Thursday, February 26, 2015

Have I built an eco chamber?

Is #edchatNZ an echo chamber? A place where we constantly pat each other on the back, encourage each other, however, not challenge and drive each other to new heights? Nat Torkington recently commented on this. Steve Mouldey and I have discussed this. However, #edchatNZ also genuinely needs the warm fluffies one gets from participating. The warm glow you get from no longer being a lone nut, but a respected professional, standing up for positive change in your school and in New Zealand education. The question then in Maurie Abraham's words, is how to be warm and demanding? And this in a limit of 140 characters in a fortnightly twitter chat. 

This year, with the inspiration of Tim Kong (a devil's advocate, aka, thought provoker on any day), and Mat Nicoll's great idea, we introduced a Devil's Advocate to #edchatNZ. Honest, respectful discussion and challenge is a key aspect of making sense of our ideas and thoughts. We need to defend our arguments to learn where they are weak. Not to tear our ideas down, but to build them better and stronger (PS. Read Ed Catmull's Creativity Inc., I love the idea of the Pixar brain trust). At the start of the chat, the moderator introduces the devil's advocate. This person also changes their Twitter avatar to our devil's advocate logo to ensure that we communicate clearly why there are such touch questions and comments being fired from the person. I'm giving it a few more weeks before I send out a survey to the #edchatNZ community to see how they are doing.
The devil's advocate avatar. 

As for me.. I have LOVED the introduction of the devil's advocate. I feel more challenged by the chats, like I have sped up my learning to a whole new level. The devil's advocate also seems to have brought about more diversity in the #edchatNZ group. There appears to be an increased number of viewpoints shared, and justified. I also love that for the 'pros' who have been part of the community for so long, I can offer them a new level of challenge in the chat. The devil's advocate has also helped me see more of the deeper knowledge that its participants have, as well as identify some areas that we might need to talk about some more. For example, what exactly is the purpose of education?

A special thank you for our three devil's advocates so far, Tim Kong, Steve Mouldey and Megan Peterson. You have all been fantastic. I hope you wear your badge with pride! And thank you for challenging me at a whole new level too! 

So the question remains now, is #edchatNZ an echo chamber? Or is it a place of challenging but welcome, discussion and debate? Warm and demanding? How might we create a warm but demanding community?

PS: If you have ideas for smashing echo chambers or your want to be our devil's advocate one night, get in touch at

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Reconciling knowledge and application

I only have about 15 minutes to blog today, so I'll go with the old saying of a picture paints a thousand words. This means that technically this post is uber long!

Yesterday I talked about the need to reconcile academic knowledge with application to increase the meaningfulness. (Post here - Stripping, romance and learning in context). Below is an example of how I attempted to do so.

Here are some photos from my spin (special interest, once a week for 90 minutes) megastructures module from last year. Students spent the term learning about different forces (shearing, torsion, etc.) and how these apply to different materials. They also learnt about distributing load. And then, they used all this knowledge to construct a bridge out of dried spaghetti, marshmallows, play dough and cello tape. To ensure that students really thought about the forces, they had a 90 minute session to plan their bridge and justify it in regards to the science they had learnt. Students also had extremely limited resources however could earn more if they were able to justify using scientific vocabulary. We then used weights to test (and break) each bridge with students then having to explain why they bridge broke using their new knowledge. 

Monday, February 23, 2015

Stripping, romance... and learning in context.

Must be a good book if there are already this many post it notes!

Yesterday I ended my blog post (about maths being taught through yoga) with a question I feel is not examined enough in schools - How much of the 'content' that is so valued in schools, has actually lost all its romance because we have stripped it from its context? 

I am currently reading Jane Gilbert's brilliant book, Catching the Knowledge Wave? The Knowledge Society and the future of education. One of the questions she asks is about how we might put academic knowledge and applied knowledge back together. I can access almost the sum of all human knowledge from the pink smartphone in my pocket. So naturally, it won't be enough to just regurgitate facts anymore. It now matters, what we create with it, how as a group we adapt, apply and repurpose the knowledge. Hence, there is a serious need to put the ideas of academic knowledge and applied knowledge back together, purely as a means of coping with the new way that information is disseminated and used in our society today. 

As a sixteen year old, I distinctly remember being puzzled by the intense focus and mental energy boys my age could put into remembering stuff about cars. They could rattle off facts and figures, and would often do so, endlessly. I remember being bored in conversations about GT somethings, quarter miles and more. Yet, I wonder, did these boys ever get a chance to talk about quarter miles in the classroom? Rates, ratios, speed, velocity... These would have been highly relevant in the age of the first Fast and the Furious movies. Graphs comparing the speeds at which the cars from the Fast and the Furious were travelling sounds far more exciting to me than the little wooden toy car that we used in the science lab. We could have used these to make predictions about the accuracy of the movie!

In the hope of scaffolding students through learning by only giving them small amounts of information at a time, I worry that we have stripped back the wrong stuff. The numerous times that students everywhere ask 'why are we learning this?' should be a flashing neon warning light that the context, the purpose, and perhaps even the romance is being lost! Context matters.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Yoga and maths. One and the same?

