X-School in Newcastle?

Patterns and routines follow education as surely high tide follows low. A hundred years of mass education, sounded out by the bell of inevitability. The pattern and routines are rarely broken, but reinforced with each passing day.

Smart-kids know how to game the system. I recently spoke to a young woman, now doing a PhD, who said she went to a North Shore Sydney private school. She struggled to break the top 10 student list in grades, due to fierce competition. Rather than pay the fees and risk not getting into the Uni subject she wanted, her parents rented a flat for her in Western Sydney. She went to what she called a “band 3 school” instead. She aced every class, the teachers welcomed their ‘band 6 girl’ and lavished attention on her as she romped to first place in every class and the rest is history.

Smart-students know how to play the system. The patterns of study are repeated with marginal change, year in year out. Content get’s updated, but the mechanic stays almost the same. Those teachers who manage to break this cycle do it by creating new patterns of learning that defeat these mechanics. So why force them to find exploits, and just imagine for a moment that someone handed over some loot, and with that we created a learning center, were teachers were mentors,experts on learning design for the gamer generation.

Let’s call it X-School to be trendy. Why is no one brave enough to hand over the swag to make it happen? It makes perfect sense.

Answer: Because that would break the rules. We might have to ditch some current ideas, such as “ICT Integrators”, who are yet to find the right potion for the 21st Century. The rule is, thy shalt have but one ICT Manager and an Integrator and forsake all other options. We are so reluctant to even change job descriptions, we are hardly likely to open X-School in Newcastle. But I think we should. Part of the funding comes of course, from it being a model school and in that offering professional development to other schools. It’s a model that has worked elsewhere, so why not in Australia, why not Newcastle?

The plain fact that no one’s willing to try or fund it. Yet it’s within every systems grasp. Yes it might look strange, but strange isn’t a reason to pretend it’s not possible.

Take an office space, make it a learning space, teach half a dozen teachers in the ways of virtual goodness and allow them to create learning episodes that resonate with students for whom ‘regular’ school doesn’t work.

At the same time, open this is a hub to mentor teachers where they creating new learning episodes to re-connect students with the idea that they are good at life. It stands a good chance of breaking the cycle that will, without doubt, perpetuate another decade of anecdotal Power Points telling us about how technology will change lives if only we adopted Web2.0.

The total cost, is probably less that will be wasted on trying to secure an old building from vandals and following up kids who wag school.

Its high time social development replaced professional development and virtual teachers became as accessible as school counselors and geography teachers, so that students and teachers in classrooms everywhere have access to the same projects, specifically designed to do two things.

  1.  To address the real concerns teachers have ranging from low concern (I don’t care about technology), to high concern (my innovation ideas are ignored) and
  2.  Engage students for whom school does not and will not work as it is now – in ways that makes them feel good about themselves.

This might not be for all students, or for all parents. It might not appeal to all teachers either. However, if we want real reasons to use technology to build a learning community and so some serious social good, this is one easy way to do it.

It is not beyond the realms of immediate reason to connect schools and teachers to a centre like this, or to allow students and parents to choose an alternative. It might be for an hour a week, it might be for the kids who are suspended from school or kids who are scared to go to school … but without the will to make an attempt to build a space that extends into virtual space, we’re likely to keep putting lipstick on a pig.

I suggest giving me the money. I’m even happy to call it the CISCO-Pearson-Dick Smith School of blah, if that brings in new ideas.

There are some great old buildings in Newcastle, just begging to be occupied. Why not open one as a virtual school? Create some project ideas with the local community and start to engage kids.

Connect it to regular schools everywhere and get on with connecting a physical building a virtual, project based school that reconnects kids. They’ll still do the tests, still follow the syllabus, no one needs to panic, it’s not de-schooling, it’s re-schooling. Not distance education, immersive learning.

I think I post one of these virtual school posts every year. Maybe next year, it will be a different story. I’d enroll my kid day one. He’s playing tank.

5 thoughts on “X-School in Newcastle?

  1. Newcastle…great place and a great idea to be thinking outside the box. Worked there not far from where that photograph was taken. Agree with the sentiment of how students learn to play the game. Students become seasoned campaigners from third grade onwards with national testing and other school practices. It’s about the philosophical vision and pathways forward that can be put in place to free up the thinking. I recently visited a school where they have taken on the open learning concept that built upon the idea of a learning community. They had far less resources than one of those North Shore schools of Sydney, but they had excellent leadership and a passionate professional staff who were prepared to change and move things around to enhance learning in a different way. The idea of non-traditional schools and re-schooling is exciting and challenging and may involve unlearning. Will Richardson provides some useful thoughts on unlearning @ http://bit.ly/k9CafC

  2. First, thank you for your thoughts on this most interesting blog. I’ve enjoyed reading about your many ideas over the months.

    Your statement “There are some great old buildings in Newcastle, just begging to be occupied. Why not open one as a virtual school? Create some project ideas with the local community and start to engage kids,” runs parallel to the work a few of us are trying out in Allentown, PA, USA. Cavaedium’s business model will be to create urban hybrid schools for at-risk students, ages 12-18. Equipping students with the necessary technology 24/7, they will use online content material to complete coursework, while meeting daily in teams to complete a long-term project relevant to them and their community. The idea is for students to create their own individual education plan during their 6-week summer camp retreat, picking courses that will assist them in completing the team’s project for the year. To get an image of how Cavaedium will operate recall the characteristics of traditional schools; now think of an opposites. We hope to open a pilot program in 2012 – fingers crossed.

  3. Hi Dean. I am currently working on a possible pilot school in the very epicentre of what you write about. Cnr of Laman & Union. Big Picture Education with student passion and ‘one student at a time’ at the centre of the learning. You would do well to visit City Campus in Launceton- a publicly funded initiative. We are ofcourse waiting for the DEC funding to see worth in the project to fund it. It is an exciting thing to be a part of!

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