From assembly to maker faire… #adechat #pathon @bookcreatorapp

Another unit of inquiry ends.

It made sense that a unit which started with creating ended with creating. Like many schools, our primary school has regular assemblies which are led by different year groups to showcase learning.

When we look at the purpose of assemblies they are:

  • An opportunity for children to express themselves and present their learning.
  • For teachers, parents and students come together as a school community

However there is a mould of assemblies that needs to be broken, that of the audience. There is an assumption that assembly audiences are there to sit and listen with maybe a bit of singing and clapping thrown in. Ok once and a while but when you have to sit through the same thing week after week… it gets a little well, boring.

Enter the maker faire. A maker faire, is basically a community coming together to build. In our case something really simple, a balloon car.

When is a balloon car not a balloon car?

When is a balloon car not a balloon car?

After a successful makerthon, the kids were all pumped up to start our transportation unit. Four days later, the children went on holiday for two weeks. To get the kids back into the mood for the unit and to reconnect with each other, they spent a morning making balloon cars.

There was a catch… I hadn’t left the kids any instructions just a prototype and some materials in our craft area.

The children then spent the morning figuring out how to make the car, ironing out construction bumps along the way. Figuring that I had to do a writing assessment anyway, I got the children to write up their explanations of how to make the car and how it works. I marked their work and got them to reflect on their writing and come up with a goal.

As I also teach a Year 3 classroom there was another twist. After my Year 4s finished their goal setting for writing, I casually mentioned that I was going to be using their instructions to get the Year 3s to make the car.

A gasp went up.

“Umm Ms Stephanie, we might need to change some things.”

I couldn’t believe my ears.

Normally getting the kids to edit their work is a painful process, once children feel like they are ‘done’ they often lack motivation to really revise their writing.

When creating for teachers, kids will do ‘just enough.’ When writing for someone else, they will do more than enough.

It was then that I introduced the text features and we built some success criteria for our writing. The children spent the morning editing furiously, asking about spelling making sure that there explanation was just right. I invited my class to come over to help the Year 3s were they got some genuine feedback about their writing. They quickly realised that there were points they hadn’t explained carefully because the Year 3s were stuck.

With phase assembly looming, one of my colleagues had a brilliant idea. Instead of spending the usual assembly where classes would spend hours practicing and rehearsing scenes and the audience sits and listens, the entire of the primary school could make a balloon car based on instructions written by our students.

This seemed so much better than the usual process. The kids were still viewing and presenting but would be doing so with their parents. Our Year 5s and Year 6s would help the children in the younger grades.

The children were on board with showcasing their learning to a bigger audience in a different way. But then another problem was identified.

‘Ms Stephanie, the Year 1s can’t read so well. How can they follow our instructions?’

So we looked at bookcreator, an iPad app that easily enables kids to add pictures and text in book form. The added bonus of bookcreator is that alongside the traditional text, children can drop in audio files and movies. All of sudden a book wasn’t just a book, it was a multimedia experience.


Capturing how things work.

When the kids had finished writing, they had to think about how to use visuals to help explain the process. Despite having more access to cameras than ever before, children still need help thinking about what makes a good picture. Most kids at Year 4 will generally point the iPad in the general direction and hit capture. Getting the kids to really think about their photography required explicit teaching around perspective, lighting and how to focus. Photography challenges inspired by Dave Caleb helped the children improve their photography (including a huge teacher tip, get the kids to set a timer before they run around snapping).

Following on from this, the children’s first attempts at laying out their books were really bad. Clashing colours, tiny pictures, text plonked anywhere and atrocious fonts. I used Keri-Lee Beasley’s multi-touch book Design Secrets Revealed to teach the children more about design through a simple acronym, CARP. Contrast, Alignment, Repetition. The acronym is simple, and after a few mini lessons and design challenges the kids had language to help them starting to thinking about design.  Be warned though, the kids will start noticing your design. The children pulled me up on a lack of contrast in their final rubric!


