Posted in random ramblings

Reading too much into Star Wars – the last Jedi

This post contains spoilers from the Last Jedi movie, so if you haven’t seen it and want to, don’t read it. And some of the ‘quotes’ will be off, I will correct them when I see it again (or I can find the clips on youtube)

Last night I went to Star Wars – the Last Jedi. The movie as a whole was amazeballs (I am a star wars fan as a disclaimer) but there were a few moments that really stood out to tired end of year teacher brain. I am probably reading WAY too much into it, but there were a couple of ideas that really did stand out for me.

  1. The best teacher, failure is

Master Yoda rocks up when Luke Skywalker is feeling all down and out about being a failure (He did make a rather large cock up to be fair…) And in awesome Yoda style, he says some pretty profound things. My second favourite was about masters (teachers) and how you need to be lots of things to be a teacher, but failure is also a good teacher and learn from it you will. (I need to see the movie again to get the quotes right).

2. The burden of a Master is to watch people out grow you.

Again, this was Yoda at his best. But I don’t think it is something teachers acknowledge enough, and it is why I try really hard to push kids in front of me (either by dangling carrots, cracking ‘whips’ or lighting fires) rather than pulling them up. A subtle thing to think about, but if you pull people along, do you limit how far they can go, because they are following you, rather than treading their own path. How can I make sure kids are learning for them, not to please others?

3. Keeping the light alive is more important than being a hero.

In the movie Poe, the bolshy and impulsive pilot. He is pretty kick arse in a tight spot to be fair. But in this movie he fails to see a big picture and essentially is a right pain in the butt. On a whole other level, there is a moment where a kick arse woman named Haldo refuses to be mansplained to – I LOVED the woman in this movie, there were some really strong characters. And then, when the crunch comes, she acts and is awesome and Poe gets it – with help from Leia of course – that heroes come in all types, and being heroic doesn’t always save the day. And that sometimes you do have to cut your losses.

I guess this was another little wake up call for me about being ‘heroic’ and how the small little acts that no-one sees are just, if not more, important than the big bold strokes. How really kick arse people don’t need that recognition, they are just kick arse.

4. We will win by saving what we love, not destroying what we hate.

This was a really cheesey moment in the movie (There was so much awesome cheese in this film) but again, it was a wee reminder about staying focussed on what is important and that if we can protect what we love, really the rest doesn’t matter quite so much. So do we spend enough time focusing on what is awesome and what we love in education, or do we spend too much time focusing on what we ‘hate’??

 

So yeah, it was awesome, and I will go and see it again (and then buy it to go with all the other star wars movies on my shelf) but to this tired and slightly disillusioned teacher brain, it was an awesome reminder about remembering there is lots to love in education, that quiet heroics are just as important as loud ones, that failure is the best teacher and sometimes you do outgrow ideas, or people, or people and ideas outgrow you.

And that is ok

 

 

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Posted in random ramblings, Teaching and Learning

What if marking was like ‘teaching’

So, I am marking again this year (I’m not 100% I’m allowed to say which standard etc… so I won’t. I think/hope most of what I say here is stuff I’m allowed to say). Marking this year has been easier than last year somehow, although I did find one question in particular difficult to get my head around the expectations. And so, at the start especially, I checked in with my check marker quite a bit to make sure I was being consistent.

A colleague asked if I will mark again next year – after all I complain about it, turn into (even more of) a social hermit during the party season, and it is hard work. And while money is money (and while a BIG chunk goes on to my student loan, it is nice for the Christmas credit card bill in January) it is not that much when it is a beautiful sunny day, your colleagues are at the Christmas party, and you are inside marking.

But the complicated answer is I like marking. Not actually the marking, the marking is hard, takes me ages, and I feel awful for every kid that doesn’t get over the line we say is good enough. I don’t like PEPs, and I don’t like memory tests, and, in fact, I don’t like exams full stop. Marking takes over my life, and my families life for 3 or so weeks each year.

But I do like marking.

Because it is collaborative in a very unique way.

At the start, we all sit together in a big room and work through a marking schedule. We debate/argue/comment/fight over what answers can be expected and accepted, and what do we expect a student at this or that level to know. How many ways can the questions be interpreted? What do they text books say? This group of teachers talks through what we want our learners to be able to express in the exam. We then look at some example answers, and debate about whether they do or don’t meet ‘the standard’

Now, do we REALLY do this in schools? We might chat amongst the department, or think about it for ourselves,  we might ask some-one to moderate an internal task for us, but I don’t think we have this intense cross schools conversation about what students should be able to do. Imagine if we could move beyond ‘standards’ and have a proper conversation about our learners, and what they could do, and how we could get them there, rather than token conversations about competencies and values.

