Posted in random ramblings

I was wrong…..

Today I had a mentally crushing realisation of just how far short I have fallen for a goal I set for myself and my yr 13 Chemistry class. I had set out to teach Chemistry, to move away from teaching them to the Achievements Standards. I hoped to make them interested in Chemistry and the world about them, not just the credits. And I am pretty sure that I failed quite horribly at it. We had a end of topic test last week required for the ‘derived grade’ demands of NCEA and they kids just didn’t do it. Some flat out refused. The ones that did do it did terribly for the most part. When I raved and stormed today trying to get something, anything, out of them that I could do to help, I got ‘I’ve already got Merit endorsed, I don’t need this….’ or ‘I’m not doing this standard in the externals, I don’t need it…..’ or (the worst for the soul today) ‘I’ll just swot up for the exams Miss’. Or averted eyes as they thought to themselves ‘another teacher flying off the handle’.

From an outside perspective, the ‘results’ this class will get will be awesome. A good number of endorsements should be on the cards. They have learned some Chemistry. These kids will put the work in for the exam and pass. The feedback from the internally assessed standards was positive – kids did think offering the 4th internal would be good ‘for more credits’. Apart from today when I was ranty, I think most of them enjoyed the class. They gave useful feedback for next year. We did some great practicals and I feel I got them thinking more about what those practicals represent. Some might be in a place where they can even do well in Chemistry next year at uni.

But from my perspective I had wanted sooooo much more for them. I talked with them at the start of the year and tried to blend their need for credits and uni prep (this is what they said they wanted) with me wanting to push those preconceptions.

I wanted them to be motivated and challenged, not counting credits. I wanted them to be able to at least get an achieved on a practice test without having to ‘cram’ because they had a base level of knowledge from throughout the year. I wanted them to have more pride in themselves and their work, and so put the time in to learning something. I had faith that trying to instil the value for a love of learning would hold out over the credit crunch.

I was wrong.

Maybe do I need to rethink. They said they wanted credits and uni prep. Do I really know better than they do about what they want?

So I will crawl into a swirl of thought, and try and think about how I could do better next time. But right now it hurts and I am so frustrated that in the end it still all came back to credits. Credits they will get, but at what cost?

So, today I arrived at school (the day after the post and ‘incident’ above) and found my room pranked. With clever ‘political’ memes based on conversations around elections time. Maybe, just maybe, I was too hard on the kids (and myself) and they learned more than just about credits…  🙂 

 

 

 

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Posted in Professional learning, Teaching and Learning

Making holograms – Molecular shapes

Watching Hack the Classroom on Sunday, I saw ‘a hack’ on how to make hologram videos. The hack was by Tomas Milicka, and he used a combination of office paint and powerpoint to make his own (or to get his students to make their own) hologram videos. I didn’t quite see the potential at first, but then I remembered some GIFs of 3D shapes I made using ChemSketch at a Peter Hollamby workshop in my first year of teaching (8 years ago) and I wonder if they could be used to make some holograms of 3D chemistry shapes that are required as part of the L2 and L3 NCEA Chemistry curriculum. Visually molecule shapes in 3D from a 2D drawing if often a challenge for students, so any hook or tool to help them is AWESOME.

So I had a play, and success. I inserted the gifs and aligned them changed the background to black, and then made a slide recording with no sound. Then exported the slide recording as an mp4, loaded on to youtube and away we went.

Screenshots of the powerpoint slides in production

I am STOKED with how they have turned out, and how easy they were to make. So now I have another tool when trying to demonstrate the 3D nature of molecules, which some students do struggle with.

And I’m stoked I found a fun wee idea I could run with, it will really only be a ‘hook’ for my classes, but it was a really nice motviational boost for me at the time of year when I feel like all I am doing is EXAMS EXAMS EXAMS. So a massive thanks to Tomas for sharing this idea, it gave me the wee boost I needed to do something fun and learn something new.

Feel free to use this videos in your class, there are loads of websites that show you how to build the ‘viewer’ including this one. I will keep adding more shapes as I make them.

I’ve made them into a playlist on youtube, so you can find them all HERE

Have fun

 

 

 

 

Posted in Professional learning

Hack the classroom (October 2017) – making connections

This morning (at an unpleasant hour of 4:00am NZ time) I tuned in for Microsoft’s Hack the classroom – a live broadcast from Washington State in the USA. While it was super early, it was worth being up to connect with all the other educators from around the world. If you like, you can watch a reply of the hack the classroom HERE. I had an extra incentive for being up to watch the broadcast live rather than by replay, as Nikkie and I had submitted our ‘hack’ around making connections within the NZ Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert community with our monthly Professional Learning Community calls. Getting in touch with these amazing educators once a month is genuine highlight for both my professional learning and for soothing my soul when I get frustrated, or stuck. We are all ‘hacking’ our curriculums and tech and are open about sharing and helping each other, either on the calls or on yammer. The banter is not bad either.

Highlights from the hack the class session.

Alan November

Alan November was the first ‘keynote’ speaker (live from Boston) – and in his very first sentence he talked about how we can’t get enough of teachers teaching teachers. So I was pretty sold already.

He then talked about some research about the ‘curse of knowledge‘ – and how some-one who already knows something might not connect with a ‘new’ learner’ as effectively as some-one who has just learned about it. This idea struck me quite strongly, mostly because I had not considered it before. Doing a simple search determined it is not a new idea, and yet I hadn’t heard it before. So, as always, learning new things and new ways of looking at things to help me be the best I can at helping learning happen.

He then also talked about the importance of students taking ownership of their learning. His suggestion was swapping the word ‘solve’ for ‘involve’ eg instead of solving a chemistry problem, design a problem involving alkenes and alcohols. Just a different way of flipping the thinking around – and given how hard I find it to write practice questions, I think this would be an awesome way to get my kids thinking more about what they are working on. He said he had ‘a somewhat cynical view of spoon feeding’ and this was a strategy to try and prevent this. As well as teachers letting go of their classrooms and not being in control. Teachers ‘knowledge’ is going to go down in value as more learning is on line, but teachers ability to support those students in their learning and creating content will need to drastically increase.

Another awesome point I reflected on from his presentation was when he was asked about engaging reluctant learners. He said

All kids love to learn, but not all love school

which I think nails it. So many kids will learn what they are interested about, but schools don’t ‘have room’ for what they are interested in.

