Thursday, 17 December 2015

Collaboration - Power in Observation

Hobsonville Point Primary School celebrated a the work of its students last night with a small film festival. The films were all student creations, the tech support work, the MC's, Kapa Haka and musical performances all from students. I sat taking all this in, thinking about their journey as learners and it dawned on me, my own journey this year has been immense.

Reprising my journey would be rather self-indulgent ( check out these posts for the journey: seeking a growth mindsetscientist for a day,  Ask the questionSwing thoughts,  Mud,) it is more important to share about the vehicle for this journey.

The ILEs that are being built or redeveloped produce a deprivatised learning space. Sharing the learning space with 2-3 other teachers, having few walls to hide behind, colleagues strolling in and any number of visitors means every move you make is observed. This can be daunting, but it also creates amazing professional development opportunities. I've been privileged to work with amazing people this year, sharing LC4 with many but the bulk of my time has been spent with Lisa and Amy. Both are foundation staff at HPPS and have lived the journey that I undertook this year, often you can feel like you're a beginning teacher again.

In my previous school we did 4 minute walkthroughs and occasionally you'd share some learning space, this gives you a small insight into what your colleagues do and how they do it. As beginning teacher you get observed regularly and do observations of others. Deprivatisation creates opportunities for constant observation of others, their observation of you and leads to real professional development if you open yourself to it.

It it is not the formal observation that is powerful, but it is the seeing each other in action and reflecting afterwards, it is the noticings and wonderings that you share. It is the added value that you create together and the osmosis of teaching tools, strategies and each others experiences. This is the observation that you undertake together in your shared space that I am sure has made me a better teacher than I started the year. In these deprivatised environments you also get to notice how other teachers in their space do their thing and over the course of the year there are many little noticings.

Professional development this year hasn't been attending expensive courses, it has been about watching my colleagues, sharing the space together and being comfortable with constant observation.

Thanks for the year Lisa, Amy, Jody and everyone else I've shared the space with, collaborating with you in 2015 has been a whirlwind and a privilege.

Monday, 7 December 2015

Mud, Fun and a TOD

Me: Stop being so childish!

Student: But I am a child...

Prophetic words from a ten year old during an in-class activity at my previous school.  I'd prided myself on facilitating interesting and engaging activities for the classroom but these words made me chuckle, cringe and then reflect at the time. Since Friday last week they've been ringing in my ears again!

HPPS held a Teacher Only Day last Friday to plan for 2016 and for us that meant contemplating and discussing the Nature of Learning after a report produced by the Centre for Educational Research and Innovation at the OECD. There are many challenges to educators in this report, for our morning we focussed on The 7 Principles of Learning section and reflected on what challenged us or made us wonder about our own practise. 

My students have engaged in a range of projects this year, with varying success, and we have supported, encouraged and provoked their thinking throughout their journey. Understanding each child's learning needs, dispositional needs and interests has played a critical factor in the development of each project. We allow them to experience their own learning pits, but support them to make their way out of it. Some have had some very real deadlines, dealing with outside organisations, event calendars or critical milestones for their projects. This is a lot of pressure for year 4 - 6 children!

As we shared our challenges with our colleagues I wondered about this. Yes, we provide many opportunities for our learners to be stretched academically and dispositionally. But how is this affecting them? Are we overloading them? Are we demotivating them? Could they cope better with more or less? What's my role? I need to know my learners and their motivations, use my teacher voice to enable them to set realistic goals, reframe their objectives for events and projects but most importantly I need to remember they're still children, albeit very competent children. I've taught at tertiary level and while its important to have high expectations of all learners, I need to remember that there are vast differences in capacity and capability between a 10 year and a 21 year old. It seems obvious, but when you've got year 4 and 5 students running day long events and testing their self-directed skills the confusion between children and adults is easier. I ought to avoid this confusion and must celebrate the children as they do what they do best, be children.

Last Monday, we took our children up north for a snorkelling exercise. Observing them out of their regular environment provides much food for the teacher brain. They engaged in their snorkelling activities with zeal, giggles, much laughing at each other's form in wetsuits and the constant instructions from their snorkelling buddies. Throughout the day there were the constant reminders that they're children, excitement at what they saw, horsing about in the water and on land, including an irresistible urge to play in mud! What is the role you would have taken when these kids started playing in the mud? The scaffolding to their snorkelling trip had included many separate trips, experiences and activities, but on the day the magnetism of the mud won out. Children will be children after all and why stop them?

Mud can't be at the centre of all learning though, camp, projects, field trips and shows finish and we return to the classroom. The Nature of Learning challenges all educators to put children front and centre and in my opinion flies in the face of what some schools are doing when they focus on Numeracy and Literacy with little time for anything else. The National Standards don't have to be so dominant in your planning and learning design. At my previous school, my principal spoke passionately about the need for developmental play and hands on / physical activity rather than just improving each child's literacy and numeracy.

The OECD report's Social Nature of Learning recommends children be engaged in meaningful learning experiences alongside their peers, in either formal or informal situations, such situations could include those my former principal longed for. But how much power/control/ego is involved when we presume to be the font of all things educational? The Social Nature of Learning reminds us that there is much that each child can learn with and from their peers and there is plenty of other reading supporting their peers as a powerful learning tool.

Consider for a moment those stressful moments in the day and think what they might be like for your learners. There are so many reasons to integrate play-based learning, physical activity, hands-on activities or even a Reggio-inspired approach. They can mitigate much of the stress for our learners, they'll have something meaningful to do after the excitement of lunchtime, they can experience a world they didn't know exist, make genuine connections with other learners as they share their fascinations and questions,  and most importantly remove them from the grind of learning that some classrooms can become . I appreciate that this won't help them pass their next GloSS or Running Record, but perhaps it will mean your satisfying other individual needs which may result in more success across the curriculum. Prior to reading this report I felt I knew many of my learners emotionally, now I'm sceptical. We know many but perhaps our knowledge of their emotional selves isn't as deep, does it extend past the more vulnerable learners? How well do I know the emotional drivers for each child? What might I do differently to learn about these and how could that impact the teaching and learning? This wondering has me wanting to read more about anxiety, stress and other special learning needs - there goes the summer reading!

