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.


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 ๐Ÿ˜‰

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

Hands on at Hands on at Otago

My favourite (professional) week of the year is Hands on at Otago. This camp used to be Hands on Science, and 19 years ago I went along as a nerdy nearly 6th former. Fast forward a few years and I was running the project in my department. A few more years and I am the camp ‘manager’ which is really the camp Mum for the 300 odd students and 30 odd post and undergrad student helpers. It is an amazing week, full of stress, chaos, ridiculous laughter and late nights, and has given me some of the best experiences of collaborative, genuine team work and problem solving.

I get to spend a week with this crazy crew… and it is AWESOME. Photo Credit – Gravity events

For some back ground, Hands on this year was about 420 kids from all over New Zealand and a couple from Aussie and the Pacific coming to Otago University for a ‘week of serious fun’. I was living in at Arana College with 299 of the students (Blueshirts) and 26 redshirt student helpers (a couple had to pull out, so we were a bit light on red shirts this year)(The other 120 were over the road at Studholme College). Myself and the redshirts pretty much go all out all week to provide pastoral care and a super awesome time for these kids, while they also go to projects for 1/2 the week (eg comp sci solve a cyber crime, geology take and analyse soil samples from around Dunedin – this is actually going to get written up into a paper, music made a music video..), and a couple of 2 hour ‘snacks’ (eg, the English snack got students to make their own quills and learn cursive, or students attended the anatomy museum, or went of the polaris research vessel or went to the Maori Center to learn about the support offered there).

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Photo Credit

So the red shirt team has nothing to do with projects and snacks (other than getting student there and back safely) but they do organise orientation, an amazing race to get the students to learn their way round the uni, north ground games to get them moving, a quiz night, and an AMAZING DANCE (we had gravity events again this year – totally recommend them, the owner did Hands on Science while at school so he totally gets what we are about). And then we listen to what the students did for the week, and we get them home again.

It is really hard to describe the week to people that haven’t done it. This year we had several people pop by to see what we do and how we do it. One of the hardest questions I got asked was how do we pick the team of redshirt to help out. Essentially, we have a spectrum of people, people who are outgoing/quiet, people who are from NZ/overseas, people with different cultural backgrounds and capital. We try for a mix of subjects, sexualities, ethnicities and experiences. And on top of that, will that person be able to a) connect with a blue shirt in same way (even if it is a that person is kind of like me, so maybe I can do this to type connection) and b) work with everyone else to get all the jobs done that we need to.

And boy do we need to problem solve. People are messy. And when you get that many people living together, things happen. Some are major (like a family member passing away and needing to get home, or dealing with being told to stay and not let it ruin the week), NCEA results coming out (oh my goodness…..), crashing cars (I once seriously dented the proctors car hitting a bollard… I have NEVER had an accident like that before or since) illness and injury (trips to A&E are always fun) and staff issues.Some are purely logistical – how can I get group A, B and C to locations D, E and F at x, y and z times, or which packed lunches do I need to order. Some are minor – forgotten keys to a van, miscommunications, scraps, bumps and bruises, lost property. Some are kind of funny (seeing a blue shirt teaching a group of other blueshirts how to use a washing machine) and some are heartbreaking…..

And all of these things and more happen throughout the week, often all at once and all together. There are periods of calm, periods of painting decoration for the dance, and periods of intense scrambling.

Photo credit – red shirt Andrew ๐Ÿ™‚

Leading this organised chaos has done so much for me. It has taught me about compassion, about boundaries, about sharing your faults so others are comfortable to admit theirs. I have learned how to find the information I am looking for at jobs interviews (although this is still a work in progress…) which has in turn made me feel more confident in my own interviews. It has taught me how privileged I am to have led the life I have, while also being in awe of some of the amazing kids who are more privileged than me. It has taught me you can’t fix some problems in a week, but the importance of being a positive influence. ย I have learned (again) that when you deliver the impossible, it becomes expected and you can some-how find more to give. It has taught me to lead people, not manage them as things. I have had to find strategies to role with the punches, let upset tired people be heard while secretly wanting to either slap them or agree with them, or stop myself problem solving when all they need to do is vent. To manage difficult professional discussions and stick to my guidelines. To let people find their feet and their own systems and strategies, or to try to guide them through failures. It has taught me how to squeeze something out of people they didn’t know they had – and how to try to pick up the pieces when things get to much. I experience pride, heartbreak, exhaustion, elation, pure joy and belly laughs.

