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 🙂 )

Screen Shot 2017-05-18 at 5.41.49 PM.png

Then cut the middle fold

Screen Shot 2017-05-18 at 5.41.55 PM.png

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 surface, Teaching and Learning, Techie stuff

Using Microsoft Office Mix

It is nearing NCEA exam time in my world. And so I have been busy making exam question walk through using Microsoft Office Mix and the snip tool on my surface pro 4. Office Mix is a super handy add in for powerpoint that lets you make video tutorials with ease. The surface stylus just makes writing these answers and equations easy as. It has been a while since I blogged about how I use Office Mix in class (you can see one of my first goes HERE, or some more about the features HERE and if you want to earn more about it I suggest you check out the Office Mix web page) so I thought I should give an update on my favourite go to tool. You can also add PhET animations with ease, or include webpages for students to browse. And after the recent #hacktheclassroom hack from fellow kiwi Subash my mixes might just get a little neater – I’ve put a link to his video at the end of this post 🙂

Making the exam walk throughs

My go to for Mix is exam walk throughs. To start with, I head over to the NZQA web page and find the exams and schedules I want. Then I take a picture of them using snip, and make the picture the back ground on the ppt slide so I don’t accidentally grab it and move it during my recording.

Then it is as easy as hitting the record button and away you go

Once you have finished the recording, you can either save as a video file to upload to youtube etc, or upload them to the office mix site. I tend to just upload to the mix site, and then share the links.

I also try to remember to tell my students to pause the video and attempt the questions first…. not sure how many do though!!

Here are some examples – feel free to share them with your class if you think they would find them useful.

Student Mixes.

I have also played around with getting my students to make a mix to explain their thinking behind the exam answers. These have also been shared with the class so they can use them for their revision too. Some students are definitely more theatrical than others 🙂

Mixes for feedback

Again, a quick video to provide feedback for students works really well. I have found this particularly useful for the (sadly, this year too many) times I am away. Students will email me a photo of their work, and I will complete a mix for feedback for them

Mix for relief

It has also bee really good for relief – the students seem to really like a video of me talking and will listen better than if I was talking to them live. Sigh

So while none of these are especially bright and shiny, they are really useful ways I use this tool in my teaching and learning, and can make the arduous task of exam preparation a little bit less stressful. Students appreciate being able to rewind ideas.

And with the awesome #hacktheclassroom hack from NZs own Subash, my mixes have gotten a little neater – although I still ignore the gridlines at times. You can see his hack and how to make the mix presentations neater below.

Posted in random ramblings

The SNA apocalypse….

This time of year tends to be super angsty. Stress of exams, marking exams, writing reports about exams, exams, EXAMS, EXAMS. It is really easy to get caught up in it, and certainly before exams I was spiralling into a sort of bitter education is soooo broken and I am doing nothing to fix it mindset. And it didn’t help when I did have students who have left papers blank. Except that it was easy as marking 🙂

Thankfully, I have come to my senses around trying to make the most of it, and also trying to be positive for my students has helped me see some of the positives of the systems we have and the way I have taught them this year.

So my question to myself and the world at large is

Why the hell do we give a toss about SNA’s?

Before the September 1st deadline, I talked to all of my senior students about their choices for the NCEA externals. A couple where confident they only wanted to attempt 1 or 2 papers – one yr 11 because she LOATHES chemistry, another because he has dyslexia and he felt he could do better in just the 2 papers with more time to prep and to work through the papers in the exam. A level 3 student in my mixed class has also opted to do 2 standards, but as he wants to do Chem next year he is still doing the learning for aqueous Chemistry (my heart is singing at this) but feels with the lack of direct L3 revision support and his other comittments he would be best to just get the 2 standards in the exam.

For each of these students I sent an e-mail home that was cc’d into the Dean and the HoD outlining that there student would not be entered for the reasons discussed, and to please talk with the student in their care about this choice and to get back to me if there were any concerns. I also checked with the form teachers about how many credits the students had because if they were in danger of not getting enough for NCEA, I didn’t want to remove them.

But many students were not sure about what they wanted to do. So I left them in. My mantra was ‘I value you more as people than exam stats’. I will wear the SNA’s if it is in your best interest and you are not sure.

I guess it depends on how you look at it. An SNA is a wasted opportunity, there is no doubt about it. An SNA in a practice exam is REALLY frustrating – as you can not provide any feedback for students if they have not attempted it.

But from a students point of view, an SNA is prioritising. Partly realising they do not need to do all the things, and so choosing the standards they need or enjoy more, or even if it is only find easier, who cares. One of my own personal issues is I don’t know what to leave out. I always feel I should do all the things (and do end up doing most of them) which is not always a healthy thing to do.

