Category Archives: weekly reflection
During the summer holidays I had the pleasure of visiting the amazing learning space of @sherratsam and his colleague Chad.
If you ever get the chance to visit either of these educators, please do. However for those whose PD budget doesn’t quite stretch to a visit to international classroom visits, you can visit their blog Time Space education.
For me this day gave me a chance to see theories and hunches about student learning in action. Their classrooms were calm, purposeful and creative hives of learning.
One idea that really intrigued me was the use of yoga and meditation in class.
I’m a regular at my body balance class at my local gym and enjoy the calm and contented feeling I have at the end of class.
Yet as an adult I often struggle with the meditation session at the end of class. Sometimes I am able to relax entirely but I often have trouble clearing my mind. There’s just too much buzzing around in my head.
If I was having trouble how would my highly active class respond to meditation?
Was it going to end in giggles, eyeball rolling and pre-teen goofiness?
To be honest I was highly sceptical that meditation would easily translate from the worldly and sophisticated kids in an international school to a public classroom in suburban Wellington.
But I have been proved wrong.
For the most part my class has responded really well to purposeful downtime and have been requesting it before I even get a chance to unlock the door from lunch.
Our curtains are drawn and I put on some relaxing music. At the moment the students are learning to focus on their breathing and posture.
What was really surprising for me was that the children whose home lives are complex and sometimes chaotic have responded so positively to this idea of purposeful downtime. On further reflection, this makes a lot of sense for some kids school represents a safe, calm and caring space.
For this reason alone I will persevere with meditation once the novelty wears off.
As teachers we expect concentration in our classrooms but assume kids have the tools to focus.
We want our classrooms to be calm but school schedules sometimes run at break-neck speed.
We want our kids to be mindful of the effect of their actions on others. Yet time out for reflection often comes after the negative behaviour occurs.
What if in sacrificing 5-10 minutes of class time to calming students bodies and minds we gain more engagement?
Is that 10 minutes really a waste of time?
For someone who loathes interior design with the fire of 1,000 suns I spend way too much time thinking about classroom layout. After my initial move away from student desks, I had another classroom re-configuration at the start of the year when I was the lucky recipient of new classroom furniture.
Yet here I am back in the holidays surreptitiously stashing desks around the school. My initial classroom layout had for the most part worked well. The kids made great use of the space and the classroom could be configured and reconfigured based on our needs. Yet there were some niggles.
Some furniture wasn’t being used at all by the students, there were areas where the kids were bunching up and others they weren’t using at all. A further catalyst for change was the school library re-opening and taking with it an entire shelf load of resources. So I took this midyear break as an opportunity to do yet another classroom redesign and most importantly de-clutter the classroom.
I amazed at how much clutter I have been able to amass in my 18 months in this classroom. I didn’t even think I had packrat tendencies (when you move every 18 months or so you don’t tend to hang on to junk) but nevertheless old notices, a few resources and whole lot of empty boxes were still in my class. It must be a teacher thing as my mother (who is a teacher) has boxes and boxes of resources that she has stored away in a shipping container (not all of it is teaching resources).
How much do we hold onto in schools just in case it might be useful?
Does it serve a purpose?
Does it make your classroom environment flow better or does it add obstacles and create visual noise?
At the beginning of the year I was very fortunate to spend the day with @sherrattsam at NIST in Bangkok. His blog is a must read but this post on time and space. So I made it my goal over the holiday to create more space.
I’ve pushed most of the tables in my class against walls to create as much floor space as possible. Floor space creates a physical flow through the room. There’s no reason that the kids can’t move the tables (and I’m expecting they will) however by placing furniture on the perimeter of the room there tends to be more flexibility in space.
I’ve deliberately moved the teaching station to the back of the room away from the board. Stephen Heppell (one of my learning space gurus) talks about creating multiple points of interest around the room. By having a teaching station right by the board I was still owning the front of the room. I’ve also added in a coffee table and sofa to make the area more interesting. Hopefully this will spread out the points of interest more in the room and also give kids a positive experience in groups.
Music and smell are important and again I’ve borrowed from Time/Space.There’s an electric aromatherapy burner in the background and the dock where I put my iPhone for some relaxing music (much to the chagrin of my 1Direction fans). The aromatherapy has had mixed reviews by the students. Some love it, others roll their eyeballs but the idea of creating a calm environment appeals. The science is very much out on the efficacy of aromatherapy and I’ve been mindful to use scents that won’t upset the asthmatics. However even if the claims about the efficacy of essential oils is mixed it can take the edge of the odour of class full of adolescents post PE. The stools enable the students to use the sink as a work area if they wish.
