Using data to improve schools

In a Ted talk Andreas Schleicher (see below) discusses the use of data, in particular PISA data, to improve schools and educational systems. He argues that high quality education enables countries to be competitive in today’s global economy.

To me, the interesting part of this talk is when the discussion moves on to what educational systems have done to become high performing educational systems. In this context a high performing educational system is one that has high achievement and high equity.

High performing school systems:

  • believe that all students are capable of success
  • place emphasis on teacher training and teacher professional learning
  • create an environment where teachers can work together to frame good pedagogical practice
  • enable teachers to figure out how to what to teach
  • have clear ambitious standards
  • create an environment that allow teachers and principals to innovate
  • have high performance across the entire system

Other things that resonated for me in the talk included:

  • High performing educational systems are not overly bureaucratic: they do not focus on compliance.
  • “the past was about delivered wisdom the challenge is to figure out how to enable user generated wisdom”

High performing educational systems spend their education dollar in different ways and place different weightings on the relative importance of:

  1. teacher salaries
  2. instructional time (eg the length of the school day or number of school days per year)
  3. teaching time and teacher professional learning
  4. class sizes

Governments make choices on how they will spend public money and must weigh up competing priorities. Hopefully, governments value high quality education for all, see high quality education for every child as an investment and place education towards the top of their priority list.

Whilst governments grapple with their priorities that of us in schools can can ask:

how do we create an environment in our schools where teachers feel safe to be pedagogically innovative in their classrooms?

Other resources:

PISA 2009: Key results


What good questions did you ask today?

“What good questions did you ask today?” A typical question asked of school students each day is “What did you learn today?” Students answer to this question changes as they move from Kindergarten to Year 12. As most parents know the answer tends to become “nothing”.

Students become less interested in just knowing stuff and sharing their content knowledge with their parents as they become older. As they become older they disassociate “knowing stuff” with learning, they become more interested in being able to apply their knowledge ie is they become more interested in doing.  We are moving from content based learning to helping students to be better able to effectively use that information. Being able to remember or recall information is the bottom rung of Bloom’s taxonomy. Whereas; synthesis and creating is at the top of Bloom’s taxonomy. It is important to move students to the upper end of Bloom’s taxonomy, to help them learn those higher order thinking skills. To become more creative learn, to be able ask questions and know how to seek answers to those questions. This lead to far deeper knowledge and understanding: and consequently engagement in learning. Encouraging questions and assisting developing skills to seek answers to those questions increases student engagement in learning.

Developing a core of curiosity and question leads to our future innovators and entrepreneurs: those people who create the jobs of the future in our community. What can we do to nurture curiosity, question, discovery and exploration? Maybe a good place to start is by asking “What good questions did you ask today?”

What is a good question? If you can type the question into a search engine such as Google and the answer pops up then we could have asked a better question? A good question can be one that makes you think, challenges beliefs, makes you look at the familiar in a different way. A good question can lead to other questions, it can direct your learning, increase your engagement in a topic and arouse curiosity.

Asking good questions also an important skill everyone involved in education: teachers and education. It is particularly important skill for school leaders. School leaders need to question educational current practice, both within and outside the school, they need to question all aspects of school life and culture – to ensure that the students within their school are receiving the best possible education. These questions and answers are important because they directly impact on the education of our students.

Possibly the most important question to ask and answer for any change is the “why” question. When leading change it is always important to start with the heart.  

 So what good questions did you ask today

IPad project at WCS

It is not about the technology. It is about how the learning technology readily allows and the avenues technology opens up for students to demonstrate their learning. iPads readily allow all our learners to create, collaborate and communicate. Last year Woodenbong Central School purchased and trialled a class set of over 20 iPads with our primary students. The project is co-ordinated and lead by our Kindergarten teacher.

In 2011 Kindergarten students used iPads to augment their Accelerated Literacy lessons. They used iPad apps to make movies and ebooks: allowing students to collaboratively design and produce work and have themselves heard or seen in the finished product. Videos, photos and voiceovers have provided the students with greater ownership and sense of pride in their projects than any other throughout the year.

The iPad project has also provided students with an opportunity to demonstrate and describe their learning, as the embedded videos in a previous post.

This technology has also assisted the students to become independent learners and problems solvers. As the teachers says:

It was rare for anyone iPad lesson to happen in the Kindergarten class with only me being the teacher. Through investigating and exploring the students learnt a lot about the apps and were able to show me new things. The most impressive part of the program for me has been watching and listening to the discussions from young minds as they work together to solve problems. To many people they are simply playing but as we listen to their language it is clear that they are learning new skills from every activity.

In 2012 Woodenbong Central School will continue with the iPad trial. One area we will explore is music and the possibility of developing a GarageBand Band.

