Tuesday, 16 December 2014

A Picture Book a Day.....

A couple of months ago, I stumbled across this post from an educator I admire and I was immediately spurred unto action.  Jillian Heise 's knowledge of amazing children's literature and her passion for creating readers inspires me enormously. She teaches 7th and 8th grade English (which is equivalent to Year 8 and 9 in New Zealand) and she has, perhaps without knowing, helped me immensely as I built up my classroom library for Year 8s after a move from Year 5 and before that, juniors.

Jillian's post gives numerous compelling reasons advocating the use of picture books in a middle
school classroom. Her goal to read a picture book a day for a full school year is pure genius and with only five weeks of the school year to go, I decided I just HAD to do something similar with my girls.

I have always suffered happily from a picture book addiction; I must have spent thousands of dollars on picture books over my teaching career! Becoming a Mum gave me even more license to purchase as many books as my heart desired with no regard for the Mastercard balance! My own children have been the primary beneficiaries of this policy but the students in my classes have also benefitted enormously. My students and I have always lapped up picture books in large quantities, finding a perfect story for nearly every occasion. 

Then came a move to Year 8. Five months into the year, a parent complained to our principal that I was insulting the students' intelligence by reading my Y8s picture books. This practice was deemed by this parent to be beneath their daughter and inappropriate for a teacher of 11 and 12 year olds. My principal stood up for me but I was incensed! In an ironic twist of fate, one of the many sophisticated picture books we'd spent a huge amount of time discussing turned out to be the essay prompt in the child's high school entrance exam and she came back to school "high as a kite" and thanking me for equipping her so well for the exam! Hilarious. The parent however, remained adamant that picture books should firmly remain in the early years classrooms.

It turns out that this parent was not alone in their view. I have ploughed on in my use of picture books and I remain firmly committed to using them with my learners for many reasons. When I came across Jillian's post, I wanted to give her a virtual fist bump. I felt vindicated and like I'd been given official permission to continue using picture books with wild abandon!

My girls were about to start their very last month of primary school ready to embark on the next phase in their education adventure, secondary school. So I decided that we would, inspired by Jillian, read a picture book every day for their final month at school. Jillian suggested some titles and I spent a lot of time carefully planning which books we'd read together, using a mixture of my own personal books as well as placing many holds at the amazing Christchurch City Libraries. Books that made the cut included some stories about the experience of refugees (related to our Unit of Inquiry) a couple of Christmas picture books and a large dose of encouragement and pearls of wisdom as they head off to high school.

So many amazing titles! 

The girls loved the routine of beginning each school day at 8.30am with a story. They'd curl up on beanbags or under desks or cuddle up close to one another ready and waiting for the day's instalment of picture book joy.  From 8am on, they'd be trying to weasle out of me what today's title was and at the conclusion of the story, there was often spontaneous applause if the book had hit the right spot.

There are so many reasons why I think this very simple addition to our day was so successful but the most compelling reason is the ability of a story to enhance community through shared experience. This community bonding was exactly what my girls needed as the day came ever closer that they would splinter off to attend their various high schools.

I loved every single one of these books but one really stands out because every single student loved it, all three teachers adored it and my own two children loved it so much that my daughter wants to scan the pages and frame them for her walls. I had to return it to the library so you guessed it, I bought my very own beautiful copy.

An incredible book about friendship; such an important message before the girls move on to new schools. 

And one more deserves an honourable mention. Jillian recommended this for my girls' very last day at school. I read it to them before we shared memories of their years together and it gave many of us "sweaty eyes"......... but we're good with that! :)

Buy this book if you have a child starting school or leaving for their O.E. or....well, I'm sure you can find an excuse! 

I now believe that this is something I will do every year to finish my learners' primary school experience with a bang. So here's a question for you; which are your favourite picture books? Which do you think I should add to my collection?

Thanks again to Jillian Heise for the inspiration. I hope you are enjoying "The House that Jack Built" by Gavin Bishop; a fantastic author/illustrator from my home town of Christchurch, New Zealand.

Saturday, 29 November 2014

The Power of Learning from Peers at #educampchch

Hello blog! Remember me? Its been far too long! Time for us to get reacquainted......

I have come to the startling revelation that I have more drafts and unpublished posts in this blog than I do published posts. Eeeek. So one of my many summer goals is to remedy that!

So I'm going to start working towards my goal of recording my thoughts more with a post reflecting on the amazing learning fest that was #educampchch.

On Saturday 22 November, teachers from all over Canterbury met at St Margaret's College in Christchurch to learn from, encourage and support each other. The unconference was initiated by the wonderfully passionate and generous Pauline Henderson with support from the very talented Allana Taylor from Springston School.

Like all good professional learning events, we began with caffeine, sugar and networking! It is always so great to put faces to twitter handles! I was excited to meet Shaun Wood, @mrwoodnz, who I had not realised was now based in Christchurch- what a win for Chch kids! It was also great to meet educators I had not yet had the pleasure of meeting including Stephen, Jared, Surin, Ruth, Carolyn and Blake as well as catching up with lots and lots of educators who I have previously had the pleasure of meeting and being inspired by. Christchurch is full of fabulous educators who are passionate about teaching and learning and strive to better themselves for the sake of their learners.

After we were suitably "caffeined up"  the Smackdown got underway. Well, it would be more accurate to say that Part 1 of the Smackdown got underway for this smackdown was the mother lode of smackdowns, unlike any Smackdown I have seen before (How many times can I use the word Smackdown in one sentence?) Each slide was presented with enthusiasm and passion and there were questions and comments and it was a big and beautiful thing. There was definitely something for everyone!