Learn, Create, Share


Some of the kids experimented with using other apps such as PathOn to overlay text and photos which they saved to their camera roll and put together into the book. We then airdropped across our creations onto the Year 1 and 2s classroom iPads for the children to use during the assembly.

As the assembly drew near, I went out and purchased the materials. Rather than do the work of creating packs of supplies for each class to use, my co-teacher and I used this as an opportunity to do some real life multiplication and division. The kids were responsible for making packs.


Real live division

The children quickly worked out project was going to require a crazy amount of maths. Some chose to use counting on while others were more confident using numbers. In hindsight I should have got the children, to tell me how much materials I needed to buy and costed the materials out.


Technology sits side by side with good old white boards – not one of the kids thought to the use the calculator though!

The iPads were used to document the process, with the kids reflecting back on their blogfolio about their learning.

One of the creative constraints we faced for our assembly was a lack of space. Our school auditorium is snug when we are sitting together. But this assembly would require lots of space. Instead of all being in the same space, the children from the other year groups stayed in their classrooms. A google hangout was used to connect different classrooms together through the interactive whiteboard.


Best use of a projector screen

We then visited different spaces to see what was going on with a few kids acting as reporters through iPads. Would it have been better if we could have all been in the same place at the same time? Absolutely. But the technology kept us linked without being intrusive.


Using Google Hangouts via iPads to connect different physical spaces

After the initial trepidation about doing something different, the audience took to it with gusto. During the assembly one of the parents remarked to my co-teacher that the instructions weren’t so clear.  What the parent hadn’t realised was the instructions were written by their child. My co-teacher suggested feeding that observation back to the child and looking for ways to improve. This moment led to what we really want out of our assembly.

Conversations about learning.

Instead of hours spent practicing lines and rehearsing, the children were learning how to create, do maths and write. They still had an authentic audience and the only downside in the experience was feeling sad for the kids whose families weren’t able to attend to share in the experience.


What an assembly should really look like

My take aways from this experience:

Be less helpful – If I had started with learning intentions and success criteria the kids wouldn’t have been as interested. But by stepping back and looking for teachable moments, the children learned more and were more motivated.

If process is complex, keep the content simple The year 4s are capable of making something far more sophisticated. But given the amount of learning areas we touched on in this assembly, a simple balloon car went a long way. We explored other lines of inquiry but used the assembly to explain one thing really well.

Technology is great but isn’t a substitute for good teaching. Much of this experience could have been achieved without iPads. As I’ve mentioned before, the best part of learning with iPads is the kids pick them up when they need to and then put them down again.

Technology enabled the children to create and share more effectively. If you’re using iPads for skill and drill games, you’ve missed the boat on the amazing learning opportunities from these devices.

Connections matter. The maker theme of our unit came out of a tweet from @GCD28 about the global cardboard challenge.

But most importantly don’t get bogged down in tradition for tradition’s sake. Look for the purpose behind the traditions.

Assemblies are:

  • An opportunity for children to express themselves and present their learning.
  • For teachers, parents and students come together as a school community.

I think we achieved that.



An infographic instead of a rubric



Sometimes the hassle of tech just isn’t worth it…

IMG_0182There are moments in teaching where everything around you has turned to custard.

Resources arrive late, there’s a big event happening and the technology isn’t playing ball.

Yep you read right.

Even us technology enthusiasts have days where we wonder out loud after having plans and back up plans fall through.

The classroom is in disarray and we seethe.

Technology was supposed to make teaching easier but it is throwing up more problems than solutions.

Is it really worth all this hassle?

And there’s that kid.

The kid who you spent a lot of time on restorative conversations, the kid who is often in ‘trouble,’ the kid who puts in the bare minimum on a good day.

Yep that one.

At 8pm that kid emails through a video created not because it was on the homework sheet or because you said so.

But for the joy of it.

This kid is doing things you haven’t taught and using resources you hadn’t gotten around to showing the class.

You realise that one teaspoon at a time there’s a shift in this kid’s perception of learning.  The tech is helping that kid in ways you don’t know because you were too busy being stressed by what wasn’t working today to notice what was going well in the classroom.