This project has also highlighted the role of social media in 21st Century learning. Educational blogs and being able to put questions on Twitter have readily resolved issues as they arose. Personal Learning Networks on social media are an important asset for teaching today.

It is not about the technology it is about good pedagogy. iPads are engaging but without an educational purpose and being seen as value to the students they would readily lose their novelty value.

What should a principal ask at the beginning of the school year?

As we return from our summer holidays to begin the new school years, teachers might ask a crucial question: “What is the learning journey I want to take my students on this year?”

To answer this question they will:

  • identify the big learning goals and outcomes
  • identify milestones
  • find out where their students are currently at as learners
  • determine how they will move each student from where they currently are to where they need to be.

Principals should ask themselves a similar questions. I will concentrate on one namely: “What learning journey do I want to take the teachers at our school on this year?”. (Why focus on this question? – Teachers have a big effect on their students’ learning (Hattie). )

To answer this question each principal will need to:

  • identify the big learning goals and outcomes
  • identify milestones
  • find out where their teachers are currently at

It could be argued that the most important work of a school principal is to create learning opportunities that allow each teacher to develop the skills, knowledge and understanding that will enable each of them to become the teacher they need to be to meet the learning needs of each student in their class/classes.

What is the learning journey your school will be on this year?

Learning opportunities are everywhere!

An important component of learning is interrogating information: asking questions, researching, critical thought and possibly asking more questions. In today’s modern World this is an important set of skills for all members of society to posses. As a society we are faced with complex issues that require nuanced solutions. To make informed decisions we need to determine the validity of the presented information and sometimes find independent sources of information. At our school we need to provide our students with opportunities to learn, develop and practice these skills. There are many learning opportunities, we can draw from in our everyday lives.

I live and work in Woodenbong. The village of Woodenbong is located on the NSW side of the NSW-Queensland border (Australia).

 At the beginning of October I was told that Woodenbong would have 300mm of rain from October to the end of December. My first reaction was that is a lot of rain. On reflection I asked is it a lot of rain at that time of the year and how would I find out? Fortunately there are rainfall records for Woodenbong since November 1933. I asked how many times since 1934 has Woodenbong had exactly 300mm of rain: Answer not once. My next question was: on how many occasion has Woodenbong had more than 300mm of rain from the beginning of October to the end of December? Answer 28. That is, based on the historical data there is a 36% chance that Woodenbong will have more than 300mm of rain over October to December. The records also indicate that over that interval the maximum rainfall is 687.7mm (in 1959); the minimum rainfall is 105.6mm (1957); the average rainfall is 284.7mm and the median rainfall is 259.5mm.

So, is 300mm of rain a lot for Woodenbong in the October to December period?


Technology enables students to demonstrate and evaluate their learning

It is not about the technology. It is about what the learning that the technology readily allows.

Our K-12 school recently purchased and have began trialling a class set of iPads.

This technology allows students to demonstrate and evaluate their own learning. When our kindergarten students practise their letter writing they use an iPad to photograph their work. They use an app such as Showme to:

  • describe how they wrote the letter; and
  • evaluate their written letter. Pick their best attempt and justify their choice.

 The following videos not only shows students describing and evaluating learning, it  also show students pausing, thinking, looking for the right words.


It is not about the technology, it is what the technology allows you to do!



Why are we so slow to adopt new technologies in education?

 In a recent blog Doug Johnson agrues that value of creating “tech savy” educational administrators yourself and not wait for formal training. This leads to a bigger questions: Why in education are we so slow to adopt new and emerging technologies (both hardware and software)?

In educational jurisdictions across the world new technologies are banned, filtered or have restrictions placed upon their use. For example there is considerable debate on whether to ban or allow mobile technologies within schools. Web tools such as YouTube, EDMODO and social media are unavailable to teachers and students or they are only available to teachers or the are available to teachers and some students. 

It can take time for technology to be incorporated into educational practice. Email has become a tool used by teachers. However, often email is used as an administrative rather than an educational tool. Some may argue that the rise of email in education, especially from centre, is a cost cutting measure: reducing paper cost, mail cost and the cost of faxes. In some jurisdictions students (K-12) have recently  been provided provided with systemic educational email accounts. Given that email is about 40 year old technology, it has taken decades for it to be used in most schools. (By the way, the fax is over 150 years old).

Why does it take so long to adopt new technologies in education? Is there a reluctance to change practice, fear of making a mistake, a natural tendency to risk aversion or is it hard for big bureaucracies to be nimble and able to readily change?

Whatever the reason our students and their learning that is missing out.

