Happy Steve

Innovation and Learning

Start with clarity of intent.

Now build it out with an evocative vision. Improvise progress by tinkering: with lots of trial and lots of error. The not knowing is the best bit: the mysteries the surprises, and from time to time the windfalls! 

Hello there, I'm Steve Collis! 

Click on "contact", won't you, and wave right back at me?

Maker Ed, Scaled

Well hats off to Lou Deibe and the amazing coalition of brave Primary teachers, because had I been the catalyst, this would have been a containable pilot, not a holus-bolus Maker day that:

  • encompassed all Primary (400 students)
  • regrouped the kids vertically (kindy mixing with Year 6, everyone mashed up!)
  • thrown in the deepest of the deep ends.... 
  • redefined Maker away from the computational/engineering slant it normally hasx

It was really done on a wing and a prayer - a bunch of "stations" set up around the school:

  • as deconstruction station, where students could basically break stuff - appliances, gadgets, other products
  • knitting station (plus heaps)
  • cardboard creations
  • painting etc
  • classic maker... Makey Makeys, motors, Little Bits, etc
  • MORE

The structure? Scaffolding? Well that came later (the following week). This day was GET TO KNOW the possibilities. Almost no structure other than "go, play, make" which is further up that end than I normally go (Oh but for ONE DAY what joy!).

Some photos

My TEDx Talk - Discovery + Direct Instruction

In my TEDx talk below - "The Power of Opting In" I attempt to describe a design space which marries direct instruction & information feedback loops (learner <-> teacher, learner <-> learner, teacher <-> teacher), with high degrees of learner agency, a spectrum of intents (including subversion), movement, discovery, improvisation, fluidity, and more than anything else: relationship & community as the beating heart.

The two questions "what works?" (explanatory) and "how do we want to be?" (narrative) can feed into this design space in elegant synchronisation. A design space can make room for multiple narratives to come together, preserving a sacred sense of self-determination in a social fabric.

I speak not theoretically but retrospective-descriptively based on a range of program designs we've developed at my school since 2005. We've not "got it right", but we have developed promising design directions that "make space" for everyone to grow. Internalisation can't be forced, so space for "opting-in" is critical even if it is sometimes post-hoc.

In my talk I propose the term "learning landscape" for this design space and propose 3 critical layers to the design: physical space, virtual (information flow) space, and cultural (head) space. All 3 can be designed together with intent. The result can have sophisticated structure and constraints that bring both focus and freedom to a community of learners.

I have a deep respect and admiration for my colleagues who have worked hard to develop these structures over many years of trial and error and constant iterating and rebuilding.

I've put the Prezi and the exemplar video footage below since they are not clear in the TEDx video:

Post Script: an observation

This scaffolded design space is not dissimilar to computer game design space, which also maximises autonomy, making/building, embraces subversion, embeds a mixture of curated + discovery learning, is profoundly social & cooperative, and includes sophisticated information flow loops. Many educators have noticed such parallels including John Hattie (p67, Visible Learning and the Science of How We Learn).

Pygmalion Education

Pygmalion begs Venus to make his sculpture come alive.

Pygmalion begs Venus to make his sculpture come alive.

Ovid recounts in Metamorphoses how a sculptor called Pygmalion falls in love with his own handiwork. This myth has been reinterpreted countless times, for instance by Bernard Shaw in his play "Pygmalion", which was then turned into the film "My Fair Lady". 

Of course the basic dynamic of projecting onto another person our every aspiration and then praising the fictional result is a universal blind spot, and it crops up in all kinds of ways in most human relationships.

Many have used the myth to explore similar dynamics in the education sphere, in texts such as "My Fair Lady".

I return constantly to the Pygmalion effect when trying to find clarity in the complexity of current educational discourse.

The education landscape is one giant screen onto which are projected all the oughts and shoulds of every vested party. At the center of this picture emerges a picture of the ideal child, ideally educated, and defined in great detail via curriculum outcomes, general capabilities. the 21st century competencies, local school values, and so on.

Schooling becomes a very particular focal point for the collective consciousness... a peculiar neuroses writ large on the world stage with an OCD-like obsession with kid KPIs. It is too obvious a move: apply processes that work with products to people. And with such gusto! It is all well-meant and comes from an ostensibly good place. 

Fortunately, at the local level we have freedom to create a space between the curriculum and the children - and space for colleagues too. We can interpret, design, implement for people instead of products. 

As hippie as it sounds, I quite like the metaphor of "ecoystem" for school communities as an alternative to "factory".

It is up to all of us to live and breathe humanity into schooling in our every interaction. 

Let's seek to create space in schools where others - colleagues, leaders, and students - can be the crazy and contradictory sorts of individuals that make life interesting and joyous and differentiated.

It doesn't mean lowering expectations or a vacuum, and it doesn't mean letting go of ambitious visions we have for each other and for the next generation. 

There is room here for a more elastic and multi-directional version of the Pygmalion effect, where at a local level we set an ambitious vision & find ambitious places for every person within that vision. It can be hit and miss, and come in fits and starts, and be shaped by participation. 

Crowd-Sourced Student Film "Les Trois Petits Cochons"

I had the idea from this crowd-sourced version of Star Wars. People from around the world recorded 15 second chunks of the film, which were then spliced together to make a new version. 

What if we had all 160 Year 8 French students team up to record tiny slices of the French "Three Little Pigs" play they're currently doing?



So we (literally) cut up the play script into sections and dished them out to 160 students in groups. 

We only gave them an hour or two to record... there was a sense of urgency, and if they didn't finish, they didn't finish.


There was momentum and buzz in the air:


The student groups saved their videos to a school portal with the right number code in the name.



I downloaded them, uploaded them to YouTube separately, then used the live YouTube editor to snip them together in order.

It took perhaps 90 minutes to edit them together. 


I was quite excited, and so were the students when we showed the final result, which had a little snip of every video in it:



Here is the final result:


The best thing is that this short activity has now expanded the students' horizons regarding new directions they could take for their full recordings, which they are doing now.

The crowd-source approach has put everyone's creativity on display, to the whole year group, but also the whole world via YouTube. This creates a community of practice feeling, like the students are all trying to come up with someone original that pushes the envelope.

This force that is surging through the entire year group is grassroots... it's a learner-community thing. It is about a zillion times stronger than a teacher-driven force.

The trick for teachers is not to drive the learning directly, but to create spatial and relational structures that nurture a ground-swell flame into a roaring fire.

Once that has happened, everything is settled. Try to stop them learning, you can't. Anything less suddenly looks not worth it.

"Engagement" is an overused term but there's a very good reason for that.

Channel 10 News Story on NBCS / SCIL

Here is tonight's channel 10 story on our school. Everyone in the story, including the reporter, spoke insightfully (I reckon!) about how we work and what the benefits are for learners.

The story touches both on the potential for personalisation when working in an open space with a collaborative team of teachers, and on the power of authentic (versus simulated) purpose, or Project-Based Learning. As my colleague Brad Fuller says in the report, "We're not preparing for the music industry, we're in the music industry".

I'm delighted, too, that the report picks up on just a couple of the other out-of-class innovations: we don't have a bell (we all just check our phones or watches) and there is a café in the centre of the school, where students, teachers, parents, are all on common ground. You can see me munching on a salad with a visitor at 1m27!!

By the way if you're keen to visit & see it for yourself, we're running our "Making it Mobile" event in a few weeks. Maybe I'll see you there?

Here are colleagues from NBCS who tweet.