iceberg Findlay Buchanan Facing the
HOW CLAIRE AMOS IS RE DESIGNING THE CLASSROOM AND DIGITISING EDUCATION
looks at one education futurist’s ef forts to transform t h e sy st em
Earlier this year, a group of secondary school principals declared that‘ reviewing NCEA is like shuffling the deckchairs on the Titanic instead of avoiding the ice berg ’. Their concerns have long been held by the business community, with many arguing our education system is not preparing students for the real world. While AI, VR/AR, robotics, and many more emerging technologies are transforming a raft of industries, dislocating economies and creating alternative business models, many argue our education system is yet to see real reform. And the result of the disconnect, as theMc Kinsey Global Institute points out, is that young people can’t find jobs–and employers can’t find people with the right entry-level skills. But where does the change start? Right in the classroom, it turns out. Fin Buchanan takes a look at one teacher and education futurist’ s efforts to transform the system.
It takes a bit of a village to raise the child, and I think we need to start thinking about education more i n that sense. It's not j ust the j ob of family or of the teacher, i t's actually how can we j oin the dots for them and connect them with the groups and the i ndividuals that might support them on their pathway.
There needs to be some significant changes made to the education system, at least if a swathe of statistics by the McKinsey Global Institute about the future of work is anything to by. It reported that there will be 38 to 40 million fewer workers who will gain tertiary education (postgraduate or university degrees) than employers will need, automation will wipe at least 30 percent of the current jobs in a few decades and 60 percent of children at school will be in jobs that do not exist yet.
However, despite these daunting predictions, others argue technology will present new opportunities and potential job growth in alternative industries that could offset the loss.
Possibly the most telling element isn’t what is being predicted, but the sheer uncertainty of what the future holds. Amara’s Law argues that as a human race we tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run.
So, how do we know what relevant skills will be needed for an unpredictable future workforce?
According to Dr Jo Cribb, the author of Don’t Worry About
The Robots, while we don’t know the exact magnitude of the quake technology will cause yet, it’s vital that we prepare for change. And for education, this means moving from a structure built on old-age dependable ‘core subjects’ to an open- learning environment where students are taught a cluster of relevant skills that can be transferable and adapted across industries.
And while education is fraught with issues, ranging from strained teacher salaries to an internal bureaucracy that’s been likened to politics, there is innovation waiting in the fringes.
One agent for change is education futurist Claire Amos, who has redesigned the classroom by taking technology through the school gates of Auckland’s Hobsonville Point High School, integrating it into New Zealand’s education system and then sharing these learnings further afield.
‘You can never be overdressed or overeducated’ is the Oscar Wilde quote Amos has in her email signature. She's deputy principal at the school, is covered in tattoos and is fervent about shifting the education system.
Amos has some 20 years education experience, including the past three years spent incubating innovation at Hobsonville Point High School (HPHS). In 2009, Amos was a Ministry of Education e-fellow and undertook a study of how ICT can be used to support literacy in and beyond the English classroom.
“I knew I wanted to be an educator from sixth form when I had an art history teacher that I adored, and I could see how incredible an educator could be,” Amos says. “Although I am a career educator, I have always had a much broader set of interests. I love having one foot in education and one foot in business, I'm really interested in governance and being on boards, as well as looking at how I can get more involved in politics.”
While she is a teacher and educator, she also works regularly with agencies such as the Education Council of Aotearoa NZ, New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA), Network for Learning, NetSafe and the 21st Century Learning Reference Group with a focus on enabling future-focused change and supporting teachers and students in blended learning environments.
Her classroom at Hobsonville Point Secondary School, dubbed The Hatchery, is the fruits of her labour, and a fusion of her experience in education, technology, and business. The model sees senior students embark on year-long projects solving real world issues using new technologies, with one student self-learning how to use a 3D printer, as well as working alongside industry mentors and pitching to external clients. Amos refers to these as ‘Impact Projects’ and lets students spend two thirds of every Wednesday engaged in these community oriented projects, while receiving their NCEA credentials along the way.
“This is a great way to authentically introduce ‘service learning’ and has been a great way for students to explore and address issues around sustainability within a very real community context,” Amos says.
Some of the projects
include an oil clean-up device, created by two fifteen-year-old students Anna Barrow and Holly Redmond, which aims to reduce the amount of oil pollution in local marine areas.
Barrow says that they are set to pitch their device as a possible fix to the widespread issue of oil residue. Another is a self-executing trapping device by a student which connects local traps to its owner, and signifies when and where the traps are triggered – with an aim to assist local trappers and help them manage their trap lines.
