Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Press Play: Lets play games!

Photo Credit: derekdavalos
This post is a collaboration between Diana-Grace Morris and Leanne Stubbing from #WellyEd as they explore further the place of  games in education.
Why Game Based Learning?

I think Games Based Learning is Future Focused.
When I use the words like future focussed learning, I am referring to the process of doing, acting and thinking differently in such a way where it is not just what a student knows but what they can do with what they know. Critical to this is the doing, acting, thinking different -  with others.
Based on playing Never Alone  and seeing the games my students are creating, I think it is possible for Game Based learning to be a vehicle for thinking about the present and future differently.
For myself, to teach, act, think differently requires the classroom teaching/learning space to oscillate between certainty and uncertainty. The certainty of curriculum knowledges applied into a variety of certain and  uncertain spaces. An uncertain space is one not previously understood, where we are unsure what to do.
I create spaces for my students to design games in class because I observe the students relating to each other in ways I haven't seen or heard in other curriculum areas.  When students are creating games the classroom soundscape literally activates the room. The room moves quickly from silent, to slow talking, to loud fast talking, then drops down to silent and re loops. I refer to this soundscape as the “hum” There is a learning hum going on and it is not the same learning that’s happening in my numeracy and literacy lessons.
Game Based Learning can nudge ‘strong collaboration’ amongst students. Not only are students creating something that they could not create on their own there is tension - a lot of it. We need our students to experience these tensions and move from social collaboration to team collaboration. To move towards Strong collaboration I think the  Key Competencies  need to be firmly anchored into the teaching / learning process.

Thinking that inspires me...

Game based learning links so well with play based learning.
“Play should be our greatest work, as it is the biggest driver of innovation”

The type of energies that we use when we play allow us to think more creatively.  We use multiple intelligences. During play we demonstrate an ability to think beyond the unimaginable, change and manipulate ideas and collaborate with others.
In the 1980’s a father invented a game of make-believe for his 12 children to keep them occupied over the summer.  The children were  sailors on a ship. Their father, formally in the navy himself, was able to help recreate his place of work.  The children took on all the duties required to man the ship.  It was as realistic as one could imagine and the rocked back between work and play.  Actually the lines between work and play were somewhat blurred. The game lasted for years and in recent reflection those children (now adults) were able to make direct connections with the skills they learnt during their make believe play and what they now do in their jobs as adults.  .
So if we take this example of play as work and apply it to our classrooms one could argue that the more realistic the experience the more authentic the learning that occurs. Role play is a highly engaging way to interest students in the potential problem solving of wicked problems. Teacher in role is one of my favourite ways to introduce new learning experiences. What if we took that one step further and blurred the lines of work and play so that our experiences in the classroom had a direct effect on our community outside the classroom?  What if the games we designed had purposes beyond our own enjoyment? Or is the process more important than the product?
Then there is play for the purpose of play alone.  The “suspension from reality” where we can take risks that do not have a direct effect on our lives (Gee as cited in Wheeler, 2015). I can fall off the ledge in Temple run and get another life!! I can feed a monster the wrong colour condo and risk him getting angry and then change my strategy to get more points.  I can persist at finding the right path to the next level. I can work out new ways to do things. The world will still turn, the sun will still rise and I will still have reports to write! Haha.
Unless we are playing alone, play involves complex negotiations of turn taking and rule following.  The neurons are firing! The social skills we develop during play have direct influence on our brain development (Hamilton, 2014) therefore playing is good for you! Bonobo monkeys have been observed to use play to connect with each other, to cooperate and create together. From an evolutionary perspective, play is embedded in everything we do (Behncke, 2015).
The more I look at play the more I see potential for it as a vehicle for learning. Games are a form of play, one that our students are already engaged with. Let’s build on this!


Saturday, October 17, 2015

Game Design with Year 3/4

I don't think I had ever thought I would spend a Friday morning designing a digital game for a 66 year old Grandmother to play. But I guess that is what you end up doing when you sign up for a workshop called "Gamestorming" - A way to generate transformative educational thinking!

Game based learning is an area that researchers are looking at more carefully because of the way that the process of learning occurs and also how it engages students (KQED, 2013).  Game design fits well with Design Thinking, the process or mindset of generating ideas to help create solutions to real life problems. Gamestorming is a creative way to generate and explore ideas and innovate with others.  Rachel Bolstad and Dan Milward used a combination of design thinking and gamestorming to get us designing our own games that Friday morning.

My reflection on the process of designing a game is that it was incredibly fun. I was fortunate to have a wonderful team to work with and we spent quite some time creating our play profile. "Raewyn" became a real person, she was someone we wanted to hang out with, and we wanted to make her the best game we could.  Using the process that Rachel guided us through we unpacked games, looked at elements of games we knew Raewyn would enjoy and looked for what she still might be missing... in the end we came up with a community based social action type game utilising Raewyn's guerrilla knitting background and love of pictionary and bananagrams to help shape our thinking.

So... as all excited educators do... I got my class to do some gamestorming of their own.  The task being to design a new fitness game.  This was actually an idea I had suggested last term as we were exhausting our repertoire. So in random groups of 5 they got ready for their challenge!

The Plan
They started by using 3 different post-its to write down a digital game, a non digital game and a fitness game that they enjoyed. These got stuck round the room under those headings. So instantly that is 75 ideas to work with...

Then they needed to in their groups choose 2 of those post its from each category and unpack what you actually do in those games which makes them fun and challenging.  They found this bit quite hard and I had to ask lots of questions to help them get thinking.

