Monday, December 2, 2013

Diversity. Your strength or you weakness?

I'm feeling a little bit like I am in counselling. It seems between getting my thinking preferences profiled by Julia Atkin (I have a good balance around my thinking preference for big ideas, data and planning however I show much less of a preference for relational thinking) and then to follow this up with Marg Thorsborne's intensive three day workshop on restorative justice, it's fair to say that I have had ample opportunities for self examination.

My Hermann's Brain profile indicating my thinking
The thing about these days that stands out so much to me, is that it highlighted how different we all are. Although I begin extreme planning under stress, others have bigger ideas under stress. This idea of how our behaviour changes certainly made me wonder about our students some more. We often only encounter the surface things when we consider diversity. We encounter the differences in interest, perhaps a few social skills. Yet there is so much more to what makes us all unique. And certainly, once you add the stress of friends, family and other commitments in a school, how does that affect the learning and thinking of our students? One of the most exciting parts of our model at Hobsonville Point is that we are aiming to address the diversity of our students as the very core of what we do. The team has attempted to design a model that is aimed to deliver diversity rather than uniformity. We are hoping to provide a highly personalised model for all our students. This week we also had orientation day where we got to spend the day with most of our new students. It was hugely rewarding to see that the group of students that I am responsible for next year proposed increased choice and opportunities as a solution for boredom at school. I just can not wait to test our school model next year!

Of course seriously addressing diversity is not just for those of us lucky enough to be at a flash new school. The team from SCIL shared a great model at the Making it Mobile conference in Auckland last week. Their model allows personalisation right down to a student's mood on any particular day whilst developing multiple intelligences and levels of thought. Yes, it sounds too good to be true. However by creating a grid with Bloom's Revised Taxonomy at the top and Howard Gardener's Multiple Intelligences on the left, they then filled in activities for a unit. The grid has short explanations of the tasks as well as points. Students need to collect a certain number of points over a period of time. Task cards are already made up for students to gain more information about each activity on the grid. You can see an example here. Yes, this requires major preparation. However, as we have discovered at Hobsonville Point, team planning is faster, easier and provides for more scope too. Ros MacEachern and I are already thinking of planning our small module in this way using SOLO and our Hobsonville Point Learning Design Model.

Of course meeting my new students yesterday, I was reminded again of how different each student really is. Some are quiet, some are not. Some become a whole lot less quiet as time progresses. One really likes sport and another was reading a book about the periodic table. And of course, for each student their situation at home is different too.The New Zealand Registered Reacher Criteria goes out of its way to highlight that we as teachers need to be responsive to diversity, however I don't know that we necessarily give enough credit to the strength that diversity offers us. Embracing and utilising the diversity within our teams can be really powerful. Each person is different, and as such, each brings different strengths, perspectives and concerns. The key of course being able to use this diversity for increased learning and better solutions. I certainly think I have many valuable lessons to learn from our principal at Hobsonville Point, Maurie Abraham on this subject. I hope he knows that he is under careful observation as he somehow seems to effortlessly manage a group of over enthusiastic, strong willed and highly passionate teachers who make up a fairly diverse team. Although to a degree we are very like minded in our mission and values, our varied strengths and preferences were highlighted so well by Marg Thorsborne and Julia Atkin's work with us on Hermann's brain. Of course, taking the time to listen, consider and utilise those people who are different to us certainly has shown what incredible solutions a team can come up with.

I certainly recognise I have a lot to learn about turning diversity into a strength. However I also feel that great leadership, excellent professional development and even more outstanding staff with which to plan and team teach means that I have all the right tools. Of course, I will be sharing them here if you are on this journey with me.

PS: If you have read all the way through... I would love to know where you are from. So please, if you have read this far, leave a comment to say where you are from, I'd love to know if Google stats is telling the truth! 

Monday, November 18, 2013

Ask not what the internet can do for you, but what you can do for the internet!

Image source:

Did you know, to become a New Zealand citizen if you have not been born here, you are required to swear an oath or  complete an affirmation of allegiance?

I (your name) solemnly and sincerely affirm that ...  ...  ...   I will faithfully observe the laws of New Zealand and fulfil my duties as a New Zealand
In England, there is a GCSE called Citizenship Studies which "helps students to develop as active citizens of our democracy." 

What is citizenship? What does it mean to be a New Zealand citizen as opposed to a citizen of another country? What is a good citizen? How do you teach someone to become a good citizen? And should there be a distinction between citizenship and digital citizenship?  

Being a bit of an E-Learning nerd, I spend a significant amount of time thinking about Digital Citizenship. However, working with +Andrew Cowie from the National Library on this subjects recently, I have realised a few more important things... 

Firstly, that although we keep saying digital citizenship, it is really an indication of our age far more than grey hair and wrinkles could ever be. Do you have an email account? Then guess what? You are a digital citizen. Although to a lesser degree than a fourteen year old who documents their whole life through Instagram snap shots or a twenty something year old teacher who blogs about everything she learns at her new school, you are still a digital citizen. Then throw in some online banking, shopping, your iTunes account and your Facebook account. Perhaps you are occupying more of cyber space than you care to think? In fact, how many of us can really function in society without connectivity? +Andrew Cowie proposed that the "digital" might fall away eventually. I agree, but I think that it should already have fallen away. Breaking a law online, is still, breaking a law, hence, you are citizen occupying a physical and a digital space. 

