Saturday, 31 October 2015

Innovation, Skills and Connectedness

As part of Connected Educator Month we decided to have a "face to face meeting" and connect with Christchurch teachers. Connectedness is an interesting concept. We have met lots of Christchurch teachers via Teachmeets, Educamps, GAFE Summit, our Maker Event and ULearn. We have also connected with many others via Twitter, including #scichatnz, #engchatnz and edchatnz. To celebrate Connected Educator Month we decided once again to engage in "31 Days of Blogging". Getting 31 blog posts from teachers in Christchurch seems a simple task, but we were asking people to share their practice, to share what is happening in their classroom/school. We are so grateful for all those who have shared on the blog this year, as well as the teachers who shared what they were doing in 2014.
However, an opportunity arose to hear from Lauren Merritt (Ministry of Awesome)  and Derek Wenmoth (CORE Education). Their broad topic was Skills for Innovation - What is needed for the 21st Century?

Both Lauren and Derek challenged the audience's thinking in different ways.
What happens if you have a great idea? Who do you get to help you? What skills do we need our students to have in the future? What jobs will there be in the future?
What does a robot counsellor or a garbage designer do?
What is the top quality Google looks for in job applicants?
(No 3 is the first quality they look for!)

And according to Linda Darling-Hammond, team-work, problem-solving and interpersonal skills are now seen as desired qualities for employees. 

For many of us in the audience, me included, we might have heard of the Ministry of Awesome, but what did they do? I think Bridget summed it up!

Allana Taylor from Springston School captured her thoughts in her blog posts

The Future's not what it used to be!  - Derek Wenmoth
"The world is changing.
What are we doing to prepare our learners for the 21st century?
How do our schools need to change?"  
Read more here

              "We are the people that encourage you to be innovative and take a risk."Lauren Merrit

                 Chief Awesome (Administration) Officer at the Ministry of Awesome!

Check out their website (about to be changed)  or their Facebook (Current and worth looking at)  Read Allana's post here   And for something really interesting to do - check out   "Coffee and Jam"

And for the final word - here's a few Tweets from the night.

                            Thank you to everyone who contributed to the 
                   Christchurch Connected Educator 
                    Blogtober "31 Days of Blogging" 
                     Aimie, Bridget, Matt, Pauline and Rob

Friday, 30 October 2015

Going Beyond Pretty Quizzes

Going Beyond Pretty Quizzes – rich e-learning in Maths

Maths can be stimulating and satisfying, or it can be dry, mind-numbing and anxiety-inducing. As
educators we know the difference between activities that belong to each group. We're pretty good
at designing programmes which are rich and foster deeper levels of thinking. When it comes to e-
learning, however, that programme design doesn't seem to transfer. Many teachers just put their
notes online and make self-marking quizzes.

Firstly, I have absolutely no problem with online notes and self-marking quizzes. They're efficient and useful for our students, allowing them to access learning outside of class time and allowing us to reduce admin workload. It's worthwhile. It's engaging.
But if that's where we stop, then we're not enhancing the learning. These types of activities sit in the Substitution stage of the SAMR model for technology integration. And while there's nothing wrong with the Substitution stage - indeed sometimes it might be the best tool for the job on a specific day - we do need to keep pushing for that richer learning.
But if that's where we stop, then we're not enhancing the learning. These types of activities sit in the
been continuing along those same lines, running further iterations with that trial activity as well as
I'm on a mission to find the "good stuff". Why should social sciences get all the nice rich e-learning activities, I ask myself? I shared a bit about my own e-learning journey last year in a post for Connected Educator Month, where I mentioned an activity that I had been trialling. This year I've been continuing along those same lines, running further iterations with that trial activity as well as designing some more.
One activity in particular was both successful and a failure. That in itself was useful for me to remember that there is no one activity - e-learning or otherwise - which will magically engage and inspire and equip and challenge every one of the students in my class.