The next step was to combine some of those elements to come up with their own game.  One team got their idea right away while others carefully thought about their game and took a bit longer.

The 5 games that were then pitched to the audience were as follows:

  • Plants vs Maths
  • Crossy Surprise
  • Hunt and Kill
  • Octocraft
  • Clash of Uno
The audience then gave feedback on post its using "I wonder..." and "I like..."

The students then spent time sorting out the data - which I quickly linked to our statistical inquiry from last term.  They needed to use the feedback to make any modifications to their game.  Again this was challenging and needed much discussion and filtering and negotiation.

So then it came to actually playing the games...Before we started I mentioned the idea of "fail faster" which I had watched in this YouTube clip that Rachel had shared with me.  It fits well with growth mindset, which the students are all well aware of.  Basically I told them that there was a high chance of the game failing on first play but that was ok, we almost needed it to fail in order to improve it.  An interesting concept in itself that I would like to explore more.

So with the only requirement for this game being that it was for fitness, 3 of the games were maths based and 2 were actual fitness games.  This was an interesting surprise.  I think that they were using a game that we play outside called maths chess and interpreting it as a fitness game because it is played outside (concept #2 to explore further).

The teams trialled their games on half the class to begin with and modified as they went.  I was luckily enough to have Marianne Malmstrom (Knowclue) visiting me that day and it was a great chance for me to reflect with her on our observations of the process the students were going through.  She noted that all of the students used positive feedback to help the team improve their game as well as noting the level of negotiation that occurred within each team but also with their players. Student leadership was also noted.

The two fitness games proved to be the most successful in their trial runs with students asking to play them again and students who weren't playing them asking if they could play them too (they looked fun!). So after a democratic vote the students decided to play "Hunt and Kill" as a whole class.

This game according to the students has elements of Monopoly, Black Ops, Minecraft and Hide and Seek in it.  It is played in our school gully playground which is multi-levelled.

From what I understand of the game, the taggers find people who are hiding, there is something about a destination question asked (need to find out more about this part before I play) and if you get tagged you lose a limb.  When 3 limbs are lost, you become a zombie.  The role of the zombies is to push people out of their hiding spots.

The students played this game for 15 minutes before only 1 remaining "person" was left.  It was fascinating to watch. It had a level of complexity that I couldn't quite understand because I wasn't play it and everybody was engaged.  There were 24 quite sweaty children afterwards so it definitely constituted a fitness game! After the game the students reflected on the name of the game saying it didn't really suit it because nobody actually gets killed.  Hugo, one of the masterminds behind the game told us that the original name for the game had been E-Limb-ination.  And because our class enjoys a good pun it was a unanimous vote that it should be ever known as that. 

The students told me that they would like to go through the process of ideation and feedback again and that they enjoyed working in groups. Last term their feedback was that they wanted more opportunities to create and have hands on learning experiences so I hope that the process of making a game allowed for that.

For me the process lent itself to a powerful learning experience. They had to be creative thinkers, solve problems, negotiate, work as a team, communicate, accept feedback, adapt, be flexible and be resilient to failure.  I am reluctant to link it with any particular curriculum areas because I am trying to break down the subject silos.  I do wonder how this experience will shape our future learning experiences and where we might end up next. Oh - I also better remember to get some more post-it notes!

Monday, October 12, 2015

Shouldn't we be doing it too?

Source: Flickr

In February this year I wrote a blog post about The Key Competencies of Team Work.

As part of the #edblognz Connected Educators Month blogging challenge I have been asked to reflect on a previous blog post.  I have chosen this one because this year I have been continuously reflecting on the theme:

If we think it is good for our students then shouldn't we be doing it to??

In my original blogpost I unpacked what the key competencies would look like if we applied them to how we work in teams within schools.  I want to go further now to address some of the other areas that I have been thinking about that require us to "practice what we preach".

1.      Staff Meetings

In our classes we try and break down power dynamics and are moving away from the notion of "teacher as expert". In staff meetings one person presents information for others to follow/engage with. 

In our classes we try different strategies to engage our students. We don't just use the same one. In staff meetings, we tend to be given information transmission style and then talk in small groups.

2.      Professional Development

In our classes we differentiate our learning to meet the needs of our students. We use personalised learning or use UDL to help us design this.  We encourage student choice and interest. As teachers we get given "one size fits all" PD. We are told to prescribe to what our school prescribes to.

(Thanks for your thoughts about this Bede!)

3.     Leadership

In our classes we give our students opportunities to take on leadership opportunities however big or small. Everybody gets the opportunity to be a class monitor or to put their hand up for duties around the school.  In our schools we define leadership around management units and hierarchal models. 

(Some thinking about this comes from Ann Lieberman's keynote at ULearn15 around everyone can be a leader!)

So why are we not translating what we do with students into our practices as professionals?  When we unpack our curriculum and our school values and beliefs are we neglecting to include ourselves in the equation?

Some food for thought... (also flick me any readings that relate to this please!!)

Which one should I pick?

Source: Flickr

I went to ULearn15 with this question in my head:

"Out of all of the future focused practices swirling around right now, which one should I be focusing on?"

I do get quite excited about current trends and am always willing to give something a go but I fear that this puts my practice at risk of seeming like I just jump into things without thinking. 

I currently love what I do around Maker Culture, coding, and using SOLO for self reflection. I am getting more interested in gaming in education and design thinking.  So basically my question comes from me reflecting "is this too much?".

