Friday, 29 November 2013

Reflective Moments.

Final testing has been completed, students are looking forward to camp, prizegivings and various end of year activities  - the teacher is awaiting a well deserved break. Before that I am working on analysing the data and reflecting on a most interesting year.

         First year with year 7/8 children - aged 12-13yrs
         3rd year in a 1:1 environment using Google Sites to manage learning and blogs for sharing  and reflecting.
         First year of the Manaiakalani Innovative Teacher's Academy

How has it all gone?
In the beginning my inquiry centered around key competencies, critical self reflection and students monitoring learning and success. Nothing stays still for long at Pt England School and before I knew it term 1 was done. Things were going well, so we changed it all up. This in turn changed a lot of my thinking around my inquiry.

I began to look solely at maths as an area to target as this was the subject I was responsible for teaching my 32 students.
The students in class ranged in ability from operating at a year 2 level through to high school. A challenging task to engage and extend all involved.
I started by looking at the idea of students working in multilevelled groups for problem solving, to learn from one another and strengthen skills of the more able students. I set difficult problems aimed at the upper end of intermediate school.
Teaching equation strategies was not going to help these students, what they needed was targeted lessons around specific ways that would work best to solve the problems.
Each student brings strengths to a group and each student needed to identify those and how best to harness their abilities to support their own learning as well as the wider group. Some students clearly identified they worked best as an individual accessing learning from experts online, whilst others sought assistance from friends in the classroom. Some students knew that discussing ideas helped and others knew thoughtfully processing those ideas quietly was their best approach. Different strokes for different folks, all working alongside one another in a peaceful environment.
What I enjoyed, as the teacher, was listening to students discuss and share their learning with others as they tackled the problem. As well as the thoughtful sharing online between groups of learners. For many students the problem would always be much too difficult and would need to explore ways to assist them solving it.
Each student shares their problem solving on their blog. This has proven to be a wonderful record for Overall Teacher Judgements, rewindable learning for the student and sharing learning for other students to access.

Now, as I look to completing reports and generating my Overall Teacher Judgement on student achievement, I am also looking at the student's ability to self reflect and share learning.
Ultimately, is there a direct correlation between accelerated learning and the sharing and reflecting on learning?
For my class of 29 students I identified 19 who were competent sharers and reflectors. I took the data from student blogs, group activities and anecdotal notes from classroom experiences. Of those 19 students, 15 showed at least twice the national expected gain in mathematics over the year. The remaining 4 made 1.5yrs academic gain in 2013.
Of the remaining 10 students who didn't demonstrate competency in sharing and reflecting, only 2 showed at least twice the expected gain in mathematics.

Not a conclusive result, but certainly one that I am pleased with. Students that are cognitively engaged with the learning process are those making the gains. Those that regularly share learning are making the gains. Students in charge of their learning process are making the gains. These students are not always the traditionally smart kids - they come from across the board.

I look forward to continuing this learning process in 2014. I will have a new group of students and a new chance to try and change the way they experience school and learning.
I will be teaching in a year 3/4 class in a 1:1 environment consisting of iPads and Chromebooks.
An exciting adventure that I am keen to get started on.

Thanks to the Telecom Foundation for this opportunity in 2013 and I am excited to continue this relationship for 2014 as a part of the MIT program.

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Hexagonal Learning

For literacy this term our intermediate school has been learning and discovering all about significant moments in history. In particular, one of the main focuses has been racism and civil rights. As a whole, the students have been examining the impact of Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, Rosa Parks and even Michael Jackson’s influence on race relations through song.  The learning, overall, has been powerful and the students have been strongly engaged with the content.

I’ve been thinking about thinking and reading more and more about hexagonal learning - via Chris Harte in particular. This model seems simple to implement, yet a fabulous means for getting the students to discuss, justify and even argue.

As an introduction to this way of organising ideas and thinking, I took our topic of civil rights and racial inequality and put together 20 hexagons with a variety of words and phrases.
To begin this idea for the students, I took the context of musical instruments and had them justify to a partner why certain instruments belonged together. There was much debate - even around a simple topic.
The basic instructions were to make sure that each group fully discussed and justified the placement of each hexagon and each group member had to agree on why it was placed there. The learning was around the discussion, the connections and the choices.

