Learning Stories

Towards the end of last year I mused over the nature of teacher reporting to parents.

My thesis (ooohhh, fancy word!) was based around the extremely stagnant nature of reports. That is, because we are only reporting to parents every half year, most of the time what we are putting in our reports is already out of date. Often by many months.

My post was inspired by this tweet from Miss D:

My post was also inspired by my son’s kindergarten and their regular posts on his Educa profile. Anyone with preschool children at an early childhood centre using Educa will know how fabulous it is when you read another story on how your child is learning on their own and with others.

Anyone who has seen Point England School in Auckland knows how well their students use blogging to record their learning. I was first shown these at a professional learning day back in the Easter holidays. As soon as I saw Blogger I started musing.

After musing on this for a few months and deciding on going down the Google Apps / Hapara route, I’ve also decided to begin using Blogger to report to parents in a similar way as my son’s kindy reported on his learning (he’s now at school so his next report is his 4-week one… I think…?).

Blogger allows parents, or anyone for that matter (brothers, sisters, grand-parents, overseas relatives etc), to sign up to follow the blog. Every time there is a post, they get an email alert. Alternatively people can subscribe via their RSS reader.

What’s in a learning story?

How I’ve structured my learning stories is very similar to how my son’s former kindy did.

  1. Outline what was observed.
  2. Point out what learning was happening.
  3. Suggest next steps for my teaching.
  4. Link the learning back to our school curriculum.

I am in my very early stages of this form of reporting to parents; it’s only been going this week! I do, however, feel rather enthused by the whole thing. What it’s done is made me really hunt out the authentic learning moments my students are having.

I’ll share today’s learning story with you to see what you think.

So far that’s four stories I’ve done this week involving eight of my twenty three students. We’ll see how this pans out.

I’m picking I’ll still have to churn out 23 old-fashioned reports come November…

//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

My gut said no… and then I thought about it

I thought it was a good idea to blog about this since it is related both to my pedagogical approach and my old man stubbornness.

We’ve had a discussion at school recently: What are the indicators of an effective reading programme. Many of us have said the same thing and we’ve created a document – this has ended up being very similar to the Effective Literacy Programme books put out by the ministry a few years back.

Today the deputy principal came through to check out our reading programmes based on the list we had co-constructed at the end of last term. When I went over the staffroom to collect luncheon her walk through notes were on the table ready for us to put in our Teaching as Inquiry folders as evidence for EDUCANZ.

I read mine and was immediately outraged. Under the heading of “Literacy rich environment – class written books, books, magazines, children’s work” I received this:

words and examples displayed – no visible student work

Instantly the old, stubborn me kicked in. What! How can I? All the work I do is digital (the class is now using Google Apps through Hapara). The work’s all online! It’s digital!! Plus, MY ROOM IS ENTIRELY MADE UP OF LARGE WINDOWS OR WHITEBOARDS. WHERE AM I GOING TO PUT IT!!!

After my brain calmed down and I returned to some kind of Boon equilibrium I started to think… How can I make this wonderful work my students are doing more visible? I know what amazing work they are doing, but parents or whanau have no idea. They’re not logged in, necessarily, to see the students working. How can I make this happen for them.

So that’s where I’m at. My Teaching as Inquiry brain has officially taken over my old man stubbornness. It now rules my practice.

Sweet!

I am now away to make a large computer screen to display some printed out work. It will be stuck over a window.

Mr B

So… what’s been decided for next term?

We’ve just had a quick discussion about what we’re going to do next term under our umbrella topic for this year “Out of this World.”

The ideas the kids were coming up with were worthy enough to blog about (so much so that I got this one cranking while they were stacking chairs and doing other end-of-term bits).

image

As I was writing some of these ideas up on the whiteboard the kids started asking questions. So many questions. I started answering some. Of course, when I start answering questions I go off on various tangents. The idea of dark matter and the big bang came up. I put them on the board. This, of course, led to more questions, and rather than trying to answer them in the fifteen minutes we had left, I changed tack and got out the post-its.

