Ripples & Reflections

"Learning is about living, and as such is lifelong." Elkjaer.


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Bold Moves for Schools

This is a quick-and-dirty review of a book that ticks all the boxes for a curriculum nerd like me: Bold Moves for Schools, by Heidi Hayes Jacobs & Marie Alcock, from the ASCD (2017, 207 pages).

It’s a practical and comprehensive, yet concise and quotable handbook of where to take curriculum, learning and leadership for modern learners. Educators in international schools will see many familiar themes emerge, from student agency and creativity in the curriculum to effective assessment, learning spaces and teacher development. There is much here that can accelerate a well-implemented IB curriculum (or standards-based learning model), and this book will sing to coordinators as it does to me.

“Innovation requires courage coupled with a realistic sensibility to create new possibilities versus “edu-fantasies”. Moving boldly is not moving impulsively or for the sake of change. Moving boldly involves breaking barriers that need breaking.”

As a “pragmatic idealist” I like how the book connects a future-focused, genuinely student-centred education to the best of what we’re already doing. It avoids falling into the trap of trashing the traditional, instead framing bold moves through the antiquated (what do we cut?), the classical (what do we keep?) and the contemporary (what do we create?). Jacobs & Alcock insist throughout the book that these bold moves are mindful, that we are not “throwing the baby out with the bathwater” and that “meaningful curriculum composition versus meaningless imposition” is the goal.

How can we build a genuinely exciting contemporary educational experience that keeps the joy in the learning, the future in mind and the students in the driving seat? Through a systemic approach that focuses on what works and what could be: one which empowers teachers as self-directed professional learners and curriculum architects. For anyone trying to effect change in an existing (long-established) system, this respectful, well-reasoned handbook is worth a look.

“What is most critical is that the outcome reflect quality.”

I hope that much of what is in this book is not new to most curriculum leaders – particularly in the IB context – but it is great to have a volume that pulls it together in one place, with practical resources. This would make a great book study (guide here) for curriculum leaders and teachers. You will find interesting surprises, resources and provocations littered through the text, worthy of further discussion.

You may even make some bold commitments as a result…

Quick follow-up: I was at a Bold Moves Bootcamp with Marie Alcock recently, and it was great. There is a post about one of my outcomes (a DOK4 filter for transfer) here.

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Check it out

Without being too spoilerific, here are some useful links and resources from the book:

 


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Bath MA International Education: A Review

This year I successfully completed my MA Education (International Education) programme through the University of Bath. I really enjoyed it and recommend it to others in international schools, and I’ll be back in the summer for graduation. Here’s a wee review. 

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Why Bath? 

In 2011, after eight years in Indonesia and on the way to Japan, I decided to study further. I felt I had enough practical experience to be starting to dig into academics and although my PGCE from Exeter had MA credit, this had timed-out and it was back to the start. I was looking for a well-regarded UK programme that would be challenging and rewarding and was intrigued by the development of the IB Teacher Award. I wanted “International Education” in the title of my Masters degree, wanted somewhere within reach of home and was drawn to the department as a particularly strong example of international education research. I definitely made the right choices.

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Overview & Pacing

With five ‘taught’ units (30 credits, 5,000 word assignment) and one dissertation (15,000 words), and a time limit of five years, you can work at a reasonable pace alongside real life*. As I was completing the programme for personal and professional learning (and not for external forces), I took the full time allowed. This gave me time to think, process and make good use of the library for research and for professional uses. I found that I was most effective when blocking out periods of time for research and writing, rather than trying to do a little each week – with work and family this would have split my mind too many ways to be efficient.

*The last five years have included: moving countries, significantly changing roles, taking on a bit too much, family (I started when my kids were 4 and a newborn) and travel. I rarely felt over-stressed by the MA, though there were some crunch times. 

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My Units

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My weekend view.