Thankfully I had a chance to reflect on this question while attending a session at ULearn15 with Karen Melhuish Spencer titled "Transforming our Students' Experiences: Future Focused Learning Design".

Karen led us through a simple model for reflecting on practice which allowed us to deeply think about what the values and beliefs are about learning and what principles of learning inform our practice. A simple model yes, however when you really start to think about unpacking the layers then much thinking and much discussion must occur.

Through this process I realised that I was able to connect those areas of my practice that I like back to my values and beliefs about learning.  For example, my Makerspace is about learners at the centre and I inherently believe that students should feel empowered. The word empowered also leads itself to thinking about choice, student voice, student knowledge and tuakana-teina. I also value many learning dispositions such as resourcefulness and resilience which underpin the Makerspace idea too.

Once you start thinking about the why and the what it immediately strengths what you do in your practice.  I feel confident in being able to articulate to somebody questioning my practice. I also realised that those "trends" that I am currently following or exploring I have thought about. That I am not doing things without that deep thought. That my practice is well informed and I can link it back to my values and beliefs about how children learn.  However I may need to make this more explicit.

The OECD 7 Principals of Innovative Learning are worth having a look at. This article on MindShift is a good one to read.

1. Learners have to be at the centre of what happens in the classroom
2. Learning is a social practice and can’t happen alone.
3. Emotions are an integral part of learning.
4. Learners are different
5. Students need to be stretched, but not too much.
6. Assessment should be for learning, not of learning.
7. Learning needs to be connected across disciplines
(Taken from Mindshift article)

How are others choosing what to do? Are you focusing on one thing or combining or have you focused on the pedagogical/philosophical basis first?

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Blogging connections

Source: Flickr

#Edblognz challenge - find two bloggers you admire at ULearn15, shake their hand and write about it.

When I think about people who influence me through their blogs the first person who comes to mind is Steve Mouldey.  I have been reading Steve's blog for more than 2 years now and it always entertains and challenges me.  I got to meet Steve face to face for the first time last year at ULearn and his workshop on creativity further provoked my thinking.

This year I actually told Steve that one of the reasons I like reading his blog is that he unpacks books that he has read and that means I don't have to read them!!   The honest truth I know!  It's just that Steve has a really good way of communicating the key ideas.  I also have been interested in Design Thinking and Steve posts a lot about this.

Steve and I being creative. 

So blogger number 2 for this post is Philippa Nicoll Antipas.  Philippa is someone I have a lot of time with. We run WellyEd together and interact both online and offline frequently.  As a blogger, Philippa is really good at articulating her deep thinking. She is honest in her reflections and poses meaty questions to get your thinking.  I actually remember the first post that I ever read of hers (way before I had met her). It was about what she was doing with her students and it got me really excited about things I could do in my classroom. Philippa is no longer classroom based but continues to provoke my thinking and entertain ideas relevant to my teaching practice.

Hoping osmosis of brain power happened while this photo was taken with Philippa 

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Don't forget your roots my friend...

This post for Connected Educators Month is related to the challenge around reflecting on my teaching practice.

The backstory...

Eight years ago I left a very successful career as an Orientation and Mobility specialist to be a Kindergarten teacher.   I became a teacher at a time where the government began to de-professionalise early childhood education, where big corporations came in and the face of early childhood was changing. I got annoyed at people not valuing the role of the ECE teacher and sick of hearing "oh you must really like kids".  I left and became a Resource Teacher of Vision and combined my previous career with my new one.  I worked with ECE, Primary and Secondary students with a range of learning needs. But I missed my sense of belonging - about being in one place with a community around me. I knew I couldn't go back to early childhood so I decided to also do my primary teaching qualification.


I have been teaching in a classroom for 2 years now and teaching overall for 8 years in the Education sector. I have spent 14 years working with children.  I am a fully registered teacher in the eyes of the Education Council and the Ministry of Education. Recently somebody referred to me at a beginning teacher(?).  Quite often I defend the ECE sector to primary colleagues.  I wanted to move away from it but now I have found myself connecting back to it.

Early Childhood Educational theory

From the very first lecture I attended I was HOOKED on the theory that would inform my practice. The person who inspired me at this stage was Diti Hill.  Diti introduced me to the word pedagogy, she also re-introduced me to critical theory (I first learnt about this and kaupapa māori theory with Leonie Pihama in my undergrad) and before I knew it I was reading Bell Hooks (feminist writer) and other postmodern theorists and wondering how on earth any of this linked to ECE!! I never expected my mind to be so stretched, but it was and I loved it.

Over the course of the year I was also exposed to the ideas from Reggio Emilia.  The approach (and city of the same name) had some wonderful ideas about the relationship between teacher, child, environment, family and community. Multiple literacies and the Hundred Languages of Children were drivers from this. Te Whāriki was this amazing curriculum that brought it all together.

Into my teaching practice

Kindergartens are Modern Learning Environments.  You are team teaching in a larger space and focusing on learning dispositions. You are observing and responding to the children. You are providing provocation and reflecting in and on action. You are enabling students to create meaning through different mediums. You are fostering relationships that enable learning. Narrative assessment is used and it is authentic and informs teaching and learning. Teachers are adaptable.

And now

I find that my strengths lie in my grounding in early childhood education.  If people don't understand and value the teaching that occurs at this level then they will struggle to move into the mindset needed for innovative learning practice. There are so many parallels and perhaps I don't come from the traditional model of primary teaching then the change to this isn't as difficult?  This could be why I am so passionate about Makerspaces in schools and why I view my students as co-constructors of learning with me despite their young age? And perhaps why I want to integrate everything rather than see subjects in silos.

