Monday, December 29, 2014

How might we... build a nest?

During the final #edchatNZ chat of the year, one of the questions were "What has been the best/most critical question you encountered this year?" Some of the responses included "Why does the education system need to change?" or "Why do I need to change my practice if my students are getting good NCEA results?". It seemed that many of the questions that the crowd shared, were why questions. Yet in my office (possibly thanks to Steve and his question quest), and thanks to Maurie our principal at HPSS, it seems that the best and most critical questions I battled with this year were how might we questions. "How might we organise a conference that is more accessible than the existing conferences?" or "How might I teach in a timetable where I see a group of students only once a week?".  

So, if one uses the types of question being asked as an indicator of sorts, what might the questions we struggle with say about us? Within education, but also in other industries, a common question is "I went to school, got a degree, picked up a skill, gained expertise in my field, I established myself over the years. Why should  I have to change what I do?". (Question modified from A More Beautiful Question by Warren Berger). What does such a question say about a person's attitude to learning? Or the obstacles they are currently facing? Or the tensions within their work and personal environment We can get more education specific too, "How do we measure innovation?" or "My students are engaged, but are they truly empowered" (thanks to Stephen Eames and Kimberly Baars for these questions during the last #edchatNZ of 2014). What do these questions say about their professional journeys, what they value or what they think is worth spending time on?

Perhaps the questions we wrestle with at any given time are also indicative of the phases or processes of life that we are going through. Two and a bit years ago I was struggling with how I might go about starting a Twitter chat. Now, I am wrestling with how I might empower a professional community of educators across the country. Of course, I have also wondered why this Twitter chat and community, #edchatNZ, has been so successful? Each of these questions reflect a different stage in my journey. The why questions have helped me to make sense of events or problems, whilst the how questions have helped to remove obstacles and focus my actions.

This all brings us to the next big question I am wrestling with. A question most definitely indicative of what I value, what I consider worth spending time one. A question that is near and dear to my heart, because I feel that the possible answers to this question will move #edchatNZ beyond the limits of my own capacity. How might we build a nest? The nest, being the team that will run the organisation that is #edchatNZ, the little hashtag that could. 

My nest question reflects so much about what I am wrestling with as a I do my summer reading. How do I ensure that all those generous and passionate people that have agreed to be part of the #edchatNZ nest feel valued? How do we go about things in such a way that we don't waste busy educator's time? What value can I add for those teachers who have contributed their time? How do we build a team that is spread across a country and might never actually all meet in person? How do we structure or organise this team so that we set no limits about what we can achieve? How do we empower these volunteers to take on challenges that matter to them and will contribute to the overall vision of #edchatNZ?

My nest question also reflects my hopes and dreams. I hope, that by building a nest, that there will be leadership and learning opportunities for those people who are willing to step up. I hope that by including more people behind the scenes, that we will be able to expand the reach and capacity of #edchatNZ to empower even more educators in 2015. I hope that by building a nest, that #edchatNZ will challenge and grow the education community in new and innovative ways. Over the two years of #edchatNZ, we have grown immensely. From a small fortnightly chat hosted by an overly eager provisionally registered teacher (yes, I was a PRT when I started #edchatNZ), we have now had a sold out conference with over 300 people. We have hosted an international author, we have combined chats creating a first international combo chat, we have spawned subject specific chats, we have hosted national education heroes as moderators and participated in connected educator events. We have trended again and again on Twitter New Zealand and we have made it into multiple publications including a mention in the New Zealand Herald. Quite the two years that we have had! I hope that by building a nest, that we might continue to defy what people believe is possible in education.

I have spent the last week reading Creativity Inc. a great book by Ed Catmull, the director of Pixar and Disney Animation. The book talks about leading in an organisation whose success is directly related to creativity. Every fortnight I see the creativity from great educators shared on #edchatNZ. If I hope to continue growing #edchatNZ, then I too need to find a way to channel this immense creativity. So if the creativity is there, how do we channel this? Of particular importance to me is an idea from the book that "in a fear based, failure averse culture, people will avoid risk. They will seek instead to repeat something safe that's been good enough in the past." How do we take risks with #edchatNZ that will allow us to move forward and innovate? How do we go about finding solutions rather than focussing on problems, that there are no barriers, only obstacles. And that we outwit obstacles together. (You can see more of my notes from the book here)

As 2014 really wraps up, I am immensely grateful to all those who have contributed, supported, questioned, mentored and gotten involved with the #edchatNZ vision already. There are phenomenal educators in New Zealand who made my dreams a reality. Thank you for being as excited about education as I am. Thank you to the #edchatNZ conference organisation team, Matt, Alyx, Heather, Sonya, Mel and Philippa. Thank you to Maurie the HPSS principal who didn't even hesitate for a second when I asked him whether our school could host a conference. Thank you to the teachers at HPSS who let visiting teachers join their classes, teachers who agreed to expose their teaching to 300+ visiting teachers. Thank you to the #edchatNZ community who turn up every fortnight to discuss education, who turn up to be challenged and to set new goals. Thank you to Mark Osbourne, Karen Melhuish Spencer, Chris Sullivan and Rachel Bolstad for being the edu-celebrity friends of #edchatNZ and giving their time and support. Thank you to the 60+ presenters at #edchatNZ. Thank you to the people in my office, who sung Iggy Azalea's  Fancy with me when I was excited about all the conference swag turning up, but who were excited and supportive every step along the way.

Building a community might happen organically in some scenarios, but I for one, do not feel like leaving this one to chance. I am sure that I will keep wrestling with my nest question for some time. However, armed with gratitude, my next holiday read (A More Beautiful Question by Warren Berger), and my big question, I think I just might be ready for 2015. Bring it on.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Academics and Achievement > Well being?

