Category Archives: RTC 6 – Planning
At the end of the week I jetted away to Bali for the Apple Distinguished Educator Institue in Bali. I was pretty stoked when I learned of my selection back in December. Since then I’ve crossed days off my calendar and been doing the happy dance with increased frequency but the realities of the trip didn’t really hit until Thursday afternoon when all of a sudden I was struck by a terrifying thought; ZOMG someone else is teaching my class for a week.
Sure I’ve had the odd day of release here and there for various bits of PD and working on the Teachers & Social Media reference group last year but this is the first time I’ve left my class for an extended period of time. All up the trip encompasses three weeks due to Easter and I will be missing an important school event, the annual Fun Run. So on Thursday I had a sudden attack of the guilts and panic attacks and spent way too long at school dotting all the Is and crossing all the Ts for my absence.
As I wrote up instructions about my class and its personality for the reliever, I wondered if primary teachers by virtue of teaching the same group of kids for the year are susceptible to shouldering the burden of thinking: ‘I am the only one who knows how to teach this class.’ While the result can be an empowering sense of mama bear “RAWR! YES I AM THE TEACHER” it seems like it comes with a heavy tax.
By casting yourself in the role of the superhero teacher you risk burning yourself out. You don’t sick days because it seems like more work to prepare for a reliever than to battle on with the flu. You say no to PD opportunities because you worry that your plans won’t be covered to the T and the kids might be unsettled by your absence. And all of sudden there you are; frazzled, isolated and probably battling a lengthy flu because you didn’t take any time off to recuperate.
So once I sent off my plans I decided to enjoy my week ahead and stop stressing about my absence from school.
Does the reliever teach concepts differently than me? Meh, who cares: as long as the kids get exposure to the concept I’m happy. Did the reliever get the kids to put the markers back in the right place? Eh, as long as the kids know where to find them, then no problem. Did the reliever follow my plans exactly? Bah. As long is the class is happy and learning, it’s all probably fine.
Phew another teaching milestone reached.
As the term wears on I’ve been moving my class on from culture-building through to getting learning programmes started. Our unit of inquiry for the first half of the year is on globalization
Globalization there’s so many ways the class could go with this concept. At the start of the term I had lots of mad ideas and in the process of trying to get some sort of unit plan together I kept back to this idea of being less helpful.
Was it up to me to tell the kids what roads to go down? Were the roads I was missing?
So I started loosely.
A simple provocation, the overview effect.
What 10 things would you send out into space to represent ‘spaceship earth.’
It’s a question the class will return to at the end of this unit.
As I looked around the class some groups took to the open question with relish, others needed support and a few were floundering. They were waiting for some to tell them what to do and what to think. As a teacher I wanted to make it easier, but I kept back wanting to embrace the mess.
The class will probably spend a few weeks floating above our planet before delving down into different layers.
It wil be hard work both mentally and physically. Perhaps a worksheet or the typical route of finding out about country or designing their own flag might have been easier but not nearly so rewarding both for me but more importantly for my students.
This year I’ve resolved to share more of my practice online. I’m not sure how interesting it will be once the term really begins, but for now this school year is new and sparkly. I have lots of energy and want to share (as opposed to last year which just seemed to pass in blur of haziness).
I teach a combined Year 7/8 class with my Year 8s remaining with me for two years. This has both its advantages and disadvantages. I already know half my kids and there was a culture established in the class. However for incoming Year 7s it must be tricky coming into a room where half the kids know each other and whats what. The video is an attempt to bridge the gap letting the Year 7s know what they might expect from 2013 and giving the Year 8s a reminder of some of the crazy stuff we got up to last year.
I followed @kathryntrask example last year and used buckets as a place for students to store their gear in the absence of individual desks.
To get the kids a bit more psyched about the buckets, each bucket has some small gifts inside them:
An eraser, because all of us are going to start the year with a clean slate. A blue piece of card for the students to make a postcard to mail home in a few weeks with their goals for the year. A yellow piece of paper to name their bucket (I’ll laminate those). There’s also a pencil to represent that we are each scholars and piece of vietnamese candy to signify our school theme for the first of the half of the year, globalisation. Finally there’s a lollypop which has extra special significance.
