Thursday, 28 December 2017

Last of the Year

I have to end the year with a good cheer story.  From a photo cue on Facebook, I was reminiscing about a new immigrant, 16 year old young man visiting the DP's office (next to mine when I was AP.)  He arrived one day, just as a bouquet of flowers from my husband was arriving at my door.  He looked admiringly at them.  The (male) DP scoffed, "Waste of money, don't get into that kind of habit!"
The student smiled and agreed, and I said abruptly, "Don't listen to him.  What would he know about women?"  This went on every day for about a week, associated with great hilarity and then one day, the young man walked into my office with a handpicked bunch of flowers for me.  I told him, "You have learned a good lesson.  You will be a great success if you give flowers to the people you admire."  I am pleased to say that 10+ years later, he has gone on to become engaged to a lovely young kiwi woman.   I like to think I had a hand in his success!  And therein ends my tale.

Happy New Year!

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

School - what's the point?

What do these successful people have in common?

If you haven't already guessed it, they were not successful at school.  Either dropped out, were labelled as not amounting to anything,  were bottom of the class, hated school, or even worse, expelled.  At prizegiving every year, I remember, in my role as a leader in a college, sitting in the front row on the stage in my black gown, groaning as yet another successful guest speaker got up and told the students how he/she was hopeless at school, but succeeded anyway, and here they were, trying to inspire them on to greater things in their school years and beyond.

So why do we still have this ridiculous system that moulds people into compliant citizens - "prepares them for the world" as we are so fond of saying? 

My guess is that we retain a schooling system for convenience.

  • It is convenient, as parents, to have all of our children out of our way so that we can get on with the job of making money.  
  • It is convenient, as teachers, to have large groups herded into manageable lumps to incubate compliant students.  
  • It is convenient as a learner to have everyone educated about the same things so that we know what each other is talking about.  
  • It is convenient for politicians to slip inadequate sums of money to institutions to bulk-educate our masses.  
  • It is convenient for the economists to prepare our young ones for the same kinds of work that we all know about, to make the financial world, as we know it, go around.
We are one of only a small group of animals who prepare their young for the real world by handing them over to others.  Fish do it, send them off on their own in schools (lol) and a large pack of African wild dogs will all take responsibility for bringing up the pack young, as do ostriches, but relatively few hand over responsibility for prolonged periods of time, like we do. Dominant meerkats will force submissive ones to wet nurse and look after their brood, even going so far as to kill off any progeny that the submissive ones have. 

I am not really into anarchy - I do think we need some sort of order in our communities.  But, I do think that we could be a bit more imaginative about what goes on with our progeny.  I am not saying everything that we do at school is bad.  But, honestly, to those unconvinced members of the public, we need to get real about some of the reforms that we are trying to bring into schools, like MLEs (ILEs) and start thinking maybe there is a purpose for differentiating, individualising, and personalising learning.

So let's be relatively pleased about the convenience of school and start supporting different ways of thinking and doing in schools that will develop individuals who have their own strengths and skills. 

Friday, 13 October 2017

Learned Helplessness

Learned helplessness is a condition that we may all suffer in one way or another.  I don't know where the wrenches are kept in the garage because I don't want to wrench anything.  It is a lot easier to ask my Dan to wrench things when they need wrenching, and then I don't have to do it.  But we can also become victims of learned helplessness if we fail to be able to seek out and find solutions for ourselves.

In the classroom, we sometimes cultivate learned helplessness in our learners if we don't encourage them to seek out and find answers for themselves.  Instead, they can just wait until the teacher tells them how to do it.  It breeds lazy learners.  It also breeds learners with no resilience.  Helpless.

Sometimes we are guilty of it in our professional learning as well.  Much easier to ask an expert than to track down an answer for ourselves.   But here's the thing.  Experts aren't around all the time, and they usually cost money, so this is why you need to unlearn the habit of helplessness.  Become a lifelong learner.  That is why the internet is such a wonderful tool.  You can seek out how to do just about anything.  Go on, take that first step.
And in a shout out to my friend, Rick, here's a link that he sometimes sends to helpless learners...
Watch it, you will like it.