Screen Shot 2016-09-14 at 7.04.01 .png

I also think back to my old exams. I would often run out of time. This meant try as I might, I was never going to get the super top marks…. and I didn’t have the option to not do bits. If I was doing NCEA, you can bet a whole lot I would be getting 2E’s and then maybe an SNA or an A (an M if I was lucky!!) because getting through 3 big standards in 3 hours just wasn’t doable for me then.

So for my stats for this years exams, I suspect I am going to have a high load of SNA’s. And if questioned, I will reply – I supported the students to do what was best for them. I wanted to leave their options open. I encouraged them to prioritise their exam prep and time. I also made the learning a priority rather than the exam. And too damn bad if you think otherwise.

So thanks kids for reminding me you don’t have to do everything. That it isn’t about the exams. I will try harder to remember next year.

Posted in random ramblings

Can you tell that to my parents….

Today I was having a ‘pep’ talk with my yr 11 science class about their practice exams in 2 weeks. About how they really need to give them a good go so that 1) they know how much more of a good go they need to put in and the end of the year and 2) if they honestly give it a good go and it goes to custard, we have some time to try and find some different strategies for them to achieve success in the externals.

It lead to an interesting discussion around ‘why do we do so much other stuff in yr 9 and 10 – really we just need to start working for NCEA exams then’. When a student said this, I died a little inside. Part of it was justified in a way – the ‘extension’ yr 10 class has the opportunity to sit some L1 stuff in yr 10. So a kid in the not extension class was feeling aggrieved that as a ‘not smart kid’, why was he given less opportunities to get his credits? He kind of has a point from his point of view, which was further soul destruction.

I rebutted with learning to learn, scaffolding, maturity levels, having some fun etc and also ‘it isn’t all about the credits you know…’. To which, one kid replied

‘Can you tell that to my parents please.’

All of my kids in this class (I’m lucky, it is a small class) are awesome human beings. Many already have part times jobs doing this or that, some are in the senior sports teams or are involved with cultural groups. They have learned this year to question and challenge (in part the reason for this discussion…..). I have no doubt they will all go on and be perfectly reasonable contributing members of society…. whether they pass L1 sci or not. But they, their families and perhaps even me at the moment are all about the credits.

Of course, credits do effect subject choices, and we spent some time talking about what entry requirements there are etc. I also talked about how L2 is a step up (especially for Chemistry, many of our students struggle for the first little bit in yr 12….). Some kids are already altering their career choices because this or that subject it too hard, or I’m going to take that english course because it has no externals. And it seems that all of their parents are at them about getting down to work and getting some credits.

So I don’t know what the best practice is here? Do I back off and give them space? Keep up the pep talks (I’m so sick of myself….) What is the purpose of these exams? I mean, what are the kids learning? But it is part of my job to get these kids passing the damn things – I even got asked today if it reflected badly on me if they failed (I said I got paid regardless and valued them more as people than exam stats… not sure how much they believed me….)

And how do I stop having these conversations with myself. Despite my best efforts and trying some different approaches, push has now come to shove, and the credit hunt is on. I am lecturing these kids on how to get through the exams 😦

Screen Shot 2016-08-24 at 9.26.13 .png

It is only a little comforting to know that regardless of credits, these kids will be ok. They are good kids. I guess that is really what I should be telling their parents…. and what I need to keep telling myself

Posted in random ramblings, Teaching and Learning

A new topic is like clean sheets…. HEAVEN

I don’t know about you, but I LOVE clean sheets. That laundry powder smell, crisp smooth feeling, snuggly pillow cases. HMMMMMMMmmmmmm. Sadly, I am not a domestic goodness, nor do I know what the publicly acceptable sheet changing ratio is, but for me clean sheets in a Sunday night ritual. Fresh starts and all that.

As so often happens (despite my best efforts) in the last 2 days I ended up starting new topics/standards with 3 of my classes. Which means there is a pile of marking on my table I am ignoring, and a pile of messy flow charts, websites and other clutter as I plan what we will do for the next few lessons. I am not one for extended unit plans per se, but I am one for not really thinking too hard about a unit before I have asked the kids what they already know, and trying to tweak it from there.

So I have had a great 2 days at school figuring out what kids already know. It turns out, they know heaps 🙂 Bucket loads in fact. And when you get your questions right (for me, maybe about 30% of the time….) you can trick them into remembering what they thought they had forgotten. The best thing about this is I was in a very happy teacher place because we actually just talked Chemistry – not aqueous systems, not chemical reactions, not thermochemistry, but Chemistry. Especially in my mixed class –  My Yr 12’s schooled up my Yr 13’s (they and I both love it when they can do that…) and we talked Chemistry.