“Write down your questions,” I announced. Based on the brief discussion, here are some of the questions they wrote:

How far is it between the moon and Pluto?

What does a black hole do?

What would happen if the sun blew up?

How long does it take a rocket to get to Mars?

I wonder how long it would take to drive a car to Venus?

Is the galaxy infinite?

Can you leave the galaxy?

What would happen if the ozone disappeared?

Can you go 100,000,000s of miles from the galaxy?

Then my personal favourites:

I wonder what would happen if the dark matter wasn’t there?

What would happen if the dark matter fell apart or exploded?

Next term will be very interesting indeed.

Mr B.

Post Script: following some discussion after I suggested our class band could be called Event Horizon (that was part of our black hole discussion), we settled on Galaxy. I’ve said it has to be a prog rock band. Then someone asked what prog rock was. My answer: “Write your question on a post-it and put it on the board.”

Ground Control to Commander Hadfield

I haven’t blogged here for a while. There are a couple of drafts kicking about in my “yet to be published” list and another couple festering inside my brain portal. Best I do something about these drafts…

This year our over-arching topic is Out of this World and with this we’ve been investigating a bit of stuff about space. I gave the students the challenge of choosing one current mission that was being undertaken by NASA or the European Space Agency and to complete an inquiry into it.

Here is a PDF of our shared Google Doc outlining the project.

Anyway, one thing led to another and I decided we needed to tweet the International Space Station.

We checked for a couple of days to see if we would get a reply. The kids were asking, “Hey Mr. B! Has the space station tweeted us back yet?” They hadn’t and I had a brainwave last night. More on that shortly. We’ve been learning Space Oddity recently (yes… I’m that kind of teacher) and to kick things off with an Out of this World bent, I showed the kids this classic video from ISS astronaut Chris Hadfield.

It’s a great video with over 25 million views, which brings me back to my brainwave. Last night I thought I might be able to tweet Chris our question requesting a picture of New Zealand from space. I checked it out with a couple of the kids who came in off the early bus and they quite liked the idea.

I was thinking the same thing would happen. We might not hear back, but with Twitter you never know…. An hour after our original tweet came this reply:

And that, my friends, shows the wonder and beauty of the Twitter. You can put something out there and things like this happen. The kids were totally amped. We also had a supplementary question.

I asked them at the end of the day, “How many people came to school today thinking, ‘you know, I reckon I’ll speak to an astronaut today.’?” I know I didn’t.

A massive thank you to Chris for engaging with our students in this way.

Education Outside the Classroom – Aoraki Mount Cook

There’s nothing like nearly a week away with your class to both bring you together as a unit.

I can still vividly remember my standard four week-long trip to Camp Kaitawa in Te Urewera National Park. Based in a school built to educate the children of workers on the hydroelectric scheme built there. Obviously, after the infrastructure build was complete, not many stayed and the school became surplus and it morphed into a place for schools to experience one of the many remotely fabulous places we tend of have in abundance in Aotearoa.

“Camp” has now fallen under the umbrella term Education Outside the Classroom – EOTC. My school is incredibly lucky. We are able to head away for a 4-day camp once a year and then later in the year we head off for a night skiing & skating in Tekapo. This is far more than so many schools around the country and I am truly grateful to our Home & School team whose massive fundraising efforts throughout the year make these opportunities possible for the learners in my charge.

We rotate our travels. We alternate between the city and more remote areas. This year it was the turn of Aoraki Mount Cook to host us.

The weather was appalling. Well… for the first day anyway. Mountain times in near winter can be filled with moistly saturation. A short walk up the Hooker Valley track ended with many of us facing the tantalising prospect of ice-cold drips of hail down the back of our necks. We did not make it all the way up the track and turned back at the second swing bridge once the icerain decided to start slapping us in the face. Thankfully, the place we stayed was not off the grid and we were able to use the combination of two-dollar coins and drying machines to restore our clothes to a wearable state.

The Department of Conservation were our hosts and ran a programme highlighting their work as kaiteaki of the Aoraki Mt Cook National Park. Predator control and biodiversity were the main areas of learning, but since DoC are also the local body in the area, they are also in charge of things like refuse collection – important in a national park as all that you bring in needs to be removed. We got to hear about how they manage this.

