Learning is....
Planting a seed in our brain... learning to water, nurture and grow it.... so we can live on the fruit of our learning and plant more seeds.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Ken Shelton - Keynote One at ULearn13 - Inspire and Motivate Through Transformational Teaching and Learning

I've attended the last two ULearn conferences in Rotorua (2011) and Auckland (2012), so it was exciting to have ULearn in my own backyard of Hamilton and getting to sleep in my own bed still.

First up, as the opening Keynote speaker, was Ken Shelton, an Apple Distinguished Educator, a Google Certified Teacher and a Discovery STAR Educator.  Click here to go to the profile put up by Core Education to introduce Ken.

And this is what I got from Ken's speech (click here to watch for yourself):

Inspire and Motivate Through Transformational Teaching and Learning
  • How have we changed our learning?  When we or our kids want to learn something now, we go to You Tube - this is where we learn and get entertainment.  We have changed our physical spaces we learn in.  We learn from the web.  Technology has transformed, and our accessibility to learning with technology has changed, evolved.
  • Learning needs to be fun - Ken showed a video of how people tried to get people to use the stairs more than an escalator at a subway station by turning the stairs into a piano.  Click here to watch.  How do we transform, modify, something for our students and colleagues?
  • Why would we as educators want to do any form of transformation in our teaching, in education, in our physical space?
  • Sometimes change is just changing one simple thing to get a massive change.
  • Engagement is a reason for change.
  • Ken Shelton gave a shout out to #kidsedchatnz on Twitter where children engage in conversations on Twitter about their learning.
  • When we do any type of transformation we stand a greater chance of increasing the engagement of our students in their learning.
  • Technology can be used as inspiration.  Ken uses videos to often inspire, Go Pro videos, to encourage students to express themselves within each discipline of study, e.g. investigating physics through skateboarding.
  • Technology is not the be all and end all - it is a mechanism for transformation.
  • Ken showed a video, Zack Matere Growing Knowledge, where Zack explains how he used the internet to solve the problem of diseased potatoes, helped a friend to build a windmill, and to provide information for a notice board to give information to people in his village.  Zack used the internet as a mechanism for transformation.
  • Creativity is essential in learning, and Ken spoke about how Sir Ken Robinson is one of the biggest proponents of creativity in learning.
  • Transformation is a key to creativity and vice versa.
  • Children need opportunities to write and/or create content.  Creating content is more than writing a story.... it can be creating a video.
  • Children need to publish.
  • Give students opportunities to decide how to use their content and how their content knowledge will be assessed - publishing online helps students to be self-critical and self-evaluate their own writing.
  • Technology is no more dangerous now than bicycles were in the 1800s. It's about preparing the environment.
  • It's not simply the inclusion of Technology such as word processing in learning - it is the amplification of the use of Technology such as the use of blogging.
  • What will I attend that will transform my learning and teaching?
  • Destination unknown - when we embark on change we do not necessarily know where we will end up.  The look on the children's' faces when they 'change' is worth the risk.
  • Kids work needs to be seen - it doesn't have the same impact if other people don't see it. We have to help create the audience for our kids.
  • This video is of an explorer of the modern kind.  Andrew Vanden Heuvel used Google Glass to take a class in the US on a physics field trip to Cern, Switzerland, where they/he could directly ask the scientists and engineers there about this massive machine investigating how our world came into being.  How inspiring is that?  (And I'm guessing Google Glass will be in our classrooms of the future...)
  • Creating authentic opportunities for connection part of the deal and often overlooked by teachers.
  • "Everyone can publish and everyone will." - Vice President of Google.
  • Ken told us here about Inspiration and Creativity: Next Vista for Learning where people  submit a short quality videos that explains something and is copyright free (including music) for several competitions throughout the year.
  • You have to have the content knowledge to produce a video.
  • Have to know the process of how to make a video
  • Have to know and understand copyright, free use, etc.
  • Ken used this video as an example of what can be found on the Next Vista site and as an expectation for entries to their competitions.  Ken uses these videos to inspire his own students to create and do better.
  • Publishing process just as important as the publishing itself.
  • Just inclusion:  "I let the children use technology and type their stories up in Word/Publisher/Google Docs".
  • Amplification:  publishing on a blog or creating and posting a video - ramping it up.
  • Transformation:  what's going on in your classroom, how the kids are learning, how we are learning, what we are doing, how are we collaborating, how are we connecting?
  • Ken used wordsift.com to create a 'picture' of the words that we fed back to Ken through his back channel as he spoke.

