Draft enrolment zone posted

The Ministry of Education has now provided a draft map and description of an enrolment zone for Ormiston Primary School – see the details under the Enrolments tab.  

The draft zone, which is still subject to public consultation, has been based on the Ministry’s discussions with neighbouring school boards of trustees and also on its evaluation of the developments taking place in the Flat Bush area as well as on its own considerations for making the best use of the schooling network.

The Ormiston Primary School Board of Trustees has arranged for two public consultation meetings to take place in May.  There will be an afternoon meeting on Tuesday 20th May at 2:00pm at the Flat Bush Hall (corner of Flatbush School Road and Murphys Road).  An evening meeting on Thursday 22nd May at 7:00pm at the same venue.  All are welcome.

N4L Portal – a stunning concept

For those who were at ULearn13 in Hamilton in the school holidays there was a treat in store at the N4L presentation.  The N4L team outlined the two key things that they have set up to deliver to New Zealand schools – their managed network and the N4L portal.

The portal is without doubt a fantastic concept – designed to “provide New Zealand educators with a safe collaborative environment where trusted educational content and services are discovered, new knowledge is created and shared, and critical thinking is rewarded” (to quote from the ULearn breakout summary).

The core of it is the way in which it provides access to a vast world of  content and services.  It is forecast that it will act as a central hub for discovery and for participation.  It is certainly a collaborative environment as it provides enormous opportunities for New Zealand teachers to develop and share resources, have them peer reviewed and in exchange be able to access educational content developed by others – especially for the New Zealand environment.

So what is the essence of what the portal will bring to our educators and our students?  There are a number of clever components within the portal, clever in themselves and clever in the way they are brought together.

The essential element is the way the search engine enables access to content.  The search brings up a page which is arranged much like the Tweetdeck format, with  columns across the page which contain different streams of content.  The first column contains  the familiar Google search results, the second column is customisable from a range of resources which might be DigitalNZ, eTV, Maori TV, NZ Geographic, Clickview, Services for Schools, etc.  The third column  is N4L content – content created by New Zealand teachers for New Zealand teachers.

Of course this is only part of the portal.  You have the opportunity to establish your own page and link relevant content to that so you can find things easily again; you can share your page with others.  You can review what is available from each of the search result columns and pick out different parts and resources that suit you and post them on to your own page.

Now don’t imagine that the day the portal is available that there will be thousands of resources under the N4L heading.  This is where our collaborative and sharing teacher community comes in.  This is the essence of New Zealand’s high trust educational model and the strength of the New Zealand Curriculum.

This is where New Zealand’s teachers can start to add their content.  This is where you can provide others with access to your teaching and learning developments and where you can share theirs.

There are also catalogues of resources and services that you can access directly from the portal.  Providers can sign up to the portal and add services they think might be useful to schools.

The whole thing is designed to be open, fair and non-prescriptive.  All users, teachers and students will have log on access through a suitable identity process so all online comments will be attributed to an identifiable person.  This will ensure that the site is well moderated.

Most importantly the service is free to all schools (yes, all teachers and all students of all schools – not just state schools) and it is accessible even if a school is not using the N4L network services.  It is also accessible from home along with some of the online services.

For those not at ULearn (or even those that were and want another look) everything  you need to know about the N4L portal is up on the website – http://www.n4l.co.nz.  See under Portal for an overview, highlights and some really key frequently asked questions.  Take your time, start and stop the video frequently – it really is stunning.

Network for Learning – coming down the fibre near you soon

The widely anticipated and well promoted initiative to to provide an up to the minute internet service to schools, to accompany the government’s ultra fast broadband service, is now a reality.

The Network for Learning website says that “the government created Network for Learning (N4L) to build a managed network specifically designed for New Zealand’s 2500+ schools and create an environment that encourages the uptake of digital learning in a seamless way. This managed network will ensure all schools have equitable access to safe, predictable, uncapped and fast internet as well as high quality teaching and learning resources.”

The recent announcement by Associate Minister for Education, Nikki Kaye indicates that the company is well on the way to bringing this to a reality.  The agreement that has been reached with Telecom to be the support partner for the network is a significant step forward.  What really counts is that the government, through the Ministry, is going to provide the base level network access and support at no cost to schools – estimated at costing the government $211m.

Depending on each school’s current internet service provider and the size of the school this could save schools between $150 and $2500 a month from their operations grant.  This really is the killer for almost any other internet service provider.

It’s not the full story of course as the service being offered is simply a connection to the internet, including national and international traffic, plus filtering and security.  Quoting again from the N4L website, “The network will provide schools with safe, predictable, uncapped and fast internet; content filtering and network security services. Schools will also receive guaranteed high-speed access to a growing collection of teaching and learning resources directly connected to the network”.