Late last year I stumbled onto this awesome TED Talk by a guy called Drew Dudley, who argued that true leadership was in the little every day things that we do to make each others lives better which he called lollypop moments. Now my Year 8s have already seen the talk but something really resonated with me about this idea and I’m going to use this idea as something to build on in the next few weeks as I build up my class’s culture.
New Year, New furniture.
One of the big things to happen in my class is that we have new furniture. My class really was in need of some new furniture as the top was coming off one of the old tables, and some of them had bits falling off them.
Now the classroom has wave tables that can be easily reconfigured, a low level table, plus stools, the hokki stools (wobbly stools) thanks to my awesome principal.
To top things off my last year’s tutor teacher left my students her old couch which I know is something the kids will love.
On one hand it’s awesome having new desks and chairs but on the other, I was has having trouble working out how this furniture would fit around the room. Yes a few tables got moved next door as the kids in my class will often work on the ground and too much furniture tends to stop this from happening.
You might notice that a lot of my desks and tables are pushed against walls rather than in the middle of the class. Again this is deliberate, to improve the flow of the class. Having lots of furniture tends to impede movement both of kids and furniture as it become a big deal to push a table out if there are three in the way.
I also don’t have enough chairs and table for every child to sit down at once. Again, this is deliberate. By not having enough kids need to learn how to share. It also means that students who want to work on the couch or the sofa can do this.
There’s also beanbag and plenty of cushions (which my students often plonk on top of). I’ve line up furniture against the board to take the focus away from the front of the classroom. I haven’t quite managed Stephen Heppell’s rule of three points of interest (not to mention there are not three teachers in the class, but nevertheless there should be multiple points of interest for people to see if they happen to wander into the classroom.
You might have noticed that I don’t have much on the walls. This is deliberate. I know a lot of teachers like to have bright borders and pretty fonts and yes it is nice to have an aesthetically pleasing classroom. However I’m of the belief that the walls should be places for learning and if you are going to put up things, then it needs to have a purpose other than looking pretty. Over the coming weeks I’m sure that there will be questions and problem posing plastered all over the walls. I also know the kids will start putting up artwork that makes the standard, in fact maintaining our walls with colour and interest will I’m sure be part of my class’s morning chore.
At the moment I’m not entirely happy with my set up. It feels a lot more like a classroom at the moment rather than the library vibe I had previously. Nevertheless, there’s a good chance things will change a lot in the coming weeks and months. And truth be told, I really miss our igloo.
This year promises to be an exciting one. I hope to document it a lot better than I did my first.
Tomorrow my learners arrive and instead of freaking out like I did every term last year, I feel oddly calm.
When I first became a stepparent one of my friends remarked that once you become responsible for a child, the days are very long but the years are short.
I was reminded of that comment as I was grabbing my belongings in my empty classroom and realised that although there were some very long days, this year has been incredibly short.
If the first session of the first day was the longest hour of my life, the lead up to the final day of the school year just seemed to pass in a blur.
Like my many of my students I couldn’t wait for school holidays to start. I counted the weeks, marked off the days on my calendar, and went down my list of things to get finished in the final hours. But now that the end of the school year has gone I’m winging my way to
Bangkok Burma I feel sad that I didn’t take more time to be in the moment with my first group of students.
As we watched some of the crazy videos we made this year, I looked out and felt very fortunate to have taught such a great group of kids in my first class. We’ve had our shares of ups and downs, messy projects that never seemed to run to schedule and yes there have been times of frustration we’ve I’ve wondered if I am actually making a difference. Sometimes in those long days progress can be hard to measure. But as one year ends another is just on the horizon and I’ve learned that empty classrooms are bookends, it’s what you do in between that counts.
Over the last week or so I’ve been gathering together all the photos and videos that I had on my hard drive and was staggered at how much digital content the students have created over the year. So much I couldn’t fit it onto a single DVD.
Putting together the content for my students reminded me that despite my many meltdowns into misery, my class has had quite a year.