Another book laying beside my bed is Ken Robinson's Creative Schools, he worries that there are many distractions which are top of mind for educators. Consider the outside forces you encounter, political policy/agendas,  national priorities, unions, job descriptions, parental ambitions and peer pressures. Both Robinson and the Nature of Learning report place significant attention on the relationship between the educator and the learner. Compounding this, NZ teachers will be thinking about National Standards, the front/back/totality of the NZ Curriculum and possibly thinking about modern learning pedagogy or 21st century learning or some such catch phrase. Is it any wonder that teachers glance knowingly when you say that your learning design is student-centred?

I'm not trying to advocate for a fun-based learning approach, I've posted elsewhere about doing stuff versus purposeful learning and know that within my own learning common there are many structures in place to enable learners to have success. But I'm curious about the balance, particularly with so many teachers running inquiry/passion/project based learning approaches. In the drive to create authentic, connected, purposeful learning that stretches the abilities of all learners, do we run the risk of overloading them. Often times, they've not developed the skills or knowledge to understand that they're being weighed down with too much, not until it is too late anyway. And, furthermore, many children will simply take on more because they feel that they're pleasing the teacher. This is hardly creating the conditions for success. Yes, I'm in favour of students being able to make mistakes or take risks, but this should be done with the intent that they can fail forward, that next time they'll be able to rely on the experience they've gained along the way to know what to do when they face the same scenario again. How are you feeling about being a child now? It seems like being a child could be extremely taxing!

There are many features in this report and the 7 principles are only 2 pages but we need to engage with readings such as this if we are truly to live out the front section of the NZC. Many more posts will result from analysis and reflection based on this document, for now I'm pondering how are children being impacted by the many choices we make for and about their learning. Child-centred decision making is the least we owe our learners and that is more than just numeracy and literacy.

We ask so much of our learners, but for now I must remember that it's ok if they are childish!

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Swing thoughts*

LC4 has 43 children, 3 Learning Advisors, a range of support staff, a wider network of parents & whanau, organisations that we use in a variety of ways and a supporting cast of many. We also have a large number of visitors to the school that drop by, observe, question, reflect and participate in the learning space.

Recently, I took pause to reflect on just whose space is it?  Predominantly, it is the student's space and must reflect their learning, emotional and behavioural needs, this was discussed in a blog post by my colleague Amy at the start of the year. The learning design requires considerable thought, far more than a few colourful tables or bean bags and is the topic of many visitors to our school. But it isn't just the formal planning that takes place. Another integral component are the discussions that take place every day, but there is also a layer of individual/personal choice that is part of the learning design.

Let's consider a recent two-part conversation I had:
Colleague 1 : "We could do goalfish"
Me: "no sounds a bit naff"
Colleague 1:  "it worked last year & the kids loved it"

Later on, this conversation was continued...

We were talking about how many of our learners are requiring more support with following their plan and meeting their goals, this shifted to the deprivatisation of our learning space, a display was mooted:

Me: "We could display but just not the goalfish"
Colleague 2: "I like the idea"
Colleague 1: laughing
Me: "you don't need my permission, it's not my space, it's our space".

That conversation was the catalyst for this blog post. I have wondered a lot about "permissions" this year, within the context of a shared space it seems relevant. Bear in mind, no one is asking for actual permission but there is a genuine need to be considerate. Many of the visitors to HPPS ask a similar themed question: In a shared space who decides the pedagogy? If you want to do something different to your colleagues, is this allowed/tolerated/reasonable?

How would you cope if all of a sudden you shared your present learning space with someone else? Who gets to decide on the pedagogy, management styles, planning frameworks, timelines and everything else that is part of the teachers domain? I'm not referring to your principal, team leader or mentor teacher either. I refer to another teacher in the same learning space as you, each with their own experiences, preferences, styles, strengths and weaknesses. How would you cope?

Swing Thoughts*
(Picture sourced from
At this point I must point out that these thoughts are NOT the ramblings of a teacher experiencing discontent. Merely the thoughts which are bouncing around in my head needing to find their voice. Thoughts which I raise with my colleagues and feel the need to share more widely.  

These wonderings may materialise in different aspects of the day:
  • Teachable moment - how do you run with it? What is the impact on the space/other teachers/overall plan? This means it might be parked for a later date by which time the kids may not care anymore (if they don't care was it worth pursuing anyway?).
  • Reading aloud - Scarcely done but was an integral part of creating a reading culture in other classrooms. Can you sit and read to a group of students, what if it impacts on other colleagues?
  • Innovation - How might we select which innovations should be pursued? Who judges if it is successful? If it hasn't worked for someone in the past does that mean it shouldn't be tried by a different team member?
  • Time management - What if a workshop/conference takes longer than planned? How does this impact on the rest of the days plans? How does this impact your colleague?
  • Workspace - Which space should I/we use for a particular workshop? Do I need to tell my colleague if we are heading to a different space (gym/outdoors/library/boardroom/music room/ foodtech etc).
Many of these thoughts can be dealt with effectively by considering three simple ideas.

Responsiveness: What are you responding to with any learning experience? Is it student voice? Learning needs? A suggestion/feedback from the school community? Curriculum coverage? Your own personal passions? That's The Way We Always Do It?

Collaboration: Are you adding value to the learning space? What if this is duplicating effort from your colleague? How does your learning experience/activity affect the learners as they move between teachers in the space or elsewhere in the school? Are you creating habits/expectations that may not be followed elsewhere in the school?

Permissions: Does it conform to the vision/values for the learning space/school? Is your learning activity well considered? Does it meet a need? Are you prepared to reflect on the activity honestly?

Answering questions with more questions might not seem helpful, its not meant to be. But when an opportunity/teachable moment or pedagogical shift might be on the cards I can't just act like I'm the captain of my ship. I need to consider the impact on those around me.

The cognitive load for any teacher is substantial, its certainly not lessened by being in a shared space given the deprivatisation, collaboration and sheer numbers of children. I won't claim to be a perfect teacher in a shared space (that would be extremely dangerous to believe) but I'm very proud to contribute to the many conversations that drive LC4 as a collaborative and responsive learning space. There are daily reflections, shared observations, wonderings and suggestions for how we move forward together to meet the vision and values of our school. But these all serve to contribute further to the many thoughts that bounce around inside my head!

