Category Archives: weekly reflection
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.
Our eduction system is built upon the idea of just in case learning. “You need to learn this just in case you need it in the future,” is the catch cry many students hear if the query the relevance of the lesson to their lives.
Sometimes I wonder if I’ve become part of system where I’m teaching things that might be irrelevant to students lives. This week I’ve been re-learning how to factorise and simply equations, something I haven’t had much use for since I left school and would struggle to articulate a purpose for algebra to my students should the query me about the need to learn it in class.
Which perhaps explains the attraction that a lot of educators have for just-in-time learning. When you learn just-in-time, you’re highly motivated. There’s no need to imagine whether you might apply what you’re learning since the application came first. Moreover, there’s so much knowledge out there that out students aren’t going to need.
In 18 years of school you can’t learn every detail of every of New Zealand history, every reading strategy, every maths formula etc. before the kids join ‘the real world.’ There’s only remember so much arbitrary information one person can retain without a specific need for it. On top of that, technological knowledge has a short shelf life, for instance my generation of kids learned know to programme the VCR yet most of my students don’t know what a VCR is. So the argument goes that in fact it’s not worthwhile to learn too much that you’re not sure you have a need for.
Nevertheless, I still think there is a place for just in case learning.
Not everything can be learned just in time. Tilly Smith managed to save 100 people during the 2004 boxing day tsunami thanks to a geography lesson. There is no way the teacher could have foreseen that Tilly would have needed to recognize the signs of a tsunami two weeks later. A broad education beyond strategies and information literacy was literally life saving in this case (though perhaps with the penetration of smartphones these days might have had people googling descriptions of the scene unfolding in front of them or been alerted to stay away from the beach by social media).
On the other hand, you need to know what’s available, even if you’re only going to learn the details just-in-time. You can’t say “I need to learn about floating versus fixed interest rates” if you don’t even know what interest is. You need to have a basic knowledge of the principles of algebra just in case. You can learn the name of the American president just in time.
But there’s a big gray area in between where it’s hard to know what is worthwhile to learn and when.
Another week over, another term done and dusted.
A particular highlight of this week was finally getting the bottle bivvy construction started. My class had been collecting milk bottles all term but I had no idea what kind of base to build the bivvy. Finally in a moment of inspiration I realised that the refurbishment happening in my school would likely mean that there would be spare carpet to use and we were on our way.
I took a group for a ‘guided’ construction process. We watched the video about how to glue the bottles together and then I helped the students to chalk out a giant circle. What was awesome was quickly the students took over the project. Over the course of the week, the students I initially taught were teaching each other the procedure of how to glue the bottles together and we’ve made a big dent in the construction process.
To me this is learning at its purest. Finding an idea, learning a process and then others teaching each other. I hope that this is one of those the experiences that the kids remember for many years to come.
If feels like I’m coming into the home stretch of the year. The last term seems to be a manic mix of camp and end of year festivities. For my Year 8 students in particular I often wonder if I’m actually setting them for success in high school.
My class looks like this. When visitors to my room arrive, they often can’t immediately find me and spend a few minutes around looking a little lost until they find me in a little corner of the room or buried under milk bottles.
Yet I know high school classes don’t function like this. It’s an hour in and then onto the next person, no time for real deviations from the plan.
We spend a lot of time blaming in education. Workplaces blame universities for not preparing graduates for the world of work. Universities blame high schools for not preparing students for high schools. High schools blame the primary schools and on we go.
But perhaps instead of blaming we should put our energies into ensuring that each year for our students is a great year so the stay engaged in learning. Perhaps it’s teachers who need to prepare for our students rather than preparing our students for others.
Child poverty has been highly topical in New Zealand for the last few weeks. One of my reading groups watched a news report on the differences in school lunches and then this statement pops up. I still have another reading session to get through yet I know that there is some rich learning that will come up as a result of this conversation.
Right lesson plan out the window. It’s 20 minutes until lunch, let’s go.
The class packs up and then I tell them to put their lunch on the table. The student records the results of the experiment, we are doing real-world maths. There are conversations about our class versus the classes featured in the item. We then blog about our experiment and tweet the reporter. Already our conversation is spilling out beyond the confines of our classroom.
Yet there is a nagging feeling that these moments might be part of my problem. I haven’t covered nearly as much as I hoped to this term as the class and I often meander off the path laid down in my planning. I wonder if I am forever going to be a teacher that starts off with plans but never entirely keeps to them.
