This year there were 371 educators from 38 countries represented in Austin. The temperature in Texas exceeded 35 degrees on most days. On others, it climbed to 40. Not that we would’ve noticed because we were grinding away on our projects in the sometimes rather chilly air conditioned rooms. Regardless of temperatures, it is always great to connect with my New Zealand teacher-friends. Donna Smith is generally the first to spark an idea, and this is normally after a casual ten minute conversation.
In addition to the Kiwi connection, it is a really humbling experience to witness the stories of inspiration from across the globe. Some teachers are utilising the accessibility features in iPads simply to allow their students to communicate with them on the most basic level. Without these features, these students would be silent.
The hashtag for the conference was #EveryoneCanCreate. There was still an emphasis on coding, but the big drive was towards getting our teachers and students to be more creative, in the largest sense of the word. The point was made that conformity is easier than creativity. I’ll be challenging my students on this one: are they taking the easy road because it’s simply that- easy? And what about our own teaching practise? Are we doing what we’ve always done? As one of the presenters said, don’t confine your students to your style of learning.
After a full day of workshops, we broke off into homeroom groups. One of the first things we had to do was define what creativity means to us. So what would you say? What does creativity mean to you? For me, at its core, creativity has freedom and choice. It also has flexibility and courage to produce your ideas. The next thing I really took away from the creativity topic is that less is more. Simplify. Simplify. Simplify. With the result, the Clips video I made (using the combined ideas from our project team, namely Donna Smith, JJ Purton Jones and myself) was clean and simple. We were pleased to see it up on the big screen as one of the nine examples used in the institute reflections on the last day.
The other big winner this year was surprisingly, Keynote. This app is no longer being used as a presentation tool. We saw the most fantastic movies, animations and inspiring ideas, all created in Keynote. The great thing is that our students are very familiar with the tool, now I’d like to get them digging way deeper into the capabilities of Keynote. In fact I thought I knew quite a bit about this tool, but there are so many as yet unused layers. This will be my mission over the coming weeks, to familiarise myself with the deeper layers. What I think was the best sharing session regarding the capabilities of Keynote was from Noah Katz If you have ever seen the graphic novel The Boat by Nam Le, this is the type of animation Noah is producing, along with his students. When I have more insight into how to do this, I will share. As I’m sure will my fellow ADEs.
Stephanie Thompson gave a fantastic spotlight session on using gender equality apps to track who speaks up in group work. She used equitymaps.com where you can download the app ($4.49: It’s a teacher app so only you need to buy it.) She found that when she started using these tracking maps, the boys dominated over the girls. You are able to chart the dialogue in group work, or in fact get the data about how much time you spend talking in a lesson. The point for group work is clear: Whose voices are not being heard? In addition, we might find that we need to develop the mantra of talk less and listen more. I wonder what the data would look like if we tracked school meetings?
But wait, there’s more! Who knew that Pages could be so exciting? My students have used the book template in Pages, but they tend to use the blank copy and work from scratch. No need to do so as all the templates are editable. Teachers can make use of smart annotation when marking, which magically anchors to the text, even if the student edits and moves text around. Hit presenter mode and the document transforms into a teleprompter. Add voice recordings and you can edit the audio directly in Pages. Mask photos with shapes for some really cool effects. To change colours, drag and drop the central dot in the colour wheel.
Next we went to a session which looked at Universal Design for Learning. They highlighted how important it is for teachers and students to get to know how the accessibility features work on our devices. This could potentially remove barriers to learning for some students. They recommended a book by John D. Couch called Rewiring Education: How Technology can Unlock every student’s potential.
Another great view, which I think will resonate with many teachers, is that digital natives do not exist. We need to actively teach digital literacy. How many times have we seen students happily producing digital work, only for us to be disappointed with the quality of the sound, visuals, or both? What I picked up is that teachers are taking time to teach these digital skills. The question is, if we stick closely to the curriculum, where do we fit digital literacy in?
John Danty of GarageBand fame was sublime. I’m no musician but even I felt inspired to investigate loops and smart drummer more closely. I’ll prompt my students to make use of GarageBand to create special effects and tracks to be used with their videos and podcasts.
We ended institute at Salt Lick BBQ, an authentic Texas experience. And a quick trip to 6th street for some of the best live music and jam sessions. My last trip was to fulfil my mission of buying some Texas boots for both Trevor Rubens and myself. I’m pleased to report: Mission Accomplished.
So finally, in sticking with the theme #EveryoneCanCreate, if creativity is higher order thinking, are we driving our students in that direction? And is our work allowing for courageous and flexible freedom to create?
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.
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.
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.”