After that you know you’ll go another 10 rounds of classroom madness just to get that something awesome out of that kid…

Connection without reflection and action = popularity contest #cenz14

Taking the plunge (photo by author)

Taking the plunge (photo by author)

With connected educator month coming to an end, I feel the need for a rant.

If we’re here talking about the value of connections again this time next year, then our detractors are right. Connecting with others online is just a popularity contest.

Being a connected educator is not about how many webinars you attend, the numbers of followers you acquire on twitter or the number of visitors to your site.

Seeing those numbers go up is surely good for the ego and I’d be lying if I didn’t say I haven’t enjoyed the further professional opportunities that go along with being a connected educator.

But really the kids in my class don’t care about how many times I’m retweeted or who reads my blog. They don’t want to know what conferences I have attended or workshops I’ve presented.

They want their time in class to be awesome.

So lets bring this back to something more pressing.

How has your practice changed as a result of being connected?

For me the value of being connected has been to always dream big or go home.

The parliamentary submission that my students made two years ago? The result of thinking about the work of a Diana Laufenberg Ted Talk. The Daily 5? @Kathryntrask. Running a successful classroom blog? The amazing @kathleen_Morris. Inquiry learning and my initial interest in the PYP @whatedsaid. Peeling back extraneous details to focus on learning – @sherrattsam

When I look back on the people who have had a major impact on my learning, I notice many of those teachers don’t post anymore or post infrequently. I know that unless they are on leave that they are likely doing amazing things in their classroom and I just don’t read about what they are up to.

Yet their ideas, forced me to think and re-think what I am doing.

Their ideas shifted my thinking and plunged me into action.

If reflection trumps connection then surely action is the winning hand. 

“How can we do research if we don’t have a computer?”

Image by author

Image by author

Every so often a child says something that reminds again that their lived reality is so different from my own.

I had set up the children in my class with a small provocation to ponder during the week, that transportation needs engines to move. The kids and I tottered off to the library with the burning question.

As the children went about replenishing our classroom library with old favourites like Geronimo Stilton, one of the kids came up to me looking confused.

“Ms Stephanie how can we do research in the library? We don’t have our computers.”

It was then that reality whacked me in the face.

The kids in front of me have never known an era where their parents haven’t possessed a device that can give them answers to questions. To look for information in books was so out of this nine year old’s experience that the student wasn’t able to connect library equals books equals information.

I’m sure that many teachers would see this as a further evidence that technology is destroying the fabric of education as a whole, that a child would not think of the books in the school library as a place to find facts.

Yet what is this child’s experience?

Like many adults these days if I’m stumped about something, I will often whip out my phone for the answer.

This is what she knows.

Yes we still read books but when I think of my own choices for reading these days, most of them are a result of recommendations on twitter rather than browsing the library or bookstore. No longer do I need to head down to the encyclopaedia aisle to find the knowledge I’m looking for and fun facts along the way.

My book choices find me.

This is our student’s reality.

But that doesn’t mean we can’t use a teachable moment to give nine year olds in 2014 the experience of a nine year old of curling up in the encyclopaedia section in 1989 to learn more about the world.

Several kids in my class had managed to locate books on cars. Others were looking on the library’s date base. Most were milling around. So I we went down to the non-fiction section. I explained that the children who had found cars were on the right track, but if they had looked in the previous section there were a whole lot of books on forces and motion.

Are these the sort of books that might help us?

The covers were enticing and were giving the children messages that they were on the right rack.

Within seconds the kids were busy pulling out books and sharing with others. They glanced and pictures first and then started finding words. I quickly did a series of mini lessons explaining table of contents and that you didn’t need to read reference books cover to cover to find information. Look for chapters that you think might help you first is part of the beauty of these types of books.

The kids were quickly ensconced in new found facts, both intended and unintended.

“Hey Miss Stephanie this book has websites we can go visit.”

Awesome make sure you bring it back to class with you.

