We can takes things about schooling a step further and see Education as a world wide living system. Like the Gaia hypothesis expounded by James Lovelock that organisms interact with their inorganic surroundings on Earth to form a self- regulating system conducive to maintaining life on the planet, I suggest that schools are organisms feeding back ‘oxygen’ into the education community and helping sustain it in a form of dynamic equilibrium a homeostasis resembling the Hogwarts English model. In short schools support each other and contribute to the continuation of the same system. Yet, as has happened with Gaia at times in history, there has been a dramatic change in the inorganic environment in which the schools now function, the internet and the tablet devises replacing the book. The shock is now reverberating around the globe. As Gaia had to adjust in past geological ages to giant meteor impacts or to the threat of snowball earth, losing some ecological units and gaining others; so educational systems in the 21st century are faced with the confounding problems of the cyber space era. The metabolism inherent in the current species of schools will inevitably change, has to change. There can be no turning back.
Australian secondary schools have conducted text book hire schemes ever since the 1970s and in doing so have greatly assisted many families provide a better education for their children. The school libraries have also provided a huge range of reference books, videos, and other resource materials for students to borrow to complete assignment task and enrich their learning. But the advent of digital media for the computer savvy child must leave school authorities and teachers thinking is this at all necessary? Even if this is currently not the case, students will soon be able to access all the best texts and references downloaded directly onto their Ipads or other tablets. They will also be able to access the work and presentations of the best minds in any field; follow, on Facebook or YouTube, the progress of scientific expeditions and research projects and converse online with the participants and researchers; and they can share data they have put together through their own research and seek comment and feedback. Schools have to join the ‘brave new world’ of the inquiring child.
Discovery Learning has been given new life by the rapid development of digital media in the 21st Century. Joyce Castronova, an instructional technologist in Congers, Gorgia, identifies five characteristics of discovery learning that differentiates it from traditional learning models. Firstly it engages students in hands on problem-solving, not simply knowledge transfer. Secondly it puts the emphasis on the process of learning not the content or end product. Thirdly it provides for lessons to be learned from failure as the child explores and gains feedback from peers and teachers. Fourthly it encourages discussion essential to a deepening of understanding. Lastly the knowledge learned is readily tested through this interaction.
Amy Anderson and David Walbert of Learn NC, a teaching resource site set up by the University of North Carolina asks us to focus on ‘Science’ as a verb as well as a noun.
Science as a noun suggests that science is content to be learned: students in seats, teacher with textbook at the front of the room, the guardian of important facts and discoveries. Science as a verb, by contrast, treats science as an activity, the work of scientists: the ongoing pursuit of questions, hypotheses, and investigations to better understanding the natural world.
Certainly there is scientific knowledge that students need to learn and understand, and often lectures and textbooks may be the best way to convey that knowledge. But thinking of science only as a noun misses the excitement of scientific discovery. Thinking of science as a verb creates opportunities for students and teachers to engage the natural world, grapple with the human impact of scientific discoveries, and build thinking skills that will make them better citizens, consumers, and even (just maybe) professional scientists.
We should introduce this same pedagogical strategy into other subject disciplines. Why not Geography as a verb, History as a verb, Music as a verb? It changes the relationship between students, teachers and the field of study. It requires teachers to step aside from tradition of regarding the teacher as the purveyor and the student the recipient of knowledge. It gives the student power to inquire not simply listen. But as Anderson and Walbert point out, good inquiry is based on good questions:
Good questions are those that have no obviously easy or “right” answer, push students toward abstract thinking, and also reflect students’ interests. Questions that cannot be answered easily provoke and sustain student interest and also demonstrate the complexity of the discipline. The introduction of any new topic or unit can be devoted to the generation of multiple questions about that topic, which can then be organized to guide short or long-term lesson planning.
Teachers might very well claim that the curriculum demands make it difficult to implement discovery learning and still complete the prescribed content. I see such attitudes are in conflict with the intention of the new Australian Curriculum, for the documents produced by ACARA include these words:
A world-class curriculum that will enable every student to develop:
• deep knowledge, understanding, skills and values that will enable advanced learning and an ability to create new ideas and translate them into practical applications
• general capabilities that underpin flexible and analytical thinking, a capacity to work with others and an ability to move across subject disciplines to develop new expertise.
