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.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Human Robots

Today I tried something a little different in my Makerspace session. Kids faces when I said we wouldn't be using the iPads for coding today:

What? Coding without iPads. NO WAY!!!

I used a lesson from Kodable that looked at programming human robots. That is, writing code for somebody else to follow to do an obstacle course. This also turned into a dance. This also turned into Miss Stubbing doing box jumps onto chairs and press ups.  I actually think the kids were starting to take the mickey!!!!

I really enjoyed what happened in this lesson because the learning was both kinaesthetic and visual. Kids were jumping around all over the place. I was jumping all over the place. Students tested their code on me and on each other. And sometimes the code did not work!!!

At one point I was in a "doing the splits" position and supposed to be moving into jumping onto a chair. IMPOSSIBLE!!! The code needed to be changed. Try, change, try, change...

Me going from the splits into a jump

And just another reason why I am so keen on coding with students. Amazing problem-solving skills and hands on learning. And we didn't even use technology!!!

P.S. Afterwards one student said to me "I'd love to make real robots". Ah guess what kid? YOU CAN!!  Hooked!