It’s time to stop viewing technology in opposition to the strengths of books and paper. All have their place in learning and by bringing the strengths of the digital world with the world of books oh what places our children will go.

And those teachable moments?

They exist to remind the adults in education the importance of humour and humility in helping educate children.

Weekly Reflection: The power of provocation #ishcmc


@sherrattsam spending a moment asking a question with a student

This holiday I was annoyed that the PYP workshop I had to attend was at the same time as learning2 conference where one of my favourite thinkers on learning, @sherrattsam was speaking. However this setback turned into a huge learning opportunity by visiting the International School of Ho Chi Minh City (ISHCMC) where Sam teaches for a week.

My head came away buzzing.

Power of visiting schools – What’s obvious to you is amazing to someone else. I’ve had people remark how unusual it is for teachers to spend time learning in other schools. Why is that? Leaving the bubble of our own classroom is the first step to broadening our understanding of instructional practice. Going on a school visit takes it a step further. Teachers are able to see what types of learning activities and experiences are valued in other schools to feedback into their own practice. Classroom blogs are a small window into new worlds but face to face is so much richer.


@votefortiff Setting the scene for learning in Grade 5

Power of provocation – My visit coincided with a Grade 5 provocation. Laptops were stolen from class and it was up to the kids to use scientific process to get them back. The provocation was an intricate web of academic disciplines, approaches to learning and PYP concepts. The language the teachers used was purposeful and deliberate which elevated the student’s thinking. It took what my phase did with the cardboard challenge to whole new level.  Children from the year level were mixed into different classes further shaking up the experience for the children. At the end of the provocation the children didn’t just know the language they felt what it was like it was to be scientists. I’m wondering where the teachers and students will go next with their inquiries.

Power of setting the scene  – The children spent 2 hours in the morning watching cultural performances outside in the tropical heat. It was the last day of term. A recipe for trouble? Nope the kids were still engaged in their learning such was the strength of the provocation but also the ability of the teachers to set the scene for learning. The children at ISHCMC spend 10 minutes after morning tea and lunch in mindfulness sessions, cooling down their bodies and focusing their minds. The result? Calm and purposeful classrooms. Having a tray of fruit for the kids to nibble further helped focus the mind.

Power of free range PD –  I had forgotten how nice it is to be in a school just learning. I was on holiday so there were no emails to worry about, no paperwork to file and no meetings. Just time to breathe and learn. Because I had decided to make visit, it was up to me make the most of the opportunity. Why it is that we insist on filling up professional learning time? Why do we insist teachers all learn at the same time at the same place?  The answer is that some teachers wouldn’t do any professional learning. Yet schools have levers through registration and re-contracting process to address this problem. Why do we plan professional learning around the worst case? Why do we give so little control to teachers of their PD? What might free range PD look like?

What an administrator's office should look like

What an administrator’s office should look like

Power of approachable admin – I’ve always been pretty lucky that administrators I’ve worked with make a point of getting into class.  I love seeing how much children lift their learning and self-esteem when leadership are in their classroom taking a genuine interest in their learning. ISHCMC took it to a whole new level as hordes of kids piled into the deputy principal’s office during the provocation. How often do you see kids in your principal’s office as part of their learning? 

Power of teachers talking to teachers - Think of the last conference you attended or the last expert bought into your school. Was the person leading it a current classroom teacher? Most of the keynoters at conferences and consultants bought into schools have long since left the classroom. While the experts may know their area well, their advice is essentially out of date. Why do schools undervalue the expertise of current practitioners by giving so little time to teacher-led professional development? By luck, I happened to arrive at ISHCMC at the same time as @lanafleiszig, an amazing maths teacher from Melbourne, was there to offer PD. From an outsider’s perspective I can’t overstate the value in having someone inside the school giving advice during planning, modelling lessons as well as offering workshops after school. Despite being tired at the end of the term, the teachers were clearly invigorated by her visit and I could see shifts in practice emerging. Such is the power of a deep learning connection over a series of days rather than a 45 minute keynote.

