What the heck is a ‘discursive text’?

So, we all sort of went ‘what the?’ when the (not a) sample HSC English paper released by NESA asked students to compose a ‘discursive piece’ for Mod C – Craft of Writing. They gave a definition of the form, which is delightfully vague:

discursive texts
Texts whose primary focus is to explore an idea or variety of topics. These texts involve the discussion of an idea(s) or opinion(s) without the direct intention of persuading the reader, listener or viewer to adopt any single point of view. Discursive texts can be humorous or serious in tone and can have a formal or informal register. (NESA)

The vagueness of this definition has now become a concern for the teachers and students who are beginning to explore the Craft of Writing module. I am one of those teachers. Initially I did what everyone does in 2018, I googled it, and found (like everyone else) the BBC Bitesize page that goes over the discursive form for students. It’s the BBC, should we take it as definitive? It is tempting! Of course, it reads a bit like a discussion essay, and it tells us that language must be formal, but the NESA definition says it can be informal. The BBC site tells us that the form is primarily informative, and balanced (makes one assume objective) but then NESA says it can have an opinion, and it can be humorous. Hmmm… Recently I have done another google, and found a new site has popped up declaring itself as having the definitive guide to discursive texts (search it and you will know the one I mean, I’m not linking to it here) – it’s a site that’s basically a tutoring business, and being the punk I am, I just don’t 100% trust sites that make money off presenting themselves as being authoritative. Also, I disagree with what it says about traditional analytical essays for English being persuasive, that is just plain confusing for students. So, when I am confused and seeking clarity and wisdom, what do I do? I message Darcy, of course! Below is a copy of my message… I won’t past Darcy’s reply as I am hoping he will write his own post on this topic, as I know he has a bit to say.

You know how HSC English now requires students to write discursive essays as well as persuasive and imaginative… would you say Orwell writes discursive essays? I’ve always referred to them as personal essays, but looking at the NESA definition of discursive, I think that’s what he does. He obviously has an agenda or position on his focus topic, and he is quite persuasive, but he also does a great job outlining arguments for and against and then settles on his own position, which he makes clear by the end. I think there is such confusion around the term… I’m teaching PATEL now and we’ve set students a discursive essay task in response, and I am going to get them to use Orwell’s style as their model… what do you think? Sorry for the billion messages. This should be a blog post TBH but just would love your advice as you’re my most knowledgeable Orwell friend. Thanks.

Darcy’s concern is similar to mine, the NESA definition could pretty much include any text ever – my students and I had a laugh about this actually. TBH, my laugh was hearty, and theirs a bit nervous – it’s stressful for them feeling uncertain. As a lover of language and literature, I’m stoked to finally have some freedom and flexibility in the English Stage 6 Syllabus, the kids, I am discovering, are less stoked.

Anyway, I had been messaging Darcy early in the morning, so when I got to school I, of course, continued the subject with my English colleagues – they too are feeling a bit confused and stressed about this new form. We ended up having about a 40 minute conversation, putting forward many ideas, with me looking through things I’ve written about persuasive texts for textbooks and about personal essays trying to see if I knew what I was on about. Ultimately, we came to an agreement that the form is super flexible, but there are some elements that students can use to guide them. One of my colleagues asked me to write up our conversation because we covered so much, and I did this as best as I could. I thought I’d share those note with you, but please know, I am not posting this to claim any authority at all over a definition of this form, just that this is where we are at, and I’m happy to move forward on this writing journey with my students now that I’ve talked it all out. Here are my notes:

