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Weekly Reflection – on your way to Disco

This year I volunteered to be the teacher in charge of Student Council which also means I’m the teacher in charge of organising the school discos. Officially the student council run disco but there are limitations to 11 and 12 year olds organisational skills.

Organising permission slips, tickets, posters, food sales, lighting, music, prizes, decorations not to mention cleaning up afterwards is a big job. I must admit that I was expecting the weeks leading up to disco to be frantic.

It wasn’t.

The reason?

Google docs.

Ticketing has always been a logistical nightmare. 18 classes to keep tabs on and each kid needs to be issued with an individual ticket so we know how many kids we’ve got inside in case of an emergency.

So I set up a google spreadsheet. Each classroom teacher filled out their student names on separate tab. I filled in the ticket number and then mail merged the information into a ticket. The result was that each child was issued a ticket with their name on it.

When the night came, the teachers in charge of ticketing could easily cross off kids on the master list so we knew how many kids were at the event very quickly.

I also had a google doc going for the student councillors. Music is the most important thing for disco so each student had to go back to their class and get the top five songs. From there I could share that doc with the teacher coordinating the playlist. The kids designed posters which they then shared across the network.

The week of the disco I circulated a google doc with some of the jobs I needed teachers for. The teacher put their names next to the duties and added other jobs I had forgotten about to the doc. In short I was able to tap into the collective knowledge of the teachers in the school without having a giant meeting.

While having nice weather and some awesome staff does help to keep events running smoothly, I’ve found technology helps so much in helping to keep big school events manageable.

10 Tips for student teachers on placement

I was recently asked by a reader if I could give my tips for surviving teaching placement, practicum, teaching experience. Having gone through the experience myself and having watched two sets of student teachers come into our school, I’m not too far removed but I also get the benefit of seeing part of the other side of the fence. However I’m not at the point where I have enough experience to mentor a student teacher so I can’t give the Associate Teacher’s point of view.

1. You are there to learn
Going into placement you have two what might seem like mutually exclusive goals. On one hand, you want to show what an awesome teacher you are to your Associate Teacher/School and get that elusive permanent teaching job post-graduation. But on the other, you are there to learn. Here’s my advice, stick with the former and the latter will take care of itself. Soak in as much as you can, ask questions, make mistakes. Lots of them. The most important quality student teachers need on placement is teachabilty. Nobody expects you to be perfect when you arrive. Being able to show improvement and take on advice is what will impress your associate teacher.

2. No staying out late on a school night
A student teacher from another institution once showed up to my placement school very hungover. While it’s not against the rules to have late nights on the town, it really isn’t a good look on placement and you will be judged negatively on it.

3. Building relationships with your students
There’s a fine line to be trod between being liked and being respected. Often student teachers try to be buddies with the kids and then find classroom management is a challenge once they take full control. By all means be friendly with your students but remember that this different from being their friend. The kids will test the boundaries just by your mere presence. They’ll want to know if the no-nos with their own teacher are a yes with you. Make sure you find out from your associate how behaviour is managed in your school and if you are unsure in any situation, ask your associate teacher.

4. Observe other teachers doing their thing. Ask them lots of questions.
While the bulk of your time will be spent in your Associate Teacher’s placement, do make sure you that you arrange time to see other teachers doing their thing. If you are teaching juniors, ask to see a Year 5/6 class. If you are at an intermediate, be sure to spend some time in the specialist classes. Ask lots of questions. Teachers by their very nature are usually keen to share their knowledge with others.

5. Keep up with your paperwork
Universities love paper. Every week you’ll likely have some sort of form to fill in to keep your university happy. It’s really important that you familiarise yourself with the paperwork requirements of your placement and make sure that you keep yourself up to date.

6. Never say ‘no’ to an opportunity to teach
If a teacher is handing over control of the classroom to you, it means that they trust you. Yes things might go horribly and you will have your share of bad days. Even taking the roll will help you learn and grown into a better teacher. It’s not unheard of for student teachers to be called on to cover a class but strictly speaking you should have a registered teacher in the room with you.

7. Planning
A source of grizzling about student teachers from associates often comes from planning. No teacher will let you in charge of your class without lesson plans. I think some teacher education providers could do a better job of teaching student teachers how to plan a lesson effectively. However to head off uncertainties in planning ask to see your associate teacher’s template early on and adapt that (with permission) for your planning.

8. Be Professional
In essence your placement is an extended job interview. Dress professionally, be on time, attend all staff meetings. Try and schedule a meeting with the principal of your school during placement. Make sure you have questions prepared in advance to make the most of the meeting.

9. You’re going to get sick
There’s no nice way of saying this schools are vectors of disease. At some point you will get heinously ill and most likely at the most inopportune time.

10. Thank you
It goes without saying that you need to thank your school and associate teacher for the placement. A small gift and a heart-felt card for your associate is probably a good idea. Some sort of morning tea or some offering of food wouldn’t go amiss either.

