Friday, 30 May 2014

The Fuzzy Front End

Ok, so this title conjures up some thoughts of one standing, naked, in front of the mirror, but, no, there is another context in which we, as educators, can use to maximise our learning episodes and experiences.


While working with Steve Mouldy today I suddenly remembered a piece of gold that I discovered a couple of years ago called ‘The Fuzzy Front End’.  The students were all working away trying to identify an issue or a problem that could affect our local community at some point in the future.  The task was to identify an issue and design a solution which would lead to them generating a product or service.

As I listened to the students I began to hear discussion that is often heard when initiating this kind of process.  Students often jump to a solution and then work the planning process backwards.  While this is not ideal I will admit in the past that I have allowed students to deliver assessments and work using this process in reverse.  Today, to counteract this issue, I made it quite clear to the students that they were not looking for solutions, but they were looking for a solid problem to resolve.  I also reinforced this by telling them that if they wrote, designed, spoke about or even hinted at a solution then the solution would be eliminated as a viable outcome for them to use with this situation.  In effect their idea would be stolen from them.  From that point there was no talk about solutions and the focus was directed at finding problems and issues to resolve.

Then I began to hear another common type of discussion that often occurs with this type of process.  As the students began to brainstorm their ideas in groups, there was a reluctance to write down most of the ideas and students struggled and argued, rejecting most.  This was mainly because the students, either didn’t like their own, they didn’t like other’s ideas, they didn’t think the ideas were valuable enough or that their ideas didn’t  relate well enough to the task.  After several minutes the result of this lack of confidence was that there were very few ideas and issues were being generated.



Enter the ‘Fuzzy Front End’.  “OK...everyone stop what you are doing.  I am a little concerned ....actually a lot....that there is a reluctance to get some ideas down”.  I went on to explain the ‘Fuzzy Front End’ process.  Inspired by business, this process, is a process that is used to develop new products (NPD).  From memory I think it was initially designed and used by ‘Polaroid’ but it is now widely used.  I have ‘hacked’ it quite a bit.  To encourage students to be confident about their thinking and ideas I believe that this part of the process should be highly tolerant.  This is where any idea is viable, safe and acceptable and should be recorded.  For example, today. one group were brainstorming our community’s readiness for a catastrophic event or natural disaster.  Their list of events began with ‘Alien invasion, Zombie Apocalypse and a Super-Hero-generated Meteor storm.  The temptation for any teacher would be to instruct the students to focus properly on the task, get serious and to be a lot more realistic.  I have taken this ‘kill it’ approach in the past and it is a very rare group of students that can recover from such a teacher interaction and end up producing some great thinking, in fact the most common response is for the students to shut down completely.




The ‘Fuzzy Front End’ is a very tolerant brainstorming stage.  By accepting all thinking, the students, at the very least are beginning a thinking process and that usually leads to some quality outcomes.  Another by-product of this tolerance is the things that would normally be rejected can often end up being the most valuable components, concepts and considerations and they can lead to better outcomes.  It is a bit of a cheeky ‘Hack’ but if we can get over our urge to focus the students and instead inspire them to dream, then I believe  we can be teachers who inspire creativity and innovation.  The focussing and refining can come later in the process.




Monday, 12 May 2014

Knowing The Learner

He Tangata, He tangata, He Tangata 

 In my reasonably short time teaching I have identified two aspects of teaching practice that are keys for me when forming relationships that allow me to really get to know the learner. One of those is a structural function at a school-wide level and the other is a set of personal practices that give me an edge.  I believe that knowing the learner and forming effective relationships within your learning communities are essential. 

 Over the few short years of my teaching practice I have endeavoured to engage with learners through building Whanaungatanga, which is simply the building of and maintaining respectful, familial relationships. The task of relationship building within the schools I have worked at has been made relatively easy by the use of structures called Learning Advisories or Learning Hubs. These structures coupled with Restorative Practice is a formidable learning beast, in that ,it is powerful, awesome and excellent, but let’s discuss Restorative Practice at another time.