I liked the balance provided by these options. As a new returnee to academic writing, I opted for the familiar Assessment as a first unit, though in hindsight it limited my choices later in the programme; I would also have liked to take Leading and Managing Educational Innovation for my role, and probably should have started with EIC to set the foundation for the pathway. Where my first assignments (Assesssment, Curriculum) were concerned with MYP: Next Chapter developments (pre-2014), ULL gave me a great focus on inquiry and the rest (EIC, RME, Dissertation) formed a thread on what it means to be an international school. The flexibility of the programme allowed for clear personal coherence.

Essential Units: Research Methods in Education, Dissertation

Int. Ed.  Pathway Essential Unit: Education in an International Context

Core Units: Understanding Learners & Learning

Optional Units:  Curriculum Studies, Assessment

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Teaching & Assessment Model

I can’t stand the required-participation model of some online courses, where you have to log on frequently and ‘contribute’ your comment to a discussion board and where grading tends towards compliance over quality. I much preferred the Bath MA model, with a good set of resources provided on the course Moodle and Wiki pages, some assignment prompts to get you going and then six months to produce a well-researched piece of writing. For most of the units, I negotiated a research question of personal interest with my tutor, providing motivation to power through and produce something of worth. Tutors provide decent feedback on a draft of your work and tend to be very personable and supportive. I did like the academic rigour of the assessment rubric, and once I tuned into what was required, I found the research to be stimulating and the writing enjoyable. Though I can see where the assessment bands describe success, I’ll still never fully understand where the percentages come from – but I think this is a university-wide system rather than the Department of Education. It certainly made for some lively discussion on the last day of the Assessment summer school ;>

Although I was initially drawn to the IB Teacher Award** element of the programme, I abandoned this as I found that their reflective questions pulled my writing in a more personal descriptive direction that seemed at odds with the critical analysis of theory and literature required by the higher-level assessment descriptors, and I simply struggled to get both done in 5,000 words. I might revisit the IBTA if a portfolio model becomes available.

**Now the IB Educator Certificate

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Summer Schools

Summer 2011, between Indonesia and Japan, I attended summer school for my first unit, Assessment. I’m super-glad I did as a way to get to know other students, faculty and the beautiful city of Bath. Fresh off the train at Bath Spa, I was looking for the bus to the university when I overheard an obvious reunion of classmates at Pizza Express. We’re still friends. Attendees at the summer schools come from all types of schools, but it was great to bond with others in similar positions and with diverse interests. The taught course at summer school gives a good foundation for the unit and a head-start on the assignment. In two subsequent summers, I attended the university for a week during summer school, but did not register for the class – instead I used the time to research in the library, write and get tutor support. For me, this was the ideal balance as I needed to make the most of time away from family with significant headway on the assignment.

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Faculty

If you read anything about international education, you will soon enough come across the Department of Education at the University of Bath: it is a brains trust of international education researchers and publications, and being able to work with and get feedback from them was a huge draw. To a person, from tutors to support staff, the Department are lovely, supportive and highly knowledgable. I really feel like my learning has been enhanced by their expertise and support, and I hope to keep contact with them in the future.

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Advice

If you’re keen, go for it. There are times when I overthought the task at hand and wished I’d got stuck in sooner. I found it helped to protect time from family and work (weekends or holidays), rather than try to do it during work weeks. “Tune in” to sample dissertations through the MA wiki. Keep in contact with your tutor and get drafts in early. Go old-school and print the important articles; it helps to highlight, annotate and gave me valuable time in the sun, off the screens. Write on issues of personal significance – the motivation helps, and I loved being able to connect a thread between assignments and the dissertation. Attend a couple of summer sessions, if only to meet people, use the library and feel like a student again. Write, write, write, then cut, cut, cut; writing to reach the word limit will tend towards fluff, but cutting words makes the writing more focused. Use a citation manager with discipline – my favourite by a mile is Paperpile for GoogleDocs.