We produced two awesome assemblies, had some fun with the Daily 5 in literacy blocks, set up individual blogs, we’ve read two novels out loud, made a youtube submission to parliament, redesigned our learning space, built an igloo, went to camp, had a go at some real-world maths, completed an impact project and a bar camp.
On a professional level, I really enjoyed participating in the educamps, ignition2012 and making a contribution to Teachers Council Social media guidelines. I wish I had more time and blog and my attempts at getting an educamp in Wellington were a bit of a F.A.I.L.
Next year I’ve been asked to be a keynote speaker at SocCon on the work that the class did on the digital learning submission. If feels good to be giving something back to the education community that has supported me in the last few years.
Over the last year I’ve had labels like, techie, creative or innovative attached to my teaching and frankly I don’t get it. Nothing I’ve accomplished this year has been as the result of any inherent talent of my own. I’m forever pinching ideas off people and adapting them to suit my needs. If anything this year has taught me the importance of nurturing those connections.
My main problem is that I seem to have far too many ideas and far too little time to implement then. As a teacher I often feel like I am being pulled in two opposite directions. Between those messy and crazy projects and all the must dos that need to be checked off. While I appreciate the importance of those signposts sure schools must be more than factories that spit out kids with NCEA credits at the end of it.
Because when all is said and done the students aren’t going to remember my lesson on inferencing or using place value to multiply decimals but I’m pretty sure they’ll remember the igloo or the day they showed up to find that half the desks had been removed or the year that they caught the reading bug.
It has been a good year.
Our igloo collapsed this week. On hand I was a little sad to see a project we spent so much time and energy on collapse, on the other I was overjoyed to see a learning moment unfold before our very eyes.
After all, how ofter do students get to watch structure collapsing in real time. It was fantastic to see how at first a few bottles came out and then the speed of collapse became a lot quicker until the final implosion.
This experience wasn’t planned, yet the learning conversations that came out of it were so rich.
Hooray to accidental learning.
Over the course of this term my students have been working on an impact project on the topic of sustainability. I must admit that I stole the basic idea from ASHS. I love the idea that even at this young age, students should be thinking about how they can use their own talents to help make the world a better place. However due to time and the need to cover the school’s theme, the students were specifically looking at society’s use of natural resources and then taking what they learned and using to make an impact on the community in some way.
Alongside our igloo making, I planned a provocation to get the kids thinking. I found a fascinating TED talk on Fair trade cellphones. A lot of the students struggled with some of the concepts in the talk , however sustainability minute I mentioned Avatar the penny dropped. There was a mineral that was being harvested by humans at great cost to both a society and an ecology. We then, went through and looked at the different ways we could build knowledge about the resource being used such as wikipedia, contacting the person who gave the talk and or companies that manufacture mobile phones to see if they knew where the raw materials from the cellphone come from.
Finally we looked at ways that could use our new-found knowledge to do something about this whether it be through consumer choices (such as only buying from companies that produce ethically produced phones), political power (such as writing letters or our representatives) or art like for example as igloo making or movies. In short I provided a model for the students to follow in their own inquiries.
And then I sent the students off on a similar journey. The students chose their own natural resource and then went about the process of building knowledge about how humans are using the resource. One of the requirements of this phase of the project was that the students needed to engage with an outside expert.
It was amazing how many of my students were apprehensive about this task. While much of the focus of digital learning has been on students being able to access information. As my students found out being passive consumers was one thing, actually contacting people out in the ‘real world,’ that was tough. Even finding the right people and organisations to contact took a while for my students to get their heads around.
However the pay off was that through contacting experts, students inquiries started taking off in different directions. One group was resourcing a precious metal, Through contacting a jewellery company in the United States that specializes in using recycled materials for their products they found out that there the resource wasn’t being recycled even though the production caused significant environmental damage.
If contacting the outside world was fearsome, using their new-found knowledge to make an impact was even harder. Most of my students decided to play it safe by defining their community as something around the school however one brave group decided to write a protest letter to a foreign government. Sure it might not change the world over night, but the point was that the kids were using their education to make an impact.
As a teacher I found this project incredibly challenging. There’s a fine line to be walked between authentic student inquiry and also trying to get the kids moving to where they needed to go. I frequently found myself asking ‘Why are you contacting this organisation?’ ‘How will your artwork/presentation make an impact?” “Are you sure that this message is going to the right people?”
