Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Working in Vietnam with Teachers

I have been working with teachers in Vietnam on modern learning practices.  It has been a great experience, revising all of the principles of learning, assessment practices, student-centred learning, curriculum development, and ways of connecting your school with your community - local, national and global.

It reminds me how lucky we are in New Zealand to have a flexible curriculum framework and a future-oriented system to work within.  Sometimes I think that some New Zealand schools and teachers do not take full advantage of that flexibility.

I wonder how New Zealand teachers would cope with a very prescriptive curriculum and a textbook to adhere to.  On the plus side here in Vietnam, the teachers are very keen to learn and approach new ideas with a positive attitude, even when their context may not allow much movement in some areas at the moment.

I have been reminded constantly about the global changes in education that are happening in many countries.  For example, Andreas Schleicher, head of PISA (which, co-incidentally, is testing much more than just numeracy and literacy these days), in a recent interview (see video below) talked about countries which are moving very quickly into innovation in their education systems.

Andreas cites China as looking at values-based education now as their government realises that industry will not be sufficient in the future to maintain their economy, Brazil as the most improved country, Germany as being the country that is working to reduce the disparity gap, and Japan as having the courage to removed 30% of their curriculum content.

This video is well worth a watch for any educator or person interested in a changing society across the world. More to follow later!!

Sunday, 18 June 2017

Changing Times for Teachers Reflected in Changes in Our Teaching Standards

In July, 2017, teachers will be held to new benchmarks of their professional practice through 6 Teaching Standards which will replace the 12 existing PTCs (practising teacher criteria).
The new (but, still draft until July 2017) standards can be found at this link here on page 37.
Included in this publication is the new Code of Professional Responsibility which replaces the existing Code of Conduct for teachers.
The new (draft) standard titles are:

  1. National Context
  2. Professional Learning
  3. Professional Relationships and Behaviour
  4. Learning Focused Environments
  5. Design for Learning
  6. Teaching

So what will change for teachers and principals at the coalface?  Probably not a lot to begin with, except a new awareness of the professional responsibility to aspire to make changes in areas that they may not have pursued.

The new standards have imperatives around commitment to the national context of biculturalism.  Commitment means a lot more than tilting at windmills.  It means making changes to your practice that reflect understanding of this country's true heritage to the point of "specifically and effectively address the educational aspirations of Māori learners" as an example.

Critical inquiry into practice continues to be a major focus, with collaborative problem solving coming to the fore and the associated essential professional learning to improve impact on the learners.  Reflect on the old adage for this one - "if you do things the same way you get the same results".

Professional relationships, as crucial as ever, and I do chuckle to myself at the words "work collegially and collaboratively" as indicators, when I remember being mocked in the past for my constant reference to these words when I talked to teaching staff as a senior manager.

Maintaining learning focused environments which are collaborative, inclusive and safe should put an end to the old teaching style with never a word being allowed to be spoken between learners. Learning SHOULD be collaborative.  Assessment not necessarily so.

Design for learning will mean attention to the big picture including teaching to the edges in your class rather than the middle.  This nebulous sounding concept will perhaps take the most time and thought each year as teachers and whole staff grapple with their curriculum.  What do our students need to be, do and know, and why do they need to know it?  No more - "we are going to do a unit on the monarch butterfly in term 3" because that is what the teacher knows.

And that concept is also reflected in the "Teaching" standard which requires us to "teach and respond" to our learners to "progress their learning at an appropriate depth and pace".  For who knows what our learners will show interest in, what their needs will be, and for how long they will be interested in it and need it?

My hope is that teachers will focus on what these standards and indicators will mean to them, rather than the mechanics of changing their portfolios of evidence.  In other words, critical inquiry into your own practice with a cognisance of the new standards that are your benchmarks.

I highly recommend that you keep a tagged blog for your teaching standard eportfolio, with a site as a secondary measure to showcase your best practice examples for each of the standards.  The new Google sites can be used as a central storage spot for these purposes.  You will get the idea from this tutorial.

Look out for updates to this topic over the next few months.

Thursday, 13 April 2017

Snapchat in the Classroom

Warning Note: This post is for secondary teachers because learners need to be 13 to have a Snapchat account.

I watched a great webinar this morning, led by Nikki Robertson in Alabama, on using Snapchat in in class. I first heard of using Snapchat in class at ISTE 2016 last year in June, but the idea did not really hook my brain until recently when I saw that Facebook had incorporated a lot of the functionality of Snapchat in an effort to draw subscribers back.  I began to wonder what is it that makes Snapchat so attractive to young people?
So I enrolled in this webinar from SimpleK12 to try and learn more.  Her's what I found out:-

  1. Snapchat is a great way to build teacher-learner relationships.  First of all, you can "snap" out class celebratory photos and videos to the learners.  There is an interesting line that you don't want to cross here, in the same way that you don't cross certain lines in class.  This is something that you need to discuss openly with learners and your school community, and consider carefully the boundaries before you start.  So consider your purpose first and then think about how and what you are going to use Snapchat.  Nikki feels that it gives teachers opportunities to seek those teachable moments about digital citizenship, if you do see something inappropriate.  She quotes Kevin Honeycutt - "Our kids are growing up on a digital playground and no one is on recess duty".  