– discursive texts are not discussion essays, although they have some commonalities including: considering different perspectives on a topic, writing strong paragraphs on each perspective with supporting evidence, selecting a preferred position and articulating reasons for choice but not in a forceful way. It is unlike a discussion essay in that it does not need to be formal or objective in tone, however, it can have formal and objective aspects.
– discursive texts are a offer and not a demand. In other words, they offer a range of insights into a particular topic, but don’t demand that the reader accept only one of these positions as definitive
– a discursive texts is like a dialogue about a topic, allowing the writer to put forward different positions in an engaging, sometimes provocative way
– these essays are typically written in the active voice, but might have some sentences in the passive voice
– this form is both informative and engaging, allowing the writer to show off their mastery of language through the use of anecdotes, analogies, and figurative language
– structurally, discursive texts include an introduction which aims to engage the reader in the topic – the introduction is an invitation to the reader to continue reading
– discursive texts have some features in common with persuasive essays – rhetorical devices, personal voice – but they differ in purpose, as the persuasive text puts forward arguments to support a predetermined position/opinion, whereas a discursive piece considers other opinions also, even if the writer might not agree with that opinion
– lines of argument about the chosen topic are supported with evidence, this may be personal experience/anecdotes, statistics, quotes from experts, reference to shared human experiences, descriptions of events etc
– Orwell’s essays are called personal essays because they put forward his personal opinion on a chosen topic, have a strong personal voice, and often have the purpose of ‘exposing some lie’, therefore are more persuasive than a discursive essay. However, the personal essay has a lot in common with a discursive text in that it is a discussion/dialogue on a topic of interest, presents a range of arguments about the topic, support arguments/points with evidence, is designed to engage the reader as well as inform them about the topic, the personal essay, like the discursive form, appeals to the heart, mind and imagination of the reader (well, I think so anyway! Haha!)
– finally, I would say that discursive texts can be pretty much anything, haha. They are a lot like feature articles in tone and purpose, but they don’t require direct quotations from interviews/original research  which is what feature articles often do, they also have a different structure (not heading, sub-headings etc.)
– variety of sentence types are often used (simple, compound, complex)
– there is no ideal structure for a discursive texts except for intro, body paragraphs, conclusion
– students can find examples of discursive writing in quality magazines, journals, online at sites like The Conversation
– if we take on board what Orwell says in PATEL, we just need to ensure that our students use this form to communicate meaning about their chosen topic, and not use language to obfuscate meaning.
– I’m just going to use the mantra ‘discursive texts are an offer and not a demand’ for this form… and let the kids do with it what they will because it gives them freedom to experiment and that’s what is at the heart of the Craft of Writing anyway
So that is pretty much my rambling style of writing, haha, and one of my colleagues (the amazing Kate Munro) who is WAY more orderly in her thinking (bless her), took the content and put it into a table. See screen shots below (note, even though it might not be authoritative/definitive/barely correct, please credit the source if you use this):
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In terms of example discursive pieces, we think it’s best for students to read high quality published work rather than students’ work. I am a big fan of The Conversation, as a lot of their pieces are quite balanced in their approach to the focus topics, and yet they both engage and inform their readers. Another colleague (the brilliant Madeleine Koo) shared a great article from the New Yorker which we are all showing our students. Another great source is the annual collection of the Best Australian Essays which sadly stopped being published last year, but which I am sure you can still get from Black Inc Books.
If you have other resources or ideas or concerns, feel free to share below in the comments because, as exciting as it is to get to teach a new form, it can also be overwhelming at the beginning, but, if we work together we can help our students to become masters of the (what the heck is it) discursive form!

A process for analytical writing…

I have just set a fairly boring, traditional, but important activity for my year 12 class. They have all selected a related text for Texts and Human Experiences (I was very chuffed with their mature, thoughtful choices – I made them present them to the class in a 60 second share and had them compete for the most interesting and persuasive pitch, haha!) and now it is time to analyse them. Yay! Since I have just finished writing the latest HSC Standard Study Guide for Excel which required me to analyse about 30 extended texts and 20 shorter texts, I decided to share my process with my class. I figured since I wrote it out for my class, I might as well share it here. Who knows, it might help one kid struggling to work out how to go about textual analysis. It’s actually not very exciting, but it worked for me all year and soon I will have a lovely big book as proof!

Bianca’s (uncomplicated) textual analysis process:

1. Read the text carefully and highlight the bits that I think are really interesting and evocative (make me imagine people, places, situations or think about big ideas).
2. Under each human experience rubric heading (see table given in class) write one or two things that I found in the text. These become sub-headings under the main rubric headings.
3. I then number each thing I’ve found (e.g. ‘1. Striving for authenticity’) and then go through my highlighted bits in the text and put the relevant number beside it. (i.e. the quote(s) I highlighted that best evidences ‘striving for authenticity’).
4. I type up the quotes under the headings/sub-headings in a new document. For each quote I try to identify what device is being used by the composer to communicate the idea and add this beside it. This isn’t always something you can put your finger on in the example, like a metaphor or simile, but could be something broader like characterisation, structure, perspective or narrative voice that the example shows.
5. For each piece of evidence, I think about why the identified device is effective at making the reader think about the identified idea in the subheading, and why the composer would want me to think about that idea, or feel a particular emotion, or imagine a particular situation etc. This is about the purpose and the effect of the device used to create meaning.
6. Once I have all of this information, I start to write. Usually I write in IDEA sentences (it is natural for me now and allows me to say more in less words) but not always, so don’t confine yourself to a formula.

ANYWAY…my class were given a table to guide them through the process. I usually just did it on scrap paper, on post-its, or in the back of the book… and then I would type it into a document (or pay my sons to do it if I was really time poor!). Basically, this pre-planning analysis process was super important to do before I started writing, as it meant that I never really started with a blank page and a blinking cursor… I always had something to start writing about. This is how I could smash out about 5000 words a day when the deadline was getting terrifyingly close!