Thursday, 14 September 2017

Consistency or Creativity - You Make The Choice

I quite often hear teachers talk about the need for consistency in using a certain format or platform in schools.  For example, when making art work, some teachers want their students' work to all look the same because it looks more effective on their classroom walls.  Or when choosing a digital platform for school, the teachers want senior leadership teams to make a decision for the whole school - to use Microsoft 365 or Google Suite or Schoology or Edmodo or any other that they have seen in operation.

When I ask teachers why they want "consistency," they reply so that the teachers and learners will know what to do, so that everything is the same, so that everyone is on the same page etc.   I hear no really valid reason, in my books.  I dispute the need for consistency and I am all for giving teachers and learners choice.  Choose the product that works well for you at the time.  If you have the opportunity to use a variety of platforms, then pick one that you and your learners like.  As long as we perpetuate the myth that students will not know what to do, they will continue to remain in a state of learned helplessness.

So how could this work in art?  There are a variety of different techniques that learners could be exposed to.  Making videos on how to do these different techniques would provide learners the opportunity to have choice and control over what they do.  Giving them the opportunity to investigate and try different techniques is important in my view.

But then comes the practical side of things.  How can you cater for a whole lot of different techniques and media in one classroom? I am thinking that this is where the whole idea of student agency is exposed for its true meaning.  Not only do learners have choice and control of what they do and when they do it, they have to be self-organising.  They would need to organise researching and finding the resources themselves, and this will require teachers to let go of the control as well.

Good things take time.  If I were a teacher thinking of transitioning to this way of working in Art, here is what I would do.  I would take videos or collect videos of different techniques and post them up in a central place (maybe a site for example).  I would ask learners to investigate different techniques and learners could make videos about what materials were needed and how to carry out the technique.    This way the learners would become a lot more creative rather than following a set "lesson plan" for art.  I would be there to help, suggest, guide.   You know, the whole idea of guide on the side.

And yes it would be very messy.  Am I just dreaming about what could be, or is this far too impractical?

Photo:  A Duck Out of Water.

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

Politics, Colleagues and Friends

It is so easy, isn't it?  The elections looming in the next few weeks and posts go up on Facebook declaring your political bent.  In the coming weeks, they will be more frequent and strident.  The Primary Teachers Facebook Group administrators were forced to draw a line in the sand recently and suggested one post per member on the political scene.  Teachers were getting too aggressive in their stances.
I must admit to having one friend on Facebook unfriend me because I posted too much on Donald Trump and how ridiculous the man is.  I guess the friend wanted to live in an echo chamber where only his views were visible. But I, too, have been tempted to do the same as the elections loom.  I cannot believe some of the "stupid" posts that people put up about their preferred party or politician.  I have come close to hitting the unfriend button several times but stop myself by thinking about internet guru, Howard Rheingold, and his assertion that we need to learn to be critical consumers to survive online. To do that we have to ensure we do not surround ourselves with like-minded opinion online.

How do friends view the world so differently?  I guess we are all brought up in different ways and experience different things in our lives and work.  We make judgments based on the ladder of inference.  Our action (voting and expressing our political bent) will be based on the reality that we select, the assumptions we make, and the beliefs we have developed.

Teachers are taught to question their beliefs, assumptions and try to look at unselected data about their learners when they start out on a teaching as inquiry cycle.  It is difficult to do by yourself, and this is where a critical friend comes in handy.  Not an uncritical friend.  Someone who agrees with everything you say and constantly affirms you and supports you is not a good critical friend.  An excellent critical friend is often one who challenges his/her own beliefs constantly.   A good critical friend will challenge you even when they do not necessarily believe that the challenge is correct.

So my promise is not to unfriend or even unfollow friends who have a different political bent to mine, no matter how angry I become at their stupidity.  Of course, the challenge is to resist responding in anger. That will lead to them unfriending me. And then I will have another echo chamber.

Image from Stuff

Tuesday, 5 September 2017

Stop the World - Teachers Need to Get Off!

Education is being reinvented.  This is not just a "tune up" of the existing education system.  It is a whole rethink of the purpose of education, with all the flow on effects of curriculum design, teaching design, learning design, and still teachers have to carry on.