  • Find workshops that will help you change and transform something in your teaching.
  • Are you risk assertive or risk divertive? The greater the risk the greater the reward.
  • Technology is about enabling collaboration and creativity.
  • Publish for transformation more than inclusion or engagement.
  • It's amplification that leads to the transformation.
  • Would you like kids to learn from Wikipedia or a primary source? Ken couldn't take kids to Juno Alaska to meet the elders and hear the stories, but he could arrange to Skype people from there. 
  • We, the teachers, need to be published too - both teachers and students.

A day after posting....

So I have been reflecting on this post today.... It felt like I hadn't really given it a conclusion.  So, like a good writer does, I've come back to revisit this post and add on the conclusion I feel I need to give it.

So what did I take home from listening to Ken Shelton speak?

  • Change doesn't have to be big.  A small change can have a significant impact on how and what we learn.  Don't be afraid to make a small change to amp things up, to get some form of transformation.
  • Have fun when learning and make learning fun.
  • Use technology to inspire and as a tool to create.

Saturday, 2 November 2013

Yesterday I made a mum cry with joy.

Yesterday I made a mum cry with joy.
That's much better than making them cry because they've suddenly found out their beloved child isn't where they thought he was in his learning - which was a situation she and I had earlier in the year.
But what these two incidents confirm for me is how important communication and honesty between the teacher and parents are.
Earlier in the year I was telling this parent that her child was below where she had been told he was last year and that I had great concerns for his learning.  I had to take him backwards to move him forwards.
All year I've looked at this child with great concern, face palmed when he just "didn't get" some fairly simple concepts or instructions, growled when he didn't get on with it, redirected him when he was lost, chunked it down, set smaller goals to achieve, showed him a few tricks, explicitly taught him how to do something... yep... the full spectrum!
But lately it seems a little spark has ignited in this young chap. The boy who sat there saying nothing now occasionally pops out a one liner that makes you stop and stare, has the answer to a question and isn't too timid to say it.  The boy who struggled to put pen to paper writes half a page.  The boy who didn't want to read at the beginning of the year now tells his mum he likes it better than maths and is excited to come to reading.  Now I've got to reignite his maths joy!!
Last week we had parent/teacher learning conversations (conferences).  I showed his mum the testing I'd done the week before on basic facts stages.  His mum fed back to me about his basic facts homework and we made the decision together to give her boy the homework for the level he has yet to achieve plus the homework for the next level to motivate him.  When we spoke yesterday she told me he was loving it and I had seen during our marking session that day that he was onto it with the next level.  But our big goal for both levels is to get him working at speed.
I have to say some of the other children in the class were a bit envious that this one child was getting to do two levels of maths for homework.
So let's fast forward to this week.  I've been testing the kids on their essential spelling lists (thanks NZCER) for the fourth time this year. At the beginning of the year this boy was struggling to get through lists three and four.  Last term we attempted list five for the first time.  He blew that list out of the water this week, so I tried him out on list six and was pleasantly surprised.  So I said to him, "Mate, I'm so proud of what you've done in your spelling.  I want you to try list seven.  I don't care what score you get, I just want to see what you're doing with the words at this level."  He agreed that was a good idea and he did it.  If I'd tried that in February I would have fried his brain, but now he is ready for it because his confidence has grown so much!!
I have to say that despite his score for list seven being low I was greatly encouraged as he was so close on so many words.  Like I said, things are starting to click for this boy.  He's that little bit older and that little bit more mature and it's starting to come together for him.
But I could never have done this by myself.
I've had support from a teacher aide in my classroom who casts that extra set of eyes over all the children (not just the one she's employed to work with) and alerts me to what I'm too busy to see at times.
I've had a really positive RTLB who works with two other children in my class who I bounce ideas off about the other children I worry about.  That has been great to have as well.
But the most important relationship that I have developed to help this boy, apart from my relationship with him of course, is with his mum.  It was starting honest communication, keeping up those casual interactions at the school gate with little updates and the odd email home as well as the more formal things like the conferences and the Achievement Books that I sent home a few weeks ago.  Through these interactions I learn more about the child and what he thinks and needs from me, and this goes hand in hand with what I see him do in class, in my teaching groups and in his work and assessments.
Teaching is all about relationships.  Relationships between the kids and relationships between the kids and the teacher; relationships with the parents; relationships with colleagues.  These relationships help me to be a better teacher to help the children I teach, because I really can't do the best for them by myself. 
So yesterday was a warm fuzzies moment I'll treasure as much as his mum does.

