Saturday, 28 February 2015

What Jessie J has taught me about growth mindset!

Last night I was reflecting on my 28 days of writing efforts and feeling pretty embarrassed about my dismal attempt. This is the last day of 28 and I've managed to publish just 18 posts including this one.... a.bys.mal.

As I was sitting staring at my laptop in front of the tv waiting for inspiration to strike for another post, I was beating myself up about my very disappointing efforts. 17 posts in 28 days? How come so many other educators managed to write 28 posts...and not just good posts.....phenomenal, inspiring posts, all 28 of them with new insights and challenges and beautifully crafted. I was deeply engaged in my own negative self-talk; "I'm not good enough" I told myself as that great philosopher of the modern era, Jessie J came on to perform on the Graham Norton show.

Apparently this image has a "Creative Commons" licence.

Next thing she was singing these words.....

Wow! Just what I needed to hear.......the great Jessie J was singing right to me! ;) As an aside, this is a great song for teaching growth mindset or would be if I could work out how to beep out the nawty words! 

What a great lesson in growth mindset "28 days of writing" has been. Our Year 7/8 team is currently fully immersed in a Unit of Inquiry on mindset for learning. We've been really exploring our own self-talk and I've come to the realisation that I can be incredibly hard on myself. The girls in 8CF inform me that the biggest challenge for many of them is going to be changing their self-talk when faced with the success of their peers and I know they are onto something. At times during the month, the incredible quality of others' posts took my breath away. Rather than being inspired though, I let it totally get the better of me, becoming quite intimidated and giving up. But I need to take a leaf out of Jessie's book and hum this tune....... 

"I wanna hang with the greatest, gotta way to go but it's worth the wait......." 

She's right you know, old Jessie J. Sure, I have only managed 18 posts in February but that's 17 more than January! And yes some of them were pretty light and fluffy about extremely important subjects like whether schools should send out class lists at the end of the year or allocate desks in class! But in others I really put myself out there which is quite an achievement for someone who is scared of conflict! That's growth, right there. 

Yesterday, I read my girls this beautiful book from the ever- amazing Mark and Rowan Sommerset. 

Just like Jessie J, these little bugs have lots to teach us about the power of optimism and having a growth mindset. I could choose to be like the blue bug, blown away and allowing myself to feel intimidated by the many talented writers in my PLN, eventually giving up. Then again, I could choose to be like the red bug, proud of what I've achieved and facing towards the sun! I could read the posts of others and be inspired by them, asking myself, "How does she do it? What can I learn from her?" Being the blue bug can sometimes be the easier option; it needs less courage and effort and its risk of failing. But boy, what a miserable way to live.........

For the month of March, I choose to be the red bug.

Thank you so much to Tom Barrett for starting the 28 Days of Writing adventure! I'm so glad I joined in. 

Thursday, 26 February 2015

Why a Girls' School?

Ok, deep breath....I know its an educational hot potato but I'm going to blog about why I teach at a girls' school.

There's been a bit in the media recently about how boys and girls learn differently. I know we can agree that all individuals learn best in different ways; whether that is gender-based is harder to agree on but there do seem to be some general trends in the way many boys and many girls learn.  As a teacher at an all girls' school, I can assure you that these are just trends and there are many, many girls who buck every single one of them (just as there are with boys!)

In my class of girls, there is every type of learner. There are girls who benefit from constant movement and there are girls who like to sit still when working. There are girls who love loud rambunctious music when they learn and there are girls who like it to be quiet. There are girls who love to talk ideas over and there are girls who love to be quiet and listen. There are girls who prefer to lead and girls who prefer to follow others. I believe it is my job as an effective teacher to 

a) cater to these differences and
b) encourage my learners to not let these preferences "define" them.

I want them to be aware of their strengths and learning preferences but not use these as a crutch or an excuse for staying in their comfort zone. I encourage my quiet girls to try being the noisy one every now and then and my super chatty -girls to try being the quiet one on for size. Likewise, I expect all learners to be leaders in some situations and followers in others. No doubt the local boys' schools has just as many learning styles in each class and I have no doubt that the same can be said of the local co-ed school.

I am quite sure I have no fewer learning styles to cater for than my friend who teaches up the road in a co-ed class. So if it is not about the learning styles of boys and girls being different, why do single sex schools exist and why am I teaching in one?

I teach at a girls' school, not because I believe girls learn in a completely different way to boys and should be taught different content, that's just silly. An effective teacher can manage many different types of learners in their classroom.

I teach at a girls' school because I see the differences in the way girls and boys experience society. Despite all the great work done by women such as Kate Sheppard, the world is far from being a level playing field. I teach at a girls' school because as a community our school is deeply committed to discrediting all the myths that girls are consciously or sub-consciously fed out there in the wider world. We work so hard to empower our girls and ensure that before they leave us and move into high school they know they can do anything! They leave us believing that being a girl is completely and utterly awesome and that they have the power to achieve whatever they want and really make a difference in their world.

In our school, girls are never inadvertently given messages that any field is best for boys or even "off limits" for girls. They participate whole-heartedly in a huge range of activities and are surrounded by fantastic role models; inspiring women and men.  I am proudly feminist.

That is not to say that we are anti-boy. Not at all. We are simply pro-girl. Our culture is very "Girl Power" and our girls are thriving! As a Year 8 teacher, I get lots of feedback from parents and students who have moved on to co-ed high schools. They consistently tell me that their daughters were very well-prepared for a co-ed world and their girls are confidently giving the boys a run for their money!

I know there may be readers out there who are reading this and shaking their heads. Of course, there are co-ed schools which are mindful of the messages their girls are receiving. That is fabulous! Sadly, for many girls the message isn't getting through and the statistics are available to prove that girls are not feeling empowered, wrongly or rightly to participate in many fields. In many cases, when they do they are not paid equally and their contribution is simply not recognised in the way it is for their male counterparts. Put simply, we should not tolerate the status quo.

Our school and its "girl power" culture empower girls to meet their potential. They know there is power in being a girl and they have the confidence to use it to make a difference in our world.