So this presentation made me think some hard thunks, and I’m going to look into the idea of curse of knowledge a little bit more.

Tammy Dunbar 

Tammy Dunbar is AMAZING. I meet her at the Microsoft Education exchange in Seattle in 2015. She just radiates energy and passion for her job. My favourite message from her presentation was

‘life is bumpy, I want them to look at those challenges and be able to say, no, I can work through this, I can do this.’ 

She uses a whole range of tools in her class room, but it was the way she uses powerpoint that really stood out for me. Powerpoint often gets a bad rap, and we have all been in a powerpointless session, but it is a really powerful tool and to see it being used well was awesome. She is also using Minecraft really well, and as I’m looking into this for digital tech next year it was really cool to get some little ideas around that.

And of course, Tammy works closely with Koen Timmers to bring global education projects like Human Differences and Climate action. I have LOVED being involved in these projects and am proud to say I can contribute to them (when really it is my amazing kids doing all the work)

Making holograms – Tomas Milicka

My last highlight was another ‘hack’ submitted by another educator about Holograms. I love getting kids to make holograms, and usually do it as part of a light topic, or occasionally just for a fun filler. But I had never considered making my own videos. At first, I did kind of discount it (I will use it being 5:40am as a part of an excuse). But then I thought about the videos I could make. Before now,  it just hadn’t popped into my head I could make my own and I had always used some videos from youtube. So this 2 minute ‘hack’ about how to make your own hologram video was pretty cool, and I am going to have play with some chemistry shapes to see if I can make them into holograms somehow to students can see them in 3D in 3D in a hologram…..

 

So those were my big three takeaways. The other speakers and hacks were awesome, but those ones really stood out for me.

And then, last but least, it was time for Nikkie and me to grace the screen. Hearing Anthony talk about the work we do was such a great acknowledgement.

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It isn’t why I (or we) do it, it is still nice to get the odd little pat on the back. So a massive thank you to all the NZ MIEE’s out there that rock my world, that sent in pictures (or a video Ryan, massive brownie points for you) and make my education life a better place. And also to all the non MIEE teachers in NZ, and worldwide, who help me keep keeping on. You rock!!

Kia Kaha

 

 

Posted in random ramblings, Teaching and Learning

Science and Ethics

Every year as part of my Genetics topic I set aside a couple of hours to talk about morals, ethics and ethical frameworks. I am still using an awesome outline I got from a session at Biolive in 2009 that Fiona Anderson presented that uses some great resources from the Science learning hub Ethical analysis page. I ask my students to try and think past there ideas of ‘right and wrong’ and identify why they think so. Yesterday was the first time I got asked

‘Why are we doing this in Science Miss? Isn’t this social studies?’

Which was both a great teachable moment around science and ethics, and a little bit of a downer that somehow throughout the year I hadn’t made an impact on to why ethics might be important for Science. That said, you do need a relationship with the class so it is a safe space for students to ask questions and share ideas – you can end up talking about some fairly heavy stuff.

So I thought I’d share how I approach the ethics ‘lesson’ and I need to keep pondering where else I could include ethics.

So, as I mentioned, I still follow most of the ideas from the presentation from Fiona in 2009. (The slides were shared at the time, so I hope Fiona doesn’t mind me sharing the presentation now – the links are from the old biotech learning hub that have moved to the Science learning hub – link are smattered down below)

Essentially, you identify what bio ethics and ethics is first up

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Then distinguish between morals and ethics – there is a explanation video HERE on the science learning hub.

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I also tell a personal story of when I was working in research, and, without thinking, when my flatmate asked how my day was when we were at the supermarket and I casually replied I’d had a nightmare day because I’d ‘processed’ 150 odd mice, I got ‘attacked’ by a person who overheard and screamed that I was a monster for a good 5 minutes. She and I had very different morals around animal testing. I just tried to diffuse and ignore their leather shoes…. sigh.

And in responses to the ‘why are we doing this in Science question’?, I talked about Mengele and some of the horrific experiments during the Holocaust. And how just because ‘Science’ can, doesn’t mean ‘Science’ should. And how I thought Genetics was a relevant topic to discuss there issues, as genetic screening and IVF techniques become more advances and common place, society as a whole needs to be aware and educated so informed choices can be made.

For my class yesterday, I asked them about the ‘anti smacking law’ (which possibly lead to the social studies question….) as I knew it was something they would all have an instantly moral feeling about – but when I asked them why they thought that, or felt that way, they had a hard time explaining it to me….. we spent about 10 minutes talking through some of these ideas, and of course they all come up with questionable moral and ethical situations in order to ‘trick’ each other. But I have asked with different class and students about euthansia, ‘paying’ for addiction treatments or should the youth wage be less than or the same as the minimum wage.

I then called them back, and spent some time talking about ethical frameworks…. Video HERE

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And then we watched the example of the ethics of whaling, and how you can apply these ethical frameworks to decision making.

And then they class had definitely had enough of me, so I put them into groups, gave them a framework to work with and gave them a task of deciding if we should screen ALL embryos for susceptibility to cancers. (You can have ‘real’ fun with the groups if you like…. in another year I asked about vegetarian versus omnivore diets and put some ‘farmers’ in the values group….) (I thought about vaccinations – should ‘we’ pay for the treatment of some-one who is really sick because they didn’t get vaccinated, but I’ve already had a couple of vaccine debates with this class this year)

And of course, ‘chaos’ ensues. Mostly that awesomely good chaos as students argue, talk over each other, go hang on, I need to look that up…. what do you think?

I LOVE talking about ethics with my classes. It really stretches there thinking. It allows ‘non science’ kids a chance to shine and fully participate. It always opens my mind up to different ideas and morals. It is a great chance to bring up historical cases, or talk about the ethics proposal systems in NZ (it is a rigorous process to gain permission for animal experiments for example, and research can’t be published unless ethical approval was obtained. And students are often quite interested that ethics doesn’t extended to insects….). But can I fit it anywhere other then Biology? Even the story of Rosalind Franklin and the use of her work ties in with DNA. I touch on it with the story of Alexis St Martin who became a living experiment on the digestive tract – and how his family ‘hid’ his body when he died so it couldn’t be used for further research. But I’m not sure how it could fit into Chemistry, or physics quite the same? Maybe around ideas of space travel? Was sending the dogs and primates into space ethical? Or climate change – is it ethical for people to allow building new building consents for ‘water front properties?

