Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Most likely to succeed

Tonight was the Christchurch screening of  an amazing documentary about the purpose of school. You can read a bit about the background to this in this article about Ted Dintersmith and his documentary "Most Likely to Succeed". I have been lucky enough to watch this movie today and this is my notes and reflection on it.
"If we teach today as we taught yesterday, we rob our children of tomorrow." ~John Dewey
This quote really sums up the movie for me. Change is needed and certainly this was brought home tonight.
It started with talking about how Deep Blue beat Kasparov in chess in 1997 and started the change in what computers can do and what humans can do. There was a very interesting interview with Jeopardy contestant Ken Jennings who came up against the Jeopardy Supercomputer and lost. He talked about how his job of knowing things was one of the first jobs to become obsolete.  A good question was
"What are people going to do when muscle power is not needed anymore?"
The next section was about the history of education and they talked about how education was put into age, ability and subject groups back in 1843. This was related to the Industrial Revolution and then led to the Committee of Ten which was a group of educators who designed the American curriculum back in 1892. This was 120 years ago and very little has changed since. We need to think about what skills we need now - not 120 years ago.

High Tech High is the High School that is the main feature of this documentary. It is a Charter School in San Diego and has a project based curriculum where students are responsible for their learning. There are no bells, classes are not in subjects, teachers are on one year contracts and they can teach what they want - they teach to their passions. The students start with a Socratic Seminar and they have to organise the seating themselves. They struggle with this at first and I love the comment from the staff member:
 "I can micromanage you through this or you can do it on your own"
All projects are planned around a public exhibition at the end, so all students know what they are aiming for. Four words used for the process are observation, reflection, documentation and exhibition. They are looking to  grow students who are resourceful, resilient and have a learning growth mindset. They need to produce creative ideas and try things. The students fail and learn from failures.

One of the strong themes was that education is about retention of skills, not just knowledge. The soft skills were mentioned often and confidence, perseverance and a good work ethic were listed as important skills. One question that came up around these soft skills was:
 "How can you go through High School and never  have been asked to make a decision?"
Discussion was had about the measure of success. If the measure is about passing the SAT then they ask why we teach subjects such as Art and Inquiry. If we are just teaching to tests then we should drill students. When a group of students were asked if they would rather learn knowledge or ace tests, they asked to ace the tests so they could get to College. I understand this as that is the mindset they have. We need to change that mindset and get them and parents to realise that knowledge is worth more. An interesting study was done where a group of students were tested on the same test 3 months after they sat their SAT and the average grade went from a B+ to an F! Not one student actually had a command of the test. They take it in just to memorise it but it doesn't stay. This test preparation is purely a factual recall test and tells employers nothing about work ethics, resilience, learning and working with others. A Google representative talked about the skills they look for, not necessarily taking the smartest people. They want highly creative, curious empathetic people who can give and take feedback.

The students took a lot of pride in their presentations at the end of the project cycle. They had satisfaction in making something that wasn't there before. This means they felt that they mattered and that they added value to things. One student didn't finish in time but learnt from his mistakes and still managed to eventually finish - in the summer break!

The end talked about educating our students for jobs that haven't been invented yet. About giving teachers greater autonomy and giving students a sense of purpose. I loved the analogy that teaching was more like gardening than engineering. We need to nurture and grow the students and if they find something that energises them, we can't keep them down.

After the movie we had some time to reflect and I felt good about what we had been doing in the School of Music and the School of Apps (see earlier blog). My only thoughts at this time were about how we could extend this school wide and how this also transfers into University.

The discussion afterwards from a group of panellists was also inspiring. John Ascroft, Coralanne Child, Kaila Colbin, Dick Edmundson, Janelle Riki-Waaka and Riki Welsh gave some good answers to questions and certainly gave us more to think about. Some of the main points I got from this were:

  • 47-81% of jobs are under threat from technology in the next 20 years
  • John Ascroft from Jade said that they were hiring 85-90% on soft skills rather than on capability
  • The more we compartmentalise, the harder it is to get equality
  • Content needs to be relevant to the student's lives - need a sense of belonging
  • We need to teach decision making skills
  • There is a strong relationship between the Socratic seminar and wananga -  the Maori way of working together
  • Creativity is not born from spoon feeding
  • If you were born today you will likely live to 2100. That's like being born in 1915 to 2000
  • Need to shift from the 'power over' to the 'power with' model
  • There is a disconnect between what is happening in society with what is happening in education
  • We need to redefine success with individual programmes
  • Teachers will be facilitators - the word teacher may not be the right one anymore
  • Problem solving skills would increase resilience against mental health issues

Where to?
The Education Review Act is happening - make a submission and tell them the things that are stopping us from doing a great job.
Let students show their learning in whatever way they want as a first step.
For me - it's about taking what I already do to the next step.

In the words of Riki Welsh:
Reshaping Education is scary. Don't get too scared Christchurch.

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