Friday, December 11, 2009

This year it was a good report mum

I have been musing today over the power of language. The way we say things makes a difference. Last year my daughter was suffering very much from a low self esteem at school. She did not feel confident in her abilities and often saw herself as failing rather than as having challenges ahead of her. When we read her report together she saw the language 'below the expected level' and instantly begged me not to show the report to anyone. She didn't want her grandparents to know she was failing. It was very upsetting.

This year the school has reworded the reports. She has done very well with everyone remarking on her lovely personality and helpful manner and the only area she is struggling with continues to be maths. But this year the report states 'near the expected level'. We had a chat and I explained that this meant she was making good progress and the report was showing her that this was where she needed to put her efforts. She was very happy and bounced all over the place with the thought of success and challenges ahead.

What a difference the change of one word makes. We underestimate the power of words for motivation and self esteem. Please do not let the deficit words of 'below' or 'well below' anywhere near our students.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

I finally got an iphone

It has taken me a while but today was my first day playing with my iphone. I have high hopes of this device saving me time and supporting me in my work. Since my work has changed over the last year I am less in the classroom and more working by supporting teachers via digital stories and websites. So the posts I write about the iphone will be focused in that way.

My first find, for those who do a bit of travel using Air New Zealand is the free application called Air New Zealand mPass. I am always forgetting what time my flights are etc and then having to open up my computer to find out. Now I have it in a handy list on my iphone listed succinctly with flight number and time. This application also has the mpass for your trip so you can use this at the gates to get on the plane or when booking at one of the machines. Thanks to CORE colleague Nick Rate for this find!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Word magnets

I just came across word magnets and I can think of so many ways for it to be used in the classroom. You can add words to the page and the students can move them around to try and put them together into a sentence that makes sense.

  • I was thinking this would be handy in the senior grades when talking about subject focused and object focused sentences.
  • You could have students recognise types of words by inserting adjectives into sentences to change the meaning, feel and power of the sentence.
  • You could use this application with letters and have junior students play with building up words
  • You could put a lot of word endings up and play with adding these to words
  • You could put up numbers to try and make number sentences ...

What ideas do you have for using this simple but effective tool?

Monday, August 24, 2009

Education management blogs and sharetab

I while ago I came across sharetabs and could see its potential both in the classroom and for running professional development. Sharetabs lets you create one page with one url which contains all the sites that you wish your group to visit during your session.

On Wednesday I'm running a Web2 session for the Experienced Principals Development Programme run by CORE Education and I thought we might all wander through some New Zealand principal blogs. I decided to use sharetabs to make the process smoother. So here is the list of the Education management blogs I've turned into a sharetabs link to share with the group. If you know of any great education management blogs I've left out, leave them in the comments and I'll add them in.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

How are schools approaching the key competencies?

I have been privileged over the last few months to visit four schools which have been identified as doing some interesting things with the key competencies. All of these schools have approached things in very different ways with one important thing in common, it is a shared journey between staff, students, and school community.

One school noticed how the Habits of Mind can be aligned with the key competencies, so they began their journey by enhancing what they were already doing with HOM with the KCs. They broke the HOM into groups that could sit under each key competencies which would help the students to understand the depth of the KCs by each HOM which supported it.

Another school also saw the benefits of linking the HOM and KCs however they also noted that different HOM might look different within each KC and they weren't a perfect fit. This school started looking at different words, for example 'Responsibility'. What does that word look like when viewed through a 'managing self' lens? or through a 'thinking' lens? or through a participating and contributing lens? for example. This school was looking at the complexity of the KCs, their connections and how they looked different in different learning areas.

The UNESCO four pillars of education formed a third school's entry point into the KCs. This school looked at how the KCs sat within learning to do, to be, to know, and to live together.

And the last school looked at how KCs contributed to their school culture, and how creating an inclusive caring culture with KCs at the heart can support students to not only learn to their full capacity but to become the people the KCs exemplify.

These four schools have many things in common:
  • Leadership is leading - The passion is evident in these leaders, they know what is happening in their schools as they are leading the charge.
  • Leadership is distributed - In all of these schools the passion is shared among the staff who feel the freedom to run with their ideas and contribute to the direction.
  • Voices are evident - Students, staff and parents are knowledgeable about what is happening in these schools and have a vested interest. Students can articulate the shared vision and demonstrate partnership in their learning.
  • Building on what is already happening - These schools did not start from scratch. They took a step back to look at what was happening in their schools, what was contributing to student outcomes and then looked at how to enhance that with the new curriculum.
I'm reminded of the reflection strategy of the traffic light.

What is not working? Stop doing it!
What is working well? Continue with that!
What new ideas can move you forward? Get going!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Fun with twitter

Thanks to Justine, I found this fun video. Seeing that I will be spending a large chunk of my time looking at Twitter in my dissertation over the next few years, it is nice to look at the absurd side of something I value.