I have also had some exchange students rock up into a class. They are still a little shy, but it also reminds me to go back to the big picture ideas rather than getting too snowed under with the content. I am doing genetics with this class and it has been good for everyone to hear some different cultural perspectives.

I am a teensy bit sad that I have school exams in 2 weeks. I am already sick of myself saying – exams blah blah blah blah study blah blah blah the end of the world is nigh if you don’t pass blah blah blah blah. So it has been extra refreshing to be starting new topics (that won’t be finished for exams…..) and having a fresh start to remember just how awesome my learners are


Posted in Blogging Challenge, Teaching and Learning

Blogging Challenge – How can I use NCEA better?

So, I am being cheeky and using this post to tick ALL 3 boxes of the blogging challenge. Does this mean I get credit for all 3????

Credit farming breaks my heart. It actually makes a little piece of my happy teacher persona die. Unlike fairies, no amount of clapping will bring it back. Because to me, when a students says ‘I’m not going for these credits so I am not doing this’ or ‘is this worth credits’ or ‘why are you telling us about this if it isn’t in the exam’ or I already have 80 credits so do I REALLY need to do this’ they are telling me they don’t love learning, they don’t love Science (I am baised, but how could you not love Science) and that they are settling for less.

The affect of assessment is really starting to get me down. I blogged about this in April this year during the #edchatNZ chat on innovative assessment. I was getting soooo super frustrated with myself and my thinking about the role of assessment in schools (and life). In the conversations I have (online and F2F) we dream so big about cross curricular, real life, meaningful learning. And then I am really struggling to turn this in to meaningful programmes. I am really jealous of Matty Nicoll’s Nature of Science course that he has built. But when we were planning our next #scichatNZ topic (which will ROCK by the way) I had to admit that I had never even considered a cross curricular approach for my senior classes.

Thinking about this over the last couple of days (while being sad I wasn’t at Ulearn) I have tried to piece together into my head why I had never considered a ‘blended’ approach for Yr 12 & 13s. Sure, I could mix a course in with Biology and do an awesome health sciences type course. I could even do some earth/ocean Science papers with some physics and chem. But they are all Science. What would I need to do to incorporate other curriculum areas? I have a hard enough time understanding the Chemistry Standards and what is required, much less an English Standard. Or a Geography or Language one. This too came up in a recent #edchatNZ, and I love Danielle Myburghs post on subject teacher identity crisis


To get credit for the blog challenge, here is a pic (not a selfie, I’m so not trendy) of me, Matt and Jennie – Jennie is a #scichatNZ team member too

But in ‘real’ life, the ability to have multiple skill sets is in demand. I recently read ‘too big to know‘ (after a recommendation from the fabulous Danielle Myburgh I saw on twitter) which challenges what we define as knowledge in the digital age, and something that really struck me from this book was the use of crowd sourcing for data analysis and/or solving complex problems. It is easier than ever before to use a network of knowledge rather than single sources. Yet, we still teach in single silos….

And for a different perspective, my Dad came round to teach me how to fix our (Lovely) old, slightly cracked window frames. Another friend on mine who lives in a similarly enchanting cottage came round so she could learn to. And my Dad said

‘well, knowledge isn’t really knowledge till you have shared it’

Which hit my brain like a hammer.

Giving my students ‘exam’ like assessments isn’t getting them to share their knowledge. Yes, they can jump through a hoop, and get the marks and because they get the marks they make me look good and everyone is happy. Except that little part of me that thinks ‘surely there is more to learning at school than getting credits.’

So how can I challenge myself and my students to share their knowledge in more meaningful ways? How can I gently disrupt (Or as the amazing Philippa puts it ‘disrupt with Humility’) my parent community away from the need for credits credits credits? How can I rudely disrupt the teaching practice of some of my colleagues and get them to think outside the box? Or the Ministry of Educations stance of using success for funding (I’m not sure what I will do if they go for a more credits = more money scenario…..)

And how can I get my students to love learning for learnings sake. To be more interested in the world around them, more empathetic with the views of others, more critical of marketing techniques trying to manipulate their choices and more aware of the society and communities they live in.

How can I find a way to give them credit for that?

Posted in Teaching and Learning

Are you in or out?

