The leaders role in STEM education

I posted this response to a blog article “How to reverse the declining trends in STEM participation” and thought I’d share it here too.

Some interesting perspectives from each and every one of the contributors to this blog and thank you for taking the initiative to ask them too! But I’d like to add something to the mix in terms of a way forward.

Yes, you can equally prioritise or emphasise different elements of S.T.E.M. at different times to suit the context and demands.

Yes, we can make STEM pathways more exciting by raising the profile or tackling emerging issues for the next century.

Yes, we can update the new curriculum to give to schools, we can improve the quality of STEM educators coming through the system by making it a more appealing pathway, we can buy new and amazing resources for schools so they can play with the latest tech, we can even have a multi-pronged approach that does all this and more!

But unless we develop the leadership capacity in schools to better understand the opportunities in STEM education, to appreciate the complex nuances of the interdisciplinary nature of the field and weave together the critical threads, then hotspots of innovation will continue to thrive but a systemic approach to re-image STEM education will not eventuate. Getting leaders to recognise that a quality STEM educational experience isn’t just about sharing our passion of the field with students rather it is about building the student’s relationship with STEM and developing their ability to learn and thrive in a 21C paradigm.

How do you think we should be addressing the declining trends in STEM education?

Gambling the future to save a buck today

So I was listening to Environment Minister Greg Hunt on RN Drive this afternoon, an interesting discussion with Patricia Karvelas, talking about the suggestion that Australia will propose a Paris emissions target of between 15-25% (listen here). Interesting the proportion of time spent talking economics rather than environmental matters.

What worries me I suppose is simply that there seems to persist in the rhetoric an undercurrent of economic rationalization about exactly how much should be done to reduce climate change. Yes, ok I get it. I don’t want to pay more for electricity, or water, or gas or any other goods or services! I doubt anyone is going to stand up and say otherwise, that’s what the government should be doing! Make the tough call, take a firm stance, don’t placate the masses to win another vote by pushing the economic agenda!

If you haven’t seen this guys little video clip before then I recommend checking it out and having a think… Is it really worth gambling the future to save a buck today?

Do we give students a choice?

Happy school holidays to my colleagues here in South Australia, last day of term today!

So you’ll probably all have copious amounts of time to read my latest post amidst the marking, professional learning and development, marking, lesson planning, marking, curriculum mapping and did I mention marking?

Anyway, I came across an interesting ad the other day made by Dove (the group that do lots of beauty products) and I think it’s worth a look.

It got me thinking about what messages we are sending our students when we perpetuate similar labels in our classrooms – the ‘gifted & talented’ door.

The Australian Curriculum website provides a useful statement for what we define as ‘gifted’. It states:

Gagné’s Differentiated Model of Giftedness and Talent (2008) provides research-based definitions of giftedness and talent that are directly and logically connected to teaching and learning. According to Gagné, gifted students are those whose potential is distinctly above average in one or more of the following domains of human ability:

  • intellectual
  • creative
  • social
  • physical.

It goes on to highlight two other models: Tannenbaum’s Sea Star model and Renzulli’s Three-ring model. So by definition from these models if a student is gifted then they are deemed to be above average; or beautiful as Dove might put it. So what kind of message are we sending students that are in the remedial class, are they below average? Are they the equivalent of ugly? I know there is considerable debate about the educational benefits of streaming students into these classes, and of course a wealth of research saying we shouldn’t (just Google ‘Ability grouping students’ to start reading if you haven’t already).

But perhaps it’s time we start talking about the longer term psychological impact of this type of labelling, not just the suggested academic outcomes. Is it even possible to quantify this? I’m sure there is a PhD in this for someone.

Continue reading “Do we give students a choice?”

Lifestyle choices…

So tax payers can’t afford to fund the lifestyle choices that some Australians are making…

I’ve rewritten this about four times now and it still doesn’t convey what I’m thinking very well so I’m stripping this log post back to basics (another favourite saying of the government).

On the one hand our government says that we can’t afford to pay for the ‘lifestyle choices’ that means people can remain connected to the land their ancestors have lived on for tens of thousands of years… on the other hand our government is volunteering to pay for the ‘lifestyle choices’ of two convicted drug smugglers. Go figure.

