Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Preaching to the converted - re-affirmation from NZQA

I have attended a NZQA best practice workshop today with a generic focus on how we can collect evidence that supports 'natural evidence' of student learning as well as supporting cross-curricular/integrated learning that means students gain the maximum number of credits for their learning, where it authentically matches: allowing student learning to go deeper by 'double-dipping' rather than over-assessing where students are being assessed multiple times for very similar learning content/contexts.

It has been a very affirming experience that HPSS is on the right track - a track that is strongly supported by NZQA. It has also reminded me of the blockades that teachers themselves, departments and schools are maintaining as resistance to change, and instead of asking "how might we?" (thanks @maurieabraham ), there are still strong arguments that shut down opportunity for student-centred assessment by sticking with low-trust models of assessment that let authenticity worries drive the assessment design overall.

Some of the key questions I have pondered today:

  • How do we assess for flexibility, innovation and student focus, while still retaining rigour and manageability? 
  • How to provide multiple opportunities to different students for the same AS, while still being manageable from a teaching point of view? How can we support students to choose their own mode of assessment?
  • How to find rigorous assessment opportunities that authentically support more than one learning area?
Some of the ideas that have been fed back from what students and NZQA value:
  • more time = higher engagement
  • choice of practical work, not just lots of writing
  • transparent guidelines
  • unpacking exemplars is a vital component of teaching
  • feedback/feedforward during assessment phase - gives a chance for students to improve and show their best work
  • the relationship between student and teacher is so important, and this combined with a portfolio approach can help to address authenticity issues
  • the context and content need to be meaningful - use "double dipping" where possible to allow student learning to go deeper, not just collecting credits
  • Not everything will mash-up in an authentic way - there needs to be rigour and a non-forced match between achievement standards.
Ideas about naturally-occurring evidence, and how it relates to HPSS:
  • this type of evidence is a perfect mash-up for project learning… I can already see how this is going to work to allow credits to "fall out of" the learning that is already taking place
  • there still needs to be rigour via rubric and captured evidence that occurs during project/module and not one assessment event at the end.
  • evidence cannot be retrospective - it must be purposeful and captured at the time of the event, we need to be able to authenticate the learning that took place at the time of the event.
  • this aspect of evidence collection is really important in terms of front end of curriculum
  • this allows us to have the ability to assess process of learning, not just the end product - this can help towards numeracy and literacy.
  • the formality of evidence still needs to be there - robust documentation - we must be able to see what students have done to be able to make professional judgements on performance/grade
  • this means that achievement standards can “fall out of” work done during projects.
So overall, a really positive view that HPSS is on the right track and that we can definitely find ways to let the learning drive the assessment as we get into years 11 and beyond, and not the other way around.

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Learning curves - my first term at HPSS

So Term 3 is rapidly coming to a close, and it feels like the right time to reflect on some of the lessons learned this first term for me at Hobsonville Point Secondary School.

I came here mid-year, leaving behind some really wonderful colleagues and students (who I still miss quite a bit!), knowing that HPSS did things differently, and feeling really excited about trying new ways of doing things & being able to learn professionally from a whole heap of amazing educators. It hasn't been as overwhelming as I thought it might be - partly because I had been following the happenings and progress at HPSS through friends and through blogs like Steve's, Claire's, Danielle's and Maurie's (to name but a few - how cool that so many HPSS teachers are documenting their journeys in this way!) - so I had a reasonable idea about how things were structured, although obviously not a complete understanding of everything. Most of all, I have learned so much from other learning area teachers, have been blown away by some of the work students have produced, and have had the opportunity to re-assess what the really vital parts of the science curriculum are.

Below I've commented on some of the things I've learned about just two aspects of the school this term (sorry in advance for the novel, more still to come later!):

Learning Modules:
I have taught on two combined modules - a Big Learning Module (BLM - three combined learning areas: English, Social Science and Science), and a Small Learning Module (SLM - two combined learning areas: Design - Visual Communication and Science). I have also taken an Active Recreation Module (AR - yoga).

By teaching combined learning areas, I have picked up on many strategies, techniques and approaches that I usually wouldn't have exposure to - one of the best is from English (and is actually a school-wide effort) in using PEEL paragraphs (Point, Explanation, Example, Link) to present ideas. Without recognising it, I had already seen this structure as an essential part of writing science answers in NCEA, and so by teaching this explicitly from early on, skills developed now will be incredibly useful later on.

I have also learned that in order to make the most of the time I have with the students that I need to teach less better - so focusing on the vital aspects of each part of the science curriculum - this term has had a Nature of Science - participating & contributing emphasis - namely lending itself to socio-scientific issues. The skills involved in being able to deeply understand an issue have included exploring different perspectives (political, De Bono's hats, Kaplans tools, individual), the difference between an opinion and evidence-based conclusions, being able to identify reliable and accurate sources of information (CRAP detection), and science research skills generally.

