Posted in 02. Professional learning, Uncategorized

Teacher agency and the digital curriculum

At our school we are really consciously giving students more agency. I have found that this flexible, student centric approach optimises productivity for many students. Giving choice often promotes ownership. Surely you’ve got to own the work if you chose to do it?

But what about the teachers? Where is our agency? Are we freed up to make choices about how we work, and what we focus on?

With that in mind I led the Wednesday PD session in our English department. Instead of telling them what to work on, or sharing what I was feeling passionate about, we looked at a range of activities they could get busy with.

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The activities ranged from getting to grips with Google+ and joining the various groups, to blog categories and reducing the 12 practicing teacher categories down to six. There was time for some cross year level collaboration, and some good old NCEA pre-standard discussions .

What I personally was most keen to get started on was the Mindlab Digital Passport

This Digital Passport is designed to help both teachers and parents understand the NZ Digital Curriculum more fully It is an online course and offers videos, a very brief quiz at the end of each workshop, and additional resources or learning modules. What they do is define much of the terminology and jargon associated with the digital curriculum. They define simple algorithms and computational thinking for Years 1-3, right through to how to create apps for years 8-10. There is not enough time to learn the skills behind the concepts. Rather it is to give teachers and parents an overview of what students from years 1 through to 10 would be expected to cover. And If you like getting certificates, you can get one at the end of each of the four workshops.

In the words of the @NZDigiPassport on Twitter this is “your ticket to navigate the new digital technologies curriculum.”

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Posted in 04. Learning-focused culture, Personal TAI

Exam Results 2017: Reaching for Excellence

These results reflect the hard work and tenacity of a fantastic group of students. They link to my Teaching as Inquiry post but as that post was rather long, I have decided to analyse their results in a new post.

Although these students were enrolled in three external exams, I strongly suggested to both them and their parents that they do two of the three exams. A large proportion of the students followed this advice. This partly explains the high percentage of excellences for both the visual text exam and the unfamiliar exam.

overall

Looking at all the standards over the year, they achieved a remarkable set of results. 55% of all students in the class reached excellence for all their work. I think this is in part due to the atmosphere in the class. That they know that they have choice around how they work. That they take ownership of the level they work at. But also, that these students drive each other to do really well.

But the other aspect is the question of excellence grades: How do students get their work to excellence? Particularly intriguing in a subject like English where the marking can be very subjective.

My views are that some students are naturally good at the subject. No matter what teachers do, they will excel. But these students are, in my experience, a small minority. So how is it that 55% of all students in this class got excellence grades over the entire year? The answer is tenacity. We live in an instant society, where we expect instant gratification. So most students seem to believe that one draft is all it takes. These students do not get to excellence. Tenacity means that students are prepared to accept that the first draft is just that, a draft. And that the draft might go through a number of iterations and refinements before the final product is ready for submission.

The students in this class showed drive, determination and bucket loads of tenacity. And they can be justifiably proud of both their grades and the key competencies that they developed over the year.

 

 

Posted in 02. Professional learning, Personal TAI

Reflections on Orewa Kāhui Ako Conference 2018

There is nothing like a conference to invigorate you to start the year. This year we held our inaugural Orewa Kāhui Ako: Community of Learning Conference. It was attended by staff from all six schools in our community, with nearly 300 people taking part. Our keynote speaker was Derek Wenmoth who challenged thinking about the future of education. He was both provocative and stimulating, in both his address and his workshops based on deeper learning.

We then sent the delegates off to their workshops. There were 18 workshops in total, all run by teachers from the community. These ranged from specific curriculum areas, through to teaching and learning strategies. Some of the workshops targeted specific age groups, but most could be used and adapted to any age or curriculum area. Most workshops were run multiple times, with the goal being that we generate, promote and share practical ideas.

I ran a few workshops based on video creation, in particular I looked at the app called Clips. In fact, I was surprised to learn that I am the first ADE to run a workshop of this nature in New Zealand. But I know I am not the only one to be using and publishing material from Clips. You only need to follow the #Clips on Twitter to see how widely teachers are using it.

My promise to the delegates: They would be able to create a video that they could use in class, in under an hour. Besides the odd person who had not updated their device, the vast majority were able to do just that. The star of the one workshop was a self-proclaimed dinosaur when it comes to technology. She worked quietly and systematically, and produced a slick, fun and exciting video clip, in under an hour, which she happily showcased at the end.

