Posted in 05. Design for learning

New book title: Start Sketchnoting

I love creating digital books using iBooks Author. It’s a no-brainer for me: one download with all that multi-media content in one place. I am also developing a love for sketchnoting. Personally, I can feel the benefits, but more importantly, I can see the benefits for students. So I have combined these two passions into a new digital book, called Start Sketchnoting

Screen Shot 2020-01-14 at 9.47.50 PM

In it I look at the benefits of sketchnoting, or if you like, visual note taking. These include:

  • Increased focus. You are thinking about the essence of what someone is saying, and then how you can develop an icon to represent their words.
  • Next is obviously the creativity that it unleashes. Not only are you thinking creatively, you are also producing something that is pleasing to look at.
  • It gives you time to pause, reflect and process.
  • And finally, and probably most surprisingly, it has a really calming effect.

I’m all for bringing creativity back into the college classroom…any classroom for that matter. And sketchnoting is a fun way to make planning for an essay more meaningful. Or what about revision? Get students to use icons and visual triggers rather than screeds of writing. So next in my digital book, I looked at possible lesson ideas:

  • Meaningful planning for essays or writing
  • Character profiles
  • Selfie-sketchnotes as an introduction to the year
  • Making thoughtful notes
  • Storyboards for films
  • Planning for static image
  • Legitimate doodling

No good knowing why you should use visual note-taking, without looking at the best tools for the job:

  •   I primarily use the app Sketches, but Keynote and Pages work just as well. I love that you can do the basic background, then add layer upon layer which means you can paint and erase, without disturbing your original layer.
  • Being mobile means you have all the tools and palettes without the mess.

I have included many examples, with a variety of types of sketchnoting. Give it a go, and then unleash sketchnoting on your students.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Posted in 04. Learning-focused culture, Personal TAI

Teaching as Inquiry: Data and Evidence

“Children must be taught how to think, not what to think.”
― Margaret Mead

With this quote in mind I approached this term with the strong desire to continue to push my students beyond the limits they put on themselves. The hunch for my TAI was based on learning dispositions and learning mindsets. I have a gnawing concern that students are losing their sense of wonder, and are developing fixed mindsets with sentences starting with “But…” Rather than having growth learning mindsets with sentences starting with “Yes, and…” Having worked with Tabitha Leonard, I followed the simple yet effective steps of inquiry, namely:

Exploring: Wondering and Questioning

At the start of my inquiry, this was my hunch: Students have become ho-hum about their work, and their choices with regards to tech innovations. My focus was on igniting energy and passion into a class that is lovely!… but pretty passive in their approach. They are bright and well-behaved, but they seem to like to just do what they’ve always done. It has worked for them in the past. These are our top achievers. So why should they think outside the square?

Extracting: Strategising and Evidencing

To get to the final product, they worked on the Design Process workbook. The idea was to ‘see’ their thoughts and solutions. We expect students to effectively and successfully collaborate. This type of project put that to the test. Here is a link to the full Pages document. I have adapted the Everyone can Create workbook to suit our needs. Below is a small taste of what it looks like.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


Evaluating: Analysing and Reflecting

As with most projects like this, I had some students jump in, trouble shoot and get some pretty amazing work done. I had some that bleated and moaned about working outside of their comfort zone. But I was relentless in the pursuit of pushing the envelope. Here are examples of what they produced. Some of the work is not quite complete because we still have a couple of weeks to go before the end of the year. But their thinking process and the learning that took place along the way has been nothing short of amazing.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

These examples are all based on the Design Process, with the goal being to come up with solutions to the sustainability goals. The above example was based on zero hunger. If you are interested in the full document here is a link: Link to Pages document

Here’s another project, this time based on life below water. The most classic of quotes from this group was this: I was surprised to learn that…Going through the process of having a mind map and planning everything out is super useful.” 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

In addition to the previous examples, I had groups develop websites with tabs reflecting the design process, like this one and this one. I never told them to do it this way. But I did make it clear that simply answering the questions on a shared Google Doc was not good enough. So on reflection, if we want more from our students, we need to insist on more. More creativity, more experimentation and more thinking. Giving them scaffolds  and easy options might get them over the line, but it does not teach them to think for themselves. It also does not teach them to be problem solvers and innovators.