So, step one, I like the markers meeting. It is collaborative, robust, and we compare each others work, all with the aim of being in the same place with regards to where students from different places might be.

Step two is I like getting feedback. Bunches of ‘check marking’ go off and get double checked. And the feedback is really helpful. Around 10% of marking gets checked. Imagine if 10 % of my lessons got checked – if I had some-one sitting in on them, willing to help out, or point out a common error I was making, tell me to double check some adding up, or even just to say good job, keep it up. If 10% of my lessons got checked (I teacher 15 hours a week) that would be 3 lessons over 2 weeks.

Call me crazy, but I would LOVE this. I would love more feedback about how to improve my practice, and get the very best out of myself and my kids.

Step three – While a part of me hates saying this, it does make me able to do my job teaching kids how to meet a standard better. I am better at recognising tips and tricks. I get an insight into how other teachers around the country are teaching the kids in their classrooms. I feel like I really ‘get’ the standard, which then helps me understand other standards. And, like it or not, getting kids to pass standards is a big part of my job. And then, when so much PLD costs a fortune, I actually get paid to mark, and get a better idea of how the standard works. Go figure.

So what if teaching was more like marking. What if we had these conversations about the outcomes for our learners? What is we got paid to learn more about the standards/expectations, rather than schools having to fork out money for PLD? What if we got the feedback? What if teachers truly felt if they weren’t quite sure, they could just flick an email away and get another set of eyes or ears over something, not just from one teacher, but 2 or 3 or 4……

So yeah, I will sign up again next year. Maybe by the time my student loan is paid off, we will have move beyond exams and there will be no more end of year summative marking. But in the mean time, I like working with a group of other awesome teachers from lots of different schools to make sure we get the best result for all the kids out there.

 

Posted in random ramblings

Reflections from the PPTA ICT meeting Nov 2017

On Monday was the last ICT meeting for 2017. As usual it was a full on day, although to be honest I did not leave feeling as hopefully as I usually do – hopefully it is just that it is the wrong end of the year. As usual, this was my interpretation of what was said, and I am happy to be corrected, or if you have a question or an issue for the committee, I am happy to take it to them 🙂

Up for discussion was

  1.  Round robin – we have introduced a google doc for round robin discussions from regions and representatives. 2 points of interest came up this time

a) Learn Coach flipped learning – 2 members from regions expressed concern about the ‘credit’ farm feeling of this course. As they are a PTE (private training establishment) there is very little that the PPTA can do. Other than express concerns (that are shared by other organisations if I got the drift of the conversation correct) that this model is privatisation of education, and has no pastoral care provided. Due to the pastoral care issue, there is not an option for this to be incorporated into a ‘COOL’ (if indeed the COOLS continue under the new government)

This did spark an interesting conversation (a highlight of the meeting from my point of view) on the future of education. The rate of teachers leaving the profession, the lack of new ones coming in, the changing technological landscape and the changing purpose of assessments are all tied into this type of venture. Predictions are that this will be the tip of the iceberg, and more online learning ‘portals’ will become available – perhaps simply because there are not enough teachers to teach in all schools…..

A report that was commissioned by the government (conducted by cognition) into research of online learning is due of the first of December, looking into the dispositions and competencies of online learners and teachers, pastoral care, data security etc. This report may shed some light on how the government will move forward. But to some around the table, it is clear that education is at a kind of cross roads, and Education 2.0 (to quote John Crieghton) might look quite different. Are we ready for it?

b) An ongoing theme around teacher safety and workload around being ‘contactable’ 24 hours a day. What are the lines for teachers around keeping themselves and their students safe? Is it ok to reply to emails from students after 10pm? Is it ok for students to have cell numbers, or instagram/twitter/facebook? Horses for courses, or do we need a blanket policy? All it takes is one false step… are teacher adequately aware of the risks. This is a hard one, I had an example of a student texting me at 5:45 am the morning of their exam. What is the expectation around this? Some teachers would ignore, others reply? But by replying (I did, but at 6:30 when I woke up) am I setting an unrealistic expectations for my colleagues?