Many of us are familiar with Maslow's hierarchy of needs. We know that many things precede achievement, problem solving and creativity. Yet, with schools having such a big focus on the latter, it seems curious that we spend so little time on helping students build and develop their well being. You might argue that this is covered in the Health and Physical Education curriculum, but I would really question whether this is sufficient considering the home environments that some our students come from. 

I also wonder, what type of students our schools and the systems therein will be turning out? If we only teach and emphasise achievement, NCEA and national standards, then what are we teaching kids to value? I would argue that the same is true for teachers and other professionals, to what extent are we sending the message that results and achievement are more valuable than well being, happiness and quality relationships?
Image Source

This year, I have really enjoyed that working at Hobsonville Point means we are working at developing all of the students, not just their minds in class or the muscles in their sports teams. A large component of my role here is acting as a hub coach (for more information about hub coaches see Claire Amos's post). As this role evolved throughout the year, I found increasingly that it has dealt with friendships and family, with values, morals and respect. As most schools and teachers do, we have also dealt with safety of some of our students. But what really stands out for me about this year was the focus on student well being. The focus of developing student self-esteem and confidence and explicitly learning about respect and managing relationships. By working together in our hubs, we have given students a safe place within the school where they are able to explore some of the more personal things that we all go through as we learn to make sense of an adult world. Together our students have unpacked and reflected regularly using the hauora tools from the health curriculum. Together we identified strategies and unpacked scenarios where our well being might be out of sync, and what we might do about it. We talked about how we might support someone else who might be struggling spiritually, emotionally, physically or socially. 

In our hubs, we also unpacked the Hobsonville Habits. A set of ten dispositions that we aim to help our students develop. By calling them habits, we send the message that they are things we can develop until they become second nature. As a result, I am able to talk to the students in my hub, but also any student in the school, about how they might show more compassion. This might be in the context of looking after the school, our buildings, or their peers. 

Here are some of the activities that I did with my hub over the year in effort to build dispositional excellence:
The Love Wall
  • Unpacking the Hobsonville Habit of Purposeful, we read some exerts from Sean Covey's 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens (Sean Covey is the son of Stephen Covey, author of 7 Habits of Highly Effective People). The students really loved the book. In particular we focussed on the chapter about being proactive. Over a series of lessons, we then unpacked acting in a proactive and reactive way in more depth. This involved listing some of the proactive and reactive ways that we act in different scenarios. I prompted students by giving them different scenarios and by looking at some movie clips. Mean Girls is great for this one. We also looked at the compass of shame, a great tool that allowed us to explore different types of reactive behaviour in more depth. Finally, we also did some role plays, where we acted out a challenging scenario where the student had to respond using only proactive responses. The rest of the group then gave the student feedback about their responses. And finally, no series of lessons at Hobsonville Point would be complete without some alone time to reflect.
  • Some of the simpler activities included the love wall, where every week for a term, students were asked to write something that they liked about themselves, but also something the liked about another student in the hub. These are displayed on the wall of our hub.
  • Steve Mouldey also introduced the students to Caine's Arcade. A powerful video of a young boy who created an arcade from cardboard boxes. Students then unpacked lessons from the Caine's arcade video.
  • Of course, no dispositional curriculum would be complete without a good selection of TED talks. Our favourite this year was probably the thirteen year old Logan LaPlante's TEDx talk, Hackschooling makes me happy. 

Other things that we explore in our hub is Hermann's brain, a tool which has allowed us to explore thinking preferences. This allowed us to help students explore how we learn, think and act in more depth. 

Most mornings in hubs also involved a quick check in with students. This might involve each person sharing what they most need to focus on for the week, how they are going, how they are feeling about particular events, etc. This often acts as a measure of where students are at, what support they need, whether they might need additional support in terms of strategies to cope or manage a situation, stress management or even referrals to the school councillor. 

Finally, there is also the ever important parent communication. By checking in with students, following their academic and dispositional progression and getting to know them very well through all the team building and discussion, we are able to bring parents and family on board to a much greater extent. Our conversations are often more meaningful and we are able to work together towards supporting our students.

All of the above, is only the first year of learning hubs. So as I sit and reflect about the where to next, I am as excited today as I was a year ago about the potential of the learning hubs at Hobsonville Point. Knowing that I have time and tools allocated to helping my students build their emotional and academic resilience, and their well being, that I can coach them through when they get stuck, and that that I am not alone in this, makes me excited for our students. It also gives me hope for the many under achieving students in our country. In fact, a 2014 Ministry of Education report about low decile schools that are performing well, actually talks about the success of schools who have adopted a similar model. 

Who would have thought that working with students around their whole well being, not just their academic achievement would have such great effects? Perhaps we all know. Or perhaps the real question is who is willing to rattle enough cages to make sure that every child has someone looking out for their well being? 

Quotes from my students: "Throughout the past year, my being has definitely grown and developed into something much better than what I started out like. One of my best highlights about my being is being able to learn more about my Hauora and getting to know more about how each of our quadrants in our Hauora needs to be equal and cared for." "Hub activities were new and different to me, it was interesting to get to know and understand different peoples opinions, to think about what others say and then take into account, how different we are but how we can still interact with each other." "My highlight for my being was that I have a better meaning and understanding of the word “respect” even though I have not fully changed, I am on a road to being a more respectful person to myself and others. I enjoyed learning about the difference between being reactive and proactive with my hub. This was useful because I now can have a look at different situations and understand how I can make the best of every situation." "I have learnt how to manage my emotions.  I have learnt different strategies to deal with conflict."

Thursday, November 6, 2014


SOLO is a thinking taxonomy that is used widely here in New Zealand. It is a great way to scaffold students towards increased complexity. Although I am very much a newbie to using SOLO taxonomy, I have very much fallen in love with one of its tools, the SOLO hexagons.