You get a new perspective when you team teach

You get a new perspective on learning when you team teach

Power of team teaching – Within an hour of arriving Chad, the teacher whose class I ended up spending time in, remarked how much easier teaching becomes when there is another adult in the room. While I was officially at the school as an observer, I got my hands dirty either quietly with one or two kids on the side, with small groups or even sharing with the whole class together with Chad. Because I’m a tech geek, I ended up making a video of the provocation bringing another dimension to the learning for the Grade 5s. Team teaching enabled us to play to our strengths. The presence of a trusted teacher in the room helped us identify and develop areas where we need to improve. It is impossible for teachers to be all things to all kids.  Why should any kid have a crappy year or need to move classes because their personality doesn’t mix with their teacher’s? Why do we insist on siloing teachers and children away in individual cells?

Surround yourself with good people

What is the most important treasure? It is people, it is people, it is people.

Power of recruitment – Who do you work well with enough to share a classroom with? Team teaching would be hell for all involved if the wrong teachers were placed together. Aside from giving personal recommendations staffing is generally an admin responsibility.  How often do teachers get a say in who their colleagues are? How about the kids? Why is it that the people in schools teaching candidates will spend the most of the time working with are the ones generally left out of the recruitment process? Recruitment in international schools is an expensive and risky business for teachers and schools alike. It leaves so much to chance for all involved. The school doesn’t get a real picture of a candidate’s strengths and weakness while candidates don’t get a sense of what they are signing up for during skype sessions or expensive job fairs.

Power of connection –  I made my initial connection to @sherrattsam through @whatedsaid who suggested him as a person to see teach a couple of years ago when I was on holiday in Bangkok.  @lanafleiszig, the expert teacher visiting  ISHCMC teaches at Edna’s school in Melbourne.  What strikes me is how easily conversation flows when our bodies are in the same space as our minds.  We need to start trading breadth of connection for depth of experience. Developing a few good friends who really challenge us is worth more than thousands of superficial connections.

As I reflected on my week on the plane ride home, I realised that I’ve gained more by spending time in the school where Sam teaches watching and learning than any conference. Like all good provocations, my visit has left me with more questions than answers. When I was gathering my things on Friday evening, I bumped into one of the students from Chad’s class.

“Hey Ms Stephanie when are you coming back?”

Interesting question.


How do you learn if you aren’t a connected educator?

I started teaching in 2003.

In a fit of youthful exuberance I decided to embark on an adventure to teach English as a Foreign Language.  I knew nothing about Korea outside of watching MASH re-runs and my teaching experience at the point consisted of some in school observations as part of my education degree. Yet this didn’t seem to bother my employers. Thus  I winged my way over to the Land of the Morning Calm thinking that teaching a bunch of Korean 5 year olds their ABCs would be a piece of cake.


By lunchtime I had a melt down into a misery. I had no idea what I was doing and there was nobody around to help. So I did what any normal 20 something in need of advice and support in the early 2000s did.  I searched google. From that search I found a message board filled with teachers who were in the exact position as me only with a few months more experience.

Through message board I learned some teaching strategies,  a few useful phrases in Korean, found out where to buy western goods, made life-long friends and at the end of my 12 month contract found a job. On the board I argued about current events and posted stupid videos. We  organised parties and study groups. I know of at least one married couple that met through a party organised by members of the message board.

Again this was 2003 long before Facebook, Twitter, YouTube or the phrase social networking had even been uttered.

We had no idea that this sort of learning would still be considered innovative 10 years later. All we wanted was to know where to buy western goodies in a land of unfamiliar groceries and connect with people who quite literally spoke our language.

I bring up this story not to pat myself on the back for being an early adopter but because I have no idea how to be a teacher without having a posse of online friends to help me out.

I wonder where teachers who don’t connect online source ideas and inspirations for their teaching.

I wonder who they turn to for advice in tough times.

I wonder how they decide what books to read and what conferences to attend.

In short I wonder how non-connected educators learn.

Unlike traditional and pre-planned in professional development, being connected to a global network of educators enables me to learn 24 hours a day. This was true even before the popular social networks were invented let alone considered important enough to have a month dedicated to being a connected educator.