2) TELA update

Was very brief, there was not much to update. The consultation process I was part of was not overly informative and was confidential. I can say (I hope) there will be a wide range of devices available. There was then debate around how do we ensure teachers and school USE the variety effectively – I got ‘kicked’ around for saying I worried ‘gatekeepers’ would just choose the cheapest devices and for ease of network management keep everyone on the same device. The gatekeepers around the table said there is never adequate resourcing for device management in schools, which segwayed into funding issues in general. So while I am pleased there will be more devices options available, I do worry that teachers will not be aware they can have a choice, or schools will take this choice away due to funding issues or network managing issues. Sigh

3) Digital Technology Curriculum update

I really feel for the team that has been putting this together, they have been getting slammed from all sides and seemingly pleasing no-one. Everything is a little on hold after the releases of the reports from the consultation process – comments where made the survey was potentially skewed due to its length and overly complicated structure – and while the new government finds its feet. Comments were made that while digitech can’t be compulsory, it is strongly encouraged for years 1-10. The NCEA level one standards will be available on December 12th, which means planning will be in the holidays (it probably would have been anyways, but it is still a late date). Other comments where around ‘digital championships’ which had drawn criticism for being too competitive and using lots of $$ for no real purpose, and the digital equity project, looking to support 12,500 kids who have limited access to technology (I feel 12,500 is a drop in a very big ocean. There was also some discussion around where are all these teachers going to come from???

There was also some discussion around subject silos (again, another hightlight) in that digitech should not be stand alone. And perhaps if schools do it this way they will find it harder, or it will be pigeon holed as something you do for an hour a week. So my take was if we can integrate these ideas into the broader curriculum, it will work much better (she says after being super excited to get a yr 7 module digitech module to teach next year….)

4) Auckland STEM project.

Graeme Aitken (along with Tony and Kate, sorry I didn’t get there last names) came to talk us through the Auckland University STEM project. I was really impressed – their ‘mission’ was to support non specialist teachers who are teaching STEM subjects, especially physics. They want to be more successful at making maths and physics graduates from Auckland Univeristy., as they realised they weren’t getting as many as they wanted (between 2005 and 2011 they only had 11 physics teachers graduate from their teaching program). So they decided to think about it differently consulted with different groups (who wisely told them to start at Level 1, not level 3) and have set up a site to support students and teachers. They were ADAMANT the whole way through it was meant to be used as a support, not a replacement, and they really didn’t want it to be seen as a ‘baby sitting’ tool. (Again, another wee side conversation about guide to the side rather than up the front delivery of knowledge). They are funded for maths and physics, and want to get into Chemistry as well. It is free for ALL schools. So check it out http://www.stemonline.auckland.ac.nz/

5) N4L update

The lovely Paula Hay came along to update us on what N4L has been doing. Again (it was a common theme) they are waiting a little bit to see what the new Government will bring to their roll. It is also easy to forget just how big the N4L job is – there are over 800,000 users on their network. They had blocked over 120,000 viruses (and acknowledged some got through….). There was discussion around kids setting up their own networks to get round blocks. A nice update was they have a new support hub, where any teacher from a school can log in and ask for help, or read some FAQS to get help. And then a great wee discussion on digital assessment and how it might work – my question was why are we bothering to invest so much into digital exam infrastucture when exams are possibly a lost cause anyways (again thinking education 2.0). Most of the points were around logistics, devices etc. Although with the idea of any where, any time learning came some questions around teacher workload, and of course classroom management and timetabling – any time anywhere assessment would come at a cost of the timetable (which is not a bad thing in my view). N4L is also working with Chorus to look at wireless extensions for schools – a polite is being run at Haeta – so that the school wireless reaches into the community and students can use it at home.

6) Creative Commons

We had a skype presentation from Mandy Henk about creative commons, who is more than happy to help any schools wanting to adopt this. It was a good reminder about how many teachers openly (and unwittingly) flout copyright laws when sharing resources and/or taking resources when they move from school to school – it is the property of the BoT of your school as you were working for them when you made them.

7) Other bits and pieces

There was a brief update about COOLS – again, waiting to see what the government will do and the government does not want private providers- but it would need to change the education act as it was amended (I wasn’t super sure of the legal aspect, it sounded complicated…..). There was a little more information on SISI (student information sharing initiative) which sounds like it might not have much impact on the ‘front’ end of systems teachers use, just the back end around getting SMS systems to talk to each other more efficiently. And then safety around who can get what information.

And I think that was it. So a full on day, and reading over this, there was a lot of discussion and information. I have a nagging worry about teacher supply and that this, rather than sound practice, will push digital schools into being, but if we don’t have the teachers on the ground, perhaps it will be better than nothing.