The videos were all very different too. Like the one below where the student did all her own illustrations and animations on her MacBook. This was a first for her. I was worried about her posture because she spent lesson after lesson hunched over her computer, digitally drawing everything. But as I said to her, I could easily see this video in the media as a social awareness campaign. It has all the necessary elements, has a strong message, and is original.

Then there was this short doco below. What was pleasing about this one was the obvious depth of learning that had taken place by all those that were interviewed, not just the ones making the doco.

And then there was this animation based on gender inequality.

Finally, here is the work done by a pair in the class, based on sustainable use of water. I have to remind myself that this is the work of a couple of teenagers in term 4. The term notorious for little work and lots of antics. Link to full doc here

Needless to say the data reflects their work output. And the evidence is that learning is hard. Pushing people out of their comfort zones is uncomfortable. But once you’ve got over that, the learning outcomes are pretty cool.

In conclusion, I would totally love to do this unit again. It was excruciating to start with because I had some very needy people (dare I say staff and students) who refused to read, tap or try anything because it was new and foreign. But the best work has come from those that embraced the new.  I have learnt a whole heap along the way, not only about collaboration across departments, but also about the 17 sustainability goals. (For example: Recent studies have found that sunscreen chemicals in many popular products actually hurt corals. The main chemical culprits are oxybenzone and octinoxate, which convert sunburn-causing UV rays into harmless heat on human skin. But once these chemicals are in the water, they actually decrease corals’ defence against bleaching, damaging their DNA and hurting their development. It’s almost as though sunscreen for humans has the opposite effect for corals!”)

But most importantly, I’ve learnt that students will regain their sense of wonder and will create some amazing work if we grant them the time and space to do so.

Posted in 06. Teaching, Student Achievement Analysis

2019 NCEA Level 1 Results

This is the first time in a number of years that I have not taught the year 11 extension class. My year 11 class was made up of some wonderful students with a varied range of abilities. Although I made some changes with regard to the texts we studied, I didn’t change my approach, which is to foster independence and student agency through providing a variety of approaches. The first thing I did was revise and update their Apple book: Link to book here

Screen Shot 2019-11-05 at 9.57.51 AM

Resources ranged from videos like this:

And this:

To static resources, like this:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I have enjoyed this class immensely. I think you hit your strides with certain courses, and that’s how I feel with this course. I know the content well, the potential triumphs and pitfalls. I am able to instil confidence in the students, because I feel confident about the way the course is designed. I had no trouble with students both submitting work, and doing so on time. I had one student who did not achieve, but the reasons were greater than this course or this subject. Their overall grades for their internal assessments, independently marked by the English Department, were very pleasing.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Static Image

As a society I believe we have moved further and further away from the written text, and our lives have become bombarded with visual stimuli. It doesn’t surprise me that I have witnessed a shift in static image creation and results. Many students are able to express their ideas in a visual way, with some solid digital skills. There has been a massive shift away from paper cut & paste, to quite sophisticated digitally created images. 75% of the class were in the merit-excellence category.

Creative and Formal Writing

With this standard, I tend to give freedom of choice with regard to the topic. I also encourage students to get multiple people to read their work before submitting to me. In this way I can focus on their ideas, rather than the surface errors. Again I was very pleased with the results, with 50% at the achieved level, the rest getting merit or excellence.

Text Connections

I have, in the past, had misgivings about this standard due to its protracted nature. However this year we had it all wrapped up early in term 3. The texts we chose (Hidden Figures, Tomorrow when the War Began, and short story Job) worked well together. Again we had half the class achieve, with the rest getting merit and excellence.

As with most NCEA students, these students have crunched the numbers and know exactly how many credits they have, and how many they still need to achieve before the end of the year. For the majority of these students, they will face the exams with very little stress, knowing that the hard work they put into the work this year has paid off.

There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, and learning from failure

Colin Powell

Posted in 05. Design for learning, Personal TAI

Teaching as Inquiry: Final Innovative Spin

Having worked with Tabitha Leonard, this final innovative spin will focus on Learning Mindsets and Learning Dispositions. My baseline evidence is anecdotal, and based on student interviews. My strategy is to be creative, flexible and motivational. The impact data will be based on the way students approach this term’s unit.

