Education for a Changing World – a ‘debrief’ of Day One #futurefrontiers

Last week started with me sobbing to my (new) doctor about my increased feelings of despair, lack of energy and motivation, and general sense of mental and physical exhaustion. It ended with an unexpected sense of euphoria and renewed purpose, which I can credit solely to the Education for a Changing World symposium that I was fortunate enough to have been invited to attend. I don’t share this portrait of my psychological rollercoaster for sympathy, empathy, or voyeurism, I share it because it was a genuine experience and something I know I must document for my future self, for when the reality of life as a teacher, mother, wife, author, and passionate perfectionist human overwhelms me… for those days when I feel that all I have done amounts to nothing, and that no matter how much I give it will never be enough. I’m recording this for future me.

I loved that I was invited to a symposium – just like I loved being invited to a roundtable earlier this year… there’s something about the names of both that (for silly me) is powerfully Romantic and evocative. Upon receiving my invitation to the roundtable by Secretary Mark Scott, I was overcome with thoughts of knights and grand adventures, noble deeds and fierce battle alongside brave colleagues… I even joked that I was going to wear armour and carry a sword. Of course, I didn’t do that, and the event didn’t live up to my vision (through no fault of the organisers), as life often doesn’t. However, clearly not one to learn from my experiences, when I received the symposium invitation my imagination flared again – I saw myself immersed in rich dialogue and debate, surrounded by very clever people eager to discuss very big ideas. I saw myself as an ancient Greek, sipping wine and listening sponge-like to the visions of those much smarter than me… and (thankfully) this is what I experienced on day one of the symposium. There was dialogue and drinks aplenty! The second day, whilst far less academic in its focus (and a totally dry event), brought me into contact with some incredibly talented educators – I was sat at a table with some of the loveliest people I have met – and also had me listening to some very insightful talks. So, my aim for this post is to try to reflect a little on each of the components that made up the symposium, and to (as Yeats would say) hammer it all into some type of unity, to help me better understand what it means for me as a teacher, as a leader of learning at my school, as a mum to two teenage boys, and as a human being. If you continue to read, I hope you find something within this post of use also.

N.B.: Please read the information about the symposium on this website to help contextualise my reflections below: 

Day One – 2pm-7pm, Carriage Works

Secretary for Department of Education, Mark Scott’s Opening Address

The thing I like about Mark Scott is that he doesn’t mess around, preferring to clearly articulate his message without faffing about. The focus of his opening address is not new to most educators (especially those who have been following him during the first year as secretary) – basically he is worried about how we are going to change the way we teach to make sure we are catering for the new mindset and skillset that next year’s kindy kids need to have acquired before they leave school and emerge into a workforce unlike anything we have ever seen (or can honestly even properly predict). Once again Scott reinforced the important role that education plays in shaping society and its future citizens, whilst also acknowledging that there is no more complex, demanding or important institution than the education system. The complexity and inherent diversity within the institution where highlighted as challenges that we must embrace as we begin to consider how we will reimagine schooling in the coming decade. I personally loved his call to fight institutional and cultural inertia – we can’t sit back and expect someone above us to identify and fix our problems on our behalf – we can’t expect that solutions will be easy, that they will be centralised, uniform or swift. Scott reminded us that the impetus to change is coming most forcefully from outside of the education system – from the business world, as the begin to enthusiastically (and, sometimes even uncritically) embrace AI and automation. Finally, it was heartening to hear Scott acknowledge the incredible innovation already happening in schools that have long identified the need to move away from the traditional industrial model of education – those who have not sat back and waited passively for direction from above before ‘tearing apart the traditional vision of schools’. It is this that I will continue to remind all who represent the DoE, including Mark Scott, as we move from conversation to action – we cannot have our creativity and freedom as educators (those who know our students and our communities the best) curtailed by systems, tools, programs or structures designed by people from ‘without’. Lasting, quality, meaningful change does not come from above or without, but from within. What we need as educators is support – in the form of money, networking between schools (plus also cultural institutions, business, the tertiary sector, government), modelling and increased visibility of schools running proven successful programs), and access to quality resources (like free online courses, leadership training or mentoring, a range of digital tools/ICT programs not just one imposed upon schools). The one size fits all approach to schooling is naive and dangerous, and as this was part of Scott’s speech, I hope it is the one thing to which he definitely sticks.

 Dr Fang Chen – AI and Our Future 

Straight up having a woman as the first speaker was awesome – not only that, but an incredibly intelligent and inspiring individual well selected to speak on the positive impact that artificial intelligence is already having in our world. It was timely that Chen spoke about cognitive load as a lot has been made of it in edu Twitter lately thanks to a recent CESE paper, and Chen highlighted how AI has the capacity to manage cognitive load to allow humans to focus more on what we are good at such as creative problem solving. She highlighted the benefits of machine learning – the capacity to combine large sets of data to create a wholistic visual of a system, something many teachers would like to take advantage of when considering the diverse data sets often collected regarding students (wellbeing, academics, extra-curricula, engagement). I think the big takeaway from Chen’s talk was that we need to be really optimistic about the potential relationships between human beings and AI, and that there is no need to be afraid of what is to come.

Professor Peter Cook, QUT – AI and Automation

If you’ve seen Most Likely to Succeed, like I have (almost ten times), then you wouldn’t have found anything very new in Cook’s talk. He started off with a focus on robots beating humans at games (like Go), but made it very clear that despite these impressive wins and the very real likelihood that soon computers will be smarter than us, that we need not be afraid of that possibility. Currently robots are not like those presented in dystopian science fiction films, and it is a long way off before they could get to replicate human beings. Despite the fact that automation has resulted in many job losses – specifically those where people were employed to operate machines – Cook believes that automation brings with it potential job creation which we must embrace. One moment that I found very interesting in Cook’s talk was his passionate plea for us to challenge the introduction of what he called ‘robots in care’ citing concerns regarding the ethics of putting the care of our loved ones into the hands of robots. The ethics of AI and automation has been a central focus across all of the papers commissioned by the DoE for the Future Frontiers project, which I have particularly enjoyed. All authors, like Cook, have advocated for a renewed focus on the explicit teaching of ethics and philosophy to counter the very real possibility of large corporations creating quite ghastly AI ‘solutions’ to perceived problems in a society devoid of ethical regulation. It is here that education must move beyond cold curriculum content descriptors, and embrace teaching the whole child, the future citizen, to ensure our future heads towards utopia, not dystopia.

Marita Cheng  – 2012 Young Australian of the Year, and technology entrepreneur 

I didn’t write down the name of Cheng’s talk, but I do know that it centred on her impressive experience with designing technological solutions for social problems. I was particularly interested in the overseas cadetship (I think it was?) that she did with about twenty other young entrepreneurs from around the world where they were given this challenge: create something that will positively affect the lives of a billion people in the next ten years. This project (a bit like a hackathon, or Shark Tank) resulted in the creation of  the app which provides verbal descriptions of visual data (like photos and video) for people with vision impairments. It’s pretty amazing, and Lee and I were both excited about the possibility of using it in the classroom for a range of uses, Lee was particularly keen on it for Stage One early readers. Cheng also spoke about her current work with telepresence robots – basically it is like Skype or Google Hangouts on wheels that the viewer controls so you can tour spaces in real time from the comfort of your home, school, office etc. They are already being used by students who are in hospital to allow them to ‘move’ around their classroom as if they were there in real time. We got to try this out at the break, with Lee and I chatting with a teacher in Dunedoo – it was pretty cool seeing her control the robot to change her viewing angle etc! Feng spoke about the important role of consulting with the user when designing a piece of technology, as this ensures that it effectively addresses their needs and solves the identified problem. This got me thinking about how in an institution like the DoE we so often fail to ask the users – the students, teachers, parents, school leaders – what they want when introducing something new (especially technology) and this is unfortunate as it often results in distress and frustration, creating more problems than it solves.