Have fun

 

 

Posted in Professional learning

Hack the classroom (October 2017) – making connections

This morning (at an unpleasant hour of 4:00am NZ time) I tuned in for Microsoft’s Hack the classroom – a live broadcast from Washington State in the USA. While it was super early, it was worth being up to connect with all the other educators from around the world. If you like, you can watch a reply of the hack the classroom HERE. I had an extra incentive for being up to watch the broadcast live rather than by replay, as Nikkie and I had submitted our ‘hack’ around making connections within the NZ Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert community with our monthly Professional Learning Community calls. Getting in touch with these amazing educators once a month is genuine highlight for both my professional learning and for soothing my soul when I get frustrated, or stuck. We are all ‘hacking’ our curriculums and tech and are open about sharing and helping each other, either on the calls or on yammer. The banter is not bad either.

Highlights from the hack the class session.

Alan November

Alan November was the first ‘keynote’ speaker (live from Boston) – and in his very first sentence he talked about how we can’t get enough of teachers teaching teachers. So I was pretty sold already.

He then talked about some research about the ‘curse of knowledge‘ – and how some-one who already knows something might not connect with a ‘new’ learner’ as effectively as some-one who has just learned about it. This idea struck me quite strongly, mostly because I had not considered it before. Doing a simple search determined it is not a new idea, and yet I hadn’t heard it before. So, as always, learning new things and new ways of looking at things to help me be the best I can at helping learning happen.

He then also talked about the importance of students taking ownership of their learning. His suggestion was swapping the word ‘solve’ for ‘involve’ eg instead of solving a chemistry problem, design a problem involving alkenes and alcohols. Just a different way of flipping the thinking around – and given how hard I find it to write practice questions, I think this would be an awesome way to get my kids thinking more about what they are working on. He said he had ‘a somewhat cynical view of spoon feeding’ and this was a strategy to try and prevent this. As well as teachers letting go of their classrooms and not being in control. Teachers ‘knowledge’ is going to go down in value as more learning is on line, but teachers ability to support those students in their learning and creating content will need to drastically increase.

Another awesome point I reflected on from his presentation was when he was asked about engaging reluctant learners. He said

All kids love to learn, but not all love school

which I think nails it. So many kids will learn what they are interested about, but schools don’t ‘have room’ for what they are interested in.

So this presentation made me think some hard thunks, and I’m going to look into the idea of curse of knowledge a little bit more.

Tammy Dunbar 

Tammy Dunbar is AMAZING. I meet her at the Microsoft Education exchange in Seattle in 2015. She just radiates energy and passion for her job. My favourite message from her presentation was

‘life is bumpy, I want them to look at those challenges and be able to say, no, I can work through this, I can do this.’ 

She uses a whole range of tools in her class room, but it was the way she uses powerpoint that really stood out for me. Powerpoint often gets a bad rap, and we have all been in a powerpointless session, but it is a really powerful tool and to see it being used well was awesome. She is also using Minecraft really well, and as I’m looking into this for digital tech next year it was really cool to get some little ideas around that.

And of course, Tammy works closely with Koen Timmers to bring global education projects like Human Differences and Climate action. I have LOVED being involved in these projects and am proud to say I can contribute to them (when really it is my amazing kids doing all the work)

Making holograms – Tomas Milicka

My last highlight was another ‘hack’ submitted by another educator about Holograms. I love getting kids to make holograms, and usually do it as part of a light topic, or occasionally just for a fun filler. But I had never considered making my own videos. At first, I did kind of discount it (I will use it being 5:40am as a part of an excuse). But then I thought about the videos I could make. Before now,  it just hadn’t popped into my head I could make my own and I had always used some videos from youtube. So this 2 minute ‘hack’ about how to make your own hologram video was pretty cool, and I am going to have play with some chemistry shapes to see if I can make them into holograms somehow to students can see them in 3D in 3D in a hologram…..

 

So those were my big three takeaways. The other speakers and hacks were awesome, but those ones really stood out for me.

And then, last but least, it was time for Nikkie and me to grace the screen. Hearing Anthony talk about the work we do was such a great acknowledgement.

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It isn’t why I (or we) do it, it is still nice to get the odd little pat on the back. So a massive thank you to all the NZ MIEE’s out there that rock my world, that sent in pictures (or a video Ryan, massive brownie points for you) and make my education life a better place. And also to all the non MIEE teachers in NZ, and worldwide, who help me keep keeping on. You rock!!

Kia Kaha

 

 

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

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 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.