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! 

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Filtering by Tag: Collaborative Learning

The Most Audacious 'Class' I've Ever Seen

And I've seen some audacious classes in my time. 

Lookk, before you do anything, just watch this footage. Then, optionally, read my waffle. But watch this footage. As jaw-dropping to me as any TED talk. Try to spot the teacher. OHHHH there aren't any. Yet the kids are working in synchronicity. WHY? HOW? Answer this, and you've cracked the paradigm-change nut we're smack-bang in the middle of:

We're talking DAY 3 of the year 2012, with 90 Year 6 students being joined by 90 Year 5 students. The Year 6s have been used to radical self-direction for 12 months, the Year 5s are more or less the newbies.

So this is establishment phase, okay? The most crucial time in any community. It's when the DNA, the starting-culture, is settled on. Happens everywhere: workplace, school, church, sport. In 2012, Week 1 of the year for many classes in Australia must have consisted of the teacher 'framing' the class; establishing a narrative for who they all are and where they're going. Heck, I just did this with my Year 8 French class. 

Yeah, person up the front framing the context for the many, the crowd, the younglings. Classic one-to-many relationship that so often characterises schooling. If you spot rows of desks, you'll know immediately that's the frame. "Look to ME for your reality."

Before I introduce the Most Audacious Class I've Ever Seen, can I quickly clarify this is NOT a Montessori school. This is NBCS, where I've worked for 10 years, a traditional High School that decided to throw away the map and start again. We have no notions of the noble savage and we don't put kids in a vaccuum. (I'm not saying the Montessori schools do). We use a 'landscape/frame/gateway' approach that overlays freedom and agency onto a sophisticated curated learning landscape that takes 100s of hours to set up. 

I salute this team: Lou Deibe, Chantelle Morrison, Katesha Allis, Daniel Wearne, Chez Robbins, Clare Froggatt and Skender Cameron. (Skender spent over 30 years in a 1 to many configuration. O boy does he have a transition-tale to tell!)

I am in awe of these teachers. 

So, day 3 of the year. 180 kids, 90 new, 90 veterans. Establishment phase.

Here's the premise: you have crashlanded on a desert island. There are no teachers.

How on earth, logistically, did they manage this? Well you should ask them on Twitter. From what I gather and observed (I spent about 30 minutes of the day in attendance in person): the 6 teachers hid outside the open space, observing the kids via video links and open windows. They tweeted clues in via a large twitter screen that acted as a well of knowledge. They used a P.A. system to phone-in further clues. They had established rules: students must remain within 2 metres of their team. Students must ignore 'spies' (adults who entered the space, dressed in costumes). It was pretty much pure game-based-learning. Simulation. Here's the environment we've curated, now prove yourselves. And LO AND BEHOLD, they did!

Audacious. 180 kids, 1 space, NO TEACHERS. They put precautionary measures in place. No gap in duty-of-care. But: one huge risk. An audacious risk. Step back. Create space. Allow agency.

Truth is, for the rest of the year it will be: 180 kids, 6 to 8 teachers, 1 space, and a virtual learning platform to rival the Khan Academy.

This sort of thing stands and falls on several ingredients, as far as I can tell:

1. A physical space that encodes agency.

2. A highly developed and painstakingly curated virtual learning environment. (We use Moodle).

3. A hyper-activated team of teachers. Ohhh do not for a moment suspect that teachers get a break in this environment. They end up working harder than ever before, moving from interaction to interaction, on the shoulder, just where they are needed, like Superman, swooping in to trouble-shoot, diagnose, stimulate, guide, mentor. 

4. A culture of entrepeneurial self-starting self-direction.

It is around #4 that this day was based. 

The DNA of industrial-era schooling basically positions students as obeyers-of-instruction. Turn to page 54. Copy down questions 1 to 10. Okay now be creative and write a story.

Look to the authority figure to be prompted. Great if you aspire to work for Foxconn.

So, we raise a generation of robots. I have no beef with this, historically. It has provided us with roads, dental care, superannuation, insurance, and miraculous foods. 

But, if you haven't noticed, we're currently undergoing a second industrial revolution. The top-down hierarchy is shifting to a bottom-up system. It's hippies, all over again, but this time it's savvy-hippies. Why? Because education has sky-rocketed, and the internet has accelerated collective intelligence in an exponential fashion. Blink, and the game has changed. Lucky that the brain is soft-coded or we wouldn't have gotten this far!

We're shifting to a mode of emergent-agency. I mean: every individual acts according to their own local insights and value-driven ambitions. Times a million. Something wonderful bubbles up. 

