Posted in random ramblings, Teaching and Learning

‘That’ class… and no I don’t want a seating plan

I am a little ashamed to say that this year I have a ‘that’ class. The class I can’t seem to get to work. Despite careful planning, talking it through with my HoD and their year level dean, trying a few different things like shifting furniture or even classrooms, they are still ‘that’ class. The class I almost dread some days, the class I get frustrated with, the class I feel like I am being the least effective in, the class were I feel like I am so busy dealing with 1/3 of the class I just forget the other 2/3s…. the class I just haven’t got to gel yet.

It is a hard problem, and one I have been pondering – this class works ‘best’ when I have more ‘structure’. When I chunk tasks into 20 minute blocks, have the whole class writing quietly from the board, when I STRONGLY control practical tasks. I have ‘learned’ not to do practicals with them on a last period if I can help it. They all work quietly when doing tasks like cutting and pasting pieces of paper, or colouring things in, or wordfinds …. but then I lose the ‘spark’ – despite the ‘crazy’, this class can think.

And then I read the first two paragraphs and go there it a whole lot of ‘I’ in there. What is the class (that I am a part of) going to do to make our time together work better??

Among the ponderings around this is….

1) Why did I/do I resort to ‘structured’ traditional tasks for this class?

This answer is partly due to all of the advice I received when I was trying to talk through the issues I was having. Have you tried a seating plan is almost always the first thing anyone says. (I teach them in a ‘new lab’, so the tables often move anyway, but also NO, I want them to be in an environment that is comfortable for them and suits the task). Then it goes onto something like do you have a set routine? Do you have a settling activity?

Then it goes into if they work quietly while taking notes of the board, then why not give them notes off the board? And then I want to burn everything to the ground.

But also, the students like writing notes of the board – the quiet, diligent kids think this is what learning should look like, and the ‘anxious’ kids know nothing is going to be asked of them but mindless copying, and the ‘troublesome’ kids just draw pictures in their books. And I can use the ‘discipline referral system’ if I need to (and I have needed to….) Happy classrooms right.

Sigh

So for anyone reading – next time some-one asks about a difficulty in their class, please don’t ask if they have a seating plan 😉

2) How can the classroom expectations be made clear and stuck to.

As a class we have had some discussion around what we think is acceptable and not acceptable for learning. The class are actually surprisingly harsh on themselves when it comes to what they expect…. perhaps tying into them thinking that learning is writing in silence….

So changing that mindset while also maintaining security is a big challenge

The other challenge is managing responses to behaviour. How do you ignore unwanted behaviours? I think I speak for every teacher (or I hope I do) that sometimes it only takes that one kid to throw a whole lesson out of whack because of the response it generates. So how can those responses (including my own) be changed to support a better classroom culture.

3) How I can ensure I don’t miss the 2/3s of the class while dealing with the 1/3?

Because right now I know I am not being the best teacher I can be for that 2/3s. But I don’t quite know how to get around that. How do I ensure I provide fun, engaging, authentic learning for them, while ‘managing’ the other 1/3. Short answer is I can’t…. so how can I get it to be everyones job while still ensuring the get the support they need.

And why am I having to manage the others?? Why are the so disengaged from what we do?

 

An added challenge to this class is I have them for 2 hours a week. It is proving to be very challenging to build the type of relationships I would like in this 2 hours. And a kind colleague saying ‘well, you can suck it up for 2 hours a week, just don’t worry about it’ was not super helpful either…..

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The class loved drawing with chalk outside rather than in their books.

And today, when we did a slightly different activity, despite the noise, the disruption and the non-participants, there was some really good learning going on. Kids had learned some things. I am clinging to that glimmer of hope…. a gossamer thin glimmer at times, but still there….

So I am going to keep thinking, and keep trying with ‘that’ class. For the kids that keep trying to meet me half way. And for the kids that don’t too….

 

 

Posted in random ramblings, Teaching and Learning

Revision tools

Today in my yr 10 class we are doing some revision for an upcoming summative assessment on Monday. We still do paper tests… sigh. But practice makes perfect right 🙂 So as a class we were talking about some different ways we can do revision, and I think we came up with some pretty good ideas – and I hopefully got the idea across that just reading and rereading ‘notes’ is a passive way to learn and that trying to find more active revision activities has much more benefit.

Some of the ideas we came up with were

Make a podcast and listen to it; Make posters and make them your phone wallpaper; practice questions; use flashcards and get a friend/family to test you; kahoot quiz (this class LOVED kahoot quizes for learning electrical component names); writing notes over and over; writing notes and then trying to write them again from memory and then filling in the gaps and trying again; online animations like PHeT; youtube videos; mind maps and graphic organisers; making acronyms or rhymes…..

Which I thought was a pretty good list really – and I was super stoked that no-one said highlighting. (still had the writing notes in there… but baby steps…)

To try and have a new take on writing notes, I suggested little books. I really don’t make these enough – But I think they are a great way to get lots of ideas condensed into a small space, and almost force people to process the notes they are writing. The are low tech, low cost, and meet the needs of the students who NEED notes while still not just being copy stuff straight down because there is not enough space (some still just right REALLY REALLY small though……)

To make a little book, all you need to do is take a piece of paper, like an A4, and fold it in half and in half again.