Although most teachers are familiar with matching card activities, SOLO hexagons take the tried and true kinaesthetic task to a new level. Rather than just matching definitions, or building a table of ideas, etc. SOLO hexagons allows students to visualise where key ideas might link. When two hexagons touch, students must be able to justify the link between the two hexagons. This is a great activity to quickly visualise just how well students are making sense of the ideas in a topic, especially in a content heavy subject like science.

Yesterday, I tried a new way of using SOLO hexagons. Although the class had that mild state of unease and chaos when you ask students to do something new and challenging, students got settled fairly quickly to a task that really saw all students in the class challenged at an appropriate level. Being able to challenge students at their appropriate level means that every student can feel successful in their learning, hence, my great love for differentiation. The really visual nature of the links also meant that  I could very quickly identify the students that needed additional support. Hence, these students could then go through and identify the words they were unfamiliar with so that we could generate a glossary for them together.

However, this week, I took my hexagon use to the next level with some additional differentiation. Of course, with e-learning and universal design for learning always lurking somewhere in my mind, I made sure that there was a range of references available including videos, articles and cartoons. Some students were given a full set of hexagons with which to find links. Those who managed it quickly were asked to rearrange the ideas to find additional links in the concepts. After that, students were given blank hexagons on which to add additional key concepts or observations from practicals in class. Other groups were given blank hexagons from the beginning with only two or three to get them started. Finally, yet another group were only given blank hexagons. Again, the students who generated their own hexagons had to find and justify their links, and then rearrange to find and justify additional links.

Now am I wondering, how will I refine my SOLO hexagon use next... I'm sure there will be something on Pam Hook's fabulous site. Or on Matt or Andrea's...

Saturday, November 1, 2014

When algebra and art meet...

One of the aspects of our curriculum design at Hobsonville Point Secondary is the way that our learning is presented in contexts. Forces and  scientific investigations are represented this term as rocket designing, megastructures or even paired with the physical education curriculum and biomechanics. I am however particularly excited about my maths module this term. Algebra of art. These two learning areas are not usually seen to cross over, hence when students can use equations to make sense of what they are seeing, they have a pretty radical new understanding of how we might make sense of the world with equations.

Thanks to the google art project with its gigapixel images of artworks from all around the world, my students were able to try their hand at generating equations to represent some of Sol LeWitt's artworks. The range of artworks mean that I was able to differentiate for the students with simpler and harder works. They were able to zoom in and examine the structure in intense detail, looking for patterns within the work. Where this wasn't enough, they also used a Minecraft video of the artwork to help. I have a few who are keen to build the next artworks we will be using and I am excited to see what they generate with their own equations too.

Through my work as an e-learning facilitator, I often hear teachers say that maths has been the hardest learning area within which to introduce e-learning. Within my own practice, I found that it was not until I shifted to teaching students maths in a context that e-learning really became relevant. The example above illustrates this beautifully. We could have looked at a pyramid that I had drawn on the board in in a textbook. Instead, by presenting students with a high resolution, manipulatable source of information and applying their learning in a way that helped them make sense of the world, students were incredibly engaged.

There is of course also the major shift that occurred in my practice after reading Jo Boaler's, The Elephant in the Classroom.  Increasingly, I have presented students with a problem rather than a method. And in the case of the art works above, as students were working, I could move around the room, prompting and teaching skills as they became necessary. The students are incredibly receptive to learning new methods when they are working on the problems as they can genuinely appreciate the "why are we learning this."

Monday, September 15, 2014

Aftermath: Connection. Innovation. Reality.

Hard at work with some exceptional
people at Startup Weekend. 
August was a very busy month. It kicked off of course with the #edchatNZ conference. It has taken me a good month to process my thoughts and feelings around organising an event for 300+ teachers from across the country. Also in August, I attended TEDx Auckland. Of course, this took some time to process too. TED talks have a knack for pushing your mental boundaries and helping you re-examine the perspectives that we hold. Of course, the fun doesn't end there. I also went to Startup Weekend in Wellington - a hugely intense weekend competition where you go from pitching an idea for a company to creating the company, in one weekend. 

As you might imagine, I feel like my mind has been twisted and
Facilitator, deputy principal,  teacher,
student, and politician.  We are all
partners in our education future. 
reshaped, contorted, exhausted and ignited. After much processing however, I think I may finally be able to summarise my key lessons from August in three words. Connection. Innovation. Reality.

Lesson 1: Connection 

The #edchatNZ conference highlighted for me the huge power of connection. The momentum, the energy and the change that we can make for the better when a community is connected and empowered. But also, that those connections extend beyond the obvious, to politicians, to parents and to others in the community. 
I love Twitter. I love Twitter because I am judged not for my age, my years of experience or my title, but rather, I am judged for the quality of my ideas and my contributions. And this goes for everyone else on Twitter too. The quality of your interactions, contributions and even what you curate ultimately defines the success of your connections. And these connections are so hugely powerful. It gives anyone a voice, an audience and a community within which to learn. I am sure that any educator on Twitter would agree. It means that I am connected in a far more powerful way than if my conversations were limited to my staffroom. For example, I tweeted Nikki Kay, the associate minister of education whilst at Startup Weekend. Not only did she tweet back, she called me, on a Sunday afternoon to answer my questions about our project. And then emailed me some additional resources to support our project. What if all politicians were this connected? What if all teachers were this connected? How powerful would the teaching profession be? Or the relationships with our students? Or our communities? And how powerful would it be if educators, communities and politicians were actively connecting in this way all the time? What would this mean for the future of New Zealand? 