Image Source

I had a rather unusual maths lesson today. Keeping in mind that I have been focussing on well being for my students and I in various capacities, I thought working in some yoga in a maths lesson seemed like a really good idea. Also, working in a cross curricular team with the Health and Physical Education department, it seemed like a unique opportunity for students to physically experience concepts, rather than just talk about them, or worse, just be told about them.

  1. Bryce my co-teacher in this module started with a theory introduction about yoga. Building on the ideas of aggression versus competition from the previous week, he explained how western culture has influenced yoga particularly in respect to competition. We also talked briefly about how yoga had been sexualised. With the Health and Physical Education focus on social and cultural factors, there was lots to talk about. West vs. East type stuff!
  2. We then went on to about half an hour of yoga. Really basic stuff but finishing off with five minutes of careful breathing exercises. At the beginning, students were told that the idea was to focus on yourself, not on anything or anyone else. The goal was to clear your mind completely, or if you struggled with this, to only focus on your breathing. 
  3. Students answered some reflection questions about doing yoga. For example, what does yoga look like, feel like, sound like? Which Hobsonville habits are in use when doing yoga? Purposeful fit really well here because of the importance of focussing your thoughts, breathing and movement. 
  4. We returned to class where I read students an extract from Finding Zero: A Mathematician's Odyssey to Uncover the Origins of Numbers.
    "Shunya means zero in our language. But it also relates to the Buddhist philosophical concept of the void, which is called Shunyata. You see, zero, the number, and the Buddhist emptiness - the goal of mediation and an ideal striven for on the road to Nirvana, or enlightenment - are one and the same. Emptiness is a deep philosophical concept, and from it we get zero." As part of exploring the idea of numbers representing things, we also took a moment to discuss the question, "Are numbers real?". This was fascinating and lead to a remarkably heated debate. 
  5. From this, we then explored the idea of zero and it's importance in more depth. Students could choose one of two questions to work on. The second is a problem from NRICH maths.  Through this, students were able to begin making sense of place value. They also developed a really clear understanding of the idea that our numbers are only a symbol, and these symbols are representations. Zero is representation of nothing, or the clear mind we were all attempting to have earlier in the lesson. At the same time, five could be represented in a number of ways. I feel like this was great preparation for the algebra concepts later this term as in the past, I have often seen students struggle to wrap their heads around why we introduce letters. I hope that seeing beyond the symbol might be useful.
  6. Finally we finished the lesson Steve Mouldey style, with a "what if" question. What if zero was never invented? Although some students could still only grasp at some basic ideas, it was really exciting to have a student ask whether we would have negative numbers without zero. 
Choice of questions students had to work on. 

It's peculiar to think that maths has been influenced so heavily be eastern religion, philosophy and religion, yet more often than not, we have separated the emotional, people aspects from maths entirely. Instead, it is often presented in a rather sterile way. The ideas that we encounter on a daily basis as far more connected than we realise at first glance. It really made me wonder, how much of the 'content' that is so valued in schools, has actually lost all its romance because we have stripped it from its context?

Saturday, February 21, 2015

The increasing role of philosophy in my day to day life

It seems that the past year has seen an increase in the role that philosophy plays in my day to day life. This has included introductions to relativism, realism, critical realism, egalitarianism, modernism and post modernism. Thanks to Grant Lichtman and The Falconer, there has even been some ‎Sun Tzu and the Art of War mixed in. Of course don't forget Plato, John Dewey, Kant, Popper and Foucault. If you asked me ten years ago whether philosophy might play such a critical role in my day to day life (yes, I did say day to day), I would never have guessed it. Perhaps you are wondering why I might be using philosophy on such a frequent basis...

The most obvious response is that in preparation to begin a research masters of education, one needs a bit of an introduction to these things. This is certainly the reason why I can now use big words like epistemology and ontology in a sentence and actually know what they mean. Although the serious introduction to philosophy came very much from university, I am increasingly finding uses for it outside of assignments and essays. 

Wikipedia explains philosophy as: 
"Philosophy is the study of general and fundamental problems, such as those connected with reality, existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language. Philosophy is distinguished from other ways of addressing such problems by its critical, generally systematic approach and its reliance on rational argument." - source 
I work in one of the newest, most different secondary schools in the country. We do things significantly differently from most other schools I have ever taught in, and differently from the majority of schools in the area (with the exception of Albany Senior High School). Inevitably, this means a lot of time spent in the hypothetical. Although we firmly believe the model for schools in New Zealand needs to change, doing so, is more challenging and more uncomfortable than one might suppose from the outside. Even when you have an incredible team who all believe in the urgent need for change. However, what is it that has lead us to believe that this need for change is so important? Working in a school that is taking so many risks could potentially have a positive or a negative results on one's career. So why take the risk? I have increasingly found solace in understanding the philosophy that underpins our society, our education system, but also the philosophy that might underpin our work at Hobsonville Point Secondary School. 