As an aside, I've been reading some of Richard Feynman's semi-autobiographical writings which provide quite an amazing insight into the mind of such an innovative and creative person & scientist. One reflection of his deals with his time in a biology lab and the outsider's view that he had of this as a physicist. A blog within Scientific American comments on this cross-curricular type experience of his (far better than I could!):
One of the most exciting parts of interdisciplinary research and of art-science collaborations is the questions that smart and curious people ask when they’re encountering a new field, the things that stick out when viewed from a different perspective. These kinds of questions might sometimes seem naive or even arrogant, but at their best they can point towards new directions where no one knows the answer and everyone ends up seeing something differently. Feynman’s great talent was to show us the universe–and the wonder and tedium of life in the biology lab–through a physicist’s eyes.
I co-incidentally read this as I was starting to reflect on what I have learned this term, and the sentiment of learning with 'new eyes' seems very apt - it also ties into the very name of my blog - teaching with a beginner's mind - and the idea that only through questioning what is often status quo can we view things with a different perspective that can often provide a new pathway.

I have learned too that missing senior students means that sometimes you get a bit over-excited, and want to do too much with students who think & talk like senior students (really great thinking skills) - but don't yet have the content knowledge or dispositions of senior students (as you would totally expect for year 9's!) - and so sometimes I have verged into overstimulation territory by trying to do too much at once rather than focus on what is really important. I know from what other HPSS teachers tell me that this is par for the course in my first term, and second and third time around you get a clearer understanding of what the focus needs to be.

One last piece of learning is that my PE-classroom management skills are not completely up to scratch! I have found that trying to manage students in the gym for yoga is a completely different kettle of fish to my usual teaching environment...

Learning Hubs:
This is the aspect I have found has had the the largest learning curve for me. It is certainly like a tutor group/form class on steroids, and I really value the relationships that I am developing with my small group of students. I won't say it hasn't been challenging however, as the relationships I am forming are similar to those you normally have with more senior students - year 12 or 13, and ones that naturally form over 4-5 years of knowing those students - an organic process. To develop a coach/mentor/daily support role with my year 9 students in just 10 weeks has certainly not been the easiest process, but I feel that we have come along leaps and bounds already and I appreciate it when my students have commented how surprised they feel that I have only been there 10 weeks, as it seems much longer to them. The fact that I know what things I want to try differently next term shows me how much I've learned already.

The hub structure is an essential part of HPSS, and I can see clearly how it will provide students with a really solid 'home base' that can support them as they move throughout the school over the next few years. It also allows students to explore the aspects of the NZ Curriculum that are too frequently overlooked: To develop confident, connected lifelong learners who are actively involved; and to also explore our Hobsonville Habits:
So overall, I'm loving the new experiences and while (like all teachers!) I welcome the holiday over the next two weeks, I have a plethora of new ideas and plans to try next term. More than anything, I'm very grateful to all of the HPSS team that have welcomed me so warmly, and to the students who have re-defined to me what being a year 9 is all about.

Sunday, 17 August 2014

The uncomfortableness of learning

One of the incredible opportunities of teaching in a cross-curricular, modular-based format at HPSS is that there is the chance to approach everything the students learn with real purpose. Focusing on doing less, better; emphasising a deep skill base in these early secondary years, rather than rote-learning facts that google could have showed them (NB: I am not saying that there is no need for content teaching - especially in science as there are many misconceptions to avoid - however I deeply believe that skills are an immensely valuable part of science, too often skipped over. See here for an earlier post on this).

So over the last couple of weeks, in my Small Module (Transport Us - a combo of science & design-visual communication that I'm teaching alongside the fab Liz - in which students explore things like designing their own vehicle, being informed by the science of fuel sources, using evidence to form opinions and make decisions) I had the chance to incorporate some physics into the module.

Initially I wanted to 'do' a friction experiment with them, because I could see how relevant the links would be between friction and their vehicle design, but the idea and planning never sat well with me, and as the time approached (incidentally also the day HPSS had 300 educators join us for the #edchatnz conference), I decided to ditch the lesson plan in favour of a more deep & robust (but slower) option - exploring forces first, then giving students the choice of which force they wanted to look into further.

This last week we continued our exploration, as students had decided on 'their' forces - and I asked them to continue with their planning... this wasn't the 'fun stuff' they had expected (playing with paper aeroplanes, rubber bands, balls, water and forcemeters), but I explained just how important the skill of being able to plan & write their own methods/approach was, and so they graciously took up the challenge....

... It was a very challenging lesson though - to ask these year 9 students to come up with their own question/aim, decide on variables and write a method from scratch - they found it hard, and to be honest the lesson didn't have that 'feel good' factor that you sometimes get. I came away to lunch feeling a bit disheartened that they had found the task so hard, and it hadn't felt satisfying. The wonderful Lea @leavellenoweth pointed out that she had also been placing emphasis on the importance of planning before the 'fun stuff' in her English module about developing passion projects, and also reminded me that the feeling of being uncomfortable and outside of your comfort zone means that you are learning

I went back after lunch and pointed this out to students, also letting them know that usually at a Year 9 level, it would be far more common for them to be given a method to follow - recipe-like - and to not have to devise the whole thing by themselves. However, as I wrote about in this earlier post about method-writing - I strongly believe that we have to stop giving students pre-formed instructions, and just let them figure it out for themselves when the stakes are not high. It is too late to leave this skill-development until Y11 or Y12 when NCEA comes into play, and the stresses of getting things right are much higher.

My plan is to give them some feedforward on their methods before our next lesson, and then get them to carry out these experiments, making notes where their methods weren't detailed or accurate enough, and then re-write, and give to another student to see what the peer-feedback is, whether someone else could follow their method.