Lesson 2: Innovation 

Is innovation just a buzz word in education? Is it a skill? Is it essential? Is it useful? Should schools be innovative? Should teachers be innovative? Innovation comes with risk, should schools be taking risks? And what about teacher training programmes, should they teach future teachers to facilitate innovation? Is it even reasonable to think that teacher training programmes should address the idea of innovation in education? Or for them to examine innovative practices. To some extent, one can even question what innovation is in an education context.  
I am currently reading Grant Lichtman's new book where he tells the story of schools that have worked on being innovative or encouraging students to be innovative. One of these stories explains innovation as "Thinking of stuff is not innovation. Tinkering with stuff is not innovation. Even inventing stuff is not innovation. Innovation instead, when it’s done right, makes us go “wow, of course, why didn’t I think of that?” It creates complete experiences that we want to engage in. It eliminates inconveniences and hassles and improves our overall experiences. At its most dramatic, it creates entire categories of offerings, so new that we find it hard to name them at first." The reality is, as a science graduate with a one year teacher diploma and a few post grad papers, how can I even begin to prepare students for a future with big data, climate change, food security issues, markets and market demands that don't yet exist? To some extent, I also worry about education in this context. I get paid fortnightly, like clock work. I can have sick days. I can pay bills. I get 12 weeks of holiday every year. I don't have to work weekends if I'm very organised during the week. I am protected by unions, contracts and a system. However, for many people in society already, they work nights and weekends. They struggle to make ends meet working shifts, but also starting a business, paying the wages, rent and so forth for their businesses. People are already working in new fields that didn't exist ten years ago. As I type this email, there are 284 social media related jobs on With educators working in a protected bubble where we are not exposed to the rate of change in the industry, or even how different sectors are working, how can we hope to prepare students for the future, or even hope to understand the urgency with which schools need to change?  
Startup Weekend involved working side by side in a high intensity environment with people who are not necessarily working in education. I got to spend the weekend working with designers, programmers, marketing and finance types (as well as two fabulous educators, Gerard McManus and Tony Cairns). The experience reaffirmed for me the intense need that educators and students need to get outside the classroom, to ensure that we are learning and living in the real world, contributing in the real world, creating the future that we want. The risk of a classroom that is too teacher centred rather than community or student centred is that we may find in a few years time, as students leave our schools, that our students are not prepared for the reality of the world. 
Lesson 3: Reality  
HPSS students on a tour of Q Theatre 
The reality of a teacher is still that of marking, NCEA examinations or national standards, floods of emails, parents, behaviour management, department and professional development budgets. Increasingly over the past two years, I have wondered about why we see our systems as barriers rather than enabling constraints or even better, challenges to overcome? More importantly, if we really examine the systems that we have created, the systems that we enforce in our schools, do they really support our students to make progress in their learning? And did we base these systems our judgement or personal opinion? Or did we base it on research? If we examine the reality, rather than paradigms and perspectives that we have constructed, are our practices and systems really preparing students for an unknown future? And, do I really examine my systems and my practices and genuinely redesigning these for student needs? Have I examined my beliefs, my perceptions compared to research? Compared to the experiences and events of those working outside of education? The anecdotes we hear and share although they contribute to the reality, are not the whole reality, and it is important that we critically examine what shapes our perceptions, and that we challenge these constantly by stepping outside our echo chambers, both in and outside education.

There are many more lessons that I have learnt over the past months that addresses the nitty gritty, the teaching tools and techniques and new questions to ask. Lessons that unpack connection, innovation and reality in more detail. I am fortunate to work at Hobsonville Point Secondary school where powerful partnerships are part of our school principles. A powerful principle that I feel that I urgently need to explore in more detail. Partnering with the community, industry and families will hopefully mean that my students and I constantly challenge what we think reality might be. We might grow with the world, change it to be the place we want, rather than arriving in the world upon graduation from school.

My wish for you however, is that you step outside your classroom, your department you school or whatever other organisation you are involved with, and examine your perceptions and what kind of future they will lead to.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

An update from Startup Weekend

You may have heard of Startup Weekend and you may have noticed my tweets today about our startup weekend project. So I thought I would take a quick moment to share with you what we are up to.

I turned up on Friday night for a pitch fire - time for you to share your one minute pitch for a company. This was then added to a quick poster displayed around the room. You then got to vote for your ideas with a sticker. It was through this process that I met my team for the weekend.

Using many of the design thinking process that Steve Mouldey and Di Cavallo have shared at Hobsonville Point, we have worked at empathising with a problem, seeking feedback, refining, refining, seeking feedback, refining and seeking feedback and again and again and some more. I was also introduced to the idea of validating - testing the idea with stakeholders. This involved a visit from the always fabulous Philippa, a Skype call with Tim, feedback and contributions via Twitter and emails from loads of the fabulous #edchatNZ crowd.

So... What have we come up with?

The problems: 

  • Innovation enables us capitalise on opportunities HOWEVER 84% of our validation participants believe that innovation is not adequately taught in schools.
  • Teachers do not have the skills, confidence or resources to support the development of key competencies from the New Zealand curriculum that result in innovative students. “they are trained to kick the ball into goal posts – innovation is about creating new goalposts” 

The unique value proposition:
  • Increased engagement and by in from students in learning
  • Safe Environment – facilitated through teachers and mentors
  • A tool to prepare students for jobs that do not exist yet

Idea brainstorm of what the process might be that scaffolds students through the "innovation process"

But now, to make sure that we are creating a tool for teachers, by teachers, we need you!
  • You can contribute your ideas about how to guide/teach/facilitate innovation here
  • You can follow our Twitter account here 
  • You sign up your interest in trying this tool here

Monday, August 11, 2014

#edchatNZ meme

I am still making sense of the events from the #edchatNZ conference. Hence, I really appreciate some questions to scaffold my thinking. Thanks Reid for this fantastic idea - a blogging meme about #edchatNZ!