Monday, 23 February 2015

Home, Sweet Home! Loving Where You Live

15 Things that will make you smile in Christchurch

Ok, so for the second day in a row, I've been thinking about something seemingly unrelated to educational pedagogy; the importance of loving where you live. I guess that's because my love for my hometown is always strong around the anniversary of the quakes; that's what's on top for me at the moment. I promise to blog about something with a less tenuous link to education tomorrow.

But of course you guys are a smart bunch; I'm sure I don't need to point out the connection between being happy in your life to being an effective teacher. Yesterday after attending the River of Flowers, my husband, children and I were feeling sombre and reflective and we ended up in one of our favourite Christchurch cafes eating curly fries.  My eight year old son, probably sensing my sadness, suddenly reached for my hand and said, "I love Christchurch, Mum," which cheered me up no end.
"Me too!" said his big sister. "Its amazing!"
We then dug out my phone and made a family list of things we love about Christchurch. I've left off the things like "playdates" and "the friendly people" because I'm pretty sure your city has those too.

So without further ado, and in no particular order, here's the Compton-Moen family list of 15 things that make us happy in Christchurch. It should be noted that this is just half the list and also, not all members of the whanau agree with every item! ;)

1. The Street Art- amazeballs! Wander the CBD and be blown away by the some of the most incredible and uplifting street art you've seen. The Spectrum Streetart exhibition is really wonderful and was LOVED by each of my family for different reasons.

2. Hagley Oval- seriously, what's not to love? Sitting on the embankment is like being at an English boutique cricket ground. Lovely even if you are not a cricket fan.

3. The Fablab XCHC- this place is just incredible. A real playground for all ages.  If you like making stuff (and who doesn't?) this is the place for you. Take the entire family and spend time tinkering and creating together. Fun!

4. The Beach- Sumner, New Brighton, Taylor's Mistake, Waimairi.....all are fantastic places for fish n chips, an ice cream and a a swim if you're brave! And all are so close to the city.

5. Taking in a Crusader's game at the new AMI Stadium- even if you hate rugby, go for the horses! Just awesome. And you are sooooo close to the players, you could give them a few tips and they'd hear you. And believe me, my son does.

6. The Tannery- this "boutique shopping emporium" is so well done. Even the gorgeous toilets will make your jaw drop.  Great coffee, awesome craft beers, beautiful shops and the most delicious retro cake store. Love it.

7. Biking/ Jogging/ Walking/ Scootering/ Walking the dog in Hagley Park- 165 hectares of pure bliss right in the centre of the city.

8. CBD adventure- A ride on the Tram, punting on the Avon River, visiting New Regent Street and Restart- This is the best way to really see what is happening in our city in transition. I am a huge fan of the tram and always learn something new despite having lived here for 75% of my life! New Regent Street is just gorgeous and Restart is a must-see; a shopping precinct created from shipping containers at a time when containers really were the only option! Very cool and I desperately hope it will always have a place in the New Christchurch.

9. Drink goooooood coffee. Having lived in all of NZ's main centres(Between us) and being somewhat coffee connoisseurs (or perhaps just addicts!), my husband and I know for sure that Christchurch coffee is amongst the best. Try quirky C1 with its curly fries which arrive in pneumatic sliders or Black Betty with its range of different coffee methods such as Coffee Syphon. Brick Farm has amazing coffee and grows its own delicious organic produce right on site.

10. Or perhaps you're after something stronger than coffee! Visit one of the many new bars in Christchurch; Engineers and Merchants has a fantastic roof top bar; Strange's Lane has a collection of great bars including Vespa which I love for its delicious street food inspired menu and its quirky musical offerings. Burt Bacharach anyone?!

11. The Antarctic Centre is an oldie but a goodie- so much fun. Ride the Hagglund (unless like me you get motion sick!) meet Little Blue Penguins and experience the power of the storm. My kids' favourite.

12. Visit Gapfiller Sites- these are changing all the time so check the website. Our family's favourite is The Dance-o-Mat....if its good enough for Charles and Camilla, then its good enough for the C-M family!

13. Mountain Biking at Macleans Island or Bottle Lake- the boys in our family LOVE doing this. The girls are happy with a lazy walk before beaching in the park with a good book. Either way, this is a fun family activity and the tracks really are great for a range of ages and abilities.

14. Christchurch Farmers' Market at Riccarton Bush- this is just such a fantastic and delicious way to spend a Saturday. And what a beautiful setting. The hardest part is deciding what to eat for lunch. YUM.

15. Day trips- one of the most fantastic things about Christchurch is its proximity to a huge variety of locations for amazing day trips. In around 90 minutes, you can be on a ski field at Mt Hutt or in hot pools in Hanmer Springs. You can be whale watching in Kaikoura or dolphin watching in Akaroa. Only got half a day to spare? Lyttelton and bays such as Diamond Harbour or Purau are stunning and a trip to Quail Island on the ferry is a great way to get out on the water.

Hanmer Thermal Resort- Magic

Ok, like I said that's only half our list but creating it was such a mood enhancer I just had to share. What do you love about your hometown?

Sunday, 22 February 2015

Four Years On.........

Today it is four years since the day that Christchurch and Cantabrians were changed forever.  It is so hard to believe that it is 1461 days since that horrific day that not one of us will ever forget. In many ways it feels like yesterday......and in others it seems like a lifetime ago. The scars are so deep and Cantabrians are a changed people. It is impossible to go through such tragedy and be untouched by it.

Having said that, I feel like a fraud writing this.  I feel like I don't have the right to comment. You see, I know that I'm one of the lucky ones...the very lucky ones. I didn't lose any whanau or close friends, none of us suffered horrendous injuries that changed the path of our lives and force us to live with daily pain, we didn't lose our home and our house's structural damage has now been fixed. We didn't lose jobs or equity in our home or business.

My heart goes out to all those whose lives have been changed those who have lost, arohanui.