Genevieve Bell – On Managing Machines 

One of the themes of the symposium was articulated nicely by Bell – ‘robots don’t want to murder us all’. I must be honest, I haven’t listened to Bell’s Boyer Lectures yet and therefore didn’t know much of her or her work before this talk. It didn’t take long for me to be an instant fan of her – she showed herself to be what I always admire in people: witty, knowledgeable, insightful, genuine, and wise. I particularly loved Bell’s talk because of its focus on the impact that innovation has on social structures and systems. She looked back briefly at the history on innovation since the Industrial Revolution, and posed the provocative question: if technology-driven revolutions have historically led to new education systems, then what does that mean for our current system and what does our future hold? She articulated the need for thoughtful discussion about what our new applied sciences system might look like, emphasising the need for a system that prioritises autonomy, agency and assurance. This conversation must bring in our social scientists, not just our technologists – specifically our philosophers, sociologists and our anthropologists. Bell’s talk was over much too quickly, but her final words continue to resonate with me and will for some time: We have a huge responsibility to do, and be, and think a little bit differently.  Schools have a great power to shape the values of the young people in our care, but so too does society have the power to shape the focus of education, thus impacting the types of values we teachers impart (both implicitly and explicitly) in our young people. Bell highlights a concern we must all be cognisant of – technology (through business interests) has the power to restructure society and if we let things go to far without public conversations about that power, it might be too late for us to have a say in the type of future we want.

AI and the Future of Life and Work Panel: Genevieve Bell, Andrew Charlton, Daniel Petre, Toby Walsh – Moderator: Mark Scott

This panel was probably my highlight of the whole symposium – it was what I imagine being at a screening of Q&A would be like, except the debate was always in good humour and not undermined by individual agendas. It was awesome getting to hear from Toby Walsh, and I do wish that he had been given his own talk on one of the two days as he is so engaging and knowledgeable. One of the best things he said was ‘the future is the product of the decisions we make today’ and I know this will stick with me personally, as a reminder of how I can shape my own future, plus that of others through the choices I make. Part of the conversation was about the dispositions that people will need to thrive (and by this the panel really meant, to some extent, to stay employed) with a strong focus on emotional intelligence. I liked the example of medical specialists, like those working in radiology or pathology, being replaced by AI whereas the demand for GPs will increase, since humans don’t want their diagnoses coming from robots. Another provocative question raised, this time by Bell, that I find important for educators given our government’s current obsession will collecting ‘learning data’ was ‘Is productivity the only metric we would like to tell us how well society is progressing?’ She garnered lots of applause from the audience for this observation, hitting a nerve with the educators in the room who too often are told by ‘those above’ that what counts as important measures of student progression is standardised test scores – we all know this is a heap of shit. In relation to this comment by Bell, Walsh pointed out that too often in this discussion about AI and the future of work there is a perverse imbalance in favour of discussing formal work – that is paid work – to the detriment of the many hours of unpaid work done mostly by women in society, as well as the very important work (like creative or social pursuits) that are a significant part of human experience.

Moving on to the second half of the panel the focus was on higher education and its capacity to provide the worked needed for future professions, with a specific discussion around those desirable dispositions for those facing an uncertain and dynamic work future: collaboration, communication, storytellers, can manage through ambiguity, risk and diversity within work teams. It was cool to hear storytelling listed as a desirable skill – it made this English teacher very happy! It also led to a discussions about the increasing (continued?) valuing of the Arts – all on the panel agreed that STEM was insufficient for future success, and that it had honestly been introduced into the political and business landscape as a (failed) proxy for thinking skills. (Everyone needs to read Peter Ellerton’s paper on Critical Thinking and Collaborative Inquiry – it is bloody brilliant, and powerfully articulates why we must move away from a culture of teaching for learning towards one that centres on teaching for thinking. I love that paper!) Bell made a great observation that we can teach abstraction and pattern recognition through poetry as well as we can through coding (with the latter, in my opinion, far more cold and detached from human experience, lacking the much needed ethical dimension)… I already planned a project with Lee to introduce his students at MEPS to some really great complex poetry! Yeah for Keats, Dickinson and Shakespeare in Year 5! Yeah, I was that one person who clapped loudly when Bell spoke so fondly of poetry and its role in education – word nerd alert!

Some final points from this panel worth noting – there wasn’t any acknowledgement of the cool stuff young people are already doing in online spaces (such as fanfiction writing, contributing to the booming bookstagram movement, nurturing their own learning networks via YouTube tutorials, collaboratively solving complex problems in MMORPGs… the list goes on!) which is an ongoing frustration for me as the mum of two teenage sons immersed in these incredible spaces; the tyranny and malfunction of NAPLAN and the HSC were only given a cursory glance when prompted by an audience member; the hypocrisy of saying in one breath that the burden of developing important future skills shouldn’t fall entirely on the shoulders of schools and then in another breath saying that school is the best way to stop your kids watching too much YouTube and playing too many games (that was Andrew Charlton) and the increasingly problematic relationship between consumerism and our technologised future.

Well, it’s now 10pm on Sunday night and since I have to run a workshop on Project Based Learning for 20 teachers tomorrow morning (to help them educate for the present, and for the future), I better stop writing and get some sleep. Yeah, I didn’t get to day two of the symposium, sorry about that – maybe I’ll get to it before the end of the week, we’ll see. I hope you can get a sense of why I have been unashamedly gushing about the symposium on Twitter – I just genuinely enjoyed the two days, maybe it was influenced by my mindset heading in, being in need of some filling up with intellectual discourse and some hope for the future, I don’t know, but I do know my comments are sincere.

Oh, and also, about 3/4 into this post I realised that you all have access to the live stream of the talks I just summarised, haha – what a fail! Oh, well, I’ve posted links to them at the bottom so you had to endure my ramblings before finding the hidden gold – sneaky! 😉

Flash talks:


Finally, here is a link to all of my tweets from the two days:





Is studying the concept of ‘discovery’ essential for teenagers? A persuasive writing task for year 12 English.

About a month ago I read a post on Facebook by Kelli McGraw where she asked whether we should be teaching students a range of essay types in English, and not just the typical literary analysis essay expected in the HSC. This is something that I have often asked myself, and (through my love of teaching Orwell’s essays to my year 12 class a few years ago), I have dabbled in this area a little over the years, especially with regards to having students write personal essays to develop their argumentation and personal voice.

Kelli’s post prompted me to challenge my year 12 students to write an essay form unexpected for year 12 – the persuasive essay. Of course, thanks to NAPLAN, this form of essay is not foreign to my students, and after a quick flick through an online guide (see link in task outline below), my students were good to go! I introduced the task with a (rather long) quote from John Green (thanks to my colleague Kate for sharing this Reddit AMA link with me) in which he explains why he loves writing young adult fiction, because ‘teenagers are doing so many things for the first time’. I think what he says about teenagers asking the big questions, and facing the world with sincerity, relates nicely to the concept of discovery… and I think it explains beautifully why I love teaching teenagers. ❤

The final part of the writing task involved me selecting the best responses and publishing them on my blog! So, after you read the task, please enjoy the incredible words of the incredible young people I get to hang out with for the next 12 months.

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‘Studying the concept of discovery is essential for teenagers.’