If you get included in the blogging meme: copy/paste the questions and instructions into your own blog then fill out your own answers. Share on twitter tagging 5 friends.

1. How did you attend the #Edchatnz Conference? (Face 2 Face, followed online or didn't)
I was there. With bells and whistles on... I mean, I was wearing my fantastic new #edchatNZ hoodie thanks to the amazing educators who helped me put this thing together. Thank you Philippa, Matt, Sonya, Heather, Mel and Alyx. Your ideas, your feedback, your hard work, your encouragement and support is what made #edchatNZ happen. Thank you.

2. How many others attended from your school or organisation?
It was at my school. 125 students and 300 teachers all in the same building, learning side by side. I suspect that Hobsonville Point students will have a very different opinion about teachers when they grow up... After all, even on Saturday, we had students turn up at school. There was something beautiful about one of my students sitting next to me in a workshop learning about SOLO on a Saturday morning.

3.How many #Edchatnz challenges did you complete?
I completed ten of the challenges. However I feel a little disappointed that it slipped my mind to make the whole auditorium dance... Thank you Steve for making up the challenges!

4. Who are 3 people that you connected with and what did you learn from them?
It was absolutely amazing meeting some of steering committee for the first time! Imagine organising a whole conference with people via Twitter and Google Hangout and then meeting on the morning of the conference for the first time!! I really learnt what collaboration means through the organisation of this conference. It is the perfect example of just how powerful social media is for collaboration, not just connection. I was also super excited to have three amazing ladies from New York join us, especially since they reiterated something I really believe, there is something special happening in New Zealand education. Thank you Peggy, Bron and Marianne. Your presence and your contributions were greatly appreciated.

The steering committee 

5. What session are you gutted that you missed?
All of them! I would have loved to be in every session, to be able to support every presenter. Putting the programme together it just blew my mind that we could offer such a high calibre event with such an all star crew of presenters.

6. Who is one person that you would like to have taken to Edchatnz and what key thing would they have learned? 
I would have loved to have every one who has every participated in #edchatNZ there. Meeting face to face is completely awesome. However, in particular, I would also have loved to have Pascal Dresse there as he was one of the first people to really get onboard with #edchatNZ. New Zealand misses you!

7. Is there a person you didn't get to meet/chat with (F2F/online) that you wished you had?
Yes! But I tried my best. I guess we will just have to have another conference?

8. What is the next book you are going to read and why? 
The Key Competencies for the future book that Steve is hogging! Really looking forward to reading it as I am a big fan of the key competencies. You can see more of my reading plans for the near future on Goodreads though!

9. What is one thing you plan to do to continue the Education Revolution you learnt about at #EdchatNZ?
Where do I begin?? Blogging challenge, mentor groups, supporting all the new chats, planning another conference, emailing delegates to check on their progress... and a whole lot more!

10. Will you take a risk and hand your students a blank canvas?
Yes! But we will spend a great amount of time learning about painting techniques, inspiration, masters and muses. We will practice together and prototype so that eventually they can create a master piece for their future.

Thank you to all those who were there. You are all legends.

Friday, July 25, 2014


Turns out planning a conference keeps one a bit too busy to blog regularly. However, I thought I would just share a quick preview of what I am teaching this term.

There is no I in team
Bryce's team work game in action
We are looking forward to having students analyse their behaviour!

On Wednesdays this term I will be teaching with Bryce. Bryce will be doing PE and Health while I will be doing statistics. We started the module with some team building games. Students were then able to reflect on the experience using a google form. The same google form was also then used as a means to establish prior knowledge about statistics. Students then worked in groups to have a go at analysing the results from the google form.

Population Explosion Project
Thursday afternoon is my SPIN (special interest module), that I offer by myself. This spin is a maths module, however mixed up with one of my personal interests - anthropology. We started the session by watching the first few minutes of a video from the fantastic and entertaining statistician Hans Rosling. Students were then asked to generate questions from what they had just watched using a question grid and dice. We will be using their questions throughout the term to inform our statistical inquiry and hopefully draw some conclusions. 
Shout out to Cindy for this fabulous resource

Student selections of their most complex and most interesting questions

Apocalypse now
Apocalypse now on Friday is a module that I will be teaching with Steve Mouldey. In this module, students will be examining socio-scientific issues, however particularly looking at 'wicked problems' specifically outlined in Steve's current read - NZCER's Key Competencies for the Future. Students started the lesson simply by brainstorming in groups everything that is wrong with the world. They were then asked to sort these into groups with descriptive titles and then asked to provide a description of each category. Students were  then given time to explore the resources (videos, articles etc.) that Steve and I curated. Even on day one, we already had some interesting discussions about different perspectives when gay marriage came up as a topic. Steve couldn't join us, however but we made sure to keep him in the loop using our module hashtag on Twitter #apoclyps. Our visitor in class, the lovely Alyx also made sure to share the events. 

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Data Detective and a Trifecta of Tools

Flubaroo generate spreadsheet (student names removed)
Maybe it's because I did a science degree, maybe because I am an empiricist. Either way, I like having data to make decisions around. Education rockstar researcher Hattie emphasises how important feedback from the students about how they're learning is. So I wanted to share a trifecta of tools that help the busy teacher use data more effectively.
ideas about gravity before teaching and learning

ideas about gravity after teaching and learning
Step 1: A quick google form at the beginning of a lesson with an open ended question e.g. What do you understand about gravity? Followed with a few multi choice questions that look at common misconceptions about gravity.
Google forms work well on all platforms and devices including smart phones

Then... I use flubaroo (a google docs add on) to grade it very quickly on a spreadsheet. This gives me a spreadsheet with the lowest scoring students automatically in red. Hence, immediately I can move forward with differentiated tasks, team roles etc. based on what the students know.
Flubaroo is a simple to use google apps add on - when in a google spreadsheet, simply click on add ons and then install it

Step 2: Teaching and learning takes places including a range of different strategies.