Because the students had been heavily engaged with the subject matter for 6 weeks before attempting this activity, there was no need to cover vocabulary or ideas. We jumped straight in.

The first thing that struck me was how quiet they all were as each student thought individually through the options first - taking a small handful of hexagons and placing them together in different ways. Within 3 - 4 minutes the noise began, as I had hoped. 
Not one student asked me if they were doing it right! Yay!

20 minutes in and there was a clear divide amongst the students. Those who argued, those who discussed, justified and then compromised, and finally those who were happy to accept any answer.

As I roamed around, I would deliberately point out interesting connections and have the students justify their choices - occasionally the students backed down straight away and removed the hexagon, but on more occasions they stood their ground offering some reasonable justifications.

After 45 minutes the arguers were no closer to completing but had had some great discussions. The compromisers were scrambling to complete but had well thought out connections, and the acceptors had long since finished and were happy with what they had done.

As the teacher - what a fabulous way to formatively assess the understanding of content knowledge, connections, relationships and their application.

My next step is to have some of the more confident students record their justifications for others to hear and initiate  further discussion around their choices.

I see great potential in this strategy and will definitely be trying it again as soon as possible.

Sunday, 1 September 2013

Just Enough Vs Excellence

I was fortunate as a kid to have an amazing teacher. A teacher who taught me that no matter how well you had done, you could always do better. Mrs Carter was my swimming coach.

School and I didn’t get on.
School wasn’t the place where I developed a passion to learn and achieve.
I was a swimmer.
Swimming took over my life. Swimming gave me direction. Swimming taught me to want to win.
Swimming felt like I was flying, water was my sky, which I guess just made me some kind of superhero who had to settle for the nearest pool.

Mrs Carter taught me that in life you only get one chance - so you may as well be truly excellent.
She never had a harsh word to say or even an extreme sense of competitiveness, Mrs Carter just knew that the journey was never done and If you’re any good at all, you know you can be better.
Achievements were celebrated, personal best times applauded and trophies awarded, however, you still knew that a pep-talk was coming and you still had work to do.
Reflection became automatic and essential. We knew that if we were simply content with an average performance - then average was all we would ever be. With 5 x 4:30am starts each week and over 70km in distance to plough through - average wasn’t something I was striving for.

How was school different?

School taught me that Just Enough - is enough. 50% to pass. Add those pretty borders and over utilise that lettering book. Not at one point did my academic education teach me excellence or give me the tools to strive to be the best.

Through complete disengagement with the system, I skipped years 10 and 13 and still entered into a restricted tertiary course - by achieving "Just Enough."

As I reflect on the opportunities I give my students to celebrate achievements and embark on next steps - am I encouraging or insisting on excellence. Is Just Enough still enough!
Too often, as teachers we use fabulous and fantastic adjectives to describe attitudes or achievements without thinking about what we are saying. Was that outcome amazing? Really?

I'm watching the students reflect on their creations, and those of their friends, and time and time again they are reluctant to be critical and are happy with simply having created something. 

Can we expect improvement if mediocre is what they are happy with? Or.... am I unrealistic?

The Power of Reflection

I have written before on the power of sharing and what it holds in motivating a student to share their best.
I am beginning to question that thought.

Yes, the students do want to look good in front of their peers, they want their peers to laugh and engage with their creation.

Do they use reflection as a meaningful tool to improve and strive for excellence?

I am continually asking and advising students to do something no-one has done before, to come up with purple cow ideas and stand out as doing something different. Each week 75 students surprise me by playing it safe and creating the same thing. MTVs are the creation of choice at Pt England School and they are created well. The students have a wide range of filming, animating and editing skills and they are developing some much tighter and detailed plans and scripts. What they don't seemingly do well, is the extraordinary.

My goal, through the use of critical reflection, is to have the students think much more carefully about their work and creativity. I want to see these very talented students branch out, be different and make incredible gains in their key competencies as well as produce quality products.

Friday, 16 August 2013

Meaningful Creation

For the last 8 weeks our intermediate school of 5 classes has been trialling a new way to tackle literacy. I say tackle, as team wide we were struggling with how to incorporate great teaching, the need to accelerate our kids learning as well as addressing the creative, fun tasks that engage and motivate the students.
The answer, we felt. lay in teaching to our strengths, small group rotation and working together.