Watch the video. Notice the interactions. Notice, bizarrely, how several students, independently, make 'Lord of the Flies'-type noises at the camera when they notice it. But this ain't chaos, and it ain't anarchy (despite this website). This is organic, community, hopeful. Culturally-embedded hopefulness.

You have crashed on a deserted island with no teachers.

The ease of collaboration.

Hive-minds in action.

No authority figures.

Make it happen.



Better than Twitter: The TeachMeet Movement

I've been meaning to post this for ages! I'll do a rush job, okay?

Okay - the best professional development strategy for teachers is, without doubt, getting connecting in a Personal Learning Network, in any form. Twitter has proven remarkable for teachers in their ability to reach out and connect, in very real and authentic collaborative learning relationships. For years now my motto has been "if I can get a colleague onto Twitter, they'll never be the same" (like me!!)

But now there is something even better. It doesn't replace Twitter, but it works very similarly. It is the teachmeet movement. Launched in the UK in an initiative by Ewan McIntosh, the idea has spread and is now gaining traction in Australia: organise local face to face meetings of teachers to swap ideas and reflect on practice. The notion is so powerful: you don't have to wait for permission or for top-down policy change. Join the grassroots tribe and transform education from the inside out. 

It is a bottom-up movement - teachers can just go ahead and organise a teachmeet. Wonderful people in Sydney, Australia have launched the teachmeet movement here. Lots of colleagues have worked hard to make it happen. I take my hat off to them. I wonder if they understand the energy they've unleashed!

Check out the events here: http://tmsydney.wikispaces.com/ and consider if you might like to attend or organise a teach-meet of your own!

So much buzz and energy and passion for change was harnessed in 2011 in Sydney thanks to the teachmeets! 

One indicator of this cascading excitement is a HUGE Sydney Teachmeet planned for Friday, March 2. In fact the ambition is to make it a WORLD RECORD for the most teachers yet at a teachmeet event. 

Click here to read more about it. COME ALONG! Doesn't matter if you don't know anyone else. Come join the tribe. As the poster says "FREE EDU EVENT run BY TEACHERS FOR TEACHERS". What an empowering notion!!

P.S. join the Facebook group too! https://www.facebook.com/groups/tfcsydney/

P.P.S. the TM movement is spreading Australia-wide! There's bound to be something happening locally to you, and if not, start one up yourself!

Star Wars Uncut & Schooling

Hardly an original observation I am about to make, yet it has slapped me afresh, so here we go!

Understanding the schooling paradigm-shift requires one to be a culture-watcher. It is the seismic changes in society which make the schooling system appear so anachronistic and functionally irrelevant. 

One such change: the rise in technologies facilitating collective action and intelligence.

The original technology that facilitated collective action and intelligence was money. Money sped up collective intelligence in a seismic fashion. 

Since I'm on clichés today let's mention Wikipedia. It runs itself. Hierarchies are artefacts that bubble-up from grassroots communities. Everyone chips in.

Money facilitated the 'division of labour'. I have an iPhone. No single person or business knows how an iPhone is made. Apple coordinated the design, but I doubt they know how to mine the materials or manufacture the plastics or silicon inside, and it's the army of poor at Foxconn that assembled it, in a factory assembled by other industries and experts. Every product or process in the modern world bubbles up out of a myriad of collective intelligences, forming meta-collectives, and meta-meta-collectives. 

I'm getting to Star Wars.

The mass media until the end of the 20th century consisted chiefly of one-to-many technologies. The printing press, radio, television, yadayadayada. 

The web has allowed the proliferation of many-to-many technologies. That is, collective intelligences. 

Endless funky web experiments have illustrated the phenomena. Check this fascinating investigation into Twitter rumours during the London riots and how the collective intelligence corrected misinformation.

I'm getting to Star Wars, ok?

Oh alright I'll cut to the chase.

The Star Wars Uncut project allowed anyone in the world to claim a 15 second excerpt from the Star Wars IV film and create their own version. The entire film has been sown back together again from these micro-remakes.

The result is bizarrely watchable and hilarious. Every 15 second cut has something unique and witty to bring to the party. Like so much of modern global-village life, it's a pot-luck lunch where everyone brings their best to the table. Contributing artists move between slapstick, irony, gravitas, intertextual references, and the absurd, so the resulting text has a density that is common and expected in the media nowadays. 

And it just made me think: our young people are growing up in an age where participation in collective intelligences is as natural as breathing. It wasn't so when I was a lad, but it is now.

Consider the 'technologies of schooling': classrooms, authority figures, timetables, reporting, yadayadayada. These are redundant technologies. They are the equivalent of a horse-and-cart, or a punch-card reader.

