Who is in the driver's seat?

Coinciding with National Primary Science Week comes a hard hitting ERO report on Science in the New Zealand Curriculum in Years 5-8.

I think ERO have really hit the nail on the head with this one. The Nature of Science is the "overarching and unifying" strand of NZ's science curriculum yet it often seems left alone, gathering dust in the corner. Meanwhile, the relentless crusade for children's self direction and so-called inquiry learning sweeps depth, substance and knowledge away. All in the name of student voice in learning.

Take a close look at some thinkers who I admire.

Bruce Hammonds blog posting on great science learning. Simple yet powerful.

Kath Murdoch on a very sound model of inquiry learning. A model we all aspire to.

Pam Hook on defining what is actually being learnt. Sorting what the real learning outcomes are.

Perry Rush  - who doesn't have an e-thing I can link to (sort that out Pezza).

All of the people above understand that teachers actually teaching still has a place before, during and after student-lead inquiry.

Don't get me wrong. The importance of student direction and student voice in learning is proven, in multiple research sources, to be the key to really unlocking learning for kids.

This is best exemplified in Graham Nuthall and Adrienne Alton-Lees's work. Please do read The Hidden Lives of Learners. I go to back to my own personal influences from Dewey to Elwin-Richardson and see the importance of the child's own direction of their learning.

So, where has the rot set in? In two places.

1.The focus on the process of inquiry (and ICT which can support it) has over riden the content of the inquiry.

The clamor to have an inquiry model in schools all over New Zealand has lead many schools to drop the ball on the content inside of those inquiry models. The ERO science report has exposed this.

2.The domination of ICT experts in school curriculum design.

Sadly the Jim Ferguson (RIP) prophecy has become reality. Those that did not get on ICT PD contracts in round 1, 2 and 3 got on in rounds 4, 5 and 6 on beyond. The pedagogical rationale was not strong enough to get in. But when those with strong pedagogical rational had all had a crack the others had to be picked to have their turn.

A perverse gang of schools have emerged in the latter stages of the ICT PD programme where the school principals seem happy to let their ICT PD facilitator design their school curriculum.

Frankly, the ICT clique do not have a monopoly on knowing about deep and rich learning. Plotting more ways for children to iPad, skype, googlgedoc, cloud, BYOD, student blog, and LMS their learning will not lead to stronger learning outcomes. Sadly I see lots of Steve Jobs (selling ICT) and not much of Seymor Papert (understanding ICT) in the current ICT PD Facilitator hegemony.

School leaders and teachers who are not ICT strong need to take back the leadership of learning, not all learning goodness flows from someone who knows a lots about ICT. Stop letting them use their knowledge of ICT to drive all of the learning design in your schools. The time is long overdue.

The ERO Science Report has illustrated this.

Let the comment debate begin...


  1. Not sure why my comment didn't come through, but anyway, I asked what you meant by "teachers actually teaching".

    1. Hi Darren,

      What I am getting at with that comment is the need for teachers to be active in their engagement with the learning outcomes of any inquiry rather than excessively focussing on children following the stages of the inquiry and then being happy if he process was followed at the expense of content.

      I am also thinking about the importance of the 'front loading' or whatever name the model gives to the early stages. The role of the teacher as 'guide at the side' is very powerful AFTER the teacher has taken the children to new places and created the wondering. Simply starting with what kids wonder does not cut it.

      Important note: all of this is of course self-reflection on my own practice in the classroom now that I have 20:20 hindsight :-)


  2. I reckon ... without good, sound pedagogy ICT (or insert any innovation of your choice here really)is simply detracting from the learning. UFB is simply more crap faster if you don't know what you're doing!
    ICT absolutely gets in the way of learning in some contexts and classrooms. Process and tools have often overtaken the substance. You DO still have to know stuff. Just because you tweeted, Voice threaded, Voki'd, blogged, stop motioned or pintrested it doesn't mean it is thoughtful, knowledgable or worth the time and effort.
    Surely the aim of science programmes is to get children to think like scientists; to think scientifically. To test, to ponder, to experiment, to learn about things. It is also to understand. There is basic science stuff you need to know and understand to comprehend the world around you.
    Lets not get distracted.

    1. Kia Ora Greg,

      Last year in a conversation in my PLG (Ha! finally used that acronym) we talked about the teacher needing to boldly take children to a new place that they would not have gone to without a teacher being involved in the process.

      "What do you wonder about the rainforest?" Is no substitute for some great immersion/front-loading about a rainforest. This does not have to be a didactic lesson. The flipped classroom model has a lot to offer here. But if new information (teaching) is not provided I bet $100 or more that the kids' questions will be shallow without the teacher input.

      Important note: all of this is of course self-reflection on my own practice in the classroom now that I have 20:20 hindsight :-)

    2. Gregg, further comment to illustrate this, quoting from


      "Make thinking explicit – talk about it and model it One of the most powerful ways to enhance students’ thinking - and their understanding of thinking processes is to ensure that we are as explicit as possible about it as we work through an inquiry. Both the content and the process"

      I love Kath's work but I think we are often explicit about process but not the content. She always offers us a good challenge or two.