Education is trendy

IssuesIn my opinion, the fundamental principles of effective teaching and learning practices have not changed much over the years. Although John Hattie’s “meta-analysis of quantitative measures of the effect of different factors on educational outcomes”1 is controversial, I think the findings2 support what most “with-it”3 educators know constitute effective teaching and learning (timeless principles?).

The challenge is that education has always been political – just do a search in your favourite search engine to be overwhelmed with discussions on politics’ dance with education. It is also quite clear from Sir Ken Robinson’s talk on changing education paradigms4. He highlights that countries all over the world are busy with educational reform because they are trying to stay economically viable and culturally rooted in this era of globalisation.

Another significant takeaway from his presentation is that the schooling system that most of us have experienced as primary, secondary and tertiary students, and likely teach in at present, has been “designed and conceived for a different age”, i.e. “the intellectual culture of the enlightenment and the economic circumstance of the industrial revolution”4. However, we now live in the so-called “Knowledge Age” and “in the Knowledge Age, the ability to generate value through innovation (and the rapid creation of new knowledge) has become the basis for economic development”5. This is creating some trends in education and I am briefly going to discuss the effect of two of these trends on my practice.

Personalisation of learning

The industrial model of education is generally a “one size fits all” approach that does not have space for the “messiness” that is perceived to be part of the “rapid creation of new knowledge”5, a characteristic of the “Knowledge Age”. Although great teachers always have designed teaching and learning experiences that recognise the unique characteristics of each individual in the classroom, it has not been an easy task in a system that ‘standardises’ education for all. In its “Evaluation at a Glance: Priority Learners in New Zealand Schools” report of 2012, the Education Review Office (ERO) encourages New Zealand schools to be more intentional about making a shift towards student-centred learning. One can’t help but wonder how much of a shift has happened in our schools the past four years.

I have found that project-based learning activities in the technology learning area lends itself very well to a personalised, student-centred approach to teaching and learning. Instead of requiring every student in the class to complete a project that follows a “recipe” producing twenty to thirty exact replicas of the same product, students are assigned open-ended projects that they can personalise. One example is the trash-to-fashion unit that our year 8 students are busy with in term 1. Although all of the students are creating garments and accessories from recyclable materials, that is where the similarity stops. Every group is pursuing their own design. It may be interesting to explore whether I need to make technology even more personalised and student-centred by allowing them to choose project topics that are completely their own choice. What do you think?

A responsive and rich curriculum that uses knowledge to develop learning capacity

As mentioned earlier, it has become important in the Knowledge Age to “generate value through innovation”5. One concept that has been around for a number of years but gradually been getting more and more recognition7 as a valuable collaborative and thinking model to encourage innovation, is design thinking8. I have started using design thinking with great success with year 5 to 8 and 11 to 13 students in the technology learning area. I am excited about the possibilities I foresee for this problem-solving approach to develop all of the key competencies9 in my students. I also find that it is making the project-based learning activities that I have planned for my students manageable both for them and for me. Lastly, when design thinking is implemented properly, it is a more student-centred approach to learning and I believe it facilitates the personalisation of learning.

Design thinking can also be used by departments or schools to be more future-focused, or to identify and solve challenges they may be facing. If you are interested in design thinking, you can explore the topic by exploring these online resources.

To lifelong learning!

References and notes:
1. John Hattie. (17 May 2015). Retrieved 12 March 2016 from
2. Visible learning infographic. (2003, 2009). Retrieved 12 March 2016 from
3. “Withitness was Jacob Kounin’s word to describe a teacher’s ability to know what was going on at all times in his/her classroom. This can be as simple as making scanning looks around the room every once in awhile. Kounin said that is was not necessary for the teacher to know what is going on, but for the students to perceive that the teacher knows.” (26 October 2015). Retrieved 12 March 2016 from
4. RSA ANIMATE: Changing Education Paradigms. (14 October 2010). Retrieved 12 March 2016 from
5. Bolstad, R., Gilbert, J., McDowall, S., Bull, A., Boyd, S., & Hipkins, R. (2012). Supporting future-oriented learning & teaching: A New Zealand perspective. Wellington: Ministry of Education. Retrieved 12 March 2016 from
6. Evaluation at a Glance: Priority Learners in New Zealand Schools. (29 August 2012). Retrieved 12 March 2016 from
7. CORE Education’s Ten Trends 2016. Retrieved 12 March 2016 from
8. Welcome to the virtual crash course in design thinking. Retrieved 12 March 2016 from
9. Key competencies. (2014). Retrieved 12 March 2016 from

Photo credit: pasuay @ incendo via / CC BY

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