This was followed by a selection of workshops including Scratch, blogging, using twitter in the classroom, filming lessons and other gems. My teaching partner, Maker guru, Liz Fairhall led a workshop on using Makey Makeys to teach about circuitry and problem solving amongst other things and this workshop was very successful and loads of fun. It really highlighted how much fun hands-on and discovery learning is for everyone, children and adults.

Liz shares movies of our girls at Selwyn House discussing their Makey Makey creations.  
Blake, Stephen, Ruth and Gerard are very engaged in experimenting with Makey Makeys. 

Educampchch was followed up with more revelry at Brigitte's. All in all it was great day for learning, connecting and feeling refreshed at this exhausting time of year. Educamps are such a fantastic way to learn from our peers and I now find myself wondering if we could have an educamp in my classroom.........perhaps without such vast quantities of coffee!

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Year 8 Passion Projects

I am still smiling about the amazing learning that we saw on display last week at our Year 8 Passion Project exhibition. Our Year 8s surprised and delighted me with the projects they have produced; the quality and variety has blown me away.

And now it is time to reflect. What can we do to improve the process? What systems need tweaking or a complete rehash? How can we ensure our learners are getting the very best possible learning experience?

To reflect on this process, I've gone right back to our vision for the Year 8 projects. A book that I have loved is Sir Ken Robinson's Finding Your Element: How to Discover Your Talents and Passions and Transform Your Life. Ken Robinson defines your element as the place where your talents and passions meet. For many years, he has been spreading the message that schools are killing creativity and not equipping learners for their future. Enabling learners to find their element and work within it is engaging and gives them purpose.

How can schools ensure we are giving our students the opportunity to find their element?

Our Year 8 passion projects enable our learners to explore this. The girls spend three terms immersed in a learning experience of their own choice. The only stipulations are that they create some sort of product and that at the end of three terms, they share their learning at an exhibition for families.

7 things you need to know about Selwyn House's passion projects-

  • Student- chosen
  • Independent
  • Students have a mentor on the teaching staff
  • Keep a Learning Journal
  • Work with Experts in Community
  • Create a Product
  • Personal Learning Groups for support

What sort of projects do our learners choose?

A student has finally made peace with her dyslexia after learning about it, mentoring younger students with dyslexia and creating an app to support them in their learning. 

We often have community service projects such as Francesca who raised money for an orphanage in Cambodia or Holly who created an entire activity program for children who are sick in hospital and provided ready-made craft kids. 

This student's family home is a full rebuild after the Christchurch earthquakes. She found an architect in the community to mentor her about house design, then worked with her parents on a design for their new home. 

ICT/ technology projects are popular, such as Georgia's blog teaching HTML/ CSS or Lydia's very engaging reading blog.
There are often girls who want to challenge themselves by learning an entirely new skill such as silversmithing or portrait photography and then there are girls who want to share a skill they already have with others such as Makenzie's video tutorials for those who want to learn barrel racing or Lottie's hockey tips series.

There are girls who want to create a product using brand new learning such as Taylor's bronze statue or Hana's lip dub about our school. Juliette built an entire dog agility course from scratch and then taught her labdradoodle Frodo to complete the course and Abi built an electric cello using the parts of a piano that was going to be taken to the dump.

For me the highlight of these projects is that they create a level playing field. Often learners who benefit from lots of support in other parts of the school day, absolutely thrive when it comes to passion projects, producing projects that blow the rest of us away! I love that giving agency back to the learners enables them to share a new aspect of themselves with their classmates and teachers and that the learners themselves really sparkle with pride at what they have achieved. 

These projects are a "rite of passage" at Selwyn House. They are designed to bring together all the threads of our inquiry-based and learner-centred programme before they embark on that huge, new adventure; high school. Having seen and heard what our Year 8s have achieved, I feel confident that these learners have the skills, the growth mindset and the drive to go out and make a difference in their world.

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

EdChatNZ Blogging Meme

If you get included in the blogging meme: copy/paste the questions and instructions into your own blog then fill out your own answers. Share on twitter tagging 5 friends. Make sure you send your answers back to whoever tagged you too.

1. How did you attend the #Edchatnz Conference? (Face 2 Face, followed online or didn’t)
I was there for every awesome minute. 

2. How many others attended from your school or organisation?
I was the lucky sole delegate from Selwyn House but I was very lucky, along with Aimie Sibson from SMC, to spend the two days as a "hanger-on" of the very welcoming StAC staff. We flew there and back together, shared a hired van and stayed in the same motel. Lots of fun! 

3. How many #Edchatnz challenges did you complete?
Hmmmmm.....I was in a lot of grelfies....... but honestly, I was pretty abysmal on the challenges. Too busy getting excited when I met new people! Having said that I think the challenges were a great idea and attempting a challenge was a really great way to "break the ice" and introduce yourself to people you admire! 

4. Who are 3 people that you connected with and what did you learn from them?
Gosh there were so many. 
First of all, I loved spending time with Ginnie Thorner and Aimie Sibson and catching up with people like Nicki Tempero, Jennie Lyall, Anne Kennelly, Allana Taylor and getting to know the StAC crew better. 

