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.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Nerd Online

Next on the A to Z challenge is N and O for Nerd Online

Please note, I have't asked permission to use this amge

The image above from laughing squid by Craig Newmark definitely clarifies a few things for me.
Obsession - Education
Intelligence - I am a firm believer in having a growth mindset, so I have gone out of my way to 'grow my intelligence'
Social Ineptitude - Happiest on my own, definitely an introvert
So... obsession + intelligence + social ineptitude = nerd or at the very least, a geek.

I thought I would take a moment to share some of the source of my daily inspiration towards greater nerdhood with you.

  1. Steve Mouldey started challenging my thinking the year before last through being a super star Twitter connection. He reads like a machine, is enthusiastic and looks for inspiration in all kinds of places. He now has the desk next to mine at work and let me tell you, he inspires, challenges and questions your thinking even better in person.
  2. Matt Nicoll is possibly the most loyal #edchatNZ participant. He has great ideas and takes inspirational risks in his science classroom. Great to have inspiration in my subject field!
  3. One of my favourite places for inspiration is Zite. It's a great way to get all kinds of exciting education (and other) updates from all over the world. The thumbs up thumbs down system means that my feed is completely customised with articles that I enjoy. 
  4. Of course, don't forget Pinterest for a bit of visual inspiration for great teaching ideas. Here is my science board, maths board and general teaching board, all ready to inspire a great lesson at a drop of a hat.
  5. Of course, I must include Dan Meyer in my lists of inspiration. The man always has food for thought on his blog. Over the next two weeks I will begin working on my masters proposal, a proposal heavily inspired by Dan Meyer. I'd love to know if there is a poster child for science education the way that Dan is for maths education. If you know of anyone, I'd love to know.
So there you go, some people and places to look into for a bit of inspiration if like me, you are a nerd online too.  

Monday, April 14, 2014

What would you put in a museum of yourself?

M is for Museum of Mihi in the A to Z challenge...

Some teachers ask students to write a letter about who they are. Other schools might do a title page. Our school had students make a museum. The Museum of Mihi module as run by Sally, Megan and Steve had students explore their identities and then present it as a museum. They even took the students on a field trip to look at how museums were designed.
*If you are not from New Zealand, a Mihi is a greeting 

The photos below are artefacts  and parts of the students' museums that they either collected or made. They include everything from a walk through tunnel, a book, a wardrobe, celebrations, a family tree, an olympic swimming pool and a stable.

Learning 2.0

L is for Learning 2.0 in the A to Z challenge:

At Hobsonville Point Secondary School, we want to personalise learning. We want our kids to love learning. And we want the learning for both academic and personal dispositions to be rigorous. You might be curious about how a public secondary school is trying to achieve this. So here is the cheat sheet...

Start with Claire's blog post that describes the different structures of our school. Then read Megan's blog post that describes the anatomy of our learning hubs. And then, read through the modules we are offering for term two. In short though, modules cover the curriculum whilst learning hubs is where we develop the whole learner and where we make and develop our connections with families.

We still teach maths, english, science and so forth. But we do things a little differently. For example, you can choose how you do your maths and science in term two... So everyone is learning about maths and science, but you can choose to do it it in a visual arts context, a food and culture context or a social science context.

You might wonder what this looks like in practice...Below is a comparison between one of the modules I taught this term with Ros MacEachern called Larger than Life. You can see that I still taught statistics, however I just wrapped it in a context. And this clever wrapping allow us to personalise whilst providing rigour and curriculum coverage.

What we do:
Maths at HPSS
New Zealand Curriculum
Modules take the place of subjects at HPSS. A module combines two or three subject areas. Students who have additional interests in maths will be able to gain extra coverage in  SPINS (special interest modules) which focus on extended coverage of learning areas
The New Zealand curriculum dictates what all students across the country should be learning at school
From the New Zealand Curriculum: In a range of meaningful contexts, students will be engaged in thinking mathematically and statistically. They will solve problems and model situations.
Larger Than Life: (combining English and Maths) Under the English component of this module, students produced their own blog or vlog.
Students in this module:
  • Analysed graphs based on the content of their blogs/vlogs. E.g. Students who were blogging about gaming looked at graphs of console prices over time.
  • Entered the amount of ‘hits’ from each of theirs sites in a spread sheet
  • Posed questions about the amount of ‘hits’ that we were getting as a class. E.g. Did YouTube channels or blogs of the students in our class have the most hits? Did the boys or girls in our class get more hits?
  • Calculated the averages to determine the answers for the questions above
  • Begin to manipulate a spread sheet to input formulae and produce graphs

In statistics students will:
  • Interpret statistical displays
  • Use a calculator to determine averages
  • Undertake a statistical investigation

Flow chart from NZ Maths

Of course, because the learning for every student looks different, we need to make sure there is consistency across the modules. This is gained from the learning design model which was constructed by pulling the New Zealand curriculum to pieces and the putting it back together again. Just one term in and most of the students are able to verbalise the main parts of the model and understand its process on driving learning.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Knoop Sop

A little late but here is K for Knoop Sop in the A to Z challenge:

Image Source

One of my favourite books as a little girls was called Knoop Sop. The book told a story of a young woman who went to visit her cousin. Whilst visiting, she became very hungry, however the cousin would not give her any food because he was incredibly stingy. The woman told her cousin never mind, she would just make knoop sop (translates to button soup). So she pulled a button off her shirt and put it in a pot of water. She put the pot of water with the button on the stove and starting stirring. The cousin was fascinated. So the woman told the cousin, "you know what goes really well with knoop sop? Some herbs!" The cousin was so curious about the idea of making soup with a button that he went into his garden, collected some herbs and offered it to the woman to add to the soup. The woman kept stirring her knoop sop, this time saying that a hunk of beef really sets of the flavour of the button. Again, the curious cousin collected some meat to contribute to the soup. At the end of the story, the woman invites the whole neighbourhood for soup. A soup which at this point contained water, a button, herbs, beef, an assortment of vegetables, salt and pepper.