As always, admitting the problem is always the first step. So now that I am aware that I am a (digital) citizen, what should I know? Certainly the traditional ideas of cyber safety are my, and probably your immediate thoughts. Don't give out personal details and so forth. However there is more to it than that. I am directly connected to the world. I have a digital persona that may reflect positively or negatively depending on how what I put out there is interpreted. And that digital version of me has a reach often much further than what I would have had on my own. What is the impact of my words online? They may not break any laws, but certainly they may impact someone's perception of me. Or they may impact someone's perception of the organisation that I work with. And certainly, if you work in New Zealand, chances are, you will meet someone in person at some point.

Although we often focus on the cyber safety and sensibility side of things. We often forget about things such as intellectual property. Do you have the permission to use certain images? When I retweet an image, do I actually have the right to do so? Have you read the fine print of who owns the images you upload to Pinterest, Facebook, Google, Twitter and Instagram? Do you know what a creative commons licence is? 

Being a good digital citizen extends beyond not breaking the law, just as being a good citizen extends beyond not breaking the law. For example I might not break any laws, but I would be considered a much better citizen if I enrolled to vote and actually bothered to vote. Or if politics isn't your thing, I might choose to get involved in my community through girl scouts or other community projects. In the digital world, this may be as simple as clicking the report spam button in Twitter. It may mean that I host events such as #kidschatNZ or that I use the internet to spread the world about a good cause like +Johanna Chambers and her ride for cancer. 

There is also genuine skill that comes into being a good digital citizen. Information is no longer a commodity but being able to sift through information and curate it in a thoughtful, useful and unique way is far more valuable. Or learning to manage online representations of ourselves is certainly also a skill with genuine value. 

Citizenship is about obeying the laws of a country. However being a good citizen is about contributing in such a way that your country benefits from you, and as a result, you from it. Being a citizen you would keep yourself safe and follow the law, but a good citizen contributes. So, ask not what the internet can do for you, but what you can do for the internet. Are you contributing by keeping not just yourself, but others safe too? Are you using the connectivity and reach of the internet to achieve positive things both in a physical and a digital space? And are you really engaging with the potential of the internet? Are you the citizen who never enjoys the beaches, the parks, the public fireworks? Or are you the citizen who embraces the full power of the the Internet's enormous diversity and makes it work for you and those around you in both the physical and the digital worlds you occupy? 

I encourage you to embrace that you are probably like me, a child of two worlds. You live in a physical and a digital space. So I invite you to step up, and live in that space as you would in your home, your neighbourhood and your community. Make it a better place! 

Monday, November 11, 2013

"Miss, why are we learning this?"

"Miss, why are we learning this?" When a student asks this question in my class, I know I have messed up. I believe that a student should never have to wonder why they are required to learn something. And no, telling a student that "it will be on the test or the exam" is NOT why they should be learning it and neither is "the result will go on your report". Some things we do in school are much easier to show the relevance, take algebra versus the study of sustainability. Which one would you find easier links for students to relate to?

Lately however, I have become more and more aware that my links to the real world are not sufficient in my hope to engage every student in the classroom. What's more, talking about and showing the links to students certainly do not have the same effects as allowing students to make the links themselves. This of course requires the teacher to step back from sage on the stage and really move into the realm of enabling students to make connections in authentic ways.The extract from Dennis Littky's book, The Big Picture, Education is Everyone's Business, highlights incredibly well what real authenticity might look like, but also, what it might look like if a teacher has enabled their students to make the links rather than telling or showing them.
"The hands on science curriculum I’ve heard so much about turns out to be the kids conducting an experiment showing that Diet Pepsi floats while regular Pepsi sinks. This is learning? No, but to an educator who thinks innovation means simply getting away from the chalk-and–talk and getting the kids involved, it looks good to see everyone in small groups, writing down what they observe. Still, the task isn’t real, and I don’t think there are many kids who really care why one soda sinks and the other doesn’t. 
Here’s a great story about two units done at one of my schools. The first was an election unit, where the kids learned about the current candidates and their stands on things like education and the environment, and then they went into town and actually helped register people to vote. I remember the teacher saying to me, “You now Dennis, the kids did amazing work, really amazing. They registered about 300 people, they really enjoyed themselves. That was a great unit” Everything changed with this teacher’s next unit, which focused on travel. If you had walked into her classroom, you definitely would have agreed that everything looked very good. The kids were all working. They’d each called a travel agent and were planning different trips. They were busy, busy, busy. At the end of this unit though, the teacher came back to me and said, “Every kid got an A on the election unit, but for this one, there were a lot of kids who didn’t do their homework and just weren’t as motivated.” What happened? She wanted to know. What was the difference? The kids knew they weren’t going to go on the trips they planned. It was a good, well thought out lesson. It was very hands on. But it wasn’t real. The work that is done in school looks like real work, but it is not real enough." - From Dennis Littky's The Big Picture. Education is Everyone's Business
The more I read, and believe me, I am reading a lot at the moment, I realise the importance of real world learning. That does not mean learn about the real world. That means we learn in the real world. In the real world, research is step one to help us make informed decisions, solve problems or form an opinion. Research is not an end product. And yes you might become a scientist that does research but how many of our kids become one of those? And what's more, even scientists (and I checked this with my marine biologist and evolutionary geneticist friends) start with research to design their own research project, they use research to design their methods. In the real world we write a letter to a newspaper, a comment on a blog or a tweet, and we send it. Why would one carefully draft a letter, edit rewrite, check grammar and punctuation, ask someone to proofread it for you and then not send it?