Anymore tips for would-be teachers?

To walk in another teachers shoes

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Cupcake designed by student (image by author)

One of the joys of teaching primary school is that, in theory, you get to teach a bit of everything.

In practice the bulk of my time is still reading, writing, maths with some PE thrown in for good measure. Most schools also have an inquiry/topic which covers everything else.

Intermediate kids go off for specialist teaching in some subjects those opportunities to teach the ‘fun’ stuff is even further stretched for generalist teachers.

Simply put there are not enough hours in the day to get to get through all the other must dos let alone those practical hands-on type activities.

Our school is very fortunate to have a kitchen where all kids get a chance to learn more about cooking. On Wednesdays an advanced class runs for some students.

Knowing about my love of cake decorating the foods teacher graciously let me have a go at teaching the kids some basic cake decorating skills.

As an added bonus, my class went up in the morning to bake bread. We had a look at yeast yesterday, what it looked like, what it smelled like. Then left our bread to rise overnight.

We came back in the morning, happens to the mixture over time.

I even found a nifty timelapse on youtube for the kids to look out the changes in the dough.

Take aways from today.

Food = Smiles

There’s something about sharing food that always gets the same sheepish grin from kids.

Hands-on learning = exhaustion

Even by my standards, today was manic. On top of PD before school, colouring fondant during morning tea as well as having a late finish on cupcakes, I also had student council plus saw a couple of maths groups before assembly. I was on feet rushing around. But I know when all is said and done my kids might not remember the lesson I gave on fractions but they will remember eating hot bread on a cold winters day.

School maths does not equal real world maths

A student who has never answered a test question about fractions correctly on a test was able to tell me lightening fast how many 1/4 teaspoons I would need to make 1 + 1/2 teaspoons of salt.  Context is everything.

Never stereotype any activity as ‘girly’

A lot of guys would probably roll their eyes at cake decorating and wonder why bother teaching boys about cupcake decorating. But here’s the thing. 12 year old boys haven’t figured out cake decorating is a ‘girly’ pursuit. They like eating and they get to play with fondant which is basically edible playdough. To a 12 year old, boy or girl, this is awesome.

Teaching out of my comfort zone makes me a better teacher

I have my room and my way of doing things. While there might be some cross-class collaboration in my syndicate, I can see how easy it is to fall into a teaching rut. Today gave me a good shake up and I learned tons. Moreover actually teaching rather than just popping in for a quick nosey gave me a huge appreciation for the incredible work that goes on up in technology classes.

Weekly Reflection: I got me the midterm blues

There’s something about the middle of term which seems to send me into depths of despair. I think it’s that point where I look down at my massive to-do-list and wonder how on earth I am going to muster the energy to check those items off. The beginning of term energy has evaporated and a rejuvenating holiday seems a long way off in the horizon.

It’s weird that almost 365 days to the day I’m back in the same slump: tired, grumpy although not as cold this year owing to an abnormally warm Wellington winter.

I have a terrible habit of over-committing myself and then paying the price for that later. With reports looming, a school disco and talent contest to organize, moving house, my first ever conference speaking engagement in the next four weeks.

Possum meet headlights.

Then there’s the niggle of novopay.

My salary increment, due at the end of the January, still hasn’t come in. On one hand I know I shouldn’t be complaining. After all, everyone knows you don’t get into teaching for the money. I can still pay my bills and will get a nice backpay when the increment finally arrives. Nevertheless, when you’re having a crappy week small things like this start to become a big deal. Particularly as like other teachers I’m powerless in this situation. Aside from having a grizzle to my lovely office manager and a surly social media update, there’s not much I can do apart from wait.

Despite my despondency there have been some positives.

Quadblogging has been going well.

After a few weeks hiatus, I made sure that passion projects aka 20% time weren’t something that just got pushed to the side during a busy week. A lot of teachers might baulk at the idea, letting kids go off and do their own thing is surely a recipe for classroom chaos? But I’ve never had any problems with classroom management during passion projects as the kids are so engaged in their learning.

As with anything in teaching how you set up a task will dictate its success. My students write their learning intentions at the start before they head. This sets up the sessions to be purposeful for the kids as they are the ones setting the goals.At the end of the session the kids are asked to reflect on the session and decide which of the learning areas and key competencies they used during their project.

What has been gratifying has been watching kids from different social groups come together in order to collaborate on a shared passion. What has also been amazing is when given the choice about what they want to do, how many of students have chosen to write. Movie scripts, creative writing, managa cartoons.

At the end of the term the kids are going to put on an expo of their learning so they can share their passions with others. While the students were adamant in not inviting their parents, they did let me invite the school leaders to come in. We are already marking days until the expo down and I’m looking forward to the kids showing their peers and the senior leaders their passions.