So where to next?

I am going to explore more what the Reggio Emilia approach can add to my pedagogy/practice at a primary school level.  I am going to reflect on what play based learning looks at for years 3-8. And I''m going to share with my PLN some really great articles and ideas from ECE. And I'm going to ask you this question:

  • In ECE, learning stories (narrative assessment) allow students to revisit their learning.  How do you allow students at your school to revisit learning and build on it?

Monday, September 28, 2015

Drama and Multiple Literacies

This term our school action research as been on using drama and multiple literacies.  My class have spent the term innovating on the Oscar Wilde story "The Selfish Giant". Over the course of the term I have used a range of drama techniques with them to help develop their own version of the story and think about the characters, setting and the meaning behind their ideas.

The first reflection from my students perspective was that drama helped them write more fluently.

"I can see the characters and the scene and what is going to happen already"

I noticed that those students who usually take ages to write anything down were able to start their writing straight away.  I was also able to link their writing to their reading by using the term visualisation (which they do as a comprehension strategy) to thinking about how to make their writing more visual for the reader.

The students really liked the idea of innovating on the story and creating their own play.  I think particularly they were excited by their own voice being used.  That they were creating the dialogue, the music and performing it for an audience.

"The power to act" is one of the key definitions of learner agency (Core Education Ten Trends).   I noticed that the more agency I gave the students, the more involved they were in creating the play. I got the students to give me feedback on what roles they might like to play and took that into account when assigning each part.  Each part was given as much status - the chorus for example had an important part to play as did the Giant.

I only had one student who was unhappy about his role because it pushed him into an uncomfortable place of being someone that he is not.  He wanted to be a child, because he is a child already and he knows how to be one. This is the same student whose own learning goal is to be more creative.  His perception of himself is interesting and one I will continue to learn more about. I am interested in what his reflections might be now that he has performed the play.

As a class we agreed on a structure/outline of the scene order and what drama techniques we might like to use.  I let the students involved in each scene develop it on their own and then bring it back to the class for feedback.  Sometimes what they had created didn't fit with the story or the message wasn't as clear as it needed to be.  Other students gave feedback to help them make changes.  I enjoyed this "drama in action" approach.  I was able to use questioning to make sure that all the students were thinking about the bigger picture - that is how all the scenes together form the story.

When the students rehearsed in preparation for the performance in front of their parents I suddenly realised that it was all them.  It was their ideas, their dialogue, their music that was in this play.  That I hadn't written any of it. Yes I had helped shape the play by asking questions and making suggestions but it was the class who put it all together.  Even down to the members of the chorus knowing when two chairs had to be put on stage - complete ownership of the performance.

And the humour, the humour!  No adult can write humour like a child can.  The dialogue was authentic and entertaining. The students remembered their lines because they had written their own!  And when it came to the performance it was me who made the only mistake! (I'd timed the projector to be turned on in ready for the multimedia green screen scene and it didn't turn on!!).

So a week later reflecting on the process and the part that drama plays in literacy, I am reading again a book from my early childhood teacher training titled "Children, meaning-making and the arts" by Susan Wright. Multiple literacies is not new to me - but I find I am revisiting some ideas that originate in ECE. In this text it reiterates that written and oral language is a dominant discourse for communication (and understanding), however different cognitive processes occur when children engage with other modes. Using the Arts (dance, drama, music, art) allows students to not only create representations but manipulate them too!

In our version of the Selfish Giant, the students have manipulated the story to give it a meaning that is real for them.  They explored the actual moral (open your heart and let others in) and recognised the depiction of Jesus in the original story (the boy with holes in his hands).  In their story the boy became a spy who had been following the Giant around for 7 years and then sets a trap for the Giant by pretending to be unable to get up a tree.  The Giant helps him and the boy is surprised by this gesture.  The moral created by the 7, 8 and 9 year old children of my class then became "people can change".  For me it shows how wonderful the minds of children are - that they will accept change and move on quickly from judgements.

So my reflection on my teaching is that I am going backwards to go forwards.  I want to explore further the use of The Arts in making meaning and to do this I am going to continue to explore some of the theorists and ideas that I did when I first started my teaching career. I still believe that what I learnt and applied to learning in the early years is relevant at all levels of the curriculum.

Reggio Emilia is a city in Italy and also an educational idea that puts children at the centre of learning and focuses on the environment, making learning visible, collaborating with students/teachers/family and links to the community.  It is based in an early childhood context and has fast become an approach used in NZ early childhood centres and kindergartens. Reggio Emilia is Modern Learning Practice and I feel that it will begin to sneak in more and more as our schools move more towards collaborative spaces and team-teaching environments. WATCH THIS SPACE!

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Breaking down the structures

Hierarchy may be best left to the animal kingdom

Today at the first ever #WellyEd Learning Conversations we explored questions around Modern Learning Practice (MLP) in small groups.  My group looked a models of practice and then this led to unpacking how "institutional structures" (my words) have been carried over into MLE's but aren't very MLP... (oh the acronyms!).

I bought this up with my group because what I have seen of MLP so far is that there is still hierarchical models of leadership being used - so basically a syndicate exists but with the walls broken down.  I have a thing where I don't like groups of 3 teachers and one person is the leader because I personally feel that then one person holds all the power and can change the dynamic of the group.  I had one person agree with me and also one person who has been working in a 3 very successfully - however on closer inspection this particular group of 3 worked well because there was no leader!