I’d love to know where you fit ethics into your Science curriculum 🙂

 

Posted in random ramblings, Teaching and Learning

Thoughts on Computational Thinking

I’m not super sure when I first heard the term Computational thinking, but the first time I took proper notice of it was in March this year when I was fortunate enough to hear Lisa Anne Floyd speaking at E2 this year. Even then, I thought, this is nice, this is a way to get people thinking about thinking and problem solving, rather than, this is life changing. But as I have delved a little deeper and been planing our digitech module for next year, I’m really liking the ideas behind computational thinking, and the links I can make to multiple other ‘thinking’ thunks, like Nature of Science, or using taxonomies. To my mind, the ‘computational thinking’ strategies seem a little more visible, maybe because they are based around problems and finding solutions, rather than just meta cognition and thinking about thinking. I then read this fabulous paper about a pedagogical framework for computational thinking which got me onto other papers and other ideas.

So what is computational thinking? There are lots of fancy definitions, like this one

‘an approach to solving problems, designing systems and understanding
human behaviour that draws on concepts fundamental to computing’
Wing 2006″

but to my mind, it is breaking a problem down into a flow chart, and working through the steps to solve it, with some iteration or corrections. A bit like this

Core education also has a nice page and video with Tim Rice talking about Computational thinking… and I have shared this video before but it is still a good one

 

So, how can I link this to my ‘Science lessons’? Lets say I want to know how the pH of an acid effects how quickly a piece of magnesium corrodes. There are various ways I can measure this . -how long it takes for a piece of Magnesium metal to disappear. Or how long it takes for a jar or test tube filled with water to be displaced by Hydrogen gas. I would need to ensure both of these measures were ‘fair’ so I could need to use pieces of Magnesium that were not only the same mass, but they same surface area. i would need to start the stopwatch at the same time and stop it at the same time. I would need to use the same gas jar or same water displacement to measure Hydrogen production. I would need to do a test run to check I could accurately measure the timings or that the volumes produced where sensible.

And then you get to the fun stuff of how do you accurately measure the pH of a solution anyway? In junior school we use universal indicator, but when you get into the senior school this isn’t specific enough – both HCl (a strong acid) and CH3COOH ( a weak acid) turn red in universal indicator. Yet CH3COOH has a lower pH because not as many Hydrogen ion dissociate, which you can pick up using a pH probe or different indicators. So while 10mL of 1 mol/L HCl and 10mL of 1mol/L CH3COOH will make the same mass of magnesium metal corrode and disappear, and the same amount of Hydrogen gas to be produced, the HCl will happen much faster, due to the lower pH/high concentration of reactive particles in the solution. Or do I just use different concentrations of HCl and test the impact of decreasing pH that way?

If you don’t teach Science, chances are the above 2 paragraphs make no sense at all. Even though I am pretty confident that every student in NZ in the last 60 years has put some magnesium metal in some acid and maybe done a pop test, you are definitely excused for not following

So if I put these steps into a flow chart, they become clearer…. and the steps required to determine each factor that might impact the conclusion become more explicit. And like the friendship algorithm above, it can be amended or changed if the process doesn’t work. The ability for iteration to be used and not perceived as a failure is massive.

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So while this might not have been the best or clearest example to use, it is one that came to mind. A simple junior science experiment that is actually a lot more complex than it appears, or we even teach it. And when I ask my yr 13 chemistry students to do this, they get a bit a stumped. They have been taught fair testing in terms of nature of Science, but not how to go back and find a solution is the results are inconclusive, or what processes are available to find solutions.

I think these also applies to writing frames and other tools we use to organise our students thoughts, and try to get them to think about their thinking. Perhaps I have been using aspects of computational thinking all along with out realising it, but this now just means I can refine it and make it more explicit when I am trying to get my kids thinking ‘scientifically’ and following a process.

And this isn’t to say that computational thinking is the answer to everything. One thing I really like is the idea (to quote my colleague Kevin) if you can put a problem into a flowchart, a computer can solve it. If you can’t, then the problem needs a person (or several people). People have the ability to think creatively, which is also so important to problem solving, but only if you have a robust system in place to identify the problem.

Posted in random ramblings

I meet Jacinda Arden today…..

I have been following this election more closely than past ones. Partly because, as a middle class white woman voter with a single child living in Dunedin, there is actually no party that will impact me in particular. So I have been forced to change my voting strategy, which has always been to vote selfishly, as in what is best for me. Which no longer applies, because I am in the fortunate place where a tax cut of an extra $20 a week might mean I buy another bottle of wine, or some more chocolate, or (heaven help me) more lego. But I have been seeing (and blogging) more and more inequality, larger and larger cracks and more despair around New Zealand, and so I have been spending some time looking into the social, health and education policies of all the different parties as these are important to me and I see them as a way to move forward.

So I was STOKED when it was announced at staff briefing that Jacinda Arden would be coming to our school to talk to our students. (I think our resident Labour campaigner Logan had a bit to do with it). It is a big deal for Taieri College.

Credit to our SLT team, I think it cause them minor heart attacks, but it was awesome. The TK block (yr 7&8) welcomed Jacinda with a Haka, and she did a brief Q&A with them – which delighted the kids as they hadn’t expected it.

She then came through to where the yr 9-13s where crammed into our indoor training center – sitting on the floor. She was introduced by our principal, who made a point about not being political but commented along the lines of having respect for Jacinda for being a role model and for kick starting lively debate about politics (including in the staff room).

Jacinda then spoke, and she was awesome. She avoided too much political speak, and mostly talked about her journey – from a slightly smaller state co-ed school in Morrinsville. ‘Who knows, you too can spend 9 years in opposition’ was a favourite sound bite when she was talking about not letting your own lack of self confidence prevent you from accepting and acting on opportunities. She had always cared about and been interested in politics, but never thought that would be her career, until one thing lead into another. She talked about the value she placed on young people, and how they too, could be anything they set there mind to.

I think she spoke for 15 minutes tops, and then took some questions. First off their were some careful chosen students with vetted questions – she answered one about mental health of students undergoing NCEA really well, not just with promises around support and more nurses in schools, but also a comment about how we are over assessing students.

