Posted in random ramblings, Teaching and Learning, Techie stuff

Reflections from the PPTA ICT meeting

I was very thankful to be invited to the PPTA ICT committee meeting last Friday. It was a REALLY worthwhile trip and I enjoyed the whole experience. Thanks must got to the PPTA (and hence every PPTA member) who paid for my flights etc so I could attend the meeting. Also a huge thanks to the two TELA representatives who came along and where so willing to listen and talk.

You can find a recap at my previous blog post about TELA HERE

I’m breaking this post into two – 1 about the TELA ‘hour’ of the meeting and 2 about the other things at the meeting that I’m pretty sure I can share about.

  1. TELA

An hour of the ICT meeting was set aside for the TELA issue and two people came to represent them. I put my foot in it right from the start by stating I was the one that sent the ‘angry letter’ but they had no idea of any letter…. turns out key points had been summarised and sent away by the PPTA to them to come and discuss. so I learned (another… I am a slow learner sometimes…) valuable lesson around the ‘proper’ processes and policies around stuff like this.

The TELA people talked about the scheme – along with some history from some members of the PPTA – apparently the started with Principals receiving a computer from the scheme so the ministry could ensure everyone could receive information from e-mails. It spread to teachers a couple of years after – and even until the last 5 or so years, it wasn’t completely uncommon to get untouched devices back after the 3 year less term as teachers just didn’t use them (this did my HEAD in)

In terms of numbers, there are over 46,000 TELA devices in schools. Given that there are over 100,000 registered teachers, this seems to me to fall a little short. There was a person present who’s BoT didn’t fund the TELA laptops, which HORRIFIED me. They just didn’t have access to the scheme in their school. Plenty of others weren’t aware of the choice of devices that was available as they were simply just given one. No-one seemed to reveive any training on how to use their device. There was discussion around why don’t the ministry just remove they layer and provide devices for al teachers (as the boards paying the TELA fees from the ministries grants is a bit backwards…)

Then there was discussion about the devices themselves. Screen size was an issue for many present – and set up around doing admin tasks. As we were getting into details about devices I did try to say ‘what about the teaching and learning?’ ‘How can me make these devices more accessible for teaching to use for more than just writing reports and playing videos.

The best question that got asked from the TELA reps was

‘how do you think it would look?’

I have absolutely no idea how it would look. I would like it to look like a more flexible task driven system where different teachers can take agency for their choices. But as some-one pointed out, not all teachers have the competence to know which device is best. Or what if it changes? Others wonder about tech support in school – a lot of PPTA members present also were in charge of the devices in their school and spoke of the difficulties of managing different devices – so they didn’t offer choice. So how can we also ensure adequate tech support in schools? How can we ensure tech is seen as a tool, not a barrier and also not the be all and end all? How can we ensure that teachers know what they are actually entitled too? How can we better support part time teachers who do not currently qualify for a TELA laptop?

I guess maybe the best I can suggest is a good look at the vision and values of the NZC

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This bottom line is key for me. How can ICT open up new and different ways of learning if all teachers are using their devices for is writing reports and watching videos?

secsource for TELA laptop use data.

So I want it to look like the NZC says. That learners (including teachers) are competent and confident users of ICT to communicate with others, are able to use new technologies to secure a better future for out country and are able to explore new ways of learning.

In terms of where to next, a user reference group is being set up (I’m not actually too sure what this means if anyone cares to enlighten me…..) and there is also some movement towards providing more information on the TELA website which has currently got next to nothing. So I am glad that something at least is happening, but will keep poking with a stick to see if this could cascade into some sort of change. I would love to see the TELA scheme to change a focus from solely devices into having a more teaching and learning/pedagogy focus, but this might also happen around some other things that are possibly changing.

I am also aware that there is a multifaceted change that needs to occur for the shift to occur. TELA is a start ๐Ÿ™‚

And if you have ANY ideas of how this might look, I’d love to hear from you, or get in touch with your local ICT or PPTA rep to get your ideas heard.

2. All the other stuff.

N4L has got a single log in for students and teachers for a wide range of APPs called TAHI. It looks pretty cool and I need to have a proper explore of what it means.