  • The 30 children are still turning up at the classroom door every day. 
  • Duty still has to be done at interval and lunchtime. 
  • The working parents are still breathing sighs of relief as they drop their children off before the call of their own industrious travails.  
  • The helicopter parents are still hovering, criticising, stirring discontent in their social spheres.
  •  The MOE is still looking for the elusive literacy and numeracy improvements,  or searching for some nebulous positive relationship between cohorts in the analysis of NCEA achievement. 
  • The BOTs and the Principals are still trying to push the school to climb the league tables in an effort to make theirs the most desirable school to attend.
And the list of the everyday demands of schooling goes on.  It is hard to look past the metaphor of building the aeroplane while it is flying.
As a result, we have a number of different "types" of teachers emerging.  My own opinion of educators oscillates wildly between unbridled excitement at the potential and burgeoning talents of some of them and utter despair at the complete lack of understanding and willingness to adapt of others.  Of course, the reality is probably somewhere in the middle, but I think it is a reflection of the environment we are in.  
What we really, really want is to stop the education world for a while, all re-imagine what it could and should be, and then build the infrastructure and capability to achieve it, giving time for teachers to re-educate themselves and not fall back into the same old "safe" practices that they have used for years, or that others have passed on because it worked for them.  

Wednesday, 30 August 2017

Padlet - A great platform for sharing your videos if you are "Flipping your Science Learning"

I recently gave a presentation to a school about flipping the learning and posted this example of a Padlet as platform to share videos with learners, so thought I would share it with you.
Made with Padlet

This particular one is about Safety in the Science Laboratory and I used random videos that I found on Youtube.  But you could easily get your learners to make a video about different aspects of laboratory safety and ask them to post their video onto the Padlet for the class.  Remember that creativity is the key to remembering, understanding and applying.

Sunday, 13 August 2017

Bringing it all Together

My last post shared a video to help you create a blog which is a great way to collect evidence for your appraisal or teacher certification.  This post today is about creating a Google site to bring evidence together from your blog and folders in Drive.  Sites are a great way to select what is needed for your purpose and present it in a static way.  While I am not yet a fan of the new google sites compared to the old google sites, one thing about them that is useful is that they are easy. So watch this video if you are keen to bring it all together.

Thursday, 10 August 2017

Teaching Standards Portfolio

If you are looking for a way to record evidence for the new teaching standards, here is how I think you could do it. This video helps you set up a blog for that purpose.


Learning in and About Vietnam in Ho Chi Minh

This is the second post about a recent trip to Vietnam as part of ongoing professional development provided by the IPL, University of Waikato, for teachers from Vinschool.  I travelled to Vietnam in June with a colleague to facilitate 6 modules of work, firstly in Hanoi and then in Ho Chi Minh city. We flew in, along with a whole lot of tourists, to Ho Chi Minh City on a July Thursday, disembarked on the tarmac as you do,  and we met with our new translator at the newly built secondary VINschool.  The teachers that we met here were all new to the Ho Chi Minh school as it had not officially opened.

Construction was still going on in the Vin complex so this time we were accommodated in a nicely centrally placed hotel - the Bong Sen. We travelled each day via taxi to the school.  Catching a taxi was something I quickly adapted to.  Just step out on the scary Vietnamese roads and hail one down.  Each time I stepped onto a road I would cross myself and say "I'm with Mary" hoping that Mary's experience and the religious connection would help me.  Those who know me well will realise how preposterous this mantra was.

Generally speaking, I was terrified every time I looked out of the front of the taxi, and so I forced myself into the habit of looking out the side windows (still not an infallible method of avoiding traffic scares but better on the nerves).  It did give me the opportunity to focus on the transport and the buildings.

We were the first to use some of the facilities at the school so everything was pristine and after starting up in one room, we realised that we would need a lot more space for the activities that we needed to do, and were moved to an enormous presentation room.

Friday went well as did Saturday, but as afternoon tea time finished, we realised that the teachers were up to something when they broke out the karaoke youtubes.
They usually had time to work with their teams on their presentations following the mid afternoon break but they said - it is Saturday evening, time to relax! And so, we became part of the ongoing karaoke show.  Mary bravely found a Pokarekareana youtube and we sang along for our part. There were songs from the North and songs from the South and some of the teachers were real entertainers.  Dancing, laughing and singing until time to go home.

Mary and I checked out some of the views of the Vin complex up the river from a hotel dining room one night and then other views of the Saigon River from the Bitexaco Tower viewing platform another night.  Living right in the middle of the tourist area provided us with ample opportunities to sample the food, with my favourite restaurant being one right next to the hotel called Lemongrass.  Fabulous food and Vietnamese music being played live as we ate dinner.