As I suspect with most teachers, I have inquiries swimming around in my mind all the time. Looking for solutions to help students improve outcomes, that’s what we do right? And looking for ways for students to develop these skills independently. So for my inquiry I have to narrow it down to two aspects:
- How increased student agency can improve outcomes. And
- How blended learning helps facilitate this.
I am focusing on two classes, namely my year 10s and my year 11s.
My year 10s are a largely mixed ability class. They are self motivated and respond well to a relaxed environment with largely facilitation and small group discussions. They have responded well to both flipped aspects of the course, as well as in-class flipping. This helps with differentiation. I have provided them with all the course work in a book which I created in iBooks Author. Unlocking English includes tasks, videos and marking rubrics. It makes flipping aspects of the curriculum easy.
My year 11s are also self motivated and are largely driven to achieve good grades. That being said, they are a motley crew with a keen sense of humour. So although they are an academic class, they seem to be far more relaxed than classes of this nature in some previous years. They don’t seem to take themselves as seriously as I have experienced in previous years, for the most part anyway. And the biggest factor that I have noticed and that I will investigate more fully, is that they are far more independent and resourceful. I have also provided them with all the course work in a book called Engaging English. This also includes tasks, videos and marking rubrics.
So 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.
Indigenous knowledge and cultural responsiveness
I have long been a firm believer that teaching, at its core, rests on building positive relationships with our students. Bishop said that culturally responsive pedagogy can be equated to “Caring and Learning Relationships.” He also defined the culturally responsive teacher as being agentic. One who builds relationships with his or her students based on respect. Respect for a culture which potentially is different from your own. What really resonated with me was the idea of “relationship centred education.” It’s really quite simple. Build positive relationships, where you encourage Māori students to perform at high levels, as Māori.
An agentic teacher would typically have a growth mind set and reject, and challenge, deficit definitions. This system would allow all students, and in particular Māori students, to strive for success. But it must be remembered that it is authentic caring that is required.
It was also Bishop who said that education was key to bringing improvements in Māori engagement. This means that these students need to feel successful in their education. One crucial way is to make them a dominant player in their learning context. Draw on what they know, the filters through which they view the world, in order for them to make sense of the world offered to them in the classroom. With increased engagement comes increased attendance and improved achievement.
So, what does this mean for us? It means showing respect for students’ abilities while valuing their identity. It means contextualising instruction in familiar ways by using Māori language and opportunities in class. One study showed that relationships improved by the simple act of teachers attending community events and sporting activities. What is needed is targeted professional development to enable teachers to respond to the complex diversity of their students.
Our vision, mission, and core values
At our school, our vision is to graduate students who are responsible, independent, confident, proud, well-balanced and motivated. What links these adjectives is aroha, in the form of Manaaki Orewa. This underpins our goals, planning and decision making. Our mission is to provide a supportive and challenging centre of learning, the heart of Ako Orewa. And our on-going goals remain the success for Māori and Pasifika students, and those with special education needs. The vehicle for this is the links we are forging with both our cluster schools as well as our Māori community. To open communication and to facilitate face-to-face contact, we hold a hui and fono early in term 1. Contact with whanau is a vital key that is sometimes lacking for students in a secondary school. Parents are telephonically invited as email invitations were largely unsuccessful in previous years. I would say we are in the Mauri Oho state of being proactive and are making progress in both our contact and communication with whanau.
Where we could do with some consistency is school-wide activities. At the middle school, there is the expectation that the day will start, as it does for our staff briefing, with a karakiha. This is also said at assembly. Middle school students all know their mihimihi and its meaning. Teachers and students have a chance to formally introduce themselves at assembly and in class. Te Reo Māori is integrated into lessons, both visually and verbally. This is optional on the college side. Some teachers feel more confident than others at including Te Reo Māori into their everyday lessons. As with anything, the more we use language, symbols and traditions, the more comfortable we become with them. I think we have emerged from the inactive Mauri Moe stage, but not quite reached the proactive potential of Mauri Oho.
Edtalks.(2012, September 23). A culturally responsive pedagogy of relations. .Retrieved from https://vimeo.com/49992994
Potahu, T. W. (2011). Mauri – Rethinking Human Wellbeing. MAI Review, 3, 1-12. Retrieved from http://www.review.mai.ac.nz/index.php/MR/article/v
Savage,C, Hindleb, R., Meyerc,L., Hyndsa,A., Penetitob, W. & Sleeterd, C.(2011) Culturally responsive pedagogies in the classroom: indigenous student experiences across the curriculum .Asia-Paciﬁc Journal of Teacher Education, 39(3), 183–198
Teaching Tolerance.( 2010, Jun 17).Introduction to Culturally Relevant Pedagogy.. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nGTVjJuRaZ8