Do you agree or disagree with the above statement? Support your position for or against the above statement with evidence from the texts we have studied in class, making comment on both the ideas about discovery explored in the texts, and the way in which these ideas have been communicated through the features of the specific forms.
Tips on writing a persuasive essay from:


Essential…absolutely necessary… extremely important… crucial… indispensable… imperative… paramount… vital…discovery. Can you spot the odd one out?

Though this initial sentiment points to the notion I am extremely adverse to the subject, I actually do believe it to have some positives, with which I will initiate this discussion upon.

The study of Discoveries is a somewhat essential element of the HSC as it provides students with an invaluable, new and developed understanding of themselves and others and of their experiences, relationships, attitudes, perspectives and values past, present and future. As indicated in the infamous rubric, Discovery can not only encompass the experience of discovering something for the first time but also rediscovering something that has been lost, forgotten or concealed. Furthermore, discoveries can vary in nature, possessing qualities of being sudden and unexpected, or emerging from a process of deliberate and careful planning evoked by curiosity, necessity or wonder.

The concept of discovery can help us to understand processes occurring within our own lives, the visual text ‘Cosita’ by Ali Chalmers-Braithwaite achieves this, illustrating to us how the experience of physical and internal discoveries can transform the perspective of an individual. The juxtaposition “Home was an unstable concept… Spain was simultaneously more familiar and more foreign than a lot of places I’d been.”  Accompanied by the gaze of the character looking outward over the horizon illustrates the broad possibilities highlighting that every circumstance for discovery is different, and results in the development of knowledge and perspective, which can help us not just to understand and associate better with others but also consolidate our emotions and discoveries to mature emotionally and intellectually. Furthermore, studying discovery can catalyse internal realisation, this process is evident in the article ‘Why do we care who Banksy is?’ By Noah Charney which can help readers to understand ‘what makes us tick’. This is demonstrated through the use of repetition and truncated sentences in “If we know a secret, we wish to reveal it. If we learn of a secret, we wish to know it.”  whereby inclusive language highlights the shared, innate desire or curiosity we share to make discoveries of things that intrigue us, serving to develop our understanding of human nature. Additionally, through analysing the discoveries of others, one can make discoveries of themselves. It’s ironic but it’s brilliant, and it is one reason why the study of discovery is essential. Such a phenomenon is exemplified through the study of ‘Sailing to Byzantium’ by William Butler Yeats, which highlights the fragility and changeability of our lives; as in the causal statement “whatever is begotten, born and dies.”  Which serves to foster in our own minds the seeds of contemplation within our own lives. We begin to question the nature of our existence and conclusively form perspective on life, making us come to terms with our place in the world; helping us to realise, alongside other vital life lessons, that no; the world does not evolve around us and no; we are not immortal.

One would argue these to be important life lessons.

However…the study of discovery is not without its flaws. Flaws that, arguably, are much akin to a stubborn and insistent parent – they must not be ignored!!! Firstly, the study of discovery is complex. So very complex. Take for example again the poem ‘Sailing to Byzantium’, that presents to students the complexities of life and ageing. Us students already have to grapple with their tenuous transition into adulthood, some of us don’t have the mental endurance let alone capacity to withstand grappling with the intricacies and convolutions of the concepts explored in this area of study!

The motif of time is used to present the confrontation with one’s mortality and “sing to lords and ladies of Byzantium of what is past, or passing, or to come.” Illustrates the desire for immortality and sense of in his search for personal value in the physical world, then further confrontation with what awaits us beyond in what Yeats describes to be a pure spiritual world. Woah! Hold up! This is a notion reserved for the period of our mid-life crises! Also, has no one ever considered the fact that it is the near-identical-but-not-quite twin of the year 11 AOS Journeys? Like the kind of near identical twin that only their best best friends who are super super close and spend all their time together (i.e. teachers) can tell them apart but anyone who isn’t so emotionally attached and doesn’t quite know them (i.e. students) couldn’t tell them apart if their life depended on it? Well, I have; and I find it to be another reason that the study of discovery is really not all too necessary. Aren’t they basically the same, and if not, it is an undeniable truth that they catalysed each other and occur simultaneously. Is the syllabus just stuck on a broken record? We have (mostly) done it all already last year, why should we repeat ourselves?

So, is the concept of discovery essential? Honestly, my perspective on this is accurately summated in the rhetoric in ‘Why do we care who Banksy is:’ “are were any better off for knowing?”. But, overall, while the study of Discovery is not an essential element of the curriculum, I do believe it is still an important one in a necessary wide range of study of text and conceptual areas within the study of English that serve not just to enhance our intellect but also our understanding of the human condition and experience.



Does society remain sheltered and anxious without the drive for discovery, or is this a wistful grasp by self assured poets to try remain relevant in a changing world? School shines light on our inept education system, implicating the study of a concept can have real world impacts on an individual, translating to application within different scenarios. But this simply isn’t true. Though discovery in itself is a pivotal catalyst for the growth of teenagers, learning about the idea of discovery within a classroom setting is futile at best. William Yeats ‘Sailing to Byzantium’ and ‘Byzantium’ evidence this through the incoherent ramblings of a writer trying to relive his ‘glory days’.

Firstly, the most important part of appealing and teaching an audience is the metalanguage and jargon of their time, to act as an intermediary for their learning. Yeats completely ignores this in his text  ‘Sailing to Byzantium’ , with references to lines such as ‘Come from the holy fire, perne in a gyre’, the use of rhyming couplets used to create flow and rhythm, but provide no meaning as to what is actually meant. Without truly understanding, the line is rendered useless to the audience, and even with substantial annotation by teachers, students are intimidated and no knowledge is gained. Following this, Yeats describes a spiritual journey he has supposedly undertaken, ‘Once out of nature I shall never take my bodily form from any natural thing’, juxtaposing ideas of birth in nature and rebirth in machines, unwittingly mirroring his alienation from the audience he is unsuccessfully trying to connect with. Yeats’ experiences with spiritual rehabilitation prove to be extraneous, as teenage readers simply cannot relate due to their lack of real world experience and ironically, revelations about themselves. Context is a central part in learning about discovery and without proper engagement with the target audience, Yeats’ poem is trivial.

Additionally, reading and absorbing information of other people’s experiences does not provide the same relevance as independently facing these challenges/journeys. In Yeats’ ‘Byzantium’ this is clearly revealed by ‘An agony of flame that cannot singe a sleeve’, metaphoric fire used to represent anger and anguish by the forgotten spirits. Though this is a ‘clever’ piece of writing, it has little substance in emulation of a real scenario and will not truly benefit teenagers in how they can and choose to behave. Our education fixates on the ideology of personal growth and rationalises discovery as a means to catalyse change in the ascension to adulthood. The paradoxical statement ‘death-in-life and life-in-death’, highlights the immortality of the mind, through the idea of intellectual preservation, but ultimately does not have any impact on an individual who reads it. The concept of rote learning and memorising pieces of texts thusly appears to be asinine, yet the HSC rewards retention of information, over application of the concept that is supposedly being taught.

In the end, discovery remains and always will be vital for teenagers, especially with how they can apply it to themselves as they move through life. However, studying the concept of discovery, especially the way in which we learn it now, is highly detrimental, and acts as a weak excuse for headstrong literature fanatics to force ‘classics’ onto a new generation of unwilling and unhappy teenagers.

Chris H

“Découverte, Entdeckung, Descubrimiento, Scoperta… Discovery.” No matter what country or culture, the innate importance discovery holds in all humans is a factor that universally binds us together. Discovery is not merely a noun, instead, as a concept it encompasses the experiences and emotions evoked; jubilation, fear, curiosity and the ultimate effects on the individual physically and emotionally. Studying discovery allows teenagers to gain a greater knowledge and understanding of the human condition and the desire to discover one’s place in the world and additionally, investigating this concept can potentially lead to the relieving of earlier personal discoveries  and the effects these had on oneself. Hence, I believe it is important that we teenagers should study the concept of discovery.

