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.