Learning from futures you didn’t see coming? Scenario planning, education and the (post)pandemic world at CO:RE

It was my privilege to join the University of Oslo’s Niamh Ní Broin and Steffen Krueger at the website of CO:RE, the Children Online: Research and Evidence project funded by the European Commission, to write about last year’s scenarios for the future of Norwegian schools.

These explored different contexts for the digitalisation of education in Norway, considering how the relationship between learners, digital devices, and educational institutions might shift in times to come.

You can read our piece, “Learning from futures you didn’t see coming? Scenario planning, education and the (post)pandemic world”, here.

SHAPE Education: Schooling, Skills, and the Future of Work

I’ll be speaking at the SHAPE Education 2021 conference on Wednesday 14th July, joining the panel “What will individuals need to learn for success in work and life in the future?” alongside Heather E. McGowan and Silvana Richardson.

We’ll be asking, what skills, knowledge and characteristics will employers need and be looking for in future? How will education systems help people develop these within and beyond schools? And will relationships between schools and employers change?

You can join our panel, and other sessions from the week-long SHAPE event, for free.

Future health: Oslo and the ‘a-ha’ moment

Our University of Oslo scenarios for the future of schools, out this week, surfaced health, and perceptions of health, as a battleground between parents and institutions in the education sector of 2050.

This was an “a-ha” moment for university researchers seeking new issues to explore around the digitalisation of education.

In scenario planning, we don’t aim to predict the future, but rather to generate plausible visions which can usefully inform present-day decision-making.

The future stories we create together are intended to highlight issues and drivers which exist in the present; the future scenario can then be set aside in order to focus on the issue at hand.

For the Oslo education researchers, a world in which parents and institutions warred over children’s health in a heavily-surveilled society – bickering with ‘the algorithm’ even over when to wipe your child’s nose – highlighted the extent to which their research should explore questions of health and wellbeing.

Today, in the Norwegian news, we see a parent-led Facebook group urging the city to close schools while the municipal authorities maintain that there is no reason yet to do so.

The campaigners argue that if businesses are sending staff home, then young children – who are less able to follow guidelines on infection control, like coughing into your elbow – should certainly go back to their families too.

Questions of distance learning, and education via screens and digital devices, may be sharpened by the current pandemic – even for the youngest children.

How will coronavirus affect the way we teach and learn, in the short and long term? Could it impact even the youngest children, irrespective of whether they contract the disease?

Good foresight work can help communities, institutions, and individuals navigate such turbulent and uncertain situations. You can read more about the Oslo education scenarios project here.

Team Waitangi: Teaching against the grain in West London

Team Waitangi, a group of West London teachers, dress up as the cast of Cinderella

Ngā mihi o te Kirihimete, West London

Team Waitangi got its name five years ago, just before Christmas. I was teaching what the Brits call infants – 4 to 7 years old, specifically Year 1 or 1st Grade – in a deprived suburban corner of West London. Our staff were pretty diverse, with teachers from New Zealand, South Africa, and Australia. The school served a diverse community, too: most kids were from families that didn’t speak English at home, new migrants who had come to us from Somalia, Iraq, Sri Lanka. Celebrations like Ramadan and Diwali were more important to our kids than, say, Easter. Even more than usual, this meant I did as much listening as talking, as much learning as teaching.

Read more

Reader-in-Residence article in SCAN Magazine

Parkes High School’s teacher librarian Tracy Dawson has an article in the latest SCAN magazine about the Reader-in-Residence role which I held in Parkes across late 2013 and early 2014.

The role was designed to link the school and wider community in a celebration of storytelling, literacy, and culture in all its forms. Events included teen publishing workshops, our biggest ever zombie roleplay, urban myth writing, and the inaugural Central West Comics Fest, which will be returning in 2015. I also mentored high school students, led sessions for the Parkes writers’ group, and worked with the school’s special needs unit.

Tracy gives a teacher’s perspective on how trying new things, pushing boundaries, and reaching out to a wider community also yielded great benefits to students at the high school. You can also read her guest posts on this site about Auckland’s XXUnmasked project and the work of a teacher librarian.

SCAN magazine is a refereed journal published by the New South Wales Department of Education, focussed “on the interaction between information in a digital age and effective student learning.” You have to subscribe for recent issues, but the archive is publicly available – I’ll let readers know when the current issue moves into the free archive.

Award-winners Parkes Shire Library share the secrets of their library programming

Last night, Parkes Shire Library won the Australian library association ALIA’s Bess Thomas award for innovative work with children and young people. I’ve been working with the Parkes community for some years now, and I’m proud to have played a part in their journey to national recognition.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

It’s great for Parkes’ librarians, serving a community of just 15000 out in Central West New South Wales, to have their daring work celebrated by peers at a national level.

If you want to steal some of the Parkes magic, you can find “how-to” articles and resources for some of our most exciting programmes online:

Keep your eyes peeled for more surprises as Parkes kicks off the 2014 season of activities this month…

Guest post: XXUnmasked at Auckland Libraries

I’m pleased to announce that Auckland Libraries’ XXUnmasked media literacy project for teenage girls has just won an award for community outreach. This week on the blog, Tracy Dawson of Parkes High School Library in Australia reports on the project led by Ali Coomber of Auckland Libraries and Dr Pani Farvid of Auckland University of Technology.

XXUnmasked – double the power, not the standards!