PS: Here is a screen-shot of the table I mention… it was created by one of my colleagues at Manly Campus.

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Texts and Human Experiences… it’s a little dry.

This term I have a new Year 12 class, and a new HSC syllabus to teach, all heading towards a new HSC exam. Fun times, hey? TBH, when the new English syllabus came out I was pretty excited. I love new things, and I love change… I thought for sure that this term I would be loving teaching Year 12. Unfortunately, that’s not (so far) been my experience. I can’t decide what the reason is… I guess there are a few: I’ve just come back to work after an epic family trip to Japan (so my head maybe isn’t in ‘the game’), I’m teaching a program that I didn’t write (so I don’t have that buzz of implementing something I’ve created), the start of the module is sort of boring because it’s too general and not connected to a text (we don’t start 1984 until week 4, so mostly it’s just reading tasks which are awful to teach), and the new module is just a bit ‘meh’. I don’t know… it’s so broad, it just feels uninspiring. They may as well have called it ‘write about stuff’… or maybe I’m just being boring? I’ve tried to make it more interesting (for me at least), by introducing students to existentialism and suggesting that a better title for the module would be ‘human existence’ because then we can start to get into interesting stuff like living authentically, contemplating the absurdity of life, and accepting personal responsibility for life’s meaning. Even still, we have to bring it way back down again when looking at the sample HSC reading task, which is just plain bleurgh.

I worry for my students because of all the changes, and how, as teachers, we need to make sure they feel confident and not daunted by the fact that they don’t have the safety net of their older peers. It’s not easy for them knowing they are the ‘guinea pigs’. I’ve tried to focus on organisation – giving them all plastic document folders to keep in class with all of their notes and booklets. I’ve tried to make things fun by getting them to choose a song about a human experience (answer = literally any song in the world) to add to a class Spotify playlist. I’ve tried to make the module focused on exploring new literature by bringing in a huge bag of books for them to pick short texts out of for their related texts. I’m trying to convince myself that there is continuity between the awesome learning we did together in Year 11 (for which I think the syllabus was quite lovely) with what seems to me is going to be a pretty dull (but also anxious) HSC year.

I’m sure things will pick up as we get into studying 1984 together, given that Orwell is one of my literary idols, and the novel is one of my very favourites. Well, that is until we get to essay-writing which will be dull because they are essays written just for an HSC exam. Urgh, it’s so hard to teach a novel for the HSC because it just gets reduced to 12 quotes and some conceptual statements. Sigh. Anyway, this was not a very exciting blog post, and apologies to those two or three of you who have taken the time to read it. I just needed to write out this ‘meh’ feeling… I’m sure by the beginning of Week 4 it’ll be gone, replaced by my joy at meeting my old mate Winston Smith again.

Is there a better year group to teach than year 8?

Look, I’m sure many of you reading this will have your own preferred year group to teach, but as a high school teacher I really have always loved teaching year 8. I think it’s because they are more confident than year 7 students, but still have the innocence and enthusiasm of the younger years. Last year I didn’t have a great year. In fact, I’d say that apart from my incredible year 12 class (the Bandits) and the introduction of Praxis, the year at school pretty much sucked. At the end of last year Lee told me that what I needed was a junior class that I could just have fun with, so I asked for one and got year 8 English. Bloody genius, my husband is!

So far this year I have run three projects with my year 8 class (who are just THE most fun, clever, creative young people you could ever have the pleasure of teaching). These projects include a Shakespeare project (we made a magazine for the library), a Belonging project (we made a blind date with a book display for parent/teacher night) and a Poetry project (students wrote poems and created a vlog or podcast for a display at the local library). Every project has helped us bond even more as a class. I’ve gotten to know my students strengths and weaknesses across the three projects, as well as their unique personalities and interests. Every day when I have year 8 I get excited – it’s so silly, but I just go into class smiling and leave smiling. They are just that joyous to be with.

Our current project is our most ambitious, and I am excited that the teachers of the three other year 8 classes will be doing the project with us! Below is a copy of our project  outline:PRAXIS 2018

To launch this project my students did some role-playing, pretending to be David Attenborough, and narrating the behaviours of made-up animals! This was riotous, we laughed so hard we nearly peed ourselves, legit!

The second lesson saw students identifying what they know and need to know, and we recorded a big list of their ‘need to know’ questions which will guide them through the project – they had to generate at least 5 each and then add them to a class Google Doc.

Screen Shot 2018-09-14 at 6.55.19 pm

We also created a project calendar which came entirely from the students ideas about how long they need to spend on each stage of the project. This will keep them focused, organised and able to manage the project. (I had two students type it up – this is a photo of me scribing their ideas on the whiteboard first.)