Now granted, the woman in this story doesn't get any honesty points, but there is a very good lesson to learn here. Even if it seems that there is nothing or nobody around to help, even when the situation is bleak, hard, challenging, there is always something you can do. It is very simple to say things like that's just the way the cookie crumbles, or that's the way the world works, or that things will never change. But, those are just excuses for not ripping the button of your shirt and starting on something, anything. It comes down to that famous quote - be the change you want to see in the world. Sometimes you have to start small, with a plastic button, but you must start. And from there, you just eat the elephant - one bite at a time.

Image Source
I am one of the enormously lucky educators who work at a brand new school. A school who is busy eating an elephant. The people there believe that we need to change something about schools, and all of them started even before they got to Hobsonville Point Secondary. They ripped off a button on their shirts and began to change something, anything. Tomorrow we start the eleventh week of being a school and I am proud to say that in our journey of changing the way that a secondary school can operate, we have at least started eating our elephant. Although, we have found that taking too large bites means that we choke on the elephant, we are still going. But we are learning to nibble. Especially since we have got ourself such a large elephant. But as long as we are taking things one bite at a time, eventually, we will have eaten our elephant and ended up with an extraordinary school.

So today, I would like to challenge you to nibble on an elephant too. To rip off a button from your shirt, and to change that thing that your heart is telling you to. It might be trying something different in your classroom, it might be joining a protest, it could be anything. Just start, and then before you know it, the opportunities will come, and you won't be the only one nibbling on your elephant.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Judgement with a sprinkling of philosophy

Next post on the A to Z challenge:

J is for judgement

How do we judge others? How do we judge ourselves? How do we judge what is important and what is not? And how do we know if our judgement is right? 

definitions from google

The past few weeks I have spent my Saturdays at University listening to some philosophy lectures from Elizabeth Rata and Richard Nola. It seems that the two of them were very effective in getting me to really question my own judgements...

Relativism - there is no universal truth
In other words, what is true for me, is not necessarily true for you. Although it means that I can always be right, I suspect half the fun in being right often involves knowing that others were wrong. We construct our truths in many ways, and often in different ways. I might construct my truths based on empirical data while you might construct your truths on social experience.

On any given day, as a teacher I make multiple judgements. Whether a student acted appropriately or not, whether a colleague responded professionally or not, whether a teaching strategy is effective or not. Even crossing the road requires a judgement of whether it is safe or not. Functioning in society requires that I make judgements. However, what happens if everyone constructs their own truths? Just listen to the arguments in any staff room for proof that people do have different truths! Can we still make valuable, objective judgements if everyone has their own truths?

If I was a philosopher, I would probably be an empiricist. I want observable evidence. I might even be a rationalist. However, whether I am a relativist, a rationalist, an empiricist or any other theory I might subscribe to, right now I am most definitely provoked. I am provoked to reconsider my judgements that I have made about how the world works. If I can make my own truths, then so do my students and my colleagues. Thus, if this philosophy lesson has taught me anything, it is that I need to seek the truth for understanding, but not just my own truths, those of others too. I may never understand their truths completely, but certainly seeking to understand the truths of others can bring me much closer to genuine empathy and respect for diversity both in culture and opinion. 

Thursday, April 10, 2014

I is for Insatiable, Iterations, Inspiration, Intense, Isolated, Incredible, Invitation

Up to I for the A to Z challenge...

I... is for:

I for my insatiable need to learn new things all the time. I for iterations because the Creative Confidence book by Tom and David Kelley has me fired up and convinced I never make mistakes, I only make prototypes. I for inspiration from the exceptional ideas that educators all over the world share freely over Twitter. I for intense, because the second to last week of term is always intense, and especially when you are at a brand new school planning modules with Claire Amos that involve Ender's Game, Minecraft and the science and maths of it all. I is for isolated, a feeling I know many educators across the country feel when they are the lone enthusiasts (but a feeling I no longer feel thanks to the team at Hobsonville Point Secondary). I for the incredible bubbling over feeling I get when other teachers get as excited about education as I do. And finally I is for an invitation, if you haven't participated in an #edchatNZ yet, it really is time. 

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Growth at Hobsonville Point

Still working on the A to Z challenge...

So here is G and H for Growth at Hobsonville Point Secondary School: It is my sincerest belief that I can never be the perfect teacher. What I can be, is a teacher who is always striving to get better. And that is something that I hope to teach my students too. To always keep growing. Gaining an excellence in NCEA is great and should be celebrated. But learning should happen after this too. We should be asking what next? Where to now? What is the next frontier? What can I get better at next? So as we near the last week of the first term as Hobsonville Point Secondary School, I want to celebrate our growth. We have grown from being a rainbow unicorn school with no students and lots of ideas, to a school with 120+ students who are certainly the happiest year nines I have ever met. We have one term down and many more to come. With every term, I trust that the team at Hobsonville Point will keep growing our vision, our hopes and our dreams because they are able to collaborate, prototype, iterate, evolve, innovate, question, evaluate and most importantly, learn from mistakes and research.