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we are only reporting to parents every half year, most of the time what we are putting in our reports is already out of date.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…

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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).

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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.

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):

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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.

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.

I love it when people write books that talk about stuff I’ve been thinking about for ages

For some time now I’ve been struggling with a lot of what I feel I have to do in the classroom. Let’s be honest… I’m a stubborn old git who doesn’t like being told what to do or how to do something. You may argue that 44 is far too young to be considered old or in any way gittish, but you haven’t met grumpy, stubborn, I-won’t-do-it Boon.

However, the longer I travel on this teaching journey, the more confident I am becoming in both the pedagogical underpinnings of my practise and my utter inability to recognise if I should be using the word practice or practise in the first portion of this sentence.

Grammatical faux pas aside, one of the things that has regularly worried me is how our education system seems to (most of the time) revolve around “reading” time, “maths” time and “writing” time. After spending three years as a relief teacher in Auckland I saw how many, many schools worked and the expectation they had for these curriculum areas to be timetabled into the day. Generally (and I’m aware there are also many, many schools who don’t work this way, so apologies to those reading this and grrring away to yourselves) “topic” work has swaddled with P.E. and The Arts in the after lunch graveyard shift where concentration no longer makes an appearance.

What if you aren’t suited to those three “main” curriculum areas? School is just going to be 10 years of ever-building hate until, if you last that long, you leave not wanting to further yourself any longer or, at least, for the meantime.

A particular area of concern for me is maths. So many kids hate it. The reason they hate it is because, for many, it is so far removed from their everyday life as to be utterly irrelevant. How much of the maths you learnt at school are you using on a regular basis? Note: I’m aware I am probably speaking to teachers when I ask that question so let us just assume I’m asking to the whole of New Zealand.

The best maths classes (by best I mean those with the most engagement from the most students) were the catapalts I built with my boys maths class in 2009(ish) and this year’s unit on financial literacy.

Can we do more of this Mr Boon. It’s not like maths at all. It’s fun!

That insightful piece of student voice summed it all up for me. Even though they were adding, subtracting multiplying, dividing and problem solving all the way through the financial literacy activites, they didn’t see it as being maths. Instead, it was fun.

To leap forward to my next point, I caught up with a blog about algebra and art written by (I feel like adding “the one and only” here) Danielle Myburgh. It’s great. Read it. In the post she talks about inspired to change her practice (I got it right that time because I copied Miss D!) after reading The Elephant in the Classroom. 

There is of course also the major shift that occurred in my practice after reading Jo Boaler’s, The Elephant in the Classroom. Increasingly, I have presented students with a problem rather than a method1.

Being a bit of a maths nerd, I instantly popped on to the Google books and get a preview of the first few chapters of The Elephant in the Classroom. I pressed the “buy now” button after about 5 minutes.

As the title to this post suggests, Boaler’s ideas really hit a nerve with me. In short she argues school maths focus on a very narrow set of skills that is, “nothing like the maths of the world or the maths that mathematicians use2

In light of other people agreeing with my way of thinking, and backed with my experiences teaching financial literacy I am now determined to give the kids opportunities for developing their mathematical thinking rather than just their ability to add and subtract using a number line (for example).

So… what’s been happening?

Well, after my students went hunting for a geometry unit last term, they discovered various YouTube videos where kids had built towers using just marshmallows and toothpicks we decided we were going to do that. While I was searching I also discovered the Marshmallow Challengewhere teams of four have to 18 minutes to built a tower using 20 pieces of dried spaghetti, 1 metre of string, one metre of masking tape and a large marshmallow (to be balanced on the top). It’s worth watching the TedTalk for a full explanation.

So what this resulted in was last Friday being renamed Marshmallow Friday and the 18 minute Marshmallow Challenge was followed by students building towers with toothpicks and mini marshmallows. Both challenges were won by the highest tower.

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Plasticine & Toothpicks

Unfortunately marshmallows don’t last forever – particularly in a class of Year 5s and 6s, so we’ve had to replace our gelatine-based sweet with plasticine. Here is a picture of the tower 3.0 or 4.0 built by one student.