So real world, authentic learning... How am I planning on structuring it when I have students again? Well, let me tell you about another exciting pearl of the Hobsonville Point team. The Hobsonville Learning Design Model (or some name like that!).

Although as a teacher I might might find that I already use most of these aspects on this diagram (all drawn directly from the NZC and used to describe the combined learning areas), I realise that often, I stay with the traditional explore, make sense and focus parts. Although I frequently veer off to the generate, test, refine and share parts, perhaps not enough, and in not enough depth. Generate, test, refine and share are the parts where students really gain depth in their understanding as they need to apply knowledge. Now imagine this model, combined with the idea of learning in the real world, and then for good measure, you throw in an aspect of service learning where students are required not only to generate, test and refine, but to do this for someone else. Someone outside the school, in the community, in the world.

But wait, that's not all! Once you have generated, tested and refined, you need to share too. So then you add in this idea of a panel to evaluate the work rather than just a teacher. A panel with perhaps one or two teachers, some peers, an older student, and even the member of the community that the product was for.

Well doesn't that sound far more rigorous and exciting than open your textbook to page 55? Practice makes perfect. But what are you practicing? And how many of your students are learning?

So now do you understand my excitement to start planning for 2014?

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Value added

What are the values and the principles of your school? Do you know them off by heart? Or do you have to look them up? I am pretty sure that if you ask any of the teachers at Hobsonville Point that they could tell you what the school's values and principles are. You might say values schmalues. They make little to no impact on the day to day business of teachers. Or do they?

The professional learning team have started working on the appraisal and professional learning programme of our new school. We started with an anonymous survey to get an idea of everyone's past experiences and possible suggestions. These suggestions, as well as the professional learning team's ideas for the appraisal and professional learning were all then tested against our school's values and principles. This, and just about everything else we at Hobsonville Point, is tested against our values and principles. What it means is that everyone is on board with the school's vision in their decision making. But also, that we all understand why we are there. 
The values are at the core of the circle, the principles are on the
 second circle and the practices are on the outside circle.
I am interested to know whether if I looked at an old classroom observation from a previous school and the practices that I had, whether they would support the values of that school directly? Even more so, I wonder if I wrote my own values for education in the centre of that circle, how often my practices do or do not match. The real question though, is whether the values you and I have for education, matches what the students actually need. 

So what values and principles do you have? Are the students' at the centre of your values? And are you living and breathing those values and principles through your practice? 

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Timetable 2.0 and Rainbow Unicorn Schools

It has come to my attention that we have been called the rainbow unicorn school. I should point out that this was before Halloween on Thursday where the staff of Hobsonville Point made an excellent effort to get dressed up. No unicorns though but certainly an excellent Medusa (Natural Confectionary Company jelly snakes attached with hairpins) and of course Thomas the Tank Engine.

I suspect that part of the reason for being called the rainbow unicorn school is our tendency towards blue sky thinking. Lots of teachers have thought "what if..." What if we could do this? Change that? If we had this and we had that. The difference when you go to a rainbow unicorn school, is that it is not enough for people to think what if. They actually have a go at changing things. And they take the what if one step further, we actually believe that things can change. That said though, passion is not enough to create effective and meaningful change. One needs research, strategy, determination, resilience, collaboration and a whole lot more. However, from my own experience, I know that it is passion that allows me to put in extra hours, gladly, even when I am tired. It is passion that allows me to have another go at something even if I have failed miserably a few times before. It is passion that allows me to keep revisiting and idea, question it, turn it over, learn more about it, try again. And so, I think it might be the collective passion of the staff at Hobsonville Point that might allow our new school to succeed. It is passion that has allowed the team to break down the old school secondary timetable into a model that allows personalisation, autonomy and choice for students but teachers too.

Personalisation will happen at Hobsonville Point through three parts, projects, learning hubs and modules. Big projects will be a whole school approach however with an emphasis on service learning. Passion projects will be just that, passion projects. The learning hubs will replace the old idea of a from class. Learning hubs will use the advocacy model to ensure a focus on a dispositional and academic curriculum but also to ensure that every student has one person in the school that knows them really well. Hence, every student will have a mentor. The modules will be the vehicle for curriculum delivery. Each term, every student will select one large module, two small modules and four spins (mini modules) as well as hoops (workshops). Cross curricular teaching teams plan these modules together however all under an overarching theme for the term. The SLLs (specialised learning leaders) then have the job of ensuring curriculum coverage.