Learning about (essentially discovering) other people’s discoveries allows for teenagers to gain a greater understanding on the human condition which can make them more global citizens. Teenage years see us moving away from the enclosed enclave of school and parents into the ‘outside world,’ and it is natural that many of us may question what our role is in this world. Through the persona of William Butler Yeats 1928 poem “Sailing to Byzantium,” the discovery of mortality and the fear of being rejected is conveyed, only to be changed as the poem progresses and the persona discovers that he can gain immortality through his intellectual works. The persona’s initial disappointment with his sense of unfulfillment in current society is

illustrated through the high-modality language “That is no country for old men,” which emphasises his frustration, however, this then changes as he gains acceptance of himself through imagery “Into the artifice of eternity.” Many of us may relate to Yeats and this poem. Not so much in the fact that we are ageing and becoming disjointed with the society around us… well hopefully not, but because we are reaching a new phase in our life. Studying discovery through this text may affirm or challenge our assumptions about the human experience and may even give us hope that if a 60-something year old can still discover his place in the world, so can we.

The exploration of the concept of discovery through texts also allows for us as teenagers to understand the significance of personal discoveries on the self. Already in our young years, we have made many discoveries either for the first time or have rediscovered things that have been lost or forgotten. However, many of us may overlook and downgrade these discoveries and their impact until we are forced to look closer in the form of a NESA A4 rubric that tells us everything a discovery should lead to and entail. Tim Winton’s 2004 short story “Aquifer,” describes a young male protagonist’s childhood years in which he gains new knowledge about the world around him, in particular through making a poignant discovery on the construct of time and how the experiences we live in our lives are more important than the ticking of the clock. The metaphor “My parents bought a kitchen clock that seemed to cheat with time. A minute was longer some days than others,” highlights the protagonist’s discovery and road to maturation. It wasn’t too long ago when we were this age and through analysing this text by focusing on discovery, we may be able to reflect on our own experiences of discovery when we were a child and re-evaluate their worth on our progression. The power of discovery may be elevated as through ‘Aquifer,’ we see the permanency of these changes on one’s self, or, by trying to understand the protagonist’s epiphany at the very end due to his discovery, teenagers may ultimately be confused about how energy can move through a wave without the physical movement of water.

Despite the many reasons for studying the concept of discovery , there will still be those students who disagree with my arguments and try to write an essay better than this, but they won’t due to the very fact that their base thesis is wrong. Those of the opposing view may believe that the concept of discovery is too complex for our immature selfs. This may be true, however, many of us have already learnt about complex topics and have been challenged in multiple ways, and, if you have a great teacher :), the concept becomes quite bearable. Additionally, many of us can already easily relate to this topic as discovery is part of the universal human condition.

Hence, I believe that it is important that teenagers study the concept of discovery through texts. Studying discovery can allow us to understand more about the people around us and the innate human desire to discover your place in the world and also, this concept can help us gain a greater appreciation of life-discoveries and their effect on us. I hope you discovered something today.


Some things have to be learnt from first-hand experience. And some things don’t. At least, the foundations of an idea can always start in the classroom, where there is guidance and an experienced voice to show you the way. Why should teenagers be pushed into the deep end when upon finishing high school, they are forced into a world of unknowns where all the discoveries-in-waiting become so overwhelming and confronting as to become stagnating.  

Study of Discovery within texts lets us know that sometimes the unexpected happens like Tim Winton’s protagonist bony discovery in ‘the Turning’, and that it’s okay if sometimes everything goes sideways, but it also gets us inexperienced youth pondering greater things. Tim Winton’s character asks himself ‘is time moving through us or us through it?’ and so as the audience we do to, and are privy to an inner discovery that maybe we wouldn’t experience first-hand. Therefore, if nothing more than a slight change of perspective, the study of discovery expands our youthful and naïve field of vision, to better develop our understanding of the world’s intricacies and perhaps allow us to consider all those discoveries we have yet to make. 

It seems that contrary to the idea guidance, there comes the expectation that we are allowed to experience failure and ‘learn our lesson’, and yet in reality the two are not distinct from one another. Most worry that a preconceived idea of the discovery experience – a preconceived idea of life – can be debilitating; it won’t allow us to come to our own conclusions because we are only following planted recipes. But guidance is not a bad thing. I experienced this first-hand with the Yeats poem ‘Byzantium’ wherein the first reading is so overbearing and intimidating. Confident direction has brought comprehension to a beautiful piece of literature, and yet my interpretation of the poem is still just that – mine. This study has opened my awareness to a whole new array of writings, you could even say it has helped me to make my own independent discoveries (hah). And if discovery’s not for you and you like being boring and leaden that’s fine, at least you’ve gained a little bit of knowledge of one of the greatest poets ever. See? No downside. 

But most importantly there is one fact that runs all counterarguments into the ground – something I’m certain of because I am experiencing it firsthand. The study of discovery can only gift you knowledge, and being a teenager on the cusp of strange new horizons rife with potential findings is scary, so I can say with utmost confidence that even this little bit of preparation could never be a bad thing. 


Roll up teenagers, you avid English fanatics! Today, I will take you on a journey and together, we will discover how the study of discovery is essential for teens. Please don’t leave, hear me out! Discovery is a key component of the human condition – that is, we all can and will experience it, especially during this important period of teenage identity development! Without discovering, our lives would be bland and very, very boring. Through studying discovery, we can gain a better understanding of our emotions, desires, abilities and strengths. This intricate concept has been artfully weaved through the non-fiction text ‘Why do we care who Banksy is?’ by Noah Charney and short story ‘Aquifer’ by Tim Winton, allowing us to explore why studying discovery is essential for us to reveal more about ourselves and the people around us.

Ah, the human condition. For those of you who haven’t jumped on the bandwagon, the human condition are the essential characteristics and events that are the building blocks of human existence, one of which happens to be an aspiration to discover. Through studying discovery, we learn of its potential and gain a better understanding of why we want to discover. This is seen in Charney’s use of synecdoche ‘We humans dislike secrets. Or rather, we love secrets…after a period of wondering, guessing and inquiring’ unifying experiences of the human collective unconscious (props to Carl Jung) hence perpetuating that we will all inevitably experience discovery. Furthermore, the study of discovery allows us to realise the sheer power of discoveries able to trigger traumatic memories. Winton uses the persona’s sombre tone ‘I saw a shabby clump of melaleucas and knew exactly where it was that this macabre discovery had taken place’ conveying the persona’s emotional turmoil after rediscovering a death he witnessed as a child, and while we don’t particularly want to experience discoveries which take a severe emotional toll on us, it’s what makes us human. Hence, we can see that discovery is a key component the human condition, something all of us can and will experience, therefore allowing us to appreciate and understand the many facets of discovery and the effects they can evoke.

The human mind can sometimes cause us to behave in incomprehensible ways. Sometimes, we just don’t know what to do after discovering something traumatic, shocking or awe-evoking, however, studying discovery through the numerous texts the concept is manifested in allows us to see how others react to discovery. A literary learning experience, if you will. Charney reiterates the curious and inquisitive nature of the human mind and its desire to both make and hide discoveries, in the repetition ‘If we know a secret, we wish to reveal it. If we learn of a secret, we wish to know it. If we are the secret, we want someone else to find out’ making us wonder why our gears turn in such a paradoxical manner. Similarly, Winton’s persona undergoes extreme emotional torment from witnessing traumatic events as a child, in the rhetorical questioning ‘What did he want? What did he ever want from me?’ conveying the persona’s realisation of the mental strain and torment that persists years after witnessing the death and having no outlet to release his emotions. Therefore, through studying discovery in many different texts we can see how characters, personas and composers respond to the upsides and downsides associated with discovery, and allow us to relay this information in our own lives.