For some reason I can't get the embed code to work, so head over to Justine's blog and have a laugh.

Monday, March 16, 2009

My teaching journey

Here is a story of a journey begun. One of adventure, danger and heroism. There is also an element of innocence lost as our hero faces the stark realities of the boundaries of possibility. Our hero continues journeying for a lifetime, facing danger and solving mysteries, all the time growing in legend.

You may think this is a strange way to begin an essay on my personal history and development as a teacher. I see teaching as an expression of creativity and a way to make a difference in our world. The hero I mention is the typical narrative hero; the person most thought to amount to nothing, with nothing to offer. This person, through trial, tribulation, success and tears, enters into a lifelong journey of making a difference. Along the way gathering experience, skills, tools and knowledge. I am that person who had nothing to offer and I am enjoying my journey.

Stage One – Survival

I entered my first classroom with the purpose to create a positive learning atmosphere. I had few teaching strategies and little curriculum knowledge. I was teaching as I had been taught. Nuthall (2001) writes that culture shapes our understanding of both the teaching and learning process. The ritual of teaching remains relatively unchanged. He calls teaching a kind of cultural ritual.

This survival stage furnished me with many questions. Is it effective to teach separate subjects on separate days? What knowledge do my students really need? And the question that bothered me the most…what was I meant to do with that one computer at the back of my room?

So at the end of stage one, I knew there was something amiss, however, could not define it. I questioned the content I taught and the way I was told to teach it. I felt that learning was enhanced by positive self esteem which was developed within a safe environment that promoted a supportive community, risk taking and respect. I had started my journey.

Stage Two – From ‘what to teach’ to ‘how children learn’

This lengthy stage coincided with two major events. Firstly, I was presented with a new curriculum document to interpret in Western Australia. I embraced this new document with zeal. It confronted things about the way I was teaching that made me uncomfortable such as a differentiated curriculum, and allowed more creative freedom. My zeal was soon undone as we were informed by the Principal there was no hurry to adopt the documents. The books were put back on the shelf and teachers continued with the ‘cultural ritual’ of teaching.

Then I moved to New Zealand.

I continued with my cultural ritual, however it didn’t fit with the NZ curriculum. Teachers in NZ had already embraced a new curriculum. I was unable to work out how to teach in this new world. I had a lot of questions. I could no longer teach as I had been taught. This did not meet my students’ needs. I had to ask myself, how do I think students learn and therefore how should I teach.

Now I could run with the new curriculum documents.

I integrated the curriculum in a meaningful manner. I embarked on a teaching strategy, which I now know to be called ‘Inquiry Based Learning’ which made sense to me. Inquiry learning “begins with students’ prior knowledge and experience and moves through a deliberate process wherein that knowledge is extended, challenged and refined.” (Murdoch, 1997:5). I had moved out of the survival mode of thinking about ‘what to teach’, and had moved into the stage of discovering ‘how children learn’.

This curriculum with the four pillars of education stating that children need to: learn to do, learn to live together, learn to be and learn to know equipped me with a picture of the skills, knowledge, attitudes and values I wanted students to have and I designed my teaching with this in mind.
Some changes I made to my practice included embracing collaborative learning in all areas of my teaching; thinking skills were woven into lessons and I planned ways for students to take responsibility for their own learning. No longer would I supply knowledge for students, I would create an atmosphere for them to construct their own learning. Another major change was I began using assessment to guide my teaching rather than to report to the authorities. Crooks (1988) discusses that evaluation is a guide to learning as well as to teaching. Feedback should be given promptly and children should be given opportunities to demonstrate learning from the feedback. Black and William (1998) agree stating that formative assessment is at the heart of effective teaching and that frequent assessment feedback raises achievement overall but especially in low achievers.

The freedom in this new curriculum gave me the momentum to enter into stage two of my development as a practitioner. “Motivation is the key to preventing ‘educational suicide’. Constraint gives a person the desire to escape, freedom gives a person the desire to explore, expand and create” (Clifford, 1990:23). I began reflecting on my teaching and the children’s learning. I asked questions and enacted changes. I began to read educational research to support my assumptions. I realised I needed to know the theory behind my practice. This led me into the next step of my journey.

Stage Three – putting the pieces together

Stoll, Fink and Earl (2003) exert that teacher learning has a positive correlation on student learning. To ensure the best outcome for my students, I had to take an active role in my own learning.

I had begun my journey by providing children with a secure and supportive learning environment. I made changes to my practice with ‘how children learn’ in mind. I was beginning to fit into the definition of a social constructivist. “Vygotsky (1962) theorised that human learning is dependent on the social and cultural environment, as well as the mind, and that the deep determinants of human activity lie in the historically developing culture, embodied in various signs and symbol systems” (Stoll, Fink & Earl, 2003:23). Jones and Mercer (1993:72) identify that Vygotsky’s theory also supports the notion of teachers being active participants in the learning journey.