Then she called for any more questions, and a wee yr 9 put up his hand. My boss, to his credit, not only knew his name our of 800 or so other kids, but invited him to ask it. And so started some great questions from the floor (and the principal knew all the names, he really does know the kids. Although he avoided my frantic hand waving…)  what will you do to help me? Do you get nervous speaking to people and what are some tips for others? (Jacinda answered this one really well – she made a joke at her own expense about her tongue sticking to her teeth and getting tongue tied). What will you do about a teacher shortage (from a student no less) (support teachers and training, and the for Auckland specifically reign in housing prices so teachers can live there). She talked about the rebuild of schools being too slow (we are still waiting for our school hall to be rebuilt, hence the kids sitting on the floor of the training center), and the one policy type thing she mentioned was supporting free tertiary education and upping living costs. But she also talked about apprenticeships, and how they will also support more of these and offer a $2000 scholarship to the top ‘tradie’ (my words, not hers, I can’t remember exactly what she said) from each school. We have a very successful trades academy at Taieri, and this would be a real plus for us. She was asked about taxes. One cheeky wee kiddie asked what she thought of John Key, and she was very tactful as she replied he was a great finance minister, but she thinks he has done what he came to do.
//players.brightcove.net/963482464001/HJiGOMree_default/index.html?videoId=5576723473001

There were two questions that really stuck out for me though

  1. What did you learn at high school that was the most important thing

She answered this in an interesting way. She said she learning some school type things like Chemistry is hard…(sigh) but the most important thing she learned was while she was board of trustees rep and on the ‘exclusion’ committee – she was trusted with a lot more background on students. So they stopped being just play ground bullies and became people with real issues who needed help not punishment. And that this kick started her drive to life children out of poverty and have a more equitable New Zealand.

  1. How does it feel knowing in 8 days you could be prime minister?

Jacinda sounded like a ‘real’ leader when she spoke of this. She talked about how she had backed Andrew, supported him to wait it out, but when the time came and she was voted in, she just stepped up. She is the youngest labour MP and was chosen to be the leader. So it was interesting for me, as some-one pondering leadership and change, to be reminded that sometimes, despite not wanting to be the leader, the leadership finds you anyway. And that is not a bad thing.

Time was up, the was a round of applause and the head girl thanked her and more clapping.

And then, on her way out the door, she stopped at me, and said ‘ you had a question’. That she saw, remembered, and took time to ask me, well. It blew my mind.

So I scolded and said Chemistry isn’t ‘hard’, but my questions was about Science and Technology in schools and how would you propose to encourage more woman into these fields.

And she nodded, smiled and said, ‘I know, we need to. but not just Science, STEAM…’ and then she got ‘mugged’ by the selfie hunters.

But she had said enough. I wanted to ask more questions, and maybe one day I will get to spend an hour chewing the fat about education with her. I doubt it somehow, but dreams are free.

My impression was that Jacinda genuinely gives a damn. She is driven to challenge inequity and inequality because she has seen exactly what it can do and how it impacts everyone. She took time (and a bit of a risk I might add) to ask a group of teenagers what they thought. She made a point of finding out who Logan was, and making sure he got to ask a question. She made a point of asking me for my question. She spoke carefully, but it felt truthful, heartfelt and real.

So I am super thankful I got to meet her today. Thankful for the debates happening up and down the country, in staff rooms, in pubs, over diners. What ever the outcome of the election, people are talking about it more than I ever remember. Make sure you get your voice heard and vote.

However, the overwhelming feeling from today was how proud I was to be part of Taieri College. The student were outstanding (even the ones wearing national stickers on their blazers….), they were respectful and they asked amazing questions. They represented the school so well, and I was proud to be a part of the school too.

Kia Kaha Taieri.

Posted in random ramblings, Teaching and Learning

On the importance of ‘lone nuts’…

I’ve read some ‘troubling’ things in the last week around education. I guess being election time socio economic issues and education are more in the news than usual. It has got me thinking again about change in schools, how to manage it, what is important… but also what change needs to happen in our society and culture to make those changes stick. There is such a big difference between have and have nots. In society, between schools, within schools and even within classrooms.

At the moment, I don’t see much happening to bring these closer together.

Which is where my ‘lone nut’ comes in. The ‘crazy’ person every school needs, who is relentless in pursuit of some goal to make a positive difference.

The first article I read was this one, about working in a decile one school. About how we are still failing our most vulnerable kids. There lives outside of school are such a barrier to learning in school. The lack of hope is so soul destroying. I have a friend who moved to Dunedin after a stint in a decile 1 school just out of Auckland, and some of her stories just horrify me. She still doesn’t get how we just pitch in and help each other down here, even if you are at a different school – she is so used to everyone being in full on survival mode with no extra room to help out.

I’m also really worried about how vulnerable schools are getting the least experienced and least trained teachers.

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Who is going to help these teachers learn on the job? If there is such a massive turnover, there will be no experience to lend to new teachers. Many of these teachers are bonded for 2 years and then leave. One mentioned in the above article was leaving to retrain….. I suppose it has always happened, that the ‘best’ teachers have always been pulled into private schools, or into ‘better’ state schools, or out of the class room and into ‘the corridor’ but I feel like more and more ‘innovative’ ‘lone nut’ teachers are being pulled into spaces like HPSS, Rototuna, Rolleston Horoeka and now a new ‘school’…..

Because then I read about City Senior School. I love the concept, really I do (except maybe boot camp, but maybe I would benefit from some ‘enforced’ voluntary fitness)… and perhaps part of me wishes I was that brave.

However, I am really struggling to understand why that money is going to go to 300 odd kids, when I pretty sure it could have been spread around a bit and impacted a whole LOAD more. And yes, this is addresses in the post – and maybe there is a place for a prototype school. A proof of concept perhaps. But there are also loads of different types of schools in NZ  – unlimited springs to mind, and I went to Hagley for 7th form in 1999 and had english once a week for 3 hours and it rocked…..actually watching a movie in one go made life way nicer. So alternative models are not new. Schools like Albany Secondary, or HPSS are shaking things up, and have not had a systemic change on a wide range of schools. Will another prototype achieve this?

I’m also jealous it is another example in the ’09’. Good ole sunny Dunedin won’t be getting a new school any time soon, and several of the local schools have been closed/combined or under CAPNA in recent years. Geographically speaking, where you live can have a massive impact on what opportunities you have. Two students jump into my mind who would both LOVE and hugely benefit from this type of school. How will the students be selected?

