Jo Boaler – The Fear of Maths

My last post gave you the opportunity to listen to Sir Ken Robinson talk about curriculum design for students with different interests, backgrounds, capabilities and dreams.

This post gives you an opportunity to listen to an awesome interactive interview with Jo Boaler on the Fear of Maths. You can listen to this here. 

If you prefer visuals you may prefer to watch her Ted Talk which is an abbreviated version of this. Click here to view

‘The thesis behind it is based on that you have probably heard people say they are just bad at math, or perhaps you yourself feel like you are not “a math person.” Not so, says Stanford mathematics education professor Jo Boaler, who shares the brain research showing that with the right teaching and messages, we can all be good at math. Not only that, our brains operate differently when we believe in ourselves. Boaler gives hope to the the mathematically fearful or challenged, shows a pathway to success, and brings into question the very basics of how our teachers approach what should be a rewarding experience for all children and adults.

Jo Boaler is a professor of mathematics education at Stanford University. Her book Experiencing School Mathematics won the Outstanding Book of the Year award for education in Britain. A recipient of a National Science Foundation “early career award”‘ she was recently named by BBC as one of the eight educators changing the face of education.’


Sir Ken Robinson

I remember when Sir Ken Robinson first gave his Ted talk in 2004 and I remember working with the Board of the school at the time about the importance of a wide curriculum with emphasis on creativity, the arts and the spread of the opportunities for the children. It made a real impact and over time that schools evolution reflected Sir Ken’s thesis.

Recently he spoke to Wallace Chapman on Radio New Zealand Sunday programme and once again he explains the importance or providing a curriculum that advocates variety and difference and one that caters for the wide diversity of children at each school.

You can read about the talk by clicking here 

You can go straight to the interview here. (It is 33 minutes long so get comfortable and make a cup of tea)

Learning Spaces v Quality Teaching

The way that we are teaching children in todays world has changed because we now understand our learners better.

This simple fact endorses the need to modify the spaces that our children learn in. Often the discussion about the new learning spaces comes down to what people think is better – the ‘Traditional Classroom’ or a ‘Modern Learning Environment’. You have to look at the why of this discussion!

What is crucial is about this discussion is having what works best for each individual child at the heart of the topic. The simple facts are that having highly effective teachers trumps everything for children’s learning! The quality of the education provided by a school largely comes down to the quality of its teachers. There are more effective and less effective teachers in traditional classrooms, just as there are in modern learning environments.

What is often missing from the classroom v learning environment discussion is the premise that in all classrooms there is the same style of teaching. The fact is that teaching styles adapt to the children in a group and so it is all different within schools and across schools. Teachers have their own personalities, ways and nuances, just as a class has its own personality. Hattie (2009) cites that there is more teaching difference within schools than across schools.

As we go into the new learning spaces we don’t expect there to be too much change from what we are doing now as our teaching practice has modified already to include ways to cater for a variety of learning styes and ways of working at the same time so that children have become much more advanced at being independent learners . The Key Competencies of the new curriculum have put the onus on children to understand their connection to learning and to be active, independent learners. The children apply many principles of active learning now – they work in a big team as a class, in small groups, in pairs and by themselves. They are flexible in class. They can carry out tasks that are different to others at the same time as it matches their learning needs. They know where their teacher is and what they are doing. They can ask others for help and they can ask their teacher for clarification. What impresses me at Kelburn, and we see this every day, is how natural and comfortable they are in their own learning environments. This augurs well for next year.

Teachers have to have the skillset to enable this to happen.

In fact, as a school, we are able to leverage the more open, flexible nature of our new learning spaces to implement a broader range of approaches and tools for each team at different times, to meet the needs of students. Given that students’ needs are always changing, how learning “looks” needs to be responsive and change to meet the needs of students. The architecture and design enables this flexibility.

This flexibility our students understand – but it doesn’t look the same as when we were at school. Although the process of learning is similar, the look is different. What is similar however is that the teacher is crucial to the success of our school.

Dr Wesley Imms – researcher

Early this week Kathryn Ryan from the Radio NZ National – Nine to Noon show interviewed Dr Wesley Imms from the University of Melbourne. Dr Imms is researching Modern Learning Environments and their impact on learning.

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The research is indicating a positive shift in children’s deep learning. 

“In these sort of really open learning environments, or the flexible learning spaces, there’s a much much higher level of teachers teaching in a way that the research shows is probably most favourable to learning outcomes,” Dr Imms told RNZ’s Nine to Noon programme.

He said the survey also found the rooms had a higher incidence of “deep learning”, where children retained knowledge and could use it, as opposed to rote learning.

“In other words, we’ve found a very strong correlation between innovative learning environments, high levels of deep learning and high-quality teaching.”

It was a very interesting conversation.  If you would like to listen to the 13 minutes interview then click here. 

