application of what they were learning and the realities of forensic investigation and crime solving. These visitors included Detective Peter Litherland, forensic scientists Kate Stevenson and Dr Anna Sandiford, and Crown Prosecutor Josh Shaw.
While Kristin staff were on hand to help and guide as necessary, it was the students who led the camp, addressed the participants, and took responsibility for its ultimate success. Planning is already under way for Forensics@Kristin 2013, which will be held in July.
The future of education re-imagined by the youth of today
Education, as we all know, is fundamental to the success of our country and the world as a whole. We can also see the empowerment technology enables and Ultra Fast Broadband (UFB) over fibre promises even more opportunity. What’s more, children are right behind it!
I recently participated in the inaugural Telecom ‘Amazing Ideas Search’ as a judge.
The competition called for Kiwi students (primary through to high school) to imagine ways UFB could change how we live, work, learn, and play.
Having reviewed entries from around the country, it quickly became apparent how impressive the range of ideas from children (and their application) really are.
Interestingly, five of the 10 winning entries had a learning and education focus. The majority of the winners were also from regional cities and towns. Students are embracing and expanding the worldwide trend in education where technology both supports student’s unique learning needs and the role of teachers.
The education ideas put forward by kids involved in the competition revolved around enhancing the way students learn – acknowledging the very important principle that learning doesn’t always have to take place in a classroom, with one teacher delivering material. Students are clearly aware that technology provides new ways to express themselves and illustrate their comprehension.
As a case in point, this year, three of the winning entries were delivered via a movie file posted to YouTube. It’s inspiring to see technology become the means of feedback and not just delivery as it provides a powerful new range of tools for expression and impact.
In addition to education, other entries addressed tourism, healthcare, agricultural productivity, sustainability, and of course, technology. One of the winners in the technology space presented impressive insight into how UFB will provide opportunities for New Zealand website hosting, resulting in reduced costs and greater reliability and opportunity for New Zealand businesses.
To see such vision coming from young students is fantastic as it’s vital they understand technology is both a tool and an opportunity for their own future. Arguably, much of New Zealand’s future productivity gains and export opportunities will come from development and use of technology to take our ideas and products to the world.
As the roll-out of UFB continues (through to 2019), hopefully initiatives like the Telecom ‘Amazing Ideas Search’ will not only spark the imagination of today’s students but also inspire tomorrow’s future thought leaders and entrepreneurs. From what I’ve seen, the talent is out there.