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

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

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.

20141104_123444

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 

We are beings of connection

The social nature of humanity has been the reason for our success as a species for millennia. We realised early on in our existence that living and working together helped us both thrive and survive and move from caves into huts. Then we began grouping those huts together into small villages and started to specialise our skills to benefit not just our immediate family units, but the wider village as a whole.

Our need for connectedness is innate. We humans know instinctively that our very survival depends on our ability to connect with those around us. The Internet now allows us to create connections with people we’ve never even met. The tendrils of our electronic connectedness reach further than our physical beings could ever hope to.

I live in a small town and teach in a small, rural school. As idyllic as this sounds, it can, unfortunately, lead to a disconnect. There are fewer like-minded teachers to bounce ideas off. In a larger school in a larger town you may have two or three people at work you can hook into for ideas; you’ll also have a wider local network of mates and colleagues you can call on. This may not be the case when there are only a few of you working together. This is not to say I don’t gel with the guys at my school – far from it. We are a tightly oiled machine dishing out educational genius all over the shop. My point is, we are all very different teachers with very different ways of doing things.

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts I found the process of returning to full-time teaching after a few years relieving and Hiluxing to be quite difficult. You really do forget just how all-encompassing the job is when you aren’t embedded within it.

The good kind of funk: George and Bootsy

This, along with a couple of other factors, meant I headed to the inaugural #EdChatNZ conference back in August in what can only be described as a funk. Not a good funk either. No George Clinton; no Bootsy Collins. It was the funk of self-doubt. The funk of self-doubt is a dangerous place to be as a teacher. As this funk envelopes you (which it can from time to time), all other things go out the window. It doesn’t matter how supportive the people around you are, the funk of self-doubt drowns out any positive vibrations that may be sliding your way from colleagues, parents or life partners. It’s not because we teachers are a negative bunch, it’s just because we care so much about the young people in our charge that any misstep we make fills us with guilt – the guilt of having failed our learners.

Having painted the picture of where I was professionally, I headed off on the long journey from Geraldine to Auckland for the #EdChatNZ conference. As I walked in the door of Hobsonville Point Secondary School I saw how vastly different their learning spaces were and started thinking that this weekend might be a little different. Sitting alone in the auditorium awaiting the opening I was quietly looking around for people I thought I might know from Twitter. Then it all kicked off with Danielle (@MissDtheTeacher) played the Lone Nut video and it was then I knew then and there the #EdChatNZ conference was going to be like no other.

As an aside, it’s worth revisiting that very video to remind ourselves…

After two days of making real-life connections with me Twitteratti, taking hundreds of selfies, and many discussions of a pedagogical nature I returned to my South Canterbury hamlet revitalised. The funk of self-doubt had been expunged. I now knew the way I had been thinking, the direction I had been travelling was correct. I had just spent the weekend with a few hundred ‘me’s – a few hundred people heading on the same journey as I had been.

The validation I received from this weekend has been the single most important thing to happen in my teaching career. Aloneness is terrible. Being stuck inside your own head is no fun. Being stuck inside everyone else’s heads – that is absolutely the funnest time you can have.

My Twitter connections are the people I turn to when I need support before heading out of my cave into the wilderness (The last thing I need at this point in my career is to be eaten by a hungry sabre-tooth). It is they who understand precisely what is going on in my brain and how the learners in my class learn. It is they whose ideas I steal vision I use to motivate me in my planning.

As I said at the commencement of this post, we are beings of connection. We crave the company of others. We actively seek out those who are like-minded and those who will compliment us in our activities. If we don’t seek these positive connections we run the risk of falling into a funk of disconnected self-doubt.

The modern world with its interweb, Twitterings and Googletastic linkage allows we teachers to make thousands of connections we would never have made in the past. We are able to validate what we do and how we think in a way that includes teachers and educators from everywhere in the world. It’s, to borrow a phrase from Anne Kenneally (@annekenn), MAGIC!!

Modern teaching, as with modern learning, is about connection and collaboration. Connect and collaborate or you may, as I did, descend into the funkadelic depths of self-doubt.

To conclude, feast your eyes on the mothership for some extremely positive funk:

SOLO flashback

In the week since the brain-changing events of the #EdChatNZ conference, I’ve been actioning a few things with my classroom.

The most notable of these is my implementation of SOLO taxonomy as a thinking tool. Although I didn’t attend Pam Hook’s presentations on SOLO over the weekend, the number of tweets popping up in my stream while I was attending others reminded me of the amazing tool SOLO is.

Early on in my teaching career I was lucky enough to be part of a the ICT team at Maungawhau School in Auckland. At the time we were receiving some professional development from Pam on the use of SOLO. This culminated with us presenting a session on SOLO at uLearn 2009 (I’m counting back – I think it was 2009 but I can’t find any actual proof on the interwebs).

My question to myself at the start of this week was: “Why the hell aren’t you still using SOLO you idiot?” Because  of the fact my class is situated in a pre-fab separated from the other buildings and I get to school before anybody else in the morning so I’m able to abuse myself reflect on my pedagogy in this way. So I’ve been trawling Pam’s HookEd website this week for ideas, thinking tools and reminders of the way things used to be.

Hilariously, this morning whilst trawling I discovered an embedded voice-thread from my class talking about their learning and assessing themselves using SOLO taxonomy. Unfortunately the embed code doesn’t appear to be working so you’ll just have to click here to be taken to the page.

This is a wonderful blast from the past and reminded me how long I’ve actually been a lone-nut.

Enjoy your weekend!

Mike

UPDATE: Pam has kindly embedded my YouTube commentary on our Olympics unit. As you may be able to see from the hair, there was a definite touch of the mad scientist about me back then…

Connections

The last week has been a revelation.

This could be considered an overstatement, but it is not. This time last week I was struggling to marry the place where my pedagogy was and the environment the rest of me was in.

It can be an incredibly tough road being a teacher. You (can – I do) have complete control over the learning that occurs in your classroom. If anything goes wrong, it’s all on you. You are your own worst critic. Any mistake or trouble inside or outside your classroom can send you in to that zone of reflective negativity. Regular visits to this place can end up being severely damaging to the psyche.

Having been out of teaching for three years prior to starting my job at the beginning of 2013, I found it incredibly hard getting back into the groove. Planning, meetings, responsibilities. Three months into the job I started wondering. Then the questioning began. Does he know what he’s doing? What’s happening in that classroom? Who does he think he is? This has continued in the background for the better part of the year. You can imagine how that weighs on the soul.

That’s the place I was in heading up to Auckland to attend the inaugural #edchatnz conference. I somehow knew a good conference would sought me out.

It opened. Then it happened. This video happened. As soon as the words “lone nut” had been uttered by Derek Sivers I knew something was about to happen.

And so commenced two of the most mind-blowing days I’ve had in my teaching career. I am still utterly gob-smacked at just how wonderful this conference was. I’ve returned to South Canterbury and tried to explain to the people around me just how much this has changed my life. They are supportive and excited for me but because they weren’t there they just have no idea.

No longer am I the lone nut. Yes I exist in my own little bubble in my small rural school guiding my kids through year 5 and 6, but I am no longer alone. There are literally hundreds (thousands?) of other educators around the country (world?) who share my philosophy. They believe what I believe.

They understand.

I’ve been inspired to begin a blog. This blog is dedicated to the teaching journey I am undertaking. My connections have been made. My support network exists. Twitter is my new staffroom.

I am no longer the lone nut.

More soon.

Mike