The activity was an investigation for NCEA Level One Relationships topic. I showed the students how to use Desmos and GeoGebra, gave them the assessment rubric and investigation questions and
away they went. For me, the hard part was writing the rubric (download Word or PDF), as this can
be pretty time consuming unless it's your kind of thing. (It's not my kind of thing.)
For the students, the hard part was the lack of structure. Some students needed a bit more guidance, so for the next iteration of this activity I will add in some differentiation and more concrete prompts for those who need it. Other students LOVED this activity. They really liked the open nature of the investigation and that they could go where their curiosity took them, guided by the rubric to ensure they still met the learning objectives for the activity.

My main takeaways from this activity were: 

 Open investigation still needs differentiated structure and guidance, but overall worked

 Access to reliable technology is still an issue!

 All students - including those who preferred a more structured model - said that they found

using Desmos and GeoGebra to be extremely helpful

 Providing hard notes is essential - I used this investigation as the main learning activity for

quadratic relationships, but after student feedback I made this notes handout to summarise

the learning objectives and make sure they had concrete notes to study for the assessment.

All in all, it was successful with room for improvement. Let me know what you've tried!

Stephen McConnachie

Honest Reflections on the Move to Team Teaching

This term I have left my single cell room and ventured into the world of team teaching. This is slightly new to me in that for two hours a day I work side by side with another colleague teaching Literacy. In the past I have team taught with my BT (beginning teachers) as part of my mentor role but that was only for one hour sessions and not every day.

As we move to our new school in 2017 this is going to be the norm and I enjoy the fact I get to do this already because it isn’t easy. You are suddenly out of your comfort zone and having to learn to adapt to someone else’s way of teaching can be quite daunting. You also need to learn to compromise and be prepared to accept that your ways are not always going to be the best.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t dislike it but I have found it harder than I had expected to. At the moment we are still ‘carefully’ treading around each other and pretty much being polite about everything. But I know this might not always be the case. This is where honest communication is the key. It’s important to remember that it’s not personal and not to take everything to heart.

Not only do both of us have to get used to each other’s teaching styles and mannerisms but we also have 43 students who have to do the same.  One of the hardest things for me is that the room is set up as two classes with two teachers. As I am only in there for two hours a day (I teach elsewhere for the rest of the day) I’m still feeling a bit uncomfortable about moving around the furniture. It also is a prefab that doesn’t have the best acoustics and isn’t that much bigger than your standard classroom.
The hardest part of all this has been trying to break the ‘this is my group that is your group’ mentality we have when it comes to teaching. I have tried to go in with the idea of two teacher’s one classroom.  As we have only set this up it has been slow going.  

One of my downfalls is that I plan ideas in my head, chop and change to adapt the situation, don’t plan a minute by minute lesson and not that keen on doing all my reading groups in one go. What I envisage happening is a number of children will work from their set time table and meet with me for reading and small group writing sessions throughout the two hour period. Rather than having set whole class writing and reading times. 

My colleague on the other hand is someone who needs to see it written down, explained in depth and is more structured than I am. Once again this is where open lines of communication are important. I know my way isn’t for everyone and I also have to be accepting of this and adapt a little for them. 
One of the positives is that we have both have very similar ideas and ways in how we go about teaching the fundamentals of writing (Reading is not taken into account as we do whole school Sharp Reading). So when it comes to planning it is quite straight forward we seem to be able to have a 10 minute conversation and our week is planned!

How we execute it is the area we are still trying to work out.

This is where it can get messy. We are still ‘ironing’ out this part and as we have had only had three weeks in class with a lot of interruptions we are still taking time to find that common ground. There have been times where it has been easier for us to separate ourselves and work with a group each but the fact is we are not actually doing anything new. There are students in our group that can be independent and work to their own timetable and meet with us in small group tutorials. Others need a little more direction and set tasks and routines. But we can actually move away from big whole class teaching sessions and focus on smaller more directed to meet the learner’s needs.