Of course, it can be argued that teenagers don’t need to study discovery as the process of ‘revelation’ somewhat detracts from the allure of mystery. Charney concludes his article with his opinion ‘The moment a secret is revealed, no matter how engaging, there’s something of a deflation. The world could use more unsolved mysteries.’ juxtaposing and mocking our widely held belief of the importance of discovery. However, studying discovery is highly important. I’ll propose to you some questions (you too, Mr Charney): If we aren’t discovering, then what are we doing? Is there any point for our existence if we aren’t discovering? How do we develop without discovering? Even now, Mr Charney providing us with his opinion that discovery isn’t important, that in itself is a discovery, isn’t it? Your move, Mr Charney.

Phew, what a discovery that was! I hope I have allowed you to discover the intricacies, the many facets and significance of the study of discovery. Whilst some people think that the teenage brain is too underdeveloped and lacks experience to fully understand discovery, I firmly believe studying the concept allows us to understand happenings in our world. We can comprehend parts of the human condition, understand our emotions and what we really desire. Kudos to Noah Charney’s non-fiction text ‘Why do we care who Banksy is?’ and Tim Winton’s short story ‘Aquifer’, two texts which explore the different aspects of discovery beautifully.


“Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore.”[1]

Ultimately, Discovery is a vital unit for teenagers to study, as it broadens their horizons so that they might sail further, or gain the courage to set sail in the first place. The fact is simple: discovery is an unavoidable wave on the ocean life, and there won’t be just one. An appreciation of the mysteries of life, and the new knowledge and experience gained from revealing them, is attained through studying the value and many faces of Discovery. Discovery is essential for teenagers to study as it develops empathy and appreciation of life experiences, although the confronting nature of some discoveries may give reason for shelter up until the teenage years.

Remember the first time you discovered the ocean? Maybe you’d lived in the city or inland some, and that first breathtaking sight of its seemingly endless expanse just blew you away. Or maybe you’d known the beach since toddler age, but each time you come back you find yourself knowing something different about the world… Throughout your life, in expected and unexpected ways, you’ll discover more and more about yourself, the world and everything in between, but those little knowledges won’t be as valuable if you haven’t studied the concept and many facets of discovery. Firstly, discovery develops the self. Ali Charmer’s cute comic Cosita explores this: on the protagonist’s lonely travels through Northern Spain, she reveals a hidden truth about herself: that a) she is homesick more for her cats than for her family, and b) she needs affection and a supportive purpose in order to be fulfilled. She adorably suffices this by adopting a stray palace cat and being its carer for a short while, all shown through the minimal monochrome squares of story. Similarly, in Fiona MacFarlane’s humorous short story Man and Bird, our Reverend protagonist discovers his new religious beliefs, hilariously through a combination of psychedelic dreams and believing his pet cockatoo to be an archangel sent from God. However, he simultaneously discovers his solitude in believing these new beliefs, leading him to find God in his little yellow car, with the fantastical imagery of ‘the white bird [flying] in the shaft of light above the car, and the revolving earth… man and bird together reached the sea.’ And we’re back to Square 1 with the sea. New truths about oneself and one’s places in this exciting and tumultuous world are gained through discoveries, but only sufficiently appreciated through a study of this concept.


Due to teenagers’ totally unstable and unpredictable (although actually highly predictable) emotional status[2], discovering the confronting nature of some discoveries can be a tough discovery to discover. Also simply put: some teenagers just don’t have, like, the time to study discoveries, or else they just won’t understand what the heck they’re learning, and so the whole process is wasted on their confusion. For example, you don’t have to be a literary scholar to process Cosita or Man and Bird, but you very well do have to be one to process Yeats by yourself as a teenager. I didn’t understand his two famous poems Sailing to Byzantium and Byzantium until our teacher had taken us through it, at least not the hidden or figurative meaning. Teenagers can easily whack their fingers on the literal, or physical discovery, but the real juicy ones – the figurative, metaphorical, metaphysical discoveries – are the ones that matter. “That is no country for old men.” First line. The first thing I think of is that epic Coen Brothers movie, and then I assume that ‘That’ is referring to Byzantium, because that’s where he’s going right? Wrong. It’s referring what he’s left behind, i.e. the physical world, and sets up the whole mood and theme of the confronting nature of old age, which is arguably not much on the minds of young people. So, if a teenager was reading this by themself, and interpreted the first 6 words wrong, how do you think they’re going to find the rest of the poem!? For some, it’s just not feasible to study the deeper aspects of discovery, but if you don’t what’s the point at all? In Byzantium, he goes on about ‘I hail the superhuman; // I call it death-in-life and life-in-death.’ which is so awesome and beautiful if you get it, but otherwise for the most of teenagers who haven’t read Thus Spoke Zarathustra[3], the vacillation and circular juxtaposition of ‘death-in-life and life-in-death’ would just be plain confusing, and the whole beauty of the spiral motion of Yeats attempted description of The Next Life would be lost on deaf ears (or brains).

Therefore, despite the possibly confusing or confronting nature of discoveries, the empathy and appreciation of life’s experiences gained from studying discoveries tips the scales, and justifies the study of discovery for teenagers, as it will ultimately aid in their navigation of this constantly undulating sea of life. The smooth-sailing texts like comics and short stories provide a pleasant and accessible pedagogy of the value and nature of discoveries, whilst the more difficult, adult, texts like Yeats’ poetry call for a more hands-on-deck approach, but both are valuable in bettering the self through learning. Which, as we know, is a point ceaselessly needing addressing when it comes to teenagers.

[1] Quote: André Gide, French author

[2] I would know…

[3] Unexpectedly, as I have: one of Nietzsche’s most celebrated works that I picked up in Dymocks for, like, $8

Praxis: Rebuilding the World

PRAXIS: Rebuilding the World

Over the last two weeks year 7 students have been delivering their end of Praxis project presentations to a panel of teachers, including History, Maths and Praxis teachers. These presentations were the culmination of a complex, challenging and enriching open-ended project based on the concepts of ‘revolutions’ and ‘knowledge’. Working in teams of five, and through a series of research and design tasks, students were required to formulate an answer to the following driving question: How do revolutions progress human knowledge? Below is the project brief that the students were given at the start of the project:

‘The senior executive at Manly Selective Campus has decided to brighten up the school environment by commissioning year 7 students to design art pieces to be installed outside of each faculty’s staff room. Each piece of installation art must represent how revolutionary people or movements have contributed to the development of each discipline. Working in small teams of 5, students will use historical inquiry skills to research the revolutions in knowledge relevant to their allocated discipline and, using mathematical principles, they will visually represent their findings in a 2D design and a 3D prototype of their installation art piece. Students will present their process and product to a panel, explaining how their piece demonstrates the practical application of mathematical principles and skills, and knowledge of historical content and inquiry skills. Selected designs and prototypes will be developed into complete art pieces for permanent display in the school.’

This project was very demanding – both intellectually and in terms of time-management and collaboration within their teams – and our students reflected thoughtfully on these challenges during their presentations. Whilst we were incredibly impressed with the final products that students produced (the art installation prototypes AND their websites), we were floored by the incredible maturity with which students reflected on the project’s process and how it had taught them valuable skills and life-lessons. Each Praxis project is designed by the three Praxis teachers around our Praxis Principles and Targets and grounded in contemporary Gifted and Talented research in line with the Department of Education’s Gifted and Talented Policy. Below you can see a table that identifies a range of possible strategies to be integrated into the three core stages of Project Based Learning. The highlighted strategies are those that underpin the recent Rebuilding the World project. It was affirming to hear students talk confidently about their learning in relation to these three stages, and the Praxis Principles and Targets.