There is a project to link SMS data together called SISI (student information sharing initiative). You can read the report HERE. Amongst some 1984 type concerns, it would be (IMO) nice to have a more centralised system for tracking students. It also links in to the vulnerable children’s act (there was some discussion of what trumps what, privacy vs health and safety vs vulnerable children’s). It is a complex issue so make sure you read the report and have your say if you are interested.

Creative commons was also discussed – basically this is a HUGE issue and a non-issue all at once. Again, I wonder why (along with some others at the table) if we are all ministry employees (on a salary so even if you do work in your ‘own time’ you are still on ministry time) why doesn’t the ministry just do a creative commons agreement for all schools rather than relying on individual boards. I have shared loads of resources and had them shared back ( when we were at TCOL we actually handed around a flash drive to snaffle everything……) and there is potential that even though I would never sell them, and even though I use them solely for education, I could get in trouble. But actually, would anyone actually prosecute? Is it a storm in a tea cup? Perhaps better to be safe than sorry

Along the same lines was discussion around the use of personal equipment at school. Especially for part timers this is a hard one. For instance, if I’m using my phone to take a slow mo video (which is something my phone can do and my TELA laptop can’t) and a student bumps me and I break it – who pays for a new one? What if I’m taking photos at football to post on the sports facebook page and it gets hit by a ball and breaks? Again, better to be safe than sorry – but it wouldn’t stop me using my phone if the tech I am given can’t do that task. I completely understand for others it might.

A very exciting thing was a presentation from NZQA about the digital moderation platform. If they can pull of what they are thinking about it will be AMAZEBALLS cool. Simply (as I understood it) NZQA hope to have a flexible space were you can upload work to be moderated by other teachers. Discussion (with limitations… ie max number of posts so individuals can’t get too carried away) will be available. If everyone agrees, no action required. If there is discussion around a grade boundary – maybe have a looksy. If grades are all over the show, NZQA will get the moderators to have a look. NZQA are aiming to have this up and running by next year – so watch that space. Also linked to this was NZQA would like more appeals – currently way less than 0.01% of tasks get appealed. NZQA would like this to be at least 1% so they can also make sure their processes are working. So get appealing people ๐Ÿ™‚

There were a few other things that came up too that I’m not sure if I can share in an open forum. But the PPTA webpage is getting changed so hopefully it will be easier to find the minutes of such meetings and get yourself informed.

So again, it was a really worthwhile day. And I got to catch up with some super cool #wellyed peeps. And meet some really passionate switched on educators from around the country and also see a bit better what goes into the PPTA. There is a bit of a wall I think for ‘everyday normal teachers’ to see the policies and processes behind managing education so it was a good insight for me. Thanks again to everyone who gave me their thoughts, support and to the PPTA for inviting me up

Job isn’t finished though – rest assured I will keep poking the bear ๐Ÿ™‚

Posted in random ramblings, Teaching and Learning

Do students need to be TAUGHT?

My L1 Science class has just finished up their Mechanics Unit. To try and gently shift this class into being more independent, I used a OneNote I had prepared for my class for revision last year as the main source of information. There were lots of relevant notes, videos, office mix walk throughs of old exams (eg)and some practice worksheets. As we went through, I also included a forms quiz at the end of each page to as a way to keep up with where the class was at with their learning.ย We also use the SciPad, which is has some good notes and example questions.


Some screen shots of pages in the OneNote and quiz results.

On the whole it has worked well. My biggest concern is that my students are still struggling with managing themselves and I was feeling a little like I was leading the horse to water, but not getting it to drink. I was hoping that I would be able to use more of my class time answering questions and doing some practicals (we did do some practicals – popping balloons for pressure questions is AWESOME….) but it just didn’t quite work out that way. When I surveyed the students, I got the common theme that they liked notes from the board. ARGHHHHHHH. That they liked how I helped them when they needed it, but they wanted more up the front teaching. I already felt like I did way more than I wanted to. And (as in the pictures above) some of the OneNote pages where even like writing on the board…. sigh.

So I am back again to the drawing board. How can I make sure students feel like they are still learning things if they are managing their own learning? The test results were ok, but even with that students didn’t feel like they had learned anything, even when they clearly had. Why do students feel that they need to be ‘taught’ things in order to have learned them. Do I need to listen to this student voice and be up the front more rather than deliberately staying away.

In pondering this, here are some ideas (I went for pen and paper… so I could vigorously scribble) around why maybe students feel they need to be taught something rather than learn it.