Something that always amazes me is when young girls say “I’m not a feminist.” When any woman says it, actually. I remember several years ago, in my previous guise as an English teacher, talking to a group of top senior English students studying what was then called 3 Unit English in New South Wales. We were discussing the brilliant Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, and despite that horrific and unsettling story of the loss of female identity, voice, independence, none could see the value of feminism.

Now when feminism is often seen as a dirty word at the same time that all-pervading media images of women are more blatantly misogynistic than ever, how do we help our young women avoid being active participants, let alone passive observers, in their own diminution? Read more

Book publishing workshops for your library

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Last year, Parkes Shire ran a series of one-day publishing workshops for local teens. Our local libraries, high school, and TAFE joined forces to offer teens a game-based look at the business of selling books. This write-up lets you see what we did and run your own version.

Why publishing workshops?

Publishing is changing fast in the 21st century and people aren’t always clued in on how writers get their words out to readers. We wanted local teens to think about the business side of publication. What are the challenges of acquiring books for sale? How do publishers market their choices to the public in an age of social media? We wanted our event to be locally devised but relevant to the global publishing industry.

What did we do?

Read more

Creation/Curation: Making Urban Myths in the Library

This week, screenwriter and critic Martyn Pedler joined us in Parkes for activities based on his 2011 movie EXIT.

EXIT follows a group of people who have come to believe that reality is a maze, thousands of years old. Human beings have lived in the maze for so long that some have settled down, had families, forgotten the impulse to escape. But the fabled exit door is still out there, for those who remember.

The Parkes team have already made youth activities featuring zombies, time travel, and kaiju. We wanted to build on this and offer something a little more cerebral. The premise of Martyn’s movie offers the perfect springboard for a range of games and creative play.

Audience for Martyn Pedler's talk

Martyn spent Tuesday in the library at Parkes High School, where he spoke about his career to over 200 students across two 90-minute sessions. They heard him explain how EXIT began with his 2008 exhibition Melbourne and Other Myths.

Martyn had become bored with the city he’d lived in for many years and was trying to reignite his love for Melbourne by creating new urban legends. For example, Houdini had visited in 1910. He dived into one of the city’s rivers. What, Martyn asked, if some of his unique magic had spilled into the water and infected Melbourne for generations to come?

The Old City Treasury Museum transformed these fantasies into a three-month exhibition. Melbourne and Other Myths presented Martyn’s words alongside found objects. In the exhibition, the stories became secret histories. And one of these myths, about a cult who believe the city is a maze they must escape, inspired EXIT.

In our first EXIT activity, Parkes teens created their own myths for an exhibition of weird and wonderful objects. You can find the instructions for ‘Curating Modern Myths’ below.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Curating Modern Myths

You’ll need:

  • A selection of intriguing objects (at least 1 for every 4 participants)
  • 1 file card for every 4 participants
  • Rough paper and pencils
  • 1 coloured token for each participant
  • A prize for the winning group

Instructions:

1. Form a group of 3-4.

2. Choose an object from the collection.

3. Have each person in your group tell a story about the object. It can be as weird or as magical or as gruesome as you wish…

4. Choose one story from your group or combine your stories to create a single myth.

5. Write the main ideas from your myth on paper.

6. Collect a file card. You’ll use this to label your object in the exhibition.

7. Write a description of your object and your urban myth on the card.

8. Nominate a curator of your object, who will stay with it and explain its story to others.

9. Other members of group collect a token and walk around the exhibition, talking to the other groups’ curators.

10. Give the token to the curator of your favourite exhibit.

11. Each group’s curator will record all the tokens for their exhibit on the scoreboard (we used a whiteboard).

12. The urban myth with the most votes will win a PRIZE!

Over the coming school year, Parkes students will continue to create activites based on EXIT. Staff and students will make and play games based on the themes of mapping, puzzles, escape, and a world beyond the everyday – and you’ll find those games outside of the classroom too, on the school campus and even on the streets of the town.

My personal favourite from Tuesday’s activity was the “Cold War atomic briefcase” whose dual locks had to be simultaneously released to prevent a detonation.

Atomic briefcase myths

I think the students who came up with that need to watch Kiss Me Deadly before too long…

Finding Library Futures, 3: Time Travel at the Speed of Pop Culture

This article looks at Time Travel Detectives, my recent youth activity for Parkes Library in New South Wales. For more on the concept of storylining a public library system’s youth offerings, see TimeQuest – A Scientific Romance for Libraries.

Poster from Parkes Library's Time Travel Detectives event with Matt Finch

Let’s start with science. Australia’s new government might have decided there’s no need for a dedicated science minister, but scientific research is not going to simply stop in Australia. We need to encourage children and young people to develop that sense of wonder which impels scientific research around the world.

I’m currently based in Parkes, New South Wales. It’s a quiet rural town, but one which played a vital part in putting a man on the moon. Its radio telescope, celebrated in the movie The Dish, helped Neil Armstrong to make that giant leap back in 1969.

Invited to make school holiday activities for the September vacations in Parkes, I wanted to find something which respected the town’s history and scientific traditions, but also offered an adventure that looked forward as well as back.

My work is based on storytelling and immersive play. In creating a science-themed activity, I don’t seek to duplicate the work of science educators, but rather inspire and intrigue audiences with an adventure that would get them thinking about the scientific method and the practice of disciplined observation.

Spirit Box
Spirit Box

Read more