DoC also showed us the Search and Rescue base. The students got a chance to play the roles of real SAR people – the operations crew, the search team, helicopter pilots, medics, media liaison – every part of the process was covered in our little fake rescue of an injured German climber.

What a week! So much learning in so many different contexts. Such a valuable week and not a maths book, writing pen or school journal in sight.

Next week we’ll be back to our “usual” programme (usual-ish as we are currently studying Bigfoot & Loch Ness Monsters in our Unsolved Mysteries unit). I imagine that the kids will still be buzzing for a while.

Please enjoy some of the photos of our trip…

20150513_074603

Mmmm… weather

20150514_102139

A possum made from lake-side bits during a “Make Stuff from Lake-side Bits” competition

20150514_102209

A lizard made during the same competition

20150514_123800

Lake Tasman for lunch

20150514_134854-1

Mountainy mountains

Search and Rescue activity

 

My thoughts on knowledge

I’m sitting here at work. I think I’m meant to be not procrastinating, but that doesn’t appear to be happening (to all the English teachers out there aghast at my second sentence, please be aware that my intention was to place the “not” in that exact place for humourous effect, rather than giving the appearance of illiterate buffoonarism).

The other day I read a post from Danielle that got me thinking (this wasn’t the first; I doubt it will be the last!). In it she posed the question:

Who has decided what ‘knowledge’ should be taught in our curriculum?

She then goes on to give a multitude of example of knowledge we are imparting to our students (trigonometry, Shakespeare, Okazaki fragments). I would add that some of those topics I know little to nothing about yet my world is not collapsing.

I would also like to point out that my experience with Shakespeare at school was fraught. English wasn’t my strongest subject and my appreciation of the Bard only came later in life – appallingly thanks to Kenneth Branagh’s films rather than any concerted efforts to read the collected works. With the benefit of hindsight and maturity I now realise what my English teachers were attempting at the time. For that I apologise.

But I digress. What Miss D says about knowledge is interesting. Indeed – who as decided what knowledge is important? This question has resonated with me, particularly as I am currently planning term 2 work for my class. As part of this process I am looking through the New Zealand Curriculum for achievement objectives that align with the topic my students have chosen. This has been difficult as the topic they chose (related to our grand theme for the year: Out of this World) was Unsolved Mysteries. When we fleshed this out during the last week of last term some of the sub-topics include the Loch Ness Monster, UFOs, Sasquatch/Bigfoot and the Mary Celeste.

Now as I go through the NZ Curriculum the question comes in: where does this subject area of very high student interest fall within our curriculum? Science? History? In primary school our curriculum still contains history under the auspices of Social Sciences. The AOs within talk of people, community, culture and citizenship but not much about cryptozoology, Bermuda Triangles or alien visitation. Of course, this content knowledge can be linked through the English AOs, however, when integrating the curriculum you want to draw from many or all the subject areas not just one or two. This is such a rich area of content for students (and adults!!) and I would be selling my students short if I said, “We can’t do this because I’m not able to align it with the curriculum.”

Towards the end of her post, Danielle says:

What if society shifted towards a more holistic view, where we considered ourselves as part of a network and existing as a network? How would the world be different?

That is the ultimate question; one I don’t really have an answer too. In saying that I do know a few people who would not enjoy this education system because of the intensely difficult task measuring key competencies or dispositions when compared with measuring, say, basic facts knowledge, kings and queens of England or Polynesian waka migrations to Aotearoa.

Measurable assessment data still drives a lot of our decision-making in education. How do we get past this? How do we move to that holistic system Danielle was talking about where everyone at school (students and teachers) are part of a network and existing as a network? A place where health, well-being and self-worth are just as important as maths, reading or writing.

So many intense questions contained within a great thought-provoking post. I will ponder them further and perhaps some answers / ideas will present themselves.

Mr B

PS: I hope I haven’t missed Danielle’s point. I’m quite good at doing that sort of thing.