The students are split into two streams and each stream into 3 groups - making 6 groups in total.
Odd weeks - Stream A rotate through fundamental literacy skills with 3 teachers - this means there are roughly 20-25 students in each group. Meanwhile, Stream B undertake the creative strand with two teachers. Much larger groups but less individual input required.
Even Weeks -the streams switch over - the beauty lies here.
Stream A who spent the odd week writing and reading around a specific theme and genre now have the opportunity to create an artwork, movie or animation based around their literacy.
As the teacher overseeing the animation and film creation I can often have over 50 students working with me. The engagement, self management and perseverance is evident when I have very little to do while the students are in the throws of creating.

After a week in creative strand creating movies, animations and artworks the students are ready to share - Welcome to Friday afternoon.
We have a communal space in our intermediate block named The Street. It is in The Street where we gather as a team to share the week's efforts. It truly becomes a showcase for all students and definitely a chance to show off and shine. These moments provide immense motivation to the following week's groups to work hard to better the previous creations.

As with any new innovation there are challenges.

How do we engage the students in the storyboarding and planning process?
I perceive it to be a vital literacy to be able to to plan where your creation is headed. Outlining shots, angles and themes to best tell their story or share their message, is definitely the area of literacy we are beginning to focus more strongly on.

How best to ensure that students are being reflective and getting the most from their experiences?
With only seeing children once each fortnight for a short space of time, we are currently lacking in time to effectively reflect and revisit the process from the creative week. By working closer with the other teachers in the literacy stream, we hope for the students to have the opportunity to reflect on their creations as a part of their rotation. This is something we aim to introduce as soon as possible.

TKSD Movie Room15 from Team 5 PES on Vimeo.

Rocky Wyatt Isara Shayne Love from Team 5 PES on Vimeo.

Monday, 27 May 2013

Awesome Kids at Work

How often do learners get to pursue their passion to create awesomeness?
I'd like to think that in our classroom it would be a regular thing. However, occasionally a creation comes along that stops you in your tracks and makes you realise the talent that kids possess and the power that is held in their passion.

For one week, one third of the class completed passion projects based on literacy outcomes.
  • Manage your time
  • Challenge yourself
  • Create something with a clear message
  • Create awesomeness
Here's a small taste of one completed task that left me with that spine tingle of greatness
- We're on Top by Hosannah and Jouan

The engagement, completion rate, learning discussions and ongoing reflection as the learners created, generated a major buzz in the classroom.
The awesomeness was awesome. 

Friday, 24 May 2013

The Power of Sharing

Sharing has become part of a catch phrase in our learning this year.
"Create something to share that will make the world more awesome!"

Transparent learning and sharing means the world to these kids. Seeing where they've started, how they got there and showcasing amazingness, drives and motivates the "Where to next?"
Too often we move on to the next thing. Days are busy and time is precious, "We must get through the curriculum!" Unfortunately this is to the detriment of sharing, reflecting and ultimately, the learning.
Learners need that opportunity to show off, to shine, to share and to receive feedback, feed forward, ask questions and offer further ideas. This is true collaborative learning.

Whilst undertaking an experiment on making ice-cream the other week, the students began to, quite loudly, question as to how on earth this simple process could possibly work.
Through personal research, the kids discovered that salt melts ice. When making ice cream why woud you salt the ice to make it melt?
This led to many more questions around the process that everyone had just shared. Groups formed and students began to explore further, offering hypotheses, challenging each other and ultimately reaching the valid conclusion of energy transfer. A fun, collaborative, learning filled, off the agenda, afternoon. Interestingly, many children went home that weekend, repeated the experiment and taught family members about what they had learnt around the idea of energy transfer. Sharing!

Sharing is the power behind reflection and learning, facilitating superb conversations, allowing further exploration and giving each learner a chance to have their voice heard.

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Learn, Create, Share in a New Entrants Classroom

UntitledI was very fortunate to spend an hour in a year 0, or New Entrants, classroom this morning. Their teacher - Katrin Rapold, is encouraging the children to record their learning using the camera app.

Each child knows how to access the video camera, hold the ipad and most can keep their subject in frame. They are not undertaking any ground breaking activities but they are making them rewindable. 

UntitledTwo boys worked together to complete a statistics exercise where they were counting the numbers of coloured teddies. They have been practicing statistical vocabulary alongside counting to ten. After Zafar had counted all the teddies and recorded the results, Jacob took over to try and explain their findings.