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There are lots of reasons why – to find out more I guess I need to ask my students some more questions around why the like to ‘learn’ in different ways.

And I need to think just a little bit more about how and why I am trying to model learning to my students.

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Of these two definitions, I definitely like the second one. So how can I better model learning by example ย or experience? What learning experiences can I give my students that makes them feel like they are being taught?

Posted in random ramblings, Teaching and Learning

Purposeful play

Lately I have been thinking about how to describe my ‘classroom practice’ that has a positive impact on my students – for an interview/article if you are interested in why I would think about such things so explicitly. It has also been appraisal docs time, and report writing time, and at the moment I just need to have some things clearly written down.

Which is a problem. For me anyway.

Take unit plans for example. We have some beautiful, reasonably useful lesson plans that I am working through and trying to embed various activities into – eg where it says use a kahoot quiz, have the link to the kahoot quiz embedded in. This is an effort to make the unit plans even more useful, so you don’t have to go back to the folder and find the document blah blah blah. Want the ‘powerpoint’ click and it takes you to it on the shared document library on sites. So the unit plan is hopefully going to become more of a one stop shop for resources – and people can be collaborative as we are all able to contribute different activities or resources by popping in a link to the activity

However, this isn’t how I see my unit plans. A ‘unit’ of work isn’t independent of other ‘unit’s of work. I’d really like to some-how see a yr 7-13 flow through of what we want our students to be able to do after that time doing Science (or after yr 10 when they can opt out of Science if they want to) (cue sobbing).

So I have been thinking about jargoning up how I really want to let my students play. In a purposeful way of course, but actually just explore ideas, work together on stuff they are interested in (or individually), learning so called ‘soft skills’ that are really important like time management and prioritising and using digital tech efficiently. How I want them to explore and make their own discoveries rather than listen to me drone on about the discoveries of others. How I want them to make connections between ideas, between observations, between contexts and subjects. Today I got onto the power of one because I was talking about diamonds being hard, so then diamond drills, then Peekay and Botha in the mines in power of one. Made perfect sense really.

And in thinking through this, it is interesting I got onto literature today, when I am struggling to find the words to express what I am wanting to achieve. I know what it feels like in my classroom – a purposeful hum of noise that ebbs and flows as discussions build up when there are questions or problems to be solved, a focused sort of energy, students critically questioning without fear of being wrong or mocked (gently mocked maybe….) and models being drawn or built or made, or practicals being designed rather than just carried out as per the instructions in the book.

And don’t get me wrong, I don’t always get there. Sometimes it turns into hell fire confusion with flaming curtains (literally with a particular yr 10 class one time) but when it works it is AWESOME. It is messy, hard to describe, loud and quiet, focused and random, and it is purposeful, meaningful learning.

I still don’t know how to put that into a unit plan.

Posted in Teaching and Learning

Letting it go…… with Yr 10 Staying Alive

I LOVE year 10 Science. There is more freedom (still have to do standard tests/assessments that all the other classes are doing and have the exams at the end of the year but there doesn’t seem to be the same pressure….) ย and you can take a little bit of extra time to get to where you need to go. We are introducing the Science Capabilities into our curriculum this year and so we got an investigation in there as well.

So this year I decided to tackled this topic a little differently and want to make it more inquiry based for the students while still within the constraints of the shared assessment tasks. I explained to them that they could have a mixture of ‘me’ class time where we went over what was going to be assessed and ‘them’ class time where they could explore an idea or complete an investigation of their own. I didn’t really like the me and them terms, but couldn’t really think of anything better at the time – teacher lead vs student lead might have worked but sounded a bit OTT when I was talking to the class.

For the ‘me’ stuff, I made up a document with pretty much all the information on it they would need for their assessment. Learn that and pass the test type stuff. I emailed parents and let them know I had given some notes and there was additional info on the class ultranet page. A few parents requested access to this, so I re did the ultranet pages as OneNote pages so students and parents could access the info. And for most lessons, there would be 20-30 minutes of me time (whether it be a ‘lecture’ or an activity etc) and 30-40 minutes of their project time.