The great thing about last Friday was the engagement. Every single student in the class was totally engaged in the challenge. They were talking amongst themselves as they problem-solved, designed, tested, re-designed, and collaborated (OH! how they collaborated). This was one of the only collaborative tasks this year I had where there were no arguments.

So today I tweeted this:

When I gave the maths group their catapult challenge (fire a 10 gram piece of plasticine unaided as far as you can using a device you can hold in your hand) their eyes lit up and before I had finished speaking some of them were already putting their hands up to share their solutions (I my blog more about the Polynesian Migration unit and the Christmas play later – no promises!).

For now I am determined to have every single child leave my class believing maths is a subject full of relevance and excitement and not just working on strategies or the dreaded times tables.

Right. I’m off to read my e-book.

Mr B x

References:

  1. Myburgh, D (2014) When algebra and art meet… Blogger: Auckland
  2. Boaler, J (2009) The Elephant in the Classroom. Souvenir Press: London
  3. Wujec, T – The Marshmallow Challenge 

Student voice – term 3

What is the best way to find out what your students think of you? Whip up a Google form.

Previously the job of collecting student voice has been given to the small, yellow pad of post-it™ notes sitting in my desk. The pad would be extracted, leaves distributed to class members, then collected back in to be collated in some kind of meaningful way before being lost in the clutter of my desk only to be rediscovered weeks (perhaps months) later.

Google forms does all of that for me which means I can now use my post-it™ notes for what they were actually designed for – to play those hilarious “kick me” tricks on my colleagues.

But I digress…

This term, having returned to my class from the #EdChatNZ conference completely imbibed with pedagogical excitement, I flipped the class somewhat (A brief perusal of previous postings will give you all the information you need on that). After a term of this I wanted to know from my students what they enjoyed about the term, what they thought I had changed and what they thought I could change.

Here are the questions followed by a selection of answers (with analysis to follow).

What have you most enjoyed about your learning this term?

  • Everything, because you have tried and made it interesting!
  • Reading because it’s my favourite subject
  • topic:it was a really fun subject because we learned a lot about our history and 1914 day was so fun!!!!
  • My maths: Because it does not feel like maths.
  • maths doesn’t feel like math but i can’t really think of any thing else i would like to do more p.e now that’s fun!!!
  • reading because it is my favourite subject and it is a lot different from the worksheets
  • I enjoyed that we went on Weebly and researched about the ships that came to Christchurch.
  • I loved everything especially liked physed because we did different units and tasks. I also liked doing e-time virtual school again ’cause we got to do different tasks and communicate with others.
  • Topic: because we got to do all sorts of fun stuff (making websites
  • Maths – because I have progressed so well. Reading – because of e-time Topic – because we have done more fun and involved stuff.

What do you think Mr Boon has changed about his teaching this term?

  • Mr Boon has changed the atmosphere in the class room this term by making things more interesting, giving us fun and hard tasks.
  • He taught us about how to spend money wisely
  • He has changed the maths so it does not feel like maths.
  • The financial literacy.
  • Mr Boon is good at ICT stuff, I like doing this.
  • More ICT time for us
  • You changed and did Weebly with us and you brought in the class business
  • Maths we learned it in a different way.
  • maths: because it was a lot more full on
  • Reading: Journal Contracts
  • Maths cause it’s very different from what we do often.
  • This term we have been doing more fun and involved like eating sea biscuits, making a website etc.

If there is one thing Mr. Boon could change, what would it be?

  • More challenges
  • He could… well its hard to think of anything to change!!
  • Maybe he could let us chose what we do for p.e
  • he could make the learning feel fun and not like learning.
  • um maybe do more P.E and maybe a different reading sequence because I don’t really like the one were doing now because its boring
  • Harder math, harder reading, help people like me a bit more and harder spelling words
  • Maybe you could keep your desk a bit more tidy so we can find things a bit better
  • I would like the whole room to be a bit more quiet.
  • Keep your desk tidy so you can find things better!
  • not much
  • I don’t know
  • Make the room quieter
  • I think nothing because he’s a great teacher to me.
  • do some more art & music and make the room more quiet when we’re working.