With regards to people I hadn't met face to face, funnily enough, of the three that Mark mentioned in his meme, I'd mention two of them and himself! So it was really fun to meet Reid, Annemarie and Mark all lovely people that I have connected with on Twitter. I also loved talking with Danielle, Daniel Birch, Georgi and loved the amazingly strong coffee made by Pete McGhie while hearing more about the ins and outs of HPSS. There are many, many others too.  Danielle's face to face twitter chat was fantastic for meeting people I've connected with on Twitter.
5. What session are you gutted that you missed?
There were lots! In every stream I could have attended three or four. I would have liked to have been at Amy McCauley's session on personalised learning as I loved what I saw at HPSS. Having said that, getting to chat with Nanogirl was awesome and she introduced us to the perfect product for the door in our new wetroom/ en suite. Result! 
6. Who is one person that you would like to have taken to Edchatnz and what key thing would they have learned? 
So many people I'd love to have taken. I'm going with my great friend Stephanie Glubb @sglubb because she is such a maths guru and I saw some things at HPPS that I'd love for her to have seen; I know she'd love some of the tools their learners use for self- regulating their maths learning.  
7. Is there a person you didn’t get to meet/chat with (F2F/online) that you wished you had? Why
Yep, there's lots. Next time! 

8. What is the next book you are going to read and why? 
One of the books recommending by Steve Mouldy for cultivating creativity. Doesn't matter which one.....

9. What is one thing you plan to do to continue the Education Revolution you learnt about at #Edchatnz?
Tomorrow I'm doing a face to face twitter chat (a la Danielle) with my class in preparation for a Kids' Twitter Book Chat they want to launch. I'll keep enabling their passions to come into our classroom as much as possible. Also, during Connected Educator Month I am hoping to lead a twitter challenge amongst the staff at my school - a number have said they are interested. Fingers crossed. 

10. Will you take a risk and hand your students a blank canvas?
I will find a way to hand them a blank canvas in some way in 8C, give them something they can have control of within negotiated constraints- does that still count as a blank canvas?! 

Who will I tag with this meme:
These people may well have already done this reflection........

Monday, 11 August 2014

Edchatnz Conference- the future looks bright

I have just returned from the most remarkable conference. Remarkable because it was the dream of an inspiring young teacher named Danielle Myburgh. Danielle started a twitter chat using the hashtag #edchatnz two years ago and it has blossomed into something big and powerful and amazing. Just four short months ago she had the idea to hold an #edchatnz conference. A small team jumped on board to support her and voila, Danielle created an amazingly inspiring conference and it sold out to boot!

I have so much to say about this conference that it's hard to collate these thoughts into a coherent blogpost. Here are three things that struck me.

Bridget, Ginnie and Aimie from Christchurch are excited to meet the amazing Mrs Hyde from Rotorua!

1. The future looks bright!
Some of the most inspiring people I met were very young teachers, first and second years. They were confident and curious and constantly working to better their practice for their learners. It is a long time since I was a beginning teacher (ahem) but I know for sure I wasn't inspiring others with my zest and passion. In fact, I ended up in hospital with glanjular fever and felt very alone, contemplating giving up teaching. I was so unconnected as a young teacher in Western Sydney where I started my teaching- I rarely even made it to morning tea to connect with other teachers in my large and very low decile school. Has the advent of social media helped new educators to feel more supported? I sure hope so! @chasingalyx, @ariaporo22 and @MissDtheTeacher....you guys inspire me. You are headed for amazing things and your learners are lucky! I'm in awe.

2. Being connected is essential if we are to be effective educators.
Christchurch Represent! 
I am incredibly lucky that I am not a lone nut at my school. I am surrounded by great educators and there is something I want to learn from every single one of them- I want to learn more about Philosophy for Children from Pauline, I want to learn how Liz uses the Design Thinking process so effectively with any age group, I want to learn how Greg uses the Performing Arts so stunningly to teach ANY concept at all from Maths to inquiry and I want to know how Steph is such an incredible whizz at facilitating deep and powerful maths talk amongst her Year 7s. My colleagues inspire me everyday so my story is a little different from those who struggle as "lone wolves" in their schools on a daily basis.
Having said that, joining Twitter was quite simply the most powerful thing I have ever done for my professional learning. And the #edchatnz conference shows why. It gave me access to incredible community of educators across New Zealand who inspire and support each other everyday. Despite the fact that I had never met many of them face to face before Friday, I feel like I have known them forever. My great friend Ginnie put it best when she said,

If you have somehow stumbled across this blogpost and you are not yet on Twitter, start lurking, dipping your toes in and the best place to start? Why #edchatnz of course!

3. The Learners must be at the centre of the learning
And my main takeaway from all the amazing learning I did this weekend is that we must ensure our learners are at the centre of their learning. To be successful in life, our learners need to be directing their own learning while we support and mentor them. We are doing far too much for our students. We need to be explicitly teaching them the skills they need and then getting out of their way! Yes, it is messy and at times it might be uncomfortable for us but giving students control over their learning is engaging and empowering. Hobsonville Point Primary School are doing an amazing job of this. I was incredibly inspired by how articulate and engaged their learners are and how effective they are at directing their own learning. What incredibly lucky kids!
Hobsonville Point Primary School- Learning Commons 1.
Stunningly, beautiful design has a real impact on how the children learn. 

I have so much I'd like to add about specific workshops, keynotes and even a somewhat startling political debate but I'll save that for another day. In the meantime, I'll leave you with this cartoon from Amy McCauley's workshop on personalised learning.

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

We're a Community of Readers!