These core structures in our schools have been set in place with the specific function of forming effective relationships between the teacher, who fills an advisor/mentor role, and the learner. The Hub members are groups of 10 – 14 learners from across all levels of the school who are together for a significant amount of time each week. This time is two regular scheduled classes of 90 minutes and 30 minutes on the other mornings. This scheduled time provides us with a clue of the importance that our school places on this aspect of learning. There are many functions associated with the advisor role and they can include academic and personal advisor, counselor, ally, agent, sounding board, collaborator and friend, just to name a few. These roles can actually reduce the load or even the necessity for other major roles and structures within schools such as Deans, Truancy officers, Peer and other support programs. 

 During my involvement with helping to develop and engage with these important Learning Hubs in schools, I have seen first hand the effectiveness of healthy learning relationships and the essential role they play in empowering great learning. If we take a good honest look at the learning interactions between learners and teachers we know that most learning issues arise or exist because the knowledge of the learner and their needs has not always been the central focus and this is usually because of or evidenced by a breakdown in the learner/teacher relationship. If you have learning issues in the your school/class I recommend that you work on whanaungatanga and if those issues are still evident then I recommend that you work on whanaungatanga, and if that still fails, work on whanaungatanga again. 

 The second aspect of teaching that enables me to get to know the learner is simple, but requires me to do some homework and a lot of practice but I assure you, it is worth it. I’m 50 this year. Most kids consider me to be an old bugger but they seem genuinely surprised when I tell them my age. The main reason I think they act surprised is not because of my youthful appearance or stunning manliness, but it is because I choose to learn about and become proficient at many aspects of youth culture. I am a musician, so it would be remiss of me not to know about new songs, bands or trends in music. To ‘bust out’ and acoustic version of ‘Everything is Awesome’ form the Lego movie or perhaps an alternative version of ‘Imagine Dragon’s latest hit usually generates a healthy respect from teenagers. I have also made a point of being able to ‘Rap Battle’. I have developed and attitude of respect for this genre as being a legitimate form of poetry and is another way of delivering ‘the goods’ educationally. This has only ever resulted in the forming of positive outcomes for me simply because the students at least respect someone who tries. 



 We all have something that we are able to do well or are passionate about and if I have learnt one thing about the learning process it is that our students are drawn to passionate people not good teachers. If you write, then do it well and explore teen writing culture. If you make things in technology, then make things that matter to students. If you bake or cook, dazzle them with how you should be the next winner of Master Chef NZ. Everyone should know what the latest dance craze is and imagine the response if you can nail it! If you want to know your learners then don’t just be a good teacher, be a passionate teacher especially with regard to teen culture and interests, because they are the ones who our learners will share themselves with unreservedly. 
 Oh yeah, that’s right, it helps to have one of those 'snotty' things at home called a teenager.

Thursday, 8 May 2014

Nike-ing the Experience


Nike-ing Your Experience

I recently attended The GAFE NZ North Island Summit.  What an amazing experience that was to be and what an amazing array of interesting speakers lined up to deliver their knowledge about GOOGLE and the Apps and Add-ons that they used. 
When I was a kid I used to go to Woolworths in Lower Hutt.  I remember being given 20 cents to go and choose a selection of lollies from the pick & mix counter.  Similarly at the GAFE Summit I was so excited yet traumatized.  Excited by the quality, array and usefulness of the what was on offer from these amazing speakers and yet traumatised by the fact that I could only attend a few of these sessions.  The feeling of having only 20cents and wanting so much more came flooding back, as did the checkered, black and white, linoleum floor and the walk sock, walk short, neatly-attired, blue-shirted manager who stood and stared suspiciously as us kids as we eyed the array of candy.  ‘Google’ eye-candy is no different.  One just needed to look around the room, filled with people, on the first morning to see the excitement in the eyes of the ‘Google freaks and Nerds’ that aligned themselves, frothing at the mouth, awaiting the first keynote from Suan Yeo.


