Saturday, December 16, 2017

What if School Camp was a game?

Preparation for school camp usually involves a bit of cut and pasting of timetables, groups and gear lists, some goal setting and perhaps some team building games.

This year I wanted to try and do things differently. Activated by my involvement in the recent Games for Learning conference, I asked myself the question "What if Camp was a game?"

My thinking behind this was that designing games is an effective way for students to learn content knowledge through process. Engaging with the content in this manner would generate discussion and new thinking.

So what did I want my students to learn? Our camp setting was changing from a "Hi-di-Hi" affair to more of a "Survivor" context. Students would be experiencing a range of physical and mental challenges that would require a wide range of dispositions. If we were prepared mentally for this, then surely we could reach our potential on this camp.

Table top role playing games (RPG's) are experiencing a bit of a resurgence at the moment and several of my students actively participate in games in this format. Most of us will remember "Dungeons and Dragons" a popular RPG from the 1980's that has since appeared in the popular Stranger Things series. These games require you to play in character and make decisions in the game based on that characters strengths, weaknesses and possessions. 

Students in my class were going to need to design an RPG in which the different characters of the game needed to have certain attributes that would help them deal with the challenges that they may face at camp. They were also going to need to come up with some possible scenarios that they might have to face.

First students would need to know how a table top RPG works and for that we played the game "Hero Kids". I got several students to be the game master for their groups and let them lead this part of the process. Learning through play is essential.

The ideation phase of the game design used Design Thinking so that character attributes and scenarios were closely aligned with what they would actually be experiencing on camp. And in regards to that, we did not give them much information about the camp itself aside from a verbal description of the setting and a list of possible activities. They even had to come up with their own gear list for the character.

The verbal description of the setting was purposeful as we wanted them to create a picture in their mind and then on a large piece of cardboard of the camp itself. This created wonder and reassurance for some but without giving too much away.

Play testing allowed other students to try out the games and have new experiences. Students became experts and teachers. The learning environment was a hum of collaboration.

So, how did this all transfer to camp itself? What we noticed as teachers is that students were able to problem solve, they offered support to others, they were resilient and showed growth mindset when faced with adversity.  Their conversations on camp mimiced those that they had had in the game.

There was only one point of confusion from a student in my class who asked "so are we going to have to roll a dice everytime we need to make a decision?" This made me smile.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Te Wheke

Te Wheke - The Octopus

A representation of wellbeing (hauora) developed by Dr Rangimarie Turaki Rose Pere. Each part important to the whole.

Te whānau – the family
Waiora – total wellbeing for the individual and family (reflected in the eyes)
Wairuatanga – spirituality
Hinengaro – the mind
Taha tinana – physical wellbeing
Whanaungatanga - extended family
Mauri – life force in people and objects
Mana ake – unique identity of individuals and family
Hā a koro ma, a kui ma – breath of life from forbearers
Whatumanawa – the open and healthy expression of emotion

This year I have noticed that I have had to be more responsive to the hauora of my students before they have been able to learn. The make-up of my class is radically different to that of last year and also larger therefore it has taken me longer to get to know each child.

My reflective questions about his are:

With a move towards collaborative learning spaces, how do we ensure that all students have a meaningful relationship with at least one teacher?

What services do we need access to in our schools to assist with the mental wellbeing of a akonga?

Are we addressing the hauora of all of our students in our programmes or just the ones who need extra support?

My blue sky thinking about this would be for hauora to guide all decision making about learning, teaching, strategic planning, regulations etc. That those conversations started with "how will the student feel about this?",  "will this empower the student", "what does this student need to feel good about themselves?". I'd also love for us to have better access to psychologists, counsellors, health professionals and other specialists available for our students who do have extra needs in this area.  As teachers we are expected to take on so many roles, a lot of which require someone with a different skill set than ourselves. 

Back to Te Wheke. Do we as educators have enough of an understanding of what wellbeing is? Can we address it our learning spaces? Can it be acknowledged politically as an essential part of teaching and learning?

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Games for Learning Conference

Myself with Harko Brown and our manu that he showed me how to weave

It is quite special to attend an inaugural conference, but even more special to be part of the dialogue before the conference and also be asked to help facilitate a session.

The Games for Learning Conference held at Te Papa in September 2017 was the vision of Rachel Bolstad from NZCER. Rachel has been doing some research into this area for the past few years and in some ways, this was the accumulation of the many different relationships that Rachel made over that time. The focus of the conference was "equity for social impact".