Today is the last day for ‘X’ing students out of external NCEA exams. We have been reminded of this off and on every briefing for the last 2 weeks. I have been scowling and muttering about how we don’t have our practice exams till next week so how can I possibly give any reasonably advice on whether students should enter or not if I don’t have any evidence to base it on. Yes, I have gut feelings, but I always hold out hope that students will surprise themselves and me 🙂

But there is increasing pressure to get the results looking good. I keep hearing the words ‘participation based results’ bandied around, along with ‘roll based results’. Articles like this one (and indeed the idea to ‘publish’ poor results) doesn’t seem to be helping the core idea that exams are not the be all and end all. The idea the principals ‘manipulate’ data is scary – but everyone wants their school to look good. But is the measure of a ‘good’ school only the NCEA results. I am thinking of a post from Paula talking about low staff turnover indicating a ‘good school’. Surely a good school is one that supports all students to be the best they can be – even if that means that NCEA is still out of reach…. why should I remove those students chances when they are doing the best they can.

All in all, this is leadning to uncomfortable feelings for me. I am lucky that I work in a school willing to let the students have a go. My dept head says if they aren’t sure, keep them in and we will ‘wear the SNAs’ and Not Achieved results. It is also of a concern that if students who aren’t going to pass an exam don’t sit it, then the profile of expected performance for that exam will get skewed, and the standard will get raised even higher, meaning any borderline students might miss out.


Do ‘other’ schools really cross students out if they are concerned they won’t pass? Or if this some myth that has been made up to make us distrustful and competitive. If it is true, is publishing poor results like the minister suggested really the answer? Or should we just focus on doing the best we can for the students in front of us, and let them have a go?

So, rightly or wrongly, I’m not going to be removing many students from standards. Hopefully I won’t get judged on my results……

Posted in Teaching and Learning

drafting gates……


So, right now I feel like I’m the chap in the little blue hat. Sending sheep this way or that – you passed the assessment, you can do level 2 Chem, you didn’t, so sorry, no L3 for you. A Colleague gave me the idea, we were having a chat and it was his analogy for schools in NZ. We are essentially drafting gates for society.

What a truly depressing thought

And it stretches further than that. Students who chose to leave school before gaining any formal qualification are at an enormous disadvantage. Of course there are exceptions, but for many it can mean a life of minimum wage jobs, or no job. Which means for a few lovely kids I have taught, and have chosen to leave schooling, statistically speaking they are in for a hard time. Which is again a depressing thought.

And now I am really riled up. Which is good – it is making me think about things. During #edchatNZ I was getting so cross I left and came here to get my thoughts in order.

So these are the ‘challenges’ in my head around assessments.

1) I am employed as a teacher by my school, which is run by the BOT which are parents of the students and by the ministry of education. They want x number of students to pass x number of credits, which get filtered down do me in various dept goals and meetings around raising achievement. So directive from the ‘boss’ is ‘within reason’, get kids passing. It makes everyone look good, including me.

2) Parents genuinely want the best for their kids, and they don’t always understand how NCEA works, or more importantly, how it could work. But the do see little Johnie or Jane down the road getting X credits, so they want their kid to do the same. Many of these parents are working incredibly hard to do the best they can for their children, and I feel a responsibility to them. They send them to school and into my care in good faith.

3) Employers need something to employ people with. Yes skills and on the job training count, but are you going to take the kid fresh out of school with 100 credits, or the one with 40. Would you take the one with Excellence endorsement, or none? You simply can’t interview everyone, so they need to have some sort of filter.

4) I wish I did not have to assess. But then, without being tested, how can you grow? If you don’t challenge yourself, how do you know if you can? Do you need to know? Maybe for me the name needs to change?

5) There are lots of things that ‘schools’ assess that they don’t mean to, but like any institutions it creeps in. Wear your hair the right way, be the right size, control your bladder till the bell goes (I hate this one, if you need to pee, for god sakes pee. having 18 year olds ask me to if they can pee drives me MAD), stand in lines for food, fit the norm etc. Staying in school is almost as much about conforming as anything else. Even as a teacher, there are little things that creep in. Hell, what is a professional dress code for teachers anyway? Does it matter? I’m on my feet in a sci lab – why can’t I wear gymmies and trackies?? Why can’t the kids????

6) I feel I am currently teaching that doing ok is doing enough. We are doing all these assessments, but there is no difference if you ace it, or just scrap that excellence grade. I used to strive for the 90% + grades, and cursed when I finished second by .8%. I’m not sure how I would have gone under NCEA?? And how can I encourage ALL my students to reach for better, when they see a credit hanging low on some branches and just reach for it.

So on top of this is the idea from the chat tonight – can we innovatively assess. It does not remove the need to assess. It would put it in pretty wrappers and make it shinny, but it is still an assessment. There would still be those that pass and fail. A educations darwin awards if you will.

I feel like I am clinging to the chains that bind us. Because which ever way you put it, we would still need to assess.