Ako: I am a learner, I am a teacher

Since many, many of the wondering EdChatters I look up to have been writing screes this month on a daily basis, I thought it timely I put finger to key and tap out a few words.

If you are unfamiliar with the Māori concept of ako it means both learning and teaching. We have developed this as part of our school curriculum and it sits alongside key competencies related to learning.

I have decided to explore ako more explicitly with my students this year for a number of reasons. Firstly, they need to realise that I don’t know everything and that, in fact, as a group we are all in it together on our journey of discovery (watch this space for pictures of microbes from the irrigation race – very soon).

Secondly, they are all teachers, whether they like it or not. When I surveyed them yesterday about ako – that they were teachers and learners – none really put up their hand. However, when I asked in the context of, “Have you ever taught anyone to do anything?” hands shot up all over the place. Every single kid in the class had taught someone to do something. Ride a bike, tie shoe laces, log on to Code.org (fairly recent); the list was extensive.

Thirdly, and possibly selfishly, I am thinking about my inquiry this year. I intend to do a bit of research this year into how children with different needs are catered for in the modern, flexible learning environment (yes… I too am aware of the jargony nature of that sentence). Essentially my concern is those students who have particular learning needs could easily get lost in the modern, noisy classroom as students go about their messy inquiry missions.

The idea developed over the course of last year as I watched how students worked with each other in those vertical learning groups of mixed abilities. Kids are very good at explaining and helping out other kids who don’t know how to do something. I saw this as an opportunity and wanted to look into it futher.

So today we talked about some concepts that our curriculum has related to ako: manaakitanga (caring for others), kotahitanga (togetherness) and rangatiratanga (leadership or self-determination). Here’s our brainstorm (sorry – it’s a bit reflecty):

20150217_132201

You can see on the left I’ve written: “How can we use pictures to show this?”

You know, in your head, when you’re teaching is awesome – around about the time you’re planning it? I really did think we’d talk about these concepts and voila, I’d have pictures of mighty kauri thrusting forth from Papatūānuku with ako being the strong trunk….

Well… there were many blank faces. However, I did send them away and let them go for it. Some kids did really well, but on the whole I think it was mostly a struggle. Reflecting afterwards I put it down to a lack of effective scaffolding on my part and too many new words all at once.

But hey, on the bright side, those words are now in our class vernacular. They are fabulous concepts – key competencies in te reo. I will now build on these shaky foundations and perhaps, one day this year, a mighty kauri will triumph.

This wasn’t a failure. It was a beginning.

Akohoia tahi tatou – together we learn.

Mr B.

What would happen if…?

After a fabulous few weeks away from the rigours of daily school life, I’m heading in more regularly now as I try to get things organised ahead of the return of both my students (Feb 2) and ERO (shortly thereafter).

As I prepared for the new school year, my new-ish cellphone decided to develop some kind of electrical tick whereby there now appears on the camera some lovely blue streaks. This technical hitch, according to the Google, is caused by the camera’s sensors not working properly. Yesterday I returned it to a well-known Australian technology chain and they have now sent it away for repair.

This now leaves me without a smart device on me at all times. Yes I have my laptop but that is a rather cumbersome replacement and one does look rather foolish walking around with a laptop in hand attempting to make use of the 2 free wifi spots here in Geraldine.

Being without a device has other negatives. For the life of me I can’t quite ooze them from my fingertips at the present moment, but I’m sure there are many (Clash of clans anyone?).

Of course, there are also positives. I now have plenty more time to do stuff. Not that I don’t enjoy engaging in vast pedagogical discussions with my twitterverse, but that does take time out of your day.

Last night I was asleep by 10.30. Ish.

Having all this extra time has led to my brain wandering off and thinking about stuff.

For example, what would happen if I just removed all the technology from my class for a week? Unannounced. What would happen? How would my students deal with this scenario? How would we learn? How would we engage with each other? How much “spare time” would we have as a class? How would our learning change?

So that is what I am going to do. At some point this term, somewhere near Easter, I’m going to spend a Friday afternoon after school removing every single device from our classroom to see what happens.