Students did a great job of working on their projects – and there were some outstanding learning throughout the unit. I learned some thing to – mostly around minecraft but also about brain function and memories, more about blood types, a little about diabetes. A group did some amazing work on Minecraft building a heart and lungs, a group made a prezi presentation, other groups just did an open end research project about the brain (they made a poster but talking to them they preferred just reading up about stuff), so group/individuals did a resources sheet or a revision sheet (think crosswords etc). One group made this video about the heart

The topic has ended and on the whole the students achieved very well in the end of topic test. A couple didn’t do so well, which lead to a good opportunity to talk about how we can work together to improve for next time – students identified a number of things that could help but a couple could definitely have done with a little more structure.

I surveyed the students to get there thoughts too. (NB, while I am Office 365 in most things and at a 365 school, google forms are awesome for a quick survey of students. I have signed up for the 365 forms preview, hopefully we get on board with it soon)

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So most students enjoyed the individual project – the show of hands for who wants one in the next topic showed this too – they definitely want to do another one.

I asked what could have made the project better…. most thought it was fine or had practical suggestions, but a small group thought this

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Which is a little soul destroying…. but also these are highly motivated students who want to do well. So for next time, I will maybe offer 5-6 topics that relate more to the assessment so students who wish to can chose those options – while gently reminding them that life isn’t all about assessments ๐Ÿ™‚

The other interesting piece of feedback I got was this…

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Which reminded me about the POGIL talk from BioliveChemED last year which talked about the fact that students didn’t feel like they had learned anything unless the teacher had said it, even if they had worked it out doing the work themselves. So despite the fact that most students got top marks in both pieces of assessed work (or missed out for something silly like UNITS which they will remember next time) they still felt like they needed more of me up the front. The videos were a mixture of youtube clips and Office Mix clips I made, so next time I need to distinguish this better on my survey!! The ‘other’ suggestions included a practice test (fair call) and more homework sheets/structure around home work. I am going to think about the home work one – part of the idea of this was to get students to be more independent… but if they have identified the need for more structure, then maybe this counts….

So for the next topic (electricity) I am going to change it up slightly, and have 2 normal lessons and one inquiry/own learning lesson a week. I will still provide an information booklet/OneNote with all the notes and some extras as a ‘safety blanket’ for myself and them so that those who ask for more notes can copy them down from them. I am also going to make the homework option but have a lollipop or something when someone hands in 3 sheets for feedback as a middle ground I think. I’ll ask the class tomorrow what they think and go from there.

My last survey question was what do you want to learn about for electricity.

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I loved the question about lightning hitting the sea, can’t wait to see what my minecraft fans come up with, and LOVE LOVE LOVE that there is a history question in there too – we are going to have some fun. I can see another attempt with the Lord Kalvin water dropper happening and some maker stuff and some motors and ……

Have fun


Posted in Teaching and Learning


So, forever ago, I showed this in class when I was talking about ions and electric charge (I had been procrastinating the night before watching hunger games clips and ended up completely changing the lesson plans to talk about this)

I wondered if were even possible to do. At the time, we had a good discussion around it, and we went on to talk about static compared to current electricity etc.

Turns out, it is ‘totally possible’* ย to do. The ‘device is called Lord Kelvins water dropper (or variations) and with the help of this clip

a student and I gave it a go after prize giving practice.

And it didn’t work……

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Which was a little vexing. We tried shifting the cans, altering the flow, drying the containers and using fresh water each time to ensure the water was earthed.

In the end there was one student and 3 teachers all pondering how we could get the bugger to go. So, despite the disappointment at no spark we still had a pretty cool discussion, I learned some physics and my student was involved in a conversation with teacher were he was equal. So even though it didn’t work, it was still an awesome learning experience for him, and some fun, learning and tinkering for all.

My solution is duck tape. So post exams, we are going to try again, but with duck tape like the other video has. Surely that will fix it – but will allow us to get the flow of water closer to the outside of the cans than the skewers could. I also wondered about cutting up some old steel gauzes to get a finer stream of water, or maybe hacking up some mesh from a sieve, although I’m not sure if that would have a coating on it.