Today, as in previous years we marked the anniversary by attending the River of Flowers. We bought flowers for Christchurch, red of course, and stood on the banks of the Avon River. As a family we were quiet and still for a minute at 12.51 before a lone piper played Amazing Grace. The tears flowed as I suspect they will for many years to come. Yes, I am one of the lucky ones but the hurt and sorrow I feel for Christchurch and our people remains raw.
I still find it hard to accept that so many in this city are suffering so much after all this time. I still struggle to come to terms with all that we've lost. The shops where my mother took me to buy school shoes and a brownie uniform as a child, the tea rooms where my grandparents took me for lime milkshakes, the Town Hall where I sang in numerous music festivals and attended my first rock concert, the City Mall where we used to sit on Friday nights as fourth formers outside HMV in our kungfu shoes, every single bar and nightclub my friends and I frequented as uni students, the restaurant and movie theatre my husband took me to on our first date, the church where we were married, the hospital where my son was born, the list goes on and on......the special places that mark the passing of my life are gone; only rubble, road cones or bare land remains.

But these are only buildings; though it is sad, I can accept their demise. What is harder to accept is the loss of innocence and the new found realisation that life can be taken from us at any time. I feel such anger at the quakes and I hate that I am now so desperately frightened of Mother Nature's ferocious power. Like many Cantabrians, when we suffer aftershocks it takes me a long, long time to recover. My heart races, my mouth is dry and my mind jumps straight away to mentally locate my children. It is hard not to think back to that horrific day at school and not hear the screams of 250 terrified children or picture their petrified faces. I hate that Christchurch people now live with a fear in their hearts that is so hard to shake.

And yet, today I look forward with hope. I believe strongly that there will be a better future for our city. I love the creativity that is such a part of the new normal in Christchurch. I love that we are more grateful and able to find joy in the little things. I see changes in Christchurch's children and feel proud of them for their resilience and compassion for others. This generation of children will be a force to be reckoned with, of that I am sure.

Today is a tough day; tomorrow will be better.

Saturday, 21 February 2015

Making Class Blogs Authentic- a cry for help!

Today's post is a cry for help of sorts. I am hoping that all you blogging gurus will read this and weigh in.

We've had a class blog for two years now. Starting 8C Happenings in 2013 was so exciting. Our learners were completely and utterly on board and practically fought each other to get blogposts up. We formed many connections and spent lots of time reading other blogs and writing comments. We took part in International and Aotearoa Quadblogging and other projects including the Global Read Aloud. In 2014, we did a Unit of Inquiry around digital citizenship and sharing in online spaces. The unit was called "Straight to the Blog" a title which was kind of a sad in- joke between those of us old enough to remember the "straight to the poolroom" quote from that classic piece of Australian cinema, The Castle. We got all classes in our team blogging and making global connections. We even started a New Zealand-wide kids' book chat on twitter via our blog. I had endless enthusiasm for blogging as a class.

This year, I've got to be honest, I don't seem to be able to rekindle that fire! I am not sure why this is but I think its because our blog has really become a sequence of recounts. There seems to be an absence of the higher level thinking that my girls are so great at. We are documenting the events that punctuate life in our classroom but I have this question in my head that I just can't shake. 

So what?

I need to think back to my original learning intentions when we started our blog. I had three goals for 8C Happenings. 

a) Document life in the classroom for our whanau

b) Flatten the classroom walls so we could connect with and learn alongside others

c) Develop our skills in writing in online spaces and maintaining an engaging blog

We are certainly working on Purpose A but I'm not sure parents and family members are reading it. When I surveyed parents via google form last year, I got a lot of mixed responses. Most loved it and checked that they would hate to see us abandon the blog but many confessed that rarely read it, even when I emailed out links. do I address this? How do you encourage parents to engage with your class blog? Any suggestions? 

Purpose B is the one that I believe provides the greatest rewards and I always feel the greatest enthusiasm for blogging when we are right in the thick of connecting and forming relationships with classes around New Zealand and the world. I am deeply committed to giving constructive comments with wild abandon as a class; giving others feedback and helping others learn if we can. Our greatest challenge is time. I am wondering if the best way to give real impetus to commenting is to incorporate blog reading into our reading programme. I wonder if there is some way to bring blogs into the 40 Book Challenge? How do you make time for reading and commenting on blogs in your classroom? Is it timetabled? A Must-Do? Homework? 

Purpose C brings in those ideas around blog management. My learners are good writers and can create posts with visual elements with independence. The challenge for me is to hand some of the initiative needed for blogging over to them. I don't want Liz (my co-teacher) and I to be the ones who initiate every post. The girls will blog at the drop of a hat if we ask them to but we need a better system for getting them to take charge. Do we need a job list around this? A daily reporter? A photographer? A videographer?  A tweeter? Should a small team be blogging every day or just when there is a special event? (I am pretty sure I know your answer to this!) How do we get our posts out there for others to read? And how do we create posts that make others want to comment? 

As you can see, I have highlighted my questions. I am really hoping to hear about the systems you have around blogging in your classroom. Our goal is that our blog will be more authentic and chronicle our thinking and learning, not just the "big ticket" events.  I'm really hoping that this blog and your feedback will help recapture my blogging mojo! 

Thanks in advance! 



Friday, 20 February 2015

A Must-Read: Book Love by Penny Kittle

There are a number of professional books that have had a profound effect on my teaching. Their content has resonated so strongly with me that it has transformed my practice. Sometimes it is not that the ideas held within are radical or completely new to me, but rather that the book's author has given me the courage to follow my instincts and abandon ineffective classroom practices.

Penny Kittle's Book Love is one such book. Reading it was strangely comforting, like spending time with an old and dear friend; a friend who makes you feel good about yourself and empowered to change! Penny Kittle is inspiring and passionate and a great storyteller; Book Love really is a great read. 