On the industry partners…. I’m not sure this is that ‘new’. Back in 1996 I think, I was involved with an extension sci program while I was a student at Lincoln High school. I visited a lecturer a couple of times as part of that project, as did my class. My school does the same thing with GATE science students – for example one BLIS technologies will mentor students. I have a student in yr 13 who travels into the uni to visit the Chem dept for some extension. After bagging Dunedin’s geographic location, we are lucky we have lots of places who will help students out if you ask. And we have some top notch techie companies too 🙂 So maybe it is not standard, but if my school can do it surely most could. Except again for those who are really isolated, either by funding or by geography.

I also think that it is one thing to bring this type of learning into a new place, and a completely different thing to be changed in an established, traditional space. With older style building and furniture. Or parents who are cautious around technology. Or kids who comes to school because they get food. Or schools who are isolated with small rolls and one Science teacher.  Or schools with teachers less confident around trying new things.

Because, of course, this new school will be recruiting ‘excellent educators.

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a reply in the comments section from the blog

So some schools will ‘lose’ these excellent educators… and what happens to those they leave behind? they get a teacher with 6 weeks training on the teach first program? Or, they need to limit option lines, or get a ‘less’ excellent teacher. The teacher shortage is becoming more recognised. Especially in the ‘STEM’ subjects. Sigh.

Bonus of being able to teacher Chem, Bio, Sci and Maths with a twist of digital technologies/coding and a passion for helping others use technology better  – I’m pretty sure I’d have to try REALLY hard to get fired. 🙂

 

I then read this article about Haeata in Christchurch. It made me soooo frustrated. I know some of the educators at Haeata and how desperately hard they are working. How passionate they are about their school and their learners. Unlike some of the other new schools in NZ, these guys opened on day one with yr 1-13, with nearly a thousand kids. All the politics that went with the closure of schools in one of the most deprived areas of Christchurch. Of course the school is not perfect, because nothing is perfect. Kids thinking they need to take weapons to school is not ok. But I’m fairly certain this won’t be the only case in NZ, and it is probably again happening more in lower decile schools.

The other thing to remember is schools are run for people, by people, and people are messy. Wonderful, creative, hardworking, confused, disengaged, angry, MESSY. Teachers are all these things too. It interests me how highly teachers behavioural standards are held – and rightly so in some areas. But the expectation of professionalism is not always meet by the level of respect for the profession, the training and support provided for people in the profession, and in the pay packets on those in the profession. When I tell people I am a ‘teacher’ it is generally meet with either a ‘so, are you on holiday then’? or a horror story of the ‘worst teacher in the whole world’. Sigh

And then there is this story full of hope from Nelson. Getting kids feed, in the proper clothes and feeling like the belong, and what do you know, they come to school! They start to engage. The most vulnerable students achieving success – perhaps not in the traditional academic sense, but really does that matter?? There is a focus on hygiene for these learners!! They are happier and healthier and feel more valued. How can we build more places like this for our most vulnerable learners, rather than the proposed ‘bootcamps’

How can we justify having such disparity between our schools?

My school is decile 7 (although we will do ‘better’ under the new funding scheme) and we have some problems. To quote a colleague we may not be perfect, but we try damned hard to help every kid. Since writing this post about kids falling through cracks, more students have left. One in particular rattled me…a yr13 student left for a job – I’m not going to uni so why stay here? was her answer to my almost begging her to stay. And she is doing well in the job, and enjoying it, so maybe it was the best thing for her.

My school is changing though. The changes might be ‘glacial’ but they are happening. We are quietly doing out best to respond to students needs, we are listening to our community. IMHO, our ‘corridor’ are still a little reactive rather than visionary (please don’t fire me…) but there are definitely strategies in place to try and get a culture shift. Teachers have the freedom to try new things. We are slowly breaking down the ‘just’ us barrier that kids put up when they compare us to the ‘town’ schools. We try really hard to meet kids needs, whether that be freshly cooked cheese toasties for breakfast, screaming internally and staying relentlessly positive with that class, or sending a kid into the uni once a week for extension. Watching football in the rain for a kid who told you to ‘get lost’ that day.

In my campaign around getting more equitable access to devices through the TELA laptop scheme (hopefully some of this will come through in feb, and I’m going to keep chipping away) I was horrified to learn than teachers in different schools have such a disparity in their access to tech support device choices, software to install. I am constantly saddened by the ‘tightness’ of our schools PLD budget – hence my passion for free PLD, tweetmeets etc – and wonder how many other thousand teachers are in the same boat as me but don’t know about the free stuff. Or perhaps don’t have the same supportive family set up that I do, so I can spend an hour of twitter instead of reading bed time stories that night. I know not every person has that luxury.

So, as I reflect on those four articles/blogs, and others I have seen recently, I worry for education in New Zealand. So many kids are hungry, cold and sick. Some are parenting younger siblings, some are looking after other family. Some are so anxious about results and their future they can barely think about right now. Many are working long hours in ‘part time’ jobs. Some of them are at my school. I suspect there are many more in many schools around New Zealand.

And so many teachers are leaving. Last year I wrote this blog about some amazing educators flying away from the classroom, and still more have left. I have a constant internal battle about where I could be the most valuable…. in ‘the corridor’ (if I got a job…) I’d have more ‘clout’ so more of my ideas could be implemented, or if I went to work for a PLD provider (if they would have me) I could impact loads of teachers and possibly impact way more more kids. If I worked for the ministry (hahahhahahaahhaaaaa) I could possible change EVERYTHING and then I have weird day dreams about what I would be if I was education minister.

And then I set fire to something in my classroom, or help a kid with something, watch my students participate in global projects, or make slime/sliver mirrors/a robot dance/anything in minecraft, or a thousand little things that make connections and learning and a difference, and I decide to maybe hang around a bit longer 🙂

And be thankful for the people out there, like me, the ‘not so lone nuts’ who are working in ‘normal’ ‘messy’ ‘faultless in spite of all their faults’ schools (I do like me some Jane Austen) and doing their best to quietly change the lives of the students who come into their classroom for the better. Who have a box of muesli bars for hungry kids, or who buy a box of pens for the start of each term, or who pushes their kids to new heights, or who ignores their own kids while driving others around to sports. Who give new things a go, whether on paper, on a computer, in a sports field or in a staff meeting.To all the ‘invisible’ educators, the ‘just a teachers’, I see you, and I thank you for all that you do.