Interesting points: 

  1. The students are easily able to answer these questions and articulate their needs as learners and what they need me to be as a teacher.
  2. Quite a few want a quieter room. That is easily arranged. We are currently redesigning the class into a flexible learning environment so how we achieve a quieter environment might benefit from the creation of some caves within our learning space. See this Core Education page on learning spaces.
  3. A couple want some more challenging learning activities. That is easily arranged. Earlier this week, as a class, we planned what we were going to do in term 4. This is up on a massive A2 piece of paper ready for me to attack next week when I return for my “holiday” planning mission.
  4. There’s quiet a few back-patting questions that tell me the students are loving the programme I’m delivering and
  5. I need to tidy my desk.

We all deserve a few days to celebrate what we’ve all achieved as teachers this term. I think it’s truly amazing what we do in the 10 week space between having a functioning brain and being unable to verbally construct a sentence during conversation without being able to withdraw the appropriate noun in your vocabulary bank without resorting to the use of ‘thingy.’

You are all awesome.

Mr B

PS: some of the kids are talking about enjoying the process of building websites using Weebly. I have links to share but that will be the subject of a post on its own.

Sources:

http://www.core-ed.org/sites/events.core-ed.org/files/Caves-campfires-wateringholes.pdf

Contextualised learning

Have you missed me?

It’s not that I’ve stopped teaching or reflecting, it’s just that my wife and son have returned home from Scotland so I’m not as available as I’d like to be. After a day teaching, night-time reflection tend to flow from my brain like bricks through a… funnel… small funnel. See? Rubbish. I can’t even muster a simile at this late hour.

As the term has progressed several things have organically metamorphosed and we are now in the process of setting up a class business and redesigning our learning space. Both of these events are at the very early stages, however they are shaping up to be the two most interesting learning sequences I’ve been part of.

As I said, these have both happened organically. Neither was part of my long-term plan for this term, or even remotely close to the front of my brain. I have had ideas along these lines in years gone by but have not had the nous or confidence to undertake them.

Since the glory of the #EdChatNZ Conference, I am pedagogically confident enough to run with things as the crop up mentally rearranging my thoughts quickly before jotting down a few things as the idea unfolds.

Here’s how it has worked…

Learning Space Redesign

This was fairly simple to get off the ground. I suppose the germ of it came on my visit to Hobsonville Point Primary during the #EdChatNZ weekend. Open spaces, breakout zones, self-directed learning and much, much more. It was all there just waiting to be transposed to South Canterbury by a willing lone-nut.

I thought a good place to start was showing the students some new schools to give them ideas and have a discussion with them about what sort of things they wanted in their learning space.

Our various discussions have now led us to the point where we are about to compose a letter to the principal to ask whether there is room in the budget for new things. Tomorrow we will compose this letter and arrange what I’ve called a face-to-face.

This all sounds very formal but the point is contextualised learning, active learning and metalearning (thinking and talking about learning). If there’s one thing I’ve learnt this year is that kids are far more engaged and enthused when they understand why they are doing what they do. I can see these guys get excited about this process.

The Class Business

Like the new classroom project our class business idea has morphed out of my brain and into our learning vernacular is our class business. Every year we need to raise and care for a garden. After returning from my conference epiphany I started to ask “why” about everything and the garden was no exception. I posed the question to the class:

How can we turn the garden project into something more interesting?

Our discussions ended with the class deciding to create a herb growing business.

The homework this week: the kids have to write their CVs so they can outline the skills and talents they can bring to the various positions we’ve decided we need to run our business. Those positions are gardener, marketing, financial officers, sales and product design.

It has been really interesting to see the excitement brewing about this project. Living in a rural area most of their parents own their own farms or are self-employed in some way so they are totally aware of the context of their learning. They’re also absorbing the financial literacy learning like sponges because they know exactly when and where they are going to use it.

This is going to be a pretty awesome journey. More updates as they come to hand.