Thursday, 27 April 2017

San Fran Professional Development

I've been fortunate, as part of my well supported professional development journey, to have visited some innovative schools and attended some of the best conferences in N.Z and wider.  What I love is collaborating with others who have similar mindsets about rethinking the possibilities of education and are actioning future focused curriculum in their various school contexts.

This evening this journey continues as I'm taking off on a trip to San Francisco that already has me excited, is likely to affirm thinking and also challenge me.  I'm looking forward to sharing some of the insights and ideas that I'll be experiencing. I've been woking at Hobsonville Point Primary just short of 5 Years now and it's timely to make the opportunity to reflect and reenergise.  

I'm heading to San Francisco with Hobsonville Point Primary Principal, Daniel Birch and we will be sharing some of the school visits with Maurie Abraham, Hobsonville Point Secondary Principal.  The schools that have been chosen are all doing interesting things with their curriculum that align to our school vision and methodologies, all have come recommended by others.

We will be visiting:

Brightworks Academy:Tinkering School

Design Tech High

Monte Vista

Nueva School

Some of the things I'm curious about are:

How interconnected curriculum is working?
What pathways are in place linking elementary, high school and beyond?
What skills, dispositions and habits are focused on beyond the traditional curriculum?

I'm sure I'll get sidetracked, I don't want to go in with blinkers on as so often with these visits the take-aways end up being something quite different.  I'm looking forward to sharing and blowing the dust off of this blog.  😃

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Sampler Box: random creamy filling things vs toffee pops

If faced with making desperate small talk at a dinner party, I could easily talk at length about toffee pops. They're a bit of a passion really.  I consider myself well-researched.  Basically, I've eaten a lot of them over the years!  I think I could hold an audience with my enthusiastic commentary and references back to the Carlos Spencer ad, for those in a plus Gen Y bracket.  There are some biscuits I could not do justice. Refer to diagram above and exhibit 1.  The 'random creamy filling things.'  I've observed them from afar.  Watched with curiosity as colleagues and friends have eaten them.  I don't think I've ever queried anyone on their choice.  Carol Dweck would not be pleased with my closed mindset.  They simply look gross.

Aside from pondering small talk topics there has been something far more pressing that has me a little bit worried.  Why is it that with all of this talk of MLEs our education community is becoming a battlefield?  I realise this is a tad dramatic but seriously there are so many polarising views out there and it concerns me greatly that we are missing the opportunity as a profession to reflect on our practice and possibly reform and redesign what learning could be!

Unlike the Griffins sampler box, in teaching at least, I've sampled the lot.  I've had the opportunities to teach and work in a traditional school, hybrid set-up (bit of a mix of traditional with MLE) and MLE (3 years young).  

Disclosure.  Am I a MLE convert? 100% yes.  Do I think MLEs are effective without a shift in teachers practice? No.  

I understand the fear rippling though our teaching community and rightly so as our precious clients are small people with a bright future that we have a significant amount of responsibility for helping prepare them for.  In saying that, I don't think parents/caregivers should be ignored, as they play a vital role in helping to support. One thing people I think people don't think about  when considering MLEs is they actually help get parents in the door.  

The mere thought of entering some schools makes me feel anxious.  Am I breaking a rule?  Where can I sit?  Is my shirt tucked in???? Add to that mix, a regression back to being yelled at by teachers at the end of their fray, tucked away in four-walled classroom jails and I'm a nervous wreck barely able to hold an intelligent conversation, (I can go beyond toffee pops) let alone be in a state to learn...

Creating a space that is open and warm makes everyone feel more relaxed. It's not rocket science; MLEs don't equate to disengagement just because there happens to be a beanbag present.  Set up properly should allow people to move freely and comfortably around.

The feedback we receive from parents is they love the feeling and aren't cast back into negative childhood school experiences.  The flipside is the kids experience this too, and they are mostly capable of navigating without getting lost or distracted.  Actually they self manage.  Remember those key competencies at the front of the NZC?  Oh, and there are teachers so we redirect when necessary or support.  MLEs don't eat teachers.  We are present.