Yes, it will take (much!) longer than giving them a recipe, but my hope is that they gain something far more valuable than just being able to jump into the 'fun stuff' without a second thought about the why, how and what. And who says planning isn't also fun?! ;)

Things lost in becoming a teacher

Two years ago, I was part of a panel that talked to 2nd and 3rd year University of Auckland health science students at a careers evening. I was the sole representative from the education sector, but also talked to students about my pathway to teaching, including a doctorate, and post-doctoral research in industry (rather than staying in academia). While many questions from students focused on how I got a job post-study, and what the process of a PhD was like, there were a couple of questions about teaching, and one specifically that I hadn't expected:

"what skills & approaches that you developed during your career as a researcher were transferrable to teaching?"
At the time (after feeling stumped and saying what a good question it was!) I replied that to be honest, I couldn't think of many that were that transferrable, mostly because as a researcher you have to be very self-confident with quite a large ego - after all, it is your belief in your own work that drives the experiments that you do (or ask others to do) - it is this belief in yourself that leads to grants being applied for, connections made to other research groups' work and the ability to get through the daily slog of many experiments not working, data not quite matching, until you occasionally get those incredible break-through moments.

Whereas in teaching, there is no place for ego, no place to believe that you are more important than the students in your classroom - after all, the students are the whole reason you are there, and they must take priority over how great you may think you are.

If I were to answer the question now, I would answer the same way about ego, but I do now recognise that many skills I developed during my time as a researcher are so vital to my teaching. Below are just a couple of skills that I believe I gained through research, but now I see are skills we are trying to teach at school (which is pretty amazing!)

  • Critical thinking: Secondary school in my day was truly about rote learning and being right or wrong, and the critical thinking skills that I appreciate now, I certainly didn't develop until postgraduate study. 
  • Resilience: This is certainly something that was built through years of less-than-amazing experimental results (but let's keep doing it anyway, because we believe that the amazing data is just beyond our grasp!)
  • Problem-solving: I pride myself in having a 'number-8-wire' approach to tacking problems, and through having to solve my own practical/experimental setup issues myself, I know how to think laterally around a problem.

So all up, becoming a teacher has resulted in the loss of the 'luxury' of being able to focus so deeply on one specific area of cutting-edge knowledge and understanding (although it certainly didn't feel like a luxury at the time - in fact I still feel being a researcher is an incredibly tough career choice, especially for women.... but that's another post!), the main thing I have lost in becoming a teacher is my ego.... something that drives research but can't drive a classroom.

Love this image I stumbled across, especially with the NZ focus (from ).....

postscript: I want to clarify that ego in research really is necessary, otherwise nothing would get done, no-one would have the confidence to believe that their research could make the difference and to continue despite setbacks. This isn't to say that every researcher is an ego-maniac, simply that the very process of being so closely focused on one small area of work (for which you may be the only person on the planet who is looking into that particular area of interest) leads to (necessary) ego forming.

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Putting my ideas & words into action or week One at HPSS

So my good intentions last term of keeping up with blogging about #hackyrclass were overtaken by the madness that was leaving my teaching position to take up a new one at Hobsonville Point Secondary school - a new school (in all senses of the word). So while I was still vaguely attempting to keep up with the amazing challenge that was #hackyrclass, the administration side of changing schools took preference (as these things have to from time to time!)

@ClaireAmosNZ made a pertinent point as #hackyrclass wrapped up last term:

However our major challenge will not be continuing to encourage the converted to whom we mostly preach to, or those who encourage and support us with the confines of our conference, meet ups and online echo chambers. It will be the challenge of engaging the others - the unaware, the disinterested, the disheartened and even the 'happy oblivious' who have been lulled into a false sense of security brought on by good or even great National Standard and/or NCEA attainment.

so I guess the challenge becomes how can we convince all teachers to keep moving forward and questioning their own practice? My prior strategy of enthusiasm & stealth is now no longer required at HPSS, where everyone is up for discussion about everything that gets done.... so time for a more active approach to reach out to others? (And I'm in no way suggesting I'm an expert at anything, but I hope my enthusiasm & willingness to delve deeper into my teaching practice to find a more student-centred approach might help convince someone else to do the same).

Term 3 has started - a whole week down now - and I also wanted to document my thoughts on how it has gone so far :) This is my chance to further develop the ideas I've been thinking about and talking about over the last couple of years into everyday practice....

This week has involved:

  • Learning HPSS terminology
  • Being supported by everyone already there
  • Getting to know a new bunch of students (some I already feel I know reasonably well due to the quality time during learning hubs)
  • Feeling anxious that I want to do my best job, but also understanding that all the other teachers have an extra 2 terms on me for things like cross-curricular modules, and understanding that it will take a wee bit of time to tweak my practice
  • SOLO rubrics to inform my planning and students learning (I was grateful for SOLO feeling slightly home-like)
  • Remembering that although I am being exposed to a huge number of new ideas, that I don't have to throw out all of the things I already do
  • Making the time I have with students really count - making it inquiry-based and student-focused, and having a sense of freedom in how I approach this
  • Being blown away by questions students asked and answers they had as well as their general attitude towards learning
  • Feeling a sense of transparency and responsiveness from all other staff
  • Seeing 'warm and demanding' in action
  • Recognising that I'm really ok with 'going with the flow'

To sum up...