The full title is Book Love: Developing Depth, Stamina and Passion in Adolescent Readers and the book is chock full of strategies that seek to do just that. It is a great companion to Donalyn Miller's The Book Whisperer and Reading in the Wild. It is aimed at High School English teachers but as a teacher of Year 8s was still very relevant to me. A lot of what Kittle has to say applies to educators working with all ages of learners although many of the strategies would work best with students about Year 6 and up.

One of Kittle's strategies that worked very well for me in 2014 was calculating personal reading rates and using these to measure one's progress and increased stamina. I used this strategy once a term and it was hugely popular with those learners in my class who liked to see numbers or data as evidence of their growth. It also makes weekly goal setting very easy as students can choose to read more than their current reading rate.

Another strategy I found very helpful was the term reflections. This involved listing books read in the term from most to least difficult. This strategy was powerful because it created in my students, a mindfulness around the challenge level of their reading material. This is turn had the effect of pushing many of them to ensure they had included some challenging books in their reading plans for the following term.

Here is an example that I created. You may or may not agree with the order I have chosen to list my reading material in (and in fact even I now disagree with my own list) but that's actually not important. What is important is this process made me aware of the challenge level of my reading choices. This in turn helps to create depth as learners try to raise their own personal challenge bar. And yes, it became sorely apparent as I created this, that I should probably read more books intended for adults!

I loved this quote that reminds us of the ultimate goal.

 "We have to commit to helping students choose texts they can navigate alone, then teach the skills needed to unravel more difficult texts in class, so that their skills increase while they experience the pleasure of reading. When skills and pleasure align, students begin to choose more difficult texts to read independently." (p. 14) 

I have read the chapter "Creating a School Community of Readers" numerous times. This chapter tells the story of the author's own school's journey to create a lifelong love of reading in every one of their students. There are lots of practical suggestions to help nurture a school-wide reading culture. This section shows what is possible under visionary leadership even if not all are on board.

My principal takeaway from Book Love is that any educator who teaches reading has a duty to read themselves. That sounds incredibly obvious but since reading this book I have heard and read of an alarming number of teachers who comment that they are not readers.  Kittle shared this great quote from Jim Trelease;

Which professional books have you loved? I'd love to hear your recommendations!


Sunday, 15 February 2015

Leaders; born or made?

What is your school's view on leadership training for your learners?

I always love hearing how other schools approach student leadership. A recent #bfc630nz chat on student leadership confirmed that there are amazing things happening in student leadership in New Zealand schools. There are many, many ways to "skin a cat" and a school's student leadership culture is undoubtedly shaped by their beliefs about one simple question: are leaders born or made?

Our school leadership programme hinges on the beliefs expressed here by Warren Bennis.

Every single one of our Year 8 students participates in our year long Leadership Academy, not just a privileged few. Surely eleven or twelve years old is to young for us to dictate who is a leader and who isn't it? We frequently hear from former students of our school who contact us with the exciting news that they have been selected as Head Girl of their high schools. Sometimes we are surprised and delighted by this news. Girls who at 11 years old as brand new Year 8 students may not have displayed enormous confidence, are flourishing in their leadership roles five years later. More and more frequently, these girls have had to apply for the job of Head Girl- would they have had the confidence to do so if five years earlier at primary school they had not "made the cut" for Leadership Training? Would they have felt that they had been subtly labeled "not leadership material" and quietly have slunk away with their tail between their legs? Perhaps they'd have bounced back and shown the resilience and determination we hope to instill into our students but what if they hadn't? What if they had simply decided that they had unfortunately not been born with the personality traits and characteristics necessary to be an effective leader as determined by us, a small group of teachers at their primary school? Perish the thought! So we continue to be firmly committed to developing the leadership skills of all our students.

Our Year 8 Leadership Academy kicked off for 2015 last week with Leadership Week- a five day
programme of activities designed to give the girls the skills they will need to experience real success in their leadership roles for the year. There were workshops on skills such as gaining and maintaining a group's attention, communicating (emailing, writing items for the newsletter, notices etc) creating a run sheet etc. There were activities that pushed many learners right out of their comfort zones such as the dance routine the girls were taught by Miss Gemma from Impact Dance school which they then performed for the school in a spontaneous flashmob.   There was rock-climbing and belaying one another at the Christchurch YMCA which meant our learners had to use their risk-taking skills and learn to trust others.  

And there was lots and lots of philosophical discussion about what makes a good leader.

Most importantly, there was the opportunity to put into practice what they had learned by running events in their leadership group for our youngest learners. This opportunity was hugely successful for the Year 8s as they practiced creating run sheets, collaborating and identifying the types of things that will keep young children engaged. It was also a highly successful event for the junior girls which had a positive flow-on effect for their teachers. Win Win!

These activities have served to confirm our belief that leaders are made not born as there are many girls really thriving in their leadership roles now that they have been given the tools and are working on the skills and attitudes of effective leadership. Many of these girls may not have been appointed to leadership roles if they were in another situation as they might be deemed as lacking in confidence or perhaps even too disorganised.

We believe that all learners, (incidentally including ourselves as educators) are a work in progress. We want to empower them and give them the tools to thrive; not clip their wings before they have even had a chance to fly.

What do you do at your school? I'd love to hear how this works at your school?

Friday, 13 February 2015

Gettin' Girls' Geek On- 6 ways to get girls into Computer Science

There's been a lot in the media recently about the massive gender imbalance in the computer science field. As the Mum of an 11 year old self-professed "computer geek" and a teacher of twelve year old girls, this is more than slightly alarming. I could link to hundreds of articles discussing the fact that computer science is one of the most segregated and "undiverse" fields on the planet but I wont because I'm sure like me, you've seen them on an almost daily basis coming through your twitter feed. But I will share this preview with you.......

Yep, this is a very real problem for many reasons but the one that concerns me the most is that women and girls, whether intentionally or inadvertently are being excluded from the amazing opportunities that working in computer science offers. This problem is prevalent in all STEM fields and it bothers me (that's a polite way of putting it) that girls are somehow getting the message that these fields have nothing to offer them.
So what can be done to ensure that girls know that computer science is a viable and attractive career option? Here are six things we are doing at our school. I am not a Computer Science guru at our school. That would be the amazing Liz Fairhall, but as an educator and even more so as a parent, I am deeply passionate about eliminating gender inequality in the job market. So I write this, not as an educator but as a Mum who is enormously grateful for the opportunities and gorgeous people in my daughter's life, people who tell her everyday to embrace what she refers to as her "geekiness" and help her to nurture her gifts and passions. What a lucky girl.

