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

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.

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Giving up control......

What happens if you hand over control to your students......and you really, really struggle with what they come up with?!

Yesterday was the first day of Term 2 and in 8C, the term started in truly chaotic fashion! We'd had earthquake repairs done in one of our buildings meaning that eight of our classrooms, including mine are now looking completely gorgeous with fresh paint, new carpet and no cracks in the plaster! Fantastic!

However, the contractors were still working on Sunday evening trying to get everything ready for Monday morning so here's what my girls arrived to yesterday morning.

Now I'm not a control freak by any stretch of the imagination (if anything I could do with being a little more Type A!) but the chaos in my classroom would have been enough to create heart palpitations in even the most laid back of teachers!

Fortunately, we had advance notice that the contractors would be cutting it pretty close to the wire. Christchurch people are used to that! So last week, at one of our Professional Development Days our team leader, Linda Baran and our new principal, Lyn Bird challenged us to "run with it" and take the opportunity to allow our students to take the lead in setting up the classrooms.

Our Year 7 and 8 classrooms are single cell classrooms and I'll be honest, I loved the way we'd had our classroom set up in Term 1. With its' comfy couches and coffee tables, fresh flowers and a lamp, I really had tried to create a classroom that had a kind of living room vibe. The desks were pushed right up against the walls and the big collaborative table was the most popular workspace. However, the bottom line here is that I had set this up with my teaching partner. The girls had little say in how the space worked. It was time to hand over the reigns and let them take ownership of 8C.

 The biggest challenge I could see was going to be pushing our girls past what they already know. We set up a gallery walk of Flexible Learning Spaces from around New Zealand and further afield.

 The girls wrote graffiti around the images and some trends emerged. They were drawn to uncluttered learning spaces with plenty of room to spread out. They also felt strongly about the option to self-manage where they work.

We then worked in small groups to plan our dream classroom. I was surprised to hear one group say, " I really want a classroom like in High School Musical where we each have one individual desk laid out in rows!" There goes my dream of the ultimate collaborative learning space!

After nearly a full day of planning, the girls agreed on a layout and away they went, setting up the classroom as they wanted it. Here's what they came up with.

Hmmmm......neither me not my teaching partner loved it but we tried to bite our tongue. After all, this is about student voice, right? Alarmed by the cluttered nature of the room, we decided to let it go, hoping that they might come to the realisation that there might be better layouts. It was a very uncomfortable feeling for me. What if they continued to love it and felt it worked well? What is more important- a space that works well or student ownership? There had to be a happy medium!

Day Two began and a teacher from Year 6 came to visit. On his way into the classroom he tripped over a desk leg and stubbed his toe! He spoke with the students he needed to see and then turned around to leave bumping into another desk and knocking over a chair. The girls were starting to realise that the space was so much more cluttered than it needed to be.

Oh, the irony.......

After some reflecting on the space, someone commented that they felt they'd love to push their desk up against the walls to create more floor space but they weren't sure they wanted to always have to commit to working facing the wall.
"Good point," someone else agreed, "We'd be much more adventurous with the seating arrangements if we knew we had lots of options and didn't have to always sit facing out the window where we might get distracted!"
"If I knew I wasn't committed to one spot all the time, I might even get rid of my desk entirely!"

We realised that what was behind the cluttered arrangement was a need to make the seating plan fair for everyone. It wasn't fair for some girls to always be near the heater where it could get very hot or always be close to the door which is distracting.  What would be fair was being free to choose where we sit all the time depending on our learning needs at that moment.

So, where does this leave us given that the girls' desks are flip-top desks with trays holding all their bits and bobs? Well, we made great progress today. We got rid of some desks and have swapped them for a second collaborative table. We've made plans to get some gorgeous bean bag couches and a low table with cushions. We've also scored a set of tote trays! Tote trays! They really do have their place.

A long way from perfect but getting warmer.........

So things are looking up! This is definitely going to be a work in progress. For a moment there, I was mulling over which took precedence in a future-focused classroom; a collaborative space that reflects my pedagogy or that my students have ownership of the space. Fortunately, it looks like we can have both!

Monday, 5 May 2014

On being a risk-taker.....

As a PYP teacher, the need to encourage growth through taking risks is always in the forefront of my mind. We constantly talk with our students about what being a risk-taker looks and feels like and the personal development and benefits we can experience when are brave and push ourselves out of our comfort zone.


I've been blogging with my class for a while now and while I have toyed with the idea of starting a professional blog on numerous occasions, I've never had the courage to take this step. I've been terrified to put myself out there for critique by peers who I admire and look up to. I'm incredibly anxious about opening myself up to scrutiny by educators whose opinions I value and whose expertise I am inspired by.  I am not sure why I feel this way as I am a prolific reader of educational blogs and have always had a deep admiration for those who blog about their experiences as educators, teachers who care deeply enough about the difference they are making for their students to seek feedback from other teachers or to share their expertise. I have found their musings to be so helpful. So I'm not sure why putting my thoughts and reflections out there is so terrifying.

Perhaps it is because I don't consider myself to have all the answers; sometimes I don't consider myself to have ANY of the answers! But I certainly have a lot of questions, questions that I'd love to mull over with other educators.

I was fortunate enough to attend the GAFE Summit, South in April. Kimberley Hall talked about Virtuous Circles and I realised that I while I was doing three of the steps, I was definitely not creating content.

A Virtuous Circle shared by Kimberley Hall at the Gafe Summit. 

Claire Amos's and Steve Mouldey's #hackyrclass project was the final push I needed to start documenting my challenges and celebrations as a teacher.

So today I am being a risk-taker. I'm putting myself out there, dipping my toes into the blogosphere so to speak.  Wish me luck!