*In golf, there are considerable moving parts to a efficient and effective swing. Unfortunately, too many thoughts about technique when taking a shot actually serves to confuse the brain resulting in a poor swing. Generally, a better technique is shown when the mind is more relaxed and in flow.  The questions and wonderings I share here are my "swing thoughts"when I'm teaching. 

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Ask the question!

Collaborative teaching can be a scary journey! The deprivatisation might not be your idea of comfortable but it is ever present and places you in a position of constant observation by your peers, at the same time you are privileged to be able to observe them as they go about their teaching. In this environment it becomes easier to be more reflective about your own development and naturally this often takes the form of asking your colleague for their thoughts, observations, opinions and feed forward. Asking questions requires bravery and is relatively easy, being prepared to listen to the answers demands trust and professionalism.

Last week my colleague Lisa and I sat down to discuss how we might proceed with immersion and the next round of projects, we'd just conducted some eAsttle assessment of measurement and geometry and were contemplating whether or not we wanted to run one more week of immersion. I was quite excited about our ability to be innovative with the teaching of measurement but we were mindful that taking another week for immersion most likely would mean a week less for the next immersion/project phase. We both considered the timing and decided that spending a week on some measurement inquiry would benefit our learners as we can excite them about maths again.

Thursday afternoon, I spoke with another colleague, Erin, who teaches in our space 2 days a week to outline some of my ideas: Gardening, Fundraising, Garbage/Recycling and Fitness Activities/Trails. All four could be presented as problem based learning for a mini inquiry throughout the week, in my mind there would be lots of opportunities for us to observe real measurement learning and could lead to lots of responsive workshops for teaching. I got positive feedback and based on this we designed a Reggio-inspired provocation for measurement. I was still slightly concerned that three of these problems did have the potential to become more like a design thinking process though.

Friday morning, actively seeking feedback I went to share my ideas with Lisa. Her response was 'warm but demanding': "I challenge you" to look for something where there will be more DATs / explicit teaching not just an open ended exploration.  For a split second, I did feel personally attacked, but this was my own problem and wasn't in Lisa's tone, delivery or body language. I had gone seeking feedback, not reinforcement and a 'warm but demanding' response had been elicited. Shortly after I was comfortable with the challenge, I don't quite have the answer to Lisa's challenge but am feeling "comfortable with discomfort".  I have spent some time looking for better provocations and activities where there will be explicit teaching, supplementing these will be the observations that will lead to responsive workshops.

My thoughts were leaning towards using some YouTube videos and hands on activities such as building a water clock. But I'm still feeling some dissonance.

As it turned out I wasn't at school Monday ("Man Flu!" You might cry). Lisa had provided work investigating Translation, Transformation, Escher Art, Rotation, mixed with StudyLadder & Khan Academy modules and some teacher led workshops. This was a perfect model of balance for what we were after, exciting our learners about mathematics and providing room for explicit teaching.

Finding that balance can be difficult when planning for learning, sharing a learning space with other colleagues can add further pressure that translates into additional planning time. Its not a competition but it can certainly feel like it. Rather than getting caught up in destructive self-doubt, I believe that careful questioning of my own teaching and planning, should allow for deeper reflection and development. I need to bounce ideas, wonder aloud, share my observations and invite others into my thinking. But if I'm going to ask questions...

I better be ready for the answers!

Sunday, 26 July 2015

#EducampAkl 2105

Work life balance has been a bit of a problem this year.  I've got two young kids at home, a desire to play golf, a passion to pour myself into my new school and did I mention my kids who are almost 3 and 14 weeks old. The notion of giving up a Saturday for professional development at the moment, while attractive, isn't the easiest decision.

As July 25th had approached I'd delicately mentioned to my wife that it was something I'd like to do but recognised it might not work. Thankfully the stars aligned, off to Tamaki College I trundled. Three things were crossing my mind:
  1. What F2F connections would I make?
  2. What would be my takeaways for the day?
  3. What could I offer to the others that were there on the day?
Last year my first educamp had been quite an eye opener and I anticipated lots of PD goodness this time around.

F2F connections
First of all it was awesome to meet Stuart Kelly @stuartkellynz (nice blog post Stuart), Myles Webb @NZWaikato and Amanda Signal @Heymilly. I have different connections to each of them, so it was great to meet them. I caught up with many others that I'd met before, whether fleeting or not so fleeting it is always beneficial having face to face time. Along with others, I find the connection made through Twitter is advantageous but there is nothing like the relationships and connections that are formed through real conversations rather than just 140 character snippets.

Play-based learning
I wasn't sure about this but with an HPPS colleague's voice ringing in my ear, I embraced the discomfort and wandered into this workshop. We're beginning some good discussion about Reggio philosophy at HPPS so I figured I had nothing to lose. One of the participants had been at the same Reggio PD with my colleague, thanks for that connection Kristyn and Amanda. I have a lot of wonderings about Play-based learning that include:
  • How might Play-based learning fit with the needs for LC4?
  • How might provocations be used effectively in LC4? Thanks for the idea of Grand or Petit provocations Caroline.
  • How would our wider school community feel about Play-based learning, especially if this was within LC4 (Year 4-6).
  • Did the #ScientistForADay inquiry have components of Play-based learning? I think it might of, I now need to reflect on whether this was successful using another lens as opposed to the original aims that Lisa and I had at the time.
I'm quite curious as to where our discussions at HPPS could take us, stay tuned I know this will lead to a blog post or two.

Google Cardboard
I didn't even know what this was prior to the start of the day, but seeing Justine Driver talk about her love of the Viewmaster as a child I knew I was in the right place. For a concise description, place your phone inside a cardboard box with some lenses to watch an app, then let the Virtual Reality App do the business! Check out Google Cardboard for a better description. Totally cool and as a toy I want one! From an educator's perspective these are also very exciting. Before the end of the session I had 4 ideas running through my brain. 

Firstly, as a simple writing prompt Google Cardboard could be exciting. We know that children may engage with activities simply because of the addition of digital technology. VR apps that could have a child experiencing another city, a tourism attraction or any such thing really opens up writing opportunities. 

Second (and third), the Hobsonville Point area and even our school are rather new. We could take photos, upload them and then allow others to experience the growth of our area and school through Google Cardboard. This has direct ties to an ongoing project at HPPS and HPSS, opportunities for some authentic collaborative projects here are massive.