As we move into term 4, I reflect again on my teaching inquiry. It is time to start the final spiral of inquiry and my focus is on igniting energy and passion into a class that is lovely!… but pretty passive in their approach. They are bright and well-behaved, but they seem to like to just do what they’ve always done. It has worked for them in the past. These are our top achievers. So why should they think outside the square? My TAI data is observational and anecdotal. If you look solely at their grades, you’d ask what the problem is. They get good grades, and when they don’t, they act on feedback to get good grades. But there’s more to it than that. We’re constantly told about the 21st century skills of:

  • Critical thinking
  • Creativity
  • Collaboration
  • Communication
  • Information literacy
  • Media literacy
  • Technology literacy
  • Flexibility

It is my belief that, in making things easier and more accessible in the classroom, we have dumbed down technology literacy. Google Classroom works brilliantly as a dumping ground: dump resources, pick up resources; dump assessments, pick up assessments. And Google docs: fantastic to type on one doc simultaneously. But where’s the creativity in that? Remember the days (for us it’s 5 years ago before GC) when students would tap relentlessly on anything tappable to troubleshoot and work things out? And use a myriad of apps to get creative? Today I witnessed some really bright students struggle to download and share a Pages document. Even when the “Download” button was highlighted for them. Granted, because we were using Classroom, those on iPads had two taps (save from “My Work”; export to Pages.) There was no relentless pursuit of the answer, just blank faces. This is a real concern.

Happily we got there with a bit of a domino effect. Once I got the first one sorted, they passed the information on and soon they were all on the workbook. In fact my students went into some colleagues’ classrooms to get their students going. They realised that the problem was not as hard as they thought.

That brings me to the work. We have eight weeks left before school closes for the summer. Our English department is collaborating with the Social Studies department. This means that students effectively have double the time to work on their products. The aim is to develop their own solutions to the sustainability development goals.

Screen Shot 2019-10-16 at 3.09.58 PM

But to get to the final product, they will be working on the Design Process workbook. The idea is to ‘see’ their thoughts and solutions. There is an expectation that students can effectively and successfully collaborate. This type of project will put that to the test. Here is a link to the Pages document. I have adapted the Everyone can Create workbook to suit our needs. Below is a small taste of what it looks like.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

My hunch (getting back to my TAI) was that certain students would rise to the occasion and get enthused, and others would be ho-hum about it. Imagine my surprise when they started populating the Padlet with the following crazy shots. The ones I thought wouldn’t get on board not only submitted the most photos, they also asked me to turn on the comments for the Padlet. I suppose it looked a bit like Instagram when they got finished with it, which is possibly why they enthusiastically got on board.

Made with Padlet

Because we are wanting them to do a deep dive into these topics, it has to strike a chord within. So I tentatively suggested that they might want to add their own sustainability/ social awareness goal. And I’ve just got an email from one of my students asking to do exactly that. So we’ve started with a hiss and a roar. My inquiry is whether I can keep the momentum going and ignite a fire in their bellies.

After all, it took passion and a cardboard sign to get Greta Thunberg’s message about climate change out into the world.

Screen Shot 2019-10-16 at 3.48.06 PM

What are our students passionate about? What changes do they want to see in the world? And how are we encouraging them to have a voice?

Posted in 02. Professional learning

Sketchnoting in practice

In April of this year our school hosted Sylvia Duckworth where she introduced us to the world of sketchnoting. I could totally see the benefits for both myself and my students. It is a great way to take visual notes, keep you focused and is strangely meditative and calming. But I have to say that getting an Apple Pencil has been the most massive game changer. I thought I was ambivalent regarding paper versus digital drawing. Turns out that digital sketchnoting is exponentially better. In my opinion anyway.

My Pepeha
  1. The first obvious difference is the undo/ redo button.
  2. Then as you get older, being able to stretch the screen out to get a better view really helps.
  3. I primarily use the app Sketches (but Keynote and Pages work just as well.) I love that you can do the basic background, then add layer upon layer which means you can paint and erase, without disturbing your original layer.
  4. Being mobile means you have all the tools and palettes without the mess.