#edchatNZ is also now more than two years old. As I seek to ensure that the #edchatNZ fortnightly chats remain warm and demanding, I am increasingly finding that I need to venture in unknown ground on behalf of others to ensure that we keep pushing at the boundaries of the teacher box. What better way is there to do this but through philosophy? Philosophy provides an examination of the fundamental ideas that underpin our society, the anachronisms but also the aspirations of our society. These all seem pretty relevant to education wouldn't you think? 

Friday, February 20, 2015

Dancing all over the fixed mindset

"There's something curious about professors in my experience -- not all of them, but typically, they live in their heads. They live up there, and slightly to one side. They're disembodied, you know, in a kind of literal way. They look upon their body as a form of transport for their heads. Don't they? It's a way of getting their head to meetings. If you want real evidence of out-of-body experiences, get yourself along to a residential conference of senior academics, and pop into the discotheque on the final night. And there, you will see it. Grown men and women writhing uncontrollably, off the beat. Waiting until it ends so they can go home and write a paper about it." - from
The thing about a true growth mindset, is that we do not just apply it when it suits us. Sometimes we revert to a fixed mindset in different circumstances. Where academic learning is concerned, my growth mindset it is safe to say, is fairly embedded. However, in the case of physical activity, I often find myself in the neighbourhood of the fixed mindset. Excuses like "I don't have sporty clothes",  "I don't have time" and "I am too uncoordinated". Or blaming "work is just keeping me too busy" or "I was just too tired." Whether true or not, the only person that suffers from the blaming and excuses is me.

A friend gave me a book for Christmas. The book is called Giraffes Can't Dance. If you know me, you would know exactly how appropriate this is, tall and spatially challenged (there may or may not be a number of head butting incidents in the past). In fact, very much reminiscent of the passage above from Ken Robinson's famous (must watch) TED talk. However, having the ideas of Carol Dweck's book about growth mindsets firmly on my mind, I thought it was about time I confronted this can't dance thing head on. After all, I love to dance, albeit terribly and at the risk of all those around me. So, Thursday morning I joined in one of the spin (special interest) modules at school. These occur once a week for 90 minutes. Last year I joined in on some Maori classes  at school (post about it here). Despite it being a bit of a challenge, it was well within my normal comfort zone of academic learning. I had strategies in place that I know I could rely on to improve. I knew I would get better with practice and time. Of course, I have very few strategies in place for dance. It is well outside my comfort zone. However, as I walked out of the class at the end of the session, I felt great. Not only had I learnt a few new things about teaching (fabulous dance teacher Sophie and how she utilises the space she teaches in), but I also felt great knowing that I had faced a challenge that makes me feel deeply uncomfortable head on, and publicly.

Of course, through the entire 90 minutes I couldn't get the thought out of my head about what the students might think. But again, that is just a fixed mindset talking, because maybe, just maybe the students might see their teacher actively confront the things she is bad at, and then do something about them, despite the challenge. Or maybe, they might think I'm a total dork. Either way, I'm learning to dance. See you all on the ULearn dance floor in October?! Knowing full well the constant state of flux that the waistline on a pair of jeans can acquire as we get older, it also feels extra good (mentally, definitely mentally) knowing that my super sore muscles since then is further evidence of dancing all over that fixed mindset.

PS: The irony here about academics going home to "write a paper about it" and me writing a blog post about it is not lost on me...

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Coming out of the class size closet

image source
Now, before we start, I need you to press the enable button on your growth mindset. This should disable the fixed mindset functions such as making excuses, blaming, anger, frustrations, judgement and belittling. Alternatively, if you find that your growth mindset button is faulty today, I recommend reading this post once the repairs have been made.

Now that you have your growth mindset enabled... I don't think class sizes matter. Take a breath. Yes I did say that. But fortunately you have your growth mindset enabled, so not only will you hopefully listen to what I have said, but you will also hopefully genuinely consider what I say.

Team teaching with Claire Amos and Steve Mouldey means that I often have to share them with the rest of the country. Inevitably, this means that they are often away. Now, I could request a reliever for our classes of 45+, however, having done it so many times now, I have more and more, that I am not only capable, but even rather enjoy the big class. Of course, there are a few lessons I have learnt that makes this more manageable. Some of these lessons include:

  1. Differentiation - Students who are challenged at the right level are less distracted, more on task and more engaged. When students are engaged, behaviour management becomes a non event, it becomes largely unnecessary.
  2. Know your students - In order to challenge and engage your students, you have to get to know them. This means spending time with them in conversations on duty, going to see their sports games, seeing them in school shows. It means being involved. It also means working much smarter with gathering data. It means using clever tools like your school student management system and learning management system, Socrative, Flubaroo, Hapara, Schoology, Edmodo, Kahoot and Google forms to gather and process data about your students quickly. It means that you can be more responsive to their needs, interests and level.
  3. Resources - Managing 45 students means that you can not physically help every student that gets stuck. However, considering the 'learnt helplessness' that so many students display, this is actually a great opportunity. Having short explanatory videos, websites, articles and more readily available for students to access, means that students learn to be able to help themselves. The ideas of universal design for learning is crucial here. This makes sure that all students can access the content. It also means that when a student asks a question, I can often point them to the correct resources quickly, rather than explaining it from scratch. I will often run mini lessons within a lesson too. If I notice that a number of students have asked me the same question, I can run a mini lesson whilst other students who do not need it, will continue working.
  4. Transitions - Ironically, transitions was one of the things an associate teacher recommended I work on back in teachers college. Managing the way students move about a space, deliberately, thoughtfully, and with purpose just preserves sanity. 
The thing to notice about my lessons above is that large classes sizes are completely manageable and doable, it is in fact other factors that makes things hard. It is trying to fit more students in a class that is physically too small to be comfortable. Or the physical space having no acoustic panelling to absorb the voices of these students. Voices that should be given a chance to speak and a chance to be heard. It is about shutting teachers and these classes away behind doors in cell classrooms, rather than open plans where they are visible and have access to support, if it is needed at a moments notice. It is about a lack of access to technology that enables us to quickly get to know our learners, or give them options to access resources. Without a device, they are left to significantly fewer resources. It is also perhaps about not streaming classes, so that the diversity in a class might give more opportunities for peer teaching, for better discussion, for independent learners to lead (if you haven't yet read Steve's post about student echo chambers, do so immediately).