We were also able to see many of the tourist sights in the evenings, and on our day off we took a tour of the inner city which was really worthwhile in getting our bearings and also provided us with an interesting history of the city.  We visited the Notre Dame Cathedral,  the Independence Palace, the Post Office, a Taoist temple, the Book street and the War Remnants Museum (sobering). This place is chock full of history and I made a promise to myself to read some books with Vietnamese history.  The first book I have found is called "Saigon: An Epic Novel of Vietnam" so I will look forward to reading it knowing a bit about the area now.

We found the Vietnamese teachers just as charming, humble and gracious as those in the North, although a little more outgoing (see karaoke photos).  Everyone had told us that Saigon was much more westernised and open than Hanoi but I found it hard to make that discernment and I think that was due to the fact that we were in the middle of the tourism area in Saigon after all.
We had school lunches in the school dining room each day.  These were superb!  Always rice or rice noodles, vegetables and meat dishes followed by fruit.  They were very healthy as well as delicious, and we also had fruit at every morning and afternoon tea break.  The teachers took to bringing us different fruits to try out and there were a lot that I had not sampled before.  Fresh lychees, rambutan, jackfruit, dragonfruit, and longan to name a few.
As we worked through the modules each day, we talked with teachers about how the learning could be adapted to their own context.  Once again I found myself pondering on how difficult it was to reconcile the crowded Vietnamese curriculum with deep learning practices.  We are so lucky in New Zealand to have the curriculum framework that we do.  The teachers in Vietnam seem to be so busy all of the time, and they make fun when they see an opportunity.  During several of their assessments, there were dances and songs incorporated as you can see in this video of the last day.

The remaining days at work passed really quickly and as we approached the final presentation day, Mary and I reflected how quickly the time had flown.  The teachers had worked hard on every activity and it was going to be hard to say goodbye.  Our last day was another day of celebration of learning, with presentations given, assessments completed, certificates presented and feedback given, followed by more gifts and exchanging of Facebook details so that we could stay in touch.  Here is one of our last photos together, with a few faces missing as teachers dashed off to other venues for different responsibilities.

Mary and I stayed on for another four days after the programme was finished.  We moved to a backpacker hotel in a different part of the town and took time to try out more food, visit the Mekong Delta, go to the Ben Thanh market each day for shopping (strange smells, crowds, bartering, heat and crazy, crazy, traffic) and I took advantage of the tourism dentistry opportunities. But that's another story.

Learning In and About Vietnam in Hanoi

As part of ongoing professional development provided by the Institute of Professional Development, University of Waikato, for teachers from Vinschool I travelled to Vietnam in June with a colleague to facilitate 6 modules of work, firstly in Hanoi and then in Ho Chi Minh city. Mary and I were in Hanoi for two weeks and then Ho Chi Minh for two weeks, so a great chance to see a few sights and taste the culture of Vietnam, when our work allowed us time off.
We arrived in Hanoi on a Friday.  The first thing I always notice, about any country when I travel, is the architecture and this did not fail to disappoint.  The buildings in the cities were so often very tall and narrow, from skyscrapers to residential properties. This photo was taken from the taxi on our journey to our skyscraper apartment.  The scene is pretty typical of many of the streets in Hanoi, although without the usual jumble of electrical wires often found along the roadside.  Motorbikes strew all of the footpaths in Hanoi and there are moves to have them banned from the city centre.
We were working for the private Vinschool and stayed in the apartment complex which houses many of the families whose children attend Vinschool.  It is beautifully planned and has manicured gardens and playgrounds, as well as a large underground shopping mall so residents are well catered for in terms of amenities.   Each day we would walk from our apartment to the school which was about a block away but within the boundaries of the Vin group complex.  The temperatures were high (well over 30 each day) but not as high as the last time that Mary had been over when Hanoi was experiencing high 30s each day.  I was pretty pleased about that as just the walk to the school had us pretty hot each morning.

Our work entailed a variety of activities and strategies that the teachers could use in their own classrooms (from kindergarten to high school) so a lot of learning involved a lot of student-centered fun.  The Vietnamese teachers entered into all activities fully and were not shy about getting right into the role plays and expressing their own individual styles.  I was interested in how they would be able to adapt a lot of the pedagogies to suit their prescriptive national curriculum.  