UntitledAt the conclusion of the boys' activity they straight away switched the camera to "view mode" and excitedly sat together to watch their learning. Jacob even held the ipad aloft to let his classmates see. They quickly discovered that they had filmed a lot of activity from a distance so they couldn't hear each other speaking. Other reflections included praising each other for their role in the task, discussing who else could watch it, as well as a lot of laughing.

I took the chance to ask the boys about what they enjoyed about iPads and filming. They absolutely loved sharing their lesson with others.

 I then spent 5 minutes showing a small group how to use I Can Animate. It is such a simple program that I knew it would work well. The class had (laboriously) completed a couple of stop motions earlier in the year, so the concept wasn't completely foreign. We made a 2sec clip with a teddy bear. I then left the group to establish a story using animals while I left to get a stand.

Untitled Upon retuning, the kids were all set up to tell the story of two tigers chasing a lion. Levonah straight away was able to remind the others to keep the ipad very very still and to only move the animals a little bit at a time. All the technical skills were easily remembered by Jacob and Levonah, even keeping hands and legs out of each picture.

My favourite comment from Levonah was about how she wanted this movie to be on her blog - so her family could see.

 I was very lucky to get to "play" with a cool class of five year olds who seemed in touch with what they were learning, desperate to share and were developing the ability to reflect.

Friday, 8 March 2013

Celebrating Happiness

From the first day of school I have been attempting to instill in the students the understanding that their actions, (large, small, positive, negative), impact upon others. We discuss daily, different ways that we can create positive experiences for others as well as brand ourselves in a positive way.
By walking in others shoes, showing empathy or genuinely thinking of their impact on friends, family and strangers, my learners are becoming more aware of the role that they play in our learning community.
It has all been a bit of a hippy experience for us all, but I am confident that a classroom culture built on empathy and self awareness is one that fosters learning and achievement.

About 10 days ago the class watched this movie by SoulPancake. They loved the idea of building an "olden days TV" and finding Happy Stories from their school mates. They wanted to keep it simple, yet make an impact. Some students were keen to make a weekly series, whereas others wanted a one off major event of Happiness!

Today we began the journey of HappyTV.

We knew as a class that we didn't want our efforts to only be in the form of a movie. We wanted our school to benefit from our understandings of what it means to share happiness.

While working on our plan for HappyTV, we were sharing ideas around about the design of the TV and how we might attract kids to come and share their stories. Logan said that he wanted to do something nice, create a happy moment for the children willing to be involved. We discussed rewards, games etc... but eventually came up with the idea of a Happiness Flashmob. Take the Happiness to the kids. Share our joy and laughter with others and see what happens.

What an amazing morning - discussing our plan of attack, inflating balloons, decorating faces, finalising props and then....

The answers to our question "What made you happy this week?" were brilliant. In most cases the children had experienced simple events that had resonated so loudly with them. From sharing icecreams, visiting the pools to playing on the park.
My favourite story was of the young lad whose happiness came from an afternoon spent with his dad - I wonder if his dad realises the impression that afternoon left?

I hope we do this again ... a wee twist, something new...who knows?
But these kids have ideas and these kids have bucketloads of Happiness, love and empathy.  These kid are outstanding!

Thursday, 28 February 2013

A Grammar Lesson

How to teach fundamental (boring) skills that our learners need to be able to successfully share their story?

Common knowledge of word type and how sentences can and should be structured, is not a strong skill in ESOL children. Therefore, we make sure to explicitly teach this in our classrooms.

By bringing text back to the basic sentence level, students can play with words without feeling like they are having to write masses of text.

In this activity students were able to use colour, discussion and even write on walls to share their understanding.

The learning happened as students discussed their sentences, read others around the classroom and shared ideas. Even more learning happened at break time as students from other classrooms came to see what the colourful writing was and asked questions, discussed the writing and imagined what the sentences were all about.

Basic and simple - yet effective.