Here's to week two!

Thursday, 5 June 2014

#hackyrclass week 5 - blended learning/mix-it-up!

So this is the first week of the #hackyrclass challenge that I've finally felt vaguely in my element. Blended learning is my modus operandi for the most part, because I truly believe in giving students options as to how they learn, and this includes providing learning opportunities and experiences from all modalities, be they e-tools, hands-on activities and practical experiments, planning collaboratively, writing their own answers on paper, playing games etc etc. I am fortunate that I currently teach in a 1:1 laptop environment, and so this means all students have a degree of e-literacy and there are no excuses about not having access (although a 1:1 environment also raises the dilemma of using technology for technology's sake - something that is a completely backwards way of looking at learning in my opinion... the technology should be there to facilitate and deepen learning, and never be the focus in itself).

I use a wide range of e-tools in my classes, including google docs for collaborative work, google forms for effective feedback, edmodo to facilitate student voice, participation and collaboration, flipping the learning (as described in this earlier post and my youtube channel) and lately I've been playing around with making weebly's to make sites that my students can use to self-direct their learning - taking ownership of their learning path.

The most recent attempt is here: (and this also complements resources available on our Moodle pages) - this is currently the work for 5 lessons/a week.

Evidence for evolution - AS 3.5
But it is not enough to give them content! I have made a 'passport' to go with the website:

(and yes, it folds up into a little booklet, and when students complete each section, they get a little stamp - never underestimate the power of cute things even when dealing with 17yo girls!)

It has a mix of activities to complete, including written answers on paper & activities like making fossils, but I also assess their learning through edmodo quizzes, which means I can get a quick grasp on how they are going. Class time is now 'freed' up for me to check in with & help students individually, they can work at their own pace - including outside of class time, and if they ask me to, I can still do a lecture-type summary to give them confidence they are doing ok. I also set them deadlines - giving them targets in which they need to have completed so many sections.

This is also great at the moment because I have lost half my class to a 2-day field trip, so it means the students away can easily see what they have missed and how to catch up (we also have a google doc running with student key questions for each section of learning), and I won't end up having to teach the same thing twice!

As a last comment - one of the reasons I wanted to set this up was not only for student ownership, but for this topic in particular, google searching "evolution" creates a myriad of issues gathering authentic scientific information without alterior motives ;)

If anyone would like the 'passport' doc or further info, just let me know - happy to share!

Sunday, 1 June 2014

#hackyrclass - week 4: Maker culture & lab skills

I will be honest and say that I've only been able to incorporate this week's #hackyrclass challenge into my classroom in small ways this week - partly because I've had no students for the majority of it (assessment week!). However, there are aspects of it, combined with other general growth mindset approaches that I have used this week, and plan to use next week also. Firstly, my take on making:

Making experiments - making sense

So in 'real science land' experiments are always full of purpose, and sometimes more time goes into planning them than actually carrying out the experiment. 

Me, in my previous career, working with HIV in a BSL-3 lab
I noticed recently (in the lead-up to a practical internal) that my Year 11 students struggled with writing methods by themselves, in particular writing logical, procedural, detailed methods that another student could follow, to carry out a reliable and accurate experiment. This took quite a bit of intensive feedforward to help everyone up to speed, but we got there in the end! My gut feeling was that this was at least in part due to lack of practice in this area - I worry that in the haste to cover more content, we give our students pre-made (or even semi-guided) methods to use, and while this aids us in 'covering' the material in a faster time, it isn't helping the students develop the ability and skill to design, develop and write their own methods ('uncovering' if you will!).

So, this week I had two lessons with my Year 10 class, and we had no time pressures to get through any material (post-exams!), and so I took those whole two lessons to get my students to design and write their own methods from scratch, give them to another group to carry out, then debrief each other on the methods they had written. (It took nearly a whole lesson for them to design and write the methods, and then we carried out the experiments the next day - unheard of generally in junior science, but it was so nice to slow down!)

At the start, I gave them only a list of equipment and reagents/materials available for them, reminded them briefly about fair testing, and let them go. I provided no help whatsoever in the planning - questions about what volumes to use, how long to mix etc went unanswered by me - I just asked them to use their best guess, and then we would see what happened.

All groups managed to carry out an experiment, and then afterwards each group analysed how the experimental method had gone, using these two combined forms of feedback:

  • Rose-Bud-Thorn - Thanks to @GeoMouldey who prompted me to look into the Rose-Bud-Thorn method of analysing work. (Very briefly - rose: good things; bud: things to develop; thorn: anything that didn't work).

  • Helpful, specific, kind - see this link for more detail (which also links in to 'Austin's butterfly' - which I will mention later!) This is a way of peers proving feedback/forward that is actually useful and not harsh to read - no generic comments of "very good", or "this was awful!" - students have to give feedback in a way that the recipient can act on it, and they also feel empowered by the comments not belittled.

I took the rose/bud/thorn categories of feedback/forward, and combined it with "helpful, specific, kind" and asked the students to provide at least one comment under each category for the other group's method.

After they had swapped feedback, I had each group volunteer the 'buds' from their own feedback, and we wrote them all up on the board.

