Monday, August 15, 2016

Education: Next Generation - Alfie Kohn

Alfie Kohn - Encouraging Collaboration rather than Competition 
Education Next is a free online conference that brought together a range of leaders in thinking and pedagogy.  Below are key notes from Alfie Kohn's presentation around the concept of collaboration and schooling.

- Reflective Rebels
- Creating their own questions as educators, rather than imposed curriculum
- Powerful, responsive and thinking learning vs passive learning
- Starting with questions, problems and projects vs facts, skills and separate disciplines
- Students involved in curriculum
- Empowering kids to look at institutional changes and looking at changing structures, rather than acquiring skills and fitting in to norm
- Fixing the kids to fit the system e.g. skills to fit the system and navigate it
- Challenging and changing
- Asking questions about the system itself, the system and what changes need to be made
- Navigating away from a 'fact based' curriculum
- Responsive to needs vs planned pathways and 'canned' ways of 'managing'
- Punish/reward = control
- Who are your networks/colleagues/relationships that will support rebellious thought and reflect on research/concepts/thinking to make shifts in practice that are student central

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Overdrive - eBooks

A not so recent discovery that has been a fantastic find is the app 'Overdrive' which is a eBook reader for the NZ and worldwide libraries.  I was led to this app through the Auckland City Council and my love of books.  It's a great app for adults and even better for students with devices and it's simple and free to access and use.

I'm going to share from the perspective of Auckland City Library - as this is the library I use. However, a quick google, led me to an article saying around 40 NZ libraries had signed up to using Overdrive as one of their core apps (there are several others) to deliver eBooks through.  All you need is to be a member of the particular library in order to issue books.

To use Overdrive, you simply need to download the app which is available on apple and android, as well as a web version.  From here you need to add a library through the side bar, log in using your library card number and you are away.  The app is simple to navigate and move through.  The tool bar on the left hand side gives you access to your library, bookshelf and more.

When searching for books a small symbol on the top right hand corner tells you automatically if they are in (black book) or currently issued (grey book).

 By tapping on the book cover, it takes you to more in-depth information about the book where you can download a small sample of the book, read a blurb, see how many copies are available and how many 'holds' there may currently be on a title.

If the book is currently issued you are able to reserve a book by using the 'Borrow' function. You are able to change options easily and see how many people are ahead of you in the queue before you can get your hands on the book.  The brilliance of this 'holds' area is that you can set up an email alert to let you know when the book has become available for you.  You can set the book to automatically be added to your shelf when it is yours to read. Very handy!

A simple layout of the 'Wish List' - which are the books you would like to come back to at another time.

The account area gives you a quick glance to where you are for issues, holds and how many books are currently available from your wish list too.

I know I have enjoyed watching the range grow and develop.  Overdrive is also involved in the library Big Read - a global event which happens once a year, where 2 books for children/teens are available to read.  People are also invited to take part in the discussion through twitter and blogs.  

Just a quick overview of the Overdrive app - my students have enjoyed beginning to use it and the luxury of having free eBooks at their fingertips.  Happy reading!

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Key Competencies for the Future

Key Competencies for the Future was release mid 2014 and explores the history, idealogy and understandings of New Zealand's Key Competencies.  The authors; Rosemary Hipkins, Rachel Bolstad, Sally Boyd and Sue McDowall look at the Key Competencies from many angles and examine the important place that they have within our curriculum.

Right from the start of this book there were key elements and statements that stood out to me that really highlighted the importance of the Competencies for teachers.  Particularly of interest was the concept of how even though the Competencies stand alone, they have to stand together.  You cannot also look at them in isolation and piecing the picture together of how they fit and work together in the wider world is key to us as educators supporting our students with them.

"Key Competencies are actually cross-cutting of each other.  We pull them apart to understand their individual character, but it's also important to stitch them back together when we put them to work in real contexts" - KCFTF (Key Competencies for the Future) Pg 16

I've really enjoyed following the VLN thread and webinar that happened as part of the Connected Educator Month - you can watch the webinar with 3 of the authors here.  It's worth the watch and listen, even if you aren't currently reading the book.

There are such a wide range of concepts that stood out to me personally and for my practice and I particularly enjoyed the thinking around 'wicked problems'.

Wicked Problems: the idea of students being involved in real future focused problems that have relevancy and impact for their world.  Concepts such as food security, sustainability, pollution and more.  These are large scale problems that are difficult or impossible for people to solve due to a number of reasons, such as perspectives, scale etc.  Read more on Wicked Problems here.  Through this I was questioning how really future focussed our practice and selection of negotiated learning avenues have really been?  Are they big enough with far reaching consequences that surpass the students' time in school.  At uLearn I have had the opportunity to attend workshops run by Tom Barrett of NoTosh - in these workshops I have begun to explore Design Thinking further.  Many comments and conversations with my colleagues during this workshop filtered back to themes and ideas from the Key Competencies for the Future book.  Particularly around Wicked Problems, provocations and the design thinking journey.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Learning from Colleagues

Today I had my CRT (Classroom Release Time) in New Zealand we get 2 of these days per term.  It depends school to school how these days are used - in my school we are able to choose how we spend these days to best meet our needs.  So this means it can be anything from creating resources, viewing classrooms, testing, or one of the other million things we often have to do in our classroom lives!  This term I have been lucky enough to spend time viewing teachers from 2 other schools as well as my own on these classroom release days.  

I personally think that the more time we can spend with our colleagues and viewing other colleagues/classrooms the better.  It helps us to reflect on our own teaching and understandings to build upon these.  It helps us to view other ways to teach, to support and to learn alongside our students.  Even if you don't particularly agree with the way that person is teaching - there are things to take from those situations.  To reflect on and question how the way you support your students and if it is the right way for them.

"Everyone you will ever meet
knows something you don't"
- Bill Nye

This isn't something new or revolutionary - yet to me it speaks volumes.  In teaching I am continuously in awe of my colleagues, within school and within my PLN, on a daily basis.  There is always something new, different, exciting, thought-provoking or innovative happening to support our learners.  Conversations and reflections happening that will make changes or just reinforce that the road we are travelling, however slow, is the right one for them.