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Above table intellectual property of Bianca Hewes, Kate Munro, James Blanch (2016)

Below are some student comments about the project:

‘When we first got given our faculty, we were all excited to get started and ideas were already flooding into our minds.’

‘I made new friends and interacted with people I wouldn’t normally interact with.’

‘This project made me realise how important teamwork is. From the very start, teamwork was needed to finish the preparation and planning. Planning is one of the most important steps when doing a project…’

‘We researched answers using the Cornell note taking method. We found three sources (not just websites) that provided reliable information then made a table for each of them, showing our notes, comments, summaries and answers to our questions. Using many reliable sources helped make sure that our information was correct.’

‘As a group, we enjoyed brainstorming ideas. To begin with, we were a bit unprepared. We were frustrated that we hadn’t collected our resources in time but we learned from this that we need to manage our time a bit better in future. We did manage to finish our machine and digital portfolio but agree that we could probably do better next time.’

‘You need a team member who is as willing as you to put in extra hours outside of Praxis sessions, to work lunch times, class times and even out of school.’

Below are some of the art installation prototypes (these are currently on display in the English corridor):

Check out students’ digital portfolios which captures their learning process – each team made a website to document this process:




This was our first Praxis project that was explicitly integrated with core curriculum subjects (Maths and History), and as such we have learnt a lot about how we can improve the connection between the three classes, especially regarding explicit discussion of the project in core classes. One of our goals as a school is to develop students’ ability to make connections between subjects, and Praxis is one way that we can do this is a concrete way. We teachers are learning to collaborate between faculties too – a reminder to students that being a lifelong learner is essential in our dynamic world! We very much appreciate the willingness and enthusiasm of our students to support this new way of approaching teaching and learning, to develop the necessary skills and mindsets for successful and thriving 21st century citizens. There may be some bumps, but this is a road very much worth travelling!

As we move into our final Praxis project for the year – TEAM Praxis – a strong focus for students will be on creative thinking, time-management and organisation, curiosity, collaboration and presentation skills. Integrated into the five Praxis sessions that make up this project will be specific lessons on strategies that can develop the above skills, as well as providing students with the opportunity to self and peer assess these skills using co-constructed rubrics.

Should English teachers ban the word ‘technique’ to improve students’ engagement with texts? 

I was chatting with Tanya, my good friend and head teacher of English at my old school (and super amazing clever human), last Friday night about the word ‘technique’ to cover ALL literary devices known to man. We were hanging out and geeking out about the new HSC English syllabuses – which we are both equally stoked with, but more on that in another post – and as we were chatting I mentioned that the new syllabuses, just like the old ones, never once refer to the term ‘techniques’. It’s not in the glossary, it’s not in the rationale, it’s not in the objectives, outcomes or content, it’s not in the module descriptors. Odd, considering it is the go-to word for English teachers when discussing textual analysis. Or, is it? Tanya has all but banned the word. She’s always hated it – preferring to refer to use the language of the syllabuses – language forms and features. This really struck me as an important, um, stylistic choice? Given that last year her year 12 class blitzed the HSC (she will hate me saying this) in a school were historically few students get top English results.

As we chatted we tried to identify when the word ‘technique’ crept into the English teacher lexicon – I feel it was earlyish in my teaching career – maybe a couple of years in, around 2007? Maybe it was the introduction of the words ‘texts’ and ‘composers’ as nondescript references in the last HSC syllabus? Maybe we didn’t feel confident with the phrase ‘language forms and features’ (even now as I type it I’m sure I’ve got it wrong)? I do know that it has become super problematic in the way I teach texts. Students are always asking me ‘What technique is in this quote?’ and I blame myself because I am the one creating formulas and acronyms (ITEE, STEEL, STEW etc) for essays and sentences that require the dreaded T – techniques.

In our chat we both realised the time we first really focused on techniques as mandatory for all essay paragraphs was at the HSC marking centre. We thought it amusing, and kind of weird, that our marker colleagues (including our SMs) constantly referred to techniques – how many, the quality, how well they were discussed/analysed – and yet the marking criteria we were using, didn’t refer to the word ‘technique’. Well, maybe it did sometimes like ‘dramatic techniques’? Even then kids still referred to metaphors – and not metaphor as the BIG type, the small ‘put your finger on the metaphor’ type. Teachers (me included) refer to language techniques, persuasive techniques, dramatic techniques, poetry techniques, film techniques, etc. so it makes sense we would use ‘techniques’ as an all-encompassing term, BUT the problem is when (teacher like me) tell students that every sentence in their body paragraphs must have a technique in it – that you can’t have a quote unless you analyse it – we really start to experience the tyranny of the technique. The essay becomes boring, like a shopping list of single-use ‘techniques’ that doesn’t allow an idea to develop or a personal voice to be heard. We can blame the HSC, but really the expectations set THERE are set by US, I truly believe that.

So, having spoken with my lovely friend, and hearing how she has not only banned the word technique, but also banned essay formulas, it makes me question my own practice. Given the fact that we have the opportunity to liberate ourselves from the tyranny of the technique AND the formulaic essay, with this new (awesome) HSC with its incredible focus on creativity, authenticity, and genuine engagement with literature, I wonder if we will. Will you?

Dear Kelli: I went to this uni thing…

… and to begin with I was very annoyed. It seemed unfair that I should have to attend a workshop on research methodologies when I’ve already complete a course on it at USyd – two in fact! Add to that my stupid decision to drink a V right before I got there – resulting in my head spinning and my eyes unable to focus properly (no, I’m not a regular caffeine drinker; I’ve never had a cup of coffee in my life) – and you can imagine how it felt sitting still listening to someone talk at me. That was my first message to you that day – I was being put in the boring position of compliant student and I didn’t like it. 

The first session was all about definitions of key terms, and because this was revision for me, I was frustrated and bored. It reminded me of the importance of pre-testing and differentiation, but also of how bloody hard that is to do – what was this guy expected to do for those of us who knew the difference between a methodology, a method, and a conceptual framework before we sat down? Mostly I was after interesting examples of each, and to be honest I found his PPT too vague and non-specific. It turns out the purpose of the day was to exemplify the definitions in the form of humans – we had a series of actual researchers come and talk about their research. Some were better than others. 

I’ll tell you one thing that scared me silly – being given a worksheet asking us to outline our research (he called it a ‘methodology questionnaire’) – it asked for our field of research, research questions, ideas or concepts, and research activities. I got pretty anxious when I first looked at it (because I honestly feel I haven’t thought about this at all) but then I remembered my research proposal I submitted to get in this course, and woohoo – I had my answers! Well, temporary answers, but it sure felt good being able to fill the page in like the other students were (even though I knew deep in my heart those answers probably weren’t right anymore). On re-reading my proposal, I realised the awesome stuff Jane had added and refined – like things about my role as researcher within a context where I teach impacting the generalisability of my research etc. 

From the first session I really liked this definition of methodology: methodology is the how that develops the what. He also stressed that in PhDs (no, I’m not doing one, I’m doing my Masters) the conceptual framework is the weakest part – I’m hoping that will be my strength because I’m an English teacher, and concepts interest me. I think I’m at an advantage because when he listed example concepts and theories I already knew them – Marxism, feminism, post-structural, post-colonial, post-modern. He mentioned Foucault and I was like, ‘Yup, I know that name!’. Another definition I liked is this: conceptual framework + methods = methodology. He spoke about the possibility of developing an ‘innovative methodology’ and gave James Joyce as an example which really excited me – stream of consciousness + the novel. So cool. Could I be innovative and create an entirely new methodology? Probably not, haha! 