Kia Kaha and keep swimming. We’ve got this.

Posted in Uncategorized

Clawing at mud….

I have had to make an effort to dig myself out of a hole recently. I am still clawing at the mud and sliding back in really. My motivation has been low, I’ve found myself doing that thing I hate where I start talking up stuff I’m doing or have done to make myself feel better, I’ve felt under appreciated and under valued, and worst of all, I have felt like I am not hitting my potential. I do set my standards pretty high, but I have definitely not been even half reaching them of late. I have also been pretty sick with a nasty bug going round that just keeps on giving. #scichatNZ has become more managable, but I worry it is not growing. I ‘should’ get round to organising an educamp for Dunedin. I am making the effort to head up to educamp selwyn, but even that feels like a massive effort (Sorry Matt, I’m sure it will be awesome….). I am helping some cool kids around the country with scholarship chem, which is a fair way out of my depth, but I had intended to take it to more kids…. there is just this massive list of I have not dones….

And the weird thing is that when I sit and list what I have done or am currently involved with, there is still quite a lot. I simply don’t have time to fit many other things in, and I had to be rational (not always my strong point) and cut some things out. But I still feel burnt out. And like I am not doing enough. ALL at ONCE. And that I need a special certificate or something for doing what I am doing, when really, come on, I’m a grown up. It is just part of my job. A job I do LOVE and am passionate about.

I also had to make a really tough decision to say no to something. Saying no was HARD. In no way wanting to ‘bag’ the course, I had to say no to the mindlab course. I just could not find away to make it work for my family, as it was on a wednesday night, my hubby has cricket, and it would have cost a fortune in childcare. Not to mention I already feel like I don’t see enough of my small person. But on top of that, I looked at the course and wondered how much I would get out of it? That was an egocentric moment if ever I have had one. I was initially jealous as all hell of my colleagues doing it, but now they are balls deep in assignments and extensions, I’m not feeling quite they same level of FOMO. I still can’t quite feel relief though, nor contentment with my ‘choice’

And so now I am questioning what is important. What is it that I value. How can I feel I am filling my kete, rather than being stuck in an endless loop of filling others and never feeling like I am doing a good enough job. I blogged about teacher heriocs 6 weeks ago, and I still have not found an answer.

I also wonder about sharing failures. There are some things I have tried that haven’t worked, but that also feels braggy – hey, look at me, I’m trying cool shit over here. Is this tall poppy? Is this fear of not being perfect? I can quite happily say in the first 3 weeks of term my classes consisted of chalk and talk and lessons online as I lurched from lesson to lesson battling the cold I had. And no-body died. I think even some kids might have learned some things despite it being as boring as hell. Thankfully the relationship I have with my classes did give me that leeway, and by the end of last week I was feeling well enough to run some pracs…..

I wondered about depression/anxiety. Depression is not usually my sidekick (I’m more of an anxiety girl and have been down that road before and it doesn’t feel like now). I did go and talk to a professional (I highly recommend this – many schools will offer a free service if you need it, but I have some-one I see despite the cost). Which was useful and put some perspective on it – my family is important to me, and I need to place more importance on my own health. Find some boundaries and remember to take pleasure in things.  Work is also important to me but I do need to remember it is just work.

Because that is true of teaching right?? Sigh 🙂

Another thing worrying me is I don’t think I’m alone in feeling this right now. Maybe because I am there I am reading to much into little comments (or lack of comments) from others, but there seems to be an overwhelming current of tired, burnt out, just not quite there from a few people.

Or maybe, just maybe, I need to let go. Realise that I have grown and moved on from those things that gave me so much, but are no longer a source of inspiration like they once were. They are no longer fulfilling. Accept that others do not value them as I do and so they might not get carried on. Which is a shame, but if they are not longer filling a need they are not needed. Maybe my next challenge is just round the corner and it will spark up that learning again. Teaching is faddish after all.

After all, change is something I am trying to learn about, manage and support others to accept. Change is not new. Maybe I need to keep getting better at it myself.

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I LOVE this cartoon – you can find it at http://www.officeguycartoons.com/product/change-not-new/

 

 

 

Posted in coding, Minecraft, Teaching and Learning, Techie stuff

Digital technologies, digital fluency, the New Zealand Curriculum and maybe even some fun….

The New Zealand curriculum got an update of sorts recently with the introduction of a new digital technologies strand. As a teacher interested in using digital technologies to enhance learning, I was really quite excited to see what it would look like, and how it might be integrated into the curriculum. The NZC digital technologies strand was released with much fanfare but (IMHO) limited information for what it might look like for schools. Through my roll with the PPTA ICT committee, I have heard a bit more about the process and am in awe of the people who have been working incredibly hard behind the scenes – especially it seems to have been a made rush to prepare some draft NCEA Digital technology standards for term three this year. I have meet some people at workshops and online who have been generous with their time and ideas. We (my school partner in crime Kevin) and I have come up with some ideas about how we can introduce digital technologies into our school as a module for yr 7 & 8 students, what we are hoping the students will get out of it, and how we think it fits into the goals of the standard. I am really stoked our principal is using this as an opportunity to reflect on technology teaching school wide rather than just putting it in the technology department bucket, and we are possibly looking to review this in the next year or so. He also is of the view that all teachers need to be teachers of technology, not just the ‘technology’ subject teachers. (Hope you don’t mind my quoting you boss man)

This blog is to try and cement some of the ideas in my head after percolating some of the info I’ve read and reread over the holidays, to share some of my thinking and hopefully get some feedback on what other people/schools are doing and how we might improve our plans.

Where did I get the information…

if you have some resources – please feel free to share them and I will add to this list 🙂

Finding (useful/readable) information on the curriculum proved a bit of a challenge – that really is ongoing because the curriculum is still in draft form and this is quite recent. So get in and read up and get some feedback in HERE!!

There are some workshops being held around the country, so if you haven’t seen them and want to go, the info is HERE.

Currently, the learning progressions are in draft form (see the link above to submit feedback) and you can check out the ‘NCEA’ levels HERE, (This link came from THIS TKI site). (Incidentally, learning progressions is going to be put in curriculum wide… rather than curriculum levels – a tidbit from the PPTA ICT meeting)

This page is particularly important for us thinking around our course for yr 8.