The feeling in the workshops was largely one of excitement. The reason: the app is free, is accessible and easy to use. But overwhelmingly, the hurdle of the voice over is erased. Teachers can create lessons, use voice-to-text, then mute their voice if they wish. I believe that more teachers would create flipped lessons if they knew that they don’t have to appear on screen, and that they don’t have to listen to the sound of their own voice. And now they can.

I wanted to make it as easy as possible for the teachers in my workshop to get on with the task of creating their videos. So prior to the conference, I reflected on the pedagogical approaches that I have adopted over the last few years, in particular flipped video lessons, and blended learning. This has all culminated in a new online publication:

Link to Create Video Clips

Chapters include a guide to using the Clips app for the first time, a start up lesson, further lesson ideas with video resources as examples. I also included an end of year activity and some research from my literature review, as well as my Teaching as Inquiry report, all of which were based on flipped and blended learning.

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We had such fun putting this conference together. It forged relationships across the community and has given us insight into how the various year levels work. One other thing that I should mention is that we got Eat my Lunch- Buy one. Give one. to do the catering. It feels good, as you tuck into your lunch, to think that you are doing some good in the wider community. For every lunch we ordered, a needy child was being donated a free lunch.

 

Posted in 06. Teaching, Personal TAI

Teaching as Inquiry impacts my students

As we approach the end of the academic year, it is time to look at the overall data for my Year 11 class, generated through internal standards and the school exams. My hunch going into this TAI is that students should be provided with a variety of methods of instruction that suit a wide variety of working and learning styles. My main focus has been to further develop, tweak and adapt the blended and flipped approach which I started a while back. A flexible attitude helps, along with varied resources ranging from videos through to exemplars produced by my students, and a bit of everything in between. Students have been encouraged and cajoled into forging their own learning pathways.  I’m happy to say that we have been able to work on a multitude of tasks and activities all at once, and no one has run mad.

 

 

The latest craze in my class has been Design Thinking. It gives group work impetus, meaning and drives the learning forward. However, I digress, as that will form part of next year’s TAI.

Comparisons are odious, but necessary for my TAI. My basis is always my year 11 class as they are, year after year, pretty much made up of the same calibre of student and have an even gender split. As far as the internal results go, there is not much to pick between the 2016 class and the 2017 class. This year’s class did marginally better, gaining 69% of their internal credits at excellence level. I feel far more comfortable with them driving their own learning at their own pace. And I sense a greater independence from them too, like they expect to find answers and probe for questions in their groups, before turning to me. Ako Orewa asks for student agency and this is not achieved overnight. But my year 11s have displayed a remarkable ability to self manage and generate some brilliant pieces of work independently, and their grades attest to this.

 

2016                                                    2017

Next I analysed their school exams. Our school was part of the NCEA Digital Pilot exams. Not all my students did the digital exam, but a large portion did. So that does bring in a few variables compared to last year. On the whole the digital exams ran smoothly and I am pleased to say that NCEA sought feedback from the students, both before and after the exam.  Their results? Up on last year with 40% of the class attaining excellence grades, compared with 31% last year.

 

   2016                                                      2017               

A few points, as well as variables, to consider:

  1. Blended and flipped learning, with the independence it fosters, is not having a negative effect on students.
  2. I have stopped insisting that the videos be flipped out of class time. If their learning is to be ubiquitous, some of them will, and do, prepare before lessons, and others in the lesson. It generally depends on the amount of work from other subjects whether or not they want to buy time by pre-preparing work. Freedom to work their way is paramount.
  3. Maybe the fact that they could type their essays resulted in better grades.
  4. The digital exams were marked by external markers. Perhaps as a department we are stricter on our students than the external markers were?

A TAI was never designed to be scientific. My data has a number of variables. And I have not discussed all the spirals I have included over the year. But what is clear to me is that students need to be trusted to work independently, and work the way that suits them best. I have also advised my students to only do two of their three papers. With grades like these, who wouldn’t take advantage of the flexibility of NCEA? Hopefully in the years to come, externals will be optional.