Myself, and the rest of the team are hugely excited about the new timetable and the possibilities that it holds.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Disney and Ken Robinson's Lesson - Find Your Tribe

I often (read almost always), think of my life as a Disney movie and as such, carefully consider the lessons to be learnt from Disney. One such important lesson is that one must overcome adversity before you can live happily ever after, think Cinderella and her evil step sisters. Sometimes one needs to take a calculated risk, think Tangled and Brave. Or, as Mator from Cars would teach us, one must often persevere in our attempts to connect with people (or with cars in Mator's case). However, it has come to my attention that I have missed an important Disney lesson. Fortunately, the infinitely wise Sir Ken Robinson pointed it out - find your tribe, because together you will be more and do more.

I started my second week at Hobsonville Point with the mission to catch up on some of the reading that happened before I started there this term. Of course being a TEDster, I began with Sir Ken Robinson's book, The Element. Although he has some fantastic insights about finding your passion, the part that really stuck with me is that of finding your tribe.  The tribe being a group of people that challenge you in a positive way, people that drive you to do more and to be more. Tribes often share a vision and as such, they can question, challenge and motivate. I realised then that I already have a tribe. And an exceptional one at that. My tribe is called #edchatNZ. They have challenged, motivated, questioned and inspired me fortnightly for more than a year now. And fortunately, I think many of the tweeting teachers have found the same.

I suspect that it is due to these teachers on twitter and their impact on my growth and aspirations that I may have found a second tribe to be part of. For two weeks now I have been able to go to work and be surrounded by inspirational personal and professional stories. I have been able to question my visions for education and my classroom with support rather than with the well cultivated cynicism that plagues teachers lounges all over the world. Granted that there are oodles of experience and learning to do from the individuals in any staff room, I have realised that in certain environments, my own thinking becomes limited, lower order thinking if you like. Maybe they will inspire an idea for a lesson or a better classroom management strategy. Maybe they will cause me to go back and look at the way I planned a lesson or a unit and restructure. However, I have found that the right mix of positive, passionate educators in a room, my own thinking, questioning and thirst for knowledge is extended. They keep me awake at night. Whether it is because I lost track of time reading a great book they recommended, researching a new perspective or idea they exposed me to, or simply lying awake at night with all the ideas that have been generated and are now keeping me awake.

Isaac Newton wrote "If I have seen further it is by standing on ye shoulders of Giants." I am fascinated and curious what the future will bring for all the members of the Hobsonville Team and their students. With such passion, commitment and skill all reigned in for one vision, I think the results will be exciting indeed! 

PS: If you aren't already, I urge you to follow the Hobsonville tribe and #edchatNZ on Twitter!

Friday, October 18, 2013

Entering a parallel universe

Every school is different. Every school has its pros and cons, its opportunities and challenges. But so far, my first week at Hobsonville Point Secondary School has brought nothing that you would expect in your first week at a new school. Granted, we do not have any students yet. The thing is however, that the absence of children is not what has made this first week of school so radically different from experiences in my other schools. For a start, on no previous occasion was the first official meeting with all the staff preceded by a performance of all the existing staff on their ukeleles. Shorty followed by the school handing over my own ukelele (in pink - they even try to match your favourite colour). I have since had two ukelele practices. So far I can only play C. 
The Hobsonville Point Ukelele Orchestra aka. The staff of Hobsonville Point Secondary School

Although the week has had multiple team building activities including sculpture making, the therapeutic hippie circle, using the design model to inquire into each other's high school experiences and a whole lot more, what has stood out for me, was the professional reading. One of our sessions on Thursday was spent with the previous intake's staff sharing the professional reading that they had done in the previous term. I love professional reading. It helps me to question and on occasion, if it is a good book, shift my perspective. More than that though, professional reading helps me to maintain my blue skies thinking. And in this, is why my first week at Hobsonville has been such a contrast to previous schools. Where I used to be part of a small group of people who did professional reading, where I use to be the one to question, to agitate, to dream. I am no longer alone. No longer does one get the feeling that you are swimming up stream. Everyone is swimming up stream and rather than spending time trying to convince people that things need to change, you spend your time figuring out how we are going to make it happen. This realisation, above all was the highlight of the week for me. 

My Reading List at the moment hence includes:

 The other highlights were visiting the local areas where our students will come from next year under the guise of making a video for our new school website. We managed a visit to the Whenuapai air base in the process, Herald Island and a few other great spots.

We were also lucky enough to visit the new school site still currently under construction. The flow and the spaces along, without furniture and equipment was already enough to get us ecstatic about the possibilities. I sincerely hope that we have a massive treasure hunt, amazing race combo on the first day when  we move in with our students.


Thursday, October 17, 2013

Endings and Beginnings

"Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning." - Winston Churchill

Mixing it up with maths games - often as possible.
Thanks to the students who were
always so keen to try out my games!
It seems that I have reached the ending of a major chapter in life. For the past year and three quarters I had been a science and maths teacher at a junior high school. A six month position as a long term reliever had turned into a year position as a long term reliever and finally into a permanent post. It seems that for many of recent teacher graduates, long term relief is the only way to get in anywhere. And luckily for me, it gave me a chance to work in an amazing school with inspirational people but in particular great coaches. I would like to dedicate this post to the people and the lessons I learn from them, the staff but also the students.