Daily 5 board. I totally stole this idea from @heymilly. My classroom has this wonderfully velcro type material along one wall which when you add some some velcro to the backs of laminated bits of card make for an interactive display. The kids names are laminated on the right with different colours. The students park their name next to the choice with each colour representing a different session.The rest of my walls are pretty much bare for good reason.
The students aren’t here yet.
Each new term brings a chance for new beginnings and new adventures.
By creating more physical space I hope to create a learning environment that has purpose. Nothing gets added to our environment unless it adds to the room.
My mantra during this busy term will be to go slow.
To spend more time getting the why right.
As a Year 7/8 teacher, I’m sure I’m not the only one who has in times of frustration complained that kids these days just don’t seemed as clued in as the kids of yesteryear.
They’ve been at school 7 years and still don’t know the four times table.
Their work is littered with text speak.
They copy and paste without pausing and thinking.
Sometimes it is easy a middle years teacher to place blame on those at the lower level not doing their job. But here’s the thing, I don’t consider it part of my job to prepare kids for high school. Maybe I need to stop expecting teachers from the years to hand me the perfect students and accept my students for who they are right now.
It is my job as a teacher to find out where the kids are in their learning and help move them along.
I was reminded of my responsibility this week during a class read aloud of The Wave when one of the characters made a quip about the school newspaper office being Anne Frank’s attic.
Quickly realized that only one student knew of Anne Frank.
Was this a case of primary school letting me down or a teachable moment?
Rather than tell my students who Anne Frank was, I challenged my students to find out.
“Anne was born in Germany,” one of them piped up.
“She spent years living in attic” another student found out.
“She was hiding from the Nazis because she was Jewish.”
“Then someone told the Nazis about Anne’s family hiding and she was sent to a concentration camp.”
One of the students noticed that Anne died only a matter of weeks before her camp was to be liberated.
A silence fell over the room.
Her diaries were kept safe and then they were published.
Would Anne’s story have been so powerful if she had survived the holocaust?
In focusing on what students didn’t know, I could easily have missed a learning opportunity.
Our students are not the same.
They were never the same.
How often in focusing on deficits of our learners do we miss the potential for learning?
The Google Teacher Academy.
I’m sure I’m not the only person to compare receiving the acceptance email to two days in a Googleplex with 50 other passionate educators to finding a golden ticket in your inbox.
After all, the competition for spots for the 50 spots open in the bi-annual programme is pretty fierce. I know there are many fabulous teachers who missed out on coveted spots and there participants in Sydney who travelled great distances for the event. Moreover besides being an Internet juggernaut, what glimpses I’d had of Google offices looked more like the fantasy of Willy Wonka’s chocolate room than a sterile working environment.
While I didn’t spot any Oompa Loompas during the two days I spent in Google’s Sydney office, I certainly spent time with my mouth open in awe of my surroundings like Charlie however I’d be lying if said there wasn’t some Augustus Gloop gluttony going on during the many meal breaks.
The pace of the two-day programme was nothing short of frantic and subject to rapid change. After we were placed in teams by the sorting hat it was straight down to work. I remember thinking early on in the event it must be close to lunch given the amount of content covered only to find that we had barely made it to morning tea. Unlike many teacher sessions, there was very little sit and listen. Instead most group sessions focused on fast-paced creative challenges which showcased how to use google tools to enhance student learning.
What surprised me event was how much I don’t know about the services google offers. I’ve been using google since 1999 and considered myself a pretty knowledge about the suite of products available. But even I was amazed at the variety of online tools in google’s toolbox: newspaper archive, Google Moderator, Google crisis map, the world wonders project to name just a few.
What I really found fascinating was a deeply unsexy topic, scripts. For me it’s exhilarating watching a google script do its thing. No more do I need to beholden to clunky learning management systems that don’t do what I want them to do. Scripts give me the freedom to manage my online learning environment a lot more effectively. What’s more it is easy for me to collaborate with other teachers as I can share my decisions and students work a lot more easily with my colleagues.
Google indulged any serious internet geek’s request for a tour of the facility. Unfortunately I can’t go into great depths about all the things I saw. However as I walked around the alcoves and colourful breakout spaces, I couldn’t help but feel that our schools need an infusion of some of google’s company principles.
Shouldn’t there be places in schools for kids to eat high-quality food whenever they are hungry?
Why do playgrounds only ever seem to exist outside school buildings?
Why are so many online student learning spaces closed off from the world?
Yes I know finite cash resources, breakages and administration are all cold hard realities to these ideas. That’s impossible and/or irresponsible you say. However in order to make something a reality, you must dream it first.
The true value of the Google Teacher Academy isn’t actually about the technology or the glorious environment, it’s the connections you make with other teachers. There’s nothing quite like being in a room filled with passionate educators, you can almost see waves of energy pulsing as new solutions to old problems are found and exciting possibilities unfurl during the conversations we had over those two days.