 

Posted in 02. Professional learning

Design Thinking for Senior Students

My colleagues and I have returned from the uLearn17 Conference brimming with ideas and philosophies to teaching. These ideas came from the wonderful keynote speakers like Abdul Chohan and Brad Waid . Their message? Technology must be simple and reliable so that we can focus on teaching and learning. And the other great take away was when we remember that technology is powerful when students start to do things, create things. Linking all of these ideas was that the relationship with the student is more important than the tool- this won’t change. We also enjoyed the wide range of workshops. But the fantastic ideas were also sparked while in casual conversations with friends and colleagues.

I strongly believe that a dynamic, thought provoking conference has been a waste of time and money if we don’t implement something new and different in our classes. It might be something you’ve always done, but you add a new glossy edge to it. Or it might be a complete change in direction. Teachers of senior classes in New Zealand face two and a half weeks of revision before external exams begin. So I’ve decided that I’m going to apply the Design Thinking model to my revision lessons. I have to thank Richard Wells for the following graphic representation of this plan:

Next, it’s important to add time pressure, so I added these time constraints:

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My plan is as follows:
1. Get students to form groups of four. Give them post-it notes and sheets of paper or white boards.
2. Give them the issue: a range of essay topics, a different one for each group.
3. Give them time to reflect on aspects of the issue, and then share their thoughts with their group.
4. Build up a series of facts (evidence) around the issue using the whiteboards. They will need their devices at this point to access their evidence.
5. Get students to think of ways to empathise with the characters or the themes. And then share these ideas with their group. In this way they can build up the idea of judgements and can look at the author’s intention: what impact did this issue have on them, on society?
6. Select what they think would work best to define the issue, with evidence.
7. Iterate the ideas that work best together.
8. Pitch their ideas to the class.
9. Get the class to critique their ideas.

In this way, instead of simply rote learning ideas for the exams which seems pretty fruitless and boring, they will be honing their key competencies, and at the same time learning, sharing and growing their ideas. I will put a time limit on each aspect of the activity. Pace and speed are important for innovation, so I’ll put pressure on the students to come up with solutions.

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HOW THE LESSONS HAVE PANNED OUT:

The first important step was that I allowed students to work with someone of their choice, then I put pairs together, forcing them to talk to a new group of students. But more importantly, we discussed why this would be important and they came up with sound and logical reasons.

The result: I actually saw and heard students help and talk to students they had not interacted with previously. I did have to remind them after lesson one to draw out the shy voices, and perhaps shut the loud ones up. Lesson two worked far better in this regard. They seemed to “really get it” after trialling it lesson one. Today the classroom was buzzing and there were a number of positive comments. I had to remind myself that they were doing revision which is typically quiet, introspective and boring.

Next important step: Stick to the time limit given. For all nine steps, I gave a time limit. This was good as it made students work under pressure. And they produced some impressive solutions.

The result: We had FUN! Their pitch (stage 8) was the most pressurised of all. I gave them a time limit of 30 seconds to do their pitch. What I asked of them was: what is the one golden nugget you can give the class? What is the one thing that you really want them to take away? We haven’t heard from all groups yet as we ran out of time. But so far I’m pleased to say that each group has had a brilliant golden nugget. And one group actually got a standing ovation. From their peers. For revision.

Design Thinking is well worth doing, and can be adapted for so many curriculum areas. I had to really stop myself from over-using exclamation marks in this post.

Posted in 06. Teaching, Personal TAI

More data: Teaching as Inquiry: 2017

In my Mindlab studies, I did my literature review on blended learning with a specific focus on flipped lessons. So I am aware of the various definitions for both. For my TAI I have favoured the following definitions:

  1. Blended learning where all resources are online and can be accessed anywhere anytime. But with face-to-face reassurance, reinforcement and real time collaboration.
  2. Flipped learning: Depending on the students, I use the traditional video-before-class setup. But I also enjoy using the in-class flipping as the students might require those particular self-help videos as they work in class.

HUNCH: I believe that we should use a variety of methods of instruction to suit a wide variety of working and learning styles.

My resources are varied because I do not believe that there is one way that suits all. Take me for example. When I want to try out a new dish I often watch a Jamie Oliver video because they are quick, easy to follow, and can be listened to while I’m busy with something else. But there are also times when I like to read a recipe, online or even in magazines. Why would it be any different for our students? So I provide longer, dare I say it more boring videos like this one, where I unpick and unravel an exemplar. In video format you do it once, then they can access and rewind as they wish.