The last opportunity, all credit here to @Gmacmanus (pictured). I've been taking part in an interesting little project to assist @NZWaikato and his class as they try collect information on classes so they can recreate them in Minecraft. His learners and mine are operating in quite different classroom environments, Google Classroom would provide a more realistic way to experience each others classrooms.

This was a very cool takeaway for the day, now I have to order me some Cardboard but I think I'd like to get an old fashioned viewmaster too.

What did I offer?
I took part in the smackdown by talking about one of my favourite subjects Kidsedchatnz. My involvement in this is limited to being an advocate these days, but advocate I did. I also posted a slide for #Edchatnz and all of the other education chats on Twitter. I'm glad I did this as it led to a small session where myself and @jacquea provided support for others new to twitter, chat sessions and tweetdeck. 

During this session I also chatted with Michelle Simms who is about to begin a chat session for librarians as the moderator. I know that many of us have now moderated chat sessions and I thought that I might have even seen the odd blog post or two on this, searching for posts online gets you many responses. Perhaps we need to crowd source a Moderators Guide for our Kiwi educators.

Once again, #educampakl has proven to be useful PD. The unconference style really lends itself to be whatever you need it to be, for me the connections, takeaways and ability to give back make for a powerful day. But more teachers ought to engage with educamps as they are so much more invigorating than the one size fits all approach that other PD courses tend to be. Futhermore, if you were struggling to get your school to come to the party with some PD need that you have, you'll more than likely find that need met at an Educamp, or at the very least someone who could answer your questions or point you in the right direction. 

I recognise that giving up another day seems like a big ask, but its only a few hours and never leaves you feeling like you've wasted your Saturday. I wouldn't give up the precious time with my kids otherwise! Educamps have a place in my #Worklifebalance

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Scientist for a day

During the holidays I met with my LC4 teaching buddy to discuss our plans for term 3. We are in the midst of immersing our learners in Digital Age Literacy (see attached image), yes this goes across the term break! Initially we considered some of the activities in our planning document. But Lisa floated the idea of "scientist for a day", in a short space of time this had morphed into we what presented to LC4 on day 1 of the term.

Immersion into a world they didn't know was our main motivation, but we also wanted to excite them, provide a level playing field for some new students in our space and challenge several learner profile statements. It would serve as a great activity for us to observe many possible learning needs.

When the students arrived Monday morning they were confronted with a table that included:
Models demonstrating gears & pullies,
Newtons Cradle,
Models of the brain,
Plant Life Cycle,
DNA model,
Microscope slides with various objects.

The excitement before the had even started was fantastic!

Our first task was watching some short science videos - all conformed to the notion of snackable content. As a class we completed a PMI chart on the style of videos, this was later turned into the criteria/matrix for a science video they would create. The audience would be other HPPS students, each video would explain the particular model/concept the students had been charged with. QR codes would be used to link to the published videos.

Next we broke students into groups of 3 with peers they don't normally work with, they were given a random science model and sent off to brainstorm all their questions and prior knowledge.

Our original idea was that creating the video would take place within the day. However, the first block hadn't elapsed and we'd noticed that the day wouldn't be enough for the task. All groups were highly engaged, sharing their excitement and asking lots of good questions.

After morning tea we provided the learners with a graphic organiser to scaffold their research. We supplemented their journey with more models, texts, wonderings of our own as we modelled noticing things and asking questions to help us understand.

Lunchtime arrived quickly with talk of brains hurting and plenty of sharing their findings taking place. The final block continued in the same vein, except for a short workshop on creating a QR code, which they would need when they completed the filming.

Day 2 included plans to refresh/immerse our learners in several creative platforms (iMovie, YouTube Editor, Screencasting via Quicktime and Explain Everything).

Our learners have been busy researching, writing scripts, creating videos and  generally building their understanding of a small part of the scientific world.

So what's next?

Lisa and I wondered today about whether a second iteration would be appropriate, instead we'll allow a small group to pursue any new wonderings if student voice and needs demand it.

We contemplated whether allowing this activity to run into tomorrow is a good thing. The science literacy and basic literacy is unquestioned, our students are so busy hurting their brains with their learning. While we have shaped, nudged, modelled and questioned each group, the process and its direction has been very student-led, this has meant that very little maths has been integrated. Sharing our thoughts in reflection time as the day ended the students told us about the many measurement learnings they had had.

Students have challenged themselves with their creative skills and the sharing tomorrow shall be enlightening.

Our students have used their research skills both online and in books and we've witnessed them evaluate sources, synthesise information, skim & scan, summarise, plan, craft, and recraft their writing.

Permission to not teach and just observe has been powerful. We have many workshops we will be able to run based on our observations and the students will no doubt have many ideas for new projects, workshops and curiosities to explore. A key moment will be to complete mini-conferences to celebrate each groups learning with their whanau.

Soon we will enter our project phase. An important decision we need to explore is how might we best leverage our immersion activities so that the learning and dispositional needs of each learner is met.

Tomorrow our 3rd day of #ScientistForADay will continue.

Thursday, 28 May 2015

Modelling failure and learning

I recently ran a workshop with some children to assist them on reflecting, in talking about photos and their purpose within reflection I mentioned Thinglink. These learners appeared interested, so I quickly showed them the front page and their interest grew, so I resolved to introduce them this afternoon. 10 children attended the workshop at 1.40pm today, with no inkling of the disaster that would evolve in front of them.

I've used Thinglink with previous classes and figured that as long I knew where this was, today's session would be fine. Hence, I too wandered into my own workshop feeling sure of myself.

Thinglink generated email and passwords.
I'm using a free education account on Thinglink, this entitles me to have students loaded into a class channel using either a Thinglink generated email address and password or students can create accounts using a special code, their own email address (we are a GAFE school) and password. For whatever reasonI decided to pursue the former, within a very short space of time the learners were resplendent in a chorus of "Reid, Reid, Reid". It was reminiscent of a great 'Finding Nemo' scene and a signal that I was heading down a slippery path. They were getting mixed up between their own gmail addresses, different passwords and the Thinglink email. 

Rather than dig myself deeper, a feat I didn't think would be appreciated by the students or the observers visiting HPPS today, I decided retreat was a better option. 