Yes the learning intention might have been to find two ways that an article relates to our topic (in this case sustainability) but the class wanted to explore and experiment. We wanted to communicate our findings, we wanted to know why a bottle of fizzy drink is so much cheaper than milk. We’ve managed to meander through maths, science, health and social science in the space of 20 minutes when we should have been concentrating on a reading strategy.
Technically we were all off-task but there was rich learning for all.
For my own part this experience started conversations with some students as a result of the survey. Conversations that just wouldn’t happened if the student hadn’t made the suggestion ‘lets do the experiment in our class.’
As classroom programmes become forever crowded with the must-dos we should always leave time for the can-dos that pop out of nowhere.
One of the joys of being a Provisionally Registered Teacher is that you get time out of the classroom to observe other teachers doing their thing.
Observations can be a powerful way for teachers to pick up tips and tricks to use in their own classroom and help mitigate the awful isolation that can the first few
weeks months of teaching for some teachers.
This week I was very fortunate to spend an entire day observing one of the new schools in Auckland. Yes I probably could have gone to a school a bit closer to home however with #padcampakl happening on the Saturday I decided to extend my visit so that I could spend time learning how to implement more independent learning time in my class.
I have flirted with the idea of 20% time through intiating barcamps in my class. However I wanted to move the class on from viewing barcamp as just about having fun but also looking to how to use it to develop students learner. In short my learners and I had to learn how to document their learning, to be able to show a shifts in thinking to make barcamp more purposeful and useful.
The day spent observing defintely gave me some useful ideas to implement back at school. The shared understanding around learning that the students that observed on Friday defintely made me realise that I need to do some explict teaching around learning as a process rather than just focussing on outcomes.
Saturday bought the MAGIC that is padcamp.
I guess I could defintely be described as a padcamp groupie having been to far too many of these events.
However unconferences are for me a way to recharge my creative energy. I think as teachers we get stuck in categories based on city and what year level we teach.There’s also, dear I say it, a bit of hireachy in terms of age and subject. It was disappointing that there weren’t any secondary teachers at padcamp however the presence of teachers from the early childhood sector defintely made up for it.
As all this new technology rushes into classroom, it is easy to get fixated on which brand to buy and what app to use when actually it is about how the tools are being used for learning.
What made padcamp so awesome was that the camp was focused on using the technology to make a difference in teaching and learning.
There was work around audio and I shared the different ways I’ve used video in my class. It’s funny because I didn’t realize how much I had used video until I pulled out videos of reading groups, flipped instruction, record student learning. In fact I hadn’t realised how much students using mobile video ensures that I can be in several places at once to capture thinking.
This week has been busy but has made me realise, yet again, how important social media is for learning. While I get awesome support at school and have a fabulous tutor teacher, I don’t think one institution alone should be my only source of guidance and inspiration.
I love the network of teachers that are already out there learning.
I decided to have a bit of a change in my daily routine. For most of the year I’ve been trying to go the gym after work. I saying trying to because in reality most nights I was too knackered and put workouts in the too hard basket. I decided to switch to the first thing in the morning which means getting up an hour earlier to go to the gym.
Going to the gym in the morning had an almost instant effect. Once I got over the shock to the system of getting up an hour earlier (which for me is now 5am), I realized that by putting off exercise until the end of the day I was letting slide down the order of importance to the point where it could slide off the agenda all together more often than not. If I had energy great, but if not the couch beckoned.By getting early, way early, I ensured that no matter what happened I always got my workout in.
This change in routine got me thinking about the routines that make up most primary schools. Literacy tends to be first thing in the morning, maths then the arts/topic in the afternoon.
By placing certain activities up first on regular basis, whether it be literacy or the gym, you give it importance, you give it emphasis. You know whatever goes through the day, that activity gets checked off the to do list.
What does it say to our learners that they never do maths in the afternoon, only learn to read in the morning not start the day off with art?
The first part of this week was taken up with learning conferences.
I still remember the parent-teacher conferences from days gone by. I was stuck at home while mum and sometimes dad went off to school to talk to my teachers about what I’ve been up to. There always seem to be this weird disconnect between the one or two sentences my parents gave to the event versus the time that my parents spent at the interviews. My young brain always wondered. What on earth the adults were spending their time talking about.
