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November 15, 2013

New Zealand: A National 21stC Education System with Richard Wells – From Beth Holland
I have to say that I'm thrilled to be sitting in Richard's session as I've been following him on Twitter (@iPadWells) for quite some time and really value his blog - http://ipad4schools.org. Richard is the head of technology at a high school in New Zealand. He teaches teachers who do anything that touch technology - from design and architecture to automotive. His blog is aimed at high school teachers who often get bogged down in the heaviness of content to get them thinking about new ways to create content. Three big questions from Richard. What happens when....
  1. Teachers are trusted by all?
  2. Common Core standards are implemented successfully?
  3. The smartest teacher in the country is the country?
When Richard first started, he was a Microsoft engineer. His success, though, was in his ability to design systems that teachers could use and that students could succeed with. However, Richard's college degree was in fine art painting, which he says is the most valuable degree because it forces problem-solving. This translated as well into his blog and how he creates his images - such as the one below - in order to grab teachers quickly.  

Education in New Zealand

Three international studies have ranked New Zealand as one of the top school systems in the world. Of particular note is the study that showed that New Zealand has beat Finland with regard to the amount of improvement showed over the past 2 years. Given that, Richard is here to show us a glimpse of The Educational Future. The first thing to remember is that New Zealand is bi-cultural (vs bi-lingual). Every student has a dual curriculum with the same learning intentions, principles, and goals, but the structure is offered with a European or a Maori cultural backbone. The country then works with guiding principles such as future focused, inclusion, managing self, relating to others, and participating & contributing. Overall, the New Zealand curriculum is incredibly brief (fits on a page) and addresses a framework of key skills, understanding, and themes over content. What's amazing is that The Arts curriculum is twice as long as English and Math! Teachers from that point are trusted to develop their own curriculum based on the framework and goals. It all happens because of levels of thinking, not directed content. Schools have full control over the WHAT as long as they address the process and objectives. The testing equivalent of the SAT is based on levels of thinking. It also includes formative assessment as well as summative assessment and can include project based learning opportunities. There is a nationally established balance. Levels of thinking are measured based on Not Achieved, Achieved, Merit, and Excellence. Students are judged in the end on their ability to think as it was developed over the course of the year. Three story intellect - Applying information, processing information, and gathering information. The goal is the ability to evaluate, judge, predict, hypothesize, or forecast (aka. Excellence). Summative exams are only required if universities request it from individual students. This could be for a specific subject such as astro-physics or chemistry to assess content acquisition.

What does TRUST mean?

The system trusts in the teachers to build the education. This makes the motivation intrinsic because teachers want to work for/with their colleagues. There is no testing bureau in New Zealand. Each teacher designs, issues, and grades the national assessments for their students. Another colleague then moderates the process.There is also a built-in gray area. Trust in teachers means flexibility with rigor! Schools design the curriculum with full autonomy. Teachers then design courses and assessments for their classes, and can change it each year to meet the strengths of the class. Educators moderate each other in terms of quality assessment, meaning that teachers collaborate to determine levels. Students then are assessed based on their ability to demonstrate learning. Standards in New Zealand do not have to be individual tasks - they could be long term projects such as complete an investigation into the ecological niche of a plant species. The TRUST factor allows teachers to build projects and activities for the environment where they are as well as HOW they want to design the final products. This means that one teacher could submit a movie and another a data analysis project. A team of teachers then moderates the conversation to determine the effectiveness.

Flexible Assessments with Flexible Devices

In New Zealand, public schools are ahead of independent schools because they have been freed from the baggage of finance and tradition. This allows teachers to charge ahead. State schools are well funded, particularly those in the poorest areas who get 10 times the amount of money in order to level the playing field. Additionally, all schools built in the last 5 years are built on the premise of flexible learning spaces. Teachers can move furniture and students in order to collaborate, communicate, and experience learning in a variety of ways. The government is funding 21st Century Learning. Major take-aways: design curriculum for the context of the school, differentiate instruction for the students, and create assessments to target learning. Teachers must collaborate, share, and reflect by national mandate. The only criteria for assessing teachers is "how are you developed?" To perpetuate sharing, schools are moving towards a nation-wide Creative Commons agreement. Everything must be open to the world - and should be!