Then fold it in half long ways (or just fold it so you have 8 folds 🙂 )

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Then cut the middle fold

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Then fold it up, the trick is to have the ‘connected’ bits on opposite sides.

And then you have a little book that you can make notes into. I encouraged kids that liked them to make on for each topic – then when it comes time for the end of year exam, they will already have a good start on some revision material. Girls in particular seem to like them, but even a couple of the boys gave them a go today.

 

Posted in Professional learning, random ramblings

Ponderings from #energiseNZ2017

In the holidays, I went to the ENERGISE conference (A while back, Arnika Macphail asked me if I’d be keen to present at Energise, and I was like ‘hell yeah’. Then she asked if I’d like to co-present with Steve Mouldey, who I had never yet meet in the flesh and I was like ‘HELL YEAH’). Energise had a Educamp feel, so while the presenters were set, it was not about the ‘big names’ and more about the connections, ideas and challenges. While it was acknowledged that Cyclone was behind the conference, the team did a great job of not making it about things to ‘buy’. It was being hosted at Shotover Primary, so it was a good chance to visit a ‘new’ school and gain some insight into how it works. I had an amazing time, caught up with people, meet some new people, learned some new things, got challenged to ensure I was not just using ‘e-learning’ to engage student but to enhance their learning and was challenged around am I doing enough for my students.

Another interesting moment for me was during the ‘drum’ session. We had a really fun and amazing drum session on the second morning of the conference. I was sitting with 4 of my favourite educator peeps and laughed so hard. But it reinforced a funny idea for me. Do we really all need to be in time? Do we really need to be conforming to the same beat? I’ve been told I am reading to much into this type of activity… but I just wonder. So then of course it turned into us being ‘naughty’ and whacking the drum next to us out of time….. do we sometimes need to break those ‘rules’ to start something new?

BUT mostly energise got me thinking we really do need to change how we approach professional learning/development for teachers.

The pondering around changing PD has really stemmed from about 4 sources that were building before the conference, but these really bought it to my attention.

  1. Presenting with some-one you have never meet

I meet Steve for the first time the night before – drinking warm Sake in a (very nice) Japanese restaurant watching ‘magic’ tricks.

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That said, I have ‘talked’ with Steve loads online (As it turned out, this was a great way to introduce our session – a genuine we meet online gag 🙂 )We were given the brief ‘ Creating a STEAMULATING environment’ and were then basically left to our own devices on what to present.

We set up some collaborative docs (funnily enough a MICROSOFT OneNote and the GOOGLE slides…), had a skype and some twitter chats, and it just came together. I think (hope) because we were both open minded, coming from slightly different places and experiences, but willing to let these ideas be shared and compliment each other, rather than drowning each other out.

And despite my nerves, the presentation went pretty well I think. I’m not confident we ‘nailed’ it, but we definitely got some good discussion going, engaged our group, warmed up as it went on, and tried to avoid ‘us telling, them listening. Although we did still fall into the trap of saying what we did…. instead of listening to all the voices

As always with presenting, I benefit enormously by trying to explicitly describe what I am trying to achieve for my learners and myself – it is hard to put into words some times. And having another person to bounce idea off, especially from another school and ‘a different silo’ was especially helpful. So presenting with some-one I had never meet was a completely new experience for me, and I feel I learned loads. Which makes me think about ‘groups’ of teachers going to PLD – do we really get the same benefit if we only really talk to people from our schools rather than pushing ourselves to incorporate different points of views.

The reason I don’t feel I/we nailed it is because I wasn’t sure/confident we meet our learners expectations. Some people seemed to enjoy the discussion, while others seemed to want more from us – I don’t like the term spoon feeding but I do think some teachers expect this at PLD. Which leads into point number

2. What do teachers expect from PD?

The second day of the conference I went to a session that Steve ran on bringing empathy into learning conversations. He talked about how teachers see PLD, and loosely categorised teachers into some PLD stereotypes. As part of this, we were sent to ‘spy on/observe’ other sessions and see what we could see. And the stereotypes were there – Steve had outlined in his talk some in his talk, and I’ve added a couple

the teacher who wants something they can use in their class on monday

the teacher who came for morning tea

the teacher who came to meet and talk to people and build connections but is not really into the sessions

the teacher having an AHA moment

the teacher who obviously doesn’t want to be there

the teacher who is taking so many notes they couldn’t possibly be processing them, it is just verbatim. Will they ever look at those notes again

the teachers tweeting (usually me….)

the teacher catching up on emails.

the teacher obviously in presenter rapture and having a professional crush moment

 

All of which reinforced times when I have been in PD (honestly, I have been all the teachers above and more) and when I have delivered PD. The stand up the front and talk at people model doesn’t really work. And yet, we are still doing it. Which leads to point 3….

