Over the last three weeks my class has been participating in learn to swim lessons put on by our local swimming pool.
As with many things like this. It is easy to gripe about disruptions to the classroom programmes in the middle of a busy term. However after the first session realised these three weeks of learning to swim is the classroom programme.
Overseas readers might not appreciate how much of an influence the water has on New Zealand life. We are an island nation and most of the population lives on the coast. Our summers are spent floating in pools, rivers and oceans.
Despite being surrounded by water, New Zealanders as a group don’t know how to swim. Our drowning rates are one of the worst in the developed world and twice that of Australia.
At the start of our lessons I was concerned by the significant number of students in the class could not swim a lap of the 25 meter pool. Over the last few weeks there has been some amazing progress made by the kids.
As the lessons progressed, what I found myself really looking forward to was the walk to the pools. The walk down is just under 10 minutes. After the swim lessons we often walk to the adjacent park for a run around as the lesson time often cut into morning teas and lunches.
Those walks were a time often to have a catch up with students. The kids that might not talk so much in class, the ones whose behaviour might challenge you. The walk gave time to reconnect with learners. Our routine got a shake up and there was time to have those chats.
Time is arguably the most precious commodity in schools. Demands of curriculum must-dos, special events, those activities that foster relationships often get quickly get pushed aside as the school year gets gets in the way.
Yet kids change so much in just a few short months.
By taking a walk, time and space was recreated to reconnect with the learners in the class.
I had goofy discussions.
I learned about Pou.
I answered some tough questions about life and death.
All in the quick walk to the pool.
A paper-based e-portfolio.
Sounds like a contradiction in terms.
I’m not a huge fan of paper portfolios.
In fact it is fair to say that I loathe filing bits of paper into folders with the fire of a thousand suns. Supervising a class full of kids updating portfolios feels like a form of medieval torture. Bits of paper are almost always missing or in the wrong place and my patience is in short supply.
Moreover I can’t help but wonder if all those countless hours spent updating, checking, re-checking all those bits of paper are actually worth it. Real learning is messy and doesn’t always lend itself to being filed away in clear files.
Enter digital portfolios.
In theory digital portfolios should be easier to create and curate content for the purposes of showcasing student learning. However in practice clunky content management systems and limited time on computers often add work to teachers workload particularly if you don’t have 1:1 access.
I do not teach in a 1:1 environment. Computers are a resource that I constantly have to ration in class and negotiate with other teachers to get to 1:1. Given the shortage, I’d rather have the kids spend their time creating content or connecting with others. Kids doing the same stuff on computer that has always been done on paper seems downright wasteful in this context.
My school is experimenting with different ways of reporting to parents. I decided my goals were to make my reports multi-media, child-centric and, dare I say it, less labour-intensive on me. More importantly I didn’t want to waste too much class time curating learning at the expense of actual learning.
So I came up with a plan. The kids got a Google form where the reflected on the key competencies, successes, challenges and surprises on the year so far. Those responses are automatically logged by Google and were then merged into a separate document for each kid. No faffing around with codes and an no worrying about kids accidentally deleting parts of their portfolio.
The kids also found a photo of themselves from the class Flickr site which they emailed through and I copy and pasted into the merged document. No faffing around with layout and the entire class was able to get through a session. After a quick proofread the reports were ready to go.
The students reflections were for the most part amazing. What was particularly gratifying was seeing kids who don’t normally shine in the 3Rs able to talk about successes at school. Monday tech challenges, documentary making, quadblogging and passion projects all featured in my students’ reflections.
At this point I had saved myself a whole heap of time and if I was a smart teacher, I would have called it a day and pressed print. But oh no I just had to create more work for myself.
The kids in my class have been interviewing each other once a term so I chucked the footage so far on YouTube and then created an individual QR code for the student, which I copied and pasted into the document for each kid.
And thus with a major FAIL on the creating less work for myself goal the students and I created a multi-media paper-based e-portfolio.
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.
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.
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.
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 classroom. Perhaps 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.
At the beginning of the year, I introduced my class to the concept of lollypop moments. The concept comes from an 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.
I bought a huge bag of lollypops from Moore Wilsons and over the course of the term, the kids have taken it upon themselves to nominate each other for acts of random kindness. The challenge has been to get the kids to move away from nominating their immediate circle of friends and to seeing the good in everyone.
Sharing has been a common theme this week. Before easter a group of my students approached my team leader about the possibility of our syndicate (that’s a group of 3 classes) running a talent show. And this week it was the big event. We hadn’t given over much class time in the preparation for this event. Nevertheless it was to see most of the kids step up.
Were all the acts a polished performance?
But a huge amount of kids got up and gave it their best shot. In an era where we many expect to be passively entertained it was fantastic to see kids willing to create and share with their peers. The event was such a success that we will be doing another one later in the term.
This week was a bit bittersweet as we farewelled our principal to a new position. I will always owe a huge debt of gratitude to my outgoing principal as she was the one who gave me the nod 18 or so months ago and has had to put up with having me on staff ever since.
I’m not sure many principals would be happy to let a first year teacher oversee a group of 11 and 12 year olds making a submission to parliament, not bat an eyelid when finding out I placed half my classroom furniture in storage via twitter, or take the time to facebook you two days before Christmas to let you know you’d gotten into the Apple Distinguished Educator programme.
As I was sitting at my principal’s farewell, it struck me that we often wait until people are leaving to say nice things about people. What has been nice about this term is that through lollypop moments we are taking more time to notice the every the little actions that make life more interesting.
Just before the class headed out for their final PE slot, there was a plea for a few last-moment lollypop moments. What started off as a quick thank you for helping move furniture quickly began to snowball and before we knew it everyone in the class had something nice said about them by another member of the class.