Impact projects required a lot more deep thinking by the students. The purpose of the project to get kids thinking about what resources are used to produce the everyday items and more importantly what they as citizens can do to influence our use of resources was mostly accomplished. The process of creating these projects has made me realize that my students don’t really have a knowledge of how to learn something new and more importantly what do with this information.
Or perhaps they do. One of students remarked at the end of the week that they wanted to email an old teacher so that the students could see this student’s advice to the new year 7s. Building content, collaboration and connection hmm perhaps there’s a model in there for learning.
Over the last two two terms my class has been building a milk bottle igloo. I’d like to say I had some sort of concept-based outcome when I decided to take on this project.
But alas no.
I saw the idea on twitter via @annekenn, a couple of classes decided to give it a go. The project broadly fitted with my school-wide topic of sustainability so I thought why not?
I showed the class the how to video at the start of the term to get them inspired but in reality I think the kids thought not for the first time this year that their teacher has a touch of the crazy.
Nevertheless the kids started bringing milk bottles in. At one stage I had over 150 milk bottles strung up around my classroom. But then I fell into a mild panic. What on earth were we going to build our structure on?
Was I going to have to abandon the project?
Weeks passed and the number of milk bottles being bought in started to drastically decrease. The construction work started on the school’s main building and I managed to salvage a piece of carpet from the demolition.
Once we had our base, building could finally commence.
Then about a third of the way through construction, we were facing a dangerous lack of milk bottles. We The kids were getting a bit sick of the project and I was again running out of steam. The end of the year was rapidly approaching and I didn’t want this project to fail.
I talked to my tutor teacher who came up with an idea to get the rest of the school involved, have a competition. Thus the great milk bottle competition began. Slowly but surely kids from different classes started bringing in milk bottles and the most amazing thing happened.
As the construction of our igloo progressed, the number of kids coming into the class with spare milk bottles started increasing. The kids in my class became a lot more excited about the project and we finally finished the project with a ribbon cutting ceremony that the students organized during their ‘morning stuff.‘
It was fantastic feeling seeing the kids finally finish the project and more importantly that the igloo is getting plenty of use from the kids. In fact the more I think about, the more I love that the class has created a cave space for the kids who crave less stimulation in the classroom.
But what has been really rewarding has been seeing kids list in their end of year reflection for their reports list building the igloo as a highlight of the year.
But what did all this igloo building teach my class.
First off building the igloo taught us that we can transform everyday objects into works of art or something functional with a bit of creativity.
Secondly, the igloo taught my students the value of team work. I showed two students the basics of construction and then they passed on the lessons to other people.
Thirdly, we all learned that hot glue leaves a nasty burn and the best thing to do is run cold water on it and wait for it to peel off.
But the biggest lesson I hope that my students took away with them is the importance of collaboration. There’s no way we would have finished the igloo if students and teachers from other classes hadn’t pitched in. Having others help gave both myself and my class the motivation to finish the project.
But project based learning doesn’t come without its pitfalls. There were a number of times throughout construction where I fell into one of those pits of despair we all fall into when something you’ve invested a lot of time in isn’t going well.
Project based learning is also incredibly messy. There was a stage where the classroom felt like it was swimming in milk bottles and the project certainly didn’t fit into a nice ordered unit of work. I couldn’t tell you at the start of the term when we were going to finish the igloo or even if we were going to finish constructing the thing at all.
Project based learning sometimes results in failure. Our igloo is slowly collapsing. One of my students has already identified that we didn’t have any scaffolding and more importantly we got a bit sloppy with construction in parts. Important engineering lessons for youngsters.
Project based learning sometimes hurts. Yes I burned myself multiple times. Yes my students burned themselves too.
But when they look down at that scar, they’ll be able to tell the story of the igloo made of milk bottles.
This year my maths programme has been rather mundane. I had delusions of promoting some sort of Daily 5 approach to maths but nothing really came of it. I was simply going through the motions teaching strategies but not really enjoying it. Maths was something I had to teach but the passion wasn’t there.