The Inquiry approach defined by Murdoch (1997) is effective for both students’ learning and teachers’ learning. Students wonder, find out, take social action, and then reflect. Teachers should do the same to refine their practice. As I began to explore my pedagogical knowledge more fully I recognised the need for effective reflection. Eisner in his article on “The kinds of schools we need’, cries “no longer would isolated teachers be left to themselves to figure out what went on when they were teaching” (2002:578). Learning communities and collaboration among colleagues are essential in effective reflection. I have identified myself as a social constructivist and now I need to understand what this really means.

So where do I stand right at this moment in time? “A paradox of information is that those who know a lot about a subject are more aware of what they do not know than those who know less… Those who have information are better placed to demand information than those who do not, hence the importance of metacognitive knowledge” (Dillon, 2004:106). Going even further than that, I find myself worrying that I may not have the time to explore all that I want to know. “One of the challenges of the twenty-first century will be finding ways to capture and dedicate the time necessary for the serious business of learning. (Stoll, Fink & Earl, 2003:41)

I have stated that I fit within the social constructivist paradigm. I see learning as a process of construction and reconstruction, where knowledge is constructed by the learner and not supplied by the teacher. But I find myself reaching beyond this paradigm – with the rapid changes happening in our technological world, what lies beyond constructivism? Brown (2005) suggests that it may be ‘navigationism’. With technology pervading all areas of teaching and learning students need to know how to ethically navigate the wealth of information available and the emerging literacies this demands. So, right at this moment, I claim I am a social constructivist, this may and no doubt will, however change.

Fried in his book “The Passionate Teacher” explains why I am a teacher:
“It (passion) is also a gift we grant ourselves: a way of honouring our life’s work, our profession. …It is teachers’ passions that help them and their students escape the slow death of ‘business as usual’.” (1995:19)

I am interested to see what my next stage will be. I have survived, changed my focus from ‘what to teach’ to ‘how children learn’, and embarked on effective critical reflection. Where will my quest take me next?


Aviram, A. (2000). From “computers in the classroom” to mindful radical adaptation by education systems to the emerging cyber culture. Journal of Education Change, 1, 331-352

Black, P and William D. (1998) Inside the Black Box: Raising standards through classroom assessment. Phi Delta Kappan, 80, 139-148.

Brown, Tom H. (2005) Beyond constructivism: Exploring future learning paradigms. Education Today, (2) 14-30

Clifford, Margaret M. (1990) Students Need Challenge, not easy success, Educational leadership, 48 (1) 22-26

Crooks, T.J. (1988). The impact of classroom evaluation practices on students. Review of Educational Research, 58, 438-481

Dillon, P. (2004). Trajectories and tensions in the theory of information and communication technology in education. British Journal of Educational Studies, 52(2), 138-150.

Eisner, E. W. (2002). The kind of schools we need. Phi Delta Kappan, 83, 576-583

Jones, Z., & Mercer, N. (1993). Theories of learning and information technology. In P. Scrimshaw (ed.), Language, classrooms and computers, London: Routledge pp 11-26

McFarlane, A. (2001). Perspectives on the relationships between ICT and assessment. Journal of computer Assisted Learning, 17, 227-234.

Murdoch, Kath. (1997). Classroom Connections, Strategies for integrated learning. Eleanor Curtain Publishing: Australia

Nuthall, G. (2001) The cultural myths and the realities of teaching and learning. Keynote address to conference of the NZS association for Research in Education. Christchurch, 6-9 Dec. To be published in NZ annual Review of Education.

Stoll, Louise. Fink, Dean and Earl, Lorna. (2003) It’s about learning (and it’s about time) What’s in it for schools? Routledge Falmer: London

Taylor, R. (Ed.) (1980) The computer in the school: Tutor, Tool and Tutee, New York: Teacher’s College Press.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Student driven research

I have just read the article, student driven research and found it so motivating I wish I had a class to have a go at the process. I recommend you read the article.

In NZ with our new curriculum, student voice is an important element. Most schools are dabbling with or immersed in inquiry learning and teachers are using 'teaching as inquiry' to look at their own practice. This article on student driven research is combining the two together.

Students are taking part in inquiry learning looking at elements of their world of importance to them. A lot of the time the focus of these inquiries in schools I have visited is global: looking after the environment, looking after themselves etc. This article suggests the students look at what really affects them, with the support of the school and dedicated teachers. What about running an inquiry about how the school supports (or otherwise) their learning? What about the assessment procedures of the school? The way teachers interact with students? The work load and expectations? These are the types of questions students in the article conducted authentic research projects around. Students were led through the entire process, including ethics and how to evaluate the data. Students then presented their findings to staff as a part of the staff PD programme, which informed staff reflections.