This might sound like a bit of a whim, but I believe the richness in learning that is going come from this will far outweigh any flight-of-fancy-ness. And yes… this technological restriction will extend to me and my devices!

I will give everyone the heads up when this happens so that you might follow our progress – probably as an end-of-week recap rather than hourly tweeting about how frustrated we all are at having to converse face to face.

I predict good times for all.

Plus I hope you’re all enjoying trying to re-engage your brains this week.

Ka kite

Mike

Professional learning goals for 2015

Hello everybody and salutations to you as we come to the end of yet another festive season. If you’re anything like me you are lamenting the shrinking number of notches remaining on your belt as the ever-expanding girth of your Christmas puku loses the fight against the vast amounts of yuletide muck you have (and continue to) thrust down your neck.

Those of you who read my post for the Christchurch Connected Educators blog during CENZ14 back in October will realise that first half of 2014 culminated in a very low point in my teaching career.

The negative beginning to 2014 was replaced with a stellar end after my engagement with many, many like-minded geniuses at the #EdChatNZ conference in August followed with many other connections and conversations over the interweb in the subsequent months. This was a most positive development.

The other thing that changed in 2014 was my reading. That is, I started to read. I started to read books. Not just John Grisham or Stephen King. I started to read Edu-books. So far I have read two and a half books. They have all been awesome.

Key Competencies for the Future: featuring talk of wicked problems, modern learners and current pedagogies. A fantastic book for thinkers and teachers, or thinking teachers, if you will.

After that I read The Elephant in the Classroom by Jo Boaler which dealt with the how narrow our school mathematics teaching has become so that many students are marginalised and become turned off because it is so far removed from any real-world context as to become pointless (imagine coming to the conclusion early on in your schooling that you had no idea what was going on in maths and then having to participate in another decade of maths teaching. How would that impact on your entire schooling experience?).

Currently I’m reading EdJourney: A Roadmap to the Future of Education by Grant Litchman. What astounds me about this book is the sheer volume of stories from schools across the United States – a book lovingly crafted following months of driving, interviewing, visiting, and reflecting. It is a comprehensive exposition of how schools in the United States are successful through their use of, for want of a better term, the modern learning pedagogy.

The portion that has resounded with me the most I read only the other night – how teachers at a school called Sabot at Stony Point in Virginia prepare their lessons. They don’t plan ahead in detail. Instead, they go into a term with a general idea about where they are going to go and then adjust the plan on a daily or weekly basis depending on their observations of students and where they are. It resounded with me because, as it happened, this was exactly how Term 4 ended up for me. I had a rough plan at the start of the term but ended up putting out a detailed daily plan based on what learning had taken place the day before.

When I read that it was another, Look! Somebody’s doing it like me!!! moment (these are incredibly important if you have nobody close who does think like you).

The other think I am loving about this book is when I find a bit I like I tweet about it and then get a reply from the author. That’s pretty cool (if only I had that during my days of reading The Shining during those Sydney thunderstorms of 1990. I may not have been so incredibly frightened. Mr King may have been able to soothe my nerves with words of comfort in 140 characters or less).

I suppose my main point is before the #edchatnz conference I hadn’t read much educational stuff. Now I have one book on the go at a time. This is all the brain seems to be able to manage with a four and a half year old (night-time reading tends to be in a constant battle with extreme exhaustion. They are not close). All this reading has shown me the way I think is pretty on to it in terms of modern, forward-thinking pedagogy. As a teacher it is quite rewarding to find this out!

So my first goal for 2015 is to keep up to date with my readings. Best practice only comes from research and study into those who are doing it.

My other goal is a personal research goal. As we follow the Teaching as Inquiry model at our school, we have the opportunity to engage in a short study each year. Last year I looked into modern learning in general. On Thursday my research question came to me:

How can I improve outcomes for learners with particular needs (ESOL, cognitive, emotional) in a flexible learning environment?

I was inspired to write this question after I read this post from the wonderful Danielle Myburgh who regularly inspires me with her words of wisdom.