I also provide shorter more snappy videos like this one. These are more instructional and give the students next steps in a very quick format:

Then I load up slides, links to NCEA information and exemplars in written format. It sounds like a lot of work but, because it’s all digital, once it’s done, you only have to do it once. In this way I believe that I am giving my students every opportunity to master the work. And it’s not a one size fits all approach.

METHOD: Create independence by placing the onus on students to drive their own learning.

I have really pushed the idea of independence. I say things like: I am only one person with one view. Get your peers, your parents, other teachers to read over your work. It didn’t happen so much at the beginning of the year, but now that we’re comfortable with each other I can hear meaningful and critical conversations taking place. One boy prefers to email his dad for confirmation. A few years ago this might have intimidated me: shouldn’t I be the go-to person? But no I shouldn’t. Students should be encouraged to check their progress in a number of ways before it finally comes to me.

One of my boys is particularly critical, and quite frankly I think he likes to play devil’s advocate. But he became quite sort after as a critical friend. A classic quote came from another boy in my class. I was feeling particularly superfluous one day and possibly asked one too many times if anyone needed my help. He replied with:

We’re fine miss, we’re independent.

Great.

It takes some guts to hand the reins over and trust teenagers to get the work done, without lecturing them. Of course there are times when I stop the lot of them because they’re all missing something. We have a teachable moment, and then move on. The difference is that it’s a moment, not half an hour or even as we perhaps did in the past, an hour of me talking.

RESULTS: This is based on the year 11 text connections internal assessment.

This internal is a biggie as it spans three terms and four texts. Students can make the mistake of overwriting because they simply have so much to say. So it was a process of getting their ideas formulated, and then spending a good chunk of time editing, which is a skill in itself. No-one, and particularly teenagers, wants to delete their own creations. This is where peer evaluation was critical. The results were as follows, based on the marking from a committee of teachers as is the practice at our school:

grades

8 merits and 24 excellence grades. I was phenomenally proud of their efforts. And it was down to them. I give these students the freedom to work within a wide framework. But they need to put the effort in. They need to have the learning conversations. They need to  establish their learning goals. They need to work out what works best for them and take charge of their learning journey. But they also know that I will support them along the way. I make it very clear that the blended, flipped approach is the way we work. They simply have to get on board. Results like these makes me think that they certainly did.

 

Posted in 02. Professional learning

Apple Distinguished Educators Unite…again

 

melbourneThis will be my third post reflecting on an ADE Academy. I loved the first two held in Singapore and then in Berlin. 2017, hosted in Melbourne, lived up to all the hype and expectation. I learnt a lot, from both the product developers and my colleagues. I came back to school busting with good ideas. But I have given myself a cool down period to see if these ideas really have taken hold in my practice. And they have. What were these good ideas?

        1. 1. I loved the workshop on the app called

      CLIPS.

clips

    This is a fantastic movie creation app. Think of it as a little sister to iMovie. It’s designed for quick, on-the-go visual story telling. Add voice-to-text, voice-over narration, photos, stickers and music in a few simple taps. Students love the instant nature of this app. I recently attended a course where we had to create some form of media on leadership styles and we were given 30 minutes to do so. Using CLIPS, my group was able to publish a slick presentation, and slip out early for a cup of coffee.
              2.  Next there was a workshop on Podcasts. These are reminiscent of the old school radio serials. But this workshop also reminded me that not all students want to create visual resources. Many of them like doing the voice-over and playing with accents, rather than being ‘actors on screen.’ So students creating their own podcasts gives them another avenue for self discovery. I have recently taught a novel and was not surprised at how many students followed the words in the book, while simultaneously listening to the audio version.

podcasts

      1.           3. I gained real inspiration from two of my Dunedin based colleagues,

    Donna Smith and

      Shannon Prentice.

