Posted in 03. Professional relationships

Reflections on uLearn18/ uAko18

This year I am pleased to say that Orewa Kāhui Ako was well represented at uLearn18. We had 17 delegates from across the community, two presentations and one fantastic gala dinner. Across school leaders presented on the journey we have  covered so far. And Fleur Knight from Orewa College presented with several students included in the presentation to give student voice.IMG_3396

The three focus strands to uLearn18 were: Capability. Community. Change. MC for the conference was the dynamic and enthusiastic Stacey Morrison  She has fantastic stage presence and knows how to woo a crowd.

Day one kicked off with the first of three keynotes. Dr Hana O’Regan spoke about:  “Let your story be heard in the heavens, and your mana restored to the lands.” Hana’s focus was on contesting and resisting Māori stereotypes in order to do justice to learners, their futures and their outcomes.

The next keynote was by Pasi Sahlberg of Finland who spoke about small versus big data. “If you don’t lead with small data, you’ll be led by big data.” Small data is processed by humans, and reveals causation, collective wisdom and understanding the present. As opposed to big data which looks at big trends, processed by computers, reveals correlations and predicts the future. Big data spews out impersonal trends, where small data gives a more personal view. You can strengthen small data by using professional wisdom as evidence. Pasi asked students from a number of schools, across multiple continents, to draw a typical maths teacher. This is what they commonly thought: Unstylish males whose sole purpose in life is to solve equations. His point was that students arrive at class with stereotypes and preconceived ideas, often born out of the beliefs of their parents. We can use this evidence or small data to make changes in our own classes.

Portrait of the Typical Maths Teacher

Day three ended with a beamed in hologram of Mike Walsh from America. Mike is a futurist and his keynote was both provocative and inspirational. Computational thinking starts with problem solving, and then leads to which tools to use to solve the problem. His challenge for us driving forward is that students should be able to answer the following question: “Can you make good decisions in ambiguous conditions?”

I attended a breakout by Philippa Antipas on student wellbeing. She said that we should be in a youth-adult partnership when it comes to wellbeing. Students should be active agents in their day at school. And perhaps most importantly, a reminder that you can’t nurture the wellbeing of others unless you are a well being yourself.

Next I attended a workshop based on PBL. It was introduced by a year 9 student who loves working in this independent way. She felt her learning was enhanced because she understood why she was learning certain concepts. Nicholas Pattison, her teacher, said that PBL should have the following factors:

  1. Access to outside expertise
  2. Access to necessary resources
  3. Projects should lead naturally to career education
  4. They should provide authentic experiences for the students

Nicolas had this as his parting quote: “If we want a modern education system, we need to think in different ways. We need to work with communities and iwis.”

Karen Boyes led a session on Visible Learning. There are 8 Cultures of Thinking:IMG_04353DE6434F-1

Each strand is important. But to highlight a few, she said  that we need to give students time to struggle. Don’t ask a question, and a second later answer it for them. They will never develop a growth mindset if we do this continuously. Rather, provide wait time and think time. Just like a computer takes time to download large files, so too we should give students time to process ideas. Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work! Is this true for your students? Interactions: What do you want students to unconsciously learn from you? Use inclusive words like ‘us’ ‘we’ and ‘our.’

One of my favourite breakout sessions was by a school that went to Finland to find out more about the Finnish education system. My take is that the Finnish teachers seem to keep things uncomplicated. No bells, because teachers decide when their classes need a break. No uniform rules. Less is more: Little homework, short days, lots of play, long family holidays. Children are encouraged to be independent from a very early age. Nothing happens or changes in Finnish schools unless it is backed by research. They believe in early intervention which will save money in the long run. So, don’t wait for the child to fail before they get the help they need. Classrooms are simplified and de-cluttered to promote calmness. They promote activated learning which means increased physical activity during and between lessons. Active citizenship is promoted by students (as young as 6 years old) running their own meetings with a chairperson and secretary taking minutes. This is done independently of teachers. One of my favourite take aways: teachers are encouraged to have active meetings. They tackle issues while out for a walk together. On my reading list: Finnish Lessons by Pasi Sahlberg.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Sandy, Lesley and I ran a breakout called “From Community Schools to a Kāhui Ako.” We prepared a card game and that was to be followed up with discussion about the successes and pitfalls we have encountered along our journey.  It was an interactive session with many pertinent questions. We looked at our starting point, which was setting up face-to-face meeting time, which we feel is a real strength of our Kāhui Ako. We moved on to the surveys we ran and the results, through to our focus groups and the strides we have made with these areas. Finally we looked at what we hope to achieve over the next two years, which is clarity and acceptance by the wider Orewa Kāhui Ako community. Time galloped along and before we knew it we were faced with our final keynote address. And uLearn18 was at an end.