Schools who receive “access to a growing collection of teaching and learning resources” means those that are available on the internet or those that may become available through the Ministry or through commercial providers.  Schools should understand that while access to these services will be free, many services have some form of licence or subscription and this will still be payable by schools.

What all schools should do immediately is to register their interest on the N4L website.  This is on a no obligation basis but gives every school the opportunity to keep up to date as the project develops.  In the meantime they should continue with their current internet service provider and, if they have had fibre recently delivered, sign up to a suitable provider in the interim.  They should not sign any contract that has a commitment period of longer than twelve months.

Any school finding difficulty with understanding what they are being offered should seek advice.  Their first contact should be N4L, however for those attached to various loops around the country they should contact their loop organisation.  In Auckland schools should register at http://www.neal.school.nz – select ABOUT and email one of the team.

Orewa College rocks – twelve months on

“The future is already here – it’s just not evenly distributed.” William Gibson

Kate Shevland, one of our most outstanding school leaders, hosted a two day conference at Orewa College on 15th and 16th March – entitled “Through the looking glass”.

To say that it was exhilarating, thought provoking and most enjoyable would be an understatement.  It was also slick, timely, very well organised and well catered.

The idea behind the conference title was to emphasise that Orewa College is looking past the technology and through to the pedagogical changes that have taken place.  The content of the conference was organised around this theme.  On Friday each of the workshops had a theme around curriculum subject areas as well as a leadership session and one on special needs.  On the Saturday the topics were project based learning, flipped classrooms, blogging and social networks.

Highlight for many was the keynote speaker, Auckland Central MP Nikki Kaye, Chair of the Education and Science Committee and now Associate Minister for Education.  This is clearly an MP to watch for the future.  Without doubt one of the most promising future thinking ministers for education that we have had in a long time.  Nikki is not there to maintain the status quo.  She recognises that teaching and learning is changing, students are different, our future (their future) is different.

Nikki Kaye is supporting the changes that schools like Orewa College are making.  She observed that school leadership in New Zealand is outstanding and for a large part is several steps ahead of our own Ministry of Education.  We can look forward to an Associate Minister who is confident, connected and actively involved.  She certainly seems to be a lifelong learner.  This is most refreshing.

This conference followed the one day event a year ago after the somewhat controversial (well the media thought it was controversial) introduction of compulsory BYOD (bring your own device) for Year 9 students at Orewa College for 2012.  The timing of that conference so soon after the year had started worked well following the attention that the school had attracted.

Over 250 people came then to find out what had driven Orewa College to take this step, what preparations they had made, how they had got their teachers ‘over the line’ and what experience they had had to date.  This year 300 wanted to understand how the experience had gone for the school, for the staff and most importantly for the students.  Given that the school has now extended its BYOD policy into Year 8 as well as this year’s Year 9 and last year’s now Year 10 there are almost 1000 students with their own personal link to the world.

So what were the learnings?  Well there were 15 different sessions from which you could choose one for each of the four workshops.  I had selected Middle School, English, Business Studies and Student Support (special needs), all of which were well supported and each one provided a range of messages from which some common themes could be determined.   Some of the key messages included:

  • Students have really responded to the engagement opportunities.  As an outcome many more students have felt confident in presenting their work. Certainly in the middle school we were told that the current generation of learners are “Stars in their own right”.  The ability to post their work online meant that they remained connected and this enhanced the home and school links.
  • The work programme is on the school’s learning management system Ultranet (and visible to parents as well as students) and all work is submitted electronically.  Rather than have homework students are encouraged to do preparatory work in a time and at a place that suits them so that they can engage in the next day’s  programme more easily.  With all programmes online students have access to their work even if they are away on school sports events or on camps.
  • Use is made of Dropbox to ensure that students back up their material, and they share one of their folders with the teacher so that the teacher is able to review and mark their work.  The teacher uses an app (application) which enables the student’s work to be marked up by adding comments, sticky notes and even voice recordings to assist the student in understanding how they have fared.
  • In the English department the flipped classroom concept is used to assist students to be prepared for the work in the classroom.  The department reported that they had experienced considerably greater engagement and collaborative learning.  They attributed this to the voice that students had in determining what they were learning.  The teacher now sees herself as  facilitator rather than driver – or to quote Robert Frost “not a teacher but an awakener” .
  • In the senior school they move on to using Twitter and blogs.  The students publish to their blogs and then use Twitter to notify the teacher that they have posted their work.  This has enabled the school to introduce students to their responsibilities as digital citizens as they become very conscious of the public exposure that blogs bring.
  • The teaching of English lends itself to project based learning (that will be a new concept to many) and as an example we learned about how students were able to take their study of the Merchant of Venice in a variety of directions – including one group that developed it into a graphic novel.
  • Another outcome was how the learning spaces are used differently.  Students work together wherever the best environment can help.  This may mean they move outside where they can  use the space to develop their ideas through acting out roles, or where they are able to avoid disrupting others when they need to use sound to explore their ideas.  Good quality wireless is the key enabler.
  • The English department also emphasised how boys were more engaged as they were able to work more creatively with the selected apps without the risk of their work being destroyed through their occasional clumsiness.  It also ensured that their work was more able to be read by the teacher.  We were provided with some wonderful examples of the imaginative projects that some of the boys had developed using video.
  • The workshop on Student Support provided a very meaningful understanding of what the technology has meant to students with special education needs.  These students require visual, oral and hands on opportunities to help them process information.  It is now so much easier to provide them with relevant and meaningful classes.
  • Students with special needs have for some time been provided with assistive technology to enable them to be engaged.  Much of this has been heavy and inconvenient and the expense meant that only those with very high needs could be funded.  With iPads now available at a more manageable price and with their lightness and power capability more students can be equipped.  The real achievement for these students however is that the equipment they have is the same as all the other students in the class – this enables them to feel more ‘normal’ and to be equally engaged.

