Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The "Hook" at Pt. England School

I'm in New Zealand visiting Pt. England School in Auckland, where they are implementing Google Apps and Blogger and where they worked with hapara.com to develop a brand new Google add-on called Teacher Dashboard, a tool that provides a lot of support for a teacher managing a classroom full of student GoogleDocs accounts (and soon Google Sites and Blogger). On Tuesday night after school, I participated in a meeting of the school's "hackers": a group from the larger Auckland community who have gathered together (over food and beer) almost weekly over the last 18 months to support a systemic approach to implementing technology in the school cluster: http://www.manaiakalani.org/

This group began when the principal, Russell Burt, sent out an email: "Hackers wanted!" They have been working through all of the issues of implementation. On Tuesday night, they reworked their Design Principles: http://www.manaiakalani.org/home/design-guidelines. I was impressed with their vision for the project, and the "open source" nature of their development. This group of creative people came together to solve a problem...to take on a challenge, and the results are stunning!

There are plans to share the school's wifi throughout the entire school community, mostly on light poles (keep in mind, this is one of the poorest neighborhoods in Auckland, where there are few computers and little or no Internet access in homes). Observing the systemic approach as well as the implementation of netbooks for students beginning in Year 5 (9-10 year-olds) is also impressive; their parents will be paying NZ$15 a month for these netbooks which eventually will be going home with the students. The program plans to support these netbooks for only three years... they realize that the technology will be changing a lot, and the devices will need to be replaced!

I am observing classrooms where students are blogging using Blogger on a regular basis (http://www.ptengland.school.nz/index.php?family=1,451), even the Year 1 students (5 years old) have blog entries dictated to teachers in a class blog: http://pesyear1.blogspot.com/ (the students were so pleased when we commented on their posts).

If there is one thing I have learned in this school is that if you want the impressive gains that they have made in the poorest schools in Auckland (see their research report linked below), you need visionary leadership, a group of teachers that is willing to take on the challenges, but who are also well-supported with PD and equipment, and a "can-do" attitude. Every teacher has a Macbook and a netbook; in addition to the student netbooks, every classroom has at least five iMacs (of various vintages...I even saw some 10-year-old "jelly bean" iMacs in Year 1 classrooms). As you can see, this school cluster is a great example of what can be done with imagination, some extra funding, and leadership (can't emphasize it enough)! Thanks to fellow ADE Dorothy Burt and everyone at Pt. England School for making us feel so welcome!

Here is a link to their research reports: http://www.manaiakalani.org/research-1/2008---2010-report
Summary: The Project definitely provided a motivation for writing, an improvement in audience awareness and purpose and in presentation skills. Other school interventions also had an impact on literacy achievement; however the Project has provided a purpose and enthusiasm for literacy.
The students of Manaiakalani were provided with a “hook” (e-learning outcomes published in on-line spaces) which gave these decile 1 students a voice to be heard globally. Subsequently, participating in the Manaiakalani Project enhanced their literacy, engagement, oral language and presentation.
With the advent of netbooks in 2011, schools are starting on a new and innovative initiative that, with careful planning and implementation and adequate support and funding, could be the key to 21st century education in New Zealand.

1 comment:

Timmy said...

Hi Helen - thought I'd add a little bit about the Manaiakalani project. Our key work streams are:

- community engagement
- pedagogy
- technology enablers:
+ cloud-based tools
+ 1:1 devices
+ community WiFi network
+ Internet backhaul
- related policies

We have a stunning mix of education, community, government and commercial entities working jointly over the last 18 months, and as you've pointed out, we are trying to make our thinking and experiences accessible to everyone.

A year from now our neighborhood will be the most Internet-connected one in the country, with free, high-speed wireless school broadband available to students and parents in most homes.

It's a great project to learn from and we'd love to see others benefit from our efforts - so please visit www.manaiakalani.org, and ask questions!

Jan Zawadzki / Hapara