Some of the highlights:

  • A visit in my classroom by John Key himself. 
  • The annual year 9 geology field trip - there is no shortage of volcanoes in Auckland, but visiting these with a truly skilled storyteller who weaves the science and the cultural legends into one field trip is an extraordinary experience. 
  • Being sent to attend the Spectrum Education Habits of Mind Bootcamp. Fantastic conference! The google apps for education summit in 2012 was also definitely worth attending. 
  • Having an exceptional mentor in my head of faculty who was able to recognise that I may be a PRT, but I needed some kind of responsibility.
  • John Key visits my science classroom
    to see ICT in action. 
  • The professional reading group who met every fortnight at seven in the morning. This meant that in a casual environment, I had the opportunity to question the school principal and learn directly from him and other school leaders. 
  • Being invited to attend a presentation by a student presenting his social studies project on his Iwi's land claim history to his whanau and friends. This was a truly special event as it was the first time I had witnessed what genuine empowerment of culture looks like. Seeing the difference between lip service and authentic empowerment was mind blowing.
  • Experimenting with Bring Your Own Device and using ICT in the science and maths classrooms. Due to the school's policy for teachers to experiment and students to bring their devices to school, I was able to undergo an incredible learning curve in refining my pedagogy for e-learning. As a result, I am now an e-learning facilitator for NEAL and my next position also has an e-learning part to it. 
  • Watching the 2012 solar eclipse
  • The GCC challenge. Our school participated in the global corporate challenge in 2013. For 16 weeks, each person wears a pedometer all day, every day aiming to get a minimum of 10 00 steps every day. In teams of seven we then compete against each other. The school funded this for us. This was a fantastic team building experience but also an exceptional effort of the school to emphasise, support and encourage the wellbeing of staff. Although the challenge was optional, almost all the staff participated. It also meant that for a little socially awkward moth like myself, making friends became a lot easier as you decided to go for walks together after school and to the sushi shop at lunch!

Incredible annual year 9 Geology field trip
A great moment from the
Spectrum Education Habits
of Mind bootcamp
Riding a hovercraft at the science

Project Runway Wearable Arts

Sunday, September 8, 2013

My Nemesis Maths

I suspect that I only ever lied to my mum about two things. Number one, "no I do not like that boy." And number two was always about maths. Many years later and maths and I are still fighting with each other. The problem however is that the fight hasn't changed very much. I used to avoid doing maths because I found it boring. Nowadays my fight with maths is all about how to make it less boring. Imagine what you would say to me if this was a relationship... "You didn't like him to start with and then you try and change him? Dump him!" But it seems maths and I are linked and locked together whether we like it or not. A firm believer that change starts at home, with me, I have begun to try and repair the dysfunctional relationship between maths and myself. After all, think of the children! One does not want the children to suffer because of our broken relationship.

I have been working on repairing the relationship for one and three quarters of a year. Although maths and I are stronger than ever, we still have a long way to go. However, after talking it over, we thought it is time we share some of the tools that has helped us rebuild.

I found that planning for maths was a lot more fun if I made things themed. As a result I made a Matrix themed BEDMAS lesson, a baking themed fractions lesson, a Fast and the Furious themed decimal lesson, a superhero themed prime, multiples and factors lesson. Of course themed lessons are rather time consuming to think of and then make. I did however find making them based on a student in the class' interest was very useful too. This is what inspired the pythagoras and trigonometry military tanks lesson, with the assistance of my former military dad (thankfully, as my interests previously extended to shoes, handbags and other things, not howitzer tanks and their range). Since the actually recommended this lesson in one of their newsletters you would think that the relationship between maths and I was on the mend, however Rome wasn't built in a day.

Of course there is inspiration to be found on YouTube. One can't really lose with a video like "How to defeat a dragon with maths" and the other great TedEd maths videos. There are also some other things that I like to share such as why X is the unknown and the maths of history. Dan Meyer also provides suitable inspiration with his TEDx video and blog.

I teach maths five out of the days in the six day timetable, the above is not enough to sustain the strained relationship between maths and myself. So I needed more. I found more by inventing a constant stream of maths games. For example Multiple Hand Ball - every time you hit the ball you have to say the next multiple. Or Musical Chair Tables - I put timetables on the chairs and then when the music stops I ask you what the answer is of the timetable you are sitting on. You are out if you don't know. Or Power Ranger Inequalities where your are out if you are not the first person to point your arms in the direction of the largest amount or block if the problems on the board are equal. We've also had treasure hunts around the school using coordinates and bearings. We have also had races to solve the equations I wrote in sidewalk chalk around the school.