You see, I think the argument about classes sizes is all wrong. I think the class size argument distracts from the real issues. Physical spaces that do not enable learning. Limited or no access to technology. Meaningful data. One size fits all lessons with no differentiation and no universal design for learning.

What do you think?

Am I teaching in a multiverse?

Today I took a risk. It was the first day of my new My Time slot called The Science of Sheldon Cooper and Stephen Hawking. This is the stuff of multiverses, space time continuums, singularities and string theory, dark matter and quarks. If these words make no sense to you, it is ok, they make little sense to me too! So if as the teacher, I have almost no knowledge of the topic that I am teaching, what exactly is my job?! And if you were in my situation, how comfortable are you with the idea of actually being just as clueless as your students?

Well, turns out that I am very comfortable in the role of clueless. I had the enormous good fortune of spending the weekend at kiwi foo, surrounded by truly brilliant people. Rather than feel the impostor syndrome I had somewhat anticipated, I felt a desperate need to spend every waking minute engaging with these incredible individuals. Every moment I slept would have been a moment I missed out on learning. There was just not time for feeling like an impostor. And today, in the classroom, introducing the idea of multiverses, I was too busy learning alongside the students to have time to deal with the fact that I was only about a millimetre ahead of the students in understanding at times. Sometimes mores so, but most of the time, I too am still trying to get my head around the idea that there might not be one universe. And where exactly are all these multiple universes?

I asked before, what is my job then if I am learning alongside my students about the same material? Learning about other things, or about your students is one thing, but learning with them, about the same thing, searching for complexity and depth, evaluating your own understanding against the rubrics? Is that a step too far?

Well, I happen to think it is a step in the right direction. I have absolutely no interest in teaching my students a whole bunch of facts that they could have googled anyways. What I am far more interested in is teaching my students how to learn. How to wonder about the world, the universe (or the multiverses in this case), and then, how to make sense of it, understand it, find patterns, use the information. I want to show students that nothing is out of their reach, I want them to believe that they can learn anything and everything. And I want them to know how to do this. My expertise comes in around teaching students how to make sense of new ideas, concepts, information and more. And role modelling, obviously.

So what does a lesson look like where you introduce students to multiverses? Well...

  1. You go to the experts! Brian Greene has great TED talk that introduces the ideas. (Keeping in mind that in a world of internet, flipped classes, YouTube and MOOCs, students have a choice anyways about who they learn their content from, it doesn't have to be from me).  
  2. Pause the video, ask students to generate questions, as many as possible, model posing questions for the students. Ask questions that you genuinely do not know the answer to.
  3. Rewind the video when you need more time to make sense of an idea.
  4. Ask students to share their best questions. 
  5. Record your favourite questions on a post it with your name. 
All of a sudden you now have key questions that students can start researching by looking for key words, key people, diagrams and more related to their personalised questions. And what great questions! Here are just a few...
  • How did they find out about string theory and dark energy?
  • Does the idea of wormholes which is travelling through space from one galaxy to the next, also apply for multiverses and universes? 
  • Is the concepts of multiverses in the realm of science, science fiction or philosophy?
  • Did the big bang have any effect on the multiverses?
  • If galaxies are being pushed away from each other and if the multiverse and idea of infinite universes weren't real, what would happen when a galaxy reaches the end of the universe?
  • And my personal favourite,  If our universe is expanding (faster and faster) then does that mean the multiverse expands at the same rate? (if so, would it have to be expanding squared to the speed of the amount of universes inside it?)
This last question was written by a FOURTEEN YEAR OLD!! On the first day of being exposed to the idea of a multiverses. Mind blown. Boom.

So it got me wondering, what possibilities might I hold back from my students, by not being willing to risk truly learning alongside them? And even more so, what terrible crimes against the potential of our students are we committing if we do not strive to live out the growth mindset every minute we spend with out students?

Now if you are curious about multiverses, here is the video I showed the students...

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Where does learning happen?