3. Why, oh why, do presenters still sit behind a laptop, sitting at a desk, talking their way through their slides..????

I went to a session like this, and could not cope. The person presenting obviously knew there stuff, and I had a great discussion with them afterwards that almost made up for the presentation. But it was so so so so so hard to sit through that 2 hours of slog. It felt like a slog. Even though I was learning new things, and interested at some points, the rest of the time I switched off.

We have learned that this is not working in our classrooms. Surely we should have learned that it doesn’t work for PLD.

And surely we as teacher should expect and demand more. Which leads me to point 4..

4. Why do ‘some’ teachers still expect PLD on a plate?

This constantly annoys me. I always try and make the most out of any opportunities that are provided to me. So I pay for my own PLD sometimes. I buy books and read them. I read blogs and talk to people. I also apply to different places for funding, and really make an effort to get to free stuff (I will drive to Christchurch for the educamp in Term 3 for example.) I also make use of free PLD on line – there are loads of MOOCs, courses, youtube videos, and of course the microsoft educator community (and the google one).

So I do get a bit pissy when people say to me, oh, you were at another conference. I go to them because I choose to, I often self fund, and I value them. Probably because of this, I have had several awesome opportunities to attend conferences paid for by other people. And if I got to those, I make sure I work every damn minute to get the most out of it for me and for the people attending. It is also why I started scichatNZ (along with Matt and the team) because I was frustrated at the lack of support for Science teachers wanting to break the mould….. and almost talked myself out of a ‘job’ when I’ve come to the conclusion that I really don’t want there to be subject silo’s….. sigh

So I do get hot and bothered when people attend PLD paid for out of precious school budgets and either 1) don’t get quality or 2) don’t put an effort in. 2 very different problems, but with a similar outcome – professional learning goes on the back burner as too hard, too much time, too expensive for what you get……

Changing the culture around staff professional learning in many schools is a challenge I don’t see going away any time soon, despite the efforts of many outstanding educators out there to change that mould.

So all in all I had an amazing time at Energise, and am really thankful for the opportunity to attend and share. It was definitely a ‘different’ type of teacher conference and I hope we see more of them in the future – I’m already looking forward to energise 2018.

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Thanks heaps to the team at Shotover for sharing you school, and the team at Cyclone for hosting us 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in random ramblings

Why do we still have cracks?

It is an easy answer isn’t it – a kid falling through the cracks. They didn’t fit that criteria, or that criteria, and they somehow got missed. Or they refused this help, or this consequence, or they moved to a new school (or a new home…) and didn’t get followed up on. There is insufficient funds for government departments, schools get there hands tied, teacher can only do so much.

But why why why do we still have kids falling through these cracks?

I read this story in STUFF today about vulnerable children going hungry during the holidays as schools weren’t open to feed them and wanted to scream. Then I sobbed. This is one gap that schools can fill (for some, some of the time, I know we feed some kids at my school) and yet it can’t be there all of the time.

I am currently ‘processing’ my own personal disappointment (and bitterness I suppose, I can’t quite figure out exactly how I feel about it) around a student who has been ‘lost’. I doubt I will see them at school again, yet 8 weeks ago they were engaging in a conversation around what was needed to get university entry. I know the Dean is still bending over backwards to try and get them involved in school. I know there are other school people and outside agencies involved. I know this student made some poor choices and that there does need to be some action around those…..

I know this student has no internet access at home, so they won’t get emails, they won’t get work set online, they can’t access the learning. They won’t know I have sent some work because I feel so damn helpless to help even though I know they can’t check it. I worry they think no-one cares despite the fact that there have been multiple efforts…

I heard another student had a baby over the holidays. ‘Maybe it will be the making of her’ we said round the lunch table, hopeful (and some-what resigned). She ended up in a situation no-one should – she too fell through the cracks. What could we have done? we asked ourselves. What could we do now? Rightly or wrongly, I will contribute to a care package with some baby clothes and a hand knitted/crocheted something. Hopefully they will know that we at least cared.

When I think back to my first form class as my new school, 3 and a bit years ago, perhaps half are still in education. It was a challenging class, and not just because I was new to the school and had taught in a very different environment. That class really opened my eyes to how lucky many of us are. And yet, it was a mostly fun time, especially for terms 3 & 4 once I got it figured out that I just needed to like them and work on relationships and most of the rest would sort itself out. I remember how delighted I was when one of them casually mentioned in passing last year while I was on duty by the canteen that they had passed Level one NCEA. That whole it isn’t a big deal Miss, when it clearly was.

Some of that class have got jobs, and this really is a good option for most of them – although I think some have been ‘forced’ or coerced into work earlier than they might have chosen I guess due to family circumstances. I can’t help wonder if I knew then what I know now (mostly thanks to me trying to figure out how to engage them in education) would they have faired better? Or was it already too late? Or would I have engaged them more, but the outcome would still have been the same.