So here are six things that I believe need to be happening if we have any hope of addressing gender inequalities in the tech field.

1. Start 'em young- 

It is obvious that young girls need exposure to technology from the early years. Computer science needs to be normalised and seen as fun and creative. Never assume a child is too young to learn the basics of coding or robotics. Our preschoolers joined us for Hour of Code and were so engaged and worked so well with their older buddies on some fun challenges. Young girls need tools that given them instant gratification so look for tools where they'll see the fruits of their labour immediately.

Year 8s help preschoolers during Hour of Code

2. Be mindful of the messages girls receive-

My daughter is very lucky to attend the girls' school where I teach and now as she enters Year 8, I can honestly say that she has never been exposed to the idea that computer science is "for boys" as our school is all about "Girl Power" in all fields. Gerard MacManus, a digital technologies educator who is doing awesome things, shared this clip with me last year. It is Mona Akbal from speaking at the itx2014 conference. At 5 minutes 30, she speaks about the fact that at her girls' school she was completely protected from any of the stereotypes about what girls should and shouldn't do and be.

For the girls at our school, depending on the messages they get at home and in their wider community, it is the same. Our girls are never exposed to that hidden curriculum stuff where the male teachers teach computer science while the women teachers send for men to get rid of the Spinning Wheel of Death or fix their broken apple tvs! Our Makerspace and Elearning director is actually an ex-pupil of our school and the girls really do want to "be" her!
Needless to say, girls at many co-ed schools are also getting strong messages both girls and boys can do anything. Woo hoo!

3. Give girls the option to share learning using computer science skills-

Be creative and allow plenty of choices when sharing learning. Instead of using drag and drop website creation tools to share learning, using HTML/CSS. Create games and animations; Scratch is awesome for this and is one of those tools that never gets old as the list of things that can be done with it is endless. Here's an animation made by one of our learners for her soon-to-be married teacher.

Think outside the square. Find ways with your learners to integrate computer science learning into all areas.

4. Use a mentoring system-

Mentoring is a very big part of the life of our school and it plays an important role in our computer science programmes. Older girls support younger learners in numerous ways, particularly with coding. Older girls are supported by staff mentors and expert mentors in the community.
We also strive to providing mentoring from women "at the coalface" in the Computer Science field. A recent field trip for passionate Year 7/8s was to the EPIC Hub an awesome tech and innovation hub which was created after Christchurch's earthquakes. This was a brilliant way to meet and talk with women (and men) about the exciting work they are doing. The girls were really inspired and the women they met were so encouraging and supportive of their passion to enter the Computer Science field. Despite their enthusiasm, the girls were alarmed at the overwhelming gender imbalance. To see what I'm talking about, watch the clip I've linked to and play "Count the Women! But the bottom line is the trip was incredibly worthwhile and the girls left even more determined and convinced that computer science is an exciting career option.

Some passionate students at the EPIC Hub, Christchurch

5. Give girls cool tools-

With the plethora of coding tools that have exploded onto the market recently, this shouldn't be a problem at all. Try apps such as Hopscotch, Daisy the Dinosaur and Kodable. Try online tutorials such as those on Khan Academy or Code Avengers or visit for some fun and creative ideas. Use tools such as MakeyMakey, Little Bits and Raspberry Pi.

Here in this clip from #educampchch, Liz demonstrates how to turn your Christmas Tree into a piano using a MakeyMakey; such a fun way to learn about circuitry.

6. Give girls the time and space to "geek" out with like-minds-

Robotics clubs, passion projects, Code Clubs, Make Clubs...all of these give girls the time and space they need to explore ideas with that social aspect that many girls crave.  A huge love of my daughter's is spending time at the Christchurch Fablab. She loves spending time there creating and working with digital fabrication techniques. Bridget McKendry who runs the Fablab is a fantastic mentor. My daughter is enrolled in the Pixel Girls club and this provides another opportunity to spend time socially while engaged in the activities she loves so much.

Girls loving the chance to "geek out" together at the Fablab, XCHC, Christchurch

These six steps won't be an overnight fix for the gender imbalance in technology but they are certainly a good start.

Disclaimer: it goes without saying that these activities are great for boys too! ;)

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

5 things I couldn't teach without

Ok, so of course if push came to shove I could teach without these tools.....but I'd really rather not have to! ;)

1. Post-it notes- Is there no end to the wonders you can perform with these babies? I have a special softspot for those ones that come already concertina-ed? Do you know the ones? Those are awesome.

2. GAFE- Gosh, I don't want to be one of those educators who is the equivalent of a Crusaders supporter! (You know the ones.....who won't have a bad word said about their team and are so loyal to them that when anything goes wrong it is the ref's fault?) Those people exist in education too, don't they? They are so loyal to their chosen product that nothing else comes even close and they won't entertain the thought that something better might be out there. Like I said, I don't want to be like that but I feel like I just might be that person when it comes to GAFE! I just couldn't love google apps any more if I tried. GAFE should really just pay me for all the promotion and fangirling I do over their products!

3. Picture Books- There really is the perfect book for every learning experience. My current favourite is this.

This is just must-have if you do any iteration of passion-based learning such as Genius Hour, Passion Projects or 20% time.

I was going to use it for Passion Projects but have absolutely zilch self- control when it comes to sharing great books with my learners so I just couldn't wait a whole week and shared it for Leadership Week instead, the day it arrived. There's a reason why my word for 2015 was Patience. (Boring I know but I just couldn't shake it!)