Screen Shot 2018-09-14 at 6.52.23 pm

The second-half of this lesson was spent outside. Students were given their teams (teams of three for this project as I have a class of 30 which means we will have 10 x 60 second docos made) and each team had to allocate a director, camera person and talent wrangler. I gave each the choice of one of 10 little toys (I have so many in my office because I am a child) and they had to use their phones to get examples of a range of shots, camera angles and camera movement techniques. They then uploaded these to their team Google Drive folder – some uses my hotspot and some airdropped their images to me.

Screen Shot 2018-09-14 at 6.52.31 pm

The following lesson I gave them a Google Slides template to showcase their knowledge of the definitions and purposes of each film device, and to add their examples taken the last lesson. This took a full period. The beginning of the next lesson I picked one team at random and had them present their slides. As a class we critiqued their definitions, purpose statements and examples – this was really such a great activity, all students were engaged, and it reinforced their knowledge of film devices and how they are used to create meaning. Following this I gave them a handout (old skool!) on documentary modes and then had them identify which mode ‘spoke’ to them at this stage, which they highlighted. The class was almost over, and the asked to watch some 60 second docos, which we did – they chose really weird ones about animals, and we laughed a lot, but also could identify how the documentary makers were using film devices and different modes to communicate their ‘truth’ about the subject of the doco. Pretty rad! https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCYsWPPZMhfI9EddYpPe6CYw

As part of the project we will be watching two celebrated documentaries, the first is He Named Me Malala. I gave the students a worksheet (gasp, old skool again!) which had a table with ‘what’ and ‘how’ columns – what = ideas the documentary communicates, and how = the features of the documentary form uses to communicate those ideas. We watch the film in 10-20 minute bursts, and then stop it so the teams can share what their observations with each other and add them to a collaborative doc in their Google Drive folders. Yesterday I asked them ‘Why are we doing this?’ and they could all tell me that this process was going to help them make a better documentary as they can learn from the work of celebrated documentary film makers… winning!

Anyway, this morning I was SOOO exhausted, having just worked two 12 hour days (running our ILP Expo which sees 70 students each night display their projects to family and friends, nuts) and yet despite this exhaustion, I was disappointed when I looked at my timetable to find I didn’t have year 8 today. I guess that just affirms how much I love that class, and the absolute joy it is to facilitate their learning. Year 8 rock!


Last week I was looking through my Canva account, trying to find a project outline that someone on the Australian PBL Network asked me about. Whilst I was looking, I realised that I had quite a lot of project outlines that I have created just sitting around currently not being used. So… I shared them all via the Australian PBL Network!!  The response was great, so I have decided to share them here on my blog as well, because maybe you’re not a FB type, or maybe you might stumble across these through some other means.

If you haven’t tried out Canva, you totally should! It’s this great online tool that allows you to make your documents look really pretty, even if you’re not that good at design. I use it to make all of my project outlines now – it’s so easy!

These project outlines are all based on my PBL model, which is explained in my two books Are Humans Wild At Heart? and Why Do We Tell Stories? Both of these are published through Hawker Brownlow Education and are full of projects for English teachers to run with their students.

Please, please if you use these projects OR if you use my model of PBL (discover, create, share), it would mean SOOO much to me if you credited my work. Many of the Praxis projects below were co-created with my very creative colleagues James Blanch and Kate Munro. Please respect our hard work by being thoughtful in your acknowledgement of your sources. 🙂




Can we build a strong and attractive 1m bridge from basic materials_


How can video games nurture empathy, and transform society for the better_NEWS SIM (2)Revolutions - PraxisWhy should Northern Beaches' teens care about equality_11234


Yr 8 ShakespeareYEAR 11 OTHELLO CRITICALThe UniverseDiscover...Cheertryouts



How can we make MSC a sun safe school_

Looking to the future with optimism, thanks #futurefrontiers

It’s been over 6 months since my last blog post. I can’t pinpoint one exact reason for this, but I do know that not writing here has led to me tweeting snippets of things I’ve done and things I feel, and sometimes those snippets get lost or misconstrued. So, I’m back!

On Tuesday of this week I was invited to attend the launch of the latest discussion paper commissioned by the DoE for their Education for a Changing World project. You can find the paper here. The launch featured a panel discussion titled Future Frontiers: Educating for 2040. You can watch a video of the panel here (if you watch closely you will see me and Lee in the second row from the front, tweeting like mad, and also being silly). The discussion once again brought up the issues raised in my last blog post (also related to the Education for a Changing World project – no, I’ve not been asked to write posts about these things by anyone in the DoE, I am genuinely promoted to after each event) regarding the current state of education in Australia, and what needs to be maintained, changed or removed from this system in order to ensure the kindy kids of today are fully ready for life after school in 2040. The panellists were all really well chosen for this purpose: Prof John Buchanan (Head of the Discipline of Business Analytics, Sydney University), Stacey Quince (Principal, Campbelltown Performing Arts High School), Emma Hogan (NSW Public Service Commissioner and former executive at Foxtel and Qantas),  Dr Sandra Peter (Director, Sydney Business Insights, Sydney University) and Prof Rafael Calvo (ARC Future Fellow and Director of the Software Engineering Group, Sydney University).