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Personal Reflections

I’m sad that this is over and am really missing the library access, but to be honest I’m not missing the added load. Life and work are beyond busy right now, and it’s great to be done. There’s not much I’d have done differently, except maybe rearrange some units. Had it been available (and had I been able to afford the time and loss of income), I’d have loved to take the new pathway in International Education and Globalisation. Although I would love to continue to the doctorate level, I’m not sure that now is the right time as my kids are growing up way too fast. I’m certainly not keen on paying for it, but might keep my eyes open for future opportunities. The research has been useful in my professional roles and I am happy to have had some work published in IS Magazine as a result of the assignments.

Thank-you to the Department of Education at the University of Bath, in particular to Mary, Elisabeth and Kath for being awesome. I am looking forward to seeing friends and tutors again at graduation in the summer and of course visiting beautiful Bath one more time… this time with my family.

 


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Book Recommendation: The SAGE Handbook of Research in International Education

Title: The SAGE Handbook of Research in International Education [SECOND EDITION]

Editors: Mary Hayden – University of Bath, Jack Levy – George Mason University, Jeff Thompson – University of Bath

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This 2015 edition of Hayden, Levy & Thompson’s book is a worthy update and makes  for a useful ‘state of the union’ overview on current research in international education. With a rogue’s gallery of contributing researchers and a collection of reference lists that’s guaranteed to send you down the rabbit hole, this is a useful reference for researchers and international school leaders.

I would recommend having a copy of this in conjunction with a more standard ‘research methods’ text, such as Cohen, Manion & Morrison. Enjoy.


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IS Magazine, Vol 17, Issue 2: Click to Read (pdf)

IS Magazine, Vol 17, Issue 2: Click to Read (pdf)

After last issue’s feature on A Pragmatic Approach to Inquiry, I have two short articles in the “Milestones” 50th issue of International School Magazine.

One, written with a student from Canadian Academy, is a short celebration of the school’s centennial year. The other is a book review of Martin Robinson’s excellent Trivium 21C. I have another review of Trivium 21C here, with a visualization of its ideas and a focus on its connection to the IB programmes.

It’s good to write.

 

 


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Quick Review: Tony Butt’s Guide to Sustainable Surfing

Dr. Tony Butt

This quick read (74 pages,£0.87 on Kindle) is worth an hour or two of your time, especially if you’re into surfing or outdoor pursuits and are concerned about the environment. Tony Butt is a big-wave surfer and has a PhD in Physical Oceanography; his educational columns on Surf Science in Surfer’s Path magazine (and his book on the same) are excellent primers on waves, surfing and the environment.

In this text, Dr. Butt sets out to describe how we impact the environment as surfers and how we can make choices that can mitigate these impacts. He makes connections between the issues of Energy, Travel and Stuff related to surfing, highlighting the unsustainable nature of the jet-setting, product-hungry, WCT-inspired modern surfer. Of particular interest are issues of embodied energy and product life cycle assessment, which you may recognise from Annie Leonard’s Story of Stuff series on YouTube, or Daniel Goleman’s Ecological Intelligence. As a marine biologist and science teacher there was little that was new to me, but some of the information on surfboard construction and wetsuits was enlightening. At times the text reads as though it was minimally-edited (there are repeated uses of similar phrases and references to Mentawais trips), but the message gets through loud and clear: make careful choices, cut down on unnecessary travel and buy-to-last, not buy-the-latest.

Anya in Baleal, Portugal.

This short text should act as an inspiration to surfers to learn more about our impacts: follow the links, recognise that we are not separate from nature and aim to be mindful in our choices. I would love to see more of his articles presented in cheap Kindle-format like this (Surfers’ Path, if you’re reading this…) and would definitely recommend a copy to surfing friends or students. I think this book could effectively be adapted into a series of webisodes on sustainable surfing to spread the message further.

As an international teacher getting back into the water, it was a good reminder of where the negative impacts of our lifestyle lie and how we might take action to reduce them. International travel may be an essential part of our lifestyle, but wastefulness need not be. It certainly helps that gear here in Japan is so expensive, too – just last week we hunted out a large second-hand store with a big selection of used boards. As my daughter develops as a surfer I hope that we can give her a sense of environmental responsibility and ocean stewardship.