I’ve been a reader all my life. As a child, there was nothing I loved more than hopping up on my Grandfather’s knee and sharing together the joy of the Five Chinese brothers or the Poky Little Puppy. I read The Outsiders 13 times in the third form!

When I became a teacher, the thing I loved most was sharing my love of reading with my Year 1 and 2s. We would spend a good chunk of the day engrossed in personal reading- Listening to stories, reading newspaper articles, reading around the room.......

My students were readers.

Then came a shift for me to teaching in Upper Primary. I mistakenly became obsessed with comprehension strategies, often through boring worksheets. Suddenly, I was spending far too much time focussing on whether my students could infer, visualise, identify the main idea? I would read them a fantastic story.......and then follow it up with boring, low level tasks- death by comprehension question.

I was turning my students off books and taking all the magic out of reading. To use a phrase from Kelly Gallagher, I was committing READACIDE.

One day I was browsing in the library and I stumbled across an amazing book- The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller!

I devoured this book. It confirmed everything about what I felt my reading practice had become. There were many reading crimes I was committing but I realised that the biggest crime was that I had taken away all choice from my students.
So last year, I decided to try Donalyn Miller’s 40 Book Challenge. It was such a huge success and I honestly can't see myself ever teaching a class again without some iteration of this challenge. With girls choosing all their own reading, it is the most pure form of differentiation in reading that I have had the pleasure to observe. I have modified some of Donalyn's ideas slightly but here’s an outline of how the challenge is working in 8C.

On Day 1 of the year, we have a party for our class. We have balloons, cake, appletise and as many books as we can find. We begin the party with an announcement that this year every single one of them will read 40 books. For most students, this announcement results in a collective sucking in of breath!

We have a google presentation at the ready which tells them all they need to know about the challenge. Both years, this was initially greeted with “You want us to do what?!” but gradually the enthusiasm began to bubble.

They learned that they would across a variety of genres. They were encouraged to read 5 pieces of Realistic Fiction, 3 pieces of New Zealand Literature and so on. You might think this is taking away that element of choice I was trying so desperately to reintroduce but in fact it has had quite the opposite effect.

The beauty of this challenge is that it is so easy to differentiate and could be used with any age group. In the first week of the year, I held very short goal setting conferences with the girls. Some readers set the goal of reading 80 books or even 100. Of course, historical fiction chosen by a strong reader will differ from that chosen by a student who is building reading stamina. How do you know the students have actually read the books? Conference, conference, conference! I meet frequently with the girls to discuss their reading. This is incredibly valuable and I always hear of new titles to buy for my own collection. This is also how I encourage the girls to reflect on the challenge level of their reading material.

The success of this challenge is dependent on our class becoming a real COMMUNITY of READERS. I needed to learn about the reading interests of my students so I conducted a reading interests survey. I did this via a google form and it gave me a wealth of information.

Then we set up 40 Book Challenge Books fondly nicknamed "Book Books." In these, we document
• Books we've completed with a star rating
• Books we want to read on a "To Be Read List"
• Daily Reading in pages
• Genres read on a Genre Graph
• Term goals/ reading plans and end of term reflections
• Reading Rates, as calculated by the girls according to a method suggested by Penny Kittle in her must-read book, "Book Love"

To create that truly connectivist reading community, I have introduced a number of tools. Booksells are big. Last year, girls were rostered to share but this year they are so keen I have scrapped the roster. This year, girls sign up to share a book they have loved and want to recommend to their class. This always results in a flurry of, “Ooh can I read that next?” and as a result we have large booking lists for popular suggestions.

There are many digital tools that have helped create a true reading community. Animoto and imovie are used frequently for booktrailers. These can be embedded easily in eportfolios and blogs. We have even put some of our animoto book trailers into QR codes and put them up in the library for other classes to explore. Thinglink is another amazing tool for sharing reading favourites. Our girls have made great Thinglink Author Studies and I also recommend Google Draw for these types of learning tasks. Other great tools are Biblionasium, Padlet and a variety of KidsLit blogs such as BobsBooks- a huge hit with our students.

In case you are wondering, we do still look at reading strategies. These are fundamental to reading success but we now spend only one period a week discussing strategies. The majority of our reading time is spent discussing books and believe it or not.....reading! Imagine that! Independent Reading time is sacred in 8C and the groans are loud and long when it is time to close their books.

So how do I know that the 40 Book Challenge is a success in 8C? Last Wednesday, we added up the number of books read by 21 students and 2 teachers over the first six months of the year. Guess how many books we've read......


Yep, that's an average of 32 books each in six months! Remember the target was 40 books read in the entire year!!!

So I decided we needed a celebration. On the last day of term we had a 40 Book Breakfast complete with croissants and hot chocolate. Girls shared their favourite titles of the year and reflected on their favourite and least favourite genres. I was incredibly proud of them and as I discovered at their Student Led Conferences; so are their parents. Many parents tried to thank me but I can't accept any of the credit for this. The success here is entirely due to Donalyn Miller as well as the tight-knit reading community the girls have formed; they support each other with book discussions, recommendations and the loaning of books from their own collections. It is truly a beautiful thing!

If you teach reading, I strongly recommend getting your hands on a copy of The Book Whisperer. I can safely say, that the 40 Book Challenge is a huge success in 8C. We are, as Miller puts it, awakening the inner reader in every child!

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Creating Maker Mindsets in Girls

Monday was a really average day for us in 8C. It was one of those "blah" days where the students weren't engaged and I wasn't really engaged; Nothing too drastic but basically the day was just a bit forgettable.  Not one of my finer teaching moments........