On a side note, I have never been able to memorise even my most basic pepeha. Now that I have it visually, it has stuck in my brain. Images are so much more powerful than words alone.

The two styles of sketchnotes that I have experimented with are as follows:

  1. Planned sketchnotes:


Our Kāhui Ako leaders did a workshop at the uLearn19 Conference in Rotorua. I decided to do a number of sketches to form part of our Keynote presentation. You do still have to think about what words and pictures will represent your message, but you have the luxury of time to do it. I found it incredibly therapeutic to sit and plan the images, and would go back to them a number of times until I was happy with them. These sketches are by no means masterpieces and are far from perfect, but I think they capture the message which I intended.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


2. Live sketchnotes:

At uLearn19, I trialled sketching while keynote speakers and presenters spoke. The fundamental skill required is to listen to a section of the presentation, then summarise the essence with a word and or image. I found that my focus was pin point because I didn’t want to miss the gems that would eventually fill my page. Again these are far from perfect. I found I was filling too much detail in the top half of the page, then having blank spaces in the bottom half. But I shared them anyway because it’s all a learning process.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

With exams coming up for our senior students, I thought that this would be a wonderful skill to pass on. They could have fun while transforming their revision notes into works of art. And it would force students to look at the heart of the matter: what are the actual learning nuggets required to understand a concept?

The best compliment I got was from a colleague’s presentation at uLearn. Richard Wells did a brilliant session on the messy journey to breaking down silo subject areas at our school. After I published a sketchnote based on his workshop he tweeted: “Honoured to receive an actual Rubens!” I think Peter Paul and whanau Rubens would be proud.



Posted in Personal TAI

Teaching as Inquiry: Evidence vs Data

As we get to the point of analysing data for our TAIs, I would like to highlight something I read on Tabitha Leonard’s blog. And that is the link between evidence and data. Both are necessary. As Tabitha points out:

  • DATA: is to do with numbers; facts; it is right or wrong. But data on its own is of little use. Data needs context. Quantitative data can include tests, PaCT, Asttle, marking rubrics 
  • EVIDENCE:  can contextualise data. Evidence has perspective and opinion. We gather evidence of or for something and can include photos, blogs, reflection.

When put together, data and evidence analysis can put a stop to “data analysis paralysis.” Again, Tabitha LeonardEvidence should go beyond the anecdotal gut feeling. It should be concrete and purposeful.  And teachers should dig deep to understand the data, both its themes and the outliers.

With that in mind I looked at the results for my creative writing project. To set the scene. Screen Shot 2019-07-25 at 7.25.37 PMMy year 10 students had all the resources at their fingertips in the form of their iBook This includes presentations, videos and step-by-step guides. We had quite a productive discussion about creative writing, why we place emphasis on it, why it is important. And we discussed how credits and word limits can crush the joy of writing. Being year 10, I also said that we have less restrictions than we will have when they enter the NCEA years, so I put very few restrictions on them. Again, I had students rubbing their hands in glee. The reason was mainly the freedom I was allowing them, within reasonable boundaries of course.

Screen Shot 2019-07-25 at 2.58.13 PM

My gut feeling told me they were going to do quite well. When I spoke to them individually, I found the vast majority still loved to write creatively. What they don’t like is being told what topics to write on, and being given a word length. Of course that’s a necessary skill in itself which we are working on with their essay writing.

In addition, my year 11 class is run along pretty much the same lines. They also have all Screen Shot 2019-07-25 at 7.25.49 PMtheir resources in an iBook. It also includes a variety of resources. This year I didn’t give them the option of writing creatively or formally. The main reason is that they are not the accelerated class that I have taught for the past eight years. So I was pleasantly surprised at how quickly and efficiently they got going on with their creative writing. What I really pushed, along with giving them freedom to work at their own pace, was teenage voice. I encouraged them to talk to their family to see if they had any stories based on their heritage that they could weave into their own work. They battled with keeping their work succinct,  but got there in the end. And I also worked hard on avoiding the typical teenage action: after that last full stop they hit the submit button, with no editing at all. We spoke at length about prototyping and editing.