Furthermore, Amos plans to put the student in touch with relevant conservation groups, users, and businesses to help with the technical aspects of the project.
Interestingly, Amos says her biggest criticism is not the New Zealand Curriculum itself. She describes it as a flexible qualification framework or “an incredible document, that has the ability to be used, picked out, plucked freely”. Instead, she says the problem is the culture and mindset within schools of those who are fearful of moving forward and using technology and creative thinking to better serve students.
“It frustrates me that young people are experiencing versions of high school that's no different than you experienced and probably even our parents experienced,” she says.
Amos says instead of using a traditional timetable where English and Maths are taught in isolation, the approach allows students to experience learning through a re-contextualised model, which combines various subjects into one classroom.
Learning is supported by everyone using devices on a shared network. This contrasts with common school initiatives such as BYOD (bring your own device) or having designated computer rooms for special occasions. In The Hatchery, every student is armed with a laptop and connected to the centralised database of Google Classroom to record and update their work. More software used to manage broad learning activities by tracking progress and submission is Hapara, which allows Amos to see what’s on the browser at any given time, and oversee when files have been updated as well as monitor the progress of students at any given time.
A further feature in the school’s redesigned classrooms is what Amos calls connected interdisciplinary learning, which sees a mixture of year nine and year 10 students being co-taught different subjects in one module.
“For example, I have taught an English and Science module with Danielle Myburgh called Game Over that looked at the gamification of war through the novel Enders Game, explored the nature of science through a science fiction lens and researched the science of gaming. So rather than someone thinking of English in isolation and science in isolation, we're looking at how things can provide context for one another,” she says.
It’s an alternative to the factory style of classroom introduced in the mid 19th century by Horace Mann, which has since stuck as the dominant archetype of education. The model houses 28 or so students in a 50-square-metre classroom who are taught by one teacher in blocks of one-hour periods. The system was designed to prepare youth for a 20th century industrialised economy, but while it was an efficient way to scale production and foster civilised citizens back then, its lack of personalisation, creativity and ability to be moulded is arguably negligible now.
Amos points to her ‘foundation programme’ as an example of an alternative way of designing a classroom, where she teams up with another teacher and occupies a large open plan classroom of up to 50 students at a time.
“There is no question, learning is deeper if it is connected and contextualised,” she says.
“Time and time again, I have seen students experiencing enhanced learning in each learning area by the addition of a second one. Maths is given an authentic context by applying it to technology, representation of ideas in English literature are taken to the next level when explored through the arts. Combining two learning areas has been made possible by our physical learning environment at HPSS, with two teachers being able to teach 40+ students in a large learning common room – and we are working from the same student teaching ratio as any other school in New Zealand. This, of course, is nigh on impossible in the traditional single-cell classroom environment.”
So in a fully digitised classroom, how do teachers monitor students’ access to the unbounded accessibility of the internet? Amos says in terms of regulation and censorship, she is a big believer in digital citizenship and giving students space to learn how to manage themselves, while also taking responsibility as a teacher to be moving around and staying actively engaged in the classroom to moderate online activity.
“I'm an advocate for very low levels of filtering, so we block out sort of gambling and porn and that's about it. However, social media for the most part is available to them because they're tools that they need to use anyway,” she says.
Additionally, Hobsonville Point Secondary School pulls in external partners such as the University of Auckland as well as various start-up businesses, who assist the students with their projects. Two of the startups are Previously Unavailable, an innovation consultancy that specialises in new product innovation, which has launched a children’s book, The Boy and the Lemon, and toothbrush subscription delivery service Toothcrush last year. Another on site is Thought-Wired, which is using technology to allow people with severe disabilities
to not only communicate and connect with family, friends and others, but to interact with the environment – and even manipulate objects just like able-bodied people. In return, the school opens up its facilities to the Thought-Wired, which uses the school as a co-working space.
“So I don't have the expertise that James Hurman has at Previously Unavailable, or the expertise that Dmitry Selitskiy has at ThoughtWired, but I know them so I can connect my students with them,” Amos says.
“That's always been my approach to technology, I've always been in e-learning and I'm considered an e-learning and technology leader, yet I'm not techy. I know what I want technology to be able to do and support, and I know the right people to work with to get the results I want, but that doesn't mean that I need to be across understanding the software side of AI.”
Amos says educators need to be more proactive in venturing outside of school gates, attend cross sector events and actively connecting with a range of people to learn the skill set needed to develop students.