This article was an eye opener for me and I highly recommend it.

Saturday, February 28, 2009


Blogging not only allows you to reflect on your own thinking, it helps you to connect with the thoughts of others. Blogging at Learning@School Conferences has grown from strength to strength. Twitter has added to this connection as teachers across the globe and nation connect using the microblogging platform.

One delegate who has been in the NZ Twitter network this year mentioned that because of the connections through Twitter she now felt really connected and less lonely while attending the conference. She has a ready group of people with whom she feels comfortable and can also carry out extended conversations long after the conference is over. These connections extend the learning and support us as we head back into normal daily life trying to incorporate the extensive professional development just undertaken.

Blogging has also created a new breed of creature loosely termed the ‘blogebrity’. In the image above Wes Fryer is taking the place as the international blogebrity for this year’s Learning@School (clicking on the image will take you to the original on Flickr which is annotated).

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Why do you like blogging?

Today I was reading a post by a friend of mine. He writes,
This is why I like blogging. You get to chew on life, like a cow chewing its cud, you get to think through your experiences, make connections, appreciate stuff again and taste it all anew. It matters not whether people read it, agree with it or enjoy it... read more
He has such a good way of expressing things. I urge you to go and read the whole post and think about why do you like blogging...

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Learning @ School blue screening with a Mac workshop

One of the workshops I'm running this year, with colleagues Dave Young and Disa McLean, is on how to chromakey with a Mac.

I had my first play around yesterday and it is soooooo easy using iMovie HD.

To make this video I took a video of a blue lunch box lid against the carpet, then used chromakey to make it mask a picture of my daughter. I was thinking you could use something like this as a guessing game with younger students. Or you could even video a blue square on a student's shirt and turn them into a Teletubby!

To get started I downloaded the plug in for iMovie from Stupendous Software, you have to put the plugin in the right place. You can find the link for downloading and view a visual on where to put the plugin on this page of the workshop wiki.

I put it in my user name > library > iMovie > plug-ins

Now you're ready. To build a movie the first step is to film against a blue screen. Make sure you have a good light source and no shadows. You can film an object moving across the blue screen or, like my movie above, film the blue screen that will be the frame for what image you put behind. Place this movie in your timeline.

Next place the object that you would like to be shown in place of the blue area on your video next to the video in the timeline. I used a still image however you could also use a video. Make sure this video or still image is the same length or longer than the blue screen video.

Next click on the blue screen video and from the editing tab click on video FX and scroll down and click on the one called 'ss Blue Screen, Smooth'. You can move the sliders to get just the right amount of colour and coverage and then select apply.

Once the clip has finished rendering preview to see if it is what you wanted then you can delete the second clip in the timeline as it has been merged with the first.

And there you have it. Blue screening made simple.

You can get the links, examples and explanations on the workshop wiki which is currently under construction.

This was so much fun. If any of my schools out there would like me to come and do a workshop with them, let me know.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Turn your Mac color picker into an application

I'm feeling particularly clever today. I solved a problem and it worked!! Have you ever wanted to grab a colour off the web or another application? Well you can use the color picker that comes with the Mac to do this. Thanks to Macostips for this very simple tip.

1. Open applications > AppleScript > Script Editor
2. Enter this text:
choose color
3. Save it as an application (File > Save as and set the file format pop-up to application)

And that's it! Simple as that. You can now use your color picker any time you want.

To add something extra to your colour picker, download the HexColorPicker. This adds another tab to the color picker bar which tells you the exact number/letter identification of the colour you have chosen. Very handy for when working on the web. Read the help file that comes with this download to tell you where to place the bundle in your directory (very simple).

One more something extra. Your colour picker allows you to create your own palettes and save for later use. This tutorial talks you through the very simple steps.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Learning@School 09

For those of you who are coming to Learning@School this year in Rotorua, the L@S Blog is up and running. Put it in your feed reader to keep up to date with all the news, events and gossip.

On a side note... I had one of these yesterday ... oh well

Nothing a trip to Rotorua to meet face-to-face with my virtual buddies won't chase away!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Blogger's Cafe at Learning@School 09

Each year the Blogger's Cafe is getting bigger and better. This year the cafe is being sponsored by Breathe Technology and will be situated in the hallway linking the main hall and the keynotes. We will have tables, data projector and screen so we can share our twittering and blogging and general chit chat with others.

Simon "The dragon" Evans will be manning the cafe and would love to chat with old bloggers, meet new bloggers and even introduce you to blogging if you want to get started.

Breathe Technology will also be holding a competition to win a full day's professional development.

So come and join us at the Blogger's Cafe, meet the people you have been connecting with through blogs, get started blogging or even find out about this Twitter thing :).

Photo credit: Allanah with a pen? by Fiona Grant