Here’s Tony Butt discussing the Energy issue in terms of renewable energy sources over oil, following an oil spill in the Canaries that rendered the environment dangerous and the waves unrideable.

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Footnote: This Story of Stuff video from 2007, which we used in environmental science class, gives a quick and general overview of some of the issues discussed in Dr. Butt’s book.

Post-script: I wonder how sustainable these new Patagonia wetsuits really are? Although Dr. Butt’s book pre-dates this innovation, he recognises that wetsuit technology is inherently polluting (and oil-based) and suggests that we should aim to buy the most durable suits we can, rather than regularly replace large pieces of non-biodegradable neoprene. Thanks to scientist Karen James (@kejames) for mentoning it on Twitter.


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Hattie & Yates: Visible Learning & the Science of How We Learn

This brief review of John Hattie and Gregory Yates’ Visible Learning & the Science of How we Learn (#HattieVLSL) is written from the multiple perspectives of a science teacher, IB MYP Coordinator and MA student. I have read both Visible Learning and Visible Learning for Teachers, and regularly refer to the learning impacts in my professional discussions and reflections. While reading the book, I started the #HattieVLSL hashtag to try to summarise my learning in 140 characters and to get more people to join in the conversation – more of this below. 

EDIT: March 2017

This review was written right after the release of VLSL, in late 2013. Since then, the ideas of ‘know they impact‘ and measurement of learning impacts have really taken off in education, particularly in international schools. Critics of Hattie (largely focused on mathematics or methodology) are also easy to find, though the Australian Society for Evidence Based Teaching concludes that “statistical errors do not change any of the findings” and that “Visible Learning remains the most significant summary of educational research ever compiled.“. We do need to be mindful that what works in some contexts might not work in others, and that the visible learning impacts could be used as a set of signposts for further investigation in our own contexts, rather than a list of ‘must do’ strategies for all classes.

The rest of this blog post has remained untouched since 2013. 

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Summary Review (the tl;dr version)

Visible Learning and the Science of How we Learn (#HattieVLSL) is an engaging and accessible guide that connects the impacts of Hattie’s meta-analyses with discussion of current understandings in the field of how we learn. It reduces the ‘jargon of learning theory’ to the implications in terms of learning and teaching (without overly dumbing down), and aims to facilitate clarity through relegating researchers’ names to the references (and focusing on the findings in each of the 31 chapters). This aids swift reading; it would be useful for the novice teacher as a general overview of teaching and learning at the start of their studies in education. On the other hand, the academically-minded will be sifting through the references and hitting the internet for supplementation and more susbstantial explanation.

It is a practical volume and can be dipped into and revisited as needed, though as a ‘how-to’ guide for high-impact practices, Visible Learning for Teachers (VLT) is more immediately actionable. It would serve well as a companion to VLT and should be of particular interest to teachers who want to dig deeper into the issues or to leaders who want to think more carefully before making decisions that affect teaching and learning.

#HattieVLSL is highly quotable and provides many provocations for further thought and ideas that might challenge a teacher’s thinking or way of doing things. It is concise with short, well-structured chapters, each ending with  an In Perspective summary, some study guide questions that could structure discussion (or a teacher learning community) and some annotated references to pursue. Discussion of ‘Fast Thinking & Slow Thinking’ is fascinating.

Although very strong, at times it feels like the examples used (Gladwell’s Blink, Khan Academy) are aiming for a more populist market and might open the book to criticism. Where we have bought copies of VLT for all teachers as a catalyst for teacher learning communities, this volume might better serve those who are interested in the theoretical basis for learning, perhaps as their own reading group or learning community.

I recommend the book to anyone who is already a fan of Hattie’s work, or who has an inherent interest in connecting learning theory and studies with the learning impacts, or visible effects in the classroom. I have learned a lot through reading this volume, have been inspired to learn more and will likely be boring others by talking about it for a good while.

More detail and some tweets after the divide… 

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