I have always been fascinated by problems with complicated answers. As such I was pretty excited when I invented Jenga maths for the students to measure angles and see the real world applications of angles in building. Students had to build the tallest possible tower using Jenga blocks in the centre of large circular area called the safe zone. Using a piece of string, students then had to measure the angle from the top of the tower to the edge of the safe zone. The challenge was to build the tower with the largest possible angle where no blocks would fall outside the safe zone when an earthquake hits. I'm pretty sure the students enjoyed this activity as they were all engaged. However more importantly, I loved this activity. Maths was suddenly perfectly relevant, as it should be, to the very real context of New Zealand and the considerations we have to make when building tall structures. And here it seems is the big neon sign that says look here. Maths and I are stronger and better together when real world problems are being simulated, when there is noise, when the challenge extends beyond one right answer.

So could the answer be project based learning?  Our next topic is measurement. Maths and I need your help to find a good real world problem to solve, perhaps simulate, question, rework and most likely make some noise because my students and I are having a ball learning. Got any ideas for us?

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Extra Curricular Activities - The Bird Club

As teachers we are often expected to get involved in running extra curricular activities for our students. Here is the story of my unusual extra curricular activity, the bird club.

Ignite Talk | Danielle Myburgh from Emerging Leaders on Vimeo.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Milestones to registration

At the end of this term, I wil finally be applying for full teacher registration. I thought I might share some of the milestones and magic that got me to this point...

Teachers college: First time I fell in love with teaching! For weeks on end I couldn't sleep because I had such severe mental chatterbox going on. You know when you are exhausted but a particular challenge your are facing is so exciting that you just can't seem to stop thinking about it? There was also a week of dreaming about electrons.

My first teaching job: For the first six months of my career, I taught at the Marlowe Academy in Ramsgate, England. As schools go, this one was a pretty tough one to start in. Officially labeled as the worst school in England, the Marlowe Academy had large amounts of students who lived with foster families, poverty or were refugees and had experienced some terrible things. Although teaching these students is difficult, the reward when they begin to trust you is incredible. I am 100% sure that my students at the Marlowe Academy will be in my heart always.
Moments at the Marlowe

  • Teenage girl standing in my class' doorway asking "who's this b*&%#?" and one of my super cool, Mr popularity kids replying "Oi! Don't talk about Miss that way"
  • In a year 8 class with lots of autism, ADHD, students who are unable to read, etc. finally managing to engage everyone in a lesson so much, that nobody kicked, punched or had broken anything in a lesson!

The junior high experience: My second job and my current position is at a Junior High School in New Zealand. I work with an amazing team of people and have been given the opportunity to lead many initiatives in the school. The school is the complete opposite from the Marlowe Academy. Most families are middle class, well educated and many are immigrants. My current school has really allowed me to extend my teaching abilities through providing me with an incredible mentor who encourages innovation within the classroom but also at a faculty level.
Moments at my current job
  • Reading the responses from a teacher evaluation where a certain very difficult young man let me know very clearly that he genuinely felt that I never gave up on him.  
Starting #edchatNZ: Last year in October, I started #edchatNZ. It is a fortnightly chat for New Zealand educators on Twitter. The chat is still going strong, seven months later! I absolutely love the positive interaction that I have had with educators from all over New Zealand, and the satisfaction of knowing what greatly quality educators we have.

Here's to many more years in teaching!

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Baby Steps in Teaching Thinking

"I don't know" also know as "dunno" and "IDK." There is also "I can't remember," "I don't get it" and "I'm bored." Don't forget the texting, the staring blankly into space, or the talking to friends and passing notes. All of these instead of trying. There are also those students who won't try to answer the question in their books, instead they wait for you to give them the right answer. Don't forget those who do start but put little to no thought into the work. We have all encountered these problems. And sometimes I, and maybe you too, just want to yell THINK!!! But here is the thing, telling a student to think harder doesn't necessarily help, and neither does telling them to think. Sometimes, if not all the time, we need to explicitly teach our students how to think.

Over the school holidays I had the opportunity to attend Spectrum Education's Habits of Mind Bootcamp in Hamilton. One of the things about a great conference is that you come back with a bucket load of ideas, inspiration and a network to support you in doing so. This conference did just that. Inspiration to teach thinking skills by the bucket load!

Now if you aren't familiar with the Habits of Mind, they have been around for a long time now. But they are incredibly timeless and useful in teaching my students to think. They are a set of sixteen dispositions that allow you to scaffold thinking skills into your teaching, or rather thinking dispositions.

Here are some of my teaching strategies that I have been testing in my classroom this term:

I teach year eight maths for lower ability groups. As you can imagine, persistence can often be a problem for students who struggle with maths. For revision sessions I no longer give them lots of questions to practice and then mark the answers afterwards. I give the students a handful of questions with the answer. They have to then keep trying until they get the right answer too, labelling their working with first attempt, second attempt, third attempt. I get really excited for the students when they say "It's hard!" I tell them that means they are really learning and that I am so proud that they keep trying. There are many students who are now happy to share with the class when it took them seven times to get an answer right but they got there in the end.

