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Days 2 & 3 of Learning Environments Recent Annual Conference.

Keynote – Dr Jordan Nguyen, Founder of Psykinetic

The first keynote on day two from Jordan Nguyen was one of the highlights of the conference. It was even more remarkable considering he was a late replacement for Richard Gill speaking on the power of music education. I had been looking forward to hearing from Richard before he pulled out the week before for personal reasons. With an interest in music I had volunteered to write a blog piece for LEA. I was far more comfortable considering music than Jordan’s focus on disability. The conference conveners Anne and Daniel did a stunning job after years of organisation to find Jordan within 26 hours’ notice.

Jordan’s talk had two remarkable threads. The first was Jordan’s own story. Echoing some of the comments from Claire Madden’s talk on the third day, Jordan was lacking direction until he found his sense of purpose. An accident leads him to consider a life with disability. Through this life defining moment, he found his “why”, to improve the life of people with disabilities.

A series of examples then illustrated the ability to use technology to change people’s life’s, the emotional human side from the use of technology and some of the possibilities that kids growing up now with access to technology can achieved. Hi TEDx talk is titled “Technology is Reinventing Humanity”. It opened my eyes to the extent that technology can change us.

I was impressed with his focus on developing technology that is accessible, achieving more with low cost components. People often think I should be using some new robot leg reported on the news, when in reality there is no funding for half million-dollar prosthetics.

An example of changing someone’s life, was the creation of a vehicle that Riley, a boy with cerebral palsy could drive with eye movement. Through Riley’s extraordinary concentration and determination, he was able to drive the car through an obstacle course. He was able to control involuntary movements, they had been told couldn’t be stopped.

The emotional human issues with technology was illustrated by creating a virtual avatar of an elderly Italian man that could interact in virtual reality with his wife. What will this be like to do this when he is no longer there. It might be wonderful for a grandson that never knew him, but difficult for those that did, a virtual ghost.

Threads – Revolution

Next were three workshops next, each named after the 3rs conference theme. I went to revolution run by an American teacher who had been both a student and teacher at the famous High Tech High and was now living in Australia. (did anyone get his name?)

He related how students owned the space at High Tech High. If you watch the movie “Most Likely to Succeed” which follow a semester at the school, you can see that spaces are often cluttered and maybe a bit untidy. This was later contrasted with a description of his current school, where a new building was so expensive and precious the students couldn’t put anything up on the wall.

Then we had a real test, teaching us that we often got competitive trying to finish an activity which was only achievable if we worked together. We need to work on collaboration.

On Tour 201 St Ignatius’ College

My tour this day was a more in depth visit to one school, St Ignatius’ College in Riverhead. After a trip through a stunning part of Sydney we arrived at the school’s original heritage building. I could swear it was bigger than New Zealand’s parliament buildings, in majestic setting overlooking Lane Cove River. It was an apt starting point for a school that is has a future focus based so strongly on a deep understanding of its own past and the Jesuit educational tradition.

“Education of youth is the transformation of the world”

A stunning old Jesuit saying quoted by the principal

Following an extensive master plan study the school have just (or just about as workers were still in some areas) completed the Therry Building, their first new learning spaces for some time. The building is intentionally a hybrid transitional space. It contains both more open informal learning spaces as well as traditional classroom spaces. This is seen as a way of not moving too quickly. It will be interesting to see how this approach works and the use of the building develops. It contrasts with some other views, that while there is still a place for some direct teaching spaces, you have to make the leap to a new approach. On our visit, most of the teaching was in the classroom.

The architects showed a determined commitment to creating a building that did not rely on air conditioning for cooling. This was done by a “building as tent” approach where it fully opened through an extensive series of louvres both external and external. There were even louvres between the classrooms and other space which did allow the sound to travel when teachers were direct teaching. This contrasts markedly with our approach not to rely on air conditioning at Makoura College. Here, we created an airtight highly insulated that can keep out the hot outside air in summer while relying on mechanical ventilation with heat recovery.

Day Three

Keynote – Claire Madden

The conference finished with the last two keynote speakers. Claire Madden is a social researcher that has written extensively on the Gen Z, the generation that followed Millennials and has just started to reach adulthood.

I have always struggled with the idea of categorising groups and individuals. I think people can be both introvert and extrovert. Each generation seems to be criticised in their youth – “the youth of today”. Millennial's were unemployable, my generation were slackers, Baby Boomers were dropouts and I have read accounts of those that despaired about the youth in New Zealand at the turn of the 20th century.

What did resonate though, is the significant impact of being the first generation to grow up with the smartphone. Following on from Jordan Nguyen’s theme of how technology can profoundly change humanity, Claire noted the effects of growing up in a virtual social media world. A breadth of connection is traded for a depth of relationship. There are mental health issues we need to better understand. Now more than ever, there is a need to create spaces with a sense of community and belonging that provide face to face interaction.

Keynote – Peter Hutton

The last speaker brought the conference full circle from Pasi’s talk on day 1. Peter, who had consulted with Pasi, was the principal that under saw a transformation of Templestowe College. With an almost military zeal that seemed to sit uneasily for some, Peter made a revolutionary call to arms to transform the education system from the bottom up rather than top down.

What stood out for me was the extent of student agency they had developed at Templestowe. All students had individualised learning plans. Over 80 businesses were in operation by students. 10% were employed in running the school. Students were involved in staff selection and provided feedback to teachers. Spaces were curated by the students.

On to the next

Now back home, Learning Environments New Zealand is working hard on organising the 2020 LEA regional conference in Christchurch. This will also be LEA’s 20th annual conference. We will be announcing it at the Perth conference next year. Quite something to live up to after this year.


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