Julie Bishop… offering to pay for Bali nine prison costs

Words fail me.

Open-learning spaces

Just a quick post as something in the latest Education Review caught my eye…

“Children, teachers battle noise in open-learning spaces”

A relatively brief article and interview regarding some research into open-learning environments conducted by a PhD candidate around speech perception in open-plan classrooms.

I’m not commenting on the quality of the research nor the accuracy of the outcomes, I haven’t read it so I don’t know. What I am interested in is the pedagogic practice that was taking place in these open-learning spaces. After listening to the interview there was powerful justification in implementing an open-plan learning environment, the PhD student (Kiri Mealings) outlines benefits such as: a child centred approach, less authoritarian, range of activities, group work, promote the sharing of skills and experiences through team teaching, joint planning, sharing of resources, student movement between areas. Essentially to facilitate a more cooperative and supportive atmosphere.

Unfortunately even if all of the aforementioned benefits took place it doesn’t sound like the teachers actually changed their pedagogic practice to harness the opportunities presented by the new environment. Instead, through her speech perception analysis, Kiri found that students at the ‘front of the classroom’ performed at around 75% but those at the ‘back of the classroom’ were only performing at around 25% (compared to the roughly 80% homogenous performance in a closed classroom).4421755040_eec92f1b23_zPerhaps the school should have invested in some professional learning for the teachers so that they weren’t recreating a closed classroom structure in an open learning environment. We make the assumption that teachers can readily adapt and change their pedagogies to best suit the demands of their schools but too often great initiatives fail because the teachers are not adequately supported, nor professionally developed, to embrace the shift in pedagogies and engage in new ways of exploring learning with students.

The TEMAG report outlines critical issues in teacher quality and training programs across Australia… well this doesn’t just stop once we graduate! Continuous professional development is critical to maintaining a world class professional workforce that adapts with the ever changing nature of the profession, the context and the students we work with.


An unfortunate infographic on Teacher time

So I received the first edition of Teacher Magazine in my inbox today and dutifully scanned through some of the articles (having featured in an article I figured it’s only fair). It was here that I came across a rather unfortunate infographic…

See Teacher Magazine here…

The “Did you know?” infographic is a summary of the results of a study undertaken by the Grattan Institute on Making time for great teaching (the link to the report on Grattan website is dead but it can be downloaded from here). The unfortunate part is the underpinning messages that I was gleaning from what was represented.

  • Reduce teacher involvement in extra-curricular activities
  • Don’t waste time on subjects with small enrolments or non-core subjects
  • One period a week on pastoral care is ‘too much time’
  • 1 to 2 periods a week on PE is ‘too much time’
  • 1 period a week on research skills is ‘too much time’
  • Just get more money to fund teacher learning time

Of course the full report does go into detail on other elements such as the amount of time wasted supervising students in the schoolyard, detentions and exam supervisions… This isn’t even a complete list! ACER what messages did you think educators were going to extract from this?

On the plus side it suggests a program of professional learning taken from high performing education systems around the world that requires approximately 135 periods (112.5 hours) of professional learning throughout the year blending:

  • Teacher mentoring and coaching
  • Lesson and grade groups
  • Research groups
  • Teacher appraisal and feedback
  • Classroom observation and feedback

Not a bad list of suggestions but if you’re suggesting that being out in the schoolyard building relationships with students, supervising extra-curricular activities to support students engaging in their personal interests, or engaging in pastoral care activities to promote student health and wellbeing aren’t directly linked to quality “teaching and learning” then I must be doing it wrong…

Can someone tell me how to do it right?

What If Classes were Structured like TED Talks?

Welcome back to the start of a new year Aussie educators! I expect most of you have now been at school for at least a day if not the majority of the week. Full of optimism? Full of hope? If you are a graduate, full of fear? Anticipation? Or full of something else…

I thought I’d kick off the year with a little bit of plagiarism, well not exactly. The link below was an interesting post I came across today and it got me thinking. Is this what we would actually want?