Schooling as we know it is an anachronistic technology.

It is only a matter of time before our collective intelligence puts in the bin in favour of a new process - a new sociological institution - that relies on emergent cooperation rather than hierarchical order.

And now for the show!  


The School That Utterly Changed

I am always so frustrated by the inability of words to capture the bizarre transformation that has whirl-winded my school into a different dimension over the last 5 years. Everyone who visits says "I heard about this but I only understand now I can see it in action."

Well you should still come visit us, but in the meantime, these videos are a realistic window into business-as-usual at NBCS in 2011. 

The change has almost entirely come within the last 5 years. The seeds were being sown previously, but then it just went ballistic! The scary thing for us is that the change is noticably speeding up, even since, say, last term. Ahhhh heeeelp we're falling into an educational singularity! (yay!)

Video #1 - The Zone

The Journey: Tomorrow’s School Today at SCIL from SCIL on Vimeo.


180 students + 6 teachers + one large space = inspiration. 

The male teacher who speaks early in this video is Skender Cameron, who has been teaching for decades in the old paradigm. Now he is one of a team of teachers acting as shepherds over all of Year 5 and 6 as they work in one large open space we call 'The Zone'. Students flexibly group up and regroup depending on the context and their learning profile (which is constantly redefined). 

Skender articulates succinctly why the new paradigm works so well on a professional level, and the students describe their own experiences working in an organically flexible environment.

Why does the chaos not collapse in on itself? Chantelle explains how we create a kind of scaffold - a digital learning ecosystem, that allows every student to know where they are and where they're going, even as they choose their own path.

So it's not chaotic, it's organic, and mixture of culture, community, and digital landscaping holds it together. I've provocatively entitled an upcoming conference presentation "Anarchy in Learning" because of this bizarre paradox: the more we let go of control, the more students rise to the occasion. 

Video #2 - Year 8 Quest Program

The Quest: Tomorrow’s School Today at SCIL from SCIL on Vimeo.


140 students + 6 teachers + one large space = no conflict and a love of learning.

In the video my colleague Mark Burgess (@matonfender, blog), Director of 21st Century Learning, talks over footage of our Year 8s. What is gobsmacking is that teachers aren't wasting energy on conflict with the students. "Classroom management" is a non-issue. It's a non-word for us. A dream?! But true!

I am so proud of how far our school has come. We are so conscious of how far we still have to go, but now the innovation spot-fires have turned into a raging bush-fire. Teachers aren't even asking permission anymore let alone waiting to be prompted. The innovation is being pulled along from the grassroots-level. 

Come visit us! We'd love to have you! My school website is www.nbcs.nsw.edu.au and our visitors program is here: www.scil.nsw.edu.au.

Stay in touch with me: subscribe to ths blog in a reader / by email.

My school's innovation newsletter: http://www.scil.nsw.edu.au/newsletter (We're trying to gather a tribe-for-change!)

Our principal's blog: http://imaginelearning.tumblr.com

9 Year Olds in a Community of Practice

A brief break from the /GAT Project/ series, although this topic is highly relevant.

On Thursday afternoons I've been supervising groups of Year 4 students as they discover our school 3D virtual world environment, which we run with free Open Sim (*) software.

Before we go on, whatever you do, watch the video below before you leave this page!

It is hilarious, and instructive, to stand back and observe the way these little people are enticed by the environment, make their own discoveries, and then share the discoveries with each other. Different students become experts in different skills, and are sought out by the others. I don't teach them.

As I observed the incredible scene around me, I thought to myself: this pretty much sums it all up for me. 

I quickly whipped out my phone and captured the scene on camera.

Listen to what the students are saying to each other (or screaming at each other!). Watch out hyper-engaged they are. You couldn't stop them from learning if you tried. They're unstoppable. 

And notice how they're oblivious to my presence. I'm invisible. They don't notice I'm filming. They're not asking me questions. I'm irrelevant. I've done myself out of a job. They're teaching each other. Every students is a teaching-and-learning node:


Once we've witnessed this dynamic occur, once we've seen what's possible, how could we ever go back to a teacher-centric model of pedagogy? I'm going to show this video to everyone I meet from now on, and say "Do you see!? What more is there to say!?"

In teacher-centric model, the teacher sets the agenda, then requests that the students become complicit in that agenda.

In a learning-central model, the students bring the agenda, and become complicit in each other's learning. The so-called 'teacher' becomes complicit in the students' agendas. 


(*) A collaborative 3d space, where each student has an avatar and can discover, communicate, and work together to build the world. Objects can be created, sculpted, sewn together, and programmed using code to behave in particular ways.