Saturday, 5 October 2013

World Teachers' Day - Why I am a teacher.

Today is World Teachers' Day.  Normally I used this blog as my reflection of what I do in the classroom.  But today I would like to reflect on teaching as a profession and why I choose to be a teacher and continue to choose to be a teacher despite the GERM infecting our quality public education system.

The launch of World Teachers' Day in Gisborne 5th October 2013.
The launch of a year of promoting teaching as a profession and quality public education (that hasn't been affected by GERM) happened this morning on the beach in Gisborne, on the east coast of the North Island in New Zealand, with launches to happen, as October 5th dawns around the world, in Paris and New York as well.

A teacher friend yesterday posted on Facebook to have a Happy Teachers' Day (Hallmark: cue new card/money making opportunity) and try not to mark anything.

That got me thinking, because between two conferences and car maintenance and a planning day with my fellow staff members, I don't have many opportunities to either relax and recharge or get organised in my class during this term break for the upcoming term four.  So instead of marking or photocopying or whatever, I am choosing to blog about why I am a teacher.

I decided to become a teacher when I was about 15 or 16.  Before that, in my very formative years, I had ideas of being Wonder Woman, a doctor or a fireman (gender issues weren't high in my thoughts then), or even the fifth member of ABBA!!!  Later on as I left primary school and was making my subject choices for high school, being a lawyer was my goal.  Thankfully I changed my mind from that, decided that being a teacher was a much better option, and here follows the list of why:
  • I like children.  They are usually a lot of fun to hang out with.  They are funny and get pleasure out of the most unexpected things.
  • I never wanted to fully grow up.  I reckon the best teachers are the ones that still have something childlike about them.  We don't all have the same childlike 'thing' as each other, because we are all individuals after all, and if we all have different childlike qualities it gives each teacher that 'thing' that will connect with the individual children we teach who need that 'thing'.
  • I love learning.  Teachers don't know everything - yet.  Sometimes we decide to teach a unit we know stuff all about, so it sends us off on our own learning, doing research.  Sometimes we learn beside the children, discover new things as they are discovering.  Even with units that I have done for years, like my Anzac Day unit, I learn something new each and every year.
  • I love being creative.  It's more that doing things like art or music or dance or drama.  You can be creative with how you display things in the class.  You can be creative with the activities the children do before, during and after their reading.  You can be creative with ICT.  You can even be creative in mathematics!!  Listening to Prof Yong Zhao this week reinforced my belief that teachers are creative people.
  • I love seeing the children get that "a-ha" moment and to celebrate their progress.  For most children they make good, steady progress and that gives me a great sense of achievement.  For some others a switch is flicked because things finally click.  Love it.
  • I love introducing ICT into the classroom and seeing how the children take it on board as a learning tool and a way to create new things.
  • I love seeing how the children grow and develop and change.  I'm lucky enough to still be in contact with some previous students or to bump into them when I am out and about and I am in awe of what they have done.  Some have gone to the USA on scholarships for tennis, golf and volleyball.  One has become a radio DJ (apt, as he talked an awful lot).  Some have followed their parents into farming.  Some have become parents.  Some are at university or tech.  Some have represented their province in a variety of sports or joined the National Secondary School Band.  If they have made it through to adulthood in one piece I am extremely proud of them, whatever they have done or where ever they are - once a kid in my class, always one of my kids.
  • I love meeting with other teachers and sharing about what amazing things our children have done, said, learned or created; talking about the challenging children and sharing ideas on how to help them; sharing about the great learning we have, are or are about to do.  Then there is are also the professional, theoretical and industrial discussions we have as well.
So on World Teachers' Day, I want you as a teacher to reflect on why you are a teacher; and if you aren't a teacher, please reflect on your favourite teachers and why they were your favourite teachers.

You know, when I come to think about it, some days being a teacher is like being like Wonder Woman.

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Newsboard... or Current Events

Many moons ago I went to a literacy course run by Jill Eggleton.  One of the many things she showed us to improve literacy in our class was the Newsboard, aka, Current Events. 

And this is not the old fashioned getting the kids to bring in a newspaper cutting - although that does have it's place. 