I am a big fan of Stacey Quince and the great work she is doing at her school, and once again she spoke confidently and with experience about how schools are, and can be, preparing young people to be active and engaged citizens in a world that is changing. Her school’s current focus on high quality cross-KLA PBL in Stage 4,  frequent public exhibitions of students’ learning, and meaningful connections between the school and the local community, is the end result of over a decade of thoughtful redesign of curriculum. I also was impressed with the honesty of Emma Hogan with regards to her concerns for her own children, reminding us that the students in our care now are at risk of becoming increasingly anxious due to the dual/duelling school narratives they are exposed to – STEM and innovation vs. NAPLAN and HSC – both of which are telling them that without success in each they will not be able to have fulfilling careers, and thus prosper in life. We really, really need to think about these kids because the truly are caught between the traditional education system and the purported education revolution, which is causing great distress and confusion, rather than the claimed excitement and sense of opportunity. How can we address this meaningfully NOW? Hearing John Buchanan speak for the first time ever was awesome – he strikes me a true thinker, and really a bit of a punk in his advocating for teacher agency and the need to shake up the business sector and make them stand up and DO something to support the coming shifts in education, not just (as he said) stand on the sidelines and throw grenades. I think the media does this too, and I’m eager to be part of the movement that (as Emma Albericie said to me) ensures that the ‘good stories of education are being told). Finally, I liked what Sandra Peter and Rafael Calvo had to say about technology (especially AI) – firstly, the usual, we don’t need to be scared of being taken over by killer robots, we need to be more optimistic about the potential of AI, and have our young people thing of its potential to create a utopia and not a dystopia. Calvo said some great stuff about our need to be mindful about the nature of this AI revolution – it is not a physical revolution like the Industrial Revolution, but rather a cognitive revolution. This means a narrow focus on workplace skills (often claimed to be 21st century skills) is not enough. We need to be designing learning experiences that develop empathy, ethics, resilience, flexibility, agency, and an eagerness to continue learning. Nothing new here, but it’s is important so it’s worth repeating. Interestingly, Calvo warned about the increasing power of tech companies, and the fact that even now they are using algorithms to control human decisions and actions – we need to ensure our young people are equipped to understand this process, and to challenge it where necessary

After listening to this panel, and speaking with my DPs about the conference they attended last week (where they heard from the inspiring and impressive Asssociate Professor Alison Beavis, Deputy Dean UTS, leading the Faculty of Transdisciplinary Innovation), I had a really productive future-focused meeting with my senior executive, where we put on the table what our students need, and ways to achieve that. I’m not currently at a place to write all that up just now, but let’s just say that I’m excited. And me being excited is a big deal, given my battle with purpose and direction over the last 6 months. Basically it’s all coming together, and I know it sounds like I’m sucking up to my boss, and that’s not very punk of me at all, but I have to thank the Future Frontiers team for that. The culture of the DoE (at least from up the very top) has shifted direction, and it’s filtering down… obviously there are INCREDIBLE blockers to schools being able to genuinely reshape how this education thing is done, but at least we have the research and the conversation happening. Next comes the funding to actualise the change, am I right? 😉

Education for a Changing World – debrief of Day Two #futurefrontiers

It’s now been a whole week since the Education for a Changing World Symposium… and boy how quickly do we come back down to earth when we step foot into school! Schools are such bizarre places, having the potential to elevate you to moments of pure joy, and then swiftly crush you with moments of cruel reality. That sounds dramatic, but it captures my rollercoaster week!

So, what happened on the second day of the symposium that continued the feeling of optimism about the future of education that was generated on day one? Well, lots of things – big and small – that are probably just specific to me and my experience of the day. I won’t claim that everyone there had the same unwaveringly positive experience that I had of the day (in fact, I know that some definitely did not), but as Che Guevara says ‘these lips can only describe what these eyes actually see’ and thus inevitably this is a subjective account of the symposium so ‘you can either believe me, or not; it matters little to me’ (I’m currently teaching Che’s The Motorcycle Diaries – can you tell? Haha).