Distributed leadership is a model I really like because it encourages collaboration and acknowledges different people's strengths. There is no power play, no pedestal.  Just mutual respect.

Diana Grace, alerted me to this article about "Wireachy".  The main line that struck me being:

to move from command and control to champion and channel

this incubation of ideas and innovation, the connectivity of those ideas to others.  A culture of sharing. Interconnectivity. Structures brought down. Power balanced.

So this for me is what Modern Learning Practice Leadership looks like (MLPL) (LOL!!) or perhaps it is just what good teaching looks like and leadership is part of teaching.

I am interested to see as more schools move towards team-teaching models if they also reflect on the pre-existing hierarchical models too... We need to reflect on who holds the power in our schools - just like how we reflect on who holds the power within our classrooms. Our classrooms may be moving towards "modern" but are our structures?

Monday, August 24, 2015

Perception and change

Change... ah... one simple word that can cause so much pain. And teachers seem to live in fear of this word more than others.  Is this because we are in a profession where change is constant?

Digital technology and e-learning "changes" seem to be one of the most dreaded forms of change in teaching.  This makes it really hard to move forward as a whole school because everybody is at varying degrees of acceptance of this change.  Fixed mindsets also add to the mix and suddenly everything just becomes too hard and too much too soon.

But perception is everything.  I got some feedback today through a whole staff discussion around BYOD that has got me thinking.  The feedback wasn't directly aimed at me but because I lead e-learning I listen intently to what people have to say so that I can make future choices about how I support them.  A message that I heard (or perceived?) was that people just want one thing at a time to focus on and that there has been too many options of things...

This makes perfect sense! Choose one thing and get to know it well and use it in your practice.

So what is the problem then you may ask?  There hasn't been any professional development given around e-learning this term. It hasn't been prioritised. There has been nothing new. And so you can see why I find this message strange and why I want to unpack it further.

There are 2 things that I want to reflect on:

1) How can we expect teachers to embrace change if we don't prioritise support for them to do this.

2) In the big scheme of things, is there just too much change?

Embracing Change

Ok so let's start with an analogy, an analogue analogy even...

Got my cookies, got my milk, got my Viewmaster!

Yeah that's all good but have you got the reels to use in them? Are the reels relevant to what you want to view? Were you even born when these were around??

I can give you the Viewmaster but do you know what to do with it? Ok now you know how to insert reel and push the tab down to change the picture but do you know how you will use the Viewmaster to transform learning in your classroom?

We can't expect everybody to just take the device and know what to do with it. We need to prioritise time for learning/playing/thinking/changing.

Change in Schools

Teachers are busy people.  They are given things to do constantly.  My desk is an example of this.  

A fair representation (not my actual desk)
I am constantly under a sea of paper. I get handed bits of paper all the time.  The paper trail... the paper chase...

When people perceive change they are not compartmentalising that this is a report change, this is an e-learning change, this is an admin change.  Unfortunately changing what code you use on the roll is classed in the same basket as using chromebooks.

But is there a way to streamline this or do we just need to be prepared for change and new things all the time? Is there just too much pressure in general?

Personally I think that the more fixed into structures of timetables, year groups and "old school" thinking then the harder it is to be flexible enough in your day to TRY SOMETHING NEW. People perceive that time not doing maths and literacy is time wasted.  So this is more about how we view learning and what that looks like in the classroom. So it all comes backs to pedagogy.

I admit, I can be a slave to the clock - because I am a slave to the timetable. Writing needs to take 45mins, 1 hour for math, 15 mins for fitness. I have become entrenched in the structures of my school. I want to break free! And unfortunately there is only so far I can go with this because of the other structures I sit within (syndicate, school). So here lies the problem.

This is definitely something I want to explore further but I have managed to make the connection between time and change.  I'd be interested in any readings that others may have to help me with my learning.

I leave you with this thought from quite possibly one of the best books ever written (full of great quotes for education!). 

A Wrinkle in Time - Madeleine L'Engle

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

What makes a good school?

This blog post is a reflection of this post by my fellow WellyEd colleague Paula.  Paula asks the question "What makes a good school?". So here is my list of things I think make a good school. It is in no way finished and I will continue to add to it.

As a teacher:

  • A shared vision
  • Professionalism
  • Transparency
  • Distributed leadership
  • Personalised professional development opportunities
  • Opportunities for leadership
  • Wellbeing supported
  • Collegiality
  • Celebrates the good
  • Innovative practice is encouraged
  • A safe, open, sharing culture

For students/family:
  • They are welcome
  • Teachers doors are open
  • Reports reflect that the teacher knows the student (narrative)
  • All cultures are celebrated
  • There is a school community
  • Support for students with specific learning needs
  • Clear communication 

Please note that there is no mention of national standards or individual student successes.  I believe that if the school is a thriving community of learners then this will be reflected in a multitude of ways.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

He Kaimahi

Blog post #5 unpacking Tū Rangitira

I really like the concept of "leading through doing".  It would be fair to say that sometimes when you feel powerless as a leader (through existing hierarchies and bureaucracy) that you can still achieve leadership in this way.

In my mind I see worker bees...

Heads down, tails up!
...they do what needs to be done. They don't ask to be thanked and they don't need to be the Queen Bee.  Something important to note though is that worker bees need each other.  They need to work with each other to achieve.  The most important reflection here being "I cannot do this by myself".