Never mind; Tuesday was awesome! The students were passionate about what they were doing, I was much more engaged and excited and I left school that day in a much better frame of mind.  Later that evening, I was reflecting on "Meh Monday" and why Tuesday was so much more successful. Looking at my planning diary,  I looked at the ratio of creation to consumption learning tasks- no prizes for guessing which day was heavy on the consumption tasks and which was heavily weighted in favour of creative tasks.

"Awesome Tuesday" had seen the girls heavily involved in Makerspace tasks and unsurprisingly they were highly engaged and motivated by this learning. The ability to create with plenty of choice as well as a sense of purpose is motivating and provides the perfect conditions for a great day in the classroom. Phew! Bring on more Makered!

Our Makerspace program continues to evolve and we are seeing huge benefits for our girls. We are moving towards integrating a Maker approach across our curriculum, coupled with timetabled unstructured, exploratory Makerspace sessions. We struck gold this year with our amazing elearning and Makerspace teacher, Liz Fairhall who is passionate about Makered and facilitates amazing experiential learning for our girls.

Here are four ways Selwyn House is nurturing a maker mindset in our girls.

1. Makerspace integrated throughout the curriculum

Makerspace in Unit of Inquiry
Liz meets with each team for a planning session early in the term and together with classroom teachers, a Makerspace inquiry is loosely nutted out. This is where the real Design Thinking comes in. In Year 7 and 8, our Term 1 Maker focus, fitted into our Inquiry work and evolved from a problem identified by the girls; that in today's digital society we lose many the special messages and images we receive digitally because we don't have a way to store them and keep them safe. The learners created amazing artefacts- places they could store and cherish their digital keepsakes. The variety of skills the girls got out of this was pretty phenomenal. You can read more about this amazing Makerspace experience HERE.

Makerspace in Maths
Recently, in Year 7 and 8 we've been making in Maths with a focus on animation.  The challenge was for girls to create a claymation clip which illustrated a mathematical concept, providing a teaching tool for younger learners.

Makerspace in Literacy
There are many examples of this throughout the school but I particularly love this example created by some Year 4 students who had been writing in the fantasy genre. They created this clip giving their Top Tips for Fantasy Writing.

2. Makerspace Exploratory Time

We aim to provide plenty of time for the girls to explore Makerspace materials. Girls are given plenty of opportunities to opt in to workshops or explore during free Makerspace times.  Year 3 and 4s have frequent Challenge and Creativity Days and recently a number of girls signed up for the opportunity to further their green screen skills. The teacher involved stood right back and the children took the lead, planning and executing each step in the process.

This is also the time when the girls get their first experiences of new equipment. They were so excited to get their hands on the DiamondMind 3D printer and it was great to be able to give them some exploratory time to print out some of their Tinkercad creations.

Some of the girls' first  Tinkercad creations

3. "The Unquiet Library"

This is a phrase coined by the amazing Buffy Hamilton, a secondary school librarian in the U.S. She is the queen of library makerspaces and has inspired us as Shirley Smith has led the creation of a Makerspace in our own library. This is where the real tinkering happens. There are a range of learning experiences on offer at any given time in our library. Girls are free to explore. Creations are often formed and left for another learner to come along and improve or modify the previous maker's creation. This is where the making happens for the love it.......entirely student led.

4. Robotics 

Robotics is a huge part of what we do at Selwyn House and has been for many years. Robotics skills are explicitly taught, timetabled weekly for every class from Year 1- 6, and robotics is often used to support learning in the Year 7 and 8 Team as well as our Preschool. We also have two very active Robotics Clubs for Juniors, Y1-3 and Seniors Y4-8. The use of robotics from Year 1 introduces a maker mindset, computational thinking and coding to our five year olds and really gets them excited about STEM learning early on. We feel strongly about getting girls into coding and provide a range of experiences to encourage this.
A Year 7 student works with a mentor and a Raspberry Pi

New entrants work with Beebots
When it became clear recently that a group of girls were baffled by how the NXTs functioned, Squishy Circuits were used to illustrate basic circuitry.

Fun with Squishy Circuits

Of the many, many benefits of Makered for our learners and teachers, I think one that stands out for me is the ability of the girls to surprise and delight me with their Maker creations. It is great to see Creativity where it belongs, at the heart of our curriculum.

At Selwyn House, we are deeply passionate about girls playing a big part in the Maker Movement. And I think it is safe to say that our girls are too!

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Out of the Rubble- The Rebuilding of a Community

I'm going to put it out there..........Christchurch teachers are EXHAUSTED.  Really, really exhausted.

Ok, so there's a few Christchurch educators reading this saying,
"Speak for yourself, Bridget! I'm completely and utterly chipper! Teaching is Christchurch is just awesome. I'm full of beans."
But on the whole, most of us are getting by on high doses of iron tablets combined with large and frequent doses of strong coffee.....or something stronger!

It has been an incredible four years in Christchurch. That 4.35am, 7.1 magnitude wake-up call in
 September 2010 and the resulting hideous few years have changed us all irrevocably. The quakes have left such deep and jagged scars on the people of Christchurch that it is sometimes hard to convey that impact in words so I'm not really going to try. You'll have to just take my word for it.....and I know that you wonderful kiwis do. I know that you have supported Christchurch in a way that makes me so proud to be a New Zealander. I still think back to an incredible week we had in Auckland when we escaped Christchurch after the February quake on an Air New Zealand 747 so my husband could work in his firm's Auckland office. We were the lucky ones, able to escape the ongoing aftershocks, the lack of electricity and running water and the overwhelming sorrow that was so thick in our city you could taste it. I know how lucky we were and I'm immensely grateful. I still get a lump in my throat when I think about how my traumatised children were swept up by complete strangers who knew exactly what to say and do to distract them- the kindness of strangers was such a beautiful and moving thing. It helped us to be brave enough to pull ourselves together to return home with the resolve to stay here and help rebuild our precious city from the ground up.