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And to put it in simpler terms, this is the best diagram I have seen (it makes sense to me) for how we wrap those thing together

 

(This is a screenshot, and a thousand apologies, but I can’t find the original link to the article…..)

How does digital fluency and computational thinking tie in?????

So, to me, computational thinking is just another way of talking about thinking critically, and it strongly ties in for what we are also trying to achieve with the Nature of Science and science capabilities. I wonder if really we could simply say, lets try and get kids thinking!! (shock horror). Because it might be nature of science in Science, computational thinking in digital technologies, algebra in maths, design process and prototyping in fabric tech or DVC etc…..

But back to the task, there are some lovely resources about computational thinking on the TKI page, including the video below

 

Digital fluency is a slightly different beastie, here is a snapshot from the same TKI page

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So digital fluency is not just about using the computers, it is about everything. And this is where I think my principal hit it on the head when he said ALL teachers need to be teachers of technology. We need to be able to apply different technologies to our different specialities and then explain why they give us a desired outcome.

So we want to be encouraging our students to think critically about the technology they are using to complete tasks, have an understanding of the limitations and strengths of those technologies, and how to create their own digital solutions to problems.

Sounds easy right….

Our ‘plan’

Our plan is for a module for Year 8 (and possibly yr 7 too if we can squeeze it into the best that is timetabling in a secondary school) that will have approximately 32 lessons/hours (depending on the timetable. We have a very loose plan at the moment…. mostly because 1) we aren’t sure who will be teaching it, although Kevin and I would like to teach it together – perhaps 2 hours a week each… again depending on the timetable… 2) We are not super sure of the skills the students will bring with them (sounds a bit like students coming in fresh to Science classes right… ) 3) we are waiting to see if we can get all the licences, resources etc we need.

If we get a course at Yr 7 too, we would re jig both programs so there was also an explicit focus for some of the course on the digital applications and devices/infrastructure themes we have ignored below.

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Rationale behind our choices….

Without wanting to sound too much like I am getting paid (which I am not) by micro:bits, they are easy, not too expensive (about $30 each) and they are web based so it doesn’t really matter what devices you have to use them on. We ordered some from HERE, and hats off to PB tech, they arrived in a week. I attended a session on the microbits at E2, and was really impressed. I bought the one I was given home, and the kids who had a play were also really impressed.

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A yr 8 student was doing this about 20 minutes after I gave the microbit to him to try… 

Then I handed it to Kevin, and didn’t get it back 🙂

Some other advantages include you can see the ‘prototype’ on the coding screen, so students could also build code at home, then bring it to school to see if it worked, or you can debug before you download the code, and you can alternate between a drag and drop and java code etc.

There are also some cool 3D printable cases (from thingiverse) you can make for them too 🙂 AND there is a massive wealth of ideas at the microsoft educator community microbit page – you don’t need to be a microsoft user to use them though 🙂

Why Minecraft? Mostly because WHO does LOVE minecraft!!!!! But the education edition is a really nice way to ease into coding, and games for learning too. I know some of our students love using minecraft, while some are not so keen, so really it would just be another tool in this tool box to try and engage as many learners as possible. The biggest issue with this will be having enough mice – playing minecraft with a laptop trackpad is not the same as playing with a proper mouse. So this will impact where we can take these lessons, and depend on what we can organise. That said, I’m sure we can find some old mice somewhere to use.

We are deliberately steering clear of Scratch as it is part of the yr 9 program on information management all students at our school do. So trying not to double dip on the tools. That said, if a student wanted to play, we wouldn’t stop them.

We will also look at using hour of code for some extension acitivities – mostly because the game design is very explicit in the tutorials. I have used hour of code in my science classes a few times, and most students really enjoy it, and all of them like playing the games the all make. This also has the advantage of being available in different languages.

I got the idea of the post it notes game from Julie during the OMG tech rangers day I went to earlier in the year. She explained how she gets her yr 8 students to make a binary alphabet, and then write a post it note with their name and something about them. Students then swap notes and decode. I thought this was a really nice started activity because 1) It helps me get to know the kids, 2) it isn’t on the computers do it stresses the it isn’t just about computers angle, 3) it has a nice literacy link and 4) most kids LOVE post its-  and so have stolen it (with her permission). Julie also did a bag tag activity, but I’m not super sure all our kids (am I being stereotypical when I think ‘boys’) might not be so into this….. but perhaps we could adapt it somehow…

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This is Julie’s name in binary – the blues are spaces, which she explained is not technically correct, but helps clarify where the code starts and stops. I had MASSIVE envy 🙂

We included the OR option in terms of designing an app OR researching how tech is used to benefit humans because we are well aware that some students will be more interested than others about the actual coding while others will be desperate to get in and make something.

What’s next?

This week we are talking through what we have so far, having a closer look at how it fits around everything else that is happening in school, and trying to sort out all those pesky logistical issues (like which classroom will be used, and what budget does it come under.) As I said at the start, I’m am still processing the ideas and how to best implement them, and welcome any feedback. I am thinking we would run a trial class in Term 4 – my year 10 Science class might become some testers of tasks and lessons. We will also have some staff attending the information days, which might also inform our choices.

In the mean time, I’m having fun playing with the microbits and learning more about what they can do. 🙂

Posted in random ramblings

Heroic teachers or teacher heroics?

Recently I have been tired. Bone achingly, soul crushingly tired.I feel like the fire has gone from my soul. It is the end of term, I had a 2 day field trip last weekend,  meetings three days after school this week (including friday – who even does that..?),  Parent teacher interviews 2 nights next week plus a whole load of other stuff I should get done. I haven’t finished uploading the #scichatNZ #teachmeet videos, I haven’t finished a scholarship resource I planned to do, and I haven’t marked a level one science test my students did last friday. I’m also really certain I am not the only teacher in the country saying 6 days to go…… and then you see articles like this one saying holidays need to change.

And worst of all I feel like I am letting everyone down. Myself, my students, my schools, my family. The ‘guilt’ is crushing.

A couple of weeks back I had a chance conversation with some-one about my concerns for teacher workload and teacher PLD – how can we make is sustainable and fair and even accessible for everyone. I talked about scichatNZ and why we (Matt Nicoll and company) had started it, and how educamps and teachmeets might help fill that gap. The reply I got was unexpected and thought provoking…. it was something along the lines of

‘this is the problem with the heroic model, people fill gaps so the problem isn’t addressed, and then people burn out’.