4. Apple TV- Oh my goodness! I feel so grateful to have this in my classroom. This tiny little black box, costing a relatively meagre $149, enables my learners to share so easily with the whole class via a television, straight from their device. So many uses for this (DING! Blogpost idea) but my favourite is Student Led Conferences when the learners display their eportfolios through the apple tv. Seeing their pride and joy's hard work on a big screen does something funny to parents- its just lovely.

5. My PLN- After a move to Year 8 from Year 5, I joined Twitter because I was terrified and hoped it would help me find some answers to burning questions. It helped me more than I could ever have imagined; mostly to feel confident and trust my instincts about things I wanted to change in our classroom. I "met" some amazing people and took part in some incredible twitter chats and suddenly I was hooked. Now I couldn't be without twitter and my PLN and would be devastated if I was working in a school where Twitter isn't allowed. Blogger is another tool that connects me....and my learners to a huge learning network. My PLN also includes the amazing teachers I am lucky to work with and others who I connect with Face to Face over a coffee or wine .... when time allows!
I might be able to survive in a classroom without items 1-4......for a little while! But I know for sure, I would seriously struggle to do the best for my learners without my PLN and the ties that bind us, Twitter and Blogger.....and the occasional Sauvignon Blanc!  

So, what tools do you love? Are there any tools you couldn't live without? I'd love to hear your recommendations.

Monday, 9 February 2015

Are you wondering what #bfc630nz stands for?

#bfc630nz stands for Breakfast Club, 6.30 NZ

This is a new "sparkchat" started by Kerri Thompson from Tamatea Intermediate in Napier and Surin from Te Kura Kaupapa Maori o Te Whanau Tahi in Christchurch.  "What's a spark chat?" you might well ask........I asked exactly the same thing!

It is a 15 minute, one question twitter chat which kicks off at, you guessed it.....6.30am, every week day. Kerri and Surin post one question at 6.30am, ONE provocative question designed to challenge us and most importantly get us "sparking" for the day ahead. We share, chat, favourite, retweet and like any twitter chat are hugely inspired by other educators. This "small but perfectly formed" chat can really get us pumped for the day ahead.

Kerri and Surin decided to introduce this concept to New Zealand educators after being inspired by
Image from the #bfc630nz blog
the US version, #bfc530! And you thought 6.30 was early!!! And 5.30 may be early in the US but its LATE here in NZ- 11.30pm in fact, so I have completely failed in all my efforts to take part in this chat, often failing asleep with my phone on my face and waking when the chat is well and truly over. Kerri and Surin insist it is amazing, that the BFC530 community is amazing.....and I believe them. So I'm very grateful to them for taking the initiative to bring the sparkchat concept to Aotearoa.

Yes, its true, 6.30am is a very busy time in many New Zealand households, including my own. In the last week, I have tweeted with my phone in one hand while making a school lunch with the other, I have tweeted while scrambling eggs, I have even tweeted in the bathroom straight from the shower......and it has really been worth it. I find myself feeling invigorated and fired up for the day ahead. There is no way I can make the chat every day but Kerri and Surin's motto is
* WHEN YOU CAN * WHEN YOU NEED* so I like that I can join the chat when I can and when I need some inspiration to get me through the morning. I love that it's short and sweet and cuts straight to the point. Perfect. 

You can read more about #bfc630nz on the Breakfast Club blog and also check out the storify archives of previous chats.

Here's the topic for tomorrow's #bfc630nz chat-

Sounds inspiring to me!

Thank you so much to Kerri and Surin for all your hard work to bring this to NZ! You're amazing!

Sunday, 8 February 2015

What would you do if you weren't a teacher?

Yesterday's post about helping our learners find their element challenged me to consider this question.......

Hmmmmm......... this is tough. I LOVE being an educator. I love the learners, I love the creativity, I love the variety, I love the changing technologies, I love constantly learning and I love the relationships that we work to form with our learners, their parents and with other educators.

So, what would I do if I chose for some reason to give up my role in the classroom? I have been thinking a lot about finding one's element. Sir Ken Robinson describes your element as the place where your aptitudes or talents and your passions meet.

Image by D.Richards, inspired by Sir Ken Robinson's, The Element

What would "the element" be for you? I find this question very, very difficult to answer. The irony is that I can see exactly what my family members' elements might be......

My daughter is deeply passionate about computer science and animated movies. She has a real thirst for learning more about animation and story creation. She gets on and works through tutorials to teach herself Blender in her spare time. She watches Disney movies in a very academic way, passionately pointing out where both hand-drawn and computer-generated techniques have been merged. She even tracked down an animator from Dreamworks on my twitter account and quizzed her about the software she uses. I can see if she continues on this track, she'll end up working for an animation company and I wouldn't put it past her to start her own storyboarding and animation company.

Heroes/ Mentors are so important for following our dreams.  
My 8 year old son LOVES rugby the way I love dark chocolate! He is also very passionate and good at maths and spends a lot of time making books of statistics in the rugby season...things like who carried the ball the most during a game and who achieved the longest drop kick. Totally beyond me. He is also mad keen on geography and I think that his current dream job would be as a travelling statistician for the All Blacks- even better would be if he could also play First Five! That'd be perfect for him! He'd be in his element!

My husband is incredibly creative, a very talented artist with a deep passion for healthy city building (how ironic that we live in Christchurch, a city desperately in need of people just like him) Exactly six days ago, I think he found his element when he moved from working with engineers and people who look at the world in a very different way to working for a new firm of urban designers and landscape architects- people who care deeply about creating a vibrant and dynamic city with the well-being of its people at its very heart. It is truly awesome to see him having found his element. His enthusiasm for his work has increased exponentially and it's wonderful to see and be part of that.

So, what is my element? When I asked my family what they thought I'd do for a profession if I wasn't a teacher, my husband answered that he thought I'd either own my own florist shop (hmmm....not a morning person so that's probably NOT going to happen!) or open a children's bookshop, matching children to the perfect book. That sounds very cool- I would LOVE that! My son answered that he thought I'd be a person that helps people or perhaps a lawyer- he and I are quite skilled are arguing our points! My daughter answered that she thought I'd have a job helping people identify their ironic that I can't identify my own element but can clearly see possibilities for others.