Taking responsible risks
Even though it is exhausting marking test papers, especially in subjects like science where there is lots of writing, I still insist that my students attempt every question. For some students, writing something down that might be wrong is often a big deal. I now ask students to write RR for responsible risk next to any question where they made a best guess, in tests and in their books. Since more often than not students actually guess partially or completely right, students are definitely learning the value of having a go. By guessing, they are also forcing themselves to consider and even process the information, rather than simply being allowed to give up at the first sign of struggle.

Applying past knowledge to new situations
Write the date and heading, underline it, close the windows, chairs on the desks, pick up the litter, etc. Class room routines can provide opportunities for thinking too. I ask my students to use their prior knowledge of past lessons to get set up for today's. I give them a 5min head start while I do the roll. After 5min I get everyone to stand while I ask questions like, if you have not yet written the date, sit down. I go through my list of expectations like this. Those who are still standing at the end then get a reward (usually a monster point for good learning behaviours on class dojo). Students are thus given the opportunity to manage and think for themselves, rather than classroom routines simply becoming a listening task.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Project Based Learning

If I'm bored with marking, what are the chances that the students are bored with the assessment? Now I am all for academic excellence and rigour however I don't see any reason why assessments have to be so... dull. Hence, last year I had a go at designing my own project. I tested it with a class over a few weeks as homework tasks to see how it goes. You can see the blog post about it here. This year however, I managed to convince the whole science department that we should use the project as an assessment rather than using a test. I am SO glad that we did. 

The project: The world and your school are becoming increasingly digital. To combat global warming, some individuals have suggested that one should use as much as possible paper however only from renewable forests rather than only using email or the internet. They argue, that by using more paper, more forests need to be planted which in turn combats global warming. This means that the more paper you use, the more forests will be planted which helps to combat global warming.Your goal: Evaluate whether using as much as possible renewable paper combats or aids the effects of global warming. 
Step 1: Research The first part of the project students are asked to research key ideas to help shape their argument. Research is based around photosynthesis and respiration, transpiration, the carbon cycle, effects of global warming and deforestation. 
Step 2: DiscussionAs a class we then have a discussion about the effects of global warming, deforestation and whether in fact using paper from renewable forests could combat the effects of global warming.  
Step 3: EvaluationStudents are given fifty minutes in class to write an essay that explains whether they are for or against using as much paper as possible and why.  
Step 4: DesignStudents are asked to produce any kind of marketing material eg. a poster, brochure, tv or radio advertisement, etc. that educates the public on what to do and the science behind it. 

I had hoped that by completing a project such as this,  the quality of student work would be improved as students are given feedback and the opportunity and encouragement to improve throughout the whole project. It was really rewarding being able to support students in this way and resulted in students who have a history of not achieving, doing an outstanding job because they felt that the "pressure" of the assessment was spread out. Students felt like they could make a mistake and it would be OK because the mistake would be identified and they could go back and fix it. Students could also see how close they were to getting a higher mark so often would put in a little more effort because the steps to the end goal was so much clearer. Edmodo made the process of giving feedback SO much easier as all the work, updates, feedback and so forth were all in one place. And of course, it is all ready to be exported to My Portfolio with the ICT department when creating student portfolios. 

Other highlights included students feeling that they had a better understanding of the science of the topic than they had with traditional assessments where they were asked to study for a test. I suspect that this is due to the assignment tasks being focussed on processing information through sorting, analysing  and evaluating, rather than traditional recall and application type questions. Students also really valued being given the opportunity to give their own opinion in science, rather than being asked to recall and apply facts, they were asked to interpret research much like real world scientists and then draw appropraite conclusions. Students then had to take it a step further to actually consider how the public perceives scientific ideas and best to educate them into better decision makingBy being asked in the final step to create a promotional item to educate the public, students were also challenged to reduce their whole project to a few simple ideas. It was also really rewarding giving students the opportunity to use their creative talents in science, a subject not traditionally associated with creativity in schools. I especially loved the "paper rap" a student made!

Future Directions 
  • Cross curricular links: In order to improve the links to learning outside the classroom and to help students see that their subjects are linked and related, I would love if this project completed in science, could be synchronised with the teaching of transactional writing in English and/or song writing in music, digital design etc. Even better would be if this could be assessed across a range of subjects.
  • Participating and Contributing: As this project addresses a global issue, we could even spend some time actually educating the public about deforestation. 

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Creative Solutions

I know that many of my behaviour management strategies are drawn from past experience. Perhaps I need to consider a more creative solution from time to time?

"Sam was an 8-year-old boy who was known as a "behavior nightmare."
He was commonly referred to by teachers, parents, and students alike as
a bully, thug, and deviant. His English was poor and his schoolwork
terrible. He was a big boy for his age and had very little parental support
or guidance. His Grade 2 teacher despaired for him and in many ways
was even afraid of him. She would start each day expecting trouble and
knew she would have to punish him in some way for his unruly behavior.
Sam was beginning to be her worst nightmare.
Being a very professional and caring teacher, she struggled with Sam
for half the year, but finally broke down and demanded the principal
do something about him. While discussing the situation with the prin-
cipal, she drew on her past experience and training. She suggested
placing him under in-school isolation, developing an individual behav-
ioral management program for him, getting some medical tests, and, if
all else failed, expelling him on the grounds that he was a danger to
others in his class. She claimed that if action was not taken, she would
consider resigning.
The principal asked her not to resign for at least 6 months. Then she
immediately promoted Sam to Grade 4. The result was nothing less than
In his new environment, Sam was with students that he admired. There
was no one smaller around for him to bully. Most important, the teacher
and students had entirely different expectations of his behavior. These
expectations were reflected in the classroom structures (rules and resources)
and norms.

