Thursday, February 11, 2010

E-learning Journey at Freemans Bay School

The metaphor of a journey , gives the idea that achieving the e-learning vision for our school is a journey and that a destination is expected. The journey is to: Utilise e-learning to transform learning. The destination of the journey is to ensure our school students are digitally capable and confident learners. I am hopeful that this journey will be accepted by our teachers as, aspirational , realistic , achievable and most importantly connected to the new revised curriculum which advocates the requirement of schools to develop students into “confident, connected, actively involved longlife learners” (MOE, 2007, p4) . This blog will address my own journey as a school leader, to meaningfully integrate e-learning with the new school curriculum and achieve our goal of embarking on an exciting journey . The challenge for me as school leader is to engage and motivate all classroom teachers and leaders in our school to commit to the journey and make it happen. This blog will record the progress of this journey, including the dead ends and blind allies! I am interested in others experiences of similar journeys

My E-learning journey in the vintage years!

It was very reflective reading about the vintage years of e-learning in New Zealand schools by Nola Campbell and Murray Browns article on the use of computers in New Zealand schools. Campbell's article looks back into the 1980s and 1990s into the early pioneering days of e-learning in our schools where ICTs in the classrooms were utilised for communication through electronic mail prior to Internet. Brown's article also looks back at the history of computer use in our schools and aligns this history with his own experiences with computers and significant world events. Brown offers a critique of what makes a good ICT educator - one "who uses ICT will have a well developed philosophy of teaching which is based on a contempory understanding of educational theory". (98:7) Well these articles took me back to where I was in these vintage years of computing in New Zealand Schools, what the issues were that we were dealing with then and their relationship with todays e-learning issues. In 1989 I was appointed to my first principal appointment position by the Hawkes Bay Education Board, prior to Tomorrows Schools. This school was Ruakituri, which is nestled between two sheep stations on the edge of the Urawera National Park, not far from Lake Waikaremoana. We had four Commodore 64 computers, bought from fundraising efforts from the parents. The school had plenty of money in the bank account as the parents donated free labour doing the crutching of the sheep for the local sheep stations and the school got paid the fee. However money in the bank, did nothing to offset isolation and flaky technology. Often the phones did not work and we had party lines. They also did the docking - (removal of the lamb tails). This was done up in the paddocks and everyone joined in. Big sacks of poopie lambs tails were put in special freezers at school and we had BBQ lambs tails for weeks - which the big boys chopped the wood for and did the cooking over an open fire. (Just a bit of contextualising here) Anyway in the second week of my tenure, there was a big snow storm and all the telephone poles and power poles on the ridge fell like dominoes and we had no power or communication for two weeks - except for radio telephone through the local civil defence. Even when the power and phone was OK it was very flaky - so no electronic mail for us. We had to utilise the fourth Commodore 64 for parts for the the other three, so that we had three that worked. I racked my brain trying to remember what we used these for. I know we developed a spreadsheet for the school budgeting system, and wrote several school policies with the introduction of Tomorrow's Schools Boards of Trustees system. The children played games on the computers, but there was no linking to the curriculum. The game "Bombjack" was particularly popular - especially since we had colour computers, we did not let our isolation in the country hold us back! The focus for us was getting the gear and then getting more - it was not related to how it was going to be used in teaching and learning - just that it would be good to have. In 1991 I was appointed to my second position as principal to another remote school called Kohukohu which is on the inner reaches of the Hokianga Harbour. At this school we really got into computers in education and yes, we did link ICT to the curriculum. I enjoyed giving students the opportunities to utilise ICTs in their individual learning research projects and we did use electronic mail to mail experts. They had to do this in the school office of course where we had a PC. In the classrooms we used our "Apple" computers for word processing, drawing and research off specialised floppy discs. The computers in the classroom were integrated into our inquiry learning programme. The students still continued to play computer games whenever they could!We purchased our first digital camera and that was considered really magic! My daughter remembers doing a research project on Antarctica, and emailing the scientists at Scott Base. We also spoke to the scientists via a speaker phone system - it was very exciting. However, though I was into this style of teaching and learning in my classroom, did not mean that this transferred to the other classrooms. It was seen as a senior class thing - and probably a result of having a quirky principal. I became the North Island Rural School Principal representative on NZEI Principals Council in the 1990s. The Principal Council had several consultation meetings with Carol Moffit, in her role as project leader developing strategy for ICT in schools. The resulting launch of the programme called Interactive Educational Strategies for Schools (Ministry of Education 1999) was considered seminal, as it meant the New Zealand Government now recognised the role that ICT could play in education. In 1998 I took on my third principal post at Mangonui School on the East Coast, Doubtless Bay, just north of Kaitaia. Like many schools we were able to increase the amount of hardware in our school, and we put in our first networked system. Each classroom had its own email address, and had access to the world wide web. However having the gear did not mean that ICT was being used effectively across the school for teaching and learning. The Education Reveiw Office Report (ERO, 2000:2) suggested that "many schools are unable to point to specific improvements in teaching and learning that have been brought about by the use of ICT" This report recognised that there was a need for specific professional development for teachers to successfully integrate ICT into their classrooms. At this stage, we recognised this need for professional development to integrate ICTs and learning in our classrooms of our small rural school in Mangonui - but how to access it was an issue. We actually ended up contracting Lane Clark, who was in New Zealand at the time working at Tahitai Coast School for a 3 day course. Lane's emphasis was on linking thinking and inquiry with ICTs and learning. We were using CD Rom, Websites, Internet and email for enquiry learning. The three day course did not really do it across the whole school either. Since 1998 as part of the "Interactive Education" strategy the Ministry of Education has been letting out ICTPD contracts to clusters of schools. I have been involved in two of these. One at Mangonui School - (but I have to say the funding mainly was used to set up the technical infrastructure) and one as principal of Glenbrae School in 2005 - where we were in the Point England ICTPD cluster, and was fortunate enough to have Dorothy Burt as facilitator. So I guess for me being able to reflect on the vintage years in these articles and parallel what I was doing in education during this time and up to today has given me food for thought. We are more than ever grappling today with the issue around maximising the technologies for learning. Given the recent development in Web 2.0 technologies, the role of the teacher in planning and managing the e-learning environment is even more critical in today's classrooms. Effective teaching still requires effective professional development to enable our teachers to engage in maximising the benefits for learning. Brown, M. E. (1998). The use of computers in New Zealand schools: A critical review. Computers in New Zealand Schools, 10(3), 3-9. Campbell, N. (2004). The vintage years of e-learning in New Zealand schools. The Journal of Distance Education, 8(1), 17-24. Education Review Office (2000). In-service training for teachers in New Zealand Schools. Available at Ministry of Education (1999). Interactive strategies for schools. Wellington. Ministry of Education