One of the most surreal aspects of attending the Google Teacher Academy is meeting people that you admire and respect online in person for the first time. It was really cool to meet people like Jay Attwood and Chris Betcher in person as what they’ve shared online has helped me so much in the classroom. I would remiss in my post if I did not do a huge shout out to the lead learners, Googlers as well as Allison and Danny from CUE for producing such an amazing event.
What was particularly cool was the strong New Zealand presence at this international event. Nine New Zealanders were selected for Sydney and our contingent was bolstered by the awesome Dorothy Burt and Fiona Grant who lead some of the sessions at the academy. There really are fantastic things happening in New Zealand classrooms and I felt incredibly humbled to be accepted into the Google Certified Teacher community alongside these awesome educators.
So for anyone reading this thinking to yourself,” nah there’s plenty of rad educators out there and I’ve got no chance of getting in.”
The worst that could happen is you get a ‘thanks but no thanks’ email and you can try again.
But maybe you’ll get a nod and get to spend an incredible two days at the Google learning with and from an amazing group of educators. But don’t just take my word for it, read reflections from other teachers who attended the event.
Over the last two weeks of school holidays I have watched my twitter feed light up with hashtags from barious conferences and hui happening around the country: #ignition2013, #NAPPNZ13, #byod13 #tfchch13. It’s a sign of the New Zealand teaching workforce learning and sharing together.
That’s just the tip of a rather large iceburg. Up down the country there were teachers toiling away in their schools making resources, catching up on marking, photocopying, designing wall displays.
There’s often a fine line to be tread with holidays. Teachers sometimes have to put up with dark mutterings about how we get 12 weeks of holidays a year. It can easy to cast to take the role of a martyr, listing the hours of holidays spent working on that massive ‘to do’ list.
We all know the spiel.
We know those who start the spiel don’t actually care.
So we shut up because really who wants to listen to a teacher whine about how incredibly difficult the job is.
Nevertheless I can’t help but wonder why it is we seek to minimize the invisible work that teachers do to keep their classrooms afloat.
If I were a cynic, I would say it is because teachers go against accepted wisdom of our modern society that people will only work hard if there are cash incentives involved.
Call back days not withstanding, teachers don’t have to come to school in holidays. There are no billable hours, nor bonuses for doing that little better extra.
In fact teachers will often end up paying out of their own pockets for classroom supplies, a conference or a pair of shoes for their students.
Teachers do so not for recognition or a cash rewards but because they want to make their classrooms better places for students to learn.
They do so for the joy of it.
My moment of notoriety at the Apple Institute so it seemed fitting that the first new thing I would implement in the classroom was improv. I had fun during the sessions and decided that most of my kids would enjoy it too so decided to give it a go.
We started in pairs with the 1,2,3 game followed by the actions. Because there was an odd number of kids in the class, I ended up buddying up with a student which made it hard to record moments but was great to use bonding with the class.
Next up we tried the yes, and game. I put myself right into the firing line by modelling this improv line with one of my students dying a gruesome death over the course of the story.
We had a go at yes, but as a try at shutting down conversations before finally hitting the story time.
The students were thrilled and even my shy kids were having fun taking risks and playing the games. What impressed me most was how quickly the students wanted to adapt the number of players and even the spine of the story to make up a new game.
As part of the reflection on the activity I had the kids think about how improv could be used to help with their learning. Immediately could link it through to literacy and that they could tell better stories. It was disappointing how many of the students didn’t recognise that we were in the Arts and that creative expression was a valid learning area in and of itself moreover the activity helped develop their team skills through working with different members of the class.
It’s amazing how trying something new can shine a light on the shortcomings of previous practices.
A new year, a new group of kids but still the same goal, getting kids into reading.
Even amongst the Year 8s there were a few kids that needed to get back into the reading.
The kids have started bringing in books to read to themselves and I’ve started reading Whale Rider to the class. Not a typical back to school, however the themes of being true to yourself is something I wanted to instil in my class from the start of the year. In fact when I look at the books I select as class read alouds, The Alchemist, The Wave they are a bit more mature then my students would normally pick. Yet the books are so rich in culture and themes, they are ideas I want the kids to hear.
But what about the kids themselves. One of my students came for a visit last week and I asked her what book she was reading. Without missing a beat she pulled a book out of her bag and told me more about it. This time last year the student was a non-reader. I wish I could say I was the one who gave her the reading bug but it was another of the students who helped turn a non-reader into a reader.