Amazingly (or maybe not!), the 'buds' they came up with were the main issues I had been having with my Year 11 students, which goes to confirm that hopefully doing more practicals like this can help to set students up with the right skills before they get to NCEA.

Lastly, I showed the class the Austin's butterfly video (see earlier link) - to reinforce that very rarely do any of us go from start to great in one go; we all need chances to improve and refine.

Making sense by making stuff

Last thing in this very long post! Next week, as part of the level 3 Evolution & Speciation External, I have set up a student-directed week-long 'chunk' of work around evidence for evolution, and I'm including as many practical things I can get my hands on, like making fossils (I am pretty sure that even year 13's love playing with play-dough and plaster of paris!), and using lollies and/or beads to demonstrate other aspects of evolution wherever I can.

So overall, not quite makerspace, but I'm trying to get my students out of their seats and doing stuff whenever I can (balanced of course with time to process!)

Thursday, 22 May 2014

Heritage & Design - #hackyrclass week 3

The challenge for this week is design thinking and I will be the first to admit I'm struggling to find ways to get a really good grip on it! While the general ideas underpinning the philosophy ring true for me, including the processes it involves, and I can see it as a whole approach for learning, I think it's going to take me more than a week to implement!

So what are my thoughts on it?
My late father was an architect, an industrial designer (we used to call his profession a 'dusty shiner' as children!), and also a tertiary educator of design students at Unitec and AUT over the years.

Whenever I remember him talking about his designs, including the spatial design course he ran, his emphasis was always on people - how would people use the space? How would they feel within the space? out of the space? What purposes and functions could the space adapt to? All his design ideas came back to people at the heart of it. He was also obsessed with mathematical concepts like the 'golden ratio' and Fibonacci numbers - but not in the mathematical ideas themselves, but rather how these numbers and ratios made people feel more comfortable in spaces.

He was a very quiet and gentle man, and a very deep thinker. Everything was well-thought through and meaningful, if always extensively late and beyond due dates! But I am now realising how important it is to approach things, like teaching, with purpose and to accept that it will take time to develop ideas and pedagogies properly. The first time I try things, they may not be completely successful, and will probably need tweaking (with students providing the feedforward as to how to improve).

My own lesson in this: I tried to remember every lesson of design and architecture from my Dad when I drew up plans for our own house building last year. I kept us as a family in mind - what spaces did we need? how would we use them? what technically had to be located close by? how would we feel in the spaces? The final plans were very close to what I started us off with, but many iterations were needed to get there - tweaking and adjusting and sometimes going back to previous versions when 'brilliant' ideas didn't work out. It took much longer than we expected just to get final plans done - but now living in the house there is barely anything we would change.

So, how do I apply this to teaching? I know I need to give my current students more room to 'prototype' - they are very set in aiming for 'perfect' and 'right', and have been spoon-fed so much (not by me, but as a general rule to a certain degree!), they don't have well-developed skills in drafting & developing ideas. I want them to know that the process of truly developing ideas and answers can be scary and at times you're not sure that you're going in a forward direction, but that you can end up in a much more satisfying place than model answers can provide. (and this doesn't mean that there are no wrong answers - in science there certainly are wrong answers, just like in house building.... no, you cannot move that room there!... but maybe it is better for students to find their own way there).

I also have been pondering some questions - are our learners, who have always lived with the internet at hand, more likely to believe that there are answers to every question? When I say in class: "I don't know, how do you think we could find out?" are my students surprised that I don't know everything? Do they feel everything should be knowable? In my schooling days (yes, feeling a tad old now!), we didn't tend to look beyond our textbooks - and we weren't encouraged to question what our teachers told us, even if we knew they were wrong! (my sister tells a wonderful story of her form 7 bio teacher who disliked being questioned when he said that paternal was from your mother and maternal from your father!). Are our learners as resilient as we had to be in terms of finding answers? (are they more resourceful?) I remember at Uni, every time I wanted to find a research paper, I had to trek to the library, climb down 2-3 flights of stairs into the (completely scary!) stacks of journals, wind the handles to separate the stacks (hoping someone else didn't squish you between them!), physically find the journal I wanted, find the pages, trek upstairs and photocopy it. Was I more resilient or just wasting more time? ;)

Regardless, I am going to continue my learning about design thinking as it feels natural and genuine.... any advice welcome! 

Sunday, 18 May 2014

#hackyrclass week 2 - knowing me, knowing you....

It has been a very busy week here, so I have not been able to put as much energy into the #hackyrclass theme for this week as I would have wanted, however I thought I'd comment on a couple of things I have previously done to get to know my learners better.

One thing I have done this term within tutor group is to get each person in our group to share something with the rest of the group, be it bizarre skill or a hobby they enjoy. I've kept to the theme of sharing 'random' things, as many students within our tutor group are introverts and not very confident in sharing things about themselves.

I started us off by sharing something that is important to me - I'm a bit of a hippy and into yoga & meditation, and wanted to share something that might be able to help with the stress bunnies that are my students, leading up to exam/internal assessment week (that starts this week!).

So, I showed them this video: 'One Moment meditation', and then we had a wee chat about how it can help to de-stress and chill out a little ;) (and a pretty amazing thing was that a week later one of my rather straight-laced students told me she had used the meditation technique when faced with a stressy situation - and it had helped, so that was pretty cool :) )

Another thing I found last year (I won't call it a strategy because I never intended it as one, it was simply something that happened organically through conversation) - was that when I shared something about myself to my classes, this greatly strengthened the relationship we had.