Schools should be about the children.  

Below is a photo of the Hobsonville Point Primary "ping pong room and staffroom.'  Typically the staffroom is a sacred place for staff only, where ritualistic coffee drinking and dunking toffee pops takes places.  Dunking still takes place  but in our MLE it's frequently punctuated by the squeals of excited children playing. 

Sometimes we get asked, 'but what about the teachers 'downtime' and to be honest sometimes a ping pong is not what you want to hear especially near the end of term when ritualistic coffee drinking increases in frequency.  So, we explain our needs to the children and respectfully they leave us to our coffees. A conversation with children is so much more powerful that a word like respect emblazoned across a wall.  Daniel Birch, our principal sums it up nicely when he says, 'it's the children's school and we respond to that.'

Please don't knock the MLE until you've had the chance to ask a few questions and don't let this talk of 1970's hippie, roam free kids doing whatever and whenever in noisy barns put you off investigating the possibilities of changing practice.      

Dear I say it, but there is some 'academic excellence' and accelerated learning occurring roaming around those open-plan spaces.   

Meanwhile, I guess I should be sourcing some of those those random creamy filling things...maybe they won't be so bad?

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Igniting Curiosity - Through a World of Possibilities

How do we personalise learning when some children have little or no idea of what they are interested in or are madly obsessed about a narrow subject?

To personalise students learning (i.e. place students at the centre of learning) we (the teachers) need to be able to put in place structures to meet individual styles, needs and interests of the children.  This is difficult when children haven't been exposed to a range of life experiences and seemingly lack the reflection skills to be able to identify what they are curious about?

So, how do we create experiences for children to explore new ideas, understandings and knowledge that goes beyond the 'googlable' question and the limits of what a learning area centred approach delivers?

At H.P.P are trying to address the issues mentioned above through a whole school process of learning design.

We have a phase of our overall learning design that we label, 'immersion.'  We believe we need to introduce the children to a 'world they do not yet know' or 'the world they may have heard of' to create the conditions for powerful learning through evoking curiosity.

This process is inspired by John Holt's Four Worlds model.

The reason why we do this is because immersion plays a significant part in creating the foundation for us to be able to personalise learning as we challenge children in their thinking by introducing new concepts, experiences and ideas that sparks curiosities.

From this platform, we can steer students towards a deep inquiry and/or co-construct/negotiate a project.  We label this second phase our P.B.L or Inquiry phase.

In discussing immersion with Daniel Birch (Principal at H.P.P) he said to think of students as sitting somewhere within the bell curve of distribution in terms of interests and passions.

A few children will have no idea of their interests or curiosities and a few will be extremely passionate about a hobby or topic.  For example, the child who wants to be an All White, lives and breathes it, knows every statistic and does project after project on anything related to football.

What we want to do is take this child who already knows so much and encourage other interests.  For children who seem to have very little interest or passion we want to stimulate thought and engagement.  We can cater for both groups and the children in between through immersion.

Our first phase of school-wide learning is centred around 'Inventive Thinking' a concept taken from the enGauge 21st Century Skills research. We unpack 'Inventive Thinking' as a concept which through this lens and set of competencies we design learning experiences for our children.  We use the content of the Ncrel research as a backbone of our our localised curriculum.

NECREL Description

Sitting under the broad concept of 'Inventive Thinking' is a subset of skills which relate to the Key Competencies (dispositions) that we will create experiences for our children to develop and reflect on.  We have linked these dispositions to the 'whole-brain' Hermann Brain Dominance model as a way of unpacking thinking within our schools.  The dispositions provide a common school-wide language used across staff and students which helps to understands ourselves and each other better

We have these at the forefront of our minds going into the design process.  We do this deliberately to shift thinking from subject areas to skill acquisition.  We still value literacy and numeracy however in terms of process we need to shift our teachers thinking and old habits first.

Day 12.  #28daysofwriting

As a staff we create ideas for our immersion linking to the needs of our community of learners and what is relevant.  We generate these ideas responsively and nothing is preplanned.  It is a free for all of dreaming up big ideas and throwing out there thinking.