I didn’t find much in the second session useful, apart from the talk by Sandy Schuck about interviewing. She described the use of artefacts to encourage more authentic responses and gave the example of photographs used as metaphor for feelings, thoughts and experiences. For example, a researcher interviewing young students about Maths anxiety asked them to select a photograph from a group they felt represented their feelings after a Maths class, and this allowed the students to express themselves through metaphor – they felt safe, and could elaborate more on their feelings. Cool, huh? This could be a great classroom activity after reading a text. We had a go where we picked an image that represented how we feel about our projects right now and a partner interviewed us. To be honest at my table we were all pretty bleak – our photos included an endless road, a dark cave, and a child falling into a huge pile of leaves. Through our conversation we revealed that we all felt overwhelmed, directionless, and scared of the unknown. It was a cool activity, and I’m thinking it could get some honest responses from my interviewees who may feel too close to me, or worried about being honest about PBL if they have something negative to say etc. That’s something I really need to be careful about! 

The third session was weird because I didn’t collect a worksheet when I came back from lunch, and the teacher didn’t check we all had them, therefore I felt disengaged during the first couple of speakers (their research bore not relation to mine, making it hard to see the point) and only really engaged with the last speaker – impossible not to as he was from the Centre for the advancement of Indigenous knowledges (CAIK) and was so compelling and passionate! I loved his arguments about epistemological racism, and his confession that his own Phd was inherently racist – wow! Anyway, it turns out we were listening to these speakers to try to identify their research questions, concepts, methods, and methodology. It was on the worksheet that I didn’t get! Oops! I was impressed with my ability to contribute to the table discussion about these things even though I hadn’t filled in the sheet, and the teacher even valued my answer about one of the speakers’ conceptual framework that he asked me to share it with another group. This acknowledgement and implicit praise meant I was more engaged in the next session, more willing contribute ideas to the whole class. Being a student really helps you understand the powerful role of the teacher! 

I loved the final session – maybe it was because I’d eaten, I could see the finish line, I had been praised in the last session, I don’t know. We got to listen to the experiences of a current research student who is close the end of her Doctorate of Creative Arts (sounds like an incredible course, on my to-do list!) and a recent graduate who just completed her Phd on second career teachers. Whilst the former was fascinating (her novel is going to be incredible) the latter was more valuable to me as her methodology is very similar to mine. I loved her clear presentation style, and it reminded me of how much I already know about research, and how much I want to know more. To be honest, earlier in the day I had complained to others at my table about how I resented the fact that we had to devote so much time to researching research – know what I mean – the conceptual stuff. I want to just dive right into my topic, not read about research methods and theories. However, hearing Meera speak about her phenomenological approach (how it is interpretivr and descriptive) got me so excited! She read Heidegger as part of her conceptual research – hells to the yeah! She also suggested others like Smith, Flowers and Larkin (2008), Dewey (1938) and Van Manen (1990). I’m going to check them out. I loved her three guiding questions for research: 

– what would you like to find out in your research? 

– how does your research purpose align with your research question? 

– what kinds of methodological ‘literature’ exists around your research topic? 

Our teacher kept stressing that the ‘fun stuff’ is the methods – actually gathering the data – but that we must dedicate ourselves to the other stuff, namely researching the concepts and theories that frame our methods and topic. That’s my challenge, to be conceptually awesome, haha! 

So… that’s my first letter to you, Kelli. I’m thankful that you pushed me to admit I need to go part-time with my Masters, even though it hurts my ego. I’m grateful that I get to give more time to this project, so I can get it right. Maybe Jane is right, maybe there’s a PhD in this? To be honest, after this workshop I’m starting to feel like I need more time to make sure it’s really tight – not sure that’s the right word – I mean proper good research with a super sophisticated conceptual framework. Anyway, reality is that today I have a huge pile of Year 11 paragraphs to give feedback on, plus ILP journals to mark. I don’t know how I’m going to get it done, plus eat, and enjoy some of the weekend. It just makes it so hard to prioritise my research project, hey? Tips? Suggestions? All welcome. 

Looking forward to your reply, 

B 🙂 

Keeping students organised – got tips?

Writing Year 12 reports over the last two days has really brought to the fore the power of organisation. Without doubt, the kids who are the most successful in school are those who are organised. I’m really wanting to support my year 12 students with their organisation -both of their time and of their physical stuff. It’s a hard one for me because I’m incredibly disorganised myself, despite my many attempts to be organised.

Today I made some personalised name magnets to help my students visualise their ability to complete homework – see image below. I’ve also created a learning calendar for our current study of Donne and W;t, which hyperlinks to resources, and outlines required homework. I’m open to other suggestions – I can’t control what they do at home, but any tips for what I can do in class to help keep them on track are much appreciated. 

The skill, will, and thrill of Project Based Learning

If you follow me on Twitter, you’ll know that last Thursday and Friday I attended the Visible Learning Symposium in Darling Harbour. You’ll also know that I found the event surprising, and not in a good way. After the Thursday session, in which we heard from John Hattie himself, I was distressed to the point of angry blogging. Thankfully I decided not to publish that blog post – it was only half completed anyway because I ended up having to give in to my rage-induced migraine and go to sleep early that night. So, instead of sharing with you a rambling critique of a professional learning event that I (and many others) felt was anything but professional, I have decided to reflect on the take-aways from the two days and apply them to my ongoing commitment to quality, engaging, enriching, and authentic learning experiences for my students using the Project Based Learning methodology. Because, despite what Hattie and his many enthusiastic disciples believe, Project Based Learning is NOT the same as Problem Based Learning or Inquiry Based Teaching, and therefore their attempts to denigrate it based on the purported (although problematic) effect sizes of the latter, are simply false.

On Thursday of last week, I tweeted out this:

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It’s true – a lot of what Hattie, and presenter Kristin Anderson, said about effective teaching practice is what all great PBL teachers already do. In fact, I would go so far as to say that Hattie’s learning model – Visible Learning Plus – is actually just quality teaching, and thus practices all great teachers do. There wasn’t anything at all surprising about the fact that teacher rapport with students, teacher efficacy, feedback, establishing clear learning intentions and sharing exemplars, empowering students to be self-directed learners through self-assessment and setting learning goals, and constant reflection on and evaluation of student learning achievement are essentials for improved student learning outcomes. If anyone was surprised by that, I question their role as educators.

The catch-phrase for Visible Learning Plus is ‘skill, will, thrill’ – these terms are viewed as both ‘inputs’ and ‘outputs’, and frame the learning process from surface learning (acquiring and consolidating), deep learning (acquiring and consolidating), and transference of learning into new contexts. The ‘skill’ is what students bring to learning – their prior achievements, the ‘will’ refers to the disposition of the student to learn – their resilience, resourcefulness, ability to reflect and to relate, and the ‘thrill’ is being motivated, and understanding standards and what success looks. For Hattie, learning is ‘The process of developing sufficient surface knowledge to then move to deeper understanding such that one can appropriately transfer this learning to new tasks and situations’. Unfortunately, Hattie believes that the ‘transfer’ stage is incredibly difficult for most students to get to – and this is where I believe PBL is its most effective, in that students become quite adept at transferring skills and content knowledge between projects – obviously when the PBL they are doing is well-structured.