The Vinschools are working on building modern teaching practices into all of their schools, which is awesome, but the pressure is on for all of the teachers to deliver a lot of content as well.  I can see a huge future for digital learning to play a place in helping them do that.  As much as possible I tried to incorporate digital ways of achieving some of the outcomes of the modules.  The Vietnamese teachers were very keen on learning more of these.  They have some very digitally competent teachers, and every one of them had mobile phones which they used extensively to access and interact with the learning we were facilitating.  It was great to see them working together, in blended ways - using phones or laptops, to access learning which could then be expressed in a poster for example.

 I noticed that the teachers all helped each other with their devices.  Some were less used to accessing learning this way, but we provided QR codes and shortened URLs in each session so that they were all pretty much experts at this by the time we left.  
We had them working on collaborative google docs and slides, using Flipgrid to record oral responses, Menti to gauge class opinions, using images and videos to illustrate learning, for example.  At the end of the modules, the teachers were required to present their team's learning in multimedia ways and we were blown away by the myriad of tools they used to do this. 
Each evening, we had a chance to experience different food, the traffic and a bit of the culture of Hanoi.  We went to the night market in the centre of Hanoi, where we experienced a typical downpour and were soaked within minutes, even with our umbrellas up!  It was the rainy season and rained nearly every night when we were there.  I think I saw patches of blue sky about 5 times over the month!
The night market is a great place to really feel what it is like living in a country of 92 million people.  It is crowded, steamy, noisy,  smelly and happy.  Street carts are set up down the middle of Hang Dao Street, selling all sorts of wares - souvenirs, food, homewares and the famous silk scarves. Well worth the experience.
We also had a chance on one day to tour Southward into the country, to the Bai Dinh temple, which is a modern temple built around an old existing pagoda temple and to the Trang An caves.  It was hot and steamy in the mountains and we were exhausted after a huge climb at the temple and paddling up the river at the end of the day to help shorten the upstream journey.  Soaked again, but this time with sweat! The countryside was beautiful - paddy fields and the astonishing mountains rising steeply out of the flats as if pushed up by giants from underground.  Mental note to self - must find out about the geology of this place!

This day tour was a really lovely break from the classroom but we were exhausted and early to bed that night!
The tour group that we went (not the one in the link above) with seemed a bit disorganised (they left someone behind whom we then had to wait for) and therefore it all seemed very rushed.
The lunch that was planned seemed to have already been picked over by many before us, and we arrived just as a power outage stopped the fans and lights in the restaurant, thus making for an uncomfortable meal  Mary left an appropriate review on the Viator site for them.

The rest of the modules passed quickly, followed by the group presentations and before long we were saying our goodbyes as we prepared to leave Hanoi for Ho Chi Minh.  This was unexpectedly emotional as the teachers flooded us with gifts and praise.  We were treated like royalty as the certificates of completion were handed out and the teachers were briefed on the next phase of their learning, which was to prepare a video to help pass on their learning.  We are to provide online support from New Zealand for the next few months so that they can achieve this. 

What an opportunity we have had, in the development of modern pedagogy in Vietnam and to be immersed in the culture and environment of Hanoi.  The people have been amazingly hospitable, gracious and humble.  We have been treated to exceptional food, sights and experiences and made increasingly aware of the international culture of teachers - to continually strive for improvement for the benefit of learners everywhere.

This final video shows the trip to the airport.  My next post will give an overview of the time in Ho Chi Minh where the teachers are also outgoing and friendly, and have the same relentless positivism about teaching and learning.

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.

Monday, 20 March 2017

Flipgrid - a very useful tool for learning.

I discovered Flipgrid recently when I was looking for tools to support oral language development.  I cannot remember where I found it, maybe just in a regular search, but this tool has been a hit for a number of teachers.  Here is the promo video that can be found on the website.
Flipgrid is a tool that allows you to ask a question on line.  You sign up for a free account and formulate your question.  Your question generates a code which your students can use to give up to 90 second answers on video, and all answers remain on that one grid.
You can allow your students to see others responses or just their own - lots of privacy features.
Image from Flipgrid website.