Day Two – 9am-4pm, Hilton, Sydney

Opening address – Minister for Education, The Hon. Rob Stokes MP


I’m sure no one is surprised by the fact that I am not a Liberal voter. Well, you would be surprised by that if you knew I come from the Northern Beaches, live within Tony Abbott’s electorate and just a couple of suburbs down from Stokes’ office – because the Liberal party have run this peninsular for as long as there has been electorates to run… but I’m hoping you know me a little better than to assume I would support a conservative party. Seeing that Stokes was opening the second day made me a bit nervous – I understand why it makes sense to have him there, but given Genevieve Bell’s comments the day before about the social structures and systems we need and want for our future, I didn’t feel incredibly confident that Stokes’ values would align with those of most of the educators in the room. I’ll admit right here that I don’t have the depth of knowledge of politics that some of my Twitter colleagues have (like Darcy Moore and Mark O’Sullivan) but I do know that my focus is entirely on the good of the collective, and not the individual, which runs counter to the values of the Liberal Party most of the time, hence my reservations about what Stokes would contribute to the dialogue about the future of education.

Unsurprisingly Stokes spoke from the beginning about ‘progress’ being the goal ‘as we stand on the cusp of a new generation of jobs’ rather prioritising ‘change’ – which makes sense when economic rationalism is your MO. I don’t know Stokes’ background (yeah I could google it and pretend I’m knowledgable) but my guess is that he’s a fan of history, but probably not a fan of a postcolonialism (I’m guessing he hasn’t read Ondaatje’s In the Skin of a Lion) and clearly he’s not a fan of Marx – he mentioned twice that we shouldn’t see history as a Marxist progression (I did google that one on the day, thanks Wikipedia) and what I think he was trying to say is that we shouldn’t focus on history as being linear (very postmodern). However, his repeated mention of Marx made me uncomfortable simply because (as wikipedia helped me understand) Marx’s theory of history focuses on how human society is determined by its material conditions (and these are determined by innovation), which is exactly the point that Bell was making the day before. The way that the economy responds to AI and automation is necessarily going to impact social conditions – we MUST focus on this aspect, and to ignore the impact that technology will have on who and what we become is naive. But of course, I’m sure I’ve interpreted him incorrectly – maybe he was saying we should not see history as a linear progression in which we will move from our current capitalist society into a utopian one where ‘the state will whither away and become obsolete’ (Marx)? Probs. On this topic of capitalism, I found it really intriguing that Stokes reiterated his claim that education is not a product, and that we are ‘progressing from a focus on products to a focus on one another’. These statements certainly seem to run counter to the values of his political party, and it was refreshing to hear from him. Overall I found his speech a bit hard to follow, and whilst he had the appropriate themes (the future isn’t scary, we need to value human relationships etc), for me it wasn’t coherent enough.

Educating for an AI future – Marc Tucker


I really enjoyed Marc Tucker’s second paper Educating for a Digital Future – Notes on the Curriculum where he puts forward his vision for how and why we need to change the way we educate our children in order to avoid a dystopian future. It’s both an inspiring read and a practical read – I guess for me I like it because it was an affirmation of what I have been trying to do in the way I teach, and in the way I (attempt) to lead pedagogy at my school. Tucker’s talk centred on rethinking the learning opportunities that we provide for our students. He used a phrase which will be remembered by all delegates – he said we need to move away from an education system that is focused on ‘stuffing the duck’ to one that centres on designing rich and engaging learning experiences in and outside of school. This isn’t really anything new – even my year 7 students understand the difference between a transmission style of teaching and one which facilitates engaging learning experiences that support students’ construction of knowledge and skills. However, what Tucker stresses about the community as an education ecosystem is powerful, and something that isn’t being done as well as it can be. One of the things that I tweeted on the day, which I firmly believe is true, is that ‘We need to see that school is life and life is school. There is no divide between the school world and the real world.’ The big take-away from this talk was that education and humanity are inextricably intertwined, and that as a result education can be seen as playing a significant role in the stratification of society, in the ability for a child (and thus humanity) to flourish… or not. I thought it was interesting that Tucker mentioned that the non-academic opportunities provided to students at the most elite schools in the world are often the things that  can impact the most on future success and wellbeing – such as engagement with the arts, civics and citizenship, and the business world (in terms of internships). I really admire the work that John Goh, principal of Merrylands East PS, does in this regard – he has sought out and sustained relationships with philanthropic organisations, cultural institutions, and businesses, in order to increase the opportunities and skills of his students. We need more public school principals devoting time to nurturing these types of connections, and in order to do this we should have a Department that supports these connections, helps identify them, and does nothing the stand in the way of them.