So, on Friday I spent some of my time in 2 of my colleagues rooms - different teachers at very different stages of their careers.  But each offering something to their learners that is right for them.  The time that I spent in these rooms and the time these teachers took to speak to me was hugely appreciated.  

In the first classroom I had the opportunity to see how in-depth and well thought out use of thinking tools and questioning was making a huge difference to the learners.  They were able to draw on knowledge and vocabulary to 'compare and contrast' different people of greatness.  They recognised different thinking tools and how they could be used to inform their investigations.  I enjoyed the conversations with the students and was so impressed in the way they could articulate their learning pathways using the thinking tools to support them.  There was a lot of visible thinking happening.  The conversation with the teacher supported the importance of visible thinking and thinking tools to support our learners.  It made me more aware of the choices I was making or not making in regards to thinking tools that would make my learners delve deeper and make connections between learning.  The teacher was carefully choosing thinking tools from her extended knowledge that would best cater and support the learners.  She was teaching them about why they would use the tools and helping them to extend these tools out into their everyday lives.  We were able to talk about a range of systems and ideas she has running through her classroom - what they looked like and why she had chosen them.  It was great to consider a different perspective on some things that happen daily in my classroom, and also some things that could happen more.

The visit to the next teacher was to see what she was doing as part of her writing programme.  This  year I have been investigating and re-working my writing programme, so I was interested to view another viewpoint or way of teaching.  I had heard through several teachers of the work this teacher was doing to inspire a love of writing in her students using a 'Writer's Cafe'.  So, on Friday afternoon I entered a classroom where, laid across the tables, were trays of brown sugar meringues for the students to enjoy.  The awesome thing was not the food (even though it was amazing) but what was happening around the food...  students spread out in small groups, pairs and solo writing. Writing. Yes, Friday afternoon and the room was a buzz of little authors who were penning their very own stories, chapter books, poems and more.  One group of 4 girls didn't bat an eyelid the whole time I was in the room as they were so engrossed in working through their storyline.  The thing for me wasn't the food, or even necessarily the writing.  It was the way this teacher had seen a need for her students and explored new ways of making this happening.  The food relaxed the environment - it's designed to be just like a cafe, where you pop in for a drink and a bite to eat and casually do your work... no pressure... no time constraints.  It is working for her kids.  She gives them the environment they need to be successful and she is seeing amazing results because of this.  It was a great opportunity to talk to the teacher about what teachers are doing with writing and how we support kids in their passion and love for writing.

It was such a valuable day and I walked away from these classrooms inspired.  I went back to my room to scrawl many notes, new ideas, reflections, thoughts and questions.  For me, it's not about replicating ideas and teaching styles, but rather about questioning my own, so that I am constantly monitoring how I can be doing the best for the learners in my room.  These teachers were listening to their students, their needs and wants and making changes to their classroom because of this.  Both talked of their own journey and learning pathways they had undertook to make changes in their classrooms that were benefitting their students.  I walked away in awe of two very inspiring teachers.

So, my challenge to you, is this...  If you haven't been out and explored your colleagues classrooms in your own school or others this year - make it your goal for Term 4.

"The most valuable resource that all teachers have is each other.  Without collaboration our growth is limited to our own perspectives"
- Robert John Meehan

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Digital Modelling Books - Part 2

This is Part 2 of the previous blog post detailing how I create digital modelling books.

My class setup is an apple TV and TV.  When I am working with a group I link my iPad to the TV via the apple TV through airplay.  This allows whatever is on the iPad to be shown on screen.  My go to app for modelling books has been the handwriting app Penultimate, because it is part of the Evernote family and easily links back to Evernote for keeping.  Penultimate allows you to keep handwritten notebooks of information, which can then be kept in the app or shared to a number of other apps/websites e.g. Google Drive etc.

Penultimate is basic and it's one of the things that I love about it.  It does it's job and does it well without trying to be overly complicated.  It has different coloured pens, eraser, cut, paste and different options for paper types.  Everything I need with no pointless extras.  Everything has a purpose and it serves it well!  It is one of my go to apps in a lot of areas.

Throughout the teaching workshop students and myself record key ideas, information, working out etc into our notebook and at the end of the session it is shared across from Penultimate to Evernote.  Because of the way I have it set up as being a shared notebook, it means that as soon as the Penultimate notebook is synced to Evernote the students can access it via our class website straight away.  This is a huge bonus for me, as the teacher, as I don't need to go back and post content, change it etc - it's available with minimum time.

Adding Content to Shared Evernote Notebooks

Open up Penultimate and it will ask you to sign in - this is to your Evernote account.  So you can enter the same details from your Evernote account above.  If it doesn't ask for this straight away click on the cog in the top left hand corner to link Penultimate to your Evernote account.

Now you are free to start a new notebook by clicking on the plus symbol in the bottom left hand corner.  It will open a new notebook for you to work in.  You will see the main tools, such as pens, eraser, cut, undo etc, down the right hand side.  Extra tools such as adding pictures, changing the paper type, sharing options and more down the left hand side of the screen.

Once you have completed working in the Penultimate notebook click on the home button which is on the top left hand side (it looks like a house).  This will return you to the home screen.  The next step is to share this notebook to Evernote and place it in the correct Evernote maths groups notebook.

The home screen in Penultimate is where you can access all of your Penultimate notebooks. To view them all scroll across to view the different notebooks you have. 
On the home screen you will see three options directly underneath the notebook you are working on or wanting to share.  Click on the first option for 'share' which then gives you the option to 'open in...'

Scroll across to the right and you will see an option for 'Open in Evernote' - click on this.

It will process your notebook into a PDF format and then open up Evernote with the following image.  This is your new note inside Evernote.  The PDF option you see inside the note area is your Penultimate notebook that you have just created.  On this screen you need to rename your note (the first line) and then also choose the notebook you would like it placed inside (the second line).  From here you can save your note and it will be accessible once you have synced your account.

While there are several steps to get these digital notebooks up and running, once you have them set up they are quick and easy to use.  I find that we are able to have a workshop and then have modelling books available straight after a workshop.  There has been a lot of trial and error of finding a way that digital modelling books work for my students.  We have trialled Google presentations and other formats but I am finding this is the easiest option that doesn't require a huge load of work and time to make it useable for the students and myself.  Once the initial setup was complete it has been easy to continue using the modelling books.