The video platform breaks down the barriers that shy students have when talking to others and their teachers, and allows us to observe and assess oral language that we would otherwise not be able to.
In addition, more than one person can orally answer one question which is just not possible in a class of 30 or indeed any number more than 1. Of course, you can also break down classroom walls by inviting answers from outside your class.  So this tool is really future focused.
The application can be used between learners, classes, between teachers, and opens up many possibilities of asking wider community opinion, including feedback from parents.  You can use the web interface or the app on your ipad, iphone or android phone making it ideal to use for older students as well.
You can make one grid at a time on the free version so you have to delete your old grid when you are done but for $65 (US dollars equivalent to around $NZ92) per year you can make unlimited grids and do a lot more besides.  See this comparison for the upgraded classroom version.  The free version also gives a transcription of the video response (not 100% accurate but pretty good).  You can share and embed your Flipgrids but remember that once you have deleted the flipgrid to make another that the sharing links will not work any more.
When I trialled it, 90 seconds seemed like ample time for an oral answer.  The paid version also allows you to reply to a video in a new discussion.  I think I would be very tempted to buy the full version if I were a classroom teacher.

Sunday, 12 March 2017

Google Keep Now Integrated with Google Docs

Google Keep has been one of my favourite productivity apps since its inception.  Now Google have integrated it with Google Docs so you can bring a Keep note into your g-docs and vice versa - you can bring a g-doc into your Keep notes.  This 5 min video runs through just some of the functionality of the app.  If you are just doing a shopping list or trying to coordinate a project for work, it is fabulous.  One of my favourite features is the ability to add a place to the note so that when you arrive at the place, the note will show up straight away on your phone to remind you.  Have a play.

Saturday, 11 March 2017

Teachers Who Fall Through The Cracks

Check out your twitter feed, or the VLN (Virtual Learning Network) or whatever personal network you are part of and observe the incredibly inspiring conversations around teaching and learning.  From project based learning to innovative learning environments, from coding and robotics universal design for learning to future focused collaboration, from flipped learning to crowdsourcing resources. The list goes on.
  It is easy to believe in the evidence of a revolution changing our outmoded industrial model of education into one that is responsive to learners needs, and truly is future focused.  We are urged at every step to look out for those learners who might fall through the gaps. Who is failing the national standards, who needs extra supports, who could do with a little boost to their fragile understandings?And teachers all over the world are responding to the evidence that they see in their classrooms in the best ways that they know how.
But what about teachers who are falling through the gaps?  Most teachers have jumped on board the train, and are beginning to understand the need for being a lifelong learner so that their students will achieve the best outcomes that they can.  But there is a silent faction of underachievers in the teaching profession as well.  They are afraid of being shown up, after an age of being the one that their learners and parents look to.  They are represented in all age brackets, but they all lie low when professional development opportunities arise.  They cover up their lack of understanding by remaining silent, not asking questions, and keeping any conversation about their learners to a minimum, or alternatively restricting discussion to that of the behaviour of their learners.  They are afraid that teachers will think less of them if they answer "I don't know."  They present as a blank wall.
I don't identify these teachers to shame them.  I identify them to say, I know you exist, I know you feel afraid, I know it pains you to feel inadequate, but now is the time to step forward and say - "this is me."  EVERY teacher is a learner at the moment.  There is so much to learn, so much at stake, so little time in a year when you can make a difference to your students.  Stand up and identify yourself as a learner, too. As soon as you start asking questions, you will find yourself part of the most interesting conversations on earth - what does the future hold, how can we prepare the young for it, what skills and attitudes will they need and how can I be a part of it?

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Changing the way that Parents see Education

One of the most popular schools that I have worked in, prepares its students for exams.  Yes, that is their self-confessed way of working.  And their parents love it.  They see their offspring getting as good a qualification that they can get.  Their children are taught how to memorize and get good marks in exams.  They wear uniforms and all look the same and get treated the same.

And therein lies a big problem for educators because we see our job as educating the students for the future.  Bernadine Oliver - Kirby has written an opinion piece about modern learning environments that has provoked many an educator to writing a response, rebutting her claims.    I am not going into this in depth because it has already been done well by Claire Amos and Maurie Abraham from Hobsonville Point Secondary School, but the issue is a trying one for educators.

Just how do we convince our communities that we are professionals, with the best interests of their children at heart?  It is a tricky one because politics and politicians are agin us for a start.  We have National Standards and NCEA drumming on the doors at every turn, because the government has chosen these ways to measure how successful schools are and, now, again, possibly how much a teacher should be paid.