One kid falling through a crack is too many, and I question that if it is like this at my school (a very nice decile 7 school with pretty cool kids and community for the most part) is it like this everywhere? Is it worse? Why are we still not talking about it and closing the gaps creating these cracks for the kids to fall into to.

And how can I change this? What could I have done? What can I do now? What needs to be done?

For now I am angry. Angry that this is happening to kids I care about. Kids that deserved more. Kids that made some dumb choices, but then doesn’t everyone….???

Why are there still cracks for people to fall into?

 

 

 

Posted in random ramblings, Teaching and Learning

Reflections from the April PPTA ICT meeting

(Please note – these musings are my own thoughts, and while I have done my best to accurately portray what was said, they are my interpretations and I have possibly misheard or misrepresented. Please get in touch if I have. I am happy to provide any more info, or put you in touch with people who might know, if you would like any more information. And I am really happy to take any concerns, questions or success stories you have to this forum)

Friday April 7 took me to Wellington for the first PPTA ICT meeting for the year. This group of the PPTA meets 3 times a year, as well as e-mail correspondence in between times, to took over any ICT issues that PPTA members may have, or to provide a sounding board for various agencies, government departments etc. It is a varied committee, with representatives from all the different regions, PPTA exec and field officers, Te Kura, low decile etc. On top of that, it seemed that everyone’s school was using a slightly different system or had a different policy, so I think the group is reasonably representative, even if they are not able to gather voices from lots of places (I know from my brief experience on this committee of 8 weeks that it is hard to get your voice out there)

The agenda was as follows

Round robin – using a shared doc, each member highlighted key issues or ideas relevant to them. It was a great way to get a lot of information and ideas out quickly. The points that I picked up were

  • Online moderation – how do we get files to NZQA? What about large files, or ‘fussy’ files like garageband?
  • SMS compatibility is still a large issue in some schools – sharing information a challenge
  • Wireless access in schools is still an issue – N4L gets to the gate, but the infrastructure isn’t always within the school.
  • Still concerns with teachers not keeping themselves safe in online environments – digital citizenship is not just for students.

TELA – representatives came from TELA to again talk about device choices in schools for staff. This is an ongoing issue for me, having initially raised it last year and I have learned a lot more about it, as well as learning more at the meeting and being reminded that TELA is NOT responsible for staff PLD!! It would seem that the issue around equitable devices for teachers is a multi headed hydra of regulation, funding and departments.

 

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I am not a great sketch artist, but this was my sketch in my notes during the TELA discussion – lots of different challenges to face around getting equitable device access for NZ teachers

 

That said, the contract renewal process is underway, so it is a good time for them to be talking with us. Some basic stats – TELA has over 47,000 laptops in the scheme, 99% of schools in NZ (27 schools don’t and they don’t know why). Almost half of the devices are HP, with around 30% Apple and the rest Toshiba. Schools are FREE TO CHOOSE – but many staff in schools are not. There was an animated discussion around are teachers in school digitally literate enough to know what device would best suit their needs if they were given a choice, or would everyone just want ‘the best one’ regardless of how they used it. The flip argument being that ‘innovative’ teachers are being restricted by this policy, or (more often) an overworked IT admin is a school makes everyone the same because it makes their job easier. Ideas were mooted around allowing teachers to order there own devices, but this would make it hard for schools to budget around devices. There was also issues with the devices being tied to the school rather than the teacher when teacher changed schools – often staff will inherit a machine that may not be suitable to them but not have an option to renew for a year or 18 months.

And then there are some schools who charge teachers.

So it is a difficult issue. But an important one, and TELA are coming back, but I am thinking about others ways I can raise the device issue (and lack of training provided for devices given)

Update on Digital Technologies Curriculum – This again was an interesting discussion. It would seem the many schools are simply ignoring the update and the ministry has not yet answered the ‘compulsory’ aspect. However, there are roadmaps in place for digital tech Achievement standards, so it may well (sadly) be the cart that leads the horse in the curriculum strand implementation in schools – or a visit or scolding from ERO!!! There is confusion around digital fluency – what exactly is meant for this term. Also big concerns around infrastructure and staff PD. Sadly (In my opinion) there seems to be some resistance to this becoming a more academic subject as robotics or ‘ICT’ classes which are more about formatting word documents and secretarial skills are ‘dumping’ grounds for less able students. There are also concerns about ‘teachers’ to teach the courses – what PLD is available and how will schools access it. And of course, as nothing it being taking out of the curriculum, what will have less time if digital tech is bought in.

Personally, I think there is a need for these courses. In terms of junior school, it is not hard to incorporate some hour of code (or similar) into a course, a wee bit of robotics here and there, something small like a microbit could be incorporated in maths really easily – even just making a dice for ‘chance’. For seniors, there is more need for a specialist teacher, but more importantly teachers who are willing to learn along side their students, as many students are far more skilled than teachers know. I learned this last year with my yr 10s setting up a minecraft server – they left me far behind. Which was ok.

20/20 Trust

Stephen Carr came to talk to us about changes occurring – but many of them were confidential so I can’t talk about them here.