The students have also been putting together documentary films after seeing the film I am 11. I was amazed when I looked out at my classroom during morning tea to see students who boldly declare they hate writing staying in of their own volition at morning tea time to write a script. Kids who don’t edit their writing carefully editing films to get their message across.

So much peripheral stuff can easily obscure us from the things that matter.

Be brillant where it counts, in the classroom.

5 reasons to use Flickr for class photosharing

flickr Badges

Image by Alexander Kaiser used under creative commons licence.

These days most classrooms have digital cameras and/or devices that are capable of taking photos. But what happens to those photos?

Do they stay on the teachers hard drive or school internal server never to be seen again?

If a picture can tell 1,000 words, how much richer will your learning stories be to your students and their families if they are out in the open for everyone to see.

Enter photosharing sites like Picasa, Photobucket and Flickr.

These websites are places for you to store, share and most importantly organize photos publicly with your community.

I’ve been using Flickr  since 2006 to store my 10,000 image strong photo collection. I pay around $25USD a year for a terrabyte of data. When I became a responsible for a class it seemed logical for me to have a class Flickr account to share photos with my parents.

Here’s five reasons you should be using Flickr to share photos online.

1. Sharing without clogging up inboxes
Rather than sending out photos as attachements that get lost with other bits of mail, Flickr is a great way to keep your photos organized and easy for your students and their families to enjoy. When you upload your photos, you can sort them into albums or sets. I keep my photos organized by event. You can even keep the same photo in several different sets so you could potentially have a folder for each kid as well as events.

2. Making space for reflection

When my class has big events, like say cross country, rather than sit through a long boring slideshow through a central monitor they can gather around a screen and talk about those moments with their friends. Sharing moments becomes a lot more realistic and the kids can skip past pictures that don’t hold their interest.

3. Ease of publishing.

Flickr has mobile phone apps (the iOS one rocks the house) and an inbrowser upload where you just dump photos and publish. However the big draw for me for me is posting via email. If kids have a photographic home-learning task, then you can create a special email address and the student can simply email the flickr account and the image is automatically uploaded.

4. Ease of sharing

Being away on camp, I could easily share images back to school and to my parents of camp without blowing my 3G connection. Flickr enabled my photos to be shared across the school community even though I was away from school. What’s more when the kids are writing a recount of a class event, they can go to flickr find a picture of the said event grab the code, and then embed the image into their story bringing that event to life for the child.

5. Library of creative commons images

One of the most awesome things about Flickr is that you can enjoy other people’s photos. Because my students already know about Flickr and how to embed photos, they can search out creative commons images for other tasks using Flickr’s search opening a vast library of images available for reuse. Obviously with anything on the internet that kids can stumble upon offensive content. Posting nasty stuff to Flickr is strictly against the community guidelines but it doesn’t mean that this never happens. There are precautions you can take though. Every photo has a place where you can flag the image as inappropriate or you can simply report a user or content to Flickr. The site is also monitored quite well and Flickr will shut down accounts that break the rules.

Before you jump in…

Obviously you do need to check your school’s policy on posting student images online before launching and account. I’m pretty lucky that in the past two years I’ve only had one student’s image not able to be published and that was only for a term.

There’s also an issue around blockage as a lot of internet filtering services block Flickr because it is a social media site (in fact Flickr was blocked at my school for a number of weeks when the filtering software was changed which annoyed me to no end).

Don’t forget about money. Personally I consider the cost of pro account worth it in terms of the amount of storage you receive in comparison to the free version but it’s up to you.

Finally don’t forget to have a conversation with your community about how you licence your students images.

Weekly Reflection: Work/life effectiveness

Another weekend away.

This time I was up in Auckland for an Apple Distinguished Educator camp. This was the first time that I had met some of the New Zealand-based alumni but ouch another trip away.

Could I really justify more time and money away from home?

Over the week I’ve ended up having a lot of conversations about work/life balance.

If I’m spending weekends away from homecoming working, how do I maintain any semblance of a personal life while teaching full-time teaching load?

That’s a good question.

Firstly a lot of these trips away I don’t actually view as being work. I like goofing around on my computer and talking about technology.

It’s part of my life.

Secondly with family and friends scattered in different cities, I often end up spending part of the trip nurturing those relationships.

Thirdly I tend to look on some of my trips as an investment in my career. The learning and contacts I’ve made help make me a better a teacher. At this juncture in my life, I’m happy putting my time and money into nurturing these relationships. If I wasn’t, I simply wouldn’t show up.

While for some peering in from the outside might wonder about my lack of work/life balance I prefer the concept of work/life effectiveness.

What might work for me won’t necessarily work for others. Moreover what might work for me now, might not necessarily work in 6 months time.