No, this Newsboard not only endeavours to widen children's minds of what is happening in the world, but to develop thinking, visual and oral language skills, as well as cover many specific teaching points of writing and reading literacy.  I also find that the Newsboard gets the children initiating conversations at home on the topics we cover and taking greater interest in the 6 o'clock news or the newspapers that come into their homes.  Ever since I have always used this in my class.

I use this for the following reasons to improve literacy:

Current Events awareness it is important for the children to become aware that there is more to the world than their family and their school.  Through Current Events they can learn about important people in their community, country and the world.  In the example illustrated to the right, I took this opportunity to discuss the passing of one of New Zealand's fore most artist and the kind of art he was involved in.  I normally only reserve colour pictures for really important events, but you can not look at art in black and white... hence the colour.

It is a great way to introduce the children to new vocabulary.  You are teaching them to read new words and the meanings of them.  It is also a great way to reinforce dictionary skills.  Really important stuff like using guide words, identifying which definition (if there is more than one) applies to the sentence, root words, prefixes, suffixes.....
As you can see here I have looked at prefixes (pink) and the differences between English English and American English, as well as the meanings of some new vocabulary.
 My focus on this page was looking at why we can use capital letters - in this case for the names of Awards, authors/names and book titles.  We were also reading as a read-to book My Brother's War so it was quite timely that these awards came out.  By the way I do recommend My Brother's War.  It is set during WWI and tells the story of two brothers, one who volunteered and one who was a conscientious objector, and their expriences of WWI.  I read it to my class of 8-13 year old children (Years 4-8).  One of the great things about this book is how it uses letters and switches between the two brothers stories.  One of the girls in my class even asked her mum to buy her the book so she could read it for herself and another is now reading my copy in her down time.
In the above example, not only have I looked at new vocabulary, but I have also looked at how brackets can be used to give more information.
The Newsbook is a great way to model using thinking tools.  Above you can see how I have used Tony Ryan's Thinkers Keys, in particular the "What if?" key to get the children thinking about what they would save first if their home caught on fire, due to government Minister Paula Bennett saving her cabinet papers when her house caught on fire.
In this example you can see I am using De Bono's Thinking Hats and Gardner's Multiple Intelligences to generate the childrens' thinking.  In this case we looked at the benefits (yellow hat) of having running water in public loos and explored all the names we could think of for a toilet.
In this example I've used De Bono's Thinking Hats again.  I choose this topic for the day as we allow scooters and skateboards at our school, but don't enforce the use of helmets or other protective gear.  We used our judgement (black) hat to say whether or not we should used helmets and protective gear at school and then the children justified the benefits (yellow hat) of having said gear at school or not.  Afterwards we rang my mother who is the Trauma Nurse Co-ordinator at Waikato Hospital to find out what sort of injuries we could get from scooter crashes.  You will note that we all looked at how we use letters to shorten the names of things, i.e. ACC for Accident Compensation Corporation.  By the way, the kids did not come around to my way of thinking for wearing protective gear at school.
As you can see in this example I introduced the idea of Blooms Taxonomy into our thinking about the very contentious topic of Ask.FM.  Ask.FM has been in the media a lot over the last few months due to worries by young people, parents, educators and internet guardians over the way this social media can be used to bully.  My class (hopefully) are too young to be interested in this social media, but I wanted to introduce it to them like this to reinforce some notions on cyber safety and to hopefully get them to start a conversation at home.  In the example above you can see I have used the skills analyse, evaluate and understand from Blooms Taxonomy to get the children thinking about the implications of bullying and social media together.
Where in the world are we?  Where is that place they're talking about - is it in the South Island?  Why do American's think New Zealand is part of Australia and that kangaroos live here?  One of the visual literacy skills I think is really important for children to learn is how to read a map.  I personally love maps, and I think that was instilled in me by the teacher I had from Standard 2-4 (years 4-6).  The example above was from when our Prime Minister John Key went to visit the leaders of several Central and South American countries.  I wanted my class to see and understand where those places were.  There are a few simple map reading skills I think are important:
  • find New Zealand on a world map.
  • find key places in New Zealand on a New Zealand map, e.g. important cities (Auckland, Hamilton, Wellington, Christchurch, Dunedin...), identify the main islands (North, South and Stewart), identify major water ways (Pacific Ocean, Tasman Sea, Cooks Strait, Waikato River, Lake Taupo...), find our significant mountains (Mt Ruapehu, Mt Cook...).
  • know where the place they come from is.
  • be able to know where some key countries in the world are that are important to New Zealand, e.g. Australia, USA, Canada, Japan, China, UK, France, South Africa and Argentina (after all the All Blacks play those last three countries fairly regularly).
  • know how to identify the capital city of a country.
Consequently maps of New Zealand, the world and specific parts of the world will feature to help give my students context of the event that has happened.  This example above was quite fun, figuring out how a Chihuahua got from Avondale to Whangarei on her own (De Bono's red hat - using our intuitions) combined with identifying where Auckland and Whangarei are (map reading).
And another combination of map reading skills and De Bono's black thinking hat to make judgements on how a life threatening situation was handled so poorly by a health worker.
One very fun part of visual literacy is cartoons.  I love bringing cartoons into the situations and discussing the humour behind them, how the cartoonist has enhanced specific physical features of individuals involved to give them character, how different objects in the cartoon can be used to illustrate or symbolise other ideas, and how pictures can symbolise some classic language features - such as the foot in mouth in the top cartoon above and the scraping the bottom of the barrel in the bottom cartoon.