Step 3: Students take the same test
Then... I use flubaroo again to see if students have made a shift in their understanding. Today, my students shifted from a 1.72 out of 4 to a 2.42 out of 4. I can also then identify which students need more intensive scaffolding or support in the next session.

Finally, I use word it out to paste the answers from the open ended question creating a before and after version with the students' answers. From the before and after I can see that students are now able to describe gravity with the vocabulary that I introduced today including mass, attracted and pull.
Word it out is a free tool that creates a word wall where the size of a word increases based on its frequency in the text that you input.

And with my trifecta of tools I can identify the students that need to be extended next time as well as the students that need to be supported. Using the view summary function in google forms I can also see how many of my students started with misconceptions about gravity and how many finished with the same or perhaps new misconceptions.

Before teaching and learning

After teaching and learning

The reality is that being a data detective just means that I am taking a really brutal, honest look at my own teaching. I can see that students no longer think that only planets have gravitational fields, but I can also see that there are still students who think that the moon has no gravity. 

Sunday, May 11, 2014

It's hard being bad

When did you last feel completely incompetent? I’m not talking about momentary incompetence, like when you had to ask someone to open Fort Knox packaging. I’m talking about learning something completely new and not even knowing where to start, or tripping up over and over whilst everyone else seems to be getting the hang of it.

As a bit of a nerd who loves learning, I can devour educational readings faster than Homer Simpson does doughnuts. Put me in in a discussion or debate related to education and I’ll run circles around a lot of people. I can whizz my way around a computer too, a bit of troubleshooting here, some photoshop there and some e-learning too. I feel confident in my understanding of the nature of science, evolution, genetics and a few other science things. I build my understanding of new ideas quickly and easily without breaking a sweat. I make new connections fast. I am reflective, and I am good at identifying where and when I need to improve. Yet, despite having all these characteristics of what one might consider a good learner, I was reminded on Wednesday of the intense emotions associated with being a beginner learner. What's more, I was the kid in the class who knew the least.

My family moved to New Zealand in 2000. I attended a decile 10 school on Auckland's North Shore. My first experience of learning Māori was at teachers college for about four weeks, a total of 5% of my grade. And so, since I just don’t know enough about Māori language or culture to effectively teach my students how to honour the bi-cultural partnership in New Zealand, I decided to do something about it. 

Leoni, our exceptionally warm and skilled Māori teacher included me in her class as a student on Wednesday. I had to ask questions, and clarify my understanding. I had to ask the students for help because I could't remember how to begin my sentences. Or mid way through, I would suddenly forget what the next word in the sentence is, and then again, I would have to ask the student with whom I was partnered for help. I had to ask Leoni for help multiple times too, and ask her for clarification and guidance. Even though I theoretically know how difficult it is for students who struggle, students who have low literacy, students with learning difficulties, as an adult, it has been a long time since I could so completely emphasise with that feeling of complete and utter incompetence. There is an intensity to knowing that you are worse than everyone else in the class at something. It is uncomfortable, embarrassing and for many people, debilitating.

As I was reminded of just how intense learning can be, I was also fortunate in knowing that this was an invaluable experience that stressed to myself the empathy that I need to show those students in my class who are struggling. I could very easily not return next week to this class. Just as so many students wag class because they too have felt uncomfortable and embarrassed. I am fortunate in that for a long time, I have been working towards a growth mindset as described by Carol Dweck. Many of our students do not, and we need to help them develop this.

So, the week one hackyrclass challenge goal is beginning to develop a growth mindset. So I challenge you to go along to learn something that you know that you will be terrible at, simply because it will challenge your growth mindset and give you empathy for those who are still in the throws of developing it. And while you are doing that, I will go back for round two of Māori, so that at least I can be the top of the class student when it comes to persistence!

Monday, April 28, 2014

Starting the little hashtag that could - #edchatNZ

I joined Twitter in 2011 because I couldn't find a job. A very wise man suggested that I make a website to show off my e-learning skills. Apparently e-learning know how was a bit of a commodity. I did make a website, but I didn't have very much to put on the website. So I created a Twitter account to embed on the website. I tweeted a few educational tweets and then went looking for a few other education tweets to retweet. I found so much more than I bargained for. I started participating in Twitter chats #edchatUK, #byotchat, #flipclass and #pblchat. Inspirational stuff and right on trend!

But New Zealand is little when compared with the world wide web. I had found a few New Zealand tweetchers but knew there had to be more out there. And it was hard finding them. So in October of 2012, I took a leap of faith. I started a hashtag, #edchatNZ, so that I could find New Zealand educators on Twitter better. I realised that the most used hashtags were the ones that had regular chats associated with them. When in doubt, I always google things... I googled, how to host a Twitter chat. I set a date, and then started promoting. I used the PPTA Twitter account to track down New Zealand teachers with a lot of followers and asked them to retweet my 'add' for a New Zealand Twitter chat and hashtag (thanks Claire Amos and Michael Fawcett for their early support to get us off the ground). The night of the first #edchatNZ Twitter chat finally arrived. It was like having a party and being worried that nobody will show up. But the New Zealand teachers showed up. And they have been showing up every fortnight since. We have even trended on Twitter New Zealand, out tweeting the royals and the Twilight movie Eclipse.

The hashtag is now more than a year old and still going strong. In fact, due to #edchatNZ, I was able to recommend pioneer educators for the Network 4 Learning's POND, an online portal that will make nation wide collaboration much easier. And this year, we are taking things to the next level. Since #edchatNZ has built a network of teachers across sectors and curriculum areas who regularly collaborate, support and inspire each other, it was time to provide a face to face opportunity for the learning too. Since so much of the success of #edchatNZ is related to the the ability to give everyone a voice through voting for topics that are current, relevant and needed, the conference will need to do the same. Mark Osborne puts it well in his video below when he explains that there are different leaders in every chat, simply because the set up of #edchatNZ allows who ever has the skills, to take the lead.