But it was my first real attempt into a makerED type scenerio. It worked for me, but it was with one very keen student prepared to give up his free time. Not quite sure how I would upscale just yet…. Have to get the prototype working first ๐Ÿ™‚

* like all physics experiments in my experience, they are all totally possible to do, I can just never seem to do them ๐Ÿ™‚

Posted in Teaching and Learning

Post boxes – learning together

Yesterday I did a post box activity with my Yr 10 class to start our genetics topic. We spent about half the class making the letter boxes, the girls made theirs pretty and the boys made theirs with as much tape as was humanly possible. Our first use was to vote on a movie with a genetics theme to watch (we chose X-men which will link into mutations and ethics) and the second was to ask some questions they want to know the answers to throughout the topic.

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A post box activity (as I do it) is where you set up post boxes/letter boxes around the room. We made some (my class love building stuff from cardboard boxes and work together really well on this type of task) but you could easily use shoe boxes or even icecream containers. You can assign different letter boxes different questions and students can ‘post’ their answers. I always have an I don’t know post box as a safety net. I find this can be a good way to assess prior knowledge for a topic, or to measure students progress as we go through a topic.

The post box activity allowed the students to ask question without showing the rest of the class who they were. I guess there are ways to do this electronically also via a survey or google quiz, but there was something about the students writing there questions on pieces of paper and getting up to move about the room to post them in the various post boxes. This is a class that does struggle to stay still at times and loves practicals, so the post box activity is great to get them moving in a reasonable, meaningful way during class time.

I was amazed by some of the questions I got in response to what they would like to learn about. So much better than if they had to put their name or face to it. I have also learned about some of the my students and their lives outside of school – genuine questions from students wondering why they look different to the rest of their family. Or if because their grandparents have cancer, will they get it? Or why did their family member or even themselves get a genetic disease when others didn’t. Other questions relate to topics around world war II they have been doing in Social Studies or books they have read in English and give a great opportunity for some cross curricular learning.

So it was a really good reminder about how teaching isn’t always about the content. It is about the students lives, and how we need to show respect and compassion to everyone. A reminder for me that inside my class are some students who are genuinely concerned for their families and their future. A reminder that no matter what we are teaching we need to ensure that our students feel safe in our class rooms to ask difficult questions, know how to be respectful while asking them,ย and that I need to be truthful but careful with my answers to keep them safe and help them make informed choices about their world.

Posted in Teaching and Learning

Competencies over content

I have been thinking and hearing a lot about competencies lately. Today, a cardboard box made it ‘click’ for me about what this means for my teaching and learning programs, and I am thankful I had probably been focussing a lot on competencies without even realising it. But now I have been doing more reading and thinking, it is starting to make sense.

Some background. I have a super bunch of yr 10’s who have been ‘streamed’ (my thoughts on streaming are a whole other kettle of blog posts) into a ‘L5’ class. This is the low band for our school. There are some challenges, and sadly they are occasionally a handful, but so long as a I plan for them carefully and keep lots of practicals on hand, they are an AMAZING, fun class to teach. They think outside the box, are willing to give things a go and, like me, they love setting things on fire.

We have been working on a research task on how a thermos flask works. They need to explain what they different parts of a thermos and how they prevent heat loss via limiting convection, conduction and radiation. These ideas are pretty abstract, and the students have at times struggled with what they mean, and to explain there observations from the practicals we have done. The research task is a common one, that is, all the Yr 10 students complete it and it goes on reports. I did tailor it a little for this class and say they didn’t need to ‘write a report’, but they could submit anyway they liked so long as they could show me they had processed the ideas and not just copied and pasted from the webpage into a document.

Which is where this class shines!! Some are working on a group powerpoint, and so by using 365 they were all working on the same doc at the same time and super excited about it. The collaboration was exceptional, they planned their slides, assigned tasks, and they got on with it. I just watched. Easy teaching right there ๐Ÿ™‚ Others are making a cartoon (hand drawn) while another group or 2 are making the inevitable poster or brochure. And one chap is writing a report.

Another group is making a model thermos flask out of cardboard. Then they are going to film themselves explaining the parts. So the hacking and slashing of cardboard began and cellotape was flying everywhere. I was a little apprehensive, but it wasn’t until they started discussing why it had to be round, and what shape the lid had to be that I realised they understood the key concepts. To quote a student ‘the lid can’t just be a flap, that would let the heat out, cause the hot air rises’. Awesome proud teacher moment right there. I joined in and we went on toย a discussion about pots boiling on the stove and how a lid can bump around when the water is boiling, and talked about pressure due to the gas particles ‘taking up more space’ than the liquid particles because they have more heat energy. So we came to the conclusion a screw top would be better for the thermos (although that was a little hard to make out of cardboard, so they settled for a cork!)