These are just a few observations from three of the workshops.  A very big thank you to Orewa College for sharing, it was a wonderful day and a great experience – who says today’s schools don’t collaborate.

Wireless – it’s a must, not an option

Believe it or not there are still a few schools out there who have not made the decision to install a wireless service.  What are they thinking!

The “Inquiry into 21st century learning environments and digital literacy” report of the Education and Science Committee presented to the House of Represenatatives and published in December noted in its introductory section that they had heard that “the definition of digital literacy should be aligned to the skills that will equip the New Zealand workforce for the future”.

They said that they heard throughout the submissions that the use of the Internet ‘enabled each student to learn in a more personalised way and was able to access information in a way that reflects their individual learning needs and style’.  Student submitters also said that they ‘valued the individual learning that their schools offer’.

Every section of the report continued the theme of the need for students to be online.  While, as another commentator remarked, there were no real surprises in the committee’s report, what the report did do was consolidate so much of the discussion around 21st century learning and digital literacy and bring it on to the  public stage.

But where does this relate to wireless?

The section on the rollout of the ultra-fast broadband and the school network upgrade programme emphasised the absolute need for students to be connected.  In many instances school is the only place that some students can have access as they may not have broadband at home.

The committee’s recommendations on improving access included ‘introducing a policy that every student have access to a digital device for learning’ – they also made recommendations about addressing the equity issues.  What this means is that there is a serious potential for every student in every school to have in their possession, or at least access to a device – 750,000 devices spread across 2500 schools.

There is no way a school can provide a wired network that would enable that level of networking.  More importantly few students would even consider looking for somewhere to plug their device in (unless they needed to top up their batteries) – wireless is ubiquitous in their world.  All this costs – yet another drain on schools’ meagre operational funds or yet more cake stalls.

The committee is therefore to be commended for their recommendation that “the Government consider whether SNUP specifications should include high-quality wi-fi coverage in the upgrades provided to schools”.

What really is significant about this is the speed with which the Ministry has responded.  On 3rd January the Ministry advertised on GETS (the Government Electronic Tenders Service) for a Wireless LAN solutions proof of concept for the SNUP project.  That was quick work!

Here’s hoping it works out.  Wireless is appropriate, inevitable and essential to make broadband worthwhile.  The message however for schools that have already been “snupped” is that you too need to get on with the task of finding the funds to ensure your wireless network is up to the mark.  Whatever you do, get independent professional advice (not advice from the supplier) and note a key term used in the committee’s report – “high-quality”.  Nothing is worse than an intermittent frustrating service.  A wise man does not spend too much, but it is a fool who spends too little.

Alan Curtis

UFB in schools

Getting connected: Ultra-fast Broadband in Schools

The Ministry of Education advises that it has developed a searchable database that will allow schools to check when they are likely to be connected to fibre. With the majority of schools set to get fibre over the next few years, this will prove to be a valuable tool. The database is available on the enabling Learning website http://elearning.tki.org.nz/ and will be promoted via the Education Gazette.

The Ministry is also finalising the Request for Proposal (RFP) for a network services provider for the Network for Learning. The RFP is scheduled for release to the market on 27 April. A feature article promoting the Network for Learning was published in the latest edition of Education Gazette and can be downloaded here http://www.edgazette.govt.nz.

Source: Ministry of Education

Texting and Twitter ‘help students perfect poetry’

Parents no longer need to fret over how much time their teenagers (and younger) spend texting or twittering.  In an item reported in The Telegraph in the UK in September 2011, Britain’s Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy was reported as saying that “Children who use social networking sites and text messaging to communicate are “perfecting” their poetry skills”.

The Poet Laureate said that communicating via mobile phones and through social networking sites, such as Facebook and Twitter, helped teenagers condense their thoughts.

Source: The Telegraph