So what would you do if you weren't an educator? Hmmm.....I don't have the answer; perhaps that's because I've already found my classroom.

Leave me a comment, I'd love to hear what you'd do if you weren't in education.

Saturday, 7 February 2015

Elmo and The Element

Last night, for family movie night, we watched a really fantastic documentary on Apple Tv. Our eleven year old daughter hasn't stopped talking about it. It was called Being Elmo and was the story of Kevin Clash, the puppeteer who brought us Sesame Street's much-loved Elmo.

The documentary tells the story of a young boy growing up in a working class neighbourhood in Baltimore. From a very young age, he was passionate about puppetry, becoming obsessed with Jim Henson's muppets as seen on a new show at the time, Sesame Street. He spent many hours designing and sewing puppets and creating their personas. His dream was to work for Jim Henson and the documentary tells the inspiring story of his path to making his dream come to fruition.

 Kevin didn't have support at school, in fact he was bullied for his obsession with puppets, but what he did have were two loving parents who were strong advocates for him, encouraging and supporting him every step of the way despite the fact that wanting to become a puppeteer was an unusual dream in 1970s Baltimore.

This story resonated with me because our school is committed to helping our learners find their passions. We strive to help them identify their strengths and the things that they love doing and to celebrate each girl's uniqueness, giving them the time and space they need to really explore and become fully immersed in their passions. Each year group has a different form of passion-based learning so our girls are constantly reflecting on who they are and what makes them tick? In Year 8, our primary medium for passion-based learning is the incredible Passion Project. These are a full year self-led inquiry into one of their passions and seeing what the girls create is the hands-down highlight of my school year.

There are so many things I love about these projects and for so many reasons. My greatest fear is that education is becoming too standardised, that we are turning our learners into carbon copies of one another. I know we can all think of schools that pride themselves on creating the XXXX boy or the XXXX girl . I strive, in my classroom to do exactly the opposite, to enable and empower each of my learners to be unique and to celebrate that unique identity by becoming the very best version of themselves. I want my learners to be individuals who are aware of their strengths and are working towards finding that thing that Sir Ken Robinson refers to as The Element, the place where their strengths and passions meet.

Kevin Clash found his element and then he put his head down and walked straight towards it. Sure, the line to get there was wiggly, not straight but he never gave up, always keeping his eyes on the prize, that illusive job as Jim Henson's puppeteer.

I can't wait to share "Being Elmo" with my Year 8s.

I have lots more to say about this documentary but my 28 minutes is up. I thought I'd leave you with an Elmo clip that was a favourite of my son's not all that long ago. I hope you enjoy it!

Friday, 6 February 2015

The Global Read Aloud rocks!

The Power of the Global Read Aloud

This is a post I wrote for the Literacy Online list. I hope its ok to share it here too.

For the past couple of years, I have watched the Global Read Aloud unfold with great longing! This is a global project where classes read together, build connections and form friendships over the same shared book. It was started by the amazing Pernille Ripp (and if you are not following her go and do so right this minute! She is amazing!) I’ve desperately wanted my learners to be a part of the GRA but the timing is horrendous, falling over the New Zealand Term 3 holidays. This year, I decided to bite the bullet and sign up- I’d address the scheduling issues later.  

First my class and I needed to select one of the novels on offer. These five titles had been selected via a social media campaign and the selections ensured there was something for everyone.

The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane- Kate di Camillo
The Fourteenth Goldfish- Jennifer L. Holm
One for the Murphy’s- Lynda Mullaly Hunt
The Fault in our Stars- John Green
My class selected “One for the Murphys” by Lynda Mullaly Hunt which thankfully only five had read and all five were very keen to read it again. The Global Read Aloud is very well supported by the authors of the selected titles and we were fortunate to be able to watch Lynda Mullaly Hunt herself read the first chapter via a youtube clip.  This was a great experience. She also held frequent open question sessions via google hangout which were able to be watched later on youtube.

Screen Shot 2014-12-01 at 5.57.29 pm.png

Next, I registered to make connections with other classes who had also selected “One for the Murphys”. It was easy to find classes who were very keen to connect with a school at the bottom of the earth in little old Christchurch, New Zealand! I was inundated with tweets and emails, people inviting 8C to connect. I formed a connection with the first class who approached us, a class in Oshawa, Canada. Their teacher and I hit it off right away and started planning fun and meaningful ways to connect our classes. I created a quiz for our buddy class to complete which would eventually result in them establishing that we were in Christchurch, New Zealand and we did a similar thing in 8C, completing quiz questions that eventually led us to their map coordinates. We would have loved to have done this via Mystery Skype but the timezones were completely incompatible. We each created a movie introducing ourselves which highlighted the many differences between us but perhaps more importantly the many similarities we share.

We each created challenges and reflective tasks based on “One for the Murphys” which we shared between our classes.  We collaborated via padlet, our 8C blog and their individual kidblog accounts.

The greatest challenge we faced was timezones. Without organising an out of school event, connecting synchronously was very difficult. Also, 8C uses Twitter a lot for slowchat- type questions but in our buddy class’s district, Twitter is blocked and they were not a google apps school. So there were some initial challenges to work through none of which was insurmountable. They do however use Edmodo and I was inspired to join and learn more about this platform.

About halfway through the novel, we discovered a fantastic site called Flipgrid. This is a paid website but offers a 21 day trial. I used my flipgrid account incessantly during this 21 days and will absolutely be buying a paid account in 2015. I can see so many possibilities for this amazing tool.

Flipgrid enables educators to make grids of questions. The students film themselves responding to the questions and the responses form a grid. We posed questions such as “Be someone’s hero” is an underlying theme in One for the Murphys. Who is your hero in life? Share reasons why.

It was fantastic to see our students from opposite corners of the globe lined up side by side, sharing their reflections on the novel. Their responses were often very personal and the students have requested that I don’t embed the grid into this post. However, here is a screenshot for those of you who are curious to see how Flipgrid might look.