Rachel was able to secure some pretty amazing keynote speakers, facilitators and participants to be part of this special occasion. Amy Freeden from the Cook Tribal Inlet Council that bravely invested the stories of her people into the game "Never Alone", Yasmin Kafai Professor from the University of Pennsylvania who had Seymour Papert as her mentor, Bron Stuckey a researcher, educator and consultant in the learning through games, and our very own Harko Brown who lives and breathes Ngā taonga tākaro (our cultural games). There were teachers, game designers, students, game players. Never before have I been at a conference with so much diversity.

As a teacher who already uses gameplay and game design in my practice the focus of the conference for me was to see other ways in which to do this. I was constantly reflecting on the question "how could I use this in my classroom?". This is also the stance I took while presenting my session on Game of Awesome with Aaron from Chrometoaster. I knew my audience; these teachers wanted something that they could do on Monday morning. We gave our participants permission to play, permission to be creative and adventurous and to try and use the GOA cards in different ways. I was really impressed at all of the new ideations of the game they came up with.
Much laughter and creativity in my GOA session

Some of my key thoughts/reflections/ideas from the keynotes and sessions I attended:

  • All you need is your imagination! Flying invisible kites is a game. Children are naturally playful and have great imaginations! (Harko Brown)
  • Learn knowledge or content through the game design process, the game at the end is just a bonus
  • A Cultural narrative in game design can be so powerful. Stories are powerful. Games are stories. (Amy Fredeen, Harko Brown)
  • Physical games are easy to change and modify as you just have to say the new rule out loud! (Ben Kenobi)
  • Situation and context help build a game, think about what this could look like e.g giant map/playing board, drama 
  • Games are systems thinking - simple or complex
  • There is a rich discourse when playing games. Listen!
  • Move over computational thinking - what we want to see and do is more computational participation. It is equitable, it is inclusive, it's integrated and it's fun! (Yasmin Kafai)
  • Gameplay can be drama, "teacher in role" and students living and breathing the context of a game
  • Games are life! They tell our stories, they are how we spend our time, they make us feel happy. (Harko Brown)
The group reflections at the end of the conference were incredible but it was a comment by Richard Durham (curriculum designer) that all my own reflections now come from (I wish I had written down exactly what he had said!) He mentioned that the conference itself had a different feel to it. It's true, over the 2 days we were connected to each other through common values. We all saw games as ways to connect to each other, to empathise, to care. I know that I left feeling inspired to continue using games and game design as ways to help my students explore ideas, have fun and learn from each other. 

Tihei mauri ora!

Flying our imaginary kites back at school

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Cue the bees

Today I took part in a leadership coaching workshop with Jan Robertson. She told us a story about how she got into beekeeping. I quickly noticed that there were many metaphors within her story about education. This is exactly what she asked us to think about and extend afterwards.

The first metaphor for me was when she mentioned the special waggle dance that bees do to their bee friends that directs them towards the food source. Intentionally some of them waggle them in a different direction, slightly off target, in the hope that they may find new sources of food.

This immediately made me think of the term positive deviants. Educators who veer off from the set course. Educators who are innovators, collecting new information, trying new things. This could also apply to our students. The ones who think differently. I call these students the "divergent thinkers" and to me they are the ones that inspire me the most.

Jan got me to reflect on what usually happens to those that deviate from the norm. She suggested that these people are usually the ones who get their wings clipped. Bees cannot fly without wings. It is our job as leaders to nurture these people. We don't want all people thinking the same. We need people to challenge the status quo and to be curious about what lies beyond the normal parameters.

This metaphor really stood out to me as a former "lone bee" who got sprayed with insecticide one too many times and had to shut her classroom door and waggle around in secret.

The other metaphor that I connected with was that of the position of the beehive. Bees do not like to be moved. To move a beehive you can only move it approximately 1 metre a day otherwise the bees will get upset. But sometimes the hive needs to move in order to thrive.

I thought of the rate of change that occurs in education within our schools. Change is inevitable and we need to get comfortable at being uncomfortable. However change has to be done in well planned steps. To move the hive out of the shade into a brighter spot requires patient, careful planning and timing. We can't always move the whole hive in one go. Sometimes we need to persuade some of the bees to poke their heads out and have a look around first at the new spot.

Bees, hives and beekeepers provide a plethora of metaphor for education. Jane's point was that quite often we don't always remember what we learnt at a workshop or conference and that metaphors provide an inclusive way to connect with the subject matter. She even suggested we use metaphor to help our colleagues unpack their feelings or frustrations. This reminded me of Diti Hill's "Theory as story". The notion that personal narratives are an important part of our practice. Metaphors are stories that help us connect.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Learning in the Fast Lane - Success Starters

Unpacking Chapter 3 "Success Starters" from:

Learning in the Fast Lane
by Suzy Pepper Rollins (201$

"The opening minutes of a lesson hold tremendous potential for all learners"

The brain is ready for new learning at the beginning of a lesson, fades a bit then picks up at the end. Review work at the beginning of the session does not capitalise on the brains potential for new concepts in the first few minutes of a lesson.