At the start of the year students volunteered to read passages from their favourite books. As it happened one of my Year 7s read a book that peaked the interest of the non-reader and as it turned out the book was part of a series. The older student found her niche and this habit will hopefully stay with her for the rest of her life.
The crazy thing is that I abandoned the read alouds by the kids after the first term because the kids didn’t seem that enthusiastic about either reading to others nor listening to books. The crazy thing was that it wasn’t until the end of the year that I found out what a powerful effect students reading to other students. So this year I am going to persevere. I will provide scaffolds to the students who will need support but the goal is simple, by the end of the term all the students in my class will have read to the class for five minutes.
Reading is often viewed both inside and outside the classroom as an individual activity. A set of strategies to be learned, something you do to pass time on the train. Yet the more I think about it, reading is primarily a social activity. Readers are forever swapping recommendations from others, reading humorous passages out loud.
As I looked out over my class on Thursday afternoon slurping iceblocks and enjoying their books I think we might be well on the way to establishing our class as a community of readers.
On a sunny afternoon this week I ventured out with the rest of the teachers in my school to take part in a cricket skills workshop. I wasn’t particularly enthused by the prospect of spending time learning about cricket. I’m an avid gym goer and for the life of me can’t understand the reason why people would want to spend hours running around after a ball. Nevertheless, PE is an important part of the curriculum so off I trudged in the summer heat to learn more about cricket.
The workshop itself taught us just a few basic skills to get us started but there was something about learning how to throw, bat, catch and run between the wickets that seem to re-energize even the most adverse of ball sport participants. Which was the primary purpose of the workshop. If I’m not enthused about the prospect of ball sports, that attitude is going to show in my teaching. I can still cover the material but there’s no way I can fake passion.
One cricketing skills workshop hasn’t changed my outlook on ball sports nevertheless I did throughly enjoy myself. It wasn’t the game itself, but being outside with teachers learning a new skill, laughing at my own and others follies and getting some exercise that I really enjoyed. Cricket in this case just happened to be the medium but it could easily have been bullrush, flying kites or even catching bubbles.
As I was leaving the field I quietly mused how much we underestimate the importance of play in school. We know that play helps foster creativity, perseverance and team work in both adults in child. Yet is play something we value in schools?
To be sure most schools have play time. But isn’t the very fact that we need schedule time for the kids to play outside the classroom show how we little value play in learning?
Do we play with ideas or concepts or in the rush to make sure we cover all the necessary parts of the curriculum do we miss out time for ‘unproductive’ play?
Does teachers professional learning reflect the importance of play? How often do you play games or hear laughter during your professional learning? How much of your professional learning happens outside?
Because really shouldn’t learning be an excuse to eat an ice block for dinner?
Leave your clever at home – Conference presentations are often a great opportunity to highlight something successful that you’ve undertaken which can be applied to my class. But what is more awesome is when you talk about the difficulties and outright failures as a result of changing the way you do things. That way when us mere mortals listening to your implement ideas in our own class, we’ll know that we are going to have a few weeks of chaos during the implementation phase and it’s probably going to suck.
Embrace the messiness of learning – Yes I am one of those people conference organisers love to hate as I frequently didn’t show up to the sessions I booked. All of a sudden the person who sends out awesome tweets seems like a far more interesting and engaging option than a world-renowned expert I just had to see three months ago. Likewise a serendipitous meeting during drinks or on a plane or even a recommendation from someone else might see me wandering into different rooms.
Technology shouldn’t be used to replicate what we’ve always done - Twitter is like passing notes in class only way more awesome. While tweeting out quotable quotes from presentations and keynotes is good for those not attending the event to get a small window into the conference, more importantly twitter gives passive listeners a chance to respond to speakers in real time. Instead of sitting in a keynote silently seething at ideas I felt were wrong, I used twitter to connect with other attendees to respond to the ideas being pushed by the speaker. Post-conference drinks were easily organised by just tweeting out a time and place.
Collaboration makes things so easier – At the start of each keynote I watched as the twitter fairies came in and starting adding background information and links to other sessions on the keynote google doc making it look I had done far more work than simple note-taking. Bonus points go to the presenters and speakers who were using social media to connect with speakers before, after and during sessions. Could there be a conference wiki for people to add resources to one main point?
Make learning visible – From my own experience I know that students want to know what ‘good’ looks like, they borrow ideas. Do our current information systems, which are based on one account per child, actually achieving this? Is cybersaftey killing learning opportunities by keeping kids atomised even within their own class? Do we give multiple ways for kids to demonstrate learning new concepts outside of writing it down?
The importance of play – We know that sit down lectures are actually a really inefficient way to learn yet how much of conference is spent sitting around listening to lectures? What if the conference speakers flipped their instruction or had learning tasks for the audience to complete? What if conferences were more like school?
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.