South Taranaki schools succeeding in ICT

Guest blog by Lorraine Williamson, Principal of Opunake Primary.

A group of four rural schools in the South Taranaki region have made a commitment to explore new technologies and how to best implement them in their schools. The MOA Kluster, as they call the group, attended the 2016 International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) Conference to learn new technologies and forms of collaboration that will impact what and how their students learn. Read about their experience of attending the ISTE Conference, and how they have implemented changes since, as written by Lorraine Williamson, Principal of Opunake Primary.

In 2014, we formed a group called the MOA Kluster, comprised of four rural South Taranaki schools - Matapu School, Opunake Primary, Auroa School and Kaponga Primary. Since this time, all four of our schools have been on a journey led by the principals to implement e-learning in our schools effectively.

During 2016, our cluster was fortunate to receive $8,000 in funding from InternetNZ for our four rural principals to attend the ISTE Conference in Denver USA. We were astounded and extremely excited to be amongst 16,000 educators from over 50 different countries at this amazing conference.

With digital technology becoming such an integral part of the New Zealand curriculum it was important to us that we kept up with best practice, not only for our own professional development but also for the benefit of our students. With the information technology sector as one of the fastest growing sectors in New Zealand, and with such a high demand for skilled graduates, we needed to ensure we were on track to provide our students with the necessary dispositions they require to succeed in this world.

We attended an enormous array of workshops over the four days. What I found stunning was the level of expertise and the availability of the presenters. I attended a workshop with Aaron Sams and Jonathan Bergman, on ‘Flipping Your Classroom’ which is a new model reversing classroom and homework elements. Short video lectures are watched at home before class, with classroom time devoted to exercises, projects, or discussions. This presentation got me thinking - this is a highly effective strategy for immersing students in their learning. It allows students to access a lesson several times to clarify their learning. Some of my colleagues have decided to follow up on this teaching technique, and we are taking 9 teachers and 2 principals to Wellington later on this year to consolidate our learning. We have started to “flip” our classrooms and now we want to build greater capability in our teaching staff.

We attended workshops on robotics, computer science, and using Google tools effectively in the classroom to name a few. As a result, we now have a systematic plan where we start introducing these skills and knowledge to our students when they first join us at five years old and continue to grow this knowledge through their whole journey with us. Our plan also looks at how we involve our parents in a meaningful way and provide them with the knowledge and skills so that they can support their child’s learning process.

We gained valuable insight into the future direction of STEM, digital literacy, and technology.  We have since purchased resources such as “DOT and Dash” and “Ozobots” to enable our students to learn through doing. We have also begun to investigate code.org after meeting Hadi Partovi, the launcher of the programme, during his presentation at the conference. Meeting and listening to Hadi confirmed that this is an amazing resource which we will use quite widely in our school. When we returned from ISTE, I asked my teachers to complete code.org’s The Hour of Code – an introduction to computer science and computer programming. Today teachers at my school undertake self-paced professional development based on teaching the Hour of Code effectively.

The most powerful aspect of the conference was that it reinforced and extended on the pedagogies that we had already begun to be immersed in. The bulk of the workshops, playgrounds, participating and sharing forums, lectures, and ignite sessions that I attended, grew my knowledge and understanding of STEM, computational thinking, flipped classrooms, coding and robotics, makerspaces and Google classroom.

Attending this conference has enabled myself and the other principals to further develop many initiatives in our schools. As a cluster we have been focussing on moving our schools forward using a digital platform. Until we attended this conference, “we didn’t know what we didn’t know,” but after spending several days listening to amazing speakers and attending useful workshops, we were literally mind blown.

Since attending this conference, my thoughts about the strategic direction of our school have changed dramatically. With technology and digital literacy developing at such a rapid rate, it’s important that as a school we remain relevant and at the leading edge.

We have now developed an overview of where we were and where we want to be heading in light of our new learning. We have since introduced many new technologies into the school on a trial basis. We have tinkered (a computational thinking skill) and we have pushed some students to see what they are capable of achieving and teaching others. We have invested in employing a staff member whose role is to support teachers when they are trying a new approach to technology and help to troubleshoot any issues while scaffolding new learning.

I could spend hours going through the many fantastic learning opportunities that ISTE provided, but rather I would urge readers to find out for yourself by visiting the ISTE website. This years conference will be held in San Antonio Texas. This would singularly be one of the best professional development opportunities I have attended in my time as principal. It was made even more powerful by being able to attend with my colleagues and interact and build ongoing working relationships with a number of ISTE presenters and other attendees from all around the world, all facing similar technology based challenges in their schools.

If you are interested in pursuing digital literacy and computer science, here are a few names or topics we are interested in pursuing further.

I would like to sincerely thank InternetNZ for enabling the MOA Kluster to attend the ISTE Conference. This has definitely changed my pedagogy and, as a result, changed the learning opportunities for teachers and students at Opunake Primary School.