Remember, Evernote is the equivalent of a digital book - you can create notebooks and create individual notes that go inside your notebook, just like pages of a book.  This works the same when creating a digital modelling book.  In the case of these digital modelling books Penultimate creates the pages that go inside the Evernote modelling book.

Every time I open Penultimate for a new workshop I simply start a brand new Penultimate notebook by clicking on the plus symbol on the bottom left hand corner.  We add in the notes from our session and then when the workshop is complete I repeat the steps I have outlined above in 'Adding Content to Shared Notebook'.  Always check the second line to ensure that your note is going into your correct shared Evernote notebook, as it will always default to the last Evernote notebook you added content to.  This sounds confusing - but makes sense when you are adding content to your Evernote as you will see which of your groups notebooks it is going to be placed into.

When the students click on the link from our class google site it shows up the whole notebook with all of the workshop notes inside (like in the image below).  Students can easily locate the workshop and click to see all the notes we took as part of that session - exactly as it would be for a paper modelling book.  The accessibility from a range of devices and places and for a number of people at the same time means that it far outweighs the 1 in class paper modelling book I had previously been using.

Digital Modelling Books - Part 1

I have been trialling digital modelling books for mathematics with my students and they seem to be working really well for both my students and my self.  There are a number of key elements that make up this system and in this blog post I will outline the system I am using.  If you are new to using Evernote you may want to have a look at a previous presentation I shared at a mobile learning conference.  It gives you a bit of background as to what it is, however, if in doubt please leave a comment and I will help you out!

Evernote is the equivalent of a digital notebook - you can create notebooks and create individual notes that go inside your notebook, just like pages of a book.

4 main components I use to create digital modelling books:
1. Apple TV with an iPad
2. Penultimate app
3. Evernote app and online/desktop version

Setting up Shared Evernote Notebooks:

Notebooks in Evernote are private by default - this allows for your notes to only be seen by you.  However there are options to share these notebooks and to allow others to work on notebooks as well.  The last option is a paid feature of Evernote.  All the steps I talk about below are able to be completed with a free Evernote account and free Penultimate app.

Firstly, in our class Evernote account, I set up a notebook for each of my groups, for example; maths groups.  Notebooks are able to be created on both the app and online, however, I prefer to do this part through Evernote on a browser or the desktop version.  These notebooks are set up in our class Evernote account - we have 1 shared account for my entire class that we all use.

Once a notebook has been set up for each group, I set up a shared link for each of the notebooks that I want to have public access to.  To do this hover over the notebook and choose the share icon (there are a number of ways to do this):

It gives you several options to choose from - choose the last option: Publish. 
This allows people to access your Evernote notebook if they have the link.

It will take you to a new pop up window and the final step is to copy the Public URL - this is what I use so students are able to access the notebooks from our class website.  

These notebooks are accessed by my students through our class google site - so from here I copy the link and paste it on our maths area on our google site.  This makes our maths content accessible from one place for my students from home and school.  It allows them to easily find the information and support that they need.  Also parents can access them to support students with their learning.

If you are going to send students directly to this URL you may want to use a web link shortening service like to make the link more accessible for students as the link Evernote provides is very long.

Your final step here is to open up Penultimate and link the app to your Evernote account.  To do this click on the 'Settings' button in the top left hand corner and add your Evernote account details.  Once they are linked you will not have to do this again, unless you sign out.

You don't need to worry too much about your Evernote notebooks again until right at the end.  When you share your Penultimate notes to Evernote it will give you an option to choose the Evernote notebook you want to place the note into.

The next post will detail how to use Penultimate as your modelling books and then share these notes across to your Evernote notebooks to make them immediately accessible for your students.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Term 3 Reflection - PML

PML (Planning My Learning) has changed a little bit - we have made changes to the structure of the board and moved it off the whiteboard.  It just was time for it to change.  I was finding the students were becoming more and more focussed on quantity rather than quality - it was about how many ticks were up on the board rather than the quality and time spent.  So, armed with information from a conversation with the students, we made 2 changes to the PML system (in my head I have 100 - but we have to start somewhere!)

1. Quality Reflective Buddies - when we spoke about the problem of 'quality vs quantity' the students agreed - they were focussed on 'getting through' the list rather than pushing the boundaries of their learning.  It was a great conversation and gave me insights in lots of ways.  The students came up with 2 main solutions:
- Go back to the old way of working in blocks and everyone doing the same thing at the same time
- Have a person to meet with to share if your work is quality or not

Interestingly, the first idea came from a student who I know finds the challenge of planning his day more difficult, but when this was put to the class it was overwhelmingly challenged out (26-2).  I'll be talking more with those 2 students to see how I can support them in developing their learning priorities.
The second idea is the one we have gone with - QLP  or Quality Learning Partners.  We had lots of discussion around how this could work. In the end I suggested stopping 15 minutes prior to the end of the day, so you could meet with your buddy and discuss your work, feed back, next steps etc.  This is where we have started.  The students then had the option to choose their own partner or to have some support from me to choose one.  We had to discuss being able to be supported and open and honest with the person you choose.  If you felt like you couldn't say 'hey, you need to go back and work on... to make this better' they probably weren't the person to be your QLP.

2. Leaving the Whiteboard - previously PML has been completed on the whiteboard.  The students know I personally disliked this system, I shared this with them and the why I disliked it.  But, I am not the one who has to work from it - so we carried on with it.  As the term has progressed I have heard snippets of conversations as students tick off their work schedule for the day and these conversations led me to setting up a new full wall with the system on it.  When introduced to the students I shared with them conversations and things that I had changed because of what I had heard.  That it was these things that made the decision to make the change - I then asked if they would like to use it and the kids were keen! (Phew - there were a lot of lines to stick up and staple!)  However, I knew many of my kids would need to see it before they would understand it.

One of my students then asked the question I had been waiting for - "how will we tick to say we have worked on it?"  "Great question" I replied... "How will we?"  This led to 6 students taking on the construction of a system that we could use on the PML wall to show a range of learning happening.  The last step was to share these with the rest of the class and then the students decided on voting for their favourite symbols that we will use.

It was great to see a range of ideas being put forward that showed students were really keen to push quality over quantity with the refined system.