Sir Ken Robinson has discussed the need to change educational paradigms.  Mark Treadwell states: without a paridigm shift schools cannot improve and that there is a need to move to a new concept curriculum . “One size does not fit all” and there is also a need to personalise learning. Technologies along with emerging technologies can assist with both the shift to and the delivery of the new curricula. 

Technology should not be used in an educational setting just because it is technology or because it is new. It should only be used because it supports the purpose of education in the 21st Century. It enables students to learning to be creative and innovative; to become effective communicators and to connect (learn) with others.

 Can education wait another 30 years before mobile technology and social media are embedded within educational practices? We need to identify and address issues that are prevention the adoption of technologies in classrooms. It would be better teacher students to become responsible digital citizens than to filter or ban Internet access.

Why are we slow to adopt new technologies in education? What are the issues? How do you address them?

Wordle: technology


Our learning Journey with technology

Recently, one of the teachers at the school sent me a text message inviting me to their classroom. Attached was a picture of a student leading the learning. Shortly after another member of staff used her phone to email me during a staff meeting for URL of a site I just mentioned. Both these events have made me reflect on our journey with the use of technology in the classroom.

A few years ago technology, especially computer technology was not used a great deal in classrooms. The school had two computers rooms. Data projectors were used by some teachers.

It was necessary to move the school to embrace technology as a tool for teaching and learning. There were many reasons for this change. These include:

  • technology engages students in the learning process,
  • technology assist teachers do their job better,
  • technology provides an avenue to overcome geographic isolation, and
  • technology provides opportunities for students to create, collaborate and communicate.

Today there is greater access to technology for staff and students. In addition to the two computer rooms there is an interactive whiteboard in every classroom, every classroom is connected to the Internet via WAN and wireless, every student from year 9 to 11 has a net-book, students from kindergarten to year 8 have access to to the net-book in their classroom, kindergarten to year 6 students have access to a class set of iPads and each teacher has a net-book.

Today students and teachers use Web 2.0 tools within the classroom these include EDMODO, Prezi, Glogster, Storybird and Wordle. Teachers have access to social media (Twitter and FaceBook) and YouTube.

Teachers have been supported in the use of technology in the classroom. Professional learning in both hardware and software has supported teachers. This year we have introduced a “technology coach” a teacher who works with teachers inside and outside the classroom assisting them integrate and reflect on technology, software and Web 2.0 tools in their teaching practice. 

I have found that social media has become an increasing important tool over the past year. Twitter allows me to connect with other educators and to form powerful learning networks. Facebook has provided another avenue to connect and communicate with our parents and local community.

 We are still on our journey. We continue to work on:

  • assisting students become 21st learners. Developing citizens that fully paricipate in our society (now and in the future). Helping them to be responsible digitial citizens.
  • Individualise learning
  • Investigate how games based learning can enhance learning.
  • providing engaging learning opportunities for all learners

 Technology by itself does not mean 21st century learning. The interaction between technology, the teacher, the student and the curriculum provide these opportunities. technology does make it easier for students to create, collaborate and communicate within and beyond the classroom.

In many ways we have only just began our journey. It is an exciting journey: this may be the most exciting time to be involved in education.

Rewards: Do they achieve what you want?

As educators we can ask questions about the use of rewards. These include:

  • What is the purpose of rewards?;
  • Do rewards achieve the intended purpose?; or
  • Do they assist students to become internally motivated for learning?

Teachers often reward a student for good work. These might be in the form of stickers, sticker charts or the selection of a “treasure chest”. The teachers aim may be to reward good work or as a form of external motivation for their students.

The following two examples have led me to re-question the use of rewards:

  1. For good work a teacher was giving a sticker. The student said to the teacher that they did not want that sticker but they wanted another sticker – the shiny one over there.
  2. For consistent effort a student was allowed to choose an reward for a reward box. The student looked in through the box turned to the teacher and asked “what else have you got?”

In both of the case above the discussion moves from an important issue of the student’s work to discussion about the reward. That opportunity for immediate quality feedback had gone and the ensuing discussion was about the reward not learning.  With precious time devoted to the discussion on the reward are we inadvertently telling the student that the reward is more important than the learning? Are we inadvertently conditioning the student to be externally motivated?

Authors such as Hattie show that effective feedback has one of the greatest influences on student learning (effect size =1.13). Effective feedback includes telling what a student has done well, how they can improve as well as helping them clarify learning goals. It is unclear how a reward by itself can provide effective feedback. A discussion on the nature of the reward takes us further from what is important for student learning: effective feedback.

Many authors, eg Marvin Marshal, have argued that rewards are an ineffective mechanism for motivating students. Rewards may lead to compliance but not commitment nor engagement. The promotion of internal motivation through student choice, collaboration or empowerment are more powerful motivators.

What are your views on using rewards in the classroom are they they effective?