Your e-learning experiences

Although most of you were not teaching in the 1980s! I would be interested to know what your experience of ICTs / e-learning in schools has been - either as a pupil or as a teacher. Did you have any computers in your classrooms and if so what were they used for? Did you see any shifts on how they were being used and what are your thoughts about how e-learning is happening in our schools today.

Happy posting Sandy

Freemans Bay School Vision

Our vision statement was developed through consultation with our community. We surveyed parents, staff and students and had a focus group to help pull these ideals together.


'Ma te Kura o Waiatarau hei whakahaere he kura ahuru mo nga tamariki katoa. Kia tu pakari ai ratau ahakoa pewhea te uaua o nga mahi ka tu tangata ratau katoa.'

In a safe and challenging learning environment we will foster the creative and critical thinking skills necessary to contribute to society.

Our students will be well prepared for their future.

They will be expected to develop the learning capabilities that our community values.

Our students will:
  • Be Knowledgeable
  • Be Thinkers
  • Have a Can Do attitude
  • Be Good
  • Collaborate

The following five values are the ones our school community agrees are our priority.

  • Respect - Tumanako
    We will respect each other, our selves and the environment
    We know how to speak and act respectfully
    We are courteous and polite
    We will be responsible for our own things
    We will be responsible for the school environment
  • Honesty - Whakapono
    We are honest
    We can be trusted
    We strive to be fair and just
  • Friendship – Tiaki Pai / Aroha
    We will encourage and work collaboratively with others
    We will be kind and caring towards others
    We know how to behave in a conflict situation
    We will listen carefully to what others have to say.
    We will value the skills, talents and efforts of other people
  • Reaching for Success
    We are motivated to learn and try new ways of doing things
    We will strive to do our best
    We will have a “can do” attitude
    We are passionate about learning
  • Celebrating Diversity
    Celebrate our unique and rich diversity of cultures
    We will be tolerant and appreciative of other cultures
    We will respect each others

We are interested in your views of our vision statement and its relevance to you and your family.

Freemans Bay Curriculum

For a school to move forward we need to have consistency in every area of the school. In every classroom, in the staffroom, in the office, staff meetings and discussions.

The school needs to have a common vision. The vision provides focus.

This focus evolves certainty and confidence.

The focus takes the school forward as a learning organisation.

Our school curriculum provides us with this focus.

The philosophy underlying our curriculum is simple:

•Learning is at the heart of our school culture
•Priority is given to developing the capacity to learn as well as content
•Our students will know how to get to improve as learners

Our curriculum is the way we connect the dots so that we can make the vision of Freeman's Bay School a reality. It is the pathway to achieve the goals and dreams that we want for our students. As every day we strive for improved student achievement – for every student in our school.