My example is that we built a house last year, which was (as you would expect!) a long drawn-out and sometimes stressful process. Each weekend we would visit the construction site, and photograph how the progress was going, and in the following week, I would share a photo with a couple of my senior classes. It became a way for students to connect with my story, offer their own experiences, and I found I was always being asked how my house was going, even in the corridor in passing. My students were genuinely interested too, and were excited for me when we finally moved in! This year, I have inherited about 1/2 my students again in one particular class, and at the start of the year it was one of the first conversations to come up.

From this..... this in about 9 months.

So while this isn't specifically about getting to know your learners, it is about 'building' ;) relationships with them - and for me, it is through things like this that I do get to know them really well. I've found if I'm willing to open up and share aspects of my life (not everything obviously!), then they tend to open up and help build strong, positive learning relationships.

Saturday, 10 May 2014

#hackyrclass first week - part 2

The first week of term and more excitingly, the first week of the #hackyrclass movement (yes, it is a movement! In fact I'm calling it the #hackyrclass revolution ;) ) has passed, and I'm certainly back into the swing of things. We have 8 teaching days left before assessment week (exams, internal assessments), and so the pressure is on to make every lesson count.

A completely bizarre time to try out new things, you say? Not in my mind - because everything I'm doing is trying to maximise my students' learning opportunities, and I'm trying to get them to make the most of the 'contact' learning time we have together (because I know they are also learning outside of class - grateful for YouTube view tracker plus Moodle logs!).

This week being growth mindset focused (see Claire Amos' blog), my aim was to get my students embracing the challenge of taking charge of their own learning journeys. I also sought feedback on both how students approached their learning, and how they felt about the learning approaches we had tried this week.

Things I did this week:
  • Let students make mistakes: we are prepping for a L1 science practical internal, which is rather a big deal for our students (kinda scary for them to design an experiment, carry it out, collect data, analyse data, write a method, discussion and evaluation all in a set time frame, all by themselves). But I know that students (and me!) learn best by doing, not being told, and I include making mistakes in this. Several times I caught students using methods that I know are not reliable or accurate but instead of telling them how to improve then and there, I let them collect their data and see what discrepant results they had. This meant we could then have a discussion about what went wrong, and they were able to problem solve and correct the issue. Had I just told them to use the exact same equipment for repeats (for example), they wouldn't have really seen why that was so necessary.
  • Seek feedback as to how they approach problems and challenges:  I surveyed both a junior class, who have recently been away at a camp for one month (part of school curriculum), and also a senior class, asking how they approached life, basing the questions on ideas behind the growth mindset. Questions below:
Interestingly, all students responded that they knew they were capable of improving their intelligence through effort. The other questions were more mixed, with the juniors especially responding that they often saw other's success as threatening.

The juniors did state that their approach to learning had changed since their camp, and nearly all said they were now more resilient, and more likely to persist in the face of setbacks as a result of the camp. (feedback I will pass onto the camp co-ordinators, really good feedback!)

I did notice that individual students responding that they avoided challenges, gave up easily or ignored useful negative feedback were my students who tend to struggle a bit more with their learning - something to follow up on and see what I can do to change their mindset! 

  •  The last thing I want to write about was the big thing I did this week: 'flipping' the learning with my Year 13 class. I pre-recorded myself talking through slides I had planned to use in class (via the explain everything app on iPad), and asked the students to watch these prior to class, so we could use our class time to differentiate their learning, and I could thoroughly check-in with every student during class time, run mini-tutorials to those who needed it, and basically personalise their learning (rather than have me run through the slides in class time, which is an obviously passive, sage on the stage type approach which I am really not comfortable with, and it makes me feel immensely dissatisfied!) 
The videos were reasonably intense (the Biology they learn in Y13 is full-on, stuff I didn't learn until 2nd-3rd year physiology!), and so I had my doubts as to how good their retention would be..... but as soon as I asked some introductory questions the next day, and they all enthusiastically responded with really good understanding (although that obviously still had to be unpacked), it blew me away.

Our lessons were more productive than they had been last term, and every student was working on something different, something that they needed to move forward. I happily played the role of guide on the side and was able to provide differing levels of help depending on what they each wanted. (I used SOLO taxonomy to differentiate activities for them as below):

I continued to develop this throughout the week, and by the end of the week I had the students come up with their own learning objectives, and even more excitingly, categorise them using SOLO, so they could get an idea about which activities might help them the most.

  What could get more exciting than this, I hear you ask? Their feedback! I've just started collecting data, but so far it's looking good, and even better they have had some really helpful constructive criticism and suggested ways to improve the approach, including breaking the videos into smaller sections (something I had planned already), and even multiple suggestions of having a quiz at the end to test their knowledge (something I'll do with Edmodo). The media (and perhaps other teachers) don't give these learners enough credit: they know how they best learn, and give them a chance - they will tell you what they want.

Other surprising results so far - I'm finding I have more 'free time' available, as I am doing incidental marking and feedback in class, and because I would have been prepping at night anyway, it's not taking up any more of my time. Work in progress? Definitely, and certainly things to improve upon and change as we go, but because the student feedback has been positive so far, we'll keep going down this road.... remembering that this is but one tool I can use - approaches to improve student ownership, not use technology for the sake of it!