It is fantastic that times have changed and now not only are students invited along to the conferences but are actually in charge of leading the discussion. I had my learners set up with their paper-based portfolios and their blogs to show their parents what they’ve been up to at school. The students were then charged with teaching their parents how to comment on their blogs. The result has been an increased amount of engagement on the blogs and I will definitely follow up next year with more of an emphasis on commenting not just for the students but also for the family.
Yes it was a bit weird at first having a family in there and not talking but music seemed to lighten the mood a bit which lead to far better conversations.
Obviously the learners needed to be prepared so that they could give their parents some meaningful details about their learning. My class spent a morning showing a classmate their learning portfolio and blog in practice for the big event.
So yes learning conferences, especially the ones where students take the lead, are awesomesauce even if they leave the teacher exhausted by the end of them.
It was bound to happen I suppose.
In one sense it was relief.
Project-based learning is unbelievably draining. It took an inordinate amount of creative energy to see the submission through to completion and I know I needed a break and to fall back to some familiar routines for a while. In the classroom I had a productive week getting through reading groups and maths groups and some other work.
Outside of teaching my hours were spent freaking out about getting learning portfolios ready for conferences next week. I don’t particularly enjoy this aspect of teaching. To me it highlights the massive disconnect between the juicy learning of the last few weeks and the things I report on. To be sure I understand that literacy and numeracy is important, but it isn’t the stuff that gets me jumping up out of bed in the morning.
Which is perhaps why I struggled to get out of bed a lot this week.
Throw in August 22 falling mid-week and a stressful situation in the later part of the week to deal with and you have one horrible week. Sure enough, Friday afternoon I started getting visual disturbances announcing the arrival of nasty migraine to end the week.
That point in the term where the amount of work between now and holidays seems huge and my energy levels seem oh so low. As I look on the school calendar, I realize I have a few more late nights coming up this term and not much gas in the tank to get there. I am kicking myself for not budgeting my energy as it’s been over a month since I had a proper weekend and I’ve gotten back into the habit of staying at school until after five doing stuff.
So I head into the this week with the mantra ‘this too shall pass’ hopefully that should distract me from this horrible nagging feeling I’ve been dragging around all week that perhaps my greatest success as a teacher is already behind me.
A few months ago I floated the idea to my Year 7/8 class making a submission to the Inquiry into 21st century learning environments and digital literacy being run by the New Zealand parliament’s education and science select committee.*
The project seemed like a great way to give my students an insight into how laws and policies are developed in New Zealand with the added bonus that the children would be able to give the committee some expert advice on digital learning from a perspective often absent from educational policy-making; that of the student.
The class banded together to make a video submission on the topic which I posted to the class blog. As I was about to submit their project, I asked my class if they would be interested in making a verbal submission. They were excited about the idea so I let the committee know the students wanted to appear. The project then got put on the back burner for a few months while we waited to hear if and when the students would be able to speak to the committee.
At the start of this term I received an email inviting my class to speak at parliament in front of the committee. Like most submitters the class had 5 minutes in front of the committee to have their say and would be asked questions about their submission. Deep down mild panic set in. What on earth was I thinking to ask for a spot for my 11 and 12 year old students to present to Members of Parliament?
The simple answer is a deep belief in the power of participatory democracy. I didn’t want my students to just read about parliament and draw a flag of a fictional country, I wanted them to appreciate that each of us has not only a right but a duty to participate in our democracy. In short, I wanted them to learn how to make a difference.
In order to select their representatives, the students of my class drew up a series of selection criteria and invited interested candidates to give a speech on why they thought they would be a good representative. Nearly a third of the class made presentations. Their classmates gave grades on each candidate’s public speaking skills, the ability answer questions well, overall contribution to the video submission, manage their time effectively and cope under pressure.
As I watched the process unfold, I was amazed at how the students had decided to assess each other. While our education system frequently tests for content knowledge, my learners were more interested in the qualities of their representatives. Communicating, managing time, the students were assessing competencies rather than content. Yet why is it our educational system is more obsessed with content?
Once the class selected their representatives, work began in earnest. I began calling in people from my own learning network to help. Teachers at newly built schools generously gave up their time to talk learning spaces with the children while another classroom talked about their school’s 1:1 laptop programme. The student submitters were very fortunate to get a prominent Wellington lobbyist to sit with them for over half and hour giving them advice on appearing before a committee. The students then wrote their speeches, a media release and practised answering mock questions during our classroom literacy block.