I love working with the red shirts. I try hard to lead by example, join in the ‘little jobs’ when I can, and REALLY enjoy learning about what they are studying and working at. I’m not sure if they all realise it, but talking to them keeps me honest and keeps me fresh. I hear the ‘latest’ science and research, about changes to student loans, the pitfalls of flats and colleges, all sorts of things. And because they are such a varied bunch, I learn such a variety of things.

I am so privileged to be involved in this week. Even though I give it heaps, I always get more back.

So, when is the next one…. ๐Ÿ™‚

Posted in random ramblings, Teaching and Learning

‘Wasting’ a friday afternoon

It is period five on a Friday and I have my Chemistry class. They are super engaged, collaborating, being creative and not doing any Chemistry.

The trigger was these kinex kit carousels that the year 7 class had made. They are doing a simple machines unit, and so had made the carousels to investigate gears.


To be fair, the carousels are really cool. I had been playing with them on and off all day, each one has a different sized gear that means it spins around at a different speed.

So of course my year 12’s wanted to play with the kinex. And given we are where we need to be, I decided to run with it and say sure.


It is still fascinating me as I sit here and type – they are soooo into them – especially the boys, although a couple of the girls have joined in. There was an interesting discussion about following the instruction versus using your imagination – or youtubing how to make something. There are rubber bands flying about as they test the rubber band guns that made, and go back and modify the design to see if they can make them go further. Cranes, tractors, wheels, guns, it is really nice to listen to the quiet hum of the class as they have fun and just have a play.

I don’t quite know how to get the same enthusiasm for exam revision… I wish I did. But for now, it is nice to be having a fun friday P5 with some engaged students – even if ewe aren’t doing exactly what we should be.

Maybe that is why it is so good ๐Ÿ™‚

Posted in Teaching and Learning, Techie stuff

DNA sways

I have really only dabbled with Microsoft sway as I find I use OneNote and Office Mix way more often. But with the new addition of Microsoft Classroom and being able to just add links into the files for students to review, it is a little easier than before to share. So I am revisiting sway as a tool for my teaching and learning programs. A big bonus for the Genetics topic we are currently doing is that is so easy to insert videos and diagrams, as well as room for the all ‘extensive’ vocabulary the students need to learn, (as an FYI, I ย struggle with how language rich the genetics topics always is, watching boys eyes glaze over as I go through new word after new word is a bit tough for everyone)

The first thing was a revamp of a previous sway on the relationship between DNA, genes and chromosomes, with a recap of DNA structure too.

We then did my FAVOURITE activity from the Science learning hub, edible DNA. I love this lesson, but to add a little bit more of a goal into the lesson, I asked my students to use their DNA models to make a short video, which I then uploaded to youtube, and embedded into a sway for easy sharing

Next steps will be a Office Mix (still love my office mix) explaining punnet squares and some online animations to practice them, and then perhaps another sway for adaptations and variation.

Posted in random ramblings

The SNA apocalypse….

This time of year tends to be super angsty. Stress of exams, marking exams, writing reports about exams, exams, EXAMS, EXAMS. It is really easy to get caught up in it, and certainly before exams I was spiralling into a sort of bitter education is soooo broken and I am doing nothing to fix it mindset. And it didn’t help when I did have students who have left papers blank. Except that it was easy as marking ๐Ÿ™‚

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

So my question to myself and the world at large is

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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