OK, so let’s look at how Project Based Learning actually authentically reflects Hattie’s mantra of ‘surface to deep to transfer’ and a movement away from ‘an over-emphasis on surface learning’. Below is a visual representation of Hattie’s model of learning (taken from this slide show from Hattie), and it is to this (and his league table of Effect Sizes – the methodology of which I acknowledge is highly problematic and has been critiqued in numerous posts such as herehere, here, here, here, and here) that I will refer to in this post. To be entirely honest (even though it hurts to admit, since I have many philosophical concerns/reservations about Hattie himself) I think this diagram is quite effective in representing the learning process – yet, in saying that, this image is nothing new or ground-breaking, and reflects many other effective representations of the learning process. A coincidence? Probably not. At this stage, if you haven’t read this BIE article on  the Discover, Create, Share model of Project Based Learning, you probably should as I will be using it in my discussion.

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In the above image, Hattie places ‘Problem Based Learning’ at the deep – transfer stage of learning, arguing that this is a higher order process that will only have an impact on students’ learning once they have mastered the surface learning, and a range of metacognitive skills. I have no problem with this, and would argue that no effective teacher would throw students into Problem Based Learning, without prior supporting the development of essential content knowledge and skills. In regards to Project Based Learning (which is an entirely different methodology to Problem Based Learning), teachers carefully design and structure projects so as that students develop essential skills and content in the initial ‘discover’ stage before they move on to the ‘create’ stage in which students are challenged to deepen their understanding through the application of content and skills in the creation of artefacts to share with real-world audiences. It is this mid-stage of a project in which students encounter problems – and when some teachers provide students with Problem Based Learning challenges – yet by this stage they are actively involved in self-talk, self and peer assessment, and self-regulation (all VL elements). Thus, Project Based Learning – by its very design – reinforces what Hattie is presenting as an effective model for learning, rather than challenges or contradicts it as is often purported due to a misunderstanding (or lack of understanding) of what PBL is.

OK, so let’s look at another version of Hattie’s model of learning, this time with some specific teaching strategies overlaid on top – all of which are shown to have a profound effect size, according to Hattie’s own meta-analysis (and the top 10 are, let’s face it, pretty common sense stuff in terms of quality teaching practices).

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Discover – All projects begin with a KWL table – this strategy allows the teacher to identify students’ prior knowledge (what do I know?), and their confidence and mindset as they approach the project. At this stage of the project students are immediately told what they are working towards through the use of a project outline and driving question – establishing a project long ‘learning intention‘, and then the teacher shares with them examples of what the final product they are creating looks like, to help excite and motivate them, but also to set explicit success criteria. These criteria nearly always take the form of a rubric – and not just for the product, but also for the soft skills they need to develop such as critical thinking and collaboration. This stage of the project learning cycle sees students being exposed to new ideas and perspectives, being challenged by a range of learning experiences that include direct instruction, listening to guest lectures, watching videos, reading reference books, completing worksheets, engaging in Socratic seminars, guided  independent research, conducting experiments, writing essays, etc. Formative assessment strategies (feedback) used to determine students’ understanding and mastery of essential content and skills required for project success can range from the traditional (tests, essays, research reports, speeches) to the innovative (team problem solving challenges, elevator pitches, teacher-student interview, interactive data walls). SOLO taxonomy and rubrics are used to help students develop self-efficacy in regards to setting learning goals. I use the Goals, Medals and Missions formative assessment strategy, and whilst kids find it confronting and difficult at first, they learn more about themselves as learners, as a result.

Create – The products that students create vary depending on the project, and the discipline or disciplines the project involves. For English projects I have had students create short films, websites, newspapers, plays, picture books, personal essays, persuasive speeches, stories, etc. These all require students to master very specific skills, and develop a deep understand of complex content, which occurs at the discover stage, and is then applied at the create stage. At the create stage students are planning and drafting (rehearsing and practising) their final product, using a range of peer and self-assessment strategies to evaluate their product in order to refine it so it is of a quality worth of a public audience. Students are guided through this process by constant reference to success criteria, often in the form of a rubric or checklist – I love to have students co-construct this criteria with me at the end of the ‘discover’ stage, as it reveals to me their understanding of the project’s learning intentions in the context of what they are producing. Students become very capable of giving and receiving feedback (a skill which is explicitly taught to students in PBL) at this stage of a project, a skill which strengthens as they work through a range of projects in a school year.

Share – This is the scary stage but also the thrilling stage, where students must be held accountable for their learning through the public presentation of their products. In preparation for this event, students undergo a process of reflection, where they must consider what they have learned during the project, how effectively their final product solves the given problem, or meets the needs of the given audience or fulfils the requirement of the given brief. Teachers often provide them with a range of reflection questions to stimulate this self-questioning. High Tech High have an awesome set of 50 questions, that I have used successfully with students. Self-talk plays an essential role in individual preparation for the presentation of learning, as a means of motivation and encouragement before the big event. This stage of a project is where students are required to transfer their learning into new contexts – to share with an audience what they know, and respond to unexpected questions about their learning. Of course, transferring of skills and knowledge occurs between projects also.  Students know they are successful before they receive the feedback from the public audience, because they know what success looks like, and this event simply reinforces that understanding.

Finally, I thought it amusing that Hattie championed SOLO taxonomy, a self-assessment and metacognitive tool that is used by ALL great PBL (and non-PBL) teachers, and has been for years. I found it funny that I had recently presented to a room of educators the relationship between the five learning domains in SOLO (pre-structural, uni-structural, multi-structural, relational, and extended abstract) and the three key stages of PBL – Discover (pre-structural, uni-structural, multi-structural), Create (relational, and extended abstract) and Share  (extended abstract). Of course, I also added what Hattie called the ‘biggest hoax of the 21st century’ Bloom’s Taxonomy on the slide, because the point I was making (reflecting Hattie’s ‘surface to deep to transfer’ mantra) was that great projects ensure students can identify, understand, analyse and evaluate essential content and skills BEFORE they move to the create level. At no point does, or should, a teacher assume that PBL involves handing students a project challenge, and then stepping out of the way for a few weeks. Well-designed projects ensure students acquire new (surface then deep) knowledge, that they then consolidate through collaboration with peers, deep discussions with teachers, mentors and experts, and then transfer this knowledge into the solving of a specific problem through the creation of a new artefact for an authentic audience. This cycle continues for each project (usually at least three or four per year in PBL schools), and as such students become even more adept at the metacognitive skills required for successful and engaging – thrilling even – learning!

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I know this post will open me up to criticism from the Hattie/VL disciples, and that’s OK (well, really, it SO isn’t OK, but I have resigned myself to the reality of it) but I just wanted to say also, that I am a full time classroom teacher, executive member, mum, and wife, so I know that I didn’t put everything I could into this post – I simply don’t have time to read a thousand journal articles and blog posts so I can footnote them and pretend my argument is bulletproof. Furthermore, I left my VL ‘training manuals’ at school, so I couldn’t refer back to it to quote Hattie’s key terms (or effect sizes) as much as I would have liked. Ultimately, this isn’t a research article (I’m a teacher, not an academic), it’s a reflective post where I’ve tried to put down the thoughts that have been rattling around in my brain for the last week. I just think that in education we shouldn’t be making enemies, we shouldn’t need to take sides… we’re all in this field because we love young people, we care about their future success, and we are passionate about teaching and learning. It would be so super awesome to work together, and be positive, for better outcomes for the people that matter – the kids – and not for our own personal agendas of gains. Anyway, if you don’t like PBL, that’s cool (well, no, not really, you’re missing out, haha), but make sure you know what it is you’re critiquing before you start to bag it – cos it might just be that we’re arguing for the same thing.