Writing has continued to develop based on need and interested rather than a genre.  This week we were responding to a trip that we had to the Maritime Museum last week.  We chose Newspaper Reports, Letters or a Recount.  The students then signed up to the genre that they needed or wanted to write on.  3 different workshops then ran throughout the week and I continue to find the kids more engaged in their writing in this way.

There are a few challenges I need to work on...
1. Tracking the genres they choose.  I'm thinking I will create a genres checklist that they can tick when they have completed a finished piece of writing in that genre.  It will help them know more about the genres and what is out there also.
2. Creating/Finding/Sourcing/Using realistic, hands on and real life writing experiences that will foster the interest and passion of writing.  Also fitting these into the daily life of a classroom.  I have had a great conversation with the Year 2 teacher next door talking about how we may be able to both use this as a benefit to both our kids with their writing.  More to reflect and think about here.

There are so many ideas, challenges and thoughts currently roaming around in my head that 'where to start' is often a daily challenge for me at the moment.  My students have come a long way in concepts of knowing more about them as learners, having a voice within the classroom and making steps to be independent within their learning.  But there is so much more that I want to challenge them and myself on.

My office buddy and I have great conversations on a daily basis - reflecting on our day, our learners, our teaching and our classrooms and I feel like those conversations help to clarify decisions that are made.  I'm very lucky that we have younger students next door that provide a challenge and a platform for my students to be role models and teachers to them.  At the moment we are continuing to explore how we can develop our space for our students further.  This week we are beginning the younger students in planning and teaching workshops for the Year 2 and Year 5/6 students.  I am looking forward to seeing how these develop over the rest of the term.

Each day I struggle more and more with the constraints of what traditional education.  We can voice that we want ownership, student voice, self management, self-direction - but how does that actually work in the everyday education world with tests, assessments and standards?  It's a big question.  I'm ridiculously lucky in where I teach - I am trusted as a professional to make professional choices that best work because of my teaching knowledge, knowledge of my students and their learning.

There is so much that works about PML and the structure of my class but I know that it is not the end point of what I want the concept of school and learning to look and be like for my students.  This week the first of my students for the year got underway with DRIVE Time projects - which are personal learning tasks driven by their passions/needs.  There are lots of readings and thinking behind the way this is structured and was developed with a group of kids last year, based on these thoughts.  DRIVE is about students owning their learning and making those decisions.  At the heart is what learning actually is, our school values and school negotiated learning values as a teacher point hinge.  This is the big point of where I would like to get to with my students across a more full time range.  We (my students and I) are getting there... slowly... with careful thought and reflection... in time.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Week 2 - How Can My Creativity Be Used For Others?

Week 2 of our negotiated learning topic started well, but then slowed in momentum during the week.  From our Immersion week (which I shared in an earlier post) the students showed an interest in the concept of creativity for giving.  So this is what we will continue to explore.

We began the week talking about guerrilla knitting and what we had done, why it was important and what it meant.  As a class we started listing things we knew of that fit under the term 'creativity of giving' - this was something students found more difficult than I had imagined and if I went back to this point I would do this differently.  I had imagined students would link to things like flashmobs, Caine's Arcade etc - but students mainly identified more traditional forms of creativity for giving such as statues, murals, graffiti... which was a small list.  We then explored using a venn diagram what of these things were for money, for giving or both.  The students found that only a small number of the things they had listed fit into the 'for giving' category - that being the concept of teddy bears for hospitals which one of our students' nanas organises.  From this venn diagram we pulled out one of our big concepts to explore - is creativity for money less important than creativity for giving?

From here we began to create our happy list - what were the things that we did that made us really happy as people.  We had a huge range of concepts come up - everything from shopping to family to making things for others.  I'm hoping that this list will start to form the core of our next step in investigating our own creative avenues.  While we were going through the list one of my boys came to me stating that 'fun was a really hard concept to place' - which was very true.  Another boy joined the conversation and all of a sudden we were talking about the value of concepts and which concepts are more valuable to us than others.  Time vs Money - which is more valuable.  Immediately this turned into a whole class discussion, which the majority heading towards time for the obvious reasons - you can't get time back, you can't buy time etc.  Another student then queried about 'Knowledge' - how does this fit in amongst the 2 concepts?  Again this changed the conversation and we found some students shifting in their thinking.  As it was the end of the day I asked students to talk to family about which ones their parents felt were more valuable.

The following day as part of our roll question students fed back what their opinion or their family members' opinion was.  I was expecting some new concepts to come up from these discussions but most opinions seemed stuck around Knowledge and Time.  I then queried about the concept of 'Love' - e.g. are these things worth having if you don't have someone to share it with, spend it with, look after you etc.  A new shift started to happen in what students thought was the more valuable concept.

My next steps with the students is to get them to explore more about creativity - what does creativity actually mean, as I feel that there is a mixed understanding of what creativity is and can look like.  It might help students define some of the key ideas about whether one type of creativity can be better than another.  Or not.

I'm really excited about walking this path with the students.  I feel like new concepts are coming out and already they are changing from where I thought students may go with the big question.  I think we need to go back to the immersion stage again and really delve into finding examples of creativity for giving that the students can relate to.  Why do people do these things?  From talking to KW we also talked about the idea of students understanding the different levels of giving e.g. giving for givings sake, giving to make yourself feel better... - this may be out of the realm of some students developmentally but could be core to some shifts in thinking as well.

Monday, June 2, 2014

PML 2014 - Tracking our Learning

PML is short for Plan My Learning, which is a phrase we use in Room 12 to explain how learners organise their daily learning tasks - the term was adopted from my amazing office buddy and team leader Kristyn a few years ago.  During class time from the beginning of the day to around lunch time students plan their learning PML style - this is where they plan in what they are learning and when they are learning it.  This means that at any one time in the classroom you could see students reading, working on maths, typing, writing, playing games, running workshops and more.  While students plan their learning, I run group and 1-1 workshops for students in specific teaching areas for them.  Sometimes these workshops are ability based and sometimes they work based on students goals and needs.

It's a huge system that takes a lot of time to establish in the classroom, but one that I am now convinced allows for a huge amount of self management and student voice.  I have watched students take more ownership in their learning and choices through running the classroom in this way.  Students are beginning to take up more opportunities to lead their learning and others' learning.  We have a year 2 classroom next door and we have worked a lot with them to support the philosophy of 'Tuakana/Teina' in our classrooms and this is one that KW and I are continuing to reflect on and challenge.  PML allows students time to run workshops and work with each other in a range of ways.