Why do so many people think that learning happens in rows? Having had my fair share of sharing a class with other teachers, and visiting other classrooms on a regular basis, I have seen the rows over and over again. Why are there still so many classrooms (and yes, I witnessed some again recently), that are still set up in rows? As you can tell, I have a bit of an issue with rows...

Of course, the learning at Hobsonville Point happens in all kinds of places. Just take a look at these photos.
Inspecting 'crime scenes' inside and outside of the school.

Groups working on the gymnasium floor
(tables and chairs were available)

Students working on the auditorium stage
(nothing to do with any kind of performance)

In fact, I think you might be hard pressed to find rows at Hobsonville Point. You have a much better chance of finding campfires, caves and mountain tops (make sure you view this great visual from Core Education). The many visitors that we have at Hobsonville Point Secondary often comment on the size of the spaces, the furniture, the colours, and quite frankly, the sparkling newness of it all. The thing is, the space certainly enables much of the future focussed pedagogy that we strive for, however, the space is only one very, very small ingredient. Stepping back for a few moments recently into a 'traditional' classroom, I thought about what I would do differently if I was to teach in a single cell classroom again. Here is just a very quick list:
  1. Scour inorganic day and Trademe for alternative seating options, couches, pillows and more. 
  2. Decorate strategically. In fact, I even have a Pinterest board for ideas to construct spaces in a classroom. 
  3. Remove the front of the room. Turn the desks to face in various directions. Remove the focus from the front and rather use the whiteboard as just another possible resource. 
  4. Buy some of those stickers that you put on desks and then turn them into whiteboards!
  5. Get outside of the classroom more. Use the school gardens, local parks, any other space.
  6. Use more chalk, outside. Use more window markers. 
  7. Move the furniture in the class more often, encourage students to move the furniture to create the spaces they need.
  8. Give the students more choice, everyday, in every lesson. Choose where you work, move to an appropriate space that matches your task.
  9. Talk to another teacher who teaches the same year group at the same time, split the two classes for a lesson. Students can then have a choice about which option they go to.
There are so many more things that we can do. The real change I have found in teaching in a modern learning environment is that I use the spaces as I do at home. For quiet time, I retreat, for conversations, I sit around the dinner table. For relaxing, I move again. Sitting on a bean bag is my favourite way to read. Essays I prefer typing at my desk. 

What spaces and practices could you create in your class? How would having no front of the room change your practice? I dare you, remove the front for a month and then see how you go!

Monday, February 16, 2015

Musings on failure, risk and the future

Every now and then we start things, and then along the way, we stop. For example, you go on a diet, you stick to it for a few days, you fall off the wagon with the delicious cakes your office had for morning tea, and then you don't get back on the diet wagon. Or, you start a blogging challenge, life gets in the way, and then you skip a few days. Then, next thing you know, you stop participating in the challenge altogether. The thing is, it is important, if not critical, that we get back on these wagons that we fall off from, and try again. 

Sometimes, as a school we try things and then do not succeed. However, if we stop trying to make change, is there a risk of larger failure in the long run? We see this same behaviour with students on a daily basis. A struggling student would rather not try because they might fail. Even though long term, we know that not trying leads to much bigger potential for failure. 

What does being risk averse and being resistant and suspicious of change mean for a school? What does this mean for a school, and for education in the short or long term? Even at Hobsonville Point where we are in a constant state of flux, we sometimes struggle with change (see a great post about this from Ros). Even if we are the agitators in schools, even if we are those desperate for change, we can often still make a fuss, a fuss of which the energy may better have been spent on something else.

The #edchatNZ community often talks about the growth mindset however developing a growth mindset in all situations is often easier said than done. In particular, how do you react when a change is made in your school that you are not particularly crazy about? Do we react by complaining, blaming, suggesting that the senior management is out of touch? How we react very much reflects our mindset. The growth mindset is not just about how we act in response to learning new information, it is also about how we respond when things do not go our way. 

Image Source
With these things in mind, I often wonder about the changes that are in store for education. To a great extent, education shapes the future of a society. If our rate of change is too slow to cope with the automation of so many jobs, what might society look like in the future? On the flip side, if we do in fact take more, small, calculated risks, then what might society look like? Or what might our society look like with the accumulation of many calculated risks towards an education system in New Zealand that lives up to the values of the New Zealand Curriculum?   

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

I messed up

You know that sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach when you have made a mistake? And then, it sinks a few more inches when you realise that it is not the kind of mistake that you can cover up without anyone noticing? And then it sinks even further when you realise how many people will be affected. And then you have to tell the boss that you messed up. It reminds me a bit of those "you had one job memes"

Today happened to be one of those days where I messed up. I am still not sure about the how it happened part. I just did. Of course today's mistake had the potential of affecting more than 200 students and all their teachers. So on the scale of mistakes, not small, but fortunately not enormous either. 
However, there are some very crucial lessons that I was reminded of today thanks to this mistake. Here is the list:
  1. Stay calm. Getting wound up and over emotional clouds your judgement and your ability to problem solve.
  2. Prototype rapidly. The faster you start testing out mini solutions, the faster the problem is solved.
  3. Admit your mistake. Publicly. People will not know how or where to help, unless they know that something has gone wrong.
  4. Be the one to step up and help someone who has made a mistake. Your help makes all the difference. (A particular shoutout to the fabulous Taheretikitiki community for this one today, thank you).
  5. Show your gratitude for those who stepped up. 
  6. Be open to feedback, critique and sometimes, even criticism. Without it, you will take much longer to realise your mistake. Listening might mean you avoid the mistake all together.  
  7. Learn from your mistake. Take notes to make sure that you do not make the same mistake again.
  8. Before your new learning slips out of mind and your notes out of sight, have another go to implement or practice your new learning.