Sadly, I heard Toni Street and Mike Hosking last night reinforcing the idea that you can give performance pay to teachers, despite very valid arguments from a number of educators, on their show, arguing to the contrary.  They listened to the arguments, said they were good arguments, and then said that they still believed in the concept.  What does it take?  They said that you could measure performance on how much progress the student had made.  Really.  Are we measuring this "progress" by NZQA and National Standards, by any chance?

So you see the popular media are agin us as well.  (Gosh, I hope I am not sounding all Trumpesque.)

So again I say, look to the future to find out what paid work will look like.  Are your children well prepared to be able to use technology to do survive in this world?  Are they well prepared to communicate, collaborate, connect, think critically, create,  and are they culturally competent to be able to respect and interact with people of other cultures?

If you do want to look to the past, ask this of yourself - what did you learn that still has an impact on you and how did you learn it?  Chances are that you were given choice and time to inquire into something that interested you.

And just in case you doubt that linear pathways to qualifications will not be going away soon, check out Sue Suckling, chair of NZQA on the future of education. (Courtesy of Morgan Ngata's youtube).

Education may not have progressed much while you were at school.  It pretty much stayed the same for 150 years.  But don't let that colour your view of the value of changing and what it will be in the future.  And, by the way, it doesn't matter if you lie on the floor for writing practice.  You don't have to learn to do pretty writing in straight lines any more.  We have computers for that.

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Making Screencasts Using the Screencastify Extension

Great for making little instructional videos for you learners, or for your learners to make videos explaining their work on the laptop - the Screencastify extension.

Blogging - continuing the journey and growing your practice.

Blogging is an excellent way for students to share their learning.  I came across this guest blog post in Matt Millers - "Ditch that Textbook" newsletter.  A grade 5 teacher, Rayna Freedman, is sharing a number of strategies to embed blogging into teaching and learning.  Have a read through.

Some of my favourite bits are about the integration of digital citizenship into the blog-writing and use of images, connecting to others outside their school and the use of student voice in growing appreciation of blogging as a great multimedia tool.

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Okay - It's the First Week of School - What am I going to do with my students?

I've been thinking a lot about the first week of school with secondary students.  Remembering back 5 years, it was always a flurry of timetabling issues, aligning with career choices and parental edicts, and students waiting listlessly in the hot corridors with an appointment to see what subjects they could or would be able to take.  I usually made it to class in the second week, once everyone elses problems were ironed out.  Very messy. I then often jumped straight into subject outlines and assessment expectations.  Ugghh, poor students.

But what if I were back in the class with no other obligations?  What if I could start on day one with the group of learners that I had been "given"? How would I start the year and start building the relationships that are an essential part of learning.  I am assuming that I am in a one-to-one class so that everyone has their own device and they have a gmail address.

Introductions come first.  Who am I?  Sharing who I am and about my family, including pets, my background and where I came from to be in this class, would be first priority.  I would start out with a  slide on a shared class slide presentation - a digital mihi.  Then, sharing the URL,  I would invite the students to add their own slide.  Away they would go.

As they worked I would be able to see who needed help with signing in, preparing a slide, who needed a digital citizenship lesson (interfering with other slides, having inappropriate content, disrespecting others work etc).  I could move through the class addressing editing issues as they arose or leaving a discussion to be had to after the lesson finished.

Establishing relationships is essential. Homework would be to complete this slide with your whanau - include some photos or a video on your slide. Ask whanau for some feedback on the slide that you have made - collect their thoughts on a doc or in audio on your phone (if you have one).  Share their thoughts with me, the teacher.  I give feedback to the whanau and thereby make the connection to the whanau.

Feeling at home in the classroom.  I would ask the students to have a discussion about the layout of the classroom and then move the furniture if they wished.  (This can be repeated for each class).  This would give me an opportunity to observe who had leadership skills, who did not interact well with others and who did.  Students would be invited to bring their own comfort items ( for example, cushions, cups, decor) to the class if they wished, with the rider that it would need to be able to be locked away by them in the teacher's cupboard between their classes.