Do what makes you happy, life really is too short to be doing anything less…

Weekly Reflection: teaching for the LOLz

Every so often people ask me why I get into teaching. I could say I’m there to make a difference but I would be lying. I  don’t teach for the holidays and everyone knows you don’t get into teaching for the money.

The truth is I teach for the LOLz.

Those laugh out loud moments that can only happen when teaching Year 7 and 8 students. They can spring up in serious lessons but there are some situations that lend themselves to a class of 11 and 12 year olds dissolving into giggles.  This week as my students prepared for their assembly, we had a few goofy moments as we put together our acts.I know that when all is said and done, my students aren’t going to remember my lessons on adding fractions or inferencing but they are going to remember that time we had a race to eat chopsticks with jellybeans.

Sometimes I find my twitter feed depressing. National Standards are destroying learning, charter schools are the end of the world as we know it, PaCT will eat us all. I’m not negating these very real concerns but I often wonder if teachers as a group are prone to co-rumination. I know I’m not the only one who on occasion likes to vent and rant but I sometimes wonder if this is healthy.  It’s amazing how quickly a “me too!” response to a bad day or depressing government announcement can quickly turn into grievance one-upsmanship.

As a result I’ve done a bit of pruning not because I’m not acutely aware of education but because that negative headspace online was having offline consequences. I don’t want to be a grumpy moaning teacher simply because my students will not remember what I’ve taught them but how they felt during their middle school years.

I hope alongside a love books and storytelling, my students remember the LOLz.

Weekly Reflection: Google Teacher Academy #GTASYD

Turns our the golden tickets were actually white.

Turns our the golden tickets were actually white. (picture by the author)

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.

Chocolate Unicorn in action (note wagon wheels were all eaten)

Chocolate Unicorn in action (note wagon wheels were all eaten)

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.

Not a bad place to eat lunch (view from Google's sydney office)

Not a bad place to eat lunch (view from Google’s sydney office)

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.

I want a library like that!

I want a school library like that!

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.

Confession time.

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.

Googles Kiwi contingent

Google Teacher Academy’s Sydney Kiwi contingent

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.”

Apply.

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.

The obligatory pose in front of the google sign.

The obligatory pose in front of the google sign.

Weekly Reflection: invisible work

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.

Weekly Reflection (Re)igniting passions #ignition13

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Image by author

Term 1 holidays for me are now synonymous with ignition. For those not in the know ignition is a 2 day un-conference. You throw a 100 or so passionate educators in a room and MAGIC ensues.

When I look over last year’s post, I remember how super-charged I felt after attending the event. I know the learning in my class has changed as a result of ignition. As I mentioned in my ignite talk, so many of my great ideas came out of attending the event. Goodie buckets for the start of the year, the classroom redesign, even the submission came about through conversations and collaboration at ignition.

This year I came away with more questions than answers.

Key competencies 

The more control I give over to my students, the more I realize how important integral those key competencies are. Learning what makes an effective learner and making those key competencies more than buzz word is a challenge for my class and I over the coming year.

Moving professional learning into the 21st century.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a terrible student when it comes to the traditional weekly PD. If something doesn’t hold my interest, then I will quickly wander off the task. However ask me to find resources to support teaching contexts  or a new idea to implement in the classroom and I’ll jump into action.

With ignition even though I was tired after a busy and long first term, I was well aware I had given up my time and money to be there. There was no slacking off, there was engagement.

I can’t help but wonder how we expect teachers to create an individualized programme for our students when there is often little choice about how, who and what we learn about as teachers.

Should more time and money be freed up for teachers to make their own decisions about their professional learning?

How do we do this?

Secondary schools are a mystery.

The more I talk to secondary teachers, the more I realise I have no idea what goes on in schools after year 8.  All I have to go on are my own memories which are well out of date. If I was to identify a weakness in the education sector, it’s that teachers and schools don’t talk  to each other enough. This is particularly the case with the primary/secondary divide.

Are we short-changing our students by not communicating?

Do teachers collectively put too many problems in the too hard basket figuring next year’s teacher/s can handle it?

Moving out of the education sector

There’s always a risk when you bring a group of like minded people together that you get people agreeing with each other. As ignition matures, I think a challenge for the unconference is how to engage with people interested in education (which is a lot  of people) and the people working in the sector.  Again, I see a disconnect between the people  charged with making educational policy and the people charged with implementing it.  Having creative industries come in would for me be fascinating  however there’s always that risk that this dilutes the purpose of the event.

Be the change you wish to see in your school

You might want to change your school or even New Zealand education as a whole. The easiest place to start is in your classroomPerhaps I’m lucky that I teach at a school that encourages people to try new things. But at the same time it’s really easy to go back home and keep doing what you’ve always done especially when the inevitable obstacles come your way. You don’t have the facilities, cash, your leadership doesn’t get you. Obstacles aren’t there to keep you from doing something, they are there to show you how much you  want something.

Lets get to it.

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