The Heart of a School

The blog post this week looks at how we integrate a set of values into a primary school to drive the learning in this community. A school is a hub for a community and the children that travel from their homes into the kura all come from different backgrounds, values, beliefs, religions etc. It should be a complex interaction but it isn’t. I wonder why? The secret is that generally we are united by a common purpose – wanting to do good, grow and learn, contribute and be accepted, appreciated and valued. To be valued we work around a set of values that help us give and get value.

At Kelburn at the beginning of this year we had 8 values guiding us  – Aroha; Responsibility; Fairness; Manaakitanga; Inclusiveness; Interdependency; Powerful learning; Resourcefulness.

Through our work with our children on student safety and acceptance this year we have linked these values into once main concept – Manaakitanga – ‘where we work together to create a shared sense of community’. We did this to address the concept of student safety, to make sure that the children were leading their own community and stepping in when others were isolated and unsafe. In promoting bystander intervention we have developed the ‘Upstander’. It has been a huge success and this word – manaakitanga – has become a key part of our vernacular.

What about the other values – where do they sit now? Our dialogue and conversation with our children indicate that we have  indeed do have a HEART to our school…the way we are, the things we do that make us move, work, make us breathe if you like.

In true primary style we have unfolded an acrostic HEART which feeds our Manaakitanga.

H – Hauroa

E – Excellence

A- Aroha

R – Respect

T – Teamwork

There will more on this later but these key concepts/values support the way our school operates during the day. Yes we work at the curriculum – the things we work with the understand the things we need to learn know. But we need to know HOW to know – and it is the HEART that makes us grow to learn and work together.

In regards to the ILE or new learning spaces – often people say there is no evidence for change or that changes are necessary. There is and it has been consistent over the years in what education reports via the media or in commentary around schools. We also know so much more about how children learn, the brain works, individual differences and perhaps the key – using different furniture for learning. The one size fits all model does not stack anymore – or is acceptable in this day and age with the information we have.

Flexibility for creativity is the key. Working together creates stronger outcomes.

The key evidence that has produced all the thinking around the ILE and shift in design for new learning was produced in a massive OECD study in 2013. It showed that traditional jobs were disappearing through innovation and education had to change to make our learners of today better prepared for a different future than it was in the past. It suggested change based on 7 developed principles –

  1. Make learning and engagement central to the design of the school
  2. Ensure that learning was social and often collaborative
  3. Be highly attuned to learner motivations and emotions
  4. Be acutely sensitive to individual differences
  5. Be demanding of each learner but without excessive overload
  6. use assessment consistently with learning aims with strong emphasis on formative feedback to the learner
  7. Promote the connectedness of the curriculum and subjects

The key themes of social, collaborative, engagement, integrated curriculum, individual differences and high and realistic expectations were key.

At Kelburn, when I walk through I see growing collaboration and social learning between the children – a higher degree of students explaining their learning to others, how they decided things, how they achieved things, what they are proud of and what they might do differently next time. Children are more deeply embedded in the learning process and not just working to produce the requested result. It is more personalised and individual, understanding of difference and children are proud to share and others are proud to celebrate this with them. Together we grow.

In the new learning spaces things will still be just the same. The groupings link 3-4 teams to each teacher in  a learning space – nothing really changes. There will be a purpose to the learning, a task to do, a process to do it and a point where we all come back to the middle to explain and show our work and present our outcomes. There is no change to what we have been growing in 2018 – our Manaakitanga – where we work together to create a successful community.



There was an interesting headline in the DomPost on Saturday. I’m not sure if you saw it but I think the headline read something like ‘Open Plan classrooms – is it a mistake?” The article focused on a parent of a child with an hearing disability and had comments from a PPTA member as well as some commentary around the ongoing University of Melbourne research into modern spaces and teaching. The journalist, although starting the article with a question, did not define any answers to their thesis. The article also did not give credence to the 4 pillars of learning that I talked about last week which explained how it is the learning around the 4 pillars that creates education and not the necessarily the physical space that ensures it.

One thing for certain and that is, along with death and taxes, people have varying views on how education should be delivered!

We know that open plan classrooms are a thing of the past (1960s-1990s) and that the flexible learning spaces of today are not the open plan classrooms of yesteryear. Open plan classrooms were often in rooms like a hall and were 3-4 classes put together in a large space without the internal walls. They were often full of furniture, teacher collaboration was often minimal and learning was traditional. The new spaces today involve key principles such as less and varied furniture, significant teacher collaboration, and the desire to promote peer to peer active learning experiences

The evidence and push for changing classroom design has been built over the last 10 years where there has been high level of criticism of falling student achievement rates, questions asked of the quality of teaching, and data that identifies the lack of engagement of todays child and their families. This may not be a Kelburn issue but one that exists in pockets of Aotearoa/ NZ. Rebranding was required and Mark Osborne says this data and emphasis suggests that the evidence is clear that change is required. Children and todays students were consulted about how they like to learn and this influenced the change. Osborne suggests that todays children are social learners and that a silent classroom dominated by the teacher is not a ‘natural or engaging learning space’ for children …’silence in fact is not an indicator that children are learning’.