In the classroom it is about joining in with the learning. Being a student in your own class. In this way you are modelling what it is to be a good learner while at the same time being a good teacher. My students are doing the 40 book challenge and so am I. They read, I read.

Appreciating how much work/time has gone into something - well there is an area that I think gets forgotten.  All it needs is a thank you or an acknowledgement. Or even a cup of tea made for you as you rush in from doing your thing...

Thursday, July 30, 2015

He Kaiako

Blog post #4 for Te Wiki o Te Reo Māori

The key word in Kaiako is ako.  I love this term because it shows that teaching and learning are interchangeable. You cannot be a teacher without being a learner.

I was telling a reliever today about how for my "final" year of Uni I went down to Otago... then I rephrased that because that wasn't my final year and I'm not quite sure I have had my final year yet! (I've been to Uni 4 times now - I either love learning or am quite mad!!!)

I have a thirst for learning, whether formal or informal. I want to know about the new stuff, the "dangerous" stuff that nobody quite knows enough about yet. I also love being a generalist rather than a specialist - I have too many curiosities!

I believe that this is important for my learners to know and see me as a learner too. I get them to teach me things. My current challenge is to learn how to play Lord of the Dance on the recorder.  I have an enthusiastic 7 year old helping me with this challenge.

I have put the challenge out to my students this week to be leaders in te reo Māori.  I told them that I couldn't do it all by myself and I also told them that the drive shouldn't just come from me either. "Yeah that makes sense Miss" they said.  I may know more te reo than them but they have just as much responsibility to keep the language alive.

This kaiako is also off to Educamp Palmy this Saturday, in her own free time to do some more learning.  I will also be sharing some knowledge too.  It is fantastic professional development that really fuels my passion for teaching and will permeate my classroom come Monday morning.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

He Kanohi Matara

Blog post #3 as part of Te Wiki o Te Reo Māori

I don't think I ever set out to be innovative in my practice. Yes, I latch on to new ideas and am an early adopter but I thought that down to me being more excitable than anything. I got labelled as an "innovative tweeter" by Innovate my School which I was a bit embarrassed about, however maybe I need to brace my visionary side?

With the learner at the centre of what I do, I really do hope that I inspire my students to take risks and try new things. I model that by trying new things with them. Sometimes I fail. Modelling failure, I feel, is important.  If we want children to have certain learning dispositions then we need to have those learning dispositions too.  Maybe risk= innovation?

My aspirations for my students come from a place of manaaki and aroha. I really want them to shine at what they do. I acknowledge their strengths and their interests and aim to nurture them. I also want this to filter out to students that are not in my class. I have done several things this year that allow other students to also experience opportunities that develop dispositions.  I have started a code club at school and I use whānau days (year 0-8 groups) to set up activities that are new experiences for most.

One of my biggest achievements in this area of being "visionary" is that I have grown our kapa haka roopu. Originally this was open to year 5-8 students. We now have from year 0-8. Our newest member started school and kapa haka in the same week.  That was pretty special.  The aim of kapa haka for me is to practice whakawhānaungatanga.  I have watched the relationships grow within the school.  Tuakana-teina is evident.  Students have a sense of belonging (mana whenua)  Even today I saw a Year 5 boy playing with Year 2 girls at lunchtime.  They all know each other from kapa haka.  They have shared experiences together including a noho marae.  They are family. They are whānau.

That was my vision... and I'm glad I achieved that.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

He Kaiwhakarite

Post #2 of my unpacking of the 7 principles of Tū Rangitira (Leadership) as part of Te Wiki o Te Reo Māori

My current "Kaiwhakarite" (Manager) job at school is managing digital technology and library resources.

This year I have rolled out 36 ipads to the Junior School and 40 chromebooks to the Senior school.  It was almost a year in the making so I did a lot of work behind the scenes to get them ready.  I have also helped implement GAFE (Google Apps for Education) and provide professional development and ongoing support to both staff and students.

The learner is always at the centre of what I do.  I wanted to implement change around digital technology and e-learning practice to benefit my learners.

Tū Rangitira states that:

The key word here is transform.  Transformational leadership is about inspiring others and "walking the talk".  I like to think that I have put in the mahi (work) required to make digital technology successful for everyone and without the need for praise.  I see myself as a role model for e-learning by demonstrating it my classroom practice and I always give my time to help support others.

With the library I have one clear goal for myself and that is to share my love of reading with others.  I manage the library with another teacher and we have split the role up so that my focus is mainly around books (the best part!!). We manage the library in the sense that we facilitate things like purchasing books however the ownership of the library we have put back on to the students.

The library since our takeover this year has become a community hub.  We have craft clubs, book clubs and a code club running out of it.  At one stage some students even started up an "Ocean Life" club for a term.  These clubs are run by students for students.  The aim for them to claim ownership of how they use the library and show leadership at the same time.  Our student librarians have been asked to take ownership over different sections of their library and think about how they want to display books and take care of their area.  I find myself attracted to just hanging out in this space because now there is a (quiet) buzz.  I usually end up engaged with a student about books I have read/they have read and talking about books.  I buy books with specific students in mind.  The library is a place for everyone to come to and for everyone to be part of.  So I guess with the library my management style is more distributive leadership with a student focus.

Monday, July 27, 2015

He Kaitiaki

It is Te Wiki o Te Reo Māori, Māori Language week and I have been given the wero (challenge) to reflect on Tū Rangitira - a document for leadership in Māori medium teaching.

