Posted in Professional learning, random ramblings

Reflections from #educampScience

Now that a week has passed, the dust has settled and I have been laid up with a cold (serves me right for flying about the country and having to many late nights) I have finally made some time to reflect on educampScience. It took a lot of thinking, a lot of stressing (and more stressing), a lot of travelling and a lot of energy. But as always, you get out what you put in and I really did have an amazing day.

The thing that always strikes me is how good being face to face is. The depth of conversation is always so much better when you are across a table or room rather than the length of the country. While there were slightly less people than we had hoped for, their was enough for broad ideas and a really good program. People who came were willing to share and open to discussion, and perhaps most importantly willing to connect and collaborate to find some different ways of doing things.

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The organising team of Chhaya, me, Paula and Michael. Pretty sure we all had some WTF moments getting everything sorted, but it was AWESOME on the day 🙂 A big ups also to the team from Elim who just got stuff done and did an AMAZING job.

The smackdown gives a great overview of the discussion from the day. I also did a storify of tweets.

And then people did their thing and decided what they wanted to go to. Kareena and I had the job of turning post its into a program…. while everyone had a morning tea (thanks ASTA and everyone who brought baking)

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I attended 2 sessions and ran 2 sessions. The first session was Faye on open ended learning opportunities. It was a really meaty discussion around how to stop teaching with predetermined answers. I was in awe of some of the NCEA assessments being done – I need to get braver in this regard. I wonder how I can pitch this to my department – this is where not being the HoD can be challenging!! But I think the flexibility is there with NCEA – we teachers just need to be more open to exploring these ideas.


Then I went to Ruby’s session on OneNote. She really is a super star and does super things with her learning programs. My favourite quote from her presentation was

‘We need students to stop thinking the tech will do the learning for them’

as I think it can be flipped around – the tech isn’t going to the the ‘teaching’ either. The tech can make certain tasks easier, or provide a different tool, but the role relationships and discussion in learning will never really go away.

Then I did a session on Hour of Code. It went well and lead to some good discussion about different platforms for coding in the classroom. And it opened some eyes to how it doesn’t need to be hard. It is ok for teachers to be learning along side their students. There was also discussion around how there is is a need to distinguish between ‘ICT’ and Computer Science. In many schools the ‘computer course’ is full of formatting documents and working through unit standards instead of genuine learning. I’m not really sure how to change this either……

And then one of my favourite things, making winogradksy columns. We sat outside on the deck by the classroom and played with mud and talked over the day. Shared experiences and knowledge and just chilled.

Other sessions included maker spaces, Hacking NCEA, Science Snippets, Robots, data logging and all sorts of things. It was a great program

The day finished up with some pizza (thanks N4L) and then the stayers headed for some drinks. After all of that Paula, Michael and I headed for an ice cream

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So it was an amazing day – thanks to everyone who came and contributed. It was an absolute privilege to be part of the day.

Posted in Teaching and Learning

#teachmeetNZ – International year of Light

So, readers of this blog will now I am a massive fan of #teachmeet, especially #teachmeetNZ. The recent International year of light session was no exception – quality presentations from passionate, energetic educators who are willing to try, play, fail and share.

The big take home messages for me from this session was to have fun and to trust in your self and your students.

The session started with Andrea Sloane from the Science learning hub talking about some resources on the hub and some changes coming as the biotech learning hub is integrated with the science learning hub.

I talked about fun with fireworks – how you can use them to teach all sorts of different content, from history (I do love that you can almost plot the travel of fireworks through Europe by following the music composed at those times) and how you can use them to teach very young students right through to L3 Chem electron orbitals.

The amazingly passionate and inspiring Tony Cairns also talked about the importance of fun in the class room, and how to make your lessons engaging and exciting. I just love Tony’s vibrancy, and I am jealous of his vocab too 🙂

Matt Nicoll and Paula Hey both talked about designing courses that allowed for greater student voice. I am starting to explore this more for my course and students, and the combines knowledge and sharing of these two educators really does amaze me. Too often educators get caught in the ‘it is too hard’ ‘there are too many barriers’ ‘ I can’t possibly have students in my classes learning different things, how will they/I cope’ traps. When actually, if we relax, release the ‘front of the room’ thinking and have high expectations, the students will get into it and fly.

