6 Jul 2016

The Mind Lab: Frances Valintine

From Nine To Noon, 11:27 am on 6 July 2016

Revolution, not evolution - that's Frances Valintine's prescription for New Zealand's education system.

Frances is the founder and director of The Mind Lab - a public-private partnership that educates children and teachers about digital technology. It was established by Unitec in 2014 and has since expanded to 14 branches around the country.

Read an edited excerpt of their interview below:

What does the Mind Lab do?

We do one of two things actually. On a given day we have four physical labs that teach school groups that come through. I’ve just left the Auckland Lab a few minutes ago and we’ve got 120 kids who have arrived from a school to learn about robotics and electronics today. We have that also in Wellington, Christchurch and Gisborne.

On top of those four labs we have 10 what we call virtual labs where we use the spaces within existing schools and we teach a post-graduate programme across all 14 locations to teachers. So the four labs we teach 40,000 children a year and across the 14 labs we have about 2,000 teachers.

How does it fit into the existing curriculum?

We really are a catalyst for teachers wanting to understand how they can implement new ways of teaching in the classroom, so we’re taking it from a pedagogical approach. So what they’re looking at is saying, how do we bring in technology or how do we bring in new teaching practice? Whether it be collaborative learning, whether it be design thinking or bringing in specialists through Skype. They do that often to spark a conversation back at the school or to launch a new digital approach to teaching. The teachers then come back separately for their own training.

How much of this is about educating students about using technology – having concepts and abilities in technology, and how much of it is about those fundamental learning and cognitive skills that are not necessarily best achieved with technology?

We’re not trying to replace the cognitive processes. What we’re saying is, the foundations of education have to stay the way they are. They are critical to development, but also critical to life.

What we’re saying is, at the moment the way education approaches technology is often to put it in a silo and saying it’s a subject in its own right that we want students (if they choose to go down a technology stream) that this is where it sits, in the lab down the hallway.

Our approach is quite the opposite in saying, actually if you want to really prepare students for the future, it should be an invisible process. Technology should come in as a layer that is almost invisible. For an efficiency and also for collaboration. What we’re saying is, you continue to do the things you have always done in the classroom in terms of the core building blocks of education and learning, but actually if a student can, for example, read a book and then provide a book review back in the form of an animation, which means they can develop the characters with more complexity and they can use a device that is extending their understanding and not replacing… what we find is the engagement levels increase but also the student achievement increases as well because they’re part of the learning process.