I explained to the group "I knew there were two options for creating student accounts on Thinglink and I should have chosen the other option. Their calls for help signalled the first path wasn't working and I was getting into a learning pit. We need to stop and take the other path".

"We teachers also make mistakes, but it is getting out of the pit that helps us grow. If anyone feels comfortable with this job, you could go to our Learner Profile statements and pick one that you think I need to work on based on this."

A student returned with this:
When asked where I sat on this continuum, she replied that I needed more support! She was right on the money.

With some great conversation to supplement our learning, I had all the students return to the login screen to use the Class Code (right top. But the damage had already been done, the students were still confused and tried using the original Thinglink passwords with the new code, or combinations of Thinglink and their own details. Of course these combinations returned error messages similar to the picture (right below). The chorus started again and I realised I'd just run a complete disaster with very little effort. 

I gave up on the Thinglink aspect of the lesson. There was a bigger lesson occurring.

"Can everyone close their screens please. You are doing everything right but are getting error messages, it is like when a cook follows the recipe but something goes wrong.

We have two options. We can quit, go to our next jobs and forget this ever happened. Or, you can head off to your next jobs and I promise to go away and do some testing so that I can run this lesson again next week. We need to learn from our mistakes so that we can move forward in our learning. What should we do?"

Reassuringly, they all wanted to have another go.

I asked "Have you ever made mistakes and then thought it was easier to give up?"

Unsurprisingly, many of them silently nodded.

I know of many ways that I can make this lesson more successful and deliberate (within the Thinglink aspect).

  1. Run the tests myself using a dummy email. √
  2. Test with one student before running the full lesson.
  3. Write a step by step guide for logging on using the best method. Alternatively, a video would be quite useful also.
I'm hoping that the real lesson was in the workshops failure and not its success. We ask our students to reflect on their learning, its only fair that I write this reflection in acknowledgement of my own.

Thursday, 30 April 2015

Tweeting in LC4

I've been using twitter in the classroom for some time now but am constantly picking up new ways to do things, naturally we're all learning but its the launch of Twitter into the classroom that I'm specifically referring to.

Going into HPPS I was wanting to use Twitter again but was conscious that I'd need to focus my attention elsewhere first and that there would undoubtedly be differences in the approach to what I used at my previous school (blogged here). Some differences featured primarily because of the use of Kidsedchatnz and others more for the use of Twitter generally.

Here are some things we did launching Twitter in LC4 and HPPS more widely:

The launch of a laminated Tweet board for every student in LC4. There are plenty of examples on the Internet but our example allowed for students to draw their own avatar, username and the box at the bottom allows for students to retweet or favourite their peer's tweets on the wall. This is all with the purpose of creating familiarity with the medium.

When an account was established for the school it was decided that the username should be generic for the school. This would allow for minimal clutter/confusion of accounts and that I could manage this account, the school retains control through a collating usernames, passwords and security questions for all social media accounts. For the record, along with other coordinators at Kidsedchatnz we believe that all class twitter accounts should include the username for the teacher in control of the account. This means should a dodgy tweet be sent it is easy to connect with the teacher who deserves to know what their kids have done, when moderating chats with children this provides an extra layer of support that is quite helpful.

Discussion about the use of social media with my co-teacher Amy and our principal signalled that clear communication with our school community would need to take place. This was a marked difference to my previous school but in hindsight is valuable and I would recommend this regardless of school practice. I sent permission forms home outlining the purpose of Kidsedchatnz specifically, as well as placing a poster about Kidsedchatnz on the walls of both LC3 & 4 for our school community to read.

Once these components were all in place I pursued a path which is more akin to what I have done in other years. A couple of classes introducing Twitter, tweeting & Kidsedchatnz for those that are interested. When a Kidsedchatnz session is taking place I now try to ensure that the children are always in pairs so that no inappropriate tweets get through, this doesn't rule out poor spelling or off-topic tweets but that is largely a work-in-progress.

I always have the HPPS kids account on my Tweetdeck as a user column, this provides me with an ongoing record of what the kids are tweeting (as shown).

Some useful things to know if you are launching Twitter in your classroom:
It is possible to revoke permission to the Twitter App from the main Twitter website- a useful tool if you have loaded it onto multiple devices. Just go to Settings>Apps to revoke access.

You can schedule tweets through Tweetdeck, I've used this when moderating the chat sessions as it frees me of the need to post the questions and lets me concentrate on reading all the tweets.

I hope this is helpful for those investigating using Twitter in the classroom.

Any questions feel free to tweet, email or comment.

Sunday, 5 April 2015

Innovation - Term Reflection

"HPPS - wow!" you exclaim.

One of my first thoughts on heading there was how I would be able to push my creativity and innovation in the classroom. Naturally, I would look to include innovation somewhere in my personal goals. We have several goals to set, so within my own Personal Professional Development I decided that I would "Evolve my teaching through innovative and responsive practice".  I could achieve this through the following: 

  • Attend regular professional development in numeracy and literacy.
  • Implement and reflect on innovative teaching practice.
  • Regular professional reading.
I completed all my Individual Education Meetings (IEMs) on Monday and naturally teacher brain decided to redirect its energies rather than relax, reflection on innovation became the focus. How might I have been more innovative? What if this had been my previous classroom? What barriers had I perceived/removed/battled? How might I change my practice in term 2? It is also worthwhile to think about what innovation means, for me it is not a synonym for technology in the classroom. I recently stumbled across a definition (battling to find the reference right now) that included all the 'radical or incremental change' stuff that seems to be always present but for the education context included the important addition that it would add value. 

During reflection I became dubious as to whether I had been innovative and responsive, or more importantly had I added value to Learning Common 4 (LC4) or any other part of HPPS. I decided a good old fashioned stock-take was needed. I needed to simply evaluate each and every tool or idea I'd used this term and make a judgement on whether it has added value.


Have introduced twitter in the classroom to LC4 and LC3. After 1 term students now opt-in on the Wednesday as part of their independent learning activities. There are some regular participants, a few who have decided it isn't for them and for some it depends on the topic. I have remained very hands-off with Kidsedchatnz this term to allow for student voice (a concern I raised in an earlier post) but am needing to check-in with participants early term 2 so they can identify some purpose for their Kidsedchatnz participation, be it literacy, dispositional or topic focussed. 