But things were tough, especially in schools. Our students had been through things that no child should have to experience; they were frightened. Just leaving their parents on that first day back at school was something I will never forget. It was TOUGH. Teachers had to be strong, no matter what. We had to ensure that we provided the safest environment we could but it was hard to be positive when we'd lost homes and friends and for many Christchurch teachers, family members. It was hard to keep smiling when you were sharing portaloos in the playground with your students. (By the way, I recommend not being in a portaloo during an aftershock if you can avoid it!)

The girls wanted to hang messages of love on the school fence on our first day at school after the quake. 

We were living in broken homes with wonky floors and cracked windows. Many of my colleagues had their homes demolished or red-zoned and had to find new homes in a saturated and over-priced rental market. We were fighting with EQC and insurers and finding out our land was damaged and labelled TC3 which is earthquake speak for, "You've just lost 50% of the value of your home because who's going to want to buy it now?"

Then came the killer blow for schools- the announcement that the Government was looking to close or merge up to 31 schools in Christchurch. I still remember the overwhelming horror I felt when news of these possible closures broke. Schools had been the backbones of their communities since the quakes. Teachers had provided safe havens in the midst of tragedy and devastation.  Deep down, the Christchurch education community knew that change would have to come at some stage, but after so much tumultuous change in Christchurch in such a short space of time, this was a step too far, too soon for many broken communities.

But as you probably know if you're reading this, we teachers are a dedicated and resilient bunch, aren't we? We box on for the sake of our students; we want the best for them........ and so, Christchurch teachers put their heads down and continued to do their very best in the most trying of circumstances.

But the thing about resilience is its tiring! Exhausting even. And trying to be resilient all on your own is even more exhausting!

Enter the wonder of the PLN- or Personal Learning Network. Some time in that most hideous of years, 2011, I did something that has changed my life as an educator more than I could have imagined; I joined Twitter. My PLN don't know this but at times when teaching has been really hard work, they've inspired me and I know many other Christchurch teachers who feel this way. The power of belonging to a network of educators who support one another is something I can't rave about enough.

Last night was the Christchurch Eduignite; a fantastic night. It was attended by a small but incredibly passionate bunch of educators who are aware of the need for Christchurch teachers to come together to inspire each other and affirm the amazing work that is happening in our schools. Later, over a cheeky shiraz, a new hashtag was born; #chched. We hope that Canterbury teachers will join the conversation, connecting and supporting and affirming and perhaps most importantly, having a much-needed laugh. A huge thank you to Pauline Henderson and Aimee Sibson for being the impetus behind this rebuilding of Christchurch's teacher community.

There is so much incredible stuff going on in the Christchurch education community. To any Christchurch teachers reading this, I think you're awesome! And I hope to get to know you better on #chched. See you there!

Right! Off to take my iron pill.........

Friday, 30 May 2014

Evaluating our blog- what are our next steps?

Keeping a class blog has been transformative for me as an educator. Creating 8C Happenings was part of my PLD in 2013 so I was something of a late bloomer in the blogging field. At Selwyn House, we've maintained blogs for years but they were private blogs through Ultranet and I desperately wanted for us to become connected beyond our school community.  I could not have foreseen how transformative keeping a blog would be for my learners and myself as a teacher. As the first public blogger at our school, I outlined three enormous benefits of keeping a blog for my colleagues in this short clip. Excuse the cheesy grins......and the somewhat startlingly thick kiwi accent. Who knew I had an accent?! ;)

This year began with all four classes in our Year 7 and 8 team committed to keeping class blogs. This has been a great experience and I think one of the reasons blogging has been so successful amongst our team is that we started blogs as part of the action in our Straight to the Blog Unit of Inquiry; expecting teachers to find time to learn about blogging in busy schedules on top of everything else might not have been so effective.

So 8C Happenings has been rocking along, tickety boo. We have over 40,000 page views and have made some really powerful connections but recently I have been reflecting a lot on what our next steps are as bloggers. Are we really using our blog to its full potential or is it at risk of simply becoming a digital noticeboard?

Then on Monday evening, Danielle Myburgh tweeted this:

I was so excited when I saw the blogging rubric she had created. Embarrassingly, it had never occurred to me to evaluate our entire blog as a whole. We'd evaluated plenty of individual blogposts but never our blog in its entirety. I was keen to get started. So on Tuesday morning, we abandoned our writing programme and the girls split into six small groups with each group taking one aspect of the rubric to assess.

I thought this was particularly harsh in the Participating and Commenting section as the girls are generally great at taking part and leaving quality comments. Also, they have contributed in Quadblogging twice this year and made a very positive contribution. As a say, we are working on not looking at things from a deficit mindset! But on the whole, their assessments were astute and reflective.

Where are our Quadblogging Buddies? 

The girls identified some next steps for each category and the one that stood out for me the most was that they want (and to be fair, deserve) to have more ownership of posting to the class blog. They are desperate to get their hands on that Blogger password instead of sharing their google docs with me so I can post for them. Fair enough!

