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.”

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.

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.