Last year I found a fascinating TED talk by Conrad Wolfram which argued that automation of maths could enable students to be able to develop a grasp of more complex mathematical problems at an earlier age.
I filed that thought away in my ‘nice idea’ file. Simply put I had no idea how to apply the principles of that talk to a classroom situation but I loved the essence of it, making maths real and relevant to the students.
A week ago while looking for an interesting hook into algebra, Matt posted about a programme happening over at Amesbury on what Wolfram argued was the corner stone of maths, posing the right questions.
One of Wolfram’s arguments is that schools spend far too much time on teaching kids computation at the expense of developing their skills to identify problems, come up with formula and then check it in the real world.
So I gave the problem-finding procedure that Matt was trying in my own class.
One of the keys to this programme is authentic contexts for learning. We had two problem-finding sessions over the week, the first was on buying new furniture for the school, the second on electoral maths.
Before the session I prepared a series of problems for the students..
Starting from easy problem, e.g how many tables does the school need to buy or if the polls close in Hawaii what time is it here in New Zealand through to more complex questions e.g which moving company should the school choose or did Nadar really influence the outcome of the 2000 election?
In order to be able to set up a maths formula, the students needed to ask me questions like for instance, what time do the polls close in Hawaii, through to which states did Nadar do well in?
The sessions were really corny. It may sound corny, but I was actually doing the maths. I was thinking about the principles I wanted to teach, where I might use it and ways I could apply what I was teaching to real-life contexts. Instead of setting texts I was engaging with the problems myself, thinking a lot more about exactly what it was the students needed to learn to solve the problems.
Over the course of the sessions I tried to video the students but there frequent interruptions from students trying to unlock more information to get to that next level. Yes the calculator function on their ipod touches came out. But they were also drawing recurring patterns, making guesses, exploring, using information they already knew to unlock part of the problem. It’s the most engaged I’ve seen my students in maths all year and were working finishing problems off at morning tea.
‘That was fun, can we do that again?’
A sure sign of a winning classroom activity.
Over the courses of the week I realized how these sort of sessions could be easily applied to questions around financial literacy.
How long does it take to repay your student loan?
Which kiwisaver provider or plan should choose?
Floating versus fixed rate mortgages?
The hidden costs of credit cards.
If I was going to make the programme a bit more upbeat I might give out QR codes instead of numbers and perhaps get the kids to answer via a google form. The students still have a bit of work to do around working with a team but it was interesting to see that the kids generally regarded as being ‘the best at maths’ by their peers aren’t necessarily the best problem finders.
For those who doubt the usefulness of real-world maths contexts, to student learning sure enough later in the week the question of what time it would be in Uruguay if it was 12 in Wellington came up. Why would my students be wanting to call Uruguay? Well that’s another post for another time.
My class’s morning time routine often has a session called ‘stuff.’ That stuff is usually a collection of chores, odd jobs and a chance for kids to catch up on ongoing tasks.
The students get to volunteer what they want to do during ‘stuff.’ I often decide who is working on what to get the students mixing beyond their friendship group.
It is really interesting see how engaged the students are and the session is one of my most productive of the day. It is also my busiest as I’m there guiding and giving input to the students working on different tasks around the room.
Today the choices on offer were:
- Making thank you cards for our camp helpers.
- Constructing an advertisement for assembly to get more milk bottles for our classroom igloo.
- Using the classroom ipad to learn more about the countries and classes in the global classroom momento scrapbook.
- Catching up on inquiry projects.
- And setting up this term’s home learning task.
Yep that’s right. A group of my learners were tasked with coming up with ten homework tasks for their classmates. I must admit that my initial reasoning behind putting this up as an option for ‘stuff’ was that being week 3 the class really needed some home learning tasks. I wanted something that would be interesting and engaging for the students so I simply asked the kids to come with up with some ideas that would support our school-wide topic of sustainability.
My students are year 7/8 and having been in the school for nearly a year or two they understood the general thrust of home learning tasks at my school. What was amazing is that this task was hands-down the most popular choice this morning. I shouldn’t have been surprised. This was a chance for the students to make a difference to classroom learning.
The students in the group quickly got a couple of laptops, and set up a google doc which the shared with me. They debated, they typed, they corrected each others spelling.