If you’ve read my earlier post on this subject you will know this is a question I was wrestling with over much of 2014. If I have been wrestling with it, then why not make it my professional learning goal for 2015.

Done.

The final goal I’ve set for myself is to become a member of Miss D’s #edchatNZ nest (see her above post). She has many questions about the setting up of her nest:

How do we build a team that is spread across a country and might never actually all meet in person? How do we structure or organise this team so that we set no limits about what we can achieve? How do we empower these volunteers to take on challenges that matter to them and will contribute to the overall vision of #edchatNZ?

I don’t think it will be a difficult process for Miss D. She is a force majeure. 

So there you go. Some professional goals for 2015. I’m already underway with at least two of them.

I’ll let you know how they go.

Mike

Reports and Reporting

Last Thursday I was most interested in the #EdChatNZ discussion on reporting to parents. Unable to attend in real-time due to another engagement, I dutifully rattled off my answers in quick time upon my return home at 10pm.

There were some salient points raised during the debate. Most importantly it left me wondering this: how is the traditional written report relevant in this modern age of smart gadgets, 24 hour news cycles, constant Facebook cat updates and 21st century learners?

Once again, Miss D got cracking. We were only on question three and she was already asking us to put in the hard yards and create some solutions!

Reporting has long been the bane of many a teacher’s weekend time mid-way through and at the end of the year. How helpful is telling a parent little Billy can add two 3-digit numbers using part-whole strategies? Particularly when Billy questions the logic of learning these tasks when, “I can just use a calculator,” and my spluttering attempts at explaining we need to know these things because the calculator might not be working is countered with, “but it’s solar-powered.”

I’ve been grappling with the question of reporting long before I lost several weekends part-way through the year. Mainly due to how incredibly filled with teacher jargon reports tended to be. Does decoding unknown words using his knowledge of phonemes actually mean anything to parents? Or more importantly, are parents ending up having to decode unknown report comments using their knowledge of teacher jargon?

My eyes were opened and my wonderings increased even earlier this year more following my son’s shift from the local pre-school to the local kindergarten. They use a reporting system called Educa to record my son’s learning using pictures or video. Along with the media files there is usually a brief, or occasionally quite comprehensive, learning story telling me (the parent!) what learning has take place while at the bottom of the posts are links the post has to the early childhood curriculum Te Whariki. Admittedly this last bit could be construed as “jargonny” – see previous paragraph – but being a teacher I quite like that aspect, and I’m sure the Education Review Office will as well.

When there is a new post I get an email. I can click on the email and get taken to the website or I can open the app on my phone. If I wish I can add a comment, something I always do. It’s so damn simple I am much jealous. On a couple of occasions I have sat down with my to write a learning story of our own with pictures taken on holiday or the time I went to kindy with him.

I want this for my school.

I could record learning using video or pictures, write a brief description and then hit the upload button and viola! Parents are instantly reported to instantly. I used the word twice because this would be the exact opposite of the current system most schools use where parents are reported to twice in any given year.

I imagine there will be a few out there asking the obvious question: I don’t have time to faff about all day with an iPad taking pictures of my students and then writing an explanation of what’s happening. If you’ve got time to tweet or like a Facebook cat, then you’d totally have time in the day to send out a couple of learning stories. I maybe get one a week, possibly one every two weeks. Either way that’s between twenty and thirty learning reports in the forty week year – quite a lot more than I would be getting under the old system.

This is where I believe reporting to parents should head. Real time reporting on learning that’s taking place now, not 16 weeks ago. It needs to be as easy as sending a tweet. Take a few photos or a bit of video, write a brief comment then hit send.

Click, click, send.

How much time and effort would be saved if we just did our reporting in little bits like this rather than trying to do a whole class of students over the course of a couple of weeks? How many teachers would get their term 2 and term 4 weekends back? How many principals would be so very thankful they wouldn’t have the thankless task of checking the correct personal pronoun was used because every teacher in the school uses cut & paste to save their precious time?

Reporting needs to be revolutionised. Let us lone nuts be the ones to do it.

Mr B.