Screen Shot 2019-07-25 at 3.04.32 PM

Again, I was really pleased with the results overall. Bearing in mind that for fairness, we don’t mark our own students’ work. The two not achieved marks were really beyond my control as they were linked to attendance issues. My next step will be to work out how to shift the achieved grades up to a merit grade. Thinking cap on for the next assessment.

But the real take-away is that I had one student who handed in his first draft, and got a not achieved grade. The comment from the marker was “Great ideas, pity about the errors.” Fortunately he had been overseas and had been granted an extension. We discussed the error patterns. And after editing he resubmitted. This time, the same marker gave him an excellence.

Now that’s a story I’ll be retelling for a few years.



Posted in 02. Professional learning

ADE Institute 2019

This year our ADE Institute was held on the Gold Coast, Australia. Famed for its sunny skies all year round, I was looking forward to institute with some excitement, and a good dose of trepidation. The weather was not that sunny. But other than that, institute delivered in abundance. The reason for the trepidation was that I was doing a showcase. This entails a three minute speech in front of some of the most forward thinking, idea-generating educators on the planet. If you know me at all, you’ll know that I don’t use the word literally lightly. I was literally reciting my speech constantly. Before leaving, I was reciting my words to my computer screen and out loud at gym. Then all the way on the plane, and as I fell asleep at night. Even while shopping I caught myself delivering the three minute speech out loud…to no one in particular. Here it is, my two minute, 57 second delivery.

Thankfully, it was pretty well received, which really puzzles me. All I did was tell a story derived from my class. But I guess that’s what engages people, an authentic story. I’m hoping that this year we will be able to replicate this story in more classrooms around my school, if not further afield.

Apple Ed.jpg

I found once my three minutes were up, I could focus more fully on the institute. My greatest takeaway came from a very simple concept taken out of the impact workshop:

Screen Shot 2019-07-17 at 3.38.20 PM

What do you plan to do in the next 5 days; 5 weeks; 5 months to make an impact? What goal will you set yourself over this period of time? Simple yet highly effective. My personal 5 day plan (give or take a few days) has been to update some of my books in iBooks Author, and write this blog post. My 5 week plan is to get some more buy in from departments across the school for the Everyone can Create project. #bringcreativityback. My 5 month plan is, amongst other things, to complete the cross curricular project we started for 2020. Working with both the performing arts and music departments lends itself perfectly to the creativity theme. And of course with the anniversary of #Apollo50, I intend to get a lot of AR inserted into the Hidden Figures film study for my year 11 students.

The other big take away was the sheer brilliance of Keynote. It is so much more than a slide deck or presentation app. I saw the capabilities of combining Keynote and AR for digital storytelling, by Paul Hamilton Then we had the brilliance of Jonathan Cho who, through Keynote and Numbers (!) showed how stories can be told in a linear or non linear way, with students choosing the narrative pathway. Students can write stories with alternative endings by linking slides. Check out their Twitter accounts for resources and ideas.

Next up we looked at how to create podcasts through GarageBand. Handy given that our year 10s will be creating podcasts this term. While on the topic of GarageBand, we had an awesome display of brilliance from John Danty , product manager and all round guru of GarageBand. I’ll be approaching our music teachers to collaborate on the end of year Create project and get their assistance with GarageBand. Not that the students seem to need it, they just get stuck in and create “sick beats.”

And of course, our mentor group, which was led by both myself and  JJ Purton-Jones We enjoyed co-leading a group of diverse educators from across our region. Being part of a group like this opens up connections that cross over language and cultural barriers. Particularly when you realise that you all have a similar goal in mind, and that is improving education for our students.

It was fantastic to connect with educators from across the Asia Pacific region. Someone said that we should prioritise sharing ideas, because that’s how we can make a dent in the world. Again, simple yet effective advice. But as I reflect on all the learning, I think it’s important to remember why we share ideas and collaborate with these awesome educators. Not for our own gain, although professional learning has been immense. Not for new content for showcase presentations. That’ll come from our classrooms. The reason is so that we are better equipped to unlock the potential in every student that we have an influence over.

As the African proverb goes, it takes a village to raise a child…but it also takes a village to educate a child. If these dynamic educators that I had the privilege to rub shoulders with are anything to go by, our students are in good hands.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


Posted in 04. Learning-focused culture, Personal TAI

Teaching as Inquiry: First Spiral

Learner agency is embedded in The New Zealand Curriculum key competencies as “the capabilities that young people need for growing, working, and participating in their communities.

