I last visited California in 2013 to explore their educational setting to get a compass as to what technological trends were emerging and how these trends might impact what was happening in NZ. The visit in 2013 was hugely beneficial for our school. Our Leamington Learner concept significantly developed, and the 6 C’s of our technologically capable learner evolved as a direct result of what we learnt. In fact, a large number of infrastructure decisions and concepts about the use of technology came from the 2013 experience.
My latest trip to California I have no doubt will be as beneficial and influential on helping to shape and provide clarity about critical paths we are walking as a school.
It was an incredible privilege to spend two weeks talking with very switched on school leaders and teachers, unpack their thinking and understand the influences that have shaped the decisions they have made about their school direction. To see first hand what errors they have made, the successes they have won, and speak with students about the impact these decisions have had on their learning has been invaluable. It has allowed me to separate educational window dressing from some compelling educational possibilities which has left me in a fog that has taken some time to clear and gain further clarity. These lessons will save us months of discussions, errors, deadends and has provided a spotlight on concepts we are starting to talk about as a country that will no doubt be sticky concepts (ideas that will stand the test of time and become more and more significant over time.)
But why go to California?
So what has changed?
The most significant thing I noticed as having gone through rapid change is America is quickly becoming a cashless society. I recall from several years ago everything being cash. Now, every vending machine has apple pay, google pay, Garmin pay, paywave etc. Many eating establishments now have tablets on the tables where you order what you want, when you want it, you then swipe your “pay” system and the food or beverage just arrives - there is no need to ever go to the counter.
Taxis are non-existent with Uber and Lyft cars everywhere and ordered from an app that tells you how much your fair will cost before you confirm your journey. It even shows you in real time the car coming to your location.
Electric cars are noticeably present with charging stations for cars occupied more times than not.
So what has changed educationally?
The overarching takeaway theme from 2013 was California was exploring ways to use technology to transfer a “paper-based textbook centred” education system to a digital textbook format.
Of the schools we visited, a significantly new direction has emerged. The discussions from each of the schools we spent time in centred around the urgency to have an education system that;
The children still needed to know "stuff" to get a space in college, but the way of teaching children has started to change significantly.
Two quotes from teachers stood out for me
“I used to be the smartest person in the room. Now, with the technology the children have at home, they are the smartest person in the room. They can now learn most of the things I used to teach them without me. My role now is to help them ask really good questions and connect with smart people outside of our classroom.”
“Don't try and predict what opportunities the children may be missing out on today, rather help them to learn the skills that means they don't have to worry about what tomorrow brings.”
For some of the schools we visited, these conversations are still in the early phases, while others are well down this track and are receiving a lot of attention and visitors from all over America - some even globally. A big takeaway is that the juggernaut of American educational culture is being reexamined and reimagined.
Many of the educational improvements we are exploring as a country and school - they are now actively developing and are bringing considerable financial resources and personnel to bear to bring about shifts with urgency. Based on their district schooling model, when a district starts exploring an issue they often represent 30 000 students across 20 - 30 schools from Primary to Secondary (the number of districts we visited alone would have represented over 100 000 American students.) Flexible seating, teachers working together to exploit their strengths, learning through play, maker spaces, not teaching children based on one grade level, children having choice about their learning and being able to talk about their learning, being skills based rather than content driven, communicating across a range of mediums, using technology as an enabler rather than thinking of it as a magical tool that will cause children to learn better and make good choices etc. are just some of the big concepts that were not there five years ago and will likely be significantly more developed in another 5 years.
So what does this mean for our School? None of these concepts are new to our school. We have been exploring these pedagogies for different periods of time. However, now we have more clarity about what is likely to be sticky, what deadends we can avoid, what errors we can leapfrog, what opportunities we need to amplify etc.
Many conversations with a wide number of people need to take place to unpack many of these ideas and breath life into them within Leamington so we do not "splatter" new ideas recklessly.
Exciting and challenging times ahead - it's going to be an every interesting next few years!
This documentary movie was made about one of the schools we visited. It has been shared with me to be viewed by members of our school community exclusively.