Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Growing Techno Kids- Selwyn House Takes a Risk.....

Yesterday I blogged about the way schools can share and collaborate to support one another. Today I'd like to share something we tried at Selwyn House.

I asked you to think about something your school is doing well; something other schools would enjoy hearing about. At Selwyn House, we are deeply committed to the growth of computer science and makered programmes. This is a legacy left by the incredible Jill Pears and her work is now being continued by Liz Fairhall, our awesome eLearning Director and my co-teacher.

As programmes like robotics and computational thinking become more and more widespread, we've had many schools contact us wanting to visit which is fantastic and we love visiting their schools in return. As interest levels have gotten higher and higher, our principal, Lyn Bird called us together to pose the question, "How might we share our Makered programmes to benefit other schools in Christchurch?"

We decided to gather together the awesome people who have inspired us and continue to support us on our Makered journey by holding a professional learning day for interested educators. This was a big undertaking- we'd be responsible for 7 hours of learning! How would we ensure the day was worthwhile? How would a school offering PD be perceived by others? Would it be seen as thinking we knew it all? After all, we don't by any means believe we have all the answers; we just really wanted to share what we've learned and showcase the people that have inspired us.

We were so thrilled when our our inspirations/speakers jumped on board. We eventually settled on a format which involved three keynotes spread throughout the day interspersed with four workshops; attendees selected two of these.

Our keynote speakers were:

Professor Tim Bell of University of Canterbury

Tim was really excited to be involved and started the day with an interactive keynote using resources from the incredible CS Unplugged which has had a great deal of influence over the way Computer Science is taught at our school.

Tim is deeply passionate about the teaching of computer science principles from a young age. He shared how the technology industry is thriving in post-quake Christchurch and talked about the opportunities programming skills give our learners to really follow their passions and make a difference in their world. He shared activities from CS Unplugged which is used worldwide and showed us how to use this resource to teach CS principles without even laying hands on a device.

The ever-inspiring Bridget McKendry

You may know her as @pixelbrid on Twitter. Bridget and Carl Pavletich are the founders of Fabriko and together they started the Christchurch Makercrate soon after the earthquakes, bringing making to the Christchurch community in a container! They also run the incredible Christchurch FabLab in Cathedral Junction.

Bridget epitomises a maker. She is deeply committed to creating a community of makers through open access to the necessary tools and ideas. Bridget's spirit of generosity and her "girl power" attitude has made her a real favourite of Selwyn House learners. She is adored and respected and is a fantastic mentor to our learners. We are so grateful to have Bridget's support.

Bridget talked about the role making has played in life and how important makered is for developing problem solving skills, perseverence, creativity and a sense of fun!

Michael Trengrove and Caitlin Duncan of Code Club Aotearoa

Man, what a team these guys make. Michael is such a genuinely nice guy whose heart's desire is to ensure that all New Zealand intermediate-aged kids have equity when it comes to learning coding. He has always whole heartedly supported Liz and I and the direction we wanted our Code Club to take. He didn't flinch when we insisted it was for girls' only and was fully on board when we insisted that our club be opened to all girls in the Christchurch community; not just those within our school. He has listened to our numerous irate rants about the lack of women being encouraged into Computer Science and has taken our thoughts on board. We feel very grateful to have his enthusiasm and support for what we do.

Caitlin is the cool computer chick our girls all want to be. She is passionate and inspiring and so, so knowledgeable about teaching coding in schools.

These two showed us exactly WHY it is so important that we teach our learners to code. Here's why....

There are over 600 thriving tech firms here in Christchurch and we're a small city of around 400,000 people! We can all imagine the opportunities that creates. Caitlin informed us that for each University of Canterbury Computer Science graduate there were TEN attractive jobs. Most UC comp sci students had good jobs by the end of their first year of their undergraduate degrees! It is our duty to ensure that our learners aren't excluded from these opportunities.

Michael and Bridget offered coding and 3d printing workshops while Liz Fairhall offered a robotics workshop and I offered a workshop on 5 Tools for Connecting Your Class (not exactly computer science but the theme for the day was Growing Techno Kids so it kind of worked!) I have never run any sort of teacher learning before so I was petrified. I needn't be- the attendees were so lovely and so appreciative. I loved meeting them and starting a conversation with them around connecting our classes.

Here's my google pres. As you can see, I packed far too much in for a 55 minute workshop but somehow it worked! I could have explored any ONE of these tools for the full 55 minutes but never mind.  That's the beauty of giving a link to a google pres.....participants can explore at their own pace in their own time. (Some of you may see tweets from your own classes! Thanks so much for connecting with us!)

We had more than 40 teachers join us for the day and the evaluations suggest it was a great success. There is so much passion around this topic and the teachers were fired up, ready to learn and share their experiences and this made for a really great atmosphere where we were all learning together alongside one another. Another thing that helped enormously was having our Y8 students on hand to support teachers in the workshops. Our students really are pretty phenomenal and this came up again and again in the evaluation sheets.

Creating Lego Balloon Car Racers in Liz's Robotics Workshop
Our primary goal for this day was to SHARE the Makered love. We had no desire to make any money from the day, hence the small fee of $60pp to cover the speakers' time/ donations to their causes and lunch/ morning tea. The rewards were definitely not financial but the benefits for us at Selwyn House were huge. It was so wonderful to meet so many passionate Christchurch educators. It was a great day to be part of.

Thanks to everyone who came with open-minds to learn with us. Keep in touch!

