List of Sorts: Appreciations and Adjustments

After living in New Zealand for a few months now it’s time for a short, random list of sorts – below are a few simplicities I appreciate and a few things that take some, shall we say, getting used to.

–Poor Knights Islands. Bland Bay. Cape Foulwind. Doubtful Sound. Doubtless Bay. Dead Whale Reef. While the Maori names of places are the richest in meaning, I’m definitely enjoying their droll British counterparts. Seems like there were quite a few days when Captain Cook wasn’t having a great time mapping New Zealand.

— Our first encounter with NZ’s eels came at a wildlife center in Hokitika that had a tank full of 90-year old, female, blind specimens that long ago lost the taste for fish and now subsist solely on steak (an excellent retirement plan, btw). The crazy thing about these eels is not how they’ve managed to carve out a life being hand-fed steak tartare at every meal, but that they were all born in the ocean somewhere east of Fiji and Tonga and drifted back to live out their lives in New Zealand streams. Somehow their parents made it from those streams across the ocean to spawn in the first place – science, of course, is trying to ruin the grand mystery by tracking exactly where this all happens.

— Glowworms are magical. On a night walk through kauri trees in Waipoua Forest small constellations of bright blue glowworms (actually fly larvae) sparkle like stars. Between eel migratory patterns and glowworms, I definitely didn’t expect to be this fascinated by larvae.

— Maybe I’ve just missed some places in the States, but ordering up a tuna roll always means you’re getting fresh fish. If you’re not careful in NZ your tuna roll might just come from a can…

— … but the espresso at gas stations totally makes up for sad tuna. We’ve come across a few gas stations with full-on barista service and flat whites at the ready.

— Some time around 10:30-11am, teachers head to the lounge for a cuppa, whether it’s tea or coffee. Not only do most schools in the U.S. not provide tea and coffee for staff, they certainly don’t make time for it.

— Honesty boxes are everywhere from the side of the road to the office cafeteria. In the office you’ll see a box of baked goods, a tin for collecting payment, and a ledger to write down how much you bought and when (have not seen anyone just leave their VenMo name yet; possible missed opportunity for those of us without a lot of small change around). I often wonder how much a cookie side hustle pulls down in a given week, and what the true intentions are – give your coworkers a much-needed sugar boost, or run that cookie racket so you’ve got your coffee budget covered all week?

— Besides the stunning natural scenery, it’s nice to hike in a place where there isn’t anything waiting to kill you. No bears, snakes, scorpions, etc. Maybe, just maybe, a spider might cause you trouble. But your biggest threats are more likely to be something like cliffs, avalanches, or rip tides, the last of which is why the Swim Reaper has his own website.

— Finally, I’ve never seen a country more into David Bowie. I support this wholeheartedly.


Old ideas and new

For the past couple weeks I’ve been setting up school visits and looking into the literature on 21st century skills and competencies, digital technologies, and authentic learning in education.

Here’s a few choice quotes that feed into much of the thinking in those realms.

If students are to be prepared to cope with new and changing conditions, they must be exposed to more than current factual knowledge and occupational skills…They must learn, for example, how to think, communicate, organize, interact, make decisions, solve problems, and assign priorities, but most of all, they must learn how to learn.

By using the community as a classroom, we are in a position to use natural situational frames as a means for integrating learning and practice and fitting patterns of formal learning to local patterns of informal learning…we can use the natural setting and events of the community to bring students into the flow of real-life experiences where they can acquire more pervasive and useful process skills.

That’s from a 1981 paper by a researcher at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks making the argument for more project-centered forms of education rooted in local communities.

Now here’s the OECD, in its Education 2030 position paper:

Students will need to apply their knowledge in unknown and evolving circumstances. For this, they will need a broad range of skills, including cognitive and meta-cognitive skills…social and emotional skills…and practical and physical skills…

A concept underlying the learning framework is “co-agency” – the interactive, mutually supportive relationships that help learners to progress towards their valued goals. In this context, everyone should be considered a learner, not only students but also teachers, school managers, parents and communities.

Sound similar? It’s a good reminder to myself and others thinking about education futures that often plenty of effort has been undertaken to think through these things in the past.

For example, is this a venture-funded micro-school, or just an effort supported by the design-thinking innovation gurus of of the School District of Philadelphia in the 1960’s?

…facilities such as abandoned warehouses, offices and schools along the Parkway were used for meeting places and to store materials and resources. Students and teachers met on a flexible schedule for various learning activities, depending on outside involvements and individual or group needs. Teachers served as tutors and counselors, and supervised student activities with cooperating agencies and institutions in the community.

The answer, of course, is the latter.

Humbly acknowledging that much of the way that we talk about education and many of the solutions proposed have already been explored in the past, I’m going to keep plugging away on this literature review with a couple of questions in mind.

1. What resources do we now have available to improve learning?

2. What realities do we face that compel us to test out those resources?

These, of course, aren’t new questions. Some of the best questions never are.