So in an effort to plan the first #edchatNZ conference, we are asking the conference attendees what they would like at their conference. And we are even getting their input on the dates. Of course we will invite the #edchatNZ teachers to participate as well through hosting workshops or even giving key notes. 

But this conference isn't just for the educators who are already regular users of the #edchatNZ hashtag. The goal has always been to unite New Zealand educators. So as well as aiming to provide a high quality, on trend conference, we are also hoping to do it for under $20. Preferably under $10. This means that student teachers, provisionally registered teachers and long term relief teachers whose schools often don't want to fund PD, might still attend. #edchatNZ is about building a community of connected, supportive, inspirational educators who are willing to share. And everyone is welcome.

Will you be attending our conference? You can vote for your preferred dates, topics and keynotes here. Or will you start a hashtag? What could you do to build a community that inspires yourself and others every day? 

Friday, April 25, 2014


V is for volcanoes in the A to Z challenge...

Welcome to Auckland, New Zealand, a city built on a dormant volcanic field. As a result, we have 53 volcanoes in Auckland. There is also Rotorua, one of my favourite New Zealand cities where you can visit geothermal tourist attractions, or just watch the steam rise and the mud bubble in a local public park. This is of course a wonder land for a girl who used to collect rocks. My mum tells me that we used to have arguments when she unpacked my far too heavy school bags because I wouldn't let her throw my rock collections out. Apparently I insisted that each one had a special colour, a special shape or something else special.

Public park, Rotorua New Zealand

This term, I will be working with Sally and Pete on a module called The MASTER behind the chef. We will be exploring our geological past, present and future through food and maths. Since every year, I identify my insufficient knowledge of Māori language and culture as a professional development need, I am really looking forward to working with two educators who are role models in this field.

Even more so, I am excited to explore the great impact that these beautiful but vicious features of our landscape have had on New Zealanders. As a tourist in New Zealand, you can have corn cooked in a geothermal pit as Māori did in their past. A friend of mine has a tiny garden at the foot of Mount Albert, another Auckland volcano. She rarely buys vegetables because her soil is so fertile due to the volcano on her doorstep. Just as Māori found value in the geology of the landscape, so too can we find value in it now. There are parts of our knowledge about volcanoes that have evolved, but there are also parts that stayed the same. The New Zealand Curriculum requires that all students should learn about how scientific knowledge changes over time, and so, I am looking forward to a great term exploring the ties with which geology connects New Zealand past, present and future.

Rotorua, New Zealand
Rangitoto Island, Auckland, New Zealand

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

There is still magic in the world

U is for Unusual and unexpected in the A to Z challenge...

As a tweenager, I was somewhat obsessed with all things magic. I am part of the original Harry Potter generation after all. As well as Harry Potter though, there were others. Patricia C. Wrede's enchanted forest chroniclesTamora Pierce's Song of the Lioness quartet but also Orson Scott Card's Enchantment. It was during this phase of my life that I discovered my favourite book of all time - Ender's Game (see the video below for the movie trailer). If you are going to surround yourself with magic and science fiction, and then mix in a very overactive imagination, there is really only one way things will end... A grown up who still believes in magic. The magic isn't so much fairies and dragons anymore though...

Take for example the incredible things shared on on a daily basis. On their home page right now is an article about a recently discovered earth size planet in a habitable zone and another about some super massive black holes that were discovered. On the BBC's science page you can find some wonder in the scientist who made an exceptional discovery using a kitchen blender, dishwashing liquid and pencils. It seems there really is magic in the world, and it is found in science.

As a science teacher, I often feel that I have two main goals. The first, is to introduce and expand students' knowledge and curiosity of the marvels, the magic, the unusual and the unexpected in science. The second is to teach them that with great power, comes great responsibility (yes that is a quote from Spiderman, but I think it's from Voltaire originally which gives it a bit more street credit).

With these two goals in mind, think about my term one module called glow in the dark cats. The magic and marvel part is obvious, glow in the dark animals! This then leads you to learn about genes and genetic engineering. And then next thing you know, Voltaire and Spiderman with their idea of great responsibility turn up. Is it ethical to produce glow in the dark animals? Would be it be ethical to apply this technology in other places? Is it ethical to genetically engineer humans?

Again keeping in mind these ideas of teaching science with the goals of curiosity and responsibility, I would like to share with you a plan for our next term at school. English teacher and Deputy Principal Claire Amos and I will be teaching a module all about Ender's Game. While she will look at all thing English (I'm imagining language features, character development etc.), I will have a term to explore the science behind Ender's Game. Think gravitational fields, planets, stars and space travel. It doesn't end there though. Ender's Game as you may know, is centred around the idea of war games. And of course, our students today are very familiar with war games. So what if we could get a real scientist to come and monitor student's brains as they play war games to see if they are affected? Thanks to Claire and her new friend, Dmitry Selitskiy we just might... I will keep you updated.

With great power comes great responsibility, and I hope that all teachers take this to heart. We are able to install wonder, awe and engagement in many of our students. But we can also take it away. How are you hoping to install wonder, awe and curiosity in your students? But also, how are you educating them about the risks and dangers? Energy crisis, future food shortages, over population?

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Mirror mirror on the wall, are kids in maths classes having a ball?

R is for research in the A to Z challenge...

Have you ever noticed the way people talk about maths? "I don't like maths" or "I'm bad at maths" Even in my post graduate level, starting masters degree, critical research methodologies course, from a top university, students shy away from quantitative research due their 'feelings' about maths.