Immersion Workshop:

Week 5 we held our immersion workshops where all of our staff ran a small workshop to give students an insight into a world they didn't know. This is to help our students find their passions for the Project Based Learning. This term we were focussed on Inventive Thinking. With Caine's Arcade in my mind, my workshop was construction we had Lego, wooden blocks and stacks of cardboard boxes. My workshop was targeted for our Y0-4 learners and from the looks on their faces they had a blast inventing some pretty cool things, including tanks, time machines, boats, mermaid robots (who knew?) and towns. Construction has continued as a theme for some learners as they have created projects inspired somewhat by these early steps. Learners in LC4 also had my lego out for a time which has led to great discussion and writing.

Food Tech Workshops - Burritos & Kebabs
I blogged about this experience elsewhere but since then several projects have been initiated where food is part of the solution. I was also quite proud to hear some students talk about my food tech workshops in their celebrations for the term! 

Cricket World Cup

Heading into the CWC I had identified that there were many possibilities for integrating this into LC4. I waited to observe that I had students interested before using this in any way. I initiated a workshop early on that several boys opted in for, we brainstormed ways that the CWC could be utilised as a learning experience. They were particularly interested in bowling speeds, average speed of a bowler, the impact of technique and the variabilities created by the type of ball that is thrown. For me, new to HPPS, this was an exciting moment. Student voice, responsiveness, integrated & authentic teaching, what an opportunity! Sadly, in the hustle & bustle of HPPS and the learning journey that I was on this didn't go much further. The students managed 1-2 independent time slots focussed on their CWC work before it fell on to the back burner as they entered the immersion and design process phase for their Inventive Thinking projects. This was definitely a missed opportunity for innovative and responsive teaching, it required more steering by me but I was busy trying to juggle my first term requirements.

Design Process 

Early on Amy and I discussed using the Design Process for forming our project groups in LC4, I was excited by this as I had not used as a teaching tool nor been part of the process in any other organisation. Here was an opportunity to make additions to my kete of teaching tools while in the classroom, surely a bonus of team-teaching. I read about Amy's Design Process work with LC2 in 2014, and readied myself for learning. We took several days to move LC4 through the various phases but they came out the other end with their projects and a good understanding of why they were doing their projects. Some students even celebrated various aspects of the Design Process in their IEMs, whether it was their contribution to the ideation, the solution they'd formed as a team or how their dispositions had been challenged or grown. I see this as my first iteration through the Design Process and could write a post about it, but I think this should wait until I have taken more of a leadership role in its use in LC4, that will come when we head into our second lot of projects late term 2.

Reading Opportunities - 40 Book Challenge & Book Chat

Working with several of my readers I identified that they needed some challenge for their reading. They are all very keen readers with well developed reading ability but all tend to read within 1-2 genres. I've talked with them about a 40 book type challenge, emphasis on reading not numbers. I've used the 40 Book Challenge in class before and know it can provide some of the impetus required to take a look at different genres, thus growing our reading skills, vocabulary and general understanding of the world around us. We haven't worried about a way of monitoring the challenge because its the reading that is uppermost not writing about our reading, although Amy and I are wanting to implement some ways to provide some evidence of learning within reading. The 40 Book Challenge awaits as an untapped tool that I have introduced to LC4.

A colleague in Christchurch has developed a twitter-based book chat with her students. I had two of my students participating last year as it provided them with an opportunity to regularly discuss the books they were reading and expand their reading horizons. I have mentioned the existence of this bookchat to some of my students but need to facilitate their participation early in term 2. 

Where to next:
As we reviewed Term 1, I shared my frustration with my self-diagnosed lack of innovative teaching. I knew that my first term would be challenging in a new school but that I didn't feel I'd met my own expectations. The conversation took an interesting spin as we considered the impact our planning had had on this. We'd started with the lofty goal of having every week well planned in advance but ended operating on a just-in-time model as we responded to the needs of our learners. We discussed how this would have a large impact as more planning equates to a longer lead-in time and therefore more time for innovative teaching. Twitter chats, food tech lessons and construction workshops all necessitate preparation and use of any technology is enabled by more prep time also. However, directing a child to a website or app upon a teachable moment doesn't require much prep, just that the tool is top-of-mind at the required point in time.

During these discussions I was reminded of a blogpost that our principal shared with us in our innovation community. It centred on the importance of finishing, that completing a process or inquiry of learning is powerful and allows the learner to practice, develop and understand the various components required for mastery. It provided a challenge, the idea that innovation can lead to lots of uncompleted pieces of work. This reading summed up a conversation I had with another colleague about artistic endeavours that can lead to vast quantities of half-finished work, and frustration for a teacher that the true learning hasn't taken place yet.

In the last week of term 1 Amy was busy downloading information to me that may be helpful in term 2. Learning to operate our robots and what she had done for Coding within HPPS was high on the priority list. It was exciting being the learner again and in the short space of time we spent on this, combined with the reflection about my own innovative practice I felt invigorated. 

I'm still not sure if this was just my own self-doubt created by higher expectations, but the goal deserves the honest reflection and now I have a clearer pathway for term 2. Student voice, innovative teaching practice that adds value, advance planning and all tempered by a renewed emphasis on finishing experiences fully. 

Saturday, 7 March 2015

Weeds, Reflection & Immersion

"That's not all we're learning here".

Words that brought a smile to my eye after a journey into the learning pit or in professional kitchen terms "the weeds" on the Wednesday previous. My thinking aloud throughout this Friday's immersion session hopefully helped the students think about their own personal learning pit experiences.