Untitled Untitled

In Full Swing

Week 3's literacy task was based around writing motivational or uplifting lyrics to an existing rap beat. The students were encouraged to work in groups, decide on a beat, write the lyrics, record and film an MTV.
A massive task.
1 day of solid work and 2 shorter sessions finished the jobs for almost all contenders.
Team work was greatly evident as they listened to tracks together off one netbook, wrote lyrics on a shared doc, recorded round a single iPad, filmed and edited the movie.
There was an incredible display of knowledge and skill around the using of the equipment and software. Groups chose which tools to use and integrated their use seamlessly as they completed the task.
Reflection was clearly evident as they reworked lyrics, re-recorded sound tracks, tweaked planning and added extra filming and animation. Whole class sharing of the movies as they were in progress and in a finished state, prompted much discussion around what looked or sounded great and what needed work.
Jobs were outsourced when groups needed extra help, were lacking in skills or needed fresh ideas.
Spaces around the school were employed as students looked for quiet spaces, interesting backdrops or special "guest stars".
All of this was self managed, happy, calm and engaged.

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Taking Charge of Creativity

I am trying to have the students very much in charge of how they are creating and sharing their learning. Many of the members of my class are traditionally "clever" children. Around 1/3 don't quite fit that label. This is a story of the 1/3.
Two days ago the class discussed a movie where the main character is faced with a dilemma and the following consequences. I posed questions to the children of a moral nature and the discussion was lively and loud.

I then wanted the students to share their thoughts, discussion points and own conflicts, anyway they wanted.
Many students began by simply writing out the story from differing points of view, or from their own moral conflicts. Eventually iPads were collected, animations begun and recordings made.
2 girls sat quietly on the deck outside looking quite lost.

After about 20mins, Annliz brought me her story as well as many more supporting ideas. She had written some very interesting and creative ideas but she just didn't know how to continue the story - that she had begun as a narrative. Her partner - Quziyah, was no longer supporting her in the direction she wanted, Annliz made the decision to go it alone and seek out some help.
The session ended and Annliz was making good progress with her narrative by sitting with me and taking a few risks while still feeling supported.

Fast forward a day and a half and Annliz and Quziyah asked me to look at their work. I was surprised to see them back together but even more surprised to see that they wanted me to watch a movie, not read a story.
Together they had decided to keep the narrative, but add a twist of sharing an interview discussing their feelings towards the posed dilemma.

To me, this is exactly the kind of learning I love to see kids go through. They reflect as they work, make changes, take risks and ultimately own what they have created, 100%
Annliz and Quziyah are both incredibly proud of their work, not only because they made decisions and owned the outcome, but also because they used an iPad for the first time, edited in iMovie and exported it to Vimeo - all independently.

I congratulated them on a job well done and the way that they reflected on their work and process and made changes as they needed them. - Cue massive smiles. Great day.

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Make the World More Awesome

As a class we watched this clip by kid president, the students loved the little guy's acting but particularly responded to the message.
A group of year 7 boys decided that they wanted to make their own version.
With a little acting help from Joshua Iosefo, the boys scripted, filmed and edited their version.

I think the message of the movie was clearly evident in the way that the boys went about recreating it. Team work, creativity and a lot of laughter.

This is what I would love to see all children being a part of, getting their chance to put their thoughts and beliefs into an engaging and thought provoking creation.

So what did they do well? How can I assess this so that it shows they are improving, growing, learning?

I have no idea  - next post!

Friday, 15 February 2013

What Am I Trying to Achieve?

I want kids to grow knowing that they are creators of awesome, that their voice is important and that they can put a ding in the universe. (Steve Jobs)

I want them to dream things never dreamt before and create lollipop moments along the way.

Albert Einstein famously said " knows from daily life that one exists for other people -- first of all for those upon whose smiles and well-being our own happiness is wholly dependent, and then for the many, unknown to us, to whose destinies we are bound by the ties of sympathy. "

We can teach children to think of others, see the bigger picture and become effective global collaborators.

We can do this through the development of a classroom culture of empathy, tolerance and sharing. We can do this through emphasising creative outcomes. We can do this by concentrating our efforts as teachers, on the important skills of initiative, connection and challenge.

Our NZ curriculum holds the power in the form of Key Competencies.

Students will........

  • take an active role in decisions about the content, process, and assessment of learning
  • take an active role in learning
  • wait less, and learn more
  • be interested in their learning
  • feel empowered to make suggestions
  • ask questions of themselves, the teacher, and others

During 2013 I aim to explore all possibilities of students becoming effective partners in their learning process, with a stronger personal voice, that raises learning achievement outcomes.

Students will document and share their learning process and reflect on goals and achievements to be able to identify their next learning steps.