From there we take responsibility for designing a workshops that fit the framework of our whole learning model.  We have our vision, mission and school learning values in mind.

Next week the children will have two action packed days of taster/ignition sessions.  We will be encouraging active reflection through the sessions.  Students will be able to select from a wide range of workshops on offer.  Everybody on staff, including support staff will be running activities and sessions.

Learning Advisors (home teachers) then unpack and extend immersion further, based on what they noticed over the whole-school immersion with cohorts of children. Once, the students have reflected and the teachers have noticed that the children are getting ready to go they'll move into the next phase of negotiation leading into P.B.Ls.

The immersion design should be flexible and nothing is set on stone as we constantly reflect on what could be modified.  At the end of the day it's learning for everybody.

Sunday, 8 February 2015

Why Exercise Makes You Happy

Day 9   #28daysofwriting

Hitting the news recently, was N.Zs high ranking in a OECD global report, showing kiwis are amongst the most obese people in the world.  Up to a third of kiwi boys and girls are indicated to be obese.  The research was conducted by an international consortium of researchers and Associate Professor Tony Merriman of Otago’s Biochemistry was a member of the study consortium.  

You don't have to be a scientist to understand the link between obesity and poor health. As teachers we experience first hand the impact that poor health has on student's learning.  We have all had children who struggle to participate in P.E and fitness programmes.  There are the kids who despite our best efforts to personalise learning have issues with lethargy and engagement.  

So what are N.Z schools doing to encourage good health in our kids?  

We are doing plenty, here are just a few ideas:
  • encouraging healthy food choices for school lunch-boxes
  • sharing healthy recipes 
  • providing nutritious breakfasts
  • having fruit breaks
  • daily fitness
  • school sports
  • promoting good health through curriculum.

I love the notion that exercise helps to make you happy and my personal experience is that it does. Have you heard of a runners high? I can't honestly say I've ever felt truly happy whilst running but I love the finish line and the feeling that lingers afterwards.

Endorphins (natures wee natural painkiller) have been shown in some studies to reduce stress and promote happiness.  They exist to help us manage pain hence the saying ... 

Here is a link to a kids health website with loads of great informations and ideas to promote good health.

So what are you doing to get your kids active?  An idea we are trying is giving kids the options of running bootcamps and fitness sessions.  They do the research, plan the lesson and away they go.  Another idea is to run a gym style timetable so students can opt into a range of cardio, stretching and strength based sessions.  The feedback has been positive so far.  Fitness has come a long way from whole school runs around the back paddock and aerobics on the tennis courts!  

Friday, 6 February 2015

Hinemoa Street Street Organic

#28daysofwriting Day 7

Turns out my passion for writing diminishes on long weekends however I can share this wee hidden gem of a place for all of those Aucklander's out there looking for a caffeine fix and decent organic breakfast on the north side of the bridge.

I love bacon and eggs. They should be a main food group of their own. #hinemoastrretorganic is a cute wee cafe, fabulous service and amazing food. It's pretty reasonable too.

Northcote is a wee hidden gem for coffee spots, restaurants and cool design shops. It's one of my favourite local spots for a walk and run.  Alas, I don't own one of the beautiful villas that I admire and the view is pretty fantastic too.  One day ... :)

Thursday, 5 February 2015

Waitangi - Waka and Kai

Day 5 #28daysofwriting

I'm blogging on my phone. Unlike most of the 12 year old kids I teach I haven't yet mastered the tappity, tap, tap lightening speed typing skills they seem to posses.  At this rate my goal of 28minutes of interrupted writing for today's challenge will be over with barely a paragraph written ... 

A Reflection on the Day #HPSWaitangi

Hobsonville Point Schools' finished off our first week of school and headed into the long weekend on a high note with our Waitangi Celebration Day. 

It's a great opportunity to have our secondary and primary kids, staff, parents and wider community together to learn about our bi-cultural history and celebrate partnerships.

Its a big day of learning. Big day of fun. 

I've been involved in plenty of big school events over the years.  These tend to be well oiled machines with run sheets, briefings and rigidly defined roles and responsibilities.