After using social networking for over a decade to learn, I can safely say that no  workshop or conference I can attend now is more valuable or offers a greater level of interaction than the network of educators I interact with on Facebook, Twitter or through reading blogs.

This is not to say I don’t find value in face to face interactions, far from it. The instant conversation and connection afforded to me by the avatars I interact with opens the way to a deeper level of conversation when we do meet in person.

However I’ve quickly realised that I may not be the best person to convert others to the world of online professional learning. Connected educators are often too passionate about our learning that we scare off the uninitiated with talk of hashtags, tweetdecks and RSS feeds.

Moreover the culture of how we learn and what we learn is so different. It requires a change in mindset and skill to go from working in the isolation of your classroom or school and having someone else guide your learning to using a device to control your own learning both personally and professionally.

It’s amazing how fast connected educators forget what is like to send out that first tweet or trying to follow a fast flowing chat where everyone else knows what’s going on. We don’t remember a time when our blog posts weren’t read by anyone else. In short we forget about the time and effort required to master this ecosystem and focus merely on the pay off.

For some the pay off isn’t worth the effort.

I think it is safe to safe to say that most teachers are connected to device that enables them to connect to the internet.   If we consider all the different ways teachers have to connect online – facebook, twitter, nings, pinterest, flickr, google+, instagram, active education accounts are a small proportion of active teachers.

What we need is to get more teachers connected to one another.

To be clear I’m not saying that you need to be connected to be a good teacher nor that the unconnected are in anyway bad teachers. However if you are doing something awesome in your classroom couldn’t other people learn from it? Could other people tweak the idea and make it better?

We can’t have the same conversations with the same people on connectedness every October without some expectation for change.

Will next year be more of the same or a different landscape all together?

Feeling the fear and doing it anyway – my foray into the world of maker education


Our mound of cardboard

I’ve never been the type that has been good at building things with my hands. Being barely able to write my name legibly, constructing things and making objects of art was something that other teachers did.

Outside of the milk bottle igloo, I really hadn’t done much work on physically creating things.  Most of my classroom creations were digital because I lacked the skills to conjure up creations out of trash or make lovely

While I was at ISTE I stumbled into a session on maker education by Sylvia Libow Martinez and  Gary Stager and was transfixed. I immediately bought their book, Invent to Learn. The book confirmed a lot of my own thoughts about teaching, that kids will do amazing things when they are relevant and significant to them.

After reading the book, I quickly realised the problem wasn’t that I lacked the technical know-how, it was that I hadn’t sold the children on the purpose of what we were doing.

As if by luck, I saw a series tweets coming out of #NISTthink about the global cardboard challenge. With our new unit of inquiry coming up I thought rather than a traditional ‘tuning in’ activity, why not turn the traditional inquiry cycle on its head and start the unit of with some creative action. So instead of the usual tuning activities of listing types of transport on postits we decided to have a buildathon with a transport theme using bits of cardboard, drink bottles and other packaging lying around the children’s homes.


A finished produc

I did some research and remembered hearing the story about Caine and his arcade. Caine was the same age as many of my students yet his idea had touched so many people.  Creativity in action was our big idea that Friday to set the scene. The children were immediately enthused and were desperate to have a turn at making their own games so that’s what we did for the last 20 minutes on Friday.

At the end of the session there more questions than answers.

How did Caine get so famous?

Can we do that again?

Rather than the children exhibiting the usual signs of tiredness typical of kids last period on a Friday afternoon the students were energised and inquisitive.

Our phase cleared our timetable as much as we could to devote an entire day to building transport in class. As we were getting started, some of the kids suggested that we should all watch part 2 of Caine’s arcade.

Clearly the children had been interested in the story that they had gone home to independently research more about Caine.