I also believe the resources for a discovery learning approach are already abundant and growing everyday. Futurelab in the UK, Intel Education and the Khan Academy in the USA, and The Centre for Learning Innovation in Australia are just four examples of providers who are not only producing lesson materials but also offering training for teachers in the application of the new technological software in their schools. WebSearch and Adobe Education Exchange have also been set up to help schools and businesses find the right resources and engage in sharing and discussion of resources. There are great applications like InfoGraphics which students and teachers alike can tap into and use. As well as the ESA resources mentioned earlier, the ABC in Australia has recently launched its ABC Splash learning materials. The latter are full of interesting graphics that should appeal to even the slowest of learners. Now Microsoft has stepped in with its Innovative Schools Toolkit to guide the New Line Learning Academies in the UK through the daunting process of readjustment to the implications of the digital age. There is so much sharing going on that schools would be foolish not to be linked in.
Extended School Hours also opens up many opportunities for the whole community to belong and participate. For too long we have been fixated on 9am-3pm schooling. Unlike universities our secondary education facilities are mostly left unused outside those hours and also during the long holiday breaks. Sure we have After School Care to satisfy the needs of families that have both parents in full time work, though mostly it involves child-minding play rather than teaching and learning. If some classes are held in the evening it need not mean that teachers work longer hours, it just requires a more flexible approach to rostering their work time. The labs, art and music studios, plus cooking, catering and trade teaching facilities can be made available if the community shows enough interest and it suits a teacher to work one or two evenings a week and take half days off elsewhere in the week.
Early starts are also possible, not just for sports and swimming training, but also actual teaching workshops. There is no reason why schools can’t begin classes at 8am independent of any Daylight Savings adjustment. Three ninety minute studio sessions could be conducted between 8am and 2pm with two breaks. This leaves the afternoon free for students to participate in sports training, community service, part-time work or spending time with a mentor or instructor (eg piano teacher; speech therapist; or driving instructor). Those who wish to may have the opportunity, perhaps accompanied by a participating parent for an evening class starting at 6.30 or 7pm. More use should be made of school sports halls and performance centres. Community groups such as sports clubs, music groups, and dance studios should feel they are welcome not excluded. This will ensure the finance invested by Governments in school infra-structure is justified because of the wider community benefit. I know there are already good models of this happening but it is not the norm.
Education outside the Classroom is already a feature of the best schooling models. The efforts to retain close to 100% of students in schooling till year 12 has resulted in all kinds of learning extensions into TAFE type trade certificate courses and work experience opportunity for senior year students. In addition educational camps and environmental excursions are becoming readily available often through private commercial providers.
The Department of Education in Western Australia has an alphabetical list of close to 200 endorsed providers of off campus educational experiences, including school camps, overseas and regional tours, and museum and theatres. Of course in this age of litigation and workplace health and safety paranoia the WA Department is very cautious and requires the teachers to complete a six-page Excursion Management Plan, even if the trip is just next door to a historical museum or community plant nursery. It is the same all over the country. Teachers are not trusted to simply exercise good judgment.
For those schools serving middle class areas the lure of extended over-seas excursions, skiing trips to the Snowy Mountains, sporting exchanges in New Zealand or cross-cultural experiences with sister-schools in other continents has grown exponentially in the days of cheap airline travel. Travelbound, GET Educational Tours, and Antipodeans Abroad are three companies taking the burden off the teachers by offering well researched escorted overseas trips for school groups. Destinations include Spain, Turkey, Nepal, Vietnam and USA. Trips are tailored to relate to the curriculum and meet the school’s specifications including involving students in community service projects. At a cost of over $3000 – $4000 a trip it can be excellent value and no one can deny the educational benefits, but sadly, because of the expense, such opportunities are rarely available to students from lower socio-economic areas. I believe, as part of the National Geography or Science Curriculum, every Australian student should be guaranteed a trip to the Great Barrier Reef, or an outback National Park by the end of Year 10. At least we are making students aware of our National heritage and building their environmental appreciations. This is more important for the Australian Government to finance as paid parental leave or subsidies for solar panels.