So all up a good week! Many of these things I would have got around to eventually (I already had the flipped video thing planned from last term), but having the #hackyrclass community there to give constructive feedback and most of all a sense of accountability has been a real impetus - a great start to the term. Thank you @ClaireAmosNZ :)

Monday, 5 May 2014

#hackyrclass week 1 - growth mindsets (part 1)

I am super excited to step up to the challenge of the #hackyrclass project via @ClaireAmosNZ and @GeoMouldey of HPSS. Even more exciting is starting off with growth mindsets... see Claire Amos' blog post for more details

I've been a big fan of the idea behind growth mindsets ever since I first read about it back in TCol (I suppose we did learn at least a few relevant things ;) ) - mostly because it fits with my interior reasoning in life that hard work and effort are far more likely to result in positive outcomes, than relying on some innate ability. (In fact I believe it was pure stubbornness that got me through my postgrad study ;) )

Another good read is: growth mindsets in maths and science - very interesting in particular to me, given my experience at a girls school - relating to the achievement of women in science and maths.

So I naturally agree with everything in the growth mindset model - but is this a result of spending many (unsuccessful) hours doing (repetitive) experiments that (most of the time didn't, but) sometimes worked? Did I always think this way, or was it something I picked up along the way? To be completely honest, I suspect when I was at school, I saw myself as being moderately intelligent - there were certainly other students I saw as being 'brighter' than me - and I didn't question it too much. Certainly no teacher introduced me to the idea that if I simply applied myself and made more of an effort that I could achieve greater results - I still remember being one of the students NOT hand-picked to sit the scholarship exams (even though I still managed a pretty good A Bursary, for those that remember it!) - I saw myself reflected in my teachers' eyes that I wasn't quite capable enough. (Perhaps one of the reasons I felt the need to 'prove' myself by spending the next 10 years at University?)

So regardless of my background in growth mindsets, how do I invoke this change of understanding in my students? There is a big problem with many students set on getting the 'right' answers, and falling into "I don't get it" mode, without hesitation.

This post is about things I try to do already in class to emulate a growth mindset, and I'll post later about a little experiment I have planned with my students this week :)

So, what did I do today that emulated a growth mindset, and hopefully influenced my students through osmosis?

Feedback on student work - I try and avoid giving grades where possible, but instead give lots of feedforward advice, how students can continue to improve upon their work. The wonderful Alfie Kohn's research supports this: the case against grades . Did my students initially complain? Maybe, but once I explained the rationale, they accepted it an moved on! Today, as well as giving written work back, I commented to the entire class how pleased I was that everyone had attempted all questions, there were no blank answers, and I could really see that they had put lots of effort into it. I see it as a win-win: I feel good for having positive, genuine interactions with my students, and they feel good for having made an effort, even though they may be able to make further improvements!

I love this video - Austin's butterfly. Where would Austin be if his first butterfly had been awarded an Achieved grade? Would he have continued to develop it?

This also ties into my obsession with SOLO taxonomy - allowing students to have a clear understanding of where they are at and where they can move to without getting hung up on A, M, E. (More info on SOLO via this link and also here, on the wonderful Pam Hook's site)


Trying new things with relish - today I launched my own version of flipping my classroom in 2 of my classes (see previous blog post on this). Last term I found I was doing more transmission-style teaching than I was comfortable with, mostly due to the huge amount of tricky content to cover, and it made me feel dissatisfied and unhappy. I was open with my students at the time, and told them I wasn't happy with teaching that way, so today I explained that we were going to do things differently this term - but this was going to require a commitment on their part to fully participate in flipping the classroom, and (thankfully) they were excited and on board with the idea! I'm looking forward to 'pre-loading' the content before our lessons, and being able to facilitate genuine personalised learning in our precious class time. I explained I had taught myself how to use the 'explain everything' app over the holidays, and had created a new YouTube channel (which brought some laughs) - but it was important for them to see me being willing to learn new things without fear. Tomorrow will be the first lesson post-flip, so I'm excited to see what the students think.

Challenging student conceptions - Today one of my (younger) students claimed she was waiting to write an answer down until it was perfect, until she had seen what everyone else thought the right answer was. I rail against perfection! Perfection is impossible, as I told her, and to aim for it is to be continuously disappointed. I asked her to take a chance and write down (in pen!) what she thought the answer was - it didn't matter if she got the answer not quite right (and in science there really are correct and incorrect answers) - it mattered only that she took a chance and trusted in her brain to come up with the correct answer.


So, what are my next steps? My senior classes have internals coming up, so class time is at an absolute premium (hence the flipping idea), but I intend to have a discussion with my junior students about growth and fixed mindsets, especially because they are more inclined to see themselves as 'clever' or 'not clever'. I'm really interested to see what they think, and how recently being away at an intensive camp for a month (part of their school year) has influenced their mindsets.... more to follow!