This week in LC4 we have been working on our reflections as the students have been focussing on the nice, fluffy stuff. Things like "Drama was fun because we..." or "I liked using the robots because..." and while it is important that we celebrate, the purpose for our reflections is to help us improve our learning. With this in mind we spent part of our Learning Advisory time on Monday focussing on reflective writing, reinforcing the purpose of reflection, unpacking what learning is and getting them to draw their learning journey. We also introduced them to and quickly explained the learning pit and a common success graphic (as shown).
Source: Student's blog post

Wednesday, Amy and I planned two different immersion activities. Both were designed to provoke wondering's and introduce the students to a world they might not know about, Amy was taking a robotics workshop and I a food tech workshop in one of the great facilities we have at HPPS. Our learning at HPPS is based on 3 key themes across the year, Inventive Thinking, Digital Age Literacy and Effective Communication as discussed in the NCREL research. These themes are integrated throughout the curriculum and the students all undertake projects in an area they're exposed to during the immersion phase for each theme. Previous to running the food tech workshop I'd established a list of food dislikes that the students have been adding to all week. For the first workshop, I planned a quick tasting session and kebabs.
I'd had a quick tour through the kitchen and knew it was well stocked with equipment and thought that I'd be fine, I enjoy cooking at home and some judicious use of class management should see me though great learning experience for the group. I recognised that there were a number of hazards to mitigate, minimise or eliminate and I would think aloud about the Risk Taking that I was modelling for the children. Daniel popped in just before the session and gave me some sage advice that he uses when running food tech workshops also but I think liked the idea that I was giving this a go.

Getting the class into the kitchen took longer than I thought.The tasting session went fine, but took a little longer than I thought, there were lots of grimaces, smiles, laughs and chatter as they tried chorizo, courgette, whole grain mustard, japanese barbeque sauce and a soy butter sauce. Because they were enjoying the tasting I allowed them to continue but looking at my watch could sense that we would have to work quickly to be finished by morning tea at 11am. As we handed out the ingredients and the children started working I realised that I was in jam. The children's knife skills meant a slower preparation time and that my supervision skills were on high alert, I was constantly bombarded with questions and I didn't know the kitchen as well as I thought. I could hear Gordon Ramsay screaming in my ears, countless reading and viewing of cooking material confirmed in my mind, I was in the weeds and the customers would be waiting for their meals a while. After far longer than I'd planned the children were starting to eat their kebabs, smiles were everywhere as well as a few going in the bin as they found bits they didn't like but this is about risk taking. We were still a mile away from being cleaned up though!

Time for spanner in the works. My phone went, it was my daughter's daycare, she'd had an accident and might need to see a GP or the hospital, they couldn't reach my wife! When I'm deep in a project, event or problem I know that hard work can get me out, I pull out the hard yards and reach the end. It was frustrating to think that this wasn't going to work. Amy had arrived in the kitchen (she'd finished as it was 11am) and told me to go, she'd supervise the clean up. I couldn't even stay to solve my own problem. DAMN!

When I returned to school, Thursday, I learnt that the children still had a great time and I'd had reflection time to figure out what went wrong and how this could be remedied. I knew that I was the cause of this situation, there was no one else to blame. I knew before hand that the kitchen skills and speed of most would be slower, I should have planned accordingly. The questions I could have solved with the use of recipes! A more analytical tour of the kitchen and prepping some of the items before hand all would have helped too. I spoke with Daniel and quizzed him about embedding the literacy and numeracy into food tech and suggested that visuals illustrating chopping/dicing might be helpful.

Friday arrived, time for session 2. Time to do battle again. Ingredients were put on each table, along with a recipe for 3 of the four components for our burritos (one shown, the other two Mexican Rice and chicken with a Mexican rub). I'd thought far more analytically about the time management and decided that the tasting session would be for children when they had a free moment or completed jobs. One recipe I'd written myself based on something my wife and I love, I'd included some visuals of what each part looked like to assist the children. 

I outlined what we were going to do, how I'd changed the format of the workshop based on my reflections and that I was confident the changes would make it a better experience for everyone.

The children dived into the work and I was able to facilitate their immersion far more ably. The questions that were arising could be answered quickly and prevented problems from spiralling, we were being efficient with our use of time and working relatively cleanly. This meant that I was able to spend some time helping some with knife skills, some talking about the meaning and process of simmering, some we talked about fractions and there were some excellent little moments where the recipe wasn't followed but the right outcome was reached. I noticed late in the piece that 1 group had used a medium sized tumbler for their cup measures, on Monday I plan to try a little comparing exercise with them. All in all, I never once felt like I was in the learning pit or the weeds. 

So when some visitors popped their heads into the kitchen and the children wanted to share their learning, I was super proud. "Learning to cook?" the visitors questioned.

"That's not all we're all learning here," one wise student replied.

Preparing burritos (Clockwise from top left): Ingredients & recipes on tables,
students working independently chopping meat and vegetables, reading our recipes,
cooking and cleaning up as we go.

Saturday, 28 February 2015

Day 28 #28minutesofWriting - 784 minutes later

Entering the #28daysofwriting challenge I thought it would be great to get back into the habit of blogging and increase my page views. This was quite a self-involved motivation and but I also knew that through regular reflection and writing I would be able to make more sense of my first steps on the journey at Hobsonville Point Primary School. At some stage in the future I knew that this would pay dividends.

I haven't posted for the last two days but I have posted far more days than I've missed, have learnt far more than I had imagine and helped to formulate some strategies that will assist my professional and classroom practice for a long time. Not all of these lessons revolve around explicit teaching practice but need to be outlined nonetheless.

Professional reading:
While my initial involvement with this blogging challenge was far more selfish, the 28 minutes of writing has been far exceeded by my professional reading throughout. Reading many blogposts has inspired, challenged and taught me a huge amount. It has created a reading list that will take me a long time to complete if ever. I use to regularly read several colleagues blog posts but this number has increased dramatically. Most importantly, I have read posts that have held different views to my own. Two texts I've been inspired to read are Game Storming and Drive. Game Storming was purchased by Amy and we've already integrated successfully one of the activities we uncovered in there.

Writing Style:
I still find that I am reluctant to comment on the many posts I read (hence my enrolment in #28daysofcommenting). Some have made me feel quite inadequate as a writer - I strive to write to the level of some of the posts I have read. I have recognised for a while that I am sometimes not as analytical as I need to be, HBDI analysis confirmed this showing that my last thinking preference is Analytical/Logical but it isn't far behind. Reading posts I have established that my ability to integrate evidence based analytical thinking in a natural writing style is weaker than I would like it also. Between Ewan McIntosh and locally Steve Mouldey, I've found blogging styles I'd like to emulate but I've also appreciated the raw energy and emotion behind other posts. 