PML in 2014 had a rough start - my students were not in the same space as previous classes I have worked with, so systems that have worked before at the beginning of the year, didn't work so well.  It required a lot of reflection, deep thinking and change from me.  It was clear that the students needed and still need to develop their self management and reflective skills - which are 2 core areas we are currently continuing to work on.   Through a lot of conversations and reflections with the students we have now created a system that is working well for the students and myself.  This comes from time, reflection and conversations with the students - no other way.  In this post and the following posts (as there is so much to this post I have split it!)  I will explain and reflect on what has and is happening with PML this year.

Tracking Learning
At the beginning of the year we were using daily planners.  These were piece of paper with a whole week timetable on them.  Students would take what they had to complete for the week and plot this in throughout the week.  Lots of students struggled with this and we soon realised it wasn't working, so after much discussion decided to try a To Do styled list.  This was more suited to the class but again students were having problems as they disliked carrying their planning notebook around with them, they would forget to tick things they had completed off and a raft of other problems.  We sat down as a class and talked about what wasn't working and why.  Some students who I have again this year suggested using the format that we had used the previous year - the students were keen.  It is a large whiteboard set up with room for each student to tick off their tasks for the week and a space for them to add any extras they had worked on.  We continued to use the language of 'Learning Priorities' - the things that were the most important to them for their learning and 'Learning Possibilities' - other learning tasks they could undertake.  The language we chose was important to the students.  The whiteboard system has been a hit again this year as students felt there was more ownership to be taken as what they were doing was out there for all to see.  I am not such a fan of the system, however, it allows me to see students who are finding tasks difficult or not getting through their tasks for the week and gives me a conversation starter to chat to them about their learning for the week.  Though I'm not a fan of it, I know that it is my students who use it on a daily basis - so it doesn't really matter what I think, as long as it is working for them!

I have 3 students who work in different ways.  2 students use magazine boxes to track their learning on a daily basis, rather than weekly basis and 1 student who dislikes the whiteboard system but the To Do list was perfect for her.  So at the start of the week, she creates her own To Do list in her notebook and she is away.  The greatest thing about that is that she is starting to learn about what she needs to manage her workload and a way she can prioritise those things.  Students with devices have begun to ask about planning on these and again this is a next step for us to find the best way that works for them.

At the beginning of the week we set up our 'Learning Priorities' on the whiteboard list - we have some consistent learning priorities then other ones that pop up as part of our weekly learning.  Our more consistent learning tasks are DEAR (Silent reading), Maths work, Reading challenge, Basic Facts Practice, Maori Practice and Writing.  Students have the opportunity to work on their specific goals or learning within each of these areas.  Once these are set up and spoken about the students break off into their chosen Learning Priority.  Over the last few weeks I have seen a real trend of students choosing to do DEAR at the beginning of the day - so we have an almost unusual silence that descends on the class during this time.

Tracking learning is more about the students being able to see what they are doing and how they are using their time during the week.  It has allowed me to have a range of learning conversations with kids that contain strong evidence of how they are going with managing themselves, time and resources to complete what is expected.  The skills that this entails are life long skills that as adults we strive to have. Managing our time, resources, skills, people and more are all small elements of PML that the students have to utilise on a daily basis.  Students sometimes don't meet the target for the week and through their personal reflections you begin to see why this may have happened.  On the whiteboard it may look like a student hasn't completed much - but then you can see that they have actually chosen to spend more time on completing a set task to a higher standard than they did previously.  The first time always takes longer.  First glance at our whiteboard doesn't always tell the whole story!

As part of being able to plan their week students need to see the big picture of what's happening in class.  So for this reason students don't just see a what's on today - but rather a whole week view of what is happening in class.  This allows the students to see what time they have for PML and when we have other events that may interfere with this.  It is also teaching them about flexibility as sometimes planning a week in advance means that things change or don't happen in the same way.  That they need to be prepared for this!  The way that the weekly whiteboard has changed over the year so far is that there is more time set aside for iNeed workshops - which are student chosen workshops based on needs (I will explain these more in another post).  The hardest thing seems to be that now that students have the ability to opt in and ask for these sessions - the more they want of them.  Which is great, but a hard balance when there are still group sessions that need to be fit in!  There are still a group of students who don't ask for iNeed workshops or haven't seen the relevance for them, which is something I am currently reflecting on as to why they might not be asking for these.

This was our whiteboard earlier in the year - same format but very different now!
In following posts I will share and reflect on the other key elements of PML such as students knowing their learning, student voice and reflection.  These all place a integral part in the way the classroom is structured.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Immersion Week

Our big theme this term is 'Dream It, Think It, Do It!' so KW and I designed a week of immersion which allowed our students to be involved in a range of ideas and topics to allow us to negotiate the learning path with our students.  In our school we work in pods - this year my pod of 4 classroom consists of 2 Year 2 classes, 1 Year 1 class and my own year 5/6 class.  KW and I planned a range of learning opportunities and also within our immersion week we held 4 sessions where each teacher from our pod took a different immersion session where we split our students up within the 4 groups.  Within this pod time we saw students take on game making, drama, modifying sports and hat creation challenges that saw them working within different aspects of creativity.

For the rest of the week KW and I planned immersion learning opportunities for our Year 2 and Year 5/6 students to be working alongside each other.  Each activity was carefully planned to allow students to work within 6 main dispositions to develop their understanding of 'Dream It, Think It, Do It!'  We identified 'flexibility, risk taking, creativity, thoughtfulness, thinking and challenge' as our key dispositions and these became our focus of conversations and reflections with the students throughout the week.

Our first challenge for the week was simple in spirit but provided a wealth of information for us, as teachers.  We collected as many boxes and bits that we could find.  Large, medium, small and more... we had them all!  From this we started with very little instructions... choose some boxes - create something!  This was to give us a range of information about our students! We were expecting some far our creations, but found we had very 'normal' creations - a house, a bus, a rocket ship.  It allowed us to see that risk-taking for our students is a key disposition.  So after a lot of discussion, we decided to set up a 'ninja cave' the next morning.  This was a huge hit for the students the next morning when they came in to find it - it ended up morphing throughout the weekend to become more and more challenging each morning.  It was through our 'ninja cave' that we were able to have an amazing conversation around risk-taking and what that entails.