The students came up with a great list of topics such as making food with an ingredient from their country (sustaining culture), researching an animal that is extinct (sustaining life), visiting a local park and making notes about the different plants (ecosystems) and making up a family tree at least 4 generations back.
It was a joy to behold.
At the end of the task one my students remarked that the task was a lot harder than they thought it would be. It was then that I had an epiphany.
Homework is another thing at school that is ‘done’ to kids. By teachers setting homework tasks and then photocopying them off for the class, we are denying our students the opportunity to think about what activities they can do at home to support their learning at school.
However letting the students decide doesn’t me I’m abdicating my responsibilities to the kids. Over the course of the session I would check in with the group, reminding them to be explicit in their instructions so that their classmates would understand what to do and asked the students about the purpose behind their tasks. To their credit, when the students realized there wasn’t a purpose to the activity they would cut or modify the idea.
It will be interesting to see if more kids will complete tasks designed by their peers rather than the teacher.
Nevertheless the activity in an of itself was worth spending time on if only to answer the question.
What can I do outside of school to support my learning?
I’m not what you would call an outdoors type of person. In fact, my idea of a nature walk is strutting down Lampton Quay. The prospect of not only attending but actually being responsible for the running of a school camp was not something I was looking forward to.
School camps for me largely involved spending vast amounts of time wet and soggy after trudging through some deluge to tent in a place in the middle of nowheresville with no flushing toilets. This is except for Year 12, which was a ski trip to Ruapehu, when we got to see the mountain erupt and not much else. Suffice to say, my past forays into the world beyond the urban limits with school groups have not been pleasant and now another week of not only participating but actually being the person responsible hung before me.
26 kids, 3 parent helpers, 3 nights in the great outdoors. What could possibly go wrong?
Despite thousands of kids across the country going on camps without any major incident, my mind kept rolling through the lists of recent camp-related headlines. The trio of students who were swept off Paritutu rock, the canyoning tragedy and a group of students lost in the Kaimai ranges for a few hours. Alongside checking off equipment and chasing down payments, students drowning in white water, getting burned by fire, falls from various ledges and kids getting lost dominated my thoughts in the weeks preceding camp. The rational part of my brain knew that my fears were out of proportion to the actual risk – a measure of the neurosis we all suffer in an over-reported age.
While I frequently reminded my students about the importance of following instructions and how to conquer fear, I didn’t voice those nagging concerns that every teacher feels upon leaving the safe confines of the classroom and lend your students to the risks of the world. Those dark thoughts had no place in a classroom full of bright young eyes excited by the prospect of adventure.
It has been interesting to watch my students over the week, some of the kids surprised me with the gusto they took to our activities. Quiet kids suddenly became classroom superstars as negotiated high ropes and abseiling like superman. For others, I would spend the week literally coaching them off the side of the cliff.
As a teacher I’ve found this week incredibly demanding both mentally and physically. From the moment you start packing until the kids are sent home you are on call 24 hours a day. On the Wednesday night my class and I spent the night in tents as a nasty gale whipped around the camp site, 24 hours it was rain for our night in bivvys. Even with the awesome parent and instructor help, I have never been so knackered in all my life as I was on Friday afternoon.
There was also the challenge of the activities themselves. I tried out as many of the had to be calm and reassuring even though I myself was feeling my heart race as I was suspended 8m up on the high ropes course or coughing back water after I fell out of our raft. The comedic value of the latter served for a lot of gentle ribbing from other participants as did my blood nose after I whacked myself in the face while finding a place to puke after a long bus trip resulting in a bloody nose.
Now that it is all over, I find myself in a love-hate relationship with school camp. I still don’t understand the appeal of roughing it away from the rest of the urban population and things like electricity and hot showers. While such activities maybe fun to some, it is clear that suburbia has its purpose – to keep nature away from townies like me, and keep townies like me away from nature.
Nevertheless, for many kids camp is their once in a lifetime opportunity to not only get a taste of adventure sports but perhaps for some students a chance to venture out beyond their own community. More importantly camp takes kids out of their comfort zones. By embracing risk, they’ll find reward.