For children with learning disabilities schools are challenging whether they are in a single cell or in modern spaces. Research indicates that the most successful intervention for children with learning or physical disabilities is when the learning environment is adapted, warm, friendly and supportive and importantly the child’s peer group plays a part in that child’s learning landscape. Realistically though these parameters are for any child at school. This comes back to Osborne comments around children as social learners – at times they like to work with each other and at other times they may like to work alone. At times they work in a big team. The class or team culture is crucial to the successful learning environment.

I spent 4 days in the break at the Ulearn conference engaging with leaders, teachers, ‘experts’ on many of the things that are driving modern learning environment. It reinforced that one thing is for certain that the state of change within the economic world, both globally but more importantly locally, requires education delivery to change with it. However – every speech, every workshop, every conversation over coffee etc around obtaining success in learning, came back to one thing –  the power of the relationship. At Kelburn we call this our manaakitanga – the work we do together to create our sense of community. Spaces don’t necessarily matter, but good relationships are crucial for good learning. What our new spaces give teachers and children is significantly increased flexibility in the ways we can learn and the opportunities and chance for our children to access different modes of learning.

To explain some of this further here is a 6 minute clip on a school I follow closely – Stonefields School in Auckland. A new school (6 years old) and this clip was put together in 2014 – 2 years into their journey. The school continues to thrive under Sarah Martin’s leadership and shows their fledging collaborative learning environment which has extended much further. It shows how important relationships and collaboration are crucial in creating a successful, natural learning environment that creates self-sufficient active leaners.

You can watch the clip here.


The four pillars of learning

I often reflect on the 4 pillars of learning in amongst the dialogue that goes on around a school. Around 2000 UNESCO identified the 4 pillars of learning that shape and reshape education. The 4 pillars are – ‘learning to know, learning to be, leaning to do and learning to live together’.

When you strip everything back, and utilising the notion of school being a metaphor for life, it doesn’t matter if you are in the middle of New York Screen Shot 2017-09-28 at 10.10.02 AM.pngcity or rural New Zealand, the children’s education and experiences at school come back to the 4 main principles of the 4 pillars of learning – to know, to be, to do, and to live together.

Learning does not finish at school either. It goes on while we exist and so this reflects back into our school vision of children that learn creatively and strive for excellence preparing for lifelong learning.

So what do the pillars mean –

Learning to know: this is about acquiring tools to better understand the world and its complexities, and to provide a foundation for future learning.

Learning to do: this is about developing the skills that would enable individuals to effectively participate in the global economy and society.

Learning to be: this is about being self analytical and having the social skills to enable individuals to develop to their fullest potential to be an all-round ‘complete person.

Learning to live together: this is about exposing individuals to the values of human rights, democratic principles, intercultural understanding and respect and peace at all levels of society and human relationships to enable individuals and societies to live in peace and harmony.

So while they are big goals, our children interact with these pillars everyday, wherever our children are, whatever they are doing.

I saw this, this week at school. The process of the Lower Middle drama was an example of the 4 pillars in action. It started with seed for learning of the small bag of beans on the first day of term, through the development of the play together as a team, with each class member, be it child or teacher having to contribute their ideas, in discussions and in their writing, to the actual final performance for our families.

As they went along each class had to know, to be , to do and to ‘live’ togeIMG_4587.JPGther. In this journey, amongst all the ups and downs of putting it all together…the children learned and they grew.

So to expand on this what did we see while this drama was growing from the bag of beans to the play?

Learning to know is not about accumulating knowledge but more about learning to learn. It is about developing concentration, memory skills, inquiry, thinking, application etc. The consequence of this skill building is that students can go out and acquire knowledge relative to their needs. The knowledge in the word is increasing and speed beyond what we can keep up. Our children don’t learn the things we learned at school, because there is new things to engage with.


It does not necessarily matter what topic you are learning about as long as you are developing the skills of ‘learning to know’.

Learning to be is the holistic development of the person…as an individual, a member of a family, a community, as a responsible citizen. A person’s complete development engages the mind and body, intelligence, sensitivity, appreciation and spirituality. An education that equips them to develop their own independent, critical way of thinking and judgement so that they can make up their own minds on the best courses of action in the different circumstances in their lives.

Learning to do … this is about growing the willingness to work or complete tasks. This adds to the community aspect of living together, the growth aspect of being and the ability to use knowledge for something. This is turning personal skills into personal competence. It is assessed by looking at a mix of skills and talents, social behaviour, personal initiative and a willingness to work.

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Learning to live together is the development of empathy whereby our actions have a positive effect of others around us. We do this by understanding each other, resolving conflict through dialogue and discussion and appreciating the people that surround us. Some would say that this is the most important pillar and perhaps the hardest to work within.

The things we do at Kelburn set our children up for success at College. Our children will have different strengths and interests, but they will be well on their way to knowing, to doing, to being and to living together!