We discussed what makes risk-taking harder and examined elements such as 'when people are watching' the risk level can go up.  Our principal arrived on the tail end of this conversation and was then invited to take the risk.  The kids were more than stoked to see their principal go through the 'Ninja cave' and supported him with a huge cheer and pakipaki at the end.

The biggest learning curve for most students was the concept of 'guerrilla knitting' or yarn bombing.  The idea being a semi-permanent form of street art that changes the street side from the drab into the colourful.  It's the concept of creativity for giving and thoughtfulness that we were working with through this learning experience.  So we headed out to our school fence with balls of wool and got to work to create our rather plain looking school fence into a work of art.  The students worked in pairs - 1 Year 5 or 6 student with 1 Year 2 student and began with small hearts.  However, students soon wanted to try different patterns and designs and got more enthusiastic as they saw the fence take shape.  We ended up with some diamonds, larger hearts, S and L shapes.  Unfortunately time and weather was a factor for us and we have both spoken about heading out with our classes to work on these again.  The concept of their own creativity for giving was one that was talked about over and over again during the week.

The coolest element of this was the reaction they saw from their peers, teachers and families.  On Friday we arrived back to class to an awesome letter.  This letter now has pride of place in both our classrooms on our door - so everyone entering can read it!

These are just a selection of the learning experiences we developed as part of our immersion week with our students.  We also designed playgrounds, made marble runs and more.  It allowed the students a wide range of experiences and allowed us to see where our students interests and passions lay for our next steps of the negotiated learning path.  I really enjoyed collaborating and planning with KW and it allowed us to each draw on our own experiences and strengths.  I learnt a lot from working more closely with her and it was great being able to sit down at the end of each day and reflect on what we saw for each of our kids.

At the end of the week we used the Kath Murdoch 'Learning Wheel' as a reflection tool for the week to help us decide where our next steps were and the guerilla knitting was a firm favourite.  From our Learning Wheel reflections and conversations my class have chosen to go down the path of investigating 'how my creativity can benefit others'.  I'm really looking forward to seeing where we go with this!

Thursday, May 8, 2014

BYOD in the Classroom

At the BYOD day in the holidays I had the pleasure of presenting with my colleague Jessicca Vidal on BYOD in the Classroom.

During the session we shared the organisation of our classrooms and where the design for our classrooms comes from.  We then shared how to support students with BYOD, why we choose particular tools and how to get underway with BYOD in the classroom.  During the final part of our presentation we shared some examples of different tools we use to support learning.

Monday, April 21, 2014

BYOD 2014 - Making it Mobile

Thursday 1st May sees the second BYOD conference happening in Auckland; BYOD 2104 - Making it Mobile.  The conference is run by Learning Network and is a great opportunity to take part in a range of PD around bring your own devices (BYOD).

I have the opportunity to present at the very first conference last year at Albany Senior High, where I ran 2 sessions.  A session on Evernote and another on Self Management and BYOD.  The day was packed with loads of people attending and a great selection of presenters.

BYOD 2014 is no different from last year, with a huge assortment of amazing presenters sharing their knowledge with you.  A hugely inspirational line up that includes some of my favourite twitterers and bloggers: Helen King, Allanah King, Dorothy Burt, Fiona Grant, Barbara ReidJJ Purton Jones, Stephen Lethbridge,  Luke Sumich, and more.  There is a huge selection of strands that suit everyone from the classroom teacher through to principals.  Summerland Primary also has 3 other presenters which are worth a looksie - Innes Nisbet is our music specialist, Janet Shepherd is our art specialist and Luke Sumich our principal are all presenting as well.

This year I am presenting with my colleague Jessicca Vidal, who I presented with at uLearn 2013.  An amazing year 3/4 classroom teacher who has a lot of amazing teaching and learning happening with her students.  We will be presenting about how we utilise BYOD in our classrooms and some of the tools we are using to help students understand the tools that they have available to them and to become more self-managing with their devices.

Click here to find out more about BYOD 2014 - Making it Mobile

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Photography 101

This week has been PINs week - this is where the students have a chance to sign up for a range of different activities with different teachers.  It's always an event that creates a huge amount of excitement in our kids.  PINs stands for Passions, Interests and Needs.  It is run for our year 1/2, year 3/4 and year 5/6 groups.  Lots of people get involved from learning assistants to DP's and Principals.  It's a fantastic event that always draws in a range of exciting activities and opportunities for the students.

Previously I've been running sessions around teaching gaming to students through Scratch.  But this time I decided to go to one of my other passions and ran a photography 101 session.  It was SUCH a great time.

We started in the class with a keynote presentation (see below) of a whole bunch of photos that I had taken that demonstrated basic elements of photography.  Concepts like viewpoints, considering your background, framing and the rule of thirds were all discussed while students had a chance to see examples of each one.  From here we talked a lot in pairs - recapping main ideas and deciding which concept we were going to experiment with next.

Next we spent 40 minutes exploring our playground.  We were on our stomachs, backs, climbing, jumping, underneath and above things all in the name of taking that interesting photo.  Students tried the same subject but from different angles and using different elements or trialling different focal lock points.

It was fantastic to hear kids using terms like focal lock, rule of thirds and reflecting on why their photo was great or not so great - then running off to make a change.

Finally, we came back to the class and hooked iPads and iPods up to the Apple TV through airplay and spent some time sharing photos.  I wish we had a lot more time to do this part of the session, as the room was buzzing and the students were keen to share their favourite photos.  This is definitely something to factor in for the next session.

Below is the presentation I created and used with the students prior to taking photos to show each of the concepts we were working on today.  It was a great way for them to see the difference these elements can make to their photographs.  I also created a sheet for students to use as a reference guide when taking photos and as a take away sheet of what was happening.  You can also access that sheet here - feel free to download and use in your class.
Both the presentation and the sheet are available under a Creative Commons licence - please no commercial use, attribute the work back to me and if you make modifications please attribute back to the original piece of work.  Click here for more information about this licence.