These are my 'rapid prototypes' from today - a spreadsheet for every new idea to try and solve the problem.
No question about it, making mistakes are not necessarily fun, and sometimes rather painful. However, there is much to learn from our mistakes, so maybe, they aren't so bad after all. 

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

My Time

One of my areas of responsibility at Hobsonville Secondary School is My Time. Below is a video that explains this 3 times, one hour, part of our timetable - I made the video today in under 28 minutes, and before 8am!

One of the reasons I am so passionate about My Time is that I firmly believe that students can not learn to be independent if we never give them the chance. If we structure every minute of their day, how are they to learn self management skills? If we tell them what to do, when to do it, how do they learn to make good decisions? In my opinion, school should be the place where students can learn to make decisions. This involves being allowed to make bad decisions, but then learning to deal with the consequences appropriately and learning to make a better decisions the next time. Wouldn't we rather our students learn to self manage, make mistakes, and pick themselves up in a supportive, safe environment than when they have responsibilities such as mortgages and families?

Sunday, February 8, 2015

What if...

Steve Mouldey has been on a what if mission of late. He is constantly asking what if questions. And he is constantly asking his students what if questions. So for today's 28 minutes of writing post, as I sit here supervising and e-ASTTLE test, I'm taking a leaf out of Steve's book. Since I have temporarily run out of things to say, it seems a good idea to just make these things up now don't you think? Here goes...

What if giving students test and exams were illegal?
How would our assessment practices be different? - How would we attempt to validate our judgements of student progress? - Would we still assess as frequently? - Who would be in charge of assessment? NZQA? The Ministry? Schools? - Would we assess the same things? - Would students still seek to validate themselves by a test score or by credit hunting? - Would eliminating tests and moving towards longer term, assignment based work mean that students don't cram, and as a result focus on learning more? -Would there be any negative effects on students and what would they be? - How would teachers cope without tests? - Do tests offer a safety nest for teachers? - Would there be any positive effects on students and what would they be? - Would making exams and tests illegal change which content we focus on? - Would making exams and tests illegal change what our curriculum looks like? - What assessment system would most likely replace tests? - What role would e-portfolios place in a system without tests? - Would assessment practice improve or not if tests and exams were illegal? - How would things be different if only high stakes testing was illegal? - What innovations in student assessment might develop as a result of the increased constraints? - Why do students dislike tests so much? - How could we help students to feel less intimated by tests? - How might we make testing more meaningful? - Who would most likely advocate for making tests illegal? Who would most likely advocate against making tests illegal 
The thing about what if questions is that they allow you to entertain ideas that we might often consider impossible. Yet, when it comes down to it, very few of the ideas that we would like to see take root in education are actually impossible. Challenging to implement perhaps. Uncomfortable. But not impossible. So many of our systems were put into place by people, and for that same reason can be removed by people. It is important that we do not confuse obstacles with limits. The two are very different!

So while we are living in the hypothetical here, do you have a what if question that allows you to think outside the box enough to generate a new education paradigm?

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Our wasted youth

Once upon a time, students left school well before they reached 18. In many developing countries all around the world, students leave early to support their families financially. Yet, even if you do not need to leave school to financially support your family, or because you need to take care of a sick family member, it seems strange that we have thousands of teenagers across the country, and millions more across the globe, who are not contributing to their community or world in any substantial way. Although there are some great initiatives in schools that take small groups of students to build houses in third world countries, or that get students serving in their community, I am increasingly beginning to wonder if there isn't more that we can do. 

Over the summer holidays, I finished NZCER's Key Competencies for the Future. Much of the book focusses on teaching the key competencies through the use of wicked problems ("A wicked problem is a problem that is difficult or impossible to solve because of incomplete, contradictory, and changing requirements that are often difficult to recognise." - wikipedia) There is no question that our world and society faces some rather large wicked problems at present and in the foreseeable future. Everything from over population, food scarcity, fossil fuel depletion, global warming and the increasing violence of groups such as Isis. Fuelled by the ideas of Key Competencies for the Future, but also, A More Beautiful Question by Warren Berger, I am increasingly wondering about how we might engage students to become the "confident, connected, actively involved, lifelong learners" who are "contributors to the well-being of New Zealand - social, cultural, economic and environmental" that the New Zealand Curriculum talks about. 

The question I would like to put to you today is, why, when there are so many unsolved problems in the world, do we waste smart, insightful, creative students' time with meaningless work? It seems to me, that the thousands and thousands of collective hours that students sit bored in classrooms, might be much better spent, actually participating and contributing in the real world. Rather than learning about global warming and writing a test about it, couldn't they rather go out and do something about it? Rather than learning about poverty, couldn't students go out and do something about it? Take for example Jack Andraka, a teenager who developed an inexpensive new way to test for cancer. It seems to be, that students, especially teenagers, are yet another example of how we waste our resources in this world.