Emma McFayden linked in all the way from China to talk about how she is working to change perceptions of Scientists in her students. A point that really struck home for me was that students do need to be exposed to a wide variety of ‘scientists’ and mentors so that they recognise that everyone, including themselves, is a Scientist to some degree.

Then there was an AMAZING talk from Micheal Harvey about the possibilities of time travel. It was really cool, it stretched me and made me go away and look stuff up and ask the physcis teaher at school. I also have a student who is really interested in this, so I shared this talk with him too. The coolest thing was that this was inspired from a conversation with a yr 7 student, so it was a great remindere to not place ‘ceilings’ on students (or teachers) learning

Then Dave Warren spoke about how the Chem department is using its outreach program to meet the ‘graduate profiles’ outlined by the university. I can speak from experience that these programs are amazing, and Dave is super passionate about helping school students and teachers. Also, check out the videos they have been making, the are super awesome.

Posted in Professional learning, Techie stuff

Playing around with Sway

If you haven’t had a look at Sway yet, I really suggest you do. It came online as part of our schools 365 software about 6 weeks ago, although I had been using it off and on for about a year. It is a flexible presentation medium that allows for a wide range of images, videos and documents to be stored in one place. Sway also looks great on any device and as it is solely web based will work on any device. While I am still not 100% sold on using sway to deliver content and would still mix it up with OneNote and Office Mix, I am 110% sold on my students using sway as a tool to get their message across.

Some situations where I have used office sway have been

As additional information for my CV.

When I applied for a job earlier in the term, I put some additional ‘supporting information’ onto a sway. I did this as I still felt uncomfortable submitting a completely digital CV (not because I was didn’t think it would work, but I am also very aware of the need to a piece of paper to read for some people) so I compromised and did both.

I also used it to put together a (slightly rushed) application for the roll of ICT rep for Otago Southland (which I didn’t get, but never mind). Incidentally, this was my first ever sway I made – it really is very easy to use. Just drag, drop and type really. It will even automatically search images etc for you.

As an alternative to Powerpoint for a presenting

I have used sway a couple of times when presenting now. I have found (for me) if I am using it as a presentation tool, I like to keep it simple and mostly images – if you have too many things flying around, it gets a bit busy and confusing. So this sway was for a catch up with other MIEEs from around NZ just highlighting what I had been doing. This sway was a presentation I gave to staff after I got back from Seattle.

I’m still not sure exactly what my favourite app for presenting is. I really like using OneNote as a ‘Trezi’ style (Travis Smith uses OneNote exceptionally well, like a prezi presentation with even more awesome), and sometimes there is safety in powerpoint 🙂 But a sway can be a great tool to move away from ‘bullet points’ and reading off slides.

Displaying content

A real advantage of Sway is that you can easily incorporate other files and images into it. When you are on the home page, you have the option to import other documents straight away

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For time poor teachers who may already have resources made up, this is a real time saver. You can create a sway from a resource you already have. For example, there was a powerpoint already made up for a genetics topics coming up. So you can chose to upload this straight into a sway

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You can then ‘remix’ the sway to get it to look how ever you like.

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I sometimes find this function awesome, and other times frustrating. I would prefer an ‘options’ or pick template. But the students love remixing their sways, although they can occasionally waste a bit of time on it too. But it does break up the content in different ways.

So in the case of the genetics powerpoint, I am going to keep what works of the old and add in some more pictures, videos and maybe a mix or two. Then a real beauty fo this system is it so easily embeds into Sharepoint sites, so you can add content to a site in a really straightforward way – even if you are not super confident using technology.

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So, all in all, Sway is a super easy to use, super flexible display/presentation tool that seems to work seemlessly with other software (and on a mac too). I think I will still mostly use OneNote and Office Mix for most of my content delivery, but will definitely allow my students to submit their work in this way if they wish.