Finding out more about my learners.  I would also have a link to an online form ready for them to fill out, name, gmail address, phone number and address, what do they like/not like about school, what sports they play, if they have an afterschool job, what are there reasons for taking this subject, what are their short term goals, what are their hopes and aspirations for the future, what is it important that I know about them and the way they like to learn, and anything else that they would like to share.  I use this information or lack of it (what are they willing to share) to start to get to know my learners.

Notice there has been nothing about the subject that I teach to this point.  It is all about finding out who we are as individuals and how we might be and learn as a group.

Information about the subject.  It is not until the next period that I would ask them what they know about this subject.  And I wouldn't ask it that way.  I would ask them to share what they know about my subject on a padlet. An anonymous one.  They would learn from each others prior knowledge.

Prior knowledge and knowledge building.  I would let them discuss similar ideas on the padlet, and then I would ask them to write or express through photos or audio or video, through Google Classroom on a private document, 10 questions that they would like to find the answer to about this subject.  And share it with me.  And then research the answers themselves and return the document to me.  I would be able to see who has the ability to ask deep questions and who needs help with writing and spelling and expressing their ideas.  They could find a buddy to work with to share their questions and their findings.  And I would be able to see who has trouble working with others and who is shy and who is not.  And still I have not "taught" them anything but their knowledge has grown simply through sharing.

Recording their work.  I ask the students to start a blog about what they learn in this class and share it with me and their whanau. I ask them to embed the padlet in the blog.  I have little screencast videos on the class website which shows them how to do this.  They are given a URL and a QR code to access the class website - it is up on the wall in the classroom and they each have a laminated copy to take home, stick on their computer or whatever they want to do with it.

Building a big picture of the relationship of this subject to others.  They need to know how this subject relates to others.  Make a list of their other teachers.  The students need to assign one student per teacher a few questions.  They need to come up with questions they can ask all of their teachers to find out how this subject is related to them or their subject.  They could send the teacher an email or ask them to fill in a form. Share their findings on a class platform (google drawing or popplet.)  Look for similarities and differences and opportunities to work across subject areas.  Reflect in their blog what connections might be useful to them as the year progresses.

Building a big picture of the relationship of this subject to the world they live in.  Who are the experts in their class, in their community and in the world beyond?  Where can they go to for help or more information?  When have they learnt enough?  Do they have to stop learning about a topic? What is the difference between knowing enough for assessment and becoming an expert in a field?  I show videos about applications of this subject and career opportunities for discussion starters in class. I invite the students to share a video that they have found or made about how this subject is important to them.  The students reflect on their findings in their blog.

How will they know if they have learned enough to pass an assessment?  On the class website is information about assessment opportunities that they can take when they feel they are ready as well as those which may be examined at the end of the year.  There are exemplars of assessments. What they need to know to be able to pass with Achieved, Merit or Excellence?  They can take online trial assessments to see if they are ready for the formal assessment. They can start learning more at any time, because each assessment information guide has information about possible contexts for them to study and they can discuss these with me, the teacher, at any time.  They explore these and start  thinking about what assessments they might like to try.

In the first week, I have defined my role through my actions.  My job is to learn when to inspire, retreat, cajole, facilitate, intercede, share, rattle the cages, intervene, give choices to, and laugh with this group of young people I have before me for a year, or maybe more if they love what they are doing in this class.  I am a teacher.


Saturday, 4 February 2017

And so you are a professional educator?

Every now and then, I come across a teacher who has no clue what their profession is about. Now while it is good to not be in a an echo chamber (refer to my blog post last September), it pains me that these people have had at least 3 years preparing for their profession, add in 2 years of advice and guidance, and on top of that, a principal who each year appraises them and attests to their professional standards and capabilities.

These teachers are paid at an equivalent rate to their peers. Their learners are dependent on their professional knowledge and expertise to grow as learners.

And while I would like to make soothing sounds and say it is alright, it is not.  Not when they don't understand that it is not their job to "fill in time" during the day.  It is not okay just to keep your learners busy, and I refuse to give them more ideas to keep their learners busy.

 So if you are a teacher who gives your learners work just to keep them occupied during the day (or night) then STOP IT! Start asking yourself, what do these learners need to be, do and know and start helping them find out how.  You have 39 weeks starting now.

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

And so, a New Year Begins

Maybe this year will be the year that schools will change for learners.
Maybe.  I am full of hope for the new things that I will learn.