Next steps as identified by 8C:
Visual Impact- Ensure images enhance our learning rather than just looking pretty
Student-Centred- Post our blogposts straight into Blogger rather than sending to Mrs C-M to put them up
Multi-Media- Create more video content
Digital Citizenship- Be more familiar with the 9 Aspects of Digital Citizenship
Participating and Contributing- Use emoji in our comments (!)
Academic Contribution- Design our own learning tasks which we then share on the blog

After reflecting on these next steps, I let the girls take charge of this week's posts. There was a common theme from the small groups regarding a desire to have more video on the blog so there has been a lot of time spent in the past couple of days filming imovies the girls believe will be interesting to our blog readers. These obviously take a lot longer to prepare than making a quick Photopeach; next week, expect an onslaught of stimulating posts about our learning at Selwyn House! These posts are entirely driven by the girls and will be uploaded by the girls themselves.

GULP...... ;)

Encouraging independence with multi-media
Thanks so much Danielle, for inspiring me to evaluate where we are heading with the class blog. Your rubric is fantastic and has encouraged me to give control to my learners....... again? This is becoming a habit! 

Sunday, 25 May 2014

A Celebration of Design Thinking

This week's topic of Design Thinking has challenged me the most of all the previous HackYrClass topics. I have a job share role- I'm responsible for Literacy and Maths and this challenge has really got me thinking about how to incorporate a Design Thinking mindset into my programme.

I've pored over readings on the subject this week and found the IDEO Design Thinking Toolkit particularly informative and practical.

What all this reading has really made me question is how my amazing job share partner and I can
integrate more seamlessly? A true integrated approach such as Challenge- Based Learning would enable us to blur the lines between curriculum areas, eventually getting to a point where an overriding challenge or problem would encompass all curriculum needs. We are fortunate to be an International Baccalaureate Primary Years Programme school and this type of approach meshes easily with the PYP framework. I know there are many amazing PYP teachers using a Design Thinking approach from which all curriculum needs are met.  I will continue to give this lots of thought.......

In the meantime, I would love to celebrate what does happen in our school. My teaching partner, Liz Fairhall together with our team leader, Linda Baran have created an amazing Makerspace at Selwyn House. This space is equipped with all manner of tools to enable our girls to create. There are wood and metal working tools, electronics equipments including circuitry and robotics equipment, tools for working with fabrics and of course computers and green screening. We recently acquired our first 3d printer which the girls are over the moon about; as are many of the parents!

I need to celebrate a recent Design Thinking inquiry led by Liz. Last term, our Unit Of Inquiry was called, "Straight to the Blog" and was a Digital Citizenship inquiry which explored how we make a contribution in online spaces. One of the challenges of the digital era identified by the girls is that often we lose special memories which come to us digitally because of a lack of a way to save them, for example special texts or emails. Liz used the Design Thinking framework with the girls to get them to solve this problem. In the Makerspace, they designed, prototyped and created a solution to this challenge. Some girls used a hacker approach and reinvented an existing tool; others created something new from scratch. All creations were unique and we were very impressed by the inventiveness of the girls. Here are some of the girls' creations.
Maddie's Photographic Wooden Coasters

Elise's photographic jewellery made from broken CDs
Ella's photographic/ email Rubik's Cube

Georgia's teeny-tiny photo viewer- the photo slides into a false base. Very cool! 
I'd like to give a shout-out here to the amazing Bridget McKendry of the Christchurch Makercrate. To my mind, she is the ultimate Design Thinker with a real ability to encourage innovation and nurture a Design Thinking mindset. She inspired the Selwyn House team enormously when we visited the crate last year as we started on the Makerspace journey. She is incredibly passionate about MakerEd and my Maker-minded daughter adores her and has learnt so much from her. If you want to see authentic Design Thinking in action, Bridget is your one stop shop! Thanks, Bridget!

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Getting to Know You, Getting to Know All About You..........

If any of us ever needed convincing of the benefits of being a connected educator, the #hackyrclass project must surely allay any doubts. It shows the collaboration, deep reflection and encouragement that can occur within a PLN even if we have never even laid eyes on one another. Wow! This is really powerful stuff that could never have occurred ten years ago! I am really enjoying being provoked by Claire Amos, Steve Mouldey, the edchatnz community and all those participating in the HackyrClass project. I have been challenged to think deeply about teaching as a craft and I find myself noticing things and questioning my practice even more.  Unfortunately, I seem to have found myself a week behind in my blogging already so this is an attempt to catch up, ready for a big week thinking about design thinking!

Awwwww......I am a sucker for cows! Image from www.hobbyfarms.com

We know getting to know our learners is fundamental to their success. In the past, this meant a real focus on assessment data. Our school prides itself on its pastoral care and donates half a Teacher Only Day to handing over information about our current students to their next year's teacher. We have a kind of speed-dating session (with less emphasis on speed) where we discuss individuals and receive detailed information about how best to ensure their transition into our class is as seamless as possible in regards to both their academic, social and emotional needs. This enables us to pick up where the previous teacher left off and gets the year started with a hiss and roar so to speak. This is significantly different from when I first started teaching and we used to tell parents that reading and maths groups wouldn't start until Week 4 so we could spend the first three weeks doing running records, Gloss, Schonell and a host of other assessments! Why?! Were our colleagues and the data they had gathered not to be trusted? Hopefully, nowadays we trust the data (and our colleagues) a little more. What's that saying about pigs? Weighing the pigs won't make them any fatter? Something like that.......