A 2009 report from the New Zealand Ministry of Education suggested that 37% of the students in their survey selected maths as their least favourite subject. Incase you think you might be bad at maths too, let me interpret for you... This means that more than a third of students have selected maths as their least favourite subject. Not just that they dislike it, but that out off all the subjects they do dislike, maths is the one they dislike the most.

In 2013, New Zealand fell from 13th to 22nd in their PISA maths scores. Although there was some discussion in the media and in staff rooms, PISA was labelled just another test. And since, I have heard nothing of it.

As a bit of a maths victim myself, I set out to restore the relationship between myself and maths when I accidentally ended up teaching it. And yes, we really have restored the relationship. I have discovered that I am very mathematically minded and that I enjoy maths. So why is it that for so many years as a student, I thought that I was bad at maths? Why is it that I too would have chosen maths as my least favourite subject?

Images from Pic Sauce and Teenager Post via Pinterest

Over Christmas I read Jo Boaler's The Elephant in the Classroom (a MUST read for all maths teachers). There is a great line in her book that is echoed in much of the work on Dan Meyer's blog too -“in maths classrooms, trains travel towards each other on the same tracks and people paint houses at identical speeds all day long. Water fills baths at the same rate each minute, and people run around tracks at the same distance from the edge” Boaler (2009, Loc 715). Both Dan Meyer and Jo Boaler then go on to then talk about how the maths classroom could be changed, for the better. And so I started wondering... What is actually happening in maths classrooms? And the more I wonder, the more I am dead curious and actually want to go look.

All over Twitter and and all over the internet educators are sharing fantastic, innovative, engaging pedagogy. You can just look at the great conversations that happen anywhere, anytime using the symbol of the moment, the hashtag. Even a quick look through #mathchat on Twitter reveals some exciting and engaging maths tasks.

Area project idea that incorporates real world concepts! #mathchat

— Matt Davis (@Mathman17) April 21, 2014

Neat collection of real world math problems w/ theme "Would you rather...?" #mathchat #ntchat

— Betty Fei (@BettyFei) April 21, 2014

So if all this is going on in the cyber world, is it happening in maths classrooms? I'd like to know. So after much deliberation, going this way and that way, I have officially chosen a topic for my masters. I want to know what is going on in maths classrooms at the moment. Are teachers using e-learning to make rewindable videos for their students? Have they mastered the art of the explanation on a white board? Are they using flipped class models or project based learning? Are they using cooperative strategies? Or are kids going it solo, focussed on the task at hand? Where are the problems the students are solving coming from? Textbooks? The internet? Did the teacher choose the problems? Did the teacher make up the problems? Do the problems require replication of methods or analytical thinking skills? I want to know!

What do you think I will find? Even better, what do you think I will find in those first two years of high school where I want to focus my study?

Boaler, J. (Ed.). (2009). The elephant in the classroom: helping children learn and love maths: Souvenir.
Davison, I. (2013). Gap widens between NZ students. The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved from
Meyer, D. (2013). Fake World Math.  Retrieved from
Wylie, C., Hodgen, E., Hipkins, R., & Vaughan, K. (2009). Competent Learners on the Edge of Adulthood. Wellington: Ministry of Education

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Pedagogy Princess

P is for Pedagogy Princess in the A to Z challenge...

To quote the A-team, "I love it when a plan comes together". Every now and then, you plan a lesson, where the stars (or perhaps the hormones?) align, and things just work out perfectly. The students are so engrossed that they forget about lunch. Your resources become relevant, useful and pitched at the right level. You can hear, see and feel the deep thinking and discussion all around you. You don't have to remind anyone to focus. A truly magical moment! But what is it that causes this magical moment in the teach-time-contiuum? Is it a temporary fluctuation in the continuum? Perhaps a worm hole that you slipped through to a parallel dimension?

PEDAGOGY: the method and practice of teaching, especially as an academic subject or theoretical concept. 
What is good pedagogy? I think good pedagogy is when a teacher can get all students to learn. We know that some students will learn in spite of the teacher, but I think good pedagogy is when a teacher can get every student to learn. Secondary teachers often teach more than a hundred students within a week. How can we possibly hope to engage every one of these students? Should we even be trying to? Actually, I think the last question is rhetorical, of course we should be trying to engage every student!

I am no expert, but I am creative. So here are a few of my creative pedagogical experiments that I have had some success with in regards to engaging a whole class at a time.

Image source
One of my favourite ways to help engage students is to tie a lesson onto a current event. Last year it was establishing whether an America's cup yacht would fit in our school atrium. This involved students needing to find the dimensions of the yachts and then measuring the atrium. The atrium of course was quite large, so part of the problem solving was how to measure the height when you can't reach all the way up to the ceiling. As well as learning how to measure, students were able to discuss their strategies, attempt different strategies, evaluate strategies, identify and evaluate variables, and get out of their seats.

Another current even that I used recently was the now infamous case of the two IVF couples whose embryos were mixed up. Even though this lesson was the last lesson on the last day of the term, students were completely hooked. The class was divided into two teams and a jury. Each team represented one of the couples, their lawyers and whoever else they might like to call to the witness stand. Students were arguing backwards and forwards about who should get the babies. And as can be expected, they then began to question who was a 'better' couple, who had a shady past. The students quickly began to realise just how hard a judgement like this can be. As a result, students became increasingly aware that there are always two sides to a story, ethically, morally and objectively.

For me, the key to the success of these lessons is that the answers to the problems can not be googled, not through google or by treating the teachers as google. Instead, my role shifts to simply playing the devil's advocate, testing student theories and thoughts as often and as thoroughly as I can. And by not knowing the answer, I avoid leading students to believe that there is always one answer to a real world problem, because lets face it, there rarely ever is.