They've been successful in their own right but what I really enjoy about this H.P.S event is the room to move, step up, step sideways, read and respond to situations. Sharyn Afu and Sarah Wakefield do a superb job of steering the day. They do hours and hours of behind the scenes prep to set us up with support structures to create the space for us to move and ultimately step up and take responsibility. 

There is a fancy name for this type of approach. It's called heterarchial organization. A good example of this is Google 20% time when employees work with whoever they wish within the company and some of their most innovative ideas and products have come
out of it.

Personally, I love a bit of structure however it can be stifling of you're not careful. 

Do we not want our kids to be self managing, thinking, questioning, seeking and taking responsibility. Surely if we over structure their 'role' it limits them in that they don't have to think for themselves? 

Today I experienced some freedoms and there were times when I chilled out, put my feet up and watched the kids (and Reid Walker) learning how to paddle a waka. Devoured a massive bowl of chocolate pudding. Thank you very much Lea Vellenoweth, Daniel Birch and the awesome food prep student team. I also put on my organizational hat with Amy Mccauley and learnt how to carve a pork roast plus picked up a cloth and wiped a few tables.  On my drive home I passed a group of students carrying a bunch of gear between the schools to help out. How awesome. It was 7pm.

Hope everyone has a lovely Waitangi Weekend.

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Distractibility : Keeping Students Minds Wandering (with purpose)

#28daysofwriting  Day 4

This morning, I sat down at my desk with a task list that included a few admin jobs I've been putting off.  Someone once told me, I think it was my mother, to prioritise the boring and save the exciting for last.  So, today I took mum's advice and attempted to make a start on the more mundane.  It involved excel.  Say no more. By 11am I was 4 coffees down, filing trays organised (that wasn't on the list), re-ordered my priority list, delivered 6 potato peelers to Hobsonville Point Secondary School (an unexpected priority and long story) and pretty much mindfully avoided the task.  

During this mindful avoidance, I read a fantastic paper shared with me by Daniel (principal at H.P.P.S), called 'Understanding John Hattie's Visible Learning Research in the Context of Carol Dweck's Growth Mindset' by Gerry Miler (Educational Trainer and Consultant).  link to the download.  It was a fantastic and timely read as we head into a new year of learning.

So, if as adults we can be mindfully aware of our distractibility and despite our best efforts still get pulled off course (for better or worse) then how are our kids going in typical classrooms?

John Hattie's 15 years of research into what works in schools combined with Carol Dweck's Growth Mindset work is a powerful combination for helping to remind us of what is effective.  Gerry Miller, writes a conclusion within the article that has strong messages and is an easy read.

These are a few take-aways I took from the section on 'teachers':

  • having high expectations of students is critical - ensure that there is challenge in the learning
  • moderate across the school so teachers have common understanding of benchmarks and can act responsively to them to ensure learning is challenging
  • teacher-student relationships are critical to learning - relationships come first
  • relationships take time to build - (begs the questions why do primary schools tend to year group children and tag from one teach to another year after year)
  • teachers need a common perception of progress - skills, understandings, knowledge, dispositional growth, curriculum levels etc
  • believe in the child in where they are at and where you can help take them to - have an open mindset
The institutionalised teacher in me sometimes worries about giving children too much freedom and room to explore but this reinforced the need for strong relationships in knowing the learner well and therefore setting them up with challenges that will engage and inspire them in their learning.  If learning is negotiated & co-constructed between the teacher and child within a personalised context then surely it is a win-win?

I went for a walk through Hobsonville Point Primary this afternoon, at 2.30pm to be exact.  All of the children I saw were engaged and happy in whatever it was they were doing.  I saw lots of personalisation taking place through self directed learning, teacher practice and kids exploring interests.  Some of these were deliberately scaffolded by teachers and others were not.

Of course there were a couple of kids who had deviated off 'task' but they were happily engaged in a fantastic game of count the wall tiles.  I suppose that was developing numeracy the research states, children will still learn in-spite of you (the teacher) so who was I to judge.