Of course the one detail I have left off, the gala dinner. The theme this year was “Under the Big Top.” There was the predicted number of clowns and ring leaders, and even a few rogue lions. We were blown away by the entertainment: trapeze artists dangling from the ceiling. Our group went as the Bearded Ladies and it was a fun way to end the conference. I think I speak for all when I say how grateful we are for PD opportunities like this, and the camaraderie that you build up along the way is priceless.





Posted in 03. Professional relationships, Uncategorized

Visit to NZQA in Wellington



This slideshow requires JavaScript.

A representative from New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA) visited Orewa College and spent a couple of hours in my class. The aim was to see how teachers and students are accessing and utilising technology in the classroom. He then invited me to run a session in Wellington, and this took place on Friday 22nd June.  

The session involved 12 National Assessment Facilitators, and some other members of Secondary Examinations. Secondary Examinations is the team responsible for the development of the NCEA and NZ Scholarship examinations and the marking of those exams.  They will be the team responsible for the development and marking of digital exams and will be responsible for delivering on NZQA’s goal of using technology as the catalyst to transform assessment. One of the principles they are trying to adhere to, with regard to the digital examinations, is that they reflect what is happening in the classroom. This session provided an opportunity for the team to gain some insights into how teachers are using technology, not as the focus, but as the instrument to enhance their students’ learning.

I travelled down to Wellington and presented the Orewa College journey from the perspective of my classroom. The focus began with the optional BYOD in 2010, through to the current system where technology fits comfortably into our daily work. We looked at how students access their work, and what teachers need to do to engage their students. We discussed how, as a staff, we do still share good apps and websites. But it is far more about changing pedagogy to suit the situation. It is more about students taking ownership of their learning and finding out what works best for them, and working at their pace. And we looked at how it helps to be flexible enough to allow and promote student choice.

The slideshow above is a summary of the points I raised, looking at my preferred way of working with technology, as well as that of the students. The whole exercise, putting the presentation together, and delivering it, was a reminder of how far we have progressed over the past few years.

It is encouraging to know that NZQA is actively visiting classes and seeking understanding from teachers, as they strive to improve the examination process for our students.



Posted in 03. Professional relationships, Applied Practice in Context

Crossing boundaries and making connections


If the interdisciplinary approach to teaching and learning has been around for decades, why have we not embraced it? And what’s the goal? Mathison and Freeman (1997) said that the goal is to help students synthesise discrete information and connect knowledge to everyday needs, applying learning methods to real life situations. To do this, connected curriculums have strong global interests and are organised around global issues. Fast forward to the 21stcentury and that is exactly what is demanded by our workplace. We want people who can think critically and problem solve, can communicate and are independent, and that are creative innovators.

I have two near-future goals. In collaboration with two teachers on the South Island of New Zealand, I set up a website called Breaking Silos. It’s simple really. A website where teachers from all disciplines can post resources, with the aim of finding links between disciplines. In a discussion with a maths colleague, we found a strong link between Year 12 maths and Year 12 carpentry. There is also a strong correlation between statistics and essay writing which needs developing. Unfortunately, a resource like this only really gains impetus when teachers are talking to each other about it, even if it’s only on Twitter. So, it’s still in its infancy. My near-future goal is to really push this idea of a shared resource-bank forward. I think it would be beneficial to both staff and students if we were aware of how connected our curriculum actually is.