Anyway, fortunately we now focus more on formative assessments to give us a clearer picture of our learners' academic needs but how do we get to know our learners as people? How do we learn what makes them "tick" and what will engage them? How do we find out what they need to enable them to learn and make them feel valued in the classroom?

Here are a three things we have done in our classroom to help create a community of learners where we have a handle somewhat on knowing our learners and the learners(including me) knowing each other.

1. Google Pres/ Class Smackdown-

Over the summer, my teaching partner and I sent out a letter to each class member. There's nothing like receiving snail mail, right? In the letter, we included a link to a google pres asking the girls to each add a page about themselves, sharing everything they wanted the rest of the class and their teachers to know about them.


I haven't asked the girls' permission to share this so have only included three slides but I'm sure you get the idea. The variety of the slides was quite phenomenal and enabled each student to have five minutes to share the essence of themselves with their new classmates. The girls created their slide during the holidays so sharing the pres was a really fun activity for Day 1 of the new school year.

2. Creating a digital story about ourselves-

Last year, we used Animoto to create short clips about our passions and things that we value. This allowed us to learn a little more about our girls and what makes them happy. (Again, I haven't had the opportunity to ask last year's students for permission to share their work so you are learning more about me that you need to! Sorry about that!)

3. An introductory post on our class blog-

Our first Unit of Inquiry this year was a digital citizenship inquiry with a focus on expressing ourselves in online spaces. In a nod to that 1990s classic piece of Australian film, "The Castle" with its famous "Straight to the Poolroom" quote, we called our inquiry, "Straight to the Blog," acknowledging that the blog would be the place we shared our most prized learning. After watching the clip on youtube, this became a bit of a team joke and hence the name stuck.

Each student created a blog post introducing themselves to our blog readers, taking into account issues surrounding privacy and safety. Girls were encouraged to be creative and ensure that there was enough variety amongst the 88 girls in the Year 7/8 team and four class blogs to keep the readers engaged. Here's a great example;

I hope that these tasks have shown our learners that their teachers care about getting to know them. Perhaps it is not knowing what musical instruments or sports our students play that really matters but more that we have shown them that we really are interested in who they are and want to celebrate and acknowledge their unique interests and experiences.

 What sorts of things have you done in your class to get to know your learners?

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Nurturing a Growth Mindset in a sea of perfectionists.........

I teach in an all girls' setting. I love my school and am really proud to work at Selwyn House; I think that we really "get" girls and give them a very clear message that they can be anything they want. As a result, our girls are tough, gritty, open-minded and highly competitive in a huge range of activities from rugby to robotics.

Studies consistently show that girls are more prone to perfectionism than boys and my experience at Selwyn House would certainly back that up. I have seen more than my fair share of almost crippling perfectionism in recent years and this week I've been thinking a lot about how nurturing a growth mindset could have a positive impact for students whose perfectionistic traits are holding them back.

In the past week, I've been reading a lot of blog posts and literature about developing a growth mindset and have even subjected my husband to countless clips of Carol Dweck on You Tube. I recognised the self-talk of a fixed mindset in myself at times and began to suspect that many of my students were subjecting themselves to self-talk that is limiting their potential, self-talk that was representative of a fixed mindset.

So I found some Level 5 and 6 Maths problems from  NZ Maths. These problems were difficult enough that the girls would be extremely challenged but not impossible for them to solve. I told them to complete the two problems in silence (which is very rare in 8C) and also completely independently with no allowance for working in a small group (which is also very rare in 8C). The girls looked at me like I had grown two heads- having no choice in the way we approach a task is a very unfamiliar feeling for them. Many also looked terrified at being given a problem to solve which was clearly going to really stretch the rubberband so to speak- others were visibly excited and embracing the challenge. I then gave them each a number of post-its and asked them to write down the thoughts that were going through their heads and to continue recording the thoughts they were telling themselves as they attacked the problem.

At the conclusion of the activity, I asked the girls to bring their post-its to the carpet and they shared their self-talk with a small group.

We decided to classify our self-talk and the girls came up with three loose categories; Positive Self-Talk, Negative Self- Talk and a kind of middle ground where things like, "How long is it until morning tea?" belonged!

I explained to the girls that the two main categories they had identified corresponded to an important idea in education at the moment, the concept of a Fixed or Growth Mindset. We watched some clips on brain development and many girls were genuinely shocked to find that intelligence is not fixed- some were excited at the prospect of being able to increase their intelligence and potential while others looked a little shocked. What would this mean? How could we apply this new concept in our lives?

 It was clear that a number of my particularly optimistic students naturally possess a growth mindset. Many girls with perfectionistic traits, displayed a fixed mindset during this task, shying away from the challenge for fear of being wrong. When listening to their small group conversations, I identified a common theme amongst some of the girls who achieve extremely good results in maths; "What if others find out I'm a fraud?" Hearing this was alarming and confirmed that teaching about a growth mindset and their ability to increase their own potential was imperative for all my students, but especially the perfectionists.

This was just the first step in a very important journey; our next step will be to find alternatives to some of the negative self-talk and to find ways to celebrate evidence of a growth mindset in the girls.

We finished the session with a book that I highly recommend for stimulating discussion around mindset, "Rosie Revere, Engineer" by Andrea Beaty. I love this story and it is an absolute must-have if you have a Makerspace or STEM mindset in your school. Love it!

I love to use literature to spark discussions. Have you found picture books that encourage a growth mindset? Please share in the comments. I'd love to hear from you.