And one of the greatest mysteries to us in the weather.  In New Zealand we are obsessed with the weather.  When's it going to rain?  When will this rain stop?  Why is it so cold?  Why is it so windy?  So being able to understand weather symbols and the weather maps are another important visual literacy skill.

Sunday, 10 March 2013

New school, new room, new class, new kids....

At the end of last year I had to make a big decision.  My job I'd been in for two years, with a group of children I had become extremely attached to, was being downsized due to the roll.  I would only be 0.5, and that really wasn't enough to pay the bills.

So I hopped back on the job application round about again, and was offered a new job.  The new job was fifty minutes away on the other side of the district.  Instead of teaching Years 5-8, I'd be teaching Years 4-8.  Instead of having eight desktops and ten laptops available to the children there would be four desktops and four I-Pads.  Instead of a SmartBoard it was going to be an ActivBoard.  I'd have roughly the same amount of kids (more girls though), with some special needs kids and a full time ORRs teacher aide.

After two years teaching more with a contract style of programme, I've returned to what I used to do: a very structured programme.  It kind of looks like this:

  • Newsboard - current events and oral language and thinking skills
  • Poetry - poem of the week, focusing each day on a different language feature and thinking skill.
  • Reading Tumble (the kids do this while I take guided reading) - word study, punctuation/editing activities, handwriting, some other fun activities that involve reading and writing or oral language.
  • Writing - I model and waah on about language features and capturing the readers' attention and they go write using that stuff.
  • Mathematics - I'm still getting my groups up and running.
  • Silent/Partner Reading - read silently for ten minutes from their Fluency Boxes and then they read to a partner for five minutes and vice versa.
  • Fitness - get them out for a heart beating activity.
  • Swimming - getting in the pool as much as possible and sometimes I get in too, the bonus of having a teacher aide with me!
  • And then I try to fit in some Te Reo Maori, Art, Topic and singing in where I can.
It is all going good so far.  I've got the literacy rolling nicely, but am still getting the timing right and I am still in launch phase with how the numeracy will run.  The topic has yet to fully launch due to the amount of time swimming takes up.

One thing I'm pleased with, although the kids don't appreciate it yet so much, is the silent/partner reading.  I am trying to improve their fluency through mileage.  They think it is tiresome, but I'm thinking it may be time to change their books - one box a day - this week.  I'm sure eventually they will see the benefits of this reading time.

I'm still getting my head around the ActivBoard and I-Pads.  But I'll get there.  The best thing is that the ORRs child is also trying to fit in with some of the activities the rest of the class does, and my other special needs students are beginning to pick up the routines and have a degree of independence. 

A good gauge of how the class programme is going is the feedback you get from your teacher aide... and so far this has been fairly good.  But one of my challenges is to make sure she is just as engaged in the learning as the children, so she has job satisfaction too.

So far parents are happy with the Homework programme I have instituted.  Some kids were rather slack the first week, and I did the "if I spend the time preparing it you will do it" speech.  I've also had meetings with parents of the students I have concerns about.  I'm trying to encourage parents to feel welcome in the room, to be able to join in with activities and check in with their child's learning regularly.

So we have had six weeks so far.... and while I'm flavour of the month now, I'm just hoping that by taking time to set up a solid programme it will pay dividends later on.