Creative Commons License
Photography 101 by Amanda Signal is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Journeys and Reflections

A few weeks ago I had the privilege to head away with my team of talented teachers on a road trip to explore 3 schools in Pahoia and Papamoa.  This is the 2nd such day our team has taken on by utilising out CRT days together and heading off to view amazing educators in action.  Our last day was out visiting schools in Auckland.

Before our visits we sat down on several occasions to talk as a team about what we wanted to see, hear and discuss by visiting schools.  These conversations helped us to structure our guiding questions that were the base of how we selected schools.  From here we spoke with educators we knew to locate schools that would help us focus on our guiding questions.  Our key emphasis this visit was on open learning spaces, negotiated learning, student ownership and the practice of reflection within the learning.  Big ideas to look at and we were more than excited about the day of visits.

The schools we visited allowed us to see a range of different understandings, directions and thinking.  It was a great opportunity to talk about the things that mattered to different schools and communities and why those things were important.  It allowed us to see some of the big picture of what small decisions in classrooms can mean or do school wide.

The 2 key themes coming from all the schools we visited were the importance of 'relationships' and 'systems' to team teaching/open learning spaces.  We were really excited about discussing these key themes with the schools, but then again afterwards amongst ourselves as we reflected on our own journey.

A key element of a successful teaching team is the relationship between the teachers involved.  A high level of trust, integrity, support, friendship and willingness is required to work in such a close space.  You are consistently a reflective buddy, support person and general day to day go to person for each other.  A shared understanding about what path the classroom is on is required to make sure that a clear path is created for the students working within the space.  What are your shared beliefs, understandings and ideas that underpin what is happening in your classroom space?  How well do you work together to make the things you want to happen in your class move from visions to happenings?   Just some of the important questions that teachers spoke of considering and thinking about.

Many principals spoke about the fact that these relationship often need to come from the teachers rather than be selected by the management team.  The driving force behind these relationships need to come intrinsically from the teachers.  This is where a lot of management have seen the most effective classrooms, as the teachers have established that the strong relationship is there.

What clear systems are in place to allow teachers and students to work within the shared space?  Do all people in that shared space have the same understanding about the little things as well as the big things in the class - where do the kids put their book bags in the morning?  To the bigger decisions - how will we group our students for ... subject?  The systems in place need to be steadfast and supported by all individuals.  In one class in particular we saw extremely clear and effective systems in place in all avenues of the classroom practice that supported both students and teachers to work in the space.  From planning, classroom space, organisation etc - the small systems in place guided all parties to use the space for effective learning.

There are also a lot of people who need to navigate day to day classroom systems - are these systems clear to you, the students and the parents?  Some of the schools we visited spoke about 'Guardian Teachers' in the open plan environment.  This system gave each parent an opportunity to feel like they had 1 parent to talk to in regards to issues/concerns and general day to day business.  This didn't mean that the student and teacher belonged specifically together, but it was a system that allowed parents to have a means of communication with one of the teachers.  A simple but effective system had been established for students, teachers, parents and management.  What was also great was being able to speak to most people along that chain and hear the same systems communicated from each party - one sign of effective systems being in place.

Moving Forward...
We took the time after each school to share our understandings, ideas, reflections and new thinking with each other.  This time was extremely valuable.  I feel privileged to work in the team that I do.  We have both relationships and systems happening currently that support and develop a range of powerful teaching and learning.  Our ability to work as a team and reflect on what we are doing and why it is working well is one of our strengths.  I felt that the themes the schools shared with us were a key element of a successful open plan teaching environment.  Yes, there are other factors but with great systems and amazing relationships some real magic can happen for the students and teachers.

Our team has used the opportunity to walk away and think about what is really important for each of us within our classroom environments.  It was great to affirm some of the things we have already placed such as shared assessment documents across our pod that is allowing us to cater for our student's needs across our pod and teachers - not just within our own classrooms.

My 2 colleagues have spent time analysing what they do and why it is important to them and then coming together to share with each other what these elements are as they continue on the journey of working in an open plan space.  There is so much more that they are doing - but that is their journey to share!  I am just privileged to be along for the journey with them as they make amazing steps in their own practice and their student's learning.

For myself, there has been a lot of assessing and balancing thoughts and ideas of my own.  It is helping to cement for me the importance of the open plan environment and what can be offered by working in a space with multiple students and teachers.  It has helped me to reflect on the opportunities I have had over the last few years to work with some amazingly talented people.  There is a lot to move forward with, for myself and my team.

We were extremely grateful to the principals, team leaders, teachers and students who gave up their time to share their learning, thought processes and journey that they are on in order for us to follow our own.  We are also grateful to our own school that allows us the opportunity to use our CRT days in this way and support us with our ongoing classroom journeys.  It's amazing what supportive and wonderful people we have in our NZ schools.

Taking a risk...

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Pong Game - Scratch 'How To'

Click on this link to download the 'How To Sheet' for making a Pong Game in Scratch!

This is a easy and great game to start with if you or your students are starting out with Scratch.  It allows you to learn some of the basics and learn a bit about the problem solving of Scratch.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Scratch - Gaming in the Classroom

Each term our school undergoes PIN's workshops each term.  The idea of these are that students can take part in something that relates to a Passion, Interest or Need they have.  At the moment teachers choose something of interest to students or themselves and offer to run the workshop.  Alongside teachers we have teacher aides, management and parents running or supporting a workshop.  Last year another teacher and myself ran an 'in-class PINs' where students decided on topics needed and then ran workshops that other students could take part in.  Highly successful with lots of learning curves - but more on that in another post!

In our Term 1PINs I took my second workshop around the use of Scratch.  Scratch is an amazing game making piece of software that works on windows and mac machines.  It's free to download and has an extremely strong community of people and educators behind it.  (You can read more about the basics of Scratch in a previous post here).  So for students it is a perfect platform to begin the basics of programming and gaming.  Students learn about creating games through arranging and compiling a range of blocks to make scripts for their sprites (characters or game pieces).  I was originally introduced to Scratch through Tim Kong and a student of his who had moved from Scratch into creating apps.  She taught me enough to get me interested and on my way to exploring the possibility of Scratch more.