Now I am not a teacher in a kura kaupapa but I do have a profound commitment to the use of te reo Māori in both primary and early childhood settings.  This is an opportunity to see if I can extend my leadership in this area in a mainstream context.  I also view leadership as something that doesn't have to be assigned to a management unit or a Principal.  Anybody can be a leader... you just have to lead!

Ko ngā tīpuna kaitiaki  o Rangitāne

He Kaitiaki.  I love the word kaitiaki. There is a lot of strength and mana associated with being the guardian of something.  It is empowering.

Being the kaitiaki within a school means that you care for the people in it. Students, staff, and whānau.  Schools are people places and for learners to have all of their needs met they need happy, well supported teachers.  Leaders also need to look after themselves!

It is important that we keep an eye out for each other - that we recognise and respond to each others hauora (health and wellbeing).  It could be as simple as covering somebodies duty so they can catch up on some work, or catching up over a coffee in the staffroom to relax.

We need to take the time to korero with our students so that we know what is going on for them. Again recognising and responding to their needs. Knowing how they are feeling.

We can all be kaitiaki of the language and culture too. I spoke to my students today about te reo Māori being a "living language" and then asked how do we stop it from dying?  If an 8 year old can infer that we need to speak it more then surely we can see, as adults, how important it is to include it as part of classroom culture?  Our curriculum is bicultural but I don't think we value that part of it. Certainly not as much as we did in early childhood education.  We need more professional development for teachers in this area and more emphasis on this for our student teachers.

And lastly I want to acknowledge that we are kaitiaki of Papatūānuku too. This isn't explicitly mentioned in Tū Rangatira but I believe that we need to lead by example in how we look after our natural resources. Our tamariki deserve that from us and they too need to see themselves as kaitiaki too.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Matariki reflections

Last week I had the absolute privilege to take 50 tamariki from our school Kapa Haka group to Te Tapu Te Ranga Marae in Island Bay, Wellington for a noho (stay overnight).  The purpose of this noho was to connect these children further with each other (whakawhanuangatanga) and to connect them further with Te Ao Māori (the Māori World), Tikanga Māori and Te Reo Māori (language and culture).

For the majority of these children this was their first time onto a Marae and their first time partaking in a pōwhiri.  It was a day of first for me too.  I needed to learn a karanga (call) to use as they called us on to the Marae and I also had to learn a speech (whaikōrero) in te reo to respond with during the formalities.  Luckily a good friend from the Māori Language Commission was able to help me with this but I spent a lot of time memorising these.  I found that understanding what each word meant helped me memorise what to say and in what order. So here was this blonde haired, blue eyed descendant of a NZ Māori taking a step outside of her comfort zone, but so filled with pride of my heritage, representing her kura, her whānau and her tupuna as we were welcomed on.

Those of you who may be unfamiliar with Te Tapu Te Ranga, the kaupapa of the marae is "Kaitiakitanga" - to care for Mother Earth, to be guardians, to think about being sustainable.  This kaupapa was reiterated to us by Bruce Stewart, the kaumatua and founder of this marae.  He spoke to the children about Matariki and how it was a chance for us to look to the past in order to work out what we must do in the future. How we must look after the land and not make the same mistakes.

For me I relished this opportunity to connect with my culture and to amp up my te reo.  When I worked in early childhood I spoke te reo all the time but I realised how much more I could be using it in my classroom environment.  I know that the little bit I do does rub off on my students but it made me sad when another student from another class asked me at dinner time "What does kai mean?".

So I am looking to my past in order to plan my future - I make a further commitment to integrate te reo Māori into my teaching practice. To weave both the values and the language in to my daily life.  For te reo is a living language and must be used in order to give it life.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Eduignite talk "Makerspace Mondays"

This is the Eduignite Talk that I presented in front of 50 connected educators in Wellington a few weeks ago. It was my first Eduignite talk and to be honest I wasn't as freaked out as I probably should have been. Why not you ask? Well a lot of it has to do with the fact that I was presenting to people that I respect and trust. Over the past 8 months I have grown my Professional Learning Network (PLN) here in Wellington as a member and organiser of WellyEd.  I have gotten to know my audience and have removed the fear of presenting my ideas and thoughts. It is ok if I am wrong - I like to take risks with my own learning.  I encourage my students to do this so of course I should be doing this myself!!

I really enjoyed the evening itself. I got to listen to other passionate educators presenting their ideas "igniting" new ideas for myself. However the highlight of my evening was the reflection of my "guests" for the evening (2 colleagues and a friend), none of which who had been to any connected events like this before.  All of them were blown away by a) the fact that there were these teachers out there talking about really cool stuff and b) at how safe it was to talk about your ideas.  Outcome = 3 more connected educators!!

So the whole "ignite" aspect of the evening has worked. I have some visitors coming in 2 weeks time to hang out during Makerspace time and the lovely Angelee has let her students loose with the creativity too!

Keep connecting people!

Culture Counts

I'm going to be honest and say that when presented with information about thinking about cultural diversity in my teaching practice, it isn't something I feel I need to address because it is embedded already in my values and in my teaching philosophy. My fundamental value is relationships. To be an effective teacher I must have good relationships with my students.

So why do so many teachers fail to recognise students culture and what they bring to the classroom?

I wonder if this is actually embedded in how we view children. Do we see them as competent and capable? Do we believe in the concept of ako - that we are both teachers and learners and so are our students? Who holds the power in our classroom?

To look outward one must also look inward. How are we evaluating resources and initiatives that address the needs of Māori and Pacifika students? They address these cultural needs within the context of there being more than 1 student who identifies as being of that culture. How do we address the fact that some of us work in predominantly european schools?