The more novel and interesting the first part of the lesson is, the more the brain will hold on to new concepts and keep them stored as being important. Hands on is preferable as the retention will be higher. Routine will only flatline the brain's involvement. Keep things interesting and unpredictable but find ways to connect with student's prior knowledge, remembering that everyone's is different.

We are aiming for authenticity and relevance in this part of the lesson. It has to engage every learner and not take too long.

Some ideas for success starters:

1) Role play

Put the students in charge. Get them to make the decisions and experience the "problem". Critical thinking and decision making are necessary. Put the drama into the learning.

2) Surveys

Connect the learning back to the student. Are relevant and answers can be shared with the whole group.

3) Prediction

Is all about student's anticipating new learning. Sorting is a good way to do this. This could be sorting items, words and/or pictures. Student's are keen to know if they are correct.

4) Questioning

Questioning allows us to be curious. Students can create their own questions about a topic and share them with a group. Question starter cards (who, what, why, how etc) can also encourage students to engage in questioning.

5) Brainstorming

Sharing each others thoughts and knowledge in a range of brainstorming activities promotes high interest and participation. Those that don't know much yet will start picking some key ideas up from other students.

6) Concrete Representations

Using equipment in maths or science, looking at photos, graphs, videos, picture books to engage interest and strengthen learning.

Some things to reflect on when planning lessons.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Learning in the Fast Lane - Chapter 1

Learning in the Fast Lane
by Suzy Pepper Rollins, 2014

A literature review...

Key idea behind ideas in the book:

That high impact instructional approaches will effectively improve outcomes for all students including those who are struggling. Targeting only the "tail end lag" with remedial gap filling will not help accelerate learning.

Chapter 1: How can we help students with gaps from the past succeed today?

  • Prior knowledge frees up working memory (Hirsh, 2003)
  • New concepts need to be connected to existing schema
  • The misconception is that to learn new things, one must go back and "fill the gaps"
  • Going backwards decreases student motivation
  • Acceleration is about having success in the present by preparing the student for what is happening that week
  • Acceleration puts students in the "fast lane" as they already have the prior knowledge and the basic pre-requisite skills ready to learn the new content alongside their peers
  • Vocabulary is key - students need to know both the pre-requisite vocabulary and the new vocabulary as it will help to link with prior knowledge.
  • Student confidence and participation will increase when they are prepared for this new learning
  • Time needs to be set aside to work with the acceleration group
The framework for Acceleration

Step 1: Generate Thinking, Purpose, Relevance, and Curiosity
Hands on starter activities that get students wondering. Concrete before abstract. Real world examples and thinking. Success starters.

Step 2: Clearly articulate the learning goal and expectations
Explicit and student friendly. Helps define the purpose of the learning.

Step 3: Scaffold and Practice Essential Prerequisite Skills
"Students could master this if they just knew xyz". What are the high priority gaps? Create scaffolds for success.

Step 4: Introduce New Vocabulary and Review Prior Vocabulary
What does it mean? What does it look like? Need multiple representations. 

Step 5: Dip into the New Concept
Needs to be something that the rest of the class won't see - cannot repeat the learning experience. Idea is that the student can say during the class session "I know something about that!"

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Starting Collaboration Reflections

What's on top?

  • Creating times in the day/week for normal classroom activities that are not curriculum based (hidden curriculum)
  • Managing use of learning assistants as in the mornings there are 6 adults in the space
  • Whole group sessions - split into 2?
  • Getting to know students who are needing those strong relationships to ground them
Innovative Learning Spaces (ILS) are really bound by context.  The context will guide the programme. What may work for one school or class may not work for another. I am fortunate to be working with another teacher who has a shared understanding of how children learn and what an effective year 6 programme looks like.  We have 2 other teachers that support us that also have this shared understanding.

My wonderings to share with my teaching team:

  • If there could be a block each week that isn't a shared learning time?
  • If the structures that we set up for literacy and numeracy could be explicit about how the Learning assistants are used?
  • If we could give feedback about having less Learning Assistants in the first 3 weeks as we establish our collaborative practices?
  • If areas outside of literacy and numeracy could/should be done in smaller classes?
  • Would more time with my smaller class help those students who need to anchor themselves and find their place?
  • Gather some student voice
  • Do some reflection with my teaching team