This is a great point.  Our learners are safer at school than they are at home when it comes to being immersed in the digital world.  School teachers are in the privileged position of being able to teach our learners how to behave online and we need to be in those spaces.

2.  You can build up a Snapchat story of what is happening in your day so much like a class blog but when you are a secondary teacher, your day varies a lot.  This involves a simple "add to My story" function on the app.

3.  You can make QR codes more accessible to learners who say they have no room to download any more apps.  Snapchat has its own QR code maker and all they have to do is point their Snapchat camera to the Snapchat QR code and it will direct them to the right site.   Here is the Snapchat code I created for this blog.  Use your Snapchat app and click the camera.  It will give you an option to open this blog. (Note that you can use the Snapchat camera to read any QR code - it does not have to be the Snapchat version which is called a Snapcode.)  An easy way to point learners to the right place!

4. Other ideas that Nikki mentioned were sending snaps of vocabulary, real life examples (eg in Math), sending out flash cards for revision, new language learning (photo + text), and snapchat stories for revision.

5. Get your learners to be the creators of stories.  (Don't forget to set and incorporate ground rules around digital citizenship.)  Empower student voice.  I think this is THE avenue that I would like to explore more.

6.  Try a Snapchat competition. For example on field trips and spirit days.  This is sure to engage learners and help build that relationship.

7. Use the filters to jazz up your book displays.

At the end of the webinar, Nikki asked us to think about

  • who are you going to involve in your school snapchat community?
  • what are your goals?
  • what is your tone (it is not a formal app)?
  • drawing the line between professional and personal use
  • giving some feedback to her about using social media in schools through this link .

The slides from Nikki's webinar are here and you can access the webinar if you are a member of the  SimpleK12 community.  (There are Basic and Full memberships, with special free webinar days occasionally).

Monday, 10 April 2017

A Rant But An Important One - Is Your Teaching Future Focused?

The TKI website has some excellent resources on curriculum development and on 21st March launched Spotlights, focusing on specific aspects of the NZC.  I was pleased to see a spotlight on the Principles of the NZC , and TKI has published slides which will support you through a refocus on these important foundations of your local curriculum.

One of the first slides asks us if we can name the 8 principles.  How many can you name of the top of your head?  Well, truthfully, I managed 5 before I had to peek - it has been a while but I think I can name all 8 now if you give me a surprise test.  The 2 that I named first were The Treaty of Waitangi and Future Focus because these often come to the fore in my work.

The slides also provide a link to the summary of an ERO evaluation of the evidence of the 8 principles in NZ schools and classrooms, which was published in 2012.  The ERO evaluation also states that secondary schools have a much lower incidence of evidence of the principles in their curricula, when compared to primary schools.  Imagine my horror to see that Future Focus evidence featured the LOWEST number of times in NZ school curricula, and second to lowest in classroom curricula.

Only one third of schools reported on had evidence of a future focus in their curricula!  Without naming any schools, I can tell you that I had the experience of a deputy principal (of a large secondary school) at the end of last year telling me that his school was preparing their students for examinations.   When I asked him what about the future, he replied, no, we prepare them for exams because that is what the parents expect.  I banged my head on a brick wall in despair.

One would hope that there has been some movement toward educating our parents about future focus in our schools since 2012 but the evidence still points the other way.  Schools are focused on assessment results because that is how they are judged in the "league tables" published in the media and referred to by every parent sending their child to a "superior" school.

Education Review magazine recently published this article, by Dr John Boereboom, from the Centre for Evaluation and Monitoring, University of Canterbury,  emphasizing how there are winners and losers using this way of thinking.  But their alternative is to look at how much value has been added using another (mid year 9) assessment.  They say that this assessment enables them to predict how well the learners will do in the NCEA exams.    It sounds just like another test to me, to find out how well the learners can do in another test.

So what are we preparing our learners for  - the future or for exams?  Perhaps we need to do both. The way that we teach is our best preparation for the future.  Using the 6 themes of future oriented teaching and learning to underpin our pedagogy is the most powerful thing we can do toward this, in a class.  And it would be so heartening to hear schools talking about this, examining ways of working towards redefining their own curricula and implementing the changes that are required for this to happen.

How are you incorporating a future focus into your curriculum?  At the beginning of May there is a Future Focused Day with Barbara Bray, international educationalist, in Taupo.    Disappointingly, the original symposium has been undersubscribed, but Barbara Bray is committed to sharpening the eyes and minds of those canny educators with a future glint in their eyes.  Her keynote and workshops for the attendees are as follows.