To help facilitate these sorts of discussions we have set up Professional Learning Groups (PLGs) which are interdisciplinary. We spent some quality time together on call-back days and regularly meet. We have also set up Google Classrooms where teachers can post resources, pose questions and flip meetings. Interestingly, I have found that the staff that are quiet in the meetings are the most vocal on-line. Reminiscent of students? We do not have interdisciplinary studies at the school. But we have started to combine pedagogical approaches and, through Ako Orewa, we have a shared language of learning.

The challenges we face are that there can be “integration confusion.” In addition to an increasingly challenging workload, to effectively combine curriculums will take time and effort. It will also take a huge change in mind set to get college specialist teachers to “transcend disciplines towards a more interconnected vision of the universe” (Mathison and Freeman, 1997). But we have started the conversation. We are also in the process of introducing spirals of inquiry into our PLGs which will help facilitate these ideas. The more we combine pedagogical approaches with the goal of helping students synthesise discrete information, the more effective we will be.

My other near-future goal revolves around the Community of Learning: Kāhui Ako (CoL) we have established between the college and schools in the district. Fogarty’s 1991 model which looks at “Fragmented” to “Networked” springs to mind. For so long we have taught in our individual silos in colleges. But even greater than that, we have these whole ecosystems of schools that are in close proximity to each other, but never the twain shall meet. With our Communities of Learning we have an exciting network of avenues to find out what strategies work. To ask why it is that some teachers are having more success than others. We can finally tap into and develop expertise, not only in our own sphere of influence. But in our case across six primary, middle and high schools.

I have no doubt that the task is a complex one. But if the only thing we get right at the outset of this CoL is to see beyond our own expertise to the “empathetic horizon” and we start to cross pollinate our ideas, we would have started the move from “fragmented” to “networked.”

And if the students develop interdisciplinary pathways which leads to “independent confident individuals who learn how to learn” we would’ve made a start at crossing boundaries and making connections (Duerr,2008).



Jones, C.(2009). Interdisciplinary approach – Advantages, disadvantages, and the future benefits of interdisciplinary studies. ESSAI7 (26), 76-81. Retrieved from

Mathison,S.. & Freeman, M.(1997). The logic of interdisciplinary studies. Presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association, Chicago, 1997. Retrieved from

Ross Institute. (2015, July 5). Ross Spiral Curriculum: An Interdisciplinary Approach to Science.  Retrieved from

Thomas McDonaghGroup. ( 2011, May 13). Interdisciplinarity and Innovation Education. Retrieved from



Posted in 03. Professional relationships, Professional development

ADE 2015 Institute Revealed

ADE Class of 2015

My friend Chris Wells, who also happens to be a collegue, and I were fortunate enough to be accepted as Apple Distinguished Educators, class of 2015. This meant that we could go to the institute in Singapore and these are my observations. The professional development and personal growth we experienced was priceless. The following video is a 5 minute snap shot of our experiences.




Each morning we began with stories from teachers from across a number of Asia Pacific countries. Inspiring stories which were linked by a common theme: it’s about having a passion for teaching, regardless of age or nationality. Teachers from a variety of backgrounds are flipping their lessons with incredible results and increased engagement. Blogging is the norm for both students and teachers. Multi touch, interactive books find students investigating and thinking for themselves. And a common thread was that teachers really have to have a growth mindset.  A teacher from Japan said that school should not be viewed as a place where only the students learn. Teachers need time to learn too, emphasising the need for professional development. Another teacher quoted Mike Tyson when describing teaching in a connected classroom. He said:

Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face: be prepared to adapt.


Bill Frakes

You might or might not recognise the name, but a quick Google search of Bill Frakes’ photography will probably show that you recognise his work. He is a Pulitzer Prize winning photographer and we were fortunate to have a master class with him. Yes he has all the equipment to take some stunning images, but he also said that a smart phone and an app like Snapseed can yield some wonderful images. His view on taking good photos:

Take a slow walk with your eyes wide open and your heart engaged.

What struck me about him was his passion for his profession and his humility. He has spent time with and taken photos of heads of counties, the pope, and me. It must have taken him hours to take photos of the entire class of 2015. But he seemed to take time and care with each one of us. 

Image courtesy of

On what motivates him he said:

I’m focused. I have a voice and I need to use it.