A prominent Wellington blogger who connected the students and I with the lobbyist featured the project on his blog. What started as a small project in a suburban Wellington intermediate was starting to go mainstream. By Monday morning the project had been picked up by the Waikato Times and the students put together a media release to get broader coverage. The stakes were getting higher and the submitter’s first practice run of the presentation in front of the class did not go well.
Fortunately the group took on their classmates’ criticisms and by Wednesday morning were as ready as they were ever going to be. And so I took four 12 year old students and their camera person to parliament to make a submission in front of 10 members of the country’s elected representatives.
Talk about an authentic audience.
In a room of cameras, microphones and a large number of adults each child’s contribution was nothing short of spectacular. One of the family members who accompanied us to parliament remarked that the students were funny and articulate but they still acted like 12 year olds. Which is perhaps the best compliment they could give me as a teacher.
At times it is a fine line to be walked between authentic student inquiry and an adult taking over student learning. In short I wanted each student to bring their best selves to the committee and leave knowing that their perspectives were important. Because more than anything, the students’ submissions were quietly telling a story of how technology in education is changing our learners’ lives.
Whether it be managing a learning disability, coping with the tyranny of distance or even starting up business. The students wanted their representatives to know that schools should be fun places where kids want to go learn.
It is a testament to New Zealand democracy that a group of 12 year olds can rock up to their House of Representatives and be treated with respect and dignity. There are far too many places in the world where this isn’t the case. Our Members of Parliament sometimes get a bit of a bad reputation for mudslinging and bad behaviour but that day the committee members were attentive and asked perceptive questions of the students. The MPs showed my students democracy at its very best: inclusive, empathetic and empowering.
For me as an educator this experience has demonstrated the power of connections. It never ceases to amaze how generous New Zealanders both inside and outside the educational community are with their knowledge. A huge heartfelt thanks goes out to all the members of my Personal Learning Community who helped my class succeed in their project. It was fantastic to see family members at the committee supporting their children and the local Member of Parliament gave the students a tour of parliament to top off the day.
The project has been hard work yet the pay off in student learning have been immense.
What started out as a class project on cyber-citizenship has moved well beyond the confines of our classroom into other schools, national newspapers, radio and even onto national TV. The experience has made me wonder how can students use their education to benefit our society? Might there be other real-world problems that students can use their talents to help solve.
There are some downers from the experience.
Time limitations, both mine as a teacher and the committee’s, excluded the whole class from being involved in the final submission. As I mentioned week, last my class is waaaaaaaay behind on our must-dos. But that’s the thing with authentic learning, it’s messy, timelines often blur and I would be lying if I said it wasn’t unbelievably exhausting. However it was also one of the most of exciting experiences I’ve had in my life. I am sure the lessons from that day will leave an impact for many years to come and not just for the teacher.
As the students boarded the train out of the city one of them remarked, “That was fun. When can we make another submission?”
*For those readers overseas, a select committee is a committee made up of members of the New Zealand parliament who give advice on particular subjects of interest.
I was going to take a pass at doing my weekly reflection for this week. But since I promised myself that I would be a better blogger this term I’m here at 8.30 on a Sunday reflecting on my week. If there is one thing I’ve been thinking a lot this week it’s finding a balance in my teaching between the must dos and the can dos.
It’s funny. When I mix with people outside of teaching, I often hear people talk about schools need to be teaching civics/computer programming/the 3 Rs/sports etc. I know the person making the remark is often trying to be helpful yet I don’t think anyone outside of school can truly appreciate how busy most schools are these days.
Within my own class I often find myself frantically trying to balance the demands of the must dos, the material that as a teacher I must cover during the year, and the can-dos, the little side projects and crazy ideas I sometimes throw into class. I must admit that I’m really not doing a great job of it.
Those who follow my classroom blog will know that my class is in the middle of a major project yet I’m a bit worried about how behind I am on must dos. Strictly speaking the school-wide citizenship topic ended at the end of the second time. Yet here I am about to start Week 5 of the third term and haven’t really made much of a dent in this term’s topic. Trying to walk that line between maintaining those moments when the juicy learning, the stuff that happens after the bell goes and long after the topic *should* of ended, occurs with meeting this responsibilities of being part of school community.
Yes I know integration is the name of the game and I need to get better at integrating my programme. As luck would have it, the awful Wellington weather cancelled an event which helped me caught up on my must dos. But a must-do for the rest of the term is for me to get better at time management.