Keynote: The Future of School and Learner Agency
  1. Building Learner Agency Using UDL as a Lens to Personalise Learning 
  2. Changing Spaces, Thinking and Mindsets 
  3. PBL, Design Thinking and Authentic Context 

You can still register to hear and work with Barbara Bray in Taupo on 3rd May by filling in this form. Discounts are available for multiple registrations from a school. Check out how future focused your school is.

Friday, 7 April 2017

Flipped Learning - Why You Must!

Flipped learning is the act of moving instruction from the group space into the individual space according to Dr Ramsey Musallam, a chemistry teacher from the USA.  The founders of flipped learning in schools, Aaron Sams and Jon Bergmann, are quite happy with this re-definition, even though the model has evolved over the years since they first started videoing their science lessons for their students, who were missing school through sport or sickness.  When they started out, they would video their whole lesson.  Now we know that videos of less than 10 minutes are so much more engaging and effective.

Like all good pedagogies, flipped learning is one that you can adapt and polish to suit your own circumstances.   I am leading a couple of workshops on flipped learning in Wellington this June and so thought it was timely to revisit some of the tenets that I believe are upheld by flipping.

  • Firstly, it allows you to leverage the power of digital technologies to support learning.  Never before have learners had so many videos to teach them how to do all manner of things.  They do not have to rely on the teacher to tell them how to do things in real time.
  • Secondly, it allows you to take advantage of the relationship you have with your learners - the videos you make will be so much more powerful than those which can be found on youtube. Why?  Because you are the person they trust, you are the one they know with the responsibility of teaching them, so they will pay more attention to you.  You will lessen the distance that their understanding needs to travel in the zone of proximal development.
  • Thirdly, it allows learners to advance at their own pace, along the pathways that they choose, thus personalising their learning.  
Flipping requires a lot of preparatory work on behalf of the teachers.   There are videos to make, and don't think that you can make them all at once.  Start flipping slowly and build your video resources. The "flip" side of this extra work is that it is offset by much more enjoyable class time.  Less stressful, more engagement, more exploration of concepts and deeper understanding.  Peers feel much more confident to lead and share the learning, have discussions and delve further than they ever would before.

Want to know more?  Well, join me at Wellington, at Samuel Marsden College.  Details in this image below along with a 15% discount if you use my code.
Here are my introductory videos which I hope will whet your appetite:

Tuesday, 28 March 2017


Today I want to share with you another great little app for ipads and iphones.  This one is called Snapguide.

This app allows you to make a set of instructions, step by step, using photos and short videos (using videos which are under 1 minute). It seems to be popular for making little recipe instructions or DIY projects but I think it would also be perfect for using in class to give instructions to your learners.  Having your instructions recorded allows you the freedom that flipped learning gives you.  Your learners can access the instructions 24/7 and at the time that suits their programme.

The guides are public once you have published them so be aware that anyone can see your guides. However, as a method of getting instructions to your students, they look clean and are easy to prepare.  It would be easy to embed them into your class blog or get them directly to your learners using email or Google Classroom.
Here is one example of a Snapguide.
Check out How to Set Up a Microscope by Colin Grandgenett on Snapguide.

As well as the set of step by step instructions, there is a "Supplies" page in each Snapguide which allows you to tell the students what equipment, devices, and other necessities are needed.

You can also use a web version to make a Snapguide but the web version does not currently have the ability to add videos, like the ipad or iphone has. Get started by creating an account.
Here is a quick guide from me to using Snapguide on your phone or ipad.

Friday, 24 March 2017

Using Adobe Spark Video

Another tool that I learned about when investigating tools for oral language development was Adobe Spark for use on laptops, Chromebooks or ipads.  You are given three options  when you sign in - Post, Page or Video, as shown here: -
 Each has its own great features but I am just going to focus on the Video function in this post.

This free tool allows you to add images, icons, text and also your own short videos to your slides.  The images and icons can be those which you search for, from within the app, or you can use your own. You can then talk for up to 10 seconds about each of the slides,  (default is 2 secs but it will change as you talk) thereby making a video, recording your voice as you narrate through each of the slides.  You can also add music to your video from within the app or upload your own background music, and change the duration that each slide is shown.
When you are ready, you can download your video as an mp4 and share that to whomever you wish to, or share your video to the world through a web-link.
For learners who find it hard to start, there are some excellent templates and examples to be used.  I think this application would be awesome for young learners, who are growing their oral language skills.  Talking about their artwork is a great place to start.
I can see a lot of other applications for older learners as well, including making a "call to action" if you want your learners to become involved in a special project, or sharing findings from a field trip or science project.  Or to prepare your learners for speeches.  Let them practice away through their visual prompts.
If you use the media search to find images or music, the credits will automatically be included, which gives learners a great opportunity to talk about digital citizenship as well.
Providing guidelines for your learners may be really useful, for example, providing structure to the task through limiting the number of slides, or the total time for the video and asking for a certain number of key points, or certain vocabulary to be used.  Limited to your imagination!
Here is a short video that I made demonstrating the use.

Try the online or the ipad app soon to help develop oral language.