What If Classes were Structured like TED Talks?.

Whilst I believe there is some merit to the notion of presenting classrooms like TEDtalks I don’t think this blogger has extended the idea enough to comprehend the possibilities! or the problems. I doubt I will extend it that much further but here are a few things that popped into my mind as I read through:

– TEDtalks are generally well planned, researched, thought through, impactful, timed, inspirational, emotional, delivered with ‘punch’, and genuinely interesting.

– TEDtalks are concise around key points and although many are story-like in structure they usually have some very catchy messages or phrases that stick with you.

– TEDtalks are for the most part professionally done.

– TEDtalks are 18 minutes in length.

So… if every lesson we had with students contained 18 minutes of ‘teacher talk’ that had the same quality of preparation and delivery as Sir Ken Robinson (not that his actual presenting is all that exciting, it’s his key messages to educators that gets us tingling all over) then we would have the rest of the lesson to give students control over their learning! Engage in genuine inquiry, explore their own resources, discuss and collaborate over the key messages and findings of our presentation, actively seek out alternative sources of knowledge, and who knows… maybe create their own TEDtalk in response to a challenge we might set them as a demonstration of learning. So if every lesson was a TEDtalk then we’d be finished with the ‘teaching’ much sooner and then the students could get stuck into the ‘learning’.

Could you do it? Would you do it?

Good luck this year in what ever your learning adventures may bring!

The nature of evidence

Do educators really learn anything during professional development workshops and seminars?

Well given that a big part of my jobs so far have involved delivering professional development I would like to say a resounding YES! But I had an interesting situation at work today which got me thinking about the nature of evidence of learning.

As teacher registration authorities shift up a gear in their requirements and demands for evidence against the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers, I wonder how much thought has gone into this process and to what end does it serve? I for one am guilty of attending a professional development session and at the end walking out thinking it a total waste of time as I picked up my certificate of attendance; another piece of evidence! But evidence of what?!?

My best learning experiences and development? Walking and talking on site with colleagues, students, parents, and visitors about all manner of things relating to learning, teaching, and the curriculum.

Maybe it’s time I invest in a GoPro… then again there’s probably a policy about that.

What EXACTLY are the “Skills” needed by 21st Century TEACHERS?

We’re almost three years on from this post and I’m left thinking that we are still asking the same questions…
In technology terms three years is a lifetime!
In students eyes three years probably feels like three lifetimes!
But what does three years feel like for a teacher being told to engage with technology in their classroom?


I have been heard to say that you can’t throw a rock into the blogosphere these days without hitting a post or article on the 21st Century “something-or-other”.

Love it or hate itthe notion of 21st Century Skills is one of those HOT topics these days – especially in Turkey.

I blog about this area far too frequently (my darling wife, Nazlı Hanim, just says I blog about “everything” too much), have a “big mouth” and live here – these are probably some of the reasons I have been invited to give a keynote at the upcoming Maltepe University Conference in April.

I didn’t have to think about it too much at all – this is the first time I have heard of a conference that specifically links the 21C concept to the “business” of what teachers need to “do” with what they know about

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Farewell to a friend

Today a former colleague of mine retired. Somewhere in the vicinity of 40 years in public education working in some of the most challenging schools, supporting some of the most difficult students, and throughout it all insisting that he still had so much to learn about learning and how best to support students.

Now what? I don’t mean what’s he going to do with all that extra free time… we’re teachers so we must be all too familiar with extensive holiday breaks! I’m talking about all of that wisdom, knowledge, passion, integrity, wit, and educational nous that is transitioning out of the profession. This isn’t in isolation either.

The OECD Teaching and Learning International Survey reports that the average age of teachers in Australia is 43.4 years and 53.2 years for principals. More alarming is that 37.1% of the workforce was over 50 in 2013 (a 5% increase from 2008 levels).

Now I’ll be the first to say good riddance to a small proportion of that statistic but the overwhelming majority of the group, like my colleague, have considerable insight into the fundamental nature of learning and I worry that we are not capturing that essence… before it’s too late.


(Retire In Peace).