       They are actively pursuing cross-curricular task design in their school. They currently offer integrated studies to their year 9s, which means that one teacher offers a combined English- Social Studies curriculum. In addition to this, their drive for ensuring cross curricular links are established, has driven a collaboration between the science and English teacher. They have also established a media hub which means their students have an authentic audience.
      In addition, what really grabbed my attention was what they do with their year 9 and 10 classes at the end of the year. The year 10s are involved in a dynamic and hands-on film festival. They are given a few props, a genre, and three days of solid scripting, storyboarding, filming ad editing. To accomplish this, they are taken out of all classes for three days. This means that they had to get buy-in from a number of staff members. You can’t be the lone nut to get this one done. At the end of the three days, the films are showcased and there is a winner.
      The other really exciting initiative is that they debated the validity of year 9s doing end-of-year exams. When no one could come up with a really favourable argument in favour of exams, they replaced them with a social justice, cross curricular project. Students were given a week to brainstorm ideas for what they felt passionate about, and how they’d make changes in their community. It was no mean feat, with a developmental focus being followed every day. Again it required buy-in from a number of staff. But I think it is safe to say that the students learnt and grew far more than they would’ve if they’d been stuck in a classroom writing a two hour exam.

    social justice.png

    Finally it was time for the guest speaker, James Cuda. His story was not new. He struggled at school, not because he couldn’t understand the work, but that it simply did not appeal to him. He was an artist, a really good one. But growing up. teachers did not recognise this as a talent. Luckily he did not let this dissuade him as he went on to create one of the best art-based apps on the app store called Procreate. Not only does it allow students to add layer upon layer to create their artwork, it also runs a time-lapse in the background, capturing every brush stroke. So it is fantastic as a mind mapping tool, showing exactly where the ideas have leapt and journeyed to.

    Screen Shot 2017-08-28 at 11.24.21 AM.png

    As I reflect on this ADE Academy, I believe it is the passion which we as educators instil in our students which results in committed, connected and in their turn, passionate students.

     

     

    Posted in 06. Teaching, Personal TAI

    DATA: Teaching as Inquiry: 2017

    I have enjoyed the blended approach to teaching and learning for some time now. But this year, due to the new and improved Ako Orewa approach, I am actively giving choice and agency over to the students. For the writing standard in year 11, we have moved away from doing both creative and formal writing. And, unlike last year, I never gave the option of doing both standards. What I did ask is for students to dig deep and find what they are passionate about. And write about that. Ten students chose to do the Creative Writing standard. Six of them boys. The rest chose to tackle Formal Writing.

    Asking students to dig deep and find what they feel passionate about does force them to take ownership of their work. When you have a teenager saying: “I think I’m good at creative writing” it almost forces them to prove their point by getting on with it. And doing a good job of it. So unlike in previous years, I found that students very quickly came up with plans for their writing. I was prepared to workshop ideas, but instead, for the most part, simply listened to their good ideas and then told them to get on with it.

    With the formal writing I found much the same thing. I had students writing about Tibet, New Caledonia and the migrant crisis in Europe. And it took them no longer than a lesson to come up with their topics. When I dug a little I found that they all had a deeply personal connection to the topic. So what we were able to work on was personal teenage voice. This took the work from good formal, factual writing to another level as it was infused with an authentic teenage flavour. With some encouragement, I found that they were adding details like the following:

    I am Tibetan, and my grandma was in Tibet when China took over and was there when they were under China’s rule. My grandma fled Tibet through the Himalayas to India and had to leave all her possessions in her home. She said that the Chinese once came and took all the males and said that they would help them, and so this left all the woman and gathered them into a group. This is when she escaped and went through the Himalayas with her children and a small amount of food, as they left most of their livestock back where they used to live. Many children on the road died due to malnutrition and so, because they were weak, they either died from malnutrition or they died from illnesses and diseases such as chicken pox. Due to the shortage of food my grandma and the group she stayed with went to villages and ended up trading expensive jewellery for simple cups of rice or flour. And when they had traded all their jewellery and what else they had left, they had to beg for food from the villagers. (Year 11 Student)

    But the real test is always when the grades are returned. We do not mark our own students’ work which really helps with moderation and equity across the standards. Suffice it to say I had some pleased students with the following grades:

    I found these students to be independent, resilient and happy to rely on feedback from people other than myself. They shared their work with family members and peers for both critiquing and feedback.

    And in this age of concern over boys’ writing, I am pleased to report that out of the 14 boys in the class, 11 got excellence.