Because it takes time and as I said before can be messy and look chaotic we find ourselves falling back into what we are comfortable with and this is what we have to break out of.
This can also still happen in a MLE. I have visited schools where teachers actually still teach their ‘own’ groups.  Although they had collaborated on the planning that is where the collaboration ends. Teachers are still teaching ‘whole classes’ and most are still focussed on ability setting. As someone said recently, how can we have a growth mindset if we are still grouping students based on their ability?

Other schools have done this brilliantly. You can see teachers working in small groups, but you also see other students working independently or with their peers and you don’t see one teacher occupying one area for that whole day or time.

I can see why some teachers find this change quite difficult to do. It’s all about taking that risk, being open to change and realising things do take time to perfect.

Ruth Duke-Norris  @ChCh_based

Thursday, 29 October 2015

To Blog or not to Blog - that is definitely the question!

At the end of last term, I made a conscious decision, which I have felt guilty about since then, to do ABSOLUTELY NOTHING related to school for the first 10 days of the holidays, I was tired, a little disillusioned and pretty damn well over a whole lot of things to do with school....hence I am only now getting to the '31days of blogging' being organised by Christchurch Connected Educators!!

I started blogging in 2007 after starting my MEd online at Waikato Uni. My thesis was entitled 'Keeping up with the digital natives: integrating web 2.0 into classroom practice'. 
After 'connecting' with Natalie Cowie, who was at KatiKati then, blogs really took off....
I blogged for my then Department -

I got some of my Department blogging -
I ran a Library Blog -
I ran a blog for parents -

By the end of my thesis I was blogged out! But the data created was valuable - the half of the class that blogged about their work and writing gave and received more feedback and took part in more ongoing conversations about their work than the students who kept a logbook, as opposed to a 'blogbook'.

8 years on I still blog, but I run only two. I follow a number of blogs (which I regularly say to myself the number is not going to increase......). 

I blog to record my professional learning – schools visits I have been on; conferences I have attended and courses that I am enrolled in. I am currently enrolled in a PostGrad Dip  - Applied Practice - Collaborative and Digital Learning - run by The MindLab - I blog as I go – use my phone or tablet and modify and correct errors later. Adding photos and links from the lectures as I go is a breeze and I find working on the iPhone my ‘device of choice’. I find I can process and clarify thoughts as I go. 

I love reading – I still have a strong connection to the English Faculty and Library at my school. I regularly read and review teen fiction on our school library blog – Teen Arotake - - this is a part of my job that I really enjoy.

So that’s me… I got into blogging and why I still blog......

Alison Cleary - Rangiora High School

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Techie Brekkie

Whitney Hansen - @whitn3yhans3n
Hoon Hay School

Term 4 of 2014 our school decided 5 of our senior classrooms would go 1:1 device this year. Previous to this we were not even using GAFE, and the idea of sharing documents and cloud based storage for some of our staff was quite abstract.

This exciting leap into learning with digital technologies and the opportunity to start working via the Google Platform meant that our staff needed upskilling and fast. We were and are really lucky to be apart of the GCSN (Greater Christchurch Schools Network) and the TToM (Ko te Tihi o Matauranga Cluster), which is a Christchurch wide project made up of five communities of schools aimed at ensuring all students have access to suitable digital technologies and equipping our students with 21st Century Skills and digital competencies. Being a part of the GCSN and the TToM Cluster has meant that we have had some funding for professional development and leadership support in these areas from CORE, which has been amazing.

As with most new learning the more we learnt the more we realised we needed to learn and that then got me thinking how could we offer more regular opportunities for professional learning for our staff. I had heard about the idea of Technology Breakfasts from other schools and thought this would be a great way to provide these opportunities.

FullSizeRender.jpgSo we started meeting on Thursday mornings at 7.30am and spent an hour learning about digital technologies. At first it was our syndicate team of five teachers and we spent Term 1 looking at things like Hapara Teacher Dashboard, Paperless Planning  and GAFE (specifically the Google Docs Suite and Blogger). The sessions were twofold, teachers learnt about a concept or developed literacy in this area and then they had to take that learning back into their classrooms. By the end of that term we started to run schoolwide Techie Brekkies, which all staff were invited to and our principal even agreed to providing the breakfast.