Because Sam was experiencing difficulty with classwork at his new level,
the principal also asked his previous teacher if she would help him with his
reading at the homework center. Now the "special" treatment he received
was not brought on by his attention-seeking, negative behavior, but by his
need to learn to read. The teacher was able to see Sam in an entirely new

Story from Walker, A., & Quong, T. (1998). Valuing differences: Strategies for dealing with the tensions of educational leadership in a global societyPeabody Journal of Education, 73(2), 81-105. 

Friday, March 8, 2013

Do we need leaders?

One of the ongoing goals of education in New Zealand is raising Maori student achievement. There is a lot of discussion about this in schools, especially when an ERO visit is looming. One of the questions that all this discussion has raised for me, is whether we have enough leadership where this issue is concerned. 

In my mind, a leader is someone who drives a particular group to achieve goals in line with a common purpose or value. A leader is someone who communicates well, works harder than those they lead and measures every decisions against the purpose and values of the group they are leading. As a nation, do we have a leader to look to where Maori student achievement is concerned? In your school, do you have a person that has specific, concrete goals for you to work towards that will allow you to realise the vision of raised Maori student achievement? 

Perhaps I have not searched hard or far enough to find a leader in this field that inspires respect through their vision, relationships and knowledge. Perhaps I need to look harder or perhaps we need to look at developing better leaders in this area. 

A leader is a sheltering rata tree. This means:

  • dedicating one’s life for the good of all the people
  • ensuring stability for the people
  • encouraging confidence about the future
  • standing tall at all times regardless of the challenges
  • being a person who cares about people.

A leader is a totara tree standing tall in the forest. This means:

  • standing tall as a leader
  • presenting oneself as a leader
  • dressing up rather than down
  • being a source of pride for the people because of skills and appearance
  • never sacrificing the people for personal gain.

A leader is a rock that is dashed by the waves of the sea. This means:

  • being steadfast and strong
  • being fully committed
  • going the extra mile and burning the midnight oil when required
  • being able to handle difficult situations and endure a fair bit of stress.

A leader is a waka (canoe). This means:

  • ensuring essential services are maintained
  • ensuring that the status of the community is such that the people can feel proud to belong
  • ensuring that the whole whanau, hapu or iwi is functional and able to hold their own against or in comparison with others
  • ensuring that the symbols and icons of the group are respected, maintained and enhanced.

from Hohepa, M. P., & Robinson, V.  (2008). Māori and educational leadership: Tu RangatiraAlterNATIVE, 4(2), 20-38.

Friday, February 1, 2013

New Beginnings

"Have no fear of perfection - you'll never reach it." - Salvador Dali

As a teacher we get to try again every year, we get the chance to start from scratch and do it better. One of my favourite quotes is that of Salvador Dali about perfection. The thing that matters however is to try. So this year, I would like to try a few new things...

The Small Things:
iBooks author
If you haven't had a chance to see the amazing interactive textbooks you can create on iBooks author for your students with apple devices, then you are missing out. I am really looking forward to creating interactive textbook units for my students, especially for the extension kids. I will let you know when they become available for free on the iBooks store.
Kinaesthetic maths
If the teacher finds maths boring, what hope do the children  have? Well I often find the maths we are supposed to teach uninspiring. What hope do students have of enjoying maths if we have to do the same thing day in and day out? How will a struggling student ever be motivated or engaged? Open your book to page 56 and complete the exercises needs to be a thing of the past, or at the most a thing for relievers. This year, maths is getting a revamp. At least, I am going to try my best to give it one!
One of the most amazing teachers I know, sets boundaries so clear that even I, as a teacher, would worry about over stepping them. Her students, who are terrified of her, also love her to pieces. Even the naughty ones. So that is what I would like to try this year. Get those boundaries so clear and the consequences even clearer. And then the hard part, never waver on a consequence. Follow through. Predictability. Structure. We've heard it before but this year, I want to do it right. Of course this commitment starts on day one so I better make sure I have every possible consequence worked our before hand.

The Big Thing
Rally the teachers
I am young and naive. I am not stupid. I know the influence of politics and economics on education. Hence why I started #edchatNZ last year. Because I felt that it is important to build a network of proactive, positive teachers who puts kids first. I am not interested in teachers who do not have time for things. We are a profession with nearly twelve weeks of holiday a year! No other professional can say that. If we want to be viewed as professionals worthy of respect and the communities' trust, it is time we start acting worthy of the respect. If my doctor had bad relationships with other doctors, refused to get involved in up skilling through professional development, I would have little faith in him too. So this year, I am looking for more "professional" teachers who will help me keep my idealistic dreams of all the great things that teachers could be and can achieve.