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 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 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?

 

 

 

Posted in Professional learning, random ramblings

Reflections from the PPTA ICT meeting and the TELA laptop scheme

On Friday, I was in Wellington for the PPTA ICT committee meeting. As usual, it was a full on day, leaving home to be at the airport by 5:50am is always fabulous, and then I got home a little after 9pm. As usual, these are my interpretations of what was said, and I am happy to be corrected if I got something wrong.

This time was a little different, and I am celebrating a beginning. A small beginning, but a beginning and a success of sorts. After all, there are so many non events, that even the smallest glimmer of hope needs to be celebrated 🙂

The TELA laptop scheme and centralised purchasing.

For some context, for a while I had been concerned about the lack of access some teachers have to good PD, and fit for purpose devices. As I blogged about recently, the digital divide is not just effecting students. I pondered on how best to make a change to this – realistically, what was the best way to make an impact I could think of. So in late 2015 I approached my local PPTA branch with concerns I had around the access to ‘fit for purpose’ devices for teachers. I felt that the TELA laptop scheme was not meeting the changing need of educators and learners. I made it an equity issue so that it could be realistically within the unions range of activities. They listened sympathetically, and suggested two options 1) propose a conference paper and 2) write a letter to the ICT committee. So I wrote my letter in early 2016 (March), and wrote a ‘blog’ for the PPTA magazine and this BLOG, and hoped some-one was listening.

I was invited to attend the ICT meeting where TELA was coming to talk about the scheme in June 2016, and it was a massively eye opening experience. (You can read about my impressions HERE) The way the different departments manage/run different facets of education is quite astounding, and it is a very complicated web of trying to figure out who is responsible for what, on top of what can be mandated, central purchased, or what is considered impinging on a schools right to be self governing. I then applied and became the ICT rep for Otago Southland, and have been to 2 meetings so far this year (reflections from the first are HERE) and on friday.

Amongst a whole lot of other things that were talked about, the representatives from TELA said they were looking at updating/changing the scheme, and thanked us for our input, asked for more, and said they were asking for other interested parties input too.

Which is massive. MASSIVE. I felt like a landslide…. there is still so much to do, but the first stones might just have started tumbling. Even if it would have happened anyway, even if there are others (and I’m sure their must be) pushing it along, I might have got somewhere.

So of course I will keep kicking up a stink 🙂

My notes for the rest of the meeting where not anywhere good enough as I floated in some sort of ‘did that really just happen’ cloud.

Other items on the agenda for TELA were central purchasing of software – specifically plagarism software for schools. With the increase in digital assessment submission, just blindly copying and pasting is easier (to quote someone from round the table – at least you used to have to take the time to copy it out by hand….). It is a really delicate balance – if the ministry purchases software central, it can be seen as a) endorsing the software and b) telling schools what to do. As much as I hate being told what to do myself, if there was a central purchase of software it could save schools MASSIVE amounts. So it is still being thought about, the but the ever increasing squeeze for funding, and the rapid change in pace of technology, and that for a lot of software (eg photoshop) you no longer buy the software, but a LICENCE it is a growing concern.

SLANZA

SLANZA is the group for school librarians in NZ, and it is fair to say many of them are having a pretty tough time. Yes, the role of libraries is changing, but it is still a really important part of any community, including schools. Bought up during the discussion was the reminder that often libraries are not just for learning, they are safe spaces for cohorts of kids. And librarians are pretty kick arse people, who are deeply passionate and skilled. I also had no idea it was not compulsory for a school to have a library, it is up to individual boards. So it a really sad thing to hear that so many schools are closing their libraries to try and squeeze budgets and find spaces.

COOLS

COOLS seem to have been less in the news of late, but they are still simmering away in the background. ‘New’ cools will not be operational until at least 2020 as they need to be regulated (I asked why…. because students need to be enrolled in a school till they are 16 there needs to be processes in place to track this). There are still loads of questions around costs, platforms, quality and pastoral care, but despite these questions things are continuing to roll along.

DIGITAL TECHNOLOGIES 

There was some interesting, and at times quite technical, discussion around the digital technology curriculum changes, and I think there are a few people working REALLY REALLY hard in the background on this. I’m a little bit gutted (as I have mentioned before) that the assessment was the starting point, and that the Level one Achievement standards are going to be rolled out next year while there is still no curriculum goals (or learning progressions as they are going to be called) for the junior school. I did go full ‘out there’ at this point and question why so much time and energy was being invested in these ‘qualifications’ when 1) digi tech moves incredibly fast, would they be defunct in 2-3 years anyways and 2) when the head of NZQA goes on record saying the future of education is not assessments, why are we still doing them?????? Which I off course believe, but it did divert from the discussion somewhat.

There are also going to be issues around training for staff, what will happen to the ‘unit standards’ and is there still a need for word processing type courses….. as well as cost. The comment was made their had been a massive effort to ensure $500 robot kits were NOT a requirement – but then if you are using a $15 arduino you do need a bit more skill level.

So the jury is still out in my head about this – HUGE potential but also lots of unanswered questions.

Other stuff

There was some general discussion around the cost of professional learning and how some staff are feeling pressure (real or imagined) to gain a master qualification. This is NOT a requirement, yet some schools/areas represented did comment that it was an important consideration for them when employing new staff. The issue of PLD funding is (again) a complex one, and just where the responsibility sits is confusing.