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There was some frustration when they couldn’t get the model to work how they wanted. One wanted to just not worry, and in slightly colourful language got told to stick at it by his mates. So while they were building their model, the were collaborating, problem solving and being resilient.

A Colleague (who is also a like minded but critical friend) came in after this, and we talked about it for a while. About how when the focus is on NCEA only, we can lose site of the competencies. And how NCEA should not be the be all and end all of teaching and learning, especially for students who struggle. They don’t need to write a report to express their understanding. So why do we keep asking them to do it? When so few of our students go to university, why is it driving? What skills would employers really want? If we are going to stream, why do we insist on having the same standard tasks?

We drew this picture trying to sort our ideas about it

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We feel that our current curriculum has too much focus on content/NCEA, even in the juniors. But if we could shift the focus to competencies, then the understanding for NCEA comes along anyway. As well preparing the students to have more ’employable’ skills and be ‘better citizens’. But also, when they students are working on tasks they engage in, they can get the content in a different way.

Despite having heard about competencies and thinking about them, I had never really seen them in action as clearly as I did today. All it took was for me to change the outcomes of the task from the literacy heavy written report to a format the students had agency over. The discussions and sharing of ideas from this group building their own model thermos was more that I could have hoped, and also were better expressed during the discussion than they will be during their ‘standard’ assessment they need to take. The groups working together on a shared document delegated tasks and managed themselves much more effectively than if I had tried to assign them tasks. Today my class of ‘loveable rogues’ probably wouldn’t have noticed if I had left the room, there were that into it. About ideas that are hard and by my own admission pretty dry.

So it was a light bulb moment. Now that I have seen it in action it isn’t actually that hard to place more value on the competencies. And if they are in place, the content knowledge will follow. I am going to do some more reading and thinking about how I can make this explicit in my planning and thinking. Because today rocked. I want more of it

Posted in Professional learning, random ramblings


So, first week of term 2 – it is all go.

I’ve jumped onto the #hackyrclass feed, and am going to try the suggestions as they fit. I really liked the one from week one – developing a growth mind set – and I think it is very important for myself and other staff at my school as well as my students. It reminded me of a whole lot of cool PD I have had and cool articles I read on this topic that just get shelved as soon as any real or imagined excuse came along.

So while I will take bits and pieces of the whole task, I think I am going to focus on growth mindsets for the term. And I need to start with me. I was re-inspired by @MissDtheTeachers blog post on how she is going to learn Te Reo, and what it was like to be the ‘worst’ in the room. I am going to kick start my guitar – again excuses kept coming up, but I do want to get better at it, so I am going to.

I am also going to try and be more open about things I try that don’t work. My school has recently updated the appraisal documents to try and reflect this also.

My challenge will be to not let the attitude of others stop me doing what I do. I am hopeful that if I keep quietly chipping away others will see that it is not threatening, horrifically time consuming or hard. I am hopeful that the students won’t think I am the crazy teacher that does things differently and start to see some success. I am hopeful that I will stop letting excuses get in the way, and I will learn from failures.

I tried to get my yr 9’s to have some hope too, we talked about growth mindsets and how just because they aren’t good at something doesn’t mean they can’t get better. They had a tough week and so they will be my priority for the term – and if they see being not afraid to mistakes and try new things, maybe, just maybe, some of them will get the confidence to try new things too. We started by making a tree of things we are good at, and what we can do to get better.


I think I am going to make a box on my white board of my goal for the week and see a) how long it takes them to notice and b) how they react and comment on it.

So, I am full of hope

With the other blogging hat on, I am off to a microsoft 365 course tomorrow and tuesday – I am looking forward to it, but also slightly amused I’ll be rocking up with my Mac ๐Ÿ™‚ Downside was writing relief – this might be another goal I work towards.

The staff survey I put together on IT usage has shown up some good results. But sadly of the 75 or so full and part time teaching staff, only 40 or so had bothered to replied. But the ones that have had some great comments and suggestions, so it was a really worthwhile exercise, and the IT group will meet and talk some things over, and move on from there.

And now I’m off to bed, the wee man has been asleep for an hour in the strange motel bed, so again I am full of hope for a full nights sleep

Wish me luck