Which is exactly what I have found – the team definitely burned out, and me with them. Even trying to be more sustainable this year, it has been a massive struggle to get people involved and contributing.

Having only recently been introduced to the heroic leader model by Welby Ings fabulous book disobedient teaching, I had never considered this to apply to me. I don’t consider myself a hero!! But in the couple of weeks since this conversation, and watching my colleagues crumble into piles of tired, flu filled ‘grump’ I think that perhaps many teachers and schools fit this model to a degree. We are asked to be heroes and champions, we are asked to do the impossible, every year gets more complicated and full, and we just keep doing what we do. And as Welby Ings says of heroic leaders….

In the end they become self defeating because the more heroic they are, the more they increase the gap between dependancy and empowerment.

(Ings, disobedient teaching 2017)

And as David Bowie says – we can be hereos, but just for one day.

So are teachers, by their can do attitude, yes I’ll pick up the slack, yip I’ll bend over backwards, actually causing harm by making the system too reliant on them? Are teachers fixing a problem for a short while, but unintentionally masking the real issues behind them.

So how does this apply to me in the classroom?

I can apply this thought process to my students learning. If I spoon feed them all the answers and don’t provide opportunities for them to fail, then I don’t think they ‘learn’. True, they might be able to repeat back some facts about Chem. But I don’t just want my students to remember Chem, I want them to learn resilience, compassion, empathy. I want them to relate what they are learning about to their lives and the lives of others. I’m struggling with the idea that to teach them these things, I might have to be less compassionate myself. It is a strange saying, sometimes you need to be cruel to be kind. Is it true though?

I recently went a bit ‘ranty’ at my level 3 Chem class because I got a torrid of excuses for not having completed some work and/or bombing in an assessment. ‘I couldn’t find the notes online’. ‘I was doing a different internal’. ‘I didn’t understand it’. Why didn’t you ask I said. Blank stares and I didn’t have time type defensive comments followed. So I told them all if pak n save rang for a reference, I wouldn’t recommend them for the job. They demonstrated they couldn’t follow instructions, avoided a simple task, and then did not take responsibility for not having done said task. If you were an employee and didn’t do something you were asked, and then said you didn’t know how but didn’t ask for help, I’m pretty sure most bosses would be saying see you later. You can imagine the looks and feels I got for that statement 🙂 But as a classroom teacher I do bend over backwards to help my students, I am available via email or text pretty much whenever, I give up noncontacts and after school for tutorials and questions, and I know I am not alone in this. I have heard of teacher picking kids up on weekends to get to a tutorial. I know the harm that this could cause my students – this idea that Mrs Chisnall will come along and save the day, so I don’t need to panic now – does, but I also really really want my kids to achieve success. And my school wants kids to achieve success, and my community wants kids to achieve success. At the end of the day, the credit crunch counts and it is my ‘job’ to get kids over the line.

Another (more heartbreaking and more complex and political ) way I think this can be applied to schools was this article about kids going hungry in the holidays because, in many cases, the food they got at school was the only food they ate all day. I was torn between anger at the fact that kids go hungry at all, frustration that poverty in New Zealand is so real that some families genuinely can not afford to feed their children, and sadness that some parents assume that school will feed their kids, and so don’t think about it when it is holidays. A prime case of dependancy rather than empowerment. Heroic schools and teachers are not just about changing education, we are being (in my opinion) asked to fill the role of parents more and more. That article lead to this blog post about why we still have cracks. So many students are still falling through them, despite all the heroic efforts of classroom teachers, schools and community groups. My school feeds quite a few kids in different ways, and again I have a box of muesli bars in my supermarket trolley each week for just this. Because if kids are in poorer communities, even with their teachers being heroes, they just don’t get them same levels of achievement.

 

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Image source

And again, there have been an increasing number of articles (here, here,…) about students unable to participate in sports teams and school activities because the cost is out of reach. I’m sure there are others. And it is awesome that the community rallied around these boys so they could get the money, but it does mask the fact that the family is living in poverty. And there are many families like this, who simply can not offer their kids the opportunities they ‘deserve’ because of cost.

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Image source

Recently I had another conversation about what was important in education. And how all the various ‘facets’ involved all probably think they are the only ones doing the right thing. Teachers are accused of moaning about conditions and pay scales – really we don’t care about the kids. Senior leadership in schools care about budgets and stats – really they don’t care about the kids. Board of Trustees care about the schools reputation and ERO reports – really they don’t care about the kids. The Ministry of Education is accused of cutting any and all costs – really they don’t care about the kids. The Ministry of vulnerable children is accused of meaningless paperwork and bureaucracy – really they don’t care about at risk kids in our schools.

But really, EVERYONE on of these departments/agencies/groups cares about the kids. Maybe they are looking through a different lens, but everyone cares. Everyone is being a hero in their own way, and we don’t always work very well together, or even look through the same lens, that often.

And teachers are leaving. Admit it or not, teachers are leaving in the profession. This is an article from 2002, so this is not new news! New teachers don’t stay, teachers are ‘burning’ out, teachers are leaving for overseas or for jobs in educational companies. At times, there have been too many teachers trained and so those teachers can’t get jobs and left. We are training less teachers than we did. Schools are being forced to use distance learning or change their options because teachers can’t be found. The much quoted ‘average’ age of teachers is in the mid to late 50s. Teachers are coming back from retirement to fill gaps (again, teachers stepping up to save the day!) because there are not the graduates coming through in the ‘right’ areas.

So then the really hard question is how to we break out of this heroic model. Because, by being heroic, teachers and schools are possibly limiting the ability of their students and communities to be empowered. By picking up the slack are we masking other issues of dependancy in the community? Are we slowly contributing to the falling status of our profession, and the reporting around teaching in New Zealand would be enough to put most people off opting into teaching as a profession?

By doing our utmost, are we actually doing harm?

It isn’t a nice thought, and it is one I am struggling with. By teachers and schools shouldering these additional burdens, are we doing more harm than good? If we keep saving the day, will the underlying causes never be address? Or is this the way it is now, and the gulf between the haves and the have nots will get wider and wider, and the champions will get fewer and fewer as they burn into cinders and ash.

And then, according to my favourite current heroine, Katniss Everdeen, fire is catching. How do we get those burnt out teachers back to roaring flames? How can we ensure we get new growth?