There was also discussion linked to many things around support in schools for teachers. Schools can be very heirachy based, and often those doing the grunt work do not get the best devices/classrooms/timetables. Linked to this, in some subjects, access to PD and/or money hungry resources is impacting students ability to achieve – an example was sound quality in media studies impacting the overall production.

So yeah, another really informative and busy day. Lots of ideas, lots of productive discussion, and a nice reminder that there is hope.

Thanks

And I do need to thank some people, who advised, supported, critique and listened as I started out on this ‘vendetta’ to get better access for teachers to fit for purpose devices and PLD. MY PPTA rep Alister MacDonald, the local Otago branch, Tom Haig (who helped me understand how processed work and to be patient), Lynette O’Brien who is a real workhorse and also incredibly patient, and the whole ICT committee for being so passionate and interested (and for tolerating my ‘out there’ comments). And also my family for listening to me rant and storm, and supporting my with the hours I’ve poured in, and to me critical friends, especially Nikkie, for helping me find the language I don’t always have access to which helps explain to other why this is so important for our teachers and learners. And thanks too to those who have followed along reading my blogs, got in touch when they have seen the articles in the magazine etc. Hopefully it makes a positive impact for the teachers out there – I’ll keep fighting for it. Kia Kaha teachie friends.

Posted in random ramblings, Teaching and Learning

I reckon you do this for the fun of it….

Right now it is 6:43 am and I am on a plane on my way to Wellington for the PPTA ICT meeting. I should be prepping (actually I should be sleeping) by reading all the info that has been sent to us that I hadn’t quite got to yet, and instead I am reflecting on something one of my students said to me yesterday.

You know Miss, I reckon sometimes you do this job just for the fun of it.

 

And I reckon she is right. And it was just what I needed to hear right then

 

For some context, this week has been madness. My hubby has had events on in the evening (bless toy library committee meetings and that he goes, I have ZERO tolerance for such examples of ‘engaged’ parenting), we have people from out of town coming by (and my house was not even good friend coming round not tidy, it was I can’t stand it disaster), sickness seems to have over taken the whole of Dunedin and I’ve been asked to do little bits if internal relief, reports are due (and who doesn’t love report writers block). I’ve had 2 after school meetings, plus one I just didn’t get to. Today I am in Wellington, so I had to set relief, get my reports done early (so staying up late to get them done…) and then be up at ridiculous o’clock to catch a plane. And yesterday I made time to pick up some extra glassware my students needed for the 3.1 Internal we are doing the practical for next week, and head into another school in Dunedin to have a looksy at how they are using Calendars as Kevin, Lyndon and I plot around updating our calendar and what we need it to do.

An upshot of going into the uni was I also picked up some dry ice for a student having their ‘class act’ photo shoot. (they asked for a chem text book, and I was like bugger that….let me find something better)(as another aside, Otago Uni and Dave Warren are so so so so awesomesauce for the support they offer for teachers and schools). So I had some ‘extra’ dry ice, and pulled it out at the end of a lesson on chemical reactions. Chemical reactions is a great Level one internal because there are loads of practicals, and so we had just finished burning sulfur in oxygen (you get an amazing purple flame) and steel wool in oxygen. The kids had gotten right into the gas jars, and using the fume hood to get rid of the sulfur dioxide gas (It really smells) and then when I pulled out the dry ice to ‘play’ with for the last 10 minutes they were over the moon. And at the end of the lesson, as I was struggling to get a beaker frozen to the desk off, and telling kids to stop pointing film canister ‘bombs’ at each other (they don’t fly very far, or very fast, but still, safety first) this kid came out with that.

I think it is easy to forget in a week where reports are due, when you need to pull extra activities or presentations out of no-where, when you are writing relief and preparing for field trips and writing proposals and and and……. that most of the time, teaching is really really fun. Young people are so full of energy, even when they creatively hide it in morose teenage angst. I am so lucky that the young people I work with (and the old ones too) mean that I have fun most days. And then my wee man, and the big one too, are mostly fun at home too. Even if the lego is starting to take over the house and we have ‘issues’ getting Mr 4 dressed in the morning.

It also what struck me is that this student didn’t quite know if it was a good thing that I did my job for ‘fun’. I’m not sure if this is a reflection on what students think work should be, or what fun should be, or if she just thinks I’m totally bonkers, or a mixture of all three. I still have this ‘issue’ of students not thinking they have ‘learned’ in my class, either because they have not written anything done, or because really they feel like they have just been playing around.

I think it also comes down to resilience. I find challenges fun, I like working on solutions, and the aha moments when ideas click into place. But of course challenges need to be achievable, or they can be overwhelming and motivation runs screaming. So something I want to think about in my classroom is around building the aspect of fun into failure and challenges and that you can learn that way. I’m not quite sure I even have the ideas right in my head about these two things link together, but pondering it this morning has given me a wee kickstart into being more explicit on the benefits of having a play and having fun.

And maybe, just maybe, this kid will see that you can be’ good’ at your job, be passionate about your job and have fun too – and she will find a job that allows her to do both.

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.