Reflection - remove your ego:
Warm and demanding is the ethos at both Hobsonville Point schools, it can feel very confrontational initially but if you can strip the ego from your thinking and deal with the issues then reflection can become very rewarding. Challenging myself to remove ego or baggage from my thinking as I have approached some of my posts and my general 'unschooling' at HPPS has resulted in many interesting discussions. It's also allowed me to consider whether any tool/programme/activity/assessment is best for anyone learner. I think it is best summarised by attributes which feature in the HPPS Mindset continuum. 

Sharing, Caring and Bewaring:
I'm not sure if Bewaring is actually a word but being aware just didn't sit right on the page ;-) I've enjoyed the commenting and community of writing that has grown from Tom's #28daysofwriting but it has also led me into discussions and posts that don't feel comfortable personally. In several posts I've made sincere efforts to confront thinking that may be challenging for others, clearly public forums such as a blog are dangerous tools. Currently, I'm reading Jon Ronson's new book So You've Been Publicly Shamed, a book which covers the negative exposure that can unwittingly be secured through social media. This is the world that we tread with our virtual support networks. Sharing, caring and bewaring has to be uppermost in our minds.

Goal Setting:
Throughout the 28 days I have queried much of my thinking and in this quest I have read many different posts, it has made goal setting for 2015 quite difficult. I have got to a point where I recognise that Student Voice, Design Thinking and my own capacity to think analytically will most likely form parts of my professional objectives. How these will actually shape up I'm not entirely sure.

28 minutes never seemed like a difficult target, but 28 days of writing certainly did! Although I didn't meet 28 days, I know I've definitely met the target on average (28 days x 28 minutes = 784 minutes). 

Cheers Tom, thanks for the journey and I look forward to our next 28 days commenting.

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Day 24 #28Daysofwriting - Choice or Voice?

"What is the difference between student choice and student voice?
How you using student voice to inform learning in your learning common?
How are the activities you have in your learning common responding to the needs of your students? Or do they just keep them busy?"

These 4 questions were posed in our staff meeting this afternoon, the example being whether I had considered these in my enthusiasm to bring Kidsedchatnz to HPPS. I know that the example wasn't a personal attack, more an extension of the "Warm and Demanding" culture at the Hobsonville Point Schools. But as I quickly pondered these questions I decided that Kidsedchatnz does deserve this lens being put to it. Not just for its use at HPPS but for its role in schools as we seek to grow it. 

Some readers will know that I am one of the coordinators at Kidsedchatnz and love what we have done with participation increasing significantly since it began. I've posted about it frequently (e.g., here and here) and it has been integral in my own PD as my role and enthusiasm has grown.

I sat in the last block this afternoon running a workshop to introduce a variety of Yr 4-6 students to twitter this afternoon, in preparation for the first chat this afternoon. All of them would have a range of learning and dispositional needs. Without rambling through how each child's needs are met, I think there are still valuable questions and answers contained within a focussed reflection.

Core Education outline successful student voice (in relation to MLE's) as being:
  • do students have ‘the power to act’ in the MLE?
  • are all learners empowered to make choices and decisions about how, where, what and when they learn?
  • are learners a part of their own learning support network within the MLE?
  • Is the design of the MLE adaptive to learner needs and ambitions? (
Where does Kidsedchatnz fit within the lens of choice versus voice? Kidsedchatnz and the topics that have been used have always relied to a large extent on student voice, over time our team of coordinators have accessed our participants to establish topics, questions and activities. But is this the voice that is required? If I am the moderator for the week, I've always posted a topic using my class to generate the questions, but the weeks that I'm not the moderator I can't say that it is my student's voice, but this is where choice comes in I would argue. I've always given my learners the option to take part in a chat session, if you're not interested in talking about EOTC or Science you don't have to participate. 

Once in a session then student voice is obvious, the children have agency to express themselves within the topic, and can support, question and discuss the topic with other students. In the past, I have watched as different students engaged in quite different learning conversations based on their own interests.

How you using student voice to inform learning in your learning common?
I have to confess that Kidsedchatnz is a 'programme' I have experienced success with and is easy for me to fall back to/rely on. This is the worst form of teaching we've discussed with Daniel, when things are tough or we're in the Learning Pit, we can revert to what we know. However, while Amy will be confirm that I've been proactive in pursuing Kidsedchatnz being used at HPPS, I've been very pragmatic. I know that should demand (aka student voice) not be there, then I can not reasonably continue to dedicate time to Kidsedchatnz. 

If I am sensible about HPPS involvement in Kidsedchatnz and use student voice then I will be looking at student interests and where possible looking to create an opportunity for my students to really express their voice. 

We have also used flipped lessons and activities as a precursor to the chat sessions. Student voice could be used here, creating an activity that students want to do with the follow up being the discussion questions formed by the learner.

How are the activities you have in your learning common responding to the needs of your students? Or do they just keep them busy?
I once ran into a topic that my students at HNS just weren't interested in, but I also use to have 1-2 other activities on offer. At the time I would argue that these additional activities were responding to student voice and worked against Kidsedchatnz participation, a student even told me that I should make the options less exciting. Using the warm & demanding lens, I'm not sure I would now judge them as being responsive but hindsight is 20/20. At the time I'd blindly ploughed on and believed that the options needed to be less exciting, but if they were truly responsive then Kidsedchatnz should have been the option to remove.

I am confident that using voice & observation my learners will be able to meet many learning and dispositional needs though Kidsedchatnz. For some learners, participation in any given week may lean towards being stuff they do rather than a great learning experience. But if they were to exercise discretion around the topics they engage with, and fully extend themselves in those chat sessions then it ceases to be stuff and becomes the awesome collaborative and connected communication experience it can be.

Kidsedchatnz will be under intense scrutiny at HPPS, I think this is positive and if the scrutiny is warm and demanding then it may signal an awesome growth period for my beloved Twitter-based chat. In the afternoon, Amy and I run responsive workshops (e.g., Movie making or Garageband). The workshops are set up to help with a need that we have observed, students can lead them and they generally need to opt-in for these workshops. We will easily be able to identify if students are not opting in, each days planning is there for both Amy and I to see and it will quickly become obvious if my time could be better spent elsewhere. Although, if Kidsedchatnz was to truly become responsive then maybe there are some amazing opportunities that could be pursued.

Student voice or choice? Or just stuff?