I haven’t blogged for a bit as I have taken on some part time work at Unlimited Paenga Tawhiti High School. This has required a little more time than I first thought it would – All great learning tho – I seriously think this plus twitter has been better learning for me than if I had tried to organise a Uni paper for the year.
Anyway, it turns out I really like education and I have wanted to get a better sense of how this special character school works for a long time. This is the perfect opportunity, fixed term for the rest of the year (8 hours per week) with the security of my old job back next year.
So, my part time role is as a “learning adviser” at Unlimited Paenga Tawhiti School in Christchurch. It is a special character school that truly places the student at the centre of their learning. You can read more about it here http://unlimited.school.nz/ . Some of the ways the special character of the school is enacted are; each student being part of a home base with a learning advisor (LA) who is kind of like that students overseer and with the parents, helps the student choose their learning pathway (usually 5 week block courses), there is a rotating timetable, I am still getting my head around Wednesdays (as I do not teach on that day) but they seem to revolve around a guest speaker and then some follow on development of ideas surfaced or as a school wide celebration of learning type thing. Also, Students can book in a “project based learning block” that allows them to pursue their own learning goal, their is no uniform, first names are used, there is no real staff / student designated space – it is just space for everyone, difficult after the earthquakes but the school has embraced the ideas of modern learning environments and there are no bells. I acknowledge that I am still in a super naïve place with truly understanding the full expression of UPT’s values and beliefs so hopefully there is no mis-information in the above.
Anyway, when I applied for the position, it was advertised as probably being P.E based. Being a runner and having relieved a few PE classes, I was dead keen to develop and explore this curriculum area. I also sold myself in terms of my work with SOLO and my passion for making the learning visible to students and the idea that it’s about making effective strategies for success visible to the students. Remember Success = Effort + Effective Strategies. There was a bit of synchronicity in that the leadership team was exploring how they might meet the needs of a group of students who were not thriving with the status quo and had developed some effective strategies for slipping through the cracks and being totally disengaged. The position I was offered was to help run an alternative course for these students who were not being well served by this high trust environment and having the level of choice and autonomy that was given to them.
So, there was a bit of knocking ideas around with Duncan (one of the co-directors) and Blair (the other L.A. that I would be team teaching with) and then the first few days of term was about finding these students, stating the reality of where they were at and I guess trying to sell the course to them. A common theme emerged and that was that the currency they were interested in trading in was NCEA credits (we were targeting yr10-12 students). I think they were getting to the point of seeing value in having them.
So, the first week was about forming our group and beginning to co-create a course outline and structure that they would want to engage with. This is scary stuff when you know the Geography curriculum inside out but so far it hasn’t surfaced as a hook for these students. We also had to come up with a course name in a hurry. We finally settled on the name “Nudge”. It fits pretty well because it is no secret that these students actually need a nudge and they need it to be subtle or they will fight against it. I also like the metaphor that like a boulder held on a slope by a small rock, it has huge potential energy, it just needs a nudge to get it moving. We have also played around with the idea that “here’s an idea, if it’s worth a crack we may as well give it a nudge”. I could go on, Nudge is such a fun word.
The key principle we are structuring our work around is that the purpose for this course is for us to experience success and have fun. “success” might look different to each student but the attainment of credits was a shared goal by most. The “how” of what we do is by identifying and celebrating strategies for success (our first one was “turn up” – it’s a good strategy if you want to make change or be successful) and that we can “hack” the curriculum and make a course that fits us. So far, we have identified that we can attend to the literacy core generics by just getting on with some other learning, my wife put me on to the Level one static image standard that her students have enjoyed doing (it also goes towards literacy level one) and because we are doing a lot of personal growth stuff, we can hack into the ABL unit standards. It is super invigorating to put together but high anxiety at times as I think about how I will do it in a best practice kind of way and meet he standards for moderation and external critique. I have been doing a lot of learning in a very short time period. Without my 13 years experience and having run a Geography department it might have been a bit tricky. Anyway, the graphic below is my attempt to capture our co-creation so far.
I have learned so much in the last three weeks and I will try to write up some of it on this blog (as a record for myself really but others might be interested.)
Any comments or ideas for this course are welcome.