In conversation with: Marc Tucker, Catherine Livingstone, Attila Brungs
Moderator: Leslie Loble

There’s no doubt that UTS is doing some cool stuff in the space of innovation, technology and education. Having both the Chancellor (Livingston) and the Vice-Chancellor (Brungs) on the panel with Tucker, led by Leslie Loble, was a boon for us attendees. Brungs spoke about his passion for breaking down the divide between schools and uni, and uni and workplace. He also advocated for greater connections between schools and the world of work, where he wishes to see internships/apprenticeships/cadetships/work-experience for students from as young as year 7. Now, that might seem young, but I know that John Goh has his students doing work experience in year 5! I was, and am, intrigued by the work at UTS around entrepreneurship, and will be seeking out connections with their team for our year 10 ILP students who choose to work on entrepreneurial projects.

Related to the focus on school to work, the panel began discussing the skills young people need to flourish in the future and I was pleased to hear that teaching coding is not more important thank teaching children to think. This goes back to the comments made the day before about coding being a poor proxy for thinking. If you haven’t already read it, you should read Peter Ellerton’s excellent paper On Critical Thinking and Collaborative Inquiry which gets to this very point beautifully. The discussion then turned to wellbeing and the impact that technology can have on wellbeing, especially that of young people. I think this is an area that definitely needs greater attention in this discussion – once again the pertinent point is the relationship the individual has with technology,. If the relationship is passive, where the individual views technology as a product inextricably tied up with personal identity then this becomes a problem. We need to look closely at the spaces where we find really positive relationships between young people and technology – in spaces where creativity and connection are central. As always I remind the adults that the kids are doing some cool stuff, often hidden from us, and that what we need to do is acknowledge, celebrate, facilitate, these spaces and activities rather than simply condemn them. We must accept the fact that both school (with its associated pressures and expectations around assessments and results) and a society that champions materialism and consumerism have a big part to play in the wellbeing of young people.

Two big things I took away from this panel – we need to confidently and consciously build a strong ecosystem of education (school, home, community, business, cultural institutions, the natural environment, Indigenous histories and cultures) for our young people to thrive, and we must remember that when it comes to young people we must connect with their hearts before their minds (Tucker). I quite enjoyed this panel, but really would have liked it to have gone longer as I think we missed an opportunity to really hear about what UTS is doing and how we as educators can ensure our students are ready for the world of university as well as how we can emulate/adopt some of their successful innovative approaches to teaching and learning.

Whilst initially I was disappointed that Marc Tucker was not physically present at the event (he missed a flight or something and was presented via video and then later via Skype) because I really wanted to meet him and talk about his paper. However, egged on by a dare from Briony Scott and a desire to beat Lee, when it came time for Q&A I shot up my hand and asked Tucker if he would be keen to have a beer with me and Lee when he was next in Australia so together we could design the dream public school. To my surprise he did the double fist pump and said yes! Haha. It seems silly, but moments like this – human moments – made day two of the symposium very important for me. I hope the beer and chat happens because (thanks to Darcy Moore) I have come to learn a bit more about Tucker and his involvement in the current state of the American education system, so I know I would enjoy chatting about his motivations for past decisions, and his commitment to the vision outlined in the occasional paper.

Responding to the challenges of an AI world: Design Thinking Part 1
Facilitator: Gauri Bhalla


I’m not going to spend too long describing these stages of the day, because they were very hands-on and collaborative (we were given a series of design thinking style challenges to work through as a table team) and therefore sort of hard to articulate. I really liked Bhalla’s energy and delivery style for this session – she is obviously an excellent teacher and made sure we weren’t spending the entire day sitting and listening. I found her overview of design thinking was appropriate to the event – it was pretty rapid-fire, but I know that the people on my table could see the benefits of using that approach to problem-solving in school. Let’s face it, we are all at the end of our first three year school plan and starting to think about what the next plan will entail, and that can be a pretty overwhelming activity. Bhalla made the prospect of solving complex problems as a team seem achievable. This first session was all about identifying shared understandings in response to this question: What will young people need to thrive in an AI enabled world? From our ideas we then had to visualise how an ecosystem to support these needs might look. You can see my table’s vision in the photo below.


Lightning Talk: Transformation in complex organisations – Commodore Chris Smallhorn

I definitely thought it was weird that we were going to be spoken to by a guy from the Navy at a symposium about AI (like, was he going to talk about killer robots?) but I was pleasantly surprised by Smallhorn’s impressive knowledge of change management, and leadership. Interestingly one of the main tenets of his discussion was the need for regulation – well, a balance between regulation and innovation. I liked his point that we need individuals who know and value the rules, and then know how to step outside of them. This is very much how I have always engaged with the ‘rules’ of education – such as our syllabuses, NAPLAN and the HSC. Curriculum is our regulation, and pedagogy is our innovation – and as was mentioned the day before, pedagogy is always seen as more fun because it is flexible and dynamic, however, the best pedagogy is grounded in a deep knowledge of the curriculum, and education research. Smallhorn was an excellent storyteller, and I think that’s why I enjoyed his talk so much – he has been instrumental in running a course on innovation and creative thinking that has assessment in the form of a ‘shark tank’ pitch session. Smallhorn is clearly an exceptional leader who values the warmth of human relationships and supporting his team to achieve their very best – we need educational leaders like him.