My question to you as I wrap up today's 28 minute post, how might we harness the enormous potential from our students whilst saving the world at the same time? 

Lessons from lego

It appears that on this lovely summer evening in Auckland, my thoughts are feeling far too rebellious to be committed to any one coherent point. However I know, that within any challenge, such as this 28 days of writing project, perseverance is key. And since some of the aim of the game is pushing creativity, there is nothing to do but practice what I preach. Even when you feel like you have no ideas, just keep going anyways.

During the school holidays I visited the Auckland Art Gallery. One of the exhibits at the moment is a long table with thousands of white lego bricks. People are then encourage to play with the lego. The artists theory was that over time, whatever is built with the lego by various passers by will increase in complexity. There is no question about it when you see what has been built by all the passers by. Of course, there is an element of natural selection at play here. As people add to the table with their own contributions, it seems that the most unimpressive or unstable parts are broken down and rebuilt, over time adding to the complexity.

I love to spend time in art galleries and museums. Now I don't have the right language to describe the works that I see, and I often have never heard of the artists. And sometimes, I think the art works are ugly. But why I keep going back, and why I keep wanting to go away on yet another trip to some exciting new city, is that these experiences raise so many questions for me. They give you new perspectives and insights. For example, I wouldn't have a second thought if I went to visit a friend and interrupted them painting or drawing. Yet I would definitely wonder if I visited the same friend and interrupted them in the middle of playing with some lego. Why is that? Why does my mind seem to suggests an adult playing with lego is more unusual than an adult painting a picture?

I guess there are a number of lessons to learn here. The first, is that inspiration for good questions can come from anywhere. We shouldn't necessarily just look for inspiration in the obvious places. The second lesson is that even when we have hit the wall (like when you have nothing to say for your 28 days of writing post), you sometimes need to just do it anyways. Much like the lego exhibit, we can add one tiny brick at a time. Over time, this develops into complexity and creativity. Even if our first idea did not start that way. Sometimes, it's about having a go even when we feel uninspired. And finally, the lego also reminded me to keep challenging my preconceptions, my ideology and my assumptions. Undoubtedly, it is our own preconceptions that hold us back in life from so much.

It seems the educational value of lego has transcended very well into adulthood.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Think like a super villain, not a minion.

image source

At ULearn last year I sat next to a lady who cited the government as an excuse for schools not being future focussed. The year before at a different conference, someone cited a similar reason for why they could not achieve their peresonal goals. One often hears senior leaders blamed too. Sometimes boards of trustees or communities, sometimes parents, often, colleagues. I too have played the blame game, especially where in my opinion, the needs of the students are not being put first. 

However, with Carol Dweck's Minset and Dan Pink's Drive ticked off my summer reading list, I am deliberately trying to think, act  and even communicate in a more growth mindset orientated way. After all, blame, and making excuses are signs of a fixed mindset. And as my summer reading pointed out, just because I show a growth mindset in some contexts in my life, does not mean that I necessarily show it in others. For example, I know that I am far more growth orientated when it comes to academic learning than when I'm doing a physical activity. 

So, to combat those moments where I might slip into the fixed mindset, where I might play the blame game or make excuses, I am testing a new motto. Think like a super villain, not like a minion. When a super villain does not like what the government is doing, they plot to take over the world, or they hack the system. Rather than moping around, they plan takeovers, grow their following, and find loopholes in the system that allow them to pursue their goals. 

Now don't get me wrong here, I am by no means telling you to be a super villain, but rather to start thinking more like one. Where are the loopholes you can exploit? Where are there old, unnecessary or stifling systems, processes and rules put in place by people, that can also be broken down and improved by people? What rules are there that need to be broken, or better, replaced with new rules. Rather than trying to think outside the box, think about how you can assist in the demolition of the box. Super villains often also have a knack for being creative in their problem solving, for thinking big. They ask 'how might we' questions. How might we take over the world or build a flying octopus suit? Super villains have done anything and everything from building enormous robots to stealing the moon. 

Personally, I would much rather stop making excuses or stop blaming others, that is how a minion thinks. I would much rather think like a super villain. 

PS: 7 seconds left for my 28 minutes challenge today! 

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

The underbelly of HPSS

It is more fun sharing the shiny, sparkly side of things. It's easier talking about what we have done right than what we have done wrong. However, sharing our struggles means that others can learn from us. Illuminating the potholes means others are less likely to fall in them too. 

We often share all the exciting things that go on at Hobsonville Point. In fact, as I type, there is great stuff happening at our second Waitangi Celebration. A day where the students from Hobsonville Point Primary and Secondary come together to explore Maori culture. The community is then invited in to share food, listen to music and see some of the projects the kids worked on during the day. You can see more sharing about this on Twitter at #HPSwaitangi . However, you might also liked to know what some of the things are that we struggle with here at Hobsonville Point, rather than just the shiny brand new building, sparkling ideas and a general sense of fun (have you seen our Halloween costumes form last year?). I thought I would use today's #28daysofwriting post to share one of my own struggles.