The developers of both these amazing apps took to the stage and they did a work flow type demonstration creating a movie and accompanying music in real time. It made me think that I never want to resort to using theme music again. And certainly encourage my students to dig into their creative sides to create their own brand of music. 


The next highlight for me was the lessons on design in learning, and by that I mean the resources that we and the students create. The message was that our resources should be clear, crisp and clean in order to create interest. In the words of Einstein: Everything should be as simple as possible, but no simpler.

We have been encouraged to stay connected with our fellow ADEs. We are all also in the process of creating  an iBook or iTunes U course based on our ‘One Best Thing.’ I think it’s a great way to share resources with a global network of hardworking and passionate teachers. So to sum up, the experience was uplifting and inspiring. I firmly believe that we are moving in the right educational direction.


Posted in 03. Professional relationships, TAI, Uncategorized

The P Word

Yes, I’m talking about PUNCTUATION. That little loved punctuation lesson that gets English teachers hot under the collar. i love apostrophe’s. Aargh! Capital letter for I. And don’t add an apostrophe every time you see an s at the end of a word. “Don’t get me started on direct speech!” she screeched. 

Love it or hate it, punctuation has to be correct. Right? So I’ve started a crusade. One YouTube video at a time. This week it’s the lowly capital letter. Next week we move to the lofty apostrophe. Onwards and upwards through all the punctuation rules. Hopefully by flipping the information and following up with Kahoots, we’ll win the punctuation battle! Or is it ?,./():;

So the crusade continues. The lofty apostrophe has been sent into a number of homes across the city disguised as a YouTube video. Woe betide the student who misplaces this sneaky little punctuation mark. 

Posted in 03. Professional relationships, 06. Teaching

How does the use of Ako and mentoring/facilitating at senior level improve results?

This is our department TAI. It’ll be interesting to see how the students respond to project based learning And mentoring and if their results do in fact improve.

Two questions that have been posed:

What does the driving question focus on?

It looks at mentoring and the need for time for students to develop their work. The driving question should help with their understanding of the judgements they are expected to make. So our driving questions should be broad and challenging. The work should require students to use technology well. There should be showcasing of student work on blogs. But they should also be peer teaching. The best form of peer teaching is when they choose who to teach and how to teach, rather than being paired up. My class has divided themselves into about  eight groups. They have the same driving question but each group has a focus area to work on. I have encouraged them to follow, to some degree, the PEEL method in their response. How they gather and process the ideas in the focus groups is up to them. As is the way they present the information to the other groups. I will post their responses in the next few days. I have made myself available as a mentor and have advised certain parts of the text to focus in on. But at this stage they are working pretty independently which is ultimately the goal.

What does Ako mean to me?

Ako is looking at how students think and learn. It’s about having a common language of learning. It’s also about students knowing the process that they are undertaking. Gathering should not take up class time because we know we live in a connected world. We all have access to the work so why waste class time gathering if this can be done beforehand? That leaves us more time to do the processing and applying. Which will hopefully take care of the third part of the question which is: improve grades!

Ako needs to be revamped to align with technology use in the class. This is currently under review.

Posted in 03. Professional relationships, education, Professional development

Differentiation extends to teachers’ PD sessions

Our staff and students are on the blogging journey with WordPress being the preferred blog site. We have been dividing the PD sessions into two groups to work on and develop our own blogs. But on reflection, we feel that the PD groups were too large to be effective. So what is plan B? Differentiate! We should have three groups:

1. The group that already have WordPress blogs and need help with embedding YouTube, adding photos and want to discuss any issues relating to setting up and managing student blogs.

2. The group that would like to set up blogs on their own. I have done an Explain Everything step-by-step guide to assist with this. All they would need is a set of head phones. Remember to hit the pause button if the video is getting ahead of you.

3. The group that would prefer someone to work closely with them. There will be a few of us to help with this.

Setting up a blog is easy. Setting up a blog with categories (subjects) is more complex. But that is what we expect our students to do, and they are successfully setting their sites up in this way. So it is a worthwhile exercise for us to go through. Students have a ‘go to‘ place to showcase media rich content.