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?

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.

Adrian Bruce, & the "Go Teach This" Story

This post is directed at Primary school teachers, and especially literacy and numeracy, and is about a website with resources and its author, my friend, Adrian Bruce.

This is my third and final post spruiking an opportunity! The previous two were:

I conclude today with a hearty accolade for a friend and colleague whom I admire: Adrian Bruce, and a shameless plug for his new website - "Go Teach This". Let me quickly do the shameless plug first and then finish with the personal accolade! 

The Shameless Plug

His website, www.goteachthis.com, makes available his home-made resources for Primary literacy and numeracy activities. Some resources are free, and some cost a couple of dollars. There are posters, game cards, board games, flash cards, and the like.

They are all original, custom crafted by Adrian, and with designs that draw on his long and successful experience as a Primary school teacher!

So check it out! And now for the accolade:

The Accolade

I first met Adrian at a conference where he was running long, deep, hands-on sessions on providing students with opportunities to be creative using ICT. I learned Adrian was a long time Primary teacher, a fellow INTJ, and a fellow Microsoft Innovative teacher awardee. Well we hit it off!

During a break time I saw him sketching something with a pencil, and asked him about it: he was designing a new graphic for a mathematics game. 

I warmed to Adrian quickly because he is very real, and honest, and not distracted by the latest edu-craze. He values, like I do, practical plans that provide practical opportunities for young learners. He is a do-er, not a talker. 

Adrian's older website (still running)

Adrian's older website (still running)

For some years now Adrian has been making a living out of creating original content and offering it to educators. I believe strongly in the value of the small entrepreneur, and I admire and respect Adrian's courage to take this difficult path of self-employment, for the benefit of other educators. 

His old website (LEFT) continues to offer a plethora of original, creative resources at no cost.

In this age of content-mashups, I particularly value Adrian's contribution in publishing high quality, original resources. I want to see him succeed! I'm barracking for him!

It's been a while since it occurred to me that I could support his initiative in a small way with a blog post.

Adrian, keep up the good work, and I hope this post brings more educators your way!

Big History, and "Generalism"

This is post 2, of 3 posts spruiking groovy opportunities floating about at the moment. (The last one was: beta-test a next-generation learning management system).

This one should appeal to: History teachers, Science teachers, Geography teachers, Primary teachers, and more broadly, everyone

Big History

The opportunity: a free conference for educators with experts in the field, next week, at Macquarie University in Sydney. Go suss it out, and maybe come along

Yes, Steve, but WHAT IS IT?

Darcy Moore introduced me to Big History via a Facebook post spruiking this audiobook - available cheaply via Audible.

You might want to read Darcy's blog post

I loved the audiobook, and the concept:

  • Big History is an emerging integrated field, championed by David Christian from Macquarie University since about 1990.
  • It treats history as everything since the beginning of the universe.
  • Therefore, it seeks to bring together diverse fields such as astronomy, cosmology, anthropology, archaeology, natural history, biology, economics, geology, physics and chemistry.

Here's a TED talk by Christian on Big History:

About "Generalism"

I love Big History because for some years now I have realised how deeply I value generalism and aspire to be a generalist. I just wish the word "generalist" didn't sound so boring and mundane!

I want to dig in to every field of expertise that exists, and mine it for whatever insights it can offer into our amazing world for a layman's mind. Yes, each field has its experts, spending years diving deeper into particular sub-aspects of other sub-aspects of the field, but all this research and wrestling and discussion feeds into insights and paradigms, and these can be intelligible to outsiders like me. 

For instance, I have had no formal study of biology ever, but after a few years of obsessively reading books, articles, listening to audiobooks, asking qualified friends, etc, I have a broad sense of what sort of a world is contained within our cells. I know its driven by Brownian motion, stuff smashing into other stuff. I know that the geometric shape of proteins is critical to extracting meaningful work from all these bumps.

From other reading I know that huge magnetic fields play a protective role preventing "cosmic rays" from mucking up our DNA too much. Suddenly I'm in cosmology, not biology, but the why a gap? I also learn that atoms, apart from hydrogen and helium, needed a supernova to be formed, meaning many atoms in my body came into being during the life of a previous star, before our solar system existed. 

It's glorious when these different worlds, the world of the very small, and the galactic, meet in incredible mutual relevance. 

So I want to do MORE connecting. I want to connect the Brownian motion of cells to how social networks can operate. In social networks, people bump into each other, and not physical shapes but another sort of shape has an impact on how we then interact, and what results. 

You think I'm stretching the metaphor? But everything is metaphor, everything is analogy. I can't understand any new thing except via a bridge built from what I know already.

For me, there aren't enough hours in the day to go mining into other people's fields and swim in their hard-won insights.

This is why, when Darcy introduced me to Big History, I couldn't get enough of it!

Integrated Learning

This is so obvious I'm can't be bothered typing it. It often becomes a problem in High School and gets worse and worse. 

Here's a tiny, practical idea: a few weeks ago I created a Google doc and flicked it through my Year 8 teacher colleagues. The document had a simple table with a row for each week in the year. Then, a column for each subject. "Please write in the topics that come up in your subject" I wrote. 

It took a couple of minutes, and immediately it became apparent that PDHPE are doing the human body while Science is doing the human body. Music is looking at music in film, while English are doing film study, and in French we're producing a French play in film. 

It's about a camera lens. Forest for the trees. Have to zoom out. Have to de-focus our eyes and look for meaning.

Anyway, Big History... come along!