Posted in Professional learning

Reflections from EducampTimaru

Lately I have been feeling a bit under the weather with reports and assessments. So I thought it would be well worth the drive to Timaru for the Educamp there – especially as the lovely Anne was going to, so I could hitch a ride.

If you are new to the educamp idea, they are unconferences. Run by teachers for teachers. Who give up there weekend or after school time to learn and teach others. Awesome

And as these things usually go, it is not what that you expect that gives you the most enjoyment. For a completely random, out of the box thing, I got to drive Martin’s Electric Car. It was totally cool – weird how quiet the car was. I was tempted to do some donuts, but not my car, so I was a very considerate driver. I would have loved to give it a burl on the open road

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We also played with a drone – for some pretty ‘clued up’ people, we couldn’t get the bugger to fly. Bruised fingers and egos all round.

The smackdown was short and sharp this time round – keeping the presentations to 1 minute meant there was a good coverage without getting bored. I picked up a few wee animations ideas from Gala that I will feed to the art dept at school, got reminded about crowdsourcing and got introduced to Chicktionary. I shared about using OneNote and Office Mix, and asked about sites.

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The most interesting thing for me was the idea of ILE. Almost before it had properly begun, it seems that MLE or modern learning environments is out, and innovative learning environments are in. You can review the report here – it is long. I am still working my way through it – but so far the most important factors are

1) There is a big focus on self regulation for students. And to group by ability/interest rather than age. Which to me seems a no brainer  – I hear timetablers the country over grinding their teeth, but we need to find a away forward to do this.

2) ‘Strongly promote horizontal connectedness across areas of knowledge and subjects, as well as communities and around the world’. I have quoted that whole sentence as it is resonating with me strongly at the moment. We need to smash down some subject silos. I am very frustrated with students struggling to apply skills learned in maths to mechanics, or asking me why I am talking about history in Science – especially as it isn’t in the assessment. There is more to the world than assessments.

So I am going to have to make some time to finish going through that report – it might be a holiday job.

The best bit of the whole meeting was talking Scichatnz with Matt Nicoll and meeting and talking with Jennie. It is a fun thing about a professional learning network, you can feel like you know people before you have even meet them.


As usual, I missed the memo about how to pose for the photo…. sigh

It was good to touch base, go over what we want to do with the future and how we can keep trucking on with things. We put some plans on paper, and hopefully we can get them to come to fruition 🙂 I am still enormously proud of how far ScichatNZ has come, and hope we can continue to grow.

I then spent some time talking with Pete from Balclutha. He has a web designer past, and as I am spending some time on sites in the next wee while, it was good to talk to some-one with more expertise than me. I got some tips on structure, permissions and a different look at file organisation – the ‘traditional’ set up doesn’t allow for a file to be more than 1 thing – whereas if we can get tags set up and working properly, we can have a more fluid and useful file/document library. Lots to think about.

For me, the day was a really good chance to get some fresh perspectives and advice. I have been struggling a bit lately, and hearing different things from different people all combined to give me a more positive outlook. I’m still not quite sure of what my next steps should be, but I am more confident in knowing I do LOVE being in the classroom (or at a stretch the freezing cold football sideline). It is definitely were I want to stay. So knowing that means I can come up with what things I could do while still staying in the classroom to break up some frustrations. Firstly, I got some good book recommendations. I might look at some online mentoring options. I’m going to look at doing some papers (madness I know, but having something more concrete to work towards might make me feel like I am making more progress). And then there are options for TIC or HOD or specialist classroom teacher rolls, and some advice about how to make myself more employable for those rolls.

So it was really nice to see some people face to face, to get some ideas kicking round and to realise I am not alone in my doubts and wanderings. And that I should have a little more faith that things will fall into place.

So thanks to everyone at educamptimaru for being open, sharing and caring. Taking the time to share ideas and learn new things is always empowering and inspiring. Educamps arekick arse

Now, when is the next one……?