My last thought for today - what can I do better? Where do I fall down? Today I instructed some of my seniors in the 'rules' of how they can best include concepts in their upcoming internals - I hated doing it and wish that we had more time to allow them to explore their own ideas to come to similar conclusions. It's a rather prescriptive internal in terms of the ideas the students need to communicate, and also a practical internal, so our lessons have to concentrate on allowing students to design and carry out their own experiments, and perhaps even fail doing them, so that they can develop their technical skills...... so maybe not all bad, but my approach wasn't as open-minded as I would normally have preferred. So maybe something I need to develop - to trust both myself and my students that they are capable of coming to a deep understanding on their own.


Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Positive endings and good starts

Term 1 was a hard one! Not only was it (seemingly) never-ending ;) but I also found that with a huge amount of new content to teach in Year 13 (my first year teaching year 13 - and some of the content I haven't seen since my own 7th form... a reflection perhaps more of what my degrees were in rather than the irrelevance of material!) - but it meant I had an awful lot to get my head around.

What I found was that I wasn't teaching in a way that made me feel pleased or proud, but more I was slogging through the (huge amount of) content, making sure I covered the nuances of how to answer the tricky NCEA questions. Did this make me feel good? No... but we did get through everything and I gave constructive feedback to all students (as a result of drowning in marking!) Will I continue down this path? The plan is a big fat NO, but we all know what can happen to good intentions...

So many blogs I read focus on the positives and perhaps even the highlights of teaching events and pedagogy, and so I find it hard to admit that I can't always teach the way I want to. (This isn't a dig at the wonderful blogs I read, just an observation that human nature being human nature, we tend to want to make our teaching seem rosy and shiny all the time). But, on the bright side, I've had a chance now to breathe, collect my thoughts, and think about how I can do things differently going forward.

While Year 13 Bio was challenging for me last term, I still had the chance to spread my wings a bit more in my other classes - a highlight was the last period on the last day of term, doing a revision quiz with my Year 11's (where each group sent a runner up to get the next question, then answered on mini whiteboards until I was satisfied the answer was thorough) - and every single student was actively engaged and helping look up, write or modify their answers, and more than that they were having fun!... a very positive way to end the term.

So, these holidays I have been thinking of ways to teach smarter not harder, and two of these outcomes are below:

1. Self-directed learning
For a year 10 unit at the end of the year (after exams), I have constructed a student self-directed learning unit for all year 10 students to undertake. It will start with a bit of teacher-lead stuff on organic chemistry, then get students to link ideas between:
  • How heat from the Sun, Earth and human activities (use of fuels) is distributed around the Earth by the geosphere, hydrosphere and atmosphere.
  • The interdependence of living things (including humans) in an ecosystem.
It's a work in progress, and needs to have a balance between proving some starter resources for students (especially given it will run across 8 classes), and giving them more freedom to explore the topic. I see it as being something that be altered as we go and in response to student feedback. Any feedback welcome also! 

2. Flipping my teaching
Looking at the units I have coming up this term, there are some content-heavy parts, and while I know I will still touch on them in class, I want to make my class time as student-lead as possible, and therefore I am making lecture-type videos on the content we need to cover for students to watch individually (either for prep/homework or in class when they are leading their own learning). My classes are reasonably varied in terms of what students want/need help with, and so I'm hoping this approach will allow me to differentiate even more. I have uploaded recorded teaching before, but not in this fashion, so I'm looking forward to see what the students think about it next term.

The video I've embedded below - yes, super exciting, I know! 12 whole minutes of me talking and drawing ;) (but I'm now thinking that it has freed up 12 minutes of class time when I can be helping students...) was made using the Explain Everything App for iPad. Now obviously there are already 50 million videos out there on balancing ionic compound formulae, but I really wanted my students to have continuity between how I explain things in class and the videos they see - it also means I can personalise the information to them. (I should point out too, I'm a biologist explaining a chemistry idea, so no doubt there are more precise/in-depth ways of doing it, but this is how I would teach it in class, and so wanted to be authentic to that idea).

Anyway, the term ended on a positive note, and I feel I'm regaining control of the way I really want to be teaching, so here's to a good start and in fact a good term 2 in its entirety.

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Head down, proverbial up ;)

I have been very quiet on the blog front this term/year, mostly a result of taking on a Y13 class for the first time, and (just quietly) being overwhelmed with not only getting my head around the content, but getting the right 'angle' on the achievement standards, and finally drowning in marking so that I can give good personalised feedback.

I'm a huge fan of peer-marking, and this works wonders at Year 11 and at the end of the year for all year levels, but I'm finding there is such subtlety in the way questions are worded, and expected to be answered that peer-marking is more blind-leading-the-blind, and they aren't picking up on the nuances of what they 'need' for their answers.

I'm still aiming for a differentiated approach where possible - eg. giving students a mini-project/case study for examples relating to the processes involved, rather than telling them directly, and giving them choice as to what work they submit for feedback (within reason!), but I am finding it more challenging than my other classes in which I know the content inside out, and so can let the students wander away from it, investigating other ideas, while knowing the points we still have to hit (external standards).

I guess this year takes me back to when I was freshly out of TCol, and allows me to realise just how far I have come in a reasonably short time. When I left TCol, I had a very different take on what made effective pedagogy, and I'm so glad to have found a multitude of different ways of doing things, especially in feeling comfortable enough to let students take the wheel, while I give navigation directions. In time, I intend this to be true for Y13 too, but I am accepting that I can't always do everything perfectly, especially when balancing a home life too.