“The school curriculum should challenge students to use and develop the competencies across the range of learning areas and in increasingly complex and unfamiliar situations” NZC, Ministry of Education, 2007, p. 38


The New Zealand Curriculum key competencies are about developing the dispositions and sense of agency that empower the individual, and help them better understand and negotiate the perspectives and values of others, contributing towards more productive and inclusive workplaces and societies.

With this definition in mind, I have a number of inquiries which I am keen on investigating. All in the bid to look for solutions to help students improve their outcomes. But the overarching goal is looking for ways for students to develop these skills independently. So for my inquiry I have to narrow it down to two aspects:

  1. How increased student agency can improve creativity. And
  2. How blended learning helps facilitate this.

Spirals of inquiry

I am focusing on my year 10 class. I started the year by offering wide choice and freedom to work at students’ own pace. This was met with joy from some, and trepidation from others. (One student actually rubbed her hands in glee at the mere mention of individual choice.) When a student knows their strengths, and potentially their passion, choice is like being given a gift when you were expecting a chore. These students are self motivated and are able to produce work of a very high standard. So my focus turns to the group that are not that independent. The group asking “So what should I write about?” and “How long should my story be?”

I started by giving them access to the whole year’s coursework. This helps with differentiation. So in this one download : Unlocking English they have their tasks, videos, projects and marking rubrics. Screen Shot 2019-05-07 at 10.13.15 AM

Next I went around the various groups and explained why they were being given freedom of choice. And what they could potentially do with their time. Not surprisingly, their effort and grades correlated. So term 2 brings with it more time for choice, differentiated projects and independently driven work. It already looks like, for this group of students, their motivation is up. It’ll be interesting to see how they go with their film study. My plan is to model film analysis with my chosen text. But then open it up so that students can choose their own text and follow the similar analysis format.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

In terms of a blended classroom, I am at the point in my teaching career where I have created a number of varied resources and approaches to a given project. This again helps with choice because it means students are deciding not only on the outcome, but also the path to get there. The scene is set for a student centred environment, where learning can take place in a differentiated way. Having the work in a variety of ways should facilitate learning anywhere, anytime, at any pace. But will students take up the challenge? Data will certainly give me some insight.

Results of this spiral of inquiry is the material for my next blog post.



Posted in 03. Professional relationships

How to Sketchnote with Sylvia Duckworth

We had the awesome pleasure to host Sylvia Duckworth at our school this week.


Sometimes in life, when you really look forward to something, the reality is a disappointment. Not so with this workshop. It was informative, relaxing. inspiring and engaging. Sylvia not only let us into her sketchnoting world in easy incremental steps, she also shared a wealth of resources with us through her website. In addition, I was lucky enough to win one of her books which are available from her online shop. I have found that I have used both the hardcopy resources, as well as the online links.


So why sketchnote?

The first thing I found was that it increased our focus. You are thinking about the essence of what someone is saying, and then how you can develop an icon to represent their words. Next was obviously the creativity that it unleashes. Not only are you thinking creatively, you are also producing something that is pleasing to look at. It gave us time to pause, reflect and process. And finally, and probably most surprisingly, it had a real calming effect. I found that I got lost in the moment, and I certainly wasn’t the only one.

The ways I think I’ll use Sketchnoting in the classroom:

  1. Meaningful and creative planning for essays or creative writing
  2. Character profiles
  3. Selfie Sketchnotes as an  introduction to the year
  4. Making thoughtful notes
  5. Storyboards for films
  6. Planning for static image
  7. Legitimate doodling

The list could go on and on. In terms of my use of sketchnoting, I use my whiteboard for a wrap up of lessons, or to give ‘big picture’ ideas. Now I can do it in a far more visual way.


And finally, I enjoyed the networking a day of professional development affords you. We had Sylvia from Canada, a number of primary and secondary teachers representing a variety of curriculum areas. We had three people from AUT. And even a visitor from Christchurch. And we all found benefit and links to our sphere of influence.

My final thoughts: Go on, catch the #sketchnotefever!