As I sat and waited I reflected on the fact that I am new to this.  I am not a fluent Google/app/add-on user and while I have used apps and some bits and pieces I have really not thrust myself into Google culture or really tried to E-nable myself in this manner.  Listening to the others in the room one could be forgiven for thinking that we were to be graced by the presence of royalty, well, at the very least Google royalty.  The Sydney-based Suan Yeo gave a charged intro filled with inspiration and hope for education.  I was amazed at the commitment of Google to education and the possibility that was available if one dared to dream or at the very least explore some of what is on offer. A couple of thoughts worth retaining were 1. “Sometimes you win and sometimes you learn”, turn every losing situation into a learning situation.  2. “First you commit to the task and then you figure out how you’ll do it” Mick Eberling .  This notion is one that I love, probably because I love a challenge and I am a believer, which means that I usually get things done even if I have to ‘hack’ a way.  Mick Ebeling’s Ted Talk shows this process and clearly displays the point of this blog. 
Jim Sell began what seemed to be a very casual session called ‘Curating Youtube’.  It became apparent very quickly that this guy knew his stuff.  I sat there amazed at many of the tricks and functions that are available on the Youtube site and wondered why I had never explored the site to this degree.  Jim’s vast experience as a teacher and TV producer, coupled with his role as a Google Educator/ambassador, made fascinating and entertaining listening.  I even sat through his next session on editing and creating within Youtube Editor function and this left me wondering why I have even bothered with ‘Imovie’ or ‘Moviemaker’ on some tasks.  This was yet another amazingly simple program that I had never bothered to explore.  His sessions were incredibly useful, leaving me feeling inspired and enabled.  Later that day I voted for him to win the 'Google Slam'.  I am glad that I did vote because my name was drawn and I won a Google Nexus 7.  Thanks guys!!

Over the next two days I attended some more amazing sessions run by other incredibly capable Google Educators.  They included Tim Gander, Amy McCauley and others.  This certainly left my brain in a state of information overload.  There was so much great content and so many ideas that I was left just like that confused kid at the pick and mix stand that I mentioned earlier.  What do I choose first?  Where do I start? How can I begin?

It is probably fair to say that I came out of that Google Summit with more (un-googleable) questions in my head than when I went in.  Some of you would say that is a good thing but for me it felt more like there was a huge task ahead.  A few days out from the Summit now and I am feeling a lot clearer about where I am going with this and the answer was in front of me the entire time.

I think it was Suan or Jim who very quickly displayed an international sporting logo for an instant.  At the time I thought that it was out of place and not really connected but now more than ever I realize the significance of the Nike phrase “just do it”.  After reflecting on the presentations that I attended I realized that all of those people had one thing in common.  They were simply “doing it”.  They were using the tools that they spoke about and this is what made their presentations effective and meaningful.  It was because they were educators who were also life-long learners that made their thinking relevant and if I want embed some of their knowledge into my practice then I simply need to start my Google learning journey.


I love my job and I want to be really good at enabling people to be  more effective and stronger in their communities than I ever was, learners who are not just consumers but creators of things and knowledge.  So all I need to do is commit to the task of learning and I’ll work out how to hack the rest as I go along.   “Just do it” Nike (1988).

Bastards and Granny gear

Just as we left it pissed down.  The rain clouds, remnants of some tropical cyclone, seemed to arrive just as we began our mountain bike.  Oh well, I was committed now so there was no escape and no escape for the other seven ‘expert cyclists’ that were to accompany me on our ride.  Anyway, one would never survive the barrage of insults and shame that could be inflicted if they were to give up that easily, however the rain was torrential and I was already wet through, but I don’t think I was the only one who considered faking a flat tire at that point.
We rode for a few kilometres and not long after the rain stopped.  The sun came out and now it was the most unbelievably humid day as we snaked our way on down along the coast road that lead to the Motu Bridge.  The conversation in my head, now important, as no one really spoke. “Stick to the white line…whew!... that car was close…shit that silage stinks…. another bloody close car….first hill, granny gear will be noticed…bugger it I’ll grind it out and try to keep up….ah shit…granny gear”.  The others arrogantly passed me, and I am sure they were smiling to themselves.  “Bastards..… Don’t say a damn thing…. just keep on riding…I don’t want your words of encouragement” the internal dialogue followed my energy levels into deficit mode.  I was really glad when we found large rocks on the road, and to be honest I’ve never been happier to stop and help.  Even the small ones could be dangerous, so I painstakingly removed every single one.  Now it was time to get back on the bike.

 The hardest part of the ride was yet to come. At the forestry gate we prepared for the long climb.  Jackets off, water drunk, half a muesli bar, a quick tyre check, other half of muesli bar, more water, pass the bikes over the gate, a quick tyre check and once I had nothing else to use as an excuse it began, the slog uphill that the ‘expert cyclists’ called fun.