Screen Shot 2014-12-01 at 5.41.23 pm.png  

“One for the Murphys” is a compelling and emotional story which touched all of us very deeply- it is so moving that I often had to give the book to one of my students to read as I experienced “sweaty eye syndrome”. Having another class with a different perspective and set of life experiences to discuss the book with was a very special experience and one I would love to repeat. There were challenges along the way and things I will do differently next time but despite this, the collaboration between us has been powerful and made our experience of an amazing class novel significantly richer.

Ok, so I've cheated for today's #28daysofwriting challenge by posting something I had already written. It is Waitangi Day here and after a huge couple of weeks at school, I've had a fantastic day with my we all should on Waitangi Day. ;)

Thursday, 5 February 2015

Allocated seats; yay or nay?

With tomorrow being Waitangi Day, our first week of school for the year is over! Today we posed the question;

What do you need to ensure this is your best year yet? (More on this in another post)

The girls wrote the things they needed down on post-its and the statement that came up over and over again was.....

"I need my own desk to do my best work"

Although our classroom is not officially a Modern Learning Environment, the learning happening in our team is most definitely based on Modern Learning Pedagogies- it is student-centred with lots of project and passion-based learning; makered and design thinking are a big part of what we do. Student voice is at the centre of our class culture and we are constantly reflecting and innovating together to make things better for all of us as learners. 

So I feel a slight tension with their desire to have their own designated desks. For a start we don't even have enough desks! We removed lots to make room for the big watering hole table in the centre of our room. And what about the lovely comfy couch? Don't they want to work there where they can relax? Don't they want to sit on the floor in front of the coffee table? What about the chill- out space in the corridor. Don't they want to chill out on beanbags or lie on the floor? 

Apparently not! But why? 

This is obviously "on top" for my girls so we had a long chat and explored why having a designated desk was so important to them. 

"Sometimes my friend wants me to sit with her but I know we're a bad combination. I think I should sit somewhere else but don't want to hurt her feelings." 

"Sometimes I'm late for school and all the way here I worry about which desk I will get." 

"My eyes aren't great and I worry about not being able to see."

" My ears aren't great and I worry about not being able to hear." 

"I like not being too close to the windows because I get distracted."

" I like being close to the windows so I can look at the view." 

"Honestly, I am more likely to sit and work with new people when the teachers choose my seat than when I choose. Then I tend to stick with the same old people. "

" I just worry too much about where to sit." 

So I've spent the day reflecting on this. Should we be working through the reasons the girls have given and finding workable solutions for them all? Is that really a good use of our time or could we be spending that time engaged in amazing learning and working to make a difference in the world. They've already said they really want to switch table groups every second Friday so they'll still be working with a variety of people. Might this be a case of don't sweat the small stuff? 

In this case, Liz and I have decided that the voice of our learners is more important than our vision of what an MLE should look like with its few scattered tables and highly engaged kids lounging around on beautiful soft furnishings. So on Monday, at the request of our learners, our girls will be pulling desk/ table numbers out of a hat and sitting in their allocated seat. 

I seem to have some issues when it comes to setting up the classroom. What do you do in your class? What age group do you work with? What do you think is the ideal situation regarding desk/ tables? 

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Kicking off the 40 Book Challenge

I tried so hard NOT to write my #28daysofwriting about the 40 Book Challenge today because I've blogged about this numerous times, such as here, here and here just to share a few! I don't want to bore anyone or appear to be a "one trick pony" so to speak. It's just that the 40 Book Challenge has impacted so deeply on my practice that I find it impossible not to share my wild enthusiasm.

Donalyn Miller is one of my eduheroes- her books "The Book Whisperer" and "Reading in the Wild" are must-reads if you teach in a primary/ intermediate school or secondary English. The basic premise is that learners are encouraged to read at least 40 books (students set individual goals but 40 is a good minimum number because it is gives enough of a challenge that learners have to work steadily at it throughout the year.) Some girls set the goal of 50, 65 or even 80. Some of these girls will make 80 and need to reassess the goal later in the year. Others might not make 40; like any goal, not meet it is not the end of the world because I guarantee that with this challenge in place, these girls will read more frequently, more deeply and read more widely than they did last year. They will also learn a huge amount about where and how to find reading material they enjoy and they will leave Year 8 with a number of favourite genres and authors. Perhaps most importantly, we will see, as we have in the past two years, 8CF transform from being a collection of children working independently in the same classroom to a truly supportive learning community where girls discuss and share reading experiences, sharing their favourite books and helping each other be successful.     

Today was the third 40 Book Challenge Kick-off party I've held for our Year 8 girls. The girls are now well aware of the challenge before they join Year 8 so today the 40 Book Challenge announcement was met with a mixture of fear and trepidation.....and great, unbridled enthusiasm. Either reaction is perfectly understandable! 

This year, after feedback from last year's girls, I've made some changes. 

1. Picture Books-

I'm sort of shocked at myself for not including picture books in the challenge before now. I'm a huge picture book lover so I'm a bit disgusted at myself for not including these sooner. Ten picture books = one book and we did discuss the importance of variety in these books but the girls "get it" and are grateful for the opportunity to explore the way text and visuals combine to tell a story. 

2. No specific genre numbers- 

Previously I had set the genre guidelines eg 3x Fantasy, 3 NZ Literature and 10 Free Choice. What was I thinking? This year, I've scrapped that but do want them to read at least one book in each category. After that, the world's their oyster so to speak. 

So after sharing the slideshow, we set goals and then we laid out piles of books including many from the National Library. The girls were so, so excited to select books, I was actually concerned there might be a punch up over, "We Were Liars" by E. Lockhart. I had two thoughts as this unfolded......

a) Why didn't I bring a first aid kit?

b) How much longer will children around New Zealand get this much joy from National Library books for? (sigh........that's another post!)

Goal setting

On your marks...........

So exciting!

Appletise; Toasting ourselves! Let's do this thing!