By the way, if you are interested in Makered, here's another opportunity in Christchurch. 
The Chched Maker Event- Register by Thursday 23 July- I hope to see to you there! 

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

How Might We share our schools' strengths so that others might benefit?

And by we, I mean the "royal we"; I'm talking about your school, my school and schools throughout our community? How might we harness each school's strengths, their point of difference if you like, and share their collective expertise so that rather than competing against each other, we are all benefitting for the greater good, ensuring quality learning for our children?

Think about it; what makes you proud to work at your current school? What things is your school doing really well? Every school has its unique culture, the things that are really important to them, the things that give a school its special flavour. Is it a wonderful kapa haka programme, exceptional pastoral care, a Dance Academy or a highly innovative mathematics programme? What is it that makes you proud of your school? Maybe there is one area where your place is a shining light for other schools; perhaps there are a number of areas your school is focusing on? What do others in the wider community perceive to be your school's strengths? What are you known for?

 Schools are by definition places where we grow talents. Our purpose is to help our learners thrive and we work hard to help every learner on our roll be the best version of themselves. But what about our duty to other schools in our communities? Do schools have a moral obligation to support each other, sharing strengths and encouraging growth? I'm not sure of the answer to this; after all ensuring our own schools are thriving is a big ask, let alone supporting others. Having said that, I have seen many times in recent years the power sharing between schools can have.

Social Media has enabled us to share and collaborate in ways we could not have imagined 10 or 15 years ago. But what about face to face? Is a reliance on social media, subconsciously excluding members of our school communities? How can we reach these people? Is there still room for doing things "old school" and sharing face to face?

I am fortunate to be one of the Te Kahui Cluster Digital Leaders here in Christchurch, lead by the incredible Cheryl Doig and Donna Frame. This experience has been inspiring and has convinced me of the incredible power collaborating in a cluster can have. I am surprised to learn that clusters are not prevalent throughout New Zealand.

I am unsure of the "history" of clusters here in Christchurch and a google search is not shining any light on this. I suspect they were a structure put in place to provide support to schools when they were suffering post-earthquakes. Belonging to your designated cluster is optional and each cluster has its own unique make-up depending on the types of school in the area. The direction the cluster takes is determined by the members of the group depending on the needs of the schools in the area. Our Digital Leaders group is currently organising a Digital Citizenship Evening for parents in our area while another Christchurch cluster recently held an unconference which was highly successful judging by the twitter feed!

I'd love to see more visits to each others' schools. School visits are so powerful and benefit both the visitors and the hosts as we see our school through fresh eyes. Taking a whole staff to a neighbouring school during a school day is obviously a logistical nightmare but why not an after school shared afternoon tea complete with a smackdown or perhaps some eduignite talks from volunteers from both schools? After all, its highly likely that both schools are facing similar challenges.

I'm not a school leader so perhaps this entire blogpost shows my naivety around issues of schools collaborating rather than competing but it seems to me the benefits far outweigh the drawbacks.  

So how does your school collaborate and share its strengths with other schools in your area?  

Lost my blogging mojo.....

I am so convinced of blogging's power to make me a better educator. Blogging is the most powerful tool for reflection. When I craft a post for my professional blog, there are enormous benefits for me and in turn, my learners.

  •  Blogging makes my thoughts and beliefs about teaching and learning clearer and helps me see what I need to do to improve my practice. 
  • Feedback from others is enormously beneficial and the quality of the conversation has real impact on what happens in our classroom.
  • Blogging makes me a better writer and writing teacher. Sharing my personal blogging experiences with my students has had real impact on their view of blogging as a useful learning tool. 
And there's always the possibility that what I share on my blog might benefit someone else. I really do believe in sharing and collaborating but I often have that nagging thought, "Who would want to read this when the interwebs are full of the blogs of truly phenomenal teachers, contemplating deep philosophical ideas about learning and doing incredible things in their learning spaces?" 

But then my growth mindset voice kicks in...... my posts are not of the quality of those rockstar teachers YET! 

And so I persevere, not because I'll ever be a rockstar teacher but because I blog for me; I blog because of the benefits I get from sharing and being part of a PLN. I blog because I encourage my students to create content to give back to our online community, not just take.  

But recently, I lost my blogging mojo. I hugely missed the benefits of blogging but couldn't bring myself to blog about anything.

I had lots of questions about the purpose of my blog but the biggest was this........... 

What is the role of my school in my blog? Where does my school end and Bridget start? Are we too heavily entwined meaning my blog has simply become a collection of recounts of things that happen at my school?

Over the weekend, I read two posts from two of my favourite bloggers; posts that cemented my ideas about MY purpose for blogging. 

The first was from Stephanie Thompson. Stephanie is the most incredible teacher and when my class first started blogging in 2013 (yes we were fairly late to the party!) I was teamed in an amazing quad which included Stephanie and her class for Aotearoa Quadblogging. 

It reminded me that blogging is about sharing the ups and downs of life in our classrooms. It is not about having all the answers and its value is in the conversation it inspires. Yes, I've experimented with writing posts that sound like I think I have all the answers but I can assure you I don't! 

Another post that reminded me of the value of sharing was this one from the amazing Silvia Tolisano of Langwitches. 

What struck me most was the idea that even the most mundane things should be documented. I can do that! 

And then she shared the link to this oldie but goodie.......

So thanks to these two amazing bloggers, I'm going to get back on that blogging we go......