Term 2 we alternated between schoolwide and team brekkies and we looked at Google Apps, Extensions and Add Ons, the SAMR Model and we were really lucky to have some guest speakers including Allanah King from CORE Education and Barrie Matthews from LEARNZ.

FullSizeRender.jpgLast term saw us looking at the concepts of Genius Hour, Passion Projects and Maker Space. We spent a couple of brekkies discussing how we could allow more opportunities for students to collaborate, innovate and create, and how we could be using digital technologies to support this. The digital literacy that we covered in these sessions involved Scratch,  Makey Makey and Build with Chrome.

It was really amazing after one of these sessions to see one teacher in our team go from not know what coding was at 7.30am to having students creating things on scratch by 9.30am; the Techie Brekkie that day not only challenging and changing thinking, but changing practice. In another Techie Brekkie it was great to have our team leader decide that a Makey Makey wasn’t a novelty item we might purchase for our classrooms, but a must have.

So what did the staff think?

  • Many things we have learned in techie brekkie time are now 'just what we do'.

  • This has been extremely beneficial as I am part of a power of two team. Now all our planning is being done on one shared plan and we are using a collaborative calendar, which is working extremely well.

  • Early morning meetings have freed us up to fit in everything else and still attend P.D.

  • Having this extra weekly opportunity has certainly made this learning journey more manageable and most of all... fun.

  • The topics covered have been at a pace for all to take advantage of and most appropriate for where we are and what we are trying to achieve.

  • As a novice in the technology world, these sessions have been extremely valuable. Not only to practice new skills, but also to share thoughts and ideas with colleagues.

  • Gaining a deeper appreciation for the different apps and websites available to support our classroom programme has also been invaluable.

This week we created class You Tube Accounts and looked at Flubaroo and Show Me and next week we are having Twitter enthusiast Jo Earl come and talk to us about being a connected educator.

Our sessions have really evolved in 12 Months, from basic sessions on how to use Google Drive to robust discussions around coding in the classroom. The real learning I have taken from these Thursdays is that the more teachers are exposed to, and can collaborate around the ‘why’, the more likely it is that this new learning will make its way into classrooms and that’s what makes Techie Brekkies powerful.

What’s happening in your school?

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Staff Meetings for Collaboration only!

BAN staff meetings for giving of information; staff meetings for collaboration only.

Two weeks ago in an #EdChatNZ session on wellbeing, the following question was asked. What SPECIFIC changes in schools would increase wellbeing of staff and students? My suggestion was to:
‘BAN staff meetings for giving of information; staff meetings for collaboration only.’
In the space of a very short time I had 14 retweets and 19 favourites. Given the frantic pace of the #EdChatNZ stream, I figured that my frustration with staff meetings was shared by many other teachers.
Why is it necessary to gather very busy teachers in one room to give them information? Why on earth in the age of communication can information not be shared in a timely manner digitally? When I posed this questions to other educators, many like my fellow tweeters agreed, however I had one teacher tell me of how when their new principal introduced communication via email, that all of a sudden they no longer had staff meetings, and that this had a huge negative impact on staff morale. So if we are no longer to use staff meetings as a platform for giving of information, then they must be reinvented.
Staff meetings for collaboration only, seems like a wonderful solution, but perhaps it is not as easy as it sounds. Collaboration involves the development of mutual understanding, through a process of communication based on a common frame of reference (Bromme, 2000). It is a form of interprofessional practice, and essential to its success, is teachers considering themselves, and treating each other, as professionals. The primary indicators that are used to determine the effectiveness of interprofessional practice, can also be used to highlight the essential components of collaboration in a teaching environment. These primary indicators include: the level of integration of knowledge; and the level of cooperation, integration, and the development of a collective identity(Specialist Teaching Programme, 2015).
Fiore et al. (2010) identified that when the knowledge product being produced originates from the group’s discourse, rather than from one individual, then this is a sign that integration of knowledge has occurred. So a staff meeting that promotes positive discourse about a topic, where everyone contributes, and where there is a common frame of reference, is a good start. The second primary indicator of effective interprofessional practice is the levels of cooperation, integration and the development of a collective identity (Specialist Teaching Programme, 2015). Hardy, Lawrence, and Grant (2005) believed that these could be assessed by considering how the individuals use language, to describe the group, or how the group works together. So a staff meeting where all staff are included in the ‘we’, rather than ‘them’ and ‘us’, would be considered essential for effective interprofessional practice and therefore collaboration.
So why is it that staff meetings that are for collaboration only, are not the reality in the majority of New Zealand schools? I believe that part of the reason is because real collaboration involves conflict. It is far easier for teachers to avoid conflict, opt out of real collaboration, and instead simply cooperate. In professional cooperation there is no requirement for individuals to develop a mutual understanding of the activity or task, they simply do what they are asked, avoid any disagreements, and take no agency over the outcome.
So my challenge to my fellow educators is to start the change. Embrace the life of a professional educator, and commence with the dissemination of information using regular emails. Collaborate with others in your school about everything. Find some common frames of reference, and use these as the basis of your collaborative efforts. Be mindful of your language and use the royal ‘we’ whenever you can. Get comfortable with conflict, and use it as a platform for critical thinking. Then, and only then……..tackle the staff meeting.