I began the climb at the back of the bunch, no use embarrassing myself trying to lead up the hill.  I settled into a default rhythm breathing and pedalling, breathing and pedalling sounding ‘for all the world’ like every breath was my last.  I was in survival mode.  I got a bit of relief when my chain came off and jammed a few times. (handy when you know how) I ended up walking most of the steeper bits “those bastards made it look so easy”.  They would stop every now and then but I just scowled and kept on pedalling, right on past them.  No point wasting my energy talking.  I may as well keep going and let them catch up and pass.  They stared, smiled and whispered, I’m sure.  This happened a few times but the last time they passed me, it was on the steepest hill of them all.  In fact, I am sure that if I lost my footing, while pushing my bike, I would have bounced and skidded all the way back to the bottom.  “Bastard” I muttered as yet another 'expert cyclist' rode on by  “Pardon” he said… “Oh nuthin” I snapped.  “I’m just talking to myself”.  “Bastard”.  He looked back again before tearing off like a steaming stallion up the steep hill. 

Upon reaching the top of this last hill I managed to ride the next fifty metres to the waiting group of 'expert cyclists'.  They were all just standing there, chatting, bikes strewn all around, muesli bars in hand.  “What’s the matter”? I managed to chortle in between huge deep breaths.  Seven puzzled people looked at me as if to say isn’t it obvious?  “We’re at the top” the 69 year old said.  I know what he really meant.  “How does it feel to be beaten by an old bastard…eh?….eh?.. How does it bloody feel”? Yeah he didn’t say it but that’s what he meant.  “Oh really…. the top eh”?  I turned around to see the most amazing panorama spread before me.  “Holy shit…Look how far we’ve come…WOW” I shouted excitedly.  “I am so glad I am here”!





Ok, so this is a bit of a strange blog, so I should tell you that I often blog when a metaphor that best explains my thinking is discovered and this ‘mostly’ true mountain bike ride over Easter time has some valid parallels in it.

At Hobsonville Point Secondary School, like most schools, we have had a very busy start to the year, although ours has differed because we have been in ‘ground breaking mode’.  This means that we have all been involved in a new process that has seen us begin to develop the culture of learning at our school over the last term.  We have designed our first courses, met our foundation students, formed learning HUB’s, formed relationships, met with critical friends, met with leadership mentors, met with teaching teams, shared offices, learning environments, resources, toilets, educational philosophies and Google drives.  We have contributed to wider school structure, specialised areas, project teams and areas of learning.  We’ve read a thousand emails, sent a few replies, ordered heaps resources and tried to manage them.  We have planned, reported, conceptualised and organised. We’ve argued, discussed, collaborated, co-constructed and at times expressed emotion with people.  Oh yes, and We’ve shared in a few lessons and I know that I have learnt just as many along the way.  At the end of the day it’s been a busy term and just to let you know there has been some awesome learning experiences happening as well.

It’s been a very big start to our HPSS journey and I don’t know of anyone I work with who is not tired to some degree after this term.  I know that at times I have felt the pressure and resorted to the type of thinking that is similar to the thinking shared about my mountain biking experience.  Those times have usually been when there have been big tasks to complete or curveballs to catch and instead of looking at the overall big picture I have completely looked at and tried to serve my own needs instead.  I now realise that to function in my job I need to have a firm grasp and belief in the school vision and frequently revisit reasons why I set out on this journey. 
Those ‘expert cyclists’ who took frequent breaks on my mountain bike ride, the ones that I rode right past, were not at all surprised by the grandeur of our destination.  They had the sense to stop and regularly take stock of where they were going and of where they had come from.  On my ride I only focussed on the steep path and was totally overwhelmed by the task ahead.  Every bump, rut, rock and close passing car became an issue, in fact I am surprised I made it to the top at all.  I am not saying that my entire term at HPSS has been like this but my point is that when you are ‘head down and arse up’ it is very easy to miss all the good stuff and for me this is why I teach.


At the top of the HPSS term one mountain is so much to celebrate.  I will take more time to identify and celebrate those things more regularly and hopefully say “Holy shit…Look how far we’ve come…WOW.... I am so glad I am here”!

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