I ask these questions because I've heard the arguments and I've seen the excuses.

My solution would to be look at something similar to Te Kotahitanga  - that we use culturally responsive pedagogy to form our relationships in the classroom.  That we address power-relations, that we see each student as being culturally located and we think about our teaching strategies and how they meet the needs of the learner.  Most of all, that we actually build proper relationships with our students.

Culture isn't a separate entity, it is part of our students so by getting to know our students we will know more about what they have to bring to our classrooms whether that is "cultural" or not.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

M.L. Something-a-rather

M.L.E. An acronym that has been floated around for awhile in the twittersphere, perhaps due to it being filled with early adopters and future focused teachers.  M.L.E - or Modern Learning Environments, is a new acronym to my colleagues and one that has caused quite a lot of confusion and chaos in our preparation for upcoming changes to our school building.

My understanding is that the Ministry of Education has decided that current school buildings in New Zealand do not all meet the needs of today's learning. They are requiring all schools to move towards being an MLE.
Shiny shiny new things...

These new spaces appeal to most magpies because of the infinite possibilities for new furniture, better ventilation, heating, lighting and soundproofing and good storage. However re-creating the open plan learning spaces of the 1970's falls short of future planning. Suddenly there is an expectation that we will all be team-teaching.

Now I for one am not against team teaching. I used to be a Kindergarten teacher and I worked very closely and very collaboratively with my team.  It's not a new thing, and it's not an impossible thing, I'm just not sure it's the right thing for everybody.

Recently on a trip around some new school builds a teacher reflected quite honestly and openly with me about the lack of flexibility of sharing a space. She said she was working 12 hour days as they needed to meet every day after school, that she couldn't just take the students out for a game because it had a knock-on effect, and that she was really worried about one of the beginning teachers as the demands were so high.

I took her reflection and reflected on my own values and beliefs. I value autonomy and flexibility. I want to be able to stop a lesson because it's not the right time/space/place and go do something else. I want to innovate and mix things up and build really strong relationships with a class of children.

One of the designs presented to us as part of our consultation is based on a singular cell with a collaborative space right outside.  I think this would be a far more beneficial step towards collaboration as it allows autonomy and the ability to connect.   I think moving towards open plan is too far away from people's comfort zones.

The biggest thing that I am scared of is working with others. Hey wait a sec! Didn't you just say you worked collaboratively as a Kindergarten teacher?? Ah yes I did.  And I spent a lot of time picking the right team to work with.  I was very selective in which team I wanted to work in.

Existing staff who are used to working in single cell classrooms will struggle with collaboration.  A Principal will struggle to find teams that will gel together and fit within existing school structures.  If I were in the position to decide how team teaching would look then I would be looking at finding partners who established what team teaching looked like for them.  I also wouldn't have everybody using the same model.  Juniors have different learning needs from seniors and so forth. I would also trial things - make nothing permanent.  Another aspect that annoys me is grouping of students. My school currently uses a Year 1/2, 3/4, 5/6, 7/8 model. I'd like to see some flexibility in that. I'd love to mix it up especially since so many of my Y4 students were already working in Level 3 last year.

But I am one person. I am an early adopter. A future focused teacher who makes things happen for myself. I am in touch with what happens beyond my four walls. I am an easy person to convince to try something new. So how about my colleagues?

Please note I am not against team teaching in open plan. I am somewhat jealous of schools that are able to hand pick their teachers and be innovative in what they are doing. But there is a spectrum here and it is all relatively new. Nobody in those environments are saying that they are perfect either but I do admire their open reflections and allowing others like myself to come and have a look.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Passion versus Curiosity

"If you don't have an obvious passion, forget about it. Follow your curiosity because passion is somewhat a tower of flame that is not always accessible. And curiosity is something anybody can access any day. Your curiosity may lead you to your passion or it may not. It may have been for "nothing" and in that case all you have done is spend your existence in pursuit of the things that made you feel curious and inspired and that should be good enough. Like if you get to do that then that is a wonderful way to have spent your time here"

- Elizabeth Gilbert, Author 
as cited on NPR's TED Radio episode "The source of Creativity"

These words from Elizabeth (author of Eat, Pray, Love), really confronted me as I am a person who is very passionate about what I do. I always viewed passion as being accessible and that it was up to intrinsic motivation to make it happen. But perhaps not everybody has to have a passion.

Curiosity, it seems is a far broader and more encompassing disposition needed for learning. Curiosity does not bond itself to one subject or area of expertise.  Perhaps I need to rephrase some of my own "passions".  I have always wondered if I perhaps had too many passions. I am interested in so many things. I know now that I have many curiosities and things that inspire me. Here are a few:

  • native birds
  • books
  • reading
  • native plants
  • crafts
  • e-learning
  • football
  • rugby league
  • gardening
  • zumba
  • tea
  • social justice
  • politics
  • teaching
  • networking
  • te reo Maori
  • kapa haka
and the list goes on...

Sometimes I wish that I had just one or two that I could commit all of my time too but I am far too curious for that!

So back to my students... do I want them to be passionate or curious? I think perhaps curious because it allows for change and the ability to try lots of things. I, as the teacher am providing a smorgasbord of possibilities. Some will seem more appetising than others. Some students will only want a taste while others will want a second helping. It's up to me to present those possibilities in a way that hooks my learner to want to try it.

Hmm... which one will I try?

This thinking links with my thoughts about science teaching:

An area which I want to push curiosity in for next term.