Glenys Hanley, Kaikoura High School


Bromme, R. (2000). Beyond one's own perspective: The psychology of cognitive interdisciplinarity. In P. Weingart, Stehr, N. (Ed.), Practicing Interdisciplinarity (pp. 115-133). Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
Fiore, S., Rosen, M., Smith-Jentsch, K., Salas, E., Letsky, M., & Warner, N. (2010). Towards an understanding of metacognition in teams: Predicting processes in complex collaborative contexts. Human Factors, 52(2), 203-224.
Hardy, C., Lawrence, T., & Grant, D. (2005). Discourse and collaboration: The role of conversations and collective identity. The Academy of Management Review, 30(1), 58-77.
Specialist Teaching Programme. (2015). Domain 2: Interprofessional Practice Evidence Based Interprofessional Practice   Retrieved from

Monday, 26 October 2015

The Purpose of Learning?

It has been a slow year for blogging, primarily due to the workload of balancing my pastoral role with another passion – leading and teaching a new Year 11 Science course. I have been able to explore and inquire as to the motivation and purpose of learning for my students, comparing and contrasting the students in this course with those in my senior Chemistry classes. Honestly, I have probably ended up with more questions than answers, but I have found one way to offer a course within a traditional school system which has the learning and the student at the centre, with NCEA credits being conveniently earned along the way.

Year 11 Practical Science

At the end of last year, I approached my Head of Department about redesigning our “Alternative Science” course. This was already a completely internally-assessed course, designed for students who struggled to achieve success in exam-format assessments. It was a meaningful and valuable course already; I just thought that it could be a little more student-centred and could offer more student agency.

The development and implementation of this course has been a real eye-opener for me, and highly rewarding for me, the teacher of the other class, and for most of the students who were given the opportunity to enrol in this course. I have been forced to become more fluent in a range of Level 1 Achievement Standards, and not just those in Science. I have learned a lot about the “credit-shopping” focus of students, regardless of their perceived ability and/or motivation. I have finally developed a way to support and guide less-organised students through portfolio-style assessments – it isn’t perfect, but it is a huge improvement on where we were at the start of the year!

If you are interested, you can read more about the journey in these posts:

We have designed a course which starts off with a Chemistry unit (because everyone loves mixing and burning chemicals) to teach observation and experimental skills. This is followed by a unit based around a Conspiracy Theory to teach about Scientific Literacy and research skills. The final prescribed unit is a Physics practical investigation to develop students’ Fair Testing. For these parts of the course, we kept a Class Blog to record the important content and skills:

The remainder of the year is focused on students’ interests and finding ways to structure these interests into robust inquiries. We had inquiries based on shotguns, MotoX, artillery, rugby kicking techniques, rowing technique, skateboarding tricks…it was amazing!