One thing that I can share is the spark jump modem. Which is a subsidised modem to help breach the digital divide. It is prepaid, doesn’t require a deposit or credit check, and could be really useful for families, or in situations like school kids going to stay with their grandparents for a short time, so rather than get a permanent internet connection you can get something like this.

BYOD resourcing  – There was a discussion around BYOD resourcing and how to manage this. Legally, schools can not insist that a device is part of a students stationary, as every student is entitled to a free education. Practically, this is a really difficult issue, as different schools and different deciles can (and do) have different policies, access and requirements. This lead to some interesting discussions around lots of side issues – for instance, some schools do not allow laptops to be charged at school as the power chords have not been safety tested. (I wondered about this for our school – I know all the ‘Science’ gear like hot plates and soldering irons get tested every year, but I don’t think laptops do….). Other issues, like WINZ will forward a payment so a family can buy a device on a stationary list, but not cover it.

And then there is the idea of what device specifications are ok. In a truely heart breaking discussion (fro my perspective) it appears that in a perfect example of the cart leading the horse, the device choice could be decide by the digital assessment requirements once digital assessment is online (2020 is still the aim I think). (I got a bit frustrated with this)

It again highlights the lack of training for staff and direction for schools – saying a school is BYOD is one thing, but implementing it and having staff well trained in both technical aspects as well as the big broad why do it is seemingly still very distant. I know myself I am guilty of using a digital textbook as a substitute rather than a transformative learning experience.

Cools update – was a slightly heated discussion – mostly based around the fact the online learning communities already exist and work very well. Why change them you ask??? I don’t know. (A really key idea I took from this was a move by ‘online educators’ to start calling their courses online learning, rather than ‘video conferencing’. VC is the tool, not the learning. I thought this a really subtle but important point.)

But it seems this idea is gathering steam and rolling on through. It seems clear the government wants COOLS to be regulated, there are accessibility issues (eg you need to have internet access, so it might immediately exclude students without this, either due to geographical location (I hadn’t thought about kids living on boats before…)or lack of funds). Who will staff them, who will attend them and how they will work is still up in the air I think.

Other random thoughts/ideas/news

There was a small amount of talk around SMS databases and SISI (student information sharing initiative) which all sounds like it is coming from the right place – although maybe limited to COLS. There was also some talk of RTLB teachers being linked to COLS also, but I am not sure where this comes from and/or when it would happening.

Teacher council criteria was briefly discussed – as always when you give examples there are some that seem to restrictive and some that seem to vague. But streamlining the criteria seems like a good idea to me – you can check it out yourself HERE and feedback (before April 21 2017) HERE

 

So it was a really interesting meeting for me personally, I have had a lot of thinking about it over the last few days, and I can see there is still a lot to do.

Again I welcome any comments, issues or ideas if you would like me to take them to this group, and again repeat that these are my own thoughts on the process and I am happy to be corrected or put you in touch with people if you like.

 

 

 

 

Posted in random ramblings

When do we start?

I found this post in my drafts….. thought I had hit published, but the thoughts are still relevant I think.

There has been a lot of discussion in New Zealand recently around the age our children start school. As a parent of a nearly 4 year old, I have been following with interest and anxiety. I really enjoyed THIS POST from Melanie D, which (I thought) gave a balance of arguments. I support a cohort entry – I think my son would find it easier to be with a group of other new students, but also appreciate that a larger group of excited or unsetttled littlies might be hard going for a teacher. I have enormous respect for primary educators – a room full of 6 years old is much more daunting than a room for of 14 year olds in my opinion.

I ‘made a choice’ to send Ollie to daycare at 12 weeks old. I was not happy as a stay at home Mum. Ollie would not have been as happy with me as a stay at home Mum. Let’s not start on what may have happened to the hubby – who also did not want to stay at home. As such, Ollie has been in early childhood education since he was 12 weeks old. I have even more respect for early childhood teachers than almost anyone on the planet.

Which leads me to the argument of when do we send Ollie off to school? His birthday is October 30th – does he start school at the start of term 4, on his birthday, or at the start of the next year? When would he be ready? In some ways, he is ready for school now. He is a super little dude who loves story books (he can recite about 20 back to us…), can recognise his name written down and can write it messily, has a good vocab, can work scissors. But on the other hand, he still resorts to hitting when he is frustrated, doesn’t yet hold a pen the right way, is learning to tie his shoes and sometimes still needs a nap after lunch. He is also not overly confident in new situations – he can become very clingy – and yet in others he will run off all on his own.

On top of this is the logistics of school. Which school does he go to? Which school has the best after school care? Can my husband and I manage before school, or do I need to find some-one to look after him before school to? Do I sign up for a program, or find a friendly neighbour person who has school aged kids who would benefit from some extra cash each week? How do I stop envying all of my friends who have more grandparent support than we have, or support a couple of my friends who are doing the single parent thing damn well (holy smokes and hats off people)

And then there is a cost factor. Even though I am a teacher and I KNOW SCHOOL ISN’T BABYSITTING but oh my goodness it is going to be awesome to not have to pay for (as much) childcare.