You can access a copy of our curriculum and vision statement on our school website page.

The introduction of the new New Zealand Curriculum at the end of 2007 specifically identifies the requirement for schools to be Students in the 21st century are required to have the “thinking skills” to engage in the “digital age”. Students have access to an incredible amount of information. Today's students are required to locate and synthesis information and present it through a multimedia format to a much wider audience. The sophisticated skills required to do this process effectively need to be taught in schools.

Our curriculum is designed to engage students in learning and learning how to learn. It has teaching thinking skills as a key competency as well as fostering the values of innovation, inquiry and curiosity, community and participation.

National Standards debate

The Government with its populist style politics has developed a series of mantra's designed to pierce the hearts of the voters.

"150 000 students are failing and cannot do basic maths or reading when they leave school"

Well no-one wants their kids failing - but there is no detail in this slogan. Who are these kids and what have they got to say about the issue. Have a look at some of my earlier posts on the international issue of disengagement! Engage them or Enrage them or worse still lose them to a life with limited choices. Testing these students wherever they are is not going to engage them. It is creative innovative schools who are embracing the concept of learning for the 21century embedded in the newly mandated curriculum that will address this issue.

The Government seems to ignore the correlation between this 20% and the 20% that live in poverty, with overcrowded housing, poor diet and lack of resourcing. I am quite sickened by the attitude of some columnists who blame these families for their lot and who make the assumption that these parents don't care for education or their kids. The cost of poverty to our nation is huge and the loss of creative innovative potential in the students who are disengaged is also staggering. We have a national responsibility to address poverty - but testing wont do this.

And the latest:

"National testing will help us to identify poor performing teachers and poor performing schools"

Maybe each of the voters had a poor teacher who that would like to eradicate from their school memory or a frustrating time with a teacher of their own child. No parent wants a poor performing teacher in front of a class.

But what is more testing going to do? Where such an issue exists then that school board needs support to ensure they engage in the fair process of competency / performance management as outlined in the Employment Relations Act.

This government with its populist style of politics is promoting that national standards will address the above issues. They continue to receive strong advice against introducing the standards without even a trial and pleas to engage in dialogue with the profession from educational academics, nzei - (the primary teacher union), NZPF - (NZ Principals Federation), and principal associations including APPA (Auckland Primary Principals Assoc).

None of us can see the point. Blaming and shaming has not worked in other countries. In fact in places like UK - teacher moral is at an all time low, the curriculum is narrowed and reduced to teaching to tests.

I think we need to look at the research around the issue of disengagement and support schools to develop teaching programmes that will develop teaching programmes for 21st century learners.

On Friday 19th we have the NZEI bus tour on the Freeman's Bay School Field at 2.30pm. If you want to join the debate come on down, or check their itinerary of the bus tour and go to one in your area.


I had to smile today when a couple of students posted the following on the home page of our school web page.

DISASTER! Boring old math books, grouchy pencils, rubbers that don’t work!

ONLY KIDDING! Schools back and we’re ready to learn! New faces, exciting topics, smart boards are on, computers are activated and we are loving school!

Welcome to the new staff and students! Good luck Year Sixes! This is your last year at Freeman's Bay! Make it worthwhile! And to everyone else, make the most of your learning this year.

I reflected on what these students were actually saying. They have given a neat little comparison of how schools used to be compared with learning in the 21st century.

Many students had been on the school online learning environment (knowledge net) over the term break, reflecting on their achievements of 2009 and articulating their goals for 2010.

I think these kids are engaged, motivated and ready to get their teeth into some serious learning! Serious learning is what Freeman's Bay School is about!

I am pleased to be back at school after being on leave to complete my MEd. Its completed! I graduate in May with first class honours. Many of our teachers at Freeman's Bay School are engaging in University work. This year the papers they are doing include e-learning, coaching and mentoring, educational leadership and supporting new teachers in the profession. We also are starting a "Habits of Mind" literature circle, to study the work of Art Costa to bring more of his ideas into our classrooms. One teacher is completing her thesis for MEd this year.

While school leaders first priority is to ensure that teachers are resourced to bring the best learning outcomes for students it is important to promote learning at all levels in the school. I see part of my role as principal as being the head learner in the school. I believe that school leaders should promote learning at all levels in the school ensuring that everyone is motivated to do their best in a learning community that goes beyond the school gates. The essence of a exciting school culture is to make learning contagious - to have one idea spark another, Not only for the students but for everyone who is part of the school learning community.

This blog started as an academic exercise while I was doing a paper on e-learning as part of my study. I have decided to reinvent it as my school principal blog to connect and engage in dialogue and debate with my Freeman's Bay School community and beyond.

Its new learning for me - exciting stuff!