We divided up our research, I gave each team in my class an iPad and they went to work.


iPads as tools to be put down when not in use

What was amazing about the day was that most of the issues around the use of the iPad weren’t that they were were being misused for games but… wait for it..  the kids kept leaving the iPads on the ground. The technology had become just another learning tool. The children were picking up their iPads in order to do a specific job: recording a wow moment, researching designs for their transport and then… believe it or not… they put the iPad back down wherever it was they were working.

The results of the children’s learning that day was phenomenal. We had a car that imagined a car that drives you while you are asleep, an alligator submarine. Children were able to build wheels that spun and cars with doors that opened. One group of year 3s built a cable car which is now suspended across their classroom.

More importantly, I witnessed a change in after school routine. Usually the kids rush out the door to see their parents and head home from school.  Instead, the children were desperately pulling their parents into class to gush about what they had created during the day.

What better advertisement is there for maker education than that?


People inside the cable car


What is the Big Idea (Friday)?

Over the last few years I evolved a tradition in my class called Big Idea Friday.

It started out from my own learning where I try to write a weekly blog post about something that I’ve been thinking about in my teaching practice. I found the process for processing the end of a busy week of teaching and refocusing my mind towards the week ahead. The tradition also kept me writing when I really wanted to give up blogging (though I’ll be the first to admit my reflections have been rather sparse of late).

As I was going through the process of reflecting each week I started tagging my reflections using the New Zealand Registered Teacher Criteria (RTC) – a set of standards which New Zealand teachers are judged against during our professional appraisal process.  Using the RTC gave my reflections a conceptual framework on which I could hang my ideas on teaching and learning. Tagging the posts was a way I could easily document shifts in my thinking and teaching practice over time.

The practice slowly but surely started seeping into my classroom. Over the week I’d watch the kids and think about conversations I’ve had with them. Quite often a picture or video from my twitter feed would show up that I could use as a provocation in class to get the kids reflecting on what I’ve noticed and thus Big Idea Friday became a classroom tradition.

If it’s been a bad week where lots of kids have made bad choices? There’s some lessons from crazy dancing guy on the power bystanders have in a group situation.

In the middle of classroom projects and wanting to give up? An advertisement from Apple to remind us that nothing worth doing is easy. 

Want to get kids excited about the week ahead? Let’s take a look at Caine and his arcade.

The crazy thing about Big Idea Friday is that I had no idea what ‘it’ was and why ‘it’ was important until I was sitting in a Kath Murdoch workshop back in May. There I learned about split screen teaching – the idea that alongside content and concepts teachers need to develop learning dispositions in children – and a little light bulb went off in my head. This wasn’t just some crazy tradition I’d stumbled upon through my own learning, someone important was giving the practice some legitimacy.

As I’ve become more familiar with the PYP, I’ve started to use media as a way for us to look at the PYP attitudes and learner profile to give the process a stronger conceptual framework. The key competencies from the New Zealand curriculum also lend themselves to this type of reflection. If I had a time machine, I’d have been more explicit in making links with the kids between Big Idea Friday and the key competencies.

Documenting Big Idea Friday has been easy –  I post the provocation on the class blog and the kids comment on the post. Using the class blog opens up the conversation to others in particular my students’ families who have commented on their own experiences which further enriches our learning.

I’ve also found blogging lends itself to documenting this type learning – the messy stuff that comes out of conversations with the kids rather than a long-term planner – through the label feature which enables me to tag posts with different elements of the learner profile or pyp attitudes. Over time the labels build up a picture of the classroom conversations which then informs planning for future learning engagements. This is what my class looks like towards the end of term 1.

labels The tag cloud will look different after after another few weeks.

Tagging is a brilliant way to be able to draw out non-linear learning. We might spend a few weeks talking about creativity and not touch the topic again for a few months. If the kids were documenting their reflections in a book or a google doc it would be hard to make links. However through tagging I can quickly draw up all the posts on creativity to spot shifts in the children’s thinking over time. Tagging an idea down to a few words ensures that the concept and provocation is purposeful and relevant to the classroom conversation.

Big Idea Friday might seem like the antithesis of true inquiry learning. After all isn’t reflection something we should be doing all the time? Of course. However my students and I find value in finding time to explore those dispositions that go beyond content knowledge and help the kids develop as people.