The last time I used Scratch during a PINs workshop was with a group of Year 4 students. In hind sight the task was a little too high.  Especially for 15 kids to learn Scratch in 1.5 hours who had never used it before. Yep. So, this time I tackled it very differently.

I went for simple and scaffolded options along the way to make the tasks more difficult (if they wanted to or were able to).  I was also armed with a second game plan that the students could tackle if they zoomed through the first.   The idea was for the kids to have a 'how to' sheet they could work through by self-pacing themselves to create a game.  With added elements and areas that kids could change up - colours, sounds, adding point systems, through to random ideas the kids had that we tried to implement!

One area that I was a lot clearer about sharing with the students at the start of the session, was that Scratch came down to problem solving.  If something wasn't working, it was because of something in their script.  It could be a block in the wrong place or the wrong block altogether.  But they had to stop, think and solve.  It was just a problem and it had a solution!  It became a HUGE part of the session - talking and sharing problems and how we could solve them.  The best part was for the kids to see me getting down on the floor with them and problem solving alongside them. No, I didn't know the answer!  "Oh, it doesn't work... let's have a look together..." was a common theme.  What was great was that the conversations and problem solving were not just student directed to teacher.  They moved to student discussing/sharing with another student in this way.  The students saw that as a collective group we were moving through the learning together and sharing their own knowledge was key to their success but also the success of others.

The first game the kids created was a Pong game.  Yes, the classic game we came to know and love as kids (not like the fancy games of today).  Intially the kids were a bit 'hmmm?' about creating such a basic game.  But as they got going, and saw what it takes to create a game through simple scripting the enthusiasm grew.  The problem solving, conversations, laughter and creative ideas that flowed through the room were fantastic.  Students discovering out they could record their own sounds.  Or that a certain number in the axis corresponded to a place on the stage and so much more!

The kids seemed to take quite an interest in the fact that I had been learning how to use Scratch over the last few years and were really keen to see games that I had created also!  A fun conversation where the kids were seeing me as a life long learner... even if one of my car racing games was re-named 'Nana Kart' because the car moved so slowly!

Below is an example of one of the Pong games created by a student - click here to play:
Classic Pong game wins the day!

One of the great things around Scratch is the community that is involved in commenting, playing and re-mixing games.  Within minutes of uploading our first games some of them had comments from kids sharing their high scores.  There were even kids taking the game to 'remix' them.  Remixing is where you can download the game script to use and make changes to the game.  So kids can add levels, change elements of the game and re-load their re-mixed game back up to the community.  This also allows the kids to see how their game can change and evolve.
Underneath a game students can see how many views, remixes and downloads their game has had

Though this is a basic start for the kids, it was great to see such a keen and passionate group of kids who are keen to keep going in Term 2.  We are going to look at a way in which we can maybe run a lunch time group where the students can opt in and meet, share ideas and continue to problem solve together.  Highlight... one of the boys coming up to me a week later during lunch telling me about how he's downloaded Scratch and is re-working one of his games! 

In a following post I will post up the hand out sheets that I used with the students for you to download and use.  A great starting place are the Scratch starter cards!  Also check out the Scratch Education Community for more ideas and links.  The education area of Scratch is strong and has a wealth of knowledge and resources that are great for educators.  If you are completely new to Scratch and want to know more, the 'New to Scratch' page is a great place to start.  Also, to have a quick go at Scratch without downloading the programme try the Beta browser version here.

Happy gaming!

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Future Wheel

Our term focus is looking at miss-takes/re-takes and the learning process.  To kick start our term we've been investigating our school values - Respect, Success, Team, Fun and Integrity.  Across our school this is often a common place where we start to have a firm values base with our classes.  It's at the core of class expectations and treaties.  A shared language we have when talking about expectations, behaviour, learning and attitudes.

We have been working through a range of different tasks to use these values and examine life with and without them.

In comes the Futures wheel otherwise known as consequence wheel.  The idea behind this thinking tool is to get students to think of the 'what next...' to something happening.  What would be the consequence of this happening - good or bad.

So, we split into groups and each group took a value.  They then talked about what would happen at our school if this value wasn't used or we didn't use it.
This lead to some great discussions in groups around this value and it's importance in our daily lives.  It gave the students a chance to also consider a range of perspectives.  How would this outcome affect parents, siblings, classmates, teachers, our deputy principals, principal? What would this mean for them?

For the first time using this thinking tool with them it was a success - some of them found it very difficult to 'put themselves in other people's shoes' and think about how the outcome might affect that person.  Others were able to articulate a range of ideas and outcomes from many different perspectives.  Some were also quite simple but others had far reaching perspectives and consequences.  Such as the the lack of success leading to people not being able to become olympic athletes because they didn't know what 'success' felt like or how to achieve it.

I can see how the level of questioning with the students will become more and more important as we use this tool further.  Getting the students to work in a range of perspectives and think from different angles and mind frames (positive/negative) will be a basis of my questioning for the next time we use this tool.

The tool would be very effective in a place where you were looking at positive and negative outcomes and getting students to think on both sides of the coin.

Below are a few examples from our first session using the Future Wheel.
You can download my template here - this is A3 size.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Google Docs for Planning

On twitter a few people have been talking about using google docs for planning.  It's great and provides lots of flexibility.  One of the huge problems I found with google docs is that in the 'document' using tables was unbearable!  So I moved to using spreadsheets.  Which to be honest at first just made me scared - I've never been a big fan of spreadsheets and have often avoided them.

Once I got started planning in google docs spreadsheets I found a huge raft of pluses that made it easier to plan in spreadsheets than in a document.

The fabulous merge button found in google docs spreadsheets

One of the biggest pluses was being able to merge cells to create larger spaces within my planning.  Another bonus being the ability to use the same document for a term or year by using new sheet tabs along the bottom.

Our team has also created our class descriptions in this manner - allowing us to break up certain parts of our class description to make it more easily accessible for certain parts of the information we gather.

Another great feature of using google docs for planning is the ability to merge all your documents together on a google site with ease.  It allows you to easily click once to embed a document into the page you want.  For ease also allows you to quickly click out to the editable document from a link at the bottom right corner of the embedded google doc.

This link will take you to an example google doc for a yearly overview - you are welcome to make a copy and adjust or use how you need to.  It shows simply what is able to be done with your planning via a google doc spreadsheet.

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