And then I saw this article on stuff

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Which is a sensationalist headline if ever I saw one…. especially when I wonder if the ‘courses’ are really teaching the same things as Ollie is learning (except the competitiveness……) although the cost is crazy (with the daycare subsidy, we currently pay around $7500-8000 a year for Ollie’s daycare).

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So if I really think about it, Ollie has been in school for nearly 4 years already. He is learning all of those skills already – sadly even some competitiveness over fighting with toys etc. As he is an only child, those social skills are really important for him to learn from other children his own age.

In New Zealand, we place a huge importance, and rightly so, on our key competencies. While the article above was overly dramatic, I think in New Zealand we are already doing this for our todlers via early education programs – maybe not as explicitly as the articles implies for the examples from China – but participation, conflict resolution, resilience, determination and learning how to be a friend have all been conversations I have had with Ollie’s daycare teachers. But then, ECE is not free for children under 3, and only available for 20 hours a week for 3-5. Surely when this is such an important age, there should be more access available to all children and then, just like school, parents can choose the best option for them.

And perhaps it doesn’t matter so much about when Ollie ‘starts school’. The more important thing for him and all children in New Zealand (and the world) is to LOVE learning.

How can we ensure that learning environments promote that????

 

 

 

Posted in Professional learning, random ramblings

Why share?

Life is just a bit hectic right now. Mostly by choice – I have kicked started organising a #teachmeetNZ in term 2 which takes a bit of planning, I has a Microsoft catch up session, and I applied and got selected to present at a conference in Toronto (squueeeeeee!!!!!!!) in a couple of weeks time. Add that to Energise in Queenstown in April (you should come!!!!), general life events and crazy, it makes for a busy time.

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Love #teachmeets 🙂

So I am currently thinking about some different presentations I need to do. Which is challenging for lots of good reasons – mostly because sharing makes me THINK about what I am doing and why.

It forces me to reflect on my practice. It makes me clarify my own points within my head. Sometimes it makes me double back and check something I started and left by the wayside, other times it makes me realise things aren’t quite working they way I would like and how can I change that. I am a bit obsessive about presentations like these – while the slide deck might be a bit thrown together, I always agonise over the message and ‘theme’ I guess.

It also makes me think – am I putting the same level of thought into ALL of my lessons? obviously it needs to be sustainable re workload, but am I really doing it a good job, or just rolling out stuff cause I can (or I am too busy doing other things… like presentations for conferences….)

I often wonder why some people are so reluctant to share. I know some people have ideas around inadequacy – maybe I am falsely confident, but I feel ok presenting. Maybe growth mindset helps – I am really interested in the questions people might have, or ideas they might have. Maybe it can be a thankless task – I have been in the situation where I worked really hard on a presentation and had 3 people show up, and 2 seemed more intent on checking facebook…. I’ve also been the one checking facebook…. and sometimes I guess you can get fatigued from always presenting or sharing – it is some-one elses turn I hear myself saying….

But I am at a loss to know how to change this mindset with NZ educators…. surely we can’t all be that bad as to not think we have ideas worth sharing. Surely we can’t all be that bitter and twisted about wasted time, nor we have not all presented everything we know….

I guess it is the same with blogging. I like blogging because it helps me organise my thoughts. Sometimes I blog for me, other times I do blog more specifically to share…. but it always helps me reflect on what I am doing and why.

I am also wondering how I can shape these next few presentations to be less me standing telling and more collaborative. How can I walk that walk?

Lots of wonderings…… why do I do this to myself again 🙂

Posted in Professional learning, random ramblings, Teaching and Learning

Getting Schooled

This year, I have a student who made the Olympiad training group. He sat the next round of selection exams last week. I have to say I am really proud of him, he has worked hard and independently, and has enjoyed the challenge.

But it has reminded my just how much I have forgotten. The Chemistry is essentially first year, and I just have had no idea. My Maths was as rusty as anything…. ratios and percentages should have been easy but I really struggled. I have tried to catch up, but time, time, TIME. Essentially, I thrust old text books at him, frantically googled tutorials when he wasn’t sure, sat and puzzled over problems through lunch times, and then admitted I needed more help and reached out to the amazing Dave Warren at Otago Uni. So this student now heads into the uni once a week to get the help and extension I couldn’t give him (I have to say, this is an AMAZING arrangement for him, and the uni seems really happy as well, so win win. And I got away with a minimum amount of paper work too…. Extra win).

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I used to be able to show mechanisms……. not any more

This experience has made me think on a few things.

