Saturday, 9 February 2013

2013 begins!

A new year. A new group of students. A new volume of Passionfruit Magazine. A revised approach to making it.

School started back for our seniors on Friday 1 February, so it's been just over a week since we started working with the second group of 'ArtProject' students. We've got four new Year 12 students, three new Year 13's and six Year 13's coming back for a second year of the project. That's a total of 13 students: a beautifully small class and a good number to work with, but not really sustainable in the long (multiple years) term. More about that some other time.

We're trying a few different approaches this year with regard to the structuring of learning. To begin with, rather than last year's 'Hack your learning space' exercise, which gained a lot of interest from parties outside of the project, but was not entirely successful in terms of student buy in and long term working relationships, we're sticking with the physical classroom space pretty much as it was. We'll re-arrange it according to the needs of specific phases of the project, but there will not be a major 'building phase' to begin the project.

We're also taking a more structured approach to the presentation of individual parts of the project - units of work one might call them in a more traditional classroom. While the 'We'll make authentic work for a magazine, and this will provide evidence for assessment' approach was good in theory, in practice many (probably all, to be truthful) of the students found it really challenging to work in this mode. On one hand it could be argued that this is because the school system has trained them to require spoon feeding in terms of 'do this task, then this task, then this task, then hand it in to your teacher and you'll get credits'. On another hand it could be argued that students at secondary level need some degree of breaking down of a big task into smaller, more achievable components if they are to experience success. On yet another hand, moderation requirements currently demand a fair degree of structure in assignments if a school is to retain freedom to offer all achievement standards.

The outcome of all of this is that we are presenting students with a series of open ended assignments that will (hopefully) give them the flexibility to produce the work they want to for the magazine, while at the same time giving them more structure than last year. I (Sam) am still in two minds about this, because I suspect that ultimately we need to produce learners who can break a major task down into parts they can manage, but maybe my expectations are a bit high . . .

We've also changed the teaching team, bringing a different English specialist on board, and replacing one of the Visual Arts specialists with a Music/Technology specialist. So the teaching team is now Sam Cunnane (Visual Arts/Project Leader), Anna Dowthwaite (English) and Jesse Te Weehi (Music/Technology). Jesse's role will be largely in relation to the web-based components of the magazine, but he is also leading a second integrated curriculum project in the school ('MusicPro', but more about that another time).
Chris Hadfield
The Earth has problem skin; one popped, the other didn't.
Finally, we finished the week on a bit of a high, in the middle of making arrangements to do an interview with an astronaut (Chris Hadfield) who takes photographs from the international space station. He's well worth following on Twitter - @Cmdr_Hadfield


  1. I watched with interest last year and look forward to this year.

    I must say I disagree with your thinking in terms of breaking learning down into manageable chunks for students. While it will be challenging, it is vital students develop skills to do this themselves. Easy for me to say though, I'm not implementing the project.

    I do have some advice on the NCEA side of things. I am part of a knowledge building project and in a recent meeting one of the senior moderator team leaders from NZQA attended. He has been following the project with interest and was very strong on teachers/schools developing innovative assessment practice that challenges moderators. NZQA do not want innovation stymied by perceived limitation in NCEA standards. It was both enlightening and heartening to hear. His name is Brian Allen - you should have a chat with him. Happy to pass on his email if you want it.

    All the best for this year. I love integrated approaches to learning so your blog has been a fascinating read.

  2. Thank you very much for your encouraging words Darren. I find there's a real tension (a good one) between making the project manageable for students and giving them the skills they need for 'real life'. I guess that's what learning's all about though isn't it? The zone of proximal development etc etc. It's a tricky line to walk, but hopefully we'll manage it with some degree of success.

    It would be great to get an email address for Brian. Am I correct in guessing it's his name at Great to know NZQA are watching (although perhaps a little scary!).

  3. Hi Sam, as I launch into year 2 of the Knowledge Building Communities research project alongside Darren, with my level 3 online art history class, its interesting to read your thoughts on how to structure or approach how students manage content. I learned from my students last year that they appreciated some structure in Knowledge Forum, their online idea sharing space... however I felt I had provided too much structure! There's a tension there that I hope to tackle this year, finding some kind of supportive structure that enables high levels of student agency, something that enables me to be a thinking mentor, and students to be in charge of posing problems, sharing ideas and building subject knowledge collaboratively.
    You are correctly guessing who Brian Allen is, his ideas and thoughts were very motivating. You should invite him in for a visit when you are all underway late in the term.
    Best of luck, I'll be following what you have to say this year as I have more time on my hands, kind of : )!

  4. Maddy,

    I'd be interested to know a bit more about what you're doing with the online Art History teaching. Does the Knowledge Forum operate through the VLN, or separately? I'd be keen to drop in some time if you didn't mind too much. Once you've figured out how to provide a structure that enables that student agency let me know so we can all use it! I guess that's one of the key things I'm hoping to learn from this project - how do we help students become learners for the world they're going into?


  5. Do you know anything about Sam? An integrated project that is similar to your own, but the output is Entirely student led project management. If you haven't already it would be well worth talking to Renea who has been leading that project.

  6. Thanks so much for the link Darren. I knew about Unlimited, but had no idea they had moved to doing this type of thing. It looks fantastic. I guess a new item has been added to our project team meeting agenda for tomorrow!