She says part of the problem is an aging population where the average age for a teacher is 57. Meanwhile, she says the young teachers are leaving because they are seeing a whole lot of work and very little pay.
“We can be stuck in a bit of a time capsule – you've often got teachers that have been in the classroom for 10, 20, 30 years – and you can end up living in a bit of a bubble where you just do what you've always done.
“So I would suggest educators need a bit of provocation and they need a bit of nudging. But they also need to recognise that it's not outside of their skillset either, that actually those spaces aren't scary, and that they absolutely belong in them because they're the ones preparing the young people that are going to go into those spaces.”
Amos is careful not to let teachers shoulder the blame, and admits that teacher salaries are poor. She points to solutions overseas such as Singapore and Finland, which have far fewer teaching hours, as well as inviting a collaborative approach between community organisations, businesses, and educators, to work together.
“It takes a bit of a village to raise the child, and I think we need to start thinking about education more in that sense. It's not just the job of family or of the teacher, it's actually how can we join the dots for them and connect them with the groups and the individuals that might support them on their pathway.”
Additionally, Amos recognises the great work happening in regional lower decile schools who do not have the same access to the resources seen in urban schools such as HPSS. One notable example of a rural school applying the same methodology and receiving success is Patea Area School, which RNZ reports was previously under statutory management and was pegged as one of the poorest performing schools in the country. However, since ditching the subservient
Educators need a bit of provocation and they need a bit of nudging. But they also need to recognise that i t's not outside of their skillset either, that actually those spaces aren't scary, and that they absolutely belong i n them because they're the ones preparing the young people that are going to go i nto those spaces.
traditional school model and adopting approaches similar to HPSS, such as work with external community partners and serving up a retrofitted curriculum, it has since doubled to 160 students and achieved 100 percent pass rates for NCEA Levels 1 and 2.
Despite her contribution to HPSS, Amos has never been chained to a classroom. And her unbridled contribution to boards, blogs, schools, and businesses resulted in the attempted charter school, City Senior School, last year. As part of a partnership with Brett O’Riley, previous head of the Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development Agency (ATEED), the school was set to be built on Auckland’s Victoria Park using a shared space to house 300 students.
The proposed charter school aimed to connect new business start-ups with students on joint projects, and secured partnerships with Microsoft, Datacom, and the Auckland Theatre Company.
“It came about with a coffee with Brett O’Riley, we both shared concerns with the seemingly glacial pace of change happening in education,” Amos says. “Then he turned around and said, ‘Have you thought about opening a charter school?’”
Amos met the proposition with ambivalence and is not typically a supporter of the charter school model. She says what she doesn’t agree with is that it allows people to not have to employ registered teachers and it doesn’t ensure people teach the New Zealand curriculum or the NCEA framework, which she believes are paramount to quality education. However, while she believes our state system is flexible enough to be manipulated creatively, it doesn’t mean people do it.
“I changed my thinking from viewing the school as a ‘charter school’ but as an opportunity to prototype a school idea that I could get behind. We need to have initiative and policy that supports educators who are courageous and creative enough to implement new ideas to get some funding and support to exist.”
Furthermore, the charter school was supported at
government level and was granted $727,696 by the previous National government. The school was described as the first of its kind, with a focus on science, technology, engineering, arts and maths (STEAM) based subjects, which are trending heavily overseas. However, with the axing of the incumbent government, and the introduction of a new one, the charter school idea has since fallen away.
Amos says there was always an element of gamble with the idea because of the possibility of a new government.
“And that is what happened. That is fine, part of me knew that as an unopened school we would be a sacrificial lamb and they had promised people that they would close charter schools, so it was pretty clear that when Labour got in, they would cancel the contract. The irony is I’m a complete Labour and Greens girl myself,” she says.
Amos says they are in the process of returning the expenses to the Ministry of Education, but has negotiated a sum with Labour to set up a foundation for an educational trust.
This means instead of concentrating an innovative approach to education in just one school, the funding and ideas for the proposed charter school will be spread across many schools, hopefully spurring more into action to overhaul their curriculum – or at least make some changes.
“In a way, it’s a really nice outcome in the sense that we are now in a position to support schools and educators in the state system,” Amos says.
Whether she manages to set up a charter school one day, put her political hat into the ring of education ministers, or be the first to teach alongside a robot, her rigorous effort to face up to the future and brush the cobwebs out of the education space deserves attention.
And as for what is next in the pipeline, while Amos remains affiliated to Hobsonville Point Secondary School, she is looking forward to a new role as principal of Albany Senior High School.