  1. If you don’t need the learning then, it so easily forgotten. I used to be able to do that Chem with ease – but my chem papers where the best part of 15 years ago (sob). And it doesn’t necessarily make it easier to learn the second time round – perhaps I really did leave it too long. So I really need to make sure I make more of a point when I am trying to get students to commit details for NCEA exams to memory that I bring them up again and again through out the year – not just finish a topic and move on.
  2. Learning stuff in isolation is hard. Often sitting with this student, we will talk through and stumble onto the correct strategy or answer, when we have both failed to do so. So having a partner is crime is so valuable.
  3. Even for a moderately driven teacher like me, it is easy to get lazy. I did a 100 calculus paper 6 years ago to strengthen up my maths as part of PD from my last school. But then at my new school I haven’t taught maths, and all that knowledge is gone. Maybe not completely gone, but very deeply buried. So I need to get out of my comfort zone somehow to keep that skill set going.
  4. The content from the Olympiad is presented is a very old school dry way. I know it must be difficult to cater to such a diverse group, and cost is probably a factor too, but a thick printed off black and white ‘text’ is pretty hard going.

So how can I keep that knowledge I worked so hard to get? The old saying is ‘you use it or you lose it’ so do I really need that knowledge? In my ‘day to day’ teaching, obviously I hadn’t, but this is enormously frustrating when I find myself unable to push a student on to what they are capable of. Has my inadvertent ‘laziness’ limited my students and what they can achieve.

From these internal musings, I have come to the conclusion (with the help of the fabulous Paula) that more needs to be done to help isolated students and teachers who might not always have access to that next level of learning. The sole ‘nerdy’ kid in a school where the teacher is struggling to get the other 28 kids in the class to their A, M and E’s, and so just quietly ignores the one who is getting it without causing trouble, or maybe suggesting they do Hands on at Otago, or the Rotary Science camp in Auckland, or a competition or Science fair. And I am exploring some ways to do this….. Time or no time, there is a definite need.

And I am (again) re-evaluating what I need to do to make sure I can be the best teacher I can be. In this case, I need to brush up on my chemistry, to make sure the information I have forgotten is not negatively impacting my students. That my knowledge isn’t limiting theirs.

So I have been schooled by this experience. I need to make sure I am not just doing what I ‘need to’ and I keep pushing along above what I need to know.

Bring it

Posted in random ramblings

Hands on at Hands on at Otago

My favourite (professional) week of the year is Hands on at Otago. This camp used to be Hands on Science, and 19 years ago I went along as a nerdy nearly 6th former. Fast forward a few years and I was running the project in my department. A few more years and I am the camp ‘manager’ which is really the camp Mum for the 300 odd students and 30 odd post and undergrad student helpers. It is an amazing week, full of stress, chaos, ridiculous laughter and late nights, and has given me some of the best experiences of collaborative, genuine team work and problem solving.

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I get to spend a week with this crazy crew… and it is AWESOME. Photo Credit – Gravity events

For some back ground, Hands on this year was about 420 kids from all over New Zealand and a couple from Aussie and the Pacific coming to Otago University for a ‘week of serious fun’. I was living in at Arana College with 299 of the students (Blueshirts) and 26 redshirt student helpers (a couple had to pull out, so we were a bit light on red shirts this year)(The other 120 were over the road at Studholme College). Myself and the redshirts pretty much go all out all week to provide pastoral care and a super awesome time for these kids, while they also go to projects for 1/2 the week (eg comp sci solve a cyber crime, geology take and analyse soil samples from around Dunedin – this is actually going to get written up into a paper, music made a music video..), and a couple of 2 hour ‘snacks’ (eg, the English snack got students to make their own quills and learn cursive, or students attended the anatomy museum, or went of the polaris research vessel or went to the Maori Center to learn about the support offered there).

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Photo Credit

So the red shirt team has nothing to do with projects and snacks (other than getting student there and back safely) but they do organise orientation, an amazing race to get the students to learn their way round the uni, north ground games to get them moving, a quiz night, and an AMAZING DANCE (we had gravity events again this year – totally recommend them, the owner did Hands on Science while at school so he totally gets what we are about). And then we listen to what the students did for the week, and we get them home again.

It is really hard to describe the week to people that haven’t done it. This year we had several people pop by to see what we do and how we do it. One of the hardest questions I got asked was how do we pick the team of redshirt to help out. Essentially, we have a spectrum of people, people who are outgoing/quiet, people who are from NZ/overseas, people with different cultural backgrounds and capital. We try for a mix of subjects, sexualities, ethnicities and experiences. And on top of that, will that person be able to a) connect with a blue shirt in same way (even if it is a that person is kind of like me, so maybe I can do this to type connection) and b) work with everyone else to get all the jobs done that we need to.

And boy do we need to problem solve. People are messy. And when you get that many people living together, things happen. Some are major (like a family member passing away and needing to get home, or dealing with being told to stay and not let it ruin the week), NCEA results coming out (oh my goodness…..), crashing cars (I once seriously dented the proctors car hitting a bollard… I have NEVER had an accident like that before or since) illness and injury (trips to A&E are always fun) and staff issues.Some are purely logistical – how can I get group A, B and C to locations D, E and F at x, y and z times, or which packed lunches do I need to order. Some are minor – forgotten keys to a van, miscommunications, scraps, bumps and bruises, lost property. Some are kind of funny (seeing a blue shirt teaching a group of other blueshirts how to use a washing machine) and some are heartbreaking…..