The teachers’ role is that of a mentor and (supportive) critic, while also being charged with finding suitable NCEA Achievement Standards to assess the learning with. As part of this, the marking schedules and portfolio coversheets have been co-constructed with the students. This has given transparency to the assessment and the expectations upon the students. This has also been the really time-consuming part, but also very rewarding!

The purpose of learning in this course has been, ultimately, to explore an inherent or developed interest and investigate it in a scientific manner. The wonderful outcomes have included most student earning at least 16 NCEA Level 1 credits along the way (some at Excellence level), outstanding student engagement, and a dramatic increase in students’ self-belief and self-worth.

“Academic” Courses

This year, I also had my philosophies regarding assessment challenged. While teaching the Year 11 course, I have also been teaching Level 2 and Level 3 Chemistry. These are courses where grades are ever-important. Most of these students are expecting to be shown how to excel in assessment tasks, sometimes regardless of the quality of the actual learning.

It would indeed be great to offer the same level of student agency and flexibility in these courses. However, the assessments do have the power to drive the learning in these classes. The day-to-day teaching and learning opportunities can be such that student choice and differentiated learning can be provided but, ultimately, there are externally-assessed examinations to prepare for.

There is no way to avoid the amount and specificity of the content that must be “covered” for these assessments. There is no escaping that students need to be coached how to answer examination-style questions at some stage through each unit. There is no avoiding the issue that to offer a meaningful number of credits, there is a LOT of work to get through.

If tertiary institutions put the main onus upon the externally-assessed Achievement Standards, courses such as Chemistry will always be driven by the assessment, rather than the learning. As I say, my philosophies have been challenged. By offering such an exciting course to the Year 11 “strugglers”, I have felt as though my senior chemists have missed out on the opportunity to explore the magic of their subject due the focus on grades. This is not a criticism, merely an observation…tinged with a little frustration, as I do not have the answer.

Why Are We Learning This?

Through two very different types of courses, I come back to that old adage from the disenchanted student, “Why are we learning this stuff? When will I ever need it in my life?” If you do not view these as fair questions, then I suggest you care more about your subject than you do about your students.

Student agency regarding contexts and, dare I suggest it, means of assessment are key components of making the learning meaningful to students. Surely this is achievable in Year 9 and 10, even in the silo of a single subject. Not to be disparaging, but context is even possible in Mathematics. NCEA is using contextualised questions more and more. What better preparation can there be than to apply mathematical skills to real student interests? I know that subjects like English, Social Studies and Science lend themselves more towards this type of learning, but Science is often prone to being too abstract if taken out of context and focused more on content.

If it is manageable in Years 9 and 10, why not beyond this? This is where the students’ respective reasons for learning become vital. Does the student sees learning in school as part of the journey to tertiary study? Does the student see learning in school as a way to learn how to learn, but has no (current) aspirations for further study? Does the student just want to be entertained until he/she finds a job that is interesting enough to do instead of being at school?

If the student sees tertiary study as the ultimate goal, then getting the grades to achieve this goal makes the learning authentic in itself. Courses that optimise this student’s ability to reach this goal are suitable. At the same time, these courses need to develop the whole student, of course, but the purpose of the learning is further study; the course must cater for this for this student.

If the student does not see tertiary study as the goal, then grades themselves (beyond getting sufficient credits to earn their NCEA Level 1 certificate, for example) are not going to be motivation enough. Authentic learning opportunities are vital for this student. Can the learning be applied to a hobby, interest, potential career…? This student’s course must provide enough flexibility and agency for this student to persevere with the learning, and to see the value of learning.

As I said at the start, I think I have more questions than answers. Do we need to offer two (or more) pathways for students in our courses beyond Year 10, in every school? How do we make them synergetic enough that students can shift course if they find their goals and aspirations have changed along the way? Regardless of the answers that are correct for your students, your school, and your community, when looking at your courses please always ask yourself what the purpose of the learning is.

Matt Nicoll – Year 10 Dean; Teacher of Science & Chemistry at St Andrew's College