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.


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 🙂

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.  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…. 🙂

Posted in random ramblings

The SNA apocalypse….

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

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

So my question to myself and the world at large is

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

Posted in random ramblings

Can you tell that to my parents….

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

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

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

‘Can you tell that to my parents please.’

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

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

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

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

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