And all of these things and more happen throughout the week, often all at once and all together. There are periods of calm, periods of painting decoration for the dance, and periods of intense scrambling.

Photo credit – red shirt Andrew 🙂

Leading this organised chaos has done so much for me. It has taught me about compassion, about boundaries, about sharing your faults so others are comfortable to admit theirs. I have learned how to find the information I am looking for at jobs interviews (although this is still a work in progress…) which has in turn made me feel more confident in my own interviews. It has taught me how privileged I am to have led the life I have, while also being in awe of some of the amazing kids who are more privileged than me. It has taught me you can’t fix some problems in a week, but the importance of being a positive influence.  I have learned (again) that when you deliver the impossible, it becomes expected and you can some-how find more to give. It has taught me to lead people, not manage them as things. I have had to find strategies to role with the punches, let upset tired people be heard while secretly wanting to either slap them or agree with them, or stop myself problem solving when all they need to do is vent. To manage difficult professional discussions and stick to my guidelines. To let people find their feet and their own systems and strategies, or to try to guide them through failures. It has taught me how to squeeze something out of people they didn’t know they had – and how to try to pick up the pieces when things get to much. I experience pride, heartbreak, exhaustion, elation, pure joy and belly laughs.

I love working with the red shirts. I try hard to lead by example, join in the ‘little jobs’ when I can, and REALLY enjoy learning about what they are studying and working at. I’m not sure if they all realise it, but talking to them keeps me honest and keeps me fresh. I hear the ‘latest’ science and research, about changes to student loans, the pitfalls of flats and colleges, all sorts of things. And because they are such a varied bunch, I learn such a variety of things.

I am so privileged to be involved in this week. Even though I give it heaps, I always get more back.

So, when is the next one…. 🙂

Posted in random ramblings, Teaching and Learning

‘Bugger the boxing….’ (a presentation from Ian Taylor from Animation Research)

One of the ‘perks’ (and there are many) of being Camp Manager (Camp Mum) for Hands on at Otago is I get to go to an amazing public lecture. This years speaker was Ian Taylor, whose company Animation research LTD does a whole lot of really cool graphics for sports events amongst other things. His talk was AWESOME, and for me the idea of never stop dreaming really hit home.

Ian started by talking about his ‘literal’ light bulb moment – the moment when he was 7 years old and his house was connected to electricity for the first time. (We also got a pretyt cool animated journey to see his old house….) He said when he saw the light bulb go on he knew that anything was possible. He went on to say that we need to use our experiences to inform our paths going forward. I am sure the way he talked through this would mean something different for everybody – for me it was learning from your mistakes, never forget where you come from, and don’t be afraid to add a new footprint to your journey.

He also talked about how all through his adult life, he had to think around issues, or almost just ignore them, and find a way around it to get what he wanted. He dreamed of being in a band, so he leapt at the chance when it came up (and the band was called Kal-q-lated risk, which pretty much sums up his whole story). He had just finished a law degree, but got offered a position in TV, so went for it. While reading the news (the video of him doing so was an absolute crack up) he introduced a segment on digital technology and thought I need to get into that. And so he did. By dreaming big and not being afraid he has had an amazing array of experiences through his life – his stepping stones are varied and full of detours.

 

Ian also talked about the importance of paying it forward. How kind deeds or freebies are often the best way to get future business, or just build up a reputation. He talked over his lack of a business poker face when talking over money, which meant he was respected and people trusted him when he talked about costs. And he was big on the impact of technology on health, and how technology is not all just whizz bang, we should not forget that without the human spirit, technology is nothing.

 

An example he gave of the can do attitude of his team – they built a cricket pitch out of cardboard and used JAFA’s as cricket balls in the early R&D for ball tracking.

The part of his talk that stood out for me the most was a quote that is their ‘business philosophy’

‘Bugger the boxing, pout the concrete anyway’

I was so intent on what he was saying I didn’t even take a photo!! but it was an amazing idea of if you plan too closely, you can lose the ability and opportunity to do other amazing things. That he who hesitates is lost. And sometimes sidetracks, diversions and failures can lead to amazing things.

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Image source – this is an example of boxing to hold concrete until it sets…

For my experiences, this really resonates. I have been frustrated over plans, documentations, forms and expectations. Really, bugger the boxes. Learning will lead where it will, as will life, if we let it. If we follow dreams and ideas, they can lead to beautiful creations.

So this idea is going to be somewhat of a mantra for me this year. I know schools are very different to private companies…. and that I do have a ‘duty of care’ to lots of different sources, and that some jobs do require more structure than others. But when it comes to those jobs where I could ignore the boxes, I am going to make more of a concerted effort to do so. Ian said he worked with an incredibly team who’s standard reply to any request, no matter how out there was ‘I don’t see why not’. So why can’t I do them same.

So thanks Ian Taylor for sharing all your ideas and your enthusiasm for technology. It reignited a spark…. and I can not thank you enough. I will keep dreaming and learn how to pour some concrete