It was a nice moment and a good way to end the term.
Not all kids like hearing the last bell of the day.
Not all kids have food in the pantry when they go home from school.
Not all kids are safe in their homes.
Not all kids know where they will sleep that night.
We don’t like to talk about the lives of kids who come from the other “New Zealand.”
I teach in what is considered, by government measurements, to be a wealthy area. However there are kids in my class I worry about when I send them home at the end of the day. They are the ones I give a few dollars to for a sausage at sausage sizzle and the ones who often arrive very early at school and hang around the ground after the bell goes.
One child, who arrived in my class this year, already viewed school as a negative place, somewhere to run away from at 11 years old.
Violence at home and meant that normal school confrontations over who gets to go first in PE or who gets sits where on the bench at lunch were solved with fists, not talking.
It’s been a term but slowly we’ve been making progress.
I’m lucky that my older boys, although boisterous, aren’t violent at all. In fact those boys were on a secret mission to teach the student to not immediately to lash out confrontations. I’m also very lucky that I have another student in class who has a shared obsession with engines and has access to tools and a small piece of machinery.
This Friday as part of passion project hour this student had the time of his life taking apart a weed blower engine out the back of my classroom. The goal of this endeavour being to put it back together again once they are done and hopefully write an iBook on how engines work. Yes I want this student to do well academically but the broader goal is to keep this student engaged and, dare I say it, enjoying school before we can work on all that over stuff.
But I can’t help but worry next week is the final week of school.
And not all kids look forward to the holidays.
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.
I’m out of adjectives to describe my week at the Apple Distinguished Educator institute in Bali. Seven days of hardcore geeking out with a spectacular group of educators in a breath-taking location is my nirvana. I frequently had to pinch myself wondering if I was *really* there and how on earth my application got accepted given the astounding level of teaching talent amassed at the event.
I didn’t know that much about the Apple Distinguished Educator programme when I applied. As result, this week was really a leap into the unknown. I was (and remain) a bit concerned about a company giving their seal of approval to teachers, when really I think teachers should be the ones giving the nod to good products.
However I liked that idea of learning with and from other educators passionate about using technology in the classroom around the Asia-Pacific region and I like using apple products in the classroom so I was quietly optimistic that I was in for a good week.
I was so wrong.
I was in for the one the most amazing experiences of my professional life.
At the risk of sounding like a cult member, the highlight for me was feeling like I was home. I spent my days and nights surrounded by people who share my passions and had me asking ‘show me how you do that.’
Which is really the point of the Apple Distinguished Educator programme.
Take a couple of hundred people who are already passionate about using technology in the classroom, throw them in a room together by day (and down the water slide at night) and you’ve got the makings of a tight-knit community of teachers dedicated to globally transforming education.
Because it was learning from other teachers which made the event special for me. I can often be found giving advice and helping people with using technology which I enjoy doing (after all I’m a teacher). However it can sometimes get exhausting being a source of information and advice for others.
Over the course of this year, I have been secretly fretting that my teaching was getting stale and that once other teachers figured out my bag of tricks, they’d also figure out that what I do in class isn’t all that amazing.
I was in need of some inspiration and ideas.
Now my brain is exploding with new possibilities and new passions. Everywhere I turned during the conference it felt like I was getting a glimpse into the future, of what might be mainstream in a few years time.
If I was going to make a prediction, it would be watch out for Multi-Touch literacy. I loved how seamlessly layers of video, audio and images could sit in one document. There’s something almost primeval in the ability to manipulate information using your fingers. Multi-Touch technology books makes work seem so much more real and engaging. Immediately I thought of all the video and images I have of my class and my students and had a go at creating a mock up of a student portfolio.
I was impressed by how simple it was to use and how I could create a really rich learning story for the child encapsulating photos, videos and text to stand alongside the PDFs of standardised test results (though for some reason I can only see the first page). The files could just be dragged and dropped in making it very child friendly to use.
No faffing around with embed codes and trying to make existing work fit into rigid templates that don’t work. The results are just gorgeous to look at and have the potential to be published to global audience.
My post would not be complete without a big shout out to the Apple education team. I tend to be a bit wary of big business influence in education and had a secret fear that the week was going to be an extended sales pitch by some dull conformist corporate types who have no idea the realities of the classroom.
In reality, the Apple education team are a creative, caring, diverse group of individuals dedicated to making the programme a success. I was particularly impressed by how many of the team, some of whom I had never met, asked if I was ok after I had asthma attack during the institute. Before I move on, let me give a quick shout out to the awesomesauce Meredith who looks after New Zealand.
It’s hard to believe the week is over and in a few days I’ll be back to reality. Finding the time to keep my projects going when faced with the demands of regular teaching duties, managing access to devices and being the sole ADE in Wellington city will be challenging.
However what happens during a conference is somewhat meaningless; what really matters is what we do differently afterwards based on what we learned while there. As my roommate at the institute, the fabulous @donnasmithnz, said we need to keep #ade2013 alive.
I’m looking forward to sharing what I’ve learned with other teachers at my school, #ignition2013, an ignite talk and also through educampZQN. To add to the nuttiness of my life, I’ve also got #educampwlg to organize and I have a few ideas to implement inside and outside the classroom in the pipeline.
So yes, I’m sure I’ll get a bit of a ribbing from some some quarters for selling my teaching soul to giant multi-national company and yes I would be lying if I said I didn’t want to work in a 1:1 environment. However I’m committed to using what I’ve learned over the week to improve the experience of students in my classroom.
Because really it isn’t about the technology, it’s what you do with it that matters.