More often than not, Big Idea Friday is often accompanied by that eerie feeling of the noise being spontaneously sucked out of the classroom as the kids get lost in their thoughts.

Now that’s an idea worth spreading…

Video newsletters = easy and awesome! Thanks @shareski

Writing newsletters is one of least favourite chores. I’m not sure how many parents actually read the newsletter, moreover the production of newsletters takes time away from the things that matter.

Could this old-style communication become more effective?

Enter Dean Shareski.

One of his suggestions from the recent Singapore Google Apps for Education summit was the idea of instead of sending out a text-heavy newsletter video could do a more effective job of telling what is going on in classrooms. People get to hear tone, voice and realise that yes you are a person not just a teacher.

I decided to have a go at producing a video newsletter for my year group.

During a non-contact period I pulled 3 children out of each of the Year 4 classes out. I asked the group what they’d learned in school for English, Maths and Unit of Inquiry. Each child talked a little bit about what they had been up to in the class. I then dumped the footage into Final Cut and uploaded it to YouTube.

The whole thing took about 20 minutes and was a lot more satisfying to produce than the written newsletter.

I quickly realised that the reason I didn’t particularly enjoy the newsletter was that it had very minimal input from the kids. This format potentially gives children a lot more voice and gives them an opportunity to reflect on their learning.

I’m sure a few doubters are wondering how much I had to ‘prep’ the children to be able to talk. We had about 30 seconds which seems about right. Surely the proof of effective teaching in my classroom is that the children should be able to talk about what they’ve been learning about in school the last few weeks.

As this project progresses, I imagine it will become easier and we’ll be refining the newsletter.

Maybe written newsletters are a thing of the past?

Google Challenges – Information literacy old and new @GoogleForEdu

Fast paced and frustrating.

A Google a Day challenge is a class favourite. I’ve conducted the challenges with big Year 7/8 kids down to Year 4.

Google has a large selection of challenges available for teachers to use. The challenges include a few sentences that have some clues that the kids can use to search to help find the answer. They then email in the answers into the teacher. To the untrained eye it probably looks like the kids and I are fluffing around on a computer but the classroom is often a hive activity that comes from groups kids trying to nut out the answer.

To be successful the children need to be able to break questions down, find out the meanings of unknown words and decide what the question is really asking through creating search strings. I’m sure a few will probably criticise me for teaching out of date search methods however I’ve found that the children are starting to make links from these challenges back to reading groups, skimming and scanning for information, using key words to help with comprehension, discussing purpose and intent that make these challenges worthwhile.

I’ve also been tweaking the format to suit my needs.

Many of the challenges on the google site now included hacks where people are answering the question directly online.  While I love the idea of promoting greater information literacy in class, the challenges themselves often were random facts rather that were competed unrelated to the unit of inquiry or topic we were studying

So I started writing my own.

This is a challenge related to last years unit of inquiry into the rainforest.


Google challenge

The image provided a magical teachable moment. The kids recognised the bird as a toucan and started search for ‘proof’ that the toucan produced a weapon. They were outraged that the image had led away from the answer. However I was able to show that our world is full of images, some of them enhance the writer’s message others will distract and it’s up to us to decide about the purpose of the image.

Images can also be used as a way to find information.

In this case the children were able to use the picture of the girl in this google challenge to help them find the information they needed to identify Adora Svitak.


Sometimes I’ve used Google challenges as a way to spark kid’s curiosity.


The challenge on Ruby Bridges quickly had the kids curious about the era of segregation. The idea that people shouldn’t be able to mix based on the colour of their skin seemed alien in my international school classroom. They were also curious as to how art and music can bring about social change. The children quickly located the song and the Norman Rockwell painting provoked further interest in the intensity of the protests Ruby Bridges faced on her fist day of school.

We’ve yet to explore how video, newspapers and news can be used to help us and I’m sure as google’s tools become more sophisticated the potential for teaching information literacy actually becomes more important not less.


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