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

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…

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Mmmm… weather

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

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A lizard made during the same competition

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Lake Tasman for lunch

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Mountainy mountains

Search and Rescue activity

 

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.

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.

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 

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:

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.