Lightning Talk: Implications of AI for teaching & learning – Rose Luckin


After lunch we were treated to a talk by Rose Luckin, Professor of Learner Centred Design at UCL Knowledge Lab and Director of EDUCATE: a London hub for EdTech StartUp. I had heard about Luckin from Jane Hunter, who was very eager for me to meet her (I didn’t manage to, sadly – for one I am a bit socially awkward/anxious at big events like this, and secondly she was always talking to others when I found her) because she knew we would have a lot in common. Also Jane championed her because she is a former teacher, and we teachers love it when the experts have actually been in the classroom! You can tell from Luckin’s title that she knows her stuff, and her talk was welcomed by the teachers in the room because to this point we hadn’t really had a specific focus on the role of teachers. Unfortunately it turned out that Luckin was only going to speak for a very short time – it seemed a much shorter talk than Smallhorn’s. She focused on the genuine need for us to change the way we teach now in the face of an AI future, and that we must design a curriculum which focuses primarily on developing students’ self-efficacy. This is a capability that comes up a bit in discussions about preparing young people for the future (because, duh, the future is uncertain) and Luckin unpacked it nicely, saying that self-efficacy is an all-encapsulating term for metacognitive knowledge and appropriate confidence and motivation. I like it! Luckin argued that students could be assisted in the development of their self-efficacy by AI, especially in regards to data collection and analysis. She said that teachers’ capacity to understand the ‘whole child’ and their specific needs would be enhanced by a sort of AI teaching assistant (what my team later joking called Siri Goes to School) that could make learning visible for the learner and for the teacher. This is something that Jane Hunter was telling me about in our chat about Learning Analytics a couple of weeks ago. It really is an exciting field of education work, and I am so keen for teachers, students and parents to be part of the designing of these types of applications. This was the focus for the last part of Luckin’s talk – the need to move away from relying on innovation solutions to come from the big tech corporations (Microsoft, Apple, Google, Intel etc) and to begin embracing and working with smaller start ups to problem solve and design solutions with us. At my school we already have our super smart and talented students designing the platforms and apps we need to support teaching and learning as part of their lessons, but also as passion projects – I’m looking forward to this continuing as the tech gets more integrated into our school.

Closing remarks  – Mark Scott

After another design thinking session (where we worked in our teams to design tech solutions to identified problems related to our AI future, which culminated in the winning pitches being presented in front of the room of delegates – PS: My team was a winner, lol) the day was closed by Mark Scott. Kudos to Scott for reading the room, and keeping his talk short and sweet – it was Friday afternoon, and as awesome as the symposium was we were all mentally exhausted. Scott spoke of the day as having been ‘serious play’ (which did capture my experience of the design thinking session – I had fun but also felt challenged by the big problems we were trying to solve) and acknowledging that many from within the room (and a lot from without) would be wondering ‘but what are you going to DO?’ as a result of the two days. My response was (and is) this: that you is YOU, so yes, what are you going to do?’ Thankfully Scott reminded us that innovation and creative problem-solving are contextual – we must not rush to one solution and try to impose it on all schools, teachers, students, communities. As I tweeted on the day (and which has had many responses): We must not fall for the myth that what works beautifully in one school will necessarily be as successful in another school. As Scott said: there is no one solution, we need a more agile approach, more rapid prototyping, and then (perhaps) scale from there. I added the ‘perhaps’ in there because I think ‘to scale’ has some possibly harmful connotations (I simply don’t like that phrase as to me it touches on capitalist ideas) and I would rather have a focus on showcasing, celebrating, sharing of knowledge through thoughtfully constructed networks between schools within the Department… heck, even not within the Department. Going back to John Goh as an example again, his ability to connect with and learn from education leaders and innovators within the private sector (including Catholic diocese) is something we can aspire to. Scott’s concluding metaphor was an appropriate closing of the symposium: The flight isn’t over until the debrief is done. The debriefing of the symposium will take place from now.

Well, that’s it for my debrief… which was actually more of an annotated summary, oops. Where to from here for me? Opening myself up to the visions of others, freeing myself from the tyranny of my desire to ‘do things now, now, now’, a commitment to never ‘turn down the volume’ even though others might try to make me (thanks, Briony), and an eagerness to head back into my classroom carrying with me all of the collective wisdom about how to best prepare my students for a future which is going to be awesome.