Although I haven't been teaching for very long, I have rarely felt like a beginning teacher. It may be because my first teaching job was a bit of a baptism by fire in the middle of a housing estate in England, or it might be my slight addiction to professional development. Either way, in the past year at Hobsonville Point Secondary, there have been many occasions where I have felt like a beginning teacher. As it turns out, removing so many of the safety nets that exist in secondary schools can be very challenging. It means that you go back to being in a place of 'knowing the theory' but not having had much time to practice your theory. Then add in to the mix that the foundation staff of Hobsonville Point all believe in a vision and are committed to making it happen. Cue high expectations, of yourself and others. Hence, you often end up second guessing yourself. Where a lesson may have been fine in any other school, in fact, it may have been good anywhere else (and may well still be good), you often find yourself questioning whether it is good enough for our school and for our vision. You can imagine the state of mind one might be in if you question everything you do. Of course, add in to the mix that so many of the safety nets that we have in other schools are not there. There are no textbooks. None. Can you imagine being a maths teacher with no textbooks? Or can you imagine suddenly being in an open plan building where everything you do is visible, even though you are already questioning and second guessing yourself?

But then I remember what real, genuine learning looks and feels like. Do you remember what it feels like sitting in a class learning something new when the teacher is peeking over your shoulder? Or trying to answer a question and then not being sure? So you second guess yourself? Do you remember what it feels like when you get stuck and the teacher calls on you for an answer? Sounds an awful lot like what I described above doesn't it? And that is the important thing to realise about working at HPSS. It is just as much a learning curve for teachers as it is for students. There is nowhere to hide with what you have done in the past. And so, I can honestly look back and say that my mind is not the same shape or size as it was a year ago, thanks to HPSS it has been stretched and stretched. HPSS is a school for learning, for students and for teachers. 

Ralph Waldo Emerson sums it up best: “The mind, once stretched by a new idea, never returns to its original dimensions.” 

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

#FOMO led me to join #28daysofwriting

If you started your teaching career at HPSS and then moved
somewhere else. (Yes I drew this terrible cartoon). 

#28daysofwriting  - I think it was Tom Barett (my edu crush of 2014) who made this particular blogging challenge go a bit viral. It means you write for 28 minutes a day, every day, for 28 days. Of course prolific blogger Steve Mouldey signed up. And so did Ros, Kimberley and a few others people that I really admire on the education scene. So of course, what should happen but #FOMO, fear of missing out. Particularly as I know how powerful reflecting on a regular basis is. Without question, I believe that a big part of the positive shifts in grades in my university assignments has been due to my blogging and tweeting activity. And also, because I know that every day at Hobsonville Point is the equivalent of a week in any other school. Such unusual phenomena should be documented if you ask me! As I sat in the audience at our first prize giving as a school last year, I rather wanted to kick myself for not documenting my thinking to a greater extent. Being part of a foundation staff in a school that is pushing so many boundaries, in so many ways, working with so many inspirational educators has meant an enormous learning curve. I sincerely wish I had posted every day so that I could have gone back this year and worked through my thoughts. So, I might be a few days late, but better late than never. It's for this reason that Steve Mouldey and I had a serious (or as serious as Steve gets) conversation with one of our new teachers here at Hobsonville about joining the challenge.

Imagine, that as a beginning teacher, your very first job ever, was at Hobsonville Point Secondary School. How might this influence what you come to believe about how education works? What would you believe about the purpose of education in New Zealand? How might you interpret the New Zealand Curriculum? What would you believe about the role of collaboration in schools between teachers? What would you believe about pastoral care? For one thing, you would throw a serious tantrum when presented with a scheme of work. I mean seriously, how can you know that in week four of term three, your students will need to learn how to simplify and solve for x? What if some students are still struggling with fractions? Do you just ignore that and move on to decimals anyways because that is what the scheme of work says? How is that meeting the needs of our students? How does that teach students to have a growth mindset? Never mind mastery, lets just move on. Never mind practicing until you get something, or learning to apply something. We have to move on. Our curriculum explicitly highlights that we are attempting to create life long learners, yet, if we do not provide students with a chance for mastery, what messages do we really send?

Again, a beginning teacher at Hobsonville Point might be forgiven for thinking that teachers naturally collaborate. Without question, I have collaborated with many others in my past school. However, at Hobsonville Point, despite being a science and maths specialist, I have thus far worked with social sciences and health and physical education the most. This is a long cry from a faculty office, and even further removed from a past school where I used to avoid the staff room altogether for fear of conversations about how terrible colleagues in the school are. Just this week alone we have seen some exciting connections come to life between chemistry and the Treaty of Waitangi thanks to the cross school collaborations!

Wow 28 minutes goes fast. Especially if you add in the time to draw a terrible cartoon. But this challenge is about creativity. So I'm attempting not to judge my rambling thoughts or bad drawings. Instead, I am thinking of this as practice for writing every day. Since I also signed up to start my masters this year. 2015 is going to be busy.